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Free Will: Why Is Man's Choice to Think or Not To A *Primary*?

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Examiner
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Hello, I've been thinking a lot about the question of free will. I've listened to Branden's lectures on the subject and read Rand's articles as well as her answers on the topic in the Q&A booklet.

What I do not understand:

How can you argue that man's choice to think or not to think, in other words, to focus his mind or not to focus it, is a primary? (Yes, it is in his natrue to do that, but why is the choice free?)

How come there weren't simply any deterministic forces that made man decide to think or not to think?

Why should man be able to create something out of nothing, if everything else in nature is bound to the law of causality?

I'd immensely appreciate input here. I want to believe that we have free will and I agree with the concept that we can change our values and principles but whether the choice to do that or not is free, I cannot rationally represent.

Thank you.

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Objectivism holds that the choice to focus one's consciousness is primary because it is what makes conceptual activity possible. The choice is considered "free" because it is selected from two (or more) courses of action possible under the circumstance.

In "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" on page 69 Leonard Peikoff writes:

"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."

Volition is also considered axiomatic. Any attempt to validate or invalidate free will presupposes free will.

I'm not sure what you mean by man being able to create something out of nothing. Every creative act of man is accomplished by rearrangements of the natural elements.

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Thanks for the replies.

Objectivism holds that the choice to focus one's consciousness is primary because it is what makes conceptual activity possible.

Why is that?

My choice to think could have been determined.

The choice is considered "free" because it is selected from two (or more) courses of action possible under the circumstance.

There may be many options open to me, but who says it weren't deterministic forces that made me decide for the one I decided? The fact that I can consider several options doesn't man that I'm free to choose between them.

It only means that I'm able to consider them, which might also be due to deterministic forces.

In "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" on page 69 Leonard Peikoff writes:

"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."

Yes, I get that. It doesn't explain why the choice to focus or not to focus would be a primary, a first cause. And so it doesn't explain that this choice wasn't also a reaction to some causality.

Volition is also considered axiomatic. Any attempt to validate or invalidate free will presupposes free will.

Please explain. Why? It can be deterministic forces that make me think about free will. I believe what you want to say is that in order to "know" I must be able to test my believes against the facts of reality. That's our definiton of knowledge, but it may in deed be just the definition deterministic forces lead us to believe and we are not free in forming it at all.

I'm not sure what you mean by man being able to create something out of nothing. Every creative act of man is accomplished by rearrangements of the natural elements.

Creating out of nothing was supposed to describe the primary of thinking. Where does your decision to think or not to think come from? Objectivism says it's a first cause, it's not a reaction to something else. That's why I say, "out of nothing" because it's not a reaction to something, it's a primary. I am wondering how Objectivism can advocate and explain with reasons that the choice to think is a primary and not a reaction/ not determined.

May I ask what made you choose to ask this question?

It’s an intriguing question and an interesting quandary.

I'm not sure that I chose to ask this question. That's why I asked it.

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Can you identify the nature of the cause of free will? When you introspect, are you aware of something exerting a force on/in your conceptual faculty?

Yes. For example, I can tell myself: Now I'm going to focus on this text. I can observe an inner push that makes me focus/direct my attention.

But that's proof of nothing. That's just an observation and doesn't prove as fact. It could be an illusion or a mechanism that tells me, it was a free choice. This mechanism could have been installed by nature for whatever purpose.

A rain drop falls the way it has to fall. You can observe the causes makeing it fall the way it does.

Ice melts the way it has to melts, you can predict it.

But humans are supposed to be outside the system of causality? What makes them defy those laws of causality? How can you reasonably acknowledge that whatever we do is not a result of some forces?

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Why is that?

My choice to think could have been determined.

Our ability to focus (or not) is a fact. Ayn Rand simply observes and notes that fact, as do all of us. If you're asking for a cause, the cause is explained in the theory of evolution. If you're asking for a reason, there is none, evolution didn't happen for a reason.

But humans are supposed to be outside the system of causality?

No, of course not. Causality does not imply determinism.

Edited by Nicky
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This lecture https://estore.aynra...ll-mp3-download really helped me grasp what I think you're currently struggling with.

You may want to listen to the second part first though thats where the metaphysics are discussed.

It really helps to understand that from determinism it doesn't follow that what you think is determined, if determinism is true you wouldn't be "thinking".

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Thanks for the many replies, much appreciated!

Then can you identify the forces that caused you to ask it without your own input or motivation?

Of course not. Just like a raindrop cannot identify the forces that make it fall, the way it falls.

I’m saying, it seems to me that I have a free choice, but that doesn’t mean the choice is in fact free. It could just be the deterministic forces, that mend my mind and give me the illusion of thinking it was a free choice. Maybe that illusion was necessary to develop with evolution to keep man sane, or I don’t know why it would have been formed/determined.

Our ability to focus (or not) is a fact. Ayn Rand simply observes and notes that fact, as do all of us. If you're asking for a cause, the cause is explained in the theory of evolution. If you're asking for a reason, there is none, evolution didn't happen for a reason.

No, of course not. Causality does not imply determinism.

The difference between the fact, that I, e.g., see a tree and the fact that I notice I focus my minds is the following:

Perception of tree: I can explain, with causality, why the tree has grown in that spot and why it keeps growing. (seed, right soil, water and sunshine --> all causalities)

Perception of me focusing my mind: I can observe that “fact” but I cannot explain how I’m able to do it. What CAUSES my choice to focus my mind?? (This is really the most important question.) And if you say it’s not caused by anything, it is primary. Please explain how you can say: everything else in the world is caused by something (like the growth of the tree) but the focusing of my mind, is NOT caused by something but is a primary??

That’s my predicament.

This lecture https://estore.aynra...ll-mp3-download really helped me grasp what I think you're currently struggling with.

You may want to listen to the second part first though thats where the metaphysics are discussed.

It really helps to understand that from determinism it doesn't follow that what you think is determined, if determinism is true you wouldn't be "thinking".

Thank you very much for the link. I’m happy if people point me to resources. I’m going to listen to this towards the end of the week, when i’m done with my current audio program.

I’m happy with the notion that if determinism were true I wasn’t thinking. That could be an option, that my perception of me making a free choice could in fact be an illusion.

Researches have found, we have made up our decisions 5-6 seconds before it actually becomes conscious to us!

(Edit: I'm not saying we don't have the power to veto that. But what makes as veto it? Is that also a decision that was made up seconds before it became conscious? and if not, what makes us veto it?)

http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2008/04/mind_decision

(please watch this 5min video)

What makes me focus my mind?

Edited by Examiner
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Yes. For example, I can tell myself: Now I'm going to focus on this text. I can observe an inner push that makes me focus/direct my attention.

But that's proof of nothing. That's just an observation and doesn't prove as fact. It could be an illusion or a mechanism that tells me, it was a free choice. This mechanism could have been installed by nature for whatever purpose.

That is the point. To ask for proof, presupposes free will. Some facts can only be observed to be validated. To observe it, is to validate that it is.

Another way to ask this is "How would you set about to prove a fact that is only available to you via observation?"

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OK, you have really thought about this and the issue runs deep since you have gotten yourself into a logical dead end. The atypical response won’t help since you have in effect fallen into the determinism school of “cognition”. The good news is that you’re in the right place.

As was stated, the best refutation of determinism is the fact it is a contradiction since volition makes knowledge possible. From here I would be better off quoting The Basic Principles of Objectivism:

“Knowledge is the correct identification of the facts of realty, and in order for man to know that the contents of his mind do constitute knowledge, in order for him to know that he has identified the facts of realty correctly, he requires a means of testing his conclusions. The means is a process of reasoning, of testing his conclusions against reality and checking for contradictions. It is thus that he validates his conclusions.

But this validation is possible only if he is capacity to judge is free. That is, non-conditional \, given a normal brain state. But if his capacity to judge is not free, there is no way for a man to discriminate between his beliefs and those of a raving lunatic. But then, how do advocates of determinism acquire their knowledge? What is its validation?”

So, in a nutshell to answer your question: A mind that is not free to test and validate its conclusions does not possess knowledge since it does not know anything. You would not know you do not have free will since that requires knowledge of free will and determinism, and the fact you know the difference and have to choose between the two. The fact you think you may not have a choice does not change the reality of the situation – You have identified two alternatives and you are asking for the truth… Which one is right…Which one to choose.

To put it bluntly – By asking the question you are exercising your free will. When you read this post and agree or disagree, you have made a choice.

Edited by Spiral Architect
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Please explain how you can say: everything else in the world is caused by something (like the growth of the tree) but the focusing of my mind, is NOT caused by something but is a primary??

I didn't say that.

The focusing of your mind is caused by you. What caused you is explained (at least partially) by science.

You are assuming that the notion of something with the ability to choose and causality contradict each other, but they don't. There was a planet, and there was nothing on it with the ability to choose. But that planet's environment and life forms caused the evolution of a species with the ability to choose. Members of that species can choose to focus their minds, and therefor can choose to affect the reality around them in different ways depending on their choice. That means that their choices cause things to happen.

Where's the contradiction in that? Please be specific, stick to the rules of logic rather than any assumptions beyond that. If you can't identify a contradiction that way, it means that your assumption is unfounded, and causality does not imply determinism.

Edited by Nicky
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Yes. For example, I can tell myself: Now I'm going to focus on this text. I can observe an inner push that makes me focus/direct my attention.

You were addressed my question of "Can you identify the nature of the cause of free will? When you introspect, are you aware of something exerting a force on/in your conceptual faculty?"

Causality is the law of identity applied to action.

You state you are able to observe an "inner push". What is doing the "push"?

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  • 3 weeks later...

I’m happy with the notion that if determinism were true I wasn’t thinking. That could be an option, that my perception of me making a free choice could in fact be an illusion.

Researches have found, we have made up our decisions 5-6 seconds before it actually becomes conscious to us!

(Edit: I'm not saying we don't have the power to veto that. But what makes as veto it? Is that also a decision that was made up seconds before it became conscious? and if not, what makes us veto it?)

http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2008/04/mind_decision

(please watch this 5min video)

I respond to this study in another post, but briefly, the researchers are going through the motions of watching, via low resolution data, the process of a brain as it performs a task. They are not watching a volitional being exercising their free will - they are watching a volitional being act upon their first impulse. They are specifically asking the subject of the experiment not to wrestle with a decision, but instead translate the first thing being offered by the subconcious into a concious action. Note the words used by the narrorator: "...immediately press a button..." not "....think for a bit about which way I really want to go, and then choose from the two actions available to me..."

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Seems to me that there is a failure of distinguishing the metaphysical versus the man-made. 'Philosophy: Who needs it?', deals with this topic. What IS determines what OUGHT to be, the basis of choice is determined by the metaphysical nature of the entity involved. The universe does not presuppose choice to exist; it is choice which presuposses nature to be, there is no contradiction; it is only the former (nature) which makes the latter (choice) possible.

Edited by Prometheus88
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  • 1 month later...
  • 4 weeks later...

I want to believe that we have free will and I agree with the concept that we can change our values and principles but whether the choice to do that or not is free, I cannot rationally represent.

 

(I had previously commented on this topic, but one of the moderators removed it because it did not comform to the orthodoxy of Objectivism. I was told by the moderator that it is only permissible for me to ask questions so that is what I will do.)

 

Isn't the proof that you have free will simple and easy to verify by your own personal experience?

 

Do you act on every thought you think and every emotion which arises from every thought you think?

 

Can't you choose to act contrary to your thoughts and emotions as long as you are aware that you are objectively and dispassionately observing them as if you were another person without being immersed within them?

 

Isn't it impossible to choose to act contrary to your thoughts as long as you believe that all there is is you thinking them?

 

For how could you possibly act contrary to yourself if all there is is just you thinking and and acting compulsively on every thought that runs through your head?

 

If you did not have free choice, and acted on every thought in your head... wouldn't you either be in jail or dead by now?

 

Isn't the fact that you are not in jail or dead proof that you have free will?

 

Is it not true that if there is no free will there is no morality of good or evil?

Edited by moralist
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As identified earlier in this thread, the very act of asking for proof presupposes free will.

 

If the fact that we are not in jail or dead proves free wil, do those who are in jail, or someone who is now dead - prior to their death, not have free will?

 

No. It only proves that the jailed and the dead chose to impulsively and indiscriminately act on their thoughts without the tempered rationality of self reflection.

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No. It only proves that the jailed and the dead chose to impulsively and indiscriminately act on their thoughts without the tempered rationality of self reflection.

"No. It only 'proves' that the jailed and the dead 'chose' {read "used their free-will"} to impulsively and indiscriminately act on their thoughts without the tempered rationality of self reflection.

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