Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Coyne on intentionality

Biologist Jerry Coyne responds to a recent post by Vincent Torley on the topic of whether the brain is a kind of computer.  Torley had cited me in defense of the claim that the intentionality or “meaningfulness” of our thoughts cannot be explained in materialist terms.  Coyne responds as follows:

I’ll leave this one to the philosophers, except to say that “meaning” seem [sic] to pose no problem, either physically or evolutionarily, to me: our brain-modules have evolved to make sense of what we take in from the environment.  

The fallacy Coyne commits here should be cringe-makingly obvious to anyone who’s taken a philosophy of mind course.  Coyne “explains” intentionality by telling us that “brain-modules” have evolved to “make sense” of our environment.  But to “make sense” of something is, of course, to apply concepts to it, to affirm certain propositions about it, and so forth.  In other words, the capacity to “make sense” of something itself presupposes meaning or intentionality.  Hence, if what Coyne means to say is that an individual “brain-module” operating at the subpersonal level “makes sense” of some aspect of the environment, then his position is just a textbook instance of the homunculus fallacy: It amounts to the claim that we have intentionality because our parts have intentionality, which merely relocates the problem rather than solving it.  If instead what Coyne means is that the collection of “brain-modules” operating together constitute a mind which “makes sense” of the environment, then he has put forward a tautology – the brain manifests intentionality by virtue of “making sense” of the world, where to “make sense” is to manifest intentionality.  Either way, he has explained nothing.

Already deep in a hole, Coyne keeps digging:

And that’s not unique to us: primates surely have a sense of “meaning” that they derive from information processed from the environment, and we can extend this all the way back, in ever more rudimentary form, to protozoans. 

Different formulation, same problem.  To “have a sense of ‘meaning’” presupposes intentionality and is therefore hardly a notion to which one can coherently appeal in order to explain intentionality.  “Information,” if meant in the ordinary semantic sense, also presupposes intentionality, in which case appeals to it in this context also explain nothing.  If meant instead in the technical, non-semantic Claude Shannon sense, “information” does not presuppose intentionality, but it does not explain intentionality either, since Shannonian information theory is concerned with the transmission of information in the ordinary, semantic sense, not with its origin.  

So, as I have said, Coyne has explained nothing at all, nor even gestured at a genuine explanation.  True, his remarks were made in the informal context of a blog post; but if one is going to aver confidently that “’meaning’… pose[s] no problem,” he had better give at least some evidence of knowing what the philosophical problem of meaning or intentionality is and what philosophers have said about it.  Coyne, like too many other contemporary scientists – and unlike their more accomplished but less arrogant forebears (Einstein, Schrödinger, Heisenberg, et al.) – seems to think his scientific competence excuses him from having to do his homework in philosophy before commenting on the subject.  Nor is this his first offense.

The folks who hang out in Coyne’s combox seem even less well-informed than he is, if that is possible.  (One of them apparently thinks I’m an ID theorist – looks like he didn’t get the memo.)  So I suppose I need to point out for them that the issue has nothing essentially to do with religion, with “magic,” or with any of the other straw men and red herrings they’ve been furiously dissecting.  But when you “already know” the other side is wrong, what’s the point of finding out what it really thinks, right?

[Readers looking for an introduction to the problem of intentionality might find chapter 7 of my book Philosophy of Mind useful.  Also relevant are many of the posts linked to here.]

69 comments:

Crude said...

Coyne defines "believing in ID" to mean, basically, any position where a person thinks that nature relies on or was somehow foreseen/directed by any God in any way whatsoever.

He also, if I recall right, defines science as pretty much doing anything that involves reasoning.

dguller said...

My understanding of this issue is that human intentionality is parasitic and a complicated elaboration of the teleology inherent in any living organism.

Take a simple bacterium with receptors on its cellular membrane that detect nutritional and toxic substrates. When a nutritional substrate binds to the surface receptor, a variety of intracellular physical mechanisms are activated that result in locomotion towards the nutritional gradient that the nutritional substrate came from. When a toxic substrate binds to the surface receptor, a variety of intracellular physical mechanisms are activated to result in locomotion away from the toxic gradient that the toxic substrate came from. I don’t think that it is too controversial to say that the cellular mechanisms involved are about nutrients and toxic substances in the bacterium’s environment. That does not mean that the bacterium has a full-throated concept of “nutrient” and “toxin” that it consults before reacting to the chemical substrates. Rather, all it has are its reflexive responses to its environment, and since its responses are highly specific to those chemical substrates in question, I can imagine that this is a primitive form of intentionality, i.e. its approach behavior is about nutrients, and its avoidance behavior is about toxins.

Now, human beings are composed of trillions of individual cells with a similar basic physical apparatus and with a singular purpose to react to its immediate environment in a preprogrammed fashion. In other words, each cell’s behavior is about its environment. However, it seems that when they are combined in a particular way, then their new organization results in even more complex forms of intentionality, including conscious intentionality. This is not inherently impossible, especially since there are numerous examples in nature of complex organizations resulting in emergent properties not present in the individual components of the system.

Perhaps what Coyne was clumsily trying to say was that complex conscious intentionality is built from subcomponents, each of which possesses mindless algorithmic proto-intentionality in the same way that the bacterium that I described has. So, starting from effectively stupid and mindless components behaving in a reflexive fashion, we can eventually build a highly complex organism that is capable of the intentionality that we consciously experience.

dguller said...

I suppose that there can be two problems with this account.

First, there are huge gaps in this account from individual cells to a complex and conscious organism. However, I think that the overall thrust is not inherently incoherent, but it does require a lot of work to fill in the details. So, this is not too bad of a problem, I think.

Second, whether a reflex can be considered intentional at all. The bacterium’s behavior is fundamentally reflexive, because there is no internal analysis or deliberation or calculation involved, but only a brute input-output response that is purely physical. I do not see any problem with describing this reflexive response as being about the specific physical trigger in the environment that activated the response, and thus as proto-intentional and fully teleological in a non-conscious sense that I think Aristotle would approve of, but some people may differ about this. But if you can grant that such proto-intentionality is a natural part of the biological world, then there is no conceptual barrier to getting to more complex forms of intentionality.

Any thoughts?

Step2 said...

"It amounts to the claim that we have intentionality because our parts have intentionality, which merely relocates the problem rather than solving it."

No, that isn't the problem. The problem is that the intentionality of the parts are not intentional in a way that we would normally understand. It is a classic case of the whole being more than the sum of the parts. Although in this case you could say that intentionality "feels" different than the process that leads up to it.

New Yorker story about the interplay between mind and body.

djindra said...

'So, as I have said, Coyne has explained nothing at all, nor even gestured at a genuine explanation."

Of course Coyne was not trying to offer an explanation. The fallacy Feser offers us is the argument from ignorance: Since we don't know what meaning and consciousness are we will never know, or worse, can't know. Serious people will just keep ignoring the naysayers (mostly, it seems, philosophers and theologians) and forge right on ahead and solve the problem of meaning without their help.

Anonymous said...

Of course he was offering an explanation. A very, very bad one.

Tim said...

Watch out... here come the Coynites.

djindra, did you read Feser's post?
Or just skim through it?

If you could, please explain how your comment relates directly to what Feser is saying.
So, opposed to saying "Feser is offering us an argument from ignorance", actually show where that happens in his post. I'd like to see it.

Because, your post reads like something churned out from the minions over at ATBC or PT.
Certainly not a standard to be aimed at.

Crude said...

I think it's evident that Coyne was shooting his mouth off about a subject he's given little thought to. Even among self-styled materialists the question of intentionality is controversial (see Dennett v Searle v Fodor, etc), right up to guys like Alex Rosenberg insisting that a thoroughgoing naturalism has no place for intentionality, beliefs, aboutness, etc. And in Rosenberg's case, that denial of 'aboutness' seems to apply even to cellular mechanisms.

Anonymous said...

I see intentionality in the straw man arguments at Prof. Coyne's combox. It almost sounds like "la la la la la I can't hear you yes they're all ID theorists."

The good professor would benefit greatly from Aristotle's metaphysics. Let us hope that he opens his mind.

dan said...

Oh puh-lease. You're trying to drown the obvious with philosophical tricks, because you know nothing else. The brain evolved in the same way the fins evolved: because their evolution conferred survival advantages in given situations. The ability to interpret the outside world helps an individual survive and procreate, so mechanisms that do so correctly survive at a higher rate. Fins help an individual swim better, so water-borne creatures with fins survive at a higher rate. The link you list itself states that "‘Intentionality’ is a philosopher's word". Unfortunately evolution forgot to ask the philosophers' permission to transpire. I'm sure it's very sorry.

dan said...

P. S. Anyone who proudly displays something that has been thoroughly, completely and publicly debunked (as Coyne does with the bacterial flagellum drawing) needs to be approaches with at least a grain, if not a pound, of salt.

Tim said...

Dan,
What are you talking about?

I mean, I get the whole angry atheist/evolutionist who responds with the standard ID slam....
but do you even know what you're saying over here?

Tim said...

You just know that when Feser mentions a guy like Coyne who's involved with bickering back and forth with IDists from the woodwork come a bunch of atheists with the whole "uuuuhhh, sorry, but evolution happened dood".

At least ID supporters, for the most part, don't act like they do at ATBC, Pharn, PT.
Broken record responses - confused targets.

Anonymous said...

dan,

Nobody here has a problem with evolution. You're beating a dead horse because we actually *agree* with you w.r.t. selection for a larger brain.

The focus here is Prof. Coyne's misunderstanding of how intentionality works. It's not just a "philosopher's word" as you claim. Please take your time and read through this post, you will benefit from it, I assure you.

Anonymous said...

Also, dan: we have our problems with ID, too. So, whatever your criticisms of ID, we will most likely agree with you.

Please read through the blog and make sure you understand Prof. Feser's position before attacking a straw man.

All the best.

Anonymous said...

Oh puh-lease. You're trying to drown the obvious with philosophical tricks, because you know nothing else. The Cartesian ego evolved in the same way the fins evolved: because their evolution conferred survival advantages in given situations. The ability to think helps an individual survive and procreate, so mechanisms that do so correctly survive at a higher rate. Fins help an individual swim better, so water-borne creatures with fins survive at a higher rate. The link you list itself states that "‘Cartesian ego’ is a philosopher's word". Unfortunately evolution forgot to ask the philosophers' permission to transpire. I'm sure it's very sorry.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks for a brilliant article. I blogged about it here:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/famous-last-words/

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

June 1, 2011 11:58 AM

LOL, wut?

Jon said...

I have not taken a philosophy of mind course, so please forgive me if this is a basic question.

I don't understand why you say "to 'make sense' of something is, of course, to apply concepts to it, to affirm certain propositions about it, and so forth. In other words, the capacity to 'make sense' of something itself presupposes meaning or intentionality."

I'm confused because I would have guessed (1) that "making sense" involved translating sensory perceptions into bits in the brain [e.g., I register something as having the property "red"; I don't have a name for that property, but I can file it in my memory so that the next time I see something like it, I have a context] and (2) that meaning was presupposed only in the sense of the person having gathered information before [i.e., lived] against which to measure new inputs.

I'm probably being unclear. I guess I don't get why--if making sense means applying previously acquired perceptions to new ones--meaning is presupposed rather than manufactured.

Thanks!

Jinzang said...

What materialism requires is a convincing explanation of how intentionality can arise from non-intentional biochemistry. "Turtles all the way down" explanations invoking cellular intentionality don't cut it. And neither does waving your arms and saying it evolved.

Jinzang said...

I'm confused because I would have guessed (1) that "making sense" involved translating sensory perceptions into bits in the brain

I should leave this to the philosophers here (computer programmer myself). But it might help to understand the syntactic-semantic distinction and the difference between letters on a page or bits in a computer and the ideas that these represent. Consider that the exact same letters may represent different and even opposite concepts to different people: "He's so bad!"

dguller said...

Jinzang:

>> What materialism requires is a convincing explanation of how intentionality can arise from non-intentional biochemistry. "Turtles all the way down" explanations invoking cellular intentionality don't cut it. And neither does waving your arms and saying it evolved.

I think that it is fair to say that when a nutritional chemical substrate binds to a chemoreceptor on the cellular membrane of a bacterium, and results in a series of physical intracellular changes that causes locomotion in the direction of the nutritional gradient, then the bacterium’s behavior displays a proto-intentionality. In other words, it does not seem unreasonable to say that its approach behavior is about the nutritional chemicals in its environment, especially since its responses are specific reflexes in response to specific nutritional chemical stimuli in the environment.

djindra said...

"But to 'make sense' of something is, of course, to apply concepts to it, to affirm certain propositions about it, and so forth. In other words, the capacity to 'make sense' of something itself presupposes meaning or intentionality."

Nobody knows the process by which we 'make sense' of things. We don't even know what meaning is. So I don't know what I'm supposed to make of these two sentences. But apparently Feser has figured the 'mind' problem out. We simply have to 'apply concepts' or 'affirm certain propositions' or 'so forth.' Yeah, that clears it up. Is this the sort of clarity Coyne missed in that philosophy of mind course?

Crude said...

djindra,

Nobody knows the process by which we 'make sense' of things. We don't even know what meaning is. So I don't know what I'm supposed to make of these two sentences. But apparently Feser has figured the 'mind' problem out.

I just love how, in a post where Feser is calling out Coyne for taking the very attitude you're criticizing here (That we 'have all these things figured out' re: mind), your criticism of Feser is that he thinks he has everything figured out.

Feser has a position he defends, but he's vastly more charitable towards those who disagree than Coyne is.

djindra said...

Crude,

I just love how you and Feser misrepresent Coyne. I know nothing about Coyne but in the post Feser references Coyne did not claim we have all these things figured out.

Crude said...

I know nothing about Coyne but in the post Feser references Coyne did not claim we have all these things figured out.

Yet...

"I’ll leave this one to the philosophers, except to say that “meaning” seem [sic] to pose no problem, either physically or evolutionarily, to me: our brain-modules have evolved to make sense of what we take in from the environment."

Compared to what you said...

Nobody knows the process by which we 'make sense' of things. We don't even know what meaning is. So I don't know what I'm supposed to make of these two sentences. But apparently Feser has figured the 'mind' problem out. We simply have to 'apply concepts' or 'affirm certain propositions' or 'so forth.' Yeah, that clears it up.

So, you claim we have "no idea" what meaning is, and that "nobody knows the process by which we 'make sense' of things". The entirety of Feser's post is criticizing Coyne for saying that clearly "meaning" is not a problem, because brain-modules and evolution. At no point does Feser say he 'has it all figured out', and in the past he's mentioned numerous alternate metaphysics he thinks competes with his views. Feser points out that Coyne's vague handwaves are not explanations of meaning, nor does saying 'protozoans and primates have meaning too!' help explaining meaning.

So, Feser = BAD, because Feser says we have it all figured out! Except Feser didn't say that. Coyne = GOOD, even though Coyne's the one saying that meaning poses no problem (and he clearly 'means' understanding the very things you say no one understands) and fumbles with with vague gestures in the direction of evolution and brain-modules.

We get it, man. You dislike Feser. This is all very personal for you. What he actually says, what the person he's responding to said, that's very moot. So long as he threatens whatever weird pet political issue obsesses you, that will be the pattern.

Really - just make a macro. It'll save time.

Richard said...

Wow, round of applause for Crude. Simply BRUTAL.

shane said...

dguller,

I'm not convinced that a naturalist is warranted in describing some sort of proto-itentiality to biological function. Consider:

1) Biological mechanism x functions to bring about state y.

2) Biological mechanism x "leads to" (in broad terms) state y.

Assuming naturalism, accept 1 when you can just affirm 2? 2 is more parsimonous, less of a burden to account for, and the type of of explanation employed is seen as adequate when talking about non biological natural mechanisms. What's so (relevantly) special about bacterial metabolism?

shane said...

That should be "why accept."

dguller said...

Shane:

>> Assuming naturalism, [why] accept 1 when you can just affirm 2? 2 is more parsimonous, less of a burden to account for, and the type of of explanation employed is seen as adequate when talking about non biological natural mechanisms. What's so (relevantly) special about bacterial metabolism?

First, I actually see (1) and (2) as identical. They are just different ways of saying the same thing.

Second, I think that bacteria are an interesting case, because there is nothing mysterious about their physical mechanisms. We understand them very well and in a great deal of detail. There is nowhere for anything spooky or magical to get a grip. So, if we can agree that the behavior of bacteria, and other simpler biological organisms, displays proto-intentionality, then we have a foothold to derive the intentionality of human beings.

After all, all of our cognitive capacities have gradually evolved from simpler mechanisms, and that might mean that there is no clear demarcation from proto-intentionality and true intentionality. To take the end product, i.e. human intentionality, and say that it is an all-or-nothing phenomenon that must be present in any form of intentionality whatsoever might be a mistake. There is likely a number of different shades and variations of intentionality from proto-intentional to full intentionality, and finding a clear cut line that differentiates the former from the latter may be as difficult as finding a clear cut line between not bald and bald.

djindra said...

Crude,

Your reading comprehension is not up to snuff. More on that when I have more time. But I think it's obvious that Feser claims to know what "intentionality" and "meaning" are because he claims to know what they are not. And I think it's obvious that Coyne is giving a "for me" reason as to why he'll simply ignore the barking at the heels of the philosophers. Serious people roll up their sleeves and attack a problem. They don't whine about how difficult it all seems.

You claim I have something personal against Feser. Feser has something personal against people like me. That comes through loud and clear. Maybe you should switch off your personal filtering system and take a look at the broad picture.

djindra said...

Crude,

Suppose we reword Coyne to this:

"I’ll leave this one to the philosophers, except to say that 'motion' seems to pose no problem, either physically or evolutionarily, to me: our legs have evolved to make 'motion' through the environment."

In what sense is this controversial? In what sense should it be taken as an explanation of the philosophy of motion?

Anonymous said...

Djindra,



This is an obvious non sequitur. The claim that a particular item is not defined by x is not also simultaneously the claim that the item must be defined by everything not-x.

Sometimes I'm not sure if you're serious.

djindra said...

Anonymous,

"The claim that a particular item is not defined by x is not also simultaneously the claim that the item must be defined by everything not-x."

But it is a claim that one knows enough about the item to confidently state that it is not defined by x. In this case I don't believe Feser can claim -- and maybe never has claimed -- to know enough about the item to make this exclusion stick. He behaves like he knows but I'm not sure even he thinks he knows.

No, I'm not always serious although people usually complain I'm too serious.

DNW said...

djindra said...


" Nobody knows the process by which we 'make sense' of things. We don't even know what meaning is. So I don't know what I'm supposed to make of these two sentences. But apparently Feser has figured the 'mind' problem out. We simply have to 'apply concepts' or 'affirm certain propositions' or 'so forth.' Yeah, that clears it up. Is this the sort of clarity Coyne missed in that philosophy of mind course?

June 1, 2011 8:21 PM"


What Coyne missed is the lesson where he was told that if you are going to conceptually deconstruct a phenomenon, you shouldn't then, when describing your alternate vision, borrow formulations that share the conceptual figures you are trying to displace.

Make any excuses that you want for Coyne: say that all language is figurative and must necessarily be so, say that models are not meant to be taken literally, say that the idea of a machine only implies something made etymologically, say all of that, and his reference to the brain as a meat "machine" is still preposterous.


Well, maybe not. All we need to do is redefine machine abstractly enough to exclude the intentionality that was definitionally implied by the notion of a device made.

dguller said...

Maybe all we need to get to intentionality is law-like regularities in the natural world. Once you have these laws, then you can have teleology in the sense that the entities that operate according to these laws are directed towards fulfilling the laws as their telos. I don’t think that this is controversial.

Once you have that in place, then you can have simple organisms that can react to these laws in ways that are indicative of a proto-intentionality in the sense that their behavior is specific to particular environmental stimuli without any complex informational processing involved. In that way, when a bacteria responds to its environment in predictable reflexive ways, then its behavior can be about those particular aspects of the environment that have triggered the behavior. That also does not seem controversial.

And once you have that place, then you can add many orders of complexity to that basic process of proto-intentionality, and result in human intentionality. Certainly, our intentionality is more complex than a bacteria’s proto-intentionality, but it is built from the same fundamental principles, I think.

Any thoughts?

djindra said...

DNW

"What Coyne missed is the lesson where he was told that if you are going to conceptually deconstruct a phenomenon, you shouldn't then, when describing your alternate vision, borrow formulations that share the conceptual figures you are trying to displace."

Okay, I'll deconstruct Feser's lesson.

Original: "But to 'make sense' of something is, of course, to apply concepts to it, to affirm certain propositions about it, and so forth."

Deconstruction: "But to 'make sense' of something is, of course, to apply sense to it, to affirm certain senses about it, and so forth."

So who is "borrowing" here? To be fair, Feser is in the same boat as everyone else. Nobody has a clear understanding of how we derive meaning. It's not far off to say we're all clueless about meaning. Eventually everyone talks in riddles.


"All we need to do is redefine machine abstractly enough to exclude the intentionality that was definitionally implied by the notion of a device made."

And with that you beg the question. Maybe you ought to question your unquestioned notion that all machines are designed "intentionally."

Tim said...

Anyone else think that djindra is J?

Anonymous said...

Same general temperament, different self-control. Only one of them melts down into furious namecalling rants. The other melts down in a completely different manner.

Anonymous said...

Nah, djindra is fine. He doesn't rage maniacally about "El Papa" or "Herr Feiser" or "flying monks" or whatever.

I'm OK with djindra even though I don't agree with his posts.

Anonymous said...

Once you have these laws, then you can have teleology in the sense that the entities that operate according to these laws are directed towards fulfilling the laws as their telos. I don’t think that this is controversial.

A) Teleology is controversial. So is aboutness.
B) What, in the physical facts of bacteria and the environment themselves, makes any physical thing "about" any other physical thing?

dguller said...

Anonymous:

>> A) Teleology is controversial. So is aboutness.

I once thought so, but after reading material by Feser, I have changed my mind. Teleology in the sense of a conscious intention that directs the behavior of objects and is fully present at the beginning of a sequence of events is controversial, but the idea that the behavior of objects is towards a specific end is not. In fact, it is presupposed by science in the sense that natural laws govern the behavior of physical entities, and these entities are guided towards specific ends by these laws. Without such guidance or directedness, there would be no scientific laws at all.

>> B) What, in the physical facts of bacteria and the environment themselves, makes any physical thing "about" any other physical thing?

The fact that their responses are predictably and reliably about specific elements in their environment. If a bacterium reflexively responds to a specific environmental stimulus with a specific behavioral response, then I would say that this is a primitive form of intentionality. After all, the behavior is about and directed towards a specific environmental stimulus. It only makes that response secondary to a particular stimulus. Certainly, this “aboutness” is not like conscious intentionality, which is a far more sophisticated form of intentionality and teleology, but it is based upon something far more basic and simple.

Anonymous said...

I once thought so, but after reading material by Feser, I have changed my mind.

Where does the author say teleology and aboutness are not controversial? Are you agreeing that aboutness is intrinsic to nature? Are you agreeing that there are formal and final causes in nature?

B) What, in the physical facts of bacteria and the environment themselves, makes any physical thing "about" any other physical thing?

The fact that their responses are predictably and reliably about specific elements in their environment.


What makes the physical facts of bacteria about other physical things is that their responses are about things? So aboutness and intentionality are rock bottom and intrinsic?

dguller said...

Anonymous:

>> Are you agreeing that aboutness is intrinsic to nature?

I agree that the regularities and patterns that occur in nature are only possible if the behavior of physical entities is directed towards specific ends, according to natural laws. I once disagreed with this idea, but have come to agree with it, because otherwise, science and natural laws would make absolutely no sense.

>> Are you agreeing that there are formal and final causes in nature?

Yup.

>> What makes the physical facts of bacteria about other physical things is that their responses are about things? So aboutness and intentionality are rock bottom and intrinsic?

I would say that as long as there is any kind of regularity, patterns and law-like behavior, then you inherently have teleology, because the behavior of entities is directed towards following those laws.

Teleology seems to be rock bottom, and intentionality is a more complex form of teleology that I would say occurs once you have organisms sophisticated enough to have self-generated responses to their environment. In other words, intentionality is highly contextual and depends upon the behavior of an entity within a particular environment, particularly its having, at least, reflexive responses to its environment in response to specific stimuli.

Anonymous said...

Are you agreeing that there are formal and final causes in nature?

Yup.


&&

I would say that as long as there is any kind of regularity, patterns and law-like behavior, then you inherently have teleology, because the behavior of entities is directed towards following those laws.

So you reject naturalism and materialism as Edward Feser defines them?

Jon said...

Yaargh. I still don't get it.

It seems the argument being made here is that nothing "makes sense" unless we already have a larger understanding of "sense."

If so, I don't see why this should be the case. Instead I would guess that one would only need to be able to perceive difference between things in order to build an understanding of the world.

In other words, I would think that the larger understanding of "sense" that y'all are saying should be presupposed is more likely a product of perceiving difference and gaining experience. Once one is able to recall that one thing is different than another, one could use some things to represent other things: that is, give some things meaning.

Meaning, as I understand it, is a relationship between two things. Any two things perceived differently, which is to say registered differently in the mind, will force the perceiver to log some meaning relative to one or the other thing. So I don't understand where presupposition comes into play. I'd almost think that one's theory of meaning is coincident with perception.

But I am way out of my depth here and don't mean to sound as if I know what I'm talking about. Are the ideas I articulate above close to any "real" philosophical positions that I could study?

djindra said...

Tim,

I don't know who J is. My name is Don Jindra. I've never in over twenty years of online activity posted under anything but djindra or donjindra.

Anonymous said...

Jon, read the past posts or buy Ed's books. Most of us here have at least purchased and read The Last Superstition, but more detail can be found in the archives.

dguller said...

Anonymous:

>> So you reject naturalism and materialism as Edward Feser defines them?

How does he define them? I cannot recall.

DNW said...

dinjra comments:

" Maybe you ought to question your unquestioned notion that all machines are designed "intentionally." "



Maybe you ought to engage in fewer dishonest categoricals in developing your polemics.

I had just gotten through saying that if Coyne and company want to appropriate and redefine the term machine by packing non-designed and unintentionally arising, non-devices, into the concept they are certainly welcome to do so.



But of course, in the process they undercut their own goal of disconcerting the rubes with an application of the term "machine", while at the same the explanatory power of the definition fades similarly.

You wind up with the silliness of Hobbes and Guattari, and maybe lathes with rights ... if only they were "sentient".


If however nondesigned "systems" that serve no end are now to be called by the same name that things made by men to assist in performing work are called, then maybe we need a different name for what we used to call machines so we will know which is which.

Anonymous said...

How does he define them? I cannot recall.

It's right there in the book you bought, though.

Step2 said...

"I'd almost think that one's theory of meaning is coincident with perception."

I would mostly agree with that. There are categories in which you could differentiate the various processes involved in intentional meaning, so long as you remember that there is some overlap and tension between the categories. Communication, which relies in part upon shared perceptions. Integration, which connects memory to current perception. Filtering, which edits perception, frequently in response to desires or fears.

“In the end, we are self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages that are little miracles of self-reference.”
— Douglas Hofstadter

Anonymous said...

In the end, we are self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages that are little miracles of self-reference.

Apropos, that's self-contradictory. ;)

Step2 said...

"Apropos, that's self-contradictory."

Maybe, but I think the human condition is filled with contradictions. One of the more inspirational quotes I've ever heard was from a nun who ministered to death row inmates. She said, "The less forgivable the crime, the more they must be forgiven."

dguller said...

Anonymous:

>> It's right there in the book you bought, though.

The only definition that I could find is an account of the world that rejects formal and final causes. In that case, yes, I do reject that version of materialism.

djindra said...

Crude,

Let me explain why Feser and you got it wrong.

You say "Feser points out that Coyne's vague handwaves are not explanations of meaning." I say that Feser is jumping to a conclusion Coyne never intended. Nowhere in his post does Coyne claim to explain meaning. Nowhere does he even attempt such and explanation. His post was a response to Torley. Torley goes off on a wild tangent. Torley wants to prove that mind and brain are not the same. He mentions Feser numerous times in this regard. What's Coyne's response to this? Nothing. He doesn't care. He says he'll leave that question to the philosophers. Coyne likely does this because he's not interested in the philosopher's mind/body problem. He's likely not interested in what "mind" is in the dualist's sense. He offers not a hint of that interest and offers no counter proposal. His interest in "meaning" is only to note that we have it. And if we have it he sees no problem operating under the working assumption that this facility -- no matter what it is -- evolved like everything else. That's what Coyne means when he says, "'meaning' seem[s] to pose no problem, either physically or evolutionarily, to me: our brain-modules have evolved to make sense of what we take in from the environment." Are you and Feser going to claim our brains did not evolve? If that ID tact is extreme, are you instead going to claim our brains evolved to scramble what we take in from the environment? I think Coyne is making a very straightforward and relatively modest proposal that Feser blew completely out of proportion.

Crude said...

djindra,

What's Coyne's response to this? Nothing. He doesn't care. He says he'll leave that question to the philosophers. Coyne likely does this because he's not interested in the philosopher's mind/body problem.

That you have to go for a defense that amounts to 'Coyne, a loudmouth who doesn't shut up about his materialism, probably has no position on the mind-body issue - so we can't take his words in the most obvious sense' is really saying something. I won't pick apart the other inconsistencies in your explanation, because by now it's just plain dull. If I wanted to read this level of spinning, I'd follow more Congressman Weiner news.

BenYachov said...

Side note.

The jokes about Weiner write themselves.

djindra said...

"Coyne, a loudmouth who doesn't shut up about his materialism"

Had you and Feser attacked his materialism that would have been appropriate. But instead you put words in his mouth. You've been caught, like Weiner. Now, like Weiner, you're bored with the questioning.

djindra said...

DNW,

"...then maybe we need a different name for what we used to call machines so we will know which is which."

I see. Let's keep the word pure so you can keep begging the question.

Josh said...

@Step2:

"The less forgivable the crime, the more they must be forgiven."

Not to quibble, but that's a Christian paradox, not really a contradiction.

DNW said...

June 3, 2011 6:42 AM
djindra said...

DNW,

"...then maybe we need a different name for what we used to call machines so we will know which is which."

I see. Let's keep the word pure so you can keep begging the question."


Come back when you are willing to quote properly. Your troll games don't interest me.

shane said...

dguller,

Perhaps my formulation of 1 was unclear. It's supposed to express a sense of purpose, as you seem to believe that the bacterium's physical mechanisms have the purpose of getting to the next one, or of contributing to the survival of the bacterium. What I want to know is how bacterial metabolism is (relevantly) different from, say the rusting of iron, which I assume you do not ascribe proto-intentionality to.

Also, what about "proto-intentionality" is a form or component of the property that our conscious mental states exhibit?

Mr. Derp said...

To build off of what Shane has said, if intentionality is reducible to "what always happens to object X under Y condition" doesn't this destroy the distinction between, nonliving, living and living-and-concious matter, thus putting us in performative contradiction territory?

Daniel Smith said...

djindra: "this facility -- no matter what it is -- evolved like everything else."

How was that?

Did it evolve like Otto Schindewolf said it did?

Did it evolve like Michael Sherman said it did?

Like Richard Goldschmidt said? Pierre Grasse? John Davison?

When you say "it evolved like everything else", could you be a bit more specific?

djindra said...

Daniel Smith,

"When you say 'it evolved like everything else', could you be a bit more specific?"

No. I know nothing about Coyne. And for the purposes of this discussion it doesn't matter which version of evolution he supports. I don't know why it should be significant to you or me either.

Step2 said...

"What I want to know is how bacterial metabolism is (relevantly) different from, say the rusting of iron, which I assume you do not ascribe proto-intentionality to."

Metabolism is the dynamic perpetuation of a complex energy vortex. Rust is the static decay of an inanimate object.

"Also, what about "proto-intentionality" is a form or component of the property that our conscious mental states exhibit?"

Well, it is much more diffuse and probabilistic than proto-intention because it involves many more cells, and the even greater number of connections between those cells, so it becomes entwined in layers of biochemical coding and electrical wave patterns. So it is a more indirect signal than the proto-intention, but it is also capable of much greater variation.

Daniel Smith said...

djindra: "I don't know why it should be significant to you or me either."

It's significant to me because usually, when an atheist says "it evolved", he means that processes with no intentionality behind them produced something with intentionality.

The theories of evolution I cited (and others) are all about "intentioned" evolution. So it's important what we mean when we say "it evolved like everything else".

dguller said...

Shane:

>> What I want to know is how bacterial metabolism is (relevantly) different from, say the rusting of iron, which I assume you do not ascribe proto-intentionality to.

The rusting of iron involves teleology, but not intentionality. I would say that proto-intentionality is something that occurs in living organisms, and not inanimate objects. In other words, there has to be a sufficient level of organization before proto-intentionality begins to occur.