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Paul Grobstein's picture

jackdaws, emergence, intentionality, and their inter-relations

Jackdaws, to say nothing of beavers, often display much more intentionality than they, or others, are inclined to acknowledge.  And that in turn suggest we should add to our list of tabled items a future conversation on the relation between intentionality per se and the more elaborated intentionality associated with a conscious awareness of counter-factuals.   In the meanwhile, Tim has raised a seriously interesting issue, antithetical to the one raised earlier by Doug and by Tim himself.  
The earlier concern was that intentionality/counter-factuals might disappear with a closer examination of emergence.  The current concern is the obverse, that with the emergence of intentionality/counter-factuals, emergence itself might become irrelevant.  As Tim puts it, perhaps "a more linear understanding of intentionality" would obviate the need for a recognition of the more compex and non-deterministic character of emergence?   
Human history certainly provides ample reaons for such a concern.   There are enough examples of commitment to "isms" of various sorts to make it clear that we have an inclination to "linear understandings of rationality."   On the flip side, though, there is, in human history, substantial evidence of a growing (?) resistance to such inclinations (cf TaoismRorty, Science and unconceived alternatives, Quantum physics and the brain).  Perhaps humans are reaching a point were we are prepared to recognize the limitations of "linear understandings of reality"  in general (cf Writing Descartes and Rorty, non-foundationalism, and story telling) and hence to acknowlege an essential role for non-deterministic emergent processes not only within our own brains (cf Variability in brain function and behavior) but, at least as importantly,  outside of ourselves as well?
Maybe humans will reach this point, maybe not.  Either way, what fuels my own optimism that non-deterministic emergence will not disappear as a significant force in the universe is that its impact has nothing whatsoever to do with whether humans appreciate it or not.  Stars will explode as super-novae, avalances will occur at unpredictable times, and markets will crash whether humans appreciate the impact and significance of non-deterministic emergence or not. To put it differently, humans will come to appreciate that their own actions, as well as non-deterministic emergent factors, play role in the universe or they will go extinct and hence establish for the future the limitations of intentional perspectives. 
I'm glad we have jackdaws in the world, whatever stories they tell of their own motivations. 

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