This morning I told a friend my home-brewed arguments for free will, and after patiently listening to my impromptu lecture, she asked, “Do people still question this?” Yes they do. The question of whether or not we have free will is as alive and well as the question of whether or not there is an afterlife, or if there is an objective reality (you’ve all undoubtedly heard a variation of the question, “Does a tree fall in the woods if there’s nobody there to witness it?”)
First, I’d better define “free will”. I’m going to use the example of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky, partly because it’s one of my favorite novels, and also because it gets right to the matter of free will and the obvious example of crime. In short, a student kills an old woman with an axe in order to steal her money. He either did that of his own choice (free will), or he was predetermined to do it and had no say so in the matter (determinism).
Many people are still vulnerable to the idea that there is no free will. A recent YouTube prank video – Apple iPhone Reads Minds! SIRIously! – by magician Rich Ferguson makes this evident. In the video the magician uses his Apple Iphone, the voice operated personal assistant application called Siri, and the new “predictive iOS 8 beta” to read people’s minds. He asks people to choose a word, number or card, then scans their faces with the Iphone (ostensibly to collect data about them from social media), and within seconds Siri gives the correct answer. The participants were flabbergasted.
How Rich pulls off this trick is another story, and one I don’t know the answer to. He wrote that he used a combination of “psychology, technology, tricks, reading, forcing and persuasion”. These are likely the methods advanced magicians typically use to guess what word people are thinking of, but Rich added a twist and a layer of incomprehensibility by somehow having his Iphone announce the answer. He adds another level of benign deception by pretending that he doesn’t know if the answer the device gives is correct until they corroborate it, at which point he marvels at the technology along with them, saying things like, “Seriously? is that it?” and “The technology is impressive. Isn’t it? Yeah. I don’t know how it works. I’m just demonstrating it.” What is more interesting for me is the rather persuasive explanation he gives them, and the degree to which they fall for it.
Rich is a very articulate fellow, so I’ll quote him exactly:
“It’s using predictive facial recognition technology, and it’s scanning you on social media to figure out your behaviors and tendencies.”
“I think what it does is it give us a mathematical logarithm or foundation to say, ‘Oh, this is how this person ticks’, so it’s able to read your micro-expressions, behavior, and shifts in behavior even better… It gives it the tools and insights… Just like if I’m a body language expert I can start to look at you and figure you out over enough time. Now I can make educated guesses what you are likely doing or thinking. So, I think with the math behind it, and science, and technology, it’s like another whole level.”
In the comments section under the video one person asserted that this technology is possible because there is no free will. Whether one agrees or not, it makes perfect sense to connect predictive software with no free will: the less free will we have the easier it is to predict our behavior.
I’m not going to do a bunch of research and quote philosophers and scientists on free will, but just share what I can muster relying on my memory of what I’ve already read, and my own ability to decipher it and fashion my own argument. Call it arm chair philosophy if you want, but I believe we should, and should be able to, brood over philosophical questions ourselves. When Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living”, he couldn’t have meant that only the wisest philosophers deserved to live, but rather that every person should take time to ponder the big questions, and their own existence.
Better yet, this will keep it relatively short and simple. You probably don’t feel like reading an academic paper on philosophy, which I’m not the most qualified person to write in the first place.
I know two major arguments that there is no free will. One is scientific, and the other spiritual.
The scientific argument
The scientific argument is based on the predictability of the laws of physics. If we drop a basketball from the top of a four story building, we can all predict that it will fall, and that it will bounce. Someone with enough information, knowledge, and the appropriate technological instruments could predict what speed it will fall, the trajectory in which it will bounce, how many times it will bounce, etc. Many just switch this confidence in the predictability of physical objects onto peoples’ behavior.
They may cite the big bang, and the unfolding of the universe in accordance with natural laws, even if we don’t currently have enough knowledge to decipher those laws in their entirety. It is all a chain reaction, or the domino effect. One thing inexorably leads to another.
This gets mixed up with and bolstered by the radical behaviorism of the likes of B.F. Skinner, who argued that our actions are overwhelmingly dependent on our environment, and we have little say in what we think or do. Skinner saw humans as physical organisms who are conditioned by reward and punishment, not unlike lab rats, chicks, and dogs. Indeed, if you can make a dog drool by ringing a bell, after teaching the dog to associate the bell with the appearance of savory morsels, you can do something similar with people. On a grander scale, with much more complex modes of conditioning, people are molded by their environment to act in accordance with its directives, not their own.
If you put these theories together the universe unfolds in predictable and unalterable ways, and we are just particles in a storm: all of our actions could be predicted by a powerful enough computer with enough information.
My counterargument to the more scientific argument is that consciousness is not a material thing, even if it is dependent on the physical brain, and thus is not bound by the laws of physics. Consciousness is classically defined as the awareness of being aware. This is self-awareness. Not only are you alive, but you know you are alive. Your self-reflectivity is not a physical thing. You can’t weigh a thought, or split an insight into smaller particles like an atom. The stance that somehow even the most ephemeral or trivial of thoughts, day dreams, and decisions are predetermined becomes much harder to back when we start thinking of examples. Is my decision to have chocolate or strawberry ice-cream, and then my changing my mind, and then changing it back really the inevitable outcome of a purely mechanical process initiated 13.8 billion years ago? Even the specific content of our dreams during sleep would have to be the logical consequence of natural laws. If I dream a caterpillar asks me a question, the question would have to be the predictable consequence of a chain reaction of events. Again, our mental activity is not a physical thing, and therefore not bound by the laws of physics.
Consciousness could have evolved as a phenomenon that escapes strict physical laws, and allows the conscious entity to self-determine its own actions, albeit within the physical world and natural laws. Let’s say the universe ran more or less predictably according to physical laws UNTIL conscious intelligence evolved, at which point it became possible to make conscious decisions that were arbitrary, or not the inevitable consequence of a chain reaction. What is the point of thinking if thinking is useless? What was the evolutionary advantage of being able to think, if any decision one made was already predetermined? It makes much more sense that thinking and decision making gave humans an edge over larger, stronger animals who couldn’t do so.
Human intelligence would be completely superfluous if it only unknowingly followed some cosmic intelligence or will. Most the scientists and behaviorists who argue against free will are not likely to believe in an omnipotent being orchestrating our every move, especially since this would counter the domino effect, so we are left with the conclusion that human intelligence is an illusion, and in reality there is no intelligence in the universe at all, just physical things acting in accordance with physical laws. That can’t be true, because we can think.
The behaviorist or determinist argument also doesn’t give enough credit to human consciousness. We are not only aware, we are aware that we are aware. The ability to control the behavior of a protozoan, a rat, a dog, or a pig does not necessarily apply to humans at all. Our bodies might react predictably, especially in terms of reflexes, but unlike Pavlov’s dog who salivates at the sound of a bell when no food is present, we can ourselves understand the experiment and make a conscious decision to resist its effects.
Even Goerge W. Bush has the power of free will that separates him from other animals, and perhaps even the other higher primates (if we are to believe they don’t have free will). During a speech in Tennessee in 2002, immortalized in video, Bush stated his argument for free will thusly:
“There’s an old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.”
He botched it horribly, but his point was that after you’ve been fooled once, it’s your own stupid fault if you get fooled again. Never mind for the moment what this says about the American public reelecting him. The point is we can understand how our bodily organism is influenced by the environment, and take that into consideration, change the environment, or remove ourselves from an unwanted impetus… This is what sets humankind apart from pond scum.
Comically, according to determinist logic, the person who espouses it was predetermined to do so: the person who argues there is no free will, has no choice to do otherwise. Other than being absolved of all responsibility for ones actions, I can’t see the appeal in thinking that I have no volition and am just a cog in a giant machine, doing what I am designed to do, for a reason I cannot fathom, or more likely for no reason at all. I could be no more than the equivalent of a microscopic bit of crap in an enthusiastically expelled flatulence.
The spiritual argument
The spiritual argument sees people as an indivisible part of a seamless whole, which you may call God, in which case we can’t have a separate, individual will. The illusion of being an isolated, finite being in a hostile exterior universe is the root cause of suffering. The ego desperately clings to the presumed security of being a finite, divisible thing, kind of like a bird that refuses to leave the nest because it doesn’t know it can fly. There are many apt analogies, the most popular of which is that we are like drops of spray above the ocean, fearful of disintegration, when really we are part and parcel of the mighty ocean itself.
In order to overcome the suffering born of the illusion of separation, we should cultivate “choiceless awareness”, or a lack of preference for one thing over another. We should accept things just as they are, and not continually question the grander order of things, hanker after what we perceive as desirable, and avoid that which we think is undesirable. We torment ourselves in seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. In acceptance of everything as is there is bliss.
Self-professed enlightened gurus, from Osho to Eckhart Tolle, will consistently claim choiceless awareness, and that the enlightened person does NOT follow his own will, but in all things he does exercises the will of the universe, or nature, or God. Hence, incidentally, if the guru has sex with his devotees against their will, he is not responsible himself for his actions, but it is the universe acting upon itself in a sort of wild spirituality that is unfathomable to the separate ego-minds of the unenlightened multitude. Indeed, behavior which flies in the face of conventional morals is a sure sign of a higher morality. If a guru amasses a collection of 90 Rolls Royces, it is not a sign of his greed, but rather a jibe at other people’s envy.
In any case, he’s not responsible because he doesn’t have free will, and that’s a good thing. If you point the finger at him, it is because you are spiritually un-evolved: a pathetic separate ego, trying to impose your terrestrial and artificial morals on an incarnation of God.
There is nothing like that, like free will. It is just an ego concept, there
cannot be anything like that. ~ OSHO
“Freedom is not a reaction; freedom is not a choice. .
Freedom is found in the choiceless awareness of our daily existence and activity.” ~ J. Krishnamurti
As beautiful as the words of possibly enlightened gurus may be, even when they are echoed by a veritable sea of charlatans hoping to dissolve the immaterial barrier between seekers and their life’s savings, the spiritual take on free will has as many problems as the more scientific one.
The wrench in their argument is, again, human consciousness. I can grant that we are an inseparable part of the universe, but that doesn’t mean that a person can’t have any quality that the entirety does not. Consciousness as we know it is a product of the physical brain, and just one of the reasons we know this is because damage to the brain has direct, deleterious effects on consciousness. We can even identify which parts of the brain effect which parts of the mind.
Some people argue that the brain is like an antennae, and that we receive transmissions from somewhere else, however, this violates Ockham’s razor, the philosophical truism that, in the absence of certainty, the explanation with the least amount of assumptions is the most likely correct. If the brain is just an antennae and cannot create consciousness itself, then one needs an additional explanation for how consciousness arises somewhere else, and why the brain is such an elaborate and fragile antenna so that any damage to it compromises its receptivity to the transmission. Why need an antennae at all if consciousness is all pervasive?
Suppose we accept for the sake of argument that consciousness as we know it is produced by highly evolved brains, and inanimate objects and other objects without brains do not possess consciousness, regardless of their scale. I have consciousness, my chair doesn’t. The house I live in doesn’t, nor the street, the trees, the river a few minutes away by bike, the sky, the moon, or the sun. Because they are not conscious, they don’t have wills.
The spiritual argument is that I can’t have a will that is separate from the will of the entirety, but the entirety, excluding brain-based consciousness, does not have any other consciousness that we are aware of. In short, this argues that you cannot have a will separate from something that doesn’t even have a will to begin with. This is like saying that if I am in a stadium that is filled with women, except for me, because I am unarguably inseparable from them, I cannot be different, and therefore I don’t have a penis.
All the evidence that we have points only to the conclusion that will is a product of consciousness, consciousness is a product of the brain, and brains are physical objects encased in separate physical beings (even if this takes place in an indivisible universe on the subatomic level of which particles are waves and waves are particles).
To people who insist that we are so interwoven with the universe as a whole that consciousness is permeable, shared, and immortal, I ask why they need to eat. If you are not separate from the slice of pizza in front of you, your body doesn’t need to consume it to get essential nutrients.
There must also be something separate in order to see itself as separate. If I have no separate will from the will of the whole, and I believe I have free will, than it must be the will of the whole for me to believe I have free will. There is no use in my trying to overcome the illusion of having free will, according to this logic, because that itself would be an act of will. I have to wait until the entirety somehow wills me to awaken to not having a will.
I am not denouncing spirituality, just questioning some of the common assumptions. One can have a will, live in a universe where one is conscious and most everything else is not, and be unselfish and accept reality as it is, and as it unfolds. One can overcome the notion of somehow being unique and separate without losing the ego that allows us to function in society, or drive a car for that matter (driving under the influence of egolessness would be a criminal offense if anyone could do it). The ego can be a tool, and we can cease to identify it as ourselves, or as defining the boundaries of ourselves.
What is the point of being conscious at all if we have no will? It would be like being in one of those first person shooter video games, but you wouldn’t be able to fire the gun, move, jump, squat, sidestep, walk, or run. You’d just watch it. Nobody would play such a game because playing would be impossible. If we’d feel gipped not being able to operate the controls in a video game, we’d feel infinitely more so in life itself.
But we don’t feel that we aren’t in control at all. We feel as if we are absolutely in control. That’s our lived experience every moment. I don’t mean I can control who is elected president, but I can hold my breath, blink on command, or think of a song and whistle it: those are sure signs of free will. To think otherwise is to convince oneself of a theory, intellectually, even if one’s immediate experience contradicts it, kind of like saying, “I don’t exist at all”.
We may be an inextricable part of a seamless totality, molded by our environment, subject to the laws of physics, vulnerable to unforeseeable tragic events, and act in predictable ways, but those are the parameters of the game in which we play using the tools of consciousness and intelligence. That’s a much more exciting and relevant arena to exist in than is being a mindless automaton in a universe without spontaneity, flexibility, or creativity.
I thought of one more example and argument while I was out riding my bike and exercising at the public park by the river. I’ll call it “The Bobby Fischer Defense” (as in defending free will).
You probably know Bobby Fischer, since he’s the most famous chess champion ever. When I was in junior high school I got a book of his which was a bunch of chess puzzles. You finished all of the pages and then flipped the book over and did the puzzles on the opposite pages, as I remember. Bear with me with this personal anecdote, there’s a point to it.
After completing that book I didn’t lose a chess match in a decade, though I also didn’t play all that much, and not in any competitions. I was just a big fish in a puddle. I finally lost when I played my biological father, who I was reunited with after not seeing him for more than 20 years. He had terminal cancer and decided he wanted to see his boys before he died. He didn’t tell us about his condition. He was obsessed with chess, and I thought I was pretty good, so I played him. I should have known better because he had a chess library that included thick volumes on “the end game”. I never stood a chance. He knew the name for every move I made, and I didn’t. Within a dozen moves I was absolutely doomed. The only thing about my playing that showed any signs of skill was how many different ways I could see that I was doomed.
Can you guess the point in that? It’s that in order to play chess well you need to do a lot of practice, and study the game. The universe, the entirely, and all but the most literal concept of God, does not know how to play chess. If it did know how, somehow, magically, we wouldn’t need to train at it ourselves. This raises some serious issues.
The questions that came to mind while I was working up a sweat at the park, which wasn’t hard to do in 95% weather with 35% humidity, were – “Did Bobby Fischer have free will while he was playing chess?” and “If he wasn’t responsible for the moves he made, why was he better at it than anyone else at the time?” Surely there would be a lot of stalemates if the universe was playing itself through chess champs.
Even if we granted that Bobby Fischer had no choice but to play chess, he had to use his own intelligence to decide which moves to make. If we want to maintain that there is no free will, we will have to say that he had no choice but to use his own intelligence, but he didn’t make the decisions on which moves to make based on his intelligence. If he could make those decisions himself, which required analyzing thousands of options, surely he would be able to decide whether he wanted to sit by the window or take the aisle seat on an airplane. If he could do either of those things, he had free will.
Which chess move to make against Boris Spassky wouldn’t make any sense to a tree, or the moons of Jupiter, or even the Milky Way. Bobby Fischer must have made those decisions himself based on his own intelligence and thought processes.
We have free will, including the ability to say that we don’t.
Feel free to throw in your own thoughts, but don’t just give me links, tell me I’m wrong, insult me, or condescend to me from the lofty perch of your automatically correct self-proclaimed enlightenment. I’d like to hear YOUR arm-chair philosophy, not be referred to some other authority.
Challenges to my arguments!
By using a chess example I left myself open for a classic line of attack. I argued that Bobby Fischer making decisions about chess moves was proof of free will:
- The universe cannot compel him to make a given move because it does not know how to play chess.
- He must use his own intelligence to play.
- If he can decide which move to make out of thousands of difficult options, he can also choose where to sit on a plane, in which case, we cannot say he has no free will.
A good counterargument is that a chess computer has no free will, being programmed by humans, but can also make complex decisions and even beat a human chess champion.
My response is that the chess computer does not even know it is playing chess; has no choice as to whether or not it plays chess; doesn’t care if it wins or loses, can do nothing other than play chess, and isn’t really thinking in the same way as a human chess player. The chess computer is calculating odds of the most successful move based on thousands of championship games which have been entered into its system. It merely blindly calculates the best option based on past games and statistics. It is doing math, not playing chess.
Just because humans can create machines that simulate the appearance of free will, which they do not have at all because they only act in accordance with what we tell them to do, does not mean that we have no more free will than our own toys. We know that the chess machine merely appears to play chess, but that doesn’t mean that the human isn’t really doing it either.
Someone attacked my argument above as follows:
“In the same sense that [chess] computers aren’t making decisions, humans aren’t making decisions either… They are just following subconscious instructions programmed into them by their genetics and environment.”
And my rebuttal to this is that the subconscious can’t be taught chess independent of the conscious mind – you can’t learn to play in your sleep – and therefore can’t tell the conscious mind which moves to make. Even if you imagine a scenario in which someone has been playing for so long that he can make valid chess moves in his dreams, to say that the subconscious is directing the conscious here is putting the cart before the horse.
Similarly, we can’t learn a language by listening to instructional audio in our sleep. People have tried. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. So, while the subconscious might influence our decisions, it can only tell us what to think or say to the degree it has learned from the conscious mind how to think or use language.
His counterargument to my position above was this:
“And what of the conscious mind? How does it learn how to play chess? It is conditioned by its opponent by having its weaker strategies beaten. It is chastised for breaking rules. It takes in strings of visual or audio code and scans them for useful/relevant information.”
To which I responded that this is not how we learn to play chess. You don’t just go and move pieces around based on emotion. You have to learn the rules of the game first, then to get any good you have to study strategies and practice puzzles. This learning is done by the conscious mind. It’s similar to learning a musical instrument or Algebra. You have to think about it, make steps in understanding, and practice it. Decisions made by the conscious mind in territory only it can operate in requires that it has control. If it has control, it has free will.
What he was talking about is playing chess after you have already learned how to do so. There are further problems with his argument, such as that while he said you are conditioned by your opponent to develop better strategies, he didn’t account for the process of developing strategies itself. Does that happen in the subconscious, which does not know how to play chess, or in the conscious mind? If you can make new strategies on the fly using your conscious mind, then you have free will. Personally, I think one may use both the conscious and subconscious to make strategies, just as one might use both to compose a song. However, the subconscious can’t do it without the conscious mind.
If the conscious mind is responsible for even 5% of the decision making, we have free will. The burden is on the determinist to say that the conscious mind can make no decisions, nor can the subconscious, which is still part of you.
Determinists will also need to prove that the subconscious is completely controlled by the environment and not capable of spontaneous thought or other mental activity, such as orchestrating elaborate dreams.
Another argument has cropped up against me. I’ll call it the “perfect replica” argument. It goes something like this. Imagine that Japan – who is the world’s leader in making humanoid robots – creates a robot, named Lucy, that is so convincing people assume she’s really a human. She has a powerful computer and can interpret and respond to spoken language. She is pre-programmed with millions of appropriate responses that she can respond with to anything you say. She has real hair, and otherwise looks convincingly human. If she appears to have free will, and she doesn’t, it stands to reason that while you appear to have free will, you don’t either. A bystander couldn’t tell which of you had free will and which did not. You are programmed by your genes and your environment just as Lucy was programmed by people.
This argument has an enormous flaw. It basically says that because Lucy appears to have free will, but doesn’t, than neither do you. By logical extension if Lucy appears to be conscious, but she isn’t, neither are you. And if you can go along with that, the clincher is that if Lucy appears to be alive, but she isn’t, neither are you. Unless you are prepared to argue that you are not alive, this should refute the “perfect replica” argument.
Someone challenged that in order for me to say that something is spontaneous, and thus not the unavoidable consequence of everything preceding it, I must prove that all outside factors did NOT effect it. Below is my response:
Yesterday I argued that content in dreams appears to arise spontaneously from the subconscious. A typical counter to that would be that the subconscious merely rehashes and regurgitates events from waking life, automatically. However, I have noticed over the span of my lifetime that my subconscious is particularly good at making up music on the fly. Perhaps you have had this same experience. You might be at a concert in your dream, listening to music, or performing yourself. The music might be fantastic. I find this particularly impressive because, try as I might, and I do, I can’t spontaneously create music like that with my conscious mind. This leads me to think that the wellsprings of creativity might be housed in the subconscious. The main point, however, is that creating music on the fly is not a mere recycling of the day’s events, but an immediate act of creation. And the relevance of this point to the discussion is that spontaneous or impromptu creation can’t be completely controlled or inevitable.
One objection is that I can’t prove that something is genuinely spontaneous, and not the ineradicable and predictable outcome of former events. I would need to account for every prior possible influence, and then discount it. This is impossible, but so is it to prove that the impromptu guitar solo one hears in one’s dream is the unavoidable result of a chain reaction of physical laws. Given that neither side is empirically provable, we should go with the one that is more likely. We further should not rely on faith in a given position, for or against free will, to decide which scenario is more likely. We are going to have to go with the better argument.
I argue that human consciousness possesses the capacity of original thought, leaps of understanding, insights, and epiphanies which are not the predictable result of prior physical occurrences. This is what would give us an evolutionary advantage: the ability to step outside of automatic behavior and learn to manipulate objects and events ourselves, in a way that better insures our survival. If we are doing it ourselves, it would explain why we’ve botched things so terribly. We make some big mistakes. If you don’t agree, then are you going to have to argue that nature has decided to make humans pollute their own biosphere in order to preserve itself, or that God is compelling us to poison our own environment? It seems much more likely that it’s our own stupid mistake.
Another key argument I should have introduced earlier, is that even if inanimate or non-conscious objects were merely following the expected trajectory of history, when consciousness emerged, it escaped that fate. We can say that the universe evolved self-awareness if you like. Even if that was as inevitable a process as a caterpillar emerging from the chrysalis as a butterfly, once it occurred there was something that was free of inevitability. And wouldn’t this be a more interesting and profound course for the universe to take than just blindly following physical laws?
Additionally, if you want to argue that the universe and everything in it can only follow physical laws, when did these laws emerge? Did they somehow exist before the Big Bang, or were they initiated instantly along with it? Or, does the universe not just follow a preordained path, but instead evolves itself?
If humans have creativity, than so does the universe. If humans don’t have creativity, and we are just being carried along by the universe like water droplets in a wave, than the universe itself must have creativity. The universe composed Beethoven’s 5th symphony, wrote the plays of Shakespeare, the music of the Beatles, and the speeches of Martin Luther King.
That doesn’t follow because the universe doesn’t speak English or know how to play musical instruments. Therefore we have creativity absolutely, and we may guess that the universe does as well and isn’t just along for the ride (that’s another discussion). The act of creating defies the chains of inevitability. Significantly, many acts of creation – such as movies, novels and representational paintings – develop their own fictive worlds, separate from the exterior one. Physical laws and history, be it personal or communal, put boundaries on our will, but it is still free.
43 replies on “Argument against no free will (determinism)”
In the beginning the world is created for, and in the end you created the world.
Free will is having a blank paper on the table waiting to be write on. Free will is blank paper.
Perhaps we are abnormal, and that is free will.
My counterargument to the more scientific argument is that consciousness is not a material thing, even if it is dependent on the physical brain, and thus is not bound by the laws of physics.
What evidence do you have for that?
About your chess example. IBM Big blue beat Gary Kasparov in a game of chess. IBM Big blue is a computer. Everything about the computer was made by humans. So if you say that playing chess is an example of freewill then how do you explain IBM Big blue winning the game against Gary?
Hi Arjun. You’ll find that I already answered the Chess question at the bottom of the post in the section where I respond to challenges to my argument. You can check that out for a more detailed answer, but since both your questions are related, I’ll address them here.
First, you asked “What evidence do I have that consciousness is immaterial”. There’s the subjective and objective answer to that. First, the objective. Last I checked science has not been able to locate consciousness, and there has been a lot of effort in trying to do so. Formerly, some scientists argued that it didn’t exist, but that’s as ridiculous as arguing that they themselves don’t exist. They were arguing that if they couldn’t prove they were consciousness, then they weren’t. So, my evidence that consciousness is immaterial is that there is no proof that it is material. We cannot identify it as having any material quality that we know of.
Subjectively, think about what consciousness is. Classically, it is defined as the awareness of being aware. Roaches may be aware, but they don’t have the self-reflectivity to know that they are aware. This is what separates us from other sentient creatures. Consciousness is so all pervasive – all our experience takes place within it – that we tend to take it for granted. But, obviously your thoughts do not have physical substance.
Big Blue could beat a chess player, but, it didn’t even know it was playing chess. Big Blue wasn’t conscious, and it wasn’t even aware. It merely followed instructions programmed by humans, and as such is no more conscious than a calculator which can do math better than most people. Further, Big Blue didn’t think about chess moves the way a player does, rather, it only measured probabilities of best moves from a database of thousands of the best championship games which had been entered into its memory.
Outwardly Big Blue might appear to some to have consciousness, but obviously subjectively it doesn’t. Hypothetically, imagine a robot that is extremely convincing in every way, responds to spoken language and answers in kind, but is still a robot. Let’s say that the robot can fool over 99% of people. Someone might argue that because the robot is so convincing, yet has no free will, that people don’t have free will either. The glaring problem with this is that the logical extent of the argument is that the robot is not consciousness, so neither are we, and the robot is not alive, so neither are we.
The Chess program doesn’t possess consciousness, which is required for free will.
Again, if you read the bottom section of the post, you will find my responses to several challenges.
Roaches may be aware, but they don’t have the self-reflectivity to know that they are aware.
How do you know that?
But, obviously your thoughts do not have physical substance.
What are thoughts but brain activity? Have you read any books on the brain? I recommend – http://www.amazon.com/Incognito-The-Secret-Lives-Brain/dp/0307389928
Big Blue wasn’t conscious, and it wasn’t even aware.
We don’t know that. I am not saying it was aware. But until we can tell what consciousness is, I don’t think we can claim that other things are not conscious.
Big Blue didn’t think about chess moves the way a player does, rather, it only measured probabilities of best moves from a database of thousands of the best championship games which had been entered into its memory.
You are doing the same – unconsciously. Again, read a book about the brain.
The glaring problem with this is that the logical extent of the argument is that the robot is not consciousness
How do you know that again? Have you heard about the Turing test? I know its a test of intelligence but still, if the robot can fool other people into thinking that it is conscious then we might as well believe that it is conscious. Otherwise, how will you ever know that I am not a machine and you are not living in a matrix where you are the only conscious person?
[In fact I have read books on brain consciousness science and theory. But I prefer here to just discuss this mostly using my own mind and arguments. I like the challenge of thinking things through myself, rather than referring to authority, at least initially. Then, later, if I look into it and come across something that demolishes my amateur arguments, I will appreciate it and understand it on a deeper level.]
You argued that we don’t know a cockroach isn’t conscious. We know it’s aware because of its activity and ability to interact with its environment. But consciousness is linked to higher brain function, and a more developed brain, such as the cerebral cortex. The way the brain evolved is not that it reconstituted itself from the ground up, but rather added layers on the outside. The prefrontal cortex appears to be responsible for advanced cognition, and the evidence for this is that damage to that area of the brain impairs those abilities. Other animals don’t have cerebral cortexes. Consider the size of a roaches brain, and that it doesn’t even have the part of the brain we use for higher cognition. What is the likelihood that it is nevertheless conscious (as opposed to merely aware)?
Do you imagine that roaches contemplate the nature of their own existence? With consciousness, again, we are talking about self-reflectivity. Not just “I am” but “I know I am”. In any case, if roaches had some vague and limited consciousness, it wouldn’t be something you’d want to argue in favor of determinism (no free will).
You say, “What are thoughts but brain activity” as an argument against my saying that they don’t, themselves, have substance. The brain is undoubtedly physical (I stated such in my original argument), but consciousness is not. If you have the brain of a recently deceased person, all the material is there, but there is no consciousness. Consciousness (as we know it) is a phenomenon dependent on the brain, and thus on physical matter, but is not itself physical. I think people miss this because it is so glaringly obvious.
Light from a flashlight is not the flashlight, even though it is dependent on it. Obviously light is of a different essential quality than the flashlight – it can’t pass though glass – even if on a subatomic level it can be said to be a particle/wave. To say that consciousness is the material of the brain is the same as to say that the light from a flashlight is the material of the flashlight. Consciousness, however, is not a light, and hasn’t been found to be a particle, wave, or any other THING.
Your next argument goes back to what I call the “replica” argument. You wrote: “if the robot can fool other people into thinking that it is conscious then we might as well believe that it is conscious.” Why convince ourselves to believe something we know is false? By the same logic, we should believe that a calculator is conscious because it can do math, or a scarecrow is alive because it appears real from a distance.
We know Big Blue isn’t alive or conscious (any more than your computer) because we made it and know precisely how it functions. We know everything we need to do to disable it, including merely unplugging it. We are absolutely clear on this. The same goes for the robot. Therefore, believing that any of those things is conscious, when we know for a fact they are not, is to knowingly harbor a fantasy instead of an obvious and established truth.
You next asked, “how will you ever know that I am not a machine and you are not living in a matrix where you are the only conscious person?”
It took me a while to figure what the connection was between this question and your statement that we should consider Big Blue conscious. By your logic, if I don’t consider a chess computer conscious, but just a machine, than by logical extension I must consider YOU to also be a machine without consciousness. That doesn’t follow. You have a cerebral cortex and send me comments challenging my homebrewed and armature attempts at engaging with philosophy. You obviously possess self-reflexivity. You are aware that you are aware.
But, let’s address your question of how someone knows he or she is not the only conscious thing and merely dreaming up everything else. I once had a debate with someone who argued that this is the case. I sent him a comment something like this, “Hello again. You are right. Congratulations. You figured it out. I am not real at all. You invented me. I am only text on a screen that you invent. There is no other person who wrote this. You are alone. You are God.” This was funny enough because it’s just ludicrous for me to deny my own existence in order to substantiate someone else’s point, and he knew it. But, my follow up message was a death blow. “Please disregard my last message. My sincere apologies. It was a cruel joke. I am God. You have no life outside of the appearance of text on my monitor. You are not conscious. You do not exist.” Naturally, while he was able to stomach the first argument, he couldn’t manage the last.
If that strategy doesn’t work for you, here’s another one. You’ve flown on an airplane, but you don’t know how to build one. Nevertheless you know that instructions exist as to how to do it. Considerable knowledge is required to build a plane, but you don’t have it. Nevertheless planes exist. You couldn’t have created them, hence other people exist who built the plane with the knowledge that also exists independent of you.
There are levels of consciousness just like there are different levels of brain function. Going with your flashlight argument, there are various sources for light, different levels of brightness and other metrics for light. Just like that there are different levels of consciousness – we have all evolved from the same source.
Second I dont see the connection between consciousness and freewill!
If you say that a computer in the present or the future is not conscious simply because its made by us, then what about babies? Aren’t they also the product of humans? What part of babies is supernaturally made? If babies can grow up to be conscious creatures then why is it hard to imagine that a computer built by humans cannot be conscious? If you say, we don’t know everything about babies, then I will say that we don’t completely know about computers either because we don’t yet have a complete theory of reality. We know what a human being works as well and what doesn’t make him/her work.
A computer can be disguised as a human and it can be made to send you comments challenging your blog entries – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loebner_Prize
Your last statements are not very convincing. Planes could also be just in my imagination. If you think machines can never be conscious and no other animal on this planet except humans have consciousness then the onus is on you to prove me how you consider me to be conscious.
Your first argument is that roaches may be conscious because there are different levels of consciousness. I think you may be conflating consciousness with awareness here. Awareness and consciousness are not the same thing. Roaches are aware, but are they aware that they are aware? You haven’t countered my argument that consciousness as we know it appears to be linked to the higher cognitive ability emanating from the cerebral cortex of the brain, and roaches do not possess a cerebral cortex in their pinhead sized brains.
You argue that roaches may have consciousness because we all evolved from the same source. Here in S.E. Asia we have some giant, flying cockroaches. By your logic, if a cockroach possesses the ability to fly, than so do I, because ultimately, we both evolved from the same Big Bang. We evolved consciousness, roaches didn’t.
You wrote, “I don’t see the connection between consciousness and freewill!”
How is something that is not conscious going to make a decision? I think we would agree that a rock doesn’t have free will. Free will is the ability to make a deliberate decision. Only consciousness can make a conscious decision.
You wrote: “If you say that a computer in the present or the future is not conscious simply because its made by us, then what about babies? Aren’t they also the product of humans?”
Babies are a product of human bodies, not human intelligence. You don’t need to intellectually understand how to make a baby in order to do so. Computers are technological devices made from inanimate objects, and we know precisely how they work, otherwise they wouldn’t work. Because we know how they work we also know that there’s no need whatsoever for the computer to have any consciousness in order to work.
For the record, I didn’t say anything about computers we may make in the future. I can’t predict that. I’m talking about the computers we have now, such as your own computer, that we know don’t have or need any consciousness to operate. The key isn’t that we made it, but that we understand how it works entirely (which we happen to know because we created them, and not with our reproductive organs).
You can’t argue that just because people make babies, and babies have consciousness, that anything else we make is also conscious. That would mean sandwiches and feces were conscious.
You wrote: “A computer can be disguised as a human and it can be made to send you comments challenging your blog entries”.
That’s perfectly true. But it doesn’t mean that the computer has consciousness. I’m certain you aren’t arguing that YOU or I are literally computers. Just because a magic trick appears to be magic doesn’t mean that it IS magic.
Consciousness is a subjective state of awareness. A computer no more needs to be conscious to operate than does a calculator or a wristwatch.
You may not be able to fly but both you and a cockroach have a brain. And you have agreed that consciousness is a function of the brain. So just like two flashlights of different sizes produce lights of different brightness, two brains of different kinds *may* produce consciousness of different levels. I am sure other animals don’t realise that the animals they hunt are alive either. Are you suggesting that only humans have consciousness and none of the animals do? Not even the chimps? https://www.google.com/search?q=are+chimps+conscious&oq=are+chimps+con
What has consciousness got to do with decision making? What is decision making anyway – considering different possibilities and choosing one of them based on what the motive for making the decision is. Why can’t a computer do that? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AI_effect
Why do you say that a rock doesn’t have freewill? I am not suggesting that it does, but since I am arguing against freewill, there is no difference between us and a rock when it comes to freewill. A rock can be thrown around but if its heavy then it provides some resistance to being thrown around and if its a mountain then it cant be budged at all with the current technology.
Freewill is not the ability to make a deliberate decision but rather the ability to make a decision without being influenced by anything. Computers can make deliberate decisions.
“Because we know how they work we also know that there’s no need whatsoever for the computer to have any consciousness in order to work.”
You are choosing a human being as a standard for consciousness and thats wrong. If an alien civilisation is found tomorrow which is more advanced than us, but still can’t find a way to communicate with us immediately, then will you say that they are not conscious either?
Yes, I am arguing that we are all computers but just very advanced ones. What is magic? Define magic.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarke's_three_laws
I quote sources not because I want to argue from authority but rather I want to distinguish my thoughts from being real and not real.
Thanks for contributing more ideas and maintaining a friendly debate. The object, from my perspective, is to hammer out ideas and hopefully come to some solid working conclusions.
You wrote: “You may not be able to fly but both you and a cockroach have a brain. And you have agreed that consciousness is a function of the brain.”
I already said that it seems to be a function of the most evolved parts of the brain, such as the cerebral cortex, which cockroach brains do not have.
You wrote, “Are you suggesting that only humans have consciousness and none of the animals do? Not even the chimps? ”
That’s a whole other discussion. Obviously the animals with the more developed brains are more likely to have consciousness.
You wrote, “What has consciousness got to do with decision making.”
Probably about as much as it has to do with driving a vehicle. And don’t come back at me with, “what about automatic pilot?” Just because we can program a machine to do something doesn’t mean that we are ourselves programmed machines. Just because a robot can walk, and isn’t alive, doesn’t mean that you aren’t alive either.
I’ve already refuted the “replica” argument. A machine has no interiority or subjectivity. It is not alive. You are different.
You wrote: “What is decision making anyway – considering different possibilities and choosing one of them based on what the motive for making the decision is. Why can’t a computer do that?”
You do realize that you are arguing that you are a machine, right? Anyway, the computer doesn’t even have a choice of if it is turned on or off. It doesn’t make any decisions itself, but follows the instructions of the program operating it. There is no “who” in the machine. It has no identity. There is nothing in there to willingly make a decision. Any choice it makes, based on its programming, is automatic. Your computer can do certain operations where it appears to make a choice – for example simply searching the internet and retrieving appropriate information – but it has no choice whether or not to obey YOUR commands. It is just following instructions without choice.
We, however, can choose whether or not to make a decision, and we can arbitrarily make a bad decision. If we had no free will, all our decisions would logically be in the best interests of nature. Nature wouldn’t force us to destroy it, which we are doing. That is our own stupid mistake, based on bad decisions. Unless you want to say that we are powerless cogs in a machine hell bent on self-destruction.
You wrote: “Freewill is not the ability to make a deliberate decision but rather the ability to make a decision without being influenced by anything.”
I don’t agree. You can be influenced by all sorts of things, but still have agency to make up your own mind. For example, a man kills an old lady and steals her money. According to me, he did that of his own volition, even if there were influences on him such as poverty, violent films, too many hours spent playing Grand Theft Auto… Are you willing to say he had not choice whatsoever?
When we are talking about agency regarding whether or not we take someone else’s life, that’s a lot of free will. I’m not talking about some absolute free will that allows us to fly and eat suns for breakfast. It has to act, when it operates in the exterior world, within the confines of physical laws.
You wrote: ” You are choosing a human being as a standard for consciousness and thats wrong.”
I am using as a standard the only consciousness we know. Our own.
You werote: “If an alien civilisation is found tomorrow which is more advanced than us, but still can’t find a way to communicate with us immediately, then will you say that they are not conscious either?”
By that logic I would think Chinese people didn’t possess consciousness (actually I can speak Chinese, but you get the idea). If they build machines and can communicate with each other it’s pretty obvious that they are conscious, unless they are ultra-sophisticated robots.
You wrote, “I am arguing that we are all computers but just very advanced ones.”
Then you are arguing that you are not alive and don’t have a consciousness, because computers need neither of those things. In fact, they would probably hamper the utility and functioning of a computer. Does your PC have emotions? Does it contemplate it’s own mortality and get depressed that it will be replaced by Windows 9?
You wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
That’s just stupid. I can tell my camera isn’t magic. Magic is something that breaks the laws of physics in the world. Basically, to perform magic is to create a miracle. Advanced technology works based on a thorough understanding of natural laws, not on breaking them with spells and incense.
“I already said that it seems to be a function of the most evolved parts of the brain, such as the cerebral cortex, which cockroach brains do not have.”
What is the evidence for that? Or is it just a thought? Unless you have a *Test* for consciousness, you cannot say that. And right now, we dont have a test. We don’t have a measuring device that can tell us whether something is conscious or not. Unless, you want to measure consciousness by human standards which I talk about below.
“That’s a whole other discussion. Obviously the animals with the more developed brains are more likely to have consciousness.”
Its not a whole other discussion because the moment you agree that other animals may have consciousness, then you also agree that roaches might have a diminished form of it. Again, there might be smaller sources of light like fireflies.
“You do realize that you are arguing that you are a machine, right?” – Yes
“Anyway, the computer doesn’t even have a choice of if it is turned on or off.” – Do humans do? Humans die (turned off) all the time and is it under our control? Are we born (turned on) by our own control?
“If we had no free will, all our decisions would logically be in the best interests of nature. Nature wouldn’t force us to destroy it, which we are doing. That is our own stupid mistake, based on bad decisions. Unless you want to say that we are powerless cogs in a machine hell bent on self-destruction.”
Its interesting that you bring it up because if you examine the evidence in nature, it shows that it does precisely that. It goes through cycles of construction and destruction – whether it is human it is constructing/destroying or animals, plants, insects, civilisations, planets, stars, galaxies or anything in this universe including the universe itself! I have written about precisely this topic in my blog. Not just here (http://physicsbasedonbrain.com/2014/03/20/study-funded-by-nasa-predicts-civilization-collapse/) but in several articles. My whole blog is dedicated to the idea that nature goes through cycles of what we experience as “pain” and “happiness”. I am not linking it here to increase my follower/reader count but rather to make a point.
“Babies are a product of human bodies, not human intelligence. You don’t need to intellectually understand how to make a baby in order to do so. Computers are technological devices made from inanimate objects, and we know precisely how they work, otherwise they wouldn’t work. Because we know how they work we also know that there’s no need whatsoever for the computer to have any consciousness in order to work.”
Computers are “born” out of inanimate objects, just like babies. Like I said before, we don’t have a complete theory of reality and hence can’t really tell how computers work.
“Are you willing to say he had not choice whatsoever?” – Yes. But it depends on how you define “choice”.
“When we are talking about agency regarding whether or not we take someone else’s life, that’s a lot of free will.”
What about the person whose life is being taken? Won’t that person’s consciousness cease to exist after that? And by your argument his freewill will cease to exist?
“I’m not talking about some absolute free will that allows us to fly and eat suns for breakfast. It has to act, when it operates in the exterior world, within the confines of physical laws.”
Aah, then you are changing the definition of freewill 🙂
“I am using as a standard the only consciousness we know. Our own.” – I already argued that chimps are conscious. Thats wrong because there are people who don’t believe that plants are alive either – http://www.bhagwad.com/blog/2009/philosophy/are-plants-really-alive.html
“By that logic I would think Chinese people didn’t possess consciousness (actually I can speak Chinese, but you get the idea). If they build machines and can communicate with each other it’s pretty obvious that they are conscious, unless they are ultra-sophisticated robots.”
I am not convinced by your replica argument as I mentioned before. Like I said, how do you tell the difference between an “ultra-sophisticated robot” and a human being unless the only difference is consciousness which you could have a tested using a test?
“Then you are arguing that you are not alive and don’t have a consciousness, because computers need neither of those things. In fact, they would probably hamper the utility and functioning of a computer. Does your PC have emotions? Does it contemplate it’s own mortality and get depressed that it will be replaced by Windows 9?”
What have emotions got to do with being alive? Do plants have emotions? Do microbes have emotions? Are they not alive?
“That’s just stupid. I can tell my camera isn’t magic. Magic is something that breaks the laws of physics in the world. Basically, to perform magic is to create a miracle. Advanced technology works based on a thorough understanding of natural laws, not on breaking them with spells and incense.”
Well now you are getting into the argument for miracles. Can a miracle be reproduced and *shown*/*proven* that it did take place by suspending the laws of physics? Otherwise I could claim that life itself is a miracle or that I saw a miracle a minute ago but can’t prove it to you. The moment you reproduce a miracle, you invent a process/method for performing a miracle and invent a new science and hence prove that it is still controlled by laws of physics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_the_Sun#Critical_evaluation_of_the_event
This statement is absolutely ludicrous: “Computers are “born” out of inanimate objects, just like babies. Like I said before, we don’t have a complete theory of reality and hence can’t really tell how computers work.”
No, computers are not born like babies. They are not born at all. They are designed and constructed by humans. And yes we can tell 100% how they work, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to make them.
I can only respond to logical and relevant arguments. Some of what you are saying just strikes me as obstinately irrational contradiction. You also don’t appear to be assimilated my arguments, because you repeat arguments I’ve already refuted. For example, I pointed out that while a roach may have a (pin head sized) brain, it does not have a cerebral cortex. In humans that outer, most recently evolved layer of the brain is associated clearly with higher cognitive abilities, including self reflectivity, because we know that damage to it directly effects higher mental processing.
Even though I’ve pointed out the difference between awareness and consciousness several times, you don’t seem to have gotten it. A roach is probably aware, but it is not aware that it is aware. It does not have self-reflectivity. It does not contemplate its own existence.
If you want to continue the dialogue, you are going to have to provide more cogent arguments, and attempt to understand my responses. I don’t have time to engage in mental masturbation.
Well your arguments are just thoughts. There is no evidence for any of them. A schizophrenic person might also have thoughts but his thoughts have no basis in reality. Goodbye.
There is absolute evidence that human beings know how to build computers, and that the cerebral cortex is associated with higher cognitive functions. It is also incontrovertible that you are alive, conscious, thinking, feeling, and have the sense of agency.
You may say they are mere thoughts, but that doesn’t make them so. However, it does apply to some of the things you said, because they don’t make any sense except perhaps as fantasy or delusion.
“Consciousness as we know it is a product of the physical brain” – I don’t believe there is enough data to support that statement. While, “damage to the brain has direct, deleterious effects on consciousness” may be true in the here and now, no one can speak for after death. Consciousness may be a product of “the universe”, our “non physical selves”, or even something else, in which the brain functions (in the physical realm, as we currently know and experience it) as a tool to use it. There is no data to suggest either way as to the possibilities or non-possibilities of consciousness surpassing the physical human brain and carrying on or being “used” through another mechanism, or physical reality. This could be possible, as you have already said it.., “consciousness is not a material thing, …., and thus is not bound by the laws of physics”, (The laws of physics, as we know them to be, in the physical reality of the here and now) 🙂
I like your idea that the brain may be functioning within consciousness rather than consciousness within the brain, but, I would tend to go with the most reasonable or simple explanation, which is that the more highly developed and recently evolved areas of the brain, such as the frontal cortex, are the source of consciousness. If consciousness were a universal force of awareness, then there might be more transparency between different individuals. I think our consciousnesses are identical in kind, but still separate.
Had to have a couple pieces of toast and ponder your idea, which is quite beautiful: if consciousness were everywhere than everything would be bathed in existence (from a subjective rather than objective standpoint). But then it occurred to me that whether consciousness emanates from the living brain, or the brain somehow harnesses consciousness from the ether, it still only manifests when a living brain is present. So, we’d still need a brain, and things without a brain would remain unconscious.
Again, thinking about consciousness as the awareness of being aware (the ability to recognize or assert, “I exist!”), it first requires awareness, and that seems entirely linked with being alive. So, a creature is alive, then evolves to be self-reflectively alive, which has survival advantages. Seems the more likely scenario to me for now.
Thanks for your comment.
It only seems linked to being alive because you have not the experience of death yet. lol….good thoughts though, I can see how you made the connections. 🙂 Who is to say our conscious will not “re-connect” after death to a different (physical or non-physical) brain (or tool of sorts) after we leave here, as a computer with an internal hard drive swap and a reboot.. (and ok, maybe not the best of the best analogies, (( I just woke up)) lol, but you get my point)
…or after some more thought, better likened to an internet connection (for lack of better words, lol). When the router is turned off the signal is lost, not because the signal does not exist, but because there is no power to the router to receive it. All I’m saying is, if our brain acts like a receiver (in the here and now) who is to say that consciousness, our individual consciousness cannot be “powered back up” by some alternative means, either via an alternate reality (or alternate physical hardware in an alternate physical space…ie..one which we may not be privy to until after death)…and even if the drive was wiped of all data (brain being wiped of all memory) still does not mean that my (or our) consciousness couldn’t still be there just with a new hard drive, and fresh install of software to utilize…:) just some food for thought.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Right. I had this same discussion with an author, Daniel Pinchbeck, who likened the brain to a radio and consciousness to the signal. The problem with that analogy is that the brain is capable of making it’s own signal, and is also, as far as we know, the only thing capable of doing it. If the brain were just an antennae, where is the actual thinking taking place, and why is the brain so large and complex? Or, are you suggesting that the brain does all the processing but the light of consciousness comes from someplace else? I would counter that it’s actually the capacity to think – to self-reflect – that causes consciousness to arise out of awareness. Since the brain is what makes thinking possible, it doesn’t make sense that consciousness would be transmitted from someplace else where there wasn’t a brain to allow the kind of necessary self-reflexive thought to emerge.
If we were going to go with an internet analogy, we could say that the internet is still there whether or not my computer is online. However, my computer is doing the processing and creation of information, and the internet is just the content-less mechanism for sharing it. We could say that when I’m online I’m receiving information from elsewhere and through the internet, however, it is being generated from other computers.
It really seems that with life comes awareness, and with thought comes self-awareness. So it doesn’t make sense that a living thing with a highly evolved and unimaginably complex brain, which is capable of the most tortuously convoluted thought processes, needs to get consciousness from some other source that has neither a brain nor a mind.
That’s my best guess, anyway.
Hi Jessica. Have a look at this piece I did about crossing the threshold of death: https://artoferickuns.wordpress.com/category/death-dissolution-and-the-void/
Does consciousness die with the body? Does underlying existence die with the body? Is there another state that is NOT consciousness (as we know it) but is still existing?
I wouldn’t write off the possibility of not ceasing to exist after death. Though, because memory is stored in neural connections in the physical brain, it would logically be a bodiless, memory-less, unthinking awareness.
I tried to read your blog but could not because of its length.
May be you have a desire to express a lot. We see things because we desire to see them and we also desire others to see what we see .. its all a game of desire.
Do you think that the temperature at which water freezes is seen differently by different people according to desire, or is it something we agree upon because it’s a fact?
Freezing point of water too comes from the desire of establishing a temperature scale and then putting the point on it. People agree to it out of their desire to do so.
Very strictly speaking no two things or situations in nature can be identical. Scales can’t be more than 99.999999999999999 accurate to each other , nor does water freeze at exactly same temperature conditions under different pressure ..
Those who care about freezing point of water believe in it. Those who do not do not care for it.
I’m not sure what you are trying to get at. Let’s agree that someone who establishes the freezing point of water wanted to do so. And let’s agree that it’s only 99.999999999999999 accurate (though it’s probably 100%). Those things are so obvious that they are irrelevant. Of course the people who established facts such as the freezing point of water desired to do so.
Whether computer technology is 100% reliable, or merely 99.999999999999999%, you still used it to type your message belaboring the painfully obvious.
You seem to be arguing that everything is merely subjective impression based on desire. Try desiring a different freezing point for water, and see if you can come up with a different result. You wouldn’t be able to read this message if we, as a species, hadn’t come to certain basic consensual conclusions about physical reality. If you wre right, your computer might not work at all. It might melt into a marshmallow. But, in fact, you trust it to do what it is expeceted to do. Therefore your very actions contradict your apparent argument. You want all the benefits of consensual scientific knowledge, but want to say that it’s all just subjective fluff in the mind only.
What exactly is your argument against free will?
Freezing point is not a given by nature its an invention of human desire. sounds Insane ?
Freezing point is measurement, its a number on a scale , its reported by a thermometer and it involves a lot more things or AXIOMS which need to be agreed upon before it itself can be agreed to. These are all because some one desired you to believe in them.
You see what you see because you desire to see it.
Why say it’s because someone desired me to believe in it. Why not say it’s because we conscious beings desired to understand the world we live in? Sure, there is subjectivism, but there is also objectivism. You seem to want ot argue that everything is subjective. Nevertheless objectivity is so powerful that you are typing and sending messages because of the fruits of it.\s development and application. The overemphasis on subjectivity pretends objectivity doesn’t exist, and, in my opinion, gives a false sense of reality.
The power is because you desire to acknowledge it. You might be afflicted with an desire to show gratefulness and you are seeking objects of your desire.
No, the power of objectivity is the accumulated knowledge, which has allowed civilization, and the urban life you lead, with reliable electricity and computers and interenet. And things like medicine. Objectivity is responsible for graet achievements.
But I’m still wainting to hear what your argument is about free will.
ignorance is my choice
Awareness is mine. Anyway, my argument is that our existence is both subjective and objective, and to discount either is a big mistake.
Its Ok to make mistakes. Its Ok to live not bound by boundaries of definitions and expectations. Its Ok to live by your few desires than to adopt many senseless desires given to you in good will.
If you like ice cream enjoy it. Knowing how ice cream is even colder than ice at its freezing point is most likely not going to give you any more pleasure.
I’m sorry, but I can’t make sense of whatever it is you are trying to get at. It sounds like self-help stuff that I don’t need to know about. You might as well be lecturing me about how to tie my shoelaces. And I don’t see what it has to do with the topic of free will.
I am more sorry than you are. I can see myself as anything but an agent of help. Moral righteousness is the ultimate insult for anyone. I feel ashamed and sorry for myself .
Than why preach (righteous) amorality? Do we need more excuses for war mongers and corrupt bankers?
Consciousness does not save Free will. Galen Strawson sums it up pretty well here: http://www.closertotruth.com/series/mysteries-free-will#video-4181 . Free Will is just an illogical concept like a point south of the south pole. Unless you change the definition like Daniel Dennet or others. Which would end the discussion right away, because the definition of compatibilists like Dennet is just ridiculous. ;). Please refute Galen Strawson without changing the definition of Free Will. (=Could have done otherwise). 😉
Strawson is so easy to refute.
Strawson’s argument is as follows, “When we act, we do what we do because of how we are (all things considered). To be truly responsible for how we act we need to be truly responsible for how we are. We cannot be responsible for how we are, so we can’t be free.” He’s basically arguing that even if you have free will, you don’t have free will.
The question is whether or not we have control of our actions. His answer seems to give it to free will by granting that we do, but that we aren’t responsible for them. If you can control your thoughts and actions, you have free will, whether or not you are responsible for what you do. The second grand flaw with his argument is that you have nothing to do with who or “how” you are. Who you are is not just a result of your biology and early upbringing, but of a lifetime of your own decisions. You may have decided to stay fit or not, or to pursue a university education, or to study Zen meditation for decades. To a great deal you can mold who and how you are in the world, because you do have control.
Strawson talks about people as if we were beetles or perhaps mice. We are smart enough, in fact far more than smart enough, to figure out what the game is and how it is played, and then take control and mold ourselves. That is a question of will power.
Strawson says, “you cannot be the cause of yourself”. Thus, even if you have free will, since you cannot be the cause of yourself being an agent with free will, he says you don’t have free will. Again, he already admits you have free will. If you do, than you can change and mold who you are and how you act in the world. We have enough knowledge of psychology, culture, philosophy, the structure of language… to understand how we operate, and to tinker and make adjustments to who we are. And our every decision helps mold who it is who operates with free will, and how. He insists we are not sophisticated enough to play the game, and are just pawns. In reality we not only are capable of playing the game, but are exceedingly good at it.
Oh, and as for your definition of free will – could have done otherwise – of course one could have done otherwise if one has the capacity to choose, as Strawnson argues, but cannot be ultimately responsible for his/her choice because we are not responsible for who/how we are. Beyond that, again, as I argue, since we can mold ourselves and are masters of the game (as opposed to pawns within it), not only can we have done otherwise, we are responsible for whether or not we did otherwise.
Neuroscience is a relatively fresh field compared to other sciences. Neuroscientists are severely limited by their equipment, they are only able to measure general brain areas, and can’t really converge in as much. Not to mention that the brain is much more complex than any other area in the body, and even with equipment that allowed extremely specific data collection, it would take a very large amount of time to figure out all the intricacies of the brain.
The main problem (for me) with your argument is that “concsiousness is not a material thing”, and as evidence for this you say that scientists haven’t been able to find the location of concsiousness in the brain. But Neuroscience is far from being a complete science, so I don’t think it’s fair to immediately jump to the conclusion.
Personally, I believe that concsiousness doesn’t necessarily have to be in a specific part of the brain but can be in multiple parts.
I think when you call something “immaterial”, I think it makes any scientific argument void because there’s no way to objectively measure something that is immaterial.
But the point of your argument was to go against determinism, and even if your point about conciousness is true, that doesn’t mean that Determinism is false. In my opinion, your conciousness acts entirely on factors that are out of your control. How can you be the origin of action? If you were truly “the origin” you would make your choices completely at random because your actions aren’t being influenced by external factors (which are out of your ‘control’). People makes choices based off of interest, principles, beliefs and where did those come from? They were built up from experiences and genetics, both being factors that are out of your ‘control’.
Hi Max: You wrote: “How can you be the origin of action? If you were truly “the origin” you would make your choices completely at random because your actions aren’t being influenced by external factors (which are out of your ‘control’).”
Your consciousness bases it’s decisions on factors it’s aware of. How could anything make a decision without there being something to decide upon, which necessitates that there are influences and external factors. You can’t choose what’s in the box or what’s behind the curtain unless there’s something there, and reasons for each. So, it’s not “random” to make an intelligent decision or educated guess based upon your actual environment and various scenarios. There’s no contradiction there. Please look at my first article about Free Will:
You also took issue with my saying that consciousness is immaterial. A thought is immaterial, and consciousness experience is composted of thoughts. For more on this please look at my other article:
You seem to have it all wrong.
Determinism doesn’t say that we have absolutely no free will or are never making free choices.
It doesn’t say that we are always puppeteer-ed like marionettes by some unknown entity.
Determinism argues that all events, including human actions, are determined exclusively by prior causes (Causes of events which sometimes were and weren’t in our control).
It argues for this by claiming that since all particles and phenomena in the universe operate off of cause and effect patterns, in which there is always continual chain of preceding explanations, then, like all other things in the universe, so too are human action and choice subject to the same deterministic system.
We did not choose the parents we were born to, where we were born, the brain or genetics we were born with, nor the first thoughts and experiences we had. And yet, these things directly affected and led to every thought and experience we had thereafter in an unbroken, linear sequence of cause-and-effect; a cascading of forces and circumstances that we sometimes were or were not in control of or totally aware of at any point. And thus, everything that feels like our choosing is yet another product of some causal, fixed thing that we did or didn’t choose beforehand.
In every situation, we always have certain options to choose from in order to deal with that situation.
We are completely free to choose any option we want but aren’t free to choose what options we HAVE.
Our options are always predetermined by our environment and/or our prior actions and choices. In that sense, are we truly free?
You are interested in art. You freely chose to be.
But WHY did you chose to be interested in art?
Something must have happened to get you interested in art.
What led to the thing that got you interested in art?
What things led to the thing that got you interested in art?
What things led to those things that led to the thing that got you interested in art?
What things led to those things that led to those things that led to the thing that got you interested in art?
Eventually you will arrive at something that simply emerged into your conciseness from some unknown stream of events and information and thoughts and desires that you were mostly unaware of and did not control.
THAT is Determinism.
I know i’m 7 years late to comment but whatever. lol
You seem to be a little fuzzy on determinism. First you say, “Determinism argues that all events, including human actions, are determined exclusively by prior causes ” This includes our thoughts and choices.
Then you say, “We are completely free to choose any option we want but aren’t free to choose what options we HAVE.” THAT is NOT determinism.
Free will doesn’t say you have the ability to determine your environment or your options, but only to choose among the various possibilities. Determinism says you can’t make a choice.
Then you say, “Eventually you will arrive at something that simply emerged into your conciseness from some unknown stream of events and information and thoughts and desires that you were mostly unaware of and did not control.”
Now that is determinism. Determinism doesn’t allow the individual, conscious, intelligent, imaginative mind to do anything other then march in lock step with material events acting on material bodies.
Determinism says you have no choices whatsoever, and are merely along for the ride.
I see, we must have different ideas on determinism then.
I think that free will and determinism are not at odds and believe that both exist (It’s called Compatibilism).
You seem to deny the possibility, can you guess what it’s called?… Incompatibilism lol. Google ’em.
That’s okay then.
I’ll be arguing for Compatibilism.
You said “Free will doesn’t say you have the ability to determine your environment or your options, but only to choose among the various possibilities.” Yes, that’s exactly what i said, and those “various possibilities” that we are free to choose from now, are predetermined by our past decisions, choices, actions, experiences and events which may or may not have been within our control. And the outcome of whatever we chose freely now will determine the options, possibilities and experiences that we’ll have in the future, among which we are free to choose from then and so on and so forth into infinity.
You see where i’m going with this?
But of course not everything that happens to us or not every situation that we’re in is within our control. For a very basic example, our very birth. When, what gender, where on earth or what culture we were born in was not our choice or in our control and yet those few things shape and DETERMINE our lives to a certain degree, you can’t argue with that. Notice that i said “TO A CERTAIN DEGREE”, the rest we shape and determine ourselves because we have free will.
We have free will to a certain degree… Determinism determines what we do to a certain degree.
Both exist but neither of them are absolute. And they may seem contrary but i find them both to be complementary and interconnected. This is sounding a lot like Yin Yang.
If Determinism was absolute, we’d be inanimate objects like a rock or a block of wood (Which obviously we aren’t).
If free will was absolute we could choose to be immortal beings that could bend the universe and reality to our will with the snap of our fingers like a god (Which obviously we can’t).
Free will and determinism are at odds. Do your research. You can start by actually reading my article you are commenting on.
Oh well, let me do it for you. Here’s from the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Determinism, in philosophy, theory that all events, including moral choices, are completely determined by previously existing causes. Determinism is usually understood to preclude free will because it entails that humans cannot act otherwise than they do. ”
Everything you’ve said after that is stuff I basically agree with. There are things outside of our control that profoundly affect who we are — ex., our biology — but we can also make decisions to change our future…
Essentially, you believe in free will, but not that humans have super powers to break the laws of physics. Congratulations, you live in reality, and you happen to agree with me. You just got a little fuzzy on your definition of “determinism”.