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James Brody
October 12th, 2005, 06:15 PM
Intelligent Design and Why Not

"The universe is synchronized and integrated in a manner that reflects intelligence." Of course, this worm covers a hook, a belief that design implies "a designer." Creationists swallow that hook and expect the rest of us to do likewise even though we have a different set of genes and a different set of beliefs.

The Victorians faced a similar confusion. That is, cathedrals and species spilled from a top-down organizer called architect or God. Lots of people knew that oaks grow from acorns but few of those same people considered both St. Paul's and Thom Huxley to be emergents from millennia of simpler organizations, organizations that survived, reproduced, and formed the mosaics for even larger organizations.

A second problem for the Victorians: a clever designer would not waste resources on mistakes. The next stone, a very short step in the middle of this stream, was to conclude that whatever is, is meant to be. According to Loren Eiseley, (1961) fossils, however, provided a substantial challenge to this second idea: the designer became a collage-maker who threw away far more than he saved, a wanderer who frequently traveled down several roads at the same time!

First, the persistence of "Designer Thinking" likely comes from a mental adaptation that shows itself in subtle ways. For example, train a monkey to press a lever for food but have him work in the company of an idle monkey. Shock the worker and he immediately bites the second monkey! A second example: a mother explained a recent earthquake to her young daughter. The explanation was said to be scientific but the little girl later told her father, "A nasty man made the ground shake!" Flip Wilson's antic manic loveable Geraldine exclaimed "The Devil made me do it!" She made us laugh but she also hinted of a far deeper truth about our mentation. We blame males for big events and save the bland PR to those clever round liars, females. Our rendering God as a male rests not on sexism but on fear of our universe. And the "design people" merely follow their instincts and strive for the same outcomes as a Victorian!

Second, I suggest that Intelligent Design will be challenged best when the physics people show us the fossils left by failed universes: designs that represent exploratory throws of the dice, grand experiments that sometimes produced an Earth but also left a trail of abortions, misfits, and failures. Could it be that Dark Matter represents outcomes wherein both the organization of energy and its measured release failed to emerge! Or that black holes are gateways to chaos and stasis on scales that we have not encountered before? Or will we see Neptune and Earth as equally evolved organizations but for different niches?

Physicists might also give a developmental path, a Chain of Being, for suns, planets, and varied types of matter. And how wonderful if we also describe a recapitulation model in which changes in solar systems parallel or somehow repeat the changes that occur in planets!

Finally, they need the equivalent to a "gene": an organizer, a transcriber, a collector and arranger for surrounding materials, a local spider that makes webs from the elemental particles in his immediate vicinity.

Of course, none of this stuff will change the minds of individuals who look for a Designer: their search reflects a gene for flocking and flocks too easily imply a leader and carriers of that gene go nuts if environment doesn't permit one. Even clumps fo grass must have had a first blade! (One alternative finds leadership to be dispersed in a collective intelligence, a whole that depends on sync and synergy between its members as they follow simple rules. The rules for "boids" is an example: "fly toward the middle" and "don't hit another boid." A flock, a school, or a congregation emerge. Thus, it might be that no one duck knows the entire route to Florida. Or does every single duck have receptors that track subtle differences in visible light, differences that correlate with the seasons? Scatter the flock and its members all hit the same pond in the Everglades at about the same time. A relatively simple tool once more replaces a Great Schemer!)

References
Ball, P. (2004) Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another. NY: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.
Eiseley, L. (1961) Darwin's Century: Evolution and the Men Who Discovered It. NY: Doubleday. (Still a splendid introduction to Hutton, Lyell, Hutton, Ray, Chambers, and many others. JB)
Gaulin, S. & McBurney, D. (2001) Psychology: An Evolutionary Approach. NY: Prentice Hall. (Limited speculation on the evolutionary foundations for causality. Not sure anyone picked up on their lead.)
Wilson, Flip (1960s). Wherever he is now.

Copyright, James Brody, 2005, all rights reserved.

Fred H.
October 14th, 2005, 12:45 PM
Hey JimB, waddup? I finally was banned from the atheist forum—I think it was my lack of reverence for their belief in chance, not to mention my occasional lack of tact.

JimB: Creationists swallow that hook and expect the rest of us to do likewise even though we have a different set of genes and a different set of beliefs.
Yes, there does seem to be a “different set of beliefs” among various groups of folk, although I don’t know how much of that difference we can actually blame on a “different set of genes”—brothers have been fighting turf wars and slaughtering one another for millennia.

JimB: Second, I suggest that Intelligent Design will be challenged best when the physics people show us the fossils left by failed universes: designs that represent exploratory throws of the dice, grand experiments that sometimes produced an Earth but also left a trail of abortions, misfits, and failures. Could it be that Dark Matter represents outcomes wherein both the organization of energy and its measured release failed to emerge! Or that black holes are gateways to chaos and stasis on scales that we have not encountered before? Or will we see Neptune and Earth as equally evolved organizations but for different niches?
Yeah, actual science/evidence for infinite universe(s) would help—but then with randomness and the infinite universe(s), everything is possible, including a universe where elephants wear pink dresses and atheists outbreed Mormons. Unfortunately however, for those who believe in infinite universes, the current science/evidence actually points only to one universe having one beginning, from a singularity 14 billion years ago, having inexplicably low entropy.

Here’s a short (4½ pages) piece you may or may not be interested in—a July 2005 paper on the Arrow of Time and initial conditions: http://xxx.lanl.gov/PS_cache/gr-qc/pdf/0507/0507094.pdf , Robert M Wald, Enrico Fermi Institute and Dept of Physics, U. of Chicago—the paper notes that entropy at the time of the BB was extremely low, that the “initial state of the observable portion of our universe at/near the BB was “very special”—and argues that it “it is not plausible that these special initial conditions have a dynamical origin [e.g., inflation scenario, currently a popular view among many cosmologists, essentially requiring infinite random cosmic farts that eventually result in our universe].”

James Brody
October 22nd, 2005, 12:45 PM
Fred,

You and Shelly are welcome anytime the other bars throw you out...

I grant you that it's peculiar to believe in alternate universes but it's also peculiar to believe in only this one. The data are still out. Selection appears so damned flexible and so damned opportunistic.

Brothers against brothers .... only 50% related. Replays of sibling rivalry? The challenge to genes might arise from the fact that identical twins are usually soul mates rather than bitter rivals for the same resources...therein lurks a prize to be won.

Even your devil might choose the most able sinners and roast them one way but we mediocre types another. Would Lucifer turn up the heat for his nearest competitor or welcome her as an ally? And if the latter, imagine the bitterness in cooking your soulmate or in making her scream without screwing her.

A hot question, no doubt. Could get me cooked by a mullah someday!

My best to you both...

Jim

Fred H.
December 2nd, 2005, 10:58 AM
JimB: I grant you that it's peculiar to believe in alternate universes but it's also peculiar to believe in only this one….

It’s been said that the devil is in the details. But then the principle of parsimony, not to mention a lack of evidence, seems to preclude any rational belief in multiple universes . . . or devils. I find it more reasonable to believe in the 14 billion year old universe that we seem to perceive and find ourselves in, the inexplicably low entropy at the beginning, and, of course, first cause—infinite universes and devils are just too peculiar, unsubstantiated, and extravagant.

James Brody
December 3rd, 2005, 09:57 PM
Fred...

I have a traditional Catholic client who asserted: "It is no more rational to believe in a big bang than it is to believe in a creator."

I agreed with him and find that your point reminds me of his. if you insist on a creator, why limit His, never Her, ability in regard to the number of universes?

And the phase transition idea that works so well in physics and in cognition seems adaptable to the evolution of universes...a narrow range of conditions favor chaotic or rigid organizations. Neither of them evolve. And one key variable for pliant, exploratory organizations is the average number of interconnections between participants. About 2.5 worked for Stu Kauffman's simulations, it also appears in many power law descriptions of emergent networks that are characterized by clustering and by close connectivity, a set of relationships that resist jamming...

I dare not believe that so much can unfold from such basic stuff, but just maybe we are on the verge of understanding some very fundamental stuff...

PS: I think I love your wife....

Jim

Fred H.
December 5th, 2005, 04:44 PM
I’m inclined to agree that it’s no more, nor no less, “rational to believe in the big bang than it is to believe in a creator"—the current science/evidence points to the one 14 billion year old entropy-only-increases universe that we find ourselves in; and implications of first cause, I think, are unavoidable.

Shortly after we got engaged (after several dates), and the news was out, two of my betrothed’s old boyfriends also proposed to her—I’m not sure how serious they were, but it does seem that guys often miss the mark, wasting energy on coveting, and multiplying entities beyond necessity.

Of course with infinite universes and “randomness,” the probability of a universe like ours, where Shelley marries me, is 1—and sure enough, here we are—as is the probability of other universes, where Shelley instead marries someone else. So with infinite universes, not only are all things possible, all things are 100% probable, with little need for Yahweh. Oh happy day . . . I’m reminded of that old favorite:
Now that ain't workin' that's the way you do it,
You play the guitar on that MTV.
That ain't workin' that's the way you do it,
Money for nothin' and your chicks for free.
I want my, I want my, I want my MTV.
But alas, the many universes scenario lacks evidence, science, and elegance. Besides, isn’t one universe, like one wife, more than enough? Nevertheless, if my liver completely shuts down, then you and the others may have an opportunity . . . but probably not—for as my beloved has occasionally said, “Once you go Fred, you never go back.

sk8rgrl23
December 14th, 2005, 12:23 PM
This is all nothign more than a splitting of hairs, the underlying motive being to banish anything from our schools that contradicts the literal word of the Bible. Some people can't tolerate the idea that they will have to send their children forth into the world to be faced with new ideas, and God forbid! end up raising questions their narrow-minded parents can't answer. the whole argument about a higher power creating all this is a false argument, as many if not most evolutionary scientists have a beilef in a higher power and see no conflict with evolution and God.

James Brody
December 17th, 2005, 03:40 PM
There are data "somewhere" that most biologists are atheists, most astronomers are theists...

JB

James Brody
December 17th, 2005, 03:45 PM
Bak is a Dane, he's also a physicist who pushed the idea of "self-organized criticality" but with mixed success among his peers.

I recently got Bak's 1996 (a VERY good year for books on evolution) and found this quote that made me think of Fred.

P. 86. Re conservatism in science:

"I once raised this issue among a group, not of geophysicists, but of cosmologists at a high table dinner at the Churchill College in Cambridge. "Why is it that you guys are so conservative in your views, in the face of the almost complete lack of understanding of what is going on in your field?" The answer was as simple as it was surprising. "If we don't accept some common view of the universe, however unsupported by the facts (emph added), there would be nothing to bind us together as a scientific community. Since it is unlikely that any picture that we use will be falsified in our lifetimes, one theory is as good as any other."

As Pinker (2002) remarked, our reasoning can be a spin-doctor.

JB

Bak, P. (1996) How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality. NY: Springer-Verlag.
Pinker, S. (2002) The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. NY: Viking.

Charles McNeil
December 22nd, 2005, 12:13 PM
This is all nothign more than a splitting of hairs, the underlying motive being to banish anything from our schools that contradicts the literal word of the Bible. Some people can't tolerate the idea that they will have to send their children forth into the world to be faced with new ideas, and God forbid! end up raising questions their narrow-minded parents can't answer. the whole argument about a higher power creating all this is a false argument, as many if not most evolutionary scientists have a beilef in a higher power and see no conflict with evolution and God.

I'm reminded of an aboriginal belief in existance, but I would describe it differently: reality rests on the back of a "higher power" and it's higher powers all the way up! :D

Fred H.
December 23rd, 2005, 10:10 AM
CM: I'm reminded of an aboriginal belief in existance, but I would describe it differently: reality rests on the back of a "higher power" and it's higher powers all the way up! :D

I’m reminded of an inflationist belief in the infinite universe(s)—the probability of our universe, and indeed all universes, is 1. (See http://xxx.lanl.gov/PS_cache/gr-qc/pdf/0507/0507094.pdf , July 2005 paper on the Arrow of Time and initial conditions by Robert M Wald, Enrico Fermi Institute and Dept of Physics, U. of Chicago.)

And it’s universes all the way up, down, and sideways. :D

Fred H.
December 23rd, 2005, 11:07 AM
sk8: This is all nothign more than a splitting of hairs, the underlying motive being to banish anything from our schools that contradicts the literal word of the Bible.
Undoubtedly there are those with fundamentalist creationism agendas. But the larger issue is that neo-Darwinianism, as it is generally presented in it's current mutation—essentially a directionless evolution resulting from random mutation and an indefinable natural selection—inescapably points towards a universe that is best described by it’s current high priest, Richard Dawkins: "In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference."
However, many great physicists, undoubtedly smarter and better equipped to make such judgments than Dawkins or pretty much any biologist, have seen things differently—
Einstein: “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man....”

Max Planck: “There is no matter as such! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.”

Roger Penrose, the eminently qualified Oxford physicist who wrote The Road to Reality, A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, 2005, “The most complete mathematical explanation of the universe yet published,” has stated elsewhere: "I would say the universe has a purpose. It's not there just somehow by chance."

alexandra_k
January 11th, 2006, 11:47 PM
If science is the study of the natural world, then what caused the first event in the natural world is always going to lie beyond science. But what lies beyond science is not part of science and thus should not be part of the science curriculum. I think it is a tricky one because there are different versions of the intelligent design hypothesis. The trouble is that they seem to be either false or to lie beyond science. The limits of science are an interesting matter but I am not in favour of diluting the science curriculum in order to teach it in the schools. It is a subject matter for philosophy of religion and philosophy of science which might be interesting as an option, and can certainly be studied at university. But evolution by natural selection is a complicated topic and most students don't seem to have an adequate understanding of it. To dilute the science curriculum is likely to lead to even more misunderstandings of the theory.

I do find it interesting how people respond to the idea that there is no intentionality / mentality in the world that is independent of what humans (as beings with minds) project on to it.

Okay so there is no goodness or caring in the world-in-itself...
But there is no badness or malevolent intent either.

And as for the physicists... It used to be thought that they studied the nature of mind independent reality. Then we started to grasp that they study our observations of reality (hence inter-subjective reality). Hence our projections of meaning / purpose / intentionality may well be an integral part of our experience of the world. And the world-in-itself lies beyond our understanding as a matter of definition...

Margaret McGhee
January 12th, 2006, 11:54 AM
As I understand it, intellignce is used for only one thing in the whole of the universe (that I know of) - to help creatures who have some of it choose the best alternatives from those available by making better predictions.

Or, it has the same function as a cheetah's speed or any other evolutionary adaptation - to increase the chance that the cheetah's DNA will appear in future generations of cheetah-like creatures.

This raises the question in my mind of why an omnipotent immortal God would need to have intelligence (if Her decisions could not kill Her or reduce Her fitness). Or why she would have a need to use that intelligence to design other mortal creatures and then have to share Her space with the disgustingly flawed results. Seems like a lot of trouble just to make Her life complicated.

I mean one day She's sitting there reading a good book, enjoying a cosmic latte - and the next She's got people trying to mug Her and sell Her shit, and a humongous extended family with serious relationship problems looking for special favors.

Seems like a pretty unintelligent thing to do.

James Brody
January 14th, 2006, 06:39 PM
"But then the principle of parsimony, not to mention a lack of evidence, seems to preclude any rational belief in multiple universes ."

I think Lewontin pointed out that nature is not parsimonious even though human beliefs attempt such in science. Occam's razor emasculates sexual selection: the displays that Geoff Miller described as an underpinning for human smarts and that Pinker called a "spin doctor."

Jim

James Brody
January 14th, 2006, 06:44 PM
As to "intelligence"
Please consider arguments that it's about getting laid, not about making the "best choices." Geoff Miller supplies many planks that support that argument. Consider also intelligence as a weapon in social contests: we need to be bright in order to survive the company of other cheaters. And the idea that intelligence and language grew as replacements for grooming. And finally my own, and therefore favorite hunch: intelligence is one of many many exploratory systems that baton our development...

Thanks for being here!

JimB

Margaret McGhee
January 15th, 2006, 03:15 AM
Hi JimB, Thanks for the welcome.

You said,

Please consider arguments that it's about getting laid, not about making the "best choices."

From reading that and several of your other essays here I suspect we have some fundamentally different ideas about how the human mind works.

But first, it seems to me that what it’s about – is trying to increase the probability that more of our DNA will appear in succeeding generations riding around in cells within descendents that can do the same. And that is not necessarily just boinking. First, one has to live to sexual maturity. By that time a person will have made several million choices - like not to crap in the cave and not to irritate that lion and to sit under a tree at mid-day and not to drink water from that puddle.

Then, if you make enough of those good choices to live to boinking age there’s the question of whom to boink. There have been few primate societies where boinkees are an unlimited resource.

I would assume that the sweet young thing with the clear complexion would likely produce more healthy offspring for a hunky hunter than that older one with the missing teeth. But the young one has no dowry or lineage – and she has a jealous suitor who wields a mean club. The older one is the chief’s widowed daughter whose offspring will surely get the royal treatment should they be born - and whose husband will gain great status. Ah, choices, choices. Most of them better be good ones too because one wrong choice can kill you long before your first sperm finds an egg.

And the more intelligent human will probably make better choices. Possibly even choices that would lead to less pleasurable or even less frequent boinking, but a greater chance that more of his or her DNA will be riding around in the cells of fit future offspring.

Certainly males and females have different mating strategies but in terms of the energy spent and the risks taken in life I'd say both men and women spend thousands of times more of that making and acting on choices that are not directly associated with boinking than those that are - don’t you think? OK, frat boys and travelling salesmen excepted. ;)

PS - I've always considered baton a noun and that makes your favorite hunch unintelligible for me. I need a clue.

James Brody
January 15th, 2006, 12:21 PM
I think we agree on basics but focus differently on proximate and distal motives. I also side-tracked on the "choices" phrase because of my annoyance with current educational blather about "teaching kids to make good choices."

Anyhow, Bob Trivers captured the essence in one of his talks at a Princeton meeting of Georgetown Family Systems group: He stood tall in front of this mostly female, mostly social-worker audience, bent backwards, grabbed his testicles, lifted them upwards, and proclaimed, "I'm working for these."

Glad he did it, I would have been too embarrassed...

As to "baton": you can figure it out. Also consult Pinker on the Language Instinct (grammar tends to endure, nouns and verbs mutate quickly), and some obscure thoughts by one Brody on language as an exploratory system. Check also Barabasi on emergent networks in regard to hubs and nodes.

JB

Margaret McGhee
January 15th, 2006, 04:49 PM
JB: I think we agree on basics but focus differently on proximate and distal motives.

MM: From reading the rest of your post I still think we disagree on the fundamentals. If you believe that what you said is true - it deserves a clearer statement of where you think we agree and disagree. IMO that's the first step in these discussions - if we're actually interested in comparing and exploring ideas.

JB: Anyhow, Bob Trivers captured the essence in one of his talks at a Princeton meeting of Georgetown Family Systems group: He stood tall in front of this mostly female, mostly social-worker audience, bent backwards, grabbed his testicles, lifted them upwards, and proclaimed, "I'm working for these." Glad he did it, I would have been too embarrassed...

MM: Nothing creates emotional excitement like having one's core beliefs massaged (or attacked). From noticing the things in your essays that seem to get you excited - I'm detecting a strong whiff of the socially-conservative, anti-PC, pseudo-science that is popular at places like Steve Sailer's repugnant HBI website. Please say it isn't so. You're not another member of his infamous mail-list are you?

JB: As to "baton": you can figure it out. Also consult Pinker on the Language Instinct (grammar tends to endure, nouns and verbs mutate quickly), . .

MM: If people want to discuss complex ideas intelligently they need to understand as accurately as possible what each other mean when they make a statement. If either side asks for a clarification that's a sign that they are sincerely trying to understand your meaning. I can certainly guess what you mean by baton in this context but then I'd never know if I got the true meaning of your statement or just my own version. I'm surprised someone educated in science would be so dismissive.

JB: . . and some obscure thoughts by one Brody on language as an exploratory system

MM: If your obscure thoughts are relevant here it shouldn't take more than a paragraph to lay them out and explain why. Sounds like they could be interesting. Since you didn't say another Brody I'll assume you don't mean Richard.

JB: Check also Barabasi on emergent networks in regard to hubs and nodes.

MM: I could list several significant books and authors from which I inform my understanding of human nature. I'm sure we've read many of the same ones despite that we probably have some different conclusions. But, when I'm trying to make a point in a discussion I figure that if I can't state the relevant principles that support my point clearly enough and in my own words - then I probably don't have an argument.

As I read through your essays I find very little discussion of principles and a lot of anecdotes that seem to affirm some imputed beliefs - although they're all fun to read. I'm more interested though in the principles and reasoning that support your beliefs. That's assuming that you just like to write entertaining essays that happen to support some anti-PC beliefs (especially those that deal with boinking) and that you are not an anti-PC ideologue.

If you are (I really hope not) then you're probably miffed by my dismissive attitude toward such things. In any case, I'd still be interested in a discussion of how we come to have the beliefs that we do and how they can become such strong forces in our lives - which actually speaks to the very heart of evolutionary psychology in my opinion - and will probably come up in any case.

MM

Fred H.
January 19th, 2006, 08:25 AM
alexandra: And as for the physicists... It used to be thought that they studied the nature of mind independent reality. Then we started to grasp that they study our observations of reality (hence inter-subjective reality). Hence our projections of meaning / purpose / intentionality may well be an integral part of our experience of the world. And the world-in-itself lies beyond our understanding as a matter of definition...
All of this seems to boil down to whether there is objective truth and whether we can know it—since mathematics seems to explain the physical world amazingly well, the issue is whether 1 + 1 = 2 is real and objectively true, or whether it’s merely social constructivism.

As I see things, 1 + 1 = 2 is an objective truth—mathematical realism holds that mathematical entities exist independently of the human mind, that we don’t invent mathematics but rather discover it, and that any other intelligent beings in the universe would presumably do the same.

Many working mathematicians, and certainly all the great ones, are/were mathematical realists (essentially Platonists, if not openly then certainly in their hearts); and I suspect the same could be said of the greatest physicists.

For those having a social constructivism POV, everything tends to be relative and subjective and nothing ever seems to add up.

alexandra_k
January 19th, 2006, 08:59 PM
> All of this seems to boil down to whether there is objective truth and whether we can know it...

In philosophy we distinguish two different fields of inquiry:

1) Metaphysics - the study of what is, what exists.
2) Epistemology - the study of knowledge, what (if anything) we can know about it.

It would seem that either phi is finite or it is infinite regardless of whether we ever manage to construct a proof either way.

Sometimes people think they are intimately connected so, for example, it is senseless to talk about a reality that is beyond our grasp as a matter of principle. But it seems to make sense that either there is a super-natural entity or there is not (which is to say there is a fact of the matter) regardless of whether we can ever know that fact or not.

Kant distingushed between two senses of reality that roughly map on to my mind-independent / inter-subjective distinction. Noumena (things in themselves) are beyond our grasp as a matter of principle. Phenomena (how things appear to be) are within our grasp, however. If you add up all the observers observations of the world... Then you get inter-subjective reality. What does an experiment purport to show us but 'if you did the experiment then you too would observe these same results'. If we consider science to be the investigation of mind-independent reality, then radical scepticism will always be a problem. Radical scepticism appears as the question 'how do you know things are (in themselves) the way they appear to us to be?' We simply cannot grasp mind-independent realilty (how things are in themselves) as a matter of principle. This is because to grasp it is to bring the mind into it once more. If we consider science to be the investigation of inter-subjective reality (so that the aim is convergence on observations) then radical scepticism isn't a problem. I think that mind-independent reality isn't really what interests us anyway. I think that we are more interested in inter-subjective reality. We are more interested in what we are likely to observe in the future (predictions) and explanations for our observations. We aren't so much interested in the essential nature of the world as we are interested in our experience of the world (though all of this is controversial).

> mathematics seems to explain the physical world amazingly well

Does mathematics 'explain' or does it describe? Does mathematics tell us what exists and does not exist, or does it merely describe what is observed and provide a formula that when applied to our observations delivers fairly accurate predictions on what will be observed in the future?

> the issue is whether 1 + 1 = 2 is real and objectively true, or whether it’s merely social constructivism. As I see things, 1 + 1 = 2 is an objective truth—mathematical realism holds that mathematical entities exist independently of the human mind, that we don’t invent mathematics but rather discover it, and that any other intelligent beings in the universe would presumably do the same.

Given the meanings of the terms '1', '+', '=', '2' the statement is true by definition in the same way that 'p=p' is true by definition or 'either p or not p' is true by definition. It is contingent / arbitrary (or a social construction if you like) that we have assigned those meanings to those terms, but given the fact that we have assigned those meanings to those terms the statement is true by definition.

> Many working mathematicians, and certainly all the great ones, are/were mathematical realists (essentially Platonists, if not openly then certainly in their hearts); and I suspect the same could be said of the greatest physicists.

Platonic realism is typically considered (in philosophy circles) to be old, outdated metaphysics. Consider 'redness'. Does redness exist? Would redness exist if there weren't any red things? Consider 'seven'. Does seven exist? Would seven exist if there weren't seven things? Why posit an entity that resides in a Platonic realm of forms? Why consider that redness or seven would exist if there weren't any red things or if there weren't seven things? We don't believe in an ideal table existing in Plato's realm of forms, we don't believe in redness existing in Plato's realm of forms, so why believe in the number seven existing in Plato's realm of forms?

Fred H.
January 20th, 2006, 06:00 PM
AK: Does seven exist?
If 7 = 7, or 1 = 1, isn’t real and true, what then can ever possibly be true?

But here’s the rub: While 1 = 1 is timelessly and objectively true, “1 thing = 1 thing,” in our physical world, probably isn’t since “things” never seem to be truly identical in our physical world. Plus, best I can tell, “1,” in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily seem to exist in our physical world.

Nevertheless, “1 = 1” is a timeless and objective truth that we all seem to have access to, and that existed b/f there were evolved creatures with subjective mental constructs and definitions.

Should anyone unable or unwilling to acknowledge the reality and objective truth of 1 = 1 ever be taken very seriously? I’d say no, but maybe that’s just me.

alexandra_k
January 20th, 2006, 07:43 PM
> But here’s the rub: While 1 = 1 is timelessly and objectively true, “1 thing = 1 thing,” in our physical world, probably isn’t since “things” never seem to be truly identical in our physical world.

Ah. At any one moment in time a thing is identical to itself. I think this is one of Leibniz laws (which Wittgenstein went on to mock because it does sound rather trivial indeed). So where you have the same thing on different sides of the = sign then the second equation would be true. Sometimes identity claims are not trivial so for example it was a significant discovery that the morning star = the evening star; that water = H2O (roughly); that superman = clarke kent (though this is disputed a little in the philosophical literature); and the identity theory of the mind-body relation holds that pain = brain state x (where x is to be determined by science).

Philosophy of math (or physics or logic for that matter) isn't really my area... But I guess I think of numbers as sets. There was work (Frege, Russell etc) on trying to reduce mathematics to logic (via set theory I think) and so the meaning of '1' might be a set with one member in it. Apparantly... Their program failed, but anyway... If '1' is a set with one member in it then the identity of the member is irrelevant. Like how if 'money' is defined by its function in social life then it can be multiply realisable on the physical level (could be coins, or paper, or cowrie shells). All that is relevant to numbers is... How many. There could be a set with one coin in it, another set with one piece of paper in it, another set with one cowrie shell in it and they are identical in the relevant respect in the sense that each set has just one member. Maybe we need to introduce a number line to deal with negative numbers... I don't really know...

> Nevertheless, “1 = 1” is a timeless and objective truth that we all seem to have access to, and that existed b/f there were evolved creatures with subjective mental constructs and definitions.

Yes. At any one moment in time... A thing is identical to itself.

> Should anyone unable or unwilling to acknowledge the reality and objective truth of 1 = 1 ever be taken very seriously? I’d say no, but maybe that’s just me.

1=1 is true by definition. If there were a race of alien beings who had a radically different logic or mathematics to us... Then we could not comprehend them. Logic and mathematics are considered to be the two a-priori disciplines. That is to say that (in theory) you don't need to look to the world at all. Once you have grasped the relevant concepts (the meanings of '1' '=' etc then... The rest of it deductively follows.

On a bit of a tangent philosophers often talk about possible worlds.
1) It is possible that I never posted to this board (for instance).
That seems to be true. Why is it true?
2) Because it is true that there is a possible world in which I never posted to this board.
But that entails
3) There is a possible world (that is not the actual world)
And that entails
4) There are possible worlds!
I do believe... David Lewis argues for the reality of possible worlds (or alternative universes causally isolated from our own, if you like) in this vein. He considers that it is too counter-intuitive to common sense to deny the truth of 2 and from there...

Am I giving philosophy a bad name yet?

;-)

Fred H.
January 21st, 2006, 12:28 AM
AK: Yes. At any one moment in time... A thing is identical to itself.
1 + 1 = 2. Using algebra we subtract 1 from each side and get: 1 = 1. I’d not consider this a “thing identical to itself.” You may equal yourself, but I doubt your clone and you would ever be truly, completely, objectively equal. Best I can tell, your sympathies lie with the social constructivism POV.

So I’ll finish with this: There are infinitely many prime numbers—this is a reality and a timeless objective truth—it was true when Euclid discovered it; it’s true today; and it was true before conscious beings evolved. I’d say the evidence is overwhelming that there is indeed a separate world of timeless and objective mathematical truth (and beauty?) that we are able to consciously access and comprehend. (But there’s currently no evidence indicating that there are infinite and/or alternative universes.) You get the last word, and enjoy LeDoux’s book. :)

alexandra_k
January 21st, 2006, 04:06 AM
I'm getting a little lost truth be told. I found this if you are still interested, however, and it summarises a range of views on the issue.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_mathematics

My knowledge of math is extremely limited. I think I may have done something dodgey with the '=' sign. I think it may have a different meaning in math than it does in logic (where it symbolises an 'is' of identity).

Anyway thanks for chatting to me. I will be sure to get that book. :)

James Brody
January 21st, 2006, 04:48 PM
"I'm getting a little lost, IF TRUTH BE TOLD (emph added)"

I'm glad that you two connected...Fred's Alzheimers won some tactical victories when he was between external foes...

And, I promise!, to weed through Alexandra's arguments and perhaps shake a leg to Wikkipedia!

Thanks both of you!

JB

Fred H.
January 26th, 2006, 10:56 AM
JimB: Fred's Alzheimers won some tactical victories when he was between external foes...
Hmmm. I originally said that, “the principle of parsimony, not to mention a lack of evidence, seems to preclude any rational belief in multiple universes”; and you countered that, “nature is not parsimonious even though human beliefs attempt such in science." But then, responding to Margaret, you argued that, “As to ‘intelligence,’ please consider arguments that it's about getting laid, not about making the ‘best choices.’”

“Getting laid” sounded parsimonious enough to me, a position I’m disinclined to argue against—any chance the Alzheimer’s is more on your end? . . . although if it is, how would you know?

Margaret McGhee
January 28th, 2006, 12:07 PM
I keep hoping to see some meaningful discussions here that would illuminate some of the ways that Evolutionary Psychologists would look at human nature that would be different from other psychologists and scientists.

I hoped that some of my past comments might have encouraged that type of discussion. Let me try this - is there a coherent functional model of the mind that most (or many) Evolutionary Psychologists would generally agree on? Something that would show the various elements of the mind and how they relate to each other - such as intellect, emotion, disposition, instinct, etc.

I've read several of the more popular EP authors and I get the gist of it (I think) but none of them seem interested in providing such a specific model. Maybe there is one out there and I just haven't found it yet.

Margaret :confused:

Fred H.
January 30th, 2006, 12:00 PM
Margaret: I keep hoping to see some meaningful discussions here that would illuminate some of the ways that Evolutionary Psychologists would look at human nature that would be different from other psychologists and scientists.
Hi Margaret: Perhaps not really what you’re looking for, and I don’t know that JimB necessarily sees things this way, but I like neuroscientist Joe LeDoux’s “mental trilogy” model of the human brain/mind (and its shaping by evolution and resulting weakness of cognitive influence over the emotional and motivational systems). I see it as the only reasonable way to begin to view and explain the brain/mind (and human nature and all the “unnecessary” human suffering that I myself have been wont to obsess over on occasion).

As I’ve already posted to Alexandra in another thread, the neuroscientist Ledoux notes how cognition, emotion, and motivation – the mental trilogy – actually work and what they are. In the last pages of his excellent book, Synaptic Self (2001), LeDoux writes the following:
... there is an imperfect set of connections between cognitive and emotional systems in the current stage of evolution of the human brain. This state of affairs is part of the price we pay for having newly evolved cognitive capacities that are not yet fully integrated into our brains. Although this is also a problem for other primates, it is particularly acute for humans, since the brain of our species, especially our cortex, was extensively rewired in the process of acquiring natural language functions.

Language both required additional cognitive capacities and made new ones possible, and these changes took space and connections to achieve. The space problem was solved…, by moving some things around in existing cortical space, and also by adding more space. But the connection problem was only partially solved. The part that was solved, connectivity within the cortical processing networks, made enhanced cognitive capacities of the hominid brain possible. But the part that hasn’t been fully solved is connectivity between cognitive systems and other parts of the mental trilogy – emotional and motivational systems. This is why a brilliant mathematician or artists, or a successful entrepreneur, can like anyone else fall victim to sexual seduction, road rage, or jealousy, or… depression or anxiety. Our brain has not evolved to the point where the new systems that make complex thinking possible can easily control the old systems that give rise to our base needs and motives, and emotional reactions. This doesn’t mean that we’re simply victims of our brains and should just give in to our urges. It means that downward causation is sometimes hard work. ‘Doing’ the right thing doesn’t always flow naturally form ‘knowing’ what the right thing to do is. [From LeDoux’s Synaptic Self, (2001), pgs. 322-323]
Several years ago a Todd Stark—who I’ve not seen posting here for some time—and I discussed/argued this area at some length, and JimB sort of refereed. I’m not sure where we ended up, but I remain convinced that LeDoux’s mental trilogy model is currently the best and most realistic way of thinking about human nature.

Margaret McGhee
January 30th, 2006, 07:48 PM
Hi Fred, I haven't read LeDoux but it looks like I should. I just ordered that book from Amazon. Thanks. I have come to some generally similar conclusions as yours from reading DaMassio and Calvin and a few others lately.

Re: The LeDoux excerpt you quoted. LeDoux sees " . . an imperfect set of connections between cognitive and emotional systems in the current stage of evolution of the human brain."

My current view is that our conscious mind can only deal with cognitive images - while our actual motivation and decision-making occur at the emotional level largely unnoticed. We therefore "think" that our intellect is in charge. I think it's just along for the ride.

Margi ;)

Fred H.
January 31st, 2006, 09:27 AM
Margaret: My current view is that our conscious mind can only deal with cognitive images - while our actual motivation and decision-making occur at the emotional level largely unnoticed. We therefore "think" that our intellect is in charge. I think it's just along for the ride.
Yeah, there doesn’t currently seem to be much science or evidence supporting our belief that intellect is in charge, that we have “free will.” But I doubt anyone truly believes that it’s all just an illusion. Best I can tell, we all assume and are convinced, at least viscerally, that we do have at least some conscious free will.

I think there’s a lot more science & evidence to support a belief in objective truth and first cause than free will. And I suppose that’s kind of how I get to it—convinced there is some sort of “spirit vastly superior to that of man,” and convinced there’s objective truth, the leap to at least some, perhaps limited, human free will is fairly easy.

I’ve also read several of Damasio’s books—Feeling of What Happen and Looking for Spinoza—I really like his books and think that he and LeDoux probably see many things similarly, although LeDoux’s Synaptic Self seems to have more substance as I recall. Hope you enjoy it.

Margaret McGhee
January 31st, 2006, 02:40 PM
Hi Fred, From your last post I think I should clarify some things lest you take some things from my posts that I don't intend to convey.

My demotion of intellect has more to do with my peculiar model of how the brain might work - than with any acceptance I have of cosmic or spiritual forces at work in its stead.

However, I don't at all mean to be dismissive of your notions of such things as "first cause" or a “spirit vastly superior to that of man”. The whole topic of spirituality as it appears in so many similar forms and in different cultures through time is fascinating and important to any view of human nature.

I also find that everyone holds beliefs that are not logically grounded. We may not always consider those to be spritual but I'm sure they serve some of the same mental purposes.

Re: Free will. That's a tough one to hit head on. I suspect as time goes by we'll get a better picture of how we each see it.

Just for the record I am a fallen Catholic who turned her back on the church at fifteen. :cool:

alexandra_k
February 1st, 2006, 01:54 AM
Hmm. Is the thought that...

The comparatively primative brain structures (which have a lot to do with emotion processing) cause behaviour before it gets a chance to be processed by the comparatively recent brain structures (which have a lot to do with cognition / thought processing)?

So... Our behaviour is caused by things that we aren't really consciously aware of?

If you are thinking something along these lines... I am very much interested in that notion too. In the seperation / relation between thought and emotion.

Also... The importance of past experience (rft history) in the production of behaviour and to what extent that can be modified by cognition / imaginings etc.

Regarding free will... It all depends on what you mean by 'free will' (hate to do that - but must be done).

Libertarian Free will is incoherant and thus cannot possibly be the case.
Dennett (and others) are compatabilists which means that they think that we need to revise out concept of freedom so that it is in line with determinism. That isn't to say that determinism IS true - just that IF determinism is true THEN it is still possible for us to have free will. There is fairly much a consensus that compatabilism is the way to go (in philosophy circles). All thats left to be done... Is to work out the details...

Margaret McGhee
February 1st, 2006, 01:57 PM
Hi Alexandra, Those are really interesting questions. I think about that stuff a lot. Here' my uneducated two-cents-worth.

Re: Thought, emotion, experience, etc.

Aside from maintaining body-state in the background the main purpose of a CNS is to make decisions and excute them. I have come to the provisional view that our basic decision-making calculator is an analog device in our limbic system that can only process emotional inputs, just as it does for all mammals.

I suspect that our intellect participates in our decisions by sending the emotional weight of our logical conclusion to that calculator (that would be the confidence that our intellect has in its results) - while it holds those results provisionally in working memory for execution should the decision require it. But first those emotions get summed along with other emotions from instincts, past experience, the social emotions from our pre-frontal cortex, etc. to actually make the decision.

In some cases, like when we have great fear, the strong emotions of the urgency of the situation will cause us to execute a limbic decision before our slower intellect has a chance to provide its input. Or, the strong emotions from the situation prevents our intellect from functioning at all. Or, if it does come up with a logical solution it's results could get completely swamped by our stronger instinctual emotions. In those cases we're operating just like our non-thinking mammalian relatives.

I suspect that our intellect has a somewhat more limited role in our decision-making than we imagine and that our more basic emotions often over-ride the emotions we attach to our intellectual conclusions - like every time someone buys a lottery ticket. :rolleyes:

Re: Free will.

I think that's a concept that could only be considered by an intellect that thinks it is in sole control of our lives and isn't aware of how our decisions are actually made (see above). Our conscious mind is largely unaware of our emotions. That's good because it allows it to act in a complementary way to our limbic system to provide conceptual rather than emotional solutions to problems (and come up with far-fetched explanations for things like this post). But that also allows it to "think" that it is in charge of things.

I'm sure my notions of the brain will seem naive to the real scientists around here. Please just think of them as the wild-assed-guesses of a non-scientist who is totally captivated by the neat stuff you folks are researching and writing about.

BTW - What's (rft history)?

Margaret

Fred H.
February 2nd, 2006, 12:46 PM
“Free will” is probably impossible to clearly define. I suppose we all have some intuitive sense of what it is—essentially choice. I suspect that everyone believes they have at least some, even atheists who assert that we’re merely products of a directionless evolution in a pitiless and indifferent universe of blind (deterministic and/or random) physical forces and genetic replication.

Assuming it’s more than just an illusion, then I’d say it’s Ledoux’s cognitive “downward causation.” But then of course there’s always the question as to whether our subcortical bottom-up motivation is really all that’s driving us to strive for “downward causation.” It’s all so circular.

TomJrzk
February 2nd, 2006, 01:53 PM
I suspect that everyone believes they have at least some
Hi Fred,

At the risk of having you call my post a joke again, I happen to be one of those true determinists. Any idea of free will that goes beyond physics is not something that I'm convinced of, yet. The illusion of free will is a good thing in most respects but I have seen no evidence that it is any more than the result of the current chemistry in our brains reacting with our imprinted memories and instincts. I don't think the uncertainty principle even has any effect when so many molecules are involved.

Keep up the interesting posts!
Tom (not Jones)

Margaret McGhee
February 2nd, 2006, 07:59 PM
Hi Fred, Tom, Alexandra,

Just to add some grist to the free-will mill,

. . when someone talks of free-will, I think they often use that term to mean a spiritual-self, some self beyond the chemicals and neurons, that has the ability to observe our life as we live it and make judgements if not decisions on our body's behalf. Free-will is considered a noble concept in philosophical discussions. Speaking of God and spirituality often doesn't command the same respect. (It does from me.)

For some, the idea that consciousness could just happen from some arrangement of those chemicals and neurons, is uncomfortable because their life feels so powerfully immediate and significant (and spiritual) to them that relegating its destiny and direction to those chemicals and neurons is degrading.

However, if I accept that that may be the case, I can still see free-will as the freedom for my particular arrangement of neurons to express their selfish will. On a more experiential level that means that I am free to make decisions that optimize my emotional outcome. Every decision I make is made to follow my best guess as to what will make me the happiest, from all the alternatives I'm aware of. (This could get tautological now.)

But that sounds like enough free-will to make any organism happy. I can't imagine that evolution would design an organism any other way.

I guess I am one of those " . . who assert that we’re merely products of a directionless evolution in a pitiless and indifferent universe of blind (deterministic and/or random) physical forces and genetic replication . . " but so far I'm enjoying that ride.

Others may prefer to take off on what they see as a more spiritual wave and ride that. More power to them - but when I tried that in the past, no doubt because of my particular arrangement of chemicals and neurons I found that wave to be mostly backwash.

I figure we each get to ride the wave that most appeals to us - as long as we don't run over anybody else. If that's not free-will I don't know what is.

PS - I think it's very cool that the internet allows us to share the output of our neurons and chemicals like this. I find it difficult to express these ideas in person or to find others who like to think and talk about these topics. :cool:

Margaret

alexandra_k
February 2nd, 2006, 08:28 PM
genes + environment -> beliefs + desires (and other mental states though the traditional focus has been on these two) -> behavior

the -> is supposed to signify a causal relationship (where genes and environment together determine beliefs and desires in a determined world, or where they determine the probability of various beliefs and desires in an irreducibly indeterministic world).

so our beliefs and desires are caused by our genes and our environment, and our beliefs and desires go on to cause our behaviour.

now the problem is just where 'free will' is supposed to fit into this picture...

(ps. 'rft history' is short for 'reinforcement history'. behaviourists consider that our present responses are determined by our past reinforcement history. we do not have to be consciously aware of our reinforcement history in order for it to play a causal role in determining our behaviour and just how much conscious awareness is able to modify the causal process from rft history to behaviour is interesting to me...)

i guess... this is fairly much what i am into.

the relationship between neurological (physical) explanation; cognitive (design) explanation; psychological (intentional) explanation (where we talk of 'beliefs' 'desires' 'hopes' 'fears' 'memories' 'emotions' and 'preferences' etc; and... the thought that the mind is modular (Jerry Fodor started this idea off...) and that the different cognitive modules have evolved for various reasons / functions...

and applying all that to explain things like... belief formation / maintenence.
and emotions etc. fairly wide area. i guess i see the role of philosophy as being integrative (to integrate the findings from the various areas) and also to come up with a general coherant theory of the nature / structure / function of mind...

alexandra_k
February 2nd, 2006, 09:10 PM
Hmm. We have a nervous system. The lowest kinds of responses are reflexes. The information travels up the peripheral nerves and gets to the spinal chord and then a message is relayed back to the peripheral nerves (this is the knee kick reflex). Then there are higher kinds of responses which are still fairly relexive. Information can make it to some of the lower brain structures (but not conscious awareness) and a response is produced. Some emotional responses are like that (they can be produced from subliminally presented stimuli). Other information... Gets to go round and round the cortex a bit (put fairly crudely). This seems to be... Conscious thought. Conscious thought... I think that is more integrative so that we can take various factors into account and come to a 'all things rationally considered' kind of decision. Instead of 'reacting' to the situation (perhaps in a very short sighted hedonistic manner) we can think about the consequences and the options etc with a view to the long term and respond from there. I guess... That is how I see it.

Emotions are more significant for 'rational' decisions than was previously thought.

> In some cases, like when we have great fear, the strong emotions of the urgency of the situation will cause us to execute a limbic decision before our slower intellect has a chance to provide its input.

Yeah. There is stuff on a 'high road' and a 'low road' to emotional responses. The low road only makes it to the lower brain structures before a response is sent to the motor production areas... the high road gets to go round and round the cortex a bit...

some people are more controlled by their emotional responses than others... some people have very reactive nervous systems. Linehan talks about borderline personality disorder where she considers that people with this disorder have very reactive nervous systems, very intense emotional responses, and a slow return to emotional baseline. I'm fairly interested in that and in our ability / or possibly inability to overcome a reactive nervous system via conscious thought and via imagining and via alteration of rft contingencies...

> Our conscious mind is largely unaware of our emotions.

there are unconscious emotions?

> I'm sure my notions of the brain will seem naive to the real scientists around here.

Hmm. I'm not a scientist either. I don't want to run experiments and I can't tolerate much experiment reading... I'm more interested in the bigger picture. Regarding that... I sometimes think it is a case of 'he who bullshits best wins'

;-)

Margaret McGhee
February 2nd, 2006, 11:42 PM
Alexandra, Take a look at this:

http://www.psycheducation.org/emotion/hippocampus.htm

About 2/3 of the way down the page there are two photos of synapses in the hippocampus. The assertion is that exposure to estrogen increases the synapse density in the hippocampus (limbic system). Does that impact your interest area at all?

******************************

You said: Emotions are more significant for 'rational' decisions than was previously thought.

Yes. That's what I've been saying. Not only is it more significant, I have proposed a model where emotions are the currency in the decision-making process in (all) mammals. I'm suggesting that the actual decision mechanism is an emotional summing device. Since other mammals can't think much if at all that has to be what they use.

I'm suggesting that we use the same thing. Our intellect gets to participate by adding its emotional vote - an emotion proportional to the confidence it has in the solution it has created.

If that emotion is stronger than those opposing emotions from instincts, dispositions, beliefs, etc. - then it gets to have its solution executed.

If it doesn't have much confidence or if those other emotions are stronger, they could take precedence.

Example: We're sitting at a red light that hasn't changed for 5 minutes. There's no traffic. Should we go?

Emotional scale: Absolute No = -10 Absolute Yes = +10 0 = undecided (No)

Emotional balance:

Instinct/disposition: We're late, screw it. (+3)
Belief: It's wrong to run a red light and I'll probabaly get a ticket. (-6)
Intellect: I can't see anybody for miles. It's probably OK to go. But I'm not sure. There could be one of those intersection cameras around here. (+2)

Result (-1) We wait.

Three more minutes go by:

New emotional balance:

Instinct/disposition: Now we're really late, I hate this and feel stupid sitting here at this intersection with no-one near waiting for a light that's probably broken. (+5) I can visualize Elaine Benis saying this to herself.) ;)
Belief: It's wrong to run a red light.(-6)
Intellect: I still can't see anybody for miles. It's probably OK to go but where did they hide that camera? (+2)

Result (+1)

We take one more look for traffic and cautiously proceed.

See how according to this model intellect participates using the strength of it's conviction, which in this case was not too high? I'm not saying that I believe for sure this is how it works (she says showing low confidence in her intellectual solution). Just that it makes an interesting straw-man.


Margaret

Fred H.
February 3rd, 2006, 10:25 AM
TomJrzk: At the risk of having you call my post a joke again, I happen to be one of those true determinists. Any idea of free will that goes beyond physics is not something that I'm convinced of, yet.
Hey Tom—As I recall, you were “TomJ,” and your post to Carey (here: http://www.behavior.net/forums/evolutionary/1999/msg3884.html), regarding relationships with women, actually struck me as being satire, something akin to the hedonism of Fielding’s Tom Jones—my bad.

If the physical world and accidental evolution is all there is, then I’d agree that free will is almost certainly an illusion. I see how one might reason that free will is an illusion; but I doubt anyone can viscerally buy into such a POV; and I think that ultimately emotion always trumps reason.

TomJrzk
February 3rd, 2006, 04:02 PM
I guess I am one of those " . . who assert that we’re merely products of a directionless evolution in a pitiless and indifferent universe of blind (deterministic and/or random) physical forces and genetic replication . . " but so far I'm enjoying that ride.

Margaret

I'm sorry that we agree so much, I don't have much here to quarrel with; the ride is even more pleasant while I consider the other passengers and think, "there but for a different soup go I", no matter how ridiculous they sound/act. It seems like you're where I am but provide quite a bit more sugar to go with the medicine. Alexandra seems to agree as well, if I'm reading either of you correctly.

Keep up the great conversation! The internet IS a wonderful thing. If only I were retired... ;)

alexandra_k
February 9th, 2006, 03:33 AM
well... it all depends what you mean by free will.

if having free will is incompatible with determinism then it seems we don't have free will.

if free will is compatible with determinism then it seems we can have free will.

the trouble with saying that we don't have free will is that...

there is intuitively a difference between the following two acts:

1) i buy a gun and then drive to your house and shoot you.

2) someone hands me a gun and tells me that if i don't shoot you then they will shoot 10 people (and i believe them).

in the first case we seem to want to say the act was free...
whereas in the second we seem to want to say the act was coerced (hence not free).

here are another two cases:

1) i am sitting on a chair.

2) i am tied to a chair.

in the first case we seem to want to say the act was free...
whereas in the second we seem to want to say the act was not free (because i was physically prevented from leaving)

1) i wash my hands.

2) i wash my hands many many times a day (and am wearing the skin and tissue away)

in the first case the act seems free... in the second the person is in the grip of a compulsion (kleptomania type cases also addictions - though these types of cases might be the most controversial)

if there is no such thing as 'free will' then the problem merely shifts to explaining the difference between 1 and 2 (or perhaps people think there is no difference?)

TomJrzk
February 9th, 2006, 09:29 AM
1) i buy a gun and then drive to your house and shoot you.

2) someone hands me a gun and tells me that if i don't shoot you then they will shoot 10 people (and i believe them).

in the first case we seem to want to say the act was free...
whereas in the second we seem to want to say the act was coerced (hence not free).

In my view, which many people have an instinctive disagreement with, #1 is not "free will". Something 'drove' you to shoot me, of all people. What was it? Did you have a brain tumor that told you that I was the Devil? I'd shoot me, too. Did you have such an inflated perception of yourself that your small benefit in not having to read my posts outweighed the carpet stain? What caused you to have that perception?

The bottom line is this: Is there something extra-neuronal that you have in your 'soul', or whatever, that determined your actions or was it just your brain development with your environmental experiences with the distribution of chemicals in your brain that pulled the trigger? If your answer is door #1 then I'd like to know the physical mechanism that creates that 'soul'; I know of none. If it has no physical mechanism and it comes from something 'spiritual' then that's where you and I must part; at least for the time being...and, regardless, until I get my will updated ;).

Keep up the great posts!!!
Tom

alexandra_k
February 9th, 2006, 05:09 PM
So you think there is no difference between acts of type one and acts of type two?

I grant you
genes + environment -> representational states (beliefs, memories etc) + motivational states (desires, preferences, drives etc) -> behaviour.

AND THAT IS ALL. No immaterial souls interfearance allowed ;-)

I would like to leave it open whether the -> signifies a causal relationship (100% predictive leverage in principal) or whether it signifies probabilities for various outcomes (if the world turns out to be irreducibly indeterminate at the macroscopic level). But really... Nothing of consequence for free will hinges on this (though I'm prepared to argue that point).

Now I'll tell you a little story (courtesy of Elliot Sober - a philosopher of biology who wrote this introductory textbook which covers his theory of free will among other things).

There is a weather vane. When the weather vane is free it swings with the wind. When the weather vane is not free (stuck) it is prevented from swinging with the wind. This seems to follow fairly well from standard usage of 'free' or 'not free'. Note that the difference is not that the behaviour is caused in the 'not free' situation and not caused in the 'free' situation. In both cases the behaviour is caused.

It is something about the kind of causation that is relevant to free will (in Sober's opinion).

He says that we should consider the function of the weather vane. The function of the weather vane is to move (caused by) the weather. When there are other causes that interfeare with the function then the behaviour is not free.

In our case... People are okay with my talking about beliefs and desires having a function? Desires should function to motivate action to... things that are of benefit to the organism. When a desire is self-destructive (in the case of compulsion or kleptomania) then it seems something is going wrong... And so Sober thinks the behaviour is not free. I guess... Criminal activity in general might come under this. Hmm. I'm personally okay with that. I favour prevention of reoffending and rehabilitation over retribution / retaliation.

In the being tied to a chair case... The person is not free to act on their beliefs and desires. This is just to say that the problem is that their behaviour is not caused by their beliefs and desires, rather it is caused by their being physically restrained. They might desire to leave the room but they are prevented. So... They are not free.

If I desire to flap my arms and fly like a bird (which my physiology prevents) then am I unfree as is the person tied to a chair who desires to leave the room?

(I have no idea)

If a particular variety of deer never (normally) wanders more than 2ks from its place of birth then if we fence an enclosure 20ks by 20ks then is the deer no longer free?

Don't ya just love philosophy puzzles?

I just gave Sober's idea (which needs work) to show how there might possibly be a compatibilist theory of free will. Yes all behaviour is caused (either determined or the probability of various behaviours is determined) but that doesn't all by itself rule out free will. We want free acts to be caused by beliefs and desires (otherwise how is the act MY act?). We also want beliefs to be caused by the world (otherwise how might they be true?). We also want desires to function to motivate the organism to good (for the organism) rather than harm. So... Maybe it is something to do with the KIND of cause that determines whether an act is 'free' or 'not free'.

This does of course involve us tweaking our concept of free will ever so slightly ;-) (acts can be more or less free)
But ditto for analysis of concepts like 'justice' 'knowledge' etc etc.

> Keep up the great posts!!!

You too :-)

TomJrzk
February 10th, 2006, 10:17 AM
I think you're talking about varying degrees of the illusion of free will. Your discussion perfectly fits in a metaphysics class but not so much in a physics class.


I grant you
genes + environment -> representational states (beliefs, memories etc) + motivational states (desires, preferences, drives etc) -> behaviour.

AND THAT IS ALL. No immaterial souls interfearance allowed ;-)

If you say "AND THAT IS ALL", then you seem to agree with me that "(beliefs, memories etc)" and "(desires, preferences, drives etc)" are all generated/controlled by the chemical mix in our brains. So, I don't think you'd argue that, given the same preconditions of a decision you made and your predilections don't change, you would make the exact same decision every single time. There is nothing else on the balance of 'yes' or 'no'. So, if you had the same preconditions and predilections as a cereal killer, you too would be a cereal killer! You would indiscriminately inhale all the Fruit Loops you could find.

So, the guy that cut you off on the freeway merely has different conditions from the guy who let you in from the ramp. You would be one or the other depending on how much testosterone, or time, or extra gas, you happened to have at the time.

Many people have an instinctive problem with this. Is anyone responsible for their actions? Well, ultimately, no. Should anyone be punished for their actions? Well, yes. Society still needs to deter someone from eating all the Fruit Loops; we can change the environment under which people make their decisions or remove them from the opportunity or convince them that they'd enjoy sharing some Fruit Loops. We can also squirt chemicals in their brains or lobotomize it or castrate the testosterone away but these methods are not yet or no longer as acceptable.

This 'philosophy' does have its advantages. When I hear of a pedophile or rapist, I don't cringe in horror of how bad a person he is or get angry. I just feel sorry for him that he has urges that you and I don't. What a terrible, terrible burden to bear. Certainly, anyone with a deep understanding of EP could understand how successful (at least in the distant past) those 'sicknesses' are in spreading genes, but we still need to lock them up (though a comfortable, productive society of just these men on a remote island would be my choice of environment change).

So, yes, there are 'good' people that make good 'decisions'. But every decision is preordained (no matter how much you 'feeeeeeeeel' like you're choosing 'yes' or 'no') and, therefore, society is deterministic and there is no truly free will. And, you and I ought to try and steer this species in the 'right' direction.

See, my brain MADE me add that last line. Why? I'd assert that our fragile species having survived this long is testament to the fact that our brains have 'developed' (this, of course, is backward; we'd just have died out if we hadn't accidentally created lots of Freds ;)) the capacity to keep in mind what is in the best interests of our entire species; well, maybe more each of our clans. Ahhh, Evolutionary Psychology at work!!! Perfect.

Margaret McGhee
February 10th, 2006, 12:26 PM
Hi Tom, I like your view of this (aside from my general agreement). Here's an excerpt from something I wrote previously that attempts to explain why it seems that we have free will:

The Illusion of Conscious Direction

Whether we are generally rational or irrational it seems to all of us that we use our reason and not our emotions to guide our decisions. Even Damassio only believes that our emotions support our cognitive decision-making process. In my opinion this is an illusion created by our conscious mind that spends all its time observing the world and directing our intellect. Awareness is an outcome of consciousness. It seems to us consciously therefore that that's all our mind ever does.

We occasionally become aware of our emotions when our intellect observes and recognizes them as feelings. But, we are usually unaware of them as they work in the background actually making our decisions. We are also unaware that our intellectual conclusions are not driving the bus, that they only provide one more vote along with the other emotions coming in to our sub-conscious decision computer.

It therefore seems to us that we are thinking our way through life. It is more accurate to say that we have no choice but to follow our emotions through life, largely ignoring our intellect when the emotional weight of its conclusions are not strong enough to overcome other strong emotions from our instincts and especially from our personal belief system.

In practice, we spend much more intellectual energy justifying behavior decisions that we made based on those non-intellectual inputs - than we spend to logically analyze our decisions to start with, especially when those decisions were guided by strong beliefs. And then those justifications, molded by our always anxious ego, become what some of us call critical thinking.

This is proven every time someone buys a lottery ticket. For thousands of persons every day the emotions produced by the extremely high intellectual probability of losing that dollar are no match for the more basic and more powerful emotions generated by the prospect of winning millions — no matter how unlikely.

"Well, you can't win if you don't buy a ticket", they say.


Cheers, Margaret

Fred H.
February 10th, 2006, 01:01 PM
TomJ: we'd just have died out if we hadn't accidentally created lots of Freds.
Speaking of accidents, I saw Woody Allen’s Match Point the other night.

The movie is supposedly about the way chance and luck, regardless of talent, determines outcomes—for example, the chance bounce of ball, as it hits the net and then either goes over or falls back. The protagonist, a tennis instructor/social climber, reads Dostoevsky; says that "The man who said, 'I'd rather be lucky than good,' saw deeply into life"; and comments on how much of the outcome of one’s life is out of one’s control, claiming that scientists tell us all existence is here by blind chance. And sure enough—SPOILER ALERT (and more to follow!)—the protagonist ultimately avoids being accused of the murders he commits due to “luck.”

Looking thru the various reviews (e.g., a NYT critic says, “The gloom of random, meaningless existence has rarely been so much fun, and Mr. Allen's bite has never been so sharp, or so deep.”) and from what I know about Allen, I think that was pretty much his intent, how he sees life, and what most take away from the film.

But here’s what’s interesting: While I find the movie’s atheism to be mostly tedious, it does seem to have slow simmered its audience to the view that, yes, we apparently do find ourselves in an accidental universe of blind chance and subjective morality; with the result that most of the audience are blinded to the fact that the protagonist’s crimes (of the murder of two people in order to make the murder of his mistress look merely like bad luck/chance, and thereby cover up his adultery and avoid being divorced by his wealthy wife) really had nothing at all to do with luck or chance, but only had to do with the protagonist lack of morality and his resulting choices (and perhaps also the police’s belief in chance and their judgment that his adultery shouldn’t be unnecessarily exposed . . . adultery, after all, isn’t murder).

And so I’m left wondering if Allen actually intended to make a movie that surreptitiously exposes how atheism and belief in chance (and/or the belief that free will is an illusion) results in such moral blindness, or whether it was just Allen’s “luck” that his movie exposes such a truth? But of course I only wonder about such things b/c I actually believe that we humans do have at least some free will, some responsibility; while I suspect that others here'd say it was an accident, which reminds me of that old song:
Been away so long I hardly knew the place
Gee, it's good to be back home
Leave it till tomorrow to unpack my case
Honey disconnect the phone
I'm back in the USSR
You don't know how lucky you are, boy
Back in the US
Back in the US
Back in the USSR

Margaret McGhee
February 10th, 2006, 01:17 PM
Fred, you said,

And so I’m left wondering if Allen actually intended to make a movie that surreptitiously exposes how atheism and belief in chance (and/or the belief that free will is an illusion) results in such moral blindness,

I am an atheist and I believe that free will is an illusion. Are you suggesting that I am therefore morally blind?

If so, don't you you think that's a pretty outrageous thing to say (or believe)?

Wouldn't that be the same as me asserting that by far the greatest number of murders of innocent people in the history of civilization has been at the hands of those who fervently believe in some moral God or other - and decide they need to kill all those who don't? And therefore those who believe in some moral God support the murders of innocent children?

Please be more careful with your words and your beliefs.

Aside from that, I would like to see you make the case for the assertion that " . . atheism and belief in chance (and/or the belief that free will is an illusion) (can often) result in moral blindness".

I'd be happy to make a case for how strong personal beliefs can often result in moral blindness if you like.


Margaret

TomJrzk
February 10th, 2006, 02:36 PM
Again, our agreement leaves us little to discuss. So, just in the interest of wasting more time ;), I'll offer a different example.

I woulda chosen an example more pertinent to this thread: people whose religious beliefs refuse to allow them to follow the evidence. (Of course, I've already said that you add more sugar to your medicine.) Take Fred, for example. I don't bother trying to reason him out of his firmly-held beliefs; I don't think his psychology will allow him to acknowledge even pure fact, much in the way the woman discussed in the "Repression Vindicated" section of this article can't acknowledge her paralyzed arm without brain alteration: http://www.neuro-psa.org.uk/download/SAorig.pdf

I could argue him out of his beliefs morally much more easily than scientifically (since his beliefs are, by definition, beyond science) but I haven't seen the need. Many people of faith actually need to believe, in my opinion; I don't think it's a good idea to sink someone's ship if they rely on it that heavily. As much as I dislike his tactics I know that he impels some people to respond, adding way more than I do to this forum.

BTW, it seems like you probably have more time than I and might be able to get more out of a private correspondence I had with Todd. He still argues for some sort of free will and his intellect is far beyond mine; and is actually surpassed by his tact. Maybe you can interpret some of it. Though he didn't say to keep it private, I'll send him a note to see if he's OK with it...

TomJrzk
February 10th, 2006, 03:30 PM
Fred, you said,



I am an atheist and I believe that free will is an illusion. Are you suggesting that I am therefore morally blind?

Hmmm. My post #50, was actually written in reply to Margaret's post #47; as is shown in the hybrid display mode (but who else is going to bother to scroll through all that). But Fred's post got written before my reply, so my post looks like it's replying to Margaret's post #49; sorry.

This post is written in reply to Margaret's post #49:

Margaret, thanks for the dialog. I might be able to help you with your statement above, since I had a friend that was a huge evangelist and said something similar. He also used the thermodynamics argument until I helped him understand what thermodynamics is; though he stopped using the argument I doubt that he bothered to go back and disillusion everyone he'd 'convinced' before.

I think Fred's assertion is based on their definition of morality: "truth derived from something other than humans' brains". That's what he meant by 'subjective morality' and I can not argue against their self-supporting definition. So, I was only able to get my friend to define me as 'amoral', rather than 'immoral'. But, at least Fred is not a Palestinian...

You can tilt at that windmill all you want but I don't think you'll get very far, I let him roll off my back as best I can (like not being able to add 1+1 when I disagree with both of his '1's). But it will be good for the unsure others who might read these posts to have his 'facts' challenged. You go, girl! ;)

Fred H.
February 10th, 2006, 03:45 PM
MM: I am an atheist and I believe that free will is an illusion. Are you suggesting that I am therefore morally blind?
It’s what the movie seemed to convey.

If indeed free will is an illusion, as you believe, then obviously so is morality, and moral blindness would be inevitable. (I’m guessing TomJ would agree.)

OTH, if we truly do have at least some free will/choice and “morality” is more than just an illusion, but we are convinced otherwise, then moral blindness would certainly seem to be an unavoidable result.

(Regarding the murders of innocent people: While the last 2,000 years of theism’s influence on civilization may be less than impressive at times, when 20th century atheists have been in charge (e.g., USSR, PRC, etc.), things seem to get much bloodier and more brutal—atheists inevitably start to see themselves as god, and their own subjective morality as being inherently better than everyone else’s—seems to be an unavoidable human proclivity. And the numbers I see on various atheist Internet sites for Christian atrocities over the last 2,000 years all seem to be hopelessly inflated. But here are several reasonably solid 20th century numbers to keep in mind regarding atheist governments: USSR, 1917-87—62 million mass murders; China (PRC) 1949-87—35 million mass murders; etc.)

Margaret McGhee
February 10th, 2006, 04:02 PM
Hi Fred, You said:

If indeed free will is an illusion, as you believe, then obviously so is morality, and moral blindness would be inevitable. (I’m guessing TomJ would agree.)

Thanks for cutting to the essence.

Please explain why behavior (that is the product of chemicals and synapses) like altrusim, honesty, kindness and social laws against stealing and murder are not beneficial to those who express them - unless they also believe in some (your?) God.

Margaret

PS - Communism and Christianity are both examples of strong belief systems that happen to be arch enemies - probably because they each draw from the same group of believers. Those who are psychologically disposed to submit themselves to institutional patriarchal authority-wielding belief systems. I would therefore attribute all those murders to religion, either of the cloud-being variety or the economic system variety.

TomJrzk
February 10th, 2006, 04:08 PM
If indeed free will is an illusion, as you believe, then obviously so is morality, and moral blindness would be inevitable. (I’m guessing TomJ would agree.)

No, TomJ would definitely not agree. Morality is burned into our DNA, even yours. There is nothing in the dictionary definition of moral that says anything about objective and I would argue the basis for what you think of as morality was written by subjective men, too. I'm Atheist but I still feel 'bad' when someone is hurt, I (and I have NO WAY to explain this), do not go out of my way to run over puppies.

alexandra_k
February 10th, 2006, 07:08 PM
I think our disagreement is largely verbal (in the way we are using terms).

I'll begin with a few definitions so this should become a little clearer:

LIBERTARIAN FREE WILL

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarianism_(philosophy)

Now I think we are both in agreement that there is no such thing as libertarian free will.

So... If by the term 'free will' you mean that to be a shorthand for 'libertarian free will' then the statement 'there is no such thing as free will' means 'there is no such thing as libertarian free will' and I agree with that 100%.

But...

That doesn't help with the intuitive difference between acts of type one and acts of type two (that I talked about before). I'll unpack that a little...

1) Mr X discovers Mrs X in bed with another man. They divorce. Several years later Mr X goes out and buys a gun... He formulates a plan (writes it in his diary, let us say), and goes and shoots her.

2) Mr Y is being held at gunpoint. The person pointing a gun in his face hands him a gun and tells him: 'Either you shoot this person in front of you or I shall shoot that person and I shall shoot 5 other people as well'.

Lets imagine the trial...
Lets also consider moral responsibility...

Do you agree when I say that most people would think that Mr X should be locked up for a very long time (at the very least) whereas Mr Y... Shouldn't be locked up at all?

An everyday way of saying it might be 'Mr X was free but Mr Y was not'.
Of course both of their behaviours were determined by causes outside their control (they didn't freely choose their environment or their genes). Given their environment and their genes they could not have done otherwise from what they did in fact do. No libertarian free will allowed...

But the point is that we do talk of acts being more or less free.

It is too counter-intuitive (too much an affront to common usage of the terms) to conclude that there is no such thing as free will. What I want to say is...

Of course we have free will! It is just that free will does not mean libertarian free will (It isn't too hard to show that notion to be self-contradictory hence self-defeating).

Kind of like... How we could conclude 'there is no such thing as tables or chairs or material objects'. I mean really... Physics doesn't credit these entities - it credits entities like quarks and protons and electrons etc. Strictly speaking there is no such thing as a table! But the people would never have that... And so... We let them keep their tables. And... We can let them keep their free will too so long as we are willing to drop libertarianism and adopt something compatibal with determinism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism

I think maybe you are a hard determinist (if determinism is true then that logically entails that free will is an illusion)
Whereas I am a soft determinist / compatibilist (if determinism is true then that does logically rule out liberterian free will... BUT it is okay folks, because their are other varieties of free will that (in Daniel Dennett's words) are actually WORTH wanting.

(See his 'Elbow Room: Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting. And also see his 'Freedom Evolves' if you are more interested in the evolutionary processes involved)

alexandra_k
February 10th, 2006, 07:26 PM
Lets have a look at the concept of 'omnigod'. Omnigod is supposed to pick out what is roughly in common to the god of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Sorry but I'll have to leave Buddist, Hindu etc gods alone for the time being).

Here are at two properties that are supposed to be properties of omnigod (there are other candidates, but they are more controversial).

1) All powerful.
2) All loving (benevolent / kind / good)

Now... Lets have a think about a little act of evil. Since we are probably naturalistic we can consider 'evil' (from a naturalistic point of view) to be... pain... suffering... natural kinds of stuff like that.

Lets say... Little kids... Stuffing another little kid with firecrackers.
(That is supposed to be moral evil - evil inflicted by a moral agent).

Lets consider... The holocaust.

Or... We can think of an example like... A volcano erupting. Killing thousands of people.
(That is supposed to be natural evil - 'evil' inflicted by the natural world).

Now...

Could god prevent the acts?

If he is all powerful then the answer must be yes.
If god is all loving... Then he would have prevented the act.
But he did not.
Thus it logically follows that either god is not all loving or he is not all powerful.

Given the problem (existence) of a single act of needless suffering...
Omnigod has been shown to not exist.
And there it is (IMO)
Omnigod... Does not exist. And that is a proof (of sorts).
Though the theodicies are supposed to be people trying to defend the concept of omnigod in the face of the problem of evil.

Either he let it happen when he could have prevented it (not all loving)
Or he was powerless to prevent it (not all powerful)
Given evil (harm / suffering on naturalistic interpretations of evil)
There can be no such thing as omnigod.

Some theists... Actually bite the bullet and restrict either gods power or his goodness. The problem then becomes... Being left with something worth worshipping...

Hmm.

So their strategy is... 'of course god exists. but omnigod cannot exist (logically inconsistent notion hence self defeating). so by 'god'... we cannot be referring to omnigod'.

Just like my strategy is... 'of course people have free will. but people cannot have libertarian free will (logically inconsistent notion hence self defeating). so by 'free will'... we cannot be referring to libertarian free will'.

Fred H.
February 10th, 2006, 07:33 PM
TomJ: Morality is burned into our DNA, even yours.
I guess I was expecting a little more rigor and honesty here. If that’s all there is, then your DNA “morality” is really not “morality,” it’s simply genes/algorithms, and the resulting behavior we might see, say, in a wolf pack; the result of random mutations and natural selection; and it merely has to do with the fitness of creatures that are little more than automatons.

Actual morality, if indeed there is such a thing, requires free will, choice—it has to do with humans attempting to freely determine and choose objective right and wrong, good and bad, to conform to ideals of right human conduct.

Or did Todd convince you that we do have some sort of free will? Although such a view is incompatible with Todd’s purported atheism . . . but that’s b/c Todd is actually agnostic or possibly a closet theist/deist, which explains why he’s such a nice guy.

Margaret McGhee
February 10th, 2006, 07:35 PM
Alexandra, It seems to me most discussions of free will make no effort to respect levels of explanation.


From Wiki: All libertarians subscribe to the philosophy of incompatibilism which states that an action cannot be both free and physically predetermined in the commonly understood sense.

The philosophy of compatibilism seems to ignore levels of explanation as well.

Behavior choices are all free insofar as no outside agent physically forces us to choose one behavior over another. In that sense, from the outside looking in every life form is a free agent - has free will.

Behavior choices are not free at the next level down. We are incapable of choosing from the alternatives we are presented with - other than the ones that we feel will optimize our happiness.

If anyone (Fred) believes that is wrong please provide an example.

BTW - It seems to me that Mr X and Mr Y of the type I and type II examples in post #55 are examples consistent with my assertion. They both chose behavior that at the moment was what they deemed would give them the greatest happiness from the alternatives they were aware of. No-one forced them but they were not free to do otherwise. (Two levels of explanation.)

Margaret

Fred H.
February 11th, 2006, 10:55 AM
MM: In that sense, from the outside looking in every life form is a free agent - has free will.

Behavior choices are not free at the next level down. We are incapable of choosing from the alternatives we are presented with - other than the ones that we feel will optimize our happiness.
You may be right—in which case we then have, essentially, no more “free will” than, say, a wolf has; and “morality” is nothing more than a meaningless label for genes/algorithms/behaviors—products of random mutations and the blind natural forces that drive natural selection—and that happen to have resulted in the perpetuation of our accidental species. Fine.

I however see things differently. As I’ve noted elsewhere, the evidence that there is indeed objective truth (certainly objective mathematical truth) and that we humans can comprehend it (and use it to understand our world) is overwhelming, and convinces me that we do have at least some free will and that there almost certainly is some sort of objective morality that we humans can and do attempt to discern and follow.

One last thought: Put yourself in my shoes and try to imagine how laughable you’d find the so-called “morality” of accidental automatons that’s essentially nothing more than the result of accidental DNA. (And BTW it has nothing to do with Tom’s notion that some of us have a “need to believe”—I’ve been in your shoes and simply found the view to be less than convincing.)

JimB’s been a great barkeep, it’s getting late, and we need to finish this thread—you and Tom get the last word, if you so desire.

Margaret McGhee
February 11th, 2006, 12:12 PM
Hi Fred,

I take no pleasure in having the last word on this. I don't consider this a discussion where one of us is right and the other wrong. It is an argument that has been raging . . since Thomas Hobbes first suggested in the mid 1600's that our brains guided us through life and not our God given souls - enraging the bishops of the day who would rail against the "mechanical philosophy," worrying that it reduced people to machines. (See link below.)

I am far more interested in how our higher level beliefs can have such a profound effect on how we engage the world, the explanations for natural phenomena that we adopt and ultimately, our behavior.

I think this discussion vividly shows how we all harness our intellect not so much to examine our higher level beliefs but to defend them against all threats. It shows how weak our intellects are in the face of strong ideological beliefs.

I'm not picking on you here. I suspect that I am incapable of imagining some supernatural force at work in the universe. Or, more accurately, that I am incapable of seeing the logic in your position that such a force exists - and perhaps that's my loss.

I'm happy to not claim any victory here on the question of free will. But I do feel somewhat vindicated at that next level up (belief system theory).

And I can assure you that the world is full of atheists who care very much about the world we live in. I would greatly prefer a world where there was no crime and no war and where no-one uses intimidation or force against others. I just tend to see strong ideology as more often the excuse for such affliction and seldom the solution.

Regards, Margaret

PS - There's an interesting interview posted at the DailyKos blog this morning with science writer Carl Zimmer that discusses some of these things in case anyone is interested.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/2/11/8440/49578

TomJrzk
February 11th, 2006, 01:51 PM
This post was moved to the new "Free Will" thread...

alexandra_k
February 11th, 2006, 05:57 PM
why i don't want to say 'there is no free will'...

politics. that is why.

people sacrificed their lives for such things as freedom of speech
freedom of religion
freedom from opression
etc etc

do you want to say they were merely fighting for an illusion?

i guess... you wouldn't want to say that. you'd probably want to say that they were fighting for something worthwhile - but that something is not freedom.

but... i'm not sure a lot of people would still be with you... you would have lost them at the 'free will is merely an illusion' point. they think you mean to say they were fighting for an illusion, you see.

so i prefer to say sure they were fighting for freedom (but freedom is a little different from what they think it is). but thats okay. water is a little different from what the folk thought it was too (ie is is made of solid atoms of h2o). but should be say 'but water is a liquid by definition and something with solid parts shouldn't really be called a liquid and so really water doesn't exist?'. no... more in line with common sense to say 'well what do you know. liquids turn out to be composed of solids after all'.

levels of explanation...

?

not so sure what you mean here...

person level / intentional level. this is the level in which we have a rational agent who performs purposive behaviour on the basis of beliefs and desires and other mental states. this is the level where freedom is supposed to appear.

but... if freedom evolved (and how else did it get here - assuming it is here ;-) then we should expect to find rudimentary freedom in other things, just like we have found rudimentary morality / ethics in other things.

so... weather vanes can be free or unfree (in a slightly extended sense of the term)

if freedom is just acting on ones beliefs and desires then what about the cases of compulsions?

the kleptomaniac is acting on his strongest desire to steal though he wishes he did not have the desire to steal. he didn't freely choose to have the desire to steal - it just occured in him. is he free?
how about the person in the grip of a compulsion to wash their hands. skin and tissue wearing away... they didn't choose to worry about germs so very much. those thoughts just occur in them. they are acting from their thoughts and their desire to be germ free or whatever... but they don't choose their beliefs and desires (nor do we) and so... how does that help the case for free will?

this puzzle has been around for a loooooooooong time.
most people agree on a general picture.
but the details... are elusive...

levels of explanation...

has anyone heard of Conway's life game? It is worth checking out. It is a very vivid example of different levels of explanation and how those different levels are related to one another. On the physical level you have atoms that obey strictly deterministic physical laws. On the design level you have a different ontology of objects that move through space. They can even 'eat' another object in the life world... They have even managed to make self replicating objects in the life world... It is possible in principle to make a chess playing computer in the life world... (who moves the chess piece thus because it BELIEVES that is the best way to check its opponant and it DESIRES to do so..).

In "Freedom Evolves" Dennett tries to show how... Freedom can evolve in the life world. Where the physics are deterministic. If he succeeds in his enterprise... Then we can say 'well our world might be like the life world. Determinism might be true (on the physical level) yet we can have freedom from a higher level'.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway's_Game_of_Life

That is the life game link. Wiki isn't so kind to Dennett... But I think his book is worth a look if you are interested in freedom and more in particular different levels of explanation and how that is relevant to the evolution of freedom...

TomJrzk
February 11th, 2006, 06:19 PM
why i don't want to say 'there is no free will'...

politics. that is why.

Ahhh, thank you! That makes perfect sense to me and makes sense of your earlier posts as well. But, just as I might be scaring folks away, you might be confusing folks away.

Knowing that the universe is truly deterministic did not change my view of life in any bad way at all. I still know that I'm part of the end result; in fact, I feel much more connected. I still know that I can make the future better or worse. The future that's predetermined still relies on me and my choices. That I cut you off or let you in on the freeway ramp is still a predetermined choice but now that choice is informed by the impact that I see it having on our future. After you...

BTW, you may have noticed that I moved my other posts to a new thread so others can get to this conversation without going through the Intelligent Design posts. If you move yours there, too, I'll move this one and delete it from here. Or, you can just leave yours here and I will too...

TomJrzk
February 11th, 2006, 06:48 PM
people sacrificed their lives for such things as freedom of speech
freedom of religion
freedom from opression
etc etc

do you want to say they were merely fighting for an illusion?

i guess... you wouldn't want to say that. you'd probably want to say that they were fighting for something worthwhile - but that something is not freedom.

I would say that they were, indeed, fighting for freedom, and thank goodness they were. My present, their future, directly depended on it. Their brains felt the oppression, dreamed of a future without it, sacrificed their present, and made a better world. That all of this was predetermined has no effect on any of that.

Of course, if they thought the future was already determined and that depressed them to the point where they did not get out of bed, that would have caused an entirely different present for us, but one that was predetermined. That is why, in the past, I kept my thoughts mostly to myself (or those I thought could handle it). But I now think attempting the final step to understanding how determinism makes one more connected to the future is worth the try, especially in the environment where religions are using free will as a tool to make a decidedly worse future.

alexandra_k
February 11th, 2006, 09:41 PM
> I would say that they were, indeed, fighting for freedom, and thank goodness they were. My present, their future, directly depended on it. Their brains felt the oppression, dreamed of a future without it, sacrificed their present, and made a better world. That all of this was predetermined has no effect on any of that.

Ah. So I've converted you to compatibilism then?

(The view that EVEN IF determinism is true... it is still possible for us to have freedom)

:-)

ToddStark
February 14th, 2006, 01:18 AM
A thought ...

Being beyond observation or testing is not the same thing as being beyond the reach of explanations. A good case can be made for scientific realism which assumes that what exists transcends human belief or capacity for testing. The question is not whether every fact of nature can be tested, but whether an explanation is consistent with honest empirical inquiry and the required epistemic virtues or not. The origin of matter is one puzzle among many, all of which rely on the others to some degree for their solution. The logical strategy of taking one puzzle and making everything else hinge on it is a different approach than the one used in empirical inquiry in general and science in particular.

kind regards,

Todd

ToddStark
February 14th, 2006, 01:44 AM
I keep hoping to see some meaningful discussions here that would illuminate some of the ways that Evolutionary Psychologists would look at human nature that would be different from other psychologists and scientists.

I hoped that some of my past comments might have encouraged that type of discussion. Let me try this - is there a coherent functional model of the mind that most (or many) Evolutionary Psychologists would generally agree on? Something that would show the various elements of the mind and how they relate to each other - such as intellect, emotion, disposition, instinct, etc.

I've read several of the more popular EP authors and I get the gist of it (I think) but none of them seem interested in providing such a specific model. Maybe there is one out there and I just haven't found it yet.

Margaret :confused:

Cosmides, Barkow, and Tooby (The Adapted Mind) were the most explicit about this, their variant is probably best known as "Cognitive Evolutionary Psychology," and it is the variant that Pinker subscribes to for the most part.
As is often the case with relatively new research models, one of the best ways to understand what makes their model distinctive is to peruse the various critiques of the model, and their responses to them.

Conceptually, a good starting place is the concept of modularity, especially Jerry Fodor's original concept of opaque, encapsulated modules that he believes are responsible for human perceptual abilities.

Sterelny's "Representational Theory of Mind" discusses the concept by itself prior to Cosmides and Tooby. C & T came along and imagined that cognitive processes of other sorts worked the same way as Fodor's perceptual modules. This served their purpose of carving a new niche particularly well because it gave them a plausible nativist axe handle for attacking what they saw as the deplorable "blank slate" environmentalism they perceived in social science.

Fodor and many others have argued against this extension of the modularity concept for various reasons, and the dialogs are useful for understanding how EP (or rather, CEP of the Cosmides-Tooby-Pinker sort) views the mind in terms of discrete computational modules that drive behavior. There are technical issues of all sorts, such as how opaque the modules really are, how sophiticated and flexible they can be, and how much of their function is a direct result of Pleistocene adaptation.

David Buller's recent book, "Adapting Minds" has a pretty good coverage of the EP program, agreeing with its general focus and long term goals but differing on some of the specifics of the way they conceive of the functional partitioning of the mind.

kind regards,

Todd

TomJrzk
February 14th, 2006, 04:09 PM
A good case can be made for scientific realism which assumes that what exists transcends human belief or capacity for testing.
I'm sorry, I'm an engineer, and NOT by accident. IF there is something beyond determinism that adds 'free' to 'choice' then I'd like to know its source. If it's in the brain, then I'd assert it's under control of neurotransmitters, and therefore not free. If it's outside the brain, hey, I'd like to know how it gets in. ;)

I can accept that there 'might' be a god that created the universe, or what the universe eminated from, that's why I call myself an unconfirmed atheist; someday, whatever that is might burn a bush or two. Only because I can not yet see what started what and can not get my head around infinite time.

I have a harder time accepting choice being anything beyond the brain weighing plusses and minuses, only because I can see how nature could do without it. Could still be there, but I don't see the need. There's Occam's Razor again; I guess I'm channeling Fred now. Would this something still be here if all human brains are gone? Do monkeys have it now?

ToddStark
February 15th, 2006, 08:41 AM
I'm sorry, I'm an engineer, and NOT by accident. IF there is something beyond determinism that adds 'free' to 'choice' then I'd like to know its source. If it's in the brain, then I'd assert it's under control of neurotransmitters, and therefore not free. If it's outside the brain, hey, I'd like to know how it gets in. ;)

These are different questions to me. I am a determinist, but not a predeterminist. I think events always have physical causes, but I don't think that mechanics provides the only realistic causal model. My original background is in cognitive science and cybernetics. I've built devices that act on their own "purposes" and "preferences" to some extent even though they are obviously also responding to their environment as well. I have no trouble with that transition to ---> thinking of physically constrained devices as having some form of self-guided agency. Human beings are obviously far more sophisticated than cybernetic toys, but for me the difference is one of sophistication rather than rendering physical causality irrelevant to human intentions. For me, we are constrained by physical causality, but our choices are not predetermined by simple mechanics. There is a form of agency that is meaningfully self-guided action even though all of the little bits that go into it can also be described in terms of neural nets and stimuli in principle. I don't know if I can explain it better than that to anyone who cannot make that mental shift from equating determinism with predetermination.

I have a harder time accepting choice being anything beyond the brain weighing plusses and minuses, only because I can see how nature could do without it. Could still be there, but I don't see the need. There's Occam's Razor again; I guess I'm channeling Fred now. Would this something still be here if all human brains are gone? Do monkeys have it now?

That was my original point. Scientific realism, the form that I endorse, says that the world per se exists in spite of our believing or understanding it and would exist without us. In spite of all the radical interpretations of quantum physics that are in vogue, I think Einstein was right to doubt that the moon goes away when we stop looking at it. Of course the earth would look (and smell) a lot different without us!

The idea that things don't rely on a human mind or experience for their existence as such does not neccessarily give warrant for the existence of all sorts of incorporeal things. That is a matter of honest empirical inquiry, in my opinion.

My feeling on intelligent design in brief: ID is theological, and theology is a rational enterprise, but it is definitely not empirical inquiry even when it draws on empirical observations.

kind regards,

Todd

TomJrzk
February 15th, 2006, 12:38 PM
I don't know if I can explain it better than that to anyone who cannot make that mental shift from equating determinism with predetermination.
Cool. I agree that I can not get there from here, now; your 'predeterminism' must be something different from my point AGAINST the idea that the future is 'predeterminable', that is to say, we're unable to create all the conditions but they are still there and would repeat if we had a 'dup' button (of course, we wouldn't even know that we pressed it!!!). Whether some psychology in my brain is preventing me from accepting your arguments or some psychology in your brain is forcing you to make them is anyone's guess. Or maybe it's less ominous than that (maybe I've read too little or you've read too much? ;) ) or maybe we just lean in different directions. Anyway, we're obviously different people and I can accept that we differ...for now.

It's great, though, that we agree on determinism.

Scott Shimabukuro
March 10th, 2006, 01:45 AM
There is a discusssion regarding Intelligent Design at the Pat Metheny website for you jazz fans. It is clear that no amount of evidence (fossils from other universes withstanding) will change the mind of an IDer or Creationist. I suppose one could argue that this is as it should be for their beliefs are not based upon what evidence tells.

Fred H.
March 10th, 2006, 09:30 AM
Scott: I suppose one could argue that this is as it should be for their beliefs are not based upon what evidence tells.
Yes Scott, I agree that once someone is convinced that they do indeed find themselves in a pitiless, indifferent universe of electrons, selfish genes, blind physical forces, and genetic replication, that generally no amount of evidence will change their beliefs, to see things differently, say as Einstein saw them—that “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man....”

OTH, that once prominent old atheist, Antony Flew, seems to have changed his beliefs, based on the evidence no less!

Scott Shimabukuro
March 12th, 2006, 12:22 AM
Point taken Fred and thank you for that information on Flew which I was not aware of.

TomJrzk
March 13th, 2006, 10:56 AM
information on Flew which I was not aware of.
If you read all the posts on this forum, you'll find that Fred does not share its majority opinion. Here are Todd's views on this subject, which I agree with:

http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showthread.php?p=2833#post2833

Here is an excerpt:

Although Flew and Dan Dennett were/are both famously atheists, I perceive their reasoning to that stance as completely different. It would be a spectacular conversion for Dennett to take on a deist viewpoint because he is a thorough-going naturalistic philosopher whose whole focus is finding natural explanations for the sorts of things most of us look to the heavens to resolve. Flew's arguments have always been of a more general metaphysical and ethical sort, and it is to me more of a nuance from his principled atheism and anti-religionism to a non-religious sort of philosophical deism.

Fred H.
March 13th, 2006, 05:10 PM
Scott S.—thanks for the kind acknowledgement.


Note to TomJ—you keep posting lame stuff like that and I might have to retract my flattering remarks regarding you being Übermensch. FYI, Antony Flew wasn’t just any atheist (and unlike Todd, Flew actually was an honest-to-god atheist). For decades, he was a dominant figure in the philosophy of religion, among the most influential of atheist philosophers. He lectured on philosophy at the University of Oxford and the University of Aberdeen, and subsequently held professorships at the University of Keele and the University of Reading. He is the author of the celebrated essays “Theology and Falsification” and “The Presumption of Atheism”, and many monographs including Atheistic Humanism and Merely Mortal?: Can You Survive Your Own Death?. He has also represented atheism in published oral debates with William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and Thomas Warren.

TomJrzk
March 13th, 2006, 05:28 PM
lame stuff like that
But I agree with Todd that Flew is more of a "philosophical deis[t]". And, since you call yourself a deist and constantly tilt against us atheists, Flew's 'conversion' is not what you make it out to be.

Scott Shimabukuro
March 17th, 2006, 12:33 AM
I've read that recently, Flew retracted the basis for becoming a deist, though he did not retract becoming a deist.

"I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction."

I thought it was note worthy.

Fred H.
March 17th, 2006, 02:34 PM
Scott: I've read that recently, Flew retracted the basis for becoming a deist, though he did not retract becoming a deist.

"I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction."

I thought it was note worthy.
Well, as you seem to concede, at least he’s still no atheist—so as I see things, my deist/theist glass is at least half full. But I suppose I’m not surprised that many atheists find some comfort in Flew’s most recently evolved adaptation—his apparent belief that there are “presentable theories” for abiogenesis. Now if Flew’s belief had mutated to a belief that there were “good theories” for abiogenesis—as opposed to merely “presentable theories,” then I think that really would have been noteworthy, and then perhaps atheists could have claimed that their glass was maybe only half empty.

While Wikipedia doesn’t seem to have much on “presentable theories,” there’s this blip on “good theories”:
According to Stephen Hawking, "a theory is a good theory if it satisfies two requirements: It must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model that contains only a few arbitrary elements, and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations." He goes on to state, "any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis; you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single repeatable observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory."