There’s No Such Thing as Free Will

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By Stephen Cave

For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will—and that losing this belief could be calamitous. Our codes of ethics, for example, assume that we can freely choose between right and wrong. In the Christian tradition, this is known as “moral liberty”—the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires. The great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant reaffirmed this link between freedom and goodness. If we are not free to choose, he argued, then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness.

Today, the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of American politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. It permeates the popular culture and underpins the American dream—the belief that anyone can make something of themselves no matter what their start in life. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, American “values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.”

So what happens if this faith erodes?

The sciences have grown steadily bolder in their claim that all human behavior can be explained through the clockwork laws of cause and effect. This shift in perception is the continuation of an intellectual revolution that began about 150 years ago, when Charles Darwin first published On the Origin of Species. Shortly after Darwin put forth his theory of evolution, his cousin Sir Francis Galton began to draw out the implications: If we have evolved, then mental faculties like intelligence must be hereditary. But we use those faculties—which some people have to a greater degree than others—to make decisions. So our ability to choose our fate is not free, but depends on our biological inheritance.

Galton launched a debate that raged throughout the 20th century over nature versus nurture. Are our actions the unfolding effect of our genetics? Or the outcome of what has been imprinted on us by the environment? Impressive evidence accumulated for the importance of each factor. Whether scientists supported one, the other, or a mix of both, they increasingly assumed that our deeds must be determined by something.

In recent decades, research on the inner workings of the brain has helped to resolve the nature-nurture debate—and has dealt a further blow to the idea of free will. Brain scanners have enabled us to peer inside a living person’s skull, revealing intricate networks of neurons and allowing scientists to reach broad agreement that these networks are shaped by both genes and environment. But there is also agreement in the scientific community that the firing of neurons determines not just some or most but all of our thoughts, hopes, memories, and dreams.

We know that changes to brain chemistry can alter behavior—otherwise neither alcohol nor antipsychotics would have their desired effects. The same holds true for brain structure: Cases of ordinary adults becoming murderers or pedophiles after developing a brain tumor demonstrate how dependent we are on the physical properties of our gray stuff.

Many scientists say that the American physiologist Benjamin Libet demonstrated in the 1980s that we have no free will. It was already known that electrical activity builds up in a person’s brain before she, for example, moves her hand; Libet showed that this buildup occurs before the person consciously makes a decision to move. The conscious experience of deciding to act, which we usually associate with free will, appears to be an add-on, a post hoc reconstruction of events that occurs after the brain has already set the act in motion.

The 20th-century nature-nurture debate prepared us to think of ourselves as shaped by influences beyond our control. But it left some room, at least in the popular imagination, for the possibility that we could overcome our circumstances or our genes to become the author of our own destiny. The challenge posed by neuroscience is more radical: It describes the brain as a physical system like any other, and suggests that we no more will it to operate in a particular way than we will our heart to beat. The contemporary scientific image of human behavior is one of neurons firing, causing other neurons to fire, causing our thoughts and deeds, in an unbroken chain that stretches back to our birth and beyond. In principle, we are therefore completely predictable. If we could understand any individual’s brain architecture and chemistry well enough, we could, in theory, predict that individual’s response to any given stimulus with 100 percent accuracy.

This research and its implications are not new. What is new, though, is the spread of free-will skepticism beyond the laboratories and into the mainstream. The number of court cases, for example, that use evidence from neuroscience has more than doubled in the past decade—mostly in the context of defendants arguing that their brain made them do it. And many people are absorbing this message in other contexts, too, at least judging by the number of books and articles purporting to explain “your brain on” everything from music to magic. Determinism, to one degree or another, is gaining popular currency. The skeptics are in ascendance.


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269 COMMENTS

  1. The list goes on: Believing that free will is an illusion has been shown to make people less creative, more likely to conform, less willing to learn from their mistakes, and less grateful toward one another. In every regard, it seems, when we embrace determinism, we indulge our dark side.

    While the article is balanced on the whole I worry that people may take too much notice of these studies which I think are ultimately flawed. Free Will has become a secular deity and as with all deities it’s easy to come up with an experiment to prove the unbelievers are naturally worse people. The experiment allowed people to cheat and non-believers cheated more. this means nothing to me as the experiment was in lab conditions where no actual persons or society would be effected by cheating.

    Since I gave up on believing in free will (mostly because it struck me as meaningless outside a Cartesian sense, in which case you still hand over free will to a dualist concept), I’ve not experienced a drop in creativity, ability to learn or appreciating others. Maybe if you put me in a lab I’d behave differently to because ultimately I know I’m taking part in some sort of experiment, regardless of my understanding of it, rather than living in the real world of social cohesion, guilt and consequences

    The basic problem is trying to determine what makes people “wrong” instead of looking at everything about sentient experience in the same light. I’m completely with Sam Harris on this. suggesting that we push the illusion of free will on people so they behave a little better in experiments is no substitute for learning to understand what drives people to commit the most heinous crimes

  2. Ok I will take a crack – new territory – no religion involved!

    I don’t think we don’t have free will it just feels like we do.

    we don’t have free will choosing the time or place of our birth, the genetic make-up of our bodies including our brain.

    We grow up in response to outside stimuli (which we have no control over) using apparatus (not chosen) that has been given to by our parents.

    The decisions we make are based on the position we find ourselves which have arisen due to unforeseen circumstances.

  3. To show Phil I have been listening 🙂 I have to go back to my laser analogy.

    Many lasers focused at a point in space. Each laser represents an emotion, feeling, experience etc..the point in space the projection of ourselves. Each laser has the ability to redirect all or part of its power to one or more other lasers effecting their strength either way. As the outside world/input changes so do the laser interactions and the colour at the focus point. The final decision/free will comes from that colour. If the anger laser interrupts the logic laser and enhances the justification laser then, you might well believe you have made the right choice. Different circumstances, different traits will have different results.

    This does make a good case in that changing our experiences and circumstances will go a long way to having the right colour represented at the focus point thereby making better thought out decisions.

    (sorry phil. I don’t want to misrepresent you here so I like to stress this is just my understanding)

  4. For the purposes of leading a moral life we must be happy to own our speech and actions. For everything else we must surely simply want to be correct?

    Free will (?) is a theist’s question. Wittgenstein would point out that it is a metaphysical concept with no clear definition and can lead us nowhere useful.

    Strive simply to be proud of your speech and actions. Strive simply to be correct.

    Dan Dennett makes the most cogent further comment upon the idea of free will. He delivers us a parallel concept which is actually more useful. His idea is that we have a freedom of action that grows as we create for ourselves as an individual or as a society or sometimes as an evolving specie of animal an increasing choice of useful actions in any given circumstance. Freedom (he titles his book) Evolves.

    This is a much deeper and more useful idea. We would do well to stop fatuous navel gazing and have people work on the choices they may be able to develop for themselves. Choices have the very feel of freedom.

    Olgun, I think you have a veritable art piece of a metaphor there.

    Gregory Porter…always good.

  5. @ phil rimmer:

    Why is free will a theist’s question? Look at the disagreement over free will between Harris and Dennett, both atheists.

    I side with Harris from a techncial point of view – I think that Dennett’s view of “emergent” free will is very useful, but is a cop-out when he uses it to wriggle out of acknowledging that ultimately our choices, decisions and thoughts are nothing more than the product of the universe as it stands.

    Understanding that freedom of choice is an illusion isn’t just “fatuous navel gazing” – it has ramifications for the way we administer justice, for example. If we, as a society, choose to treat people as if they have free will (and I think we should, within limits), we should acknowledge that we are doing so. As Harris points out, although we may choose to punish a serial killer either way, if we understand that he is just a product of his inherent nature plus the totality of his environment, past and present, we are much less likely to treat him with hatred, than if we think he chose of his own genuinely free will.

  6. Dennett doesn’t wriggle out of anything. He simply chooses not to frighten the religious (as he mostly does) and offers a bait and switch to something valuable instead.

    Of course our thoughts and actions are contingent upon everything that comes or has come to bear upon us. We’re atheists right? There is no spirit existence to magic a random thing. Free will arguments first arose out of the philosophising religious particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Now they are part of the atheist schtick against theists, but here, entre nous, they have no relevance.

    The diminishing of responsibility through illness is a judgement call that is only ever improved by better evidence.

    Punishment is (particularly in large unequal societies like the US) not simply a matter of personal guilt, but also used to be a disincentive and a symbol of state strength. (There have been some interesting studies on this and the increasingly draconian punishments required by larger states to maintain cohesion. Small states in northern Europe take entirely the forgiving and rehabilitation route with great success. By contrast 25% of all black 14 year olds in 2004 had an imprisoned father in the US.)

    Candide in Voltaire’s eponymous satire on observing the execution of admirals that it is “pour encourager les autres…”

  7. Interesting article. Love Dennett! I wonder if anyone has come across ‘The Atheist Guide to Reality’ by Alexander Rosenberg, where he makes forceful arguments for the non existence of free will?

  8. @ phil rimmer:

    We seem to agree that we don’t have free will, despite the feeling that we are the true authors of our own thoughts and decisions. We also seem to agree that it’s useful to treat people as if they do have free will.

    But I disagree with you that it doesn’t matter. The majority of people in the world still harbour the idea of free will. If we accept illness – a brain tumour, say, – as mitigating responsibility for a perpetrator’s evil, then, given that in fact all decisions are beyond the perpetrator’s control (even if we can’t identify the chain of causation), where should we draw the line? A sensible consensus can only be arrived at if we have a shared understanding of where our thoughts and choices come from.

    “We don’t hang horse thieves for stealing horses. We hang them so that horses don’t get stolen”.

  9. Michael G

    My point is that all the issues around this are more usefully reframed away from free will.

    Free will was a necessary concept for beings that had a maker so that they could be made guilty and made subject to that creator. If creatures behaved well or badly simply out of their own created nature then their creator was to blame. Free will needed to be magicked into existence to finger the poor saps in the garden.

    Owning your own speech and actions is a good legal test and often applied (of your own free will).

    given that in fact all decisions are beyond the perpetrator’s control

    This is fatuous nonsense. The agent (me, her) is the set of neural processes the brain performs not an absent homunculus. Where else are we supposed to be?

    We can observe ourselves behaving well or badly by received cultural or our own standards and depending on our natures, our proclivities, our upbringing (all of which constitutes the entity of ourselves) we may rehearse better behaviours or worse. We train ourselves to actions we would prefer to see ourselves perform. We have self models, how we think we may behave. We avoid situations where we think we may behave in a way we don’t like etc. etc. To say we are out of our own control falls way short of a comprehensive description of our internal mental processes.

    You are mostly your kilogram of head jelly and all its myriad processes. It forsees the future and makes plans for itself. Only when you look inside at the processes do you lose sight of the agent in the skull. This is the problem of Schopenhauer’s Mind as a Gigantic Mill. You don’t see the mill from the inside or its effect on the world.

    In the UK since we lost an empire and started a welfare state, horse stealers get community service and a fine… in Norway they get trained in animal husbandry and found a job.

    The concept of free will serves no useful purpose in the rational world. Moral culpability, the truth of our utterances and the risks posed by murderous psychopaths are solved quite elsehow.

  10. I think the argument against free will is a fatalist one.

    The bookends of life are inevitable; it’s up to us to make the most of what’s in between them.

  11. interesting but i believe there is free will, an organism starting path is determined by biology and in the case of humans socio political factors, wich will determine the probabilities to attain certain goal, and the probabilities of wich goal will be choosed.

    One might say because of this the path is already set and other factors in the enviorement will alter the probabilities that were already set since the beginning and is true, however in every action there is a choice even if the choice its between two wrongs, wich were set by the previous actions.

    The choice is taken before we are concious of it, and has been influenced by previous experiences, in wich the choice was made because of the being biological predisposition.

    All this will point out to a philosofical point of view that there is no free will, and the probability to predict a beings response.

    Here is were it gets problematic, if you understand all of this factors you still have the choice to pick a different action, you might say a different action is still within the path set for you and the fact that you have this choice could point to different experiences or maybe even a different genetic makeup, but still there is the choice to not choose or to intentionaly choose the wrong choice, but this last part applies only to humans.

    Now considering the brain, the same problem applies but instead this will require the being to choosse the obvious wrong choice, by simply manipulating the emotions or connections, another problem will be if the individual understands the emotions and the path seth versus biological manipulation, that will try to override behaviour or reason, but again this last part might only apply to humans, if this is not possible it might imply a conciense beyond mechanical biology, unless this mechanism have not been understood, the destruction of the brain trough brain damage will not change the fact since a similar comparisson could be made between humans and other beings, and this in turn points to the ability to choose and free will.

  12. I find the chain of argument that goes from biochemistry to the conclusion that there is no such thing as free will to be sterile, useless. I accept that we are subject to the laws of physics and chemistry (which, by the way means that we are subject to stochastic processes, like cancers that originate from radionuclide decay), so dualistic free will makes no sense to me. But this argument that one makes no choices because one’s molecules had to do what they had to do is useless as far as I can tell – and the details of the mechanisms – the molecular sequence of events – by which your brain tissues actually do make decisions don’t seem relevant to the main argument which is, as I said, “free will is an illusion because … molecules!” This reasoning leaves me cold because it is an explanation, well, for EVERYTHING.

    You think you decided to have tea this morning instead of coffee, but really your decision was inevitable because … molecules! Richard Dawkins thinks he wrote ‘The Selfish Gene’ but really that is an illusion because every word, every sentence, and every revision were the product a long sequence of chemical reactions. Andrew Wiles thinks he proved Fermat’s last theorem, but every idea, every connection to mathematics he had been exposed to in his past, well … it was just molecules again. This kind of uber-reductionism explains everything, and you know what they say about explanations that explain everything…

  13. Compatibilism is the philosophical position which solves the problem. The ancient philosophers known as the Stoics were compatibilists. More recently, Hume (17th century) advocated compatibilism. Contemporary philosophers such as Daniel Dennett have revived the idea. Basically, the compatibilist suggests that “freedom” is NOT some special metaphysical thing. Freedom simply involves crunching the facts and making an uncoerced decision. I never really understood what sort of “freedom” people want that doesn’t involve making decisions based on knowledge of pre-existing facts.

  14. Hume, great as he was, was wrong when he said that this debate, between free will and determinism, is a fatuous one.

    I do think that determinism is the correct view.

    “I can do what I want, or I can do what I will.” That is what most people say, and they are correct, in so far as it appears that way, in a sense is that way. But what determines that wanting or willing?

    What determines the will?

    Does an apple have a choice when gravity draws it by its own weight to fall from the tree? No? What! The apple is bound by determinism (necessity) but our decisions are not?

    We do what we we desire to do. But like the apple, we can only do one thing at any given moment. And if we ourselves fall to the ground as a result of exhaustion or a blow we are not choosing to fall. “But that is an involuntary act,” I hear you say. “We don’t deliberate about such things.” True enough. But when we are deliberating, we have not yet willed.

    The Man Who Was Thirsty

    “Do I go this way or that way? There’s water over there but it is dangerous terrain,” said one voice. “That way is safer but I will have to walk an extra three miles to get to water,” said another voice.

    “Free will, what should I do?” asked the man.

    “I say, you’ll never make it going the first way; go the second way.”

    “Thank you. I will do that.”

    “Excuse me? I believe that that is up to me and not your paltry self-consciousness. My fear of the danger of taking the shorter path, presented to me through the medium of knowledge, outweighs, is greater in strength, is more compelling, than my fear, which is also presented to me as knowledge, of dying of thirst along the slightly longer path; and you are now risking it. But don’t take too much credit for that decision you just made, and let us argue no further; you are now on your way. I wish you luck. By the way, the neuroscientists don’t get me either, never have.”

    The End

    And that’s what happens. We confuse our decisions and actions with free will, forgetting that the will is determined by motives. No two motives are equal in strength. If they had been the man in my story would remain paralyzed and die of thirst.

    I hope you liked my comment and my story.

  15. “We confuse our decisions and actions with free will”

    @Dan (#16), could you please explain the difference between free will and decisions? Free will seems to be a nebulous concept anyway; when I look at Wikipedia, it tells me right at the start that there is no universally accepted definition (awesome), but that in a broader sense it means the ability to pick a conscious decision when given multiple options. And that has always been my understanding as well: the ability to, if nothing else, always be able to say “no”.

    I absolutely agree with @Tim (#13): Just because there is neural activity before thinking of performing actions, that doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that there is no free will. I grant that it suggests that some if not most of our bodily actions are initiated by our body rather than our conscious mind and therefore are performed regardless of any free will. Although to me this just seems in line with other things our body does automatically; for example when we walk we don’t think about putting one foot in front of the other, either. These are automatisms.

    However, I don’t see any proof for the claim that our decisions are pre-determined by our genes/environment/experiences/whatever. Even if neurons fire inside my brain before I think that I chose to raise my hand – as soon as I am aware of the process, don’t I have the choice to continue to raise it or abort? Every time I have to decide between several options, don’t I use logic and reasoning to choose? Is that all supposed to be a big ruse? If I get the sudden craving for chocolate ice-cream, but then in front of the fridge I take a moment to consider the amount of sugar and the empty calories, and I opt for a smoothie instead – are you telling me that I didn’t actually make this decision by free will, but instead this was all a huge, sophisticated trick played on me by my body which wanted the vitamins and antioxidants in the smoothie all along? Again – I don’t see the logic here, and I certainly don’t see the evidence. Definitely not in the article.

    Basically telling someone “whatever you will do from this point onwards is not your fault because THERE IS NO FREE WILL“ and then concluding that they behaved differently because of that information, yeah, no, that’s not really convincing. People who don’t believe in free will perform worse? So people who tell themselves that they don’t have a say in their lives are not as motivated?? Shocker! I’m absolutely certain that your free will is limited by your genes, your experiences, your environment, and your nurture – but I’ve yet to be convinced that there is no free will at all even within those limitations.

    Tim made a great point: If Richard Dawkins didn’t write the book “The Selfish Gene” by his own free will, then he must have been forced to write it by his genes, his environment, or if you were to ask Freud probably bis his incestuous feelings towards his mother or whatever. The article mentions the believe in deities; the idea that anything but yourself makes you do or think up complex works sounds like exactly that.

  16. You have to be pretty unsophisticated and undiscriminating with regard to all the word salad producers out there to not understand that the universe is 100% dterministic/determined.
    We just haven’t the required data or computation speed to demonstrate it. We never will. We don’t live in that high of a speed realm.

  17. @Willi Kampmann

    @Dan (#16), could you please explain the difference between free will and decisions? Free will seems to be a nebulous concept anyway; when I look at Wikipedia, it tells me right at the start that there is no universally accepted definition (awesome), but that in a broader sense it means the ability to pick a conscious decision when given multiple options. And that has always been my understanding as well: the ability to, if nothing else, always be able to say “no”.

    Nice to e-meet you, Willi. I’d be happy to. First of all, a decision is a decision. A decision does not imply action. The decision has to lead to an action. Then and only then can one make a judgment as to whether one has acted freely or not. To act is to will; acting is willing; deciding is deciding. When you say No, you are acting in so far as you are speaking, saying the word: “no.” But as you know, many people say no and then do (will) the opposite.

    So picking is not really an act of will either. When someone asks you to, say, lend him some money, you have two motives to contend with. You deliberate and then you pick a decision. I’d argue that the word “pick” is stacking the cards a bit; it implies that your decision could go one way or the other. In a way it can, but here’s my point, and it is a subtle one: To say that you can or you could or you would or you might have or you should have is all well and good; but the fact is that you didn’t. The person asks you to lend him some money. The free-will advocate would argue that you are then free to say yes or no. That is true in a sense. Empirically you are free, that is, you are conscious of having the ability to choose. But, once you have made the decision and then reflect upon it, and then examine each situation carefully, and employ rigorous honesty and clear thinking, you will, I am quite sure, be forced to conclude that you could not have acted otherwise. The idea that you could have acted otherwise is deceptive and illusory.

    What is done is done. Nothing takes place that is not necessary; and this applies to the smallest trifle (like what shirt we choose to wear on a given morning, as well as to every thought that seems to pop into our heads) and to the most important decisions we will ever have to make, the ones that involve life and death. Moreover, everything that takes place in the world is bound by determinism or necessity in so far as the law of causality dictates that every action is the effect of a cause and in turn the cause of an effect, ad infinitum.

    There are three kinds of causes. First there is the simple, mechanical cause in the broadest sense: one ball hits another and causes the other to roll. That is one cause, and is also an illustration of determinism at the most basic, rudimentary level. Then there is stimuli, another type of cause, which acts upon and within animal organisms. The actions of the lungs and heart and the feelings of pleasure and pain (and the examples are endless) are responses to stimuli and to causes in the first sense. You poke a worm and it recoils. That is a reaction to stimuli. This cause and effect relation is also governed by strict necessity. (And if the worm does not recoil that is no argument against determinism; it merely proves that that worm is anatomically incapable of recoiling. Why? There is an answer.)

    Now there is a third kind of cause, which many people have overlooked, and this has led to much confusion. This cause is the motive. It acts upon us with the same irresistible force as the other two causes. Our reactions to motives are as implacable as the springs in a machine that have responded to a push of a button. But the motive as cause has the appearance of being of a different nature than the other two cause. But it isn’t. We simply confuse what we could do with what we will do. Someone asks you to lend him some money. One motive might be fear. Another might be the desire to help the person out. Another motive might be to make yourself feel better. These motives are not equal in strength. They are analogous to the dishes of a weighing scale. The scales bob up and down.— That is you deliberating. Then the moment of choice is upon you. You decide not to reach into your pocket and you walk away. That is what you do. That is what you willed. Doing, willing,—call it what you will. But you had two or more decisions you could have made and you chose one. That was necessary. You could not have done otherwise. The motive to lend the money was outweighed by the counter-motive(s). It is not possible to will two things simultaneously. That was your choice, you acted. It is now irrevocable.

    We all know this in concreto. A man commits a crime. First question: what was the motive? In other words, we all know that nothing takes place without a cause. We all know that the motive is a cause. When we pronounce a man guilty, we are really admitting, perhaps unwittingly, that he or she could not have acted otherwise. If that were the case, then we would be impressed when people say: I could have just as easily not killed so-and so.

    The will itself is a most abstruse subject. What the will is a subject that will lead me away from the question you’re asking into other, more comprehensive areas. Suffice it to say that we do make decisions (which isn’t an action per se), and we do most definitely act upon them or choose not to. (Not acting is an act. Not lending the money is an action, an act of restraint, for example, and is a reflection of our character. Too many decisions like this over the course of our lives and someone might call us stingy or selfish. We could argue back and say ”I was free to give my money away on all those occasions, but chose not to.” Don’t expect to impress them with that one, unless you have a good reason.)

    (Environment plays a role and influence our conduct and behavior. I understand the nurture argument and appreciate it. Our actions are not always a reflection of what we would do under “normal” circumstances, what we would do had we not been, say, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or had we not been insane, or products of abusive backgrounds, etc. But that doesn’t really prove anything. The stimuli of alcohol, for example, may remove certain inhibitions and motives that would otherwise be prohibitions would be by-passed. “It wasn’t me; it was the booze.” That, in my opinion, is a respectable argument.)

    Finally, I’d like to add that many people have tried to prove me wrong by doing things that are contrary to their own interests or desires. I wouldn’t be surprise if one day, someone walked in front of an oncoming car just to prove that his will was free. But it would prove nothing except my point. It would prove that his desire to convince me that he is right had been stronger than his desire not to injure or even kill himself.

    I hope that never happens.

    P.S. Richard Dawkins wrote The Selfish Gene and his other books because he wanted to, and I for one am glad that he wanted to.

  18. @ Alan4Discussion

    No! Not pre-destination. Determinism. Huge difference. What do you think I am, a bloody Calvinist? (LOL)

  19. The universe isn’t strictly deterministic to the best of our current knowledge.

    Quantum indeterminacy, our certain knowledge of probabilities only, seems unlikely to be upgraded to determinacy, as Einstein had hoped by the discovery of local hidden variables. The latest experimental explorations of Bells theorem seem to eliminate the possibilities of such hidden variables. No one is taking bets better than evens on the future health of Schroedinger’s cat.

    This “noise” in the system affects nothing of the idea of Free Will, because it is a badly formed concept.

  20. Phil

    How can anything be random? That implies that an event can have no cause. If the event had a cause than it was determined by the cause. Randomness is an illusion. If you roll a pair of dice and it comes up 5 and 7, you can say that that was chance. But if you could repeat the action the same thing would happen. Chance is an egocentric concept. Just because we have an interest in the outcome of rolling the dice and don’t know the outcome of the roll of the dice, it does not mean that the dice could have moved differently than they did. This is analogous to saying that a tree falling is determined by weight (which is true) and saying that the tree falling on someone was chance. There is no difference between the two, and no difference between the dice coming up 7 and 5 and the tree hitting the ground and lying one way and not another way.

    The universe again! The natural world is governed by the law of causality and everything that takes place in that world (and it is the only world that I am interested in as far as this issue is concerned) takes place with the strictest necessity.

    A “chance” happening. You run into someone in the middle of nowhere. From an egocentric point of view this is chance and the word does have meaning. But we only apply it to situations that are unexpected and that affect us personally in some way. If you empty a bag of marbles onto a wood floor and two of them meet in a corner of the room somewhere, that is no different than the chance happening, no different than running into someone.

  21. @dan #25

    How can anything be random?

    Pay attention to Phils post #24. Radioactive decay is perhaps one of the easiest to grasp examples of an event that has no cause, you can’t tell when any particular nucleus is going to decide ‘to hell with this, I’m gonna pop’. Or whatever it thinks when it pulls the pin, or whatever, to “cause” its own fission.

    So, I trust you’ve now learned that some things CAN be random.

    But then, statistically speaking, with a large enough population of — in this case — atoms, we can make remarkably accurate predictions of how they’ll behave, overall. Much like voters in a “safe” constituency, for an example at another scale.

    Because randomness DOES exist, and affects events at the very small scale, the argument that everything is determined, cause-and-effect, if only we could measure everything accurately enough, we would be able to predict the rest of the future with total accuracy, fails. The argument fails.

    You may choose to say, it’s all deterministic BUT we haven’t got enough information yet. That is an opinion, not based on anything solid. Or you could choose to say, it’s not deterministic except in a statistical probabilistic sense, it’s not that we don’t have enough information, it’s that there ISNT enough information to have. Because, now and then, a nucleus just goes “pop”. A photon reflects off a surface, while another 19 pass through. Which one does what? Do they collude among themselves? Are they all running according to the same script? Oh, no it’s not every 20th one that reflects, but, statistically, over a large number of photons, 5% of them reflect (in this particular experiment).

    Determinism requires too much choreography. You’ll be introducing the choreographer next.

    On the day-to-day level, I’m strongly averse to determinism. Oh, poor thing, he couldn’t help it, it was Written. Inch Alla or whatever. The molecules made me do it.

    I read somewhere that a contributing factor to the severe road toll in India and Pakistan is the prevalence of a fatalistic attitude, that puts life-and-death decisions beyond human responsibility — so if I career round a blind corner and slam head on into someone, well, it was Meant To Be. No point in careful driving, you’ll only get there later (if you survive). And if you don’t, well, you were meant to die.

    That rant amounts to this: Determinism is a Very Bad Idea. Free Will is a Very Good Idea. Act like you believe it (even if you don’t).

    Take a look at mathematician John Conway’s “Free Will Theorem”, for a different take on determinism.

  22. O’Hooligan, Dan.

    Radioactivity may have an explanation from the wavefunction of the system The wavefunction, Psi, given by Schroedingers equation effectively describes with perfect precision the probability (Psi squared) of where all the elements are…..the probabilities of all possible locations for them.

    (Dan, in a sense this could be the very interface between noumen and associate phenomenon.) An electron is most likely to be here at this time in this assembly of things, but it has a finite chance of being anywhere else. Just occasionally stuff can exist in positions that facilitate escape, a radio-active release. Einstein reasonably thought that this probabalistic behaviour was caused by undiscovered mechanisms (hidden variables). Our latest knowledge (Bell) and experiments suggest that hidden mechanisms would create paradoxes that we do not see. Its almost like we have hit the pixel limit of the Matrix and the finer detail of the noumen behind the matricular phenomena must appear as a random expression of phenomena in time…..yet Bell disallows the hidden mechanisms of the Matrix etc…..

    Mooted noumen too flaky for you?

  23. OHooligan, Phil

    We seem to have met again! Good day to you both.

    Determinism is not fatalism. Nor is it pre-determinism. Nor is anything other than determinism even conceivable.

    You cannot do two things at once. Inanimate matter certainly cannot resist the forces that act upon it or within it. Not knowing a cause does not mean that there is no antecedent cause. What appears random may appear random, but this is easily confused with a spontaneous coming-to-be without any force or causal element existing prior to it. That is closer to mysticism than anything I’ve ever suggested. Read my comments 20 and 16, or just 20, or don’t. But I am not suggesting that we can ever predict everything, if it could only be properly measured. I am saying that what takes place – and this includes all of our thoughts and all of our actions, and all of the actions and reactions in the observable universe – takes place out of sheer necessity. (Phil, you must know this.) This does not mean that it is purposeful or even explicable. But it must be assumed that every observable change in a state of matter, and all of our actions , conscious or otherwise, were caused by either causes in the broadest sense, i.e., mechanical or chemical, by stimuli, and by motives (in the case of our voluntary acts) which act upon us with all the force of any other cause in nature.

    You scoff at this and call it fatalism. Not really fatalism. A fatalist says “I might as well do this; it was meant to be.” That is foolish. You cannot know what you will do until you do it. But then, once you do it, there is then that much which is added to the data that will form the basis of your final judgment (if you chooses to make one) and the judgment of others, concerning your character. You will be judged, for example, as honest or dishonest, or something in-between, kind or unkind, etc. And as I said, in comment 20, the argument, the cry of shoulda, coulda, woulda, has no weight in the moral sense, means nothing in the end.

    Please explain to me how radioactive decay has no cause. Radioactive decay? It doest sound like the kind of thing that you can predict or even grasp, like the idea or the sight of a tree felled by an axe: “Timber! There goes another one!” I’ll grant you that.

  24. All that Quantum indeterminacy means is that if you could run from the universal singularity we hypothesise at t=0 (13.73bn years ago), twice, in parallel say, and that whatever properties that singularity had where utterly identical in each case, then we would expect very very similar outcomes, but increasingly not identical in its particulars as the tiny quantum possibilities get amplified through time. Not least through the amplifiers of chaotic processes, the result of systems whose output is critically sensitive to its input,. (As I said before many brain processes sit on the edge of chaos because of high levels of positive feedback trying to eke out a readable signal….brains also need this quasi instability to prevent it failing to deliver an answer…any answer and just lock up claiming not to know and can I go back to sleep now…. My Golden Glow migraines are because of chaos inducing positive feedback. My tinnitus is a by product of the positive feedback around the cochlear (without it the ear is only 1% of its current sensitivity). Your OCD is part of a positive feedback mechanism to find some worrying work to do and got out of hand once in a while.)

    Stochastic processes utterly surround us outside of our head (the weather, society, disease, gas molecules, phonons) and specific prediction collapses almost instantly in any realistically described system. These are those amplifiers of the tiny true randomness at the quantum level when we are seeking to definitively determine outcomes. They inject it would seem a true random quality in the world at our scale. Fascinatingly though so long as we are attempting to analyse things only statistically in one transition to the next the still technically determinist nature of stuff behaving stochastically mostly smooths over this quantum noise.

    Hmmm. This started out as helpful I thought and now I just see neurons chaotically fritzing…and smoke….

  25. Hi Dan [#25],

    At the risk of making it seem like we’re ganging up on you (we’re not we’re just trying to be helpful – honest!) …

    How can anything be random? That implies that an event can have no cause

    Correct.

    If the event had a cause than it was determined by the cause

    Can’t fault you there either.

    Randomness is an illusion

    Hmm, I seem to remember something, vaguely, about conclusions should spring from the premises, ring any bells?

    Teasing aside, what is it about randomness that you don’t get? Or should that be: That you don’t like?

    You start by saying:

    How can anything be random?

    If we knew, we would tell you. As O’Hooligan rightly points out you could, quite reasonably, take the view that all the data are not yet in and a (as yet invisible) determinist set of causes lie behind what we currently call random events.

    Until the day those sources of determinism are detected we’re left with what we’ve got: Quantum evidence of randomness.

    To borrow from the link: Are we asking the right question?

    What do we mean when we say something is computable, ordered, or deterministic? Is that a good definition is it true? If each bit of quantum information in a quantum computer can be both a 1 and a 0 at the same time, what does it mean for such a sequence to be in order? Equally, what would the absence of order look like in such a quantum sequence?

    For the moment we’re forced to say that we’ve found evidence of true randomness – and as Phil says, it isn’t restricted to quantum computers.

    Which brings me full circle back to:

    What is it about randomness that you don’t like?
    Why is determinism so important to you, why can’t randomness exist?

    Peace.

  26. What I was saying is that what we call chance or a random event is a just a word for something that seems to have no causal connection to something else, and in a sense, it doesn’t. An eagle drops a tortoise shell from its talons in mid flight, lands on the head of Aeschylus, killing him. That legend expresses the idea of randomness; in other words, there seems to be no connection between one thing and the other; it appears as either tragic, absurd, or both, depending on one’s point of view.

    The one event seems actually severed from the other. This is what we call chance. I gave the example of marbles thrown on the floor and rolling where they will, and of a pair of dice coming up sixes, or whatever. The death of Aeschylus, the marbles winding up here rather than there, or the dice coming up sixes, seem to be random things, not determined, But the illusion I referenced consists in assuming that because the eagle did not purposelessly single out a victim, thus producing what we call an accident, and in assuming that we could not possibly have predicted or controlled the outcome of a roll of the dice, and could not have predicted where, say, two red marbles amongst the rest of the blue ones in the bag would wind up, that these events must then somehow be different than events that we could have predicted or foreseen, or regarded as intentional. But there is no difference between the necessity associated with accidents and the necessity associated with deliberate acts, no difference between the necessity associated with the predictable and the necessity associated with the unpredictable.

    The eagle dropped the shell at that precise moment because of gravity or fatigue. The cause is not knowable but there has to be a cause. The man walking below it was there and nowhere else. If he had not been there then something else would have been – perhaps a stony patch of ground or a grassy field. The tortoise shell fell, and that was determined. It hit what it hit, and that was determined. Only from a superficial, egocentric and yet entirely human standpoint would we judge that to be chance. Do you see? When an apple falls from a tree we say it is necessary. When it hits someone on the head we call it chance. No difference between these two instances, however; we just think there is.

    I like the example of throwing a pair of dice because it is hard to imagine anything more random than the outcomes of that gesture. “Two sixes. That’s what we see. Random as random can get”. But not really. You see, the dice were positioned in one’s hand a certain way, and one shook ones hand in a certain way, and the dice moved within one’s hand a certain way, and you throw the dice; but when you do that you are applying a certain and set amount of force. The result, finally, is a pair of sixes. Now listen to this: a pair of dice is sitting on the table. One has a six clearly visible on the side. The other has a six on its side too. You simply arrange the dice so that the sixes are on top – and there you have two sixes! No difference whatsoever between the two instances, of blindly throwing and deliberately arranging. This difference is magnified in our egocentric minds, and creates the illusion of randomness in the former case and non-randomness in the latter, where we had intervened. But forces are forces; the occasional presence of intentionality behind these forces do not alter their fundamental nature. Whether something rolls, or falls, or drops, or is actually placed somewhere deliberately, changes nothing. It all falls under the same category, all is subject to various laws of motion and force, action and reaction, etc. Everything that has happened or will happen has a cause. Every effect of a cause is necessary. But not every cause is capable of being known; nor is is always predictable.

    I have tried to establish homogeneity, to obliterate the false division between the predictable and non-predictable , between the accidental and the non-accidental, to make the case that causal necessity cannot be eliminated from anything that acts, is acted upon, or that acts upon other things.

    (I must confess that the idea of pre-determination is deeply distasteful to me. I like to think that the character is an open-ended question. So I remind myself that the will is empirically free and a posteriori unfree.)

    With this in mind, please remind me what is random and how it could be random, that is, self-generating, causeless, outside the sphere of the natural laws that pertain to the natural world, a world wedded to, and inextricably bound up with, the law of causality.

  27. Hi Dan [#33],

    Only from a superficial, egocentric and yet entirely human standpoint would we judge that [something unpredictable happening] to be chance. Do you see?

    Yes, I understand that.

    I like the example of throwing a pair of dice because it is hard to imagine anything more random than the outcomes of that gesture. “Two sixes. That’s what we see. Random as random can get”. But not really. You see, the dice were positioned in one’s hand a certain way, and one shook ones hand in a certain way, and the dice moved within one’s hand a certain way, and you throw the dice; but when you do that you are applying a certain and set amount of force. The result, finally, is a pair of sixes

    I agree that the dice throw is predictable – in principle – and the computer guys at the story I linked to would say that the dice throw is even partially predictable, using probability. I also understand that the dice throw is – not predictable in practice – because of the huge number of imponderables. This area is covered by Chaos Theory. Chaos Theory is about: If we can predict any outcome in principle, and we have a thorough knowledge of the initial conditions, then what looks like chaos can be forecast and is therefore not random.

    Whether something rolls, or falls, or drops, or is actually placed somewhere deliberately, changes nothing. It all falls under the same category, all is subject to various laws of motion and force, action and reaction, etc. Everything that has happened or will happen has a cause

    Does it?

    Bear with me.

    We humans think we’re it. Yet in reality, when we’re deeply truly honest, we realize that we do tend to look at natural processes from a superficial, egocentric and yet entirely human standpoint and we judge that the entire Universe is running on cause-and-effect because that’s our personal experience of it. Do you see?

    When, 400 or so years ago, scientists started out there seemed to be no escape from cause and effect, just as there appeared to be nothing beyond our senses. Yet slowly, inexorably, we have learned how and when (and when not) to trust our senses … and how and when to be skeptical. By bearing this in mind as we searched our knowledge has grown of truths that were once invisible (like X-rays), inaudible (like bat calls), untouchable (like Xenon), inodorous and so on … until we discovered things so far beyond our direct human experience that we were wholly reliant on our tools to detect them and our theories to describe them. But we do not, indeed cannot, deny that these things exist.

    Today we know that Chemistry relies on the truth of atomic physics, and so on. We have learned to trust the evidence that emerges from modern scientific endeavours, despite that fact that we will never, can never, directly experience what we see going on. We are stuck in what Richard calls “Middle Earth” – nothing to do with Hobbits, and everything to do with the anthropic principle.

    The science is telling us to stop being the ego-centrists you so rightly point out that we are and that means we simply can no longer say:

    Every effect of a cause is necessary

    … we simply can’t. Phil has already outlined the case for quantum mechanics, I can’t add anything to that.

    But not every cause is capable of being known; nor is it always predictable

    Here we agree. Science, specifically the physicists of the very small, are saying that they use the theories – the same theories that caused a huge chunk of global resources to be poured into a hole under the Alps and which has found that other predictions can be confirmed – to predict that quantum nature is in some senses random. So far (like the link I provided, and like the radioactive decay discussed by Phil) this has proved from observation to be true.

    I have tried to establish homogeneity, to obliterate the false division between the predictable and non-predictable , between the accidental and the non-accidental …

    And I think you did a great job …

    … to make the case that causal necessity cannot be eliminated from anything …

    … except that part. The science is in: Random, as far as we can tell, exists.

    With this in mind, please remind me what is random

    Random has at least two meanings in science, but I’m not an expert there may be more:

    An event that was predictable in principle but not in practice (usu. due to low info. on start condn’s. e.g. weather forecast)
    An event with no discernible cause

    With this in mind, please remind me … how it could be random, that is, self-generating, causeless …

    We don’t know. I tried to allude to this in my comment #31:

    SW: What do we mean when we say something is computable, ordered, or deterministic? Is that a good definition is it true? If each bit of quantum information in a quantum computer can be both a 1 and a 0 at the same time, what does it mean for such a sequence to be in order? Equally, what would the absence of order look like in such a quantum sequence?

    … it could be that we’re not as good as we think we are at asking the right questions. Or it may be that the very fact we live in Middle Earth prevents us from asking the right questions.

    With this in mind, please remind me … how it could be random … outside the sphere of the natural laws …

    Dan this is the natural world that we’re discussing. Ask yourself: Is my view of what is possible limited by my anthropic standpoint?

    [this is] … a world wedded to, and inextricably bound up with, the law of causality

    Sorry to break it to you Dan; it may look that way in our daily lives but the science says that deep down it really isn’t.

    It’s turtles mate … all the way down. Apparently we have the coprolite to prove it 🙂

    Peace.

  28. Hello, Stephen (#33),

    When, 400 or so years ago, scientists started out there seemed to be no escape from cause and effect, just as there appeared to be nothing beyond our senses.

    Yes! Cause and effect (and necessity along with it) relates only to what lies within the realm of the senses. I hope we can agree to agree on that one.

    Corrected sentence:

    But the illusion I referenced consists in assuming that because the eagle did not purposelessly single out a victim (thus producing what we call an accident), and in assuming that because we could not possibly have predicted or controlled the outcome of a roll of the dice, and in assuming that because we could not have predicted where, say, two red marbles amongst the rest of the blue ones in the bag would wind up, it follows that these events must be random, fundamentally different in this respect than events that we could have predicted or foreseen or regarded as intentional.

    Ask yourself: Is my view of what is possible limited by my anthropic standpoint?

    Yes, it most certainly is.

  29. Hi Dan [#34],

    We appear to be approaching agreement. This is very worrying.

    I don’t know about you, but I can’t even convince myself that I know what I’m talking about most of the time.

    Cause and effect (and necessity [a situation enforcing a certain outcome] along with it) relates only to what lies within the realm of the senses. I hope we can agree to agree

    Yes, we agree.

    … it follows that these events [of the eagle, dice and marbles] must be random, fundamentally different in this respect than events that we could have predicted or foreseen or regarded as intentional.

    Agreed, but I feel I must add a caveat: Only in the chaotic sense of random. We didn’t know the starting conditions.

    In your example: We may have observed that local eagles have learned how to eat turtles, and that they break open their shells by dropping them from a great height. We may even have watched Aeschylus take regular walks along the rocky shore, and he may have told us of the many times he saw the eagles. But even though we may, in a passing moment, have wondered if Aeschylus’s bald pate might be a little too stone-like from a great height we could not forecast that the eagle, turtle and Aeschylus would one day come together. To us such an improbable event seemed so improbable random is the best description.

    This does not, of course, negate the other meaning of random: An event without cause.

    Yes, it [my view of what is possible] most certainly is [limited by my anthropic standpoint].

    I’m not a Superman either.

    Of course type 2 randomness in nature has no discernible effect at our Middle Earth level. Unless your Deepak Chopra. So type 2 randomness has no effect on whether we have free will. It has always seemed to me that what most people think of as free will is actually chaos in a cause-and-effect world.

    Peace.

  30. But with knowledge, knowing the eagles behaviour, walking under it would seem foolhardy by the predictatabilty of it all. ????

  31. @ Stephen

    Stephen, Hi,

    You highlighted this phrase but it is only part of a longer sentence, so I don’t know what it is that you agreed with. My point was that that randomness is illusory, is not actually randomness.

    “… it follows that these events [of the eagle, dice and marbles] must be random, fundamentally different in this respect than events that we could have predicted or foreseen or regarded as intentional.”

    The full sentence reads as follows:

    But the illusion I referenced consists in assuming that because the eagle did not purposelessly single out a victim (thus producing what we call an accident), and in assuming that because we could not possibly have predicted or controlled the outcome of a roll of the dice, and in assuming that because we could not have predicted where, say, two red marbles amongst the rest of the blue ones in the bag would wind up, it follows that these events must be random, fundamentally different in this respect than events that we could have predicted or foreseen or regarded as intentional.

    A shortened version would read like this:

    But the illusion I referenced consists in assuming that because we could not possibly have predicted or controlled the outcome of a roll of the dice, it follows that this event must be random.

    To us such an improbable event [the turtle shell and Aeschylus coming together] seemed so improbable random is the best description.

    This is the very opposite of what I was trying to say. We call this random, Stephen, because it involves a human being. But if an apple falls from a tree onto the ground we say that that is determined. But the two are the same! That is what I meant when I said that it is egocentric to attribute randomness to events that impact upon us as humans and necessity to events that don’t. Please read this carefully. I am making a good point. The man hit by the shell is no different than a rock on the ground in so far as both are objects. One happens to be a man; the other happens not to be. The coming together you spoke of produces a psychological effect on us which gives rise to a deception; we call that random which affects us as humans, affects us personally in some way, and call that determined which does not. Again, why should a man hit in the head by a fallen tortoise shell be called random? If an apple falls to the ground we say: gravity!

    (I use the word random myself. It’s part of the language.)

  32. Olgun

    That’s true. Aeschylus had only himself to blame. His foolhardiness was another necessary yet indirect cause of his own demise. That makes it even less random. 🙂

  33. So we’re out walking one day, then suddenly it hits us! Smack! Fractals from top to bottom. At any scale, the Universe is neither deterministic nor random, but probabalistic like the scientists have been saying all along.

  34. From https://arxiv.org/pdf/0807.3286.pdf “The Strong Free Will Theorem” by Conway and Kochen, the Introduction states:

    The two theories that revolutionized physics in the 20th century, relativity and quantum mechanics, are full of predictions that defy common sense. Recently, we used three such paradoxical ideas to prove “The Free Will Theorem” (strengthened here), which is the culmination of a series of theorems about quantum mechanics that began in the 1960’s. It asserts, roughly, that if indeed we humans have free will, then elementary particles already have their own small share of this valuable commodity. More precisely, if the experimenter can freely choose the directions in which to orient his apparatus in a certain measurement, then the particle’s response (to be pedantic – the universe’s response near the particle) is not determined by the entire previous history of the universe.

    Here Conway appears to define “free will” as “not determined by the entire previous history of the universe”. Dan, will that do for a definition of Free Will?

    Note that Conway & Kochen do not prove the existence of Free Will. What they do is link its existence in humans with its existence in elementary particles. Either both have it, or neither has it.

  35. @dan #20

    “It wasn’t me; it was the booze.”

    “If you have to be careful not to drink too much, it’s because you’re not to be trusted when you do”

    — Sergeant Boyle, “The Guard” (2011) — played by Brendan Gleeson

    In the fatalistic world of “the booze made me do it”, and I was doomed to booze because… molecules… then the judge and jury are equally fated to sentence my ass to an appropriate period of incarceration, or not because … more molecules, such as the ones that comprise the banknotes used to bribe them….

    That feels too bleak for me, a cop-out, a refusal to accept responsibility for one’s own actions. I suppose I’m bound to feel this way, given my history to date – is that what you’d tell me, Dan?

  36. It was the booze.

    I said that it was a respectable argument; I didn’t say that the drunk isn’t still responsible for his actions. He may be less responsible. I would say that if a man tells his boss off in a drunken rage or a blackout his action should be seen in that context. Same with committing a crime under hypnosis.

    Conways’s definition. “Free will” as “not determined by the entire previous history of the universe”? Yes, I suppose that… No comment.

    I know nothing about elementary particles, but I do know something about this topic, and I do not think that the will is free. It is not even conceivable, although most people say that the will is free. They confuse doing what they want with willing what they will. Freedom of the will is as unthinkable to me as the idea of God’s existence, or the idea of something literally popping into existence without any prior cause or event.

  37. @ Phil

    Probabalistic? You’re not confusing certainty with necessity, are you? It is not certain that the sun will rise tomorrow or that a hammer, if dropped, will fall to the ground. But actions, all actions, are a posteriori bound by necessity, are causally bound.

    The thing-in-itself is free. I am talking about what enters into experience. Chaos ends with the brain. We cannot conceive of absolute chaos. Causality prohibits this.

    Here’s one scientist who agrees with me about something. (I just found this quote.)

    “Human beings in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free.” —Einstein

  38. @dan #42

    Conways’s definition. “Free will” as “not determined by the entire previous history of the universe”? Yes, I suppose that… No comment.

    Does that mean “Yes, I accept that as a workable definition of ‘free will'”.

    Or does it mean something else? Sorry, the written word can be so ambivalent, unless we make the effort to pin things down.

  39. “Free will” as “not determined by the entire previous history of the universe”?
    I would not disagree with that definition, but it is not one that I would choose to use. A matter of personal taste.
    Free acts of will “would proceed absolutely and quite originally from themselves without being brought about necessarily by antecedent conditions, and thus without being determined by anything according to a rule.” S.
    That’s another definition.
    The “previous history of the universe” is presupposed by the law of causality which is an infinite regress.

  40. @dan

    I’ll take that as a Yes.

    It doesn’t have to be your preferred definition, just one you can accept, and if-not-why-not.

    S’s definition you quoted seems to say more or less the same thing, just in a few more words. If it doesn’t, please explain how it differs.

    Despite – or maybe because of – previous misunderstandings with you, I’d like to find a common reference point we can both accept. After all, no point discussing “free will” if we can’t even agree on what the term means.

    The “previous history of the universe” is presupposed by the law of causality which is an infinite regress.

    Sorry again, but I don’t understand that sentence.

    What’s the quibble about the term “the previous history of the universe”?

  41. @phil #39

    At any scale, the Universe is neither deterministic nor random, but probabalistic like the scientists have been saying all along.

    Yes. And the uncertainty, the “wiggle room” allowed by probability can be interpreted as individual particles “choosing” for themselves, with as much freedom-of-will as an individual experimenter deciding which way to orient his experimental apparatus, as per Conway’s Theorem. Or – taking my analogy – each individual voter in a safe constituency may be exercising freedom of choice, but the election result is still predictable.

    Isaac Asimov coined the term “psycho-history” for his imagined science of human behaviour at the level of large populations, probabilistically predictable without denying individual choice, free will within limits.

    I support the conclusion that free will exists, and operates within probabilistic limits, for humans, and – if we accept Conway’s Theorem – also for those itsy bitsy little critters that make up everything.

    I could just as easily have decided otherwise. I chose not to, of my own free will. Dan, however, is deterministically obliged to disagree, he’s got no choice in the matter. Phil, well, I can’t say anything definite, I can only offer probabilities….

  42. Dan #43

    Probabalistic? You’re not confusing certainty with necessity, are you?

    No! I made an observation from physics. Folk simply have to understand how low level indeterminacy might affect their hare-brained metaphysics from a theistic age.

    Free will is not a useful concept. Don’t make me get Wittgenstein out of his cage again…….

    Having spent years batting the tired old thing back and forth adding only to entropy and the certain heat death of the universe I am uninterested in any further rehearsal of the familiar stuff.

    Good concepts are agency, happy ownership and correctness of personal ideas and actions, the process of creating integrity and robustness under stress. Deeper ideas are happiness in general and cultural vitality, the mix of stability and cultural evolution for problem solving, the manufacture of options within culture and the subversion personal homeostasis. I would say cultural free will, but again its asking a question of an impoverished idea….But as a thought experiment, treating culture as a sentient entity capable of sensing and actions, we can see Schopenhauer’s mind as mill beautifully laid out before us where we can observe its littlest parts. It may lead us back into our own skulls realising that it contains many individual agencies thanks to its extrapolated evolution and changing needs. That the interplay of agencies with their different sensibilities may be exemplified by the power of veto of the anterior cingulate cortex matching urgent visceral needs for action with the cool consideration of consequences and a potential deep homeostatic reward of integrity.

    Hard determinism has all the utility of angels dancing on pin heads.

    Gun to my head, I am a soft determinist, compatabilist. But this doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the useful conversation that lies untroubled so far.

    I’m afraid I’ve only been quickly scanning the arguments here to watch for a breakout moment….

  43. Phil!

    Free acts “would proceed absolutely and quite originally from themselves without being brought about necessarily by antecedent conditions, and thus without being determined by anything according to a rule.”

    That’s freedom for you. Is that definition clear to you? have I made myself clear? Is that how the universe operates? I am a determinist and I don’t see how anything cannot be determined by something else. Why do you insist upon maintaining the inconceivable? It might be possible for something to come from nothing but at least admit that it is not conceivable!

    Free will is not a useful concept. I agree that it is a deceptive one, but how is indeterminacy of events, if it implies freedom, any different?

    Read my comment 20, please. I don’t see how you can be a soft determinist or what that could be. You can only be one or the other. You cannot will two things simultaneously… Ah, it’s no use.

    Tell me how you can steal someone’s wallet and not steal it at one and the same time, and then I will take the concept of soft determinism seriously. Too much Dennett here. He’s a soft thinker at times.

  44. Phil, OHooligan

    The “previous history of the universe” is presupposed by the law of causality which is an infinite regress.

    Sorry again, but I don’t understand that sentence. What’s the quibble about the term “the previous history of the universe”?

    Not really quibbling. I simply preferred my definition to this one, and for the following reason: less ambiguous. the word “history” implies causality. You are referring to recent history as well as the most distant past. I cannot separate history from a chain of events without breaks, think of its history as not part of an infinite regress; it is a law of the mind to attribute causes to everything or anything that takes place, and without exception. Nothing pops into existence without an antecedent cause! Conway might have something else in mind when he said ” the history of the universe.” If he was including what happened before minds appeared then I can no longer assume that the law of causality applies. Nor can I form any conception of what that history would be a history of. So I reminded you that the “previous history of the universe” is presupposed by the law of causality which is an infinite regress. If his definition of free will or free anything is that which is severed from the previous history of the universe than as I said, it would be an adequate definition but a clumsy one. I don’t know enough about what this scientist means by the “whole history” of the universe, and am content with my knowledge of what immediately precedes every change in a a state of matter, and in what immediately precedes my own thoughts and actions. And what precedes those things is precisely something rather than nothing!

    If he is claiming that the thing-in-itself is somehow part of the history of the universe (a problematic if not erroneous assumption) than causality would not relate to that part. If he is confining himself to what we can conceive of, that is, one occurrence after another, then yes, that would be an acceptable characterization of the absurdity and inadmissibility of an attempted definition of free will (or acts).

    Phil, what is probabalism? What is indeterminism? The definition of freedom of the will or freedom of the activity of material objects is this: free acts of will or of any material substance “would proceed absolutely and quite originally from themselves without being brought about necessarily by antecedent conditions, and thus without being determined by anything according to a rule.” Now how can something come from nothing? Tell me!

    I will assume that this comment will not be read either but perhaps you’ll surprise me. My assumption is based on your recent employment of the the term soft determinism. —So then something can sort of pop into existence without an antecedent cause? And we can sort of choose what we do regardless of the fact that one motive must always carry more weight than another?

    I want people to grasp my fine and precise points before they dismiss them. But I have to look at that philosophically.

    Peace

  45. Dan

    Phil, what is probabalism? What is indeterminism?

    Never heard of them. Probabalistic and Indeterminacy are standard mathematical/scientific terms you can look up.

    Also why not look up the old arguments and the terms used, like soft-determinism?

    Now how can something come from nothing? Tell me!

    My position is that free will is a useless term, so why are you asking me?

    I have a long piece to write about the greater utility simply of the concept of freedom in relation to these matters of thoughts and action and how its evaluation can tell us about about degraded and flourishing lives. But I’m not sure I have time…

  46. @dan #50

    Substitute S’s phrase “antecedent conditions” for “the entire history of the universe”. Then see if the definition works for you. In the context, they mean the same (to me). And, I must admit, S’s is more concise.

    I interpreted Conway’s phrase as “all that went before”, not some convoluted thing that involved consciousness, as you seem to suggest. History I don’t think was meant as recorded history, 1066 and 1492 and 1969 and all that.

  47. @dan #50 Sorry, edit timed out.

    To recap, and for clarity: merging S and Conway’s definitions I get this, which I hope is a workable definition: free will is choice [or act] not determined by antecedent conditions.

    Actually, on re-reading, I’m happy to accept S’s definition too, as it seems to me to be saying the same thing:

    Free acts of will “would proceed absolutely and quite originally from themselves without being brought about necessarily by antecedent conditions, and thus without being determined by anything according to a rule.” S.

    Pinning down the definition is, for me, absolutely necessary before we can even begin to consider/debate its existence. I also acknowledge it’s very much a matter of opinion. Interestingly, I claim it’s true, Dan claims it’s false, and Phil claims it’s not useful.

    I’m reminded of an old saying about religion: to the poor, it’s true, to the rich, it’s false, and to those in power, it’s useful.

  48. Phil,

    I have been asked a number of times to explain why it is important to appreciate and accept the distinction between the phenomenon and the thing-in-itself. Now I am being asked why the doctrine of necessity, which I regard as true absolutely, is important.

    I will write a long essay, but I haven’t the energy at the moment. Believe me; they are both of great importance (to me at the very least).

    The Free Will is not a useful term? I think it is useful, essential even, to free the mind. Some irony there, but unintentional; I am being serious, couldn’t be more serious.

  49. Phil

    Also why not look up the old arguments and the terms used, like soft-determinism?

    Soft Determinism is the theory that human behavior and actions are wholly determined by causal events, but human free will does exist when defined as the capacity to act according to one’s nature (which is shaped by external factors such as heredity, society and upbringing).

    There. I looked it up. That’s most useful, Phil! Most useful! Next time someone you know, a dear friend, is torn, is contending with two conflicting motives, is torn, say, between accepting a bribe (a big amount) from his employer, or exposing the corruption within his place of work, just say: be yourself!

    Don’t you see? When one acts according to one’s true nature (and one usually does) one’s will is still determined by a motive. Take my example: money or honor. If you are more honest than dishonest (and that is your nature) then you will expose the corruption and preserve your integrity. If you are not as honest you will take the bribe, and reveal a lack of integrity. One’s true nature, as I said in one of my earlier comments on this thread, is revealed to oneself over time. It is because we have a true nature (and I agree with that part) that our will is not free. If it were free then we would continuously be willing something that was contrary to our true nature, and in that case, we wouldn’t be acting according to our true nature.

    I’m sorry, but that is perhaps the most useless concept I have encountered in quite some time. It is positively stupid! The author of that concept understands nothing! Moral philosophy and epistemology, as I said, recently, died around the year 1900. Very lamentable.

  50. @dan #55

    Flummoxed again. Dan, are you two people arguing with yourselves? 4th paragraph above, vs the first 3 paragraphs. Was one of them meant to be a quote? What is “the most useless concept… positively stupid”?

  51. Dan,

    Free will is a useless term, thats why I am a gun-to-my head soft-determinist. This gives the loosest of feels to my position but is not usefully unpacked and applied. I would rather use the rich panoply of other terms I have detailed to deal with moral dilemmas and questions of how to think and act. Wittgenstein is rattling his cage. Ill-signed metaphysics with mutually incoherent terms guides no one. In the end, the reality of brains and their processes give the best clues for our balance of entirely useful servitudes and freedoms for a culturally informed animal or citizen. Analysing an abstracted (from society) individual is analysing an impossible entity.

  52. Hi Dan [#37],

    … I don’t know what it is that you agreed with. My point was that that randomness is illusory, is not actually randomness

    You see? I knew that I was deceived, I knew it was too good to be true!

    … the illusion I referenced consists in assuming that because we could not possibly have predicted or controlled the outcome of a roll of the dice, it follows that this event must be random

    Hmm. You asked me to define random, and I did in Comment #33:

    A. An event that is predictable in principle but not in practice (e.g. weather forecast)

    B. An event with no discernible cause

    When you didn’t respond to those definitions I assumed you had accepted them.

    I affirm that, in the A sense of random, what you say is true – to call Aeschylus’ demise random is true in the sense that it was unpredictable. As Olgun reminds us [Comment #36], when we discuss an event in the A sense it isn’t even necessarily unpredictable (see what I did there), it’s just highly improbable and that makes it extremely difficult to predict. After all, how many of us take a walk on the beach without a hat? In the everyday world of common speech the A sense of random is synonymous with ‘so improbable we would never see it coming’, or ‘Holy cow!’.

    This is the very opposite of what I was trying to say.

    Oh dear.

    We call this random, Stephen, because it involves a human being. But if an apple falls from a tree onto the ground we say that that is determined

    Nobody is denying the determinist nature of gravity. Apples fall from the tree, turtles fall from the sky … happens every day. The nature of Middle Earth – the place between the Whole Universe (most of which remains, to our knowledge, unobserved) and the Quantum realm of the Standard Model (the ‘opposite’ frontier?) – where we live out our lives is undeniably deterministic.

    You appear to be trying to say, Dan, that we deny determinism in Middle Earth when it relates to people? I have no argument with that position, the evidence that people seek self-promotion is centuries old, if not older. What could be better than winning some lottery of ‘random’ chance that promotes you as ‘chosen’:

    Thou are not for the fashion of these times,
    Where none will sweat but for promotion

    Our knowledge of the uses and misuses to which the anthropic principle (Brandon Carter 1974) is put, suggests that is probably true of some people. It’s the Goldilocks principle, not too salty, not too sweet, not too hot, not too cold – just right for me! Just because they’re out in the woods – doing whatever it is that bears do there – does not mean the porridge was made for you. Just because the turtle missed you and hit Aeschylus next to you does not mean anything more than you didn’t understand the starting conditions well enough, that you live in a chaotic world and not that you’re the chosen one.

    Just because we appear, to ourselves, to have free will, and that chaos means we can no more predict what the next post will contain than we can predict the weather on Europa, does not deny the necessity of nature – and the fact of our, deep down, deterministic existence.

    Here’s where it gets confusing: But, deep, deep, deep down nature stops being deterministic. It becomes probablistic (A) and appears in some cases to be random (B). But don’t sweat this detail (and it really is insignificant in Middle Earth – even more so than Luthien in the other one) because we don’t really know – partly, we suspect, because we don’t know how to ask the right questions and partly because using words like order, determined, necessary, predictable, probable, chaos, etc. may be redundant.

    But the two are the same!

    Apples falling onto the ground is the same as turtles falling on heads. Yes, I got that so many times I think I’ve earned the ‘T’ shirt.

    That is what I meant when I said that it is egocentric to attribute randomness to events that impact upon us as humans [by natural] necessity to events that don’t

    A tiny edit to make that sentence understandable by me, and hopefully acceptable.

    Yes, people often confuse A with B. Yes, people confuse A with B more often when events occur to people who are closer to them – and the closer those people are to the Event Reporter the more likely this is to happen [ultimately the Event Reporter is the victim/victor at which point the correlation of ego:(A)randomness is 1:1]. Yes, some people deliberately confuse A with B for nefarious purposes (incl., but not limited to, religion). Yes, this misunderstanding or fraud is often accepted without examination and people therefore miss the determinist nature of natural elements involved in the event – in the case of Aeschylus his dismissal of the dangers of gravity (whether through ignorance, arrogance, or forgetfulness) when dancing in the turtle rain.

    All together for the chorus now:

    Turtle rain, turtle rain
    Turtle rain , turtle rain
    I only want to see you dancing in the turtle rain!

    If only Aeschylus had lived a little longer he could have benefitted from modern philosophy: If you live to be one hundred, you’ve got it made. Very few people die past that age.” and he would have been more cautious.

    Denying cause and effect in Middle Earth (without Dwarves) is, indeed, silly.

    Please read this carefully

    I’ll do my best.

    I am making a good point

    Promises, promises.

    The man hit by the [purple turtle] is no different than a rock on the ground insofar as both are objects

    I read that very carefully … and it is a good point …

    One happens to be a man; the other happens not to be

    I think I’m keeping up …

    The coming together you spoke of produces a psychological effect on us which gives rise to a deception; we call that random which affects us as humans, affects us personally in some way, and call that determined which does not

    … o-kay … I think you’ll find it’s more complicated than that, but I agree that the end result is deception regarding what is random in the B sense, and what we experience in our Middle Earth lives – which is random in the A sense.

    Again, why should a man hit in the head by a fallen tortoise shell be called random?

    Sidebar: If the tortoise had “fallen” (past tense) it’s already at rest – presumably on the ground. Applying cause and effect in our Middle Earth arrow of time we see that someone must have picked up the tortoise in order for it to hit Aeschylus. Have we solved a milennia old murder? You won’t have to wait long to get you’re own back Dan – just look for the next time I confuse their-they’re-there (yes, Radiohead fans, I really did just reference that song in the most tangential and obscure way possible – “Just ‘cos you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there” – although the feeling of a turtle on your head is a tough case of denial).

    If an apple falls to the ground we say: gravity!

    You say tom[ah]to and I say tom[ay]to – let’s call the whole thing off! Hi there Fred and Ginger fans.

    I use the word random myself. It’s part of the language

    Me too. [shock-horror!, sound the alarm!, agreement in the forum!, agreement in the forum! – Danger, Will Robinson, danger!]

    It may not be obvious to you, dearest Dan, but it is obvious to me that we actually agree.

    May I just say, on a personal level Dan, that I’m very upset. You seem to have gone out of your way, simply to deny the love that lies between us.

    Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!

    I think it best that we, just draw a line under this and, move on.

    Peace.

  53. Stephen Daedalus: (from Ulysses)

    Spent an hour and a half writing, addressed many of your points and Ohooligan’s. Pressed the wrong key. Gone. Infuriating!

    I can barely write now. I’ll have to be extremely brief.

    “Deep deep down determinism ends.”

    Well maybe so. That would be a realm where no mind exists and no rules or laws apply, no history, no knowledge exists. I have nothing to say in reply to that.

    Chaos: There is no real chaos so long as there are minds (although we do call such things as drugs or storms as creating chaos, etc.). Randomness does exist in our lives. But this is a philosophically superficial term.

    “…dearest Dan”

    Stephen, I actually have strong feelings for you as well. Shall we go into couples therapy?

    OHooligan, the phrase: “acting freely out of one’s own nature” was what I thought was stupid. That’s from a definition of soft determinism (Para 1).

  54. @ S. of Wimbledon
    @ Phil and OHooligan (if you’re interested)

    Part 2

    Okay, I remembered at least one thing from that long essay that got lost. But first, a gentle reproof:

    I kind of wish you’d be a bit more careful when you quote me. You tend to alter or shorten the sentences and that misrepresents my immortal thoughts. Brackets are fine but this sentence below was altered and is now meaningless. You should have written: “[and natural] necessity…”

    Your highlighted quote:

    That is what I meant when I said that it is egocentric to attribute randomness to events that impact upon us as humans [by natural] necessity to events that don’t[.]

    My original sentence:

    That is what I meant when I said that it is egocentric to attribute randomness to events that impact upon us as humans and necessity to events that don’t.

    Now as for your definition of randomness:

    A. An event that is predictable in principle but not in practice (e.g. weather forecast)

    B. An event with no discernible cause

    Yes, I accept them as definitions and regard them as philosophically superficial and inadmissible. There is no real randomness. (I think you admitted that, didn’t you? Not sure.)

    Unpredictability: I already addressed that and have established that there is no difference between determined acts that are predictable and determined acts that are not. (Weather forecast? Give me a break.) Now let me turn to the non-discernibility of causes. I will keep this simple: A woman develops an infection, which causes her face to swell and this gives her a sinister look. No cause is discernible. (Must be the Devil! Burn her! She’s a witch!) So no cause? No discernible cause does not prove that there is no cause. There has to be a cause, unless we are talking about your “deep, deep, deep down nature.” Of that I shall, again, remain silent.

    Many people seem to want both, i.e., randomness and determinism to somehow coexist. At least your indeterminism is deep, deep deep down – away from knowledge (and therefore merely theoretical, I might add). This is really what I am against. Phil’s soft determinism, for example, seems to imply both.

    (Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, American “values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.” -OP —I don’t think Obama meant free will in the philosophical sense of the concept. There are many forms of liberty and freedom. Political freedom, like physical freedom, can be defined simply as the absence of obstacles, to wit, the absence of social or legal constraint. But it is precisely when we act without external constraints or are allowed to choose freely, that we exhibit our true selves, and then, when we act, we cannot blame our oppressors for our misconduct; it is now we ourselves who have acted out of our own nature and thus have exposed our preference for this motive rather than that one. Anarchy and lawlessness would allow us to be ourselves, and because the will is determined by motives, the true selves of all of us would emerge – as brutal, and as humane – and everything in-between. Some of us would act as badly in a “state of nature” as we would in the hands of a dictator who required us to engage in barbarism, under penalty of death. Anarchism. —An interesting experiment in theory, but it implies optimism, and is therefore absurd. The unalterable characters of human beings vary considerably.)

  55. @dan #60

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Regarding your dismissal of “randomness”, maybe we’re closer to (potential) agreement than you might expect. At the smallest scales we can detect, things are only probabilistically (statistically) predictable. Individual particles, photons etc are unpredictable, but in bulk they behave quite predictably. Like people, perhaps. And in that unpredictability lies the scope for a person (or a particle) to do what it damn well pleases, at a whim, if you prefer that to the stronger notion of “will”, which seems Serious.

    A coin-toss is “random” only because we don’t have the control to do it exactly the same way twice, or the accuracy of observation to predict the outcome correctly while the coin is still in motion.

    But if, without resorting to coin-tossing, we decide (say) kebab vs pizza on a “whim”, are we exhibiting a little bit of that “free whim” that makes an individual unpredictable, a choice that is not determined necessarily by antecedent conditions (accepting S’s definition)?

  56. OHooligan, as much as I would like to, I don’t want to celebrate prematurely, as they say. I was hoping that I could say that we have reached an agreement on this.

    I just don’t think that not being able to predict something makes it any less determined. Sorry.

    As for pizza versus kebob, think about it. You’re out with a group. One attractive woman says kebob, but you want pizza. The third guy also wants pizza. You decide to have kebob. No whim there. Or, you’re standing around and someone says: “pizza or kebob? OHooligan? What say you?”

    “Kebob,” you say. And there is no opposition. A whim? Not really. You’d have to ask Alan or Phil or StevenOO7, or maybe Olgun or Stephen of W, about that, but I am sure that that was no mere whim; your body craved the protein or whatever. —You get my point.

    Don’t worry about loss of freedom. We are conscious of having a free will, and that consciousness should not be suppressed. I sometimes worry (when I get into this subject) that there’s no point in exercising my will; everything’s determined. But that is imbecilic. Everything is, in a sense, open-ended. Tomorrow I might decide to do something entirely contrary to what I thought my true self would do, like take up golf; but if I did do that and kept doing it, I would simply be forced to recognize that I really do want to play golf, and then I’d be surprised. —And that’s necessary; if we can’t surprise ourselves there’s no point in doing anything. Determinism does not or should not engender passivity. Tomorrow I might commit a crime, or invent something. Nothing can be known beforehand. Determinism limits us not one iota. (But it can, in my case, lead to brooding and rumination, if I reflect on it too much.)

    Corrected sentence: (although such things as drugs or storms can be said to create chaos; but that is a figure of speech.)

  57. @dan #63

    I just don’t think that not being able to predict something makes it any less determined.

    Curious. Unpredictable, but Determined. Not determined by us, for sure. By whom? Next step is to introduce us to the Determinator. I’m imagining Yahweh or Zeus or Odin played by Arnold Schwarzenegger at this point.

    What about Schrodinger’s unfortunate cat? Determinedly dead (or alive), but we don’t know which? Or both at once until one of us makes the observation necessary to find out?

  58. @OHooligan #64

    I like the apple-tree example. An apple falls from a tree. Could you predict the precise time or day? Had you not known anything at all about gravity or botany, or simply didn’t know that apples could fall from trees surely the apple’s falling from the tree would constitute an unpredicted yet determined event. That can be applied to unpredictable events in general, can’t it?

    You are probably just used to equating unpredictable events with randomness as most people are apt to do. But when you look at this philosophically, or even scientifically, you will see, I think, that that is a mere habit of mind.

    If you want to define random as that which happens unexpectedly then you are free to do so. But you know that the apple fell when it did because it had to.

  59. Free will is having the intelligence to change the “destiny” of that apple by picking it before it falls and is left to the ants and taking the responsibility for doing so.

  60. Hi Dan [#60],

    Spent an hour and a half writing … Pressed the wrong key. Gone. Infuriating!

    Bottom. I got that ‘T’ shirt too.

    There is no real chaos so long as there are minds

    I was very careful, dearest, to make sure that I only used the word chaos where the statistical/math meaning applies because …

    Randomness does exist in our lives. But this is a philosophically superficial term

    … exactly.

    Stephen, I actually have strong feelings for you as well. Shall we go into couples therapy?

    I know how you East Coasters love your therapy (I’ve seen Annie Hall) – but this is the group therapy I can afford.

    [#61]

    Now as for your definition of randomness – Yes, I accept them as definitions and regard them as philosophically superficial and inadmissible

    Ha, philosophy! Give me facts: give me science.

    There is no real randomness. (I think you admitted that, didn’t you? Not sure.)

    Hmm, “admitted” sounds a bit loaded, more like: agreed – in Middle Earth.

    No discernible cause does not prove that there is no cause

    True.

    At least your indeterminism is deep, deep deep down – away from knowledge (and therefore merely theoretical) …

    Oh no. No-no-no-no-no. My indeterminism is so small that it is effectively undetectable at our level of operation – in our daily lives – but it’s as real as you and me.

    I don’t think Obama meant free will in the philosophical sense of the concept

    I think Phil has already pointed this out, above, (if so, sorry to be dull): According to David Hume, the question of the nature of free will is “the most contentious question of metaphysics.”

    Philosophical chit-chat on free will is indeed at the level of metaphysics – and that’s Plato’s gig. Carl Sagan was quite sure that Plato was responsible (once his ideas had been taken up by the early Christian theologians) for sending humanity down a philosophical rabbit-hole from which only the philosophers of the late Reformation and the Enlightenment were able to dig us back out.

    I think that’s exactly what Obama meant. From page 54 [emphasis added]:

    President Obama: … all those virtues that Benjamin Franklin first popularized … and that continue to inspire our allegience … These values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will – a confidence that through pluck and sweat and smarts each of us can rise above the circumstances of our birth.

    Peace.

  61. Stephen,

    This subject is not chit chat and it is not about Plato per se. I really find that annoying. It does or can, however, lead to metaphysical questions; that I would admit. A good scientist should not be afraid of words.

    You seem to agree with me about determinism to a large extent, and then you go back to this anti-philosophy spiel.

    Indeterminism is real? In other words, things can pop into existence without an antecedent cause? This can only be the case in a realm where knowledge does not exist, if at all.

    [Btw, you referred earlier to our strained yet passionate relationship and I suggested couples therapy. No reply.—What’s that about? LOL]

    You’re a good interlocutor.

    Peace

  62. @SoW #67

    My indeterminism is so small that it is effectively undetectable at our level of operation – in our daily lives – but it’s as real as you and me.

    Initially undetectable, but amplified by chaotic systems (small change in initial conditions leads to big change in outcome), the fundamental indeterminacy of nature is detectable in our daily lives, all the time. Weather being an obvious example. On the “big picture”, long term, there are stable, deterministic patterns — the seasons, as the daily dose of sunlight varies deterministically at each point on the earth.

    My indeterminism, to borrow Stephen’s phrase, is writ large everywhere. Yes, Dan, the apple will fall, sometime, unless Olgun plucks it first. But when exactly, cannot be predicted except within a wide range — sometime in the next week, perhaps. The exact moment when gravity overcomes the fibres in the stalk, that moment is not determined, is not written, is unknown until it happens. Maybe the apple decided it had hung around long enough, of its own free will, and now was a good time to experience free-fall.

    Oh, for “things popping into existence”, isn’t that how Quantum Mechanics appears to work? Stuff pops in and out all the time, unpredictably but within predictable limits. Unheard of in the 19th century, so no writers from that age can help you now, Dan. You need to look at what’s been painstakingly unearthed since, often to the great annoyance of those doing the unearthing. As Feynmann put it (approximately), you don’t have to like it, and nobody understands it, but it still works. Mastery without Understanding, best we can do.

  63. Correction (missed the edit window):

    …things popping into existence — isn’t that how the universe appears to work, according to quantum physics?

  64. You’re still confusing unpredictability with that which has no cause. Fenyman Schmenyman. You just don’t get it, and I’d like you to get it and then refute it (if you still want to), not refute what you don’t get. The apple will fall and we cannot predict that, as you say. But it will fall and when it does it does so for a reason. It doesn’t just fall.

    Jesus! What does it take…

  65. OHooligan, Phil, Stephen

    P.S. And no discernible cause (another definition of random, according to SoW) does not mean no cause.

    Nothing pops into existence without an antecedent cause (discernible, predictable, or otherwise); that’s tantamount to magical thinking. Something cannot come from nothing. Whatever pops “into existence” exists. And if it exists it is known to exist, and if it is known to exist then it has a cause! I don’t need the help of my 19th Century philosophers with this one; my own ability to think clearly and rationally will suffice.

    This (below) is precisely why I questioned Conway’s “history of the universe.”

    “Substitute S’s phrase “antecedent conditions” for “the entire history of the universe”. Then see if the definition works for you. In the context, they mean the same (to me). […] I interpreted Conway’s phrase as “all that went before”, not some convoluted thing that involved consciousness, as you seem to suggest.”

    This is your mistake. If there is knowledge then there are causes. If there is knowledge then everything must have a cause. “All that went before” is problematic and ambiguous after all. That is why I originally said “no comment.” My determinism is based on what is immediately intuited, and is also based on the fact that we cannot conceive of something happening without a cause. A causeless event is an oxymoron. Quantum mechanics. That involves uncertainty. Uncertainty is not the same as no cause. Why do you and Phil, when we get into these discussions, always invoke quantum mechanics/physics? Why can’t you acknowledge that everything that we experience via our senses and understanding has a cause? Name one thing that we can know about that doesn’t have a cause?

    Phil, OHooligan, SoW, what do we know about events popping into existence without any causes whatsoever? What kind of knowledge could that be? Oh! Mastery. A unique species of knowledge. It is not knowledge. Nor is it not knowledge. How convenient.

    It would behoove me to read modern physicists and it would behoove us all not to scoff at reasoned arguments, whether they were presented a hundred and fifty years ago or last week.

  66. Phil et al:

    I looked up probabilism and even read a bit about Heisenberg. Same response as when I looked up “soft determinism”: disappointment and amusement. “Acting freely is acting according to our true nature.” Indeed! Well looking those things up doesn’t make me an expert, but from what I can gather it seems to me that even some of these eminent physicists are clueless when it comes to this issue, can’t see the forest through the trees. Lack of predictability of the behavior of electrons proves nothing, nothing at all. That has nothing to do with determinism whatsoever. What appears as chance or as random does appear random, and we then use the word “random.” But randomness is not even the opposite of determined; the opposite of determined is NO CAUSE. I don’t know how I allowed myself to get side-tracked by the issue of randomness, although I did use the example of rolling the dice, and said that what appears to be random, i.e. incapable of being predicted, is in fact governed by strict necessity. Outcomes that are unforeseeable are not outcomes that are not determined by something, some prior causal element – and my definition of freedom remains the following:

    Free acts of will or of bodies (including electrons) “would proceed absolutely and quite originally from themselves without being brought about necessarily by antecedent conditions, and thus without being determined by anything according to a rule.”

  67. Dan

    The dice is designed to give us as much unpredictability as it can in order for the game to work and be enjoyable, in a self flagellating sense.

    Order and free will is the result of intelligence. The cards are shuffled to provide the unpredictable, but once the cards are in your hands, finding the order needed to complete the game comes with intelligence and how much you know the particular game. Intelligence, being tuned in, to the events around you gives us the confidence to choose where the dice stops or even if to throw the dice at all.

  68. Dan
    What does it mean to say that something is determined but not predetermined? Are you saying that after something happens, it is theoretically possible to figure out what made it happen, but that something else still could have happened?
    If so, does that mean that there is an element of chance in bringing together the determining factors?

  69. Dan

    I see you are having an argument with me without my presence or need to contribute.

    I hope to find an hour or so tomorrow. My discussion however will not build on very much in the above thread because as I have repeatedly said it is not fit for purpose nor does it comport with the facts of mental processes nor our introspected experience of them.

    All scientists are determinists….welcome to the club. So far so trivial.

    Probability is not just about the quantum world and its intrusion through stochastic process amplifiers into MIddle Earth it is about our very mental processes which as I outlined work by dancing on the edge of chaos. If you remember how I suggested a radioactive decay could occur or at least be imagined to occur through a probabalistic component particle placement allowing that particle to escape that in theory shouldn’t? Some mental choices presented to our conscious selves (for instance) shouldn’t get offered and shouldn’t get chosen, but like radioactivity randomly popping off keep our otherwise dreadfully samey thoughts, tastes and inclinations a little more stirred up. Creativity is an unusual capacity for an animal and its cultivation is a big politico-cultural issue forging the left right divide (so long as ideology doesn’t shackle it again…..).

    The story is one of the increasingly free choice of increasingly good choices by cultural beings. It is fundamentally about evolution critically random in its mutation but directed in its selection pressure that also comprises a formal inferential intelligence.

    Ack! Too much….I’m late.

  70. @ Jimblake, Phil, others

    I don’t know what it means to say determined and not determined as I do not say that and would not say that. I am a determinist and nothing else.

    “Are you saying that after something happens, it is theoretically possible to figure out what made it happen…”

    It is impossible, in a theoretical and in a practical sense, to imagine anything taking place without a cause. Therefore, the act is determined by that cause – and this is not confined to the act of will, but to all material objects (that act). All causes are necessary causes. Everything we think, do, feel, and everything that takes place, is determined, part of the unbroken chain of causality.

    “…but that something else still could have happened?”

    That is an ancient error. What happens did happen and it could not have been otherwise. If you a throw a stone do you think the stone can will itself to land even a fraction of an inch further than it did? Same with our acts of will. Motives and counter-motives contend with each other, and the stronger motive must always prevail. What we do cannot be known prior to the act; but once we have acted we must conclude that we could not have acted otherwise. (This idea of the motive as a necessary cause is apparently very hard for many to get their heads around.) “If we had” has no scientific or philosophical meaning. “If the stone had been lighter… If I had thrown the stone with more force…” Fruitless and idle speculation. “If I had not wanted to rob the store…”

    Phil, I was wondering what happened to you. I always want you to contribute. Must I always address you?

  71. Olgun, Jimblake, Phil, others

    There is no free will and everything is determined by necessary causes. Throwing the dice and throwing a penny into a wishing-well is identical in so far as both actions produce an effect, and only one effect (outcome) is possible. In the former case, however, the outcome is not capable of being predicted; in the latter case, the outcome is; we throw the penny, and lo and behold; it landed in the well. Heads or tails? Outcome not knowable. But what if you were to simply look at the penny and deliberately place it down on a table with tails on top? No different than flipping it. Predictability is not what makes something necessary or determined. Unpredictability is not what makes something undetermined.

    Phil, if all scientists are determinists then why do they reject the theory of causality as a form of a priori knowledge? Gotcha! And why do you call this trivial? Ninety-nine percent of the damned world still believes in free will, and most scientists are probably still confused as hell when it comes to this issue? And why do you call yourself a soft determinist when that term is meaningless? (See 55) Have you mastered this trivial subject? I don’t think so. (I hope I can speak frankly with you.)

    “Must I always address you?” Disregard this. I wasn’t sure what you meant.

    Do you or do you not agree that the motive is a cause and that it acts upon the will with no less force than that that which causes, say, water to boil?

  72. Muddled earth

    Phil,

    So long as you continue to invoke images and allusions that are not drawn from experience I cannot ever hope to successfully rebut you (assuming that I would want to; I am more than willing to find some common ground).

    Case in point: “Probability is not just about the quantum world and its intrusion through stochastic process amplifiers into Middle Earth it is about our very mental processes which as I outlined work by dancing on the edge of chaos.” [Highlighted by me.]

  73. Dan

    I didn’t say “determined and not determined”. I said “determined but not PRE-determined”, which you seemed to be saying when you said “determinism is not fatalism or pre-determinism” and “No! Not pre-destination. Determinism. Huge difference.”

    I thought that you may have been differentiating between your view of determinism and the view that the universe could only have unfolded one way because of the initial conditions.

    As far as we know, everything that happens is caused by something else. But that ‘something else’ could be an interacting mix of events that were previously caused by other events. So, rather than a linear causal chain of events, we would have a causal web of randomly connected events.

  74. Hi OHooligan [#59],

    Glad you enjoyed the Easter Eggs. I had a deadline that day:

    “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
    [Douglas Adams]

    … yet somehow I found the time.

    [#69]

    You make a very good point.

    That was deserved, I have been bending over backwards to try and help others and I wandered too far from the path of righteousness. It’s no good putting your foot down if you haven’t got a leg to stand on.

    Peace.

  75. Dan,

    Must I always address you?

    No, not at all, though I am happy for the notice, thanks. But…

    I’d be really happy that you didn’t seemingly associate my name with positions that I am indifferent to or reject.

    dancing on the edge of chaos.

    Its a term I used earlier with a much more detailed account of what I mean. If I introduce an epithet like that for the first time I always explain it. You raised no objection then.

    I’ll try and find that hour today.

  76. Dan

    Phil, if all scientists are determinists then why do they reject the theory of causality as a form of a priori knowledge?

    Because they are not crass determinists. Science is predicated on the expectation from repeated experience that as things act out of their own natures, those natures, as we get to simpler entities, are simpler and these simpler natures endure until any discovery otherwise. This does not exclude a probabalistic, non-local, elastic universe, capable of time reversed process at the smallest scales, none of which is immediately apparent to middle earthers. There is no known mechanism for such a priori knowledge as a “law of causation”. Coincidence (Hebb) with statistical re-inforcement (Bayes) serves entirely sufficiently until the cultural invention of logic (Boole) smartens this up.

  77. Phil, Jimblake

    Sorry Jimblake, you did write pre-determinism. I missed that.

    No pre-determinism. That’s Calvinism. I haven’t bothered thinking too much about pre-determinism. That is a concept that means nothing to me. In other words, no comment. I am confused by your comment. I do not believe in absolute randomness. Randomness is defined as indiscernible or unpredictable events. But as I said many times what is indiscernible or unpredictable is not without causal antecedents. You ask me whether the universe could only have evolved one way. I would say yes. Could the history of our own lives up to the present moment have been any different than they have been been? This question requires careful thought. I would say no, but to be honest, I am not on less solid ground when I try to address questions about the history of the universe, as I told OHooligan. Determinism has no meaning independently of knowledge. Therefore, when contemplating the universe as something existing independently of knowledge, the old antithesis between Reality and Ideality forces itself upon us. I can only address that which is knowable. I cannot conceive of absolute randomness – if by random you mean freely acting without a necessary cause. Once again: Free acts of will or of bodies (including electrons) “would proceed absolutely and quite originally from themselves without being brought about necessarily by antecedent conditions, and thus without being determined by anything according to a rule.” This is inconceivable. Possible, yes. But not conceivable. (God is possible too.) Causality is a chain, is linear, in so far as it is in time, and in so far as it is capable of being thought! Your causal web of randomly connected events is not something I can comprehend. Nor am I prepared to accept it as plausible.

    “As far as we know, everything that happens is caused by something else. But that ‘something else’ could be an interacting mix of events that were previously caused by other events. So, rather than a linear causal chain of events, we would have a causal web of randomly connected events.”

    Phil! Hi. Dancing on the edge of chaos. Sorry I missed your definition. I am an absent-minded man. Please remind me where that is explained and/or what it means.

  78. Phil, Jimblake

    What does acting out of one’s own nature really mean? At long last, what does it mean? I looked up “soft determinism” and it said that when we act out of our own nature we are acting freely. I responded to this revelatory conception in a comment, somewhere on this thread, and consider it rubbish; nothing less. Acting out of one’s own nature yet without a cause? Or do you mean with a cause? If we act out of our own nature (and what applies to our own actions applies to everything else in nature) we are still reacting to causes that act upon us – from without or from within us. (These causes include physical causes in the broadest sense, stimuli, and yes, motives.)

    Acting out of ones own nature. Out of? Again: Free acts of will or of bodies “would proceed absolutely and quite originally from themselves without being brought about necessarily by antecedent conditions, and thus without being determined by anything according to a rule.” Can’t you see that this is not conceivable?

    If you remove your finger from a dam, the water will flow freely, according to its nature. But what determines the flow of the water? Nothing?

    Perhaps you had something else in mind when you referred to its true nature. “Its.” What does that refer to?

    Jim, I just want to correct a sentence from comment 84. (And sorry if I sound a bit didactic.)

    Incorrect sentence: I am not on less solid ground when I try to address questions about the history of the universe.

    Corrected sentence: I am on less solid ground when I try to address questions about the history of the universe.

  79. Quickly.

    I mean what I say down to the details. Complex entities are not best described as having a nature that edures, only simple things. This is not an idea to apply to the most complex thing we know of in the universe a brain in a coupled system of brains. This as absolutely nothing to do with the following-

    Soft derminism I say for a third time is a gun to my head position and note (for the umpteenth time) using terms I think mostly useless. I think there are freedoms but “will” is an impossible as well as useless term.

    Introspecting I find nothing that looks like “My Will”. Me and my subconscious now work as a team. I test the unconscious beast’s offered ideas, consciously seeing them pass or fail mostly cultural tests of logic and reason and coherence. Accepted they are memorised. Rejected they may be memorised, but leave me awaiting a rewrite to bubble up. I feed the beast stuff that I think might generate richer ideas. Good ideas that I think I might not have the courage to carry through, but know I will be well rewarded with dopamine for, despite the intervening cortisol nastiness of telling the boss his plan stinks but mine will save the day, will be consciously rehearsed until the imagined actions achieve the flow under forseeable circumstances to enable me to be more likely carry the deed through.

    Freeing myself of irrational fears by finding myself brave enough one day to find a plan to deal better with them is an example of where having been indoctrinated or otherwise predisposed to exploit chance, I exploit chance. Diets or commitments to a relationship sometimes depend on chance one day eroding sufficiently a fear of them that you make public plans for them. Clever you knows you need to coopt other help because your unconscious beast will chicken out as it so often does. Adding in social disgrace is a way to keep its pathetic fearful snivells in check. We plan against our future beastly self when chance lowers the barrier to do so. This plus the happier training of it contributes to our ever broadening palette of choices.

    Singlar “will” so misapprehends the parts that make us up.

    Free is no virtue if it means you are wrong, or random or ignorant or indifferent of any input. Free is of no virtue if it means you lose some ability to obtain traction of your surroundings or act with some effect.

    Much more to say here but duties make me a happy automaton for a bit.

    Next creativity and its cultivation. Why I often append anarcho- to a description of my politics and why I love the process of evolution and the fact that evolution (of whatever sort) enables itself to evolve to better contingently evolve.

  80. Phil,

    There is no known mechanism for such a priori knowledge as a “law of causation”, you say.

    It is impossible to conceive of anything taking place without a cause. This knowledge is first and foremost a pure intuition. This knowledge makes its first appearance as the recognition of something not in us, but outside of us, as I tried to explain on another thread. We trace an effect (a face, a hand, a visual or tactile sensation), back to an external source. This is a function of the brain, in my opinion. The word “law”, however, is a concept (and not a perception), based on experience, and on the unalterable fact that causality is a chain that has no breaks and admits of no exceptions at any time, and that the knowledge of causes following upon effects and effects following upon causes is inseparable from what we call real or natural. What is real or natural is nothing other than matter. Matter IS through and through causality. Its nature is to act.

    Matter in itself would be one. There is no multiplicity or diversity without time and without space in front of us, and no time without the perception of causality. No space without causality or time either. All three of these forms are hardly distinguishable from each other, are reciprocally dependent upon each other, and give us reality.

    Reality is conditioned by the knowledge of causality and its accompanying forms: (perceived) space and time. Why do physicists regard Time, Space, and Causality as absolutes? I remember your thought experiment. It was hard to reply to that. I concluded (privately) that my understanding had come to a standstill. But I never claimed that I could answer every objection (although in time I might be able to address this more to my own satisfaction). But your two models that were in agreement with each other still relate to what has, as it were, emerged from the realm of Being-in-Itself (and what is that?) into the light of knowledge and experience, and must then become, at the very least, partially subjective – regardless of whether knowledge had been in abeyance for a mere fraction of a moment, or for a thousand centuries.

    What was that about time going backwards?

    Could it be that I am just wrong? But how could I be? How could we learn of space, for example, from the outside in? That implies that externality is a ready-made, pre-existing thing and yet it would be external to nothing or no one!

    Will is not a useless term.

  81. Dan

    We trace an effect (a face, a hand, a visual or tactile sensation), back to an external source. [etc.]

    You will point me to the psychological research that supports this specific account, why it is a pre-natal knowledge of logic and not a cultural insight like all other strictly logical capacities that in this instance grew out of a sufficiently useful correlation of events, Pavlovian in there psychological binding. And then find that neural circuitry that can perform strict logic without cultural tools.

  82. Hi, Phil, 88

    How are you?

    Cause. Not a pre natal knowledge of logic. A common error. That is an unintentional straw man (to use an expression you’re fond of); I said that it (like the pure intuition of space in front of us) is a sensuous intuition; it is entirely instinctual, is not based on logic! How could an infant reason that way?

    I have no concrete evidence, but only because I cannot figure out how to prove the prior existence of a form of knowledge (a pure intuition) which makes all experience possible. That would be like asking a one-armed man to prove that his right hand exists by asking him to hold it with his right hand.

    A proof might be possible, but I can’t give it; why do you resist this notion so strenuously? By the way, I was discussing this with my sister, and she showed me a photo of her daughter – less than a minute or two old – in her arms and staring right up into the mother’s face. No coalescence there; a clear distinction was made in the infant’s mind between self and other, effect and cause. No words, of course. No logic.

    Look, either causes (of changes of states of matter in time) are themselves pre-existing things, or they are dependent upon us and these formal intuitions: Space, Time, Causality, which, as I said, are barely indistinguishable from each other, but act together, synthesize, and give us our cherished reality. Reality, however, is not an absolutely existing carpet under our feet; it is more analogous to a dramatic performance or a dream. The only difference is that it is really real in so far as we don’t confuse this evanescent “phantasmagoria” which comes-to-be and passes away, with absolute reality. (That phrase is oxymoronic.) Dreams are a further reduction of the original illusion of absolute being. Don’t they seem real? (Descartes)

    (The comparison of reality to the dream is a very powerful way of demonstrating the plausibility of the fundamental view of Idealism.)

    Can you prove that causality is of empirical origin without invoking Hebbian learning or Middle Earth? If you do, at least consider making it clear, please. I am not, as you know, a physicist or a neuroscientist.

    (You are usually clear, but not always.)

    The Will is a most abstruse topic, and does take us to what we call “metaphysics.” I won’t deny it. But desire doesn’t quite suffice. Nor do such words as force, or even gravity. Mechanical explanations cannot explain the movement of our limbs. Nor can chemical ones. Neuroscience has the answer, presumably; we now know…

  83. @phil #86

    Maybe “free will” is too loaded a concept. I prefer Conway’s take on this, introducing “free whim”, which can be applied (if it exists) to trivial choices The ones that your complex inner life, conscious and subconscious, doesn’t really care about. Can those be made “without cause”? In Conway’s example, it is the choice of orientation of a piece of apparatus, from I think either 11 or 33 possibilities.

    @dan

    You seem stuck on a some issues, neither persuading nor being persuaded. You assert:

    “It is impossible to conceive of anything taking place without a cause.”

    I can conceive of two responses to that:

    (a) if you say it’s impossible for you, I’ll just have to take your word. But don’t generalize to the rest of us. That’s merely the argument from incredulity.

    (b) what does it matter if it’s “impossible to conceive of”? That doesn’t prove it false, as you allowed when you introduced the notion of Possible … But not conceivable.

    Can you prove that causality is of empirical origin without invoking Hebbian learning

    What have you got against Hebbian learning? That’s an unhelpful question, right down there with “can you prove god does not exist”.

    The burden of proof is on your side of the debate here, to prove that Hebbian learning and that other thing Phil mentioned (Bayes) are insufficient to explain our sense of causality. But that would require you to investigate them further, something you seem to be uninterested in.

    You often admit to a lack of knowledge in the realms of the physical sciences, yet press on to dismiss them in favour of arguments built on assertions that seem self-evident to you. They’re not self-evident to everyone else.

    On a more congenial note, I applaud your dismissal of “might have been”, “if only…” and such second guessing. I disagree with the notion that the entire course of the universe, from the same initial conditions, was bound to turn out this way. If we could run it all again from the exact same starting conditions, we’d be very unlikely to get to here. So many alternate branches, tiny cause-less events (as described by quantum physics) amplified by chaotic systems (small input change gives big output change), so many other outcomes with similar probabilities. Next time round, somebody else would hold that winning lottery ticket.

    Oh, there’s a reason why time-travel can’t work. Even if you could go back, and you didn’t change anything, you still couldn’t come “back to the future”, at least not to the same future. Sorry for the digression, the cosmos made me do it.

    Unless, of course, our entire existence was recorded first time around, and is currently enjoying a re-run, like a football game from years ago on some late-night TV channel. (We have no way of refuting that).

  84. A Thought Experiment.

    But first a question: does Brownian motion qualify as random? Or do we need to go deeper, to the quantum realm? Not that it matters for this example.

    Weather is our most familiar example of chaotic systems. Chaotic systems amplify small input changes to give large output changes. Earth’s weather is a planet sized chaotic system powered by solar energy, the earth’s spin, gravitational effects, plus some radioactive decay in the core keeping things warm. The odd solar hiccup may also contribute, this isn’t meant to be a complete list of causes, but all contribute, amplifying quantum causeless events (important part) into an important moment:

    At a certain place, at a certain time, it starts to rain. A man is walking past a shop as a woman emerges. He has an umbrella, she hasn’t. The sudden shower is catalyst for a very human interaction. Had it started earlier, the woman might have noticed and stayed in the shop a bit longer. Had it started later, she’d not have need for shelter until the man had passed by.

    Fast forward. They marry, have kids, and the kids grow up and interact with the world as people do. One of them writes stuff on the internet….

    Now, where’s the Cause? The weather? Luck? Destiny? Fate? A deity? To forestall the obvious objection that they’d have met anyway, somehow, even if the weather had been different at that moment, let’s say they were from different places, and each one was only at that location once, just – as it happened – at the right time. He’d thought to carry an umbrella, she hadn’t.

    The Cause, I suggest, is not way back before the Earth was formed, in an unbroken linkage of cause-and-effect. It’s much closer than that, even if you could backtrack all the contributory factors, you’d run into pure cause-less randomness well within, I suggest, a few years. Or a few hours if Brownian motion qualifies as a cause-less source of randomness.

    Now, each of you reading has your own unique Origin Story. It could have been different, but it wasn’t. There were key moments in time when your entire future existence lay in a very delicate balance. I found it interesting to identify some in my own family tree.

    Determinism isn’t enough.

  85. Dan

    A causal web would be a network of events in space and time that play a role in causing something to happen. Even the effect can influence the outcome through feedback loops. What happens is determined by the environment, but the environment is determined by what happens. The flow of water in a river is determined by the banks of the river, and the banks of the river are determined by the flow of the water.

    Many things contribute to causing something to happen, but what actually determines the result? It is not the laws of physics and chemistry that determine what happens, they only set the limits of what is possible. The universe is full of complex systems and it is the structure of a complex system that determines what that system will do. The properties and behavior of atoms and molecules are determined by their structure. The complex structure of a brain determines what that brain does.

    A brain is unusual among complex systems in that it can change parts of it’s own structure in real time, and make something new happen. It can do this by learning from actual events, but it can also do it by imagining possible future events and planning for them. In other words, some actions of a person are caused by an event that hasn’t happened and only exists in the mind of the person as a possible future event.

    Does this mean that free will as you have described it, exists? No, but it may show why people feel like they have free will. More time should be spent trying to explain what is happening when people feel they are experiencing free will, rather than debating whether some impossible form of free will exists. I believe that we have something like free will that allows us to strongly influence our behavior. Why not try to explain what that is and how it works? It is not sufficient to say it is an illusion.

  86. OHooligan. et al.

    Weather is exactly the chaotic (looks like random but isn’t) amplifier of occasional truly random triggers, conferring on it a truly random overlay. Lightning can be triggered by radiation ionising the right gas molecule and causing a massive release of electrostatic energy. (Flickering neon tubes in the Fifties diner window open sign are literally Geiger counters responding to cosmic radiation, nearby granite and those Nevada residuals etc. etc. and radiation appears truly properly random) This is rather more than James Gleich’s butterfly causing storms across the Atlantic.

    But don’t lose sight of our neural weather. Our cognitions are indeed often poised on the edge of chaos through the use of positive feedback mechanisms. This is how evolution has solved two problems (at least) First by increasing the sensitivity of our sensors they can hoover up salient features that would otherwise (again literally) be lost in the noise. The result is higher sensitivity but lower precision and much false triggering. The other solution is the brain halting problem. With really complex brains with so many conflicting “choices of perception, inference and action brains cannot form clean motivating decisions. Nagging doubt can poison the smooth flow of your chosen sabre tooth tiger or boss avoidance scheme. You have to decide now and be able to commit 100% are you’ll get eaten, and certainly avoid the deer-frozen-in-headlight lockup. The choice can approach random with this amplifier of tiny and contingently different choice “values”. Randomness wins in the strategy arms race by more often wrong-footing the boss.

    Up, outside the mostly protective Van Allen belt astronauts experience little flashes of light occasionally on their retinas as some cosmic radiation causes a destructive ionisation to happen in a rod or a cone. These still happens down on earth but at more manageable levels and they also happen in synapses but mostly in a way not immediately affecting consciousness (that little subset of neural processes identifying the currently, potentially salient.)

    (Aside: 9.5 billion years ago and away an event involving a black hole produced a neutrino so massive a human here would have felt it….a detectable blow from a single particle. Imagine a little cluster striking a number of people. that would be spooky!)

    Serendipity, randomness and chaos exploited, is key to the evolution of our mental selves and our culture. I haven’t quite got around to creativity yet and evolving to evolve….maybe today.

  87. What do structures determine and how? Structures are determined by causes. Causes are causes, and motives are causes and are presented to us through the medium of knowledge…

    I cannot conceive of an event happening without a necessary cause. I cannot conceive of anyone conceiving of an event happening without a necessary cause.

    I said that what is not conceivable is not necessarily “impossible” and then added (with some degree of skepticism) that God’s existence is also “possible.”

    I have not debated why free will exists, and I have explained why it doesn’t in comment 20 and elsewhere.

    “At a certain place and at a certain time…” I addressed that illusion already in a previous comment on this
    thread. (37) We call that random which affects us as people. We only call it random if a person or something that interests us in some way is affected. If we are in the mountains somewhere and a rock rolls down a hill and hits us in the ankle and we have to be flown by helicopter to a hospital then yes, the future course of our life is then altered. But if the rock hits a small tree – and this will certainly affect the tree – we hardly notice it, and assume that this was a natural event and necessary.

    If I hadn’t turned right instead of left on a certain day, my whole life would be different. That’s all well and good, but does not prove freedom according to the definition that I will once again present:

    Free acts of will or of bodies “would proceed absolutely and quite originally from themselves without being brought about necessarily by antecedent conditions, and thus without being determined by anything according to a rule.” Can’t you see that this is not conceivable?

    “Burden of proof.” I do not feel burdened.

  88. Dan

    I think you are beating a horse we all in our different ways have pronounced dead, have buried and are trying to find a viable nag to replace it.

    Free acts of will or of bodies “would proceed absolutely and quite originally from themselves without being brought about necessarily by antecedent conditions, and thus without being determined by anything according to a rule.” Can’t you see that this is not conceivable?

    You have defined “random” with this. I guess therefore some Polonium 210 has free will at least as far as the timing of its expressions…

  89. Phil 96

    Hard to tell. You all have either built-in forgetters or the proverbial horse is still alive. (Not a nice expression.) For example, timing has nothing to do with demonstrating a contrary point of view.

    The rule is nothing more that this: every effect has a cause.

  90. There are no free whims or choices. Sorry. All thoughts themselves are determined. Free association is anything but free.
    Absence of resistance is not freedom. It is negative. Freedom must be positive and self generating which it can never be. The example I gave of the dam and removing one’s finger is an apt analogy. That horse will never die.
    But feeling free is fine. No need for rigidity. I am even fine with being free: but this is not a precise philosophical use of the word in this context. Many usages of the word freedom, as you know.

  91. Freedom is like pleasure. Pleasure is the absence or removal of pain or some form of displeasure. Think about that: no exceptions that I am aware of. If you are painfully ill for, say, a year, and all of a sudden the pain lifts, you would feel great pleasure. (Allegory of the Metals) But that pleasure is not positive pleasure; it is the absence of pain.

    Same with freedom.

    You are in prison for a year and then released. Is that freedom, or just the normal state of affairs? Both, in a sense. But in a strict philosophical sense, that is not positive freedom.

    The universe, presumably, is like that.

  92. Schrodinger’s horse? Dead or not, we’re putting the hide up on eBay.

    Dan, I’m sorry you think you have no choice.

    I suspect you’ve chosen to think that, but you’d obviously disagree. You’d have to.

  93. OH. 101

    Hi,

    I am free to choose to jump twenty feet into the air, but I cannot jump twenty feet into the air. I am free to choose to do something that I do not want to do and to ignore every every desire I wish to; but unless my
    desire to resist those desires is stronger than the desires that I am resisting I will not be able to resist them. (As I said before, however, I do not know what I am capable of resisting or doing until it is done.)

    If you doubt what I am saying, try resisting a plate of food the next time you are hungry – and I mean very hungry. Doesn’t sound do easy, does it? Resisting mild temptations are easy. Try resisting a powerful instinct. (Perhaps your desire to send me a comment that you had done it, that you had skipped dinner, will be so strong that you will actually be able to accomplish this. But all that would prove is that the stronger motive prevailed – which would support my general point.)

  94. All thoughts themselves are determined.

    Yes thats the dead and buried horse. This is true but now fatuous. We can, however, say more and more interesting stuff that may be useful to multiply our future choices for action. Evolving to better evolve, to exploit serendipity.

    What we are doing here is manipulating each others minds, in the hope that our earlier cultural discoveries of logic and reason will help us as individuals absorb and adopt the better strategies for living we may now stumble upon. That doing so for ourselves we may collectively manipulate still others again hopefully with gain… Desiring to be correct should be one of the key nags we put in place of the desire to act “freely”. Desiring to maximise an internal integrity of thought and action consonant with happiness of owning those is another.

    Opportunity for these “evolutions of beings” are facilitated by the chaotic and random. Without them we could suffer a fractal style of causal rigidity from the tiniest to the largest. Our universe without random and chaotic disturbance could be rather more crystaline than amorphous, which latter has rather more choices of form and complexity. (Complexity is maxxed out from the nature of thermodynamics and speeding the heat death of the universe.) The nature of the determinism (billiard ball/fractal or quantum/stochastic/probabalistic) affects the possibilities of “choices” by limiting the range of forms of entities.

  95. I am free to choose to jump twenty feet into the air, but I cannot jump twenty feet into the air.

    Strawhorse.

    Hang on! You were all for encouraging children they could do anything if they set their minds to it. Will you now tell children that their fates are sealed? (Relax. I know you wouldn’t)

    How do you indoctrinate children such that they have maximum choice available to them in later life? With more co-equal enough high quality choices for careers say those random proximal causes of choice have less and less significance.

  96. @phil #103

    Aha. I just had an “Aha” moment, reading your post

    Desiring to be correct should be one of the key nags we put in place of the desire to act “freely”.

    I recall The Teachings of Don Juan, the Yaqui Way to Knowledge (I think is the full title) by Carlos Castaneda. The more knowledge one gains, the less choice one has. Said the wise old Sorcerer. Something like that. A common thread in Zen and Westerns too, the more you know, the less choice you have. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. The Hero’s Quest, the archetypal tale retold in many settings.

    Perhaps that’s what you’ve been gently steering us towards.

    Strawhorse

    Love it. I trust this will make frequent cameo appearances where appropriate.

    In return, I offer:

    Blore’s Razor (by English character actor and comedian Eric Blore)

    “Given a choice between two theories, take the one which is funnier.”

  97. Phil 104

    No, that is right; fatalism, as I said above somewhere, is a foolish attitude. Although we all say: what’s done is done. That has its place. We even say: what will be will be. But we ought not to say: you will do this because I know you. What one is can only be shown over a long period of time. Character is both acquired and empirical.

    No, it is not a straw man. Nor is it fatuous. Nor is there any contradiction in what I (and others) have maintained. The physical obstacles that prohibit freedom are analogous, are in fact identical, to the restrictions that prevent us from acting freely, after our so-called choices are made. We decide to give up our vices, for example; this we can do up to a point, if new knowledge or some new experiences have been presented to us that are capable of producing a sufficient rearrangement within our psyche re priorities, opinions, feelings, emotions, and so forth. But if our determination to, say, steal, remains in spite of all this new data (to use an ugly, anti-human scientific word) we will continue on in spite of what we now know; our true nature, as the soft determinists say, will continue to act freely, and will thus be bound to favor the stronger motive and not the better one.

    I am willing to bring this subject to a close on this thread, if you wish, so we can focus on how to raise children and nurture their own better angels. Parents can start by not suppressing and silencing their own children, particularly when when they hit a certain age (around thirteen or so). I have noticed this tendency and can only assume that it has ramifications. —There is no antagonism between my theory, which is theoretical, and the realm of the practical and humane. Most people, if not maltreated or abused, will develop empathy and wholesome values – but not all of them.

    And I still think it’s good to cultivate a sense, which is vital, of openness and wonder in children and young adults, to allow them to dream and believe in the possible. There is no good reason to tell a child that he can’t do something, period. As you get older the sense of the possible tends to die prematurely anyway. Everything and everyone around us seems to want this to happen – and the sooner the better. Why kill something before it grows?

    I am not sure what the big joke is, who “we” are, and who is “manipulating” whom. Nor am I sure what people seem to find so objectionable. Nor am I sure I really care at this precise moment. I do think it is ironic that the more reasonable, precise, and truthful I am, the less seriously I tend to be taken.

  98. From article (Part 3):

    “The Free Will Theorem says, that subject to these axioms, if indeed the experimenters have free will, which means that which button they are going to push is not a predetermined function of the past, then the particles have the same property. The answer they are going to give is not a predetermined function of the past,” says Conway. “We phrased this, evocatively, as: if we have free will then so do the particles.”

    Thanks. Very edifying.

  99. On a lighter note, here’s something that made me laugh. I hope you enjoy it too. (Impoverished age we’re living in.)

    Compatibilism is the belief that free will and determinism are compatible ideas, and that it is possible to believe in both without being logically inconsistent.

  100. OHool

    I think Conway falls down on his philosophy not his physics. I think he is bamboozled by the incoherence of the term “free will”.

    I think Dan blew up the concept when he posted the Determinist definition of Free Will as

    Free acts of will or of bodies “would proceed absolutely and quite originally from themselves without being brought about necessarily by antecedent conditions, and thus without being determined by anything according to a rule.” Can’t you see that this is not conceivable?

    His only error is not seeing that this clear generator of randomness exists in nature in the various quantum related phenomena of radioactivity or electron tunnelling etc…

    As I implied at the time to ascribe Polonium 210 Free Will shows the term to be absurd in full agreement with him. (I don’t think Dan notices how often I agree with him, but object to his terminology and therefore his conclusions….)

    Conway’s attempt to rehabilitate this very concept means that, for me, he engages nothing useful at least in the article. Maybe his paper? I will go read later.

    105

    A man, indeed, has to do what a man has to do.

    But creativity may give you choices about a better way and time to do it.

    Even as we box ourselves in with the moral imperative of pursuing truth with a need for personal integrity we can be inventive and maybe not just do the necessary good but do better.

  101. Dan,

    I am willing to bring this subject to a close on this thread, if you wish,

    Personally I’d like to get to the bottom of this term “Will” which I find utterly slippery and worse, polysemous! It is the source of most of my problems here and brings me out in a bad rash of Wittgenstein. Worser I cannot find such a simple entity within me and I spend a heck of a lot of time looking around in here.

    Discussing the indoctrination and education of kids is a great subject. For me the key is creating a rich interior world for them and helping them realise they have choices and can help manufacture them, especially when they understand themselves and what their big thrills are aesthetically…not how they currently manifest themselves in an activity, but what is underlying that.

  102. Dan,

    I missed #100. Sorry. I think it key.

    You are in prison for a year and then released. Is that freedom, or just the normal state of affairs? Both, in a sense. But in a strict philosophical sense, that is not positive freedom.

    And I think this is where philosophy is a failure. This is where neuropsychology (and art!) actually helps us understand our humanity and lived lives much better.

    The prisoner released understands what freedom is. To have always been free is to not be made aware of the idea from within your own experience. Or rather petty constraints become amplified to fill the emotional space available to it. First world problems make us just as unhappy as third world problems. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich shows us how we rescale our emotional responses to survive our current circumstances. (Great book BTW.)

    By truly understanding our complex natures, by being shown many narratives of lives lived like thus and so and transforming, we may come to believe a useful thing, that on certain serendipitous days (when we feel positive or care enough about ourselves or others, or when we are disgusted enough with failures) then we can lay plans against that other wilful part of ourselves that seems poorly integrated and is unhappy making for all its brief pleasures.

    The singularity of “Will” is a debilitating concept that, for want of it being clearly found, more often subverts action rather than supporting it.

  103. I’m not going to write my piece on creativity. There is too much I want to say and I don’t have the time.

    For other reasons I was rooting around Nietzsche quotes and found this

    One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.

    This says enough for now.

  104. Hi Phil,

    I actually like the Nietzsche quote. But it takes one away from pure philosophy or epistemology, which didn’t suit him, and into the realm of personality. He was a self-proclaimed artist, and was, I think, at his very best when exploring and delineating the nuances of growth and decline, strength and weakness, vis-a-vis the personality, the individual…

    The subject of determinism is troublesome, and as I said to OHooligan, engenders self-consciousness, and can lead to obsessive rumination. I think I’ll take a break for a while.

    The will. It is not likely that we will get to the bottom of that one very easily or any time soon.

  105. Of course the Will can never be found, Phil. We can have no direct knowledge of it. And if there is a Will it is not in us; it is in everything, in everything that exists.

    And like the thing-in-itself, it is what you get when all explanations cease, and yet the question remains unexplained.

    And no, it is not God or Spirit, or anything like that.

  106. Dan

    I could go on to explain that complex systems build themselves by emerging from the chance interaction of various components, but you would just say that nothing is random and that what happened is proof that it was the only thing that could have happened given the existing conditions. You believe this in spite of the contradictory belief that future events are not predetermined from existing conditions. So, I don’t see much point in continuing.

    Phil-

    I think of the will as the drive to find a way to satisfy a want. This system of a want and a will evolved in animals to improve survival chances. We have many built in wants, but we can also learn wants from our environment. I think we can also create wants from the virtual world of our imagination. These created wants would have to compete with other learned and built in wants to be satisfied by the will, which would prioritize the wants based on some measure of intensity.

    Based on this definition, the will could not be free because it would require a want. But it seems that the want could have a great deal of freedom, so maybe the feeling of ‘free will’ should be called ‘free want’.

  107. Hi, Jimblake (#117) and Phil,

    I understand your frustration, Jimblake. I am not denying the existence of chance, or more precisely, that randomness has meaning, in certain contexts. This issue can be approached from various angles and from various perspectives; within each perspective the meanings of the words chance and determined shift. Unfortunately, in a forum such as this, it is difficult to address all of the contexts.

    I will state categorically, however, that all changes of states of matter, in so far as they can be perceived in some way, cannot fall outside of the chain of causality, which I regard as an unalterable law of the human mind, and of the empirically real, material world which, in so far as it presents itself to us as phenomenon, is subject to the laws of the former (the mind).

    Moreover, it is utterly impossible for me to conceive of anything in the universe simply creating itself or creating anything or producing anything, without an antecedent condition or already existing condition or thing, without a causal element of some kind, which then gives rise to a change in this already existing condition or thing, that is, causes the action or interaction (which cannot be anything other than a change) that you speak of. The notion of self-generating (and this may not be a notion that you’re advocating) is, as far as my faculty of reason and my understanding is concerned, tantamount to the notion of creating something from nothing.

    When you say “chance interactions” you know what you mean and I have little doubt that it is reasonable and justified to characterize these interactions this way. On the other hand, the word “interaction” itself supports my general thesis.

    Please feel free to defend your position. I will listen. But it behooves us to challenge ourselves to be precise in our use of concepts and to make clear what we mean or don’t mean by chance.

    (My premise is that every cause is a necessary cause. An unnecessary cause is a contradiction in terms.)

    Question: science is empirical, is it not? Or is the term “the empirical sciences” an outdated one?

  108. jimblake #117

    I think of the will as the drive to find a way to satisfy a want. This system of a want and a will evolved in animals to improve survival chances.

    Of course, but this is utterly underplaying its multifacetted nature. The homeostatic driver to return to the lowest energy state of sated needs and scratched itches was the protopurpose behind all purposes. It manifested itself at every stage of our evolution creating all manner of wants and needs (primary and secondary and spurious). These reside in all manner of little separate modules (most subconscious). Things like our amygdala with its subconscious aesthetics of dangerous, unknown, and friendly entities. Our aesthetics of kin detectors and adult detectors and mate detectors and its aesthetic spandrels creating itches only scratched by “art”. Our mirror neurons driving us to yawn like so and become tired. Our hormones synchronising with others. Our cultural indoctrination as kids intentional and not. (All kids have a sense of unfairness when treated unfairly, but kids brought up in iniquitous and harsh environments have little sense of unfairness to others.)

    All these things affect our “Will”. They are a myriad of conflicting profound and superficial “wills” from protoplasmic, reptillian, mammalian and human eras, variously subconscious and conscious wiring, some culturally accessible. Most importantly many are not accessible and have no capacity to learn.

    This singular thing, “Will” is not an essence as the religious like to imagine and early modern philosophers out of habit repeat. It sprang from the protopurpose of homeostasis the principle that seeks to return us to the centre position of our averaged recent past, where we are at our lowest energy state. Energy isn’t a problem for us now and we get high and give ourselves new itches that keep those rewards coming in when we scratch.

    My view is that we can generate more choices for ourselves when we understand the myriad actual conflicting “wills” and can better plan to outwit the ones that are short term and rather selfish.

  109. @dan #118

    I will state categorically, however, that all changes of states of matter, in so far as they can be perceived in some way, cannot fall outside of the chain of causality

    Well, clearly stated. And I believe incorrect, as evidenced by physics. Causeless events happen all the time, down among the noise at the smallest scales. In aggregate, statistically, they even out and you can start to build the concept of cause-and-effect, but it’s built on somewhat fuzzy foundations, and that shows when we try to grasp the details of chaotic systems, we can understand in general, but cannot predict specifics, not all that well. And in the chaos lies the “wiggle room” for things to happen this way and not that way, because…. nothing. Just because they do.

  110. @phil #119

    My view is that we can generate more choices for ourselves when we understand the myriad actual conflicting “wills” and can better plan to outwit the ones that are short term and rather selfish.

    I like this. Well, some of me likes this. I’ve always enjoyed the notion of the Self as not being a single “homunculus” like entity “inside” the brain looking out and controlling the body, but more like the movie “Inside Out”, or the UK comic strip “The Numbskulls”, where there’s a crew of little guys operating the giant robot that is the Person, and each has their own personality and agenda and so on. Great fun. Apply Blore’s Razor (#105 here) if you want to offer a “better” theory.

    The example of strong magnets only needing a few percent of the atoms to be aligned the same way is a good one. Aggregate behavior, much canceling out. See what we can do when we all pull together as a team?

    For proof that a Person isn’t a single entity, consider someone who goes out drinking late into the night, and suffers a hangover next morning and has great difficulty getting on with work or other essential activities. The theory suggests that the crew member on watch the night before is not the same crew member who has to sort out the mess next morning, swab the decks, flush the toxins, whatever. And they don’t like each other much.

    So, not one Will, but a whole crew of little wills. This is a rich vein to mine. For instance, in a “split personality” disorder, the crew has divided into a couple of major factions, and there’s a power struggle in progress. Civil War inside the brain.

  111. OHooligan

    Blore’s razor was a keen one, his taste in theories, good. I love the fact of humour. Its seat in the brain appears to lie in the anterior cingulate cortex probably the most civilising “willful” numbskull of them all. Powerful and willful as it is, curiously it causes no actions at all, well, only one. It is the brain’s primary error detector and the vetoer of much impulsive and primitive behaviour. It stays the raised hand as it receives the urgent message that perhaps striking a Republican is not as moral an act as it at first appears, and shuts your mouth before you put your foot in it. (Old folk lose their processing speed. The error detector sometimes gets its good advice a little too late. That thing your mother was thinking about your wife somehow manages to get said…) Humour though depends in some way or another on an error of expectations. Encountering an error of expectation, the ACC, quite often, causes its one actual human act…laughter.

  112. Dan–

    I’ll try to explain my position.

    Chance occurance: I don’t necessarily mean an uncaused event, although there may be some. Mostly, it would be interactions of unrelated events or entities due only to their proximity in time and space. It could also be a spontaneous increase in entropy or breakdown of order in systems according to the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

    Cause and effect: The idea of a linear causal chain for each of the trillions of events doesn’t make sense unless each chain is isolated from the others. But everything is in the same mixing bowl, so to speak. Anything that is happening can potentially affect everything else that is happening. Causes can even be changed by their effects through feedback loops. As a cause is producing an effect, that effect can then cause an adjustment in the original cause which can continue in a loop until equilibrium is achieved. That is how complex systems emerge. The feedback loop could also spiral out of control and the system will fall apart. What emerges when a complex system develops is a mutually created environment that is ideal for the activities of it’s parts, but is also an entity with properties of it’s own that often are not at all what would be expected from the interaction of its parts. Something new has emerged that possibly has never existed before. Because anything can interact with anything else, a multitude of systems emerge in the universe. Some break down very quickly due to increasing entropy, and others are more resistant to decay. That is why the universe is dominated by stable systems.

    Now back to cause and effect. Anything that happens is due to interactions in and between complex systems. Complex systems, especially biological systems, are not perfect. They can break down and produce unexpected results. The more complex the system and interactions, the more probabilistic the results are, because there are many more places for error. So, when certain conditions exist, there is only a certain probability that you will get the expected result. And if conditions were repeated, you won’t necessarily get the same result.

    I’m getting tired of writing now–this is very difficult to explain. I suppose it’s good exercise for my old brain.

  113. @Jimblake 117, Phil, OH., others

    But it seems that the want could have a great deal of freedom, so maybe the feeling of ‘free will’ should be called ‘free want’.

    The wanting or needing or desiring itself has infinite room to include just about everything, but these are not actions. We speak of acts of desire; we do not refer to desires as acts per se. The act and the willing are one and the same thing; acts of will are just that; all deliberation ceases, and the disposition of the human character or indeed that of a non-human animal, of all organisms, can be observed. (Will actually is present in everything that exists “from the magnet and the crystal to Man,” but this is another, more comprehensive, side of the issue of Will.)

    Moreover, as Einstein and Schopenhauer both agreed, we can do what we want (as our freedom to act is empirically free) but we cannot will what we will. I elaborated on this point, pointed out what I think is the difference between wanting and willing, and emphasized that the motive acts upon us with all the force of any other cause in nature. (Comment #20)

    My conception of Will as a uniting, non-empirical principle is not accepted today, although many references to inanimate nature possessing ‘desire’ can be found in the writings of the ancients. The will is immaterial, not in the brain. The brain is attributable to will, the will to knowledge. Everything material which possesses form or possesses function is the will objectified; the ear is the will to hear objectified, the eye is the will to see objectified as the organ of sight, etc. (I don’t think that Darwin would have rejected this altogether. I certainly hope he wouldn’t have.)

    I would argue that the will itself cannot be known; it can only be observed as the act. It is, therefore, not the cause of the act; it is implicit in the act, an act that cannot be entirely explained by a cause or by causes. But these causes that are invoked (which is quite natural) in every attempt to explain something entirely, say, the raising of our arm, always refer back and forth to each other and to other causes, ad infinitum – causes which are always, must be, nonetheless present.

  114. Dan

    we cannot will what we will

    Seems sensible, doesn’t it? But by being a misconception of a singularity it misses the niceties of plotting against ourselves and using serendipity to help us. Like the homophobic poster here that believed his homophobia was innate and natural, so thats OK then. Taking our feelings and urges as a piece without parsing them for their origins and having an idea that personal integrity is a thing achieved not merely given, is someone missing an essential bit of cultural toolkit to improve themselves and culture through knowledge.

  115. Dan #124

    I’m amazed that you would believe a story like that, and think that the will is not a product of the brain but actually the reverse. It sounds so mystical, like magical thinking. Maybe you didn’t mean it the way it sounds. Presumably you believe that wants or desires are a product of the brain.

    I think that ‘will’ can’t be separated from ‘wants’. They work together to direct behavior toward survival in a general way, allowing for variations in the environment. Rather than relying on instinctive behavior, the ‘want’ can be the instinct and the ‘will’ is the drive to find the best way to get it, under the circumstances. To add to the functionality of the system, the ‘want’ can also be learned from the environment.

    The brain is a very complicated computer, so explanations of its behavior should be based on mathematical and logical principles. Want and will go together, similar to negative and positive. One doesn’t have any meaning without the existence of the other. A want is a negative, an empty spot or a hole, and ‘will’ is the drive to balance to equation by finding a way to fill the hole. Any wants that are created would have to compete with other existing wants, so the will would have to apply some numerical measure of intensity to prioritize the wants. It is by this process that behavior is directed with enough flexibility to adapt to varying environments.

    The creative part of behavior is in building new wants by combining things in the environment in unique ways with existing basic wants. When there is no competition, this can feel very much like you have free will. When there are higher priority competitors, it feels like you don’t have enough willpower. With enough effort, you may be able to increase the intensity of the new want so that it will have a higher priority.

  116. Jimblake, OHooligan, Phil, others

    “Cause and effect: The idea of a linear causal chain for each of the trillions of events doesn’t make sense unless each chain is isolated from the others.”

    “Chance occurrence: I don’t necessarily mean an uncaused event, although there may be some.”

    I suppose it’s good exercise for my old brain.

    Yes, this is very good for the brain. One of the many reasons I love this site.—Responding, replying, writing: excellent mental and literary exercise.

    As for the other statements, I would say this: I have stated ad nauseam why an uncaused event is not possible, and I think the word “event” obfuscates the issue. That is not to say that you are deliberately obfuscating the issue; but that is what it does. An event is something that takes place. If it takes place then it is part of the chain of causality, which leads me to the first statement (quoted above). Yes, there are an infinite number of simultaneous events and effects and causes taking place all over the universe. That would suggest that the linear conception of causality is irrelevant. Yet you unwittingly approached the solution to this problem yourself: cause and effect relates only to observable phenomenon! “The idea of a linear causal chain for each of the trillions of events doesn’t make sense unless each chain is isolated from the others.” Exactly. But this is the only way that we can perceive a causal relation; events have to be isolated in order to be apprehended. Moreover, there is one chain only, and that chain of causality is an unalterable element of knowing, is bound up with the faculty of knowledge itself, with empirical knowledge of material objects, as opposed to objects independently of knowledge. (And there can be no objects without knowledge.) The non-linear concept of causality is an abstract concept. It can never be perceived or observed; as soon as it is observed, the chain is there – unbroken, inviolable, and relating solely to what is there in front of us. We can observe a thousand sparks igniting at one and the same time, but in actuality we must either perceive a group of sparks (which then becomes a single unit in our minds), perceive the whole event in its totality, or focus our attention on one spark. The linear chain of causality still applies. (Not the best example. Sorry. Brain tired.)

    I would add that if you are suggesting that there are unobserved changes and events taking place in the universe and that they do not require mental perception in order for them to take place, I would respond by saying that you are still picturing in your mind a before and after, even if you are not directly observing such activity. That is because the chain of causality is first and foremost a law of the mind.

    (I am, by the way, a Schopenhauerian idealist. Not too many of us left.)

    OHooligan, here’s a nice self-deprecating post:

    Not too many of us left.

    Thank ‘God’ for that!

  117. Jimblake 126

    Yes, that conception of the Will is amazing. I don’t think that the motion of our own bodies, which is all we can point to, proves that the will is in our brains. The knowledge of motives is in our brains (although that does sound odd, as Wittgenstein would surely say). Causes are registered in our brains. But is the brain then itself the cause, or is it the medium of motives and the medium through which external or internal causes act upon us?

    Motion is present in all of nature – with or without brains.

    More later.

    Be well.

  118. @dan

    You’ve gone all mystical again.

    there can be no objects without knowledge

    and so on. The mind creates the universe, that kind of thing. And the others here are discussing a universe that contains minds evolved from the same stuff that makes up all the rest of the universe, and how such minds seem to work.

    No wonder we’re talking past each other. I also see your infinite regress: how can the universe be outside my mind when the universe (the only one I know) is entirely inside my mind? Perhaps they’re two different universes, that would be a solution. The one that knows only deterministic cause-and-effect (inside) and the one with its causeless indeterminate chaos (outside).

    Fortunately, most minds don’t waste too much effort on such conundrums, they get on with the humdrum day to day concerns of prioritizing wants and resolving competing wills and giving rise to the next generation.

    I’m edging more towards the notion that much Philosophical Thinking is actually an accidental misfiring of otherwise much more useful mental circuitry. But just sometimes, such accidental misfirings, may stumble upon something useful, purely by chance, so they may confer some kind of evolutionary advantage.

    BTW Dan I’ve been reading your posts on other topics, and not commenting because by and large I agree with what you write, and have nothing additional to contribute there. Which may seem as strange to you as it does to me, given the difference of outlook in this and related topics.

    It takes all sorts.

  119. OHooligan,

    Yes it is rather odd; we agree politically and yet you remain so unreasonable when it comes to these other matters. (Kidding.)

    One quick point: the mind does not “create” the universe; that is a little too much (even for me); it suggests that the mind is akin to a deity: nor have I doubted that we have evolved from the same stuff that makes up the universe. What I have been saying – and I’ll state this briefly – is that our knowledge of the external world is conditioned by the subject, and that our knowledge of the real nature of things is therefore limited. How could this not constitute a legitimate philosophical and scientific problem? Even if you were to eliminate the sensible qualities and were to assume that matter is somehow absolute, along with space, extension and form, what could you then say about any material object that is extended in space and yet is without any sensible qualities (such as color)? How or in what way could “houses, mountains, rivers” (Berkeley), exist without sensible qualities?

    (And yes, there can be no subject without the object either; they are reciprocally, mutually dependent.)

    “Perhaps they’re two different universes, that would be a solution. The one that knows only deterministic cause-and-effect (inside) and the one with its causeless indeterminate chaos (outside).”

    At the risk of sounding condescending I must say that this sentence (above) gave me pleasure. Although it is not a solution to the riddle that critical idealism has presented, it is very much a step in the right direction.

  120. Phil 125

    This issue of character as an inborn moral disposition is not one that I have completely come to terms with. Nor is the true nature of the will a subject that I profess to fully understand. I don’t think that determinism is limiting in any way, however. Whether we are determined or not, we can only know what we are through our actions. And our actions cannot be predicted beforehand.

    I only know (or think I know) that the motive is a cause, and that while environmental factors and influences do affect us in many profound ways, I cannot rule out the idea of the character as inborn; in addition to acquiring character traits through our decisions and actions, we also expose what you have referred to (in connection to the universe) our “own nature” which we “act out of” in the process. This is not freedom, however; so long as there is a preference for one motive over another, the “will” is determined by that preference thus causing us to act this way and not that way.

    Your homophobic poster who thinks that his attitude is okay because he was born that way? No, that does not make it okay. On the contrary, the idea of everything being learned would make even criminal acts “okay.” Our character would never be impugned, our true selves would never be in question. By having a character we are all the more responsible for ourselves. Without character there can be no guilt, no blame, no real responsibility.

    (This is a very confusing and distressing topic. I am sorry, but I have to stop here. Perhaps more later.)

  121. (Cont.)
    You see, if we have no immutable character that we can call our own then we are then willy-nilly being pulled and pushed and led and misled in a hundred different directions, continuously and throughout our lives. This influence and then that one followed by yet another will continue to act upon us. If we act virtuously it is not our true selves acting but a copy of a self. If we engage in vice or wickedness we cannot be blamed as there is nothing to blame. This is the very opposite of thinking that if we have an inborn disposition no praise or blame would ever warranted, a concern that you expressed above (125). Only if there is something to praise or blame, to wit, the actions that proceed from our very natures, are such judgments meaningful or warranted. (Our innermost selves. What could that be; Will?) If you then say that we do possess characters and are responsible for our thoughts and deeds, but that these characters are shaped and formed by environmental conditions, then this implies that goodness is learned. But to BE good is not to act according to what one knows; to BE good is to act according to what one is. It is not for no reason that Plato said that virtue cannot be taught. Perhaps it can be but I remain a skeptic – and a transcendentalist.

    Sorry I expressed myself so poorly on this occasion. (Fatigue, doubt.)

    Corrected sentence from 131: we also expose what you have referred to (in connection to the universe) as our “own nature” which we “act out of” in the process.

  122. Dan #131

    When I was a teenager I realised that the universe is determinist and we human beings with it. My existential angst was teenage level plus plus plus. After university, with quantum uncertainty and stochastic processes mastered, I had the full, if now fuzzy, measure of determinism, though I wasn’t sure how that helped. Decades of research into evolution, neuro-psychology and psychology followed and then it all fell into place. Schopenhauer’s mind as mill made sense. Standing inside the (entirely determinist) mill, whilst interesting, is too close to see the overall effects of the mill. Our identity increasingly vanishes as we zoom in and the fallacy of division fuels our dismay.

    Knowing ourselves and the mental modules that make us up is at first as distressing as discovering the bloody guts and grisly organs that comprise our bodies when we are kids. My kids have been brought up with this stuff and seem well adjusted to it and indeed seem to appreciate both the insight and the traction this knowledge can bring. Parts of us operate on other parts of us for better integrity, improved “flow” in or facility to our day to day actions. Committing to truth though is a galvanising loadstone like no other…. In the circumstances perhaps we may imagine chained to truth as an antidote to the speciousness of free will.

    Finally, a decade or so ago I wrote a piece trying to evoke what it felt like to be me when younger. Having been an actor, this seemed about right-

    “Will and I.

    My unseen companion is a tireless lover of life, when I am haunted by self pity,
    My decision maker despite my earnest dispute,
    Clear leader, that I must stumble behind.
    I stop, awed at his easy ability discerning the path.

    Author to my agonised actor, he says suddenly,
    “Here. Here is where you tread next. Just here.”
    “But, of course.”
    “And here is what you must say.”

    Ungraciously, I take my part, and still fail to see
    That it comes from beyond that event horizon,
    Towards which I daily dismiss all the stuff of my life, the good and the bad,
    And from whence is returned, new-formed, its next instalment.

    He, my dark heart, unfathomable
    And I, self-styled……actor,
    We, step precisely and with perfect timing,
    Through the fleeting, endless entrance to our life.

    On dark days, though, he leaves me stranded.
    Beached and bereft on my island bed, I scour the concealing surface.
    Briefly I may glimpse that inchoate leviathan of ancient fears and nameless tatters
    Billowing beneath, reminding me that I have no idea of his reach or parts.

    What cold glint is in his little eye?
    Where my trusty author now?
    Does he still thrill to the sleek, living line of narrative,
    Or, rather, the myriad senseless terminations of chaos?

    And there we are. It is his will be done,
    Decided by things I have no conception of, but,
    But, if we are to move deftly across the world’s stage
    Will needs to see my rehearsals, feel my agonising, to sweeten his script.”

    In later life I found my subconscious self far more fathomable, still a leviathan and composed of a myriad parts, but a bit of a dumb beast at times, but even more biddable than I imagined.

    Jonathan Haidt’s image of the human is of an elephant and its rider. Two fully formed animals make us, the smarter less effectual one rides the dumber beast doing all the actions. The life trick is to know this and learn to work together.

    and #132

    true selves

    Never ever an idea I would use. (Soft determinist…gun to my head.)

    We are mutable and evolve, day on day. The aesthetics I use in heuristic judgements are mostly immutable, but you have to stand in the mill to see those.

  123. Hi, Phil,

    This comment will be a bit scattered. [I have had a persistent headache all day.]

    I appreciated your poem. That’s a very good poem. Impressed. I won’t critique it… Okay, one comment; the idea of the Will and you. Yes, that is how it seems – and that can be disconcerting, troublesome. But is there the will and you? You are knowledge, which can never know itself; the will is that which acts; that is you – something inscrutable, and known through actions, thoughts and deeds, which spring from the unperceived will.

    (What we think does define us to a large extent. Our ideas are part of what we are. But we cannot possibly be an aggregate of our thoughts and ideas! Not really.)

    I can’t resolve these questions. I am like your kids when they were still grappling with the idea of a self being an aggregate of blood, muscle, arteries, organs, neural pulses, etc. I must continue to live with my questions, my uncertainty – until my intellectual conscience or whatever it might be called tells me to cease questioning. Not there yet. Maybe I will never be.

    The entire scientific community thinks that wanting and willing (two entirely different things) are in the brain. I made a point on this thread the other day. This fellow was appalled that I had said that the will is not in the brain. Does grass and wind have brains? —They move as we do, yet without brains. What can we point to as manifestations of our will except movements? Feelings? The grass and tress desire life on some level. Not consciously, but there is will, I think. Certainly the brainless jellyfish has will! So it’s the same with us; we move and desire, and while we have something called thoughts in great abundance and a lot of different words for a whole range of things we call feelings and emotions, it does not follow, necessarily, that the will must be connected to a brain. He probably thinks I am nuts. So be it.

    I used the phrase “true self” and compared it to your phrase, which you’ve employed several times: things “act out” of their “own nature.” I rejected that in the past, and now it suits me in this context.—The phrase “own nature” now suits me.

    (Too bad you’re not here in the states. We could have met at the Reason Rally.)

  124. I haven’t read The Will in Nature in over twenty years. Here is an excerpt:

    […]”my doctrine maintains […] that there are not two origins of
    movement differing fundamentally from one another ; that
    movement does not proceed either from inside, when it is
    ascribed to the will, or from outside, when it is brought
    about by causes ; but that both things are inseparable and
    take place simultaneously with every movement made by
    a body. For movement which is admitted to arise from
    the will, always presupposes a cause also: this cause, in
    beings that have knowledge, is a motive ; but without it,
    even in these beings, movement is impossible. On the
    other hand, the movement of a body which is admitted to
    have been brought about by an outward cause, is never-
    theless in itself a manifestation of the will of that body
    which has only been evoked by that cause. Accordingly
    there is only one, uniform, universal and exceptionless
    principle of all movement, whose inner condition is will
    and whose outer occasion is cause, which latter may also
    take the form of a stimulus or of a motive, according to
    the nature of the thing moved. ”

  125. Phil, Jimblake, Ohoo, others

    Some more food for thought:

    “The fundamental truth of my doctrine, which places
    that doctrine in opposition with all others that have ever
    existed, is the complete separation between the will and
    the intellect, which all philosophers before me had looked
    upon as inseparable ; or rather, I ought to say that they
    had regarded the will as conditioned by, nay, mostly even
    as a mere function of, the intellect, assumed by them to be
    the fundamental substance of our spiritual being. […] This
    intellect is the secondary element, the posterius of the
    organism and, as a mere cerebral function, is conditioned by
    the organism; whereas the will is what is primary, the prius
    of the organism, which is conditioned by it. For the will is that
    thing in itself, which only becomes apparent as an organic body
    in our representation (that mere function of the brain): it is only
    through the forms of knowledge (or cerebral function), that is, only
    in our representation not apart from that representation, not
    immediately in our self-consciousness that our body is
    given to each of us as a thing which has extension, limbs
    and organs.” –The Will in Nature

  126. Thank you for your kind comments, Dan.

    I would not write such a poem about my recent understanding. It would not have that simple dichotomous tension between my subconscious and conscious selves. I wouldn’t have the presumption to call him Will and hint at Shakespeare as a provider of my scripts! I understand more of what is going on “under the hood” and am rather pleased and reassured by it. I note my return here last September (when we first discussed Schopenhauer) was precisely to note the neural roots of our congenial and collegiate natures as primates and distinguishingly as humans.

    As per Haidt’s elephant and rider image it is the elephant in fact that acts. It is the rider through a post hoc narrative that takes “credit”, excusing as necessary any change of heart. My rather whale like dumb beast was extensive and mostly unseen (the sense of my own subconscious at the time but not the actor it needed to be).

    I can’t go along with the extension of “acting out of its own nature” into complex entities. Indeed if you look back in the thread you will find a comment specifically saying this. I think I say something like the utility of the observation “acting out of its own nature” is in inverse relation to the complexity of an entity.

    “On the Will in Nature” is notably one of S’s great failures in scientific rigour. It clutches at the straws of animal magnetism to demonstrate this false singularity. It starts off badly in the introduction…

    For, in pursuing its own road, Physics, i.e., Natural Science as a whole, must in all its branches finally come to a point where physical explanation ceases. Now this is precisely the Metaphysical, which Natural Science only apprehends as the impassable barrier at which it stops short and henceforth abandons its subject to Metaphysics. Kant therefore was quite right in saying: “It is evident, that the primary sources of Nature’s agency must absolutely belong to the sphere of Metaphysics.”

    These are the very roots of error, springing perhaps, from a cloaked wish to deny the “unweavers” access. Science stops only when it is forced to stop. Until we look we cannot know.

    My kids by being introduced to our modularity from the earliest times have never been disressed by it. (In like fashion by never being even given the idea of an immortal soul, their attitude to death seems robust and healthy.)

  127. @ Phil

    Re: The Will in Nature

    Yes. Very nice, sensitive poem. (I know that you wrote that at a different time in your life; I understand that.)

    Now why did you choose that line with the M word (Metaphysics) when there is so much in this work? Take a look at this from “Comparative Anatomy.” I do recall now the lengthy section on “Magic and Animal Magnetism.” Perhaps the work is outdated to some extent. It may also contain profound truth and may have been ahead of its time. Must this astonishing work be all good or all bad? I happen to believe that A.S. influenced Darwin, and I am not alone in that (although almost alone). Read this, please. Remember: this is a philosopher and this was written in 1836! (May I ask you something? Why does metaphysics horrify you?)

    (I had to use this wretched translation that I found online. It has a lot of errors. I lost my old copy that I had for so many years. I just re-ordered the same edition I had. Different cover. Mine was silver. I miss my old copy.)

    “[…]Now, after all these reflections upon the precise agreement between the will and the organisation of each animal, if we inspect a well-arranged osteological collection from this point of view, it will certainly seem to us as if we saw one and the same being (De Lamarck s primary animal, or, more properly, the will to live) changing its shape according to circumstances, and thus producing all this multiplicity of forms out of the same number and arrangement of its bones, by prolonging and curtailing, strengthening and weakening them. This number and arrangement of the bones, which Geoffrey de St. Hilaire called the anatomical element, continues, as he has tho roughly shown, in all essential points unchanged: it is a constant magnitude, something which is absolutely given beforehand, irrevocably fixed by an unfathomable necessity an immutability which I should compare with the permanence of matter in all physical and chemical changes: but to this I shall soon return. Conjointly with this immutability of the anatomical element, we have the greatest susceptibility to modification, the greatest plasticity and flexibility of these same bones with reference to size, shape and adaptation to different purposes, all which we see determined by the will with primary strength and freedom according to the aims prescribed to it by external circumstances: it makes out of these materials whatever its necessity for the time being requires. If it desires to climb about in trees, it catches at the boughs at once with four hands, while it stretches the ulua and radius to an excessive length and immediately prolongs the os coccygis to a curly tail, a yard long, in order to hang by it to the boughs and swing itself from one branch to another. If, on the other hand, it desires to crawl in the mud as a crocodile, to swim as a seal, or to burrow as a mole, these same arm-bones are shortened till they are no longer recognisable ; in the last case the metacarpus and phalanges are enlarged to disproportionately large shovel- paws, to the prejudice of the other bones. But if it wishes to fly through the air as a bat, not only are the os humeri, radius and alnus prolonged in an incredible manner, but the usually small and subordinate carpus, metacarpus and halanges digitorum expand to an immense length, as in St. Anthony s vision, outmeasuring the length of the animal s body, in order to spread out the wing-membrane. If, in order to browse upon the tops of very tall African trees, it has, as a giraffe, placed itself upon extraordinarily high fore-legs, the same seven vertebra of the neck, which never vary as to number and which, in the mole, were contracted so as to be no longer recognisable, are now pro longed to such a degree, that here, as everywhere else, the neck acquires the same length as the fore-legs, in order to enable the head to reach down to drinking-water. But where, as is the case when it appears as the elephant, a long neck could not have borne the weight of the enormous, unwieldy head a weight increased moreover by tusks a yard long the neck remains short, as an exception, and a trunk is let down as an expedient, to lift up food and draw water from below and also to reach up to the tops of trees. In accordance with these transformations, we see in all of them the skull, the receptacle containing the understanding, at the same time proportionately expand, develop, curve itself, as the mode of procuring nourishment becomes more or less difficult and requires more or less intelligence ; and the different degrees of the under standing manifest themselves clearly to the practised eye in the curves of the skull.

    “Now, in all this, that anatomical element we have mentioned above as fixed and invariable, certainly remains in so far an enigma, as it does not come within the teleological explanation, which only begins after the assumption of that element ; since the intended organ might in many cases have been rendered equally suitable for its purpose even with a different number and disposition of bones. It is easy to understand, for instance, why the human skull should be formed out of eight bones: that is, to enable them to be drawn together by the fontanels during birth ; but we do not see why a chicken which breaks through its egg-shell should necessarily have the same number of skull-bones. We must therefore assume this anatomical element to be based, partly on the unity and identity of the will to live in general, partly on the circumstance, that the archetypal forms of animals have proceeded one from the other, wherefore the fundamental type of the whole race was preserved. […]”

  128. Dan

    the will is that which acts

    Not for me, but I hate the simplicity of the term.

    It is more usefully understood to be that which rehearses action and that which vetoes automatic action.

    I may well act in a situation but I may well consider the particular action a failure of intention.

    I am far happier talking of “the intentional stance” as per Dennett, than will.

    Rehearsals and vetoes are the processes I am happier to own. Less so, unexpected automatic actions. Though deeply satisfying to slap a Trump supporter, I would not be proud of the action. Sometimes I cannot help myself, especially as I get older and the veto arrives ever later as those spindle cells lose their bandwidth.

  129. Dan

    Why does metaphysics horrify you?

    Whoa! Time out.

    Wittgenstein killed it. Popper very properly resurrected it. Which I fully approved of. Scientists in imagining entities like hidden variables or structures are using entirely metaphysics. They use these hazy might-bes as an aid to tease out a little more of experience-able or at least testable reality. Wittgenstein’s point was that metaphysics, by being hazy might-bes, can never be the deliverer of truths. Popper finessed this to metaphysics, by being hazy might-bes, can never be the unsupported deliverer of truths but they can aid the investigators.

    Dan, we’ve done this several times now.

    S, by putting up his expectation of the failure of physics in the matter, was the source of my distress.

    Early metaphysics mostly failed to support science by thinking this leap into the unknowable is a leap into simplicity. Poets and writers of the time (particulqathe French and the Russians) didn’t let us down so. They, through introspection and observation, intuited far more beyond the “event horizon” of conscious experience of our subconscious mental goings on.

  130. Dan #134

    I don’t think you’re nuts. I just think that you’re having a difficult time trying to figure out the experience of being alive.

    I have read what you have said about the ‘will’ and how the natural world works, and it sounds crazy when you use the word ‘will’ to explain it. There is a scientific principle that could explain it in a similar way, but doesn’t make it sound like there is something that is making things happen in a purposeful way. Maybe you have heard of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that the order in a closed system will decay into disorder over time. The only way to prevent it or reverse it is to introduce energy from outside the system. When the energy in a system is in a completely disordered state, nothing can happen within the system. For something to happen, there would have to be some order in the system. When something does happen, some of the order in the system is reduced to disorder (heat loss). If all of the order in the universe is reduced to disorder in this way, nothing else could happen. (The heat death of the universe.)

    From this, you can see that it is the presence of order in the universe that makes things happen. When you call it the ‘will’ of the universe, it sounds crazy. Matter is ordered energy as are other complex structures of matter. When order is destroyed, energy is released, and when order is created it requires some of that energy. When we eat something, we destroy the order in the food and use the energy released to maintain the order in our bodies. When something happens, order is created using the energy released by destroying a larger amount of some other order. The rest of the energy is heat. (disordered energy)

    Until the order is consumed, there will always be some order and its opposite, randomness or disorder. The order and the disorder interact to produce complexity. The most complex structure we know is the brain which has manufactured a complex system of wants and a will from the simpler concepts of negative and positive or disorder and order.

  131. @Phil, Jb

    Horror of metaphysics

    Okay, I stand corrected. Sorry.
    May I ask how W could have killed something that didn’t die?
    And what was W’s conception of metaphysics?
    Any knowledge of something metaphysical must be limitative in nature.
    It’s what you get when physical explanations (causality) no longer suffices.
    This is not what W had in mind. I am reading W now and have the feeling that he simply exploited the inherent imperfections and ambiguities associated with words and proceeded to destroy all meaning. He tried to destroy everything: no word or idea is left alone. He is Jehovah and sought to blast all meaning out of existence and leave us with mere rubble (his own word: “rubble.”) If he were alive I would teach him what pain means. (kidding)
    If we’ve been over this I have forgotten what conclusions we reached.

    Hi, Jimblake, I don’t think I ever referred to the will of the universe. The universe is just a unifying concept, is neither a living entity or inanimate nature. The word will cannot be applied in this way. That would sound like spirit or something equally groundless or dogmatic. I refer you to The World As Will and Representation. You will find a compelling presentation of this theory of will there.

  132. @ Jimblake, Phil

    Thanks for your comment, Jb. Yes, I am interested in the experience of being alive. As a serious student of philosophy (entirely self-taught) but with no background in science, that is no easy feat (even for a bona fide relative of Einstein). I would say that I am more interested in existence and in the nature of knowledge (epistemology) in relation to existence, than in “life” per se. A philosopher must not confine himself to one aspect of nature, such as the living; he must seek to comprehend the whole while at the same time carefully examining the parts of the whole. The latter (life) is more of a biological issue. Existence itself, which includes my own, is what fascinates me – and other subjects as well. I think that life, organic life, and inorganic life constitute a continuum. That is not a new idea, but no one has presented this idea, of homogeneity, as clearly and as throughly as Schopenhauer. Darwin demonstrated homogeneity in terms of common ancestry; S demonstrated the unity of all nature, or attempted to demonstrate this.

    I can’t possibly do justice to Schopenhauer’s conception of the Will as a kind of substratum that unites everything in nature now, but I would like to say that this theory was arrived at painstakingly; he proceeded empirically, assumed nothing, relinquished all presuppositions, and employed nothing less than scientific precision and rigor and methodology, and after all consideration of possible alternative explanations of the inner nature of phenomena had been exhausted., he concluded, that his own inner nature, the source of his own movements, were attributable to a non-empirical source, to wit, Will, and then proceeded to apply this insight to the rest of nature.

    Again, I recommend his chief work if you are at all interested in this theory.

    The world as will is based on the premise that the world (the other half of it, so to speak) is conditioned by the brain, by the subject, has no real existence independently of the mind. This has struck many people on this site and elsewhere as preposterous, but if you were to fully investigate this fundamental view (of critical idealism) you will see, or might see, that scientific realism is in fact groundless; it is in fact less reasonable to start from the object (the “real” universe or world) and forget the subject.

    The most common objection goes something like this: the tides go in and out, the moon is there, the sun is there, the planets orbit, etc. To that I say: yes, your argument is granted.—This is reality, empirical reality.

    Let me leave you with a marvelous quote from Schopenhauer’s Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason: (Phil, read this, please. I know that you, unlike most others, comprehend the problem; but this will reinforce its legitimacy in your mind.)

    “One must indeed be forsaken by all the gods, to imagine that the outer, perceptible world, filling Space in its three dimensions and moving on in the inexorable flow of Time, governed at every step by the laws of Causality, which is without exception, and in all this merely obeying laws we can indicate before all experience of them that such a world as this, we say, can have a real, objective existence outside us, without any agency of our own, and that it can then have found its way into our heads through bare sensation and thus have a second existence within us like the one outside. For what a miserably poor thing is mere sensation, after all! Even in the noblest of our organs it is nothing but a local, specific feeling, susceptible of slight variation, still in itself always subjective and, as such therefore, incapable of containing anything objective, anything like perception. For sensation is and remains a process within the organism and is limited, as such, to the region within the skin; it cannot therefore contain any thing which lies beyond that region, or, in other words, anything that is outside us.”

  133. Corrected sentence: The world as will is based on the premise that the world as representation (the other half of it, so to speak) is conditioned by the brain, by the subject, has no real existence independently of the mind.

  134. @dan

    “One must indeed be forsaken by all the gods, to imagine that the outer, perceptible world, filling Space in its three dimensions and moving on in the inexorable flow of Time, governed at every step by the laws of Causality, which is without exception, and in all this merely obeying laws we can indicate before all experience of them that such a world as this, we say, can have a real, objective existence outside us, without any agency of our own, and that it can then have found its way into our heads through bare sensation and thus have a second existence within us like the one outside. For what a miserably poor thing is mere sensation, after all! Even in the noblest of our organs it is nothing but a local, specific feeling, susceptible of slight variation, still in itself always subjective and, as such therefore, incapable of containing anything objective, anything like perception. For sensation is and remains a process within the organism and is limited, as such, to the region within the skin; it cannot therefore contain any thing which lies beyond that region, or, in other words, anything that is outside us.”

    OK, another paragraph of lengthy sentences from your favorite writer of lengthy sentences. Applying my rusty language skills, I reduced the first sentence into this:

    “One must indeed be forsaken by all the gods, to imagine that the outer, perceptible world … can have a real, objective existence outside us, … and that it can then have found its way into our heads … and thus have a second existence within us like the one outside.”

    Well, I’m forsaken by all the gods, then, according to Mr S. Well, so are all of us here, aren’t we? Because this is exactly what I imagine. Or rather, assume, as a working hypothesis: that there is indeed an external world with a real objective existence.

    Actually S says “…. found its way into our heads through bare sensation“, at which point I say, hold on fella, the sensation isn’t all that bare.

    Who was it on this site who pointed out that only 20% of the neural connections to the visual cortex come from the retina? The other 80% comes from other parts of the brain, which I imagine must include memories, not just visual memories either, but all kinds of memories. See an orange, and the image is informed by memory of the feel of one in my hand, the smell of the zest spraying from the skin as I peel it, the taste of the juice as I bite into a segment…. But all that maybe just gets enough attention for my conscious mind to go “oranges, one, two, three….. no need to buy any more today”.

    So, not quite by “bare sensation”, but by the engagement of my own brain, the outside world does get a second existence inside.

    “like the one outside”, says Mr S. Well, hold on again, fella. “Like”, but only “vaguely like”. Like enough for most practical purposes, yes. A scaled down “model” of the world outside, it loses accuracy in many ways. Otherwise it would be too big to fit in our tiny heads, would it not? The world cannot contain a mind that contains a 100% accurate representation of the world, can it? (Dan, you’d not surprise me if you said, “of course it can” at this point).

    Ah, I see Mr S agrees:

    For sensation is and remains a process within the organism and is limited, as such, to the region within the skin; it cannot therefore contain any thing which lies beyond that region, or, in other words, anything that is outside us

    Parsing that, I get the core statements:

    “Sensation is a process within the organism and is limited to the region within the skin”

    Yes, that sounds right.

    “it cannot therefore contain … anything that is outside us”

    Also right. Instead it – sensation – contains information from outside, which our brains put towards the ongoing maintenance and improvement of our inner representation of our tiny, inaccurate model of the outside world, at least to the level of “fit enough for purpose”, whatever purpose that may be.

    I think I see the key place where I think Mr S is out on an unsupportable limb, and it’s in a phrase I skipped above, while trying to reduce to the gist of his statement:

    “..forsaken .. to imagine …the outer, perceptible world…can have a real, objective existence outside us, without any agency of our own

    I can also quibble about his notion that this “outer world” is “governed at every step by the laws of Causality”. That seemed ok at his time, but now we need to add “Probability and Uncertainty” to the mix.

    So, in summary, S has said I’m “forsaken by all the gods”. Did he think that he wasn’t? I’m treating that as a turn of phrase, not literally something about actual gods. But the way it’s phrased, it doesn’t sound like a good thing. But then again, I think he’s just built a smokescreen of words around a core of nonsense. Deepity Deepity Deep.

    Was it his day job, or just a hobby? I mean, did he make a living out of this stuff? Dan, I know you admire the writings of Mr S, but I can’t for the life of me see why anyone would, not from the samples you’ve presented here.

  135. @dan #147
    re #130

    You refered me back to #130

    our knowledge of the external world is conditioned by the subject, and that our knowledge of the real nature of things is therefore limited.

    Yes, of course. Our “inner” world representation, however you describe it, must necessarily be an incomplete and inaccurate representation of the external world.

    But then you follow that with some weird meaningless unconnected unanswerable (and therefore probably rhetorical) question:

    Even if you were to eliminate the sensible qualities and were to assume that matter is somehow absolute, along with space, extension and form, what could you then say about any material object that is extended in space and yet is without any sensible qualities (such as color)? How or in what way could “houses, mountains, rivers” (Berkeley), exist without sensible qualities?

    To me that’s a useless question. It doesn’t follow in any way from the preceding statement (which I agree with), and (to me) weakens any case you maybe trying to present. Just skip it and get on with whatever you’re trying to say.

    I actually tried to have a go at answering one version of that question from you, way back, you asked this kind of question about the moon. Since S’s day, of course, men have left footprints and rubbish there, something that might have astounded him, or not.

    I accept the “limited” aspect of our knowledge, and applaud the work of those who seek to push the boundaries of limitations. Limited yes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more that can be discovered.

    Then we get to my “two different universes” sentence, and your cryptic response:

    it is not a solution to the riddle that critical idealism has presented, it is very much a step in the right direction.

    Go on then, enlighten me if you can. We’ve agreed remarkably well, up to a point, but please note where we diverge. For example, what riddle? A phony riddle of minds confusing themselves into a mental Escher drawing? I looked up “critical idealism” to see what it meant, google gave me this one first, so it’s not exactly deep research: http://criticalidealism.org/what-is-critical-idealism-3/

    Well, now I know it has its own website, so it’s not entirely behind the times, and I know it’s been out of favor since the Vienna Circle imperially proclaimed something (what is that anyway, a dance troupe? a crop circle, a magic circle, a tram line? an acapella group? a pub crawl?)…. bla bla bla……. on and on it droned….. but I did notice the term “a priori” in there, so maybe that’s where you got it from. What that web page did NOT do was answer the question “what is critical idealism”. I should have gone to the Wikipedia link instead. Too late now.

    OK, so, back to this “riddle”. (a) what riddle? (b) who cares? (c) I wasn’t trying to answer it, so if you find I’ve got a partial answer that’s just accidental, I claim no credit. (d) Chestnuts!!!! Chestnuts it is, my precious.

    So, thanks for the not-very-patronising comment.

  136. @ OHooligan

    From stupid article:

    “Just what is Critical Idealism, then? It shares with Critical Realism that phenomena alone are not sufficient for us to understand our experience.”

    No one can possibly understand the subtle and esoteric doctrine of critical idealism thoroughly unless S’s chief work is read in its entirety, which I have done multiple times. I try to present these thoughts as well as I can, but ultimately, it is up to others if they want to understand or not. I too reject things prematurely. We all do. Doesn’t make it right, however.

    No, I got a priori from reading books. I’ve spent years thinking about and studying these issues. I think I was introduced to the concepts a priori and a posteriori about twenty-five years ago – before the internet.

  137. Dan #142

    It’s true that you didn’t say ‘the will of the universe’. I just inferred that when you said “Will actually is present in everything that exists ‘from the magnet and the crystal to Man’..” . But you didn’t respond to my main point which was that it seemed that what you referred to as ‘will’ was actually order.

  138. Jimblake # 150
    @Phil

    Will as order.

    To be quite honest, I need to think about that for a while; will and order strike me as two most heterogeneous things. I will think about that, however, and get back to you, if I can.

    Thanks.

    I will take a look at the book that you recommended, Phil. Thanks.

    [Corrected sentence from 144: Yes, I am interested in the experience of being alive. As a serious student of philosophy (entirely self-taught) but with no background in science, it will be no easy feat to even approach an understanding of this matter.]

    Off-topic:

    I just heard about the death of Muhammad Ali. Very sad. He was one of the greatest men of the Twentieth Century.

  139. @dan #147

    Any chance you’d have any further response to my #146, going back to your earlier #130 didnt help. I’m still curious.

  140. OHooligan (#153), Phil, JB, others

    “Any chance you’d have any further response to my #146, going back to your earlier #130 didn’t help. I’m still curious.”

    Yes, of course. Let me see. First of all he is not denying that the universe exists. That would be lunacy. He does, however, make a distinction between that which appears to us or is experienced in some way, and that actual thing (whatever it is) which exists independently of that experience. That actual thing is very different than what appears. Even if we can make predictions and observations with the use of our senses, there must be a difference between that which appears and that which does not appear – but simply IS. The nature of the IS is a problem for S. I agree that this point can become tiresome and disturbing, as it seems to defy or challenge our very notion of what reality is. But that is precisely what he is challenging: our popular notion of what reality is. According to S., our notion of reality is illusory, like a dream, in so far as we mistakenly assume that the object in itself is identical to the object which appears. He’s trying to get the point across that this cannot be so. So in that passage he refers to our paltry senses. He is not denigrating the senses; he is merely pointing out that the senses alone cannot even produce an external object. If you feel something on your skin, for example, but do not have sufficient understanding of cause and effect, that sensation will be experienced as having no external source.

    Again, he’s saying that a sensation, feeling something in your hand, or even a visual sensation (and he compares sight to the sensation of touch and refers to rays of light as “feelers”) cannot produce knowledge of an object. In order to apprehend (perceive) an object, there has to be understanding. Most if not all animals have this. His definition of understanding is a faculty which allows one to trace the source of a sensation back to a source. That is not something that he takes for granted; a cell, for example, has no understanding and merely reacts to stimuli. Plants have no knowledge at all but react to stimuli and other causes that act upon them.

    Perception is intellectual. This supports his thesis that our knowledge of the objective world is only objective in so far as we think in terms of causes. Remember: this cause is not a concept; it is first and foremost an intuition—and yes, inborn, a priori, not learned through experience, but one of the conditions of all possible experience! You may not agree with that, but that is what he is saying. He’s pointing out the absurdity of the notion that there is no difference between objects as they appear and objects as they are in themselves. He is illustrating this by breaking down the apparatus: sensation must pass through the understanding in order to be recognized as an object. The object itself is a cause, not mere stimuli. Both sensations and perceptions are subjectively determined; the latter is intellectual; the former is not.

    (He is critical of what we can know via our senses and our subjectively conditioned understanding, and distinguishes between what is first and foremost a mental representation (Idea) and what is not. There is the explanation you were looking for, of critical idealism, hopefully. (Idea=idealism))

    Because the knowledge of a cause (of our sensations) is intellectual in nature (according to S), is a function of our brain, all objectivity must be dependent upon it. This implies that our knowledge of the objective universe is conditioned by the senses and the understanding, and that therefore we can only know that which is represented to us. The senses, and our knowledge is based on sense-impressions, cannot give us any information about the thing-in-itself. Colors and smells and things such as hardness and size and shape, all presuppose sensibility and understanding, as well as the representation of space itself, which cannot be conceived of independently of something standing in relation to it (to space). Phil and many others have argued that the ability to know or intuit a cause is not something innate; it is learned. There are many who think that space (the form of the outer sense) and time (the form of the inner sense) and their co-existence, is also learned. (Causality is not possible except in space and time.) Even if one were to grant them that, the senses are still subjective and that is irrefutable. So if we remove the senses and try to imagine this “other universe” existing yet with no sensible qualities, we would have to be bereft of reason (“forsaken”) to stubbornly insist that in spite of this absence of sensible qualities, that universe would be identical to the one that does have sensible qualities. That is tantamount to saying that something can be red (like Mars) when we see it and still red when no eyes exist. Yet the physiological condition that had given rise to redness had been removed.

  141. @ OHooligan

    P.S. Since this is garbled enough as it is, I had to correct this one sentence, and it is a key point.

    Corrected: He defines Understanding as a faculty which allows one to trace a sensation (effect) back to a source (cause).

  142. @dan

    Thank you so very much for taking the time to put this response together. I read it, I followed it, I didn’t get lost in a tangled thicket of sub-clauses. Not so far apart after all. Yes, I can agree with (almost) all of that, and where I don’t agree I can see that it’s not such a biggie, it’s perhaps only the precise definitions of some terms that are at odds.

    I prefer the learned to the a priori, I think the learning aspect is more significant than the acceptance of pretty much anything a priori allows.

    But I think we’re very much on the same page, and I thank you for that. I think it’s the bit about “removing the senses….” that gets me lost. No, don’t remove the senses, that’s where it falls apart.

    Keep the senses, and the sensations, and accept that they produce but a necessarily incomplete, only partly accurate, representation of the world out there. But they’re all we’ve got, along with the stuff we’ve learned along the way, from birth and even before, when the senses first became active inputs to a growing net of neural feedback loops. Pattern recognition, association, the discovery of cause-and-effect (not a priori!!!), the discovery of the persistence of external objects, a growing mastery of the myriad sensory inputs, building from them an apparent external reality we move around in.

    Yes, we do have a universe inside our heads, its the one we see when we open our eyes, it appears to be all around us. And it’s not the real external universe, the one from whence the sensory stimuli come, the source of light and pressure and gravity and heat. Instead, it’s what our clever brains have built, based on all received data since before birth, integrated with a couple of basic principles, to manufacture our perceived reality.

    A priori. I’d hazard the sense of time, because we have had a pulse, a heartbeat (and a mother’s heartbeat) since before any mental activity was possible. Sense of space, no, I don’t think. Cause and effect? Nope, that could be learned. Space and cause/effect are constructs that help us make sense of the data, and enable the building of the universe we inhabit. Not building the real external one, building our own one, one each.

    The scary part of all this is — take a human from an early enough age and control all his inputs, all his experiences, and you can get him to manufacture for himself a world very different from the one that, for example, we literate westerners have built for ourselves. A world in which Destiny is immediate, Paradise is immanent, and it makes perfect sense to wear that belt and walk into that crowd and press that button as commanded.

    I think I should retract my original declaration (from Dire Straits): “Philosophy is useless”.
    Though I’ll still keep the 2nd part: “Theology is worse”.

  143. @dan

    Just a small note: reading your definition of “understanding”, as a faculty tracing effect to cause. Yes, not bad. The tracing happens within sub-conscious processing of sensory data (sensations), and the outcome presents to us as the sight of a familiar object, for example. Yes, the perceived reality all around us has cause-and-effect factored in, essential for its construction. Along with things-dont-change-their-shapes, applies to bricks and desk lamps, so that looking at them from different viewpoints does not show us different objects, but different aspects of the same objects, located in a 3 dimensional volume that surrounds us. That kind of “understanding” I can understand and do not dispute.

    Thanks again for your latest posts, we’re getting somewhere, after a long bout of garbled tail-chasing. This feels positive.

  144. @dan

    Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception: he describes the brain as a filter, a reducing valve, cutting down the vast torrent of raw sense data into a trickle, an Executive Summary to present to the numbskull-in-chief, the conscious identity, the “I” in “I am”. The vast bombardment of photons on the rods and cones of the retina resolve into the summary: “It’s a sunny day and there’s a red car parked in the driveway”.

    This is very much in line with what seems fairly obvious to me, though I’d prefer to update it with some Hollywood CGI effects, except in reverse: the raw data is interpreted to compose the perception. Hollywood starts with the desired perception and backtracks to the raw data required to provide it, and these days they do it so well (when they have the budget) that you can’t tell digital artifacts from photographic ones. This, like other optical illusions, is extremely informative when you’re interested in the workings of the mind/brain/senses.

  145. Dan #154

    So if we remove the senses and try to imagine this “other universe” existing yet with no sensible qualities, we would have to be bereft of reason (“forsaken”) to stubbornly insist that in spite of this absence of sensible qualities, that universe would be identical to the one that does have sensible qualities.

    The universe is only different in the sense that sensors/experiencers are no longer in it. No one has yet managed to privilege experience as of “value” to the universe in some way that affects it.

    Again, so what?

    You early on hinted this would change the way we see and understand things. It does not….so far.

  146. @Dan #154

    if we remove the senses and try to imagine this “other universe” existing yet with no sensible qualities

    Trimming the sentence Phil quoted. You’ve written this quite often. It begins with “if”….

    How about if we don’t. This particular thought experiment you describe seems to me to be pointless and futile. You won’t learn anything more about the senses or about the external universe by it. What is it meant to convey? I have really no idea why you’ve kept coming back to this, you seem to think it has some importance. To me it’s no better than trying to imagine an invisible purple unicorn.

    By the way the rest of your post seems clear enough. Thanks.

  147. @dan #154

    Here’s a much better experiment, if you care to try it.

    Look around you, there’s probably something you can see with writing in English. Now, here’s the trick: DONT read it. Ooops, too late, you already did. I can see a paper cup with “Coffee Club” on it, for instance. I see that, and I can’t help but “see” the words, and know their meaning, just as I see the cup is made of paper and is empty, and remember that I’ve finished the contents.

    Now, try the same thing with some writing in Japanese or Korean or Thai or Chinese. (pick some language you do not know, a writing system you have not learned).)You see it, but you don’t read it.
    You may admire the angles of the strokes, or the alien complexity of the forms, but you don’t have any knowledge of the verbal message it would deliver to someone brought up with that kind of writing. Copying some if it would be a much more painstaking task than copying an equivalent amount of English text. (Equivalent in, say, number of strokes).

    Look back and forth, English and “foreign” (for want of a better general term). What’s the difference? In your brain, one of them automatically, without conscious effort, triggers the faculty for reading, turning the shapes of the characters into words and meanings. The other doesn’t. So you can see at once how much of what you “see” is enhanced, decorated, interpreted by your brain before you even become aware of the sight. I can’t see that empty coffee cup without reading the word “Coffee” printed on it. I learned reading, it wasn’t something I was born with. I suggest that I also learned all the other things too, the things that show me a paper cup, empty, held by gravity against the horizontal surface of my desk in the 3-dimensional space around me that I consider to be my office.

    I can’t not-read English writing when it’s in my field of view. Similarly, I can’t not-see the 3d world around me, rainbows and all. I’m not simply “looking out” at the outside world, I’m actively synthesising it, filtering and enhancing and annotating and decorating the incoming sensory stream, and building a scene full of mostly familiar objects around me. That, I think, is what Mr S was getting at, wasn’t it?

  148. Indeed, OHool, we simply but cannot not parse the input sensory stream and subconsciously judge salience. The potentially salient is what we consciously register.

  149. @Phil (who doesn’t like Dickens)
    @OHooligan

    “The universe is only different in the sense that sensors/experiencers are no longer in it.”

    Only?

    “…we simply but cannot not parse the input sensory stream and subconsciously judge salience. The potentially salient is what we consciously register.”

    ?

    “I think I should retract my original declaration (from Dire Straits): “Philosophy is useless”.
    Though I’ll still keep the 2nd part: “Theology is worse”.

    Thank you! Bless your heart. (Just an expression.) Yes, theology is boring. I don’t read that crap. But there are always exceptions. There is one theologian who is remarkable: Kierkegaard. (But he was so much more than a theologian.)

    I’ll try to reply to your thought experiment at some point. Have a good week.

  150. Dan– #152

    “Will as order.

    To be quite honest, I need to think about that for a while; will and order strike me as two most heterogeneous things. I will think about that, however, and get back to you, if I can.

    Thanks.”

    Since you haven’t responded, I will try to clarify the issue by comparing my position with what I believe you are saying.

    I think that you believe that there is some unknowable, immaterial thing called ‘will’ that exists within all matter and basically is what is behind everything that happens.

    My position is that without order in the universe, matter would not exist and nothing could happen. So, it is the presence of order that makes it possible for anything to happen, and it is the structure of that order that determines what will happen. The energy from the ‘Big Bang’ created the original order in the universe, but it’s source is not known and is probably unknowable. When you call it ‘will’, it makes it sound very mystical and purposeful, and it’s not necessary since we already have perfectly good words to describe it such as: order and structure.

    If I have mischaracterized your position, feel free to correct me.

  151. Dan #163

    Only?

    Only.

    ?

    I have noted the content of conscious experience as those of our initially unconscious apprehensions marked out by unconscious heuristics as potentially salient, many times before here without comment. Why now?

  152. Jimblake, 164

    Yes, that is a bit of a mischaracterization, I think; but that is understandable given the fact that I have not made it sufficiently clear what the will is. Nor was I capable of describing it. I only know what it isn’t. It is outside the sphere of time and space and is the thing-in-itself (something that can only be understood in a limitative sense) objectified as matter. Matter strives and competes for form. The striving must be attributable to something one might choose to call Will.

    However, I like the idea of order, or the idea of something that is “behind” or prior to matter. Perhaps Will and Order are not as heterogeneous as I thought. After all, these are mere words and words tend to become less distinguishable from each other as they seek to describe that which lies beyond perception (or may lie beyond it).

    Order might sound less mystical and sound less purposeful, but it isn’t – not if you are describing something that is neither matter nor mind. The will is in both. Matter and Mind are both essentially Will. I have always associated order with laws of the mind, not nature or the universe, per se. Order as thing-in-itself (existing by itself without a mind) is hardly a concrete, rational notion.

    Time, I have heard, originated with the Big Bang. Space too, I presume. Now Order as well. The Big Bang, in spite of the absence of any overt mysticism associated with the origin and history of this theory is, finally, no less dogmatic that Aristotle’s unmoved mover, in so far as it moves towards becoming a first cause. What was before the Big Bang then? Nothing? There is no beginning of the universe; “the word [universe] itself cannot have a beginning, and is therefore infinite in respect of past time.” —Kant (First Antinomy)

  153. OHoo, Phil, Jb, others

    No. I never used the word particles. Nor do I understand what the Will is. I am not omniscient. Gifted, yes— But I do not claim to have (yet) solved the problem of the underlying mystery of existence.

    Mysticism is a word closely resembling superstition and belief in a deity. I am not superstitious; nor am I
    religious. Sometimes I don’t know what I am or what I “believe.” I am searching, asking questions, presenting ideas that I think are valuable. I have no definitive answers to these great questions (freedom versus necessity, the nature of reality, the ideal versus the real, et cetera), although at times I think I do.

    The Will as thing-in-itself is free. The Will (and again I don’t know what the Will is) cannot be perceived. The particles are not free. The Will is free, but we are not. We are like particles. Particles are like us. No essential difference as far as determinism is concerned. Nothing can be separated from the chain of causality. We are determined by causes, by stimuli, by motives. Everything empirical in nature, including sub atomic particles, which do take up space, is determined by causes. No exceptions. Particles may be tiny. But size is relative.

    Sounds mystical, doesn’t it? Well so be it.

  154. I am not omniscient. Gifted, yes

    Eh?
    Dan, all you do is ask the WRONG questions!
    e.g. what is the colour of love.
    I don’t think that is er……gifted.

  155. Hi, M27,

    How’s it going?

    What is the color of love? Sounds like something Wittgenstein would ask. Seriously. He asks questions like that. He asks the reader, in the Blue Book, to “arrange vowels in order of their shades”! (From darkest to lightest.) And he’s not joking either. And he’s considered the foremost philosopher of the 20th Century. I could be wrong; he has quite a following; but I think he was one the great hoaxes of the 20th Century.

    (The color that Dante associated with love is Red.)

  156. Dan #170

    You could pick any of his (W’s) language games and in isolation present them as farce.

    He knew or at least suspected that perceptions were personal and non congruent with others.

    Now we know about synaesthesia. We even have a good idea about why.

  157. Dan #170.
    And…in asking the silliest questions Wittgenstein, feigns profundity! Don’t think I will bother reading any soon (books on Quantum mechanics, and molecular biology are keeping my brain in the thinking mode I require at the present). Some philosophers are intent reiterating post-modernist shite in the hope that they can make the reader think that they are “gifted” in some way. Unless something can be proven by mathematical or empirical means I am putting it into the room marked “Irrelevant noise” and shutting the door.
    You need to stop reading shite like Tess…. and get some serious maths reading done!
    I am currently trying to get my head round a key quantum mechanic idea – Adiabatic invariant – Wittgenstein would be impressed with the name I’m sure and then ask what shape does your face make when shouting it out loud……

  158. @172 I have to stop up-voting you just because of your post code, it must be tribal thing?
    I agree with your maths ref for Dan- put away Dickens Hardy and Proust for a few months Dan! and pick up Newton Euler Gauss and Rienmann then I would pick up Einstein Schrodinger Dirac and Feynman.
    By the time you have worked out what the universe is made of and how it fits together you wont have time for Dickens.
    You will have the best and worst of times.

  159. free will may not exist, as Alex Rosenberg and others argue, but at the same time, it is perhaps a necessary illusion because we assume that we can make choices and have responsibility.

    as it goes, some religions and theologies also don’t believe in free will, such as some Muslims who say ‘it is the will of God’ and that of the Calvinists who believe in predestination.

    how can we have a legal and justice system unless it is assumed that criminals are somehow responsible for their crimes?

    I would agree that there might not be good knock down arguments for free will, but at the same time, it seems to me that it must be assumed as a ‘necessary illusion’.

    Dan Dennett says some interesting things on this as well.

  160. Anton,

    Yes! A necessary illusion. I like that. We are indeed conscious of a free will and that consciousness should be cultivated.

  161. @dan #176

    Yes. A not quite infinite series of posts converging on something close enough to an agreement.

    Free Will either exists or is a necessary illusion, and for all practical purposes it doesn’t matter which. And anyway we don’t seem to be able to find out for sure either way. Even Conway’s Theorem had 2 solutions, “we do” and “we don’t”.

    I think we’re close enough to cease needing to explain stuff to each other on this topic. BTW I loathe the implications of subscribing to Predestination, the careless driving, the dodging of blame, “It is written”. Inch Alla.

  162. Sadly, no convergence with me. A pernicious and valueless illusion totally misdirecting us from a higher aspiration to truth for ourselves and the need for the internal integrity that allows us true ownership of our thoughts and deeds…

    Dennett- the evolution of freedom through the creation of ever more and better choice. A great contribution.

    “Of your own free will”…a great legal test.

  163. @Phil 178

    Dear Phil,

    No. I disagree with that. What you say appears correct but is actually the opposite of the true state of affairs with regard to moral responsibility. If there is freedom of the will, then there is no character. No character, no responsibility. Guilt or innocence, good or bad, selfish or compassionate (moral); —all of these final judgments hinge upon the assumption that we have a character.

    If we have no character, there can be no responsibility. This is not easily grasped. (And to be quite honest, I still struggle with this issue; in fact, it torments me at times.)

    If you would just read S’s great, great work On the Basis of Morality and stop pontificating about how great science is all the time, and how “natural philosophers” can’t teach us anything, you might learn something. I say that with compassion and respect. (I need to read more science!!)

    Dennett is an excellent man, has many valuable things to say, is wonderful. But he is not a great philosopher. (Nor does he claim to be.) S was. Night and day. You need to diversify, and to gain a sense of proportion. Dennett will not be remembered a hundred and fifty years from now. I am quite certain of that. Perhaps this comment will be read a hundred and fifty years from now, and future readers will know that I was right – about both men.

    Best,
    Dan R.

  164. P.S. This issue is also addressed in the book: On the Freedom of the Will

    “I can do what I will: I can, if I will, give everything I have to the poor and thus become poor myself—if I will! But I cannot will this, because the opposing motives have much too much power over me for me to be able to. On the other hand, if I had a different character, even to the extent that I were a saint, then I would be able to will it. But then I could not keep from willing it, and hence I would have to do so.”

    “Let us imagine a man who, while standing on the street, would say to himself: ‘It is six o’clock in the evening, the work day is over. Now I can go for a walk, or I can go to the club; I can also climb up the tower to see the sun set; I can go to the theater; I can visit this friend or that one; indeed, I also can run out of the gate, into the wide world, and never return. All of this is strictly up to me, in this I have complete freedom. But still I shall do none of these things now, but with just as free a will I shall go home to my wife.’ ”

  165. Dan,

    I don’t know why you are trashing Dennett when you are endorsing his central point that people need to believe this wrong idea (of free wikk) to behave morally. I only endorse his one extra point only about freedom evolving.

    There is no science I am arguing for here. It is only my own opinion that the the wrong idea of free will is not the only way to achieve morally behaving individuals. It is palpably not.

    Like the false idea of heaven to stop kids feeling afraid of death. Don’t promise them falsehoods then they won’t miss it. Kids are surprisingly tough about death. Don’t talk about free will, or only talk about it in historical religious contexts where it belongs and it will not become an issue. Talk endlessly about doing the right thing and why it is the right thing and you’ll get naturally moral kids. Talk endlessly about striving for truth. I have always found those cultures that fetishise individualism to most culturally converge.

    Natural Philosopher was the term for scientist before scientist so I don’t understand your comment.

    I’ve read much of The Basis of Morality. I do read a lot and research. Its even currently on my Kindle. You assume flat ignorance with aggravating frequency. Meh. I think there is so much more to say than this. So many problems left unaddressed by S.

    No free will, no character??? Complete nonsense.

    The rest I’ve deleted

  166. Phil,

    No! If there IS free will then there is no character! At least quote me correctly before you declare my truths to be nonsense. I think it’s nonsense to think of character as compatible with freedom. Is a piece of granite capable of being molded like clay? No? Same with our characters. The character is inborn. You cannot teach a wicked human being to become decent. (And a good and decent man will never become wicked, unless he loses his mind. But that isn’t wickedness.) All you can do is nurture the decency that is already there, in a dormant state or otherwise. I can’t elaborate on this now, so I will have to accept that this sounds dogmatic. Besides, you have the book. It’s all there. (I have a history of WWII by Churchill. Doesn’t mean I’m going to read it.)

    Your thesis that everything is learned is as impossible or as difficult to prove as my belief in the inborn moral disposition. But my view is more sensible, more logical (and more esoteric).

    (Deleted? I don’t get it. This wasn’t an email. How do you delete a posted comment? Is that a British expression meaning disregarded?)

    I am not endorsing Dennett’s view. I simply said that we are conscious of having a free will, period.

  167. Sorry, Dan. Careless.

    Free will, no character??? Complete sense if free will equates to random.

    Dennett asserts we have the impression of free will (even though determinism) and this is good for people. I assert the illusion is not as good for people as it could be. Doing without is harmless to moral thought and behaviour because of encultured mammalness, facilitates a healthier more objective form of situated cognition etc.

    The latest research with newborns demonstrates that the cognitive abilities that used to be ascribed to them in the first weeks and months are not in fact in place yet. I’ll reproduce it here when I find the specific paper. Parents effortlessly impute more than is actual. All humans are in effect born prematurely way before full brain development. This is why rich culture and cultural behaviours are possible for us. This is the root of our especial moral capacity.

  168. Dan #62 of philosophy maths and science thread.

    No probs.

    I screwed up anyway. I had a big long piece about free will’s lack of necessary contact with character unless it were defined in this useless form of random action generator for all actions. I cut it back very badly.

    I have an idea about how to explain the risks of propagating Free Will as a thing or even a necessary delusion. It is the political angle(!) but I need some thinking time. I have a long drive coming up….perfect.

  169. I am still looking for my inborn wickedness?

    I don’t like giving to charities, though I do to specific ones but again, reluctantly. I don’t like giving to beggars on the street but sometimes I do. My ‘philosophy’ is that we should all be responsible for there even being people in need and it should be handled at government level. If it all gets too much then we should find out the reasons and make it better as a whole. I feel bad when I give to charity because it hides the responsibility and my part. I didn’t know people like that existed, although we were not that far from being there ourselves, so how could I have wicked thoughts about people I did not know existed…..I learned and am trying to do the least wicked thing to satisfy my concience and what I have learned to be right. Education and logical thinking allows me to be both wicked and responsibly good.

    You seemed to have made ‘free will’ as complicated and as fuzzy as you could possibly do Dan but, have filtered out a pure form of wicked that I don’t recognise???

  170. Dan @ 182

    Is a piece of granite capable of being molded like clay?

    all depends what temperature the granite is of course!
    Nobody who can make such an obvious ignorant comment can possibly diss Dennett.

  171. M27Holts, Phil

    Hi, my good friend,

    A hard piece of granite, with one’s bare hands. Just presenting a metaphor; and a theory (a theory that I am not capable of proving) that the human character, like the stone or the marble, under “normal” conditions, has a certain quality, that is, is not being capable of being altered (like clay) fundamentally by external influences (the environment).

    Dennett! That old Santa Claus masquerading as a deep thinker! Relax, I’m kidding. I like and appreciate Dennett; I just like my guys more.

    Phil, I don’t think that the consciousness of free will itself, which we all have, is a relevant point. If we didn’t have it it would be awful, wouldn’t it? But having it just means we have it; it doesn’t mean that we are going to make better choices, and you know that, I think.

    Thought experiment: imagine we did not have the illusion of free will, but every time we, say, reached for a knife to hurt someone (which we will not do) or attempt to jump three yards (which we cannot do) or leave or husband or wife (which we will not do), a little mechanism was set in motion and restricted our arms and our legs. This can never happen as our actions are incapable of being known beforehand, but if it could happen it would inform us that we do have an immutable character – one given to us at birth, and as implacable as a sales tax.

  172. Olgun, others #185

    Your point is indeed well taken. As I said, I have proven nothing, have not proven pure wickedness or goodness of heart. (Nor have I succeeded in proving that the knowledge of causality is a priori!) Proving things is quite challenging. I need some time for that.

    I will say this, and not as a way of dodging the issue: some truths cannot be proven, as the condition of the proof is presupposed (implied) in the act of proving.

  173. some truths cannot be proven

    That makes for a strange definition of “truths”. Axioms, perhaps. Assumptions, Working Hypotheses, perhaps. But “truths”?

    There is no end to the stuff we don’t know yet, granted. Is that an unprovable truth?

  174. Phil 184

    “I had a big long piece about free will’s lack of necessary contact with character…”

    Excellent. (I hope I am not deceiving myself, but I take it that this means that the idea of a free will is the very antithesis of the concept of character – for the simple reason that we can only do what we are compelled to do at any given moment. Motives competing with opposing motives compel us throughout our lives us and we, over the course of our lives, exhibit our “acquired” and empirical character. Or would you put it differently?)

    I think one of the best things we can do to improve the world is to crack down on child abuse. Belief in free will has already been propagated and is pervasive; most people just assume that their will is free and are not open to any opposing viewpoint. That’s been my experience.

  175. Olgun, others #185

    “Education and logical thinking allows me to be both wicked and responsibly good.”

    Most people are a combination of both wickedness (selfishness, egotism) and goodness. I don’t think that education and logical thinking can actually cause one to be one or the other. Ever have an argument with an educated man or woman who has all kinds of atrocious, inhumane ideas (ideas which will turn into acts under the right circumstances)? They WILL not, WILL not, WILL not understand! See how language itself can inform us? I WILL not do it. That speaks volumes. The character is prior to reason. All the education in the world (while it will be of inestimable value to a good man such as yourself) will not, cannot, in my considered opinion, produce goodness. (Indoctrination, a species of education, can produce behaviors, ostensibly good or wicked.— But that is analogous to hypnosis.)

    I wish I could prove that the character ( as well as the knowledge of space, time and causality) is inborn. I need a lot of time. Maybe a lifetime. (It may not be capable of proof… Cop out?)

  176. Dan #191.
    Define Wicked! Also Define Good! – (without using your own personal parameters).
    This is why I prefer mathematical/physics problems.
    No subjectivity.

  177. M27Holts 192

    I fear that my definition of moral goodness and its opposite will not satisfy you, as my definition implies something metaphysical, or mysterious – and will be way too brief and incomplete. Goodness is Compassion or Sympathy, which can only exist or arise within beings in whom the distinction (principium individuationis) between their own inner existence and the inner existence of others has been (at least momentarily) obliterated. (And the character is an inborn moral disposition.)

    Morally bad (wicked): Egoistic; the distinction one makes between self and other is greater. He is separate from others. No empathy, no sympathy. He sees another human being and his inmost nature says: that is not me. (Like a dog barking ferociously at another dog.)

    Morally Good: Compassionate; the distinction one makes between self and other is lesser. He sees another human and his inmost nature says: that is me over again!

    There are many gradations between these two extremes.

    “In the Meno, Plato minutely investigates the nature of virtue, and inquires whether it can, or cannot, be taught. He quotes a passage from Theognis: ‘But thou wilt ne’er, by teaching make the bad man virtuous.’ ”

    There are many, many quotes like the one above, by venerable authorities, that would indicate a consensus amongst great minds; they agree that the character is inborn and non-rational.

    “The motives suggesting loving-kindness, which stir so deeply a good disposition, can, of themselves, effect nothing in a heart that listens only to the promptings of Egoism. If it be wished to induce the egoist to act with beneficence and humanity, this can be done but in one way: he must be made to believe that the assuaging of others’ suffering will, somehow or other, surely turn out to his own advantage. What, indeed, are most moral systems but attempts of different kinds in this direction? […] To make a real improvement, it would be necessary to transform the entire nature of the individual’s susceptibility for motives. Thus, from one we should have to remove his indifference to the suffering of others as such; from another, the delight which he feels in causing pain; from a third, the natural tendency which makes him regard the smallest increase of his own well-being as so far outweighing all other motives, that the latter become as dust in the balance. Only it is far easier to change lead into gold than to accomplish such a task.”

    (Personal remark: it pleases me when Schopenhauer reminds me of me and when I remind myself of him. Our metaphors, for example: he says lead and gold; I had said granite and clay, and before coming across the above-quoted passage, long forgotten. I don’t know, at times whether my ideas are mine or his. They have coalesced. Clearly he is the teacher and I am the pupil, but I have made his ideas truly my own.)

    No, I am not prepared to prove this. But I have responded to your reasonable demand for a definition to the best of my ability – at this particular moment.

  178. @dan #163

    (refering to my #161)

    I’ll try to reply to your thought experiment at some point.

    After that the discussion slid off into Character and Morality, rabbit holes where I choose (of my own free will) not to follow. In case you’d forgotten, I’d still like to hear you comment on that experiment, after you give it a try. If you Will.

    Proving things is quite challenging

    Yes. Sorry, had to laugh at that. A laugh of agreement, I hasten to add, appreciating your Understatement. In response, I’d have to say that’s why science largely progresses via attempts to dis-prove things, in a Sherlock type elimination of impossibles.

  179. @ OHooligan #161

    As promised, here is my (belated) reply.

    This reminds me of Wittgenstein’s discussion of “reading.”

    I almost forgot the context in which your thought-experiment was presented. Causality as a priori knowledge, if I am not mistaken.

    Yes, reading is learned. (I am sorry that I am not addressing all of the interesting points you made.) Just about everything is learned; everything except – in my opinion and S’s – the division into subject and object, the apprehension of a source of a sensation, of an objective, external source or cause (outside of our own bodies, and this is not conceptual knowledge), the knowledge of external space (nothing can be presented as extended except in space; therefore space is a precondition of all possible experience, even for the blind), and the pure intuition of time. (Nothing can be perceived except in time; time is a priori knowledge, has to be. We do not learn that. No space without time, no causality without space, no time without space, etc. These three forms constitute a reciprocally dependent synthesis; and this produces reality, empirical reality.)

    (This reality is not “created” by individuals, as you suggested in your poem by S. Plath. These reality-producing forms are functions of the brain.)

    Everything else is learned. Hume was almost right. Close but no cigar.

    Your conclusion (fourth paragraph) is not quite clear to me, so I cannot answer whether it was what A.S. was getting at. I think you are partially correct. What he was getting at is, again, this: sensory data, as I said above, can never produce knowledge of an object. For that “Understanding” (the ability to trace an effect back to an objective cause) is required. Without the Understanding, sensations would be felt as part of one’s own body. This is the case with organisms, such as cells, that have no understanding.

    Have you ever “heard” a noise, say a high pitched ring, and not be able to determine if it was in your ear or whether it was coming from somewhere in the room? We all have. For beings without understanding all sensations are experienced as internal, as without a cause, as not having an external source. The sensation and the organism coalesce, as it were; this is the absolute mark of beings without understanding, in Mr. S’s sense of the word.

  180. @dan #195

    Thanks for replying. However, your reply is pretty much a repetition of your earlier assertions, and does not address the experiment I proposed. The context doesn’t matter, it can be ignored for now.

    Did you even try the Experiment? Do you need a refresher on how to do it? It has two parts:

    Part 1. Look at a sight that contains words in English. A bookshelf with the spines of the books showing, for example. Or a coffee-table with a magazine lying on it. Anything that contains words.

    Can you NOT read them? In the act of seeing, are you not instantly aware of the words, complete words, not just the shapes of letters, and what those words mean to you?

    Part 2. Look at a sight that contains some writing in a language and alphabet you don’t know. Arabic, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, anything as long as you don’t know that language. Now, if you’re like me at all, you’ll see shapes, curves, lines, but no meaning attaches instantly to them.

    Now, think about what happened in these two situations, and try to describe your experiences, report the results. Please. We can get to what it might mean later. This is the experiment/observation part of science.

    Thanks in advance for your participation.

  181. I can’t speed read, but I can glance at a page of (English) print (even upside down) and quickly spot spelling mistakes. And I mean quickly, I don’t look at each and every word to determine if it’s correct or not..

    On the other hand, if not paying attention out on the streets and I glimpse a sign, my mind “reads” it incorrectly. It sometimes fills out missing or concealed letters, even transposing visible letters so as to fit, determined to make a valid word (even if the word is obviously incorrect from the context).
    Often this leads to a double-take – it can’t possibly say that -and when I consciously look, the more ordinary and obvious meaning is revealed.

  182. @MadEnglishman #197

    Exactly what I’m getting at. You can’t NOT read it. Your “instant read” may be mistaken, and need a closer look, but you can’t switch it off completely, it just “does it”.

  183. OHooligan #198

    What we see, what we read involuntarily, is what we are subconsciously expecting. Richard Gregory developed that theory and it is, indeed, taken as fact, judged the best working hypothesis of how we cognise. This is the basis of our misapprehensions like optical illusions and misidentifications.

    Our internal model of what is likely runs incessantly trying to relieve us of having to process too much incoming data. It is a speed enhancer (sometimes) and energy saving scheme, that also helps us flag the need for extra attention, when the expectation and the input data conflict and the anterior cingulate cortex detecting the error triggers a “Whoa!” or a “Ha!” or a “Hahaha”. Then we super focus and the grey matter lights up in the fMRI scanner.

    The internal model, the expectation, uses old data but also just acquired data. One word, just read, often predicts another. Expectations have a myriad time scales running for the substance of them.

    The point is this expectation is a subconscious expectation and the point of that is to not bring in to play a whole swathe of energy expensive brain resources by prematurely flagging salience, which we do when conscious attention is invoked.

    There is no sense in which we can consciously intervene in subconscious processes. We may try and consciously train ourselves (having got the idea from inside or outside ourselves and valued it positively) out of some subconscious behaviours, but this specific is a most unlikely instance.

  184. @phil

    Thank you for the details, fascinating as ever. Yes, this is what I’m trying to present to Dan.

    I take the fact of “cant not-read a word” to be verification that the entire 3d world I experience is a construct of my own brain, informed by sensory input and memory. It is not merely a passive “looking out” at the outside world.

  185. OHooligan, others

    I have not yet read any of the other comments, as I did not want to be influenced.

    I did try it (just now), although I was reluctant, as I am up to my ears with Wittgenstein and his infernal assertions about reading right now. (Philosophical Investigations)

    I am quite capable of looking at (passing my eyes over) the familiar words that are written in English, and actually not reading them. This does not happen very frequently, but I know from experience that I can. The same applies to hearing or listening. If someone is droning on and on and I am fatigued or preoccupied, the ability to hear can become blocked, although my ears remain unimpaired. In most cases, seeing the words on a page is like hearing them spoken. I am looking at the computer screen now and have read a few sentences that I myself have just written. My understanding is immediate. (I cannot, by the way, define comprehension without using a synonym or resorting to tautology.) It was not the same when first learning how to read, or even today, when I come across unrecognizable word-shapes; in both of those cases it could be said that “reading” was not truly reading, that is, not continuously; but that would be superfluous and fruitless precision a la Wittgenstein – like saying that I didn’t drive all the way home because I stopped at read lights here and there. — it leads me, however, to part-two of your experiment.

    I look at words written in a completely foreign language and I see squiggly lines, shapes, doodles, and my eyes pass over them and I wear a frown and I grow bored, can absorb nothing, cannot read, is so far as reading (and no single word can be defined with a hundred percent precision) is certainly more than just gazing at shapes. (And hearing words is not just apprehending sounds.) Sometimes a shape will suggest something to me, but that is not reading in the conventional sense. I cannot say with certainty that I am not reading when I see a shape that looks like a house – even if that is not what the shape means to the people for whom that and other shapes were intended to be read by.

    So what can we learn from this? I did what you asked.

  186. @dan #201

    Thank you for making the effort. I was thinking more of signs and book jackets and such, not the screenfuls of text that meet you on this site, or the pagefuls of text you see on opening a book, but no matter. It’s the instant reading (lets confine it to single words) that is the facility I wanted to draw to your attention. And it’s not something you can choose to switch off. Or can you? Maybe you can. Can you choose to “pass your eyes over” something written, and NOT know what the words are? I don’t mean when the light is too dim, or your eyes are unfocussed. For me, the fact of seeing a word means I’ve already read it, I have the spelling, the sound, the meaning, and a whole catalog of thesaurus-like associations, effortlessly attached to my awareness of what I’m seeing. Is this not so for you?

    What we can learn, I have been suggesting, is how much of my, or your, perceived surroundings are constructed, decorated, enhanced (choose your words) from the raw sensory data. And also how much different the perception could be, in the same place and time, for someone with a very different background, for example growing up reading Japanese and not English.

    The different perception, I suggest, is not confined to can-read-this and cant-read-that, but it is much much wider, and much much deeper. The distinction between instant-reading (of a sign in English) and the squiggly shapes devoid of meaning (of a sign in Chinese) is not something you choose to experience, it just happens. But it is an “inner” experience, not shared by your Chinese companion.

    You’ve oft mentioned the “thing-in-itself”. This I take it would be the signs with shapes of English or Chinese writing, but both devoid of meaning, the thing being the same thing no matter the background of any observer. Does this seem right to you?

  187. OHooligan #200

    verification that the entire 3d world I experience is a construct of my own brain,

    I’m actually saying something subtler than that. There is an internal model of the expectation, as a sort of cognitive flywheel or phase locked loop that is given appropriate pushes by sporadic external input. If the perceptual push is inline with the motion of the model then all is right and expected and no added attention is needed. If the sporadic input is not inline with the motion of the model then error is flagged and extra attention is summoned. You are lifted into that “in the moment” level of consciousness where specific memories become a possibility and much more external data is processed. (They were not possible in the earlier state.) This is not simply working via an internal model, the flywheel, the expectation, but the stabilising flywheel is now just interpolating between the much more frequent pushes of direct input that it gets in an arroused attention state changing its speed in continually unexpected (ACC triggering) ways.

    Perception, then, is a mix of a smooth internal model and direct experience, model-correcting impulses. Cognition, therefore, is this bundle of perceptual processes and subsequent introspection to more formally value the perceived and fit them for memorising or not. The model is always an aspect of perception. It creates expectation, and it fills in gaps, but perception does involve a more direct experience when the expectation fails to match actual circumstance. The direct sensory inputs also update the model, but I think it is wrong to think all perception is model mediated. It underplays the conscious “salience” status and the emotional heft of the experience. The brain knows a live feed from a subconscious expectation because it needs prioritise it when different.

    (I need to work on my model metaphor.)

  188. Phil

    You begin by saying a working hypothesis is “fact.” Typical hyperbole. Scratch that.

    Subconscious expectation!

    Gregory’s theory just redefines “expecting something” to include doing it “unconsciously.” Very convenient formula!

    Then you talk about our internal “model,” running incessantly.

    Why am I not impressed?

  189. @phil #203

    I’ve no idea why Dan’s not impressed. I am. Your description of the “flywheel”, and the interaction between “live feed” and “reconstruction/interpolation” fits well with my less informed reading and with my own observation/introspection. and I’m comfortable with the engineering terminology.

    Or I could return to the Numbskulls metaphor, and imagine the duty-numbskull having to call his supervisor whenever the live feed he’s monitoring stops agreeing with expectations. The supervisor might never be called on the regular drive home, hence we can safely complete a journey without remembering any of it.

    Phil, do you have any (layman readable) references for this stuff? It’s a long way beyond anything I was reading while a student, way back in the Dark Ages (before Steve Jobs).

  190. Dan,

    “Best working hypothesis” is an hypothesis that gets granted the status of theory because it is the best and it works and it works the best, and theory is code, in science, for “fact”.

    Richard Gregorie’s theory is destroyed! Damn!

    You’re not impressed because I don’t think I explained it carefully enough. If you go back and look at what I wrote about what I termed the “Prosaic Apparatus” you can perhaps get to see how this rather depleted model works and why it sits below the conscious threshold and saves energy by using very little of our expensive, shiny, new, culturally trained inferential resources in the PFC. Its use of simple heuristics to judge salience at, say, an ACC error judgement effectively turns on conscious attention.

    OHool,

    Sadly there are no good up to the minute books I know of. Most of what I have hoovered up in the last five years has come from New Scientist, Scientific American etc. prompts to go read papers.

    Vilayanur Ramachandran’s The Tell Tale Brain is a great place to start though.

  191. Where did the model come from? How did it originate? What is it modeled after, and what was perceived before the model? What was the model before perception? Where is the model? What is the model?

    Sorry. I am as intellectually gifted as I am ignorant – truly a man of contradictions and inconsistencies.

  192. @dan #207

    Gifted at asking weird questions, I’ll grant that. I shall assume they’re all rhetorical.

    But may I draw your attention back to my question at the end of #202, regarding “thing-in-itself”. That one was not rhetorical, if you’d be so kind.

  193. “You’ve oft mentioned the “thing-in-itself”. This I take it would be the signs with shapes of English or Chinese writing, but both devoid of meaning, the thing being the same thing no matter the background of any observer. Does this seem right to you?”

    I hate to say no, but no. The thing-in-itself is not what is meaningless; it is what cannot be perceived.That doesn’t mean that you can’t conceive of those shapes as a thing-in-itself. That would be your own use of the term. But it is not mine, and not Kant’s, not Schopenhauer’s. The thing-in-itself is neither the subject nor the object; it is the true kernel of the phenomenal world, yet not in space or time. It is, moreover, not subject to the law of causality as we know it, as all changes of states of matter are in time and space, which presupposes a mind, a brain, thought, perception. It is not force, not energy, not matter, not mind. Yet it cannot be nothing. If it were nothing then the representation of perception, all of nature in fact, would be a representation of nothing, which cannot be the case. If nothing is represented then there would be no representation.

    “…though we cannot know these objects as things in themselves, we must yet be in a position at least to think them as things in themselves; otherwise we should be landed in the absurd conclusion that there can be appearance without anything that appears.” -Kant

    If you think this is a riddle without substance, than ask yourself how an object can be an object without a subject. And ask yourself how a subject can be a subject if there is no object: that which knows can never know itself. (And that is all we can know of the subject, the “I”; it is that which knows.)

    rhetorical.

    No, these questions (207) were not rhetorical; I am unacquainted with the theory of the mental model, and can form no conception of what that could possibly be. The word Model is not part of my philosophical vocabulary.

  194. Sorry Dan, you gone all mystical again.

    I’m much more comfortable in the scientific camp, your word games don’t do it for me. Subject, object, that’s grammar. Adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and all. Which maybe hard-wired in the brain or it may follow a set of rules that can be learned, check out Chomsky on this (though not all agree with him, do they Phil?)

    OK, I can now safely ditch thing-itself, it carries no information for me.

  195. No, it is not grammar, is not mysticism, and it is not a word game. Nor should you reject an important historical concept based on a mere post – even from me.

    The division into subject and object is not grammar; it is actual and real. Can you migrate into something outside of yourself such as another person’s body? Do you not have a sense of being in your own skin? Are you at one with the tree and the air and the sea and all the creatures of the world? That’s not mystical? Is there no division between your interior existence-life and the exterior world? When you reach out your hand or listen to something, are you not reaching into external space, and are you not listening to something that is not inside yourself?

    Is a stone not an object? Is it not you, or if you prefer, is there not someone or something, that sees the stone? Is that just grammar?

    I have no desire to check with Chomsky. I am interested only in his opinions about the US.

  196. OHool

    I think this wiki entry may help.

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

    My own view is that Kant, a very clever cosmologist, had glimpsed what Faraday did, that the world as presented (the phenomenal world) is the result of things (he can’t call them objects or processes because that is using phenomenal terminology and is presumptious) which will ever elude our direct experience.

    Faraday was the first to think that the external world is the result entirely of fields. He realised with magnetic repulsion that repulsion might be the basis of hardness, say, what stops objects sliding into one another. He never published the idea thinking it may be too outlandish.

    I think his philosophy of the noumen (the thing in itself, the elusive root of perceived objects and processes) and its perceptual manifestations in humans, the phenomena, when formed, cleverly anticipated the problems scientists would have in fully understanding what they are seeing. However, the philosophy it led to detached from this canny intuition and grew into a mistaken set of conclusions that falsely insulate the noumen from investigation. Kant had not the least idea of how we could develop phenomena-by-proxy using a combination of instruments and metaphor and maths. Modern scientists are all in a sense Kantians and know that phenomena are slippery subjective beasts. They don’t ever perceive (like seeing) this root of objects and processes, but they can come to master it by making mathematical models. They can use these and predict all the phenomena and phenomena by proxy and phenomena by arthropod that may arise in thus and so circumstance. They can capture a functioning likeness of the noumen.

    Kant’s canny insight is exactly the starting point of modern science.

  197. Hello, Phil,

    Thank you for your comments (212 and 213).

    How are you? I remember reading that question. You mean this one, I think.

    “How does the work of physicists fail by not accounting for Kant’s hypothesis about the nature of reality and perception?”

    The work of physicists? I chose not to answer it, as I had no answer; I haven’t studied the work of physicists. Any attempt to establish a first cause while at the same time disregarding Kant’s arguments concerning the nature of reality is not likely to bear fruit. Their work may also fail by regarding matter and energy as pure, as First Principles, as basically things-in-themselves, which I don’t think they are. This (possible) failure will bar the way for new ways of approaching the concept of the metaphysical. That concept should not frighten physicists off. Metaphysics might someday evolve and be absorbed by science under a different name. Who knows? —Prejudice gets science (and philosophy) nowhere.

    (Kant’s insight was not his alone; it was, like Freud’s unconscious, hinted at here and there throughout the history of ideas. But its history is besotted with errors and inconsistencies. Even his own presentation is flawed, as he failed to include causality as an attribute of the empirically real world only. There are other omissions. However, examples in support of an unknowable thing-in-itself are too numerous to include here.)

    I have never evaded your questions, so long as they appeared to warrant a reply, as the “Real Meaning” thread demonstrates. (I also appreciate your many concessions.) We discussed this issue at length there. I admitted at the end that my understanding had come to a standstill. But I still think that any abeyance of consciousness, whether it lasts for a millisecond or a millennium, would necessarily annihilate objective existence (as opposed to the noumenon). Objective has no meaning, no existence, and no essence that I can imagine, independently of The Subject, the knowing mind.

  198. “Kant had not the least idea of how we could develop phenomena-by-proxy using a combination of instruments and metaphor and maths.”

    Perhaps not. That sounds like a highly ambitious undertaking.

    “However, the philosophy it led to detached from this canny intuition and grew into a mistaken set of conclusions that falsely insulate the noumenon from investigation.”

    I don’t think that the philosophy it led to should be blamed on Kant. Moreover, there haven’t been many philosophers or professors of philosophy (that I have read or met) that have understood him. “See that chair? That’s a thing-in-itself.” That is what most of his detractors say.

    The noumenon should not be insulated. But it must also be acknowledged.

    I addressed your “last question” above (comment 214).

    (The Last Question is a great story by Asimov. You will love it. You too, OHooligan. Try to find it. There’s probably a pdf online.)

  199. @dan #215

    “Kant had not the least idea of how we could develop phenomena-by-proxy using a combination of instruments and metaphor and maths.”
    … That sounds like a highly ambitious undertaking.

    Yes it’s ambitious. It’s called Physics. And it’s already achieved a lot since Kant’s day.

  200. OHooligan, Phil,

    “However, the philosophy it led to detached from this canny intuition and grew into a mistaken set of conclusions that falsely insulate the noumen[on] from investigation. Kant had not the least idea of how we could develop phenomena-by-proxy using a combination of instruments and metaphor and maths. Modern scientists are all in a sense Kantians and know that phenomena are slippery subjective beasts. They don’t ever perceive (like seeing) this root of objects and processes, but they can come to master it by making mathematical models. They can use these and predict all the phenomena and phenomena by proxy and phenomena by arthropod that may arise in thus and so circumstance. They can capture a functioning likeness of the noumen.[sic]”

    Phil was talking about learning something about the thing-in-itself (Noumenon) – Right, Phil? – which you regard as mystical and irrelevant, and have never accepted, so what are you saying? Not trying one-up you; I try to bring out the best in people whose intelligence I respect; so I called you on that.

  201. @dan #217

    … the thing-in-itself (Noumenon) – which you regard as mystical and irrelevant, and have never accepted

    Correct. I couldn’t have put it better myself. Before engaging in these conversations, it was a topic of little interest to me, but you, Dan, seemed to be suggesting there was something important about it, so I tried to follow, read, find out. I have reached the above conclusion, not from ignorance or indifference, but from paying close attention to what I’ve read. Like a red-green colour blind person, I can’t tell the difference between the “philosophical” writings, your explanations included (green), and made-up deepity woo, aka BS (red). Lord knows I’ve tried.

    Now, if it’s old fashioned talk for the odd and baffling discoveries of modern physics, that’s another matter, it’s merely an outdated terminology that hasn’t kept pace with the field. New discoveries and theories require new terminology, I work in a world of terminology that didn’t exist circa 1940, and didn’t get out into the general population til circa 1980 with the advent of the personal computer. Try explaining how to safeguard yourself from identity theft (for example), using only (say) Shakespearean language and concepts. I don’t mean you couldn’t, but it would be entertaining at least if you were to try.

  202. OHool

    it’s merely an outdated terminology that hasn’t kept pace with the field.

    Yep. It boggles the mind that knowing from science that Quarks have no dimension (no extension) that reality is non-local, that true randomness is a thing because there can be no local hidden variables from confirmed Bell’s theorem, that quantum scale processes are better understood as time reversible, you may still think that the world is weirder again than this.

    I don’t know if Dan accepts the above as what Kant effectively anticipated or not. But we were teased down this road with a promise of great cognitive upset and aesthetic up-ending. And I don’t see this. I don’t see either that constructing the merely semantic argument that objective reality must snuff out when subjective reality does. This is a contentless observation. Stuff…simply…is. That is how subjective (and objective) reality came to be in the first place, any other claim is a specious set up for The Designer, I suspect the secret ambition of all Philosophers of the age, however seemingly agnostic.

    Dan

    Their work may also fail by regarding matter and energy as pure, as First Principles, as basically things-in-themselves, which I don’t think they are.

    This is very nineteenth century. No scientist assumes they are, though they are the everyday starting place for physicist technologists like me. But subatomic physicists and cosmologists are very open minded about what energy and matter might be…after all they are the same thing ….so how can that be? We have anti-matter so can we have anti-energy. E=MC^2 says yes. Absolute zero says no and yet and yet it could solve a lot of problems.

  203. Dan

    The Last Question is a great story by Asimov.

    I remember it. The ultimate (though first?) shaggy god story.

    Did you ever read Voyage to Arcturus? David Lindsay. 1920. The problem of evil? Religion rendered as science fiction makes it much more tractable….

  204. Phil (#219), OHooligan

    Perhaps I really am behind the times; we can know what cannot be perceived, can know what cannot occupy space, or more precisely, how it occupies space, can know how it moves through space independently of any point of reference or perception, can attribute other qualities to it as well, I presume.

    By the way, one author, whose name I don’t know, said that pure energy is more than a fiction, but not much more.

    Here is someone more well known:

    “(…) It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge of what energy ‘is’. We do not have a picture that energy comes in little blobs of a definite amount. It is not that way. It is an abstract thing in that it does not tell us the mechanism or the reason for the various formulas.” -Dick Feynman

    Let’s stay with her twin Matter: what can we say about unobserved, shapeless, formless matter – or does shape and form exist independently of the mind as well?

    All that has been proved is, presumably, projections, models, theories, surmises (which I do not wish to denigrate), as opposed to something actual and real, that is, directly observable (by whatever means). Didn’t you just concede, in recent posts, that there is at the very least a difference between noumenal and phenomenal existence? Have you learned something new this past year?

    Here are your own words about pure matter/energy (as a thing-in-itself)!

    No scientist assumes they are [pure], though they are the everyday starting place for physicist technologists like me.

    Exactly! They are “the empirical starting place.” That is very apt. Now go a step further and admit to us that in spite of all the advances that have been made, we cannot form any real idea of what the permanently abstract “universe” is or how it got here, and admit that, like the world, it is filled with material things which can mislead us with their seemingly infinite diversity and multiplicity, is filled with phenomena that one can study for a million years without growing weary and at the same time without ever understanding their inner nature.

    Or, explain the real nature of these things-in-themselves that must be identical to that which fills the universe. These are mind-independent (pure), shapeless, formless, timeless, non-extended existences, occupying, as it were, no space (external to us), and no time. (Time cannot exist without space, can it? Can there be change, succession, duration, without anything represented?) They remain non-empirical (pure), and therefore hidden, or at the very least, highly obscure; how can go from an “empirical starting point” and arrive at something beyond the empirically real? The very elements (energy, matter) of existence are already present or presupposed.

    (I am willing to acknowledge that the difference between pure and empirical is outdated. But I don’t see how it could be. It has to still have meaning.)

    You start with the empirical, you said. Have you (scientists) started there, and if so have you leapt conveniently or unwittingly beyond it? This is how the “work may fail”, to invoke your own last question once again.

    You mentioned quarks yet again, Phil, and you should. They are interesting from an epistemological point of view. There are forms of knowing. I acknowledge that. One can know what one doesn’t experience. But can you experience what cannot be known? And if that is the case, what can be known about that which cannot be experienced?

    Quarks have never been observed and are a form of matter and energy. But you just said that no scientist starts out with the idea that matter is a thing-in-itself; it is a starting point – which is exactly what Schopenhauer said in the 19th Century about the way science has always proceeded, perhaps must always, proceeds. It proceeds empirically.

    Are you willing to acknowledge that this problem (one that I never grow tired of) is in fact a problem, or are you back-peddling?

  205. Exactly! They are “the empirical starting place.”

    Only for humble me needing to get something made, not the Feynman’s the subatomists and cosmo-cunjurors.

    Not the least back pedaling. I don’t have to as you continue to join my narrative.

    I physicist technologist work only empirically. Theorists like subatomists and cosmo-cunjurors start often with might bes and finish (if they are lucky enough) with empiricism as the only sure way of establishing the veracity of a might be.

    Remember Popper? Pivotal to modern science.

  206. I remember the name Popper, know nothing about his work. I am a deeply prejudiced man in so far as I tend to steer clear of most 20th Century philosophers.
    Sub atomic particles, photons and electrons, do seem like something in-between the phenomenon and the noumenon, but how could they be?
    All of this hinges on what constitutes knowing and experience, as I said, and above all, what constitutes being.
    (So a quark is a thing-in-itself. If only Kant had known.)

  207. Phil,

    “I physicist technologist work only empirically. Theorists like subatomists and cosmo-cunjurors start often with might bes”

    This is in agreement with what I said, I think. All practical scientists work that way, start with what is real and present, don’t they? They are practical. They start with an empirical object and proceed to do whatever they do. They are not in the business of philosophy. They don’t, as a rule, sit around and discuss what this or that would be without mental perception, do they?

    And the theorists are dealing with theories that they attempt to prove by empirical means. So wasn’t I right to say what I attempted to say in this poorly constructed sentence? I shall put it more succinctly and in the form of a question:

    All that has been proved [regarding the noumenon] is, presumably, based on projections, models, theories, (which I do not wish to denigrate); how can the “veracity” of a theory concerning something that cannot be experienced through the senses be established “with empiricism”?

    Even Feynman said that pure energy is an abstraction. What do you think of that?

    (“Pure energy” sounds like something you would read about in a comic book: “Hey, get a load of that, Spider-Man: that’s one hundred percent pure energy, and it’s headed our way! Whoa! And I thought that that was just a theory! That don’t look like no theory to me! Let’s scram!”)

    (Sorry. Just having some fun.)

  208. When we say physicist we mean Pauli, Schroedinger, Einstein, Heisenberg, Planck, Bohr, Fermi, Dyson, Gell-Mann, Feynman, every last physicist in University hoping to be them, even me, once, and every one of them has not the least problem with the Feynman quote. That I, lesser mortal, cannot play at the coalface but must earn a crust with devices built from quantum understanding as if they are a black box that I don’t have to delve into, doesn’t mean that I can’t muse about these things and wish I could. It just means that my day job starts from a more prosaic position of assuming energy is a thing that behaves like thus and so.

    The jig is up, Dan. Physicists are Kantians in this regard. There is no crisis of potential error from not understanding the core idea. You are preaching to the converted and great teachers like Feynman are preaching to their students.

  209. Dan #223

    So a quark is a thing-in-itself.

    No. It started as a might-be and became (as of today) indispensable as a part in the model (the functioning likeness) of the noumen.

  210. Dan #223

    Sub atomic particles, photons and electrons, do seem like something in-between the phenomenon and the noumenon, but how could they be?

    They aren’t. I can fire these particles at you with enough energy in them that you could feel them even individually. I can’t do that with Quarks which may only be a way of understanding a whole slew of sub atomic processes.

    Popper…hated by W…doesn’t tickle your interest?

  211. Phil @ #227
    Dan will never understand physics, because physics is only REALLY described by mathematics and not the subjective useless medium of the English language! Lets start off with the basics with Dan (before hitting him with the complete standard model) and see if he gets off his woo-scooter for a bit. however which bit of maths do we start with?

  212. M27

    however which bit of maths do we start with?

    After some basic algebra, geometry and trigonometry, some applied maths to take in Newtons Laws of Motion, we could do simple differential calculus (rates of change) then tackle the jewel of all models in my opinion, so universal yet so simple you now have the tools to figure it out for yourself. The Simple Harmonic Oscillator, a weight on a spring say.

    This was the turning point of my understanding of physics and the utility of models. Dave Marlborough (hero teacher) came into the physics lab and said he’d forgotten his notes and got us to do all the work for deriving the equation for a weight bobbing on the end of a spring using our knowledge of calculus and Newton (and Hooke!). That we then had the basis for self sustaining oscillators like photons and mechanical energy transfer like phonons and could see the same thing at the heart of Schroedinger’s Wave Function (all in the fullness of time) makes it the must powerful, universal, elegant and accessible of all model making. The power of using physical equivalent models and their abstracted mathematical descriptive models, transforms the brains ability to wrangle near abstract entities and yet still quantify them.

  213. @228 I think to get a real feel for what physics is about you have to start with Newton/Galileo and work your way through the history to 1900.

    That gives you gravity, motion and Maxwell’s contributions.

    You can kind of get away with not knowing/understanding the equations because they describe phenomena everyone is used to.

    Plank and Einstein I think you need more maths and by the time you get to Heisenberg, Dirac and beyond its nearly all abstract maths.

    Smashing physics is a great book on the particle side and combines the history with real experiments and players culminating with the Higgs discovery, not much maths.

    The Black hole wars is good one by Susskind for the bigger stuff, gravity starting with Newton and Galileo right through to the 70s again not too much maths.

    For Dan to appreciate the maths involved “Mechanics The theoretical minimum” is good one and if he is feeling brave the “Quantum mechanics, the theoretical minimum.”

    I think the maths is harder in the first and concepts harder in the second.

    Calculus, algebra, probabilities, vectors and some set knowledge are needed for both books.

    If he gets through that lot he will realize to popular science books use simplest language when describing physics.

    You can read the EPR experiment without a huge amount of physics knowledge and get it, when you come to read the original paper you realise what it is physicists actually do for a living.

  214. Pin,

    Good choices. For me, I am less ambitious and would like Dan simply to become familiar and comfortable with the concept of models. He has found Feynman which is wonderful. I might suggest also then a few of his general lectures and even a few of the lectures from Volume 1 of the Feynman, Leighton, Sands 1963 collection.

    The three volumes of collected lectures are near sacred objects for me. I have them as PDFs but my hard copies from uni are blackened having survived two fires. I now get excited over the scent of charred paper and smoke.

  215. I suppose that Classical mechanics IS the best place to start. Dan likes philosophers so we could start with Cartesian co-ordinates (Descartes)….for lesson No 1?

  216. M27

    Achieving an understanding of the SHO is to understand the most productive simple model, there is and it fits you for later understanding of the QHO and the soluble (!), idealised Helium atom (Hookium) should you ever feel brave enough to practice how QM delivers real answers.

    Feynman said he couldn’t actually teach anyone physics but he could give them the impression that they understood it in some places. The key is not to dazzle but create a feeling of familiarity and approachability that allows you to eventually teach yourself.

    Truly mastering (!) the SHO is the real start of understanding physics, the model maker.

  217. Phil, M27, OHoo

    Unfortunately, Jimblake hasn’t been around lately, but he offered this remark:

    “So, rather than a linear causal chain of events, we would have a causal web of randomly connected events.”

    And this: “The idea of a linear causal chain for each of the trillions of events doesn’t make sense unless each chain is isolated from the others. But everything is in the same mixing bowl, so to speak. Anything that is happening can potentially affect everything else that is happening.”

    I am fine with causal web, but he may be, in fact is, confused about the word linear. I do speak of a chain of causality, but that does not mean that it is straight line, figuratively or otherwise, upon which everything follows one upon another. The word causal is the key point, and that means that what appears to be random and chaotic or even self-willed, is still subject to the law of causality: no acts can proceed absolutely and quite originally from themselves without being brought about necessarily by antecedent conditions, and thus without being determined by anything.” Proceed from is the key point, or one of them.

    Phil, I am trying to broaden my understanding of physics and have gotten nowhere yet; but I take it that the old rule: matter cannot be created or destroyed is still in vogue these days? That would be an example of a non-empirical a priori judgment based on a philosophical premise, and a correct one; to wit: we can no sooner imagine a world without matter as we can a time before time; both are dependent upon the mind and vice-versa….

    Descartes. What about him? He was a giant. I will tell you why he is essential, and it has nothing to do with what his many detractors have said. This is what I have taken from Descartes:

    What Descartes demonstrates is that activity of some kind is taking place inside our head. In his case, he is doubting. The doubt as to his own existence is activity, conscious activity. So he concludes that if there is activity in the form of doubt, then there is existence. Thought is, and that which is must be. (Parmenides) And that thought is primarily and originally internal, is self-conscious thought. There is no way to know that other, external things, have thought (which is). This is a logical fact, and an unalterable limitation of the human mind. (Perhaps not absolutely unalterable. Telepathy might arise in the distant future as a result of evolution. Who knows. But right now we are limited in this regard.) If you follow Descartes you will see that you can never gain awareness of existence of external things directly—only indirectly. The I as thought has to come first. Therefore, the I is that which is and can never be IT.

    (The “I’ is not an essence, as so many people have imagined; it is a knowing “I.” The object is not an essence; it is that which appears.)

    You can argue that the quark can have meaning and existence without thought existing beforehand, that the quark IS the thought, that there needn’t be any thought accompanying it in some way. But that is tantamount to saying that the chair in front of you can exist for an invertebrate, or better, yet, a piece of wood. That is a biological impossibility. Moreover, the external object cannot create thought and its corollary existence out of nothing. Thought, the Cartesian thought-existence, which is subjective, original and empirical, establishes the mediated nature of all that is conceived and comprehended. No thought, no meaning. Only thinking beings (existing things with brains) can give meaning to things. If you think otherwise than you are thinking about an imaginative, speculative realm as opposed to the real world which you, Phil, and OHooligan, keep wanting to get back to. I say: no thought, no existence. You probably would say: no existence, no thought.

    Perhaps we can both say: no matter, no existence, and no existence, no matter.—And no matter or existence, no knowing I, no knowing I, no matter or existence.

    Can this have something to do with this: “Matter cannot be created or destroyed”?

  218. Dan #234

    I take it that the old rule: matter cannot be created or destroyed is still in vogue these days?

    No.

    Matter not only transmutes to and from energy but also seems to spontaneously appear for a brief while in the vacuum. It produces matter and anti matter in equal measure and if in some stupendous spontaneous event this were to happen and somehow some small fraction of the matter were separated from the antimatter for instance by the energy release of the great bulk recombining of most of it, then we might for at least a brief few hundreds of billions of years “see”matter as created seemingly from nothing, well the vacuum.

  219. Dan #234

    I think linear is not a clear term except in the simple minded sense of being non branching (as opposed to the quite other meaning of being non-linear). We all understand that a single action often leads to branched consequences looking forwards. And we should also realise that a consequence has (as we travel back in time) a branching of causes (A & B together cause consequence C and A & B have their own causes.) Chaotic still means deterministic just bloody hard to figure out and branching in to a consequence and branching out again clearly adds to the problem of computability (being deterministic), but this isn’t the essence of chaotic behaviour. In the other sense of linear (the mathematical sense) this system is still linear. A unit of change at the input of a cross-coupled system will pass its effects forward and a proportionate response will emerge albeit attenuated or mixed with other response to other inputs in a relatively seemly fashion. But true chaos (still deterministic) emerges when a consequence itself causally changes the attributes of the process which caused it in the first place, for instance increasing its likelihood. This is positive feedback and it can happen in long or short causal chains, can create suddenly huge effects from subsequent inputs, which may in turn send causal ripples through the system of such magnitude that even other positive feedback loops are triggered. Systems where there is this non-linear response of an output of a system from an input to it (due to positive feedback) exist everywhere. The weather is the classic example. It is not so much the branching in and out of the causal paths but the non-linearity of positive feedbacks that create chaos and makes computability super difficult. It takes only the smallest bits of genuinely uncomputable randomness at an input to “infect” the whole system with a strong component of real randomness.

    Oops…must cook…

  220. @phil and M27 at ALL costs Dan should be kept AWAY from anything to do with Descartes!
    Philosophy is the problem here Dan is thinking before doing, he needs to do some doing.
    (Dan I know I am talking while you are in the room and I apologise for bring a little rude but bear with me.)
    Also at all costs do not read about the Copenhagen interpretation or Schrödinger’s cat either, this is exactly the sort of stuff that people get confused about with physics and physicists.
    Some sort of smoky club where they sit thinking about the universe
    An equivalent in biology would be thinking about which was more alive a bacterium or a virus.
    Before you know it you will find yourself talking about the hard question and you back into philosophy.
    @phil- yes Feynman lectures are something else and all on YT.
    I think Dan will take to it like a duck to water, out will go Dickens in will come Dirac, out of with Hobbes in comes Heisenberg put away the Wittgenstein and bring in the Einstein.
    Yes I googled a few philosophers for that, well that and the monty python philosophers song.

  221. Phil, M27Holts

    From comment # 234 “…that the quark IS the thought, that…”

    “That the quark IS the thought”? What does that mean? That phrase should have been omitted, I think.

    Quarks. “It started as a might-be and became (as of today) indispensable as a part in the model (the functioning likeness) of the noumen.”

    This is inadmissible, irresponsible, reckless and a touch pretentious. The noumenon is inviolable. It can’t possibly be matter. You seem to want it all: a knowable, material thing-in-itself. Viewing something that has never been observed and calling it real, viewing it as something that actually is, rather than something that appears, is a form of realism that I regard as questionable.

    Popper, hatted by W, does tickle my interest. I guess I’ll check him out.

    M27, check this out: Wittgenstein (“the foremost philosopher of the 20th Century”) said that if we had no word for the color “Red” we wouldn’t be able to see it. But Descartes was good. (Did you understand my remarks?) W was a mind destroyer. Don’t lump all philosophers or physicists together, M27. (I like your straight-shooting style. It’s refreshing. You’re not rude.)

    Matter can be destroyed? No it can’t. I am referring to Matter itself, in its totality. We cannot conceive of the non-existence of matter, so long as there is knowledge. As for matter being created from nothing, in a vacuum, you said “seemingly.” That is right: seemingly. No! Nothing can be created from nothing.

    You’re right, Phil. Not (yet) comfortable with models.

  222. Dan

    I too am stuck in the past. The Victorian age to be precise. My models are of simple Victorian engineering. Cogs turn. At first they are large cogs with simple enough movements to understand the basics. Joining this site has helped me choose smaller and smaller cogs that give the detail needed to go onto the next phase of my learning. I would love to be able to ditch the cogs and go onto building the models that Phil obviously has in his head but that would need me to ‘eat a whole bakery of bread more’ ( as the Turkish saying goes) before I can come anywhere near that.

  223. Dan

    a touch pretentious. The noumenon is inviolable.

    But it is virgo intacta. A child may make his models.

    That is right: seemingly. No! Nothing can be created from nothing.

    Did you read the small print?

    The universe is nothing. Net nothing.

    I think this is the best current response to your original question. You may wish to rephrase it now. And I won’t be so confident answering it.

    Is there still a deep mystery here? You bet. But there are five different approaches to it (origin) with something for everyone. Probably hundreds more variants.

  224. Olgun #239

    I would love to be able to ditch the cogs

    But quite a lot really does reduce to cogs. Biology at the deepest level is entirely about mechanical processes, locks and keys, Phonon powered knives on a spring vibrating as a simple harmonic oscillator and powered by the random vibrations of heat, to chop up large molecules into bits.

    Conceptually Feynman saw the behaviour of electrons in the precession of a spinning dinner plate to get to quantum electro dynamics.

    Feynman claimed that much of his thinking was of this simple sort. The models we make are often coggy because the maths is the same as cogs or mechanical systems (like weights on a spring).

  225. Dan #238

    [The noumenon] can’t possibly be matter. You seem to want it all: a knowable, material thing-in-itself. Viewing something that has never been observed and calling it real, viewing it as something that actually is, rather than something that appears, is a form of realism that I regard as questionable.

    What is it about “functioning likeness” that you don’t get?

    Here is the sort of functioning likeness (model) I mean.

    http://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/Images/ae329a.jpg

    But much much more complicated than this account of a single particle. We could write the wave function of the moon.

  226. “So, rather than a linear causal chain of events, we would have a causal web of randomly connected events.”

    Sorry Dan, but that is Post-Modernist horseshit that would definitely get you an A* in the humanities department!
    I mentioned Descartes, because he discovered Cartesian coordinates.
    His realization that the Origin (lets take the corner of a nearly square/rectangular room) can be used to define the position within that room of any given point. Thus, O(x,y,z) – this can then be proven by experiment!
    I think that Calculus was developed as a consequence!
    That’s where the simple language of maths – demystifies the fog of bullshit that is always used by the science(hating/envying) humanities wallies.

  227. @231 / @244 If, Phil is a non-smoker with reasonably sound electrics, he may (as Dan may hypothesize) be a fire-starting telekinetic alien from a small planet orbiting the star we have called Arcturus. However, it’s more than likely he has a candle fetish or something similar. (My wife is obsessed with Yankee-Candles, so I have first hand experience of candlephiles!).

  228. @ M27H. #243, Phil

    Hi, M27,

    What is “post modernist horse shit”? The quote above about the “linear web” was written by someone else, someone named Jimblake, not me. I made that clear (#234). What does “this” refer to? I was discussing causality and merely questioning the non-linear conception of causality. Be precise when you write to me, please. Don’t put up a quote by someone else, which I had up in quotes, and then make it seem like it was written by me.

    (I know nothing of Descartes’ coordinates, and have expressed no interest in them.)

    What are you ranting about?

    Phil, the universe is nothing? I don’t understand that. Sorry. You act as though I’ve studied all this in depth. Can’t you discriminate? (I am sure I could master any branch of science but I’ve never attempted it.)

  229. Olgun,

    Hi. I hope you are well.
    Am I too understand that you would like, in your work, to transcend causality? Is that what Phil has done?
    The cogs are getting in the way. Interesting.
    Beware of flying to close to the sun, Icarus.

  230. Dan #246

    Analytical Geometry (Cartesian Geometry) is a huge contribution to knowledge. Descarte’s biggest contribution to mankind in my view is building the basis for this, essential for the budding scientist. This is what I intended third on my list for you, because its a way of visualising what maths is doing, a perceptual model of an abstract mathematical model.

    Net Nothing. Detail Dan. You always skip the important bits for some reason…

  231. Dan

    The cogs work really well for me. That is until you insist I leave a space in between two of them and tell me the model still works. The leap of faith between the two is not possible. Cause and effect yes but not as simple as you want to make it out to be so it can be dismissed just as simply. The reason I wanted to ditch the cogs was because I want to understand what I think I understand better. Phil has convinced me that may not be the case though I still would like to see a more modern equivalent with more bells and whistles.

  232. Phil,

    Descartes’ greatest contribution in my view, although I haven’t read his work(s) on mathematics, was his Cogito, ergo sum.

    His much maligned and under-appreciated Cogito was a point of departure: the antithesis between the real and the ideal was now a bona fide problem; a thesis (real) and antithesis (ideal) was now established. Descartes established that self-consciousness is immediately given (although his famous “I” which has caused so much confusion is not the absolute subject; it is a knowing subject!), and that knowledge of objects (“therefore, it is”) is mediately given. This is his great contribution to epistemology (and he wasn’t a neuroscientist either). Neuroscientist still talk about the mind-body problem, still take descartes to task. They haven’t read S! There is no mind-body problem! But none of them understand this. (I hate it when people refer to the mind-body problem.)

    You have a list for me? I must have missed that. Thank you. Where is it? I will read Descartes’ work on geometry. I promise. What is the name of his principle work on this subject? I won’t read secondary sources until I have read Descartes himself.

    As for the universe being nothing, I said that it was a permanent abstraction, filled with concrete things. An abstraction is not nothing. What do you mean by nothing? (My conception of the universe may be lacking in depth and sophistication. But isn’t it true that we can’t actually perceive a universe anymore than we can perceive space devoid of extended objects which fill it? But… space, unlike the universe, is not nothing; it is a pure intuition; it is externality itself. Let us not forget that.)

    Can you please tell me what M27Holts is talking about here? “Sorry Dan, but that is Post-Modernist horseshit that would definitely get you an A* in the humanities department!” (From # 243) He doesn’t indicate what “that” is, unless it is his highlighted quote which I didn’t write!

    (Btw, my ex-brother-in-law left his telescope with my sister. It looks like a top-notch, quality telescope. I’d ship it to you if you were in need of one, and if I had your mailing address.)

  233. Hi Dan

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

    Embodied and situated cognition has left the mind body problem behind decades ago as far as all worthwhile thinkers are concerned . No modern philosopher to my knowledge has this issue.

    Again the universe is currently not nothing. It is though net nothing.

    I don’t understand terms like pure intuition and externality itself. How is a pure intuition had? How does it develop? External to what…given situated cognition? I really don’t know how to get to grips with what you are attempting to describe. FWIW a world composed of information would need no extension, though the larger universe it sits in may do so.

    By nothing I mean truly nothing, not even the vacuum, and certainly not the properties of spacetime.

    (Incidentally, I remind you that babies are indeed born with no detectable sense of externality as you claim. The latest lab tests show very young babies live in a world of information and do not respond as parents think for many weeks. There is no innate sense, nor would we expect there to be of externality if mirror neurons govern early behaviours to facilitate bonding and safe behaviours in a brain that is premature and still has 18 months of growing still to do.)

    The list was just up the way when we were being silly about how we would bring you up to speed on science.

    Dunno quite what M27 intended, best ask him.

    Truly kind about the telescope. I have a nice one already my ex-wife bought me. Sadly in London I cannot use it at all. Its a street-light-lit sky up there. Maybe a niece or nephew? Thanks for the generous thought. Telescopes should be in the hands of poets. One made a profound impression on Coleridge.

  234. This is why I steer clear of 20th Century philosophers. Perhaps it isn’t a prejudice. It’s an instinctive aversion. I have a keen sense of… smell.

    Therein, Husserl in 1931 refers to “Transcendental Subjectivity” being “a new field of experience” opened as a result of practicing phenomenological reduction, and giving rise to an a priori science not empirically based but somewhat similar to mathematics. By such practice the individual becomes the “transcendental Ego”, although Husserl acknowledges the problem of solipsism. Later he emphasizes “the necessary stressing of the difference between transcendental and psychological subjectivity, the repeated declaration that transcendental phenomenology is not in any sense psychology… ” but rather (in contrast to naturalistic psychology) by the phenomenological reduction “the life of the soul is made intelligible in its most intimate and originally intuitional essence” and whereby “objects of the most varied grades right up to the level of the objective world are there for the Ego… .” —Stanford Encyclopedia

  235. I have been waiting for a moment of recognition when I finally understand this ‘priori’ knowledge you keep coming back to Dan but find I am getting more and more confused. Is it to do with things like, a new born ‘knowing’ how to suck on a nipple? Is it that a new born knows only how to see energy until it learns to see the universe as adults do? I really can’t make it out.

    I know I have joked about a bit but that is all it is. I may not be very good at it so apologies if I have offended. Not an excuse for my failings but you give it a bit of a go in some of your posts also!

  236. Dan

    This is why I steer clear of 20th Century philosophers. Perhaps it isn’t a prejudice. It’s an instinctive aversion. I have a keen sense of… smell.

    So you miss out on the development of the mind-body problem into the “Hard Problem” of consciousness. Information and its handling will have a full account from a study of the whole body machine is strongly suspected but the quality of the experience remains unfathomable.

    How curious, you don’t want to come to the edge?

  237. Dan,
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism

    basically when you quote something like this….
    “The basis of what preemptive actions are in reality, is that they, are set against the solidity of profound changes in material meta-changes of the underlying zeitgeist.”

    You see I just made that up – but humanities wallies would be reading all kinds of pseudo philosophical meanings into what basically is a list of impressive sounding words.

    Most of your post’s seem to me to be that of another user, taking on another persona for having a laugh.
    or maybe you just like quoting loads of obscure philosophical claptrap in the hope that your physics envy may be quenched. However, in terms of your post’s, the emperor is most certainly naked!

  238. and beside’s which – your humanities credentials are exemplary – you like Tess of the d’Urbervilles – that monstrous secondary school implement of schoolboy torture!!!

  239. M27Holts, Phil, Olgun,

    M27Holts! Dude! I try to write clearly, am not into jargon, and have never written anything like this here (below). I don’t deserve to be ridiculed and I feel a bit insulted that you’d use this as an example of my writing style. But that is okay. I’ll survive, and I wish you well.

    “The basis of what preemptive actions are in reality, is that they, are set against the solidity of profound changes in material meta-changes of the underlying zeitgeist.” (This is complete gobbledygook. Thanks a lot.)

    I have never written anything like that. And my posts are sincere, are from me. I take this site seriously and I am a serious and conscientious man. (I do employ humor here and there and I assume that most readers are intelligent enough know when I am joking and when I am not). I actually despise the kind of meaningless verbiage that you accuse me of employing (and I am a college drop-out). See my comment 252.

    I enjoyed Tess and have greatly enjoyed all the other novels by Thomas Hardy (a beautiful, sensitive, great artist), except The Woodlanders. Forgive me for that. I would like to read more science. I have some books by Hawking that I plan to start reading soon, and I guess I’ll take a look at Descartes’ Algebra.

    Phil, if I have to explain or define externality, I fear we will get nowhere. From comment 211:

    The division into subject and object is not grammar; it is actual and real. Can you migrate into something outside of yourself such as another person’s body? Do you not have a sense of being in your own skin? Are you at one with the tree and the air and the sea and all the creatures of the world? Is there no division between your interior existence-life and the exterior world? When you reach out your hand or listen to something, are you not reaching into external space, and are you not listening to something that is not inside yourself?

    Is a stone not an object? Is it not you, or if you prefer, is there not someone or something, that sees the stone?

    Olgun, a priori knowledge, is a condition of experience; however, it is not derived from experience, but is innate. It is not abstract knowledge; it is a perception, or what has been called a pure intuition. In my opinion, space, external space, is an example of a priori knowledge.

  240. Olgun,

    A priori knowledge (of space) is a product of evolution. It requires a brain, and is a function of the brain. The awareness of Space is a function of the brain. The intellect (brain) divides the world of actual being into subject and object (objects extended in space). No space, no extension or object-recognition. Space is the pre-condition of all experience, and is, in my view, an innate perception (a priori).

    This is what I think.

  241. Dan

    Is there no division between your interior existence-life and the exterior world?

    Not so much when Thomas Hardy’s very own voice is in my head doing my thinking. Not so much when the accumulated wisdom of a species (or some fragment thereof) gifts me yet another insight into my experience. My situated cognition isn’t so imprisoning. I feel part of a bigger process. I have always argued that culture is in some sense a super cortex, a rind under which we may mutually shelter and shed a little that debilitating carapace of our own skin. So not so much when we feel another man’s toothache. Not so much when I type these words to you and smile at your kind gesture of the telescope.. Not so much as I finish watching Mr Turner for the second time and muse on the open handed magic effected by light.

    Besides phenomena and where they happen is the definition of “inside me”, yet for each phenomenon they are different parts often outside of each other. A boundary layer of the skin seems utterly fatuous.

    And much more shockingly I am of the noumenon.

  242. Phil,

    I appreciate your perspective. Thanks for the interesting post.

    I am of the noumenon.

    No argument from me on that one.

    Have a good week-end.

  243. Dan 260

    Have no problem with that so far. Without the universe and space we would not and could not exist. I can’t see why it took so long. Without foundations a house can’t be built, so to speak but is there more? Seems to be stating the obvious.

  244. Olgun, 263, others

    Yes, that is not quite it. It is not about the precondition for existence or survival; it is about (what I consider to be) the precondition of mental experience. And when I refer to space, I am not referring tho the universe, but to what is in front of us, the space in front of us. This is always present; therefore, it is hard to think about perceptual space in the abstract. But beings without understanding, such as cells, have no awareness of space. It does not exist for cells. It exists for all organisms with understanding.
    Space is the precondition of knowledge of all the objects which fill it, and, in my opinion, is learned from the inside out. Space is in us – although empirically we are in space. Space, in this sense, is a form of a priori knowledge.
    This theorem is not easily grasped.
    I refer you to Kant’s immortal Transcendental Aesthetic, the foundation-stone of his flawed masterpiece Critique of Pure Reason. You do not have to agree with his conclusions, but you will find his presentation of the theorem of the ideality of space (and of time) there. Read the entire thing and you will understand what is meant by a priori knowledge.
    It wouldn’t hurt to read his famous Introduction either.
    The Aesthetic produced a fundamental change in my thinking.
    Easy to get a hold of, and not long. Very dense, however. Try getting a first edition.

  245. @dan (and phil)

    While looking for something else, I fell across this, and it somehow made me think of Dan:

    *The Theory of Everything is that which provides the precise Definition of Everything, which is necessary for us to know to advance our knowlege. The Definition of Everything is that it is in entirety and in spirit Indivisible. What this means is that Everything is that which is Divided by Not.

    That which is Divided by Not is Indivisible and it’s Definition in Mathematics is unDefined. However, it’s Definition in English is that it is that which is Indivisible, and Undivided. It is the Greatest Absolute Value, the Most Prime Number, and that which is the Opposite of Itself. It is the Reciprocal of Zero and the Definition of Everything.

    That which is Everything, Indivisibility, or the Definition that is Undefined, is also known as the Unified Field, or that which is Divided by Not. It is that which generates Consciousness in our Minds, charge within Electrons, and Illumination within Photons. It is based not on the completion of Science but on Consistent Contradiction.

    That which is Everything, the Unified Field, is the harmonious composition of Equal and Opposite Essences. This combination of Equal and Opposite Essences means that Everything contains itself, and is it’s own Opposite. The process that keeps maintaining Everything as the combination of Two Corollary Essences is known as Balanced Reciprocity. The Nature of Balanced Reciprocity is that it is Ironic.*

    source: http://peswiki.com/site:1-0:the-theory-of-everything

    I’ve no idea if any of this means anything, but I’m hoping Phil will come to the rescue and tell me this is some fringe lunatic wannabe-scientist. Or not. It might read better in the original Esperanto or whatever it was first written in, it certainly doesn’t Engrish very well.

  246. Reminded you of me? Thanks a lot, OHooligan! Ha-ha! It’s complete nonsense. Maybe a joke site like the postmodernism generator?

    Here’s something that I like. Compare the two:

    § 2. That which knows all things and is known by none is the subject. Thus it is the supporter of the world, that condition of all phenomena, of all objects, and it is always presupposed; for all that exists, exists only for the subject. Every one finds himself to be subject, yet only in so far as he knows, not in so far as he is an object of knowledge. But his body is object, and therefore from this point of view we call it idea. For the body is an object among objects, and is conditioned by the laws of objects, although it is an immediate object. Like all objects of perception, it lies within the universal forms of knowledge, time and space, which are the conditions of multiplicity. The subject, on the contrary, which is always the knower, never the known, does not come under these forms, but is presupposed by them; it has therefore neither multiplicity nor its opposite unity. We never know it, but it is precisely that which knows wherever there is knowledge.

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