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Several important things that I think will help: 

  1. The choice to focus is the base and irreducible, which is why it is an axiom.  All other choices reduce to it. 
  2. Volition = Cognition.  Volition (and Validity of the Senses) is the bridge from Metaphysics to Epistemology, to use a metaphor, and serve as its base.  It is a corollary of the three prime axioms but is an axiom of epistemology.
  3. In other words, you would not know you were determined if you were determined. 
  4. Like all axioms you have to use volition to dispute it.    
  5. The power to choose expands to the options within your context and is delimited by your focus.
  6. Like the rest of the mind-body dichotomy present in philosophy freewill is not defined by two popular false alternatives, which in this case is “Whatever I want” vs. Determinism.  A better conceptualization is Self-Determination.  You can choose if you choose to focus and review what you know and the options available to you. 
Edited by Spiral Architect

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This is so much fun! Met my first Objectivist (Tim) years ago and we fell madly in like! I was (am) a fairly orthodox Christian and he was (is) an Ayn Rand acolyte, non pariel. We had a discussion along these lines (and I'm short on time and a little ADD, so I did not read EVERY SINGLE entry, but enough to know the gist of the discussion), and eventually the question arose, "Is the mind the brain, or is the mind OTHER than the brain?" Of course, Objectivism being a pretty pure form of Naturalism, there can be no difference: they are one and the same. So I ask this guy, "Okay, Tim, where does 'thought' come from?" He said that, according to all the available "science" of the brain/mind, every "thought", and by default, every action, is the result of purely "electro-chemical [i.e.,physical, material] stimulation initiated in the brain", therefore, all thought and all action is PURELY physical, nothing metaphysical about it. So I say, "Okay, what is the prime stimulation? What is the 'initiation'?" 

"What do you mean?"

"Well, what 'starts', 'fires', the first thought that precedes any--every--subsequent action or 're-action'? Is it purely a previous physical thing, within your physical 'machine' that is itself simply the re-action of a previous 'stimulation' and so on and so on?"

"Well, yes, of course."

"Then you are nothing but a pre-programmed [which is funny since there's no Pre-programmer!] machine, like an extremely complex series of lined up dominoes, or, dare we say, a robot or computer [with no programmer]! Your beloved 'free will' by default either does not exist, OR exists OUTSIDE the purely physical confines of your material brain, and therefore allows for the existence of the metaphysical. QED, the mind is the physical brain and there is no free will, or the mind is separate from the brain, thus allowing for free will."

In the interest of intellectual honesty, he had to choose the former, but subsequently retracted said choice since it didn't square with his view of free will. "I'll have to get back with you on that." Alas, we lost touch and 'so it goes...' 

Edited by luktannik

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@luktannik

 

Two problems with your argument.

 

1. You observer yourself making decisions - this is proof that freewill exists.

 

2.  The idea that something is "outside the purely physical" is meaningless.

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@luktannik

 

Two problems with your argument.

 

1. You observer yourself making decisions - this is proof that freewill exists.

 

2.  The idea that something is "outside the purely physical" is meaningless.

One principle I always observe in all my reasoning is to ask about any assumption I have, "how do I know this?"

 

Just as background, I know there is no such thing as the supernatural--no God, or Spirits, or

demons or any of the other things that men have imagined.

 

Nevertheless, I am convinced that the physical attributes of existence are not all the attributes of nature there are.  I don't want this to sound mystical, so I'll tell you what I mean. I do not believe that life, consciousness, and volition are physical attributes or attributes that the physical can produce.

 

I'll say more, if you will answer this question:

 

How do you know there is nothing "outside the purely physical?"

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I'll say more, if you will answer this question:

 

How do you know there is nothing "outside the purely physical?"

If some thing exists then it has physical extension in the Universe.  This is true for thoughts, ideas, emotions, life, the brain, the mind, etc.

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One principle I always observe in all my reasoning is to ask about any assumption I have, "how do I know this?"

 

Just as background, I know there is no such thing as the supernatural--no God, or Spirits, or

demons or any of the other things that men have imagined.

 

Nevertheless, I am convinced that the physical attributes of existence are not all the attributes of nature there are.  I don't want this to sound mystical, so I'll tell you what I mean. I do not believe that life, consciousness, and volition are physical attributes or attributes that the physical can produce.

 

I'll say more, if you will answer this question:

 

How do you know there is nothing "outside the purely physical?"

 

A little precision may be required here as you may be stepping into shaky territory.

 

What do we mean by "physical"?

 

First we should distinguish between on the one hand the study of "physics" as a branch of science along with knowledge we currently have in that field, and on the other hand what in reality, existence, nature, that study is directed to and what that knowledge pertains to. 

 

The first we should call "known physics" or the "the study of physics" the latter perhaps we should refer to as "physical reality" or "physical nature" or "physical existence".  Unfortunately these are somewhat awkward terms because the word "physics" is used on its own (unfortunately) freely in both contexts. 

 

Also we should keep in mind that just because our current knowledge in the field of physics is "incomplete" and our current particular pursuits in the "study" of physics may be also be incomplete (imagine a time before QM, or particle physics... we were still studying physical reality), the field of physics is directed at the fundamental, the primary, the constitutive, of all observable phenomena in reality.  In essence it seeks the primary causes for everything we observe.  It does not assume the fundamental the primary and the constitutive are small, or local, or anything in particular, it aims to determine what is fundamental, primary, constitutive etc. whether or not they are of any particular nature.  (As an aside it so happens to be we have discovered very tiny fundamental particles, we have also discovered fields, and "action at a distance" QM entanglement.)

 

"Physical nature" or "physical reality" therefore really means the base of reality that causes everything we observe and study and perceive (at all other levels), and hence in some way is a reference to reality as such.  Although there are distinctions in knowledge or scientific inquiry, I would argue there is no distinction in realities:  there is no physical reality, apart or different from chemical reality apart or different from genetic or biological reality, apart or different from psychological reality.

 

 

In any case, we should distinguish between that which science is directed to and the activity of science itself.

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If some thing exists then it has physical extension in the Universe.  This is true for thoughts, ideas, emotions, life, the brain, the mind, etc.

I agree that nothing exists independently of the physical. The physical is all that can be directly perceived (seen, heard, felt, smelled, or tasted) and all we know about the physical is derived from our direct perception of the physical. But perception, an attribute of physical entities (organisms), itself cannot be perceived. Everything that can be perceived in this world can be perceived by anyone. No one can perceive another's consciousness. (In fact we do not really perceive our own. We do not know we see by perceiving our seeing, we know we see, because we do. But no one else can perceive our seeing.)

 

How do you know that consciousness is not a perfectly natural attribute of existence that just doesn't happen to be a physical attribute. I'm not asking if you agree with that, I'm asking if you do not, how you know it?

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What do we mean by "physical"?

By the physical I mean the world we are directly conscious of, the world we see, hear, feel, smell and taste. It is the world the physical sciences study, but it is not science that makes it what it is. The physical world is what it is, independent of anyone's knowledge of it. I'm pretty sure I agree with what you mean by the physical.

Life and consciousness, however, do not fit the definition of the physical, because consciousness, for example cannot be perceived at all; it cannot be seen, heard, felt, smelled, or tasted. We certainly know that is true about anyone else's consciousness, and it is actually true of our own as well. We know we are conscious because we are, not because we can perceive it.

Since the physical is that which we can be directly consciousness of and we cannot be directly conscious of consciousness itself, it cannot be a physical attribute. Simply put, the physical is that which consciousness is conscious of, consciousness is that which is aware of the physical. Consciousness, and that which we are conscious of cannot be the same thing.

If you do not agree with that, if you think that there is only the physical that is somehow conscious of itself, I'm asking, "how do you know that?"

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What is the nature of your distinction between a "natural attribute" and a "physical one".

 

Here I think it is more proper to say consciousness is an attribute of reality... and as all attributes of reality must causally be due to what is fundamental, primary, constitutive... it is through a long complex chain of causation a result of physical processes/entities.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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We have the unique position of being able to experience consciousness from a first person view (for lack of a better term).  A machine who was intelligent but perhaps lacked consciousness (I think this is a contradiction but suspend your judgement) might be able to understand why we function the way we do, why we behave, think, perhaps even why we feel, but it, not being conscious, would have no idea what it is like to be conscious, what it is like to experience consciousness, in the same way you do not know what it is like to be a bat, or what it is like to be a worm or a thermostat.  If the machine had consciousness, I would argue although it would not be able to experience consciousness it could, looking at us, in the kind of detail that mattered, be conscious of our consciousness functioning.

 

Although we have a first person view or experience of consciousness that does not mean it cannot be identified as a process from an objective third person view.  At this point in time we do not know what goes on when consciousness occurs, but in principle, after studying enough complex systems, enough brains, enough artificial consciousnesses we could in fact observe and identify, i.e. be conscious of a conscious process. 

 

In what other possible manner can we be conscious of anything other than identification/observation etc.  There is no reason we cannot be conscious of consciousness.

 

The self referential riddle of being conscious of our own consciousness... well I would say we could with use of external instrumentation, but not through introspection .... which could lead arguably to some kind of infinite regress.  Then again it need not be infinite... we can talk about talking about talking about talking.... we just have to choose to stop if we want.  I think it is more accurate to say that we are aware of our consciousness.

 

What was your point?

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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".... because consciousness, for example cannot be perceived at all; it cannot be seen, heard, felt, smelled, or tasted. We certainly know that is true about anyone else's consciousness, and it is actually true of our own as well. We know we are conscious because we are, not because we can perceive it."

 

Well, following your argument, a 1967 Ford Mustang does not exist because there is no THING that is a 1967 For Mustang - just metal, tires, chrome, speedometers, windshields, etc.

 

The flaw in your logic is that we don't think at the level of Percepts.  Beyond a certain age, it is impossible for the mind to have a "direct" perception of reality.  Meaning, that human beings think Conceptually.  Consciousness does exist, I do perceive it (or don't in certain objects).  It really is as simple as that.  You're trying to outsmart yourself.

Edited by New Buddha

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We do perceive our own consciousness; it's called introspection.

 

You don't see or feel or taste your own consciousness; you remember it.  You retain the knowledge of your own mental processes, regardless of whether you deliberately focus on them in real-time; that is the basis of introspection and all self-knowledge.

And to stop and analyze your own thoughts in real-time is possible but not usually advantageous; it requires the termination of your original thought process, itself.

"Reflection" is an apt description of the mechanism of introspection.  It is the act of paying attention to your own attention and 'stacking' awarenesses onto awarenesses (again, possible but not usually helpful to initiate during any meaningful activity).

 

So we do have absolutely certain knowledge of our own consciousness (provided we pay attention to it) and furthermore, if one defines "physical" phenomena as those which can be interacted with, measured and understood, then this would even apply to introspective inquiry.

Just because only one person in the world has direct access to it, does not mean that it cannot be studied scientifically- if that person has the proper mentality.

 

The consciousness of other people cannot be directly perceived, you're right (and this is the fatal error of behaviorism); it must be inferred through their actions.

This does not invalidate it any more than it does our inferences of atoms and galaxies.

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We do perceive our own consciousness; it's called introspection

.I know Rand called it introspection, but I think it misses the point.

All we can perceive is the physical. Ayn Rand herself said perception is the only consciousness we have. Perception is seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting, and the physical is all that we perceive.

Consciousness is not physical. The physical is what we are conscious of, but consciousness and what we are conscious of are not and cannot be the same thing.

We cannot see, or hear, or feel, or taste, or smell our consciousness. We do not know we are conscious by perceiving it. We know we are conscious because we are. We do not know we see because we can perceive our seeing--we cannot. We know we can see because we do. We do not need to introspect to know we see, we see, and that is enough to know it.

Edited by Regi F.

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"Consciousness is not physical"

 

Perhaps you are equating "physical" with an entity?  But "physical" can also mean an action of an entity - and I think that's the way that most on this post are using it, and perhaps you are not?

 

Take "jumping".  Jumping doesn't exist apart from an entity that "jumps".  But jumping does exist and we do perceive it.  However, jumping is a concept, not a percept.  Meaning that it takes a level of cognitive development to differentiate jumping from running or standing still, etc.

 

Consciousness, too, is an action of an entity and it is perceptible, but grasped conceptually.

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No, Im equating "physical" with what can be directly perceived. You can see someone jumping, but you cannot see consciousness. you can hear someone talking, but you cannot hear consciousness. You smell something cooking, but you cannot smell consciousness. Neither can you taste or feel it.

 

I mean exactly the same thing Rand meant:

 

"Man's consciousness is not material—but neither is it an element opposed to matter. It is the element by which man controls matter—but the two are part of one entity and one universe—man cannot change matter, he can control it only by understanding it and shaping it to his purpose."

[The Journals of Ayn Rand, "13 - Notes While Writing: 1947-1952"
August 27, 1950]

 

I'm sure you've read enough of Rand to know she frequently interchanges the words physical and material.

 

"Most philosophers, in effect, have offered us the choice between a universe consisting of God, or a universe consisting of blind matter. Where is man in the picture? They have figured out everything, except that they forgot the existence of man. Man is a being endowed with consciousness—an attribute which matter does not possess. His consciousness is the free, nonmaterial element in him."

[The Letters of Ayn Rand, "The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged Years (1945-1959)"
January 13, 1950, To Nathan Blumenthal (You know him as Nathaniel Branden)]

 

"Man is an entity of mind and body, an indivisible union of two elements: of consciousness and matter. Matter is that which one perceives, consciousness is that which perceives it."

[The Journals of Ayn Rand, "14 - Notes While Writing Galt's Speech," "Mind and Body"]

 

Just in case I'll be accused of only using unpublished references (though all the material above is published)

 

Please bear in mind the full statement: "Existence exists—and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.

[Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, "Foreword to the First Edition"]

 

It is obvious what she intends here is exactly what she said in the preveious quote, From the appendix to ITOE, she makes it clear the by existence here, she means physical existence, but in the broadest sense existence means everything that exists, including consciousness, but not in this case.

 

None of this means you have to agree with it, it only means it is what Rand believed, as do I. It is the Objectivist position. I'm not an Objectivist, but Rand was right about physical existence and consciousness.

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. . . All we can perceive is the physical. Ayn Rand herself said perception is the only consciousness we have. Perception is seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting, and the physical is all that we perceive. . .

 

1-  No, she didn't.  She explicitly stated the exact opposite.

2-  If she had then she would have been wrong.

 

Sensation is seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting.  A newborn infant is capable of sensation.

Perception is the act of inferring physical entities from sensation, such as my perception of this keyboard which sits atop my perception of my own lap.

Conception is the act of organizing and symbolizing sets of percepts, such as "sensation", "laptop" and "introspection" ("introspection" being composed not of percepts, but introspective concepts such as "sensation" or "memory" whose composite percepts are memories).

 

All of the support you have provided for the claim that "we cannot perceive our own minds" does not apply to my mind- or yours!  The type of mind which you are accurately describing is one which can pursue a laser pointer for a limitless span of time, without the capacity to realize that its efforts are in vain.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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I mean exactly the same thing Rand meant:

 

"Man's consciousness is not material—but neither is it an element opposed to matter."

[The Journals of Ayn Rand, "13 - Notes While Writing: 1947-1952"

August 27, 1950]

And neither is metabolism (which can only occasionally be smelled).

 

Man is a being endowed with consciousness—an attribute which matter does not possess. His consciousness is the free, nonmaterial element in him."

[The Letters of Ayn Rand, "The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged Years (1945-1959)"

Neither does matter as such possess "metabolism".

 

"Man is an entity of mind and body, an indivisible union of two elements: of consciousness and matter. Matter is that which one perceives, consciousness is that which perceives it."

[The Journals of Ayn Rand, "14 - Notes While Writing Galt's Speech," "Mind and Body"]

 

Just in case I'll be accused of only using unpublished references (though all the material above is published)

 

Please bear in mind the full statement: "Existence exists—and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.

[Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, "Foreword to the First Edition"]

"Food" is that which one digests, "metabolism" includes the faculty of digestion.

 

It is obvious what she intends here is exactly what she said in the preveious quote, From the appendix to ITOE, she makes it clear the by existence here, she means physical existence, but in the broadest sense existence means everything that exists, including consciousness, but not in this case.

 

None of this means you have to agree with it, it only means it is what Rand believed, as do I. It is the Objectivist position. I'm not an Objectivist, but Rand was right about physical existence and consciousness.

And if you agree that consciousness, just like digestion, is a natural process which is subject to objective quantification, then I would wholeheartedly agree.

 

Is that what you mean?

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And if you agree that consciousness, just like digestion, is a natural process which is subject to objective quantification, then I would wholeheartedly agree.

 

Is that what you mean?

No, that is not what I mean. If you are unable to see what I mean by my poor explanation, or

Rand's much better explanation, then I doubt you'll ever understand.

 

Not to worry. Most people don't. Perhaps the fact you are in the same boat as everyone else will be a comfort.

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Are you courting with the idea that consciousness is "outside" of reality?  Beyond physical reality?

No, I'm expressing what Rand was very aware of. The physical is not all there is. Reality is all there is the way it is, and it includes the physical, and all its attributes, as well a life, which is not a physical attribute, and that which differentiates the mere physical from living organisms, as well as consciousness, which differentiates conscious organisms (animals) from the merely physical and living (such as plants) and the volitional consciousness (man) which differentiates human beings from all other animals.

Life, consciousness, and the human mind are not physical attributes, and cannot be produced by any physical organization or action, but are perfectly natural attributes of reality. No behavior of the physical will produce life, life is the attribute that transforms the merely physical into a living organism. No physical organization will produce consciousness, consciousness is the attribute that transforms an organism from a merely living one to an animal. No arrangement of living protoplasm will produce consciousness or the human mind, only the attribute of volition, the necessity and ability to choose all one's behavior that is the human mind, volition, intellect, and reason, produces the human form of consciousness. Life, consciousness, and volitional consciousness are perfectly natural attributes of reality--they just don't happen to be physical attributes.

 

Why do you think reality is limited to physical attributes? Are you not aware of the fact that your own consciousness is not physical? What color is it? What does it weigh? What is its temperature? Name one physical characteristic or attribute your consciousness has. You cannot, because it has none. It is real, it is perfectly natural, but it is not physcial and has no physical attributes.

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