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A Mathematician’s take on free will

Professor Edward Frenkel, a mathematics professor at Berkeley, discusses in a roundabout way, in this video, the question of free will via mathematics and whether or not humans, or perhaps human behaviour, can be reduced to algorithms. This was on the excellent Numberphile channel on YT. It takes some time for the Professor to come to his point, which starts around 10′ 10″, but essentially, his point appears to be that, even in the abstract world of mathematics, you have entities (e.g. vectors) which are not the same thing as the numbers used to represent them, so how can you believe that a human being is (capable of being reduced to) a sequence of numbers? How can you believe that life is an algorithm, if you already see that not being applicable in mathematics?

For those of you who follow the maths (or even ‘the math’ for those in Illinois etc.), the Professor has more to say in this video.

So people are more than numbers, no matter what those who might tell us otherwise might pretend.

All of which means, if the Professor is right, that in a future Red Dwarf ship, there would be no hologram of Rimmer, but this does not rule out Ace Rimmer.

162 comments to A Mathematician’s take on free will

  • PersonFromPorlock

    The point, I think, is that we know we have free will (i.e., initiate action) more directly than we can know any evidence that we don’t. If ‘the machine Universe’ says this isn’t so, then it’s ‘the machine Universe’ which is wrong.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    A book I can recommend is this one by Raymond Tallis.

  • Surely the argument about Rimmer is whether his hologram is intellectually (and this is a bit of a stretch for any Rimmer) equivalent to the original human that was Rimmer.

    After his death and holographic rebirth, Rimmer believes he is the same and appears to act the same in that his behaviour is as weak and cowardly as his human predecessor, but at the end of the day he is just a simulacrum.

    So I would argue that you can have a Rimmer, but it could only approximate his human behaviour, mimic it very convincingly, but it would never BE Rimmer.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqMveZolfTY

  • Snorri Godhi

    Thanks for the link; i take advantage of it to wave a red flag at a bull-headed gentleman before he comments himself. No prizes for guessing whom i am talking about; though actually there are 1 or 2 others, not quite so bull-headed perhaps.

    What compromises the entire video is this comment at 1:25, which i transcribe in condensed form:

    That line of reasoning betrays the idea that a human is nothing but a machine

    This is the Fundamental Idiocy of “thinking” about free will: that a deterministic entity (a machine) cannot have free will. From previous exchanges, it appears that the gentleman i mentioned cannot even conceive the possibility that someone out there might reject the Fundamental Idiocy.

    From there to 9:45 the presentation is quite insightful, though it has nothing to do with free will. Even after 9:45, I can’t say that there is anything specific which i object to. Later on, what he says can be summarized as: the map is not the territory, which i certainly don’t object to. But again, once you rid your mind of the Fundamental Idiocy, what he says is irrelevant to the issue of free will.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Oh, i see that Johnathan has commented already. He is not the gentleman i had in mind, but he is one of the “1 or 2 others”.

  • Mr Ed

    JG,

    I believe that in the Red Dwarf books, the hologram is described as a possible Rimmer, or rather a ‘probable‘ Rimmer, i.e. a computer simulation of what the original person would have been like, based on a ‘mind map’ (I paraphrase), a theme which makes for the superb episode of ‘Bodyswap‘, (excerpt) when Rimmer’s mind ends up transplanted to Lister’s body and v.v.

  • Mr Ed

    Snorri,

    Would you be kind enough to clarify your point in respect of this:

    What compromises the entire video is this comment at 1:25, which i transcribe in condensed form:

    That line of reasoning betrays the idea that a human is nothing but a machine

    This is the Fundamental Idiocy of “thinking” about free will: that a deterministic entity (a machine) cannot have free will. From previous exchanges, it appears that the gentleman i mentioned cannot even conceive the possibility that someone out there might reject the Fundamental Idiocy.

    Could you say what you took the Professor to be saying when he said:

    That line of reasoning betrays the idea that a human is nothing but a machine

    It appears to me that he is talking about the line of reasoning when he said that to him, when people say that humans are just specialised computers, and eventually we will build more and more powerful computers, and they will surpass the power of a human, that is what he says betrays the idea that the human is just a sequence of numbers, a notion that he rejects.

    I don’t see how that compromises the entire video, it might comprise his entire point, and I have no idea who this ‘bull-headed gentleman’ you refer to might be.

  • Alex

    Admit it, this entry was posted entirely in order to make this aside:

    (or even ‘the math’ for those in Illinois etc.)

    Heh.

    On topic, maths is indeed merely a representation (even, an approximation) of reality. It is an old error to fall into believing that the world can be modelled 1:1 with maths and in a related discipline, cartography, the equally old but much more explored idea of the 1:1 scale map is instructive. Which having written my comment I now see Snorri has already referenced.

  • Mr Ed

    Alex,

    Not at all, I sent the video to the Sage of Kettering first. But I did think of our friend in Illinois when writing it up.

    When I was in the Algerian Sahara, I took a 1:1 map with me (well, sort of, it was a bit of sandpaper).

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Is it just me or are Snorri’s comments incomprehensible? Maybe I need another cup of tea.

  • Alisa

    What Alex said. Besides, forget free will, math is a mere approximation of even insentient objects’ behavior, (as opposed to the static objects themselves) – IOW, math may supply an accurate representation of a rock, but it can only supply an approximation of the process that rock may be undergoing while falling from a height to the ground or floating in open space. And I won’t even mention far more complex processes such as climate or earthquakes. And these, as noted, are just insentient objects and phenomena.

  • Alisa

    I get the impression that Snorri is basically saying ‘straw man’ – and if he is, I agree.

  • Alisa

    Or is it ‘red herring’? Hmm…

  • NickM

    I might write a novel.

    The opening line of the second chapter came to me in a dream. “There was a sound from the bathroom like a wookie getting an un-expected rectal exam”.

  • Alisa

    This is the last comment from me in this series (sorry for that), but I now watched the video, and must completely agree with Snorri: as interesting as the video is, it has nothing to do with free will. If I had to describe what it is about, I’d probably say ‘epistemology’.

  • Mr Ed

    Alisa, can you decode what Snorri is saying? What is the ‘straw man’?

    The point on free will comes in at around 10′ 10″, basically saying that we are not machines, and he points out that in assigning numbers to vectors, he has ‘free will’, and if it is not right to say that numbers can represent a vector, or a cup, then a fortiori a series of numbers cannot represent a person. We are not numbers, nor can they represent us, we have free will, and computers cannot replicate us.

  • Alisa

    Ed, see my first comment, and then ask for clarifications if needed? It describes my take on it, which I believe was more or less Snorri’s point – but taking into account that I could be very wrong about that, I’d rather have Snorri explain things from his own POV.

  • Mr Ed

    Alisa,

    As I see it, your point is, more or less, the Professor’s point, and it appeared to me that Snorri may have misconstured the Professor view, or perhaps, ‘performed a transformation on it’. I find Snorri’s comment opaque.

    We should remember that for many, the ‘man as machine’ idea is pretext for many a horror.

  • NickM, I would argue that should be the very first line of the book, putting it right up there with diamond opening line such as “The vicar vomited” and “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel”.

  • Laird

    I agree with Alisa (and possibly with Snorri as well, although I join Mr Ed in finding his comment incomprehensible*). Prof. Frenkel is merely saying that the map is not the territory, a wholly unobjectionable (if unoriginal) observation. But to claim that this somehow proves the existence of free will is a non sequitur.

    * Perhaps it’s a straw herring?

  • Sigivald

    So people are more than numbers, no matter what those who might tell us otherwise might pretend

    The materialist [in the philosophical sense] in me says that’s nonsense.

    In that people are matter, and nothing not-matter, and matter can be described with numbers; there’s no Magical Stuff there that can’t be modeled or represented.

    It’s not that people are “more than numbers” – it’s that people are ludicrously complex and subtle interactions of numbers.

    Same net effect, of course – because we’re still not trivially predictable or modelable in individual – but there’s an important theoretical/philosophical difference.

    (On the issue of “free will”, I’ll say only that we experience free will, whether or not we Really Truly Have It. Saying “but everything’s deterministic!” won’t change that and doesn’t matter; we irreducibly think we have it, and no arguments against it will change that. [When they fail, proponents can say that it was predetermined that they would.])

  • Alisa

    Exactly, Laird. Ed, does that help?

  • Alisa

    Sigivald, I agree, but that is not all there is to it: there are people as physical objects made of matter, as you say, but then there are certain phenomena which are the result of these objects (people) being what they are, and that includes all manner of things – thoughts, feelings, will (free or not), etc. These dynamic phenomena (whether real or subjectively imagined) can hardly be represented by numbers or even vectors.

  • Mr Ed

    Well Laird and Alisa,

    to claim that this somehow proves the existence of free will is a non sequitur.

    Where is the claim that he proves free will? There is nothing to create a Non sequitur.

    At 7’ 20″ to 9’ 46” the Professor talks about his having a choice in assigning numbers to the vector, and refers to his free will expressly at 8′ 19″, he takes it as axiomatic that he has free will. Yet I repeat, some deny free will, it needs repeating that those who deny free will are wrong, (and often evil.)

  • Alisa

    We should remember that for many, the ‘man as machine’ idea is pretext for many a horror.

    Indeed Ed, and I think that this idea arises from discarding that whole set of dynamic phenomena I just mentioned above in response to Sigivald – in other words, it ignores sentience (which is a prerequisite to free will, or any will for that matter). But none of that is in the video, unfortunately.

  • Alisa

    OK, but I heard him mention free will only in passing and as an aside – was that what the video was about?

  • Alisa

    In any case, a point clearly made by Snorri (as opposed to his other points that may have been less clear) was that there is nothing about being a “mere” machine that precludes one from gaining sentience, and in turn will, free or not. So at least in theory it is possible for humans to create a “robot” in possession of free will (even in the subjective sense to which Sigivald was referring quite correctly).

  • I suspect the “me” around which both consciousness and free will orbits is an emergent property of something very complex, but probably not something intrinsically undefinable.

  • Alisa

    Possibly.

  • Mr Ed

    “So people are more than numbers, no matter what those who might tell us otherwise might pretend

    The materialist [in the philosophical sense] in me says that’s nonsense.”

    Well, that’s your choice.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Oh dear, it is somewhat disconcerting to return and find that people have been worrying about what i meant to say. Sorry for not getting back earlier, but in spite of the rest of my life, i also found a bit of time to think about how to stake my position in this.

    I proceed quasi-formally, so that people can put their fingers on what they disagree with. Let’s begin with The Fundamental Idiocy: free will cannot arise in a (purely) deterministic system.

    Why is this an idiocy, indeed The Idiocy?
    First, a Definition: a deterministic process is one in which the same initial conditions always lead to the same outcome.
    Remark #1: this Definition seems equivalent to any definitions i found on the first page of Google results (disregarding definitions which assume the concept of free will, which would lead to petitio principii).

    Second, a Claim: when people talk about “free will”, what they have in mind is the ability to make choices on the basis of a value system and relevant information about the state of the world.
    Remark #2: obviously this is much more debatable than the Definition above, and i invite alternative claims.

    The above leads me to the following
    Theorem: free will, as commonly understood, is a deterministic process.

    Short proof: The value system and the relevant knowledge about the state of the world are the initial conditions of the choice process. the choice, being dependent only on the initial conditions defined above, is deterministic, in the sense that a given agent will always make the same choice, given the same value system and the same relevant information.
    QED.

    Remark #3: the Theorem remains valid even in the case that the choice is made by an immaterial soul rather than by a material brain — as long as the Claim remains valid.

    Remark #4: additional randomness is often unavoidable in real-life choices, e.g. people will be influenced by their moods as well as by their values and the information that they possess. On the basis of the Claim above, this randomness is to be regarded as noise, rather than an essential element of the choice process.

  • Snorri Godhi

    PS: in my second comment, i said nothing about Professor Frenkel’s video, but i trust that it is evident that exposing the Fundamental Idiocy makes it a straw herring, as Laird put it.
    BTW Frenkel’s claims about free will seem vaguely related to Roger Penrose’s claims about consciousness.

  • Mr Ed

    On the basis of the Claim above, this randomness is to be regarded as noise, rather than an essential element of the choice

    The great fudge.

  • Alisa

    Straw Herring

    – I promise to make good use of it 🙂

  • Myno

    Beside free will being a topic within which all arguments are moot, there is a slight aside, a conjecture, that I have long found intriguing. IF there is something in, e.g., quantum mechanics, which provides a theoretical foundation for free will, then it is likely that such a possibility will be exploited by the random optimization process we call life, and that the most successful of such endeavors, i.e., the beings with the greatest success, sitting atop the food chain, i.e. we, will have somehow entrained this as a survival enhancing facility. Hence, if free will exists, then we are the most likely encapsulations of its favors.

  • Mr Ed

    If we don’t have free will, who or what is determining our decisions? As Rothbard said on self-ownership, ‘If we don’t own ourselves, who does?’.

    What might be inescapable is the seeking of utility, can we fail to do that which we regard as providing the most utility*?

    *i.e. are the decisions that we make always those that suit us the most at that juncture, taking into account that a difficult decision or one apparently adverse to our own self-interest might, or perhaps, must be preferable to any alternatives, or else we would have acted differently?

  • Allen Farrington

    He has a bizarrely platonist philosophy of mathematics with an accompanying attitude that I can only think to describe as ‘easily impressed’, although I suspect he is putting that on to try to enthuse his audience. Nonetheless, it deserves rebuttal.

    If you insist on the profundity of vector spaces being capable of representation by different bases (which is questionably high praise) then what are claiming to be profound is surely that you will get the same answers to questions about the relationships between the vectors no matter which basis you choose; not the sheer fact that you can choose different bases … the latter is about as deep and meaningful as pointing out that a ‘dog’ in English is a ‘chien’ in French, and yet ‘dog’ and ‘chien’ are not the same! SPOOKY! Or more seriously (but no less snarkily) that 1 divided by 2 can’t be the same as 2 divided by 4 because 1 is not 2 and 2 is not 4 … duuuuuuuuuuuude!

    In fact it is arguably less deep and meaningful because not only is the pair of numbers functioning in one sense as a name for the vector, but moreover, once you have chosen the basis, it tells you everything you need to know about the vector and its behaviour in the vector space. And that’s whats really important in math – not the individual properties of individual objects, but how objects relate to one another. There is absolutely nothing interesting about the number 2 that doesn’t reference other numbers (in fact there is probably nothing AT ALL about the number 2 that doesn’t reference other numbers) and the fact is that once you have chosen a basis you not only have a name for your vector of choice, but for every vector, and in performing algebraic operations on their ‘names’ you can discover every single thing there is to know about how they relate to one another – and it doesn’t matter what basis you choose! The solution to the prior tingling mystery of 1/2 maybe/maybe not equalling 2/4 lies in the RELATIONSHIPS the integers have to one another as brought out by the definition of the space of rational numbers as equivalence classes of ordered pairs of integers, as everybody obviously knows…

    even in the abstract world of mathematics, you have entities (e.g. vectors) which are not the same thing as the numbers used to represent them – okay … so what? That’s not math. The numbers characterise it entirely and tell you everything there is to know about it. To insist that ‘the vector’ ‘exists’ floating out there in the ethereal mathematical realm and is essentially different to ‘the numbers’ and their ‘existence’ et cetera, is just mysticism.

    This confusion is consolidated at the very end of the video when he starts talking about the difference between a menu and a meal. If reading a menu could induce an experience that was in no way indistinguishable from eating a meal – you experienced the taste, you felt the food in your stomach, you achieved the nutritional benefits, etc – then it would be comparable to linear algebra. But this is so silly that it is difficult to even attempt to outline the comparison. Clearly only eating a meal can induce the precise feeling of (/is isomorphic to 😉 ) eating a meal. But sadly vectors are just arrangements of numbers – infinitely many, all isomorphic. There may be differences, but there are no relevant differences.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    I am expecting Paul Marks to come along and get Martin Luther’s idea of free will completely wrong in 3… 2… 1… LOL

  • Mr Ed

    even in the abstract world of mathematics, you have entities (e.g. vectors) which are not the same thing as the numbers used to represent them – okay … so what?

    In the video, he seems to me to be saying ‘Just as numbers aren’t the same thing as vectors, an algorithm (purporting to be) representing a person cannot be regarded as the same thing‘. So, in context, where is the mysticism? Is he not rebutting the mysticism of those who take a mechanistic view of humans as being capable of being represented numerically?

  • Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray

    Has everyone here forgotten Quantum Indeterminancy? Determinism is based on fixed, measurable properties. The uncertainty principle means you can never determine all the properties of a particle. Determinism must be false. You can still be a materialist, so long as you include quantum uncertainty into your worldview.

  • Cristina

    Snorri Godhi 7:13 pm, this is just a sleight of hands and you know it. Hence the remark #4.

  • Fraser Orr

    The discussion on “free will” to my mind always ends up to be more about definitions than anything substantive. To put it another way I think we can have a widely accepted answer to the question “do I have free will” assuming we can first agree what the words “I”, “have”, “free” and “will” means.

  • Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray

    I saw a great slogan recently: ‘We have to believe in free will. We have no choice.’

  • Julie near Chicago

    Ah, Mr Ed, I deduce from your parenthetical insertion that you understand the overwhelming importance of getting the short form of “mathematics” right. Youse is a good dude. :>))

    Youse is a VERY good dude indeed for finding and sharing this great video. I do think Prof. Frenkel is making cogent, and very important, points. I couldn’t agree more with his position that a notation for a specific vector is not not not the same thing as the vector. Any more than a concept is its referent, or than a word is a concept.

    In the example “the menu and [the recipe] are not the meal,” the map is not the territory, and “we” are not just our brains. Even if there actually were some way of collecting sufficient data on someone’s particular brain and some algorithm (series of equations or functions) into which the data could be put that would “calculate” (i.e. present us with output that conveyed to our understanding the instantaneously subsequent state of the particular brain), that would still not convey to us what thoughts, exactly, the person with the brain is thinking, or how/what he is feeling.

    There is an awful lot more to be said about, for instance, the existence of vectors (even though, or even if, they exist only as abstractions of and in the human mind) as entities distinct from their representation. Quite so. This has huge implications about “how we think” or “what is logical,” and the two expressions in the quotes can similarly be taken as referring to the same underlying phenomenon in toto, or to different aspects of the same phenomenon, or indeed to different phenomena altogether, depending on one’s point of view and on what one is trying to say — or what problem one is pondering.

    As for free will. In my view, “free will” exists in that it is an attribute of the entire person, which means both his biological substrate — his physical body — and its effects as he experiences them, which are not at all the same thing. It’s not that “you are your brain”; it’s rather that your brain is a part of the thing I’m calling “you,” and it’s the thing that gives rise to the rest of you, which includes your sensings and feelings both physical and emotional, and your thoughts, and your imagination, and all your experiencing of yourself and of your circumstances and of your life. So, you are more than just your brain.

    Thus, even if we did develop some theory (or set of algorithms) which, for a particular brain, would map brain-state A into brain-state B, we still would not get from that the experience of being in brain-state B. In particular, we would not get from that our experiencing of the exercise of our will.

    So, we do experience ourselves as having free will, much as we often (conventionally!) say otherwise (“I had no choice”). Along with that, however much we might be constrained by the fullness of circumstance to choose A and not B, that totality of circumstances includes ourselves as we are at the time we make the choice. It’s our recognition of the fact that we ourselves are the final determinant of the choices we make that entitles us to claim our free will.

    I confess that at this point I would have to watch the videos again (which I certainly will, since I thoroughly enjoyed them) to see if I’m really with the Professor to the very end. :>)

  • Rob Fisher

    No, it’s all just billiard balls following rules. Maths can perfectly predict the outcome, it’s just impossible to take accurate enough measurements to plug in the right numbers. That’s merely a practical problem, it has no bearing on reality.

    I don’t think it *matters*, though. We might as well behave as if there is free will because there is no practical alternative.

  • Nicholas: “We have to believe in free will. We have no choice.” is both witty and sensible, but Communists chose to say they did not believe in free will. Many other political groups practice selective belief and disbelief in free will: “free will for thee but not for me” (so you can be justly punished for your prejudices but I cannot be justly punished for my crimes).

    Snorri: “Frenkel’s claims about free will seem vaguely related to Roger Penrose’s claims about consciousness.” I’m sure Frenkel knows Penrose’ proof, but his argument seem to me on a compatible idea, not a presentation of Roger’s. Roger (my prof, longer ago than I care to think about) presented a mathematic proof that minds could not be algorithms. His proof required the axiom of choice, but nothing else. (Proving that 2+2=4 requires the axiom of choice, IIRC, so his achievement was to ensure that anyone claiming to know that the mind was just a complex algorithm was required to not know much else.) Frenkel would seem to be presenting an interesting but different (though wholly compatible) argument, and of course it’s a video presentation, not a mathematical proof.

  • Paul Marks

    The “limits of numbers” – if only Sir Francis “The New Atlantis” Bacon his servant Thomas Tyranny Hobbes, Sir William Petty (the man who wanted to mathematically plan Ireland and the people of Ireland), and Jeremy 13 Departments of State Bentham, had understood this. Their machine view of humans has had terrible consequences.

    Yes it is possible that the soul dies with the body (Alexander the Commentator argued that almost two thousand years ago) – but that is not the same thing as saying that moral agency (the “I” – Free Will) does not exist.

    The “I” (moral agency – the ability to do other than we do, self consciousness, the existence of the self – the human BEING) does exist.

    Those who claim it is an “illusion” (the determinists and the “compatiblists”) speak falsely.

    And if they were right – if the human BEINGS (free will moral agents – who can CHOOSE to do other than we do) really did not exist…..

    Then freedom would have no moral value (none) – for moral freedom would not exist.

    It would be like water bursting out after a dam has blown up.

    The rushing water has no moral choice – it is just obeying the laws of physics.

    People like Thomas Hobbes are correct to say that such things have no moral value.

    If freedom is just the absence of external constraint (the dam) then YES it has no moral value.

    Those people who are philosophical determinists (or that squalid evasion – the dishonesty of “compatibilism”) yet claim to be “liberals” in politics are caught in a terrible contradiction.

  • Determinism must be false. You can still be a materialist, so long as you include quantum uncertainty into your worldview.

    I think this is exactly correct. Reality may seem like a bunch of billiard balls that can be in theory be predicted with certainty, but it is an illusion. The only certainty is uncertainty 😉

  • Mr Ed

    Has everyone here forgotten Quantum Indeterminancy?

    Yes.

    No.

    How is that cat doing?

  • David Roberts

    Mr Ed, the cat is riding the pilot wave.

    http://www.wired.com/2014/06/the-new-quantum-reality/

  • Snorri Godhi

    At long last, the bull-headed gentleman has entered the debate, and has proven what i said, that he is simply unable to understand that some people recognize the Fundamental Idiocy for what it is:

    that squalid evasion – the dishonesty of “compatibilism”

    Don’t hold it against him: apart from the fact that lots of other people here** subscribe to the Fundamental Idiocy (e.g. Rob Fisher — though his comment here is mostly correct — Mr Ed, Cristina, Nicholas Gray, Perry dH, Myno, Johnathan Pearce), there is the fact that even Karl Popper, surely one of the great minds of the xx century, subscribed to it. Which just goes to show what we already knew: that even intelligent people are stuck with a few stupid ideas.

    ** but apparently not Julie.

    Sorry if my comments are still incomprehensible, i don’t know what to do about it right now, but i’d like to point out to Mr Ed that he is going backwards: before i wrote my 2nd comment, at least he was aware of not understanding what i wrote!

  • Snorri Godhi

    Niall: good to know that there is somebody who can speak up for Penrose here.
    Could you give a link, or at least a reference, to his proof from the axiom of choice to the non-algorithmic nature of mind?
    I note that he cannot have based his proof on the axiom of choice alone: such a proof necessitates the concept of mind as well, and it is not a mathematical concept.

    But that is not the main reason why i am writing this. The main reason is that last year i read his book: The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind.
    I found myself in agreement with the first 2 chapters, in as far as i can judge, which is not much.
    In the 3rd chapter, however, the reasoning became shakier. After reading it, i wrote the following note to myself:

    Penrose’s argument seems fairly simple: many theorems of number theory can be formulated as statements to the effect that a given computer program P, applied to each natural number in sequence, never stops.
    Being able to prove ALL such theorems means being able to solve the halting problem, and therefore it is impossible for any algorithm.
    [and therefore, if humans are able to prove all such theorems, human minds are not governed by algorithms.]

    The flaw in Penrose’s argument seems obvious: there isn’s, and there cannot be, evidence that humans can prove all such theorems.

    I welcome your feedback on this.

  • Mr Ed

    Sorry if my comments are still incomprehensible, i don’t know what to do about it right now,

    Try diluting with H2O?

  • Richard Thomas

    You are wrong about maths being an approximation.

    Maths is maths. Pure and unsullied by any direct relation to reality. Physicists use maths to provide an approximate description of our physical universe (Indeed, much of mathematics was developed in order to do so). Maths is never wrong, the physics, the chemistry, the biology and most certainly the sociology may be so.

    https://xkcd.com/435/

    BTW, I agree with Snorri. We (humans) are machines. If humans can have free will, machines can have free will. I believe the professor is engaging in a logical fallacy. For what it’s worth, I am not convinced that we have free will. I believe we do but if there is no free will, I have no choice to disbelieve, no?

  • Richard Thomas

    Mr Ed, for such discussions, I find CH3CH2OH is much more effective.

  • Laird

    Glad to see that xkcd finally put in an appearance here.

  • KrakowJosh

    I wish I could acknowledge the source but memory fails. Anyway, whoever it was that posited the notion of “free won’t” can be credited with persuading me that free will (by this inverted definition at least) exists.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Indeterminacy is often cited as providing a ‘space’ for free will to operate, but this is wishful thinking: process, under indeterminacy, is as dictated by ‘chance’ as it is dictated by ‘law’ under determinism. Neither one has need or room for will.

    Eventually it will occur to people that theories which describe the world in ways which make it impossible for us to describe ourselves are, just possibly, incomplete. So far, we seem not to have taken it to heart that we are part of the world and that our experience of ourselves is the only direct evidence of the nature of that world that we have.

  • Paul Marks

    Imagine the water from a exploded dam (the Hobbesian idea of “freedom”) kills people.

    How should the water be punished for this crime?

    The question is absurd – because the water did not decide to kill anyone, it just followed the laws of physics.

    To argue over whether choice is determined or random is like two bald men arguing over a comb.

    Choice is NEITHER determined nor random. Choice is itself – it can not be reduced (reductionism) to something else. Just as the “I” is itself – trying to “explain it” is really trying to “explain it away” – or chop-it-up into various things (“will” and “reason” as if these were different things in relation the human person – a notion rightly mocked by Ralph Cudworth centuries ago).

    If the water comes out “at random” then no moral fault has occurred, and if it is “predetermined” (by a series of causes and effects going back to the Big Bang) that the wall of water engulfs the town – then, also, no moral fault has been committed.

    Only if a choice has been made (if one could have chosen, really chosen, to do otherwise than one did) has a moral fault been committed.

    Otherwise there is no different between tripping on the street and bumping into someone – putting that person in the path of a car – and deciding to shove some in the path of a fast moving car.

    If the “choice” is predetermined then it is not a choice at all (it is not a moral fault – indeed there is no such thing as morality, as the whole concept of moral right and wrong depends on moral agency, the capacity for real choice). And if the “choice” is random – then there is ALSO no moral fault.

    Choice is choice, agency is agency – it can not be reduced (reductionism) to something else – not predetermined and not random.

    “But Ralph Cudworth believed in witches Paul – so…..”.

    So Beep Off.

    “But compatibilism”.

    But nothing.

    I may not agree with Kant and William James about much – but they were right about “compatiblism”.

    It is indeed a wretched subterfuge leading to a quagmire of evasion.

    An effort to reconcile things that can not be reconciled – by people who regard philosophical game-playing as more important than such as the Criminal Justice system (which rests on the reality of moral choice – of people being able to do other than they do), or (indeed) the grim agony of the conflict with evil within-ourselves, that each of us faces every day of our lives.

    For each of us must win this fight, or lose it, each day of our lives.

    That is the central agony of the human condition – it is what makes human beings. As opposed to either clockwork dolls or a series of random events.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa,

    You and I seem to be tracking the same cat, going by your comments of April 4 at 4:11 pm, 6:02 pm, and 6:07 pm.

    . . .

    Richard Thomas,

    It seems to me that you misunderstand. Neither Alisa or Alex says that math in and of itself, i.e. “pure mathematics” unrelated to any of its applications, is an approximation (or, if you prefer, is only to be taken as a bunch of approximations).”

    Aren’t they both speaking of applied mathematics, which is used to express something about the real world to some degree of accuracy or precision, which is very often not 100%? For instance, Alisa specifically says

    “…[Math] can only supply an approximation of the process that rock may be undergoing while falling from a height to the ground or floating in open space.”

    Math as such, pure abstract mathematics, is entirely unconcerned with the interior goings-on inside some rock.

    . . .

    PfP, April 5 at 8:00 pm,

    Good comment.

    Also good as a stand-alone point:

    “…W]e are part of the world and … our experience of ourselves is the only direct evidence of the nature of that world that we have.”

    Quite so.

  • Richard Thomas

    Julie, sure. I guess my position would be that applied mathematics is not really mathematics itself but mathematics applied under some other discipline. S=ut+1/2*a*t^2 is mathematics, applying it to a falling rock is physics. Though I suspect this is heading too far into semantics.

    Paul, indeed, if there is no free will, you are correct. But what is the point of punishment anyway? It is surely more than vengeance. By punishing a killer, one may also be hoping for deterrence, rehabilitation, recompense (rarely currently) or just plain removing the offender from society for whatever duration. Vengeance is mostly for the benefit of the victim (or those associated with) in any case. The law already recognizes mitigating circumstances in many cases (crimes of passion). Western society is overdue for a re-examination of the intended outcome of punishment (though unlike the bleeding hearts, I recognize a place for vengeance)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Mr Ed, on April 4, 2016 at 4:56 pm you wrote,

    “[Dr. Frenkel] points out that in assigning numbers to vectors, he has ‘free will’, and if it is not right to say that numbers can represent a vector, or a cup, then a fortiori a series of numbers cannot represent a person.”

    It’s not clear to me whether I’m understanding you correctly, in particular in your use of the word “represent.” If I misunderstand (as seems likely, to tell the truth), I apologize. Anyway, speaking to what it seems to me you said:

    Both of the notations of the vector in the video represent that vector. Isn’t that his point? As you note later, he says he chooses the one notation or the other of his own free will.

    The point is that the names represent or do symbolize their referent, but they are not their referent and they do not change its nature (attributes, characteristics as a member of its vector space) in any way. Furthermore, if the usage of some notation to represent the vectors in a given space appears to give them different characteristics from those they have under some other system of notation, then something is wrong: Either the theory regarding the vector space is contradictory somehow, or else one of the notational systems is being used inconsistently.

    So I took him rather to be saying that there is more than one way to represent a vector (even just) using numbers. It’s like saying you can “represent” me by referring to “Julie” or to “Mrs. Krauss”; either way you’re talking about the same referent. (Assuming a particular limited context, of course.) And no matter what your numerical representation, the complete set of facts regarding that particular vector is the same. Just as I, the actual real-world referent, am the same regardless of which name you call me by.

    That is not to say that the two names convey the same information about me, by the way: they clearly don’t. But if the real I-myself must be different according to the name used to refer to me, then there is a logical inconsistency somewhere in whoever’s thought about me.

  • Alisa

    the grim agony of the conflict with evil within-ourselves, that each of us faces every day of our lives

    Paul, you have been saying this here for as long as I have been reading you, and I think it is time I asked: who is this ‘each one of us’ you speak of? Sorry, but I definitely don’t have any evil within myself, and suspect there are others like me. That being the case speaking for myself only, I feel perfectly comfortable thinking of myself as a machine in possession of free will (probably predetermined by definition, me being a machine – but I really couldn’t care less). And as a person with no evil within, I don’t feel threatened by the notion of free will being predetermined somehow putting me over the edge into the evil territory. Others may be and feel otherwise, but it is not their place to speak for anyone else, to project their internal struggles on the rest of us, and to stomp their feet in indignation every time anyone disagrees with them about their particular philosophical take on human nature in general and free will in particular.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Richard, OK, we agree 🙂 — although I think the distinction between pure and applied math is as real and important as the distinction between thought (which is nonetheless a part of Reality: thought exists; it is real) and what we call “material reality.”

    . . .

    At the end of your comment to Paul, you say that to you there is a place for vengeance. This interests me, though not at all strangely, since I’ve never run across anyone else who was willing to admit that. Personally I’ve argued for quite awhile that revenge can sometimes serve the practical purpose of demonstrating that a life has been taken, unjustly and deliberately or at least avoidably, and that to exact revenge is not only to visit justice upon the murderer but also to signify to the world at large that the deceased was a real person and his life mattered, it had moral value.

    This to me was the underlying message of The Sons of Katie Elder, whether or not the playwrights involved thought of it that way.

    Lots of qualifications surround all that, of course. But I’d be interested to know your thinking behind your statement.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Nicholas, here’s how I see it….

    Indeterminacy is not the same thing as unpredictability. The latter has to do with how we understand things and whether or how well our theories seem borne out by observations. But indeterminacy means that whether or not a phenomenon (I mean an existent of any sort, be it a change to reality or a member of the class of things that we call “objects”) is metaphysically not entirely the result of any factor or set of factors. Another way of saying it is that in a theory of (metaphysical) indeterminacy, there are certain sets of factors which sometimes bring about exact phenomenon X and sometimes don’t, where any factors not in the particular set will have no causal relation to the existence or non-existence of exact phenomenon X.

    One of the Great Issues of metaphysics is whether there are any such sets as described above. If so, that means that there are truly random phenomena, phenomena for which there is no cause properly speaking, even if we imagine an Absolute Intelligence that understands the entire workings of the Universe (i.e. Real World) in every particular and to absolute certainty and precision.

    I don’t see how a “rational universe, ” meaning a universe which can be understood (even if never perfectly) by human reason, can be anything other than one in which all that is is a result of causes. “If it exists, it had a cause,” loosely speaking.

    When we are unable to understand the cause of some phenomenon, there are four alternative attitudes available to us.

    1. “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” I.e., I don’t understand it but so what.

    2. It’s a miracle! I.e., it is not understandable as part of the everyday universe, so must be due to an intervention by the gods. Note that said intervention is still a cause, just one we can’t comprehend. This is one of the reasons why I say that if there be/were a god, it/he/she/they would not be “supernatural” in any sense of being un-natural.

    3. I don’t understand it, but I daresay that someday we will be able to explain it.
    …The phenomenon has never been encountered before, but that doesn’t mean it’s a miraculous or incomprehensible thing.

    4. We can’t understand it for purely epistemological reasons: There is nothing else with which to compare it. I think this is one of the points Alisa makes above.

    These views, however, are definitely subject to revision…

  • Mr Ed

    Julie,

    I think that the Professor’s point is that the vector exists regardless of any numbers used to describe, notate or represent it, as a human exists regardless of, as he put it, address, or perhaps ‘name’ would have been better, and whatever numbers you might use for the vector to describe or represent it, you are making an arbitrary representation of something that is not a number by using a number, and a human is not an algorithm, or collection thereof, and cannot be so represented.

    After all, we all have names but they are ultimately just ‘sounds’ or transcriptions thereof and are given to us by convention or custom, or are chosen.

  • Snorri Godhi, April 5, 2016 at 1:13 pm: “Could you give a link, or at least a reference, to his proof from the axiom of choice to the non-algorithmic nature of mind?”

    See Roger’s books “The Emperor’s New Mind” and “Shadows of the Mind”

    “I note that he cannot have based his proof on the axiom of choice alone: such a proof necessitates the concept of mind as well, and it is not a mathematical concept.”

    No, because his proof is not exactly a proof that humans have ‘minds’, however defined – it is a disproof that human thought is (wholly) algorithmic. Thus Penrose only needs to know what an algorithm is. I mentioned the axiom of choice because, as of today, it is still an axiom, not something provable from more minor postulates. (Which is why some mathematicians have looked at how much of mathematics would survive dropping it. My memory is that the answer was “very little” and did not include the knowledge that 2+2=4.)

  • Alisa, April 5, 2016 at 10:49 pm, quotes Paul (“the grim agony of the conflict with evil within-ourselves, that each of us faces every day of our lives”) and comments that ” I definitely don’t have any evil within myself, and suspect there are others like me.”

    I suspect there is a different use of the word “Evil” by Paul and by Alisa. “That’s not just wrong, it’s Evil!” uses the word in its strong sense. “Evils diffused throughout the human race must be dealt with by trade-offs, not solutions” uses the word in its weak sense. I am very ready to believe that Alisa is not evil in her sense – she has no hateful murders or disgraceful treacheries to her name. On the other hand, I’m sure she is evil in Paul’s sense – or, to be politer, let’s say I’m sure I am evil in Paul’s sense, though I too have no murders and treacheries to my name. I exerted myself a bit to oppose the Scottish indyref. I could have done ten times more (or a hundred times more) but did not, for reasons that include the word ‘lazy’. I hope I do not let the hateful anti-free-speech make me a liar, not even one of those who lie in silence. But courage is fear mastered, not an utter lack of it; I do think when the issue appears in daily life and that thinking takes a little time i.e. takes it away from prompt challenge and thought about how best to phrase it, and the reasons for that include the word cowardice – or, if you want to be nice to me, my less-than-infinite courage – quite a lot less. 🙂

    In short, I’m not perfect, or in Paul’s way of putting it, I have evil within me, with which I can struggle, or can not bother to struggle. “He that aims at the moon, though he be sure to miss, will yet hit higher than he that aims but at a bush”, as Sir Walter Raleigh (IIRC) said. Or, as Dianna Wynne Jones put it, “It’s better to aim at the moon and get half-way there than to aim at the top floor and get half-way upstairs”. There are times and places where I disagree with the saying(s) I’ve just quoted – getting half-way to the moon means you die in empty space – but when it comes to “how perfect should I try to be” I think that for most of us, the danger of trying too hard is a chimera, the danger of trying not hard enough a habitual reality.

  • “the hateful anti-free-speech” should have been the “hateful anti-free-speech laws”

  • Snorri Godhi

    I agree with Alisa: Paul Marks should stop telling us about our inner struggles and give us more details about his own inner struggle … except that, if it is about sex, then i don’t want too much information.

    Anyway, what this has got to do with free will sensu Marks, is beyond me. In an inner struggle between the good and the bad sides of Paul’s nature, the strongest side will naturally win; therefore, the outcome of the struggle is predetermined. As long as both sides fight to the death, of course: if one side gives up, the other side wins. But whether Paul’s good side gives up, is also predetermined.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Mr Ed: Yes, that’s exactly what I thought Prof. Frenkel said (and it’s also what I said — right down to the variation of people’s names and people as opposed to symbolic representations of vectors and vectors). I was just a bit puzzled about what you meant yourself.

    Anyway, not a big issue, and thanks for your response. :>)

  • Snorri Godhi

    Perhaps we should not expect any more answers from Paul Marks to the questions that we put to him, ever, but i cannot avoid* commenting on what i shall call Marks’ Principle:

    Choice is NEITHER determined nor random.

    Given a set of initial conditions, there are only 2 possibilities: either the outcome is entirely determined by the initial conditions (the same initial conditions will always produce the same outcome), or it isn’t.
    The only logical conclusion that one can draw from Marks’ Principle, therefore, is

    1. Free will does not exist.

    By using the word “logical”, i assume the validity of the law of excluded middle. If Paul has renounced that law, then he can say:

    2. Free will exists and it is neither a deterministic process nor a non-deterministic process.

    I suspect, however, that Paul is simply befuddled as to what “deterministic” means.

    If we accept both the existence of free will and the law of excluded middle, then we are left with only 2 options:

    3. Free will exists and it is a deterministic process.

    4. Free will exists and it is not a deterministic process.

    Option 4 seems to be favored by Myno, Nicholas, Perry, and possibly Mr Ed as well. I wonder, however, whether they have thought out the implications: option 4 means that making a choice based on one’s own moral character is not an exercise of free will (because it is determistic), while making a choice based on the flip of a coin is an exercise of free will. That is not what “free will” is taken to mean in common usage. This is a point in which i am in full agreement with Paul, the 2nd half of Marks’ Principle: real choices are not random. I note that PfP agrees as well; although (s)he agrees also with the 1st half, and i don’t.

    * There is some self-referential humor here.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Niall, do you mean Dr. Penrose was your thesis advisor?

    And, what is (or are) your field (or fields)?

  • Alisa

    Snorri: fuck off.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Niall: to prove that human thought is not wholly algorithmic, you need not only the concept of algorithm, but also the concept of human thought.

    I have read The Emperor’s New Mind and i found it even more wanting (on this issue) than The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind; and by the way, may i urge you to comment on my criticism of the latter book?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Well, I said (April 5, 2016 at 11:19 pm) that these views are subject to revision.

    So here’s Rev. #1.

    I left out the other really obvious attitude one might take toward something that seems inexplicable:

    5. “This sucker makes no sense, and it’s gonna drive me nuts till I figure it out.” And he or she gets right down to working on the Problem, and if the kiddies don’t get fed and the ‘lectric gets shut off, oh well.

  • Alisa

    Niall, ‘evil within’ – yes, nobody is perfect (certainly not yours truly) and all that. But from reading Paul on the subject for years now, his use of the term in this particular context of free will is very specific and very much connected to the kind of philosophical a person chooses to subscribe to. This is especially ironic to me, as Paul is one of the very few people I know who literally don’t have an evil bone in their body. But this things being entirely subjective, here we are.

  • Alisa

    to the kind of philosophical theory a person chooses to subscribe to

  • Julie near Chicago April 5, 2016 at 10:51 pm says she’s seldom heard anyone put in a good word for revenge.

    It was Bacon (I think) who happened to articulate that “revenge is wild justice” and that without that original wild stock, the tamed domesticated justice of his day and ours would never have come into the world. The PC brigade love to distinguish vengeance (meaning any justice they dislike) from justice (meaning punishment for disagreeing with them). Bringing the word revenge into disrepute is as necessary to them as denying the mediaeval warming period is to climate alarmists. Ordinary people usually distinguish revenge simpliciter from revenge that exceeds or contradicts justice. A film script could show both a citizen seeking revenge on a crime boss for killing his family and the crime boss seeking ‘revenge’ on the citizen for daring to mind it. (As is often the case elsewhere) straight revenge plots are quite popular with the punters, while plots belittling revenge are popular with the PC types. Cheating “have your cake and eat it” plots are also common: near the end of the film, the hero ‘nobly’ (stupidly) forgoes killing in cold blood – and then gets to kill in hot blood because the spared baddie promptly strikes back (and yet fails to achieve the probable real-life result of that).

    The sentence “That’s not justice, that’s revenge” can have two real meanings – excluding the lying PC meanings.

    The first is when the revenge is inappropriate or excessive: the act that caused offence was not unjust or the punishment was much more harsh than the act merited.

    The second is the fact that we live in a civil society, not a natural free state. (I’m following Edmund Burke here.)

    – Every civil society exists by violating some rights that humans would have in a free state. Rights are much clearer in a free state – but certainty of enjoying them is less. The promise of a civil society is that it violates some rights (that it must violate in order to exist) to offer a greater certainty of protecting all rights. (I need not tell this audience that it is possible for a particular civil society to break this promise, to ignore minimality or necessity, or even to make the trade-off a net negative.) One of the rights humans have in a free state is to revenge wrongs done them. Almost all civil societies take away that right, substituting some system of trial with jury and/or judge which explicitly removes from the plaintiff their right to take revenge. Burke spoke of the virtue and duty of “sympathetic revenge” exercised by these judges and juries – and of the great danger that they will be cold or indifferent to this duty. He argued that a citizen’s duty to mortify the desire for personal revenge for injuries done to themselves – enough to endure having to turn it over to these proxies – had to be balanced by these proxies having sufficient sympathetic feelings of revenge on behalf of their principal.

    – Therefore, given Burke’s analysis, “That’s not justice, that’s revenge” can mean, “”That’s not obedience to civil society, that’s summoning up your natural rights”. In this case, the revenge need not be unjustly motivated or excessively perpetrated. It’s wrongness may only exist in relation to the idea that “Men cannot simultaneously enjoy the privileges of civil and uncivil society.” If you had the misfortune to be shipwrecked on a desert island with O.J. Simpson, it would be both just and prudent to kill him immediately. However if you had the misfortune to meet him on a street somewhere, your right to be a citizen in good standing of the society containing that street – or a legal visitor to it – would get in the way. (Presumably it would be both lawful and ethical – but not of course remotely likely 🙂 – if a diplomat possessing immunity chanced to encounter OJ and gunned him down.) At one point, Burke quotes (in an explicitly hesitant “not sure I can go all the way with him on this” manner) an earlier British writer who, while defending the right to rebel if a society’s constitution is wholly subverted, explicitly rules out a right to rebel if you merely have the misfortune to be honestly but mistakenly convicted of a capital crime. (So no sympathy for the plot of ‘The Next Three Days’ from that writer, but maybe some from Burke. 🙂 )

    In short, the PC brigade have an interest in misrepresenting revenge, but when you’ve cleared their lies out of the way, the subject retains some complexities.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Professor Edward Frenkel, a mathematics professor at Berkeley, discusses in a roundabout way, in this video, the question of free will via mathematics and whether or not humans, or perhaps human behaviour, can be reduced to algorithms.

    This is an obsession of our secular, humanist age – to model human behavior with man-made computer algorithms. This obsession is a symptom of our vanity – thinking that we ourselves can model our own behavior with our own invention: this is for shame and claiming to do so makes a mockery of ourselves in the eyes of our Creator.

    The answer is that human behavior cannot be reduced to algorithms – and never can be. Because: human nature.

    What’s interesting is that most of the comments in this thread seem to be addressing free will/self determination. This is an aspect to it, but it’s really more of a consequence of the reality of whether human behavior can be perfectly reduced to mere algorithm than a cause of whether it can be. The essential issue that determines if human behavior can be reduced to mere algorithms is the mind-body problem. I’m a hard dualist obviously.

    My guess is that nobody in this thread agrees with me except possibly my blogwife Cristina, but I am heartened to learn that some folks here are compatibilists in some sense on free will/determinism – if I read that bit correctly.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Niall, thanks for your thoughts on the subject of revenge — and your information as well, of course. The idea that revenge might be justified, or that it might have some (other) practical value, is just absolutely foreign to all the teachings I ever ever heard in my life, be they from parents, clergy, teachers, arsisiety in general, the kultcha….

    Thou shalt not seek revenge.

    But there was something about my frame of mind when I saw The Sons of Katie Elder, maybe nine or ten years ago now, that prompted me to see the movie as a statement about the drive for revenge — or, more accurately, perhaps, the drive to avenge.

    Now, I can see early training in overcoming the urge for revenge as necessary (in some cases anyway) so that people won’t go off half-cocked and commit mayhem or murder in some degree or other. If Johnny swipes your basketball in 7th grade that doesn’t mean you get to kill him out of revenge (or even steal his ski poles) when Constitutional Carry comes to your state.

    But revenge or avenging or vengeance as something always without exception unconscionable — as something wrong and evil — is a bridge too far.

    Your comment offers much food for further thought, and I thank you again. :>)

  • Shlomo Maistre

    As is often the case elsewhere) straight revenge plots are quite popular with the punters

    What do you mean by “punter”? Is it slang for something like “commoner”? Just wondering

    plots belittling revenge are popular with the PC types […] In short, the PC brigade have an interest in misrepresenting revenge.

    For obvious reasons the establishment is generally not in favor of seeking justice outside the bounds of the law in basically all societies across time and place. (in democracy: establishment pretty much is the PC types, though not exactly) Anyway, so they stigmatize revenge. This is not a surprise – it’s just that in democracies it’s done a bit more crassly. Cuz the establishment in democracies is about as refined and classy as a pile of cow dung.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Snorri, as well as being rude and supercilious about Paul Marks (someone I have known and respected as a friend for more than quarter of a century), is stunned that Paul holds the view that volition exists, that choice is neither random or determined. Let me tell you a secret, Snorri: volition does not have to depend on “ghosts in the machine” or some legedermain. Free will, or volition if you prefer the term, can be apprehended through introspection. It is axiomatic: the very act of asserting X or Y implies that there is some belief in the truth of X or Y and that therefore, if everything was determined, or entirely random, truth is irrelevant and there would be no way of proving anything, including determinism or randomness. Volition is essential to consciousness and vice versa. Consciousness is not just epiphenomenal, like smoke coming out of a steam engine. Human consciousness has causal power, but causality is not the same as determinism. Entities have causal powers because of their nature; it is the nature of human consciousness that it is about making choices, the most basic of which is the choice to bring something into a field of awareness or not. Aristotle had this figured out thousands of years ago.

    Sorry for the irritated tone.

  • Alisa

    but causality is not the same as determinism

    Bingo. That helps, a lot – thank you.

  • Alisa

    If Johnny swipes your basketball in 7th grade that doesn’t mean you get to kill him out of revenge (or even steal his ski poles)

    Julie (and Niall), I think that this entire topic of revenge in a civil context naturally applies to cases where a life (or a significant part thereof, as through wrongful imprisonment, with rape possibly included – real rape, not a mere looking at a woman while in possession of a penis) has been taken. In most cases, wrongful taking of property can be compensated, and hurt feelings as with Johnny’s wicked basketball ways cannot count in a civil society for obvious reasons. Which leads me to think of the outlaw status of old. It sounds to me (not having been alive at the time, heh) that it was a solution that minimized the extent of proxy power a wronged individual had to transfer to society/state, with the latter having the power to judge, but not to execute.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Should have sent this hours ago.

    In my view, many people hold a concept of what we call “free will” needs to be revised. And such revisions of concepts are perfectly legitimate practice:

    Snorri on April 4, 2016 at 7:13 pm, writes….

    “[F]ree will, as commonly understood, is a deterministic process.”

    Free will as commonly understood.

    This common understanding is the worm in the woodpile, although be it noted that quite a few people don’t subscribe to the “common” or conventional understanding.

    The first great lesson of math and physics is in applied epistemology. A theory in either field is composed of concepts and the relations among them, and quite often it is necessary to refine or redefine the concepts, so as to obtain a better fit with the rest of the system or extrapolations, i.e. further discoveries or at least possibilities, from it. In the case of math(s), we want to improve the logical fit; in physics, the empirical fit.

    Refining and redefining or upgrading our concepts is one of the hallmarks of how human thought develops (learns, advances) in general, but the lesson is clearest and sharpest (to my mind) in the cases of (pure or “abstract”) mathematics and in theoretical physics, where there’s minimal emotional baggage attached to the various elements of the theory. (As usual one has to be cagey talking about this stuff, because, humans being humans, we often do have an emotional attachment to a theory that’s occupied us deeply or for a long time–a theory in which we’ve invested ourselves, and to the concepts involved.)

    So it is not at all tricksy or unrigorous, logically or epistemologically, to see that the currently conventional definition of “free will” has a poor fit with observable reality (in more than one aspect, by the way; one of these aspects being the way we ourselves experience ourselves) and with other aspects of our Theory about Everything, and to attempt to cure the fault by expanding or upgrading the concept of “free will.”

    That is what we accomplish when we realize that a person is a system of which his brain (and the rest of his physiology) are only a part, though they are the material part of and give rise to the rest of the Thing which is that person. What this person, this system, does is determined, in the end, by factors of its own functioning, but that means by factors which are of itself, so that it is perfectly correct to say of Mr X that “he did such-and-such,” by which we mean precisely that the system known as Mr X acted, that is, that he caused some change in the state of things.

    What X experiences as and calls his “will” is just his experiencing of moving mentally from “I might/I could” to the exercise of his muscles, or of his capacity for further thinking, so as to actualize whatever it is that was formerly (an instant ago, probably, although there are some claims that in fact action precedes our conscious “decisions” to act in whatever way) a possibility existing in his mind and not yet a real act in — or change to — the real world.

    By the way — yes, the person himself and whatever he is thinking or feeling or doing are part of the real world.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Oh dear. Correction:

    “[M]many people hold a concept of what we call “free will” which needs to be revised.”

  • Alisa

    Exactly, Julie.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thanks, Alisa. :>)

  • Julie near Chicago April 6, 2016 at 10:42 am: “Free will as commonly understood. … What X experiences as and calls his “will” is just his experiencing of moving mentally from “I might/I could” to the exercise of his muscles”

    Free will, as commonly understood (at least by me 🙂 ) is the self-moved mover. Discussions of free will (that I’ve been in, at least) usually revolve around recognising or denying this capacity of independent, self-generated undetermined action. What I call free will is not the experience but the independence: the ability to nullify external inputs and produce an outcome neither determined nor random but chosen.

    (Snorri, I cannot comment on the particular Penrose book you mention because that is one of many books I plan to read when I get a round tuit. 🙂 In a few months or years I may have remarks on that one. Meanwhile, since one often needs the Greek, Hebrew and old-English alphabets – and a good deal of super and subscripting – simply to quote one of Roger’s proofs – he rains in a bit, but not that much, in the two published books I mentioned – I’m unsure how much deep analysis could be easily expressed in samizdata comment threads. 🙂 )

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Alisa, you are most welcome. Check this out from the philosopher Harry Binswanger.

  • Alisa

    Thanks JP, will do.

  • Alisa

    Niall:

    What I call free will is not the experience but the independence

    Will is experience, free will is experience resulting independent of external inputs – which of course is impossible in reality, as no one lives in a vacuum devoid of any external influence. Hence, if there is such experience as will, the notion of independence must be included therein for it to have any real meaning. Which leads me to taking the liberty of rephrasing your original statement as follows: will is any measure of mental independence manifested through experience, which may produce an outcome neither determined nor random, but chosen. FWIW.

  • Mr Ed

    If one accepts that ‘will‘ exists in a person, then if discussing ‘free will’, on what basis does anyone assert that a will is not free? i.e. what would or might they propose acts on the will so as to constrain or limit it so that it is not free?

  • Alisa

    Ed, I think I addressed that, albeit probably not clearly enough. My point was that will is free by definition.

  • Alisa

    (Which, I guess, is another way of saying that you are correct, and of thanking you for putting it in clearer terms than I did).

  • Mr Ed

    Alisa,

    Yes, I was perhaps just being rhetorical. After all, if one operates without will, that existence is simply a form of or variant on a taxis.

  • Alisa

    Indeed, Ed. As opposed to an Uber(mensch).

  • Mr Ed

    You’ve Thurn-ed my respect with that post.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Julie near Chicago
    April 5, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    Also good as a stand-alone point:

    “…W]e are part of the world and … our experience of ourselves is the only direct evidence of the nature of that world that we have.”

    Quite so.

    I wrote a shortish book in which I try to reverse-engineer the physical world from the starting point that my mind exists. It works pretty well (IMHO), but I feel a little guilty about flogging it in comments. What are the Samizdata rules about trolling for Kindle sales here?

  • ams

    I’m a mechanist. I don’t really understand what the alternatives could be. The way I see it is this:

    If the universe exists and has a state, there are really only a few possibilities for how it could be:

    A. On one axis:
    1. It has some state describable by a finite number of variables.
    2. It has a state which can only be approached by an infinitely detailed description (infinite state machine/infinite state variables.)

    B. On the other axis (the more relevant one, since the first just measures our difficulty in dealing with the universe with our finite brains, not the fundamental nature of its operation:
    1. The state obeys some set of laws (doesn’t even have to privilege time as an axis, which I don’t expect the real laws of physics do.)
    2. Some of the state can evolve “randomly”. The consequences of “true randomness” and the behavior of “random variables” can be modeled to *some extent* mathematically, but you can’t come up with any mechanism that gets you there. It is telling that computer algorithms can’t give you randomness, only measurements of some uncontrolled external variable get you there.

    There is actually a bit of fundamental complexity there too

  • ams

    We use probability, statistics, and our ideas of randomness to handle two completely distinct phenomena/concepts: It is the underlying basis for the split between Bayesian and Frequentist statistics.

    For the first: We use probability as a measure of *confidence* and *information* – this is the Bayesian end of things.

    On the other end, we use probability to model the behavior of “idealized random processes” (The Frequentist end of things), where assumptions are made that sampling something returns results with some frequency, but there *is* no under-the-hood internal process beyond this frequency distribution of the results.

    These two opposing schools of statistics are really talking about two very different things.

  • Snorri Godhi

    First of all, i apologize to Paul Marks, unreservedly, for being offensive, and indeed supercilious. I thank Johnathan Pearce for making me aware of this. I suppose that, subconsciously, i was trying to provoke a reaction from Paul, due to his failure to acknowledge my rebuttals of what he wrote on this topic, even when i pointed out that he misrepresented (no doubt unintentionally) what i wrote.

    This is in no way an excuse for my offensiveness. I want to put it on record that i am irritated (or, as an English gentleman would put it, annoyed) at being misrepresented; but i do not feel entitled to demand an apology for irritating me; and anyway my offensiveness was gratuitous, since it did not provoke a reply from Paul.

    I also apologize to everybody else for my lowering the tone of the debate. Perhaps i should not expect that the serious parts of my comments will be taken seriously, mixed as they are with the offensive parts, but it is my hope that they will. Which brings me to my reply to Johnathan, in a separate comment.

  • ams

    I’m pretty sure I’ve exhausted the possibilities. What other ones are there?

    Trying to hide pieces of the human mind in an immaterial soul is beside the point: The question being asked is:

    1. Does this thing (whatever it’s makeup, and whatever rug you sweep it under) have a state and behave according to laws?

    2. If it doesn’t (if randomness is inserted on some level) – does that really add anything than noise to the operation? I don’t think it does – randomness, by definition, isn’t adding information to a system. You can agitate something with random noise, but the part we care about: The part that reacts, responds to the world, integrates, experiences, etc, is the part that has some defined mechanism and law of operation.

  • Cristina

    Yes, Shlomo Maistre. I’m a dualist. 🙂

    Snorri Godhi, do you know Ilia Murin?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa & Mr Ed,

    Alisa
    April 6, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    Indeed, Ed. As opposed to an Uber(mensch).

    .

    Mr Ed
    April 6, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    You’ve Thurn-ed my respect with that post.

    .

    You have both gone over to the Dark Side. I hold my nose so firmly that it nearly falls off my face (make sense of that if you can) and utter the required noise as t’were the sound of the FX guys blowing something up:

    *EEE-E-E-EWWWWW !!!!*

    Well done. ;>)

  • Snorri Godhi

    Johnathan: i did not detect any irritation in your tone, but i do detect a misunderstanding of what i said. (Possibly due to your irritation).

    I have stated quite clearly that i hold free will to be a deterministic process. That implies that i believe that free will exists: why should i insist that something which does not exist, is deterministic?
    And yet, you press the notion that volition exists, as though you expect me to disagree!
    And i do accept free will through introspection (as well as observation of the behavior of other people, and animals) and i do agree — or not disagree, or not sure whether i agree or disagree — with pretty much everything else that you said, except for this:

    choice is neither random [n]or determined.

    I am sorry, i am sure that you and Paul mean this seriously, but you cannot expect me to take you seriously if you say that choice, or any other process for that matter, is neither random nor non-random.

    Except that i cannot believe that you really mean that: presumably, by “determined”, you mean something other than: not random. Which means that you are not (necessarily) wrong — but it also means that you cannot say that i am wrong, since i have stated quite clearly, twice, that by “deterministic” i mean exactly that: not random. If you think that i am quibbling about definitions, you are very wrong: i believe that this is a serious issue.

    I’d be happy to discuss your remarks about truth if you are interested.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Snorri Godhi, do you know Ilia Murin?

    No. I’ll google.

    Longer answers, to Julie and Niall and maybe a few others, coming tomorrow.

  • Julie near Chicago

    ams,

    Your comments get into areas that are really out of my ken, but they’re certainly engaging. What you say seems to me to be partly at least connected with the idea of indeterminacy as I described it above; perhaps connected via the concept of “randomness,” among other things. Cmt. 1, Pt. B-2 for instance — sounds right to me. And Cmt. 3, Pt. 2 ditto. Comment 2 suggests the territory to be explored.

    Very interesting — thanks.

    . . .

    PfP: I’d love to read your book. Alas, this is a Kindle-free zone. Although — if it’s okay with Perry, have you got an Amazon link?

  • Richard Thomas

    This thread has certainly grown since I last looked. I aim to address Julie’s question but it may have been superseded by intervening posts and I apologize for any redundancy.

    WRT the vengeance part of punishment, there’s no doubt in my mind that there is a desire for it within the human mentality. We frequently tend to try to hide or downplay it but there’s no doubt that it’s there, as evidenced by most implementations of justice around the world. Some (arguably) more “enlightened” states have started to inject more elements of rehabilitation but if one strips away that as a reason (say if the crime is unlikely to be repeated) and the other elements are reduced or negated, even if vengeance is not claimed to be desired, a rationalization will still be found for punishment.

    Now, some will claim this desire for vengeance is uncivilized but that seems to run counter to the facts to me. It is in our nature and our laws are (or should be) there to codify our nature and understanding of what is “right”. Maybe in time, human nature will change, our understanding of justice and punishment shift and laws be rewritten and perhaps we should aspire to that but we are what we are.

  • Richard Thomas

    To add that allowing for vengeance within the law also subverts the whole eye-for-an-eye blood feud thing that can get going when people feel their concerns have not properly been addressed by the process of the law. Something that I think is going to continue to become an issue as law enforcement appear to be allowed to break the law with impunity in many locales.

  • Richard Thomas

    I don’t see how a “rational universe, ” meaning a universe which can be understood (even if never perfectly) by human reason, can be anything other than one in which all that is is a result of causes. “If it exists, it had a cause,” loosely speaking.

    You would be in good company, for as Einstein famously said “God does not play dice”. However, to the best of our knowledge so far, that appears to be the case. At the quantum level, things do appear to happen truly randomly and, although I forget the proof, it is possible to show that there are not hidden variables that are influencing these events. There are other models than the Copenhagen interpretation that attempt to address this (multiverse for example) but these just seem to push the issue back a bit rather than actually solve it.

    I would like there to be a model that adequately explains this as I have problems with taking this on board myself but in the end, it may just be one of those weird quantum things that makes it so fascinating.

  • ams, April 6, 2016 at 6:36 pm: “I’m a mechanist. I don’t really understand what the alternatives could be.”

    A former work colleague of mine owned a consular Chinese dictionary of the last century. One of the words in it that amused both of us was pronounced something like “Pyeh” in the local dialect and had two English definitions which were in fact two ways of expressing the one meaning of the word

    1. It is inconceivable that
    2. I am unable to understand

    It was presumably a word often uttered by high mandarins to their lowly subordinates whenever the latter tried to suggest that their diktats were not working out quite as expected in the real world.

    If I rephrased the quote above to say: “”I’m a mechanist _because_ I don’t really understand what the alternatives could be.” would that be a valid or an inadequate summary of that viewpoint? (The question can be asked in general, not just or specifically of ams’ viewpoint.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Niall, I didn’t intend to usurp your power to mean whatever you mean when you say whatever you say. 😉

    But if you stop with a statement on the order of your “Free will … is the self-moved mover,” you haven’t really got a definition; and yes, of course the discussion tends to center on what is the nature of this “self-moved mover” (“vhat iss everysing, anyvay?” in the immortal words of Prof. von der Vogelweide), and whether such a thing is possible, and if so how to account for it.

    But in my experience, most people who think about the issue of “free will” at all do think of themselves as Observers, separate from their brains and their minds and their wills, and it’s as a result of this attitude that they have the problems that are the subject matter of all those discussions. It’s as if the Will were some sort of foreign object inserted into the works, either by the brain or by something unnamable from Beyond; in the latter case the question becomes whether a particular Will was inserted by Cthulhu or by the Angel Gabriel, and in the former the whole issue is a nullity and there is no morality.

    Or so it seems to me.

  • Mr Ed asks whether a will can be other than free, whether ‘free will’ is not something of a tautology?

    In strict logic, I think I agree. One could write sentences like “His will was a slave to his passions” but there is a fundamental, basic definition of the word ‘will’ in which you could argue that ‘free’ adds no logical content.

    The connotations of ‘will’ and ‘free will’ are different. ‘Will’ has an aggressive sound: “It is my will” sounds like it’s being said by someone who intends to override some other wills. “Free will’ sounds more defensive: “I value my free will” sounds like someone is preparing to prevent their will being overridden by someone else’s. Thus ‘free will’ is often spoken of when the value of individual freedom is being defended.

    Although the existence or otherwise of will (of a given nature) is a philosophical issue in its own right, certain answers have their attractions to certain politics. Thus ‘free will’ is often the phrase used by supporters of politics in which the free exercise of individual wills is highly valued.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, Revenge: I see what you’re getting at with the old idea of the outlaw, and of the state’s having the power to judge but not to execute the judgment. Interesting idea, but I don’t begin to know enough of the real history of America to have an informed opinion as to whether the latter situation was common here.

  • Julie near Chicago, April 7, 2016 at 8:46 am: “most people who think about the issue of “free will” at all do think of themselves as Observers, separate from their brains and their minds and their wills,”

    Certainly not me. It’s an act of mine, or,, I could write, of my free will, to decide to reply to you now, not later or never, and to type this, not something else. I can observe my self. I could have written “Certainly not Niall Ross” instead of “Certainly not me”. I can talk about myself (in fact, I do – rather too much 🙂 ). He who observes is more than his will but not less or (equivalently) ‘will’ is a viewpoint which focuses on part of the definition of me who observes.

    Although typing the above did not require Greek, Hebrew and old-English characters (c.f. my reply to Snorri re discussing Penrose proofs at April 6, 2016 at 1:11 pm above), I suspect this far into a long thread will not let us get more than 1% of the way to mutual discussion/comprehension/resolution of these issues – on which I’ve a notion some clever people have already worked in the past without getting the world to a settled acceptance of a given view. 🙂 However I enjoy reading yours and typing mine (when my busy day gives time), so as long as you can say the same, we can keep adding our mites from time to time to this already long thread. BTW, may I say, Julie _near_ _Chicago_, that the times you are awake and speeds with which you sometimes reply can be rather awe-inspiring. Do please feel free (free-willed) to let my remarks hang unregarded on the vine for ages while you progress your busy life – or sleep. 🙂

  • Alisa, I think the old law of “outlawry” had less to do with any attitude than with a strictly practical recognition of the state’s inability to enforce the law effectually. This inability existed in mediaeval times and again in frontier areas in America. The state often couldn’t (or couldn’t be bothered) to hunt down the criminal, so instead declared him an outlaw in the (sometimes, pious) hope that someone who cared would take care of him – or someone who didn’t care but had their own motives for killing him.

    A similar situation relates to the “hostis sui generis” doctrine of piracy (one of the legal rationale’s for Eichmann’s apprehension IIRC). The Royal Navy largely eliminated piracy (along with most slavery) during the long Victorian peace, using this doctrine to act well beyond the nominal bounds of the British Empire. (It is much weakened in modern times and, not surprisingly, piracy is much increased.)

    Historically, states that had ‘outlawry’ were usually very ready to hang or flog offenders they could catch, whereas states most opposed to such ‘private justice’ include those where murderers die of old age on death row, or there is no death row at all.

  • Alisa

    Niall, that was my general impression of that old concept. Regardless of the practical reasons that brought it into being at the time though (and, with a nod to Julie, the precise form it may had taken at those times and places), I like the concept and wish it could be brought back into practice, with some modifications that may be appropriate for our era.

    BTW, good point on the semantics of ‘will’.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Richard,

    Yes, Einstein resisted QM for awhile. Also, I know that in some philosophical quarters the idea of the Principle of Cause-and-Effect which applies throughout the physical universe is increasingly looked upon with disfavor.

    As for QM, I have the impression that Copenhagen was more or less successfully refuted long ago. And that the hidden-variable theory probably doesn’t work either. There is one school of thought that says that the apparent Indeterminacy is simply the result of the (alleged) fact that the the noise overwhelms the signal. That sounds plausible, and I’d like to believe it.

    The thing is, I am a child of my times, and to me we approach knowledge of our world only asymptotically. I also know that every logical system (and what we are looking for is logical systems that will, if not explain, then at least illuminate, our world) rests on definitions and on the unproven assumptions that we call postulates.

    [I explain axioms and postulates again: Mostly people aren’t very careful about the distinction between them, and furthermore there is not unanimity as to which fundamental principles are axioms and which are postulates. For me, within the realm of logic axioms are properly the fundamental laws of logic: statements about what our minds require of a logical system. And these are fixed no matter their application. Whereas postulates are assumptions made without proof, from which, together with definitions of the objects and their relationships within the system, the entire system is generated. Postulates vary from system to system, of course.]

    Now let us return to Mr Ed’s pal Prof. Frenkel. In particular, it is sometimes (actually, I think, often) the case that the same system can be generated from more than one set of postulates, just as a given vector space can be generated from a great many different sets of basis vectors.

    In light of all that, there is no particular reason that I can see to be daunted by the fact that Explanation E only “pushes things back one step,” and to decide from that that E “explains nothing.” Perhaps that’s so, in an absolute sense, but E may still, like Newtonian mechanics, give much illumination and even make wonders possible. Newton put a man on the Moon, after all.

    If the world is understandable as a logical system, then that understanding does rest on postulates, and there is no help for it. It is the nature of things. And while we had better be able to justify our postulates, it’s by definition foolish to think we can “provide evidence that proves they’re correct.” Therefore the contentious will always be able to hunt for flaws in the explanations — and on the whole a good thing, even if we are a pain in the neck. :>(

    Also, there is no reason to decide that there is ONE and ONLY ONE set of postulates to “explain” the world — whether some part of the physical universe or of Reality itself.

    So instead of saying “all we’ve done is push the question back a step,” we should be saying, “Hooray, we’ve pushed the question back a step!”

  • Alisa

    Julie, so all axioms are postulates, but not all postulates are axioms? Or are they even not in the same subcategory of the logical-process components? I sense that it must be the latter as per your definitions, with postulates being the ‘what’ set of the components, and axioms being the ‘how’ set.

  • Alisa

    (OK, that^ was waaay OT, but seeing as we are so far into the thread…)

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Julie near Chicago
    April 6, 2016 at 8:40 pm
    PfP: I’d love to read your book. Alas, this is a Kindle-free zone. Although — if it’s okay with Perry, have you got an Amazon link?

    Well, on the forgiveness/permission principle, http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Process-free-will-physics-ebook/dp/B00QXLT0O2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420306685&sr=8-1&keywords=mind+and+process

    Or, if you’re completely bereft of Kindles, I can e-mail the manuscript (free). It is 33 printed pages long.

  • Julie near Chicago

    PfP, thanks! I will see if the Young Miss will allow me to borrow her Kindle.

    Having read the review on Amazon and your Comment to it, I will tell you and everyone up front that there most certainly is the phenomenon, or existent, that we call “mind,” and that to deny this is self-refuting/contradictory/ and impossible, unless one abandons logic altogether. Thus the concept of “mind” is an example of what JulieSpeak, at least, calls an axiomatic concept. Each of us experiences his own mind as directly and irrefutably existing, and we could not form thoughts, i.e. think, without it.

    I haven’t yet gotten access to the Kindle (the Y.M. is still at work), but it seems to me from your comment that essentially your point is the same as Descartes’. The Objectivists apparently have a problem with his taking his direct experience of being conscious as a starting fixed point — an axiom about the kind of thing we humans are, i.e., an axiom about our nature and the very possibility of the phenomenon that we call “thought.” I confess that I don’t understand the objection. The last time I went over it, it struck me as one of those cases where explaining the principle in terms of some other principle(s) allegedly more basic is an example of the sort of thing I was talking about above in the comment about substituting one set of postulates for another, where in fact either set generates the same logical system.*

    But it is a long time since I read the Intro to Objectivist Epistemology (as published in The Objectivist and read as each issue appeared), and although I have both the original text of ITOE as well as Peikoff’s edition of it, I haven’t refreshed my memory. So my statement of my understanding, such as it is, of the Objectivists’ position is provisional.**

    *Perfect accuracy in this claim I suppose requires some constraints on the putative sets of postulates. I mean, for example, you could take all the postulates and theorems of Euclidean geometry and from them “generate” the whole — trivially.

    **Update. I think the problem for Objectivists is that they think “Cogito, ergo sum” implies the Primacy of Consciousness rather than the Primacy of Existence. Maybe so, but I’m not convinced. And besides, given the fundamental metaphysical/epistemological principle of Objectivism, which is that while all that we perceive, properly speaking, exists and has a nature or “identity,” these existents are perceived in a manner shaped by our senses and the nature of our consciousness, it seems to me that “Pr. of Exist.” vs. “Pr. of Consc.” is a false dichotomy. If there were no existence/existents, there would be nothing, including consciousness itself, to be conscious of. If we had no consciousness, there could be no issues of existence (for us. For a Head of Lettuce named Ralph, perhaps, but that would be Ralph’s consciousness and Ralph’s philosophical problem).

    Collapsing these two allegedly dichotomous First Principles, we must assume that Existence (Reality) Exists and that we can grasp it. (More chapters of explanation omitted, as thousands cheer.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, thanks for inviting me to dilate upon this topic, which is near and dear to my heart. *great big huge smile* 😉

    In short, you got it: In JulieSpeak at least, axioms are so fundamental to logical thinking that rational thought on any topic is impossible without them. They are statements of the basic rules that our minds must follow when reasoning correctly. Postulates, however, depend on the domain of discourse (on what topic we’re talking about and in what context).

    The two categories of proposition or statement exist as described, even if one of them is called Mew and the other is called Hu**.

    The Axioms of Reason:

    In the statements of the three Axioms, the word “equals” and its notation “=” (the standard “equals sign”) are to be understood in the strictest and narrowest sense: A = B if and only if A and B are two names for the same thing. I.e., both of them refer to the same existent (in the domain of discourse). The nature of the existent is invariant under name-change, one might say, semi-humorously.

    Notation: “iff” means “if, and only if.” Represented the usual mathematical symbolization as .

    These are the Axioms:

    1. The Axiom of Identity: For all existents A in the system, A = A.*

    2. The Axiom of Commutativity: For all existents A and B in the system, A = B iff B = A.

    3. The Axiom of Transitivity: For all existents A, B, and C in the system, if A = B and B = C , then A = C.

    Actually, there’s nothing arcane about these Axioms. They only say that a thing is whatever it is, and that your choice of names to call it by doesn’t affect its nature (that is, its nature as an element of the particular domain of discourse) in any way. This is common sense, although it might not be intuitively obvious from the statement of the Axioms simply because generally we use the word “equals” in various, and broader, senses in ordinary language.

    Looking at them from another point of view, they are statements about the use of formalisms in propositions or statements in the universe of discourse. They are about what substitutions are acceptible.

    It’s easy to see how these axioms enable substitution in simple algebra.

    When we ask for the solution to the equation 2x = x+3 in introductory algebra , we are asking for the number-name of some element in the set of real numbers which is presently named both “2x” and “x+3.” These are both legitimate names of some number that could be evaluated by either doubling some number now known only as “x,” or by adding 3 to that number. We use the fact that the two names refer to the same thing no matter which name we call them by to arrive at the conclusion that x = 3, i.e. the number-name of x is 3.

    (This is the explanation of the nature of equations and of “solve for the variable x” that I wish somebody had given me in my very first Algebra I class!) “Two names for the same thing,” and all is clear! ‘”x” is just what we’re calling it until we find its number-name, i.e., identify its numeric value.’

    (Just intuitively, calling x a “variable” when it is supposedly some fixed “solution” to the equation never made sense to me. It’s not a “variable” in the limited context of intro to solving equations; it’s a specific, fixed number. It only makes sense as a “variable” within the context where it can take on different values, as in “what is the value [or set of values] of f(x), where x = any number divisible by 2?”)

    *The Law of Identity, A=A: A thing IS itself, and cannot be other than itself. This is also the “Law of Non-Contradiction”:

    “A thing cannot both be and not-be, in the same sense and at the same time.”

    This is the way the Law (as enunciated by Aristotle) was put back when dinosaurs roamed the earth by some Objectivist or other; my memory is that it was so stated by Miss R. herself, but I certainly won’t swear to it. In any case it is by far the best, most complete, concise, and precise statement of the Law of Non-Contradiction that I’ve ever come across.

    . . .

    Postulates.

    Two of the well-known sets of postulates in mathematics are the postulates that generate Euclidean geometry and the Peano Postulates for generating the integers. (The latter are often called the “Peano Axioms,” wrongly and confusingly in my opinion. Birkhoff & MacLane in their Survey of Modern Algebra, which was my first introduction to them, referred to them as “the Peano Postulates.”

    Getting out a bit more, Newtonian Mechanics is generated from Sir Isaac’s Laws of Motion, which, he famously announced, were intended only to describe how things work, rather than to explain what things are. The Laws would thus be the among the Postulates from which Newtonian Mechanics are derived (generated). “Among” the Postulates? Well, yes, if my brainstorm of 10 seconds ago is correct, because the validity of the calculus as set forth by Newton is also technically an assumption that is made in order to formulate — generate — give practical functionality to the Laws within the system of Newtonian Mechanics.

    (Note, however, that Sir Isaac had evidence justifying his adoption of these principles to summarize the fundamentals of his system, even though he could not prove them from “First Principles.”)

    Also: “If, as I believe, I have already overpaid the IRS with estimated payments made for TY 2015, I ought to get a refund after I file my return.”

    Without getting into the weeds of Deep Analysis of this statement (or proposition), it involves the postulate “I have already overpaid the IRS [for TY 2016 taxes].

    **By all means persons who haven’t already done so should hunt up and read “Mewhu’s Jet,” Theodore Sturgeon’s engaging SF story from 1946 — the Golden Age indeed. It’s in various anthologies, including Groff Conklin’s Big Book of Science Fiction and The Collected Works of Theodore Sturgeon. These are sometimes available at an affordable price on eBay.

    Alisa, if you’re still there and haven’t gone into Snore Mode over this, I hope it answers your request for clarification. Probably more on the Scales of the Armadillo than you wanted, and probably all known to you anyway, at least insofar as it’s correct. 🙂

  • Julie near Chicago

    Niall,

    In response to yours of April 7 at 9:11 am:

    First, I’m enjoying batting the breeze with you too. :>)

    Second, I’ve also enjoyed what you’ve had to say about yourself. It’s always nice to get a bit of a view into somebody else’s world, provided the somebody doesn’t turn your stomach *g*.

    Third. I doubt that we’re all that much apart. If you say you don’t feel as if a part of you is separate from the rest, looking upon it from Outside and trying to figure Itall out, I believe you. I mean, you should know! I just don’t think you’re entirely typical. On the other hand, the fact itself is another glimpse into your mental world, so interesting in its own right, and perhaps giving us that glimpse was really your point.

    I think the apparent differences have more to do with the precise meanings we’re attaching to the specific words we’re using than any great disagreement in the Bottom Line. That is, it’s partly a matter of how we express ourselves. As you might have gathered, I’m just a little bit picky about the use of words. I am honestly and genuinely amazed, sometimes, that two humans are able to communicate at all. If ever there were a miraculous circumstance, the existence of that capability would surely be one.

    So a good deal of my own commentary has to do with trying to pin down meanings, and perhaps to try to figure out what sort of viewpoint might produce some given meaning.

    There’s also the fact that no two people (I think) have the exact same mental world. No two minds work exactly the same way, so that given the same input to two people’s mentalities, their two minds will, mostly, still produce somewhat different output. There might not (or there might) be differences in the substantive output, but there are likely to be differences large or small in the associations that accompany the output, and in other factors that give the core output a little different meaning for one person from its meaning for another.

    . . .

    Directly on topic:

    If one has a Christian-ish conception of God and the Soul, I don’t see why the will couldn’t be only partially free. Why can’t we imagine a God who leaves you free to Will whatever you decide to will on the issue of whether you’re going to do away with your no-good scum of a great-granduncle, but so arrange you so that you WILL always will to have eggs and not Mars Bars for breakfast? (The answer to that issue would, of course, be a matter of doctrine.)

    But leaving godly fixings out of it, what then?

    If the claims made for hypnosis are true, people who are in hypnotic trance can (sometimes) be induced to do at least some things that they would not otherwise do, or to do things that left to themselves they would do at time T0 but instead do them at some other time T1 (e.g., show up for work at 6 p.m. instead of 8 a.m.).

    They still exercise their own wills themselves to get themselves to work at 1800 hrs, but they do not choose to exercise their wills in that fashion. The will is only free if the choice of what to will is up to the will-er. This means that the “will” is only “free” to the extent that choosing is free: that is, that the faculty of choosing is exercised by the subject, the chooser, or not at all (if for instance the gods have sent us down here preset to make the exact “choices” that it turns out we do make).

    Of course, in the normal way of things another person cannot exercise your will FOR you, that is, literally take the part of you that wills and run it himself. In just the same way as another person can’t eat FOR you, using your jaws and teeth and digestive apparatus to get food into your stomach, and another person can’t ride a bicycle FOR you, using your legs and feet and inner ear and, yes, will.

    In that sense, you could say your will is free. But again, if the claims as to the power of hypnosis are true even sometimes, in such cases the subject’s will is not free, even though it does exist.

    So I can’t agree that “will” is necessarily “free.”

    Or so it seems to me.

    Heh…not such a fast typist: It took me at least three hours to put together my previous two comments. And as for sleep, you don’t want to know. I struggle a lot with sleep problems, but when I’m on a roll I finally turn the lights out about the time everybody else is in the shower, and don’t get up till sometime in the afternoon.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    I am honestly and genuinely amazed, sometimes, that two humans are able to communicate at all. If ever there were a miraculous circumstance, the existence of that capability would surely be one.

    This. This exactly.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    or (indeed) the grim agony of the conflict with evil within-ourselves, that each of us faces every day of our lives.

    Yup. As a certain person once put it:

    No beaver, swallow, or bee wishes to know more than its predecessors. All these creatures are happy in the place they occupy. All are degraded, but are ignorant of it; man alone senses it, and this feeling is the proof at once of his grandeur and his misery, of his sublime prerogatives, and his incredible degradation. In the state to which he is reduced, he has not even the sad satisfaction of being unaware of himself: he must continually contemplate himself, and this he cannot do without shame; even his grandeur humiliates him, since the understanding that raises him to the angels serves only to show him the abominable tendencies in himself that degrade him to the brutes.

  • Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray

    Julia, here is another fundamental law of nature- that each action generates an equal and opposite reaction. People talk about the multiverse as though you can choose any laws you like, but I find it hard to imagine a Universe without this law!
    What does that say about the world, and the Universe?
    As for the Copenhagen Interpretation, that left things open and unexplained. We now know of one hidden factor that Einstein didn’t know of, Zero point energy. All solid particles exist in a 3D sea of virtual particles. You have to wonder if the pressure gets to some radioactive elements, and that is why they crack up? Or do some wavelengths, like opera-singers and glass, just have a shattering effect?

  • Shlomo Maistre

    If one has a Christian-ish conception of God and the Soul, I don’t see why the will couldn’t be only partially free. Why can’t we imagine a God who leaves you free to Will whatever you decide to will on the issue of whether you’re going to do away with your no-good scum of a great-granduncle, but so arrange you so that you WILL always will to have eggs and not Mars Bars for breakfast? (The answer to that issue would, of course, be a matter of doctrine.)

    Some conceptions of compatibilism (reconciling free will and determinism) are rather like this.

    I believe that the individual has free will and I also believe that there is a way of the world, a method to the madness, a Hand that in infinite ways guides the mortal domain.

    Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills; as a result, the free will of every individual (effectively) acts in accordance with the divine will that guides all things.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    At the quantum level, things do appear to happen truly randomly and, although I forget the proof, it is possible to show that there are not hidden variables that are influencing these events.

    The idea that mere man can “prove” there are not factors unknown to him that are influencing events so perfectly and unwittingly encapsulates modern “enlightened” thinking. If one actually thinks such a proof is possible then he is unable to imagine a four-headed IT jock, which is quite a feat! Let Mencius explain:

    It’s certainly true that historical Christianity contains many superstitious and/or miraculous conceits, but it does not depend on them either for its practical efficacy as a social institution, or even for its logical coherence. Every scientific period is a small bubble of the known in an infinite unknown space. It is always possible to plausibly postulate an undisprovable entity. When mankind was young and knew little, we could postulate a God who was a giant snake that lived in the river and made it rain. Now, we can postulate a God who is an alien system administrator who runs the servers that make quantum mechanics work. We can easily disprove the giant snake, but not the four-headed IT jock. Ergo, we are left with the choice of two fundamentally aesthetic arguments – Occam’s razor versus Paley’s watchmaker.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Johnathan Pearce,

    Check this out from the philosopher Harry Binswanger.

    I read some of it. I would like to point out that he defined determinism in a highly convenient & narrow way.

    “the doctrine that every event is made necessary by antecedent factors”

    According to this view everything that has happened had to happen when and how it did. This does not allow for free will.

    A more lenient (read: accurate) definition of determinism (which does not preclude his definition but allows for the possibility of free will while remaining true to the doctrine of determinism) is:

    “the position that for every event there exist conditions that could cause no other event”

    According to this view not everything that has happened had to happen when and how it did. This allows for free will (at least to a degree).

    Maybe if I had consumed donuts last night instead of cheese I would still be typing this comment on Samizdata now; or maybe not. The past according to determinism is not NECESSARILY only a simple cascade of events that had been preordained. Let me explain.

    Man cannot will what he wills. His freedom of action is restricted by (what occurs to) his will/soul/consciousness (or whatever you want to call the miraculous incorporeal essence).

    Just because I am choosing to type and I can choose to read/play guitar badly/eat food instead does not mean that I can be choosing to do anything instead. Any action I choose to do is available to me to choose only because it is available through the incorporeal essence that enables me to be aware of myself in the first place. Man cannot fly with his body because he does not have wings, but man is not only limited by the physical; he is more subtly limited by the mental – there are sundry things man can do with his hands, legs, chest, fingers, but he only chooses from among a very narrow selection of these possibilities (those that occur to him).

    In other words, although it was not preordained that I would be typing this now my doing so is proof in and of itself that this action at this time in this place is not disharmonious with the general schemes of the Creator (probably to the disappointment of some) because, after all, it occurred to me to do. Since we know that me typing these words now does not violate the general schemes of the divine, we know that there must be AT LEAST ONE set of conditions (inclusive of my exercise of my will) that leads to this happening.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Richard, no, I think your latest comment on vengeance definitely says something not said elsewhere in this discussion, and furthermore I certainly agree with you:

    WRT the vengeance part of punishment, there’s no doubt in my mind that there is a desire for it within the human mentality. We frequently tend to try to hide or downplay it but there’s no doubt that it’s there.

    It’s undoubtedly a stronger urge in some people than in others just because of their basic temperaments, and I suppose most of us nowadays have at least a little of the urge at least weakened enough by our social training not to go laying about with brickbats on the slightest excuse — antics of Snowflakes and Feminists and suchlike critters, not to mention the Professional Victims of all sorts, to the contrary.

    On the other hand, there ways of trying to get revenge other than by physical violence. Character assassination being a notable example.

    Anyway, good and useful reply to my question. Thank you. :>)

  • Julie near Chicago

    The point being that the urge to seek revenge, even through violence, is not in itself evil; it depends on what you do with that urge when it takes hold of you.

    Just as violence is not always unjust, or immoral, or evil: for instance violence in self-defense is sometimes not only not evil, but actually is the moral choice.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Nicholas, for heaven’s sake, you’re doing it again.

    *E-e-ewww!*

    By the way, who is this “Julia”? I don’ see no Julia ‘roun’ here. There’s a Julia who comes out on countingcats.com sometimes, but not here that I know of….

    :>)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Man cannot will what he wills. His freedom of action is restricted by (what occurs to) his will/soul/consciousness (or whatever you want to call the miraculous incorporeal essence). Writes Schlomo.
    Having read this and other Binswanger essays on free will and determinism, he certainly doesn’t say that free will is unconstrained. It is a straw man to suggest that free will is something you have completely or not at all. Quite a lot of our actions (such as our digestive system) are automatic and wired by nature; some are habitual and the result of repetition; some become habitual (such as riding a bike, swinging a tennis racquet, etc) and some require more conscious effort, such as the effort of focusing on responding to a Samizdata commmentator’s line of thought about what determinism is or is not, etc.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Yes, but Johnathan, insofar as an action is one that we do automatically because it’s wired into us, it’s not under the control of will in the first place.

    Although I understand that a lot of what we take for granted as not under our conscious control can indeed be brought under conscious control, if we will to learn how to do so, and then practice controlling whatever it is.

    Tonight I spilt boiling soup on myself. My reflex was to drop the bowl to get away from hot! But Will kicked in and said “You’re not gonna do that, honey, it will just make things worse.” Will overcame reflex. Not the first time it’s happened.

    And we learn to ride a bike at the direction of will; we keep on riding until the required balancing is done by non-conscious parts of the body, not under the control of will, though to some extent will does come into it, as when swerving to avoid a stone in the road, or a car ditto, or to change course. However, when one is past the learning stage, one certainly does ride as a result of bringing one’s will to bear. One chooses to ride (for whatever reason) and then, the choice made, the will limbers up to set the muscles in motion to do the activity.

    I still think the apparent contradictions disappear if we think of our will as located within ourselves (which it is, if we have a proper conception of the person as a whole package or system: body, mind, and soul in some sense or other if you think so), and as unexercisable by anyone except ourselves. It’s in that sense and that context that the will is free (except under certain abnormal conditions, such as sometimes result from hypnosis — ???). Even if every molecule and every pulse of electrical current in the body at each instant is caused specifically and inevitably by prior events within that same body.

    All that a person does is done within himself and done by himself and not by anyone else, and that includes his exercising of the faculty we call the Will.

    Speaking as an atheist/secularist, that is. I think the situation can be a little different for those who believe in God as modern Western Christians generally understand Him.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I still think the apparent contradictions disappear if we think of our will as located within ourselves (which it is, if we have a proper conception of the person as a whole package or system: body, mind, and soul in some sense or other if you think so), and as unexercisable by anyone except ourselves. It’s in that sense and that context that the will is free (except under certain abnormal conditions, such as sometimes result from hypnosis — ???). Even if every molecule and every pulse of electrical current in the body at each instant is caused specifically and inevitably by prior events within that same body.

    The problem is that quite a few critics of the idea of volition don’t even think that human consciousness is real either; our consciousness is nothing more than the sum total of all the firings of neurons in the brain, etc, and that our sense of being conscious is an illusion. Which is why I go back to my earlier comment to state that volition and consciousness cannot really be separated.

    I do think there is value in saying that there is a sort of spectrum of actions where different levels of consciousness come into play; the example of riding a bike is useful in that it gives us the case of consciously choosing to do something (ride a bike to the rail station or race in the Tour de France), learning how to ride a bike and then it becoming automatic, etc. And I think there are quite a few actions we take where our consciousness of doing X or Y are quite low, while with others, such as choosing to focus on tackling a tough maths question, or remembering to write a note of thanks to your Mum, the consciousness level is a lot higher.

  • Mr Ed

    The problem is that quite a few critics of the idea of volition don’t even think that human consciousness is real either; our consciousness is nothing more than the sum total of all the firings of neurons in the brain, etc, and that our sense of being conscious is an illusion.

    Those critics didn’t really say that though, did they? On their own case, they don’t exist, which rebuts their own argument.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Shlomo (and this is actually a reply to Julie as well):

    Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills

    Is that from Schopenhauer? it is in his wikipedia page, in a slightly different translation, so it must be true…

    Anyway, nothing better illustrates the difference between what i call the commonsense and the metaphysical views of free will.
    The commonsense view is that man (and woman, but we’ll stick to man) can do what he wills.
    The metaphysical view is that man can will what he wills.

    The commonsense view is what i was talking about. I have zero interest in the metaphysical view.

    The commonsense view is supported by introspection, verbal reports of other people’s introspection, and behavioral observations. The metaphysical view has no support, as far as i am aware.

    Which brings me to Julie’s remark:

    So it is not at all tricksy or unrigorous, logically or epistemologically, to see that the currently conventional definition of “free will” has a poor fit with observable reality

    The key word here is “definition”. When i talk of free will as commonly understood, i mean the way the term is used, not the way the term is defined. Perhaps i should have made this clear earlier.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Niall: if you are still here, thanks for the feedback at 1:11 pm.
    With your background, you’ll read The Large etc very quickly.

    BTW i have changed my mind: to prove that the human mind is not algorithmic, Penrose might not need the concept of human mind: it might — i stress, might — have been sufficient to assume the self-evident truth that the human mind can conceive the axiom of choice.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Johnathan: since this is the 2nd debate between us during which you accuse me of denying the existence of free will, i’d appreciate it if you would acknowledge that i do believe in free will.

  • Mr Ed April 8, 2016 at 12:19 pm: “… ‘The problem is that quite a few critics of the idea of volition don’t even think that human consciousness is real either’ … Those critics didn’t really say that though, did they? …”

    My strong memory is that Roger was sparked (incensed? 🙂 ) into writing his first book on this subject precisely by arrogant public domain statements that said exactly that in very crude terms. I cannot now recall the references, so can only offer my memory FWIW. (I _may_ be able to track down the details later.)

    Decades earlier, the idea of consciousness as a mere epiphenomena of a mechanistic brain, with no significance whatever, was a staple of communist philosophy. I suppose they did not quite assert that consciousness strictly did not exist at all.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Man cannot will what he wills. His freedom of action is restricted by (what occurs to) his will/soul/consciousness (or whatever you want to call the miraculous incorporeal essence).

    Writes Schlomo.
    Having read this and other Binswanger essays on free will and determinism, he certainly doesn’t say that free will is unconstrained.

    Obviously pointing out that Binswanger does not say that free will is unconstrained does not really address my point – and is itself a straw man.

    It is a straw man to suggest that free will is something you have completely or not at all. Quite a lot of our actions (such as our digestive system) are automatic and wired by nature; some are habitual and the result of repetition; some become habitual (such as riding a bike, swinging a tennis racquet, etc) and some require more conscious effort, such as the effort of focusing on responding to a Samizdata commmentator’s line of thought about what determinism is or is not, etc.

    Obviously one of my points is that free will is constrained in a more subtle manner than this one – and you again have failed to address any of my points.

    The past according to determinism is not NECESSARILY only a simple cascade of events that had been preordained, but that is how Binswanger effectively defined it.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Is that from Schopenhauer? it is in his wikipedia page, in a slightly different translation, so it must be true…

    If it’s on wikipedia so it must be false right?

    Anyway, nothing better illustrates the difference between what i call the commonsense and the metaphysical views of free will.
    The commonsense view is that man (and woman, but we’ll stick to man) can do what he wills.
    The metaphysical view is that man can will what he wills.

    The commonsense view is what i was talking about. I have zero interest in the metaphysical view.

    The commonsense view is supported by introspection, verbal reports of other people’s introspection, and behavioral observations. The metaphysical view has no support, as far as i am aware.

    As I said earlier, man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills. How exactly does my view not accord with what you call the common sense view?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Snorri, yes: I’d have been more accurate to say “as commonly understood,” as both you and I did earlier. I suppose I was imprecise because to me it’s obvious that any understanding of a word implies there’s some underlying definition, regardless of whether that fact is recognized by the user of the term, or a definition articulated in his mind. So I didn’t concern myself about the distinction in this particular case.

    Perhaps this illustrates why I am so picky about the meanings and usages of words… and why my writing about Deep Matters tends to be unfortunately dense.

    .

    Moving on. If you mean to include me, I can only say:

    Zip! I was reading Schopenhauer last night,
    Zip! And I think that Schopenhauer was right.

    Except that I’ve never read Schopenhauer except for a few pages back in college 800 years ago, of whose words not one remains with me, nor do I feel great need to cure my ignorance of the gentleman’s thought.

    . . .

    Shlomo,

    “…[M]an can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.”

    He can’t? A choice exists for me between doing A and doing B. I think, “I must decide,” and in this case, but not in all cases, this thought brings my will to bear. I then will myself to make the choice, although I likely don’t notice my willing. I have chosen to exercise my will (to make the choice between A and B). Sometimes I immediately choose to exercise my will at once, to bring about some sort of effecting action (including possibly mental “action,” such as planning, or a blend of mental and physical action, as in writing a Samizdata comment); sometimes I choose to wait until later before willing myself to commence taking the action.

    . . .

    Choosing and Objectivism….

    In this regard, we may ask if choosing is always a conscious activity. Objectivism holds that we choose to focus mentally or not. Maybe you can use the verb “to choose” that way, but I find myself “spacing out,” mentally drifting (“woolgathering,” we used to call it) with no conscious intent to do so, and then Returning Out of Space (resuming focus); again, with no intent of which I’m particularly aware. Sometimes, of course, one is aware that one is out-of-focus, woolgathering, and the switch in one’s head says Oops, need to concentrate here….

    If “Man is a being of volitional consciousness,” doesn’t this imply that man at any given time chooses to be conscious, and then wills his consciousness to come to him?

    So, I have to admit I’ve never entirely understood what Miss R., or perhaps it’s Dr. B. who gave this formulation, meant.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Johnathan, April 8 at 12:02 pm,

    Not only do I agree, but also it seems to me obvious that will and consciousness are not, generally speaking, separate as they normally exist — that is, separate in reality; I go much farther and say that except for most purely corporeal parts of the the thing which is a human person, all of its characteristics and attributes and faculties and capacities going clear down to the purely physical cannot for the most part be separated out, in real fact. They are not just interwoven but melded.

    (It’s equally clear that they do exist in the reasonably properly functioning human; we experience them directly as phenomena, and while fallibility, there is a point at which the possibility of error is a bridge too far. It isn’t properly their existence that’s at issue then, but rather their natures as they are found in the Real World. It’s pursuant to consideration of their natures that we separate them conceptually.)

    As an imperfect analogy, you can break the bond between H2 and O, but you will no longer have water. Water is the result of H2 and O intimately bound together in a certain way so as to become one, and it is essentially different from its constituent parts. In investigating the properties of water, you don’t look at the oxy and the hydrogen separately. [Though here the analogy begins to break down.]

    However, you certainly can sort into different categories various phenomena that are aspects of your self as you experience them, which means “as you experience them in your head,” so to speak, since most of us mostly tend to locate our sensings of ourselves in our heads. (Our moods, thoughts, mentations in general; emotions, many bodily states which we lump together as “feelings,” though they are varied and distinct; will, consciousness….)

    Yet they are conceptually separable because our (inner) experiences of the phenomena are clearly different.

    You will never find “pure number” in physical reality; rather you have 4 apples, 9 swim fins, a near-circle whose circumference is, roughly, 29.2348032478136 furlongs. But these numbers have real existence as concepts in my head.

    (Concepts are real; they do exist, but only in our heads.)

    .

    Yes, I agree entirely: There is overlap in the categories, and the strength and power of any of these “experiencings” at any given time vary along a continuum.

    However, I have to raise a point that tells against the starting premise (with which I said I agree, and I do, but this is bothersome). Namely, what about a person in coma? Presumably such a person is specifically not conscious, but it’s not obvious that will is absent.

    Perhaps it’s a matter of definition. But there are examples reported of people who were in coma, even for as long as 20 years in one report I read, but who do finally regain the ability to make their consciousness evident, and who say that they did have some degree at least of consciousness during the time when all observers thought they were in a “vegetative state.”

    Again…it’s not that the Whole Person is an exception to the rule that every thing, entity, state, or event — I use “phenomenon” as a cover term to include all of these — has a cause. It is rather that the ultimately determining causes of what a person chooses, wills, or does reside within the Whole Person himself. You cannot digest another person’s food for him, using his digestive tract and associated equipment, and you cannot think or feel or will for another person, using his brain and his senses and his musculature as if they were yours. (I’m trying to state this in a way that doesn’t fly in the face of the fact that some bodily mechanisms can be directly stimulated to act by the application of electrical signals, for instance, with the “button” pushed by some other person. You can cause a frog’s legs to twitch that way, but it’s not because you yourself became the frog and ran him by becoming him seated one day at the Control Center.)

    And that fact is what make it reasonable to talk about “free” will. It is the whole person that is the provider and the seat of the will.

    I won’t repeat various issues and qualifiers.

    Anyhow, in that sense, yes, a man is a “Self-moved Mover.” But I don’t think most people who believe in cause-and-effect will take it that way without a lot of explanation, Objectivists to the contrary. In fact I don’t think most actual (as opposed to self-styled) Objectivists would accept this point of view (this argument) as having any merit, without doing a lot of pondering about it, and possibly not even then.

    It seems to me this POV and argument amount to a heresy of Objectivism.

    The Great Frog knows it’s taken me quite awhile to work it out, insofar as I have … and although I thought it out for myself, it’s not as though nobody before me ever came to roughly the same conclusion! (Some say that in fact Hume and Locke both did so.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Johnathan,

    Re-reading your comment after writing all that, I see that a good deal of it echoes what you said.

    You may conclude from this that I agree with that comment, although the idea that we have only brains and not consciousness (consciousness is not real) is self-refuting.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Stress: Agree entirely and in toto.

    (Note also “spectrum” or, as I would say, “levels” or a “continuum”, not quite the same thing of course, of consciousness.)

    Just to be perfectly clear.

  • ams


    If I rephrased the quote above to say: “”I’m a mechanist _because_ I don’t really understand what the alternatives could be.” would that be a valid or an inadequate summary of that viewpoint? (The question can be asked in general, not just or specifically of ams’ viewpoint.)

    I think this is probably fair. Before I could subscribe to a different philosophy, I’d have to be able to understand what it is saying about the universe: I would have to have some internal model of the universe that it suggests, and believe it to be accurate. But having *any* sort of internal model of the universe sort of falls under mechanism, doesn’t it?

    Pyeh. 😛

  • ams

    Someone dug up QM:

    One thing about QM and Einstein: Einstein doesn’t even get a 10th of the respect he deserves from modern pop-science historography. The picture painted these days is that he was some old set-in-his-ways stick-in-the-mud that couldn’t get with the times and wasn’t mentally flexible enough to adapt to the “new physics”. There was indeed a sort of generational conflict going on in the Copenhagen conferences back in the 20s: Why do you think that generational struggle was any saner or fairer than any modern generational struggle? No one gives Einstein credit for helping to invent or discover a good portion of the early findings of quantum physics: The photoelectric effect. The Einstein de Haas principle that linked particle spin to angular momentum. Other things would come to mind if I wasn’t migrainy.

    Anyway: Einstein was trying to build a model of how the world worked. Bohr was trying to build a model of how our information about the world evolved: And according to Bohr, you didn’t need to, and shouldn’t say or think anything about how the world generating that information behaves: How could you know? All you have is the information? To emphasize that point, he and his followers tended to take a rather obscurantist line about what Nature was actually doing. As far as they were concerned, how the information propagated was the important thing, and it was verboten to ask what the information was information *about*.

    That Einstein tried an idea that eventually ended up being incorrect: (The wavefunction is some sort of expression of our limited knowledge of some underlying state with a sharper definition) – that isn’t shameful! That stuff happens in science. If you aren’t wrong a lot, then you aren’t generating enough hypotheses! (It is only in the ex-post-facto cult-of-genius histories of science that we expect people to be deeply right straight out of Platonic space!) That Einstein stubbornly clung to ‘realism’, and wouldn’t let go of his notion that physics was about describing and understanding the world, and that the entire enterprise presupposed that there *was* a world you are talking about: I find that to be praiseworthy! That is what pop-science condemns him for.

  • ams

    PS: I think these days, interpretations of quantum physics like MWI take what the math is telling us more or less at face value: The wave-function isn’t an expression of ‘uncertainty’ about the world, because it doesn’t really behave like, nor can it be made to behave like, a probability distribution (Bayesian/Kolmogorov fuzzy information type) over any sort of point-particle dynamics. Instead, the wave-function *is* the state of the world. The apparent world of sharp point-particles and sharp trajectories in bubble chambers is actually an illusion created by discrete or continuous interaction of the quantum system with the classical world (an insanely complicated quantum system that gets entangled with the microscopic system in question).

    Most of the laws of how a quantum system behaves are entirely deterministic, btw, provided that you describe the wave-function as the state, and Schrodinger’s over Hilbert, or Klein-Gordon, or Dirac over Fock-Space as the dynamic law: Probability only enters into it when you start talking about making measurements of the system (where the Copenhagen wavefunction collapse is tolerable as a bit of pragmatic machinery to get the distribution of answers that we end up seeing on our screens.) The system, sans macroscopic interaction, behaves as if this 2nd order wave over what would be a classical configuration space, is actually how things are.

  • ams

    PPS:

    There seem to be two separate discussions that get munged together whenever the subject of free-will is brought up:

    1. The physics question: How does the universe behave, and if we consider people as parts of the universe, is it possible in principle (lots of reasons why it will be forever impossible in practice) to predict what they will do? (When, in our consideration of ourselves and the universe, we step outside ourselves and try to model the workings of our minds and decisionmaking processes ‘from the outside’.)

    2. The social question: How should we treat each other? How should we arrange our society/justice-system/etc.

    I’m interested in the physics question. As to the social question, I have to ask: Why should question 2 be at all dependent on question 1? It seems weird to me that a discovery in physics (or some assumptions about metaphysics) that the universe behaves like A, or like B should have any bearing on a social question which should properly depend upon an entirely different (and much higher) layer-of-abstraction. In response to question 2: I don’t really care that someone holding a gun to my head, or trying to manage me into a life-boat crisis situation is doing it because he thinks it somehow follows from an idea about 1.

    Suppose that several functionally identical societies exist in alternate universes, and unbeknownst to them way down on the subatomic level, Society 1 exists in a Newtonian deterministic universe, Society 2 exists in a MWI quantum universe, and Society 3 exists in two seperate universes where people’s brains live in one universe with laws A, and interact with the universe of “dumb-matter” with laws B. Why does that have any bearing on if they should punish a murderer, or if some crazy dictator should try to carefully arrange everyone’s circumstances so that they make decisions he likes better than the ones they would make if they weren’t so coerced?

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Julie Near Chicago,

    He can’t? A choice exists for me between doing A and doing B. I think, “I must decide,” and in this case, but not in all cases, this thought brings my will to bear. I then will myself to make the choice, although I likely don’t notice my willing. I have chosen to exercise my will (to make the choice between A and B). Sometimes I immediately choose to exercise my will at once, to bring about some sort of effecting action (including possibly mental “action,” such as planning, or a blend of mental and physical action, as in writing a Samizdata comment); sometimes I choose to wait until later before willing myself to commence taking the action.

    Okay, sure. It depends on how we are using the term will.

    Man’s freedom of action is restricted by (what occurs to) his will/soul/consciousness (or whatever you want to call the miraculous incorporeal essence).

    Just because I am choosing to type and I can choose to read/play guitar badly/eat food instead does not mean that I can be choosing to do anything instead. Any action I choose to do is available to me to choose only because it is available through the incorporeal essence that enables me to be aware of myself in the first place. Man cannot fly with his body because he does not have wings, but man is not only limited by the physical; he is more subtly limited by the mental – there are sundry things man can do with his hands, legs, chest, fingers, but he only chooses from among a very narrow selection of these possibilities (those that occur to him).

  • Julie near Chicago

    That’s all very well, and I actually agree that the choices we make are constrained, and indeed that if (as I believe) it’s a cause-and-effect Universe, what we do is the result of one specific set of causal factors which, however, reside within our self, just like the rest of us. It’s just that the determining factors DO reside within us (and I do believe that our mental world results from our physical system), and not elsewhere; when we do what we call “choosing,” or what we call “willing,” or thinking or feeling or emoting or taking the dog to the vet, it is our self and no outside Force, Factor, or other Entity that is doing those things. So for me, we are free to the extent that it is our self which is choosing or willing.

    Your point is an example that should show why I keep insisting that most people don’t really have a conception of selfhood that allows for free choice and free will. Except some of the religious folk, who locate them in a lack of control by the gods, and people who somehow aren’t bothered by the idea (I consider it a fact, but some disagree) that what makes the world understandable by us, however imperfectly, is that it is a cause-and-effect world.

  • Julie near Chicago

    ams, an interesting series of comments. I wish I hadn’t skipped class the day they taught us QM. (I didn’t skip Chem 101, however. That class, taken by entering math, physics, and chem majors, was begun with a study of Schrödinger’s Equation and just got worse after that. Since most of us at that stage — this was 1961, at a very good school — hadn’t even had introductory calculus, we tended to find 2nd-order partial differential equations a bit opaque, but there you go.)

    Which is by way of saying that I wish I really knew what you’re talking about. I have tipped my hat in passing to the Wave Function, but that’s probably more than the full extent of it. :>(

    Physics and morals come together in metaphysics, which is basically why discussions about the latter draw certain types of minds into discussions of the former. “Do we have free will?” is the main issue, and many people try to ground their answer in physics since the system producing what we experience as the self is a physical system (actually subsystem). Then people get tangled up with indeterminacy and thinking that that would provide an opening for free will, and so forth.

    Or so it seems to me. :>)

  • Julie near Chicago, April 9, 2016 at 4:36 am: “I wish I hadn’t skipped class the day they taught us QM.”

    I got taught it, and related subjects, for a period that could only seem a single day to an observer travelling at a large percentage of the speed of light, yet would not claim to have a perfect grasp – or even a not-very-imperfect grasp. A day of QM, in 1961, might only have let you type “I wish I’d had more than a day…”

    “Schrödinger’s Equation … hadn’t even had introductory calculus, we tended to find 2nd-order partial differential equations a bit opaque.)… ”

    Just be glad you were not taught them by Dirac. I quote from a conference:

    Questioner: Professor Dirac, when you were writing the spinor equation on the bottom right of the board – uh, I didn’t quite follow what you did there?

    Dirac: (silence)

    Moderator: ah, Professor Dirac, will you answer the question?

    Dirac: it wasn’t a question, it was a statement.

    As regards QM etc., Bell’s Inequality rebuts the idea (one form of it at least, and arguably all forms) that hidden data might explain QM – that the liveness of Schrödinger’s cat, or a photon at a Young’s slit, is known in some fundamental sense and just not observable by us (which was Einstein’s view – c.f. ams April 8, 2016 at 9:40 pm). The rival view states that the wave function will evolve until it is “observed”, when it will collapse to an eigenstate (a classically-observable state in which e.g. cats are either definitely alive or definitely dead, not in a quantum superposition of probabilities of both).

    Under the rug of the word “observer” is swept the contradiction of when a given one of these two processes applies, or (equivalently) the huge philosophical question: what qualifies an observer? It is generally agreed that the observer does not need a Ph.D. – Schrödinger can open the box and collapse his cat’s wave function, but so can his cleaning lady. But whether a stray light ray getting into the box can collapse it or becomes part of a quantum entanglement is a bit more vague. In short, the theory has internal contradictions Two processes can apply and when one gives way to the other is a big mystery.

    Another problem is the refusal of spin-2 gravity to play nice with QM like the lower-spin field theories do. Those infinities just won’t renormalise.

    – The general view is that gravitation is just being difficult, and if the equations are just kicked around savagely enough – or brainwashed into thinking they’re part of an 11-dimensional or 23-dimensional string or something – they’ll eventually quit their whining and say, “OK, OK, have it your way – I’m a quantum field.”

    – Roger Penrose’ view is that these two problems are one. The wave function would evolve without collapse in a flat space-time but cannot do so in a curved space-time; it collapses in a curved space-time whenever the difference between the two possible eigenstates has increased to equal one graviton.

    The above is of course the most horrendously crude summary of a subject far too involved to be effectively discussed here. Best I can do, I’m afraid.

  • ams

    Another problem is the refusal of spin-2 gravity to play nice with QM like the lower-spin field theories do. Those infinities just won’t renormalise.

    Just going off of some things about the mattress-picture that I’ve never really understood why they do things, or depict things certain ways: I think QFT might be starting with the wrong ground state for their vacuum state (how can you have agitation or “fluctuations” in a ground state with no degeneracy DOFs for a phase difference to be inserted?), and I think there might be sloppiness with how they are normalizing their propagators (Huygen’s principle sort of works too, qualitatively, if you don’t divide by 1/r^2, but we know that classical EM requires more careful normalization if you want to calculate intensity at a distance). Integrating and getting a quantity that doesn’t even have the right units … yeah, something is wrong with the math.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Niall: i find the Dirac anecdote very meaningful.

    what qualifies an observer? It is generally agreed that the observer does not need a Ph.D. – Schrödinger can open the box and collapse his cat’s wave function, but so can his cleaning lady.

    But can the cat collapse its own wavefunction?
    And what about the bacteria in the cat’s microbiome?

    Another problem is the refusal of spin-2 gravity to play nice with QM like the lower-spin field theories do. Those infinities just won’t renormalise.

    This is where you lost me; although i caught up on you, a bit, in the following paragraphs.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Shlomo and Julie: apologies for not reading all what you have written, i don’t have the time.
    Shlomo:

    As I said earlier, man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills. How exactly does my view not accord with what you call the common sense view?

    Hey, chill out, man! I didn’t say that your view doesn’t accord with the commonsense view!
    (That would be a good place to put a smiley, but i use them sparingly, and it’s been only a few years since the last time i did so.)

    In fact, there are other areas of agreement between you and me.
    We are both compatibilists, to start with; although perhaps i go farther than you do: not only do i think that free will is compatible with determinism, i also think that it is INcompatible with INdeterminism. (Though this is a gross oversimplification, a soundbite.)

    Further, you seem to agree with me that determinism does not imply physicalism: it is not only physical systems that are deterministic. A process can involve consciousness and/or immaterial souls and/or ideas and values, and still be deterministic. Though i am agnostic as to the manner in which free will involves any of the above.

    Since this is relevant to the video in the OP, it must also be said that determinism does not imply computability (by a Turing machine); although INdeterminism (true randomness) does imply NON-computability.

  • Snorri Godhi

    WRT Schopenhauer:
    Shlomo: if you didn’t get the maxim from him, then from whom?

    Julie: i seem to remember that i was briefly fascinated by Schopenhauer in high-school philosophy, but since then i have dismissed most German (not Austrian) philosophy as cranky; although Schopenhauer has been nowhere as pernicious as some others.
    Other than high school philosophy i only know Schopenhauer from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy … and of course wikipedia.
    A philosopher in the Top 20 must have said something thought-provoking, right?

  • ams, April 9, 2016 at 1:08 pm “… something is wrong with the math.”

    Roger’s idea – to which I am very sympathetic – is that the maths difficulties arise from more fundamental ones. Gravity shapes the space-time in which the wave functions evolve; it therefore cannot be treated like just another quantum field, and it can resolve a basic issue of quantum field theory.