The classic problem with the idea of mental representations and mental images.

The problem is usually stated like this: If you have an image in your mind, then who is it that is seeing the image? An internal image requires a "little man" or "homunculus" to look at it. And then the image in the head of this homunculus requires another homunculus to see it. And so on, creating a problematic infinite regress.

This may not seem like a problem in our our current intellectual paradigm, but it was, for a long time, seen as close to a complete refutation of the idea of mental images. Today there is a solution, coming from more holistic and less reductionist viewpoints. It has to do with the way we break down the mental processes going on.

The representational theory of mind has a good solution: Whatever the entity or mental module is that sees images in the head, it is stupider than the whole (the mind) of which it is a part. ("Stupid" here has a very technical definition -- something is stupid to the degree to which it lacks complexity). If this "image seeing" module requires other modules inside of it, they will have to be stupider still. Eventually, the process bottoms out with a module that is stupid enough to be self-sufficient and rigid.

Implicit in this solution is the idea that a complex, intelligent entity can be built entirely out of simple, stupid entities. This idea appears again and again when looking at intelligence and complexity. It is the relationships and connections, and not the entities themselves, that matter.

I heard of the said entity from a psychology class... we were discussing Descartes and the "Cartesian Theatre" concept. The homunculus was explained as an audience member (well, actually, the audience member, proof that your life is boring as hell). The play going on would be whatever the senses gather from the outside world. Thus, this symbolism is the metaphor for the projection of what the body senses onto the mind; very much the Freudian Ego.

But then, if we say this is an accurate representation of the relationship between mind and body, we must account for the homunculus' senses and the homunculus' mind, and thus we have another Cartesian Theatre within the homunculus, et cetera ad infinitum. Although this creates a significant problem in the logic of the concept, a more neurologically-informed person will know that information from the senses does not collect in one central area to be processed; the human brain (or for that matter, any organic brain) is a haphazard assemblage of neurons, like a monstrously huge and intimidating knot. An accurate equivalent of this would be the worst spaghetti code known to mankind. Thus, not only does this concept seem logically impossible to an inhabitant of the Eighteenth Century, but also neurologically impossible to the modern person.
This 'homunculus' view of the nature of perception, though it's related, shouldn't be taken as exclusively representing the views of homunculism which is a view of the mind which holds that the apparent unity of the psyche is in fact an illusion, and that our mental functionality is accomplished in fair measure by a host of (to some extent competitive and conflicting) 'homunculi', understood as approximately 'software agents' each with specific triggers and goals, which each strive to actualise their intentions and points of view by bringing them into awareness, or the 'locus of control' of the subject.

In relation to the apparent problem of "what is it that is seeing the homunculus who's seeing the image", a straightforward commonsense view might suggest that, in fact, the infinite regress is not required. Unless you believe that esse est percipi (a rather unfashionable view: that to exist one must be seen to exist) there's no need to doubt the existence of an "inner viewer" on the grounds that it's not seen, and so we don't require an infinite regress of viewers each of which sees the ones "further up" and is seen by those "further down". It may be said that the 'inner viewer' is not seen: in the plain, ordinary sense in which we see stuff we are looking at, we don't see any 'inner viewer' at all; the whole notion that either we or something else does see this shadowy entity, in some strange, twisted, philosophical sense of see, seems to be confused and incoherent. To hypothesise the existence of an internal viewer, to think about one, is not to see one, and should be no more problematic than the consideration any other idea or concept

A more radical, Humean scepticism may be applied to the existence of the 'inner viewer' itself. We have excellent evidence for the existence of our perceptions - we're immersed in the things, and we should not really doubt the reality of what is, after all, our only means of accessing data from the "outside world". The existence of the subject who is having these perceptions, however, may be thought, perhaps, to be a grammatical fiction, induced by the convenience of the subject-object relation in language, and drummed into our heads from childhood by the fact that we're always called by the same name. As Hume pointed out, there's nothing that's literally constant in our perceptions. In that world, the Heraclitian doctrine that 'all is flux' was never truer. The 'inner viewer' or 'self' is much more in the nature of a hypothesis or a convenient manner of speech than a concrete reality, it might be thought.

There's much philosophical speculation about questions of personal identity - when all our atoms are (at least I believe) replaced after a seven year period, when our beliefs change, our knowledge grows and fades, habits are acquired and lost, it is open to question whether there is in fact a constant underlying reality to the shifting sands of our mental and physical lives which we are justified in using the word 'self' to describe. The view of homunculism is sympathetic to this scepticism, because even the homunculi (or "software agents") which constitute our mental toolbox and furniture may not be static or permanent - after all, over a lifetime we'll likely change our mental behaviour in relation to almost anything you can name. This may then be said to represent a 'homunculus problem' of an altogether bleaker and more radical kind, to which the only alternative seems to be some kind of 'essentialism' - viewing the self as a transcendent reality whose existence is not imputed by the constant modulations of its 'accidental' components.

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