Free Will: Compatibilism

Lately I’ve been reading about compatibilism with regard to free will. While I’ve considered free will before, especially in the context of determinism, I’ve never explored compatibilism, and I decided it was time I got around to checking it out.

What triggered my renewed interest was, firstly, the movie Arrival (and the short story on which it’s based), and secondly, the HBO series, Westworld. Both have thoughtful science fiction with themes concerning free will (or its lack).

When one of my favorite physics bloggers, Sabine Hossenfelder, wrote a post about free will, it inspired me to write one, too. Monkey see, monkey do!

Let me start with some key ideas and questions:

Free Will: Intuitively, the idea that we can choose our actions without being in any way forced. Literally the idea that our wills are free.

Intuitively is a good start, but defining it more precisely is difficult. Yet a clear definition is central to the discussion; everything revolves around it. And it turns out that compatibilism largely depends on definitions of free will.

Causal Determination: The idea that the universe is a predictable machine and there is a chain of causality for every event. Nothing happens randomly or accidentally. There is never any such a thing as a “choice.”

This differs from behavioral or social determination, which is about human or animal behavior. This is a milder form of determinism — humans can choose to go against their nature.

Compatibilism: The idea that free will can still be defined in a causally determined universe (which seems contrary to the lack of true choice, but hence the importance of defining what is meant by “free will”).

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Why is it important? Free will is necessary for moral responsibility. If every action is fully determined by the past, we are not the “drivers” of ourselves, we’re “passengers” — mere observers to the machine’s actions.

What’s the problem? If (causal) determination is true — and science thinks it is — then free will and morality cannot exist in their common sense. There is no such thing as choice, therefore no free will, and therefore no morality.

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At this point it’s common to object that this is all very silly because of course there’s choice! Obviously! Life is a constant series of choices!

Right?

Not according to science, at least not at a reductionist level. (And if choice exists at an emergent level, how does it work its way back down?)

There’s a double-edged blade here:

¶ On the one hand, classical physics is fully deterministic. Nothing random happens in classical physics. Which means choice is impossible. Clocks can’t choose the next minute to display. Pool balls can’t choose where to go.

¶ On the other hand, quantum physics at least seems to have a truly random aspect, but random choices aren’t free choices, either. We don’t flip a coin to make decisions. Not usually.

So down at a physics level, it’s either clockwork or randomness, and we rarely, if ever, see that randomness higher up the chain. Quantum effects are notoriously swamped out by the larger world.

Which leaves the clockwork, and the physical world does seem to work on entirely predictable clockwork, from the orbits of planets to the chemical reactions of batteries. Above the quantum level, the physics world seems fully deterministic.

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And chaos won’t help you. That’s a hard no. Chaos is fully determined. (Pun delightful to me and fully intended.)

Chaotic systems evolve entirely predictably. The problem is their futures can’t be calculated long-term with models. Calculations require numbers; numbers are necessarily rounded off; rounding off means chaos intrudes and destroys the calculation.

But the chaotic system knows what it’s doing and evolves according to its own clockwork. Given two identical chaotic systems, they will always reach the same states.

(As an example, the Mandelbrot, a most famous chaotic system, is always the same every time it’s generated.)

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Bottom line: Science — so far! — sees no mechanism for free will.

Which seems to mean our everyday intuitive sense of free will is some kind of illusion.

I think the idea that a key aspect of our existence is an illusion with presumably no effect on our lives might be a red flag that something is off here. That gut reaction I mentioned — what if that’s a correct reaction?

Of course, our gut and our intuition are frequently wrong, but it’s a data point I find worth keeping in mind. We make decisions with what feels like free will; at the least, that needs explaining.

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Enter compatibilism, which seeks to define free will in the context of determinism. Opposing it is incompatibilism, which asserts that free will and determinism cannot exist together.

Note that both start with the condition, “IF determinism is true…” Obviously, if the universe is not causally determined, this is all a moot point.

Many object, and I appreciate the objection, that compatibilism merely plays word games with the idea of free will. The incompatibilist view of mutual exclusion seems more factual.

But there is good reason to consider compatibilism, because it allows moral responsibility. If free will can be defined even in the context of determinism, then we are responsible for those free choices.

A key point here again is that it feels like we have free choice, so it seems logical we should act as though we do. Call that pragmatic compatibilism.

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One thing that makes this conversation a bit ironic is that, if causal determination is true, which seems the case, then this post, every discussion, every thought, idea, or decision, on this and every other thing, is also fully determined.

Think of us all as characters in a movie or book. We may agonize over our decisions, but in the next scene or chapter we do the same thing each time. The characters in a story have no choice, only the illusion of choice.

It is the sense of being just a character in a story that makes people resist the idea. We’re convinced we have agency, yet those story characters would say the same thing.

Of course we’re real. Of course we choose our actions.

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I don’t find much value in compatibilism. It does seem like word games to me. In its pragmatic approach, it seems to dodge the deeper question: Does causal determinism apply to consciousness?

Accept that it does apply to the classical physical universe, but ask whether consciousness is special enough to be non-deterministic.

And, if so, how might we discover that?

I’ll give you the punchline: I think the human mind, in virtue of how it works, just might be non-deterministic. And I don’t mean because of quantum effects (randomness doesn’t solve anything). I think it has to do with our ability to imagine futures and pick among them.

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There is a related problem that I think might apply here: How do our mental states manage to affect our physical states?

It’s easier (although we’re not entirely clear on this, either)  to see how our physical states affect our mental ones: We look at red, we experience red.

But how does my mental desire to move my arm translate to actually physically moving my arm? It’s a bit of a puzzle; one we haven’t solved.

However we have a key fact: Mental states (whatever they are) do affect physical states. Our will to move causes us to physically move.

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We’re in the realm of the mind-body problem. What is the relationship between mind and brain? How does a brain give rise to a mind? How separate are the two?

A key aspect is the seeming immaterial nature of the mind. We experience redness when our brain processes red visual information from our eyes. We can record the neural processing, but the experience, or qualia, seems subjective. It seems to transcend the material.

It is this subjectivity and transcendence that makes a theory of consciousness the hard problem.

So just how “special” might high-level consciousness (as experienced by humans and maybe some animals) actually be?

In the past I’ve suggested that, absent a metaphysical basis (such as “god” or “karma”) for morality (which I believe grounds on a notion of equality), perhaps human consciousness serves as a foundation for moral law. If we’re not all equal as god’s children, perhaps we’re equal in sharing consciousness.

I’ve also argued (rather strongly and at length!) that consciousness can never result from an algorithm or simulated model. As with laser light, it can only arise from the action of specific materials in specific configurations (i.e. a brain, but possibly a synthetic one).

So possibly very special, is my point.

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I’ve commented often on how art seems a marker of intelligence. It’s something only humans do (so far as we know). It’s a part of our imagination, a larger skill that also improves our tool-use and engineering.

We imagine how tools can be better. We imagine building a bridge or a rocket. We imagine things that we then create. This appears a unique skill. One we so far haven’t been able to imagine automating.

Correction: We can imagine it just fine (hence our pursuit of it). It’s pulling it off that’s been the challenge. The hard problem.

The key point here is how we imagine things that not only don’t yet exist, but which might not ever exist. Or even cannot exist.

We can imagine things we know cannot exist. We can imagine almost anything.

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Suppose that powerful imagination is the seat of our free will?

Suppose a mind is a very noisy, yet finely balanced, highly complex system with lots of feedback (that keeps it balanced). The noise constantly presents random idea fragments, and those few that resonate with the moment-to-moment state of the mind get amplified, while the rest vanish like virtual particles.

Our imagination comes from this background, tuned by our experience and pattern matching ability. Ideas “spring to mind.” Literally. They bubble up from the depths of our mental noise floor.

Compare it to how we filter out one conversation in a crowd. We focus on what interests us at the moment.

Given that our minds certainly seem to affect our bodies, however they pull that off, it only requires the idea that a mind can freely choose among imagined futures to enable free will.

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So for me, it boils down to how free or determined imagination is.

And as a non-material, subjective phenomenon, it seems possible to make an argument about finely balanced tipping points, perhaps assisted by noise that scrambles determinism.

Is it possible that our minds, in considering possible imagined futures and selecting among them, do make “free” choices?

We might be talking about a model based on ‘appeal in the moment.’ Compare it to flipping through your tunes or channels looking for one that appeals to your mood right now. Given multiple options, how determined is the choice?

When I decide to have soup for dinner, and then decide between clam chowder, minestrone, or chicken wild rice, was that really set in stone by the Big Bang?

Was the minute or so I spent thinking about it just a movie I was watching as a passenger?

Why does it not feel that way at all?

Why do I feel like the driver?

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

83 responses to “Free Will: Compatibilism

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I think it boils down to three questions:

    1. Why do we ask questions?
    2. Why do we imagine?
    3. Why do we feel we have agency?

    If we are fully determined automatons, why do these things — questions, imagination, agency — exist? The same view that holds causal determination should also hold evolutionary reasons for these things, which as automatons, offer no apparent value. So why do they exist?

  • rung2diotimasladder

    These are legitimate questions: Does science take determinism as an established truth? Is it possible in science to prove determinism is not the case?

    Anyway, as I see it, of course we have free will! I can choose to do one thing or another. Science can’t determine what I’m going to do next….hahahahaha….

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Legit questions for me or just in general? 🙂

      Science does take causal determination as an established truth at the low level of physics. It is generally presumed true that determination persists in emergent systems that arise from the physics. (If we start at the top and work down to the physics level, it’s called reductionism, which science also tends to presume is true. A system is necessarily as determined as its parts.)

      I do think there might be wiggle room in the presumption about emergence (or reductionism). I’m not sure we’re certain emergent systems are as fully causally determined as presumed. The problem is that, so far, no one can even name a mechanism that would break that determination, let alone prove one.

      Possibly the randomness of quantum physics introduces an element of randomness to the macro world. But it’s still a jump getting from random behavior to free will. Or maybe it does. Remember the donkey stuck between two bales of hay? Maybe when faced with a truly equal choice, we do just mentally flip a coin. Maybe, in the end, that’s how I pick a soup.

      Something else that’s occurred to me is that it’s one thing to look at all the causes leading up to an effect and say, sure, I can see how all those causes created that effect. But it’s maybe another thing to insist that the effect must follow from those causes until it actually does. Maybe a random event can derail it. Or maybe an intelligent mind can derail it.

      And while I have no “how” mechanism to offer, I find myself increasingly believing that intelligent minds being the one non-determined thing in reality. (Well, non-causally-determined. Minds can be quite determined! 🙂 )

      • rung2diotimasladder

        “Legit questions for me or just in general?”

        I guess both. I just meant they weren’t rhetorical. 🙂

        Thanks for the explanation.

        “The problem is that, so far, no one can even name a mechanism that would break that determination, let alone prove one.”

        I can see why it would be necessary in science to presume causal determination—what else can they do?—but I think there’s wiggle room if you believe that there are other kinds of knowledge besides scientific knowledge. You know I do, but a lot of people have a hard time with this idea, they see it as opening the floodgates into mysticism or some such thing. But as I see it, these are the sort of questions that science can’t quite answer, or can’t answer satisfactorily. I think it’s just outside it’s scope. Either we’re honest with ourselves and admit that science doesn’t answer the question, or we argue that we don’t have free will, even though we’re displaying it and relying on it while we debate the matter. That’s why, rather than being disingenuous, I’d rather just say we have free will, which I take as a fact that science just doesn’t recognize. Just about everything we experience is infused or affected by this fundamental intuition we have about ourselves. To contradict it would take conceptual leaps and bounds and I think the burden of proof should be on those contradicting the obvious. It could be that we as humans have to presume we have free will just as much as science has to presume we don’t. The two clash here, and we have to…choose…

        “Remember the donkey stuck between two bales of hay? Maybe when faced with a truly equal choice, we do just mentally flip a coin. Maybe, in the end, that’s how I pick a soup.”

        Well, I can tell you how my mind works in such situations. If everything seems equal based on reasonable comparisons, I start coming up with off-the-wall comparisons to tilt the balance one way or another…Chicken and wild rice soup vs. just plain old chicken soup. Hm. I had rice last week. I shouldn’t be so boring as to eat rice again, should I? Besides, I’m liking the font on the lettering of the regular chicken soup can…

        “But it’s maybe another thing to insist that the effect must follow from those causes until it actually does. Maybe a random event can derail it. Or maybe an intelligent mind can derail it.”

        It sounds like the problem of induction. Maybe causality is only necessary when we’re dealing with math and logic and the like?

        Well, I’ve been blathering on for too long and I have to go make dinner.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I think there’s wiggle room if you believe that there are other kinds of knowledge besides scientific knowledge.

        The problem for scientists is that they differentiate between what’s absolutely not knowable, and things we just can’t know right now. Godel, Turing, and Cantor, all presented aspects of reality we cannot, even in principle, ever know. OTOH, there are tons of things we don’t know right now (but which, presumably, we may come to know some day).

        The point is, for many scientists, the brain is just a mechanism, and nothing indicates we cannot know everything about it, at least in principle. So in this area, some do believe mind is just a thing brains do, and there’s no reason we won’t understand brains fully at some point. That is certainly the goal of a lot of neuro-physics.

        As a dualist, of course, I have no problem with the ineffable. But without that (crutch?), we then struggle to come up with a theory of mind (the “hard problem”!) in a physical context. And the discussion is probably somewhat moot until we do have that. (But it’s still fun to chew on!)

        Either we’re honest with ourselves and admit that science doesn’t answer the question, or we argue that we don’t have free will, even though we’re displaying it and relying on it while we debate the matter.

        And perhaps that’s the crux right there… being honest and admitting that, just maybe, minds really are something special. Maybe (non-mystical!) dualism is the answer. The “scientific hard truth” — that we’re just characters in a fixed movie — seems preposterous compared to our daily experience.

        That’s why, rather than being disingenuous, I’d rather just say we have free will, which I take as a fact that science just doesn’t recognize.

        Except that poor science is bad at recognizing things it doesn’t recognize! 🙂

        As you say, the burden of proof seems on those who insist on counter-intuitive (if not counter-obvious) reality. As an example, quantum physics is about as non-intuitive as it gets — downright weird — but the proof presented is vast and, so far, uncontested by other proofs.

        Well, I can tell you how my mind works in such [soup-picking] situations.

        Yeah, I think we’re on the same page here, too. I go through similar mental gyrations. And I keep asking myself if that process is determined (despite how it feels). The general idea is that, presuming a repeat, would I chose differently. Would all that analysis always come to the same conclusion? Impossible to say, but it’s feels like I might chose differently.

        And, hence, the strong feeling of free will. But maybe if it were possible to rewind reality, I would always chose the clam chowder. [shrug]

        Maybe causality is only necessary when we’re dealing with math and logic and the like?

        The problem is we believe (a) that math and logic underlie everything, and (2) and causality, despite certain philosophers, does seem a basic fact of our reality. From a purely physics point of view, it would be a very strange (and impossible) world in which effects came without causes.

        But, as you say, a problem of induction. We can often see the causes after we see the effect, and then it all seems to make sense, “B” follows “A” as it must, but it’s not at all obvious to me that the conclusion is certain before.

        Bottom line, and I think you agree, whatever minds are, they aren’t deterministic. At least not fully.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        “Bottom line, and I think you agree, whatever minds are, they aren’t deterministic. At least not fully.”

        I do agree!

        “From a purely physics point of view, it would be a very strange (and impossible) world in which effects came without causes.”

        I’m sure I’ve brought up the Kantian distinction between waking life and dreaming before, but this distinction rings somewhat true to me. If Kant was right, then the reason we dismiss a great portion of we experience is because it doesn’t have causal glue. In other words, that causal glue doesn’t just bind reality, it defines reality. It’s no wonder, then, that we assume it has some existence outside our minds, inherent in events themselves. But the very fact of dreams is something Kant passed over quickly, but that’s odd to me. It seems like a good argument for saying causality is an organizing principle.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It’s no wonder, then, that we assume it has some existence outside our minds, inherent in events themselves.

        Yes, exactly! I quite agree. Once we deny solipsism and accept external reality we can also recognize the patterns of that external reality.

        Which patterns turn out to be entirely consistent and based on a fixed logic. That gives it a lot of weight on the Justified True Belief scale.

        But the very fact of dreams is something Kant passed over quickly, but that’s odd to me.

        Tying it in with James and the empirical reality of those dreams as things we experience?

        I have to say, the more I watch quantum physics struggle to make progress (for, like, 50 years), the more I wonder if our conception of physical reality needs serious updating. I’m not quite ready to accept things like OBEs or ghosts, but I do think there may be a great deal more to physical reality that we even dimly realize.

        (My problem with OBEs (or ghosts) is: If they’re invisible, how do they see or hear? What do they see or hear with? Plus, if they’re immaterial, how do they stay in one place? Or go anywhere?)

        It seems like a good argument for saying causality is an organizing principle.

        Considering it’s something we think is never violated, I think you’re right.

        There’s a Special Relativity “joke” that goes:

        There can be…

        1. Causality
        2. Special Relativity
        3. Faster Than Light Spaceships

        …pick two. (And we’re really sure about #1 and #2 being true, so…)

        The “joke” being that having FTL would violate either causality itself or one of the most rigorously tested theories in all of science.

        So, yeah! We’re pretty sure about causality. 🙂

      • rung2diotimasladder

        Sorry it’s taken so long to reply…I just now scrolled down on the comments and saw this. Oops!

        “Tying it in with James and the empirical reality of those dreams as things we experience?”

        Indeed! In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kant woke up from some crazy dream one morning and came up with the “Copernican turn” after asking, “How was that dream different from reality? AH HA! CAUSALITY! Now I know how to respond to Hume…”

        As for the joke, I would choose 1. and 3. But that’s just me. 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        No prob! (Yeah, Marvin and I kinda filled the place up with our back-and-forth. Pity we ended up where we started. Definite lack of shared pages.)

        In retrospect, it’s almost odd that Kant’s Copernican revolution was such a Big Turn. It seems so obvious to us today — all the “brain in a jar” arguments. It even factors into my ideas about “sanity” — that it’s the degree to which our internal model of reality matches the external one (known only through appearances, hence certain challenges to sanity if we lack rational thought to ground ourselves).

        FTL sure would be nice! But it lets you kill your grandparents, so it’s probably not a great idea after all. (I used to think there might be an exception, that FTL radio was possible under certain conditions (see: FTL Radio), but I was recently schooled by someone who set me straight — it’s not. (And who says you never learn anything on the interweb!)

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I guess the Kantian Copernican revolution wasn’t obvious because the original ‘brain in a jar’ philosopher (Descartes) made things seem so hopeless. It wouldn’t occur to me to tease things out the way Kant did. I thought reading the Critique was mind blowing. Of course, once you get it, it seems obvious.

        What also wasn’t obvious (and still isn’t obvious to many) is what Kant said about space and time—that space is the a priori form of outer intuition and time is the a priori form of inner intuition. In other words, space and time are not things in the world, but categories of the mind. After reading Kant, I can’t think about space and time in any other way. I think Kant hit upon a fundamental truth…or rather, he expressed it in a way that’s clearer than the ancient versions. The only question I have is whether space depends on the existence of objects (not actual empirical objects, but theoretical-anything-whatsoever-objects.)

        Anyway, I’ll check out the link now!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Of course, once you get it, it seems obvious.

        Good point about Descartes; his version was… problematic. 🙂

        I suppose there’s something of a “Seinfeld isn’t funny” thing going on here, at least for me. By the time I got to any understanding of Kant — and I’m not saying it’s very deep — I’d already explored a lot of that territory plowed by his many descendants.

        (I’ve read that, in his domain, everything written since is either an illumination, refutation, or expansion of Kant. He seems to have explored the field very well, plowed a lot of it, but in ways that confuse people.)

        …what Kant said about space and time…

        Coincidentally, there’s a debate raging on a physics blog I follow about whether time is fundamental. The blogger wrote about a well-known physicist, Carlo Rovelli, who is certain time is not fundamental, but emergent. We’ve been arguing about it ever since. 🙂

        My take is that for them to even be categories of mind, they need to be pretty fundamental!

        The only question I have is whether space depends on the existence of objects…

        I think of space as extent (which I guess Kant kinda did, too). Can extent exist without anything in it? I think that’s a coherent idea, but a philosophical razor might find it as empty as the space I’m talking about.

        Certainly we usually define space in terms of distance between two objects. Even two abstract points in space could be considered theoretical-anything-whatsoever-objects. Almost would have to be by Platonists, I’d think.

        (That link asserts my idea that FTL radio might be possible. I still need to write a follow up post showing how it’s clearly not. I need to make a diagram or two, first.)

      • rung2diotimasladder

        “The blogger wrote about a well-known physicist, Carlo Rovelli, who is certain time is not fundamental, but emergent.”

        Whaaaa? Time? Emergent? From what? I swear, there is nothing about physics that makes sense to me.

        Yeah, I’m inclined to think space doesn’t necessarily rely on objects, but it’s one of those things I could easily change my mind about.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, emergent time (or space) doesn’t make sense to me, either! I’m one of the few arguing for the fundamental aspect of time! And, to my eye, the other side mostly has theorizing and hand-waving. I haven’t heard anything resembling a compelling argument.

        Because of that debate, and because of this comment thread, I went and read the SEP entry on Kant and Space and Time. No one seems to know for sure, but Kant does seem to think space and time are, in some sense, ideal, and that they are intuitions rather than concepts.

        I do like his assertion that it’s possible to think of empty space, but not a lack of space. Also that there is only one intuition of space, not multiple. Further yet that the intuition is “atomic” — not comprised of parts (which is why he says it’s an intuition, not a concept).

        I do think it’s real and external, but it’s not clear to me Kant would agree. (In fact, I thought “empirical realism” was more a thing in contrast with “transcendental idealism” but there seem a lot fewer hits off the former than the latter. I wonder now if “empirical realism” was just from one paper I read a long time ago and it stuck? I may have been giving it too much weight.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        Sorry to send you down the rabbit hole! I screwed up when I said space and time are “categories” of the mind. I’ve forgotten how strict Kant is about his terminology. Here’s a nifty chart I found on the internet:

        http://web.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/phil%20306/kant_materials/KantTerminology.htm

        I recall some section of the Critique in which he rails against those who use the word “idea” in a loose way to mean any thought whatsoever. He would be rolling over in his grave if he heard me.

        “I do think it’s real and external, but it’s not clear to me Kant would agree.”

        I think it’s an ongoing debate whether scientific or objective space/time are compatible with Kant’s views. Regardless of what Kant would’ve said on this issue, and leaving aside his other philosophical views, I tend to think we can have a more fundamental, Kantian version of space and time as a priori forms of intuition along with an ‘objective’ scientific version. But it’s a strange position to be in. You might take Kant’s version to be the fundamental truth about space and time while allowing a (perhaps a posteriori) scientific version of these to run alongside the originals. This is where I’m at.

        “I do like his assertion that it’s possible to think of empty space, but not a lack of space…”

        Yes! I found these to be strong points. And yet, short of clarifying what they mean, they’re fundamentally intuited, so it would be hard to defend them. “You CAN imagine a lack of space? Ooooookaaaay.”

        As for those terms, I’m not sure.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Here’s a nifty chart I found on the internet:

        That is a nifty chart. I saw one that was only a subset of that in the SEP entry for Kant and Space and Time.

        As for rabbit holes, it’s becoming clear my understanding of Kant is dim, at best. I seem to have taken to a few bits I’ve understood and really liked while leaving far too much not well explored. Kant’s categories, for example. But I see what you mean now. They’re quite different than what we’re talking about!

        Ah, if only I had enough lives to read all the things I wish I could.

        Modern life is certainly an all-you-can-eat buffet. All the movies, all the novels, all the TV shows, all the YouTube videos, all the news articles, all the science journals and websites and blogs, all the interesting blogs all the video games, all the podcasts,…

        I despair of even getting to all the books I’d like to read. Let alone deeper into Kant, no matter how much I might wish it. (Plus, reading about Kant is hard enough, let alone actually reading him. Exhausting!)

        I think it’s an ongoing debate whether scientific or objective space/time are compatible with Kant’s views.

        (Yes, well, good thing everything else Kant wrote is soooo well understood… 😐 )

        I got that sense from the SEP article, but it does seem to me Kant leans towards idealism on time and space. To him, if I get this right, they are conditions for thought — a priori intuitive (not reasoned) structures for thought.

        The article’s author suggests Kant was replying to, and denying, both Newton (who definitely believed in objective, external spacetime) and Leibniz (who viewed them as emergent from relationships between objects). Which sorta suggests Kant saw space and time as ideal.

        Or, maybe as you suggest, that idealism co-exists with the scientific, empirical space and time.

        For one, if we are minds evolved in a space-time matrix, it makes sense our minds would be structured accordingly.

        I took my own stab at how math might be a priori and intuitive (you might recall, you were there 🙂 ). What’s interesting in this context is that I assumed a priori, intuitive awareness of time prior to “opening our eyes” and experiencing the physical world. IOW, time is internal, a priori, intuitive.

        It seems less clear when it comes to space. As you asked earlier, are objects (or at least one) necessary to define extent? Or is space equally a priori, intuitive? I think extent is, but I take your point. In that post, it wasn’t until we ‘opened our eyes’ that we necessarily conceived of extent.

        Yes! I found these to be strong points.

        Very strong points, indeed! I also like the idea that space and time are the same stuff regardless of where or when you think of them. Even in relativity, where time and space get all kattywampus, everyone themselves experiences the same sort of time (and space).

        “Proper time” (your time) is the same in all reference frames. It’s always the other person’s clock that seems screwy.

        There is also, as far as fundamental time, that surely the “Big Bang” was an event and as such had to have occurred in time. Which suggests some sort of time is more fundamental than the universe itself.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        “…it does seem to me Kant leans towards idealism on time and space. To him, if I get this right, they are conditions for thought — a priori intuitive (not reasoned) structures for thought.”

        You got it right. Kant believed that space and time were ideal, and at the same time they make ‘real’ experiences (of substances and the like) possible.

        “There is also, as far as fundamental time, that surely the “Big Bang” was an event and as such had to have occurred in time. Which suggests some sort of time is more fundamental than the universe itself.”

        This is a good point. If we conceive of a beginning (in the scientific sense) of the universe, it seems strange—impossible, really—to imagine that time wasn’t there to precede the event.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It seems a nearly inescapable conclusion. If the “Big Bang” was an event that occurred, then there had to be some existing set of laws — including time — that provided the context for that event. Unless one can conceive of both the necessary laws, and the results of those laws, springing into existence spontaneously all at once. For no reason, and with no enabling, surrounding context of any kind.

        (But turtles all the way down. At some point, something was the beginning of everything. Or something somehow always was. Both beggar my imagination.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        p.s. If we wanted to discuss time, there’s a comment-free post I just wrote exactly about this debate I’ve mentioned. Much less crowded there. 😀

  • Marvin Edwards

    We have two definitions of free will. One is meaningful and relevant. The other is meaningless and irrelevant. The real question is, “Why would anyone choose the meaningless and irrelevant definition?” Well, it would certainly seem they were the victims of a hoax.

    In operation, “free will” refers to a person deciding for themselves what they “will” do, “free” of coercion or other undue influence.

    This is meaningful because it distinguishes between a deliberate act, versus an act that someone was forced to do against their will. In matters of moral or legal responsibility, we hold the person accountable if they acted deliberately, but if they were coerced, then we hold accountable the guy who held a gun to their head.

    And it is relevant because coercion or undue influence may be present or absent. Either you made the choice or someone else forced the choice upon you.

    Okay, so what about the other definition of “free will” the one where it is defined as “freedom from causal necessity/inevitability”? Well, if we presume perfectly reliable cause and effect, then every event that ever happens is always causally necessary or causally inevitable. And, of course, this would include all the events in your mind as well.

    But is that meaningful? Actually, no. Because it turns out that what we will inevitably do is exactly the same as what we would have done anyway. It is just us, being us, doing what we do, and choosing what we choose. And that is not a meaningful constraint.

    Are there any conditions where this meaningless “constraint” is absent? Well, no. So not only is this constraint meaningless, but it is also irrelevant. It is not something which we can, or in any sense need to, be “free of”.

    What are the grounds for replacing a meaningful, relevant operational definition of free will, with a meaningless, irrelevant definition?

    It appears that we have all played a big joke on ourselves. But it has ceased to be funny.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Hi Marvin, sorry for the delay in replying. I’ve been obsessed with the Kīlauea eruption in Hawai’i! It’s unprecedented in recorded history, but for the moment seems to have finally died down. Or just paused.

      In operation, “free will” refers to a person deciding for themselves what they “will” do, “free” of coercion or other undue influence.

      Yep, that’s the compatiblist view. Also the intuitive one most of us have. What bugs scientists is, in the context of a reality that seems fully determined, where does this sense of free will come from?

      And that’s what makes the issue challenging — explaining the mechanism. So far we haven’t found one. Free will “ought” not to exist. And yet it very clearly seems it does. Conundrum. Discuss. 🙂

      Really, the whole thing is an attempt to explain free will. Or, failing that, explaining why we feel like we have it.

      What are the grounds for replacing a meaningful, relevant operational definition of free will, with a meaningless, irrelevant definition?

      Ultimately, the same reason we replace mythology about spirits in the trees and wind with more meaningful explanations. The desire to understand the mechanism. I don’t think anyone takes seriously the idea that we lack free will, or that we operate in robotic fashion.

      {Although the HBO TV series, Westworld, does say exactly that.)

      The whole question is, given our experience, how do we explain free will in what, as far as we can tell, is a fully determined physical reality. And, ultimately, it’s about explaining and understanding our minds — one of the great pursuits!

      • Marvin Edwards

        Ironically, the mythology in this case comes from the notion of causal inevitability as an entity that exercises control over events. Causation itself never causes anything.

        Only the actual objects and forces that make up the physical universe can be said to cause events. Reliable cause and effect, is how we “describe” the behavior we observe. Object 1 bumps into object 2, causing it to move in a different direction. Causation didn’t cause the 2nd object to move. The 1st object’s mass and motion did.

        We happen to be one of those objects that can cause other objects to move. Some people can even juggle objects. If they choose to learn how.

        If I happen to throw one of those objects and it breaks your window, it will not be determinism that gets blamed, but me.

        Why? Because there’s nothing you can do about the fact that reliable cause and effect is a background constant of all events. That’s just the way things are.

        But you can do something about me. Thus, I am the relevant and meaningful cause of the broken window. Determinism did not determine that you window would break. I was pissed off at your comment so I deliberately threw the rock through your window (allegedly).

        Or, it might have been that I was playing baseball in the back yard with my kids and yours, and someone (not sayin’ who) hit a high fly ball and your window was in the way.

        Or, one of your enemies may have held a gun to my head and threatened to blow my head off if I didn’t throw something through your window.

        Deliberate actions versus accidents versus coerced actions. That’s the distinction that free will makes.

        To say that determinism did it discards useful information. Besides, determinism is neither an object nor a force that actually exists, to suggest that it is would be superstitious nonsense. Don’t you agree?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Don’t you agree?

        Sorry, not very much. I think there’s more to it.

        Only the actual objects and forces that make up the physical universe can be said to cause events.

        Yes. Important point: Many scientists (and non-scientists) believe that the “objects and forces that make up the physical universe” are everything that there is. There is nothing beyond those. And if reductionism is correct (which seems generally the case), then everything is explained by physical interactions at the lowest level.

        Reliable cause and effect, is how we “describe” the behavior we observe.

        No, causality is a fundamental property of physics. Our belief in it, for example, is part of why faster than light travel is considered impossible, even in principle. It would violate causality. Effects may never proceed their causes.

        Object 1 bumps into object 2, causing it to move in a different direction. Causation didn’t cause the 2nd object to move.

        Causality is the process of object 2 moving because object 1 bumped it.

        Deliberate actions versus accidents versus coerced actions. That’s the distinction that free will makes.

        The compatiblist distinction of free will, yes. But see my earlier comment about the real questions being asked here. That we appear to operate with free will, and that society necessarily operates as if its citizens have free will, isn’t really a question here. I think we’re all on the same page there.

        Besides, determinism is neither an object nor a force that actually exists,…

        No, it’s a principle, a physical law, if you will. The law of gravity, for example, is neither an object nor a force, but is a… I don’t want to say “law” again… “rigid mathematical principle” we find is always true in all experiments.

      • Marvin Edwards

        Gravity is actually a force. There is an attraction between two masses, which the “law of gravity” describes as a mathematical formula for calculating the acceleration in speed as the two objects “fall” toward each other. (The Earth is “falling” toward the Sun, but with an inertia pulling it away from the Sun. The two forces result in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun).

        There is nothing other than the objects and forces. The behavior of the objects will vary depending upon whether they are organized as
        1) inanimate matter, in which it behaves passively to physical forces,
        2) biological organisms, which are driven to survive, thrive, and reproduce, and so behave in a purposeful or goal-directed manner. And
        3) intelligent species with the neurology evolved to the point of providing the abilities to imagine alternatives, evaluate their likely outcomes, and choose the one that seems likely to produce the best result.

        “Choosing” is an event in which multiple options are input, some comparative evaluation criteria is applied, and a single choice is output.

        Choosing what we will do is something that intelligent species do.

        Free will refers to those choices we make for ourselves, according to our own purpose and our own reasons, free of coercion or other undue influence.

        It is not a feeling that we have, but rather an empirical distinction we make between a deliberate act versus an act that we were compelled to do against our will. That’s the role of free will in moral and legal responsibility.

        The distinction is important, because causal inevitability is constant. It will either be inevitable that we will make the choice ourselves or it will be inevitable that someone coerces us to act against our will.

        We still require the distinction between the deliberate and the coerced act, even in the context of causal inevitability.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        [Free will] is not a feeling that we have, but rather an empirical distinction we make between a deliberate act versus an act that we were compelled to do against our will. That’s the role of free will in moral and legal responsibility.

        The “feeling” I was referring to is the idea that our deliberate uncoerced choices are, in fact, choices. Under strict causal determinism, they are not. We are just characters in a story, and our “feeling” of agency is an illusion. Our belief we make free choices is false.

        Keep in mind, characters in a story might have this exact conversation, and everyone involved would insist they obviously are free agents with choices. Under strict causal determinism, this is the case with us. The story was written 13.8 billion years ago.

        Yes, there is a large and obvious difference between being coerced by another party or situation, but that isn’t at issue here. We all agree society must act as if we act by choice. Morality is built on the presumption.

        (Again, characters in a story can also be coerced or not and would draw the same distinction between the two.)

        Per your first comment, you might find this view “meaningless and irrelevant,” but upon close examination it raises interesting questions.

        From one point of view, we want to understand why it seems like we have agency, despite that science thus far finds no mechanism for it. It’s almost anthropological: How did humans evolve a sense of agency (free will) when they are, in fact, just bio-machines?

        What is it about biology, and in particular us, that rises us above inanimate matter? At a low level, we’re all just atoms.

        Alternately, because as you say, it’s ridiculous (and unhelpful) to think of us as machines, we can ask how actual free will arises, despite the lack of apparent mechanism. Certainly sub-atomic particles have no choice, nor do atoms, cells, or organs. Where does the agency come from?

        Why are we in your category #3 and not #2? For that matter, why are biological organisms not in category #1? After all, the brain is just a machine. How does a mind with agency arise from that machine?

        So, if you’re a strict casual determinist, you need to explain why we think we have free will, or you need to explain how free will arises in a deterministic reality.

        Alternately, you can deny causal determination, but then you need to explain where and how it fails.

        The only easy way out is some form of dualism which admits to causal determination, but recognizes something “magical” about the mind that transcends physicalism. (This post was about my take on that.)

        But, yes, society and moral structure depend on the presumption humans have agency.

      • Marvin Edwards

        Under strict causal determinism choosing is deterministic event. We are faced with some problem or issue that requires a decision. We consider different ways to resolve the matter, and estimate how each option might play out if we selected it. Based upon that calculation we make our choice.

        Now, we can say that our choice was inevitable from any prior point in eternity. However, we cannot say that the choosing didn’t happen. And we cannot say that anything other than us did the choosing. Nor can we say that there was only one possibility, because there were several that we considered each one during our deliberations. Only one, of course, turned out to be the single inevitable choice.

        The mistake you’re making is taking figurative speech literally. What you are actually saying is that “Because a single choice was inevitable, it is as if there were only one choice”.

        The only problem with figurative statements is that they are always literally false. And when we start taking them literally, as if they were true, then errors result.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The mistake you’re making is taking figurative speech literally. What you are actually saying is that “Because a single choice was inevitable, it is as if there were only one choice”.

        Um, no. There is no “figurative” here — I don’t even know what that means. And your rephrasing of what I’m saying isn’t even close.

        I think maybe you’re not making a conceptual leap here that, in fairness, is tough for many. This is not about making “inevitable” choices due our “deliberations” being influenced by facts in our daily sphere. This is not about picking a blue shirt because you favor blue or whatever factors might apply in your mind.

        This is about, under strict casual determinism, “deliberations” are an illusion, exactly as much as for a character in a story.

        However, we cannot say that the choosing didn’t happen.

        And yet that is exactly what is being said.

        The choosing didn’t happen. It was an illusion. You are just a meat robot acting out a script written long ago.

        You will protest that this is absurd, you clearly make choices all the time. I respond that, of course you say that; you’re programmed not just to say it but to believe it.

        And here’s the deeper point: Science doesn’t see a mechanism for saying this isn’t true. So as far as we can tell, it appears to be true.

        The presumptions are:

        (1) All of physics is strictly casually determined. The exception is certain interpretations of quantum physics offer random events. (Other interpretations don’t, and there are no exceptions to #1.)

        (2) Reduction is true. That is, sub-atomic particles account fully for the behavior of atoms. Atoms account fully for the behavior of elements. Elements account for compounds; compounds account for chemistry; chemistry accounts for biology; and so forth on up to us. (Reduction, obviously, is working this chain backwards.)

        Accepting these leads to the conclusion that we are mere passengers, not drivers.

        Which raises the question: Why do we feel like drivers? Alternately, find where #1 or #2 above break down when it comes to human minds.

      • Marvin Edwards

        Have you ever been to a restaurant, considered the items on the menu, and placed an order?

        Choosing is a process in which multiple options are input, some criteria for comparative evaluation is applied, and the option that seems best is output as the single choice.

        Choosing actually happens in the real world. It is not an illusion.

        So, please explain what you mean by saying your experience was an illusion. Do you mean you were hallucinating? Or do you mean that the world is a dream and that nothing is real? Or do you mean that your brain is floating in a vat in a mad scientist’s laboratory being fed electrical signals to simulate your experience of being in the restaurant?

        Or, perhaps you actually were in the restaurant and you actually did make a choice.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Choosing is a process…

        I am familiar with the concept. 😀

        Choosing actually happens in the real world. It is not an illusion.

        Or, under strict casual determinism, it doesn’t, and it is. 😮

        So, please explain what you mean…

        A lot of people have a hard time wrapping their head around this. It’s kind of a mind fuck, and it’s a “down in the weeds” topic, but as far as the science goes, it appears correct. Or, at least, we haven’t found a way to falsify it, yet.

        Science makes two general presumptions:

        1) Physics, at all levels (except for quantum randomness), is fully causally determined.

        In a physical system, the same initial conditions always result in the same final condition. Physical systems never “choose” anything. (Hopefully, we agree 100% on this.)

        We talked about gravity earlier. The objects in the solar system have no choice in their orbital behavior. The concept of “choice” doesn’t even exist in orbital dynamics. It’s a silly idea.

        2) Reductionism appears to be correct.

        That means a system is fully explained by the behavior of its components. For example, gas pressure is an emergent phenomenon that arises from the behavior of gas molecules. And while pressure only makes sense in terms of lots of gas molecules, it is nevertheless fully explained by the rules that gas molecules follow.

        More to the point, your brain is fully explained by the behaviors of its various cells. And the behavior of those cells is fully explained by their cellular machinery. Which, in turn, is fully explained by biology, which is fully explained by chemistry, which is fully explained by the behavior of atoms.

        And notice that, as with an orbital system, there’s no place for choice to exist. It’s an absurd question. Atoms don’t choose. Cells don’t choose. None of your other organs choose anything… why do we imagine the brain does?

        And yet, and yet, and yet.

        Every human on earth (as you have been doing so vehemently here) will insist that choice obviously exists, we choose all the time! Duh!!

        Which raises a very interesting question: W.T.F?

        ¶ Given that physical systems don’t choose, where does choice come from?

        ¶ Alternately, if it doesn’t exist, why do we think it does?

        One interesting place to start is the brain-mind question:

        Under physicalism, the mind is fully explained by the brain. Which means the mind is just as much a system as everything else. But we have no theory of mind, and don’t know how mind arises from brain, so it’s not certain mind can be reduced to brain. Perhaps minds are very special in the universe.

        Under dualism, the mind is allowed to be special, and I believe this to be the case. I personally believe that choice exists because of our minds, but that’s a belief, not a fact.

        One can also attack reductionism and/or determinism, but so far lots and lots of effort haven’t yielded any answers. That’s a key point: so far we can’t falsify the idea of strict causal determination.

        Which means…

        Do you mean you were hallucinating?

        In a sense, yes. As I keep saying, we have no more choice than do characters in a novel. And both we and those characters believe their choices are real.

        And both are wrong. The novel characters are obviously wrong — we can see them from the outside. But we’re inside the “novel” and can’t see our own situation. Someone watching the universe from the outside might see how the machinery follows its track just as planets orbit.

        Now here’s the thing, Marvin: If you think this is wrong, you need to provide an explanation of how it’s wrong. It’s not enough to wave your hands and insist it’s obvious.

      • Marvin Edwards

        Let me start by saying that I am working from the presumption of perfectly reliable cause and effect. Rather than “hard” determinism, I’d call it “perfect” determinism.

        Every event that ever happens is always causally necessary/inevitable from any prior point in eternity. You still with me?

        But to be perfect, it cannot exclude any sources of causation. If it does, then it is incomplete. And if it is incomplete then it is false.

        I also presume that every object in the universe is made out of physical stuff. There is nothing supernatural, no gods or ghosts skulking around and meddling with reliable cause and effect.

        However, the behavior of a physical object is radically different when it is organized as a living organism. You put a bowling ball on a hill, and it will roll to the bottom. But if you put a squirrel on that same hill, it may go up, down, left, or right, depending upon where he senses he might find his next acorn.

        And while the science of physics is perfectly capable of explaining a cup of water running downhill, it is at a loss to explain a similar cup of water that hops into an automobile and goes grocery shopping.

        That’s why the Physical Sciences are not our only sciences. To explain the behavior of living organisms requires the Life Sciences, like biology. And to explain the behavior of intelligent organisms we need the Social Sciences, like psychology and sociology.

        Physical objects organized as living organisms display “purposeful” or “goal-directed” behavior. They do not respond passively to physical forces, like that barking dog that is running toward my squirrel. Instead, the squirrel “defies gravity” by scurrying up the tree, in order that he might survive, thrive, and reproduce.

        When living organisms sufficiently evolved their neurology, to the point where they could imagine, evaluate, and choose, they became capable of “deliberate” behavior. Now the problems of how to adapt to their environment (or adapt their environment to them) could be addressed by planning, experimenting, learning, trial and error, and science.

        Our mental processes are essentially physical processes running on the hardware of the brain. These mental processes are able to model (not hallucinate) the environment by classifying and organizing physical sensory input into images, sounds, feelings, and ideas.

        Using this conceptual model, the brain performs the process of reasoning, choosing, and thinking in general. The organism as a whole has kicked up certain matters of adaptability to the brain to work out a plan of action, using the conceptual model.

        So, choosing is not something that we imagine is happening. It is actually happening in empirical reality and can be viewed as brain activity using a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine.

        Choosing happens. It is a real event that takes place in physical reality. We do it and we observe it in other species.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        However, the behavior of a physical object is radically different when it is organized as a living organism.

        Why? That’s the question being asked here.

        Why do biological organisms seem to escape cause and effect?

        What makes neurology different from any other mechanical system? When you look at the component parts, it is just a machine operating by cause and effect.

        If you presume “the universe is made out of physical stuff. There is nothing supernatural,” then what special magic comes from being “organized as a living organism.”

        All you’ve done is describe the appearance of choice. How do you explain its nature?

        Our mental processes are essentially physical processes running on the hardware of the brain.

        And hardware is deterministic! How does the software escape being equally deterministic?

        Choosing happens. It is a real event that takes place in physical reality. We do it and we observe it in other species.

        Insisting it is so doesn’t make it so.

        It also happens in stories, and in robots programmed to act like they have choice. The appearance of choice is not sufficient to prove it actually exists in the face of scientific evidence it does not.

        At what point, and how, does the machinery escape determinism?

      • Marvin Edwards

        They don’t. Biological systems behave reliably according to (a) physical causation and then (b) biological causation. And intelligent biological systems behave reliably according to (a) physical causation and then (b) biological causation and then (c) rational/calculated causation.

        Everything is implemented upon a physical platform. Everything that happens is happening to physical material. The processes involved are physical processes.

        But the explanation of the behavior of living organisms, much less intelligent species, is beyond the ken of the physical sciences.

        One can claim that all the causation is ultimately physical, but no one is crazy enough to try to EXPLAIN the cup of water hopping in the car to go shopping using just physics.

        No one is capable of formulating such an explanation without doing what the brain has already done: generalize recurrent patterns into symbolic parts of the model.

        Instead of individual clusters of atoms, we have baseballs and baseball bats. And we have a guy standing at the plate, hoping to win the game by a hitting a slow bunt down the third base line.

        Why? Because that is where all the meaning is.

        And if you wish to employ reductionism instead, you’d be faced with the irony that physics itself is a macro information model. Atoms, after all, are built from protons, neutrons, and electrons. And the protons are built from quarks. And who knows what the quarks are built from.

        But you can continue this reductionism down to the “smallest part of the smallest part”, and never reach a bottom on which to plant your feet.

        So, eventually, we will have to return to the macro level where the meaning is located. And there we find a meaningful and relevant definition of free will. Not an illusion, but an operational concept that makes the empirical distinction between a deliberate act, a coerced act, or an unintended accident.

        Just to be clear, both the biological and rational causation can also be presumed to be perfectly deterministic, just like the physical.

        Thus, determinism would assert that every event that ever happened, is happening, or will happen, is causally necessary/inevitable due to some specific combination of (physical (biological (rational))) causation.

        And that makes perfect determinism, something we can assume to be true. Even if we are unable to discover the explanation for all events, we can assume such an explanation exists.

        Wow. Sorry for writing so much in your blog. Feel free to visit mine and do the same.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        And intelligent biological systems behave reliably according to (a) physical causation and then (b) biological causation and then (c) rational/calculated causation.

        So you claim, but cannot prove (no one can). From a scientific point of view, your (b) is (a), and (c) is an illusion, a story your brain tells you.

        But the explanation of the behavior of living organisms, much less intelligent species, is beyond the ken of the physical sciences.

        Disagree. Per reductionism.

        Unless you can explain the “magic sauce” that grants a system “choice,” everything is explained by the behavior of atoms. Or Quantum Field Theory if you want to take another step down.

        The behavior of baseball bats and baseballs clearly are fully explained by atoms. On a reductionist level, baseball players are no different. Just physical systems following physical principles.

        One can claim that all the causation is ultimately physical, but no one is crazy enough to try to EXPLAIN the cup of water hopping in the car to go shopping using just physics.

        A cup of water isn’t a complicated enough system. A more complex one can be programmed to do just that.

        Because that is where all the meaning is.

        “Meaning” is a vague, subjective concept with no value here.

        But you can continue this reductionism down to the “smallest part of the smallest part”, and never reach a bottom on which to plant your feet.

        Maybe. Doesn’t matter. Higher levels are explained by lower levels. We understand those lower levels, and they have no “meaning” nor “choice” so a claim it pops up at higher levels needs support, evidence, and proof.

        Again, Marvin, the question is: Where does this “choice” and “meaning” come from when all the systems involved are just machines operating by mechanical principles?

        Regarding various books and “theories” about how the mind: Yes, many have ideas about what’s going on, but no one knows how mind arises from the machine of the brain. We’re not even close to knowing. Also, a lot of neuroscience looks at correlates and functionality, but isn’t really looking at the brain-mind problem itself.

        Philosophically, it’s that latter question that fascinates me.

      • Marvin Edwards

        If higher levels were explained by lower levels, then we’d have only one science, physics, and it would explain everything. Please explain why that is not the case.

        The brain creates a conceptual model of reality. Because that is our one and only access to reality, when it is accurate enough to be useful, we simply call it “reality”. When the model is inaccurate, as when someone walks into a glass door, thinking it is open, then that is called an “illusion”.

        The reason I brought up solipsism and the brain-in-a-vat is because they also center on the problem of “how do we know that reality is real”. We don’t! But since the brain is our only access to reality, then, for all practical purposes, that is the operational definition of “real”.

        And I’m pretty sure scientists are also going to tell you that, because that is the only “reality” they have to work with as well. (Assuming of course that scientists exist and you exist and all this is not just a dream I’m having, i.e., solipsism).

        So your concern that no one can “prove” physical, biological, and rational causes are real is not well founded. They are as “real” as anything else is “real”.

        There is no “magic sauce” required. Consider a simple example of a drone which you program to maintain an altitude of 20 feet. You start it up and it spins the rotors at full speed until it passes 20 feet, then cuts back until it drops below 20 feet again, and then just bobs around that height for a while.

        The processor inside the drone is running a continuous logic loop where it checks the altimeter, and either speeds or slows the rotors as required. Within that logic loop you’ll find a couple of conditional “if” statements. One says, “If the alitimeter is 20 feet, slow the rotors.”

        The result is that a choice between two options (3 if you count the “else, leave things as they are” option) is being carried out repeatedly. This choice is being executed in real time, and over and over until you cut the power to the processor.

        Again: Choosing is an actual operation that takes place in the real world. It is identified as a process that inputs multiple options (speed up or slow down), applies some comparative criteria of evaluation (altimeter reading greater or less than 20 feet), and outputs a single choice (e.g., speed up).

        Once again, it remains a reasonable presumption that the choice made by the processor was causally necessary/inevitable from any prior point in eternity.

        But the two facts do not contradict each other. Both facts, that a choice was made and that the choice was inevitable, are equally and simultaneously true.

        Now, you ask, “Where does this “choice” and “meaning” come from when all the systems involved are just machines operating by mechanical principles?”

        I’ve just explained the choosing process. So now let’s get to the meaning.

        Why is the drone bobbing up there around 20 feet? What purpose does it serve? What are the reasons behind it?

        Well, the drone is a machine. A machine is a tool that we create to do our will. It has no will of its own. The process running on the microchip is controlling the behavior of the drone, but the purpose and reason that explain why that process is there in that drone cannot be found in the drone itself.

        As I said, the drone is serving our purpose, and it is bobbing there at 20 feet because of our reasons. Perhaps that’s the best height to get some aerial photographs of the house or grounds. Perhaps its just an experiment that someone cooked up to demonstrate rational (calculated) causation.

        Unlike a machine, living organisms come with a built-in purpose: to survive, thrive, and reproduce. This purpose does not exist anywhere else in the physical universe except within that organism and its species.

        This purpose explains why trees grow roots into the ground to get water and grow leafy branches into the sky to perform photosynthesis to produce the sugar they need to survive, thrive, and reproduce. It explains why the lioness takes down the buffalo to feed her cubs. It explains why bees built hives, termites build mounds, and people build cities.

        The source of this purpose is a combination of random shuffling of atoms and molecules until a string of DNA was formed, and subsequent natural mutations which either aided survival or extinguished the species. The surviving species have a structure and capabilities that allow it to survive.

        There are some things that are not knowable. For example, there will never be an explanation as to why there is something rather than nothing. Stuff just is, so we must presume there has always been stuff.

        Nor will we be able to explain why blue is experienced as blue. We can explain why some people are color blind and why some species have greater visual acuity than we do. But we cannot explain why blue happens to look the way it does to us. That is just how it looks.

        So your mysteries of conscious experience may remain unanswered, despite all the information we learn about the brain and how it works.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        If higher levels were explained by lower levels, then we’d have only one science, physics, and it would explain everything. Please explain why that is not the case.

        Simplicity. New (fully deterministic) laws occur at higher levels. Pressure, for example, arises from the aggregate dynamics of gas molecules.

        Also, each level offers its own opportunities for study and understanding.

        The brain creates a conceptual model of reality.

        I’m very familiar; have written about it often here.

        I’m pretty sure scientists are also going to tell you that, because that is the only “reality” they have to work with as well.

        Yep. What Immanuel Kant referred to as “empirical realism” in contrast with the “transcendental idealism” in our heads that is our only model of reality.

        Not that this has anything to do with this discussion, but there is no real proof against solipsism. It’s a leap of faith to accept external reality, but unless we make that leap, there really isn’t any point to anything except navel gazing.

        Once we accept an external reality, Kant’s empirical realism kicks in, and we have a shared set of empirical experiences that converge on a view of reality that’s acceptably close to the actual thing. Close enough to send a spacecraft to Pluto!

        But, as I said, none of this is relevant. Outside of some seriously religious people (or the insane), no one is an Idealist. We’re all Realists of some stripe.

        So the proof I’m demanding is entirely physical, entirely real, and — so far — entirely absent.

        I’m talking about science here. This is what science says. This is a question science and philosophers have been struggling with for a long time.

        The processor inside the drone…

        Marvin, the operation of the drone is entirely, 100%, absolutely determined by its programming! It doesn’t “choose” a damn thing!

        What we mean by free will in this context would be choosing to change altitude on a whim, to defy our programming of the moment.

        And I’m sorry, but I’m skipping the rest of your comment, because it doesn’t seem like you’re understanding what I’m saying, and we’ve gotten past the point of diminishing returns. I need us to move on.

      • Marvin Edwards

        I’ve actually understood what determinism is about since I was about 15 years old, reading some Spinoza in the public library. I’m 72 now. (Which means I don’t have to get up to go to work in the morning. But you’re going to be in trouble tomorrow).

        I saw through the paradox in a very simple thought experiment that went like this:

        The idea that everything I did was inevitable bothered me, until I ran across this thought experiment: Suppose I have a choice between A and B. I feel myself leaning heavily toward A. So, just to spite inevitability, I’ll choose B instead! Seems too easy.

        But then I realize that my desire to spite inevitability just made B the inevitable choice. So now I have to choose A to avoid the inevitable. But wait, now A is inevitable again … it’s an endless loop!

        No matter what I choose, inevitability always switches to match my choice!

        Hmm. So, who or what is controlling the choice, me or inevitability? (Answer: it’s me).

      • Wyrd Smythe

        (BTW: I’m equally retired and less than a decade behind you.)

        I’ve actually understood what determinism is about since I was about 15 years old,…

        I submit that your understanding is outdated.

        Spinoza’s understanding of determinism was in 17th century terms. Science has a more evolved view after more than three centuries of thought. (And, of course, Spinoza was a philosopher, not a scientist, let alone a physicist.)

        Hmm. So, who or what is controlling the choice, me or inevitability? (Answer: it’s me).

        Nope. Under strict causal determinism, you just think that.

        Your brain is operating like a (very complicated) fully determined machine. Your conscious mind — which is just along for the ride — makes up a story about your choosing. But it’s just a story you tell yourself.

        Otherwise we have to explain how the brain machine escapes determinism.

        Or show that determinism and/or reductionism is wrong.

        We pretty much all agree the mind is not deterministic; that’s not the issue.

        The issue is how is that possible?

        Nothing else is, so what’s going on there?

        And, Marvin: really smart people have been exploring this question since before Spinoza, so if you believe you have a pat answer, and in particular that all those smart people missed it or are wrong, that should be a big red flag on your own play.

      • Marvin Edwards

        “We pretty much all agree the mind is not deterministic; that’s not the issue.”

        That’s rather odd. Because in my version of determinism the mind is just as deterministic as anything else. ALL events, including each thought and feeling that you become aware of, are causally necessary from any prior point in eternity.

        The mind is a physical process running on the hardware of the brain. The nature of this process, like the nature of the process running on the drone, is to perform the calculations required to control how we choose what we will do next, just like the process in the drone controlled whether the rotors slowed or sped up.

        Perhaps you have not yet stared it in the face, and that is why you cannot see through it.

        Universal causal inevitability is a “logical” fact. But it is not a meaningful or relevant one. It is like a constant that appears on both sides of every equation, and it can be subtracted from both sides without affecting the result.

        So, you have not yet finished your journey. I’ve given you pretty much all I can in this context. But I’ve got a number of different posts on this issue over on my blog, marvinedwards.me . You mind find the one containing “Time to End the Hoax” especially helpful.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Perhaps you have not yet stared it in the face, and that is why you cannot see through it.

        And…

        So, you have not yet finished your journey.

        Marvin, I’ve tried to be patient, but it’s now obvious I’ve wasted my time on a Dunning-Kruger situation. It’s been clear to me throughout this conversation that you don’t know what you’re talking about, and that you’re also too stupid to realize it.

        And then you come onto my blog and insult me.

        Fuck off, Marvin, I’m done with you.

      • Marvin Edwards

        Well that was unnecessary. In any case, I believe we were done. Thanks for the discussion.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        So were your many and varied insults and implications, dude.

      • Marvin Edwards

        Sorry Wyrd. I’m just trying to be helpful, and you seem to take offense at my assumption that you might need some help. No offense was intended, just like you intended no offense when you said, “I’m skipping the rest of your comment, because it doesn’t seem like you’re understanding what I’m saying”. I’m pretty sure I understand what you’re saying. It’s just that I disagree with some statements, and I try to lay out what I see is the problem with what you’re saying.

        I’m sure you understand how telling people that “There is never any such a thing as a ‘choice’ “, sounds to them. And I was trying to clarify why there actually is choosing going on despite the universe being totally deterministic. The choosing itself was an inevitable event, and if you leave it out, the causal chain is missing a link.

        But we’ve already hashed all that out. I don’t think I have anything else to offer on this subject, so, again, thanks for the opportunity to hear your views and to present mine to you.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Sorry Wyrd. I’m just trying to be helpful, and you seem to take offense at my assumption that you might need some help.

        You started and continued this conversation on the presumption that you’d figured out a complex issue that philosophers and scientists have been struggling to resolve for centuries.

        You haven’t. You have an opinion, nothing more. (I am not fond of gnostics.)

        I’m pretty sure I understand what you’re saying.

        People show that by feeding back the view, demonstrating they do understand, and then exploring those specific points on which they disagree.

        I try to lay out what I see is the problem with what you’re saying.

        It didn’t come across. I have no sense of your understanding of my post, nor exactly what you disagree with.

        I’m sure you understand how telling people that “There is never any such a thing as a ‘choice’ “, sounds to them.

        Yes. As I said, many folks have a hard time wrapping their heads around this. It’s a hard idea to swallow.

        And I was trying to clarify why there actually is choosing going on despite the universe being totally deterministic.

        Which is the point we can’t seem to get past despite way too many words written.

        Non-deterministic choice” and “determinism” are obviously contradictory.

        The crucial issue about “free will” is the idea that you could have chosen otherwise. The drone can’t. The planets can’t. Your liver can’t. Why can your brain?

        Clearly you’re a Compatiblist in believing in both determinism and free will, and like most Compatiblists your definition of free will seems pragmatic. (Which is fine; I touched on that in the blog post. Pragmatism is good.)

        My post was about Non-deterministic free will, because that is what we believe we have. As you say, we reject the notion our thoughts are determined.

        It was not about definitions of free will, because it’s been pretty well defined. In fact, Compatiblists have dozens of definitions! 😀

      • Marvin Edwards

        My point was that there is no “non-deterministic choice” involved. Ask someone why they chose A instead of B and they will give you the reasons that caused them to choose A. Reasons are causes.

        And choosing cannot be dismissed, because it is a real event. It is a calculation that controls what happens next, just like the logical process running in the microchip of the drone controls the speed of the rotors.

        We can’t say that this event did not happen. Or, perhaps you only mean to say that the output of this process should not be called a “choice”.

        But, like you say, we seem to disagree on this point.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Reasons are causes.

        Those reasons occur at the macro level, and aren’t what I’m talking about. Yes, there is a reason for what I choose for dinner tonight. And a chain of events leading to that, but these aren’t what I mean by deterministic.

        I’m talking about what determines why those macro reasons ever come to exist. I’m talking micro level, starting at quantum “particles.” Those are fully determined. So is every level built on them.

        You agree and take it all the way up to the mind, which you hold to be deterministic. (Whereas I’m not so sure about that last step.)

        And choosing cannot be dismissed, because it is a real event.

        I agree it’s real in the sense that, if asked, we say we “chose” something. And would be able to provide reasons for why we made that choice. That moment in our history did occur.

        Where we disagree (?) is in what actually happened.

        What feels like choosing is an illusion, because all the “reasons” the choice is based on are determined. And the mechanism (brain) making the “choice” is determined.

        As a determinist, you have to agree this is true. (You’ve already said the mind is determined, so you do agree.)

        As a compatibilist, you define a macro functional definition of free will based on macro events, and that’s fine. As a strict causal determinist, it’s kind of your only option if you want “free will” at all. (Seeing as how it’s necessary for morality and accountability.)

        Or, perhaps you only mean to say that the output of this process should not be called a “choice”.

        Precisely. Said so repeatedly. 😀

        All the If-Then-Else statements in my code never “choose” anything. The code flow branches in a fully deterministic way. Same way every time. No “choice.”

        What I mean by “choice (free will) is the intuitive sense we have. It’s analogous to a clock that sometimes runs backwards, sometimes runs forwards, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. A clock that “chooses” how to run for its own “reasons,” not because its gears drive it just so. Not the same every time. Not a machine.

        As an incompatibilist, my only options then are to attack determinism or reductionism in some way. This post was about my ideas on that. As I mentioned, it was triggered by the blog post of a theoretical physicist I follow.

        Further, I find it interesting, given causal determinism, that we have this intuitive sense. Where did it come from, and what does it mean? Is it a clue towards actual free will?

      • Marvin Edwards

        My explanation of the intuitive sense is that we observe ourselves and others choosing. We see a man in a restaurant choosing what to eat. We call that empirical event “choosing”. I don’t need to know what he “feels” in order to know what he is doing.

        In the same fashion, I observe myself considering the apple and the doughnut, and because I was taught to call that “choosing”, I say that I made a choice.

        My position, which I understand you reject, is that even if the process is totally mechanistic and causally inevitable, it is still called “choosing”. And that distinguishes it from other mental processes, such as “daydreaming”, or “listening to music”, etc.

        But the other part of my position, which is key to the compatibility of causal necessity with free will, is this:

        If my brain and its mechanistic processes are “that which is me”, and the same brain and mental processes are “that which is choosing”, then it follows that “that which is me” is the same as “that which is choosing”.

        If it is me, rather than some external force, that is performing the choosing, and thus controlling the choice, then I have free will.

        And that’s my formula for compatibility. I’m not certain how other compatibilists resolve the problem.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        …we observe ourselves and others choosing…

        And in the context of strict causal determination you don’t find that intriguing?

        Why are we not philosophical zombies or biological robots?

        My position […is that] it is still called “choosing”. And that distinguishes it from other mental processes, such as “daydreaming”, or “listening to music”, etc.

        Of course. We have to call it something.

        It’s not what it’s called, it’s what’s really going on behind “choosing” that’s the point.

        You’re okay with “choosing” being determined, essentially because it doesn’t seem that way.

        I’m not okay with “choosing” being determined. Compatibilism doesn’t work for me.

        I’m looking for something deeper.

        And that’s my formula for compatibility. I’m not certain how other compatibilists resolve the problem.

        Right. (1) It appears we have free will, therefore we behave as if it’s true. (2) The distinguishing property is the lack of (apparent) coercion.

        That’s kind of basic compatibilism in a nutshell. Being philosophers, compatibilists go into a lot more detail, and discover all sorts of interesting “gotchas” and “what-abouts,” especially when it comes to coercion and, therefore, about the reality of “free will.”

        If you want to pursue it, a very good place to start is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (an excellent resource):

        Main article: Compatibilism

      • Marvin Edwards

        WS: “Right. (1) It appears we have free will, therefore we behave as if it’s true. (2) The distinguishing property is the lack of (apparent) coercion.”

        What I’m suggesting is that it “appears” we have free will in the same way that an apple “appears” to be an apple. It is an objectively observed empirical phenomenon.

        But the phenomenon of free will is the one where the definition is that we are free of coercion or undue influence. We can observe whether or not someone was holding a gun to the person’s head.

        You refer often to the inner experience. I must presume that this experience is how the physical processing of thoughts and feelings is experienced.

        Why they should be experienced as they are experienced, and not in some other way, is an unanswerable question. The only answer is “that’s just the way blue looks”, and “that’s just the way music sounds”. (Although there are people with synesthesia who see colors when they hear music).

        The crux of the matter is whether reliable cause and effect is viewed as a form of external coercion.

        My view is that I am a specific “package” of cause and effect. One that has an interest in the consequences of events, especially for myself, my community, and my species.

        My interests may be different from those of another “package” of cause and effect, such as the tiger about to have me for dinner.

        My interests come from being a living organism of an intelligent species.

        And that is what distinguishes me from a zombie or a robot.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Once more unto the breach…

        What I’m suggesting is that it “appears” we have free will in the same way that an apple “appears” to be an apple. It is an objectively observed empirical phenomenon.

        I think it’s a category error to compare an objective physical object to a subjective experience, but I’ll go with it, since I think it gets to the crux of the matter. Or, being apples, the core.

        At the macro level, an apple is a red sweet juicy citrus fruit used for snacks, pies, and cider. (We’ll include green tart and other types in the same group.)

        But look closer, and an apple is a taut bag of various plant cells. Look closer still, it’s molecules. Closer still, it’s atoms and then, finally (maybe), fermions (& bosons).

        Likewise, when we look closely at the subjective experience of free will, it too isn’t what it appears to be. As with most fundamental things, it’s filled with nuance and complexity.

        And judging it subjectively only gets you started. That’s the apple level. Truly understanding it requires taking it down a few levels, because things start to look different.

        The crux of the matter is whether reliable cause and effect is viewed as a form of external coercion.

        To an incompatibilist, yes, it is. To a compatibilist,… it kinda still is, but they’re willing to ignore it on counts we’ve covered (pragmatism, morality, functionality, etc). For compatibilists, the functional appearance of free will is sufficient to be called free will.

        Incompatibilists say, “Well, now, hold on a second…” Appearances aren’t enough for us. 🙂

        Seriously, go read that link I gave you, and you’ll see some really fine parsing of what constitutes coercion sufficient to deny choice. A common example goes something like this:

        Suppose, while you were sleeping, I’ve planted a chip in your brain that lets me monitor your thoughts and change them, if I want. I’ve done this to prevent you from voting for Trump. If I detect that you’re about to, I’ll step in and force you to vote for someone else.

        You go vote and you don’t vote for Trump. (Yay!) I did not step in, and you voted freely. Or did you? You actually didn’t have a choice. It only seemed like you had a choice because you acted as I wanted you to. Had you not, I would have taken choice away from you.

        But you certainly believe you acted freely, and by all accounts you did. You chose your vote.

        And yet,… well, you tell me.

        Why they should be experienced as they are experienced, and not in some other way, is an unanswerable question.

        Maybe, but the entire field devoted to a Theory of Consciousness is trying to answer that question. As a physicalist (i.e. believing mind is determined), don’t you believe it’s just a machine we’ll figure out some day? Nothing mysterious about it!

        As for the way blue looks, do you know the one about Mary’s Room? Again, as a physicalist, don’t you believe Mary capable of perfect knowledge about color?

        Interesting. Explain.

      • Marvin Edwards

        About Mary’s Room, there are differences in the physical cells, the rods and cones, that correspond to the differences in color perception. So there is evidence suggesting that the qualia are associated with the specific physics of perception.

        However, this knowledge is different from the actual experiencing of the colors. And it is the actual experiencing that we’re talking about.

        In Michael Graziano’s “Consciousness and the Social Brain”, he points out that the information gathered and stored in memory is not the dry facts (which Mary has access to in the black and white room), but the experience itself, the sight, sound, taste, texture, and so forth. A memory of the whole experience might be triggered by any one of them.

        So, Mary’s knowledge is not perfect until she has actually experienced the color.

        The correspondence of specific brain injuries to the loss of specific mental functions also points to the physical basis of mind.

        This also seems to apply to conscious awareness. Graziano gives an example called the … hang on while I check my notes … called the “Hemispatial Neglect syndrome”. Patients, with injuries to certain areas that seem related to conscious awareness, may lose conscious awareness of a one side of space. Facing in one direction, the objects on one side of the room are essentially invisible to them. But walk them to the other end and turn them around, and now they see those objects, but are unaware of the other side.

        Now, the odd thing about the neglect syndrome is that the patient may still flinch, in reflex to something coming at their head from that side. But they won’t know why. So, all the perceptual and motor machinery is still working fine. It’s just the conscious awareness itself that is affected.

        The voting problem … let me continue that in a separate comment.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        So, Mary’s knowledge is not perfect until she has actually experienced the color.

        [shrug] Okay. Physicalists usually tend to believe Mary can have perfect knowledge, but the value you place on experience suggests you unconsciously do believe mind is something more than brain. In fact, nearly everyone does.

        (In case it wasn’t clear, I’m a dualist, so for me the answer is easy and obvious.)

      • Marvin Edwards

        The thing that gives me definitional problems is that mind appears to be a process. And a process is not a physical object, but rather a series of rapid changes in the object. Thinking is like a series of functions strung together, pulling up related memories, and combining them in new ways via imagination, and planning how one might implement the vision.

        None of these capabilities can be found in the atoms or molecules. But are emergent in the macro organism, serving a purpose that is only meaningful at the macro level, but which has causal influence upon the behavior of the object.

        Also, the same program can be run on multiple hardware platforms. In the same fashion, one guy can write a book of recipes that is discovered years after his death, and someone who never knew him could perform that process to cook the same meal.

        Anyway, one way I like to sum that up is that we can use physics, but physics cannot use us.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The thing that gives me definitional problems is that mind appears to be a process. And a process is not a physical object, but rather a series of rapid changes in the object.

        That (for many) is the distinction between materialism and physicalism. A materialist has trouble with non-physical things like processes, whereas a physicalist includes processes and other non-physical aspects.

        No one is really a materialist these days, so the two terms are often taken to mean the same thing. Essentially, they’re both monist positions — opposing dualism.

        The key point is that any process can be described by the physical components comprising it. A process has to have a substrate — a hardware. In that sense, a process is taken to be physical.

        In particular, processes don’t escape determinism because of their hardware.

        None of these capabilities can be found in the atoms or molecules.

        That’s just flat out false. Both have many processes involved in their behavior. Quarks (and the nucleons they comprise) constantly exchange gluons. The processes involving the electron are mind-bendingly complex. And certainly cells have processes!

      • Marvin Edwards

        P.S. It is a matter of faith to me, that experience is an emergent property of the living organism. Just like I imagine it is a matter of faith to you that mind is operating on its own.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Many leaps of faith involved in knowledge. Getting out of solipsism requires one. Accepting external reality actually is like your mental model is another.

        That experience is emergent isn’t really questioned. It’s the nature of what exactly it is that emerges that’s interesting.

      • Marvin Edwards

        About the voting. You may have already read this study by Nahmias, Shephard, and Reuter:
        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027714001462

        The subjects are given the scenario that there exists a wearable neural scanning machine that collects a person’s mental states for a month, and then it can perfectly predict who they will vote for.

        Despite perfect predictability, the subjects still attributed free will to the voter

        But when subjects were given the possibility that the machine could manipulate the person’s vote, free will disappeared.

        This suggests that people generally assume that while the person’s own brain was controlling their choice, they have free will. But when their choice is being externally manipulated, they don’t.

        But your specific question related to a case where a person’s choice is only manipulated if they are about to choose something other than what the external controller wants (a “Frankfurt case” question?). If the person was already going to vote as the external controller wanted, such that the external controller never had to exert that control, then did they or didn’t they have a “choice”?

        Well, when they walked into the voting booth, they saw two candidates on the ballot. Just like the menu in the restaurant, there is empirical evidence that there was more than one option to choose from. Each option is considered a “possible” choice, for SOMEBODY to make.

        That’s ordinary language. To say that neither the voter nor the controller had a choice, when there are two choices staring us in the face, would not make sense.

        The issue of free will is WHO or what is actually doing the choosing. Therefore, when the voter chose the one she preferred, she did so of her own free will. But when the external controller exerted control, and made the choice he preferred, then she did not choose of her own free will, but he did.

        At least, that’s how I would sort that out.

        When “that which is her” is the same as “that which is choosing”, then it is her own choosing process that controls the outcome.

        Exceptions would be a mental illness or injury that made a rational choice impossible. Is the illness her or something else? My understanding is that the a mental illness that prevents rational choosing is treated as an undue influence.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        (a “Frankfurt case” question?)

        Yep. (Although Frankfurt was specifically concerned with whether moral responsibility could be assigned in such a case. We’re looking at things on a more basic level here.)

        To say that neither the voter nor the controller had a choice, when there are two choices staring us in the face, would not make sense.

        (Pssst: Not relevant. You’re still fighting that “choice” battle. Let’s take that as well-covered and move on. Of course both have a “choice” in this scenario.)

        Therefore, when the voter chose the one she preferred, she did so of her own free will.

        Despite the fact that she didn’t actually have any other option?

        (I don’t mean that in a deterministic sense. I mean that because the controller would have stepped in had she tried to vote otherwise.)

      • Marvin Edwards

        But the controller exerted no control in the case where she had decided for herself to vote for the same candidate. She was “free” of his coercion when she chose who she “would” (past tense of “will”) vote for. Her “will” was “freely chosen”.

        Again, that’s the empirical observation of what occurred, rather than a metaphorical view (“she didn’t actually have any other option” is figurative speech, because she actually “actually” had two options to choose from).
        .

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Again, that’s the empirical observation of what occurred,

        Well, it’s your analysis and opinion of that empirical observation. Other rational people see it differently. The answer depends on your view of reality.

      • Marvin Edwards

        One last thing, about the apple. It is part of a living organism, the apple tree. The tree behaves purposefully, but not deliberately, to survive, thrive, and reproduce. The apple serves the purpose of reproduction.

        But what I want to say about the apple is this:
        1. As the apple is reduced to its cells, we lose the distinction between the apple and other fruits.
        2. As the cells are reduced to molecules, we lose the distinction between plants and animals.
        3. As the molecules are reduced to atoms, we lose the distinction between the animate and the inanimate.

        Reductionism loses meaning.

        We must exercise care when using reductionism, such that we are gaining knowledge by explaining the phenomenon, rather than losing knowledge by “explaining it away”.

        The same applies as we reduce “free will”, or “persons” to their component parts.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        But, once again, under determinism, an apple is fully explained by its component parts. Under determinism, so too must be the mind, including “free will.”

      • Marvin Edwards

        Yeah, I’m sort of getting your point here. The apple is most definitely not “fully explained” by its component parts. The apple, in relation to me, is not a collection of atoms, but a food that I eat in order to survive, thrive, and reproduce.

        So, I cannot assume that “under determinism” the apple is something different than what it is to me. Just like I don’t assume that “under determinism” free will is anything different than what it means to me.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The apple is most definitely not “fully explained” by its component parts.

        In what way is it not?

        The meaning you ascribe to it is within you, not the apple.

        The apple is what it is: an attempt by the apple tree to spread its DNA. The apple, itself, is nothing more than that.

        By this same account, any meaning you ascribe to said apple is fully explained by the component parts of your brain.

        Throughout this discussion, you’ve already agreed with every aspect of this.

      • Marvin Edwards

        WS: “Throughout this discussion, you’ve already agreed with every aspect of this.”

        I’d best do a quick check then.

        The biological organism does not reduce to its components. The organism, as a whole, seeks to survive, thrive, and reproduce. This purpose is not found in any of its components. Parts which happen to be living cells may seek to replicate themselves as individuals, but if that gets out of hand we have cancer, a non-cooperative member of the organization, seeking good for itself as the expense of others, and at the expense of the whole organism.

        The intelligent biological organism is equipped with a control center that controls both autonomic and deliberate behavior. The part controlling deliberate actions performs a logical process in which symbols relating to the organism’s internal and external environment are manipulated as thoughts and feelings. The thoughts and feelings causally determine the choosing on behalf of the organism as a whole, and the choosing causally determines the deliberate actions of the organism as a whole.

        Neither purpose nor reason can be found in the atoms of which the organism is constructed. But purpose and reasoning run as processes upon the physical hardware.

        As you’ve suggested, I’m supposed to call this process “physical”, because it runs on a material substrate.

        Either that or I must believe in gods and ghosts. And I’d prefer not to do that.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The biological organism does not reduce to its components.

        Yes. It absolutely does. This is scientific fact, and if you dispute it, you’d better have much better grounds than you do.

        Everything you cited is fully explained by how the component parts interact such that new behaviors arise. This is, in fact, required by casual determinism!

        But purpose and reasoning run as processes upon the physical hardware.

        No. Only, it appears, in brains, and only seriously in human brains.

        No other system has any concept of purpose, meaning, or reasoning. Apples don’t, computers don’t, most animals don’t.

      • Marvin Edwards

        I wasn’t sure how to challenge your claim that reductionism is a “scientific fact”. So I looked it up in Wiki. They quote Philip Warren Anderson who won the nobel as saying, “At each stage, entirely new laws, concepts and generalizations are necessary, requiring inspiration and creativity to just as great a degree as in the previous one. Psychology is not applied biology nor is biology applied chemistry.”

      • Wyrd Smythe

        [Wiki article on reductionism quotes] Philip Warren Anderson…

        You’re not arguing in good faith.

        The sentence preceding it reads (emphasis mine): “One observation he made was that the sciences can be arranged roughly in a linear hierarchy — particle physics, solid state physics, chemistry, molecular biology, cellular biology, physiology, psychology, social sciences — in that the elementary entities of one science obeys the principles of the science that precedes it in the hierarchy; yet this does not imply that one science is just an applied version of the science that precedes it.”

        And pretty much everyone agrees with the latter part of that and with the part you quoted. Reductionism and emergence are not mutually exclusive.

        Further, this is all causally determined. No one suggests any non-deterministic emergence.

        You also don’t acknowledge the five paragraphs preceding the one quoting Anderson that discuss scientific reductionism. That paragraph was offered in counter-point to the main discussion.

        Yes, there are those that disagree. (Aren’t there always?) But the mainstream view supports (scientific) reductionism, and no one has provided positive proof it’s wrong.

      • Marvin Edwards

        My impression is that emergence proves that reductionism is insufficient to explain the behavior of the higher level system. And that also seems to be the conclusion of the scientist that we both quoted.

        I still hold that determinism based solely on physical causation is incomplete, and therefore false. When the physical object is organized as a living organism, it behaves differently than an inanimate object. When the living organism is equipped with intelligence, it behaves differently than an organism limited to instinctual behavior.

        It is not that the laws of physics are ever broken, but rather that the laws of physics don’t cover everything. Specifically, they do no cover purposeful or rational behavior.

        Physics will never be able to explain why a car stops at a red light, because the traffic laws are a creation of society, and will be found at the Division of Motor Vehicles, but not in any physics textbook.

        We cannot explain that event without including the biological purpose of survival and the rational calculation that stopping at the red light is the best means of accomplishing that purpose.

        Therefore, if determinism is to assert that every event is in theory explainable in terms of reliable causation, it must include purpose and reasons among its causes.

        Without them, determinism is incomplete. And if it is incomplete, then it is false.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        I give up. Believe what you believe.

      • Marvin Edwards

        Cool.
        Tanks. oo- oo- oo-<= (boom)

      • Marvin Edwards

        Just one other note. I believe that my version of compatibilism is the most simple and direct resolution. Every event may be causally inevitable, but if so, then it will also be causally inevitable that I will be doing the choosing.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        And believing everything you believe, say, and do. Yep. Go re-read the second dark red paragraph in the post… 😀

      • Marvin Edwards

        Loved the first red block. But I have a problem, as you may have guessed, with the second one.

        In a world of perfect determinism, as I presume this is, we remain as real as anything else in the physical universe.

        There is no denying, for example, that we exist as physical objects.

        Nor is it reasonable to deny that we also exist as living organisms, animated to behave in ways that serve our purpose to survive, thrive, and reproduce.

        Nor is it reasonable to deny that we are also an intelligent species, able to imagine different means to achieve our purpose, estimate how the different options are likely to play out, and choose for ourselves what we will do next.

        If I am alone in a room with a bowl of apples, and I feel hungry, and, because dinner is still a few hours away I decide to eat one now, then I am the meaningful and relevant cause of that apple being eaten.

        Its just me and the apples. No prior causes, such as my mom telling me to eat apples instead of doughnuts, are in the room with me. The only way that any prior cause can affect my choice is if it has first become an integral part of who I am.

        There’s just me, and the apples. How my brain performs the mental process of choosing, is irrelevant to the fact that it is my own brain (“me”) that is doing the choosing.

        I considered waiting for dinner. I considered having the apple now. Those were my two choices.

        Only one of those choices was causally necessary from any prior point in eternity. But it was also causally necessary that it would be me making the choice, of my own free will.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I have a problem, as you may have guessed, with the second one.

        I would not have guessed that because it was presented in agreement with you when you said:

        Every event may be causally inevitable, but if so, then it will also be causally inevitable that I will be doing the choosing.

        The second red block is a restatement of that.

        Beyond that, I’m not at all sure what your point in this comment was.

        Look, I think we’ve explored the territory pretty well by now. Let’s move on.

      • Marvin Edwards

        Not sure that there is anywhere else to go on this issue. My goal is to understand whether your viewpoint, which I gather is libertarian, can see that reliable cause and effect, from which I presume determinism is logically derived, is not incompatible with human causal agency.

        It seems to me that we both ultimately rest upon our faith positions.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        My goal is to understand whether your viewpoint, which I gather is libertarian, can see that reliable cause and effect, from which I presume determinism is logically derived, is not incompatible with human causal agency.

        I am a libertarian, but my political stance has nothing to do with this.

        My viewpoint (I hope) is very clear in the post and these comments. If there’s a question on a specific point, asking is good.

        “Reliable cause and effect” is your term. “Causal Determination” is the technical term for cause and effect. It’s not logically derived; it’s the same thing.

        “Human causal agency” is also your term… you mean free will in the intuitive sense?

        Is your question: “Does my viewpoint hold causal determination compatible with free will?”

        No. That’s why it’s called incompatibilism.

        Therefore, I believe that either free will is an illusion (a story our mind makes up), or the mind is not deterministic.

        As the blog post makes clear, I’m pondering the latter.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        [Choice] can be viewed as brain activity using a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine.

        Yes. And did you know that a number of studies have shown that the neurological activity of the brain happens before conscious choice occurs in the mind?

        It’s very much as if our brain machine acts on its programming, and then our consciousness, which is just along for the ride, makes up a story about choosing something.

        Lots of studies show the brain operating on its own, so to speak, while consciousness seems to be a passenger of sorts. More a high-level observer than a guiding force.

        Indeed, the whole area of how conscious thought causes our body machines to act is somewhat mysterious. We really need that Theory of Consciousness!

      • Marvin Edwards

        Oh! A good theory of consciousness can be found in Michael Graziano’s “Consciousness and the Social Brain”. He describes conscious awareness as a set of data records that models and tracks the function of attention.

        Both he and Michael Gazzaniga (“Who’s In Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain”) assert in their works that the brain exhibits both bottom-up and top-down causation.

        Gazzaniga’s book is the one that describes the “interpreter” function in the left hemisphere that explains our behavior to ourselves and others, and which will confabulate a story if it cannot figure out why we did something (as is often the case when given a post-hypnotic suggestion to do something when the subject hears a cue word, but also given the suggestion that you will forget everything that occurred during hypnosis).

        Both books are very good reads, and very informative.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Gravity is actually a force.

        Well,… maybe. 🙂

        This is getting way down in the weeds, so I’m making it a sidebar, but if Einstein was right (and I’m hoping he was), gravity isn’t a force as physicists use the term. Specifically, there’s no (actual) such thing as a graviton.

        Or the quantum physicists are right, and there is. It all hinges on one of the greatest questions facing theoretical physics: Got Quantum Gravity?

        To a physicist the only forces are (1) electromagnetic, (2) weak, (3) strong, and (4) [maybe] gravity. They’re mediated by, respectively, (1) photons, (2) W+, W-, Z0 gauge bosons, (3) gluons, and (4) gravitons [maybe; none found so far].

        Einstein’s General Relativity is about how, on a small scale, gravity and acceleration are indistinguishable — because they’re actually the same thing. The forces you feel on a roller coaster are, literally, a form of gravity.

        Under GR, mass warps spacetime and gravity is us literally sliding “down” the well caused by that warp. Only the floor stops us, exactly as the car and seatbelt stop us on the roller coaster.

        And, cool for old Al, very recent observations of a star zipping past our galaxy’s black hole confirmed GR under very extreme conditions. That star was moving fast and was in a substantial gravity well!

        But GR and Quantum Field Theory don’t agree, so something has to give. Most bet on quantizing spacetime, because “everything” is quantized. Even if there are no actual gravitons, gravity will be realized in terms of virtual gravitons that quantize it.

        I hold out hope for a reality in which spacetime is smooth, Einstein was right, and there is something very off about the whole quantum thing. Matter and energy clearly are quantized, but as a dualist I’m comfortable with the duality.

        It’s like epicycles. We’ve gone down a wrong idea and based everything on it. What if QFT is just plain wrong? String theory and Loop Quantum Gravity suggests so. I’m betting on Al.

        But I’m probably wrong. 🙂 It’s definitely a fringe idea, but there are reputable physicists who consider the idea a possibility. I’ll hold up hope until proved wrong! 😀

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Heh. I’d forgotten this. Not the first time I’ve gone down this road. From a 2014 post: Determined Thoughts

    Eighth paragraph reads:

    “Two years ago, I got into a debate where the idea of determinism was a key part of the discussion. That debate never went anywhere, because the other party didn’t seem to fully appreciate what physical determinism involved. Despite several attempts, I was never able to get that across, and ultimately we both just walked away from the table.”

    Deja Vu!

    As I’ve said, it’s a challenging topic that it almost takes a theoretical physicist to wrap their heads around, and very few operate at that level.

    • Marvin Edwards

      Hmm. So you’re saying you’ve been wrong about this for a long time. 🙂

      The simple insight, that changes the implications of determinism, is that, although we came into this world via prior causes, we are the meaningful and relevant determinants of what we deliberately choose to do.

      Deterministic inevitability does not, as you seem to believe, remove us from the picture. Rather, it incorporates our control and our choices within the overall scheme of causation.

      When I choose to eat a apple, I cannot attribute the cause of this event to the Big Bang. The hunger is me (biological causation). The calculation that the apple will satisfy my hunger is also me (rational causation). And now the apple is also me (physical causation). 😎

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