Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The limits of eliminativism


Eliminativist positions in philosophy are a variety of anti-realism, which is in turn typically contrasted with realist and reductionist positions.  A realist account of some phenomenon takes it to be both real and essentially what it appears to be.  A reductionist account of some phenomenon takes it to be real but not what it appears to be.  An eliminativist view of some phenomenon would take it to be in no way real, and something we ought to eliminate from our account of the world altogether.  Instrumentalism is a milder version of anti-realism, where an instrumentalist view of some phenomenon holds that it is not real but nevertheless a useful or even indispensible fiction.

So, for example, a realist account of the mind would hold that it is both real and (just as it appears to be) irreducible to anything material; a reductionist account of the mind would hold that it is real but “really” just “nothing but” something material; and an anti-realist position would be that the mind is not real at all and should either be regarded merely as a useful fiction or eliminated altogether from our account of human beings and replaced by concepts derived entirely from physical science.  A realist account of free will would hold that it is both real and (just as it appears to be) incompatible with causal determinism; a reductionist account would hold that free will is real but compatible with determinism; and an anti-realist position would be that it is in no way real.  And so forth.

Some forms of anti-realism might seem at least coherent, whether or not they are true.  For example, someone who takes an anti-realist position in ethics -- that is, who denies that moral notions like “good” or “right” name any real features of the world -- is, arguably, not taking a self-defeating position, even if he is taking an incorrect position.  The same might seem to be true with respect to anti-realism about the existence of God, i.e. atheism.

In fact, I think, things are not quite that simple.  At least given an Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics of the good, on which the true and the good qua transcendentals are convertible with one another, you cannot coherently affirm that it is true that there is no such thing as goodness.  (See the relevant sections of chapters 3 and 5 of Aquinas.)  Nor, I would say, can you consistently affirm that the world is intrinsically intelligible while denying that there is something that is actus purus rather than a compound of act and potency, or ipsum esse subsistens rather than having merely derived existence.  And in that case at least certain forms of atheism will ultimately be incoherent.  (I addressed the incoherence of denying that the world is intrinsically intelligible in a couple of earlier posts, here and here.)  However, it obviously takes a fair bit of work to establish such claims about the good and God.  The incoherence (as opposed to mere incorrectness) of denying their reality is certainly not obvious or blatant. 

Blatant incoherence is more commonly attributed to eliminativist views about consciousness or thought.  Even here there might seem to be wiggle room.  The eliminativist vis-à-vis consciousness can claim that what he denies is not consciousness per se but only the existence of qualia -- those aspects of conscious experience that are accessible only from the first-person point of view of the subject of the experience.  The eliminativist about thought can claim that what he denies are merely propositional attitudes like belief, desire, and the like, but not that there are other information-bearing states in the brain that need to be understood in terms of neuroscience rather than commonsense psychology.

In both these cases I think the incoherence is only disguised rather than avoided.  With respect to qualia, one problem is that it is dubious at best whether there is anything left to consciousness when qualia are entirely subtracted from it; another is that the motivation for denying qualia is often supposed to be scientific, but to deny their existence would be to undermine the evidential base of science itself.  (This is a paradox which, as I’ve pointed out before, has been noted by thinkers like Democritus and Schrödinger, whose respectability from the point of view of scientism can hardly be denied.)

In the case of thought, the trouble is that the motivation for eliminativism here is the difficulty of accounting for the intentionality, “aboutness,” or directedness of thought in terms of a modern, mechanistic, anti-Aristotelian conception of matter, on which matter is inherently devoid of finality, directedness, or teleology of any kind.  Getting rid of beliefs, desires, and the like only eliminates one kind of intentionality.  But some kind of intentionality must be affirmed if notions like theory, concept, model, evidence, inference, truth, and the like -- which are central to the very notion of, and practice of, science itself -- are to be affirmed, or even reconstructed in some more scientistically “respectable” way.  The notion of “information” seems to do the trick only because it is systematically ambiguous.  If meant in something like the technical, Claude Shannon sense, it is itself prima facie compatible with scientism, but irrelevant to reconstructing inherently intentional notions like theory, concept, truth, etc. in materialist-friendly terms.  If meant instead in the ordinary sense, it is relevant, but then smacks of intentionality of just the sort the advocate of scientism was supposed to be explaining away.  (I’ve discussed these sorts of problems with eliminativism about intentionality in several places, such as here.)

But I would say that all of this is secondary to what I take to be the two areas in which eliminativism reaches its absolute, undeniable limits in principle: formal or abstract thought; and change.  The first is what James Ross, in an argument I defend at length in an article in the latest ACPQ, notes is essentially determinate in a way material properties and processes cannot be in principle.  As Ross argues, to deny that our thought processes are ever really determinate -- to deny, for example, that there is ever a fact of the matter about whether we add, square, reason in accordance with modus ponens, etc. -- is doubly incoherent.  For one thing, it entails that none of our arguments -- including the arguments that purportedly support the denial that we ever have thoughts of a determinate form -- is valid.  For another, even to deny that we ever really add, reason in accordance with modus ponens, etc. requires that we grasp what it would be to do these things, and that requires having thoughts that are determinate in the ways in question.

That denying change cannot coherently be done has been obvious since Parmenides and Zeno first tried to do it.  Even to entertain their sophistical arguments requires that one work through their premises and, if one is to come around to their view, that one be convinced that their reasoning is sound -- all of which involves change.  Modern, Einstein-inspired attempts to deny the reality of change face a similar incoherence if pushed through consistently, as I argued in my recent paper on motion and inertia

Now it is the reality of formal or abstract thought that, in the view of classical philosophers, provides the chief reason why our intellectual faculties cannot possibly be entirely accounted for in material terms.  (See my defense of Ross for the full story.)  And the reality of change is the foundation of the Aristotelian theory of act and potency, which is in turn the key to the chief Aristotelian-Thomistic proofs of the existence of God.  New Atheist types in love with the ad hominem will no doubt be quick to conclude that this must be the reason why some philosophers insist that change and formal thought cannot coherently be eliminated.  But it is rather obvious why someone might agree that there is something fishy in denying the reality of change or formal thought processes even if he is not inclined either to theism or dualism.  What is much harder to see is why anyone would for a moment take seriously eliminativism about change or formal thought unless he was motivated to try to avoid theism and dualism.  As is so often the case, the person quick to fling an ad hominem will soon find he has thrown a boomerang. 

More interesting, perhaps, is the question why eliminativism about change and formal thought does not these days get the attention that eliminativist views regarding consciousness, intentionality, and the like do -- especially given that, as I would claim, the existence of change and formal thought processes ultimately pose the gravest challenge to naturalism, scientism, and related views.  Part of the answer is the general ignorance of the arguments of classical (Platonic, Aristotelian, Scholastic) natural theology and philosophical psychology that prevails today, and about which I so often complain.  When the modern reader hears talk of arguing from the world to God, he thinks of Paley and Leibniz, of “irreducible complexity,” Sufficient Reason, and the like -- not of the theory of act and potency.  When he hears talk of the immateriality of the mind, he thinks of qualia or perhaps of intentionality understood as mere directedness on to an object -- neither of which have much to do with Aristotelian or Thomistic arguments for the immateriality of thought.

A more remote cause, I would speculate, lies in the two epistemological doctrines that first vied to replace the Aristotelian-Scholastic conception of knowledge -- rationalism and empiricism.  The Scholastics affirmed the principle of causality, according to which any actualized potency must be actualized by something already actual.  This is a claim about objective reality, part of the theory of act and potency, whose foundations lie in the philosophy of nature and the analysis of how change as a feature of the objective world is possible.  The rationalists pushed this aside in favor of the “Principle of Sufficient Reason,” which is a purported “law of thought” rather than a thesis about objective, empirically knowable reality.  Change per se as the starting point for arguments in natural theology dropped off the “mainstream” radar screen, and failed to return even after the desiccated rationalist versions of the old proofs were dealt their supposed death blows by Hume and Kant.

Meanwhile, the empiricists crudely conflated conceptual thought with mental imagery, thereby obscuring that aspect of the mind that the Scholastics regarded as truly distinctive of human beings and the obvious mark of immateriality.  Even though later philosophers would see through the empiricists’ sophistries on this particular score, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume had succeeded in kicking up enough dust that the debate over materialism would no longer focus primarily on conceptual thought but instead on secondary issues (again, qualia and intentionality understood as mere directedness on to an object -- neither of which are essentially incorporeal on an Aristotelian-Scholastic view).

(I said more about the role modern rationalism and empiricism have played in obscuring the arguments of classical and Scholastic writers in a post on the philosophy of nature some months back.)

In any event, a failure to see their theistic and dualistic implications is surely at least one reason why change and formal thought do not show up in the contemporary eliminativist’s crosshairs as frequently as (say) intentionality or consciousness do.  One way to avoid seeing the obvious is to try to convince yourself that your eyes are lying to you.  Another is just to look in the wrong direction.

454 comments:

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Untenured said...

"...Hume had succeeded in kicking up enough dust that the debate over materialism would no longer focus primarily on conceptual thought but instead on secondary issues (again, qualia and intentionality understood as mere directedness on to an object -- neither of which are essentially incorporeal on an Aristotelian-Scholastic view)."

I think among contemporary philosophers, there is another motivation in play that is equally important- the conviction that thinking is nothing more than a symbol manipulation process that can, as a matter of principle, be mechanically implemented. This is taken by many to have been established as an in-principle possibility by Turing and Von Neumann.

Hence, many naturalists think that the problem of thought is soluble *in principle* but that the problem of qualia is harder. Of course, this problem faces (in my opinion, insuperable) hurdles of its own, but it merits separate attention, I think.

Thomas E. Vaughan said...

I must admit that I feel drawn toward scientific instrumentalism. By this I mean that a thing like an electron, which cannot be perceived by the senses but can be imagined only by way of a scientific theory, is not considered to be real, though it is a useful fiction.

Michael Brazier said...

"This is taken by many to have been established as an in-principle possibility by Turing and Von Neumann."

Anyone who thinks that doesn't understand Turing's work on the theory of computation. The Halting Problem is a limit on what methods of reasoning can be mechanically implemented, of the same kind as Goedel's Incompleteness Theorems (IIRC one was inspired by the other.) That is, Turing's work like Goedel's established that thinking about mathematics cannot, as a matter of principle, be reduced to a process of manipulating symbols.

Well, strictly speaking, Turing's work did that on the assumption that thinking has any intrinsic meaning at all, and "1+1=2" is indeed objectively true and not an arbitrary series of signs. But denying that assumption takes you straight into eliminative materialism, radical skepticism towards all logical methods, and total incoherence.

wrf3 said...

Brazier wrote: That is, Turing's work like Goedel's established that thinking about mathematics cannot, as a matter of principle, be reduced to a process of manipulating symbols.

It did no such thing. Mathematics is symbol manipulation. In fact, Turing and Gödel used symbol manipulation to prove their results! All the "Halting Problem" says is that it is impossible to write a computer program that can determine whether or not any arbitrary computer program will halt or not. Human minds can't do this, either.

"1+1=2" is indeed objectively true and not an arbitrary series of signs.

The two aren't mutually exclusive.

Eduardo said...

Perhaps he is talking about the referential content of the symbol, not necessarily the symbols we use.

Anonymous said...

This never gets addressed, but I still don't understand what it means for qualia to be corporeal. They don't exist anwhere other than in the mind, you can't locate them or touch them, because you can imagine things that don't exist anywhere as physical objects. Animals do this too -- we know animals dream. I can see that color, size, texture might be considered as paradigmatically what it is to be a body, but then it just seems that qualia in the mind and qualia in objects are different things. And if animals can have qualia because they're material, then can a computer?

Anonymous said...

A reductionist account of some phenomenon takes it to be real but not what it appears to be.

What an odd and wrong way to characterize the reductionist position.

Reductionism is simply the belief that some things can be explained in terms of simpler things. The fact that, say, color vision can be explained in terms of wavelengths of light, reflectivity, and neural receptors does not mean that color vision is not “what it appears to be”. It is both a physical system, a computational system, and a cognitive system, and possibly other things, all at the same time. Complex systems have to be understood at multiple levels; that’s just how the world is. It doesn’t mean that one level is realer than another.

Your statement seems to be trying (perhaps unconsciously) to conflate reductionism with eliminativism, because you either don’t understand or don’t buy reductionism.

Edward Feser said...

It doesn’t mean that one level is realer than another.

Then what you're describing is not "reductionism" as I (and others) use that term. What I have in mind is e.g. the sort of view Fodor expresses when he says, in Psychosemantics, that "if aboutness is real, it must be really something else."

Anyway, the post isn't about reductionism in the first place, so I wasn't trying to give a complete account of the view and its variants.

BLS said...

Reminds me of RED, red and Churchland.

Anonymous said...

OK. Reductionism is more interesting than eliminativism, because it is a position held by actual working scientists. Only philosophers push eliminativism. The scientific version of it (behaviorism) went out of fashion decades ago.

BLS said...

Hmm, I'm not that familiar with behviorism. How is behaviorism related to eliminativism? Eliminativism claims that things like qualia and intentionality do not exist at all. If I recall correctly, behaviorism claims that behvior can be described without making any reference to mental events or beliefs. "Without making any reference to" and "do not exist at all" sound like different things.

Scott said...

"It did no such thing. Mathematics is symbol manipulation. In fact, Turing and Gödel used symbol manipulation to prove their results!"

It did indeed do such a thing, mathematics is not only symbol manipulation, and the fact that Turing and Gödel used symbol manipulation to prove their results doesn't in any way show that symbol manipulation exhausts what they were doing.

Anonymous said...

They are different but obviously related.

Scott said...

"'Without making any reference to' and 'do not exist at all' sound like different things."

They are, but behaviorism and behaviorists have tended to slip easily from one to the other. John B. Watson did a fairly good job of sticking to the former(internal states don't matter to psychology as a science), but B.F. Skinner tended strongly toward the latter (internal states don't matter a whit even if they exist at all).

BLS said...

I see. Also, I wonder if scientists generally assume reductive materialism for the sake of methodology, or if they actively argue for it.

Unknown said...

Gary Drescher's book Good and Real takes a reductionist position on change, volition/intentionality, and mind, and also e.g. mathematical universals (if I remember correctly from a brief flick-through).

Daniel Smith said...

...in terms of a modern, mechanistic, anti-Aristotelian conception of matter, on which matter is inherently devoid of finality, directedness, or teleology of any kind.

But "matter" by itself (without form) IS inherently devoid of finality, directedness, or teleology of any kind!

Form, finality, directedness, teleology, et.al. are totally mind-dependent, or so says the good Doctor in his 5th way.

(Here we go again!)

wrf3 said...

Scott wrote: It did indeed do such a thing, [... i.e. mathematics cannot be reduced to manipulating symbols ...] mathematics is not only symbol manipulation, and the fact that Turing and Gödel used symbol manipulation to prove their results doesn't in any way show that symbol manipulation exhausts what they were doing.

What Turing (and Gödel) did is show that consistent systems which allow certain self-referential statements enables one to ask questions to which answers cannot be found within the system in which they are asked. Gödel showed that the answer to some of those questions can be done by using symbol manipulation in a larger system. That's it.

If mathematics is "not only symbol manipulation", what else is it? What wasn't I taught as a part of my degree in applied mathematics?

grodrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
grodrigues said...

@wrf3:

"What Turing (and Gödel) did is show that consistent systems which allow certain self-referential statements enables one to ask questions to which answers cannot be found within the system in which they are asked."

Wrong. Turing's (and Godel) results can be proved without appealing to self-referential statements.

"If mathematics is "not only symbol manipulation", what else is it?"

For lack of a better word, and with no implied Platonic connotations, the mathematical universe.

"What wasn't I taught as a part of my degree in applied mathematics?"

Mathematics? Shrug shoulders.

Anonymous said...

Isn't "symbol manipulation" utterly empty unless there is some sort of initial agreement as to what the symbols represent?

Eduardo said...

Well in a sense... Symbols usually try to represent a lamguage, but they by themselves have no meaning.

See the intention comes from us.

Eduardo said...

I shall not mock the argument of authority .... i shall not mock the argument of authority....

Scott said...

"If mathematics is 'not only symbol manipulation', what else is it?"

The rational grasp of logical relationships involving number and space.

"What wasn't I taught as a part of my degree in applied mathematics?"

Understanding, apparently. My own graduate education in mathematics included it; I don't know why yours didn't. [shrugs shoulders with grodrigues]

Eduardo said...

wrf3.... You posted in Vox's didn't you man?

I am certain I have seen you hahahhaha.

Anonymous said...

"Mathematical truths" are just the logical outworkings of a posited set of initial, brute, contestable axioms. A different set of axioms would have given rise to an entirely different body of "mathematical truths." How can mathematics thus be considered knowledge on a par with scientific knowledge (knowledge of the world around us, not based on any axioms stemming gratuitously and unjustifiably from the fallible human subject, but based rather on pure, assumptionless *discovery*)?

Eduardo said...

Well depends on how you define mathematics no? Mathematics can not outside the boundaries of it's definition, and anything within that definition is the mathematical universe.

Don't even know if they are necessarily comparable, these fields worry about two different things, but mathematical demonstrations once show to be correct with a system are correct forever, in a sense is better than science, but really don't think they are any good in being compared with each other, two different fields of human knowledge.

Not based on any axioms.... Wow what an absurd statement about science, science always has axioms, it needs axioms so the experiments can even be taken to be valid, these axioms, Galileu and Newton and many others discuss them before proposing a new theory or a new type of experiment.

Well the fallible human subject HAS TO analyse the experiment to do science, so science is not any better than mathematics in that subject.

Errr... Wow, you probably don't know much about scientific research, you should try reading dicdatical books and science classics, and put on top of it all some documents of big labs that explain how they do the experiments and how they analyse things. Getting some philosophy of science won't do you any harm too.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was a philosophy blog, and I thought that should mean that people should have a basic familiarity with existing positions on a debate, People have actually given some thought to these questions.

Eduardo said...

Actually this is the net, the best thing to expect is that most people are not acquainted with anything!

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Trying not to wade too deep in the issue about Goedel, computing machines, and minds, I’d like to claim the following propositions I take to be factual:

1. Goedel’s theorem establishes an epistemic limitation all finite computing machines (i.e. systems which manipulate symbols through mechanical laws) suffer from.

2. Some philosophers and mathematicians (including eminent ones such as Roger Penrose) hold that the human mind does not suffer from such an epistemic limitation, and therefore that our brain cannot be modeled as being a computing machine.

The naturalist may object to what the philosophers and mathemacians in #2 believe by using the following argument:

Consider a world W, with no God or teleology in it, but blindly evolving from some initial state by purely mechanical laws (deterministic or probabilistic). Further imagine that all physical facts of W are identical to the physical facts in ours. Thus in W there is a Thomas Aquinas putting exactly the same marks of ink on paper, and similarly a Schroedinger scribbling his own marks, a Goedel his, and so on. Since there is no whiff of reason why one should suspect that W suffers from some internal logical contradiction, we are warranted to hold that W can possibly exist. But then, since Goedel’s theorem in no way limits Aquinas’s, Newton’s, or Goedel’s discoveries in W, neither does it limit their discoveries in the our real world. And since in W they do make their discoveries by purely mechanical means, there is no reason to suspect their discoveries in our world are anything more than the result of purely mechanical processes in their brains. But then there is no reason to think that the human brain cannot be modeled as being a computing machine.

Eduardo said...

Perhaps the human Dianelos is smuggling somethings into W... Allowing stuff that was not possible, become possible because Dianelos knows that stuff.

Basically saying, W has a pretty nice overwatching god XD

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Anonymous said...

Well, I'm pretty sure that the guys here would argue that if there was no immanent teleology, then there would be no regularites or laws.

And don't higher level sciences depend heavily on mathematics? If the validity of our math is called into question...

Eduardo said...

Correct... most of our science would become bogus, ambiguous and no necesssiraly worth for anything XD.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

""Mathematical truths" are just the logical outworkings of a posited set of initial, brute, contestable axioms."

Now this is ironical: first wrf3, then this Anonymous, championing a reductionist / eliminativist conception of mathematics in a post dedicated to the limits of eliminativism.

Your unargued claim is duly noticed.

"A different set of axioms would have given rise to an entirely different body of "mathematical truths.""

The axiomatic method, outside of foundational questions or questions of a logical nature, serves at least this one purpose: to define and single out the family of objects under study. Is it any wonder that you get "an entirely different body of "mathematical truths.""? The truths of the theory of groups are different from the truths of the theory of topological spaces simply because groups and topological spaces are different thingumajigs. Nothing surprising here.

And even in foundational questions, or questions of a logical nature, mathematicians know that very well. They actively pursue different formal systems and formalizations of theories; "measure" the effect of dropping one axiom or adding another; research new axioms sufficient to decide questions currently independent of the more commonly used formal systems; reverse-engineer the proofs to know the weakest formal systems in which a given theorem can be proved, etc., etc. and etc. This is all part of the day-to-day business. In other words, the fact that different formal theories entail different sets of theorems is itself a mathematical phenomenon worthy of mathematical study.

So what you say, while true in a sense, is also completely irrelevant.

"How can mathematics thus be considered knowledge on a par with scientific knowledge"

What do you mean by "on par"? Maybe, the fact that scientific knowledge is, contrary to mathematics, knowledge about the "real world"? If that is the reason, I suppose you have a point, but so what?

And do mathematical objects have any sort of extra-mental existence? I do not believe in Platonism, but I am eager to know your decisive refutation of it. Without it, your "reason" to say they are not on par crumbles. But even if you are not a Platonist, what about indispensability arguments and Quine's (a hardened naturalist) confirmational holism?

Even if they do not, the fact is that the empirical sciences *presuppose* mathematics, not the other way around, so in that sense mathematics is more fundamental.

"knowledge of the world around us, not based on any axioms stemming gratuitously and unjustifiably from the fallible human subject"

The axioms do not "stem[ming] gratuitously and unjustifiably from the fallible human subject". There are cogent justifications and motivations, mixing mathematical and philosophical arguments, for the foundational formal systems or for the basic principles of mathematics. And what is this about "the fallible human subject"? Physicists are not human, is it?

"but based rather on pure, assumptionless *discovery*?"

Physics say, based on "pure, assumptionless *discovery*"? Oh brother... Go study physics and its quite instructive history.

Eduardo said...

Grodrigues...

Are you a fan Hulk Hogan XD, brother?

wrf3 said...

grodrigues wrote: For lack of a better word, and with no implied Platonic connotations, the mathematical universe.

And what is "the mathematical universe" other than symbols and the rules for manipulating them ? You're right back to mathematics being a process of manipulating symbols.

eduardo said: I shall not mock the argument of authority .... i shall not mock the argument of authority....

I assume this was directed at me. To recap, I take issue with Brazier's statement that "mathematics cannot ... be reduced to a process of manipulating symbols". If that's a true statement, then someone should be able to show what else it is. Whatever this "it" is (if it really exists), it wasn't a part of my formal education. So, I'm not offering a proof that "it" doesn't exist. Rather, I'd like for a hole in my education to be filled. {And, yes, you've seen me on Vox's site}.

For example, Scott supplied the answer: The rational grasp of logical relationships involving number and space.

Rational means "doesn't result in a contradiction according to the given rules". And "number" and "space" are symbols in our heads. So we're right back to symbol manipulation.

Anonymous wrote: people should have a basic familiarity with existing positions on a debate...

Well, sure. And in the link, you have one mathematician arguing with another mathematician whether this set of symbols and rules for manipulation are equivalent to that set of symbols and rules for manipulation. M1 said "yes, they are." M2 said, "there was a problem with your proof", while M3 came along and said, "this set of manipulations may have answered the question."

It still doesn't provide support for Brazier's initial statement. What Brazier seems to misunderstand is that Gödel and Turing are talking about inherent limitations of consistent systems of symbol manipulation. Humans are informal inconsistent symbol manipulators. And that can be mechanically implemented.

Eduardo said...

wrf3.

Negative sir, you didn't do any argument of authority XD, rather it was ANON NUMBER 2! that did that.

I KNEW IT! XD, I remember your name there, I was so certain.

BLS said...

Just thought these might be relevant.

1. Computation involves symbol manipulation according to syntactical rules.

2. But syntax and symbols are not definable in terms of the physics of a system.

3. So computation is not intrinsic to the physics of a system, but assigned to it by an observer.

4. So the brain cannot coherently be said to be intrinsically a digital computer.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/02/popper-contra-computationalism.html

BLS said...

I'm not a math or mind guy, but what I seem to get out of that is "Sure, you can model brain/mind processes in terms of symbol manipulation, but you can only succeed if you assume/smuggle in intentionality."

wrf3 said...

BLS wrote: 2. But syntax and symbols are not definable in terms of the physics of a system.

Of course they are. Every computer is a physical system and computers deal with syntax and symbols.

After all, computer programming is just the art of embedding thought into physical form. It's only because of an accident of engineering (the human brain currently beats most computers in complexity of wiring), that we think there's something non-physical about the more complex system.

wrf3 said...

BLS wrote: but you can only succeed if you assume/smuggle in intentionality.

"Intentionality" is simply motion in a certain direction. The universe is constantly in motion. Some motions result in the ability of self-replicating systems to replicate.

So this is an observation of what is. Nothing assumed or smuggled. Now, we can argue about why the universe is the way it is, but in questions of this type, Newton's third law of academia applies.

BLS said...

What is it about the symbol "+" points in the direction of "adding?"

grodrigues said...

@wrf3:

"And what is "the mathematical universe" other than symbols and the rules for manipulating them? You're right back to mathematics being a process of manipulating symbols."

What exactly do you think a question-begging, bare assertion proves?

Your assertion is wrong in so many ways, that it is hard to know where to begin exactly. Here are a few pointers.

1. The Greeks concocted proofs using straightedge, compass and a ruler. The method of proof is a perfectly valid one; they were not manipulating symbols. And these proof-by-pictures methods are not an outdated phenomenon. For one example, just survey the literature on graphical calculus for certain classes of categories (Feynman diagrams are a special case), which then enter into subjects as diverse as knot theory, quantum topology, representation theory, etc.

2. The formalization of mathematics is a typically modern phenomenon. The "reduction" by mathematical logic of mathematics to languages, wff's, axioms, deductive rules, etc. is for the purpose of studying exactly those things: languages, proofs, etc. but the reduction should not be confused with the real deal.

3. Mathematicians do not do just "symbol pushing". They do all sorts of things like conceptual analysis, way way beyond symbol manipulation.

4. To borrow from Orwell, some statements are more equal than others, some theorems are more equal than others. For one example, the reason the P_0^1 (P here stands for the capital pi Greek letter) statement

A e > 0 A x in X E e' > 0 A y in X, d(x, y) < e' => d(f(x), f(y)) < e

is important is because it is the formalization of the intuitive notion of continuity. If you swap the two middle quantifiers you obtain the important analytical notion of uniform continuity; and for constructivists of certain persuasions uniform continuity *is* the correct notion of continuity. The distinctions in this bullet are meaningless if mathematics is nothing "other than symbols and the rules for manipulating them". Since it is not meaningless, mathematics is really more "than symbols and the rules for manipulating them".

5. One of the reasons why proofs that rely essentially on complex calculations, possibly with the help of a computer, are frowned upon (like Hales' proof of the Kepler conjecture) is because they communicate little understanding -- and that is what mathematicians are after, understanding of their proper object of study, the mathematical universe: groups, manifolds, cohomology theories, deductive calculi, proofs, automata, combinatorial species, derived categories, Banach spaces, differential equations, etc.

6. Mathematicians are not just concerned with syntax, but also with semantics, with the models and intended interpretations of the symbols. One lesson of Godel's theorems is that there is a disconnect between the semantic notion of truth and the syntactic notion of provability; provability does not exhaust truth. Also, the duality between syntax and semantics is well known and takes many forms. My favorite is the Gabriel-Ulmer theorem which says that the functor sending a theory to its category of models is a biequivalence between appropriate 2-categories.

wrf3 said...

BLS asked: What is it about the symbol "+" points in the direction of "adding?"

Group consensus. Just like some people think "hund" is the symbol for a canine, while others use "dog", and others still "sabacca" (sp? My Russian is very, very rusty).

BLS said...

What is it about the symbol "+" that intrinsically points in the direction of "adding?"

Fixed.

Eduardo said...

I thought it was our intention that was guided by what we learned as consensus no?

BLS said...

"Group consensus. Just like some people think "hund" is the symbol for a canine, while others use "dog", and others still "sabacca" (sp? My Russian is very, very rusty)."

Then the symbol only has derived intentionality. No group means no consensus, no consensus means no "direction." There is nothing in "+" that points toward "adding" on its own.

wrf3 said...

BLS wrote: Then the symbol only has derived intentionality. No group means no consensus, no consensus means no "direction." There is nothing in "+" that points toward "adding" on its own.

Sure. So? There is only "non-derived" intentionality if the universe has intentionality. At this point, Newton's third law of academics (or, perhaps, Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem) takes over, at least, as far as philosophy is concerned.

BLS said...

"Sure. So? There is only "non-derived" intentionality if the universe has intentionality."

Doesn't naturalist reductionism deny that matter/energy can intrinsically be "about" something? It's like saying that an electron or a chemical reaction can be "about something."

wrf3 said...

grodrigues wrote: What exactly do you think a question-begging, bare assertion proves?

It's more of an observation. When you mention, for example, things like "semantics", "understanding", "models", etc... what your brain is doing is pattern matching. And pattern matching is a form of symbol manipulation. When you talk about continuity, you're pattern matching one set of symbols to another set of symbols, namely, the way we perceive the external world.

grodrigues said...

@wrf3:

"It's more of an observation. When you mention, for example, things like "semantics", "understanding", "models", etc... what your brain is doing is pattern matching. And pattern matching is a form of symbol manipulation. When you talk about continuity, you're pattern matching one set of symbols to another set of symbols, namely, the way we perceive the external world."

More question-begging, bare assertions?

Sorry, but you simply have no idea what you are talking about.

Anonymous said...

I want to chime in some support for wrf3, who is saying a lot of what I would say (especially his observation that humans are not consistent symbol systems and thus Gödel does not apply).

@grodrigues: Doesn't naturalist reductionism deny that matter/energy can intrinsically be "about" something? It's like saying that an electron or a chemical reaction can be "about something."

Right, there is nothing “intrinsic” about aboutness. The symbol “dog” does not refer to dogs intrinsically; it refers because there are biologically and culturally evolved symbol interpretation engines that implement a mapping between symbols and referents. In China, or anyplace else where they have a different set of mappings, “dog” does not refer to dogs.

Eduardo said...

Right, it has.... Derived intention from us. You people are sort of agreeing with eqch other.

Anonymous said...

"Right, there is nothing “intrinsic” about aboutness."

Quick question. If there is no intrinsic intentionality, does it follow that there is only derived intentionality? If there is only derived intentionality, doesn't that entail an infinite regress of "meaning-givers?"

Eduardo said...

Yeah, it does. XD

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, it does. XD"

Actually, I'm having second thoughts about that. Is it even possible for something with derived intentionality to "give meaning?" It seems like that would entail that the symbol "cat" or "+" could "give meaning" to another symbol. And that certainly does not sound right.

Eduardo said...

Well, if intention is nothing but projection of entiy A on entity B, then entity B is unaware of it's meaning and hence incapable of giving it to any one. If entity can give meaning in a way that we give present to one another then B could just give that present to something else.

So yeah it is possible.... Within a theoretical landscape I mean.

Anonymous said...

But is it even possible (in our universe) to "pass on" what you cannot "have?" Atoms can give and take electrons, but not presents.

Unless electrons ARE presents... I'm sure halogens are very happy when they get electrons lol.

BLS said...

"@grodrigues: Doesn't naturalist reductionism deny that matter/energy can intrinsically be "about" something? It's like saying that an electron or a chemical reaction can be "about something.""

I was the one who said that. Also, isn't "mapping" an intentional term? Particles and action potentials don't "map."

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"I want to chime in some support for wrf3, who is saying a lot of what I would say (especially his observation that humans are not consistent symbol systems and thus Gödel does not apply)."

For the love of God, what the heck is a "consistent symbol system"? Does that mean that we are "inconsistent"? Since from a contradiction anything follows, it follows that every argument we make is fatally flawed?

I never claimed anything in the neighborhood of "humans are not consistent symbol systems", nor did I apply Gödel's theorems to humans, whatever that means exactly. And for the record, consistency is *not* a necessary hypothesis in the Gödel's theorems; you only need it to prove that (the arithmetic encoding of) the Gödelian sentence is true, but otherwise everything goes through. The crux of the theorems lie elsewhere.

And I was just countering the idea that mathematics is just "symbol pushing": it is false to the historical facts, to the mathematical practice, etc. and etc. But when wrf3 says that "When you talk about continuity, you're pattern matching one set of symbols to another set of symbols, namely, the way we perceive the external world." or when you say that "Right, there is nothing “intrinsic” about aboutness. The symbol “dog” does not refer to dogs intrinsically; it refers because there are biologically and culturally evolved symbol interpretation engines that implement a mapping between symbols and referents." you simply show that you do not have the faintest idea of what you are talking about, as this is simply incoherent.

Eduardo said...

Sure electrons are like presents hahahhaha

Well, there is just ONE way to give something you don't have at a given moment. Is to create it yourself.... The problem is this is not reallllly compatible with saying that ex nihilo nihil fit XD.

Imagine the hydrogen atom "creating" out of nothing or maybe out of energy in vaccum, meaning to something....

I think some physicists might kill themselves thinking about it hahahhaha.

Anyway, I don't see this system making much sense becuase of the creation part.

seanrobsville said...

Computation, in the Turing sense, does not involve the manipulation of symbols.

It involves the manipulation of the characters of a defined 'alphabet' (which may be as simple as 0 and 1).

The symbolic significance of those characters is assigned from 'outside the system', and is thus a form of derived intentionality.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Anonymous 12:29PM

“The fact that, say, color vision can be explained in terms of wavelengths of light, reflectivity, and neural receptors”

I think there is no such fact. Wavelengths of light, reflectivity, and neural receptors only describe a chain of physical states which in the right circumstances cause color vision, but do not in any way whatsoever explain color vision itself. Given the appropriate physical cause, why should there be color vision? Cutting to the chase, given a particular pattern of neuron firings in my brain why is it that I experience color? That’s the difficult thing to explain, and reductionism helps not one bit, since at the level of neuron firings it arrives at the bottom step of the reductionist ladder. Which I suppose is the reason why reductionism in philosophy of mind is getting out of fashion, and why materialists are pushed to either absurd eliminativism or defeatist mysterianism. Instrumentalism appears to be an attempt to change the subject. And functionalism appears to be vacuous since consciousness serves no known function, and is indeed an unnecessary hypothesis in the physical sciences.

BLS said...

I have a question about Dretske's attempt at a naturalist account of meaning. From an older blog post:

"Natural signs can be said to have a kind of “natural meaning,” which Dretske abbreviates as meaning(n): spots on the face mean(n) that measles are present, expanding metal means(n) that the temperature is rising, etc."

Isn't this account dependent on the principle of proportional causality? It seems to me that Dretske is saying that spots on the face "point backwards" to measles. Or that effects "point backwards" at there causes. However, if causes and effects are indeed "loose and separate" then I don't see how Dretske can objectively say that spots on the face point backwards at measles.

Anonymous said...

For the love of God, what the heck is a "consistent symbol system"? Does that mean that we are "inconsistent"? Since from a contradiction anything follows, it follows that every argument we make is fatally flawed?

Humans use symbols and inference but they do not (in general) use consistent formal reasoning. That really should be obvious. Human thought is biased, sloppy, and necessarily probabilistic since we don’t have access to formal statements of predicate logic but only the noisy evidence of our senses.

If the human mind was a system of formal logic, then indeed from contradictory evidence it could derive anything. But it isn’t and it doesn’t.

You’ll have to explain why you think my statement about intrinsic intentionality is “simply incoherent”. Seems pretty coherent to me, not to mention correct.. You aren’t making even a smidgeon of an argument.

wrf3 said...

Anonymous observed You aren’t making even a smidgeon of an argument.

Indeed. grodrigues wrote to me, Sorry, but you simply have no idea what you are talking about.

The feeling is mutual, but it doesn't help anyone to understand why.

Meaning arises from isomorphisms between things (see, e.g. GEB) and isomorphisms are the result of the pattern matching circuits in our brains. It really isn't that hard to understand in principle, although the engineering is incredibly difficult. Our senses receive the image of a dog, our brains convert that to a string of bits in the brain, and our pattern matching circuitry associates that string of bits with the string of bits for the word "dog" (or "hund", or ...)

Furthermore, it has to be this way. Neurons and NAND gates are functionally equivalent.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"Humans use symbols and inference but they do not (in general) use consistent formal reasoning. That really should be obvious."

Obvious? Only if to you. If you wanted to say that "Humans use symbols and inference" why did you say "humans are not consistent symbol systems"? Or appealed to Gödel's theorems?

"Human thought is biased, sloppy, and necessarily probabilistic since we don’t have access to formal statements of predicate logic but only the noisy evidence of our senses."

Not that you have presented any argument, but just in the unlikely case you do, then I can safely dismiss it as "biased, sloppy, and necessarily probabilistic". In particular whatever argument you present for the alleged fact that "Human thought is biased, sloppy, and necessarily probabilistic" is itself biased, sloppy and necessarily probabilistic.

"You’ll have to explain why you think my statement about intrinsic intentionality is “simply incoherent”. Seems pretty coherent to me, not to mention correct. You aren’t making even a smidgeon of an argument."

I am sorry, but did you anywhere made "a smidgeon of an argument" at all besides machine gunning us with unargued claims and assertions?

Your statement is incoherent because first you say that "there is nothing “intrinsic” about aboutness" and then go on to throw around with gleeful abandonment expressions like "symbol interpretation engines" and "implement a mapping between symbols and referents". Obviously, words like "dog" do not intrinsically refer to dogs. It is a matter of human convention that the particular word "dog" has come to mean dog in the English language. Rather, words are signs of thoughts or ideas. Words are then used to communicate, or make common, the *same* thoughts and ideas -- otherwise, communication is not even possible. It is the thought "dog" that is intrinsically about dogs. If the thought "dog" is not intrinsically about dogs, I do not even know what you can possibly mean by "the thought "dog" is not intrinsically about dogs".

BLS said...

"associates" seems like an intentional term. Fundamental particles do not associate. You have to describe the brain/mind operations in a way that does not use intentional term like "associate."

grodrigues said...

@wrf3:

"Meaning arises from isomorphisms between things (see, e.g. GEB) and isomorphisms are the result of the pattern matching circuits in our brains."

Crank alert.

Isomorphism has a definite technical meaning. Off the top of my head, the widest possible meaning is in category theory. So what is the category of "things"? What are the morphisms? The composition and the units? "isomorphisms are the result of the pattern matching circuits in our brains"? What does this even mean? Let us take pattern matching in the sense as it is used in regular expressions. *What* isomorphism is implemented by the fact that a given string matches a pattern regular expression? If not in the sense of regular expressions, maybe in the sense of parsers that can recognize a given language. Same question.

Isomorphism means "of the same form". Two isomorphic objects are category-theoretically indistinguishable. What does it mean to say that meaning of a thought (*not* words, I am not interested in words) arises from an isomorphism?

"It really isn't that hard to understand in principle, although the engineering is incredibly difficult."

Yes, for a crank nothing is hard to understand.

"Our senses receive the image of a dog, our brains convert that to a string of bits in the brain, and our pattern matching circuitry associates that string of bits with the string of bits for the word "dog" (or "hund", or ...)"

...

On second thought, do not bother to answer the questions.

wrf3 said...

BLS wrote: "associates" seems like an intentional term.

It is.

Fundamental particles do not associate.

But computer circuits, whether made up of neurons or NAND gates, do. And they are made up of fundamental particles.

You have to describe the brain/mind operations in a way that does not use intentional term like "associate."

Why? Pattern matching is a computation that associates some things with other things.

BLS said...

"But computer circuits, whether made up of neurons or NAND gates, do. And they are made up of fundamental particles."

Do you have an explanation as to how intentionality appears when non-intentional parts are arranged in a certain way?

Eduardo said...

Calm down gentleman, no character assassination come on, we are having such a wonderful time here !!!

BLS said...

"Why? Pattern matching is a computation that associates some things with other things."

A materialist explanation cannot use anything other than material and efficient causes (basically physics) to explain something. If it is not a part of mind-independent physics, then I don't think it is materialistic. If you use intentional terms like pattern matching and association, then you aren't doing it right.

grodrigues said...

@Eduardo:

"Calm down gentleman, no character assassination come on, we are having such a wonderful time here !!!"

Fair enough. My apologies to the audience in general, and to wrf3 in particular, for my abrasive tone.

But I stick by everything I said. wrf3 is borrowing terms that have definite technical meanings, that vaguely, only vaguely, do the work he wants them to, but when probed just a little bit deeper, it is just a hastily cobbled-up meaningless (heh) equivocating mish-mash.

seanrobsville said...

Pattern matching is a computation that associates some things with other things.

Pattern matching is a computation that compares a string of bits with another string of bits.

Eduardo said...

BLS.

I don't think wrf3 is a materialist XD.

So you better drop those references man XD.

grodrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
grodrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wrf3 said...

grodrigues wrote: Crank alert.

In Gödel, Escher, Bach on page 49, Hofstadter writes:

"ISOMORPHISMS INDUCE MEANINGS

... My answer would be that we perceived an isomorphism between pq-theorems and additions. In the Introduction, the word "isomorphism" was defined as an information preserving transformation. We can now go into that notion a little more deeply, and see it from another perspective. The word "isomorphism" applies when two complex structures can be mapped onto each other, in such a way that to each part of one structure there is a corresponding part in the other structure, where "corresponding" means that the two arts play similar rolls in their respective structures. This usage of the word "isomorphism" is derived from a more precise notion in mathematics."

Yes, for a crank nothing is hard to understand.
Except that's not what I said. The engineering is incredibly complex.

Consider space flight. The principles are easy: Newton's three laws can get you from the earth to the moon. The engineering, however, is pretty hard.

Eduardo said...

Grodrigues

Leave to me to be an asshole, is not like I add anything in these conversations to begin with XD.

wrf3 is very gentle person judging for how he writes in Vox's blog, but you two seem to have a rather different view of the mathematical universe.

That said, I think you two can solve the problem working with some common ground like a model or a basic formula, and analyse each adn everything someone does while using it.

BLS said...

"I don't think wrf3 is a materialist XD.

So you better drop those references man XD."

Huh, really? Maybe we should all just formally state our positions so there's no misrepresentation. I have no problem saying that there are physiological components of the brain that can be modeled computationally, but I also do not think that such a model will ever capture human thought in its entirety unless we grant intrinsic intentionality, something that is not an option under materialism.

BLS said...

"Newton's three laws can get you from the earth to the moon."

Physical laws cannot "do" anything. Only the matter that laws describe can "do" something. Just nit-picking.

Eduardo said...

Must get a mathematical dictionary XD.

Eduardo said...

BLS

hardly a materialist would cite, you know... the Bible and make references to Jesus, without saying to post on a blog of a very narcissitic conservative XD... ops I mean libertarian!

------------------------------------

I .... have no idea what I believe in, but I use to like a sort of dualism where mind produces subject aspects and brain produces objective aspects.

But i end with so many questions I end never even trying to think more about this idea XD.

Anonymous said...

I can safely dismiss it as "biased, sloppy, and necessarily probabilistic".

Feel free. But of course humans, in addition to their native cognitive style (sloppy) have developed technologies for thinking more precisely and better in other respects. Thus, humans can use their sloppy brains to perform formal logic if they choose, although the underlying substrate is not particularly logical. Having invented writing helps a lot. And we can make precise theories of (say) physics even though our intuitive sense of physics is imprecise, and we can make instruments to see in the infrared although we can’t do that natively.

Obviously, words like "dog" do not intrinsically refer to dogs. It is a matter of human convention...Rather, words are signs of thoughts or ideas. Words are then used to communicate, or make common, the *same* thoughts and ideas

Now at least we are getting somewhere.

OK, according to you there are:
- words, whose meaning is strictly conventional (eg “dog”)
- thoughts and ideas, which (according to you) are intrinsiically and magically* linked to their referents
- the referents themselves (dogs)

*I say ‘magically’ because apparently you don’t believe this relationship can be mediated by any natural process.

So, we have at least narrowed the problem to the nature of these mysterious thoughts and ideas. What are they? Not language-like symbolic structures, or we are back to the first item. Not physically instantiated patterns, or it wouldn’t be magic. They seem to be ghostly abstractions in some Platonic space, but that doesn’t say anything about how they are able to reference physical objects.

grodrigues said...

@wrf3:

Just in the *next* paragraph:

"The perception of an isomorphism between two known structures is a significant advance in knowledge—and I claim that it is such perceptions of isomorphism which create meanings in the minds of people. A final word on the perception of isomorphisms: since they come in many shapes and sizes, figuratively speaking, it is not always totally clear when you really have found an isomorphism. Thus, "isomorphism" is a word with all the usual vagueness of words—which is a defect but an advantage as well."

The next paragraph ends with the sentence:

"This symbol-word correspondence has a name: interpretation."

The next to next paragraph:

"Secondly, on a higher level, there is the correspondence between true statements and theorems. But—note carefully—this higher-level correspondence could not be perceived without the prior choice of an interpretation for the symbols. Thus it would be more accurate to describe it as a correspondence between true statements and interpreted theorems. In any case we have displayed a two-tiered correspondence, which is typical of all isomorphisms." (emphasis mine)

Still to this day, I have no idea what Hofstadter wants to convey by "isomorphisms induce meaning". Anyway, I rest my case.

Snarky Anon (Eduardo) said...

I say magical because, I like to be snarky!

Eduardo said...

Anon

I think he means it is not as an object of reality but rather something that is part of objects in reality.

It is not natural as defined by naturalism but it is natural as defined by A-T.

You are just not getting what he is saying that is all.

Eduardo said...

You see, think of meaning as part of the mix of what composes the object and not a part of the object.

You know, one thing people should expect in this blog is that we are always talking about fundamental things XD, so usually people that believe that their assumptions are not assumptions but simply facts, get a hard time understanding anything that is said here.

Dick Dawk said...

If it doesn't fit into my picture of reality, it is automatically wrong. I am in no way begging the question.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"So, we have at least narrowed the problem to the nature of these mysterious thoughts and ideas. What are they? Not language-like symbolic structures, or we are back to the first item. Not physically instantiated patterns, or it wouldn’t be magic. They seem to be ghostly abstractions in some Platonic space, but that doesn’t say anything about how they are able to reference physical objects."

Nice try at deflection, but what was under discussion were *your* mistakes and incoherent statements.

note: if you want to know the answer, read a book. For starters, see Scott MacDonald's "Theory of knowledge" in the Cambridge companion to Aquinas.

wrf3 said...

BLS wrote Maybe we should all just formally state our positions so there's no misrepresentation.

I'm a Christian, so I have to give primacy to the Word. However, "the Word became Flesh" so that I think it's possible to explain thought as matter in motion in certain patterns. That makes certain philosophical arguments for the existence of God extremely problematic.

... unless we grant intrinsic intentionality, something that is not an option under materialism.

Why? The universe is in motion. Matter in motion in certain patterns accomplishes computation. Our thoughts are just a subset of the "computation" being performed by the universe. If the universe is computing lots of things, some which are useful from out point of view and others that aren't, can it be said that the universe is intentional? As far as I can tell, that comes under Newton's three laws of academics. If I'm wrong, I'd dearly love to know why.

Eduardo said...

wrf3

funny, so the universe is always doing computational proccesses?

grodrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eduardo said...

and we can make instruments to see in the infrared although we can’t do that natively.

-----------------------------------

Actually, we don't see the infrared per se, we create systems to generate frequencies that we can see, by relating the stimulus of some objects to certain waves that we call infrared.

So it is not really true we see the infrared, all we do is that we translate the infrared into visible colors, and if the translation is correct it should show us somethings about these waves.

Putting simply, what really sees the infrared's are our assumptions and conclusions not our eyes.

wrf3 said...

BLS wrote: Do you have an explanation as to how intentionality appears when non-intentional parts are arranged in a certain way?

Yes.

Computation is based on split, combine, identity, and memory operations. A wire, for example, is the identity function. A NAND gate is a combination operation. It's also capable of memory operations. Put wires, electrons, and NAND gates together one way and you get, say, and addr. Put them another way and you get a circuit that recognizes whether or not a circuit is an adder. Put them together another way and you don't get anything.

Eduardo said...

That doesn't seem like any kind of intentional action, but rather a accidental outcome with pragmatic results for us humans.

wrf3, you and Grodrigues don't see to be talking about the same thing, something is not right here...

wrf3 said...

Eduardo asked: ... so the universe is always doing computational proccesses

Yes. Not all motion is a computation, but all computations involve motion.

Eduardo said...

wrf3.

is feel like computation is much more wide definition that I thought...

wrf3 said...

Eduardo wrote: That doesn't seem like any kind of intentional action, but rather a accidental outcome with pragmatic results for us humans.

How would you show this one way or another?

Let me note, in passing, that some brains are wired to think teleologically; some brains are wired to think teleologically, but suppress it; and other brains are wired to not think teleologically.

So, if you intend to offer a proof, your proof will have to take the above into account.

יאיר רזק said...

..."the reality of change is the foundation of the Aristotelian theory of act and potency, which is in turn the key to the chief Aristotelian-Thomistic proofs of the existence of God."

This makes the reality of change a very important issue. I would really like to hear more about why change is real, and how the act-potency theory resolves the arguments to the contrary.

I especially would like to hear how these counter-arguments are consistent with an atemporal deity. It appears to me that change for God is an illusion in much the same way change is an illusion for the Parmenedian. Just like God always created , atemporally, the me that was before reading Parmenides and changing my mind and the me after doing so, so too was it always, atemporally, true that in relativistic block-space-time parts of "me" existed before and after that "change". And just like God's creation is unified in the Simple deity, the division into this particular division of before and after is a mere convention on how to divide the unified spacetime. I cannot understand how the theist maintains God's atemporality and simplicity while denying the coherence of talking about change as an illusion.

To clarify the background - I am in the Parmenidean camp. Due to Parmenides' argument from the nature of being ans non-being, Broad's argument from the relativity of change (in respect to time), Penrose's argument from the relativity of simultaneity planes, and Minkowski's argument from the four-dimensional nature of objects. I'm not here to discuss any of that, however. I'm here to try to understand the other side.

Eduardo said...

wrf3

Wellllll... I think that the crux of the problem is because there is no intention in any of these parts, all they do is do unintentinal actions that end up making some command, but of course, nothing in the machine shows that is has done a command XD, it is we humans that they know we are doing a command.

That is why I am saying that it is in the end, given that there is no intention or meaning in the material of the computers, we just did some accidental construction that has pragmatic value for us.

For instance you notice that we know when a construction will give us the correct result and when it won't, but it is our brains and minds that tells us that, not the machine itself.

You seem to be confusing the fact that the initial parts have no intended meaning to you(let's pretend you didn't intend to build a computer XD), and in the end you have something that does what a sum. But really no meaning was created on the machine but rather, meaning was created in your head.

Given, that there is no intentionality or meaning on the pieces of the machine...

Eduardo said...

The Hebrew guy (Yair)

Some place here in the blog, Feser and other talked about that, you might find something interesting somewhere.

But maybe it might be something to do with analogy, and how one interprets each word.

Anonymous said...

Nice try at deflection, but what was under discussion were *your* mistakes and incoherent statements.


Lame way to try to dodge the question at hand.

if you want to know the answer, read a book. For starters, see Scott MacDonald's "Theory of knowledge" in the Cambridge companion to Aquinas.

Even lamer effort to avoid articulating your own position.

You are pure bluster.

By the way I did look up your reference, and I found it laughable that anybody would parade such nonsense in the 21st century.

Eduardo said...

Hmmm, what part of the chapter at hand is non sense Anon...

Anonymous said...

Wait, how did you look it up? “Theory of knowledge” starts on page 160, but pages 67 to 311 aren’t in the preview.

wrf3 said...

Eduardo wrote, Wellllll... I think that the crux of the problem is because there is no intention in any of these parts... Given, that there is no intentionality or meaning on the pieces of the machine...

But what about the whole? Why do you assume that if some computations are "meaningless", that everything is therefore meaningless?

That's why I think that this question can't be answered from inside the universe. And if someone wants to say "there is no outside to the universe" then how is that known?

Eduardo said...

Last Anon

.... WHAT ????

so wait do you mean, Snarky Anon is a liar, and what he meant was that it is all non-sense because it is about Aquinas or it is about someone old, which in turn make his THIRD EYE see that it has nothing of value in there????

that is not possible... oh well I expected that type of behavior from the start, so no susrprise there.

Anonymous said...

I can see p160 and some of the chapter, though not all of it.

Heres a sentence from early on: He endorses the Aristotelian view that the soul is potentially all things, and he holds that cognition involves its actually becoming a given thing or, as he sometimes puts it, its being assimilated to that thing in a certain way.

Well, isn't that special. Perhaps that means something to you, but to me it says, "I have no idea, so I will postulate some magic bits that answers all the hard problems".

Don't mean to be hard on Aquinas himself, who for all I know was doing the best he could at the time he was writing. But there is no excuse for stuff like this nowadays.

Eduardo said...

wrf3

Ho ho, then how we achieve meaning.

For instance could meaning be built with parts?

Glenn said...

1. wft3 asked (February 12, 2013 at 7:07 PM), "If mathematics is 'not only symbol manipulation', what else is it?"

2. wrf3 quoted (February 13, 2013 at 11:50 AM) from Hofstader, and grodrigues responded (February 13, 2013 at 12:04 PM) with, "Just in the next paragraph:..." Omitted from the latter quotation are the first two sentences of that next paragraph--"It is a cause for joy when a mathematician discovers an isomorphism between two structures which he knows. It is often a 'bolt from the blue', and a source of wonderment."

3. Now, in response to the question "Whether wonder is a cause of pleasure?", Aquinas offers (heh) an explanation (ahem) as to that, how and why mathematics is more than mere symbol manipulation, i.e., that it is also a source of pleasure (or a source of opportunities or occasions for pleasure):

o It is pleasant to get what one desires, as stated above (Question [23], Article [4]): and therefore the greater the desire for the thing loved, the greater the pleasure when it is attained: indeed the very increase of desire brings with it an increase of pleasure, according as it gives rise to the hope of obtaining that which is loved, since it was stated above (Article [3], ad 3) that desire resulting from hope is a cause of pleasure. Now wonder is a kind of desire for knowledge; a desire which comes to man when he sees an effect of which the cause either is unknown to him, or surpasses his knowledge or faculty of understanding. Consequently wonder is a cause of pleasure, in so far as it includes a hope of getting the knowledge which one desires to have. For this reason whatever is wonderful is pleasing, for instance things that are scarce. Also, representations of things, even of those which are not pleasant in themselves, give rise to pleasure; for the soul rejoices in comparing one thing with another, because comparison of one thing with another is the proper and connatural act of the reason, as the Philosopher says (Poet. iv).


Disclaimer: None of the above is intended (nor should it be taken) as support for either Hofstader's claim that isomorphisms induce meaning, or wrf3's related claim that, "Meaning arises from isomorphisms between things'".

Eduardo said...

Anon...

really, how do you infer what you said from what is written huh????

second, it is obvious you haven't read the book, so how do you know, that you interpreting the words in the correct manner?

third, is he really talking about cognitive systems??? or is he talking about metaphysics related to knowledge.

fourth, not being able to understand what someone is saying just means you lack something, you know... knowledge.

wrf3 said...

Eduardo asked: For instance could meaning be built with parts?

Sure, since meaning is a computation, and computers are built of parts.

Eduardo said...

meaning is a computation, a relation of symbols you mean?

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"By the way I did look up your reference, and I found it laughable that anybody would parade such nonsense in the 21st century."

Since you do not care to address your own mistakes and incoherent position, let us then address Aquinas' position.

Since it is a patent foolishness and it only took you a few minutes to realize it, you can in a few sentences articulate for us all deluded fools, what is Aquinas' theory of knowledge and then dismantle it in likewise curt, but logically air-tight logical reasoning -- huh sorry, "biased, sloppy, and necessarily probabilistic" reasoning.

I eagerly await for your "biased, sloppy, and necessarily probabilistic" reasoning on the matter to rid myself of nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I managed to get pages 160 through 164. But still, it's like 36 pages in total for that chapter. i'll try again.

E said...

fuck that... I am just gonna get the cambridge companion on torrent...

wrf3 said...

Eduardo asked: meaning is a computation, a relation of symbols you mean?

Yes.

Anonymous said...

Are their symbols in nature? Or just shapes?

Anonymous said...

there*

Eduardo said...

wrf3.

Alright, so "meaning" is a "relation a symbols".

and this "relation of symbols" can be be built in parts.

how? how we do it?

Anonymous said...

wrf3 said regarding intrinsic meaning,

Why? The universe is in motion. Matter in motion in certain patterns accomplishes computation. Our thoughts are just a subset of the "computation" being performed by the universe.

I believe Ed considered this option in TLS, and pointed out that this is no longer materialism or naturalism, but just another form of A-T.

So it seems wrf3 would be insisting that ultimate intrinsic meaning is all over the place. He just happens to think it's in computers as well as humans.

Anonymous said...

"I believe Ed considered this option in TLS, and pointed out that this is no longer materialism or naturalism, but just another form of A-T.

So it seems wrf3 would be insisting that ultimate intrinsic meaning is all over the place. He just happens to think it's in computers as well as humans."

If that's his personal position, then I guess it is coherent.

The problem is when you say that there is no intentionality in matter, and yet somehow it magically appears in human thought.

Anonymous said...

To say that x is “about” y if x is similar to y doesn’t seem to solve the problem. Say I have a thought about the Eiffel Tower. My thought is a brain state, composed of action potentials propagating in a certain pattern. But I don’t think the actual Eiffel Tower is anything at all like action potentials propagating in a certain pattern.

BLS said...

Computation is the processing of information. But information is also an intentional term, because information is always about something else. So saying that computation explains intentionality is not enough. You need to explain "information" without any reference to aboutness.

wrf3 said...

Eduardo asked, how? how we do it?

I can't answer that in a sound bite as it requires knowledge of digital design, software engineering, and artificial intelligence.

I'm working on an introductory text for this, but it's nowhere near ready.

I wish I had a better answer for you.

wrf3 said...

BLS wrote: Computation is the processing of information. But information is also an intentional term, because information is always about something else. So saying that computation explains intentionality is not enough. You need to explain "information" without any reference to aboutness.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that you're confusing "information" with "meaning". Information is just a collection of distinguishable things, whether they are bits in a computer, a group of spin-up/spin-down particles, voltage levels, or what have you. This is information: ↑↑↓↑↓↓↓↑↓↓↑

wrf3 said...

Anonymous wrote: But I don’t think the actual Eiffel Tower is anything at all like action potentials propagating in a certain pattern.

It isn't. But neither are the pits that are burned into the layers of a CD, or the ones and zeros in your MP3 player the notes on a music score. Your brain "digitizes" the image of the Eiffel Tower and "digitizes" the sounds for "Eiffel Tower" and stores the relationship between those things in your neurons.

Anonymous said...

wrf3,

So, you are saying that there is 'intrinsic intentionality' in the universe?

Eduardo said...

wrf3.

You might not have noticed it... But you are basically agreeing to A-T metaphysics in some sense hahahaha.

Is just that maybe we are talking pass eqch other really XD.

Now about your reply to me, I was thinking ofsomething more simple, so I am kind of certain that you are using the word meaning in a different way we are using.

I mean I do see why you need those things to get the relation of symbols, but really what I have in mind is something different... Anyways, gonna relax a little, let you deal with other way more prepared people hahahha.

Anonymous said...

I have a quick question for the A-T people...

What is the standard argument that one would give to justify that God is good or goodness itself?
I have a vague and general idea of how it might be done but I am having a bit of trouble summarizing the argument in a succinct from.

wrf3 said...

Anonymous asked, So, you are saying that there is 'intrinsic intentionality' in the universe?

I thought I addressed this in my post at February 13, 2013 at 12:17 PM. But let me try agin.

Intentionality requires motion (of some kind), but not all motion is intentional. The universe is in motion. Some of that motion resulted in the existence of self-aware beings. Some of that motion has no apparent purpose to those self-aware beings. Some of that motion is beneficial to those self-aware beings (e.g. the spin of the earth); some of that motion is fatal to those self-aware beings. So out of this mix of motions, how does one show intentionality?

I think there's intentionality because I think that Jesus rose from the dead, coupled with what He said. But that's a historical "proof"; it isn't philosophical in that it can't be derived from axioms everyone agrees on.

Anonymous said...

Intentionality requires motion (of some kind),

Why? And what kinds of motion are there?

but not all motion is intentional. The universe is in motion. Some of that motion resulted in the existence of self-aware beings. Some of that motion has no apparent purpose to those self-aware beings. Some of that motion is beneficial to those self-aware beings (e.g. the spin of the earth); some of that motion is fatal to those self-aware beings. So out of this mix of motions, how does one show intentionality?

That doesn't really answer my question. I'm asking if there is intrinsic intentionality in the universe.

You said earlier with regards to the claim that intrinsic intentionality is not an option under materialism:

Why? The universe is in motion. Matter in motion in certain patterns accomplishes computation. Our thoughts are just a subset of the "computation" being performed by the universe. If the universe is computing lots of things, some which are useful from out point of view and others that aren't, can it be said that the universe is intentional? As far as I can tell, that comes under Newton's three laws of academics

That sounded as if you were claiming that no, there is intrinsic intentionality in the universe.

But now your response makes it sound as if, no, there isn't, it just 'happens' sometimes. Is the universe just 'computing' sometimes and not others? Possibly all times, but you can't be sure?

Really, again, the question is straightforward: is intentionality intrinsic to the universe?

BLS said...

"Please correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that you're confusing "information" with "meaning". Information is just a collection of distinguishable things, whether they are bits in a computer, a group of spin-up/spin-down particles, voltage levels, or what have you. This is information: ↑↑↓↑↓↓↓↑↓↓↑"

Under that definition, how are you to differentiate between information and non-information? "Water has a high specific heat capacity" and "asfhnw isuy dgfnke sbkyudg" are both collections of distinguishable things.

BLS said...

Information is not just a sequence of things, it is a sequence of things that "contain" a message or "point at" something outside of themselves.

BLS said...

Heck, a volume of water is collection of distinguishable things, namely water molecules. Is a volume of water information?

Gene Callahan said...

wrf3, you have no idea what you are talking about. What the first poster said Godel proved is *exactly* what Godel said Godel proved.

The fact he could use a symbolic system to prove the limits of symbolic systems is the genius of his theorem, rather than evidence he hadn't done what he thought he did.

Anonymous said...

When a computer turns a sequence of ones and zeros into a set of pixels that appear to us as “+,” all it is doing is turning one form of derived intentionality into another. Binary code did not start to exist on its own, it was a code created by humans, and the only reason why it carries meaningful information is because it was designed and agreed to be that way. I don’t think binary code was something waiting out there, waiting to be discovered like atoms were. It was something created by humans. The only reason “+” means “add” is because humans agreed to that meaning. So I don’t see how we can appeal to computers in order to answer the question “How does intentionality arise from non-intentionality?”

Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

@anon

By the way I did look up your reference, and I found it laughable that anybody would parade such nonsense in the 21st century.

Stop embarrassing yourself. In that one statement you:

1. Committed the ad hominem fallacy
2. Committed the fallacy of new therefore better, older therefore worse
3. Seems you have absolutely no idea what Aquinas had to say about knowledge/intentionality and instead of trying to learn you simply avoid any sort of meaningful interaction with it because you're an intellectual coward.

If you want to really know the true meaning of magic, nay I shall use a better word, superstition, all you need to look is your own materialistic worldview (which you seem to endorse implicitly based on the stupidities you've posted.

- "Where did meaning come from mr. materialist?"
- Well I dunno, it somehow sprung out of mindless matter?"

You need to learn, that just because something doesn't fit in your narrow-minded worldview (which is incidentally bankrupt) that doesn't mean it's magic.

I look forward to your alternative explication of intentionality... LEt's hear it.

wrf3 said...

BLS asked: Under that definition, how are you to differentiate between information and non-information? "Water has a high specific heat capacity" and "asfhnw isuy dgfnke sbkyudg" are both collections of distinguishable things.

By convention. Again, you're confusing "information" with "meaning".

I recently came across a passage from a book on information theory that I found interesting:

"Mathematically, white Gaussian noise, which contains all frequencies equally, is the epitome of the various and unexpected. It is the least predictable, the most original of sounds. To a human being, however, all white Gaussian noise sounds alike. It's subtleties are hidden from him, and he says that it is dull and monotonous. If a human being finds monotonous that which is mathematically most various and unpredictable, what does he find fresh and interesting? To be able to call a thing new, he must be able to distinguish it from that which is old. To be distinguishable, sounds must be to a degree familiar. … We can be surprised repeatedly only by contrast with that which is familiar, not by chaos

White Gaussian noise is high in information but, to the ear, is low in meaning.

wrf3 said...

Anonymous noted: So I don’t see how we can appeal to computers in order to answer the question “How does intentionality arise from non-intentionality?”

Thoughts?


The appeal to computers is primarily to show that thought is matter in motion in certain patterns. The objection is then raised, "but computers can't think like humans, so human thought must be fundamentally different." To which I would reply that neurons and NAND gates are functionally equivalent. The difference between the brain and a computer is one of complexity -- the number of neurons and the arrangement of the connections -- currently dwarfs that of computers (but not for much longer. Then it becomes an engineering matter of getting the wiring right).

So the question then becomes one of origins. How did our wiring come about? Was it through the intentional actions of a creator, or was it though random happenstance via the motion of the universe? And how do we know that a creator didn't use randomness as a fundamental design element?

You tell me how to reliably distinguish intentionality from non-intentionality and maybe I can answer your question. The "intelligent design" camp drives me nuts because, even though they claim to have a mathematical procedure for detecting design, they never actually apply it to anything. Likewise, the materialist camp posits the ateleological jumble of atoms resulting in a self-replicating organism that evolves via replication and selection. But you ask them how many improbable things does it take to show intentionality and there's either silence or derision. So, at this point, I think both sides are talking out of their asses.

I would be delighted to be proven wrong. Either way. But I strongly suspect, but cannot prove, that those kinds of proof end up being circular based on initial assumptions.

And with that, I'm shutting down for the night. I'm sure that in the morning there will be additional posts added to my already existing pile that I think I owe answers to.

So I hope everyone will take my upcoming silence as nothing more than temporary exhaustion.

Anonymous said...

wrf3,

You tell me how to reliably distinguish intentionality from non-intentionality and maybe I can answer your question. The "intelligent design" camp drives me nuts because, even though they claim to have a mathematical procedure for detecting design, they never actually apply it to anything. Likewise, the materialist camp posits the ateleological jumble of atoms resulting in a self-replicating organism that evolves via replication and selection. But you ask them how many improbable things does it take to show intentionality and there's either silence or derision. So, at this point, I think both sides are talking out of their asses.

But the people you're dealing with on this site are neither Intelligent Design proponents nor Materialists. Really, they are people who disagree with both of those camps, certainly insofar as they are Thomists or adhere to Aristotilean views of nature.

So by saying 'those two sides are wrong', you're not even disagreeing with what is being said here.

The appeal to computers is primarily to show that thought is matter in motion in certain patterns. The objection is then raised, "but computers can't think like humans, so human thought must be fundamentally different." To which I would reply that neurons and NAND gates are functionally equivalent.

That's a non-sequitur that indicates you misunderstand what's being argued here.

I asked previously whether intentionality is intrinsic to the universe, and you never really gave a reply. So, I'm going to have to ask again.

In fact, at this point I'd like to to also explain just what the position of the guys like Ed Feser are, in your own words. It seems like you just showed up in this conversation to talk about your personal theory of intentionality, but actually aren't even aware of the views of the people you're discussing things with.

Anonymous said...

"The appeal to computers is primarily to show that thought is matter in motion in certain patterns. The objection is then raised, "but computers can't think like humans, so human thought must be fundamentally different." To which I would reply that neurons and NAND gates are functionally equivalent."

The objection is that computers only have derived intentionality, whereas human thoughts have intrinsic intentionality. If thoughts are fundamentally the same as computer processes, what provides intentionality to thoughts, and how?

Anonymous said...

These definitions might help.

“The intentionality of a mental state is its aboutness. When I think of Vienna or believe that the computer is on the desk or fear that the planet will get hotter, I instantiate mental states which are in a hard to define sense about Vienna, or the computer on the desk or planet Earth. The idea is that mental states (and speech acts) have a property rather like signs, sentences, and gestures; that is, they are about or represent things other than themselves.”

“As John Searle puts it, words, sentences, and the like, considered as material objects, have only “derived intentionality.” We are able to impart meaning to them by virtue of having thoughts with “original intentionality” – your thought about a cup represents or means cup without anyone having to form a convention of using it to mean that. But if neural processes are as devoid of original intentionality as ink marks, sounds, and the like, then it is hard to see how thoughts could be identified with neural processes, or claimed to supervene upon them. And the same is true of any other purported physicalistic basis for mental phenomena.”

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/search?q=stoljar

Watson said...

"Mathematical truths" are just the logical outworkings of a posited set of initial, brute, contestable axioms. A different set of axioms would have given rise to an entirely different body of "mathematical truths." How can mathematics thus be considered knowledge on a par with scientific knowledge (knowledge of the world around us, not based on any axioms stemming gratuitously and unjustifiably from the fallible human subject, but based rather on pure, assumptionless *discovery*)?"

Anon,

I am at a complete, utter loss in trying to understand people like you who claim that mathematics by itself can never yield a genuine body of knowledge.

Question posed: I flip 8 coins simultaneously; what is the probability that at least 6 of those coins are heads?

No sane person can doubt that an answer to this question would be an example of genuine knowledge. So for your edification:

There are 2^8 = 256 different possible arrangements of heads and tails after flipping has taken place, and in answering this question there are 3 cases to consider: getting exactly 6 heads, exactly 7 heads, and exactly 8 heads.

Case 1: The probability of getting precisely 6 heads. There are exactly 8!/(6!2!) = 28 different patterns/possible ways of getting 6heads-2tails from flipping 8 coins. Hence this probability is 28/256.

Case 2: The probability of getting precisely 7 heads. There are exactly 8!/(7!1!) = 8 different patterns/possible ways of getting 7heads-1tails from flipping 8 coins [hhhhhhht, hhhhhhth, hhhhhthh, hhhhthhh, hhhthhhh, hhthhhhh, hthhhhhh, thhhhhhh]. Hence this probability is 8/256.

Case 3: The probability of precisely 8 heads. Only one possibility (hhhhhhhh), so the probability is 1/256.


Adding the 3 individual probabilities from the individual cases gives you the answer to this problem - 37/256 - and hence supplies you with concrete knowledge.


Notice how there was no utilization whatsoever of the "scientific method" in this acquisition process, but note just as well that the knowledge acquired is no less solid and worthwhile than anything found in biology, chemistry, physics, etc.

יאיר רזק said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
יאיר רזק said...

@Watson: "... Notice how there was no utilization whatsoever of the "scientific method" in this acquisition process..."

That's not correct. The scientific method enters in the application of the probabalistic model to actual coin flipping. You're assuming that coin flips have a 0.5 independent probability of being "heads", which is an empirical claim (and is probably not even entirely accurate).

Mathematics by itself can never give us knowledge about the world. Applying mathematical models as descriptions of the world, now - well, that's a big part of the scientific method.

Whether mathematics is a genuine body of knowledge is a matter of definitions. It isn't a body of knowledge about the real world, however, not directly. For that, you need to make some assumptions about how the mathematical models are related to the real world.

(And I'm not taking a position on the wider argument on the nature of mathematics or intentionality here. This point is independent of that.)

@Eduardo: "The Hebrew guy (Yair)

Some place here in the blog, Feser and other talked about that, you might find something interesting somewhere.

But maybe it might be something to do with analogy, and how one interprets each word."

Thanks, Eduardo. I'll try to look around.

Cheers,

Yair

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grodrigues said...

@wrf3:

"The appeal to computers is primarily to show that thought is matter in motion in certain patterns."

Thought is *NOT* "matter in motion in certain patterns". It cannot be, not even if you add all the Aristotelean teleology in the world to the mix. Look up the arguments -- the Blog's host has just written a paper on it.

"The objection is then raised, "but computers can't think like humans, so human thought must be fundamentally different." To which I would reply that neurons and NAND gates are functionally equivalent."

And this is a non-answer, because even if neurons are functionally equivalent to NAND gates, this would only help your case if in fact thought was just "matter in motion" which is precisely what disputed.

Second, you are obviously unaware of the distinction between nature and art. Computers, being artifacts, do not have intrinsic intensionality. Apart from the purposes of the human mind, they neither "compute", "calculate", "process information" or whatever intensional, mind-reeking notions you care to use.

"So the question then becomes one of origins."

This is an inversion of priorities and a grave mistake. First we must answer what thought *is*, what it consists in, taking stock of the evidence available. Can it be a purely material process? If the answer to the latter question is yes, then, at least in principle, some materialist riff on Evolution theory can explain, at least in principle, the appearance of thought in the universe. If the answer is no, then you will have to appeal to something radically different. Either way, first comes the nature of though, because for this question there is some actual, solid evidence: ourselves and our reasoning processes. Then the question of origins, for which the evidence available can only be of the most rarefied and scant source, can be answered.

"Likewise, the materialist camp posits the ateleological jumble of atoms resulting in a self-replicating organism that evolves via replication and selection. But you ask them how many improbable things does it take to show intentionality and there's either silence or derision. So, at this point, I think both sides are talking out of their asses."

So ID drives you nuts; the materialist posits "ateleological jumble" when your "thought is matter in motion in certain patterns" is a materialist riff, based on a misguided comparison of minds and computers, also a materialist theme (e.g. computationalist accounts of the mind). To top it off, you make against materialism what amounts to a typical ID argument, the *improbability* (stress on the improbability) of thought having arisen from ateleological processes.

Notwithstanding the entertaining math-y mumbo jumbo, you are talking out of your ass.

Eduardo said...

Actually he could just postulate the probabilities XD, the ersult would be pretty damn valid, and it wouldn't use the scientific method.

Second Watson may have not used any kind empirical data he could have invented the coin in his head and procceed to create possibilities that have the same probability.

grodrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
grodrigues said...

@Yair:

"That's not correct. The scientific method enters in the application of the probabalistic model to actual coin flipping. You're assuming that coin flips have a 0.5 independent probability of being "heads", which is an empirical claim."

Of course, to derive conclusions about the actual world, some premises *about* the actual world must figure in the argument. If that is your point, and that is how I am reading you, we are in agreement. But the point the OP was making, or at least how I would make it, is that mathematical knowledge is essential for the practice of science and without it, there would simply be no science at all to begin with -- and the example the OP gives illustrates it. Sure, there is a non-mathematical claim about the actual world buried in there, but the conclusion itself can be arrived at by purely mathematical means by starting with a conceptual premise (a space {0, 1} with the uniform probability measure on it), not by means of observation, experimentation, etc.

Anonymous said...

I too share Watson's bafflement.

-Are there infinitely many prime numbers?

-Can you find the area of a triangle if you only know its three side lengths?

-What must the sum of opposite angles of a quadrilateral with fixed side lengths be in order to maximize the area?



I mean, answers to the above clearly constitute knowledge about reality. Maybe not physical reality, but reality nonetheless.

grodrigues said...
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grodrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
יאיר רזק said...

@grodrigues: "Of course, to derive conclusions about the actual world, some premises *about* the actual world must figure in the argument. If that is your point, and that is how I am reading you, we are in agreement. "

Then we are in agreement.

"But the point the OP was making, or at least how I would make it, is that mathematical knowledge is essential for the practice of science and without it, there would simply be no science at all to begin with"

We're also in agreement on the point you're making here. It appears, however, that we're in a disagreement about what the OP I was responding to was about. Frankly, it is an issue of lesser importance, but for what it's worth:

As I read it, in the OP Watson was responding to the claim that mathematics is not - and I quote - "knowledge of the world around us". He did so by presenting an argument about how actual coins will flip, and maintaining that this argument is purely mathematical, not applying the scientific method at all. I in turn responded by affirming - perhaps less elegantly then you - that "to derive conclusions about the actual world, some premises *about* the actual world must figure in the argument", in addition and above the purely mathematical claims.

If I erred in interpreting the exchange, I apologize to Watson. But that's how I read it.

Cheers,

Yair

BLS said...

“But syntax and symbols are not definable in terms of the physics of a system.”

“Of course they are. Every computer is a physical system and computers deal with syntax and symbols.”

This does not refute the premise. Symbols and syntax can be used, conveyed and expressed through physical means. But the premise states that you cannot define “symbol” and “syntax” using only physical, mind-independent, non-intentional terms. (Like electrons, fields, bosons, causes and effects, reaction, spin, mass, etc.)

Also, where are you getting your definition of information?

Anonymous said...

I'm not a computer guy, can someone explain to me what a NAND gate is? I do know that a neuron is a cell with a very long, thin extension called an axon, and the purpose of a neuron is to receive an electrical impulse, and then open it's sodium and potassium gates through a series of chemical events. Na+ rushes in and K+ rushes out due to the electrochemical gradient. This rushing in and rushing out in one area of the axon causes the same action to occur in the adjacent area of the axon. This repeats until the "action potential" as it is called, reaches the end of the axon. The tip of the axon either releases a neurotransmitter, or passes the action potential to another neuron. (This is a rough summary). And only impulses which are above a certain threshold will initiate an action potential. So, the function of a neuron is to propagate an action potential.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"I'm not a computer guy, can someone explain to me what a NAND gate is?"

Nothing fancy. A physical device that implements the Boolean function nand or negated and: the output is false iff all the inputs are true. All Boolean functions can be implemented via a combination of nand gates.

The particular details of the physical implementation are irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

@grodrigues and Scott (as well as any other mathematician)

Yesterday I was having a discussion with a mathematical anti-realist who claimed that all math i a fiction invented by humans that is merely useful. He claimed that 1+1 does not always equal 2, which I found rather odd.

HE gave the following example to substantiate his point: If one is accelerating at the speed of 1 m/s and then accelerates by another 1m/s he will not be accelerating at 2 m/s but by a different amount. He said that this is because speed does not operate like that due to the fact that space is not Euclidean.

This response was a bit confusing and I was wondering if any of you could shed some light on this.

wrf3 said...

BLS wrote: Symbols and syntax can be used, conveyed and expressed through physical means. But the premise states that you cannot define “symbol” and “syntax” using only physical, mind-independent, non-intentional terms. (Like electrons, fields, bosons, causes and effects, reaction, spin, mass, etc.)

But to prove the premise one must be able to show that this physical representation cannot come from mind-independent processes. One way to represent symbols and syntax is through an arrangement of gates (e.g. NAND gates), connected in certain ways by wires, through which electrons flow. One could use an XOR gate and pipes through which water flows. One could use photons, optical cables, and circuits that alter the spin of photons. Our brains happen to use neurons, axons, and electrons.

So if you're going to prove that such circuits cannot arise from mind-independent processes, you're going to have to show that the inherent motion of the universe can't cause such arrangements to arise. Or, you're going to have to show that the universe has a mind. I'm interested in seeing your proof of either.

Also, where are you getting your definition of information?

Communication theory. Information is a measure of the entropy in a message source. As Pierce says in "An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals, and Noise": "... confusion is sometimes aggravated when more than one meaning of information creeps into a discussion. Thus, information is sometimes associated with the idea of knowledge through its popular use rather than with uncertainty and the resolution of uncertainty, as it is in communication theory."

Information is the raw bits. Meaning is the "isomorphism" (in Hofstader's usage) between arrangements of bits.

Consider:

↑ ↑ ↑↑ ↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑

You might know what that arrangement of raw bits happens to mean and, if you don't, I suspect others on this thread would. Furthermore, I suspect that the uncertainty about what comes next is fairly low.

Anonymous said...

Thanks grod,

Then would you say that it is functionally similar to a neuron, which is a cell that propagates an action potential if it receives a stimulus above a critical threshold? Because the NAND gates actually sounds more functionally complex than a neuron lol. The neuron actually seems functionally equivalent to a copper wire, except for the fact that the neuron will only "conduct" if the incoming stimulus is above a certain level.

Anonymous said...

"One way to represent symbols and syntax is through an arrangement of gates (e.g. NAND gates), connected in certain ways by wires, through which electrons flow. One could use an XOR gate and pipes through which water flows. One could use photons, optical cables, and circuits that alter the spin of photons. Our brains happen to use neurons, axons, and electrons."

Represent is an intentional, non-physics term. Try again. Photons, electrons, water do not represent things on their own.

wrf3 said...

Anonymous wrote: So, the function of a neuron is to propagate an action potential.

See Computation Emerges from Adaptive Synchronization of Networking Neurons. In part, it says: "Here we show that computation can emerge from the synchronization of groups of adaptively coupled neurons. Such collective dynamics can encode information within different synchronization states, and efficiently perform any Boolean operations, thus being able to construct a universal Turing machine [10]. ... It is important to remark that the NAND gate is known to be a universal Boolean gate [21], meaning that any Boolean function can be implemented by using a combination of NAND gates, so that any Turing machine can be constructed from them [10]".

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

" If one is accelerating at the speed of 1 m/s and then accelerates by another 1m/s he will not be accelerating at 2 m/s but by a different amount. He said that this is because speed does not operate like that due to the fact that space is not Euclidean."

This is a dumb-ass argument on two counts. First, why exactly does he avail himself of such an example and simply does not say: put two glasses of water side by side. Pour the water of one glass in to the other. You end up with only one glass of water; ergo 1 + 1 = 1. This argument is completely stupid but is *no less* stupid than the one the anti-realist gave.

Second, grant for the sake of argument the correctness of his description (I am not sure what he is alluding to). Then the acceleration will be some real number different from 2. But how does he know what real number is? By doing some calculations based on the fact that space is not Euclidean but has non-trivial curvature (or whatever theory he is employing). These boil down to calculations involving real numbers, which in turn presupposes the correctness of arithmetic.

Anonymous said...

He claimed that 1+1 does not always equal 2, which I found rather odd.

1+1 is always 2 due to the axioms of Peano arithmetic.

http://mathworld.wolfram.com/PeanosAxioms.html

To say otherwise is to be mathematically ignorant.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"1+1 is always 2 due to the axioms of Peano arithmetic."

Actually 2 is *defined* as the successor of 1, which is just 1 + 1. If you want to compute 2 + 2 (or basically any other addition of a pair of numbers), Peano arithmetic is *way* *way* overkill; you are killing a fly with a nuclear bomb. The associative law of addition is enough, which can be justified on several different, independent grounds.

wrf3 said...

Anonymous wrote: Photons, electrons, water do not represent things on their own.

But the arrangement of electrons, NAND gates, and electrons; or neurons, axons, and electrons does.

Push electrons through nand gates wired one way and you get, say, something that performs additions. Push electrons through nand gates wired another way and you get something that can recognize whether or not a given something performs addition or not. Push electrons through nand gates wired yet another way and you get something that can recognize that it recognizes.

Anonymous said...

"Information is the raw bits. Meaning is the "isomorphism" (in Hofstader's usage) between arrangements of bits.

Consider:

↑ ↑ ↑↑ ↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑

You might know what that arrangement of raw bits happens to mean and, if you don't, I suspect others on this thread would. Furthermore, I suspect that the uncertainty about what comes next is fairly low."

Patterns or regularities in nature are not objectively "about" anything. If they are, then what is the Citric Acid Cycle objectively about?

DavidM said...

Feser, summarizing Ross: "formal or abstract thought ... is essentially determinate in a way material properties and processes cannot be in principle" - therefore thought is not reducible to any material property or process, and materialism is false. Obviously!

Corollary: material properties and processes are essentially *indeterminate* in a way that thought cannot be - therefore matter is real, and idealism (and Parmenideanism) is false. I think this is less obvious.

(So what is matter? The 'in itself' indeterminate principle of potency necessary for explaining - contra Leibniz - the essential, intrinsic indeterminacy/ gratuitousness (operational contingency, teleological finitude/fallibility) of natural beings.)

Anonymous said...

"Consider:

↑ ↑ ↑↑ ↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑"

Also, why are there spaces between the arrows?

Anonymous said...

"Push electrons through nand gates wired one way and you get, say, something that performs additions."

What does this arrangement represent?

DavidM said...

"But the arrangement of electrons, NAND gates, and electrons; or neurons, axons, and electrons does [represent something on its own]."

Really? Do you really believe that? Here's a question: Is it possible that a purely material arrangement of neurons, etc. might be mistaken about what it 'represents'?

FZ said...

Hi wrf3, a quick question.

"Intentionality requires motion (of some kind), but not all motion is intentional. The universe is in motion. Some of that motion resulted in the existence of self-aware beings. Some of that motion has no apparent purpose to those self-aware beings. Some of that motion is beneficial to those self-aware beings (e.g. the spin of the earth); some of that motion is fatal to those self-aware beings. So out of this mix of motions, how does one show intentionality?"

Two things concerning the above.

"Intentionality requires motion (of some kind), but not all motion is intentional."

"So out of this mix of motions, how does one show intentionality?"

Can you clear something up for me? In the first sentence, you make it seem like you do know of a way to differentiate between intentional and non-intentional, because you seem to imply that some motion is intentional and some is not. But in that last sentence, you make it seem like intentionality cannot be known.

Anonymous said...

Still waiting on hearing if wrf3 regards intentionality as intrinsic or not, with regards to the universe.

יאיר רזק said...

@Anonymous: "... He said that this is because speed does not operate like that due to the fact that space is not Euclidean.

This response was a bit confusing and I was wondering if any of you could shed some light on this."

He is referring to the rule of addition of velocity in Special and General Relativity, in physics. He is correct that you simply can't add velocity, but incorrect as the actual rule refers to a different sort of change than the one he's thinking of. The rule applies to combining frames of reference (i.e. if the velocity V looks like 1 m/s from point of view 1, and point of view 1 is seen to move at 1 m/s from point of view 2, what would the velocity V look like from point of view 2?) rather than to accelerating in some un-stated frame. By definition, if you increase your velocity by 1 m/s then you increase it by 1 m/s in that reference frame. He's simply wrong.

You can look up any discussion on adding velocities in special relativity for a primer; Wikipedia will do.

While I'm certainly sympathetic to the fictionalist position, as grodrigues said the point could be made with much simpler examples. I believe his point, however, was that deciding which mathematical models to apply to describe reality is our decision to make. The models themselves are fiction; their correspondence with reality, or atheir empirical adequacy, however, is not.

Cheers,

Yair

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the insightful comments on the issue of mathematics and anti-relism everyone!

Anonymous said...

DavidM,

"formal or abstract thought ... is essentially determinate in a way material properties and processes cannot be in principle" - therefore thought is not reducible to any material property or process, and materialism is false. Obviously!

How exactly does Feser, or yourself argue that thought is determinate while matter is not? And what exactly is the meaning of determinate in this context? I am assuming it has a very different meaning than determinism, right?

wrf3 said...

FZ wrote: Can you clear something up for me? In the first sentence, you make it seem like you do know of a way to differentiate between intentional and non-intentional, because you seem to imply that some motion is intentional and some is not. But in that last sentence, you make it seem like intentionality cannot be known.

What the philosophers are calling "intentionality", I would call "pattern matching" or "goal directed action" (intentionality being an ambiguous term). Pattern matching and goal-seeking are the results of calculations of computing elements. One could, in theory, examine the wires and logic elements of a target object and determine whether or not it could compute these types of calculations. A rock, for example, doesn't have intentionality. It doesn't have the circuitry for it. What about plants? Do they have intentionality? After all, they exhibit phototropic behavior, turing their leaves to (or away from) the sun. Dogs? Probably. Computers? Sure.

So this leads to:

Anonymous, who wrote: Still waiting on hearing if wrf3 regards intentionality as intrinsic or not, with regards to the universe

Since I'm in the minority position, I have more posts to answer, as well as a day job. I'm doing the best I can.

Since "intentionality" concerns the "aboutness" or "direction" of "mental states" you're asking me if the universe has mental states. The only way I know how to answer that is to see if the universe has computing elements and if so, if they're wired the right way. I don't know how to do that.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

For the Anonymous that said in February 13, 2013 at 1:11 PM:

"By the way I did look up your reference, and I found it laughable that anybody would parade such nonsense in the 21st century."

Still waiting for your "biased, sloppy, and necessarily probabilistic" exposition of Aquinas' theory of knowledge and then your "biased, sloppy, and necessarily probabilistic" reasoning that shows it is "nonsense". Since it took you so little time and so little reading to arrive at that conclusion, it will surely be no trouble for you to answer the two requests.

wrf3 said...

Anonymous asked: Also, why are there spaces between the arrows?

The context is this sequence:

↑ ↑ ↑↑ ↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑

The answer is because this sequence:

↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑

which has the same number of elements, doesn't have the same information content. That's why information is represented as bits, so that one thing can be distinguished from another thing. Doesn't matter if it's a zero or a one, or a ↑ and a space, a spin up and a spin down particle, or sound and silence.

Anonymous said...

wrf3,

Since I'm in the minority position, I have more posts to answer, as well as a day job. I'm doing the best I can.

I only repeat the question when I see multiple responses to more recent questions than my own. For all I know, you forgot.

Since "intentionality" concerns the "aboutness" or "direction" of "mental states" you're asking me if the universe has mental states. The only way I know how to answer that is to see if the universe has computing elements and if so, if they're wired the right way. I don't know how to do that.

Alright - now, this is your response to my asking if the universe had intrinsic intentionality.

So - do humans have intrinsic intentionality then? Or would you have to say the same thing - that you do not know how to tell?

wrf3 said...

DavidM wrote: Really? Do you really believe that?

Yes, I do. Because it's demonstrably true. Every software engineer, whether they understand it or not, is putting thought into material form. All software is hardware. The only way it wouldn't be so is if there were something that humans could compute that Turing machines could not. Now, certainly, there are things that we can do today that computers cannot do, but that's practice -- not necessarily principle. Our wiring is far more complex that most of today's computers. That difference is just an exercise in engineering, like the difference between the model rockets I used to fly as a boy and a Saturn V.

Here's a question: Is it possible that a purely material arrangement of neurons, etc. might be mistaken about what it 'represents'?

Sure. It's also possible that a purely material arrangement is right about what it represents.

DavidM said...

"How [to] argue that thought is determinate while matter is not? And what exactly is the meaning of determinate in this context? I am assuming it has a very different meaning than determinism, right?"

Right. Nothing to do with determinism, so far as I can see. Determinate means having a settled terminus. For thought to be determinate is for it to be about one thing and not another, or to perform one action and not another. Notice that wrf3 does not know how to determine "if the universe has computing elements and if so, if they're wired the right way." He's onto something there, but just not seeing the implications (yet).

wrf3 said...

Anonymous wrote: So - do humans have intrinsic intentionality then? Or would you have to say the same thing - that you do not know how to tell?

I note that I asked several questions of my own, which you have not answered, e.g.

What about plants? Do they have intentionality? After all, they exhibit phototropic behavior, turing their leaves to (or away from) the sun.

Could you answer that before I answer? And it would help if you could either agree, or disagree, with my statement about the intentionality of rocks and dogs. If you don't agree, please share why. Taking turns would be nice.

DavidM said...

"Yes, I do. Because it's demonstrably true. Every software engineer, whether they understand it or not, is putting thought into material form."

No! You are demonstrably completely missing the point: *the software engineer* (*him*, that guy!) is encoding *his* thought using convention-based instruments which *he* knows how to
*interpret* (same thing as I'm doing right now in writing these convention-based material words to you). But none of this material stuff means anything ('represents' anything) *on its own*. It only means something *to someone* (who is capable of understanding it).

Anonymous said...

I note that I asked several questions of my own, which you have not answered, e.g.

Come on, you didn't exactly write those questions as if you expected me to answer:

A rock, for example, doesn't have intentionality. It doesn't have the circuitry for it. What about plants? Do they have intentionality? After all, they exhibit phototropic behavior, turing their leaves to (or away from) the sun. Dogs? Probably. Computers? Sure.

You were asking yourself questions and giving answers, seemingly to draw out a point you wanted to make.

Could you answer that before I answer?

Why? You say you'd like to take turns, but the fact is I've been asking basically one question, trying to see if you accept the existence of intrinsic intentionality.

Further, anything can have intentionality - rocks, etc - so long as a mind applies such to it. That's extrinsic intentionality, and it's also not the sort I'm interested in here.

Intrinsic intentionality. Does anything have it, in your view? Do you understand what I mean when I ask this question?

Michael Brazier said...

wrf3: Push electrons through nand gates wired one way and you get, say, something that performs additions.

No, you don't.

What you can make by pushing electrons through NAND gates and wires is something that takes two blocks of 32 bits each through input wires, and produces 33 bits through output wires, such that if each block is interpreted as a number in binary notation, the number encoded in the output block is the sum of the numbers encoded in the two input blocks. Note the word "interpret". In itself, apart from the prior knowledge of binary notation, the circuit does not mean the operation of addition; it does not mean anything at all. And binary notation is a convention defined by people, not a fact of nature. That's why we say computers have only "derived intentionality".

Consider:

↑ ↑ ↑↑ ↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑ ↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑

You might know what that arrangement of raw bits happens to mean and, if you don't, I suspect others on this thread would. Furthermore, I suspect that the uncertainty about what comes next is fairly low.


Well, if I assume that this arrangement is a series of numerals in unary notation, I notice that it matches the first seven numbers in the Fibonacci sequence; and if I also know that you are a human being with some knowledge of math, I can guess that the next group of bits will be the eighth Fibonacci number in unary notation. But without those assumptions I'd be totally in the dark. Even in Shannon's sense, there is no information in a bare sequence of bits without some prior knowledge of their source; a sequence of coin flip could produce exactly this sequence, and my uncertainty about what bit it will produce next wouldn't be reduced one iota.

DavidM said...

...the question is: is there a clear demarcation between uninterpreted 'information' and interpreted information? If you have no idea how to answer that question, then surely you have no idea what you even *mean* by 'information' (and no grounds for claiming that a purely material thing can represent 'information' *on its own*).

Intentionality usually refers to 'aboutness'. A plant may be phototropic but it is not 'about' light. Plants exhibit *finality*, not intentionality. A plant is *constituted* in virtue of information, which determines its finality (and which is intelligible in virtue of its finality), but a plant has no *intentional representation* of its own intrinsic information.

wrf3 said...

DavidM wrote: But none of this material stuff means anything ('represents' anything) *on its own*. It only means something *to someone* (who is capable of understanding it).

Sure. Why is that a problem? We have an external referent (reality, whatever that is) that, by common experience, we think is the same for most humans. So it doesn't matter what the encoding for the form or color or taste of an "apple" is, because you can point to "apple" and the circuity in our brains set up the isomorphism.

Suppose the aliens landed tomorrow. How would you communicate with them? You'd start by determining what their senses were and working to establish the pattern matching between what our senses perceive and their senses perceive for common external objects.

DavidM said...

"It's also possible that a purely material arrangement is right about what it represents." - So again, it seems you can't even say when a purely material arrangement *does* 'represent', never mind whether it is right or wrong. What would you say if you opened a coffin and the corpse's hand was raised in a middle finger salute in your direction. Is it really possible that this purely material arrangement represents something *on its own* - and that the corpse might be right or wrong about what it is representing??

Anonymous said...

"What the philosophers are calling "intentionality", I would call "pattern matching" or "goal directed action" (intentionality being an ambiguous term)"

Goal directed action is finality. Intentionality is different because it is when something points at another thing outside of or totally unrelated to itself. A circuit that adds can be said to be about addition, but that doesn't explain intentionality. That explanation can't apply to all thoughts, because then all our thoughts would be about computing or nerves firing in certain patterns. Sure, we can think about computation, patterns, algorithms, and action potentials, but that's not all we can think about.

wrf3 said...

Anonymous asked: Intrinsic intentionality. Does anything have it, in your view?

Sure. Humans, some primates, mammals such as cats and dogs.

DavidM said...

It's a problem because you want to say that 'purely material stuff' can 'represent' a thing on its own, but your only substantiation of this claim is to note that *human beings* can represent things on their own, and then to *assume* (begging the question) that they do so in a purely material way - but you seem to have no idea what either the real-world criteria or even the semantics of 'representation' are, so it's awfully hard to say whether your representation of 'representation' is in fact an accurate one. You certainly haven't provided any kind of 'external referent' (other than your extremely vague 'reality, whatever that is') by which we could actually begin to gauge the correctness/intelligibility of your materialistic representation/interpretation of intentionality.

As for aliens, forget them. Total red herring. Suppose instead some goats wandered into my yard tomorrow: how would I go about communicating with them? I could try to engage in a pattern-matching exercises as you suggest, presumably in order to establish some shared conventional symbols which we could use to communicate with each other about apples, not worrying about how this stuff is encoded... But I'm going to get frustrated pretty fast if I want to talk to those goats about something abstract like 'encoding' or 'representation' or 'truth' or 'isomorphism'! What is an isomorphism of isomorphism, anyway? Supposing there's some real world referent of *isomorphism*, how can this referent be an *external object*? Our representation of 'isomorphism', like all representations, will necessarily itself be an isomorphism between two things, right? So which two things? Isomorphism and... isomorphism?

wrf3 said...

DavidM wrote: So again, it seems you can't even say when a purely material arrangement *does* 'represent', never mind whether it is right or wrong.

No, what I said is that I can't always do it. Some arrangements of wiring and logic circuits are so complex that I can't untangle them. Some I can.

And whether or not something is right or wrong, again, sometimes I can, sometimes I can't.

That's true for all of us, is it not?

What would you say if you opened a coffin and the corpse's hand was raised in a middle finger salute in your direction. Is it really possible that this purely material arrangement represents something *on its own* - and that the corpse might be right or wrong about what it is representing??
At that point, the corpse has no mental processes. The electrons aren't flowing. So the corpse itself isn't representing anything.

One might suppose that the corpse died in a fit of anger and that the extended digit was it's final act of pique before rigor set in. Or, maybe, one of the bystanders to the conversation thought it might be fun to so arrange said corpse. Or, maybe, rigor set in in such a way that it was an involuntary assumption of position. Haven't seen that on NCIS yet, but you never know. I'm not a coroner. It isn't my field of expertise.

Anonymous said...

wrf3,

In response to my asking if anything has intrinsic intentionality:

Sure. Humans, some primates, mammals such as cats and dogs.

And you know the difference between intrinsic and derived intentionality, right? I mean, you realize what you're saying and what relation this has to discussions about materialism?

Anonymous said...

If two oxygen atoms collide and react to form an oxygen molecule, is that really computation? And does saying yes commit you to some type of mathematical platonism?

wrf3 said...

DavidM wrote: It's a problem because you want to say that 'purely material stuff' can 'represent' a thing on its own, but your only substantiation of this claim is to note that *human beings* can represent things on their own, and then to *assume* (begging the question) that they do so in a purely material way - but you seem to have no idea what either the real-world criteria or even the semantics of 'representation' are, so it's awfully hard to say whether your representation of 'representation' is in fact an accurate one.

This isn't an accurate restatement of my position. What I know is that "purely material stuff" does represent things. That a computer can beat you at chess or Jeopardy is proof of that. It is a true statement that, as far as the computer is concerned, "all software is hardware." There is nothing inside the machine except logic gates, wires, and electrons (yes, there are resistors and capacitors and shielding and fans and ..., but all of those are to support the logic gates, wires, and electrons).

Furthermore, we know that the brain is composed of neurons and axons, and that electrons flow through them. We also know that a system of neurons, axons, and electrons is functionally equivalent to logic gates, wires, and electrons. The only real difference between the two is one of complexity -- the brain has more, and more convoluted, wiring than most of today's computers.

So it's a good bet that human brains and computers operate on the same basic principles.

There are a couple of ways to refute this. One would be to show that the human brain can compute something that a computer cannot, i.e., that the brain is more than a Turing machine. Nobody here has taken that approach.

Instead the approach as been "non-mental processes cannot result in mental processes". It's a nice sentiment, but you can't prove it. Forget a thinking being for a moment. Can a non-mental process result in a self-replicating organism? Why or why not?

wrf3 said...

(continued) DavidM wrote: You certainly haven't provided any kind of 'external referent' (other than your extremely vague 'reality, whatever that is') by which we could actually begin to gauge the correctness/intelligibility of your materialistic representation/interpretation of intentionality.

Do you know what reality really is? I don't. But I live my life knowing how apples look and apples taste. I suspect you do, too. And I know that when my German friends enjoy an "apfel" that they are referring to what I call an "apple".

As for aliens, forget them.

Why? Because it gives you epistemic indigestion?

Suppose instead some goats wandered into my yard tomorrow: how would I go about communicating with them?
The same way I might with my golden retriever. She appeared to understand the difference between "get your ball" and "go outside?" and "sit" and "shake".

But golden retrievers, and goats, don't have the computational horsepower that we do. Just like an Zilog Z-80 couldn't keep pace with a Cray, a goat can't keep pace with my MacBook, and my MacBook can't keep pace with us. (Yet).

That's why aliens are a valid thought experiment. If they have spaceflight, then we can assume that their brains are at least the equivalent of ours, so that there's a reasonable hope of communication. After all, we both share the same universe.

I could try to engage in a pattern-matching exercises as you suggest, presumably in order to establish some shared conventional symbols which we could use to communicate with each other about apples, not worrying about how this stuff is encoded... But I'm going to get frustrated pretty fast if I want to talk to those goats about something abstract like 'encoding' or 'representation' or 'truth' or 'isomorphism'!

But you can discuss it as the result of a calculation. So if your goats were as capable as the aliens next door, understanding 2+2, if you can get the latter across, you should be able to get the former across, too.

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