Thursday, November 15, 2007

Birds, Bees, and Going Declarative

BDK wrote: Bees represent where nectar is in the world, communicate this to other bees, which respond appropriately. I frankly don't understand the reaction to imagining that this simple capacity were scaled up in ways I said. Especially if we were to add syntactic operations to the scaled up number of elemental contents. We'd have the roots of more interesting thoughts.

I have been trying to work out what disagreements I have with you. The problem I have here is that to my mind there is a difference between causing action appropriate to someting being the case (causing the bees to go where the nectar is), and declaring it to be the case that the nectar is in such--and-such a place. Science is inherently declarative, and requires understanding. It is in my view tempting, but erroneous, to attribute a declarative character to bee dances and birdsongs.

It seems possible to understand some proposition without having any other propositional attitude. But this seems not possible for the birds and the bees.



At 11/15/2007 12:31:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

They communicate how they represent the world to other bees with their waggle dance. I'm just wondering what you would say if they developed the ability to communicate more nuanced facts about the world.

At 11/15/2007 04:21:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Incidentally, the analogy between bee waggle dances and sign language isn't unique to me of course. A philosopher Bennett wrote a wonderful little book called Rationality in which he starts with the bees and asks, "What must we add to the bees' system of communication before we'd be willing to say they are rational, make assertions, etc.." I didn't quite follow all his Wittgensteinian twists and turns, but it is a great little thought exercise that has shaped my thinking over the years.

I don't think we need to add all that much: greater capacity, syntax, and the ability to communicate (and respond appropriately) to these more complicated patterns. Oh, and free will. :)

At 11/15/2007 04:25:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Afterthought: it would be great for antinaturalists to answer Bennett's question. In general, your answer to this question starkly reveals your philosophical stripes. This is all about propositional thought and the like, truth, reference and all that.

As for what you'd have to add to make bees conscious, or whether bees are already conscious, I have no strong opinion. I think Dretske believes they are conscious. I am agnostic. Do qualia precede propositional contents in evolution? I tend to think so, but am not sure: even leeches might feel little flashes of pains and excitements.

At 11/15/2007 10:40:00 PM , Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

Imagine you had all the DNA of a chimp and human being in front of you and all the time in the world to slowly being changing individual codon sequences in each until the chimp DNA began to resemble the human DNA closer and closer and closer. At which point does the chimp develop human rationality abilities? At some point it would, wouldn't it, if all of its DNA was changed to human.

Secondly, I've pointed out in the past that even single-celled organisms display some amazing behaviors including and amoeba pursuing and trapping a ciliate by cornering it with its pseudopodia. And that makes me suspect that a brain with billions of single-cells and trillion of different connections between them might be able to account for even human levels of behavior and discrimination.

By the way, I assume that you accept that some species during evolution developed the ability to make declarative statements to other animals. Do you have any intuitions when this might have taken place? During the monkey or primate phase perhaps? Early apes?

What about elephants and dolphins, other mammals with large brains and advances communicative abilities? (Dolphins have their sonic "speech", and elephants it's been discovered make sub-sonic sounds beneath the range of human hearing but which other elephants can hear for a mile around.)

I also read recently that some birds are better even than chimps in being able to solve some problems put to them by human experimenters.

At 11/15/2007 11:01:00 PM , Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

I think you've hit the limits of what you can prove or disprove via philosophy alone with your arguments. Like defenders of any and every philosophical system you've hit the wall so to speak, and now moving slowly at right angles in circles of speech, reiterating the same arguments in slightly different words.

Science may have more to say on the matter of brain-minds after further studies, then you can philosophize some more, and fit whatever science discovers into whatever way you want to explain that particular data within your AFR view.

But really, there's Christian philosophers who have thrown in the towel on this AFR line of debate of yours so far as considering it a way to prove "supernature." Such Christian philosophers allow that the mind-brain might indeed not feature any supernatural backups lying in a parallel universe, but might function on its own in this one.

(Though in the case of such Christian philosophers God is till called in later to resurrect each brain-mind and its contents).

At 11/21/2007 08:10:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

Or, science could his a materialist brick wall and prove that the AFR was right all along. You never know what science is going to do.


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