Saturday, September 26, 2009

On Intrinsic Intentionality

Techne returned to Telic Thoughts to post this entry. I enjoy his posts and comments. There was a link in the OP to Nano-Intentionality - A Defense of Intrinsic Intentionality which is authored by W Tecumseh Fitch. Quoting the abstract:

I suggest that most discussions of intentional systems have overlooked an important aspect of living organisms: the intrinsic goal-directedness inherent in the behaviour of living eukaryotic cells. This goal directedness is nicely displayed by a normal cell's ability to rearrange its own local material structure in response to damage, nutrient distribution or other aspects of its individual experience. While at a vastly simpler level than intentionality at the human cognitive level, I propose that this basic capacity of living things provides a necessary building block for cognition and high-order intentionality, because the neurons that make up vertebrate brains, like most cells in our body, embody such capacities. I provisionally dub the capacities in question "nano-intentionality": a microscopic form of "aboutness". The form of intrinsic intentionality I propose is thoroughly materialistic, fully compatible with known biological facts, and derived non-mysteriously through evolution. Crucially, these capacities are not shared by any existing computers or computer components, and thus provide a clear, empirically-based distinction between brains and currently existing artificial information processing systems. I suggest that an appreciation of this aspect of living matter provides a potential route out of what may otherwise appear to be a hopeless philosophical quagmire confronting information-processing models of the mind.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Events Leading to the Great Bailout: Part Two

In a previous post Thomas Sowell's book The Housing Boom and Bust was used as a source reference to explain some fundamental problems that led to a subsequent economic disaster and the historic bailout. The problems cited involved supply and demand and legal restrictions on land use that decreased land availability for home construction.

This blog entry will draw from information supplied in the second chapter of The Housing Boom and Bust. Sowell notes a political developmemt stressing the desireability of increased home ownership and the concept of affordable housing at the outset of the chapter. Leaders from both major parties have promoted home ownership. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with home ownership, the formulation of political policies designed to make home ownership universal has a utopian air to it and the wisdom of it is highly questionable. Political policies manifested in the form of a revision of credit requirements for home purchases by the Fannie Mae Corporation. The intent being to enable minorities and lower income people to secure mortgages for homes.

Good intentions do not necessarily lead to sound lending policies. Loan standards are as old as loans and protect both the lender and recipients of loans. The housing bust was preceded by the granting of massive amounts of mortgage loans to individuals who would not have qualified for them in the past. The road to easy credit will be detailed in a subsequent blog entry.

Sowell provided useful indicators for the term affordable housing. For individuals it can be viewed as a ratio of mortgage payments to income. For the purpose of regional comparisons it is better viewed as the ratio of median home payments to median income. When sound loan standards are in effect individual applicants for mortgages will be approved and rejected based largely on payment to income ratio data. If payments consume too high a percentage of income not enough will remain for other essential spending like food, clothing, car expenses etc. It is not in the interests of lenders or consumers to have loans granted to those who cannot maintain the payments. We can see from the events of recent history that it is also not in the interests of the American economy as a whole to encourage unsound lending practices.

Sowell correctly pointed out an implicit assumption that has seeped into American political policies i.e. the belief that the government should ensure that home ownership is affordable. That view along with the related belief that there existed a shortage of affordable housing prompted calls for federal intervention. It's essential to understand the actual causes for housing problems in some localized areas of the United States so that effective solutions can be fashioned. It is also imperative for the economic health of this nation that people understand that skyrocketing home prices were not prevalent throughout this nation but rather tended to be localized in regions where government land use policies severely impacted real estate values.


The Housing Boom and Bust by Thomas Sowell; Published by Basic Books; Copyright 2009; Chapter 2, Pages 30-36.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Endocytosis in Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology

Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology (doi:10.1038) has an edition devoted to endocytosis. There is a nice little introduction to the topic at the website. It notes that endocytosis is associated with numerous functions. These functions include cell adhesion and migration, receptor signalling, nutrient uptake, pathogen entry and cell polarity. Extracellular molecules absorbed through endocytic membrane trafficking need to undergo a sorting process. As stated the different "endocytic processes can be distinguished by the size of the vesicle formed, their cargo and the machineries involved." Origin of life theories often refer to the tendency of lipids to self-assemble as evidence for some kind of ancient proto-cell membrane; one apparently lacking trafficking functions. The linked article notes that "selection of cargo by adaptor proteins is considerably more complex than initially anticipated." Is this the type of process that nature can forego entirely or even tolerate at some sort of very suboptimal level? Maybe, but it looks like the kind of topic a science fiction writer should develop.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Events Leading to the Great Bailout: Part One

Thomas Sowell wrote an important book titled The Housing Boom and Bust. He traced the causes of the boom and subsequent bust and his analysis refutes many common notions about what actually took place. Like much of Sowell's writing this book is an educational adventure which focuses on both political and economic decisions that led to one of history's biggest economic debacles. Here are some highlight points from his first chapter which is titled The Economics of the Housing Boom.

  • Some factors contributing to the boom and bust were localized and some were global.

  • The law of supply and demand played its part particularly as it relates to less land leading to higher prices in some local markets.

  • As the boom peaked the localities with the greatest increases in the price of homes, compared with a five year prior period, were all located within California.

  • The impetus for the rise in the cost of California land can be found in an artificial shortage of land. The shortage resulted from changes in laws and policies affecting land use.

  • A major cause of land use restriction can be found in movements advocating environmental protection or preserving open space or farmland. The restrictions are attributable to the values of special interest groups which may not reflect the values of the larger society or its interests.

  • To cite an example, more than half the land of San Mateo County was declared as open space and off limits to home building construction. Economic laws of supply and demand predict what ensued- a rapid rise in land value resulting from policy decisions.


The Housing Boom and Bust by Thomas Sowell; Published by Basic Books; Copyright 2009; Chapter 1, Pages 9-15.