Wednesday, May 18, 2005

the argument from computers

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.


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.

Dave S said...

How is this a problem for Calvinists?