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November 01, 2018

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Hi Brian
You wrote
"7) Maybe this is what Tepper is referring to when he spoke of both determinism and free will existing. If so, I agree that we can have knowledge that X is true, yet wrongly have a feeling that Y is true. This is why science is our best way of knowing, since feelings and intuition can lead us astray."

We may have knowledge that X is true, but that is limited to our capacity to discern Knowledge from evidence that may or may not hold up.

Everyone" knew" Matter was solid in 1800. Today we know that is false. We understand the subjective and objective experience for solid matter. But science tells us it's mostly empty space.

Knowledge can be a very culture bound thing, even constrained to scientific evidence.

And what will science teach us tomorrow?

If the history of science teaches us anything, it's that some of our most dearly held scientific truths are going to change as science develops.

Free will, IMHO, is just the fact that this brain that has evolved is limited and must take in perceptual data, perceive threats and opportunities, and act accordingly. The brain is always running on limited data, and having to act within invented choices. It appears to be a very dynamic and changing process. The hunter didn't know where the Gazelle was hiding, and once discovered, had to act as if the gazelle had appeared from nowhere.

But it was always there. Nothing supernatural.

From the larger perspective, everthing was always predictable.

From the hunter's perspective, survival depends upon choices based on new data, and action. And effective action depends upon good skills of perception, decision-making and action. The more "free-will" the hunter can excercise, the more places they hunt, the bigger their haul and their rise in tribal politics. We are built for free will, from that perspective.

Spence, I get what you're saying, but here's the thing: all we can know is what we know at the moment. This is as true for science generally as it is for us personally. So it makes no practical sense to say, "But what science knows now could change in the future."

Of course, it will. That's the way of science. And that's also the way of us. We learn new things every day (hopefully). But we can't denigrate or ignore what we know now, because this is the best knowing that we have. What we or science might know tomorrow isn't known yet, obviously.

Thus I don't find the argument, "We can't trust science because what it knows changes over time," to be at all persuasive. It's like saying, "I can't trust what I know now because it will change over time." How would we lead our lives if everybody mistrusted what is known now?

Hi Brian

You wrote
"Thus I don't find the argument, "We can't trust science because what it knows changes over time," to be at all persuasive. It's like saying, "I can't trust what I know now because it will change over time." How would we lead our lives if everybody mistrusted what is known now?"

I don't recall writing that we cannot trust science.

I think we must do as you say and put our trust in the things we believe to be truthful.

I only caution that even science is an artificial symbolic construction to reflect and magnify our understanding of testable aspects of reality.

It may be the best we can do.

But to limit all thinking to established scientific evidence alone, or to make linear projections about things science can't measure is, actually, unscientific.

Because the process of science is always looking into what we don't know, and keeping reasonable possibilities open.

No one would have imagined that solid matter was really empty space. Please understand what this means for the future. And the present.

Let's appreciate the limitations of what we think we know, and learn from history not to make conclusive projections about what we don't know. That's how the human endeavor of science really works, when it works.

I can give you a couple of examples from genetics research. There is an effort to go from Benchside to bedside, called Translational Science. This seems a very efficient process. However it's very rough because lengthy protocols that in the past assured safety are being streamlined for the purpose of preventing epidemic. It's a trade off that assumes it's better to get medications out there even with a higher error rate, acceptable to the health and science community, because of the potential to assuage huge looming current public health risks.

And why is that risky? Because rational thinking is never enough to assure truth. Testing is the great humbler. And if we make presumptions about what w don't know, we will be wrong. The history of science proves it.

So, don't make presumptions about what science can't test.

You won't stop any epidemics, and you will likely be wrong.

“We are survival machines -- robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes”. - RICHARD DAWKINS, The Selfish Gene
And it was Dawkins who put forward the theory of the meme. There is the physical 'copy me' instruction of the gene and the mental 'copy me' instruction of the meme. Memes being an idea or a mode of behaviour that perpetuate themselves readily through our beliefs – a type of thought contagion. I appreciate the theory that our brains and bodies are programmed by genes and memes. It answers many of concepts surrounding free will, mind, self as being determined completely by previously existing causes.
It means that ultimately 'we' are not in control – nature is, and I am very pleased about that as whatever mess we make of things through our 'self' preserving thought structure, nature quietly adapts and gets on with being reality.

Brian's point (8) reflects this. “. . . that evolution and natural selection don't care about truth, they care about survival and passing on a being's genetic heritage.”

And, Spencer's suggestion of the free will of the hunter.

Yes, choices are always based on data whether new and old – and it is that data that the brain automatically draws upon to ensure survival. It may 'feel' like free will but the action is determined by the available information. There is no free will involved, just a series of choices arising as thought from experience and memory – as with many other creatures.

And, Translational Science. It's still looks like 'rational thinking' where looking at the data builds upon and informs decisions.

THE APPARENT FREE WILL PARADOX IS NO MORE THAN CONFUSION OVER SEMANTICS


I was first introduced to the discussion around free will by Brian, initially in a series of emails, and followed up by my avidly reading up his many posts on this subject.

I’m afraid I don’t quite agree with Brian’s view on this matter. I’ve voiced my objections before, but I’ve always been very diffident in voicing them, because I’ve always been painfully conscious of my relative lack of depth of knowledge about these things. While my reading continues to be woefully inadequate, next to the many books Brian’s read, still, thanks largely to his posts here, as well as some stray reading of my own here and there, I am somewhat more sure of my views now. I realize I could be mistaken, even now, but I think I can, with more confidence than before, clearly state that I see this apparent paradox around free will to be largely a confusion over semantics.

(And Brian, I’m afraid this post of yours, although well reasoned, does not really address the issue that JB raised, it only skirts all around it. But of course, you did say that “a start toward a discussion of the subtleties of determinism” is all it was intended to be.

I’m kind of rushed, and am going to simply put down my thoughts down quickly here (as opposed to laying them out in order and with the care that the subject deserves), and hope what I say makes sense. (Always provided I’m not wrong in thinking the way I do! In which case I’d be happy if Brian, or anyone else, can point my error/s out to me.)


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No, determinism is in no way opposed to intentionality.

Before anyone here jumps up, saying “Compatibility!”, I’m going to ask them to junk that line of thought entirely while they hear me out. Because compatibility and free will, as well as determinism, have little to do with intentionality.

I’ve said this before (rather diffidently, like I said), and I’m going to say this again (with somewhat more confidence this time). Every time people start discussing this, they should start out with first defining their terms.

What is free will? Historically it refers to some locus of decision-making that is removed from the body-mind complex. Historically it refers to some immaterial center from which we “will” things. Now if we accept a materialist paradigm, then without argument, simply as a matter of definition, this kind of free will clearly does not exist. (True, if we found irrefutable evidence of such — that is, of some immaterial free will — then we’d have accept it. But that would mean accepting an immaterial paradigm, or a supra-material paradigm if you will. That hasn’t happened yet, so let’s simply leave that out for now.)

Now unfortunately, this same term, “free will”, is also taken into service to refer to a very different concept. To wit, intentionality.

See the different arguments around this topic. So very often people speak of intentionality, and then smoothly segue away into speaking of the absence of an immaterial free will — not marking a change of topic, but simply as continuation of the same argument. This is plain confused thinking, in my opinion.

(Perhaps that sounds overly confident on my part, labeling so much of what Brian has said as “confusion”. Perhaps where I erred on the side of diffidence before, I err on the side of over-confidence now. I realize this possibility, and stay open to correction.)

We’ve defined “free will” now — or at least, I have (and I ask you, Brian, JB, Spence, or whoever else is drawn to this discussion, to correct me on my definition if you disagree) — and now it is time, before we say any more on “intentionality”, to first define that term as well.

So what is intentionality? I’d say it is the ability to make an informed choice — a non-random, yet non-algorithmic choice — from amongst a vast array of options in a non-random manner. That’s my tentative definition. (And yes, I realize that definition isn’t very satisfactory, it has holes aplenty: but I’m putting it out there nevertheless, tentatively, for that is worth.)

Let me try to explain my meaning further:

Say you have a gazillion chess moves you can make. So is there any way you can make your next move in a way that is wholly unpredictable, given the situation itself (and ignoring, for the time being, the state of the player, the state of the agent himself)? If there isn’t — that is, if there is some way to make the move in a way that is neither random, nor completely a function of the preceding moves — then that, I’d say, is what intentionality is.

I don’t think our AI models have reached that stage yet. They may do that, of course one of these days; but not yet, not so far as I know. Sure, these programs can devise a move fashioned on a dazzling display of apparently farsighted thinking basis inner computations, but, for instance, I don’t think a computer can — as yet — deliberately lose a game for reasons of its own, without, that is, being expressly programmed to do that. Human beings can do that. A human player can throw a game (as well as play very well).

That is intentionality.

(Again, if any of you disagree with my definition of intentionality, then please voice your objections. I’d be very surprised myself if my thoughts — even my considered thoughts — turn out to be correct, where apparently so many others’ haven’t.)


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I’d requested you to refrain from looking at the state of the agent thus far. Here’s why. (And it’s obvious enough, I suppose, what I’m getting at.)

Provided you have enough computing power at your disposal, and provided you have enough information about the state of the agent himself —as well as enough information about the world around the “agent” — then obviously you can calculate EXACTLY what this person, this agent, will do. That goes without saying. Determinism is a direct, and automatic, corollary of a material paradigm. This hardly needs to be argued about at all, it follows simply and directly from the definition of what materialism is.

That is why I’d asked you to refrain from applying your calculation to the agent himself. The idea is to see if an analysis of outside circumstances, circumstances external to the agent — no matter how complete that analysis — can completely predict the agent’s actions. If this cannot be done with cent per cent certitude, then what we have is true intentionality.

It was necessary to separate the two, because the moment you analyze the agent’s inner workings as well, then obviously you can — hypothetically — predict his actions with certainty. Obviously.


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Animals come equipped with instinct. Instinct is not intentionality. The tiger staking out its prey isn’t intentionality. The gazelle zig-zagging to avoid the predator isn’t intentionality. The mother protecting its child, even at cost to its own life — while always an unspeakably beautiful thing — isn’t intentionality. All of this is instinct.

It takes a human being to throw a match. It takes a human being to intentionally go in the face of instinct. That is intentionality. (And obviously, intentionality doesn’t always have to be base. It can be noble as well, or indifferent/amoral, as well as selfish and base.)

The anthropomorphic animals in the Jatakas, that sacrifice themselves for the greater good? Not just for their offspring, but for the herd? That also is intentionality. But that, of course, is fiction, plain and simple.


Now can this intentionality be predicted? Obviously. As I’ve already said. It can, every time (hypothetically, potentially).

So what sets intentionality apart from instinct is, I’d say, complexity.

What level of complexity are we talking about here? Again, that is a wholly subjective, even ad hoc, measure.

Because we’re human beings, I suppose we would put intentionality at the level that passes as par for us human beings. But it is possible to think of levels, compared to which our own complexity pales into instinctuality.


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[Digression: One reads of those ants, that can apparently blow themselves up in order to save their colony. Is this instinct, or is it intentionality? I have no clue. I realize that examples of this kind can blow up the case I’m trying to make sky-high, by pointing out a No-True-Scotsman bias in my thinking. On the other hand, I am not really claiming that only humans are necessarily capable of intentionality, at least not in theory, so there’s that.


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I’m sorry, I hope my thoughts — hammered out on to my keyboard in a hurry — haven’t come out all garbled?

Seen from this angle — and as far as I can see — there is no paradox, no reason why intentionality should be opposed to rationality.

We can choose to be rational. Or at least, let me amend that to say: We can choose to be as rational as we know how (as opposed to being less rational than we are capable of being).

Now of course, that can regress infinitely back, obviously. Our choice to be rational is itself predicated on other preceding causes. Sure, absolutely. Nevertheless, right now, at this point, we have, say, a gazillion options. Not an infinite number of options, merely a very large number. And, subject to our constraints, we can choose. Subject to our (limited) freedom, we do have intentionality.

One of those choices is to act rationally, or not. (Within constraints, within limits. That we our choice is limited by constraints does not negate the fact that we can choose. Nor does the fact that our choice itself can — given full information about everything and unlimited computing power — be predicted down to a T, negate the fact that we can choose.)


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So: No, we do not have free will. But yes, we do have intentionality.

Yes, the world is deterministic. But equally, within that deterministic world, we do have intentionality. (Limited intentionality, obviously, as opposed to wholly unbounded intentionality. Intentionality as defined earlier.)

There is no paradox. There is nothing in the one that negates the other. Determinism does not get in the way of intentionality. We don’t have free will, but we do have intentionality.


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Sorry for that long, somewhat rambling, stream-of-consciousness-ish comment. That is the best I could do in a hurry.

If you think I’m mistaken — Brian, JB, Spence, Osho Robbins, Tucson, Dungeness, anyone else — then I’d love to know just how.

To further complicate this rather irresolvable quandary, determinism would, by definition, result in an inescapable hall-of-mirrors effect.

That notion that one can identify truth (and differentiate it from illusion) would seemingly necessitate a species of freedom that determinism would not allow.

What appears to be true, like everything else, would be entirely determined and one cannot step outside of that determination to make the type of evaluation that the identification of truth would require.

Therefore, one would not be in any position to know whether something is innately true or whether it just appears true because what appears to be true is entirely determined and one cannot view that casually closed system from the "outside".

One may contend, like Singh, that the reliance on many minds' apprehension of truth is our only recourse in cutting though illusion. But once again, we merely end up where we began. Firstly, this approach simply compounds the impenetrable ambiguity rather than resolving it. Secondly, rationale and apparent validity of this approach would be entirely determined and therefore, one could not know whether it is actually valid or whether it just appears to be valid.

A few thoughts...

Appreciative Reader, I believe it was Einstein who said (roughly, as I remember it), "I will to light my pipe. But what makes me will what I will? Free will is, of course, an illusion." I don't believe intentionality adds much to the notion of whether free will or determinism rules our thoughts and actions. Our intentions spring from somewhere. Either they are determined, or they are freely willed.

JB, I wonder if it makes sense to view "truth" as a noun that stands for something real. Truth is an abstraction. As such, it is bound by the language we use to express it, in our case, English. It's been observed by philosophers and linguists that other languages such as Chinese/Mandarin are more likely to view the world as being dominated by processes, not things.

Your concern is whether truth can be validly found in a deterministic world. But what if we used "truthing" to mean a search for truth, this being the goal of human efforts to understand the world, and the universe. Echoing Alan Watts, it is sort of like the difference between "breath" and "breathing." All we do from birth until death is breathing, a verb, an action. Breath is an abstraction, really, since it never is observed. No breathing, no breath.

So the way I see it, all we can do is engage in "truthing," doing our best to understand the world as clearly as possible. In a deterministic universe, this truthing is the result of a chain of causes and effects that go back to the big bang some 14 billion years ago. Thus there's a certain beauty in our being an inseparable integral part of the universe that we are trying to comprehend.

This scientific perspective differs from that of most religions and mystical paths, which typically view humanity of fallen, separated from God, immersed in illusion, trapped in a cave of shadows (as Plato said). I prefer the scientific view. Yes, our efforts to find truth, truthing, seem to be fallible. But in another sense, this isn't true. We have no other option than to use the human mind to search for truth in the way that 14 billion years of existence have determined that search will be conducted.

I find this marvelous. The only way to not view it as marvelous is to posit an abstraction of absolute Truth that becomes the (illusory) standard against which our truthing is compared. Yet where is that supposed Platonic form of Truth? Only in the human mind, I'm quite sure. (Since I wrote a book about Plotinus, a Neoplatonist, this is a change in my perspective, a change I'm pleased to readily embrace.)

Brian: "But what if we used "truthing" to mean a search for truth, this being the goal of human efforts to understand the world, and the universe....So the way I see it, all we can do is engage in "truthing," doing our best to understand the world as clearly as possible."

I understand what you are saying but in my estimation, the argument would still hold.

What one considers to be valid "truthing" is fully determined and there is no way to evaluate whether that "truthing" is valid or only appears valid, simply because what appears to be valid is entirely determined.

In other words, of course it appears unquestionably valid to you because that appearance of validity was entirely determined and that appearance of validity couldn't have been otherwise. Therefore, nothing was accepted because of its validity because the "acceptance" couldn't have been otherwise. It just feels that way but that feeling is an illusion in the same class as the illusion of free will.

I'm just pointing out an implication of determinism. Whether we resist that implication and even whether this implication seems valid or not is...(you guessed it) entirely determined.

JB, great response to my comment. I agree with what you say. Like you said, how each of us views the determinism in which we find ourselves is itself determined. I try to look on the bright side, the glass half full side, because this is the way my mind works. But I totally understand the other perspective.

By the way, I ended up buying John Gray's "Seven Types of Atheism," even though I said I wouldn't in a blog post. I'm enjoying it, even though I disagree with a lot that John Gray says. I also agree with a lot of what he says.

I think you'd resonate with what I can tell is Gray's preferred position, #7. It is basically that there's no direction upward in the human condition, no positive trend, as many atheist liberals (me included) like to believe. He's gradually convincing me of this as I read his book, though there are arguments to be made on the other side.

Learned fools comes to mind - if I was a seeker after truth and knew noting about Masters. I would think: “ hang on! Greater minds than this lot have once tried to figure the whys and how’s we are here and what determines our actions and failed!”

I’d make a fast exit for the keypad to type another web address.

No one of you are stating anything new under the sun 🌞

Arjuna, consider this: when someone repeats a familiar truth, maybe it is because that's the truth. You appear to be looking for what you want to believe, a comforting belief, rather than what is true about the world in which we actually live. That's fine. Just don't mistake "comfort" for "truth." Sometimes the truth can feel painful.

Brian, I'll definitely pick that book up. Thanks for the recommendation. You've whetted my appetite now.

This reminds me, how you ever thought about having a book club? That might be interesting.


There is no choice in being born, being sick or well, growing old or dying. We can't even control the gas moving through our intestine on the way to its ultimate sonorous and odoriferous release. The myriad of biochemical functions our bodies perform go on of their own accord. Why should we believe that between birth and death there is anything we are free to be in control of? Life is one organism, one biochemical event, so to speak of which we are an intrinsic part. If we can get rid of our fatuous and arrogant idea that we, as imagined individual entities, seemingly separate and autonomous, can actually control our lives from the imagined center we call "me", then we are free to understand how Life really is.

"And how is Life, really?", the chorus chimes in with eager anticipation.

It is not possible to voluntarily perform or not perform any action because in reality, right NOW, in this spontaneous immediacy, it already exists or doesn't exist.

See ya

Hi JB:

You wrote:
"To further complicate this rather irresolvable quandary, determinism would, by definition, result in an inescapable hall-of-mirrors effect.

That notion that one can identify truth (and differentiate it from illusion) would seemingly necessitate a species of freedom that determinism would not allow."

I think there may be a slight confusion between determinism and the capacity to apprehend truth
free of bias. They are not the same thing. What may be pre-determined is who and when some will gain that insight. The hall of mirrors may broaden out, so that we can see the reflections of others, not just ourselves. And in the great hall, with so many people enthralled with their own reflection, each a narcissus in their own way, a few gain freedom from their mirror to see the hall and the people before them, all grooming themselves, their self-justifying concepts and their negative judgements of others....To see that from a greater view.

In practice as people learn, their options and choices expand and change. They see things from a different perspective than the one they were locked into before.

But there are a lot of people who don't think they need to change, don't want to change, don't want to grow. They see a dark room and presume it is empty.

Continuous Improvement is a sort of ethic that not everyone adopts.

But if there were a part of determinism that included some people seeing more of the truth, outside their biases, it would have to include education about different views and open mindedness, both to an uncomfortable degree outside of our comfort zone.

IMHO.

Brian: "Like you said, how each of us views the determinism in which we find ourselves is itself determined."

Just to clarify, not only how we view determinism but even whether or not we think determinism is true is itself, entirely determined.

This tends to throw hot water on those that assume that they accept determinism because it is true when it is really the other way around. We "accepted" determinism as truth because we were determined to do so.


This scientific perspective differs from that of most religions and mystical paths, which typically view humanity of fallen, separated from God, immersed in illusion, trapped in a cave of shadows (as Plato said). I prefer the scientific view. Yes, our efforts to find truth, truthing, seem to be fallible. But in another sense, this isn't true. We have no other option than to use the human mind to search for truth in the way that 14 billion years of existence have determined that search will be conducted.

Um, I'd demur a bit with "fallen, separated from God". In
contrast with most religious dogma, a modern mystic views
God as a "Totality of Consciousness". Humanity is fallen in
a sense but is inherently, potentially that same totality of
consciousness. It got distracted swimming in the ocean of
phenomena and simply lost awareness of it. Think for a
moment how long you can sustain a thought without
losing it to a distraction...

I agree with "truthing". There's no conflict between science
and mysticism. Both are in deterministic lockstep with their
own proven methodologies for finding truth.

But, the mystic discipline is designed for experiencing what's
beyond mental effort. Beyond subject and object, beyond
duality. The goal is to regain awareness of who we are, to
attain that potential totality of consciousness and escape the
"cave of shadows".

Hi Dungeness.

I agree. The mystic path is one of developing our capacity for experience, our own equipment to understand reality.

But while Brian has asked us to leave that aside it seems he cannot help but keep returning to the subject of mysticism when Brian writes

"This scientific perspective differs from that of most religions and mystical paths, which typically view humanity of fallen, separated from God, immersed in illusion, trapped in a cave of shadows (as Plato said). I prefer the scientific view."

It seems that in claiming to love science there is actually a desire for conceptual wrangling on issues that are outside the range of scientific inquiry. As evidenced here.

So really the dislike for the experience of meditation and the discipline to practice is actually a subset of the limits of science as well, since both do not allow conjecture. In fact leaving aside conjecture is the price at the door of both science and meditation.

And so it appears that this love for conjecture is really just another form of dogmatic religion that isn't actually grounded in experience at all, but the love of intellectual wrangling, just like a godless theology and nothing more.

Turan: "It means that ultimately 'we' are not in control – nature is, and I am very pleased about that as whatever mess we make of things through our 'self' preserving thought structure, nature quietly adapts and gets on with being reality."

Yet we are not in control and never have been which means that we haven't made a mess of things and can't make a mess of things.

The arising of the "self preserving thought structure" is nothing other than nature being nature; reality being reality. The "no self" orientation is nature deterministically acting and the "self preservation" orientation is nature deterministically acting. It is all nature. This another example of an invented bifurcation where none exists.

Furthermore, there is nothing to be so pleased about in terms nature being in control. After all, it has given us (itself) birth defects, painful and disfiguring disease, hatred, greed, war, death camps, genocide, human trafficking, child abuse, pollution, environmental degradation, ad infinitum.

Nature does not progress through its "quiet adaption". This is yet another trenchant myth.


Quote Brian: “I don't believe intentionality adds much to the notion of whether free will or determinism rules our thoughts and actions.”


You do agree with my definition of free will, right? That it can be thought of as a locus of decision-making that is external to the body-mind complex?

If you do, then surely it become synonymous, tautological, with a materialist paradigm? I absolutely fail to see where the paradox lies, in that case. I absolutely fail to see what this hoo-ha is all about. I couldn’t see it when you spoke of this earlier on, and I don’t see it now.

Every time you find yourself saying “free will”, just replace those two words with the phrase “immaterial decision-making center”, and either the paradox resolves itself, or else one realizes one is speaking about something else altogether.

As I see it, the question of a paradox arises only when it is intentionality that we’re discussing. If that is what we’re doing, then sure, we can discuss whether this intentionality itself is an illusion or not, and so forth.

But you seem to agree with both my definition of free will, and my definition of intentionality. And despite that, here you are, saying the latter doesn’t add to this discussion. I find that curious.


“I believe it was Einstein who said (roughly, as I remember it), “I will to light my pipe. But what makes me will what I will? Free will is, of course, an illusion.”


And what is Einstein (if that quote is indeed his) musing about here if not intentionality?

If you accept a materialist paradigm, which I believe Einstein did, then why would he wonder at this obvious consequence of the basic postulates of that paradigm? Why would he need such a roundabout route to arrive at the obvious conclusion — synonymous with materialism itself, and as obvious as the nose on your face — that there is no free will?

Think about it: Does it make any kind of sense to apply “free will”, as defined, to this quote? Even though the man actually used that term?


For that matter, hark back to that post of yours about prisons and free will. There also, surely the operating principle there is intentionality, not free will. If one can show that intentionality itself — not so much free will, as defined, as intentionality — is a myth, sure, then we might have a case for drastically revamping the philosophy behind our penal systems.


Like I said, we seem to be using this one single term to indicate two different meanings (on the one hand ‘an immaterial decision-making locus’, and on the other ‘intentionality’), and ending up conflating these two de facto usages. Like I said, simply semantics.


Quote Brian: “Our intentions spring from somewhere. Either they are determined, or they are freely willed.”


Sure. Either the one or the other. And yes, I think we’re all agreed that it is the former. Everyone who subscribes to materialism will accept, directly and without argument and following directly from first principles, that our “intentions” are “determined”. Duh! So what?

Like I said, I think — and this is simply me thinking, not some result of some research, so I have nothing to recommend my idea other than the fact that it seems reasonable to me — that it is the complexity of our decision-making process that results in what we might refer to as intentionality.

And there is no conflict between this intentionality and determinism or the lack of some immaterial free will.


I’m sorry, I think we’re chasing shadows here. Perhaps the failing is mine, in that I simply do not understand your POV: but, try as I might, I can see only empty semantic confusion over something very obvious, where you guys seem to see “subtlety” and paradox.

Quote JB : "Just to clarify, not only how we view determinism but even whether or not we think determinism is true is itself, entirely determined."


Sure. Agreed.


"This tends to throw hot water on those that assume that they accept determinism because it is true when it is really the other way around. We "accepted" determinism as truth because we were determined to do so."


No, it does no such thing. I don't see how your second paragraph follows from your first.

You seem to imagine that determinism somehow negates causality. I don't see why you would think that.

Yes, if intentionality were conclusively shown to be a myth, then yes, then I would agree that our ideas about why we do what we do might be thrown into question. But simply a lack of free will, simply determinism, does not in any way do away with the whys and wherefores of why we do things. All it does is add further precedent causes to why it is we do things, regressing back ad inifintum. That does not speak, at all, to causality at some particular point.

If you explore the subtleties of Determinism within yourself, with a practice of Mindfulness, you may find that there are levels of awareness, levels of control. Try maintaining a single thought and watch what happens.

Watch an idea... Or try to hold one single idea.

Note what happens. From JBs perspective, this is not action. It's a machine absolutely pre-built to function exactly this way. Even the choice to run that experiment and the selection of your seed thought. All part of the same pre-determined process. And every action after. Might as well have been pre-scripted. What is the function of time if all this sequence is absolutely determined?

The story isn't actually unfolding. Except to our perception. Our it is a giant click whose gears run in exactly the predetermined order without variant.

Note the surprises, the changes in thought outside your control. The stream of consciousness to other related or unrelated thoughts, isn't actually an active stream. It's just that you are becoming aware of it by looking and watching for a while. It is always there.

How much control do you have over that?

We have talked here about local control, the human function. And Appreciative has nicely placed that into a finer definition of intention, under the absolute Determinism of the entire creation.

How much intention can you wield? How much will, in that inner investigation, using the instrument of yourself?

If we cannot do anything about that absolute Determinism; If it is even outside our capacity to comprehend, then why consider it?

Why not consider the ability we have some relative control through the application of will to overcome that portion of our nature that takes us from our chosen purpose, self - education and self - discipline as our tools of will and self - control?

We may not be able to change the winds, but can we do a better job adjusting our sails? I think people are growing and developing all the time, and they are making purposeful and successful efforts.

The farmer nurtures the field and influences the outcome, struggles with the weather, the soil, the materials.

He or she may believe that all that effort, all those choices arise by themselves from determinism, pre-scripted.... Or some higher hidden and unknowable will. Or whichever culture bound belief one chooses to hold.

AR: "You seem to imagine that determinism somehow negates causality. I don't see why you would think that."

I'm certainly not asserting that determinism negates causality, only that determinism negates causality on the basis of particular factors that we presume to be critical, such as the apparent truthfulness of a proposition.

Remember, the notion that one couldn't have believed otherwise is axiomatic of determinism.

The one subscribing to determinism states: "I accept determinism because it appears true." This person must also acknowledge that this couldn't have been otherwise.

Thus, we have: "I accept determinism because it appears true and this 'acceptance' couldn't have been otherwise.

Implicit in the statement, "I accept determinism because it appears true" is the notion that it could have been otherwise; that it could have been rejected if it didn't appear true and that the acceptance followed from (and only from) the evaluation of its truthfulness.

The problem with this scenario is that you never actually had the option to accept the proposition because you never had the option to reject that same proposition. It only appears that way retrospectively and that is an illusion. There was a certainly a cause but that cause was not acceptance on any basis, because acceptance wasn't the cause at all.

Quote JB: "I'm certainly not asserting that determinism negates causality"


I'm sorry, it seems to me that you are. Here's why:

I have a pen on the desk in front of me. If I roll it to the edge, it will fall to the floor, and take a certain amount of time to do that.

Why did it take as long as it did? I'd say that would be a function of its mass, as well as the mass of the earth, as well as a host of other less important factors.

Determinism says that it couldn't have been otherwise. Nevertheless, you cannot take away the fact that the cause, the immediate cause, was their respective masses.

It couldn't have been otherwise. That only means that the causes couldn't have turned out otherwise. Not that its fall was determined, and the respective masses of the bodies merely accidental.


You're saying that the pen's falling at a certain rate is determined, and therefore other factors, like what its mass is, or what the earth's mass is, or what the laws of gravity are, are all irrelevant.

While I am saying that the pen's falling at a certain rate is determined, precisely because its mass and earth's mass and the laws of gravity, et cetera, are all determined. Not because they are irrelevant, but because they too are determined.

That causality stays. You're questioning the causality itself, basis determinism. I am saying the causality stays intact, only the preceding causes (and the causes preceding those causes) are what are determined.


Likewise with my accepting the proposition because it appears rational to me. (I'll spell out just a bit more in the next section, if my implicit reasoning isn't already clear from this analogy.)


A subtle difference there in how one thinks, but a crucial difference nevertheless. A difference that takes away entirely the element of paradox from this whole reasoning.


"Implicit in the statement, "I accept determinism because it appears true" is the notion that it could have been otherwise; that it could have been rejected if it didn't appear true and that the acceptance followed from (and only from) the evaluation of its truthfulness.

The problem with this scenario is that you never actually had the option to accept the proposition because you never had the option to reject that same proposition."


Implicit to your reasoning, JB, is the idea that the precedent causes may have been different; but that I wouldn't have been able to alter my choice notwithstanding.

The fact is that the preceding causes themselves couldn't have been different!

You see what I am saying? You see where my reasoning differs from yours?

I'm suggesting that I could, indeed, have acted differently had the precedent causes been different. But the precedent causes couldn't possibly have been different, and that is the reason I could not have acted otherwise.


"It only appears that way retrospectively and that is an illusion. There was a certainly a cause but that cause was not acceptance on any basis, because acceptance wasn't the cause at all."


I'd say that acceptance -- that is, to be more precise, my predilection to accept rational things, as well as my opinon that the proposition in question is rational -- was certainly the immediate cause. That is no illusion.

But because the precedent causes on which the immediate cause is predicated, couldn't possibly have been different, is the reason that my decision couldn't have been different either.


.


Reasoning in this way gels perfectly with determinism, as far as I can see, while also doing away with any apparent paradox anywhere.


... FURTHER TO MY COMMENT ABOVE ...


In other words: my intentionality was the immediate cause.

That intentionality was within my control. Within limits, of course, that is, within bounds. That is, within my limited control.

In other words, my intentionality is no illusion. It is bounded, limited, but not illusory.

However, the precedent causes on which my actions are predicated, are determined. And that is why my action also is determined.

My intentionality is real, despite determinism, and despite a lack of (immaterial) free will.


.


Of course, there is research going on, that focuses on intentionality. That focuses on the question, Is inentionality itself real, or illusory?

I will be happy to accept that it is illusory, provided such research yielded irrefutable evidence. And I accept that that would majorly shake up our understanding of why we do what we do. But as far as I can see, no such firm evidence has yet been uncovered, nor irrefutable conclusions reached. That remains in the hypothesis stage, as far as I can see.


.


In any case, that discussion (the one on intentionality) is a very different one than the one on free will and determinism. Which is what I've been trying to point out here. We need to separate out these two very different concepts, so that we don't unnecessarily fall prey to confusion over semantics.


"But because the precedent causes on which the immediate cause is predicated, couldn't possibly have been different, is the reason that my decision couldn't have been different either."

This is another way of stating the same thing...and this still means that it wasn't a decision. There were no decision made.

Hi JB:

You cited Appreciative then commented:
Appreciative:
""But because the precedent causes on which the immediate cause is predicated, couldn't possibly have been different, is the reason that my decision couldn't have been different either."

JB:
This is another way of stating the same thing...and this still means that it wasn't a decision. There were no decision made.

JB, I'm wondering if you can see the circularity in your argument.
You've repeated this often, so I gently would like to offer the following definition:

From Wikipedia:
"Circular reasoning (Latin: circulus in probando, "circle in proving";[1] also known as circular logic) is a logical fallacy in which the reasoner begins with what they are trying to end with.[2] The components of a circular argument are often logically valid because if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. Circular reasoning is not a formal logical fallacy but a pragmatic defect in an argument whereby the premises are just as much in need of proof or evidence as the conclusion, and as a consequence the argument fails to persuade. Other ways to express this are that there is no reason to accept the premises unless one already believes the conclusion, or that the premises provide no independent ground or evidence for the conclusion. Begging the question is closely related to circular reasoning, and in modern usage the two generally refer to the same thing."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circular_reasoning

This is the same rationale for why Brian rejects religious thinking. It isn't testable. It can't be wrong by definition.

Another so another hallmark of circularity is that the proposition cannot be tested or more specifically, it cannot be false by its own defintion.

If you could provide some real test of your assertion, then perhaps that would also prove that my conclusion you are arguing in a circular fashion is wrong.

And then we could conduct the test to see if your assertion is correct.

Make me wrong, JB (once again) and please provide a testable means to prove whether your assertion is true or false.

THANKS

Since there is indeed semantic confusion, we should realize that terms such as decide, decision, choice, and choosing would have no actual correspondence to reality, if determinism is true.

A choice is defined as a possible course of action. The act of deciding/choosing is to select one possible course of action from among two or more possible courses of action. The operative word here is possible.

AR, you wrote, "But because the precedent causes on which the immediate cause is predicated, couldn't possibly have been different, is the reason that my decision couldn't have been different either."

You acknowledge that the fixed cause leads directly to the fixed effect. We feel as though we are deciding from among possible courses of action but in reality there was only one possible course of action.

You don't control any part of the fixed cause, therefore you don't control any part of the fixed effect. There was no selection from among possible courses of action, so there was no decision. You can call what transpired a "decision" but that doesn't make it so.

A "fixed decision" is a contradiction in terms and yet people continue to make that simple mistake. This is where the real semantic confusion rests.

J.B. “Yet we are not in control and never have been which means that we haven't made a mess of things and can't make a mess of things.”
“The arising of the "self preserving thought structure" is nothing other than nature being nature; reality being reality.”


Yes, J.B., I believe that is quite likely true; I did not take my point far enough (or back) to its ultimate inevitability which is basically – there is totally nothing to be said or done as it is all determined.


And yet! That said, ultimate philosophical theories, as interesting as they are do not answer the human predicament.


I'll start with the definition of determinism (from Wikipedia) which states:- “Determinism is the philosophical theory that all events, including moral choices, are determined completely by previously existing causes. Determinism is at times understood to preclude free will because it entails that humans cannot act otherwise than they do.”


I'm going to take the premise that somehow along with this predetermined universe and the inevitability of everything as suggested from the inflation theory of the universe, an anomaly arose – and this anomaly being thought. Not just thought but the whole phenomenon of the brain/body organism that eventually produced mind, thought, memory and the self structure – and yes, that's also predetermined or inevitable through nature via evolution. But it is still an anomaly yet it gives us a way to talk about the human predicament.


I'm assuming that nature and nurture is what makes us, us. Nature being our genetic make-up and nurture being the environment we are born into. There are on-going theories regarding the extent of influence each has on us - and I'll assume 50/50. It's the genes that, for their own good, are manipulating the bodies they ride about in. The individual organism is a survival machine for its genes. Nature produced brains and later, from the brain, mind evolved. Mind being information and along with memory that retrieves it, thought inevitably arose with it's preoccupation with the abstract and further with memes providing beliefs and habits of thinking.


As far as nature is concerned, all is determined, but the nurture aspect – which includes how we think, feel and act – has the possibility of stepping outside of culturally determined conditioning. And that possibility exists when the mind/thought process is seen and understood. This is still not free will just a freeing from the habitual 'merry-go-round' of allowing thought to be the dominate force in our lives. Reacting to life through the mind and thought overly influences how we could otherwise respond to life. This would be a response to life as it is and not to how we think it is – which is the only freedom we can attain.

No circular reasoning spence. I'm merely exploring the corollaries of determinism, should it be true. Simply, if A is true then B must follow.

You think I'm using B to arrive at A, which I'm not.

Hi JB
You wrote
"No circular reasoning spence. I'm merely exploring the corollaries of determinism, should it be true. Simply, if A is true then B must follow.

You think I'm using B to arrive at A, which I'm not."

But you had earlier written.

"The problem with this scenario is that you never actually had the option to accept the proposition because you never had the option to reject that same proposition."

That's B used to arrive at B, the premeses for the argument being B also.

Also you had written
"
All of these arguments for or against anything are entirely moot. But that's understandable because these moot arguments, not knowing they are moot arguments, and even my moot argument are all determined and couldn't have been otherwise."

B proves B: Circular reasoning.

You would need to provide a realistic means of proving this is false in order to establish that it was based on premeses in reality, versus apriori premeses by definition.

By the same circular reasoning, a corollary of your absolute determinism, I could claim that invisible green ESP wielding fairies are behind all thoughts and decisions, but because they are invisible you can never actually know that and will go on thinking "I did it." And behind their actions is an all powerful omniscient God, who scripted it all out beforehand to make sure all his laws of physical reality would fit nealy, (but who likes to work through the green ESP fairies in particular whenever the opportunity arises).

You can plug into your argument any unprovable imaginative and religious corollary explanation. That's the problem of circularity.

And that's why the case for determinism is just about 99% the proof for a conscious willful God in control of even the number of grains of sand.

But if you have a means to realistically test your premise (and your conclusion) then you are not making a circular argument.

I would like to ask your help in coming up with just such a realistic means to test whether determinism is true or false.

Neither one of the statement were meant to prove anything, only that they would naturally follow of the premise holds.

Hi JB
You wrote
"Neither one of the statement were meant to prove anything, only that they would naturally follow of the premise holds."

Yes, that's circularity. The argument is really reduced to just a definition. This is how it looks if this is apriori true.

You are defining all events within the context of your concept of determinism.

But so long as you understand and acknowledge that this is simply conjecture without any proof at all, for the purpose of refining the definition, or explaining the definition in greater degrees, then nothing about your comments can be false. Because nothing is being proven true.

However that makes determinism in the same field of unproven beliefs as all religions.

If we could come up with a testable means to prove or disprove determinism, we might raise it above the level of just another modern urban legend and myth used to replace older legends and myths.


Spence: "If we could come up with a testable means to prove or disprove determinism, we might raise it above the level of just another modern urban legend and myth used to replace older legends and myths."

When we discuss things like determinism, we are within the realm of philosophy. I acknowledge that. If someone had developed a test and could conclusively prove it true or false, then we wouldn't be having the discussion.

I have repeatedly stated if over and over again. That is the context of this discussion. If that, then this would naturally follow. This is called an inference or deductive reasoning.

I cannot prove the initial inference. If I could, I'd probably win the Nobel Peace Prize.

But this discussion has been about the implications of determinism, if determinism is true.

You seem to have an antipathy for logic/reason, inference, and even the use of language...yet you take part in the comments section of a blog that is based on these. That is a little confounding but, after all, it couldn't have been otherwise.

Spence, what is your angle? You've, at one time or another, defended determinism, free will, compatibilism, both and neither, "layers of reality" all at the same time. What is your stance and, more importantly, is it testable and provable?

Hi JB
You wrote
"Spence, what is your angle? You've, at one time or another, defended determinism, free will, compatibilism, both and neither, "layers of reality" all at the same time. What is your stance and, more importantly, is it testable and provable?"

This is a great question, JB. And it is great because when I ask it of myself I have no straight answer. I'm stymied actually by the question.

I experience. But what I experience doesn't necessarily become my belief.

When I meditate I'm basically someone else somewhere else.

When I'm here it's all guesswork.

The common theme, I think, is to leave everything that can't be tested in a range of believe, but just belief, not conviction, to "it is outside my conception."

I think I put determinism there. All the scientific evidence supports the assertion that every single event has a cause. But that is a thinking conclusion only.

My experience is that a lot of weird stuff happens and sometimes I learn about it way after the fact.

Another way to put it.
When I go to the public school and volunteer to help the children by playing with them on the playground they are all in the schedule determined by the school.

They came to the playground from class. In minutes they return to class. Our play is always within the capacity of the children to understand and play. Indeed my own focus is trying to learn, understand and live within those constraints. And that is also where my happiness comes from while I'm there. My mind thinks as they do and knows nothing else, except what I need to keep in mind, the development of the children and their happiness.

When recess is over we all leave the playground. The children return to their classes. I leave the school and return to my other pursuits. And upon doing so, return to a completely different set of skills, intelligence, comprehension and mastery that is much greater but largely unrelated to the role of volunteer I play in the playground.

I'm devolving from the profundity of determinism but I
can't help it. Daylight shaving time maybe. Or was it the
imagery of a "playground" that set it off?

I see all of this tangled skein happening in some timeless
moment. Or maybe in that skinny "no time" instant when
the clock raced backwards an hour. That's when all the
magic coulda happened.

Scenarios got laid out neatly like an enchanted forested
path. Some sorcerer was busy. You try to see a bit ahead.
Must go somewhere. End sometime.

Playgrounds appear along the way. We stop. There's a
game to play. A world to explore. Everyone plays hard
for a few moments. Or was it longer?. Faint memories
arise.

Slowly a few drift off the carousels and fade away. The
adventurous hang on. There's so much more to do, to see.
Miles to go before sleep.


We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all
our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know
the place for the first time. -T. S. Eliot

Quote JB: “You acknowledge that the fixed cause leads directly to the fixed effect. We feel as though we are deciding from among possible courses of action but in reality there was only one possible course of action. ---- You don't control any part of the fixed cause, therefore you don't control any part of the fixed effect. There was no selection from among possible courses of action, so there was no decision. You can call what transpired a "decision" but that doesn't make it so. ---- A "fixed decision" is a contradiction in terms and yet people continue to make that simple mistake. This is where the real semantic confusion rests.”


God no, JB, absolutely not! I’m sorry, but you don’t seem to have understood my argument, that I’ve been making all through this thread, at all!

True, what you say in your comment might seem to follow from the sentence that you’ve quoted there from my comment, but that is only because you focus on that one single sentence in isolation, and take it wholly out of context. You don’t seem to follow my actual argument, that I’ve made both in the comment that you quote from, and in more detail in my other comments in this thread.

What I meant is this (and you can clearly ascertain this implication if you re-read my comments here): My intentionality is something I could have changed (within limits, within bounds), but I did not do that, as I had no reason to. I had no reason to change my intent, because nothing outside had changed. (Albeit I could, entirely whimsically, have chosen to do just that. Just as the next chess moves may be predicated on the previous moves, but one may, nevertheless, whimsically or otherwise, choose to throw the match and make some wholly counter-intuitive and wholly unpredictable moves — unpredictable, that is, as long as one does not extend one’s God’s-eye-view analysis to the “agent” as well. As it happened I did not do that here. I did not discuss that particular nuance in that sentence that you’ve quoted.)

No, the fixed cause DOES NOT LEAD directly to the fixed effect. I’m saying EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of that.

Causes, in this case, lead indirectly — not directly, as you say, but INDIRECTLY, via one’s intentionality — to the effect. That intentionality is, within bounds and limits, a variable and unpredictable entity (in as much as one does not extend one’s God’s-eye-view analysis to the agent himself). To the extent that one chooses NOT to shift one’s intentionality, to that extent — and only to that extent — fixed causes do lead to fixed effects.


.


Given that the rest of your argument is based wholly on that single misunderstanding, you see how your entirely argument unravels out now, don’t you?

I’m afraid your entire argument, all of it, is no more than simply begging the question. Circularity, in other words, like Spence astutely points out in his comment.

You’ve started your argument with the (implicit and unexamined) assumption that intentionality does not exist, then taken a long walk all around the park, and come back from your perambulations with the conclusion, the result, that intentionality does not exist!

Do you see this now, how that entire argument of yours is no more than a logical fallacy?


.


Now mind, I am fully open to the possibility that it might turn out, going forward, that intentionality — even the limited, bounded intentionality that I spoke of — is actually an illusion. I said as much earlier. Provided unassailable evidence is found to support this hypothesis, I will happily embrace this paradigm, and the whole mare’s nest of paradoxes that that would lead to.

But that research is far from conclusive, as yet. As yet, this is no more than a hypothesis. Yes, it may end up proved (that is, found backed by evidence) some day; on the other hand, that evidence may never be found, and the hypothesis tossed out as a bad idea.

I am open to accepting this, in the same way that I am open to accepting anything and everything that is backed by evidence (including, for instance, the existence of God).


.


I hope I’ve been able to show, in this comment, how your argument (as well as your worldview as far as determinism and free will and, more specifically, intentionality) is no more than your own subjective and unsupported opinion?

Those circular arguments of yours appear to lend heft to your opinion, but what one is actually left with at the end of the day is simply your subjective, ipse dixit opinion.


.


Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with that! If you simply believe, basis nothing more than simply your gut feel, that intentionality is non-existent, well then, that’s fine by me! I have no problems with your holding that subjective view — even with your holding on to it very firmly — as long as we’re all clear that this is simply your subjective take.

(And nor do I, by that same token, have any disagreement with the theist who holds on to his own faith, no matter how apparently bizarre, as long as they don’t conflate their subjective belief with some objective reality, and as long as they don’t seek to proselytize this make-believe objectivity or, via public policy, seek to thrust this make-believe objectivity in my face.)

"Love is the every only God."
-e. e. Cummings

"My intentionality is something I could have changed (within limits, within bounds), but I did not do that, as I had no reason to..."

I haven't misunderstood your argument, I just flatly disagree with it because it is still a contradiction in terms. Lots and lots of words....but still a contradiction in terms.


Quote JB: "I haven't misunderstood your argument"


But you have. Demonstrably so. I've clearly shown how, in my comment.


" I just flatly disagree with it because it is still a contradiction in terms."


Sure, we can agree to disagree. That's very easily done.

But I thought you wanted, very much, to discuss this. You'd said as much.

If you are no longer so inclined, that's okay with me too. No issues!


"Lots and lots of words....but still a contradiction in terms."


Your simply saying it does not magically make it so, does it?

You could be right, but unless you take the trouble to explain your ideas, there is no reason to imagine that you're right when you say this.

intentionality may be absent in the universes
because the end, . .
I mean ending time_based creation(s) the outcome is always Love
There is no need for intend

777

BUT : Prayer helps, . . it opens "intend"

-

"That intentionality is, within bounds and limits, a variable and unpredictable entity (in as much as one does not extend one’s God’s-eye-view analysis to the agent himself). To the extent that one chooses NOT to shift one’s intentionality, to that extent — and only to that extent — fixed causes do lead to fixed effects."

One more thing: is this purported entity of intentionality unpredictable to you?

Other than being circumscribed by limits, within those limits this guiding force of intentionality is, itself, undetermined? There is a momentary interstitial space of pure self-guidance, entirely undetermined by the prior cause that led up to that moment?

Quote JB: "One more thing: is this purported entity of intentionality unpredictable to you?"


If it is my intentionality you're referring to, then I suppose, both yes and no. That is, I am aware of some part of my intentionality, while some part of it would come in from the subconscious.

Of course, to a God's-eye-view analysis that includes the "agent" -- in this case me -- nothing would be unpredictable. Hence determinism.


"Other than being circumscribed by limits, within those limits this guiding force of intentionality is, itself, undetermined?"


I'm not sure what that means. Undetermined to whom or by whom?


There is a momentary interstitial space of pure self-guidance, entirely undetermined by the prior cause that led up to that moment?"


I don't think so, no. That would go in the face of materialism, and of plain common sense.

AR: "I'm not sure what that means. Undetermined to whom or by whom"

This means, undetermined by the material process. (You answered the question below).

AR: "I don't think so, no. That would go in the face of materialism, and of plain common sense."

Yes, I agree. So in the final analysis, we have what is effectively "determined intentionality"?

"Determined" by what? Preceding causes? That answer to that is "Yes".

Intentionality -- as I tentatively define the term -- is very much part of a deterministic worldview.

It is the very complexity of our decision-making process that makes of this intentionality a thing.

So that a God's-eye-view analysis of the world, that excluded the "agent", would not be able to predict intentionality.

However, a God's-eye-view analysis that included the "agent" would, obviously, be able to "determine" and predict the agent's actions and thoughts and what-have-you.


.


So if this is what you meant, then the answer is "Yes". But I'm not sure "determined intentionality" properly describes this sense.

Brevity is a virtue, absolutely. But where it leaves ideas and thoughts unclear, "lots of words" have their use! ;-)

Hi JB
You asked
"Quote JB: "One more thing: is this purported entity of intentionality unpredictable to you?"

Actually it is not entirely predictable to anyone....

You asked, perhaps rhetorically

"There is a momentary interstitial space of pure self-guidance, entirely undetermined by the prior cause that led up to that moment?"

That is entirely possible even in a system of pure determinism.

Both classical and quantum physics have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate that the interaction of different parts of a completely determined system leads to outcomes that cannot be predicted with complete accuracy, even in a purely mathematical calculation with completely determined premeses.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-body_problem

AR: "So if this is what you meant, then the answer is "Yes". But I'm not sure "determined intentionality" properly describes this sense."

The sense of intentionality certainly doesn't feel determined. This is why this entire issue is so confounding and fraught with misunderstanding. As you seem to realize, unpredictability (from our view) does not entail indeterminism (from the "God's-eye-view).

So the act that is (or seems to be) "neither random, nor completely a function of the preceding moves" would still be ultimately determined by the material process in which it is inextricably imbedded, while maintaining the sense of freedom from our perspective?

Let me try to be more transparent. Any remote entity imbued with a physical capacity for independent action will interact with other such entities in ways that cannot be predicted for any particular occurrence, even if those entities are simply rocks in space.

Imagine the potential for even a single human mind which has been given multiple intelligences that operate semi - independently within the human brain.

Add to that the interaction of people with each other and you have something that, through interaction, cannot be said to be predictable. In short, it is not A causes B. It is A interacts with B and C causing Dn1 to Dn>Inf, any one of which is equally likely to occur.

The physical creation itself rallies against determinism, even presuming it is an entirely closed system.

Interactions make for unpredictable results and act, mysteriously, as if they contained causel elements even where demonstrably they do not.

We have a creation designed to generate creative and different outcomes, rallying with each collision of sub atomic Particles against the tyranny of determinism, to generate something new at each level, and outside of prediction, though certainly within a range of definable outcomes.

Is it any wonder, then, that the human mind mirrors this tendency to alter its behavior in a way that mathematically is very close to independent action, though it is entirely dependent upon defined causal forces?

No, you cannot predict what I will do next.

Switching gears somewhat, I find the phenomenon of the sense of freedom absolutely fascinating.

It is such a strange thing that this flesh robot should even have feeling of freedom.

As Brian wrote of Sam Harris on the topic, "Harris started out by saying that the illusion of free will is itself an illusion. Meaning, while it often is said that we humans have the illusion of free will, Harris claims that we really have no reason to believe in that illusion."

I'm not so sure that this argument is tenable.

In one of his arguments against the notion of "free will", Sam Harris has referenced the strange case of Charles Whitman, the "Texas Tower Sniper", who was found to have had a necrotic brain tumor upon his autopsy. This case was used by Harris to bolster the argument that, just as Whitman's violent actions arose from his brain without any involvement from "free will", so too do all of our actions arise from our brain. This can certainly be used to support that argument and it is the one to which I subscribe.

That being said, this case is provocative because one could see how it could also be used to validate the feeling of control is real. The thing is, based on his contemporaneous writings and conversations, Charles Whitman acutely experienced his sense of freedom and control ebbing away and was extremely agitated about this development. In short, he knew he couldn't control the violent impulses that surged within him and because of this, he knew that something was drastically wrong and that something bad was going to happen.The interesting thing is that his sense of control slipping away coincided with the actual loss of control (i.e., impulse control).

So, while control is almost certainly an illusion, I don't think the same argument can be made for the sense of control. Freedom, or at least a sense of conscious control, not an illusion. What seems undeniable is that there is a sense of control that is distinct from the sense of being unable to control oneself. Maybe this isn't realized unless one experiences that sense of control ebbing away. Most have never felt this but reading the accounts of those rare people that have (Whitman and others), it is excruciatingly terrifying.


Most have never felt this but reading the accounts of those rare people that have (Whitman and others), it is excruciatingly terrifying.

Hm, I think many do. Consider serious wasting diseases such as
Parkinson's or Alzheimers, or those experiencing their relentless
decline in hospice. Many prone to violence, whether causation
is a brain tumor or not, are panicked at their impulses and
struggle with them. Crime sprees of the drug addicted are a
major example.

I agree those accounts reflect what is actually experienced
so it isn't illusion. But the person who feels in control has equally
real experiences/sensations and they're not illusory either.
Only the armchair philosopher speculates they are.

We may accept one or critique another based on the
unseen deteminative forces that shape our thought and
judgment. But that doesn't diminish our fears about it. We
want to understand and pigeonhole to feel less afraid.

I could conjecture that's why we go on chattering about
free will and determinism. It's why we want to feel in control,
to feel things aren't slipping away, why we try to claim one
is less illusory than the other.

We're struggling to find that totality of consciousness or
truth or God that is our birthright. It's what set this drama
in motion.

@ Brian - hello.

With due respect you do not know me as I do not know you.

I am not looking for anything in my current beliefs that may conform to a Narnia like spiritual world.

I know in my heart of hearts what does lie behind is world is a body shuddering experience but I cannot comprehend it though my mind. On the other hand I know I will not find it through debate such as this idiotic thread - which proves nothing and is merely an exercise in who can come up with the best arguments.

@ Spence - think you are writing to deaf ears on this one. If I may say so. But you know that already.

Night all

Quote JB: “ The sense of intentionality certainly doesn't feel determined. This is why this entire issue is so confounding and fraught with misunderstanding. ”


True.


Quote JB: “ As you seem to realize, unpredictability (from our view) does not entail indeterminism (from the "God's-eye-view). ”


Absolutely.


Quote JB: “ So the act that is (or seems to be) "neither random, nor completely a function of the preceding moves" would still be ultimately determined by the material process in which it is inextricably imbedded, while maintaining the sense of freedom from our perspective? ”



  1. Yes, it is indeed so determined.

    However, that is no big deal really. We’re discussing this from a materialist paradigm, after all, so that each and every thing that we discuss would, a priori and as part of the very definition of materialism, would be “determined by the material processes in which it is imbedded”. There is literally nothing, nowhere, nothing at all, anywhere in the whole universe, that is not so determined. Therefore, to stress the self-evident fact that intentionality (or for that matter free will) is so determined adds nothing to the discussion.

    That is why I had said, earlier, that I do not quite get the whole hoo-ha around this no-free-will and determinism business.

    This larger theme seems to me to be yet another instance of begging the question, and of circularity.

    We start out with the materialist paradigm. Then after a great deal of reasoning, we come up with the conclusion, “Hey presto, this will of ours, it is ultimately predicated on preceding causes!” D’oh! What else would it be, since those are the premises we actually started out with, and given that that is no more than a restatement of what materialism actually is?


  2. Actually, this latter point of yours, namely, “maintaining the sense of freedom from our perspective”, has nothing to do with this discussion. (That is, it has nothing to do with the points I had raised, and to which you are responding. In as much you might have raised this as a wholly separate issue, sure, it is part of the larger discussion on free will and intentionality.)

    I never spoke about this sense of freedom myself. And while the subject is certainly not without interest, I’d say it is something of a non sequitur, when what we are discussing is not so much that sense of freedom, but whether we actually do have the freedom, the option of having acted differently.

    And again, while from a God’s-eye-perspective that encompasses everything, nothing could ever have been different — possibly barring fallouts from quantum uncertainties, which we don’t quite understand fully yet — nevertheless from our perspective, we could indeed have acted differently, and do indeed have actual intentionality.

    (That is the inevitable conclusion from the preceding arguments. Even a God’s-eye-view analysis of the world that leaves out the normally functioning human agent cannot fully predict his actions; ergo, we do have real intentionality, real freedom of choice. Whether we actually have a sense of that choice, that is a whole different discussion. Interesting, fascinating even, but different.)



Quote JB again, in another, separate comment: “ I find the phenomenon of the sense of freedom absolutely fascinating. ---- It is such a strange thing that this flesh robot should even have feeling of freedom.”


Sure, this is a fascinating discussion, but I’m not sure that it is really “strange”.

I suggest that you find this feeling of freedom to be “fraught”, as well as “strange”, only because you start out with the (implicit and unexamined) assumption that our intentionality is illusory.

If you take Occam’s Razor to this situation, and hack away ruthlessly at the cobwebs of implicit unstated assumptions and unexamined bias, then surely the conclusion that readily presents itself, the simplest solution, is that we have a feeling of freedom because, within limits, we do have that freedom? Because limited intentionality is a fact?


Now sure, if we’re conducting a rigorous, evidence-based analysis of this issue, if we’re conducting an actual scientific investigation, then we’d have to suss out how it is that our brain brings up senses in general, and this sense of freedom in particular; and how our sense of something correlates with that something actually being present; and so on and so forth. That’s a long, complicated process, and can potentially yield fascinating results. (And while we are doing this, and until we reached conclusions one way or the other, I suggest we’d best keep our options open, without weighing in on either side of the issue that we happen to be investigating.)


But now, now when we’re simply thinking about this (as opposed to actually 'doing science' with it), I submit that the principle of parsimony suggests that the ‘best’ explanation for fact that “flesh robots” have a feeling of freedom, is that we do have this (limited) freedom, that we do have this (limited) intentionality. While obviously operating, when you see this from a larger perspective, within a world — or at least a world view! :-) — that is deterministic, that goes without saying.


AR:"the simplest solution, is that we have a feeling of freedom because, within limits, we do have that freedom? Because limited intentionality is a fact?"

Ok, so your idea of freedom does not require indeterminism. Generally when one considers freedom, they consider the freedom-to-choose which would, among other things, seemingly require some manner of indeterminism.

So, I guess you'll have to define your term: freedom.

How is it that there can be limited freedom (which would seemingly require indeterminism) within the larger context of determinism?

Also you say, "we do have that freedom". What is it exactly that has this freedom? What is the "we" that has this freedom?



I've said this already in my initial comment. (And yes, this is just my idea, just something that occured to me, so absolutely, it could be riddled with inaccuracies and illogic all over. Do go ahead and point any that occur to you. I'll be happy to discard this idea if its flaws are made clear to me.)

To repeat: A God's-eye-analysis of the world-minus-you-and-me cannot possibly predict what I will say to you next, or what you will say to me next. (That's simply conjecture. Just as the opposite also is conjecture. What we're doing now is seeing if this conjecture is reasonable.)

Ergo: Irrespective of whether or no we "feel" free, the fact is that we 'are' free. We can do things that are not predicated by anything else (other than our own insides). You can suddenly, in your next comment, announce your undying love for me; or I can suddenly, in my next comment, just for the heck of it, start telling you a random story about a rabbi, a priest and an insurance salesman.

No one can predict this, no matter how "Godly" the "eye", unless the eye also focuses on you and I. [Hey, that rhymes! See what I did there? :-) ]

We have this freedom. That freedom is a function of the very complexity of our brains.

Of course, if this God's-eye-analysis were to include us, to focus on our insides as well, well then, it would predict exactly what you will do and what I will do. So, while free, we aren't "indeterminate", no.




So, to answer your second question: This "we" that has this freedom is us, us humans.

Certainly it includes us.

But might it involve other living forms as well? Dolphins, perhaps? Those ants that blow themselves up to save their colony? I don't know! I suppose research can provide factual answers to this question. But for now, I'll go with "Just us humans".


PS :
Stephen Covey's proactivity model comes to mind, if you've read it in his celebrated book? If you've read it, then that reference might help make more clear to you what I meant. If you haven't read it, no matter, then let's drop it, it is only of peripheral relevance (if that).


I still wonder if you aren't conflating unpredictability with freedom.

Anyways, what part of the human? The brain? The human has the a measure freedom and yet there is no-self?

I don't think your conjecture or my conjecture can be conclusively settled. Philosophers have been arguing about this topic for hundreds and hundreds of years.

By the way, I want to announce my undying love for you.

AR: "from our perspective, we could indeed have acted differently"

I don't see how this is possible. But granting that for sake of discussion, what exactly is the entity that could have acted different? What is the entity that freely chose the course of action from among other possible courses of action? What is the ultimate locus of intentionality?

Is there an intender? Is there a chooser?

Quote JB: “I still wonder if you aren't conflating unpredictability with freedom. ”


It was not so much a conflating of the two, as I was actually defining this basic fundamental unpredictability as freedom.

But, thinking some more about this: Simply unpredictability, that cannot be freedom. If that had been the case, then random fluctuations in the quantum world would qualify as freedom too. That can’t be it.

It seems I was wrong to dismiss the “sense of freedom” that you spoke of, as a non sequitur in as much as this discussion on intentionality.

Okay, how’s this, then for a definition of freedom? A combination of unpredictability along with volition? Volition, that is, a sense of freedom; plus unpredictability as far as external causes: there, that seems a reasonable definition of freedom.

Would you agree?

How else might one define freedom, after all? One way is to look at the effects of freedom, namely, the ability to choose one or more amongst a large number of options.

And surely this would translate to: (a) Volition ; and (b) Unpredictability (by others, and basis external things) of what one’s choice will end up being.

Needless to say, all of this is ultimately deterministic, that is, fully predictability when the “agent” also is brought under the purview of some God’s-eye-analysis.


“Anyways, what part of the human? The brain? The human has the a measure freedom and yet there is no-self? ”


I can no more than conjecture. My understanding is, science itself can no more than conjecture at this stage.

My personal tentative answer to your question would be: Not just the brain, but the brain plus our nervous system. (Because it is my understanding that it has been shown, in lower animals, that simply possessing a rudimentary nervous system can give rise to what can be thought of as a rudimentary form of intelligence.)

But again, it is my understanding that our brain-plus-nervous-system isn’t a stand-alone system. Hell, even our body is not a stand-alone system. Apparently the bacteria that we host in our body, whose numbers are comparable to the actual number of cells in our body, affect in ways so complex that the imagination boggles: for instance, affecting such things as one’s moods, especially in the context of depression.

So my tentative answer to this second question of yours would be: The human brain plus the human nervous system, along with the whole host of factors (including the bacteria and viruses that we host within us, for instance) that make us who and what we are. But yes, fundamentally it would be: Brain-plus-Nerevous-System. Yep, that’s my answer.


“I don't think your conjecture or my conjecture can be conclusively settled.”


Ah, thank you! Thank you for admitting, so readily, that your POV is no more than conjecture!

You know, that is one of the things that bothered me about Brian’s POV as far as free will. Apart from the apparent semantic confusion and so forth, that I have spoken of earlier, there is this: Brian seems to see his ideas on free will (and I refer here not to the absence of an immaterial soul, but to intentionality aspect) as something that science has already proven.

And from where I sit, reading his posts (as well as looking up some stray writings myself), it seems clear to me that the research on this is by no means conclusive. That lack of intentionality, while definitely a hypothesis, is far from proven. True, it may be proven tomorrow; on the other hand, it may, equally, be thrown out the window for lack of evidence.

I’ve voiced this objection a number of times, but never received a definite answer on this particular point.

I am glad you agree — you, who seem to be so firm a votary of this concept — that this idea, that we lack intentionality, is, at this stage, no more than just conjecture.

Once one realizes that, I have no quarrel with someone believing this conjecture, even believing it fervently, as long as they realize the essential subjectivity of their belief.


“Philosophers have been arguing about this topic for hundreds and hundreds of years.”


Absolutely. And are fortunate to live in an age where, thanks to the easy availability of books and the even easier availability of information online,t he least of us can, with some effort, clamber on to the shoulders of giants and see what they saw, and aspire to see even beyond what they saw.


“By the way, I want to announce my undying love for you.”


There’s no getting away from those three friends of ours now, is there?

So this rabbi, this Catholic priest and this insurance salesman all walk into this school for destitute and abandoned children, this mission that houses and feeds and educates orphans.

Suddenly there’s smoke all over, and little children screaming and milling around in panic.

“There a fire!”, shouts the rabbi. “Quick, let’s try to save these little children!”

The insurance salesman shouts out hoarsely, “Are you fucking crazy? Our fucking lives are in danger, and you want to go saving children? Fuck the children, I say, just fuck the damn children!”

The Catholic priest looks hesitant, then regretful, and then says with decision: “I’d love to, but not now. Far too risky, the fire’s much too close!”




* Leaves space for laughter *




Quote JB, in the next comment “I don't see how this is possible.”


You mean the mechanism? The actual inner mechanism of how we could have acted differently? I have no clue! I’d have to be a neuro-scientist to actually know that, and to be able to properly answer that.

But nor do I have any clue — and nor do you, I suspect — of the opposite, that is, of how we could have NOT acted differently. Right?

Since we have no clue about the inner mechanism either way, I don’t see this actually matters at all, as far as our discussion.


“But granting that for sake of discussion, what exactly is the entity that could have acted different? What is the entity that freely chose the course of action from among other possible courses of action? What is the ultimate locus of intentionality? ”


This is just conjecture on my part. Let me make that very clear, and not pretend to some spurious authenticity.

But at the level of conjecture, my answer would be the same as what I said earlier within this comment: The brain-plus-nervous-system combination in us humans. (Or any entity that can reach at least that level of complexity. So if we ever succeeded in devising AI that were as complex as we are, then that would qualify too.)


“Is there an intender? Is there a chooser?”


I know where you’re going with this. You’re aiming for the no-self argument here.

Even knowing this, my (tentative) answer would be: Our brain-cum-neverous-system-that-is-conscious-and-sentient.

Sure, this consciousness may be a process, not a thing as such. No problem. This process, then, why not?

After all, as Spence has very astutely pointed out more than once, this may be a distinction without a difference, given that ultimately everything, even rocks and asteroids and planets, is no more than a process. The difference between the ephemerality of those things and our selves is just one of degree, not one of essence.

So, short answer: Yes, there is an intender. There is a chooser. That would be our brain plus our nervous system, that together form a system that is both conscious and sentient.


AR: "Sure, this consciousness may be a process, not a thing as such. No problem. This process, then, why not?"

I totally agree. Why not? As you know from my other posts, I do believe that the function of being conscious, felt-experience, intention/desire is causal.

Consciousness is a dirty word here, but I'm using it as shorthand for the function of being conscious. I'm not going to stop using the term because some mistakenly take the term to refer to ethereal ghost stuff.

We know that we are conscious. We know that experience occurs. We know that desire occurs. We know that "reception" of experience is not haphazard and arbitrary but directional. There is always a movement toward and away from certain experience.

I would speculate that consciousness (the function of being conscious) is what desires (moves toward and away from) experience, because what else undergoes the experience but that function that experiences. That seems obvious, rational, and parsimonious. More broadly, the function of being conscious seeks its continuation and seeks to avoid its destruction.

One can think of that a self or not. It doesn't matter. Experience occurs nonetheless. And whether we like it or not, there is a irreducible locus of experience. When "I"stub my toe, "you" don't feel it. Those are "selves" but feel free to use any term that you want. It doesn't change the reality of it.

It's in vogue in pop spiriruality to say that there is "no self" and that there is experience but no experiencer, with people seemingly never realize that they invariably go together. They can't be separated.

Remember the old cliché: "If a tree falls in the forest with no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

Is there experience of the tree falling when no one is there? Of course not. There is no experience without an experience-receiving organism; an experiential organism. The two are co-existing.

The "no-selfers" turn "experience" into the ghostly substance that exists on its own- the very thing that is anathema to them with "consciousness".

Each individual flow of felt-experience is correlated with a particular experiential (experience-receiving) organism (i.e., body/brain complex). There is no way around it.

But no, don't you dare call the localized experience-receiving body/brain complex associated with an irreducibly private stream of experience a "self", you silly uninformed philistine.

But none of these ideas will find any purchase here. They will be reflexively discounted as people call into their default position.

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