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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 #: 310
Consciousness, on the other hand, is alleged to actually cause things in terms of choice and not just discharge what previous causes determine, like a domino or a program.


I don't make that claim. I say that every event is caused by preceding events and the alternatives make no sense. Of course my choices are indirectly caused by my experiences of the past. However, saying that my father's parenting style caused me to be typing this post doesn't make sense. It is effectlvely true in a general sense, as I'm sure that a different parenting style might have led to a series of events which exclude this discussion, but in a specific sense it is irrelevant.

This seems like a nonsequitur. I'm not sure how your response follows from my quote.

That being said, what you type may be caused by your father's parenting style; it all depends on the context. How do we assess causal strength or power when it comes to our thoughts and actions? Is it really analogous to assessing force strength or weight, like the force one billiard ball exerts on another? I think that this question illustrates how the entire debate may be mis-framed. It's a confused and a possibly misleading question that forces a choice of either a or b, especially where no one really has a clear understanding of what a or b could mean in this context. When both possible answers to a question have real conceptual problems, maybe it's time to reconsider the question and its presuppositions.

If I am asked "What internal forces caused you to choose x?," how can I assume that the answer has to involve my deliberation? Why would a compelling force that is in my mind but that I am unaware of be less internal to me than my deliberation, especially if this force has seemingly irresistible power over my thoughts and actions? My belief that deliberation is more internal to me would have to depend on assuming that my consciousness is more internal to me than parts of me I am not conscious of. And this reintroduces the whole problem of consciousness as not fitting into a physical deterministic story.

There's a real possibility that "more is different," that the whole may on occasion causally transcend the sum of its parts. As I've said, I don't think that causation is understood that well. The causal closure of the world has not been established, so that dogmatic determinism is not justified. There may be emergent forms of causation, as well as hierarchies of causation ( think of a bird flock or a bacteria colony). It's not magical but may just be a feature of certain kinds of complex dynamical systems. Causal determinism is one scientific paradigm which has proved to be useful in certain situations, but that usefulness doesn't mean that it's universally valid. If you're a gold prospector, it's very useful to follow the adage "Always look for gold!" but its usefulness doesn't mean that gold will always be found.

When consciousness, reason, intentionality ( or "aboutness") are introduced, then whole new levels of complexity, as well as possibly causation, may appear as well. Since causation is not a physical object or physical force, (because if it were, then something else would have to 'cause' it to exist, and so on), I don't see why it would necessarily have to be subject to physical laws. Thus hierarchies of cause would not necessarily be guilty of over-determination.

So I guess the deeper question is whether or not insight is acausal (obviously not from a physical standpoint but a metaphysical one)?

You raise a good point. Of course, insight and imagination have to be carried out by causal processes in the brain, body, and other parts of the physical world, so they would be causal in one sense, but in another sense they may not be strictly causal because they refer to things outside of themselves; in Einstein's case, to the laws of reason, logic, and math, and possibly to laws of imagination too, if there are any. And these laws would have conceptual, not causal power; the domino analogy would not make any sense of them.
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 142
This seems like a nonsequitur. I'm not sure how your response follows from my quote.

Alright, I think I may have been following a different train of thought and got derailed a bit. Let me try to address the original issue a bit better.

Consciousness, on the other hand, is alleged to actually cause things in terms of choice and not just discharge what previous causes determine, like a domino or a program.

This depends on your definition of cause. If you're using the first cause argument, then you're right, it does nothing. However, just because every event which causes anything, was itself caused by a preceding event, it does not follow that only the first cause actually caused anything. Also, just because consciousness is alleged to do something doesn't mean that this is the case. We feel as if we are free from determinism, but that doesn't mean we are, it only means that we feel as if we are.

As I've laid about before, the options are such that only determinism makes sense.
1. All our actions (including thoughts and states of mind) are caused by previous events.
2. None of our actions are caused by previous events.
3. Some of our actions are caused and some are not.

#1 falls in line with what we know about reality and our own minds, we don't like it but it makes sense. My memories and experiences of the past determine what my choices for the future will be. That is consistent with how our minds work. #2 just makes no sense whatsoever. We couldn't be expected to make any sort of decision without regard for the past, our actions would be arbitrary, perhaps random, or completely impossible. #3 gives us a bit of randomness to our actions, but just because some actions are random doesn't give us the power to escape determinism by choice.

Thinking in terms of an event being more or less internal isn't what I'm talking about. Although, I could see how it would be relevant. If my eye is twitching because of a muscle spasm, it is obviously happening within my body, which I am, so one might say that I am causing my eye to twitch, even if it is involuntary. But that's similar to saying something like "I'm causing myself to age" which (and perhaps this is just the silliness of language) implies that if I wanted to, I could stop causing my aging and just stay young forever.

I suppose the problem lies is where we make the distinction. I would like to say that the difference lies in what we have control over. But if it's all deterministic and a simple cascade of cause and effect, then where could we possibly draw the line? Am I my mind? Am I my mind and body? Am I my family, friends, species, ecosystem, planet? Where is that line? Is it a hard line, a fuzzy line, or perhaps even a gradient from not me to me?

I suppose I could think in terms of awareness and influence. If I am aware of something and capable of influencing it, then I could be said to have control over it. This doesn't require a first cause argument to make it work either. With that definition, I would only have partial control over anything with control over any given thing being relative to control over something another. I can control my conscious thoughts more than I can control my subconscious. There are ways to become aware of subconscious leanings and little tricks we can use to influence our own subconscious, so we have limited control of it. But I have even less control over the minds of others. I'm not expected to be responsible for the thoughts and actions of others (perhaps because I'm not in a position of power) so I'm not to blame for the actions of those around me.

The causal closure of the world has not been established, so that dogmatic determinism is not justified.

I disagree about the justification. Firstly, causality works so well as a theory that it is regarded as a law. The only places were it breaks down are at the quantum scale. However, even there, things tend to work statistically and add up, through various interactions, into a consistent causal whole. You suggest that there could be different "kinds" of causality, which just makes no sense to me at all. Perhaps there are different ways that a cause, or many causes, can bring about an effect, but that doesn't necessitate a different causality. I can think of at least two ways that causality could be structured and that's in series and in parallel. Just like the circuits, causality may follow a series of events (like a single row of dominoes) or it may follow many concurrent events (like a super computer made up of many computers doing calculations all at the same time). But the reality isn't even as simple as one or the other because it seems to me like it is necessarily mixed. This makes causality a very complicated thing. However, just because it's complicated doesn't mean it's unknowable and it doesn't mean that we need to remain agnostic on the matter. Thinking like that is an intellectual dead end. Hard agnosticism may grant us humility, but it will not grant us knowledge.

When consciousness, reason, intentionality ( or "aboutness") are introduced, then whole new levels of complexity, as well as possibly causation, may appear as well.

Complexity yes, new level of semantics necessary for proper explanation absolutely, new causation what could that even mean? If I'm having a wandering conversation with friends the conversation is taking place outside the physical world. We're relaying information through vibrations in the physical world but the literal vibrations mean nothing, they are symbols for words and concepts. I hear a story, and I react certain ways, I may even be reminded of a story of my own and then tell it. But I haven't created a new kind of causality here, and to suggest I have just makes no sense. The same rules still apply, it just happens to be taking place within a symbolic mental model of the universe instead of the literal universe.

Since causation is not a physical object or physical force, (because if it were, then something else would have to 'cause' it to exist, and so on), I don't see why it would necessarily have to be subject to physical laws.

Perhaps causality is part of that overarching metaphysics you often reference. It may simple be of of the truths of existence which simply must be and must be true even in the absence of existence... although I think that actually doesn't make sense either. As I've pointed out before, at the quantum level effect can precede cause and in an infinite void (in the quantum sense, not the philosophical sense) the void would be subject to quantum mechanics, not traditional physics. It might mean nothing for free will (as we exist in the macro, not quantum world), but it seems to me like causation as we know it is the product of bulk quantum events which don't appear to behave in the traditional causal manner which implies that causality may be emergent instead of static and eternal.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 313
This depends on your definition of cause. If you're using the first cause argument, then you're right, it does nothing. However, just because every event which causes anything, was itself caused by a preceding event, it does not follow that only the first cause actually caused anything. Also, just because consciousness is alleged to do something doesn't mean that this is the case. We feel as if we are free from determinism, but that doesn't mean we are, it only means that we feel as if we are.

If consciousness per se is non-physical, then from your understanding, it couldn't even discharge causes like a domino or a billiard ball. And if it cannot make or contribute to making actual choices, which would entail not being necessitated by prior causes, then from a selectional standpoint what is its reason for being? It just doesn't smell right to me that a feature so apparently central to so many organisms would be nothing more than epiphenomenal surplus. I know that this happens in evolution and is usually taken advantage of, but not where every living thing beyond a certain minimal level of complexity would have it. There has to be something central to selection that it's telling us.

As I've laid about before, the options are such that only determinism makes sense.
1. All our actions (including thoughts and states of mind) are caused by previous events.
2. None of our actions are caused by previous events.
3. Some of our actions are caused and some are not.

That's assuming one narrow definition of 'cause' derived from physical science, which is physical efficient causation. I'm sure you'll reply that that's the only kind we can know about, but that assumes once again that all we can ever know about must be derived from current scientific paradigms. It seems circular. Maybe it's more complex than that. Maybe there are things we don't understand all that well within current scientific paradigms. It seems like a very modest claim. You're the one making the positive assertion, so the burden is upon you. All I'm saying is that there are a, b, c, and d that don't fit into your assertion, so maybe we should take a look at your assertion?

I suppose the problem lies is where we make the distinction. I would like to say that the difference lies in what we have control over. But if it's all deterministic and a simple cascade of cause and effect, then where could we possibly draw the line? Am I my mind? Am I my mind and body? Am I my family, friends, species, ecosystem, planet? Where is that line? Is it a hard line, a fuzzy line, or perhaps even a gradient from not me to me?

These questions illustrate why this may be the wrong explanatory level. What is the self? What is this 'me' that exerts control over anything? Can it be gotten at through scientific analysis? Please note that if you admit that there are limits to scientific understanding of the self, consciousness, and free will, you're not necessarily positing some 'ghost in the machine.' That's a false dichotomy.

You suggest that there could be different "kinds" of causality, which just makes no sense to me at all.

There is information, which may not reduce to physics, and there is apparently causation at the level of information which would not reduce to energetic causation. There also may be causation at the level of consciousness which, not being strictly physical, would not supervene on physics either. There are intentional concepts whose nature is hotly debated and not well understood. These are the things we are trying to determine the nature of. You can't assume that these things fall in your favor from the outset because these are the points that are up for debate.

This makes causality a very complicated thing. However, just because it's complicated doesn't mean it's unknowable and it doesn't mean that we need to remain agnostic on the matter. Thinking like that is an intellectual dead end. Hard agnosticism may grant us humility, but it will not grant us knowledge.

Problems of complexity are not necessarily the same as problems of a conceptual kind, which may not be complex at all. It has to do with supervenience and how the whole derives from the parts. It has to do with the nature of the relation of parts to whole which isn't necessarily a complexity problem but a conceptual one.

"Hard agnosticism"? I think you misunderstand. I'm not saying that these things are necessarily unknowable, only that they are unknowable from within a certain framework. To assume that one given framework is the only possible one is to beg the question. To ignore anomalies or to reduce them to something other than they are in order to make them fit into the already assumed scheme is an intellectual dead end. Where people have acknowledged anomalies and acknowledged the real possibility that a given scheme cannot accomodate those anomalies is where intellectual progress has been made. Look at the history of science.

If I'm having a wandering conversation with friends the conversation is taking place outside the physical world.

How could it take place outside of the physical world? According to you, how can anything take place outside the physical world?

Is what I am thinking now actually causing me to type these keys, and not just in the domino/billiard ball sense of cause? If I am typing these keys for the reasons that I am experiencing, then those reasons cannot completely reduce to physical causes; otherwise I am typing due to physical causes rather than to the reasons that I am experiencing. There has to be a reasonable ground for at least some of my thoughts and not just the ground of physical causes; otherwise I can never be said to think the things I do beCAUSE of the reasons I believe that I think them. The laws of reason and logic are not causal laws but conceptual laws. Their relation to action is conceptual rather than causal. I could never really know otherwise because my knowing would be nothing other than physical causes under a 'reasonable description.' That's why I suggest that there are other types of cause and maybe normative influence over our actions in addition to physical causes.
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 146
There is information, which may not reduce to physics, and there is apparently causation at the level of information which would not reduce to energetic causation. There also may be causation at the level of consciousness which, not being strictly physical, would not supervene on physics either. There are intentional concepts whose nature is hotly debated and not well understood. These are the things we are trying to determine the nature of. You can't assume that these things fall in your favor from the outset because these are the points that are up for debate.

I don't see how they would be different kinds of causation. We're still talking about cause and effect in all these instances. The basic tenets of causation would still apply at all those levels and possibly have interactions across these different causal "arena's". For instance, I conceive of the concept which underlies this and the following sentences. I then formulate that into language as I go. Just after formulating what I want to type, signals propagate down the nerves in my arms resulting in the buttons on my keyboard being pressed. This sends signals to my computer which results in the appropriate input into a text box. Eventually, I will press the submit button, which will send data to a server somewhere where it will be added to this particular forum post. Eventually you will read this text, translate it into language, then translate that language into concepts and begin formulating a response. This line of causation spans over many "worlds" but it does not stop it from abiding by the same rules of causation. To me, it seems less like a different "kind" of causation and more like a different "location" for causation.

How could it take place outside of the physical world? According to you, how can anything take place outside the physical world?

I've stated my view of the mind before, but it's worth stating again. I subscribe to what I now joking refer to as solipsism plus. What I experience is all a dream, but it is a dream that is informed by my senses. When I speak with a person, what I experience isn't the literal conversation. I experience a dream as informed by my senses. I do not see a person for what they are, I see a mental model of a person which is produced by my brain's interpretation of the sense data I'm receiving about said person. Therefor, when I talk to someone, the conversation is going on in our heads. Data is being transmitted through the physical world, but the words mean nothing without the interpretation of what this data symbolizes. That occurs within the mind, which is produced by the physical world, but is certainly on the same thing. It is a symbolic world. To me, mental states/actions don't exist in a physical sense, they exist in a symbolic sense. They are not physical things in the physical world, they are symbolic things in the symbolic world of our minds.

I think I've been getting a bit off track though, so I think I'll share a new bit of knowledge I obtained the other day about computation (which I think has implications on the brain/mind/thoughts and indirectly, free will). There is a lower limit to the amount of energy necessary to perform certain computations. The problem is, the closer you get to this theoretical minimum, the more susceptible to noise (thermal, electromagnetic, etc...) the circuits become. Basically, the lower the amount of energy required to flip one of these little switches, the more likely it is that these switches will flip "on accident". Our brains are highly efficient. A few years ago, I heard the brain being compared to "every computer on the planet as they are currently networked together." We are performing a vast number of computations with very little energy, it can then be inferred that we are using very efficient neural circuits. This means that these circuits are naturally going to be susceptible to noise. The only way to combat this is to calculate statistically. That is, you have a lot of redundancy. Basically, we would recruit a lot of different circuits to solve the same problem at the same time. The answer which garners the most agreement is the winner.

This has a few effects on the way the mind works.
1) We are not a digital system. That is, we are not a computer, nor do we operate like one. You were right to suggest that dominoes (which is a digital system) doesn't apply to the mind.
2) There IS randomness to our choices... but not enough to make our decisions truly random. This randomness would actually pull our choices slightly one way or the other, but the bulk of our calculations will let the intended result take the lead the majority of the time.
3) We are not an entirely classically determined system. Those random bits do add a bit of non-determinism to the calculations run by our brains.

Now, I'm not sure what that could mean for free will, as to whether or not it makes sense or that we have it. But it at least clears up a bit about how the brain works.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 315
I don't see how they would be different kinds of causation. We're still talking about cause and effect in all these instances. The basic tenets of causation would still apply at all those levels and possibly have interactions across these different causal "arena's".

But I thought we'd agreed that domino/billiard ball causation, or efficient causation, may not universally apply when it comes to minds and consciousness. So that although there would still be cause and effect carried out at various levels, we're still left with the likely prospect that the idea and the varieties of 'cause' are still not very well understood. We may be focused on one part of the 'cause spectrum', physical efficient causation, because that's the one kind that science is currently best equipped to study. Thus the counter-intuitive nature of 'cause' at very small scales.

The fact is that minds and consciousness operate through purposes or ends, teleologically, which would be final, not efficient, causation. This kind of cause does not fit very well into an account of strictly efficient causes. Randomness would also not account for ends or puroses at all. In other words, it may be impossible to get purposes, or intentionality, out of billiard ball causation as well as out of randomness. Of course you can break a purposeful action down into its constituent efficient causes, but then the purpose remains unaccounted for, so that the purpose is not explained so much as explained away.

In other words, efficient causes cannot be about anything; they are simply themselves, brute facts that refer to, point to, mean nothing whatever. Where meaning and purpose enter in, there may be a novel kind of emergent principle, a new causal principle that has to do with ends, with the future and possibility, and not only with the past, or the immediately antecedent conditions, as in the domino/billiard ball model, although such a cause would necessarily be realized by physical causes.

I realize that this is all speculative, but what is the alternative? That humans never act or have any physical effect for the reasons and purposes that we think we do? But this is a self-refuting argument, because argumentation is based on the assumption that we can at least sometimes know the reasons and purposes why we think and act as we do. I'm either typing these keys for the very purposes and reasons that I am consciously thinking about right now, or else argument and rationality have no causal power. But then we could not even know that this is true, in which case we'd be thrown back into radical skepticism with its own problems.

To me, mental states/actions don't exist in a physical sense, they exist in a symbolic sense. They are not physical things in the physical world, they are symbolic things in the symbolic world of our minds.

I think we agree on that point but disagree on what that point might mean. This non-physical 'dream' is having real effects on the physical world, but how does it do this? I'm suggesting that maybe a kind of cause other than physical efficient cause is at work. From the current scientific understanding, how could something non-physical have physical effects? How could a purpose, desire, or intention, whose object does not, and may never, exist, have any real causal power? And if we act because of purposes, such as the typing of these keys right now, then the concept of cause has got to be much more slippery and multidimensional than is currently acknowledged.

Maybe an example would help: A child wants to become a great mathematician ( hey, it could happen). This desire is the organizing principle of the child's life. The goal, of being an accomplished mathematician, does not and may never actually exist, and yet it must have great causal power over the child's life and actions, causal power that cannot be fully accounted for just through her biochemistry and other physical facts about her and her environment. It can't be explained just in terms of efficient cause. Now when she is doing math, I just have trouble believing that her actions can be explained just through causal means. The principles of math, like those of morality, prudence, reason, aesthetics, etc, cannot be strictly causal principles. They operate conceptually, not causally. Decisions happen in a space of reasons and reasons can't supervene on physical facts and still remain reasons the way we understand the word.

Loren Eisley wrote a phrase that has stuck with me, “a constant emergent novelty in nature that does not lie totally behind us, or we would not be where we are.”
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 148
Alright, so let me distill all that a bit, we seem to agree on most points except where it comes to the effect of purpose on our actions. That is, the extent to which what I aim towards affects my choices there is a new causation there.

I could get behind that except for one thing, I think it still falls under the same umbrella as the rest of causation we've be talking about. Let me point out something in your example:

The goal, of being an accomplished mathematician, does not and may never actually exist, and yet it must have great causal power over the child's life and actions, causal power that cannot be fully accounted for just through her biochemistry and other physical facts about her and her environment.

Let me get one thing straight, the goal exists whether or not it is obtained, I'm sure that's what you meant. The point to make is that the possible future state of affairs of "being a mathematician" does not cause the child to aim towards that goal. My being hit by a car in the future is not was stops me from stepping in front of said car. There is no backwards propagating causality here. The choice happens in our heads, and in the present, not in the future. It is expectation and prediction of the future which leads to these choices, but that expectation and prediction happens in the present. That is, in "aim for x", x is most certainly in the future, but the aim exists here and now. We can't confuse the "aim for x" with "x" because they are more the same thing than a "picture of me" is "me".

Actually, I think it really happens in the past, I don't think we actually experience the present. We never actually experience the present except through the illusions produced by our brain to account for the delay between sense and perception. We also never experience the future for the same reasons. You are right to suggest that facts about this little girl's physical self, her biochemistry and her environment might not add up to her wanting to become a mathematician. The conclusions is that the causation takes place within the space of her mind, sure that's fine. The problem is that such a desire doesn't just come from nowhere. If the desire to become a mathematician comes completely from her mental space, then it must have been random/arbitrary. Simply being able to aim for a goal does not give us the ability to invent goals de novo.

Once again, we experience the past, and those experiences are what would lead us to aim for a specific goal. When I was a child, I wanted to be a paleontologist. I know what caused that too. My parents got me a kid's book that was about dinosaurs. I found them interesting, and interesting things having more "value" that uninteresting things, I sought to gain more information about them. I began drawing dinos, I found as many TV shows I could about them, and that value increased. The goal was created by the desire and the desire created by the value. The value itself was created simply by the reaction of my mind to that first kid's book.

I will agree that understanding the purpose to which an action was aimed is useful in that it has more explanatory power than simply stating physical efficient causes. However, I see these goals as being just as caused as anything else and just as relevant when causing other events as anything else.

For instance, I could set up a Rube Goldberg machine to do all sorts of wacky things. These could easily be said to behave based on cause and effect. Now, lets say that at some point in the machine, a banana is lowered into a room which contains a chimp. The chimp sees the banana, values and desires the banana, sets as his goal to obtain the banana, and then does indeed grab and pull the banana to eat it. Upon doing so, the pulling of the string to which the banana was attached sets the machine off on it's next course of events. Admittedly, the bit with the banana was dependent upon the chimp's value and desire for bananas. If it didn't like them, or had been conditioned to fear bananas descending from the ceiling, then that would have been an entirely different story. But the fact remains that the chimp saw the banana (the stimulus entered the chimp system here) and then that data interacted with the symbolic structure of the chimps mind and eventually spit out the action whose goal was to obtain and eat the banana.

It basically works like this:
Sense data enters the brain from the eyes and is interpreted.
Pattern recognition identifies one of the objects in sight as a banana.
This refers the mind to stored data about bananas.
That data (memories) contains somatic markers which refer to the value of bananas (because of positive experiences of bananas in the past).
Because bananas have caused positive experiences in the past, the chimp thinks the banana may cause a positive future experience.
The desire to have a positive experience causes the chimp to set, as his goal, to reach for and obtain the banana to eat.
(then comes my conjecture)
The way that symbolic desire is written in neural activity also causes a cascade of neural activity which causes the chimp to move towards that goal.

The desire for and acting towards the future is certainly interesting and complicated, but it doesn't escape causality. Nor does it invent a new kind. It just make necessary a new level of explanation because you can't just keep saying "due to the nature of x, the stimulus caused x to do y" because that says absolutely nothing.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 319
This topic would really require a book-length argument to begin to do justice to it, but let me try to hit on a few points and we can take it from there.

I could get behind that except for one thing, I think it still falls under the same umbrella as the rest of causation we've be talking about.

What I meant was that her desire to be a mathematician is the organizing principle of her actions. But what is a desire? Is it only a necessary result of one's antecendent brain and psychological states? But that description reduces the person to a complex causal mechanism lacking intentionality. We could say the same of a thermostat, that it 'desires' to keep the temperature in my house at a certain level. But a thermostat only refers to states of affairs relative to conscious designers and users of it. The girl's desire is not just a complex causal state but also has a content. It is about something, refers to something other than itself, and what it refers to is the state or condition of the girl actually being a mathematician. Take that content away or reduce it to causal interactions and you have nothing more than a fancy thermostat.

My being hit by a car in the future is not was stops me from stepping in front of said car.

What stops you from stepping in front of a car, if your action is conscious and deliberative and not just instinctive, is your conscious desire that your not being hit by a car actually be realized, or put another way, that your continued life and health be realized. That is the object or content of your desire.

There is no backwards propagating causality here. The choice happens in our heads, and in the present, not in the future.

I never meant to say anything like that. You're still thinking in terms of efficient physical causality. I'm proposing an entirely different way of thinking about it. It's arguing in a circle to say that my approach is wrong because it doesn't fit your criteria, because the adequacy of your criteria is what I'm questioning.

That is, in "aim for x", x is most certainly in the future, but the aim exists here and now. We can't confuse the "aim for x" with "x" because they are more the same thing than a "picture of me" is "me".

"Here" and "now" aren't what I'm talking about. It's not some occult, magical form of efficient causality propagating itself backwards through time.That's to apply the categories of efficiency where they don't apply. It has to do with the content of our thoughts and actions, which is what our thoughts and actions are about. Take that content away and you have a complicated thermostat. The picture of you is not you, but for conscious agents who understand the concepts of representation and picturing, it refers to, is about you, or at least some person. Take that referring away and the picture is just a configuration of pigment splotches on paper. Take the referring away and the girl is just a fancy toaster.

A probably not very good analogy: Scientists once tried to understand gravity solely through Newtonian mechanics. How could a force propagate itself across such vast distances? How could there be action at a distance? How could something that hasn't happened, and may never happen, be the cause of my action now? What explanation could there possibly be for events other than mechanical concepts, including efficient causation?

The conclusions is that the causation takes place within the space of her mind, sure that's fine. The problem is that such a desire doesn't just come from nowhere. If the desire to become a mathematician comes completely from her mental space, then it must have been random/arbitrary. Simply being able to aim for a goal does not give us the ability to invent goals de novo.

Let's see: If the causation takes place "within the space of her mind," that space as mental space would not be physical so why would it be completely subject to determination by physical causes?

I never meant to say it came from nowhere, sorry if I gave that impression. That seems to be the old determinist mistake of equating "freedom" with "acausality" or complete indeterminism. This confusion is a reason why I keep harping on the idea that the whole problem of "free will" is confused and why the various sides in the debate usually talk past one another. Conceptual clarification more than anything else is what is desperately needed. I don't claim to have that clarification but am only trying to understand the nature of the confusions.

What I meant to say was that when the girl, or anyone, is doing math, or reasoning in any way, her thoughts are not causally necessitated in the way that physical events are, or if they are, then we need an expanded idea of cause to include conceptual cause and not just efficient, 'push-of-energy' cause.

However, I see these goals as being just as caused as anything else and just as relevant when causing other events as anything else.

I agree. The notion of 'cause' is a metaphysical concept and as such it seems very unlikely that it will be the object of scientific scrutiny. So a metaphysical decision must be made as to how that word is to be used. No scientific data can decide it for us. The meaning is not immediately given to us through observation. The meaning we decide on will rest on prior assumptions. I'm just trying to look at the prior assumptions, to get 'behind' the old confusions that have beset this problem in order to gain some possible leverage or at least a fresh vantage point.
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 155
I guess this is another instance where I'm stuck looking through my own lens. I find it hard to really understand what you're trying to suggest.

In the comparison of the girl to the thermostat, what makes you think that she isn't just a really complex thermostat? Homeostasis is one of the things that all life does, they attempt to maintain certain states. A thermostat has very few circuits, but a little girl has many. We may simply be very complex systems of simple things like that. Just because we're complex and just because our desires/goals are complex doesn't mean that we can escape determinism. It makes explaining our actions a bit more complex, adding another layer of semantics on top of it, but it does not suddenly give us the ability to escape the laws of the world we live in.

It has to do with the content of our thoughts and actions, which is what our thoughts and actions are about. Take that content away and you have a complicated thermostat. The picture of you is not you, but for conscious agents who understand the concepts of representation and picturing, it refers to, is about you, or at least some person. Take that referring away and the picture is just a configuration of pigment splotches on paper. Take the referring away and the girl is just a fancy toaster.

I can see that, my self-image isn't me, but it is about me. The fun part is that our minds seem to exist on this symbolic level, sort of like a painting which has been painted on our minds. In which case, are we this painting or is the painting merely about us? That is, are we our minds, or are our minds just about our experiences? Of course, the experience of selfhood would be a part of that. To be honest, I'm not even sure how to approach a concept like that. I think it could possibly be true, but how would be know? How would we test that? What would it mean?

Let's see: If the causation takes place "within the space of her mind," that space as mental space would not be physical so why would it be completely subject to determination by physical causes?

Our minds are not infinite, they have a beginning and an end. There was a time when my mind was not and there will be a time when it will be no more. My mind is also not a closed system, it accepts inputs from my senses. In fact, without input from my senses, my mind would have developed very differently or perhaps not at all. Sensory data has physically changed my brain and my mind over the years. This is either through direct sensory data or because of the context that sensory data conveyed (such as words). The point of the matter is that my mind cannot truly escape the physical world, it was born from it, raised by it, and influenced by it on a regular and continuing basis. Even if the mind were not subject to causal determinism, it is being poked and prodded by a casual world all the time. On top of that, I doubt the mind could escape the concept of cause and effect. In fact, I think our minds would be completely incoherent if they did not abide by cause and effect.

What I meant to say was that when the girl, or anyone, is doing math, or reasoning in any way, her thoughts are not causally necessitated in the way that physical events are, or if they are, then we need an expanded idea of cause to include conceptual cause and not just efficient, 'push-of-energy' cause.

I don't have any problem with that. But I still don't think that concepts, goals or desires allow us to escape causality. It is a useful additional bit of information. Why am I sitting here? Because my muscles and tendons are supporting me in this particular position. While it's true, it's really not that relevant. Why am I sitting here? Because for one reason or another, this is the place were I deemed it best to be. It happens to be in front of my computer, which I use to access the internet and participate in these discussions which I enjoy. That is more relevant to why I'm sitting here than the configuration of my body.

I agree. The notion of 'cause' is a metaphysical concept and as such it seems very unlikely that it will be the object of scientific scrutiny. So a metaphysical decision must be made as to how that word is to be used. No scientific data can decide it for us. The meaning is not immediately given to us through observation. The meaning we decide on will rest on prior assumptions. I'm just trying to look at the prior assumptions, to get 'behind' the old confusions that have beset this problem in order to gain some possible leverage or at least a fresh vantage point.

So are we trying to pin down what we mean when we use the word "cause"? That's a tough one.

Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 324
Well, this is an extremely hard and confusing problem and I have only made things more confusing. It's definitely not your fault for having trouble understanding what I'm suggesting

Up until now, I've been more focused on exploring why I think that hard determinism traditionally conceived has as many problems as the traditional idea of an acausal libertarianism. I haven't been that focused on what a solution might be as much as on the idea that neither traditional side can possibly be the right one. And my thoughts keep evolving on this issue which is part of the reason why they're hard to follow.

In the comparison of the girl to the thermostat, what makes you think that she isn't just a really complex thermostat?

Because she's conscious and intentional. She is about things, refers to things. She is self-aware and self-representing. Thinks in terms of abstract rules and concepts such as reason, logic and universals. A computer can 'think' only in terms of symbol manipulation, i.e. syntactically, not semantically. If it is said to 'think semantically,' it's only relative to conscious, intentional designers/users. The girl is intrinsically conscious and intentional. You probably disagree.

Just because we're complex and just because our desires/goals are complex doesn't mean that we can escape determinism. It makes explaining our actions a bit more complex, adding another layer of semantics on top of it, but it does not suddenly give us the ability to escape the laws of the world we live in.

But why assume that the only possible alternative to hard determinism is to escape determinism altogether or to escape the laws of the world we live in? Shouldn't we first try to understand what determinism and the laws of this world might be? That's why I've been saying that it's probably a good idea to try to step back and clarify our concepts first.

The point of the matter is that my mind cannot truly escape the physical world, it was born from it, raised by it, and influenced by it on a regular and continuing basis.

My mind is causally related to the physical world. It was and is produced and maintained by physical causes, but that does not mean that it is identical to those physical causes. My consciousness was and is caused by physical processes but is not necessarily a physical process. Just because my consciousness cannot causally 'escape' the physical world does not mean that it is identical to that world.

My mind can understand and use mathematical concepts and rules which are non-physical. These and many other abstractions which are non-physical make up a significant part of what my mind is and does. I would say that not all of reality is physical in nature.

Even if the mind were not subject to causal determinism, it is being poked and prodded by a casual world all the time. On top of that, I doubt the mind could escape the concept of cause and effect. In fact, I think our minds would be completely incoherent if they did not abide by cause and effect.

I agree with all of that. Just because the mind and consciousness may not be physical does not mean that they can escape determinism and cause and effect entirely. I don't see that 'freedom' and determinism have to be mutually exclusive. Freedom seems to require determinism. Understanding what freedom and determinism could mean...there's the rub.

So are we trying to pin down what we mean when we use the word "cause"? That's a tough one.

That's what I've been trying to do. Every type of determinist assumes an understanding of the word "cause," but that understanding just suits whatever argument they're trying to make. I've just been trying to peek at the assumptions behind the various positions.
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 159
I think we may have been busy arguing for the same point from different perspectives. At the very least, there seem to be few differences between our positions. Drilling down to find the true points of contention is going to be the real fun part. Hopefully, it will shine a bit of light on this whole mess. My own thoughts on the matter are evolving with the discussion, which is likely adding to the confusing. However, I'm enjoying it and I think we've actually made some degree of progress.

First, I'm glad that we at least agree that the mind does abide by the law of cause and effect, at least for the most part (there's likely a bit of random noise in the mix). This is the main point I've been trying to make. Perhaps tying it up in determinism wasn't the best way to get across this idea. Still, the world outside our minds operates by cause and effect and the worlds inside our minds operate by cause and effect.

Because she's conscious and intentional. She is about things, refers to things. She is self-aware and self-representing. Thinks in terms of abstract rules and concepts such as reason, logic and universals. A computer can 'think' only in terms of symbol manipulation, i.e. syntactically, not semantically. If it is said to 'think semantically,' it's only relative to conscious, intentional designers/users. The girl is intrinsically conscious and intentional. You probably disagree.

This is good, this helps illustrate the distinction we're trying to make. Let me ask, how much of that is necessary for us to say someone has free will? Certain brain/mental conditions/injuries may result in a difficulty or inability to form abstractions. Would this person not have free will? Scientists say that few of our ancestors could think in the abstract sense, would they not have free will? Furthermore, could it be more like a gradient and less like a hard line? No abstraction = no free will, abstraction = free will seems a bit odd... I know that's not what you're trying to say though. Do these things perhaps all add up to free will but otherwise do not produce free will on their own?

Computers use logic a lot better than we do, to the point to where I wouldn't mind having a logic circuit installed in my head or at the very least a pattern recognition system which flawlessly pointed out logical fallacies. I'm not sure about thinking in terms of universals and I know they have issues with boundless problems.

Is self awareness necessary for free will? Can a crow, who can use logic and plan future events, but doesn't know that it is the one doing the planning, have free will? Would such an animal fall under the umbrella of being an automata?

Intentionality is a big one. I like it. The word has a lot of weight to it, and a lot of relevance to this discussion. The ability to aim at something. To do in order to. That's a big deal. In fact, I would say that this one is likely the only one that I really can't argue with. Take away all the others, but if you still have intentionality, it seems to me like what we call free will might still be intact. The only way to negate this would be to negate the "freeness" of that intentionality. As I type this, it is assumed that I do so by my own free will, but a dog with food in front of him will move with the intent to eat it. It will move in order to eat the food. Does this dog have free will? Can a computer program have intentionality? I could make a computer program, and perhaps even one which evolves through a genetic algorithm, which is aimed at a specific goal. In effect, the program would do what it does in order to fulfill that goal... but it seems meaningless to suggest that it "intends" to do anything (perhaps because it is only intent from within consciousness which we're talking about).

Actually that's a good point. I could imagine a conscious computer having free will, that idea could make sense to me. But to imagine an unconscious anything, even if it had intentionality, seems a bit off to me. I think the courts would agree with me as well. They've ruled that if you kill someone while sleep walking, that you are not responsible for your actions. So if I were to dream of killing someone, and acted out that dream while asleep, I would be both unconscious and intent on kill said person. Few would attribute that act to free will.

Out of all the things you suggested, I think conscious intentionality holds the most water as being relevant to free will. The others might be a contributing part of what it means to be human and most certainly will have an effect on our choices, but they do not account for how it is that we CHOOSE anything.

The only problem is that we still don't escape the original problem. Do I choose my intent? If I chose any mental state it must be said that I chose the mental states which caused that mental state. Since I could not have chosen every mental state back to infinity, I must not have chosen my current mental state. Personally, I hate that argument because it's just so stupid... and at the same time undeniable. What is it about consciousness and intentionality which could cause this argument to be irrelevant?

I don't see that 'freedom' and determinism have to be mutually exclusive. Freedom seems to require determinism. Understanding what freedom and determinism could mean...there's the rub.

I agree, that is a tough one. As I've said from the beginning, I do think that the concept of free will is trying to describe something real. However, I don't think that any current definitions of free will really make any sense. Determinism too seems like it's a bit oversimplified of a concept, it's a bit too general for my tastes and seems like it is very much lacking in descriptive power.

That's what I've been trying to do. Every type of determinist assumes an understanding of the word "cause," but that understanding just suits whatever argument they're trying to make. I've just been trying to peek at the assumptions behind the various positions.

This is another tough one. The first thing to sort out is whether or not one type of cause is equivalent to another. That is, does the desire to quench our thirst cause us to drink in the same way that the tilt of the Earth's axis causes the seasons? I understand that different kinds of words/concepts are necessary to explain both of these, but do they operate with the same basic structure? How is it that we normally use this word? Then you also run into the problem that it seems circular, or at least arguing from a definition. Just because I say it is one way doesn't make it that way, nor does saying it works one way provide evidence that it does. Is it possible to sort this out without falling into those traps?
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