Monday, March 02, 2009

Lippard on Dennett at ASU

http://lippard.blogspot.com/2009/02/daniel-dennett-at-asu.html

This is Jim Lippard's account of a Daniel Dennett presentation at ASU. I fear that whenever I read Dennett I get a lot of pro-science and pro-materialism bravado, a lot of interesting examples, but when I go looking for the argument, half the time I can't find it.It is interesting that Dennett uses the term mind-creationists, and applies that term not to people like me (whose existence I am sure he would not be willing to recognize), but to Fodor and Searle, both of whom are atheists, and neither of whom would dare draw the conclusion that a creator need apply. Of course Dennett is delighted to lump Turing resistant philosophers of mind, including atheists like Fodor and Searle, in with "creationists," which is a blanket term for those benighted enemies of reason who are blinkered by their religious fundamentalism into a literal interpretation of Genesis. So you get Fundamentalist Bible-thumpers and Young Earth Creationists = People who attribute anything to a Creator = People who think the mind isn't purely physical = People who think the mind has original intentionality. So Dennett's foes in the philosophy of mind are just like all those other creationists. If I were Fodor or Searle I would have a fit.Lippard writes;A few of the "mind-creationists" Dennett pointed out were Jerry Fodor and John Searle. Another is Victor Reppert, author of C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason, the main argument of which I criticized in a short paper ("Historical But Indistinguishable Differences: Some Notes on Victor Reppert's Paper," Philo vol. 2, no. 1, 1999, pp. 45-47). Reppert's position is that Turing machines don't actually do arithmetic, because they have no semantics, only syntax, and that you only get meaning through original intentionality of the sort that John Searle argues is an irreducible feature of the world. Computers only have semantics when we impute it to them. My argument was that if you have two possible worlds that are exactly alike, except that one was created by a top-down designer and one evolved, there's no reason to say that one has semantics and the other one doesn't--how they got to the point at which they have creatures with internal representations that stand in the right causal relationships to the external world doesn't make a difference to whether or not those representations actually refer and have meaning.Contrary to this, I maintain that reference and meaning have to be reference and meaning for some conscious agent who perceives and understands that meaning, and that a complete description of causal relations is going to leave the semantic states indeterminate.

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6 Comments:

At 3/11/2009 01:03:00 PM , Blogger Reformed Baptist said...

Victor,

It could be that I do not understand what Lippard is saying when he says:

"My argument was that if you have two possible worlds that are exactly alike, except that one was created by a top-down designer and one evolved, there's no reason to say that one has semantics and the other one doesn't--Contrary to this, I maintain that reference and meaning have to be reference and meaning for some conscious agent who perceives and understands that meaning, and that a complete description of causal relations is going to leave the semantic states indeterminate."

Questions:

1)Doesn't the idea that you can have two possible worlds that are "exactly alike" but "one comes about by evolution" and the other by a "top down designer" defeat the idea of "same possible world"?

2) Where do your comments begin and his end?

I take it that this is his comment/argument:

"My argument was that if you have two possible worlds that are exactly alike, except that one was created by a top-down designer and one evolved, there's no reason to say that one has semantics and the other one doesn't--how they got to the point at which they have creatures with internal representations that stand in the right causal relationships to the external world doesn't make a difference to whether or not those representations actually refer and have meaning.

And this is your (Victor's) response:

Contrary to this, I maintain that reference and meaning have to be reference and meaning for some conscious agent who perceives and understands that meaning, and that a complete description of causal relations is going to leave the semantic states indeterminate."

Is that right? That is how I am going to proceed, but do correct me if I am wrong.

3)I think I understand this but maybe not, Rippert says:

"how they got to the point at which they have creatures with internal representations that stand in the right causal relationships to the external world doesn't make a difference to whether or not those representations actually refer and have meaning."

This is puzzling for me. Does Lippard think that our thoughts are after effects of causal forces acting upon us? So for example, if I am doing a math problem, say 45 x 100 =4500, when I get that problem correct it really does not have anything to do with my mental causation. The relationship of the numbers on the page do not *actually* entail the answer. The only reason I get the answer *right* is because the circumstances of the universe from the time of the big bang up until now have made it such that I causally get the right answer, and it just *is* the case that humans throughout history have thought mathematical truths necessary, because causally, from the big bang until now, that is just the way it is?

I know that I am probably wrong, but I am having trouble reading it anyother way.

 
At 3/12/2009 08:52:00 PM , Blogger Jim Lippard said...

Reformed Baptist: In answer to your questions:

1. I mean exactly alike at time t, not in their histories.

2. The "Contrary to this" is the beginning of Victor's comment, you got that right.

In your further remarks, you seem to me to be creating a false dilemma. I would say that *both* there is a true physical level description of our reasoning processes *and* a mental level description, and it's not a mere brute fact or accident that the latter is the way that it is.

 
At 3/13/2009 04:36:00 AM , Blogger Jim Lippard said...

BTW, your comment suggests to me a view that there is *no* underlying causal or physical mechanism that explains learning, language development, language comprehension, language generation, mental representation, associative memory, or inferential reasoning. That isn't really your view, is it?

My view is that just as computers can be described at the physical level by the movement of electrons AND at higher levels of description (including multiple levels of software description, such as machine language and execution of higher-order languages and modules), so can human mental processing.

 
At 3/13/2009 08:10:00 AM , Blogger Reformed Baptist said...

Thanks for your response Jim.

 
At 3/13/2009 08:15:00 AM , Blogger Reformed Baptist said...

Jim I do believe that our physical situations influence our mental states. However, from what I understand at this point, there seems to be an irreducible quality to our subjectivity. I have been reading some of Daniel Dennett's work lately, and it seems highly counter intuitive to me. I know that doesn't mean that it is necessarily wrong, but I tend to think that if something smells bad it may very well be. :)

Thanks for clarifying things for me. As far as skeptics go I find you to be one of the more honest, and I enjoy your blog.

 
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