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Sam’s position on determinism and morality?

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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19 July 2018 13:21
 
EN - 19 July 2018 12:46 PM

Here is the quote from the OP: “However, Sam also follows up with descriptions of actors in the universe which should behave in certain ways to create enriched lives. For example use reason to convince others, conversations are the best way we can connect with each other, don’t get stuck with religious dogma as we need to move forward to a 21st century way of thinking, etc.” 

Let’s say this accurately portrays what Sam is saying. He thinks we “should” behave in certain ways. He thinks this and says this because of determinism. It influences or does not influence another person because of determinism. Religious dogma may impede a person’s quality of life, but it does so because of determinism.  Avoiding religious dogma is done by determinism, and the resulting richer life is a result of determinism. I don’t see Sam’s statements as being irreconcilable with determinism. He is not saying it is voluntary in the true sense of free will (which he does not think exists).  But his advocacy is part of the causal, determinative chain that leads to the things he is discussing.

Perhaps the misunderstanding is on me. In your first post, I thought you were addressing what I said couldn’t be reconciled (Harris’ determinism and his voluntarism), not what the OP said couldn’t be reconciled (determinism and enriching lives through reason).  I didn’t really think the OP expressed the real contradiction very well, which is why I wrote what I did, reframing the issue to show that a different (but related) inconsistency exists.

As for the OP, all I would point out there is that in a strictly deterministic universe, reasons are just ignorantly named causes, not reasons per se; that reasons don’t change minds any more or less than hunger before lunch might or might not cause a parole judge to deny parole (a known effect on their minds).  “Reasons” under determinism are just causes bouncing around in the universe of minds and are no more or less rational or interesting than religious dogmas or not yet eating lunch as causes of behavior.  That sort of thing.  So in a sense I agree with some of what the OP is driving at, albeit it in a different way.  In a deterministic universe “reason” is no more or less interesting or desirable than any other cause, subject as it is to the same inexorable laws of events strictly following from preceding conditions.  For Harris’ consequentialism, it shouldn’t matter if religious dogma gets people to behave in desirable ways any more or less than so-called “good” reasons do.  Any cause that produces a desirable result in the consequentialist framework is a good one.  Why prefer reasons to the rest?

When all is said and done, I still suspect that Harris wants to have his cake and eat it too with his determinism and voluntarism.  For he almost certainly wants room for reasons to persuade, for them to change people’s minds, and to do so voluntarily, and so on and so forth—all in the name of rationality.  But if non-rational means keep people in line as well as rational ones, why prefer one to the other?  At some point Harris sneaks in freedom to choose, otherwise reasons would make no difference; otherwise no one would be able to adjust their behavior according to perceived or anticipated consequences, much less anyone set up a system of incentives and consequences that isn’t just another form of pushing people inexorably into one behavior over another, even if only probabilistically—thus again undoing the work voluntarism purportedly does.  I just don’t see how Harris has a coherent position here, something Dennett rightly picked up on, even if for reasons he failed to recognize himself (to wit, he failed to recognize that his own version of “freedom” is right but that both their versions of determinism are wrong).  If you have a way of reconciling rationality toward a good life with voluntarism in a strictly deterministic universe, I’d like to see it.  Either way, I don’t think Harris has it.

 

 

[ Edited: 20 July 2018 03:47 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
bbearren
 
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19 July 2018 13:36
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 19 July 2018 12:02 PM
bbearren - 19 July 2018 10:56 AM
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 19 July 2018 03:47 AM

Harris ... says the universe and us in it is governed by a strict necessity where the events now and in the future are causally anticipated—read “rigidly determined”—by the events of the past, all the way back to the Big Bang.  Under this determinism, our thoughts and actions are pre-ordained through and through; no one can ever can do otherwise than what they do or did; therefore there is no free will.  This of course isn’t science; it’s a metaphysical fantasy.

That is “it” in a nutshell.  Science (at least scientific theory born out by experimentation/observation) can take us back to a decimal-point-followed-by-a-bunch-of-zeros-and-then-a-1 second after the so-called big bang, but not closer.  Is the “big bang” itself causal, or is it the result of a preceding cause?  That’s just a crap shoot.  However, if the universe was indeed an inflation out of nothing as proposed by Hawking and Penrose.

“In order to understand the Origin of the universe, we need to combine the General Theory of Relativity with quantum theory. The best way of doing so seems to be to use Feynman’s idea of a sum over histories. ... He proposed that a system got from a state A, to a state B, by every possible path or history. Each path or history has a certain amplitude or intensity, and the probability of the system going from A- to B, is given by adding up the amplitudes for each path. There will be a history in which the moon is made of blue cheese, but the amplitude is low, which is bad news for mice.”

“We are the product of quantum fluctuations in the very early universe. God really does play dice.”  “There was never a Big Bang that produced something from nothing. It just seemed that way from mankind’s perspective.”

I had not considered this, and it is way outside my competence to assess it one way or another.  But the thought is intriguing…

Ponder the following:

“Quantum effects observed in photosynthesis”

“We wondered if we might be able to observe that Schrödinger cat situation.”  They used different polarizations of light to perform measurements in light-harvesting green sulfur bacteria. The bacteria have a photosynthetic complex, made up of seven light sensitive molecules. A photon will excite two of those molecules, but the energy is superimposed on both. So just like the cat is dead or alive, one or the other molecule is excited by the photon. “In the case of such a superposition, spectroscopy should show a specific oscillating signal,” explains Jansen. “And that is indeed what we saw. Furthermore, we found quantum effects that lasted precisely as long as one would expect based on theory and proved that these belong to energy superimposed on two molecules simultaneously.” Jansen concludes that biological systems exhibit the same quantum effects as non-biological systems.”

Philosophizers posit that quantum mechanics have no effect on the macro world.  Science seems to disagree.  There are currently studies being conducted on photosynthesis in plants as well.  “Plants soak up some of the 10^17 joules of solar energy that bathe Earth each second, harvesting as much as 95 percent of it from the light they absorb. The transformation of sunlight into carbohydrates takes place in one million billionths of a second, preventing much of that energy from dissipating as heat. But exactly how plants manage this nearly instantaneous trick has remained elusive. Now biophysicists at the University of California, Berkeley, have shown that plants use the basic principle of quantum computing—the exploration of a multiplicity of different answers at the same time—to achieve near-perfect efficiency.”

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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19 July 2018 13:50
 
bbearren - 19 July 2018 01:36 PM
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 19 July 2018 12:02 PM
bbearren - 19 July 2018 10:56 AM
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 19 July 2018 03:47 AM

Harris ... says the universe and us in it is governed by a strict necessity where the events now and in the future are causally anticipated—read “rigidly determined”—by the events of the past, all the way back to the Big Bang.  Under this determinism, our thoughts and actions are pre-ordained through and through; no one can ever can do otherwise than what they do or did; therefore there is no free will.  This of course isn’t science; it’s a metaphysical fantasy.

That is “it” in a nutshell.  Science (at least scientific theory born out by experimentation/observation) can take us back to a decimal-point-followed-by-a-bunch-of-zeros-and-then-a-1 second after the so-called big bang, but not closer.  Is the “big bang” itself causal, or is it the result of a preceding cause?  That’s just a crap shoot.  However, if the universe was indeed an inflation out of nothing as proposed by Hawking and Penrose.

“In order to understand the Origin of the universe, we need to combine the General Theory of Relativity with quantum theory. The best way of doing so seems to be to use Feynman’s idea of a sum over histories. ... He proposed that a system got from a state A, to a state B, by every possible path or history. Each path or history has a certain amplitude or intensity, and the probability of the system going from A- to B, is given by adding up the amplitudes for each path. There will be a history in which the moon is made of blue cheese, but the amplitude is low, which is bad news for mice.”

“We are the product of quantum fluctuations in the very early universe. God really does play dice.”  “There was never a Big Bang that produced something from nothing. It just seemed that way from mankind’s perspective.”

I had not considered this, and it isdeterminism way outside my competence to assess it one way or another.  But the thought is intriguing…

Ponder the following:

“Quantum effects observed in photosynthesis”

“We wondered if we might be able to observe that Schrödinger cat situation.”  They used different polarizations of light to perform measurements in light-harvesting green sulfur bacteria. The bacteria have a photosynthetic complex, made up of seven light sensitive molecules. A photon will excite two of those molecules, but the energy is superimposed on both. So just like the cat is dead or alive, one or the other molecule is excited by the photon. “In the case of such a superposition, spectroscopy should show a specific oscillating signal,” explains Jansen. “And that is indeed what we saw. Furthermore, we found quantum effects that lasted precisely as long as one would expect based on theory and proved that these belong to energy superimposed on two molecules simultaneously.” Jansen concludes that biological systems exhibit the same quantum effects as non-biological systems.”

Philosophizers posit that quantum mechanics have no effect on the macro world.  Science seems to disagree.  There are currently studies being conducted on photosynthesis in plants as well.  “Plants soak up some of the 10^17 joules of solar energy that bathe Earth each second, harvesting as much as 95 percent of it from the light they absorb. The transformation of sunlight into carbohydrates takes place in one million billionths of a second, preventing much of that energy from dissipating as heat. But exactly how plants manage this nearly instantaneous trick has remained elusive. Now biophysicists at the University of California, Berkeley, have shown that plants use the basic principle of quantum computing—the exploration of a multiplicity of different answers at the same time—to achieve near-perfect efficiency.”

This is fascinating (and way out of my league).  Could you tie it back to determinism, voluntarism, and “free-will?”  Off the top of my head, I’d say that Harris and Dennett both think that quantum indeterminacy and quantum effects don’t bear on the problem of free will, but you seem to be saying differently.  Or are you saying that quantum effects at the maco-level show that determinism as all of science is really just science fiction, what I called a metaphysical fantasy?  Based on that article, it does seem that strict causal laws in Harris’ sense aren’t being obeyed, yet photosynthetic plants are obviously part of the universe, therefore not everything in the universe happens according to his strict deterministic laws.  But what I think Harris and Dennett would say is that even these quantum principles testify against free will, right?  That quantum indeterminacy is no more free than strict causal determinacy….

 
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19 July 2018 19:03
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 19 July 2018 01:50 PM

This is fascinating (and way out of my league).  Could you tie it back to determinism, voluntarism, and “free-will?”  Off the top of my head, I’d say that Harris and Dennett both think that quantum indeterminacy and quantum effects don’t bear on the problem of free will, but you seem to be saying differently.  Or are you saying that quantum effects at the maco-level show that determinism as all of science is really just science fiction, what I called a metaphysical fantasy?

I can say without hesitation that no one knows what exactly it is that makes up that to which we refer as consciousness.  There is no consensus.  It is generally agreed that consciousness is “resident” in and/or “produced” in the brain and nervous system.  To say with certainty that one knows what it does and how it does it is rather far-fetched.  We do know that neurons do their work via electro/chemical processes and that there are connections between neurons and groups of neurons.

Based on that article, it does seem that strict causal laws in Harris’ sense aren’t being obeyed, yet photosynthetic plants are obviously part of the universe, therefore not everything in the universe happens according to his strict deterministic laws.

Indeed.

But what I think Harris and Dennett would say is that even these quantum principles testify against free will, right?  That quantum indeterminacy is no more free than strict causal determinacy….

There is no determinacy at the quantum level, there is only probability, and probability introduces randomness.  The electrical portion of brain processes is without question subject to quantum mechanics because it involves electrons, and electrons are indeed fundamental particles, quanta.  Probability is as tight a rein as can be placed on quanta.

The average human brain has about 100 billion neurons (or nerve cells) and many more neuroglia (or glial cells) which serve to support and protect the neurons (although see the end of this page for more information on glial cells). Each neuron may be connected to up to 10,000 other neurons, passing signals to each other via as many as 1,000 trillion synaptic connections”

That’s a lot of quantum mechanical uncertainty, is it not?  We also know that a moving electron in a conductor generates a magnetic field, and the inverse, a magnetic field induces movement of an electron in a conductor.  What activities within the brain are well below the detection level of our most sophisticated instruments used for studying the brain?

In discussions of free will I am reminded of one of my favorite Richard Feynman quotes: “It would be possible to say, if it were possible to state ahead of time, how much love is not enough and how much love is overindulgence, exactly, then there would be a perfectly legitimate theory against which you could make tests.  It is usually said when this is pointed out, ‘How much love is’ and so on, “Oh, you’re dealing with psychological matters and things can’t be defined so precisely”, yes, but then you can’t claim to know anything about ‘em.”

Philosophy is not science.

 
 
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19 July 2018 20:40
 
bbearren - 19 July 2018 07:03 PM

Philosophy is not science.

nor is there any science that shows quantum mechanical uncertainty affecting our choices.

 
 
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19 July 2018 21:34
 
GAD - 19 July 2018 08:40 PM
bbearren - 19 July 2018 07:03 PM

Philosophy is not science.

nor is there any science that shows quantum mechanical uncertainty affecting our choices.

Where did I say that there was?

I said that there is scientific evidence that quantum mechanics plays a strong role in photosynthesis, evidence of quantum mechanics playing a significant role at the macro level.

I did say without hesitation that no one knows what exactly it is that makes up that to which we refer as consciousness.  There is no consensus.  It is generally agreed that consciousness is “resident” in and/or “produced” in the brain and nervous system.  To say with certainty that one knows what it does and how it does it is rather far-fetched.  We do know that neurons do their work via electro/chemical processes and that there are connections between neurons and groups of neurons.

Until Niels Bohr and Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg came along, there was no science saying that there was quantum mechanics.

 
 
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20 July 2018 02:51
 
bbearren - 19 July 2018 07:03 PM

But what I think Harris and Dennett would say is that even these quantum principles testify against free will, right?  That quantum indeterminacy is no more free than strict causal determinacy….

There is no determinacy at the quantum level, there is only probability, and probability introduces randomness.  The electrical portion of brain processes is without question subject to quantum mechanics because it involves electrons, and electrons are indeed fundamental particles, quanta.  Probability is as tight a rein as can be placed on quanta.

The average human brain has about 100 billion neurons (or nerve cells) and many more neuroglia (or glial cells) which serve to support and protect the neurons (although see the end of this page for more information on glial cells). Each neuron may be connected to up to 10,000 other neurons, passing signals to each other via as many as 1,000 trillion synaptic connections”

That’s a lot of quantum mechanical uncertainty, is it not?  We also know that a moving electron in a conductor generates a magnetic field, and the inverse, a magnetic field induces movement of an electron in a conductor.  What activities within the brain are well below the detection level of our most sophisticated instruments used for studying the brain?

In discussions of free will I am reminded of one of my favorite Richard Feynman quotes: “It would be possible to say, if it were possible to state ahead of time, how much love is not enough and how much love is overindulgence, exactly, then there would be a perfectly legitimate theory against which you could make tests.  It is usually said when this is pointed out, ‘How much love is’ and so on, “Oh, you’re dealing with psychological matters and things can’t be defined so precisely”, yes, but then you can’t claim to know anything about ‘em.”

Philosophy is not science.

So are you saying that we cannot know whether or not there is free will because we cannot define it precisely?  That we can only know when we can precisely define, measure, and test?  If so, that’s a position sure, but it’s a philosophical one, not a scientific one.  It’s also a philosophical one that says we can only know in the way physics knows, a parochial error Feynman is famous for.  I am not sure this is what you are saying, but if it is, I think it merely repeats Feynman’s error.

I am still unclear what you think of Dennett’s and Harris’ position on quantum effects.  They say that if true (and I trust the science on this), quantum mechanics means the universe cannot be strictly deterministic, but this truth doesn’t mean the will is any more free than in a deterministic universe; that quantum indeterminacy doesn’t allow freedom anymore than “macro” determinacy.  I find this move into the macro effects of quantum mechanics fascinating, and the Nature article is an eye opener, to be sure.  But I still am unclear how it applies to the free will debate.  To the deterministic universe debate, yes, but the free will debate, no.  I’m not saying it doesn’t apply, only that I don’t see how it does.  Dennett and Harris are both quite clear in their podcast that even in a universe with quantum indeterminacy, the will is still not free.  Do you disagree with that?  Do you reject their reasoning, or do you think that their reasoning is futile because the problem is not or cannot be precisely defined, measured and tested?  The first position would require counter-arguments, which I haven’t seen yet. The second, I think, is just a parochial error.

[ Edited: 20 July 2018 03:31 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
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20 July 2018 08:01
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 20 July 2018 02:51 AM

So are you saying that we cannot know whether or not there is free will because we cannot define it precisely?  That we can only know when we can precisely define, measure, and test?  If so, that’s a position sure, but it’s a philosophical one, not a scientific one.

First, I’m missing your leap from scientific to philosophical here.  As I posted in #21, until Niels Bohr and Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg came along, there was no science saying that there was quantum mechanics.  Einstein famously disagreed with the idea of quantum mechanics, the randomness and uncertainty in nature.  And yet quantum mechanics underpins modern society, all its tools and toys, its conveniences.

When was quantum mechanics only a philosophical position?  Was quantum mechanics ever a philosophical position?  “Free will” has long been a philosophical position, pro and con, but never defined to the extent that whether or not it exists can be discerned.  It would seem that the foundation of free will would be within one’s consciousness.  The problem there is that we don’t fully understand what consciousness is.

It’s also a philosophical one that says we can only know in the way physics knows, a parochial error Feynman is famous for.  I am not sure this is what you are saying, but if it is, I think it merely repeats Feynman’s error.

“Knowing the name of something doesn’t mean you understand it. We talk in fact-deficient, obfuscating generalities to cover up our lack of understanding.” —Richard Feynman

I am still unclear what you think of Dennett’s and Harris’ position on quantum effects.  They say that if true (and I trust the science on this), quantum mechanics means the universe cannot be strictly deterministic, but this truth doesn’t mean the will is any more free than in a deterministic universe; that quantum indeterminacy doesn’t allow freedom anymore than “macro” determinacy.

To me those are “obfuscating generalities to cover up our lack of understanding.”  Free will, if it exists, is most likely part and parcel of the brain and nervous system, probably more clearly expressed personally through consciousness.  Current neuroscience has not advanced far enough to expressly define and delineate consciousness to any degree of consensus.  It is not unlike quantum mechanics before Feynman’s Infinite Quantum Paths.

I find this move into the macro effects of quantum mechanics fascinating, and the Nature article is an eye opener, to be sure.  But I still am unclear how it applies to the free will debate.  To the deterministic universe debate, yes, but the free will debate, no.  I’m not saying it doesn’t apply, only that I don’t see how it does.  Dennett and Harris are both quite clear in their podcast that even in a universe with quantum indeterminacy, the will is still not free.  Do you disagree with that?

Indeed.

Do you reject their reasoning, or do you think that their reasoning is futile because the problem is not or cannot be precisely defined, measured and tested?  The first position would require counter-arguments, which I haven’t seen yet. The second, I think, is just a parochial error.

Call it a parochial error if you wish.  It is my contention that what we know about the brain and consciousness is a drop in the ocean of what we don’t know about the brain and consciousness.

“We absolutely must leave room for doubt or there is no progress and no learning. There is no learning without having to pose a question. And a question requires doubt. People search for certainty. But there is no certainty.” —Richard Feynman

 
 
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20 July 2018 10:14
 

First, I’m missing your leap from scientific to philosophical here.  As I posted in #21, until Niels Bohr and Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg came along, there was no science saying that there was quantum mechanics.  Einstein famously disagreed with the idea of quantum mechanics, the randomness and uncertainty in nature.  And yet quantum mechanics underpins modern society, all its tools and toys, its conveniences.

When was quantum mechanics only a philosophical position?  Was quantum mechanics ever a philosophical position?  “Free will” has long been a philosophical position, pro and con, but never defined to the extent that whether or not it exists can be discerned.  It would seem that the foundation of free will would be within one’s consciousness.  The problem there is that we don’t fully understand what consciousness is.

There is no leap from the scientific to the philosophical, and I’m not talking about quantum mechanics as such.  You quoted the philosophical position I referred to: that we can only know what we can precisely define, measure and test.  That is the philosophical position—the position Feynman more or less held.  The problem with that philosophy is that science doesn’t encompass all of knowledge; in other words, knowledge is a broader class than science, and even more so a broader class than physics.  For all his greatness as a physicist, Feynman was a parochial and uninteresting thinker who thought that what he did in physics encompassed all that can usefully done in knowledge.  That was simply a philosophical error, not a scientific one, and it’s the error I was referring to—again, the one you yourself quoted back to me.

To me those are “obfuscating generalities to cover up our lack of understanding.”  Free will, if it exists, is most likely part and parcel of the brain and nervous system, probably more clearly expressed personally through consciousness.  Current neuroscience has not advanced far enough to expressly define and delineate consciousness to any degree of consensus.  It is not unlike quantum mechanics before Feynman’s Infinite Quantum Paths.

Call it a parochial error if you wish.  It is my contention that what we know about the brain and consciousness is a drop in the ocean of what we don’t know about the brain and consciousness.

You seem to be saying that we can’t decide the question of “free will” because we don’t know enough about consciousness and the brain; that all talk of it otherwise is just obfuscation grounded in ignorance.  But I say the opposite is the case: we could know nothing about the brain and its relationship to consciousness and still answer the question of free will.  The two issues are separable, both scientifically and philosophically.  Saying we need a concise science of consciousness and the brain in order to answer the question of free will just because free-willed creatures (or not) are conscious creatures with brains is kind of like saying we need a concise answer to the question of being before we truly understand the phenomenon of gravity, just because bodies moving in gravitational fields “exist” in fields that somehow “exist” as well, i.e. that we have to define “is” before we can say we truly understand “moving bodies” and “gravitational fields,” for both must first exist before being subject to determinable laws.  There are philosophers who hold such a position, but I don’t find their arguments convincing.  I think similar arguments are even less convincing when it comes to the question of “free will,” which centers on how we understand “cause,” “effect,” and “necessary connection,” not on the existence of consciousness and the brain.  But apparently you differ, so should we leave it at that?

(Perhaps it clarifies things to add here that free will is probably a misstatement of the more general question of freedom versus determinism; that it’s not about whether we have a will that is free (or not) as much as it is whether we are free to direct our thoughts and actions towards alternative ends, or are the ends we are directed towards necessarily predetermined by their preceding conditions, such that the direction of our thoughts and actions is uniquely and necessarily specified in those preceding conditions.  Under this framing, there is no faculty of consciousness or part of the brain that is assignable as a will, be it free or otherwise.  Instead, the question (taken most generally) bears on the functioning of an organism as a system embedded in an environment that it is either responsive to or strictly determined by.  This organism may be “conscious” in the human sense or not.  It may even be possible that the distinction operates with or without a brain—or at least, without one as developed as the human brain.  But in any case, the question of freely varying responses versus strictly predetermined responses seems quite sensible and answerable without asking and answering the question of the relationship between consciousness and the brain.)

 

[ Edited: 20 July 2018 11:28 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
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20 July 2018 11:27
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher, to bbearren - 20 July 2018 10:14 AM

. . .

Perhaps it clarifies things to add here that free will is probably a misstatement of the more general question of freedom versus determinism; that it’s not about whether we have a will that is free (or not) as much as it is whether we are free to direct our thoughts and actions towards alternative ends, or are the ends we are directed towards necessarily predetermined by their preceding conditions, such that the direction of our thoughts and actions is uniquely and necessarily specified in those preceding conditions.  Under this framing, there is no faculty of consciousness or part of the brain that is assignable as a will, be it free or otherwise.  Instead, the question (taken most generally) bears on the functioning of an organism as a system embedded in an environment that it is either responsive to or strictly determined by.  This organism may be “conscious” in the human sense or not.  It may even be possible that the distinction operates with or without a brain—or at least, without one as developed as the human brain.  But in any case, the question of freely varying responses versus strictly predetermined responses can be asked and answered without asking and answering the question of the relationship between consciousness and the brain.

Yes. And any question that surrounds the notion of free will is truly an unanswerable question, due to ancient roots of enquiry that started this ball rolling pre-scientific eons ago.

Nothing about the notion of free will deserves to be contentious in any way (not that this particular thread is contentious), since free will is an ancient, baroque, and now very much broke, concept. Discussions about free will are merely philosophical games in my opinion. But it can be fun at times to play such games, and whenever I enter into a free-will discussion, I’m either attempting somehow to disarm the concept of free will itself or just messing around with the various flavors currently mixing around in my warped little head, battling the way a dog might mock-battle with some other dog down the block. Mr. Calvin himself, as far as I can tell, certainly did not assume that human beings were puppets. He wasn’t insane, after all. His concerns were far more serious.

 
 
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20 July 2018 11:51
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 20 July 2018 10:14 AM

There is no leap from the scientific to the philosophical, and I’m not talking about quantum mechanics as such.  You quoted the philosophical position I referred to: that we can only know what we can precisely define, measure and test.  That is the philosophical position—the position Feynman more or less held.  The problem with that philosophy is that science doesn’t encompass all of knowledge; in other words, knowledge is a broader class than science, and even more so a broader class than physics.  For all his greatness as a physicist, Feynman was a parochial and uninteresting thinker who thought that what he did in physics encompassed all that can usefully done in knowledge.  That was simply a philosophical error, not a scientific one, and it’s the error I was referring to—again, the one you yourself quoted back to me.

I think you may be selling Feynman a little short.  “Fall in love with some activity, and do it!  Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter.  Explore the world.  Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.  Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best.  Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do.  Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn’t stop you from doing anything at all.” —Richard Feynman

Then again, I don’t it would be of any concern to him.  “You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.” —Richard Feynman

You seem to be saying that we can’t decide the question of “free will” because we don’t know enough about consciousness and the brain; that all talk of it otherwise is just obfuscation grounded in ignorance.  But I say the opposite is the case: we could know nothing about the brain and its relationship to consciousness and still answer the question of free will.  The two issues are separable, both scientifically and philosophically.

In that we have a fundamental disagreement.

Saying we need a concise science of consciousness and the brain in order to answer the question of free will just because free-willed creatures (or not) are conscious creatures with brains is kind of like saying we need a concise answer to the question of being before we truly understand the phenomenon of gravity, just because bodies moving in gravitational fields “exist” in fields that somehow “exist” as well, i.e. that we have to define “is” before we can say we truly understand “moving bodies” and “gravitational fields,” for both must first exist before being subject to determinable laws.  There are philosophers who hold such a position, but I don’t find their arguments convincing.  I think similar arguments are even less convincing when it comes to the question of “free will,” which centers on how we understand “cause,” “effect,” and “necessary connection,” not on the existence of consciousness and the brain.  But apparently you differ, so perhaps we’ll leave it at that.

“Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” —Richard Feynman

Perhaps it clarifies things to add here that free will is probably a misstatement of the more general question of freedom versus determinism; that it’s not about whether we have a will that is free (or not) as much as it is whether we are free to direct our thoughts and actions towards alternative ends, or are the ends we are directed towards necessarily predetermined by their preceding conditions, such that the direction of our thoughts and actions is uniquely and necessarily specified in those preceding conditions.  Under this framing, there is no faculty of consciousness or part of the brain that is assignable as a will, be it free or otherwise.  Instead, the question (taken most generally) bears on the functioning of an organism as a system embedded in an environment that it is either responsive to or strictly determined by.  This organism may be “conscious” in the human sense or not.  It may even be possible that the distinction operates with or without a brain—or at least, without one as developed as the human brain.  But in any case, the question of freely varying responses versus strictly predetermined responses can be asked and answered without asking and answering the question of the relationship between consciousness and the brain.

Do Fruit Flies Have Free Will?  “The temporal signature in the fly behavior points to a so-called ‘unstable nonlinearity’ in the fly brain. This in turn means that the brain areas controlling turning behavior must be tuned very precisely to generate unpredictable output and are unlikely to be a by-product of the general complexity of the brain.” … “The biological implementation of this mechanism is currently unknown, but there is evidence from a previous study that a brain area called the ellipsoid body (sometimes called the “fly motor cortex”) might be involved.”

“Of course, I realize that there is no clear and unambiguous definition of what ‘Free Will’ actually means (see Wikipedia) and that at least historically people have debated of whether it existed as something immaterial and independent of our brains (so-called dualism). I don’t think anybody really takes a dualistic position nowadays anymore, so I define free will as the capacity to chose from different options in the same situation with some degree of anticipation of the consequences of each choice. It is perfectly reasonable to speculate about this form of free will in fruit flies, but regardless of our speculations on free will, the most important scientific aspect of our work is the evidence we found for a brain function which appears evolutionarily designed to always spontaneously vary ongoing behavior. There is tentative evidence that such a function may be very widespread in the animal kingdom, including humans.”

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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20 July 2018 12:30
 

I think you may be selling Feynman a little short.  “Fall in love with some activity, and do it!  Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter.  Explore the world.  Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.  Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best.  Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do.  Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn’t stop you from doing anything at all.” —Richard Feynman

Then again, I don’t it would be of any concern to him.  “You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.” —Richard Feynman

Well, I don’t find these quotes particularly insightful, but to each their own, I say.

In that we have a fundamental disagreement.

Then let’s just leave it that.

“Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” —Richard Feynman

I’ll do one better than Feynman on the utility of “philosophy of science”: “Philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to an ornithologist masturbating about birds.”

Research like the fruit fly article is precisely what I had in mind with my clarification, as is the quote that follows.  Are you offering them in support? 

I would summarize by saying that there are aspects of the universe (the behavior of evolved organisms) not explainable by the deterministic (or indeterministic) laws we use to describe matter in motion (or matter in transition); that the universe has put forth organisms “designed to always spontaneously vary ongoing behavior” in order to adapt to and cope with changing circumstances in their environment, circumstances that may in fact obey those precise laws of matter in motion or transition, but laws that still fail to capture behavior in their strictly deterministic (or indeterministic) schemes.  “Free will”—such as it is misnomered in American analytic philosophy—need not be any more complicated than that.  It is a feature of the universe as verifiable as the law of falling bodies.

[ Edited: 20 July 2018 13:06 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
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20 July 2018 16:38
 
nonverbal - 20 July 2018 11:27 AM
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher, to bbearren - 20 July 2018 10:14 AM

. . .

Perhaps it clarifies things to add here that free will is probably a misstatement of the more general question of freedom versus determinism; that it’s not about whether we have a will that is free (or not) as much as it is whether we are free to direct our thoughts and actions towards alternative ends, or are the ends we are directed towards necessarily predetermined by their preceding conditions, such that the direction of our thoughts and actions is uniquely and necessarily specified in those preceding conditions.  Under this framing, there is no faculty of consciousness or part of the brain that is assignable as a will, be it free or otherwise.  Instead, the question (taken most generally) bears on the functioning of an organism as a system embedded in an environment that it is either responsive to or strictly determined by.  This organism may be “conscious” in the human sense or not.  It may even be possible that the distinction operates with or without a brain—or at least, without one as developed as the human brain.  But in any case, the question of freely varying responses versus strictly predetermined responses can be asked and answered without asking and answering the question of the relationship between consciousness and the brain.

Yes. And any question that surrounds the notion of free will is truly an unanswerable question, due to ancient roots of enquiry that started this ball rolling pre-scientific eons ago.

Nothing about the notion of free will deserves to be contentious in any way (not that this particular thread is contentious), since free will is an ancient, baroque, and now very much broke, concept. Discussions about free will are merely philosophical games in my opinion. But it can be fun at times to play such games, and whenever I enter into a free-will discussion, I’m either attempting somehow to disarm the concept of free will itself or just messing around with the various flavors currently mixing around in my warped little head, battling the way a dog might mock-battle with some other dog down the block. Mr. Calvin himself, as far as I can tell, certainly did not assume that human beings were puppets. He wasn’t insane, after all. His concerns were far more serious.

As just one example of how broke the concept is, Harris is “absolutely certain” (VBW #59) that virtually everyone has a version of free will that, on the best available evidence, virtually no one in fact has.  Specifically, Harris thinks that most people believe in a “libertarian” free will, a belief that says “1) each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past and 2) that we are the conscious source of most of our thoughts and actions in the present (Free Will, p. 6, emphasis added).  He links these two ideas together.  We believe 1 because we believe 2.  Since we are the conscious source and author of most of our thoughts and feelings, we can always act in a way of our choosing; thus the past could always have been different than it was.

Personally, I’ve never met anyone who thinks this.  In fact, virtually everyone I’ve met says things that suggest they believe nothing like 2), and therefore believe 1), if they do believe it, for entirely different reasons.  For instance, people say things like “she made me so mad”—not “my madness was an interpretive choice that I could have made otherwise” (though in some senses it is).  Or they say “I broke up with him because he cheated on me”—not, “I broke up with him because I chose to move on” (though in some sense this is true).  Or they say “hey, that makes me think of X”—not “I chose to think of X because that came to mind” (again, a statement that is somewhat true).  Not only can any friend or therapist relate to this kind of externalizing causal attribution typical of everyday thoughts and feelings;  the vast literature on attribution bias—that people attribute the causes of their own actions to the external specifics of a situation and the causes of other people’s action to internal, personal causes—also suggests that Sam’s “absolute certainty” about the kind of free will people think they have is nothing but a conceptual device of his own creation.  Virtually no one believes in his libertarian free will.  Virtually no one believes they are the conscious source and cause of their own behavior, as though feelings and thoughts are somehow consciously self-caused, and that because of this self-causing consciousness they could have done otherwise.  The belief in the “free will” they think they have is entirely different.

What people typically believe is much simpler.  They believe they can consciously direct most of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to alternative ends; that they are relatively free to choose what directions they take the thoughts that come to mind, or what way they express or act on the feelings that arise, or what decisions they might make regarding a cross-roads they might face.  And they believe in this relative freedom because it is true: they are in fact free in this circumscribed sense.  They are free to direct caused thoughts, feelings and actions to ends not uniquely and necessarily specified in their preceding, causal conditions.  In fact, this is a feature of most living organisms.  If it weren’t foraging, predator evasion, and otherwise adapting to and coping in a variable environment would be impossible.  The main kind of “free will” most people believe in is that they are not robots inserted into a determinative causal nexus where their behaviors are uniquely and necessarily preordained by prior states of the universe.  And they are right: they are not determined in this sense.  Directing behavior to alternative ends, to ends not uniquely and necessarily specified in the conditions preceding the behavior, is all the “free will” anyone needs—and for the most part the free will people think they have.  Harris so much as admits this with his stress on preserving the distinction between voluntary and involuntary behavior (p. 31), and with his reminder that the role of conscious choice in behavior “is as important as fanciers of free will believe” (p. 34).  It’s inexplicable to me what he thinks this voluntary, conscious choice is if it’s not the capacity to direct to alternative ends.  How else could anything be voluntary or consciously directed—a word he even uses, as in “directing attention” elsewhere than the stimulus that caused it (p. 31). 

Like I said in my first post in this thread: Harris’ position is incoherent.  He actually thinks he can have both strict determinism and conscious voluntarism, when all one really needs is sensible descriptions of the directive capacities we share with most living organisms.  So yep, the concept is broke, just like the whole pointless debate.

 

[ Edited: 20 July 2018 17:36 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
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20 July 2018 17:23
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 20 July 2018 04:38 PM

...
What people typically believe is much simpler.  They believe they can consciously direct most of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to alternative ends; that they are relatively free to choose what directions they take the thoughts that come to mind, or what way they express or act on the feelings that arise, or what decisions they might make regarding a cross-roads they might face.  And they believe in this relative freedom because it is true: they are in fact free in this circumscribed sense.  They are free to direct caused thoughts, feelings and actions to ends not uniquely and necessarily specified in their preceding, causal conditions.  In fact, this is a feature of most living organisms.  If it weren’t foraging, predator evasion, and otherwise adapting to and coping in a variable environment would be impossible.  The main kind of “free will” most people believe in is that they are not robots inserted into a determinative causal nexus where their behaviors are uniquely and necessarily preordained by prior states of the universe.  And they are right: they are not determined in this sense.  Directing behavior to alternative ends, to ends not uniquely and necessarily specified in the conditions preceding the behavior, is all the “free will” anyone needs—and for the most part the free will people think they have.  Harris so much as admits this with his stress on preserving the distinction between voluntary and involuntary behavior (p. 31), and with his reminder that the role of conscious choice in behavior “is as important as fanciers of free will believe” (p. 34).  It’s inexplicable to me what he thinks this voluntary, conscious choice is if it’s not the capacity to direct to alternative ends.  How else could anything be voluntary or consciously directed—a word he even uses, as in “directing attention” elsewhere than the stimulus that caused it (p. 31). 
...

Thank you for this!

(I’ve been struggling with the concept of free will versus no free will, with my ‘gut’ telling me that conscious creatures must have free will or nothing makes sense.)

 
 
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20 July 2018 22:44
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 20 July 2018 12:30 PM

Research like the fruit fly article is precisely what I had in mind with my clarification, as is the quote that follows.  Are you offering them in support?

Indeed.

I’m also saying that more research is needed.

We make choices.

 
 
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