Author Archives: Stephen Yates

Intentional Intentions

So the time has come, I have enough of drinking rusty tea. Ever since I saw the first shard of black protective coating in the tea strainer I had been asking myself is rust safe to drink? When did I last have a tetanus jab? Is it worth drinking rust just to stick with my beautiful teapot?


Any way a replacement one mug pot stumbled across my path in Aberdeen, so I bought it, stuck it in my hand luggage and didn’t get stopped by airport security on the way home for having a strange looking object in my bag. Rust free tea for me!


Now the old pot has diversified; a plant pot for basil, it looks good and rustic.


Anyway, whilst the tea brews in my new ceramic gun metal grey pot with infuser, or in the large six cup china pot I use for sessions of reading or writing I think about free will, consciousness and robots.


After reading a lot of Dennett – but still not enough – I am coming round to his intentional stance. However, only when I finally understood how he discerns a thermo stat (constantly referred to as a ‘lowly’ thermostat in the literature, makes me feel sorry for it, thus attributing more and more intentionality to it) from the minds of humans. The thermostat can reacts to external influences but does not exactly represent these to itself, whereas an animal represents its environment to itself and so can think more abstractly. However, true thought only comes when one can represent oneself as a thing that represents. In short, self-consciousness.


The complexity of an intentional system that can have this version of self-consciousness is so great that the by-products of qualia (I’m sure Dennett would object from here on) are created. They are not the sole motivator in actions, I’m sure I’ve read about unconscious brain activity milliseconds before the conscious mind is aware of a decision being made. Instead consciousness is the way the complex system deals with a self-aware representing being and the qualitative content of this consciousness is necessary for purely functional reasons, namely, to help the agent/system/person represent its environment.


Take pain for instance, pain has phenomenal qualities; there is something that is like to be in pain. We can all remember what being in pain was like and seek to avoid it in the future, mostly. Dennett, I’m sure, would question the reliability of our memory (in ‘Quining Qualia’) but the fact remains it acts as a deterrent and therefore is an effective tool for representing our environment. Many people with, squirm and scream at the encroachment of a wasp, it is the memory of the pain that is being represented. A lot people have never been stung, so the memory does not even have to be reliable!


I’m not writing an evaluative essay on Dennett’s opinion on qualia and his intentional stance only saying that I think it can be incorporated into common sense thinking and it often is. Not only that but also it does not necessarily negate having the feeling that there is something that it is like to feel certain things (see Nagel’s ‘What it is like to be a bat’). Although, perhaps I am just too willing to try and salvage something human from the bleak objective intentional stance.


I say human, perhaps a complex intentional system could be artificially created that is self-conscious and will be intricate enough to generate feelings and emotions and therefore really have beliefs and desires that the thermostat could only dream about, if it wasn’t a lowly thermostat.


Perhaps such complexity is beyond human creation but if the student should excel to beyond the abilities if her master I think that maybe a robot could create a robot, which in turn creates another until an intentional system akin to a human is born.


This leads to science fiction and on that note, I promise every time I blog to post something else. I am writing and I am not strictly a perfectionist but I can’t seem to create something deserving of an audience – however meagre – greater than the unwelcome viruses that find the mouldy corner they are buried in on my computer. So if I am going to be promise breaker, the least I can do is remain consistent so nobody is deceived into thinking that one day a promise might come true. I am working on a story to reflect the ideas above and intend to post it.



I wonder how many times the lines ‘It’s been a while since I have posted’, or something to the same effect. Well, it’s been a while for me. A move to a new area, a new job, learning to drive and reading a book by Daniel C Dennett are all things that have happened or are happening since I was last on here.  So lots has happened whilst lots of cuppas have been brewing.  Not least conversations with the loquacious guy at work who could start a blog called: ‘Whilst the tea gets cold.”


The new job and the move are patently are necessarily connected. So now I have what to all intents and purposes is a nine to five job, I qualify this because I work flexi time. Eight hours (on average) a day tapping on a clunky keyboard with letters missing surrounded by two monitors, angled for surround vision, leaves me unmotivated and not willing to switch the laptop on when I get home.   There, that’s my excuse for not writing much set out. I did however write a piece for the employer’s magazine. It was dutifully balanced but not without criticism of the organisation, when I submitted it.   The editorial process expunged the article of a carefully crafted extended metaphor that added spice and interest it. Instead it was rendered a bland falsely sanguine bore, much like all of what they publish. I knew it would end up like this but you have to try, try to be honest.


I also now drive, do writers drive? Not that I’m a writer but if I want to be one do I have sacrifice the car? Perhaps if I no longer have to drive to get to work, for instance when I have re-allocated those eight hours a day to my own projects rather than The Man’s whilst atop a canal boat in the mild, yet murky British Summer, then I can forget the car.


So, on to Dennett. After a pleasant hiatus from philosophy I have the dread that my mind is degrading. I read some essays on Hegel, printed off the entry on Fichte from Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy and bought Intuition Pumps by Daniel C Dennett. Of these I have had greater success with Dennett, perhaps because the target audience at whom it is pitched is somewhat lower brow.


In this book he is clear, concise and rational, he makes it hard to think of counter arguments against his ideas by moving quickly through topics asking the reader to accept what he says with the promise that it will be scrutinised in greater depth further on. Benefit of the doubt goes to Dennett right now because I have not finished the book. I haven’t completed reading Intuition Pumps yet because it is more than just a read, it’s a text book, providing exercises to carry out and thought experiments to set your mind to. So far I have spent hours with match sticks spread out on my dining table (don’t be disillusioned it is but 4ft by 2ft in size) in order to create basic programs for basic register machines ( (


I have also been turning the knobs, as Dennett calls it, on some of his thought experiments – aka intuition pumps. This is fascinating and a good scenario for science fiction stories. All that is needed is a character to insert into the world described by the intuition pump  (in accordance with my university science fiction lecturer Matthew De Abaitua’s post-it powered story generator*), and as if by magic a thought stimulating story. My only concerns would be plagiarism of the thought experiment, but so long as it acknowledged and then developed (knobs turned, consequences created and characters inserted), and falling into well trodden clichés. However, I think I may give it go and I have one started but not yet ready to display to the WordPress passerby who may stumble upon this. Not long though, not long.

*That is, pick at random a post-it note with a novum on it and a corresponding character one, then the story almost writes itself. And I’m sure he would hate the use of parenthesis and perhaps a footnote as well.

Thoughts over a pot

I’ll start with what I didn’t do while the tea was brewing.  I have not changed out of my work clothes because for one they’ll be in the wash later so I can get dinner down them and secondly because I did not get the chance to drink enough tea at work today so that was the first thing to happen when I got  in through the door.  The kettle was on before the shoes were off.  I even buttered some malt loaf before the kettle had chance to boil, this is something I’d normally do whilst the teas was brewing but instead I have a large pot on the go accompanying me now. 


The fact that I’m settled with some malt loaf and a pot next to me left me time to daydream.  So I’m left thinking about writing more of the cycling journal and good characters to insert into a story or situation to thus generate a story. So I was thinking of gleaning interesting character traits from the people I know and tessellating them into some mosaics to form a character, perhaps including ones of myself.  The single mum who struggles to find love because of the commitments of past choices.  The guy who tries too hard to do things but just ends up messing them up through haste, like trying to type too quickly but litters the page with typos thus making the process last longer.  The person who slaves away in menial work because of the decisions made in youth that have closed the doors of opportunity to other ways of life.  The answer I suppose is that there is no one true occupation, way of life or speed of typing; there is only what you have and what you make of it.  Take what you have and treat it as though it is the absolutely true and best way of life and then fit other things like a career, a love life or what you could be doing instead of typing slowly around it.   Don’t do a Gauguin and leave your family because you believe your calling is the arts.  However, don’t accept a life that is ill suited to you but don’t think that another is better because it probably won’t be.  Just refine yours but stick to the commitments and thoughts and feelings of others because there is no higher truth.  Maybe, who am I to say? 


I think this is what I think.  Perhaps I cannot be sure but just want to explore it, this may be the best starting point for any story, well I know it can yield some high word count because Dostoevsky notes that the questions that trouble him he is a t a loss to resolve and so is “resolved to leave them without any resolution.”  If it helped him write so much perhaps it can help me write something, something that hopefully id not quite so verbose and rambling but I I’m not one to denigrate him. 


Anyway, this could turn into a while the tea stewed if I don’t pour the last cup from this pot now. 

Lateral Brewing

So this evening whilst the tea was brewing I did the washing up.  I could try and write an exercise in descriptive prose here about the blood red water I created as I slaved over eradicating the beetroot stains from the chopping board or I could think more sideways and describe the events as another tea was brewing.  It turned out I got bored with the washing up and have used the excuse that there is tea to be drunk to abandon at least of the washing up soaking, or at least that’s how I have convinced myself that I’m not just being lazy. 



Now I sit here with a cup of Assam tea from my SS Great Britain mug that is just what I wanted right now.  My hankering for Assam lately was sparked by a taste test I conducted in order to decide which tea to try to infuse in my beer brewing efforts.  Assam, being a bit maltier, was winning by a head until I started to think of what to call the beer.  ‘Dar-beer-ling’ and such like puns around lap sang souchong weren’t quite cutting it for me, then ‘Assam O’That’   sprung to mind and the more malty tea made a sprint finish and took the line lengths ahead.  Since then I have had plenty of Assam in the house; enough to require a purchase of another tea tin.  Therefore, while the ‘Assam O’That’ was brewing I searched for a suitable new storage vessel for tea. 


Quite clearly the beer took a few weeks to brew and ferment so together with working, sleeping and drinking (both beer and tea) I read some books.  Most notably The Women by T.C. Boyle by recommendation of the guy in the book shop to whom I sold an engagement ring to.  But also in order to make progress towards keeping my promise of writing up the journal from a cycling holiday I did some research reading by way of Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. 


 I enjoyed The Women on the whole, it dragged in places but you’re probably thinking that about this now. Three Men in a Boat also had points where it dragged but also seemed somewhat inconsequential.  Perhaps that is part of the tone of the book and any jolly down a river or, in my case, biking holiday.  I couldn’t care much about the characters because I knew there would be no peril; they would always be safe, and they were just bungling posh idiots.  However, it was remarkably entertaining a veritable lesson in how to comically describe trivial events, even if they were not actually occurring to them at the time but just flashbacks.  I now stand in better stead to undertake my own project; the project that resulted in buying a small cast iron tea pot from a tea shop in Perpignan, thus giving rise to the opportunity to write about things I do while the tea brews.  Although, I hasten to note that the ‘Assam O’That’ was not brewed in a tea pot.


I don’t know what type of brew I would have to undertake to reflect the latest book I have started.  What could possibly be a match for The Brothers Karamazov

Whilst the tea brews… Pt 1

I like my tea loose like my… insert something that is not derogatory, so trousers?  Anyway, it takes a few minutes to brew the tea in my small, one-mug, cast iron tea pot and so that leaves me some spare time whilst it brews.  Clearly I have the time on my hands or else I would not be settling down for a cuppa and so I try to carry out something useful in these three to five minutes.  Once the tea pot and mug have been preheated and the pink tea cosy is in place I get to work.


Just to keep active and to remember I have a blog I will periodically detail some the activities I do whilst the tea brews.   I will start off with the time the tea was finished brewing about fifty minutes before I flicked the switch on the kettle.  This was the 27th of October, it should be clear that it took ten minutes for me to put my clocks back the hour into GMT.  Ten minutes is a long time for tea to brew, hell I like my tea strong, however, I do like it hot, so not the perfect cuppa.  This will become a recurring theme of whilst the tea brews, I have often forgotten all together that I have tea in the pot


Out of the five clocks in my living room one is radio controlled and so adjusted itself, which left me four in that room, one in the kitchen plus four watches, this accounts for the ten minutes.  No clocks in any other room, the ticking would keep me awake, it is just a shame this doesn’t always work in the lounge.  The rhythmic chugging of the clocks certainly rocks me to sleep when I have the intention of steaming through some pages of a book.


When the kettle is boiling I say to myself, ‘ooh, I could wash up whilst the tea brews’, unlike adjusting the clocks doing the washing up is regular ‘whilst the tea brews’ activity.  I say ‘whilst the tea brews’ so often it has become an in joke, an in joke with only myself – I live alone did I mention this?  I think it is quite obvious anyway.


I should get the patent ‘whilst the tea brews’ activity out the way also.  Whilst the tea brews I write something for my blog, which reminds me I have tea brewing.

Personhood for apes

I have just listened to The Museum of Curiosity on Radio 4 where an anthropologist Volker Sommer said that ants carcasses in the faeces of chimpanzees can indicate religion or identity generating practices; something I am amazed by.  He also champions the cause of apes to be recognised as persons and accordingly attributed rights.  The fact that they feel pain and anguish was enough to convince him but coupled with findings from the faeces and his research into them does it for me.


Having not read his paper I cannot know how much criticism his religion theory is open to but my first objection was whether he had explored all angles about why chimpanzees eat ants.  He dismisses the idea that they eat them to “extend their nutrition repertoire” and goes to great personal lengths to assure us of his thorough research here.  However, my initial thoughts were as to whether they ate the ants to aid digestion or to gain some other benefit apart from nutrition.


To elaborate on the practice of eating ants Sommer goes on to say that some tribes of chimpanzees eat only termites and will not eat ants.  Indeed the ant eating tribes refuse all termites and eat exclusively ants.  This seems to counter the idea that ants aid digestion or provide some other benefit because if this were the case tribes would eat both ants and termites or both tribes would be eating ants.


Sommer suggests that instead of any rational reason, the chimpanzees have created a ritual of which creature they eat to help define themselves as belonging to a tribe.  This reflects the not eating of some meats for religious purposes or at least the refusal to eat certain animals (such as dogs in the West) as a defining attribute compared to other societies (such as Korea).


If it is true that chimpanzees have such concepts of belonging and para-religious behaviour aids this then I side with Sommer.  Richard Rorty would differentiate chimps from humans not on the grounds of suffering but that we can feel humiliation.  Surely the sense of belonging to a tribe or perhaps a religion is the starting point for feeling humiliation.  If one is rejected by a group one wants to belong to on the petty reason that one ate the wrong insect one may be humiliated or arbitrary practices could be used to humiliate.


Anyway, this got me thinking of a planet of the apes style SF story. Granting personhood to primates other than humans sounds like fiction and, of course, like all good ideas someone has already touched on it.  But just because T.C. Boyle in The Descent of Man does not mean there is not another angle to be had.


An intro

You know, I write down some stuff, it’s stored on my computer for no one to see or in illegible writing closed away in a notebook.  So if anyone is interested I will now be sticking them here. 


The promises I aim to keep are:

-to avoid typos; I frequently hit too many keys at once and then get frustrated rectifying the problem by hitting == instead of backspace

-finally type up the notes of a trip I made with Will and Craig last summer, and

-provide stories, part of stories or  just musings that  may find themselves into stories.



Stephen Yates