Peter Tse on the Neural Basis for Free Will

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Sciborg_S_Patel

#1
Peter Tse on the Neural Basis for Free Will

A while back I posted an exchange between Peter Tse and Neil Levy that focused on parts of Peter's new book, The Neural Basis of Free Will: Criterial Causation. In the wake of that discussion, I asked Peter if he would be interested in writing up an accessible overview of the argument he develops in the book. Fortunately, he was happy to oblige! The following is what he sent me to post here on Flickers. Given the intersection between work in neuroscience and work on the philosophy of action, I think we all need to work a little harder to understand what's happening on the other half of this discplinary divide. In that spirit, I have posted Peter's overview below the fold.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#2
Dominic mentioned Strawson's argument, that who you are has to determine what choice you make and that you who are is decided by external factors.

The usual argument to this line of thinking is to introduce indeterminism into mix, which many philosophers said doesn't give you free will because random decisions are no more free than causally determined ones. AFAIK Searle was the first to point out that assuming indeterminism at a lower level must result in indeterminism at higher levels is a fallacy of composition.

However the neuroscientist Tse actually gives a direct counterargument that invokes both philosophy and neuroscience:

A strong conception of free will is not compatible with either predetermined or random choices because in neither case do we decide which alternative to actualize from among many that might have been selected.

Criterial causation gets around the causa sui argument against both mental causation and free will by having neurons alter the physical grounds, not of present mental events, but of future mental events.

Self-causation only applies to changing the physical basis of making a present decision that is realized in or supervenes on that very same physical basis. Self-causation does not apply to changing the physical basis of making a future decision. While there can obviously never be a self-caused event, criteria can be set up in advance, such that when they are met, an action automatically follows; this is an action that we will have willed to take place by virtue of having set up those particular criteria in advance. At the moment those criteria are satisfied at some unknown point in the future, leading to some action or choice, those criteria cannot be changed, but because criteria can be changed in advance, we are free to determine how we will behave within certain limits in the near future. Criterial causation therefore offers a path toward free will where a brain can determine how it will behave given particular types of future input. This can be milliseconds in the future or, in some cases, even years away.

Assuming indeterminism, criterial outcome is an outcome that meets certain preset criteria, but what that outcome will be is not foreseeable, and had we run the sequence of events over from the same initial conditions, with the same criteria, we may have ended up with a different outcome, because of noise in the system.

Criterial causality therefore leaves room for non-illusory choice that is a middle path between the extremes of (a) determinism, where there is no ability to choose freely in the strong sense because there is never the possibility of an alternative action, and (b) criteria-less indeterminism, where arbitrary choices follow from randomness rather than from criteria one sets up oneself.

Free will skeptics might counter that the setting up of any set of criteria to be met by future inputs is itself determined by preexisting sets of criteria that have been met. This is in fact correct. The key point is that criteria will be met in unpredictable ways if there is inherent variability or noise in inputs, such as can be introduced by the randomness inherent in neurotransmitter molecules crossing the synapse. Just because new criteria are set up by a nervous system in a manner dictated by the satisfaction of preexisting criteria does not mean that either the future or present criteria will be met in a predetermined manner. Moreover, because our neurons set criteria for the firing of other neurons in response to their future input, the choices realized in the satisfying of those criteria are our own choices. Ontological indeterminism and neuronal criterial causation permits a physical causal basis for a strong free will.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#3
Interesting Tse vids:

Free Will: Where's the Problem:

http://www.closertotruth.com/video-profile/Free-Will-Where-s-the-Problem-Peter-Tse-/2574

Good to see Tse showed how Libet's readiness potential has nothing to do with presence or lack of free will.
How Free Will Probes Mind and Consciousness

An evolutionary explanation as to why free will came to be, as relating to attention. He's saying subjective experience is the domain in which volitional attention operates.

It's interesting how he relates will to attention, which I think makes sense as it is a precursor to action. Makes me think of the Hindu philosphy on the mind being related to two birds - the bird that eats and the bird that watches the first bird eating.
 
#5
I haven't read the article yet, but in the excerpt you posted was this:
Free will skeptics might counter that the setting up of any set of criteria to be met by future inputs is itself determined by preexisting sets of criteria that have been met. This is in fact correct. The key point is that criteria will be met in unpredictable ways if there is inherent variability or noise in inputs, such as can be introduced by the randomness inherent in neurotransmitter molecules crossing the synapse. Just because new criteria are set up by a nervous system in a manner dictated by the satisfaction of preexisting criteria does not mean that either the future or present criteria will be met in a predetermined manner. Moreover, because our neurons set criteria for the firing of other neurons in response to their future input, the choices realized in the satisfying of those criteria are our own choices. Ontological indeterminism and neuronal criterial causation permits a physical causal basis for a strong free will.
This sounds an awful lot like ascribing free will to randomness and/or noise, and saying that our actions can't be fully predicted. If so, that doesn't seem like something that would be very satisfying to most advocates of free will.

Pat
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#6
I haven't read the article yet, but in the excerpt you posted was this:

This sounds an awful lot like ascribing free will to randomness and/or noise, and saying that our actions can't be fully predicted. If so, that doesn't seem like something that would be very satisfying to most advocates of free will.

Pat
That's actually the issue that Tse seeks to avoid. He actually has some interesting proposals for top down causation.
 
#11
Another area where Peter Tse has done interesting work is a study his team did on Libet's "Readiness Potential."

For many years, Libet's work was used to deny Free Will. Yet in recent years, the evidence is growing that Libet's work was wrongfully interpreted by legions of Neuroscientists and Philosophers.

Here is Tse's study:

http://www.frontiersin.org/profile/publications/23448141

And here is another recent study by other scientists. It's more obvious than ever that Libet's work--once the "gold standard" in denying free will--has likely been misinterpreted.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24105593
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#12
Another area where Peter Tse has done interesting work is a study his team did on Libet's "Readiness Potential."

For many years, Libet's work was used to deny Free Will. Yet in recent years, the evidence is growing that Libet's work was wrongfully interpreted by legions of Neuroscientists and Philosophers.

Here is Tse's study:

http://www.frontiersin.org/profile/publications/23448141

And here is another recent study by other scientists. It's more obvious than ever that Libet's work--once the "gold standard" in denying free will--has likely been misinterpreted.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24105593
Thanks for this J-MAN. I'm actually trying to consolidate all this stuff in one thread:

Materialist (and Mostly Materialist) Arguments for Free Will
 
#13
I'm curious how a neuronal version of free will reconciles with artificial brain implants. I was reading earlier that back in '03 there was work with an artificial hippocampus which proved to aid in intelligence tests with laboratory animals, and I suspect the concept has only improved from there. If a neuronal case for free will can be made, what is special about a biological neuron compared to, say, ones produced in a nanofabrication plant with state of the art materials?
 
#14
Thanks for this J-MAN. I'm actually trying to consolidate all this stuff in one thread:

Materialist (and Mostly Materialist) Arguments for Free Will


Have you taken a look at the recent Templeton Foundation "Big Questions in Free Will" Project? It was quite a cool, multi-disciplinary project that just concluded at the end of last year.

http://www.freewillandscience.com/

The project site contains lots of good information, article links, research info, and even videos of some of the related research.
 
#15
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