Identity Theory


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Deborah Welch Larson

Boring and took nearly a quarter of a century to gain acceptance from the philosophical community.

Boring, in a book entitled The Physical Dimensions of Consciousness wrote that:. To the author a perfect correlation is identity. Two events that always occur together at the same time in the same place, without any temporal or spatial differentiation at all, are not two events but the same event. The mind-body correlations as formulated at present, do not admit of spatial correlation, so they reduce to matters of simple correlation in time.

The need for identification is no less urgent in this case p. The barrier to the acceptance of any such vision of the mind, according to Place, was that philosophers and logicians had not yet taken a substantial interest in questions of identity and referential identification in general. The dominant epistemology of the logical positivists at that time was phenomenalism , in the guise of the theory of sense-data. Indeed, Boring himself subscribed to the phenomenalist creed, attempting to reconcile it with an identity theory and this resulted in a reductio ad absurdum of the identity theory, since brain states would have turned out, on this analysis, to be identical to colors, shapes, tones and other sensory experiences.

The revival of interest in the work of Gottlob Frege and his ideas of sense and reference on the part of Herbert Feigl and J.


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Smart , along with the discrediting of phenomenalism through the influence of the later Wittgenstein and J. Austin , led to a more tolerant climate toward physicalistic and realist ideas. There were actually subtle but interesting differences between the three most widely credited formulations of the type-identity thesis, those of Place, Feigl and Smart which were published in several articles in the late s.

However, all of the versions share the central idea that the mind is identical to something physical.

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Place's notion of the relation of identity was derived from Bertrand Russell 's distinction among several types of is statements: [ citation needed ] the is of identity , the is of equality and the is of composition. For Place, higher-level mental events are composed out of lower-level physical events and will eventually be analytically reduced to these.

So, to the objection that "sensations" do not mean the same thing as "mental processes", Place could simply reply with the example that "lightning" does not mean the same thing as "electrical discharge" since we determine that something is lightning by looking and seeing it, whereas we determine that something is an electrical discharge through experimentation and testing.

Nevertheless, "lightning is an electrical discharge" is true since the one is composed of the other.

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For Feigl and Smart , on the other hand, the identity was to be interpreted as the identity between the referents of two descriptions senses which referred to the same thing, as in "the morning star" and "the evening star" both referring to Venus, a necessary identity. Moreover, "sensations are brain processes" is a contingent, not a necessary, identity. One of the most influential and common objections to the type identity theory is the argument from multiple realizability. The multiple realizability thesis asserts that mental states can be realized in multiple kinds of systems, not just brains, for example.

Since the identity theory identifies mental events with certain brain states, it does not allow for mental states to be realized in organisms or computational systems that do not have a brain. This is in effect an argument that the identity theory is too narrow because it does not allow for organisms without brains to have mental states.

What is an identity and how does it work?

However, token identity where only particular tokens of mental states are identical with particular tokens of physical events and functionalism both account for multiple realizability. The response of type identity theorists, such as Smart, to this objection is that, while it may be true that mental events are multiply realizable, this does not demonstrate the falsity of type identity.

As Smart states:. The fundamental point is that it is extremely difficult to determine where, on the continuum of first order processes, type identity ends and merely token identities begin.


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Take Quine's example of English country gardens. In such gardens, the tops of hedges are cut into various shapes, for example the shape of an elf. We can make generalizations over the type elf-shaped hedge only if we abstract away from the concrete details of the individual twigs and branches of each hedge.


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So, whether we say that two things are of the same type or are tokens of the same type because of subtle differences is just a matter of descriptive abstraction. The type-token distinction is not all or nothing. Hilary Putnam [5] essentially rejects functionalism because, he believes, it is indeed a second-order type identity theory. Putnam, and many others who have followed him, now tend to identify themselves as generically non-reductive physicalists. Putnam's invocation of multiple realizability does not, of course, directly answer the problem raised by Smart with respect to useful generalizations over types and the flexible nature of the type-token distinction in relation to causal taxonomies in science.

Another frequent objection is that type identity theories fail to account for phenomenal mental states or qualia , such as having a pain, feeling sad, experiencing nausea. New York University Psychologist Jay Van Bavel has found that humans can identify with another in-group rapidly, simply by being paired up to complete tasks.

In Van Bavel's study , white participants randomly assigned to a team had an automatic preference for their team members, both white and black, that outweighed their initial racial bias. Our identities, Van Bavel says, aren't as intractable as we think: "We change our spots, just like a chameleon, to blend into the situation that we're in, and it activates different identities. These preferences have significant bearing on the way we view the world.

According to Van Bavel, identities that govern seemingly innate experiences, such as the taste of food—or even racial bias—can be harnessed to create positive social change.

The Mind/Brain Identity Theory

Northerners may never appreciate grits as much as their Southern neighbors, but we can overcome boundaries that run even deeper. A version of this story originally appeared in the November issue of Pacific Standard. A decades old idea argues that shopping is not about the items you sell—it's about the spectacle in which you sell them.

Most of the time, we end up with opinions we parrot from political figures we support. Efforts to contain protests inevitably create boundaries—and raise questions about restricting free speech. Injuries and deaths from Norman doors are often later chalked up to human error, designer Don Norman says. But the error is not the user's. It's the designer's. According to a recent research, law enforcement often leverages a powerful psychological susceptibility—the "emotional seesaw effect"—that potentially has widespread application.

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