Implications of Synaesthesia for Functionalism: Theory and Experiments

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Functionalism offers an account of the relations that hold between behavioural functions, information and neural processing, and conscious experience from which one can draw two inferences: (1) for any discriminable difference between qualia there must be an equivalent discriminable difference in function; and (2) for any discriminable functional difference within a behavioural domain associated with qualia, there must be a discriminable difference between qualia. The phenomenon of coloured hearing synaesthesia (in which individuals see colours when they hear or see words) appears to contradict the second of these inferences. We report data showing that this form of synaesthesia is genuine and probably results from an aberrant projection from cortical language areas to a region (V4/V8) specialized for the perception of colour. Since functionalism purports to be a general account of consciousness, one such negative instance, if it can be further sustained empirically, is sufficient to invalidate it.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, UK.

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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