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    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    This meandering brain-fart of mine is mostly irrelevant to the ~women~ discussion and is mostly rehashed stuff from prior writings that I'm more or less constantly mulling over. Just a warning.
    Well, wherever we've ended up, it seems a worthy and interesting discussion to me. I'm sure the internets will forgive us a little off-topic musing. I have no prior writings to rehash on this subject, so this is entirely off the top of my head. As such, I reserve the right to revise my views based on available evidence and/or rational argument! Just a warning in return :)


    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    Right, there's a basic problem of kind here. Our genetic template is as much a part of "the environment" as a quasar or a single photon or other people's templates. The supposed dichotomy of nature and nurture doesn't really seem to be a dichotomy but rather two different perspectives on one thing. In a sense this is self-annihilative, which doesn't bother me.
    Sure, but I feel this has become to some extent a matter of semantics. Everything is "nature" and everything is "the environment," in general terms. The intent with the nature/nurture distinction is to attempt to separate what we would consider inherited traits and those which are a consequence of the external environment (or as is more likely the case, to what extent traits are influenced by each), not to remove ourselves from the environment or to consider the effects of genetics and "the world" as being completely unrelated. It isn't a dichotomy, I agree. The two are not completely deconvolved. It is just useful in some fields of study to distinguish between you having brown hair because your DNA codes for it, and you being short because you didn't get enough vitamin D when you were growing up.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    There's scope in our understanding for decision making to be both probabilistic and illusory. Our consciousnesses seem to be downstream of – i.e. they only congeal after – biological processes, most of which we don't control and most of which we have little or no insight into. Since I've no reason to believe minds can retroactively alter the physiology on which they ride, I don't see where any meaningful "freedom" of the will can come from. In so many words, "we can do what we will but cannot will what we will." Put another way: our minds seem to be witnesses, not authors.
    What is meant by "no reason to believe minds can retroactively alter the physiology on which they ride"? If a person suffers damage to one part of the brain, its functions may be adopted elsewhere. Is there not a physical implication to this repurposing? We form new memories - surely there is a physiological explanation for this? Perhaps I'm taking you too literally here. Either way, are minds not shaped and altered by experience - is "will" not in flux, whether as a result of conscious control or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    Countless people over the years (both religious and non) have pointed out that this is trivially easy to notice if one just closes one's eyes for a bit and pays attention to what it's like to "be". Get to a quiet space and just let "whatever" come to mind, then take that experience itself as an object of attention and let it recede, and do this with each new thought or sensation. The critical thing to notice is that thoughts and sensations just arise in consciousness, and one never causes them to arise – they just do. That is true of anything one can ever think or feel. If consciousness is just a constant process of noticing thoughts and feelings that well up from beyond our control, whence freedom? Also notice that all external events (e.g. these words) were not "caused" by a mind, either; they simply "are".
    I feel like I'm in the slightly difficult position here of arguing for the neutral rather than the opposite case. That is to say: I'm not arguing for the existence of such a thing as freedom of thought or behaviour. Rather, I'm arguing there is insufficient evidence to settle the question one way or the other. On that note, the experiment you describe above would seem to prove that there is an unconscious source for some spontaneous thoughts and ideas, rather than disprove the existence of such a thing as directed thought, or willful thought. I for one am certainly suffering under the impression that I can, to some extent, will what I think about. For example, after reading your post I went to make some lunch. Whilst cooking, I chose to mull over and consider its contents and to attempt to formulate some sort of coherent description of my own thoughts and ideas. There is a dialog in my head and my impression is that I'm "speaking" those words willfully.

    In other words, the extrapolation of the experiment to the general case ([from your post] "that is true of anything one can ever think or feel") is, in my opinion, not inevitable.

    It is also probably necessary to distinguish between choosing what to think about, and choosing/deciding what the contents of a thought will be. The latter seems to create a problem of infinite regression to me. If we define free will to be the ability to consciously decide not just what to think about, but also what precisely to think about it, then we cause it to be impossible by definition. Why do I say this? Because decision making requires criteria, and criteria, in this context, are thoughts and ideas themselves. In other words, you require a different conscious entity, with pre-existing thoughts and ideas, to decide upon the specific thoughts and ideas of the conscious entity in question.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    One could conceptually reduce any possible justification for any possible behavior all the way back to the singularity (or, if one craves a touch of woo, back to quantum fluctuations). But even if a random quantum event was the absolute, irreducible origin of some thought or behavior, one still wouldn't have "chosen" or "caused" the event. So we're not authors of our consciousnesses, we simply are our consciousnesses. The notion that we're authors of our minds is (apart from being logically incoherent) not even necessary, and thus, again, Occam's Razor minces it into irrelevance.
    Agreed. There is no description in natural science of a mechanism which would support the framework of conscious decision making. It would seem necessary that at some point, such a mechanism would violate pre-existing laws of causality - the ability to arrive at different effects given the same cause. My earlier point about quantum "woo" was simply that sometimes, that's allowed. (my last paragraph above I think probably discuses in more detail the issue of authorship)

    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    I don't think association of ego with free will is a conflation; like with nature/nurture, they seem to be differently-worded perspectives on the same phenomenon. Descriptions of free will are subjective, yes? So they're of, as opposed to extrinsic to, egos. When people say "free" they tend to mean something like "unbounded" or "uncoerced", and the conception of ego is the same (it's something like "a self as distinct from other selves and the wider world"). Alas, again, nobody exists in a vacuum; none of us are perfectly uncoerced or distinct. Much of philosophy is overlapping and circular fluff of this caliber.
    I think I was taking, for the purposes of the discussion, a much less "free" definition of free will when I talked about the conflation of ego and free will in my original post. In other words: is it possible for a mind to be probabilistic (if not deterministic) but at the same time be possessed of an awareness of self? And that's how I'd describe ego, in this context, simply as an awareness of one's own existence. I find that a difficult phenomenon to explain. Would I be right in thinking that your view is that there is really no such thing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    Conceptually: if I locked you in a room and let you do whatever you want inside that room, would you be "free"? I don't think so. I think the universe is this room, and we can't not be in it (our minds themselves are part of it). I think a lot of nature/nurture talk is people trying to say "there's not really a room/spoon" or whatever via handwavy vagueness. I think (in the west, anyway) this is generally because individualism is so strongly embedded in culture and many people don't like the idea of fate; they like to think they're "more than mere iterative nature" or whatever. I don't have a problem with fate, though, I just don't think it entails fatalism (an important difference). One could use woo to bring pretty much any conceptual framework in line with various populist idealizations of humans as neatly-discrete forces-unto-themselves, but again, I like Occam's Razor.
    I would be free to an extent. Isn't this just a semantic point again? Is "free" absolute unconstrained freedom? Or is it some sort of freedom of choice?

    I think a lot of the nature/nurture talk is people trying to reconcile the impression that they're a free mind shackled by some sort of natural predisposition. From your point of view (correct me if I'm wrong) a human being IS a natural process, and so the distinction between so-called freedom of thought and genetic predisposition is irrelevant - whatever our beliefs about the way our minds work, thinking/acting is simply a natural process within a natural world, and it has a natural explanation and origin.

    I'd be really interested to hear your views on fate, actually. Do you believe in it? If so, what form of it do you believe in? And in what way does it not necessarily lead to fatalism? Belief is perhaps an inadequate word here; it implies choice. I suspect you view belief in similar terms to myself - it's a compulsion born of current understanding rather than a decision.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    The probabilities defense of free will is like saying "we're rolling dice, and the dice might come up differently if we could reroll!" That's true but it's beside the point: even if one could reroll (we'll suppose that for purposes of argument), one would still just be rolling dice; one wouldn't have magicked the dice into dreidels or something. The point is that there's a bounded system there – a game with rules, so to speak – and we don't "choose" anything about the bounds/rules, we just inhabit the universe/play the game.
    I wasn't offering it as a defence, I was asking for a definition. I was arguing for some extrinsic way to establish free will; what would constitute evidence of free will at work? Different decisions given the same circumstances? Intrinsic thought experiments are interesting, but to establish anything scientifically, we would need empirical evidence.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    I think this distinction is apropos and important: the world seems causal but hard determinism doesn't seem true (i.e. there seem to be no hidden variables). So, for example, "smoking causes lung cancer" is true. Nonetheless smoking doesn't always cause lung cancer; it isn't a "hard determinant". It clearly needn't be, though, in order for us to make meaningful and useful scientific and moral judgements about smoking.
    I take the point, but the explanation for why smoking doesn't always cause lung cancer isn't quantum indeterminism (the thing hidden variables were hypothesised to explain away). It's just because there are a variety of other natural factors at work which influence the ultimate outcome. It's probably more chaotic, or just complex, rather than indeterminant. Either way, probabilistic judgements about likely outcomes certainly have utility.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    Anyway, that's a roundabout way to say I think the questions you asked are irresolvable because they're innately moralistic (that was probably your point, but I can't be sure).
    It was! Which seems to be an argument for apathy, although I didn't necessarily intend it as such. I think the problem is that equality is poorly/subjectively defined.

    I'm not sure how coherent any of this post is - I'm writing this in between bits of work (and eating lunch!) so I probably don't have time to do it justice. Additionally, this is not really my area of expertise, so much of this is simply "as it occurs" to me.
    Last edited by RandomTangent; 22-05-2013 at 03:42 PM.

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