Free Will: The Confusion with Determinism

#1
tSomething has occurred to me that I would like to share, that hopefully isn't quite along the lines of the typical endless free will type of thread.

What I do not understand is how there can be such confusion over what a deterministic universe entails. Perhaps the rift between the philosophical and neurological side and that of physics is part of this problem. It seems quite simple that if one supposes that the universe is deterministic, the best model we have for such a universe comes from Relativity Theory. This is an entirely deterministic universe, and the most important thing to consider here that should clarify a lot of confusion on what determinism entails is simply this: The Block Universe is a model of a Relativistic universe, and when one sees the universe as a deterministic Block Universe, it is incredibly clear that there is no way possible for someone to have done otherwise. It would be like saying the actors could have acted differently in a movie on DVD because it felt like if they had chosen otherwise then a different outcome could have occurred. Of course, this is impossible.

But it could be possible that one defines "free will" in the sense of political free will, where I am not coerced or forced to do against my will. One could do this, but based on data of how people actually view free will, and how the legal system also views free will, this is not what people really mean.

But if one maintains the view that free will is that one could have done otherwise, then incompatibilism is the only logical choice.

But, some may object to the premise of the deterministic universe. The universe is fundamentally quantum, but now we get into questions of interpreting QM again. The Many Worlds Interpretation and the Pilot Wave models are deterministic, but I don't see any good grounds for thinking these may be true. This is a different question, and to me, it is quite obvious that we do not live in a deterministic universe, so the premise of much of the free will question on supposing a deterministic universe is a waste of time anyway. A more interesting question is that of viewing the brain as mechanistic within an indeterministic universe.
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#2
Like you I think rather than worrying about free will - as that only clouds things prematurely IMO - it's better to ask what a deterministic or indeterministic universe entails.

To put it very succinctly, determinism leads to an endless regression of meta-laws & indeterminism leads to a universe where things happen for no reason at all.

There are other ways of understanding the universe, like those of Whitehead (see Weiss' The Long Trajectory) where this issue is resolved within the metaphysics using the Aristotelian understanding of causes.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#3
I should also note that even the notion of "natural law" suggests a kind of (substance?) dualism between matter and Platonic laws in some other realm.

I think if one looks at the links in the Limitations of Mechanism thread one can comfortably satisfy themselves that the deterministic/indeterministic universe is, at the least, a metaphysics that can be argued against if not one that's potentially incoherent.
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#4
Apologies, Neil, for spamming your thread but wanted to elaborate a bit for discussion purposes ->

One would lean toward indeterminism because of the empirical realities of quantum mechanics.

One would lean toward determinism because of the seemingly logical ground that whatever happens has to happen for a reason.

Until someone manages to find a definitive deterministic theory for QM (assuming such is possible) we can accept that it is indeterministic while allowing for the possibility that it isn't necessarily random (happening for no reason at all).

Yet if we look at determinism at some point - whether at the level of atoms, sub-atomic particles, quantum foam, etc - things have to happen just because or because of natural laws.

But natural laws are dualistic, and also just a stop gap. So the determinist, committed to the idea that things happen for a reason, ends up having to accept that at some level of reality some things happen one way rather than another for no reason at all. But that's indeterminism!
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#5
An important issue here is whether one thinks that random = not deterministic. If so, then there is simply no logical room for libertarian free will. If not, then I think the burden is on you to specify what could possibly be in nondeterminism that is not simply random.

~~ Paul
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#7
Is there good theory of causation? Last I heard there wasn't based on Tallis' The Strange Idea that Things Happen because They were Made to Happen:


(I think there's an essay for this presentation, will see if I can find & link or quote if it's in one of his published collections.)

Seems the skeptic Massimo agrees:

i) We still lack a good philosophical account (let alone a scientific theory, whatever that would look like) of causality itself [30]. That ought to make everyone in the free will debate at least a bit queasy. ii) Causality plays little or no explanatory role precisely where the determinist should expect it to be playing a major one: in fundamental physics. Again, someone should think carefully about this one. iii) Hard determinism is, let us not forget it, a philosophical (indeed, metaphysical!) position, not a scientific theory. It is often invoked as a corollary of the so-called principle of the causal completeness of physics [31]. But “causal completeness” simply means that the laws of physics (in general, not just the currently accepted set) exhaust our description of the universe. The notion is definitely not logically incompatible with different, not necessarily reductionist, ways of understanding said laws; nor does it rule out even instances of strong emergence [32] (i.e., the possibility that new laws come into being when certain conditions are attained, usually in terms of system complexity). I am not saying that determinism is false, or that strong emergence occurs. I am saying that the data from the sciences — at the moment, at least — strongly underdetermine these metaphysical possibilities, so that hard determinists should tread a little more lightly than they typically do.
Thus it seems odd to pin down the logical possibilities - one of which is that things can happen for no reason? - of causation to randomness & determinism. I'd also contend this dichotomy can't even be properly explained without the conclusion that the universe has some fundamental arbitrary aspects which undermine the logical ground determinism claims to stand on (see last post).

To me that suggests the attempt to describe reality via efficient causality alone is fundamentally flawed, and why I would recommend Weiss' Long Trajectory for those interested in how Aristotelian Four Causes (with some Whitehead & Sri Aurobindo) can be used to explain reality (including free will) better.

There are some stuff from Place of Consciousness in Nature by Gregg Rosenberg that also touches on the link between consciousness & causation, IIRC there's some elaboration on the net. Will try to find.
 
#8
Like you I think rather than worrying about free will - as that only clouds things prematurely IMO - it's better to ask what a deterministic or indeterministic universe entails.

To put it very succinctly, determinism leads to an endless regression of meta-laws & indeterminism leads to a universe where things happen for no reason at all.

There are other ways of understanding the universe, like those of Whitehead (see Weiss' The Long Trajectory) where this issue is resolved within the metaphysics using the Aristotelian understanding of causes.
I don't think I can agree with indeterminism meaning that things "happen for no reason at all." I'm not bothered by a lack of classical causality. In QM this does not exist, but it is not the case that things happen for no reason at all. After all, that is the point of the mathematical laws which model the interactions. But why a particular outcome occurs is not so clear.

I think this would be clarified by von Neumann's formalization with processes 1, 2, and 3. Process 2 is the Schrodinger equation, and is deterministic and describes that weak causation. Process 3, or the "selection on the part of nature" could be seen in a way to be selected for "no reason at all" in some sense, but I am still uncomfortable with this in the sense that it still follows statistical rules, so it can't be for no reason. I am also inclined to think there may be a reason of sorts, and Stapp says this as well, as he adheres to the principle of sufficient reason. With PK experiments, I do wonder what role consciousness does ultimately play in that "choice on the part of nature." Within my conception of the von Neumann interpretation, since consciousness is fundamental, it does make one wonder since all these relations and occurrences must exist "within" consciousness.

The von Neumann interpretation also supplies a way to describe something that isn't completely uncaused, yet is also not just indeterministic. This dichotomy in the free will debate is frustrating, because it's as if it is considered impossible for there to be any free will since it must be either determined or random. The VNI offers just the type of entity that could bridge this, where it is an emergent conscious agency that can affect the physical world.
 
#9
Apologies, Neil, for spamming your thread but wanted to elaborate a bit for discussion purposes ->

One would lean toward indeterminism because of the empirical realities of quantum mechanics.

One would lean toward determinism because of the seemingly logical ground that whatever happens has to happen for a reason.

Until someone manages to find a definitive deterministic theory for QM (assuming such is possible) we can accept that it is indeterministic while allowing for the possibility that it isn't necessarily random (happening for no reason at all).

Yet if we look at determinism at some point - whether at the level of atoms, sub-atomic particles, quantum foam, etc - things have to happen just because or because of natural laws.

But natural laws are dualistic, and also just a stop gap. So the determinist, committed to the idea that things happen for a reason, ends up having to accept that at some level of reality some things happen one way rather than another for no reason at all. But that's indeterminism!
Here's my take on some of this. I think the grasping for causal laws at the quantum level is just leftover prejudice from classical physics that still haunts us. Many seem to think we are just going to find causal laws that underlay quantum theory. I think this is silly. The reason I say this is that it can't be turtles all the way down.

What I mean is that things are going to get more and more abstract and less causal. That is something we have to deal with in our science. It will merge with the subjective. Eventually, you will come to a point that is completely acausal and completely abstract....some pure abstract existence. This transcends the need for physical causation, and breaks the otherwise required turtles all the way down explanations. I personally think that if we follow this, we will discover the old high level vedantic doctrine of no creation. The creation of the universe itself "never really happened" in any ontological sense, and the universe itself exists "within" a singularity of Brahman (which I think might actually be a better word than consciousness, IMO).
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#10
What I mean is that things are going to get more and more abstract and less causal.
I agree, though I don't know if things have been causal in the sense that a fundamental explanation of the "oomph", as Tallis calls it above, has ever been presented rather than simply assumed. We may be saying the same thing here, as QM has brought this existing issue back into the light.

Quoting Hume, who found the notion of causation under the modern conception to be nothing more than an observation of successive events rather than an actual force:

“In reality, there is no part of matter that does ever, by its sensible qualities, discover any power or energy, or give us ground to imagine, that it could produce any thing, or be followed by any other object, which we could denominate its effect… It appears, then, that this idea of a necessary connexion among events arises from a number of similar instances which occur of constant conjunction of these events… But there is nothing in the number of instances… except only, that after a repetition of similar instances, the mind is carried by habit, upon the appearance of one event, to expect its usual attendant… This connexion, therefore, which we feel in the mind, this customary transition of the imagination from one object to its usual attendant, is the sentiment or impression, from which we form the idea of power or necessary connexion.”


Dupre sees this lack of the "oomph" as the solution to the free will problem, as for him humans are concentrations of causality in an indeterministic world.

"Despite the untenability of the ideas just mentioned, my aim in this paper will be to show that the solution to the problem of the freedom of the will does lie, nevertheless, with the truth of indeterminism....And the real solution to the problem of freedom of the will, I shall argue, is to recognize that humans, far from being putative exceptions to an otherwise seamless web of causal connection, are in fact dense concentrations of causal power in a world where this is in short supply."

AFAICTell Gregg Rosenberg takes a similar stance to this, and what seems to be your own, in seeing the connection between consciousness and causality as intrinsic properties of the world (as opposed the extrinsic relations between things).

Or so I believe having only read certain summations of his book at present such as this one :) :

Rosenberg, Consciousness & Causality (Part 1)

It has been somewhat a revelation to me this year to realize the degree to which causality had still posed such a philosophical challenge. We are led to believe that the type of physical theories we have are also good objective causal explanations, but they are not. In showing how the challenges of understanding consciousness and causality are linked and making a proposal for a unified solution, Rosenberg’s book should make it extremely difficult for the reader to consider either topic in isolation from the other going forward.

Below I give a chapter by chapter summary derived from my notes on the book; please note that I can’t claim to be doing justice to the actual arguments here. I will follow this post up with another one containing some concluding thoughts and outstanding questions.
Rosenberg, Consciousness & Causality (Part 2)

Q&A with Gregg Rosenberg
 
#11
I agree, though I don't know if things have been causal in the sense that a fundamental explanation of the "oomph", as Tallis calls it above, has ever been presented rather than simply assumed. We may be saying the same thing here, as QM has brought this existing issue back into the light.

Quoting Hume, who found the notion of causation under the modern conception to be nothing more than an observation of successive events rather than an actual force:

“In reality, there is no part of matter that does ever, by its sensible qualities, discover any power or energy, or give us ground to imagine, that it could produce any thing, or be followed by any other object, which we could denominate its effect… It appears, then, that this idea of a necessary connexion among events arises from a number of similar instances which occur of constant conjunction of these events… But there is nothing in the number of instances… except only, that after a repetition of similar instances, the mind is carried by habit, upon the appearance of one event, to expect its usual attendant… This connexion, therefore, which we feel in the mind, this customary transition of the imagination from one object to its usual attendant, is the sentiment or impression, from which we form the idea of power or necessary connexion.”


Dupre sees this lack of the "oomph" as the solution to the free will problem, as for him humans are concentrations of causality in an indeterministic world.

"Despite the untenability of the ideas just mentioned, my aim in this paper will be to show that the solution to the problem of the freedom of the will does lie, nevertheless, with the truth of indeterminism....And the real solution to the problem of freedom of the will, I shall argue, is to recognize that humans, far from being putative exceptions to an otherwise seamless web of causal connection, are in fact dense concentrations of causal power in a world where this is in short supply."

AFAICTell Gregg Rosenberg takes a similar stance to this, and what seems to be your own, in seeing the connection between consciousness and causality as intrinsic properties of the world (as opposed the extrinsic relations between things).

Or so I believe having only read certain summations of his book at present such as this one :) :

Rosenberg, Consciousness & Causality (Part 1)



Rosenberg, Consciousness & Causality (Part 2)

Q&A with Gregg Rosenberg
I Can't argue this sort of philosophy very well, but...

It now seems somewhat clear (to me at least) that the external present is the summing of the external past to my space-time location (as I've mentioned elsewhere).

If - as I believe - time-like processing is perceived as space-like, and vice versa, space-like processing is perceived as time-like, then one can visualize matter (in space) as the past, summed right to the present.

If matter is our perception of time (the past summed to the present), then mass must also have something to do with it. The best way I have of understanding this is to think of the mass of matter as having something to do with the presence of past information.

One can see that the more mass that is present, the more the time-like vs space-like perceptions change resulting in relativistic changes to space-time... space and time deform. Indeed I do prefer the idea of gravity as geometric-like. These effects seem best understood by me as the result of processing. With large amounts of past information, resulting in the processor of that information, necessarily altering the space-like and time-like perception when calculating the result. These effects are clearly related to gravity, and thus also to acceleration.

What I struggled with for some time was the notion of acceleration (as opposed to just movement). Here on this planet, we are in effect under constant acceleration, but without movement, a very difficult idea to conceptualize for me.

Equally difficult for me was the reverse idea, that of movement without acceleration, no such thing happens here on this planet, as we're always under acceleration. (Think of a rocket in space which has turned off its engines).

However, what has become clear to me more recently, is that acceleration/gravity is related to degrees of freedom, without acceleration/gravity, degrees of freedom just disappear, one seems to be consigned to a single course, and all choice seems lost.

Therefore one might consider yourself, as matter (past information) and energy (the potential to accelerate), in the presence of the planet (huge quantity of past information), processing this vast quantity of information (gravity), and that this information gives one options. One therefore chooses what to learn, and what to connect to what. Gravity/Acceleration seems to give one options/choice.

Dunno if any of that makes sense to you... it's a huge amount of ideas to get your head around in one sitting... but I just thought it was important because of what you brought up... and because 'woman in a box' seemed to show to me that when Freda was unconscious, she was a bit like the rocket moving (but not accelerating) through space, and, that if she had sought more information about the unusual activities she was asked to perform, she might have been able to make choices that would have avoided any risk to her life.
 
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Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#13
What I mean is that things are going to get more and more abstract and less causal. That is something we have to deal with in our science. It will merge with the subjective. Eventually, you will come to a point that is completely acausal and completely abstract....some pure abstract existence. This transcends the need for physical causation, and breaks the otherwise required turtles all the way down explanations.
Once it's completely acausal, what can it be other than truly random?

~~ Paul
 
#14
But you need to explain how a conscious agent can make a decision using something more than determinism and true randomness. Pushing some sort of agency down into nondeterminism just postpones the problem.

~~ Paul
It isn't. The decision is determined by the conscious agent, but not by the physical history up to that point in spacetime.
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#16
It isn't. The decision is determined by the conscious agent, but not by the physical history up to that point in spacetime.
I don't know. Would you not like it if it were random?
It seems to me Rosenberg, following Whitehead, explains this. Same with Weiss, though in a different way.

For Rosenberg physics under explains causality which is where consciousness steps in. Rosenberg also links consciousness to time in what I believe follows Whitehead's understanding. I get into this below replying to Max.

For Weiss the under-explanation has to do with the fact that efficient causation under explains causality which is why you need final/formal/material causation - Final Causation being purpose/teleology.

Really once you have Aristotle's four causes & Whitehead I think it becomes clearer how something like free will or quantum "randomness" (an obvious under-explanation IMO) could arise.

It admittedly surprised me to realize how confused & lacking the determinist/random dichotomy was. :)

I Can't argue this sort of philosophy very well, but...
It now seems somewhat clear (to me at least) that the external present is the summing of the external past to my space-time location (as I've mentioned elsewhere).

If - as I believe - time-like processing is perceived as space-like, and vice versa, space-like processing is perceived as time-like, then one can visualize matter (in space) as the past, summed right to the present.

If matter is our perception of time (the past summed to the present), then mass must also have something to do with it. The best way I have of understanding this is to think of the mass of matter as having something to do with the presence of past information.

One can see that the more mass that is present, the more the time-like vs space-like perceptions change resulting in relativistic changes to space-time... space and time deform. Indeed I do prefer the idea of gravity as geometric-like. These effects seem best understood by me as the result of processing. With large amounts of past information, resulting in the processor of that information, necessarily altering the space-like and time-like perception when calculating the result. These effects are clearly related to gravity, and thus also to acceleration.


This reminds me very much of Whitehead. Quoting Sheldrake's explanation:

Perhaps the most astonishing and original feature of Whitehead's theory was his new perspective on the relationship between mind and body as a relationship in time. The usual way of conceiving this relationship is spatial: your mind is inside your body, while the physical world is outside. Your mind sees things from within; it has an inner life. Even from the materialist point of view, the mind is literally “inside”— inside the brain, insulated within the darkness of the skull. The rest of the body and the entire external world are “outside.”

By contrast, for Whitehead mind and matter are related as phases in a process. Time, not space, is the key to their relationship. Reality consists of moments in process, and one moment informs the next. The distinction between moments requires the experiencer to feel the difference between the moment of now and past or future moments. Every actuality is a moment of experience. As it expires and becomes a past moment, it is succeeded by a new moment of “now,” a new subject of experience. Meanwhile the moment that has just expired becomes a past object for the new subject—and an object for other subjects too. Whitehead summed this up in the phrase, “Now subject, then object.” 25 Experience is always “now,” and matter is always “ago.” The link from the past to the present is physical causality, as in ordinary physics, and from the present to the past is feeling, or, to use Whitehead's technical term, “prehension,” meaning, literally, seizing, or grasping.

According to Whitehead, every actual occasion is, therefore, both determined by physical causes from the past, and by the self-creative, self-renewing subject that both chooses its own past and chooses among its potential futures. Through its prehensions it selects what aspects of the past it brings into its own physical being in the present, and also chooses among the possibilities that determine its future. It is connected to its past by selective memories, and connected to its potential future through its choices. Even the smallest possible processes, like quantum events, are both physical and mental; they are oriented in time. The direction of physical causation is from the past to the present, but the direction of mental activity runs the other way, from the present into the past through prehensions, and from potential and futures into to the present. There is thus a time-polarity between the mental and physical poles of an event: physical causation from past to present, and mental causation from present to past.
I realize there are differences from your account but I hope there's some value in the quote....otherwise it means I've completely failed to comprehend your ideas. :)

Will reply to second section of your post in a bit, want to go back and read some of your earlier stuff I've bookmarked to improve the quality of my reply.
 
#17
It seems to me Rosenberg, following Whitehead, explains this. Same with Weiss, though in a different way.

For Rosenberg physics under explains causality which is where consciousness steps in. Rosenberg also links consciousness to time in what I believe follows Whitehead's understanding. I get into this below replying to Max.

For Weiss the under-explanation has to do with the fact that efficient causation under explains causality which is why you need final/formal/material causation - Final Causation being purpose/teleology.

Really once you have Aristotle's four causes & Whitehead I think it becomes clearer how something like free will or quantum "randomness" (an obvious under-explanation IMO) could arise.

It admittedly surprised me to realize how confused & lacking the determinist/random dichotomy was. :)
I am unfamiliar with Weiss and I will have to look him up. This seems an interesting area with a lot of potential for a gain in understanding. I am only somewhat familiar with Whitehead's ontology, and am most familiar through Stapp's work using Whitehead's ontology to describe how "bubbles of experience" can occur in the universe that is consistent with Relativity theory.

I find this very interesting because to me, Relativity seemed impossible to understand until I took this perspective of Relativity arising through the "actual occurrences" of conscious experience, and to me, it seems to make Relativity actually make sense. I get that a lot of analogies are used to help people comprehend it, but there always seemed to be violent conflict with saying there is an objective world "out there" yet Relativistic length contraction really occurs but it depends on a supposedly objective inertial frame of reference.

I will have to check out Rosenberg, too, since I have heard his name many times. Are there any books or scholarly articles from either Rosenberg and Weiss that you could recommend to get me started?
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#18
I am unfamiliar with Weiss and I will have to look him up. This seems an interesting area with a lot of potential for a gain in understanding. I am only somewhat familiar with Whitehead's ontology, and am most familiar through Stapp's work using Whitehead's ontology to describe how "bubbles of experience" can occur in the universe that is consistent with Relativity theory.

I find this very interesting because to me, Relativity seemed impossible to understand until I took this perspective of Relativity arising through the "actual occurrences" of conscious experience, and to me, it seems to make Relativity actually make sense. I get that a lot of analogies are used to help people comprehend it, but there always seemed to be violent conflict with saying there is an objective world "out there" yet Relativistic length contraction really occurs but it depends on a supposedly objective inertial frame of reference.

I will have to check out Rosenberg, too, since I have heard his name many times. Are there any books or scholarly articles from either Rosenberg and Weiss that you could recommend to get me started?
I've had similar issues with relativity and the insistence on a non-conscious external world. There's a chapter in Beyond Physicalism that seeks to link relativity with Liebniz's Monads but I can't make heads or tails of it to be quite honest. :)

Weiss' book (minus two chapters) is available for free, I made a thread here that offers the link + some supplemental materials. I think Weiss also helps show why irreducible/non-mechanistic aspects of life (subjectivity, memories) & then rational minds (rationality, grasp of Universals) would exist via a division between low, medium, and high occasions of experience.

The best summaries online of Gregg Rosenberg's book honestly are in those links I mentioned, repasting here for convenience:

Rosenberg, Consciousness & Causality (Part 1)

Rosenberg, Consciousness & Causality (Part 2)

Q&A with Gregg Rosenberg

There's a basic summary of his ideas from Marcus Arvan, author of Libertarian Compatibilism which I mentioned in the Info & Reality thread:

Marcus Arvan on why he abandoned materialism for a functional dualism

I know this is just a personal anecdote, but still, I think it is worth dwelling on for a moment. I started out my undergraduate career doing philosophy of mind at Tufts with Dan Dennett, one of the hardest-core physicalists out there. I was completely on board with him. Dualism had always seemed silly to me, and completely at odds with any scientifically respectable account of reality. And reading David Chalmers' book The Conscious Mind didn't sway me at all. The Zombie Argument -- the argument that Chalmers' entire book was based on -- immediately struck me then (just as it does now) as utterly question-begging. It seemed to me that will share Chalmers' intuition that zombies are conceivable, and so metaphysically possible, if one antecedently finds dualism attractive. Since I didn't find dualism attractive in the slightest, the Zombie Argument seemed silly to me.

Anyway, I more or less remained a physicalist...until I read Rosenberg's book.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#19
It isn't. The decision is determined by the conscious agent, but not by the physical history up to that point in spacetime.
Well, physical history must play some role or my decisions wouldn't have anything to do with the real world. But are you saying that my decisions are deterministic? How does that help the libertarian?

~~ Paul
 
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