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Margaret McGhee
February 15th, 2006, 01:22 PM
I have been quiet lately but following your interesting posts and trying to digest them. The concepts being discussed require some reflection.

But just to check in with some current observations triggered by your recent comments and copies of some archived posts kindly sent to me by Tom. Thanks ;) . .

. . it seems to me that there is an enigma at work in these discussions that is causing the difficulty. That is that these discussions are all taking place in our wonderous conscious minds. And they are amazing to be able to hold mental images of such abstractions as free will and determinism and compatibilism - and turn them over in our minds and examine them from various angles.

It seems to us that our intellect is in charge of our lives because we live in our conscious minds - and because our ego, which is part of our conscious mind likes to believe that its department runs things. Unhindered by emotion our conscious mind is truly free to wander to the most fanciful places. So it seems to us from what we can observe that we can do whatever we imagine - that we have free will.

But choosing behavior (including choosing what beliefs about the world we accept) is a subconscious function that uses only emotional, not intellectual inputs. (During decision transactions our intellectual conclusions participate by providing an emotional marker proportional to how confident we are that they will succeed.) But emotions from our instincts, dispositions and beliefs are also considered when we make a behavior decision - and they could be stronger.

Understanding this difficulty informs the underlying question as well. Our intellectual mind may imagine that we are free to jump from a tall building if we wish and having a strong belief in God, that He will save us. Our ego will gladly confirm that as an expression of both our faith and our free will. But later we fail to recognize that we did not jump because our emotional decision computer, not our intellect, actually determined our choice.

If confronted with the weakness of our intellect to control our lives our ego sniffs and says, "Yeah, but I could have done it if I really wanted to."

In otherwords, we conjure a belief in free will because our ego loves the idea that our conscious mind is in charge. That feels very good.

But we will choose the behavior that feels best from the alternatives. We have no other choice.

I posed this challenge before and it was unmet so I'll do it again. If anyone doubts this last paragraph, please submit an example of human behavior that violates this principle. If you can I'll agree that we have free will.

Margaret

TomJrzk
February 15th, 2006, 02:27 PM
But choosing behavior (including choosing what beliefs about the world we accept) is a subconscious function that uses only emotional, not intellectual inputs. (During decision transactions our intellectual conclusions participate by providing an emotional marker proportional to how confident we are that they will succeed.) But emotions from our instincts, dispositions and beliefs are also considered when we make a behavior decision - and they could be stronger.

I can agree that all final decisions are emotional; I can think as hard as I want but it's hard to envision acting on a decision that I don't 'like' or 'feel is appropriate' or 'think will keep Alexandra from driving over here and shooting me' ;). But, I think you're contradicting yourself by saying 'not intellectual inputs' and 'intellectual conclusions participate'; sounds like an input to me.

I think my disagreement with Todd is mostly emotional in that something is keeping us from accepting each other's point (and, yes, I expect Fred to jump all over this one; unless he's ignoring me altogether). And this seems to happen so very often with just about everyone...
I posed this challenge before and it was unmet so I'll do it again. If anyone doubts this last paragraph, please submit an example of human behavior that violates this principle. If you can I'll agree that we have free will.

You no doubt already know that I can't provide examples against what I believe; otherwise, I'd be forced to disagree with you. ;)

And, yeow, yet another thread to subscribe to???

Margaret McGhee
February 15th, 2006, 03:09 PM
Hi Tom, You said,

But, I think you're contradicting yourself by saying 'not intellectual inputs' and 'intellectual conclusions participate'; sounds like an input to me.

The key to this is that the emotional marker is what gets weighed, not the intellectual conclusion itself, which is the behavior choice under consideration and not an emotion.

I realize this notion is upside down from the conventional wisdom and so people can read it several times but since it doesn't fit with their current, long-held view, they just don't see what I am proposing.

Our ego and what we observe makes us think that our intellect is in charge. We have believed that all our lives. Our whole educational experience is based on that (incorrect) belief. Any other notion that violates that belief becomes incomprehensible without a lot of effort. It's that cognitive dissonance thing.


You no doubt already know that I can't provide examples against what I believe; otherwise, I'd be forced to disagree with you.

Of everyone here I was most sure that was the case with you. ;) And doesn't that prove my proposition, above?

Margaret

PS - What is "subscribing" and what does it do? Does it make it easier to navigate around here? Can you send me a link to a page that explains this?

TomJrzk
February 15th, 2006, 04:01 PM
The key to this is that the emotional marker is what gets weighed, not the intellectual conclusion itself, which is the behavior choice under consideration and not an emotion.

That's much more clear, thanks. It's as good a model as any for me, though, as always, I prefer to have a big flying exclamation point as an emotional marker, something I can lay my hands on. ;)

Subscription only sends email if a new post arrives; it doesn't help navigation, though, which is why I always try to include a quote so people know what I'm responding to. If you click on 'thread tools', you'll see 'subscribe' if you still want to.

The thing that helps me most is the 'view first unread' at the top of the thread page. I think you have to be logged on to use either.

Fred H.
February 15th, 2006, 07:05 PM
MM: But we will choose the behavior that feels best from the alternatives. We have no other choice.

I posed this challenge before and it was unmet so I'll do it again. If anyone doubts this last paragraph, please submit an example of human behavior that violates this principle.
Sure Margaret, I suppose that “we” do “choose” what “feels best.” But then why should it ever be otherwise?

E.g., if a woman makes a pass at Tom, he then may “choose” to have sex with her b/c, among other reasons, his “morality” (as he summarized in an old post to Carey) would result in that action being what “feels best” to Tom.

However, if a women makes a pass at me, and since I’m convinced (cognitively and emotionally) that I do have free will and moral responsibility, and also that adultery is wrong, then I will “choose” to not have sex with her b/c my morality (a downwardly caused morality that has modified my “emotional markers”) result in my exercising restraint, and that is, to me, what “feels best.”

OTH, if a female alley cat is in heat, then all the male ally cats— whether it’s Tomcat, Fredcat, Toddcat, Jimcat, whoever—will all “choose” to mate with her. And why is that? B/c all the alley cats have essentially the same DNA “morality markers”—to all of them, screwing whatever and whenever is what “feels best.”

Conclusion: The behavior and morality of all alley cats are similar, suggesting that the cats lack free will. OTH, the behavior and morality of humans, e.g. Tom and Fred, are not similar, suggesting that humans may have at least some free will . . . certainly more than alley cats.

Margaret McGhee
February 16th, 2006, 12:25 AM
Fred, you said,


Conclusion: The behavior and morality of all alley cats are similar, suggesting that the cats lack free will. OTH, the behavior and morality of humans, e.g. Tom and Fred, are not similar, suggesting that humans may have at least some free will . . . certainly more than alley cats.

You seem to be suggesting that animals who exhibit the same behavior under similar conditions don't have free will.

Does this mean that if you could convince every male to be as moral as you then none of you would have free will?

Alternatively, if the fact that Tom and Fred's behavior is different means that humans have some free will as you say, how does someone know which one of you has it?

Margaret

TomJrzk
February 16th, 2006, 09:39 AM
his “morality” (as he summarized in an old post to Carey) would result in that action being what “feels best” to Tom.
You're right, that would feel best to Tom. But simplifying my choice to what you'd probably term 'animal instincts' or something is wrong, though I can see how you (and most people) would do that. It's obvious to me that you choose monogamy because that makes you feel the best; you're proud of yourself and the fact that you're an honorable man (at least in that respect) and that overrides the pleasure that you'd feel in enjoying some extra human touch. I was strictly monogamist when my wife preferred it and I couldn't see trading my honor for anything, that would feel so bad that I couldn't live with myself.

But, that would feel best to Tom only because my wife accepts it. She knows the source of the jealousy: fear of my having another child by another woman and fear of losing me to the other woman; this is pure evolutionary psychology. She knows that I'm honorable to the point where I would ensure that I don't have another child. She also knows that there's no way she could lose me to another woman; if the other woman didn't also want to share I'd be much more inclined to stay with my current wife and find some other woman who does.

I have no 'morals' except not to hurt anyone/anything that doesn't deserve it. Spending time with another woman does not hurt my wife, me, or the other women (since they know I'm married, and I know the women who are have a spouse who doesn't mind). You have your own set and I respect that except that it doesn't seem to exclude what you and I both know you do.

But still I know your pain is not easy to bear, and for that I really am truly sorry. You might, again, list this as an attack on you but I'm absolutely serious and honest about this. You're obviously intelligent and I value you as a person, I also like the information in your posts and some of the passion your posts inspire in others.

Just callin' 'em as I see 'em.

Fred H.
February 16th, 2006, 09:55 AM
MM: Does this mean that if you could convince every male to be as moral as you then none of you would have free will?

You may have missed the point. As LeDoux indicates, we humans seem capable of “downward causation,” Here again in Ledoux’s words—
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]
However Margaret, as I’ve suggested elsewhere, if someone’s truly convinced that we humans lack free will, as you seem to be, then they’re probably effectively locked into that POV, regardless of whatever evidence or argument LeDoux or anyone else provides. After all Margaret, using your words, you’re just choosing the behavior (and thinking) that feels best to you from the alternatives; you have no other choice.

TomJrzk
February 16th, 2006, 10:29 AM
After all Margaret, using your words, you’re just choosing the behavior (and thinking) that feels best to you from the alternatives; you have no other choice.
Margaret, he's just baiting you. Though I've warned you against 'tilting against the windmill' that is Fred, you've been doing a great job. However, before he frustrates you out of this forum as he did so many others, I'd like for you to consider the advice I'm following: read his posts and correct his misrepresentations/misunderstandings and merely agree/disagree with his points. Anything more that you try to write to 'teach' him something will just fall on pretty deaf ears. You're encouraged to review all of his 120 or so postings to see just how right I am, below are examples of responses to some of his postings.

If he does frustrate you out of the forum, please leave a post that I can add to the others, below ;). Or hey, if you just want to make a comment now, I'll add it.

Here's Lizzie's last response to Fred:


This is going nowhere, and you're getting condescending. Farewell.


To which Todd replied:
Congratulations, Fred, your brilliant master strategy of unwavering recalcitrance has netted you yet another grand victory in this forum. And you didn't even need me as a stooge this time! :rolleyes:

And here's Carey's last response to Fred:

Quote:
Here's my last post on this thread. You don't really try to process what other people say, but rather selectively read their posts and then throw back ad hominem comments. It's frustrating.


Fred implied that I'm dishonest when I've not seen as amazing an example of 'taking out of context' as when he turned:

Fred, could you please provide a source so I can verify, "there were rumblings, somewhere, from Dennett suggesting that he may be somewhat less than enthusiastic about his own atheism", that would be truly interesting. Though if they really are only "rumblings" of "suggestions" that he "may" be "somewhat"... I don't think that would impress me very much.


into:

TomJ: . . . could you please provide a source . . . I don't think that would impress me very much.


And here's another 'discussion' Fred had with Todd:


Back in the 1950s, when I was an atheist in grade school, we all prayed (sort of), said things like “one nation under God,” and sang Christmas songs. Far as I know, no one was psychologically damaged. That’s before you GD “secularists” and religious fanatics started having your hissy fits. Y’all really mucked things up … hope Santa craps in your stockings.

hope Santa craps in your stockings.
Nice. I used to love the spirit of Christmas. The "believers" like you are threatening to kill it for me with their very un-Christ-like partisan rhetoric. I'm trying not to lose faith. You present a serious challenge for me sometimes, my friend. I wish you nothing but joy. I hope that chip falls from your shoulder some day while we are both breathing and able to appreciate the event.

And, Todd more recently posted:
I know Fred hears this sort of argument and can honestly perceive nothing but sophistry on my part. Which is why I haven't been contributing here for a while, there is seemingly no middle ground and it just gets too frustrating for me just to express my viewpoint and not even remotely be heard.
Well, here is one more attempt, just in case the world of the forum has changed in the past few months.

Fred H.
February 16th, 2006, 11:44 AM
TomJ: You're encouraged to review all of his [Fred’s] 120 or so postings….
To be recognized by one’s peers . . . it just doesn’t get any better. I’m honored Tom. Thank you, thank you, thank you very much.

TomJrzk
February 16th, 2006, 12:00 PM
To be recognized by one’s peers . . . it just doesn’t get any better. I’m honored Tom. Thank you, thank you, thank you very much.
Hmmm. Interesting. I really don't know what is actually going on in your head. If you truly believe that readers would appreciate everything you've written then, Fred, I'm glad that I could make you feel better about yourself.

And I really appreciate that you accept me as your peer. And I'm not being facetious.

Margaret McGhee
February 16th, 2006, 12:35 PM
Hi Tom,

Please don't concern yourself about me hanging around. I think Fred's last response illustrates very well my premise that our strong beliefs have far more power to determine how we see the world, our conclusions about what we see and our behavior, than our intellect. Without someone here so committed to their beliefs as Fred, so unphased by reasonable arguments, it would be more difficult to make my point.

Fred, this is not an underhanded insult. The world is full of people with such strong beliefs as yours who are ready to defend them at all costs. The cost of unreasonable discourse is not a high price to pay when one's strong identity beliefs are at stake. Whatever any of us believes, no matter how reasonable, it can turn into dogma if we or it is attacked and our identity feels threatened.

At first I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt that you were here to open yourself to opposing views and test your own. I now see that your motive is more likely to carry the banner of your beliefs into battle in the den of the atheists and to show no quarter. But that's OK because I still think you illustrate my EP premise very well.

Note: I am a little disappointed that others here would rather debate the existence of God with you than discuss these EP concepts that I have tried to bring in to the discussion. :rolleyes:

So far you have not elicited in me the need to defend my beliefs at all costs. If that happened I probably would leave, humiliated. However, I am definitely subject to those feelings under the right conditions. When I first joined here some of my identity beliefs were threatened by some things that JimB said in a couple of his posts. And I responded in a very unreasonable way.

Perhaps the difference between us is that I see the danger in that and I regret it. Maybe some day you can get there too. You'll find that life is far more pleasant when everyone in the world is not either an enemy or an ally. However, I understand that for you right now, your beliefs are terribly threatened by the Godless world around you and having a pleasant life is the least of your concerns.

I hope this post does not sound too condenscending but I'm really trying to be honest. I don't see the point of these forums if a person hides their true observations and conclusions.

Margaret

Fred H.
February 16th, 2006, 01:59 PM
MM: I hope this post does not sound too condescending but I'm really trying to be honest.
I’m delighted that you’re trying to be honest. And now I’m left wondering if perhaps LeDoux also may be too “committed to [his] beliefs as Fred, so un-phased by reasonable arguments,” with “such strong beliefs as [Fred’s], ready to defend them at all costs?”

Alas, perhaps “some day [I] can get there too,” and “find that life is far more pleasant when everyone in the world is not either an enemy or an ally.” Thank you so much Margaret.

Margaret McGhee
February 16th, 2006, 02:34 PM
Fred, I was just getting ready to write this but saw your last post.

Despite the dismissive tone of my last post, I wanted to say that even though your reference to LeDoux doesn't rebut my negation of your assertion that similarity of bahavior indicates lack of free will, I think it (downward causation) is an interesting point on its own that deserves consideration.

BTW - Thanks for turning me on to LeDoux. I'm about half way through Synaptic Self. I'd be further along but I am stuck like an old scratched 78 on Chapter 9, The Lost World, which I have now re-read several times. (That was you wasn't it. I'm sorry to whoever I failed to credit if I got that wrong.)

I'm very busy on a project right now but I'll try to think some more about "downward causation" and get back in the next day or two.

Regards, Margaret

Fred H.
February 16th, 2006, 08:56 PM
MM: BTW - Thanks for turning me on to LeDoux. I'm about half way through Synaptic Self. I'd be further along but I am stuck like an old scratched 78 on Chapter 9, The Lost World, which I have now re-read several times. (That was you wasn't it. I'm sorry to whoever I failed to credit if I got that wrong.)Sure Margaret, you’re welcome. And yes, the “lost world of motivation” is a great chapter with lots of fascinating info to digest—I’ve many underlined areas and notes in that chapter. And when you’re finished you may well be even more convinced that free will is an illusion. Oh well.

But keep reading. In his final chapter, “Who Are You,” LeDoux writes: In the end, then, the self is maintained by systems that function both explicitly and implicitly. Through explicit systems, we try to willfully dictate who we are, and how we behave.
Not that I’d expect that “someone here so committed to their beliefs,” as you seem to be regarding free will, could ever be swayed by the neuroscience of LeDoux. ;)

Margaret McGhee
February 16th, 2006, 10:05 PM
Hi Fred,

You are right that I have a belief that free will does not exist. Actually, I have a strong higher level identity belief that supernatural forces do not exist - and the free will you speak of seems to require some of those. So my tendency is to look for reasons you must be wrong rather than reasons you could be right.

But my current belief that free will does not exist is a good example of how higher order beliefs determine what new beliefs we will admit into our minds. They've gotta feel good in there with what I already believe. Otherwise I'll have to deal with cognitive dissonance - and maybe even the pain of psoriasis. :eek:

I have an emotional attachment to ideas that are falsifiable but survive all attempts. Give me a definition of free will that survives that test and I'll be on your side.

Margaret

Fred H.
February 17th, 2006, 10:56 AM
MM: . . . and the free will you speak of seems to require some [“supernatural forces”].
Perhaps. Certainly the fact that we humans can discern objective mathematical truth, and then use that truth to understand ourselves and our universe, might suggest something “supernatural.”

MM: I have an emotional attachment to ideas that are falsifiable but survive all attempts. Give me a definition of free will that survives that test and I'll be on your side.
Sure, but you’ll have to use a kind of reductio ad absurdum.

Take your own definition of human “illusion of free will,” or whatever you’d call it, and show that it is indeed falsifiable, and then that it survives all attempts. Additionally, if indeed we do lack free will, and all we have are our subjective mental constructs, you’ll also have to show how we could ever “know” what’s real and unreal, what’s true and untrue, and how we could ever “know” whether a definition of something is truly falsifiable.

Now once you’ve proved to yourself that you can’t do any of that, you’ll then see that the opposite is true, that we do have some amount of free will.

But I doubt you’ll attempt any of that b/c, as you’ve noted, your “higher order beliefs” seem to preclude human free will; you’re effectively locked in. And I doubt that LeDoux’s “downward causation” will have any impact on you. Oh well.

Margaret McGhee
February 17th, 2006, 12:32 PM
Fred, This is my follow up to "downward causation". As I expected this is very interesting and relevant to the concept of free will. (Much more than your "similarity of behavior" hypothesis. :rolleyes:

I'm putting it here so I can find it easier. I'll address your "Falsify your own beliefs, Pookie (a gratuitous Soupy Sales reference)" argument later. :)

From your post Feb. 15 at 5:55 AM

LeDouxOur 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]
(I'm going to have to start buying highlighters by the case.)

This statement encapsulates several things that deserve examination IMO. The main one is that LeDoux assumes that in the Trilogy our thinking brain deserves to be in a position of control over our base emotions and motivations. He believes like everyone that disfunction, unhappines and strife in human affairs is caused when we don't think good enough or when we ignore our good thinking and follow those base emotions and motivations instead. This is the paradigm that exists in our culture and probably has since our intellect became self aware. It forms the basis of almost every school of human psychology and much of philosophy. It is the BIG MEME of western and even much eastern thought.

I know I'm yelling into a hurricane here but I think that it is wrong. Our intellect is a late addition to our CNS. It only adds another input (albeit a highly refined and useful one) to our emotional decision computer - the same basic system all our mammalian relatives have. And that input isn't our logical conclusions, it's the emotional markers we subconsciously give to them. So, we are still entirely emotional decision-making creatures. The reason we have that BIG MEME belief is because it matches what our conscious minds experience and it feeds such pleasurable emotions into our emotional decision computer when we contemplate our existence.

We have that BIG MEME because our conscious mind only sees it's own activity. It doesn't see our subconscious emotional decision process as it works. So it thinks IT is in charge. After we decide not to jump from a tall building to prove that God exists it says, "I really could have done it if I wanted to." It is lying because that lie feels so good and maintains our illusion of intellectual control. The truth is, if the sum of our emotional inputs said jump only then would we have done it and our intellect and it's silly ego would have gone along for the ride.

We can do no other than what the sum of our emotional inputs dictate. (My hypothesis.)

The BIG MEME does make a case for free will. It says that if we think good enough, perhaps informed by a God who put us here and knows what's best, then we can wrest control from our animal selves and go on to lead the good and moral life - i.e. not screwing everything that comes along, as you put it.

But I still say the BIG MEME is a conceit of our conscious mind who so wants to believe that it is in control - because it feels so damned good. Even LeDoux buys in although I suspect that's just because he hasn't met me yet. :rolleyes:

Actually, I'm sure he bought in as a child and has held that belief all his life as almost everyone in our culture has. As a scientist he has no choice now but to integrate it somehow into his theories. Although I don't think he has thought this one meme through very rigorously it doesn't distract much from the very objective and valuable work he has done on The Synaptic Self - and it offers a fairly harmless paean to his more philosophicly inclined readers.

I know I'm just stating what I believe and trying to show why it is plausible. I know I'm not proving anything. I'm working on that though and this discussion is helping me figure that out. Thanks everyone for humoring me. ;)

Margaret

Fred H.
February 17th, 2006, 01:59 PM
MM: Fred, This is my follow up to "downward causation". As I expected this is very interesting and relevant to the concept of free will.
Actually Margaret, this ultimately boils down to only one essential issue: whether there is objective (mathematical) truth and whether we humans can consciously discern it and use it to understand the reality of the physical world and ourselves. And as I’ve noted elsewhere, the evidence that that is indeed the case is (IMO) overwhelming—and it’s the only way that we could ever “know” anything.

But if you’re convinced otherwise, then so be it. However, in a world as you perceive it, all there can ever be are our illusions, our subjective constructs; and even if we happen to agree on something, like “BIG MEMES,” so what? It’d be nothing more than a consensus of our illusions, our subjective constructs. Or, as Shakespeare’s Macbeth opined:

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

TomJrzk
February 17th, 2006, 02:00 PM
OK, I'll play the part of the Hurricane for the first act. I can't get behind your saying:
Our intellect...adds another input (albeit a highly refined and useful one) to our emotional decision computer - the same basic system all our mammalian relatives have.

and then:
So, we are still entirely emotional decision-making creatures.

Including 'entirely' in that last sentence makes sense from what you've said but knocks my mathematical skills for a loop. I accept that the conscious mind is not guaranteed to be even aware of reality, much less a perfect merger of all that comes through our senses, even if our senses were perfect; but to relegate it to an emotional input seems a step too far. Yes, you call it a 'marker' but, to me, it's based on at least some logic/reasoning and therefore the final decision is not 'entirely' emotional.

Yes, you're saying that the final decision is entirely emotional and the intellect reasons (perhaps without emotion) outside the decision-making process; but that still means that it has an effect on the final decision.

Margaret McGhee
February 17th, 2006, 02:42 PM
Tom said: Yes, you're saying that the final decision is entirely emotional and the intellect reasons (perhaps without emotion) outside the decision-making process; but that still means that it has an effect on the final decision.

I never said our intellectual conclusions don't affect our decisions. And in most decisions we make they have a great effect. Those would be the thousands of decisions we make every day (like solving a mathematical problem) where our identity beliefs are not at stake (except perhaps our belief that we are a competent mathemetician). We make those decisions all the time. In fact, that constant activity of our intellect creates the illusion that it is driving the bus.

But sometimes we make more important decisions, like whether to take our sick child to the doctor or pray for their health. It is those identity related decisions where our intellect is somtimes at a disadvantage.

If you see yourself as a child of God who loves most those who believe in Him and whose destiny is in His hands - or you see yourself as subject to natural laws for which medical science provides the best current explanation - will greatly determine your decision. And it will be determined by the strength of the emotional markers that are attached to those identity beliefs in your mind weighed against those of your other instincts, dispositions and intellectual conclusions.

The reason that our intellect is so powerful is that it can operate logically (without emotion) outside our decision making process. It's an objective rather than subjective tool which gives us two complimentary ways to look at reality. And that really is very cool. :cool:

In each mind and in each context it will be given more or less weight to affect our decisions. That's good, not bad - and even though we humans often make spectacular judgement errors I believe that mechanism is the best that evolution has yet devised for any creature coping with the hostile and seemingly chaotic world that we live in.

(Fred's reply will take a little longer.)

Margaret

TomJrzk
February 17th, 2006, 03:07 PM
I never said our intellectual conclusions don't affect our decisions.
Then how can you say

So, we are still entirely emotional decision-making creatures.

? That's the sort of stuff that gives me headaches.

Margaret McGhee
February 17th, 2006, 03:18 PM
Tom said: That's the sort of stuff that gives me headaches.


When I say "So, we are still entirely emotional decision-making creatures." . .

. . I am of course, referring to the decison process itself, which remains as the weighing of various emotional inputs. That's my premise that I've explained several times. I'm not referring to the prior conscious act of creating and considering an intellectual conclusion and subconsciosuly applying an emotional marker to it.

I believe your headache is caused by even considering the possibility that your intellect is not driving the bus - not from those two statements which don't need to be seen as contradictory. :rolleyes:

Margaret

TomJrzk
February 17th, 2006, 03:41 PM
On the contrary. I fully accept your idea that

your intellect is not driving the bus
Margaret

I just think the words you use to express it are sometimes as confusing as "It's sunny outside but it's nighttime" or "intellect has an effect but the decision is entirely emotional". I know what you were trying to say, in fact, I think I even said it. I'm just saying that using those two sentences on the same page sound completely contradictory to anyone who doesn't understand your POV. If you don't want to change them then that's OK by me; I just think you should expect some more confusion on the part of others down the road. It seems like a lot of people put out words like these without considering the ramifications to literalists like me.

I'll drop it. I know what you mean and can see what you're saying; that they don't match is not that important. OK, I can add "after the intellectual input is converted to an emotional input", and be fine with what you're saying...

Plus, what emotion are you expecting to convey with the 'roll eyes' icon?

Margaret McGhee
February 17th, 2006, 04:16 PM
Tom said:
Plus, what emotion are you expecting to convey with the 'roll eyes' icon?
My frustration that I can't seem to convey to you what I'm trying to convey. That was the closest icon available to what I was feeling.

These forum sessions make it difficult to convey complex things that we often communicate in person with the help of body language and facial expressions and instant clarifications when we see a look of puzzlement of the other person's face. I suspect that in the absense of those other channels that we imagine from inadequate clues how the other person is interpreting our written words - and we're often wrong.

I try very hard to say specifically what I mean but that is so hard to do some times. It also makes my posts appear pedantic which I hate. The recipient is not a person standing next to me drinking a beer. It is a bunch of folks who I can only imagine and who all probably get somewhat different meanings from my words. Aaaargh! :rolleyes:

Margaret

TomJrzk
February 17th, 2006, 04:29 PM
I try very hard to say specifically what I mean but that is so hard to do some times. It also makes my posts appear pedantic which I hate. The recipient is not a person standing next to me drinking a beer. It is a bunch of folks who I can only imagine and who all probably get somewhat different meanings from my words. Aaaargh! :rolleyes:
Margaret
That being the only thing that confused me in all you've written shows that you're much more clear to me than I'd ever expect anyone to be.

The aggravation is obnoxious but this is still great fun. JimB, we need a 'pulling hair out' emoticon! ;)

Margaret McGhee
February 17th, 2006, 04:52 PM
Fred: Actually Margaret, this ultimately boils down to only one essential issue: whether there is objective (mathematical) truth and whether we humans can consciously discern it and use it to understand the reality of the physical world and ourselves. And as I’ve noted elsewhere, the evidence that that is indeed the case is (IMO) overwhelming—and it’s the only way that we could ever “know” anything.
I believe there is objective truth, at least as far it exists for the purpose of defining the reality we inhabit - and that's a pretty important purpose. It all could be an illusion on some matephysical level but I'll leave those questions to Alexandra.

But our intellect is not the only way we can "know" anything. That is an illusion created by our intellect (conscious mind) on its own behalf. Long before we had intellect we had emotion and that is how we know most things - but sometimes our intellect adds another dimension to that "knowing".

Fred: But if you’re convinced otherwise, then so be it. However, in a world as you perceive it, all there can ever be are our illusions, our subjective constructs; and even if we happen to agree on something, like “BIG MEMES,” so what? It’d be nothing more than a consensus of our illusions, our subjective constructs.
You are putting beliefs into my mind to make your point. I have repeatedly stated that our intellectual conclusions are (sometimes very) objective views of reality that we have access to. So I am not saying that our subjective ways of knowing are all there is. I'm just saying that our sometimes imperfect objective views have to submit (by way of their emotional tags) to our decision-making process, like all our other inputs which may be stronger or not depending on the context.

I think your intellect which believes it has some open channel to the mind of God is offended that your emotions would have some ability to interfere with your (spiritually informed) decisions. So it has placed the concept of free will into your belief system and attached it there with strong emotions so that you will even put beliefs into other people's minds if that's what it takes to defend it. ;)

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
February 17th, 2006, 05:38 PM
I notice that sometimes my meaning gets through better when I try to describe my emotions rather than my thoughts. And that feels soooo good! :)

Margaret

Fred H.
February 17th, 2006, 06:57 PM
MM: I believe there is objective truth, at least as far it exists for the purpose of defining the reality we inhabit - and that's a pretty important purpose. It all could be an illusion on some matephysical level but I'll leave those questions to Alexandra.
“Objective truth, as far as it exists . . . it could all be an illusion?”—That’s nothing, nothing like the objective (mathematical truth) that I refer to. What value could your mushy meandering sentiment possibly have in any consistently meaningful and objective sense? None. And that’s the essential issue. We completely disagree.

MM: Long before we had intellect we had emotion and that is how we know most things - but sometimes our intellect adds another dimension to that "knowing".
So creatures with only emotion and no intellect “know most things?” What, like insects, fish, reptiles, alley cats? Yeah, right.

MM: So it has placed the concept of free will into your belief system and attached it there with strong emotions so that you will even put beliefs into other people's minds if that's what it takes to defend it.
Sounds like you may be projecting. I find your lack of rigor to be insurmountable. Notice I didn’t also say your lack of honesty b/c I think you truly do see things the way you say you do. (However, we do seem to agree, more or less, on the dominance that our primitive subconscious motivation/emotional systems generally have over our conscious cognitions/perceptions; and that’s something that’s often not truly understood or appreciated by most.) I think we’re done. Have a beer on me.

Margaret McGhee
February 18th, 2006, 12:13 PM
As Tom mentioned yesterday, these forum exchanges are a lot of fun. And this one about Free Will, after a lot of verbal combat seems to be reaching exhaustion - or maybe we are just gathering our strength for the next battle.

But before we go on to something else I'd like to add a few ideas here. First, people often get a bit bent in these discussions. I did that when I first jumped in to the EP zone. Not just because I was guilty of that but generally I'd like to say that that is understandable. What we are doing here is far more compelling than the best designed on-line game (I think that's true but I've never played any of those).

We are bringing our most important personal beliefs out in front of others and inviting them to knock them down. We are giving a bunch of strangers who we'll probably never meet the opportunitiy to tell us that the beliefs that make up the most important elements of our identity are full of crap.

That takes some courage I believe. Also it's easy enough at this level of discourse to see when someone is not being sincere - so we all get to be our own referees and it's pretty hard to cheat. No matter what position we take on things like Free Will, I would say that everyone here is at least in the 95+ percentile when it comes to abstract intelligence. People below that level just don't think about these things very much.

I'd love to think that I made my case against the existence of Free Will and that I successfully defended my high level belief that supernatural forces don't exist in the universe, but I'm sure Fred believes he made his case that they do just as strongly. I think we have only refined the question a bit.

Does our intellect participate in our behavior decisions as just another emotional input into our ancient evolved decision computer as I have proposed - or does our intellect sit above our ancient self and through its enlightened will, wrest control from our animal emotions and thereby allow us to become a better being, a moral animal as Robert Wright would put it.

I actually accept the idea of downward causation but not in the way Fred would like because I also see upward causation. I think it depends on the strength of the emotions being weighed and whether the stronger ones come from below or above in any particular instance. And I reject the idea that a logical conclusion, without an attached emotion to make it relevant to our happiness, and thereby visible to our decision computer, can have any effect on our decisions.

Which is pretty much where we started. As much as I'd like to believe otherwise I don't believe I have made my case. I think to go further on this we'd have to come up with a test that would show that one of these views is correct and the other incorrect. Please let me (us) know if you come up with something.

Thanks for helping me think about this terribly interesting stuff,

Margaret

TomJrzk
February 18th, 2006, 04:26 PM
As Tom mentioned yesterday, these forum exchanges are a lot of fun. And this one about Free Will, after a lot of verbal combat seems to be reaching exhaustion
In spite of the verbal combat, this discussion has been of huge benefit to me. The four of us: Margaret, Alexandra, Todd and I, have nearly exact ideas about free will. I'm not sure about Margaret but Alexandra, Todd and I agree that our choices are deterministic; the two of them would add an element of 'free will' but one that is outside my concept of free will so I can accept that difference as something that we don't know, yet, and I can't argue against. Much as I can accept the fact that I don't know what ultimately created the universe, or what created that which created the universe...

So thank you all, this was a huge success.

Fred H.
February 19th, 2006, 12:18 PM
TJ: The four of us: Margaret, Alexandra, Todd and I, have nearly exact ideas about free will. I'm not sure about Margaret but Alexandra, Todd and I agree that our choices are deterministic; the two of them would add an element of 'free will' but one that is outside my concept of free will so I can accept that difference as something that we don't know, yet, and I can't argue against.
IOW, all four of you all have “nearly exact ideas,” that “choices are deterministic,” except that you’re not sure about Margaret, and except that Alex & Todd add “an element of free will,” and except that that is outside “your” concept of free will, and except that that difference is “something that we don't know yet?” And you conclude that this was a “huge success?”

Well Tom, you’ve convinced me—your free will and/or discernment is obviously an illusion. Might as well add me to your consensus with maybe this caveat: Fred also has nearly exact ideas about free will, that choices are deterministic, except when they’re not.

Ah yes, that nice warm fuzzy feeling of consensus . . . kind of like urinating in the swimming pool and believing that nobody will notice.

TomJrzk
February 19th, 2006, 03:29 PM
Pretty good Fred. Not as good as your earlier misrepresentation of someone's thoughts:

MM: Long before we had intellect we had emotion and that is how we know most things - but sometimes our intellect adds another dimension to that "knowing".

So creatures with only emotion and no intellect “know most things?” What, like insects, fish, reptiles, alley cats? Yeah, right.

Regardless of your rhetoric, we do agree on determinism, which is a fundamental understanding, and that is very rewarding. And I can see how you find that threatening and want to do something in our pool.

Fred H.
February 20th, 2006, 12:26 PM
TJ: And I can see how you find that threatening.
Except that you can also “see” how you all have “nearly exact ideas,” that “choices are deterministic,” except that Alex & Todd add “an element of free will,” and except that that is outside “your” concept of free will, and except that that difference is “something that we don't know yet.”

More likely you’re just projecting . . . and really don’t “see” all that much. But then how could it be otherwise since you do, after all, lack free will?

Think about it.

TomJrzk
February 20th, 2006, 01:02 PM
More likely you’re just projecting . . . and really don’t “see” all that much. But then how could it be otherwise since you do, after all, lack free will?

Alex adds free will only for political reasons and Todd grants his concept of free will to programmed machines, I can't argue with either of those and wouldn't want to. So our differences are not substantial at all.

Plus, you're still misrepresenting my understanding of free will. But, I know why you do and I know that you can't do otherwise in your current condition. I also know that I would necessarily do the same, given the same conditions. So I really do value you as a person and sympathize with your plight.

Fred H.
February 21st, 2006, 02:06 PM
But, I know why you do and I know that you can't do otherwise in your current condition. I also know that I would necessarily do the same, given the same conditions. So I really do value you as a person and sympathize with your plight. Bizarre. :rolleyes:

Fred H.
February 22nd, 2006, 05:38 PM
Free Will Challenge & Conclusion

In the challenge it was asserted that we humans “conjure a belief in free will because our ego loves the idea that our conscious mind is in charge,” and that we “choose the behavior that feels best from the alternatives, that we have no other choice.” IOW, that free will is some sort of illusion. However, from our discussion and the various arguments and explanations provided, it is concluded that we humans do indeed have some amount of free will—

Although “free will” may be difficult to clearly define, we seem to all have some intuitive sense of what it is—essentially choice, choice made by our higher cognitive conscious self, choice that is something more than merely a conscious cognitive illusion being driven by primitive algorithmic subconscious neural mechanisms, mechanisms concerned primarily with survival and reproduction; and free will seems to require, using LeDoux’s term, “downward causation.”

The available evidence indicates that human consciousness—sentience, sapience, self-awareness—is indeed something real, something that does indeed exist; although it also seems to be beyond the precise explanation of any currently available science. More to the issue, the available evidence also indicates that we humans use our cognitive consciousness to discern objective mathematical truth, and that we then use that objective truth to understand, explain, and, to some extent manage, our physical world and ourselves.

Accordingly, the available evidence overwhelming supports the view that we humans do indeed have some sort of, and some amount of, free will (and also implies that we humans are probably the only creatures that do have it.)

(Additionally, for those asserting that we humans do not have free will, that free will is some sort of illusion, then the burden is on them to come up with a definition and/or theory for this “illusion of free will,” to show that this definition/theory is falsifiable; and also to show how creatures that lack free will and that are unable to discern objective truth could ever “know” and/or “prove,” and/or evaluate the reality of anything.)

ToddStark
February 23rd, 2006, 12:18 AM
My general conclusions at this point regarding free will.

When we think of physical events, we always think in terms of physical causes. I think this is an epistemological constraint rather than a metaphysical one. We cannot imagine a physical event without physical causes of some sort. Descartes' infamous dilemma was the difficulty, perhaps even impossibility, of finding a way that "minds" and "bodies" can interact if we conceive of bodies as physical and minds as something distinctly else.

I would say that mechanical causal models gradually become less accurate at describing the behavior of increasingly sophisticated systems in nature. Probably the most sophisticated systems we know of are human minds. Thus we have evolved ways of thinking of these more sophisticated systems using less mechanical kinds of model, such as intentional psychology (attitudes, beliefs, striving for goals).

I don't think there is a definitive resolution for how real the entities of intentional psychology might be, but I think we know two important things about them:

(1) Our intutions about the entities of intentional psychology are often strikingly inaccurate ("the illusion of conscious will", Dan Wegner) - and we can contrive experimental conditions that demonstrate this illusion.

(2) The entites of intentional psychology are generally very useful in our daily life and some form of them may actually be unavoidable for human social interaction (imagine trying to deal with other people day to day without assuming they have minds, your interactions would be bizarre, others would soon perceive you as mentally ill).

So I conclude that our perception of free will is probably not accurate, but that human beings do make choices, that animals and even machines make choices, but that the sophistication and kinds of choices differ from one type of decision maker to another. And our natural tendency to see complex things as intentional systems is in general very helpful, even where it is not entirely accurate. There is possibly some better form of intentional psychology than the one we evolved with, especially if we add massive computational power, but this can only be speculation at this point. I doubt that a purely mechanical model, even with massive computational power, can do a better job with human behavior than intentional psychology does.

Although I agree that we *can* define free will in such a way that humans have it and nothing else does, I think this is the very approach that makes it impossible to reconcile physical causality with choice. If our goal is to understand the mechanisms and processes of decision making (as it is in cognitive science), then it makes more sense to define agency in terms that are continuous with the rest of the natural world.

As is often the case, the best conceptual model to choose depends a lot on the question we are trying to answer. People looking for naturalistic mechanisms should define free will in terms that let them make natural sense of it. People looking for something else probably have good reason to define it differently.

kind regards,

Todd

TomJrzk
February 23rd, 2006, 09:23 AM
it is concluded that we humans do indeed have some amount of free will—
We have concluded no such thing. There is no free will, especially if you imply animals do not have it. The onus is on you to prove that humans have free will since the null case is valid: we can easily be merely smarter than the average chimp and still have exactly what we have. Occam's razor.

I think most people's concept of free will excludes brain dead people; if yours doesn't, and you want to stay within the realm of science or nature, you need to define the vessel for this concept. Many would also exclude mentally insufficient people who can't be responsible for their actions and accept this as a limitation of their 'free will'; how can something that's free be physically caused to the point where we can remove part of Fred's brain and say he no longer has free will?

Fred H.
February 23rd, 2006, 03:27 PM
Todd: So I conclude that our perception of free will is probably not accurate, but that human beings do make choices, that animals and even machines make choices, but that the sophistication and kinds of choices differ from one type of decision maker to another.
“Machines make choices?” Yep, I agree Todd, your perception of free will is not accurate, nor meaningful.

I suppose you’re actually referring to the software, the algorithms, that we humans place inside the hardware, your “machines.”

So the machine “choices” you refer to are really just the resulting actions of algorithms—algorithms designed (or discovered) and placed in the hardware by a human consciousness that possesses sentience, sapience, self-awareness, and is capable of discerning and utilizing objective mathematical truth.

Next I suppose you’ll assert that human consciousness is also the result of algorithms—but rather than being generated by hardware and humanly designed algorithms, human consciousness is generated by naturally selected accidental tissue and accidental algorithms—algorithms that somehow manage to avoid that pesky halting problem, and/or Godel’s incompleteness theorem.

If that’s actually your view Todd, fine, but shouldn’t you strive for a bit more rigor and honesty? Your “free will” here would be nothing more than the inevitable determinism of such underlying algorithms, regardless of whatever complexity you might attribute to them.

But of course we’ve been down this road b/f Todd, and I’ve pretty much concluded that you’re essentially, more or less, agnostic about these deeper issues. And that’s fine. I just wish I could convince you that bullshit is not nuance.

Fred H.
February 23rd, 2006, 03:52 PM
TomJ: We have concluded no such thing. There is no free will, especially if you imply animals do not have it.
To be more consistent with your own POV, you should say that it’s just the determinism of the algorithms that happen to be imbedded in the tissue known as TomJ that have “concluded no such thing.”

Think about it. Again.

TomJrzk
February 23rd, 2006, 04:34 PM
To be more consistent with your own POV, you should say that it’s just the determinism of the algorithms that happen to be imbedded in the tissue known as TomJ that have “concluded no such thing.”
That's beside the point but I'll answer it: Yes, my brain, weighing its memories and instincts, concluded that there is no evidence yet of the existence of free will.

Your statement that 'it has been concluded' just left out the explicit 'we'. It has not been concluded since there is still disagreement. Now, if you want to say 'Fred has concluded', I would have no problem with you stating your own POV, no matter how incorrect it may be. And I'd really appreciate it if you would go back to your post and edit out that error.

Fred H.
February 24th, 2006, 10:34 AM
TomJ: Now, if you want to say 'Fred has concluded', I would have no problem with you stating your own POV, no matter how incorrect it may be. And I'd really appreciate it if you would go back to your post and edit out that error.
But if things are as you say, then it’d not be “you” or “Tom” that’d appreciate the requested edit, because “you” or “Tom” are merely illusions generated by the deterministic algorithms, embedded in the tissue of a brain, that would “appreciate” the edit. And it’d not be “Fred” that has concluded anything, but merely the deterministic algorithms embedded in the tissue of a brain that has “concluded” whatever was concluded; and it’d not be “Fred” that goes back and edits the post, since “Fred” would merely be an illusion generated by those algorithms.

Accordingly, if things are as you say, then “we” don’t exist, feelings and conclusions are nothing more than subjective constructs, and only blindly deterministic algorithms are “choosing” and “concluding” whatever blindly deterministic algorithms “choose” and “conclude.” So relax, neither “you” nor "Fred" really exist, and this is all an illusion.

TomJrzk
February 24th, 2006, 11:01 AM
blindly deterministic algorithms
You're misrepresenting my views yet again. Even without free will, you are still Fred, you use your brain and make choices. For the sake of others, I will explain myself:

There is only evolution and psychology; hence the name of this forum. Our brains evolved to the point where we can consider our origins and imagine our futures. But they are still brains; they make choices by firing neurons and neurons are affected by neurotransmitters. I see no evidence for a 'soul' or 'spirit' or anything beyond the neurotransmitters.

You are still Fred. You choose to type what you type because your brain has decided what's best for you and does it. Your brain is affected in varying amounts by the environment; what you read in my typing affects what your thoughts are and plays a part in determining your typing. But my typing is deterministic; directly affected only by the current condition of my brain, which is composed of functional modules and memories. So, I was destined to type exactly what you see now. If you read this, you're destined to interpret what I typed as you will. But your decisions are affected by your memories; I'm adding some.

My hope is that something I type turns on a light bulb in Fred's brain that gives him some insight into my POV and hopefully that's for the better. My need is to make sure those that may read this in the future with open minds have something besides your ??? to affect their memories. I wanted to write something honest about what I think of your writings but that will not help this 'conversation'.

So, I decide, Fred decides, and this conversation continues... There is nothing 'blind' about it, we have the power. Obviously.

Fred H.
February 25th, 2006, 10:53 AM
TomJ: For the sake of others, I will explain myself….

You choose to type what you type because your brain has decided what's best for you and does it.
Yep, that’s essentially what I said—it’s your view that when “you choose,” it’s actually “[the algorithm(s) in] your brain [that] has decided what's best for you and does it.” And obviously any “you” is merely an illusion created by those algorithms—or as Crick might have said, you’re nothing but a pack of algorithms.

Interestingly, using your POV as the model, your brain continues to erroneously “decide” that my brain is somehow “misrepresenting” the “view” of your brain—your algorithms seem to be stuck in a loop; perhaps an SSRI would help remedy that annoying problem.

ToddStark
February 25th, 2006, 11:53 AM
Well Fred, I'm offering a different way of looking at some basic concepts, and you want to ridicule even my most basic definitions from the start. I'm obviously not making an argument, I'm trying to paint a different picture to help you see why I think differently. On metaphysical issues that's often the best we can do, I find.

That's why we find each other such unsatisfying intellectual conversation partners. We don't share the same basic values regarding what makes a good intellectual discussion. However, I am reluctant to give up mine as you are yours, so I will continue for the moment. My viewpoint is based on the ways in which I think cognitive science has continued to evolve over the decades to help us better understand the way human minds work in empirical terms.

I will try to make the previous point more explicitly.

1. If you don't bias the concept (unfairly I think) by imaginaing that it has to flow from human conscious ruminations, I find it is pretty clear that responding differently to different environmental conditions is a simple form of choice. It is at least continuous with how we think of choice. I don't say it is human or even animal choice. It is perhaps molecular choice, electronic choice, maybe choice among bugs. Think of when an insect follows a pheromone trail wherever it leads. There is intention and purpose of a sort either in its body or in an evolutionary adaptive sense, yet it is not really human style thinking. Clearly you don't equate insect choice with human choice, but can you imagine that insects have in some sense more of a choice than bacteria? That concept of choice being a continuum is central to my perspective. If you can't imagine this, I guess you are blocked from seeing my viewpoint.

2. When something can change the way it responds to different environmental conditions, we are a tiny step closer to human style choice. Machines that don't just respond to different environmental conditions differently but also learn to respond in entirely new ways are making a new kind of choice. The most sophisticated machines now in use sometimes manage this.

3. When something we designed comes up with entirely new ways of behaving that we can't link back to the design we originally gave it, then it makes sense to me to say that it can have new kinds of choices. IN this sense, human beings have very different ways of making choices than machines because their evolutionary history has given then many levels of machinery for making choices in different ways. Your concept of choice as a result of rumination is just one of these, the last in a long line of innovations, but one that you want to make all-important, and I want to make part of a larger continuum.

Essentially, I am adopting the stance favored in science which is known as functionalism, defining things in terms of what things do. That's why I feel justified in thinking of choice as things responding differently to different environmental conditions. You are defining choice partly in terms of how it feels and how human beings seem to experience it when we do it. Yes, I consider the human experience of choice to be important, just as you do, but for me it is secondary to the explanatory tactic of functionalism. That is the very fundamental starting tactic that distinguishes our viewpoints. It is the explanatory tactic (perhaps the only one) that even makes it conceivable to have a science of human mind.

I don't see how one could ever appreciate the value of the physicalist or naturalist viewpoint without at least tentatively adopting the explanatory tactic of functionalism. We don't need to assume that humans are mechanical or adopt radical behaviorism to understand current physicalism, but we do need to assume that things are best defined in functional terms rather than personal phenomenological ones. I know it's a tough pill to swallow, and that's why most people don't swallow it. And why most people can't comprehend philosophers like Dennett. And I believe also why that sort of philosopher appear to some folks to be bizarrely denying consciousness.

I can't possibly defend the warrant for functionalism, except perhaps on a historical basis, which I won't attempt here. I will just state that I think it is immensely powerful for explaining otherwise seemingly inexplicable things through specifically empirical kinds of inquiry. Whereas our subjective experience of how we make choices does not really lend itself very well to empirical inquiry. That's the reason I adopt this way of thinking about free will that goes somewhat against our intution that human beings have meaningful choice and nothing else does.

Todd

TomJrzk
February 25th, 2006, 01:12 PM
Yep, that’s essentially what I said—it’s your view that when “you choose,” it’s actually “[the algorithm(s) in] your brain [that] has decided what's best for you and does it.” And obviously any “you” is merely an illusion created by those algorithms—or as Crick might have said, you’re nothing but a pack of algorithms.

Interestingly, using your POV as the model, your brain continues to erroneously “decide” that my brain is somehow “misrepresenting” the “view” of your brain—your algorithms seem to be stuck in a loop; perhaps an SSRI would help remedy that annoying problem.
Wow, you're on a roll!!! With this and your post on the other thread, we may have made some headway!

My only disagreement with your representation of my views was the word 'blindly'; I'm sorry I didn't make that clearer and I'm so glad that you left it off this time, I'm out of our loop now. There's nothing blind about it. The majority of our eyes are open and our brains allow in much of what is needed to make 'good' decisions (see the thread "The Repressor Module: EP's Holy Grail" for evidence that the brain does not allow everything in). We do think and decide; I just don't see any evidence for a 'soul' or 'spirit' that adds anything else.

Fred H.
February 25th, 2006, 01:38 PM
Todd: Essentially, I am adopting the stance favored in science which is known as functionalism, defining things in terms of what things do.
Yeah, I know, you’re essentially a “strong AI” guy. Here’s something from Wikipedia: The strong AI vs. weak AI debate is still a hot topic amongst AI philosophers. This involves philosophy of mind and the mind-body problem. Most notably Roger Penrose in his book The Emperor's New Mind and John Searle with his "Chinese room" thought experiment argue that true consciousness can not be achieved by formal logic systems, while Douglas Hofstadter in Gödel, Escher, Bach and Daniel Dennett in Consciousness Explained argue in favour of Functionalism. In many strong AI supporters’ opinion, artificial consciousness is considered as the holy grail of artificial intelligence.
Functionalism holds that the exact biological structures of the mind need not be the same, just so long as the same “process” is achieved, i.e. algorithms. IOW, just copy and past Todd’s algorithms from Todd’s brain to say a Cray, and voil*!—the Cray is Todd too . . . or should that be Todd II? And additionally, you’ll essentially have achieved immortality! Oh happy day.

As I’ve previously noted, it’s essentially your view that human consciousness is the result of algorithms, algorithms that somehow manage to avoid that pesky halting problem, and/or Godel’s incompleteness theorem. Fine.

I’ve looked at and considered this stuff at some length, and I’ve concluded that AI is a pipe dream. Nevertheless, I’ll admit that AI makes great science fiction—From “2001: A Space Odyssey”—
HAL 9000 computer:
Look Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I've still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.

I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm a... fraid….

TomJrzk
February 28th, 2006, 11:15 AM
I’ve looked at and considered this stuff at some length, and I’ve concluded that AI is a pipe dream.
I've concluded that a machine that can mimic your neurons and neurotransmitters and store all of your memories and instincts would be just as conscious as you. If there's anything else, I have yet to see evidence of it and the null case is still valid, Occam's Razor again.

ToddStark
March 2nd, 2006, 12:32 PM
Hi Fred,

I am not "strong AI" at all. I don't say that brains are computers (and certainly not that they are fundamentally rule-based symbol processors!). I say rather that functionalism is the only way to understand a mind scientifically. It may or may not succeed, I suppose, but to me it seems probably the only way to get around the problems with non-embodied models of minds.

In cognitive science, there are basically two schools of thought: the tradition of rule-based systems (which is where "strong AI" arises), and the tradition of connectionist networks.

My view, just so you understand, is that neither of them captures the human mind, but that together they get as close as we can currently get. The most plausible approach I have seen so far is that of Gary Marcus, who endorses the idea that sufficiently sophisticated connectionist networks can be used to emulate rule-based symbol processors. I suggest that this is not too terribly far from Dennett's suggestion that a brain can emulate a "semantic engine" but not quite become one. I don't say that such a thing is a mind, but it is probably as close as we can imagine a design for one with current theory.

If I understand your argument, you are arguing that because I endorse functionalism, I am also a strong AI proponent, and that strong AI is a weak position. As I understand it, strong AI is essentially a rule-based approach to the mind. I used to program in LISP in college, so I have a rudimentary understanding of what they were trying to do in early cog sci by using rules to emulate human thinking. The dream was once that "expert systems" could perform as well as human minds, so long as we get the rules right.

Ok, my response is that I agree with you that strong AI is not a very supportable position, for a number of good reasons. However, strong AI is no longer really current cognitive science either.

We can build some killer chess computers, but even those are usually not entirely rule-based systems. The technology has changed to be more like a human brain, in the sense of using connectionist networks and selection algorithms rather than just rules. So although in trying to argue against functionalist you might want to argue that computers are all rule-based, and that all of cog sci is "strong AI," it truly isn't accurate. The technology has become more similar to a biological brain in some ways, so that distinction is becoming harder to maintain.

I don't endorse strong AI, nor do I agree with you that functionalist approaches to the mind are all equivalent to strong AI and its rule processing.

We agree that there is no computer model of a human mind that is adeuqate in all ways, however, I differ in that I think it is possible in principle to get closer to equivalence (and probably not by relying solely on rule or symbol processing alone).

If you should want to pursue this, Gary Marcus has an excellent book on the differences between rule-based and connectionist models of the mind which would help you see why "strong AI" is a strawman argument.

I suspect that your argument is not really about strong AI, however, but that a human mind is not a machine, and so presumably cannot be represented in functional terms. I won't argue that, because as I said, it is an explanatory tactic not a metaphysical commitment. I don't claim that thinks *are* nothing but what they do, I claim that often the only way to make a scientific theory of them is to see them that way.

kind regards,

Todd

Fred H.
March 2nd, 2006, 04:30 PM
Todd: If you should want to pursue this, Gary Marcus has an excellent book on the differences between rule-based and connectionist models of the mind which would help you see why "strong AI" is a strawman argument.
“Straw man argument?” Come on Todd. From Wikipedia: Connectionism is an approach in the fields of artificial intelligence, cognitive science, neuroscience, psychology and philosophy of mind. Connectionism models mental or behavioral phenomena as the emergent processes of interconnected networks of simple units. There are many different forms of connectionism, but the most common forms utilize neural network models.
Regarding “emergence,” again from Wikipedia: Like intelligence in AI, or agents in DAI, it [emergence] is a central concept in complex systems yet is hard to define and very controversial. There is no scientific consensus about what weak and strong forms of emergence are, or about how much emergence should be relied upon as an explanation in general. It seems impossible to unambiguously decide whether a phenomenon should be considered emergent.

Further, "emergent" is not always a deeply explanatory label even when it is agreed on: the more complex the phenomenon is, the more intricate are the underlying processes, and the less effective the word emergence is alone. In fact, calling a phenomenon emergent is sometimes used in lieu of a more meaningful explanation.
So basically your “connectionist models” are “simple units,” that are essentially algorithmic (what else is there?) interconnecting to make larger and large interconnected networks, when at some point, inexplicably, voil*!—consciousness magically “emerges.”

And for your reading enjoyment regarding any supposed “connectionism vs. computationalism” debate, here’s Wikipedia once again: Connectionism and computationalism need not be at odds per se, but the debate as it was phrased in the late 1980s and early 1990s certainly led to opposition between the two approaches. However, throughout the debate some researchers have argued that connectionism and computationalism are fully compatible, though nothing like a consensus has ever been reached. The differences between the two approaches that are usually cited are the following:

· Computationalists posit symbolic models that do not resemble underlying brain structure at all, whereas connectionists engage in "low level" modeling, trying to ensure that their models resemble neurological structures.

· Computationalists generally focus on the structure of explicit symbols (mental models) and syntactical rules for their internal manipulation, whereas connectionists focus on learning from environmental stimuli and storing this information in a form of connections between neurons.

· Computationalists believe that internal mental activity consists of manipulation of explicit symbols, whereas connectionists believe that the manipulation of explicit symbols is a poor model of mental activity.

Though these differences do exist, they may not be necessary. For example, it is well known that connectionist models can actually implement symbol manipulation systems of the kind used in computationalist models. So, the differences might be a matter of the personal choices that some connectionist researchers make as opposed to anything fundamental to connectionism.

James Brody
March 2nd, 2006, 04:31 PM
Sez Todd about Fred: "That's why we find each other such unsatisfying intellectual conversation partners."

Sure coulda fooled me!

Nice going and thanks, both of you!!!!

JB

ToddStark
March 3rd, 2006, 11:48 PM
Hi Fred,

I'm not arguing with Wikipedia, I'm trying to figure out what *your* argument is! :rolleyes:

Rather than continue to go deeper into technical definitions that I feel are only superficially relevant to the real argument, let's take a step back to concepts.

You seem to be arguing in essence that the mind is not a machine and so cog sci in any form cannot represent it properly.

I see the positions on this issue as falling roughly into these camps (I know I'm oversimplifying, but I think this makes some important distinctions):

1. People who don't think there can ever be a legitimate science of mind because it is too complex, or has properties that are outside of scientific explanation. Cartesian substance dualists and people who insist on souls and supernatural causation or philosophical "free will" (as incompatible with physical causation) fall into this camp. I doubt that one can be a scientist in the sense of a "causalist" scientist (one who thinks theories explain causal relations) and still fall into this category because there has never been any way of reconciling causal effects between separate substances of mind and body.

2. People who think there can be a legitimate science of mind but it must be in mental or intentional terms and cannot possibly be made consistent with or in terms of neural and cognitive models because special properties like subjective experience and free will are in principle beyond those models. Non-cognitive scientists like Roger Penrose seem to fall into this camp. Penrose calls himself a "non-computational functionalist." That is, I think he agrees with me that the mind can probably only be understood in terms of what it does, but speculates that *something* about its functions cannot be translated into terms of computation.

To me, this places Penrose in a similar camp with Chalmers and Searle, in sharing the committment that while we can talk about minds in cognitive terms, something basic will always be left over when we do. This is exactly where philosophers get caught up in talking about whether functional zombies who behave and respond exactly like us but lack a soul and are without "real experience" are possible. My third category thinks that the notion of functional zombies is a compelling illusion; the second category with Penrose, Searle, and Chalmers seems to believe that functional zombies are a real difficulty for philosophy of mind.

I think the second category can in principle make serious contributions to a science of mind (unlike camp 1) because they are at least causalists and are looking to enhance the causal models we use, but personally I suspect they are on the wrong general track and will mostly spawn disconnected speculations like Penrose's quantum microtubule effects.

3. People who think there can be a legitimate science of mind, but that it should best be made in terms of or at least consistent with neural and cognitive models or at least some model that sees a mind in terms of what it does. Here are the functionalists, who for the most part, are rooted in cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary biology because these are the best warranted current science.

The mainstream position of cognitive science, places those of us who are devotees (which includes almost all functionalists) firmly in the third camp. People like Dennett, Crick, Koch, Baars, and the Churchlands are some of the best known folks in this camp. I think they are the ones who are making the most progress right now in understanding how the brain works, and how it relates to the mind.

I want to recommend an interesting volume by Susan Blackmore, "Conversations about Consciousness." It has great interviews on this topic with Penrose, Dennett, and a number of other very bright folks who have thought a lot about this and worked in related fields for a long time. It gives a unique insight into the various theories of these people, I found.

kind regards,

Todd

Fred H.
March 4th, 2006, 10:47 AM
Todd: Rather than continue to go deeper into technical definitions that I feel are only superficially relevant to the real argument, let's take a step back to concepts.
Indeed Todd, “only superficially relevant to the real argument,” although your claim that you’re “trying to figure out what [my] argument is :rolleyes: ” strikes me as being less than earnest. Perhaps you missed my post # 37 in this thread: The available evidence indicates that human consciousness—sentience, sapience, self-awareness—is indeed something real, something that does indeed exist; although it also seems to be beyond the precise explanation of any currently available science. More to the issue, the available evidence also indicates that we humans use our cognitive consciousness to discern objective mathematical truth, and that we then use that objective truth to understand, explain, and, to some extent manage, our physical world and ourselves.

Accordingly, the available evidence overwhelming supports the view that we humans do indeed have some sort of, and some amount of, free will (and also implies that we humans are probably the only creatures that do have it.)
IOW, the human mind is undoubtedly more than “computation,” or algorithms—i.e. your “machine,” whatever currently available science you might utilize to define “machine,” connectionism models and so-called “emergent” processes notwithstanding.

IOW, explaining the human mind—or more specifically consciousness and free will—with the currently available science is roughly as naive as explaining the atom using Newton’s laws of motion and gravity and/or using the solar system as a model.

ToddStark
March 5th, 2006, 11:37 PM
Hi Fred,

I wouldn't waste my time with disingenuous posts. You pretty much get my thoughts as they are, with a little editing. :)

Here's why I disagree with the non-computation assumption ...

As I think almost any serious student of the human mind will probably agree, none of us knows for sure whether the human mind can be fully described in computational terms, and we choose to make different assumptions.

Several bright people have argued famously that they have very good and scientifically coherent reasons to feel that the mind is more than computation. My favorite examples are Ned Block and Roger Penrose. A computational mind makes sense to cognitive scientists, and most but not all functionalists. I think Penrose and Block are actually (mostly) functionalists, in the sense I use the term. However they both argue persuasively that the mind must be doing things that are beyond what we currently think of as the sort of computation that a computer does.

Eventually, if we persue computational and non-computational lines of modelling, we should be able to discern whether non-computational models are neccessary and useful. We will have more to go on than just our intuition that "there must be more to human consciousness than computation." That is a compelling argument, but not exactly conclusive. We have discovered many compelling illusions about the mind over the years.

I think it makes sense to assume a computational mind order to see how far that takes us, because we have a lot of really powerful tools for modelling things computationally, and as Penrose acknowledges, almost no tools to study non-computational things. Even if we agreed in principle that Godel Incompleteness is relevant to how we represent the mind, and we don't, it still isn't neccessarily relevant to how we can best study it right now in order to make scientific progress.

Personally, if I were a researcher I wouldn't see making my working hypothesis a theory that I cannot use to investigate the mind at this time, I would focus on the tools we have and assume that the "hard problems" of consciousness will either dissolve, as Dennett and the Churchlands believe, or will eventually clarify to become more accessible questions, as Penrose believes.

I think it probably makes sense for some people to persue the non-computational line as Penrose does. I also think it makes sense for people to persue computational models.

My guess is that the computational models will take us farther for quite a while, and eventually we will know with greater confidence whether there are non-computational elements that we need to study. We don't know that yet.

My particular form of compatibilism says that some sort of "free will" is true and that physical determinism is also true (physical events have physical causes). Sophisticated enough systems can have upward, downward, and sideways causal paths. I don't know if this requires non-computational processes or models, and I don't agree with Penrose that Godel Incompletness neccessarily forces the issue. However I do think it is a reasonable thing for him to suggest and persue in principle.

I just think it is perhaps a long way off until we will know if he is right or have any real non-computational models to use to study the mind.

I hope this helps,

Todd

Fred H.
March 6th, 2006, 12:22 PM
Todd: My particular form of compatibilism says that some sort of "free will" is true and that physical determinism is also true (physical events have physical causes). Sophisticated enough systems can have upward, downward, and sideways causal paths. I don't know if this requires non-computational processes or models, and I don't agree with Penrose that Godel Incompletness neccessarily forces the issue. However I do think it is a reasonable thing for him to suggest and persue in principle.
Penrose clearly shows us that the truth of Godel’s incompleteness (and the Turing halting problem) confirms that human consciousness is the result of something more than algorithms—just as quantum behavior/process of protons and electrons, say in atoms, confirms that quantum processes are something more than the result of Newton’s laws of motion and gravity, something more than a miniature solar system. So it doesn’t matter whether you “agree” or not, one simply goes where the available evidence/truth takes us.

It does seem that we kind of agree that “some sort of free will is true,” although I find your “compatibilism”—“that some sort of "free will" is true and that physical determinism is also true”— to be little more than equivocation at best, or cognitive dissonance at worse. Regarding your view that “physical determinism is also true,” I’m inclined to agree except that human “free will” would somehow, ultimately, have to trump such determinism to some extent.

I really do have empathy for your agnosticism regarding some of these complex issues Todd, and indeed agnosticism may well be the judicious view. But I wish you’d be a little more upfront about it—besides irritating me, your equivocations cause people like Tom to mistakenly believe that that you, he, and the other “atheists” have actually reached some sort of meaningful consensus.

TomJrzk
March 6th, 2006, 02:35 PM
But I wish you’d be a little more upfront about it—besides irritating me, your equivocations cause people like Tom to mistakenly believe that that you, he, and the other “atheists” have actually reached some sort of meaningful consensus.
Ha, that's hilarious because I was saying the same thing to Todd; he's encouraging you to see a difference between his views and mine. As I've said, if his 'free will' is also available to machines (as well as lower animals) then he and I don't differ in the slightest, much to your discomfort. We have reached a very meaningful consensus.

Fred H.
March 6th, 2006, 05:01 PM
TJ: . . . then he and I don't differ in the slightest, much to your discomfort. We have reached a very meaningful consensus.
See Todd? Your equivocations have resulted in Tom’s cognitive dissonance—while Tom insists that he has “proof that there is no Free Will,” and while you alternatively declare that “some sort of free will is true and that physical determinism is also true,” Tom nevertheless concludes that you and he “have reached a very meaningful consensus.” Please Todd, gently explain to Tom that what he perceives as the nice warm feeling of consensus is really nothing more than your release into his swimming pool.

Margaret McGhee
March 6th, 2006, 05:33 PM
Hi. I just got back from a week skiing in Canada - with tired legs but pleased to find this thread still running strong. I'm at the library as my ISP is down at home so my posts may be sporadic for a while.

After catching up on the posts I'd just like to add a gentle plug for my POV on this :)

I think perhaps the difficulty we have discussing free will - or any aspect of consciousness, is that our real way of knowing and our way of making survival decisions based on what we know, is actually emotional, not intellectual. But consciousness is a product of our intellect - that is only occasionally aware of our emotions (and what we know emotionally).

So our discussions are about concepts, things that our consciousness can deal with, like free will and compatibilism and whatever. And we think that is what knowing is - because that's all we have conscious access to in our minds. (I think our intellect is largely along for the ride ;) )

And since this path is divorced from our emotional knowing we are free to imagine whatever concepts we wish. Although, some of those concepts will create emotional values that will get weighed if we make any decisions based on those concepts.

To summarize, we are free to imagine whatever we wish - and that feels like free will.

But we can only make decisions (like what to believe about free will or what to state in a post like this) that result from a summing of the emotional inputs that we are subconsciously aware of.

We therefore lack free will to make decisions in any other way. The challenge remains - can anyone provide an example where we make a decision that violates this principle? If you can't, then how can you make a credible claim for free will?

Margaret

Fred H.
March 6th, 2006, 09:31 PM
MM: We therefore lack free will to make decisions in any other way. The challenge remains - can anyone provide an example where we make a decision that violates this principle?
I have Margaret, but as I’ve indicated b/f, you may be too locked into your preconceived notions, or perhaps just not really paying attention. Nonetheless, magnanimous guy that I am, I’ll try one last time—

First, I’d agree that the evidence from currently available neuroscience indicates that “survival decisions” are indeed made largely with (subconscious/subcortical) emotional input. However, our cognition/intellect (at least for those of us that aren’t completely slaves to our emotions and/or preconceived notions) can discern objective truth, enabling us to act accordingly, even though it may not always “feel” right emotionally.

I’ll give the same example I gave b/f—

In the Monty Hall problem there’s a prize behind one of three doors and you guess/choose which door—Monty then eliminates one of the two remaining doors (that obviously wouldn’t have the prize) and asks if you now want to switch your choice to the other remaining door. Initially most people will say, and are convinced emotionally, that it doesn’t matter, that it’s a 50/50 chance whether you stay with your first choice or switch to the remaining second door. However, many of those same people will, if they truly attempt to understand the statistics/probability of the problem, eventually see that in fact their odds of winning will increase from 33% to 67% if they switch to the remaining door.

The proof of the Monty Hall problem is a kind of objective (probability/statistical) truth—and I think that most are probably capable of comprehending such objective truth, and acting on it, even if it initially is contrary to their emotional feelings/beliefs and/or presuppositions.

So now it’s up to you: Do you “choose” to stay with your first choice, the lack of free will, which you may still “feel” very strongly about? Or, assuming you now comprehend, cognitively/intellectually, that human intellect is indeed capable of discerning objective truth (with minimal emotional input), enabling you to act on it—enabling the cognitive part of your mental trilogy to engage in “downward causation—do you “choose” to (cognitively/intellectually) accept and acknowledge that we humans do indeed have at least some free will? (If you remain convinced that we lack free will, then I suppose I’ll have to more or less agree that you yourself probably do . . . sort of a nice little win-win for us, albeit somewhat delusional and somewhat akin to Tom’s delusion that he and Todd have reached some sort of consensus.)

Margaret McGhee
March 7th, 2006, 12:15 PM
Fred, I can't seem to get the forum search function to do my bidding but if I did fail to answer your first posting of this Monty Hall proposition, I'll do it now.

My proposition has nothing to do with probabality or statistics. I am proposing that a contestant can only choose the door that she feels the best about from the alternatives available - that is, the net emotional force she experiences at the moment of the decision will determine the decision. I am saying that she can make no other choice but that.

I am not saying that persons will not have reservations. Many decisions we make in life are a pick between two bad choices. But in every case we choose the one that feels the least bad (best). We have no other way to make choices. Neither does any other animal.

Whichever door the contestant chooses will be the one they feel best about - regardless of any intellectual calculations they make (or don't make). If the contestant is smart about odds they may change their pick after Monty takes away one choice - but it will be because they now feel that that is the best choice. How could it be otherwise?

In every case, if they feel better about the other door after Monty eliminates one - they will choose it, otherwise they won't.

You have not offered an example that violates this proposition. Therefore, if we are only free to choose the options in life that feel best to us from the alternatives at the moment we make the choice, we have no free will (as I think you are describing it).

Can you offer an example that violates this? As I see it the Monty Hall example affirms my proposition.

Or, can you explain how an animal can make such a choice? If an animal makes a choice, that means (by definition) that it was made according the net best feelings available from the options.

I would further propose that an animal that had a mutation that produced a choice mechanism that allowed it to make choices other than the one they predict will provide the best feelings for them, that mutation would soon dissappear from the gene pool. An animal that had a mutation that provided a better ability to predict the best feelings from the options would have greater survival abilty. IMO - that's why humans have occupied every available niche over the last 50,000 years and displaced thousands of other species.

BTW - all decisions are survival decisions.

Margaret

ToddStark
March 7th, 2006, 02:04 PM
Hi Fred,

These are massively complex and sophisticated issues if we take them really seriously. It seems downright bizarre to call it "equivocation" to withhold judgment on something that we cannot possibly be certain about and have no compelling reason to pretend certainty about. It is as if you think you have a moral imperative to take a stance against computational functionalism, and you can't imagine why I don't feel the same moral imperative to argue for it. I'm very puzzled by this.

That a mind is layers of physics and biochemicals and neurons and computation just seems to me like a great scientific strategy, and a perfectly plausible assumption, if you believe as I do based on experimental psychology data (such as that reviewed by Dan Wegner) that it is entirely possible that some of our intuitions about our own consciousness are partly deceptive.

Penrose clearly shows us that the truth of Godel’s incompleteness (and the Turing halting problem) confirms that human consciousness is the result of something more than algorithms—just as quantum behavior/process of protons and electrons, say in atoms, confirms that quantum processes are something more than the result of Newton’s laws of motion and gravity, something more than a miniature solar system. So it doesn’t matter whether you “agree” or not, one simply goes where the available evidence/truth takes us..

Clearly, we seem to have some tension over how much of this is opinion or speculation, and how much is "following the truth," but other than that I understand your viewpoint and appreciate it.

It seems to me that the main substantive difference here between the various reasonable "functionalist" (in the very broadest sense which includes Block and Penrose) positions seems to be how far we think computation and neurology can take us in understanding the mind. I hope that anyone can see that in at least trivial "weak" sense, the brain does take in information and do something with it that can be imagined to involve rules.

Penrose, Block, Chalmers, and almost everyone involved in studying consciousness all agree that it actually takes us pretty far beyond that "weak" sense of information processing, but they disagree just how far. That the brain processes information and does computation in some sense is not really in question, except perhaps for those who are radical behaviorists or cartesian dualists (which are different arguments entirely).

Outside of those exceptions, the folks who argue against strict computational functionalism pretty much stand on the same ground, it seems to me, saying that at some point computation fails to answer some "hard problem" such as qualia or some aspect of choice. That's where we tend to look for quantum effects, non-computational processes, and so on.

And in general, we do not yet have good experiments or tools for investigating these "hard problems" yet. So I think this is where reasonable people can still disagree about just which line is "following the truth" and not be equivocating at all.

It does seem that we kind of agree that “some sort of free will is true,” although I find your “compatibilism”—“that some sort of "free will" is true and that physical determinism is also true”— to be little more than equivocation at best, or cognitive dissonance at worse. Regarding your view that “physical determinism is also true,” I’m inclined to agree except that human “free will” would somehow, ultimately, have to trump such determinism to some extent.

I really do have empathy for your agnosticism regarding some of these complex issues Todd, and indeed agnosticism may well be the judicious view. But I wish you’d be a little more upfront about it—besides irritating me, your equivocations cause people like Tom to mistakenly believe that that you, he, and the other “atheists” have actually reached some sort of meaningful consensus.

I really think people tend to identify with a group more based on opposition to a perceived common enemy than on how similarly they really think.

There are significant differences even among physicalists and functionalists of different types, and certainly "atheists" do not have a single consensus on most philosophical and scientific issues. But when we face political ideological movements like "intelligent design" we do see our common need to oppose it with some sort of rough consensus about how science should be conducted and why theology is a different kind of inquiry.

It seems to me that the evangelical Christians like Jon Wells and Phil Johnson who started the ID movement found pretty much the same thing, that Christians have many different views about the details of biology and evolution, but they perceived that they they shared a common need to "defeat Darwinism." So a moleclular biologist like Mike Behe and Young Earth types who think biology should be based on the Noachian Flood end up on the same discussion panels on the same side.

It seems to me that we often work to build a social consensus from a number of different viewpoints in order to engage in politics and warfare and other things that depend on prosociality.

I think that is the main impetus toward conformity of belief that makes people uncomfortable with moderation and intelligent reflection or even hostile toward it.

I'm sorry it irritates you, but I think it is important that we think and reflect on the evidence when thinking and reflection are called for, and the philosophy and science of mind call for thinking and reflection because not only does the evidence not lead to a single model, but if guys like Penrose, Block, and Chalmers are right, we may not even asking the right questions yet.

kind regards,

Todd

ToddStark
March 7th, 2006, 02:53 PM
Fred:

But I wish you’d be a little more upfront about it—besides irritating me, your equivocations cause people like Tom to mistakenly believe that that you, he, and the other “atheists” have actually reached some sort of meaningful consensus.

Tom:

Ha, that's hilarious because I was saying the same thing to Todd; he's encouraging you to see a difference between his views and mine. As I've said, if his 'free will' is also available to machines (as well as lower animals) then he and I don't differ in the slightest, much to your discomfort. We have reached a very meaningful consensus.

The viewpoint I take pretty much defines free will (in the sense I think of it) as a decision process, and so producing it becomes an engineering problem. If we produce a computer that makes decisions behaviorally identical to a human being, does it have free will in the same sense? I have no idea, because there might be more than one way to solve the engineering problem. Evolution on earth provided one particular solution for human nervous systems.

To answer Fred's objection, I think that even if non-computational processes are important to the human mind as Penrose suggests ... if nature can engineer a brain to exploit them then in principle, we can create a machine to exploit them as well. So I don't see that even computation is an ultimate limit to what we can do with machines. It is just our best current model.

I don't think it makes sense to say that current computers or other life forms we know of have free will in the same sense we do, because they cannot take the same sorts of things into consideration in their decisions, their brains are not capable of formulating and comparing goals, expectations, and alternatives in the same way as we do in our decision making.

So I agree with Tom that machines can have agency and potentially free will, and that animals at least have a form of agency, but I also agree with Fred that human free will is distinctly different from current machines or known other animals.

Fred:

See Todd? Your equivocations have resulted in Tom’s cognitive dissonance—while Tom insists that he has “proof that there is no Free Will,” and while you alternatively declare that “some sort of free will is true and that physical determinism is also true,” Tom nevertheless concludes that you and he “have reached a very meaningful consensus.” Please Todd, gently explain to Tom that what he perceives as the nice warm feeling of consensus is really nothing more than your release into his swimming pool.

Funny line! :D

Tom and I agree more than we disagree, that the world is deterministic and causally closed and that the philosophers strong sense of free will is unsupportable, but I think he stops short of compatibilism between determinism and the sort of free will I envision humans to actually have.

I don't know if this is because he thinks determinism is more constraining than I do, or if he thinks free will is too inappropriate a way to think of human agency.

In either case, for me this is an entirely expected difference of opinion. Nearly all materialists have a hard time with compatibilism. It rests on a very counter-intuitive argument and I understand that it comes off as equivocation. However in my opinion it is not equivocal at all. It is a different way of thinking about different causal models, their relationship, and their limits.

In essence, it really just says that physical determinism per se isn't neccessarily as constraining on our choices as we imagine it to be, nor is our capacity for choice mysteriously independently of physical causation. Our decisions can be more or less coerced, but they can also be based on goals, preferences, expectations, and dispositions that are themselves a result of physical causes, but have a much less directly coercive effect on choice. Our genes do lead us to make choices in particular ways, but they also provide the machinery for making decisions that take history and goals into consideration.

People can be capable of making decisions based on real goals and real knowledge of the world and real preferences and disposiitions, and yet none of this need be outside of physical causes. It seems to me that as far as we can tell, such a decision process depends on physical causation, rather than being free of it. I believe that a meaningfully "free" decision making engine can be designed and function entirely within (and from) physical causation.

I guess our difficulty imagining this is mostly a matter of our reliance on our understanding of machines that aren't very free, and possibly an exaggerated sense of the importance of human-like phenomenal consciousness in decision making.

I didn't agree with the compatibilist argument either, until I got really deeply into Dennett's and Wegner's arguments and saw how much sense they made with what I'd learned about selective attention from hypnosis and perception research.

kind regards,

Todd

ToddStark
March 7th, 2006, 03:57 PM
It feels a bit like you've stacked the deck here by presenting your own model of what is going on in the mind, defining the mind to work that way, and then asking for a counter-example and claiming victory if none is available. I think I agree with you in the end, but I don't like the argument. ;)

I'm going to try to break the argument down into my own terms rather than accept the challenge as posed. Tell me whether it still makes the same point.

If I understand the general gist of this argument, it is essentially that:

1. human decision making depends crucially upon processes outside our awareness ("emotional inputs")

2. Free will is a function of our awareness (or somehow depends upon "intellect" presumably dependent upon awareness). That is, free will is something carried out by the conscious "I" which is somehow acting on the physical world to do something.

3. since we make our decisions largely outside of awareness, and free will must come from awareness, we cannot have free will

4. Unless you can find a counter-example that shows this decision model to be wrong.

I'm fine with #1. And if I accept your implied definition of free will in #2, then I agree on #3 as well. #4 is extraneous because we are both assuming that the model is correct rather than supporting it, so obviously counter-examples are irrelevant. How would one know that a decision was being made in accordance with this model, or not, anyway?

As for #2, if you define free will to be some property of the conscious "I" that imagines itself in control, then I agree with you, there doesn't seem to be any such thing controlling us when we look closely at it. The philosopher's traditional sense of free will is probably untenable, I think. Under experimental conditions it can be shown that our sense of control and decision making is different from the actual processes by which our brain exercises control and makes decisions.

If you also define free will as the sense that we have control, or the sense that we could have decided otherwise, then clearly we do have it subjectively. So in that sense, we have an illusion of free will.

However I think the definition is bad. I think we have a real form of free will which is the capacity to make decisions based on things like expectations, dispositions, and being able to imagine alternatives and act on them. None of this definition requires the conscious "I" to be the sole or primary source of free will.

Tor Norretranders has a book called "The User Illusion" that does an engaging job exploring various ways in which the "I" is different from the self that is actually doing the decision making.

kind regards,

Todd

Margaret McGhee
March 7th, 2006, 05:55 PM
To all: I think these questions are so difficult because they are the product of our intellect which creates narratives to logically explain things (and also satisfy emotional needs that depend on those explanations).

IMO the problem is that the only kind of knowledge (knowing) that is important to any organism is emotional knowing. That is the knowing that we base our decisions on. Intellectual knowing can only affect us if we attach some emotional value to it (like knowing that it is dangerous to cross a busy freeway on foot, for example).

The rest (like this discussion) is a mental game in that it has no real consequence for our survival (except in very indirect ways). And so we are free to imagine whatever narratives appeal to us. I believe that whatever any of us says is subject to that trap. Me too!

We are the emotions that stir within us and direct our decisions and behaviors. Our narratives are just an artifact of our consciousness. But since that's all we are ever much aware of - we can blame them for all sorts of behavior - rather than our underlying emotions that will demand final satisfaction.

I just think that acknowledging that makes the game more realistic ;)

Margaret

Fred H.
March 7th, 2006, 06:11 PM
MM: BTW - all decisions are survival decisions. Oh sure, like when one chooses to commit suicide . . . Margaret, Margaret.

Margaret McGhee
March 7th, 2006, 06:30 PM
Todd, Thanks for taking the time to try to understand me. I am sure that any problem you have with that is mostly due to my inability to state it clearly enough. You've given me a good starting point though, to make myself clearer:

1. human decision making depends crucially upon processes outside our awareness ("emotional inputs")
Yes, except I'd go further and say that when any organism makes a decision - it does so according to a built-in mechanism that evolution has provided that allows it to predict the outcome (in emotional terms). With some organisms it is a simple chemical response to light, for example. With others the decision can result from the complex workings of a CNS - but the goal is the same, to make decisions that optimize the predicted survival result.


2. Free will is a function of our awareness (or somehow depends upon "intellect" presumably dependent upon awareness). That is, free will is something carried out by the conscious "I" which is somehow acting on the physical world to do something.
First sentence, agreed. Second: I'd rather say that free will is an illusion created by the conscious "I" which likes to believe it is acting on the physical world to do something.

3. since we make our decisions largely outside of awareness, and free will must come from awareness, we cannot have free will
Yes. The important part is that decisons occur as the result of emotional negotiations that occur whether we are aware of them or not. Usually, for non-trivial decisions, our conceptualization adds valuable emotional inputs to the process. That's why we can make better decisions than (hairy) apes in complex situations.

4. Unless you can find a counter-example that shows this decision model to be wrong.
Yes, you are right that I am basing my conclusion of free will on my understanding of this decision-making model. The question presented is "Do we have free will?" - as I think Fred defines it. When I consider the question I can only see it in terms that make sense to me - according to my mental model as I've described it.

Anticipating that it would meet objections, I started this thread with the title "A Free Will Challenge" to offer others the chance to refute the model upon which I base my disbelief in Fred's free will. So far, I don't think anyone has.

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
March 7th, 2006, 06:48 PM
There are many examples of committing suicide for survival reasons - reasons that assure the spread of one's DNA to future generations. All organisms die. We evolved to ensure the survival of our DNA. Although our ego may disagree, we functionally promote our own survival only for that purpose.

Until the last hundred years and only in developed countries, just deciding to become pregnant could be seen as close to suicide for many women. Much of Western religion and social morality was created to thwart a woman's choice not to committ suicide in that way - or at least to make the choice as to with whom and when she would take that chance.

Men in battle often committ suicide - as many did in the Civil War marching fully exposed into withering enemy fire - or as in the Battle of Gallipoli in WWI when Australian troops were ordered to attack entrenched Turkish machine guns and many hundreds died following those incompetently stupid orders. Then there are the Kamikaze pilots of WWII and the Palestinian suicide bombers of today.

But suicide also results from the breakdown of the emotional computer inside us that compels us to make decisions that benefit our survival.

I'd just call that the result of a broken decision-making computer. I'm not sure I understand JB's theory of emergent networks - but that theory seems to justify those suicides, at least in eusocial terms that would eliminate those defective decision-making genes from the pool.

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
March 7th, 2006, 07:11 PM
I said: I'd just call that the result of a broken decision-making computer. I'm not sure I understand JB's theory of emergent networks - but that theory seems to justify those suicides, at least in eusocial terms that would eliminate those defective decision-making genes from the pool.
I think this makes a very strong argument in favor of my emotional decision-making computer theory.

The organisms that survive best are the ones that evolve the best decision-making mechanism - appropriate for their genotype and environment. That means that they evolve the most accurate means of predicting outcomes of their decisions in terms of their survival (their DNA survival).

For all vertebrates this is an emotional weighing and summing process IMO. We humans do that very well because we can conceptualize which offers us more alternatives and (sometimes) even objectively logical alternatives. But only the emotional weight of those concepts can take part in our decisions. If we don't have more confidence in a seeming logical option then we won't choose it in favor of dispositional or instinctual options.

But, if that mechanism breaks, we are programmed by evolution to make self-destructive decisions at best - to make suicidal decisions at worst. In either case, reducing the likelihood that any (more) of our DNA will get passed to future generations.

Margaret

Fred H.
March 7th, 2006, 09:51 PM
MM: But, if that mechanism breaks, we are programmed by evolution to make self-destructive decisions at best - to make suicidal decisions at worst. In either case, reducing the likelihood that any (more) of our DNA will get passed to future generations.
Sure, that must explain the self-destructiveness of various forms of feminism wherein women choose to not become pregnant, and of the West’s nonreligious and so-called liberal elites and their declining birthrates, all of which results in a kind of suicide, at least for their particular gene pools. Hell Margaret, if indeed we’ve been “programmed by evolution to make self-destructive decisions ” like you say, and it’s going to result in less atheists and feminists, then I suppose I’m all for it.

Margaret McGhee
March 8th, 2006, 11:23 AM
I hesitate to provide a reasonable answer to a snarky insult, but for the benefit of others . .

Women have always chosen not to get pregnant. With few opportunities to procreate in life our strategy is to pick and choose the best time, place and partner to optimize the results. In some cases when times are lethally dangerous we may have a better opportunity to pass our DNA into the future by foregoing pregnancy and remaining alive and healthy to help raise siblings or their children. Only a patrairchal ideologue could so reflexively interpret a woman's choice not to get (or be) pregnant as inherently self-destructive.

Of course, we do not sit down and calculate the odds. But that's how it works out when we are free to follow the emotions produced by our dispositions, instincts and reasoning when deciding to get pregnant or not - and when we are not under the control of those who see our purpose in life as the production of cannon fodder for their God's latest war.

Sure, that must explain the self-destructiveness of various forms of feminism wherein women choose to not become pregnant, and of the West’s nonreligious and so-called liberal elites and their declining birthrates, all of which results in a kind of suicide, at least for their particular gene pools.

Do you really think that liberalism and conservatism are inherited? There's a good paper (a meta study) that identifies political conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition http://www.wam.umd.edu/~hannahk/bulletin.pdf. You might enjoy the read.

I don't think your decison-making mechanism is broke. It's just that your intellectual capacity (which is fine) seems far weaker than your ideologically based emotions when you make some of these statements. :(

That wasn't an insult although you see me as your enemy and will therefore take it that way. It's just a suggestion that you could make more points for your side if you gave more emotional weight to your reasoning and less to your ideology. And, IMO, the discussion would be a lot more interesting.

Margaret

TomJrzk
March 8th, 2006, 12:16 PM
So I agree with Tom that machines can have agency and potentially free will, and that animals at least have a form of agency, but I also agree with Fred that human free will is distinctly different from current machines or known other animals.
This statement is correct when you use your definition of free will, which is OK when I read it but may mislead others. I prefer to say that neither humans nor machines have free will; our choices are determined by our physical brains, our will is not free. Our agreement comes when you equate humans with machines. Either way, it should remove ambiguity from Fred's perspective since his 'free will' is available to humans alone.

Our brains are distinctly different, we can even imagine to the point where we believe that we have free will. But we, perhaps alone, can make choices "based on goals, preferences, expectations, and dispositions", so our will is not blind. Our will is intelligent but not free.
Tom and I agree more than we disagree, that the world is deterministic and causally closed and that the philosophers strong sense of free will is unsupportable, but I think he stops short of compatibilism between determinism and the sort of free will I envision humans to actually have.

I don't know if this is because he thinks determinism is more constraining than I do, or if he thinks free will is too inappropriate a way to think of human agency.

Probably both. I think determinism is completely constraining. And the term 'free will' is inappropriate since there is no freedom whatever.

Great posts, Todd!

Fred H.
March 8th, 2006, 01:30 PM
MM: It's just a suggestion that you could make more points for your side if you gave more emotional weight to your reasoning and less to your ideology. And, IMO, the discussion would be a lot more interesting.
More interesting? Au contraire Margaret. While you’ve obviously mischaracterize my explanations/arguments here, I think you may have forgotten JimB’s observation back in his February 4th, 2006 post— http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showpost.php?p=2730&postcount=1 :
Topics and authors may have an influence. Fred, for example, usually gets the pot to simmer but he also is most apt to comment on religion. That topic may be uniquely unstable, avalanching very often, or unstable for brief intervals. I suspect that unstable topics are linked to our unstable minds: that is, postings on ghosts and space aliens would show similar popularity….
And my response:
Vince Lombardi: Gentleman, this is a football.

Fred H.: I suspect it has more too do with the lack of appreciation for fundamentals. If anything is not unstable, it’s mathematics; and yet the narrow materialism of many here seems to preclude their acceptance or acknowledgement that 1+1=2, or that the infinitely many prime numbers, are timeless objective truths, that mathematical truth is not merely some sort of relative, subjective construct.

Margaret McGhee
March 8th, 2006, 02:04 PM
I think you posted this on the wrong part of the thread - but, that study I mentioned notes a high correlation across cultures with conservative ideology and one's inabilty to accept ambiguity in life as well as with a high need for cognitive closure, even when evidence is lacking.

Hence, your repeated fixation with comparing the complex exigencies of evolved human life with a simple mathematical equation (1+1=2). I know it must seem comforting to you that such a comparison is meaningful. But, it's not so bad accepting the mystery of those things we don't understand that well - which is most of it - and speculating about the rest.

Only when we describe constructs that human minds wholly create such as numbering systems - where we can define the rules they must obey - will the mental images we form in our minds ever be the same as the reality we hope to describe with those images. That's a real limitation that you might do well to accept ;) even though I doubt that you can.

Margaret

Fred H.
March 8th, 2006, 09:15 PM
MM: Hence, your repeated fixation with comparing the complex exigencies of evolved human life with a simple mathematical equation (1+1=2). I know it must seem comforting to you that such a comparison is meaningful.
Margaret, I’m humbled—apparently you yourself are one of those with the appropriate ideology and the “[ability] to accept ambiguity in life as well as with [little] need for cognitive closure” . . . but then again, MM, all the other lesser animals seem to have that same ability too . . . and the lesser animals certainly don’t believe in free will or moral responsibility either—hell, they don’t even argue about such things! Go figure.

BTW, I used the “simple” “1 + 1 = 2,” to make it a little easier for you mathematically challenged folk to understand that objective mathematical truth does in fact exist; and that it is only with objective mathematical truth that we humans can do science and truly begin to understand the physical world and ourselves. Got that Margaret?—It’s only with objective mathematical truth that we humans can do science and truly begin to understand the physical world and ourselves!

Of course I can always provide more objective truth that is less “simple,” with a bit more "ambiguity" and "mystery," if it’d be more to you liking. Let me know darlin....

ToddStark
March 9th, 2006, 08:45 AM
"There are many examples of committing suicide for survival reasons"

Yes, quite so, and I think it is important to consider that Survival and reproduction are fundamentals of biological thinking, probably even more fundamental than the concept of "self."

There is also an interesting evolutionary argument that a propensity for "self"-destruction can come from competing propensities for survival of "selves" of other sorts, such as extended phenotypes or closely interlocked groups.

In other words, the self as we think of it is not neccessarily always the self that is most important in biological terms. At the extremes, this becomes "group selection," which remains very controversial, but it also has some far less controversial forms.

It is not a foregone conclusion, but certainly is plausible I think, that suicide could at least sometimes be motivated biologically as adaptive in some sense (though obviously not to the person's own personal survival) rather than as an artifact of simply bad wiring or symbolic processes or cultural programming gone haywire.

kind regards,

Todd

ToddStark
March 9th, 2006, 09:41 AM
The rest (like this discussion) is a mental game in that it has no real consequence for our survival (except in very indirect ways). And so we are free to imagine whatever narratives appeal to us.

Hi Margaret,

Although I do agree with this, I also caution that it seems to slide very easily and perhaps too often imperceptibly into an unwarranted kind of postmodern global skepticism of all narratives.

Surely, things are more real than stories about things, since the reality of things affects us in very direct ways. This doesn't neccessarily imply further that all narratives are equal in their warrant, or that warrant is irrelevant to our thinking and our lives.

IMO, whether a story is more or less true does matter! There is a connection between our descriptions of things and what is real, though granted it is mediated by layers of symbols and language. Sure, it's language games and mental games, but those games do meet with things that are independent of human minds and human knowledge (imo) and are constrained by things that are independent of human minds and human knowledge.

I'm stating my conclusion, not making the argument, since this is not a philosophy forum where the nuances of scientific realism should be a primary topic. But I do want to at least place a stake in the ground for it here so you know where I'm coming from.

Great to have you here in the forum!

kind regards,

Todd

ToddStark
March 9th, 2006, 10:13 AM
Todd, Thanks for taking the time to try to understand me. I am sure that any problem you have with that is mostly due to my inability to state it clearly enough.

If that is true in general, then Fred and I have failed to speak clearly to each other for years, because we certainly don't seem to understand each other very well. I'm inclined to think that there might be more to understanding each other than just speaking clearly, but maybe that's because I seem to be so bad at it. :o

Yes, except I'd go further and say that when any organism makes a decision - it does so according to a built-in mechanism that evolution has provided that allows it to predict the outcome (in emotional terms). With some organisms it is a simple chemical response to light, for example. With others the decision can result from the complex workings of a CNS - but the goal is the same, to make decisions that optimize the predicted survival result.

I agree with your overall viewpoint, I think, although I don't quite share your emphasis that everything outside of awareness is "emotional." This is outside the challenge, and a quibble. It seems to be a definitional difference, and there are good neuroscience reasons as well as behavioral (and phenomenological) ones for defining some things as emotions and others not.

There are a number of reasonably good theories of emotion, and in general I think they make a useful distinction between emotion and other kinds of process. I'd like to argue for retaining that distinction in biological organisms.

My reasoning is that if we say that all neural processing outside of awareness is emotional, then the term loses its distinct and useful meaning. Species like insects and bacteria that don't have anything even vaguely resembling emotional predispositions would be seen as making emotional decisions. Then, what does it mean when mammals make decisions differently? They have patterns that are very different, dividing approach/avoidance into finer shades of predispositions. Mammals have this whole set of rituals for signalling and organizing closely related behaviors, and we have this whole set of closely related experiences as well. These things are what we intuit as emotions. It seems odd to me to say that a cell moving up a glucose gradient is following its bliss in the same sense. Yes, the analogy works up to a point, but only if we ignore all the reasons we make distinctions in neuroscience and behavioral science for distinguishing different kinds of behavior in different kinds of species.

Calling everything outside of awareness emotional seems to me to beg the question of what is "emotional" vs. "intellectual," a distinction that you rightly point out is most relevant to the behavior and mental games of human beings.

One quick thought experiment: let's say I develop a program that simulates human extreme emotional responses. Imagine a robot given this program that flies into an apparent rage and begins trashing my sci fi lab looking for an unfaithful refrigerator that's been flirting with a water heater. Or imagine it apparently cowering in fear in response to my bringing in a screwdriver. Is it responding emotionally? Is that "emotional" response different from its other behavior? I would say that yes, it makes sense to say that I gave it emotional responses that are meaningfully different from its other behaviors, even though I assume that everything it does is unaware and without phenomenal experience or particularly sophisticated decision making.

My intuitions about emotion are based on the patterns which we and other mammals seem to use to respond broadly to particular kinds of situations, not the fact that our responses are unaware.

I don't know if this helps clarify my objection, but I'm probably belaboring the point by now, so enough about that.

Yes. The important part is that decisons occur as the result of emotional negotiations that occur whether we are aware of them or not. Usually, for non-trivial decisions, our conceptualization adds valuable emotional inputs to the process. That's why we can make better decisions than (hairy) apes in complex situations.

Could be. And this has the advantage of being an empirical question rather than one of definition. We can test whether someone makes better or worse decisions in particular situations, given a particular decision making model and assumed goals.

Thanks for the interesting discussion!

kind regards,

Todd

ToddStark
March 9th, 2006, 10:43 AM
Do you really think that liberalism and conservatism are inherited? There's a good paper (a meta study) that identifies political conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition http://www.wam.umd.edu/~hannahk/bulletin.pdf. You might enjoy the read.

Hi Margaret,

You seem to be saying that dispositions in political thinking cannot be heritable.

I've seen both sides of this question and I have to say that I haven't been entirely persuaded by either one yet.

In particular, I don't see the connection made above.

Let's say I argue that political stances are motivated social cognition, but that motivated social cognition follows different trajectories, influenced by something inherited, leading to some tendency to weigh alternatives and gather evidence in one way rather than another. So a predisposition for conservatism can be motivated social cognition and yet also be highly heritable. What makes these two ideas incompatible in your mind?

Do you argue that the potential heritability of motivated cognition is possible but unlikely, logically impossible, or simply not practically important?

kind regards,

Todd

Fred H.
March 9th, 2006, 10:53 AM
Committing suicide to survive? :eek:
Margaret: BTW - all decisions are survival decisions.

Fred H.: Oh sure, like when one chooses to commit suicide.

Margaret: There are many examples of committing suicide for survival reasons

Todd: Yes, quite so, and I think it is important to consider that Survival and reproduction are fundamentals of biological thinking, probably even more fundamental than the concept of "self."
How is it that you people will take a fairly straightforward and unambiguous word, like “suicide” (the destruction or ruin of one's own interests) and then twist and spin it so mean something obviously much different and more akin to “sacrifice” (forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of something considered to have a greater value or claim)? I’ll tell you how—it’s called a lack of intellectual rigor and/or honesty.

Frankly, these half-ass just-so stories you people feel obliged to conjure up, and then feel obliged to pontificate on, can be exasperating . . . I guess I’ll just have to up my meds.

TomJrzk
March 9th, 2006, 11:10 AM
“suicide” (the destruction or ruin of one's own interests)
Your definition is the problem. Suicide is the destruction of one'e own life, not necessarily interests.

ToddStark
March 9th, 2006, 11:30 AM
Probably both. I think determinism is completely constraining. And the term 'free will' is inappropriate since there is no freedom whatever.

If I take the above literally, then Fred is right, you and I are very far from consensus on important issues. I believe in moral responsibility. I believe that it makes sense to hold people responsible for the way they make decisions, and to both impose contingencies on them and in some cases try to alter the way they make decisions when they are at odds with civilized behavior.

I think it makes sense to say that Stalin and Hitler were not models of wisdom or humanity, because they caused so much suffering for such distorted reasons, whatever their intentions and whatever reasons their supporters might have for finding good qualities in them. I don't know that they were especially unique examples of evil, I think there are a lot of psychopaths walking among us who would act similarly if given a chance. We should be concerned about all of them as well, not just when they become influential.

And we should be concerned about ways of preventing people from growing up without good moral reasoning, which I think requires both good wiring and the exercise of the capacity to develop.

It makes sense to help children learn to make morally informed decisions, and to hold adults responsible for bad judgment. It makes sense to enforce shared values for moral reasoning. When we find psychopaths, people without moral reasoning i the sense I think of it, we should single them out.

It also makes sense to balance these shared values, since they can easily come into conflict with each other. There are always going to be limits to freedom, and so on. That's why morality is dynamic reasoning and wisdom and is not the simple application of fixed rules.

I think morality is based on a very real capacity that is developed in most of us to varying degrees. The fact that events in a brain have physical predeterminants in no way renders this capacity less important or less real. Believing that you have no choice in a matter certainly limits your thinking, but that doesn't mean you could not have reasoned differently if you had believed differently.

The only coherent argument I know of that argues otherwise is that of radical behaviorism, which says that everything we do is the result of contingencies. Genetic determinism of the sort that would guide our every movement is impossible, since genes cannot express quickly enough to guide behavior directly, although they certainly shape everything we do.

For me, as a flower child of the cognitive revolution, it is inconceivable that there is no very real intermediate layer of functionality between physical causes due to genes and contingencies, and human decision making. We do perceive, store, and make decisions based on information and we do represent the world in some sense in our nervous system, and not just for direct action on the world in response to contingencies. We imagine how things can be different, choose how we want things to be, and go after dreams. It is possible, but a rather unwieldy stretch to envision these things as behavioral or genetic contingency mapping.

If we process information, then we make decisions, and if we imagine alternatives and understand cause and effect then we can make decisions in different ways. Moral responsibility means encouraging or enforcing particular kinds of decision making rather than others. Morality is a crucially important form of reasoning.

In my early religious training, it wan't fear of hell or rewards of heaven that I learned to think of when I thought of morality, it was acting in a way that I know I will not regret and which is consistent with my self-image as a human being or "mensch." This turns out to be very consistent with the way many modern humanists think of morality as well, but many people seem to wrongly infer from this that it is an anti-religious view. On the contrary, it is very consistent with my own religious background. I don't argue from a religious position, but I do think it helped me shape the position I've come to, and explains in part why I don't have as much an aversion to religion in general as many others who share my naturalistic philosophy.

kind regards,

Todd

TomJrzk
March 9th, 2006, 12:08 PM
It makes sense to help children learn to make morally informed decisions, and to hold adults responsible for bad judgment. It makes sense to enforce shared values for moral reasoning. When we find psychopaths, people without moral reasoning i the sense I think of it, we should single them out.

I agree with this statement and most of what else you've said. My point is that there's a 'morality' module in the brain, and this deterministically creates people "without moral reasoning ", so to speak. These fellows were sick, not 'immoral'; I don't think they could have done otherwise but I've also said that they should be 'singled out'. To me, the article in http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showthread.php?t=742 proves my point.

Margaret McGhee
March 9th, 2006, 12:46 PM
Hi Todd, I have done the first read of your several interesting and thought provoking posts this morning. It will take me a while to consider them carefully enough to respond - but just know that while you are waiting I am re-reading and trying to completely understand your very well-stated posts - I'm not ignoring you in any sense. (Also, I am working on projects that actually provide some income and trying to work this stuff in ;)

Meanwhile, you said one thing that really jumped out that I can respond to more quickly. Could be. And this has the advantage of being an empirical question rather than one of definition. We can test whether someone makes better or worse decisions in particular situations, given a particular decision making model and assumed goals.
I have been trying to come up with a way to test this for some time now. What I am most interested in testing, is the underlying question: Can our intellect affect our decision-making directly (can our recognition of a logical solution go directly into our decision-making outputs), or must a logical solution be negotiated by way of its emotional markers (Damasio, LeDoux) - along with our other emotions produced by our dispositions, instincts and the emotional markers of our memories and beliefs. I'd love to hear any suggestions for testing this question (or sorting these things out) from you or anyone else here.

So far, I can only say that when I look at behavior (human and non-human) through this window things really start to fall into place for me. For example, it explains a lot about the current politics in this country. 9/11 created strong conservative emotions (revenge, punishment, intolerance) in millions of Americans that easily overpower the emotions of our logical conclusions regarding how we should respond. Hence, the lingering support for this highly irrational and corrupt administration and its post 9/11 actions. And - as time passes and those strong emotions dissipate, the slowly increasing desire for a more rational response.

It aslo explains for me why the nine justices of the Supreme Court, who are supposedly chosen as the best legal minds in our nation and who have dedicated themselves to vigorously purging ideology from their decisions - can so often come to opposite conclusions about the meaning of the constitution, and especially why those opposite conclusions so often divide along ideological lines.

I suspect that an imaginary Supreme Court of nine Vulcan's would almost always agree on their decisions and if they ever disagreed it would be the result of some rare logical error, not ideology.

Of course, Vulcans do not exist in nature. I think that's because a purely logical organism with no emotional system would have no reason for making decisions. It would have no motive force for directing decisions in one way or the other.

Thus, I (tentatively) believe that even our logical conclusions are only relevant by way of the emotional weight they acquire somehow in the process of considering alternatives and decision-making. And it therefore seems very likely to me that decision-making is functionally an emotional process. We humans are better at it because we can use our logical conclusions in the form of additional emotional inputs that can indirectly provide very valuable information unavailable to most other organisms - but those emotions are often inadequate (especially in highly emotional situations or in highly emotional minds) to overcome the emotions from our other sources.

Anyway, I'll be back.

Margaret

ToddStark
March 9th, 2006, 02:42 PM
Fred,

I'm sorry if I added confusion to the discussion for you. I was just thinking that the biological concepts of self and self-interest are very different than the folk psychological and commonplace concepts. Evolutionary biology in particular is not based on the notion of the individual organism as much as the gene. Survival and reproduction have certain connotations for us that are very different from those in some aspects of biology.

I don't know that Margaret was making the same point, I was just trying to link the discussion back to biology. This is after all an evolutionary biology forum, and the problems raised by altruism and self-sacrifice are central to sociobiology and evolutionary biology in all their forms.

I appreciate your frustration.

Todd

Fred H.
March 9th, 2006, 05:08 PM
MM: What I am most interested in testing, is the underlying question: Can our intellect affect our decision-making directly (can our recognition of a logical solution go directly into our decision-making outputs), or must a logical solution be negotiated by way of its emotional markers (Damasio, LeDoux) - along with our other emotions produced by our dispositions, instincts and the emotional markers of our memories and beliefs. I'd love to hear any suggestions for testing this question (or sorting these things out) from you or anyone else here.
OK MM, I’ve the test that’ll prove this one way or the other—

The next time the Lottery gets up into the hundreds of millions, and your subconscious emotional and motivational mechanisms are directing you to run down to the 7-11 and convert your paycheck into Lottery tickets, take a moment and review the statistics showing how dreadful your odds are—if you still find yourself buying Lottery tickets, then you’ll have proven that I’m wrong about all this, that the subcortical mechanisms trump intellect.

OTH, if your intellect’s comprehension of the statistics, a kind of objective truth, results in LeDoux’s downward causation, wherein your intellect effectively modifies your emotional and motivational systems, and you don’t find yourself buying Lottery tickets, then that proves that LeDoux and I were right after all, that you do indeed have some free will.

(However, if your asking whether a decision can ever be made without any emotional input whatsoever, the answer is probably not—without input from the subcortical systems, we’d not even be conscious. It seems that our intellect, the cognitive part of the mental trilogy, impacts our behavior (choices) primarily by modifying/conditioning our emotional and motivational mechanisms. One of the reasons I know that my intellect (free will) is having at least some impact on my own behavior is b/c I don’t buy lottery tickets; and also b/c I don’t have extramarital sex, unlike TomJ.)

Margaret McGhee
March 9th, 2006, 05:50 PM
Thanks for the relatively non-offensive post.

You said, OK MM, I’ve the test that’ll prove this one way or the other—
But, what you describe is just a different model that could (possibly) account for the same results.

I don't buy lottery tickets. I think it's because I place a relatively strong emotional marker on my calculation of my (very low) chances of winning and my expectataion that I'll feel stupid when I don't win. And that overpowers whatever small emotions I attach to the thought of being rich, wanting to win, wanting to be a winner, etc.

I propose that all behavior decisions (even for having extra-marital sex) are the result of a summing of emotional inputs at the time the decision is made. If you decide not to it's possibly because you had a very strong input from that part of your brain that is sensitive to future guilt/regret. At least stronger than that part of your brain that wants immediate sexual gratification.

I don't see how either example proves either of our theories. Mine does seem simpler though.

Margaret

Fred H.
March 9th, 2006, 09:27 PM
MM: I don't see how either example proves either of our theories. Mine does seem simpler though.
I’m inclined to agree.

I’d certainly agree with you that no other animal has free will, although I myself remain convinced that we humans, unlike all other evolved creatures, do have some free will (and therefore moral responsibility) since we alone are able to discern objective mathematical truth and then use it to understand the physical world and act/behave accordingly.

And I think that your belief that humans lack free will is definitely consistent with your atheism, so you’ve got that going for you too.

TomJ, also an atheist convinced that humans lack free will, understands and acknowledges that a result of that POV is that criminals, like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Milošević, etc., are not “morally responsible” (in any meaningful way) for their dreadful behavior (although he still believes they s/b punished). While I find Tom’s view—that such criminals are not “morally responsible”—somewhat repugnant, it is intellectual honest and consistent with his atheism. Any chance that you, Margaret, have Tom’s intellectual honesty, and agree that for the atheist convinced that that humans lack free will, such criminals (or any "criminal" for that matter) aren’t really “morally responsible” for their nasty behavior?

Margaret McGhee
March 9th, 2006, 10:57 PM
Wow, a second post wherein you did not directly call me immoral. However, you have posed a question in a way that if you don't get the answer you want then you have implied that I would be "intellectually dishonest". Do you really think I'll answer that?

I know you'd love a chance to make your case for your God here. I am interested in discussing science. If I wanted to talk about our different personal views of religion and morality I'd find a different forum.

I don't object to discussing those things objectively since beliefs exist in our minds and can strongly affect decision-making and behavior. So, I have no problem discussing those things in a general, scientific way. I will not engage in any my morality is better than yours discussion - which seems to be your preoccupation.

People here keep going out of their way to give you the benefit of the doubt and I did that too at first - but it now seems obvious to me that you have no interest in any objective discussion of these things. Unless you bring your posts up to that level I will focus my limited time on the several smart people here who already give me far more to think about than I have time to thoughtfully consider.

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
March 10th, 2006, 01:23 AM
Hi Todd, Re: Heritability of motivated cognition.

I suspect that we may inherit dispositions that could push us one way or the other. However, I suspect that environment plays an overwhelming role in setting up personality development along that spectrum and could usually overcome dispositional tendencies if they exist. I suspect this probably happens early in life, 2 to 5 years maybe.

In a neutral environment inherited dispositions could be determinative. But I think that few environments are so neutral they would not be the usual determinative factor. With kids who grow up with their natural parents it would be even harder to separate those influences.

I can't see much reason for evolution giving us strong dispositions along that spectrum since we will have ample opportunity to learn ways of dealing with life from our environment - and learning those things could be more adaptive than inheriting them. There are times and environments, even within a single lifetime, when more liberal or more conservative solutions are called for. It seems that an inherited predetermined response mode would be less flexible.

The paper title is Political Conservative as Motivated Social Cognition. Kids don't think much about politics. So I think the question of early psychological development along that spectrum is different from the one they explored.

You ask, Do you argue that the potential heritability of motivated cognition is possible but unlikely, logically impossible, or simply not practically important?
At this time I'd guess possible but unlikely.

Margaret

Fred H.
March 10th, 2006, 08:55 AM
MM: Wow, a second post wherein you did not directly call me immoral. However, you have posed a question in a way that if you don't get the answer you want then you have implied that I would be "intellectually dishonest". Do you really think I'll answer that?
You just did Margaret. Thanks. (And again your words reveal more about you than perhaps you realize.)

And once again, bravo to TomJ, apparently the only atheist here with the intellectual honesty and consistency (balls) to recognize and acknowledge the inevitable implication of atheism and lack of free will—that in such a world, no one is truly morally responsible in any meaningful sense for their behavior.

BTW Margaret, has it ever occurred to you that it’s always you, or others—and not me—that bring up this “God” fellow? Some sort of projection, or just paranoia?

Hugs and kisses,
Fred :)

TomJrzk
March 10th, 2006, 09:25 AM
you, or others—and not me—that bring up this “God” fellow
True, you're careful not to use the word. But you can't deny that you believe in some higher power. We use 'god' as shorthand, correctly.
TomJ ... recognize and acknowledge the inevitable implication of atheism and lack of free will—that in such a world, no one is truly morally responsible in any meaningful sense for their behavior.
You're oversimplifying my message. People are able to weigh ideas and must be held accountable for any bad actions. My philosophy just says that people are sick rather than evil; they should be separated from society, rehabilitated if possible, and threatened with punishment if that adds another reason not to do evil things. They are, in a "very meaningful sense", responsible for their behavior.

Margaret McGhee
March 10th, 2006, 04:57 PM
Hi Todd, This topic took me the longest to figure out what I really thought. But, here is my attempt at expressing it. It is not a stake in the ground in my case - since I find my thoughts on this wandering around and not finding anything solid to hold on to. But that kind of mind trip is fine with me. When it feels right I'll try to grab on to something. But, for now . .

Imagine an IMO before every sentence here.

I have alluded before to my suspicion that the kind of knowing that is essential to animals is that which is necessary to make decisions in response to challenges and opportunities in their environment. I believe this is an emotional form of knowing that we experience as internal sensations in our mind - that push or pull us toward or away from some behavior. All animals have this kind of internal mechanism although it is more or less highly developed in different species. (I attach no value to that, Carey ;)

Also, I have proposed that these differences in development are not so much differences in the basic mechanism but differences in the quality and variety of the emotional inputs available to the core decision mechanism. And that all such inputs (even those from conceptual mental images) are resolved as emotional sensations that compete with those from other sources in the nervous systems of animals.

But these competing emotional signals are different from the conceptual mental images which some few animals have evolved to experience in added outer layers of cortex.

Even so, these conceptual mental images are closely associated with and intimately connected to that underlying emotional system. The ability to have them evolved to augment that system. These cognitive mental images can be produced or called up by emotional associations from memory (as when an odor or a song on the radio can bring back past memories). And, they are created to produce emotions of their own. In some cases those emotions participate in our decisions - as when we do a mental calculation on our odds of winning the lottery and then decide not to buy a ticket.

Sometimes those emotions make us feel better directly. Feeling better is the core force that causes us to do all the things we do in life. For example, when we are afraid as a child we can think good thoughts to mask the bad ones. These often take the form of narratives that make us feel better. Like, as a child when we imagined that the monster in the closet is really my friend and is there to keep the bad monsters away. Narratives are very useful, even for adults. Like, there is a God in heaven and when I die I will go and live with him there and I will be happy.

Our imaginations don't operate according to any physical limitations. Therein lies the problem. We can easily imagine things that make us feel good but that have no connection to objective reality. The history of scientific discovery and advance is a history of hard won objective causal explanations (narratives) of natural phenomena colliding with the cherished and fanciful social narratives that they inevitably refute.

Strong ideological emotions release dopamine and epinephrine and other chemicals that make us feel good. Ideology is like an emotionally potent drug. Science is not. Science is weak and once removed from the emotions associated with the medical cures, health improvement, cheaper power, etc. that they may some day foster. IMO the greatest obstacle to the scientific study of human nature is the difficulty for scientists to separate their natural human affinity for pleasing ideological narratives from their science.

Scientists, being pretty smart, are good at finding ways to make their ideological narratives appear as scientific narratives if they are so inclined. This can be vividly seen in the current debate over Intelligent Design where that process has been brought to the highest art.

I therefore think it is very important to be vigilant and guard against the intrusion of ideological narratives into scientific discussions. Like the ID debate, much of the discussion on this forum is arguing over who's ideological narrative is better than someone else's ostensibly scientific narrative. That's not science. It's a smart tactic of ideologues who despise science. The best way to avoid this is to eliminate ideology when it appears by ignoring or rejecting it and being suspicious of anyone who repeatedly brings it into the discussion. It's also important to ignore personal taunts which are designed to raise the emotional level of the discussion - and elicit the ideological emotions of others.

Ideology is insidious because we are emotionally driven organisms. Once it appears in a discussion the emotions it engenders can draw anyone in. It's a good tactic for science haters because no matter how any argument is resolved, the science is always left far behind. And to observers who don't know the difference, you have scientific arguments competing with ideological ones which gives the ideology great and undeserved credibility in their minds.

Yes, some narratives can be good. They can help a child feel unafraid of the dark or an older person face death more calmly. But, in science the only good narratives are the objective scientific ones that are assiduously separated from ideology. And when those are carefully constructed they might even be representative of objective reality. But they are fragile and very elusive entities in the minds of creatures that are designed to respond and direct their lives according to the strongest emotions in those minds. We need to protect them.

It's very hard to do science for that reason but I believe it is certainly worth the effort. And I applaud those special few who can pull it off.

Actually, by writing this I find that my thoughts on it have solidified a bit so thanks for the opportunity. But this has gotten way too long already so I'll quit and it's too hard to think about these things for very long so I'm not going to edit this as much as I usually would.

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
March 10th, 2006, 06:42 PM
Todd, After re-reading the two posts preceding my last one I realize I gave you a brain dump about narratives that became a comparison of ideological vs scientific narratives. I now see that was not your focus, even though my last post (the rambler) occasionally landed somewhere close.

To address your point more accurately, I'd say that we are wise to remember that our conceptual mental images can range from wild fantasies to close approximations of reality. Also, that we construct them to make ourselves feel better - and only sometimes do people equate feeling better with finding a more accurate representation of reality (good scientists). Even then, they are only abstract models of that reality that we construct and when we communicate that construction to other minds it can never be the same as what was in the mind that created it.

Still, they are the best we've got for representing objective reality and they have proven very useful for improving the net happiness of those who hold them or can benefit from them - as well as for doing the opposite in many cases. I'd just say handle with care, don't mistake them for the real thing and follow the Golden Rule. ;)

PS - I just found this gem back in the archives by John Fentress. He says it far more peotically than I. http://www.behavior.net/forums/evolutionary/1999/msg589.html

Margaret

TomJrzk
March 11th, 2006, 12:53 PM
TomJ, also an atheist convinced that humans lack free will, understands and acknowledges that a result of that POV is that criminals, like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Milošević, etc., are not “morally responsible” (in any meaningful way) for their dreadful behavior (although he still believes they s/b punished)
I want you to know that I REALLY appreciate this last parenthetical clause! You've gone out of your way to not misrepresent my views. Thank you!

TomJrzk
March 11th, 2006, 12:57 PM
I don’t have extramarital sex, unlike TomJ
I would prefer my lifestyle to be called an open marriage, since my wife is OK with it and I would not do it otherwise. That she's not threatened actually matters to me, which must give you a headache since deterministic atheists have none of your morality.

Fred H.
March 11th, 2006, 05:07 PM
TJ (#92): My philosophy just says that people are sick rather than evil; they should be separated from society, rehabilitated if possible, and threatened with punishment if that adds another reason not to do evil things. Great stuff Tom—these “sick” people s/b “threatened with punishment.” Ties in nicely with your view that although those that behave badly aren’t “morally responsible” they s/b punished anyway. And I found your comment in the Feynman thread somewhat revealing:
TJ: I can do a repeatable experiment where I remove the regret module from your brain and you would no longer be morally responsible for your actions…. Where would one do such an “experiment?” Auschwitz? I must say Tom, your frankness and resulting acknowledgements of the unavoidable implications of atheism have been gifts (not that that was necessarily your intension). I’d say that your amplifications may have provided more convincing indictments against atheism than whatever I might have argued . . . it’s almost enough to make one believe that there’s a God after all.

Nevertheless Tom, Bravo: unlike the other atheists here, all mealy-mouthed pansies, you’re Übermensch.

TomJrzk
March 11th, 2006, 08:23 PM
these “sick” people s/b “threatened with punishment.”

Absolutely, punishment and the threat of punishment are some of the most effective tools that society has to 'help' people choose the better behaviors. I would prefer that everyone were given enough of a stake in society that they would prefer to do the right thing, but we're not there yet. So, punishment is needed and rehabilitation is better.

That they're not morally responsible just means that we should pity them rather than hate them. We still need to deal with the anti-social just as we must remove cancer cells from our bodies; it's not the cells' fault that they were affected by carcinogens.
Where would one do such an “experiment?” Auschwitz?

I think a mental experiment is in order and you, yourself, said that someone with a damaged brain is no longer morally responsible. I don't need a scalpel to be convinced, plus we have examples of people suffering from brain damage that prove the point.

ToddStark
March 18th, 2006, 11:26 AM
Thank you for your interesting and articulate responses to my posts, Margaret. I appreciate your participation here very much. I'm not going to go down that nature/nuture interaction line just now because it is deserving of much more than a quick simple response and I don't have the time right now. Thanks for expanding on your thoughts, I did read this and appreciate it.

kind regards,

Todd