I am somewhat scandalously pleased to announce that my new paper, “Self-Reference, Self-Representation, and the Logic of Intentionality”, has just been published in Erkenntnis (see here for a freely-available preprint version).
It’s the culmination (for now) of work on applying an idea of John von Neumann on self-reproduction to the question of intentionality—broadly, how symbols acquire their meanings. In the paper, I present what I think is the first mathematical theory of intentionality, the nicest result of which is that the mind-state inducing an action aimed at bringing about a certain goal has that goal as its object—and moreover, can prove that fact (to itself).
Furthermore, I argue that conscious experience is essentially self-representational access to intrinsic properties—in other words, that when what Eddington called the ‘inner un-get-atable’ nature of matter is brought under the purview of the self-referential von Neumann process, that’s what we call ‘consciousness’ or ‘qualia’ or ‘phenomenal experience’. This leaves the Hard Problem unsolvable (them things being un-get-atable and all), but gives qualia a proper job in the world: at certain points, the von Neumann process encounters questions that can’t be decided by any theoretical model of itself, but whose answers it can introspect.
We’ve discussed parts of this model earlier in this thread, so I thought I’d just throw this up here to see if there’s any interest. There were some questions left open that I hope are addressed in the current article—most notably, the question of how exactly the self-reference of the von Neumann construction is turned into ‘outward-directed’ reference (I think in particular raised by @RaftPeople(?)), which is proposed to be accomplished by the fixed-point property of modal provability logic (if you want to dig into that, especially as applied to self-modifying machines, a good introduction can be found in this pdf).
Also, I have written up some (hopefully) accessible summaries for my column on 3 Quarks Daily:
- The Von Neumann Mind: Constructing Meaning, on how the self-referential von Neumann construction is supposed to overcome the problems with grounding symbol reference in a material world,
- The Problem Of The Inner: On The Subject-Ladenness Of Objectivity, giving an analogy for the distinction between ‘structural’ and ‘intrinsic’ or ‘structure-transcending’ properties, and why they might be important for conscious experience