The many faces of the free will problem

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Gertie
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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Gertie » April 4th, 2017, 6:54 pm

Togo,

Enjoyed your reply, thanks. Got me thinking. Wanted to get this bit out the way first, but it turned out long, seriously looong, so will have to reply to the bulk of your post later.
And why are you still repeating this idea that behaviour doesn't require mental decisions or willing? It does. Without intentionality models of behaviour do not function. I wrote a fair amount on that in my last post and I'm not sure you've addressed that?.
Yeah sorry, I'll address that directly, hopefully it makes sense when I explain what I mean (even if we disagree about the implications).

There are patterns of physical interactions so reliable and predictable we call them laws - Physics (biology and chemistry being reducible to physics). Now the Higgs Bosun's been confirmed we have what physicists believe is the basic structure of a standard model of physics, what the world is made of and how it works, why what happens, happens. (Hmmm is this Physics an assumption? It might not be the whole story, but I'd say it's well enough evidenced to be a reliable working assumption at the levels of granularity it adresses). So, us being middling sized critters our behaviour is in principle explainable by looking at the position of our physical parts, applying the laws which apply to middling sized systems, and if we know all the required physical info, our behaviour is predictable. That's the claim physics implies, summed up with La Place's Demon, or physical determinism.

We see this physics in action in our own unconscious behaviour, our knee-jerk reflexes, our systemic autonomic regulation of our breathing, heatbeat, digestion, blinking, etc, even when we're asleep. No mental causal input is necessary for those behaviours, just physical cause and effect. We might even have the mental experience of dreaming we're running, or grabbing a juicy orange, but if the necessary physical causal neuronal connections aren't activated, our bodies just stay lying in bed. The majority of the brain's functioning doesn't involve mental experience, it physically 'decides' and executes when to take a breath, pulsate heart muscles and so on. So we can say physical causation looks like a necessary condition for all physical behaviours in conscious systems like us, and a necessary and sufficient condition for at least some of them. [You can skip the rest if you're happy with that]

So the evidence suggests Physics alone can do at least some behavioural jobs for us, where-as mental causation alone can't (I can't will the orange to come to me because it's missing the necessary physical causal links), but can physics do them all? When we believe we're making mental decisions and willing our actions (eg I'm hungry and decide I'm going to eat an orange, and my hand grabs the orange), is anything different happening outside of the same physical cause and effect which makes my knee jerk and my heart beat?

An important point to remember is that if neural correlation is correct, the physical causes and effects must be happening during both autonomic behaviours like breathing, and mentally deciding I fancy eating the orange and grabbing it. If that's not correct, it's hard to understand how we'd function 'outside of' physics. (So I suppose I'm making an assumption that our brain and body physical causal connections must be sufficiently complex to carry out all its behaviours, to have them physically happen - but once I've assumed neural correlation is true, then this follows).

We can imagine how it works in my rough n ready description to Felix above - photons bouncing off an orange, hitting my eyeball, causing physical effects throughout my optical systems, causing physical effects in my various neural systems (where the 'decision' is physically made) causing physical effects in my arm's motor systems - and I've grabbed the orange. Imagining it working in much more complex scenarios involving symbolic representations like words, or situations like complex social interaction is much harder, but the physical stuff still has to be doing the work of getting the motor systems to physically move, and presumably neural correlation still holds. We must be sufficiently complex physical systems for the trillions of potential physical causal patterns of neuronal connections to physically spark the neurons involved in the decision, and to physically execute the behaviour. Even if that behaviour is typing symbolic letters on a screen, or the neural correlates of adding 2 + 2 'in our heads'. The neural correlates have to be able to physically do the work, however complex or symbolic - or we somehow defy the laws of physics. If you then throw in mental causation on top of the physical processes which can already fully account for all our behaviour, it looks unnecessary, duplicating something which would happen anyway, 'overdetermines' the behaviour.

That's what I mean when I say mental causal input is apparently unnecessary in principle (we don't have the technology to look at trillions of connecting neuronal patterns in detail to confirm it), and why people think mental experience might be epiphenomenal baggage with no causal role (like the steam off the railway engine, an ineffectual by-product of certain physical interactions). The physical engine, the neurons, are all in place following the laws of physics, to be all that's necessary and sufficient to account for all our behaviour. So the argument goes that in principle mental causation (mental deciding and willing) looks unnecessary. Decisions are made via neural connections resulting from external or bodily physical stimuli, and we just imagine we're deciding things mentally. And there are experiments (admittedly limited by our crude technology) which suggest that at least some mental decisions are predictable, by scanning brains and knowing what simple decision someone will make (eg when they decide to press a button) before they've consciously decided. See Libet et al.

So there's the in principle argument, backed up by tentative experimental findings, that our mental decisions might be post hoc explanations of our behaviour which has already been decided and executed via physical cause and effect alone. Free will, mental causation, is a story we tell ourselves to help make sense of our mental model of the world and ourselves. You might say it's the nuts n bolts of the determinism position, the reality of what it means in conscious beings. This is the one side of the conundrum I mentioned before, not the end of the discussion, but I believe it clearly needs addressing re whether free will exists. A conundrum which ideas like monism and dualism try to address... in my framing.

(Excuse any scientific inaccuracies, hopefully the gist is correct and makes the point).

Fcacciola
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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Fcacciola » April 5th, 2017, 9:50 am

Gertie wrote: Fc

Right. You have a novel model with sufficient explanatory depth to answer such questions. Which could be what's needed. As I've said, the problem here is it's speculative and difficult to demonstrate.

If we're too stuck in our current ways of looking at the problem we don't seem to get anywhere, but if we're too open to speculation we end up unable to choose between explanations tailored to answer our questions (or preferences), rather than follow what evidence we have.
Right. At the end of the day, is aways the evidence what matters.
And is my job to progress beyond speculation, not yours to take whatever I say at face value.

I've studied many belief systems and most have ideas that sort of make integrative sense (meaning, they do not conflict with our accepted body of knowledge), but is easy to come across two ideas that, in spite of making sense, cannot be simultaneously true. For example, Hinduism has it that souls ought to work really hard to break free from the wheel of endless reincarnation, while Spiritism, has it that souls freely choose to incarnate (and re-incarnate) as a way to progress faster and further than in the non-physical (and natural) world. Both of these are entirely possible but only one can be true (if any). So, you are right, ideas need to work their way up into proper knowledge by the hand of evidence.
Gertie wrote:New ideas are springing up trying to follow the evidence, like the one you linked to which also complements your ideas about spiritual experience. Or there's Integrated Information Theory which can potentially make testable predictions
Notice that IIT is also a formulation in which "consciousness" is at the very fabric of reality (such as the fundamental particles). At that, it also explicitly states that choices are made by the "integrated systems" (at any level), thus providing a model for free-will.
That is, IIT is NOT a model compatible with physical determinism.
Gertie wrote:, or Orchestrated Objective Reduction (don't ask me about the latter, but Penrose likes it and I reckon he's the sort of original thinker/scientific genius who might just crack this!).

The Orch-OR model, on the other hand, attempts to exploit quantum uncertainty to preserve physical (weak) determinism, so it specifically doesn't view consciousness as fundamental. It is the state-of-the-art theory on emergentism in which consciousness (and free-will) is just an epiphenomena.

So, IIR and Orch-OR are on the opposite sides of the fence here. I just wanted to note that.

-- Updated April 5th, 2017, 11:01 am to add the following --
Togo1 wrote:
Gertie wrote:I also accept there is overwhelming evidence of correlation between mental states and brain states.
Agreed.
Technically speaking, the so-called "neural correlates" link brain activity with the perception of mental states and processes, such as emotions, thoughts, and decision making.

While this distinction between the perception of something and the something is a technicality on practical purposes, it is fundamental in this context. Just as we have a neural correlate of the perceptions picked up by the senses, say, heat or visible light, we have a neural correlate of the perception, or awareness, of feeling or thinking, but that perception need not be the "feeling" or "thinking" by and on itself, just as the perception of light bouncing off an object is not the object.

Togo1
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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Togo1 » April 5th, 2017, 10:04 am

Gertie wrote:There are patterns of physical interactions so reliable and predictable we call them laws - Physics ...<snip> ... and if we know all the required physical info, our behaviour is predictable. That's the claim physics implies, summed up with La Place's Demon, or physical determinism.
Except that physics tells us La Place's Demon is wrong.

Physics and determinism are very much at odds with each other.

Physics, as you say, is based on reliable interactions. Determinism is based on absolute and invariant interactions. Physics is based on proposing connections based on predictibilty, Determinism ignores predictibility as irrelevent. Physics is very much at ease with randomness and probabality. Determinism rejects these out of hand. Physics has areas where determinist models have been rejected. Determinism insists that physics is wrong in these areas, and that they are secretly determined. Physics relies on the principle of local causation, Determinism is extremely hostile to local causation, and argueably doesn't fully support cause and effect. Physics is the practice of modelling emperical results into viable, testable theories, Determinism is an untestable a priori belief about the nature of the universe.

I'd suggest that you can have Physics, or you can have Determinism, but trying to reconcile the two is very difficult in practice.
Gertie wrote:We might even have the mental experience of dreaming we're running, or grabbing a juicy orange, but if the necessary physical causal neuronal connections aren't activated, our bodies just stay lying in bed.
I had thought the body floods the necessary muscles with a paralysing agent precisely because the neuronal connections are activiated.
Gertie wrote:The majority of the brain's functioning doesn't involve mental experience, it physically 'decides' and executes when to take a breath, pulsate heart muscles and so on.
Those are CNS or PNS functions, not the brain. As are reflexes, autonomic breathing, heartbeat, disgestion, etc. The regulation and override of those functions are partly in the brain though.

I don't see that any of these are decisions.
Gertie wrote:So we can say physical causation looks like a necessary condition for all physical behaviours in conscious systems like us, and a necessary and sufficient condition for at least some of them. [You can skip the rest if you're happy with that]
Not entirely happy, no. You're taking a whole series of automatic actions, most of which don't even involve the brain, and some of which (hearbeat) don't even require nerve cells, and calling them 'behaviours'. What you're trying to imply is that behaviour can be entirely physical, but the examples are stretching the definition of 'behaviour' to achieve this.

You could equally say that mental experience looks like a necessary condition for all voluntary activity, because voluntary activity always involves mental experience, and in the absence of mental experience (unconsciousness) voluntary activity ceases. The evidence is the same, no?
Gertie wrote:So the evidence suggests Physics alone can do at least some behavioural jobs for us, where-as mental causation alone can't (I can't will the orange to come to me because it's missing the necessary physical causal links), but can physics do them all? When we believe we're making mental decisions and willing our actions (eg I'm hungry and decide I'm going to eat an orange, and my hand grabs the orange), is anything different happening outside of the same physical cause and effect which makes my knee jerk and my heart beat?
Yes, very much so. The neural activation patterns are different, the performance characteristics are different, the actual brain is involved. The mechanisms involved are unambiguously different from the automomic and muscle functions you were using as examples earlier.
Gertie wrote:An important point to remember is that if neural correlation is correct, the physical causes and effects must be happening during both autonomic behaviours like breathing, and mentally deciding I fancy eating the orange and grabbing it. If that's not correct, it's hard to understand how we'd function 'outside of' physics.
There's no requirement to function outside of physics. The idea that we'd need to is something you introduced as part of your insistance on a form of dualism where physical and mental are necessarily seperate and do not overlap in any way.
Gertie wrote:We can imagine how it works in my rough n ready description to Felix above - photons bouncing off an orange, hitting my eyeball, causing physical effects throughout my optical systems, causing physical effects in my various neural systems (where the 'decision' is physically made) causing physical effects in my arm's motor systems - and I've grabbed the orange.
Sure we can imagine that. However, decisions aren't made in this way in practice. Fortunately, there is a measureable and testable set of physical differences between absent-mindedly picking up an orange without really thinking about it, and actively considering whether to pick up an orange and then deciding to do so. Because of that we don't need to confuse the two and can treat them as the distinct processes that they are.

In general, in neural processes, you can always imagine that the process is far simpler than it actually is. That's where that old claim that 'we only use 5% of our brain' comes from. All the brain is used, it's just that the crude and simple models we had at the time didn't appear to involve more than 5% of it. Similarly, it's certainly possible to model nearly any decision without including any higher brain functions, by just connecting the input to the output with maybe a few factors. It's not accurate, it's not how the brain actually works, but you can model it that way if you like.
Gertie wrote:If you then throw in mental causation on top of the physical processes which can already fully account for all our behaviour, it looks unnecessary, duplicating something which would happen anyway, 'overdetermines' the behaviour.
Of course it looks unecessary. If you assume a priori that mental activity plays no part in the physical result, then of course mental activity is going to look unecessary for the final result. If, however, you assume that mental activity does some kind of useful work, either independently or as part of a physical process that it shares identity with, then it becomes necessary after all. You're just picking your conclusion here.
Gertie wrote:So the argument goes that in principle mental causation (mental deciding and willing) looks unnecessary. Decisions are made via neural connections resulting from external or bodily physical stimuli, and we just imagine we're deciding things mentally.
Wait, 'Just imagining'? So, this account depends on a seperate mental realm that is beyond the laws of physics in which events occur and change, that is somehow precisely correlated with the activities of the physical world despite there being no communication between the two. Isn't that more or less the same problem as you had with mental causation? Only bigger?
Gertie wrote:And there are experiments (admittedly limited by our crude technology) which suggest that at least some mental decisions are predictable, by scanning brains and knowing what simple decision someone will make (eg when they decide to press a button) before they've consciously decided. See Libet et al.
Well sure, decisions are predictible. I mean, I have a fair idea of the kinds of things I will decide to do. Don't you? The predictions aren't very accurate, but it's not particularly surprising that they occur.
Gertie wrote:So there's the in principle argument, backed up by tentative experimental findings, that our mental decisions might be post hoc explanations of our behaviour which has already been decided and executed via physical cause and effect alone.
Whoa, whoa, whoa! That old chestnut is a heck of a thing to casually drop in there.

Thinking, that is the physical activity that correlated with mental experience of consideration, that is not correlated with actions that don't involve that mental experience, takes measureable time, and consumes energy.

What does mental experience consist of, if it's not physical?
What's the mechanism for it's function?
How is it kept so tightly correlated with physical activity?
Why does it take time?
Why does it take energy?
What is this activity for?
How did it evolve?
Why on earth would we need post hoc explanations of behaviour?
Why would we need to fool ourselves into thinking that our mental experiences are causally effective?
If we can explain behaviour in this way, why don't we in practice?
etc. etc.

While I appreciate the attraction of this hypothesis to the dedicated determinist, from a scientific point of view it seems implausible.

And presumably this is why you keep on leaning on dualism? You've already assumed, a priori, that free will is incompatible with the physical universe, and so you're limiting your consideration of free will to it being a purely mental phenonomenon that can, what, hover in the ether somehow, without getting determinism all over it?

Have you considered the idea that determinism might be false?

Fcacciola
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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Fcacciola » April 5th, 2017, 10:38 am

Gertie wrote:There are patterns of physical interactions so reliable and predictable we call them laws - Physics (biology and chemistry being reducible to physics). Now the Higgs Bosun's been confirmed we have what physicists believe is the basic structure of a standard model of physics, what the world is made of and how it works, why what happens, happens. (Hmmm is this Physics an assumption? It might not be the whole story, but I'd say it's well enough evidenced to be a reliable working assumption at the levels of granularity it adresses). So, us being middling sized critters our behaviour is in principle explainable by looking at the position of our physical parts, applying the laws which apply to middling sized systems, and if we know all the required physical info, our behaviour is predictable. That's the claim physics implies, summed up with La Place's Demon, or physical determinism.



Not so fast :)

We all have a psychological strategic tendency to "divide and conquer". Since our intelectual ability is rather limited, we decompose "wholes" into "parts", and focus on understanding the parts. That's perfectly fine, and, in fact, is the best we can do anyway. However, we sometimes make the fatal mistake of assuming that the composition of the partial understandings sum up to the understanding of the whole. That almost never the case.

In particular, all actual evidence in fact screams quite loud that Biology is not reducible to Chemistry, let alone Physics. The perfect example is epigenetics by the hands of Bruce Lipton. In the early 90s (IIRC), he made the astonishing discovery that cells just kept functioning and displaying their "intelligence" (input based adaptive response to the environment) even if you remove all DNA. That's shocking because the idea was that the "intelligence" of the cells was the result of "executing" the "DNA program", and he discovered that's not the case at all.

Reductionism (not just Physicalism) is in my informed opinion a fatal mistake. Is OK to decompose to approximate a model of a complex system, but as soon as the approximation is mistaken for a proper holistic model, the decomposition just works against us.
Gertie wrote:So the evidence suggests Physics alone can do at least some behavioural jobs for us
Not really. What we have is evidence supporting our models "of the parts", but we don't have any evidence supporting "holistic" models. In fact, we basically have no holistic models at all, just implicit compositions of partial models. And we don't at all, for example, experiment with electrons *within* atoms, let alone within *chemical bounds" (which for instance in organic molecules are really hard to fully explain), and most certainly not within cells. To consider that what we find out about fundamental particles in an accelerator tells the complete story of such particles, even when they are not isolated, accelerated and smashed hard, is reductionism at its best, which as I said, is in my opinion a fatal mistake.

So no, Physics alone does not really do much at explaining, for instance, organic really complex systems, even if many physicists would like to pretend it does. Let alone biological "mental-like" processes, not even for a simple virus. So from physics to a human mind there is a gap the size of the universe (with all it's "dark matter" included... pun totally intended :)

-- Updated April 5th, 2017, 12:07 pm to add the following --
Gertie wrote:And there are experiments (admittedly limited by our crude technology) which suggest that at least some mental decisions are predictable, by scanning brains and knowing what simple decision someone will make (eg when they decide to press a button) before they've consciously decided. See Libet et al.
Watch out for the Libet experiments. Similar to the double-slit experiments in quantum mechanics, they are a perfect recipe for jumping to conclusions. Supposedly, they show brain activity before "a decision is consciously made", but that is completely wrong. The gross (and to me surprising) mistake is to confound an event, such as a button being pressed, or the reporting of the time a decision was made, with the actual making of the decision. That's just wrong, and these events that are timed against the brain activity are just that, observable events. The fatal mistake is to assume that these events are a direct, and somehow instantaneous indication of the decision making, which is a silly and totally unnecessary assumption. Even more so if you consider, as I mentioned before, that the awareness of thoughts need not to be the thoughts themselves, but just the perception of them.

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Bohm2
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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Bohm2 » April 5th, 2017, 11:29 am

Fcacciola wrote:Watch out for the Libet experiments. Similar to the double-slit experiments in quantum mechanics, they are a perfect recipe for jumping to conclusions. Supposedly, they show brain activity before "a decision is consciously made", but that is completely wrong. The gross (and to me surprising) mistake is to confound an event, such as a button being pressed, or the reporting of the time a decision was made, with the actual making of the decision. That's just wrong, and these events that are timed against the brain activity are just that, observable events. The fatal mistake is to assume that these events are a direct, and somehow instantaneous indication of the decision making, which is a silly and totally unnecessary assumption. Even more so if you consider, as I mentioned before, that the awareness of thoughts need not to be the thoughts themselves, but just the perception of them.
I don't think the Libet experiments have anything to do with free will but in my opinion they have a lot to do with unconscious processing. It seems that when I myself make a decision, I'm not privy to the process involved. It seems unconscious and I often feel that I have no idea why I make many decisions. But even though the ultimate process may be occurring at an unconscious level, I still feel that those decisions are mine. I just do not equate free will with consciousness, although I recognize that many authors do. But there are world-renowned cognitive scientists who have suggested this. Noam Chomsky comes to mind.

Fcacciola
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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Fcacciola » April 5th, 2017, 12:37 pm

Bohm2 wrote: I don't think the Libet experiments have anything to do with free will but in my opinion they have a lot to do with unconscious processing. It seems that when I myself make a decision, I'm not privy to the process involved. It seems unconscious and I often feel that I have no idea why I make many decisions. But even though the ultimate process may be occurring at an unconscious level, I still feel that those decisions are mine.
Right.

The Libet experiments shows the relative ordering of certain processes related to decision making. And it shows that the conscious awareness, or perception (as I prefer), of making the decision comes after some other processes as observed through the correlated brain activity. Effectively, the decisions seem unconscious (and the experiments support that) which in my opinion shows that perception of the decision follows the decision. Is like perceiving that I've moved my arm, logically after the arm moved, which is of course not at all any indication of deciding to move it in the first place.
The way I see it, as I mention before, we think (or feel for that matter), "under the hood", and then perceive (become aware of) such thoughts or feelings. From that point of view, the Libet experiments then just show how the brain activity is causally involved in (i.e precedes) that awareness, but not the actual thinking or feeling.

For what is worth, there is a certain model of reality that leads very naturally to this idea that we think/feel under the hood and then become consciously aware of it. In a very short nutshell, this model contains the idea that we are not just a body and a mind, but a body, a mind *and* (separately) a soul or spirit. In this tripartite (instead of dual) model, the actual "under the hood" meta-thinking and meta-feeling is the action of the soul/spirit, from which proper mental thoughts and feelings are generated within the brain+mind (in wake state), which are then "feed back" into the soul/spirit for its awareness.
Bohm2 wrote: I just do not equate free will with consciousness, although I recognize that many authors do. But there are world-renowned cognitive scientists who have suggested this. Noam Chomsky comes to mind.
I assume there you mean "conscious awareness" (which is one meaning for the term "consciousness"). In that case, I agree.
Unfortunately, the Libet experiments are sometimes (miss)used as support against free-will. I even saw that two weeks ago on an interview on youtube.

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Togo1 » April 5th, 2017, 1:09 pm

There's a lot written about Libet.

My take on it:

The experiment shows that, before a subject has made up their mind, their brain contains information that can be used to predict their decision. This isn't secret information that is hidden from the subject. The subject themselves probably have a decent idea what their decision will be as well. What would be really alarming would be if the information wasn't there, which might suggest that the subject thinking about their decision was a process with no content.

What it doesn't show is that somehow a decision has already been made. We can tell this from the results of the various follow-on experiments, which show the same results when the button is pressed, and when it is not. It should be noted that modern iterations of the experiment have increased the prediction time from 500 miliseconds before the conscious decision is reported, to 11 seconds or more (sic). The challenges involved in suggesting that all decisions are made 11 seconds before you're consciously aware of them, should be obvious.

What seems likely is that the experiments aren't picking up a decision at all, but just information preparatory to action.

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Bohm2 » April 5th, 2017, 1:59 pm

Fcacciola wrote:For what is worth, there is a certain model of reality that leads very naturally to this idea that we think/feel under the hood and then become consciously aware of it. In a very short nutshell, this model contains the idea that we are not just a body and a mind, but a body, a mind *and* (separately) a soul or spirit. In this tripartite (instead of dual) model, the actual "under the hood" meta-thinking and meta-feeling is the action of the soul/spirit, from which proper mental thoughts and feelings are generated within the brain+mind (in wake state), which are then "feed back" into the soul/spirit for its awareness.
I've always been persuaded by reading others who argue that our idea of "matter" or "body" or "physical" is not something that is closed/definitive. As our physics and science changes so does idea of matter. We have much better/predictive models but we still do not know what matter is and I believe that matter is far more complicated than what our current science tells us. Just think of the ways our conception of matter has changed over the past 100 years. I'm guessing that this will continue to change in the future as our science progresses. I believe that for matter to lead to macroscopic objects like yourself and myself (i.e. conscious, feeling and in my opinion, individuals who do appear to have free will), there is yet much to be discovered. While, I've seen many papers claiming that free will cannot exist, I personally do not buy it because there is so much that we still do not understand about the properties of matter. This is the reason why, metaphysical positions like physicalism, dualism are pointless. As we do not have a definitive concept of what matter/body/physical is, we cannot ask what lies beyond it. Again, Chomsky puts it well when he writes:
The mind-body problem can be posed sensibly only insofar as we have a definite conception of body [matter/physical]. If we have no such definite and fixed conception, we cannot ask whether some phenomena fall beyond its range...Unless someone proposes a definite concept of body [matter/physical], we cannot ask whether some phenomena exceed its bounds...Conceptions of the physical are, at best, contingently tied to tentative theories in physics. Since such theories are open and evolving, the concept of the physical is unstable and, hence, not sufficiently well-defined for the purpose of framing empirical or metaphysical theses. There simply is no definite a posteriori concept of the physical available for use by the physicalist. The significance of this conclusion for physicalism is also clear: if our conception of the physical is tied to open and evolving theories in physics and there is, therefore, no well defined a posteriori conception of the physical, it follows that it is pointless to inquire about the content of the theses of physicalism since they too have no well-defined content.
Chomsky's challenge to physicalism
https://www.academia.edu/237143/Chomsky ... hysicalism

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Gertie » April 5th, 2017, 4:21 pm

Togo

Phew! Lots more questions!

I thought my post was long enough without answering every possible objection (and remember i only see this as one side of the free will conundrum - the side you see as unpersuasive and asked me to explain). But I guess it's key, and needs sorting out. However your reply asks for a daunting amount of further explanation of the explanation of a reasonably straightforward idea - that physical causation alone can potentially account for all behaviour.

Maybe you can summarise your remaining queries?

If you understand the argument but don't find it persuasive, fair enough. If you want to summarise your objections, ideally without using abstract terms like determinism and monism/dualism, so we can pin down what we both mean, I'll give you my own thoughts.

My own position (rather than your interpretation of my position) is that this argument raises an objection to mental causation which needs addressing in any overall theory which supports free will. Just like your key questions 'why did mental states evolve and what are they for', raise an important objection to any overall theory which claims mental causation is redundant.





Fc



Not so fast :)
uh-oh!

See this is what happens when people ask me to explain science stuff ;)
Reductionism (not just Physicalism) is in my informed opinion a fatal mistake. Is OK to decompose to approximate a model of a complex system, but as soon as the approximation is mistaken for a proper holistic model, the decomposition just works against us.
OK. I think Sean Carroll might disagree, but I don't understand half he says. Still, maybe I can tone down the claim and the key element of this particular argument against free will still works, see what you think -

The laws of physics work in a causally observable way in biology, chemistry and physics (probabilistically at the qm level, classically at the classical level), making unobservable mental causation unnecessary? .
What we have is evidence supporting our models "of the parts", but we don't have any evidence supporting "holistic" models. In fact, we basically have no holistic models at all, just implicit compositions of partial models. And we don't at all, for example, experiment with electrons *within* atoms, let alone within *chemical bounds" (which for instance in organic molecules are really hard to fully explain), and most certainly not within cells. To consider that what we find out about fundamental particles in an accelerator tells the complete story of such particles, even when they are not isolated, accelerated and smashed hard, is reductionism at its best, which as I said, is in my opinion a fatal mistake.

So no, Physics alone does not really do much at explaining, for instance, organic really complex systems, even if many physicists would like to pretend it does. Let alone biological "mental-like" processes, not even for a simple virus. So from physics to a human mind there is a gap the size of the universe (with all it's "dark matter" included... pun totally intended :)
In this context of free will do we need a perfect holistic model of physical causation to claim that mental causation is in principle unnecessary? Or are you saying we can't use physics at all as a causal explanation because it's fatally flawed, rather than incomplete/imperfect? We have to be able to rely on something to get a firm foundation to build from...


On a broader note, I'm not convinced that our psychological strategies are what limit us to viewing wholes in their parts. In fact I see in some people (some religious people on this board for example) a psychological inclination to find a holistic 'perfection' in the parts. There does seem to be something about our psychology which likes tidiness and coherence in how we see the world, how we look for a perfect god as fundamental, or a scientific theory of everything, beauty in simple equations. Maybe the universe just isn't like that? Maybe this predisposition for unity is just part of an evolved psychological strategy which helps us navigate the world at our level of perceptual and cognitive usefulness?

Watch out for the Libet experiments. Similar to the double-slit experiments in quantum mechanics, they are a perfect recipe for jumping to conclusions. Supposedly, they show brain activity before "a decision is consciously made", but that is completely wrong. The gross (and to me surprising) mistake is to confound an event, such as a button being pressed, or the reporting of the time a decision was made, with the actual making of the decision. That's just wrong, and these events that are timed against the brain activity are just that, observable events. The fatal mistake is to assume that these events are a direct, and somehow instantaneous indication of the decision making, which is a silly and totally unnecessary assumption. Even more so if you consider, as I mentioned before, that the awareness of thoughts need not to be the thoughts themselves, but just the perception of them.
Agreed, I think I mentioned the the experiments are crude and controversial, I personally wouldn't put it any stronger than them being intriguing at this point. As I recall even Libet believed we have have a mental veto on our unconscious readiness potential. We need better kit and better experiments.

Bear in mind I was trying to explain an argument against the need for mental causation, not saying I don't have my own problems with it.

What do you make of the split brain experiments, and what the bloke at the end says -


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Lucylu
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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Lucylu » April 6th, 2017, 3:55 am

Hello all,

I'm reading Professor Steve Peters' book 'The Chimp Paradox' at the moment which I thought might be germane.

I'll start by saying my basic point is that we are capable of free will, or that we will be increasingly as we evolve, but that we suffer from the apparent necessity of living in a 'bottom up' universe.

The video referred to left and right brain hemispheres, but this book focuses on lower and higher brain systems. Peters posits that, in simple terms, the more primal limbic system is our 'chimp' self, which receives information first, wants to speak first and is driven by emotion and instincts, such as the instinct to find food, shelter, security, sex and dominance. The chimp is the 'voice' in our minds which speaks to us when we first wake up, floods us with paranoia, worry and doubt. It is probably best characterised as Freud's id, and Peters says this is completely inherited.

The higher brain or cerebral cortex is the human mind, which acts with logic and reason and has to learn how to train and manage the chimp, like you would train a dog. We can see that most people walk there dogs with the dog pulling at full force ahead and the person having given up pulling the dog backwards, allows the dog to pull at arms length their entire lives.. so we can imagine how most people are led by the chimp parts of their brain, and have adapted their behaviour to socially acceptable ways largely in order to remain safe under the protection of the tribe/ troop and to meet their basic needs. And this behaviour is learnt by their children.

My point being that yes, of course, the primal lizard brain or brain stem controls our automatic functions (breathing, heartbeat etc), and the limbic system ensures our survival (but not necessarily our mental comfort) but the higher brain, the cerebral cortex, is what is more deliberate. Its the part that we celebrate most as it appears to be capable of free will despite our instincts and to act in ways which are uniquely human eg, Ghandi's passive resistance, Mandela's peaceful campaign etc.

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." Mandela

So, he had trained the chimp completely. Sure, on a minute level Mandela's brain activity was out of his control- his brain was functioning properly, and he wouldn't have consciously been able to do any of that if his cerebral cortex had been damaged, but my point is the cerebral cortex is capable of free will to some extent but it suffers from what all systems suffer from- that they are built on and must live with the historic foundations of their predecessors, which are usually much more crude models, and they suffer for it. It is a bottom up, versus top down universe, which is why religion may be so enticing, as it is a purely top down model.

Perhaps in another million years yet another part of the brain will develop which is even more distinct from our baser self and more capable of free will, and the cerebral cortex is a middle ground.

Also Peters says that we cannot use will power to train our chimp selves. We have to train them with various techniques which will work in unison with the chimps needs and ways of thinking, accepting the chimp for what it is. Free will suggests 'will power' as in we can beat the chimp or kill it, but this instinct is itself the chimp's way of dealing with the problem. Free will could be better characterised as 'freedom from' our baser selves, ie the freedom the think clearly. This is probably why mindfulness meditation has become so popular and mainstream in recent years.

Its also worth noting that discounting the God theory, our minds are evolving to meet our desires and needs so we are in a sense creating free will, albeit gradually because we are able to consciously want it.
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts". -Bertrand Russell

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Togo1 » April 7th, 2017, 7:09 am

I understand the arguement. Your explanation was very clear, and matches similar arguments I've heard before. I'll summarise my objections.

The idea that behaviour can be explaind entirely physically has a number of flaws:

a) It assumes physical determinism, an a priori belief that has numerous issues in and of itself.

b) It assumes that physical and mental activities do not overlap. This further assumes that physical activities have no mental component, and vice versa. Given that the conclusion is the idea that physical behaviour, a subset of the physical, has no mental component, this is begging the question.

c) It falls foul of the mind-body problem. It requires a careful coordination of (false) mental experience with actual physical behaviour. There's no obvious way to accomplish this, unless mind and body are causally connected in some way.

d) It's neurologically inaccurate. While we can see behaviour at various levels of sophistication, beyond a certain point, they invariably include mental experience. There are clear and distinct neurological differences between conscious and unconscious processing. There is no reason to think that mental experience is optional, and to propose otherwise does not relieve us of the need to account for the available evidence.

e) It's scientifically problematical. Given that this thesis contradicts our present scientific understanding on several levels, from the difficulty of actually modelling behaviour on this basis, to the logical issues of putting a priori beliefs ahead of emperical evidence, it would seem more reasonable to stick with the science, unless there is a reason not to.

f) It's logically problematical. If we have a system where our impressions of how the world works are not just inaccurate, and the world secretly works in a difference way, then we can not assume that our perception of the world is accurate enough to draw meaningful conclusions about it. It's illogical to insist we have knowledge about one aspect of our experience of the world, while dismissing another.


Happy to go into detail about any of these. Sorry there are so many. I've probably left some out.

In regards to your position, I'd suggest that the very idea of 'mental causation' as opposed to physical causation, is a category error. It presupposes the conclusion by ruling out the idea that causation in general, and decision making in particular, can have both mental and physical aspects to the same task. As such, 'mental causation', by which you apppear to mean 'causation with no physical component', is not a requirement of free will at all. Free will needs a mental aspect, but there's no requirement for it to lack a physical aspect.

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Fcacciola » April 7th, 2017, 4:08 pm

Gertie wrote:Fc
Reductionism (not just Physicalism) is in my informed opinion a fatal mistake. Is OK to decompose to approximate a model of a complex system, but as soon as the approximation is mistaken for a proper holistic model, the decomposition just works against us.
OK. I think Sean Carroll might disagree, but I don't understand half he says.
Half the physicists would not agree I think :wink:
Gertie wrote: The laws of physics work in a causally observable way in biology, chemistry and physics (probabilistically at the qm level, classically at the classical level)
I'd say that's about right. But let me rephrase it a little bit to show if I'm understanding you correctly:

Our models of the ontologically, or categorically (not spatially) smallest parts of reality, that is, what we call the Laws of Physics, display a causal chain that is observed even in (ontologically) larger parts, which we model in the scientific fields of Chemistry. And even still in models of the next ontological layer which is Biology.
Gertie wrote:making unobservable mental causation unnecessary?
I'll assume that by "unnecessary", you mean that the current models of the smallest distinction (Physics) work well--to the extent they do--without mental causation.
That much is true.

However, as I wrote, these models, even though they can be verified to a certain extent in ontologically larger distinctions, at these higher levels (i.e. Chemistry, Biology, etc..), only provide an approximation. That is, they are expressly incomplete. But then, being incomplete, there is nothing that they render unnecessary. In other words, causation (mental or otherwise) is left out but not because the completeness of the models renders it unnecessary, since the models are far from complete. Causation is left out only because we haven't figure it out yet.
Gertie wrote: In this context of free will do we need a perfect holistic model of physical causation to claim that mental causation is in principle unnecessary?
We need a model of causation.
Whether that model can be considered physical instead of mental, and would be sufficient, totally depends on what the model might be about.
Gertie wrote: Or are you saying we can't use physics at all as a causal explanation because it's fatally flawed, rather than incomplete/imperfect? We have to be able to rely on something to get a firm foundation to build from...
If "physics" there means our currently accepted set of models, then I'd say is closer to fatally flawed than just incomplete. But that's because in my humble but informed opinion, physicist seem to have the need to prescribe rather than describe nature. Even the term "Laws" of physics is a misnomer. We just see patterns of behavior, and to call them Laws, we would have had to get a deeper insight (say, talked to God or found an actual design for any such "Laws"), which of course we didn't.
We seem to have the need to blindly believe that "water is always going to flow down, then, now and ever, here and anywhere else", but, why would that be the case? though is true that for us humans it would be next to impossible to live in a shifting reality, the observed persistence of the "rules" might very well be, teleologically, just for our convenience, but in that case, the "laws" are just provisional, temporary agreements.
That observation about describing rather than prescribing nature attempts to show that "physics" might need a reboot in order to get deeper into reality, specially to approach things such as consciousness, free-will, the probable existence of higher/subtler realities, etc...

Since as you know, I happen to believe that "causation" (the only form that exists) occurs at a level that is deeper, and more fundamental, than it is covered by the current approach and extent of mainstream physics, then in my opinion we can't use "this" physics.

On the other hand, Science is whatever we make of it, and I do think there will be a paradigm shift and future science will naturally cover these things.

Gertie wrote:On a broader note, I'm not convinced that our psychological strategies are what limit us to viewing wholes in their parts. In fact I see in some people (some religious people on this board for example) a psychological inclination to find a holistic 'perfection' in the parts. There does seem to be something about our psychology which likes tidiness and coherence in how we see the world, how we look for a perfect god as fundamental, or a scientific theory of everything, beauty in simple equations. Maybe the universe just isn't like that? Maybe this predisposition for unity is just part of an evolved psychological strategy which helps us navigate the world at our level of perceptual and cognitive usefulness?



Fair enough. Psychological partitioning strategies surely are there (IMO at least), but indeed we simultaneously use integration strategies as well. The brain itself works that way, specially for vision processing (the brain only picks chunks of all the light information getting in [partitioning], then interpolates the rest [integration] to save time (energy))
Gertie wrote:Bear in mind I was trying to explain an argument against the need for mental causation, not saying I don't have my own problems with it.


I think I'm with Togo1 here in that the distinction between physical and mental causation only follows from a specific viewpoint, which is neither evident nor universally accepted. I for one think this distinction is rather artificial, and I hope everything I wrote here shows why and how.
Gertie wrote:What do you make of the split brain experiments, and what the bloke at the end says
Is quite interesting. In other sources about the experiment, you can see more clearly how the brain as a whole manages to properly create the information if it finds ANY way to connect the two aspects of the perceptions. That is, in a normal brain, what we see with the two eyes connect internally, so the brain can combine the symbolic and pictorial information to construct the proper concept. In a split brain, however, what the eyes see is disconnected, but if an external link is created after a failed attempt, such as moving the "name" to the other side, the brain now works around the lack of direct connection and does the job, as if it were not split.

To me, this shows that the processing of information at a certain level is clearly a function of the brain. That certain level involves the sensory and symbolic consciousness (or awareness as I prefer to call it). However, as I mentioned before here, I believe these levels are on top of a more fundamental, non-sensory and non-symbolic level of "information processing", the one at which the "soul" is engaged with (and where "self" free-will is expressed)

As for we effectively interacting with a worldview or "theory" (as he called it) of reality that is based on the models constructed from said sensory and symbolic information processing, yes, that makes complete sense.

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Relinquish » April 10th, 2017, 5:53 pm

The following is my basic argument for the illusion of free will.

The only possible reason someone would choose to do something that they would actually rather not do (as per their own conditioned preferences) is that they do not want the anticipated undesirable consequences of them NOT doing it to come true.

Any activity that we BOTH have no desire to do AND feel that not doing it will have no undesirable consequences is an activity that is fundamentally ruled out from possibility. We didn't CHOOSE our own desires. To test this assertion, try now to GENUINELY cease desiring something that you strongly desire. Conversely, try to GENUINELY desire something that you have absolutely no desire for.

Can you do it? GENUINELY?

Naturally, we are all following what we perceive to be the path of least resistance to get as close to happiness as possible and as far from unhappiness as possible. Of course, we all have different preferences. Our preferences are what they are because of the surrounding environment into which we were born, completely outside of any control. Had we been born into a different surrounding environment, our preferences would have different.

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Belindi » April 10th, 2017, 6:42 pm

Fcacciola wrote:
However, as I wrote, these models, even though they can be verified to a certain extent in ontologically larger distinctions, at these higher levels (i.e. Chemistry, Biology, etc..), only provide an approximation. That is, they are expressly incomplete. But then, being incomplete, there is nothing that they render unnecessary. In other words, causation (mental or otherwise) is left out but not because the completeness of the models renders it unnecessary, since the models are far from complete. Causation is left out only because we haven't figure it out yet.
I am very interested in this because I have been wondering if , contrary to what David Hume said about our inability to perceive cause, we now can perceive the event known as cause. This event is the ejection by the electron of the photon.

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Togo1 » April 10th, 2017, 7:15 pm

Relinquish wrote:The following is my basic argument for the illusion of free will.

The only possible reason someone would choose to do something that they would actually rather not do (as per their own conditioned preferences) is that they do not want the anticipated undesirable consequences of them NOT doing it to come true.

Any activity that we BOTH have no desire to do AND feel that not doing it will have no undesirable consequences is an activity that is fundamentally ruled out from possibility.

We didn't CHOOSE our own desires.

To test this assertion, try now to GENUINELY cease desiring something that you strongly desire. Conversely, try to GENUINELY desire something that you have absolutely no desire for.

Can you do it? GENUINELY?

Naturally, we are all following what we perceive to be the path of least resistance to get as close to happiness as possible and as far from unhappiness as possible. Of course, we all have different preferences. Our preferences are what they are because of the surrounding environment into which we were born, completely outside of any control. Had we been born into a different surrounding environment, our preferences would have different.

This is rhetorical slight of hand. You've set up a narrative that sounds like it logically excludes choices, but it doesn't really.

Consider it restated formally

P1 All actions are either following desires or avoiding negative consequences
P2 We do not choose our desires
P3 We do not choose the existance of negative consequences

Therefore
C1 We do not choose our actions.


Once you lay it out, P1 looks a bit weird doesn't it? What you're doing here, is taking the idea that we decide to do things, and describing in instead in the passive voice - as a decision that is followed. Because any decision that we make, any thing we decide to do, you're defining as following a (pre-existing?) desire. But the only evidence for this desire, is that we made a decision to do something. So what you're really saying, absent your a priori decision to cast all decisions as desires, is this:

P1 All actions are either voluntary decisions or avoiding negative consequences
P2 We do not choose our voluntray decisions
...

Which is a contradiction - voluntary decisions are chosen by definition.

Now I'm trying to avoid technical terminology here, but the principle being violated here is that if you can't, in formal logic, substitute one term with another, then two terms aren't equivalent. Since substituting desires for voluntary decisions results in a contradiction, the two can't be equivalent to each other, which in turn means decisions and following desires are not equivalent. This in turns means that by choosing the particular form in which you state the problem (as desires rather than decisions), you're assuming the conclusion you wish to prove - otherwise known as the fallacy of petitio principii, or begging the question.

Put more simply it's no more true to say that all actions follow an unchosen desire than it is to say that all actions follow an unchosen condition - because as long as we make choices, those choices have an impact on subsequent decisions. The formulation only makes sense if you first assume we don't make any choices, which is exactly the condition you're trying to prove. If you have to assume the truth of a statement to make an argument for it, that argument isn't worth much.

Does that make sense?

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