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The Free Will Trilemma

MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
edited July 2010 in Debate and/or Discourse
Free will has recently come up in other threads, and as such I thought I'd start a thread about it. What is free will? In this thread I will be talking about the particularly philosophical topic that has been debated for millenia--literally--and about which, in the words of the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy, "just about every major philosopher has had something to say."

WALL OF TEXT AHOY


1: The Positions:

Speaking of the Stanford Enyclopedia of Philosophy, I can think of no better source to give the general overview:
Spoiler:

Those (i)-(iii) listed there give us the trilemma mentioned in this thread's title: they represent the standard responses to the problem of free will.

(i) Libertarianism, in this context, has nothing to do with the politics. Instead, it expresses the attitude that determinism is false, and because determinism is false it is possible for our wills to be free.

(iii) Determinism, by contrast, is the attitude that determinism is true and that it is therefor impossible for our wills to be free.

(ii) Compatibilism, finally, is the attitude that determinism is true (or that it might as well be), but nonetheless our wills can be free. Spoiler alert: this one is right.



2: The Problem

We said about that libertarianism, determinism, and compatibilism all are responses to a problem, the problem of free will. But we still haven't actually said what that problem is! So here is a fast and loose version: according to our ordinary concept of ourselves and the world, we are only responsible for things that are under our control. It can be my fault that I did not mail a letter on time if I waited too long to leave for the post office, but it cannot be my fault that I did not mail a letter on time if there was an earthquake which destroyed the post office. Lack of control implies lack of responsibility, and this is true even in cases when there is no obvious intervening force from the outside: for instance, it can be my fault that I haven't picked up groceries if it is because I watched a movie instead, but it cannot be my fault that I haven't picked up groceries if I am an agoraphobe who is psychologically incapable of leaving the house.

But, once we accept this principle, then the various determinisms mentioned above threaten to make all our action look like it is of the second sort: out of our control, and hence, out of our responsibility. For instance, consider causal determinism. If the total state of the world as it was in 1000 AD settled how it would be for every moment onwards, then it follows that the total state of the world at 1000 AD must have settled whether my letter would arrive at the post office on time or not. But then how can it be my responsibility whether the letter is on time? It is certainly not my responsibility that the world be a certain way in 1000 AD, for that is obviously out of my control. And if I am not responsible for the state of the world at 1000 AD then I also cannot be responsible for anything that necessarily follows from it being that way. And so I cannot be responsible for the fate of my letter.

Now, someone might object: look, our best science tells us that determinism is not actually true. Quantum effects are indeterministic, and hence, the state of the world at 1000 AD did not settle how it would be for every moment onwards. But it's important to note that physical/causal determinism is just one of the determinisms that we can take to be threatening. We can take “higher level” determinisms (psychological, biological, social) to present exactly the same problem. For suppose it were the case that some set of biological, social, and/or psychological facts from the day before you were born settled whether your letter would arrive at the post office on time: for instance, once we settled the facts of your father's nasty temper and your mother's chronic laziness, along with your household income, neighborhood, and local public school, it necessarily followed that your letter would not get there on time. These things are just as obviously out of your control as the state of the world at 1000 AD, and so all the same consequences would follow.

So what we really must worry about is not the determinism of particles, or families, or middle-sized objects, but rather, something like the determinism of the total order of nature. Another way to put it is: what we must worry about is, when considering our actions, whether we can find anything that actually comes from us. This sentiment finds clear expression in Thomas Nagel's “The View from Nowhere:”
Spoiler:

Hopefully by now it should be at the very least clear what the problem is supposed to be. There is something threatening which Libertarians and Determinists both agree would rule out the possibility of free will. They differ just insofar as to whether they accept some form of the above physical/social/psychological/total order of nature/etc. determinism to be true, and hence accept that there can be no free will, or reject said determinism as false, and thus allow for such a thing as free will.

I really could go on and on here by offering yet more various descriptions of this problem, or trying to nail down a truly precise statement of exactly what is at stake. But I don't think that would be productive. For my ultimate conclusion is that the problem itself is deeply confused.



3: Libertarianism and Determinism

Why do I think the problem of free will is confused? The best way to approach this issue is to start by pointing out that the problem really isn't the problem of determinism per se. It is the problem of efficacy—of seeing ourselves as the efficacious, and hence, responsible, authors of what we do—and that is a problem to which determinism and indeterminism are only incidental.

Consider this: suppose that there was a radium atom in my head, and that were it to decay it would result in my delivering my letter to the post office on time. If this were the case then it would be indeterminate whether my letter got to the post office on time, but that indeterminism doesn't appear to make me any more responsible for the result. By positing a radium atom in charge we have made me slave to an indeterminate process, but a slave all the same; it would be ridiculous to hold a person responsible for whether a radium atom decayed. Similarly, suppose that all my attitudes, beliefs, desires, and etc. are indeterminately caused by the world around me. And, in turn, they indeterminately cause certain actions to issue from me. The only thing that this changes from our previous deterministic picture is whether the forces that are acting through me are reliable. It doesn't explain how there could be a force that is specifically from me. Indeterminism in and of itself is incidental to efficacy, and efficacy is what we are actually after.

But what of efficacy? If we conceive of it as a contribution of our own, one that is completely independent of the (in)deterministic forces operating through us, then it is an incoherent aspiration. Consider:
[T]o really be free we would have to act from a standpoint completely outside ourselves, choosing everything about ourselves, including our principles of choice—creating ourselves from nothing, so to speak.

This is self-contradictory: in order to do anything we must already be something. However much material we incorporate from the external view into the grounds of action and choice, this same external view assures us that we remain parts of the world and products, determined or not, of its history.

I think these considerations are sufficient to show that the libertarian is confused; she is reaching for something that she can never grasp. But where does that leave us? It might make us into determinists—not, as the name implies, because we think the world is actually deterministic, or that it would even be relevant if it were. But rather, because we agree with the libertarian about what is required for efficacy, but, unlike the libertarian, we can see that it is impossible. And hence we give up on the idea of free will altogether.

But this is at least prima facie not an attractive position. Because, after all, it requires us to repudiate all sorts of everyday notions we have about our own agency and ability to interact with the world. If there is a slightly different notion of efficacy, one which would avoid committing us to a massive error theory about the folk concept, then that would count as a good reason to employ it instead. Frank Jackson is eloquent on this point in From Metaphysics to Ethics:
Spoiler:



4: Identity Theory and Efficacy

In some ways, we can see a parallel issue of efficacy in the philosophy of mind. In the 19th century there was a popular view called Epiphenomenalism; on this view, the mental and the physical were separate and parallel. When an epiphenomenalist's finger was pricked, there would be a chemical pain signal that raced through his body, and there would also be a mental pain signal that raced through his mind; but it was never the case that the lines were crossed and anything in his mind actually caused anything in his body. The pain in his mind did not cause him to recoil: instead, the pain in his body caused him to recoil. The pain in his mind was just an extra on the side, a ghostly other that existed over and above the physical goings on. The reason I take this to be topical is because this view gained in popularity at the same time that science was unlocking more and more of the secrets of the biological human organism; as scientists and philosophers began to see a series of causes and forces in the objective order of the world—chemical transfers, neural firings, muscle contractions—that could explain a physical action, suddenly they could no longer see any room left over for the person themselves, in the form of their minds, to have caused that very same action. Suddenly, just as in the free will debate, the appearance of forces operating through a person seemed to negate any possibility of a force originating from them. There was nothing left for that concept to be.

One response to Epiphenomenalism, in philosophy of mind, is Identity theory. I am not going to go into the details, which are both nitty and gritty, but on the broad picture Identity theory claims that the mental just is the physical. Those two components that the epiphenomenalist held separate, the chemical signal in the finger and the pain in the mind, were actually both one and the same. On that picture there is thus no problem explaining how pain in the mind could do something like cause a person to recoil—the pain in the mind is the very same thing as the objective physical event in the finger and has all the same causal properties. One might say that when the identity theorist was confronted by a series of objective events and forces in the world that seemed to leave no room left over for the agent himself to exert an influence, the identity theorist responded by identifying some of those objective events and forces as the agent himself. And then there was no problem with seeing the agent as part of the objective order of the world, or as seeing him as the cause of various events in that order.

What I am trying to argue is this: if I am correct that the threat to efficacy comes from an objective picture of events and forces in the world that seems to leave no room for the agent herself to be efficacious, then the way to answer that threat is to make room in that objective picture for the agent. And the way to make room for the agent in that objective order is not to shoehorn her in as an uncaused cause or a sui generis force, but rather, the way to make room for her is by identifying her as actually being the very same thing as some of the events and forces in that objective order. And once we have done that, there is no mystery left over about how the agent can be efficacious, for we have now located her among the objective order of causally efficacious events and forces.




5: The Scientific World View--A Last Word

One might object to the previous strategy on the following grounds: one might say “look, once you have the objective order of events and causes sans agent, there is no need to put her back in there. You have the complete picture! The fact that we can have such a picture without an agent's participation is just evidence that agents don't exist. We should really be determinists after all.”

For my response here, Christine Korsgaard in “Self-Constitution” is my go-to girl:
Spoiler:

Our concept of ourselves as agents is primary in a way that doesn't even make sense to doubt, let alone to try to eliminate from the picture. After all, if there were no such thing as an agent, then how could anyone doubt anything, let alone the reality of agents? That one can even doubt it only proves one's doubts wrong.

MrMister on
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  • emnmnmeemnmnme Heard about this on conservative radio:Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    If a comic book villain controls a hero's mind, the villain's will trumps the hero's will. We're talking full-on 1:1 puppet control. How do we describe that scenario in terms of free will? The hero isn't acting of his own accord but he is expressing the villain's free will ... so, if I ask who is in the room at that time (villain + hero puppet), the correct answer is just the villain, right? The hero becomes a non-person without free will?

    Are slaves non-persons since their daily lives aren't their own?

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  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Mr. Mister, I admit to skimming your post, but I'm surprised I didn't see anything about emergence?

    The concept of emergence seems to explain the "problem" of free will pretty handily, and I'm always surprised that the problem continues to be framed without respect to the concept.

    To wit: is the behavior of the stock market deterministic, or liberatarian? Neither. The stock market's behavior is the aggregate of the behavior of its constituate parts (the traders). But then, this aggregate behavior (the movement of the stock market) has a top-down effect on its parts.

    So, there is a feedback cycle between the traders and the stock market as a whole, but in the process, both determine each other.

    The choices we make, I presume, work the same way. Our brain's underlying chemicals and neurons respond to stimuli and the aggregate is an experience called consciousness. But this consciousness's behavior can top-down influence its underlying neurons and responses.

  • wazillawazilla Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    Mr. Mister, I admit to skimming your post, but I'm surprised I didn't see anything about emergence?

    The concept of emergence seems to explain the "problem" of free will pretty handily, and I'm always surprised that the problem continues to be framed without respect to the concept.

    To wit: is the behavior of the stock market deterministic, or liberatarian? Neither. The stock market's behavior is the aggregate of the behavior of its constituate parts (the traders). But then, this aggregate behavior (the movement of the stock market) has a top-down effect on its parts.

    So, there is a feedback cycle between the traders and the stock market as a whole, but in the process, both determine each other.

    The choices we make, I presume, work the same way. Our brain's underlying chemicals and neurons respond to stimuli and the aggregate is an experience called consciousness. But this consciousness's behavior can top-down influence its underlying neurons and responses.

    I do believe that's pretty much what he is saying, unless I'm mistaken.

  • RaburoRaburo Registered User
    edited June 2010
    Why Ponder whether or not you have free will? No one is telling me what my destiny is or what I will be in the future, so I am making every decision on a case by case basis. If someone came and told me what my future was (Edipus Rex or MacBeth) then whether or not I would have free will is a legitimate question. If my future is foretold I have a basis upon which I can judge whether or not I have free will.


    No one is telling me that I will do this or that, so I am making every decision based on personal judgment. Even choosing to do nothing would still be a choice. Every time I make a mistake I can choose either to learn from it, to plan more carefully, or ignore it and choose to be the same.


    What is the significance or higher powers controlling our lives if we are not aware of it? Its possible that someone up in heaven is playing a board game, and that every action I make including posting this is a roll on the dice. A roll of one and this post comes out with lots of grammar errors, a roll of six and this exact message is re-read on the nightly news, and I get a book deal from it. What would the significance of my life being controlled by dice rolls, if I didn't know it was controlled by dice rolls?

    Edit: This topic makes me think of Justice League: Crisis on Two earths.

  • MoridinMoridin Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    Mr. Mister, I admit to skimming your post, but I'm surprised I didn't see anything about emergence?

    The concept of emergence seems to explain the "problem" of free will pretty handily, and I'm always surprised that the problem continues to be framed without respect to the concept.

    To wit: is the behavior of the stock market deterministic, or liberatarian? Neither. The stock market's behavior is the aggregate of the behavior of its constituate parts (the traders). But then, this aggregate behavior (the movement of the stock market) has a top-down effect on its parts.

    So, there is a feedback cycle between the traders and the stock market as a whole, but in the process, both determine each other.

    The choices we make, I presume, work the same way. Our brain's underlying chemicals and neurons respond to stimuli and the aggregate is an experience called consciousness. But this consciousness's behavior can top-down influence its underlying neurons and responses.

    I'm fine with this explanation. But how do you rigorously establish what is sufficiently complicated enough to constitute "free will"?

    Of course we're gonna say we have it. But that doesn't tell you how far back the goalpost is. Hell, short of calling it consciousness, dogs do exactly what you just described.

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  • Chake99Chake99 Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    Mr. Mister, I admit to skimming your post, but I'm surprised I didn't see anything about emergence?

    The concept of emergence seems to explain the "problem" of free will pretty handily, and I'm always surprised that the problem continues to be framed without respect to the concept.

    To wit: is the behavior of the stock market deterministic, or liberatarian? Neither. The stock market's behavior is the aggregate of the behavior of its constituate parts (the traders). But then, this aggregate behavior (the movement of the stock market) has a top-down effect on its parts.

    This remains libertarian or deterministic.
    Hell, short of calling it consciousness, dogs do exactly what you just described.

    Are you really unwilling to grant dogs free will?

    Is is an interesting question though: at what level or point can an entity be said to have free will? Does the stock market have free will?

    Does the china brain have free will?

    Hic Rhodus, Hic Salta.
  • Donkey KongDonkey Kong Warning: Donkey Kong is not a real doctor Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Free will is a phenomenon that arises from the uncertainty principle.

    It's a fictitious phenomenon the same way centrifugal force is a fictitious force. Except unlike centrifugal force, we cannot leave our reference frame. We can only imagine doing so.

    The china brain doesn't have free will from our perspective because its complete state and inputs can be known. But there's no functional difference between having and not having free will, since it's only a matter of perspective.

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  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    MrMister wrote: »
    Our concept of ourselves as agents is primary in a way that doesn't even make sense to doubt

    Oh, Kant. If we're going to argue about Free Will v. Determinism there are two questions that need to be addressed:

    1) Is there Causality?

    2) Are we assessing the way things are, or the way things appear to be?

    To 1:

    If any action results from a causal history, then there cannot be freedom, as any Event-A will have been caused by a nigh-infinite regress of events which causally determined Event-A. We can go with Hume and "we cannot know whether there is causality" or Leibniz and "universal pre-established harmony" we can skew the issue a bit, but if we accept causality, then there can be no freedom, as any Event-A will have been caused.

    To 2:

    In the beginning of the Modern era metaphysics was concerned with discerning the way things are. Kant shifted metaphysics to be a concern with the way things appear to be. So, when discussing Free Will, we need to articulate whether we are discussing the way things are, or the way things appear to be.

    If we are discussing the way things are, then we need only discern whether or not there is a causal relation between actions or whether actions are uncaused. If there is causality, then determinism. If there is no causality, then freedom.

    If we are discussing the way things appear to be, then we can maintain freedom INSOFAR AS we say "seems like I freely choose what I will eat", within a confined notion of "free" and "choose". We can disregard the issue of how things actually are, and instead focuse upon how things appear to be from a naive position.

    So, with regard to your quote:
    MrMister wrote: »
    Our concept of ourselves as agents is primary in a way that doesn't even make sense to doubt

    While one can conceive of one's self as free, this only answers the question of how things appear to be, how one conceives of one's self, and does not address the issue of whether or not one is, in fact, free.

    Though, I do have to ask how much lead paint one need consume to be able to maintain the levels of cognitive dissonance required to actually think one's self to be actually free.

    Seriously J not only are you a monumentally umpleasant person when you start uttering the nonsense that passes for philosophy in your mind (shame on whatever institution you graduated in, and shame on your tutors for creating such a monster), but your sense of humor, such as it is, is awful.
  • MoridinMoridin Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Free will is a phenomenon that arises from the uncertainty principle.

    Care to cite that? Much simpler systems are sufficiently chaotic enough without relying on quantum mechanics to give rise to something like simulated randomness. Hell, it's likely that consciousness isn't even quantum mechanical at all.
    It's a fictitious phenomenon the same way centrifugal force is a fictitious force. Except unlike centrifugal force, we cannot leave our reference frame. We can only imagine doing so.

    I think that's doing a disservice to the complexity of conscious behavior.
    The china brain doesn't have free will because its complete state and inputs can be known. This is just a footnote, however. There's no functional difference between having and not having free will, since it's only a matter of perspective.

    This is dodging the issue. Who says that a sufficiently complete set of inputs can't be known that accurately predict your behavior into the near future?

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  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Moridin wrote: »
    Free will is a phenomenon that arises from the uncertainty principle.

    Care to cite that? Much simpler systems are sufficiently chaotic enough without relying on quantum mechanics to give rise to something like simulated randomness. Hell, it's likely that consciousness isn't even quantum mechanical at all.

    Or you simply deny randomness and uncertainty by making a distinction between actual randomness and actual uncertainty and the appearance of mistaken assumption of randomness, uncertainty.

    Seriously J not only are you a monumentally umpleasant person when you start uttering the nonsense that passes for philosophy in your mind (shame on whatever institution you graduated in, and shame on your tutors for creating such a monster), but your sense of humor, such as it is, is awful.
  • agoajagoaj Avatar avatar avatar HD Avatar of the Year EditionRegistered User regular
    edited June 2010
    What is the difference between a will and a free will?

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  • MoridinMoridin Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    _J_ wrote: »
    Moridin wrote: »
    Free will is a phenomenon that arises from the uncertainty principle.

    Care to cite that? Much simpler systems are sufficiently chaotic enough without relying on quantum mechanics to give rise to something like simulated randomness. Hell, it's likely that consciousness isn't even quantum mechanical at all.

    Or you simply deny randomness and uncertainty by making a distinction between actual randomness and actual uncertainty and the appearance of mistaken assumption of randomness, uncertainty.

    Can you expand on this? I think I see where you're going with it, but I'm not sure. "Uncertainty" as used in the uncertainty principle probably means something different than you think it does.

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  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    agoaj wrote: »
    What is the difference between a will and a free will?

    One could articulate a description of a will which was internally causally determined, as opposed to a will which is free and undetermined.

    Think of a "will" as an internal motivation action, the drive which initiates any action. Now think of that will as an unraveling of a causal series of pre-determined events. The will is what pokes the person along, yet the will itself is simply acting in accord with its own internal necessity.

    Seriously J not only are you a monumentally umpleasant person when you start uttering the nonsense that passes for philosophy in your mind (shame on whatever institution you graduated in, and shame on your tutors for creating such a monster), but your sense of humor, such as it is, is awful.
  • RaburoRaburo Registered User
    edited June 2010
    Why would someone predetermine events. If I know the outcome why not simply write a book? What is the point of reality if all of its future was knowable and predictable? If I know exactly what is going to happen in a show, why watch? I don't know about you, but if I was watching the world from out there, I wouldn't want any spoilers.

  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Moridin wrote: »
    _J_ wrote: »
    Moridin wrote: »
    Free will is a phenomenon that arises from the uncertainty principle.

    Care to cite that? Much simpler systems are sufficiently chaotic enough without relying on quantum mechanics to give rise to something like simulated randomness. Hell, it's likely that consciousness isn't even quantum mechanical at all.

    Or you simply deny randomness and uncertainty by making a distinction between actual randomness and actual uncertainty and the appearance of mistaken assumption of randomness, uncertainty.

    Can you expand on this? I think I see where you're going with it.

    Any situation which is said to be random is understood to be random as a result of its inability to be explained or predicted. Yet explanation and prediction are epistemological issues regarding knowers, not ontological or metaphysical issues of the things known.

    Player A says "It sure was random that particle-X was moving at Y-Velocity". Yet this randomness is the result of an inability to explain or predict particle-X's movement, which is an issue concerned with the manner in which Player A knows and IS NOT indicative, at all, of particle-X in and of itself.

    So, we can state that the universe is causally determined, that particle-X necessarily movies at Velocity-Y at Time-Z, because it necessarily must.


    If a quantum physicist argues for randomness, or unpredictability they're wrong. Because everything that happens necessarily happens as a result of causal determinacy.

    Seriously J not only are you a monumentally umpleasant person when you start uttering the nonsense that passes for philosophy in your mind (shame on whatever institution you graduated in, and shame on your tutors for creating such a monster), but your sense of humor, such as it is, is awful.
  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Raburo wrote: »
    Why would someone predetermine events. If I know the outcome why not simply write a book? What is the point of reality if all of its future was knowable and predictable? If I know exactly what is going to happen in a show, why watch? I don't know about you, but if I was watching the world from out there, I wouldn't want any spoilers.

    I do not know how to answer the question of the "point of reality", but I can clarify a confusion you have.

    That everything is causally determined does not mean that all knowers know that which will necessarily happen. There can be causal determinacy and ignorance.

    The time and location of your death is already determined via the causal nexus of existence. But you do not know when you will die.

    That's not a contradiction; it's just the way things are.

    Seriously J not only are you a monumentally umpleasant person when you start uttering the nonsense that passes for philosophy in your mind (shame on whatever institution you graduated in, and shame on your tutors for creating such a monster), but your sense of humor, such as it is, is awful.
  • Donkey KongDonkey Kong Warning: Donkey Kong is not a real doctor Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Moridin wrote: »
    Free will is a phenomenon that arises from the uncertainty principle.

    Care to cite that? Much simpler systems are sufficiently chaotic enough without relying on quantum mechanics to give rise to something like simulated randomness. Hell, it's likely that consciousness isn't even quantum mechanical at all.

    The uncertainty principle and its friend the observer effect are not limited to the quantum level. Maybe the meta-state of consciousness can be maintained through imperfect measure, like digital signal in an analog channel with just a little bit of noise added will never be exactly the same as the original but can be functionally reconstructed to perfection. If that's true, then it might be possible to look behind the curtain. But it changes nothing. You've still got practicality to deal with. All experiments would have to take place in near perfect isolation.
    Moridin wrote: »
    It's a fictitious phenomenon the same way centrifugal force is a fictitious force. Except unlike centrifugal force, we cannot leave our reference frame. We can only imagine doing so.

    I think that's doing a disservice to the complexity of conscious behavior.

    It might bother you but I don't think it does at all. Conscious behavior might be complex as hell but that doesn't mean it would seem as deterministic as gears in a machine if you as an observer could reduce your influence to zero and make your observations perfect.
    Moridin wrote: »
    The china brain doesn't have free will because its complete state and inputs can be known. This is just a footnote, however. There's no functional difference between having and not having free will, since it's only a matter of perspective.

    This is dodging the issue. Who says that a sufficiently complete set of inputs can't be known that accurately predict your behavior into the near future?

    If you throw a guy in a perfect isolation box and manage to scan in the brain and complete physical environment, whatever that means, and get some kind of simulation going, then maybe you could determine what would happen next exactly. Perfectly. But what good is it knowing some guy's eye will jerk left 2 nanoseconds in and that he will cough a little later and that he'll ask for a glass of water 20 minutes in. Or that he'll spill the water, two drops on his collar, when he's done drinking? It seems like a long way to go for nothing of value.

    We'd confirm what we've observed all along: that we are made of the same stuff as everything around us and that we don't somehow gain some special magic property of arbitrary action by taking the form of life.

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  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    If you throw a guy in a perfect isolation box and manage to scan in the brain and complete physical environment, whatever that means, and get some kind of simulation going, then maybe you could determine what would happen next exactly. Perfectly. But what good is it knowing some guy's eye will jerk left 2 nanoseconds in and that he will cough a little later and that he'll ask for a glass of water 20 minutes in. Or that he'll spill the water, two drops on his collar, when he's done drinking? It seems like a long way to go for nothing of value.

    So, your point is that we could determine how a person will act, but this has no value?

    Edit: Because the point of this thread is to discuss that issue of determinacy.

    Seriously J not only are you a monumentally umpleasant person when you start uttering the nonsense that passes for philosophy in your mind (shame on whatever institution you graduated in, and shame on your tutors for creating such a monster), but your sense of humor, such as it is, is awful.
  • MoridinMoridin Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    _J_ wrote: »
    Any situation which is said to be random is understood to be random as a result of its inability to be explained or predicted. Yet explanation and prediction are epistemological issues regarding knowers, not ontological or metaphysical issues of the things known.

    Player A says "It sure was random that particle-X was moving at Y-Velocity". Yet this randomness is the result of an inability to explain or predict particle-X's movement, which is an issue concerned with the manner in which Player A knows and IS NOT indicative, at all, of particle-X in and of itself.

    So, we can state that the universe is causally determined, that particle-X necessarily movies at Velocity-Y at Time-Z, because it necessarily must.


    If a quantum physicist argues for randomness, or unpredictability they're wrong. Because everything that happens necessarily happens as a result of causal determinacy.

    Okay, you actually don't understand quantum mechanics.

    That's okay, though!

    The uncertainty principle isn't about our inability to explain or predict a particle's movement. It's about a particle not having a well defined position or momentum. That is, the uncertainty principle doesn't mean that we can't determine a particle position and momentum precisely cause it's too hard or because we aren't using fine enough tools, it's stating that objects of the sort that the uncertainty principle applies to literally don't have the property which you're assuming they do, that is, exact position and momentum.

    So, when you go and say something like
    "So, we can state that the universe is causally determined, that particle-X necessarily movies at Velocity-Y at Time-Z, because it necessarily must."

    You're actually provably wrong. Because the universe would not behave the way it does if this were true.

    Consider something like the double slit experiment. You shoot a bunch of photons at a slitted piece of board. On the other wall you see the famous interference pattern. If, at every instant in time after shooting photons and them impacting the wall, they had a definite position and a definite velocity, you would not see an interference pattern.

    Now, if you're going to wave your hand and say "these are epistemological matters that don't concern me, I will continue to put the cart before the horse," then please qualify what precisely "is indicative of particle-X in and of itself."

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  • Donkey KongDonkey Kong Warning: Donkey Kong is not a real doctor Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    I mean, maybe it has value to philosophers because it ends some long-standing debate, but it doesn't change my life. If doesn't mean that someone is going to be able to anticipate what I'll do next while I walk down the street.

    You won't be able to hook me up to the determinism machine in a court of law and prove that I had to have killed my wife. It's just not an important finding to me. It's like finding out that properly spaced dominoes do, in fact, all fall over when you topple the first one. I know that already.

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  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Moridin wrote: »
    So, when you go and say something like
    "So, we can state that the universe is causally determined, that particle-X necessarily movies at Velocity-Y at Time-Z, because it necessarily must."

    You're actually provably wrong. Because the universe would not behave the way it does if this were true.

    If the universe is causally determined, then X.
    ~X
    Therefore, the universe is not causally determined.

    That seems to be your argument.

    I want to know why you think X is the necessary consequent of a causally determined universe.

    Seriously J not only are you a monumentally umpleasant person when you start uttering the nonsense that passes for philosophy in your mind (shame on whatever institution you graduated in, and shame on your tutors for creating such a monster), but your sense of humor, such as it is, is awful.
  • MoridinMoridin Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    _J_ wrote: »
    Moridin wrote: »
    So, when you go and say something like
    "So, we can state that the universe is causally determined, that particle-X necessarily movies at Velocity-Y at Time-Z, because it necessarily must."

    You're actually provably wrong. Because the universe would not behave the way it does if this were true.

    If the universe is causally determined, then X.
    ~X
    Therefore, the universe is not causally determined.

    That seems to be your argument.

    I want to know why you think X is the necessary consequent of a causally determined universe.

    That isn't my argument at all. Why does a causally determined universe necessitate that particle-x have a well defined position and momentum?

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  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Moridin wrote: »
    _J_ wrote: »
    Moridin wrote: »
    So, when you go and say something like
    "So, we can state that the universe is causally determined, that particle-X necessarily movies at Velocity-Y at Time-Z, because it necessarily must."

    You're actually provably wrong. Because the universe would not behave the way it does if this were true.

    If the universe is causally determined, then X.
    ~X
    Therefore, the universe is not causally determined.

    That seems to be your argument.

    I want to know why you think X is the necessary consequent of a causally determined universe.

    That isn't my argument at all. Why does a causally determined universe necessitate that particle-x have a well defined position and momentum?

    Oh, alright. My particle example was not meant to indicate that in a causally determined universe all particles would have well-defined positions and momentum. It was meant to be an example of why persons think events to be random.

    Here's a better example: Player A says "Wow, it sure was random that BP's drilling rig exploded." given that Player A did not expect the drilling rig to explode.

    X being random usually means "I did not expect X to happen".

    That's all I was saying.

    Seriously J not only are you a monumentally umpleasant person when you start uttering the nonsense that passes for philosophy in your mind (shame on whatever institution you graduated in, and shame on your tutors for creating such a monster), but your sense of humor, such as it is, is awful.
  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    I mean, maybe it has value to philosophers because it ends some long-standing debate, but it doesn't change my life. If doesn't mean that someone is going to be able to anticipate what I'll do next while I walk down the street.

    You won't be able to hook me up to the determinism machine in a court of law and prove that I had to have killed my wife. It's just not an important finding to me. It's like finding out that properly spaced dominoes do, in fact, all fall over when you topple the first one. I know that already.

    So, are you denying determinism, or denying that determinism has a practical consequent?

    Seriously J not only are you a monumentally umpleasant person when you start uttering the nonsense that passes for philosophy in your mind (shame on whatever institution you graduated in, and shame on your tutors for creating such a monster), but your sense of humor, such as it is, is awful.
  • MoridinMoridin Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Oh okay, carry on then!

    I probably should have said somewhere that I think the universe is causally determined...

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  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited June 2010
    _J_ wrote: »
    If there is causality, then determinism. If there is no causality, then freedom

    Honestly, did you even read the post?

  • Donkey KongDonkey Kong Warning: Donkey Kong is not a real doctor Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    _J_ wrote: »
    I mean, maybe it has value to philosophers because it ends some long-standing debate, but it doesn't change my life. If doesn't mean that someone is going to be able to anticipate what I'll do next while I walk down the street.

    You won't be able to hook me up to the determinism machine in a court of law and prove that I had to have killed my wife. It's just not an important finding to me. It's like finding out that properly spaced dominoes do, in fact, all fall over when you topple the first one. I know that already.

    So, are you denying determinism, or denying that determinism has a practical consequent?

    Regarding free will, determinism has no practical consequent.

    As in, determinism dictates that we don't have it, so we don't have it. But at the same time, it doesn't matter since the only observable breakdown of the appearance free will would be under strict conditions that eliminate any useful conclusions from being drawn.

    And that's if and only if such a breakdown is even possible, which it might not be.

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  • RaburoRaburo Registered User
    edited June 2010
    Even if there is no freedom, you cannot prove such. Therefore even if we are not free, we still appear to be free. Doesn't that negate any practical application of determinism.

  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    MrMister wrote: »
    _J_ wrote: »
    If there is causality, then determinism. If there is no causality, then freedom

    Honestly, did you even read the post?

    Yes.

    You put the ethics before the metaphysics. Aristotle would be sad.

    Seriously J not only are you a monumentally umpleasant person when you start uttering the nonsense that passes for philosophy in your mind (shame on whatever institution you graduated in, and shame on your tutors for creating such a monster), but your sense of humor, such as it is, is awful.
  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    As in, determinism dictates that we don't have it, so we don't have it. But at the same time, it doesn't matter since the only observable breakdown of the appearance free will would be under strict conditions that eliminate any useful conclusions from being drawn.

    So we're stuck in "seems to be" rather than "is"?

    Seriously J not only are you a monumentally umpleasant person when you start uttering the nonsense that passes for philosophy in your mind (shame on whatever institution you graduated in, and shame on your tutors for creating such a monster), but your sense of humor, such as it is, is awful.
  • MoridinMoridin Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    _J_ wrote: »
    As in, determinism dictates that we don't have it, so we don't have it. But at the same time, it doesn't matter since the only observable breakdown of the appearance free will would be under strict conditions that eliminate any useful conclusions from being drawn.

    So we're stuck in "seems to be" rather than "is"?

    Can we please please not make this an ontology/metaphysics thread.


    Pleeeaeaaassseeeeeeee

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  • Donkey KongDonkey Kong Warning: Donkey Kong is not a real doctor Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    For the purposes of this thread, a duck is a duck except when it isn't.

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  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Alright, so could we talk about Compatibilism in further detail?

    Seriously J not only are you a monumentally umpleasant person when you start uttering the nonsense that passes for philosophy in your mind (shame on whatever institution you graduated in, and shame on your tutors for creating such a monster), but your sense of humor, such as it is, is awful.
  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    MrMister wrote: »
    What I am trying to argue is this: if I am correct that the threat to efficacy comes from an objective picture of events and forces in the world that seems to leave no room for the agent herself to be efficacious, then the way to answer that threat is to make room in that objective picture for the agent.

    Or self-efficacy and agency falls by the wayside, as they are fallacious nonsense.

    MrMister wrote: »
    And the way to make room for the agent in that objective order is not to shoehorn her in as an uncaused cause or a sui generis force, but rather, the way to make room for her is by identifying her as actually being the very same thing as some of the events and forces in that objective order. And once we have done that, there is no mystery left over about how the agent can be efficacious, for we have now located her among the objective order of causally efficacious events and forces.

    The problem with "identifying her as actually being the very same thing as some of the events and forces in that objective order" is that it does not preserve the kind of self-efficacy I think you want / need.

    Here is the causal nexus of reality: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J

    Where each letter is an action. So, C is caused by A-B; E is caused by A-B-C-D.

    If a particular individual is "the very same thing as some of the events and forces in the objective order" then the individual, in being those events, is naught but the necessary actualization of a causal chain. Moreover, that individual cannot have self-efficacy, given that the "self" will itself be subject to the causal chain.


    So, Player A orders steak. Player A's ordering steak results from a causal chain. If we say that what Player A is can be nothing more than particular "events and forces in the objective order", then we've just said determinism: Player A was determined to order steak; Player A could not have not ordered steak.

    It seems like you are trying to preserve self-efficacy by redefining it to be determinism, or by cutting up the deterministic causal order of things and claiming that this particular lump of causal happenings (Player A) is special (has efficacy) in a way that the particular lump of causal happenings (a rock) is not. Except both Player A and the rock are just the actualizations of necessary causal, determined, happenings.

    I don't understand how your solution actually solves the problem. If you want it to be the case that Player A is somehow different than the rock, then Player A has to be different than the rock. But if Player A and the rock are the same thing "events and forces in the objective order", then everything has efficacy.

    And if we were using "self-efficacy" to preserve morality...then now rocks are moral agents.

    Seriously J not only are you a monumentally umpleasant person when you start uttering the nonsense that passes for philosophy in your mind (shame on whatever institution you graduated in, and shame on your tutors for creating such a monster), but your sense of humor, such as it is, is awful.
  • Aroused BullAroused Bull Registered User
    edited June 2010
    Is anyone here able to provide a satisfactory, non-recursive definition of choice?

  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    Mr. Mister, I admit to skimming your post, but I'm surprised I didn't see anything about emergence?

    The concept of emergence seems to explain the "problem" of free will pretty handily, and I'm always surprised that the problem continues to be framed without respect to the concept.

    ...

    Our brain's underlying chemicals and neurons respond to stimuli and the aggregate is an experience called consciousness. But this consciousness's behavior can top-down influence its underlying neurons and responses.

    Well, emergence is a notoriously nebulous concept, see:
    The SEP wrote:
    We might roughly characterize the shared meaning thus: emergent entities (properties or substances) ‘arise’ out of more fundamental entities and yet are ‘novel’ or ‘irreducible’ with respect to them... Each of the quoted terms is slippery in its own right

    As such, I'm not sure what role you take it to be playing here, nor how you take it to be solving the problem of free will. If your idea is that emergence explains how the brain can be causally undetermined by it's surroundings--i.e. how it is both really possible that one take one's letter to the post office on time and really possible that one not take one's letter to the post office on time--then I would reiterate the argument I made in section 3 of the OP: determination is not the real issue here, so even if emergentism were to show the mind to be indeterminate it wouldn't actually matter.

    By contrast, you might think that emergentism, in the form of the "top-down" causation that you mention, shows how it is that agents can be efficacious. Hence, the brain is not just indeterministic, but the indeterminism is a result of the agent's own ability to exert top-down control on the materials making him or her up. But this is problematic for two reasons. The first is that top-down causation is an extremely vague concept, one for which I have never seen a legitimately precise definition given, and I strongly suspect that there is no such thing actually existing anywhere in the world. The second problem is: even if there is such a thing as top-down causation, it is unclear how it solves the problem.

    Consider: regardless of whether we take the agent we are considering to be an entity that emerges from a brain, or just simply a brain, we are going to be left with the same questions. Whatever it is, that entity we're calling an agent is going to have sets of attitudes, goals, beliefs, and so on which will, in turn, determine how they respond to situations. Now either those attitudes, goals, beliefs, and so on are set by certain independent and prior facts about the world, such as the DNA the agent happened to have, that they were dropped on their head, etc. or those attitudes are set by nothing at all. If my attitudes are set by things like my DNA and the parents to which I was born, then they are set by factors out of my control, and hence the actions which follow from them are not things for which I can be responsible. But if they are set by nothing at all--if they are, in essence, random--then they are also out of my control, and again the actions which follow from them are not things for which I can be responsible.

    The thing about this apparent dilemma is that it doesn't depend at all on what the agent is. The agent could be a brain, a mind, a soul, an emergent entity, a functional program--whatever. Because what we are asking is: whatever it is, how does it get to be that way? And if the answer is: through the operation of forces beyond its control, then that seems to leave us incapable of holding it responsible for being that way. What we really seem to want here is an agent that has somehow made itself the way it is: that has, in Nagel's words, chosen everything about itself, including its' principles of choice. But emergentism doesn't give us that, because choosing one's own principles of choice is incoherent.

  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited June 2010
    _J_ wrote: »
    It seems like you are trying to preserve self-efficacy by redefining it to be determinism, or by cutting up the deterministic causal order of things and claiming that this particular lump of causal happenings (Player A) is special (has efficacy) in a way that the particular lump of causal happenings (a rock) is not. Except both Player A and the rock are just the actualizations of necessary causal, determined, happenings.

    I don't understand how your solution actually solves the problem. If you want it to be the case that Player A is somehow different than the rock, then Player A has to be different than the rock. But if Player A and the rock are the same thing "events and forces in the objective order", then everything has efficacy.

    You have rightly pointed out an omission in my OP. By positing an identity between agents and, as you say, lumps of happenings in the objective causal order of things, I explained how it is that we can say that an agent, such as you or I, actually caused something. For instance: I can now say that I caused my letter to get to the post office on time, rather than, for instance, just some forces which happened to be operating through me.

    But this is separate from, and not sufficient for, explaining responsibility. After all, rocks also cause things. This rock can cause that window to break, but this rock certainly can't be responsible for breaking that window. Even when we talk of humans, we are clearly not responsible for every effect that we causally precede. For instance, if someone shoves me into a statue at the museum, and then it falls over and breaks, then even though I am a causal predecessor to its falling it is nonetheless not my responsibility; it is the responsibility of the person who shoved me instead. So, in order to complete our response to the problem of free will we need to go on to isolate some special subset of the ways in which we can cause things which can, in turn, explain the possibility of responsibility.

    That subset, more or less, is intentional action. Responsible action is intentional action. Intentional action occurs when intentional states, like beliefs, desires, hopes, cognitions, etc. combine in the right way within an agent to produce a resulting action: for instance, when I believe that this cup is full of water, and I desire a drink, and so I drink what's in this cup. Because things like rocks don't have these sorts of intentional states, it follows that they never take intentional actions and, as such, cannot be responsible for the things they do. Similarly, this belief-desire combination process is most emphatically not what's going on in me when someone pushes me into a statue at a museum, but it is what's going on in them when they do so, and that explains why they are responsible for pushing me into the statue but I am not responsible for knocking it over.

    Now, there are all sorts of refinements and caveats that we have to impose on this category before we're done. It is, and as far as I can tell has always been, an ongoing subject of debate exactly what sorts of actions we are responsible for. But intentional action is, at the least, the broad category from which we start, and the capacity for intentional action is, in broad strokes, what differentiates the things that we do from the goings on in physical systems like rivers and clouds, and, consequently, which it is also the capacity which renders us responsible for the things that we do.

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Moridin wrote: »
    I'm fine with this explanation. But how do you rigorously establish what is sufficiently complicated enough to constitute "free will"?

    Of course we're gonna say we have it. But that doesn't tell you how far back the goalpost is. Hell, short of calling it consciousness, dogs do exactly what you just described.
    It's a line in the sand, much like our definition of "life."

    What is life? Viruses aren't, but bacteria are, because we tautologically define life as "cellular-based." Storms and fire exhibit lifelike behavior. So do prions. Were early lipid-membrane enclosed RNA-replicators "alive"? Who knows.

    I'm basically considering free will as a corrollary of having a consciousness, but you are absolutely right: there is a goalpost problem for consciousness. I'd say dogs have it, definitely. Ferrets? Yes. Alligators? Probably. Fish? Probably. Starfish, who lack brains and only have rudimentary nervous systems? I have no idea. Likewise for insects.

    But then, obviously, consciousness evolved along with the brain. So you're either stuck with the idea that at some arbitrary point in nervous system evolution, POOF!, consciousness first emerged, or else you can just say that consciousness isn't a binary quantity, which is what I think.

  • RaburoRaburo Registered User
    edited June 2010
    If your aware of yourself you are alive. I think therefore I am. If you can question your own existence, you must be complicated enough to have free will, if such a thing exists.


    Edit: and since everyone on this board is so big about people citing sources.

    http://www.importanceofphilosophy.com/Metaphysics_Consciousness.html

  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited June 2010
    Raburo wrote: »
    If your aware of yourself you are alive. I think therefore I am. If you can question your own existence, you must be complicated enough to have free will, if such a thing exists.

    Edit: and since everyone on this board is so big about people citing sources.

    http://www.importanceofphilosophy.com/Metaphysics_Consciousness.html
    The content of this website is primarily based on Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism.

    hott

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