Perhaps you have heard of the brain-in-a-vat thought experiment. Such fanciful “intuition pumps” are supposed to tell us something about the mind, knowledge, and reality, but how much can we learn from such a mad science fairytale? According to Evan Thompson and Diego Cosmelli, not much. Thompson and Cosmelli address the thought experiment head-on, and in a lively manner, tackle just what it would mean to actually be a “brain in a vat”. They come up with a surprising answer:
Any truly functional “vat” would need to be a surrogate body subject to control by the brain. By “body” we mean a selfregulating system comprising its own internal, homeodynamic processes and capable of sensorimotor coupling with the outside world. In short, the so-called vat would be no vat at all, but rather some kind of autonomous embodied agent.
This supposition has an important implication. It implies that our default assumption should be that the biological requirements for subjective experience are not particular brain regions or areas as such, but rather some crucial set of integrated neural-somatic systems capable of autonomous functioning. This assumption is one of the core working assumptions of the enactive approach.
If you are interested in learning more about the enactive approach, check out Embodiment and Philosophy of Mind by Andy Clark.