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Ryle’s regress and the Homunculus argument
Posted: 13 February 2013 07:25 PM   [ Ignore ]
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“The mental faculty responsible for the selection of our controlled actions has traditionally been dubbed “the will.” From the cogitava of Aquinas to the noumenally free will of Kant, philosophers have posited this central faculty as the helm of the body and the mind. The will is said to be where desires and goals are translated into action and where ingrained habits are suppressed in favor of reasoned plans. It has been heralded as the seat of moral thought.

By some accounts, the mind is modular, with the will fairly isolated from other mental faculties. The sources of emotion, world knowledge, memory, learning, and imagination are at the will’s disposal, but are not part of it. Indeed it is thought the will can function, if perhaps clumsily, without these other faculties. The will is also often seen as essentially atomic—a fundamental aspect of the self that cannot be decomposed into other psychological processes.

Unfortunately, asserting that such a will is the source of our actions does little to advance our understanding; it merely introduces a regress concerning the locus of decision making. We started with the question of how the individual makes a choice, and we are left with the question of how the will makes a choice. The will takes on the character of a homunculus—a little man who resides in the mind and acts as the “central executive” of the cognitive enterprise. The homunculus seems to be the ruler of the mind, the maker of choices, and the kernel of identity, but it is truly a useless hypothetical construct that explains nothing about the origin of our actions. If we are to understand our own controlled behavior, the homuncular will must be exorcised from the mind.”

- http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/noelle_21_2.html

Ryle’s Regress - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryle’s_regress

Homunculus argument - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homunculus_argument

It seems that Ryle’s regress and the Homunculus argument has something going for it in regards to an argument against free-will. Your thoughts?

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Posted: 13 February 2013 10:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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By your descriptions and questions you seem to have moved beyond—is or is not arguments;

I think your interest is in the “origin of our actions and our controlled behavior”—-

We see life as functional but do not have the will to accept what we see;

Can we begin to see our lives`actions—thoughts, emotions, sensations, behavior—as functions of nature;

Does observation provide us a way to be free of functions, can we acquire will along this way?

[ Edited: 23 February 2013 08:59 PM by arnoldg ]
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Posted: 14 February 2013 12:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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morgantj - 13 February 2013 07:25 PM

It seems that Ryle’s regress and the Homunculus argument has something going for it in regards to an argument against free-will. Your thoughts?

Well, if there is no homunculus called ‘the will’, then to ask if it is free or not makes no sense. And of course, such a homunculus does not exist. That of course also means it does not make sense to say such a ‘homuncular will’ is not free.

‘The will’ is just a manner of speaking; it is a part of our western self model. It is not a part of neurology. It is a way we have learned to think and feel about our selves and about others, without any basis in natural science. Therefore it is funny to hear so many ‘natural science oriented’ say that we have no free will. Consistently thought, they should say we have no will.

However, there is a conventional meaning of ‘free will’, and that is to act according our wishes and beliefs, i.e. we can identify with our actions.

[speculation-mode]
In neurological terms this would mean that there are certain pathways through the brain that correspond to ‘free actions’, and others to ‘coerced actions’: the latter ones would involve fear and a heavier ‘darwinistic’ struggle between many neural processes competing to get access to the motoric output. The first ones would result in greater activity in the reward system, without any activities in areas of ‘flight-or-fight’. But both pathways are determined of course.
[/speculation-mode]

So the question of free will is not a question if we have a ‘free homunculus’ in our brain, it is neither a question of being determined; it is a question about how we are determined. Certain ways of determination count, when translated in our ‘folk psychology’ as free will, others don’t.

Edit: typos

[ Edited: 14 February 2013 02:58 AM by GdB ]
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Posted: 14 February 2013 07:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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GdB - 14 February 2013 12:06 AM

[speculation-mode]
In neurological terms this would mean that there are certain pathways through the brain that correspond to ‘free actions’, and others to ‘coerced actions’: the latter ones would involve fear and a heavier ‘darwinistic’ struggle between many neural processes competing to get access to the motoric output. The first ones would result in greater activity in the reward system, without any activities in areas of ‘flight-or-fight’. But both pathways are determined of course.
[/speculation-mode]

I don’t think this is right. Certainly our (what you call) “first system,” the rational part, interacts with our unconscious part of the brain all the time. And not only the brain, but our lungs, heart and even the intestines, which some neurologists refer to as the second brain, since our guts have neurons. The vagus nerve, for example, constantly coordinates interactions between our brain and these other organs, and it is far from clear if, for example, it is the brain that makes our heart and lungs speed up, or the other way around, where the increase in intake of oxygen results in us being aware of potential danger or even impacts our conscious process of resolving a given situation.

Also, even though the rational mind is too slow to make us either flight or fight, it plays a similar role over a longer period of time when it has a chance to asses the situation. If the flight-or-fight situation doesn’t get resolved with the help of adrenaline, cortisol will kick in and take over. Different hormones, similar results, but both processes are not much different from each other. Adrenaline will help you to either flight or fight, and cortisol will make you depressed to avoid continues danger. So I don’t see what any of your “darwinistic struggle” has to do with any of this—not that I really understand the metaphor here—or what it tells us about free will.

[ Edited: 14 February 2013 07:30 AM by George ]
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Posted: 14 February 2013 08:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I don’t think you understood what I meant. I nowhere used the concept of a ‘system’. I mentioned two different neural pathways:

1. Neural pathways that as end result involve the reward system and where ‘flight-or-fight’ mechanisms were not involved.
2. Neural pathways that have a negative impact on the reward system, and include ‘flight-or-fight’ mechanisms.

None of them I called ‘rational’, nowhere I used the distinction conscious/unconscious.

Where consciousness comes in of course is with the identification with my actions. My idea is that actions that go along category 1 are recognised as our own actions, and that those that go along category 2 as coerced actions, and that I declare those that go along category 1 are called free actions. This avoids the problem of the idea that consciousness must be involved for free actions. It is enough that my actions are according to my wishes and beliefs, even if they are too fast that our consciousness is directly causally involved. Many months ago, I gave a tennis player as example. Consciousness is simply not fast enough for playing tennis: I must trust on my trained automatic reactions. But I surely will declare my playing as a series of free actions, because they were according to my wishes and beliefs, i.e. I identify myself with my tennis playing.

With the darwinistic struggle I meant the fact that when I have many different motives that can clash, these are probably also different causal chains (or better, avalanches?) in my brain, that compete for resources in the brain, and in the end for motoric output, i.e. for an observable action, e.g. handing over the money to the robber, or say “No way, you won’t get my money!”. But it is not the most important part of my argument. Forget the ‘darwinistic’ if it disturbs you. A coerced action, btw, maybe very well be a rational action so there is no way that the points 1. and 2. above have something to do with being rational or not.

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Posted: 14 February 2013 09:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Okay, call it whatever you want, but our process of thinking described in your “#1” will always include mechanisms similar to the one of flight-or-fight. Depression, as I already described in my previous post, is a type of mechanism similar to flight-or-fight, taking fleeing to the extreme. If I run away from you as a result of flight-or-fight (what you call “coerced action”) or avoid you as a result of depression (“free action”), what difference does it make? The effect of adrenaline is fast, the one of cortisol takes a bit more time. The only difference here is that you’ll be aware of becoming depressed because it takes a bit longer than reacting to being startled. You’ll also have more time of being aware of experiencing feeling you refer to as “wishes and beliefs,” but it certainly doesn’t make you any more free compared to your reactions during “coerced action.”

In the end, one “neural pathway” is as involuntary as the other, and has nothing to do with being free or not. One simply takes a bit longer and that is all there is to it.

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Posted: 14 February 2013 04:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Do our thoughts make us slaves to our words and descriptions?

Would part of understanding free will—- be accepting ourselves as living organisms
and letting Science inform us about physiology, not “philosophers” who write to much.

Then philosophy and philosophies can be carried on “through the love of wisdom
and the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence”.

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Posted: 14 February 2013 11:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Sorry George, this is bringing us nowhere. You just keep repeating ‘determined, so not free’, just with a bit of physiological background. The opposite of ‘determined’ is ‘random’, the opposite of ‘free’ is ‘coerced’. The first opposition has a clear physical meaning, the second has a clear behavioural meaning. On a less speculative level I am just saying that those actions count as free that are determined without the involvement of fear for consequences, and my speculation is that the presence or absence of fear is neurological observable.

Both free and forced actions are determined, but they are in different ways, along different neural paths. On none of these paths some ‘magic called free will’ is occurring.

Consistently, as said in my first posting in this thread, you should not say that ‘we have no free will’ but that ‘we have no will’. It is all just neurons, neurotransmitters and hormones, isn’t it? But when I add that that is not true, that it is all fields and particles, you get angry.

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Posted: 15 February 2013 05:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I responded to your previous post because you were trying to treat this topic the way I believe it should be treated, i.e., as a scientific question. I thought you were wrong in what you said while in your “speculation mode” but I see we are now back to philosophy. Not going there, sorry.

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Posted: 15 February 2013 07:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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George - 15 February 2013 05:31 AM

I responded to your previous post because you were trying to treat this topic the way I believe it should be treated, i.e., as a scientific question. I thought you were wrong in what you said while in your “speculation mode” but I see we are now back to philosophy. Not going there, sorry.

You are right. The question of ‘free will’ is not a scientific question. This means that both to say we have no free will, or that we do have free will, are not biologically backed propositions. The question of ‘free will’ is a question of conceptual analysis. Under the right understanding the whole opposition between ‘free will’ and determinism evaporates, because they are false opposites: it is as if you are saying that the opposite of ‘small’ is ‘heavy’, and therefore conclude that because some object is small, it cannot be heavy. The opposite of determined is random, the opposite of free is coerced.

So when you say we have no free will, you are making a (wrong) philosophical statement, not a scientific one.

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Posted: 15 February 2013 07:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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If you see it as a philosophical question, I recommend you stay away from science (or rather an attempt at science) to back up your ideas whenever you see it convenient. It makes you sound like a creationist who will use “science” until the whole thing all of a sudden turns into a theological question.

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Posted: 15 February 2013 08:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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George - 15 February 2013 07:27 AM

If you see it as a philosophical question, I recommend you stay away from science (or rather an attempt at science) to back up your ideas whenever you see it convenient. It makes you sound like a creationist who will use “science” until the whole thing all of a sudden turns into a theological question.

Years ago I asked you already what a scientific experiment would look like that proofs or disproofs free will. You never answered. You do not get any further than ‘determinism is true, so we have no free will’, or you refer to the fact that there is no homunculus in the brain, as proven in Libet’s experiments.

I explicitly excluded any metaphysical, magical or supernatural explanation in defining what free will is. You just do not accept the compatibilist definition of free will: that an action is free if it is in accordance with my wishes and beliefs. If that sounds theological or creationist for you, then be it so. You keep seeing free will as a magical intervention in the causal fabric of the universe, but for me that is a straw man. I do not defend such an idea.

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Posted: 15 February 2013 08:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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GdB - 15 February 2013 08:09 AM

I do not defend such an idea.

I know you don’t. That’s why I said you were acting like a creationist: all smart and sneaky.  grin

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Posted: 15 February 2013 08:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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“free” of bias “will” the effects of Biology (philosophy and physiology) be discussed—-

Both are concerned with time—the past, future and the present—-

Is fear and survival challenged now by the evolution of living organisms as

becoming effective objects of the eternal and the infinite (unknown for known),
by interacting philosophy with physiology and the physical sciences? 


  :with help from the Oxford Dictionary of Current English

[ Edited: 26 February 2013 09:54 AM by arnoldg ]
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Posted: 15 February 2013 09:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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George - 15 February 2013 08:36 AM

I know you don’t. That’s why I said you were acting like a creationist: all smart and sneaky.  grin

Yes, very funny. What is sneaky about defining free will as acting according to your wishes and beliefs? In what way doesn’t that catch the meaning we use in everyday life: being able to do what you want? And is ‘magical influence in an otherwise causal universe’ the scientific definition of free will?

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Posted: 15 February 2013 10:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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GdB - 15 February 2013 09:54 AM

What is sneaky about defining free will as acting according to your wishes and beliefs?

Nothing. But throwing in terms like “neural pathways” or “flight-or-fight mechanisms” makes you sound a little like Deepak Chopra. That’s what I call “sneaky.” It’s difficult to debate people like you (or the creationists, or Chopra) who jump hither and thither between scientific terminology and theology/philosophy/spirituality/etc.

[ Edited: 15 February 2013 10:17 AM by George ]
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