Search FQXi

If you are aware of an interesting new academic paper (that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal or has appeared on the arXiv), a conference talk (at an official professional scientific meeting), an external blog post (by a professional scientist) or a news item (in the mainstream news media), which you think might make an interesting topic for an FQXi blog post, then please contact us at with a link to the original source and a sentence about why you think that the work is worthy of discussion. Please note that we receive many such suggestions and while we endeavour to respond to them, we may not be able to reply to all suggestions.

Please also note that we do not accept unsolicited posts and we cannot review, or open new threads for, unsolicited articles or papers. Requests to review or post such materials will not be answered. If you have your own novel physics theory or model, which you would like to post for further discussion among then FQXi community, then please add them directly to the "Alternative Models of Reality" thread, or to the "Alternative Models of Cosmology" thread. Thank you.

Contests Home

Previous Contests

Undecidability, Uncomputability, and Unpredictability Essay Contest
December 24, 2019 - April 24, 2020
Contest Partners: Fetzer Franklin Fund, and The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation

What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
Sponsored by the Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation

Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

Forum Home
Terms of Use

Order posts by:
 chronological order
 most recent first

Posts by the author are highlighted in orange; posts by FQXi Members are highlighted in blue.

By using the FQXi Forum, you acknowledge reading and agree to abide by the Terms of Use

 RSS feed | RSS help

Peter Jackson: on 4/5/17 at 18:48pm UTC, wrote Karl, Thanks. I'm on a re-read & scoring round (& speed reading some I...

George Gantz: on 4/3/17 at 15:53pm UTC, wrote Karl - I enjoyed your essay! I also agree that a precise definition of...

Karl Coryat: on 4/3/17 at 2:18am UTC, wrote Hi Rajiv, I agree with you that subjective aspects of intentionality are...

Rajiv Singh: on 4/3/17 at 1:43am UTC, wrote Dear Karl, Intention to understand the term 'intention' in the title of...

Satyavarapu Gupta: on 3/18/17 at 9:48am UTC, wrote Dear Karl H Coryat , thank you for the nice reply. You mean ...

Karl Coryat: on 3/15/17 at 19:59pm UTC, wrote Thanks Inés! You're absolutely right about the number of variables and the...

Ines Samengo: on 3/15/17 at 1:33am UTC, wrote Hi Karl, I was really impressed by the clarity of your ideas, and your...

Dizhechko Semyonovich: on 3/14/17 at 8:00am UTC, wrote Dear Karl Coryat! I am pleased to introduce you to New Cartesian Physic! ...


Steve Dufourny: "Hi Georgina and Mr Sturm, Mr Sturm , sad that you have a problem with..." in The Present State of...

Deserdi Chapas: "Hi FQXI Members: We found the courage to asymptotically take one step..." in Alternative Models of...

Georgina Woodward: "I'd like to share with you a thoroughly revised version of the shorter..." in The Present State of...

Steve Dufourny: "I have improved a lot this theory of spherisation withe quantum and..." in Alternative Models of...

David Vognar: "Quantum physics isn't the end of reality; we just need better rulers that..." in Quantum Physics and the...

algo rrithm: "A digital marketing agency in India is showcasing that happens through Web..." in Dark matter effect on the...

algo rrithm: "A branding agency in delhi is a firm having some expertise in the key and..." in The secret of planets’...

algo rrithm: "Advanced advertising assists brands with arriving at their interest group..." in Dark matter effect on the...

click titles to read articles

The Entropic Price of Building the Perfect Clock: Q&A with Natalia Ares
Experiments investigating the thermodynamics of clocks can teach us about the origin of time's arrow.

Schrödinger’s A.I. Could Test the Foundations of Reality
Physicists lay out blueprints for running a 'Wigner's Friend' experiment using an artificial intelligence, built on a quantum computer, as an 'observer.'

Expanding the Mind (Literally): Q&A with Karim Jerbi and Jordan O'Byrne
Using a brain-computer interface to create a consciousness 'add-on' to help test Integrated Information Theory.

Quanthoven's Fifth
A quantum computer composes chart-topping music, programmed by physicists striving to understand consciousness.

The Math of Consciousness: Q&A with Kobi Kremnitzer
A meditating mathematician is developing a theory of conscious experience to help understand the boundary between the quantum and classical world.

January 29, 2023

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: Intentionality: Where Information Meets Complexity by Karl Coryat [refresh]
Bookmark and Share
Login or create account to post reply or comment.

Author Karl H Coryat wrote on Jan. 10, 2017 @ 21:51 GMT
Essay Abstract

Humans invented the word “intentionality” to describe an aspect of certain actions we perform. However, a generalized physical definition can be applied to assess the intentionality of any dynamical system’s action. This essay proposes that the intentionality of an action depends upon two parameters: (1) the acting system’s informational complexity, which expresses the extent of informational correlations and the prevalence of bidirectional causation among its subsystems, and (2) information uptaken by the system that correlates to the subsequent action. These parameters are examined in various biological, technological, and abiotic systems, and the relative intentionality of various actions assessed. This analysis reveals that physical intentionality emerges in degrees, and that intentionality is independent from more subjective phenomena such as desire.

Author Bio

I have been a musician, music journalist, and YouTube comedian, but these days my main focus is the philosophy of science. I studied biology at U.C. Berkeley and became interested in foundational issues in physics about ten years ago. My essay “Toward an Informational Mechanics” won a Special Commendation prize in FQXi’s 2012 Questioning the Foundations contest, and I expanded that essay into a book written for a general audience, “The Simplest-Case Scenario.” It attempts to resolve problems of measurement, cosmology, and the origin of life through a radically relational development of John Wheeler’s “it from bit” conjecture.

Download Essay PDF File

Bookmark and Share

Gary D. Simpson wrote on Jan. 12, 2017 @ 15:28 GMT

Thank you for an interesting read. Mentally, you seem to straddle left brain and right brain pretty well. I know an engineer that is also a musician that is similar. I'm trying to learn guitar and piano myself.

Yes, the States intended to elect Trump ... the people maybe not so much so.

Your distinction between desire and intent is significant I think. There is another way for you to think about that question rather than using a correlation factor of 0.5. Instead, look at the number of instances that fail. This is the complement of the number that succeed. So, for the case of the lottery winner, there is one winner but millions of failures. Therefore, winning is not governed by the purchase of the ticket.

On the other hand, the dog chasing the ball is definitely intentional even though a dog's desires are fairly simple.

The Geiger tube example is interesting ... the decaying atoms might not intend to register a signal within the tube, but Mr. Geiger definitely intended for it to be so:-) It was the premeditated use of physical law by Mr. Geiger that allowed the creation of the tube.

DNA/RNA transcriptions are excellent examples of intent that is presumably without desire. And honeybees are a good example for ongoing study. Do the bees have a language that can express desire, or does there language link physically to their bodies in such a way that waggle1 plus waggle2 equals distance and direction?

All in all a good effort.

Best Regards,

Gary Simpson

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Anonymous replied on Jan. 12, 2017 @ 21:59 GMT
Thank you Gary. In the honeybee waggle dance, the only thing I can imagine that might point to desire is that the movements to some extent express the desirability of the food source, but that's not really the same as desire itself. In a similar fashion, a plant's rate of phototropism (bending toward light) may be proportional to the "desirability" of a light source, but this says nothing about a plant's actual desire. However, the waggle dance does encode true communicated information: The angle of the dance relative to the plumb line of gravity represents the angle of the food source relative to the direction of the Sun, and the duration of the dance correlates (inversely I believe) to the distance to the source. This information is acted on not only immediately by other workers, but continuously as the workers retain this information in memory...quite remarkable.

The 0.5 figure is more an arbitrary number to distinguish between intentional actions (actions primarily due to the acting system's influence) and actions beyond the system's influence. The latter may or may not be desired, but I think we can leave desire out of it -- it only seems to complicate matters!

You make a good point about technology and design capturing the intentionality of the designer, which is something we (presumably) don't see in nature. Thank you for reading my essay!

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Joe Fisher wrote on Jan. 15, 2017 @ 16:02 GMT
Dear Karl,

Simple natural reality has nothing to do with any abstract complex musings such as the ones you effortlessly indulge in. As I have thoughtfully pointed out in my brilliant essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY, the real Universe consists only of one unified visible infinite surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light. Reality am not as complicated as theories of reality are.

Joe Fisher, Realist

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Erik P Hoel wrote on Jan. 26, 2017 @ 20:13 GMT
Hello Karl!

Thanks for the essay, and I completely agree that there's a big gap in our sciences where a theory of intentionality should go. I think you're also right in the graded approach: starting immediately with conscious human beings that have clear intentions is too complicated, and brings in too much outside baggage (what is the nature of consciousness, etc).

Just some of my thoughts triggered by your essay:

"The second requirement for intentionality is that the system’s causal efficacy on the world must be the dominant influence contributing to the action."

I agree that this is a very reasonable and intuitively pleasing requirement. However, it may be too strict in cases where other causal influences are at work, but the agent with the intention is acting with intent, achieves their objective, but isn't the dominant causal influence overall.

Your thoughts about "informational complexity" are on target, although you lament that "more research on information and complexity is needed." I agree! There are some (newish) developments that might interest you. For instance, I think the general intuitions behind the notion of what what you call informational complexity has been quantified in Integrated Information Theory (IIT, Tononi 2004). IIT is a kind of complexity that's not highest for just random or unpredictable systems (like hurricanes) but also takes into account the complexity of the interactions between subsystems (more like brains). But I think you're correct that adding in the notion of environmentally relevant information is important to get at some quantification of intentionality. For instance, there could be systems with high or low integrated information that have different "amounts" of intentionality.

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Harry Hamlin Ricker III replied on Jan. 31, 2017 @ 13:22 GMT

I think that your thesis about intentionality is incorrect. The United States is not a being but a collective or corporate entity. The only intention involved was the intention of Donald Trump to become president. So the only person really responsible for that is Donald Trump who transformed his personal intention or goal into a social goal by his political actions. That is he shared his goals and intentions with others who desired the same goals and worked to make their collective vision of change happen. The idea that you suggest is that collectives have intentions just as individuals beings do. Collectives only have intentions to the extent that the members share a common intention as individuals with the socially defined intention.

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Author Karl H Coryat replied on Jan. 31, 2017 @ 21:02 GMT
Harry, thank you for the comment, but I could not disagree more. Are you claiming that a person is not a collective of neurons and other cells? Or is there something special about the individual -- that collectives of neurons can have intentionality, but collective intentionality must not extend beyond the boundary of one person's skin? We are applying the notion of intentionality to physical systems. A collective of individuals and a collective of neurons are both physical systems. While it may seem intuitive to constrain the boundary of intentionality at the individual, this is largely due to cultural and semantic factors rather than defensible physical principles. The philosophy of science cannot advance if we impose cultural and intuitive constraints where they are not physically justifiable.

To use a historical analogy, the Copernican revolution could not have happened if we insisted on keeping an arbitrary dotted line around the Earth indicating that which is fixed. The beauty of Copernicanism is that it allows us to consider any system as being fixed, relative to other systems. We can draw that arbitrary dotted line around the Earth, the Sun, the Solar System as a whole, or the Milky Way; each of these systems can have its own rest frame. Pre-Copernicans would have us draw an absolute line only around the Earth, which would have imposed a major roadblock to the later development of Galilean relativity. Similarly, progress on the evolution of complexity will be limited if we insist on an absolute dotted line around the individual person. It even seems a bit arrogant to say that just because I view myself as having a distinct identity and unified subjective experience, intentionality must end with me.

What is your physical justification for limiting intentionality to the individual?

Bookmark and Share

Anonymous wrote on Feb. 9, 2017 @ 13:18 GMT
Thank you for a very interesting and well-written essay. Right off the bat, you definitely deserve the prize for best opening sentence: not only because of its topicality, but also, because it immediately changes the playing field---intentionality is usually thought of as something intrinsic and private, whereas you (rightly, I think) point out that collectives may well be said to themselves possess intentionality. Itself a very important point to make, and that's just the first sentence!

In the following, you provide a very clear and systematic discussion of what sort of properties are necessary to ascribe intentionality (or perhaps I should say 'purposefulness') to a system, building up from the most (informationally) simple ones, like single insects, to more complex, collective entities. In doing so, I think you clear up lots of muddle-headed thinking that often surrounds these issues.

There are times, however, when you seem to conflate the philosopher's 'intentionality'---roughly, the capacity of mental states to be about, refer to, or be directed at something in the world---with 'intentionality' as purposeful behavior. For instance, you talk about 'desire' at a couple of points.

Desire, to philosophers, is a kind of intentional state: roughly, every mental state is intentional if it contains a 'that'-clause, i.e. that the sky is blue, that there is money in the bank, and so on. What follows the 'that' is the intentional content of the thought; what precedes it typically is the propositional attitude towards that content: 'Steve believes that the sky is blue', 'I desire for there to be money in the bank'.

Desires and beliefs have a special role regarding both the philosopher's intentionality, and intentional action: for the latter, the right kind of desire has to combine with the right kind of belief---for instance, I might grab for an apple (intentional action) if I think there's an apple on the table (belief), and I want to eat that apple (desire). If either of these conditions fails, I won't make a grab for it.

You take a different route, characterizing intentional acts not in terms of difficult to access mental states, but rather, in terms of objectively accessible properties of a system---its informational complexity, and the information gathered by the system that's relevant to a given task.

In a sense, this is complementary to the usual way one thinks about intentionality---whatever task is selected yields the 'desire' part, while whatever information is gathered is constitutive of the 'belief' about the world.

I'm not sure if this doesn't lead to ambiguities---the same behavior may have wildly different motivations: say, I grab for an apple because I want to eat it, while my wife grabs for it because she thinks it's rotten and wants to throw it away.

Furthermore, it seems to me that you treat 'informational complexity' as essentially an extensive quantity---i.e. if a bee has a given level of complexity, then a swarm must necessarily be more complex. But complexity is somewhat surprising in that the combination of complex things may be a very simple thing (one can formalize this in terms of algorithmic complexity, where it's for instance easy to specify the set of 'all n-bit strings', but any given n-bit string might be maximally complex, i.e. be impossible to describe in a way that's shorter than n bits).

All in all, I think it's a good approach to try and systematize the study of intentional action in the way you do, without perhaps worrying too much about how this sort of intentionality actually works. That way, one can perhaps get some real work done without getting stuck in the definitional quibbles that sometimes marr this sort of discussion.

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Jochen Szangolies replied on Feb. 9, 2017 @ 13:18 GMT
Sorry, I somehow got logged out---the above is me.

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Author Karl H Coryat replied on Feb. 11, 2017 @ 01:18 GMT
Jochen, I greatly appreciate your remarks and feedback. If I had it to do over, I may have made my thesis that intentionality can be applied to collectives as well as individuals. People seem to find that point intriguing and challenging on its own, and I took it for granted somewhat. The response I made to the previous commenter, with the Copernicus analogy, may have worked well in such an essay. I think we can learn a lot by looking at superorganism-types of animal collectives, including humans, and how they can be thought of as individuals themselves.

My approach to intentionality was to couch it in physical terms so as to tease it apart from related mental states that are more subjective and less accessible to the external observer, such as desire. One can think of this approach as removing the "why" aspect from the picture. When a physicist describes the mass of an electron, it is a physical description, devoid of any attempt to explain why the electron that that particular mass and not some other mass. Similarly, in your example of you or your wife grabbing an apple, both actions under my description would be equally intentional. The "why" reasons for those actions are not in the picture, as they are functions of more problematic, inaccessible mental states involving desire or judgment. In this way, I hoped to reduce the understanding of intentionality to its physical building blocks, so that it may be a stepping stone for understanding more complex phenomena. When I mentioned desire in the essay, it was only to distinguish it from my idea of physical intentionality; perhaps that wasn't clear.

You make a good point about informational complexity not necessarily being extensive. I initially considered Kolmogorov complexity (a measure of algorithmic complexity), but I needed a kind of complexity that actually is extensive and could be applied to collectives, which is why I ended up choosing Gell-Mann's concept of "total information." Since this includes entropy in its calculation, it is necessarily an extensive form of complexity. Thanks again for your comments, and best of luck in the contest.

Bookmark and Share

Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton replied on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 15:03 GMT
good grief, you're about the only other person in the world of science that i've encountered who has *ever* used the term "kolmogorov complexity". i love that term especially in connection with both reverse-engineering and evolution. the less energy it takes to express and run any given algorithm, and the more effective its results, the higher the chances, in an evolutionary context, that the individual organism(s) will thrive in their environment, especially against the continuous downward pull of entropy. that kolmogorov complexity is *defined* in terms of entropy makes it all the more important. how did you encounter the term?

secondly i am hugely relieved to find at last someone else who even *begins* to tackle the question as actually asked by the organisers of the contest. i was getting concerned. question for you: given that you have clearly distinguished the difference between "intent" as separate and distinct from "desire", such that it can indeed be applied to non-human systems, would you agree or disagree that mathematical laws which can express "intent" are "mindful" or would you say that they are "mindless"?

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 9, 2017 @ 13:44 GMT
Hi Jochen Szangolies,

Very nice essay and analysis !

Your essay is not clear about the intentionality of bodies (masses as in Physics), But You are exactly correct for biological things.What do you say....?

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta replied on Feb. 11, 2017 @ 00:44 GMT
Hi Karl Coryat,

I am sorry for the copying wrong name....

Very nice essay and analysis !

Your essay is not clear about the intentionality of bodies (masses as in Physics), But You are exactly correct for biological things.What do you say....?

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Author Karl H Coryat replied on Feb. 11, 2017 @ 01:27 GMT
Hi Satyavarapu -- If you're asking whether my approach would say that two masses gravitating toward each other is an intentional act, my answer would be no. GR describes them as traveling along geodesics, so their causal efficacy upon the world is not changing over time. In my treatment, intentionality requires the uptake of information from the environment AND a subsequent causal alteration of information in the world; masses in a gravitational field aren't uptaking information, as they are just trying to continue their straight-line travel through curved spacetime. -Karl

Bookmark and Share

Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton replied on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 15:09 GMT
"If you're asking whether my approach would say that two masses gravitating toward each other is an intentional act, my answer would be no."

iiinterrresting.... because i would say that under the right context (that of the newtonian laws of gravitation or equivalents), the answer would be definite "yes"... but *only* under the context of the newtonian laws of gravitation (or equivalents thereof such as GR).

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Patrick Tonin wrote on Feb. 16, 2017 @ 20:20 GMT
Hi Karl,

It is an interesting essay. I completely agree with you that intentionality should not be confined to individuals but also applied to collectives, I would say the same about consciousness.

All the best,


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Author Karl H Coryat replied on Feb. 17, 2017 @ 01:25 GMT
Thanks Patrick! -KC

Bookmark and Share

Natesh Ganesh wrote on Feb. 21, 2017 @ 19:37 GMT
Dear Karl,

A very interesting essay on approaching intentionality through information and complexity. I have used a similar line of attack using physical information theory and complexity to approach learning and intentional agency in physical systems, in my entry titled 'Intention is Physical'. Any and all feedback is welcome. Thanks.


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Georgina Woodward wrote on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 10:50 GMT
Hi Karl,

I can’t agree that acting on information input is enough to classify something as intentional. Intentional is more than just non-accidental. (I have taken an intention to be similar in meaning to a goal but with the possible connotation of an associated plan fitting dictionary definitions.) Under your terminology a reflex action is intentional. Whereas I would classify it as non-intentional. It falls into that middle ground of non-accidental things that happen because of the function of underlying biology, physics and chemistry, without being goal directed. A reflex is a function or operation, it may have a survival advantage but it by-passes decision making about whether to act, if that is even a possibility for the entity under consideration. Looking intentional does not make something intentional. Think of startle responses or blink responses; non-accidental, unintentional functional responses to information input. The function (what it does) is protection but it is fully automated. So there is no intention (similar to goal, plan) unless you redefine the word as something different from its current usage that blurs the boundary between goal less functions and goal directed behavior.

Kind regards Georgina

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Author Karl H Coryat replied on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 21:50 GMT
Hi Georgina, it's good to see you here again. I'm not really redefining intentionality, but rather, giving the definition a precise physical description. And in that definition, a reflex *is* intentional in terms of the subsystem(s) directly involved in the action. If I touch a hot stove and sharply withdraw my hand, that was an intentional action of my spinal cord and the nerves and muscles involved. It was *not* intentional for my cerebral cortex, however. This treatment allows us to decomose complex systems into subsystems and assess the intentionality of different subsystems' actions based on their complexity. The subsystem of my spinal cord, etc., reacting to a hot stove is not very different from the example of a mosquito larva nibbling at its breathing tube: Both are autonomic responses to environmental stimuli. We humans just happen to have this highly complex cerebral cortex on top of the autonomic subsystems. So, if I pick up a pot and think, "This is hot — I need to put it down" and then put it down, that action has a *higher degree* of intentionality than the reflex, but both actions are intentional to some degree.

It sounds like you believe that intentionality must involve a conscious thought in words, or an image, or a goal. I don't think that's useful if we want to understand how intentionality emerges out of simple physics. Seeing intentionality as an evolving phenomenon, a spectrum of degrees — rather than something that appears suddenly in evolutionary history — lets us study where intentionality came from and even where it's going.

Thanks for stopping by, and best of luck in the contest! -KC

Bookmark and Share

Georgina Woodward replied on Mar. 7, 2017 @ 08:44 GMT
Hi Karl,

thanks for your reply. Quickly looking up intentionality I find definitions like; done with intention or purposeful, or deliberate. Looking up deliberate I get; done consciously and intentionally, unhurried and careful. These are definitions that exclude reflex actions and unconscious processes. So you are re-defining the word 'intentionality'.

Well written presentation. Best of luck to you too. Georgina

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Georgina Woodward replied on Mar. 8, 2017 @ 03:59 GMT
Hi Karl,

..Also there is a difference between responses and intentions. There is a temporal aspect to intention, goals and aims that is different from responses happening Now. They are all related to an occurrence that might be caused to happen at a time beyond Now. FQXi‘s question “How are goals (versus accomplishments) linked to “arrows of time?” (and I think the question could equally be asked of intentions and plans), is asking about that temporal aspect and how we can think about it. There comes a stage of complexity and organisation where rather then merely responding it is possible to consider how an advantageous or desired outcome can be achieved prior to action. I think that is qualitatively different, not just processing more information. Kind regards.

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Peter Jackson wrote on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 22:22 GMT
Hi Karl,

Another high quality essay this year. I found it very interesting and thought provoking, particularly as we touch on some similar areas. I won't highlight too much of that here as it'll emerge when (if!) you read mine. certainkly we agea on bi-directionalty and 'layered' or 'subsystem' architecture.

In particular I invoke the avalanche or 'Cascade' interaction of fermions in a particular role in deriving a Classical mechanism reproducing QM's predictions (yes, shocking and improbable of course, but quite self apparent!). The 'squaring' of amplitudes through field interactions is actually (I found afterwards) already implicit in QCD! However when applied to (Cascade) photomultipliers and ('avalanch') photodiodes it cracks a tough problem! Yes I agree chaos theory, but it appears we can 'guesstimate' an overall output amplitude as QM's predictions.

On 'intentionality' where would you say we depart from AI, which seems to qualify well for most of your physical definition. Or do we?

Very well done for yours. It was a pleasure to read. I do look forward to your views and comments on mine and further discussion.

Very best of luck


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Author Karl H Coryat replied on Mar. 7, 2017 @ 21:15 GMT
Hi Peter -- Yes, AI. Its actions certainly qualify as intentional -- I might even call it "hyper-intentional" -- according to my definition. Consider a computer program that's collecting road-traffic data and directing drivers to more efficient routes. This is a phenomenally complex system, combining technology and biology (unlike anything I mentioned in my essay), with bidirectional causation all over the place. It hints where intentionality is going in the future, doesn't it? Where large numbers of people make difficult collective decisions with the aid of powerful algorithms. I like it!

I'm a little behind in the essay reading, but I'll certainly check out yours. Thanks for dropping in!


Bookmark and Share

Peter Jackson replied on Apr. 5, 2017 @ 18:48 GMT

Thanks. I'm on a re-read & scoring round (& speed reading some I didn't pick out earlier!) as time is now running out fast. Your top score should get yours into the 5's. I need to discuss further or look into the 'Geiger–Müller tube and 'Townsend avalanche' as I invoke a similar cascade in the squaring of values in a photomultiplier, also as QED, producing the (shocking!!) Classic QM derivation I identify.

I hope you've caught up with reading and won't forget to score mine.

Best of luck in the run in.


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Jesse Liu wrote on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 07:46 GMT
Hi Karl,

This is a very interesting essay and I especially enjoyed your concrete, diverse and detailed examples from calculators to honeybee colonies. One of the subtleties surrounding this year's theme is indeed dealing with the semantics of intentionality, especially away from human intuition. So this clear discussion of a physical definition in terms of information uptake and complexity, with a threshold for measuring causal efficacy, is really insightful.

I was wondering how intentionality might relate to (maybe physical?) definitions of 'intelligence'? Intuitively at least, they seem correlated - systems you identified with high information complexity and their corresponding actions e.g. human turning on TV, could be said to be intelligent. And I wonder how much of intelligence one can have without intention and vice versa. I could repeatedly turn on many TVs in different rooms with great intention, but in an almost mechanical way that may not be deemed intelligent. Computer programs can outsmart humans though they were in some sense programmed to have such an intention on very specific tasks.

Thanks again for the interesting read.



Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Author Karl H Coryat replied on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 23:20 GMT
Hi Jesse -- Thanks for the comments. I think I'd have a harder time coming up with a physical definition of intelligence, but I agree there's a connection. Intelligence is something like the total complexity and extent of information processing — the degree to which information from a number of inputs is processed and compared, the complexity and number of memory faculties that go into this process, and the complexity of the output responses, not to mention the number of these processes that can occur simultaneously, at different levels of scale, the flexibility in assimilating and processing information, and so on. It's a great question, but again, it seems harder. That's not too surprising, given that we wouldn't say a honeybee or a mosquito exhibits much intelligence at all, where as their intentionality is easier to see; intelligence is a "higher" phenomenon and seen to any significant extent only in vertebrates (maybe some molluscs) and AI. Best of luck! -KC

Bookmark and Share

James Lee Hoover wrote on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 17:57 GMT

Heavy on intention and intentionality but not so much on the role of mindless mathematical laws (but I could have missed the details). Considering the law opinion of Congress, you risk chuckles from your audience by comparing mosquitos and Congress and giving Congress more information density -- blood suckers, both. Your generally mention the intervention of emotional images in the election but the "intentional state" of anger seemed to direct an intention, seemingly irrational, of putting Trump in office.

All in all, it is an instructive essay, which the mandated length of the essay makes multifaceted discussion impossible.

Hope you get the time to provide your thoughts on my essay.

Jim Hoover

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Don Limuti wrote on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 04:27 GMT
Hi Karl,

You say:

1. Did the United States of America "intend" to elect Donald Trump in 2016?

2. If you throw a ball, and your dog runs toward the ball, it’s difficult to argue that the dog’s action does not include some kind of "intention", on some level, to reach and acquire the ball.

This is interesting, particularly if you replace the word "intend" (intention) with the word "choose" (choosing).

1. Did the United States of America "intend" to elect Donald Trump in 2016? .....I say no.

1. Did the United States of America "choose" to elect Donald Trump in 2016?.....I say yes.

2. If you throw a ball, and your dog runs toward the ball, it’s difficult to argue that the dog’s action does not include some kind of "intention", on some level, to reach and acquire the ball......I say yes.

2. If you throw a ball, and your dog runs toward the ball, it’s difficult to argue that the dog’s action does not include some kind of "choosing", on some level, to reach and acquire the ball......I say no for my dog. Your dog may be a different story :)

Am I being nitpicky with language or philosophy? Perhaps, but I can't help but find your thesis that math or logic can imbue intention or choice .....unsatisfying.

Thanks for a thought provoking essay,

Don Limuti

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Author Karl H Coryat replied on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 04:50 GMT
Hi Don! Good to see you here again. Nitpicky is usually a good thing.

The topic was intentionality, and I took that to mean something substantially different from choice. Take a heroin addict, for example. I'd say their free will to choose whether or not to inject is pretty much subjugated by their addiction (similar in ways to your dog example). I'd find it hard to argue, though, that sticking a needle into their arm is not an intentional act. I feel like intentional is necessarily the opposite of accidental, without much gray area in between, while choice is more shaded - you may disagree. I tried to provide a physical definition of intentionality that is measurable in principle while still being intuitive in most cases. I'm sure it's imperfect.

I used Donald Trump almost for shock effect — from the open sentence we want to say, "Of course the U.S. didn't intend to elect him." But then I tried to argue that if we are to be intellectually honest and consistent about intentionality, and if we reject the urge to draw arbitrary boundaries between intentional systems based only on where their epidermis ends, then we are forced to conclude that his election was a system-intentional act. It's really supposed to be a laugh at what the absurdity of it all means.

Thanks for reading my essay and best of luck.


Bookmark and Share

Willy K wrote on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 06:11 GMT
Hi Coryat

Great to come across a submission which treats intentionality via a definition which can be applied across multiple domains. In particular, I liked the comparison you drew between people and the honeybee hive, wherein you suggest that the bees as a collective have a more complex intentionality than individual human beings. Of course, the definition can also be used to understand far more complex events like democratic elections.

This reminds me of my essay where ant colonies and human social systems are both seen as differing examples of extrinsic intelligences. Intentionality in my essay would merely be the act of arranging for stability at the level of the core elements of those systems (as opposed to attaining stability at the overall level of those systems). In other words, intentionality might be directly mapped to homeostasis of the systems.

Had a nice read. Cheers!


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich wrote on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 08:00 GMT
Dear Karl Coryat! I am pleased to introduce you to New Cartesian Physic!

I appreciate your essay. You spent a lot of effort to write it. If you believed in the principle of identity of space and matter of Descartes, then your essay would be even better. There is not movable a geometric space, and is movable physical space. These are different concepts.

I wish to see your criticism on the New Cartesian Physic, the founder of which I call myself.

The concept of moving space-matter helped me: The uncertainty principle Heisenberg to make the principle of definiteness of points of space-matter; Open the law of the constancy of the flow of forces through a closed surface is the sphere of space-matter; Open the law of universal attraction of Lorentz; Give the formula for the pressure of the Universe; To give a definition of gravitational mass as the flow vector of the centrifugal acceleration across the surface of the corpuscles, etc.

New Cartesian Physic has great potential in understanding the world. To show this potential in essay I risked give «The way of The materialist explanation of the paranormal and the supernatural” - Is the name of my essay.

Visit my essay and you will find something in it about New Cartesian Physic. Note my statement that our brain creates an image of the outside world no inside, and in external space.

Do not let New Cartesian Physic get away into obscurity! I am waiting your post.


Dizhechko Boris

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Ines Samengo wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 01:33 GMT
Hi Karl, I was really impressed by the clarity of your ideas, and your writing abilities.

I must say I like the two conditions (1) and (2) that you have set in order to define intentionality. When I start to apply these ideas, however, I don’t find them easy to implement. I always have the problem that it is not clear to me what exactly should be taken as the agent (which variables define...

view entire post

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Author Karl H Coryat replied on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 19:59 GMT
Thanks Inés! You're absolutely right about the number of variables and the arbitrary nature of delineating subsystems, describing environmental information, and so on. I feel like this essay topic might be several decades too early — we just don't have the intellectual and instrumental tools to do it justice. It's a bit like asking Kepler-era astronomers to discuss the dynamics of three or four mutually orbiting bodies.

You're on to something in the last paragraph of your comment. In assessing intentionality, it almost looks like we have a higher-order kind of bidirectional causation: In order to fairly determine the subsystems and informational contexts, etc., going into an intentional action, it necessarily requires complex systems to employ their own intentionality to do these things! And, being observers in a frog's-eye view of things, such interaction can have causative effects on the system(s) being described. Still, as complex as it is, intentionality seems to be a ripe candidate for discussion, compared to something even harder, such as desire. Perhaps there are phenomena even more physically accessible, which might help us work our way toward understanding something as complex as intentionality, and eventually, intelligence and such.

I see that your essay is doing well, and I look forward to checking it out. Thanks again for the thoughtful comments. -KC

Bookmark and Share

Rajiv K Singh wrote on Apr. 3, 2017 @ 01:43 GMT
Dear Karl,

Intention to understand the term 'intention' in the title of the contest may be understood when seen in conjunction with 'aims'. It seems subjective aspect of it could not be taken away.

From the following statements, it appears that the author ascribes 'intention [ality]' more with the action, rather than the thoughts, the subject sense. "after all, we invented the word...

view entire post

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Author Karl H Coryat replied on Apr. 3, 2017 @ 02:18 GMT
Hi Rajiv,

I agree with you that subjective aspects of intentionality are not necessarily separable from physical action, but I feel that the physical action is the measurable part of intentionality; and that in a very complex system such as a human, subjective aspects may emerge from the action. It is a bit like saying the velocity of a car is physically measurable, even though some people...

view entire post

Bookmark and Share

George Gantz wrote on Apr. 3, 2017 @ 15:53 GMT
Karl -

I enjoyed your essay! I also agree that a precise definition of "intention" is critical in responding to the essay's theme, something which most authors have not attempted to do. My definition is similar to yours: "There is a critical difference between intentionality and agency. Intentions are behaviors that can be observed. Agency is a quality that must be inferred. Intentions may or may not be due to the actions of an autonomous, conscious agent."

I hope you have a chance to read my essay - The How and The Why of Emergence and Intention."

Cheers - George Gantz

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Login or create account to post reply or comment.

Please enter your e-mail address:
Note: Joining the FQXi mailing list does not give you a login account or constitute membership in the organization.