Friday, January 01, 2010

So if, as the man said, you can't get there from here, how did we all get here from there?

Or, subtitled, Free Will Doesn't Come Cheap

But hopefully we've come to the point where we understand that whether or not the universe be unfailingly deterministic in nature, we and all other organisms are programmed to assume that actions are necessary to fulfill whatever has or has not yet been determined as to their consequences.

Yet there remain those who would argue that regardless of nature's initial programming, biological entities may themselves be programmed to be less than free in their responses - most if not all actions being chosen for them by the confluence of their genetically determined responsiveness and the circumstances that require them. Which would seem to come down to questions of the relative degree of freedom that organisms are under the illusion they are able to operate from. Seems a bit silly when looked at that way, but there it seems to be.

So I choose to forge ahead with some of the inference I've drawn from this mishmash of willfulness or willful-less in any case. And to re-use some of the commentary I had occasion to make elsewhere on the cybernet in response to some of this silliness.

Part of the confusion here is reflected in one respectable writer's comment that people may associate free will with randomness because they think (or want) free actions to be unpredictable. But he added that unpredictability does not require indeterminism - deterministic events can be “random” in the sense that they are not explicable in terms of predictable patterns of events.

But in my view this is just more philosobabble, because it's not about people wanting their actions to be unpredictable, it's about people worrying that their actions aren't predictable by virtue of their own choice! We want to know we have the freedom to predict with some accuracy. We want in other words the right to determine to at least some degree the nature of our own futures, if only for our own protection. And the other side of this coin is that we want the freedom to make such actions unpredictable by others if we so choose to exercise that form of will. And not only do we want nature to have given us that right, we want the freedom to use it in comparative abundance. And it may just be this "wantedness" that has effectively driven the evolution of our intelligence, or all forms of intelligence for that matter.

I responded publicly to other writings, such as some regarding "self-theories in the construction of free-will." These proposed that differences in our dealings with responsibility for our acts were essentially between the "fixed" traits of entity theorists (who tend to respond to difficulty by relinquishing agency) and "malleable" or dynamic traits of incremental theorists (who tend to react by reasserting their agency).

About which I wrote that some of the so-called fixed traits may only be "fixed" with regard to the upper levels of abstractive reasoning available. Which will then affect the self-confidence required to assert power over events that those with lesser abilities may not develop.

All of this based as well on heritable personality behaviors that (fixed or otherwise) reflect strategic approaches to anticipated events on a dominance hierarchy scale - and that also mesh with a continuum scale of competition versus cooperative strategic preferences (or partially heritable skill sets).

Well it was a response on my part that seemed like a good idea at the time.

I went on to say that rather than self-theorists, perhaps they could simply be referred to as self-strategists. Because behavioral traits can be at once both fixed and malleable - the differences in degree involving a variety of determinant circumstances.

And these same writers also talk about the traits stemming from theoretical beliefs, rather than vice versa. The beliefs in turn often self-chosen, relative to free will and deterministic conceptions.

But I'd argue the reverse: that the "theories" in question are more likely determined and or generated by the initial extent of flexibility in the individual array of heritable traits.

And if (as they might still argue) there's cognitive construction of belief involved independent from this element of causation, I'd argue that a prominent factor in this would be the effect of the cultural environment in which one's otherwise internal strategies were operative.

In other words a deterministically religious society develops a range of predictive behaviors consistently different from those found in a society that stresses freedom of thought and action, yet the individual dominance hierarchy strategies can still prevail.

Further, while it has seemed that our instinctive analytical functions are predicated on nature being essentially deterministic in its purposes, I'd argue that our predictive apparatus works from the premise that nature's purposes are more determinate and decisive. In other words the cognitive concept of predetermination (that has to have been a more recent construct) was not likely a mechanical element of life's initial predictive mechanisms.

Accordingly on one forum I wrote as follows:

"We unconsciously assume that nature has a plan, as well as that nature's actions are not only intentional but can be at times directed toward us in particular - and that these intentions in general are evidence of the particular plan that nature has made or has had made for it. So it's not that we feel events are predetermined so much as we feel events are part of nature's planning.

The difference here is this - that we feel ourselves as part of this process, in which we are expected to react to nature's probes in ways that will then allow or even require nature to revise its plans for us (either collectively or as individuals) accordingly."

So that with respect to our approaches to the "free will" problem, the differences seem to lie in the various ways we have learned to interpret nature's apparent (yet ultimately illusory) intentions. And thus to someone who felt that "lesser" animals didn't concern themselves with determinative forces in choosing their actions, I responded as follows:

"Yes, but to the extent that any animal can be said to have a rational component to its cognitive system, its emotional brain will turn to that component for "predictive" assistance - and to the extent that "rational" analysis turns to the functional culture from which it derives its 'learning,' the determinative nature of that culture will have an effect on the emotions. And these emotions, as the final arbiter of choice and action, will in some sense have taken the measure of its "freedom" into account.

And there are different varieties of "determinative" algorithms operating in any biological system that direct interaction among individual entities as a "cultural" force. Quorum sensing for example is to some extent "taught" by the particular bacterial culture extant to its group survival."

Asked for clarification of the "yes, but" proviso, I posted:

"Basically I'm arguing that the freedom each individual or group of individuals has to make decisions, consciously or just through some primordial sense of awareness, is limited by the scope of optional choices available to it through both its heritable strategies and those learned through the immediacy of its experiences.

So when I said "but," that was in reference to what I regard as fact that all life forms have considerations that equate to "freedom of will" to take action built into their functional apparatus, whether they can in any sense conceive of the nature of choice and freedom or not. And this is not limited to what we regard as brained animals. Some or perhaps most single celled organisms have no discernible "brain" area, yet calculate, learn and choose - such learning as a group being necessary for acquiring resistance to antibiotics as one example. (And I also subscribe to the theory that all life forms react as if nature's forces were potentially aimed at them, the purposes for which the organism had fashioned its programming to be wary of.)"

I might add that all of these organisms, including ourselves, tend to operate as if they are a part of whatever plan nature is operating from at that moment. However, it's likely only the humans that contemplate whether we can willfully change the plan counter to whatever "will" we conceive to be the extension of some natural purpose."

And that's how on this day I got from there to here, burning all bridges in my wake.


Ray in Seattle said...

Hello Roy, You may remember that we exchanged a few comments at Jonah's blog a few days ago. That exchange left me thinking that there lies an interesting mind with some intriguing ideas about human nature. So I checked back this morning and saw your blog link. I've read a few of your posts now and see I was right about the interesting mind. How are things in Kailua? Wet and soggy here in the PNW.

Have you read Jonah's new book? I just got it from Amazon and am now well into it. It's interesting enough that my wife and I are reading it to each other when we go to bed at night.

Roy said...

Hello Ray, thanks for the comment. I have that blog as much for a place to think out loud as for having anyone else read it, but it's nice when they do. I'm also using it as a sort of copyright function, so that if any of these thoughts show up in a book I'm trying to write, no-one can effectively say that I've stolen them (or at least stolen them recently). But the theme of the book isn't made evident in the blog - just some of the stuff that might put the hypotheses involved in their proper context. The theme has mainly to do with the evolutionary value and driving force of what we conceive to be trust. Clearly this has been written about before, but I want to think I have a new take on the origin and purpose of the mechanisms that nurture it. Assuming of course I can demonstrate such mechanisms can exist in a nature that many refuse to find as having any purposive elements.

Ray in Seattle said...

It's good to have a place like this for your thoughts. I think people's ideas about all these things are fascinating. If you don't mind I'll check it out from time to time and chime in if I have anything worthwhile to say.

BTW, I'm one of those atheists but I'm one who would not discount another persons ideas or worth if they were not.

Roy said...

Ray, I'm an agnostic/atheist who doesn't believe in a first cause, but has no idea if there might always somewhere in nature have been a purposive choice apparatus at work.