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Home > Research > Publications & Outputs > Brains, vats and neurally-controlled animats.
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Brains, vats and neurally-controlled animats.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date2004
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Number of pages20
Original languageEnglish


The modern vat-brain debate is an epistemological one, and it focuses on the point of view a putatively deceived subject. Semantic externalists argue that we cannot coherently wonder whether we are brains in vats. This paper examines a new experimental paradigm for cognitive neuroscience � the neurally-controlled animat (NCA) paradigm � that seems to have a great deal in common with the vat-brain scenario. Neural cells are provided with a simulated body within an artificial world in order to study the brain both in vitro and in vivo. Given the similarity between the NCA scenario and the vat-brain scenario semantic externalism seems to undermine the utility of the NCA methodology. Three initial responses to the externalist challenge are offered. A fourth response clarifies the distinctive theoretical background to the NCA in �artificial life� and, in doing so, we uncover an anti-representationalist conception of the NCA. This distances the NCA paradigm from externalist objections and casts cognitive neuroscience, and the vat-brain debate, in a new light.