Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ed Feser on the Argument from Intentionality

Originally dated Nov. 21 2006
The following is from Philosophy of Mind: an Introduction, by Edward Feser. Hat tip: Joe Markus from the Internet Infidels Discussion board.

When you draw your mother, you are creating a kind of representation of her. But notice that it is not the particular physical features of the drawing itself - the form of the lines you make, the chemicals in the ink you use, and so forth - which make it a representation of her.........Someone looking over your shoulder as you draw might later on produce an exact copy of the drawing you were making. Perhaps the person admires your craftsmanship and wants to see if he or she can do as well. But in doing so the person would not, strictly speaking, be drawing a respresentation of your mother - he or she may have no idea, nor any interest in, who it was that you were drawing - but rather a representation of your representation. And, in general, the very same image could count either as a drawing of an X, or as a drawing of a drawing of X - or indeed (supposing there's someone looking over the shoulder of the second artist and copying what he or she was drawing) as a drawing of a drawing of a drawing of an X, and so on ad infinitum.......Even if we count something as a drawing, and therefore as possessing some intentionality or other, exactly what it is a drawing of is still indeterminate from its physical properties alone. The same is true not just of drawings, but also of written and spoken words (for to say or write "cat" could be to represent cats, but it could also be to represent the word "cat") and indeed any material representation, including purported representations encoded in neural firing patterns in the brain. There seems in general to be nothing about the physical properties of a material representation that make it a material representation of an X as opposed to a material representation of a material representation of an X.......Sometimes, however, you are determinately thinking about a particular thing or person, such as your mother. Your thought about your mother is about your mother - it represents your mother, and doesn't represent a representation of your mother (representations, pictures, and the like might be the furthest thing from your mind). But then your thought, whatever it is, cannot be entirely material. Given that there's nothing about a material representation per se that could make it a representation of an X as opposed to a representation of a representation of an X, if your thought was entirely material then there would be no fact of the matter about whether your thought represented your mother as opposed to a representation of your mother. Your thought is determinate; purely material representations are not; so your thought is not purely material.

posted by Victor Reppert @ 3:49 PM
1 Comments:

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At 5:47 PM, Jim Lippard said…

"There seems in general to be nothing about the physical properties of a material representation that make it a material representation of an X as opposed to a material representation of a material representation of an X."

This seems patently false. What makes an image of my mother an image of my mother is the fact that it resembles my mother--the images on my retina, the images in my visual brain maps cause stimulation of the neurons associated with my mother due to that similarity; and those associated with my mother are there as a result of my visual experiences with my mother (and are linked to other neurons as a result of my memories of experiences and thoughts about my mother).

Likewise even for stipulated/dubbed representations--they only are recognized as representations because of the appropriate neural connections in my brain, which are there because of past experiences and memories.

Without the appropriate connections in somebody's neural systems (or equivalent memory stores causally connected up in the right way to the world), there's no representation.

101 comments:

Blue Devil Knight said...

While I agree that resemblance isn't necessary or sufficient for something to be a representation, the passage makes too much of this fact. More generally, just because we can't tell if something is a representation by studying its intrinsic properties (e.g., what it resembles), that doesn't imply that representations aren't natural. It seems to be a straw man.

Natural represenatations clearly have to be more complicated than all that and minimally must take into account relations (either causal or informational or predictive) to the thing being represented. This was the point of Twin Earth.

Neuroscientists studying how the brain represents the world don't just stare at the brain to figure out what it is representing, but always study how the neuronal activity relates to what is happening out in the world (e.g., showing different stimuli to the organism while recording the neuronal activity). If the neuronal activity is informative about the world, then it has met one of the conditions for being a representation of that feature of the world. I'd call such information-bearing states proto-representations, as you need to add more details to get the ability to misrepresent and to resolve different but coextensional contents.

I think Lippard is right to focus on memories. Consider a simple example of a representational system studied by neuroscience: songbird learning. Early on, birds hear the songs in their mileau. Then, they do no singing for quite a few months, but then start to actually produce song that is almost identical to what they heard months ago. How is this ability to be explained? It seems natural to say that they have stored an internal representation of the original song, and that this representation guides the emergence of the correct song later in life.

While this example is inadequate to provide a full-fledged theory of intentional contents (the song, arguably, isn't actually about anything), I think that the fuller story about intentional contents (i.e., things with truth values and referents) will have to include in its story something about the laying down of an original core of representational contents (proto-representations) that are later able to be activated and used to guide behavior even when the proximal stimulus is absent.

Dretske tackles all this stuff head on in his Knowledge and the Flow of Information. He's brilliant.

Blue Devil Knight said...

PS. I said the SONG doesn't represent anything, but there are internal states that represent the original song. Similarly, human children, during some learning period (perhaps even evolution), acquire a rich bed of representations, or information-carrying structures, of the world. These can then, independently of the stimulus, be used to guide behavior wrt to the world, and even be activated incorrectly (e.g., activate the 'mom' structure when you see someone that looks like your mom).

i.e., song:bird :: mom:human

PPS. Paul Churchland's new book will include a fairly extended critique of 'resemblance' based theories of representation. I have no idea when it is due out.

Crude said...

Ah, a post by Zach. Blast from the past, that.

im-skeptical said...

Since theists are stuck with their pre-scientific notion of the homunculus, they ignore the far more realistic view of intentionality that is afforded by a more scientific understanding of how the brain functions. I discussed this a few weeks ago.

Crude said...

I discussed this a few weeks ago.

Did you? See, no one cared, especially since you - like Linton - have demonstrated you can't even grasp what anyone in philosophy of mind is talking about. Not just theists, but naturalists as well.

At best, you can engage in some copy-pasting. When you're asked to explain things in your own words or offer defenses in your own words, you fumble badly and eventually bolt.

And - here's the important thing - this is obvious to just about everyone. Once you admit it, you'll be on your way to actually understanding things. That is important to you, right?

Papalinton said...

Increasingly, across the spectrum of contemporary philosophy Feser's rendition is seen for what it is, a word salad. Just as Aquinian Classical Scholasticism has been relegated to the periphery of philosophical discourse, so too has any theological or apologetic rationale for an Argument from Intentionality been rightly consigned as flotsam in the outer reaches of the Philosophy's equivalent of the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud Asteroidal Zone.

Skep, it's not a case of ignoinge the scientific literature about the understanding of how the brain functions. It is about the intentional [consonant with Feser's line of thought] refusal of it, yoked to the tradition of peddling of pre-scientific, supernatural superstitious swill and passing it off as content meriting some epistemological validity. But the more one scrutinizes the theological explanatory paradigm alongside the empirical and scientifically literate explanatory paradigm, comparing each, line item by line item, it does not take a genius to deduce the theological cupboard is epistemologically bare, butt-naked. There is no discernible distinction between justified belief and opinion in the Philosophy of Religion as practiced by apologists. The nefarious role of the PoR is no better or more eloquently illustrated than by John Loftus HERE and in this essay from Dr Keith Parsons.

Theological explanations about us, about the environment, the world, the universe, and even about gods, are simply memeplexes promulgated and in most cases inflicted on a naive, credulous and unsuspecting populace.

Crude said...

Linton is a great example of just what I mean, since the one time he was called upon to actually explain - in his own words - the general position of Feser, his response was to plagiarize and lie to everyone.

In these particular individuals, they are not upset at this argument or that argument, or in favor of this argument or that argument, due to the intellectual content. They barely grasp that part of things, and it's all word soup to them.

Instead, it's a bit more primitive. Arguments are either 'liked by theists' or 'liked by atheists'. The latter is goooooood and the former is baaaaaad and so, barely understanding either, they react accordingly.

In fact, that may explain the sympathy for certain arguments that at heart say 'We don't REALLY understand things, but we try to pretend we do'. The parallels are obvious. ;)

Dan Gillson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Gillson said...

Every time I read one of Papalinton's stupid comments I get an urge to scrub my eyes out with bleach. Does anyone else?

B. Prokop said...

Not so much. For me, the real problem with Linton's postings is he hasn't said anything original for years. It's the same old tired spiel trotted out again and again and again. There isn't even any variation on a theme. Heck, to stick with the musical analogy, there's not even a a theme - just a one note samba.

I will give Mr. Wilson this, however. While he does descend at times into ridicule or inappropriate phraseology (although noticeably less than he used to), he hardly ever resorts to profanity or gutter language. I wish some Christians on this site would use similar restraint.

Dan Gillson said...

"Gutter language" is much acceptable to me than bullshit is. Everything Linton posts reeks of it.

Crude said...

For me, the real problem with Linton's postings is he hasn't said anything original for years.

Plagiarists aren't known for their originality. ;)

I second Dan's take on the whole thing.

Dave Duffy said...

Half the respect you get in life is just showing up. You're there for your job, your kids, your spouse, your clients, your church.

Although showing up at a website is not as admirable, Papalinton shows up regularly to write his thoughts. I respect that.

Crude said...

Although showing up at a website is not as admirable, Papalinton shows up regularly to write his thoughts. I respect that.

That seems like so ridiculously low of a bar to set. Though internet comments aren't at all comparable to this: looking at a rampaging mob and going, 'Well, at least they care about SOMEthing, so that's nice' seems mistaken.

Dave Duffy said...

Crude,

Opening my front door every morning at 7:00am and facing the world year after year following a cup of coffee with Mrs. Duffy, does set my bar very, very low.

The line about the mob doing SOMEthing did crack me up. That showed great wit.

B. Prokop said...

Nothing to do with this topic (or with this discussion, which also has nothing to do with this topic), but over HERE is an Anglican website which has posted a list of what they consider to be the "100 Best Christian Books". A bit Anglophilic, but interesting nonetheless. Turns out I've read only 25 of them. How many have you?

Papalinton said...

Thanks Dan.
i really do feel and appreciate the warmth, generosity, kindness, your civility and the welcoming nature you extend to me.



Papalinton said...

Talking of 'Intentionality', here's one for Bob and other catholic apologists:

HERE

I file this case under the heading: 'Lying for Jesus'.

Papalinton said...

And while not strictly germane with Feser's comment, THIS PIECE definitely charts the intentional stance of ever increasing numbers of the community in the US.

This would be good one for a separate OP, Victor? Apologist philosophers such as yourself need to take these data into account seriously in the effort of maintaining philosophical currency in a more competitive world of ideas.

Victor Reppert said...

Lying for Jesus? I would have thought that the archbishop was lying for himself.

Victor Reppert said...

And what in bloody blazes does this stuff have to do with intentionality. Intentionality is "about-ness."

Victor Reppert said...

And please, not the "we are winning" nonsense again. If you think you can discover what is true by taking a poll, science would not be necessary.

Papalinton said...

Victor
"Lying for Jesus? I would have thought that the archbishop was lying for himself."

I don't think so. He didn't commit the sexual abuse. But he covered up and protected someone who did, a fellow priest. He also covered it up on behalf of the catholic church, in keeping with instruction that had been directed from the vatican, Pope Benny, no less." I would most definitely say, lying for Jesus. When I was teaching I would have reported it the moment I found out, regardless of who it was just as teachers today are required to mandatorily report even the suspicion of sexual abuse, in the greater interest of protecting the child. Catholic priests? Not much..

Papalinton said...

Victor
"And what in bloody blazes does this stuff have to do with intentionality. Intentionality is "about-ness."

Chalk it down to my droll sense of humour. Then again, while one should not confuse philosophical 'intentionality' with the usual and common understanding of the word 'intention' or 'intentiona;' the concept lends itself admirably to 'double entendre'.

intentionality |inˌten ch əˈnalitē|
noun
the fact of being deliberate or purposive.
• Philosophy the quality of mental states (e.g., thoughts, beliefs, desires, hopes) that consists in their being directed toward some object or state of affairs.


Intentionality of itself is meaningless with the caveat of "being directed toward some object or state of affairs". Intentionality is not a descriptor but embodies a causal feature to a concept, the sense of something being directed towards some goal, thing or purpose, be it about-ness, or object or state of affairs.

Don't take yourself too seriously, Victor.

Papalinton said...

Victor
"And please, not the "we are winning" nonsense again. If you think you can discover what is true by taking a poll, science would not be necessary."

Certainly no bragging rights from me. Just the occasional reminder, with evidence, that religion and PoR is waning as an instructive force within the broader community. I say a reminder because you as many of the religiose on this blog seem to not want to discuss this trend in society. But what the statistics seems to demonstrate is how religious belief is sowing its own demise. A case in point, the unconscionable and irrational belief that demonizes homosexuality as 'an abomination in the eyes of the Lord'.

One of the findings of the Barna Group was:

"There Is Skepticism about Churches’ Contributions to Society
Although many of the churchless hold positive views of churches, a substantial number also have no idea what Christians have accomplished in the nation, either for the better or for the worse. When the unchurched were asked to describe what they believe are the positive and negative contributions of Christianity in America, almost half (49%) could not identify a single favorable impact of the Christian community, while nearly two-fifths (37%) were unable to identify a negative impact."


A reasonable case could be argued, in that this state of affairs is underscored by the notion that there is a significant element of intentionality, and that it is pretty much a result of a mental phenomenon.


B. Prokop said...

"I say a reminder because you as many of the religiose on this blog seem to not want to discuss this trend in society."

I for one will gladly discuss it, Linton, for two reasons:

1. Your perspective is hilariously narrow. Try taking off your white bread, Eurocentric blinders. There is no tiniest hint of any lessening of the power and importance of religion in the world as a whole. Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds in Sub-Saharan Africa and in China. Catholics in Mainland China now outnumber members of the Communist Party. Even the government of that country admits that. (And as for the non-Christian world, please do not try to tell me that there is any decline in religious fervor in the Muslim world or in Hindu India!) And as for Post-Christian Europe, it is committing continental suicide by not reproducing itself. In another generation or two, there will be left there only two groups of people - those who held on to their Catholic Faith, and the Muslim immigrants who will fill the gap left by imploding secular Europeans.

2. As Victor so wisely pointed out, truth is not subject to poll results. Even were you correct in your predictions, all that would mean is that an increasing number of people believe in a lie.

Dan Gillson said...

Whoa ... Déjà vu. Have you had this conversation with Linton before, Bob? Or am I just imagining things?

B. Prokop said...

Dan,

"What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun."
(Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Papalinton said...

Cold comfort Bob. In sub-Saharan Africa the trend is the supplanting of localised primitive tribal belief systems with a 'generic sphisticated' primitive belief system.

There is little doubt theists are feeling the pinch. The halcyon days of superstitious supernaturalism is ebbing in the US. The direction of the trend away from religion is observable and sustaining. In many respects it is long over-due since the first wakeful and dawning moments stirred in the Enlightenment. A broad recapitulation of recent history, of Europe, and latterly in Ireland, the home of 'catholics', and many other parts of the first world including the US, are in a period of the downsizing of religion in the public square. Yes, it is true, Africa is experiencing a surge of religiosity. That is to be expected wherever abject destitution, ignorance and illiteracy is overwhelming and no means of protecting one's family from the scourge of poverty. Who wouldn't subscribe to the placebo effect of religious thinking. What other cheap salve is there in the circumstances where the one and only source of life-sustaining food for their children are the proselytizers along with their American missionaries' lure of the needy? And this is the pitying thing. Along with this rise in religious fervour are the ubiquitous railings against homosexuals, AIDS sufferers, the subjugation of women, all bundled in the Hellfire and Brimstone rhetoric of these christian preachers, aided and abetted by American clergy.

The rise in christianity in China is equally the result of the factors applying in Africa, but the double-whammy and more importantly a protest vote against systemic prohibition. And we know what happens when institutional prohibition is enforced, don't we?

B. Prokop said...

Linton,

We already knew that atheists are for the most part cultural elitists, but it's still nice when you so willingly provide evidence for such. But it matters not:

"For God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise,
God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong,
God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not,
to bring to nothing things that are"
(1 Corinthians 1:27)

Hal said...

“Your thought about your mother is about your mother - it represents your mother, and doesn't represent a representation of your mother (representations, pictures, and the like might be the furthest thing from your mind). But then your thought, whatever it is, cannot be entirely material.”

Are thoughts representations? I don’t think so.

A representation, for it to be a representation, has to include non-representational elements and representational elements. For example, a painting consists of various paints and the canvas on which the painting is painted, which are the non-representational elements. How the paints are applied to the canvas are the representational elements.
But thoughts have no non-representational elements. If I have a thought about my mother then I am simply thinking about my mother. It is, so to speak, all message and no medium.

This goes beyond Edward Feser's conclusion that thought is not purely material. It is not at all material.

im-skeptical said...

"This goes beyond Edward Feser's conclusion that thought is not purely material. It is not at all material."

Theistic thinking: the brain has nothing to do with it.

B. Prokop said...

"Theistic thinking"

Has it ever occurred to you that "theistic thinking" might possibly mean "correct thinking"?

C'mon, Skep. Put some meat onto your moniker, and show some healthy skepticism for your own rigidly ideological materialistic thinking. It doesn't display much "skepticism" to just slap a label onto something, and think that doing so somehow proves a point.

'Cause it don't.

im-skeptical said...

My earlier comment still applies.

Papalinton said...

"This goes beyond Edward Feser's conclusion that thought is not purely material. It is not at all material"

No material? No canvass? I think Lippard is correct. .

The mental representation of your mum includes non-representational material. such as the neurons, the physical firings of electro-chemical charges of energy over the synapses, and the grey and white matter of the brain is the canvass on which this representation is painted.

And the generation of thoughts expends energy, and the active healthy brain can only be fed through the mouth. Food in generates sufficient energy to form representation of mother. Physical energy transfer, pure and simple. No need to imagine a supernatural homunculus being the source of mentation.

Hal said...

Theistic thinking: the brain has nothing to do with it.

I'm not a theist.

Can you show me a representation that doesn't contain non-representational elements?

Written words are representations. The ink and the color of the ink used are non-representational elements. Their semantic content is the representational element.





im-skeptical said...

"Can you show me a representation that doesn't contain non-representational elements?"

What's your definition of a 'representation' and a 'non-representational element'?

Thinking is a physical process. Information is physical. Ink is a physical medium that is used to convey (or represent) information. I have no idea what you mean by 'non-representational elements'.

B. Prokop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B. Prokop said...

"Information is physical."

This is interesting. By that logic, there exists not one The Brothers Karamazov, but rather millions of them - one for each copy printed. But (again, according to this "reasoning") it would be impossible to speak of the novel itself in any meaningful sense. One could only refer to the specific physical copy one happens to have. Unless you passed around a single printed volume, no two people could ever read the same book.

B. Prokop said...

I've been doing a bit more thinking about the implications of Skep's idea that "information is physical". If that were truly the case, then there would never be any point whatsoever in discussing anything with anyone. Ever. After all, the "physical" information in my brain would never be the same information as in someone else's, even if we agreed! The very idea of confirming or refuting another's ideas becomes nonsensical.

This is relativism, indeed solipsism, in its most extreme form.

Hal said...

Im-skeptical,

The ink in your pen is a non-representational element. It does not represent anything. You can use that ink to write the following:
GOD IS DEAD!

Do you really think you can convey the idea that God is dead simply be showing someone the ink in your pen?

And if anyone is going to be able to understand the message being conveyed by your written sentence they have to be able to see the ink on the page and know what shapes we use to write English.

im-skeptical said...

Ink is a medium. It must me configured or arranged in a certain way to carry information. Just like any other medium.

Information is not the same as meaning. Assigning meaning to information is a cognitive process, and it is dependent on the associative connections in your brain. That's why it is entirely possible for different people to read a book and get entirely different meanings from it. Same information - different meanings.

A child doesn't have the same experiences, the same connections between different concepts in his brain as a learned scholar. So the child's understanding of a book will be quite different. And I'm willing to bet that even Bob doesn't have exactly the same understanding of The Brothers Karamazov that Dostoevsky did.

Hal said...

im-skeptical

So you don't think anyone understands the claim that there is no God? Doesn't that claim convey information?

B. Prokop said...

"Information is physical."

"Ink ... must be configured or arranged in a certain way to carry information."

You do realize that these two sentences are contradictory, right?

If the ink must be configured in such a way as to carry information, then the ink cannot, in and of itself, be that information. (A truck, carrying a load, is not itself the load.) And if not in the ink, then where lies the information? In the configuration? But configuration is a pattern, and a pattern is not itself physical. It's not "made" of anything. There is no Pattern Particle yet to be discovered by the scientists at CERN.

No, pattern is completely immaterial (or non-material, if you so wish), as is information.

B. Prokop said...

"So you don't think anyone understands the claim that there is no God? Doesn't that claim convey information?"

You're the one claiming that - not me.

B. Prokop said...

That is, you're the one claiming that it does not.

Hal said...

Bob,
I was referring to the sample sentence I wrote above to demonstrate to im-skeptical that ink is non-representational.
The post at time 10:03. I am personally not interested arguing whether or not God exists .

im-skeptical said...

Both Bob and Hal seem to believe that a given statement has one and only meaning. It doesn't. It's meaning is dependent on how we interpret it, based on the various understandings and associations we have in out brains.

Of course, there is commonality in our experience, and we can arrive at understandings that are the same or very similar. If we grew up learning to read English, we have a common understanding of what is conveyed by the letter 'P'. That understanding may not shared by someone who grew up in Russia. Similarly, sentences and phrases may mean essentially the same thing to two different people, or perhaps not.

The sentence "God is dead." might mean that religion has ceased to be a major sociological force in our culture, to an atheist. Or it might mean that God's moral and spiritual influence on people is no longer felt as strongly as it once was, to a theist. Or it might mean that the person of God has ceased to live, to a child. It depends on your perspective, which is shaped by your experience, and it depends on the context where it occurs.

B. Prokop said...

Hal, I understand you.

But I am trying to get through to hyper-materialist Skep that not everything can be ascribed to physicality. Information is actually the easiest example to demonstrate how one is almost immediately reduced to absurdities when you don't acknowledge its non-material nature.

B. Prokop said...

Skep,

Stick to the subject. We're not talking about "meaning" here, but information.

Your most recent postings are classic Skep - trying to muddy the waters and confuse the subject by bringing in irrelevancies.

im-skeptical said...

OK, stick to information (which is purely physical), and leave meaning out of it. What is this absurdity you speak of?

B. Prokop said...

Do I need to repeat myself? Read my above comments.

im-skeptical said...

" If that were truly the case, then there would never be any point whatsoever in discussing anything with anyone. Ever. After all, the "physical" information in my brain would never be the same information as in someone else's, even if we agreed! The very idea of confirming or refuting another's ideas becomes nonsensical."

Oh, brother. You are talking about meaning, not information. Information can be represented in any number of different ways. What difference does it make? When you say "even if we agreed" you are talking about sharing a similar understanding of something. I thought you said you wanted to keep it to just information.

B. Prokop said...

No, I am talking about information, and information only. If information is purely physical, then the information contained within the atoms of your brain is totally separate and not connected in any way to the information in my brain. Meaning doesn't enter into it at all. Bu your own reasoning, whatever information you have cannot (by definition) be transmitted to any other person, since it is tied to the physical atoms within your brain. Any information another person has is part of his brain, and is in no way connected to your information.

Two piles of atoms - two independent piles of information.

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"No, I am talking about information, and information only."

I understand what you are trying to get at (it is a version of arguments realists hurl against nominalists), but this cannot be right, as information, to do the work it is needed in the arguments, is inseparable from meaning.

Technical conceptions of information, apparently teleology-free (say information a la Shannon), are either irrelevant, or cannot do the necessary work.

im-skeptical said...

Forget it. Go take a class in information theory, and then we can talk (having some common basis for understanding the words being exchanged between us).

Hal said...

im-skeptical,
Ink is a medium.

What do you mean by that statement?

im-skeptical said...

Ink (with paper) is a physical means of containing and transmitting information. The very same information could be transmitted via sound waves or electric fields, or magnetic domains.

Information can be handled, transformed, and manipulated in a mechanical way, regardless of any meaning you might attach to it. This is the essential distinction the two things. Meaning exists in the way your brain associates information with concepts or impressions that already reside in the brain. This is a cognitive process.

Papalinton said...

?Introduction. Rolf Landauer declared in 1991 that ‘information is physical’. Since then, information has come to be seen by many physicists as a fundamental component of the physical world; indeed by some as the physical component. This idea is now gaining currency in popular science communication. However, it is often far from clear what exactly this statement means; exactly how is information physical? And why this should matter for information science? The purpose of this paper is to clarify just what is meant by the physical nature of information, and the significance of these considerations for our discipline.
Methods. A selective literature review and conceptual analysis, based on literature from both physical science and information science.
Results. The prospect of attempting to make links between objective and subjective conceptions of information has been strongly advocated by some authors and doubted by others. The physical nature of information can be understood from three main perspectives: the relation between information and physical entropy; the strongly informational nature of the quantum view of nature; and the possibility of recasting physical laws in informational terms.
Conclusions. Based on this analysis, we muse on the relevance of such issues to information science, with particular reference to emergent properties of information. Apart from the added public awareness of the i-word in a very different context from the norm, it may that that there are general laws and principles, or at least useful metaphors and analogies, linking the concept of information in the physical, biological and social domains."


Read the paper HERE


Papalinton said...

Bob, your million copies of the "Karamazov Brothers' doesn't really hold much meaning or relevance other than an amusing one.

It carries the same non-sensical import as does the following: "All novels have an author; Literature consists of all novels; Therefore, does that mean that Literature has an Author?"

Papalinton said...

In further thought,' information' is simply the aggregation of order in the universe. Information carries a conception about the physical order of the universe. Disambiguated information [for want of the better descriptor] is entropy.

Hal said...

im-skeptical,

Ink (with paper) is a physical means of containing and transmitting information. The very same information could be transmitted via sound waves or electric fields, or magnetic domains.

Thanks for the helpful explanation. I do have another question:

Is the ink (with paper) being used to represent this information?

im-skeptical said...

"Is the ink (with paper) being used to represent this information?"

What is "this information"? Do you mean the comment you just posted? I suppose there's no ink involved in that unless you printed it out.

Hal said...

Im-skeptical,

What is "this information"? Do you mean the comment you just posted? I suppose there's no ink involved in that unless you printed it out.

The information you said was contained and transmitted physically with the ink and paper.

Is the ink (and paper) a representation of that information?

im-skeptical said...

The 'information' I am talking about is more narrow than the general physical concept of physical information that Papalinton is referencing. It more specifically relates to communication. This article in wiki may be helpful.

grodrigues said...

It took one parenthetical remark from me for im-skeptical to "discover" that he means information in the technical Shannon sense. Which of course does not help his case one iota, which everyone cognizant about the syntactic, non-semantic character of Shannon information knows. Pathetic.

Hal said...

im-skeptical,

I'm still looking for an answer to my question. A simple yes or no will suffice.

After all the topic here concerns what a representation is.


I'll repeat:

The information you said was contained and transmitted physically with the ink and paper.

Is the ink (and paper) a representation of that information?

im-skeptical said...

I said it clearly, and I said it more than once. The ink (and paper) are a MEDIUM for representation of information.

And now that the trolls are here to derail discussion, I'll leave it at that. I knew this was a mistake.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"And now that the trolls are here to derail discussion, I'll leave it at that. I knew this was a mistake."

So saith The Troll, whose first sentence in this thread was the following derail:

"Since theists are stuck with their pre-scientific notion of the homunculus, they ignore the far more realistic view of intentionality that is afforded by a more scientific understanding of how the brain functions."

B. Prokop said...

"Information can be handled, transformed, and manipulated in a mechanical way, regardless of any meaning you might attach to it"

One final comment, and then I too am done here. The above comment from Skep shows that, although he does not realize it nor will he admit it, he too understands that information is not physical. His very sentence makes a clear distinction between physical objects and information. The media by which said information is "handled, transformed, and manipulated" may indeed be physical, but they are not themselves the information. Or how could they then carry it? This goes for whatever physical object or assemblage of objects you can point to as being associated with information. As I said above, "A truck, carrying a load, is not itself the load."

I might add here a reference to trying to lift one's self by your own bootstraps - can't be done.

Hal said...

im-skeptical,
I said it clearly, and I said it more than once. The ink (and paper) are a MEDIUM for representation of information.

I agree with that.

If you want to impart information to someone else you can sit at your desk and write it down on a piece of paper.
The paper sitting on your desk and the ink in the pen you are holding are the non-representational parts. The letters you write on the page are the representational parts.

If someone reads what you have written they will be able to receive the information represented by what you have written. They are not going to be able to receive that information by looking at the ink in your pen or by looking at the blank page on your desk.

But if I think about the information I acquired from reading what you wrote, there is no medium to represent that information. There are no non-representational elements in a thought.

I guess a materialist could conjecture that it is the neurons representing the information one is thinking about. But there are two serious problems with that position:

When looking at a representation we also see the non-representational parts. We don't see any neurons when thinking. It is absurd to even think we could see them.

The second problems concerns how the representational parts of a representation are able to represent. To convey information by use of a language we have to understand that language, we have to know the rules for its use. Those rules are set by convention. How can neurons follow conventional rules? Who is setting the rules? How would you know what rules the neurons are following?

Papalinton said...

Grodrigues

Don't be obtuse. As far as I can see Hal and Skep are in the main talking across purposes and definition. Whatever their differing perspective, there is little doubt that the concept and understanding of the term 'information' is rooted or grounded in the physical.

The germane issue here is how best to define physics in terms of information or information in terms of the physics. Either way, the idea of information being some form of immaterial supernatural phenomenon has long since lost its epistemological foundation and rationale.

Papalinton said...

Correction:
"Disambiguated information [for want of the better descriptor] is entropy."

should read

"Ambiguated information [for want of a better descriptor] is entropy."


Hal said...

Paplintion,
Unless you happen to agree that thoughts are not physical things, the differences between myself and you and im-skeptical run deeper than you think.

B. Prokop said...

It carries the same non-sensical import as does the following: "All novels have an author; Literature consists of all novels; Therefore, does that mean that Literature has an Author?"

No, Linton. It doesn't mean that at all - not even close. Skep insists that The Brothers Karamazonv is identical to the physical medium by which it is expressed (such as a printed book). I say it is a non-material entity independent of the form by which it is transmitted.

The inevitable implication of what Skep believes is that there are as many Brothers Karamazov as there are copies of the book (the information being merely and purely physical). The consequence of what I maintain is that there is only one, which is recorded in multiple places.

Your mistaken analogy of what I wrote is totally off the mark - doesn't relate to it in the slightest.

William said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William said...

Hal said:
"Are thoughts representations? I don’t think so. A representation, for it to be a representation, has to include non-representational elements and representational elements."
------
This is tricky. I can think of a stop sign, and represent it to myself. That thought is a representation, and it has a secondary representation: it says stop.

So some thoughts are representations, and some meanings have a level which is a representation of another level of meaning.

So, I might rephrase your comment to say that to be a representation, there must be an element that is a medium for the representation which cannot be a representation at the same _level_ as what is represented.

This would include thought processes which themselves may represent other parts of thought.

For a more mundane example, say I give you a book. At the material level, it is a physical object which represents a gift. At another level, the book contains a story which is a representaion also, but at a different level (or in a different context) from the gift level.

It is likely the recognizer of meaning who sets a context for a given level of representation to represent rather than be a medium.

Papalinton said...

I think you're right, Hal. We do have difference on this matter. Thoughts are packets of information. and the conception of information that seems to be gradually unfolding is that it is a physical fundament.

Hal said...

William,
That thought is a representation, and it has a secondary representation: it says stop.

I would agree that a stop sign could be considered a representation. It has non-representational material that is being used to represent the command to stop your vehicle.
But I don’t see why thinking of a representation makes the thought a representation. Does thinking of a flower make a thought a flower?

If you have a mental image of a flower you could draw or paint it and show it to me. That painting is a representation of your mental image.

I agree with you that stop signs and printed stories are representations but that is because they meet the criteria for being a representation that I have given above.

Since I don’t agree with you that thoughts are representations you will need to provide me reasons for changing my mind.


It is likely the recognizer of meaning who sets a context for a given level of representation to represent rather than be a medium.

I agree that if a person knows the traffic rules he will be able to recognize what it represents. I don’t see why that would entail that thoughts are representations.

William said...

Hal,

Let's say we imagine a newspaper in which there is a picture of a stop sign.

Is there any representation in the above imagining? If I say there is and you say there is not, is that the issue?

If so, do we have a difference in definition that may be explored?

Hal said...

William,

I'd say there is an imaginary representation. After all, you are simply imagining a newspaper with a picture of a stop sign.

I don't think imaginary representations have the same properties real representations do. An imaginary bird can not fly like a real bird does.

From what you have written earlier, I think we both agree that the representations we encounter in the world are made up of material that is not itself a representation. A stop sign is made of metal, wood, red paint and white paint. None of those items in themselves are representations. It is only when they are put together to make a stop sign that those items as a whole can be said to represent something.

Think of how representations are usually used. They can convey a information to others. If I were talented enough I could draw you a picture of the grade school I attended. That would be a pictorial representation.

If I came up with a new way to solve a troublesome problem at work I could send a memo to my fellow employees or hold a meeting to announce it. Those would be written or verbal representations.

When one thinks about things one does not need to represent what one is thinking to oneself. One simply thinks about it.

William said...

"When one thinks about things one does not need to represent what one is thinking to oneself. One simply thinks about it."

I don't think that all thoughts are representational (that was Dretske, sort of). But I think some are, and some are not.

This means that the medium of representation need not be physical, by my definition of a thought being able in some cases to represent something, though I guess you may have been instead defining representation as requiring a physical medium or substrate?

Hal said...

William,

Yes, I would agree that all representations require a medium and that medium is physical. That follows from the fact that we can only perceive physical objects with our five senses.

But a representation also requires both non-representational elements and representational elements for it to be a representation.

What criteria are you using to differentiate a thought that is not a representation from a thought that is a representation? Can you provide some examples of both kinds of thoughts?

Hal said...

William,

It would be more accurate to say that a representation requires non-representational properties and representational properties.

I think my use of "elements" instead of "properties" was a poor choice to express what I was attempting to say.

William said...

Hal:

Hard to define representation,but BDK's ideas (at the top of the comments) about resemblance are a start.

An object of thought represents something when having that thought has a resemblance to having a perception of the thing about which the thought has content.

Yes, there is potential circularity here, but such is the stuff of definitions.

Hal said...

William,

It would be helpful if you could provide some examples of thoughts that are not representations.

That would certainly help me to understand better your position.

William said...

Thoughts about abstract structures that have no direct perception for us in the world, like quantum wave forms or logical axioms, can be representation free. Such thoughts have no necessary nonverbal associative structure.

Hal said...

William,
Thanks for that.

So, if I understand you correctly, if someone thinks the following it is not a representational thought:

"If A > B and B > C then A > C."

William said...

Hal:

Yes, though in particular cases someone might also have an associated thought, say of the printed sentence, along with the nonrepresentational content.

Hal said...

William,
Thanks for clarifying that.

It seems to me that the kinds of thoughts you consider to be representations are what some would call 'mental images.' It is only those thoughts that in some way resemble an object or objects we can perceive through any of our senses.

It is interesting that many of the representations we commonly use bear little or no resemblance to what they represent. For example a stop sign in no way resembles what it represents. Its representational properties are established by convention. Same sort of thing with maps. They are able to represent the mapped terrain because of the mapping rules established by cartographers.

Am not sure why you want to limit mental representations to only objects of perception since there is no such restriction on many of the representations we use in the world. But since we are at least in partial agreement concerning those thoughts that are not representational, I wouldn't want to argue for removing that restriction. :-)

William said...

Okay, well going on from this fact that some thoughts are representational (or contain imagery) and some are not, I wonder about the quote in the original post as follows:

Given that there's nothing about a material representation per se that could make it a representation of an X as opposed to a representation of a representation of an X, if your thought was entirely material then there would be no fact of the matter about whether your thought represented your mother as opposed to a representation of your mother. Your thought is determinate; purely material representations are not; so your thought is not purely material.


Here's my take on why this is not necessarily correct.

I think that a given mental image is "tagged" by the brain or mind as follows: perceptions that we think are direct perceptions are tagged as such (these tend tobe less under our control than other images too). Memories, even vivid ones, are tagged as memories. Daydreams are seen as daydreams. So the "determinate" part of a representation can just be a tag that makes it determinate. That tag could be added by the brain as the thoughts are being formed, as a physically determinate thing.

That process might go wrong in brain illness, such as hallucinations, and an exception might be dreams in stage 2 sleep, where tags may be neglected or mixed.

But if not all thoughts are representation, some of the non-representational content could be used in this way to label our representations of perceptions differently than our representations of representations, and in fact this does happen. We give context to our thoughts.

I don't think that there is anything about that tagging itself that has to be non-physical. Tags can be physical, and be quite detrminate, too.

However, the ultimate choice of meaning, the choice of what context the tags themselves may have for me, seems not to terminate in anything recognizable as basically physical, and so here I agree with the quote.

Hal said...

William,
Okay, well going on from this fact that some thoughts are representational (or contain imagery) and some are not

Just want to clarify that I don't think mental images are representations. So it is not a fact to me.:-)

William said...

Hal,

We agree on one thing: Feser's argument that our thoughts are not purely material makes a hidden assumption that the thought in question are purely representational.

The argument that such thoughts are not purely physical can thus be undemined by denying that assumption, and instead assering that such thoughts are not purely representational.

I do so by adding nonrepresentational content, you do so by denying any actual representation to such thoughts, but we both assert the argument is unsound for similar reasons.

grodrigues said...

@William:

"We agree on one thing: Feser's argument that our thoughts are not purely material makes a hidden assumption that the thought in question are purely representational."

Feser's critique does not need "pure representationalism" (whatever that is); all it needs is that thoughts are indeed representational. And even this is misleading, since what is doing the work is not representationalism in any form (which by the way, Feser would deny, as Aquinas would), but intentionality. And it is not a "hidden" assumption at all -- the man can hardly shut up about it. So if you want to go down this route, what you have to deny is not "pure representationalism", but intentionality. But then again, the point of Feser's argument is that a consistent naturalist must indeed deny intentionality, which he then takes as a reductio against naturalism.

Hal said...

William,

Not sure what you mean by “purely representational”. In any case, I think his assumption that thoughts or mental images are representations is mistaken. And reading over the OP again, I don’t think he and I even agree on what makes a representation a representation. For example, at the start of his post he says:
“When you draw your mother, you are creating a kind of representation of her. But notice that it is not the particular physical features of the drawing itself - the form of the lines you make, the chemicals in the ink you use, and so forth - which make it a representation of her.......”
He seems not to realize that it is a combination of the non-representational and representational properties of the physical drawing that make it a representation of the drawer’s mother. In a drawing the representational properties will resemble what the drawer’s mother looks like.
If you look at my original post in this thread, you will see that I don’t believe thoughts to be physical so I am not motivated to undercut his argument in order to maintain that they are.  Am more concerned with explaining why I don’t agree with his conception of representations.

William said...

g: I agree with you about intentionality, and I have no wish to take a route that denies such a thing.

Intentionality may be relational without being representational, which seems to undermine a premise of the specific argument under discussion as it was originally stated...

There may indeed be some equivocation about "representation" in our above as well. The concept seems to me to be far broader than any one argument's use of it.

grodrigues said...

@William:

"Intentionality may be relational without being representational, which seems to undermine a premise of the specific argument under discussion as it was originally stated..."

At this point, I think it is you who has to clearly define the terms as how you are using them. Every naturalist conception of thought that I know of is representationalist in some way or form -- how could it be other than representationalist?

But to repeat myself, it is *not* representationaliusm that is at issue, but intentionality. That is, what Feser argues is that naturalists cannot account for intentionality. At this point, a naturalist could invoke say, causality theories of intentionality (which are not treated in the quoted portion). But these likewise face seemingly insurmountable problems.

In the same vein, it is not enough to vaguely say "Intentionality may be relational" under naturalism, you have to give an account of that relation.

Hal said...

Doesn't Feser think thoughts are representations?
It looks like he does based on what he wrote in the OP:

Your thought about your mother is about your mother - it represents your mother

grodrigues said...

@Hal:

"Doesn't Feser think thoughts are representations?"

My bad, as my comment was somewhat cryptic. In Aquinas' theory of cognition thoughts are not mere representations, as you typically find in modern theories of cognition; rather, there is a very real sense in which the known is in the knower. It seems correct to say that thoughts have a representational aspect, but for how to exactly cash this out, one would have to look at the specifics of the theory.

William said...

I think that one way Thomism fails to adequately account for cognition about the world, versus the actual nature, whatever that may be, of the outside world lies in its inability to distinguish well between the mind representing a thing and the mind as perceiving the essence of that thing.

The representation of the correct definition of the species (the "Aristotelian secopndary substance") of a thing seems to capture the essence of a thing, for many Thomists, but not for me.

Hal said...

grodrigues,

Thanks for the explanation. My knowledge of Aquinas' philosophy is extremely limited. I know that Brentano talked about the scholastics' view of the "intentional (or mental) inexistence of an object". He (Brentano) claimed that intentionality is the defining feature of the mental. Obviously, you would know much better than me how close that is to Aquinas' views.

If I understand Feser correctly, he does make a good point about the indeterminancy of physical representations. Sometimes one does not know what it is a representation is a representation of. It follows that one can sensibly ask what is being represented. A thought is not like that. Surely it would be absurd to think I might need to ask myself what I am thinking of when I am thinking of my mother. That is another reason for calling into question the assumption that thoughts are representations.