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Determinism as presented by Dr. Robert Sapolsky

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32 minutes ago, Doug Morris said:

What is the definition of free will?

 

"Free will--in the widest meaning of the term--is the doctrine that human beings are capable of performing actions that are not determined by forces outside their control, that we are capable of making choices that are not necessitated by antecedent factors".

N Branden HtS

(His footnote, that his explanation is "...closest to the concept of volition proposed by Ayn Rand but differs from hers in that Rand identifies the choice to focus exclusively with the choice to think, to engage in a process of explicit reasoning, whereas ... my own view of the choice to focus is considerably broader").

 

Edited by whYNOT
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I'd venture in keeping with both NB and AR, that Rand's "the volitional consciousness" - which would draw blank stares from most free will-ers and determinists - is the core component and principle of free will, as recognized generally. From which Branden widens his scope for his psychological purposes.

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2 hours ago, whYNOT said:

I'd venture in keeping with both NB and AR, that Rand's "the volitional consciousness" - which would draw blank stares from most free will-ers and determinists - is the core component and principle of free will, as recognized generally. From which Branden widens his scope for his psychological purposes.

The two phrases have the same meaning though, although volitional consciousness is more exact and philosophical. 

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6 hours ago, Doug Morris said:

What is the definition of free will?

 

 

On 3/29/2024 at 10:14 PM, Boydstun said:

. . . Free will is the idea that in some states we (the control system that is us) could have chosen another alternative to the one we chose. In those states, we were free to choose among various alternatives. I use the standard no-ambiguity definitions of determinism and free will in modern times in this post. . . .

 

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9 hours ago, EC said:

The two phrases have the same meaning though, although volitional consciousness is more exact and philosophical. 

I used to use them interchangeably but was never fully satisfied. "Man is a being of volitional consciousness" - states precisely the condensed, metaphysical core of man's nature. i.e. one doesn't reason automatically, we have to raise our consciousness by choice, so conceptualizing, character forming.

The "broader" sphere of free will involves ALL choices made, sourced from that original O'ist tenet.

I suggest the first is absolute and necessary, free will is dependent.

Snips from Branden which bears this out (I think)

"Freedom [of will] does not mean causelessness; this point must be stressed. A volitional choice is not causeless. It is caused by the person who makes the choice, and the choice entails an enormity of issues:

[He lists many, starting familiarly with "Focusing versus non-focusing" and ending with "Concern with congruence versus disregard of contradictions" -and- "Reason versus irrationalism; respect for logic, consistency, coherence and evidence, versus disregard"].

[Recalls "A man has free choice to the extent he is rational" by Aquinas].

and the telling point here:

"Our freedom is neither absolute nor unlimited, however. There are many factors that can make the appropriate exercise of our consciousness easier or harder. Some of these factors may be genetic, biological. Others are developmental. The environment can support and encourage the healthy assertion of consciousness or it can oppose and undermine it"...

Etc.

(The "will" is "free", but reality ain't, to my simple mind -- one cannot *always* attain *everything* wished for by the power of will. Yet - nothing can be accomplished without it)

(Excerpts from Honoring the Self).

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Øyvind has wondered, as he posed to me in a personal message, whether determinism can even have an epistemology. He wonders "isn't that a contradiction within itself?" He is pleased to have our PM exchange posted here.

My response:

Quote

 

I agree that when we are talking in our usual way about how we get knowledge, determinism seems to preclude it.

If someone tosses me an object about the size of a baseball, I'll catch it with my left hand. I can say, "I know how to catch." It's in me in a very automatic way from when I played some baseball in grammar school. Similarly, I suppose we could say that squirrels know how to get beechnuts out of that tree and how to get pears out of our pear tree. Although in their case, we are less likely to speak of them knowing how to do those things, than simply saying they can do those things.

After Röntgen discovered x-rays, he was asked by the press what he had thought when he first found that his photographic plates that had been sealed up with protective paper had been exposed there in his lab where he was experimenting with cathode rays. He replied "I did not think. I investigated." It is natural to think he freely chose that he was going to investigate, straightaway, and, too, exercised some creativity employing his background knowledge and sought what things were possibly pertinent to an investigation. It is extremely implausible to me that his decision to investigate and his followthrough could behind the scenes be something determined. He has real engineering alternatives before him, which he can freely choose and which to do first and which next things to do upon getting some first new information from early results.

To say that each decision in his succession of engineering moves, laboratory experiments, is determined does not strike me as a plausible fit with the intelligent expeditious course we see play out with him and with investigations everyday.

The argument that knowledge, such as knowledge concerning X-rays, requires free will because such knowledge is inconsistent with determinism seems about right to me. That was the pattern of argument in Nathaniel Branden's old essay "The Contradiction of Determinism" and pattern close also to the conclusion in our discussion that communication attempts are pointless if the parties are determined to think the things they think, which between them are contradictory. I'm not sure but what the whole idea of truth or a target dissolves or should dissolve under the determinist position.

For now I think of the connection between determinism and the possibility of knowledge more in terms of vast implausibility of their joint correctness, rather than directing my efforts at showing a flat contradiction between determinism and the possibility of high-level knowledge. In the case of the X-rays, it is not only the mountain of determinacies that would have to come together for Röntgen to have been in that circumstance to encounter the anomaly and design investigation concerning it, there is a whole mountain range of determinacies that had to have come together for the development, the useful development, of X-ray lasers in the many decades since Röntgen.

And I think I've got the right diagnosis for why determinists continue in their take despite all its implausibility. It is because they do not know of and accept the existence of contingencies in the course of physical courses in inanimate nature—the independent intersecting causal streams I mentioned in our discussion. And they do not get the need for there to be such contingency in the world in order for there to be any engineering-type systems in the world. All naturally living systems are such engineering-type systems. Given that there is that need for life to exist and given that there is contingency, not only determinism, in physics-nature and organism-nature, the physical ground is well prepared, inside and outside the animal, for free will to dawn as deliberate designers, the humans, arise.

 

Branden's essay was in the May 1963 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter. It is reprinted as §III of Chapter IV of The Psychology of Self-Esteem. In the January 1964 issue of ON, he had a piece "The Objectivist Concept of Free Will versus the Traditional Concepts."

Øyvind has a determinist friend who would deny that there are any alternative actions confronting the human engineer or experimental physicist were we to know more in detail all the determinist going-ons in the situation. This is kind of what I should expect from a determinist. They, like so many others, do not get the idea that living things face alternatives and that such a thing as alternatives (say fight or flight) do not exist in the world except in the situation of a living thing confronted with the world. And if they do not see that, then there is no deliberate human free will set in a living animal (us) ranging over in mind any alternatives.

Edited by Boydstun
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Branden's essay was in the May 1963 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter. It is reprinted as §III of Chapter IV of The Psychology of Self-Esteem. In the January 1964 issue of ON, he had a piece "The Objectivist Concept of Free Will versus the Traditional Concepts."

 

I can see that he wrote it, but the link only goes so far as to Januar 1963. FYI

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Oops!

Not to worry, as that essay is in The Psychology of Self-Esteem.

(PSE was originally published in 1969. It contains a lot of his works he first produced in the The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist earlier in that decade.)

Objectivist philosopher Ben Bayer has also addressed the need of free will for knowledge here.

Edited by Boydstun
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On 3/28/2024 at 7:03 PM, Boydstun said:

. . . The level of neuroscience he parlays is nowhere near what the educated reading public has received from neuroscientists Edelman (The Remembered Present), Damasio (The Feeling of What Happens), or Freeman (How Brains Make Up Their Minds). . . .

I happened across another one in my library important to include in that list:

The Neural Basis of Free Will – Criterial Causation (MIT 2013) by Peter Ulric Tse. 

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