Re: MF Discussion Topic for December 2003

From: Sam Norton (
Date: Fri Dec 19 2003 - 15:00:12 GMT

  • Next message: "RE: MF Discussion Topic for December 2003"

    Hi all,

    > dmb says:
    > Exactly. I fail to see that a case has been made for any internal
    > incoherence, but rather suspect that the discrepancy lies between Pirsig's
    > ideas and Sam's ideas. This might be the interesting part, but there is
    > something Sam has not yet revealed. Sam, is there some breed of
    > "intellectual level emotion" that you feel the MOQ has left out? Is this
    > what makes the fouth level look like a ghetto to you? I strongly suspect
    > there is something you haven't yet said and am very, very curious as to what
    > it is.

    With this post I'll try to answer DMB's point, which should make explicit what it is that I am
    objecting to in RMP's account of intellect as 'symbol manipulation'. This will proceed in two
    stages. The first will explain what I mean by 'responding to Quality at the fourth level'; the
    second will explain why I don't think RMP's account offers something which does what is necessary.


    Consider the following, which is something of a classic:

    1. All men are mortal
    2. Socrates is a man
    3. Socrates is mortal.

    This is an argument: that is, it is the assertion of one item (3) as a consequence of the assertion
    of two other items (1 & 2). It is saying: because 1 & 2, therefore 3. This is a valid argument, and
    it is conveying true information.

    Now consider this one.

    1. All men are bachelors
    2. Socrates is a man
    3. Socrates is a bachelor.

    The form of this argument is exactly the same as the previous argument. However this argument,
    although just as logically valid as the previous one, is conveying untrue information.

    Now consider this one.

    1. All men are bachelors.
    2. Socrates is a man
    3. Socrates is married.

    Here the form (ie the grammatical form) is superficially the same as the previous two, but in fact
    the underlying logical form is different. This is a logically invalid argument (a non sequitur).

    Now, keeping strictly to RMP's account of intellect, which is symbol manipulation etc, we can recast
    the above as follows:

    A = B
    C = A
    C = B

    A = B
    C = A
    C = B

    A = B
    C = A
    C = D

    In considering these different logical forms, it now becomes clear why the first and second are
    logically identical (and equally logically valid) and why the third is not a valid argument.

    Now, the assessment that the third of these examples is logically invalid, and that the first and
    second are valid, is an assessment of their Quality.

    I think that the fourth level of the MoQ is about the operation or discernment of Quality at this
    level. So, in RMP's account, the rules of logic are the codification of the Quality in this fourth
    level. Those rules dictate which groupings of symbols have Quality, and which do not (or which have
    more and less etc).

    What I mean by 'responding to Quality at the fourth level' is, then, simply the operation of Quality
    regarding, eg, whether an argument is logically valid or otherwise.

    NB I am deliberately focussing on a logical example to avoid all the wider 'eudaimonic' questions. I
    still have other problems with RMP's account, but if his account can be shown to stand up to this
    objection, then a major part of my concern will have been dealt with. So let's stick to the
    discernment of logical Quality.


    In RMP's letter to Paul, he writes "When getting into a definition of the intellectual level much
    clarity can be gained by recognizing a parallel with the lower levels. Just as every biological
    pattern is also inorganic, but not all inorganic patterns are biological; and just as every social
    level is also biological, although not all biological patterns are social; so every intellectual
    pattern is social although not all social patterns are intellectual. Handshaking, ballroom dancing,
    raising one's right hand to take an oath, tipping one's hat to the ladies, saying "Gesundheit!"
    after a sneeze-there are trillions of social customs that have no intellectual component.
    Intellectuality occurs when these customs as well as biological and inorganic patterns are
    designated with a sign that stands for them and these signs are manipulated independently of the
    patterns they stand for. "Intellect" can then be defined very loosely as the level of independently
    manipulable signs. Grammar, logic and mathematics can be described as the rules of this sign

    Now I would want to concentrate on two things from this:
    1. the legitimacy of making a parallel with the lower levels, and
    2. the signs are manipulated independently of what they signify.

    Now if - as seems to be accepted - RMP would say that X (ie the analogue to the atom and the gene)
    is an 'abstract sign (standing for a pattern of experience)' then I think we might expect that the
    operations of that sign are also analagous to the operations of the atom and the gene.

    Consider the physical level: an arrangement of electrons, an arrangement of atoms, an arrangement of
    molecules, all bound by certain physical laws. (Or: all able to be described by those physical
    laws). So the atom is formed by the Quality perceptions or reactions of the electrons and other
    particles. The interaction of atoms is also shaped by the Quality of the various forces involved -
    so two hydrogen atoms will value forming a bond with an oxygen atom et cetera and so there is an
    accumulation of static patterns of value. The ways in which these things take place can and have
    been described in great detail. So at the physical level, the response to Quality can be described -
    the atom responds directly to the Quality of the situation in which it finds itself, and these
    reactions can be classified and characterised according to what we know of as the laws of physics.

    Now consider the biological level. An arrangement of proteins forms DNA. This DNA builds up a gene,
    the genes come together to form a genotype, this genotype gives rise to a particular organism or
    phenotype, and that phenotype lives within a particular ecological niche wherein it responds to
    Quality. Over time, the impact of the varous Quality decisions provokes some genetic structures to
    be reproduced more often than others, and so there is an accumulation of static patterns of value.
    So again, the response to Quality can be classified and characterised by the biological sciences -
    we can see how a particular gene has more Quality or how a particular phenotype has less Quality.
    There is a direct relationship between the static biological pattern (gene, organism) and Quality
    (ie the environment in which it flourishes or fails to flourish).

    Now lets move to the intellectual level, as described by RMP. The signs referred to are like those
    referred to in my EG1, EG2 and EG3 above - the "A", "B", "C" and "D" of the argument, along with
    certain technical symbols, "=" or "->".

    It seems to me that if there is to be a true analogy with the other levels, then just as the atom is
    able to respond to quality at the physical level - and produce the accumulation of static patterns
    thereby - and just as the gene/organism is able to respond to quality at the biological level - and
    produce the accumulation of static patterns also - so too should these signs and symbols be able to
    respond to quality at the intellectual level, and produce the accumulation of static patterns (rules
    of logic?).

    My contention can now be simply stated: the signs and symbols employed in logic are 'inert' - they
    have no *independent* means of relating to Quality. They are not analogous to the atom or the gene
    in the first two levels.


    Paul Turner quoted the following, from Stevan Harnad's "The Symbol Grounding Problem":

    "According to proponents of the symbolic model of mind such as Fodor and Pylyshyn, symbol-strings
    capture what mental phenomena such as thoughts and beliefs are. Symbolists emphasize that the
    symbolic level (for them, the mental level) is a natural functional level of its own, with ruleful
    regularities that are independent of their specific physical realizations. For symbolists, this
    implementation-independence is the critical difference between cognitive phenomena and ordinary
    physical phenomena and their respective explanations. This concept of an autonomous symbolic level
    also conforms to general foundational principles in the theory of computation and applies to all the
    work being done in symbolic AI, the branch of science that has so far been the most successful in
    generating (hence explaining) intelligent behaviour."

    Now, to try and avoid misunderstandings, I am quite comfortable with the idea of 'symbols' or
    'signs' being *part* of the explanation of the fourth level. What I think is incoherent is this idea
    of "an autonomous symbolic level". In other words, I think that signs and symbols require the
    interpretation of a human judgement in order to respond to Quality.

    This human judgement can be variously described, as an aesthetic sense, or a sense of truth, or an
    appreciation of value, or even simply as an awareness of Quality. However it is described, I see it
    as essential to the operation of the fourth level.

    So, for example, when considering the difference in logical form between EG2 and EG3, the detection
    of Quality is something carried out within the human brain as a *judgement*. That judgement, in
    turn, depends upon various other things, especially education, but it is the judgement itself that I
    am concerned with. Perhaps a schematic diagram would help:

    Chaos + Quality = static physical patterns (atoms)
    Atoms + Quality = DNA
    DNA + Quality = genes/organisms
    Genes + Quality = societies and tribes
    Societies + Quality = abstract thought (RMP)
    Societies + judgement + Quality = abstract thought (SN)

    In other words I think there is a missing element in RMPs account. I think that the discernment of
    Quality between EG2 and EG3 requires a human intermediary between the sign and Quality itself. That
    is, it is a human understanding which is the vehicle for Quality, and within which the static fourth
    level patterns accumulate, not in the signs. I think RMPs account has no place for human judgement.


    A useful parallel might be with Richard Dawkins' conception of a meme. The meme is the analogue to
    the gene, but operating in the mental realm - the 'memosphere'. Different memes reproduce according
    to their Quality, and they reproduce within the different intellectual ecologies of individual
    minds. Most especially, they are largely independent of human judgement. Trouble is, the notion of a
    'meme' is cognitively empty. Here's what the philosopher Mary Midgeley had to say about them: ".the
    meme story simply fails to give us any kind of explanation at all. What we need to understand
    [regarding human judgement] is how people could begin to think and act in this way.. It means
    essentially self-knowledge, an exploration of what de Tocqueville called 'the habits of the heart'."

    However, this is getting me back to the wider eudaimonic questions, which I want to avoid. For a
    brief taster of how and why I think judgement is essential (and why I've been using the language of
    emotion for it in previous posts) see:">
    which was one of the first posts I ever put on to the MD list.

    I think I've gone on for long enough now, even though there's always more to say. Hopefully I've
    answered DMB's point, if nothing else.


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