What’s It All About?

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A theist and an atheist in a library study room

Irene: Are you still working on that story?

Jada: I’m working on a story. It’s a different one than yesterday. What are you doing?

Irene: I have to write a paper for theology. I’m writing about fiction, actually.

Jada: What does that have to do with theology?

Irene: It’s like this: if I asked you what your story was about, you could tell me, right?

Jada: Of course. I don’t want to until it’s finished, though.

Irene: That’s okay. The point is that your story is about something. In fact, only books and other things created by intelligence are about things. A book, a code, a song, a sentence, or a picture can be about something, but a rock or a drop of water isn’t.

Jada: Okay.

Irene: Well, your thoughts are about things, right?

Jada: I certainly think so.

Irene: Funny. But if your thoughts are about something and only things created by an intelligence are about things, then your thoughts were created by an intelligence.

Jada: Thanks for proving that I’m intelligent.

Irene: That doesn’t prove you’re intelligent. Since your mind is a collection of your thoughts and your thoughts are about something, your mind must have been created by an intelligence. It’s proof that God exists.

Jada: Hold on. That’s a big jump. Let’s start over so I can think this through.

Irene: Sure.

Jada: When you say that a book or whatever is “about” something, what exactly does that mean?

Irene: It means that it has a story or a meaning, or that it’s a reference to something else. A book might be about love, or a thought might be about a person. You can’t have a rock that’s about truth or a tree that’s about the rock. That makes no sense.

Jada: For example, then, a painting might be about a historical event.

Irene: Right.

Jada: And if I’m riding my bike to the store, then that trip is about my getting to the store.

Irene: Yes.

Jada: Then could you say that melting snow is about obeying gravity or trying to get to the ocean?

Irene: What? No. Melting snow isn’t about anything. It doesn’t have any meaning.

Jada: Not to you or me, but it acts like it has a purpose, just like I have a purpose when I’m going to the store. What’s the difference?

Irene: The difference is that water has no intelligence so it can’t have any desires.

Jada: A book has no intelligence, but we agreed that books are about something.

Irene: But an intelligence put that meaning in the book. It didn’t just appear there through natural processes.

Jada: Then you’re saying that something is only “about” something else if an intelligence put meaning there.

Irene: Exactly.

Jada: In that case, your conclusion is that by definition only things which have been assigned meaning by an intelligence are about something. Because you’re using intelligence as part of the definition of “about,” you can’t conclude that thoughts being about something is evidence of outside intelligence.

Irene: Why not? It makes sense to me.

Jada: Only because you already agree with the conclusion. Imagine you said that sisters always share DNA with their brothers. If I introduced someone as my sister, you’d assume that she shares DNA with me. But what if I said she didn’t because she was my stepsister? Would you conclude that your original statement was wrong, or that she really wasn’t my sister because we don’t share DNA.

Irene: I’d conclude I was wrong.

Jada: Exactly! But the way you’re handling the “about” thing is the opposite of that. You’re defining “about,” not drawing conclusions from it.

Irene: I don’t think you’re right. You’d have to give me an example of a thing that was about something without having it put there by an intelligence.

Jada: What about pictures you see in the clouds? Nobody put those pictures there.

Irene: The people who see them put the pictures there. They use their intelligence to assign meaning based on associating shapes. If people didn’t exist, the cloud shapes wouldn’t be about anything. They’d have no meaning.

Jada: If people were wiped out of existence, would the books we left behind still be about something?

Irene: Yes. There’d just be nobody to find out what they’re about.

Jada: Then why can’t a cloud’s shape be about something without it being assigned by a person?

Irene: Because a meaning was never assigned to it.

Jada: By an intelligence.

Irene: Yes.

Jada: Then you’re still presuming an intelligence when you talk about meaning instead of inferring intelligence from meaning. The argument just doesn’t work.

Irene: I think it does, and I’m the one taking the philosophy class.

Jada: Let me know what your professor says about your paper.

Irene: I will.

 


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Posted on February 19, 2014 at 5:14 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Conversations

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