Announcement: Your votes are in! The January 2019 Philosophy Book of the Month is The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World by David Eagleman and Anthony Brandt.

The many faces of the free will problem

Discuss any topics related to metaphysics (the philosophical study of the principles of reality) or epistemology (the philosophical study of knowledge) in this forum.
Post Reply
Relinquish
Posts: 85
Joined: August 19th, 2013, 8:23 pm

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Relinquish » April 15th, 2017, 3:16 pm

Felix wrote:As I said earlier, it is a logical contradiction to say that all mental phenomena has a physical cause, and claim that Science is your authority for that determination. If all mental phenomena is physically caused, than independent, original thought and therefore the practice of science is not possible; it's "discoveries" are unreliable for they are not discoveries at all, but merely programmed information spit out by biocomputers.
It only seems to be suggesting that conclusion wherever the belief in separation and multiplicity is in play. The fact is that there is fundamentally only one seamless, eternally cyclic process going on in Reality. All 'things' and 'events' are simply all 'parts' of this one purposeless process.

-- Updated April 15th, 2017, 3:28 pm to add the following --

In truth, there is no real separation or multiplicity. In my thread "Life Itself", I attempt to give an explanation as to how the illusion of separation, multiplicity, and indeed free will arise.

Fcacciola
Posts: 89
Joined: February 2nd, 2017, 4:32 pm

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Fcacciola » April 15th, 2017, 4:56 pm

Relinquish wrote: Also Fcacciola, you mentioned "stupid decisions". Can you give an example of a stupid decision?
That qualification is in the context of your own arguments, so an example is any decision that move us away from happiness.

-- Updated April 15th, 2017, 6:00 pm to add the following --
Gertie wrote:Fc
The argument I find myself defending here is a pretty standard one in the free will debate, and is at least anchored in our current models of how the world works, so worthy of being addressed imo by those who assert free will exists.


Indeed. And that exactly is what we're trying to do.
Gertie wrote: My own opinion is that physical causation accounting for our behavior leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and this points to the need for a deeper explanation. A deeper explanation which encompasses conscious experience and its relationship with the stuff we can observe and measure and model. And until we have that, we can't answer the question of whether we have free will.
I agree that the answer to the question requires a much deeper understanding, though I believe that understanding is entirely within our grasp, given enough progress (which is why I said before that to me, free-will is a scientific, not philosophical problem)

-- Updated April 15th, 2017, 6:08 pm to add the following --
Belindi wrote:Free Will choices are uncaused choices.
If there are any uncaused choices, I guess you could call them free, though free-will doesn't seem to be the right term for that.

However, I don't believe there are any uncaused events, let alone choices.

For me free-will equals self-causation, and free-will (or self-causation) dost not contradict the so-called Laws of Nature in that everything is self-caused (though collectively rather than individually, through agreement and coordination)

Togo1
Posts: 541
Joined: September 23rd, 2015, 9:52 am

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Togo1 » April 15th, 2017, 5:13 pm

Relinquish wrote:As for my questions, I take it that you disagree with the notion that everybody naturally wants to be happy and nobody naturally wants to be unhappy?
Absolutely I disagree. There's a considerable body of work on this in philosophy, so you'll run into counter arguements.

One of the classic thought experiments is the big pink box. Imagine I have a big pink box. If you entered into it, it directly influences your brain, making you blissfully happy for the rest of your natural life. Unfortunately, the procedure is not reversable, so you'll be stuck in there for the rest of your life, but the box will keep you safe and healthy - more so than if you were exposed to the real world.

So, given the thesis that everyone's decisions boil down to being happy, why doesn't the big pink box sounds like paradise, rather than a vaguely creepy, easily resistable, prospect?
Relinquish wrote:As for the causality versus determinism issue, if our wills are being CAUSED to be what they are by many factors that we have no control over, in what way are we freely in control of our wills? How could we have caused our wills to be different to what they are? How is this NOT a deterministic situation?
Ok, so a quick run down on the difference. Determination is absolute, causation is local. Hence:

Causation: That event B occurs at least in part because of prior event A
Determination: That given the state of the universe at t-1, every detail of event B occurs as a matter logical necessity

Note that determiniation and causation don't fit well together. In fact there may be some issues with them co-existing at all.

The conflict is between determinism and free will, because if our actions follow as a matter of logical necessity, then there is no room for free will. Between causation and free will there is no inherent conflict, because the existance of one set of possible causes doesn't rule out other contributing factors.

Science, and empericism in general, works on causation and not on determination. It measures whether one event influences the outcome of another, which is testable, rather than whether an event occurrs as a result of logical necessity due to the prior state, which is not.

-- Updated April 15th, 2017, 8:43 pm to add the following --
Gertie wrote:
a) It assumes physical determinism, an a priori belief that has numerous issues in and of itself.
I'd rather avoid the concept of determinism which for some brings additional baggage, and stick with the straightforward claim the argument makes -
that physical causal interactions can apparently in principle explain all behaviour, therefore free will involving mental causative mental decisions is redundant/has no effect.
That's fine, but we'd need avoid concepts that depend upon assuming determinism. That would include not assuming that causation and determination are the same thing, and not assuming that the physical world can't support free will.
Gertie wrote:
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.
I don't see how.
Because the only evidence, emperical or otherwise, for mental acitvity not being a part of the physical activity, is your assumption that mental activity is seperate from physical activity. It certainly doesn't come from the science, or even from observation.
Gertie wrote:It's based on empiricism and science.
Here I believe that you are wrong on the facts. The sciences of human behaviour involve mental acitvity as being very much a part of physical activity. The only time they're seperated is when mental states would be irrelevent, such as in neurophysiology or neuroanatomy studies where behaviour isn't involved.
Gertie wrote:The argument says it looks like our behaviour can be fully explained in line with known physical science, without the need to invoke mental causation (mental decision-making and willing).
Yes, you can frame human decision making in this way. However, as I covered earlier with another poster, doing so doesn't demonstrate anything. Any set of outputs or behaviours can be framed as purely physical or as a mix. The ability to model something in a particular way isn't in itself evidence that it's the case.
Gertie wrote:
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.
Do you mean it doesn't explain why our mental experience correlates with our behaviour? I agree there.
Not only that. I mean that any model that declares mental experiences to an illusion has as much to explain, if not more, in terms of how the mind and body interact, than models that involve mental causation. It's a peril of any dualist model.

And this is the point. Claiming that our mental experience of making decisions is illusory, has no causal effect, is not a suggestion that helps solve the problem. It doesn't 'do any work', it doesn't help explain anything or help predict anything. If anything it just makes the whole system more complicated.
Gertie wrote:If the physical processes interacting causally result in the behaviour, whatever types of physical processes they are and however complex, free will is redundant.
Not at all. If you have two possible routes to cause something, the both could contribute to behaviour, even if you could trigger the behaviour with just one of them. Free will only becomes redundent if you assume a determined relationship (see my reply to Relinquish), which you've said above you want to avoid doing?
Gertie wrote:Free will is only possible if mental states play a causative role in those physical processes.
Not really. What about models where mental states are physical states, in whole or in part? You're also ignoring the possibility of mental states being a red herring, and free will being entirely physical? The only thing that rules out an entirely physical free will is your assumption that the physical world is determinisitic, an assumption you said above you wanted to avoid?
Gertie wrote:It's difficult to model behaviour on this basis because of the unimaginable complexity of the physical processes involved.
If we can't model behaviour this way in practice, then how can you say there is scientific evidence for it? How do you test behaviour you can't model?
Gertie wrote:I've made the point that unless our physical systems are capable of executing our behaviour (whether mentally caused or not), something very strange is going on which we have no evidence for.
Less strange than if mental experience plays no role at all. Let's compare them:

-If both physical and mental are seperate and both involved, then we have a mind/body problem
-If physical and mental are seperate, and physical causes everything, and mental experience has no role to play, then we still have a mind/body problem in coordinating the two , but we also have a huge amount to explain in terms of why they are coordinated, given the lack of any practical role to play.
-If physical and mental aren't seperate, then there's nothing to explain at all.

It feels to me that you're insisting on the most complicated and problematical explanation here.
Gertie wrote:
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.
Yep. I only see this argument as a problem to be accounted for by people positively asserting the existence of free will.
I don't see how it would apply to arguements for free will, since there's no illusion or element of us being fooled. Free will might violate your favoured ideas about how the world works, but since none of those ideas are logically necessary to our understanding of the world, it hardly matters. It would certainly apply to any arguement that our mental experieneces were illusory, though, because any arguement depends on the idea that our perceptions of our own experience are accurate.

Certainly the idea that our mental experience is illusory could be true, in the sense that we can never know whether anything is true. Descartes suggested a 'wicked demon' tricking us, but some kind of mental illusion would serve the same role, as would a CIA conspiracy armed with mind-control lasers. It doesn't really matter what reason you have for not trusting your own thinking, once you're there, it's pretty much game over as far as ever getting to the truth is concerned. For that reason, I'm inclined to regard any explanation that depends on us being fooled about our own thoughts with deep suspicion. Because once you go that far, you can insert any explanation you care to.

Belindi
Moderator
Posts: 1598
Joined: September 11th, 2016, 2:11 pm

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Belindi » April 16th, 2017, 3:32 am

Togo1 wrote:
Causation: That event B occurs at least in part because of prior event A
Determination: That given the state of the universe at t-1, every detail of event B occurs as a matter logical necessity
But causation is also about common cause
of events B, C , D, N-------- to unlimited common cause which is to say God or nature.

Science works to predict outcomes from common causes such as AIDS and its multiple social and clinical effects; or use of selective weed killer and its multiple effects on cereal production, the natural ecology, and the economies of developing agricultural countries.

User avatar
Felix
Posts: 2037
Joined: February 9th, 2009, 5:45 am

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Felix » April 16th, 2017, 2:28 pm

Togo1: Certainly the idea that our mental experience is illusory could be true, in the sense that we can never know whether anything is true. Descartes suggested a 'wicked demon' tricking us....
That's experience, period, you don't need to qualify it with the word mental (or physical). Descartes great insight was that the only thing we can be certain of is that we are conscious (I exist), we can doubt the existence of everything of which we are conscious. This ability to doubt our perceptions is in fact prima facie evidence for free will.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

Gertie
Posts: 609
Joined: January 7th, 2015, 7:09 am

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Gertie » April 17th, 2017, 3:41 am

Togo

Rather than go back and forth on each point, try this -

Gertie wrote:
If the physical processes interacting causally result in the behaviour, whatever types of physical processes they are and however complex, free will is redundant.
Not at all. If you have two possible routes to cause something, the both could contribute to behaviour, even if you could trigger the behaviour with just one of them. Free will only becomes redundent if you assume a determined relationship (see my reply to Relinquish), which you've said above you want to avoid doing?
Forget dualism, monism, determinism, etc for a moment, just think this through -

If the physical processes following the known rules/patterns of physical interactions (Physics, chemistry, biology), can account for all our behaviour (which if neural correlation is true they must be able to), where is there room for free will/mental experience to play a role in our behaviour?

* For every mental experience there is a correlated physical process.

* Physical processes follow observed patterns/rules of interaction.

* Therefore physical processes following known patterns of interactions can account for all our behaviour


Yet there are also good reasons (imo) to believe it does play a causal role in behaviour. That's the conundrum. And while we may have 'What If' hypotheses about how that might be explained in a way which allows for a mental role in behaviour, there is no consensus around a testable theory, therefore we don't know how or if free will could be possible or what it would actually entail.

So while we obviously disagree about the merits of some (not all) of your objections to this argument, I do agree that by ignoring mental experience it clearly doesn't tell the full story of what's going on. My position is as above, we're missing the deeper underlying explanation, and simply asserting monism (itself problematic) without an explanatory consensus on how that could actually work isn't enough. It's just a guess, trying to make sense to us of something we don't understand. We need that underlying explanation of the relationship between what we call physical stuff and mental experience to know what free will might actually mean in practice, and if/when we could have it.

-- Updated April 17th, 2017, 9:03 am to add the following --

Fc
Gertie wrote:
Fc
The argument I find myself defending here is a pretty standard one in the free will debate, and is at least anchored in our current models of how the world works, so worthy of being addressed imo by those who assert free will exists.

Indeed. And that exactly is what we're trying to do.
Hah, fair point. The thing is, when it comes to issues involving consciousness we don't have a settled consensus because there isn't one knockdown argument, they're all problematic.
Gertie wrote:
My own opinion is that physical causation accounting for our behavior leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and this points to the need for a deeper explanation. A deeper explanation which encompasses conscious experience and its relationship with the stuff we can observe and measure and model. And until we have that, we can't answer the question of whether we have free will.

I agree that the answer to the question requires a much deeper understanding, though I believe that understanding is entirely within our grasp, given enough progress (which is why I said before that to me, free-will is a scientific, not philosophical problem)
Well neuroscience is in its infancy, and the technology will become much much more sophisticated, I'm sure. Whether that's enough, combined with some clever thinking, to get us a definitive answer on free will I don't know. I'm apt to think consciousness itself is a category of problem which while we might understand the mechanics better and better, is inherently opaque to the scientific method, what Chalmers calls the hard problem. That it might not be amenable our current ways of understanding how the world works, however much better our technology is.

Togo1
Posts: 541
Joined: September 23rd, 2015, 9:52 am

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Togo1 » April 17th, 2017, 7:24 am

Gertie wrote:Togo
Gertie wrote:
If the physical processes interacting causally result in the behaviour, whatever types of physical processes they are and however complex, free will is redundant.
Not at all. If you have two possible routes to cause something, the both could contribute to behaviour, even if you could trigger the behaviour with just one of them. Free will only becomes redundent if you assume a determined relationship (see my reply to Relinquish), which you've said above you want to avoid doing?
Forget dualism, monism, determinism, etc for a moment, just think this through -

If the physical processes following the known rules/patterns of physical interactions (Physics, chemistry, biology), can account for all our behaviour (which if neural correlation is true they must be able to), where is there room for free will/mental experience to play a role in our behaviour?

* For every mental experience there is a correlated physical process.

* Physical processes follow observed patterns/rules of interaction.

* Therefore physical processes following known patterns of interactions can account for all our behaviour
[/quote]

Ok, now think this through:

If the mental processes following the known rules/patterns of mental interactions (Psychology, Psychiatry, Broadbent et al., etc.), can account for all our behaviour (which if neural correlation is true they must be able to), where is there room for physical processes to play a role in our behaviour?

* For every (voluntary) physical behaviour there is a correlated mental process

* Mental processes follow observed patterns/rules of interaction

* Therefore mental processes following known patterns of interactions can account for all our behaviour


Note I'm not asking you to believe in the above, but I am asking you why you feel that what you have presented is a problem for mental processes that needs to be solved, and yet don't find the above equally compelling? I used exactly the same logical structure.

I can tell you it's not the evidence. Broadbent, and the cognitive psychologists of the 1970s, got a heck of a lot closer to a close, consistent and predictive model of human behaviour using purely mental models than any purely physical model before or since. As far as the science goes, strictly speaking my presentation is better supported than yours is.

That we can use the same logical structure to demontrate two contradictory things is evidence of a logical hole in this structure. The hole is the idea that because a process can potentially explain our behaviour by itself, that somehow means other processes can't be involved. I hope my example above has shown you that that simply isn't true.

If not, here is a more extreme example:

If our social experiences following the known rules/patterns of Marxist teachings (class struggle, power adhering to identity groups, insert other Marxism here), can account for all our behaviour (which if neural correlation is true they must be able to), where is there room for physical processes to play a role in our behaviour?

* For every social experience there is a correlated physical process.

* Marxist interactions follow observed patterns/rules of interaction.

* Therefore social experiences following known patterns of Marxist interactions can account for all our behaviour

Does that make the problem clearer? Note that Marxists can and do try and explain all our behaviour in their terms. As to Freudians, Economists, Politicians, Journalists, Scientists, Psycho-Therapists, String Theorists and neo-Behaviorists. Oh, and Lawyers. And any romantic partners you may have. Competing explanations for our behaviour is not a problem to be solved, it's business as usual.

It only becomes a problem if your explanation is somehow special, in that it explains everything at a somehow more fundemental level, such that all other explanations reduce into yours, and in doing so have to adopt the characteristics and limitations of your own explanation. That isn't a feature of science, or scientific theory. It is a feature of determinism, which is why I keep bringing the term up.
Gertie wrote:I'm apt to think consciousness itself is a category of problem which while we might understand the mechanics better and better, is inherently opaque to the scientific method, what Chalmers calls the hard problem. That it might not be amenable our current ways of understanding how the world works, however much better our technology is.
I'd agree. I don't see how any technological advances would allow us to solve the problem.

Gertie
Posts: 609
Joined: January 7th, 2015, 7:09 am

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Gertie » April 17th, 2017, 9:58 am

Togo
It only becomes a problem if your explanation is somehow special, in that it explains everything at a somehow more fundemental level, such that all other explanations reduce into yours, and in doing so have to adopt the characteristics and limitations of your own explanation.
Yes I agree this argument does have that burden. And I think the necessary and sufficient nature of the argument gives it that required edge against the other examples you gave. Mental deciding and willing alone can't cause anything to happen (I can't will the orange to come to me), and are in principle behaviourally reducible to physical interactions, which have understood causal effects.

Which of course leaves us to explain why mental desires, fears, reasoning etc evolved...

Togo1
Posts: 541
Joined: September 23rd, 2015, 9:52 am

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Togo1 » April 17th, 2017, 1:07 pm

Gertie wrote:
It only becomes a problem if your explanation is somehow special, in that it explains everything at a somehow more fundemental level, such that all other explanations reduce into yours, and in doing so have to adopt the characteristics and limitations of your own explanation.
Yes I agree this argument does have that burden. And I think the necessary and sufficient nature of the argument gives it that required edge against the other examples you gave.
<facepalm>

Ok, much of the point of my somewhat lengthy post is that there isn't anything contained within the argument that allows you reach that conclusion. It's just a collection of statements that allow you to reach more or less any of a set of contradictory conclusions. The argument itself doesn't distinguish between them. Now if you have something else that you want to rely on, is that not an entirely different argument?

If you have a reason for thinking that your formulation is either necessary or sufficient in a way that others aren't, can you say what it is? From my point of view they are all sufficient, and none of them are necessary.
Gertie wrote:Mental deciding and willing alone can't cause anything to happen (I can't will the orange to come to me)
Yes, they can. As can be demonstrated by, for example, counting. What causes you to think 'four'? Having previously thought 'three'.

Is it perhaps that you feel that deciding and willing alone can't cause anything physical to happen. But again this isn't true, since thinking about reaching out and grasping the apples can indeed cause you to reach out and grasp the apple. I suspect what you really mean is that mental deciding and willing alone shouldn't cause anything to happen, even though it clearly looks like it does in practice, because that would violate your understanding of the universe, and your assumptions about how it operates. Specifically that all mental events...
Gertie wrote:are in principle behaviourally reducible to physical interactions, which have understood causal effects.
This principle is otherwise known as physicalism. Note that this isn't science. Science itself has no problem with mental events and causation between mental events, concepts it uses extensively in predictive models. It certainly has no requirement to reduce everything to non-mental events.

This is the point we keep on coming back to. The arguements are not taking the situation and identifying a contradiction or problem. They are merely serving as a vehicle for showing how the idea of mental causation violates principles you hold a priori. Physicalism and determinism.
Gertie wrote:Which of course leaves us to explain why mental desires, fears, reasoning etc evolved...


For a physicalist, this is indeed a problem. If you're not a physicalist, mental events do useful work, and there's no mystery as why they occur.

Belindi
Moderator
Posts: 1598
Joined: September 11th, 2016, 2:11 pm

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Belindi » April 18th, 2017, 5:55 am

Togo1 wrote:
This principle is otherwise known as physicalism. Note that this isn't science. Science itself has no problem with mental events and causation between mental events, concepts it uses extensively in predictive models. It certainly has no requirement to reduce everything to non-mental events.
Would you say that the approach to mental illness which combines psychiatry and neuroscience is an example of science having no problem with mental events and physical events used extensively in predictive models? I would and I'd add that this is a practical and efficacious application of that in the real social world right now.

Gertie
Posts: 609
Joined: January 7th, 2015, 7:09 am

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Gertie » April 18th, 2017, 6:40 am

(Nested quote removed.)



Yes I agree this argument does have that burden. And I think the necessary and sufficient nature of the argument gives it that required edge against the other examples you gave.
<facepalm>

Ok, much of the point of my somewhat lengthy post is that there isn't anything contained within the argument that allows you reach that conclusion. It's just a collection of statements that allow you to reach more or less any of a set of contradictory conclusions. The argument itself doesn't distinguish between them. Now if you have something else that you want to rely on, is that not an entirely different argument?

If you have a reason for thinking that your formulation is either necessary or sufficient in a way that others aren't, can you say what it is? From my point of view they are all sufficient, and none of them are necessary.
OK, to spell it out.

Physical causation alone can in principle apparently account for all the examples you gave, it is causally necessary and sufficient.

The reason you can't will an orange to come to you is that mental causation alone isn't causally necessary and sufficient. It requires a physical causal chain. That's the difference.

I'm not denying that you can create psychological and social models of behaviour (neural correlation entails you can). But they're don't have the necessary and sufficient causality. And it's the physical causal interactions they require which appears to provide the necessary and sufficient conditions to fully account for the behaviour.

That's why this a standard argument against free will. Not because everyone who thinks it has some merit is making unwarranted assumptions. It's because according to our current understanding of how the world works , physical interaction can account for all behaviour. In conscious and unconscious systems. Now in conscious systems we have this additional property of mental experience which correlates with our behaviour, but no understanding of how it could 'interfere' with the course of physical cause and effect interactions we see operating everywhere else in the world, and fully accounting for how the world works according to our scientific models.

Therefore it looks like there is no need to invoke mental states as causal, physical interactions are all that's necessary to explain the behaviour of conscious as well as unconscious processes. So how can anything worth calling free will exist.
Gertie wrote:
Mental deciding and willing alone can't cause anything to happen (I can't will the orange to come to me)
Yes, they can. As can be demonstrated by, for example, counting. What causes you to think 'four'? Having previously thought 'three'.
No, if you're claiming mental causation alone can account for your thinking 'four' after thinking 'three', then you're saying the physical interactions of the neural correlates of those mental states have no causal role. Are you really claiming that?

Our current scientific model would mean that thinking 'four' after 'three' is fully causally accounted for by the preceding neural interactions. And those are fully accounted for by the ones preceding them, and so on. Whether those physical interactions are predictable, probabilistic or random. So when you think 'three' what's happening in you brain is a complex network of neural connections are exchanging electro-chemical charges, which in turn 'spark' the neural configuration which correlates with thinking 'four' and so on, configurations which were formed years ago in school, and reinforced every time they're sparked.

This isn't easy to grasp because of the immense complexity of neuronal interaction involved, but neural correlation means that level of complexity must be possible. Unless something else is going on in brains aside from what we observe.
Is it perhaps that you feel that deciding and willing alone can't cause anything physical to happen.
No. See the reasoned points above.


But again this isn't true, since thinking about reaching out and grasping the apples can indeed cause you to reach out and grasp the apple. I suspect what you really mean is that mental deciding and willing alone shouldn't cause anything to happen, even though it clearly looks like it does in practice, because that would violate your understanding of the universe, and your assumptions about how it operates. Specifically that all mental events...
Gertie wrote:
are in principle behaviourally reducible to physical interactions, which have understood causal effects.
No. See the reasoned points above.
This is the point we keep on coming back to. The arguements are not taking the situation and identifying a contradiction or problem. They are merely serving as a vehicle for showing how the idea of mental causation violates principles you hold a priori. Physicalism and determinism.
Or to put it another way, I keep making time-consuming detailed reasoned arguments spelling out every point, and instead of responding to the arguments you keep hand-waving with vague statements like this and picking out from the details new hares for me to chase... so enough of the face palming thank you!

Gertie wrote:
Which of course leaves us to explain why mental desires, fears, reasoning etc evolved...

For a physicalist, this is indeed a problem. If you're not a physicalist, mental events do useful work, and there's no mystery as why they occur.
Really?

1) How do mental events occur, what's the explanation?

2) How are they causal? How does this work in practice, for example how does thinking make my arm move, what's the causal explanation?

Lay out the details, how the explanation works.

Fcacciola
Posts: 89
Joined: February 2nd, 2017, 4:32 pm

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Fcacciola » April 18th, 2017, 7:49 am

Gertie wrote: If the physical processes following the known rules/patterns of physical interactions (Physics, chemistry, biology), can account for all our behaviour (which if neural correlation is true they must be able to), where is there room for free will/mental experience to play a role in our behaviour?
Suppose all these physical processes would follow the known rules/patterns of physical interactions simply because the entities involved (say, quarks) use their free-will to choose to do so. Our observations would be exactly the same, yet, that "following" would be due to self-causation and not something else (such a determinism, teleological causation or just chaos)

Is easy too see how we could think of the components of my body, the air around me, and the internet as free-will agents (since there is no evidence to the contrary); and in that case the remaining hard problem is how does that relate to our own free-will.
But let's not try to answer that now because the free-will of the very fabric of reality is more fundamental and logically necessary first.
Gertie wrote: * For every mental experience there is a correlated physical process.
Not really. Not in the way you mean that (as I reason from the way you use this sentence below)

First, is far from the truth to claim that we've correlated every mental experience. Even to the extent that we could have "mapped" the full range of all possible experiences, it just hasn't been done.

Second, we've seen neural correlations with the measurement of mental experiences. But to measure a mental experience, it also needs to be correlated with an explicit signal that can be used to mark the occurrence of the experience. But then, in order for the signal to be itself produced, the experience needs to be processed far enough, which makes the neural correlation unclear: is it the mental experience itself or its signaling what we correlate?
Something like the making of a decision is not a proper observable that can be correlated to anything (neural activity or whatever) [see our digress on the Liden experiments]
Gertie wrote: * Physical processes follow observed patterns/rules of interaction.
Yes, though as I mentioned above, the observation of patterns being followed does not on itself say anything for, or against, free-will (of the very elements following the patterns).

Gertie wrote: * Therefore physical processes following known patterns of interactions can account for all our behaviour
Except that "all of our behavior" does not follow from the first premise as you intended.

But in any case, again as I said above, even if the premise about correlating all mental experiences to physical processes where true (which isn't), this conclusion would be correct, yet, it could only mean that free-will might indeed exist, for quarks for example, and is just that it is not us who have it.

It seems to me that all arguments against free-will fall for the fallacy of considering our current scientific knowledge complete enough.
In my humble but informed opinion, to regard our current knowledge as large and deep enough to render free-will (or anything for that matter) logically unnecessary is to be fooled by technology, mainstream academia and higher education.
Gertie wrote:there is no consensus around a testable theory, therefore we don't know how or if free will could be possible or what it would actually entail.
This much I agree. Though that doesn't mean we cannot make tiny steps forward.
Gertie wrote: Hah, fair point. The thing is, when it comes to issues involving consciousness we don't have a settled consensus because there isn't one knockdown argument, they're all problematic.
And even those which probably are not problematic (I believe the views I've presented here are such an example), still need to be tested, since just making sense isn't enough.
Gertie wrote: Well neuroscience is in its infancy, and the technology will become much much more sophisticated, I'm sure. Whether that's enough, combined with some clever thinking, to get us a definitive answer on free will I don't know. I'm apt to think consciousness itself is a category of problem which while we might understand the mechanics better and better, is inherently opaque to the scientific method, what Chalmers calls the hard problem. That it might not be amenable our current ways of understanding how the world works, however much better our technology is.
I agree.

However, the thing about consciousness is that our own doesn't really need to be scientifically explored as we do with the external reality. We do need to reason about it, sure, in order to bring it up into the rational layer, but there is an inner knowledge about our own nature that we just have, and does not need to be constructed from the outside.

As it turns out, we have no problem attributing consciousness to other people, even though that is actually unobservable, for consciousness is an intrinsic property, only externalizable indirectly. Yet, we can and do match something about ourselves in other people and simply infer they ought to be conscious as we are. Granted, there are limits to that, and there is room for error (for instance, we easily animate things on purpose, like cartoons, and little kids think they are real conscious entities)[and that is why the "Turing Test" would actually never really work], but automagically recognizing external consciousness might be (and seems to be, to me) an innate ability. Consequently, while scientific exploration can only bring us to the front door of this intrinsic realm (within which the truth about free-will resides), I believe we can fill in the rest if indeed all of reality is made of conscious stuff (as I think it is).

Togo1
Posts: 541
Joined: September 23rd, 2015, 9:52 am

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Togo1 » April 18th, 2017, 10:21 am

Belindi wrote:Togo1 wrote:
This principle is otherwise known as physicalism. Note that this isn't science. Science itself has no problem with mental events and causation between mental events, concepts it uses extensively in predictive models. It certainly has no requirement to reduce everything to non-mental events.
Would you say that the approach to mental illness which combines psychiatry and neuroscience is an example of science having no problem with mental events and physical events used extensively in predictive models? I would and I'd add that this is a practical and efficacious application of that in the real social world right now.
Yes absoutely.

Psychiatry is the medical profession. You have to be an MD, and have a medical license, and most of the treatment regiemes are pharmalogical. In the US, psychiatry gets confused with clinical psychology and psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is your 'talking cure', the Freudian, behaviorial, etc. therapies. A clinical psychologist is someone who treats mental illness through non-medical means, generally physical and cognitive therapies, essentially mental training. They also do a great deal of performance measurement.

So for treatment in a mental institution you'll have a mix of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. Yes, it's true that they use a mix of therapy and drug treatment, but they aren't separated into mental and physical events. Even drug therapy is based on attempting to treat mental, rather than behavioural symptoms. Cognitive therapy has measureable physical effects.

There's been a facinating breakthrough recently with patients in a persistent vegatative state. These patients are alive, but don't take actions or respond in any way to anything which means there is no way of telling if they are actually conscious or aware of the outside world. However, they've found a way to communicate with them. They tell them to imagine different things in their heads, either playing tennis or watching TV. Tennis for yes, TV for no. They then use an MRI scanner to work out which areas of the brain are firing up, and thus what they're thinking about. As a result they now have communication with these patients for the first time in years.

So that's a good example of scientists using explicitly mental events and explicitly physical events in conjunction.

Gertie
Posts: 609
Joined: January 7th, 2015, 7:09 am

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Gertie » April 19th, 2017, 4:02 am

Fc
Gertie wrote:
If the physical processes following the known rules/patterns of physical interactions (Physics, chemistry, biology), can account for all our behaviour (which if neural correlation is true they must be able to), where is there room for free will/mental experience to play a role in our behaviour?

Suppose all these physical processes would follow the known rules/patterns of physical interactions simply because the entities involved (say, quarks) use their free-will to choose to do so. Our observations would be exactly the same, yet, that "following" would be due to self-causation and not something else (such a determinism, teleological causation or just chaos)

Is easy too see how we could think of the components of my body, the air around me, and the internet as free-will agents (since there is no evidence to the contrary); and in that case the remaining hard problem is how does that relate to our own free-will.
But let's not try to answer that now because the free-will of the very fabric of reality is more fundamental and logically necessary first.

Yes theoretically that could work.

It's not an easy fit with our observations of consciousness being associated with complex systems, suggesting consciousness is an emergent property, but the fault could lie in our limited ability to observe and interpret.

There's no reason why consciousness can't be a fundamental property of the world, and free will its fundamental causality, we don't know.

Gertie wrote:
* For every mental experience there is a correlated physical process.

Not really. Not in the way you mean that (as I reason from the way you use this sentence below)

First, is far from the truth to claim that we've correlated every mental experience. Even to the extent that we could have "mapped" the full range of all possible experiences, it just hasn't been done.
You're right that we haven't (yet) correlated every mental experience, a mammoth task, but all the evidence we have points that way, so it's an evidenced assumption. If contrary evidence turns up, that would be an exciting game changer.
Second, we've seen neural correlations with the measurement of mental experiences. But to measure a mental experience, it also needs to be correlated with an explicit signal that can be used to mark the occurrence of the experience. But then, in order for the signal to be itself produced, the experience needs to be processed far enough, which makes the neural correlation unclear: is it the mental experience itself or its signaling what we correlate?
Something like the making of a decision is not a proper observable that can be correlated to anything (neural activity or whatever) [see our digress on the Liden experiments]
Isn't that a measurement problem rather than an argument against neural correlation in principle? You're right that it's significant when looking at experiments like Libet's, but it's an issue subsequent experimenters are aware of and I think improved technology will help there. We're in a 'wait and see' situation, altho there's an inbuilt problem when 'measuring' mental activity, in that we're always reliant on self-reports.

I think the split brain experiments might support a complementary hypothesis that there's a part of our brain which constructs coherent narratives/models out of the myriad flashing momentarily experienced sights, sounds, sensations, memories, emotions, etc which flash through our minds, or at least constructs coherent answers to internal/external questions when we reflect. It's possible this might explain our intuitive sense that we freely will our actions, at least sometimes. Early days tho.
Gertie wrote:
* Physical processes follow observed patterns/rules of interaction.

Yes, though as I mentioned above, the observation of patterns being followed does not on itself say anything for, or against, free-will (of the very elements following the patterns).
The larger argument is that it appears that physical processes can fully explain behaviour, so mental causation is redundant. That doesn't mean there aren't deeper explanations which can still encompass free will (like yours). But there is no settled deeper explanation, so imo we're not in a position to simply assert the existence of free will based on our current understanding of how the world works.
It seems to me that all arguments against free-will fall for the fallacy of considering our current scientific knowledge complete enough.
In my humble but informed opinion, to regard our current knowledge as large and deep enough to render free-will (or anything for that matter) logically unnecessary is to be fooled by technology, mainstream academia and higher education.
I half agree, in that I don't believe our current understanding of the world enables us to give a Yes or No answer on free will. So you could just as easily say our own self-reflective intuitions fool us.

What we're lacking is an understanding of the relationship between what we call 'the mental' and 'the physical' to base an answer in.
ertie wrote:
there is no consensus around a testable theory, therefore we don't know how or if free will could be possible or what it would actually entail.

This much I agree. Though that doesn't mean we cannot make tiny steps forward.
Sure.

Bottom line we know we don't understand the relationship between physical stuff and mental experience. Mental experience doesn't even get a mention in the Standard Model which is supposed to explain (according to some physicists :wink: ) what the world is made of and how it works. Clearly our understanding is incomplete (I think only barmy physical eliminitivists would disagree).


This thread has been looking at the evidence we already have and trying to draw inferences. So on the one 'side' you can draw an inference that if physical interactions can in principle fully account for all behaviour, free will can't be possible. On the other 'side' you can infer that free will must be causal, because we evolved to make mental decisions which correlate with our behaviour. Or whatever argument strikes a chord with you, none are airtight or conclusive. My opinion is that the inferences themselves point not an answer one way or another, but to a need for a deeper explanation which resolves them all.

But maybe some new knockout evidence will turn up for or against free will, as the technology improves - say some future Libet will be able to study neural patterns and predict an answer before the subject knows what question is going to be asked. But as long as consciousness remains unexplained, then I'm not sure how definitive any evidence can be, as there might always be underlying explanation which could raise doubts. (Like yours - I don't think even such an experiment would necessarily disprove your hypothesis, because we wouldn't know what was 'motivating' the quarks).
Gertie wrote:
Hah, fair point. The thing is, when it comes to issues involving consciousness we don't have a settled consensus because there isn't one knockdown argument, they're all problematic.
And even those which probably are not problematic (I believe the views I've presented here are such an example), still need to be tested, since just making sense isn't enough.
Yep.
Gertie wrote:
Well neuroscience is in its infancy, and the technology will become much much more sophisticated, I'm sure. Whether that's enough, combined with some clever thinking, to get us a definitive answer on free will I don't know. I'm apt to think consciousness itself is a category of problem which while we might understand the mechanics better and better, is inherently opaque to the scientific method, what Chalmers calls the hard problem. That it might not be amenable our current ways of understanding how the world works, however much better our technology is.
I agree.

However, the thing about consciousness is that our own doesn't really need to be scientifically explored as we do with the external reality. We do need to reason about it, sure, in order to bring it up into the rational layer, but there is an inner knowledge about our own nature that we just have, and does not need to be constructed from the outside.

As it turns out, we have no problem attributing consciousness to other people, even though that is actually unobservable, for consciousness is an intrinsic property, only externalizable indirectly. Yet, we can and do match something about ourselves in other people and simply infer they ought to be conscious as we are. Granted, there are limits to that, and there is room for error (for instance, we easily animate things on purpose, like cartoons, and little kids think they are real conscious entities)[and that is why the "Turing Test" would actually never really work], but automagically recognizing external consciousness might be (and seems to be, to me) an innate ability. Consequently, while scientific exploration can only bring us to the front door of this intrinsic realm (within which the truth about free-will resides), I believe we can fill in the rest if indeed all of reality is made of conscious stuff (as I think it is).
Good points. This inherent private and subjective nature of experience is what makes it an uneasy fit with objective quantifiable science isn't it. All I really know is my own experience, and you yours, everything else is inference. The subjective is certain and the objective (shared) world is inferred - I like that :). It should make us modest about what we can claim to know. It's quite possible that the world is fundamentally made of conscious stuff.

Epistemically speaking, the way I see it is that the existence of an 'outside world' at all requires a leap of faith. All be it one we have to take for practical reasons.

Once that's assumed, we have to recognise that we're limited creatures molded by evolution for utility, rather than Perfect Truth Perceivers and Understanders. So we're limited in our perceptual and cognitive capabilities, at certain levels of granularity and conceptual understanding. (QM seems 'weird' to us because we didn't evolve to operate at that level of granularity, classical physics works for us to navigate the world).

And our utilitarian systems are apt to find useful kludgy short cuts which mostly serve their purpose, but can't always be relied on. Like your example, our tendency to see agency when its not there (useful when there's a rustle in the bushes - better for our ancestors to assume it's a snake and run, than assume it's the wind). Or simply 'filling in' our optical blindspot so we don't notice it. We're not cameras, green and red don't exist out there, we play a part in constructing our models of out there, and ourselves, in useful ways which work for us.

This means our own folk psychology intuitions aren't always reliable either. We can be certain that we experience willing our arm to rise, then experience seeing it happen. But we can't be sure of the mental causal connection we intuit.

-- Updated April 19th, 2017, 9:12 am to add the following --

Togo

Apologies for getting a bit shirty yesterday, these discussions can be frustrating can't they! I can never understand why people don't just agree with me :wink:

Togo1
Posts: 541
Joined: September 23rd, 2015, 9:52 am

Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Togo1 » April 19th, 2017, 3:11 pm

Gertie wrote:
Togo wrote: (Nested quote removed.)

<facepalm>

Ok, much of the point of my somewhat lengthy post is that there isn't anything contained within the argument that allows you reach that conclusion. It's just a collection of statements that allow you to reach more or less any of a set of contradictory conclusions. The argument itself doesn't distinguish between them. Now if you have something else that you want to rely on, is that not an entirely different argument?

If you have a reason for thinking that your formulation is either necessary or sufficient in a way that others aren't, can you say what it is? From my point of view they are all sufficient, and none of them are necessary.
OK, to spell it out.

Physical causation alone can in principle apparently account for all the examples you gave, it is causally necessary and sufficient.

The reason you can't will an orange to come to you is that mental causation alone isn't causally necessary and sufficient. It requires a physical causal chain. That's the difference.
I don't see how the orange illustrates anything about necessity or sufficiency for the physical that isn't true of the mental. Mental causation can't cause a physical change without involving the physical. So what? Physical causation can't cause a mental change without involving the mental. Surely both are necessary and sufficient, or neither are.

Similarly, why would being necessary and sufficient enough? Thomas Acquinas' model that everything operates via Grace of God was both necessary and sufficient. Plenty of theories are necessary and sufficient. I prefer yours to his, but on what basis do we decide between you?

In practice, the physical action is always accompanied by the mental impulse, and if a subject doesn't consciously will himself to pick up an orange, that orange is not getting picked up. So while you can declare that your physical chain of causation can in principle do everything, in practice it doesn't appear to.

The critical step, the point at which you claim that the physical explains everything, is the point at which you claim that the mental intention, the will, the plan, is represented physically, to the extent that the mental portion becomes irrelevent. So yes, if you first assume that everything mental is physical, but not vice versa, if you first assume that causality is always physical to physical, then you can claim that physical is sufficient.

If however, you don't assume that any mental event is somehow epistomologically estranged from the physical, but that some events may have aspects of both, if you don't assume that mental and physical are entirely seperate, then doesn't the entire 'problem' disappear?
Gertie wrote:That's why this a standard argument against free will.
Um... sort of.

The common argument in philosophy is along the lines of determinist philosophers, such as Dennet and Wegner. They spend a great deal of time justifying determinism, precisely because it is necessary for their arguments to work. They do a pretty good job too. I don't agree, but there's a lot of material to work with.

Your version leaves out determinism, and just appeals to a physicalism as being methodologically familiar and thus conclusions based on it as being intuitively obvious. It's the kind of cut-down version you present philosophy to physics students - take a physical causally determined universe of a kind they're used to modelling, and show how it creates some intuitively troubling conflicts.

Which is all well and good, in it's context. But if you then take that approach, and try and build an epistomological position out of it, that is to make claims about the nature of the universe, then you need to revisit the assumptions that the original was built on. Generally methodological determinism.
Gertie wrote:Not because everyone who thinks it has some merit is making unwarranted assumptions.
They may or may not be unwarranted, but they're definitely assumptions. That's how epistomology works. You cut back your reasoning to the assumptions on which it is based and then compare them.

Look at it this way. Without assumptions, logic is impossible. Logic is a series of steps that takes you from an initial assumption to a conclusion, such that the conclusion is as certain as the initial assumption. I'm trying to ascertain what your base assumptions are.
Gertie wrote: It's because according to our current understanding of how the world works , physical interaction can account for all behaviour.
That's not unusual. Many explanations can account for all behaviour. I even gave you a sample list. We need the reason you're choosing this particular explanation over all others.
Gertie wrote:but no understanding of how it could 'interfere' with the course of physical cause and effect interactions we see operating everywhere else in the world, and fully accounting for how the world works according to our scientific models.

Scientific models include mental states, mental events, and mental intentionality, all with causal effects. Again, science is not a reason to exclude the non-physical. If you're excluding mental events, you've gone beyond the science.
Gertie wrote:
(Nested quote removed.)


Yes, they can. As can be demonstrated by, for example, counting. What causes you to think 'four'? Having previously thought 'three'.
No, if you're claiming mental causation alone can account for your thinking 'four' after thinking 'three', then you're saying the physical interactions of the neural correlates of those mental states have no causal role. Are you really claiming that?
No, I'm saying that if your formulation makes observable phenomenon inexplicable, then there is something wrong with your formulation. In this case, your instance on a total separation between physical and mental is the only thing that is making mental events problematical. When we count, it appears to be one mental event causing another. What your orange example was trying to imply was that we never see mental effort causing anything, but of course we do, we see it all the time. You have come up with an alternative physical explanation, which is fine, but it's not based on what we observe happening, it's based on your desire to explain mental events as being caused by physical ones. Any other formulation, such as mental events and physical events being the same thing, or even mental events driving physical events, you're disacarding a priori.

Note I'm not saying your beliefs are wrong, or necessarily troublesome in the right context. But they are beliefs, or assumptions about the world, and if we're looking at this epistomologically, they need to be identified and justified as such. Not because they're particularly suspect, or dodgy, but because the way in which they are identified and justified is a large part of the problem we're discussing.
Gertie wrote:
This is the point we keep on coming back to. The arguements are not taking the situation and identifying a contradiction or problem. They are merely serving as a vehicle for showing how the idea of mental causation violates principles you hold a priori. Physicalism and determinism.
Or to put it another way, I keep making time-consuming detailed reasoned arguments spelling out every point, and instead of responding to the arguments
Please identify any statement or argument, in any post, that you feel I have not responded to, and I will do so. It's not my intention to leave anything out.

As far as I can tell, the main justifications you've posted are:

a) That an example renders it intuitively obvious
b) That it fits with out understanding of science
c) That it is the only explanation that is sufficient

I've argued that each of these is untrue. Do you feel you replied to those arguments?

Have I left any out?

For my part it would be really helpful if you could spell out:

1) Why and on what basis you feel that a belief that all mental events reduce to physical ones can be justified by reference to science, despite science embracing mental events.
2) Why and on what basis you feel that an explanation that reduces everything to the physical is necessary and sufficient, but other explanations are not.
Gertie wrote:
(Nested quote removed.)


For a physicalist, this is indeed a problem. If you're not a physicalist, mental events do useful work, and there's no mystery as why they occur.
Really?

1) How do mental events occur, what's the explanation?
2) How are they causal? How does this work in practice, for example how does thinking make my arm move, what's the causal explanation?

Lay out the details, how the explanation works.
Oh, the how is indeed a problem, as it is in physicalism. What I said is that there is no mystery as to why they evolved.

Post Reply