Is there any Intelligence in the Universe?

Jeff CarreiraBlog Posts, Human Freedom and Freewill21 Comments

I have been reading more about Behaviorism, including the article that Carl sent us by Robert Epstein, so that we could get a little clearer here about exactly what we are looking into.  Maybe I will start with a few definitions of some of the basic learning mechanisms of Behaviorism.

Classical Conditioning – Pavlov’s dog:  A dog salivates when it sees food. You ring a bell every time you bring the food out and pretty soon the dog salivates when he hears the bell. You have created a conditioned response. In other words, the dog has been conditioned to salivate to the sound of a bell.

Extinction – when you stop bringing out food when you ring the bell, eventually the dog stops salivating when he hears the bell. (This is what allows us to lean what to ignore.)

Operant Conditioning – (the kind Skinner pioneered) You put a pigeon in a box that has a door operated by a lever. The pigeon flaps around until it accidently hits the lever. The bird is rewarded by having the door open. If you keep putting the bird in the box, eventually it starts hitting the lever faster and faster – i.e. it learns to hit the lever to get out of the box.

Shaping – is creating complex behaviors from simple ones. First you learn to pick one foot up, then you learn to put it down on the ground in front of you, then to shift your weight on it, then to do the same with the other foot and soon you have learned to walk.

Robert Epstein’s paper on Generativity explains how a combination of the simple learning mechanisms can become creative. Let’s say that a chimp has separately learned how to step up onto a box, how to climb a ladder, how to climb through a window and how to put objects on boxes. Then we lock the monkey in a room with an open window too high to reach with either the box or the ladder. Given enough time the monkey might try using the ladder, then try the box and eventually he might start putting the ladder on the box until he would be able to climb out the window.

If you think about this in terms of tremendously intricate skills combining over and over again that would give you an enormous amount of creative potential. Think about how many words you can make with the alphabet, and how many sentences you can make with those words and how many novels you can write with those sentences. Still I wonder, are there higher forms of novelty that are not accounted for in this? – I mean no matter how many novels you write, words alone will never build a house. I can see how behaviors can pile up infinitely, but in the end they will only be behaviors…and that I think gets me to my deeper question…

Summary: Classical conditioning showed us how automatic biological and psychological responses (i.e. salivating in the presence of food) could be transferred to new stimuli (i.e. ringing a bell). In this way animals can be conditioned to respond to an infinite number of stimuli. Operant conditioning showed how circumstance itself could act as the conditioning agent and how life is constantly conditioning all of us by the rewards and punishments that it affords in different situations. Generativity is exploring how the complexity of multiple layers of conditioning can produce novel behaviors that appear creative in nature. My question is, are they really creative? And to answer that I think we have to get clearer about what we mean by creative. And to get clearer about the nature of creativity we must examine the “metaphysics” upon which Behaviorism (which I see as representative of a “hard” deterministic view) is built upon. For the sake of clarity, I am sure that not all (and perhaps very few) behaviorists believe in hard determinism, but still the complaints against that school of thought are mainly against that potential implication.

The essence of the difference between a Behaviorists point of view and a more traditional Psychological point of view can be illustrated like this. In the example with the chimp above the Behaviorist would describe the monkey’s actions in terms such as: the behavior of trying to reach the window by using only the ladder was attempted and fell into extinction, the behavior of using the box also fell into extinction, the behavior of putting the ladder on the box was sufficiently shaped through reinforcement to lead the chimp eventually to place it upright and then the chimp climbed the ladder and left the room. In this picture there is no need for the chimp’s interior workings to be employed as part of the process. This is the sense in which I meant that Behaviorism denies interiority, not simply denying the existence of thoughts and ideas, but denying the “willful agency” of the thinker.) In this description there is no “intelligent being” included in the picture. In a more traditional psychological view you might say: The chimp thought to try standing on the ladder and realized that it wouldn’t work, then she tried the box and realized the same. Then it occurred to the monkey that there might be some way of using the ladder on top of the box and so she tried a few different placements until she found the right one. This description relies completely on there being someone to talk about. Someone with ideas and volitional power.

In the traditional psychological description there is an “actor” in this case a chimp with thoughts and motives and insights and ideas and experiments. In the Behaviorists model there is no need for the “actor” there are just behaviors and reinforcers that interact over time to create new behaviors. There doesn’t have to be “anyone” in there scene figuring anything out. Now if you are only working with non-human animals this doesn’t get you into too much trouble, but when Skinner started to generalize this to describe all human behavior he ran into a heap of resistance (some of which I have expressed.)

This is the question I want to get at. Is there a somebody or not? And I don’t mean do behaviorists think so or not, I mean is there one.  And I also don’t mean only the separate self. The question herinise is universal and it is the heart of the friction between behaviorism and other forms of psychology, and between science and religion, and strong Darwinists and Intelligent Design folks. It is the question of whether there is any intelligence behind this universe or not. Is the universe a deterministic unfolding of cause and effect – or is there some form of universal intelligence at work. Is that universal intelligence the same intelligence that we as human beings experience in ourselves?

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David Noel LynchJeff CarreiraShizukaMette MollerhojBrian Recent comment authors
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Carl
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Jeff, more reading is in order, I’m afraid. :) With respect to thinking and “interiority,” Skinner’s book, Verbal Behavior, which some consider to be his most important, is an analysis of the various types of behavior we would generally call language and communication, including thinking. Consistent with the Radical Behaviorist position that thoughts, feelings, and other “covert” behavior are as real as “overt” behavior, Verbal Behavior goes into great detail about such things as rule-governed behavior, logic, reasoning, and all the other types of verbal and conceptual activity that we all experience and that distinguish us from most other forms… Read more »

Jeff Carreira
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Jeff Carreira

Hey Carl, how about some kudos for doing a pretty good job briefly stating some of the basics of behaviorism. I was trying to make the distinction that when I was earlier using the term interiority I was refering to not the inner stuff, but the “self,” the doer. More reading will come, but I am going to report as I go.

Brian
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Brian

Is there any intelligence in the universe? Not that I am aware of, outside of brains that is. Jeff, Why do you think there might be?

Mette Mollerhoj
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Mette Mollerhoj

Hi Jeff. If you want to read a very serious philosopher who claimes that very strange and un-intuitive view that “there is no such thing as a self” you could look here:
http://www.philosophie.uni-mainz.de/metzinger/publikationen/BNO.pdf

It is Thomas Metzingers book “Being No One”.
I think it can be very interesting, but it is not easy, and I have trouble myself to really understand it.
I think we will know more in later in our lifetime, cause trying to make artificial intelligence in computers is such a big industri.
Very interesting!

Carl
Guest

In some ways it seems that we have wandered far from the original consideration of this blog concerning Evolutionary Spirituality and American Pragmatism. Very interesting wandering, though! I wonder if considering some questions might cause more bubbling to the surface, relative to some of the issues we have been discussing, particularly the existence or non-existence of a separate function in humans (or in the Universe as a whole) called free will. For example: What is free will, and how is it manifested? What is there that we cannot explain if we do not have free will as one of our… Read more »

Mette Mollerhoj
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Mette Mollerhoj

I think we have a great investigation of our beliefs here, though we sometimes get a little off the road. I can’ t stop thinking about how it is interesting to look at the semantic aspects of all this. Though it may be some kind of loop. It is true that all human discussion is based upon words or concepts that we made up with that kind of mind and the senses that we have. Therefore we talk about concepts that we have already defined to mean something, and when we afterwards are trying to figure out what a certain… Read more »

Shizuka
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Shizuka

I almost conclude about biology+ Experience then the question arise why we recognize it’s reality or not?
If “In this picture there is no need for the chimp’s interior workings to be employed as part of the process.”,why we know sometimes in spite of inferior intelligence,inferior process,this choice is right?
In spite of unknown future ,why we can know and choose which process is the direction ,align to the will of live(survival) and the other is not?Why we know “giving” is right direction than “getting”?
Without interiority(known),how is it possible?

Jeff Carreira
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Jeff Carreira

I think that the trick of exploring the language that we use to describe things (and we do need to do that) is not to get lost in linguistics and forget about the reality that language is supposed to point us to. To answer Brian’s question. I guess my search for the source of intelligence comes from the fact that I do not understand how the leap is made from matter and energy – to my mental conception of reality. To me there is a gap there and I don’t understand how to bridge it without calling the bridge something… Read more »

David Noel Lynch
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David Noel Lynch

Life is the synthesis of birth and death.
Polarized, “right / wrong” thinking is confusion.
Faith opens a door, but BLeaf closes all doors.
Melting Antiquity, Balancing Fate Vaporously with Destiny, Creates Eternity.
The challenge is to be original.

Carl
Guest

Jeff, I definitely continue to be blown away by the integrity of your investigation. It’s humbling to see the questions and your path in various directions toward answers, and more questions. It’s wonderful to be along with you in this exploration. For me a lot of the answers to intelligence/consciousness/interiority come from an understanding of verbal behavior. If we (and some non-humans as well) learn to make sounds or signs in the presence of external events and things that our fellow beings recognize or use (imagine the experience of first trying to communicate with someone where neither knows the other’s… Read more »

Carl
Guest

Jeff, re-reading my earlier comment about “more reading is in order,” I realized that I could have been misunderstood to be saying that your summary of Skinner’s work was not helpful. Quite to the contrary! What I was thinking instead is that Verbal Behavior, Skinner’s book that is considered to be his most important by some, was a work that took him decades and is comparable to wading through Wittgenstein or other detailed, technical philosophy or science reading. So to understand his take on thinking, consciousness, etc., I’m afraid you’ll probably have to go there at some point. It’s quite… Read more »

Brian
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Brian

Evolution. OK, no more one-word posts.

Our consciousness is the result of evolution by means of natural selection, that blind, undirected process that requires no guiding intelligence.

Its so amazing we find it hard to believe!

Jeff, you say you don’t know how to bridge the gap, well, please don’t introduce a god-of-the-gaps theology here. Instead keep faith in the scientific method and watch the gaps close as so many already have.

Jeff Carreira
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Jeff Carreira

I am not insisting on a god-in-the-gap theology. That is a silly way to try to prove the existence of god. At the same time the sucess of Darwinian theory does not in any way disprove it. You also take a strong Darwinist view on one side and at the same time believe you have freewill. Those two things don’t necessarily work logically together. As I learned from reading Michael Shermer (as you had suggested) one of the problems with this whole question is that it is assumed to be an either/or. Wither there is a god or there is… Read more »

Mette Mollerhoj
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Mette Mollerhoj

One final comment from me about the language-discussion: If the language is only a way to point at something, whether it is a physical object or it is an experience, then we can only point with language to something that the other one knows from his own experience. Thats the interior. With this I wish you a great interior experience in Tuscany!Wish I could be there. Have a nice journey.
:-) Mette

Brian
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Brian

Compatibilism. There is a well-developed philosophical stance that free will and determinism are compatible.

Looking forward to what golden nuggets of enlightenment you’ll bring back from Tuscany.

Jeff Carreira
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Jeff Carreira

I will bring back some good ones for you from Tuscany…and I will look into compatibilism.

Carl
Guest

In my view, these two views ARE compatible, if you look at them in terms of levels/quadrants. I think determinism — a causal understanding of everything in the Universe, not merely human choice — is how it looks from the “inside” of I, or even from outside of “we” — the objective collective, as in culture and its evolution. But from the “inside” the experience of choice IF it involves choosing among positive alternatives (since choosing to escape or avoid negatives is “coercion”) is “free.” It’s just that in order to make it more likely that we will make the… Read more »

Carl
Guest

Oops! I meant in my first sentence, “determinism ….. is what it looks from the “outside” of I (not the inside).

Brian
Guest
Brian

Carl, You are all about compatibilism especially by applying AQAL. Philosophers go on and on (and on) about all this. There’s hard determinists who say free will is an illusion, libertarians who deny determinism, and lots of other variations. Its a can of worms, really, best to go with what works and move on.

Brian
Guest
Brian

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200907/intelligence

Quite an article about applied evolutionary philosophy…

shizuka
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shizuka

It seems obvious the development of emotional & cognitive intelligence and behavior don’t guarantee,the development of perception of reality. I think the missing ingredient is the development of motive (intention)of behavior and I find only way to find the motive of action is so far in interiority. We seems aware the spectrum of motive (intention) of action choice,minus(-) direction is more negative,more narrow perspective and plus(+) direction is more positive and more wider,bigger perspective of motive. and we seems on the stage of developing collective interiority now(Thank you for technology development for us enable to do it;).So I ‘m toward… Read more »