Can We Empirically Detect "Agency"?

So @rcohlers, that is fine, but let’s just appreciate you are using the terminology in an idiosyncratic way. Given your framing it appears to be about detecting “agency” or “intention”, and not even about “detecting.” It seems rather you are concerned with how we might form confident and warranted belief in the existence of another mind.

It is important to keep in mind some departures from usual use here. The terminology “detect” has a meaning very different than your usage to scientists and ID advocates. It is usually understood as a mathematical
(or almost mechanical) test for the presence of something that usually does have false positives and negatives. What you are describing is different.

However, I’d remind you of Plantinga’s seminal book God and Other Minds:

This recent Veritas Forum article gets it right:

This is the central thesis of the book. Plantinga argues that although one cannot prove empirically that other minds exist, it is still rational to believe in them, and that the same is true for the existence of God. It follows from this that there must be bases of knowledge outside empirical investigation. This conclusion was anathema to the positivist, whose entire epistemology revolved around a presumption of the omnipotence of empirical investigation.

What is more, the logic is elegantly simple: We believe A despite a lack of empirical evidence; it is rational to do so; therefore, it might also be rational to believe B despite a lack of empirical evidence. If one takes Plantinga’s goal to be restoring the viability of belief in God by dismantling the tyranny of the positivist regime, he certainly succeeded.

What you are bypassing from the get go in your quest is that we cannot even empirically demonstrate your wife has a mind. We can’t empirically demonstrate anyone has a mind but ourselves. It is still rational to believe there are other minds. Belief in other minds, then, a proper basic belief.

Starting from Plantinga’s argument comes my extension. If we can’t empirically demonstrate another human has a mind, why should not expect to empirically demonstrate the existence of a Divine Mind?

That is, of course, unless that Divine Mind chose to reveal Himself somehow to us. Perhaps He grants us knowledge of a Divine Mind a basic belief. Perhaps He miraculously gives some people awareness. Perhaps He makes use of the One Sign (the Resurrection). This returns us to the fundamental problem. Without words, without revealing, with out written revelation, or miraculous work of God, I’m not sure we can detect a Divine Mind empirically.

I am not denying evidence. There is evidence. There is also something more than the evidence.

This i immensely important for Intelligent Design, and rising questions about what it means to be a human. At what point does an AI have a mind? We have no idea how to tell. If we cannot construct a process (and humans themselves can’t figure out how) to do determine if an AI has a mind or not, we would expect any sort of ID effort to detect another mind to work?

Take the fudge word “genuinely” out (how do you assess it), and I’m not sure you can tell. I think AI is a really important test case for you. It is a perfect example of “mind” detection. Here are three questions we have no idea how to answer:

  1. Can we make a conscious machine?
  2. How would we make a conscious machine?
  3. How would we know that our conscious machine is in fact conscious?

Of these the most directly relevant to you is #3. We have no idea how to answer this. We just do not know how to tell if an AI or Robot is actually conscious or emulating conscious, actually self-aware or emulating self awareness. If we can’t answer such questions, and can’t even figure out how we might answer these question in a sensible way, it seem to be a hard stop for you. We certainly understand more about robots and AI than God, and we can’t detect “agency” (a mind) in them.

You seem trying to arguing against the positivism of the pre-Plantinga era (which makes sense because you are a historian :smile:). Positivism, though, is long gone. That is not where the current argument is.

It would be great then to see how you solve the 3 hard question of AI. Apparently none of us in the field have been able to figure it out. Enlighten us. What are we missing?

He is hitting up on the “hard” problem of AI, on which a good percentage of science fiction entertainment spends immense time trying to work through. I’m not sure this is solvable.

It seems like the real issue is that our belief in minds is a proper basic belief that proceeds reasoning. It is axiomatic, not an evidence-contingent conclusion. @rcohlers it seems that if you want to go down this path you must first deal with Plantinga, then deal with the “hard” AI problem, then come and deal with me.