Monday, January 24, 2011

Cranes, Skyhooks, and the Intentional Stance

Here are some comments by Michael Shermer on the distinction between cranes and skyhooks. 

Third, as for your comments on ID and questions for evolutionary biologists, I offer this one general response: in his 1996 book, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, the philosopher Daniel Dennett presents a clever metaphor of skyhooks and cranes. Skyhooks are top-down devices to build complex machines when you can't think of how they could be built by ordinary bottom-up cranes. Skyhooks are always snuck in when one cannot figure out what crane did the job and how. IDers, like their creationist brethren before them (and the natural theologians before them all the way back to William Paley and his watchmaker argument), turn to the skyhook because they cannot think of how the crane of evolution did the job. 

But how do we decide who is using a skyhook? People like ID advocates, and anti-materialists like me, obviously have to plead guilty. My claim, though, is that even when it is couched in brain-talk, you can still have skyhooks, so long as you have a mentalistic explanation, and you don't explain it in non-mentalistic terms.

I happen to think that Dennett's own Intentional Stance is, in the last analysis, a back-door skyhook.


Bilbo said...

What is Dennett's "Intentional Stance"?

As for Shermer's comment, it's not just that "they [ID advocates] cannot think of how the crane of evolution did the job," it's that no one can think of how evolution did the job. Further, the more its investigated, the more it looks designed. That would seem to justify at least a suspicion that it was designed.

Victor Reppert said...

This is the Wikipedia entry on the Intentional Stance. The trouble with it is that it requires an intentional stance-taker.

finney said...

I wrote my thesis for a class on the Intentional Stance. Perhaps the statement in it that most reveals Dennett's self-professed "realism" about mental states is in the last essay of his 1989 (or 1987?) book, The Intentional Stance.

"strictly speaking, ontologically speaking, there are no such things as beliefs, desires, or other
intentional phenomena. But the intentional idioms are “practically indispensable,” and we should
see what we can do to make sense of their employment in what Quine called an “essentially
dramatic” idiom…. Not just brute facts , then but an element of interpretation…must be recognized
in any use of the intentional vocabulary."

Victor Reppert said...

If, ontologically speaking, there are no interpreters, how can there be an interpretation?

William said...

So Dennet wishes us to believe there are no beliefs. Hmm.

In the words of Mario Bunge, a materialist, on ontology:

"Matter strictly speaking is not material. Only concrete things are."

Blue Devil Knight said...

Well, careful with Dennett. He looks at them like 'center of mass' in physics. The ontological status of center of mass is a tricky issue.

I agree though that while it may describe how we do folk psychology, it pushes aside the problem of the stance taker.

finney said...

Dennett would say that there are stupider humunculi that does the interpreting. Hey don't look at me, Dennett said it.

DebB_AK said...

IDers, like their creationist brethren before them...turrn to the skyhook because they cannot think of how the crane of evolution did the job.

Terrible logical fallacy there: the issue isn't that they can't think of how, it is that they disagree with the premises, or the methodology, or the sequence (or, or,or). What so many people don't know is the significant disagreements within the scientific community regarding the position Darwinian evolution holds as standard-bearer for scientific evolution. Furthermore, evolution deals with the development of biological organisms, but cannot answer the fundamental question of how the elements, DNA, all the bits that got together to make things got there. Origin of Species is one thing, origin of matter, energy, and knowledge are wholly different categories which evolution can't touch (given what we know now, in the absence of new information).