Thursday, February 16, 2006

An old post on the argument from computers

the argument from computers

I did this post back in May on the argument from computers, and since Steven has brought this up again. I have also included two comments that were included at the time. And like David, I don't offhand see how this is a problem for Calvinists. I should point out that I have had to make this clarification because of critics like Steven.

Perhaps one of the most frequently used arguments against the various arguments from reason is that computers are undeniably physical systems, computers reason, and therefore physical systems reason. Now it is not enough to respond to this argument by saying that human beings, who according to the arguments, are not purely physical systems, created the computers. Of course they did, but the naturalist might respond by saying that regardless of how the computers got there, they reason. But it isn't just that humans made the computers, they also provide the framework of meaning in which the activity of the computer can be regarded as "reasoning." The intentionality found in the computer is derived intentionality, not original intentionality.

Consider the following. Imagine a possible world just like ours, except that in that world chess is never invented. Along with my fellow card-carrying members of the Guild of Chess-Playing Philosophers I call this world I for Impovershed. In I, a pair of computers, connected to one another, miraculously appears in the Gobi desert and goes through all the physical states which, in our world, occurred in a chess game between Fritz and Shredder in the World Computer Championship. The question is, did these computers play chess? Since chess was never invented in I, since no terms in the world refer to "rook," "bishop," "king" "exchange sac" "en passant" or "Dragon Variation," I suggest that these "computers" did not play a chess game.

posted by Victor Reppert @ 8:19 AM     


At 10:21 AM, Brandon said…

yes, exactly. I never understood how a set of neurons firing could express intent. What causes the brain to intend? If physicalism is true it must be some state machine, perhaps built from conception and conditioned by environmental inputs to run the way it does. If it is a state machine then it is not, by definition, intent. It is merely the illusion of intent, or emulated intent.
This then narrows the definition of intent to be the appearance of self-actuation (rather than actual self-actuation) Which means of course that I can do whatever I want since responsibility doesn't exist. In it's place is neuro-chemical fate set in motion by stardust of ages gone by.
Incidentally, this problem provides difficulty not only for physicalists, but also calvinists.

At 1:47 PM, David said…

How is this a problem for Calvinists?


Steven Carr said...

' Imagine a possible world just like ours, except that in that world chess is never invented.'

What is the point of this thought experiment?

That the laws of chess are not causally relevant to machines if there are no laws of chess?

True, but trivial.

I don't understand Victor's point.

It seems as pointless as claiming that if money had not been invented, and we saw people exchanging pieces of paper with pictures of human beings on it in return for services, then they are not using money.

Is Victor really claiming that if we see a computer program we don't understand, we can guarantee that the computer is not manipulating higher level concepts than the atoms and molecules that he insists are the only things materialists cna use in there explanations.

Bilbo Bloggins said...

Steve says: "I don't understand Victor's point."

Steve, that's the most accurate thing I've seen you say in your entire career as a theistic blog leach.

Jim Lippard said...

I agree that in your scenario the human beings have created the "framework of meaning in which the activity of the computer can be regarded as 'reasoning.'"

However, I think that a machine could exhibit Strong AI and "original intentionality" if it had the appropriate mechanisms for language comprehension and production, for interacting with the world, and for storing and acting upon memories of past interactions. A pair of such machines capable of playing chess in our world, transplanted to your hypothetical world, would really be playing chess.