Anyone want to talk philosophy?
Based on a post I saw asking for a ~philosophy group, it seems like there are at least a few people looking for some discussion like this. Does anyone want to talk about some concept that's been on their mind for a while?
If you do, go ahead and throw it down in the comments. It'd be great if we could get a couple of nice discussions going!
My thinking on the topic is not really fully formed yet, as I've not spent enough time confronting this particular question to really have a more permanent position. However, a discussion with a good friend of mine a few weeks ago has pushed me pretty far towards incompatibilist determinism.
We more or less based our discussion on a view of decision making as an extension of the biochemical construct that is the human brain and the idea that, for an action to be truly free, it must be a cause unto itself. Based on that, we determined that there really can be no such thing as a truly free decision for a human because the human brain is entirely shaped by outside causes, either genetics or experiences, and the chemistry of one's brain determines the action/choice that one will perform based on any given set of stimuli.
I do find it very interesting that there is such a dichotomy between people interested in philosophy and the general population on this subject. I think that it has to do with an unwillingness to consider that one might not be able to create their own chain of cause and effect, along with the implications of such a concept. Especially in the case of my friend and I's biological conception of the subject because of the effects that general acceptance of that would necessarily have on our treatment of criminal justice and other issues in society.
What would the effects be, you think?
(I'm definitely on the incompatibilist deterministic side of it. Although I don't think it changes things much in the end.)
Btw, I was very much surprised with the results of the survey regarding this. I would've though fewer people had this conviction.
Not sqew, but if people are ultimately a product of the situation at hand, then on what moral grounds do you enact a punishment for crime? Is it reasonable to imprison those that "only" did wrong not because of innately evil choices, but because that's the way the universe is? While these questions may be easily explained by some mode of ethics, they are of legitimate concern to the layman, who is less knowledgeable and would serve in juries and participate in the politics responsible for laws.
In the end I think that the existence of punishment for crime tilts society in large away from the criminal acts and is therefore a reasonable course of action even in a deterministic case. Convincing the general public of this would be much more difficult, and in the interim it is likely that people will use this idea of determinism to justify violent criminal acts.
Exactly. There is no escape.
Sure, I'm aware of the layman implications,
and those would be as well layman conclusions. As you say, knowledge also affects human behavior (even if not by choice), so punishment and rehabilitation are still working concepts. So I don't see how it would change the way things are much.
I'm so glad juries are not really a common thing where I am.
I think people still are autonomous moral agents just as much as they ever were, even if we grant that there is absolutely no such thing as contra-causal free will.
Even when we "admit" that the brain is fully constrained by physics, it is still a massively parallelized information processing and judgment-making engine that considers (or disregards) human welfare, that weighs and considers, in various amounts, one's personal sense of conscience, calculated self-interest, personal relationships, likely outcomes, and a lifetime of influence and thought and reflection based on engagement with culture. We really are still doing all of that moral deliberation, even as physical creatures. We are still responsible, because our judgments aren't just reflexes, they are a product of genuine consideration. It just so happens to be occurring in a purely physical brain.
So I would say we're still moral agents at the end of the day, and the core problem, to my mind, with contra-causal free will is it somehow always gets joined at the hip with this idea that an incredibly complex physical machine (e.g. a brain) can't possibly be engaged in autonomous moral considerations.
But isn't this the compatibilist view? As in: "Since it comes from a mind without being forced by external causes, it's free and it's an agent".
I don't agree with this and I think this
is not taking into account that that "judgment-making" is not such thing, since every single reaction of processing is determined by previous experience, genetics or biology. The fact that we perceive it as consideration or thinking is just a superficial phenomenon. It seems to me there is an illusion of judgment and consideration, but I don't think there can be one without contra-causal free will.
I dislike analogies, but bear with me (and critize if you think it's not fair). Simplifying, to me this is like saying if a ball falls down the stairs, we can consider the ball to be an agent. There are lots of factors that limit the ball movements, speed, ending position, etc. The fact that it moves doesn't mean it is acting on its own or that it decides where to bounce at any point.
It's explicitly confronting this notion and identifying it as a misconception. Because judgment itself doesn't have to mean independence from physics for all the reasons I was getting into in the previous comment. Information processing of the kind that our brain is engaged with involves not merely clicking of atoms, but the processing of a vast, organized, spectacularly complicated abstract representational system dealing with exactly the kinds of concepts that are the heart of moral deliberation, including wrestling with abstract concepts, judging character, weighing moral value of competing actions, and all the things we find important about being a genuine moral agent.
Physical machines driven by nothing other than physical causation are capable of engaging with these concepts, and this engagement is what judgment is, and the insistence that judgment must be something over and above physics is certainly one way of thinking about what judgment is, but the important thing is to explain why it's a better conception of judgment, rather than just insisting that it's the only option.
As for whether it's an epiphenomenon or illusion, I think there isn't any illusion. You think that you're thinking, because you're actually thinking. The confusion comes from thinking that "you" must be a separate, extra thing, that exists over and above and outside of the physical machinery that is doing your thinking. You are that machinery; you are those physical forces.
I see your point, but I fail to see how that mechanistic judging makes us moral agents.
The thing is I don't see how all of this is more than atoms clicking. I read this as if you're actually implying that thinking is something that's above physics.
Also, if you believe physical machines are capable of dealing with these concepts, do you mean machines can be moral agents?
As to why it's a better definition of judgment, I think it is precisely to separate it from the idea that judgment is made on top of physical processes. (So I think it's better to call it something else, instead of changing the common definition of judgment, but that's only a matter of perspective, sure.)
One harmful effect of the "free will" perspective on crime and punishment is its focus on the mental state of the criminal. When our justice system works well, it's focused on giving victims tools to remove themselves from unsafe situations or to hold people accountable for abusing their power. These tools can operate regardless of the reasons behind the crime. If someone is abusing you, it doesn't matter if they have free will or not—a restraining order which removes them from your physical space will help you either way.
On a more general note, I don't think we need to assume our society or its justice system is moral. Locking a person in a cage for years is a horrible thing to do, especially if you believe they have free will. Instead of justifying the way things are, I think we should use our morals to understand what's good and bad about our situation, use this knowledge to guide our imagination toward a better way that things could be, and then use this imagination to push ourselves toward that better world.
My thinking is a bit similar to what @bear-punch said.
It seems to me that, if society accepts incompatibilist determinism, that we would have to completely reimagine our methods of meting out justice and punishment for crimes. If a society has accepted that all actions are determined by causes that the person doing the action cannot control, then how can they say that the person can be blamed for those actions?
I think that a shift from assessment of blame/culpability towards assessment of future risk to society would be necessary. In addition, a shift in the corrections system would also be required: less imprisonment, more rehabilitation. In the vast majority of cases, one would attempt to rehabilitate the perpetrator of an act so that they do not make the same choice in the future. In cases of repeated offenses or particularly heinous crimes, the system would have to determine that the person was an incorrigible threat to society and remove them. In my opinion, capital punishment would not be an option because the society has accepted that the person cannot be truly blamed, so there would need to be a system by which such people could be separated from society to live out the remainder of their lives.
Agreed. I think I mentioned it somewhere else, but this would probably be a change from "this is bad" to "we don't want this". But I don't think it changes a lot in practical terms and that it doesn't entail to "completely reimagine our methods of justice and punishment", i think it's more of a shift in perspective, but not so much in methods.
I mean, imprisonment is already supposed to be a way of rehabilitation, I think. (Maybe not in the US? My country doesn't have capital punishment or life sentences, I think the maximum is 30 years.) I mean, that is supposed to be the main objective of punishment, to rehabilitate the person, isn't it? Of course, much more than imprisonment could be done and more often than it should, probably because of lack of tools/funding, imprisonment is only privation of liberty and exemplary punishment (affecting other people's knowledge of the consequences to deter them from doing the same).
I don't support capital punishment, but I don't see how the lack of blame would affect that societies that think it's a legitimate method would have to get rid of it. In the end it works as a deterrent as well and prevents future behaviors (whether they're done through free will or not).
To your first point, I probably was generalizing the situation in the United States to other places a little bit too much. The general perception of the US system is that it is geared almost entirely towards punishment and very little towards rehabilitation. Maybe I did go a bit overboard with "completely reimagine" the system... a shift in perspective would probably also suffice. My point there was really that our current legal experts, jurors, lawyers, and judges would have to reevaluate how they look at evidence and the question of how to handle different cases.
My thinking about capital punishment there was essentially that, if you believe that a person is not actually worthy of being blamed, can you really kill them for whatever illegal action they took? Whether or not a given society found that acceptable would probably vary and be based on how they value life versus the future safety of the society. Certainly an interesting question to think about.
I see. You mean you think blame is the main factor they have into account at the moment. I'd argue that other systems also consider blame, even though the goal might be more directed towards rehabilitation. So I'm not sure that is the cause of having different systems. But of course, it probably has several implications nonetheless.
Things do seem to get muddled the more I think about it. At least in the US system, some parts would probably have to change a lot, some only a bit. All sorts of implications for all sorts of components of the system. I doubt we can really do anything more without getting all the way into opinions here.
Thanks for the interesting conversation! Definitely going to have to keep thinking about the different ideas we proposed.
Yeah, you're probably right. And there are surely many thing to think about at this point. Thanks back!
I see it as a bit of a spectrum and got legal with that question. I do not believe in an incompatibilist notion of free will because quite simply there is way too much going on that is completely outside of our control. We living beings have a very narrow slice of options available to us that allow us meaningful choice. Fortunately, that's a lot of the evolutionary advantage that consciousness brings to the table. Unfortunately, it's much, much less than I think we want to acknowledge.
But you do think there are such instances. So you still believe on free will, right? I'd argue there are no such instances at all and everything is just a chain of a myriad of factors (that we usually can't comprehend).
I'm not happy with an extremist "there is or isn't" approach to this question. The people who typically argue for "free will" are much more unrelenting about it than I'm comfortable being. You are being much more unrelenting about a flat-refusal to acknowledge any meaningful choices in ones life than I'd be too. But until you know exactly what consciousness is and how it works (and right now we have decent theories, but it's hard to prove them and none of them really settle this question in the way I'm talking about it), there's really no proving it either way.
edit: My point was I answered "no" to the question in that survey despite believing in a very narrowly existent view of free will because I didn't believe in the defined version of free will. By implication that I exist, it could be just the way the question was framed for how high the "no" response rate was.
Oh, sure. I'm just taking a stance for the sake of debate. I'm obviously not 100% certain, hope I didn't sound confrontational. I just wanted to know what were those things you believe fall under the free will umbrella and see how they compare to other things that you believe are determined. But just for the sake of exploring the topic, to know what exactly was your "very narrow view of free will".
And yes, the survey definition might have skewed the results. But well, it's better to have a definition than leaving the question to free interpretation, I thinkm
Oh no, I'm not complaining about the definition. I liked the definition because I understood what it was trying to say free will was (and I don't believe in that variant). I was just trying to give a little bit of insight as to why this particular survey may have created a larger "no" result than you were expecting.
I think you're right that I do still fall under what a form of "free will" umbrella despite not believing in a very large role for it. I also took no offense and for my part I'm sorry if "extremist" made it seem like I was annoyed. I fall into an awkward middle-camp that gets disowned by both groups, even if it should be more aligned with one over the other.
I see, I see. No, it's good to have doubts about both sides. Even with the definition, though I would expect the yes to be higher, for some reason.
And no, no problem. I know I get carried away when a topic fascinates me, I just sometimes don't realize fast enough, that's why I was asking.
Let me put it this way: I've been playing league of legends for 9 years and I've moderated the /r/leagueoflegends subreddit for 3 of those same years. If I didn't have a thick skin I'd have probably been broken several times over by now.
I have his feeling that belief in free will is falling out of favor, even in the general populace, and I personally haven’t seen any convincing philosophical arguments that seem like they might reverse that course. I think the only thing really keeping free will afloat is the consequences for how we organize society and, more abstractly, perform ethical and moral reasoning, under that light. At least in Western philisophy, there’s a long history of placing individual agency at the center of any moral theory, so we aren’t really prepared for how to think when you take that away and can no longer say, “murderers are bad” but have to say “the forces that make people morder are bad.” However, I bet my phrasing it that way didn’t seem at all odd to you—this idea that we aren’t really fully responsible for our actions is actually quite intuitive, and not really anything new. It’s just that we don’t have a history of ways to think and talk about morality given that. This is why we immediately dive into discussions of, “well wait, so is it okay to punish people at all?” and the subsequent consequentialist reasons for why that helps keep society running regardless of free will. But we are still left with this unsettling feeling that we should still be responsible somehow for our decisions. We saw all this in the discussion in the other thread responding to @sqew here, starting with @ajar’s comment.
All of that is why I think one of the most important concepts of our time, even if it’s not ultimately generally accepted, will turn out to be moral luck, basically because this is the philosophy-world keyword for this exact problem that inevitably falls out of realizing there’s no free will. The problem of moral luck arises roughly like this: the conventional idea (called te control principle in the literature) is that we assign less moral responsibility when the acting agent has less control, yet we frequently find ourselves correctly judging actions or agents even when they have no control over the actions under consideration. When we make such judgements, we have generated instances of moral luck. Note and this can happen even if you believe in free will, to the extent that under some circumstances some of our actions or their results may be beyond our control.
There are a variety of reaponses to this problem, ranging from denying that moral luck exists, to arguing that the control principle is actually being conflated with other principles, or attempting to use results from experimental psychology to explain away our seemingly inconsistent intuitions of moral responsibility. It seems to me that this problem and it’s possible resolutions will be very important to our collective future. Not just for the implications to law and criminal justice and the like, but because without a satisfying resolution to the problem of moral luck, it seems that we don’t have a very strong basis for understanding how and why we should judge the fundamental organization of society or how we might want to change it. All that seems to still “work” coherently are some ethical systems like a minimally-moral utilitarianism, yet that has well known problems that need morality to be resolved (i.e. utilitarianism doesn’t tell us that slavery or eugenics or etc. are wrong, or how they should be weighed against the general populace’s happiness). Moral luck shows that we have more work ahead of us to recover a moral framework that will still make sense and be useful once people start rejecting free will.
P.S. if podcasts are more your speed, Aaron Rabi of Embrace the Void is much more knowledgeable about this than me, and they recently did an episode about moral luck.
Thanks, dynarr. You raised very interesting points and the links are very useful. I'll be sure to read and listen to them with some time. I didn't know about this concept, and it definitely seems a key concept.
It is true that the problem lies in assigning different levels of responsibility. We don't judge the same someone who runs over and kills a pedestrian as someone who gets crashed by another car and as a consequence runs over and kills a pedestrian. As if those different circumstances were more or less based in agency.
I believe it is ok to punish people, but it is difficult to assess the degree of responsibility.
I think that utilitarianism makes sense and that it's not so much about "murderers are bad" or "the forces that make people murder are bad" but "we, as a society, don't want murderers" (independently of moral judgements).
I'm normally not a fan of Sam Harris or the "new horsemen" for many reasons, but I do think that Sam provided a really helpful allegory for providing a 'man on the Clapham omnibus' approach to determinism;
Think about your thoughts. When you're acting, thoughts are emergent and simply pop into your head. You did not premeditate the thought, and if you did, that premeditation was also emergent. These thoughts are always linked with your prior experience, and as a result, we seem to have a pretty water-tight case for determinism.
This may not seem like a rigid analytical philosophical argument, but we're provided here with a unique insight into a competing intuition, which is very very important - views that purport agency in the free will debate tend to start with a powerful base phenomena of "perception of choice". At least, this is how many get to those further conclusions. Here, we are given an equally solid "feeling" that we can build a theory upon.
The thing is, Free Will isn't an isolated philosophical problem. The larger question comes to down to more metaphysical fundamentals such as the concept of causation. Agency gets thrown into even murkier water when we also approach metaphysical problems like the idea of a singular and persistent 'self' which, I'm sure many would agree, is equally questionable.
Many of the problems we seem to have with digesting the problem of "free will" come from this agent-centric way of thinking. The reality is this is a physical problem with a physical solution and the initial intuition we start from, when defending a conception of human free will, is largely emotive. The "feel" of a choice is enough to inform many people's entire argument.
I've kind of rambled here and the reality is that I'm not really sure if I fall into the camp of a determinist or not. But I do think that Free Will provides a great starting point for delving into some of the meatier metaphysical questions floating around, and by getting closer to good philosophy there, we're likely to get better philosophy about our agency in the future.
I like what you said here:
That really seems to be a strong determining factor in the direction that any debate about determinism versus free will. People have an emotional idea of what's right and wrong in such a situation and are loath to give up on it.
I think you are exactly right, and I think this is exactly the way of constructing the problem that makes it so tempting for people to want to throw in with libertarian free will, because there's an appealing association of freedom with it.
But it's important to understand you are just as free now as you ever were, and to me, this idea that freedom must come from breaking "free" of the constraints of physics, is just an unfortunate confusion. I forget the origin of the quote, but I feel it's really appropriate for framing this convesation: "nobody ever died on a battlefield for libertarian contra-causal free will." Whatever the outcome of the debate, you were the same person the whole time. You don't get more free by winning the argument or less free by losing it.
So I think a big difference between philosophers and laypeople probably comes from the connotations of freedom that people attach to the free will debate.
I'm essentially a layperson on this issue, I only really brush with philosophy where it overlaps with political theory that I'm interested in, and even then not too deeply.
Anyway, from my super limited perspective, I can't help but line up with (fuck this wasn't intended as the most obvious joke in the world but I guess I'm leaving it now) incompatibilist / hard determinism. I also don't quite understand how there are any issues with personal responsibility. People / legal systems can still find meaningful differences between the sources of a behavior even if that source was determined by something else before it. Like, even though a conscious mind is just a super complex mixture of pre-determined states, we can still place blame on that mind as it is separated from other things...either just because that feels right, or because from a practical standpoint, there's a difference in future outcomes between someone who was just in a shitty situation and someone who is just a shitty person.
I'd like to hear someone out on any side of this, though. My belief isn't very strong, I just couldn't personally find anything more compelling in the very little time in my life I've spent looking.
I suppose to me, I view that problem from the perspective of a computer scientist:
Take a snapshot of our universe at an instantaneous moment in time. We will call this a "state", and this particular state will be called P. Now, take that snapshot and create a clone universe, and we can call this identical state Q. Finally, given an arbitrary amount of time that passes, state P will transition to state P' (said as "P prime"), and state Q will transition to state Q'.
If you have an identical system (in this case, the universe and all the rules that apply to it) in which you load P or Q, and we have
P == Q, then we will see that
P' == Q'.
It's a very practical point of view, kind of boring. That being said, I also believe that the universe is complex enough that we have what could be considered sufficient enough to call free will, even if technically our actions are all deterministic. Much like the roll of a die is technically deterministic, but is so complicated that we call it random anyway.
Since simultaneity changes based on your perspective, even just being able to take a snapshot of space (without the state transitions, clone universes, or equality relation) leads to a 4-D eternalist "block" universe. Since you can snapshot different sections of spacetime depending on your relative speed, all of spacetime must already exist and be pre-determined in order for you to be able to snapshot it.
Unfortunately, though I've tried several times, I can't get my head around this relativity of time thing. It's just beyond me, I always get lost at the very first lines of any explanation. So I guess there are some gaps in my knowledge that forbid me to grasp it. Or maybe it's something much more simpler and I'm just overthinking it.
The basic idea is that light always goes the same speed (c), no matter what. If you're standing on Earth and fire a laser at Alpha Centauri, it goes at c. If you get into a spaceship and start traveling toward Alpha Centauri, the laser still speeds ahead of you at the speed of light. If you reach 99.999% of the speed of light in your spaceship, the laser is still speeding ahead at c (at least from your perspective).
If this is the part you can't get your head around, then I agree, it doesn't make any sense. I've never heard a good argument for why light has to be like this (I'd love to hear one if anyone has one). As far as I know, it's just something we have to accept.
But maybe you buy that light can have a constant speed. Then what does that have to do with simultaneity? Say you're in your spaceship, going 99.999% of the speed of light. When you're exactly halfway to Alpha Centauri , you fire two lasers: one back toward Earth, and one forward to Alpha Centauri.
When do these lasers arrive? From your perspective, both lasers are traveling at c—but Earth is traveling away from you at 99.999% c, while Alpha Centauri is approaching at 99.999% c. The laser barely makes any progress toward Earth, since Earth is traveling away from you almost as fast as the laser is. From your perspective, the laser light will reach Alpha Centauri well before it hits Earth.
But wait—just as you fired the lasers, you happened to blow right past another spaceship sitting halfway between Alpha Centauri and Earth. The crew of this spaceship also sees both lasers moving at c, but their ship is stationary, not moving at all with respect to either location. Since they're an equal distance away from both locations, the crew observes the lasers hitting Alpha Centauri and the Earth simultaneously!
So which was it? Did the lasers hit at the same time or at different times? If you believe the basic idea of relativity, that light always travels the same speed, you're forced to answer, "I don't know!"
 Based on calculations you made before leaving Earth, you know exactly when this will happen—you don't have to do any local measurements to know when you're halfway.
Thanks for the explanation! But
I am guessing this means the laser is traveling away from me and I am approaching AC, right? Not that Earth and AC are moving themselves towards or away from me, right? I mean, yes they might be moving as well, but that'd be another thing, right?
But it's not that the light barely makes progress, it's making progress, I will see the laser get away from me, right?
I mean... is this all a perception thing, like the way we see the past of star light because of the time it takes to get to the Earth?
I still don't get it. Would this be the same if there was no-one to see the lasers? :S
It's the same thing, since there's no way to tell the difference. That's really the goal of relativity: to remove any kind of "preferred reference frame of motion". You can always think of yourself as stationary and everything else as moving relative to you.
It's making progress, but the Earth is going almost as fast. It's like if you started driving at 99.999% of the speed of a bullet and fired a bullet backwards. Though the bullet would move away from you very quickly, it would be moving quite slowly relative to the ground.
If you look at it this way, it's not too surprising that the light takes longer to go back to Earth, since that happens with normal things like bullets too when you fire them from moving platforms. The really weird thing is that, from a stationary frame of reference, it seems that you fired out the light faster than it should be possible. After all, you were going at 99.999% of the speed of the light in one way, and suddenly something shot out at the full speed of light in the other direction. Wouldn't you have had to shoot it at almost two times the speed of light?
It's not just perception—there's nothing in the argument about the time it would take for the light to bounce off the Earth and come back so you can see it. It's about the actual time it takes for the light to travel and hit Earth. Using words like "sees" and "perspective" to talk about this stuff is ultimately confusing but I couldn't think of a better way to say it.
Ok, I think I understand that. Would this be like saying if I shoot a gun to a wall, we could say everything is moving and the bullet is stationary? I mean I get the effect would be the same. But isn't there a way to tell the difference anyway? (Curious)
This is what I don't get. Is it related to the fact that I shot the bullet while moving? The way the bullet started its movement is dependant on my movement? I'd say not, because an stationary observant is supposed to see it traveling faster than me... :/ Is speed constant or is it also relative? I guess I confuse relative and subjective as well.
Yes, I had that question when reading your explanation. Thought it was better not to think about it...
Look, I barely studied any physics in school, which frustrates me because I find them fascinating. I might be a lost cause. So it is probably better if I don't ask too many questions and go read some basics of physics. I feel there is something basic missing in my understanding.
There isn't! In our normal lives, the air starts to push against us as soon as we move, but when there's no air, you can't tell what's moving and what's not.
For example, if you're driving down the road and you drop something out of the window, it'll tend to get dragged backwards by the air moving relative to your car. You can feel the air moving (is it moving?) if you put your hand out the window.
But if your car is flying through space, and you drop something out of the window, it'll stay there, moving exactly the same speed, since there's nothing to pull it backwards. If you throw it slightly forward, or slightly to the side, it'll move the way you threw it, just the same as if your car were stationary.
But wouldn't the fact that someone outside the car, not moving, and not feeling any air movement be enough to determine that it is the car that is moving and not the air?
There's nothing about the outside air that makes it the supreme arbiter of motion. For example, the air in the car is also not moving, why not trust it? Or what if there's heavy wind? Does that mean you're moving, even if you're just standing around outside? I have to go to bed, but googling "Galilean relativity" should give you a bunch of useful articles about the general principle here.
Hey, thanks for your answers. I'll try to get more informed. Night.
IMO, even if the universe is completely deterministic, it's still free will. Just because you can predict what my free will decide doesn't mean that it isn't free. For example, I have the free will to climb Mt Everest if I wanted, but I'm 100% certain that I never will. Does that mean I don't have free will to climb it, just because you can predict that I never will? Of course not. I just know that I never will because I have no desire to.
The only way we wouldn't have free will is if there is an outside force that can modify our thoughts/desires. I think a really interesting question is to look at things like lead poisoning, rabies, brain tumors, and such and try to figure out when those infringe on our free will. Like, if lead poisoning makes people more violent and impulsive, does that mean they've lost their free will? How much lead poisoning does it take before you lose your free will?
I might be wrong, but I think that quote (A man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills) does actually support incompatibilist determinism. The fact that you can't choose what you choose is precisely what makes it incompatible, since there is no actual choice.
Thanks for the correction. Interesting. I think I have read it as an incompatibilist quote before. But I might just be ascribing my own interpretation to it and misremembering.
PS: I've been reading the Wikipedia article on his essay. It would seem to me that that quote could be applied to both kinds of determinism. It seems the way he refers to freedom, as a trascendental will outside of the experienced world, is probably explained in some other way. In any case, I will definitely read his essay and try to understand it better. Thanks!
Yeah, that's exactly what I mean. "You can choose to do something or not to do it, but you cannot choose what you choose". Way to boil it down to one sentence!
As someone who loves numbers, it typically makes me nauseated when people say they are 100% certain about anything. There is a massive difference between 100% and 99.9999...%. It is the difference between 1 in X and 0 in X. I cannot say, for instance, with absolute certainty anything about the world. I simply do not have enough information to feel that certain. I can get really damn close though. I am 99.999999% certain the sun will still be there tomorrow. That doesn't mean there is no extremely small chance the sun could disappear, but that chance is so small that I don't feel compelled to think about it except as an example of some random event that could theoretically happen (and almost certainly won't).
I suppose you're right. If the world flooded and Everest was the only land left, and I happened to be nearby, I would climb it. Nausea is a pretty strong response to saying 100% though.
It happened in Water World!
Yeah, this bugs me too. I like the tongue in cheek dogma of “0 and 1 are not probabilities.” Of course, they come up in abstract theory all the time, but if you are making a prediction about real life, then saying you are 100% sure is literally infinite arrogance 😛
I think this is a matter of a different of opinion on what defines free will. I would say the definition of free will is the capability to make a different decision than you had previously if the universe was reverted to a previous state.
It seems to me that you are arguing that free will is the capability to feel a conscious decision. That if at some point you considered options and made a decision then free will exists.
I don't think it's about prediction, though. What you're saying is that there is nothing (external) that prevents you from climbing the Everest. But hard determinism goes beyond external causes, into "internal" ones. The fact that you don't want to climb it its because of the way your mind is configured, and it is configured that way as the result of experience, genetics, culture, etc. So there is no way you can actually decide to climb it. And if you do decide to climb it, there is no possible way you couldn't decide to do it.
Like, if you stopped time at the moment of making a decision, you can think you have two (or more choices), but whatever choice you make is the only one you can make since it's the only solution your mind can accept.
Rabies, lead poisoning, are the same. The fact that these are chemical reactions originating from "outside" instead of from your own biology doesn't change the fact that they are making you take a path or another.
At least that's how I interpret incompatibilist determinism...
Yeah, but that's basically like saying that I can't decide to climb Everest because my mind doesn't want to climb Everest, and my mind doesn't want to climb Everest because of my past life experiences. That's basically the same as saying "you can't climb Everest, because you don't want to climb Everest, which means you have no free will". My point is more that even if you'll 100% always make the same decision, it's still free will because YOU are making the decision. It doesn't matter how you became you and reached that decision, it's still your free will. Basically, even though you could never possibly make a different decision, it's still free will because you always make the decision that you want to make. The only way to lose free will is if you're forced to make a decision that you don't want to make.
Also, this is really difficult to discuss while still trying to make sense lol. Now I know why people get PhD's in philosophy.
No, I understand your point well, I think. I've discussed it before and it's the main argument of the compatibilist view. "Since it comes from my mind without being forced, it's free, and since it is what I want, it is will". I just don't agree with distinguishing external and internal causes for the effects of free will, I think all of them are on the same level. For me, not having the ability to climb the Everest (because you don't have limbs or because you can afford it, or whatever) is no different than not willing to climb it, precisely because you cannot decide what you want to do. I believe that the compatibilist perspective wants to preserve the concept of the self, while the incompatibilist one doesn't care about it. In y view, everything is the product of particles crashing into each other and pushing each other around, and the self (the YOU) is just a byproduct of that pushing around.
Oh I see what you're saying. I think I basically agree with that. My only minor change would be to distinguish forces external to the universe as being able to break free will. Like, if we're all in a simulation, and one of the programmers of the simulation changes something about me that forces me to do something, then I would say that breaks free will, even though the programmer might have changed something in a way that makes me want to do what I'm doing.
Umm, ok. I'm not sure you agree with that actually, haha. Because you say the only thing that'd break free will is a force external to the universe.
Does that mean that you still think free will happens in the rest of situations or am I misreading that?
Also, I don't believe theres anything external to the universe. Everything is the universe, so even a programmer of a simulated environment would be part of the universe from my perspective. Not sure why you make a distinction there.
Well the "external to the universe" distinction would be if we're in a simulation or something like that. For example, I could write a program to simulate a universe, and that universe could have entirely different rules. Like, I could make it so that light travels at the speed of sound and sound travels at the speed of light, or so that things giving off energy always give off the same amount of energy without using any fuel. Those would become fundamental laws to inhabitants of that universe, and they would have trouble imagining anything different, even though in the creator's universe (our universe) the fundamental laws are entirely different. I could also make it so that I'm able to modify the inhabitants of my universe. Say, I picked two random people out of a crowd and increased their "love each other" value so that they fell in love. That would be an example of an outside influence.
I see. But is there any reason why you establish that frontier? Even a simulation will be subjected to the laws of the parent universe, I believe. They might not have the same laws of physics, but both are made possible by the "original" universe laws anyway. Like when you have a videogame that has different physics, those laws are possible because it is possible to code them, and it is possible to code them because the laws of physics allow for such a thing.
Not sure if that was clear. I'm saying the fact that light travels at the speed of sound in a simulation doesn't mean we have two sets of light speeds, just that one of them is fake and is not physics at all, and is possible only because of the Real Laws™.
A simulation isn't subject to the laws of the original universe. Like, in our universe, there isn't an idea of something being created from nothing. I could totally write a simulation where that is the case though. I could make up totally different fundamental laws too. There don't have to be atoms at all. There could be 5 dimensions or 2 dimensions. I could write the laws in such a way that no one in my simulation could ever write a simulation of their own. It's really limitless.
Before I started getting interested in philosophy I simply assumed that everyone had incompatibilist libertarian free will. After doing a little bit of reading about it I've found some convincing arguments that this may not be the case, but barring any experimental evidence confirming these arguments I am not comfortable with leaving the incompatibilist libertarian stance at this point.
I'm a bit afraid that if I delve too deeply into this I'll fall into an existential spiral, which I really can't afford to do right now, so I'm kinda passing the buck off for future me to deal with.
I didn't answer that question because I don't have a belief either way. Ultimately, I think the question is more about how people understand one another than about any metaphysical reality. Do I see you as an independent person with your own agency, or do I see you as embedded in an environment which ultimately shapes your actions? Both perspectives are valuable in different circumstances.
I took your survey, and since my only options to answer the question were yes/no, i chose yes.
In reality, I do not know - but based on my limited experience and fallible knowledge of life and the universe, I think it is more likely there is such a thing as free will rather than not
Also, entirely unrelated, is that it is probably healthier to believe in free will than complete determinism. Doesn't factor in to the actual logic, but it is something on my mind during consideration of the topic so seems worthy of mention for whatever it is worth. If, for example, we were to become a society which has no faith in free will, authoritarianism on the scale of the Borg or worse would have a much easier time of dominating.
My reasoning though for my suspicion rests partly in quantum physics. Right now, our understanding of the quantum world is that shit just doesn't make sense. The laws of causality on that level of reality don't always work the same as they do up here. One of my favorite experiments that I don't understand is the Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser, which appears to indicate that a choice made after a measurement can affect the results of the measurement backward in time. If that doesn't indicate some severe uncertainty about the nature of reality, I don't know what does.
Then we have the very existence of time and causality being in question as a fundamental aspect of reality... which it can't be. Causality says every event has some trigger, some thing that starts it. So what started the earliest event? Obviously either time, causality, or both (or perhaps more likely our ability to comprehend these things) are not universal. If they are not, then what else might be lurking about in our reality completely independent of the deterministic dream we imagine we are living?
Some jerk called me stupid for posting this, but I'll do it again because fuck that guy, i think it's neat to think about: there has been some research indicating that consciousness is derived from tiny quantum cpus in the brain. If there are quantum cpus in the brain affecting our perception of reality, our mode of being, our consciousness, and if causality is a bit iffy on that level, then pure determinism seems less credible than it does for the macro world.
So, given the choice of which i think is more likely, I'd say that there is a strong possibility that individual choice may have the capacity to exist independently of the otherwise deterministic environment in this slice of reality. From whence that choice arises I can't say - maybe it is its own pocket reality with its own determinism built in, or maybe it is chaotic, or maybe there is an ineffable soul beyond our ability to comprehend which is interfacing through those quantum cpus and who knows how the hell that would work.
However, it's possible that we DO exist within a completely deterministic system, that we just don't yet see how it works entirely - but that still doesn't explain the original causal event. Some people talk about how the universe might be a simulation on a computer, and that's plausible - but do causality and time exist out there too? Is that super-reality deterministic? I don't know if there's any way we can reasonably infer any information about it at this time without a bit more exploring beyond our little rock in space and very limited span of the experience of time (however long an individual lives, and the few thousand years we've had a means of sensing and processing our environment as a decentralized ancient sentient being).
So the safest answer for me is "I don't know" but if I had to bet, I'd pick the one that has determinism not being universal because it feels a little bit too presumptuous and I find that sort of absolutist attitude often ends up being obsolete. :P
(Disclaimer: I'm an idiot, so nothing I say here is really worth anything but you did ask. :P )
Just because quantum CPUs may lead to unpredictability doesn't mean we have free will. Assuming for the sake of argument that this is true, our consciousness operates on the physics of those CPUs, not vice-versa.
In other words, if one of my quantum CPUs causes me to take a drink of water as opposed to not taking a drink of water, how much agency in that decision did I really have?
Yeah it's an interesting question. Who are "you" really?
I think the fact that there is randomness in quantum mechanics doesn't mean anything for free will. After all, randomness is not choice.
With this definition, no, I don't believe in free will. What is deterministic is deterministic, what is random should be just called random. Ability to choose doesn't contradict with this at all - why can't my choice be determined? I don't make decisions randomly - I reason based on the circumstances. The same circumstances - the same decision.
Because I think that the definition of choice in this topic is that it is not determined. You are talking about the feeling of choosing (the illusion of choosing, which clearly exists, I think). But (hard) determinism says that it doesn't matter what you feel, but what you do, and that if you'd do the same thing in the same circumstances, then there is no freedom.
@teaearlgraycold mentioned it above in response to someone else:
Not at all, I was talking about reasoning or whatever you want to call it. Similar to the thing programs can do too. Sounds like I'm with "(hard) determinism" here.
I personally keep returning to the allegory of the cave a lot in regards to this question. Actually, in regards to many questions. Maybe it is because I work in marketing/advertising?
Nevertheless, the concept of free will in the light of the allegory becomes a much harder concept to bear, as the will, and its debated freeness, is the exercise of choice. The choice is then based on input. If this input is false, is the will free?
Will then the one that sees the light truly be free, or is he still captive in having to relate to the, now confirmed, context of the collective illusion he has broken out of?
I’m not freaking out existentially at the moment but I want to support a philosophy discussion/community on Tildes
I'd definitely subscribe to a ~philosophy. I've always been intrigued at the way in philosophy the questions are the answers and vice versa.
I'd love for someone to put into their own words what Foucault means when he is talking about Biopower. There are times when I think I understand it, then other times where I have no idea what I'm talking about. I just want to be able to explain it to other people.
For reference: I've only read Discipline and Punishment by Foucault, but am moderately well versed in philosophy of power and societies.
I’d be interested in someone else’s take on this as well. His explicit discussions of biopower came after Discipline and Punish, mostly in some of the lectures, but also in History of Sexuality (can’t remember which volume(s)), so we are both at a bit of a disadvantage there, as I also only read Discipline and Punish, bits of Sexuality, and half of one of the lecture series, and I can’t remember which one. That said, I can offer my limited, probably poorly-remembered understanding of biopower from discussions with a college friend who studied medical ethics. I may have to get in touch and solicit his thoughts on this.
The basic idea seems rather simple to me: society has gone/is going through a transformation in how power is wielded at the object level. The old way was essentially to take from the subjects of power: taxation, slavery, imprisonment all extract time, labor, or wealth. This form of power reproduces itself by limiting what the weak are able to do—for some more than others, but even wealthy burghers are restrained by paying tax and levying armies for their king, for example. Modern democracies act in fundamentally the same way, regardless of improvements to egalitarianism etc.
The new way, which Foucault calls biopower, proactively induces behavior (as opposed to limiting it) as a more sophisticated, more pervasive form of control. I think you could find the roots of this in Foucault’s early treatment of psychology/psychiatry, but I haven’t read more than excerpts of that stuff. For sure psychologization was one of his prime examples of biopower: previously we might a person with an especially acute mental illness caged or isolated for safety reasons, and that was the extent to which society and its more-or-less diffuse power structures would care about what we now call mental health. Now, however, every aspect of behavior is “psychologized”: named, diagnosed, put in context of one’s history and beliefs, judged normal or abnormal. This much more subtle form of control induces people to act in certain ways and not others, and can be used to uphold certain power structures—ones that are much more fine and diffuse than Hobbes’ Leviathan, for example. The same principle spreads to basically everywhere else: medicine, diet, cosmetics, but also education, urban planning—everywhere, as far as I can tell. I like the example of architecture, because built environments allow and prohibit certain behavior; think of Le Corbusier’s “a machine for living.” So the fundamental idea, and the reason it’s biopower, is that these new forms of power act by controlling bodies.
Hopefully someone else can add some more. I’ve been working up to getting back into Foucault recently, so I’m glad to see this question!
Very much appreciate the answer. I guess I absolutely see the effects of biopower in the examples that you mentioned (especially architecture, which reminds me of the Hostile Architecture movement). Or I think of biopower in practice when talking about Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent". But I'm still having trouble grasping it, I think.
Is the main difference that it's power taken from people vs power controlling people? Or is the difference more of the level of how explicit the form of power is/how willing people are to give into it?
How is this different from the notion of society as the Panopticon, as we seen in "Discipline and Punish"? Or is that, too, an example of a form of biopower?
Me too, no matter how much sense my description may have made 😛
I think it's all of the above? It's hard to pin down what the main difference is, when it appears to be a fundamentally different conception of how power operates. Certainly the fact that biopower is more diffuse and fine grained, and therefore less explicit, seems important. As for the issue of consent or willingness to "give in," I think this is closely tied to the extractive/deductive vs. controlling aspect, and might tie this all together somewhat: whereas classical power, by threat of violence, is more inclined to explicitly demand certain behavior, biopower implicitly induces behavior. It's like the difference between, "Don't eat too many donuts because mom said so," and, "If you actively seek a healthy diet and cooperate with the medical system, you will feel better and fit into the relevant norms and be accepted/rewarded by society." That's probably way too simplistic, but hopefully a useful comparison.
Like I said, Foucault didn't explicitly talk about biopower until the post-Discipline and Punish part of his intellectual career. However, I think you can find very common themes in Discipline and Punish. at the very least, some of the necessary components of biopower are discussed in the Panopticon: the power relation between the prisoner and the guard is "inscribed on the soul" of the prisoner, so that the guard's physical presence (explicit threat of violence) is no longer required. The prisoner self-monitors, which is an important way that the power relations become diffuse throughout society. Adherence to certain norms becomes the prisoner's (member of society's) first instinctual thought for every behavioral decision, instead of fear of retribution.
So I can't tell whether it's appropriate to say whether the Panopticon is an example of biopower, but it certainly shares a lot of important features.
I think after this reply, I finally get it now! Thank you!
As someone studying public health, we're all about nudging people towards the healthier food options and about the subversion from negative health behaviors (ex. smoking) towards alternatives. Your 'donuts' example was great! I also try to be critical about everything that I study and the ways in which my actions could potentially be a form of power over others.
I haven't yet read the Birth of the Clinic but it's on my shelf to read. I'd have more motivation if other people in my field talked more about philosophy :(
Cool, glad I could be of some help. Coincidentally, just moments ago, I came across a funny answer to your original question about biopower, from a Reddit comment:
(Well, it's mildly funny in the context of the whole swear-word-laden comment.)
Ha! I'm sure Foucault would love the comparison and find it very apt.
If anyone, like me, has a general interest in philosophy but lacks the background to really engage with it, I have found the podcast "A History of Philosophy without any Gaps" to be pretty good introductory material.
I usually listen to Philosophize This!. I usually don't like podcasts, but I love the way he presents information.
He is pretty amusing, and I enjoy the historical aspect of it too.
I think it's Daniel Dennett who was one of the latest philosophers to assert that the 'self' doesn't even exist except as a convenient fiction, a 'narrative center of gravity'. What encourages me about philosophers like these are their attempts to reconcile our thoughts about free will and self with developments in neuroscience and psychology.
On Incompatibilist Determinism, From Wikipedia:
Incompatibilism is the view that a deterministic universe is completely at odds with the notion that persons have a free will; that there is a dichotomy between determinism and free will where philosophers must choose one or the other.
As a Protestant Absurdist (just to give myself a meaningless label) I take great delight in the last clause, which could be read that philosophers "must choose" between determinism and free will.
Nice catch! That would also an instance of the fiction for deterministis, I believe. Both the self and the choosing can be fictions. And they can be useful fictions.
I'm reading The Ego Tunnel, by Metzinger. Sounds like you could like it.
It's on my list. I'll bump it up.
I would love to get into some philosophical debates here on Tildes, but I feel like I don't have a large enough base of knowledge. Can you guys recommend a range of books to read about it?
I have some tips and recs for you. It's good to know the history of philosophy, even if it's very brief. Also learn about the major schools of thought (ie. Idealism, Materialism) and other terms. A good starting pointing point is epistemology and the pre-socratic greeks (such as knowing vs believing). If you want a more contemporary view on philosophy, I recommend learning about german idealism and the enlightenment and see how the general trends lead into today's thought. Can't stress the history enough though. Look into these philosophers (wouldn't recommend reading their text straight away unless youre brave): Socrates/Plato/Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Marx. Get acquainted with their thought as best as you can, it'll take a while because these are some major players.
For something introductory works, try these books:
Thanks! I'll be sure to look into this stuff. I may dive in after getting the history sorted because I've wanted for a while to actually read some of the works that get mentioned so often in discussions where knowledge of the text would help understanding.
I studied a little philosophy of science a number of years ago and found it truly fascinating. It focused on knowledge, and truth. The whole scientific revolution was a marvel, and how we as a human race started to formalise and categorise information.
A few things really stuck with me, one being how we don't actually know anything, rather we are converging on what we hope to be the truth (although we won't know if we have hit a local-maxima). Similar to this series which calculates pi (eventually, maybe).
The way that we as a species have figured out how to build up scientific knowledge from earlier information/observations is truly amazing, and, I think, one of the primary things that sets us apart from other species.
Definitely a bit scary that everything that we take as scientific truth is really our most agreed-upon answer based on our knowledge, and that any new discovery in a field has the possibility to break our understanding of prior observations (e.g. if the Higgs Boson had been proven not to exist or been found to be dramatically different from theoretical predictions).
Exactly, I truly respect the people who base their work of unproven theories too. I can't imagine spending years working on an assumption which turns out to be false.
Yes, although I also love the idea of 'right-enough'. One example being the trip to the moon. At the time Eisenstein physics had come to be accepted as more correct than Newtonian physics, but as there was no appreciable difference in accuracy at the speeds that were going to be travelling at, they stuck with Newtonian physics even though they knew it was incorrect.
I'm kinda unsure on this but my intuition is to say that we don't have any ability to control fate/destiny/whatever, but it sure does feel like it. I've never delved into this with the express purpose of trying to flesh out my thoughts or anything but over the years I've thought about it quite a bit when things jog my memory.
Things like the fact that we're actually seeing a more than a few miliseconds behind the "present", or that when we think about moving our arm; the signals that actually moved the arm started moving before you thought about it. Both of those are just things i've read on the internet but the impression I got from the discussions surrounding them was that they weren't "pseudoscience" but eh, is all anecdotal.
Before i start getting too rambly about stuff that genuinely isn't that relevant I'll just cut myself off here by saying;
I think that if haven't got free will, but it feels like we do, then we just won the lottery. Imagine if that was the other way around haha no dont actually that's sad
I can't remember where I read it, but there was this theory that when we move our arms, what is happening is that the brain tries to accommodate reality to failed predictions (I'm heavily paraphrasing), so that when the brain realizes our prediction that our arm is actually not where we want it, it moves it to release the tension of having a failed prediction.
I feel that's not exactly it, I'm trying to remember more.
EDIT: I found it! It was an article @Pilgrim shared here.
This is the relevant passage:
Yeah I think that's where I heard it from, or something similar. It's always been in the back of my head when thinking about these things because, to me, it clouds the "free will" waters so i tend not to worry about it and just assume that we don't have it.
A thought that's been interesting for me, is that the universe is now meta. If we're just iterating through time carrying out all the reactions in the way they were supposed to be reacted to, then are we the universe?
What we're experiencing feels pretty real, but we're just a cog made up of smaller cogs. So in a way the universe is alive and trying to figure itself out when we research the stars and whatnot
I'm not sure I understand this. Meta in what way?
Well, I'd say we have to be pet of the universe. I don't think there's anything that not part of the universe. Again, I might not be understanding your question exactly.
Re: whether is universe is alive, I believe that depends exclusively on what's your definition of alive.
Perhaps I'm not even sure what I mean because I can't seem to reword it in anyway that makes more sense haha
I think I was just trying to get across this thought i had that we can be considered the universe and we spend our lives devoted to understanding the universe even further. But since we're the universe already, I'd assume we'd know that stuff so we're spiralling down the logic at that point. Idk it's one of those dumb thoughts that always make me stop and laugh after thinking about.
Haha, ok then. Just notice that being something doesn't mean understanding something, though.
I don't like fate because I'm not in control of my life