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Tsiklon

The illusion of volition(AKA free will)

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So I saw a thread about free will over here (http://forums.4aynra...showtopic=13394) about free will and a user on the first page of that thread had this to say and since I cannot post on that forum I thought I'd address his points and then make mine he says:

First premise to check: the mind is physical. The brain is physical, the mind is not. Second premise to check: actions are caused by entities. Volition is not an entity, it is a process of an attribute of an entity (consciousness). Thus, volition is caused by man. Third premise to check: causality is not determinism. Fourth premise to check: physical things follow physical laws. Which physical laws? Light does not follow Newtonian mechanics; how much does an inch weigh - what is its velocity? Ignorance of the physical laws that give rise to volition does not mean they are reducible to those laws that are known.

First premise: The mind is not physical. (I'll assume initially that this statement is true)

Fact: The mind is affected by physical things! Most notably, by chemical compounds that cross the blood brain barrier[i.e. drugs]. There are certain hallucinogens powerful enough to create delusions and illusions indistinguishable from reality. The notorious drug PCP can mimic the effects of schizophrenic psychosis in high enough doses where a person becomes compelled unto action by these delusions. And for millions of people, certain drugs are addictive enough to compel users to continue to consume the drug even though they are aware of its harmful effects(alcohol addiction requires medical intervention because its withdrawal symptoms are potentially fatal).

Since Ayn Rands death 30 years ago, a myriad of new discoveries about how the human brain thinks have further narrowed the gap between the mind and brain. Rand was WRONG about her theory that we can observer reality directly! In fact, what neuroscientists like David Hubel have shown is that with senses like vision, the light striking the retina is encoded into an electrical signal which the brain processes and constructs a model based on the patterns of light. This may explain how hallucinations works: Feedback from another part of the brain into the visual cortex that the brain interprets(and the mind perceives) as being an object that one is looking at even though it isn't actually there.

And then there is something that was discovered in the 1960s by 2 German scientists which they called the bereitschiftspotential (http://en.wikipedia....chaftspotential) which as Dr Mark Hallet is the driving force behind the thing we perceive as agency (http://www.ncbi.nlm....les/PMC1950571/) While the mechanism of what we think of as volition have not been completely elucidated, the scientific evidence clearly is telling us that BRAINS MAKE MINDS AND THE ABILITY TO MAKE DECISIONS FREE FROM ANY CONSTRAINTS IS IMPOSSIBLE. Conclusion: free will is an illusion that does not actually exist.

Edited by Tsiklon

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THE ABILITY TO MAKE DECISIONS FREE FROM ANY CONSTRAINTS IS IMPOSSIBLE. Conclusion: free will as Ayn Rand defines is an illusion that does not actually exist.

Well sure. But is that Ayn Rand's actual position?

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Are you familiar with Ayn Rand, or is the extent of your knowledge about her that post you're quoting? I hate to tell you this, but that's not Ayn Rand you were talking to, that's some guy on the Internet. Ayn Rand died a while back.

Edited by Nicky

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Are you familiar with Ayn Rand, or is the extent of your knowledge about her that post you're quoting? I hate to tell you this, but that's not Ayn Rand you were talking to, that's some guy on the Internet. Ayn Rand died a while back.

I beg your pardon sir, but here are some quotes by Rand herself about volition: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/free_will.html

But if I am wrong, and Ayn Rand did not believe in free will, please inform me of evidence to the contrary(and no I'm not being sarcastic).

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I beg your pardon sir, but here are some quotes by Rand herself about volition: http://aynrandlexico.../free_will.html

But if I am wrong, and Ayn Rand did not believe in free will, please inform me of evidence to the contrary(and no I'm not being sarcastic).

Ayn Rand believed in free will. But the ideas you quoted and are arguing against still have nothing to do with Ayn Rand. They're still just stuff some guy on the Internet told you.

I look forward to you forgetting all about that guy and what he told you, reading some of the ideas you just linked to , and then trying to refute them without relying on straw man arguments.

Edited by Nicky

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Ayn Rand believed in free will. But the ideas you quoted and are arguing against still have nothing to do with Ayn Rand. They're still just stuff some guy on the Internet told you.

I look forward to you forgetting all about that guy and what he told you, reading some of the ideas you just linked to , and then trying to refute them without relying on straw man arguments.

Unfortunately, I am unable to edit my initial post and remove that strawman quote. But the rest of my post was not a rebuttal to that guy as much as it was an argument as to why free will is very much an illusion and there is compelling scientific evidence against it.

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This may explain how hallucinations works: Feedback from another part of the brain into the visual cortex that the brain interprets(and the mind perceives) as being an object that one is looking at even though it isn't actually there.

So the instances of where it is known beforehand that there is a neurological occurrence that messes with perception is evidence that people can't observe reality? For one, Rand never claimed that people see the world in a "direct" way in the sense you mean. Nothing you said contradicts things Rand said on the page you linked even. I'm not sure what your point is, or what you want to know. I see that you misunderstand Rand's position, but what do you want to know that lead you to post here?

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Unfortunately, I am unable to edit my initial post and remove that strawman quote. But the rest of my post was not a rebuttal to that guy as much as it was an argument as to why free will is very much an illusion and there is compelling scientific evidence against it.

At the end of your post, you claim that volition (free will) is "THE ABILITY TO MAKE DECISIONS FREE FROM ANY CONSTRAINTS".

And you spent your entire post proving that such an ability doesn't exist. But Ayn Rand would be the first one to agree with you that men don't have such an ability.

Like I said, read what the Objectivist position actually is on free will, then argue against it if you still wish to argue against it.

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You confuse a necessary condition with an equivalence. A working nervous system is a necessary condition of rational activity (as Branden observed some fifty years ago), and your examples illustrate this, but none of this proves your conclusion that the physical nervous system creates or dictates consciousness.

Rand said repeatedly and emphatically that consciousness has a specific identity and works in specific ways. New knowledge on the topic does not contradict this. She also took care to distinguish the respective domains of philosophy and science and similar care not to pronounce on scientific questions when she wrote philosophy. Conversely, natural science doesn't rule on philosophical questions.

Finally, your statement is a textbook stolen concept, from a quite elementary textbook at that. If you can't know the external world reliably then you can't know how the nervous system works nor can you know what Rand said about consciousness and volition.

Edited by Reidy

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You confuse a necessary condition with an equivalence. A working nervous system is a necessary condition of rational activity (as Branden observed some fifty years ago), and your examples illustrate this, but none of this proves your conclusion that the physical nervous system creates or dictates consciousness.

Actually it does. Because it has been shown experimentally that the process of volition(conscious choice) has a neurological basis and the fact that drugs can alter and/or suppress consciousness by affecting the physical nervous system.

Free will has been a philosophical question for thousands of years because science had yet to be developed and even with its advent, to tools needed weren't available until recently(the last 40 years). So it is no longer a philosophical matter but a scientific one. That is my point.

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If there is no free will, I would have no choice but to agree with you.

I don't agree with you.

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If there is no free will, I would have no choice but to agree with you.

I don't agree with you.

Or maybe you wold have had no choice but to disagree with him. Hmmm.

ruveyn1

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Or maybe you wold have had no choice but to disagree with him. Hmmm.

ruveyn1

LOL yeah

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Actually it does. Because it has been shown experimentally that the process of volition(conscious choice) has a neurological basis and the fact that drugs can alter and/or suppress consciousness by affecting the physical nervous system.

Not really. Physics is necessary for the functioning processes of a nervous system, but it would be imprecise to say physics creates or dictates the nervous system. I'm not saying there is no causality, I'm saying there is a lot of complexity. You seem to be arguing against what is called the "libertarian" notion of free will, that is, free will operates with a "soul" of sorts that overrides physical causality. This is not the Objectivist position.

The Objectivist position is basically a form of compatibilism as far as I can tell, which is a the notion that physical causality applies to free will. Yes, it isn't "absolutely" free, but an agent (i.e. yourself) makes choices. Yes, drugs can alter this, but that isn't demonstrating anything about the nature of free will, only that perception requires chemicals to function.

You ever read Daniel Dennett? He gives a good account of the readiness potential and why it does not eliminate free will.

Honestly, you should understand a point of view before arguing against it.

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The interaction between physiological states or events and bodily states or events is self-evident, and philosophers at least as far back as Aristotle have talked about it. This is not a new insight. Anyone who's ever gotten past the first martini knows that drugs can affect our mental states.

If you say that the two are identical, you have to abide by Leibniz's law: two objects are identical if and only if they admit of just the same predicates. Whatever you can say truly of one you can say truly of the other, and likewise falsely. The Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's most famous speech are identical. Both were written in the nineteenth century, both were delivered by a sitting president and both contain a certain text. To say of either that it was first delivered in Europe is false. 3 + 13 = 37 - 21. Both are even. Both are the square of 4. Neither is larger than 100.

Thoughts are insightful, witty, correct or incorrect. Emotions are painful or pleasant. Neurophysiological events carry electric charge. They don't meet the standard. QED. On the other hand, maybe you aren't saying that physical events are identical to mental events. In that case I haven't understood you, and further elucidation is in order.

You never took up my last point in #9, which was that if you can't know anything, you can't know that the scientific findings you cite are right or that Rand is wrong on the point.

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Try this: the Mind is an -effect- of the brain/nervous system. An epiphenomenon.

Put another way -- the brain/nervous system is a necessary cause of the Mind. No brain, no Mind.

ruveyn1

Edited by ruveyn1

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There is some fascinating research being done in the field of neuroscience on the topic of what is call “downward causation” and its connection to human volition. Here is one book on the topic:

Downward Causation and the Neurobiology of Free Will (Understanding Complex Systems)

Synopsis:

How is free will possible in the light of the physical and chemical underpinnings of brain activity and recent neurobiological experiments? How can the emergence of complexity in hierarchical systems such as the brain, based at the lower levels in physical interactions, lead to something like genuine free will? The nature of our understanding of free will in the light of present-day neuroscience is becoming increasingly important because of remarkable discoveries on the topic being made by neuroscientists at the present time, on the one hand, and its crucial importance for the way we view ourselves as human beings, on the other. A key tool in understanding how free will may arise in this context is the idea of downward causation in complex systems, happening coterminously with bottom up causation, to form an integral whole. Top-down causation is usually neglected, and is therefore emphasized in the other part of the book’s title. The concept is explored in depth, as are the ethical and legal implications of our understanding of free will.

The research isn’t all that new. Here is a quote (actually more of a paraphrase) from a lecture David Kelley gave on The Nature of Free Will around 20 years ago:

Consciousness emerges as a control mechanism at a certain stage of development within a nervous system, to preserve an organism’s ability to function as a unit—i.e., to deal with numerous external factors in such a way as to preserve its integrity. The organism must evaluate input by the standard of needs in the context of the overall value of preserving its life.

For man, the same problem breaks out at the level of consciousness itself. The conceptual mind is in danger of being pulled in a hundred different directions at once. To preserve man’s ability to function as a unit—to enable him to make choices appropriate to his needs in light of an open-ended amount of knowledge and values available—man needs a higher-level control mechanism. That control mechanism is the ability to focus.

Causality is often viewed simplistically as a linear sequence through time. Within a complex system of organization, however, such as the human brain, an event could easily be the product both of antecedent factors and of simultaneous factors operating at higher and lower levels of organization. The capacity to focus is a product of ‘upward’ causation’ (i.e., evolution), the context is a product of antecedent factors, but the choice to focus is an instance of pure ‘downward’ causation’—i.e., of conscious activity directly affecting neural activity. The same cause only obtains at the moment of conscious effort; it is only then that we see ‘the same effect.’

'Downward causation' involves factors operating at higher levels setting constraints on what happens at lower levels at the same moment. An example is the effect of recognition on the visual cortex.

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Not really. Physics is necessary for the functioning processes of a nervous system, but it would be imprecise to say physics creates or dictates the nervous system. I'm not saying there is no causality, I'm saying there is a lot of complexity. You seem to be arguing against what is called the "libertarian" notion of free will, that is, free will operates with a "soul" of sorts that overrides physical causality. This is not the Objectivist position.

The Objectivist position is basically a form of compatibilism as far as I can tell, which is a the notion that physical causality applies to free will. Yes, it isn't "absolutely" free, but an agent (i.e. yourself) makes choices. Yes, drugs can alter this, but that isn't demonstrating anything about the nature of free will, only that perception requires chemicals to function.

You ever read Daniel Dennett? He gives a good account of the readiness potential and why it does not eliminate free will.

Honestly, you should understand a point of view before arguing against it.

What is remarkable is that the brain, or shall I say certain peoples brains(the brains of many schizophrenics) can create a multiplicity of agents, some of which the person is only partially aware of. There are schizophrenics who speak of some sort of phantom agent that takes over their decision making process and compels them to do things.

I will say that physics does indeed govern the CNS because it is made of matter and uses energy to which physical law applies. The real mystery is what is responsible for consciousness/self-awareness. I will admit that I do approach this issue from a scientific rather than philosophical angle since science now has the tools to investigate this whereas in time of Leibniz and Aristotle, those tools where entirely unavailable. Too bad Ayn Rand didn't live longer to witness these developments.

Now here is what the Atlas Society says about free will:

Objectivism holds that man has free will. In every moment, many courses of action are open to us; whichever action we take, we could equally well have chosen to do something else. Within the sphere of actions that are open to choice, what we do is up to us and is not just the inescapable outcome of causes outside our control. And this capacity for free choice is the foundation of morality. Because we are free to choose, we need moral standards to guide our actions and we can be held morally responsible for what we do.

Today, people who want to fly from responsibility are greatly aided by a view of man that attributes our actions to factors beyond our control. For example, a recent New York Times Magazine article absolved obese individuals from moral blame by accusing abundant and cheap food of causing people to overeat. But to take such a position seriously, one has to deny free will and accept its contrary, determinism. Determinism is the view that ultimately we don't control our actions, that the causes operating in us and on us compel us to act in one and only one way. You say you choose what to eat? For a determinist, you can't help yourself.

With regards to eating I would argue that for me at least, what causes me to eat is the feeling of hunger. And to curb overeating in people would best be done by making substances which suppress apetite(and raise metabolic rate) to be readily available. If you wish to get people to control their impulses then you must provide an incentive which is immediate for them to do so rather than simply telling them to control themselves. So yes, I am arguing in favor of determinism. Particularly neurological determinism. We think we have volitional thought and the ability to think whatever we damn well please, but our behavior and the physical causes of it suggests otherwise. And that is why I personally am not a libertarian nor an anarchist: If you give people freedom to do whatever they want then they WILL do things that benefit them at others expense and the chances that this will happen to each of us sooner or later is 100%.

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What is remarkable is that the brain, or shall I say certain peoples brains(the brains of many schizophrenics) can create a multiplicity of agents, some of which the person is only partially aware of. There are schizophrenics who speak of some sort of phantom agent that takes over their decision making process and compels them to do things.

I will say that physics does indeed govern the CNS because it is made of matter and uses energy to which physical law applies. The real mystery is what is responsible for consciousness/self-awareness. I will admit that I do approach this issue from a scientific rather than philosophical angle since science now has the tools to investigate this whereas in time of Leibniz and Aristotle, those tools where entirely unavailable. Too bad Ayn Rand didn't live longer to witness these developments.

How do you know that what you are describing is a cause in itself, or the effect of another cause?

Someone on the radio raised an interesting point along this line. What happens when pedophilia, like homosexuality, becomes regarded as a congenital physical condition of the brain? Will there be pedophile rights, pedophile marriages, and whoever is opposed will be labled pedophiliphobic?

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Someone on the radio raised an interesting point along this line. What happens when pedophilia, like homosexuality, becomes regarded as a congenital physical condition of the brain? Will there be pedophile rights, pedophile marriages, and whoever is opposed will be labled pedophiliphobic?

That is not an interesting point. A desire or whim doesn't justify an act.

On a side note, homosexuality isn't immoral among consenting adults (like any relationship) - and while I agree no group should have special rights - it sounds like whoever made that comment was using flawed logic to justify their own homophobic views. Equating homosexuality with pedophilia.... Come on now.

Edited by thenelli01

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How do you know that what you are describing is a cause in itself, or the effect of another cause?

Someone on the radio raised an interesting point along this line. What happens when pedophilia, like homosexuality, becomes regarded as a congenital physical condition of the brain? Will there be pedophile rights, pedophile marriages, and whoever is opposed will be labled pedophiliphobic?

It wouldn't matter to anyone if it was proven to be unchosen. They would just be sent to a differenent kind or prison. Just because a condition is unchosen, that does not mean that the unchosen attribute needs to be tolerated. I don't tolerate certain animals despite their lack of choice in their ways.

I could easily see pedophilia as a neurological problem of sorts, and maybe things coudl be done to repress it. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be jailed for their crimes.

Edited by Hairnet

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How do you know that what you are describing is a cause in itself, or the effect of another cause?

Someone on the radio raised an interesting point along this line. What happens when pedophilia, like homosexuality, becomes regarded as a congenital physical condition of the brain? Will there be pedophile rights, pedophile marriages, and whoever is opposed will be labled pedophiliphobic?

With regards to pedophiles, I honestly think that many pedophiles cannot help themselves. This does not meant they should have legal or social permission to molest children. What it means is they need to be removed from society and subjected to compulsory treatment(if that is possible).

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What is remarkable is that the brain, or shall I say certain peoples brains(the brains of many schizophrenics) can create a multiplicity of agents, some of which the person is only partially aware of. There are schizophrenics who speak of some sort of phantom agent that takes over their decision making process and compels them to do things.

Yeah, the brain is a complex system with levels of processing, which can fragment if the processing screws up.

Indeed, it is a mystery for what is responsible for consciousness/self-awareness. I'm thinking of science as well, but that still doesn't indicate what the abstract points about the mind, including defining what a mind is. See post #9.

You sound like a behaviorist in your example. Behaviorism is fraught with problems. What you're talking about is reinforcement, that is, there must be a positive stimulus (or negative stimulus) to cause behavior, not much different than causing a ball to roll by pushing it. You're right that hunger is part of the process that leads you to eat. But is that all there is? Hunger causes eating, and that's it? The explanation is incomplete. There has to be an account for mental states, the in-between stage between hunger and eating. Sure, you can't just think "whatever" you please, but that isn't to say actions can only be one way. As a system that processes information, the brain needs mental states, which may very well include volition choosing among a massive range of options. The words you're reading don't have an innate meaning that is automatically translated into action. All the symbols, you interpret those, and that's more or less what volition is: interpretation of the world. Many options are possible, depending upon your mental state and your knowledge.

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That is not an interesting point. A desire or whim doesn't justify an act.

On a side note, homosexuality isn't immoral among consenting adults (like any relationship) - and while I agree no group should have special rights

It's already too late. This society has firmly adopted the genetic/chemical driven model of "unchosen" behavior, so it is only a matter of time before physical brain characteristics are identified and rights are established.

- it sounds like whoever made that comment was using flawed logic to justify their own homophobic views.

You have just answered this question with a "yes".

...and whoever is opposed will be labelled pedophiliphobic?

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