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Miles Mutka: on 3/19/17 at 12:31pm UTC, wrote Miles Mutka, not anonymous

Anonymous: on 3/19/17 at 12:26pm UTC, wrote Thank you for this well written and referenced essay. From the comments...

Simon DeDeo: on 3/15/17 at 14:51pm UTC, wrote Dear Robin, It is fun to see a number of essays (Larissa's as well, on the...

Satyavarapu Gupta: on 3/13/17 at 12:22pm UTC, wrote This is my post only, I was logged out Best Regards =snp. gupta

Anonymous: on 3/13/17 at 12:19pm UTC, wrote Nice essay Berjon, Your ideas and thinking are excellent on the definition...

Ines Samengo: on 3/13/17 at 2:01am UTC, wrote Hi, Robin, thanks for the good writing. I resonate with the minimal...

Joe Fisher: on 3/11/17 at 16:09pm UTC, wrote Dear President Robin Berjon, Please excuse me for I have no intention of...

Anonymous: on 3/10/17 at 11:43am UTC, wrote Dear Robin Thanks for inviting me to elaborate further. My view is that...


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March 28, 2017

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: The Necessary Agency by Robin Berjon [refresh]
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This essay's rating: Community = 4.5; Public = 5.7

Author Robin Berjon wrote on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 16:52 GMT
Essay Abstract

We start from issues with teleogical accounts of nature. From there we proceed to simplify the notion of purpose and intersect it with the information theory of individuality to obtain agency. We observe how such a grounded notion of agency relates to other aspects of biology and philosophy.

Author Bio

Robin Berjon is CTO of, a science publisher. He has worked extensively on defining the technological standards that collectively make up the Web. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, two daughters, and a vicious cat.

Download Essay PDF File

Lorraine Ford wrote on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 21:50 GMT
Hi Robin,

Re the "vicious cat":

The article How to make your cat happy at
-happy.html might help.

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Author Robin Berjon replied on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 21:56 GMT
Thanks, but she's not unhappy — she's just vicious :)

Gavin William Rowland wrote on Mar. 8, 2017 @ 07:14 GMT
Dear Robin

Apologies for the criticism, but this one fell away for me. Starting nicely (I wish I had your writer's toolbox!) you followed a well-trodden path of emphasising the teleological aspects of objectively observable systems, and then just touching on conscious intention. At that stage "poof!" the magic happens...or is supposed to. It doesn't really work for the core problems of consciousness. More exploration of the subjective would be nice.

Of course, others may disagree.



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Author Robin Berjon replied on Mar. 8, 2017 @ 14:51 GMT
Dear Gavin,

please do not apologise for criticism, if I didn't want any I would simply keep this to myself. And thanks for liking the writing at least!

I think that the core issue here is that based on what you say we would appear to disagree as to what the very problem at hand is. I do not believe that it is related to the problem of consciousness at all (except perhaps in the very limited sense that conscious entities we know of are purposive, but that's barely a link).

My take is that in order to be scientifically interesting, the question of teleology needs to be treated far ahead of that of consciousness. The issues might interact somewhere down the line — but not yet.

I would be curious to hear what makes you think that consciousness needs be involved in this problem.


Anonymous wrote on Mar. 10, 2017 @ 11:43 GMT
Dear Robin

Thanks for inviting me to elaborate further. My view is that the teleology you describe is very different to that seen in consciousness. Indeed, i think it is debatable whether biology can be seen as teleological at all. Biological systems, while very complex, are not generally seen as evolving "for" a particular purpose. They are considered merely to be the product of environmental pressures, with innumerable other failed models having fallen along the wayside. Of course, that is debatable, but the question in fact asked about "mindless mathematical laws" - I think we are talking here about the laws and constants of the universe. You did mention these briefly early on, but by the time you got to the crux of your argument it was couched in abstract or biological terms. While you tend to inflate the sense of purpose in nature, you deflate the nature of conscious free will by making statements thus:

"A similar reasoning applies to our view of agency. By establishing it atop gradual, continuous measures rooted in simpler constructs we make the case that there is no mysterious teleologic force that uniquely distinguishes purpose, intention, or will any more than there is an élan vital categorically distinguishing living from nonliving systems. Aims and intention appear naturally, necessarily, as processes aggregate"

I think the essay question is asking us to address the stark difference between the "mindless" laws of nature and the "aims and intention" and therefore volition, motivation, decision making etc of the mind. By the end of your essay i felt you had minimised the mindlessness of nature and omitted the province of mind, and had thereby dismissed the problem as inconsequential.

Glad I didn't offend :)



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Ines Samengo wrote on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 02:01 GMT
Hi, Robin, thanks for the good writing. I resonate with the minimal approach to goals and agency that you have proposed, and with many of your comments. I myself have focused more in the role of the observer, but I daresay that even in spite of the different focus, many of the ideas look quite similar. I will (slowly) look up some of the references you mention.

thanks for the good read!


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Anonymous wrote on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 12:19 GMT
Nice essay Berjon,

Your ideas and thinking are excellent on the definition of life etc. Some of your good quotes...

1. That is, we tacitly assume that biological systems and structures are ‘for’ something: for example, eyes are for seeing, wings are for flying, and ribosomes are for making proteins. By contrast, in physics we would not say that an electron, or a turbulent eddy,...

view entire post

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta replied on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 12:22 GMT
This is my post only, I was logged out

Best Regards

=snp. gupta

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Simon DeDeo wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 14:51 GMT
Dear Robin,

It is fun to see a number of essays (Larissa's as well, on the animats) wrestle with the problem of defining "information processing" in a deeper, more rigorous fashion. And it's exciting to think that OK, we may actually be getting beyond what computer scientists have done in the past, which is to define computation as something useful to a third party.

Perhaps because computer scientists had to cleave off from the engineering department, they've been very reluctant to examine the underlying "physics" of their field—the study of the causal/mechanistic structures that underlie computation, and the generic properties we expect them to have.

It would be fun to apply the paradigm from the Information Theory of Individuality paper to a few toy examples. You could give some of your functions to agents in a little interacting system and give it a shot. I'd be curious to see what would happen, and whether the results would be illuminating. It would make a fun little paper.



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Anonymous wrote on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 12:26 GMT
Thank you for this well written and referenced essay.

From the comments here it seems that you intended to leave questions of the nature of consciousness out of your essay. The appearance of free will in the last part is therefore a bit confusing to the reader

Maybe you could have split the last chapter to two, "Conclusions" and "For Further Study"?

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Miles Mutka replied on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 12:31 GMT
Miles Mutka, not anonymous

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