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Inquiry into intentional systems I: Issues in ecological physics


The role of intention in guiding the behavior of goal-directed systems is a problem that continues to challenge behavioral science. While it is generally agreed that intentional systems must be consistent with the laws of physics, there are many obvious differences between inanimate, physical systems and sentient, intentional systems. This suggests that there must be constraints over and above those of physics that govern goal-directed behavior. In this paper it is suggested that generic properties of self-organizing mechanisms may play a central role in the origin and evolution of intentional constraints. The properties of self-organizing systems are first introduced in the context of simple physical systems and then extended to a complex (biological) system. Whereas behavior of an inanimate physical system is lawfully determined by force fields, behavior of an animate biological system is lawfully specified by information fields. Biological systems are distinguished from simple physical systems in terms of their ubiquitous use of information fields as special (biological and psychological, social, etc.) boundary conditions on classical laws. Unlike classical constraints (boundary conditions), informational constraints can vary with time and state of the system. Because of the nonstationarity of the boundary conditions, the dynamic of the system can follow a complex trajectory that is organized by a set of spatially and temporally distributed equilibrium points or regions. It is suggested that this equilibrium set and the laws that govern its transformation define a minimal requirement for an intentional system. One of the benefits of such an approach is that it suggests a realist account for the origin of semantic predicates, thereby providing a basis for the development of a theory of symbolic dynamics. Therefore, the principles of self-organization provide a comprehensive basis for investigating intentional systems by suggesting how it is that intentions arise, and by providing a lawful basis for intentional behavior that reveals how organisms become and remain lawfully informed in the pursuit of their goals.

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Correspondence to Peter N. Kugler.

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Kugler, P.N., Shaw, R.E., Vincente, K.J. et al. Inquiry into intentional systems I: Issues in ecological physics. Psychol. Res 52, 98–121 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00877518

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  • Intentional System
  • Lawful Basis
  • Symbolic Dynamic
  • Classical Constraint
  • Information Field