This set of articles has been an exercise is using operational language to explore operational language. I’ve held off for two weeks to continue to the articles to allow a bit of mulling and settling of this language into the scattered array of my mind. Perhaps legibility will improve this time around… let’s see how it goes. Today’s topic – Free Will
In part two, we discussed briefly Plato’s definition of “being” (being a referent to existence) and the Existential Axiom i.e. Having affects and being subject to effects warrants membership in existence. In short, we do not live in a vacuum – if we did, our existence would be meaningless. Or put another way, we exist in relation to all of Existence oppose to independently from other existents. Existents thereby define each other by effects applied and received.
At this point, I was going to add a piece on how a very slight shift in interpretation of Quantum Mechanics could alleviate contradictions found across various disciplines in physics. Alternatively, I will add this link to a post here which touch on the subject: Entropy – but includes the notion of space as a relation between massive particles.
So I do stuff, it affects the world – no Sh!t Sherlock
Obviously, in a direct way, we affect the world. The matter of my body occupies space in relation to the computer I type upon as well as all other objects in the universe. The little bit of mass I contain exerts a slight amount of gravity upon all other objects in the universe (no matter how small it is there nonetheless). As my fingers bounce upon my keyboard, I affect the keys, which send signals to processors, which are then processed into images on a screen and bits on a hard drive. Eventually, this will be saved to a magnetic disk in a data center, whereby you access it and through various pixies (electrical signals) you will be able to read my words. In this complex array of interactions across a multitude of scales and domains, we affirm each other’s existence.
When it comes to wee humans, a sticky bit regarding effects comes into play. What moves my fingers which kick off this long sequence of existence-affirming interactions?
You do, dummy?
Really? Self-evidence leads to Descarte’s maxim (I think therefore I am), but some would question the veracity that our thoughts lead to effects in the world. Others cleave existence into two, looking to grant privilege to one over the other i.e. mind over the material. Debates between Platonists and Aristotelians have been waged for thousands of years over this one issue.
My mind must be the source of bouncing fingers, no? But what then caused this mind to move fingers?
Is this mind a unitary body of pure essence or the result of a lifetime of influences?
In short, does this mind have agency or only expresses the cumulation of past influences?
The Determinism – Free Will – Compatibilism debate
Determinists take the stance that all human action results from past influences (causes). Another way to put this, our actions are the result of a causal chain going all the way back to the big bang.
Free Will proponents argue free will is self-evident in our experience. How can it be any different? (many a study and experiment shoot this down.)
Compatibilists say we have a will which is constrained by determining factors; not free but will all the same. Determinists use the experiments which shoot down free will as evidence that this is not possible.
This debate, which stands at the forefront of academia today, challenges the mind in its complexity and obscurity. It truly stands as one of the biggest questions of the day.
The essential determinist argument leveled against both Free Will and Compatibilist theories can roughly be boiled down to this: Our personal agency does not provide a new causal influence upon our actions, stated differently we do not contribute to the causal chain of events which lead to our actions.
Determinists cite experiments which demonstrate that conscious awareness of an act of will does not precede neurological indications that an action has begun (in other words our actions begin before we are even aware of the decision to act). More here (which include rebuttals)
Essentially the argument states, our experience of the will follows our responses to the world. The mind experience follows the brain activity and thus the initiation of action does not begin in consciousness, therefore will itself is illusory and not part of the causal chain of events.
Will does not exist because it has no effects.
What!? If my will has no effects upon the world then “I” (my mind) does not exist!
Rebuttals to this stance exist, however, there has been no resolution to this debate.
For the time being let’s grant the determinists their two strongest points
- The mind is determined by past causal events
- Experience of the conscious will follows brain activity of seemingly “chosen” actions.
The mind is determined
This implies the mind, all activity within it, all sense of self remains the product of past effects on all scales:physics-molecules interaction in the brain, biology – synaptic firings in a soup of grey matter, personal-the culmination of memory dictates who we are, social – we, our memories, our thoughts, without social conditioning would not form a “person”.
All of these act as limitations upon the will, therefore, a will is never “FREE”. This stands as an adequate rebuttal against free will, but I propose this does not hold for compatibilists.
I propose that we (minds) do not reduce to a culmination of effects of which our actions remain nothing more than an expression of a dense causal chain. I do so for one reason.
We are able to IMAGINE a different state of affairs than what we are surrounded. Our imaginations are capable of wildly different configurations of the world and of other worlds.
These imaginings, by providing synaptic stimulation and changes to brain chemistry and in forming new memory (the memory of imagining), all have an impact on the state of affairs of our brains. IMAGINING has effects upon us. It alters the state of affairs becoming part of the causal chain. Even if it does not afford conscious choice at the moment it adds to the causal chain.
Now some may say, the imaginings we have would also be determined by past events and therefore do not alter the causal chain. This ignores that many scenarios may play through a brain, each one affecting the state of affairs to said brain and also ignores the breadth of imagination exceeds the breadth of perception.
Each session of imagination becomes a determining factor of the next -this stands as a modification of the causal chain. A mind’s imagination alters a brain’s chemistry. This then affirms that a brain qualifies as both an effect and a cause of itself (even only partially.)
The mind follows the brain
The second argument states the mind follows the brain. The consciousness of a choice occurs after action to execute the choice has already begun, therefore, the choice does not result from consciousness, ergo no will. To this I say, it does not matter.
Not having a conscious choice at this moment does not negate my mind as part of the causal chain. It remains possible that my “illusion” of choice in this moment can still play a causal role in future decisions.
This states that my experience of choice becomes a causal factor in the next choice. Further to this, my reflections upon the past events, my analysis, comparison and imaginings of how that choice may have played out differently, becomes part of the causal chain for future events.
Will may not be present in the moment, but still remains part of the equation.
Imagination affords effects, affirming the existence of “minds”.
I am because I can imagine things differently- a slew of implications
Implication 1) Imagination affords, to me, enough warrant to consider compatibilism to be strong enough of an assertion to act upon (belief – assertion strong enough to warrant action). I have only outlined one consideration for this assertion. I have others, such as “What is the evolutionary purpose of imagination?”, “Why are we creative?”. All of these bolster my warrant. I encourage you to explore these ideas as well.
Imagination affords causal effects
Implication 2) Imagining a different state of affairs comes with its own cost. Because we can imagine a different set of affairs, we can presuppose a set of affairs which is wrong. Imagination as a means to affirm our existence also gives rise to the possibility of error.
Human fallibility results from Imagination
Implication 3) Self-reflection and contemplation upon the state of affairs becomes a means to increase the degree of which my will plays a causal role.
A life without self-reflection remains a life unlived
Implication 4) The degree at which I err indicates the degree at which my will is not actualized. Will being inherently fallible therefore needs to be coupled with a methodology which affords error correction and adaptability or I sacrifice will (degrees of freedom are limited). Adoption of the right methodology fulfills a responsibility to myself (to live according to my will) and the world (to not propagate error)
Freedom and responsibility are tightly coupled
Implication 5) Truthtelling (ties into truth in part one) exemplifies the purest application of coupling contemplation, self-reflection, and imagination with an error correcting methodology
The due diligence to warrant one’s beliefs and to speak truthfully affords the most effective means to live a life according to one’s will
We there you have it.
The methodologies by which we warrant our beliefs and to clarify our “imaginings” remains the same method of due diligence behind Truthfulness.
Tilting the world
Dr. Peterson, during a few of his Maps of Meaning lectures, mentions truth telling as the path to sanity and a better world. In fact, at one point he says (paraphrasing) You must act as though you matter, that you have an effect because you do. And you must tell the truth. When you tell the truth you tilt the world ever so slightly toward the good.
You do have an impact on the world, the degree to which that impact is the result of determining factors or a product of your will is the degree at which you tell the truth to yourself and others.
It is important, without this, YOU do not matter.
No matter how small the effect, it affects the whole and the universe can only know you by this effect. Make it count.
Truth telling provides the only means by which the universe knows you and dictates how it is affected by you…. the only means by which we fight entropy, maintain order, create the good… the only means by which WE matter.
So tilt the world!
The theme of this site revolves around the story of two wolves at battle within us all; one good, one bad. The wolf which wins the fight is the wolf which you choose to feed. Do you feed determined impulses resulting from social conditioning and unreflected experiences, or do you feed a limited will clarified by rigorous due diligence? The choice is yours.