Do we really choose anything?

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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RJG
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

Post by RJG »

JackDaydream wrote:I don't see how you came to the conclusion that it is logically impossible to have choice.
If you answered the main question in the OP, and then answered the follow up questions, then (hopefully) you will see the infinite regress, and the resulting logical impossibility of choosing.
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Rhys Griffin
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

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I would submit that the question about choosing thoughts is illuminated by distinguishing choice of action from choice of thought.

Choice of action necessarily occurs in regard to a given array of alternative actions. The array limits my available choices. Another limit is my own perception of the array of possibilities. I may think my choice is only between chocolate and vanilla, when in fact there are seven other flavors on hand, ones I don't see. Are we to conclude that such a limited choice is in no way free? No. It is free within the corral of available possibilities.

Does that analysis apply to choosing thoughts? I would say No. There is no array of alternative thoughts from which I may choose. I don't thinks that's how thinking works. Thinking thoughts necessarily occurs in the context of a sea of swirling thoughts. It's like a crowded dinner table with multiple conversations happening at once. I may choose to enter into one of the conversational stream, or I may choose to introduce a new subject; but even there, the definition of "new" relates to what else is being discussed.

The word I find preferable for talking about such thoughts is "occasioned." Thoughts are not caused, nor are they free. They are occasioned by what stream of ideas are swirling around us, from which we feel drawn to select one for dovetailing. I think it is quite rare for any thinking to be done de novo; it is always in reference to something else that is flowing in the stream of awareness. Yes, we choose which part of the flow to enter, but we cannot choose to present a thought which is utterly without reference. All thoughts dovetail with some other thoughts by someone somewhere, present or remembered. Utter and complete originality is a fantasy. We think in relation to other thinkers.

Can we say that such thinking is free? Sort of. Can we say it is determined? Sort of. That's why I like the word "occasioned," because it communicates the real context in which thoughts arise.
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Thomyum2
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

Post by Thomyum2 »

RJG wrote: January 14th, 2022, 12:16 pm
RJG wrote:The difference is whether we are "given" our choice, or if we truly did as you say "make a selection from or decide upon one among multiple possible alternatives".
Thomyum2 wrote:Well, you still haven't answered the question for me, you've just substituted new wording here by saying 'we are "given" our choice' for your original wording that a choice is "not real" or is "just an illusion". I'm asking what is the objective difference between these two.
The objective difference is that "logic" tells us that choosing is impossible. Refer back to the OP to see the irrefutable logic.
Your answer to my question reminds me of jokes like this:

Rule #1: Dad is always right.
Rule #2: If Dad is wrong, refer back to rule #2

The logic in the OP may be telling you that choosing is impossible, but it is not telling me that. Which is the reason I was asking these questions - to understand your logic. But by not answering my questions and just telling me to go back and accept it at face value, you're not making your logic understandable to me. Doesn't make for a very edifying philosophical discussion, I'm sorry to say. :( We've been down this path before and I thought maybe we could do better this time.

Incidentally, there's no such thing as irrefutable logic. When you claim something is irrefutable, it's a premise. But that can be a topic for another thread.
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RJG
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

Post by RJG »

Thom, If you answered the main question in the OP, and then answered the follow up questions, then (hopefully) you will see the infinite regress, and the resulting logical impossibility of choosing.

If you can't understand or see the logical impossibility, then you can't. No biggie. Take care friend.
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RJG
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

Post by RJG »

Rhys Griffin wrote:I would submit that the question about choosing thoughts is illuminated by distinguishing choice of action from choice of thought.

Choice of action necessarily occurs in regard to a given array of alternative actions. The array limits my available choices. Another limit is my own perception of the array of possibilities. I may think my choice is only between chocolate and vanilla, when in fact there are seven other flavors on hand, ones I don't see. Are we to conclude that such a limited choice is in no way free? No. It is free within the corral of available possibilities
Hi Rhys, the point of my OP is that we can't logically choose 'anything'. We can't choose our thoughts, we can't choose our actions, we can't choose what ice cream to eat. Our choices have already been made for us (given to us) prior to us becoming conscious of them.

Rhys Griffin wrote:I may choose to enter into one of the conversational stream, or I may choose to introduce a new subject…
If you did not choose the thoughts that you used in choosing, then you really didn't choose anything.
stevie
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

Post by stevie »

RJG wrote: January 14th, 2022, 12:16 pm
stevie wrote:Some thoughts just pop up and some need activation energy (effort). Of those that pop up I pay attention to some but don't pay attention to others.
Did you "choose" which thoughts to pay attention to (or give effort to) and which thoughts not to pay attention to (or not give effort to)? If so, then did you also choose the thoughts that were used in choosing which thoughts to pay attention to (and give effort to)?
First question:
As to paying attention of not paying attention I already wrote:
stevie wrote: January 14th, 2022, 4:07 am I don't experience paying attention or not as "choosing" because I am associating "thinking about" with "choosing" and I don't 'think about' a thought before I pay attention or not because the "thinking about" happened long before when generally thinking about thoughts worth to be paid attention to and not worth to be paid attention to.
As a consequence I decided earlier (or I chose earlier in the past) what kind thoughts to pay attention to and what kind of thoughts not to pay attention to in the future.

As to thoughts popping up or intentionally thought (produced with effort):
Thoughts popping up just pop up due to earlier conditioning/learning and thoughts intentionally thought (produced with effort) are not chosen because they are intentionally thought. I can speak of "choosing" only if there are several thoughts and I select one of them but that isn't the case when I think a thought intentionally (produce it with effort).
Also speaking of "choosing" doesn't apply as choosing between thoughts to pop up or intentionally thought because "choosing" is based on the prerequisite that thoughts do already exist and I selecgt one of them but they don't exist but either pop up or are intentionally thought (produced with effort).

Second question:
Question only applies to my deciding earlier (or "choosing" earlier in the past) what kind thoughts to pay attention to and what kind of thoughts not to pay attention to in the future. And yes, I chose the thoughts that made me decide (or chose) what kind thoughts to pay attention to and what kind of thoughts not to pay attention to in the future.
RJG wrote: January 14th, 2022, 12:16 pm Observational Note: We believe we have free-will because we have been pre-conditioned at a young age to believe it. It seems to me that most people here prefer to passionately defend these indoctrinated beliefs, rather than using logic to find the real truths of the matter.
I neither believe to have free will nor do I believe that my thinking/activities are determined independent of my will.
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LuckyR
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

Post by LuckyR »

RJG wrote: January 14th, 2022, 3:32 pm
LuckyR wrote:Well since according to you we give our thoughts to ourselves, then by definition: yes, we are choosing the thoughts that we use in choosing.
So then it appears that you agree with me that we do not "consciously" choose our thoughts, nor our choices; they are "given" to us by our non-conscious, physical selves. And therefore, without conscious choosing, there can be no free-will.
Not so much. Neither you nor I know how human decision making occurs at the most granular level. You are describing one of many possibilities. Until these details are known, the process of decision making will not provide the answer you are seeking (the presence or absence of Free Will).

Luckily there are other methods for getting at the same answer. One is evaluating whether or not the same antecedent state (in your case, of the non-conscious, physical self) always leads to the same resultant state (human decision or "choice" or selection). If you do that analysis you'll see that as far as can be measured (which may not be detailed enough currently to demonstrate this effect) different and unpredictable resultant states occur. In other words identically as if Free Will was in effect. This state of affairs does not prove the existance of Free Will, but is consistent with it.
"As usual... it depends."
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Pattern-chaser
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

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RJG wrote:…if we don't know what we choose until 'after' we chose it, then this is not necessarily considered as having free-will.
Pattern-chaser wrote:It isn't? Why not?
RJG wrote: January 14th, 2022, 1:41 pm If we didn't consciously/knowingly select our choice, then what is so "free" about that? If our choices are "given" to us (to our conscious selves), then we did not consciously select them! ...meaning no free-will!

If we wish to define "free-will" as choices "given" to us (or made for us), then your view would be correct. But I don't think most people interpret free-will as choices "given" to us. I think most people interpret "free will" with consciously choosing.
So your conception of "free will" is that choices must be made by a small and particular corner of your mind - your so-called 'conscious mind' - or they are not "free"? What of the rest of your mind? Is it not a part of 'you'? Can the rest of your mind not also make 'choices'? Your position confuses me....
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RJG
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

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stevie wrote:As a consequence I decided earlier (or I chose earlier in the past) what kind thoughts to pay attention to and what kind of thoughts not to pay attention to in the future.
Stevie, what made you decide/choose earlier? Did you choose those thoughts that made you decide/choose earlier?

Kicking the can back down the street doesn't help. If you didn't choose the thoughts that chose which thoughts to pay attention to, then again, you really didn't choose anything.

stevie wrote:As to thoughts popping up or intentionally thought (produced with effort):
Thoughts popping up just pop up due to earlier conditioning/learning and thoughts intentionally thought (produced with effort) are not chosen because they are intentionally thought. I can speak of "choosing" only if there are several thoughts and I select one of them but that isn't the case when I think a thought intentionally (produce it with effort).
Also speaking of "choosing" doesn't apply as choosing between thoughts to pop up or intentionally thought because "choosing" is based on the prerequisite that thoughts do already exist and I selecgt one of them but they don't exist but either pop up or are intentionally thought (produced with effort).
Why did you intentionally pop thought A into your head, and not a different thought, like thought K?

Again, we can't choose (intentional or otherwise) which thoughts pop into our head. We are "given" our thoughts.

**********
LuckyR wrote:Neither you nor I know how human decision making occurs at the most granular level. You are describing one of many possibilities. Until these details are known, the process of decision making will not provide the answer you are seeking (the presence or absence of Free Will).
Lucky, I agree that we really don't know what causes our choices, but logically we know what doesn't cause them.

If we define "free-will" as "conscious control" or "conscious causation", then logically, free-will is impossible. Logically, our choices cannot be made "consciously".

If we can't consciously choose the thoughts that we are conscious of, then logically we don't have conscious control, aka free-will. We don't/can't really choose anything.

**********
Pattern-chaser wrote:So your conception of "free will" is that choices must be made by a small and particular corner of your mind - your so-called 'conscious mind' - or they are not "free"? What of the rest of your mind? Is it not a part of 'you'? Can the rest of your mind not also make 'choices'? Your position confuses me....
Yes, I associate "free-will" with "conscious control" or "conscious causation",

A non-conscious choice is called a "reaction", not "free-will".
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Rhys Griffin
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

Post by Rhys Griffin »

RJG wrote: January 14th, 2022, 9:58 pm
Rhys Griffin wrote:I would submit that the question about choosing thoughts is illuminated by distinguishing choice of action from choice of thought.

Choice of action necessarily occurs in regard to a given array of alternative actions. The array limits my available choices. Another limit is my own perception of the array of possibilities. I may think my choice is only between chocolate and vanilla, when in fact there are seven other flavors on hand, ones I don't see. Are we to conclude that such a limited choice is in no way free? No. It is free within the corral of available possibilities
Hi Rhys, the point of my OP is that we can't logically choose 'anything'. We can't choose our thoughts, we can't choose our actions, we can't choose what ice cream to eat. Our choices have already been made for us (given to us) prior to us becoming conscious of them.

Rhys Griffin wrote:I may choose to enter into one of the conversational stream, or I may choose to introduce a new subject…
If you did not choose the thoughts that you used in choosing, then you really didn't choose anything.
RJG,
I think a case can be made, as you have done, that we don't/can't logically choose anything; but I disagree. I think that such a definition of choice is too narrow. It also sets too high a logical bar which seems to eliminate the sense of choice and the act of choosing among an array of givens. I would suggest that the preponderance of personal testimony that we do in fact choose freely occasionally can't be swept aside by a narrow logic. We differ here.
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RJG
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

Post by RJG »

Rhys Griffin wrote:RJG, I think a case can be made, as you have done, that we don't/can't logically choose anything; but I disagree. I think that such a definition of choice is too narrow. It also sets too high a logical bar which seems to eliminate the sense of choice and the act of choosing among an array of givens. I would suggest that the preponderance of personal testimony that we do in fact choose freely occasionally can't be swept aside by a narrow logic. We differ here.
Rhys, the question then is, are these "personal testimonials of free choice" actually of free choice or of illusions of free choice?

If people want to believe they have free choice, even though it is logically impossible, then I don't want to burst their bubble, nor do I want to try to persuade them to believe otherwise.

But the few of us that discuss this topic on a philosophy forum are normally here trying to get to the real truths of things (good, bad, or ugly). We are not typically the sort of people that want to only believe and justify "feel-good" truths.

We are here having these discussions on a philosophy forum because we desire to know the real truths. If free-will is logically impossible, and this is an ugly truth, then damn it, so be it!

For me personally, I would rather die knowing the real truths than fairy-tale truths.
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Rhys Griffin
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

Post by Rhys Griffin »

RJG wrote: January 15th, 2022, 11:28 am
Rhys Griffin wrote:RJG, I think a case can be made, as you have done, that we don't/can't logically choose anything; but I disagree. I think that such a definition of choice is too narrow. It also sets too high a logical bar which seems to eliminate the sense of choice and the act of choosing among an array of givens. I would suggest that the preponderance of personal testimony that we do in fact choose freely occasionally can't be swept aside by a narrow logic. We differ here.
Rhys, the question then is, are these "personal testimonials of free choice" actually of free choice or of illusions of free choice?

If people want to believe they have free choice, even though it is logically impossible, then I don't want to burst their bubble, nor do I want to try to persuade them to believe otherwise.

But the few of us that discuss this topic on a philosophy forum are normally here trying to get to the real truths of things (good, bad, or ugly). We are not typically the sort of people that want to only believe and justify "feel-good" truths.

We are here having these discussions on a philosophy forum because we desire to know the real truths. If free-will is logically impossible, and this is an ugly truth, then damn it, so be it!

For me personally, I would rather die knowing the real truths than fairy-tale truths.
Thanks for your spirited response, but I am not one to elevate logic to the position you clearly do. Logic is a tool, not a flawless guide to all truth. Philosophy is far more than an exercise in logic. Consider me a Radical Empiricist after the order of William James, not an Idealist. I am also not inclined to dismiss strongly documented empirical results to fairy-tales. That is disrespectful of a phenomenological approach.

But to go back to logic, I find the determinist argument circular. It states that all acts and all thoughts are fully caused by prior forces, with no breath of the fresh air of freedom at any point. The argument states that even this posting is determined, and your response is determined, and we are incapable stepping out of a causal stream, and any insistence on free choice is deluded (a fairy tale) and proof of the deterministic argument. The circularity is stunning.
P1: All events in the universe are caused.
P2: All human thoughts and actions are events in the universe.
C: All human thought and actions are caused.

The circularity is in the form of definitions which beg the question.

I would also introduce the word "influenced." I grant that all human actions and thoughts are influenced by a prior causal stream. But influence is not the same as caused. Influence establishes a context ( the "occasion" I mentioned earlier). But a truly free person is conceivably capable to discerning the power and role of influence in their lives and is able to choose otherwise. For free will to be real, it is not necessary to prove that all people are always capable of free will. Most of us aren't.

That said, let me reiterate that I do not consider all accounts of personal free will to be valid. Our capacities for self-delusion are endless. The play of determinism in our lives is vast. My own position is that most of us, most of the time, are deluded to think that we act freely, and few of us have the capacity or inclination to explore the causal streams which direct our choices. I do take a developmental view of life, that some capacities appear in later stages of life, e.g. personal freedom of thought and action.

I am sorry you see my position (a classic Compatibilist position) as "feel good." I respect your position, although I disagree. My own position doesn't always "feel good," but I believe it is logically and empirically sound. I invite respect in return. I am also sorry that you seem to see me as an inappropriate participant in these discussions. Apparently only determinist logicians need apply.
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LuckyR
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

Post by LuckyR »

RJG wrote: January 15th, 2022, 9:52 am
LuckyR wrote:Neither you nor I know how human decision making occurs at the most granular level. You are describing one of many possibilities. Until these details are known, the process of decision making will not provide the answer you are seeking (the presence or absence of Free Will).
Lucky, I agree that we really don't know what causes our choices, but logically we know what doesn't cause them.

If we define "free-will" as "conscious control" or "conscious causation", then logically, free-will is impossible. Logically, our choices cannot be made "consciously".

If we can't consciously choose the thoughts that we are conscious of, then logically we don't have conscious control, aka free-will. We don't/can't really choose anything.
Well, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and since all known objective observations are consistent with Free Will, I'm afraid that online Forum claims aren't going to cut it.
"As usual... it depends."
stevie
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

Post by stevie »

RJG wrote: January 15th, 2022, 9:52 am
stevie wrote:As a consequence I decided earlier (or I chose earlier in the past) what kind thoughts to pay attention to and what kind of thoughts not to pay attention to in the future.
Stevie, what made you decide/choose earlier? Did you choose those thoughts that made you decide/choose earlier?

Kicking the can back down the street doesn't help. If you didn't choose the thoughts that chose which thoughts to pay attention to, then again, you really didn't choose anything.
Question 1:
I decided to decide/choose earlier.
Question 2:
Studying particular philosophical treatises (incl. epistemology) made me decide/choose earlier. And yes, I did chose the thoughts that made me decide/choose earlier through deciding to study these but not those treatises and because I decided to compare the thoughts in different treatises.

RJG wrote: January 15th, 2022, 9:52 am
stevie wrote:As to thoughts popping up or intentionally thought (produced with effort):
Thoughts popping up just pop up due to earlier conditioning/learning and thoughts intentionally thought (produced with effort) are not chosen because they are intentionally thought. I can speak of "choosing" only if there are several thoughts and I select one of them but that isn't the case when I think a thought intentionally (produce it with effort).
Also speaking of "choosing" doesn't apply as choosing between thoughts to pop up or intentionally thought because "choosing" is based on the prerequisite that thoughts do already exist and I selecgt one of them but they don't exist but either pop up or are intentionally thought (produced with effort).
Why did you intentionally pop thought A into your head, and not a different thought, like thought K?
You missed my point. I have spoken of two different categories of thoughts: 1. those that pop up and 2. those that are intentionally thought. And of of the first category I said:
stevie wrote: January 15th, 2022, 2:56 am Thoughts popping up just pop up due to earlier conditioning/learning
But what conditions the thoughts that pop up later is what you have in your hands because you decide what thoughts you are going to engage in at present. It is just that either it may take some time to get aware of this or one may never get aware of this.

RJG wrote: January 15th, 2022, 9:52 am Again, we can't choose (intentional or otherwise) which thoughts pop into our head. We are "given" our thoughts.
Not quite right. Depending on self-conditioning through earlier thinking/reading/studying certain thoughts will pop up in the future. So you have it "in your hands" what kind of thoughts will pop up in the future through the kind of thoughts you engage in at present. But that refers to the first category of thoughts that pop up. As to the second category of thoughts thought intentionally those depend on the goals that are set before because intention depends on earler goal-setting.
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Re: Do we really choose anything?

Post by stevie »

RJG wrote: January 15th, 2022, 9:52 am Again, we can't choose (intentional or otherwise) which thoughts pop into our head. We are "given" our thoughts.
If you condition yourself with such a belief you will deprive yourself of a considerable degree of cognitive autonomy.
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