Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Intentionality Delusion

This is a Vallicella post about Rosenberg's denial of intentionality. You have to wonder how he avoids that conclusion that, since no statements are about anything, his own statements are also not about anything. But I suppose it is consistent naturalism.

40 comments:

mchoux said...

Very good! Thanks for the post.

Papalinton said...

The 'maverick philosopher' indeed.

After a verbose recounting of Rosenburg's perspective, Vallicella, as every theist are want to do, poses his assertion, "What alone remains of interest here is how a seemingly intelligent fellow could adopt a position so manifestly absurd."

And follows this unphilosophical assertion by an equally absurd, juvenile and theologized response, containing no philosophy at all, "I suspect the answer is that he has stupefied himself by his blind adherence to scientistic/naturalistic ideology."

Ya gotta just love it, ignorance begetting ignoramuses.

Matteo said...

Papalinton,

After reading the Maverick Philosopher post and then reading your comment, I have a question that maybe you could clear up for me:

What, sir, is your major malfunction?

Ilíon said...

I think his major function is as "cloaca maxima".

Victor Reppert said...

Papalinton: Will you kindly tell me how Rosenberg can avoid the conclusions that his thoughts are not about anything, given the fact that his argument is that no thoughts are about anything? If there is something wrong with Vallicella's response, your statements leave me with no idea as to what it is.

Ilíon said...

"You have to wonder how he avoids that conclusion that, since no statements are about anything, his own statements are also not about anything."

Pehaps he's picked up a trick or two from the Churchlands. Perhaps he distinguishes between the "folk intentionality" of the masses (and anyone else who isn't an atheist or eliminative materialist), which doesn't exist, and his own intentionality.

"But I suppose it is consistent naturalism."

Logically consistent naturalism: you do not exist.

Victor Reppert said...

The other term would, of course, be reductio ad absurdum.

Papalinton said...

Hi Victor
"Papalinton: Will you kindly tell me how Rosenberg can avoid the conclusions that his thoughts are not about anything, given the fact that his argument is that no thoughts are about anything? "

It's not Rosenberg that concludes that his thoughts are not about anything; rather it is you and Vallicella [and the supernaturalist Feser] that derive that conclusion. He [Rosenberg] doesn't have to avoid anything, except those christian apologists that put their words in his mouth.

Little could be more egregious than for Vallicella to take Rosenberg's notion of 'thoughts', and their illusory nature, [they are after all just thoughts and they remain only thoughts until such time that someone acts out their illusion, in other words operationalize them, the thoughts themselves remain just thoughts, and illusory just as Rosenberg notes] and conflate them with 'intentionality', is to set up a pious christian-derived apologetical strawman. This silly Vallicella juxtaposition of 'thought' and 'intention', much beloved of theists, is the quintessential theological concept of perceived thought-crimes. Much is made of this nonsense throughout the biblical narrative, so I guess it is somewhat difficult for Vallicella to functionally appreciate the conceptual chasm between thought and intentionality.

And from the very get-go [I love that phrase] Vallicella declares in bold statement his presupposition, "Could intentonality be an illusion? Of course not." But Vallicella's statement is irrelevant to Rosenberg's discussion on the illusory nature of thought. Intentionality is a beast of a different order. And in a sense Vallicella is quite right in his observation; intentionality may not be illusory, but imagined intentionality most definitely is illusory. Humans are evolutionarily primed though our genetic survival mechanisms to imagine agency everywhere.

And we know the biblical narrative to be riddled with imagined intentionality, the inculcation from which we witness the results of this training in our everyday lives whether we wish to on not, from god sparing that one infant while allowing millions to perish in tsunamis, to Francis Collins three-forked iced trinitarian waterfall, to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. It is all bit of charade really, and a little jejune, wouldn't you say, Victor?

Papalinton said...

Cont.

I conclude: Valicella sets up another equally fallacious strawman and attributes it to Rosenberg, the "object-directed thoughts". Nowhere did I read Rosenberg introducing any such concept.

Of course it is clear that once again Vallicella sets up a convenient 'thought/intentionality', object-directed thoughts, apologetic, and then proceeds to shoot his own strawman down.

Victor, I wish you wasted less time on promulgating this sort of nonsense and move onto good stuff. Many of the recent OPs have not been worthy of your defence and have been a little unedifying.

Cheers

Victor Reppert said...

No. In philosophical terminology, intentionality just means about-ness. If thought has no intentionality, it is not about anything. There is nothing theological about this terminology; it is precisely the way the term is used consistently by Dennett, who, last I checked, had not joined the ranks of Christian apologists.

Papalinton said...

"I think his major function is as "cloaca maxima"."

And a long, distinguished and honourable function at that, Ilion. The cloaca maxima has been ridding the eternal city of christian crap for millennia. And when christian crap no longer floats to the sea, and St Paul's becomes a wonderful public museum dedicated to reminding us of humanity's historical fling with superstition and mythology, as does Athen's Parthenon today, the cloaca will still be there, quietly ridding the miasma of humankind's soft underbelly.

Ilíon said...

Ilíon: "Logically consistent naturalism: you do not exist."

VR (at least, I think the response is to the above): "The other term would, of course, be reductio ad absurdum."

Yes, logically consistent 'naturalism' *is* inescapably absurd, which is:
1) how persons who choose to be rational know that 'naturalism' is false and *cannot* be true;
2) why persons who choose to believe, or at least to assert, 'naturalism' anyway tend to decline to be logically consistent ... or decline to be fully rational, sometimes even to the point of explicitly denying that there is such a thing as reason, at all.

===
The *reason* we "theists" can know and can confidently and honestly assert that 'naturalism' is false and that it cannot be true is not that it offends our particular religions sensibilities, but that 'naturalism' offends reason and logic themselves. Being logically self-absurd, 'naturalism' "offends" 'naturalism'.

A necessary, but not sifficient, condition for a proposition to be true is that it not be self-absurd: a proposition which is not self-absurd may be true or may be false; but a proposition which is self-absurd cannot be other than false.

Ilíon said...

Matteo: "What, sir, is your major malfunction?"

Ilíon: "I think his major function is as "cloaca maxima"." [i.e. for a human being, this is a major malfunction]

Papalinton: "And a long, distinguished and honourable function at that, Ilion. The cloaca maxima has been ridding the eternal city of christian crap for millennia. ..."

The only substantive difference I can see between 'Papalinton' and the other trolls who leave their scat on VR's blog (and sometimes try to leave it on mine), is that 'Papalinton' uses quite a few more words. Therefore, it is only by accident that I ever see/read even a minimal part of the pointless words he leaves here.

Papalinton said...

"No. In philosophical terminology, intentionality just means about-ness. If thought has no intentionality, it is not about anything."

True, this is how Dennett characterizes the notion of intentionality as do many philosophers. But no, this is not how Vallicella employs the usage.
Indeed Vallicella's cheap parting shot of " .. stupified himself by his blind adherence to scientistic/naturalistic ideology .." encapsulates the tenor of his resentment and the malicious intentionality of his pejorative perspective on the Rosenberg illusory thought analogy, and is a far truer reflection of Vallicella's personal prejudices than your positing of Dennett's 'about-ness' intentionality, Victor.

Let's face it, Victor, if thoughts and thought patterns, and theory of mind are just integral parts and expressions of the natural world, the whole supernatural edifice, along with metaphysics, gods and unmoving movers, and uncaused causes, spirits, ensoulment, ethereal entities and 'being itself', together with a plenitude of other descriptors, all fall in a heap, as they should. They are simply reflectors, mental pictures that our brain uses to process and arrange, remember and recall our individual collection of experiences, information, knowledge that defines us uniquely. As Dennett also reminds us,' cranes' that help us build our commonwealth of knowledge and experiences are far more useful than 'sky hooks' relaying imaginary links from the supernatural.

01010101 said...

Rosenberg may not set up the issue very well, but Billy Maverick's response itself misses the point--ie, determinism: all bio-chemical processes/events must have causes, more or less. You don't choose to be hungry. You appear to choose where to go to lunch (the philosophaster's "intentionality"). Now, even granting something like volition, the decision to go to lunch was coerced, more or less. Ie, the Kantian idea of pure freedom is in some sense illusory.

Victor Reppert said...

Yep, if Dennett's right, then he's right. But my main contention is that he isn't, that skyhook avoidance is going to break down when we give a comprehensive theory of mind, on pain of naturalism not being able to provide worldview that makes science possible.

Papalinton said...

VR: "Yep, if Dennett's right, then he's right. "

It's not about Dennett being right, but providing a perspective with far greater cogency and explanatory power. His narrative, along with increasing others, is significantly more mindful of and is open to incorporating all the new data currently coming on stream from diverse fields of research and investigation and testing. Contrast this to the tradition of conventional theological wisdom, with its strategy highly orchestrated on vigorously defending its boundaries from breach, and even feverishly batting away new and substantive ideas that may, and may only, co-incidentally critically challenge the core of the christian mythos, regardless of the merits of the argument.

VR: "But my main contention is that he isn't, that skyhook avoidance is going to break down when we give a comprehensive theory of mind, on pain of naturalism not being able to provide worldview that makes science possible."

A comprehensive theory of mind will come from the various branches of the sciences, not theology. This theory of mind will also correctly posit the role of theology in context, and I suspect apportion it a more balanced mediated role, a role significantly less than its current rhetoric purports it to be.

Christian theism has had two thousand-plus years to convince humanity that life on earth developed in a 'top-down' model, as is recounted in the bible. And in those years since first promulgated under the christian banner, the 'top-down' model of the existence of life has been in hiatus, it has not budged or improved our understanding in two thousand years. Every year is the same ol', same ol'.

Since Darwin, the theological top-down approach has been knocked on its head. Darwin's natural selection model gave humanity the first real glimpse, the first insights to a 'bottom-up' model of life in the planet. The 'bottom-up' model has been so successful that its usefulness now provides the basis for investigation in so many other areas of research, from genetics in biology to memetics in psychology, history and literature.

Through the bottom-up model we have a pretty reasonable idea of the process by which the proto-constituents formed into self-replicating molecules, forming the basis of RNA, then into DNA, through to the consistency of all living matter containing the DNA helix etc. Further investigation is now exploring how consciousness and intellection and emotional responses tie back into our genetic make-up and how they developed over time evolutionarily.
We are only at the very front edge of this great activity and isn't likely to be letting up any time soon.

The top-down model has nothing to offer. The bottom-up perspective is beginning to fill in the pieces. Cranes/skyhooks

I suspect the naturalistic worldview is not in any danger of compromise for the foreseeable future.

Anonymous said...

"Nowhere did I read Rosenberg introducing any such concept."

You say this, Paps, because you have not read Rosenberg. Or if you have, you clearly haven't understood him. And you clearly haven't understood the argument here, hence you thinking that the alternative to naturalism is "theology" instead of "philosophy".

Do you understand that Rosenberg takes a position that even most naturalists avoid and argue against? Of course not. Because you're a silly little man, who never really had much knowledge beyond those you taught. I assume, by the way, you were a sixth grade teacher. :-)

Valicella, and Reppert, are correct. Intentionality is a sword pierced through the guts of the naturalist philosopher. And everyone knows that to think otherwise is to embrace insanity, ie, Rosenberg's spiel.

Who did you bribe to get your education degree, Papalinton? Oh wait, no bribery was involved. The standards are just that low. ;-)

Ilíon said...

^ Oh, come now, Anonymous; there is no reason to suppose it was not a combination of both.

finney said...

"His narrative, along with increasing others, is significantly more mindful of and is open to incorporating all the new data currently coming on stream from diverse fields of research and investigation and testing."

I find it amusing you use the term "mindful" to describe Dennett's view on intentionality, especially when Dennett explicitly, specifically, unequivocally says that in his view, there are no such things as beliefs, desires, or thoughts.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Rosenberg should probably pick up a neuroscience journal and search by keyword 'sensory coding.'

Papalinton said...

"I find it amusing you use the term "mindful" to describe Dennett's view on intentionality, especially when Dennett explicitly, specifically, unequivocally says that in his view, there are no such things as beliefs, desires, or thoughts."

Wrong. Dennett explicitly, specifically, unequivocally says that in his view, there are no such things as beliefs, desires, or thoughts independently contrived outside the natural functioning of the brain. In other words, Dennett is unequivocal that 'god did not make him do it". Dennett explicitly says, 'god did not pop that thought into my head".

I say, "In every theist's head is a god-shaped vacuum."

Ilíon said...

Some intellectually dishonest 'atheist' (but I fear I repeat myself): "His narrative, along with increasing others, is significantly more mindful of and is open to incorporating all the new data currently coming on stream from diverse fields of research and investigation and testing."

Finney: "I find it amusing you use the term "mindful" to describe Dennett's view on intentionality, especially when Dennett explicitly, specifically, unequivocally says that in his view, there are no such things as beliefs, desires, or thoughts."

Ilíon: 'Intellectual Curriosity'

finney said...

Papalinton,

Here's what Dennett said:
"In other words, strictly speaking, ontologically speaking, there are no such things as beliefs, desires, or other intentional phenomena." (The Intentional Stance, 1987)

Papalinton said...

Exactly.

Anonymous said...

"Exactly."

IOW, "DURR, I don't know what I'm talking about. But I spent my life trying to teach 6th graders and I had to pretend I knew more than them. So I'm not about to admit I'm completely out of my league now."

Happy New Year. :-)

finney said...

Papalinton,

Exactly. Dennett denies the existence of thoughts and other intentional states. If you read a shred of Dennett perhaps you'd see that this is not only explicitly stated in his works, it's also essential to the whole point of the Intentional Stance - that "thoughts" and "beliefs" are fictions we employ to explain things we cannot currently explain otherwise.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Finney: in that quote Dennett is paraphrasing Quine, not his own views.

Dennett discusses his own view explicitly here. One of his more interesting articles, and one he still cites as one of his most important.

But I would agree that Dennett isn't the best naturalistic role model. I recommend Dretske.

Definitely not Rosenberg. It's like Rosenberg is a double agent for Christian bloggers, sending slow pitches right over the plate.
[Assuming his view is being represented accurately: I have yet to read his book, so perhaps people are being uncharitable (though I doubt it).]

Papalinton said...

BDK
That referral to Dennett's view on belief patterns, is a quite a boon. Thanks for bringing it to attention.

Ilíon said...

BDK: "Definitely not Rosenberg. It's like Rosenberg is a double agent for Christian bloggers, sending slow pitches right over the plate ..."

So, is BDK saying that only "Christian bloggers" actually understand the logical entailmants of 'naturalism', or is he saying that only "Christian bloggers" are honest enought to explicitly state those entailments? Or, as a last, stop-gap possibility, is he saying that only "Christian bloggers" are smart enough to even see those entailments in the first place?

finney said...

BDK,

Dennett was describing the evolution of the view of 20th century instrumentalism in general - the view which he expressly espoused in The Intentional Stance. Jerry Fodor, for example, takes his passage to be reflective of the culmination of instrumentalism in Dennett.

A close reading of Dennett's view will yield the conclusion that he is a non-realist as to intentional states. He says that we posit intentional states only where physical explanations and explanations referring to fictional "design" or "function" are not forthcoming, and where we had full knowledge of a physical brain (if we had the knowledge that a superior alien species would have, for example), then we no longer would posit such intentional states. Intentional states are a gap-filler for Dennett, much the way God is allegedly a gap-filler for theists. The only difference between him and Churchland is that Churchland advocates eliminating terms of folk psychology, including "beliefs" "feelings" and "thoughts" whereas Dennett takes these terms to be pragmatically useful.

Blue Devil Knight said...

finney: He eschews talk of instrumentalism versus realism.

From 'Real Patterns':
'[O]nce again, is the view I am defending here a sort of instrumentalism or a sort of realism? I think that the view itself is clearer than either of the labels, so I shall leave the question to anyone who still finds illumination in them.'

He does think that belief-talk captures real patterns, that could ultimately be replaced by finer-grained descriptions. Just like we could describe your computer as running software X, or give the machine-language description of the same computer. The computational costs of the latter do not necessarily pay for the increased predictive power in practice.

However, as he points out in that article, both instrumentalists and realists have attacked his view, thinking he contradicts them. He tries to take a middle ground.

At any rate, I don't care all that much about Dennett exegesis. Just thought it bad that you quoted him out of context in a way that misrepresented his position, in a post trying to school Papa on the Dennett corpus.

Blue Devil Knight said...

What would be productive is if someone summarized his actual view, in which he explicitly discussed these issues, from 'Real Patterns.' Then we could argue about whether that view is instrumentalist, realist, some hybrid, or as he says, not useful to even talk about it that way because it is a better alternative than both.

But blogs are not places to be productive, unfortunately. :)

William said...

One point:

Dennett says that belief and some other (equivalent?) theoretical frameworks of abstraction, such as that hypothesized by Churchland, are pragmatically treatable as real because they allow predictions from information. However, he fails to effectively define information. I think a real mental subjective view (a thing seemingly denied by Dennett and Churchland) is being smuggled in with the "information" term.

As the theoretical physicists will tell you, information always requires a subject that is measuring that information.

Blue Devil Knight said...

William: metaphyiscs of information is not that cut and dried. I see it as an objective feature of the world, as do many others. E.g., the color of a star carries information about its surface temperature, whether we are there to measure this relation or not. It is there.

Note I just have been reading some Rosenberg, and his view is a lot more nuanced and interesting than you'd expect based on that one quote going around the Christian blogs. I need to get the full version, though, I've only been able to go through versions with pages removed online. Perhaps I will post a summary and discussion, once I get my hands on it, over at Philosophy of brains.

William said...

BDK: I agree the information in our environment is out there to be seen, but it is there to be seen for us, so that it is not just empty space interacting with the star's temperature, but a person who observes the data.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I disagree: it is out there. Period. Sun spectra is correlated with sun surface temperature whether we measure it or not. Mutual information is a generalized correlation measure, that is the relevant sense of information used in neuroscience and naturalistic philosophy of mind.

I am not sure what sense of 'information' you are using. I am talking about mutual information (aka transinformation) from Shannon information theory, as I wrote about in this paper.

Now if you want to talk about information communication/transmission and such, with source, encoder, transmitter, receiver, decoder, we would have a much longer and interesting discussion. Too long and interesting for blog comments. :)

Also I'm not saying there is no debate, among philosophers, about this. I find it tiresome and don't want to spend time on it, frankly, but for instance this paper from Cohen is representative of that genre.

William said...

I apologize if I was vague, and thanks for the references.

Certainly there are definitions of information that do not require an observer, but are those definitions correct under current physics?

I was referring to information as defined in quantum mechanics, for example by John Bell's theories.

Bell would say that any reference to information in quantum physics must include a reference of that for whom the information exists and what the information is about.

In your example case of the sun and its spectra, you have selected temperature and spectra among the many other potential variables in the vicinity, and this was intentionally done :)

Blue Devil Knight said...

William if you are talking about information about variables in quantum mechanics, things get tricky.

My understanding is that it ultimately depends on your view of measurement. E.g., whether you think it requires a conscious observer, or not (e.g., does interaction with a macroscopic measuring device is counts as a measurement). You can guess where I'd fall on that, but it is the same sense of information, but applied to the strange quantum world.

People are getting at this stuff with experimental suggestions. IN particular this work.

Quantum mechanics will probably be what causes the next revolution in physics. I think we will have a scientific explanation of consciousness before we have a scientific explanation of measurement in quantum mechanics.

But I don't want to say any more about QM, because I will lose my productivity for the day. :)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Oops didn't include link to work by Leggett, it is here. People are trying to come up with real experimental tests of this analog of Bell's inequality. It is really amazing stuff.

Chalmers should have called quantum measurement the Hard Problem. Seriously.