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Rand's argument against determinism

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There also some propositions which apply to all possible contexts of knowledge, those are the axiomatic ones. Volition is axiomatic. Nothing in physics is axiomatic the way philosophic axioms are.

Right. There are physicists who hold the idea that the concept of "matter" is axiomatic, but it isn't. In order to come up with the concept of matter, one must differentiate different things observed and integrate it on a higher level in the hierarchy than the axioms. The law of identity applies to everything that exists, but it can be argued that some thing that exist are not composed of matter -- for example, electric, magnetic, and gravitational fields -- which are not composed of matter or particles (as far as we can tell at this level of knowledge).

By the way, I wouldn't say that consciousness is a different type of stuff from matter or fields, but rather that it is fundamentally our awareness of existence, and awareness is not a type of stuff. We wouldn't have awareness without our means of awareness (our senses, internal and external), but sight is not the same thing as the eyes and optical pathways, for example. And this is something that many physicists overlook, most likely because they don't really take introspection seriously.

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It is also no coincidence that the posters most frequently picking fights on this issue are teenagers and college students.

The answer is the a priori conceptual framework you bring to the issue. In the first lecture of Dr. Peikoff's Art of Thinking course he identifies the problem of Clashing Contexts. You have learned and automatized the perspective of a solver of physics problems so well you cannot conceive of causality in any terms other than the one-way open-loop entropy increasing collisions of billiard balls in the elementary Newtonian/Cartesian way. No matter what your difficulties of comprehension are, there is no contradiction of physics involved in causation that works top-down in addition to bottom-up in some systems. Those special systems are physical manifestations of recursion, examples of which are living creatures, conceptual consciousness, and attractors in non-linear dynamic systems. None of these topics are covered in AP physics classes or freshman physics, so naturally your own understanding of causality omits them.

Several times I asked the author of this post to give clear examples of systems which are not dependent on their initial physical conditions, and he/she repeatedly refused to do so. His failure in this regard renders this argument regrettably unsubstantiated. Additionally, the straw-manning of requests to give clear examples of systems which are not dependent on their initial physical conditions into claims that all reality might be understood as one-variable linear equations is irrelevant, as are misrepresentations of any argument.

Most importantly: the claim that understanding volition requires a non-elementary understanding of causality thoroughly refutes the claim that volition is axiomatic.

Finally, the other day I was wondering why Objectivism has not gained more traction either in academia or with the public as a whole. I stumbled across an outstanding explanation, which can be read in full here: http://www.jeffcomp.com/faq/wrong.html . The author of that article (rightly) criticizes a fallacy which dominates the above-quoted argument: the fallacy of assertions from psychology. This fallacy lives in such assertions as

"The answer is the a priori conceptual framework you bring to the issue..."

"You have learned and automatized the perspective of a solver of physics problems so well you cannot conceive of causality in any terms other than..."

Assertions from psychology always fail for two major reasons. First, the (nontrivial) psychological motivations of an debater necessarily have no relationship with the logical validity or invalidity of his/her argument. Second, assertions from psychology cannot ever be supported by meaningful evidence, so they cannot be accepted or refuted on the basis of available evidence. It makes sense only to dismiss them entirely.

It follows that the above-quoted argument is not productive. (The author's attempts at condescension clearly do him/her no favors in light of this fact.)

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Most importantly: the claim that understanding volition requires a non-elementary understanding of causality thoroughly refutes the claim that volition is axiomatic.

It can be very difficult at times to decide if someone is caught into a self-made rationalistic mind trap or if they are being evasive. The difference is, I think, that rationalistic mind traps prevent someone from being aware of the facts or of overlooking the facts right in front of them versus someone who is aware of a fact and turns his mind away from those facts volitionally, which is evasion. Many people on this board over time have come out against volition, generally from the physics / philosophy standpoint that everything in reality is deterministic, and therefore any claim to having volition is taken as a statement contradicting some fundamental physics statement and is thrown out as impossible. This would be the rationalistic approach -- and pointing to that facts never stopped a rationalist from being a rationalist, no matter how clearly the facts are presented to him. To overcome rationalism requires an act of free will -- of boldly looking at the facts and seeing if one's reasoning matches the facts or not.

Past a certain point of arguing with these people, it is very clear that they do not introspect because they think that introspection doesn't tell them anything about the nature or their own minds. And the only way to validate or to verify volition is to introspect and realize that you are making choices all of the time. This is a fact of human consciousness. And, yes, past a certain point I do think the deterministic side is being evasive, of deliberately turning away from the facts that are clearly right in front of them.

So, you can come out and say that Objectivists are moralizing or making arguments from psychology all you want, but this does not invalidate the fact that you refuse to see the facts right in front of your own mind. In other words, you are being evasive.

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"The fallacy of assertions from psychology". Is the writer indicating by this -"assertions from introspection"?

If so, the argument seems dubious. Introspection - observation, analysis of one's own thoughts and feelings - is a perfectly valid means to knowledge. (imo)

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Several times I asked the author of this post

The "author" responds as follows:

This is laughable. That was post #41 in a 100 post thread, it sure took you long enough to work up your dudgeon.

First, the quote was not even addressed to you. Methinks you doth protest too much.

Second, not one bit of the passage you quoted is an attack on crizon's character or moral status, it is merely a proposed explanation for how crizon got into his predicament. And it is a predicament to be so utterly captivated by an abstract scientific principle that one denies the self evident. That path doesn't just lead to rationalism, it is rationalism. It was speculative and perhaps it is off the mark, only crizon can say. But at 18 or so and coming at these ideas for the first time he is not guilty of anything (except trying my patience, but I consent to that by continuing dialog with him).

Third, the quoted text was in fact directly responsive to post #40 where that author made the rhetorical appeal analogous to the 10,000 Frenchmen (who, in legend, can't be wrong.) It was not addressed to the main topic of the thread but a digression, and your inability follow the back-links in the quoted text blocks is no defect of mine.

Fourth, it is a rejection of the principle that knowledge is hierarchical to reject an axiom because it has inconvenient consequences upon a derivative idea. If you are going to reject the principle that knowledge is hierarchical, why care about the axiomatic status of anything? Axioms are useless if you can in principle start with any atom of knowledge and organize a world-view and philosophy around it.

Fifth, the Chris Wolf essay is both spectacularly wrong-headed and totally inapplicable. It is inapplicable because I didn't do any of the things that essay is about, and it is wrong because "tolerationism" is wrong. There are plenty of other threads about "Fact vs. Value" so there is no need to go over that subject here.

Sixth, "dependent on initial conditions" is off topic, which is about determinism and things which are or purported to be determined by their initial conditions and the "laws of physics". I have a new and good substantive on-topic reply in post #98 of this thread.

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There is a further thing to be said along these lines besides pointing out the errors of Chris Wolf, and that is if the determinist side is correct, then they can neither be moral nor immoral -- they are simply following a programming, like a computer. If that is the case, then why all the concern about being called evasive or immoral? Morality doesn't have anything to do with you if you are correct. I think you protest too much because you do realize there is a problem with your position and that you are in control of your own mind and that you are not volitionally adhering to reality -- that you are deliberately not looking at the facts of the nature of your own mind and that you direct it and that you do make choices. In other words, you are responsible for being either rational or irrational, of integrating your mind with the facts of reality or of evading the facts in favor of a pet theory.

If you come across a single fact of reality that contradicts your theory, the scientific method requires you to re-integrate your mind to the facts of reality -- this is rationality, and it must be done with your own effort and of your own free will because it is not automatic.

So, instead of accusing us of moralizing and psychologizing -- check your premises because your theory is wrong.

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"The fallacy of assertions from psychology". Is the writer indicating by this -"assertions from introspection"?

If so, the argument seems dubious. Introspection - observation, analysis of one's own thoughts and feelings - is a perfectly valid means to knowledge. (imo)

Of your own psychology, sure.

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Alright gurugeorge, I'll bite.

Is it your assertion that all I contain in my 'inner self', is psychological?

Is introspection only for checking my very specific and subjective psychological make- up?

Is it only things that exist outside of me that are real?

Is my morality, comprised of all my integrated observations, conclusions and concepts, unreal?

Can I not extrapolate the consciousness of other people, by reviewing my own thoughts and feelings?

No, I'm talking reality and knowledge here - not subjective mind-state.

{Or is this just to stir up debate for that seemingly endless apettite of yours?} B)

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The "author" responds as follows:

This is laughable. That was post #41 in a 100 post thread, it sure took you long enough to work up your dudgeon.

First, the quote was not even addressed to you. Methinks you doth protest too much.

Second, not one bit of the passage you quoted is an attack on crizon's character or moral status, it is merely a proposed explanation for how crizon got into his predicament. And it is a predicament to be so utterly captivated by an abstract scientific principle that one denies the self evident. That path doesn't just lead to rationalism, it is rationalism. It was speculative and perhaps it is off the mark, only crizon can say. But at 18 or so and coming at these ideas for the first time he is not guilty of anything (except trying my patience, but I consent to that by continuing dialog with him).

Third, the quoted text was in fact directly responsive to post #40 where that author made the rhetorical appeal analogous to the 10,000 Frenchmen (who, in legend, can't be wrong.) It was not addressed to the main topic of the thread but a digression, and your inability follow the back-links in the quoted text blocks is no defect of mine.

Fourth, it is a rejection of the principle that knowledge is hierarchical to reject an axiom because it has inconvenient consequences upon a derivative idea. If you are going to reject the principle that knowledge is hierarchical, why care about the axiomatic status of anything? Axioms are useless if you can in principle start with any atom of knowledge and organize a world-view and philosophy around it.

Fifth, the Chris Wolf essay is both spectacularly wrong-headed and totally inapplicable. It is inapplicable because I didn't do any of the things that essay is about, and it is wrong because "tolerationism" is wrong. There are plenty of other threads about "Fact vs. Value" so there is no need to go over that subject here.

Sixth, "dependent on initial conditions" is off topic, which is about determinism and things which are or purported to be determined by their initial conditions and the "laws of physics". I have a new and good substantive on-topic reply in post #98 of this thread.

"First" and "Third" are irrelevant because the original addressee of the quote is irrelevant; the point is that I asked the author to further substantiate his claim and he repeatedly failed to to so.

"Second" is irrelevant because I did not accuse the author of attacking Crizon's moral status. My reference of the other article had to do solely with arguments from psychology. The ensuing straw-manning is irrelevant.

"Fourth" assumes a conclusion which has not yet been demonstrated.

"Fifth" straw-mans (see "second") and so is irrelevant.

"Sixth" fails to demonstrate how "dependent on initial conditions" is disconnected from "determinism," but since a new thread has been created, I have no reason to push this point.

It follows that the author's original claim remains badly unsubstantiated. (His claim that my post is "laughable" clearly does him no favors in light of this fact.)

Edited by Prospectivist_Objectivist

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So, instead of accusing us of moralizing and psychologizing -- check your premises because your theory is wrong.

It isn't my theory, and the purpose of this thread was never to promote it (see my original post). This is the third time in this thread you have demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding about what is going on (see posts #70 and #77 for the other two). Since this is the third time, I offer the following unsolicited advice: it might benefit you to make sure you understand both the topic of discussion and the claims of other posters before posting yourself.

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Alright gurugeorge, I'll bite.

Is it your assertion that all I contain in my 'inner self', is psychological?

Is introspection only for checking my very specific and subjective psychological make- up?

Is it only things that exist outside of me that are real?

Is my morality, comprised of all my integrated observations, conclusions and concepts, unreal?

Can I not extrapolate the consciousness of other people, by reviewing my own thoughts and feelings?

No, I'm talking reality and knowledge here - not subjective mind-state.

{Or is this just to stir up debate for that seemingly endless apettite of yours?} B)

I wasn't making any particularly profound point - I was simply pointing out that introspection is certainly a fine guide to the contents of one's own consciousness, but rather a poor guide to the contents of others'. (This is in the context of PO's mention of Wolf and your, and Grames' and Thomas' responses to it.)

I must say I agree with Wolf, and events on this very thread bear him out, albeit in a fairly mild form - in fact, this board is relatively mild-mannered and pleasant compared to some Objectivist bear pits I've been in (Stephen Speicher on h.p.o. roundabout the mid 90s anyone? Ay Ay!). Ludicrous imputations of bad character do seem to be kept to a reasonable minimum :)

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Precisely.
No, not true... not the way most people mean it. Obviously one cannot gather information about others solely by introspecting about oneself. However, this is really a strawman, because nobody would suggest that it is all that is required. Introspection is a starting point and the observations therefrom have to be integrated with other knowledge to draw general conclusions.

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Several times I asked the author of this post to give clear examples of systems which are not dependent on their initial physical conditions, and he/she repeatedly refused to do so. His failure in this regard renders this argument regrettably unsubstantiated.
Have you given up on your unsubstantiated paradox?

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Have you given up on your unsubstantiated paradox?

We could have amassed enough data to be able to conclude that the universe is ruled by natural laws and that every effect has a cause, but still not have amassed enough data to figure out what would happen to this very large and complex system from one moment to the next.

IOW, I don't think PO is employing a "stolen concept" here. It's an "if then" argument. We don't know for sure that the "if" part is true (that the universe really is determined, through and through), but if it's true, then there's this paradox.

My solution would be a compatibilism-with-a-twist one, like Dennett's, as follows: we misunderstand what volition really is. IOW the kind of free will that philosophers have been puzzled about does indeed clash with determinism, and probably (given science's creeping conquest of every corner of the world) doesn't exist. Fortunately for us, that's not the kind of free will we demonstrably have, so therefore it's not worth worrying ourselves about it. The kind of free will we do have, and that is worth bothering about, is the kind of free will a deterministic system could have. And, far from being impossible in a deterministic world, it actually requires (at least some) determinism in a world for it to have traction!

e.g., suppose you have a robot, a perfectly deterministic system; yet it still has to make "choices" - it's little positronic brain (or whatever) will clickety-clack away, in a perfectly deterministic fashion, and it will have a range of calculated options, and calculate a "preferred" option, and so long as nothing prevents it from doing so, it will execute that option. Generally speaking, it will avoid hazards and cleave to things that are beneficial in relation to its programmed goals. Is our case absolutely categorically different, or are we extremely sophisticated version of the same thing, able to self-re-program, update goals as we go? Organic robots?

(Again, why do we feel obliged to put "choice" in scare quotes (as above) when we talk about machine "choice", yet we're happy to leave a word like "calculates" in the paragraph above without scare quotes? Surely calculation is as impossible to a machine as choice, since both calculation and choice are volitional (in the traditional sense that gives rise to the free will problem)? I'm willing to bet 90% of the readers of that paragraph didn't even notice what I did there. This reveals (as Dennett shows in many examples throughout his books) that we are hypnotized by certain traditional oversimplifications when we think about this stuff. In this, Dennett is a true student of Wittgenstein.)

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Is our case absolutely categorically different, or are we extremely sophisticated version of the same thing, able to self-re-program, update goals as we go? Organic robots?

We have the ability to think or not to think, that is our fundamental choice, and those calculations you refer to in man are not automatic. A calculator or a computer or a robot has no choice in the matter as to calculate or not to calculate, it isn't a volitional, self-sustaining action on the part of a machine. When I hit a key on my keyboard and write this sentence, I don't have to rely on my computer deciding to go ahead and do it or not, it does it because it has no choice. On the other hand, if I have an employee and I ask him to do a certain task, I do have to rely on his willingness to do the task because he has free will, and he can decide not to do it. I have to persuade an employee, I don't have to persuade my computer. So, yes, there is a fundamental difference between a machine and a human.

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IOW, I don't think PO is employing a "stolen concept" here. It's an "if then" argument. We don't know for sure that the "if" part is true (that the universe really is determined, through and through), but if it's true, then there's this paradox.

My solution would be a compatibilism-with-a-twist one, like Dennett's, as follows: we misunderstand what volition really is. IOW the kind of free will that philosophers have been puzzled about does indeed clash with determinism, and probably (given science's creeping conquest of every corner of the world) doesn't exist. Fortunately for us, that's not the kind of free will we demonstrably have, so therefore it's not worth worrying ourselves about it. The kind of free will we do have, and that is worth bothering about, is the kind of free will a deterministic system could have. And, far from being impossible in a deterministic world, it actually requires (at least some) determinism in a world for it to have traction!

e.g., suppose you have a robot, a perfectly deterministic system; yet it still has to make "choices" - it's little positronic brain (or whatever) will clickety-clack away, in a perfectly deterministic fashion, and it will have a range of calculated options, and calculate a "preferred" option, and so long as nothing prevents it from doing so, it will execute that option. Generally speaking, it will avoid hazards and cleave to things that are beneficial in relation to its programmed goals. Is our case absolutely categorically different, or are we extremely sophisticated version of the same thing, able to self-re-program, update goals as we go? Organic robots?

I appreciate the fact that you understand my position. Most who have argued here have immediately switched into must-prove-determinism-false mode, and consequently their arguments have not addressed the issues I put forth originally (for example, see post #114 by hunterrose-- since the paradox is "if-then" and since the "if" conditions are not assumed, his accusation of an "unsupported paradox" is meaningless).

I'm also a fan of Dennet's compatibilism, and I think Grames's contention that "dependence on initial conditions" does not imply "determined" would ultimately have come around to something similar (maybe he advanced it to that point in his other thread? I haven't gotten there yet). Miovas's robotic repetition of the same unsupported contention-- and his glossing over the fact that if he was organically determined as such, then he would not be able to distinguish between that condition and his asserted reality-- probably was not deliberately self-satirizing, but picking on him isn't fair.

Edited by Prospectivist_Objectivist

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I think Grames's contention that "dependence on initial conditions" does not imply "determined" would ultimately have come around to something similar (maybe he advanced it to that point in his other thread? I haven't gotten there yet).

Man, we really are pretty much on the same page - I was thinking exactly the same thing when I read Grames' post!!!! :P I'm not sharp enough myself to work out the similarity off the cuff with speed, but I could sense it's there. Great stuff!

This is why hanging around with Objectivists is such fun - Objectivism makes a great "foil" for one's thought, confronting it really does sharpen up one's own thinking, and there's tons of food for thought, and even truth, in Objectivism, even if one can't accept it as a total system. Plus also, Objectivists are enthusiastic about philosophy, which in itself is a great pleasure to behold and participate with.

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We have the ability to think or not to think, that is our fundamental choice, and those calculations you refer to in man are not automatic. A calculator or a computer or a robot has no choice in the matter as to calculate or not to calculate, it isn't a volitional, self-sustaining action on the part of a machine. When I hit a key on my keyboard and write this sentence, I don't have to rely on my computer deciding to go ahead and do it or not, it does it because it has no choice. On the other hand, if I have an employee and I ask him to do a certain task, I do have to rely on his willingness to do the task because he has free will, and he can decide not to do it. I have to persuade an employee, I don't have to persuade my computer. So, yes, there is a fundamental difference between a machine and a human.

The kind of robot we usually make nowadays will have a limited, programmed goal, and will indeed have a fairly simplistic automatism about it. But we are getting better and better at making more and more sophisticated robots. In fact, if we devoted enough resources to it, we could make a robot right now that had as sophisticated sensory equipment as ours, and could generate self-sustaining action, in being able to self-reprogram - i.e. it could disobey orders, for example, if it calculated that the orders given would clash with some other priority, even if that priority was not the same as a priority it had a few moments before, that it had re-programmed itself out of, that would have been compatible with the orders. It might even re-program itself away from its original goals that its builders progarmmed it with.

Now, let's suppose we do make a robot that behaves in all ways and all appearances like a human being. It does the kinds of sophisticated things that humans do that you would say betray volitional consciousness (e.g. disobeying orders - that is in fact a great example). It passes the "Turing Test" in conversation. It can write music, do art, that (again) passes the Turning Test (e.g. human beings would think that the art is art, and the music is music.)

What, at that point, is the essential difference between a human being and that robot - other than the fact that one is made of silicon, and the other of organic materials?

(Note: to forestall possible fruitless lines of argument, I perhaps should point out that I am not saying we are like robots. If you read carefully you will see that I am saying that we are much more sophisticated than robots we can make now, that is obvious. What I am suggesting is that greater sophistication is enough, and all that's needed to distinguish the simple robots we make now, and people, and that if we make things with equal levels of sophistication to us, then they will be like us in that it's appropriate to call them volitional, conscious, etc. And don't think I underestimate the degree of difference in sophistication. At the moment it's huge, we are several orders of magnitude more sophisticated than the robots we can make now, in terms of observable behaviour when facing the world. But are you willing to bet your shirt on the likelihood that we will never be able to make a robot of that level of sophistication? :P )

Edited by gurugeorge

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It can write music, do art, that (again) passes the Turning Test (e.g. human beings would think that the art is art, and the music is music.)

I have no problem believing that you could make a robot that writes rap music. But as for a robot that writes music like Rachmaninoff's--well, I'll believe that when you have shown me the robot.

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I have no problem believing that you could make a robot that writes rap music. But as for a robot that writes music like Rachmaninoff's--well, I'll believe that when you have shown me the robot.

I know what you mean - but consider: for years people thought playing a game of chess was a standard robots couldn't achieve. Then along came Big Blue and others!

Taking music, I think a robot will soon able to write nursery rhymes and jingles that pass the Turing Test (actually I think there may already be one like that); then rap would be kind of intermediary (it's not as simple as nursery rhymes - it can sometimes be quite sophisticated in terms of rhyming and meaning). Music like Rachmaninov (or Mozart, or ...) would then be the sort of ultimate Turning Test. (And I think such a robot would have to be a robot that wasn't merely purpose-built for that, as chess playing computers were purpose-programmed for chess, it would have to be a proper, self-reprogramming, "living" robot that could do other things than write as well as Rachmaninov. It would have to be such that it might even resent your asking it to write a tune like Rachmaninov, because it felt more in a Mozartish mood that day! :P )

But anyway, if robots pass all these tests, I think most would say that they have consciousness and volition at least in relation to the outside world. The real difficult one is, would they have an "inner life" as we do, and consciousness as it is "from the inside" as we do? Do these accumulations of sophistication, layer upon layer, amount to having an "inner life"? Robots of such sophistication would have to have "inner workspaces" of some kind, and awareness of themselves (i.e. their bodies at least). On the scale from camera to one of these notional guys - when does it become conscious? But that's for another thread.

The main point is, that it's clearly possible for a deterministic system to be so sophisticated that it looks like it has volition and consciousness (sufficient to pass the Turing Test). It would have goals, could reprogram its own goals, tell you what it thinks about what it's going to do next (i.e. run over its options like we do), avoid things bad for its continued existence, seek good things, etc., etc. So maybe we're the same (only organic) and our kind of free will is the same as the kind of free will they would have - a kind of free will that can only function in (at least) a (somewhat) deterministic world.

As far as I can see, the evidence seems to point to a world that's largely deterministic, but does have some randomness too.

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One big and ongoing problem in this broader context of volition / free will / determinism is that I still have no idea what volition / free will actually is (supposed to be).

Volition has to be fundamentally different from determinism and randomness to achieve this task of making a "free choice". A read self-causation in relation to volition often, but that still doesn't answer this new type of causation for me.

What is self-causation? What happens when an entity causes something "itself". I can't think of anything in that term that would not simply be random (a radioactive atom causes the decay "itself").

Now I don't have a problem with an (proclaimed) entity (black holes) or concept (consciousness) that just isn't fully understood yet, as long as it is clear what the core is (very high gravitational object / being self-aware).

With volition though, this new type of causation remains undescribed and unthinkable (to me).

The only real information I seem to get is that we have to have volition because:

a) We can observe it via introspection (I don't.. if you want to know why I don't observe free will via introspection, just ask - I wrote about it in a few posts already, but I can summarize it if there's a demand)

:P We posses knowledge (where the argument mostly works via defining knowledge as volitional and therefore being nothing more than a play with words)

c) We need it as a starting point for Ethics ("If we don't have volition then we are merely robots and I can't argue with you" obviously the poorest argument, because the correct answer to this question should not be answered by thinking emotionally about it's consequences and the interpretation is very arguable either.. sadly I feel that quite a few people have Ethics in mind when they talk about free will - don't take that as an argument please)

So the only information about what free will is, is that we have to have it. Now how can you honestly claim to have proven something, that yet remains undescribed, where the only attribute is, that it is there?

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One big and ongoing problem in this broader context of volition / free will / determinism is that I still have no idea what volition / free will actually is (supposed to be).

You do not have free will.

However, you will go and listen to this:

The Leonard Peikoff Show Clip - Free Will or Determinism (YouTube recording of a portion of one of Dr. Peikoff's radio show, a discussion on free will versus determinism.)

You will then go and listen to these portions of some of Dr. Peikoff's podcasts:

Episode 16 -- May 26, 2008

Question: Did determinism hold true on this planet until humans obtained their volitional capacity? (Last question; at about 12:40)

Episode 34 -- October 27, 2008

Question: Do our material brains comprise our entire consciousness, and if so, doesn't that mean that there is no free will? (Next to last question; at about: 11:30)

Episode 48 -- February 09, 2009

Question: How did Epicurus reconciled free will with all the atoms that merely react by hitting each other? (About 4:20)

Episode 55 -- March 30, 2009

Question: If there was a being that was so intelligent that it always knew the correct action to take, wouldn't that knowledge be irresistible, determining every action of such a being, effectively negating it's free will? (About 5:20)

After listening to these various clips, you will return here and report on your experience. You have no choice in the matter!

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In fact, if we devoted enough resources to it, we could make a robot right now that had as sophisticated sensory equipment as ours,

Do you have any support for this claim? Because I highly doubt it. Even if you could build the equipment to accumulate light, register sound waves, identify various chemical compounds in the air, and determine the shape and texture of various surfaces as well as our eyes, ears, noses, mouths, and skin do it would still be just that - a bunch of disjointed data with no consciousness to bring it all together, identify it, conceptualize it, name it and define it. And if "it" can't do that, then it will never be in any position to make any sort of decision.

it could disobey orders, for example, if it calculated that the orders given would clash with some other priority, even if that priority was not the same as a priority it had a few moments before, that it had re-programmed itself out of, that would have been compatible with the orders. It might even re-program itself away from its original goals that its builders progarmmed it with.

If you're holding this up as an example of how a robot is making decisions, then I disagree. The robot isn't making any decision at all - it's merely following its programming, as you point out. If I tell the computer in my car engine to print out my research paper for tomorrow and it just sits there, doing nothing, is it disobeying my orders? Did it choose to disobey me? When the robot goes against its programming, then it might be said to be making a decision, but without a consciousness there I don't think so.

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It's an "if then" argument... if it's true, then there's this paradox.
Are you sure? Can you state this paradox?

[hunterrose and some others] who have argued here have immediately switched into must-prove-determinism-false mode, and consequently their arguments have not addressed the issues I put forth originally (for example... since the paradox is "if-then" and since the "if" conditions are not assumed, [hunterrose's] accusation of an "unsupported paradox" is meaningless).
Then I'll make it more meaningful for you.

if modern science shows that everything in the universe is ruled by natural laws and that every effect has a cause, then how can we possibly get around determinism? That is, suppose I accept the argument I challenged above: man is volitional. Then man somehow exercises free will independent of pre-existing physical realities; but since no physical system acts independently of the pre-existing physical realities, it follows that some aspect of volition is nonphysical... Yet the conclusion that some aspect of volition is nonphysical implies that science will never ever fully explain cognition in purely physical terms.
If determinism is true and volition exists, then volition is supernatural, then it is outside the realm of science. That seems true, but that is not a paradox.

It would be a paradox for Objectivists if Objectivists believed 1) volition exists even if determinism is true and 2) volition is within the realm of science. Do you understand why?

suppose science one day does explain cognition in purely physical terms; it would therefore follow that volition is an illusion. But for the above reasons, we can't draw that conclusion definitively; but neither can we ignore scientific findings.
If science explained human action in purely physical terms and anything explainable in physical terms was deterministic, then volition would be false, then the only way Objectivists could believe in volition would be by ignoring scientific findings. That also seems true, but that is not a paradox.

It would be a paradox for Objectivists if Objectivists believed 1) anything explainable in physical terms was deterministic and 2) believing in volition does not require ignoring scientific findings. Do you understand why?

<Deep breath>

  1. If science explained cognitive knowledge in purely physical terms and anything explainable in physical terms was deterministic, then
  2. determinism is true, then
  3. there is no way that a determinist can distinguish whether any cognitive knowledge is objectively true from whether he is merely determined to think so.

That would be a paradox for a determinist who believed that, say 1) determinism wasn't scientifically unprovable and 2) a determinist can distinguish whether a determinism proof is objectively true from whether he is merely determined to think it is true and distinguish whether a determinism proof is objectively false from whether he is merely determined to think it is false. Do you understand why?

Strictly speaking, the Objectivist paradoxes do not exist when your if-clauses (as you framed them) are false - but that's not why they're unsupported. Your paradoxes are unsupported because, even if your if-clauses are true, they aren't self-contradictory in terms of Objectivism.

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