My Problems With Compatibilist Free-Will

While trying to get to grips with compatibilit free-will I’ve been looking at stuff from Dan Dennette and David Chalmers. Then along comes this post from Jerry Coyne. Trying to clarify my appreciation of the compatibilist case I asked specific questions of ‘Another Matt’, and had the response I was sort of hoping for (i.e. it confirmed what I thought was the physicalist case from compatibilists) from ‘coelsblog’

So, at least in the causal chain I think compatibilists and incompatibilists are on the same planet. But several points of contention remain, as I see it, as an incompatibilist. Not all compatibilists need hold all these points of view, but that some do, and that these points are raised frequently, causes misunderstanding for an incompatibilist such as myself. This is why I think many incompatibilists see compatibilists being closer to dualism than the underlying physicalism that many compatibilists really hold to.

1) Language and Level

A great deal of the disagreement does seem to revolve around the use of language and, for want of a better word, the ‘level’ at which autonomy is considered. From my response to Another Matt at Comment 7, and coelsblog’s response to me, that at least this incompatibilist agrees with all the underlying physics of that compatibilist, and that the main disagreement is what we are prepared to call free-will.

It seems that the compatibilist, while arguing about the appearance of human behaviour from what we all agree ‘appears’ to be the free-will perspective, is prepared to label that level of autonomy as free-will, while the incompatibilist is focused on stressing the reliance of this higher level autonomy on the physical foundation from which it emerges. The incompatibilist claim that free-will is an illusion is both explicitly denying dualist free-will, a view that the compatibilist agrees with, but also stresses that it’s the dualist free-will that is the illusion, and as such does not like to name the higher level autonomy as free-will bcause that causes confusion elsewhere.

2) Property Dualism (PD)

This page seems to contain a concise statement of property dualism:

“Like materialism, it holds that there is only one type of substance: physical. Property dualism denies the existence of immaterial minds that somehow interact with the physical world, animating unconscious bodies.

Where property dualism parts with materialism is that it does not attempt to reduce mental states to physical states. Mental states, according to the property dualist, are irreducible; there is no purely physical analysis of mind.”

This sounds like the incoherrent guff of irreducible complexity from ID proponents. Everything we know of is reducible to physical laws, except the mind? As much as dualism is denined in one breath it seems to be re-introduced in its negative guise of something not being reducible to physical explanation. In this sense it also sounds very much like sophisticated theology: of course there is no actual ontological God entity, but still, God is within us, we are God, God is the mystery of the univerese, blah, blah, blah.

Property dualism of mind seems no more coherent than property dualism of biology, or chemistry. It comes across to me as two hidden assumptions:

(i) I (the property dualist) want there to be free-will, for some reason. This might be because I fear the consequences for social order (see point 3), or because I fear the implied fatalism.

(ii) I am using the argument from incredulity, because I really can’t see how my conscious subjective experience can be explained.

Not very convincing positions to hold. PD seems to be an invented philosophical notion the sole purpose of which is to uphold a position one is already committed to. Big fail.

3) Fear of Consequences

Dan Dennett in this conversation makes this point very clearly.

“Free-will worth wanting … responsibility … all compatible with science … if only that’s what scientists were telling us … but scientists have been on a rampage writing ill-considered public announcements about free-will which … in some case verge on social irresponsibility … The recent flood of books by neuroscientists has very little worthwhile stuff and a lot that’s seriously confused; and now, as we’re actually beginning to get some scientific confirmation, it makes a difference … because … some research shows that if you present people with the claim that science has shown that we don’t really have free-will … they will actually behave less morally; they will be more apt to cheat.”

Yeah, OK, let’s pretend guns don’t exist, because if we say they do they might be used to kill people. I find it astonishing that a philosopher would use an argument from social concern to attack an argument from evidence – evidence that he actually agrees with: that there is no contra-causal free-will. Dennett wants to insist on using the label associated with dualism, because that might persuade people to be good; or, that to remove that label and emphasise the reality of physicalism might lead them to be bad? This doesn’t fit with Dennett’s arguments against religion, where he acknowledges that religion might persuade some people to be good, but that’s not a good enough reason to claim religious beliefs as truths.

Now Dennett may well be a comptibilist from point (1); but then he should stick to arguing that point instead of using the ‘fear of consequences’ argument that is also used by the religious .

Of course the fears are unfounded. There is no escape from responsibility in incompatibilism. Deterministically caused autonomy results in a focul point of action and responsibility: the human being. Avoiding the notion of free-will that is clouded by religious notions, such as the notion of evil, allows us to weigh the attribution responsibility more rationally and less emotively.

4) Qualia

Qualia appears to be a made-up concept used to give a name to internal brain states, as observed by the brain, to give impetus to the notion that these brain states, these qualia, are inexplicable, irreducble, in terms of physical brain states.

This is associated with point (2), but it’s also associated specifically with questions like “What does it feel like to be a bat?”

The idea that this cannot be answered, the incredulity gap again, is what proponents of qualia are relying on.

My view is that qualia, like any other metaphor or model, might have its uses, but it does not pose a problem to the physicalist explanation of subjective experience. The way I look at subjective experience, which of course is a subjective view, is as follows.

Any animal brain senses its environment, and also senses its own body and acts as a control system that allows the animal to survive in its environment. Part of that process is prediction – the automatic prediction of the path a prey animal is taking as it is pursued, for example. This involves feedback systems that continuously monitor and react to the environment, and the animal’s own body.

From there a ‘more advanced’ brain can also start to include itself as part of the environment – it can monitor its own processes, to a limited extent. This is rudimentary self-awareness. It aids survival because it allows the animal to not only improve its basic motor responses to the environment but also helps it to improve its own ‘mental’ processing of those responses: adaptive programming.

Below this conscious level there is still subjective experience of the brain body system doing its basic stuff – still a subjective perspective, but not conscious, or not self-aware, not the ‘higher level’ conscious subjective experience that this post addresses. The autonomic nervous system, or any non-biological feedback system, could be said to have this low level subjective experience by virtue of the feedback mechanisms it employs – the sensing of one’s own state.

When an animal acquires a conscious self-aware subjective experience, in addition to the non-aware non-conscious subjective experience, then ‘this’ is what it feels like (i.e. how we feel about our subjective experience).

So, when wondering what it feels like to be a bat we can only guess that a bat might or might not have sufficient capability to actually be aware of what it feels like to be a bat

What we can say is that our high level subjective experience is what it feels like to have higher level subjective experiences. Neither us or bats can say what it feels like to have lower level subjective experiences because there is no mechanism available to report those experiences to the self, to the higher level, in our case, and possibly no self to which such experiences could be reported if there were such a mechanism for a bat. Some lower level subjective experiences become higer level subjective experiences by simply delivering messages into the parts of the brain that are aware – e.g. for pain.

I realise I’m taking a liberty with the use of ‘subjective experience’, but I’m extending it into the unconscious with some justification I think. These lower level experiences are certainly subjective in the sense that they belong to, are experienced by, only those parts of the system that experience them. And I think this move has greater justification than inventing a qualia of the gaps.

5) ‘I’

Who is this ‘I’ or ‘Me’?

Many compatibilist statements that resemble this one, “Do humans choose their actions freely”, can be normalised to the first person I/me: “Do I choose my actions freely”

Some similar examples, taken from Jerry Coyne’s post:

  • “exercising their own power of will” -> “exercising my own power of will”
  • “who selects one of these options and enacts it” -> “I select one of these options and enact it”
  • “because I choose to when I might have other thoughts” – Normalised.
  • “My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will” – Normalised.

This one attributed to Dennett here:

  • “the flexibility to respond in ways that suit themselves and their own purpose” – “the flexibility to respond in ways that suit me and my own purpose”

My question to compatibilists is, what is this ‘I’ if it is not the physical brain-body system? Many, if not all, compatiblists seem to resort to this ‘I’ without explaining what it is, what mechanism is used, what process, what entity it is. Could some compatibilist explain what this ‘I’ is.

To me, a determinist, the ‘I’ seems like a label for the as yet poorly understood complex events that go on in a brain and result in that brain ‘making a decision’. It’s the ‘self’ that experiences self when a michine can examine its own examining processes, when a computer program can monitor its own programming. This process will be determined by all the past history of the development and learning of that brain, and the current inputs that cause the brain to think a decision is necessary. The process will appear as one that has a most recent causal focal point in that brain – that brain has had data wizzing about according to how brains work, and has eventually come up with an output, a decision. Because the brain isn’t fully aware of all this processing now, and the detailed history of development and learning that brought it to this point is not evidence that the brain just ‘made up its own mind’ in any sense that is similar to what a dualist mind would supposedly do. This is the problem with compatibilism for me, this ‘I’ that goes so unexplained that it sounds like a free uncaused mind.

This is how I see it: we are brains. When I am thinking it is my brain doing it. When “I” say “my brain” is doing it, that’s my brain talking about itself in the first and third person, as the first person possessive of the second. I am me, the brain that refers to itself as “my brain”. We don’t have very good language for expressing this. Tough. There is no other credible possibility on the table.

It sounds like the compatibilist is saying that, yes, it’s all physical, but that it transforms into something that is not physical and yet isn’t dualism. There seems to be a mysterious gap that compatibilists argue for, while we incompatibilists insist that no matter how complicated it gets there is no room for anything other than causal determinism. Either that or the compatibilists simply can’t get their own brains around their own understanding of free will.


Though I can see where compatibilists and incompatibilists agree, within elements of point (1), on the physical basis for consciousness and free-will, I also see the labelling of free-will, property dualism, and fear of consequences, qualia, ‘I’, all as positions held by dualists, including the religious, and that’s why I see the compatibilist case not being distinct enough, such that it does lead incompatibilists to see compatibilists being closer to dualists in many respects.

Compatibilists sometimes wonder why incompatibilists make them out to be dualists. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it might not actually be a duck, but it’s easy to make the mistake. Point (1) I can agree on to a great extent – that’s where the common ground lies.

It’s still fine for incompatibilists to use terms normally associated with free-will when appropriate – e.g. in every day language. I don’t have a problem using the ‘free-will’ metaphor, any more than using other metaphors. I might say, “I’m flying!”, meaning that whatever I’m doing I’m doing at higher than normal rate; but if I thought I was literally flying it would be an illusion (or a delusion, according to how I felt I was literally flying). I’m happy to use metaphorical language of free-will, knowing it’s metaphorical, while even at the same time realising that to some extent my brain still feels the illusion to be true.

13 thoughts on “My Problems With Compatibilist Free-Will

  1. Perhaps it’s a mistake to comment here. Discussions of free will never end up well. But I’ll jump in, anyway.

    I guess I’m a compatibilist. I mostly agree with what coelsblog (you repeated misspelled that) wrote on Coyne’s blog.

    On what happens at the physical level, I see mostly agreement. Well, I’m not sure about what religious dualists think, but they have weird ideas anyway so we should ignore them.

    I see that as leaving two places where there could be disagreement. One of those is over the meanings of words. And I am inclined to think that a major reason for disagreement. I’m a compatibilist, mainly because I agree with the way that the compatibilists conceptualize things. In particular, I see the compatibilist meaning of “free will” as closer to what people normally mean. I’m actually doubtful as to whether compatibilist free will is compatible with determinism, but since we don’t seem to have determinism there’s not much point in discussing that. A related meaning question, is what do we mean by choice or choosing as in “could have chosen otherwise.” While I don’t have a good definition, I do see it as applying to human choices. That’s partly because I don’t see meanings as metaphysical. Rather, meanings come from how we use the words, and we do use the word “choose” for a lot of human activity.

    The other place of possible disagreement is about the nature of human cognition. That’s roughly what you discuss in your point 5. I suspect that there is a lot of disagreement about that. And my own view is probably different from that of most people. This is mainly important as related to what we mean by “choose” and to what entity do we attribute the choosing.

    I’ll stop there for now, and check back later to see if there is further discussion.

    PS: I agree with you on point 3. Fear of consequences should have nothing to do with the question.

  2. Hi Neil,

    If by ‘never end up well’ you mean are never resolved then yes. But then so are many disputes, so I don’t see any problem with continuing to try to understand.

    “I see the compatibilist meaning of “free will” as closer to what people normally mean.”

    Yes, so do I, and that’s the problem that determinists are trying to overcome. It causes confusion. Many compatibilists object to us saying free-will is an illusion. But dualist free-will is an illusion, even to compatibilists. We don’t have free-will in the sense that is close to what people normally mean. And by ‘people’ I include us determinists who still use the free-will metaphor quite happily. But for the purposes of stating our position on how we think human brains work (i.e. there is no good reason or evidence to think they work on any principle that is not already applicable to all matter) then this is only a metaphor and not a literal description – we are not ‘free’ in any sense that we would ‘normally’ (i.e. as we have evolved and culturally adapted our perspective on this) mean.

    “I’m actually doubtful as to whether compatibilist free will is compatible with determinism, but since we don’t seem to have determinism there’s not much point in discussing that.”

    Well, you can just leave it hanging there if you wish, but I don’t see what it is about your not believing in determinism that is the problem. Many compatibilists and determinists accept the indeterminate nature of the universe as described by quantum physics; but that doesn’t change the discussion since indeterminism doesn’t provide anything like what we normally view as free-will. It doesn’t help the case of the dualist or the compatibilist. Quantum events, once they occur, take their part in determining outcomes. Massive systems (e.g. neurons) of many many particles are sufficiently lareg scale and stable that quantum effects don’t really offer any hope of explaining anything about free-will. There is no reason to suppose the illusion of free-will isn’t achievable without considering quantum effects.

    If I’ve missed your point here perhaps you could explain what it is about determinism that you think doesn’t apply to the extent that if nullifies the determinist objection to free-will.

    But anyway, if you doubt that compatibilist free will is compatible with determinism then you’re not a compatibilist in that sense. At least your not the same type of compatibilist that coelsblog is.

    “meanings come from how we use the words, and we do use the word “choose” for a lot of human activity.”

    Yes we do, I agree.

    But then we use ‘cell’ as a word that represents a piece of organic matter. If asked what a cell is we’d proceed with an explanation that includes the bonding of atomic elements into molecules, proteins, their dynamic interaction, the cell membrane, the inner components, etc. We’d give a reductionist account of what we think a cell is. In doing so a ‘compatibilist’ biologist wouldn’t then object to this saying, “Ah, but no. That’s too reductionist and deterministic. This is life we’re talking about.” Well, perhaps a theist biologist might. But I suspect most good theist biologists look for their theistic injections of mystery elsewhere and really do accept the reductionist explanation in terms of chemistry and physics.

    So, in the context of free-will what does it mean to ‘choose’? This is what we keep asking compatibilists. Again many compatibilists like coelsblog would agree that these choices are also determined by biological processes that are determined by chemical processes that are determined by physical processes. There is nothing else that is doing the ‘choosing’.

    As to the attribution of ‘choosing’, this is just the localisation of physical activity. When we take all the ‘deterministic’ (I’ll stick with that simplistic term for now until we clear up your objection to it) events that occur throughout a human life up to some point at which a ‘decision’, a ‘choice’ is made, including all the recent inputs, such as a question* like, “Would you like coffee or tea?”. The biological, chemical, physical buzzing that goes on in the brain as the human ponders this is what constitutes this ‘choice’. All the ‘conceptualising’ and any other thought related stuff is still all physical stuff happening in the brain. It’s still all physical process that are ‘deterministic’ and does not constitute what ‘people normally think of as free-will’. And this is the point of objecting to compatibilist language.

    *Of course it may already be ‘decided’ if you don’t like one or the other, or if you’re dying for a pee and don’t want to take on more liquid, etc., so let’s rule out these trivial cases. I’m talking about a situation were we do like both and we want a warn drink, etc. – i.e. where we ‘normally’ think we are making a choice.

    P.S. Thanks for the typo notice about coelsblog.

    1. “meanings come from how we use the words, and we do use the word “choose” for a lot of human activity.”

      Yes we do, I agree.

      But then we use ‘cell’ as a word that represents a piece of organic matter.

      But there is an important distinction there. The word “choose” is about human behavior. We ought to be able to know what we are talking about when we are talking of our own behavior.

      You are seeing “cell” as applying to metaphysical objects (or ontological objects). And I see that as unknowable. By contrast, I see “cell” as also about human behavior, specifically about our categorization behavior. We can know the meaning of “cell” in that case, because we are talking about our own categorization behavior. And the reason that meanings seem subjective, is that categorization is subjective behavior. We all do it differently, though we come to some sort of community agreement on the words to associate with our categorization activity.

      So, in the context of free-will what does it mean to ‘choose’?

      I’ll skip the non-relevant “free-will” part of that.

      To choose is to categorize. Computers don’t choose, because the do not categorize in the important sense of that word. Categorization is prior to data, and data is prior to computation.

      Incidentally, I have a series of posts about purpose, or about apparently purposeful behavior, which I see as a low level precursor of free will.

      1. “We ought to be able to know what we are talking about when we are talking of our own behavior.”

        Why? Just because it’s our experience? But we have the common experience that there is an ontological existence of objects, but you reject that. Again you seem to be flexible with what counts as a reliable source. Given your various posts supporting science I’d have thought you’d have been happy to see science as compensating for our human fallibility in the subjective self-understanding business.

        If you want to class our categorisation of objects into ontologies as human behaviour then we also have to class human views about human behaviour, including our own personal behaviour, in the same way. Doubt it all or doubt none, unless you have good reason to be so selective.

        Computers do choose, if programmed to do so. Humans are ‘programmed’ to choose. You seem to make the ‘important’ sense of the word ‘choose’ to be what you want it to be apparently. You are making a metaphysical claim that your use of ‘choose’ when applied to a human is different from the use of ‘choose’ when applied to a computer. I would agree that there is some difference in the specifics of the mechanism, but I’m not sure how you can detach human choosing from mechanistic causes at some level, unless you are a dualist. Dressing human choosing up in ‘purpose’ is just more of the same, only this case hiding the choosing behind purpose. But what is purpose to a human brain if not a biological mechanism that drives human behaviour, including the behaviour to make choices?

        Purposeful behaviour might be a precursor to free-will, if both purposeful behaviour and free-will are treated as part of the same deterministic mechanistic biological description; or alternatively if both purposeful behaviour and free-will are treated as some transcendental faculty that is independent of physics in some way. Again you need to make the metaphysical ‘choice’. In my case I make this ‘choice’ of the former, which is consistent with me having no free-will and being driven to make that choice by my current understanding of the philosophy and the science.

    1. Looking at that comment to Jerry Coyne’s post, I see:

      It’s maddening because it seems the compatibilists ignore what is and focus on our subjectivity and language, which is all based on how things seem.

      Yes, it is maddening, but for the opposite reason.

      Let me rephrase that “objection”. This is how I read it:

      “It is maddening because it seems that the compatibilists ignore our completely made up metaphysics and instead focus on what they learn via epistemic experience (i.e. evidence)

      A little later in that comment:

      They privilege how things seem in human perception over how things are in physical reality.

      And I read that as:
      “They privilege evidence over belief.”

      I expect you won’t like my reading. However, the best we can know about what is, comes from how things seem, from subjective experience.

      1. Well no I don’t like it. 🙂 Because the religious use the same type of ‘evidence’ to decide their metaphysics. Again, you have a presumed metaphysics: that you presume the ‘evidence’ as described by people normally is reliable about what is the case. You reject dualism (I think) – more metaphysics. Or do you give dualist ‘evidence’ priority over your compatibilism?

        I agree that we can only go from subjective experience. But all of science is essentially experiencing more rigorously in an attempt to overcome our acquired knowledge that our subjective experience is a bit flaky, and sometimes a lot flaky. We observe a lot of common ground in science that is based on causation, determinism, materialism and other metaphysical views. Rejecting these is a metaphysical stance. But science works well a lot of the time, so the working metaphysical position is that everything in the universe works along the same lines.This is all that lies behind the determinist view of dualist free-will being an illusion: dualist free-will is incompatible with determinism. Compatibilism is a view that is supposed to reject the view that free-will is an illusion while thinking that free-will is compatible with dualist free-will.This all seems a bit odd.

        But more than that, you n particular are a compatibilst (you ‘guess’), not a determinist (you reject it), not a dualist (I think), so I wonder what two or more ideas you think are mutually compatible that make up your compatibilism..

  3. But all of science is essentially experiencing more rigorously in an attempt to overcome our acquired knowledge that our subjective experience is a bit flaky, and sometimes a lot flaky.

    I’m not sure what that even means.

    We observe a lot of common ground in science that is based on causation, determinism, materialism and other metaphysical views. Rejecting these is a metaphysical stance.

    That seems to be a weird view of science.

    Science does not assume causation, determinism or materialism. What we know of matter, we know as a consequence of science, not as a starting assumption.

    1. Our very understanding of everything is based on our assumption of causation – cause and effect. So much so that we have to be careful that we don’t mistake simple correlation for causation. Philosophically, as a point of metaphysics, we may question if in fact causation is the case, and we may speculate about that. But historically all science assumes cause and effect.

      In observing cause and effect we conclude basic determinism. All classical science uses that, the fact that we can predict, determine, effect from cause according to observations, from which we construct laws.

      And yes, our observations lead us to conclude that there is the material world of which we are a part.

      But the basic causation, determinism, materialism, are still pre-scientific classical ideas upon which science is based. All later classical science uses these and finds no reason to reject them. Whereas other philosophical ideas, rationalism, idealism, solipsism, remain philosophical ideas only.

      Modern science didn’t invent causation. Early man observed his environment and assumed the interaction of objects was one thing causing another to move or to change. Early man could predict, determine, that a rock would bring down pray, so modern science didn’t invent determinism. Early man observed different entities and understood them as different objects, different material things, so modern science didn’t invent materialism. And without attributing the specific human conceptual understanding of these principles it may even be natural for brains to construct causal deterministic material models of their environment.

      Only human philosophy makes a big deal of these principles as concepts, as far as we know. Only human brains concoct counter principles that become other philosophical ideas. Only human conceptual ideas suppose that these principles might not be how deep reality is. Only humans, as far as we know do metaphysics. But so far, with the exception of quantum physics, these principles are pretty much unchallenged by science.

      And quantum physics seems weird because it is counter to these basic principles upon which the rest of science is based. Other than the unsubstantiated claims of the religions it’s the first bit of science that questions determinism seriously. It even questions causation in a way – what is a random event really? And particle physics questions our understanding of materialism – as we dig deeper we don’t find anything particularly solid, in terms of our material understanding of particles as solid objects.

      But even there quantum events, as random as they might appear, once they appear have deterministic effects that we observe. So, as much as quantum physics is problematic for a purely deterministic view it doesn’t stop us predicting, determining; it doesn’t stop us assuming deterministic causation of objects of a material universe. That quantum physics questions these assumptions shows how much we have neen relying on them.

      So, yes, science has assumed these three and for the most part has not found any reason to challenge them. And most of science outside particle physics still assumes them, since on the large scale these assumptions still work sufficiently well. This is no more controversial than assuming bulk statistical properties for the ideal gas laws. We know our basic assumptions of causation, determinism and materialism are being questioned by particle physics, but we still assume them for most purposes.

      We assume all three as we go about our daily lives. We don’t usually worry about falling through the imagined material that makes up the stairs as we go up to bed. We don’t particularly question if turning off a light will cause a room to go dark at night. We don’t usually worry that our anticipation of the morning will not come. None of this requires what we have come to call science. But most of science has come to rely on basic assumptions like this.

      1. Our very understanding of everything is based on our assumption of causation – cause and effect.

        I don’t see that.

        We experience causation. That is, our experience is that we can cause things to happen.

        I see our idea of causation coming from that experience, not from an assumption.

        In observing cause and effect we conclude basic determinism. All classical science uses that, the fact that we can predict, determine, effect from cause according to observations, from which we construct laws.

        I have never believed that. Back when learning Newtonian physics, I did think about that. But Newtonian physics only implies determinism in a finite world, and I was presuming a possibly infinite cosmos at that time. For that matter, Hoyle was proposing a steady state universe with continuous creation of matter, and Newton’s laws didn’t account for that, either. Relativity only creates additional problems.

      2. “We experience causation. That is, our experience is that we can cause things to happen. I see our idea of causation coming from that experience, not from an assumption.”

        Yes! This goes back to one of my other posts. Experience is our primary source of knowledge, as opposed to thought (my objection to the ‘primacy of thought’).

        And in the main post I made a similar point “Any animal brain senses its environment, and also sense its own body and acts as a control system that allows the animal to survive in its environment. Part of that process is prediction – the automatic prediction…”

        Prior to any conscious conceptualising of these experiences they are only experiences. But when conscious intentional contemplation comes along these experiences form a basis for our conceptual ideas, our constructs about how the world works. We already have the experiences, and they are the assumptions upon which we build our understanding.

        Now I obviously can’t say how this unfolded specifically, at the dawn of consciousness, as it emerged, as the brain evolved to become consciously and thoughtfully aware of its environment, aware of itself, aware of itself being aware of its environment.

        But I still think it fair to say that all conscious thought that we know of, all recorded history, assumes these metaphysical ideas, because of our experiences. Some of the early records of humans need to assume causation in their creation myths. That a god or gods could create the world, move the sun and moon about the heavens, etc., they all assume these metaphysical positions. That early humans assumed them can be inferred from their use of tools – why make a tool if you don’t think, if you don’t predict, if you can’t determine that it will, as a cause, have an effect when it strikes. Yes, this understanding comes out of experience, but that experience froms the assumption upon which the ideas are built.

        What we call science, especially modern science, the rigorous methods developed to improve our understanding, uses these, assumes these metaphysical ideas. There is no derivation in science for the principle of causation, only the assumption of it in thinking that repeatably useful determinate laws can be constructed and use to determine the effect of causes.

        As for your recollections, it may be that you personally had a different view. But we remember little from our childhood, and almost none, if any, from our infancy. Are you so sure of your early thought processes, sure enough to know what you did and did not assume in developing your early understanding of the world?

        I think its a little harder to say how infants view the world. But given what we know about brain development the old philosophical Rationalist idea of innate ideas (primacy of thought) seems wrong. Human infant brains learn primarily through experience, and that experience forms the foundation, gives them the assumptions, about how the world works long before they conceptualise it in any meaningful way, before they are in a position to form anything like conscious scientific ideas.

        I’ve pointed out before this dual aspect to learning, of the species and the individual: the fact that by the time evolved humans start thinking about their own thinking and thinking about their own experiencing they have already been thinking and experiencing the world; and the same applies to infants as the brain develops.

    2. “I’m not sure what that even means.”

      This history of science has been one of increasing discovery that our raw subjective experiences are unreliable, and that a more rigorous methodology helps us to overcome that to produce more reliable and consistent results. But science isn’t magic, or some ‘other way of knowing’. It is still all done by collections of humans using their individual subjective experiences with greater rigour to achieve greater consistency and reliability.

      So, we have acquired the knowledge that our individual subjective experience is flaky, unreliable. We do more rigorous science in order to overcome that, to compensate for it.

  4. Reblogged this on oogenhand and commented:
    “There is no escape from responsibility in incompatibilism. Deterministically caused autonomy results in a focul point of action and responsibility: the human being.”

    If someone is determined to hit me, I am determined to hit back. If someone is determined to commit crimes, others are determined to punish him (or her). I am determined to constantly threaten with hell and damnation. I can’t help it, I do not have free will 😉

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