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How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
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March 17, 2018

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: Aiming the Arrow of Time by Benjamin Tolkin [refresh]
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Author Ben Tolkin wrote on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 22:45 GMT
Essay Abstract

An attempt to establish a reasonable working definition of intention. An intention is a causally relevant link between want and action; one that takes into account the mental model of the world present in the actor; the actor must believe they have the capacity to have a different intention; and the actor must not be certain if the intention will be successful. Then things go off the rails.

Author Bio

Ben Tolkin doesn't believe in bios. His background is in neuroscience and philosophy. He wrote half of this essay sober.

Download Essay PDF File

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James Arnold wrote on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 18:08 GMT

Excellent essay. You’ve addressed the question of the contest directly, which is rare. Looks like you’re suffering from a lack of attention as contestants with low ratings drift away. I’m giving you a 7, which may put you in the lead, but watch out for the trolls who will being you down with several 1’s.

We disagree on several points, which you assume would make your essay “not for me.” But I like your take that it’s likely “intentions do exist as relevant parts of our mental processing, and our consciousness simply picks them up on a delay.”

And I like “intentions are specific, capable of being mentally analyzed and altered, and perceived as controllable. Wanting to have food is not the same as intending to get food.” And “Intentions require the possibility of having a different intention.”

Where we disagree (I consider myself a “naturalist”, not a “physicalist”) is your devotion to causality: “Free will may emerge from physical systems, but only deterministic free will: it is you who decides, but since “you” is made up of deterministic parts, there was only ever one way you could describe.”

I hope you’ll have a look at my essay, where I contend that causality is emergent of a fundamentally spontaneous Nature.

Regardless, your essay is well-written and a pleasure to read. (At what point did you get drunk?) I hope it gets more attention.

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Joe Fisher wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 16:05 GMT
Dear Benjamin Tolkin,

Please excuse me for I have no intention of disparaging in any way any part of your essay.

I merely wish to point out that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) Physicist & Nobel Laureate.

Only nature could produce a reality so simple, a single cell amoeba could deal with it.

The real Universe must consist only of one unified visible infinite physical surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light.

A more detailed explanation of natural reality can be found in my essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY. I do hope that you will read my essay and perhaps comment on its merit.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Mar. 17, 2017 @ 14:44 GMT
Nice essay Tolkin,

Your ideas and thinking are excellent for eg…

‘What is an intention? In practical terms, this question is the same as: how do we know that intentions exist?’

A Good idea, I fully agree with you, see how intensions and goals are generated as discussed in my essay……………………………I want you to ask you to please have a look at my...

view entire post

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Jeffrey Michael Schmitz wrote on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 22:30 GMT

I see essays that have nothing to do with the topic do well and I see your essay, which has a sense of humor and insight into the topic, doing (at this date) poorly in the rankings. I wish I could change that.

I like how you use a river as an example and as a reoccurring theme. When I cover extra-terrestrial life in Astronomy class, I start out with the question "is fire alive?" You found a topic and covered it from everyway possible and had fun doing it. What else can you ask of an essay?

Best of luck in the contest,


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Author Ben Tolkin replied on Mar. 20, 2017 @ 14:53 GMT
Thanks! This essay contest has been interesting to watch; I make no pretensions about my essay being anything but terrible, but yeah, a good majority of submissions are completely unrelated rambles. On the other hand, I'm really not sure what I was talking about with the river; I think the title of section 3 comes from the river being the third of three turns in Texas Hold 'em.

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Jeffrey Michael Schmitz replied on Mar. 20, 2017 @ 22:33 GMT

A good magician never shows how a trick is done. If someone saids the river part was good, say you carefully planned it. You have a writing style and use examples, there are a number of essays that just throw equations at the poor reader.


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David Pinyana wrote on Mar. 24, 2017 @ 18:10 GMT
Too philosophy essay... but you ask direct the main question: How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?

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Peter Jackson wrote on Mar. 31, 2017 @ 17:17 GMT

Great read! I'm a more common than garden physicalist but our essays have much in common, coincidentally I wrote the other half of mine sober! We also both point out we must; "keep in mind that we cannot be certain how much we’re influenced by our own intuitions, even if we’d tried to remove assumptions." though you're far more succinct!

I found it more readable than 2/3rds here, and you hit many salaient points. These must be salient as I hit them too; "Intentions require the possibility of having a different intention. I call them simply DECISIONS, then cascading to other consequential ones. Also; All Logic ends in paradox. I invoke hierarchical 'propositional dynamic logic' (PDL) which almost eliminates that! (shown in my last yrs essay too).

Also that "things go off the rails"! Like the nonsense of QM. You "doubt there are people who perceive the world flowing backwards in time" yet most who accept QM do, backwards causality is implicit! So we agree; "it seems really dubious and essentially taken on faith to suppose that quantum mechanics is the avenue by which free will enters the universe."

I do then go on to show that a PHYSICAL solution to QM is possible!! But of course few can overcome the influence of their embedded intuitions!

Do read mine (and score it!) It's mainly quite different to yours but it has not a single calculation! and I'm sure you'll like its realism. Then see if you can guess which half was sober.

Thanks for yours. It's made me smile and made my day.

Very best


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Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich wrote on Apr. 7, 2017 @ 03:13 GMT
Dear Sirs!

Physics of Descartes, which existed prior to the physics of Newton returned as the New Cartesian Physic and promises to be a theory of everything. To tell you this good news I use spam.

New Cartesian Physic based on the identity of space and matter. It showed that the formula of mass-energy equivalence comes from the pressure of the Universe, the flow of force which on the corpuscle is equal to the product of Planck's constant to the speed of light.

New Cartesian Physic has great potential for understanding the world. To show it, I ventured to give "materialistic explanations of the paranormal and supernatural" is the title of my essay.

Visit my essay, you will find there the New Cartesian Physic and make a short entry: "I believe that space is a matter" I will answer you in return. Can put me 1.


Dizhechko Boris

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