Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

The Illusion of Free Will

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

The following Sam Harris videos on youtube present the idea that free will is an illusion, and ultimately that even "the illusion of free will is an illusion" (in other words it is NOT self-evident).

If anyone can refute his scientific and logical arguments, I'd love to hear it. Thanks.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 82
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Posts

Harris rejects free-will because he seems to realize (rightly) that it necessitates a supernatural soul. Objectivism (rightly) insists on free-will because of its logical necessity to reason.. b

edit: Yes, the associated thoughts are non-volitional because they are memories with automatized associations. The sum and substance of volition is choosing to pay attention, and to one thing ver

A) For anyone who doesn't know, my posts do not represent "official Objectivist positions"..haha... I am a Theistic admirer of Objectivism. I didn't say that the mind is "free from the physical

Harris is arguing that there is no specific causal agent in the brain that is "free will". That is true, but that does not prove there is no such thing as free will. Free will properly understood is an attribute of the whole person, not some portion of cells in the brain.

He then goes on to say there is no such thing as free will, that it is an illusion but this conclusion is a non sequitor. By this argument the sense of self is also an illusion. This makes no more sense than that a chair is an illusion because it is composed of atoms. It is not an illusion that a cell is alive even though not one of its atoms is alive. See Fallacy of composition.

Retributive justice is necessary to ensure crime has very negative consequences so that those dimwitted thugs and prudent predators might learn the hard way not to commit crimes. Punishment does not presume the criminal is a rational calculator but merely that he can remember and establish an association. There is no psychotherapy solution to crime, unless retribution is itself considered a kind of therapy (the kind that works).

I would call Harris' argument as being against a strawman version of free will, but there are many people who understand their free will as a supernatural soul. Harris is arguing against God primarily, and the theist version of free will.

There are also a whole slew of epistemological objections to his argument. For example, his invoking the concept of an illusion is a stolen concept. Presumably he wants us to be persuaded by his identification of the illusion, and so change our minds about retributive justice. But the ability to change our minds presumes that we have minds and the power to change them. Free will refers primarily to the ability to identify truth, and without it there is no point in attempting to reason with people.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Harris is arguing that there is no specific causal agent in the brain that is "free will". That is true, but that does not prove there is no such thing as free will. Free will properly understood is an attribute of the whole person, not some portion of cells in the brain.

He's showing that there is no evidence for free will in the one place (the brain) that their COULD be evidence. This does not mean that he is saying free will would just be an attribute of some portion of cells in the brain, rather that if free will in fact existed then their should be evidence for it in the brain. Note the difference.

He then goes on to say there is no such thing as free will, that it is an illusion but this conclusion is a non sequitor. By this argument the sense of self is also an illusion. This makes no more sense than that a chair is an illusion because it is composed of atoms. It is not an illusion that a cell is alive even though not one of its atoms is alive. See Fallacy of composition.

Funny you should say that, since according to Newseek, his next project is a spirituality guide tentatively titled The Illusion of the Self. The chair analogy only works if we equate the Self with the physical body, which he does not do.

"By paying close attention to moment-to-moment conscious experience, Harris suggests, it is possible to make our sense of "self" vanish and thereby uncover a new state of personal well-being. " (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Harris_%28author%29 )

Personal experience has verified this claim for myself and countless others.

I would call Harris' argument as being against a strawman version of free will, but there are many people who understand their free will as a supernatural soul. Harris is arguing against God primarily, and the theist version of free will.

Define atheist free will, as opposed to theist free will.

There are also a whole slew of epistemological objections to his argument. For example, his invoking the concept of an illusion is a stolen concept. Presumably he wants us to be persuaded by his identification of the illusion, and so change our minds about retributive justice. But the ability to change our minds presumes that we have minds and the power to change them.

No stolen concept - in order for your mind to change, it is not necessary for you to volitionally change it.

Free will refers primarily to the ability to identify truth, and without it there is no point in attempting to reason with people.

Sam Harris clearly was not refuting the ability to identify truth. You accuse him of attacking a strawman?

Link to post
Share on other sites

He's showing that there is no evidence for free will in the one place (the brain) that their COULD be evidence. This does not mean that he is saying free will would just be an attribute of some portion of cells in the brain, rather that if free will in fact existed then their should be evidence for it in the brain. Note the difference.

There is no difference. If evidence for free will could be found in the brain that would mean localizing it to some brain cells and ruling out the rest.

Funny you should say that, since according to Newseek, his next project is a spirituality guide tentatively titled The Illusion of the Self. The chair analogy only works if we equate the Self with the physical body, which he does not do.

The whole point of Harris' atheism crusade is that there is not a supernatural dimension for God or souls, so he cannot avoid equating the self with the physical body.

"By paying close attention to moment-to-moment conscious experience, Harris suggests, it is possible to make our sense of "self" vanish and thereby uncover a new state of personal well-being. " (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Harris_%28author%29 )

Personal experience has verified this claim for myself and countless others.

At that level of thought, personal experience will also verify for you that the entire universe blinks out of existence when you close your eyes and pops back into being when you open them. How can you or anyone possibly take that method seriously? It is pure personal subjectivism.

And how does it make any sense to appeal to personal experience that if your sense of self vanishes, then your self actually vanishes and never was real in the first place? Who is having the experience?

Define atheist free will, as opposed to theist free will.

Theist free will depends on a supernatural soul, atheist free will is completely natural and this-worldly. Harris asserts that causality is incompatible with free will but he is wrong, probably because he has a poor grasp of causality.

No stolen concept - in order for your mind to change, it is not necessary for you to volitionally change it.

Do you and Sam Harris have the power to change people's minds without their volitional participation by the brilliance of your arguments? Is that what you are claiming? Personal experience verifies for me that this is false.

Sam Harris clearly was not refuting the ability to identify truth. You accuse him of attacking a strawman?

Harris reasons poorly and fallaciously, so what he wants to or intends is irrelevant to what he actually accomplishes.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Harris rejects free-will because he seems to realize (rightly) that it necessitates a supernatural soul.

Objectivism (rightly) insists on free-will because of its logical necessity to reason.. but conveniently ignores the logical necessity of supernature to free-will.

I don't want to turn this into an argument for God per se.. but I would like to ask how Objectivists explain the possibility of free will without a supernatural mind/soul. How can free will (and therefore reason) be possible if Man's mind/soul is not free (i.e. distinct) from physical cause and effect?

Link to post
Share on other sites

How can free will (and therefore reason) be possible if Man's mind/soul is not free (i.e. distinct) from physical cause and effect?

It would be impossible to be free if there was a mind/soul distinct from physical cause and effect because there would be no means for the soul to affect or be affected by anything.

To put the point more comically, if there are ghosts then there can be ghost busters. And then we can regress another level and ask what makes a soul free? A soul is not a solution to the supposed problem.

The supposed problem is really the misunderstanding of causality as naive determinism. The dilemma of choosing between determinism or souls is a false dilemma.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It would be impossible to be free if there was a mind/soul distinct from physical cause and effect because there would be no means for the soul to affect or be affected by anything.

To put the point more comically, if there are ghosts then there can be ghost busters. And then we can regress another level and ask what makes a soul free? A soul is not a solution to the supposed problem.

The supposed problem is really the misunderstanding of causality as naive determinism. The dilemma of choosing between determinism or souls is a false dilemma.

Saying that a soul is distinct from physical matter and therefore free from the effects of physical causes does not mean that it would be incapable of enacting physical effects.

In order for volition to be possible, (1)man's mind/soul can not be effected by physical causes and (2)it must be able to cause physical effects.

If it is effected by physical causes, it is not free. If it is not able to cause physical effects it is impotent.

Both must be true. You agree with the second (while accusing me of denying it), but ignore the first.

Edited by Jacob86
Link to post
Share on other sites

Here is an anti-determinism argument, previously written for another thread.

The laws of physics do not exist so they cannot be causal agents.

Existence exists and statements about existence are acts of consciousness which derive their truth value from existence. This is the primacy of existence principle. If we experiment with dropping a ball bearing from a variety of heights and timing the duration of the fall, we will generate a number of facts that are correlations: 6 feet, 0.61 seconds; 12 feet, .086 seconds; 18 feet, 1.06 seconds. These facts can be integrated into an abstraction relating height and time into a formula: h=kt2. The truth of the abstraction still derives from the facts upon which it is based, and the facts are based on perceptions of reality. All of the laws of physics are derivative from facts in exactly this same way, the greatest abstractions simply rely upon a greater quantity and variety of facts.

Facts have an existential quality to them but principles derived from facts are wholly epistemic artifacts. The role of the "laws of physics" is not to instruct or govern or cause matter to behave in certain ways, but to instruct man what it is permissible to think. The laws of physics do not govern the universe they govern people the same as any other law.

The illusion of omniscience created by hindsight in conjunction with principles of physics causes the psychological plausibility of determinism. No matter what happened in the past there will always be a physical explanation of how it happened in terms of physical necessity. But the truth of the explanation derives from the facts, it is not the explanation that caused the facts. Logical priority and semantic meaning moves in the direction of from existence to consciousness. A physical explanation incorporates choices as facts; it is not a physical explanation that makes choices into facts. To think explanations or predictions can cause facts is explicitly an appeal to primacy of consciousness and is an error.

Norman Swartz (Department of Philosophy at Simon Fraser University (not an Objectivist)) has explained this issue clearly at Lecture Notes on Free Will and Determinism by way of the similarity between the errors made in physical determinism and logical determinism. Aristotle refuted logical determinism and the same argument is adapted to refute physical determinism. In chapter 10 of his book The Concept of Physical Law (the link is to the 25 pages of chapter 10 only) Prof. Swartz states "logical truths and contingent truths both take their truth from the way the world is" (pg. 138 or 23 of 25) which comes very close to identifying the same error Dr. Peikoff identifies in The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy in ITOE. I derive this explanation from Prof. Swartz' argument and recast it slightly to relate it to Objectivism.

Link to post
Share on other sites

What kind of mind is unable to grasp the self evident? Maybe the capacity for reason is undeveloped so, in essence, they have *no choice*? ;-)

Solve this riddle:

In the future, the determinist will develop a machine that can calculate with perfect accuracy a human's "choice" in a controlled test. (press the button or do not press it)

It includes in it's calculation that the subject will be told of his pre-determined "choice".

-- So, the determinist would have you believe that the human will be a helpless automoton and have no power to disobey the pre-determined edict of action.

PS- They already have created this machine, but it can't even get the accuracy part right yet. (let alone allow a subject foreknowledge of the determined result)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Here is an anti-determinism argument, previously written for another thread.

The laws of physics do not exist so they cannot be causal agents.

Existence exists and statements about existence are acts of consciousness which derive their truth value from existence. This is the primacy of existence principle. If we experiment with dropping a ball bearing from a variety of heights and timing the duration of the fall, we will generate a number of facts that are correlations: 6 feet, 0.61 seconds; 12 feet, .086 seconds; 18 feet, 1.06 seconds. These facts can be integrated into an abstraction relating height and time into a formula: h=kt2. The truth of the abstraction still derives from the facts upon which it is based, and the facts are based on perceptions of reality. All of the laws of physics are derivative from facts in exactly this same way, the greatest abstractions simply rely upon a greater quantity and variety of facts.

Facts have an existential quality to them but principles derived from facts are wholly epistemic artifacts. The role of the "laws of physics" is not to instruct or govern or cause matter to behave in certain ways, but to instruct man what it is permissible to think. The laws of physics do not govern the universe they govern people the same as any other law.

The illusion of omniscience created by hindsight in conjunction with principles of physics causes the psychological plausibility of determinism. No matter what happened in the past there will always be a physical explanation of how it happened in terms of physical necessity. But the truth of the explanation derives from the facts, it is not the explanation that caused the facts. Logical priority and semantic meaning moves in the direction of from existence to consciousness. A physical explanation incorporates choices as facts; it is not a physical explanation that makes choices into facts. To think explanations or predictions can cause facts is explicitly an appeal to primacy of consciousness and is an error.

Norman Swartz (Department of Philosophy at Simon Fraser University (not an Objectivist)) has explained this issue clearly at Lecture Notes on Free Will and Determinism by way of the similarity between the errors made in physical determinism and logical determinism. Aristotle refuted logical determinism and the same argument is adapted to refute physical determinism. In chapter 10 of his book The Concept of Physical Law (the link is to the 25 pages of chapter 10 only) Prof. Swartz states "logical truths and contingent truths both take their truth from the way the world is" (pg. 138 or 23 of 25) which comes very close to identifying the same error Dr. Peikoff identifies in The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy in ITOE. I derive this explanation from Prof. Swartz' argument and recast it slightly to relate it to Objectivism.

With all due respect, this seems like a very irrelevant regurgitation of information.

I don't hold to determinism. I've already made that clear, so you don't need to present arguments against determinism.

I have stated that if determinism is not true (which we both agree on), then certain things must be true; that Man's mind/soul are free from the effects of physical causation.

If you disagree, don't put up a complicated argument against determinism. Just show how freedom is possible if Man's mind/soul is not free from the effects of physical causation.

Link to post
Share on other sites

With all due respect, this seems like a very irrelevant regurgitation of information.

I don't hold to determinism. I've already made that clear, so you don't need to present arguments against determinism.

I have stated that if determinism is not true (which we both agree on), then certain things must be true; that Man's mind/soul are free from the effects of physical causation.

If you disagree, don't put up a complicated argument against determinism. Just show how freedom is possible if Man's mind/soul is not free from the effects of physical causation.

No, you don't hold to determinism you hold to souls and supernature because that is the only way you know how to reject determinism. You have picked one side of the false dilemma. There is another way to reject determinism. There is nothing necessary about your position.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Saying that a soul is distinct from physical matter and therefore free from the effects of physical causes does not mean that it would be incapable of enacting physical effects.

Attempting to describe the "soul" is really just ascribing whatever properties you wish the soul to have - "oh, it must not be affected by the physical, but it must be able to affect the physical" - none of this means anything, it is all gibberish, because the concepts used in your very statements have as their fundamental, first-level referents observable, physical things. You cannot get around that. You only fool yourself into believing you have gotten around it, by asserting that "cause" and "effect" are somehow fundamentally different, when in reality causality is just the interaction of entities according to their natures, with "cause" and "effect" being the observed state of some of these entities at different moments in time.

If it is effected by physical causes, it is not free.

Free from what? Free to do what? How do physical causes prevent me from being able to observe reality, weigh the facts against my value system, and act accordingly to further my values? Is there supposed to be anything *more* to the notion of "free will", and if so, how does it manifest itself?

Link to post
Share on other sites

There is no difference. If evidence for free will could be found in the brain that would mean localizing it to some brain cells and ruling out the rest.

I should clarify. I did not mean to suggest, nor did Sam, that free will needs to be proven to be a function of a specific part of the brain, i.e. amygdala, or some brain cells. Just that if there is free will, we should be able to discover evidence through observation of how the brain functions.

The whole point of Harris' atheism crusade is that there is not a supernatural dimension for God or souls, so he cannot avoid equating the self with the physical body.

The "Self" that he is refuting is the volitional self. In the youtube videos it was entirely clear that he was not refuting the existence of the body.

At that level of thought, personal experience will also verify for you that the entire universe blinks out of existence when you close your eyes and pops back into being when you open them. How can you or anyone possibly take that method seriously? It is pure personal subjectivism.

And how does it make any sense to appeal to personal experience that if your sense of self vanishes, then your self actually vanishes and never was real in the first place? Who is having the experience?

Well if personal experience should be dismissed then we can dismiss the only argument I've seen an objectivist present for free will: "it is self-evident." Experience does not necessitate a volitional entity that is the experiencer.

Theist free will depends on a supernatural soul, atheist free will is completely natural and this-worldly. Harris asserts that causality is incompatible with free will but he is wrong, probably because he has a poor grasp of causality.

On what basis do you claim he has a poor grasp on causality?

Do you and Sam Harris have the power to change people's minds without their volitional participation by the brilliance of your arguments? Is that what you are claiming? Personal experience verifies for me that this is false.

If you "prove" free will to me, I would have no choice but to accept it. But no volition would be required. Acceptance would be the natural effect of the cause (being provided proof).

Harris reasons poorly and fallaciously, so what he wants to or intends is irrelevant to what he actually accomplishes.

Harris is well-respected for his clarity of thinking and his eloquent speech.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I should clarify. I did not mean to suggest, nor did Sam, that free will needs to be proven to be a function of a specific part of the brain, i.e. amygdala, or some brain cells. Just that if there is free will, we should be able to discover evidence through observation of how the brain functions.

What would that evidence be? Could anything satisfy Sam Harris or you as being sufficiently acausal? No, because there there is nothing that is acausal, not in a brain, and not throughout the entire universe.

The "Self" that he is refuting is the volitional self. In the youtube videos it was entirely clear that he was not refuting the existence of the body.

Right, he refutes the existence of the mind because it must exist in a bodily form. He argues "Minds are ghosts. There are no ghosts. Therefore there are no minds." Jacob86 represents the contrary position: "Minds are ghosts. There are ghosts. Therefore there are minds." The truth is that minds are not ghosts.

Well if personal experience should be dismissed then we can dismiss the only argument I've seen an objectivist present for free will: "it is self-evident." Experience does not necessitate a volitional entity that is the experiencer.

You and Harris attempt to use experience illogically to support the self-contradiction that there can be experience without an experiencer. That will always be false for both non-volitional and volitional subjects. That experience in general does not entail the subject is volitional neither proves nor disproves that volition exists. But if you write about your personal human experiences in words that attempt to conceptually capture that experience then you are in fact relying on volition while attempting to refute it, because your very choice of words and attempts to identify what you experienced are the essence of what volition is and does.

On what basis do you claim he has a poor grasp on causality?

He puts it in writing in The End of Faith, endnote 7 to chapter six pages 272-274. The understands causality as causes and effects, which is wrong.

If you "prove" free will to me, I would have no choice but to accept it.

Yes, you do have a choice. Why should you care about proof? You could disregard proof and logic, you have that power. Why not indulge it? Are you tempted to answer "But it would be illogical to be illogical?" That would be circular argument, and you can't prove or justify anything with a circular argument.

Harris is well-respected for his clarity of thinking and his eloquent speech.

So? He still contradicts himself. He is well respected for being wrong, which just proves others also are wrong that agree with him.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Grames:

I am very interested in the topic of the philosophy of mind (and obviously as a part of that the relation between free will and the law of causality, and how free will might actually work). Grames, I have found your posts in the past quite insightful, and I remember the one you reposted above. My question is this: What exactly do you mean by "there will always be a physical explanation of how [the event in question] happened in terms of physical necessity"?

By this do you mean that the explanation will say "this is what must have happened because that is what happened" in some sense? The laws of physics, for example, are only true because they, to our knowledge, accurately describe the behavior of particles. If we saw a particle behave differently, then the laws of physics will change. By this I mean that we will have to come up with a new way to describe the activity in a formal way that is consistent with what we previously knew and what we now know; similar to how general relativity accurately describes everything we see(well except for the things covered by "dark energy" and "dark matter", which to me are at best hypotheses, not actual things we know exist as so many astrophysicists assert) and is totally indistinguishable to Newton's theory of gravity in the limit of non-rotating bodies in low strength gravitational fields moving at slow velocities (to within relatively high margins of error, for observations up until the 20th century). And so we had no explanation for, say, the precession of the perihelion of Mercury under Newtonian mechanics, but with GR, we have an explanation in terms of physical necessity. And if we found something new which can't be reconciled with GR, then we would then find a new explanation in terms of physical necessity.

In the case of the brain, then, if the particles of the brain move in certain ways, then that is how they had to move given reality at the time, and we will, I think you are saying, be able to come up with an explanation in terms of physical necessity for their motion? Doesn't that essentially imply the causal closure of the physical? By this I mean that physical things are not effected by mental things (as mental things are, presumably, not physical), and so whatever the mind is, it would be ineffectual in the workings of the world (or is at best an epiphenomenon). Essentially, you are saying that we will be able to describe the behavior of particles in the brain without reference to the mind, is that right? If an action by an entity was necessary, that means to me it could not have been otherwise given the conditions (and so if all physical events are necessary, there is not free will). Or do you mean to say that the explanation is not in a sense true? That it was not in fact necessary in the sense I use it above?

Link to post
Share on other sites

After some thought, my way of reconciling all this is to say that, at any level that nature might be said to be deterministic, people and any sort of object anyone ever interacts with does not exist. That is, if subatomic particles were to behave deterministically (which we don't know anyway), this gives us no information or insight into anything that effects us, because even something like a proton simply does not exist at that level (it is made of quarks and gluons). Any approximation of any kind would destroy the determinism. And even determinism does not entail predictability (no matter what, only a finite amount of information, to a finite degree of accuracy, can be learned about any system of any size at all, including the lowly proton or a baseball). We are left without predictability (as our prediction will eventually, and oftentimes quite quickly, diverge from reality) and that the "determinism", if it exists, is forever inapplicable to anything we could deal with in our lives (even protons and neutrons) and which will remain forever beyond demonstration (as it is both inapplicable and impossible to demonstrate with any system of any size, in the long run; we would have to settle for a statistical determinism at best, and this too would likely become simply meaningless as the breadth of possible outcomes grows enormous with time).

I'm not certain, but I think it likely that a determinism that is in principle inapplicable to anything we can deal with and from which it is impossible to say that the future is determined by present conditions as can be discovered by any method that could ever be invented by any being of any kind is essentially harmless. And since this is true of all determinism, determinism as such should be harmless for those reasons (and we don't even have any reason to think determinism is true anyway at this point). Essentially, I think a free will in the Objectivist sense and this almost totally useless determinism (whose uselessness is necessitated by our experience with chaotic systems and logic, about the nature of gathering information about a system, for example) could be compatible. If one is to reference a person at all, one would have to describe it in terms of choices and free will, and if one were to try to uphold determinism, no people or things or ideas exist and demonstrating the determinism is impossible due to the need to disturb an entity in order to measure it (and thus accuracy will always be limited, even in principle). Essentially, to say that the universe is deterministic would be to discard everything we interact with, all our concepts, even in principle, not by some logical requirement but from within the very science that the determinists hold demands determinism; that in the deterministic description, all our concepts are totally inapplicable and indeed incomprehensible from such a view (as subatomic particles respect no hard boundaries between say a proton and a neutron, or between one cell and another, or between my body and the air, or between the Sun and the Earth, etc.).

This necessary divide between what we experience and any determinism which someone might wish to say exists (internally from the demands of a deterministic description, not from any epistemological idea about the origin of concepts, but only about whether they can be said to refer in a given context at all, which I think a determinist would agree with), I think shows that any attempt to give any conclusions about our world from the assumption of subatomic particle determinism is misguided and indeed impossible (as a description of any experience will of necessity be nondeterministic).

I'm not saying determinism is true, at all, but I think some sort of compatibilism might be (with the considerations I gave above). Indeed, perhaps the above argument shows that any assumption of determinism is forever unprovable by the demands of a determinist himself, since prediction to the degree of accuracy necessary is forever impossible (and so a nondeterministic universe can't be disproven from empirical observation).

Link to post
Share on other sites

What would that evidence be? Could anything satisfy Sam Harris or you as being sufficiently acausal? No, because there there is nothing that is acausal, not in a brain, and not throughout the entire universe.

Now we are getting somewhere. Nothing is acausal and that fact has implications. Thoughts and choices are necessitated effects of previous causes. Given all the causal factors only one effect is possible. Hence, choice is really an illusion. Any choice or thought that arises has to arise unless the laws of cause/effect are violated.

Right, he refutes the existence of the mind because it must exist in a bodily form. He argues "Minds are ghosts. There are no ghosts. Therefore there are no minds." Jacob86 represents the contrary position: "Minds are ghosts. There are ghosts. Therefore there are minds." The truth is that minds are not ghosts.

Since you disagree with both Sam and Jacob's use of the term mind then please indicate what you mean by mind.

You and Harris attempt to use experience illogically to support the self-contradiction that there can be experience without an experiencer. That will always be false for both non-volitional and volitional subjects. That experience in general does not entail the subject is volitional neither proves nor disproves that volition exists. But if you write about your personal human experiences in words that attempt to conceptually capture that experience then you are in fact relying on volition while attempting to refute it, because your very choice of words and attempts to identify what you experienced are the essence of what volition is and does.

What I said was "Experience does not necessitate a volitional entity that is the experiencer." I never said there was no experiencer. We can refer to the physical body as the experiencer. That Self certainly exists and is not being argued against.

He puts it in writing in The End of Faith, endnote 7 to chapter six pages 272-274. The understands causality as causes and effects, which is wrong.

Why is that wrong?

Yes, you do have a choice. Why should you care about proof? You could disregard proof and logic, you have that power. Why not indulge it? Are you tempted to answer "But it would be illogical to be illogical?" That would be circular argument, and you can't prove or justify anything with a circular argument.

Proof cannot be disregarded because of the way my brain works. I can pretend to disregard but cannot actually do it. Whenever something is proven to me, it becomes part of my knowledge without any volitional effort.

So? He still contradicts himself. He is well respected for being wrong, which just proves others also are wrong that agree with him.

Based on how he is using the terms "self" and "free will" he does not refute himself. Clearly you use the terms differently. It might be productive for you to define what those terms mean to you. Its possible that based on your definitions of "free will" and "self" that I would agree both exist.

Link to post
Share on other sites

My question is this: What exactly do you mean by "there will always be a physical explanation of how [the event in question] happened in terms of physical necessity"?

...

In the case of the brain, then, if the particles of the brain move in certain ways, then that is how they had to move given reality at the time, and we will, I think you are saying, be able to come up with an explanation in terms of physical necessity for their motion? Doesn't that essentially imply the causal closure of the physical? By this I mean that physical things are not effected by mental things (as mental things are, presumably, not physical), and so whatever the mind is, it would be ineffectual in the workings of the world (or is at best an epiphenomenon).

Remember that the meaning of a concept is what it refers to. Mental things are in fact physical things, having some form consisting of neurons, synapses and their arrangement. The only aspect of unreality to mental entities is when they do not refer to anything in reality, including other mental entities. So we can talk about unicorns qua their mythological and literary symbolism (the idea of unicorns exists), but taken literally we do not find actual unicorns in the wild (unicorns do not exist). The reference to unicorns as symbols is valid because there is such an idea, the act of reference successfully resolves and finds its target. The reference to unicorns as actual animals in the wild fails because there is no such animal, the act of reference does not find a corresponding existent.

The principle of relativity can be employed here, that there are no privileged frames of reference is applicable to metaphysics and takes the form in Rand's writings that there are no metaphysical hierarchies. It is true that an idea is particles in the brain, but also that the particles in the brain are an idea. One perspective is not more true than the other, they do not contradict and both are true. A chair is its atoms, and the atoms form the chair. So the idea is physical and is effectual in the workings of the world, or least the other workings inside the brain for false ideas. Determinism asserts more than this materialism, however.

Your understanding of an essentially useless determinism is essentially correct. Without the fantasy of omniscience and the further fantasy of the computable billiard-ball universe, there is no way to infer automatic or innate knowledge in epistemology, and no way to justify fatalism in ethics.

What I mean by "there will always be a physical explanation of how [the event in question] happened in terms of physical necessity" is that if you restrict the context to a narrow enough scope it is possible to discover why a particular neuron fired at a particular time, why it had to fire. But this is an explanation reliant on hindsight, and does not imply that prediction was possible before the event occurred. Hindsight gives more information than is accessible in the present, it is a kind of poor substitute for omniscience. That explanation will still not be able to discriminate between the two cases that that neuron firing represents a working of the will or a working upon the will, because 'will' would be out of the scope of that context. Or as you say, will is at a different level.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Now we are getting somewhere. Nothing is acausal and that fact has implications.

If your understanding of causality is incorrect, then those implications will be wrong.

Thoughts and choices are necessitated effects of previous causes.

"Causes" don't exist except conceptually. A "cause" is an abstract concept - it is the observation of the state of entities, combined with knowledge of their individual natures, and how they interact. When one asks, "what caused the plant to grow", you cannot point to a thing called a "cause" - instead, you point to all the entities that are involved in the interactions, and describe the nature of their interactions. What physically exists are entities with specific natures, and they interact.

The statement "nothing is acausal" simply means that all interactions involve entities acting according to their nature. It is in the nature of human beings to be able to observe reality, to weigh the observed facts against their value systems, and to make a determination as to how to act to support those values - to choose.

Hence, choice is really an illusion.

To say that something is an illusion, and that I am being deceived by that illusion, you must accept that I am capable of integrating knowledge and forming judgments and conclusions. In other words, for me to be deceived by something requires that I make the wrong judgment about it - to come to the wrong conclusion. By asserting that I am *making* judgments, that I am *making* conclusions, you must assume that I truly am choosing.

So, you are saying that I am incorrectly judging that I can make judgments.

Edited by brian0918
Link to post
Share on other sites

Attempting to describe the "soul" is really just ascribing whatever properties you wish the soul to have - "oh, it must not be affected by the physical, but it must be able to affect the physical" - none of this means anything, it is all gibberish, because the concepts used in your very statements have as their fundamental, first-level referents observable, physical things. You cannot get around that. You only fool yourself into believing you have gotten around it, by asserting that "cause" and "effect" are somehow fundamentally different, when in reality causality is just the interaction of entities according to their natures, with "cause" and "effect" being the observed state of some of these entities at different moments in time.

I am saying that in order for the mind/soul (by soul here I mean what Rand referred to regarding desires, values, volition, etc..), its nature must be such that it is not entirely effected by physical causes. If it is entirely effected by physical causes, then it is not free and thoughts/ideas are no more significant than a fart or a belch in their correspondence to reality.

Free from what? Free to do what? How do physical causes prevent me from being able to observe reality, weigh the facts against my value system, and act accordingly to further my values?

They (physical causes) don't prevent you from the ability to do those things. We both agree that Man is free and able to do these things. I am suggesting that this implies something about the nature of Man's faculties- that they are not entirely physical. Because physical causes do not prevent you from accurately observing reality, therefore your faculty which does observe reality (your mind) cannot be entirely effected by physical causes. If it were effected by physical causes, you would not be able to know that you are accurately observing reality-- all of your thoughts in your head would be nothing more than chemical reactions with no more significance then any other chemical reactions.

Link to post
Share on other sites

By the way, it seems like most everyone on here is focusing on the wrong aspect of "Determinism"-- namely a symptom of it. It seems like most everyone is saying that "if something can be predicted then it is deterministic", but I think this misses the point. Predictability is a symptom of deterministic activity (if a certain type of activity is deterministic, then it will be possible- given the right tools/data/etc...- to predict it). However, the inability to predict something does not make it non-deterministic... it just means that we do not possess the proper tools/data/etc..

An action is deterministic if it is impossible for it to have been otherwise given the various causal factors. Action is non-deterministic if the action is free (to some degree) from the influence of other causal factors, i.e. if the action is volitional.

All non-volitional action is deterministic (whether we are currently able to predict it or not). All volitional action is non-deterministic (even if someone who knows the volitional actor well is able to predict the action).

The point is that predictability alone is not a sufficient indicator of deterministic activity.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Now we are getting somewhere. Nothing is acausal and that fact has implications. Thoughts and choices are necessitated effects of previous causes. Given all the causal factors only one effect is possible. Hence, choice is really an illusion. Any choice or thought that arises has to arise unless the laws of cause/effect are violated.

Once again, you can't use the idea of an illusion in your argument without losing your entire argument.

Let's define terms. In this post I'll cover mind, volition, and causality.

Since you disagree with both Sam and Jacob's use of the term mind then please indicate what you mean by mind.

Mind is the human faculty of conceptual consciousness, and consciousness is the faculty of awareness. Many animals but no plants are conscious. Only mankind has a mind. Consciousness is identified by Rand as one of the axiomatic concepts so it is not defined but demonstrated, or as she puts it defined ostensively. The steps of forming a concept are: directing one's attention to find differences and similarities, forming particulars into an integrated unity regarded as a class, selecting a word for that class. Not one of these steps are automatic, each one is an act of will, a will free to not act or to contemplate something else. In Objectivism volition is primarily mental.

The freedom in free will does not and can not mean freedom from causality or identity, or that some magic spark within us can transcend the bounds of time and space. That is simply an invalid criterion because it demands the impossible. What is possible and exists is the fact of choice, a mind can cause itself to contemplate one thing or another. The "free" in free will distinguishes between internal causation and external compulsion, and between conditional and automatic forms of awareness. You won't find exactly that formulation in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, but there is "volition is an instance of causality" (paraphrasing page 69).

Volition is axiomatic. Quoting fromPeikoff in OPAR

So far, I have been identifying the nature of man's power of choice, according to the Objectivist theory. But how is this theory validated? Can one prove that the choice to think is real, and not, as determinists would say, an illusion caused by our ignorance of the forces determining us? Can one prove that man's consciousness does not function automatically?

If man's consciousness were automatic, if it did react deterministically to outer or inner forces acting upon it, then, by definition, a man would have no choice in regard to his mental content; he would accept whatever he had to accept, whatever ideas the determining forces engendered in him. In such a case, one could not prescribe methods to guide a man's thought or ask him to justify his ideas; the subject of epistemology would be inapplicable. One cannot ask a person to <opar_70> alter or justify the mentally inescapable, any more than, in physical terms, one can ask him to alter or justify his patellar reflex. In regard to the involuntary, there is no alternative but to submit—to do what one must, whatever it is.

The concept of "volition" is one of the roots of the concept of "validation" (and of its subdivisions, such as "proof"). A validation of ideas is necessary and possible only because man's consciousness is volitional. This applies to any idea, including the advocacy of free will: to ask for its proof is to presuppose the reality of free will.

Once again, we have reached a principle at the foundation of human knowledge, a principle that antecedes all argument and proof. How, then, do we know that man has volition? It is a self-evident fact, available to any act of introspection.

To elaborate a bit, a validation of ideas is necessary and possible only because man's consciousness is fallible, and it is fallible because it is volitional: it can choose poorly.

Why is that [Harris' version of causality] wrong?

Causality at the Lexicon. Here is thread for discussing causality further. The summary is: disembodied actions do not exist. Cause and effect should not be understood as actions causing actions, but as entities acting in accordance with their natures. It is the nature of the human conceptual consciousness that it is volitional.

Harris' rationalistic insistence that there is no volition based on his theory of causality is an instance of putting the pet theory before the facts in importance.

Proof cannot be disregarded because of the way my brain works. I can pretend to disregard but cannot actually do it. Whenever something is proven to me, it becomes part of my knowledge without any volitional effort.

What distinction are you relying on between pretending to disregard a proof and actually disregarding it? Disregarding would refer to some act consistent with a presumed falsehood or arbitrariness of some proposition, and if you did that act then you did it. Suppose some aspect of your job required you to know the relation between the sides of a right triangle, and you relied on a lookup table for any two sides to figure the third. If you then learned the proof of the Pythagorean Theorem, but then carried on with your lookup table because "that's the way I've always done it", then that is disregarding a proof. Claiming this would be "pretending to disregard" does not have any meaning; both pretending to disregard and actually disregarding are the same actions.

Also, understanding a proof takes volitional effort. You are cheating if you only start counting up effort after you have learned a proof.

Link to post
Share on other sites

.. If it[your mind] were effected by physical causes, you would not be able to know that you are accurately observing reality-- all of your thoughts in your head would be nothing more than chemical reactions with no more significance then any other chemical reactions.

This is what David Kelley identifies as the demand for diaphanousness, that consciousness needs to grasp reality directly without any of that nasty dirty matter as a means. The trend in philosophy from Kant up through the twentieth century has been that because the brain is made of that nasty dirty matter then it could not grasp reality. Your position is a pre-Kantian regression to religious idealism, an Augustinian or Platonist abhorrence of matter. You are obsolete by three centuries and counting.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...