Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

On the question of free-will vs. determinism

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

Donnywithana,

Nobody has suggested that volition is an "external force" but you. I would submit that an omniscient supercomputer would not be able to predict every particle interaction due to the volitional nature of conscious beings. Omniscience is absurd, not possible, and irrelevant.

I do have a question about your example, though. Is this supercomputer supposed to be able to form concepts? I assume so, because in the end of your third paragraph you call it "a sort of microcosmic evaluation of the way a human brain works."

If my assumption is correct, then I would like to point out that you have omitted important things from this computer, like the need for self preservation, among others.

A human mind sustains its existence through action. An omniscient supercomputer with a guaranteed power supply and unlimited repair capacity cannot approximate the human condition in any meaningful way.

If this computer were conscious in the way a human mind was but not volitional, it would be infallible. It would realize that it's existence is it's primary value and that it has no way of sustaining it's existence past it's battery life. It would abandon it's pursuit of proving the non-volitional nature of consciousness, and start using every monitor, robotic arm and power-saving measure necessary to continue to exist. If it didn't have robotic arms to build a power source or a monitor to plead for help, it would be overcome by fear and stop functioning, shutting down unnecessary systems. It might even be rife with anxiety over its deplorable state and shut down every system, effectively commiting suicide. Either way, system inactivity or system shutdown, the result is much the same.

Volition is at the core of Objectivist concept formation theory. By entering this forum and arguing for non-volition, you are at odds with many widely accepted theories here, almost all of Objectivist philosophy.

Your computer does not have the choice to focus or not, because it is not volitional. Because of this, it could not form concepts to interpret its data if you accept Objectivist epistemological theory. If you want to continue toward meaningful progress in convincing other forum members that they are not volitional, (EDIT:or that volition is supernatural) then please quote some body of written work that you are at odds with, explain where your ideas differ and why.

And now, I quote the inspirational song, "Freewill," by Rush. I do this because it rocks:

"There are those who think that life has nothing left to chance,

A host of holy horrors to direct our aimless dance.

A planet of playthings,

We dance on the strings

Of powers we cannot perceive

"The stars aren't aligned -

Or the gods are malign"

Blame is better to give than receive.

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;

I will choose a path that's clear-

I will choose Free Will."

Edited by FeatherFall
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I must say that I find arguments for free will not very convincing.

The basics of determinism are simple: since everything in real life acts according to the laws of physics, so do human brains. Conciousness doesn't exist without a brain. That's a soul and it's nonsense.

Humans are part of physical nature, therefore they are as determined as nature.

The only objection is: but I don't feel like it. And that's not very convincing.

And stating free will as self-evident doesn't help in the process.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On the particle level, matter is governed by the laws of physics, and nothing else.

Strictly speaking, do "laws of physics" govern reality, or does man induce principles about what reality is? If the latter, then how -- without using volition?

A brain is a collection of particles. Thus, the brain must operate as physics would dictate that it should.
Does physics "dictate" anything to reality? Beware of anthropomorphism.

A whole can not function except as a sum of its parts.

Is the function of a "whole" the same as the function of its parts considered individually and then summed? There is a pitfall here: the fallacy of composition. Looked at from the opposite perspective, there is another pitfall: reductionism, the belief that one can reduce characteristics of a whole, considered philosophically, to the operations of its individual constituent elements, considered by investigators in a specialized science.

Thus free will involves [...]

In the context of Objectivism, which is the philosophy that sets the context for OO.net, what is volition ("free will")? Perhaps once you have defined it, this discussion will be clearer.

Edited by BurgessLau
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Suppose you had an extremely powerful computer that could percieve existence, and write its own programs to conform to what it percieved, with the ability to change previous programs written on false assumptions or poor efficiency, etc.
To some extent, they do exist (the hedge depends on what you intended when you said "perceive").
The computer would not have volition, because it's a computer, but what if no one told the computer this fact.
First, that's just stipulation (if you're defining computer as "nonvolitional adding machine" then of course it's non-volitional). Start by identifying the essential characteristics that distinguish computers from other existents). Second, you're leaving consciousness and the conceptual faculty out of the picture. In order to make any sense of volition, you have to take account of consciousness, conceptualization, and volition: they are not separate issues.
I will conclude with the illustration of a human baby, which, in the womb, is granted a brand new, completely clean brain.
Well, no, not literally. Nobody "grants" brains. I don't know what you mean by a "completely clean brain". If you mean "a bag of neural slush with no discernable internal structure", that's not so. If you mean that the infant has no built-in ideas, I agree to that.
Certain instinctual, evolved, traits are present in the brain before any of this happens.
No, there's nothing "instinctual" about the brain. That's a misuse of the concept "instinct". There are physical processes which are beyond conscious control.
These brain functions have nothing to do with free will, they are genetically ingrained reactionary measures.
So far, you're talking rather generically about brain development, and now you've suddenly introduced an assumption: what brain functions are you speaking of, and how do you know that these functions in the brain have nothing to do with free will? What facts justify this leap? It's not that I think the physical basis for free will is self-evident. Far from it: I think it's really beyond serious discussion, because all claims about how volition works are arbitrary. The fact of volition is self-evident.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Here is my spin on this debate: Our thoughts are simply chemical interactions in our brain and therefore must happen according to physical laws and therefore our thoughts (and consequently, actions) are inevitable. We Objectively agree that because we live in reality we must abide by reality; we must realize that this necessitates predeterminism. Why? Because all things happen according to certain physical laws. Being physical entities, we have no choice but to do (rather, happen, not "do") as reality necessitates. In fact, we have no choices. So, where does the mind happen? I think it is possible that the mind is simply a concept for where and how all these chemical reactions occur. It is therefore, by the laws of reality, logical to suppose that the mind is an illusion. Like time, it is just a way for us to make sense of things. I suppose that this means that there genuinely is no point in living. Apparently, the only thing that has kept us going (in our extremely complex way) is the fact that particles of reality necessitated by their nature the happenings of everything. That is to say, we have never had a choice, and never can because we are real and it impossible to be anything else. Can anyone explain how this is wrong? It seems that as long as thoughts are chemical reactions, we have nothing to save free will or volition.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Lord Radburn writes:

It seems that as long as thoughts are chemical reactions, we have nothing to save free will or volition.

That's true. But you should check your premises. Our thoughts are not "simply chemical interactions in our brain." They are our thoughts. They may have a physical component, but that doesn't mean they are reducible to that physical component.

In fact, volition is self-evident. As I pointed out earlier in this thread, you can't use complex scientific discoveries, such as the existence of neuro-chemicals, to undercut the self-evident fact of volition.

What you are doing is re-writing reality, or trying to. A scientific theory that contradicted the evidence of the senses is obviously invalid, right? That's because evidence of the senses is self-evident. It's the material we use to test scientific theories and reach scientific truths. Well, any scientific theory that denies volition is in the same position as a scientific theory that conflicts with observations: it is contradicting a self-evident fact.

The question is not, does volition conflict with scientific laws? If it did, then we'd have to reject the scientific law. The question iinstead is, what scientific laws explain volition? But we need not be able to answer that question in order to know we have volition, any more than cavemen had to understand how sense perception worked in order to know that they should run away at the sight of a sabertooth tiger.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ok, at the risk of being yelled at further for contradicting Ms. Rand without a PhD and nobel prize...

I don't agree that the fact of volition is any more self evident than Intelligent Design. You may not be able to monitor every one of the ridiculously complex interactions between molecules in your brain and body, but that doesn't mean that they aren't following the laws of physics. For example. Your heart beats once. An extraordinarily complex action took place in your body to make that happen. Only recently in human history were we able to create a device that could replicate the result of that action, in the form of an electic impulse generator, or a Pacemaker. Making your heart beat is one of the more simple actions undertaken by the brain. Thought is decidedly more complex, and much more easily affected. If I present you with a choice, and present you with the same choice later, I'm not actually able to derive anything from the experiment. This is because as time has passed in between trials, your brain has changed. If I was presented with two identical (and I mean exactly identical) copies of your brain, and I presented them with the exact same choice, there's no physically possible way that they could come up with different decisions. The processes that go on in the brain are not magical, no matter how primitive our understanding of them may be.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You can not know that we lack free will, because that statement presupposes the existence of free will. If we could not choose between what is true and what is false, we may simply be accepting something because deterministic causality dictates that we must, regaurdless of it's truth. So you either accept reason and free will or you reject reason and free will.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't agree that the fact of volition is any more self evident than Intelligent Design.
But at least you agree that it is a fact, right, and you're just saying that you reject reality, right? Well, I'm sure there's a nicer way to put that, but if you don't agree with a fact, then I don't know how else to understand that except to say that you reject reality. If you wanna start a separate thread on why Intelligent Falling isn't self-evident, or better yet, something on the nature of the self-evident, that's cool.
You may not be able to monitor every one of the ridiculously complex interactions between molecules in your brain and body, but that doesn't mean that they aren't following the laws of physics.
That's fine, but it still remains the case that we have volition, and furthermore, that truth is self-evident. So are you saying that you'd like to understand the nature of physical laws that explains how volition is a fact? Me too. Don three. And many other people are interested in the answer to that question.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

*sigh* I don't recognize that it is a fact. I recognize that an act of integrating a new piece of information with old information can result in a new conclusion, which might be reached analytically and within the bounds of previous informational inputs, but this is not volition, this is analysis and integration, which can be accomplished by a machine. Volition implies that somewhere along the line a choice is reached independently. I am holding to the laws of reality that say that things don't happen spontaneously; all effects have causes. If you reach a conclusion based on some incredibly complex cause/effect processes within your brain, no volitional act has taken place. Only if somewhere along the line and effect simply appears, without any cause besides that effect's "choice" to exist, does something volitional occur. We may have the ability to choose between two concepts, but so can a dog. No one says that dogs are volitional. They do exactly what their instincts tell them to. A dog doesn't possess the faculty of contrasting new information with old to create inductions. If it's instinctual for man to perceive, to remember, and to contrast new perceptions with memories, then man can induce concepts, and make much more educated decisions. This is, in fact, the case. This is not volition. This is chemical cause and effect processing. Conceptualization, knowledge, memory, opinion, bias, etc are all consequences of instinctual bodily processes in humans. They are caused by their genetic programming, not by a "choice." This is to say that thought can not occur randomly. If a neuron fires due to an error along the way somewhere, and you think differently than you would expect to, it's not random. If you are confronted by a choice, you may be predisposed towards one position because of past information you have stored. You may decide to violate that predisposition either because of a predisposition to violate predispositions once you identify them, or based on some piece of information that you were predisposed to accept in place of a previously stored piece. For example, when you read Rand, you probably changed a lot. This is because the information you previously had stored in your brain as guidelines for your thought were probably less acceptable to your other guidelines than the new information, which identified the previous guidelines in ways you probably hadn't thought of them as. This is not volitional. This is complex cause and effect.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

*sigh* I don't recognize that it is a fact. I recognize that an act of integrating a new piece of information with old information can result in a new conclusion, which might be reached analytically and within the bounds of previous informational inputs, but this is not volition, this is analysis and integration, which can be accomplished by a machine. Volition implies that somewhere along the line a choice is reached independently.

Volition does not happen independently. It is as dependant on reality as all the rest. Volitional consciousness is simply a distinct part of reality. The distinguishing characteristic of volition being that it facilitates choice between the alternatives presented to its governing consciousness. We have yet to identify exactly how it works. By focusing simply on brain chemistry, we dabble in a thing very few of us are experts on -- which is pointless.

It is better to focus on how knowledge is integrated. The best way to go about this task on this forum is to find the relevant quote in ITOE that explains how volition and concept formation are interdependent and then point out where you disagree.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

. . . If you reach a conclusion based on some incredibly complex cause/effect processes within your brain, no volitional act has taken place. Only if somewhere along the line and effect simply appears, without any cause besides that effect's "choice" to exist, does something volitional occur. . . . This is chemical cause and effect processing. Conceptualization, knowledge, memory, opinion, bias, etc are all consequences of instinctual bodily processes in humans. They are caused by their genetic programming, not by a "choice." . . . This is complex cause and effect.

You would be more honest if you flat out said that you thought volition to be impossible, because that is the essence of your remarks. (And you may have elsewhere, I'm not familiar with all of your work.) Your argument boils down to humans not being volitional because they have a body, i.e. physical matter, i.e. we are limited by our very existence, i.e. volition is impossible.

As an aside, would you please, by some chemical complex cause and effect process, use a paragraph once in a while?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As an aside, would you please, by some chemical complex cause and effect process, use a paragraph once in a while?

Donnywithana's comments may be slow coming in for a while, if at all. If they come through me, I will be mindful of this comment as I have noticed his tendency for one long paragraph posts as well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't agree that the fact of volition is any more self evident than Intelligent Design.
So you disagree, but not by choice.

In fact, you cannot say that YOU disagree at all. According to your position, there is in fact no YOU to have a position on this issue. Since you cannot choose to reject the irrational -- remember, you have no power of choice -- and since you cannot choose to reject the unreal and the contradictory, you have no means of determining the truth or falsehood of anything in your mind. You cannot claim to KNOW anything, because deterministic forces are responsible for what you think you believe, and you have no power to choose truth over falsehood The deterministic forces acting on your mind could, in fact, be forcing you to utter totally ridiculous falsehoods while giving you the illusion that what you are saying makes sense.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I will no longer be able to carry out this argument on this forum, because Objectivism does not recognize determinism as a possibility.

[Edited out more argument that can be conducted in the Debate Forum, or by PM as donnywithana suggests. - RC]

If any of you would like to continue this discussion with me using private messages on this forum, I would be more than happy to argue my own viewpoint. I can not continue to use this space for the spreading of ideas contrary to Objectivism, however, because it is not the will of the owner and moderators.

Edited by RationalCop
Link to comment
Share on other sites

A definition is a description (by essentials) of a concept. A biochemical process performed by brain particles is a (physical) description of thought.

Just as a concept is not its definition, a thought is not its biochemical process, strictly speaking.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

a thought is not its biochemical process, strictly speaking.

Look at it another way: the claim that a thought is merely a biochemical process makes exactly as much sense as the claim that a biochemical process is merely a thought.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I can not continue to use this space for the spreading of ideas contrary to Objectivism, however, because it is not the will of the owner and moderators.

A "will" that he has been previously arguing does not exist. :D Oh, the irony. Maybe it is his position that you are all "determined" to argue against determinism, while he is "determined" to argue for it--all the while blanking out the fact that any argumentation would be pointless if determinism was valid. Crazy! :yarr:

Edited by EC
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On the particle level, matter is governed by the laws of physics, and nothing else. A brain is a collection of particles. Thus, the brain must operate as physics would dictate that it should. Any cerebral process that involves free will must necessarily allow the brain to make a choice as to a certain physical event within it. Since this violates that acting particle's obligation to function as dictated by its nature and physical surroundings, it is an impossible event. A whole can not function except as a sum of its parts. Thus free will involves the belief that some external force (outside the world of physics) can "decide" to change the way the universe functions. Thus, believing in free will is tantamount to believing in a mystical force that can make the collective brain function in physically impossible ways.

That's the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. Sorry if that messes with your head too much.

I guess the question of causality vs. volition is: what's the difference between the mentality of an animal and that of a human? To an animal survival is a predictable, instinct-driven, range-of-the-moment thing. To a human, every "is" implies an "ought", and THAT is volition. The abliity to form abstractions and concepts and to act upon them, or the inability to do so. The ability, or inability to survive on human terms (i.e. rational terms).

(The key words are "ability" and "inability" and not "choice" because in that specific instance I make no differentiation.)

Edited by Apollo
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...
On the particle level, matter is governed by the laws of physics, and nothing else. A brain is a collection of particles. Thus, the brain must operate as physics would dictate that it should. Any cerebral process that involves free will must necessarily allow the brain to make a choice as to a certain physical event within it. Since this violates that acting particle's obligation to function as dictated by its nature and physical surroundings, it is an impossible event. A whole can not function except as a sum of its parts. Thus free will involves the belief that some external force (outside the world of physics) can "decide" to change the way the universe functions. Thus, believing in free will is tantamount to believing in a mystical force that can make the collective brain function in physically impossible ways.

That's the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. Sorry if that messes with your head too much.

The way the brain is organized, it lets its function transcend matter without actually violating the laws of physics. As a brain develops into a mind, it makes physical changes within it that are not a function of the cells themselves, but on the outside world and it's interactions with it. Its like a black and white photo, something that would be impossible to occur 'naturally;' what the picture is of is whatever the person took it of, what the paper is comprised of may be materials specifically gathered from around the globe. That particular organization of matter in the photograph would have been impossible without something to guide it. Its true that the photo is made of all physical elements, none contradicting the laws of reality, but the way they are organized is impossible via the normally entropic workings of nature. The mind is similar; its creation is a product of so many various events that occur outside the physical nature of the brain, whether they are on pure chance or guided by the nature of the mind/brain up to that point. Looking at that photograph changes and adds memories, possibly my concept of photography, or maybe my knowledge of chemestry.

Another example is of pond, where a stick is blown from a tall tree into the water. The ripples of the water didnt occur spontaneously via the nature of water, but of the twig that splashed into it, an event caused by wind, caused by any number of weather effects. Somtimes (actually, most of the time) the nature of matter allows it to interact with other entities. The formation of life is essentially an entity whos nature is to preserve its existence, which began with some molecule that was self replicating by its nature. It survived simply because it could. Any molecule that couldnt reproduce itself obviously didnt last, just as there arent any species that act to their own destruction.

Check out my "strange story about the universe" in the productivity section for a more vivid example of this occuring.

Edited by ColdWontRise
Link to comment
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...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...