Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pair of Dice Lost?

There were discussions at two sites recently concerning decision making in the brain and how the results might help us in answering the philosophical question of the existence or non-existence of free will.

My comment on the first site and repeated on the other was as follows:

There’s no reason to assume we don’t have free will just because we aren’t conscious of the decision making process. There’s still a decision process that our brains are just as free, or not free, to make one way or the other (assuming they were at all free to make decisions to begin with). The ability to consciously choose what information to look at, that then becomes part of the basis for making unconscious inferences, is where the nexus of the free will dilemma sits. Are those conscious choices predetermined, or at least an inevitable consequence of physical laws governing cause and effect? That’s the real question, and there has so far been no reliable answer except that on balance we can expect to be better off by acting as if we have free will, regardless of our philosophies.

Comments on both sites inevitably turned to the themes dealt with in these philosophies - determinism, pre-determinism, non-determinism, inevitability, dualism, the supernatural (et cetera). I also referenced an article on the following site indicating physicists still could not agree on whether nature is inherently random or only appears that way:

In no way do I intend to dig into any of these areas in this post, except to note I had also pointed to some aspects of these concepts directly related to any free will hypotheses:

Both dualism and determinism allow for the supernatural.
Free will and the uncertainty principle ultimately, in my view, don’t.
Because supernatural concepts will invariably posit an omniscient or omnipotent presence in nature.

One can agree or disagree, but for purposes of this post, I'm going to assume the above are correct (despite some odd quibbling that omniscience can give itself limits). And also assume we cannot be 100% sure that the universe is either determinate or indeterminate - even though we can be closer to sure it was not predetermined than that it was.

And I'm going to propose my own framework for the unraveling of this great "free will" conundrum. And it is not at all the same as, for example, the proposal by Daniel Dennett that “determination is not the same as causation, that knowing that a system is deterministic tells you nothing about the interesting causation - or lack of causation - among the events that transpire within it,” - thus making a distinction between determined and inevitable, although I can agree with that proposition. (Nor did I get any initial input from the John Searles of this world - the need to behave as if our wills were free has been with me since before most of these others were born.)

Here, in sum, is my proposition:

What we most likely have is a universe of non-determinant and non-predictable inevitability.

Why I propose that the above will lead us closer to an understanding of what has seemed an unresolvable paradox from any perspective will be a subject of subsequent posts. And I don't doubt that others can have made a similar proposal somewhere, but if so, I haven't found one and am not knowingly copying someone else's concept. Certainly my reasons will be my own as much as any of our thoughts are independent of their prior influences.

And will those reasons be as good as I may have deluded myself into believing they are? Can I really depend on a certain facility to unmask the obvious? Stay tuned.

Fast forward to some notes I made elsewhere relevant (I hope) to the above questions:

My view of the key to the free will versus inevitability paradox:
Even if the future was inevitable (and the uncertainly principle would argue otherwise), that "inevitability" could only be known in retrospect. And this only means that whatever could have been avoided, and resulted in a different "inevitability," was not avoided. But also this present state of being was doubtless the result of some things that were in fact avoided that would have otherwise led to a different "inevitability."

(People such as the philosopher Daniel Dennett would perhaps call this consistent with the views of a compatiblist. And looking at some of the material about him will no doubt inspire me to think of aspects of my proposed dissertation that I might not have otherwise - but that's the whole idea and legitimate purpose of any research of other's opinions.)

So the concept of inevitability does not in itself require that there is no free will - yet also does not eliminate the possibility that free will is nevertheless an illusion. It simply, in my view at least, affirms the necessity and the wisdom of continuing to act as if we do have that type of choice.

And in any case we are ultimately concerned with predictability, and in that endeavor we have to factor in a certain amount of probability as to cause and consequence and a certain understanding that our choices are constrained by the same limiting factors.

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