Materialist (and Mostly Materialist) Arguments for Free Will [Resources]

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Sciborg_S_Patel

#1
How can I possibly be free? by philosopher-neuroscientist Raymond Tallis

...The key to this ownership lies in intentionality. This is not to be confused with intentions, the purposes of actions. “Intentionality” designates the way that we are conscious of something, and that the contents of our consciousness are thus about something. Intentionality, in its fully developed form, is unique to human beings, who alone are fully-fledged subjects explicitly related to objects. It is the seed of the self and of freedom. It is, as of now, entirely mysterious — which is not to say that it is supernatural or in principle beyond our understanding, but rather that it cannot be explained entirely in terms of the processes and laws that operate in the material world. Its relevance here is that it is the beginning of the process by which human beings transcend the material world, without losing contact with it. Human freedom begins with this about-ness of human consciousness.

That intentionality cannot be understood in terms of the laws of physics may seem a rather startling claim...
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The entirety of Time and Freewill by Henri Bergson

We necessarily express ourselves by means of words and we usually think in terms of space. That is to say, language requires us to establish between our ideas the same sharp and precise distinctions, the same discontinuity, as between material objects. This assimilation of thought to things is useful in practical life and necessary in most of the sciences. But it may be asked whether the insurmountable difficulties presented by certain philosophical problems do not arise from our placing side by side in space phenomena which do not occupy space, and whether, by merely getting rid of the clumsy symbols round which we are fighting, we might not bring the fight to an end. When an illegitimate translation of the unextended in to the extended, of quality in to quantity, has introduced contradiction into the very heart of, the question, contradiction must, of course, recur in the answer.

The problem which I have chosen is one which is common to metaphysics and psychology, the problem of free will. What I attempt to prove is that all discussion between the determinists and their opponents implies a previous confusion of duration with extensity, of succession with simultaneity, of quality with quantity: this confusion once dispelled, we may perhaps witness the disappearance of the objections raised against free will, of the definitions given of it, and, in a certain sense, of the problem of free will itself. To prove this is the object of the third part of the present volume : the first two chapters, which treat of the conceptions of intensity and duration, have been written as an introduction to the third.
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Eve Isham, Saving Free Will from Science:


Isham is a Post-Doc at UC Davis:

http://mindbrain.ucdavis.edu/people/eaisham
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#4
Information Philosopher - has a lot of stuff on the history of consciousness studies from philosophy and science. Pretty sure the model for consciousness the site ultimately supports is the aforementioned model made by Robert Doyle.

Quantum Mind - Surprisingly not New Agey, an exploration/examination of scientists, doctors, and psychologists who think that QM might have something to do with consciousness.

Neither site is spiritual, though both lean toward the "more than meat puppet" side.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#6
One and a half answers - Personhood

To a naïve eye the key point about people, the difference between people and mere objects, is that objects don't move by themselves. The movement of a football across the pitch is visibly no more than the result of the preceding kick: a kind of continuation of the kick, in fact. The swing of the player's leg, by contrast, seems to arise spontaneously out of a wish to score and plans for doing so. The voluntary action of a person seems to divert the natural flow of cause and effect.

This perception that willed action is somehow an exception to the normal run of causality underlies the moral concepts of freedom and responsibility. We act freely because our actions are somehow determined by our wishes, not purely by preceding events; equally, we are responsible for those actions because in some important sense, the explanatory buck stops with us, instead of being traceable back to ever-earlier causes. We are, or seem to be, the real origin of our own intended actions. If this naïve view is correct, it is agency, the ability to perform this trick of intentional action, which distinguishes us from mere objects, and makes a person a person.

There is certainly an air of mystery about this apparently unique human power of initiation; nevertheless, I think the 'naïve' view is basically correct.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#7
Awakening

Midway through the second course, he asked each of his guests a question: whether we believed in free will, and why. I said that I didn’t. I argued that if we are made of atoms based on physical laws, which form molecules ruled by chemical laws, which compose cells that abide by biological laws, how could there be free will? Tononi only smiled. If his theory of integration is correct, my logic is flawed, and free will can exist.

Tononi is to his neuroscientist peers as the 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant was to his empiricist counterpart David Hume. Like most modern neuroscientists, Hume saw only the “easy problem.” He proposed that consciousness was nothing more and nothing less than the bundling of various bits of experiential knowledge, or, as he called them, “perceptions.” Using this logic, my physiological argument against free will could stand.

Kant, however, believed that the mind is more than an accumulation of experiences of the physical world. Like Descartes 150 years earlier and David Chalmers 200 years later, Kant focused on the “hard problem,” making the logical argument that something beyond sensory inputs must account for the subjectivity of conscious experience—what Kant called “transcendental” consciousness. Tononi’s theory hinges on a similar conception of consciousness as something more than the sum of its experiential parts—leaving room, then, for the possibility of free will.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#8
Is Free Will an Illusion? : Previous neuroscience research has suggested yes, but a new study finds an unexpected window for it in the static of your brain.

Building off the landmark experiments of Benjamin Libet, researchers at the University of California-Davis measured the brain activity of a handful of undergraduates as each made choices to look left or right when prompted by images on a screen. A bunch of controls ensured the only thing directing their gaze was their own arbitrary choice.
The researchers wanted to determine if what they call “ongoing spontaneous variability” in neural signaling—basically, the brain’s background noise—influenced the students’ decisions. This excess signaling has been dismissed as inconsequential, but recently scientists have begun to speculate that it could actually be hugely important. “Neural noise is simply that the brain is always firing even in the absence of input or responses, and this random firing may even be the carrier upon which our consciousness rides, in the same way that radio-static is used to carry a radio station,” says Jesse Bengson, the study’s lead author, in an email.

The study’s result: Fluctuations in brain static actually predicted the direction in which students chose to look. This sounds just as fatalistic as thoughts existing before we think them, but really it’s just the opposite. These constant fluctuations exist apart from the normal causal chain of thoughts, so they seem to allow spontaneous bits to disrupt our otherwise-inevitable cognitive marches toward particular actions and open up other possibilities.
 
#9
Interesting article for sure, but I'm not sure that it solves the problem:

The study’s result: Fluctuations in brain static actually predicted the direction in which students chose to look. This sounds just as fatalistic as thoughts existing before we think them, but really it’s just the opposite. These constant fluctuations exist apart from the normal causal chain of thoughts, so they seem to allow spontaneous bits to disrupt our otherwise-inevitable cognitive marches toward particular actions and open up other possibilities.
It might not be fatallistic but is it what people consider free? I've often referred to the causative chain (or web) subject to randomness. Doesn't this seem to be suggesting exactly that? Is this perhaps providing the mechanism for randomness in the brain? And is it really random or does the static also follow a causative chain? Could it just be that the causative web is just really complex?
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#10
Interesting article for sure, but I'm not sure that it solves the problem:

It might not be fatallistic but is it what people consider free? I've often referred to the causative chain (or web) subject to randomness. Doesn't this seem to be suggesting exactly that? Is this perhaps providing the mechanism for randomness in the brain? And is it really random or does the static also follow a causative chain? Could it just be that the causative web is just really complex?
I think it'll be interesting if all our thoughts are heavily influenced by this random static, especially if this goes down to the quantum level, as I tend to flirt with a nontheistic version of Occasionalism.

Would we accept that all the perceived consistency in the history of human civilization is just a Boltzman Brain type anomaly?

Also consider Morhroff's Physics of Interactionism and Nbtruthman's post on the work of Penfield.
 
#12
I think libertarian free will can't exist. I think this because I think the concept is incoherent, so I'm quite suspicious of any argument that proves it exists. For me, it's like presenting an argument for the existence of square circles. Something fishy must be involved, IMHO.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#13
I think the issue is when people claim actions must be random or predetermined they are taking on two assumptions - that anyone can explain what it means for an event to be "random" within the scope of mechanistic closure, and that anyone can explain what ensures the consistency in causal chains. The assumption of randomness at the QM level assumes something miraculously "just happens", while determinism requires something to hold consistency in the causal chain so that A -> B always happens. As Tallis notes, there's no good explanation forthcoming from science or philosophy.

Since the laws of physics don't make things happen, the very concept of causality remains unexplained...why I prefer Matthews' holistic panpsychism to materialism. Graeber also chooses panpsychism, noting that the indeterminism at the QM level is better explained by mental causation that acausal miracles, and thus there is a Freedom inherent in nature. In this I believe he's following Whitehead who, as an accomplished mathematician and philosopher agreed with Henri Bergson that the denial of free will came from a misrepresentation of time that's infected all scientific thought.

eta: quoting Tallis article, which I think is valuable since he's an accomplished neuroscientist and philosopher:

We can see now that there are two cracks in the prison of “is” and the materialist deterministic window on the world, and they both arise out of intentionality: one appropriates one’s own body as “myself,” and surrounding objects as “my world.” These appropriations are both connected with the awakening of “am,” and, consequent upon this, the opening up of the Space of Possibility. The natural world does not deal in either am or, being deterministic, in possibility.

And here is where we shall find the seed of our freedom. This is only a seed. The Existential Intuition unfolds into a self, addressed to its world. Most importantly, however, this world, and the transcendence that comes from intentionality, are massively expanded through experience shared with others as a Space of Possibility, as the theater of a life that is led rather than merely organically experienced.

As we fully develop our understanding of intentionality, we can see its consequences for the emergence of freedom. Intentionality that is implicit in creatures that merely sense becomes explicit in man, the creature that perceives.And it is made yet more explicit through the multitude of sign systems that fill our waking consciousness — most importantly in language but also present in artifacts, tools, rituals, and all the higher systems of culture that weave together the boundless human world — a “semiosphere” that supplements the biosphere. The transcendence that begins with the intentionality of sense experience grows into something that is only indirectly related to the body. The invisible and often intangible world into which my language points lies even further beyond immediate sensation. In this space is to be found knowledge that is not — as positivist thinkers and, more generally, materialists would claim — merely piled up or compressed sense experience.
Recalls Nagel on the mystery of Reason and other philosophical arguments for immaterialist minds.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#14
Neuroscience and Free Will Are Rethinking Their Divorce

Based on this result from 2012 and a similar finding in a study with rats published in 2014, the lead researcher of the 2012 study, Aaron Schurger at INSERM in Paris, and two colleagues have written in their field’s prestige journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences that it’s time for a new perspective on Libet’s results — they say that their results call “for a reevaluation and reinterpretation of a large body of work” and that for 50 years their field may have been “measuring, mapping and analyzing what may turn out to be a reliable accident: the cortical readiness potential.”

And like their counterparts in Germany, these neuroscientists say the new picture is much more in keeping with our intuitive sense of our free will. When we form a vague intention to move, they explain, this mind-set feeds into the background ebb and flow of neural activity, but the specific decision to act only occurs when the neural activity passes a key threshold — and our all-important subjective feeling of deciding happens at this point or a brief instant afterward. “All this leaves our common sense picture largely intact,” they write.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#15
Relevant studies:

The point of no return in vetoing self-initiated movements

Many studies have shown that movements are preceded by early brain signals. There has been a debate as to whether subjects can still cancel a movement after onset of these early signals. We tested whether subjects can win a “duel” against a brain–computer interface designed to predict their movements in real time from observations of their EEG activity. Our findings suggest that subjects can exert a “veto” even after onset of this preparatory process. However, the veto has to occur before a point of no return is reached after which participants cannot avoid moving.
I'd be curious if the point of no return is different for meditators, Psi possessing individuals, and so on.

Neural antecedents of self-initiated actions in secondary motor cortex

The neural origins of spontaneous or self-initiated actions are not well understood and their interpretation is controversial. To address these issues, we used a task in which rats decide when to abort waiting for a delayed tone. We recorded neurons in the secondary motor cortex (M2) and interpreted our findings in light of an integration-to-bound decision model. A first population of M2 neurons ramped to a constant threshold at rates proportional to waiting time, strongly resembling integrator output. A second population, which we propose provide input to the integrator, fired in sequences and showed trial-to-trial rate fluctuations correlated with waiting times. An integration model fit to these data also quantitatively predicted the observed inter-neuronal correlations. Together, these results reinforce the generality of the integration-to-bound model of decision-making. These models identify the initial intention to act as the moment of threshold crossing while explaining how antecedent subthreshold neural activity can influence an action without implying a decision.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#16
Why there are no good arguments for determinism

This paper considers the empirical evidence that we currently have for various kinds of determinism that might be relevant to the thesis that human beings possess libertarian free will. Libertarianism requires a very strong version of indeterminism, so it can be refuted not just by universal determinism, but by some much weaker theses as well. However, it is argued that at present, we have no good reason to believe even these weak deterministic views and, hence, no good reason-at least from this quarter-to doubt that we are libertarian free. In particular, the paper responds to various arguments for neural and psychological determinism, arguments based on the work of people like Honderich, Tegmark, Libet, Velmans, Wegner, and Festinger.
p.s. Note this paper was published before the discovery of quantum vibrations in the human brain's microtubules.

The recent discovery of warm-temperature quantum vibrations in microtubules inside brain neurons by the research group led by Anirban Bandyopadhyay, PhD, at the National Institute of Material Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan (and now at MIT), corroborates the pair’s theory and suggests that EEG rhythms also derive from deeper level microtubule vibrations.

In addition, work from the laboratory of Roderick G. Eckenhoff, MD, at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that anesthesia, which selectively erases consciousness while sparing non-conscious brain activities, acts via microtubules in brain neurons.

“The origin of consciousness reflects our place in the universe, the nature of our existence. Did consciousness evolve from complex computations among brain neurons, as most scientists assert? Or has consciousness, in some sense, been here all along, as spiritual approaches maintain?” ask Hameroff and Penrose in the current review.
 
#17
against Libet
The German neuroscientists took a different approach from past work, using a form of brain-computer integration to see whether participants could cancel a movement after the onset of the nonconscious preparatory brain activity identified by Libet. If they could, it would be a sign that humans can consciously intervene and “veto” processes that neuroscience has previously considered automatic and beyond willfulcontrol. [\quote]

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/02/a-neuroscience-finding-on-free-will.html
 
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