Austin Philosophy Discussion Group (APDG) Message Board Philosophy for Real Life Monday night group › What is your inside view of free will?

What is your inside view of free will?

Guy J
lifetoward
Austin, TX
Post #: 6
My experience of free will is somewhat like a "court of mind". Many different courtiers can be assembled in the court, although perhaps only some limited number like 8 can actually be given speaking rights at any given time, this perhaps the "variables that can be juggled" limit which is inherent in my particular hardware. Examples of such courtiers might be emotional memories, immediately sourced emotions, hard data, ambient aesthetics, gut feelings, mental or bodily training, etc. Some courtiers present in English (ie. using language), but many do not.

For my full explanation go here (because it was too big to fit).

A well-ordered court system with a well-respected regent sitting on the throne of the high court will in time work out a system which maximizes coherence and harmony. To accomplish this, whenever the high court is not in session, a good regent will be touring the land playing politics. It will be learning about the latest state and function of every region, monitoring and tweaking the function of lower courts, posting proclamations from on high which are intended to set the tone for the entire land, etc. The regent will also form closer ties with various citizens and courtiers in the course of his politicking, and these temporary affinities can have real impact on the will of the land. When not otherwise engaged, the regent also can spend time merely sifting through archives, improving the filing system, drawing connections among various histories, etc. Such a regent will continually improve at its job.

The most "me-like" self is in my view the regent, which is exactly the same thing as being the puppeteer of the regent. In other words, that top level consciousness is indistinguishable from its conscious boss, because what makes the regent special is that it is always its own overseer. However, the decision-maker self is certainly not just the regent, but an entire hierarchy of courts. The execution is like an army, well or poorly led. And the process in all ways is very much like a political system because the constituents especially at the highest court level are all very complex in and of themselves.

In response to Gary's original post, I think it's fine, but it's also more confusing than it needs to be by trying to use objective means to discuss and express entirely subjective concepts. There's nothing wrong with experiences being entirely subjective, nor even discussing subjective experiences in common, and it is not necessary nor very helpful to try to reduce sentient deliberation to discrete processes smaller than a person (what's that exactly?) nor explain it in objective terms. Some things aren't objective, and that's OK. We can still relate on those things because we experience them in common to some degree.

I am in agreement with both Gene and Bill that conscious attention is not where decisions actually happen. Conscious attention is always an observer of things that flow by and becomes aware only AFTER things happen. It is always the last to know about stuff floating through the mind, if it gets to know about something at all. This applies not just to decisions but also to perceptions, feelings, etc.

However, this does not mean that I don't make real decisions. "I" is not just the conscious attender, but the whole person.

Guy
Guy J
lifetoward
Austin, TX
Post #: 7
Based on today's discussion I'd like to add an addendum to my previous post about the hierarchy of "courts" which together implement free will in the subjective sense.

Consider a situation in which one of the courtiers is a very bad citizen. It refuses to follow the processes laid out by the regent, often talks over fellow courtiers during deliberations, or even threatens the court proper in order to get its way. It doesn't attend the full deliberation process and uses back channels to short circuit to the execution process in any way it can come up with.

Such a courtier could be thought of as an addiction or any other habit which the regent finds difficult to manage.

The regent is after all an administrator and politician, not a soldier nor a local god. So what should the regent do in the case of a bad citizen like this one?

The basic tools at the regent's disposal are as I already wrote about. So a regent in these conditions might get help from outside, actively promote coalitions and courtiers who can oppose the unruly, rush decisions in which the unruly courtier is late to the meeting, work with the executive pathways to put up roadblocks and triggers which provide the system handles to prevent the kinds of actions the courtier is known to favor, work hard to make other decisions which avoid the triggers which engage the unruly one, etc. It's a tough job getting discipline over one's own will. And in some conditions it may be impossible to overrule certain petitions or petitioners, and this may be either to the good or detriment of the nation.

And, what should we as neighboring states observing the short circuited and "unfree" behavior of that "weak state" expect of the regent? What is the basis of our expectations? What demands should we make and how would we justify them? What enforcements would we adopt?

Regime change has been tried. Sanctions are common. There are political infiltration and intrigue, propaganda, incentives, containment. Sometimes we work against the regent, sometimes we try to prop it up. Sometimes the weak regent seeks help from us.

Judges and parents perhaps are the most practiced at addressing these questions about "weak states" in which the regent (conscious highest self) of another is not well in charge of the nation (person as expressed in the world). In theory, judges are out to protect their employer, society, while parents are out to protect and nurture the weak person into maturity and strength.

There is a beginning here to identifying how the entirely subjective experience of free will becomes the concern of society. And I think we would do well to inform our social policies to address people with awareness of what works in the way we carry out the same sorts of functions in our own minds when things are working well inside.
gary
catalunya
Austin, TX
Post #: 4
"In response to Gary's original post, I think it's fine, but it's also more confusing than it needs to be by trying to use objective means to discuss and express entirely subjective concepts. There's nothing wrong with experiences being entirely subjective, nor even discussing subjective experiences in common, and it is not necessary nor very helpful to try to reduce sentient deliberation to discrete processes smaller than a person (what's that exactly?) nor explain it in objective terms. Some things aren't objective, and that's OK. We can still relate on those things because we experience them in common to some degree."

I'd like to respond, but I'm honestly not sure I understand the comment. Here's how I'd paraphrase it. Somebody let me know if I'm close.

"It's confusing to talk about subjective experiences as if they were facts. Experience is subjective, and I'm okay with that. I'm okay with saying that some of our experiences are similar. We shouldn't reduce thought to subjective experiences, or try to explain it using subjective experiences. It's okay that some things aren't objective. We can still talk about subjective experiences, because sometimes we share them."

Like Guy, I have no idea what "processes smaller than a person" might be, so I substituted "subjective experience" because that's what I intended.

Having paraphrased, the logic still escapes me. It seems to be saying that we can't talk about the inside view objectively, but we can talk about subjective experiences, but we can't talk about thinking, or free will, or whatever, in those terms.

The title of the thread is "What Is Your Inside View of Free Will?". It asks for a subjective description of how you experience free will. If you assume that such a description is possible, then it must consist of descriptions of experiences. It may be the entire exercise is pointless. But Guy has given us a detailed description of his experience of free will, so apparently he thought it was worth the effort.

I wrote my subjective description in part to make the point that we use phrases like "free will", "agent", "causal", and so forth as if we all agree on crisp, brightly-outlined objective definitions of these things. I want to roll it back to where these ideas start, which is inside our heads, and from our experience. I suggest that the delusion that we share an objective view of them confuses the discussion. As far as I can tell, all of the terms used in discussing free will (or consciousness) are at root descriptions of experience. The notions of "intent" and "will" are obviously so. They confuse us, because there is no useful way to get at them from the outside view. "Free" confuses us, because on the inside view, it is a feeling so strong it amounts to a conviction, that I am not arbitrarily constrained. On the outside view, the notion of freedom is based on observation, and the notion of being unconstrained is associated with lack of a causal relation. No-one has convinced me yet that these notions of freedom are strongly linked.

Maybe someday we will find a common denominator for discussing inside and outside views of free will. At the moment, I'm unconvinced that we are anywhere near it, so I avoid attempts to "explain" consciousness or free will. I am a compatibilist because I think the two views don't necessarily describe same thing.

Gene R.
user 10589442
Austin, TX
Post #: 197
Regarding Guy's "court of mind" theory. It is hard to say where a useful metaphor ends and an indulgent fiction begins. I have a feeling that it may be the case here. When one starts introducing numerous elaborate fine grained details, there need to be some quantifiable empiric evidence, not just a hunch. 
Guy J
lifetoward
Austin, TX
Post #: 13
Taking Gary's point, yes I do think it's worth looking at the way internal deliberation works because it matters. In the realm of internal deliberation we have real free will, ie. the ability to change the way the deliberation process works, and this can have enormous impact on our understanding of ourselves in the world and thus on our success as organisms. Our freedom of will in the world at large is small compared to the level of authority we have to effect internal processes using top-down influence. So in some ways I think examining these areas has a lot more to do with our success in the modern world than many other areas of study. Hence so many self-helpers will assert that you need only change your mind/attitude to change your success.

To Gene's point, I don't need to demonstrate or prove this fiction. This is a subjective inquiry and exposition shared for the readers' own subjective consideration. There's nothing empirical about it. Rather the "test" of it is whether these mere ideas have value to the reader. In other words, the question is not whether my narrative of my own internal model of free will is "correct", but rather whether it is in any way useful. I use it for myself because it helps clarify the internal debate. It helps me respect the problems inherent in partial self-repression, for example, and sets my role as the conscious regent as an internal political function, seeking to divine and draw out my various desires and help them find their most advantageous place in my deciding self. It seems to work better than other models I've had.

I shared the model with y'all because pieces of it might be similarly helpful to you. But only the reader can decide whether it has any value. It doesn't have a truth value, only a utility value.

BTW I think there's way too much concern in "western culture" about the truth of concepts while failing to remain duly focused on the functional utility of concepts. My notion of truth is qualified or subservient to utility. That a concept is true is less important to me than that it is useful. Truth has value only in its usefulness. Even so, of any two concepts usefully addressing the same issue, the true one will be preferred because it will work better in the long run as it integrates with other concepts. As you might imagine, I'm thus not a fan of trivial pursuits per se, but even so there are lots of little details which still might be useful when aggregated as they naturally are in the human mind.
Bill M.
bmeacham
Austin, TX
Post #: 113
Guy says:
> Truth has value only in its usefulness. Even so, of any two concepts usefully addressing the same issue, the true one will be preferred because it will work better in the long run as it integrates with other concepts.

Is working better in the long run a form of usefulness? Is integrating with other concepts a form of usefulness? If so, it all boils down to usefulness, right? Your view sounds similar to pragmatism (and that's OK by me).

See my paper on truth, here: http://www.bmeacham.com/whatswhat/Truth.html­. It's also Appendix D in my book.
Guy J
lifetoward
Austin, TX
Post #: 15
Yup, Bill. You have my agreement on that.

An additional thought: It's notable in the interest of improving general social and political relations that there are plenty of ideas which are useful but not true. Militant atheists, for example, overlook this and other important ideas, going well off the rails and damaging the usefulness of their own assertions. Mythologies, narratives, and interpretations which might be entirely unprovable may nonetheless be useful and even crucial in achieving human flourishing. The danger, as your essay pointed out, is it can be easy to slide into dogmatism with unprovables, but short of that, there's in my opinion little good about attacking the faiths of other people. In fact, one could argue that the faith areas of human understanding are the most interesting and useful of all because they shed light on the human condition in ways which empirical and scientific approaches could never hope to.
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