Meditations on (Intentional) Movement

Note to the reader: While cleaning out my attic I stumbled across some items from my college days when I spent a lot of time in the stacks of the Bobst Library. Always fascinated by old books (and, I must admit, the aromatic allure of old paper) I would search out the dark corners of the stacks where some of the oldest items were stored. A few times I found typed documents folded between the pages of a book or bound volume of periodicals. Silently invoking the law of “finders keepers,” I took these documents as souvenirs, put them away in a box and forgot about them. But now, having rediscovered them, I felt that they would be of interest to this blog’s readers. Therefore, on a periodic basis, I will post the scanned pages. – Jeff

I found this particular document in Salvador Luria‘s book General Virology.


Meditations on (Intentional) Movement

I understand why I move. It is because I intend to move. I stand up because I’ve told myself to stand up. I sit down because I’ve told myself to sit down. My intentions dictate my movements. “I move because I want to move.” But what about single-celled organisms? Do they move because they “want” to move? Is it their intention to move? If there is no intention, then why do they move at all? What propels them forward? Is there an Aristotlean Prime Mover that everything, intentionally or not, moves toward? Has everything been set in motion at the beginning of time – like a gyroscope that spins and spins – and it just keeps moving? Has it stored up within it this “force of movement”? If yes…then what releases it? If yes, what happens when the organism dies? What happens to that stored up “force of movement”? Shouldn’t we get to a point where there is no more movement left? Where every organism that had stored up movement has died and now everything stops? Does this not sound like the Big Bang theory where everything keeps moving and moving because of some singular event that put everything in motion at the beginning and, as the universe expands…the movement comes to a crawl and maybe to a halt?

It is difficult not to slip into a sort of anthropomorphism of non-human organisms. After all, how does one explain unintentional single-cell movement? But then, how does one explain human cellular movement? Why does it do what it does?


what about the work of dr. turing? If a machine can fool a human being into believing that it too is human, where does that leave intentionality? Is that completely irrelevant? Do we throw intentionality out the window?

[Editor’s Note: It’s not obvious why the author of this document added the handwritten reference to Turing. Perhaps the point was to hint at the question, “If a machine can fool a human being into believing that it, too, is human, can it also fool human beings into believing that it possesses intentionality?”

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  • Gina Pera

    Very moving, Jeff.

    I’m not sure but I think yeast cells move in order to have sex. The pleasure principle.


    • Jeff

      But do they KNOW that’s the reason they are moving and, do they do it intentionally. ;)

  • Gina Pera

    No, and please don’t tell them. That will spoil all their fun!

  • Scott Hutson

    Self control is something I have been thinking about. How voluntary reactions can become involuntary reactions. Or visa-versa. If an organism dies, can we use another organism to produce the same result? Very interesting Jeff, I look foward to seeing what else was in your attic.

    • Jeff

      On Monday I’ll be posting another interesting item from the attic.

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