Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Ann Gauger’s cautious assessment of Scott Turner’s Purpose & Desire

arroba Email

With a number of apt quotations. From Ann Gauger on J. Scott Turner’s Purpose and Desire:What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It at Evolution News & Views:

Turner’s book is fascinating, stimulating, and befuddling by turns. He has interesting ideas but little to back them up, and in places the prose goes fuzzy, perhaps because there is little to go on. His ideas are only in the beginning stages, and need to be tested and evaluated, because they are controversial.

For example, we already know that organisms modify their environments to fit their physiological needs, whether it be microbial mats, termite mounds, or human beings. That is not controversial. I find the idea of alternate sources of cellular memory most intriguing, and already there are experiments that support this idea, though more work is needed. This is less controversial, though it goes against the standard DNA-centric model. The idea that in the search for regulatory elements in physiology, more and more control elements are required, until you reach the level where every cell is involved, I find fascinating. It certainly corresponds to the increasing detail at the molecular level everywhere. The thing I have most trouble understanding is his idea that cognition preceded life — if cognition at the most primitive requires membranes and membrane receptors that send signals to the cell’s interior to influence its behavior, then either I have misunderstood, or cognition could not occur until after the first life.

This provocative book deserves to be read and considered by anyone interested in the question of evolution and adaptation. … More.

It will be interesting to see whether his ideas are just too controversial to be tested.

See also: Ouch! Scott Turner on “settled science”

J. Scott Turner on why we do not have a coherent theory of evolution…


Reading and discussion guide for J. Scott Turner’s new book Purpose and Desire

We have certainly reached a point in scientific research where it doesn´t make any sense to say that TELEOLOGY (intention, purpose, goal directedness, intelligent unconscious responses, agency…) is just “apparent” . Many authors like Turner, Noble, Talbott, Nagel, Shapiro have understood that acknowledging teleology as a real fact is mandatory. The debate from now on is whether teleology can be “naturalized”, that is, it can be explained as an emergent feature of Nature, caused by strictly unguided natural processes. The efforts made in this sense by the above mentioned authors so far are unconvincing. Really poor. And it is not a question of how likely it is that teleology emerges by chance or by strictly deterministic forces. The Design argument is not a probabilistic argument; it is a question of causal adequacy. What is in the effect must have previously been in the cause. Anaxagoras
Turner just tries to naturalize concepts as "purpose" , "cognition" and "intentionality".
I will make a bald assertion: bacteria (or any living system, for that matter) can be agents because they are cognitive beings. Now, before going any further, I need to insert two disclaimers. The first is that I am using “cognition” in the broadest possible sense I can get away with — to mean simply the mapping of information about the external environment onto the cell’s internal workings.
By that definition a door bell is a 'cognitive agent'. Calling bacteria 'cognitive agents' is a bald assertion only if you do not mangle the term 'cognitive' to be meaningless.
Similarly, intentionality can be defined very broadly.
Ah! "intentionality" can also be mangled to be meaningless. Let's hear it!
As I argued in The Tinkerer’s Accomplice, intentionality can be construed as the coupling of cognition to metabolic engines that can shape the world to conform to a cognitive map.
The coupling of cognition (by which, as we already know, is not meant "cognition") to metabolic engines ... That is "intentionality" folks! Who is he trying to fool?
Brains produce a very complicated intentionality.
Sure. It's all on a gradual scale isn't it? Origenes

Leave a Reply