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The Dallas Examined Life Philosophy Group Message Board › Free will and determinism - Wait...what?

Free will and determinism - Wait...what?

Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 303
I’ve been following this fascinating discussion for the past month and I find myself wondering why the idea of free will is such a problem. What, exactly, IS the problem or problems?

Hi Rinda, I appreciate your insights and your questions. As usual, you have a knack of distilling a problem down to its essence. The way I understand it, the problem of free will versus determinism has to do with the idea of universal causation, also known as causal closure. Universal causation is the idea that everything that happens, every single event, is the necessary result of previous causes; nothing that ever happens could possibly have been different from the way it in fact happened, so that every single event in the entire history of the universe is determined. If every event, without exception, is causally determined by prior events, and if human thoughts and actions are events, then human thoughts and actions are, without exception, causally determined by prior events. Universal causation is a foundational idea of science, in many ways its working hypothesis, and so it is generally assumed to apply to every event.

Universal causation wouldn't be such a big problem if it weren't for our own experience of ourselves as at least seeming to cause things to happen. I can choose to lift my left index finger or not. That choice seems really open for me; it doesn't appear determined by prior events, and if I choose to lift it (or not), it is me as an agent that is actually causing it to happen. My strong sense is that lifting it or not was not determined or necessitated from the initial conditions of the world. Our very sense of ourselves is based to a large extent on this impression that there are real choices to be made by us, that the world is not entirely closed off to true novelty, choice, creativity. My feelings of anxiety prior to a big decision and possible regret after a big decision seem to suggest that my decision was at least somewhat open, that I could have chosen differently than I in fact did. As Nathaniel says, it may be that this sense of ourselves as having real choices is nothing more than a sense, that it's an illusion and that we are really just very complex stones rolling down a hill. The real problem is in deciding whether this sense of ourselves as agents refers to anything real or if it's nothing more than an illusion, and if it is real, how this freedom can be reconciled within the scientific picture of the world as being causally closed.

I personally am with you and find this idea of universal causation hard to believe. In this post, I won't go into all the reasons why I question it, but suffice it to say that I think that universal causation is a useful assumption on the part of science, but that utility does not always guarantee truth. How could universal causation be experimentally tested? Since there are no time machines or ways of duplicating every single variable down to the quantum level, it seems immune to verification or falsification. In other words, it's a working hypothesis or useful assumption. Also, if universal causation is true, it seems that it would apply to what is strictly physical reality, whereas I think it could be argued that not all of reality is strictly physical in nature. Even within the realm of physical reality, I believe that universal causation is still open to debate ( e.g. quantum events and non-linearity), so that if even the most basic assumption of determinism is very much open to question, because don't forget that the assumption is that of universal causation, then that would suggest that determinism is also far from having been established.
Rinda G.
user 7444310
Dallas, TX
Post #: 84
Hi, Jim - As far a determinism in general, I imagine that you know me well enough by now to know that I pretty much reject that hypothesis (except perhaps in the case of biologic determinism). I can't say that I appreciate being compared to a rock rolling down hill, but if my dear friend Nathaniel wants to be a rock (albeit a nice looking rock), I'll let him and choose to love him anyway.
Odd but this idea of universal causation strikes me as remarkably close to believing there is a God who planned everything from the beginning.
But, lets go back to the idea of me rolling down a hill. And, lets say that I have the stamina to repeatedly roll down the hill 10 times. Since I REALLY don't want to be hurt, then I'd constantly attempt to stop my rolling or at the very least minimize what I roll into. It occurs to me that I might LEARN a little more about rolling successfully down the hill with each roll so that by the 10th time I've discovered how to be the best downhill roller on the planet. A rock can't do that, nor can any other inanimate object that I know of. Moreover, it seems to me that the rock, even if we were able to release it at the exact same spot each of the same 10 times, would land in a different spot at the bottom of the hill, would surely hit other rocks and end up slightly chipped in the end. So where is the cause in that? All gravity really can do is one thing ... always, unerringly pull us toward the lowest part of the earth.
Determinism, as I understand it, is the view that every event, including human cognition, behavior, decision, & action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. Determinists believe the universe is fully governed by causal laws resulting in only one possible state at any point in time.
If the cause is our ability to learn from past experience (given a fully functioning brain), then perhaps I can be a determinist.
While I do believe there are universal laws within which my choices are limited, I cannot give up my belief that I can always choose to do something differently than what I've done in the past. I think randomness is a fact of living. Why would I give up something that works so well for me? I think I will always try to find a pony in the shit pile.
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 128
Scientists have actually done studies that show that our sense of causation is flawed and can be hijacked. This is especially true of our sense of self agency. In one particular study, they told subjects to use a computer to click on various shapes that would appear on the screen. For the control group, this was indeed exactly what happened. For others, the mouse was actually controlled by the researchers. When asked "did you click on the shapes?" the vast majority of the subjects believed that they were in control over the mouse. Even after being told that they were not in control, around half believed that they were being lied to and that they really did have control over the mouse. They've also done similar studies which introduced typos as people type. Most people don't even realize that they are not the one's who are typing incorrectly. They assume that it was their mistake, often even after being informed that it was not. The illusion of control is so strong that the vast majority of people can't abandon it even when shown proof that it is the case.

It has been hypothesized that human thought could work similarly, in that we don't have any real control, only the illusion of control. At the very least, it would suggest that for the most part we tend to operate on autopilot with some being more "in control" than others. This is especially significant given that researchers can scan your brain and know if you're going to push a button the the left or right before you even know you're going to do it.

When thinking about this I can't help but think about a scene in Police Academy. In it, one of the main characters is making various sound effects as another person is walking that is perfectly in sync with his steps. The person walking attributes the sounds to his own footsteps and assumes something is on his shoes. When it comes to our conscious decisions, it may be true that the apparent choice to act and the act itself are caused by something which underlies them both and the act is not caused by the choice.

I have actually run into a misfiring between the choice to act and the act itself in that Japanese language learning game I keep going on about. There are often times when I think about, and choose the correct answer, but input the incorrect answer and vice versa. It's a bizarre sensation to know that I got it right and typed it wrong and even more bizarre when I got it wrong and typed it right. It highlights a system which underlays both my decisions to type a specific character and the action of typing the character. Granted, this really only happens when I'm working fast. If I work deliberately, then I don't run into this problem. It is only when there is very little feedback between this conscious thought process and whatever process in my subconscious deals with memory and action. Even as I type out this message, I have very frequent typos which I correct. I understand what letters I need to type and I am very experienced in typing. However, I still occasionally type strange things or accidentally type the wrong word such as "face" instead of "fast" or even a melding of the two as in "fase". These simple slips of the fingers might seem inconsequential, simple mistakes in the transmission system, a glitch in the brain. But the mere fact that I could do something on accident in this particular manner, actually illuminates some interesting aspects of the human mind.

There is also the fact that people can actually act before they even have time to think. I've used this analogy several times of the burglar. You walk around a corner in your home to see one of your love one's being threatened by a man with a knife. You don't have time to think, there is a heavy sculpture on the table next to you and the burglar doesn't know you're there. You don't think, you just whack him. I would argue that you had no choice in the matter. If you deliberated over the matter, your loved one might have been stabbed, or you might have been stabbed. You just went into autopilot and clobbered the guy.

The thing is, I don't mind being a very complicated and nice looking rock. If it is true that I am a comparable system, then it has been true my entire life and I've gotten by just fine all this time. There are times in our life when we must think about the way things make us feel. I have encountered many instances where the way something makes a person feel is more important than the truth. This happens a lot in relationships and I would imagine that it happens with the illusion of free will. As an example, I am not a touchy feelly person. Many women seem to just love hugs a lot more than I can tolerate, often feel like I'm being mean when I tell them to get off of me. I'm not being mean, I don't dislike them, I just don't want to be crowded, I don't want to hold hands and I don't really want constant hugs. They, however, no matter how much you tell them this, get their feelings hurt all the same. They understand the concepts, but it's irrelevant to their emotional state. This isn't a problem for me, I seem to be able to reconcile the two somewhat well (although never completely). In the case of free will, we are very attached to the idea that we are in control of our actions. Put more accurately, we are convinced that our conscious decisions are the causes of our actions. It is such a big deal that even when this is CLEARLY not the case (as in the experiments mentioned above), many downright refuse to believe it.

I do think that we are making decision. I still think that we can act in a deliberate manner. It is this deliberation which I believe makes it seem like we have free will. It's an incredibly complex system. The human brain is a terribly complex system which far outstrips the capacity of our biggest supercomputers right now, especially when you consider the fact that all it's circuits run in parallel instead of linearly as they do in a computer. Immediate causes being more relevant than indirect causes, the more deliberation we perform, the more we could claim an action is "internally caused" as opposed to externally caused.
Rinda G.
user 7444310
Dallas, TX
Post #: 85
Scientists have actually done studies that show that our sense of causation is flawed and can be hijacked. This is especially true of our sense of self agency. In one particular study, they told subjects to use a computer to click on various shapes that would appear on the screen. For the control group, this was indeed exactly what happened. For others, the mouse was actually controlled by the researchers. When asked "did you click on the shapes?" the vast majority of the subjects believed that they were in control over the mouse. Even after being told that they were not in control, around half believed that they were being lied to and that they really did have control over the mouse. They've also done similar studies which introduced typos as people type. Most people don't even realize that they are not the one's who are typing incorrectly. They assume that it was their mistake, often even after being informed that it was not. The illusion of control is so strong that the vast majority of people can't abandon it even when shown proof that it is the case..

When you describe these experiments it leads me to the conclusion that most people have never learned to TRUST themselves. I find the people who recognized that they were not in control of the mouse or that someone else was making the typos far more interesting. They're paying attention; they're thinking.
I recall times when I allowed someone (a HP technician) remote control over my computer. I could easily tell when they were in control from when I was in control. As for " picking shapes", I recognize the difference between a square and a circle. As long as the "remoters" were picking the correct shapes that I had clicked on I'm not sure how I, or anyone else for that matter, could tell the difference between what they were doing and what I had done so in both instances I might believe that I was in control. However, if the remoters were randomly making wrong choices, being aware of what I'd done AND trusting myself, I'd have to conclude that someone else was making the error. The same with the typos; particularly if I knew myself to be an excellent typist and I proofed myself as I typed. Too, there seems to me the issue of a "need to be in control". If this need was strong in a participant then it seems far more likely that they would maintain they were in control in the face of incontrovertible evidence.

There is also the fact that people can actually act before they even have time to think. I've used this analogy several times of the burglar. You walk around a corner in your home to see one of your love one's being threatened by a man with a knife. You don't have time to think, there is a heavy sculpture on the table next to you and the burglar doesn't know you're there. You don't think, you just whack him. I would argue that you had no choice in the matter. If you deliberated over the matter, your loved one might have been stabbed, or you might have been stabbed. You just went into autopilot and clobbered the guy.

This idea of "autopilot" is what I call "waking sleep". There are MANY activities for which we don't require deliberation. (I don't really need to think about folding clothes, or washing dishes, or how to start or operate my car, but it's a good idea that I pay attention when driving.) In fact, this is the state we're usually in, but knowing that doesn't lead me to the conclusion that I'm not in control of my choices.

Our brains are remarkable (thought, even if its a millisecond always precedes action) and thank whatever that we don't have to consciously deliberate as to whether to smack the burglar or not. But, the fact remains that not everyone in this situation would react the same. One might be so stricken by fear that they are unable to act. What is it that accounts for the difference in the way people react to the same event? I suggest that it is what we've learned up to this point; possibly the guiding principles that rule our behavior; what we value (if I don't value my relatives very much I might be quite content if the burglar terrorizes them).

The thing is, I don't mind being a very complicated and nice looking rock. If it is true that I am a comparable system, then it has been true my entire life and I've gotten by just fine all this time.

OK, so you're a cute, complicated rock. You are the first rock in my experience that can think. You don't really think you're a comparable system to a rock, do you?

There are times in our life when we must think about the way things make us feel. I have encountered many instances where the way something makes a person feel is more important than the truth. This happens a lot in relationships and I would imagine that it happens with the illusion of free will. As an example, I am not a touchy feelly person. Many women seem to just love hugs a lot more than I can tolerate, often feel like I'm being mean when I tell them to get off of me. I'm not being mean, I don't dislike them, I just don't want to be crowded, I don't want to hold hands and I don't really want constant hugs. They, however, no matter how much you tell them this, get their feelings hurt all the same. They understand the concepts, but it's irrelevant to their emotional state. This isn't a problem for me, I seem to be able to reconcile the two somewhat well (although never completely).

Actually, what is happening here is that the other wants something different from what you want. You'll both be happier paired up with people who want the same things as you do. Then, nobody has to lie. Personally, I generally like hugging people that I like; but, if I felt as you do, I'd look for someone who also requires less touching to have a relationship with.

In the case of free will, we are very attached to the idea that we are in control of our actions. Put more accurately, we are convinced that our conscious decisions are the causes of our actions. It is such a big deal that even when this is CLEARLY not the case (as in the experiments mentioned above), many downright refuse to believe it.

OK, you got me. I am attached biggrinand while I recognize that many of my actions are automatic, there are still a ton of them (like writing this) that require me to think. Since I became ill, thinking has seemed to be harder which is the strongest reason why I didn't jump into this discussion earlier. I wasn't sure I was up to it. Truth is, I still may not be up to it, but at least I'm giving it my best shot. Soooo, whatever has been controlling my decision to not participate has magically decided to participate me.

I do think that we are making decision. I still think that we can act in a deliberate manner. It is this deliberation which I believe makes it seem like we have free will. It's an incredibly complex system. The human brain .... Immediate causes being more relevant than indirect causes, the more deliberation we perform, the more we could claim an action is "internally caused" as opposed to externally caused.

I'm lost. I can't reconcile "making decisions" and "acting in a deliberate manner" with the concept of determinism. If I have the ability to make a decision or act in a deliberate manner (which I assume required some thought on my part) then how is this different from having free will?
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 305
There's no doubt that our sense of causality is often flawed and easily hijacked. You're right that there are experiments that confirm this. (Some experiments, however, such as Libet's, suggest that there is a 'veto power' that subjects were able to execute to stop or allow the flexing of the wrist, and the veto occurred with no "Readiness Potential" in the brain as seen prior to the wrist flexing. So sure, quick, repetitive actions are prompted by subconscious mechanisms, but this doesn't necessarily apply to more deliberate actions. And these movements are then subject to approval or disapproval. Libet himself thought that his experiment tended to confirm the "reality of the will".) Even libertarians would admit that many, if not most, of what we do results from causes we're not fully aware of. I think the libertarian position is only that some of our actions are not absolutely necessitated by prior causes. The problem for me is in understanding what this position could mean. Conversely, the problem for determinists is in understanding what their position could possibly mean, especially in light of consciousness, reason, and intentionality. That's why I maintain that this is basically a conceptual problem and not so much an empirical one, although empirical research plays a crucial role. The problem is that empirical research is not all that critical or self-interpreting; that's not its job. It tends to operate on and confirm the conceptual categories given to it. Experimental data can sometimes expose problems with some conceptual schema or other, but then those problems usually have to be sorted out by something other than more experimental data, at least where fundamental questions are concerned.

You say that experimental subjects can be wrong about what they think they are causing. But when it comes to their own actions, they're wrong all the time, aren't they? I thought that for a hard determinist, there would be no degrees of wrongness. Some actions and decisions are more internal to me than others, but if you maintain that there are real degrees of wrongness, then it seems that you're more a soft than a hard determinist, or maybe even a closet libertarian. For determinism, I thought that there's no 'me' there that can cause anything at all, so it's all a self-generated illusion ( although 'illusion' is a very confusing term in this context and probably a misnomer, but we can save that for later), so I can't see how there could be any real degrees of wrongness, rightness, illusion, etc. Determined is determined, isn't it? Maybe I'm missing something (?) For determinists, every other distinction is just a manner of speaking, like saying that we have free will, are really morally responsible, etc. Like talking about 'sunsets' and 'sunrises'.

Regardless of the level or type of complexity, there's either emergent causality or there's not. If there isn't, then 'we' are merely trapped in a very complex, fluid hall of mirrors that is somehow generating and reiterating its own images. It seems as if there is some sort of emergent causality ( or is it 'causation'? I never learned the difference between those two terms.) which arises out of, is made possible by, lower levels of causation. It's not this magical, top down, soul-stuff. Think of an extremely simple analogy: water or H2O. Water has causal properties, such as surface tension, that neither H nor O have in isolation, and yet these new causal powers are not some magical sort of emergence. They somehow emerge from the chemical bond. It seems as if the DNA molecule has causal powers that are not reducible to the causal powers of its constituents. They are not reducible to principles of chemistry or physics. (In the case of the DNA molecule, its causal powers would be informational rather than energetic, which is probably the kind of causal power of the mind also, if it has any.) Species are also an emergent evolutionary property in terms of gene distribution. Heck, think of a flock of birds. They seem to move coherently, with one "flock mind," although no single bird brain ( yuk yuk ) would know or be in charge of what its movements will be. The flock mind emerges from the individual minds and is realized by them, but it seems like the flock mind has its own causal powers. Through continual and complex feedback loops between the individuals and the flock, it seems as if something new emerges. But I could be wrong about all this. I don't claim to understand causation all that well. Maybe there are degrees and many different types of emergence. This is fascinating, if also very confusing, stuff!
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 132
Rinda, if I made it seem like the illusion of control implied that we certainly are not in control of our actions, then I don't think I made myself too clear. It was merely meant to illustration that we are not necessarily in control of our actions the way we think we are. It also implies that even if we do have control over our actions, we might not have control over all of them and we wouldn't know the difference. I also agree that those who did notice that they were not the one's in control are very interesting. Personally, I think I would have noticed but that's because I've developed an odd behavior with the mouse. I tend to move in circles even if I'm not actively doing anything. This comes from years of working on slow and buggy computers. You can easily tell if the computer has frozen up by whether or not the mouse moves. If the researches didn't duplicate this behavior, and it would be difficult to get it in sync with me, then I would notice.

So, if free will exists, it may simply be the case that we act on autopilot most of the time. I don't think this is disputed either. For the most part, we do tend to act automatically. Then the job of free will seems to be the occasional nudges here or there. There's also the idea of "free won't" which is the inhibitory will that Jim points out. The thing is, part of the inhibitory will may actually be subconscious as well. I could imagine that the subconscious could sit there, feeding us options and then immediately disqualify some of those very options which it just suggested. What this tells me is that the real work of this free will is being pushed further and further into the corner of our minds such that it becomes this small part of a vastly determined whole. I find it comparable to how the notion of god has been pushed to the point to where only vague deism holds even the slightest amount of water. So too, has the free will be forced into the shadows of our understanding.

You don't really think you're a comparable system to a rock, do you?

I do, but not exactly like one. As Jim points out, there are emergent properties which flow from the increase in complexity. I am a biological computer which runs on mechanical, chemical and electrical structures. My experiences are fed through these systems which subtly reprogram my "software" to modify future behaviors. My experiences are of both the external world as well as internal mental/physical states. It is a constant refining process. In the beginning I could barely hold my head up and look toward faces. Much of my initial actions where nothing but reactions that were pre-programmed in through instinct which I subsequently built upon. Eventually, I would begin to actually think about what I was doing AND think about how I was thinking. Then I could deliberate over a course of action instead of just reacting. I suppose it's basically still a reaction, but it is either a delayed reaction or a reaction to past events to prevent/cause future events instead of immediately being attracted/repulsed by a specific stimuli. It's complicated, but explainable without resorting to any self-caused material.

I'm lost. I can't reconcile "making decisions" and "acting in a deliberate manner" with the concept of determinism.

The way I'm proposing it is that making decisions requires a choices, which we may or may not have while deliberation does not require that we be able to "do otherwise" as free will would demand. The problem isn't that the world is determined or that our actions are determined. It is that, as part of this world, that our actions are "out of our control" that is what we have a problem with. I'm suggesting that the determinism of the "outside" world has less influence on an action the more our "internal" world influences an action. So the more "deliberate" an action is, the more I can say it is mine as opposed to being caused by the outside world. Yes, it is caused by external stimuli, but those external stimuli lose more and more of their descriptive power as it concerns what caused the action the more internal events influence that action. I think it's also quite intuitive to say that the more deliberate an action is, the more it has been subjected to we think of as free will.

I think the libertarian position is only that some of our actions are not absolutely necessitated by prior causes. The problem for me is in understanding what this position could mean.

I read that and think that we could consider mistakes to lie outside of causality. Inject a bit of randomness into the system and you get what you're looking for in terms of it not all being necessitated by prior causes... but that doesn't give us free will. I'm not even sure where that extra little bit of free will could come from. 70% is necessitated by prior causes and 30% isn't, then where the heck did they come from?

For determinism, I thought that there's no 'me' there that can cause anything at all, so it's all a self-generated illusion

I disagree. I define things in terms of systems. They are almost always necessarily made up of and part of other systems... and I am only aware of some of the systems that represent what I define as myself, and even then, only in a loose and symbolic manner since I could never understand anything literally in it's entirety. It's just too complex. I don't think there is any magic self-caused stuff that I could call "me" that acts as the arbiter of my will. But that hardly means that I don't think I exist or that this system which defines me has no causal effect on the world around me. Let me see if I can think of an analogy...

Lets say there are three solar systems (S1, S2 and S3). The sun of S1 goes supernova, ejecting a very large meteor on it's outskirts from the system. It travels for millions of years. It passes by S2 just as the sun of S2 also goes supernova (it's a very unlucky meteor) which causes it to be flung in another direction. This meteor travels on for many millions of years more until it reaches S3. Once it enters S3 it is subtly effected by the bodies therein until it eventually reaches stable orbit around one of them, becoming a moon. What has caused that moon to be there? More importantly, what is the most relevant cause of the moon's current position? Was it the events which occurred in S1, S2 or S3? I would argue that each event is caused by preceding events, but that causal power decreases exponentially with "causal distance." Think of it like causal gravity, the further removed an event is from another in a causal sense, the less relevant that event is to the current one. Essentially my recent internal states are more relevant to my choice in shampoo than the initial starting conditions of the universe. I can explain my shampoo choice in terms of the former, but would be hard pressed (even with perfect omniscience) to describe my shampoo choice in terms of the later. It's difficult to put hard numbers on these things, it may also be true that causal force varies from one event to another and that the effect on an event might be multiplied by subsequent events. It's complicated, but I think it accurately describes what's going on... even if it's only in general terms.
Rinda G.
user 7444310
Dallas, TX
Post #: 86
N, I'm at a loss. I truly do not understand how you can say that you're a comparable system to a rock. In fact, I have trouble even contemplating how a rock can be anything but a rock, totally at the mercy of outside forces affecting it with no ability to interact, much less with the ability to consciously take any action whatsoever.

You give wonderful, complex examples which I've decided I am simply not smart enough to grasp. Part of my personal philosophy is the idea that when information comes to me that makes no sense, I'm either so far ahead of it or so far behind it that I can't relate. In either case, the information is irrelevant.[/i]

Whether it is my free will speaking or past events conspiring to force me to write this (like the rock, totally out of my control) I say: It has been a personal pleasure reading/hearing what you and Jim write/say which has ultimately led me to have a deep fondness for you both. Admittedly, my subjective feelings often rule more than my objective brain. Nevertheless, I rather like it this way. But, don't worry. If I find myself with an overwhelming urge to hug you, I'll do so mentally and not physically.
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 133
Let me see if I can sort this out, admittedly it's a tough idea simply because it's hard to get it past our intuitions about who and what we are.

When I say that I'm comparable, I'm mostly speaking in terms of the physics that act upon us. The rock rolls down the hill based on certain physical laws. I am what I am and do what I do because of physical, chemical and electrical laws. The laws of the universe effect the rock and I in the same way, I just happen to be much more complex than the rock.

It is possible to build a mechanical computer. Such a computer does not use electricity like the one's we're familiar with, they use gears, sprockets and springs to make their calculations. These computers are even capable of being programmed via punch card and could perhaps even play a game of tic tac toe with you. Philosophically speaking, this computer is comparable to the rock rolling down the hill. Physics governs the actions of both systems and the result is the only result that could have happened based on those physical laws and the states of the systems in question. Now, digital computers are also philosophically comparable to the rock because they're still constrained by the laws of the universe in the same way. They do not escape causality and operate based on natural laws. Going even further, I do not escape causality (although I may appear to do so) and operate based on natural laws as well.

When I say that I am comparable to a rock, it is within the context of this discussion. Like the rock, I am subject to this causal world and it's natural laws. I cannot escape either.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 307
I'm suggesting that the determinism of the "outside" world has less influence on an action the more our "internal" world influences an action. So the more "deliberate" an action is, the more I can say it is mine as opposed to being caused by the outside world. Yes, it is caused by external stimuli, but those external stimuli lose more and more of their descriptive power as it concerns what caused the action the more internal events influence that action.

What I'm suggesting is that neither 'free will' nor determinism makes much sense when applied to human thought and action. Neither one, imo, is even close to a solution or even a clear framing of the problem. Let me start with an example.

You write that the more 'internal' an action is to you, the more 'yours' it is. So far so good. A question arises though about internal compelling forces, such as an obsession or compulsion, a post-hypnotic suggestion, a subconscious complex, a lesion, a brain tumor, a brain implant, and the like. Why would these forces be less internal to you than your deliberations? If anything, by side-stepping consciousness and exerting direct, unmediated effects on your behavior, they would be more internal to you. If all that matters is causal deterministic effect on behavior, then the forces I mentioned would be at least as much yours as what you consciously deliberate about.

Factors that would make conscious deliberation more yours than these other forces include consciousness and reason (or reasons).

Consciousness, in my opinion, is not a physical process ( although caused by physical processes) and is not reducible to physical causation ( see Chalmers, Searle, Nagel, early Jackson ). Experimental evidence suggests that consciousness is necessary in order for choice to occur. Thought, behavior, and perception can all occur without consciousness, but choice cannot. It's likely that the selectional advantage of consciousness is to enable living things to make choices. But if consciousness is irreducible, if per se it is not a physical thing, then how could it enable living things to choose? How could a non-physical thing intervene in physical causation? And what bearing would a non-physical thing with apparent causal power have on the relationship between choice and physical causation? Strict physical determinism would render consciousness unable to do anything - it would be just a superfluous show arising out of physical processes. But that doesn't make sense. Why would consciousness be an attribute of so vastly many living things, probably of all living things with nervous systems of at least a certain complexity, without endowing those living things some fundamental advantage? And what advantage could it possibly give? These puzzles suggest at the very least that there are questions involving cause, consciousness, and choice that no one right now has an answer to.

The other factor that would make you think that what you deliberate over would be more 'yours' than some internal compelling force is that of reason and/or reasons. Reasons that one has to do or not to do x cannot compel or necessitate any outcome in the way that physical causes necessitate outcomes. Reasons as reasons don't exert force or causal power in the same way as physical forces. As far as reasons, purposes, desires, and intentions, their relation to action is conceptual, not causal. The laws of reason and logic are not causal but conceptual. Does something being true or good cause you to believe it? Reasons are things that we aim at rather than physical things happening inside us (They're normative and not descriptive.). Reasons are not in us the same way that physical forces are in us. Physical forces in our brains/bodies may be about reasons without themselves being reasons. As Colin McGinn wrote, decisions happen in a space of reasons, not in cranial space. Is there any room in determinism for concepts such as rational, logical, or even true? Determinism undermines the notion of rationality, which is given no priority over any other internal cause. If determinism is true, can we ever say that our beliefs are arrived at rationally?

Here's a loose paraphrase from The Encyclopedia of Philosophy: If determinism were true, all beliefs are the product of physical, non-rational causes acting on us. Therefore, what we think of as reason would not have a reasonable ground but would be the effects of physical causes. So if physicalism is true, we'd have no way of knowing it because there would be no reasonable ground for believing it, only physical causes. In order for us to maintain that we at least sometimes believe and sometimes act for the reasons we believe we do, strict physical determinism would be unable to justify such beliefs.

What this tells me is that the real work of this free will is being pushed further and further into the corner of our minds such that it becomes this small part of a vastly determined whole. I find it comparable to how the notion of god has been pushed to the point to where only vague deism holds even the slightest amount of water. So too, has the free will be forced into the shadows of our understanding.

As more is learned about physical reality, it would appear that concepts like God and free will would retreat more and more into the dark recesses of understanding. Believing this is true is based on the assumption that all of reality is physical in nature and that therefore physical causation explains everything real. This is far from being established. As I mentioned, there's consciousness and intentional concepts, numbers and logic, etc. And there's information which seems to have its own type of causation separate from physical causation. The point is that no one, imo, understands the nature of causality or the causal structure of the world anywhere near well enough to support any sort of dogmatic reductionism ( I'm not implying that you're dogmatic, far from it, only that there's a lot of it going around.) Add to this the fact that no one understands the nature of time very well, and the mind's relationship to time is even less understood.
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 134
What I'm suggesting is that neither 'free will' nor determinism makes much sense when applied to human thought and action. Neither one, imo, is even close to a solution or even a clear framing of the problem.

I agree to a point. That is, we're on pretty much the same page with free will, but when it comes to determinism I've got one question "what else is there?" To be honest, I'm not sure the alternatives make much sense. Of course that doesn't invalidate the questions you raise. It's just that despite those problems, it seems like determinism is still our best model so far.

If anything, by side-stepping consciousness and exerting direct, unmediated effects on your behavior, they would be more internal to you.

I'm actually talking about the number of dominoes in a particular location, not how close to my center they are. Lets say I set up some dominoes. There is a line that goes into a box and inside that box is a big complex chain of dominoes which eventually exits the box and rings a bell. There are more causal events (dominoes) taking place inside the box than outside the box. Furthermore, if the specific relevance (as opposed to general relevance) of any given causal event falls off at an exponential rate (the further removed from the even in question, the less relevant it is), then even many of the events inside the box would be effectively irrelevant.

So, if there were an input, and then a brain lesion caused me to act immediately upon that input, then the "internal-ness" of the process isn't strong enough to negate the fact that the causal strength of the external event is still relatively strong. Even then, in this instance, since a good portion of the causal force behind the decision would be from the brain lesion (and not so much any other part of the system which defines me), then the blame could go more towards the lesion and less towards me. Let me give another example. Lets say that I have a brain lesion which gives me terrible urges. However, I am capable of resisting these urges. There is an input and the lesion outputs an urge, but I still deliberate over the matter and eventually overrule the urge. In this instance, I am still responsible for my actions. If, however, I were to deliberate over something only to get the urge at the last moment resulting in a terrible decision, then the bulk of the causal power is present in the lesion. We can also think of each event as having varying causal force. That is, some events may have more or less causal power than others. For example, if an extra solar body entered our solar system and headed straight for the sun, the planets in our solar system would tug it a bit as it went on it's way. However, the sun would have a much larger effect on the thing.

How could a non-physical thing intervene in physical causation?

You've completely lost me with that one. I understand what you're trying to say, it just doesn't make sense to me. This is in light of the fact that you seem to realize that consciousness, while not reducing to physical events, is "caused by physical processes". How hard is it to imagine that consciousness could then have an effect on other physical processes? That would be like saying that computation cannot reduce to physical events so computers cannot have any influence on the physical world. Granted, I think some computation could be reduce to physical events, see: http://www.evilmadsci...­
This computer isn't much different from a lot of rocks rolling down a hill and it still manages to do math.

The laws of reason and logic are not causal but conceptual. Does something being true or good cause you to believe it? Reasons are things that we aim at rather than physical things happening inside us (They're normative and not descriptive.). Reasons are not in us the same way that physical forces are in us. Physical forces in our brains/bodies may be about reasons without themselves being reasons. As Colin McGinn wrote, decisions happen in a space of reasons, not in cranial space. Is there any room in determinism for concepts such as rational, logical, or even true? Determinism undermines the notion of rationality, which is given no priority over any other internal cause. If determinism is true, can we ever say that our beliefs are arrived at rationally?

I'm not sure I'm smart enough to get at what you're trying to say. About all I can do is try to think about the actual decision making process and try to understand how reasons and reason applies to it. I don't understand why working symbolically, as opposed to physically, makes much of a difference as far as causality goes. Words are made of ink on paper, but not all ink on paper makes words. The ink represents these words symbolically, not literally. You cannot reduce words to ink. I understand that. What I don't understand is why that seems to be such a big deal for determinism. There is the world around us, and we build a symbolic representation of that world in our own minds. We don't interact with the world in a literal manner, we interact in a symbolic manner. However, just because the experience of my fingers striking the keys of my keyboard is symbolic, it doesn't mean that it isn't literally happening. There is the reality of my fingers on these keys and there is the symbolic experience of my fingers on these keys. These two experiences should not be confused. Also, it should be noted that one is informed by the other. That is, my senses inform my brain of the literal world and my brain translates this into a symbolic experience.

Now, I understand that there's a difference between merely experiencing our senses and conscious deliberation. The thing is, there are two components to the symbols as well. Just as the words might literally be ink on paper while they symbolize the concept they represent, our thoughts (in all their forms) have both literal and symbolic forms. Just like the physical computer can calculate and represent calculations symbolically yet it literally moves balls around, our minds likely work in similar ways. That is, a physical switch can represent something symbolically. When we flip that switch, it presents our minds with the symbol and our bodies with the literal switch. So we might experience the decision to move our arms to comfort a loved one, which is represented by a series of biochemical signals (as the ink on paper can represent a word) and those very same biochemical signals cause the act we've decided (or experienced the decision) to perform. It makes perfect sense to me. My muscle movements are caused by electrochemical signals that run through my nerves and my thoughts are almost like words written out with electrochemical action potentials within my nervous system. Perhaps there needs to be a bit of translation between the symbolic thoughts and the literal actions, but we can still see (at least conceptually) how this might be possible. I see no conflict between this particular hypothesis, determinism, consciousness or our capacity to deliberate.

I can conceive of a deterministic world where consciousness arises out of physical phenomena through symbolism, allegory and metaphor. None of which require anything non-physical to operate... although some may require that they self-organize from chaos (accidental beginnings).
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