Brain workings and freedom

Discuss any topics related to metaphysics (the philosophical study of the principles of reality) or epistemology (the philosophical study of knowledge) in this forum.
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CIN
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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by CIN » May 6th, 2018, 1:57 pm

Gertie wrote:
May 6th, 2018, 12:20 pm
CIN wrote:
May 5th, 2018, 4:07 pm


I can't see that understanding this relationship would make a difference. Consider:

1) If my action was fully determined by previous causes, then I could not have done other than I did, so I had no free will.
2) If my action was fully undetermined by previous causes, then it was entirely random and unconnected with anything that preceded it, including my wishes and intentions, so it is simply something that happened to me, not something I did: and again, therefore, I had no free will.
3) If my action was partly determined and partly undetermined, then it was partly the result of previous causal elements over which I had no control, and partly the result of random and unpredictable elements over which I also had no control, and again, therefore, I had no free will.
1), 2) and 3) exhaust the available possibilities.
Conclusion: I have no free will.
Isn't this formulation excluding the possibility of us (our mental states) being a source of causation?
No, I don't think so. I think essentially the same problems arise for the defender of free will in the mental sphere as in the physical.
Which is one way of describing free will, the issue in question.
To be clear, the definition of 'free will' that I was using was what I take to be the usual definition in metaphysics, i.e. that one has free will if and only if one could have acted differently from the way one actually did.
So if my action isn't fully determined by previous causes, it is either random, or caused by my willing it (mental causation) based on my wishes and intentions or whatev. Effectively starting or interrupting a causal 'chain'.
Anything that starts a causal chain would be, by definition, an uncaused cause. Now suppose we have some mental event - an act of willing, for instance - that is an uncaused cause. In my view, such an act could not be considered an act of free will, because an act of free will must be an act of the agent; and this must mean that the act arises from some attributes of the agent, e.g. their personality, wishes, desires, obsessions, or whatever. And these attributes would in effect be causes of the action. They might not be absolutely sufficient causes, but they must be pretty decisive for the act that is caused to be an act of the agent, rather than some random event that happens to the supposed agent.
Then there are psychological causes and motivations, which you could argue do leave room for choice. Certainly we know the experience of weighing up options and deciding one way or another what to do, then doing it. Would you call that free will?
I would, but not in what I am taking to be the standard metaphysical sense. They are free will behaviours in the sense that (a) they are behaviours of the agent, (b) they are uncoerced, and [c) they involve volition. But these features are not sufficient to make such behaviours examples of free will in the standard metaphysical sense.
My comment was really addressing the first type of causal problem - if our physical behaviour is fully accounted for by physical causes, then there is no role for mental causation (will), so our mental states are presumably redundant baggage.
However, if there is some fundamental monist relationship between our bodies and minds for example, as perhaps suggested by neural correlation, then mental states are playing a role. A further argument for mental causation is that it seems jolly useful. The brain is basically our decision-making organ, and the particular way our mental states have evolved (in tandem with our brains) seems to be based on their utility - think of our reward system. Or our ability to rationalise, imagine different outcomes/consequences. If our mental states were irrelevant to our behaviour (useless epiphenomena), why would that be? It's a conundrum.
I reject epiphenomenalism, because it leaves as a complete mystery why the mental counterparts of physical causes should ever have evolved. What is the point of feeling pain if it is not the reason why we remove our hands from the flame that is burning them? If we would have done so anyway, there is no reason for us to have evolved to feel pain. Worse - if the pain plays no part in prompting us to remove our hands from the flame, then we might just as well have evolved some entirely different sensation, such as hearing a trumpet, or smelling strawberries; each of these would be just as efficacious (i.e. not at all) as feeling pain.
So at present we have the problem that our behaviour seems over-determined, we can account for actions by giving a physical or a psychological account.
I think we can overcome the over-determination problem by accepting that psychological descriptions are reducible to lower-level physical descriptions, as I seem to recall John Searle advocating in one of his books.
Until we understand how that can be, what that fundamental mind-body relationship is, we can't know if free will is even a coherent concept imo.
If by 'free will' is meant the standard metaphysical concept, then I think the concept is coherent. What seem incoherent to me are the attempts to explain how the concept could be realised.

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Felix
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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by Felix » May 6th, 2018, 2:13 pm

Proponents of free choice consider the action of the will to be outside the domain of physical phenomena studied by science. It is not considered a physical event like the action of our senses or emotional responses. The will and intellect are considered to be immaterial and therefore not governed by physical laws, their actions are informed by genuine knowledge or result from free choice.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

kordofany
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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by kordofany » May 6th, 2018, 11:19 pm

Felix wrote:
May 6th, 2018, 2:13 pm
Proponents of free choice consider the action of the will to be outside the domain of physical phenomena studied by science. It is not considered a physical event like the action of our senses or emotional responses. The will and intellect are considered to be immaterial and therefore not governed by physical laws, their actions are informed by genuine knowledge or result from free choice.
If we were able to control the way brains thought, could we have thought as Einstein thought

Gertie
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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by Gertie » May 9th, 2018, 11:54 am

CIN
I reject epiphenomenalism, because it leaves as a complete mystery why the mental counterparts of physical causes should ever have evolved. What is the point of feeling pain if it is not the reason why we remove our hands from the flame that is burning them? If we would have done so anyway, there is no reason for us to have evolved to feel pain. Worse - if the pain plays no part in prompting us to remove our hands from the flame, then we might just as well have evolved some entirely different sensation, such as hearing a trumpet, or smelling strawberries; each of these would be just as efficacious (i.e. not at all) as feeling pain.
Right, exactly.

Forget abstract concepts like random and deterministic, and start from what the reality of the problem is.

On the one side there is this apparently closed physical system of cause and effect which can theoretically explain all our behaviour in terms of our established scientific model of how the world works. And on the other side we have this parallel psychological account of why we do what we do, based on our mental states, implying mental causation. Over-determinism. It's a paradox. A paradox which points to us missing the key to the puzzle. Perhaps even points to the need for a paradigmatic shift in thinking.
So at present we have the problem that our behaviour seems over-determined, we can account for actions by giving a physical or a psychological account.
I think we can overcome the over-determination problem by accepting that psychological descriptions are reducible to lower-level physical descriptions, as I seem to recall John Searle advocating in one of his books.
Until we understand how that can be, what that fundamental mind-body relationship is, we can't know if free will is even a coherent concept imo.
If by 'free will' is meant the standard metaphysical concept, then I think the concept is coherent. What seem incoherent to me are the attempts to explain how the concept could be realised.
I agree it's the underlying explanation which we don't have. (Tho I'm pretty sure Searle believes in free will, and that mental states aren't reducible to physical states. He offers the 'Biological naturalism' hypothesis https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_naturalism . ).

Some explanation is needed to resolve the apparent paradox, some underlying explanation of the relationship between mind and body. My point is that without that underlying explanation (there are plenty of hypotheses but no settled answer), we're in the dark about whether anything worth calling Free Will might exist, or even be the right way of thinking about the issue of why we do what we do.

CIN
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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by CIN » May 10th, 2018, 7:12 pm

Gertie wrote:
May 9th, 2018, 11:54 am

Forget abstract concepts like random and deterministic, and start from what the reality of the problem is.
While I respect your right to your own view, 'forget it' is not an acceptable reply to any philosophical argument. Until someone points out a flaw in my argument, I maintain that I have proved that there is no free will.

Sorry if this seems blunt and/or arrogant, but nothing is to be gained by pussyfooting around this. Arguments have to be taken seriously as presented, or what do we imagine we are doing here in this forum?

Eduk
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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by Eduk » May 11th, 2018, 2:42 am

Is the illusion of pain painful?

Belindi
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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by Belindi » May 11th, 2018, 3:58 am

Eduk wrote:
May 11th, 2018, 2:42 am
Is the illusion of pain painful?
Ouch! Another of Eduk's piercing questions.

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ThomasHobbes
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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by ThomasHobbes » May 11th, 2018, 6:20 am

kordofany wrote:
April 28th, 2018, 10:42 pm
Do you think we control the way the brain works to think? If the answer is no.. Do you think we're free?

Who is, or what do you mean by "we"? Where is 'we'?

And when you ask are we free, free from what?

Gertie
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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by Gertie » May 11th, 2018, 1:30 pm

My apologies CIN, I'll have another go.

You correctly laid out the Standard Argument against Free Will, with 'free will' being defined as the ability to choose to do otherwise in the same circs.

I'm kinda 'meh' about it personally, because I don't think it gets to the heart of the matter, so sorry for being dismissive.

My problem with the argument is that it relies on logic at the expense of the empirical reality, a reality which doesn't seem to fit with our traditional logical formulations. Or rather, when it comes to the Mind-Body Problem the reality is not known, and is problematic because it's not obviously amenable to our usual methods of knowing stuff (science and logic). Hence I think we might have to adjust our ideas about logic in order to meaningfully get to grips with the reality, rather than start with Logical premises and see what conclusions they lead to about what our pre-conceived explanations of our behaviour (free will/random/determined) could be. Make sense?

To explain further, the premises are inferences about the way the world works, that events (including human behaviour) are either random or determined by prior causes (inevitable). Completely predictable, or completely unpredictable/random. To us, with our current understanding of how the world works, this seems to logically cover all possibilities.

But prior to discovering QM, the logical argument would have been that that the world is completely determined/predictable, that if you had enough information at the moment of the Big Bang, you could predict that you and I would inevitably be having this exact convo now. Since discovering QM's probabilistic nature, we now accept that non-predictable (to us at least) events are possible. Which meant that an argument against free will based on every event being determined seemed logical, but didn't actually reflect the full reality of how the world works, didn't really cover all the options, because we didn't know everything.

So QM was a paradigmatic shift in our understanding of how the world really works. And a shift which doesn't seem to fit with our classical logic. Something can apparently be in two places at the same time, can apparently concurrently exist as a wave and a particle, for example. Such things seem illogical to us, because we've evolved to usefully operate and understand things at the classical level. But ultimately, empirical reality trumps our notions of logic. And as we understand QM better, perhaps this will give us insight into whether mental causation is possible, and if we really do have choices which are neither completely determined or completely random.

Or perhaps we're missing a yet more fundamental understanding of how the world really works, which will be required to understand the Mind-Body Problem. As you say, our current attempts to get a conceptual handle on the relationship between material stuff and experiential states look incoherent. And science doesn't seem to provide the appropriate toolkit for understanding non-material, non-observable, non-measurable, subjective experience. This might well be because another paradigmatic shift in our understanding the world is required. Which might not be captured by our current logical constructs which are inferred from our current models. And the concept of Free Will itself might simply be irrelevant or incoherent within a new framework.

So! We can say that based on what we currently know about how the world works that the Standard Argument against Free Will holds up as logically consistent. However, my own position is that we don't currently know enough to be certain our current logical formulations will hold up over time.
(Philosophy of Mind grapples with this, but there is no established Theory because all hypotheses are problematic). Or that our current definition of Free Will gets to the heart of how the world really works, how we really work. So the argument doesn't seem to me to illuminate or address the challenge of the underlying key issues. Some of which I outlined earlier.

That's how I see the free will question, I don't think we know enough to give an answer, we might not even know enough to correctly frame the question.

Eduk
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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by Eduk » May 11th, 2018, 1:39 pm

QM doesn't support your assertions. At least it's not the expert consensus that it does.
For example you can use the words things can be in two places at once. This clearly contradicts logic. But actually what you need to do before you truly contradict logic is define what a thing is, what a place is and what an at once is at the quantum scale.

Eduk
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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by Eduk » May 11th, 2018, 5:07 pm

Belindi I just read your reply (don't know how I missed it), nice pun :-)

CIN
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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by CIN » May 16th, 2018, 4:34 pm

Gertie wrote:
May 11th, 2018, 1:30 pm
So QM was a paradigmatic shift in our understanding of how the world really works. And a shift which doesn't seem to fit with our classical logic. Something can apparently be in two places at the same time, can apparently concurrently exist as a wave and a particle, for example. Such things seem illogical to us, because we've evolved to usefully operate and understand things at the classical level. But ultimately, empirical reality trumps our notions of logic.
I see nothing in QM that contravenes our notions of logic. Certainly something being in two places at the same time does not. If you want to encode the statement 'there is a particle which is both at location A and location B' in standard predicate logic, it's easily done, thus:

Ex(Px . Ax . Bx)

But I think that saying that something (e.g. a particle) can be in two places at the same time misstates the facts. I think we have a difficulty with this because we think of the particle as a single object. We should really think of each superposed state of the particle as an object, and 'the particle' as either a set of relations between these superposed-state-objects (if 'the particle' is unobserved) or a single state-object (if it is observed). This gets rid of the oddity of something apparently being in two places at once. It also gets rid of the idea that something can be both a wave and a particle. What it leaves us with is the purely empirical puzzle of how our making an observation or measurement can transform the set of relations between quantum objects into a single quantum object. Is this an actual transformation, or is it a mere appearance, the effect of our having a different view of things? Whatever the answer, logic remains untouched by this puzzle, and continues to work just as it always did.
And as we understand QM better, perhaps this will give us insight into whether mental causation is possible, and if we really do have choices which are neither completely determined or completely random.
I suppose what you are hinting at here is something like this: quantum events are normally random, following the usual statistical quantum patterns, but mental causation can force large numbers of quantum events in the brain into particular coordinated patterns which are, in effect, impositions of particular mental choices or intentions. I agree that this is conceivable (though I'm not aware of any evidence that it occurs), and it would certainly enable there to be free will if we take free will to be the uncoerced expression of someone's personality on the actions of their physical body; but I don't think it would give us free will in the usual metaphysical sense, i.e. that one could have acted differently. This is because the choice or intention imposed on the brain by the manipulation of quantum outcomes has to arise in some way, and this way can only be either uncaused, caused, or partially caused and partially uncaused. If it is uncaused, then it arises spontaneously out of nowhere, and is in effect just another random event like the random events in the brain that we were seeking to overcome with quantum manipulation: nothing has been gained, in terms of free will, by transferring this random event from the brain to the mind, we have simply relocated the problem for free will instead of solving it. If, on the other hand, the choice or intention is caused, then we are embarked on an indefinite regress of past causes. And if the choice or intention is partly caused and partly uncaused, then we have a causal regress modified by spontaneous random elements, which, since none of us has lived for ever, must end at some point by collapsing into an event that is caused or an event that is uncaused.

This is really just a rehash of my earlier argument. It seems to me that the only way you can disagree with it is to somehow recast the whole idea of causation. I don't know how anyone could do that, because even though, as Hume pointed out, we don't observe causation, the idea of causation seems to me perfectly clear: it is the idea that a certain set of conditions is sufficient to bring about a particular state of affairs.
Or perhaps we're missing a yet more fundamental understanding of how the world really works, which will be required to understand the Mind-Body Problem. As you say, our current attempts to get a conceptual handle on the relationship between material stuff and experiential states look incoherent. And science doesn't seem to provide the appropriate toolkit for understanding non-material, non-observable, non-measurable, subjective experience.
I agree with all of this, but I don't see how it helps with free will. Why should our inability to understand the mind-body relation cast any light on what appears to be a different topic? How, in general, can a mere inability to explain something be considered at all helpful or illuminating? I confess that I do not follow your reasoning here. I don't even think we have two unsolved problems; if we did, it could turn out that the solution to one illuminates the other. But what I think we really have is an unsolved problem (the mind-body relation) and a solution we don't like (we have no free will).

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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by Gertie » May 18th, 2018, 11:13 am

This is really just a rehash of my earlier argument. It seems to me that the only way you can disagree with it is to somehow recast the whole idea of causation. I don't know how anyone could do that, because even though, as Hume pointed out, we don't observe causation, the idea of causation seems to me perfectly clear: it is the idea that a certain set of conditions is sufficient to bring about a particular state of affairs.
Or perhaps we're missing a yet more fundamental understanding of how the world really works, which will be required to understand the Mind-Body Problem. As you say, our current attempts to get a conceptual handle on the relationship between material stuff and experiential states look incoherent. And science doesn't seem to provide the appropriate toolkit for understanding non-material, non-observable, non-measurable, subjective experience.
I agree with all of this, but I don't see how it helps with free will. Why should our inability to understand the mind-body relation cast any light on what appears to be a different topic? How, in general, can a mere inability to explain something be considered at all helpful or illuminating? I confess that I do not follow your reasoning here. I don't even think we have two unsolved problems; if we did, it could turn out that the solution to one illuminates the other. But what I think we really have is an unsolved problem (the mind-body relation) and a solution we don't like (we have no free will).
If I don't know how cars or aeroplanes work (say I'm a time-travelling cave woman), the underlying laws of nature and causal relationships they operate on, how can I know which, if either, can fly? It'll just look impossible based on my observational knowledge of how the world works. And we're in a similar position regarding the mind-body problem, we have observations (most notably of neural correlation which just raises more questions), but not the underlying explanation.

So if you don't understand how we work at a fundamental level, what the rules and mechanisms are, how can you exclude the possibility of free will? You offer the standard argument which simply excludes the possibility of free will as an option. But if you don't have sufficient knowledge of the underlying processes (including causal mind-body relationships) to exclude it, it's just looks like a question-begging formulation.

Our struggle to grasp the Mind-Body relationship may well be because it's outside our current understanding of how the world works. If it's something we don't understand, possibly aren't cognitively equipped to understand, then we can't assume our usual ways of knowing things will hold. (We evolved to think in ways which are useful for survival, our ideas of causation and logic work at that level, but they might not encompass all reality).

And as we are not currently in a position to make assertions about the nature of the Mind-Body relationship, including any causal relationship, we can't exclude the possibility of our behaviour sometimes being a result of non-determined and non-random free will (mental choices and causation). There is some evidence in favour of free will, and some against, and the underlying issue of over-determinism which looks paradoxical. The fact is nobody can be certain if free will is possible. Or if it's totally off-track as regards what's really going on. Because nobody knows the nature of the underlying relationship, causal or otherwise.

You mentioned Searle earlier, he's someone who does believe free will is the correct interpretation of some human behaviour, that this is the correct other option. There's a summary of his argument here http://quantum-mind.co.uk/searle-consci ... -freewill/

I don't know if he's right, and neither do you, because we don't have knowledge of the underlying mind-body explanation. We can only argue one way or another over the various (as yet unfalsifiable) alternative hypotheses.

Gertie
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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by Gertie » May 18th, 2018, 11:36 am

Here's a question for you CIN

You reject epiphenomenalism, based on the evidence of the evolved utility of our conscious reward system (withdraw hand from fire because it hurts). So you accept mental causation, the ability to 'will' action.

We have also evolved systems for reasoning and weighing options and consequences - making mental choices (the brain is essentially our decision-making organ), so why do you dismiss the ability to make non-determined, non-random mental choices?

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Felix
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Re: Brain workings and freedom

Post by Felix » May 18th, 2018, 1:04 pm

Eduk: Is the illusion of pain painful?
Yes, but an illusionary opiate can alleviate it....

While traveling on a train, a man met a weird gentleman. This gentleman took a bag down from the overhead rack and opened it, then took from his pocket a cabbage on the end of a string, and began to dangle it into the bag. Consumed with curiousity, the traveler asked what was in the bag and was told that it was a mongoose.

"Well, why do you carry a mongoose?" "Alas," said the gentleman, "I am an alcoholic and sometimes suffer from delirium tremens, so I need the mongoose to keep away the snakes."

"But surely you realize that those snakes are only imaginary?" "Yes indeed," he answered, "but so is the mongoose."
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

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