Do Heat Seeking Missiles Have Teleology?

Then God would be in violation of Quantum Entanglement.

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My point is that Eric’s simple probabilistic formulation of determinism and especially teleology is puzzling if the implication is that we can never identify teleology empirically, as we don’t have access to the mind of God and to which phenomena He has willed to be determined, and which to be inherently random, whatever that means. Perhaps he can refine the formulation so as to allow a continuum of teleology, so that events that are highly probable but not certain can still be considered teleological. Then we can think about this further.

In addition, probability is very puzzling to be used as a definition of teleology. Philosophically speaking probability doesn’t have a clear cut interpretation if you try to use it as something more than a useful heuristic of the world. It’s difficult to use it to define the ontological status of the world. Often people who hold a standard frequentist interpretation say something along the lines that the probability of X is the fraction that X comes up in N amount of trials where N tends towards infinity. But if we have the mind of God in the picture, does it even make sense to talk about multiple trials? From God’s POV maybe everything in the universe is super determined.


So, just to be clear, you are not sure there are clear cut arguments for an old earth?

How do you, for example, process this? Lake Varves, Volcanic Ash, and the Great Isaiah Scroll. At the very least, it looks like an old earth, right? Or do you feel this is not clearly established?

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I laughed at that. But I am not buying that as a definition of “intrinsically teleological.”

In a different thread, I illustrated a different point by raising the example of driving to Los Angeles from here (near Chicago). That seems to also work to illustrate teleology.

The thing is, as I drive to LA, I might miss a turn. So I will correct that somewhere later on, so that I still get to LA.

What you can see, though, is that the sequence of events (the locations passed while driving) is not fixed. So modeling as a stochastic process seems a tad simplistic.

Here’s my account.

There is a purpose – in this case reaching the destination of LA.
The system (me as driver) is monitoring progress toward achievement of that purpose, and is periodically adjusting behavior so as to be consistent with progress toward that purpose.

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You don’t even need to go down to quantum mechanics. I am hard pressed to think of an energy scale in which physics have the kind of determinism and predictability that is required for Eric’s formulation. From highest to lowest energy scale (handwavy rankings for some):

  1. Quantum gravity is presumably only deterministic up to a wavefunction level and therefore has determinism problem
  2. GR+QFT has both determinism problem (from both GR and QFT) and predictability problem (from GR)
  3. GR+quantum mechanics has determinism problem (from QM and GR) and predictability problem (from GR)
  4. QFT has determinism problem due to its quantum nature
  5. QM alone has determinism problem
  6. GR+Classical mechanics: Has both determinism and predictability problems from GR
  7. Special Relativity+Classical mechanics: Has predictability problem from SR
  8. Classical mechanics: Has determinism problem without SR

Edit: Quantum mechanics can be made deterministic, but one has to give up locality.


5 posts were split to a new topic: Predictability Problems in Physics

Circling back here, I’m curious how @dga471 would summarize lessons from the other thread on determinism and teleology.

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I think I have a different understanding of what teleology is. Using the heat seeking missile example, a teleological explanation for the whole missile is that it is meant to shoot down airplanes as part of a military operation. The fuel in the missile is there to hurl the missile towards a plane. The sensor in the front portion of the missile is meant to track the heat given off from an airplane’s exhaust. Teleology is defined as “the explanation of phenomena by the purpose they serve rather than by postulated causes”. I’m not clear on how this definition is being used with reference to life.

This is my summary of the discussion:

From the other thread, while initially @PdotdQ pointed out that no theory of physics (even classical physics) gives complete predictability, we still agreed that classical physics gives a fundamentally deterministic picture of the world, while quantum theory (and anything that is touched by it - including quantum field theory and quantum gravity) gives a fundamentally indeterminate picture of the world, unless if one assumes non-locality or superdeterminism.

Nevertheless, the more important point is that @EricMH’s definition of intrinsic teleology seems to flawed regardless of which theory of physics you choose.

If you assume classical physics, then most things are deterministic, so everything is teleological, including heat seeking missiles. As everything is teleological, it seems to cease to be a meaningful term.

If you assume quantum physics, then nothing is deterministic, so nothing is teleological, including heat-seeking missiles.


While I disagree with this:

I agree with Daniel’s conclusion:

I would also add that I think in theories with predictability problems (i.e. anything with special relativity, as well as general relativity except for some specific spacetimes), it might be difficult (or even impossible) to compute Eric’s P(X)'s in practice.


So, to summarize, it seems that this is @EricMH’s definition of teleology.

Looks like @nwrickert is right.

@EricMH is claiming that if something will certainly happen, then it is purposed. Applying this definition, missile is going to hit its target with 100% certainty. So by this definition a missile is not intrinsically purposed until it is inevitably going to its target.

Anything inevitable, for example physical death, is therefore teleological. It seems that he is equivocating determinism with teleology.

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I’m saying that if an entity is determined by the future, i.e. converges, then it is intrinsically teleological. Physics says timelines should diverge, so the opposite occurrence indicates something other than the laws of physics at work.

A further qualification I’d add is this must be a net convergence. In other words, there cannot be local convergence that is offset by divergence elsewhere.

To continue beating the mutual information horse, an intrinsically teleological entity would cause a net increase of mutual information to come about, since H(X[n]|X[n+1]) = 0 and H(X[n]|X[n-1]) > 0, so I(X[n];X[n+1]) > I(X[n];X[n-1]).

@dga471 and @PdotdQ, is this correct?

Mutation information between what and what?

I don’t understand how this applies at all. Life is not a closed system. There is no evidence that any order we find in life is not offset by disorder elsewhere.

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Second law of thermodynamics.

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This language of “convergence” is confusing and unclear to me.
(I’ve never encountered this term in physics.) But based on your clarification that you are referring to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, what you seem to really saying here is simply that a system is teleological if it violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Am I getting you right? And your reference to “local convergence” and “net convergence” is saying that this violation happens even if the system is isolated.
(Edited for clarity)

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That seems to be a much clearer statement.

However, a heat seeking missile does not violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics. In fact, it would most likely pushing things in the direction of the 2nd law, by increasing entropy. I’m not at all clear how to make this coherent.

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@EricMH, thank you for engaging us. We are making a good faith effort here, but your position does not make much sense to us. Can you help us out?

Yes if you assume the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. The 2nd law of thermodynamics has nothing to do with timelines diverging.

Barring issues of whether one can actually test his teleology in practice, here are my issues with @EricMH’s definition of intrinsic teleology, P(X[n]|X[n-1) < 1 and P(X[n]|X[n+1) = 1.

  1. The second part, P(X[n]|X[n+1) = 1 seems clear to me. This is the statement that the future dictates the behaviour of the object (what @EricMH calls converging behaviour). To me, this condition is placed to capture a sense of purpose for the object. My problem with this part is that it seems to point more towards “inevitability” than “purpose”. As @swamidass and @nwrickert points out, inevitability does not equal purpose.

  2. The first part, P(X[n]|X[n-1) < 1 is the statement that the behaviour of the object is not fully prescribed by its past. This is confusing to me. It seems to me that in light of quantum mechanics (barring nonstandard physics like nonlocality and superdeterminism), every object already satisfies this criterion (as we discussed in the other thread with @dga471).


I don’t dispute the claim that a heat-seeking missile exhibits teleology, but regarding the above formulation, I want to remind everyone that in the Aristotelian language which underlies the notion of teleology, telos (aim or end) is not something other than a cause, but a kind of cause. So the formulation “by the purpose they serve rather than by postulated causes” is inherently inaccurate. The division between “purpose” and “cause” in that sense is modern. At the very least, the sentence would need to be modified to: “by the purpose they serve rather than by postulated efficient causes”; this would not prejudge the central question about teleology, i.e, whether the telos (end toward which something aims) counts as one of the true causes of its behavior.

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As someone who is like yourself sympathetic with design language, I’m puzzled by this remark. See my clarification of terminology in my reply to T. aquaticus. By “prior causes” do you mean “efficient causes”? But why do “efficient causes” rule out “final causes” (which is what “teleology” pertains to)?

Are you arguing that life is teleological, but that guided missiles aren’t? I don’t think most ID people would agree with you. Indeed, much of ID discussion involves parallels between machines devised by man, and living organisms. Dembski himself has distinguished between “external teleology” (such as is imposed by the watchmaker when he makes a watch) and “intrinsic teleology” (such as is found in organisms). Both are examples of teleology. You seem to be undercutting much of ID thought by denying the notion of teleology to clearly end-driven man-made contrivances.

If you mean that the missile has no consciousness of what it is doing or why it is flying on the path it flies on, then of course I agree with you. But consciousness it not a requirement for teleology. That’s obvious not only from machines, but even from, say, plants. Would we say that plants are “conscious”? We might say they have a crude organic striving, but not that they are thinking about what they are doing; they have no nervous system, no brain, etc. End-directed behavior doesn’t require consciousness within the striving entity. It does, however, require consciousness somewhere – if not within the organism (as in the case of animals) then outside the organism (as in the cases of guided missiles or clocks).

The guided missile is to me a very good example of teleological behavior – of what Dembski calls an “external” kind. The teleology is given to the missile by its designer. If a guided missile isn’t teleological, I don’t know what human construction would be.