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Throwing down the gauntlet

  1. Jan 8, 2005 #1


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    I'm bored.

    Can anyone provide a postive definition of intelligence and life, which we can actually agree on as a basis for debate? By this, I mean that it has to follow a number of properties:

    1. It cannot be defined negatively. We can't define it as saying it's not x, y, z... Because there is an infinity of negatives so they cannot all be accounted for.
    2. It cannot be defined by examples. Humans all share certain properties. For example, they all contain approximately the same percentage of carbon. Or whatever. In fact, there is an infinity of properties animals, or humans share, that is utterly irrelevant to any debate.
    3. It cannot be defined intuitively. Because, put simply, everybody's intuition is different. And this includes using intuitive concepts like complex, organised, thought, consciousness and so on, unless they are themselves defined in the same way.
    4. It must be reasonable, from these definitions, to apply them to obtain standard results. In short, while we are not defining things in terms of this, we can see that other humans are intelligent, rocks are not - and not merely find that other humans may or may not be intelligent, and that rock may or may not be intelligent.

    I'm assuming here, immensely unreasonably, as, yes, a leap of faith, that the above is impossible. It may not even have to be one we agree on. Such a definition does not exist.

    My point is that our conclusions as to whether intelligence can arise from 'matter', or whether abiogenesis is a reality, or whether consciousness is a non-reductible property are not real comments on the nature of the universe, but simply artefacts of the particular definition-set/world view we are using.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 8, 2005 #2
    Well, obviously we wouldn't be able to establish anything without a mind ... which, is highly structured and is capable of being self-aware. Otherwise we can't even establish what "it" is that wants to know.
  4. Jan 8, 2005 #3
    I haven't put a whole lot of thought into it, certainly not as much as you, FZ+, but I tentatively agree with you on these points. I furthermore wish to add that whether science is based on faith or whether faith is involved in science are simply artifacts of the particular definition-set/world view we are using. Therefore, we will disagree if we live in different paradigms. Nor will we convince one another of our conclusion until one of us changes our world-view, which I am loosely calling a paradigm.
  5. Jan 8, 2005 #4
    This cannot be done because life is an intuitive concept. You may disregard intuition but it's interesting to note that if everyone's intuition was so different then this term "life" wouldn't be very useful. But somehow it's useful enough to support a science called biology.

    The word is not generally used to equate to some precise set of conditions. It is used because it is useful to distinguish between a rock and a rabbit. This distinction is simply an experienced one. I cannot explain to you the difference between my experience of green and my experience of blue but that doesn't mean I don't experience a difference. I think the difference we experience is due to an almost infinte list of qualities. If we could begin to list them, than we could begin to get to the definition you want so at some level, it does exists. Of course you could pick it apart and show that there is no distinction but I can do this with any word you can think of. Because at the end of the day everything is made up of the same fundamental stuff.

    Not really. These words do refer to useful distinctions. Just because an exact list of what those distinctions are cannot be provided doesn't mean the distinction isn't there. You're trying to take all the gaps in physicalism and make them a non-issue but this could probably be done with many of your own cherished concepts.
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2005
  6. Jan 8, 2005 #5


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    I'll tentatively agree with FZ+ that a huge source of disagreement as to what defines certain words that we use hinders our discussions. Especially in a philosophy forum, as philosophy has always used many definitions for single words. Even in science, though any word used in technical literature is always well-defined, the definition is never absolute and always subject to revision. Take the word "life:" Life is defined in biology by a certain set of properties. In order to be considered alive, a given object must have the potential to grow, perform metabolism, reproduce, move (either externally or internally) and respond to stimuli. We run into a problem with things like mules, sterile drone insects, and viruses, so some biologists will stipulate that a living object must either possess these traits or possess genes that can carry out these functions. Organizational complexity is generally recognize to be a characteristic of life as well, but as FZ+ points out, "complexity" is so poorly defined that it is not widely used in the definition of "life."

    As poor a state as we are in with "life," we are in an even poorer state with respect to "intelligence," as anyone that has bothered perusing the social science forum can tell. Even psychometricians give the impression of defining intelligence as "any cognitive ability that whites possess to a greater degree than blacks." Obviously, that isn't actually the way anyone defines the word, but even so.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2005
  7. Jan 9, 2005 #6


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    Biology doesn't really have a definition of life. Biology works on a set of objects agreed to be living by a specific set of people with similar senses of intuition, and hides pretty damn well from when opinions differ. The definitions of life used by biology only work for a small and limited set of things we see from day to day in life, but once we expand that sphere to the universe of possibilities, they become radically less useful. I remember setting a poll once about whether viruses are alive. The differences of opinion were staggering.

    It is lucky that biology doesn't really concern itself with distinguishing life-from unlife. The best conception of life biology uses, which I think they use (implicitly) in, say, categorising new species, is to establish a reproductive/evolutionary link to the rest of the body of 'life'. We say a new sort of mouse is alive, because it bears similiarity to another sort of mice which we know is alive which suggests common ancestry, and then we assume life is inherited across the reproduction process and say this thing is alive. Obvious this is not good enough for philosophy.

    I didn't say it can't. In fact, I'll say that it can be done. I simply think we need to be aware that this is what the majority of philosophical discussions boil down to - they represent the times when the level of subjectivity renders them not useful at all.
  8. Jan 9, 2005 #7


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    Actually many biology textbooks have a defintion of life, which varies only slightly from book to book. It includes self-motion, reproduction, and metabolism (the ability to covert found matter into energy internally).

    The upshot is that bacteria are clearly alive on this definition, while viruses are controversally so. The reason for the controversy is that viruses accomplish the subtasks of the definition, but they do it by accessing mechanisms outside themselves, in the cells they infect.
  9. Jan 9, 2005 #8


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    Great to see you back here FZ+! I for one have certainly missed your wonderful posts.

    SA is right (as he nearly always is); 'life' is reasonably well-defined (tho' I'm not sure about 'self motion'; would plants be a form of life then?) Beyond earthly biology (and aside from viruses), a challenge for a definition of life would be whether it would cover some lifeform not yet discovered (and not carbon-based)?
  10. Jan 9, 2005 #9


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    Internal motion still counts, so plants are in. If we consider reproduction then, like I said, viruses, sterile drone insects, and certain hybrids would all not be considered alive. But if we take out the property of being able to reproduce, we run into such things as protobionts being considered alive, which obviously some people won't like (especially Sleeth, as it would confirm abiogenesis).
  11. Jan 9, 2005 #10


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    Surely we would assign life by species rather than by specialized individual within species? Anyway, wouldn't it be the sterile workers rather that the reproducing drones who were excluded because of the reproduction ctirerion?
  12. Jan 10, 2005 #11


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    Yeah, you're right. Sorry about that slip-up.

    The way I've seen that biologists get around the problem is by defining living creatures by the genetic potential they have to reproduce. Their genes can proliferate in subsequent generations, even if they aren't directly responsible for it or require a host to copy themselves.
  13. Jan 10, 2005 #12


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    The whole selfish gene/kin selection idea is based on this approach. A gene may afftect its own reproduction by causing interactions of non reproducing individuals which benefit co-genetic reproducing individuals.
  14. Jan 10, 2005 #13
    If the point of this thread was to point out the confusion that exists in forums like this because different people have different definitions, then I'll say "Amen to that!" and be done with it. But this is a bit different than claiming that the word 'life' has a subjective definition therefore it isn't useful and neither are any of the philosophical issues attached to it. I disagree with that completely. I'm not sure which is the main point.

    This quote:

    "My point is that our conclusions as to whether intelligence can arise from 'matter', or whether abiogenesis is a reality, or whether consciousness is a non-reductible property are not real comments on the nature of the universe, but simply artefacts of the particular definition-set/world view we are using."

    ...makes me think the point being made is that all issues involving these words have no real usefulness and are simply a matter of semantics. IMO, we can take any issue and make it one of semantics.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2005
  15. Jan 10, 2005 #14


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    I think he's just saying that the conclusions we draw are likely the result of ambiguity rather than truth, not that there are no issues. Something along the lines of: When investigations are conducted using ambiguous terminology of ambiguous conceptual subject matter, the conclusions drawn are likely to themselves be ambiguous. If he is saying there is no worth to the discussions that take place here, well, then I can't agree with him there.
  16. Jan 11, 2005 #15
    Then I agree completely.
  17. Jan 11, 2005 #16
    Bored! "this to will pass"

    "Life is weightless, metaphysical" (R, Buckminsiter Fuller)...
    By Rybo6 Alias Os_jbug

    ......void of which,
    Unconscious night dreams,
    And conscious day dreams,
    Rush in to fill the vacumn

    The void as a vacumn,
    Mother Natures does not allow.
    Rushing in, she fills the abhorrent void,
    With a "matter of fact".

    Conscious awareness is always off center,
    Oscillating highs and lows,
    Pulsating, ebbing and flowing,
    Of our physical bio-emotional reality,
    The trip, the journey, the living.

    Consciously we attempt,
    To reside or orbit around,
    Passing near and hopefully through,
    Nearly neutral judgement,
    And absolute truth.

    Mind or no-mind,
    Beyond meterablity and detection,
    Pure as zero,
    Neutrally centered,
    Equilibrious stillpoint,
    An untainted exactitude.

    Hippiedom, Buddhayamadom, Zendom, Christdom, Allahdom,
    And all semi-quasi "non-places" of non-attainment.

    Photo-chemically induced emotions,
    Heartfelt waves move and emanate from us,
    As we resonate with others fields
    Of modulating angles and frequency.

    The void is filled with dreams,
    Illuminating as images of radiation
    And narrow bands of light,
    Both by day and by night.

    Sleep away the vibrations of our thoughts,
    So we may recognize the beauty of regenerating life,
    An a cleansing of the souls spirit.
    And rest so that we may rise again.
  18. Jan 11, 2005 #17
    very nice Rybo
  19. Jan 11, 2005 #18
    Thanks Ringo. I didnt address the intellect issue in that poem so here is a crack at it, with another poem.

    Expressing Ourselves
    Rybo6 alias Os-jbug

    With reasoning thought
    As prose or verse in rhyme,
    Some of us are labeled as poets
    Others as philosophers of mind.

    We follow our earnest endeavors
    With expressive emotions in kind
    True our hearts contentment
    Through eternitys embracement of time.

    Lost in our words with passion
    As all good souls have befell
    Seaching for those good ideas,
    That ring true like a bell.

    We seek the depths of knowledge,
    Of whats known and unknown,
    We follow a truly great pattern,
    The tree of life we call home.

    Branching outward and inward,
    May each bud have its say,
    Our experiences are contiually unfolding,
    Throughout the night and each day.

    Biology is recursivly recycling,
    A regurative mesh behold,
    Of spirits and souls around us,
    Exposed as flesh we grow old.

    Pleasing all the people,
    With concepts and some verse,
    Is a challenge for comedians,
    Philosophers, poets and worse.

    Seek and ye shall find,
    All through the historical ages,
    All manner of verse and orator,
    Mystical and spiritual sages,
    Everywhere are to be found.

    Words may carry great power,
    Of an intense conceptual nature,
    They penetrate our esssence,
    They define all nomenclature.

    The rationale that follows
    For a prose I combine and concoct,
    Is to share a few insightful secrets,
    Of mysteries i think Ive unlocked.

    No, the poems are not simple,
    In fact their very complex,
    For those who do not grasp them,
    May feel that they have been hexed.

    Lifes Universe can be awful pretty,
    Or ugly and gulity as hell,
    The way that i have defined,
    Is my own special spell.

    Enough! already you say,
    Please give this reader a break,
    From this philosophizing poet,
    Whom i can hardly take.

    Now you may feel kind reader,
    That i have spoken enough,
    Of ideas in prose and verse,
    Now i sit and ponder
    At how you may rebuff.
  20. Jan 11, 2005 #19
    (In hillbilly accent...) Why come it don't rhyme? :uhh:
  21. Jan 12, 2005 #20
    It's better if you don't rhyme
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