[ExI] How not to make a thought experiment

The Avantguardian avantguardian2020 at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 4 18:24:10 UTC 2010

From: John Clark <jonkc at bellsouth.net>
>To: ExI chat list <extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org>
>Sent: Thu, February 4, 2010 7:47:02 AM
>Subject: Re: [ExI] How not to make a thought experiment
>On Feb 4, 2010, The Avantguardian wrote:
>a bacterium is the simplest concievable object that I am confident is capable of intentionality.
>Stripped to its essentials intentionality means someone or something that can change its internal state, a state that predisposes it to do one thing rather >than another; or at least that's what I mean by the word. I like it because it lacks circularity. 

While I understand your dislike of circularity, the definition you give is far too broad. Almost everything has an internal state that can be changed. The discovery of this and the mathematics behind it made Ludwig Boltzmann famous. A rock has a temperature which is an "internal state". If the temperature of the rock is higher than that of its surroundings, its internal state predisposes the rock to cool down. FWIW evolution by natural selection is based on a circular argument as well. Species evolve by the differential survival and reproduction of the fittest members of the species. What is fitness? Those adaptations that allows members of a species to survive and reproduce. 

>So I would say that a punch card reader is simpler than a bacterium and it has intentionality. A Turing Machine is even simpler and it has intentionality >too.

While I will not discount the possibility that in the future a sufficently complex program running on a computer may exhibit life or consciousness, that program does not currently exist. Currently the "intentionality" of existing software is completely explicit and vicarious. That is to say that all software currently in existence exhibits only the intentionality of the programmer and not any native or implicit intentionality of its own. By the same token, a mouse trap exhibits explicit intentionality as well, but lacks implicit intentionality. That is we would say the mouse trap is *intended* to catch a mouse but we would not say the mouse trap is *intent* on catching a mouse. Now some people may think that is true of bacteria as well, but we laugh at intelligent design don't we? 

>Granted this underlying mechanism may seem a bit mundane and inglorious, but that's in the very nature of explanations; presenting complex and >mysterious things in the smallest possible chunks in a way that is easily understood. 

The way of reductionism is fraught with the peril of oversimplification. You can reduce an automobile to quarks but that doesn't give you any insight as to how an automobile works.

>Gordon would disagree with me because for him intentionality means having consciousness, and having consciousness means having intentionality.

Then Gordon must accept that a bacterium is conscious. I however would say that implicit intentionality is necessary for consciousness but not sufficient. 

>A circle has no end so that may be why his thread has been going on for so long with no end in sight.

One can extrapolate insufficent data into any conclusion one likes. Two given points can lie on a straight line or on a drawing of a unicorn. Neither of these is likely the truth. Which is why I prefer empiricaI science to philosophy. I think experimentation is the only hope of settling this argument.

 Stuart LaForge 

"Never express yourself more clearly than you think." - Niels Bohr


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