Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Dennett on evolution and the determinacy of meaning

And why not? Here, I think, we find as powerful and direct an expression as could be of the intuition that lies behind the belief in original intentionality. This is the doctrine Ruth Millikan calls meaning rationalism, and it is one of the central burdens of her important book, Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories, to topple it from its traditional pedestal (Millikan, 1984. See also Millikan forthcoming) Something has to give. Either you must abandon meaning rationalism--the idea that you are unlike the fledgling cuckoo not only having access, but in having privileged access to your meanings--or you must abandon the naturalism that insists that you are, after all, just a product of natural selection, whose intentionality is thus derivative and hence potentially indeterminate.

Uh, Dan. If meanings are indeterminate then guess what. It's indeterminate what you mean. No one can possibly determine whether any argument is valid or not, because if, say, it's a categorical syllogism, there's no way to determine whether we've got three terms, four terms, five terms of six terms.

So let's have a look at Dennett's argument.

1. If naturalism is true, then meaning is indeterminate.
2. Naturalism is true.
Therefore, meaning is indeterminate.

And here's mine.

1. If naturalism is true, then meaning is indeterminate.
2. Meaning is determinate. (A presupposition of reason and science).
3. Therefore, naturalism is false.

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Bees, Used Car Salesmen, and Misrepresentation

Now if we are working on the level of simple representation, the perhaps some solution to the problem of misrepresentation can be generated. Let us consider, for example the case of bee dances. Bees perform dances which “represent” the positions of flowers in a garden. The bees, based on this information, go out to the garden only to find no flowers, because in the intervening time between the bees’ discovery of the flowers and the time when the bees performed the dance, a child had picked all the flowers and taken them indoors. We might be able to cash out this fact of misrepresentation in causal terms: there is a normal casual relationship between the bees’ dance and the location of pollinated flowers, so the bees represented flowers in that location, but the representation was incorrect, because the flowers had been picked in the meantime.
But other kinds of misrepresentation seem more difficult to deal with at the level of simple representation. Let’s consider the kind of misrepresentation that goes on in, say, a used car dealership. Can we really imagine a bee from a competing hive going “sneaking in,” giving a dance which would send the swarm of bees to a place where there are no pollinated flowers, in order to secure the real flowers for its own hive? This kind of misrepresentation seems to require that the fifth-columnist bee, like the used car dealer, know that the dance was misleading, in other words, understand what it is that their own dance and know that it was a misrepresentation. This seems to be beyond the capabilities of bees, and requires a radically different set of abilities. Can we account for the difference between being sincerely mistaken an lying in terms of causal relationships? I rather doubt it.
There have, certainly, been causal theories of reference which have been advanced. But these do not suggest that causal relationships alone are sufficient to fix reference. Consider the following standard description of causal theories of reference.
This is the wikipedia account of the causal theory of reference
A name's referent is fixed by an original act of naming (also called a "dubbing" or, by Saul Kripke, an "initial baptism"), whereupon the name becomes a rigid designator of that object. later uses of the name succeed in referring to the referent by being linked to that original act via a causal chain.

In other words, what causation explains, according to this theory, is how references is transmitted once an initial act of naming, an intentional (both in the sense of being intended and in the sense of possessing “aboutness”) is performed. How such actions could be performed in the first place is accounted for in causal terms. It is true, that some have attempted to provide more radical accounts of reference which attempt to stay within the constraints imposed by physicalism; Devitt’s theories are a good example of this. However, I think this attempt has been shown to be a failure in Martin Rice’s essay “Why Devitt Can’t Name His Cat.”

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Bees and Perspectives

BDK: 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.

VR: I think what is needed is the perspective of an agent who sees certain things as the case, and who is introspectively aware of what it means when it says something.

Example: I enter a conversation and misuse a word consistently. The community of language speakers makes a word mean one thing, but I meant something else, and in spite of the sniggers that I got from everyone, I think to myself "But I was using it to mean that." I can recognize two words that sound the same but mean different things, and I can identify two words that mean that same but sound different.

Add to this the perception of necessary relationships that obtain amongst proposition. We have to be people who exist at particular places and times who know that some things exist regardless of place or time. And I see difficulty with that so long as what gives us pieces of information are temporally locatable physical brains and causal connection from those brains to particular states of affairs in the world.

Now, could we solve these problems naturalistically if we could just solve the hard problem of consciousness naturalistically? My answer is that raw feels by themselves aren't going to solve it; we're going to need a connection between consciousness and the mental states involved in rationality.

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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.


A simple suggestion about propositional attitudes

As I see it, the most fundamental propositional attitude is understanding the proposition. Belief, desire, and the rest are just understanding with affirmation, understanding with the hope that it is true, etc.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Causal theories of reference

This is the wikipedia account of the causal theory of reference
  • a name's referent is fixed by an original act of naming (also called a "dubbing" or, by Saul Kripke, an "initial baptism"), whereupon the name becomes a rigid designator of that object.
  • later uses of the name succeed in referring to the referent by being linked to that original act via a causal chain
  • VR: As you can see the theory is not fully naturalistic. It still leaves the "initial baptism" as an unreduced intentional act. And even the selection of causal chains seems to proceed in relation to our interests.


More questions for causal theories

In fact, I question I have is how any specification of causal relations can entail the existence of meaning at all. Let us say a bird is hardwired to let out a certain squawk when a something approximately the shape of a hawk is nearby. There is a regular causal relation between the appearance of a hawk and the occurrence of the squawk. In one sense we can say that the squawk is about the hawk. Something could, of course, touch off the “hawk” signal and the subsequent evasive action without being a hawk. It does not mean that the bird has the ability to distinguish a hawk from various non-hawks. Expecting fire when one sees smoke is not the same as inferring fire from smoke. We say “smoke means fire,” but what this amounts to is that smoke and fire are constantly conjoined in experience. We quite often experience smoke before we experience fire, but it turns out upon examination of the causal relations that fire causes smoke and not vice-versa. We say “smoke means fire,” but that means that smoke and fire are conjoined in our experience. The “meaning” is imposed by human understanding, not in the world as it is in itself.

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Blue Devil Knight and those unconscious bee people

This tracks back to a discussion we had with BDK on consciousness and intentionality. My question for him is this: could unconscious bee people have evolved science? Could they form hypotheses, perform experiments, interpret the data, and examine the results to see if their hypotheses were confirmed or disconfirmed, adjust their theories to fit the evidence, etc. etc. etc, all of this without consciousness?

Is it just intutional pie-throwing if I suggest that this is just insane? Furthermore, an affirmative answer would make the hard problem of consciousness harder. Apparently we could do just fine without it, so why do we have it?

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On intentionality and causal theories

Lewis wrote this in his essay De Futilitate:
We are compelled to admit between the thoughts of a terrestrial astronomer and the behaviour of matter several light-years away that particular relation which we call truth. But this relation has no meaning at all if we try to make it exist between the matter of the star and the astronomer's brain, considered as a lump of matter. The brain may be in all sorts of relations to the star no doubt: it is in a spatial relation, and a time relation, and a quantitative relation. But to talk of one bit of matter as being true about another bit of matter seems to me to be nonsense.
Of course materialists are going to say that it is not a bit of matter that is about another bit of matter, it is a state of the brain (along, perhaps, with a set of causally related items outside the brain) that is about something else.
In virtue of what is some physical state about some other physical state? This is the familiar worry about intentionality, a worry made more difficult by my claim that the kind of intentional states involved in rational inference are states in which the content is understood by the agent and put into a propositional format. Is there a set of necessary and sufficient conditions which are physical in the sense in which we are understanding it here, and which jointly entail the conclusion that agent A is in the state of believing, or doubting, or desiring, or fearing, the proposition P is true?
When we consider material entities that exhibit intentionality, we see that they do not have their intentional content inherently, but have it relative to human interests. The marks on paper that you are reading now are just marks, unless they are related to a set of users who interpret it as such. In other words, it possesses a “derived intentionality” as opposed on “original intentionality.” As Feser points out
More to the point, brain processes, composed as they are of meaningless chemical componenets, seem as inherently devoid of intentionality as soundwaves or ink marks. Any intentionality they would also have to be derived from something else. But if anything physical would be devoid of intrinsic intentionality, whatever does have intrinsic intentionality whatever does have intrinsic intentionality would thereby have to be non-physical. Sine the mind is the source of the intentionality of physical entities like sentences and pictures, and doesn’t get its intentionality from anything else (there’s no one “using” our minds to convey meaning) it seems to follow that the mind has intrinsic intentionality, and thus is non-physical.
For example, clearly the relationship between brain states and states of affairs
cannot be a matter of resemblance. If what I perceive is a pine tree, then what I see is green, but there is nothing green in the gray matter of the brain that corresponds to the green tree in the world. So there must be something that connects the brain states to the mental states. But what could that be?
Some naturalistic theories have been developed to provide a physicalist account of intentionality. Feser delineates four types of theories of this nature: conceptual role theories, causal theories, biological theories, and instrumentalist theories.
Conceptual role theories explicate intentional states in terms of their conceptual roles, that is, in relation to other intentional states. Of course, this does not explain why there is a network of intentional states in the first place.
A more popular approach to coming up with a naturalistic account of intentionality are causal theories of intentionality. These appeal to the causal relations that intentional states stand to items in the external world. Thus if I believe that there is a computer monitor in front of me as I type these words, there is a causal connection between the monitor and my visual cortex, which causes states of my brain to be affected by it.
However there are some fairly obvious difficulties which must be confronted by any causal theories. First of all, how would we explain our relationship to non-existent objects? How could we meaningfully refer to Superman if Superman does not exist? How could a cat cause us to form the belief that a dog is on the mat? This is frequently called the misrepresentation problem. These are problems that causal theorist have been frequently discussed in the literature, and various responses have been proposed.

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Bonjour's case against physicalism

This is Lawrence Bonjour's case against physicalism


Subdividing the AFR

I. Subdividing the Argument
One aspect of my own discussion of the argument that has, I think, influenced the discussion of the argument the most is my subdivision of the argument from reason into six subarguments. In examining the argument I found that the argument focused on different elements of the reasoning process, and that one could find difficulties for naturalism at more than one step along the way.
Perhaps Lewis himself also noticed that there are different elements to the process of rational inference. Consider this description of inference, which, interestingly enough, occurs in a critique of pacifism, not in a presentation of the argument from reason:
Now any concrete train of reasoning involves three elements: Firstly, there is the reception of facts to reason about. These facts are received either from our own senses, or from the report of other minds; that is, either experience or authority supplies us with our material. But each man’s experience is so limited that the second source is the more usual; of every hundred facts upon which to reason, ninety-nine depend on authority. Secondly, there is the direct, simple act of the mind perceiving self-evident truth, as when we see that if A and B both equal C, then they equal each other. This act I call intuition. Thirdly, there is an art or skill of arranging the facts so as to yield a series of such intuitions, which linked together produce, a proof of the truth of the propositions we are considering. This in a geometrical proof each step is seen by intuition, and to fail to see it is to be not a bad geometrician but an idiot. The skill comes in arranging the material into a series of intuitable “steps”. Failure to do this does not mean idiocy, but only lack of ingenuity or invention. Failure to follow it need not mean idiocy, but either inattention or a defect of memory which forbids us to hold all the intuitions together.”4
So Lewis isolates three steps in the reasoning process: 1) The reception of facts to think about, 2) The perception of a self-evident truth of rule that permits the inference, and 3) Arranging the fact to prove a conclusion. Sometimes in developing the argument from reason, advocates point out the difficulty the naturalist has in giving an account of how it is a thought can be about something. This aspect of thought, which philosophers since Brentano have called intentionality, has often been thought to be profoundly problematic for the philosophical naturalist. The next step in the process seems problematic as well, How is that that purely natural creatures completely embedded in the space-time continuum, could possibly not only know something that is true, but also must be true. Our physical senses might perceive what is, but how could physical beings know what aspects of what they experienced could not be otherwise? And then, finally what happens when we arrange statements to prove a conclusion? It seems that our understanding of the propositional content of one statement has to be the deciding factor in our being able to conclude the conclusion. As Lewis asked in his revised chapter, “Even if grounds do exist, what exactly have the got to do with the actual occurrence of belief as a psychological event?” Hence it looks as if the naturalist, in order to affirm the existence of rational inference, must accept the existence of mental causation in which the state of accepting the content of one statements causes the acceptance of the content of another statement. But how mental causation can fit into a naturalistic world has been widely regarded as a problem
In order to keep the strands of the argument straight, I divided the argument from reason into the following six subarguments:
(1) The argument from intentionality.
(2) The argument from truth.
(3) The argument from mental causation in virtue of propositional content.
(4) The argument from the psychological relevance of logical laws.
(5) The argument from the unity of consciousness.
(6) The argument from the reliability of our rational faculties.
I will analyze each of these arguments in turn.


Monday, November 05, 2007

Are the Churclands real eliminativists?

Or are the Churchlands just weak, wishy-washy eliminativists? Apparently if this guy Ratcliffe is right, they are. After all they admit the existence of a false theory called folk psychology. To be honest, I'm not sure folk psychology can exist if eliminativism is true. HT: Dennis Monokroussos


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Virtual models.

This is a statement from Richard Carrier's critique of me:

Cognitive science has established that the brain is a computer that constructs and runs virtual models. All conscious states of mind consist of or connect with one or more virtual models. The relation these virtual models have to the world is that of corresponding or not corresponding to actual systems in the world.

Let's set aside the question of whether the brain has really been shown to be a computer. I take it that this is what a materialist position on intentionality is going to have to look like. But now I have to ask one simple question. In virtue of what is a something in the brain a model of something else, either concrete, or, to make things even harder, abstract. One way in which something can be a model of something else is it is resembles it. Then perhaps a mind is needed to recognize the resemblance, but perhaps one could argue that the modeling relationship exists even with no one there to recognize the modeling. (If a tree models in the forest...) But the trouble is that there is nothing in the squishy grey matter of my brain that resembles, say, a tree in the forest. If I see a green pine tree, where is the green thing in my brain the represents the green pine tree?

Now it is true that some things represent others without physical resemblance. So the word "red" is not red, but it represents red nonetheless. But that relationship seems relative to a mind who uses the term "red" for red things. But this relatioship does not seem to require an independently existing mind.

So, in virtue of what is a virtual model a model.

The link is to Darek Barefoot's excellent reply to Richard Carrier.


Getting the right focus for my argument

BDK: For this discussion I am just assuming EM is wrong, otherwise I wouldn't discussion propositional attitudes or inference.

I think monkeys engage in unconscious rational inference. I also think dogs have propositional attitudes. I am not sure how rational inference and propositional attitudes are related, or what you mean by rational inference. But I do think my dog has propositional attitudes (as do monkeys).
I should have said if EM were true, I wouldn't engage in talk about PA's. Inference is something the EMers believe in! I don't think you have to be conscious of an inference to make an inference. So you caould have PA's, make inferences, and not know that is what you are doing, not know anything about PA psychology. Like a monkey when it is reasoning about how to get that bananna, stacks the boxes, so it can reach the bananna even though it hasn't been in that situation before. It is making rational inference, but doesn't know that's what it is doing.

VR: Here it seems to me that people on opposite sides of the philosophy of mind debate get hung up because their philosophical disagreement goes down to the understand of the terms we use.

Here's what I am thinking about. (Now there's a gigantic piece of folk psychology before I even get started!)

Let's take the syllogism:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

In order for this to work, this has to be a three-term syllogism. Each term occurs twice in the sylloogism, and when it does, identity of meaning has to hold between the occurrences, otherwise we have four terms and an invalid argument. The fact that the physical structure of the word is identical is insufficient for identity of meaning, and not necessary either, because I could substitute an exactly synonymous word which was recognized as the same in meaning and we'd still have a valid argument. On the other hand, the identical word "Socrates" can refer to the ancient Greek philosopher in one sentence and my pet dog in the next, in which cased the validity is lost. It seems to me that for this kind of inference to take place there have to be states of some person which identify the meaning of "Socrates" in the premise with the meaning of "Socrates" in the conclusion. If the mind is the brain, and there are rational inferences sufficient to justify us in believing that the mind is the brain, then there has to be a state of the brain that is identical to the identifying of these two meanings. Even if we do this stuff without self-consciousness sometimes, we at least have to be able to trace our thoughts and identify the meanings of those terms.

If there isn't anything that identifies the term "natural selection" such that Darwin and the rest of us can realize that there is a particular, determinate meaning that he attaches to the term throughout the Origin of Species, evolution is in trouble.

I really don't care whether you can use terms like propositional attitudes and even rational inference to other kinds of situations. I am asking, can you deny without undermining the whole damn scientific enterprise, that explicit, self-understood rational inference ever occurs. I say no. It had to have happened at least a time or two in the history of the human race. These are the intentional states, the rational inferences, the propostional attitudes that I am concentrating my attention on.

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