Cause and Affect: Intentionality as First Mover?
3 December 2009
To explore the notion of "intentionality" and how we, as complex, evolving systems, can make sense of it. Some questions to explore: What is intentionality? What causes it? What things have it? Can it be rational? Is it consistent in humans? Can intentional choices be ethical and moral? Can the ends justify the means?
Doug's presentation notes 
Meeting summary (Paul)
Following a brief initial context setting about the project's aspiration to understand "evolving systems" in terms of a combination of "emergent" and "intentional" processes (see "clarifying intentionalities "), Doug provided a series of vignettes to encourage further consideration of what is meant by intentionality/story telling/counterfactualization, whether it is or is not something that can be usefully studied, and whether it is or is not something different/new given an emergent context.
Among the points in the resulting discussion:
- Goal-directed behavior is a property of all living organisms and of at least some non-living things as well (thermostats)
- The "anticipation of change" as an effective cause of goal-directed behavior is a "mental state" which, at the moment, we have no way of establishing the existence or non-existence of in ourselves, in other living things, or in non-living things.
- Most (all?) observations of behavior "from the outside" can be accounted for without appealing to "mental states," by presuming prior training/experience, luck, or .... ?
- Change in behavior can occur without internal change (see Langton's Ant), raising intriguing questions about whether internal "representations" actually exist at all.
- Explorations of alternate possibilities can also occur without "mental states".
- In some ways, the inquiry into "intentionality/story telling/counterfactualization" is an inquiry into the adaptive significance of "consciousness," and needs to be understood as being carried out without either a starting definition of what is being explored or an operational procedure for establishing its existence in any given case.
Continuing conversation, in on-line forum below