[hist-analytic] Mele on Effective Intentions Pt. 1

Danny Frederick danny.frederick at btinternet.com
Mon Feb 7 09:07:14 EST 2011

Hi Scott,


A percept that make sense is one that can either be pigeonholed into a
pre-existing conceptual framework or one which can be assimilated to such a
framework, either by distorting it or by modifying the framework.


According to Kathleen Wilkes ('Brain States,' BJPS, 1980, 31:111-129), it is
the area of the frontal lobes that, 'by controlling the saccadic eye
movements, ensures that a complex visual object is scanned efficiently and
economically, and is actively searched for clues to its identity; it forms
hypotheses about what the object might be___and in terms of these hypotheses
it guides the searching movements; in short, it makes perception a
goal-directed activity' (121-22). Wilkes also reports (118) the well-known
finding of Trevarthen: if commissurotomised patients are shown a photo of a
whole face, but in such a way that the image of only one-half of the face
can be transmitted to the primary visual cortex, they unhesitatingly report
seeing a whole face. In short, the perception that is the product of the
automatic process is largely a product of our interpretative equipment:
interpretation is part of the process. This can be seen in the case of
ambiguous objects, like the Necker cube or the duck-rabbit: the sensory
information is constant but our non-conscious interpretative equipment tests
first one hypothesis then the other.


These 'acts' of non-conscious interpretation can be systematically wrong, as
the well-known visual illusions show: we know the two lines in the
Muller-Lyer diagram are the same length, but we still see one as longer than
the other; we know the face mask is inverted, but we still see it as
uninverted; and so on.


In general, our sensory equipment does not relay to our conscious mind a
full and unbiased representation of the external stimulus. Rather, it is
selective and active, 'on the lookout' for specific types of things. For
example, particular neurones appear to have the function of looking for
particular geometric shapes in the visual field, such as rectangles or
circles. Our sensory equipment conveys to the mind filtered and stereotyped
information that is likely to be useful, either in general or, more
particularly, in the light of current desires or interests. A frog, for
example, is adapted for the highly specialised task of catching moving
flies: its eye does not even signal to its brain a fly within reach if the
fly does not move. More generally, a hungry animal divides the environment
into edible and inedible things; an animal in flight sees roads to escape
and hiding places (Popper and Eccles 'The Self and Its Brain,' 1977, 91-92,


All the above types of interpretation seem to be 'hard-wired;' but many
interpretations are learnt (they may be either conscious or automatic
non-conscious). Watkins ('Science and Scepticism,' 1984, 270, from which
book most of the above is taken) asks us to imagine a 'watchful layman, who
looks on while___an intelligence officer examines aerial reconnaissance
photographs. Would anyone really claim that the layman observes all that the
expert observes though without superimposing an interpretation? On one of
the photographs, say, there is a darkened area, about 1 by 3 millimetres.
The intelligence officer interprets it as the shadow cast by a camouflaged
radar tower. It is most unlikely that the layman even noticed this area
since he had no reason to attend specifically to it.' Theories sharpen our


In the case of the 'hard-wired' (or 'hard-ish-wired') interpretations, which
are carried out by our cognitive equipment rather than by us, we may want to
say that the teleological explanation of the process is a place-holder for
an explanation in terms of natural law. Perhaps then we can replace
qualitative with quantitative terms. This is the usual way in which
evolutionary biology proceeds. In the case of personal-level
interpretations, though, we may want to retain the teleological
explanations, at least in some cases. But in all cases, perception is an
achievement which requires activity on the part of the perceiver (or, at
least, of the perceiver's cognitive equipment); it is active, not passive.







From: hist-analytic-manager at simplelists.com
[mailto:hist-analytic-manager at simplelists.com] On Behalf Of Scott Holbrook
Sent: 07 February 2011 04:19
To: Danny Frederick
Cc: hist-analytic
Subject: Re: Mele on Effective Intentions Pt. 1


I guess I'd be curious to know what was meant by "a percept that makes
sense" (let alone the "production" of it).  Surely, if this phrase is to be
of any use to neurophysiologists (or an empirical anything), it must be
quantifiable in some way, i.e., there must be units of "sense."  (At the
very least, there must some measurable quantity that aggregates into
"sense...so here maybe serotonin is a good example.  There is no unit of
happiness (despite what economists say) yet, when enough serotonin gets
released, people are happy).

And then of course, the question about how the brain knows what "makes
sense" would arise.  It's hard to imagine such a thing being 'hardwired'
from birth.

Are we talking about e.g., when you listen a foregin language, you "hear"
words from your own? (e.g., the Thai word for 'have' is 'me' but I still
find myself thinking of a first person pronoun whenever I hear it.  It gets
even worse when they string pronoun-y words together: "my me nam"- 'No have
water' (There is no water))  But this just seems to be an issue of
familiarity, of habit, almost.  In this case, "percept that makes sense"
sounds more like "something I am comfortable with."  But why should
producing "something I am comfortable with" be the teleological aim of
brains processes (which is certainly how you described the position, brain
processes "struggle" towards the goal of "producing a percept that makes

I have to side with Steve.  Such claims seem scientifically "suspect," to
say the least (I thought we had purged teleolgical explanations around the
time of the Modern Philolosophers).


On Sat, Feb 5, 2011 at 2:02 AM, Danny Frederick
<danny.frederick at btinternet.com> wrote:
> Hi Steve,
> Actually, I was not thinking of Kant but of work in empirical
> psychology/neurophysiology, which shows that our perceptions are a
> product of the brain which struggles to make sense of stimuli and tests
> different hypotheses in trying to produce a percept that makes sense.
> Admittedly the agent is not consciously aware of this groping and
> experimenting in most cases, though conscious effort seems to come into
> in cases which are particularly difficult to construe.
> Further, perception is only one part of cognition. The conscious testing
> alternative hypotheses, which we all do to some extent, though scientists
> make point of it, is plainly an active process, requiring individual
> initiative and decisions.
> Cheers.
> Danny
> ________________________________
> From: hist-analytic-manager at simplelists.com
> [mailto:hist-analytic-manager at simplelists.com] On Behalf Of
> Baynesr at comcast.net
> Sent: 04 February 2011 16:55
> To: hist-analytic
> Subject: Re: Mele on Effective Intentions Pt. 1
> Danny,
> Sensations for Kant, just to take one example, are material effects. The
> mind for Kant,, e.g., becomes active only in *working up perceptions* or
> empirical intuitions from those sensations according to rules determined
> the categories of the pure understanding. The active mind becomes involved
> only at the level of judgment and concepts. Sensations, for Kant, are not
> empirical intuitions. The distinction is subtle but depends on the
> difference between the active and the passive mind. Also, if you restrict
> sense data to qualia in a realist ontology, similarly, sense data become
> effects of material or other causes. Being the "effects" the subject is
> passive in relation to them. The causes "active" by contrast. This is the
> traditional view. I think you can find this in Aristotle who places
> sensations at the "bottom" of the cognitive "line."
> 'Volition' is a term of art. It rarely, if ever, receives the same
> definition among action theorists. However, for Mele an "occurrent
> intention" may be considered something like a volition, but we'll have to
> see what he does with "volition." Answering the second half of your
> would require a few dozen pages even if we restrict ourselves to a single
> philosopher. I recommend in this regard a close look at the relevant
> on the Will in James's Psychology vol. II. The best thing ever written on
> the subject after Aristotle'; then Bradley (who is the unrecognized genius
> in such matters).
> Regards
> Steve
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Danny Frederick" <danny.frederick at btinternet.com>
> To: "hist-analytic" <hist-analytic at simplelists.co.uk>
> Sent: Friday, February 4, 2011 8:43:13 AM
> Subject: RE: Mele on Effective Intentions Pt. 1
> Hi Steve,
> Just a couple of comments.
> How can cognitive properties be passive? Understanding anything requires
> effort. Even interpreting our perceptions is an active process.
> Is an 'executive intention' another name for an act of volition? If so,
> not just say so? If not, then how is it different?
> Danny
> 45000

"Conventional people are roused to fury by departures from convention,
largely because they regard such departures as a criticism of themselves."
-- Bertrand Russell

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