• apokrisis
    2.9k
    Have I once demanded that you "provide me with a proper theory of what constitutes this you"?JustSomeGuy

    And why not? That would be perfectly reasonable.

    Freewill is a debate that comes up every week here. Just last week I gave this general account that is worth recycling.

    Get back to basics. The sense of self is a perceptual contrast the brain has to construct so as to be able to perceive ... "the world". Even our immune and digestive systems have to encode some sense of what is self so as to know what is "other" - either other organisms that shouldn't be there, or the food the gut wants to break down. And so too, the brain has to form a sense of what is self to know that the world is other.

    A second basic of the evolved brain is that it is needs to rely on forward modelling the world. You probably think the brain is some kind of computer, taking in sensory data, doing some processing, then throwing up a conscious display. Awareness is an output. But brains are slow devices. It takes a fifth of a second to emit a well learnt habitual response to the world, and half a second to reach an attentional level of understanding and decision making. We couldn't even safely climb the stairs if we had to wait that long to process the state of the world.

    So instead, the brain relies on anticipation or prediction. It imagines how the world is likely to be in the next moment or so. So it is "conscious" of the world ahead of time. It has an "illusion" of the next split second just about to happen. That creates a feeling of zero lag - to the degree the predictions turn out right.

    And this forward modelling is necessary just to allow for a continual perceptual construction of our "self". We have to be able to tell that it is our turning head that causes the world to spin, and not the other way round. So when we are just about to shift our eyes or move our hand, a copy of that motor instruction is broadcast in a way that it can be subtracted from the sensory inputs that then follow. The self is created in that moment because it is the part we are subtracting from the flow of impressions. The world is then whatever stayed stable despite our actions.

    It is not hard to look at the cognitive architecture of brains and see the necessary evolutionary logic of its processing structure. And a running sense of self is just the flipside of constructing a running sense of the world.

    Then on top of that, brains have to deal with an actual processing lag. And the best way to deal with that is to forward-model the shit out of the world.

    Then on top of that, it is efficient to have a division of labour. The brain wants to do as much as it can out of learnt habit, and that then leaves slower responding attention to mop up whatever turns out to be novel, surprising or significant during some moment.

    That leads to consciousness having a logical temporal structure. You have some kind of conscious or attention-level set of expectations and plans at least several seconds out from a moment. About half a second out, attention is done and learnt, well-briefed, habit has to take over. It does detailed subconscious predicting and reacting. If someone steps into the road while you are driving, you hit the brakes automatically in about a fifth of a second. After that, attention level processing comes back into it. You can consciously note that thank god you are so quick on the brakes, and what was that crazy guy thinking, and why now is he looking angry at me, etc.

    So [conscious prediction [subconscious prediction [the moment] subconscious reaction] conscious reaction].

    This is all proven by psychological experiment. The whole issue of reaction times and processing times is what got experimental psychology started in the late 1800s.

    Where does human freewill come into it? Well what I've outlined is the evolution of the cognitive neurobiology. The basic logic is the same for all anmals with large brains. They all need to construct a running sense of self so as to have a running sense of what then constitutes "the world". They all have a division of labour where they can act out of fast learnt habit or slower voluntary attention.

    But humans are different in that we have evolved language and are essentially social creatures mentally organised by cultural evolution. Yes, memes.

    So now our perceptual sense of self takes on a social dimension. We learn to think of "ourselves" in terms of a wider social world that we are representing. We learn to "other" our biological selves - this running perceptual self with all its grubby biological intentionality - and see it from an imagined social point of view. We learn to be disembodied from our own bodies and take an introspective or third person stance on the fact we can make choices that our societies might have something strong to say about.

    So freewill is a social meme. It is the cultural idea that being a human self involves being able to perceive a difference between the "unthinking" selfish or biologocally instinctual level of action and a "thinking", socially informed, level of self-less action.

    An animal is a self in a simple direct fashion - a self only so far as needed to then perceive "a world". A human, through language, learns to perceive a world that has themselves in it as moral agent making individual choices. That then requires the individual to take "conscious responsibility" for their actions. Every action must be judged in terms of the contrast between "what I want to do" and "what I ought to do".

    So the idea of freewill is an ideal we strive to live up to. And yet the temporal structure of actual brain processes gives us plenty of dilemmas. We do have to rely on "subconscious" habit just for the sake of speed and efficiency. The gold standard of self-control is attention-level processing. But that is slow and effortful. However - as human culture has evolved - it has set the bar ever higher on that score. As a society, we give people less and less latitude for sloppy self-control, while also making their daily lives fantastically more complex.

    A hunter/gather level of decision making is pretty cruisey by comparison. You go with the flow of the group. Your personal identity is largely a tribal identity. You get away with what you can get away with.

    But then came institutionalised religion, stratified society, the complex demands of being a "self-actualising" being. A literal cult of freewill developed. The paradoxical cultural demand - in the modern Western tradition - is that we be "self-made".

    So sure, there must be some evolutionary logic to this. There must be a reason why the freewill meme is culturally productive. But the point also is that it is a psychologically unrealistic construct. It runs roughshod over the actual cognitive logic of the brain.

    We just shouldn't beat ourselves up for not being literally in charge of our actions at all times. We are designed to be in some kind of flow of action where we let well-drilled habit do its thing. And of course our minds will wander when we are being expected to consciously attend to the execution of stuff we can handle just as well out of habit. The idea that we can switch our concentration off and on "at will" just cuts against the grain of how the brain naturally wants to be. Attention is there for when things get surprising, dangerous, difficult, not for taking charge of the execution of the routine.

    So "freewill" sits at the centre of so much cultural hogwash. There is good cultural reasons for it as a meme. It is really to modern society's advantage to have us think about our "selves" in this disembodied fashion. It allows society to claim control over our most inadvertent or reflexive actions.

    But it is also a demonstrably unhealthy way to frame human psychology. If we just recognise that we have slower voluntary level planning and faster drilled habitual responses, then this unconscious vs conscious dilemma would not create so much existential angst.

    We are not a conscious ego in possible conflict with an unconscious id (and also under the yoke of a social super-ego). Our "self" is the skilled totality of everything the brain does to created a well-adapted flow of responses to the continually varying demands of living in the world - a world that is both a physical one and a social one for us as naturally social creatures.

    The actual freewill dilemma arose because Newtonian determinism appeared to make it paradoxical. If we are just meat machines, then how could we be selves that make our own rational or emotional choices?

    But physics has gone past such determinism. And the very fact that the brain has to forward model to keep up with the world means that it is not being neurally determined anyway. Its knowledge of how the world was an instant or two ago is certainly a constraint on the expectations it forms. But the very fact it has to start every moment with its best guess of the future, and act on that, already means we couldn't be completely deterministic devices even if we tried.

    Universal computation is logically deterministic. A programme - some structure of set rules and definite data - has to mechanically proceed from an input state, its initial conditions, to an output state.

    But the brain is not that kind of computer. So it is neither physically deterministic (as no physics is that in the LaPlacean sense), nor is it computationally deterministic.

    Thus "freewill" just isn't a real ontological problem. There is no metaphysical conflict. (Unless you are a dualist who believes "mind" to be a separate substance or spirit-stuff. And of course there are many who take that essentially religious view still. But for psychological science, there just isn't an ontological-strength problem.)
  • Dzung
    31
    OK then I must now accept it as rather a supernatural phenomenon than something clear cut, that serious people don't seem to have pleasures to analyze. It's a surprise so few decent researches about it, probably they cannot do much due to that super natural reason, though no claims it's super natural.
    The only one decent name I found is Baron Reichenbach who discovered the earth's magnet field that was accepted. Ironically In connection to this somnambulism, his researches led to Odic force and was badged as uneducated and deceitful - what a praise.
  • Pseudonym
    129


    But humans are different in that we have evolved language and are essentially social creatures mentally organised by cultural evolution. Yes, memes.

    No, many other animals have language and culture, chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants and rhesus monkeys have all been shown to have both language and cultural behaviours unique to their geography, learnt from parents, invented, modified and passed on. So if you want to make an argument that humans are different, you need to do more work than that. The rather clichéd "Our language/culture is more complex" is pretty weak without defining the level at which this happens and why.

    I have no argument with this;
    So freewill is a social meme. It is the cultural idea that being a human self involves being able to perceive a difference between the "unthinking" selfish or biologically instinctual level of action and a "thinking", socially informed, level of self-less action.
    but this,
    A human, through language, learns to perceive a world that has themselves in it as moral agent making individual choices. That then requires the individual to take "conscious responsibility" for their actions. Every action must be judged in terms of the contrast between "what I want to do" and "what I ought to do".
    does not follow logically. You have to presume, for this to work, that moral behaviour is in some way opposed to natural instinctive behaviour. I don't see any evidence for this. Much of a social animal's instinctive behaviour is exactly the sort of activity we would define as moral, and much considered actions taken under the illusion of free will are behaviours we would condemn as immoral.

    Putting that rather unsubstantiated assumption to one side though, your argument against determinism doesn't seem in any way related to the very neat and well-put outline of the self illusion above. You then say.

    But the very fact it has to start every moment with its best guess of the future, and act on that, already means we couldn't be completely deterministic devices even if we tried.

    This does not follow from anything you've said above about the illusion of self, but rather seems plucked out of thin air. Why would we presume that the brain's ability to model the future isn't entirely determined by the information is has gained up to the present and the current state of it's neural connections which together determine the picture it will generate of the future world?

    You seem to have taken a lot of very insightful information about the reason the brain creates such illusions and then simply concluded "therefore no determinism", without explaining your logical process at all.
  • apokrisis
    2.9k
    The rather clichéd "Our language/culture is more complex" is pretty weak without defining the level at which this happens and why.Pseudonym

    Cliched? Human language is articulate and syntactic. It is rule based symbolism so capable of unlimited combination. You are talking apples and oranges in claiming other species have “language”.

    You have to presume, for this to work, that moral behaviour is in some way opposed to natural instinctive behaviour. I don't see any evidence for this.Pseudonym

    It should be enough to mention #MeToo.

    Why would we presume that the brain's ability to model the future isn't entirely determined by the information is has gained up to the present and the current state of it's neural connections which together determine the picture it will generate of the future world?Pseudonym

    Yeah. We might make a guess that is determined by our best information. And then the guess turns out to be wrong.

    So I’m not arguing against the ability to constrain uncertainty. I’m attacking the presumption of absolute determinism - mechanistic understanding of physical and informational processes.

    The point of having a brain is to make the best choices, given an uncertain world. You seem determined to recover some kind of actual determinacy in what the brain does. But I am arguing from a systems science or hierarchy theory perspective where the causality of reality in general is understood in terms of constraints on degrees of freedom.

    It’s not just neurobiology. Even physics is not deterministic.
  • Pseudonym
    129
    So I’m not arguing against the ability to constrain uncertainty. I’m attacking the presumption of absolute determinism - mechanistic understanding of physical and informational processes.

    The point of having a brain is to make the best choices, given an uncertain world. You seem determined to recover some kind of actual determinacy in what the brain does. But I am arguing from a systems science or hierarchy theory perspective where the causality of reality in general is understood in terms of constraints on degrees of freedom.
    apokrisis

    I understand the position you're arguing from, and the aim of such a position, what I'm lacking is the actual argument.

    How is the brain's model of the future not determined entirely by the information it has at the current time and the neurological connections which represent its current responses to all the multitude of stimuli presented in the model?

    We frequently hear how physics is not determined, but no one has yet put forward a theory explaining how that has any impact on the human brain. It seems to lead to entirely predictable determined behaviour in everything larger than a single particle, which our brain certainly is.
  • apokrisis
    2.9k
    How is the brain's model of the future not determined entirely by the information it has at the current time and the neurological connections which represent its current responses to all the multitude of stimuli presented in the model?Pseudonym

    Explain to me how you think information exists in brains. What is brain information in your book - the kind that you are claiming to be mechanically deterministic?
  • Pseudonym
    129
    Explain to me how you think information exists in brains. What is brain information in your book - the kind that you are claiming to be mechanically deterministic?apokrisis

    I'm not making any claims, I'm trying to understand yours. Determinism is a belief of mine. As with any reasonable belief (in my opinion) I test that belief by trying to disprove it, so the only interest to me in your argument is the extent to which determinism is necessary. That's why I'm asking how you reached your conclusion. All you've presented so far is a vague "because fundamental particles cannot be measured, we must have free-will", which is fine if you're looking to simply justify an already held belief in indeterminacy, but not really a sufficient argument to ground its necessity.

    If the answer to your question helps you to explain your argument somehow, then for me information is the state of a collection of neurons, no different to the way information is the state of a collection of transistors in a computer. That state, together with inputs from the external system, determines the state in the next moment. Of course, given that this is a transition from one state to another, it could also be described as a process, but I see that as a semantic issue, not a metaphysical one.
  • apokrisis
    2.9k
    I'm not making any claims,Pseudonym

    Well you are in insisting that brain function is deterministic, even if that just means a deterministic computation, and even if that in turn just means the computations are deterministic guesswork about an undetermined reality.

    So you are very determined to make determinism true here, and reject my constraints-based, semiotic, approach where - as a metaphysical generality - all events can be only relatively deterministic and are unable to be absolutely deterministic.

    All you've presented so far is a vague "because fundamental particles cannot be measured, we must have free-will", which is fine if you're looking to simply justify an already held belief in indeterminacy, but not really a sufficient argument to ground its necessity.Pseudonym

    Haven't you got that back to front? If my position cashes out at a general metaphysical level against determinism, then in fact it is a necessity that some local bit of complex machinery - like a brain - operates with a constraints-based causality and not a mechanically determined one.

    So yes, quantum level indeterminacy is exhibit A. And then chaos theory and non-linear dynamics would be exhibit B.

    For me to take a strong position here, it is important that modern physics is now evidence against the Newtonian classical deterministic paradigm.

    If the answer to your question helps you to explain your argument somehow, then for me information is the state of a collection of neurons, no different to the way information is the state of a collection of transistors in a computer. That state, together with inputs from the external system, determines the state in the next moment. Of course, given that this is a transition from one state to another, it could also be described as a process, but I see that as a semantic issue, not a metaphysical one.Pseudonym

    So how would you go about measuring the state that is a collection of neurons?

    Or in a collection of transistors in a computer.

    And how would you know what the previous state was and the next state was of either. Would your "determinism" allow you to predict that using Newton's laws of motion? If not, what laws are you proposing that would connect one measured state to another measured state?

    If you can't answer these questions, you haven't got an argument.
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