Friday, April 22, 2011


The post on copy and original got me thinking about intention. What is intention and does it involve mental states and if so does it involve specific kinds of mental states? Can zombies and machines have intention? Let's say that you think intentions must involve a kind of "what it feels like to intend to do A" or any kind of phenomenal mental state. What if mind-body reductionism or eliminativism is true? That would either mean that the what it feels like or phenomenal quality is just some physical process in the brain or whatever or in case of eliminativism, there is nothing that it is like, just an illusion of what it's like perhaps.

Let's look at mind-body reductionism. If it is true, then there must be some specific physical process necessary if those who think that the "what it feels" is necessary for intention. But that seems implausible. What makes that process any different and special (deserving of being called intention) from a functionally similar process and externally identical one that does the same thing? Indeed, philosophers have definitions of intention that do not include a mental state criterion.

If our brains are just computational devices and our thoughts, emotions, and other mental states are just computations or the results thereof and the Church-Turing thesis is correct then it would seem that "intention" can be captured by a fully functional analysis. Indeed, think of even computers now. An example is a chess playing program. We may term a particular move made by the program as an intention to do something (capture a queen, set a trap, checkmate, etc). It has some of the features of intention such as a goal and decision(s) made among possible options towards that goal, etc, though presumably, no phenomenal mental features

Vague objects

Few philosophers believe in vague objects. Vagueness, many say, stem from our language, our conceptual scheme, or our epistemic limitations. Attribution of vagueness to objects, they maintain, is committing the fallacy of verbalism or the fallacy of mistaking that the property of things have the property of the words that describe them. There are exceptions (David Lewis, Gareth Evans, and Roy Sorensen I believe) who believe in vague objects. But if quantum mechanics says particles can be vague why not all else that are often thought vague like mountains (or just about everything, both particulars and categories and natural kinds)?

4d/3d controversy in objects

There is a familiar controversy in the philosophy of time. It has to do with whether objects are 3 dimensional (3d) and "persists" through time or 4 dimensional (4d) spacetime "worms" (or as Ted Sider claims in his Four Dimensionalism, 4d stages). 3ders think that objects do not have temporal parts analogous to the object's spatial parts while 4ders think that the object at any time is just a part of the object at all times (its a segment or slice of the whole worm).

I realized that modern physics might say a thing or two about this. More specifically, quantum mechanics and especially quantum field theory. It could be that both the 3ders and the 4ders are right.

Consider particles in space. In classical physics such as relativity and Newtonian mechanics, objects have a definite position (the classic billiard ball analogy). In quantum mechanics, they do not; rather they have a "quantum superposition" or are "field quanta." They are neither specifically here nor there but their position is kind of spreading out in space. Quantum field theory has it that objects, even large objects, are mere properties of spacetime itself; just ripples or disturbances smeared in that spacetime manifold. Everything can be described by force differentials at any set of localized points in spacetime.

Objects are not only neither here nor there but neither now nor then. But particles do have definite positions once they are being measured or observed in some way. When the wave function collapses under observation and the scope of the scientists' equipment, they will have a definite positions.

I wonder if this can be used as an argument that in some sense, both the 3ders and the 4ders are right much as the corpuscular theory of light and the wave theory of light are both partially right even though they seemed contradictory when they were first proposed but quantum theory eventually resolved the issue in its familiar unforeseen way. Because objects are located in spacetime in quantum field theory, they are more like worms (or fuzzy worms, perhaps caterpillars, as they are smeared in that spacetime) as the 4der claims but may have specific spacetime locations once they are under the purview of observation and common discourse as the 3der claims.

Editors in Chief of Synthese are in hot water

It would seem that one of my ex teachers (John Symons) an editor of Synthese is involved in some controversy among the philosophical community. See here and here. I read some of the papers in the special issue of Synthese on Intelligent Design a while back and the articles I've read seem measured and professional to me. The Editors in Chief included a disclaimer saying that some of them included tone that wasn't professional but did not mention the article(s) and this has pissed off the writers of those articles and many philosophers.