The Cartesian theater is a derisive term coined by philosopher Daniel Dennett to pointedly refer to a defining aspect of what he calls Cartesian materialism, which he considers to be the often unacknowledged remnants of Cartesian dualism in modern materialistic theories of the mind.
Descartes originally claimed that consciousness requires an immaterial soul, which interacts with the body via the pineal gland of the brain. Dennett says that, when the dualism is removed, what remains of Descartes' original model amounts to imagining a tiny theater in the brain where a homunculus (small person), now physical, performs the task of observing all the sensory data projected on a screen at a particular instant, making the decisions and sending out commands. (cf the Homunculus argument).
- Dennett, D. and Kinsbourne, M. (1992) "Time and the Observer: the Where and When of Consciousness in the Brain". (1992) Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 15, 183-247, 1992. Reprinted in The Philosopher's Annual, Grim, Mar and Williams, eds., vol. XV-1992, 1994, pp. 23-68; Noel Sheehy and Tony Chapman, eds., Cognitive Science, Vol. I, Elgar, 1995, pp.210-274.
- John Gregg on the "Cartesian Theater"
- Richard Chappell on "The Cartesian Theater"
- Control Room - Science Fiction short story about the Cartesian Theater, from the Sculpting God podcast