Originally Posted by ArmChairGM
Time for a long ass post. This might go nowhere, but I couldn't sleep last night so I started reading this thread and decided (of fufilled my destiny) to chim in. Having said that, I am genuinely intrigued when Atheists argue in favour of free will. Discussing this issue with religious people is pointless because, to varying degrees, they believe in the supernatural, substance dualism and host of other garbage that falls outside the realm of science and concrete observation (even on a speculative level). Thus it is a waste of time to debate this issue with them, when they are inclined to fall back on "...spirits"..."we have a soul"... "God done did it. Don'tcha know?."
Trane (and any other atheist who voted yes to the question) probably doesn't believe in the supernatural. And those are the people my post is directed to, if they pay any attention to it. My intention is not to single you out, trane, but given that you are the only one who self indentified as an atheist, I am going to address my post to mostly your comments/position. But if anyone else reading this is an atheist who believes in free will, I'd be interested to know your stance. It's early in the morning, which is a bad time for making this kind of post, so I apologize if it gets a bit convoluted.
Predertermination is not dependent upon a creator. Quite the opposite. In fact, a lot of the scholars who are open to predeterminism are actually atheists. Dawkins, to my knowledge, dodges this question quite a bit when in public, since he knows it is problematic for most people. Without God, it is very difficult to salvage free will (yes, I know God granting free will has other logical contradictions). This is why defining "free will" is so important. Trane, your post implies that predeterminism of thoughts equates to a creator, but that is simply wrong. Although Cory was not doing a good job of articulating the position, he was making an argument similar to that made by leading neuroscientists. Furthermore, Legia raised the VERY IMPORTANT ISSUE of the role that consciousness plays in choice, yet you appeared to brush it aside. Many leading scientists and phillosophers think the notion of "free will" is problematic. They don't entirely dismiss it, but they don't accept it as a certainty. Some atheist scientists and philosophers make the case for a naturalistic type of predeterminism. The universe is comprised of knowable laws, right?. And I know you accept this, trane, because I've seen you object when a couple of the postmodernists were taking their nonesense too far (remember the boiling water discussion from a while back?). Why is this important? Because it relates to substance dualism. For an atheist such as yourself, "free will" must be based in the natural world, if it is consistent with your overall world view. No need for an athiest to believe in the supernatural.
If your thoughts are processes of your brain, and your brain obeys scientific laws, then your thought processes are governed by laws (neurology, chemistry...etc). Based on past experience, most people are totally going to miss the point of that statement, but I hope you'll grasp it. So, if you're saying things are not predetermined, then you need to account for how free will defies those laws.
On a related note, you also must account for how free will takes place in relation to consciousness. That is, you need to confront the VERY IMPORTANT point raised by Ligeia:
Trane (and other atheists), what is the role of conciousness in free will? And building upon the earlier point I raised, how does conciousness defy or obey natural laws while providing free will? To have free will, it would seem that choices must defy natural laws, or else they can be understood and predicted, given the right amount of information. The key part of that last sentence is, GIVEN THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF INFORMATION. If you don't understand the argument you are probably going to say "you can't read thoughts". But that's both untrue AND not essential for predeterminism. What's essential is that GIVEN THE RIGHT AMOUNT of information, the thought processes of the brain could be understood and predicted, since it is governed by laws, just like the temp necessary to boil water can be predicted given the right amount of information regarding the relationship between pressure and temperature.
Cory and Legia are on to something, at least based on what we currently know about the brain, which any honest person would still concede is not nearly enough. That goes for people on both sides of this issue. Legia is being the most honest here, since he/she said that this is a question that he/she is constantly grappling with. Trane, like Cory, you appear to have far too much certainty on this issue. Legia, and Cory to a lesser extent, are backed by some very interesting studies. There is empirical, replicable evidence that shows how the brain activity responsible for making short term choices kicks in before you're even conscious of the decision. Your brain is making decisions without you being conscious of it. That is proven. How do you reconcile that with your notion of free will? See, those short term decisions not only happen before you're conscious, they are ALSO predictable. They are governed by laws. An MRI can determine what you'll chose when given two choices. Does this entirely eliminate the notion of free will? Of course not. There are other types of long term thought processes. But recent advances in neuroscience raise SERIOUS questions about the ways in which LAWS govern our thought processes. It makes the notion of free will problematic. Our simple, basic thoughts are coded processes that can be revealed by an MRI of the brain. Not all of them (at least yet) but some. Computers can read our thought processes, too, which further suggests laws governing decision making. We are hooking computers into the brains of people with spinal cord injuries. Like the MRI stuff I discussed, the simple thought of wanting to move a cursor on a computer screen is coded in the brain. That code, once understood by a computer, can be read, and said computer will move the cursor everytime the connected person's brain replicates that exact same thought process. That shit was on 60 minutes. It's real. No joke. We may not be able to view our more complex thought processes yet, and make predictions about them, but that may simply be because we haven't developed the technology, not because we have some sort of free will that is so complicated it defies natural laws. If you're going to sustain the case for "free will" (which may or may not be possible) you need to have more tangible evidence regarding the role of consciousness in long, elaborate decision making. How does that fit with a naturalistic view of the universe? We simply don't know enough yet. And if you take consciousness out of the equation and try to suggest it's not necessary...well... at that point, you'd basically just be redifining free will. I mean, as Legia tried to point out, how is it free will if you're not conscious of the decision the instant it is made?
Now, before you go misunderstanding my point about laws, I am NOT neglecting the role of environment. I fully concede that numerous factors influence thought processes. Genetics, environment/experience, consumed substances...etc...all influence thought processes. But again, complexity does NOT automatically negate predetermination of thought processes. Since the brain is material and subject to natural laws, it MIGHT be possible to understand the weight and influence of all of these factors in the development and function of the thought processes of a person's brain. Again, although it could have been articulated better, Cory's analogy with computations is not automatically wrong. It was just expressed poorly. Some neuroscientists view the brain as a computer or a network of several computers. You have hardware (genetics), and loads of different software (environment/expereince/chemicals). The hardware and the software interacts in some cases. In other cases, new software overides the hardware or causes it to malfunction (somewhat subjective, but I think we can agree certain outcomes are very bad for health so it's a malfunction). Sometimes certain hardware proves so useful for obtaining positive outcomes that it completely replaces old software. And it can go the other way, sometimes new software is downloaded and turns out to be a major bust, but you don't find out until it has been used. All of this takes place without you even being conscious of it. There are numerous examples through the psychological literature. I haven't even touched on the way meds can be used to manipulate brain functions, which can play a huge role in long term decision making. Again, that relates to how laws govern thought processes. The manipulation through meds demonstrates that.
Now bearing all this in mind, I am going to go back and look at some comments from your exchange with Cory and Legia. Trane, you said this to Cory:
In regards to #1, people may be irrational based on previous experiences, lack of formal education, genetic ability, as well as other factors. Cory should have phrased things differently, but your points do NOT negate predeterminism and prove free will. Again, this isn't about the fact that multiple possibilites could exist, it's about the fact that given the right amount of information, you'll know what a given person does. Your argument does not dismiss the notion that a person's thought's might be predertimined by unconscious thought processes. Cory was dumb for saying logic predetermines things, since there are multiple logical answers to questions. But your response proves nothing for free will. If playing devil's advocate, I would say (and I'm sure Cory probably meant this) the brain will choose based on a confluence of computations, all of which seemed the most logical to the brain based on a laundry list of factors. Is this hugely complex? We don't necessarily know how complex it is for the unconcious aspects of our brain. Some factors are eliminated in milli seconds. But, unless free will defies natural laws, it would be possible to predict the outcome. And it would be predictable through an understanding of the natural laws governing the thought processes, as I discussed earlier in the post. If we could understand the laws governing the coding of decicions in thought processes, we could POSSIBLY use technology to see them before they are consciously realized. Again, that's assuming all decisions precede consciousness. I concede we don't know enough about the role of consciousness. But to suggest free will is a given, is just as problematic as Cory's position. Both of you seem too certain, given the limitations of our current technology.
As for #2, you seem to be removing emotions from the individual. It's possible, though, that I am just misunderstanding you. I mean, Sophie's choice can be a computation. That example does not negate predeterminism. In a healthy individual, the biological maternal instinct may be the most important in the heirarchy of initial computations, hence the reluctance to let either child go. Not making a decision, is a decision. Uncertainty is a decision. Something in the laws governing that processes are compelling the individual to avoid making the decison. It's like a flight response. Flight responses are found in animals far, far less complex than a human. How far exactly do you want to take free will? Once forced to confront the fact that a decision must be made, other aspects of the brain become involved and a new computation containing new information takes place. This doesn't mean that the decision was made through consciousness. In fact, in such a stressful situation, the mind may shut down and the person literally becomes a biological robot. I really don't like the Sophie's choice example as a means of proving free will. It doesn't work. Like the studies refered to earlier (that Legia initially brought up) brain activity may initiate the decision before sophie is even conscious. You'd need to establish that emotion somehow changes brain activity in quick decisions, at least to the point that it delays it and incorporates consciousness more. Two possibilities exist, but the choice could be made by the laws governing Sophie's thought processes. And to be clear, again, when I refer to laws, I am taking into account environment and past experience interacting with the genetic composition of the brain. Those variables shape thought processes and decision making (like the software analogy). It's different for all people, though. Predeterminism does not mean all decisions and outcomes will be the same when people face similar decisions. That's a massive misinterpretation of the position. Not saying you're doing it, but you should keep that in mind. Individuality doesn't dissapear. Again, I digress.
Let's look at another response to Cory. You said:
Okay, that's only part of the post, but this is dragging out, so I'm just going to address the part quoted. From the determinist perspective (not saying I entirely agree with it), your views are flawed and you still haven't proven free will. Again, you don't know for sure that your consciousness is responsible for the boundaries involved in the computation. Your consciousness may simply be a "delayed feed" of what has already been worked out by your brain. Since you're the claimsmaker, the ownus would fall on you to demonstrate that you are consciously deciding where the boundaries are drawn. Also, what point are you trying to make by asking if any human could understand the totality of complex situations? Maybe I am misunderstanding you, but this type of statement is confusing. See, individuality isn't lost with naturalistic predeterminism. People are still different from one another. They have different "hardware" and "software." So it's not like there is only one outcome possible. Choices are still made. The question really is, are you fucking aware (through consciousness) of the decision the instant it is made? And just because you're working out a long term decision over days and days, that doesn't mean you automatically have free will. It would seem likely in those scenarios, but it's not automatic. See, you could be doing computations you're unaware of, that later manifest in your consciousness, giving you the illusion that your consciousness is doing original thinking, when really it's just a "delayed feed" of other thought processes that played out earlier, and now you're becoming aware of what's going on.
Not sure I understand you. I can see two ways of interpreting this. Of course no rational actor can break any decision down to a surefire answer. That would require predicting the future. Predeterminism is not about the choice maker accurately predicting the best outcome. It's about the choices being governed by physical laws that the choice maker is a part of. And even if two choices seem equally desirable, I doubt any choices can be quantified in a numerical score, so for each individual there will probably be a prefereable outcome they pursue. Take Sophie's choice: two equally negative outcomes, the process of the flight response kicks in and the choice is initially avoided, but then once the choice is forced, the individual makes a computation on variables specific to the brain's conditions. If it's predetermined, it doesn't have to be the best choice. The brain just has to perceive it as the best under given conditions. And regret does not prove free will, either. It just means the brain is adapting to a faulty computation or malfunction in software. Poor software was downloaded (experience or faulty knowledge consumed), bad consequences occured, the brain had the applicable software/hardware necessary to recognize bad consequences, and thus adapted. Evolution is about adaption. Free will is not necessary for many of the things you're describing. Natural selection can chose favourable traits like regret. The ability to recognize the bad consequences would be a result of past conditions governing the brain (genetic selections for the hardware), so it again comes back to predeterminism (at least that's what they'd argue).
Then you said this to Legia in reference to two points; one being a question about "why you make decisions" and the other being a reference to a proven FACT that there is a delayed feed in our conscious awareness of at least some decisions (and possibly more than we are currently aware of).
Okay, that particular post sounds great and I want it to be true, but that doesn't make it true and it doesn't fully address Ligeia's comments. See, Cory never mentioned consciousness once. Not once. So, when you refered to Ligeia's points as a "misdirection at best", you must have been refering to the question about "why you make those choices." However, you never say the word conciousness. That's why I'm conflicted about your response. It sounds smart, and it conforms with what my consciousness appears to experience, but is it really how the physical laws of decision making actually work? Free will isn't even needed for me to type this post and formulate my response. The computations could all be playing out seconds before I ever decide what to write. Brain activity operates that fast. Is that really free will? See, you seem to be dodging the concsiouness aspect of Ligeia's comment. Given that Cory's name came up again at the end of the post, it's possible that you're just addressing that one point about "why you think that way" while neglecting the implications of the role of consciouness during this whole entire discussion. Why have you not mentioned concsiousness once? I don't want to make assumptions about your position. I just don't get why you haven't addressed the possibility of a "delayed feed." Maybe it's a shortcoming in the knowledge of the people entertaining the predeterminist position, but if it is, you should provide a more empirical basis for why it doesn't matter. I mean, are you drawing on quantum mechanics? If so, that's also problematic for free will, at least if you're going to express the same degree of certainty about it.
I'm going to post some videos in here to better illustrate some of the points about the mechanistic view of decision making/naturalistic predetermination. Sorry for the convoluted post. Insomnia equals = blah, blah, blah from armchair