Nate Smith

Free Will

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I'm curious about how to reconcile the idea of free will with the fact that the mind is physical and therefore follows physical laws. I know that Dr. Binswanger has given this a lot of thought, and I have read some of his comments on his HBL (which I'm not subscribed to currently). But I've read very little, and don't know much about his ideas. (Has he published anything on this?)

I recently had a conversation on this topic with someone who argued the standard position that any thought or action must have had some cause, and that thought/action must have had some cause, etc. While it seems, introspectively, that I have the volition with respect to my consciousness, I admit that I don't know how this could be possible given causality.

Perhaps people here can make a good case reconciling free will with natural law. And if anyone has knows of any good writings on this, please feel free to make a recommendation.

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I'm curious about how to reconcile the idea of free will with the fact that the mind is physical and therefore follows physical laws.

It is as easy to reconcile as the fact that living things are made up of non-living chemical elements or that you can combine two gasses like hydrogen and oxygen and get a liquid like water. It is often the case that combinations of existing things have properties, potentialities, and abilities -- called "emergent properties" -- that their constituents do not.

Thus, if you have a nervous system composed of physical parts in a particular physical arrangement, it can result in a conscious with the ability to control and direct its own operations.

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I'm curious about how to reconcile the idea of free will with the fact that the mind is physical and therefore follows physical laws. I know that Dr. Binswanger has given this a lot of thought, and I have read some of his comments on his HBL (which I'm not subscribed to currently). But I've read very little, and don't know much about his ideas. (Has he published anything on this?)

I recently had a conversation on this topic with someone who argued the standard position that any thought or action must have had some cause, and that thought/action must have had some cause, etc. While it seems, introspectively, that I have the volition with respect to my consciousness, I admit that I don't know how this could be possible given causality.

Perhaps people here can make a good case reconciling free will with natural law. And if anyone has knows of any good writings on this, please feel free to make a recommendation.

First premise to check: the mind is physical. The brain is physical, the mind is not. Second premise to check: actions are caused by entities. Volition is not an entity, it is a process of an attribute of an entity (consciousness). Thus, volition is caused by man. Third premise to check: causality is not determinism. Fourth premise to check: physical things follow physical laws. Which physical laws? Light does not follow Newtonian mechanics; how much does an inch weigh - what is its velocity? Ignorance of the physical laws that give rise to volition does not mean they are reducible to those laws that are known.

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I recently had a conversation on this topic with someone who argued the standard position that any thought or action must have had some cause, and that thought/action must have had some cause, etc. While it seems, introspectively, that I have the volition with respect to my consciousness, I admit that I don't know how this could be possible given causality.

Your thoughts and actions are not "uncaused": you cause them. Determinism does not mean 'causality'; it means you are not the cause, that your thoughts and actions are determined by forces outside of your control to choose.

The Objectivist explanation of free will is that it is located in your choice to focus your mind, i.e., to think. That is your basic choice, which you cause. A volitional mind is one that has the capacity to make such a choice, which is required for it to function properly in apprehending reality as a guide to actions. Free will does not mean the choice to choose anything you want to believe as an identification of reality, regardless of identity and its corollary causality -- and it does not mean you can cause actions contrary to identity and causality. You cannot 'freely choose' to make '2 + 2 = 5', and if you understand what numbers and arithmetic are and you are in focus, you can't believe it. In the realm of action you cannot choose to fly by flapping your toes. You choose to think, which means that you think in accordance with reality, or you don't.

The Objectivist position is a philosophical principle, not biology; there presently is no scientific physical explanation of how it works biologically through your brain and consciousness. You only know that you have the choice to focus.

For various sources on Ayn Rand's statements on free will see the Lexicon.

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It is as easy to reconcile as the fact that living things are made up of non-living chemical elements or that you can combine two gasses like hydrogen and oxygen and get a liquid like water. It is often the case that combinations of existing things have properties, potentialities, and abilities -- called "emergent properties" -- that their constituents do not.

I can see how it's possible to get emergent properties from combining things. But it's not like we're combining causally determined processes and getting a non-causally determined consequence. So I guess the question is, what is free will?

It seems like if free will is a causal process, then there's only one outcome that can result any given situation (or "brain state"). But doesn't this preclude free will? From Dr. Peikoff in p.15 of OPAR: “the same entity, under the same circumstances, will perform the same action.” If a given state in my brain (a cause) will result the same thought or action (the effect), then what is free will?

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First premise to check: the mind is physical. The brain is physical, the mind is not. Second premise to check: actions are caused by entities. Volition is not an entity, it is a process of an attribute of an entity (consciousness). Thus, volition is caused by man. Third premise to check: causality is not determinism. Fourth premise to check: physical things follow physical laws. Which physical laws? Light does not follow Newtonian mechanics; how much does an inch weigh - what is its velocity? Ignorance of the physical laws that give rise to volition does not mean they are reducible to those laws that are known.

Interesting comments. But I'm not sure where to go with most of them. Here are a couple questions to begin with:

What do you mean by "the mind is not physical"? And what are the consequences of that?

"Fourth premise to check: physical things follow physical laws. Which physical laws?"

I don't know. Are you saying the laws as we currently understand them don't allow for free will? Or is there some other point I'm missing?

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The Objectivist explanation of free will is that it is located in your choice to focus your mind, i.e., to think. That is your basic choice, which you cause.

I admit that I experience this to be true. But I am wondering how this is possible given causality.

I guess my thinking goes something like this: Let's say that the instant before I choose to focus my mind, my brain has some brain state. If we accept the principle “the same entity, under the same circumstances, will perform the same action,” and my brain is an entity under a certain set of circumstances, then the same action will always result. I will always make the same choice. Therefore it's not really a choice, and I didnt' exercise free will.

I do admit that I feel like I experience free will in choosing to focus my mind, but many philosophers will argue this is just an illusion.

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The "brain state" is the power to choose. The particular choice comes after considering the consequences of the options. The "power to choose" (volition) is the state of a normal brain. Your choices are uniquely tied to your experiences, values and options. The fact that one can change one's mind within seconds demonstrates that the only determining factor is what was considered, and one knows from experience that we can consider anything we want to.

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I do admit that I feel like I experience free will in choosing to focus my mind, but many philosophers will argue this is just an illusion.

You mean the people who chose to study free will?

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The Objectivist explanation of free will is that it is located in your choice to focus your mind, i.e., to think. That is your basic choice, which you cause.

I admit that I experience this to be true. But I am wondering how this is possible given causality.

I guess my thinking goes something like this: Let's say that the instant before I choose to focus my mind, my brain has some brain state. If we accept the principle “the same entity, under the same circumstances, will perform the same action,” and my brain is an entity under a certain set of circumstances, then the same action will always result. I will always make the same choice. Therefore it's not really a choice, and I didnt' exercise free will.

I do admit that I feel like I experience free will in choosing to focus my mind, but many philosophers will argue this is just an illusion.

How do they distinguish an illusion from a non-illusion (reality)? Without volition, they could not even form the concept of 'illusion' let alone consider the truth of an argument.

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The Objectivist explanation of free will is that it is located in your choice to focus your mind, i.e., to think. That is your basic choice, which you cause.

I admit that I experience this to be true. But I am wondering how this is possible given causality.

I guess my thinking goes something like this: Let's say that the instant before I choose to focus my mind, my brain has some brain state. If we accept the principle “the same entity, under the same circumstances, will perform the same action,” and my brain is an entity under a certain set of circumstances, then the same action will always result. I will always make the same choice. Therefore it's not really a choice, and I didnt' exercise free will.

I do admit that I feel like I experience free will in choosing to focus my mind, but many philosophers will argue this is just an illusion.

How do you go from "I will always make the same choice." to "Therefore it's not really a choice"? You are dropping the context of how the choice is made and equivocating on what 'choice' means. Let's consider an example. You are in a classroom and the teacher asks a question and then points at you to provide an answer. You can either focus on the meaning of the teachers words and think of a response or you can go into a fog and not exert any effort. Given that situation, you will not always make the same choice if you do not choose to focus. No matter how many times this situation occurs, if you choose to make the same choice, i.e., focus on the question and think of an answer, the choice is always made. How in the world can this be classified as "not really a choice"? The latter question switches the meaning of choice to a deterministic selection.

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First premise to check: the mind is physical. The brain is physical, the mind is not. Second premise to check: actions are caused by entities. Volition is not an entity, it is a process of an attribute of an entity (consciousness). Thus, volition is caused by man. Third premise to check: causality is not determinism. Fourth premise to check: physical things follow physical laws. Which physical laws? Light does not follow Newtonian mechanics; how much does an inch weigh - what is its velocity? Ignorance of the physical laws that give rise to volition does not mean they are reducible to those laws that are known.

Interesting comments. But I'm not sure where to go with most of them. Here are a couple questions to begin with:

What do you mean by "the mind is not physical"? And what are the consequences of that?

"Fourth premise to check: physical things follow physical laws. Which physical laws?"

I don't know. Are you saying the laws as we currently understand them don't allow for free will? Or is there some other point I'm missing?

1. I wasn't saying the mind is physical. That was your premise that I was challenging. What do you mean by the mind is physical? What is its weight, how long is it? How fast does it move?

2. I was saying that non-physical things do not follow physical laws. This is a sentence about tigers. Please describe how Newtonian mechanics applies to the meaning of the sentence.

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First premise to check: the mind is physical. The brain is physical, the mind is not.

What objective empirical procedure does one follow to determine whether another person has a mind? What is a mind made of? What are its laws of operation?

I participated in a study of the neurophysiology of elderly people done back in 2007 at Rutgers University. My wetworks were MRI scanned. PET scanned and meausred with an EEG. I have a lovely set of MRI pictures of my brain which was still juicy and devoid of fissures and gaps at the time it was made (no sign of Alzhiemer's Thank The Local Diety!). I was questioned, poked, probed and (as I said) multiply scanned. I asked the head neurophysiologist who was running the study if he detected a mind in my head. He looked at me funny like. I said to him, if I have a mind you should be able to see it with all that fancy expensive equipment. I never really did get an answer I found to be satisfying.

Interesting side incident. In looking at my amigdala, he asked me if I have ever been diagnosed for any kind of autism, particularly Aspberger's Syndrome. I told him I had. Apparently he saw some anomalies that made him think I had the condition.

Bottom line: he saw some physical features of my brain that led him to suspect I might have some kind of high functioning autism. If he could get that from an MRI, it is strange (at least it seems so, to me) that he could not detect a mind in my head.

By the way. I am 5' 8'' tall and weight 195 lb. By dividing 195 by 68 I can tell you pretty accurately what an inch of me weighs.

ruveyn

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First premise to check: the mind is physical. The brain is physical, the mind is not.

What objective empirical procedure does one follow to determine whether another person has a mind? What is a mind made of? What are its laws of operation?

ruveyn

Listen to Morse code. It is nothing more than bursts of static. That is it's physical manifestation and that is all you seem to see in it. But it can contain information. The "thing" that sees that information is the mind. Likewise, in the brain are bursts of neuron static, and you think that is all there is to it. But, just as intelligence can flow from Morse, a mind can flow from neuron activity.

Now you tell me the physical attributes of the information (not the carrier) in a Morse signal.

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First premise to check: the mind is physical. The brain is physical, the mind is not.

What objective empirical procedure does one follow to determine whether another person has a mind? What is a mind made of? What are its laws of operation?

I'm not going to debate this with you again, Ruveyn. You've explained privately why you can't grasp the concept so unless you're will to make it public, I will let this go.

I participated in a study of the neurophysiology of elderly people done back in 2007 at Rutgers University. My wetworks were MRI scanned. PET scanned and meausred with an EEG. I have a lovely set of MRI pictures of my brain which was still juicy and devoid of fissures and gaps at the time it was made (no sign of Alzhiemer's Thank The Local Diety!). I was questioned, poked, probed and (as I said) multiply scanned. I asked the head neurophysiologist who was running the study if he detected a mind in my head. He looked at me funny like. I said to him, if I have a mind you should be able to see it with all that fancy expensive equipment. I never really did get an answer I found to be satisfying.

Interesting side incident. In looking at my amigdala, he asked me if I have ever been diagnosed for any kind of autism, particularly Aspberger's Syndrome. I told him I had. Apparently he saw some anomalies that made him think I had the condition.

Bottom line: he saw some physical features of my brain that led him to suspect I might have some kind of high functioning autism. If he could get that from an MRI, it is strange (at least it seems so, to me) that he could not detect a mind in my head.

By the way. I am 5' 8'' tall and weight 195 lb. By dividing 195 by 68 I can tell you pretty accurately what an inch of me weighs.

ruveyn

I put your brain on a balance scale, and it only told me how much it weighed. No matter what I did, the scale would not tell me how long your brain was. I questioned and poked and probed it, and it would not yield your length.

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Paul says:

I'm not going to debate this with you again, Ruveyn. You've explained privately why you can't grasp the concept so unless you're will to make it public, I will let this go.

ruveyn replies:

Surely you must have some objective empirical evidence to support your view. Would you share it with us?

That question is a fair question regardless of how much or how little I understand.

If you claim something to be the case, then on what evidence do you declare it?

ruveyn

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Paul says:

I'm not going to debate this with you again, Ruveyn. You've explained privately why you can't grasp the concept so unless you're will to make it public, I will let this go.

ruveyn replies:

Surely you must have some objective empirical evidence to support your view. Would you share it with us?

That question is a fair question regardless of how much or how little I understand.

If you claim something to be the case, then on what evidence do you declare it?

ruveyn

Without the ability to introspect, none is possibile to you.

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Paul says:

I'm not going to debate this with you again, Ruveyn. You've explained privately why you can't grasp the concept so unless you're will to make it public, I will let this go.

ruveyn replies:

Surely you must have some objective empirical evidence to support your view. Would you share it with us?

That question is a fair question regardless of how much or how little I understand.

If you claim something to be the case, then on what evidence do you declare it?

ruveyn

Just out of curiosity, if you were color blind, let's say you couldn't see red. Would you hold that there was no such color because there was no evidence for it as far as you could see?

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Ruveyn,

You're guilty of one of the crucial mistakes that have thrown the field of psychology so off track, that is, you're rejecting introspection (they claim it's unscientific.

From a paper by Watson, father of Behaviorism:

An Examination of Consciousness. From the time of Wundt on, consciousness becomes the keynote of psychology. It is the keynote to-day. It has never been seen, touched, smelled, tasted, or moved. It is a plain assumption just as unprovable as the old concept of the soul. And to the Behaviorist the two terms are essentially identical, so far as their metaphysical implications are concerned.

To show how unscientific is the concept, look for a moment at William James' definition of psychology: "Psychology is the description and explanation of states [p. 15] of consciousness as such." Starting with a definition which assumes what he starts out to prove, he escapes his difficulty by an argumentum ad hominum. "Consciousness -- oh, yes, everybody must know what this 'consciousness' is." When we have a sensation of red, a perception, a thought, when we will to do something, or when we purpose to do something, or when we desire to do something, we are being conscious.

http://psychcentral.com/classics/Watson/Battle/watson.htm

This is how, as the great Dr Locke put it once, the field of psychology has ended up rejecting its own subject matter.

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Ruveyn,

You're guilty of one of the crucial mistakes that have thrown the field of psychology so off track, that is, you're rejecting introspection (they claim it's unscientific.

Why not blame a blind man for rejecting sight?

But soft... How does one get an intersubjective verification of an introspection.

In physical science this is done by an independent investigator replicating the results of an experiment that someone else did.

How do you corroborate an introspection which takes place only in your head and can be seen or accessed by no one else?

If a physicist ever went to a conference or colloquium and presented an introspection as support for a theory without an experiment and a replication of it he would be laughed out of the trade

ruveyn

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Why not blame a blind man for rejecting sight?

Why not come up with a proper analogy, say, studying the causes of blindness without looking at any of the mechanisms involved in eye sight?

How do you corroborate an introspection which takes place only in your head and can be seen or accessed by no one else?

That consciousness can't be put in a test tube - Watson's line - doesn't mean that we can't study it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

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Ruveyn,

You're guilty of one of the crucial mistakes that have thrown the field of psychology so off track, that is, you're rejecting introspection (they claim it's unscientific.

Why not blame a blind man for rejecting sight?

But soft... How does one get an intersubjective verification of an introspection.

In physical science this is done by an independent investigator replicating the results of an experiment that someone else did.

How do you corroborate an introspection which takes place only in your head and can be seen or accessed by no one else?

If a physicist ever went to a conference or colloquium and presented an introspection as support for a theory without an experiment and a replication of it he would be laughed out of the trade

ruveyn

Experiment and replication depend upon a method of scientific inquiry: an epistemology, which requires introspection. No scientist can work without being aware of his method, whether he acknowledges it or not in his work. Even if you cannot perform it, for you to deny and attack method indicates a systematic problem with your method. You seem to indicate that knowledge just pops into your brain with no consciousness, no method, by no means. If you don't see the error in your position, then you need to go back to the drawing board. Method and introspection are areas of philosophy, and you have acknowledge an inability to grasp such things. Unfortunately, you don't appear to be willing to acknowledge that others can and do.

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Ruveyn,

You're guilty of one of the crucial mistakes that have thrown the field of psychology so off track, that is, you're rejecting introspection (they claim it's unscientific.

-------

How do you corroborate an introspection which takes place only in your head and can be seen or accessed by no one else?

---

ruveyn

By listening to what others say about their method of acquiring knowledge. How does it get inside your brain in the first place? In other posts you've demonstrated you are an empiricist and in others you've demonstrated you're an intrinsicist. Not surprising when you don't acknowledge using a method.

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