Free-will – The concept of free-will can be considered as one particular model for how the human organism operates, within the context of its wider environment.
Secret Agents – In many of the arguments about God and mind-body dualism there is the underlying notion of ‘agency’, or being an agent – an entity that has some autonomous control over its actions, some intent (i.e. intentionality) . If we can challenge the notion of agency then we can change our view of the universe, and our place in it, I think for the better.
Physicalism – The notion that everything obeys the natural laws of physics as we discover them to be, including the brain. There appears to be nothing else.
Making decisions is not free-will – Saying that “I can choose to type ‘x’ or ‘y’; I choose ‘y’ ” is not a demonstration of free-will. Many non-conscious systems make decisions. Free-will is the alternative hypothesis that needs the evidence.
A Scientific Free-Will: In Oppostion To Deterministic Free-Will – A review of Björn Brembs paper on free-will.
Mysteries of Consciousness – Following up Sam Harris with my view of what consciousness is.
Biocentrism – One of those alternative ideas that seem destined to remain alternative.
Ideas, Concepts, Thoughts – Physical Instantiation In Brains – What are concepts made of?
My Problems with Compatibilist Free-Will – I have a few problems with the compatibilist view. That is, when you can get the compatibilists to agree on what the view is. There is some variation, and some of the views are not compatible with those of other compatibilists.
The Confusing Philosophy of Free-Will – To add to the problems it now appears that an incompatibilist is both a determinist who thinks dualist free-will is incompatible with determinism, and someone who actually holds the dualist view that is incompatible with determinism. Oh boy.
Free Will: Dennett’s Poor Sunset Analogy – Dennett still does not get the incompatibilist perspective. In fact part of the problem is the philosophical literature. It is typically hopelessly loaded with fine-tuned and rather meaningless variations on the issues of free will.
18 thoughts on “Consciousness and Free-Will”
The problem arises from the idea of universal inevitability. If cause and effect are perfectly reliable (determinism) then everything that happens is inevitable. Unfortunately, we are used to “inevitable” meaning “beyond our control”, so we get this irrational fear that our choices no longer matter, as if everything would continue to unfold the same way with or without us.
It is irrational because a lot of what becomes inevitable is actually up to us and how we choose to go about meeting our own needs and desires. We’ve landed people on the moon. We’ve even managed to raise the temperature of our planet.
Within a deterministic universe, we are centers of purposeful deterministic causation. All living organisms come with what might be called a “biological will” to meet their basic needs of survival. These needs animate the tree to send roots deep into the ground for water and the amoeba to extend its pseudo-pod in search of food.
In life-forms which have evolved a complex neurological system we find the ability to sense internal needs and external reality, to imagine different ways to satisfy those needs in the environment, to experiment, to plan, to evaluate, and to choose.
When we have several options, we may be uncertain at first about which one is the best. At the beginning, during this uncertainty, we can honestly say, “I might choose A or I might just as well choose B. I’ll have to think it over first.” To make a deliberate choice, we enter a mental process of deliberation where we imagine the possible outcomes of choosing each option. Our choices are sometimes made by complex evaluations involving our reasons and feelings, our beliefs and values, our genetic dispositions and our acquired experiences.
At the end we reach a decision. Our choice becomes our will at that moment. And if we were free to make that choice on our own, and not forced by someone else to choose or act against our will, then it is called a choice “of our own free will”.
There is nothing magical or supernatural in ordinary free will. It is just us, making a choice for ourselves.
And if we feel very certain that we made the right choice, then upon reflection we can usually recognize the reasons why only one option was truly inevitable and the other options were never really viable.
If we still have some doubts about our decision, then the inevitability may be less obvious. But we can assume that there was one reason or feeling that caused us to make the choice we did, even if it was made by flipping a coin.
Every decision that we make of our own free will is also inevitable. The fact that it was truly our own choice does not conflict with the fact that we arrived at that choice by a deterministic process.
There is no reason to fear this form of inevitability. After all, it is we, and we alone, who chose what would become inevitable. It was not beyond our control at all, but in our own hands all along.
And that’s the key to solving the determinism “versus” free will paradox.
Hi Marvin, welcome.
I don’t think the fear of determinism is irrational. Given our historic conviction to ideas about our will and our freedom, and free will, it is reasonable, rational, for some brains to respond (to be determined to respond) with some apprehension. Such brains thought they were free to choose, but are being told they are not, or less so than they thought, depending on who is doing the telling.
I think we need to clarify a few issues. What is control? What is a decision? This I find difficult to explain because we are so used to the language of free will and choice, so I’ll have to switch modes of speech, or insert the odd parenthesis to emphasise the causal nature of what’s going on.
In a computer system we (are caused to) design logic gates that ‘choose’, using the terminology that expresses this idea about choice. So, a logic circuit can take various inputs, and make ‘choices’ based on those inputs and produce appropriate outputs. But in terms of the logic system there are fixed outputs for specific inputs. The problem is that when used in a control system we are in deterministically blind to the sequence of inputs. But, if the inputs are actually determined, the outputs are determined, and the ‘decision’ making system wasn’t actually making decisions but responding causally to determined inputs.
For more complex systems that we call decision making systems, under determinism they are fully caused, determined. But again, we often mistake our epistemological indeterminism for an indeterminism in reality. But, in a fully determined system there are no actual choices. What look like optional outcomes, choices, are again, limits in our capability to predict what will be the actual causes, determined, outputs.
Engineering control systems are systems that we (are caused to) create that we (are caused to) feel are taking variable, loosely specified inputs, or ranges of inputs which we cannot predict precisely, and convert them to some desirable output. But these systems are not ‘making choices’, they are deterministic. Of course, our (caused) ability to design precise systems is limited too, so our control systems don’t always respond quite how we want them to.
The same applies for our brains. What we feel is happening is that we are making choices. But the alternatives we contemplate were never going to happen. Only those that do happen were ever going to happen. Our view of ‘choice’ is again our epistemological indeterminism.
“Within a deterministic universe, we are centers of purposeful deterministic causation.”
Purposeful? This has tones of dualist free will. Again, everything is determined. So, the triggers that cause a brain to construct a purpose, and the consequential outputs, our ‘choice’, is determined as a consequence of all that.
“All living organisms come with what might be called a “biological will” to meet their basic needs of survival.”
I find that it is too easy to slip between the modes of speech here. In one mode I subscribe to the idea that organisms are pursuing their needs of survival; but is deterministic language there is no purpose, will. We are simply causal systems. We don’t have problem with this causal language when talking about components of biological systems: cells, organs, structures. But put it all together and we lose touch with the causality and start using terms of choice and purposefulness: the purposefulness of pursuing our basic needs of survival.
I address this by distinguishing models of description. Many aspects of biological systems can be described using biological terms for cell based processes. But those in turn can, in principle, be described entirely by chemistry – but the entirely chemical description of a cell is too complex. Similarly, all chemistry is describable by physics, but we do not have the capacity to describe all the physics in a complete cell. Our higher level models are approximations that use bulk statistical descriptions of a lot of detail further down.
The models we have of ‘choice’, ‘will’, ‘free will’, are well established, but like some older models in physics and chemistry they don’t seem compatible with our understanding of determinism.
“These needs animate the tree to send roots deep into the ground for water and the amoeba to extend its pseudo-pod in search of food.”
So, ‘animate’ means cause, and is consistent with determinism; but ‘the tree to send’ has hints of choice, as if the tree chooses to do this. The tree doesn’t know what it’s doing or why. It is entirely it’s biological, chemical, physical processes that cause this to happen; and for any tree the specific event was always going to happen. It is a hint at our fixation with anthropomorphic language (which we are caused to use) that books on evolution use this sort of language while it is understood (by the authors and knowledgeable readers) that there is no purpose.
“When we have several options, we may be uncertain at first about which one is the best. At the beginning, during this uncertainty, we can honestly say, “I might choose A or I might just as well choose B. I’ll have to think it over first.””
The outcome that occurs was always going to. Sure enough, the atoms that are in the brain contemplating the ‘choice’ as as much a part of the causal system as anything. But it is our illusion that we are actually making a choice.
“To make a deliberate choice, we enter a mental process of deliberation where we imagine the possible outcomes of choosing each option. Our choices are sometimes made by complex evaluations involving our reasons and feelings, our beliefs and values, our genetic dispositions and our acquired experiences.”
This is our ‘choice’ language description of outcomes that we can’t see, can’t predict. But, under determinism it is all caused.
Pool ball A hits stationary pool ball B and we say A caused B to move. But of course B caused A to change its course. All interactions are mutual causes. And this has to apply to complex systems. The atoms of the brain are not ‘choosing’ anything. They are responding to each other causally. On a larger scale this results in neurons interacting, through their atomic interaction. Unless we invoke something in addition to material world, such as immaterial spirits, souls, minds, then all we can say about brains that is remotely related to ‘choice’ is that they are the focus point of causal events that produce some determined output.
“Our choice becomes our will at that moment.”
This is entirely within a language mode that is consistent with dualism. Dualists can make the same sort of statement. But under determinism events are determined. At no point is any perceived ‘choice’ actually realisable. Note that this is ‘in principle’ from determinism; but also; how would you create a test to show you had a choice, that you ‘could have done otherwise’?
“And if we were free to make that choice on our own, and not forced by someone else to choose or act against our will, then it is called a choice “of our own free will”.”
Again, this language is consistent with dualism. This is why determinist incompatibilists have trouble with compatibilism when discussing free will. In fact, in this last statement you have changed from describing localised causal events within a brain, to using ‘free will’ to describe a difference in the immediate sources of determined action.
I’m going to have to take some points one at a time as I come to them. I’ll try to keep this as short as possible.
But I’d like to preface this by saying that I believe in perfect determinism, that is, the perfect reliability of cause and effect. Also I believe in a single, physical real world. There are no ghosts. Nothing is supernatural.
And my key point is that perfect, universal inevitability changes nothing. Because true indeterminism is impossible even to imagine, all of our language has always had an underlying presumption of causal reliability. This makes the parenthetical phrases “(are caused to)” unnecessary and redundant.
Ron: “But, if the inputs are actually determined, the outputs are determined, and the ‘decision’ making system wasn’t actually making decisions but responding causally to determined inputs.”
Responding to causally determined inputs, by means of a deterministic decision making process, such that the output is fully determined by the inputs and the process, is called “making a decision”. And it doesn’t matter that the decision was made by a machine or by a person. It is still called a “decision”.
When the decision is made by a person, the apparatus and the actual decision making process happens to be an integral part of who and what that person is. So we say “that person made that decision”. Just like we always do.
Ron: “But, in a fully determined system there are no actual choices.”
In a fully determined system that processes various inputs and deterministically chooses what it will do next based upon those inputs, we call that an “actual choice”.
Are you beginning to get the drift?
Ron: “What look like optional outcomes, choices, are again, limits in our capability to predict what will be the actual causes, determined, outputs.”
And, because we presume this unpredictability, especially when making any decision where there is significant uncertainty at the outset, we use a short hand version of the language that communicates well enough.
At the outset, during our uncertainty, we can honestly say, “I may choose A, or I may choose B. I just don’t know yet. Let me think about it.” For all practical purposes, we have two options and might choose either one.
Now, technically, we will inevitably choose one or the other. But that fact is totally useless. When you tell someone that they have only one inevitable option, but you cannot tell him what that option is, you have comedy, but no utility.
Ron: “Purposeful? This has tones of dualist free will. Again, everything is determined.”
No dualism here. Just a rational use of language. The fact that everything is determined does not contradict that I am actually doing the determining for my own purposes. The inputs that are outside of me are external, and only compromise my free will if they compel me to act against my will. The inputs that are inside of me, are truly parts of me, and cannot rationally be viewed as compelling me against my will. They are me in the process of formulating my will.
Ron: “So, ‘animate’ means cause, and is consistent with determinism”
EVERYTHING is consistent with determinism. There is nothing outside of causality. It is always there, in everything, including our purpose, our free will, our options, our decisions and our choices.
There is no dualism, no ghosts, nothing supernatural in any of this.
In this regard consider the example from your site: young Billy obeys his mother, while the older Billy is able to choose for himself whether he wears a coat or not.
Well, you are looking at various causes, entirely caused, and switching levels of description to make your case for free will.
1a) Young Billy is told to wear his coat by his mother, and he does.
1b) But, young Billy’s brain is caused to comply with the caused outcome of his mother’s caused brain output “put your coat on Billy”. Even if young Billy’s brain causes him to object, eventually, by caused reluctant compliance, or by the physical force his mother is caused to exert, Billy wears the coat.
What we’re seeing there is a causal system that encompasses two causal subsystems.
2a) Older Billy as told by his mother to wear his coat, but he does not.
2b) Billy’s brain has been caused, programmed, to respond to internal causal events over the external causal events which in this instance are coming from his mother’s caused demand.
The only distinction between 1 and 2 is the relative influence of caused brain events in the outcome of Billy wearing his coat or not, and the degree to which immediate external causal events are having an impact on internal causal events.
As with many other examples we often see presented, what we see is the hiding of causal events for the (caused) purpose of rescuing ‘free will’. The ‘will’ term is fine: it describes the localised causal system that, given no constraints, will in turn cause Billy not to wear his coat. But, the ‘will’ is not ‘free’.
In both 1 and 2 Billy had a ‘will’ not to wear his coat. How was this ‘will’ arrived at? Was it ‘free’ to appear in his head, by dualist or other means? No. It was a caused will, caused by causal systems in the brain. it is not a ‘free will’ – free of physical causes, as dualists would put it.
What you are really describing when you say Billy uses his own free will in 2a is applicable to many systems, and many of which we would not say had free will.
3a) Barry is the name I give to my computer. Barry is set-up to perform an automatic windows update. But I sometimes cancel this update.
4a) Later, one of the Windows updates now causes the computer to make an assessment of the importance of an available future update, and to override the user’s ‘choice’. Barry is set to update, I hit the cancel button, but Barry disobeys and goes ahead with the update. Now Barry can enjoy his own free will to update.
3b and 3b are trivial causal descriptions I’ve omitted, but you get the picture. Barry’s program, or an external input from me, determine if an update goes ahead or not.
The distinguishing elements you use in 1 and 2 can be applied to systems that we don’t think have free will, such as 3 and 4. The only significant point is that at one point, 1 & 3, caused systems Billy and Barry were forced to comply with immediate external inputs, while later, 2 & 4, they both had internal causal processes that overrode external inputs.
What we see here, in these debates, is a conflated use of the term ‘free will’.
Dualist Incompatibilists assert (with no evidence) that we have free will of the dualist kind: mind, soul, depending on the type of dualism). As such, that free will is uncaused by the physical brain, the material world. However, they do see that physical constraints in the world can make the performing of the freely willed acts difficult or impossible. They even support the notion of the material world either preventing the pure good free will from acting, while those with a sense of ‘evil’ see the will as being infected or some how deflected from its righteous path, so an agent can freely will to do wrong, to be evil.
Determinists Incompatibilists take all evidence from science that shows how the causal nature of the universe works, and as a working assumption take it that this is how the brain works too. Determinism holds; and there is no evidence of intervention from some immaterial realm. Therefore there is no free will.
In the above, both sorts of incompatibilists are talking about the metaphysical nature of the will, in respect of the nature of reality.
Compatibilists completely side-step this. They make noises about determinism, and then make staements about free will and choice that cannot apply unless ‘could have done otherwise’ really has some metaphysical weight.
So, what’s going on?
The trick is in the use of ‘free will’
Dualists and determinists are identifying this sort of free will:
According to dualists: free will produces a will, freely, without physical cause. Then, the will’s capacity to act is constrained by physics of the universe, or the physical constraints of others. In both your 1 and 2, Billy had a free will intent to not wear his coat, but had an external constraint preventing his will exercising that intent. Later, that constraint, the will of his mother, wasn’t enough to overcome the internal free will.
According to determinists: that’s how it feels. But it’s an illusion. Billy’s will was entirely caused, by biological and emotional (fancy biological stuff) drives that caused his brain to will that he not wear his coat. But other causal influences, his mother caused him to wear it. Later, the external caused will of his mother wasn’t enough to overcome the internal caused will.
But you are not talking about either of these. You are talking about the will, as ready formed (which could be either dualist or determinist) and then focusing on the ability of the brain-body system to act out what has already been willed.
We are talking about free will as the will free from physical causes. You are talking about constraints on a will’s action when already formed, by free will or caused will. But, as I showed in 3 & 4, your use of ‘free will’ to distinguish between the locality of constraints on the will applies to both dualism and determinism, and seems out of place with mechanistic systems that can be described in the same way.
Your free will doesn’t seem appropriate for 3 & 4, but in all relevant metaphysical respects 3 & 4 are the same as 1 & 2 in the differences. And your free will does not distinguish the metaphysical case.
This is exactly what’s going on in the recent book by Julian Baggini: Free Will: Freedom Regained. He talks about free will, dismisses dualism as if nobody holds that view (in spite of a majority of Christians that do), gives a nod to determinism, but then slips into the language of ‘choice’, and spends most of the book describing various internal and external causes that determine how an un-free-will is constrained or not. It’s actually an interesting book, but fails entirely to support free will, or even any sort of freedom. He offers cases where the subjects declare everything was automatic, sub-conscious, and he finds a way to explain this as being free, when it happens to turn up ‘creative’ output ; but then denounces the free wheeling nature of free association type – he neglects to go into detail on how not intentionally creating something is ‘creative’, if what turns up is judged to be creative, and neglects to explain why just off the top of the head any old stuff is not creative. His subjects have something of the artistically snobbish appreciation of their own creativity.
Ron: “In this regard consider the example from your site: young Billy obeys his mother, while the older Billy is able to choose for himself whether he wears a coat or not. Well, you are looking at various causes, entirely caused, and switching levels of description to make your case for free will.”
Yes, everything is entirely caused. Some of it is caused by the weather outside. Some is caused by Billy’s age, being too young to decide for himself or being too old for someone else to decide for him.
Bill’s choice is also caused. He decides to wear the coat since it is cold outside and he’s had previous experience being without the coat on a cold day, But where did this choice to wear the coat take place? It happened inside Bill. And who made the decision? Bill did.
Was it deterministically made? Yes. Bill had specific experiences being outside in the cold without the coat. And he wanted to be warm today. So he made the only choice that satisfied his two desires, to be out and to be warm. Going out without the coat was never a real option, although he did consider it for a moment.
Did the choice conform with his will, to be warm and to be outside? Yes. Did someone other than Bill make this choice? No. Did anyone force him to wear the coat against his will? No, he made the choice for himself, free of external compulsion, which is the definition of a choice made of one’s own free will.
The fact of deterministic inevitability does not conflict with the fact that it was Bill alone who made the choice to put the coat on before going out.
The deterministic mental process that occurred within Bill’s nervous system and brought to mind his need to decide whether to wear the coat or not, and the current weather conditions, and his prior experience without the coat, causally determined his choosing to wear the coat.
Since all of this is what we call “Bill”, we summarize to say, “Bill decided to wear the coat”. Nothing more complex than that.
Ron: “What we’re seeing there is a causal system that encompasses two causal subsystems.”
Of course. But, so what? It remains a fact, a real truth in the real world, that Bill decided to wear the coat. And, since no one forces him any longer to wear the coat against his will, we can say that he wore the coat of his own free will. Because that is all that is ordinarily meant by ordinary people.
Ron: “Barry is the name I give to my computer. Barry is set-up to perform an automatic windows update. But I sometimes cancel this update.”
“You might be a fatalist if” … you attempt to get people to view themselves as calculating machines.
Bill is not a computer. Bill’s “program” is essentially Bill. Bill’s needs and desires that motivate his choices and actions are authentically Bill.
A computer’s will is not its own, but rather follows the will of its programmer and its user.
Ron: “Dualist Incompatibilists assert (with no evidence) that we have free will of the dualist kind: mind, soul, depending on the type of dualism). As such, that free will is uncaused by the physical brain, the material world.”
Pretty silly huh? But I’m a rational determinist. I don’t believe in ghosts. But I do believe that people with irrational ideas about free will (that would be both the dualists and you) actually make their decisions in precisely the same way.
The phenomenon is but one single thing. A person has a decision to make. He is uncertain at first, so he gives it a lot of thought, and then he makes a choice. HIs choice is his will at that moment. His subsequent actions reflect that choice and carry out that will.
Ron: “We are talking about free will as the will free from physical causes.”
Why? Apparently we both agree that such a definition of “free will” is bogus, and that such a “free will” cannot possibly exist in a deterministic universe. And I’ll go you one further, even in a supposedly dualistic universe where nothing physical existed and everything was mind, the existence of purpose and choice would imply deterministic inevitability! If reason reigns then reasons causally determine all outcomes.
But why waste time discussing such silliness?
Free will is a meaningful concept within a deterministic universe. It implies autonomy and the ability to make choices for ourselves. And it requires no magical escapes from causality to do so.
In fact, free will REQUIRES a deterministic universe, where the will can cause its intent to be reliably implemented. Otherwise, the will becomes impotent, irrelevant, and meaningless.
Ron: “He talks about free will, dismisses dualism as if nobody holds that view (in spite of a majority of Christians that do), gives a nod to determinism, but then slips into the language of ‘choice’ …”
I haven’t read Baggini. But I do know that “You might be a fatalist if” … you start dismissing useful human concepts like “choice”, “free will”, “responsibility”, and eventually “self”.
You leave yourself in a position of demonstrating all of these concepts while denying they exist. Once again a big gain for comedy but none for utility.
“Every decision that we make of our own free will is also inevitable.”
Then it is no choice. We call it a decision, under the historically mistaken view that any of what appear to be selectable outcomes are in fact selectable, when under determinism the outcome is determined, fixed, by the causes that cause it.
“The fact that it was truly our own choice does not conflict with the fact that we arrived at that choice by a deterministic process.”
Now you are using a term, ‘choice’, which is not available in deterministic systems. If you can actually choose one of two or more outcomes, it is not determined by the wider system of the universe. Rather it is then determined by something local, but independent of other causes. If other causal inputs, and the causally occurring events within the system cause one output, then there was only that output, and our limited epistemological view saw only what we thought were choices.
What appears to be a choice is actually our epistemological inability to see all the complex causal interactions that are determining outputs.
“There is no reason to fear this form of inevitability.”
Not quite how I see it.
Those of us that are caused not to fear it will have reasons for not fearing it. Personally, I am unmoved by the fact that as I type here, occasionally erase and rephrase, I’m not choosing any of this in the context of physics and determinism.
Those of us that fear it will be doing so because we are caused to fear it. The determined state of the brains of such people are that on hearing they have no choices, those brains are caused, as yet more consequences of the causal framework, to undergo what we label as emotional states, psychological states.
“After all, it is we, and we alone, who chose what would become inevitable.”
I find this to be a self-contradictory statement.
Who is this ‘we’, or ‘I’. And the ‘alone’ term is completely inappropriate. What becomes inevitable as the ‘choice’, the outcome ‘chosen’, is the deterministic system that for all intents and purposes is my brain, responding to past events: my heredity, my conception, my development, my life experiences. At one point there are atoms dispersed around the universe local to what will become me. Some atoms come together in complex ways, varying over time, but forming a localised causal subsystem of the greater system that is the universe. What I call ‘me’ now, once wasn’t what I’d call ‘me’; but the bits of me have been caused to come together.
And in that process that collection has the causal behaviour to respond to its own deterministic clockwork. Some collections of atoms can form patterns that are similar to the patterns formed by other collections of atoms. A rock falls and hits the soft ground, and the ground is caused to deform to the shape of the bottom of the rock. A human picks up the rock, but there in the ground is a pattern still that represents the shape of the rock. This is how brains work causally in a more complex sense. When ‘I’ see an object, the light causes neuronal signals and records neuronal state – all quite meaningless. But over time, the seeing of regular similar things builds a context of meaning – meaning arises out of a constructed context. Another pattern brains can take on is the pattern of some of their own processes. Just as the soft ground is caused to model the shape of the rock so brains are caused to model the processes that are going on internally – though not in enough detail to ’see’ our own neutrons firing. That model is consciousness – the observing of one’s own behaviour and constructing models of that, a recursive process to a limited degree. When we ‘choose’, we are actually observing the causal outcome, but because of our limitations the caused patter of consciousness, the observation of our behaviour, is to form a false context of ‘choice’, where there is none.
This contextualisation of deterministic processes as ‘choices’ may be a coincidence. It could be, for example, that evolution on some other planet has caused beings that are rational (which only means they can form analysis and prediction, which in turn means they form models of past and future) but where they do not have this sense of free will. Perhaps some alien species has a natural deterministic perspective on the world. Their language, if translated, would be entirely causal, with no notions of ‘choice’.
It is the particular history of our species that has produced this notion of ‘choice’, and with it ‘free will’, which when analysed properly can only mean some sort of dualism, where the will is free of physical causes.
Perhaps it is an efficient system that has been caused to emerge by evolutionary processes. Complex systems like brains that are caused to model their own behaviours perhaps fall down the path of least resistance and end up with a model that includes ‘identity’, which is an important aspect of ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘I’.
When a rock false off a mountain, ‘who’ is the ‘it’ – the rock, what’s left of the mountain, or the rock and the mountain? When a human loses limbs, are they still the same person? With transplants? Curiously there’s news that someone is going to attempt a ‘head’ transplant. Confusing. Do they mean a ‘body’ transplant? The recipient is the receiver of the heart in the heart transplant. In a body transplant I presume the recipient head is getting a second hand body, and will learn to live with it. But, a ‘head’ transplant? Is some torso going to be the lucky recipient of a new head – brain included one hopes? All this raises questions about identity.
As far as I can tell identity, choice, free will, are all illusions caused to occur in the brains of humans. The cause? Perhaps an efficient evolutionary outcome. Perhaps a historical development in early hominid brains, perhaps even pre-language. If we take determinism seriously, we can only pretend to have these other features.
Outside of the silly paradox, are there any other uses of the word “free” that implies “freedom from causation”? No. The paradox is based in a fraud, a “bait and switch” between ordinary freedom and “absolute” freedom.
If we free the bird from the cage, we do not presume it is free from causation. If he were free from causation then the effect of flapping his wings would be unpredictable, and his chief means of real freedom would be gone!
The bird is said to be “free” as long as it is autonomously choosing for itself when and where to fly. Inside the cage it was not free. But whether inside or outside the cage, the bird was never free from causation or deterministic inevitability.
Reliable cause and effect (determinism) implies an inevitable unfolding of events in precisely one way. An interesting but useless fact. There is nothing that can or should be done about it. It’s just a constant truth in the background of everything that happens. It has no meaningful or useful implications. Attempts to draw such implications usually end up in farce, even in the most intelligent minds. But it is like a constant that is always there on both sides of every equation, and by its very nature it makes itself irrelevant.
The bird is said to be “free” when it is released from its cage.
The will is said to be “free” when it is not under the compulsion of someone else’s will. Either someone is forcing you to act against your will, or you’re acting of your own free will. The will is never free from causation or deterministic inevitability.
That is why it is a simple truth that every decision that we make of our own free will is also inevitable.
Ron: “Now you are using a term, ‘choice’, which is not available in deterministic systems. If you can actually choose one of two or more outcomes, it is not determined by the wider system of the universe.”
But it is a choice, because it is the result of a mental process that deterministically reduces several possibilities to a single inevitable result. Going from several to one is called “choosing” in this universe.
And it is also determined by all the relevant and direct causes that brought about that specific choice as an effect.
And the key relevant and direct cause was that mental process occurring deterministically within that biological organism.
And it was ACTUALLY occurring in physical reality. There was no “illusion” of starting out with several options and ending up with just one. Multiple options were viewed during that mental process and accepted or rejected while the neurons were firing signals to each other.
Ron: “Personally, I am unmoved by the fact that as I type here, occasionally erase and rephrase, I’m not choosing any of this in the context of physics and determinism.”
Ron: “Who is this ‘we’, or ‘I’.”
Gee, I don’t know. Who was that “I” that appeared so easily in the first sentence?
Again, comedy yes. Utility, not so much. It is pretty silly to try and wipe out the vocabulary of free will, because it ultimately leads you to also discard the concept of self. And once we’ve disposed of the persons, then who exactly is carrying on this conversation?
We could say the Big Bang causal chain that resulted in Ron is conversing with the Big Bang causal chain that resulted in Marvin. But isn’t that a bit lengthy?
Isn’t it more useful to hang onto the idea of “you” and “I”?
Ron: “What becomes inevitable as the ‘choice’, the outcome ‘chosen’, is the deterministic system that for all intents and purposes is my brain, responding to past events: my heredity, my conception, my development, my life experiences.”
That’s right. And it’s still okay to call it a ‘choice’, because logically it narrowed several options into a single chosen action. And it is still okay to call it a choice you made because that brain with all its prior background is what we call ‘you’.
“I believe in perfect determinism, that is, the perfect reliability of cause and effect. Also I believe in a single, physical real world. There are no ghosts. Nothing is supernatural.”
The basics then:
Leave out the term ‘perfect’ and I agree.
I believe that determinism holds, but I believe it only as a working model of reality, because that is what we have evidence of. Our natural understanding of the world ‘works’ (a dynamic term in itself) because our brains, in their natural evolved state, tell us about a 3-D world, set in a further dimension of time, in which things move and consist of causes and their effects.
Originally some ideas were not clear to us. That cause and effect was mutual, for example. When moving A hits stationary B, and if A was large and heavy compared to B, then it could look like B had no impact on A, and that A was unaltered by B.
The feeling that ideas were freely willed in the dualist sense is a genuine feeling. We cannot detect the physical determinism that causes brains to form a localised causal motor brain event. The stirring of the action feels like a freely formed will, a free will. It is the will that seems from to form. Ideas about the mind and its immaterial nature are good ideas, in the context of a lack of data that persisted for millennia. These are not crackpot ideas. You cannot refute solipsism, for example. These ideas are at the foundation of the philosophy of mind, and atheist philosophers still hold to them, and many theists do too.
We have zero data on what’s going on ‘outside’ this universe. We don’t even know if the concept is a meaningful one. We don’t know what sorts of ‘substrates’ consciousness can work on. We suspect that variations in biological stuff, and perhaps in non-biological stuff (a vague distinction in some cases), can sustain the processes that we think of as consciousness and self-aware identity. We certainly do not know that some form of agency cannot exist outside our universe or that might even create universes.
The gods of religions are bad ideas because they specifically invoke consequences for which there is zero evidence and for which there are ample natural explanations – such as inventing gods in the first place, attributing godliness to material objects like the sun, moon, and even animals. The slide from these multiple gods to an invisible ineffable god of monotheism is easy to challenge.
But the concept of extra-universal agent entities, extra-universal aliens, is as reasonable a speculative metaphysical idea as any other for which we have zero evidence. Science stops speculating beyond a certain point and says, “I don’t know”. Philosophy can speculate further, while still saying, “I don’t really know, but here are some logically reasonable ideas to work with.” One such idea is your ‘perfect determinism’. You have no evidence to support it at all. We can infer determinism as a working model, but our epistemological limitations so far prevent us reaching any ‘perfect’ conclusion.
What I see you doing is what theists do. You latch onto an idea that helps you fit your case, and then you dismiss everything as unimportant that doesn’t. You are playing fast an loose, bait and switch, with language, in your use of determinism and then the quick dismissal of its consequences.
I hope you can spare the time to read this post: https://ronmurp.net/2014/01/31/free-will-dennetts-poor-sunset-analogy/, and perhaps more significantly the comments that follow it, right to the last where I respond to compatibilists’ claims about how Stanford Philosophy treats compatibilism and free will, and how dualism isn’t as easy to dismiss as you claim. It is very convenient for compatibilist philosophers that they do dismiss dualism, but that seems entirely at odds with the principles of philosophy. Having said that, it isn’t unusual for philosophers to dismiss other philosophy out of hand it to consider it would challenge their position.
Back to some of your points:
“And my key point is that perfect, universal inevitability changes nothing.”
Then why bring it up at all? Why subscribe to it at all?
I think it does change a lot of things. Which I’ll get to (and which I cover in the comments of the Dennett post). But basically, there are dualists out there, and the ‘free will’ language you subscribe to requires that you dismiss dualist free will so easily and then state ‘free will’ is not an illusion so firmly you are muddying the waters of understanding.
Here’s what I think an honest compatibilist would say:
“Dualists think there is dualist free will – whether it be based on a mind, or a theistic soul. It has been reasonable in the past to think this is the case because that is how it feels. By self-reflection we as individuals cannot sense the working of the brain. It feels like our choices come freely without any physical interaction, from our minds or souls. Our minds or souls seem to a great extent free of physical cause, but for some reason (which theists attribute to God’s will). The term ‘free will’ to a dualist means that the will is free of physical cause, because it comes about from a non-physical mind or soul. Without any appreciation of what the brain as an organ was doing, that was a reasonable philosophical position to hold. But, given our understanding of the world we now accept determinism. Given evidence from evolution there is a continuum in development and no obvious point where a dualist mind is injected. From biology and neuroscience the brain is looking ever more like a computational deterministic system, and that the ‘mind’ becomes merely a model for some of its processes for which we still have poor understanding. As such there is no evidence to support dualist free will. [and this is where a determinist incompatibilists would part company with a typical compatibilist, but not an intellectually honest one] That feeling of the will being free is an illusion. The feeling of having a mind un-caused by the physical brain processes is an illusion. [and this is where a determinist incompatibilist would part company with all any compatibilist] So, instead, we are going to define ‘free will’ to mean the freedom of the ’caused will’ to act, such that when a brain is caused to will an action, that action is free to be carried out if no immediate external constraints apply. There are two ‘free wills’: the dualist free will that asserts the will is formed by the mind or soul free of physical causes; and the compatibilist free will, that describes the freedom of the will to act.”
Dualist Incompatibilist: Free will is about how the will comes about. It comes about because we have a mind or soul as the source of the will, and the mind or soul is free of physical constraint. The physical material world may thwart the acting on that will, and and may also result in our mind or soul re-thinking what it chooses to will. But the will is the result of that immaterial mind or soul.
Determinist Incompatibilist: That free will is a reasonable speculative idea. But, from all of science we now infer, contingently, that determinism holds, and there is no evidence for dualist ideas about minds and souls. So, that dualist free will does not exist, and the feeling we have it is illusory.
Compatibilist: I’m ignoring you both on the dualist free will,and I’m saying it’s an idiotic idea, and I’m defining free will as the post-willed freedom of action.
The issue seems to be as follows:
Dualist incompatibilists and determinist incompatibilists acknowledge the dualist meaning of free will, and both see dualist free will and determinism as incompatible. This is all about how the will is formed, whether it is free of physical cause, as the dualist would have it, or whether we don’t actually have it, because of determinism, but that we feel we have it, in which case it is an illusion.
Both types of incompatibilists hold that the actions as willed (freely or determined, according to dualism or determinism) may be more or less constrained by effects in the material world.
Compatibilists want to call this post-will degrees of freedom, the placement of constraints, as being internal or external, and call this distinction ‘free will’ or the absence of ‘free will’ Sometimes the distinction is based on whether the internally willed action can be carried out (free will wins) or whether external constraints overcome the capacity of the will to complete the willed action (free will is absent or constrained).
But this compatibilist idea is itself confusing. When a brain fault causes a person to do something that they really don’t want to do, the causal events are internal. So is this free will or not? It not only applies to brain faults, but to every day life. I want to lose weight, but I often find I’m consuming food and later regret it. In seriously bad cases of bulimia there is no clear boundary between free will and the absence of free will. It’s all going on inside the head of the subject. There are no external causal constraints. There are external causal influences, but they are nothing like the typical cases of compatibilist examples of free will and its lack.
And a thermostat has free will in compatibilist terms. I’ve seen compatibilists respond to this specific point by saying, well humans ‘want’ to act on their will, but thermostats are unable to ‘want’. But this then begs the question of what ‘want’ means. Under determinism ‘want’ in humans is nothing more than a caused urge, a mechanistic drive, a physical cause – albeit a complex one. As is the case for a thermostat – albeit a simple one.
Dualist incompatibilists and determinist incompatibilists acknowledge each others points of view, but disagree on them.
Compatibilists ignore both other views, because that’s just too inconvenient when one wants to have free will in (vaguely) something like the common use, so that we can retain responsibility on the same terms as we have it now.
Some dualist incompatiilists want to keep dualist free will because it is an inherent part of their theology and their belief in God.
Some dualist incompatiilists want to keep dualist free for the same reason compatibilists and theist want it, but they cannot let go of the idea that our ‘minds’ are entirely determined.
Determinist incompatibilists can let go of dualist free will and have no need for compatibilist free will. We accept determinism. There are no choices. Everything is determined.
But, as humans we are caused to not have access to our physical causal nature from a 1-POV, and our language has evolved in a context whereby we find it difficult to speak in entirely deterministic terms. We understand that we suffer this illusion of free will and the language of free will and work with it while we must.
When it comes to human actions and morality, everything is caused. The only significance is the localisation of the causes.
Where the internal brain states cause a human to go about acting out murder, then the brain in that human has been caused to act that out. It might be caused by some brain tumour interfering with the ‘normal’ brain (tumours are ‘normal’ too, as in ‘natural’, just not ‘normal’ in the statistical normal – they are infrequent occurrences, or rather the ones that cause a human to engage in murder occur infrequently). Or it might be that the brain lacks the wiring for empathy, and perhaps historic abuse has been added to the mix, so that what we have is what dualist theists might call an ‘evil’ person. Or perhaps the human brain seems entirely ‘normal’ (we can find no explicit explanation for the murdering) and the brain simply (in our ignorance) ‘wants’ to murder.
This determinist perspective changes how we view morality, but it does not change how we view the localisation of causes. It changes how we treat murderers. They are human beings. For all the (understandable) animosity towards them that the families of victims might feel, they have as much right to compassion and understanding as anyone else. It may be difficult to see, but if determinism holds, then even the most apparently wilful self-controlled agent murderer has been caused to murder. Yes, that person is a dangerous person and needs to be restrained for the protection of others. But demonisation and retribution are the inappropriate responses that a determinist avoids but which a compatibilist cannot – or at least, the compatibilist is providing an excuse to the dominisers and the retributionalists. But, to an incompatibilist determinist that sees human morality for the construct that it is, compassion and understanding for victims and perpetrators is what is needed.
We have a long term desire to fix the parts of the world we don’t like. We build damns to conserve water, and levies to avoid flooding. We study medicine to cure the sick. It seems like we are not choosing to be thirsty, or the be flooded or to be sick, but it does seem like we are choosing to avoid those things in the actions we take. But to a determinist incompatibilist this is all part of a causal system. The ‘will’ to build a dam is as much caused as the flowing away of the waters without the dam. The ‘will’ to build a levy is as much caused as the water is to flood. The bigger causal picture is what is at work. And human ideas about wanting, willing, being free, are all illusory. The are no choices. Everthing is caused.
So, what does it mean to ‘want’ to be a determinist incompatibilist and to ‘want’ to think free will is an illusion? It is an illusion that compatibilists suffer when they think that determinist incompatibilist have fallen foul of their own philosophy. We know that we don’t really ‘choose’ to subscribe to determinist incompatibilist. We know that you are not really choosing to be a compatibilist. We know that as we each make our arguments, one of several outcomes are already determined to occur:
– you will be caused to change, and become a determinist incompatibilist
– I will be caused to change, and become a compatibilist
– neither of us will be changed sufficiently
And the only thing is, neither of us know what the outcome will be until we reach some future point when the outcome unfolds. This is not deciding. This is not free will – either a dualist free will of a will made freely, or a compatibilist free will of an action free to be made post-will. This is determinism. What you call free will is post-(caused-will) freedom of action.
“Because true indeterminism is impossible even to imagine”
No it isn’t. Human brains work very well with vague concepts as if they have ‘perfect’ meaning. Humans throw the term ‘random’ about without ever really getting to the bottom of its meaning. Many physicists seem able to imagine it as they assert that the world really is indeterminate. These are genuine debates about the nature of reality. It is curious that only compatibilists want to dismiss whole areas of philosophy in the middle of a philosophical debate because it is inconvenient to their cause (the cause to rescue free will). I can imagine indeterminism quite satisfactorily. I merely cannot figure out how it might come about, because I am tempted, in my causal fashion, to ask “What causes an indeterministic event? What causes a truly random event.” That I have difficulty understanding it and reasoning about it does not mean I cannot imagine it. I can imagine Superman quite well. We imagine many things by temporarily dismissing others. We manage cognitive dissonance by working with different models of reality at different times.
This is precisely what I see compatibilists doing: pretending indeterminism is impossible to imagine (new one on me), pretending there are no dualists, dismissing their notion of free will out of hand without even acknowledging they believe it and what they believe in is an illusion. This is exactly what Dennett is doing.
“all of our language has always had an underlying presumption of causal reliability.”
But it has also had an underlying presumption of dualist free will. That’s what dualism is about. Dualists, even theists, accept that there is a material world. Their claims are about the free will that exists in addition to that. And our language is also full of the free will that is independent of causation.
There are several modes of language at work, and we adopt them as we think suitable for the case in hand. That they have some tricky boundary conditions that don’t seem compatible is part of the problem we are trying to resolve.
There was a time when chemistry was evolving that there was no clear link between biological systems on the large scale, and the small scale physics (bulk physics was well established, but nor particle physics). It was still easy to debate atomism.
But now, you don’t get a biologist dismissing particle physics as non-existent. What you get is a biologist acknowledging particle physics, but accepting that the biological models don’t always need the precision of particle physics, and that in fact such precision is too difficult, ‘impossible’, to work with. The biologist can use the chemical, elemental, physical nature of the lipid molecule to understand cell walls. But the biologist doesn’t need to know where every electron is, whether it is distributed, wave like or particle like. But the biologist is not denying the underlying physics. An eventually the underlying physics contributes to chemistry and biology.
But this dismissing is precisely what compatibilists are doing. You are not merely using a different model while acknowledging the existence of determinism, you are dismissing the underlying determinism as unimportant. And, while a debate still rages on, with a large proportion of the world being theists, and many theist philosophers and atheist philosophers still subscribing to some for or dualism, you wilfully dismiss them.
The biggest opponents of determinism are dualists, and their use of free will becomes conflated with the compatibilist free will because compatibilists will not acknowledge the existence of the feeling of dualist free will and will not, as determinists, acknowledge the illusory nature of dualist free will, all because it interferes with the compatibilists desire to have free will come what may.
“Responding to causally determined inputs, by means of a deterministic decision making process, such that the output is fully determined by the inputs and the process, is called “making a decision”. ”
It’s called ‘making a decision’ in the context of the models of reality that are not fully deterministic. It is more an acknowledgement of our particular incapacity to predict the specific determined outcome. It’s as if we are saying, as determinists: “There is a deterministic output we would like to see. We don’t know how that is going to come about. But, we are caused to build this system. And our model of this system is that in the event of this range of inputs that we can predict, but for which we cannot predict the exact sequence, the system will be caused to produce outcomes that are close enough to what we are caused to want.”
This is how, as determinists, we can view a thermostat. We cannot predict the exact track of external temperatures that will influence the internal temperature of a fridge. We cannot predict how often the fridge door will be opened. And we don’t need to. Our simple thermostatic system will cause (not decide, but cause, deterministically) the temperature to be adjusted towards the temperature we are caused to want, as long as the external events are within some range. The use of ‘decide’, even for a thermostatically controlled circuit, is an anthropomorphic move we make – not because it is not the case that “all of our language has always had an underlying presumption of causal reliability,” but rather that our language contains causal notions usually attributed to the world other than humans, while the notion of free will has been attributed to human agency.
It’s our personal free will language that has been attributed to us, but which has also tended, inappropriately but conveniently, to be attributed to inanimate objects too. Our conviction to free will and dualism is so well established that we find it difficult to speak of our selves in deterministic inanimate terms.
But determinism implies that we are entirely mechanistic systems too, and that our feelings of being free willed agents is an illusion.
If we were starting from scratch, possibly having to go back further than our mammalian past, it might be possible to evolve and to acquire third person POV language. But as it happens we have not. As we have evolved and our brains have acquired language, we seem to have emerged with this first person POV that has us seeing ourselves as special agencies in the world. It has misled our thinking on the nature of our own reality.
“In a fully determined system that processes various inputs and deterministically chooses what it will do next based upon those inputs, we call that an “actual choice”.”
The contradiction is right there. There is no choice. Choice means choosing one of several possible outcomes. The other outcomes were never possible.
Take a pool table with a hoop and a spot ball placed on either side of the centre line, down the table somewhere. Now, strike the cue ball hard, but ‘randomly’ (i.e. deterministically but without specific aim) so that it bounces off the walls a few times. Which ball will the cue ball hit first? That is already determined. But you can phrase it in terms of choice if you wish, but that would be using the illusory language of choice. You certainly didn’t choose which ball was going to be hit. You took no specific control over what happened. You can play the game of choice but it’s a false game. Replace the placing of the balls and of the first strike of the cue ball by three pseudo-random machines, one to place each target ball and one to make the shot. Nothing in that has any human notion of choice. Have the random number generator in the machines replaced by one even less under control of humans – using natural stochastic processes to trigger the number generation. All deterministic. No choice in any human sense. And yet we still feel we can apply the language of choice? This is like saying a person struck by lightning was struck because the lightning chose to hit the earth at the point where the person was.
The use of the language of choice with regard to machines is a metaphorical one only. And under determinism there is no choice. Ever. That’s what determinism means.
Now, apply determinism to humans, and they are mechanistic causal systems. Determined. Even there the use of ‘choice’ now becomes a metaphor for the free will we used to think we had. Smoke and mirrors. Equivocal language. Applied to rescue free will, for the cause of morality. But it isn’t needed.
Are you beginning to get the drift? 🙂
“And, because we presume this unpredictability, especially when making any decision where there is significant uncertainty at the outset, we use a short hand version of the language that communicates well enough.”
It’s not only short hand, it’s specifically metaphorical. It isn’t how it actually is.
“At the outset, during our uncertainty, we can honestly say, “I may choose A, or I may choose B. I just don’t know yet. Let me think about it.””
But notice how you didn’t complete that. Until:
“For all practical purposes, we have two options and might choose either one.”
But we don’t get to choose either one. One is determined to happen. It is not determined at the point we think we ‘choose’. Young children in a playground think they are making a random choice when they chant the ‘eenie-meenie-minie-mo’ rhyme; but as they get a bit older one will cotton on that it’s a deterministic rhyme, and will start to get the outcome they (are caused to) want. When you think you ‘choose’ A or B, the deterministic causes when all the way back in time. Even when we play the game of trying to trick ourselves, saying “I chose A. Hold on, I’ve changed my mind, I choose B!”, and you do choose B, then B was always the outcome. There was no choice.
Our use of ‘choice’ to express the fact that two or more outcomes seem predictable, but we don’t know which it will be yet, and that some of the deterministic causal influences are in process right now, is entirely metaphorical. We do not choose. We enact determined outcomes.
Until we humans can get used to this, the dualists of various sorts, aided by compatibilists, will be caused to inflict painful retributional causes in turn, and will result in painful effects.
“Now, technically, we will inevitably choose one or the other.”
We will choose on. Not the other. There is no ‘or’ about it. In logic circuits the ‘or’ gate is a term used to describe an entirely deterministic system that has very specific outputs for very specific inputs. That determinism is useful to express as ‘or’ because in our limited perception of deterministic processes we allow for occasions when we don’t know what the inputs will be. The ‘or’ is a reflection of our limited capacity to see the deterministic details. It is our metaphor.
The Bohr model of the atom is a useful metaphor, for junior students and for the public. But it’s no good for physicists when they get down to business. The ‘choice’ model of reality is a useful metaphor in everyday language, but not when we are discussing the detailed nature of determinism and how the brain works with regard to its will, its desires, its opinions about itself. This is the time when we are more precise and go where the determinism we both agree in leads.
“When you tell someone that they have only one inevitable option, but you cannot tell him what that option is, you have comedy, but no utility.”
When you tell someone atoms are mostly space, but we can’t see that space, so that you feel you are solid, you have comedy, but no utility.
That’s what your statement sounds like to me.
Deterministic language does have utility. With regard to responsibility and morality, which seems to be the key motivation for compatibilist, It avoids the trap of retributional language. Everything has a cause. Some localised caused brain events cause people to do things the rest of us don’t like. It sometimes causes people to do things they don’t like themselves. Having a better causal understanding of what’s going on in brains gives us a clearer understanding of how brains work.
“[Purposeful] No dualism here. Just a rational use of language. The fact that everything is determined does not contradict that I am actually doing the determining for my own purposes.”
Equivocation of meaning. In the latter case you are using ‘purpose’ in the deterministic sense that your deterministic brain-body system has been caused to acquire some goals that it will act towards. But ‘purposeful’ is very much a dualist word too, in that it can mean the purpose of a will free of causal influence.
“The inputs that are inside of me, are truly parts of me, and cannot rationally be viewed as compelling me against my will. They are me in the process of formulating my will.”
Not so. There are many cases where we have so greater goal, some purpose, some caused will, which other internal influences act upon. When you are cutting food with a sharp knife and your internal processes cause you to cut yourself, did you cut yourself as a result of your own free will? When we want to keep an appointment, but our recall mechanisms fail to act in time and we miss it, did we miss it because of our own free will – because those ‘inputs’ were internal, and caused, just as much as our conscious goals were.
“EVERYTHING is consistent with determinism.”
I happen to agree. But that is a contingent position to hold.
“There is nothing outside of causality. It is always there, in everything, including our purpose..”
I agree. contingently.
…”, our free will, our options, our decisions and our choices.”
We don’t have them. That’s a metaphor. We don’t actually have it. no more than the sun actually ‘goes down’, as if a ball or disc is moving across the sky relative to a stationary earth surface.
“There is no dualism, no ghosts, nothing supernatural in any of this.”
There is no dualism under materialist dualism. But neither of us is able to refute dualism. It merely lacks positive evidence. Ghosts are a more specific phenomenon than metaphysical dualism. Ghosts require dualism, but they also require much more that is associated with human embodiment that is not supported by facts so they are easier to dismiss. Ghosts are supposed to be visible, for example, or to be able to act in the world. We have no example of these. Dualism has no physical embodiment claim to it, so cannot be refuted so easily. It remains merely unevidenced, and in the face of various science, evolution, seems to have no obvious point, in evolutionary terms, where an immaterial mind or soul is injected or emerges. The supernatural is specifically about theistic gods, but other than that there is no refutation of the idea that intelligence cannot exist outside what we term our universe, and, should such exist, no refutation that such intelligence has available to it extra-universal laws in addition to internal universal laws by which it might ‘create’ universes.
Remember, we are engaging in speculative philosophy here, not actual science. So we cannot rule out other ideas so readily. We can use what we do know from science to make some contingent inferences, but we rally don’t know anything at all about the business of universes. We are components of what appears to us to be a closed system. As components of a closed system we cannot ‘know’ everything about that system (this is fundamental). It is dishonest to imply we do. It is a theological move. No wonder some theists think some atheists have a ‘religion’.
“The paradox is based in a fraud, a “bait and switch” between ordinary freedom and “absolute” freedom.”
I think compatibilism is a fraud. Determinism rules out ALL freedom. We use terms like ‘free’, ‘freedom’ and others in a context where we are already modelling ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’ as if they are meaningful. It really is a bait and switch.
The switch isn’t the problem. It’s a genuine, honest and useful switch. If we acknowledge it is a switch. I can quite easily switch models: ‘perfectly’ deterministic; partly deterministic with ‘optional outcomes’, ‘choices’; fully dualist with free will.
Your bait is ‘perfect’ determinism. You switch to the languages of choice and free will. But you use them under one model where the very concepts are incompatible. And your trick is to declare the differences insignificant, and to dismiss dualist free will as if it doesn’t exist as a the significant claim about reality it actually is.
“If we free the bird from the cage, we do not presume it is free from causation. If he were free from causation then the effect of flapping his wings would be unpredictable, and his chief means of real freedom would be gone!
The bird is said to be “free” as long as it is autonomously choosing for itself when and where to fly. Inside the cage it was not free. But whether inside or outside the cage, the bird was never free from causation or deterministic inevitability.”
Why didn’t you say the bird has free will? Why use ‘autonomously’? This may be a simple omission, but given how you explain free will then in your terms the bird is not merely autonomous but has free will. How many philosophers and theists will buy that? The thing is, whenever a compatibilist offers this sort of example and the subject isn’t human, they seem to omit ‘free will’ in the description of this sort of freedom.
“Reliable cause and effect (determinism) implies an inevitable unfolding of events in precisely one way.”
You’ve just excluded the very notion of optional outcomes.
“An interesting but useless fact. It isn’t that useless.”
But you do use it. You refer to it in your descriptions of morality. It’s a core part of compatibilism. How can you dismiss its significance? It’s also a core part of determinist incompatibilist rejection of free will. So, again, it’s significant. And it leads to a different perspective on responsibility (and doesn’t remove responsibility as many compatibilists will argue).
“Attempts to draw such implications usually end up in farce, even in the most intelligent minds.”
When? What is usually pointed out as farcical is often the compatibilist misunderstanding what the determinist incompatibilist is saying.
“The will is said to be “free” when it is not under the compulsion of someone else’s will.”
You see, right there. You are referring to the restraint on the post-willed action, not on the formation of the will, formed free of physical cases, in a mind or soul, or caused will be deterministic processes. You should really be talking about free action, freedom of action. Because freedom of action can apply to all systems, not just humans.
A thermostat as the free action to switch on or off, if not constrained by other external forces – such as, a fire that melts the bimetallic joint, the ingress of corrosion or dirt that prevents a proper electrical contact, or a human ripping out the thermostat. There is no ‘free will’ issue her, only free action. The same with the bird. And, if we accept determinism, then the same applies the will of a human brain. Using the ‘part determinism’ model of epistemically limited predictions, we can say that there is freedom to act ‘by the will’ that is already formed.
If compatibilists dropped this assertion of free will the following would occur:
They could express determinism in more honest terms, and explain it in limited epistemic terms of freedom of actions, political freedom to act on what one wills would be the case, a freedom to act our one’s caused will to not wear a coat or to be caused to wear it against the will that has already been formed.
They could engage with theists and dualist philosophers on clearer terms, because for now it is difficult to distinguish between a compatibilists and a dualists once the subject matter has been moved to the scale of human bahaviours. For the dualist incompatibilists (theistic and atheistic), and for the determinist incompatibilists, the compatibilist position looks like a contradiction: yeah, determinism, but also free will.
It really doesn’t help when in so easily dismissing dualism you also reject the notion that dualist free will is an illusion. As I said above, it would be more honest to say, “Dualist free will is an illusion, it doesn’t really exist; so we’re claiming the term ‘free will’ as a post-(caused-will) description of freedom of action, a freedom of the will to act.”
But I don’t see that from any compatibilist. Except:
“Either someone is forcing you to act against your will, or you’re acting of your own free will. The will is never free from causation or deterministic inevitability.”
Can you not see your use of free will is post-will, what happens after the will is formed, a freedom of action of the will? That you and I think the will is never free from causation is stating that there is no free will, where THAT free will is the free will free of physical cause beloved by dualists. You acknowledge the concept. Why can’t you acknowledge the meaning, and acknowledge that there are those that believe it?
And, since the brain cannot detect its own causal mechanisms that cause the will, how come you can’t acknowledge the history of dualism that is based on the fact that the will does seem to emerge free of physical causes? THAT free will is illusory, and that is the free will determinist incompatibilists are referring to, as are dualists incompatibilists. Your response seems to be merely, “Sorry, not talking about that. Your opinions are inconsequential.”
“That is why it is a simple truth that every decision that we make of our own free will is also inevitable.”
Then it’s not a decision. There is no choice. There is the illusion of choice due to epistemic limitations of prediction.
“There was no “illusion” of starting out with several options and ending up with just one.”
There is. You expressed the illusion above, by stating there is a choice between A and B, and then contradicting that by saying only one was aver going to occur.
“Multiple options were viewed during that mental process and accepted or rejected while the neurons were firing signals to each other.”
A mistaken view, as if they were options, but they were not. Only one outcome was ever going to happen. The firing of neuron signals are just part of the causal process. Even the firing of neurons is often expressed in terms of choice, ‘deciding’ to fire in response to inputs from other neurons. But even there it is entirely deterministic.
“Who is this…?” – Rephrased: Personally, the brain that refers to itself as ‘I’ is unmoved by the fact that as ‘I’ type here, occasionally erase and rephrase, ‘I’ am not choosing any of this in the context of physics and determinism.
Your free will statements can be just as easily rephrased to avoid the language of free will. That we sometimes use the short cut language, as metaphor when speaking of determinism, does not suddenly give you free will. The language of the illusion of free will is convenient. As are some illusions.
“Again, comedy yes. Utility, not so much.”
You won’t find the utility if you can’t see past the equivocation of terms, the contradiction of terms. There’s a difference between slipping into free will language because it’s convenient, and being self contradictory by actually declaring there is free will and choice while also declaring there everything is determined.
“It is pretty silly to try and wipe out the vocabulary of free will”
I am not the one trying to wipe it out. You are wiping put the vocabulary of dualist free will and appropriating the term to mean only freedom of action that the will intends. I have consistently explained the use of the language as models of reality, where our customary model of free will and choice is illusory if determinism holds, but that we can use the model of free will and its language outside the scope of the debate about the metaphysical examination of determinist reality.
You are wiping out the whole language of dualism, even though it is held by so many people that we as determinists are arguing with. You are denying a use of the term ‘free will’ by dualists. How can you expect to argue with them if you do not actually acknowledge their claims and provide arguments against them in their terms. This is why determinist incompatibilists do acknowledge their use of free will, acknowledge the fact that the brain cannot detect its own caused will, and that therefore the dualist free will is illusory.
By dismissing all that you simply assert: there is free will and it is not an illusion. And then you go on to describe freedom of action, political freedom, the freedom of a formed will to be enacted because of overriding external forces from the caused will of other people.
By using the model of free will that dualists subscribe to, and showing that it is illusory, I can focus on deterministic terms.
“because it ultimately leads you to also discard the concept of self”
Well, the self is well demonstrated to be an illusion. Not only are there several philosophical challenges to it (Star Trek transporter, solipsism, the ages on man) there are brain conditions and experiments that challenge it too.
But even so, determinist incompatibilism does not discard it. It’s still useful concept. It remains a useful concept when considering responsibility, without free will. I’m not sure why you think I’d discard it. I do think that the singular holistic concept of the self in terms of a soul or mind is illusory, but you dismiss those anyway.
“We could say the Big Bang causal chain that resulted in Ron is conversing with the Big Bang causal chain that resulted in Marvin. But isn’t that a bit lengthy?”
Yes. But is it false?
“Isn’t it more useful to hang onto the idea of “you” and “I”?”
Yes. And nowhere do I require that we don’t, for the purposes of conversation. Not only that, but it seems, from our current engagement, that the Big Bang causal chain that resulted in Ron is causing that globular collection of atoms labelled as Ron to converse with that globular collection of atoms labelled as Marvin, which the Big Bang causal chain also caused, and all that causality is causing both collections of atoms to utter/type sentences using the false but convenient model of free will.
“And it’s still okay to call it a ‘choice’, because logically it narrowed several options into a single chosen action.”
The problem is that you are using mixed models, mixed metaphors. And you are using them in a discussion that is trying to tease apart the detail of the meaning of these terms.
One of the problems in explaining the simple solution is the strongly held conviction of the listener that the fraud in the paradox must be true. After all, if it trapped so many great philosophers and scientists, then remaining trapped oneself is like a badge of honor. Hours of “fascinating” discussion, reading book after book, and one’s own commitment to one side or the other build up an investment in a set of beliefs that continue the infinite debate.
Then I show up like the innocent child pointing out that the emperor’s new clothes are imaginary. And no one can believe the simple observation of what is actually there (or not there) in the real world.
I suspect that I’ve told you all you need to know to figure this out for yourself. That’s all I’m willing to do at the moment.
It’s been nice talking with you, Ron.
There doesnt seem to be a debate. To me the insane leap to allow for a break in causality in order to account for the phenomena that is free will or true randomness is just as pathetic as our earliest creation myths. The need to have free will seems just as childish as the need of our predecessors to place the earth at the centre of the universe. Why do people feel so strongly about “free will” almost as if it is THE defining trait of a human being? The inconceivable complexity of determinism is so grand why would it bother anyone? I have no problem accepting my determinism whatsoever. You guys are obviously more sophisticated, educated on game theory etc, christ you’ve written full essays as responses. but it all seems silly because most of you still feel compelled to try to account for free will and randomness as if they are laws of nature. we made them up!!! i mean thats not an opinion they are constructs we created to account for our gaps in knowledge. theres absolutely no reason for free will its complete nonsense!!!!!!!!! again im not saying this because I cant imagine a world without determinism, rather theres no logical reason to assume otherwise, unless your hellbent on having free will or randomness as a part of your model of the universe.
“Why do people feel so strongly about “free will” almost as if it is THE defining trait of a human being?”
My feeling is that as the brain evolved, through various stages of being simply a ‘central autonomy control system’ – a central nervous system – it wasn’t necessary for that system to have any conceptual account of its own thinking processes. But eventually, conscious self-awareness emerged as a means of efficient executive management, and as with many executives in business, while they handle the overall performance of the business, they do not understand the details. I know that a CEO of a tech firm may have an MBA, but don’t have a real clue about the details of electronic components that make their business a success.
Humans only began to feel as though they were making decisions consciously and freely, because to understand any more detail would be too inefficient.
Imagine if you your conscious brain processes had to consciously account for every nueron’s action.
Our lack of actual conscious control becomes obvious when we see examples of of confabulation. If a hypnotist makes a subject do something dumb, like placing a cup on their head, and then asks them why they did it, the subject will not be able to help invent an excuse: “Well, where else could I put it. The floor was too dirty, there was no convenient table, and I simply had to free both hands in that moments, …”
I’ve seen similar confabulation with people with dementia or some other condition. They make up what seem to them plausible explanations for odd behaviour.
So, I don’t have a problem with acting as if I have free will as I go about my day, while also intellectually knowing I haven’t.
This isn’t unlike optical illusions. I know the Necker Cube is spinning only one way, but my brain seems convinced it’s chaining direction. I know I’m suffering the illusion, but it’s no big deal …
Except it becomes a big deal when too much is made of free will. We’ve come a long way in accounting for our lack of free willed control, but we still have some way to go. And of course many of the religious in particular think they have souls, so they think they have free will … the bummer being that they can[‘t help feel that way, because, under their current brain’s state, they can’t help it.
I agree we make up the laws of nature, but we do so as a consequence of how we observe the world doing its thing. We don’t say, hey, let’s suppose gravity stops working every 5th Tuesday, and make that a law of nature. So, we think the laws we invent are actually representative of what the world does.