1 of 2
1
Susan Blackmore (Dec. 15)
Posted: 16 December 2006 04:34 PM   [ Ignore ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15435
Joined  2006-02-14

Interesting discussion this week with psychologist Susan Blackmore. There were a few issues that stood out for me.

(1) Free Will: Blackmore prefers to analyze free will as nonexistent. She says that she believes in ‘the will’ but not in the ‘freedom of the will’, because if you look in the brain, you don’t see any room for contra-causal forces to effect our actions.

I agree with most all of this, but would analyze the situation differently. The problem, as I see it, isn’t free will, but [i:96f3b22184]contra-causal free will[/i:96f3b22184]. Contra causal free will is the illusion, not free will [i:96f3b22184]per se[/i:96f3b22184].

I would prefer to say that we do have freedom of the will. How so? What I mean is that we are able to act based upon our beliefs and desires. [i:96f3b22184]That is what it is to be free[/i:96f3b22184] to act. Someone unfree is someone who is compelled to do something against his beliefs and desires, or someone who is somehow deranged by drugs, mental illness or the like, such that his beliefs and desires are malfunctioning.

This sort of analysis preserves our natural everyday notion that we are free to will what we wish, but discards the essentially theological excrescence of contra-causal willpower.

(2) With Blackmore’s analysis of Zen Buddhism I am in general agreement. One need not believe in any sort of god to practice Zen, and basically the entire practice involves a very interesting and rewarding focus on one’s inner conscious states, via meditation. However, I don’t believe she is right to claim that Buddhists in general don’t believe in gods. Mahayana Buddhist philosophy does involve the notion of the ‘Bodhisattva’, an enlightened superhuman creature who decides to remain in the cycle of birth and death in order to save other creatures. Bodhisattvas are essentially godlike. Also, Mahayana Buddhism involves the notion of ‘Buddha nature’ which is a quasi-personal essence that pervades, and arguably [i:96f3b22184]constitutes[/i:96f3b22184] the universe. While this can perhaps be construed atheistically (along the lines of Einstein’s or Spinoza’s god), usually it is construed rather differently, as a pantheistic god [i:96f3b22184]who deserves reverence and worship[/i:96f3b22184]. The Spinozistic interpretation of Buddha nature is basically a modernist revision rather than anything that fits well with Buddhist cultural practices.

Further, although Tibetan Buddhists have a notoriously complex and subtle philosophy, I do not believe it is correct to view them as essentially atheistic. They do view the universe as pervaded by higher and lower beings, at the very least angels, demigods and devils, who have superhuman or even supernatural powers. To a certain extent this may come down to an issue of terminology, however Tibetan Buddhists are certainly not naturalists in any important sense. (The Dalai Lama may be one of a very few exceptions to this rule).

With regard to the self and reincarnation, Blackmore seems to take it that the Buddhist denial of the substantial self tells against any notion of reincarnation. That may be well and good for a western naturalist to say, but it is [i:96f3b22184]in no way[/i:96f3b22184] an accurate description of contemporary Buddhist teaching. (Whether it was accurate to the teaching of the historical Buddha or the oldest Buddhist schools is a different matter). Present day Buddhist teaching has it that the self is not a single essence, but a thread made up of different strands of mental life that are somehow causally connected. At death, that multitude of causal strands jumps into a new body. [i:96f3b22184]This is not a naturalist causal picture[/i:96f3b22184].

Blackmore also did not discuss karma, a similarly essential view for any practicing Buddhist, and one that goes hand in hand with their notions of reincarnation: the particular life that one will be born into is one determined by your karmic history. If you led a good karmic life, you will be born to a better future. If not, you will be born to a worse one. In fact, the Buddhists view karma as a powerful [i:96f3b22184]causal[/i:96f3b22184] force. This is the force that propels the mental strands into the new body at rebirth.

At any rate, I am not sure that any of what I have to say is particularly at odds with Blackmore’s own views, or only semantically. But I do believe they bear saying.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 December 2006 08:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  187
Joined  2006-07-14

Re: Susan Blackmore (Dec. 15)

[quote author=“dougsmith”]I would prefer to say that we do have freedom of the will. How so? What I mean is that we are able to act based upon our beliefs and desires. That is what it is to be free to act. Someone unfree is someone who is compelled to do something against his beliefs and desires, or someone who is somehow deranged by drugs, mental illness or the like, such that his beliefs and desires are malfunctioning.

How can you distinguish the malfunctioning beliefs and desires, from the proper functioning ones?

 

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 December 2006 12:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15435
Joined  2006-02-14

Re: Susan Blackmore (Dec. 15)

[quote author=“Riley”]How can you distinguish the malfunctioning beliefs and desires, from the proper functioning ones?

With difficulty; however we have rules of thumb for this sort of thing all the time. We know what it is for someone’s desire to be ‘unnatural’ or ‘distorted’ when they are under the influence of an addiction, for example. We know what it is for someone’s belief to be ‘distorted’ by hallucinogens. We even recognize in the law a distinction between murders committed in the heat of anger from those that are premeditated. This, I submit, is a difference in one’s relative freedom of action, in that in the former case our beliefs and desires are liable to malfunction. I.e., we are liable not to think straight. But note that in both cases our actions are caused by beliefs and desires—only, in the case of premeditation when we are “of sound mind”, we are supposed to be functioning optimally, and so more responsible for our acts than when acting out of passion.

The deeper analysis of these cases will have to begin with asking what beliefs and desires are for, biologically, i.e. what they were selected for doing. But this is a deep and complex issue that I would prefer to leave for someone’s book in philosophy of mind.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 December 2006 08:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6199
Joined  2006-12-20

Re: Susan Blackmore (Dec. 15)

Hello Doug

We even recognize in the law a distinction between murders committed in the heat of anger from those that are premeditated. This, I submit, is a difference in one’s relative freedom of action, in that in the former case our beliefs and desires are liable to malfunction. I.e., we are liable not to think straight. But note that in both cases our actions are caused by beliefs and desires—only, in the case of premeditation when we are “of sound mind”, we are supposed to be functioning optimally, and so more responsible for our acts than when acting out of passion.

I think we need to take responsibility for our actions but don’t believe we are responsible for our actions or that we can be relatively more or less responsible for our actions.

 

So in your case of the premeditated murderer, what is it that he is able to do that makes him more responsible than the man who commits murder in the heat of the moment? 

The man of sound mind did not have the power to do anything other than commit murder, any more than the man acting in the heat of the moment.
I think we agree on that as you don’t believe in contra causal free will but what I can’t see is where the responsibility comes from in either case or where the relative responsibility comes from between the cases. 

Stephen

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 December 2006 08:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15435
Joined  2006-02-14

Hello Stephen, and welcome to the forum!

I don’t have a well worked-out theory here of personal responsibility, however I do find that my intuitions track the system of justice to this extent: there can be extenuating factors that make one less responsible. That is, responsibility is on a continuum of some sort.

This is almost provable. We can think of cases where you are not responsible. I.e. where you are driving below the speed-limit and someone darts out in front of you from behind a concealed location. You run him over, but are not responsible because there’s nothing you could have done.

Then there is the case where you run a light and kill someone walking plainly in the crosswalk. Then you are completely responsible.

But there are a continuum of cases in between these extremes, where the person comes out from behind less concealment, or is visible for longer, or the light has just changed, is yellow, etc. We can all come up with an innumerable number of such cases, and courts deal with them all the time.

There are no bright lines here that separate the case of complete innocence and complete responsibility. There is always the possibility for extenuating circumstances. We can also think of other sorts of cases with other sorts of circumstances. What about if the person driving the car is schizophrenic? Or seven years old? What if there is black ice just ahead of the crosswalk? Or an oil slick?

Now, often the law comes up with hard lines, e.g., that you are adult at a certain age, etc. But these are universally understood to be arbitrary rules of thumb, that make it easier for a large, public system of justice to work efficiently.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 December 2006 09:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6199
Joined  2006-12-20

[quote author=“dougsmith”]Hello Stephen, and welcome to the forum!

Thank you Doug, pleased to meet you.

I’ll explain why I am here. I’m one of the few people who not only doesn’t believe in free will but also sees a great deal of harm in the belief.

I don’t see harm in all aspects of the belief and like Susan Blackmore am not keen to get everyone to stop believeing in free will completely (depending on it’s definition)

The part I think is harmful is when people think that somebody “could have done otherwise” or to be more accurate, that they have the power to do other than what they do.

I don’t have a well worked-out theory here of personal responsibility, however I do find that my intuitions track the system of justice to this extent: there can be extenuating factors that make one less responsible. That is, responsibility is on a continuum of some sort.

To my mind exstenuating factors suggests that these factors are stopping someone doing otherwise while if they don’t exist the person is able to do otherwise.

But if we don’t have free will nobody ever has the power to do other than what they do.

Do you think;

1. Man has this power

or

2. Do you have a different reason to explain how extenuating circumstances can make somebody less responsible than in a case where there are none?

Stephen

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 December 2006 10:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15435
Joined  2006-02-14

Well, you can see other discussions on the topic of free will on this site and get something of a feel for my position. I am a compatibilitst about free will. That is, I believe that free will is compatible with determinism. I am something of an oddity, in that I believe that the contra-causal picture of free will is incoherent. What it is for an act to be free just is for it to be caused by our beliefs and desires.

Of course, our beliefs and desires are caused by things in the world. So they are “determined”. (Except for random quantum mechanical effects, which are irrelevant to free will anyway).

The contra-causal notion of free will makes no sense, because there is no possible explanation of action that both has it that (1) acts are free, and (2) acts are not caused by beliefs and desires. The only other causal picture that makes sense is that acts are caused randomly, e.g., by QM fluctuations. But randomly caused motions are not actions at all; they are twitches or jerks, and have no moral consequences. Again, in order to be free, actions have to be caused/determined/willed by our beliefs and desires.

That said, we can nonetheless make good sense of the claim “I could have done otherwise”. How? I would have done otherwise if I’d had different beliefs and desires. Now, someone tied to a chair might be tired after a day’s struggling, and decide to take a nap. At that point, he wants to be sitting down. But that doesn’t make him ‘freely sitting down’ in the relevant sense: even if he hadn’t wanted a good nap, he wouldn’t have been able to get up and walk around. So he’s not ‘freely sitting in the chair’.

So our analysis of properly functioning beliefs and desires does give us room to make sense of the claim “He could have done otherwise”, even though his doing otherwise is, in fact, determined not to happen by initial conditions. (And random QM effects, blah, blah, blah).

(But note that since in this possible world the beliefs and desires of our subject are, ex hypothesi, already determined, what we need to do in order to make sense of the case is go to another possible world: one with different initial conditions. In philosopher David Lewis’s analysis of possibility, roughly speaking what we do is to go to the closest possible world in which our subject had different beliefs and desires and see if his actions are different. If not, he’s not ‘freely acting’ or ‘acting with free will’).

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 December 2006 06:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6199
Joined  2006-12-20

Hello Doug

[quote author=“dougsmith”]

That said, we can nonetheless make good sense of the claim “I could have done otherwise”. How? I would have done otherwise if I’d had different beliefs and desires

Well of course we could have done otherwise if we had different beliefs and desires, in fact in those circumstances we would have been unable to behave as we did. but we didn’t have different beliefs and desires and we were unable to have different beliefs and desires at the time.

Could have done otherwise still seems to make no sense.

(But note that since in this possible world the beliefs and desires of our subject are, ex hypothesi, already determined, what we need to do in order to make sense of the case is go to another possible world: one with different initial conditions. In philosopher David Lewis’s analysis of possibility, roughly speaking what we do is to go to the closest possible world in which our subject had different beliefs and desires and see if his actions are different. If not, he’s not ‘freely acting’ or ‘acting with free will’).

And if they are? how does that make his actions free. He can’t be in the closest possible world, he can only be in the circumstances he is in. 

Your argument doesn’t appear to make sense.

Does it make sense to you or do you see that it doesn’t quite but it may be possible to make sense of it?

Stephen

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 December 2006 06:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15435
Joined  2006-02-14

[quote author=“StephenLawrence”]Does it make sense to you or do you see that it doesn’t quite but it may be possible to make sense of it?

Well, actually, I think the problem here is that you aren’t able to make sense of modality. On your picture of reality, everything that happens, happens necessarily. But that is not a coherent picture of the world. Clearly we can make sense of counterfactuals (E.g., if Kennedy hadn’t been shot, he would have ended the Vietnam conflict). Clearly we can evaluate their truth-conditions. Clearly there are certain things that are possible (or were possible in the 12th century) and other things that are or were impossible: it was possible to circumnavigate the earth in the 12th century. It was not possible to travel faster than light in the 12th century.

This is the same sort of possibility that I need to make sense of “different beliefs and desires”. The best metaphysical analysis of modality (the analysis of the logic of possibility and necessity) is by David Lewis.

Basically (leaving aside QM for now) the universe is made up of its initial conditions and its laws of nature. The space of all possible worlds is constituted by every logically possible world—i.e. every possible world that doesn’t involve a contradiction. A subset of all possible worlds is constituted by all the possible worlds with the same physical laws as ours. The difference between each of them and the actual world will depend on their initial conditions.

Once we bring QM into it, things get a bit more complex, since initial conditions and laws do not determine each and every event: the events are then only determined statistically.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 December 2006 07:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6199
Joined  2006-12-20

[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“StephenLawrence”]Does it make sense to you or do you see that it doesn’t quite but it may be possible to make sense of it?

Well, actually, I think the problem here is that you aren’t able to make sense of modality. On your picture of reality, everything that happens, happens necessarily.

No I don’t think everything happens necessarily, I just think that when it happens I can’t change it.

So if I feel the desire to go for a walk, I am unable to not feel the desire to go for a walk.

However the universe does or doesn’t work this is the position every human being finds themselves in.

I know this because nobody can detect a case where this isn’t true.

At the moment I have a knife plunged in somebody’s chest, I am unable to make it not so. When else could I have the power to change this?

it doesn’t matter if it is neccessarily so or not the fact is, as far as I am concerned, it is how it is and there is nothing I can do about it.

At every moment you observe yourself the same is true, if not you will be able to give an example.


Stephen

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 December 2006 07:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15435
Joined  2006-02-14

[quote author=“StephenLawrence”]No I don’t think everything happens necessarily, I just think that when it happens I can’t change it.

So if I feel the desire to go for a walk, I am unable to not feel the desire to go for a walk.

Well, but if it doesn’t happen necessarily, then it might not have happened. (That’s what we mean by “not happening necessarily”).

If you say you are unable to not feel a desire, then you are just saying you feel it necessarily.

There is a sense in which that is true and a sense in which that is false.

Clearly it is true in the sense we both agree about. That is, given the initial conditions, the laws, etc., you were going to feel this desire.

But there is also a sense in which it is false. There is a sense in which you might not have felt that desire (= in which it was possible for you not to have felt the desire). That is, had the initial conditions been slightly different, even given the same physical laws you would not in fact be feeling that desire.

This is the same sort of analysis we give to any case of a counterfactual conditional, like: If Apollo 11 had blown up on the launchpad, the Russians would be the first to walk on the moon.

Or: if Jesus had never lived, we’d all be atheists now.

These are structurally identical to: if I hadn’t had the desire to take a walk, I would never have bought the lottery ticket.

These are counterfactual conditionals. They make sense, and can be just as true or false as any other sort of conditional. But if so, we need to have some analysis of modality (what is possible and necessary) in order to understand them.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 December 2006 08:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6199
Joined  2006-12-20

Hi Doug

thanks for your swift replies in this debate.

[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“StephenLawrence”]No I don’t think everything happens necessarily, I just think that when it happens I can’t change it.

So if I feel the desire to go for a walk, I am unable to not feel the desire to go for a walk.

Well, but if it doesn’t happen necessarily, then it might not have happened. (That’s what we mean by “not happening necessarily”).

Iagree it might not have happened but that doesn’t mean we were free to stop it happening.

If we were, when could we do this? It was happening, regardless of whether it might not have happened, I would be unable to make it not be happening.

We certainly aren’t conscious of this ability and yet wouldn’t we have to be?

Or do we do this in our subconscious?

Stephen

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 December 2006 08:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15435
Joined  2006-02-14

[quote author=“StephenLawrence”]Iagree it might not have happened but that doesn’t mean we were free to stop it happening.

All we need to be free, I claim, is that “it might not have happened”. That is, that if we’d had different beliefs and desires, we would have done something different. When I’m tied to the chair, that’s not the case.

[quote author=“StephenLawrence”]We certainly aren’t conscious of this ability and yet wouldn’t we have to be?

Or do we do this in our subconscious?

Well, we are conscious of our beliefs and desires, and (it seems to me) we are conscious of the fact that they cause our actions, at least some of the time. (There may be subconscious drives that cause some of our acts as well, of course).

As for the facts about possibility, we clearly have a concept of possibility and necessity—indeed, they are part and parcel of our understanding of what causation is.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 December 2006 08:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6199
Joined  2006-12-20

[quote author=“dougsmith”]

All we need to be free, I claim, is that “it might not have happened”. That is, that if we’d had different beliefs and desires, we would have done something different. When I’m tied to the chair, that’s not the case.

 

You are arguing that that your beliefs and desires could have been different and that you could have made them so but that when you are tied to the chair you are unable not to be tied to the chair.

There seems to be a double standard between what ropes and chairs do and what beliefs and desires do.

Why is it that you could not have been in other circumstances than being tied to the chair and yet you could have had other beliefs and desires?

 

Stephen

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 December 2006 09:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15435
Joined  2006-02-14

[quote author=“StephenLawrence”]You are arguing that that your beliefs and desires could have been different and that you could have made them so but that when you are tied to the chair you are unable not to be tied to the chair.

There seems to be a double standard between what ropes and chairs do and what beliefs and desires do.

Why is it that you could not have been in other circumstances than being tied to the chair and yet you could have had other beliefs and desires?

I also could have not been tied to the chair, of course. But that is irrelevant to the question at hand. What we are interested in is freedom of the will, and when a behavior of mine is a free act, vs. when it is done under compulsion.

To do that analysis the only thing we need to look at are the beliefs and desires. If, when we change those, the action changes, then it is a free act. If we change the beliefs and desires and the behavior stays the same, then it is done under compulsion.

(This is a bit oversimplified, but will do for present purposes).

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 22 December 2006 01:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6199
Joined  2006-12-20

[quote author=“dougsmith”]

I also could have not been tied to the chair, of course. But that is irrelevant to the question at hand. What we are interested in is freedom of the will, and when a behavior of mine is a free act, vs. when it is done under compulsion.

In the case of being tied to the chair you accept that although it is possible that you weren’t tied to the chair,  that you could have no power over the fact that you were tied to it.

In the case of desires you change your mind, you think not only that it is possible that your belief or desire may have been different but also that you had the power to make them different. You are adding something extra, what is that something?

You are making a special case with regards to human beliefs and desires.

Interestingly you don’t do this with regards to human beings under a certain age fo some reason, and I doubt if you believe other primates can do this.

To do that analysis the only thing we need to look at are the beliefs and desires. If, when we change those, the action changes, then it is a free act. If we change the beliefs and desires and the behavior stays the same, then it is done under compulsion.

Fine but here you are talking about freedom and not free will in any sense that would give us responsibility for our actions any way. To show this is true you could do similar analysis with regards to othr mammals actions but you wouldn’t consider you were analysing the degree of free will they had.

When you experience a belief or desire you are unable to experience anything else.

That does not mean it was neccessary that it happened.

I’ll give a couple of examples.

If it were possible to role a dice so that there was a 1 in 6 chance of rolling a six it is still the case that when it lands on the six you do not have the power to make it not be landing on a six.

If the dice woke up and became conscious, even though it might equally land on any number it would not have the power to land on any other number than the one it does. The conscious dice could not have free will.

I flick the switch on the kettle and it boils in two minutes.

Even though the kettle boiling was not a neccessay result of my flicking the switch when the kettle is boiling it can’t not be boiling.

I am in the same position as the dice and the kettle as far as my desires and beliefs are concerned. I don’t believe in free will, it is possible that I could believe in free will but I am in the state of not believing it and I do not have the power to be in another state.

It would also be the same if I had explosives strapped to my chest sat on a bus with the sincere belief that I was doing Gods work and that I would be rewarded in heaven.


I cannot change the state that I am in, at the moment I am in that state, and if I can’t do it at that moment, when can I do it?

Stephen

Profile
 
 
   
1 of 2
1