Understanding Free Will

178


Discussion by: tardisride

As a fairly recent de-convert, I am trying to wrap my head around
the concept of free will versus no free will and would like to appeal to the wisdom
of the RDF community for reading recommendations: essays, books, specific
writers, anything of value. I have read mixed reviews of Free Will by Sam Harris. Thank you in advance.

178 COMMENTS

  1. There is no free will in the often imagined sense of a singular decider-of-things floating free and clear of brain states. Deciders-of-things are brain states dependent upon other brain states in an endless backward chain with stimuli coming in here and there. Our genes confer us brains that notice coincidences and produce inferences. Early cultural inputs overlay useful firmware like language and logic. Genetic hard wiring and cultural firm wiring input to an emotional value or aesthetic system that helps us act when presented with a plethora of often conflicting inferences and low level non conscious judgements.Primitive amygdalas ring unconscious alarm bells. (He’s foreign looking should I run away or hit him?). Higher level, more executive and conscious inferences tell me he’s delivering a parcel.

    We have a number of deciders of things in our brains and we (unconsciously) take a stab at weighing these up then depending on the judged saliency (importance / value) acting accordingly. The anterior cingulate cortex for example allows us a chance for the executive (inference) analysis to veto the visceral (more primitive, simple-minded so faster and in this case racist) amygdala output. The ACC spots a conflict before you slug the Fed Ex guy.

    This whole process is a deciding machine on top of lesser deciding machines and is of sufficient complexity that one deciding machine with its unique set of cultural firmware will quite often decide differently to another very similar machine.

    Some of these machines are more autonomous than others. Very high empathy machines start feeling like those next to them affecting their value judgements. Emotional congruence brings behavioural congruence. Others more systemising (empathy and systemising appear to lie on a common axis with a degree of mutual exclusivity) find congruence of behaviour as a result of being guided by the cultural firmware of logic and the scientific method say.

    We cannot call our decider process and the behaviours we make as a result to be “free”. We are machines with emotional and cultural entanglement. But we can be described as more or less autonomous in our actions. We are more or less able not to be second guessed by another. We have any number of social strategies to wrong foot our opponents and appear to be free floating deciders. Still others may be less so, being hugely suggestible having poor internal integrity in the decider processes open, perhaps through empathic channels, to charismatic others. Yet others by their running on mostly cultural rails consistent with their systemising traits may likewise appear less autonomous, more predictable.

    “Of your own free will” is the only way the phrase can properly be used, being the legal way of testing your willingness to own your own actions.

  2. Here are some short videos I found on the subject:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rZfSTpjGl8 – John Searle

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQxJi0COTBo – Steven Pinker

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18tPNgru25s – Siri Hudsvedt and Antonio Damasio

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Uun-2VHe7U – Michael Gazzaniga

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-Nj_rEqkyQ – Daniel Dennett

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMNZQVyabiM – Michio Kaku

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pujDuUUPKoU – Freeman Dyson

  3. I’m fairly appalled at my writing of us a machines to a recent deconvert. Welcome by the way! It was only an explanatory device. I have never ever felt to be the machine that I most undeniably and marvelously am. Indeed I feel more deeply rooted and right and free with brother bonobo, great grandmother tiktaalik and remote forefather stromatolite than, I suspect, of any of God’s very own android fabrications ever could. (You can choose anything you want, but if you choose this I’ll turn you into a real boy in heaven.)

    From the above please be sure to take in the Dennett. “Taking responsibility” for and generating narratives retrospectively of our actions is the key idea behind “our own free will”.

    Domasio and Pinker next

  4. I’ve read Harris’s Free Will, and it’s good, but it doesn’t really contain much that isn’t covered in his talk that Zengardener linked to. I’d start from there – not least because it argues that free will is not just something that doesn’t exist, but that it doesn’t even make sense as a concept (which means you don’t need to waste any more time trying to detect it).

  5. The best discussion of Free Will I’ve ever seen was from Daniel Dennet. I would recommend his book Consciousness Explained.

    As for the idea that Free Will just doesn’t exist consider the following scenario: I work in a bank and am arrested for stealing $10K from the vault. At my trial I say that I wasn’t acting of my own free will because a criminal had taken my child hostage and would only release her after I stole the money and gave it to him. Assuming that story is true if you believe that my defense makes sense you believe in some definition of Free Will.

    Where I do agree is that the metaphysical concept of free will, as something that somehow exists outside the normal realm of the physical world makes no sense. Dennet said it better but essentially he shows how free will is a matter of how you frame the question. What we call free will is our awareness of our internal mental processes. The fact that those process might possibly be some day completely understandable and hence determinable doesn’t really impact at all on our common sense notion of decision making and agents who are at times more or less responsible for their actions.

  6. Assuming that story is true if you believe that my defense makes sense you believe in some definition of Free Will.

    If I let you off the hook because of factors constraining you, that means how harsh I want to be on you depends on how much wiggle room I think you had. That doesn’t mean we ever have at least the amount of wiggle room required for true free will.

  7. John Searle- Free will exists- ” I raise my arm… FW doesn’t exist- “if the freeway collapses..”
    WHERE the hell is the connection? Why did he not use his ‘arm’ example to argue the case against? Logic- NOT.

    Steven Pinker- equates free will with the ‘soul’; and involuntary physical reactions mediating against FW. What?

    Michael Gazzaniga- I like his take

    Daniel Dennett- Excellent, no reason to doubt the existence of FW

    Michio Kaku, Freeman Dyson- pysicists’ explanation, uncertainty.

    Thanks for the list, Detective; now convinced the whole discussion is more intellectual blather from philosophers- and yes, philosophy doesn’t impress me nearly as much as science

  8. In reply to #8 by Nodhimmi:

    BORED… sorry, Phil Rimmer but your tedious post sounds like woo, to me

    I’m going to demonstrate free will in practice- by having a beer

    Where was the woo by the way?

    Woo? Wow!

    Next time I’ll not try to use non technical terms.

    It was twice as long until I cut out Libet and rehearsal of future actions. Count yourself lucky.

    Hmm. I think I’ll have a beer too. Dammit. How free was that choice?

  9. I second Red Dog’s recommendation.

    As for my personal opinion on free will, I think everything is pre-determined. (i.e. if you could know the exact location, state, direction, etc. of every bit of matter and energy in the universe and had sufficient processing power, you could predict the entire future).

    Technically this would get us all off the hook in a criminal trial, but in order for our society to function, hell even for us to make it through the day, we need to maintain fictions like free will. When a mechanic fixes a car he doesn’t dive down to the molecular level either, just to that of the car’s various components like the motor, axis, chassis, etc. At most he examines the individual parts that make those up in turn.

  10. Here is a lecture by Sam Harris:
    http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/the-illusion-of-free-will-lecture-at-caltech

    A related issue is: ‘Is the Self [= presumably that which has the Free Will you are concerned about] real or is it too an illusion?

    See, e.g., http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2011/05/psychological-self-vs-no-self/

    I suppose you may also be clinging to the notion that you have an Immortal Soul . . that will have to go too:

    ‘ . . The Buddha regarded soul-speculation as useless and illusory. He once said, ‘Only through ignorance and delusion do men indulge in the dream that their souls are separate and self-existing entities. Their heart still clings to Self. They are anxious about heaven and they seek the pleasure of Self in heaven. Thus they cannot see the bliss of righteousness and the immortality of truth.’ Selfish ideas appear in man’s mind due to his conception of Self and craving for existence . . ‘

    http://www.budsas.org/ebud/whatbudbeliev/115.htm

  11. The free-will experiment where they look at the basal ganglia was flawed to begin with and has since been refuted. It confuses free-will with liminality. The question also gets mired in ego and what is the self. Too often, free-will speculation does not resolve for self, but proceeds anyway and the result is a pile of invalid. Both sides of the debate suffer from this.

    There are also varying ways of defining free-will, which get problematic. Proponent Searle defines it as something without antecedent, to which I say good luck. If he finds a phenomenon without antecedent, we have bigger problems than free-will. There are other ways of describing it, an aspect of consciousness independent, but its all pointless until we resolve more fundamental questions about consciousness.

    I like this piece by Susan Blackmore at the Skeptics Society, 2005

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdMA8RVu1sk

    It also drops a lot of names you can look up.

  12. In reply to #7 by Jos Gibbons:

    Assuming that story is true if you believe that my defense makes sense you believe in some definition of Free Will.

    If I let you off the hook because of factors constraining you, that means how harsh I want to be on you depends on how much wiggle room I think you had. That doesn’t mean we ever have at least the amount of wiggle room required for true free will.

    I don’t know what you mean by “true free will” you need to define it. So many of these arguments end up going round in circles because people use the same words to describe different concepts. What I mean by free will is a conscious agent making a voluntary decision. Of course when something is voluntary is debatable. Different people will disagree on various examples and as we learn more about neurology and mental illness we will refine our concept of what does and doesn’t count as free will (in the sense that I’m using it). But any decent theory of cognition has to have the concept and distinguish it from decisions made because the agent was coerced or under the influence of some drug or illness.

    And the research that may indicate we “make the decision” before we are conscious of it is totally irrelevant to my definition of free will. Assuming its true its just an interesting side note about how the brain works. It doesn’t change the fact that we can distinguish voluntary choices from those made under some kind of duress or illness.

  13. Maybe you’re not looking for individual opinions, but here’s mine in case you are.

    Various concepts don’t exist at the smallest scale, but do exist at a larger scale. For instance, wetness doesn’t exist at the atomic scale. Elasticity (in rubber bands) doesn’t exist at molecular scales. These are concepts that are ‘emergent’, you only seen them at big scales (macroscopic).

    So macroscopically free will exists (IMO) since it is a high level concept, and humans make decisions based on the state of their brain at any particular time. The state of their brain is not knowable in any practical circumstance. Crude electrodes can only tell you so much.

    Microscopically free will doesn’t exist, since regardless of whether the universe is deterministic or stochastic, it obeys physics laws which don’t have will let alone free will.

    The main reason for continual debate seems to me to be that people don’t want to accept the idea that both are possible. But that is emergence for you.

  14. In reply to #16 by conmeo:

    Maybe you’re not looking for individual opinions, but here’s mine in case you are.

    Various concepts don’t exist at the smallest scale, but do exist at a larger scale. For instance, wetness doesn’t exist at the atomic scale. Elasticity (in rubber bands) doesn’t exist at molecular scales. These are concepts that are ‘emergent’, you only seen them at big scales (macroscopic).

    So, free will is not real, it is only an emergent property, a concept to more easily understand the way the smaller pieces work together. That would make it very much like identity, and awareness.

  15. In reply to #14 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #7 by Jos Gibbons:

    It doesn’t change the fact that we can distinguish voluntary choices from those made under some kind of duress or illness.

    Aren’t choices made out of greed, joy, and excitement just as easily dismissed as involuntary?

  16. In reply to #18 by zengardener:

    Aren’t choices made out of greed, joy, and excitement just as easily dismissed as involuntary?

    Volition is an entirely sensible scientific term, it doesn’t need “free will” either.

  17. I prefer Daniel Wegner’s take on free will. In his book, “The Illusion Of Conscious Will”, he defines our experience of free will as “the authorship emotion” – a feeling we all have, but only a feeling. He suggests it may have come about because it helped us to differentiate our own behavior from that of others.
    Simple, clear, elegant.

  18. In reply to #19 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #16 by conmeo:

    Even emergent phenomena need to make sense. What does “free will” feel like?

    What doesn’t make sense and why should it need to feel like something to exist?

    If I say “John chose piano lessons of his own free will” then that means something internal to John caused him to act, i.e. some neurons in his brain. i.e. it is free from influences external to John. That is free will as most people use it I think, and that is something exists macroscopically just as much as wetness, elasticity, consciousness, happiness. Even basic things like reflections, particle forces, light travelling in straight lines are emergent.

    You might argue that John didn’t choose, his brain cells just fired in a formulaic way, but his brain cells make up John. John is any part of his body.

  19. Welcome Tardisride,
    I’d like to move away from philosophy and back to religion for a second. I believe what you are struggling with is not free-will as a philosopher or neuroscientist would describe it but free-will as a religious person would describe it (given your background). If you listen to a number of debates you will hear the religious say things like “if you are an atheist where do you get free will from, or an objective sense of right and wrong”. They often go on to admit that atheists know right and wrong but they only know it because God (who exists outside of all those pesky reductionist atoms) gave it to us like free will.

    So I want to go a little simpler than the other posts above.

    Read your old testament again if you think religion gives you free will. Take Moses asking the Pharaoh to free his people. God tells Moses before he sees the Pharaoh he will harden his heart so he will not free your people at first. Every miracle Moses performs impresses the Pharaoh so he decides to let his people go, out-performing his magicians, locusts, killing first born sons etc. the Pharaoh again and again is ready to let his people go but god hardens his heart so he doesn’t. This sort of thing happens repeatedly in the old testament, god screwing with peoples mind so he can make a point, an example of just how much more powerful he is compared to those other gods. Of course in the New Testament Hell is introduced promising eternal fire for those who choose not to accept. So don’t worry about free will, You never had it, shifting to Atheism has if anything gained you free will (or more correctly allows you to see whatever free will you had all along).

    Even if you take him at his most benign, god if he is omnipresent and omnipotent must know exactly what choices you will make before you’ve made them, Christ after all, has died for sins you haven’t committed yet, and you children and their children and so on. Presumably anyone who ends up in hell was created with god knowing they would end up there before they where even born so what free will do the religious thing they have? So exactly what difference does it make if my genes, upbringing, peers and numerous other variables create a neurological state that means before I think I’ve made a decision my brain has decided for me? Well with the religious point of view I never had a choice, I just might otherwise, at least I now feel like I have a choice.

  20. In reply to #22 by conmeo:

    What doesn’t make sense and why should it need to feel like something to exist?

    It doesn’t make sense because we think of choice in terms of causality and nothing is self caused. It needs to feel like something because the other emergent phenomena you describe, like wetness and elasticity, do and can therefore be measured.

    If I say “John chose piano lessons of his own free will” then that means something internal to John caused him to act, i.e. some neurons in his brain. i.e. it is free from influences external to John. That is free will as most people use it I think, and that is something exists macroscopically just as much as wetness, elasticity, consciousness, happiness.

    You are describing volition, but not very well. What if John had a brain tumour that caused him to play obsessively?

    Even basic things like reflections, particle forces, light travelling in straight lines are emergent.

    I think it could be argued that all phenomena are emergent, but that still doesn’t tell us anything useful about them. Just saying, “It’s emergent!” doesn’t explain anything.

    You might argue that John didn’t choose, his brain cells just fired in a formulaic way, but his brain cells make up John. John is any part of his body.

    See the brain tumour example above.

  21. In reply to #10 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #8 by Nodhimmi:

    BORED… sorry, Phil Rimmer but your tedious post sounds like woo, to me

    I’m going to demonstrate free will in practice- by having a beer

    Where was the woo by the way?

    Woo? Wow!

    Next time I’ll not try to use non technical terms.

    It was twice as long until I cut out Libet and rehearsal of future actions. Count yourself lucky.

    Hmm. I think I’ll have a beer too. Dammit. How free was that choice?

    Excellent, Phil- apology for the ‘woo’, not called for, having a bad hair day!
    “John Stuart Mill (of his own free will) on half a pint of shandy was particularly ill”
    my all time favourite Python song. So true…

  22. In reply to #25 by Nodhimmi:

    ….having a bad hair day!
    “John Stuart Mill (of his own free will) on half a pint of shandy was particularly ill”
    my all time favourite Python song. So true…

    LOL. And no worries. I tried to show some independence of mind and settled for a shot of 10 year old Talisker.

    Cheers!

    Interestingly it is precisely because we don’t have full autonomy, a fully classical free will that culture exists. If we weren’t stuffed with mirror neurons and were not as massively suggestible as we are (especially when young) there would probably not be good enough copying of cultural attributes to permit the mimetic evolution that we currently enjoy. Language, logic, maths and science may not have come to exist.

    (I am humming “Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar” as I type.)

  23. Phil-Wow, thank you for taking the time to express so much. I see you got a little flak for it :) Anyway, I appreciate the effort you made to illuminate the subject for me. A lot of great recommendations here for me to pursue.

  24. Thank you! I look forward to reviewing those very soon.

    In reply to #2 by Detective Lazy:

    Here are some short videos I found on the subject:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rZfSTpjGl8 – John Searlehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQxJi0COTBo – Steven Pinkerhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18tPNgru25s – Siri Hudsvedt and Antonio Damasiohttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Uun-2VHe7U – Michael Gazzanigahttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-Nj_rEqkyQ – Daniel Dennetthttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMNZQVyabiM – Michio Kakuhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pujDuUUPKoU – Freeman Dyson

  25. Thank you very much. As I said, I’ve read mixed reviews of the book so perhaps I’ll start with the talk and move on to a more comprehensive book.

    In reply to #5 by David M Hart:

    I’ve read Harris’s Free Will, and it’s good, but it doesn’t really contain much that isn’t covered in his talk that Zengardener linked to. I’d start from there – not least because it argues that free will is not just something that doesn’t exist, but that it doesn’t even make sense as a concept (which means you don’t need to waste any more time trying to detect it).

  26. I understand what you are saying about pre-determined outcomes, although my rudimentary understanding of quantum theory makes it difficult for me to reconcile. The place where philosophy, science and the unknown meet may be more than one can understand in a lifetime.

    In reply to #11 by Sjoerd Westenborg:

    I second Red Dog’s recommendation.As for my personal opinion on free will, I think everything is pre-determined. (i.e. if you could know the exact location, state, direction, etc. of every bit of matter and energy in the universe and had sufficient processing power, you could predict the entire future).Technically this would get us all off the hook in a criminal trial, but in order for our society to function, hell even for us to make it through the day, we need to maintain fictions like free will. When a mechanic fixes a car he doesn’t dive down to the molecular level either, just to that of the car’s various components like the motor, axis, chassis, etc. At most he examines the individual parts that make those up in turn.

  27. Thanks. No, I’m not clinging to the idea of a soul. My pursuit of knowledge this year has opened one new door after another, and I’m determined to gain as much understanding as time will allow.

    In reply to #12 by Chris Squire:

    Here is a lecture by Sam Harris: http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/the-illusion-of-free-will-lecture-at-caltechA related issue is: ‘Is the Self [= presumably that which has the Free Will you are concerned about] real or is it too an illusion?See, e.g., http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2011/05/psychological-self-vs-no-self/I suppose you may also be clinging to the notion that you have an Immortal Soul . . that will have to go too:’ . . The Buddha regarded soul-speculation as useless and illusory. He once said, ‘Only through ignorance and delusion do men indulge in the dream that their souls are separate and self-existing entities. Their heart still clings to Self. They are anxious about heaven and they seek the pleasure of Self in heaven. Thus they cannot see the bliss of righteousness and the immortality of truth.’ Selfish ideas appear in man’s mind due to his conception of Self and craving for existence . . ‘http://www.budsas.org/ebud/whatbudbeliev/115.htm

  28. You make such excellent points. Just one more set of examples showing that the “holy” Bible is a mess of contradictions and nonsense. Sigh. I wasted so much time on crap. Well, on to better things. Thanks!

    In reply to #23 by Reckless Monkey:

    Welcome Tardisride, I’d like to move away from philosophy and back to religion for a second. I believe what you are struggling with is not free-will as a philosopher or neuroscientist would describe it but free-will as a religious person would describe it (given your background). If you listen to a number of debates you will hear the religious say things like “if you are an atheist where do you get free will from, or an objective sense of right and wrong”. They often go on to admit that atheists know right and wrong but they only know it because God (who exists outside of all those pesky reductionist atoms) gave it to us like free will.So I want to go a little simpler than the other posts above.Read your old testament again if you think religion gives you free will. Take Moses asking the Pharaoh to free his people. God tells Moses before he sees the Pharaoh he will harden his heart so he will not free your people at first. Every miracle Moses performs impresses the Pharaoh so he decides to let his people go, out-performing his magicians, locusts, killing first born sons etc. the Pharaoh again and again is ready to let his people go but god hardens his heart so he doesn’t. This sort of thing happens repeatedly in the old testament, god screwing with peoples mind so he can make a point, an example of just how much more powerful he is compared to those other gods. Of course in the New Testament Hell is introduced promising eternal fire for those who choose not to accept. So don’t worry about free will, You never had it, shifting to Atheism has if anything gained you free will (or more correctly allows you to see whatever free will you had all along).Even if you take him at his most benign, god if he is omnipresent and omnipotent must know exactly what choices you will make before you’ve made them, Christ after all, has died for sins you haven’t committed yet, and you children and their children and so on. Presumably anyone who ends up in hell was created with god knowing they would end up there before they where even born so what free will do the religious thing they have? So exactly what difference does it make if my genes, upbringing, peers and numerous other variables create a neurological state that means before I think I’ve made a decision my brain has decided for me? Well with the religious point of view I never had a choice, I just might otherwise, at least I now feel like I have a choice.

  29. In reply to #27 by tardisride:

    …. thank you for taking the time to express so much. I see you got a little flak for it :)

    Nah. Just found a drinking buddy.

    Its always fun to revisit these key philosophical ideas and see what one thinks now, so thanks for having your voyage of discovery pass through here. Enjoy your onwards flight!

  30. In reply to #20 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #18 by zengardener:

    Volition is an entirely sensible scientific term, it doesn’t need “free will” either.

    Exactly my point.

    There seems to be a bias at play. When someone makes a decision out of fear, under great stress, or while under threat, people are more inclined to say that they had no choice.

    Nobody questions the authenticity of free will when decisions are made in life that bring about happiness and joy. (some people do)

    “Oh, well, what choice did he have? He was being threatened with joy and happiness. He couldn’t have possibly made a decision OTHER than to marry that wonderful girl.”

  31. If you’re not clinging to the idea of a soul (I love the Buddhist outlook on it personally), one question you might want to ask yourself is, why does having free will or not matter? Would you behave any differently if you knew for certain?

  32. In reply to #24 by Peter Grant:

    You are describing volition, but not very well. What if John had a brain tumour that caused him to play obsessively?

    Thanks Peter. Well I wasn’t getting into questions of what particular situation is and isn’t free will, just why I think it is ok to say that it exists. Compulsive John may or may not be acting with free will the concept doesn’t have to be boolean.

  33. I don’t understand….People involve themselves in long debates about “free will”, when the first time I ever heard of this idea I immediately came to what I believe to be a perfectly logical conclusion: biology. The very concept of our being is dictated by our biology. Essentially, we are predictable; our behaviors determined by our biological composition. Every ounce of our being is hard coded. The function of complex thoughts and expressions simply giving us the ability to conceptualize within our limited perception.

    Does a person with autism choose to behave in the way that he or she may behave? Autism is merely a disorder in which the brain is wired. That very concept is crucial in discussing the lengths of “free will”.

    There is no free will. None that will make you any less Human.

  34. In reply to #38 by theapex:

    I don’t understand….People involve themselves in long debates about “free will”, when the first time I ever heard of this idea I immediately came to what I believe to be a perfectly logical conclusion: biology. The very concept of our being is dictated by our biology. Essentially, we are predictable; our behaviors determined by our biological composition. Every ounce of our being is hard coded. The function of complex thoughts and expressions simply giving us the ability to conceptualize within our limited perception.

    Does a person with autism choose to behave in the way that he or she may behave? Autism is merely a disorder in which the brain is wired. That very concept is crucial in discussing the lengths of “free will”.

    There is no free will. None that will make you any less Human.

    Not everything can be programmed by biology. While biological constraints are absolute, they are not everything, otherwise environment would not determine things.

    Where it gets weird is every cognitive process has a physiological correlation, and the brain develops and grows tissue. For instance, Einstein’s brain was significantly larger on one hemisphere, presumably from playing violin. His lateral sulcus was filled in with tissue, and this did not make him a mathematician, but rather the other way around. Big muscles do not make a person a body builder.

    I don’t have a stance on free-will as I believe other information is needed first, but your argument does not resolve the issue. I do agree that the implications of biological determinism is important to the issue, but it misses the point because it is comparable to saying gravity holds us to the Earth, therefor there is no free will.

  35. Hi Tardisride – if you are in the UK, which you may be as there is something of Dr Who in your name, you can listen to the In Our Time on Free Will here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00z5y9z

    Here’s the preamble …

    Free will – the extent to which we are free to choose our own actions – is one of the most absorbing philosophical problems, debated by almost every great thinker of the last two thousand years. In a universe apparently governed by physical laws, is it possible for individuals to be responsible for their own actions? Or are our lives simply proceeding along preordained paths? Determinism – the doctrine that every event is the inevitable consequence of what goes before – seems to suggest so.

    Many intellectuals have concluded that free will is logically impossible. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza regarded it as a delusion. Albert Einstein wrote: “Human beings, in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free agents but are as causally bound as the stars in their motion.” But in the Enlightenment, philosophers including David Hume found ways in which free will and determinism could be reconciled. Recent scientific developments mean that this debate remains as lively today as it was in the ancient world.

    If you are not in the UK, I can probably email it if you want.

  36. What always amazes me in free-will discussions, is how trivial often are the examples : Choose a random number, choose a random famous person, etc. And then it is said that you can’t explain why you chose Bruce Willis instead of Will Smith.

    .

    Classically, they test you for choosing to raise your left hand, your right hand, both hands or none. And then they tell you that the neurobiologist could see your decision in the MRI even before you were conscious of it, therefore it is all determined by a chaos of external causes you have no influence over.

    .

    But let’s say the question is “What do you want to be chopped off : your left hand, right hand, both or none ?” and suddenly, all this random external deterministic chaos converges systematically to your best interest, and everybody gives the right answer : none.

    .

    That would be for me an evidence of free will. We evolved to be able to avoid or fulfil our predictions of the future. And worse, in a non-deterministic universe, such predictions would not be possible to make.

    .

    I am always amazed by how dualistic is a sentence like “I didn’t choose that ; my brain did”. In a strictly materialist, naturalist and monist conception of conciousness, I am my brain, and my hormones, and my lived experience, etc. I am nothing else (no free floating soul) so, if I am determined by my body and my past, I am determined by myself, self-determined and therefore free.

    .

    It seems to me that denying free will at this point is wishing for consciousness to be something it isn’t : a soul. And sure enough, a soul would seem enslaved to a body. But it’s quite the opposite : consciousness is a property of the body. And a rat got more of it than a beetle, a beetle more than a bacterium, a human more than a rat.

    .

    Therefore, what makes us, Humans, freer and freer from physical and biological contingencies, is what constitutes the base of all human dignity : Reason.

    .

    By reason only can I self-determine rules and principles that will regulate my social and moral behaviours in spite of natural determinisms. And the way reason does that is by checking if I would want those principles to become universal. An extension of the golden rule.

    .

    It is not exactly “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”, because that would mean I can steal if I don’t mind being stolen. It’s more_ “would it be possible to live in a society in which stealing were allowed ?”_. If, using reason only, I answer no to that question, then I have self-determined myself not to steal even if some basic instincts were tempting me. That is what being a self-determined Human is about. Reason.

  37. I wish I had seen this earlier. The topic of free will is probably the last irreconcilable difference we can witness and experience among atheists. As Richard Dawkins himself once said: “Everyone is an atheist (or all gods, like Poseidon, except for the one they DO believe) – atheists just go one god further.” Likewise it seems that people who don’t recognize any evidence to support the evidence of free will might similarly say that, compared to delusion-debunking-but-free-will-believing-atheists everywhere, they simply go “one delusion further.”

    Free Will seems to be a more difficult delusion to exorcise. For one thing it is a belief held by everybody (who hasn’t thought hard about it, at least) regardless of religion, and so there are not divisive and deadly conflicts between those who believe and those who do not. The religion delusion carries a nasty stigma, all the more reason to try to abolish it, but free will does not. Also, free will is a more private experience of control – not a shared experience of an external creator. People are less willing to revoke this feeling of at least some “wiggle room” control of their destiny than to a deity they cannot disprove or find evidence for. Finally, doubt over free will, other than philosophically, has only recently begun to attain the sufficient scientific scrutiny it deserves because of neuropsychology and even the evolutionary advantage to having the delusion (like, I suppose, our genetic/neural predisposition to believe in a god that is not there).

    The notion of free will I’ve seen is useful to atheists trying to debunk theists when they challenge them on the omniscience of a god who cannot foresee our actions if we have free will, or one that would punish us if we do not, but I think the strength of that argument works only if it is true that the theist at least believes in free will. The atheist need not.

    Your opinion will matter on who you read or listen to. Sam Harris and other scientists or philosophers will point you against it, but others, like Daniel Dennett, will laugh and assure you that you DO have it. (I have yet to see Harris and Dennett face-off on this issue, and would love to.) Based on what I have read it seems that those who believe in free will must to some degree change the definition of what is meant by free will, such that, at least to me, they are no longer talking about free will anymore. To me that is as flimsy as an atheist debunking the existence of a particular defined deity and a theist scoffing: well, I don’t believe in THAT sort of god.

    I don’t know if you encountered this dilemma yet, but it was one of the first I realized in shedding my belief. It has to do with causal predeterminism vs. quantum uncertainty. A universe that is predetermined has no room for free will. (Unless, if I am correct, you are a Compatibilist, a position I cannot argue.) On the other hand, if there is quantum uncertainty, then this might appear to give us the wiggle-room we need to have free will, but it does not, since how can we be the owners of thoughts and actions which arose from “random” or unpredictable quantum events? I have yet to hear an explanation which can extricate the possibility of free will from these two possible realities.

    With regard to morality and our criminal system, and holding people responsible for their actions, I would think anyone would agree that this is the flimsiest justification for free will, as weak as “without god, how can we know the difference between right and wrong?” The universe doesn’t owe us the mental “wiggle room” to justify holding each other accountable in order to further justify the need for a criminal justice system. I would argue that the system itself, and its punitive consequences are themselves the product of a society without free will – but I do not see this as a problem (separate from the realization that it can’t be a problem if THAT IS JUST THE WAY IT IS). I would argue that knowledge of the justice system and its consequences are in fact part of the environment in which our minds perceive the world, as real as if it were a physical obstacle we were to avoid, and that certain individuals, given certain brain states and histories, would react utterly causally to any given law. It would be no different had he stopped his vehicle at a stop sign, given his prior ability to read and know the meaning of it, the legal consequences of being caught NOT stopping, or the potential harm to himself or others if there was an accident. And, as such, the justice system would appear to work with some degree of effectiveness despite any lack of free will.

    • Deterministicman : Choose a number between 1 and 1000
    • Freeman : 813
    • Deterministicman : You cannot tell why you chose 813. It was all pseudo-random chaotically determined by your genes and your past and reasons only a laplacian demon could figure out.
    • Freeman : Sure.
    • Deterministicman : Now, choose how many dollars I shall give you, between 1 and 1000
    • Freeman : 1000
    • Deterministicman : Gosh, you are so damn lucky !
  38. Tardisride,
    Thanks for your kind words. You’re not alone in wasting time on religion, I did fifteen years. But, I feel it has armed me to the dangers of these sorts of self delusions and having escaped it I am inoculated to some degree from other forms of self deception. So a religious upbringing, if you can escape it, is not a bad thing and not necessarily a waste of time. I often think you have more chance of escaping it if you take it very seriously because contradictions matter to you. Many of my still religious relatives and friends spend very little effort to try to convert me back, I think this is strange as they believe I am going to burn for an eternity. Yet I have little doubt that at least some of them would be willing to risk injury or death if I were stuck in a house fire for instance. Why is this? I think you’ll find they either don’t believe strongly, or they hold onto their beliefs barely so they are at great risk confronting reasons you may not believe.

    Discussions of this nature often lead me to thinking about computers and Artificial Intelligence. I’ve thought often that to make a computer truly intelligent you would need to make it capable of making mistakes, making leaps of intuition, or else it is just running a pre-programmed routine. Look at a Moth going into a candle flame. If you wanted to program a robot moth to fly in a direction at night you would program it to say keep the moon say on your left. This is how you would program a simple computer insect to do it (if you don’t have sufficient resources or memory to run a more complicated program) keep this bright light on you left. This works fine for the moon a long way away. If however the moth is close to a candle to keep it on its left as it flies past the candle it must turn left and in fact keep turning left until it spirals into the flame. The moth like a computer at least in this has no free will.

    Another example I was feeding a scrub turkey once I held out some bread it approached, I imagine thinking “yum bread”, then stopped when it got within a certain distance I imagine thinking “danger person”. it then moved back and the “yum bread” took over and leaned forward “danger human”. This continued in what programmers call a loop for about five minutes until I got bored and threw it the bread. Again the scrub turkey in this instance had little free will. It may have had free will at some indeterminate distance from me and the bread but not when it got close.

    Free will may only exist in the fuzzy zones. If you were to try to program for AI you would I think need to create a fuzzy zone of where predictions can be made, experience can teach and feelings can bias these decisions. Of course then what you would have is a computer capable of making errors, in which case I’m not sure how much more useful it would be than another human, it may need to be educated, would be capable of superstition and even religious belief, and would be easy to manipulate.

  39. Oh my word, better late than never! You articulated much of what has made the issue so puzzling to me. My admittedly rudimentary understanding of quantum theory cannot be reconciled with the idea of predetermination, at least as far as I can comprehend. This is why I reached out to those who have gone before me on this journey. One person mentioned, with some wisdom, that it doesn’t really matter, but I have to say it matters to me to the extent that I want to understand as much as I can. Thanks for your tremendously beneficial contribution to the discussion.

    In reply to #44 by AgriculturalAtheist:

    I wish I had seen this earlier. The topic of free will is probably the last irreconcilable difference we can witness and experience among atheists. As Richard Dawkins himself once said: “Everyone is an atheist (or all gods, like Poseidon, except for the one they DO believe) – atheists just go one god further.”

  40. Let me approach the subject more generally and then move in closer. First, notice all the things that define you. Please note how you had no control over them. You did not choose to be conceived, you did not choose where & when you were born & to whom, and you did not choose your personality or how you were brought up. You also did not choose your sex or sexuality or even what kinds of people you will be attracted to. If you like vanilla and hate chocolate, it is not because you “chose” to like vanilla and hate chocolate. We refer to these things as Nature & Nurture. Well, Free Will denies both nature and nurture. Free will means that people are totally independent and responsible authors of their thoughts, actions, and intentions. But how can one be totally responsible and free when you are preprogrammed by nature and by how a given evironment effects it. For example, a stupid, aggresive, and impulsive person growing up in a bad neighborhood may become a criminal, but they did not choose to be born stupid or aggressive or whatever. So even generally, the concept of Free Will does not make sense.

    Now, there’s a funny scene in the first “Men in Black” movie where they open a human-looking android’s head and in it sits a little alien in a little seat with a control panel. This is a good metaphor for how people perceive their conscious selves. They don’t believe that they are commanding their body to make blood cells or make their hair grow (or not grow), but they do believe that they are viewing the world from behind their eyes, making decisions, and then making our bodies move and do stuff. A neighbor shows us a picture of her baby, and though we may find the baby ugly, we try not to show it. The little alien inside our heads that we think of as “us” manipulates the body to make it politely nod and smile.

    Of course, we are not consciously aware of our brain’s functioning (and the concept of Free Will comes from people who had practically no knowledge of it). To move your arm, all you have to do is do it. We know there’s a complex, interconnected system in place which involves brain neurons, and muscles, and nerves, and so on, but we are not consciously aware of any of this activity. However, the little alien can’t have an even smaller alien inside its head, and so on. Our brains are made of physical matter, but we did not make it and we can’t control how it works.
    If you accept that creation of thoughts involves the brain, then what does it mean to say that “we” are the independent authors of our thoughts? And let’s not forget that what you think of as the conscious “you” is also the product of the brain.

    What we are doing is merely noticing thoughts once they are created. It takes just a little bit of proper attention to notice it happening. You’re standing in the shower and a song pops into your head. You did not choose for this to happen anymore than you chose your dream at night. Anyone who attempted meditating knows how difficult it is to stop the flow of thoughts when trying not to think of anything. You can’t even know what your next thought will be until you think it, that is until your brain “gives” it to you.

    Can you have a thought without a brain? Even if you are silly enough to think that thoughts come from something other than the brain, like maybe a soul, the problem remains because you did not create your soul either. In other words, Free Will is an impossible concept. To say that we have free will is like saying that a computer can act independently of its hardware and software. Well, our brains are our hardware and our minds are our software.

    As for the negative reviews of Sam Harris’s book, you can ignore them (the book is very short by the way, so you should just read it). That debate is basically about language. Most so-called “compatibilists” don’t so much disagree with Sam’s argument as they just want the term “Free Will” to mean something else, mainly freedom to act on one’s motives without coercion.

  41. I’m in the US, but I pulled it up on BBC and it looks like I might be able to download it which I’ll attempt later when I’m at home. If not I’ll let you know and you can try to email it to me. Thanks!

    In reply to #41 by GPWC:

    Hi Tardisride – if you are in the UK, which you may be as there is something of Dr Who in your name, you can listen to the In Our Time on Free Will here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00z5y9z

  42. In reply to #50 by secularjew:

    If you accept that creation of thoughts involves the brain, then what does it mean to say that “we” are the independent authors of our thoughts?

    It means that we are our brain.

  43. Free will has never made any sense either from a scientific or a philosophical point of view. The only reason people are so attached to this idea is because it feels like we actually make free choices. From an intellectual point of view this discussion is not even worth discussing. The whole debate regarding free will can pretty much be described in the following way: It really feels like I have a free will so I have to find some way (however far-fetched and intellectually corrupt) to be able to sustain this feeling. Next question please…

  44. In reply to #45 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #43 by OHooligan:

    Indeterminism doesn’t get you free will either. A coin toss is not a choice.

    Conway preferred the term “free whim”. Can you – at a whim – decide to do, or not do, something? Can you – at a whim – decide what option to allocate to heads and tails before you throw the coin? (Heads I’ll go to the pub, tails I’ll stay home instead). Can you – at a whim – decide to ignore the coin and go to the pub anyway?

    The opposite view – total predeterminism – is that our experience could be a second showing of the same immersive drama of the universe, in which case all is going to play out exactly as it did last time, including what you perceive to be your own personal decisions. But if this is the first run, as it seems to be, the next page/chapter/episode is not yet written, and your personal choices can affect what happens next.

    I very much liked Conway’s linking of a human experimenter’s “wiggle room” with that of the fundamental particles he’s attempting to observe. Either both can wiggle, or both can’t.

    I also think it’s dangerous to be fatalistic – it’s Gods will that I’ll die or not die in a car crash today, so what’s the point of wearing a seatbelt or obeying traffic signals. Or worse, it’s God’s will that a particular child will be killed today, I’m just the agent of God, which is why it’s not my fault even if I’m doing 80mph past a school, drunk and sending text messages.

    Some say that kind of thinking is behind the appalling traffic toll in the Indian subcontinent. It’s just as bad to say it wasn’t my choice, it was my brain chemistry, it was my upbringing, it was my genes, it was bound to happen, I was powerless, please don’t send me to jail….

    So, free will illusion or reality, doesn’t matter. Pull yourself together and take responsibility for your own actions. I think that’s what most of us do anyway, apart from politicians.

  45. In reply to #42 by Ornicar:

    Classically, they test you for choosing to raise your left hand, your right hand, both hands or none. And then they tell you that the neurobiologist could see your decision in the MRI even before you were conscious of it, therefore it is all determined by a chaos of external causes you have no influence over.

    .

    But let’s say the question is “What do you want to be chopped off : your left hand, right hand, both or none ?” and suddenly, all this random external deterministic chaos converges systematically to your best interest, and everybody gives the right answer : none.

    Just because a calculator can give you the correct answer to a math problem doesn’t mean that the calculator does so independently of the workings inside it.
    And the MRI evidence is pretty overwhelming. The MRI picks up what you’re going to do (raise whatever hand) BEFORE you know what you are going to do. This rather disproves the notion that you are consciously creating your thought.

  46. My own suspicion on the subject of the will is that we will gain a better understanding of this aspect of our consciousness if we ever gain sufficient understanding of consciousness itself. Our sense of being free, within whatever limits, to make decisions stems from our ability to think rationally about things and to weigh up pros and cons for various options and come quite deliberately to a conclusion to favor one option rather than any of the others. Immanuel Kant, among others, thought of the will in rationalist terms of this sort, as in his own way did Aristotle, who even referred to the will as the intellectual appetite. Such an understanding of the will does not require any kind of dualism or Cartesian “ghost in the machine” or what have you. In fact it works best, it seems to me, when consciousness is regarded (speculatively at this stage of our knowledge) as an activity or mode of functioning at a higher order resulting from the activities and functioning of many lower-order systems within the brain. In this way I agree with Phil Rimmer’s thoughts posted above on the will, which seem also to be applicable to consciousness more generally.

    Obviously, the terms of the discussion of what is to be understood about our experience of willing and what we call the will have to change. It is no longer adequate to debate whether the will is free or not – that is simply the wrong question to ask. Our experience of being able to make conscious choices and decisions and of being responsible for our choices and actions and so on is a fact of human life and has to be accounted for. Neuroscience is making significant inroads to this age-old conundrum of the so-called free will. When we better understand what consciousness is or at least how it is that we can think rationally and objectively, we should also be in a better position to understand how it is that we experience ourselves as being morally free and responsible beings. Our sense of freedom may be, as I suspect it is, only subjective, though that would not diminish its moral significance. The human person, after all, is the conscious subject, another point on which Kant was very clear.

  47. The main problem I see with free-will denying is not a legal one about individual responsibility. The legal system could adapt itself to that change of paradigm. The problem is a societal one. All in all, without free will, there is no difference between being determined by cosmic chaos and being manipulated by someone. Never free, anyhow. Just like some people say there is no difference between living in a democracy and a dictatorship. And I think that is a dramatic misconception and only people living in democracies make this mistake.

    .

    Next, Secularjew, your experiment with IA would be relevant only if that IA were equipped with a reflective consciousness (consciousness of being conscious) and never programmed by anybody. If, after bumping into things for several years and learning from it’s environment, it makes decisions converging to maximize its own well being, however the individual defines this notion, then it is probably, for all practical considerations, freely doing so. That is what one would do if one were free.

    .

    That is why free will has to be tested in circumstances that matter. Who cares if you were determined to prefer vanilla or chocolate ? Or if you chose left or right hand ? What matters is if you are going to quit your job for a new tempting one, or would you rather cheat on your girlfriend than stay faithful. You have to study behaviours in the individual’s environment.

    .

    Then, whatever the MRI experiments tells (and the protocol of those experiments are highly discussable, but never mind), concluding that thoughts produced by your subconscious are not produced by you postulates obviously that your subconscious is not part of you, which is, excuse my French, utter dualist nonsense.

    .

    If you mean that the evolution of life and mind depends on the environment, well, I think everybody here already agrees wholeheartedly to that. But thinking independently is by no mean the same thing as thinking alone. As philosophers say, a lone philosopher is always in bad company. Quite on the contrary, you reach higher autonomy and creativity levels when you maximize the number of influences.

    .

    Last, if you want to know if an individual is self-determined, then you first have to know what you mean by “self”. And it’s not random, it’s not magic, it’s… evolutionary. In the same deterministic universe, humans are much better at being free than, say, barnacles, for all practical considerations. And, for all practical considerations, it’s not (it is never) a matter of rewinding the time-line tape and playing the subatomic song and dance over and over again to show that, in the very same circumstances, humans and barnacles are going to behave the very same way. It’s a matter of showing that in very similar circumstances, humans will behave in radically different ways and barnacles won’t.

  48. In reply to #59 by Ornicar:

    All in all, without free will, there is no difference between being determined by cosmic chaos and being manipulated by someone. Never free, anyhow. Just like some people say there is no difference between living in a democracy and a dictatorship.

    There is a huge difference, but “free will” has nothing to do with it. “Free will” is just an attempt by absolutists, like dictators and gods, to essentialise volition and thereby create a scapegoat for all society’s ills. It’s a simple way to distract us from the problem of evil.

  49. Free-will discussions, and many other hard questions, remind me of my favourite “Ricky-ism”

    “My brain plays tricks on me all the time, man. It’s ’cause it’s way smarter than me. It’s always fuckin me around.”

    Anyway. My (simple) take on this is, “is the existence of free will a scientific question?” Like asking “is the existence of god(s) a scientific question” ? Although I’ve often heard people like Richard Dawkins say he thinks god’s existence is a scientific question, I’m not so sure. I think asking questions on these concepts lacks a lot of coherence, and they so often rely on fuzzy hypothetical points about “rewinding time”, or creating “exact copies” which to me seems like nonsense and renders any meaningful discussion useless. Good for the pub though, so I’m off to join earlier commentators for beer and whiskey…

  50. In reply to #59 by Ornicar:

    The main problem I see with free-will denying is not a legal one about individual responsibility. The legal system could adapt itself to that change of paradigm. The problem is a societal one. All in all, without free will, there is no difference between being determined by cosmic chaos and being manipulated by someone. Never free, anyhow. Just like some people say there is no difference between living in a democracy and a dictatorship. And I think that is a dramatic misconception and only people living in democracies make this mistake.

    Not sure what you’re going on about here, but I think you’re equivocating between the different definitions of Free Will. The debate is about Free Will in the deepest sense, not in some legal definition of whether you are free to act on your motives without the coercion of others. And nature is a dictatorship. You can’t take a vote to grow a tail.

    Next, Secularjew, your experiment with IA would be relevant only if that IA were equipped with a reflective consciousness (consciousness of being conscious) and never programmed by anybody. If, after bumping into things for several years and learning from it’s environment, it makes decisions converging to maximize its own well being, however the individual defines this notion, then it is probably, for all practical considerations, freely doing so. That is what one would do if one were free.

    I fail to see how that distinction matters here. Yes, our brains differ in many ways from computers, which are intentionally designed by us (and by the way, we already have computers capable of learning), but we are also products of the “design” of evolution. Just as you are not free to flap your arms and fly like a bird because you are limited by your biology, your reasoning powers are also directed and limited by your biology.

    That is why free will has to be tested in circumstances that matter. Who cares if you were determined to prefer vanilla or chocolate ? Or if you chose left or right hand ? What matters is if you are going to quit your job for a new tempting one, or would you rather cheat on your girlfriend than stay faithful. You have to study behaviours in the individual’s environment.

    And how those individuals ultimately behave is entirely dependent on their biology. So why is one person capable of resisting temptation and another isn’t? Try to seriously answer that question and maybe you will see where you’re wrong.

    Then, whatever the MRI experiments tells (and the protocol of those experiments are highly discussable, but never mind), concluding that thoughts produced by your subconscious are not produced by you postulates obviously that your subconscious is not part of you, which is, excuse my French, utter dualist nonsense.

    Not at all. You’re ignoring the distinction between the conscious and the subconscious. Of course, your brain and everything it does is you, just as your hair and nails and organs and blood cells are a part of you, but you can not say that you are consciously controlling any of those things and telling them what to do. The “you” I was referring to is what you perceive as the “conscious you”, and what the MRI experiments show is that the conscious you is merely a witness to things your subconscious comes up with. And by definition, you do not control your subconscious. However, even if the experiments showed that the conscious “you” was perceiving thoughts at the exact moment of their creation, it still would not change the basic fact that your mind is the product of how your brain is constructed and operates, and in no sense does that make you trully free.

    Last, if you want to know if an individual is self-determined, then you first have to know what you mean by “self”. And it’s not random, it’s not magic, it’s… evolutionary.

    Evolution isn’t random, but it’s not an intentionally guided process either. Not sure what you’re trying to say here.

    In the same deterministic universe, humans are much better at being free than, say, barnacles, for all practical considerations. And, for all practical considerations, it’s not (it is never) a matter of rewinding the time-line tape and playing the subatomic song and dance over and over again to show that, in the very same circumstances, humans and barnacles are going to behave the very same way. It’s a matter of showing that in very similar circumstances, humans will behave in radically different ways and barnacles won’t.

    More equivocation. Yes, humans are different from barnacles. So what? You did not choose to be a human anymore than a barnacle chose to be a barnacle. You can’t take credit for not being a barnacle just as you can’t take credit for the brain you were born with and for the way it works.

  51. In reply to #62 by secularjew:

    Nature is a dictatorship ? Well, I didn’t expect that kind of argument here. And who do you think the dictator is ? I’m not sure we should go on before you defined «Him» for clarification purpose. Meanwhile, I would rather stick to my analogy : nature is anarchy.

    .

    I am so amazed by the triviality of your arguments that I should not be surprised that, of course, you fell for the nihilist trap I warned you about : You didn’t choose to be a human (trivially true) so you are not more free as a human than as a barnacle (dramatically wrong). You are not free to grow a tail (tell me something I don’t know), so you are not free to want to cheat on your wife or not. (wrong: this decision depends mainly on «you» and your lifelong efforts)

    .

    Well… you can’t fly to Alpha Centaury (freaking obvious), so you might as well live in Iran (nihilist trap).

    .

    Stop thinking I got to the rational conclusion that free will is not impossible in a deterministic universe just because I’m an idiot and give me something a bit more consistent to chew on.

    .

    I used to share your simplistic point of view (physical determinism, full stop, don’t want to hear about anything else, discussion is worthless) but I grew out of it because of the obvious feebleness of arguments such as yours. I developed my compatibilist point of view being sometimes convinced by the other side, but rather disappointed by my side, and I’m afraid I already heard it all.

  52. In reply to #63 by Ornicar:

    You know, I have no problem with compatibilist freedom. Just wish they wouldn’t call it “free will”. It’s a lot like calling the laws of nature “God”. Hawking used to do it and I found it immensely irritating.

  53. In reply to #63 by Ornicar:

    In reply to #62 by secularjew:

    Nature is a dictatorship ? Well, I didn’t expect that kind of argument here. And who do you think the dictator is ?

    Nature. It’s a metaphor.

    Meanwhile, I would rather stick to my analogy : nature is anarchy.

    Depends what you mean. Yes, nature can be chaotic, however in many respects it’s not. You’re not shape shifting, after all. There are physical laws in place.

    I am so amazed by the triviality of your arguments that I should not be surprised that, of course, you fell for the nihilist trap I warned you about : You didn’t choose to be a human (trivially true) so you are not more free as a human than as a barnacle (dramatically wrong).

    Your are confusing different kinds of “freedoms”. When one talks about choosing to be human, you’re talking about one kind of freedom, and when you’re saying that a human is freer than a barnacle you are talking about something else entirely. Yes, a human can think, make choices, & do things a barnacle can’t, but you are not free in the sense that your brain and motives are not in your conscious control. And by the way, the experiments and examples you dismiss as trivial, are actually simple, not trivial. Big difference.

    You are not free to grow a tail (tell me something I don’t know), so you are not free to want to cheat on your wife or not. (wrong: this decision depends mainly on «you» and your lifelong efforts)

    YES, you are NOT free when it comes to your desires to cheat on your wife because your desires are not a choice. Sure, you have a choice in the sense that there are different options available for your actions and you are free in the sense that nobody is holding a gun to your head and you are knowingly doing something, but your desires, how much you care about hurting your wife, or are afraid of getting caught, or are able to resist temptation, and so on, are NOT really choices. I asked you, “why is one man capable of resisting temptation and another isn’t?”, and you did not answer.

    I used to share your simplistic point of view (physical determinism, full stop, don’t want to hear about anything else, discussion is worthless) but I grew out of it because of the obvious feebleness of arguments such as yours. I developed my compatibilist point of view being sometimes convinced by the other side, but rather disappointed by my side, and I’m afraid I already heard it all.

    Different things can be meant by free will, and I suspect you are confusing them. Nobody is arguing that humans don’t have the ability to make choices. They do. But why people ultimately choose what they choose and what thoughts arise in their heads is ultimately not in their control.

    [Edited by moderator to bring within Terms of Use.]

  54. In reply to #65 by secularjew:

    why is one man capable of resisting temptation and another isn’t?

    If you are telling me there is variability within the species, and I would agree to that, then you are telling me that some individuals are freer than others to resist temptation (assuming everybody is able to succumb to temptation). Therefore, some free will for them. Hurray.

    .

    Classic double talk : A guy shot 50 persons because he had a brain tumour, so, see, we are not free.

    .

    But wait a minute, that means that he was less free than others, so that others were more free than him. So that people with no brain tumour are somehow free to shot 50 persons or not in a way a guy with a brain tumour is not. Therefore, some free will for them. Hurray.

    .

    And yes, you have a certain influence, a conscious influence, on your tastes. Someone mentioned the tune you whistle in the bathroom without choosing it. But one thing is sure : this was not a tune you didn’t know. If you think that you’d look smarter if you actually liked classical music, well, start listening to some and you’ll end up unconsciously humming it while shaving. That might be a smart social move in some environments. You can do the same with heavy metal. If you decide to like it (because cools guys at high school like it), listen to some and you’ll end up liking it.

    .

    I used to take no pleasure at drawing, I thought it would be good for me to know how to draw, I practised a lot in most unpleasant ways but I eventually got better at it and now I like drawing. That was a strictly conscious move and it changed who I am. I changed my tastes.

    .

    If you take good care of your spouse, make every possible move to have a happy family, focus on positive aspects of your relationship, then you will be less likely to be sexually attracted by other individuals.

    .

    In the same way (and this has been demonstrated), if you consciously make the physical movement of smiling about 30 minutes every day, it has an anti-depressor effect at the neurotransmitters level of your brain. And (demonstrated as well), you can reduce the level of stress hormones in your bloodstream by consciously relaxing your body’s muscles.

    .

    Sure, every effect has it’s cause (and I care little about quantum stuff) but some of those causes are representations that only exist in our consciousness. There is a huge difference between reflex actions (pupils contraction, automatic breathing) and deliberated decisions. We represent our reasons. You can ask someone why they did something and they can answer, and we can understand why they did it once they explained it because we can share with others conscious representations that trigger some of our behaviours. We can share them in a way we can’t share subconscious or neurological or subatomic mechanisms, and sharing those conscious representations is enough to understand most human behaviours. When asked “why did you marry this person?” even the most narrow minded determinist never answers “Oh, I had no choice. That’s started with the Big Bang”. Instead, they say it was a conscious choice. They can tell you why. You can understand why.

    .

    Among all the things that trigger our behaviours, conscious representations are major ones. Some of us are better at being free than others (variability within the species), it’s not absolute, it can be practised and improved, it relies on rational thinking, it evolved, it can regress.

    .

    And, in case that was not clear, I’m deeply sorry not to be writing in my native language.

  55. In reply to #66 by Ornicar:

    Some of us are better at being free than others

    I’m interested how you reach that conclusion, is it something measureable? If so, what are you measuring? What are the units?

    Obviously (objectively?) some people are better at running faster, jumping further etc. Maybe we can extend this to emotions, like being happier or sadder, although I’m not as certain about that, but better at being free, not sure i follow you.

  56. In reply to #66 by Ornicar:

    We seem to be going round in circles, Ornicar.
    You mention that the shooter with the brain tumor is less free than others. Again, you are smuggling in a different definition of “freedom” into the discussion. The point is that you are no more consciously in control of your brain without a tumor than with a tumor. If we were to switch your brain, atom for atom, with the brain of a serial killer, you’d be a serial killer.

    To go back to the question about why one man is able to resist temptation and another isn’t. You admitted there’s variability, but you did not go further. Why is there variability? I’m not asking about the evolutionary causes. I’m simply asking what makes one man weak in the face of temptation and the other one strong?
    As in the “why did you marry your wife?” question, the answer lies in things which you do not control. For example, love is not choice.

    My point is simply that your mind is the product of the brain and how it operates, and you have no control over that. In fact, the conscious “you” is also the product of the brain, not its master. To say that you are able to change your mind is not evidence of Free Will because it does not explain what causes minds to change in the first place.
    Your brain is like an organic computer and it is a super computer that can function by itself and be self aware and so on, but it can’t claim that it has free will. It simply runs on the system that’s in place, and if it can learn and adjust itself, it is only because the system causes for that to happen. So there’s no reason to talk about the Big Bang or quantum theory. All you have to ask yourself is what is a thought and how does it form. And what you perceive as “causes that exist in our consciousness” or whatever, is the illusion of Free Will. And they don’t call it an illusion for nothing.

  57. In reply to #67 by djs56:

    better at being free, not sure i follow you.

    You want great examples ? Take the guy with the brain tumour. Either you think there is such thing as free will, and you say the guy has lost some degrees of freedom compared to healthy people due to his tumour. Or you think there is no such thing as free will, and brain tumour or not, same relativist shit. Say the same about clinical depression. Suddenly, you can’t regulate levels of vasopressin in your synapses. Either you lost some degrees of freedom in the process or you had none to begin with. If you think there were some, then you’ve got a dramatic example of variability within the species. But not all variability has to be pathological. Reason, education and knowledge also allow extra degrees of freedom (you are more likely to react with self control to a pick of cortisol in your blood stream if you know about cortisol) as might many cultural, environmental and physiological factors. We seem not all equals to that respect.

  58. In reply to #68 by secularjew:

    Based on what you have said, I would summarize your position to be that the conscious self is a product of brain structure and the subconscious mind, but that the conscious self is only a witness to what happens and has no effect on the subconscious or other brain functions. You believe this even though you know the conscious, the subconscious, and other brain functions are all a part of the same web of interconnected neurons in the brain.

    The reason consciousness is hard to explain is that it is an emergent property of the complex structure of the brain and sensory systems and all the supporting organs of the body. Emergent properties are the result of one of the most fundamental principles of the universe: self organizantion. Relatively simpler parts can organize themselves into complex systems and produce something new. They can do this because everything is in the same pot, so to speak, and causes are not isolated from effects. Effects can influence causes through feedback loops until a dynamic equilibrium is achieved and something new happens. This randomly interactive process leads to different levels of understanding.

    Quantum mechanics gives way to classical physics when fundamental particles and energy are organized into simple elements. As elements become more complex and organize into complex molecules, it becomes difficult to explain with physics so we skip over the hard part and switch to chemistry. When the compounds and interactions become more complex and something new is happening that we can’t explain, we switch to biology. When the biology and nervous systems of humans becomes so complex and interconnected that something new happens(consciousness), we again skip over the hard part and resort to psychology for explanations.

    You shouldn’t just assume that consciousness has no purpose other than watching the show. Most likely, consciouness wouldn’t even be possible if it weren’t for cross connections between the sensory, motor, speech, and memory areas in the brain. Just ask yourself, who is that little voice in my head? Is that me talking or am I listening? In fact, how can you tell the difference between an unconscious act and a conscious act that was never stored in memory?

    With access to sensory and memory areas and input from the subconsious, it’s possible for the conscious mind to compose creative ideas and plans. The problem is learning to get the rest of the brain and body to go along with it.

  59. In reply to #71 by jimblake:

    Based on what you have said, I would summarize your position to be that the conscious self is a product of brain structure and the subconscious mind, but that the conscious self is only a witness to what happens and has no effect on the subconscious or other brain functions. You believe this even though you know the conscious, the subconscious, and other brain functions are all a part of the same web of interconnected neurons in the brain.

    The conscious self is subjective. Objectively, it doesn’t cause or effect anything.

  60. In reply to #72 by Peter Grant:

    The conscious self is subjective. Objectively, it doesn’t cause or effect anything.

    You can’t say that. If thinking about mortality makes your brain produce certain hormones that will make you feel depressed and therefore think about mortality, then you get a feedback loop and you can’t tell, in this loop, if your consciousness controls the hormones or if the hormones control your consciousness. Deciding a priori that consciousness in nothing but a slave is a nihilist preconception.

    Arguably, representations that exist only in your subjective consciousness influence your nervous and endocrinal systems.

    .

    And you would say that those representations depend on our environment and lived experience and I would say exactly, thinking independently never means thinking alone, and the more influences you gather, the better your conscious control gets.

    .

    And, by the way, never mind for totalitarians using the concept of free will to find scapegoats and so on. Determinism is the realm of crimino-morphology, profiling of pre-school children for anti-social behaviour and preventive court-ordered lobotomies. The political problem is neither a philosophical one nor a scientific one.

  61. In reply to #73 by Ornicar:

    You can’t say that. If thinking about mortality makes your brain produce certain hormones that will make you feel depressed and therefore think about mortality, then you get a feedback loop and you can’t tell, in this loop, if your consciousness controls the hormones or if the hormones control your consciousness. Deciding a priori that consciousness in nothing but a slave is a nihilist preconception.

    It is not nihilist because we don’t need “free will” for there to be moral truths. Why do you think that the experience of having thoughts somehow controls those thoughts? What is consciousness if not subjective, can you show it to me?

  62. In reply to #72 by Peter Grant:

    The conscious self is subjective. Objectively, it doesn’t cause or effect anything.

    The conscious self is more than awareness of current experience; it also includes awareness of past experience and how that past together with the current experience may affect future experience. Long term memory is required for there to be a cohesive conscious self. The conscious self can create virtual visualizations of past and possible future events and lay down new long term memories of those visualizations which can then have an effect on future behavior. Any conscious act or experience that is not transferred from short term to long term memory is the same as an unconscious experience.

    It is the internal cross connections between the sensory, motor, speech, and memory areas of the brain that allow this virtual visualization to be created and then remembered.

  63. In reply to #71 by jimblake:

    Neuroscientists can’t yet explain how consciousness is formed, but it’s logical to assume that it’s not just appearing out of the ether and that it has to do with the brain. The evidence from numerous EEG and fMRI experiments (in one fMRI experiment, they found the regions of the brain with the information about which button subjects would press a full 7 to 10 seconds before the decision was consciously made) certainly suggests that the thought doesn’t originate in your conscious mind, but in the unconscious processes of the brain (that was also the point of my “a song pops into your head” example). However, I was not postulating about the purposes or origins of consciousness, which are a mystery to me, but merely pointing out that whatever the system is by which our thoughts and intentions form, we do not create it nor control it, and therefore we cannot claim that we have free will.

  64. In reply to #77 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #75 by jimblake:

    All of that gets done unconsciously first. What you are describing is the story we tell ourselves after the fact.

    I assume you mean that the conscious self tells the story. That story has to be stored somewhere or there wouldn’t be any conscious self. So–is the story stored somewhere that is inaccessible to the rest of the brain?

  65. In reply to #76 by secularjew:

    In reply to #71 by jimblake:

    However, I was not postulating about the purposes or origins of consciousness, which are a mystery to me, but merely pointing out that whatever the system is by which our thoughts and intentions form, we do not create it nor control it, and therefore we cannot claim that we have free will.

    If the purposes or origins of consciousness are a mystery to you, how do you know that we don’t create it or have any control over it?

  66. In reply to #78 by jimblake:

    I assume you mean that the conscious self tells the story.

    No.

    That story has to be stored somewhere or there wouldn’t be any conscious self.

    No self, but consciousness is still possible.

    So–is the story stored somewhere that is inaccessible to the rest of the brain?

    No, consciousness is not the story teller. Consciousness listens.

  67. In reply to #79 by jimblake:

    If the purposes or origins of consciousness are a mystery to you, how do you know that we don’t create it or have any control over it?

    The same way I know that if my car’s engine dies for reasons I don’t understand, it doesn’t mean that the car broke down of its own free will.
    Are you seriously saying that consciousness creates consciousness? That doesn’t even make sense. Are you denying that the brain is involved in the formation of thought? One doesn’t have to be an expert to know when something is illogical. Only it just so happens that neuroscientists do have evidence against free will, if not downright proof, which, incidentally, you seem to have skipped over in my previous post, along with the main point I was making.

  68. In reply to #81 by secularjew:

    In reply to #79 by jimblake:

    If the purposes or origins of consciousness are a mystery to you, how do you know that we don’t create it or have any control over it?

    The same way I know that if my car’s engine dies for reasons I don’t understand, it doesn’t mean that the car broke down of its own free will.
    Are you seriously saying that consciousness creates consciousness? That doesn’t even make sense. Are you denying that the brain is involved in the formation of thought? One doesn’t have to be an expert to know when something is illogical. Only it just so happens that neuroscientists do have evidence against free will, if not downright proof, which, incidentally, you seem to have skipped over in my previous post, along with the main point I was making.

    The structure of a complex system determines what happens. What I am saying is that the brain can change it’s own structure through the process of conscious thought about possible future behavior. This additional neural structure (the memory of the conscious thoughts) can have an affect on future behavior. This memory can have the form of newly created wants or desires as Ornicar described, and then be acted on unconsciously, or perhaps partly consciously, by the “will” (a built-in drive to find a way to satisfy a want or desire). Since the “will” requires a “want”, there couldn’t be a free will, but it may be possible for there to be a free “want”.

    It is possible to choose to do something you don’t like to obtain something you do like. This could only be possible with thoughts of the future. With conscious thoughts about the path to the future desired goal, the unliked behavior can be associated with the goal and stored in memory as a new “want”. In this way the conscious mind can manipulate the subconscious in the same way an advertiser may do to get you to want their product.

    Can you want to “want” something because of what it will get you? It depends on how bad you want the desired result, and how distastful the unwanted behavior is. If it’s a problem you may find a more acceptable path with more conscious thought.

    As I said before, I think that consciousness emerged from the complex web of interconnections between sensory, motor, speech, and memory areas. These interconnections are what allows body movements to be triggered internally rather than from external stimuli. They also combined the data from all the senses to produce a super sense that allows the external environment to be modeled internally. It also allows internal speech (verbal thought), that may represent input/output from different areas of the brain not directly connected.

  69. In reply to #80 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #78 by jimblake:

    I assume you mean that the conscious self tells the story.

    No.

    That story has to be stored somewhere or there wouldn’t be any conscious self.

    No self, but consciousness is still possible.

    So–is the story stored somewhere that is inaccessible to the rest of the brain?

    No, consciousness is not the story teller. Consciousness listens.

    Who does tell the story? Is it the subconscious or some other function of the brain?

    I assume you believe that you can be consciously aware of what you are doing right now.

    Can you be consciously aware now of something you did yesterday?

    Can you be consciously aware now of something that you might do tomorrow?

    Tomorrow, could you be consciously aware that the day before you were aware of something you might do today?

    If the answer to these last three questions is yes, then you have a conscious self that spans at least three days.

  70. In reply to #83 by jimblake:

    Who does tell the story? Is it the subconscious or some other function of the brain?

    Probably. Consciousness is not, strictly speaking, a function of the brain as it doesn’t actually do anything. Perhaps it is an evolutionary by-product.

    I cannot know for certain that you are conscious because I cannot experience your consciousness directly, like I can my own. But I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

  71. It is easy to confuse the content of a conscious thought with the experience of it. The experience of consciousness seems strongly associated with when the content of that experience is of a particular salience. So a particular class of salient inferences, memories or “cognitions” become conscious. The quality of this effect may be a spurious artifact but it may be that being so experienced it co-opts an added emotional valuation. It may be associated with error reports or potential error reports (in the ACC for instance) when risk is very high.

    The big problem of big brains is overcoming stasis. Having too many inputs, too many experiences to draw upon can be pole axing. It is more than likely that an evolving brain needs to find higher and higher levels of executive decision making, additional ways of avoiding the nearly always lethal condition of indecision.

    Our modeling of future events feeds into cognition, to direct attention with the effect of reducing input data processing. The internal narrator / modeller (modules?) are not necessarily consciously accessible, after all one of their uses is to reduce executive burden. Dreams and day dreams may be these modules doing there thing occasionally achieving the required salience. They may be predictive model making with only paltry and mostly internal input.

    Whole narratives or narrative fragments can become appropriately salient for conscious “access” and the emotional / aesthetic “decider” is “watching” the testing of alternatives for error flags selecting perhaps the least flagged. Improvements in failed narratives appear to happen spontaneously and subconsciously and probably progress in evolutionary type ways of random mutation and formal selection. This is problem solving and choosing. It often seems that we are consciously driving the problem solving. I contend we are consciously observing the error testing only. The apparent spontaneous generation of better (less wrong) narratives is misapprehended as willful generation of the same.

  72. In reply to #85 by phil rimmer:

    Thank you! That was excellently put.

    The internal narrator / modeller (modules?) are not necessarily consciously accessible, after all one of their uses is to reduce executive burden.

    Not normally no, but I can assure you that he is an extremely cynical and condescending bastard.

  73. In reply to #84 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #83 by jimblake:

    Who does tell the story? Is it the subconscious or some other function of the brain?

    Probably. Consciousness is not, strictly speaking, a function of the brain as it doesn’t actually do anything. Perhaps it is an evolutionary by-product.

    I cannot know for certain that you are conscious because I cannot experience your consciousness directly, like I can my own. But I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

    I think that the conscious self is composed of two selves: the experiencing self and the remembering self. The experiencing self is the one who experiences the consciousness of the moment, and the remembering self is conscious of memories of a sampling of the conscious experiences. It is the remembering self that contains the narative of our lives.
    I think you’re refering to the experiencing self. It is the remembering self that gives our lives meaning and continuity. Without it we would have no sense of self or identity.
    We can think about past experiences and remember that we thought about them, and we can think about the future and remember our thoughts about possible future experiences. It is through these thoughts of the future that we try to influence the direction of the narative of our lives.

  74. In reply to #74 by Peter Grant:

    It is not nihilist because we don’t need “free will” for there to be moral truths. Why do you think that the experience of having thoughts somehow controls those thoughts? What is consciousness if not subjective, can you show it to me?

    Of course, moral principles are self derived and rely on rational thinking. A society allowing homicide wouldn’t work, therefore I shall not kill. I mean nihilist in it’s first philosophical sense : the negation of being.

    .

    It leads to, you know, all that stuff about consciousness not doing anything, only sitting there sipping glucose with no evolutionary benefit, it being a mere spandrel of evolution, you having doubts about others being conscious, and I stop you before you write that consciousness is an illusion, because if consciousness is an illusion then… what isn’t ? That’s nihilism for you.

    .

    So you feel less lonely, I shall first demonstrate that other people are conscious. If Descartes had known his memetic, he would have written : “I think therefore I am, but I think in French, I couldn’t have possibly invented that language so, unless it fell from the Sky, it must have evolved, replicating itself from consciousness to consciousness.”

    .

    Note that unless it is spoken or written, and therefore conscious at some point, a language cannot be transmitted. Telepathic transmission of an evolved language from subconsciousness to subconsciousness doesn’t work. Language is, indeed, what structures consciousness, and even if most subconscious processes certainly work otherwise, there is hardly anything as a non-verbal conscious thought. Even a smell or a feeling ; it’s never that clear in a human mind, never that “conscious”, until you put a word on it.

    .

    Of course, you don’t really remember how you learned your native language, and it was certainly not that clear to you at the time, specially as you didn’t yet know any language to make sense of what you were experiencing. Tough.

    .

    Now, you will probably admit that dreaming is a somehow conscious activity (when we are aware of if) but definitely not a consciously controlled one. The remembered content of our dreams comes, obviously, from our subconsciousness. And under normal circumstances, we dream in our native language. I have never dreamt in Japanese, and you will not find a Japanese proton in all my neurones, synapses and hormones because I don’t know a word of it. Not much Japanese in my subconscious.

    .

    Say that I now need to learn Japanese. No choice there, my boss said. It’s going to require a long, slow and painful conscious work. Going to lessons, listening to recordings, copying alphabets, making exercises, trying to pronounce, studying grammar, watching movies and, eventually, spending 6 months in Japan (conscious action of taking the plane, etc.) Part of the passive learning might be subconscious, by I will simply never learn Japanese if I never make, for example, the conscious effort of speaking it. Students who try that, fail.

    .

    And then, one day, I will dream in Japanese ! Just like I dream in English whenever I spend a couple of weeks in an English speaking area. I will have produced a conscious alteration of my subconscious from the day I first opened my Japanese textbook, started to repeat sounds in my head and tried to consciously remember them. Quite often, consciousness influences subconsciousness.

    .

    So, what I don’t quite get is why people, who perfectly know that what they call “I” is a global compound of consciousness and subconsciousness interacting both ways, stick to their belief that what they call “I” is only half of them enslaved unilaterally by their other half which they somehow consider as foreign. We know that conscious thoughts and actions can alter levels of hormones and neurotransmitters (thinking about mortality, relaxing muscles, mechanically smiling) and even change size and shape of the brain (practising violin), but still we observe that bias toward the negation of being. Why ?

    .

    As far as we can tell, there is as much influence of subconsciousness on consciousness than of consciousness on subconsciousness. From a neurological point of view, the strict subordination of consciousness to subconsciousness is a preconception. What is impartially observed is a feedback loop in a global equilibrium. Sure, we know it all boils down eventually to atoms and chemistry, but there is not a single atom of compassion, or friendship, or hatred in my brain. When you are done reading a good book, you don’t say “what a nice alphabet !” Instead, you realise that something has been transmitted from consciousness to consciousness and it deeply changed you.

  75. In reply to #82 by jimblake:

    I’m sorry, jimblake, but both you and Ornicar are making a lot of unsupported assumptions about the workings and structure of the brain that frankly you are not qualified to make; for example, your notions about the relationship of consciousness and memory (a television screen can show different programs, but that doesn’t mean that it also makes them and stores them). But even if your claims about consciousness and the brain were true, you are still failing to notice the basic logical problem. If X causes Y which affects Z (or even if X causes Y which affects X), it doesn’t make Y an independent agent.

  76. In reply to #89 by secularjew:

    And you are still missing the point. When X causes Y which causes X which causes Y… your are not X, your are not Y. You are X and Y.

    .

    Saying “I didn’t choose that. My brain did”, is nonsensical from a materialist point of view.

    .

    And please specify which unsupported assumptions I am frankly not qualified to make, because I think I did my researches seriously and I shall find for you some references if you are indeed reduced to that kind of argument of authority.

  77. In reply to #90 by Ornicar:

    And you are still missing the point. When X causes Y which causes X which causes Y… your are not X, your are not Y. You are X and Y.

    Saying “I didn’t choose that. My brain did”, is nonsensical from a materialist point of view.

    If Y cannot exist without X, then Y is not independent. I’m sorry if that’s confusing to you.
    Also, you might want to look up what “materialism” means.

  78. In reply to #89 by secularjew:

    In reply to #82 by jimblake:

    I’m sorry, jimblake, but both you and Ornicar are making a lot of unsupported assumptions about the workings and structure of the brain that frankly you are not qualified to make; for example, your notions about the relationship of consciousness and memory (a television screen can show different programs, but that doesn’t mean that it also makes them and stores them). But even if your claims about consciousness and the brain were true, you are still failing to notice the basic logical problem. If X causes Y which affects Z (or even if X causes Y which affects X), it doesn’t make Y an independent agent.

    I never said consciouness was an independent agent. In fact, I said that consciousness emerges from the complex structure of the brain and sensory systems and all the supporting organs of the body. It’s true that consciousness is an experience and that experience itself doesn’t do anything directly. But the experience of consciousness is the result of some process in the brain that focuses attention on certain brain activity. It is that process that aids in the transfer of memories from short term to long term. We remember conscious experience much better than subconscious experience. The collection of these memories along with our current experience and possible future experience are what constitute our “conscious selves”.

    One of the important functions of the brain is to figure out what might happen next. Our “subconscious selves” play an important role is this function, but it is accomplished by modules that employ shortcuts and approximations. It is useful when quick action is needed. Most of our speech is actually generated in this way. Sometimes it seems you don’t know what you’re going to say until you hear yourself say it. That’s because speech generation and speech recognition are separate modules in the brain. When thinking about something, these two modules are internally cross-connected, allowing us to speak and hear at the same time even though there is no sound.

    The “conscious self” can also try to predict the future with more contemplation. We can discuss it with others and arrive at a collaberative conclusion, or we can discuss it with ourselves by thinking about it and focusing on memories of relevant experiences. When we discuss it with ourselves, who are we speaking to? Or are we listening? Or maybe both? Why would we have to speak at all if the brain can perform this function? I think that it’s the evolutionary consequence of internalizing the process of discussing and planning with others, and the conversation may actually be between different parts of the brain. Anyway, when speaking this way, it can be slower and more deliberate, repeating and revising and being interupted by another idea. This can produce a better more accurate analysis for situations that require it.

    Since attention is being focused on this process, it is raised to a conscious level and remembered the same as other conscious experience and can affect future behavior as well.

    This is not about an independent agent being in control of the brain, but a brain having different ways of initiating behavior and working together to do what the situation requires.

  79. In reply to #87 by jimblake:

    I think that the conscious self is composed of two selves: the experiencing self and the remembering self. The experiencing self is the one who experiences the consciousness of the moment, and the remembering self is conscious of memories of a sampling of the conscious experiences. It is the remembering self that contains the narative of our lives.

    Agreed.

    I think you’re refering to the experiencing self. It is the remembering self that gives our lives meaning and continuity. Without it we would have no sense of self or identity.

    True, but there would still be experience. It is for the experience that we value conceptions of self, identity etc. It makes for a better story.

    We can think about past experiences and remember that we thought about them, and we can think about the future and remember our thoughts about possible future experiences. It is through these thoughts of the future that we try to influence the direction of the narative of our lives.

    True, but thinking doesn’t require that you actually experience anything. It is for the experience of thinking that we most value thought.

  80. In reply to #88 by Ornicar:

    Of course, moral principles are self derived and rely on rational thinking.

    Not sure what you mean here by self-derived. Are these moral principals derived from themselves or does your essentialist “self” somehow derive them? As for relying on rational thinking, altruism is quite irrational from the perspective of the “self”.

    A society allowing homicide wouldn’t work, therefore I shall not kill.

    Sounds pretty nihilist to me.

    I mean nihilist in it’s first philosophical sense : the negation of being.

    I’m rather skeptical of existence generally. Doubt we need all that metaphysical nonsense just to be.

    .

    It leads to, you know, all that stuff about consciousness not doing anything, only sitting there sipping glucose with no evolutionary benefit,

    Consciousness doesn’t use any extra energy.

    it being a mere spandrel of evolution, you having doubts about others being conscious, and I stop you before you write that consciousness is an illusion, because if consciousness is an illusion then… what isn’t ? That’s nihilism for you.

    Of course consciousness is an illusion, that’s why we can study it. “Free will” isn’t even an illusion.

  81. I find that the term “free will” is nothing more than an ambiguity invented by the church to explain things that don’t make sense. Since, according to christians, god is all knowing, all powerful and has a plan set in motion, it would appear you are not in control of your own body, god is in control of course. But how do you explain suffering and disease then? You just simply get a bunch of illogical minds together and come up with the term free will. You have the free will to mess up what god has done for you and that explains evil in the world. It simply takes the blame for anything bad in the world and places onto you, then provides the solution to those bad things, which is giving money to your church and prosthelytizing others into your religion. Whenever somebody tells me about “free will” I simply ask them to define what they mean. I have never been given a straight forward answer, and I have never been given the same answer twice. It is simply a manifested concept to explain gaps in logic, and it does not work.

  82. In reply to #69 by Ornicar:

    Hi Ornicar, thanks for the response.

    I think, based on what you said, I asked about whether you can measure free will to ascertain if someone is “better” at it and what the units were. If I’ve understood you correctly you say:

    “[with depression]… you lost some degrees of freedom in the process or you had none to begin with.” And, “Reason, education and knowledge also allow extra degrees of freedom”

    I think you are suggesting there is an equivalence with the number of parameters needed to describe the system and how much ”free will” it has. Perhaps you are even venturing into thermodynamics to explain measuring free will? (Although I may have interpreted “degrees of freedom” different to how you meant it?)

    I think measuring the “degrees of freedom” is a perfectly acceptable thing to do, but declaring that someone with a brain tumour, or depression, has fewer, whilst someone with an education (compared to someone without?) has greater “degree of freedom” seems a wildly rash assertion to make.

    What is a “degree of freedom” and why do you think the people in your examples have more (or less) than others?

    If ask for a very simple reason, I presume we could trivially agree that a system of N distinct particles has less states than a system of 2N distinct particles, (assuming other things being equal)? And yet I doubt you would agree that the earth has more “free-will” than me, (perhaps you do?) though it has many more “degrees of freedom,” as I understand the term.

  83. In reply to #93 by jimblake:

    No one is denying the importance of having conscious experiences, but to paraphrase the psychologist Bruce Hood, just because a conscious experience may have an effect on the way we think and act, does not mean that it exists as an entity. If you agree with this, as you seem to, then where do you get free will?
    And putting everything on the brain (or focusing on the interaction of one part of the brain with another) still doesn’t get you free will because the brain did not create itself, nor how it works. I would also add that even if consciousness was a separate entity, it would still be dependent on whatever system was responsible for it.

  84. In reply to #98 by secularjew:

    In reply to #93 by jimblake:

    No one is denying the importance of having conscious experiences, but to paraphrase the psychologist Bruce Hood, just because a conscious experience may have an effect on the way we think and act, does not mean that it exists as an entity. If you agree with this, as you seem to, then where do you get free will?
    And putting everything on the brain (or focusing on the interaction of one part of the brain with another) still doesn’t get you free will because the brain did not create itself, nor how it works. I would also add that even if consciousness was a separate entity, it would still be dependent on whatever system was responsible for it.

    You’re so busy defending your position that you didn’t even notice that I didn’t make an argument for free will. In fact, in comment #82, I said there couldn’t be free will and proposed an alternative.

    I have been arguing that focused and deliberative conscious thought can lead to a novel idea that is remembered and has an affect on behavior. I entered this conversation because you believe that the conscious mind is only a witness to what the subconscious comes up with and everything is determined by what came before. I’m not sure where you would end the causal regression. You acknowledge that humans can make choices, but that we are not in control of those choices. To me, that means that you believe that “we” are some ethereal entity in the head watching the human make a choice. “We” are the whole person and the whole person makes the choice. Sometimes the choice is made without much thought, and other times a lot of thought goes into it.

    Since true free will is impossible, there needs to be an explanation for the appearance and feeling of “free will”. The usual explanation is that it is an illusion. An illusion is produced by a cognitive bias for a particular interpretation of the perceptual information. For example, humans can imagine faces in a wide variety of places including the planet Mars and burnt toast. The reason for this is that we have a cognitive bias for faces, but that’s so that we can easily recognize real faces, not just to produce illusions. I’m not sure why we would have a cognitive bias for free will unless it was so that we could easily recognize SOMETHING LIKE free will.

    I think that the reason we feel like we have free will is because we have SOMETHING LIKE free will, and that something is intentional behavior. Is it possible to intend to do something and then do it, or do we just react to external stimuli? Much of our behavior is automatic reaction to external stimuli, but I think we do have the power to act intentionally. We need to discuss how our intentions might form and how they might affect our behavior, and how and why a system like this might have evolved. It is not sufficient to say that it is just an illusion, and we actually have no choice.

    We have to get away from the idea that there is a causal chain that exists through time. The reality is that what happens is determined by the environment, but the environment is determined by what happens. Systems have been and are evolving that create complex order and meaning from random energy through some filtering or selection process. It is the complex systems that determine what happens, and a human being is a complex system.

    The structure of the brain determines how it works. You say the brain did not create itself, but that is only partly true. The brain did not create itself in its initial state, but it did create all the changes in its own structure since then. The brain can change its own structure and make new things happen.

  85. In reply to #97 by djs56:

    Well, I would say that my definition of free will is the idea that consciousness is an actor in decision making, not a mere witness of mechanical processes.

    Free-will deniers seem to come in three types :

    • The dualists :_ “My consciousness is controlled by my body”_, which contradicts materialism (“my consciousness is my body”)
    • The fatalists:_ “I am determined by my lived experience”_ and their fallacy boils down to stuff like. “You could have been a serial killer, an autist or a barnacle. We can prove that you didn’t choose how free you are, therefore you are not free.”
    • The nihilists : “Consciousness is an illusion. There isn’t even a consciousness there to be victim of the illusion of consciousness. Therefore illusions are an illusion. By the way, what isn’t an illusion ? I doubt of existence. I think but I am not. Negation of being.” This point of view is so vacuous that it philosophically implodes when poked at.

    If consciousness takes no proper active part in decision making, if it is only witnessing a job that is all done, or could all be done, subconsciously, and we just happen to feel amazed by it thanks to some random evolutionary accident or by-product, like our chin or a navel, then all this deliberation stuff in our head has no evolutionary benefit and can only be tolerated if it has no metabolic cost.

    Get a scientific study that demonstrates that conscious deliberation has no metabolic cost and is not time consuming, and I will grant you it has no evolutionary benefit.

    If, on the other hand, the costs happen to be extremely high, then we shall wonder what could possibly those expensive evolutionary benefits be.

    For biologist Gerald Edelman, that is obvious : “The evolutionary advantage is quite clear. Consciousness allows you the capacity to plan.[...] The ability to consider alternative images in an explicit way is definitely evolutionarily advantageous.”

    That’s no “wiggle room” ! That is the ability to make the plan, to forecast, to contemplate alternatives, to project, to evaluate consequences. That’s the major part of any decision making. Say your subconscious rolls the final dice, it does it according to how good your conscious self has been at foreseeing the outcomes and their probabilities. Every-time you make the right choice, you get a bit better at it. You become yourself by following to your own plans. You are self determined. And whenever your conscious self comes to the clever conclusion that there is no choice (that’s called Reason, or Evidence) then no dice is rolled.

    And obviously, not everybody is equally good at planning. You, me, a barnacle. As Dennett said, a guy in a hot-air balloon has only one degree of freedom. He can go up or down. But a good pilot who knows the winds can travel in any direction.

  86. In reply to #100 by Ornicar:

    If consciousness takes no proper active part in decision making, if it is only witnessing a job that is all done, or could all be done, subconsciously, and we just happen to feel amazed by it thanks to some random evolutionary accident or by-product, like our chin or a navel, then all this deliberation stuff in our head has no evolutionary benefit and can only be tolerated if it has no metabolic cost.

    The “deliberation stuff” does have evolutionary benefit, but it isn’t consciousness. Consciousness is simply the subjective experience of watching this “deliberation stuff” happen, and therefor has no metabolic cost.

  87. What bugs me most about compatibilism is how through its attempts to objectify consciousness it tries to negate our subjective experience, the very reason we value consciousness in the first place.

  88. In reply to #101 by Peter Grant:

    Consciousness is simply the subjective experience of watching this “deliberation stuff” happen, and therefor has no metabolic cost.

    Brilliant. Where is your evidence for that ? You show me a scientific study that demonstrates that consciousness has no metabolic cost, and I will grant you there is no free will. Show it to me.

  89. In reply to #103 by Peter Grant:

    What bugs me most about compatibilism is how through its attempts to objectify consciousness it tries to negate our subjective experience, the very reason we value consciousness in the first place.

    Sorry for unweaving your rainbow.

  90. In reply to #104 by Ornicar:

    Brilliant. Where is your evidence for that ? You show me a scientific study that demonstrates that consciousness has no metabolic cost, and I will grant you there is no free will. Show it to me.

    First, you show me evidence of consciousness.

  91. In reply to #105 by Ornicar:

    Sorry for unweaving your rainbow.

    Not at all. I happen to enjoy the experience of understanding light refraction almost as much as the experience of seeing it, and these two experiences are not mutually exclusive.

  92. In reply to #106 by Peter Grant:

    First, you show me evidence of consciousness.

    What about Cogito ergo sum ?

    Sam Harris wrote :

    It is surely a sign of our intellectual progress that a discussion of consciousness no longer has to begin with a debate about its existence. To say that consciousness may only seem to exist is to admit its existence in full—for if things seem any way at all, that is consciousness. Even if I happen to be a brain in a vat at this moment—all my memories are false; all my perceptions are of a world that does not exist—the fact that I am having an experience is indisputable (to me, at least). This is all that is required for me (or any other conscious being) to fully establish the reality of consciousness. Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion.

    Now, find a way to switch it off and show it makes no difference. That one would make the very same choices without ever thinking “I am”.

  93. In reply to #108 by Ornicar:

    What about Cogito ergo sum ?

    René Descartes was a dualist. Thoughts do exist objectively, but the “I” is subjective.

    Sam Harris wrote :

    It is surely a sign of our intellectual progress that a discussion of consciousness no longer has to begin with a debate about its existence. To say that consciousness may only seem to exist is to admit its existence in full—for if things seem any way at all, that is consciousness. Even if I happen to be a brain in a vat at this moment—all my memories are false; all my perceptions are of a world that does not exist—the fact that I am having an experience is indisputable (to me, at least). This is all that is required for me (or any other conscious being) to fully establish the reality of consciousness. Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion.

    Depends on in which sense you use the term. Consciousness is not an illusion in the sense that “free will” is an illusion, but it is an illusion in the sense that “free will” is not even an illusion. All subjective experience is illusory, in that it does not exist objectively, but that doesn’t make it any less real.

    Now, find a way to switch it off and show it makes no difference. That one would make the very same choices without ever thinking “I am”.

    Consciousness is not required to think “I am”. It may be that whatever is required to think “I am” unavoidably also results in consciousness, but it is not the consciousness doing the thinking. I would also like to point out that many conscious creatures have little or no conception of self, so self is not required for consciousness.

  94. That would mean that we feel (we witness) pain, with all it’s psychological damage, for no evolutionary reason, because our subconscious is able to make the choice of protecting the body when we touch fire without consciousness necessarily being aware of body destruction but still inflicts excruciating feelings to the witnessing guy just because conscious pain has no metabolic cost and has therefore not been selected out.

  95. In reply to #110 by Ornicar:

    Yes, it’s sort of tragic really, especially when one considers how involuntary reflexes in the spinal cord cause one to pull one’s hand away before the pain signal even reaches the brain.

  96. In reply to #110 by Ornicar:

    That would mean that we feel (we witness) pain, with all it’s psychological damage, for no evolutionary reason, because our subconscious is able to make the choice of protecting the body when we touch fire without consciousness necessarily being aware of body destruction but still inflicts excruciating feelings to the witnessing guy just because conscious pain has no metabolic cost and has therefore not been selected out.

    I think you’re right; there is a purpose for conscious experience, and it’s the obvious one. It’s to get our attention. It allows us to focus on something that may be important and remember it and learn from it. In contrast, subliminal experience is not noticed or remembered and has no lasting effect.

    Some threshold of activity is required to be noticed, such as a loud noise, a fast moving object, a hot surface, or a person’s voice. More attention is focused on the noticed activity, allocating more brain resources to analyze the situation and take appropriate action.

    Of course, what is really being focused on is brain activity, since the external world is represented internally in the brain. Because this experience is represented internally, cross connections in the structure of the brain can allow some conscious experience to be created internally by different parts of the brain working together through imagination, visualization, and internal speech. This internal conscious experience causes the same kind of focused attention that allows remembering and learning as external conscious experience does.

    Consciousness allows the brain to separate and focus on the important stuff in the haze of information that has to be processed.

  97. In reply to #113 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #112 by jimblake:

    There must be better ways of focusing attention. Only a sadist would deliberately build robots that feel pain.

    You may have a point. There’s a lot of other evidence to indicate that the “intelligent designer” had a sadistic sense of humor and was not very intelligent.

  98. In reply to #113 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #112 by jimblake:

    There must be better ways of focusing attention. Only a sadist would deliberately build robots that feel pain.

    The simplest way of testing something is to compare it with its absence. There are real people who feel no pain at all when handling things that would harm others, like holding burning embers or a spiky animal. They tend to cause damage to themselves and occasionally even kill themselves by accident as a result, because they never learn it’s bad to do it again.

    Pain is essentially a self-sabotage system, because nervous systems by themselves don’t go out of their way to avoid causing self-damage. Even a quick-reflex action doesn’t stop an organism from trying again – for all it knows, it was simply holding the thing wrong or had a nervous tic. Pain is probably a way for the genes to say “Don’t repeat that experience or I’ll take you with me” in computing terms. After all, there are bits of the brain (like the amygdala) that tell the other bits what they’re supposed to be feeling in certain situations and when faced with certain things.

    You have to remember that the feelings are built from the physical matter of the environment, so genes are simply manipulating them into a functional shape. Nature has to work with what’s there, after all, not invent stuff out of whole cloth.

  99. In reply to #116 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #115 by Zeuglodon:

    Agreed, objectively pain is still just another crude form of manipulation by our genes. Rats in a Skinner box don’t have “free will” either.

    Incredible ! You just went from “Consciousness is necessary for free will and doesn’t exist” to “Of course consciousness exists but it’s not sufficient, in rats”

    Right. Rats are better at planning than barnacles. But chimps are better than rats. Getting my drift ?

    • You need a sense of central mental self. (Even if it were reduced to “I am the one doing the witnessing… therefore I am”)

    • You have to be able to learn from conscious sensitive experience (at least, pleasure and pain) because you are going to make conscious decisions. (Otherwise, evolution is wasting resources on conscious “pain and pleasure” representations for no benefit)

    • And to really exponentially expand you range of action, you need the ability to plan. (see “levels of freedom of a clever pilot in a hot air balloon”)

    You then get a self-employed self-taught agent who can foresee the future. What kind of a slave is that ?

  100. In reply to #117 by Ornicar:

    I never said that consciousness doesn’t exist, only that it is subjective. Objectively we have nerves that transmit and receive information, but the feeling of pain is subjective. It is not the subjective experience of consciousness which does the planning, but the objective neural networks it depends on.

  101. In reply to #118 by Peter Grant:

    I never said that consciousness doesn’t exist, only that it is subjective. Objectively we have nerves that transmit and receive information, but the feeling of pain is subjective. It is not the subjective experience of consciousness which does the planning, but the objective neural networks it depends on.

    You might as well say that a car is controlled by it’s engine. If consciousness wasn’t central in decision making, then having evolved all those representations of sweetness, saltiness, pain, pleasure and so on would be a total evolutionary waste. You don’t train a thing by reward and punishment unless this thing can make choices of it’s own.

  102. Arguments for Epiphenomenalism

    A large body of neurophysiological data seems to support epiphenomenalism. Some of the oldest such data is the Bereitschaftspotential or “readiness potential” in which electrical activity related to voluntary actions can be recorded up to two seconds before the subject is aware of making a decision to perform the action. More recently Benjamin Libet et al. (1979) have shown that it can take 0.5 seconds before a stimulus becomes part of conscious experience even though subjects can respond to the stimulus in reaction time tests within 200 milliseconds. Recent research on the Event Related Potential also shows that conscious experience does not occur until the late phase of the potential (P3 or later) that occurs 300 milliseconds or more after the event. In Bregman’s Auditory Continuity Illusion, where a pure tone is followed by broadband noise and the noise is followed by the same pure tone it seems as if the tone occurs throughout the period of noise. This also suggests a delay for processing data before conscious experience occurs. Norretranders[clarify] has called the delay “The User Illusion” implying that we only have the illusion of conscious control, most actions being controlled automatically by non-conscious parts of the brain with the conscious mind relegated to the role of spectator.

    The scientific data seem to support the idea that conscious experience is created by non-conscious processes in the brain (i.e., there is subliminal processing that becomes conscious experience). These results have been interpreted to suggest that people are capable of action before conscious experience of the decision to act occurs. Some argue that this supports epiphenomenalism, since it shows that the feeling of making a decision to act is actually an epiphenomenon; the action happens before the decision, so the decision did not cause the action to occur.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiphenomenalism

  103. In reply to #121 by Peter Grant:

    Arguments for Epiphenomenalism

    You expect me to answer to that by copy/paste of the next Wikipaedia paragraph, called “Arguments against Epiphenomenalism” ? (same link, just the next paragraph. A slightly longer and better referenced paragraph, by the way.)

    I shouldn’t need to, first because, with a minimal of intellectual honesty, you would have done it yourself and also because we went through that already, and it is well known by now that Libet’s experiments were an epistemological fiasco. People were paid to participate, told what the experience was about and asked to press a button to signal when they were conscious of the event, and that took much longer than the 200 milliseconds. And look up who is Nørretranders before quoting him.

    I think you’d do a better research looking up how evolutionary psychologist Don Symons refutes epiphenomenalism.

    Now that you finally admitted that (even) you can’t doubt of consciousness without wondering at some point who is doing all that doubting, show me a study proving that consciousness (subjectivity) has no metabolic cost and I will grant you there is no free will.

    That is what it takes to change my mind.

  104. In reply to #123 by Ornicar:

    You expect me to answer to that by copy/paste of the next Wikipaedia paragraph, called “Arguments against Epiphenomenalism” ? (same link, just the next paragraph. A slightly longer and better referenced paragraph, by the way.)

    No, I was reading it recently and thought it expressed these ideas rather well.

    I shouldn’t need to, first because, with a minimal of intellectual honesty, you would have done it yourself and also because we went through that already, and it is well known by now that Libet’s experiments were an epistemological fiasco. People were paid to participate, told what the experience was about and asked to press on button to signal when they were conscious of the event, which in itself took much longer than the 200 milliseconds.

    Libets original experiments were quite crude (they have been improved upon), but they did rather effectively describe what it feels like to observe conscious experience subjectively (if one pays close enough attention).

    I think you’d do better by learning how evolutionary psychologist Don Symons refutes epiphenomenalism. Now that you finally admitted that you don’t doubt of consciousness, show me a study proving that consciousness has no metabolic cost and I will grant you there is no free will. That is what it takes to change my mind.

    Your continuing denial of the subjectivity of consciousness leads me to conclude that philosophical zombies may in fact exist.

  105. In reply to #123 by Ornicar:

    In response to the edit:

    Now you’re calling consciousness subjectivity? Earlier, when I called it subjective you thought I meant it didn’t exist. Subjective means true for one observer only, not objectively true for all observers in the same space-time frame (see even objectivity is relative). Something which is only true for me cannot have an objective metabolic cost which you can see.

  106. In reply to #125 by Peter Grant:

    Something which is only true for me cannot have an objective metabolic cost which you can see.

    Of course it can. Sweetness doesn’t exist in a glucose molecule. It exists only in your head. Still, it can be proved that sending action potentials through your brain in order to generate that sweet pleasantness costs energy and matter.

    If that was not needed to teach the conscious “I” to eat fruits, if subconscious attraction for glucose was sufficient, it would have been selected out over millions of years. That certainly indicates that the emerging conscious notion of “I” is central in decision making.

    Unless, as you claim, consciousness as subjective experience has no metabolic cost. As (and you are probably very aware of it by now) this contradicts about every scientific publication one can read on the subject, the burden of proof is all on you. Still, you keep deflecting. Find a reliable study that supports your claims ; not half a page of wikipaedia with of all the arguments against your point edited out, please.

  107. In reply to #127 by Peter Grant:

    Directly triggering the dopamine receptors works as effectively.

    Lets assume it does, that is just telling how it works. “Put gas directly into the engine and the driver won’t have to press the gas pedal”. You stimulate dopamine receptors. Fine. But you don’t explain what triggers the dopamine release in live conditions. Generally, the driver presses the gas pedal.

    And you are still not telling why the car is carrying this extra weight of a passenger, constantly fed with all information about speed, traffic, road condition, nearest gas station, destination and insurance policy … if she cannot drive.

    Your only explanation stays : “This passenger has no weight and feeding her information has no cost. Out of sheer randomness and under no evolutionary pressure (!), we devised an extremely complicated (and uselessly cruel but cost free) system to make sure that she always knows she will pay full price for any damage to the vehicle even though she has no influence. So we zap her with 300 volts for every paint scratch she is not responsible for and we reward her when the computer drives well.”

    That makes no evolutionary sense. You are imagining a situation where a passenger is all stressed out, looking for vehicles coming from all directions, looking in the rear-view mirrors, checking gas level and speed with a very elaborated dashboard that probably cost an arm and a leg (until you prove otherwise), but might as well be reading a book on the back-seat because the car has neither pedals nor steering wheel.

    Arguably, without driver, a car with a good computer, in a near future, would be able to drive itself. You could explain how it works. But that car will never move. That is the smart thing to do when you don’t want to go anywhere. And if that car is somehow obliged to move, it will not take extra passengers. And it will have no dashboard, to be cheaper. If it takes passengers, it will not feed them driver-relevant information, because that would be a waste.

  108. As I said in comment #71:

    ………………………………………………………………………………………..

    “The reason consciousness is hard to explain is that it is an emergent property of the complex structure of the brain and sensory systems and all the supporting organs of the body. Emergent properties are the result of one of the most fundamental principles of the universe: self organizantion. Relatively simpler parts can organize themselves into complex systems and produce something new. They can do this because everything is in the same pot, so to speak, and causes are not isolated from effects. Effects can influence causes through feedback loops until a dynamic equilibrium is achieved and something new happens. This randomly interactive process leads to different levels of understanding.

    “Quantum mechanics gives way to classical physics when fundamental particles and energy are organized into simple elements. As elements become more complex and organize into complex molecules, it becomes difficult to explain with physics so we skip over the hard part and switch to chemistry. When the compounds and interactions become more complex and something new is happening that we can’t explain, we switch to biology. When the biology and nervous systems of humans becomes so complex and interconnected that something new happens(consciousness), we again skip over the hard part and resort to psychology for explanations.”

    ……………………………………………………………………………………………

    Conscious experience is the emergent property that is the fundamental building block of the subjective level. It may seem that this experience doesn’t do anything since it isn’t even visible from an objective viewpoint, but when viewed from the perspective of the subjective level, it can be seen that it creates the subjective conscious self by facilitating learning and memory. The intensity of the conscious experience affects the strength of the memory and learning. This memory and learning makes changes in the structure of the brain that can affect lower level behavior but not completely control it. Thoughts of the future can create a new “want” in the brain that would still have to compete with other “wants”.

  109. In reply to #130 by jimblake:

    Conscious experience is the emergent property that is the fundamental building block of the subjective level. It may seem that this experience doesn’t do anything since it isn’t even visible from an objective viewpoint, but when viewed from the perspective of the subjective level, it can be seen that it creates the subjective conscious self by facilitating learning and memory. The intensity of the conscious experience affects the strength of the memory and learning. This memory and learning makes changes in the structure of the brain that can affect lower level behavior but not completely control it. Thoughts of the future can create a new “want” in the brain that would still have to compete with other “wants”.

    Memory and learning occurs because of changes which take place in the structure of the brain. Subjectivity doesn’t drive anything.

  110. An interesting experience at the very end of this lecture.

    (This specific experience is described at 1:20:25, but the whole lecture is very interesting)

    1 -People are asked to put their right arm in a freezing water tank. It hurts a lot.

    2 – Those people get hypnotized. When asked if it still hurts, they say that no, it’s fine. Like lukewarm water.

    3 – Then their subconscious is directly questioned through automatic writing with the left hand. Subconsciousness writes that it hurts like hell. Still, the arm stays in the freezing tank.

  111. In reply to #132 by Ornicar:

    An interesting experience at the very end of this lecture.

    1 -People are asked to put their right arm in a freezing water tank. It hurts a lot.

    2 – Those people get hypnotized. When asked if it still hurts, they say that no, it’s fine. Like lukewarm water.

    3 – Then their subconscious is directly questioned through automatic writing with the left hand. Subconsciousness writes that it hurts like hell. Still, the arm stays in the freezing tank.

    Interesting, but I think this only goes to show how subjective consciousness is. If we believe that one reporting self is actually experiencing something then we have to believe the other is as well. Also, I hope that our susceptibility to hypnosis isn’t going to be used as evidence of “free will”.

  112. In reply to #131 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #130 by jimblake:

    Conscious experience is the emergent property that is the fundamental building block of the subjective level. It may seem that this experience doesn’t do anything since it isn’t even visible from an objective viewpoint, but when viewed from the perspective of the subjective level, it can be seen that it creates the subjective conscious self by facilitating learning and memory. The intensity of the conscious experience affects the strength of the memory and learning. This memory and learning makes changes in the structure of the brain that can affect lower level behavior but not completely control it. Thoughts of the future can create a new “want” in the brain that would still have to compete with other “wants”.

    Memory and learning occurs because of changes which take place in the structure of the brain. Subjectivity doesn’t drive anything.

    It’s not that activity in complex neural networks in the brain CAUSE conscious experience, but that it IS conscious experience. It is that conscious experience (or neural activity) that stimulates learning and memory. The cause of the conscious experience is events in the external world.

  113. In reply to #134 by jimblake:

    It’s not that activity in complex neural networks in the brain CAUSE conscious experience, but that it IS conscious experience.

    Objectively yes, subjectively no.

    It is that conscious experience (or neural activity) that stimulates learning and memory.

    The objective neural activity stimulates learning and memory, the subjective experience has no effect.

    The cause of the conscious experience is events in the external world.

    And events in the brain, over neither of which our subjective conscious experience has any control.

  114. In reply to #135 by Peter Grant:

    The objective neural activity stimulates learning and memory, the subjective experience has no effect.

    The interesting thing about emergence is that when a new level emerges from the complex interactions of the lower levels, new reasons and rules for what happens emerges with it. That is because new things are happening. That’s how upper level activity can heavily influence what happens at the lower levels.

    Subatomic particles such as protons, electrons and neutrons have their own rules for their interactions but when they are grouped together in complex systems that produce the atoms of many different elements, the atoms follow the rules of chemistry for their interactions. These upper level interactions heavily influence the positions and activities of the lower level particles.

    The interactions of conscious experiences on the subjective level have their own reasons and rules for what happens that can heavily influence what happens at the lower levels of complex neural networks and chemical reactions. The conscious self can value some experiences over others for reasons that make no difference to the lower levels but can begin to affect what happens. You can develop a preference for certain activities such as exercise or fashion to improve your appearance. You have said yourself how you value conscious experience. I’m sure you value some more than others, and the reason is a purely subjective reason; a reason that doesn’t happen at the lower level neural networks but does have an affect on what happens at those lower levels.

  115. Pumps have no efficacy. An object’s being a pump is a consequence of its parts having the properties they have and standing in the relations in which they stand. All the causal work we may assign to pumps in our ordinary talk is in fact explained by the properties and relations of the parts. It would be ludicrous to say that the movement of fluids has two causes, i.e., the push of the blades and the pumping. Explanation of the movements of fluids in terms of such things as rigidity and motion of the pump’s parts has to be mentioned in any full account of those movements, and this kind of explanation explains everything that needs to be explained; thus the explanation in terms of rigidity and motion of the pump’s parts excludes the property of being a pump from any explanatory role. Our intuition that pumps move fluids is just an illusion. Being a pump is a mere epiphenomenal property.

    Jaegwon Kim

  116. Not the point. Pumping is to a pump a “Strong, supervenient emergence which is irreducible to its component parts “, and it’s not magic. Pumping is neither the pump nor the water. You should conclude that pumping is an illusion.

  117. In reply to #137 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #136 by jimblake:

    Strong, supervenient emergence which is irreducible to its component parts sounds a lot like magic. It also doesn’t explain anything.

    ‘Feeling’ is a resulf of the complex interconnections between the sensory, motor, and memory areas of the brain. As I said before, emergence is the result of effects influencing causes through feedback loops creating an imbalance that keeps changing until a dynamic equilibrium is reached, resulting in something new. And it’s not magic: If you believe in the theory of evolution, then you believe that this kind of process can and does occur.

  118. In reply to #140 by Ornicar:

    Not the point. Pumping is to a pump a “Strong, supervenient emergence which is irreducible to its component parts “, and it’s not magic. Pumping is neither the pump nor the water. You should conclude that pumping is an illusion.

    To a conscious pump it would be.

  119. In reply to #141 by jimblake:

    ‘Feeling’ is a resulf of the complex interconnections between the sensory, motor, and memory areas of the brain.

    A result yes, not a cause.

    As I said before, emergence is the result of effects influencing causes through feedback loops creating an imbalance that keeps changing until a dynamic equilibrium is reached, resulting in something new.

    Emergent phenomena do not supervene over their component parts, they are entailed by them.

    And it’s not magic: If you believe in the theory of evolution, then you believe that this kind of process can and does occur.

    Not really. For instance, I don’t believe in “group selection” either.

  120. In reply to #143 by Ornicar:

    You are getting nowhere. Pumps are not conscious. Brains are conscious. Pumps are pumping. Pumping is irreducible to pumps’ components. Is pumping magic ?

    If you take a pump apart you can see how it works objectively, but this tells you nothing about what it might feel like to be a pump.

  121. In reply to #141 by jimblake:

    Note, Jimblake, that in Peter Grant’s views, pain could be pleasant and pleasure could be unpleasant without any alteration of our behaviours. It just happens by a sheer stroke of luck that pain is unpleasant and pleasure, pleasant. If consciousness evolved indeed by random luck, no wonder creationists make no sense of evolution theory !

  122. In reply to #144 by Peter Grant:

    Emergent phenomena do not supervene over their component parts, they are entailed by them.

    I would say that it’s more of a symbiotic relationship. They each help the other to exist. The emergent phenomenon is more that the sum of its component parts. It also includes how all the parts are connected to each other. This interconnectivity allows feedback so that causes and results can be adjusted for a stable relationship.

    And it’s not magic: If you believe in the theory of evolution, then you believe that this kind of process can and does occur.

    Not really. For instance, I don’t believe in “group selection” either.

    What I meant was that evolution could not even happen without a process that produced emergent phenomena. Evolution depends on emergent phenomena that perform their own function while the component parts continue to perform their own simpler function resulting in a condition that enhances the survival of both.

  123. In reply to #146 by Ornicar:

    In reply to #141 by jimblake:

    Note, Jimblake, that in Peter Grant’s views, pain could be pleasant and pleasure could be unpleasant without any alteration of our behaviours. It just happens by a sheer stroke of luck that pain is unpleasant and pleasure, pleasant. If consciousness evolved indeed by random luck, no wonder creationists make no sense of evolution theory !

    That’s true, but I’ve been hoping it’s just because he hasn’t seen an analogy that would cause a sudden flash of understanding of what I’ve been trying to say. It’s a difficult thing to explain. I think I’m running out of analogies.

  124. In reply to #146 by Ornicar:

    In reply to #141 by jimblake:

    Note, Jimblake, that in Peter Grant’s views, pain could be pleasant and pleasure could be unpleasant without any alteration of our behaviours. It just happens by a sheer stroke of luck that pain is unpleasant and pleasure, pleasant. If consciousness evolved indeed by random luck, no wonder creationists make no sense of evolution theory !

    No, whatever it is that objectively causes pain to be unpleasant also causes us to avoid pain. That objective cause can be selected for.

  125. In reply to #149 by Peter Grant:

    No, no, no. Rubbish. According to your own theory, consciousness, pain, unpleasantness, etc. are only subjective, have no influence on behaviours. So, objective body destruction could be subjectively pleasant and objective sexual intercourse could be subjectively unpleasant without any alteration of our behaviours. You say that we would still go for sexual intercourse and avoid body destruction with inverted qualia.

  126. In reply to #150 by Ornicar:

    According to your own theory, consciousness, pain, unpleasantness, etc. are only subjective, have no influence on behaviours.

    True.

    So, objective body destruction could be subjectively pleasant and objective sexual intercourse could be subjectively unpleasant without any alteration of our behaviours. You say that we would still go for sexual intercourse and avoid body destruction with inverted qualia.

    No, because the only way to invert those qualia would be to make some objective change to the subject’s nervous system, and that objective change would have objective effects on behaviour as well as subjective effects on experience.

  127. In reply to #151 by Peter Grant:

    No, because the only way to invert those qualia would be to make some objective change to the subject’s nervous system, and that objective change would have objective effects on behaviour as well as subjective effects on experience.

    That is not the point. We are not talking about practical feasibility there, even though we saw a possible dissociation between conscious and subconscious pain in the hypnosis experiment and you have no way to tell that my red is not your blue. What you are suggesting is that inverted qualia will not change behaviour if the only change was at the subjective level. So we could see a being avoiding what feels pleasant to it and going for what feels unpleasant to it without any possible control over its body. Yet another extraordinary claim without extraordinary evidence.

  128. In reply to #152 by Ornicar:

    That is not the point. We are not talking about practical feasibility there, event though we saw a possible dissociation between conscious and subconscious pain in the hypnosis experiment and you have no way to tell that my red is not your blue.

    I’m not talking about practical feasibility either, it is not possible in principal to alter subjective experience except by altering something about objective reality. Even hypnosis must have some physical effect on the brain.

    As far as colours are concerned your red is your red and my blue is my blue.

  129. Whatever.

    And maybe what I call sharp would feel blunt to you, and my blunt is your sharp. Or what I call smooth, you would call rough. Or you hear the basses like what I would call treble.

    Unsustainable speculations. As soon as our perception of visible wavelengths is not obvious like our touch of smooth or rough surfaces, you feel free to invent about anything.

  130. In reply to #154 by Ornicar:

    And maybe what I call sharp would feel blunt to you, and my blunt is your sharp. Or what I call smooth, you would call rough. Or you hear the basses like what I would call treble.

    I probably experience nearly everything a bit differently from you, but these differences are all caused by objective differences in our genomes and environments.

    Unsustainable speculations. As soon as our perception of visible wavelengths is not obvious like our touch of smooth or rough surfaces, you feel free to invent about anything.

    What is obvious is that you do not understand what subjective means. I know that your red is not my blue because your red cannot even be my red. I don’t have to experience your red to know what you mean by red objectively. Equally, I don’t have to feel your pain to realise that you don’t enjoy it.

  131. In reply to #155 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #154 by Ornicar:

    What is obvious is that you do not understand what subjective means. I know that your red is not my blue because your red cannot even be my red. I don’t have to experience your red to know what you mean by red objectively. Equally, I don’t have to feel your pain to realise that you don’t enjoy it.

    Is it possible to view yourself objectively? Could you look in a mirror and objectively think ‘I want to look better’, and then comb your hair to please your subjective self?

    Is it possible for there to be an OBJECTIVE SELF, or is that a contradiction in terms?

  132. In reply to #156 by jimblake:

    Is it possible to view yourself objectively?

    No, we view everything subjectively, but science helps us to build models of objective reality.

    Could you look in a mirror and objectively think ‘I want to look better’,

    All thoughts exist objectively, but not all thinking is done objectively.

    and then comb your hair to please your subjective self?

    Objectively, hair gets combed. Subjectively you may or may not experience pleasure, but whatever causes these sensations also causes the physical act of hair combing.

    Is it possible for there to be an OBJECTIVE SELF,

    No, objective reality has no conception of “self”

    or is that a contradiction in terms?

    Yes, why would you care about an “objective self”? It wouldn’t experience anything.

    Objective reality cannot have “free will” and subjectively we cannot experience it, so what is this discussion really about?

  133. In reply to #157 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #156 by jimblake:

    Is it possible to view yourself objectively?

    No, we view everything subjectively, but science helps us to build models of objective reality.

    Could you look in a mirror and objectively think ‘I want to look better’,

    All thoughts exist objectively, but not all thinking is done objectively.

    and then comb your hair to please your subjective self?

    Objectively, hair gets combed. Subjectively you may or may not experience pleasure, but whatever causes these sensations also causes the physical act of hair combing.

    Is it possible for there to be an OBJECTIVE SELF,

    No, objective reality has no conception of “self”

    or is that a contradiction in terms?

    Yes, why would you care about an “objective self”? It wouldn’t experience anything.

    Objective reality cannot have “free will” and subjectively we cannot experience it, so what is this discussion really about?

    I agree that we view everything subjectively, and that thoughts exist objectively, and that not all thinking is done objectively. We can think about ourselves subjectively, and those thoughts exist objectively.

    We could not think about ourselves without a subjective self, which is the collective memory of many of our conscious experiences. That memory exists objectively, and the subjective thoughts about ourselves are conscious experiences and can be remembered as well. All that memory that constitutes the subjective self, including subjectively created wants and desires, exists objectively.

    In other words, the subjective self exists objectively in the brain, and those subjective wants and desires would have to compete with other wants and desires to be acted upon. Memory is critical in this process because without it, a conscious experience would be no different than an unconscious experience. You wouldn’t even know you had an experience, and there would be no learning.

    To me, this discussion is about what may actually be happening when people think they see or feel ‘free will’. How is our behavior controlled and what role does conscious thought play?

  134. In reply to #158 by jimblake:

    I agree that we view everything subjectively, and that thoughts exist objectively, and that not all thinking is done objectively. We can think about ourselves subjectively, and those thoughts exist objectively.

    But it still isn’t subjectivity doing the thinking, even when you think subjectively there are objective causes for those thoughts.

    We could not think about ourselves without a subjective self, which is the collective memory of many of our conscious experiences. That memory exists objectively, and the subjective thoughts about ourselves are conscious experiences and can be remembered as well. All that memory that constitutes the subjective self, including subjectively created wants and desires, exists objectively.

    Subjectivity doesn’t create anything, the objective causes that cause subjectivity also cause wants and desires

    In other words, the subjective self exists objectively in the brain, and those subjective wants and desires would have to compete with other wants and desires to be acted upon. Memory is critical in this process because without it, a conscious experience would be no different than an unconscious experience. You wouldn’t even know you had an experience, and there would be no learning.

    Learning is an entirely objective process.

    To me, this discussion is about what may actually be happening when people think they see or feel ‘free will’. How is our behavior controlled and what role does conscious thought play?

    Behaviour is controlled by objective causes which we can study. What you are describing is volition – being caused to want to do that which you are caused to do.

  135. In reply to #159 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #158 by jimblake:

    But it still isn’t subjectivity doing the thinking, even when you think subjectively there are objective causes for those thoughts.
    …..

    Subjectivity doesn’t create anything, the objective causes that cause subjectivity also cause wants and desires………

    Learning is an entirely objective process.

    Of course subjectivity doesn’t do the thinking, it’s just a frame of reference. The thinking machine does the thinking. Apparently you accept that evolution has produced a thinking machine from complex interconnected neural circuits in the brain, but you don’t think that conscious experience has anything to do with it. You believe that conscious experience is just a dead end side effect of the operation of the thinking machine and doesn’t do anything.

    What you are leaving out are feedback loops. Feedback loops are what give complex interconnected systems their power. They allow effects to influence causes. If the thinking machine causes a conscious experience, it doesn’t end there. A representation of that experience can be stored back in the memory that the thinking machine uses for reference. This, of course, can have an effect on future thoughts. A conscious experience CAN do something. It can have an affect on what the machine does.

    Now, what I suspect you’ll say is that it is not the subjective experience that is remembered, but the objective cause of that experience. There are two things that make that idea very unlikely. Firstly, the cause is not simple, but a large complex web of interconnected causes that would use up valuable memory space, and secondly, if it was stored that way, when recalled it would reproduce the experience exactly and it would be experienced again. It is more likely that the memory stored is a compressed representation of the actual experience. But, even if it was the objective causes that were stored, it wouldn’t matter because the objective causes and the subjective experience are actually the same thing viewed from a different frame of reference.

  136. In reply to #160 by jimblake:

    Of course subjectivity doesn’t do the thinking, it’s just a frame of reference. The thinking machine does the thinking. Apparently you accept that evolution has produced a thinking machine from complex interconnected neural circuits in the brain, but you don’t think that conscious experience has anything to do with it. You believe that conscious experience is just a dead end side effect of the operation of the thinking machine and doesn’t do anything.

    Yes.

    What you are leaving out are feedback loops. Feedback loops are what give complex interconnected systems their power. They allow effects to influence causes.

    Feedback loops influence causes at the same level of complexity, they to not supervene over lower levels. Chemistry does not effect physics and biology does not effect chemistry.

    If the thinking machine causes a conscious experience, it doesn’t end there. A representation of that experience can be stored back in the memory that the thinking machine uses for reference. This, of course, can have an effect on future thoughts. A conscious experience CAN do something. It can have an affect on what the machine does.

    Subjective experience can affect the machine all it wants, but it cannot effect anything objectively.

    But, even if it was the objective causes that were stored, it wouldn’t matter because the objective causes and the subjective experience are actually the same thing viewed from a different frame of reference.

    Agreed. It’s the frame of reference that’s key, but neither frame gives us even a glimpse of “free will”

  137. In reply to #161 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #160 by jimblake:

    Feedback loops influence causes at the same level of complexity, they to not supervene over lower levels. Chemistry does not effect physics and biology does not effect chemistry.

    ………

    Subjective experience can affect the machine all it wants, but it cannot effect anything objectively.

    I presume you mean that chemistry doesn’t affect the LAWS of physics because chemistry certainly can affect physical systems. Chemical reactions can release energy that makes objects move. Feedback loops between chemical systems and physical systems can give rise to biological systems. Biological systems don’t affect the LAWS of chemistry, but their activities certainly can cause certain chemical reactions. Feedback loops between complex systems of any level can affect each other and give rise to new complex systems that make something new happen.

    Conscious experience alone doesn’t do anything, but the feedback loops between conscious experience and memory areas affects them both and gives rise to the subjective conscious self.

    I can see that you don’t want to give an inch on this issue so we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  138. In reply to #162 by jimblake:

    I can see that you don’t want to give an inch on this issue so we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    I first want you to understand why irreducible supervenient emergence is not a scientific explanation, then perhaps we can find something to disagree about.

  139. In reply to #163 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #162 by jimblake:

    I can see that you don’t want to give an inch on this issue so we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    I first want you to understand why irreducible supervenient emergence is not a scientific explanation, then perhaps we can find something to disagree about.

    You don’t have to worry about that. I never claimed irreducible supervenient emergence was possible. (see comment #147)

    The emergent property is the result of the functions of the component parts and the way that they are assembled. It only SEEMS irreducible because we don’t yet understand the effects of the extreme complexity of the connections. Even though we can’t fully undestand the complexity, we can observe the results, which seems to have been enough to develop the scientific Theory of Evolution.

    I think I understand your position, and you have agreed that I do, but It seems that you don’t understand mine. Maybe you should reread my comments so that you can have a better understanding of what we disagree about.

  140. In reply to #164 by jimblake:

    You don’t have to worry about that. I never claimed irreducible supervenient emergence was possible. (see comment #147)

    It’s complete nonsense, that’s why I didn’t bother responding.

    The emergent property is the result of the functions of the component parts and the way that they are assembled. It only SEEMS irreducible because we don’t yet understand the effects of the extreme complexity of the connections. Even though we can’t fully undestand the complexity, we can observe the results, which seems to have been enough to develop the scientific Theory of Evolution.

    This has nothing to do with practicality, emergent phenomena must in principal be reducible to their component parts. That is a scientific understanding of emergence. In the case of evolution the parts turned out to be selfish genes.

    I think I understand your position, and you have agreed that I do, but It seems that you don’t understand mine. Maybe you should reread my comments so that you can have a better understanding of what we disagree about.

    Evidently I understand your position much better than you do.

  141. Hi,

    I’ve been lurking for a while, I did have a few questions, I hope you don’t mind. I think the idea of reducing (or not) emergent properties is quite interesting…

    Peter Grant #165

    This has nothing to do with practicality, emergent phenomena must in principal be reducible to their component parts. That is a scientific understanding of emergence. In the case of evolution the parts turned out to be selfish genes.

    I presume you must also include reducing the environment the selfish genes live in too, ostensibly the entire universe? if that’s true then it doesn’t seem like much of a reduction to me?

    and

    jimblake #160

    … conscious experience is just a dead end side effect of the operation of the thinking machine and doesn’t do anything.

    Whether or not that’s what Peter Grant thinks, isn’t it possible that that is the case?

    Many thanks in advance for your thoughts

  142. In reply to #165 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #164 by jimblake:

    The emergent property is the result of the functions of the component parts and the way that they are assembled. It only SEEMS irreducible because we don’t yet understand the effects of the extreme complexity of the connections. Even though we can’t fully undestand the complexity, we can observe the results, which seems to have been enough to develop the scientific Theory of Evolution.

    This has nothing to do with practicality, emergent phenomena must in principal be reducible to their component parts. That is a scientific understanding of emergence. In the case of evolution the parts turned out to be selfish genes.

    I believe that was my point. Maybe I didn’t express it very well.

    Your comment is non-responsive. I can’t really say anything else about it.

  143. In reply to #166 by djs56:

    jimblake #160

    … conscious experience is just a dead end side effect of the operation of the thinking machine and doesn’t do anything.

    Whether or not that’s what Peter Grant thinks, isn’t it possible that that is the case?

    Many thanks in advance for your thoughts

    Conscious experience without memory would do nothing. Each experience would be fleeting and there would be no context or continuity between experiences. In other words, there would be no conscious self. You wouldn’t know you had a conscious experience.

    We know conscious experience is remembered. We know the intensity or repitition of an experience strengthens the memory and learning occurs which affects behavior. In order for the conscious self to do nothing, the memory of conscious experiences would have to be isolated from the rest of the brain to prevent it from doing anything.

    If, in the past, a mutation caused brief periods of conscious experience or wakefulness, evolution would have found a use for it and increased it, or, if not, it would have been reduced or eliminated.

    I think Peter is thinking that conscious experience alone doesn’t do anything, but it doesn’t usually occur in isolation. It is the memory of our conscious experiences that gives our lives meaning and continuity. In comment #94, Peter agreed that the conscious self is composed of the experiencing self and the remembering self, but discounted the value of the remembering self and favored the experiencing self. The only problem is, you can’t take one without the other.

  144. In reply to #166 by djs56:

    I presume you must also include reducing the environment the selfish genes live in too, ostensibly the entire universe? if that’s true then it doesn’t seem like much of a reduction to me?

    Selfish genes and their environments are all reducible to chemistry and physics, which in turn is reducible to pure mathematics. So, the entire universe could be one big computer simulation and we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

  145. In reply to #168 by jimblake:

    I think Peter is thinking that conscious experience alone doesn’t do anything, but it doesn’t usually occur in isolation. It is the memory of our conscious experiences that gives our lives meaning and continuity.

    Meaning in this sense is also subjective.

  146. In reply to #170 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #168 by jimblake:

    I think Peter is thinking that conscious experience alone doesn’t do anything, but it doesn’t usually occur in isolation. It is the memory of our conscious experiences that gives our lives meaning and continuity.

    Meaning in this sense is also subjective.

    That’s true but it’s the memory that’s the key. Are there two independent memories, one subjective and one objective, or is there one memory that just looks different when viewed from the subjective perspective?

  147. In reply to #171 by jimblake:

    That’s true but it’s the memory that’s the key. Are there two independent memories, one subjective and one objective, or is there one memory that just looks different when viewed from the subjective perspective?

    Objectively there is information processing which makes for more effective survival machines. Subjectively there is the experience of remembering, meaning, purpose, values etc, all of which gets entirely determined by the underlying objective reality.

  148. In reply to #169 by Peter Grant: Selfish genes and their environments are all reducible to chemistry and physics, which in turn is reducible to pure mathematics. So, the entire universe could be one big computer simulation and we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

    Niavely, the laws of nature are the programme, expressible in the language of mathematics, but you still need to know the state of the system before applying the laws to it. I still don’t see what’s reduced? Are saying that “the laws” came before the state?

  149. In reply to #173 by djs56:

    Niavely, the laws of nature are the programme, expressible in the language of mathematics, but you still need to know the state of the system before applying the laws to it. I still don’t see what’s reduced? Are saying that “the laws” came before the state?

    No, these scientific “laws” are just a way to build models of objective reality which we can understand, but they are they best way we have of doing so.

  150. In reply to #172 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #171 by jimblake:

    Objectively there is information processing which makes for more effective survival machines. Subjectively there is the experience of remembering, meaning, purpose, values etc, all of which gets entirely determined by the underlying objective reality.

    It sounds like you’re trying to objectify subjective experience. But seriously, EVERYTHING is caused by underlying component parts. And each one of those parts is caused by underlying parts, and so on. But when a group of parts, each performing its function, works together as a unit to produce a result, we call that group a system and we say that the SYSTEM is responsible for what happens. The individual parts may CAUSE what happens, but it is the structure of the system that DETERMINES what happens. That is because the same parts put together a different way will likely cause something different to happen.

    Just because the subjective examples you gave are caused by underlying objective reality, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t part of a system (a human mind) that could add to the information processing which makes for a more effective survival machine.

  151. In reply to #177 by endgames420:

    I might add that weed is a great help for me personally when thinking about this issue.
    Dunno about other drugs: Never tried ‘em and never really wanted to. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water, ’cause it can be a serious mindfuck, so to speak. :-)

    I’ve done most drugs and the one thing they have taught me is that chemistry determines nearly everything.

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