Free Will vs. Determinism

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  jgrow2 on Sun Sep 20, 2009 7:47 pm

snafu wrote:I think not being able to remember a name is massively different from flapping arms to fly or willing worlds into existence.
The reason is that the former is a capability that my brain has, but which it refuses to perform until it is ready (for some reason), despite my attempts to make it do it, whereas the latter examples you give are clearly beyond our brains capability.

Wait. You can't will worlds into existence? Your childhood must have been lonely sir.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Sun Sep 20, 2009 7:51 pm

jgrow2 wrote:
snafu wrote:I think not being able to remember a name is massively different from flapping arms to fly or willing worlds into existence.
The reason is that the former is a capability that my brain has, but which it refuses to perform until it is ready (for some reason), despite my attempts to make it do it, whereas the latter examples you give are clearly beyond our brains capability.

Wait. You can't will worlds into existence? Your childhood must have been lonely sir.
i suspect there is an equivocation regarding "existence" here. haha.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  jgrow2 on Sun Sep 20, 2009 8:11 pm

Jim wrote:i suspect there is an equivocation regarding "existence" here. haha.

Well there's existence and then there's existence, sir. Ever have a dream that feels so real you're disappointed, frankly, when you awaken? Or perhaps relieved, depending on the content....

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Sun Sep 20, 2009 8:45 pm

jgrow2 wrote:
Jim wrote:i suspect there is an equivocation regarding "existence" here. haha.

Well there's existence and then there's existence, sir. Ever have a dream that feels so real you're disappointed, frankly, when you awaken? Or perhaps relieved, depending on the content....
have i ever been relieved that the things in my dream didn't, in fact, exist? you bet.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  snafu on Mon Sep 21, 2009 3:51 am

Jim, we are probably not on the same page. I agree both things you list are things not able to be done at that moment. However, there are differences also, which are important I think to the idea I was sharing.
Not being able to remember a name, is something not able to be done at that moment by my conscious mind, however (and this is the difference from your examples I think), my mind is in fact capable of remembering the name, it just refuses to do it on my willing it to. It proves to me it is capable, by doing it for me 15 minutes later. The effect I am wanting to flag is something our mind can do, but refuses to, until it is good & ready.
Your examples are about other things which we cannot do, but are outside of the mind (bench pressing) or outside of capability (willing worlds into existence etc.) If you think I am wrong, fair enough. It would help me if you could give a counter example about something residing in the mind only.

When I posted the post, I was pondering how the usual free will examples go, eg) "when i think of the colour blue, i use my free will. but i could have chosen not to equally well, and could have thought of green instead. " I'm sure you've heard this line of approach a thousand times. I was just postulating the inverse of this, ie. when we will our mind to do something, but it doesn't, in disobedience to our will. Then forgetting names popped into my head. The recalcitrant subconscious can withold compliance to a request, and we can do nothing about it.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Mon Sep 21, 2009 9:47 am

snafu wrote:Jim, we are probably not on the same page. I agree both things you list are things not able to be done at that moment. However, there are differences also, which are important I think to the idea I was sharing.
Not being able to remember a name, is something not able to be done at that moment by my conscious mind, however (and this is the difference from your examples I think), my mind is in fact capable of remembering the name, it just refuses to do it on my willing it to. It proves to me it is capable, by doing it for me 15 minutes later. The effect I am wanting to flag is something our mind can do, but refuses to, until it is good & ready.
Your examples are about other things which we cannot do, but are outside of the mind (bench pressing) or outside of capability (willing worlds into existence etc.) If you think I am wrong, fair enough. It would help me if you could give a counter example about something residing in the mind only.

When I posted the post, I was pondering how the usual free will examples go, eg) "when i think of the colour blue, i use my free will. but i could have chosen not to equally well, and could have thought of green instead. " I'm sure you've heard this line of approach a thousand times. I was just postulating the inverse of this, ie. when we will our mind to do something, but it doesn't, in disobedience to our will. Then forgetting names popped into my head. The recalcitrant subconscious can withold compliance to a request, and we can do nothing about it.

snafu
assuming you're not a dualist and that you think the mind is the brain, i fail to see the difference between one body part and another. if you can't remember a name, that seems to be pretty good evidence that you don't have the ability to remember that name at that moment. i fail to see the distinction between that anything else that you can do at one moment but are unable to do at some other moment. i don't see why your brain is privileged in that respect. it's not like your brain is magic or anything. it's a wholly physical thing bound by the same physical laws as everything else.
also, i don't understand the "my mind is in fact capable of remembering the name, it just refuses to do it on my willing it to" talk. that makes it sound like your mind has an independent will or desire. i don't get that at all.
last, i just don't understand why being unable to do anything is a strike against free will. to will to do something and fail doesn't seem to have anything to do with whether or not such willing is original and not the result of determinism nor a random event over which you have no control. if you freely willed something, then you freely willed it, and whether or not such is successful appears irrelevant to that fact. so, how exactly would a freely willed action that is unsuccessful be a strike against free will?

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  jgrow2 on Mon Sep 21, 2009 11:21 pm

So here is a (silly) question to all who've been threading here. Just out of curiosity. Do you think it's possible to reconcile the concept of free will--honest-to-god (heh) free will--without a soul?

From my own standpoint, I cannot. Knowing what the brain and the mind it furnishes both do, and how my own thinking process works even in the creative process (based on cognitive therapy), there is a definite path from A to B there that can be discerned at least after the fact. The cognitive triggers usually happen so fast you can only do a post-mortem on the process.

That is, when broken down, you can usually tell where a thought or an idea came from. Not out of nowhere (the muse!), but usually with more mundane causes ("this led me to this, which led me to this, but when I took this thing and looked at it from this different perspective--because the concept reminds me of something I once saw/heard/read--I came up with this new idea").

Am I making sense? Given the massive amount of data we've collected in our brains from day one how can you possibly have free will with so much accumulated data consciously or unconsciously directing your every move?

I tend to think of the brain in terms of a computer, though the analogy is far from perfect because the brain is much much much more powerful and not an overgrown calculator.

Anyway, I'll be interested to read what anyone has to write.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Mon Sep 21, 2009 11:28 pm

jgrow2 wrote:So here is a (silly) question to all who've been threading here. Just out of curiosity. Do you think it's possible to reconcile the concept of free will--honest-to-god (heh) free will--without a soul?

From my own standpoint, I cannot. Knowing what the brain and the mind it furnishes both do, and how my own thinking process works even in the creative process (based on cognitive therapy), there is a definite path from A to B there that can be discerned at least after the fact. The cognitive triggers usually happen so fast you can only do a post-mortem on the process.

That is, when broken down, you can usually tell where a thought or an idea came from. Not out of nowhere (the muse!), but usually with more mundane causes ("this led me to this, which led me to this, but when I took this thing and looked at it from this different perspective--because the concept reminds me of something I once saw/heard/read--I came up with this new idea").

Am I making sense? Given the massive amount of data we've collected in our brains from day one how can you possibly have free will with so much accumulated data consciously or unconsciously directing your every move?

I tend to think of the brain in terms of a computer, though the analogy is far from perfect because the brain is much much much more powerful and not an overgrown calculator.

Anyway, I'll be interested to read what anyone has to write.
i don't see how a free will is possible even with a soul, hume's fork and all.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  jgrow2 on Mon Sep 21, 2009 11:52 pm

Jim wrote:i don't see how a free will is possible even with a soul, hume's fork and all.

Thank you for that. I'd never known the concept of Hume's Fork as "Hume's Fork." I'd come across the concepts while studying Zen Buddhism and Krishnamurti somewhat by inference. Reading the Wiki entry was most enlightening.

It just seems to me the need to hang on to "free will" is a lot like the need to hang on to the idea of a soul. That we are so unique and special that we need them, or else we're not so unique and special. It misses the point.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Tue Sep 22, 2009 9:16 am

jgrow2 wrote:
Jim wrote:i don't see how a free will is possible even with a soul, hume's fork and all.

Thank you for that. I'd never known the concept of Hume's Fork as "Hume's Fork." I'd come across the concepts while studying Zen Buddhism and Krishnamurti somewhat by inference. Reading the Wiki entry was most enlightening.

It just seems to me the need to hang on to "free will" is a lot like the need to hang on to the idea of a soul. That we are so unique and special that we need them, or else we're not so unique and special. It misses the point.
certainly, some people, likely most, are worried about free will because they're concerned about losing some privileged place in the world. however, some people think that free will is necessary in order to have a legitimate system of praise and blame. we don't tend to praise or blame someone who didn't (apparently) freely choose to perform some action. not being able to choose to do otherwise is a solid defense in a court of law. that makes it an accident rather than a crime. we don't praise or blame trees when they fall, even if their falling kills someone or saves someone's life, and this is just because we don't think the tree chose to fall.
now, of course, such concerns cannot, by themselves, provide a justification for believing that there is a free will (although several people have tried to do just that). the question of the existence of a libertarian free will is independent of the consequences such might have for a meta-ethical theory. i just wanted to point out that there are reasons to be worried about not having such a thing beyond what it means for humanity's "specialness."

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  jgrow2 on Tue Sep 22, 2009 10:08 pm

I've been re-reading the initial posts in the forum to get back to the basics of the argument of determinism versus free will. And, as I often do in the face of complexity, and after some thought on the subject, I lean more toward the middle. Here's why.

I do not believe there is such a thing as true randomness. Things happen at the quantum level that are called "random," mainly because Heisenberg says you can't tell both the position and movement of something at the same time without affecting one or the other. At a certain level, we cannot know everything--or anything really. Maybe someday we will. Beyond that level, the various probabilities leading up to the more Newtonian actions are so numerous as to defy computing in a timely fashion, but they are quantifiable, not truly random. It's not the right word for the concept.

To bring that into the discussion at hand, we are the product of innumerable amounts of data--sensory data and the analysis of that data using both deductive and inductive reasoning. Our brains have been doing this for our entire lives, most all of it beneath our awareness. This data forms the basis for our personalities, our opinions. You were not born with any of this, it was picked up along the way to where you are now. Some of it might have come with you from the womb, this bit is still debated (nature versus nurture). As I see it, this is where we get to the mechanistic determinism Jim speaks of.

The number of otherwise quantifiable factors in this deterministic view are so vast and so completely outside the ability for timely analysis that it surely looks like the result of free will. The variables of available knowledge at a certain point (like whether you remember someone's name, say), or how emotion affects your low-level function (breathing, heartbeat), which in turn can affect your ability to analyze properly, all play a part. So too does your ability to overcome these variables and come to a conclusion. Fast.

That is what one might call "free will." Being able to come to a conclusion based on the mountain of data your brain is chugging through at that time and all the factors that inhibit or support that process. It's all mechanical, all quantifiable, but there is so much of it that looking at it from a distance, at a high level like consciousness, it's "me making a choice."

Where does the praise or blame come in? It's my brain, my mind, my body, my decision-making that got me to this point, whatever it is, and as part of the social contract, I must be answerable for that decision.

I hope this makes sense. I don't have a background in philosophy so a lot of this is probably old hat to you all. This is what I've puzzled out so far on the question of free will and determinism, and I do believe the answer based on the above is "a little of both."

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Tue Sep 22, 2009 10:32 pm

jgrow2,
if i'm following you, it doesn't look like there's any room for something like libertarian free will in what you've laid out, just the appearance of free will. correct me if i'm not getting you.
if that's right, then those with the meta-ethical concerns won't be satisfied. appearance and reality are not the same thing. if all we have is the appearance of free will, then they would likely think all we have is the appearance of desert in terms of praise and blame. that doesn't get us anywhere.

again, i don't think it matters that the fact of the matter might cause problems. things are the way they are.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  jgrow2 on Wed Sep 23, 2009 1:06 am

It is the appearance of free will if you believe only one or the other is possible.

I see that the two are compatible, and in fact free will exists because of a preponderance of data driven in part by determinism. That is, by the end product of countless computations by the brain, and how those are used by the mind that itself is also a product of the brain. The mind cannot exist without the brain or the body of which it is a part. The example of the fellow who had the stake driven through his head causing a major personality shift comes to mind.

So it's not the appearance of free will, it is free will. What I am trying to describe is how that free will works. Also, please forgive the crudity of the computer metaphor. It's the best way I can find to convey the idea.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  snafu on Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:31 am

Jim, still thinking about your last post. Will reply when I've got my thinking straight.

On the general issue of this thread, I read "Freedom Evolves" by Daniel Dennett a while ago, but have forgotten most of it. Anyone think he has got anything useful to say on this? What I do remember of it was something about determinism is true on one layer, but free will exists on the layer above (but don't quote me).

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Stanley on Wed Sep 23, 2009 10:12 am

Free Will is not an illusion after all - New Scientist Magazine.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17835-free-will-is-not-an-illusion-after-all.html

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:07 pm

jgrow2 wrote:It is the appearance of free will if you believe only one or the other is possible.

I see that the two are compatible, and in fact free will exists because of a preponderance of data driven in part by determinism. That is, by the end product of countless computations by the brain, and how those are used by the mind that itself is also a product of the brain. The mind cannot exist without the brain or the body of which it is a part. The example of the fellow who had the stake driven through his head causing a major personality shift comes to mind.

So it's not the appearance of free will, it is free will. What I am trying to describe is how that free will works. Also, please forgive the crudity of the computer metaphor. It's the best way I can find to convey the idea.
i don't follow. if the system is deterministic, no matter how complex, i don't see how there's room for anything like a libertarian free will. adding more billiard balls to the table might make it more complex, but it doesn't get rid of the causal laws that necessitate the balls' behavior. same goes for our brains. the mere fact that it's so complex that we can't do a good job of predicting its behavior doesn't mean that it's behavior isn't causally determined. and, if it's causally determined, then there's no room for free will.
i don't understand what you mean when you say that these two are somehow compatible.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:10 pm

snafu wrote:Jim, still thinking about your last post. Will reply when I've got my thinking straight.

On the general issue of this thread, I read "Freedom Evolves" by Daniel Dennett a while ago, but have forgotten most of it. Anyone think he has got anything useful to say on this? What I do remember of it was something about determinism is true on one layer, but free will exists on the layer above (but don't quote me).
the first book by dennett i genuinely didn't like. he argues for a kind of compatibilism, but, again, it's a slight of hand as far as those interested in genuine free will are concerned. there's still no room for for anything like an independent will to insert itself.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:30 pm

Stanley wrote:Free Will is not an illusion after all - New Scientist Magazine.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17835-free-will-is-not-an-illusion-after-all.html
just another example of a terrible headline. first, the kind of discussion we are having here has nothing to do with the '83 libet experiments that were concluded to show that the neural activity responsible for an action was already in progress before the person made any decision to perform the action in question. our concerns here have more to do with conceptual analysis, what it even means for something to be freely chosen. libet's experiment would simply provide empirical evidence that nothing like a "choice" ever occurs. the big point is that, as far as the conceptual analysis goes, we don't need any experiments to get it off the ground. the libet experiments are just a bonus.
further, it isn't at all clear that the experiments by miller and trevena in the article do anything to falsify libet's conclusion.
from the article:
Marcel Brass of Ghent University in Belgium says it is wrong to use Miller and Trevena's results to reinterpret Libet's experiment, in which volunteers were not prompted to make a decision. The audio tone "changes the paradigm", so the two can't be compared, he says. What's more, in 2008, he and his colleagues detected patterns in brain activity that predicted better than chance whether or not a subject would press a key, before they were aware of making a decision.

But Frank Durgin, a psychologist at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, says that Brass's results do "seem to undermine Libet's preferred interpretation", though they don't contradict it outright.
i included the part from durgin in what i quoted, but i don't really know what to make of it as, according to the article, durgin is referring to brass's experiment (the person in the first part of the quote), and his results don't in any way "seem to undermine Libet's preferred interpretation." on the contrary, brass thinks his results fully support libet. perhaps, though, this is a misprint, and what was intended is that durgin's quote referred to miller and trevena's results. but, even if this is the case, durgin isn't saying that those results overturn libet.

regardless of how that issue gets resolved, i don't see how the results from any experiment could ever show anything like libertarian free will, and that is the result of the discussion having to do with the analysis of the concept. either an action is determined or it is random. if it is determined, then there is no option of doing otherwise, hence there is no free will. if it is random, then it is not the result of choice, and hence there is no free will. either way, there is no free will.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Stanley on Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:41 pm

Jim wrote:
Stanley wrote:Free Will is not an illusion after all - New Scientist Magazine.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17835-free-will-is-not-an-illusion-after-all.html
just another example of a terrible headline. first, the kind of discussion we are having here has nothing to do with the '83 libet experiments

It's not my headline, Jim and I did not add it here to make any kind of point. I have no view at all on free will. I just thought it might be interesting to those of you who do.

My apologies for the confusion.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:49 pm

Stanley wrote:
Jim wrote:
Stanley wrote:Free Will is not an illusion after all - New Scientist Magazine.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17835-free-will-is-not-an-illusion-after-all.html
just another example of a terrible headline. first, the kind of discussion we are having here has nothing to do with the '83 libet experiments

It's not my headline, Jim and I did not add it here to make any kind of point. I have no view at all on free will. I just thought it might be interesting to those of you who do.
i certainly didn't mean to imply that it was your headline. it was a complaint about how the media often uses misleading headlines to draw in readers. you see this all the time with titles like "darwin was wrong!" or something equally silly. it wasn't pointed at you, and i apologize if it came off as something personal. it wasn't intended that way.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Stanley on Wed Sep 23, 2009 1:03 pm

cheers We're all friendly atheists.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  jgrow2 on Thu Sep 24, 2009 12:19 am

Jim wrote:i don't follow. if the system is deterministic, no matter how complex, i don't see how there's room for anything like a libertarian free will. adding more billiard balls to the table might make it more complex, but it doesn't get rid of the causal laws that necessitate the balls' behavior. same goes for our brains. the mere fact that it's so complex that we can't do a good job of predicting its behavior doesn't mean that it's behavior isn't causally determined. and, if it's causally determined, then there's no room for free will.
i don't understand what you mean when you say that these two are somehow compatible.

First off, I really appreciate this dialog, and the whole thread, as it's been educational for me. This is something I found myself working through without realizing it back when I was reading a lot of Zen material, doing Zen meditation (both zazen and silent sitting, or shikantaza) and deconstructing the notion of the soul and whether it exists. My conclusion: It doesn't, but that's beside the point.

Hard determinism and libertarian free will are by definition incompatible concepts. One extreme and its opposite. In my thinking the old Buddhism rears its head and I seek the middle way, so indeed my model does not allow for libertarian free will or hard determinism. I don't see a naturalistic way, for example, that libertarian free will is even possible. It's an idealized construct in the same way perfection or the classic Platonic solids are: We can conceive of them just as we can any other abstraction, but they are abstractions, and not something that is possible in the real world of quantifiable things. But just like a pyramid or a cube structure, you can get so close that it looks like that abstraction though it's the product of other quantifiable things.

So since I've already painted a pretty deterministic picture, where does free will come into play? Sorry in advance for writing another book.

There is an agent of some kind in our brains making an evaluation based on analysis of the situation at hand, whatever that situation is. In animals the agent is an impulse motivated by threat response or physical need. This sort of agent exists in humans as well. The behavior of babies is an example of this at its most basic. To use the (admittedly awkward) computer analogy again, it's the kernel and its core software. However you want to picture it it's the product of evolution and we're equipped with it from day one. This is the agent that makes decisions based initially on reflexive needs, but is also constantly analyzing its environment and remembering things about those analyses.

With the drastically expanded connections of the human brain (compared to those of other complex animals), there are a lot of things we're holding in memory, including abstract concepts--which, as far as we know, we're the only animals who form and grasp such things. Those abstractions (beliefs, ideals, personal identity, national identity) can and do have the same heft to them as our physical needs as sources of motivation.

You have a choice of whether you do something or not. What motivates your choice depends on what is of foremost importance to you at a particular moment, whether it's a physical need or an abstraction that means as much to you as the fulfillment of a physical need.

For example: Let's say I stole a sandwich from the store. Walked in and walked right out in less than a minute. What led me to that decision?

Well I feel the signs of hunger, so yes I should eat. I do not have any food, however. So I will go to the store. Once there, I pick up a sandwich that looks good and I know will taste good. These are all based on quantifiable data that the brain delivers to the agent when eyes lock on sandwich.

But I have no money. At this point there is a decision that must be made. I am sure hungry, but I can't buy this sandwich because I have no money. If I stick it under my shirt and stride on out like I mean to, I might get caught because we've all agreed that taking something that belongs to someone else is worthy of punishment.

So there is fear of punishment if caught versus the need to satisfy hunger. I could seek out free food, but the concept of the steps involved (where's the free food? Can I get it now? How long will it take?) is now weighed against the fact I have food in my hand right now and I am forty paces from the door and another forty from my car. The ease I perceive in that versus seeking out free food is colored by my observations that the store is busy and everyone is occupied with tasks. It's also colored by the notion that fulfilling this need is more important to me than the abstract of a social contract (otherwise I might never eat, I might starve and die--this line of thought plays out in the blink of an eye and activates the animal fear).

Fear and hunger. Which one wins out? I believe I have a good chance to make it to the car without someone seeing me and stopping me, so I stride for the door. Weighing the two basic factors with more reasoning, this is the action that I take. Due to other quantifiable factors, no one happens to see me pick up the sandwich and no one happens to also notice me sleight-of-handing it into my pocket. I also happen to suppress my expres​sion(physical reactions to the complex concept of guilt) so I don't arouse suspicion.

There were quantifiable non-random factors to this entire thing. The decision was one made based on weighing two separate options each with mounds of supporting data behind them. One of them had more weight to it based on other quantifiable data and the agent acted on that decision. One thing led to another to another to another and an action occurred caused by another and another and another. Since the agent and the mound of data that is me did the act, according to the social contract, I did something we all agree is worthy of blame.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Thu Sep 24, 2009 10:38 am

but there isn't some "agent" in your brain. there is only your brain. there's no "little man," no soul, no kantian captain, nothing there beyond the brain itself, and the brain is a wholly physical thing bound by all the ordinary physical laws. the whole point of this is that there never is a choice made. rather, there is a causal chain that extends back however far causal chains go back. now, i get that it seems like a choice, but it just turns out we're wrong about that. actually, that's where the libet experiments brought up earlier might come in handy, so you might like to check them out. it turns out that we can measure brain activity to determine when actions begin, and they begin before our "conscious decisions" are made. it just turns out that our "decisions" aren't decisions at all. they just seem to be.
but this isn't surprising given the analysis of free will in which we've been engaged. again, things are either caused or not caused (random). if they're caused, there's no free will, and if they're random, there's no free will. so there's no free will.
the story about the brain you give attempts to cast the process in a way where choices are given priority, but that's just begging the question. free will just is the ability to choose, so you can't say you know there are choices by telling a story that includes choices. the whole point of hume's fork is to say that what looks like choices really aren't any such thing, and we know this because they couldn't be any such thing.
i'm really happy that you keep wanting to use a computer metaphor, as i think it's apt. i think it's perfectly appropriate to describe our brains as modular, dynamical, parallel, distributed processing computers. and, just like any other computer, there aren't any choices made anywhere down the line. there's hardware, software, and interaction with an external environment. the hardware limits the type of software that can be run, the software determines which function is instantiated, and the external input determines the manner in which that function behaves. but nowhere in there is there anything like choice. everything is bound by deterministic laws. choice has nothing to do with it.
it just turns out that we're very, very complicated computers, so we don't have the ability at this time, and we might never have it, to accurately predict the behavior of that computer (though even our naive, terribly-flawed folk psychology gets a lot of stuff close, and there is every reason to think that an advanced neuroscience will do an even better job). but that doesn't mean we should think there is some kantian captain steering a meat suit somewhere in our heads. it just means it's a tough question. but, given what we do know about the brain and the world in general, we have every reason to believe that we are wholly physical entities, and, as such, we are strictly bound by all the normal rules. there's just no room for any "agent" in our brain that isn't our brain, and our brain is made of the same stuff as rocks. as such, we're no more free than rocks. "choice" is just a theoretical entity that picks out nothing, much the same way phlogiston and the luminiferous aether were bad concepts that picked out nothing in the world.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Neon Genesis on Thu Sep 24, 2009 11:36 am

There's one question I have about the free will debate. I was in a debate with a Christian awhile back who argued that if there is no god, then we're all just determined by DNA. If we're all determined and there is no free will, then morality is just personal preference and not absolutes. His argument was that if morality is just personal preference and nobody has a choice anyway, then we don't have the right to complain when God slaughters innocent children in the bible because our complaint against God murdering babies is just our personal preference and it was determined the babies would die. He then claims this somehow justifies God's immoral actions in the bible and that this somehow proves God is real and the bible is the inerrant word of God. If you accept determinism as true, how would you respond to this argument?

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Thu Sep 24, 2009 12:06 pm

Neon Genesis wrote:There's one question I have about the free will debate. I was in a debate with a Christian awhile back who argued that if there is no god, then we're all just determined by DNA. If we're all determined and there is no free will, then morality is just personal preference and not absolutes. His argument was that if morality is just personal preference and nobody has a choice anyway, then we don't have the right to complain when God slaughters innocent children in the bible because our complaint against God murdering babies is just our personal preference and it was determined the babies would die. He then claims this somehow justifies God's immoral actions in the bible and that this somehow proves God is real and the bible is the inerrant word of God. If you accept determinism as true, how would you respond to this argument?
it's already been pointed out here that determinism raises metaethical concerns. that said, how one grounds an ethics is an issue even if we have free will. it isn't at all clear how pushing subjective concerns back to God resolves the issue. then you just have God's perspective, and if no subjective perspective can ground an objective morality, i don't see how saying, "yea, but this is God's personal preference" gets rid of the problem. as such, the kind of issue you've raised is there regardless of whether or not we have free will and whether or not God exists.
there's just no easy answer for this. metaethics is a subject of hot debate. however, i think something like a rawlsian constructivism makes some headway in this area. if you're interested in this stuff, i'd suggest reading rawls' A Theory of Justice, which is one of the most influential works in metaethics in the past century.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

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