Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
KALADIN

Determinism seems...silly.

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

As of yet, with my fairly elementary understanding of the philosophy of Objectivism, I remain unsatisfied regarding the vindication for existence of "free will". The reason this debate still persists, is because no one has been able to formally propose and/or explain where/how/why "decision-making" violates, is an exception to, is another form of, or outright supersedes causality. Determinism has been adequately ridiculed and debunked, being a compendium of stolen-concepts, self-refutations, and outright contradictions. This is not the issue. Much in the same way that debate over whether a Creator exists or not, the determinism debate is born out of man's ignorance regarding the process of creation through/by thoughts and choices. Many before us have shown that a "Creator" is incompatible with reality, and that merely ignorance of how the universe began is not a license to champion the supernatural, the causeless, or the irrational. Similarly, merely ignorance of how conceptualization and consciousness are "outside" causality, is also not a license to champion the supernatural, the causeless, or the irrational. If free will is to ever be as stone solid as the Law of Identity, there likewise needs to be a stone solid proof of it. Rand's texts and my own personal research have yet to provide such. If anyone has any sort of reference, material, or information whatsoever regarding not the non-validity of determinism, but the validity of an unchained will, I would greatly appreciate it.

 

On to the main point of this post. 

 

How & why can any serious intellectual even begin to accept physical determinism?

 

I've come to the conclusion that a very simple thought experiment is enough to eradicate the position in its entirety:

If all things are physically necessitated, through caused, predictable, defined, objective, natural laws, inherent to the universe, and that man's mind is no exception to this (as it is the product of a physical brain), then discussion, and the exchange of ideas is impossible. Not improbable. Not difficult. Impossible.

 

As you read these words, your mind integrates and manipulates the definitions and structure of this sentence into a conceptual understanding of what it means and says. How in the hell could this identification, integration, and manipulation of any idea occur, if all things are the result of antecedent, physical reactions? Does your physical brain have any connection with the physical nature of your screen? Are the photons and particles which allow you to recognize and read this text in any way, whatsoever, directly related to the physical reactions taking place within your brain right now? Is there absolutely any way that when someone speaks to you, that some magical, physical intermediary is going to turn their voice and vibrations, into concepts which you can comprehend and acknowledge? Do someone else's ideas have the power to physically initiate thinking within your own mind? Does someone else's argument and or refutation of something contain the power to physically initiate you to focus on said argument and determine (pun unintended) if their criticisms are valid? Is there anyway, at all, if all existence is really a bunch of billiard balls, whizzing on their predestined, physically ordained way, that billiard balls can move one another while never hitting, interacting, or even residing on the same "table"? The obvious and irrevocable answer: NO.

 

Your mind is equipped with the power of manipulation and conceptualization within the Cognitive Realm (my label for where said integration, manipulation, and formation of concepts occurs). It has the ability to introduce, move, replace, and destroy certain billiard balls, if you will. Why has ignorance of how and why things occur or initiate (if such a thing is coherent) in the CR become a denial that it even exists? Why has something so blatantly self-evident even become a point of philosophical contention at all? Why has this "forgotten space" (the separation between your mind, the CR, and physical reactions outside the body) been forgotten? All of it just seems very silly, and that any part of neuroscience and modern academia embraces such a fallacious premise astonishes me.

 

Thoughts?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Kaladin,

 

The cognitive realm (CR), as you call it, is a subset of and takes place in the physical realm. If the evolution of the physical realm is governed by understandable physical laws describable as an initial value problem, then all future states are completely determined by the initial conditions--a consequence of existence/uniqueness theory.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The reason this debate still persists, is because no one has been able to formally propose and/or explain where/how/why "decision-making" violates, is an exception to, is another form of, or outright supersedes causality.

 

The key is Rand's unique formulation of the Law of Causality. Some helpful quotes:

 

"The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act; a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature"

 

"Volition is not an exception to the Law of Causality; it is a type of causation."

 

"Man exists and his mind exists. Both are part of nature, both possess a specific identity. The attribute of volition does not contradict the fact of identity, just as the existence of living organisms does not contradict the existence of inanimate matter. Living organisms possess the power of self-initiated motion, which inanimate matter does not possess; man’s consciousness possesses the power of self-initiated motion in the realm of cognition (thinking), which the consciousnesses of other living species do not possess. But just as animals are able to move only in accordance with the nature of their bodies, so man is able to initiate and direct his mental action only in accordance with the nature (the identity) of his consciousness. His volition is limited to his cognitive processes; he has the power to identify (and to conceive of rearranging) the elements of reality, but not the power to alter them. He has the power to use his cognitive faculty as its nature requires, but not the power to alter it nor to escape the consequences of its misuse. He has the power to suspend, evade, corrupt or subvert his perception of reality, but not the power to escape the existential and psychological disasters that follow. (The use or misuse of his cognitive faculty determines a man’s choice of values, which determine his emotions and his character. It is in this sense that man is a being of self-made soul.)"

 

 

 

If free will is to ever be as stone solid as the Law of Identity, there likewise needs to be a stone solid proof of it.

 

There is no proof of the law of identity nor of free will- both are requirements of and are presupposed by 'proof'. I suggest reading Dr. Peikoff's book, Objectivism the Philosophy of Ayn Rand. Some more here: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/axioms.html

 

 

How & why can any serious intellectual even begin to accept physical determinism?

 

Well, a false understanding of the law of causality is one reason why. Intellectuals believe a lot of insane things though. I think determinism is mild compared to the crap that comes out of some of their mouths! I agree with you though, it is pretty outrageous if one stops to think about it for a few minutes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If all things are physically necessitated, through caused, predictable, defined, objective, natural laws, inherent to the universe, and that man's mind is no exception to this (as it is the product of a physical brain), then discussion, and the exchange of ideas is impossible.

To successfully exchange ideas is to successfully learn, so I don't see how that contradicts determinism (unless concept-formation itself contradicts determinism).  If our mental content is the product of our thoughts, and if our thoughts are strictly caused by other things, then the attempt to influence someone else's thoughts through communication is no different from attempting to open a door, start a car, or do anything else in the physical world.

 

How & why can any serious intellectual even begin to accept physical determinism?

Well, as one such person who's been described as a staunch determinist (though I don't see it that way), I think that metaphysically "necessary" and metaphysically "arbitrary" are both opposite and jointly exhaustive; that by definition there can't be anything in between; and I reject out-of-hand the notion that consciousness is arbitrary.

 

It's difficult to validate that, though, because whether any event was random or "had to happen" refers not only to that event, but also to its negation; it's a counterfactual thing.  Since it's counterfactual it cannot be proven or disproven empirically, by its very nature; how do you prove whether any thing "could have happened otherwise" short of time-travel?

 

If free will is to ever be as stone solid as the Law of Identity, there likewise needs to be a stone solid proof of it.

I agree.  In the very least, there must be some way to know for certain (even if, like the axioms, it can't exactly be "proven").

I'm told the evidence for it is introspective, but this doesn't help much.  I know that I make choices, introspectively, and I also know exactly how and why I do so; I don't believe that I "could have chosen otherwise" unless my reasons for choosing were otherwise (again counterfactual and immune to empirical reasoning).

 

This is something I've been attempting to either validate or refute, recently, and any criticism is welcome.  This is where I'm at:

 

Whatever is "necessary" is predictable, so I had at one point thought that successful predictions (of whatever) prove such necessity.  However, this isn't quite right.  One could "predict" the weather on the basis of the price of gas and succeed through sheer coincidence.  One could even succeed repeatedly, despite the fact that those things have very little to do with one another.

In fact, since all concepts are approximations, the accuracy of one's predictions seems to depend as much on one's specificity as it does on anything else.  Just look at Horoscopes.  Their predictions are invariably phrased so that they could mean any number of things, with such sweeping ambiguity that they're likely to be "correct" most of the time; by the principle that 'accurate predictions prove causal necessity' one would have to accept one's birth month as the cause of every aspect of one's own life.

 

Given that, my question is: on what basis can any thing be known to be "necessary" or "arbitrary"?

 

---Edit:

"Living organisms possess the power of self-initiated motion, which inanimate matter does not possess; man’s consciousness possesses the power of self-initiated motion in the realm of cognition (thinking), which the consciousnesses of other living species do not possess."

Doesn't that mean that "volition" is only purposeful thinking?

 

It occurs to me that I might have "empirical evidence" backwards; that concept itself might presuppose causal necessity. . .

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Check out these two references:

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

Check out these two references:

Asking for myself here since I haven't read them entirely: How do these references reply/answer the OP?

Edited by Eiuol

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Doesn't that mean that "volition" is only purposeful thinking?

 

I think it means that volition is a selection between two options that could have been otherwise. It does indicate Rand's view that the primary choice is to focus your mind or not. Maybe that's what you're getting at?

 

I think that you have implicitly accepted the false view of causality (which views events as causes/effects of other events but bypasses entities entirely). Notice Rand's view of causality is a corollary of identity and just says that entities act according to their nature. Billiard balls, for example, bounce off one another in a particular fashion which is necessitated by what they are. If you replaced the billiard balls with eggs, something very different happens. In each instance, the effects are necessitated by the identities of the entities. Aristotle correctly identified that to know the 'why' is to know the 'is'. Why does helium in a balloon rise? Because of what helium is- molecules with lighter weight than the surrounding air.

 

Volition is part of the identity of human consciousness. Volition is presupposed by the concept of proof because proof requires objectivity- the ability to choose between what is true and what is not true. With no such choice, there is no way to reject the false in favor of the true. What is regarded as true and false would be automatic and intrinsic, but it would not be objective.

 

So the false view of causality applied to volition would result in something like the following: A person's choices are causally necessitated by a prior event. The correct view applied to volition results in the following: The fact that a person must choose is causally necessitated by the identity of consciousness.

 

With respect to your views, I don't want to misattribute anything to you but here are some statements that I think indicate you may be operating on the false view of causality:

 

 

 

It's difficult to validate that, though, because whether any event was random or "had to happen" refers not only to that event, but also to its negation; it's a counterfactual thing.  Since it's counterfactual it cannot be proven or disproven empirically, by its very nature; how do you prove whether any thing "could have happened otherwise" short of time-travel?

 

This quote leaves out entities entirely. Whether an event had to happen or not can only be determined by reference to the entity and its nature. Does helium have to rise, is answered, yes because helium is lighter than air. One could prove that something could have happened otherwise by reference to the nature of the entity acting. If you flip a coin, the result of the flip could not have been otherwise (given the way you flipped it, the location of air molecules, etc) because coins are not volitional. We use the concept 'random' because our knowledge of the entities involved in determining the outcome is extremely limited. Had we known the causal factors like the location of the air molecules, the initial force exerted on the coin, etc, we would be able to determine the outcome with certainty. We know (<-- 'know' presupposes volition), on the other hand, that human consciousness contains the attribute of volition and therefore that any choice undertaken could have been otherwise.

 

It's been repeated a couple of times that we need proof of volition. No such proof is possible. Think again about the law of identity. How do we know it's true? There's no way to prove it. The only way to know it is true is by showing that anyone who attempts to disprove it necessarily relies upon it. It underlies all of our concepts and the very idea of knowledge. The exact same is true of volition. Objectivity and therefore knowledge itself requires the existence of volition.

 

 

 

In fact, since all concepts are approximations, the accuracy of one's predictions seems to depend as much on one's specificity as it does on anything else.  Just look at Horoscopes.  Their predictions are invariably phrased so that they could mean any number of things, with such sweeping ambiguity that they're likely to be "correct" most of the time; by the principle that 'accurate predictions prove causal necessity' one would have to accept one's birth month as the cause of every aspect of one's own life.

 

Given that, my question is: on what basis can any thing be known to be "necessary" or "arbitrary"?

 

Concepts aren't just approximations though. They refer to specific units in reality. The units are delineated according to an approximate range of measurement of commensurable attributes but the concepts themselves refer to specific existents. 'Man' refers to all the specific concrete human beings that have existed and will exist, for example. The concept's referents are not approximations, even if the method by which you came to include them in the concept was approximate. And to be honest, I don't know what you mean by 'metaphysically arbitrary'. What could that concept even refer to in reality?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

 

I think it means that volition is a selection between two options that could have been otherwise. It does indicate Rand's view that the primary choice is to focus your mind or not. Maybe that's what you're getting at?

I don't believe so (tentatively).

The analogy between the differences between human cognition/animal cognition, and animal action/rock action, makes perfect sense to me.  That's actually why I don't consider myself to be a determinist at all; I think that's what "volition" means.  It just doesn't seem to mean the same thing as 'selecting from multiple, metaphysical possibilities'.

I think that's probably a derivative matter, though, so I hesitate to tackle it before reaching a clearer grasp of causality.

 

And to be honest, I don't know what you mean by 'metaphysically arbitrary'. What could that concept even refer to in reality?

 

Quarks and probability waves, which are what I equate "not metaphysically necessary" to.  If there are events which can never be predicted, by their very nature (which doesn't seem right), then those things are what I'd call metaphysically arbitrary.

 

I think that you have implicitly accepted the false view of causality (which views events as causes/effects of other events but bypasses entities entirely).

Well. . .

 

Firstly, while I'm not sure about "false" (at least not yet), I do agree that I've accepted a different view of causality than the Objectivist one.  Honestly, I'm not even quite sure what the Objectivist view is yet (nor really my own).  All I currently have are sketches; I can tell that they're not quite the same, and not much more than that.

 

Secondly, I don't think that I do think of events as being caused by other events.*  I think that I think of them as being caused by attributes, and that seems like a sensible way to do it.  For example:

Does helium have to rise, is answered, yes because helium is lighter than air.

If entities (such as balloons) are the causal 'prime movers' then shouldn't "do balloons rise" be answered "yes, because they're balloons"?  It seems to me that referring to an attribute of balloons, while still technically referring to the entities which possess it, provides a much more satisfactory explanation by specifying which part of that entity is actually important.

 

*Acts of cognition are events too so I may actually be thinking of events as caused by other events, exclusively when it comes to mental events.  Which. . .  doesn't seem right at all, except that I can't think of a better way to view cognition yet.

 

Volition is part of the identity of human consciousness. Volition is presupposed by the concept of proof because proof requires objectivity- the ability to choose between what is true and what is not true. With no such choice, there is no way to reject the false in favor of the true.

 

I don't understand that.  Why does objectivity require the ability to choose truth, as opposed to automatically seeing the truth?  Wouldn't both result in exactly the same thing?

 

Think again about the law of identity. How do we know it's true? There's no way to prove it. The only way to know it is true is by showing that anyone who attempts to disprove it necessarily relies upon it. It underlies all of our concepts and the very idea of knowledge. The exact same is true of volition. Objectivity and therefore knowledge itself requires the existence of volition.

 

Could you elaborate on that, please?

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Quarks and probability waves, which are what I equate "not metaphysically necessary" to.  If there are events which can never be predicted, by their very nature (which doesn't seem right), then those things are what I'd call metaphysically arbitrary.

 

I hesitate to get into quantum mechanics for a couple of reasons. The first is that I'm pretty ignorant on the topic :worry: . Primarily though, developments in science like this are incredibly advanced and can only be made in accordance a philosophical system which is more fundamental in the hierarchy of knowledge. If it is true that validation of knowledge itself would be impossible without volition, no future knowledge can contradict volition. Any observations made would need to be interpreted so as to integrate the observations without contradiction with our previously validated knowledge. So for this reason I'm pretty much going to ignore this part and admit my ignorance with regard to 'metaphysically arbitrary', though I sort of see what you're saying.

 

 

Secondly, I don't think that I do think of events as being caused by other events.*  I think that I think of them as being caused by attributes, and that seems like a sensible way to do it.  For example:

 

"Does helium have to rise, is answered, yes because helium is lighter than air."

 

If entities (such as balloons) are the causal 'prime movers' then shouldn't "do balloons rise" be answered "yes, because they're balloons"?  It seems to me that referring to an attribute of balloons, while still technically referring to the entities which possess it, provides a much more satisfactory explanation by specifying which part of that entity is actually important.

 

I think you're right here but that it isn't an important point of distinction and sort of serves to confuse the issues at stake. The problem with answering "why do balloons rise" with "because they're balloons" is merely that the question and answer are too broad. Not all balloons do rise. So reformulating correctly would be "why do helium filled balloons rise" which is answered "because they're lighter than air". Entities are the epistemological starting point for human beings because our brains automatically integrate sense perception into percepts of entities. I agree with you that the weight of a balloon is an attribute of the balloon, and that the explanation specifies which part of the balloon's identity is important. I also think it's super important that you included "while still technically referring to the entities which possess it" for the reason that all attributes of entities exist as part of the entity and are only separated by an act of abstraction performed by our minds. It's great that we're in agreement on the fundamental issue there because I think this would be a lot tougher to discuss if we disagreed on that point. The principle was that a 'why' is answered by reference to what the entity is. With all this being said, an explanation which contains an attribute is still an identification of the identity of the entity. That was my only point.

 

Also, I just started re-reading the causality section of OPAR as I'm writing this post and I see that he uses the exact same example of a balloon with helium. I swear I didn't steal the example! Or at least not consciously. :zorro:

 

Peikoff has some good formulations of the objectivist view of causality:

 

"Cause and effect, therefore, is a universal law of reality. Every action has a cause (the cause is the nature of the entity which acts); and the same cause leads to the same effect..."

 

"Given the facts that action is action of entities, and that every entity has a nature- both of which facts are known simply by observation- it is self-evident that an entity must act in accordance with its nature."

 

My favorite:

"The law of causality states that entities are the cause of actions- not that every entity, of whatever sort, has a cause, but that every action does; and not that the cause of action is action, but that the cause of action is entities."

 

Here is a quote that seems pertinent to your quantum mechanics example above:

 

"Many commentators on Heisenberg's uncertainty principle claim that, because we cannot at the same time specify fully the position and momentum of subatomic particles, their action is not entirely predictable, and that the law of causality therefore breaks down. This is a non sequitur, a switch from epistemology to metaphysics, or from knowledge to reality. Even if it were true that owing to a lack of information we could never exactly predict a subatomic event- and this is highly debatable- it would not show that, in reality, the event was causeless. The law of causality is an abstract principle; it does not by itself enable us to predict specific occurrences; it does not provide us with a knowledge of particular causes and measurements. Our ignorance of certain measurements, however, does not affect their reality or the consequent operation of nature."

 

 

I don't understand that.  Why does objectivity require the ability to choose truth, as opposed to automatically seeing the truth?  Wouldn't both result in exactly the same thing?

 

Objectivity is a concept that only exists because we don't automatically know the truth. If we did automatically know the truth, the concept would be invalid because it wouldn't refer to anything in reality. There would be no reason to distinguish objective from intrinsic or subjective or anything. All thought would necessarily be right and that's that. But of course we can observe in ourselves and others that we don't automatically see the truth- we are fallible.

 

 

Could you elaborate on that, please?

 

Sure, I assume that you already agree that the law of identity is axiomatic and that the law of non-contradiction underlies all thought. As for why all knowledge presupposes volition, the answer is related to what I said above about man being fallible. If man can be wrong about his conclusions but does not have the ability to choose whether to accept or reject those conclusions there is no way to validate his knowledge. All 'knowledge' in this scenario would be necessitated and automatic and therefore there is no way to reject the false. Now I think you could argue like I said above that if man were infallible that volition is not necessary for validation, but again, man is clearly fallible.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Many commentators on Heisenberg's uncertainty principle claim that, because we cannot at the same time specify fully the position and momentum of subatomic particles, their action is not entirely predictable, and that the law of causality therefore breaks down. This is a non sequitur, a switch from epistemology to metaphysics, or from knowledge to reality."

Thank you!  That actually clarifies a lot of things, immensely!

 

"The law of causality states that entities are the cause of actions- not that every entity, of whatever sort, has a cause, but that every action does; and not that the cause of action is action, but that the cause of action is entities."

Yep.  And I have been thinking of cognitive actions as being caused by other cognitive actions.  But if all actions are caused by the entities which act then acts of cognition would be caused by their consciousness, except that "consciousness" is a process too, if I remember correctly.

 

So. . .  If an event like a "thought" happens then all we can say is that it's caused by the thinking entity, somehow?

 

Objectivity is a concept that only exists because we don't automatically know the truth. If we did automatically know the truth, the concept would be invalid because it wouldn't refer to anything in reality. There would be no reason to distinguish objective from intrinsic or subjective or anything. All thought would necessarily be right and that's that. But of course we can observe in ourselves and others that we don't automatically see the truth- we are fallible.

Okay.  That all makes sense to me, so far.

 

Sure, I assume that you already agree that the law of identity is axiomatic and that the law of non-contradiction underlies all thought.

Yep.  I think (barring further surprises) I have a decent grasp of that.

 

Now I think you could argue like I said above that if man were infallible that volition is not necessary for validation, but again, man is clearly fallible.

Absolutely.

 

If man can be wrong about his conclusions but does not have the ability to choose whether to accept or reject those conclusions there is no way to validate his knowledge. All 'knowledge' in this scenario would be necessitated and automatic and therefore there is no way to reject the false.

Okay. . .  This definitely seems like the most important point, so I'd like to concretize it a little bit.

 

So if someone believed some truths and some falsehoods, but was unable to consciously accept or reject any of them after formation (?) then they could not have any Objective knowledge?

That sort of make sense.  Whatever the technical words are for it, I certainly wouldn't rely on that person's knowledge.

 

I'm just having a hard time attaching clear and specific referents to that, right now; probably because I'm still not sure exactly what to look at acts of cognition as.

 

---Edit:

 

So, just like "life" is an action, "consciousness" is an action and things like "thought" and "emotion" are types of (more specific subcategories of?) conscious actions, or something along such lines.  And, just like balloons ultimately float because they're balloons, conscious entities are ultimately conscious because of what they are.

 

My primary question, with regards to that, is whether that's all we can really say at this point.  I'm looking for some solid sort of starting point to work from, because the one I have is wrong.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

".... I'm still not sure exactly what to look at acts of cognition as."

The following is a model that I've been working on.

 

When photons (sunlight) strike a lion that is running towards you, the photons are absorbed and re-admitted at discrete frequencies related to the composition of the underlying matter.  The fur, eyes, nose, claws, teeth, tongue,  tail, etc. are re-admitted as tuned photons which are now an electromagnetic radiation analog signal of the lion.  These photons end up in your retinas where they are transduced to bioelectric analog signals.  Because knowledge is not a priori you must have learned in the past that lions are dangerous or, at the very least, large, heavy things moving towards you at high speed are things best to be avoided.  So a series of hormonal and neural signals are sent to your adrenal and motor areas trigging a "fight or flight" response.  Your attention is also diverted and you are now "aware" of the signal.  Sound of the approaching lion is also transmitted as work energy transduced to bioelectric energy by the ear drum.

 

The point of this description is to establish that information (cognition) is the result of an exchange of energy  between your "organism" and it's environment, and that this exchange is in the form of a analog signals.

 

When thinking of analog signals, think of how the bumps in the grooves of vinyl records are analog signals of the sound waves created by the recorded musical instruments. 

There was a quantifiable amount of energy expended in making the record.   There is a direct and objective relationship between the two - but the record is an analog of the live performance.  Those bumps on the records are then converted back into sound waves when are then received and transduced into bioelectric analog signals in the ear.  Our knowledge (i.e. information) is an analog of our experiences.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This thread has been very helpful. Thanks.

 

I still do not understand how concept-formation is possible in a universe in which everything is made necessary by antecedent, physical causes.

 

Does not the very act of identifying a pen as a pen, require a volitional act of focus and identification as such? How does the physical presence and being of the pen initiate thought, if everything, including concepts, are the result of physical reactions? What physical intermediary is present which contains the power to manipulate the neurons within your mind, which in turn provide the physical structure which produce the concept of "pen"? I do not understand how any physical reaction could or should take place, seeing as the pen is external to the body, and obviously external to the mind, where concepts "exist".

 

Essentially: If I do not possess the volitional power to initiate thinking and in turn, to identify and recognize a pen as a pen, whence cometh thinking and concepts? 

 

One more question.

 

I will assume that everyone possess the "feeling" of free will. Namely, the sense that one could have abstained from eating that last piece of cake, and done so. That you could, right now, stop reading this post and go about your way. I assert that this "illusion" or "delusion" of volition is irrefutable, introspective evidence for the existence of free will.

 

Why?

 

That which is conceptually possible, must be metaphysically possible. If you think such is not the case, I encourage you to try and think of a new color. You cannot conceive of that which cannot exist, in the most literal sense. One cannot conceive of square-circles or three-sided cubes. These things simply can not exist, by virtue of what a circle and a cube is. If volition is metaphysically impossible, in the literal sense, man should not possess any sort of conceptual understanding of free will. As we cannot conceive of three-sided cubes, we should likewise be unable to conceive of multiple futures and real choices, being metaphysically incompatible with reality. Saying free will is an illusion merely serves to elucidate that free will is conceptually, and therefore metaphysically possible. So, where does this "delusion" originate in a deterministic universe? 

 

Any answers greatly appreciated.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That which is conceptually possible, must be metaphysically possible.

I appreciate that you are trying to defend the existence of free will against the irrational position of determinism, but this premise is very weak. The fact that we can imagine something does not prove that it could exist - many people believe that they can imagine God, many people have believed that they could imagine squaring the circle, etc.

 

You are also implying that we have a non-sensory source of knowledge about the world, i.e., that we can tell that something is metaphysically possible just by examining our concepts. This is a very dangerous implication, because a skeptic can use it to argue that since he can imagine an evil demon deceiving him about everything, that evil demon must be a metaphysical possibility, and we have to doubt all of our beliefs. This is one reason why radical skepticism was a problem for Descartes - he started with his clear and distinct ideas instead of with observation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Harrison, I'm enjoying this thread very much and I just wanted to comment on KALADIN's post; I haven't forgotten about your post.

 

 

That which is conceptually possible, must be metaphysically possible. If you think such is not the case, I encourage you to try and think of a new color. You cannot conceive of that which cannot exist, in the most literal sense.

 

I agree with William O that this is not a correct premise. First of all, there's a conflation between sensory data and the conceptual here and you need to very clearly draw the line between sensations, perceptions, and concepts. I recommend reading Intro to Objectivist Epistemology, if you haven't already. Your example of a new color is an example of imagining new sensory data, which is not possible. The reason that's not possible is because man's only connection between his mind and reality is through his five senses. He experiences sensations which are automatically integrated by the brain into percepts. Man is therefore born tabula rasa and necessarily gains all knowledge through these 5 senses. The act of imagining is the rearrangement of man's sense data in his consciousness. Asking someone to imagine a never before experienced sensation is circular, which is why you can't do it. You are asking, in effect, "Can you take your sensations and arrange them in such a way that you get a never before experienced sensation?" Since sensations are the fundamental building blocks of perception, it's akin to asking, "can you rearrange the elements on the periodic table to come up with a new element?" 

 

However, man can project new perceptions, which are merely arrangements (integrations) of sensations. Continuing my example, this is akin to building new molecules by rearranging elements. Of course my example breaks down if you take it too far, as elements are actually made up of constituent parts- they are not the fundamental building blocks of reality like sensations are the fundamental building blocks of cognition. Anyways, I think it serves to illustrate my point.

 

So, things can certainly be imagined (conceptually possible, as you put it) which are not metaphysically possible. 'God' comes to mind.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Asking someone to imagine a never before experienced sensation is circular, which is why you can't do it. You are asking, in effect, "Can you take your sensations and arrange them in such a way that you get a never before experienced sensation?" Since sensations are the fundamental building blocks of perception, it's akin to asking, "can you rearrange the elements on the periodic table to come up with a new element?" 

 

However, man can project new perceptions, which are merely arrangements (integrations) of sensations. Continuing my example, this is akin to building new molecules by rearranging elements. Of course my example breaks down if you take it too far, as elements are actually made up of constituent parts- they are not the fundamental building blocks of reality like sensations are the fundamental building blocks of cognition. Anyways, I think it serves to illustrate my point.

 

So, things can certainly be imagined (conceptually possible, as you put it) which are not metaphysically possible. 'God' comes to mind.

 

You're absolutely right. The color example was poor. However, I still think the essence of my argument remains intact. 

 

How could a metaphysical impossibility have arisen in a deterministic universe to where it has become so deeply ingrained and introspectively evident in man, yet an illusion? 

 

I also think my statement, "That which is conceptually possible, must be metaphysically possible.", remains unchallenged. Gods and demons are inherently outside the metaphysical nature of reality, simply by being a demon or god. Yes, it is possible to conceive of such, but not in the context of our reality. They suspend or are outside of it. You can't really conceive of a being which is outside of reality, in reality. You have no way of acquiring knowledge about such a realm. Therefore, you have no way of rationally conceptualizing of such an entity, spirit, being, whatever. You can't conceive about that which you have no real sensation of, as you've pointed out. Those who say they can conceptualize of a being who is outside of metaphysical reality, in a mind which is a product and interpreter of a totally different, parallel metaphysics is either wrong, lying, or both.

 

An amendment: "That which is conceptually possible, and is inherently within the known, natural universe, and subject to the same reality as our own, must be metaphysically possible." If you can truly conceive of something which is subject to and within reality and this universe, and is still metaphysically impossible, I would gladly hear it.

 

One may say that the idea of free will is thus mute as it is inherently outside the known, natural universe, as with God. I would respond by asserting that something so blatantly a fundamental part of human existence is certainly not outside reality and is necessary for one to even form the concept of reality and free will, unless someone is willing to show otherwise. Unknowable, invisible demons, and omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent entities are not so obvious.

 

Additionally, I don't see why I couldn't simply say, "No. You can't and don't really, definitively conceive of them. If such was possible, they are not demons or gods." It then becomes a matter of how honest someone is when saying they conceive of something.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you can truly conceive of something which is subject to and within reality and this universe, and is still metaphysically impossible, I would gladly hear it.

 

England winning the American Revolution.

 

It would be very convenient (and certainly make this endeavor so much simpler) if metaphysical knowledge could be accurately deduced from possible conceptions, but that simply isn't the case.

 

The point of this description is to establish that information (cognition) is the result of an exchange of energy  between your "organism" and it's environment, and that this exchange is in the form of a analog signals.

 

How do you define 'information' without reference to consciousness, in the first place?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I kind of know where Harrison is coming from.

 

I have been investigating the following idea. Would like to discuss it.

 

I noticed Harrison't comment that we can't prove that people could act other than they did. It seems absurd to argue that an action, once taken, could be anything other than it was. One could posit an alternative action, but we would never have evidence that they were capable of anything else. You could only argue that different actions should be taken in the future in order to achieve certain goals. You can only really talk about what comes next.

 

This doesn't really undermine my ethical or epistemological outlook. I don't really care if someone has an actual choice in their actions. I, and all people have to operate on the premise that they are making choices. If some guy choses to rob me, I don't really care if he couldn't have chosen otherwise in some metaphysical sense. I am analyzing the person't behavior and thoughts in order to preserve my well being and values. I could examine his motivations, reasoning, and circumstances and come to conclusions about what kind of threat he is to me, and what should be done about him, but ultimately it doesn't matter to me if that was the only choice that could have been made.

 

I think volition is an epistemological concept not a metaphysical one. The precedent in this from Ayn Rand's philosophy is the idea that all of reality is an integrated whole, but that people cannot literally comprehend reality that way and therefor have to isolate and focus on small aspects of it at a time.  In the same way people may actually be bound to there circumstances to the point at which they cannot literally do otherwise, but people do think using the premise that they can make choices. They have to, as Rand points out. 

 

It would be similar to the use of imaginary numbers or counterfactual statements. Things that aren't literally true but serve as useful middle steps for our brain comprehending reality in a more sophisticated way. I don't think this undermines reason.

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am analyzing the person't behavior and thoughts in order to preserve my well being and values. I could examine his motivations, reasoning, and circumstances and come to conclusions about what kind of threat he is to me, and what should be done about him, but ultimately it doesn't matter to me if that was the only choice that could have been made.

 

Is this not premised on the validity of volition?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So. . .  If an event like a "thought" happens then all we can say is that it's caused by the thinking entity, somehow?

 

I think this is correct, yes. If a man makes a choice (an action), all we can say is that he (an entity) caused it. We don't have the scientific knowledge at this point to determine what is going on in the brain. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong but it seems like all I ever read about in this realm are accounts of what parts of the brain "light up" on an MRI scan when a person does certain things. Our knowledge in this area seems extremely primitive. Maybe this has a lot to do with bad philosophy and the terrible theories of psychology that have resulted. Is psychology even very important to neuroscience? :huh:  All I know is that whatever observations are made in this realm, they have to be interpreted in such a way that the interpretation is non-contradictory and consistent with free will and the other axioms. 

 

 

I also think my statement, "That which is conceptually possible, must be metaphysically possible.", remains unchallenged. Gods and demons are inherently outside the metaphysical nature of reality, simply by being a demon or god. Yes, it is possible to conceive of such, but not in the context of our reality. They suspend or are outside of it. You can't really conceive of a being which is outside of reality, in reality. You have no way of acquiring knowledge about such a realm. Therefore, you have no way of rationally conceptualizing of such an entity, spirit, being, whatever. You can't conceive about that which you have no real sensation of, as you've pointed out. Those who say they can conceptualize of a being who is outside of metaphysical reality, in a mind which is a product and interpreter of a totally different, parallel metaphysics is either wrong, lying, or both.

 

I agree with William O again that you are reversing the hierarchy of knowledge. You're trying to work backwards deductively from some imagined concept. I can simply imagine a demon strolling down the street. There's even that horrible CGI movie about it, Hellboy. By what standard do you determine whether some concept you're imagining is 'outside of reality'? The only way is by reference to the observed. We've never observed a demon nor any evidence of a demon's existence and that is what makes it outside of reality. But if your standard of the truth is observation (as it should be), then your point about working backwards deductively from a concept has no meaning. In my previous post I made the point that man is born tabula rasa and that all knowledge must be rooted in sense perception as that is man's only link between consciousness and reality. The implication of this fact is that it's flat out wrong to imagine something (even if you think that you've imagined it without contradiction) and then posit its truth. 

 

Anselm (and later Descarte who I think was more systematic and explicit) did what you're doing. Anselm's proof was as follows: God is defined as the greatest possible being that can be imagined. God exists as an idea in the mind. If God only exists as an idea in the mind, we can imagine a being greater than God (A God that exists). But by definition we cannot imagine something greater than God. Therefore God exists.

 

 

An amendment: "That which is conceptually possible, and is inherently within the known, natural universe, and subject to the same reality as our own, must be metaphysically possible."

 

Again I question your standard of 'within the known universe'. Doesn't that simply mean that we have observational evidence for it? And what about Harrison's example of the American revolution? And what about the possibility of mistakes? I think this whole thing at best is epistemologically dangerous. It's also totally unnecessary given the self-defeating nature of determinism: A man who believed an idea would necessarily have to believe it. His belief would be necessitated by some outside force and he doesn't have a choice in the matter. We know that people can make mistakes, so how is the person to know whether this particular belief corresponds to reality or whether it doesn't and he is just forced to believe that it does? There is no way for him to know because he has no choice in whether he believes the idea or not. It just has to be this way and there's nothing more for him to say on the matter. 

 

Knowledge would therefore be impossible.

 

 

I noticed Harrison't comment that we can't prove that people could act other than they did. It seems absurd to argue that an action, once taken, could be anything other than it was. One could posit an alternative action, but we would never have evidence that they were capable of anything else. You could only argue that different actions should be taken in the future in order to achieve certain goals. You can only really talk about what comes next.

 

I reiterate my initial response above: You know that it could be otherwise by reference to the identity of man and the fact that if we necessarily had to believe what we believe then there'd by no way to tell what ideas are true and what ideas we're just determined to believe.

 

 

I don't really care if someone has an actual choice in their actions. I, and all people have to operate on the premise that they are making choices.

 

You should care if you're operating on a false premises.

 

 

I am analyzing the person't behavior and thoughts in order to preserve my well being and values.

 

What is the point of having the concept 'value' if you can't choose which ones to pursue? What is the point of morality in general, if it is a code of values to guide your choices but you can't make choices? 

 

 

 

Things that aren't literally true but serve as useful middle steps for our brain comprehending reality in a more sophisticated way. I don't think this undermines reason.

 

How do you know what is true and what is not true if you are determined to believe what you believe?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If a man makes a choice (an action), all we can say is that he (an entity) caused it.

 

But if we don't really know what causes certain men to act one way, and certain men to act differently, then what basis is there for the concept of "rights"?

For example, why should laws be clearly defined in advance?  To what end?  And how can we know that any definition we're given corresponds to the actual actions of anyone, without knowing anything about why men act?  What is communication, without that?

 

And if I can't claim to know why I chose or will choose to do anything that I do then what's morality?

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

But if we don't really know what causes certain men to act one way, and certain men to act differently, then what basis is there for the concept of "rights"?

 

But we do know what causes men to act in certain ways. The man himself (the entity) causes his actions by making a choice. I agree that if man did not cause his actions there wouldn't be any need for 'rights', or anything else. You'd just lay down and die, I guess.

 

And if I can't claim to know why I chose or will choose to do anything that I do then what's morality?

 

On the contrary, if your choices were causally necessitated then morality is meaningless. It's only because you are able to make a choice (caused by the nature of man) that morality does have meaning.

 

Also, came across this if you're interested in reading on the subject (it's not too long): http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCAQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdspace.mit.edu%2Fbitstream%2Fhandle%2F1721.1%2F45195%2F26114938.pdf%3Fseque&ei=tksQVJG7F4_wgwTS6oGgBw&usg=AFQjCNGwIWOBaD8mv-IRU5l8gdCom6uPQA&bvm=bv.74649129,d.eXY&cad=rja

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think volition is an epistemological concept not a metaphysical one. The precedent in this from Ayn Rand's philosophy is the idea that all of reality is an integrated whole, but that people cannot literally comprehend reality that way and therefor have to isolate and focus on small aspects of it at a time.

Free Will vs. Determinism

Cause vs. Effect

Individual vs. Society

Master Race vs. Inferior Races

Mind vs. Brain

Brain vs. Body

Emotion vs. Reason

Owners vs. Workers

Noumenon vs. Phenomenon

 

 

What Rand fought her entire professional career against was the German Intellectualism belief that these categories are ontological, and that contradictions do in fact exist at the very core of being.  And that Society must accept these contradictions exist and try and resolve them socially through some variant of Thesis > Antithesis = Synthesis argument.

 

Objectivism states that distinctions such as these, while they can be objective, are epistemological and are only valid when used in a given context.  Context dropping is what needs to be guarded against.

 

Hairnet is right.

Edited by New Buddha

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree that if man did not cause his actions there wouldn't be any need for 'rights', or anything else.

 

I know that a volitional entity chose to string those images together, the way they are above, but why?

 

If I infer that your statement "I agree" means that you agree then do I not claim to know what about you caused that action?

 

If not- if we can't infer such things from other peoples' actions- then what is this thing I call a "post"?

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I know that a volitional entity chose to string those images together, the way they are above, but why?

 

It seems like this question arises from the false view of causality again. Are you looking for an action that caused the action rather than the entity that caused the action? Or am I misinterpreting?

 

I go back to the billiard ball example: Why did the billiard ball roll off at a 45 degree angle? Because it was struck and it is inherent to the identity of a billiard ball to roll when struck by an outside force. Why did the man act the way he did? Because he chose to and it is inherent to the identity of man to choose.

 

 

 

If I infer that your statement "I agree" means that you agree then do I not claim to know what about you caused that action?

 

If not- if we can't infer such things from other peoples' actions- then what is this thing I call a "post"?

 

I don't get what you mean here. I don't think that would be an inference though, maybe more like a judgement of my honesty, but could you expand on your point?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×