Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Hiya James. We are a bit overdue for this discussion aren't we?
James, DasAmericanAtheist, made a response to my video on Free Will, and yes James, I talk about Free Will a lot but I haven't brought it up in over a year until my last video, so I think I'm only beating a semi-dead horse here.
James brings up two points against my argument. Minorly he states that soft determinism is, for all intents and purposes, unfalsifiable and I will agree with him that unfalsifiable claims have little place in discussions of what we should believe. However I think James and I might BOTH be mistaken about soft determinism. I always thought of soft determinism as hard determinism with accepting at least the possibility of quantum randomness, and random will would hardly be considered the same as free will. However when I double checked it seems that soft determinism is really compatiblism, which I am not a proponent of. My position is not only that Free Will does not exist, but that the very concept closely resembles a logical contradiction.
Rather than appeal to any form of determinism, I merely need to appeal to basic causality to dispel the myth of Free Will. Things happen for a reason, even if part of the reason is the randomness of quantum mechanics, that does not take away from the fact that our mental thought are caused, or shall I say determined factors outside of our control. Unless one is to deny the truth that our neuro-chemical brains are affected by everything from how much sugar we've had to our DNA, to just random hormonal changes then there isn't much room for Free Will as your eventual decision is affected by all of these factors generally outside of your control.
Admittedly, this only dispels a broad definition of Free Will more common to theistic belief, and likely is not the kind Das is arguing for, if he's even arguing for anything. Mainly his video is just a critique of my reasoning which is a perfectly acceptable approach, even if we agree we must test out our reasoning. To summarize though, I don't follow soft determinism but rather appeal to the various forces beyond our control which determine our thoughts and actions.
Now for the study I cited, we come to James's main critique, in which he accepts the study as valid and says he's only going off of what I said about it. What I said was that the scientists were able to predict what people would consciously choose up to five seconds ahead of time. James says that he finds this unconvincing, however what does perplex me is that he alludes to my point leading to the Carterisan Theater, which originally was an idea Dan Dennet had as a way to negatively caricature René Descartes idea of dualism. It's the idea that within our minds there is a sort of homunculus, another entity responsible for our conscious experience.
Now I at no point alluded to anything other than our brains being responsible for our conscious experience and I state quite strongly that our brains are entirely responsible for our conscious experience. Now rather than rely on or promote the idea of a dualism of any sort, the study I mentioned supports the opposite conclusion. Rather than a single entity using our brain as a sort of processing machine, the various parts of the processing machine come together to form consciousness. Our brains work sort of like committee, so for example you see someone you are sexually attracted. How do you respond to that? Part of your brain is working to achieve the goal or either companionship or sex, but another part of your brain is trying to prevent the pain of rejection while another part is factoring in the risk in approaching the person with their friends around, which affects the part of the brain avoiding rejection because rejection in front of a group lowers you status in the group and increases the risk of further rejection down the line. Now all of this information can manifest itself in nervousness, or the idea to check yourself to make sure you look right, or perhaps an abandonment of the attempt all together because the risk was considered too great. You're not aware of all of these processes, but you know they exist because you can hone in on them if you sit down and think about it for long enough. That's generally what happens in psychological sessions, you delve into your own behavior to better understand why you do the things you do. If your decisions were made entirely by the conscious part of your mind this would be entirely unnecessary. You'd know exactly why you did but so often we really don't. Most of the time really we don't. Some people spend decades of their lives trying to uncover the source of their behavior, and this flies in the face of the idea that our behavior is generated by conscious experience somehow cut off from the whole of physics. The fact that we can predict a conscious choice based off of looking at an MRI of the brain means that there are unconscious determinants to our decisions.
To summarize, consciousness is the result of your brain processes which are themselves the result of physics.
A criticism I received in the chat was that it is ridiculous to ask "why" ad infinitum because you can do that with anything. Sure, but I'm not asking "why" ad infinitum. We have good and valid explanations for our behavior, and to lead people to those good, valid explanations. Those explanations show that our decisions are effected by things outside of what we would consider our "will" and thus our wills are only the result of physical processes.
One last thing before I go. I thought this would best be handled in a video rather in 4 comments, but user DivergentMind asks why consciousness evolved if it is merely determined and therefore does not give any benefits.
After thinking about it I think the premise is flawed. Consciousness is the ability to recognize that you exist, and contemplate your own experiences. So when you still feel hungry after gorging yourself, you can think "if I wait 15 minutes I'll feel full, perhaps I shouldn't continue". Without that conscious experience, without that ability, we would continue to eat until our brains got the signal to stop. We see such things in the animal kingdom all the time. So rather than evolve a single mechanism for quickly knowing when you are satisfied, a separate mechanism for recognizing when you should ignore or listen to your pain, and a thousand other mechanism that would take thousands of generations to form, consciousness allows us to adapt more quickly to a scenario and understand why we're feeling the way we do and adapt that knowledge to make actions that are more likely to be beneficial.
A response to this might be that I'm describing free will; your will or conscious mind imposing itself on the unconscious portions. There are two problems to this:
1. Your conscious mind's ability to do so is determined by the sections of your unconscious mind.
2. At best this establishes a feedback loop in which both the conscious and unconscious affect each other and neither is totally responsible for the end product, and still you don't have freedom of will. Just like the processor in a computer isn't solely responsible for the program running, it requires cooperation from all portions to get the final result.
In summary, I'm not a compatiablist, I'm not a dualist, and conscious experience is caused by chemical reactions that are subjected to the laws of physics.
Have a nice day, and thank you for the response James.