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The Fallacy of the
Intentionality Hypothesis

M.A. Rose

I was pleased to note that David Lane sees value[1] in my continuation of the discussion of Desultory Decussation[2]. I was also very interested to learn that invoking Littlewood's Law of Miracles isn't necessary to discredit Elliot Benjamin's experiences with synchronicity.[3]

As I read Lane's explanation of why the failure of Littlewood's law to account for Benjamin's experiences was unimportant, I was reminded irrisistibly of the story of the Fox and the Grapes. Littlewood's grapes turned out to be unreachable, but who needs them anyway? The real argument against Benjamin, I read in Lane's essay on apophenia and intentionality, is that he was simply reading into the situation what he wanted to find there because the mind's own desire is projected and transferred et cetera and so on. Lane sermonizes on this point at some length and doesn't seem to be bothered by the fact that he has abandoned reliance on his own and Littlewood's models and fallen back on making emphatic assertions and quoting people who agree with him, which is no more difficult for him to do than it is for a Christian minister to quote the Pauline epistles. He assures us that both Littlewood's inadequate law and his own Desultory Decussation are unnecessary to dispense with Benjamin's claim, but instead of giving an actual explanation of this, Lane trots out an ad hominem case against Benjamin as if it were an explanation: "Probabilities and the like have actually nothing to do with the synchronocities, since the real issue at hand is Elliot's own pattern seeking." It seems convenient that the "probabilities" with which Lane previously supported Littlewood and which he claimed for Desultory Decussation have now become excess baggage which he is quite ready to push into the background to make room for argumentum ad nauseum against Benjamin's perceptions.

Commenting on Benjamin's experiences with the letters ACT and the numbers 496 on license plates, Lane asks what are supposed to be some probing questions: "Were the letters ACT in capitals? Were they surrounded by other letters or numbers?" "Were the numbers 496 alone by themselves on the license plate? Were there any other numbers surrounding 496? If so, what were they and why were they not listed?" License plates have often been printed with groupings of three letters and three numbers, so Lane seems to be grasping at straws by insinuating that Benjamin's reports were selective. He also asks, "Were there other license plates that Elliot looked at during this time? Did those other plates have anything significant on them as well? If not, then are those considered to be 'misses'?" The answer to this last question is no. Benjamin relates that he was "agonizing" but gives no indication that he was "seeking" an answer; the answer appeared before he had to seek it. Other plates in his field of vision weren't "misses" because he wasn't aiming at them. Lane then announces, "Elliot could just have well seen the number 6 or 28 or even 43 etched on a license plate and (given his predisposition in finding meaning in these things) used the same as illustrative of a mysterious synchronicity." In this attempt to put Benjamin on a slippery slope, Lane actually puts himself on one instead with his presumption about those who accept the possibility of synchronicity. He even tries to get away with stating, "The letters themselves don't indicate their meaning objectively in a way that others may agree with Elliot at all." If the meaning of a message has to be obvious and identical to every potential observer in order for the message to have any meaning, then there's no such thing as an inside joke.

We are reminded that a good scientific experiment or theory has to include all facts which run contrary to its conclusions, but how well does the intentionality hypothesis measure up to this? Lane goes on and on about how easy it is for totally meaningless coincidences to occur with staggering frequency, how easy it is for our pattern-seeking brains to project our desires into any given observation and how easy it is to explain it all as intentionality because.....well, because he says so. Littlewood's law may not have worked, but it does deserve this much respect: it had parameters. There were things it predicted and things it didn't. It could be tested. Depending on the outcome, Littlewood's law could be proven right or wrong. As it turns out, it's proven wrong and Lane now assumes "intentionality", a handy way to circumvent the pesky mathematics which failed Littlewood and to brush aside the most dramatic and compelling departures from the mathematical norm, even if they occur on a daily basis which Littlewood himself seems never to have imagined. The numbers certainly won't prove Lane wrong if he switches to a numberless notion which can't prove him wrong.

The intentionality hypothesis is an ad hominem non sequitur.; it assumes that synchronicity's nonexistence logically follows from an observer's expectation that it exists. A scientific theory has a framework to clearly establish that the theory predicts certain things and doesn't predict certain other things. The intentionality hypothesis is a broad-brush assumption; it has no discriminating framework, so it "predicts" whatever happens. Convenient.

What's troubling about the assumption of intentionality and its arbitrary rejection of synchronicity is that it demonstrates a dogmatic refusal to be curious (Lane dwells on the type I false-positive error, but touches only briefly on the type II false-negative error and moves quickly on). As I read Lane's descriptions of his own impressive experiences with synchronicity and his conditioned-response dismissal of them, they brought to mind a term used by George Orwell: "crimestop". In "1984", that author defined the term as "the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought". Those of Lane's persuasion seem to conform to a kind of materialist orthodoxy which is hardly imbued with the spirit of "free thinking". They write off a significant portion of the human experience as imagination but, as Albert Einstein reminds us, "Imagination is more important than knowledge". Why? Defining reality by our current knowledge freezes us where we are, while imagination opens us to what we've yet to learn.

Remembering this, it's not unreasonable to assume that even now, the universe may be real in ways we don't think possible.

Cosmologists tell us that 72% of the universe is dark energy, which they didn't even know was there until 1998. Before that, anyone suggesting that the expansion of the universe was accelerating would probably have been laughed out of the room; it was contrary to all scientific common sense and just too fantastic to believe. Remembering this, it's not unreasonable to assume that even now, the universe may be real in ways we don't think possible. Skeptics wield Ockham's Razor to argue that simplest explanations are generally best, but the problem with Ockham's Razor is that its proponents are particularly susceptible to the Fallacy of the General Rule, the assumption that what applies in general applies in every possible case. To prove that something does not exist, one must prove that it cannot exist. As long as it can exist it may exist, and a good scientist knows that good science requires a perpetual openness to the possibility of new evidence, even that which would overturn the most firmly established theory. Anyone who cries, "Let truth be known though the heavens fall," should be just as ready to let truth be known though the heavens stand.


[1] "Voodoo Voodo, And Two More Waves" by Kelly & David Lane

[2] "A Response to 'Desultory Decussation'" by M.A. Rose

[3] "License Plate Synchronicity" by Elliot Benjamin

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