Sunday, May 21, 2006

Ave, Malcolm!

Malcolm Pollack, over at his excellent blog Waka Waka Waka, has written a thought-provoking post on intentionality, a word with a special meaning in philosophy. As Malcolm explains it:

One of the knottier topics in philosophy of mind is intentionality. The term refers to the way our thoughts are about their objects, and intentionality is often considered to be an exclusive hallmark of the mental. A thought can be “about” Paris, but a stone, or a lampshade, cannot be.

Well then, what about something like a map of Paris, or a book about Paris? The response usually given is that a book about Paris derives its “aboutness” from the minds of the person who wrote it and the person who reads it. In other words, only minds have intrinsic intentionality, and only minds can then bestow a second-order, derived intentionality on the artifacts they create.

I side with Malcolm's thesis (stated later in his post): mind is something that arises naturally, i.e., through natural, material processes and requiring no immaterial cause, be it spirit-stuff or God-- which means that intentionality is also naturalistically explicable.

The idea that intentionality might evolve naturally makes sense: stupid creatures are less likely to live to reproduce. Those that are born with (and use) higher mental functions are more likely to breed, passing their mental traits along to their offspring.

I take a stab at an intentionality-related question (and will no doubt be pummelled for the sloppiness of my post) here.

Your question for the evening: does a chess-playing computer exhibit intentionality?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I guess I have to answer that one. I'd have to say, "no." At one time, it was said that chess programs didn't plan; they only reacted turn by turn. However, with the superior programming that is the norm these days, they certainly are capable of "thinking ahead." For example, my Fritz 8 engine will show me its intended move beore I make mine. They have now been programmed not only with extensive opening libraries, endgame tablebases (showing all possible endgame continuations with X number of pieces or less), but also with better positional evaluation, to say nothing of their traditional tactical counting strengths. On the other hand, I have a hard time thinking that a chess computer has any kind of real intentionality or consciousness.