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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.