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The Illusion of Free Will

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Steve-n
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That's part of my justification for being determined. Any idea you have is built off of previous ideas. You may choose to arrange them in a unique way, but you've been taught or had the necessary experiences to learn how to do that? For instance, a cook may create a new recipe, but he's only using knowledge gained from what he knows about other recipes, why they work, etc. There's no evidence there that somewhere inside him, the neural connections from his all his perceptions of everything he learned about food to creating something himself that involves a choice. The drive to attempt to create something is probably the result of strong neural connections between trying new things and reward. It's conditioning basically.

The law of identity is consistent with uncertainty in predicting the future. Said another way, the fact that the past is determined does not, in my observational experience, contradict the fact that the future is only partially predictable. Or even: the Law of Entropy does not contradict the Law of Identity. Determinism in any form attempts to deny uncertainty, and remove the possibility of the future begin malleable. This leads to a contradiction of the law of identity, as it attempts to metaphysically divorces consciousness from one of its proper precursors: eventual uncertainty. Without uncertainty, there would be no need to discover anything, and volition would be redundant/non-existent. Choose well: what you take as your basic premise with respect to whether free will within a limited context is in the nature of man -- or not -- will substantially shape your world view and sense of life going forward.

Relevant quote from OPAR, pp. 25, second paragraph (a direct quote from Ayn, indented as such): (creativity is the power) "to rearrange the combinations of natural elements ... Creation does not (and metaphysically cannot) mean the power to bring something into existence out of nothing. Creation means the power to bring into existence an arrangement (or combination or integration) of natural elements that had not existed before ..."

Making new arrangements is still making SOMETHING new: a new pattern. And it is the patterns of information that make up reality, after all -- given the building blocks that can be rearranged, and enough knowledge/time/leverage to rearrange them to my heart's content, I can create patterns tailored to my needs/desires. But make no mistake: something NEW is made in the process, it just doesn't entail altering the essential constituents beyond which matter cannot be coherently broken down in my experience.

By analogy, I can use 26 letters to generate hundreds of thousands of English words by various rearrangements, without altering the letters themselves, but with each rearrangement invoking a different meaning. And, meaning flows from meaning. So, is English deterministic?

- ico

Edited by icosahedron
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  • 1 year later...
  • 4 months later...

Sam Harris is trying to promote some radical change in human life. He's not much of a philosopher and he usually doesn't get down to fundamentals, so we'd have to say he is riding the wave of other materialist thinkers going back to antiquity. But he has his own agenda though:

1. Stop giving credit to successful people for their achievements.

2. Stop blaming/punishing criminals.

3. Get people to accept that they don't really know themselves.

4. Use brain scans to figure out what would make people happy.

5. Get society to adopt a vague notion of wellbeing as its standard of value.

The foreseen and unintended psychological ramifications of determinism are both enormous. Accepting it all the way down would cause people to stop looking to their beliefs and life strategies as an explanation of their behavior. Furthermore, Harris' version of determinism (neural determinism) doesn't even relate in any direct or obvious indirect way to life events, as does Freud's theory. He says that our preferences, if we look deep enough, come out of "the darkness." Truly believing this would at first lead to an impersonal way of viewing oneself ("Hm, I lost my temper again, must be some activity in the old sigmoid reticulant lobe. I'll have to get that looked at.") Eventually it would lead to despair. I knew a girl in college who believed we were nothing but atoms. She was promiscuous and a heavy drinker. (I know that's not proof of anything, but it's a good anecdote.)

When I saw that Harris had written a book arguing against free will, I knew I had to do something. I had written about the subject before and given it a lot of thought, so I gave Harris' book a close reading and wrote a response. http://www.amazon.com/Free-Will-Response-Harris-ebook/dp/B00869S35Q/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_nC?ie=UTF8&colid=2NGPU7HEEF07Z&coliid=I3U8XD7KP2NBQ7 I feel very strong about this subject. If Brave New World becomes a reality, Sam Harris will have been one of its founding fathers.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm not going to get into yet another discussion about free will, but I thought of something today which states my position succinctly:

While cutting little strips of cardboard all day at work today, I had to occupy my mind with something, so I chose to think a little more about determinism. I've concluded that determinism is a primacy of consciousness approach to the nature of man. In Objectivism, one starts with what is observed, and what is observed is that we have control of our consciousness and can direct it and make choices. Determinism denies this basic fact of human consciousness by referencing ordinary matter, stating that since matter doesn't have volition, neither can man, because he is made of matter. When push comes to shove, they will give you a whole spiel on how the universe is made of subatomic particles that get configured into observable matter, and no one has figured out how it can go from that to volition in man. In other words, their lack of knowledge is considered proof that we do not have volition. They cannot figure out how it all works, and therefore it cannot be true. This places an act of consciousness above existence, hence making determinism a primacy of consciousness approach.

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"Their lack of knowledge..." Indeed, yes.

I've been trying recently to figure out whether Skepticism precedes primacy of

consciousness, or the latter brings about the first (more likely, seeing as the skeptic

is an ex-mystic).

I think they are certainly tied in to determinism.

Something I puzzled over when debating with evident Skeptics on another forum,

was that they essentially consider all facts to be "equal" i.e., that they really

don't get (or want to get) concepts - and concept building. When one guy honestly

stated that induction had no part in Skepticism (as philosophy), it started

to make some sense. As we know, induction is the base of concept-building: the

integration of observations of reality into forming ever-growing concepts.

Without all those concepts in mind to draw from and make deductions from, it

then seems to me that 1. a person will be at the mercy of any and every seemingly

relevant 'new fact' that comes his way; 2. he will often lack 'self-authority'

in making choices - choices based on principles, ("concepts") he cannot ever have.

Therefore, a range of the moment thinker, blown about by random facts. Naturally,

volition would be foreign to him.

(As a btw, the Skeptic will tend toward collectivism.)

"The skeptic is a disillusioned intrinsicist who, having failed to find automatic

supernatural guidance, seeks a substitute in the collective subjectivism of others."

[iTOE p.106]

The debate helped me understand something I've never grasped: why determinists

just do not see the obvious - how self-evidently true volition is.

To expand on your thoughts: primacy of consciousness -> skepticism -> determinism.

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