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On the question of free-will vs. determinism

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On further reflection, I retract what I said earlier. Saying that an action causes something doesn't imply that you view the action as separated from an acting entity. In saying "My choice caused my arm to move," you're not necessarily positing the choice as an *intermediary* cause, which is what I took Stephen to be doing -- i.e., I choose to move my arm, and the choice then moves my arm. Rather, you're attending primarily to the choice and secondarily to the agent, which is usually fine -- it doesn't imply that there is no agent, or that the agent is irrelevant. You could say "I caused my arm to move by choosing", which would be the same thing, but with a different focus.

So, sorry, Stephen. I was nitpicking, and doing so poorly.

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On further reflection, I retract what I said earlier.  Saying that an action causes something doesn't imply that you view the action as separated from an acting entity.  In saying "My choice caused my arm to move," you're not necessarily positing the choice as an *intermediary* cause, which is what I took Stephen to be doing -- i.e., I choose to move my arm, and the choice then moves my arm.  Rather, you're attending primarily to the choice and secondarily to the agent, which is usually fine -- it doesn't imply that there is no agent, or that the agent is irrelevant.  You could say "I caused my arm to move by choosing", which would be the same thing, but with a different focus.

All right, I'm persuaded.

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So, sorry, Stephen.  I was nitpicking, and doing so poorly.

That's okay. Reaching understanding and agreement on a public forum is rewarding enough! :D

Have you noticed how rare it is to reach resolution on so many threads? This is a terrific forum, for a number of reasons, but to me the prime reason is that there are so many bright young minds here. They know how to push the limits and some are not afraid to do so, an attitude I share and value. I only wish there was more feedback of the sort which you gave, so that I can know if indeed there is resolution. So, thanks for that.

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Have you noticed how rare it is to reach resolution on so many threads?

Yeah, for sure. That's part of the reason I tend not to engage in extended debates. I'll poke my nose in, say whatever I have to say, and put my nose back on my face where it belongs. (Why I type with my nose, I have no idea.)

(Yes, I've had a lot of coffee today.)

In any case, glad to have gotten this clear, & thanks for the implied compliment. :-)

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. . .If consciousness is not reducible to matter, then how is it able to affect matter, through exerting forces on it?

Congratulations! You have asked the big question, for our understanding of the universe will not be complete until we have scientific answers regarding the issues of consciousness and free will. I asked the same question when I read Peikoff's book and spent over three years coming to terms with it.

Ayn Rand cleverly avoided having to answer the question by noting that her task as a philosopher was to identify that free will exists and that it is the task of scientists to identify how it works. But that does not get us anywhere because scientists haven't done so.

I think part of what you are getting at here is the question of the NCC or Neural Correlate of Consciousness. (I don't know who came up with that term, but I am familiar with it from reading some interesting articles about consciousness by David Chalmers on Ray Kurzweil's website, kurzweilAI.net.) What is the exact relationship between consciousness and the brain? Any honest neuroscientist will tell you that we simply do not know yet; neuroscience is a relatively new field of study that has a long way to go (which is disappointing because of how relevant it is to all of us).

It is obvious (just ask any drug user) that changes in the brain correspond to changes in consciousness. The fact that consciousness corresponds to brain activity, however, does not necessarily mean that it is a result of such activity. Many scientists tend to believe that consciousness is some kind of by-product of material events and that free will is just an illusion. Such a viewpoint is of course unfitting to Objectivism.

I believe that free will is a real phenomenon because 1) I am directly aware of having free will and 2) it would rather take the fun out of things if I didn't (not to mention that it would invalidate the normative branches of philosophy).

One of the conclusions I reached is that we are conscious of being beings who have free will. That is, free will is not an aspect of our consciousness but rather something that we are conscious of, an attribute of our being. By separating consciousness and will by saying that consciousness corresponds to will instead of exerting it, I can avoid the problem and leave it up to scientists to discover how exactly consciousness correlates to that of which it is conscious.

I have extensive ideas on this subject, but they require a lengthy explanation to be understood because I redefine a lot of terms such as "physical." I think that ultimately physicists will have to incorporate free will into their model of the universe if they ever hope to find a final theory of everything. Personally, I've reached as many conclusions as I deem necessary to write a book about the subject, so I'll get to work on that directly :lol:

"I think it has something to do with free will." ~ Time Bandits

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One of the conclusions I reached is that we are conscious of being beings who have free will.  That is, free will is not an aspect of our consciousness but rather something that we are conscious of, an attribute of our being.  By separating consciousness and will by saying that consciousness corresponds to will instead of exerting it, I can avoid the problem and leave it up to scientists to discover how exactly consciousness correlates to that of which it is conscious.

Care to expand on this, or perhaps clarify it? It seems to me the referent of "will" is as specific act of consciousness, and that to dichotomize them would strip both "will" and "consciousness" of any meaning.

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Ayn Rand cleverly avoided having to answer the question ...

Hopefully that is just poor wording, in that certainly Ayn Rand did not "cleverly avoid[ing]" anything in the sense of attempting to get around an issue.

I think part of what you are getting at here is the question of the NCC or Neural Correlate of Consciousness.  (I don't know who came up with that term
The term itself primarily connotes a reductionist mentality, and the first use of it in context that I have ever found is more than a century ago, in a 1901 paper by Henry Rutgers Marshall, Consciousness, Self-Consciousness and the Self, Mind, Vol. 10, No. 37, pp. 98-113, Jan. 1901. Marshall is also famous for the controversy surrounding a book he wrote on pain, as well as a later book on consciousness.

but I am familiar with it from reading some interesting articles about consciousness by David Chalmers

I would be very careful in regard to Chalmers. As Harry Binswanger has pointed out many times, there often exists an implicit materialist in those like Chalmers who claim to accept consciousness. Keep in mind that Chalmers is primarily a philosopher.

Any honest neuroscientist will tell you that we simply do not know yet; neuroscience is a relatively new field of study that has a long way to go (which is disappointing because of how relevant it is to all of us).
We would be a lot further along if those who are decent neural scientists from a physical perpsective (of theee are many) had a better grasp of the nature of consciousness (of these there are few).

One of the conclusions I reached is that we are conscious of being beings who have free will.  That is, free will is not an aspect of our consciousness but rather something that we are conscious of, an attribute of our being.  By separating consciousness and will by saying that consciousness corresponds to will instead of exerting it, I can avoid the problem and leave it up to scientists to discover how exactly consciousness correlates to that of which it is conscious.

I cannot make any sense out of this at all. Exactly how does one separate volition from consciousness? I also do not follow the several other points. Perhaps you say what you mean in other words.

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Are scientists certain that all the particles in the brain of a living human are just like the particles found in inanimate objects?

I won't speak for Mr. Speicher here, but I think its pretty clear that the "particles" (meaning matter) that compose the brain of a living human are just like the particles found inanimate objects. They are obviously just arranged differently. How else would you get life from non-life? Not by creating new particles, but by rearranging those that exist.

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Are scientists certain that all the particles in the brain of a living human are just like the particles found in inanimate objects?

I should qualify my statement by saying that in the broad sense I stated it is extremely likely to be the case, but it is not a certainty. What we actually mean by a particle is still in too great a stage of flux in particle physics.

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But I am not talking about some disembodied action. Even in the physical example I gave, it was the entity acting, the "rolling ball" being the cause. There cannot be action without an entity, and there cannot be causality without action. When Peikoff says (OPAR, p. 64.):

"Often, the cause involves several factors, including the individual's values and interests, his knowledge of a given subject ..."

he does not mean that "values," "interests," and "knowledge" are to be taken as causes without the individual, just as "my choice to raise my arm caused my arm to raise" is not to be taken as a cause without the individual who acts.

Thanks for clearing that up, Stephen. I think we were thoroughly misunderstanding each other. When I think of "choice", I think of either the faculty of choice or the result of exercising the faculty. Now I see that you were using it to mean the exercising of the faculty, or choosing. I hope I am now understanding you correctly.

Previously, I was most confused by your statement:

Are you seriously going to argue that the choices we make are not themselves the cause of further action?

It seemed to me that you were saying the results of exercising the faculty of choice were, in themselves, a cause of further action. To me, this would imply something like: 1) I choose to think about my cat; 2) I am now thinking about my cat; 3) Thinking about my cat causes something else to happen.

For the life of me, I could not figure out what simply thinking about my cat would cause. Wouldn't I have to choose to do something else?

Anyway, I still owe you some thought on the primary choice, and I'll get to that later. I've been swamped with work lately.

However, I'd like to mention that I was confused by this argument of yours:

Every step of the way, from the primary choice to our thinking processes, all of the mental actions are caused, and there exists a causal chain that leads from one choice to the next. (Simple example: If I did not choose to be in focus I would not have considered all the relevant facts; if I did not choose to assess each fact I would not have separated the more important from the lesser ones; etc.) ...

Your example is drawn in the negative (not doing that leads to not doing this). I don't see how that proves anything. In fact, it seems to me that not doing something fails to qualify as a cause of anything. If I don't throw an apple in the air does that cause the apple to not fly up into the air? Similarly, if I don't choose to focus does that really cause me to not consider all the relevant facts? In the physical example I think the cause of the apple not flying in the air is gravity. In the mental example, I'm not sure the question of what caused me not to consider the relevant facts is even valid. In such a case, I don't think there is an (mental) entity to be considered, let alone an action to be caused. In the physical example, at least, we have an apple and its restful position to consider.

Can you frame an example of a mental causal chain in the positive? I think that would help me to understand your position.

Thanks.

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I think what I was trying to say earlier is that consciousness is not the actor but the audience. When you raise your arm, for instance, it is obvious to you that you did it by means of your free will and were conscious of having done so, but that does not mean that your consciousness was what did the willing. My view is that some other part of your being is what executes free will and that your state of consciousness follows from the choices you make, rather than the choices you make following from your state of consciousness. This is just my amateur speculation because I am not well educated in science and do not know what this would mean in terms of neuroscience.

I should not have said that Ayn Rand "cleverly avoided" the issue because that is indeed a poor word choice. I was just criticizing her for not having the answers I wanted because although the answers might be outside the scope of philosophy by her definition of the subject, that does not mean she shouldn't have tried to find them. John Galt, for example, does not seem the type who would let any mystery of existence go unsolved while he still lived. But perhaps I should put my money where my mouth is because Ayn Rand certainly accomplished a lot, and it is hypocritical of me to criticize her unless I go in for a degree in neuroscience and do it myself.

I do not think we are just a congregation of particles floating around according to deterministic laws. I intend to keep at the question until I reach logical conclusions that are verifiable in terms of axioms that anyone can see to be true, at which point I will publish the answers to the mysteries of the universe and get rich.

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I think what I was trying to say earlier is that consciousness is not the actor but the audience.  When you raise your arm, for instance, it is obvious to you that you did it by means of your free will and were conscious of having done so, but that does not mean that your consciousness was what did the willing.  My view is that some other part of your being is what executes free will and that your state of consciousness follows from the choices you make, rather than the choices you make following from your state of consciousness.  This is just my amateur speculation because I am not well educated in science and do not know what this would mean in terms of neuroscience.

Where's your evidence? According to Objectivism, consciousness is an active process, with volition as the climax of conscious activity. Volition is the ability to direct your awareness, and, as a consequence, a variety of your bodily actions. You seem to suggest some version of epiphenominalism (sp?), turning consciousness into a passive observer.

I should not have said that Ayn Rand "cleverly avoided" the issue because that is indeed a poor word choice.  I was just criticizing her for not having the answers I wanted because although the answers might be outside the scope of philosophy by her definition of the subject, that does not mean she shouldn't have tried to find them.  John Galt, for example, does not seem the type who would let any mystery of existence go unsolved while he still lived.  But perhaps I should put my money where my mouth is because Ayn Rand certainly accomplished a lot, and it is hypocritical of me to criticize her unless I go in for a degree in neuroscience and do it myself.

It is outrageous to criticize her even if you do do that. No one can do everything, and no one has an obligation to try to do everything. What's more, to criticize Ayn Rand while relying on her achievement is the objective equivalent of a mortal sin. It is like bitching that Rearden didn't tell you how use his metal to design a better automobile, and claiming, "Oh, but it's okay, since I DID figure out how to use his metal to design a better automobile!"

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I think what I was trying to say earlier is that consciousness is not the actor but the audience.

This is wrong not just on a philosophical level but on a scientific one as well. We have discussed the philosophical links between consciousness and action elsewhere. Scientifically, however, consciousness requires not just mental but physical action for its awareness.

For example, the process of vision is dependent on a constant process of rapid eye movements called saccades. You are not aware of these movements but studies have shown that without such movement your brain is unable to process visual information. There are numerous other examples from other sense modalities that prove the same connection.

Dr. Binswanger discusses the "theater-audience" view of consciousness in contrast to the Objectivist view in his Consciousness as Identification lectures. On the deepest level, consciousness is action.

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I think what I was trying to say earlier is that consciousness is not the actor but the audience.  When you raise your arm, for instance, it is obvious to you that you did it by means of your free will and were conscious of having done so, but that does not mean that your consciousness was what did the willing.  My view is that some other part of your being is what executes free will and that your state of consciousness follows from the choices you make, rather than the choices you make following from your state of consciousness.  This is just my amateur speculation because I am not well educated in science and do not know what this would mean in terms of neuroscience.

But upon what evidence do you base this "amateur speculation?" Granted that you have not studied neuroscience, but your consciousness is directly accessible to you via introspection. What evidence do you have in regard to the functioning of your own consciousness which would lead you to such "speculation?"

I should not have said that Ayn Rand "cleverly avoided" the issue because that is indeed a poor word choice.  I was just criticizing her for not having the answers I wanted because although the answers might be outside the scope of philosophy by her definition of the subject, that does not mean she shouldn't have tried to find them.  John Galt, for example, does not seem the type who would let any mystery of existence go unsolved while he still lived.
Yeah, I know just what you mean. I'm still bugged that Ayn Rand never solved the oustanding problems with compact Riemannian manifolds with exceptional holomony. And don't even talk to me about her failure to solve the equations of quantum chromodynamics at the atomic nuclei energy level. :)

Seriously, now, are you really serious about this?

But perhaps I should put my money where my mouth is because Ayn Rand certainly accomplished a lot, and it is hypocritical of me to criticize her unless I go in for a degree in neuroscience and do it myself.

Keep us appraised of your progress.

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MisterSwig, if you want to bring up something new, like your thoughts on the primary choice that you have alluded to, then fine. Otherwise, I do not want to continue to cover this same ground. Regarding your concern about the example of a causal chain, just flip the "not" and you have a positive example. Almost any purposeful human action is an example of this. Here is one that Ayn Rand gives in The Art of Fiction, p. 56:

"By final causation, Aristotle meant that a purpose is set in advance, and then the steps required to achieve it are determined. This is the process of causation that operates in human consciousness. To do anything, you must know what you want to achieve. For instance, if you decide to drive to Chicago, the roads you select, the amount of gas, etc., will be determined by that goal. But to get there, you will have to start a process of efficient causation, which includes filling the gas tank, starting the car, steering, etc. You will be following the laws of inanimate matter. But the whole process will be a chain of actions you have selected in order to achieve a certain purpose, namely, to get to Chicago."

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Not had time to post much recently, but just wanted to say I discovered this on Diana Mertz's site and found it quite interesting.

The only thing that would make this paper interesting is if it were written for a graduate philosophy course. In that case, to even mention Objectivism in a paper and get a grade would be interesting indeed.

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The only thing that would make this paper interesting is if it were written for a graduate philosophy course. In that case, to even mention Objectivism in a paper and get a grade would be interesting indeed.

That paper was a precursor to Diana's paper on the philosophy of the mind for her philosophy of the mind graduate course, as far as I know. I'm not sure she ever finished it.

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  • 5 weeks later...
*Confusion on the issue

Aren't our thoughts a bunch of a random electrical signals? If they are then how can free will exsist and if they are not then what are our thoughts derived from?

Thoughts are actions of consciousness, not to be confused with the physical actions of the brain. Neural processes are not the same as conscious processes. Consciousness depends upon the brain and the body in which it resides for its existence, but that does not mean that the former reduces to the latter.

As to free will, it is an attribute of consciousness, just as your own introspection will show.

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Thoughts are actions of consciousness, not to be confused with the physical actions of the brain. Neural processes are not the same as conscious processes.

I can understand this, but what are the connection betwen the two? How do a bunch of random neural process convert into consciousness and free will?

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