[ExI] Linguistic shifts

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Wed Dec 22 13:01:01 UTC 2010

On 2010-12-21 23:26, natasha at natasha.cc wrote:
> Quoting Anders Sandberg <anders at aleph.se>:
>> I like the idea of developing useful subsets of languages. The problem
>> is figuring out when you are encountering them. Philosophese often
>> sounds like slightly stilted English, but some words are entire rabbit
>> holes of strangeness (case in point: intentionality). Maybe we should
>> have markers indicating when we get into a special domain.
> Let's talk about intentionality.

But will we make any heads or tails of it? Damien posted a link to the 
Stanford Encyclopedia entry, which is likely a good overview or at least 
a start... i.e. deeply confusing. Searle and the others are really 
trying to get at something important in our minds, something which might 
not exist or be different from what we normally use the term for. Not 
too different from how physicists are discovering just how weird matter 
really is when investigated closely.

On the other hand, for many practical purposes we do not need the full 
conceptual hadron collider. When I say I intend to do something (like 
baking cookies later this morning) I mean something relatively 
straightforward in the usual social space (although my mother, knowing 
how I delay projects like this, would say that my intention is not so 
much to bake but to decide to bake...) However, the SEoP meaning is more 
about how my mind is representing the situation rather than whether I 
will actually bake or be held morally responsible for baking.

(I love the SEoP, just check out the enormous and very exact essay about 
vagueness, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/vagueness/ )

> [Roy Ascott, my PhD advisor (who you
> will meet at the upcoming neuro/media-arts conference at the University
> of Plymouth), once said to me to be careful about intentionality. I
> still don't really know what he meant. Husserl, Bretano, Dennett, etc.
> ... ?]
> I wasn't sure if Roy was criticizing my view about life extension being
> a result of human survival instinct, as if I was making an "aboutness"
> about human nature and purpose, or if he was saying criticizing my
> transhumanist views in reference to the mind as a construct of the brain.
> In your view, how would intentionality come into play in the philosophy
> of transhumanism and also in the domain of human enhancement / life
> prolongation?

"I intend to enhance myself" - this usually means that I have formed an 
image of some future state and/or process that will enhance me, and I 
think this is a good course of action. There are of course subtle 
problems here:

"I": My mind is actually a collective of subsystems, not all on them on 
speaking terms. Some are deeply influenced by memes or projections from 
other people or my culture in general. My mind might have external parts 
(as per Sasha Chislenko and David Chalmers). My personal identity is 
fluid and affected both by bodily aspects (ageing, blood sugar levels, 
being a particular body in a particular place) as well as how I 
construct it (my life narrative, my philosophical views of personal 
identity, etc). The "I" that is intending things might not be very unitary.

"intend": See above discussion - Where are my mental states? How are 
they grounded in this messy "I"? How did they come about? My vision of 
becoming better, is it based on merely projecting my current state along 
directions I find good, or is it something internally consistent?

"enhance": the usual issues of why we think something is better than 
something else, but also the issue of whether this enhancement itself 
will affect my intentionality. If I add a tweak to my motivation system, 
it will both change how I run my life (and maybe who i am, as below) but 
also how my motivational states are represented - the tweak might 
involve extending my mind with external tools, which hence become part 
of my intentional processes or properties.

"myself": not just the usual discussions about our right to enhance and 
whether a sufficiently enhanced self is really me, but there are also 
issues about our relationship to our future selves and the fact that we 
have messy, disjointed selves.

Good reason to be careful about intentionality. Especially since it is 
not just a messy, technical concept that is somewhat different in 
philosophy from everyday usage, but that philosophers also have 
fundamental disagreements on what it is, how to use it and what that 

In the case of life extension one could argue that life extension aims 
at extending our ability to continue our intentions, but that is the 
everyday meaning of the word. Going into the deep stuff will likely be 
enough to write a dense book... which few might be able to follow.

And of course, if intentionality is too easy, there is also intensionality.

Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford University

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