The Internet is amazing. It hosts media of all kinds. Anybody can communicate with anybody. And you can find out anything you want to know. It's huge and complex but we don't need to understand how it works to know that it does. In the same way, we don't need to understand how the brain works to know that it does. Its electro-chemical machinations, while interesting, aren't necessary to understand in order to know that the brain deliberates. That's what it does.

Neuroscience can't yet explain how the brain does what it does but it has made some intriguing discoveries. One such discovery is numerous feedback mechanisms in various modules of the brain. It's this mental (intelligent) feedback that has led me to an interpretation of (the ill-named) "free will" that explains human purpose: I call it "self-determinism".

The philosophical conundrum with "free will" has always been the notion that it necessarily violates a fundamental law of nature: cause and effect (causality).That's a false dichotomy. It's not either/or. There are other possibilities. I hope to convince you that, because of intelligent feedback, self-determinism can explain our ability to manipulate events (purpose): not despite causality but, rather, because of, and in concert with, causality. The challenge is in overcoming philosophical objections. I hope, this time, my explanation succeeds.

By the way, I get the impression that some people think it's "arrogant" of me to attempt an explanation of "free will". That's ridiculous. Everybody's got an opinion. This one's mine. If that disturbs you, I suggest you look within for the reason.

Causes aren't monolithic: they're discrete. Normally, cause and effect are constantly repeated (or repeatable) with predictable results. Scientific experiments rely on this fact. Outside the quantum realm, causality is universal. You can't cite an effect without a cause. Like time, causality is unidirectional; flowing from the past, through the present, to the future. Cause comes first, then its effect: the sequence is invariable. This means effects have no influence on their causes. But with intelligent feedback, effects can have an influence on future instances of their causes if we learn from them and prepare for those future instances. If we succeed, we've altered the path causality would have otherwise taken. And that takes purpose: self-determinism.

Because of these properties of causality (unidirectional sequence and repeatable predictability) intelligent feedback gives us a virtual, temporal, advantage over causality when we interact with it. With intelligent feedback we can examine events and tie their effects to their causes and deduce the preceding sequence of events. We understand consequences. But the real empowerment of self-determinism comes from our mental ability to extrapolate cause and effect into the future to manipulate anticipated events to suit our own purpose(s). That is self-determinism. We use our intelligence to prepare for -- or even control -- cause and effect. Cause and effect are not violated. But because of our preparations, we manipulate how it unfolds.

Take Amsterdam, for instance. It is below sea level. Causality would normally dictate that it be under water. But it's not. Because of our intelligent, proactive, interaction with causality, Amsterdam remains dry. Did we violate causality to accomplish this? Of course not. We intelligently used causality to accomplish it. Causality does not have purpose(s). It doesn't think. It doesn't care if Amsterdam exists or not. But we do. We served our own purposes and altered future events (causality) accordingly.

We find this easiest to do with materials and phenomena we readily understand. And what we readily understand are materials and phenomena with consistent, persistent, properties. We can reliably manipulate sand and gravel, wood and metals, air and water, elements and chemical compounds but reliably manipulating people is a different matter. I believe the difficulty boils down to the two different modes of causal response between inanimate matter and animate beings. The inanimate mode of response to causality is passive and predictable. The animate mode of response to causality is interactive and unpredictable. It's the difference between a rock and a brain. Inanimate matter is easier to manipulate because it's easier to predict. Animate beings are more difficult to predict because they're more complex and possess properties, such as intelligence, motility, respiration, digestion, etc. that inanimate matter does not.

As human beings, we interact with the external world intelligently. In other words, we interact with causality intelligently. That means we learn from it, understand it and use it for our own purposes. Feedback is the key. It empowers us by mentally rendering causality bi-directional. We learn from the past to manipulate the future. It's really just that simple. We can understand consequences and act accordingly. There's no advanced philosophy needed to explain away man-in-the-machine, mind-brain, dualism because there is none. Just simple facts that anybody can understand.

Self-determinism requires no violation of causality because it's the properties of causality (unidirectional sequence and repeatable predictability) that facilitate our intelligent interaction with it. Causality gives us a fundamental means by which to understand the world around us. The fact that we use this understanding to manipulate the world around us is empirical proof that we interact with causality intelligently and with purpose. And that means we really do make choices that serve our own purposes -- because causality has no purpose. We don't progress arbitrarily . . . we progress with purpose. That much seems transparently obvious and undeniable. You can claim it's an illusion, if you like, but you can't substantiate your claim. The fact is that, in actual practice, civilization takes "free will" for granted and pursues its goals as needed. We all act as if we have "free will". We take credit for our achievements. Everything we do presumes purpose. Nothing causality does presumes purpose. It's pretty cut-and-dry when put in the proper perspective.

So I'll ask: "How does our manipulation of the world around us NOT demonstrate purpose?" Were we really scripted, since the beginning of time, to fly jets into the Twin Towers? Are we really automatons programmed, somehow, at the moment of the Big Bang? That's what you're asking us to believe if you insist causality is necessarily violated by "free will". I say we are what we appear to be and that any assertion that self-determinism is an illusion is based on the erroneous assumption that it must violate causality. That is a false dichotomy which hastily and unnecessarily rules out other possibilities like deliberate, proactive, interaction with causality: self-determinism.

If human brains deliberate and if causality is a law of nature, then they are obviously compatible. Self-determinism explains how. Intelligent feedback extends determinism to self-determinism. It is a compatibilist explanation of what "free will" really is. It is compatible with causality and is, in fact, an extension of it: extended, primarily, by intelligent feedback.

Intelligent feedback makes us self-aware, future-aware, manipulators of events . . . and events are what causality is all about. This manipulation of events gives us a modest power over causality: the power of purpose. That is self-determinism. The only kind of "free will" we have. And the only kind we need.

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Comment by John Camilli on December 26, 2011 at 6:06pm

I moved the MR discussion, including your response here, to its own thread. Please come have a look. I do want to say one thing here because it detracts from the rest of my response there, but I think it's a valid point. The point you make to catholics about being excommunicated or worse in a different age applies to the law as well. It used to be that breaking a law got you beheaded or exiled or tortured and imprisoned for life, or any manner of horrible things (still does in some places). With Homeland Security, and the latest incarnation of the NDAA bill, the US is taking steps back in that direction.

Comment by Frankie Dapper on December 26, 2011 at 12:37am

John, you just want an argument. OKAY

Your hard core MR excuses any and all acts of violence, depredation and all of the awful isms. INTOLERABLE. You manage to arrive at the same place as a fundamentalist (absolute moral standards) in accepting the very worst of human behavior. Furthermore, liberals who have been persuaded by moral relativism are more apt to accept religious and cultural actions (muslims in Scandinavia) which are inferior to their own standards. ENABLERS.

Atheists do not require 100 % overlapping of moral standards to understand that some things are just plain wrong. (most of the faith-based morals-women are shit, slavery is cool, infidels ought to be murdered etc.) I have told Catholics that their failure to accept all of the teachings means that they are not catholics and that in a different age they would have been excommunicated or worse. Nevertheless your analogy does not stand. Break a law and you are still a citizen. You have not broken the covenant. 

In matters of true cultural variations such as the boundaries of sex and friendship there are pockets of relative morals which are truly elastic and the judger can say that one is no better than another. Other aspects of sex and friendship are to be judged as wrong in any culture.

By the way surety is a legal term.



Comment by John Camilli on December 25, 2011 at 11:06pm

Methinks you are already there. Indeed, methinks we all are there, though some of us don't realize it. Unless you could cite a moral code not of your own creation, but with which you completely agree on all facets, then what you really have is a moral system unique to yourself (otherwise known as moral relativism).


I sometimes press theists on this matter when it comes to my attention that they have quibbled with some aspect of their holy book. For instance, I posted on Facebook a quote from 1 Timothy 2:11 "Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority...." This quote naturally drew opposition from my friends and family, some of whom think they are ardent Christians. So I said unto them :-) 'if you disagree with any part of the Bible, then you are not a Christian.' The Roman Catholic Church is quite firm on this matter, and rightfully so, because the issue is not whether you agree with most of what the "word of god" says, but whether you agree with all of it. If you doubt any of it, then you doubt god, which is cardinal sin numero uno. Likewise, with any legal system, if you obey most of the laws most of the time, but break some of the laws some of the time, then you are a law breaker.


Everyone's morality has some points which overlap in agreement, but do any two people have a moral system which overlaps entirely? It takes only one instance of disagreement for your own morality to fall outside the purview of another's, making it relative to only you. So, my friend, can you say with surety that you completely agree with all aspects of an established moral/ legal system? If not, then I'm happy to welcome you to the ranks of moral relativism. The grass ain't any greener over here, but it does come without the usual helpings of guilt and shame.

Comment by Frankie Dapper on December 14, 2011 at 11:16am

It may appear that I have come over to the dark side. Not quite. My biggest uhu in your world view is moral relativism. I see how you arrived there. I wont go there.


Comment by Atheist Exile on December 14, 2011 at 10:23am

Okay guys,

I don't see anything really compelling from you guys yet. You're stuck on the false dichotomy assumption that "free will" violates causality. I'm willing to agree to disagree and let the discussion stand as it is.

I've got a website that got hosed up when I upgraded to the new WordPress 3.3 and it's been demanding my attention. Next I have classes coming up. So I'm checking out.

Thanks for your comments and civility.

Comment by John Camilli on December 14, 2011 at 7:11am

Glen, people are gonna start to say we're the same person, lol. You better start finding something I say that you disagree with, and be mean about it. I've already had people accuse me of opperating puppets because someone agreed with me. Or maybe I'm your puupet, who can say.

Comment by Frankie Dapper on December 13, 2011 at 3:28pm

What John said-mostly.

John's response to your claimed contradiction is obvious to me.

As to the second paragraph of John's response it gets to the heart of the issue. And all you can do is stretch the limits of your creativity. It is a loss of objectivity on your part and a creative rationalization you have fashioned. It is understandable because it is uncomfortable to feel that our individuality is an illlusion.

I stand by my lack of conviction. The universe is so alice in wonderland and our very existence is so absurd who am I to say.

Comment by John Camilli on December 13, 2011 at 10:52am

"You claim causality is uncertain . . . then you claim "you can't attribute causal responsibility to a mechanism inside of the causal chain"?!?"


Yes, but I specified repeatedly that the latter part was IF we were assuming causality is true. Do I really need to say it in every sentence? Just assume from now on that any assertions I make about causality are prefaced by 'IF existence is causal...' So, no, I don't think it's certain at all. Personally, I believe the universe is causal, but I don't know it. Nothing funny there. Your trying to make it seem like I'm contradicting myself, but I'm not.


I still don't get how you think intelligent feedback changes anything. Intelligence does not arise uncaused (again, assuming existence is causal, which I will continue to assume for the rest of this comment). Intelligence is a caused effect, as is anticipation. How can caused effects produce any results which are not themselves caused effects? And the anticipation isn't really proactive; it's reactive. It's a reaction to a memory of the last time a similar stimuli occured.


Also, and you may just have to take my word for this if you haven't looked at the research yourself, a growing host of scientific laws are NOT standing up to experimentation. We just adjusted our value for the electromagnetic force last year. We're adding a neutrino this year. We're getting to the end of the possible ranges for the Higgs, and still no sign of it. We still have this theory of dark matter that goes unexplained, as well as dark energy. We still can't explain the double-slit experiment. We're witnessing an aparent contradiction to the principal of locality in superpositioning experiments. The list just goes on and on with predictions of scientific laws that simply are not matching up to reality. Now, personally, I still believe that the scientific method is an effective way of acquiring information, but I do not believe that we have come anywhere near a self-consistent description of reality. There are easily as many holes in science as there are in the bible. Theists don't tend to know about those holes, so they can't argue with us very effectively, and so we get it in our heads that we have a better grasp on reality, but that's just arrogance. We are still groping blindly in the dark, maybe with a nightlight. But our light is too feable to even show us the edges of the room, so we have no idea how far we have yet to go in our exploring.

Comment by Atheist Exile on December 13, 2011 at 6:05am

@John Camilli,

Yikes! What a waste of pixels. I didn't mean that we've "scientifically investigated" causality itself! I meant that the laws of nature (including causality) have stood up well in scientific investigations (experiments and research) in general. Whether that be in physics, chemistry, biology or whatever. Give me a little credit for Christ's sake.

And your assertion that causality is "far from certain" is, for the most part, bogus. It has the same reliable track record as gravity. It's as certain as anything can get in the classical universe. Using your rationale and standards, we'd have no defense against fundamentalist Christians who claim evolution is just a theory. I can go as far as to say you're nitpicking to a ridiculous extent.

You claim causality is uncertain . . . then you claim "you can't attribute causal responsibility to a mechanism inside of the causal chain"?!? You seem to think it's pretty certain after all. You've got to admit that's pretty funny. Anyway, I would correct your assertion to read: "you can't attribute causal responsibility to a mechanism inside of the causal chain, without intelligent feedback and proactive anticipation, because the causal chain unfolds with time".

Comment by John Camilli on December 13, 2011 at 3:49am



It's not a 'turtles all the way down' approach. It's more like a 'one big turtle' approach. Turtles all the way down is a method that eternally defers causation to a higher or lower level of complexity. It ignores Occam's razor by multiplying variables unnecessarily. This is not what I'm doing. What I'm saying is that you can't attribute causal responsibility to a mechanism inside of the causal chain. If we assume a causal existence, then we assume that learning is also a causal process, so to say that learning can alter the path of causality is illogical. It does, but only because the learning itself was caused to do so. It doesn't alter the causal path in any manner that wasn't already going to occur. That would be like putting one self-aware domino in a line of dominos and then saying the one domino was responsible for the actions of the dominos that it pushed down just because it was aware of what it was doing. It was going to push them down regardless. And even if it's awareness resulted in a different action, that was going to happen too because it's ability to be aware and react differently are still part of the assumed causal existence.


The question of responsibility is unfalsifiable to science because it is an existential question. It arises at the same level as the assumption of causality, while scientific inquiries arise later. It's fine if you assume the brain has choices and that you are responsible for those choice - I can't prove you wrong - but what that means is that you are a dualist, which means you assume that existence has both causal and non-causal events. Choice (with responsibility) would have to be a non-causal event because if it were only caused by a decision, and not by the things that compeled that decision, then it would technically be un-caused before that moment. The inclusion of un-caused events in a description of existence can only be done under dualistic and randomist philosophies. Causal philosophies preclude any such description.


And, no, all of this doesn't mean that nothing is real. It means we might never be able to know what's real. I won't assert that we can't know, because that's a self-defeating notion, but I will say that I have never heard of a method by which to distinguish between the ontology of these philosophies. That being said, I hope you won't take offense at me calling you a dualist because there's no apparent claim to superiority for either dualists or determinists. As far as we've been able to figure, either perspective could be correct, or both could be incorrect. All we can say is that the two concepts seem mutually exclusive. I operate under the assumption that reality is deterministic and includes no un-caused events, but frankly, I wish I didn't because the dualistic notion allows for the possibility that I am not a complete slave to existence. Ironically, I just don't think I have any say in what I believe.



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