Functionalism and inverted spectra

David J Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Functionalism, a philosophical theory, has empirical consequences. Functionalism predicts that where systematic transformations of sensory input occur and are followed by behavioral accommodation in which normal function of the organism is restored such that the causes and effects of the subject's psychological states return to those of the period prior to the transformation, there will be a return of qualia or subjective experiences to those present prior to the transform. A transformation of this type that has long been of philosophical interest is the possibility of an inverted spectrum. Hilary Putnam argues that the physical possibilty of acquired spectrum inversion refutes functionalism. I argue, however, that in the absence of empirical results no a priori arguments against functionalism, such as Putnam's, can be cogent. I sketch an experimental situation which would produce acquired spectrum inversion. The mere existence of qualia inversion would constitute no refutation of functionalism; only its persistence after behavioral accommodation to the inversion would properly count against functionalism. The cumulative empirical evidence from experiments on image inversion suggests that the results of actual spectrum inversion would confirm rather than refute functionalism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-222
Number of pages16
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 1990


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