Picture: unconscious will. Does the idea of unconscious free will even make sense? Paula Droege, in the recent JCS, seems to think it might. Generally experiments like Libet’s famous ones, which seemed to show that decisions are made well before the decider is consciously aware of them, are considered fatal to free will. If the conscious activity came along only after the matter had been settled, it must surely have been powerless to affect it (there are some significant qualifications to this: Libet himself, for example, considered there was a power of last-minute veto which he called ‘free won’t’ – but still the general point is clear). If our conscious thoughts were irrelevant, it seems we didn’t have any say in the matter.

However, this view implies a narrow conception of the self in which unconscious processes are not really part of me and I only really consist of that entity that does all the talking. Yet in other contexts, notably in psychoanalysis, don’t we take the un- or sub-conscious to be more essential to our personality than the fleeting surface of consciousness, to represent more accurately what we ‘really’ want and feel? Droege, while conceding that if we take the narrow view there’s a good deal in the sceptical position, would prefer a wider view in which unconscious acts are valid examples of agency too. She would go further and bring in social influences (though it’s not entirely clear to me how the effects of social pressure can properly be transmuted into examples of my own free will), and she offers the conscious mind the consolation prize of being able to influence habits and predispositions which may in turn have a real causal influence on our actions.

I suppose there are several ways in which we exercise our agency. We perhaps tend to think of cases of conscious premeditation because they are the clearest, but in everyday life we just do stuff most of the time without thinking about it much, or very explicitly. Many of the details of our behaviour are left to ‘autopilot’, but in the great majority of cases the conscious mind would nevertheless claim these acts as its own. Did you stop at the traffic light and then move off again when it turned green? You don’t really remember doing it, but are generally ready to agree that you did. In unusual cases, we know that people sometimes even elaborate or confabulate spurious rationales for actions they didn’t really determine.

But it’s much more muddled than that. We do also at times seek to disown moral responsibility for something done when we weren’t paying proper attention, or where our rational responses were overwhelmed by a sudden torrent of emotion. Should someone who responds to the sight of a hated enemy by swerving to collide with the provoker be held responsible because the murderous act stems from emotions which are just as valid as cold calculation? Perhaps, but sometimes the opposite is taken to be the case, and the overwhelming emotion of a crime passionnel can be taken as an excuse. Then again few would accept the plea of the driver who says he shouldn’t be held responsible for an accident because he was too drunk to drive properly.

I think there may be an analogy with the responsibility held by the head of a corporation: the general rule is that the buck stops with the chief, even if the chief did not give orders for the particular action which subordinates have taken; in the same way we’re presumed by default to be responsible for what we do: but there are cases where control is genuinely and unavoidably lost, no matter what prudent precautions the chief may have put in place. There may be cases where the chief properly has full and sole responsibility; in other cases where the corporation has blundered on in pursuit of its own built-in inclinations it may be appropriate for the organization as a whole to accept blame for its corporate personality: and where confusion reigned for reasons beyond reasonable control, no responsibility may be assigned at all.

If that’s right, then Droege is on to something; but if there are two distinct grades of responsibility in play, there ought really to be two varieties of free will; the one exercised explicitly by the fully conscious me, and the other by ‘whole person’ me, in which the role of the conscious me, while perhaps not non-existent is small and perhaps mostly indirect. This is an odd thought, but if, like Droege, we broadly accept that Libet has disproved the existence of the first variety of free will, it means we don’t have the kind we can’t help believing in, but do have another kind we never previously thought of – which seems even odder.

65 Comments

  1. 1. Steve Esser says:

    I think that’s right. (There could be 3 or more grades, since I think there are clearly conscious decisions which aren’t introspectively premeditated.) There’s an abundance of evidence that our introspective view of ourselves and our agency is deeply flawed. This is not evidence, however, that there is no free will.

  2. 2. Lloyd Rice says:

    Libet’s experiments do not show that you never have a chance to think over your actions, as suggested in your first paragraph. In the set-up experiment, the subject specifically did not have time to ponder her actions. In most situations, there is a fairly generous time for contemplation before acting.

    Still, I basically agree that free will is not what it’s cracked up to be. In my view, “contemplating your actions” means reviewing the past realities that have already had their influence in causing you to act as you must.

  3. 3. Vicente says:

    The problem is more complex. First there are two issues: 1) The free will issue 2) The responsibility issue. The problem is that unfortunately we have entangled both, big mistake.

    I find that moral judgement (responsibility) is absolutely meaningless outside certain religious spheres. Advanced democratic societies have a LEGAL SYSTEM, and that makes the whole difference.

    It doesn’t matter whether something is moral or inmoral, good or bad, legitimate or not, all it matters is whether it is LEGAL or not, because those are the rules we have all agreed on in order to coexist.

    It is irrelevant if an individual has done a certaing act according to free will, or to any brain disorder, what matters are the effects on society. So if somebody is prosecuted for murder or any other offense, it has to be separated from society, if he also suffers from mental disorder should be put in a mental institution. If somebody has caused some damage (according to law), he has to be forced to compensate the victims (according to law).

    The problem is when we introduce the concept of punishment, because it is directly related to a moral judgement, WRONG! who are we to judge anybody. It is just a practical problem.

    If somebody jeopardises society it has to be separated from it, for PRACTICAL reasons, for safety and security, not because of a moral assessment and punishment.

    The free will issue is absolutely irrelevant in practical terms. Even if free will would exist it makes little different. What is the source of will in the first place?

    There is no responsibility whatsoever, there is just a cause and effect system. All we need is a legal system so that we can coexist as peacefully as possible, but no responsibility or moral jugdement should be considered.

    It is like educating young children, sometimes you have to scold them, or take corrective measures (call it punishment), but no moral judgement is invoked, because we believe they are not rational enough yet to understand or foresee the consequences of their acts. At a certain point we change our view and…tachannn…people are responsible because they are suppose to understand the resulting consequences, so what. If somebody being aware of the bad consecuences of what he intends to do, still go ahead, there must be a reason a cause for it. Now, is he responsible for the previous reason existence, the cause of the cause, and so on.

    The point I raise is very difficult to understand, particulary if one has been a victim of crime, that is also why an efficient legal system is all that matters.

    My conclusion is that there are no grades of responsibility, simply because there is no responsibility at all. I cannot talk about free will, since I don’t understand “will” in the first place.

  4. 4. Paul Bello says:

    it seems to me that the whole free will debate is a non-starter. If we take a whole-person view of free will, and we consider reflection a “willed act,” then any act of reflecting on one’s past actions (which presumably are implemented via unconscious habits, motives, ..) and actively changing ones pattern of behavior in the future (perhaps by re-assigning utilities to outcomes, etc.) based on this reflective act seems clearly a prima facie act of libertarian free will.

  5. 5. woodchuck64 says:

    Vincente:

    It doesn’t matter whether something is moral or immoral, good or bad, legitimate or not, all it matters is whether it is LEGAL or not, because those are the rules we have all agreed on in order to coexist.

    Can we to extend this to also mean the rules of various implied social contacts existing in concentric social circles smaller than society but larger than the individual? For example, I feel my spouse has a moral responsibility to be faithful, but this is because of our belief and agreement that a marriage entails that.

    Apart from that, I completely agree with you that “free will” just doesn’t make sense and that confusing it with responsibility is the source of the whole problem. We might as well recognize that we’ve evolved to recognize cheaters and evolved to feel anger at those who break social contracts in the process of evolving successful primate societies. But just because I’m angry doesn’t mean my offender “could have done differently”.

    I find your view clear and consistent.

  6. 6. links for 2010-06-15 « Blarney Fellow says:

    […] Conscious Entities » Blog Archive » Unconscious free will (tags: consciousness philosophy mind free-will) […]

  7. 7. Kar Lee says:

    I pretty much agree with Vicente’s view. Free will is one thing (which I think does not exist), responsibility and punishment is another. Responsibility and punishment is part of our social fabric, something that keep the society functioning the way it is functioning. Sexual predators may not have free will when committing a sexual assault, but punishment (severe) is nevertheless needed. In fact, sexual predators may need to be locked up to prevent future assaults.

    Punishment is a feedback system to reinforce behaviors that benefit the stability of the society, and to discourage behaviors that destabilize it.

    On the other hand, even conscious free will is really a concept that is self-contradicting, not to mention unconscious free will.

    Consider: “I get so irritated that I blow up whenever I see people _______ (fill in the blank) in front of me. I have absolute freedom to do that. I cannot help. But it is my unconscious free will…”

    The point is, what is the “Free Will” free from? Physical system behaves the way a physical system will behave, predictably. If you accept free will, I think you will have to accept interactive dualism or some type of non-physicalism, otherwise you will have to re-define the word “free” to make compatibilism possible, conscious or unconscious.

  8. 8. Mike Spenard says:

    It seems to me that possibly an unsung option is that our speech acts have the ability to influence others in a way that effects us. i.e. freewill happens thru proxy, rather then our inner speech acts controlling us in the way Libet made unlikely. So perhaps we can say “time delayed proxy freewill” exists?

  9. 9. woodchuck64 says:

    Kar Lee: another clear thinker!

    But what does the (libertarian) free will supporter offer to counter? The best I’ve heard is that refusing to hold on to free will puts one on a slippery slope: first moral responsibility is diluted, no longer having higher and deeper meaning; then agency becomes suspect; then intentionality becomes largely a metaphor; and finally society collapses in wreckage and flames.

  10. 10. Vicente says:

    Mike, you mean speech acts as illocutionary acts in the way Searle uses the term, or how? I am not sure altogether of what you say in #8.

  11. 11. Doru says:

    It’s very interesting to observe people’s stance on the two views of the world; liberal or conservative. This is another great example of unbiased article and discussion that balances the two views as the two sides of the coin.
    My lesson here, if there is a “free will” you certainly cannot control it.

  12. 12. Jonathan Speke Laudly says:

    Hi, Jonathan Speke laudly here,
    One can always argue that no matter what, the universe that has produced and sustains us is what makes all things arise–including all thought and action and any notion or presumption that there is an individual self that does it all, that is the agent.
    Further, one may argue that the universe is actinv according to its nature, has no choice butr to do so and so it has no free will either.
    But really the whole notion of free will is a mess. Suppose I am given a choice between having free will and not having free will, and I choose to not have free will. Are my subsequent actions the result of free will or are they determinate? Since I had a choice and freely chose to not have free will(let us assume)are not my subsequent actions due to free choice and so are acts of free will? If I was free to chose according to my free will nature, and had no choice but to choose according to my free will nature, how is that free? If I have no choice but to exercise free will? Free?
    The whole concept is a muddle.

  13. 13. Kar Lee says:

    Exactly, what is free will free from?

  14. 14. Vicente says:

    Kar Lee, probably you need to extent the scope of freedom beyond will. To be free could be not be subject of absurd conditioning and programming. To be free is to control the zombie, or at least not to allow the zombie control you, but who is you…

    Free from the causes of suffer, free to do what really makes you happy, what else matters.

    Truth will make you free, and the cease of all desire more… but who knows.

    Again, why some choose to follow one way or another seems to be part of the lottery of birth. Maybe, one simple gene that could influence dopamine production levels can change a whole life experience, amazing.

  15. 15. Kar Lee says:

    Vicente,
    “…To be free could be not be subject of ABSURD conditioning and programming. To be free is to control the zombie,..”

    God’s friend (the other God) ask God, “Tell me, how did you manage to make two completely conscious beings with free wills butt up against each other voluntarily and perform that silly-looking act and reproduce?”

    God replies, “I make them feel good doing that, in addition to giving them free will!”

    Conclusion: If you are human, you do what humans do.
    Disclaimer: I am an atheist.

  16. 16. Vicente says:

    Kar Lee, precisely, that is to control the zombie, to understand when he wants to follow one of its instincts or cravings and stop it if it is not convenient, rationally speaking. To understand when other zombies have programmed our zombie for their own benefit, and de-programme it. This is my understanding of free will, if any. Why some people have more penetrating minds that allow them to note this odd nature, ask Steven Pinker or Soren Kierkegaard, I think they’ve got good views.

    Maybe, at some point, when one manages to overcome one’s nature burden (if possible), then, one can look God and his divine friend straight in the eyes and show them the ring finger, or even ask them to butt up against each other in the most pure Greek mythology literary tradition. Or maybe at that point you just don’t care at all.

  17. 17. John Davey says:

    “If you accept free will, I think you will have to accept interactive dualism or some type of non-physicalism, otherwise you will have to re-define the word “free” to make compatibilism possible, conscious or unconscious.”

    No you don’t. You simply have to accept that free will may be how the world works, as a natural fact. If that doesn’t match with the current scientific idiom, then, it means accepting the current idiom may be wrong, at least to the extent it doesn’t match with free will. Its called keeping your mind open to all the possibilities.

  18. 18. Kar Lee says:

    I think the current paradigm is this world is a rule based world. Physical systems behave in a predictable way. Many people hold on to this “rational” view of the world, and will hold on to it until proven otherwise. So, if free will contradicts this view, the burden of proof resides with the free will claim.

    But as we see, the more important point is that free will implies un-caused action, which is pretty much equivalent to random act, which is another description for irrational behavior (rationality means reason based, cause based). In this sense, as somebody has already argued somewhere else, free will is really worse than non-free will.

  19. 19. Vicente says:

    But what is will? Will is to want to do something and to decide to do something. Action is dictamined by what you want to do and what you can do.

    Following Kar Lee’s physical analogy, like systems tend to reach the minimum energy state, humans tend to reach the maximum happiness/minimum suffering state. Now, the point is that most people set the objective in local minimum that believe could be achieved, ignoring the absolute minimum possibility.

    The only difference is in what you believe will make you suffer or enjoy, and the rules you accept to behave in order to reach the goal. There is no free will, there is a set of causes and stimuli, external and internal, that make you want something, that stimulates desire or inhibits action.

    In a way, it is like the “pandemonium” of competing processes in your brain that Dennetts refer to, the are competing causes, you might want to go clubing with your girlfriend, but you feel tired (want to sleep), and next day you have to sit an exam (have to study), so what desire wins? probably depends on the decision rules (genetical and educational) implemented in your brain (and ¿?). Desires also emerge from previous experience.

    All we can do is to realise this process and to try to determine what makes us really happy so that “decisions” are taken in the right direction.

    In summary free to:

    – decide what we want?
    – decide what we do?

    Probably none, we can just debbug the system.

  20. 20. Burt says:

    Vicente:

    Libet’s experiments demonstrate that our consciousness has already started to act via its own free will. This is because our brain hasn’t translated it into neural firings for us to coordinate the action and become aware of the choice consciously which happens more or less simultaneously. There is 1 conscious choice that, due to physicality and synapse lapse, seems to be 2 discrete events occurring when it is only 1 – the entity choosing to act – the follow through is implicit in the choice.

    Free means the only causal agency is oneself (one’s consciousness), no one is in thrall to external physics, biochemistry or happenstance, as the external world is a product of our internal perception. Will is the act of choosing (it’s binary – 0 or 1 – choosing the status quo – not to act – or choosing to perform an action.) Hugh Everett’s Many Worlds Interpretation of QM is based on this choice bifurcation.

    John Davey[17] is right, free will is the natural order of things – get used to it. You are a physicist – quantum mechanics is only clockwork in a statistical sense, individual quanta or events are totally freewheeling (freewilling), unpredictable and decidedly not clockwork. The apparent order of the universe is a function of our minds, we agree to believe that Newtonian physics rules the natural macro world and for the most part it does allowing for a common interpretation of reality (else communication would be problematic) but once we delve into the atomic world, all bets are off. Every choice from the micro to the macro is a quantum event and unpredictable until the waveform collapses (a choice is actualized.)

    Without free will we are the equivalent of clockwork PZ’s and cannot have a choice in anything because choice is an illusion. We cannot be responsible for out actions as we are powerless to behave otherwise. We could be held responsible for our actions but it is unjust because we couldn’t help but act on them. This is an untenable situation – you have been required to post every sentence you have written at CE – you have no choice – even in the words used. If no free will were the case, I too would have no choice but to reply to you and offer my worldview to the readers at large. There is no hope of ever deciding anything as we are prisoners of physics and biochemistry so we have to believe in the illusion of free will or we have no purpose and there is no point – so why bother? Because we can’t not bother.

    Denying the existence of free will is merely an excuse to avoid personal responsibility for our actions; nothing makes us do anything with or against our will (the Devil made me do it). Any events that we consider negative (failures) are not our fault, therefore any positive events (successes) are likewise not to our credit. Who would want to live in such an environment? Certainly not I; I believe I’m responsible for all events and take responsibility for my successes and failures. I’m responsible for Mike Spenard’s screeds and my responses to them, which serves as a reminder to myself that I create foils as an exercise to focus my philosophy in areas that need attention without resorting to ridicule or sarcasm.

    @Vicente[3]

    The LEGAL SYSTEM is also a foil that individuals use to rein in their behavior when they believe they aren’t in control of their actions. I transgress no laws whose principles comport with mine and I obey no laws with which I disagree unless I have created a foil (police, vigilante etc.) to modify my behavior for a time. If I manifest an event that requires me to enter into a drama with the legal system then I needed to learn a lesson anent my behavior to whatever degree the drama plays out.

    Morality is a value judgment and almost all actions are value neutral (There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Hamlet, scene ii.) There is a core of what could be termed moral strictures which are meant to facilitate “good neighbor” behavior among entities on a local level but ultimately they are also value neutral in the larger sense.

  21. 21. Vicente says:

    1. “no one is in thrall to external physics, biochemistry or happenstance, as the external world is a product of our internal perception”

    So it must be that masochism is the rule….

    2. Do you think that your inmune system annihilate germs or tumoral cells for moral reasons? Do you think tumoral cells are responsible for their behaviour? does that make any difference in what has to be done?

    You are responsible in practical terms or liable for many things, but no moral judgement makes sense. Tumoral cells are responsible for killing their own parent organism, but no moral judgement applies…

    Libet could show that decisions are made subconsciously, but not why a certain decision is made. Tell me, if somebody performs a horrible action being aware of it, and not being forced, why is it? the only answer is because he is evil. Now, why is that person evil while others are not, why? whatever answer you could give me, think, is that person responsible for those causes that make it do evil? Does that make any change in what has to be done to prevent that person from doing evil again? should we have deterrent policies to prevent crime? It is just a practical problem.

  22. 22. John Davey says:

    “I think the current paradigm is this world is a rule based world. Physical systems behave in a predictable way. Many people hold on to this “rational” view of the world, and will hold on to it until proven otherwise. So, if free will contradicts this view, the burden of proof resides with the free will claim.”

    It would if we were talking about something that is scientifically understood. Mental phenomena are the least understood natural phenomena there is. You cannot extrapolate principles extracted for matter to mental phenomena, not in the position of ignorance we are in. It may seem unlikely that mental phenomena are not deterministic but that falls way,way short of proof – and given the feeling of choice that dominates almost every moment of consciousness, I think it unjustifiable to make any broad statements demanding the burden of proof falls upon people who believe in free will. On the contrary that burden still falls on the determinists.

    The one true position we can state is that if free will violates any physical laws then it is unlikely to be true. A mere allusion to predictability is not enough to undermine it. There is no scientific proof that ‘free will’ is incompatible with the laws of physics, so your assumption is incorrect.

  23. 23. Vicente says:

    John, “There is no scientific proof that ‘free will’ is incompatible with the laws of physics, so your assumption is incorrect.”

    If you toss a coin whether you get head of tails is not a result of the coin free will, that is clear.

    If you commit suicide what is the cause of that decision? if you decide to study engineering, how is that decision made?

    What we need to understand is how the decision making process works (as a fundamental part of behaviour analysis), and I don’t think the laws of physics are going to help much, unless you have random event generators in the brain that take part in the decision making, or something like that.

    From a dualistic point of view, if will emerges from the “soul”, then there is not much we can say.

  24. 24. John Davey says:

    “But as we see, the more important point is that free will implies un-caused action, which is pretty much equivalent to random act, which is another description for irrational behavior (rationality means reason based, cause based). In this sense, as somebody has already argued somewhere else, free will is really worse than non-free will.”

    I think there are definitional issues with free will (which seems a slightly different issue from determinism) and I think these are compounded by our comprehensive lack of knowledge of mental phenomena. I think a free will argument would hold that a “moral agent” is the cause of behaviour . Whether such an agent has a neurological explanation time only can tell.

  25. 25. John Davey says:

    “What we need to understand is how the decision making process works (as a fundamental part of behaviour analysis), and I don’t think the laws of physics are going to help much, unless you have random event generators in the brain that take part in the decision making, or something like that.”

    I think the laws of “physics of biology” will help. I think we have to remember the brain is a complex biological system and it is meaningless to get trapped in reductive speak and referring to singular, isolated physical events. Evidently one neuron cannot be said to be conscious, but the aggregate of millions of them can be said to be. The brain has collective features that are evidently more than the sum of its parts. Stick to a reductionist dialogue and we cant even accept consciousness.

  26. 26. Mike Spenard says:

    (1) When I wrote this sentence the deterministic laws of nature wrote it–not I.

    It would be absurd to ask if this contradictory statement is true. However, in dealing with the underlying problem of free-will at hand, we are pressed to ask ‘to whom or what is the creation of this statement attributed too?’.
    Part of our confusion arises from the misleading use of the word determined in this dilemma. A persons acts are manifestly in accordance with the laws of nature, but to force upon ourselves the idea that our acts are determined misleads us into thinking our will could somehow be in contention with laws more powerful then ourselves. This is simply not possible. The mind and will can only affect nature in so much as it is a part of nature; the mind and natural law are really one in the same. Here someone might opine antithetically ‘I refuse to obey these laws of nature, and nothing or no one can stop me!’ However, it would be a gratuitous mistake to assume one can escape his nature. The German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe put the point most clearly when he stated “In trying to oppose Nature, we are, in the very process of doing so, acting according to the laws of nature” Scientific laws are often stated as hypothetical propositions of pattern such as ‘If a body is left unsupported, it falls at such and such rate of acceleration’. These laws of nature, to be valid, must include in them how you in fact do consider choices and act upon them. Although there is good reason to doubt it, the day may come when physicists reach the limits of their discipline and all questions of a physical nature are answered. And while these natural laws may govern all that happens they do not ordain all that occurs. The laws of nature are a description of how we act, not a prescription, force, or fiat which sets forth to determine your acts.
    As with our prior enigmas, a grander understanding awaits us once we let go of our traditional inclination to draw an unwarranted bifurcation of reality into ‘you’ and ‘not you'; or of body and an extra ingredient. Does it make sense to ask ‘where do I end and the rest of the universe begin?’, or are we suffering from a metaphysical fever induced by the enchantment of a false dichotomy? Perhaps, like a forest and trees, ‘you’ and nature are part of a continuous whole, and in recognizing this we can step off the dualistic loop that confines us from seeing our own larger nature.

    . . .

    Also, on the morality and legal system points… I wrote a very short little half-baked story about how, when you really get down to it, we’re all behaviorists when it comes to morality. And that this is true even of Dualists, who in principle are quite in opposition to behaviorism and physicalism.

    http://www.memeoid.net/books/Spenard/AnEthicalDualema-roughdraft.pdf

  27. 27. woodchuck64 says:

    John Davey:

    … given the feeling of choice that dominates almost every moment of consciousness, I think it unjustifiable to make any broad statements demanding the burden of proof falls upon people who believe in free will.

    The feeling of choice is always about what I really want to do. What I want to do determines my choice. What I want to do is a direct function of who I am, which in turn is ultimately dictated by environment and genetics. So the feeling of choice is not only consistent with determinism, it demands it.

  28. 28. Burt says:

    V icente:[21]: “So it must be that masochism is the rule….”

    If you enjoy extreme stimuli, create pain for pleasure, or constantly create “ adverse” conditions then masochism is your rule, however pain is a message to alert us that we are out of balance with our physicality and need to amend our beliefs and actions. Likewise experiencing what may be termed “undesirable” or negative events is feedback to make us examine and correct the actions that precipitated those events. Of course if there is no free will then you are at the mercy of indifferent physical processes and have to accept your fate.

    “ 2. Do you think that your inmune system annihilate germs or tumoral cells for moral reasons? Do you think tumoral cells are responsible for their behaviour? does that make any difference in what has to be done?”

    As I said above, morality is a value judgment and germs and tumors are a moral neutral, they exist as a tool for our use to alert us to the imbalanced mental conditions that caused them to flourish. The immune system is a cooperative gestalt that responds to our consciousness’s needs. Tumor cells are responsible for their actions by choosing to cooperate with our consciousness’s choices they “responsibly” turn off the “stop dividing” signal and continue to grow. Our bodies are created and maintained by our consciousness and if we no longer require the “wake-up-call” that these tools provide they deactivate, e.g., antibodies, viruses and bacteria cooperate to restore bodily balance, and tumors are absorbed.

    “You are responsible in practical terms or liable for many things”

    ALL things – no exceptions.

    “but no moral judgement makes sense. Tumoral cells are responsible for killing their own parent organism, but no moral judgement applies”

    Morality is 99.9% a personal construct, there is a sort of “morality” that applies locally to all entities but violations of that morality is a function of those involved in the violation and is of no concern to others who are not directly involved.

    “Tell me, if somebody performs a horrible action being aware of it, and not being forced, why is it? the only answer is because he is evil.”

    There is no such thing as “evil” except as an abstract idea. Evil is in your mind because you believe that it exists externally in its own right. Your moral judgment characterizes evil and defines the horribleness of the action. When someone performs the “horrible” action, they believe it is necessary and in their best interest. In other words they have good intentions. Besides the so-called victims are willing participants in the drama for their own reasons.

    “Now, why is that person evil while others are not, why? whatever answer you could give me, think, is that person responsible for those causes that make it do evil?”

    The reason almost all people who act in ways that you would consider “evil” is due to FEAR. Those who are not afraid of themselves, others, and the vagaries of life do not tend to experience or create dramas in which “evilness” appears to exist. Of course that person is responsible for ALL his actions there is NO cause that makes anyone do anything outside his own volition (free will). One may attempt to mitigate responsibility by blaming others for his actions but it is always one’s choice to act or not.

    “Does that make any change in what has to be done to prevent that person from doing evil again? should we have deterrent policies to prevent crime? It is just a practical problem.”

    What has to be done is to not involve oneself with dramas that include the “evildoer”. The urge to prevent the “evildoer” from further “evil” action is born from other’s fears that they or someone else will become “victims” of the perpetrator and so concoct various remedies that they believe will make them safe. Safety is an illusion; you always are as safe as you believe you are.

    Deterrents are an imposition of moral authority by consensus designed to assuage their fear. Deterrent policies do not prevent crime; they just make people believe in the illusion that those policies make them safe. Those policies are an attempt to control would be “criminals” through fear. It is their fear that is in control of themselves not the “criminal”. They who do not fear (such as myself) will break laws if they do not respect them. The death penalty doesn’t deter the commission of capital crime, only obviates the recidivism problem when applied.

    Crime exists by definition and laws regarding such are created from fear of others. For a crime to exist there needs to be two parties, the criminal and the victim. Both parties are equally responsible as to how the drama plays out so there are no victims. No victims, no crime, no laws, no crimes and no criminals. For a practical (final) solution we could eliminate all perceived threats (as is popular in totalitarian regimes) and that solves the problem.

  29. 29. Kar Lee says:

    Burt,
    I have always been fascinated by how people from different thought systems think differently. Your form of idealism is particularly interesting and I am trying to draw a comparison with the Buddhist system. Your point that “you” are responsible for ALL THINGS (no exceptions) is contained, I believe, in the concept of Karma, which brings out two apparently contradicting concepts: “complete responsibility” and “complete surrendering”.

    Complete responsibility sometimes implies blaming the victim. Most people think that is bad. However, if the victim accepts the blame, it actually helps the heeling process. “I caused that to happen. I am not going to take revenge. It is my own fault. I can take the pain. I am moving on.” Debt settled. Done. But when things are just about to unveil, taking full responsibility can completely exhaust you. Say you are about to miss a flight, and the consequence of missing the flight is serious. You are 20 minutes away, unless you go twice the speed limit, you will certainly miss it. Taking full responsibility means driving more dangerously (driving is always dangerous, just a matter of degree) than normal. But then, you are more likely to catch the flight. At the same time, you are more likely to kill someone. Taking full responsibility can tear you apart. For thing that is about to happen, the philosophy of complete surrendering will bring you peace of mind. Sit back, watch events unfold in front of you the normal way, and be not “too full of yourself”, so to speak.

    Both come from the concept of Karma. Your missing the flight is due to Karma, which is beyond your control at the point when things are occurring, but it was caused by you nonetheless. So you are both fully responsible for everything that is happening, but is also not responsible for what is happening.

    So, is the concept of “complete surrendering” part of what you have been describing, though not explicitly stated, or it is completely inconsistent with your view all together?

    Even though I deny free will, I think the legal responsibility system is part of the feedback system that regulates our behavior so that the social structure is a stable structure. Even though you may want to say that “The death penalty doesn’t deter the commission of capital crime..”, people behave differently when no one is watching, or when they know the video camera is rolling.

  30. 30. John Davey says:

    “The feeling of choice is always about what I really want to do. What I want to do determines my choice. What I want to do is a direct function of who I am, which in turn is ultimately dictated by environment and genetics. So the feeling of choice is not only consistent with determinism, it demands it.”

    I think there is a difference between determinism in the language you have used – “who i am” “environment” et, and the strict physics-based determinism that is generally used in this context. I think genetics and environment does cause behaviour to go down certain paths. A person brought up in England will always speak English, for instance. People who are sent to jail are highly likely to reoffend, as they are immersed in a culture of criminality for long periods.

    But “strict” determinism implies that for any physical brain state P there is only one successive physical brain state Q, and that therefore one set of mental phenomena A inexorably and predictably follows an exact set of mental phenomena B. I tend to agree with the suggestion that broad behaviour is linked to background and genetics, but disagree that the assertions of strict determinism have been proved true.

  31. 31. John Davey says:

    “Even though I deny free will, I think the legal responsibility system is part of the feedback system that regulates our behavior so that the social structure is a stable structure. Even though you may want to say that “The death penalty doesn’t deter the commission of capital crime..”, people behave differently when no one is watching, or when they know the video camera is rolling.”

    This is fantastically self-contradictory !

    If people behave differently when no-one is watching does that not imply they are exercising a choice over their actions ? Making a moral assessment – “will i get caught, won’t i get caught ? ”

    I don’t see the value (strictly philosophically speaking) , in a world without free will, of a stable social structure. The social structure will simply be what it inexorably becomes. There can be no such adjective as “desirability” in such a scheme, just “destinations”. In other words, outcomes cannot have desires attached to them as they were inevitable from the point of the big bang, so it makes no sense to speak of values accruing to them.

    For myself, I don’t believe much in the value of deterrence, particularly the death penalty. I’m still not a determinist. I think if the free will/deterministic debate about human behaviour was as simple as some of its proponents make it out to be, then deterrence would be a settled, clear cut issue and it clearly is not.

  32. 32. Vicente says:

    John:

    – “I think the laws of “physics of biology” will help.”

    Biophysics help to understand the brain in what to the physical layer concerns, i.e. how ion-channels work, or how electrical signals propagate, etc, but it does not explain the logical layer. In the same way, physics allow to design the electronic components of a processor, transitors, diodes, resistors, whatever, but it helps little in the design of the logical architecture, despite this layer is constraint by electronics, e.g. switch time, power dissipation needs, etc

    Making a moral assessment – “will i get caught, won’t i get caught ? ”

    This is not a moral assessment, it is a practical analysis of consequences.

    Actually ethics is one of the most dreadfull nightmares of philosophy, how to construct an objective set of rules that allow to classify an action as good or bad… and then, even if you had such an objective set of rules, it does not mean that people would respect them.

  33. 33. John Davey says:

    “Biophysics help to understand the brain in what to the physical layer concerns, i.e. how ion-channels work, or how electrical signals propagate, etc, but it does not explain the logical layer. ”

    It doesnt at the moment but an adapted, adhoc biophysics might ( whatever the “logical layer” is – I presume you mean the “thought” layer )

  34. 34. Kar Lee says:

    John,
    “..This is fantastically self-contradictory !
    If people behave differently when no-one is watching does that not imply they are exercising a choice over their actions ? ..”

    It does imply a choice over their action, but the choice is the kind of choice a computer will make when executing an if..then statement. Choosing an action does not imply free will, as computers don’t have free will other than following the program instruction faithfully, even though they do make choices, according to the programming.

  35. 35. woodchuck64 says:

    John Davey:

    But “strict” determinism implies that for any physical brain state P there is only one successive physical brain state Q, and that therefore one set of mental phenomena A inexorably and predictably follows an exact set of mental phenomena B. I tend to agree with the suggestion that broad behaviour is linked to background and genetics, but disagree that the assertions of strict determinism have been proved true.

    I think our feeling of choice relies very much on a deterministic view of our own behavior, else we would be endlessly confused trying to understand why we made a particular choice (and indeed, people who do display this confusion on a continual basis are often in mental institutions).

    But I would agree that strict determinism isn’t necessarily true. I should say rather that behavior is a result of environments, genetics and a degree of stochasticism which is the result of known inherent uncertainties in physical properties of matter (taking the term from the paper below). I assume this is what you refer to above. However, adding a tiny degree of randomness to human nature does not seem to me to be enough to save free will, let alone shift the burden of proof.

    I was just pointed to this recent paper by Anthony Cashmore on free will and responsibility. Some may find it interesting as it is a biologist’s rather than philosopher’s take on the subject for a change. I find it interesting how he compares belief in free will to belief in vitalism.
    The Lucretian swerve: The biological basis of human behavior and the criminal justice system
    http://www.pnas.org/content/107/10/4499.full

  36. 36. Vicente says:

    Woodchuck64,

    “I find it interesting how he compares belief in free will to belief in vitalism.”

    Well, the point is that lately we have been very quick discarding ideas, and putting away theories(with good reasons for it), without filling in the voids left behind, with some solid knowledge and answers. Ask a developmental biologist, or a theoretical biologist, or a neuroscientist about the foundations of the fields, or the detailed mechanisms underpinning life or consciousness, and in a few minutes of conversation they are lost in fuzzy conjectures.

    Anyway, I have always thought that it is better to admit ignorance about an issue, than to believe in false explanations (despite I have my own ones).

  37. 37. John Davey says:

    “It does imply a choice over their action, but the choice is the kind of choice a computer will make when executing an if..then statement. Choosing an action does not imply free will, as computers don’t have free will other than following the program instruction faithfully, even though they do make choices, according to the programming.”

    If that is an assertion that the brain IS a computer, then I couldn’t disagree more. I think that is a profoundly incorrect assertion and a monumental mistake made by too many government departments and institutions investing wasted money in cognitive science.

    My problem with the zombie analogy you have given is that it just doesn’t seem to tally with every day experience. Was I always going to be writing this email on this subject at this time on this spot since the inception of the big bang ? Were you always going to be reading it ? There also seems to be no evolutionary purpose – none whatsoever – for emotions and conscious mental states in zombies. They do what they do. But emotions have compulsive effects in humans : they seem to cause things. A human robot that was going to do have sex with a large breasted lady would seem to have no need for a feeling of sexual desire if they were going to do it as a matter of certainty since the big bang. Sexual desire seems (and I repeat I dont think there is any resolution to this ) to be causal in a very profound way. Zombies wouldn’t need it.

  38. 38. John Davey says:

    “The Lucretian swerve: The biological basis of human behavior and the criminal justice system
    http://www.pnas.org/content/107/10/4499.full

    A strong argument against free will and mental phenomena as being causal – they usually are in our reductionist world – but ironically his arguments about the biological advantage of consciousness are I think quite weak. Then again, they usually are.

  39. 39. Kar Lee says:

    John,
    The statement was not meant to imply that a human brain is a digital computer. It was to illustrate the fact that even machines that don’t have free will make choices according to their design. So, making choice does not imply free will.

    I share your frustration to think that what I do now has all been pre-determined at the time of the big bang, and I am just going through it as if I am participating in a guided tour of my life instead of in the driver’s seat.

    On the other hand, if life is like a roller coaster ride on a predetermined rail, does it mean life is less worth living? Probably not. If it indeed is all pre-determined, it actually makes it a lot easier. You know there is going to be a sharp drop ofter this turn, instead of fighting the drop, you might just as well sit back and relax and let it drop, and try to “enjoy” the ride while it lasts. Then, immediately contradicting what I just said, I seem to remember some study showing that during a roller coaster ride, if you imagine yourself causing those twists and turns, imagine yourself driving the cart down the vertical descend instead of simply passively riding it, you come out feeling a lot better, and less dizzy. Don’t know if that has anything to do with the benefit of believing in free will.

    Anyway, enough discussion for me in this topic.

  40. 40. Lloyd Rice says:

    On the view that my actions were set out when the universe was created, then I do not believe that. On the view that by thinking about what I “want to do” contrary to my physical being, I can do anything I want to do, then I do not believe that. So I believe the labels “determinism” and “free will” are not applicable.

    But because my environment can affect my actions, then I believe that rewards, punishments, etc, as society implements those, are entirely appropriate.

  41. 41. John Davey says:

    “Don’t know if that has anything to do with the benefit of believing in free will.”

    But whether I believe in it or not, I was always going to believe in it. Or not. So why argue ?

    I don’t see how zombies can benefit from a belief in anything, as mental states such as beliefs cannot be causal in a predetermined world. This is where biological determinists seem to get contradictory to me and unconsciously start asserting free will : “I believe in free will therefore my actions are different ” – a blatant assertion of free will if ever there was. My beliefs, according to determinism, follow my physical states and are entirely passive. You can’t have your cake and eat it. You can’t state that certain beliefs have biological benefits, but at same time state that the world is still predetermined by a physicalism.

  42. 42. Lloyd Rice says:

    My beliefs are what I think about what I think. That does not put them outside of my physical system. Because what I think and how I think are part of that physical system.

    And it’s not really relevant to my actions how much of those thoughts and plans is conscious and how much is unconscious. When I try to be more “aware of my actions” (again based on the physical body/environment), the plans to act become more conscious. If I have a solid past experience with meditation, etc, then presumably I will be more able to be thusly “aware”. But none of that goes outside of the physical structure.

  43. 43. Kar Lee says:

    http://www.concatenation.org/futures/whatsexpected.pdf
    Just for fun. Don’t remember where I picked up this link from, could even be from this blog.

  44. 44. Charles Wolverton says:

    “But “strict” determinism implies that for any physical brain state P there is only one successive physical brain state Q, and that therefore one set of mental phenomena A inexorably and predictably follows an exact set of mental phenomena B.”

    If there is a widely accepted definition of any version of “determinism” – let alone a “strict” version – I have not encountered it. But in any event, I don’t think this suggested one is viable for several reasons.

    First, taking “determinism” to be a characteristic of transitions from one physical state of an entity to another physical state is fine, but if the entity in question is a person it isn’t clear why the relevant state would be that of the brain. Wouldn’t the relevant state be, at a minimum, the state of the whole organism?

    Second, once one adopts a state transition model, one has to account for inputs to the assumed finite state machine (FSM). (Note that assuming a FSM has nothing to do with assuming anything IS a computer – we’re talking modeling here, not implementing). And since the behavior of the organism modeled as a FSM will be a function of its inputs, in order for the FSM to behave “deterministically” (still undefined), presumably those inputs will all need to be “deterministic”. But those inputs are necessarily outputs of other worldly entities, which then also must be “deterministic”- seemingly suggesting that perhaps the best entity to model as a FSM is the whole world (in which the FSM has, of course, no inputs).

    Finally, implicit in the suggested definition is that the features that make the FSM’s behavior “deterministic” is that the state transitions are “inexorable” and “predictable”. It’s not clear what the former means in this context, but it does seem clear that the latter is not a feature of the state transitions, either practically (how would one actually determine the FSM’s state at a point in time or its state transition matrix?) or even conceptually (due to “random” – ie, “unpredictable” – effects). I see no reason to assume that this unpredictability will not apply however one defines “deterministic” behavior.

    Whether or not behavior is “determined” doesn’t appear to me to have any practical effect on the actual living of a life. You can’t predict your future, you can’t passively wait and see what “inexorable” events unfold (what exactly does “wait and see” mean in the context of a life?), and you currently can’t – and may never be able to – know whether what you do is “determined” or is an exercise of “free will” (whatever either means). Therefore, people in good mental health have to live as if they do have “free will” – even those who believe (as I do) that the general concept underlying use of that phrase is incoherent.

    On the other hand, there are societal practices that would need to be reconsidered if some concept of “determinism” were to be accepted. For example, the concept of “moral responsibility” might need to be replaced by a concept of legal accountability – as “Vicente” proposed way back at comment 3.

  45. 45. Charles Wolverton says:

    John Davey –

    It was too late when I posted my previous comment to embark on reading the pnas article, and I wasn’t very motivated due to constant disappointment with pointers in blog comments. But I have now read it, and I can’t convey adequately how grateful I am for the pointer. With respect to the philosophy/biological sciences worlds, I am a layman, unaffiliated either institutionally or personally, and thus totally dependent on books from a public library (and, of course, amazon) and what I find on blogs. I have formulated a more of less coherent concept of the issues addressed in the article and have been searching desperately for confirmation or refutation of my position by someone credible. I rather suspected that my views aren’t completely wrong, but I also doubted they would be largely shared. Fortunately for me, the position in the article is almost completely compatible with my thinking. Needless to say, I am delighted. Many, many thanks – it “made my day”.

    One addition I might make to Prof Cashmore’s comments on free will: I think part of the reason we have the illusion of “free will” is that free will is usually viewed unrealistically, something along the lines of: given any two prospective actions, we have unfettered freedom to choose either. But that’s not the nature of a choice; there are associated costs and benefits with either of, say, two options. And because of Prof Cashmore’s “GES” inputs to the decision process, there actually are conditional probabilities attached to each option.

    For example, consider the classic “of course I have free will – see, I can arbitrarily raise either my right arm … or my left arm!” That claim is literally true, but assuming symmetry in both the person’s physical history (eg, no serious injuries to one limb) and psychological history (eg, no bad experiences biasing against one or the other limb), the conditional probabilities of raising the arms would presumably be roughly balanced. But suppose the options are to rob a bank at gunpoint or not; while it is again literally true that in general either choice is possible, I trust that for readers of this blog the conditional probabilities of the two options are dramatically unbalanced. And for some choices (eg, engaging in brutal serial murders or not), the probability of the first option is sufficiently close to 0 that there is no realistic chance (barring mental breakdown) of choosing it.

    So, the concept of free will isn’t useful when the conditional probabilities of the options are balanced (the “decision” can be made by an indisputably freewill-free fair coin) or when the conditional probabilities are so strongly biased toward one option that only one option is realistically possible (“strict determinism”?). And should it turn out that we make decisions (consciously or not) based on actual cost-benefit trades, the concept again isn’t useful because while the decision would be made using conditional probabilities, it would be nonetheless deterministic.

  46. 46. Burt says:

    @Kar[29]:

    It is not surprising that there are similarities between Buddhism and my ideas. Tibetan Buddhism is the formal philosophy that is closest (although not exactly) to mine. I sometimes jokingly tell people I’m a Burtist (I’m actually an autotheist) but say the major difference is that I believe in Burt instead of Buddha.

    My belief system as stated above may resemble The Law of Karma but unlike Karma it doesn’t have the concept of atoning in this life for less than ideal actions in a previous life. It can be construed as blaming the victim if there were a victim to blame. Victims and perpetrators share responsibility in any intrapersonal dramas (events) and victims of non-personal events (disease, unfortunate occurrences, wrong place at the wrong time etc.), have actualized those events for personal growth (again sort of like Karma without the Samsara baggage) so there are NO victims, each participant participating for one’s own reasons and benefit.

    “Say you are about to miss a flight, and the consequence of missing the flight is serious. You are 20 minutes away, unless you go twice the speed limit, you will certainly miss it.”

    Why did we arrange our affairs to be late for the flight? There were numbers of actions that precipitated the “late” event, lack of planning for contingencies, inattention to time constraints, oversleeping etc. Once created, these events may require one to speed to the airport which may cause one to make or miss the flight in order to actualize the person’s conscious (or subconscious) desires. Maybe one had a dream in which the flight crashed and subconsciously overslept causing the flight to be missed, or on the way misses the flight due to being stopped for speeding. One’s intentions and their actualization are seldom examined very closely until, possibly in retrospect, one understands the chain of events that led to the conclusion.

    “Taking full responsibility means driving more dangerously (driving is always dangerous, just a matter of degree) than normal…you are more likely to kill someone.”

    Driving is neutral, and only as dangerous as one needs it to be. If you kill someone then that is between you and the deceased (and interested parties) and ALL the primaries have followed a path which culminated in the drama. Balanced individuals generally do not create the circumstances in which dire consequences obtain.

    “Taking full responsibility can tear you apart. For thing that is about to happen, the philosophy of complete surrendering will bring you peace of mind.”

    Taking total responsibility is the same as complete surrender; they are active and passive aspects of the same concept so they are consistent within the philosophy.

    “Both come from the concept of Karma. Your missing the flight is due to Karma, which is beyond your control at the point when things are occurring, but it was caused by you nonetheless. So you are both fully responsible for everything that is happening, but is also not responsible for what is happening.”

    This statement is logically inconsistent, the missing flight was due to your actions, not Karma, and no circumstances within physical laws are beyond your control, at any point things can change according to your choice. The law of the excluded middle (P cannot be not P) precludes being responsible and not responsible simultaneously, you either exclusively are or are not.

    “Even though I deny free will, I think the legal responsibility system is part of the feedback system that regulates our behavior so that the social structure is a stable structure.”

    You have the choice to obey or disobey proscriptions irrespective of the legal ramifications. Each of us regulates our behavior in society; the law is merely an illusion to assuage our fear of ourselves and others. If you are responsible for everything, then you need only fear your own intentions (which most do) and if you realize that you are in total control of your actions/creations (everything) then there is no reason to fear. Trust in yourself, your good intentions and live free from FEAR.

    “Even though you may want to say that “The death penalty doesn’t deter the commission of capital crime..”, people behave differently when no one is watching, or when they know the video camera is rolling.”
    Yes they do, but that is not people’s motivation in acting. People behave emotionally and mostly out of fear, not fear of the law, but fear of others, scarcity, or themselves. It can be statistically demonstrated that capital punishment doesn’t deter crime except that the executed persons commit no further crimes. I break laws when I choose but if I believe the police or vigilantes are observing me I choose to behave for that duration. If I create a drama in which I’m brought to task for my deemed flouts, then I must accept the responsibility for my actions which caused the events to transpire as I do for everything else – ideal or less than ideal.

  47. 47. John Davey says:

    Charles

    I must point out firstly that the reference was not mine. I’m also not entirely convinced by it ( I have no opinion on free will by the way)

    ‘Determinism’ as I understand it means that once we know the physical brain state of a person at time T we will know (if we had all the necessary information) what that brain state would be at time T + 1 if we had access to all the information to which he was subject in that time interval.

    The question is, i suppose, if mental states map one-to-one with physical brain states. If they do, then what the brain does is determintstic. If they don’t, then it isn’t. We aren’t in a position to judge that as we don’t have the scietific knowledge available.

    I don’t have an argument with determinism per se, other than to note that reductive physics is completely incapable of dealing with mental phenomena, and that using the principles of one discipline to make decisions about an area of nature it is incapable of predicting or dealing with may be a suspect idea.

    As to free will, I think it is the biological argument against it that is the weakest by far. The quote that mental phenomena may be ‘a joke’ played by nature strikes me as desperate. What biological purpose are pains or emotions other than to change behaviours ? And pains and emotions are not physical states, they are mental states.

    And if mental states can be show to cause physical states, then the argument against free will falls apart. But it strikes me that the biological arguments being used in the article do precisely that : they argue that beliefs and feelings cause different behaviours – ultimately different physical brain states. This does not undermine free will, but actually supports it. Any stance that in fact accepts the existence of mental states and states that they have a ‘purpose’ must accept that the use of the word ‘purpose’ implies they are phenomenologically causal. And if mental states are phenomenologically causal, then free will gets a big boost.

    In this schema, mental phenomena are irrelevant

  48. 48. John Davey says:

    Charles

    sorry, ignore the last sentence in my previous note.

  49. 49. Nick says:

    Re: dopamine levels

    Just heard about the protozoan toxo which carries an exact replica of the gene for dopamine production in mammals.

    Thought I’d toss another wrench into the works of bio-chemical will…

  50. 50. Charles Wolverton says:

    John –

    Thanks for the reply. A few brief responses:

    Yes, I understand that you do not sign on to Prof Cashmore’s thesis. But I nonetheless appreciate your pointing me to the article since I do.

    “reductive physics is completely incapable of dealing with mental phenomena”

    True, but why is that significant? As Francisco Ayala analogizes in the PBS interview series “Closer to Truth” (surprisingly good as an introduction to some of these issues: see closertotruth.com), knowing everything there is to know about bricks won’t help you understand the design and function of a brick building – the point being that one must “deal with” issues at an appropriate level of integration and resulting functional complexity. Mental phenomena obviously are appropriately studied at higher levels of integration, eg, as problems in neurophysiology and psychology. (And if “reductive” is intended to suggest the problem addressed by anomalous monism, I’m not sure anyone worries about that anymore.)

    Susan Blackmore is quite savvy on these matters, but she is, after all, a writer rather than a scientist and writes with a writer’s flair. So, I don’t think her quoted statement has any relevance to the merits or demerits of Prof Cashmere’s thesis. And neither “beliefs” nor “feelings” nor “mental state” (except in the legal sense) are mentioned in the article, suggesting to me that you might want to reread it. I’m admittedly biased, but even taking that into account I think the article is quite reasonable on the points it actually addresses.

  51. 51. John Davey says:

    “True, but why is that significant?”

    Because the rules of reductive physics require determinism in a fundamental way that do not apply to other disciplines.And it is a basic feature of all succesfull scientific disciplines that they can be said to represent higher orders (or ‘integrated’ levels as you might say) of the true picture represented at particle level. Thus chemistry is physics in a mathematically and logically more conveneient form : engineering likewise. But there is nothing – absolutely nothing – in chemistry or engineering that could not be predicted, or naturally flow from, the application of integral mathematical methods to particulate physics.

    The same is not true for neurophysiological methods because mental phenomena have no semantic counterpart in particulate physics. Therefore neurophysiological methods that look in detail at mental phenomena do not bear the same relationship to physics as other ‘higher levels of integration’ such as chemistry or biochemistry. In fact psychology, as a discipline that looks exclsuively at mental phenomena, has only the weakest relationship that seems restricted the application of chemicals upon mood and emotion.

    The weak relationship between physics and psychology also suggests good reasons why it is (as a science) unsuccesfull. It may be that Karl Popper’s delineation of the world into sciences like physics and ‘all the rest’ has merit exactly because determinism works in physics-like disciplines and not in others like psychology.

  52. 52. John Davey says:

    charles

    I did read the article again and it may not use ‘belief’ but it does use ‘sense’ which is a mental state in a similar manner to belief.

    My answer to these kinds of statements is ‘why does nature bother givings us illusions if these illusions are not causal ?’. If they are causal, they are not illusions, but in fact real. If they are illusions they are not causal and irrelevant from a biological and evolutionary perspective.

  53. 53. Charles Wolverton says:

    John –

    I think I understand the essence of what you are saying, but perhaps it would help in seeing where we agree and disagree to establish a common vocabulary.

    My vocabulary on this issue comes from the wiki “anomalous monism” entry, essentially as follows (significantly abbreviated):

    In considering the relation between the mental and the physical, two questions are: whether or not mental entities are identical with physical entities and whether or not there are strict causal laws relating physical and mental events. This yields a fourfold classification:

    (1) nomological monism – the entities are identical, strict laws (from whence “nomological”) describe their interaction

    (2) nomological dualism – the entities are not identical, strict laws describe their interaction

    (3) anomalous dualism – the entities are not identical, no laws describe their interaction (Cartesian dualism)

    (4) anomalous monism – the entities are identical, no laws describe their interaction (Davidson)

    Within this classification scheme, I tend toward number 1, nomological monism, with this caveat: although it seems logical to me for a physicalist to believe that mental events must in principle be related to physical events by strict laws, we not only can’t describe those laws now but probably never will be able to because the descriptions would be at a minimum too complex to deal with, and possibly not completely knowable.

    With that backdrop, here are some responses:

    “Because the rules of reductive physics require determinism in a fundamental way that do not apply to other disciplines.”

    I think in terms of my vocabulary, this means that vis-a-vis disciplines other than those involving mental events, you are also a nomological monist. If so, we obviously agree since that position is a subset of mine.

    “But there is … absolutely nothing in chemistry or engineering that could not be predicted, or naturally flow from, from the application of integral mathematical methods to particulate physics.”

    Whether we agree or disagree depends on whether you agree that my amendment above – “in principle” – applies here as well. It is obviously true in principle that the relation between between the mission behavior of the space shuttle and “particulate physics” is nomological and so in principle could be predicted if one knew the behavior of those particles, but – as in the case of mental events – not in practice. (I find “naturally flow from” a little too vague to know how to respond.)

    “The same is not true for neurophysiological methods because mental phenomena have no semantic counterpart in particulate physics.”

    I’m not sure what “have no semantic counterpart” means. If it means that the respective vocabularies used to discuss mental and physical events can’t be translated one into the other, I agree (my impression, not necessarily correct, is that this was Quine’s position). But why doesn’t that apply as well to the space shuttle when viewed – as we typically view mental events – in its functional role? And in any event, why would one want to do such a translation even if a way to do it could be found? Avoiding the awkwardness – if not impracticality – of trying to describe entities at a “higher order” using the vocabulary of any lower order is the utility of using a different vocabulary – a “functional” one – at the higher order.

    I don’t know about the “failure” of psychology. But even accepting your assertion is true, I’m not sure how much should be inferred from the failure of a discipline at a point in time. I suspect they all do a lot of “failing” in their youth, and psychology as an extension of neurophysiology is presumably at the toddler stage.

    I really hope this helps because I think we might not be all that far apart on some of these issues.

  54. 54. Vicente says:

    Charles(#53),

    In this analysis how is a mental entity defined? How can it be compared to a physical entity?

    Let’s take that the physical entity is the brain. I can assign to the brain a set of variables and parameters as large as you want, and then at each instant I can define a brain state and describe it by assigning certain values to those variables and parameters.

    Is it possible to do the same with the mental phenomena counterpart?

    Because if it is not possible to do so, then nomological monism looks a bit empty and undefined to me, you cannot compare entities unless they are of the same nature.

  55. 55. Charles Wolverton says:

    Vicente:

    A very good question. Because most people have given up on substance dualism, I am really interested only in the nomological distinction, and therefore haven’t paid close attention to the monism/dualism distinction as described in the wiki entry on anomalous monism that I abstracted/copied from. Having now reread that entry yet again, I think it is at best confusing, perhaps even wrong in its description of the latter distinction.

    But it really doesn’t matter with respect to your question since I think all “monism” means in this context is that there is only the body, made out of the usual particles defined by conventional physics – ie, there is no mystery substance implementing “the mind”, “consciousness”, “mental events”, etc. Or using your terminology, all entities involved are “of the same nature”.

    I’m not sure if it’s relevant to the part of your comment about brain states and parameters, but I addressed something like that in my comment 44.

  56. 56. John Davey says:

    Charles


    Within this classification scheme, I tend toward number 1, nomological monism, with this caveat: although it seems logical to me for a physicalist to believe that mental events must in principle be related to physical events by strict laws, we not only can’t describe those laws now but probably never will be able to because the descriptions would be at a minimum too complex to deal with, and possibly not completely knowable.”

    I which case I suggest you are a nomological dualist ?

    I tend to think that if a “strict law” is not knowable then it probably doesn’t qualify as a law.

    “Whether we agree or disagree depends on whether you agree that my amendment above – “in principle” – applies here as well. It is obviously true in principle that the relation between between the mission behavior of the space shuttle and “particulate physics” is nomological and so in principle could be predicted if one knew the behavior of those particles, but – as in the case of mental events – not in practice.”

    *****

    The space shuttles’ matter is in the same ontological category as that of particulate matter. It is uncontroversial to say that a space shuttle’s physics is identical to a particle’s physics.

    For instance, if we increase the mass of a particle M then our uncertainty about its position decreases. According to the Heisenberg undertainty principle,

    dMdx = K

    therefore as dM increases, dx tends to zero. This is classical mechanics : the space shuttle. In reality the translation from particle physics through to classical physics via the use of statistical methods is both well estabished and straightforward.

    You cannot compare the “nomological” relationship of a brain’s mental and physicals evets in the same way, as mental events and physical events are not in the same ontological category. Physical events are defined by quantities such as time, mass, voltage, and other exteral metrics.

    Mental events are defined by colour experiences, shapes, noises, smells and other qualities. There is no semantic content – no dimension (e.g extension, mass or time) in the physics of a single neuron that is not in the physcis of a collection of neurons. And none of the physics of a single neuron has what could even remotely be characterised as having a mental ontology. Thus mental events cannot “emerge” from single neurons by any accepted mathematical formalism. Thus mental events cannot have the kind of ‘nomological’ relationship to single neurons as classical physics does to particle physics.

    This does not rule out the possibility of correlation, of course. I fact I assume there is some kind of relationship between neurons and mental events. Whether it is deterministic I do not know, although I fail to see how such a position can be asserted with condifence, given the dearth of science on the brain.

    All mental determinists are nomological monists, according to the definitions you have provided. It cannot be any other way. I am not one, as I have no settled opinion on the matter.

  57. 57. John Davey says:

    “Let’s take that the physical entity is the brain. I can assign to the brain a set of variables and parameters as large as you want, and then at each instant I can define a brain state and describe it by assigning certain values to those variables and parameters.

    Is it possible to do the same with the mental phenomena counterpart? ”

    The answer is no. If the question is “can we obectify (make numeric) mental events, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility.

    Although I agree that if mental and physical events are meant to be identical, this must amount to old fashioned behaviourism ad the denial of mental phenomena – the least helpful stance of all, I always think

  58. 58. Charles Wolverton says:

    John –

    Recall that I introduced the four part classification scheme for the purpose of trying to establish a common vocabulary, not for the purpose of entering into a debate about it. In comment 50 I said:

    “And if “reductive” is intended to suggest the problem addressed by anomalous monism, I’m not sure anyone worries about that anymore.”

    It apparently was, and I am one who doesn’t “worry about that”. Apparently injecting that vocabulary didn’t help, so I have nothing further to say about the classification scheme per se.

    “You cannot compare the “nomological” relationship of a brain’s mental and physicals evets in the same way, as mental events and physical events are not in the same ontological category.”

    As I understand the monism/dualism distinction in question, it is a simple matter of answering “Do you believe the “mind” and the brain are both part of the physical world as we know it?”. If you answer yes, you are a monist; if no, you are a substance dualist. I think it only adds to the confusion to inject a concept like “ontological categories” into the discussion.

    Note: The way you are contrasting “particle physics” and “classical physics” suggests to me that these are terms of art within the world of physics, with which I have had no contact in decades. I merely intended to contrast “plain old every day physics” with higher order disciplines such as chemistry, biology, etc, not to inject quantum effects. Apparently I should have said “classical physics”.

    “I assume there is some kind of relationship between neurons and mental events. Whether it is deterministic I do not know, although I fail to see how such a position can be asserted with condifence, given the dearth of science on the brain.”

    I don’t know if this statement (with which I agree) is just thrown out there or is targeted at me. If the latter, recall that I said “I tend toward number 1″. As I explicitly said above, in these areas I speak with no authority and little confidence. Everything I say includes an implicit “IMO”, most with an implicit “IMIO”, where the second I=”ignorant”.

    “All mental determinists are nomological monists.”

    Agreed. See – we eventually more-or-less converged!!

  59. 59. John Davey says:

    “As I understand the monism/dualism distinction in question, it is a simple matter of answering “Do you believe the “mind” and the brain are both part of the physical world as we know it?”. If you answer yes, you are a monist; if no, you are a substance dualist. I think it only adds to the confusion to inject a concept like “ontological categories” into the discussion. ”

    I think the whole point about the distinction between monism is about ontological categories ! I think you have changed the question and avoided the reductive problem. I take a good quote from wikipedia ( I know, I know, .. but its a good text I think –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dualism

    “In philosophy of mind, dualism is any of a narrow variety of views about the relationship between mind and matter, which claims that mind and matter are two ontologically separate categories. In particular, mind-body dualism claims that neither the mind nor matter can be reduced to each other in any way, and thus is opposed to materialism in general, and reductive materialism in particular. Mind-body dualism can exist as substance dualism which claims that the mind and the body are composed of a distinct substance, and as property dualism which claims that there may not be a distinction in substance, but that mental and physical properties are still categorically distinct, and not reducible to each other. This type of dualism is sometimes referred to as “mind and body” and stands in contrast to philosophical monism, which views mind and matter as being ultimately the same kind of thing. See also Cartesian dualism, substance dualism, epiphenomenalism.”

    Note the use of the word “matter” as opposed to the use of the word “natural” or physical. My personal belief is that mental phenomena are perfectly natural, but that they cannot be reduced to matter. I other words, cannot be reduced to the equations of physics from which the theories of matter emanate.

    This probably makes me fall ito the dualist category although I have no belief in religion, or ghosts or anything like that. I think it means that if you believe that matter events and mental events are not identical in property, then you ( i suggest ) are a dualist.

    Dare I say you are probably a dualist Charles, with a belief nonetheless in a correlation between neurological events and mental phenomena ?

    “I don’t know if this statement (with which I agree) is just thrown out there or is targeted at me. If the latter, recall that I said “I tend toward number 1?. As I explicitly said above, in these areas I speak with no authority and little confidence. Everything I say includes an implicit “IMO”, most with an implicit “IMIO”, where the second I=”ignorant”.”

    I agree completely – our ignorance of the science is nigh on total, which is why I find people who make confident statements about how the brain works (that it is deterministic, that it is a computer etc) very odd. We just don’t know.

  60. 60. Charles Wolverton says:

    John –

    I live and breathe wiki, so no need to apologize to me. Usually I just want a top-level quickie intro and wiki fills the bill. I have a pretty good sense for whether something is credible, so I don’t worry much about getting badly misled. Now having said that, the first sentence in your quoted passage is not quite right. In the “Main article” for that sub-topic, viz:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dualism_(philosophy_of_mind)

    that sentence is repeated in the article I cite, but corrected and with the “offending” ontological language deleted. :-) It is also addresses the various subcategories of mind-matter dualism.

    Motivated by our exchange and also by Mike’s comment 76 on “Higgs C”, I have been pouring over these very wiki entries for several days, getting simultaneously better informed but also more confused. One of my continuing frustrations is all the “-isms” in philosophy, especially the multiple “sub-isms” that emerge because a person’s beliefs often don’t all fit neatly into an existing “-ism”. So, I usually avoid those labels and just try to understand narrow issues.

    The one label that I do sometimes adopt is “eliminative materialist with respect to X”, for various values of “X” in the mental arena. Ie, I suspect many of our concepts about the mind (eg, beliefs and consciousness) are illusory and that in time they will disappear from serious discussion and survive only in casual chit-chat.

  61. 61. John Davey says:

    “It is also addresses the various subcategories of mind-matter dualism.”

    I disagree with the removal ! – Or maybe I don’t. For one thing, I don’t see the problem in seeing mental phenomena as physical and natural, without being material. That would make me not a dualist under your reference, but a dualist under the other one. Then again, your reference equates the physical with the material, which I think is not helpful. Frankly, I don’t much care for these ism labels, they cloud the discussion

    “I suspect many of our concepts about the mind (eg, beliefs and consciousness) are illusory and that in time they will disappear from serious discussion and survive only in casual chit-chat.”

    To which I would reply that eve illusions require explanation. I think that mental phenomena have two faces : that of public discussion and language, and that of phenomena. You can talk away the IDEA of consciousness, but not the experience – you will still wake up in the morning.

  62. 62. Charles Wolverton says:

    “I disagree with the removal !”

    My objection to the paragraph you quoted has nothing to do with philosophy, ontology, or labels. It is a matter of coherent writing. The first sentence essentially states that “dualism” in general is “substance dualism”, which is clearly wrong as evidenced by the fact that the quote does on to distinguish substance and property dualism – although, IMO, in an unnecessarily confusing way. In any event, I’m now reading the SEP entry on “physicalism” and finding it helpful in better understanding some of the issues permeating our exchange.

    “eve[n] illusions require explanation.”

    That’s not only consistent with eliminatism, it’s part of the definition as I understand it. It’s the assumption that in time, an illusion will be explained away and will no longer be something about which further discussion would be useful.

    “I don’t much care for these ism labels, they cloud the discussion”

    Again, we agree. So, since we now seem to be mostly discussing those very labels, I suggest we end this exchange, enjoyable as it has been.

  63. 63. Anguilla Spa says:

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    […]Conscious Entities » Blog Archive » Unconscious free will[…]…

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