Category Archives: Free will and determinism

Free Will Without Mind/Body Dualism

Reductionism

I hope to persuade hard (absolute) determinists that their position is based on a false dichotomy. Determinism does not preclude free will. It’s not either/or: there are other possibilities. I am presenting, here, one of those other possibilities. It’s a model based on reciprocal causality. It doesn’t claim to have proof: we know too little about the brain to prove how any high-order mental process works, so I’ll be appealing to your experience and reason using common ideas and concepts we all understand. As I will explain, free will does not require mind/body dualism: it doesn’t have to violate causality or determinism. The question of free will is a matter of opinion, hotly debated for centuries. I find it ridiculous when hard determinists write with authority about “the illusion of free will” as if they’re discussing settled, factual, points. If they don’t know the difference between a fact and an opinion, how do they know what they know? The pretense of certainty is foolhardy when dealing with a topic nobody can back up with evidence. I believe the main stumbling block for hard determinists is their tendency to material reductionism, driven by the misguided application of physics to things biological: a tendency that obfuscates the key differences between inanimate objects and animate beings.

Before beginning in earnest, I’d like you to consider this . . .

. . . If I were Magellan, trying to convince you that the Earth is spherical, I would point out how — no matter in which direction you look — the horizon advances as we advance toward it and how the arc of the horizon suggests a huge, round, planet, etc. If you adhered to conventional 15th century wisdom and held a contrary opinion, you would naturally react with skepticism and be inclined to resist my evidence and arguments.

However, if you sailed around the world with me, heading inexorably westward, you would be far more willing to accept the Earth as a globe once we arrive back where we started from. You might find fault with some of my ideas or metaphors but you would agree with my conclusion and, thus, would be more prone to seek clarification than to reject the theory outright.

Sometimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees. If I had to respond to every possible objection to every interpretation of my assertions, we would get nowhere in a hurry. Let’s not get bogged down in the minutiae: let’s look at the question holistically before quibbling over details: we are, after all, dealing with hypotheticals here . . . namely that reciprocal causation, as a potential key to free will (self-determinism) without mind/body dualism, demonstrates that hard determinism is a false dichotomy: there are other possibilities.

So, what IS free will? People clearly don’t agree on what it is. Philosophers can’t figure it out. No matter what our opinions of the requirements for free will, they all include choice, so let’s call choice a bare minimum requirement. But in what manner do we have choice? Certainly not the libertarian volition that denies determinism. That’s just not workable – especially for atheists with a knee-jerk reaction against mind/body dualism. And certainly not at the other end of the spectrum: hard determinism. To hard determinists, there is no free will: just the illusion of it. So, if free will really exists, it exists somewhere between these two extremes.

The way I see it, we are self-aware, intelligent, human beings, with uniquely powerful mental faculties of memory and analysis that sets us apart from all other known entities. We specialize in abstractions. We understand, or can figure out, causal relationships and their effects on us and our environment. Not only are we self-aware – we are time-aware – something so intrinsic to our intelligence that we’re inured to it, taking it for granted. To me, this time-awareness is an important key to the question of free will because it represents a temporal advantage over causality that allows us to anticipate and prepare for the future . . . whether that be 5 seconds or 50 years from now. Whether it’s preparing a grocery list; or a career path; or writing a last will and testament: we plot our own paths into the future. And that, to me, is self-determinism: my idea of what free will actually is. Self-determinism means that, within the constraints of causality, we are the architects of our own lives and are thus responsible and accountable for our own actions. To me, this is what it means to have free will.

I’m a compatibilist. I believe free will (self-determinism) is compatible with determinism – but not the absolute determinism of hard determinists. Such absolute determinism is based on linear causality; the causality of physics: cause and effect that is fixed: linear, binary and inexorable, unfolding in a precisely predictable way. Yes, the causality of physics is linear, binary and inexorable. But only with inanimate objects. Everything in the universe was an inanimate object until the advent of life. Thanks to the introduction of life, the universe now also contains animate beings.

Inanimate objects and animate beings have different modes of response (reactive versus interactive) to causality because animate beings provide potentials for causality that aren’t possible with inanimate objects.For brevity’s sake, lets stick with human beings from here on out. Anyway, instead of the linear, reactive, relationship to causality found in the inanimate realm, human beings have a reciprocal, interactive, relationship with causality. This is one of the differences that distinguishes physics from biology. Physics deals with inanimate matter: its causality is simple and linear. Biology deals with animate beings: its causality is complex and reciprocal. Life makes all the difference.

We’re evolved to recognize, analyze, understand and anticipate causality in highly complex ways. Think about it for a second. What are the properties of causality that make it so predictable in the inanimate realm?

  • It unfolds in lockstep with the unidirectional arrow of time.
  • It’s binary: cause and effect. Fundamentally simple.
  • It’s highly repeatable and consistent. A fact that science relies upon.

Causality underpins all of nature. It’s a basic assumption of physics. It’s the first thing we need to master in order to understand the world around us. Intelligence can’t develop – much less, evolve – without causality as its foundation. The properties of causality are the seeds of intelligence. Without causality, there is only chaos.

So causality is at the core of both determinism and intelligence. And when causality and intelligence interact, we have self-determinism. The key to that interaction is feedback. How do you have interaction without feedback? Feedback is common to emergent phenomena such as consciousness and intelligence, both of which are intimately bound up with free will (self-determinism). In contrast, inanimate matter is insensate. It has no memory, no intentions, no alternatives. It has no feedback: it is reactive, not interactive.

Although human intelligence endows us with a temporal advantage over causality that allows us to anticipate, prepare for and harness causality for our own purposes, that doesn’t mean we’re not subject to great influence from causality. We can do nothing about much of causality’s influence over us. We have no causal control over our own genetics and very little over our physiology. We have no control over the weather or natural disasters. In the midst of a car crash, we have no control over the forces that violently toss us around. But we’re not absolutely at the mercy of causality . . . we can drive defensively and use seat belts, air bags, padded dashboards, laminated windshields, crumple zone designs and side impact protection beams as well as systems for: collision avoidance, anti-lock braking, traction control, tire pressure monitoring, electronic stability control and obstacle detection. With self-determinism, feedback allows us to recursively modify our surroundings or even our own behavior to guarantee more beneficial consequences than would otherwise occur.

Feedback occurs between our brains and stimuli from our surroundings (causality). I think this feedback loop is where emergent phenomena such as intelligence and consciousness form. But how can free will (self-determinism) emerge from feedback? Well, of course, I don’t really know. But when I think in terms of reciprocal causality, it’s not difficult to explain how self-determinism could emerge from the feedback of reciprocal causation. It’s easy to see how the human brain creates huge potentials for (reciprocal) causality that are way beyond anything possible in the inanimate realm. Here’s just one way in which that could happen, explained with ideas and concepts we’re all familiar with . . .

. . . Cause and effect from the past (experience) is stored in the brain as memories. Cause and effect are also projected into the future (anticipation) when we analyze or plan. As mental feedback, our brains integrate experience and anticipation with cause and effect in the present moment to synthesize perceptions, ideas, conclusions and decisions . . . which, in turn, are also stored in the brain. Now tell me, which of these causes and effects are important to this process?

I say all of them. This synthesis of multiple causal factors is impossible with the linear causality of inanimate objects. With human intelligence, causality has more “temporal potentials”, thanks to memory (past) and the anticipation and projection of imagination (future). To us, causality isn’t limited to the present. It’s stored in the form of memories we can recall and is predicted in the form of anticipation and projection. Memory and imagination, as mental abstractions, are virtualized forms (past and future) of causality. Their synthesis with real-time causality (the present) is transformative and might well be integral to the emergence of  free will (self-determinism).

So, if you’re hung up on “uncaused causes”, consider the mental synthesis of multiple causal factors and its implications for emergence. We don’t operate on just the unfolding linear causality of the present. The past, present and future are homogenized and simultaneously incorporated into our thoughts and deeds.There is no “uncaused cause” — no violation of determinism — because there is no single cause but, rather, a synthesis of causal factors past, present and (virtual) future. I think this synthesis is exactly what is needed for the emergence of intelligence and free will (self-determinism) without mind/body dualism. When you stop to think about it, the human capacity for analysis is amazing. It’s an exercise in abstraction. We draw feedback from experience (past) and imagination (future) to mentally evaluate hypothetical scenarios. They’re not even real: just mental constructs! Reciprocal causation seems to have almost limitless potential. If reciprocal causation isn’t the key to free will (self-determinism) as an emergent property of the brain, what else could be?

The whole point here is to show that hard determinism is a false dichotomy. It’s not either/or. There are other possibilities. Emergence from reciprocal causation is one of those possibilities.

I believe that free will (self-determinism) is a prerequisite component of human intelligence in as much as it seems impossible to have human intelligence without it. What is human intelligence? Can we have it without the ability to make choices? Not to my way of thinking.

The ability to make choices, to me, implies an ability to anticipate causality. We make decisions based on expectations and pursue plans to usher those decisions to fruition. Planning would not work if choices were ephemeral. Clearly, we plan all the time, so part of intelligence must include keeping track of choices relative to our plans. This means that, at many points along the way, our choices are re-entrant or recursive; otherwise we could accomplish nothing.

If so, feedback is part of the causal stream of stimuli we’re constantly responding to. It’s internal instead of external but it joins the stream of stimuli by looping with it. After all, causality doesn’t stop at the skull. If we interact with causality, then feedback must be the mechanism by which we direct that interaction. Feedback informs our decisions.

We’re very good at analysis and executing plans. Sometimes we fail but usually, we’re confident in the outcomes. The fact that we can make plans and execute them is proof that we anticipate the future and factor causality into every step along the way. We can engineer moon missions and scramble to avert disasters and land our astronauts back on Earth safe and sound.

If that isn’t self-determinism . . . then what is it? I think it’s the only form of free will we really have.

Reciprocal causation becomes easier to understand once you acknowledge that animate beings, through feedback, offer causality more potentials than can occur with inanimate matter. Thanks to our advanced intelligence, we virtually dance with causality. Innovation, invention, creativity . . . these all indicate that causality is a plaything to us.

The reductionist mindset of hard (absolute) determinism doesn’t take reciprocal causation into consideration . . . and as long as you’re dealing with inanimate matter, that shortcoming doesn’t matter. The biggest mistake hard determinists make is treating animate beings like inanimate objects: applying linear causation instead of reciprocal causation. The brain is more than a collection of atoms: it’s the most complex object in the known universe. Life, consciousness and intelligence are emergent phenomena. Why not free will (self-determinism)?

I find it curious that so many intelligent people are so quick to surrender their identity on the altar of ABSOLUTE determinism. Here’s a few quotes that sum these folk up for me . . .

  • “A belief which leaves no place for doubt is not a belief; it is a superstition.” ~José Bergamín
  • “Knowledge is a relatively safe addiction; that is, until it becomes idolatry.” ~Anonymous
  • “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” ~Albert Einstein

The Bergamin quote reminds us that certainty is a fool’s game. Absolutism is the pretense of certainty. The anonymous quote reminds us that what we think we know is subject to new paradigms. The Einstein quote encapsulates hard determinism perfectly. By applying the linear causality of inanimate objects to animate beings – as if there’s no difference between them – hard determinists are making things simpler than possible. Free will (self-determinism) is probably not even possible without the feedback of reciprocal causation: it’s certainly unimaginable with just linear causation. Life, consciousness, intelligence and, yes, free will (self-determinism) are unthinkable without reciprocal causality.

We all live as if we have free will (self-determinism). Jurisprudence, competition, incentives, rewards, praise, blame, loyalty, betrayal . . . these all pay lip service to free will (self-determinism). We ponder our futures and evaluate our options for the best available opportunities that fit our priorities and abilities – then we set about to achieve them. There are constantly choices to be made. Free will (self-determinism) seems to be a fact of life.

The challenge is to explain it: NOT deny it.



© Copyright 2013 AtheistExile.com

eMail: AtheistExile@AtheistExile.com


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Emergent Properties of the Human Brain

This post revisits arguments related to free will and complexity theory. I’ve recently been focused on newer arguments for self-determinism (a compatibilist form of free will) but an interview of Daniel Dennett, by the Center for Inquiry, has prompted me to revisit “emergent properties”. If you’re not familiar with my explanation for self-determinism, please consult my home page for several posts on the topic.

The basic premise of hard determinism is a false dichotomy. It asserts that you can’t have causality and make choices too. Too many hard determinists are stuck on this false dichotomy and won’t acknowledge that it’s not either/or. They won’t acknowledge that there are alternative possibilities. Self-determinism is one such alternative in which human intelligence, via reciprocal causation, interacts with, instead of merely reacts to, causality.

Daniel Dennett, in an interview for the Center For Inquiry, uses an argument derived from complexity theory. Complexity theory, by the way, is better suited to mind/brain questions than the reductionist approaches favored by hard determinists. For your convenience, I’m including this link to an .MP3 file containing just the section of the interview dealing with free will. The following block quote comes from near the end of the .MP3 file . . .

Most people are quite happy with the idea that things can be colored even though their finest parts aren’t colored. Atoms aren’t colored but things can be red, blue and green — they can really be red, blue and green — it’s not just an illusion that they’re red, blue and green even though the atoms that they’re made of are not any color at all. Things can be alive, like a cell, even though they’re made of parts that aren’t alive. In fact, if it doesn’t work out that way, we’re in deep trouble. So you can make something living out of parts that are not living. You can make something colored out of parts that aren’t colored. You can make something conscious out of parts that are not conscious. Neurons aren’t conscious . . . [and] you can make something free out of parts that aren’t free.

. . . Nature is riddled with emergent properties: especially where there is life. Life itself is an emergent property of organic molecules. Self-aware consciousness, intelligence and, yes, self-determinism, are emergent properties of mental feedback (which is, itself, an emergent property of the brain). Because the emergent property of mental feedback must exist before the emergent properties of (1) self-aware consciousness, (2) intelligence and (3) self-determinism can exist, these 3 higher-level phenomena are at least twice abstracted from the brain. They are emergent properties of an emergent property (mental feedback). You can also take the view that human intelligence includes self-aware consciousness and self-determinism but you’d still have a phenomenon twice abstracted from the brain: an emergent property from an emergent property. This feedback loop, in which we think about what we think, is a form of reciprocal causation and, I suspect, is where choice arises from. The theory of reciprocal determinism, developed by renowned psychologist, Albert Bandura, emphasizes the interdependence of person and environment. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it . . .

Reciprocal determinism is the idea that behavior is controlled or determined by the individual, through cognitive processes, and by the environment, through external social stimulus events. The basis of reciprocal determinism should transform individual behavior by allowing subjective thought processes transparency when contrasted with cognitive, environmental, and external social stimulus events.

Actions do not go one way or the other, as it is affected by repercussions, meaning one’s behavior is complicated and can’t be thought of as individual and environmental means. Behavior consist of environmental and individual parts that interlink together to function.

. . . I believe, as I’ve already stated here and elsewhere, that self-aware and time-aware mental feedback is transformative: that’s where the complementary properties of causality and human intelligence interact — that’s where self-determinism emerges.

Human intelligence evolved to interact with causality: it recognizes and anticipates causality. If you consider the properties of causality and of human intelligence, you’ll see how they’re complementary. Causality, in the inanimate world around us, is highly predictable because it unfolds with time and produces repeatable results. It is persistent and consistent: unidirectional and repeatable. Science depends on this fact to formalize empirical observations and experiments. People depend on this fact to interact with the world around them. We influence the external environment as the external environment influences us. Cause and effect, in certain ways, become indistinguishable. This is interaction, not reaction. Human intelligence produces an entirely different mode of response to causality: interaction. Contrast this to the strictly reactive mode of response for inanimate objects.

Free will, as most of us think of it, doesn’t exist. Our intelligent interaction with causality produces a more subtle, nuanced, phenomenon: self-determinism. I think of it, more or less, as “direction” or “purpose”. Because of feedback, we can (with varying degrees of efficacy) distinguish between a good idea and a bad idea or something in between and pursue the one we want. These are options — yes, options dictated by causality (reciprocal causation) but options nonetheless — we choose as self-aware, intelligent, human beings. The brain deliberates. That what it does. It couldn’t without feedback. If you insist on a reductionist philosophy that equates brains to rocks, you will never acknowledge the distinctly different modes of response to causality exhibited by inanimate objects versus animate beings. With reciprocal causation, cause can become effect and vice versa: cause and effect lose their meaning and reaction becomes interaction.

We suspect that abiogenesis somehow transformed inanimate matter into living cells. We haven’t proved it yet. But it’s the best theory we have and most of us are willing to accept it because we know life must have started somehow.

Of course . . . you could say “God did it” and leave it at that. But that’s a cop-out.

In the same way, we know that we are self-aware, time-aware, intelligent human beings who bring purpose and direction to a universe that otherwise has none. Self-determinism provides a theory that uses what we all know to be true to explain how this direction and purpose is compatible with causality. By interacting with causality, human intelligence blurs the difference between cause and effect in a way not possible with inanimate objects.

Of course . . . you could say “The Big Bang did it” and leave it at that. But that’s a cop-out.

The philosophical challenge will remain unsolved if we keep trying to explain the impossible notion of the ill-named “free will”. Instead, turn your attention to what we know and can actually point to as real. The true challenge, in light of causality and reality, is to explain the goal-seeking direction and purpose of human endeavor . . . NOT to fatalistically deny it.


© Copyright 2011 AtheistExile.com
eMail: AtheistExile@AtheistExile.com


Explaining Purpose

In discussions about self-determinism, some hard determinists dismissively parade opinion as fact. Their conviction trumps their rational integrity. We all need to be mindful that just about everything to do with free will and determinism is, thus far, a matter of opinion.

Almost 400 years ago, René Descartes claimed that, unlike the human body, the mind has no physical properties or spatial dimension: thus it can not be examined in the same way as the physical body. Today, we think of self-aware human consciousness as an emergent property of the brain but we still don’t know how or why it emerges.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, without access to media of any kind, you’ve probably noticed increasing numbers of news stories about consciousness and its associated properties (like intelligence and free will). The neurosciences have taken an interest in what was, until recently, a philosopher’s pastime.

Thanks to modern imaging technologies like fMRI and CAT scans, scientists now have ways to observe certain limited kinds of brain activity without having to open the skull of a living person. Although cleverly designed experiments have led to many theories about consciousness, new facts have been slow in coming.

Given the near-total mystery of consciousness, it is foolish to think we know much about its many properties, such as: self-awareness, intelligence and decision-making. No matter what your position on “free will”, it consists mostly of conjecture. The point being that almost everything about consciousness is a matter of opinion. Anybody claiming to know the answers is, in fact, confusing opinion with knowledge.

As I’ve tried to convey in the past, I believe that self-determinism offers an explanation for how we make choices and pursue purpose in a mechanistic, deterministic, universe. The key points of self-determinism address the usual objections of hard determinists. In the list, below, I first cite the hard determinist’s objection, then follow it (in parentheses) with self-determinism’s answer . . .

  • Causality means the inexorable cascade of all events is inevitable. (Not so! Animate beings and inanimate matter have different modes of response to causality. The law of causality: “Every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause” does not dictate a single, monolithic, mode of response — nor a single potential future for animate beings.)
  • Because all events are inevitable, free will is an illusion. (That’s a false dichotomy assuming a single mode of response to causality. There are other alternatives such as dynamic, intelligent, interaction with causality.)
  • Consciousness is entirely driven by deterministic, electro-chemical processes in the brain. (That’s a myopic, reductionist, point of view attempting to address a subject better suited to complexity theory. Consciousness is an emergent property of the brain. Thanks to mental feedback, we think about what we think about. This intelligent process is transformative and makes us self-aware, future-aware, manipulators of events.)

Causality’s cascade of events is NOT inevitable when intelligent human beings get involved with those events.

“Every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause” does NOT necessarily mean that a cause must have one and only one effect or that it is inevitable. The universe is not perfectly deterministic. The indeterministic quantum realm exerts an influence on the classical realm. The subatomic release of photons , the rate of radioactive decay, the quantum fluctuations that make up most of the mass of the universe (including your body), the workings of lasers and electricity . . . all these things involve quantum uncertainty. Yes, they’re highly consistent and reliable, overall, but not perfectly so at all points of time. Hell, even the universe itself began with a quantum fluctuation and was entirely chaotic in its earliest stages. The point is that the universe, while highly predictable, is not perfectly deterministic. For example: photons exert predictable pressure upon impact (think of solar sails) but their initial subatomic release was entirely random. Their effect on interstellar dust and gas is predictable in general but not perfectly deterministic.

Secondly, the law of causality does not mean there’s only one possible mode of response to events.  Inanimate matter responds to events mechanically and very predictably but animate beings are complex systems that respond to events in individual, unpredictable ways. There’s a huge difference between a rock and a brain.

Also, it occurs to me that maybe Descartes had a legitimate point. I’m not sure about this but if every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause, what about abstract effects? How material is an abstraction like consciousness or choice? How “physical” is it? If consciousness is an emergent property of the brain and it must exist before intelligent self-awareness can emerge from it, then self-awareness is at least twice abstracted from the brain. How does abstraction affect causality? Self-awareness is certainly not the same tangible, material stuff as the brain — yet we know it exists. Intelligent mental feedback, it seems to me, has all the transformative properties (self-awareness and abstraction) one would imagine is necessary for the emergence of choice and purpose: of self-determinism.

I don’t know what free will is, so I can’t say whether or not it’s an illusion. But I do believe that self-determinism is not an illusion.

I claim that human civilization is jam-packed with purpose — despite causality’s utter lack of purpose. You and I and social groups of all sizes have both unique and shared purposes. It comes from somewhere other than causality. It comes from us. We interact with causality and deliberate and decide what is important to us. We pursue purpose in almost everything we do. That’s empirical proof of choice.

Just because “consciousness emerges from deterministic, electro-chemical processes in the brain” does not mean that choice is equally deterministic.

Emergent properties are transformative phenomena that result in properties not shared by their constituent parts. Animate beings are made from inanimate matter. Life is an emergent property of organic compounds. Minds are made from neurons that are not conscious. Consciousness is an emergent property of the brain. I believe choice and purpose — self-determinism — are also emergent properties of the brain concomitant with self-awareness.

If you think about it, “self-awareness” and “mental feedback” are practically paraphrases of each other. Mental feedback is the mechanism by which we become self-aware. We are self-aware because we think about what we think about. I believe this is the transformative process by which we deliberate and make choices . . . it’s where the emergent property of self-determinism emanates from.

Is self-determinism a fact? I don’t know. Maybe it fits reality well or maybe it doesn’t. It’s just an explanation for the observable fact of human purpose. The problem with hard determinism is that it takes another observable fact — causality — and turns it into a false dichotomy by placing unnecessary restrictions on it. Animate beings do not respond like inanimate objects. With self-aware intelligence, it is possible to proactively interact with (recognize, understand, anticipate and use) causality instead of merely mechanically reacting to it. Instead of explaining human purpose, hard determinism simply denies it and dismissively labels it an illusion.

Human purpose and causality are both observable facts. They must, therefore, be compatible. Hard determinists simply side-step the philosophical challenge with false dichotomies. They’ve managed to talk themselves out of ownership of their desires, purpose, choices and actions. They’ve taken the simple concept of causality and, by placing unnecessary restrictions on it, made it even simpler. As Einstein once famously stated: “Everything should be made as simple as possible: but not simpler.”


© Copyright 2011 AtheistExile.com
eMail: AtheistExile@AtheistExile.com


Self-Determinism: Manipulating Events

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. In contrast to human purpose, nothing causality does presumes or indicates purpose in any way whatsoever. 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.

Agents of Change

We should not forget that the “free will versus hard (absolute) determinism” question is an age-old debate hindered by a lack of understanding of the human brain. Nothing conclusive has been proven either way. It’s a matter of opinion. Libertarian views of free will have fallen out of favor; leaving us, primarily, with compatibilism (soft determinism) versus hard determinism.

The problem, as I see it, with hard determinism is that it asserts an unnecessary dilemma: namely, that causality strictly precludes the possibility of free will because free will would constitute a cause unto itself — which violates the law of causality (“every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause”). That’s a false dichotomy. It’s not either/or. There are other possibilities, such has intelligent interaction with causality (as opposed to simple physical reaction to causality).

I’m not saying self-determinism is necessarily the reality of life as we know it. I’m saying it can explain how human endeavor demonstrates purpose. Self-determinism is a compatibilist worldview that asserts a limited form of free will stemming from human intelligence evolved with just the right properties to take advantage of the properties of causality itself.

PROPERTIES OF CAUSALITY:
• Causality unfolds with time. This means that, like time, it has a strictly unidirectional sequence from past to present to future.
• Outside the quantum realm, causality is highly predictable where inanimate matter/objects are concerned. Any event (cause) has one — and only one — possible result (effect).
• Causality is less predictable where animate beings are concerned. Living things are not simple objects but are, rather, complex systems. Animate beings have a distinctly different mode of response to causality than does inanimate objects. It’s the difference between a rock and a brain.
• Because most of the classical universe, including Earth, consists almost entirely of inanimate matter/objects, causality is, generally speaking, highly predictable.

PROPERTIES OF HUMAN INTELLIGENCE:
Mental feedback is the neurological mechanism that makes the properties of human intelligence possible. Some key properties (per self-determinism) of human intelligence are:
• Memory. Events and experiences stored in the brain. Recallable on demand or subconsciously.
• Imagination. The mental ability to virtually play out a scenario.
• Self-awareness. Accounting for oneself.
• Temporal Awareness. Accounting for time.

COMPLIMENTARY INTERACTION OF PROPERTIES:
Cause and effect is unidirectional; forward to the future. Causes create effects but effects have no influence on their causes. What’s done is done. Causality has no plan, no purpose, no intent. It’s not monolithic. It’s discrete and repeats (or is replicable): a fact that scientific experimentation relies on. It’s a simple and fundamental process. When we interact with the world around us (causality), the properties of human intelligence adds unique abilities to this process which can alter the future in ways that nothing else can or does.

The fact that we observe, learn from, anticipate and use causality to modify the world around us is empirical proof that we interact with causality to pursue our own goals: our own plans, purposes and intentions. Skyscrapers, dams, dikes, highways, vehicles, Mars rovers . . . ALL technology serve human purposes — NOT causality’s (because causality has none). They are products of human intelligence interacting with causality.

Our self-aware, time-aware, memory and imagination compliments the sequential and predictable nature of causality. That’s not a coincidence. Our intelligence has evolved to take advantage of the properties of causality. Cause and effect is unidirectionally linear. So our memory and imagination combine to render causality virtually (mentally) bidirectional. This provides us an evolutionary advantage that mitigates causality by anticipating and preparing for it. The process is transformative. With our interaction, the future need not unfold as it ordinarily would because we can learn from the past to change the future. We are not free agents so much as we are intelligent agents; agents of change.

It’s pretty simple if you compare the properties of human intelligence with the properties of causality. They mesh to enable human interaction with causality. The result is unique in the universe . . . but that doesn’t mean there must be some sort of unnatural conflict. Life is also unique in the universe (as far as we know) but nobody thinks it’s unnatural. Self-determinism is no more unnatural — and no less phenomenal — than life itself.


© Copyright 2011 AtheistExile.com
eMail: AtheistExile@AtheistExile.com


3 False Conundrums of Free Will

Introduction:

I’ve grown disappointed with philosophers on the subject of free will. The great philosophers of the past knew nothing about the brain. Modern philosophers contradict each other. What I’ve been trying to do is to stick with the knowledge we have and avoid philosophical entanglements and conjecture as much as possible. However, certain philosophical conundrums must be addressed, such as: (1) the false dichotomy of free will versus causality; (2) mind-brain dualism; and (3) deliberation versus illusion of choice. Perhaps the greatest obstacle is unlearning the impossible notions of what, exactly, free will is. I claim that we don’t have free will. We have limited choice, intent and purpose constrained by the influence of causality. I call this, “self-determinism”. There’s a lot of overlap with these issues, which makes it hard to lay out a clear and concise argument. But I’ll try . . .

(1) The False Dichotomy of Free Will Versus Causality:

The assertion that free will MUST violate causality is simply false. The underlying assumption is that cause and effect is inexorably interwoven into all events and thus all events are inevitable: including our thoughts and actions. The conclusion is that, if causality determines all events, free will is an illusion.

If you define free will to mean doing anything, at any time, within the physical and mental constraints of human ability . . . well then, yes, free will is an illusion. Causality burdens us with a genetic “endowment” that defines our individual biological limits. Beyond that, causality also accrues within us the conceptual limits of experience. We can’t act beyond our physical and mental limits, so a completely libertine notion of free will is impossible and must be discarded.

So if causality limits us physically and mentally, what’s to stop it from controlling us completely?

Intelligent interaction with causality. That’s what. We don’t just react to causality; we interact with it. We take advantage of the key properties of causality — unidirectional sequence and repeatable predictability — to innately understand, anticipate and use causality for our own purposes. We can do this because of 2 key properties of our intelligence: memory and imagination. We learn from the past to imagine a future of our own choosing. Then, with clear intent and purpose, we pursue our plans. The successful execution of our plans is empirical proof of our intent and purpose and our ability to interact intelligently with causality.

(2) Mind-Brain Dualism:

The mind can not be separated from the brain. It is a product of the brain. Any assertion that the mind is some sort of abstract, independent, construct is unsupportable. But the mind is also a product of the external world and of our sensory apparatus (biological sense organs). Just as the mind is inseparable from the brain, it is also inseparable from our senses and the world around us. If we never possessed any of these 3 components: brain, senses, or external world (stimuli), the mind could not exist. The mind is NOT just the brain. It’s the brain interacting with the external world (causality) via our sensory apparatus.

The brain does more than merely interact with causality . . . it also remembers those interactions (events) and learns from the experiences of others. Experience is our unique memories of events in our lives. Education is learning through the experiences of others. Knowledge is the combination of experience and education. Humans demonstrate higher levels of brain function, by far, than any other known life form. Is it unreasonable to think that with more advanced functions comes more advanced abilities?

Hard (absolute) determinists refuse to acknowledge the difference between a rock and a brain. They’re both just collections of atoms; or so they would have us believe. Good luck trying to understand complex phenomena, like consciousness, using such reductionist mindsets! Life is the difference between inanimate objects and animate beings. Reductionist denial doesn’t change that fact . . . it can’t even recognize it. Inanimate objects have a purely passive, predictable, mode of response to causality. Animate beings have an interactive, unpredictable, mode of response to causality. Inanimate objects have specific, predictable, reactions (effects) to specific events (causes). Animate beings have variable, unpredictable, reactions to specific events. Mathematically speaking, inanimate objects have a fixed set of 1 specific reaction to any event: animate beings have a variable range or scope of potential reactions to any event. To me, it is intransigent denial to equate brains with rocks.

(3) Deliberation versus Illusion of Choice:

The brain deliberates. That what it does (among other things). I think, therefore I am. We make choices all the time. But hard determinists insist that choice is an illusion: that causal factors are pulling the strings, like a puppeteer, at all times.

If we were inanimate objects, then yes, it would be pretty cut-and-dry: a fixed, predictable reaction to any specific event. But we’re animate beings. More precisely, we’re intelligent human beings. We have a range or scope of potential reactions to any specific event. And therein lies choice. Causality, via biology and experience, delimit the scope of our response and thus influence our decisions. Causality influences our decisions but it doesn’t control them.

How do I know this? Because causality is indiscriminate; it doesn’t remember; it doesn’t think; it has no intent; it has no plan. Therefore, if causality absolutely controlled us (versus influenced us) we would, like causality, act indiscriminately; without benefit of memory or thinking or intent or a plan.

But we don’t. We act with purpose. We are goal-oriented. We make elaborate plans and execute them; adjusting our plans if necessary. Clearly, choice is not an illusion. It takes choice to do what we do. The brain deliberates. That what it does.

Conclusions:

As the great historian, Danial J. Boorstin, pointed out: “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.” The claim that free will (a.k.a. intent, purpose, self-determinism) contradicts or violates causality is a false dichotomy. It’s not a choice of one or the other: causality or free will. There are other possibilities. Hard determinism is an “illusion of knowledge”.
Self-determinism is a compatibilist worldview which asserts that we interact with causality intelligently and that this is made possible by key properties of causality itself (unidirectional sequence and repeatable predictability) combined with key properties of human intelligence (memory and imagination). We recognize, understand, anticipate and use causality to pursue our goals and plans. This demonstrates choice: intent and purpose. Our intent and purpose is made manifest in our accomplishments and progress — none of which can come from a causality that absolutely controls our every thought and move.  Our accomplishments can only come from our intelligent interaction with causality. The limited scope of our choices might seem meager but it’s enough to fly men to the moon, control rovers on Mars and probes beyond the solar system.

That’s self-determinism. No mind-brain dualism. No violation of causality. No false dichotomies. No infinite regress. No philosophical conundrums. Just the natural properties of human intelligence interacting with the natural properties of causality.


© Copyright 2011 AtheistExile.com
eMail: AtheistExile@AtheistExile.com


Self-Determinism: Manipulating Events

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. In contrast to human purpose, nothing causality does presumes or indicates purpose in any way whatsoever. 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.


© Copyright 2011 AtheistExile.com
eMail: AtheistExile@AtheistExile.com