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Steve-n

The Illusion of Free Will

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This is what David Kelley identifies as the demand for diaphanousness, that consciousness needs to grasp reality directly without any of that nasty dirty matter as a means. The trend in philosophy from Kant up through the twentieth century has been that because the brain is made of that nasty dirty matter then it could not grasp reality. Your position is a pre-Kantian regression to religious idealism, an Augustinian or Platonist abhorrence of matter. You are obsolete by three centuries and counting.

Straw Man, Ad Hominem, Putting words in my mouth.... It gets tiresome responding to these types of silly retorts. Do you have a refutation of my point or not?

I neither said nor implied that matter should not be a means to consciousness. Nor did I say or imply that matter is "dirty" or that the brain is disabled because of its material nature.

Matter is a means to consciousness- but volitional consciousness requires MORE than matter. That is my point. It has nothing to do with matter being dirty and it has nothing to do with matter as a means.

If the mind is ONLY matter, then it can only act according to its material nature (deterministically). It is VERY simple.

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Straw Man, Ad Hominem, Putting words in my mouth.... It gets tiresome responding to these types of silly retorts. Do you have a refutation of my point or not?

So why the constant comparisons of the functions of the brain to farting and belching? These are revealing selections I think, that somehow the mind is unclean and immoral if it is fully material.

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So why the constant comparisons of the functions of the brain to farting and belching? These are revealing selections I think, that somehow the mind is unclean and immoral if it is fully material.

It's not about the cleanliness or morality- it's about the correspondence to reality. The results of chemical reactions (like burps) do not correspond to reality in any way. If the functioning of the mind is ONLY the result of chemical reactions, then there would be no reason to consider the functioning of the mind to correspond to reality-- anymore than a burp corresponds to reality.

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Let's try this from another angle.

Imagine you are a therapist and a woman told you that every time she made love to her husband, she has unwanted thoughts and emotions relating to sexual abuse she experienced as a child. Is it your position that this is her volitional consciousness at work? I assume you won't take the absurd position that she is volitionally thinking unwanted thoughts, as that would be a clear contradiction.

What distinction are you relying on between pretending to disregard a proof and actually disregarding it?

Okay, lets say I believe all bananas are purple in color.

If you show me a yellow banana, I have no choice but to accept that my belief was incorrect and that a banana can be yellow. I have no choice to accept or reject/disregard the existence of non-purple bananas. I can pretend to disregard the existence of non-purple bananas, but once proven it cannot be denied.

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Imagine you are a therapist and a woman told you that every time she made love to her husband, she has unwanted thoughts and emotions relating to sexual abuse she experienced as a child. Is it your position that this is her volitional consciousness at work? I assume you won't take the absurd position that she is volitionally thinking unwanted thoughts, as that would be a clear contradiction.

The mind is not free from the functionality of the brain. When you perform any action, you will refer to past memories of that action, so it makes sense that her mind would work that way. If left alone, she will probably continue to have those unwanted emotions. But if she wanted to, she has the power to go through therapy, and control those thoughts, and break those emotional ties. The mind depends on the brain for its functionality, but through focus and training it is possible to change emotions that may initially appear to be "automatic" or "uncontrollable". People are continually changing their emotional ties to things/events, though some may be more difficult to change than others, due to the strength of the emotions tied to those memories.

To believe you can simply flip a mental switch and turn off deep unwanted emotions is to ignore the way the brain works, and pretend that the mind does not depend on the brain, i.e. to assert the existence of a mind/body dichotomy.

Edited by brian0918

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If you show me a yellow banana, I have no choice but to accept that my belief was incorrect and that a banana can be yellow. I have no choice to accept or reject/disregard the existence of non-purple bananas. I can pretend to disregard the existence of non-purple bananas, but once proven it cannot be denied.

I suspect you misunderstand the difference between percepts and concepts. Your senses, being by their nature infallible and non-volitional, will perceive bananas a certain color no matter what you choose to claim you are seeing. There is no choice involved in seeing a yellow banana, not at all, but choice is involved when forming the concept "banana" and "yellow." If you see a banana, you don't automatically know that it is a banana, nor do you automatically know that it is purple or yellow or any color at all. You only have the percepts. In order to call the object a banana, you have to refer somehow to your process of integrating various concretes into the concept "banana". Conceptual error is possible because there is choice and volition in concept formation, but perceptual error is NOT possible because there is no choice involved in perception. At least if there isn't something wrong/broken with your brain that may cause hallucination. You seem to be equating percepts with concepts. They are not the same. To point out, not that you're suggesting this, but because perception is infallible, denying that A is A is inherently dishonest. It involves is denying what cannot be denied, and the means in which you are able to deny anything anyway. Pretending to disregard the existence of non-purple bananas after having seen a non-purple banana is the same idea.

Edited by Eiuol

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The mind is not free from the functionality of the brain. When you perform any action, you will refer to past memories of that action, so it makes sense that her mind would work that way. If left alone, she will probably continue to have those unwanted emotions. But if she wanted to, she has the power to go through therapy, and control those thoughts, and break those emotional ties. The mind depends on the brain for its functionality, but through focus and training it is possible to change emotions that may initially appear to be "automatic" or "uncontrollable". People are continually changing their emotional ties to things/events, though some may be more difficult to change than others, due to the strength of the emotions tied to those memories.

The point of the example was to shows to show undeniably that at least some thoughts are non-volitional. Clearly in the case of unwanted thoughts there exist no volitional thinker. So why would positive thoughts necessitate a volitional thinker?

To believe you can simply flip a mental switch and turn off deep unwanted emotions is to ignore the way the brain works, and pretend that the mind does not depend on the brain, i.e. to assert the existence of a mind/body dichotomy.

The way the term free will is usually used it does suggest a mind/body dichotomy. I agree no such dichotomy exists.

Anyways, reviewing the arguments, I can see that 'free will' does exist if I use the objectivist definition. If I go by mainstream use of the term it does not.

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I suspect you misunderstand the difference between percepts and concepts. Your senses, being by their nature infallible and non-volitional, will perceive bananas a certain color no matter what you choose to claim you are seeing.

I know the difference, but I can see how my example could lend itself to that confusion.

There is no choice involved in seeing a yellow banana, not at all, but choice is involved when forming the concept "banana" and "yellow."

a.

At what age did your consciousness become volitionally directed? Unless English was your second language, I find that suggestion that you had any active or volitional role in the formation of the banana or yellow concept to be extremely unlikely. What about the "mamma" or "dadda" concept, are you going to suggest their was a choice involved in their formation on the part of the baby?

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Clearly in the case of unwanted thoughts there exist no volitional thinker.

You are simply equivocating on "unwanted" - the individual sees why the emotional reactions are bad, and conflict with her long-term goals of having a husband and family, but she still places irrational value in these emotional reactions, and so continues to allow them to affect her decisions.

The same goes for a drug addict who knows that his life would be better if he kicked the habit, but whose whole value system is skewed by this addiction, due to the heavy effect the chemicals have on his brain. The same way an addict places drugs above food, a rape victim may place the emotional repugnance to sex above her long-term goals. They both have a skewed value hierarchy due to the strong chemical responses (emotions) involved.

The equivocation comes from the use of "unwanted" to refer to both "in conflict with other goals" and "unavoidable". The fact that a person currently places irrationally high value in something does not mean that he is unable to reduce that value. But he cannot expect to be able to reduce that value with the flip of a switch, since the brain does not work that way. To claim that "free will" must entail such abilities is to again assert a mind/body dichotomy - to claim that the mind must act apart from the brain.

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You are simply equivocating on "unwanted" - the individual sees why the emotional reactions are bad, and conflict with her long-term goals of having a husband and family, but she still places irrational value in these emotional reactions, and so continues to allow them to affect her decisions.

Why are you saying she places value in the reactions? Would you say she is volitionally placing value in them? Is she intentionally self-sabotaging?

The same goes for a drug addict who knows that his life would be better if he kicked the habit, but whose whole value system is skewed by this addiction, due to the heavy effect the chemicals have on his brain. The same way an addict places drugs above food, a rape victim may place the emotional repugnance to sex above her long-term goals. They both have a skewed value hierarchy due to the strong chemical responses (emotions) involved.

In both of these types of cases, individuals often seek help because they have lost control. They acknowledge that they are no longer steering their ship. Their actions are being direct by unchosen thoughts/emotions/impulses.

The equivocation comes from the use of "unwanted" to refer to both "in conflict with other goals" and "unavoidable". The fact that a person currently places irrationally high value in something does not mean that he is unable to reduce that value. But he cannot expect to be able to reduce that value with the flip of a switch, since the brain does not work that way. To claim that "free will" must entail such abilities is to again assert a mind/body dichotomy - to claim that the mind must act apart from the brain.

Her unwanted reaction during sex satisfies both conditions. It was both "in conflict with other goals" and "unavoidable." I am not saying permanently unavoidable but it was unavoidable if it had not yet been healed. Just because she had not healed the wound yet does not mean that she won't. She may have already scheduled an appointment with a therapist.

I am not claiming that "free will" must entail the ability to act apart from the brain, just pointing out that individuals have unconscious conditioned responses that cause thoughts/emotions to occur non-volitionally.

Unconsciousness can be overcome. Meditation is excellent for this, as many rational scientists like Sam Harris have discovered.

Edited by Steve-n

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It's not about the cleanliness or morality- it's about the correspondence to reality. The results of chemical reactions (like burps) do not correspond to reality in any way. If the functioning of the mind is ONLY the result of chemical reactions, then there would be no reason to consider the functioning of the mind to correspond to reality-- anymore than a burp corresponds to reality.

How something which is not physical can possibly correspond to the physical is a mystery you leave unaddressed. edit: It is especially troublesome since you also specify that this nonphysical element must be unaffected by the physical while being able to control the body. To correspond with reality while remaining aloof and unaffected by it are contradictory requirements.

On the contrary, the functioning of the faculty of sight is understood very well nowadays and what happens with the lens of the eye, the pupil, the retina, the optic nerve and first stages of processing is all purely chemical reactions and it is strictly conforming to reality. Footprints in sand correspond to the reality of the foot that made them. All transducers correspond to the property they sense in a regular way. What those sensations and percepts are transduced into in the case of brains is memories, short and long term. The rest of the brain is about associating memories into conceptual hierarchies (or confused spaghetti networks), and is self-ordered. It is quite possible to keep memories properly associated and also for them to be improperly associated, that is what truth and error are respectively.

Edited by Grames

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Let's try this from another angle.

What's in it for me? Are you going acknowledge my previous post or just blow it off like this? If you are just going to side-step direct answers to your questions with no apparent effect on your thinking why bother?

Imagine you are a therapist and a woman told you that every time she made love to her husband, she has unwanted thoughts and emotions relating to sexual abuse she experienced as a child. Is it your position that this is her volitional consciousness at work? I assume you won't take the absurd position that she is volitionally thinking unwanted thoughts, as that would be a clear contradiction.

Emotions are non-volitional. There is no technology to remove specific memories, so their continued existence is also non-volitional. You really don't know much about Objectivism, do you? I can see I'm putting too much effort into these replies.

Okay, lets say I believe all bananas are purple in color.

If you show me a yellow banana, I have no choice but to accept that my belief was incorrect and that a banana can be yellow. I have no choice to accept or reject/disregard the existence of non-purple bananas. I can pretend to disregard the existence of non-purple bananas, but once proven it cannot be denied.

Wrong. It is the easiest thing in world to deny what is plainly before your nose, people do it every day. You are doing it right now. (edit: by denying denial)

Edited by Grames

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What's in it for me? Are you going acknowledge my previous post or just blow it off like this? If you are just going to side-step direct answers to your questions with no apparent effect on your thinking why bother?

I read your answers. I did not see value in continuing to go in circles.

Emotions are non-volitional. There is no technology to remove specific memories, so their continued existence is also non-volitional. You really don't know much about Objectivism, do you? I can see I'm putting too much effort into these replies.

If emotions are non-volitional then is it not fair to say that the associated thoughts that arise with the emotions are also non-volitional? Would you say about a depressed person that their emotions of depression are non-volitional but the thoughts "I am worthless," "life sucks," etc, that arise with their depression are volitional?

Perhaps I don't know much about objectivism. I've only read Atlas Shrugged. I just got OPAR in the mail today so won't be posting here anymore until I've gone through it.

Wrong. It is the easiest thing in world to deny what is plainly before your nose, people do it every day. You are doing it right now. (edit: by denying denial)

If you know something you know it. You can adamantly deny that you know it, sure, but that does not change the fact that you know it.

Edited by Steve-n

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If emotions are non-volitional then is it not fair to say that the associated thoughts that arise with the emotions are also non-volitional? Would you say about a depressed person that their emotions of depression are non-volitional but the thoughts "I am worthless," "life sucks," etc, that arise with their depression are volitional?

edit: Yes, the associated thoughts are non-volitional because they are memories with automatized associations.

The sum and substance of volition is choosing to pay attention, and to one thing versus another. I remembered this story about "feeding the wolf", so I Googled it and will paste it in here:

A Cherokee Legend

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.

"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

"Feeding" here means "paying attention to". Though I would not sort every emotion into same category as listed in this story, the principle that "you get more of what you pay attention to and less of what you don't" is psychologically sound. There is also Aristotle's maxim "Excellence is a habit". It takes time get results this way, so not being able to instantaneously banish depression or self-esteem issues by wishing they would disappear is no disproof of volition.

This is not to be confused with any of that "law of attraction" magical thinking which purports to make things outside your consciousness come to you. Just as working any muscle in the body can make it stronger and make it grow, tending to good habits of thought will strengthen and make them grow. The brain is biological so this is in principle possible, and there is actual evidence for it neuro-plasticity. Nor will this overcome certain psychiatric problems, no more than lifting weights can fight off the emaciation due to malnutrition.

If you know something you know it. You can adamantly deny that you know it, sure, but that does not change the fact that you know it.

What matters is what you do, not what you can remember if you care to. Memories once gained are kept largely automatically and non-volitionally, but paying attention to them and acting as if they matter or are true is under volitional control.

Edited by Grames

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The following Sam Harris videos on youtube present the idea that free will is an illusion, and ultimately that even "the illusion of free will is an illusion" (in other words it is NOT self-evident).

If anyone can refute his scientific and logical arguments, I'd love to hear it. Thanks.

Harris is serious about this "no free will" nonsense -- unfortunately. He makes the same argument in his current book The Moral Landscape -- an otherwise decent work which claims that proper ethics and a guide to universal well-being can be scientifically determined and verified.

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The whole article is the fallacy of composition. It is the same as saying a cube of sugar is not really a cube because none of its molecules and atoms are cubic. In another formulation I like to come back to again and again, the same reasoning would claim there is no such thing as life because individual atoms are not alive. Dumb article.

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I feel these free will debates are usually too heavily loaded to a single, in vacuo, choice.

Fair enough, volition should be isolated, to be identified, but the arguments leave out one critical dimension:- time.

On-going application and repitition, self-evidently pay off.

Like the golfer said, the more I practise, the luckier I get.

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I realize I'm late to the party. Sorry.

Will someone tell me where the laws of physics end and where human free-will begins? When does the universe cease to be particles reacting to each other, and become humans deciding how to behave?

Even if a Cherokee decides to feed a certain wolf, he will do so because 1. his father told him the story and 2. because of other experiences he has had that lead him to believe that one wolf is better than the other. If a depressed or sexually abused person seeks treatment it is because 1. the person has been made aware of treatment and 2. has been convinced through experience that treatment is effective. Consider that should depression not reach a significant level of uncomfortableness, then someone may not be motivated enough to receive treatment.

Right now, I can think of no way that the multitudinous events that make up the universe do not cause me to "choose" a particular meal for lunch. (I wouldn't use that analogy if I hadn't just eaten). Where do the causes stop and the effects of free will begin? How does causality not extend to human beings decision-making processes?

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I realize I'm late to the party. Sorry.

...

Where do the causes stop and the effects of free will begin? How does causality not extend to human beings decision-making processes?

Just because you are late to the party doesn't mean you can't read back through the last couple pages (e.g. here or here), where these two questions are directly addressed - particularly the common misunderstanding of causality as "causes making effects", or the belief that free will must violate causality, which is not true.

Edited by brian0918

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Will someone tell me where the laws of physics end and where human free-will begins? When does the universe cease to be particles reacting to each other, and become humans deciding how to behave?

There is no such point, and there is no need for one. We don't need for the laws of physics to break down at some point in order to have a self-determining system like human consciousness.

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Theres also a section in OPAR that discusses volition as an instance of causality rather than a violation of it. In the simplest terms possible: causality is the law of identity applied to action, part of the identity of mans consciousness is volition. Recognition of the fact that consciousness has a specific identity, and specific rules and requirements for proper, objective methods of reasoning might seem obvious, but Rands formulations on the matter were/are a huge breakthrough in epistemology.

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what do you guys think of that dennett video?

Well, after his little anecdote, he states that whether or not our lives are "strictly speaking, undetermined" is an open question. There is a contradiction there, that many determinists miss, about any attempt to answer that question, or pursue knowledge at all, if we are not ultimately in control of what we regard as true. If we cannot choose to accept or reject propositions based on evidence and our own volition, then knowledge, true self-attained correspondence between our thoughts and reality is simply impossible to have.

He goes on to compare a statement like "you will never win the Olympic pole vault medal," to the notion that science could determine every action you will ever make. The difference, of course, is that the first statement, while it does make a scientific statement about your future, does not involve the denial of volition, and thus does not engage in the above contradiction. The second notion would.

Edited by Dante

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