Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Quote of the Day: "How Could Anything Material Be Any of These Things?"

Lots of mental states are conscious, lots of mental states are intentional, and lots of mental processes are rational, and the question does rather suggest itself how anything that is material could be any of these. -- Jerry Fodor
 This quote mined from the Philosophy ProFeser.

The 'Feser himself goes on to say:
... the difference between conscious systems and unconscious ones seems clearly to be a difference in quality and not merely of quantity [of complexity]. This is the problem of consciousness.
As John Searle has put it, the robot’s symbolic representations – like words, sentences, and symbols in general – have only derived intentionality, while human thought has original or intrinsic intentionality. What can account for the difference, especially if we assume that human beings are no less material than robots? That, in a nutshell, is the problem of intentionality. 
But no one has to assign meaning to our mental processes in order for them to count as logical. So, what accounts for the difference? How are we able to go from one thought to another in accordance, not just with physical causal laws, but in accordance with the laws of logic? That is the problem of rationality. 
A bit more...
... the problems of consciousness and intentionality are... an artifact of certain historically contingent metaphysical assumptions.... In particular... the “mechanistic” revolution.
If nothing in the material world inherently “points to” or “aims at” anything else – if matter is comprised of nothing more than inherently purposeless, meaningless particles in motion – then, since the brain is made up of these particles no less than any other material object is, it seems to follow that the intentionality of our thoughts, that by virtue of which they inherently “point to,” “aim at,” or mean something beyond themselves, cannot be any sort of material property of the brain. Thus is generated the problem of intentionality. 
 I love this stuff.

10 comments:

xn--hrfn-woa said...

How? Emergence, that's how.

This was today's simple answers to stupid questions.

jonathan said...

So because we have thoughts this points to a purposeful meaning?

"If nothing in the material world inherently “points to” or “aims at” anything else – if matter is comprised of nothing more than inherently purposeless, meaningless particles in motion"

Matter is comprised of particles, but the seemingly forgotten, or purposely dodged, fact is that if I had a handful of hydrogen and oxygen atoms only one combination would make water. It's not there is meaningless particles and atoms floating around, it's the way in which they are put together that makes the difference. No higher intelligence or purpose is behind it.

RkBall said...

It's not there is meaningless particles and atoms floating around, it's the way in which they are put together that makes the difference. No higher intelligence or purpose is behind it.

The second sentence does not follow from the first.

jonathan said...

"The second sentence does not follow from the first."

How so?

xn--hrfn-woa said...

I think Ricky has yet to hear about Self-Organization.

P@J said...

There is another false argument being made above, almost a false dichotomy. The argument assumes human consciousness is binary: it is some magical state that is either “on” or “off”. Humans have it (making us “special”), monkeys don’t .

The reality is that there is a huge spectrum from complete lack of consciousness (nematodes, human zygotes) to full “human” consciousness with abstract language skills. The intervening steps are multiple: annelid worms have some understanding of their state and adjust their behaviour to fit; several corvid species are advanced tool users, indicating a high ability to comprehend the individuals place in its surroundings and plan ahead towards a goal; several species have advanced language skills; all of these add up to varying levels of consciousness.

Even more interesting is that levels of consciousness vary within humans. It eventually emerges as foetuses develop into babies, along a predictable path based on brain development. It doesn’t “turn on” when the sperm hits the egg. Through science, we know what parts of the brain are used for consciousness; both by tracking development of the brain, and by studying how the brains of those who do not possess full consciousness (due to disability or injury to the brain) differ from a healthy brain. It has been demonstrated that consciousness is just another biochemical/mechanical operation of the brain, no different than the sense of smell, the ability to memorize phone numbers, or the ability to throw a football.

No magic required. We are not special. The fact human adaptation has resulted in a level of consciousness “higher” than any other animal in earth is no more remarkable that the blue whale developing into the largest animal or the spine-tailed swift developing into he fastest.

xn--hrfn-woa said...

P@J:

Agreed. One of the many factors flowing into this graduated approach to consciousness is recent research demonstrating that chimpanzees have a sense of fair play or morality.

As I suggested above, consciousness (along with intentionality and rationality) is not a bolt from the blue but an emergent quality, and thus one that we should very much expect to demonstrate a spectrum of development.

This has I think two important implications:

(i) That we can learn about ourselves by studying how consciousness emerges in other lifeforms.

(ii) That we should give greater respect to creatures with whom we share even more than we previously thought.

RkBall said...

Jonathan -- sorry -- the statement "No higher intelligence or purpose is behind it." does not follow from the sentence which precedes it.

The universe is imagined to be a mindless physics-chemistry-biology mechanism. It's "mechanical", right -- you talk about the "mechanism" of evolution, right?

OK.

Imagine a signature-writing machine. A person from another universe studies it and concludes it is merely mechanical -- no higher intelligence or purpose behind it. But how does the person know? All he "knows" is it can produce a signature without the direct involvement of an intelligence. But this does not mean that there is not intelligence behind it, and it does not mean that the appearance of purpose is just that -- appearance only.

xn--hrfn-woa said...

Ricky:

Your "signature-writing machine" bears none of the hallmarks of self-organisation, so appears to be a strawman.

Nobody is denying that some things that appear to be manufactured are in fact manufactured -- just that mere appearance is insufficient evidence (as there are many naturally-occurring objects that appear manufactured).

And no, we do not generally talk about "the 'mechanism' of evolution", we talk about the mechanisms (plural).

RkBall said...

I meant to say "mechanisms".

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"