• frank
    5.7k
    "Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter is a 2011 book by biological anthropologist Terrence Deacon. The book covers topics in biosemiotics, philosophy of mind, and the origins of life. Broadly, the book seeks to naturalistically explain "aboutness", that is, concepts like intentionality, meaning, normativity, purpose, and function; which Deacon groups together and labels as ententional phenomena." -- Wikipedia

    I tend to approach topics amorphously and nonlinearly, which has advantages, but not for leading a reading group. @schopenhauer1 this book was your suggestion, do you have a preference for how we read it?

    If not, I would say we could start with the introduction and go from there.
  • frank
    5.7k
    So we have a chapter zero, so specified because the general theme of the book is absence. One of the highlights of this chapter is a review of the emergence of the Hard Problem and the way it's a sign of the "shadow of Descartes."

    Descartes split mind and matter into distinct realms. The amazing success of the physical sciences eroded the realm of the non-physical and the trajectory seemed to point toward its elimination altogether. When things like meaning and intention remained unexplained by science, the response to this delay was to either send up a flag requesting methodological dualism, or to conclude that if the physical sciences don't explain it, it must not exist.

    Where Chalmers seeks to just plop these unexplained aspects of consciousness into science as something fundamental, Deacon wants to explore it from the angle of absence.

    I have a feeling this is going to end up being neo-Kantian, but I'm happier with it than the last book I read on this topic, which was an evolutionary angle on the emergence of consciousness.

    Any other thoughts?
  • schopenhauer1
    4.8k
    I have a feeling this is going to end up being neo-Kantian, but I'm happier with it than the last book I read on this topic, which was an evolutionary angle on the emergence of consciousness.

    Any other thoughts?
    frank

    Yes, can you provide Deacon's account of Cartesian Theater, gollum legend, and Homunculus fallacy?
  • frank
    5.7k

    Sure! Give me a couple of days.
  • Gnomon
    1.1k
    I have a feeling this is going to end up being neo-Kantian, but I'm happier with it than the last book I read on this topic, which was an evolutionary angle on the emergence of consciousness.frank
    I don't know about "Neo-Kantian", but I now know something about "Aboutness". :joke:

    The Power of Absence : In order to establish the plausibility of metaphysical causality, Deacon had to weed-out unwarranted assumptions of both physicalism and materialism.
    http://bothandblog4.enformationism.info/page17.html
  • magritte
    145

    Sorry for the delay, I am still waiting for the library to retrieve and transfer this book for me. After looking at the snippets available online, one thing became clear which is that this subject is mostly unfamiliar to me.

    Since Deacon is creating abstract philosophy he makes up and redefines many terms to cover the topic. An interesting introduction is to read the book starting with the glossary.
  • magritte
    145
    metaphysical causalityGnomon
    or just metaphysical relation or metaphysical transcendence is a very significant part of trying to understand much of philosophy. What is understanding? How does communication carry any meaning? How can we possibly understand someone else's or even an animal's feelings?
  • Gnomon
    1.1k
    or just metaphysical relation or metaphysical transcendence is a very significant part of trying to understand much of philosophy.magritte

    The Metaphysics of Causation : What must a world be like, to host causal relations?
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/causation-metaphysics/
  • schopenhauer1
    4.8k
    Sure! Give me a couple of days.frank

    Haven't checked in for a bit. How is the reading going?
  • frank
    5.7k
    I'm at work. Few more days. :)
  • frank
    5.7k
    This is an interesting point I'm going to have to think about, regarding the acceptance of the concept of zero:

    "Quantity could be understood in both positive and negative terms, thus defining a number line. Equations could represent geometric objects and vice versa—and much more. After centuries of denying the legitimacy of the concept—assuming that to incorporate it into reasoning about things would be a corrupting influence, and seeing its contrary properties as reasons for excluding it from quantitative analysis—European scholars eventually realized that these notions were unfortunate prejudices. In many respects, zero can be thought of as the midwife of modern science. Until Western scholars were able to make sense of the systematic properties of this non-quantity, understanding many of the most common properties of the physical world remained beyond their reach."

    That's fascinating.
  • frank
    5.7k

    Ahh! This is such a great book!

    "Experiences and values seem to inhere in physical relationships but are not there at the same time. This something-not-there permeates and organizes what is physically present in these phenomena. Its absent mode of existence, so to speak, is at most only a potentiality, a placeholder."

    Experience, as Heidegger points out stands for us against a background of Nothing. Individual aspects of experience, like hunger or anger takr on meaning, again, because of what it's not.

    Do you know what I mean?
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    this book looks good, I've downloaded the Kindle sample, if that bears it out I'll buy the whole edition and join.
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    I agree with his framing of the basic issue.

    despite the obvious and unquestioned role played by functions, purposes, meanings, and values in the organization of our bodies and minds, and in the changes taking place in the world around us, our scientific theories still have to officially deny them anything but a sort of heuristic legitimacy. This has contributed to many tortured theoretical tricks and contorted rhetorical maneuvers in order either to obscure this deep inconsistency or else to claim that it must forever remain beyond the reach of science. We will explore some of the awkward responses to this dilemma in the chapters that follow.

    More serious, however, is the way this has divided the natural sciences from the human sciences, and both from the humanities. In the process, it has also alienated the world of scientific knowledge from the world of human experience and values. If the most fundamental features of human experience are considered somehow illusory and irrelevant to the physical goings-on of the world, then we, along with our aspirations and values, are effectively rendered unreal as well. No wonder the all-pervasive success of the sciences in the last century has been paralleled by a rebirth of fundamentalist faith and a deep distrust of the secular determination of human values.
    — Terrence Deacon

    (2011-11-20T23:58:59). Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter . W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
  • frank
    5.7k

    Still mulling over chapter zero.

    He says:
    "Centuries of battling against explanations based on superstition, magic, supernatural beings, and divine purpose have trained us to be highly suspicious of any mention of such intentional and teleological properties, where things are explained as existing “for-the-sake-of” something else. These phenomena can’t be what they seem. Besides, assuming that they are what they seem will almost certainly lead to absurdities as problematic as dividing by zero."

    He's saying that predicaments like the Hard Problem result from years of fighting the Church, basically, or fighting superstition that impeded science.

    But arent those years of hyper-materialism also how we arrived at the concepts of say, intention, in the first place? A longing for complete reduction of everything to classical physics put a neon light on the aspects of existence that defy reduction.

    I don't think the emergence of zero as a concept had that kind of background, did it?
  • Gnomon
    1.1k
    But arent those years of hyper-materialism also how we arrived at the concepts of say, intention, in the first place?frank
    No. Intention as the cause of goal-oriented human behavior was defined long before the anti-religious hyper-materialism emerged to disentangle Science from Catholic Hegemony. :smile:

    Note -- Daniel Dennett was talking about "aboutness" when he coined the concept of "intentional stance"
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_stance

    Intention : In philosophy, intentionality is the power of minds and mental states to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs.
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/intentionality/

    Intention : For Aristotle, orexis or desire is the cause of all animal motion, including human motion. Prohairesis is a deliberate desire for the means to an end. It is a principle of action peculiar to mature human beings capable of deliberating, as it is the intention which is the result of deliberation.
    https://dlib.bc.edu/islandora/object/bc-ir%3A101290
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    He's saying that predicaments like the Hard Problem result from years of fighting the Church, basically, or fighting superstition that impeded science.frank

    Much truth in that. The foundation of the Royal Society, the first truly scientific society, explicitly excluded consideration of anything 'metaphysical' or of interest to priests. Early modern science and philosophy was constantly wishing to differentiate itself from 'scholastic philosophy' which was the dogmatic theology that incorporated Aristotelian philosophy and Ptolmaic cosmology, among other things.

    As a result of all of this certain ideas or themes in philosophy became taboo, specifically because of their association with religion. Chief among them were doctrines of creation, the alternative account being the naturalist explanations. But this became a dogma (or a 'no-god-ma' :-) ) in its own right.

    This is about history and cultural dynamics, not whether either side is 'right' or not.

    Note -- Daniel Dennett was talking about "aboutness" when he coined the concept of "intentional stance"Gnomon

    Specifically so he could dispose of the inconvenient truth of intentionality. He fails. See two current threads on Dennett.
  • frank
    5.7k
    This book presents a new strategy for explaining aboutness, so it might help to compare Dennetts.
  • Gnomon
    1.1k
    Specifically so he could dispose of the inconvenient truth of intentionality. He fails. See two current threads on Dennett.Wayfarer
    Yes. He was like those who deny the existence of immaterial Minds, even as they use their abstract reasoning to produce imaginary reasons why there is no such thing as Consciousness or Soul. But he made a good point about "aboutness". :smile:


    Dennett constantly speaks of the "aboutness" of intentionality
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_stance
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    Maybe! Hadn’t considered that.

    Note the very first sentence: first you decide to treat the object whose behavior is to be predicted as a rational agent.

    Dennett’s strategy is: what is required of an object so that we can say it exhibits subject-like behaviours? But this already misses, or rather obfuscates, the entire point of ‘aboutness’ and ‘intentionality’; it is only ever exhibited by subjects for whom there are objects of attention. How the subject behaves is then a derivative, third-party perspective on reportable behaviours; but it does not come to terms with what intentionality is.
  • magritte
    145
    I'm not going to push this further, but Plato's final reaction to this discussion would have been that there is no subject-object relationship either up or down between (metaphysical) levels of being. Rather, all being is interactive or it cannot be.
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    Where Chalmers seeks to just plop these unexplained aspects of consciousness into science as something fundamental, Deacon wants to explore it from the angle of absence.frank

    What point is Deacon trying to make in regard to "absentials"?

    As with Pattee, Bateson, Peirce and many others who speak for a biosemiotic approach, the transformative physicalist insight is to see how complexity in the form of life and mind is all about the interaction top-down "informational causes" and bottom-up "material causes".

    DNA changed the game for reductionist physics. It showed how information is part of a physicalist ontology as a way an organism can stand outside its own material being so as to regulate that being.

    The import of that has become ever better understood. In particular, it is the way that an informational code can in fact interact in way that stabilises material dynamics which is explained by Peirce's story on semiosis as a mechanism. A system of interpretance.

    So when Deacon makes a big thing about absences, he is highlighting that the material aspect of the world has no choice but to be what it is. It's being represents what exists.

    But then information gets its supra-causal power by being able to represent what in fact does not exist. Memories, habits, pathways, molecular machinery, and other forms of semiotic mechanism can represent what is not present, what is merely possible, what is indeed materially present but able to be suppressed or ignored.

    Reductionist physics does talk about emergence and other varieties of causal holism. But it doesn't really work because they are only talking about bottom-up emergence. And that can still only produce that which materially exists. There is no real room for intention, design, choice - all the qualities that would characterise a living and mindful organism.

    But having an information aspect to biological systems now makes possible the capacity to construct absences. Acting top down from the realm of symbols and interpretation - the realm of genes, neurons, words - an organism can constrain what is the material case. Information can limit reality so that some things are definitely not there. Material physics can be given a chosen shape.

    So biosemiosis is a way to re-introduce teleology to science without having to claim anything spooky.

    The material world just is whatever it is. But organisms have an epistemic cut, an interpretive machinery, that allows them to make sure a wide variety of possible material states are prevented from existing. And in that act of selection, that must leave the "desired outcome" as the actual result.

    So material cause can be seen as the positive action - matter flowing into some natural pattern. And informational cause sits over the top of it – constraining the possibility space in such a fashion that what happens becomes a reasoned act of choice.

    It means that all of material physics was true. All that science still works.

    And now the project for semioticians is to create the models that account for the other half of the equation when it comes to complex systems that exhibit what we would call life and mind.
  • Gnomon
    1.1k
    but it does not come to terms with what intentionality is.Wayfarer
    After all his astute reasoning on "Consciousness", he concluded that it is an "introspective illusion". But even "illusions" are mental states, and "introspection" has no visual organ.

    Apparently, "Intention" is also illusory. I agree with most of his reasoning, except for his vain attempt to remain within the margins of Materialism, while dealing with ethereal Mental Abstractions. In his favor though, he tries to avoid the extreme stance of Reductive Materialism, which denies the reality of all Qualia --- the "stuff" that makes life worth living.

    Materialist philosophers are all over the map in their contortions around the ancient notion of a Conscious Soul. Since, on principle, they eliminate an immaterial Soul as a possible candidate for the seat of Consciousness and Intention, they are still waiting for empirical science to find a viable alternative. In my own thesis, I propose an alternative that is real but not physical. In deference to materialist sensibilities, I call it "the Self", but define it in terms of Universal Information. It performs the same function as a "common sense" Soul, but naturally emerges instead of being divinely added to a body. It's a mental Self-Image that serves as the perspective point for all behaviors --- including the Intentional Stance. :smile:



    Human consciousness is the same, says Dennett. "It's the brain's 'user illusion' of itself,"

    Eliminative Materialism : In the context of materialist understandings of psychology, eliminativism stands in opposition to reductive materialism which argues that mental states as conventionally understood do exist, and that they directly correspond to the physical state of the nervous system.An intermediate position is revisionary materialism, which will often argue that the mental state in question will prove to be somewhat reducible to physical phenomena—with some changes needed to the common sense concept.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliminative_materialism
  • Gnomon
    1.1k
    What point is Deacon trying to make in regard to "absentials"?apokrisis

    Power of Absence : And I view his “Absence” as a religiously neutral term for what used to be known as incorporeal “Spirit”.
    http://bothandblog4.enformationism.info/page17.html
  • schopenhauer1
    4.8k
    @frank@Wayfarer@magritte@Gnomon@apokrisis
    I'm at Golems chapter. He is essentially trying to discredit both preformationist and eliminativist theories, specifically focusing on computational theories of mind. Does anyone want to comment on his criticism of computational theory of mind? This would be around page 100 in the edition I'm using.
  • frank
    5.7k

    Could one of you, or anybody, explain why zero was a "troublesome" concept to integrate into science? Was the issue forced by the success of math in making predictions?
  • frank
    5.7k
    I'm getting there! :D
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    Could one of you, or anybody, explain why zero was a "troublesome" concept to integrate into science? Was the issue forced by the success of math in making predictions?frank

    What I could find:

    Pope Sylvester II (c.  946–12 May 1003), a French-born scholar and teacher who ended up ruling the Papal States from 999 to his death was aware of the Arabic numeration system, which he had studied in Catalonia.

    The first formal introduction of the new numeration system was done by Leonardo Fibonacci. In his Liber Abaci (1202), Fibonacci introduced the Modus Indorum (the method of the Indians) or base-10 positional notation to Italians, and Europeans:

    As my father was a public official away from our homeland in the Bugia [Algeria] customshouse established for the Pisan merchants.... there he wanted me to be in the study of mathematics and to be taught for some days. There from a marvelous instruction in the art of the nine Indian figures, the introduction and knowledge of the art pleased me so much above all else, and I learnt from them, whoever was learned in it, from nearby Egypt, Syria, Greece, Sicily and Provence, and their various methods... Therefore strictly embracing the Indian method, .... The nine Indian figures are: 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 -- With these nine figures, and with the sign 0 which the Arabs call zephir any number whatsoever is written...Leonardo Fibonacci

    His book advocated the use of the digits 0–9, and of place value, as he had learnt from Arabic merchants in his youth. The new system was much more powerful and faster than Roman notation, and Fibonacci was fully aware of this. Until this time Europe used Roman Numerals, making modern mathematics almost impossible. This put European merchants at a disadvantage to Arab ones, precisely in places like Bugia where a lot of North-South Mediterranean trade happened. So his book was a great success amongst European merchants and bankers, who could now compute interest rates as fast as any Arab out there...

    But the invention was poorly received by the general public because the people could no longer understand the calculations that merchants made. In 1280, Florence even banned the use of Arabic numerals by bankers. The zero was decried as confusing and difficult to understand, to the point that the Arabic al sifr would lead of course to the word "zero" in English but also to "cypher": secret code, from Italian "cifra", French "chiffre".

    Al ṣĭfr in Arabic, means literally: the void.
  • khaled
    1.6k
    I think at that point mathematics wasn’t divorced from the real world yet. Numbers were representations of things. 5 was a representation of 5 things. But what does it mean to talk of 0 things? That’s literally talking about nothing. Negative numbers came even later (if I remember correctly) for the same reason. It is pointless to talk of 0 things and nonsense to talk of negative things. How could you have -3 tables?
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