Intentional self-organization. Emergence and reduction: towards a physical theory of intentionality

Thesis Eleven 52 (1):5-34 (1998)
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Abstract

This article addresses the question of the mechanisms of the emergence of structure and meaning in the biological and physical sciences. It proceeds from an examination of the concept of intentionality and proposes a model of intentional behavior on the basis of results of computer simulations of structural and functional self-organization. Current attempts to endow intuitive aspects of meaningful complexity with operational content are analyzed and the metaphor of DNA as a computer program is critically examined in relation to an alternative metaphor of DNA as data. It is argued that relatively simple networks of boolean automata can classify and recognize patterns of binary strings on the basis of non-programmed, self-generated criteria, but lack a capacity for self-observation and interpretation. To overcome this problem it is necessary to clarify the relationships between the goals and underlying mechanisms of a process and between a system and its environment. It will be shown that memory devices that record the histories of interactions are essential for models of conscious and unconscious intentional behavior and that the possibility of infinitely sophisticated - and therefore unprogrammable - machines cannot be avoided. It will be argued that the notion of infinite sophistication allows the ideas of self-organization and physical determinism to be reconciled. These models will be used to suggest how the voluntary aspect of decision-making in general can emerge out of functional self-organizing processes. The conclusion will introduce the notion of `underdetermination' of theories, which imposes an intrinsic limitation on models of complex natural systems - a limitation that, at the same time, may be precisely what makes possible mutual understanding and intersubjectivity.

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Word and Object.Willard Van Orman Quine - 1960 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
Unified Theories of Cognition.Allen Newell - 1990 - Harvard University Press.
The emperor’s new mind.Roger Penrose - 1989 - Oxford University Press.

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