Philosophy for Real Life: Monday Discussion Group

This time we will discuss "Beyond the Causal Veil," located here: http://www.bmeacham.com/blog/?p=424. Quantum indeterminacy operates inside your brain. What does that say about the nature of human will and decision-making?

This group typically reads a short article, often a blog post by Bill Meacham, ahead of time and discusses it at the meeting. We approach philosophy as free human beings engaged in the world. The discussion format is free-form, and it is always quite lively. Links to the articles will be posted in advance of each meeting.

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  • James I D.

    Gary: I have been trying to post something on the Discussions board but have been unable to do it. Can you give me the step-by-step procedure for posting > 1000 characters on the Discussions board? Thanks

    March 15, 2013

    • James I D.

      As I mentioned Monday night, I wonder about the history of the concept of Free Will, especially when it means freedom to choose what actions we take. I believe that the following is a fundamental axiom of civilized society: THE ACTIONS OF ALL SENTIENT HUMAN BEINGS ARE TO SOME EXTENT FREE AND TO SOME EXTENT PRE-DETERMINED. The degree of freedom and/or determinism varies according to individual histories and the circumstances involved. This axiom is based on natural law and societies have adopted it based on centuries of experience in dealing with Ethics, i.e. the distinction between what we call Right and Wrong. If you set out to prove that we have no freedom of choice or that we have complete freedom of choice, you will simply go down the drain! I think it is far more productive to try to determine how the concept of Free Will is derived from natural law and the associated principles of ethics. But I could not post 2,035 words of FREE WILL, ETHICS, AND NATURAL LAW.

      March 16, 2013

    • James I D.

      OKAY, I posted FREE WILL, ETHICS, AND NATURAL LAW as Part I and Part II in order to meet the 7500 character limit in both cases. Thanks to Bill and Gary for the help.

      March 16, 2013

  • Bill M.

    Thanks for the great discussion. Please post your papers and comments on the Discussion board. Click Discussions on the menu near the top of the page, then Message Board, then Philosophy for Real Life Monday Night Group. When you are in there, click Start A New Discussion. See you next time!

    March 11, 2013

    • James I D.

      Anine does this help? “Quantum Cognition” is a new field of research which uses the mathematics of Quantum Mechanics (QM) to model empirical evidence of how humans make decisions and also create new concepts from networks of other concepts. The same mathematical formalism can model totally unrelated phenomena, so use of the mathematics of QM to model human thought need not mean that humans have “quantum minds.” Two oversimplified examples of how QM formalism is relevant to human thought. FIRST: If you initially make decision A it can interfere with a subsequent decision B, so it is clear that “A before B” is not always the same as “B before A.” Mathematically we say that A and B do not commute, like some observables in QM. SECOND: If you string together a number of words/concepts, they can interact to create a new concept. The new concept is more than the sum of the parts, and cannot be decomposed. Mathematically the words are said to be entangled, like interacting particles in QM.

      March 14, 2013

    • a.m.

      Jim: yes, that is helpful. The capacities of the brain is truly amazing. Art, music, mathematics and spirituality are all evidence of tbe amazing complexity of the human mind.

      March 14, 2013

  • a.m.

    I'll tell you what I find "a lot of ............": All the press coverage for the selection of a new pope. I just saw a news feed that said, "Vatican swept for electronic bugs." Seriously? As if the fate of the world depended on the selection of a new pope? I'm totally flabbergasted. It is all so distracting. And for what end? Perhaps someone can give me the relevance of the pope in 2013.

    March 12, 2013

    • gary

      Here's an article worth a few minutes' time: http://news.yahoo.com...­. Apparently, he is not free from controversy in Argentina. His defenders portray him as a man in the mold of St. Francis, humble, unimpressed by the pomp and circumstance of the church, a shepherd of the poor. His detractors cite specific examples of his -and the church's - failure to stand up to Peron, tacitly accepting the plight of the "disappeared" by not directly opposing. Reminiscent of the criticism of Pius XII regarding Nazism. He's no social liberal ("theologically orthodox and socially conservative"). Another good article: http://news.yahoo.com...­.

      1 · March 13, 2013

    • a.m.

      Thanks for those articles. It seems that the CC is totally feckless when dealing with abuses in their own organization AND when dealing with murderous, tyranical regimes. Clearly, the CC's primary priority is protecting its institutional interests. Sure, there are clergy who work to help the poor and needy, but the CC policies and practices perpetuate the conditions of poverty and learned helplessness. For many people, religion is a source of comfort and solice because they can accept and believe that their god will take care of them. The lack if truth and critical thinking leaves the worshippers very vulnerable to exploitation.The church's draconion and irrational stand on birth control, celibacy, women clergy, and gay adoptions will be the downfall of the church, maybe not in this generation. There will be more abuses of power. There always is in this kind of insular, institutional power with financial and material interests to protect.

      March 13, 2013

  • Guy J

    I think that trying to associate free will to quantum uncertainty is a red herring. It demonstrates a misapplication of relation across different "levels" of function. Gary put it well in pointing out that our biological systems are designed to ensure that quantum uncertainty plays no effective role in our biological systems' function. Any commonly material thing we experience has similarly persisted expressly by overcoming fragility (passively by overwhelming statistical override or by evolved "design") relative to such low-order uncertainties.

    March 7, 2013

    • Bill M.

      I have now posted a response to Gary here: http://www.bmeacham.c...­.

      March 13, 2013

    • gary

      There's a lot to chew on in your new blog posting. I'll have a response before next meeting.

      March 13, 2013

  • Bill M.

    My response to Gary's comments on my blog post is on the Message Board for this group, here: http://www.meetup.com/philosophy-31/messages/boards/thread/32377742

    March 12, 2013

  • Gene R.

    With nearly every discussion theme ending up in quantum theory lately, perhaps it’s time for SCIENCE WARS!
    http://www.thegreatcourses.com/tgc/courses/course_detail.aspx?cid=1235
    Steve Harp, one of our fellow members, owns a copy of it if I’m not mistaken. Perhaps we should consider it for our next Saturday morning series.

    2 · March 1, 2013

    • Bill M.

      I like it

      March 11, 2013

    • gary

      I just started a discussion called "what is your inside view of free will". If you like, you can post replies to keep the discussion in one thread.

      March 12, 2013

  • Gene R.

    It looks like very few people read comments on the Message Board (Discussions -> Message Board -> Philosophy for Real Life), but the meetings notes section (here) gets a good traffic. I have posted my entire message on the Message Board, but now I’m also posting it here. Due to the size limitation for meeting notes, it will have to be posted in segments. The meeting notes format places segments not from top down, the way most people read text, but from bottom up. Thus my segments will be numbered. Personally I much prefer the Message Board. Can someone tell me why it fell into disfavor and why are we using this format instead?

    March 9, 2013

    • Gene R.

      You ruined it for me, Leonard. The world can contain only one solipsist and I'm afraid that role goes to you. I'll have to reconcile myself with being a mere figment. On a bright side - less responsibility. Zero actually...

      March 11, 2013

    • Leonard H.

      Oh really? Only one solipsist? What about the strange case of Schrodinger's Solipsist?

      1 · March 11, 2013

  • a.m.

    It seems like there is a tendency to equate an apparent form, like quantum mechanics theories, with actual processes , content, and/or functions.

    1 · March 10, 2013

    • Kim

      A birthday cake is not merely the collection of atoms that decided to behave in a certain way? The way a birthday cake functions in our lives is not a function of the recipe alone?

      March 10, 2013

    • a.m.

      I was thinking of something less abstract. Like the way legal firms will place an image of floating Corinthian columns in their ads, or a fake and generic middle american family.

      March 11, 2013

  • marc

    Speaking of red herring here’s one. Humans are incapable of perceiving every kind option open to them at any one time. Free will isn’t so free but limited to human perception and cognition. People are not limitless like atoms and uncertainty. So people perceptions and decision making is limited in a varying range and domain to use a mathematical term.

    1 · March 11, 2013

    • a.m.

      What unlimited options do atoms have?

      March 11, 2013

    • Kim

      He sounds like a cultural anthropologist.

      March 11, 2013

    • Leonard H.

      Now, there's a video we should watch and discuss!

      March 11, 2013

  • a.m.

    Actually, there is a 10% probability of my attendance. I would greatly appreciate it if someone would post any brilliant insights discerned.

    March 10, 2013

  • Gene R.

    Part 3

    Billions of tiny events mold character—a unique way any given person is. Its not-so-free will is a product of this molding. But, “agent” (armed with agent causation) can overrule “character” any time it deems necessary. The character’s actions result from its beliefs, desires, habits and dispositions. All of those come from interactions with the world. The question is “does agent have beliefs, desires, habits and dispositions?” and if so, where do they come from? If they come from interactions with the world, then agent is no different from character. If they’re bestowed by God or gods, then agent gets no credit for that endowment. It looks that “agent” must create its beliefs, desires, habits and dispositions out of nothing. No small task.

    1 · March 9, 2013

  • Gene R.

    Part 2a

    Bill’s “agency” is a device of a libertarian theory of free will. It’s a special entity, endowed with special causal powers called “agent causation,” which allows it to act without being acted upon. This libertarian “agent” is an unmoved mover and an uncaused cause. Even if one is willing to allow quantum pointillism to be performed through otherworldly “agent causation,” there are still more problems ahead. The libertarian “agent” is supposed to be something above and beyond what can be called a person’s “character,” which comes into being through causal interactions of DNA with the world. First, a unique genetic sequence encounters a unique embryonic environment; then outside the womb, a unique set of nutrients and stimuli… And on and on it goes: places visited, books read, people met.

    1 · March 9, 2013

  • Gene R.

    Part 2 ... Is over the limit, again. I will post the whole thing on Message Board, where such things belong.

    March 8, 2013

  • Gene R.

    Part 1

    Gary and Guy have already covered a lot of relevant ground regarding quantum indeterminacy and free will. Good job, guys. I just want to add a few touches. My brain has quantum events, but so does my shoe. But my shoe has no free will, not in any non-ridiculous sense of the term, I think. So quantum indeterminacy is not a sufficient condition for free will. And I don’t think Bill is proposing that it is. He’s seemingly proposing that quantum indeterminacy, and what he calls an “agency,” are jointly sufficient. To create a coherent pointillist picture out of random quantum dots, he’s looking for something “outside the bounds of physical causality” and he finds it quite easily. The required device is “agency,” which he says belongs to “a different category of causation from physical causation.” Well, everyone knows that, right? Problem solved! We have free will after all. Well, maybe not so fast.

    1 · March 8, 2013

  • Bill M.

    For those who may have missed it, Guy and Gary are discussing not only the blog post to be read for this week, but Gary's response, the file MDG_FREE_WILL_03_11_13.pdf, on the APDG file sharing area. See additional discussion at http://www.meetup.com/philosophy-31/events/105102792/comments/164691502/. I expect we'll have an interesting discussion.

    March 7, 2013

  • Guy J

    The "effected" state of the universe at moment n+delta is consistent with the //natural progress// of the universe at moment n. It's not really useful or important to say that the state at n "caused" (as if by volition) the state at n+delta. "Cause" is a loaded, and I think anthropomorphic, word. We might be able to rightly claim that choices lead to chosen actions which cause effects, and in such cases we can find efficient cause for those particular effects in the choice that was made. But even here we are never certain. Uncertainty enters in before the choice is even translated to action, and then the actions become only a small part of a complex state which leads to the effects we look for. What I'm getting at here is that understandings of cause and effect and even volition and free will are conventional (even if well specified) and dependent on a huge array of supporting conventions such as self-boundary and the definitions of effects of interest.

    March 7, 2013

  • Guy J

    Considering these things, especially when taken down to the quantum level, one begins to suspect that the whole idea of "causal" is a weak concept. The entire idea of deterministic cause and effect is only an approximation we make under ideal or practically ideal conditions. So for example when we talk about billiard balls, the "material reality" level of the balls and the negligible uninteresting surrounding conditions allow us to make causal predictions about ball A imparting energy to B and such. It's especially noteworthy that we do billiards on a table which is intentionally designed to render all but desired effects negligible, thus making the game "worth playing". Try to play billiards on a lawn and everyone finds it pointless. In this way, it doesn't require quantum uncertainty to see that no set of causes is simple and isolated. We just identify and sometimes design conditions which have causes we understand dominant enough for us to make useful predictions functional.

    March 7, 2013

  • Guy J

    It's not an issue in free will, but when it comes to quantum uncertainty, there's no causal discontinuity that I can see. That there are multiple possible outcomes to a double-slit test of photon position, for example, does not mean that there's no causal link. It simply means that there are more than one possible outcomes "causable".

    But quantum effects are not all that important in our experience of material reality. In our material reality we are almost always interested only in "collapsed" or "statistically certain" states of things. Even devices we employ which work by quantum effects do so in statistically certain ways we can count on, for if they weren't so designed we would not deem them useful. As organisms and as minds, we don't live at the quantum level. We experience a whole different order of existence which has very different behaviors which we are all readily familiar with and which work well for us functionally.

    March 7, 2013

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