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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.

Excuses

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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Register_machine) (http://sites.tufts.edu/rodrego/).

 

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.