Christopher Hitchens once averred that you don't.  Religionists claim that it is divinely endowed. Others claim that all are freelancers subject to subornation by others. Your thoughts?

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I just watched the video of Daniel Dennett that Laura recommended, and one of the questioners posed a model of determinism that would include prior linguistic communications in the chain of causes of human actions.  It was the refusal to do that by determinists who rely solely on physics or neurology that I was trying to attack.   Dennett's response to the questioner was to agree that human actions are determined in that complex way, but to argue that determinism is compatible with free will, because humans have evolved the capacity for moral decision-making. 

Of course I also have the capacity to switch my three-dimensional projection of the two-dimensional drawing as well.  But I might not have bothered to try if you had not suggested it.   

Don't you feel that being able to switch your brain's interpretation of the Necker cube at your pleasure at least raises questions about determinism? Just by thinking about it you can change from one to the other and back. That's rather startling.

My principal question is whether it makes sense scientifically and philosophically to say that we "know" determinism is the case without ever being able to trace any sequence determining an event. Just saying we know something causes every event other than will without know precisely how is very unsatisfactory.

Determinism is a background assumption of the scientific method.   It leads researchers and theorists to try to find the causes of phenomena.  It has become a dogmatic ideology (theology?) adopted by some atheists, as Laura mentioned a few comments ago, to attack the mind-body dualism started by Plato and maintained by Christians.  Dualism is the belief that humans have immaterial souls separate from their material bodies and that those souls are the seat of the mind and free will.  We atheists not only reject the belief in gods (and devils) but also the belief in souls.  But if we do not to question the idea that the soul is the seat of mind and free will, we will reject those as well, and accuse the proponents of free will of thinking theologically.  It is in this attack mode that determinists become dogmatic and forget that science rests on evidence, or at least theories testable by evidence.  I was trying to question their use of the one bit of evidence they have advanced.  But I don't think I made anybody change their dogma. I just scared them away from this discussion.   I was also in attack mode.  Your simple illusion might have been more persuasive.

I would distinguish naturalism—ruling out supernatural agenices in material events—from determinism, the notion that every event is necessary and inevitable following a given set of initial conditions.

A question of long standing is whether the solar system is stable or will eventually encounter a catastrophe. We have good reason to believe that natural processes are the only agents at work. Measurements show that the universal law of gravitation is either exactly as Newton hypothesized or incredibly close.

However the long-term stability of the solar system remains unknown. The most precise measurements still have a margin of error and our ability to calculate long term orbits is good, but not sufficient to determine an answer over hundreds of millions of years.

Predictability would certainly entail determinism: if the outcome is not determined, it wouldn't be predictable. However the other way around is much more complex—even if outcomes from intitial condition were totally determined, the complexity of finding the initial conditions with sufficient accuracy and computing the outcome may be so complex as to be impossible.

My principal question is whether it makes sense scientifically and philosophically to say that we "know" determinism is the case without ever being able to trace any sequence determining an event. Just saying we know something causes every event other than will without know precisely how is very unsatisfactory.

The idea of "free will" is that YOU get to cause something, not that something is uncaused.  YOU get to make a choice. 

But you DO get to cause things, since "you" is part of the physical world. 

As Dennett says, nobody can change the future.  That's because the future is, by definition, what will happen.  Changing the future is a contradiction in terms.  We make choices, but our choices aren't choices of futures, since there is only one future.  Our choices are between our (present) ideas of the future. 

The idea that determinism implies no free will is based on imprecise thinking. 

Changing the future is a contradiction in terms.  We make choices, but our choices aren't choices of futures, since there is only one future.  Our choices are between our (present) ideas of the future. 

There is only one future, but it is unknowable, so it does not influence our present action. However, our present action may influence the future, so it will be different than it would if we had not acted.   

Quantum randomness generates new information, it (may be) the basic process by which entropy increases.  That's how we got from a very simple big bang to a very complicated now. 

While there are many reasons to question free will, there are also good reasons to question determinism once you try to formulate it precisely. What does it mean to say that a system is determined?

It ought to mean that when the state of the system at time t, S(t) = S(t'), the state of the system at time t', it follows that S(t+∆) = S(t'+∆) for any positive number ∆.

In non-mathematical terms, if the state of the system at 2 PM is the same as the state of the system at 5PM, then it follows that the state of the system at 2:05 PM is the same as at 5:05; the state at 4PM the same as at 7PM; and so forth. (This implies the system cycles if left to run on its own without new inputs.)

For physical systems with only a relatively small number of states, this can be tested. However it fails completely for the human mind. We cannot identify its states and we do not know if the mind ever returns to a previous state—it would seem likely it does not. In between any two times, the mind will have registered new sensory inputs and established new memories. (It would be interesting to see what happens in a Samadhi flotation tank. The experience often induces theta waves, but their interpretation is not yet understood.)

Consequently verifying determinism for the human mind appears to be out of the question—brain states change rapidly in very complex ways. Determinism is at best an unconfirmable hypothesis based on experience with physical systems.

You have clearly demonstrated that determinism cannot be proven.  But philosopher of science Karl Popper argues that no theory can be proven:  It can only be disproven by a critical empirical test.   You have also made a start on disproving determinism, with the example of the Necker cube.   In mulling over that example in combination with Daniel Dennett's argument about the evolution of capabilities,  I hit upon what I think is a new disproof of determinism.   

Switching the three-dimensional projection of the Necker cube back and forth in your mind is a kind of play.  Let me define play as the exercise of one's capabilities in an activity that has no practical goal. Exercising one's capabilities in play is apparently motivated by the sheer pleasure of doing so.  In any case, what I want to establish is that play is not a product of determinism, but of free will.  

Evolutionary theorists believe that play has long-run survival value, even if it has no immediate goal.  That is why I defined it the way I did:  As exercising one's capabilities.  It has been shown to improve the efficiency of neural networks.

"Marc Bekoff (a University of Colorado evolutionary biologist) proposes a 'flexibility' hypothesis that attempts to incorporate these newer neurological findings. It argues that play helps animals learn to switch and improvise all behaviors more effectively, to be prepared for the unexpected."

I find Bekoff's statement to be an excellent definition of free will.  But could play instead be determined by some prior cause?   I think not.   Evolutionary theorists know that explaining the survival value of a trait, or why it has been "selected for," does not at all explain its cause, or why it was there to be favored by natural selection in the first place.   

It is my impression that play is found primarily in mammals, which are more intelligent than other classes of animals.  Thus it seems that play--and free will--is enabled by higher intelligence.  In a more immediate sense play is enabled by having one's pressing needs satisfied, by being in a safe situation, and sometimes by having a willing play partner or partners.  But these conditions do not in any sense determine the act of play.  Play does not happen in any automatic, mechanical, or unconscious way as a result of these conditions.

Perhaps play is motivated by the pleasure it is expected to bring, and perhaps that pleasure is triggered by the neural circuits when they are exercised.  But here we are talking the language of free will:   Choosing to engage in an activity that is unnecessary, non-essential, not  determined by any prior cause, and making that choice because of the pleasure anticipated from it, even though that pleasure does not signal the satisfaction of any real need.  

So far I have been discussing the kind of free will that mammals in general apparently have.    It is, let me note, not the kind of free will that the soul was supposed to have.  Pious souls did not play or seek pleasure, especially not on Sunday, when piety was commanded by God.  Besides, rats, cats, and hamsters were not supposed to have souls.

The kind of free will that souls were supposed to have was more like "free won't:"  moral self-control.  This form of free will may be unique to humans, but not because we have souls.   I will not attempt a scientific explanation of moral self-control here, but only emphasize that it is found not just in church, but in the impious, pleasure-seeking realm of human play.   Most forms of human play, be they sports or dance, music and art, have rules.   Only humans are capable of conforming to the rules, and they will be penalized in the game if they do not.   Humans enforce the rules on each other with penalties, not as revenge, but as deterrence:  The players will generally choose not to violate the rules to avoid the punishment.   (The ones who do violate the rules often do not expect to get caught.  Need I mention Lance Armstrong?)  Please notice that this is all described in the language of free will, not the language of determinism.

But philosopher of science Karl Popper argues that no theory can be proven:  It can only be disproven by a critical empirical test.

It's important to understand what Popper means. Generally any theory in science is formulated after a large number of examples have been observed through experimentation. However since it is impossible to test all possible cases, these examples do not prove a theory, but merely substantiate it. A single counterexample is enough to disprove the theory, but you can go on verifying it in many instances without ever proving it.

What I am arguing is that determinism as far as human intellection is concerned is not founded on even a single example because the workings of the brain are too complex. Does it make sense then even to consider determinism as a theory of how the mind works?

(The rest of your response seems quite intriguing and worth some investigation.)

Progress is based on prior knowledge: genius innovators stand on the shoulders of prior geniuses. But I believe that, without imagination, we can't conceive of, or relate to, anything outside our own experience. As I see it, the key to our advancement -- individually or collectively -- is imagination.

"Human intelligence", it seems to me, is an umbrella term that covers memory and recall, focus and analysis, and imagination and free will (choice), among other traits. Could you have intelligence if any one of these traits were taken away? If I took away your free will (the ability to make decisions or choices), could you take credit for your intelligence? Could you even have intelligence?

If you claim that free will is an illusion because the brain is governed by causally deterministic processes then, for the same reason, all the traits of intelligence are also illusions. Intelligence itself would also be an illusion. By ruling out other possibilities, you've erected a false dichotomy that robs you of possession of your own mind.

What other possibilities, you ask? How about reciprocal causality? Unlike the linear causality found in the inanimate universe, causality can be reciprocal in the animate realm -- particularly with intelligent human beings. Rather than explaining this here, please see a this link for a detailed explanation:

Hard Determinism: A False Dichotomy.

Hmmm. Interesting...

I think there are some elements and conditions determined by nature, and all choices based on whimsy within it are not completely free, but limited by nature. While the element of choice is still present, there is always some limits, making it neither entirely predetermined or free.




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