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On the existence of free will.

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This is a problem I have often seen with Objectivists. Instead of actually addressing any of my points, you simply write it off as irrational and a result of me not exerting an effort to "conform [my] mind to reality."

The point is that introspection is an accurate means of understanding what your mind is doing, and you can observe the fact that you present options to yourself -- such as to post a reply or not -- and then make a decision such as to reply or not to reply. That's all you need to confirm the existence of free will. All of that other stuff is starting with the false premise that introspection is not a valid means of understanding your own consciousness.

Of course, if you want to continue to claim that you do not have free will, then can we ask you not to dump your data processing onto us? Especially if it contains contradictions, as your does.

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I believe that "volition" or "free will" is of no consequence to Objectivism, and I believe reason dictates that free will simply does not exist. My argument is as follows:

You contradict yourself in the first sentence, as reason and knowledge are impossible without volition. If what one knows or thinks is determined then there is no basis for judging truth based upon correspondence with reality, there are only assertions. If reason and knowledge are impossible, that would have great consequence for Objectivism.

Time for the weekly copy-and-paste of the anti-determinism screed:

A fallacy of composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole (or even of every proper part). The argument that if the brain consists only of neurons, molecules and atoms none of which have free will, then the brain as a whole cannot have free will is an instance of the fallacy of composition. It is commonplace for systems of entities to exhibit novel properties which do not exist in any of entities taken alone (temperature, taste, color, shape, practically any attribute you could name).

The material parts of a living body are related together in a specific structure and in motion. If you chop a man up into his constituent atoms you will not find a self or even a trace of life. If then you conclude the man was never alive to begin with, or never had a self, your materialist reductionism has led you to commit a logical fallacy and a murder.

Causality and determinism are two different things. The law of causality is simply that an entity must act in accordance with its nature. Determinism states that every event is causally necessitated by antecedent events. The difference is, events don't exist. Only entities, things, exist physically or metaphysically. An event is an action of an entity (or plural entities). Determinism is false because it is a reification of events as if they were metaphysical primaries, when only the entities that act have existence. If it is the nature of the man that he has the freedom to choose among various acts or contents of consciousness, this is no violation of causality.

Determinism can be refuted without reference to free will. The determinist principle that each action entails a single possible consequent action is an arbitrary assertion that cannot be proven. Considered as a simple restatement of the causality principle determinism fails because it unjustifiably restricts what is possible. Unjustifiable, because philosophy can not be normative by specifying apriori what physics must discover. Philosophy can only specify what kind of thing is impossible, a contradiction.

Determinism also invokes an infinite regress of causes unless there actually was a metaphysical first cause. But if determinism can have one first cause then it can have others and 'single possible consequent action' is a false premise.

This is not mathematics, so negating a negative is no substitute for a positive statement. Invalidating determinism is not the same as validating free will, so the separate appeal to introspection as validation is still necessary.

The fallacy of reification should be avoided: free will isn't going to be found as a thing in the brain because it is something the brain does. Free will exists as a verb, not a noun. Reductionist dissection and static analysis isn't going to find free will. Pictures on a hard drive don’t exist physically. What exists are sequences of “1” and “0”. They are not pictures until someone looks at them rendered on a screen. Just as there is no picture in "1" and "0" there is no free will in neurons, molecules and atoms.

Metaphysical nature of free will:

That which exists is neither true nor false, it simply is. Existence is the standard of truth in the sense that any idea which is true can be reduced to an existent (or relation among things that exist). What makes ideas metaphysically different and unmetaphysical is that they can be true or false. Free will, because it is the means by which we steer our thoughts correctly or incorrectly, is the cause of the 'true or false' nature of abstractions, the fallibility of knowledge. Free will then cannot itself be judged true or false but must be accepted as metaphysically given. Free will is also axiomatic, for there is no way to argue against it without assuming it.

Free will is an epistemological first cause:

Aristotle wrote "All men by nature desire to know." This small statement is not just a meditation on human nature but also the nature of knowledge. The will to know is an epistemological first cause, not a metaphysical first cause. The will to know is not a metaphysical first cause because it does not make possible the existence of anything, existence is prior to and independent of consciousness. The will to know is an epistemological first cause because it makes possible any and all knowledge.

Equating the 'will to know' with 'free will' is what Objectivism does. The mental freedom to direct your attention, to solve a problem or to simply be still and alert, or to do none of these things by not even focusing mentally, is the only true freedom. Free will is the humble power to select among the available alternatives, not a radical superpower to transcend the limitations of time and space.

Objectivism duplicates this pattern in ethics. The will to live is an ethical first cause, because it makes possible any and all values.

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Instead of actually addressing any of my points
I have a constructive suggestion for you. Why don't you rewrite your argument, and reduce it to one clearly stated claim and two pieces of evidence to support the claim? We have a huge collection of anti-volition posts here, and for some odd reason nobody ever bothers to actually read the careful dissections of the fallacies in such arguments. If you would simply trot out a summary of your position, we could easily direct you to the reading that you yourself should have done.

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Thomas: Introspection is a valid means of understanding how my mind operates. I never said we do not create possible courses of action and then proceed to come to a decision. That is what I said we do, but I do not think that is what is meant by "free will." Free will, in my understanding, is when you could have come to a different decision given the context of the decision. Meaning, given all your memories, all of your experiences, your thoughts, beliefs, the state of your body, and the world around you at the time of your decision, you could still have made a different decision than you had originally. That does not seem possible.

Grames (and Thomas to a lesser extent): I understand that events are simply the action of entities acting in accordance with their nature in a context. I never meant that actions cause other actions, simply that given a state of things (all the entities in the universe and their arrangement), then only one outcome can come from that.

I am familiar with emergent properties, and I do not deny that they exist. My point is that if an entity (man) is composed of other entities (particles) who behave according to predictable laws, then the larger entity is "deterministic", at least in the sense that its behavior can in principle be determined given full knowledge of everything which makes it up. Consciousness exists, and is an emergent property of certain types of extremely complex physical systems. The ability to make decisions which are not predictable based on simple external observation of the entity and its behavior (which is free will in my opinion) is also an emergent property of certain types of extremely complex physical systems.

I still haven't seen anyone address exactly why it is impossible to have knowledge if there is no actual possibility of coming to a different conclusion given the context of the decision. The only way we can ensure we are thinking rationally is to attempt to check our reasoning as best we can, and/or asking others to check our reasoning. I see no reason why that would be impossible without free will. Sure, you may not have been able to come to a different conclusion, given the context of the decision, but that does not mean you cannot reassess your reasoning, or that someone else cannot attempt to verify it. With or without free will, the only way I can know if I am thinking rationally is if I perceive that I am thinking rationally because I cannot find any contradictions or unaccounted for information (so far as I can tell), and no one around me can successfully point out a contradiction in my thinking. As is pointed out so many times by Objectivists, you must continually verify your ideas and work to integrate your knowledge into a noncontradictory whole. If you do that so far as you can tell, what does it matter (in terms of the validity of your thinking) if you have free will or not? I don't see anything about free will that gives you an automatic detector of truth, and so if you are thinking rationally as best you know and no one can point out a flaw, how can anyone say that you are not? What makes free will necessary for the discovery of truth? Why can't you just fact-check?

I am trying to refine my ideas, I'm not evading, to the best of my knowledge, nor am I attempting to purposely play devil's advocate.

Edit: DavidOdden-

My argument is as follows: Free will (which is the ability to make decisions whose outcome is not controlled entirely by your memories, beliefs, state of your body, and the state of the world around you at the time of the decision) reduces to randomness. The only means to check our thinking to ensure we are using reason is equally applicable with or without free will, and so knowledge and reason are not dependent on free will (as here defined), and as a result it is possible to logically deny it and therefore it is not axiomatic. As a result, and given the fact that the mind is an emergent property of a physical system and therefore its behavior is governed by the laws of physics, free will as here defined does not exist. However, since knowledge and reason are still possible and there acquisition and use are still dependent on human decisions, the rest of Objectivism is left untouched and whole.

-I know that's not quite what you asked for, but that is as small as I can make my argument.

Edited by nanite1018

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I am familiar with emergent properties, and I do not deny that they exist. My point is that if an entity (man) is composed of other entities (particles) who behave according to predictable laws, then the larger entity is "deterministic", at least in the sense that its behavior can in principle be determined given full knowledge of everything which makes it up.

This is exactly the fallacy of composition. You are embracing a fallacy and denying an emergent attribute.

I still haven't seen anyone address exactly why it is impossible to have knowledge if there is no actual possibility of coming to a different conclusion given the context of the decision. The only way we can ensure we are thinking rationally is to attempt to check our reasoning as best we can, and/or asking others to check our reasoning. I see no reason why that would be impossible without free will.

Because there can be no such thing as "checking" if we are determined. If everything is determined, then everything is determined all the way down and it is inconsistent of you to claim this special exemption for being able to check and judge. Real determinism doesn't have exemptions.

What is ironic here is that you are actually stating the Objectivist identification of free will while calling it determinism. That ability to check and judge is actually your only real freedom, and as you have identified it makes truth and knowledge possible.

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Of course, if you want to continue to claim that you do not have free will, then can we ask you not to dump your data processing onto us? Especially if it contains contradictions, as your does.

Well, I don't think that particularly shows evidence that free will is self-evident. With advanced and cutting-edge AI programming techniques, I can develop a computer in order to respond to posts on a forum. In order to do this, I'd have to give it certain concepts (I don't want to use this word in this context, but I don't know a better word). The decisions it makes would obviously be deterministic. Maybe you'd also program it to make one decision before anything. "If target is an Objectivist, then don't post arguments relating to determinism."

But what if you keep adding concepts (or increase the storage capacity of what it receives as input), and computer processing power increases to the level of the human brain? Animal brains seem to develop in a similar way. Evolution made animal brains capable of more processing power and more storage. Clearly, at no point would decision making would become just free will, because it is completely limited by the way it is programmed. In other words, the way it is built. Similarly, the human brain can only function the way it is built, according to its nature. Given that humans evolved from other animals, I don't see how where this deterministic part goes away. The ability of introspection seems to be a way that the human brain was able to be more advanced than any other species on earth, but that ability must have come from something. I don't see how introspection could function completely independent of any deterministic process.

Arguments that free will exists based on it being self-evident sometimes seem like they would require the human brain to function in a different way than its nature. My only point is simply that free will is not self-evident and proving that free will exists requires a much more complex argument.

edit: clarification

Edited by Eiuol

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... My only point is simply that free will is not self-evident and proving that free will exists requires a much more complex argument.

Actually it is determinism that requires a misapplication of a complex scientific knowledge. Prior to the popularization of Newtonian physics as a substitute for philosophy everyone just knew we had volition. How the inanimate world can be determined and yet man can still have volition is a complex argument that simply would not be necessary without that billiard ball determinist conceptual framework people bring to the discussion nowadays.

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This is exactly the fallacy of composition. You are embracing a fallacy and denying an emergent attribute.

Is it really a fallacy? An ant colony is an emergent system. If I know the nature of each of the ants, the rules governing each of their behavior (the chemical trails and whatnot left behind by others, etc.), and the state of the system now, then why is it not possible to then plug that into a computer and figure out the behavior of the colony under various conditions in the future? My understanding is that is possible, and therefore the colony is "deterministic". It has macro-level behavior that cannot be explained by only looking at the macro-level (free will/volition in humans), but a full understanding of all the individual elements and a computer to run the simulation allows you to predict its macro-level behavior. That does not mean I deny the macro-level behavior, I simply state that it is predictable given full knowledge of the underlying components. That theoretical possibility of predicting the systems behavior based on full knowledge its state and the nature of all of the components is what I mean by "determinism."

Because there can be no such thing as "checking" if we are determined. If everything is determined, then everything is determined all the way down and it is inconsistent of you to claim this special exemption for being able to check and judge. Real determinism doesn't have exemptions.

What is ironic here is that you are actually stating the Objectivist identification of free will while calling it determinism. That ability to check and judge is actually your only real freedom, and as you have identified it makes truth and knowledge possible.

I have thought it possible I am misunderstanding what Objectivism means by free will and volition, since my interpretation doesn't seem to change anything else about it.

My question is what causes someone to choose one thing over another when they have free will? If I can make a different decision, why did I pick the way I did? I don't see how the cause can be anything other than randomness (on some level) or a "deterministic" process. Even at the level of focusing v. not focusing, the same alternative seems to apply. Also, why can there be no "checking" if things are determined? Obviously I can "check", that is look over my thinking. I will either see a flaw or not. Either way, why exactly does it make my conclusion invalid if my conclusion couldn't have come out any other way? My process if I have free will, looking over my thinking (and maybe looking over my looking over my thinking, etc.) to see if I can spot an error, seems equally possible if I don't have free will. If I haven't tried to check my thinking, regardless of if I have free will or not, I can't be confident my thinking is correct. We know that there is no automatic truth detector in human consciousness, so what makes my conclusion "there is no error" any more valid if I have free will? Maybe I'm just being thick-headed, but I'm just not understanding.

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The brain does do things that are neither rational nor irrational, such as monitoring and correcting metabolism and processing sensory inputs -- the brain process a lot of biological data automatically. That's why these processes are neither true or false, they simply are. Those process occur due to the functioning of inputs and outputs automatically, like a computer, and are thus not fallible, since they are not under our control. But one's conscious mind is under one's direct control, you guide it and you decide how to process the information. Because it is not automatic, it is fallible, which is why we need a conscious method to insure that we are processing the information according to reality. That process is logic; the non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality as given by observation. If you contradict an observation, you are not being fully rational -- not self-awarely processing information according to the facts in a logical manner.

Since one is directly aware that one does indeed make choices, then to say we don't have free will is to contradict a self-evident fact -- it would like denying that you can see even though your eyes are working. This is not necessarily evasion, according to Dr. Peikoff, because rationalism (or even misintegration) is not done with the full intent of evading the facts, it's just that some people have trained themselves to come up with semi-logical arguments and don't look at the facts for verification of that process or the outcome of that process. In other words, they deal in floating abstractions and come to conclusions based upon those floating abstractions, rather than basing them on the facts.

Regarding the future computer that supposedly will have free will, how would you know that if you don't even acknowledge that you, yourself, have free will, which is verified via introspection? You can't get inside the mind of someone else, and you can get into the processing of a computer, so how could you ever say the computer has a mind of its own and can self-consciously and volitionally guide its own actions? To say that the human mind is nothing more than a complex computer running algorithms under no self-guidance is to deny the self-evident that you operate your own mind of your own free will. The conscious mind is not automatic, which is why we need a science of correct methodology -- logic; and to contradict a fact is to not be logical.

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Is it really a fallacy? An ant colony is an emergent system. If I know the nature of each of the ants, the rules governing each of their behavior (the chemical trails and whatnot left behind by others, etc.), and the state of the system now, then why is it not possible to then plug that into a computer and figure out the behavior of the colony under various conditions in the future? My understanding is that is possible, and therefore the colony is "deterministic". It has macro-level behavior that cannot be explained by only looking at the macro-level (free will/volition in humans), but a full understanding of all the individual elements and a computer to run the simulation allows you to predict its macro-level behavior. That does not mean I deny the macro-level behavior, I simply state that it is predictable given full knowledge of the underlying components. That theoretical possibility of predicting the systems behavior based on full knowledge its state and the nature of all of the components is what I mean by "determinism."

Simulations are always approximations. One can gain some insight into the capabilities or general character of such a system, but always with a margin of error compared to a real system due to real limitations on measuring initial states and the computability of the system. Will your ant colony simulation also simulate the bacteria in the digestive tracts of the ants? You cannot simulate what you don't know, and you would have to be omniscient to know what you didn't know.

There is a subtle importation of the mind-body dichotomy at work here. The "will" is an aspect of the mind, and it is purported to be free of the crude determinism that rules matter. The body is material and subject to the same crude determinism that rules all matter. The debate that ensues is doomed. The only way out is to recognize the inherent falsehoods smuggled into the debate by the words "free" and "determinism."

Free does not mean free from identity and causality. The body includes the brain and whatever is the material manifestation of the mind. No aspect of the mind is supernatural as that would contradict its identity. Objectivism does not claim that the will is free to transcend the limitations imposed by blood sugar level, blood oxygenation, hormone level of melatonin or the myriad other antecedent factors that make consciousness possible at all. The only freedom of the will claimed by Objectivism is the very narrow and restricted freedom to choose to be more active or more passive as a conceptual conscious entity than in the previous moment. The facts of consciousness and of the body are logically and chronologically prior to the will that modulates them both.

Determinism is not crude. Deterministic systems are not necessarily predictable or calculable. I would direct your attention to the n-body problem where n is much greater than 3, and the forces at work simultaneously include gravity, electricity, magnetism, strong and weak nuclear forces, and then claim that not only is the realm of crude materialism not practically calculable for real systems but it is not even theoretically calculable. The idea of determinism as billiard balls whose positions, velocities, and masses are all perfectly known and theoretically predictable, is a fantasy realm suited only for an omniscient consciousness and which is not even a correct understanding of real-world determinism.

All of the parts of your body and brain are comprised of deterministic particles and yet volition is still possible. There is not yet any detailed explanation of "how conceptual consciousness works." Even if there was, explaining something in terms of lower level entities doesn't annihilate it, or make a true statement such as "volition exists" more true. Free will obeys identity and causality, and causality is more general than determinism. There is no contradiction.

My question is what causes someone to choose one thing over another when they have free will? If I can make a different decision, why did I pick the way I did? I don't see how the cause can be anything other than randomness (on some level) or a "deterministic" process. Even at the level of focusing v. not focusing, the same alternative seems to apply.

The question is invalid because it cannot possibly have an answer. Any explanation would have to be in terms of something prior, but there is nothing prior except the parts. It is a fallacy to try to draw a conclusion only by deducing from the parts with no observation of the new whole.

Also, why can there be no "checking" if things are determined? Obviously I can "check", that is look over my thinking. I will either see a flaw or not. Either way, why exactly does it make my conclusion invalid if my conclusion couldn't have come out any other way? My process if I have free will, looking over my thinking (and maybe looking over my looking over my thinking, etc.) to see if I can spot an error, seems equally possible if I don't have free will. If I haven't tried to check my thinking, regardless of if I have free will or not, I can't be confident my thinking is correct. We know that there is no automatic truth detector in human consciousness, so what makes my conclusion "there is no error" any more valid if I have free will? Maybe I'm just being thick-headed, but I'm just not understanding.

If your conclusion couldn't have come out any other way then you are nothing but a parrot. Your pronouncements are not even wrong, they are neither valid nor invalid just arbitrary. Any shred of independence of judgment contaminates the train of events leading to your conclusion and creates free will. The issue of valid versus invalid only comes up if you can be wrong.

And just to clarify the matter, parrots are in fact infallible. They literally can't be wrong. Everything about their behavior is automatized, and where there is no alternative no truth or falsehood exists.

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Determinism is not crude. Deterministic systems are not necessarily predictable or calculable. I would direct your attention to the n-body problem where n is much greater than 3, and the forces at work simultaneously include gravity, electricity, magnetism, strong and weak nuclear forces, and then claim that not only is the realm of crude materialism not practically calculable for real systems but it is not even theoretically calculable. The idea of determinism as billiard balls whose positions, velocities, and masses are all perfectly known and theoretically predictable, is a fantasy realm suited only for an omniscient consciousness and which is not even a correct understanding of real-world determinism.

All of the parts of your body and brain are comprised of deterministic particles and yet volition is still possible. There is not yet any detailed explanation of "how conceptual consciousness works." Even if there was, explaining something in terms of lower level entities doesn't annihilate it, or make a true statement such as "volition exists" more true. Free will obeys identity and causality, and causality is more general than determinism. There is no contradiction.

What you have pointed out, the enormous complexity that actual determinism can result in, is, to me, at least a partial argument for how determinism can easily explain the vast complexities of human behavior. I acknowledge that simulations aren't ever perfect, and perhaps it is not possible to create a model of a human mind in a computer (though there is no reason to believe it is impossible with advanced nanotechnology), but that does not mean that the mind is not "deterministic." My main issue is how can a nondeterministic behavior arise out of the interactions of totally deterministic parts? And I don't mean nondeterministic in the sense you can't predict its behavior, I mean one that isn't even in principle predictable, no matter if you could "somehow" produce a perfect model of the entire system. It doesn't, even in principle, seem possible that deterministic interactions of particles can produce truly nondeterministic behavior.

The question is invalid because it cannot possibly have an answer. Any explanation would have to be in terms of something prior, but there is nothing prior except the parts. It is a fallacy to try to draw a conclusion only by deducing from the parts with no observation of the new whole.

What I am asking is what creates that decision, what comes before. I am not asking "what on the conceptual/mind level causes it" for I understand that likely is unanswerable. But something must cause it. Some context, when combined with the nature of the mind, causes a person to come to a particular decision, including whether to focus more or less. I understand we may not know what it is, we may never know, but I don't see how one can legitimately deny that such a context must exist, that there must be an actual cause for the behavior.

I'm only 18 and from 5-15 my primary (almost sole) interest was physics and more generally the natural sciences (I've expanded somewhat now obviously), so perhaps I am simply unable (for now) to break out of that mode of thinking about the world. In my view, free will may "exist" if you are analyzing only on the conceptual/mental level, as you said the decision to focus or not is not actually reducible to anything prior on the psychological level. In that sense you could say that it is "self-generated" or "self-moved" and not dependent on prior things in the mind (except perhaps previous experiences that may have conditioned you to tend to focus or not focus). Much as Peikoff argued that "blue" is not invalid simply because it describes the experience of a particular interaction between the physical system of our eyes and the physical system of the outside world, it is simply the mental experience of it, I think perhaps I can reconcile (intellectually) free will and physics by saying that free will is the experience of the processes of our minds. Meaning, that it is impossible to track back psychologically the cause of the decision to focus or not to focus, and that can be said to cause "free will", but on the purely material level, our minds are extraordinarily complex deterministic systems. Just as the fact that blue can be explained at a lower level but that does not invalidate blue, or that a table can be described at the purely material level but that does not invalidate our concept of table, free will is valid but is the result of a feature of consciousness and that consciousness can be described as a physical system without invalidating the concept of "free will." I'm not sure if that attempt at reconciliation is self-consistent though, or what Objectivism is trying to describe.

Again, it may just be an inability to move beyond my deep intellectual "training" with the natural sciences that prevents me from coming to terms with free will in Objectivism.

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What I am asking is what creates that decision, what comes before. I am not asking "what on the conceptual/mind level causes it" for I understand that likely is unanswerable. But something must cause it.

You are that cause. It is you qua living entity that has the capability of directing your own consciousness. A human being is a prime mover, in that sense, that he is self-directed on the conscious level.

Besides, your explanation of seeing blue is out of epistemological order. You are first aware of the color blue, and then you develop further knowledge based upon what you observe that leads you logically to understand that seeing blue is dependent upon the type of eyes that you have and the type of visual cortex that you have -- but the seeing and the acknowledgment of the seeing came first.

Similarly, the self-directing and the acknowledgment of the self-directing comes first, and then one can make further observations and identifications to understand that this is made possible by the type of living being that we are, including having the type of brain that we have. It may well be that sometime in the future we will better understand how we can be self-aware and how we can be self-directing, but the acknowledgment of the self-directing must come first. If you deny that, then you will never get anywhere. Just as you would not get anywhere in understanding the visual mechanisms if you denied vision and seeing.

You are making a misintegration, something along the lines of saying we are made of flesh and blood, and therefore, since we are made of matter we cannot have volition. But we do have volition, so you must have made a mistake somewhere; correct?

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You are that cause. It is you qua living entity that has the capability of directing your own consciousness. A human being is a prime mover, in that sense, that he is self-directed on the conscious level.

What is the nature of the "you"? Is it a physical thing or something else? If this "you" is directing your consciousness then what directs the "you"? What causes "you" to direct direct your consciousness? Is the "you" a spiritual or supernatural entity?

Try this exercise in introspection: Try to meditate alone in a quiet darkened room. Now try not to think any conscious thought. Do not allow yourself to think any thoughts. You should be able to do that if you are capable of directing your own consciousness. Can you do it? If not why not? I have not met anyone that can do this. Usually people start thinking about various seemingly random things automatically such as: oh my back is itchy, or what was that noise? or I'm starting to feel hungry what will I have for lunch? These sort of thoughts pop into the mind involuntarily. I would liken this to computer program that continual inputs data from various sources and outputs processed data into the mind. Where is the free will? Free will is illusory.

Edited by Extrication

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What is the nature of the "you"? Is it a physical thing or something else? If this "you" is directing your consciousness then what directs the "you"? What causes "you" to direct direct your consciousness? Is the "you" a spiritual or supernatural entity?

When you look in a mirror, that is you. You are one entity that has certain capabilities; these capabilities are neither spiritual in the Christian sense nor supernatural. You have the capability of being self-directed -- of deciding to post or not to post, of deciding to think an issue through or not to think an issue through, of deciding to be in self-control or of going by your subconscious, of resolving a contradiction or living with it. There is no "you" in there, like a little man, taking control of the reigns; you do that yourself, as the one entity that you are. It was you who wrote your reply; it is you who does not understand that you are self-directing and self-motivating.

The problem is that you are thinking about causality as one entity acting on another, so you are looking for that special entity that acts on you to get your to do things; and there is no such other entity -- there is only you qua entity that has certain capabilities.

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It doesn't, even in principle, seem possible that deterministic interactions of particles can produce truly nondeterministic behavior.

You've got a good point, but I think the misunderstanding is caused by your uncritical acceptance of determinism. Existence exists, and it has primacy over consciousness, so it's not that consciousness is somehow acting in a way contradictory to the universe as a whole. This can only mean that the universe as a whole is not purely deterministic. However the universe as a whole is also not random.

On the quantum scale measured quantities follow a set pattern on the whole, but no specific part is bound to happen one way or another. Perhaps this is because quantum events as such are merely aspects and not whole events in themselves. Whatever the reason, what follows is that, through composition, macroscopic things (that is, abstracting away unnecessary detail) follow set laws, IE there are certain things that HAVE TO HAPPEN. This means when one ACTUAL billiard ball strikes another ACTUAL billiard ball, you could theoretically predict what will happen to the billiard balls as a whole to a great amount of detail, and given any description mechanism (aside from omniscience) you will always see that there was something that was going to happen as soon as the scenario had begun. However, the human mind is something different.

The way I see it is this. Determinism precludes 'free actions'. Randomness precludes 'caused actions'. Volition is a recognition of BOTH caused and free aspects of our consciousness and the entity to which it is tied. While it is true that a thing cannot be both determined and random, it is possible that it is neither. In fact, determinism and randomness are flip sides of the same metaphysical coin: The rejection of a world that is accessible to, and alterable by, the human mind.

I hope this explains things.

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You are making a misintegration, something along the lines of saying we are made of flesh and blood, and therefore, since we are made of matter we cannot have volition. But we do have volition, so you must have made a mistake somewhere; correct?

I agree that we appear to have volition. And the idea that we make decisions, that is, select from among a number of options we present ourselves, is also one I recognize. The idea of a "prime-mover" has no analogue in the physical world, and there is nothing fundamentally different about a human than a rock, except complexity and life. Life obviously doesn't call for volition, bacteria don't seem to have "volition" in the way you and other Objectivists use it. The enormous complexity of the human mind compared to other living things (even dolphins and chimps), provides a possible explanation for the origin of volition.

Roger Penrose and a number of other scientists have suggested that consciousness may arise due to micro tubules in our nuerons which act in a way as quantum computers, as well as the structure of our neurons in the brain. This seems to be supported by recent evidence that anasthesia does not stop brain activity, but does interact with certain substances on the microtubules. If anasthesia prevents the quantum interactions in the microtubules which give rise to consciousness from taking place, then that would explain why anasthesia actually works. If that hypothesis (and it is only a hypothesis it seems for now) is correct, then the uncertainty (for whatever reason you like to choose, even if you subscribe to a hidden variables interpretation) of quantum mechanics is given wide expression in the brain, actually interacting to create the enormously complex and unpredictable "self-generated" action of the mind. In the end, it is all just the movement of particles according to the laws of physics, but the specific arrangement of the interactions is such that it can create nondeterministic, yet not truly random, (that is, bound by physical laws but the outcome is always uncertain by the nature of reality) results on the macroscopic level of behavior. Now, is that an agreeable explanation for how a brain composed of particles whose movement is controlled by physical laws can be both not deterministic and not random, and have what you call volition?

That is, I think, my best attempt at reconciling the world of physics and volition I've ever come up with.

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What is the nature of the "you"? Is it a physical thing or something else? If this "you" is directing your consciousness then what directs the "you"? What causes "you" to direct direct your consciousness? Is the "you" a spiritual or supernatural entity?

Try this exercise in introspection: Try to meditate alone in a quiet darkened room. Now try not to think any conscious thought. Do not allow yourself to think any thoughts. You should be able to do that if you are capable of directing your own consciousness. Can you do it? If not why not? I have not met anyone that can do this. Usually people start thinking about various seemingly random things automatically such as: oh my back is itchy, or what was that noise? or I'm starting to feel hungry what will I have for lunch? These sort of thoughts pop into the mind involuntarily. I would liken this to computer program that continual inputs data from various sources and outputs processed data into the mind. Where is the free will? Free will is illusory.

Try this exercise: Try to meditate anywhere you damn well choose and ignore the inputs of your sensory organs. If your stomach gurgles, don't hear it; if your back itches, don't feel it. These sensations come to you involuntarily and are integrated by your facile mind in its continuous integration of sensory inputs to perceive reality. Free will's ability to control the external world without volitional action is illusory. Existence has primacy over consciousness.

Earth-shattering, huh?

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My main issue is how can a nondeterministic behavior arise out of the interactions of totally deterministic parts?

Apparently the answer is: by arranging the parts into a epistemological system of sufficient complexity that it is capable of conceptual consciousness.

In my view, free will may "exist" if you are analyzing only on the conceptual/mental level, as you said the decision to focus or not is not actually reducible to anything prior on the psychological level. In that sense you could say that it is "self-generated" or "self-moved" and not dependent on prior things in the mind (except perhaps previous experiences that may have conditioned you to tend to focus or not focus). Much as Peikoff argued that "blue" is not invalid simply because it describes the experience of a particular interaction between the physical system of our eyes and the physical system of the outside world, it is simply the mental experience of it, I think perhaps I can reconcile (intellectually) free will and physics by saying that free will is the experience of the processes of our minds.

You are on the right track with "free will may "exist" if you are analyzing only on the conceptual/mental level" because that is where free will exists. Here is my own summation of what can be said about free will beyond the affirmation that it is real:

Free will only exists physically at the macroscopic organizational level as an emergent attribute, it doesn't invoke novel behaviors of matter.

Free will is an epistemological phenomenon that only applies to conceptual consciousness, not consciousness in general.

Free will is possible at the epistemological level because there are always alternatives in forming and considering concepts, there is no such thing as a forced, unavoidable concept.

Free will is selection, a type of causation, not an invocation of chance or probability.

The selections of free will can be described as motivated by a level of satisfaction with the result, or imagined result. Motivation is causation but not a necessitating, irresistible force for a conceptual consciousness.

Again, it may just be an inability to move beyond my deep intellectual "training" with the natural sciences that prevents me from coming to terms with free will in Objectivism.

Physics is not universally applicable to all fields of knowledge. To think that it is, is greedy reductionism. Once one drops the epistemological context in which the concept of free will arises, nothing more can be said about it.

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You are on the right track with "free will may "exist" if you are analyzing only on the conceptual/mental level" because that is where free will exists. Here is my own summation of what can be said about free will beyond the affirmation that it is real:

Free will only exists physically at the macroscopic organizational level as an emergent attribute, it doesn't invoke novel behaviors of matter.

Free will is an epistemological phenomenon that only applies to conceptual consciousness, not consciousness in general.

Free will is possible at the epistemological level because there are always alternatives in forming and considering concepts, there is no such thing as a forced, unavoidable concept.

Free will is selection, a type of causation, not an invocation of chance or probability.

Now this seems like I might be getting somewhere. I am saying that volition is a feature of our consciousness, that consciousness starts at the decision to focus or not to focus. My point is that consciousness arises from a certain type of physical system, which is governed by laws, and so technically that "choice" is "caused" by the physical processes that make it up. However, we can't track it back any further in our own minds.

Physics is not universally applicable to all fields of knowledge. To think that it is, is greedy reductionism. Once one drops the epistemological context in which the concept of free will arises, nothing more can be said about it.

I acknowledge that reducing it to physics does not explain exactly how "free will" operates in the mind, what causes it.

The axioms of Objectivism pretty much require a hidden variables interpretation of quantum mechanics, such as the Bohm interpretation. Why? Because only those types of interpretations meet their requirements. The axiom of identity requires an entity to be a particular thing, namely that something is a particle or a wave, but not both, and it must be in a definite position. The Bohm interpretation and other hidden variables interpretations of quantum mechanics are deterministic. Everything in the future follows from the present state. Humans have nothing in them which doesn't eventually get down to physics, and so to say that humans are somehow able to behave nondeterministically, when everything that makes them up is deterministic, seems blatantly false. Similarly, the law of causality in Objectivism states that an entity will act in the same way given the same context because it acts according to its nature. So the very statement of causality (which comes from the axiom of identity, which it is my understanding comes prior to the axiom of consciousness) dictates a deterministic universe (since things couldn't go a different way than they do, because things act according to their natures in a given context).

Now, all that does not really seem to have much of a bearing on human decision making, since our experience of free will, the innate unpredictability of human behavior, and the fact that it is impossible to track our thinking back any further than the choice of to focus or not to focus (in our minds), all work together to make free will a legitimate concept which is a necessary assumption for evaluating human behavior. I don't think I have ever said it wasn't really, since I acknowledged "choices" and "decision-making" as self-evident and a requirement for everything else.

Perhaps reducing the human mind to the level of an assortment of subatomic particles doesn't actually explain its behavior in any meaningful way, as you pointed out by calling it "greedy reductionism." But it is true, because physics describes what makes everything up and how it behaves at the smallest of scales. You yourself admitted that free will is an emergent property, and so arises out of the laws of physics. Our free will, the fact that the fundamental mental action of the mind is the the decision to focus or not to focus, arises from all of those deterministic processes. It is meaningless to describe human behavior as simply the result of the laws of physics, since it provides no insight and, by the nature of our minds, cannot actually be experienced. As such, volition is an axiom, on the level of concepts/mind.

All I ask is that Objectivists and the philosophy of Objectivism more generally acknowledge the distinction between volition and free will as a feature of our consciousness, and the idea that the human mind actually breaks the laws of physics somehow and behaves on some level not in accordance with the deterministic laws of physics (which is what is required by saying that things could actually turn out differently than they did, since that would mean that some event on the level of physical objects occurred differently at some level, which requires the laws of physics to be broken).

Perhaps that is too much to ask, but I think it is a legitimate way of reconciling Objectivism's requirements for physics (as well as all scientific knowledge humanity has to this date) and the idea of free will. Free will describes mental behavior, but physics describes what actually happens in the brain. Is that a legitimate compromise (I don't think that is the best word)?

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The axioms of Objectivism pretty much require a hidden variables interpretation of quantum mechanics, such as the Bohm interpretation. Why? Because only those types of interpretations meet their requirements. The axiom of identity requires an entity to be a particular thing, namely that something is a particle or a wave, but not both, and it must be in a definite position.

Philosophy only relates to physics in that it specifies the method of gaining knowledge, and can veto examples of improper method. It is rationalistic and fallacious to argue from general principles of metaphysics to specific conclusions in physics.

If you will note that the law of non-contradiction has that clause concerning at the same time. The experiments having the same things exhibiting wave and particle behavior are arranged such that they sequentially shift between the behaviors at different times, at different places along the path of their movement. A photon diffracts at the double slit as if a wave, then impacts on a screen as a particle. There is no contradiction. It is a big problem for physicists, but not for philosophers. So no, Objectivism does not rationalistically endorse Bohm as philosophically correct physics, but it has no grounds to rule him out. What rules out hidden variable theories is the result of experiments demonstrating nonlocality. No philosopher would think that up! (The linked paper is written by an Objectivist.)

Causality is the more general term; determinism is merely one way to be causal. Causality has a legitimate philosophic, metaphysical usage and determinism does not.

... since I acknowledged "choices" and "decision-making" as self-evident and a requirement for everything else.

If you take the notion of 'self-evident' seriously then you don't need a convoluted song and dance to reconcile the self-evident with theory. The self-evident trumps theory.

Perhaps reducing the human mind to the level of an assortment of subatomic particles doesn't actually explain its behavior in any meaningful way, as you pointed out by calling it "greedy reductionism." But it is true, because physics describes what makes everything up and how it behaves at the smallest of scales. You yourself admitted that free will is an emergent property, and so arises out of the laws of physics. Our free will, the fact that the fundamental mental action of the mind is the the decision to focus or not to focus, arises from all of those deterministic processes. It is meaningless to describe human behavior as simply the result of the laws of physics, since it provides no insight and, by the nature of our minds, cannot actually be experienced. As such, volition is an axiom, on the level of concepts/mind.

This is good, and hopefully you will eventually drop the 'perhaps'.

All I ask is that Objectivists and the philosophy of Objectivism more generally acknowledge the distinction between volition and free will as a feature of our consciousness, and the idea that the human mind actually breaks the laws of physics somehow and behaves on some level not in accordance with the deterministic laws of physics (which is what is required by saying that things could actually turn out differently than they did, since that would mean that some event on the level of physical objects occurred differently at some level, which requires the laws of physics to be broken).

This is just bizarre. Objectivism has no theory for how consciousness works, or how volition arises. Objectivism merely asserts that consciousness and volition do exist, and that these facts are validated by means of infallible perception and so constitute real knowledge. How this squares up with certain theories of physics is still a mystery, but Objectivism in no way claims that the mind breaks laws of physics, or even that the mind is a mystical unknowable. (Your line of parenthetic inference is in error; because thoughts have physical neurological analogs of some type, they conceivably can move things around in the brain differently and this would be an example of local causation not magic.)

Physics is not as restrictive as you think it is, and free will isn't magic.

edit: added remark in parentheses at end.

Edited by Grames

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So no, Objectivism does not rationalistically endorse Bohm as philosophically correct physics, but it has no grounds to rule him out.

This is actually surprising, because I've met several Objectivists (not on this forum, in person at my university), and they all seemed to agree that quantum mechanics violated the axioms, particularly identity, in most of its interpretations, and agreed that Bohm was the only one which did not violate the axioms.

If you take the notion of 'self-evident' seriously then you don't need a convoluted song and dance to reconcile the self-evident with theory. The self-evident trumps theory.

I need the song and dance because I am trying to integrate my knowledge. Physics requires determinism, yet my own perception of my mind is that I have volition. Physics is a description of how all material things behave, and my brain is made of matter. Clearly there is something going on which I have not successfully explained. Regardless of what physics eventually tells us about the universe, it seems impossible that it would not be a deterministic universe, and so how volition can arise from deterministic operations must be explained somehow. That's what I am trying to do.

This is just bizarre. Objectivism has no theory for how consciousness works, or how volition arises. Objectivism merely asserts that consciousness and volition do exist, and that these facts are validated by means of infallible perception and so constitute real knowledge. How this squares up with certain theories of physics is still a mystery, but Objectivism in no way claims that the mind breaks laws of physics, or even that the mind is a mystical unknowable. (Your line of parenthetic inference is in error; because thoughts have physical neurological analogs of some type, they conceivably can move things around in the brain differently and this would be an example of local causation not magic.)

Your last sentence (refuting my paranthetic inference) is an assertion of the primacy of consciousness. You claim that thoughts can move the matter of the brain around. How? They'd then have to be above the matter, not an emergent property. Emergent properties are abstractions we create by observing the behavior of the system, emergent properties cannot change the rules of the system that creates them, they can't push the components around in a way they wouldn't have behaved according to the laws of physics. To say that consciousness or thought can push the particles around is primacy of consciousness, not primacy of existence.

I am asking for Objectivism to create such an interpretation. Physicists know that the universe is deterministic (even if it was random in some way at some level I don't think that would be good for volition either). Given that knowledge, Objectivism needs to address how volition or free will could possibly arise from deterministic processes, because it doesn't seem possible. My attempt to do that is to say that free will is the result of the fact that the human brain cannot experience the actual processes that make it up, our emotions and thoughts come from physical processes, we can't actually experience the processes themselves. As a result, our decisions can only be tracked back (on the level of thought) to the choice to focus or not to focus, and it cannot be said that those thoughts were "determined" by anything prior, they were self-generated on the level of the mind. Therefore, it is legitimate when discussing human behavior and the human mind to talk of volition and free will, to say they are axiomatic. I do not believe it is a contradiction to say that free will comes from the nature of the mind while acknowledging that the mind is only an emergent property of a deterministic system and so our actions couldn't really have been different at the time we made them (because thoughts cannot move matter, only the other way around, otherwise we have the primacy of consciousness). The mind has volition, the brain does not.

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There is a lot of bad pseudo-philosophy about QM that can be ruled out, but that doesn't make what remains "Objectivist physics".

Your last sentence (refuting my paranthetic inference) is an assertion of the primacy of consciousness. You claim that thoughts can move the matter of the brain around. How? They'd then have to be above the matter, not an emergent property. Emergent properties are abstractions we create by observing the behavior of the system, emergent properties cannot change the rules of the system that creates them, they can't push the components around in a way they wouldn't have behaved according to the laws of physics. To say that consciousness or thought can push the particles around is primacy of consciousness, not primacy of existence.

Thoughts are material things. To think otherwise, your version of an "abstraction", is to endorse some version of supernaturalism. It is not primacy of consciousness but simple physics for a material thought to act as a cause having material effects inside the same brain in which it is located.

Emergent properties are not abstractions, they are real.

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Thoughts are manifestations of material processes. There is not actual thing, say a particular molecule, or an object which is a "thought." A thought is the pattern of matter in the brain, the way the particles making up the brain interact, etc. Emergent properties do not change the rules at lower levels, they arise from them. Just as classical physics is an emergent property of quantum mechanics but does not violate quantum mechanics, or an ant colony is an emergent property of the biology of ants and their interaction with their environment but does not actually change their biology or their nature, thought and/or mind is an emergent property of the physical system of the brain but does not change the fact that the particles obey the laws of physics and only the laws of physics. I have never seen an emergent property that actually changes the rules or entities which generate it. In fact, that seems impossible by the nature of an emergent property. That would be magic, not emergence. Thought does not push particles around; particles move around, and that is experienced by us as our thoughts and consciousness. Thought and consciousness are legitimate concepts, they are "real", but it is necessary to acknowledge the process which generates them, and that is physical law.

Edit: That is why I say you are arguing for the primacy of consciousness, that consciousness comes first, then existence. Existence exists, consciousness comes from existence, or more particularly the interactions of particles in the brain according to physical law. To say that thought, which arises from interactions, then changes the interactions, is simply false, that would require a change in the laws of physics. The interactions happen according to physical law, and thought is the experience. To flip it around is to place consciousness before existence. My attempt to explain volition is my acknowledgment of the impossibility of tracking the mind (on the level of mind) back beyond the primary choice in Objectivism, and also that the mind is an emergent property that cannot defy physical law. Volition and the supremacy of the laws of physics both can coexist only because consciousness is an emergent property.

Edited by nanite1018

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