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Subject:

Re: Intentions

From:

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Date:

Mon, 23 Oct 2000 15:37:53 +0200

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Dear Keith, Klaus, Norm and All,

After having spent time in our northernmost town of Longyear on the island
of Spitsbergen in Svalbard a rather interesting trialogue between Keith,
Klaus and Norm on the universality and extent of intentionality awaited on
my return. Psychologists are, as far as I know, not in agreement whether
every human act has to be intentional or not. However, most lean to the
conclusion that an act requires energy. Therefore the person performing the
act has to generate motivation in order to energize the act. It is assumed
that every act by extended logic is goal oriented, or intentional if you
like, but not necessarily by goals and intentions that are concious, and
certainly not visible to other persons.

When interpreting a signal from others most psychologists believe that we
use our subjective cognitive and motivational structures simultaneously in
an intertwined manner. Cognitive structures are believed to be recalled
from the unconcious level through some not-so-well understood mechanisms of
primary (inherited) and learned strings of first- and secondary order
associations. Likewise motives are recalled both on the basis of
association and whatever is unsatisfied at that moment at the basic level
(need driven). For example, if somebody says "I am thirsty", you assume the
person tells the truth (but then it may be a lie) and s/he wants to satisfy
his/her thirst, and you unconciously check whether you yourself are
thirsty. Your own reaction to the other person may both be a consequence of
what you impute of primary and secondary motives of the other person, as
well as whatever your own motivation mix and associations are (do you feel
a thirst?).

This recall of unconcious associations to the concious level seems to be
absolutely automatic, but not very predictable given our current
understanding of how our brain works. For example, if you have the
experience that the other person is used to being served by others, you may
automatically impute the intention that he/she wants you to fetch a drink
for him/her. If you like the person or owes him/her a favour, or want to
establish credit for next time, you might even fetch the drink without
inquiring more about the intention of the other. If you are thirsty you
probably fetch a drink for yourself as well. If you don't like the person,
but are in the mood to satisfy your own newly established thirst, you may
ask the other person to fetch a drink for yourself while s/he is at it. Or
you may fetch a drink for yourself but not the other person. That's when
the fun really starts.

Klaus wrote: ANYONE CAN FORM A VIEW OF ANYONE ELSE'S INTENTIONS, AND EVEN
ACT ON THAT VIEW.  MOST PROBLEMS OF AN INTERPERSONAL OR INTERNATIONAL
NATURE ARISE FROM FALSELY IMPUTING INTENTIONS ON OTHERS' ACTION.  THIS IS
THE REASON WHY IT IS DESIRABLE TO INQUIRE FIRST WHAT THE OTHER'S INTENTIONS
WERE.

I do agree with Klaus's value judgement. However, it seems to be in our
nature to draw immediately on our own values and judge the other person
both in terms of intentions as well as drawing on feelings we have for that
other person. Some psychologists say that their experiments show that even
if you have not met a person before, our brain triggers a set of
associations with which we judge the other person in terms of like/dislike
and other value-laden dimensions within 3-4 seconds. It would take
considerable motivation, effort and training to supress that immediate
value/feeling reaction, and do what Klaus considers to be ideal.

I have talked to several priests about this phenomenon and how they tackle
it when trying to console and advice people whom they get intuitive
feelings for. They are professionally obliged to care for and be interested
in and helping anybody in need regardless of personal feelings and mutual
chemistry. They say it is extremely difficult to let go of their automatic
value judgements, to reserve their judgement, and simply hear the other
person out and try to understand that other person, including their
declared and undeclared agendas and intentions, before offering any kind of
help or advice or simply showing bodily reaction. Negative and positive
feelings and judgements can both be equally blinding! If they are able to
show no judgement, only interest in the other person, the priests know that
the other person will reveal much more of his/hers thoughts, feelings, and
intentions, but never everything. So you end up with somewhat more informed
guesses as to what the other person is driven by, and can determine
somewhat better the kind of assistance that will help the other person.
Sometimes their own needs take control, and the knowledge is misused given
our social norms. It is not unknown that priests end up in bed with clients
who temporarily have little defence against warmth and caring.

Even the best efforts by well trained professionals is no guarantee that
you correctly identify the other person's frame of mind and intentions. You
may still act on false understanding, and thereby make a situation worse
without knowing. Sometimes you may discover that the other person's
intentions are amoral given your own value set. In such situations you have
all kinds of sequences and permutations of fighting alone or with others,
using force to stop the immoral actions, trying to make an effort to
influence the morals of the other party, or you chicken out and leave the
scene.

To conclude with some philosophical questions: When you say you are
thirsty, is your intent to become unthirsty, counteract boredom, socialize,
learn more about me, control me, get blasted, be infatuated by the estetics
of the drinking glass and its contents, and/or to pee more? Would I be
likely to tick through and consider carefully each option? Would I be
likely to examine your intentions - one by one?  Could there be more yet
uncovered intentions? Can I ever be sure that you know your own order and
mix of intentions? Would I ever know your real intentions for sure? Does
any of this matter if I don't care about you one way or the other, or if I
love/hate you - or does it always matter?

Brynjulf

Brynjulf Tellefsen
Associate Professor
Department of Knowledge Management
Norwegian School of Management
P. O. Box 4676 Sofienberg
N-0506 Oslo, NORWAY

Phone direct:  +47-22985142
Via exchange:  +47-22985000
Faximile: +47-22985111
Private phone/fax: +47-22149697
e-mail: [log in to unmask]



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