Virtually explained : Daniel Dennett's theory of consciousness : explanation and implementation.
This paper is an analysis of aspects of Daniel Dennett's theory of human consciousness. For Dennett, the reasons why human consciousness is so unique among earthly creatures, and so manifestly powerful, are not to be found in the differences between our brains and those of other higher mammals, but rather in the ways in which the plasticity of our brains is harnessed by language and culture. According to Dennett, the best way to understand the enhancements and augmentations that result from enculturation is as a von Neumannesque virtual machine implemented in the parallel-distributed processing brain. This paper examines two questions that arise from the latter hypothesis: (1) If nonsymbolic, parallel-distributed networks accomplish all the representation and computation of the brain, what kind of explanation of the functionality of that brain, can legitimately maintain descriptions of procedures that are symbolic, serial, and real? (2) What kind of structural design, training, and resultant processing dynamics could enable a (human) brain to develop a competency for symbolic, serial procedures? Through addressing these questions, I argue that Dennett's theory of consciousness is broadly correct, investigate some other theorist's ideas that are highly compatible with Dennett's work, and consider some criticisms that have been levelled against it.