Sunday, November 14, 2010

Semantic Puzzles

[from Joel, image added by Ira]
The philosopher Wittgenstein believed that there are no philosophical problems, only semantic puzzles. David Sussman, our speaker at Friday's [The Villages, FL] philosophy club meeting presented a talk about humanism. Among other things, he presented the philosophical problem that a mechanistic approach to the human mind excludes the possibility of free will and yet we believe we have free will. He proposed that perhaps a person cannot be blamed for what is an inevitable consequence of brain machinery. I believe this is just an example of a semantic puzzle. Can you state the puzzle and find the solution?


Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks Joel for your new topic.

David Sussman quoted Darwin as saying individuals deserved neither praise nor blame, his point being that "free will" is an illusion. (I have tried to find the exact quote from Darwin without success and would appreciate if someone would post it.)

Semantics has to do with the meaning of words, so we have to ask what we mean by "freedom" and "will".

FREEDOM has to do with personal rights and liberty. Each of us is "free" to stand up or sit down, walk or run, speak or remain silent, and so on, within the limits of our physical and mental capacity and the laws of physics.

WILL is the faculty for making decisions and choices. But, given the "inevitable consequencs of brain machinery", we are not free to will what we "will". Our thoughts are dependent upon our nature (i.e., DNA-determined brain structure) and nurture (i.e., nutrition and care by parents, learning and experiences over our lifetimes). We do not get to choose our own nature and nurture!

I solve the problem by saying: OK the murderer really had no choice (based on his nature and nurture) but to kill. On the same basis, I (and society) have no choice but to have him hunted down, arrested, tried, and executed! Semantic puzzle solved!

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

This is more than a semantic puzzle.

The first problem is the assumption of determinism. The most common misconception of physics is that because laws are inexorable ― that is, no event can disobey laws ― the implication is that laws determine all events. That is not the case. Most of the structures in the universe are undetermined by laws. Also, laws are moot without measuring initial conditions and when and what to measure is a choice, an “epistemic cut” that cannot be determined by laws. (Pauli and von Neumann made this argument.)

However, even though physicists reject principled determinism, they still rely on the effective determinism of large classical bodies, as well as symbol vehicles and syntactic operations as used in logic, mathematics, and computation. Even quantum mechanical laws and calculations are treated as deterministic; only measurement is interpreted as probabilistic. Remember that Laplace’s condition for determinism was that he had total information on the detailed initial conditions of the entire universe. This is practically, logically, and theoretically impossible because we cannot measure the entire universe, measurement is logically irreversible, dissipative, and therefore probabilistic.

It turns out that any physical model of the universe must reflect two modes of description that we associate with necessary events and events of choice. Physics (since Newton) has formally distinguished them as laws and initial conditions. Laws are necessary, but measurements of initial conditions are made by choice of an observer or agent. This choice is logically undeterminable by laws.

Sir Arthur Eddington (1929) emphasized this fact in The Nature of the Physical World: “There is nothing to prevent the assemblage of atoms constituting a brain from being of itself a thinking object [including free will and consciousness] in virtue of that nature which physics leaves undetermined and undeterminable.” Gell-Mann (1994, p. 134) again pointed this out in The Quark and the Jaguar: “the effective complexity [of the universe] receives only a small contribution from the fundamental laws. The rest comes from the numerous regularities resulting from ‘frozen accidents.’” Quantum theory and all experiments show that those events that we treat as deterministic are actually probabilistic events. For readable discussions, see Aczel, A. D. Entanglement. New York: Plume, 2003 and Gilder, L. The Age of Entanglement. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

How the brain makes choices is another problem.

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks Howard for your nice outline of why mainline physicists reject "principled determinism". David Sussman similarly appealed to Heisenberg uncertainty when I challenged his conclusions at our Philo Club meeting last week.

Let us assume there is only what you call "effective determinism" involved when the human brain makes choices. How does that affect our analysis of the decision of the murderer to kill and the excuse that he had no real choice given his nature and nurture? Or my (and society's) decision to jail or execute him on the same basis, namely that my nature and nurture, and that of a majority of members of society, give us no other real choice?

Ira Glickstein

joel said...

I believe than the Uncertainty Principle is a red herring. The problem is not what happens at a quantum level. The puzzle is semantic and one of sloppy thinking.

When we say that someone carries out an act by his own free will, we mean that no other person forces that person to act in that manner. To say that the person was not free, but was constrained by his genome or his education, is to treat these things as outside agents when in fact they are a part of "he." Suppose you say that Joel decided to walk out of the room and another person contradicts you. That person says that a group of Joel's brain neurons sent a signal in which adenosine diphosphate transitioned to adenosine triphosphate thus shortening and causing contraction, etc., etc. until Joel was out of the room. The description has changed, but the facts have not. One is a macro description and the other is a microscopic representation of exactly the same act. "Free will" is an illusion, but is not "only an illusion." Free will is a description of the macroscopic state of a person that has microscopic implications.
If one thinks that this is a dead issue of the Middle Ages, see how modern academics can manage to be belabor it. see:

Ira Glickstein said...

Joel, I agree with you that what happens at the quantum level (Uncertainty principle) is a red herring. But, let us accept that strict determinism is FALSE, as the link you provided claims.

Using the example from your link, suppose I am right on the cusp of deciding between chicken and beef, both of which I desire almost exactly equally at the moment. Just as I am about to say "beef", a quantum event happens (such as the emission of a photon from the radium dial of my watch) and that tiny flash energizes a rod in my eye and sends a pulse to my brain that happens to push me over to say "chicken".

So, is my choice of chicken "free will"? Well it was certainly free. No other person was pushing me in either direction. I could have chosen either. But, the actual choice was made by a quantum event NOT BY ME! Indeed, the quantum event changed my decision over to chicken from my initial slight preference for beef.

Your link does provide a useful discussion of the value of general belief in "free will" for a society. I agree we should not discourage that belief because it is at the heart of personal responsibility and blame and praise of individuals that is so critical to societal success.

Ira Glickstein

JohnS said...

I take exception with Ira’s evaluation of free will. He defines nurture as, “nurture (i.e., nutrition and care by parents, learning and experiences over our lifetimes)”. My Encarta dictionary does not include his phrase, “learning and experiences over our life times”; rather it defines nurture as, “ to give tender care and protection to a young child, animal, or plant, helping it grow and develop and secondly, to encourage somebody or something to grow, develop, thrive and be successful.
The argument that free will doesn’t exist because we are dominated by our nature and nurture is an inaccurate argument. Carried to completion this argument implies that we are simply an animal following the herd. When the lead cow begins to move toward the barn at milking time all cows will follow her. If that was a herd of humans, you can bet that one or two would decide that they would rather stay in the field and eat some more grass.
Humans have two attributes that set them above the nature nurture argument. The first is our search for individuality. We see this even at an early age. We call it the terrible twos where a child first begins to defy nurturing testing his environ to see if he can assert his will. More dramatically is when a youth is in his teens when he seeks to find his place within his family and society. Anyone who has raised several children knows that no two are alike. Each has his or her own personality and makes his of her own choices.
Adult humans freely make choices daily. In most cases, these are not dramatic choices, still then are free will choices. Most temper their choices to fit within the society they live in; however, this does not mean that their choices are not freely made. More dramatically, they may choose to be social or anti social, good citizens or criminals.

Beyond the human tendency to seek individuality, humans have what I call “the curious mind” this is analogous to Ira’s phrase “learning and experiences over our lifetimes” which he places under nurturing and I contend is a separate attribute that transcends nature and nurturing. It is what sets humans above the other animals. It is also, why humans will continue to advance – unless we destroy ourselves. This curious mind advances humankind. An educator friend of mind often argued that the key to education was to teach the students to think. Not to be limited by what they learn by rote. Thus as we age we observe and adapt within our environment. Of course our environment and the good of society limits our choices, however in our mobile society, we can freely choose to move to a place where we can exercise our choices without interference.

How can one argue that the original work of our great artists and scientists are simply a summation of their nature and nurture? We have the expression, “Think out of the box” which clearly makes my point and advances human development.

Ira Glickstein said...

I agree with JohnS that, in normal English usage, nurture has a positive connotation and is associated with childhood. I was using the Biological sciences definition which is "The sum of environmental influences and conditions acting on an organism".

Nurture in the biological context, includes everything experienced by an organism from conception to death, including negative experiences. It is distinguished from nature which is taken to mean genetic inheritance. Thus, when we say nature and nurture (or genes and memes) we include everything that influences behaviors of an organism. From the biological point of view, there is NOTHING ELSE.

Of course, we humans feel there is SOMETHING ELSE. Yes, we are mentally advanced over other animals and use metaphoric language and writing and technology and science and creative arts. But each of these human capabilities is simply an elaboration over other animals. Yes, we are independent and curious, but so are cats.

Evolution and natural selection retains and enhances those traits that are most useful for survival and reproduction of individuals and the societies that are necessary for social animals like us. We have been wired to believe we are part of something greater than ourselves - "GOD" if you will - and we are. But "GOD" is not some external Creator as many of us have been indoctrinated to believe but rather the inevitable process I call the "General Optimizing Device" - none other than the inevitable ongoing process of evolution and natural selection of genes and memes.

What else is there?

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira asks, What else is there other than the inevitable ongoing process of evolution and natural selection of genes and memes?

There are also undeterminable events that are not inevitable as Eddington emphasized. That includes most of the events in the universe. The quantum theory says there are not even classical “events” until they are measured events. John Wheeler says, “No phenomenon is a physical phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.”

Your example of a single photon causing you to “make a choice” is possible, but I think highly unlikely. Even simple one-bit choices (at least in in rats, cats, and humans) appear to depend on the statistics of millions of brain cells that each have thousands of synapses.

As I said, the question is how the brain actually makes choices. This is an empirical question that nobody is close to answering. It appears likely that the enzyme’s enormous catalytic power (10^12 – 10^16) depends on quantum states. How do you know the brain’s choices do not depend on undeterminable quantum states? (e.g., see Wikipedia "Quantum Mind"

joel said...

Quantum effects are negligible compared to the unexpected macroscopic effects that may impinge on our decision making. We may choose to vote one way and upon hearing an argument we had not heard before, decide to vote the opposite way. This is neither a consequence of "nature" nor "nurture." The fact is that we have multiple models of the way the world works stored in our brains. Hearing an attractive analogy or reasoning can cause us to select a different model from the one we had previously selected thus causing us to "change our minds.

There's no need to obscure the picture with quantum theory. A painting by Georges Seurat of a woman doesn't turn into a painting of a horse when we change the color of a single dot. Instead of quanta we need to talk about thresholds. An example would be "stiction" (static friction) between a wooden block and a table it's sitting upon. When we apply a force to a the block, it doesn't start moving until certain threshold force is reached. It hesitates and then it takes off with great certainty. To an outside observer the block may appear to have free will and to "decide" to move.

If one insists on dragging quanta into the argument, I suppose that a quantum could be defined as the threshold energy for certain actions of atomic and sub-atomic particles. However, I think this obscures rather than clarifies.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard and Joel and JohnS and ALL:

This thread was initiated over Darwin's claim that an individual deserves neither blame (or praise) for actions that are the inevitable consequence of brain machinery. "Free will is an illusion" is another way of expressing this conclusion.

So far in this discussion, no one has commented on my point: Assuming no free will, how can we justify punishing a murderer if he had "no choice" but to kill? The only answer I can think of is that I (and society) also have "no choice" but to capture and punish him!

Any comments on that?

Ira Glickstein

joel said...

Ira said: So far in this discussion, no one has commented on my point: Assuming no free will,......

Joel responds: I thought you were just being facetious. Please explain.

Ira Glickstein said...

Joel wrote: "I thought you were just being facetious. Please explain."

I usually put the :^) smily icon in a sentence I intend to be facetious.

There are intelligent people who believe that "free will is an illusion". (Examples: Me, David Sussman, and probably Darwin, Spinoza, and Einstein.)

Some (not me) conclude from that that people who do "bad" things, such as commit murder, should not be blamed (and punished) because they could not help themselves. Due to their brain machinery and prior experiences in life, they literally had no choice but to kill.

For the sake of the argument, I ask Blog participants to accept the premise and comment on the conclusion. Given the premise, I cannot accept the "no punishment" conclusion, so I conclude that I (and society) have no choice but to punish the murderer.

Ira Glickstein

Deardra MacDonald said...

Joel and Ira and Howard and JohnS
My favorite quote of Sir Arthur Eddington is “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine”. As David Sussman’s topic on Humanism pointed out, he spoke of many serious and well thought out philosophical possibilities. However, when I step back and look at the philosophical possibilities and the approach to a mechanistic approach to the human mind, I am left with the awareness that the human brain like the universe “is stranger than we can imagine.” As much as the tireless, inevitable and relentless advances of science and philosophy in writing these laws and theories, they are merely tiny stepping-stone to understanding the immeasurable laws in the existence of the universe and life. I appreciate all your comments on semantic puzzles, principled determinism, effective determinism, nurture, quantum level, uncertainty principle, and advanced human development. I have learned a great deal from reading your comments, but I still believe science and philosophy are in the elementary stages of understanding the totality of the universe and the immaterial aspect of life.

Deardra MacDonald

Howard Pattee said...

I agree with Joel that individual quantum events are probably not important but that statistical thresholds are important when modeling the brain’s activity. However, I believe that quantum theory (not any single event) will be essential in understanding this type of epistemological mind-body problem. This problem has bugged the greatest minds for millennia. It comes into the sharpest focus with the measurement problem in quantum theory which remains the weakest part of the theory, both conceptually and formally. I also agree with Joel that semantic confusion is part of the problem, but I disagree that quantum theory is irrelevant to the problem.

Quantum theory (and a string of experiments) has shown that the entire classical deterministic world is an illusion. All observed events that we think are deterministic are just probabilistic events with high probabilities. As Joel’s example of striction shows, a collection of microscopic undetermined events can still result in a statistically likely event (like a choice). Furthermore, according to quantum theory they are not even classical probabilities until they are observed events.

Conceptually, any measurement or model must simplify the innumerable detailed physical interactions that are happening whether you like it or not ― you have to choose to measure something without having to measuring everything. The same is the case when thinking about thinking. If your thinking about your thought is not simpler than the thought itself, then this gets you nowhere. The most detailed model of a cat is another cat, but that does not help explain cats. Consciousness and choice require thinking about thinking, and that has the same regressive logic as the measurement problem in physics. You won’t solve the complex consciousness problem until you can understand the simplest particle problem.

Howard Pattee said...

The “regressive logic” I mentioned above is von Neumann’s argument. He showed that even classically measurement does not make sense if described by microscopic physical laws. If the system S and measuring device M are both described microscopically as one system, then a second measuring device becomes necessary to determine the initial conditions of the combined system (S + M). Repeating this argument leads to an infinite regress, showing that measurement requires a statistical macroscopic model. The microscopic laws are reversible (time-symmetric) while a measurement is logically irreversible. Thus, measurement cannot be described deterministically. For the same reason, Ira's hypothesis of choice as deterministic does not make sense.

David Sussman said...

The absence of free will does not imply determinism. This is a false dichotomy.

At any instant, an organism, including a human, is a product of its genetic and experiential history. This situation prevails from the time of birth (and perhaps even at the formation of the zygote).

A newborn infant has no choice. First of all it did not ask to be conceived. Thereafter, the forces of nature determine its characteristics. Its response to an external stimulus is predicated on its genetic and experiential history. Feedback from the external environment adds to its experience and thereby modifies its character, as does the expression of its genetic inheritance (including possible mutations within cells of the living entity). It is continually metamorphosed, so that at the next instant it is something different. This situation prevails througout life. At any point, an organism does the only thing it can do in the particular circumstance.

Our early ancestors were bacteria. Do they have choice? Where in the evolutionary history of humans was choice conferred? Consider a group of siblings at some stage in hominid development. Suppose there is an allele that confers 'choice'. Some of the siblings have the allele in their genetic makeup and others do not. It will take many generations for the 'choice' allele to spread througout the human population through its selective advantage. It might make those of us who have it more discriminating, but only according to the rules of nature, which 'designed' the allele.

Part of the strategy serendipitously provided by nature for human organisms is outsized consciousness and speech, among other attributes, which lead to the illusion of choice. We 'choose' to go to the beach rather than stay home and read a book because the calculus derived from the strategy bequeathed by nature for our species, as expressed in the context of one's particular characteristics, 'decides' that this is in the best interest of survival and propagation (not only physical, but cultural in our case).

Is one's future, or the future of life pre-ordained? Too much uncertainty in nature preculudes determinism. How can anyone suggest that there are forces out there that are essentially supernatural? Nothing but our predilection for myth, probably derived from our bicameral brain. 'Structures', it is suggested, do not adhere to natural law. To what then?

We have some ideas about quantum undertainty, but even then the theory is considered by some incomplete because it is probabalistic. What other type of uncertainty is out there? Gell-Mann, in one of his interviews, linked indeterminacy in small part to quantum uncertainty, and primarily to complexity of systems. But he and others agree that nature doesn't operate as if it were a billiard table.

For the individual organism, Ira has provided an example of how behavior is inderterminate - the photon from his watch impinging on his retina and deciding on chicken rather than beef (or vice versa).

There is much study at this point on macroscopic effects of quantum mechanics, for both biological and purely inanimate systems. There is already some evidence that quantum effects are expressed in the macroscopic scale.

Why is all of this important for the future of life on Earth? Comprehending as best we can our lack of choice and indeterminacy may inject a bit of humility into the human psyche, something sorely needed as an antidote to mythical conferrance of dominion by a superpower over all within range of our senses and imagination, including the far reaches of the cosmos. Considering what a mess we have made of the one planet that we have occupied, such humbleness may serve not only to extend our tenure on Earth, and those of our fellow planet-mates (animate and inanimate) but to avoid premature incursions into other parte of the cosmos for which we are by no means ready.

David Sussman said...

Despite my former post, which may convey the impression that I believe we are capable of comprehending it all, as Stephen Hawking suggests twice in his "A Short History of Time", Deardra McDonald points out what is most important for us to contemplate: the likelihood that there is much more out there than we will ever understand. As the eye cannot see itself (except in reflection), so are the secrets of nature, of which we are its self-anointed epitome, very likely denied to us. We can delude ourselves into the belief that we can master the beast; however, not only will it have the last word, but its bag of tricks will surprise us.

For the benefit of Joel, and anyone else interested: The quote from Darwin on free will is taken from Robert Wright, The Moral Animal, pp.349-50.

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks David Sussman for joining this Blog as an authorized Author. You bring a wealth of knowledge and experience, plus, -perhaps more important- a different view!

Let us start with where it seems we agree: (a) Free will is an illusion, but (b) that does not prove determinism. (c) A supernatural power with dominion over the Universe is a myth. (d) We like Deardra's quote from Eddington: “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we CAN imagine”.

On items (c) and (d) I find it interesting that while we intellectuals (I have a PhD in System Science) have no faith in normal religious belief, we seem to have all the faith in the world in human powers of reason, despite all the evidence to the contrary! I find both types of faith at odds with reason itself - but, nevertheless necessary.

We humans have muddled through for tens of thousands of years. I hope it is not too immodest to say our knowledge and reason are in a different class compared to our fellow animals. Yes, what we know of what Feynmann calls "quantum wierdness" and our 3D + time view of the 10- or 11-dimensional Universe is as far from real understanding as is a roach's knowledge of human civilization. (But that hasn't kept the lowly roach from outwitting us for millions of years.)

1) Which brings us to our first disagreement, where you write: "Considering what a mess we have made of the one planet that we have occupied, such humbleness may serve not only to extend our tenure on Earth, and those of our fellow planet-mates (animate and inanimate) but to avoid premature incursions into other parts of the cosmos for which we are by no means ready."

Well, Stephen Hawking who you mention favorably in your last comment, would disagree. (I quote him in my free online novel 2052-The Hawking Plan as saying: "I don't think the human race will survive the next thousand years. Unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I'm an optimist. We will reach out to the stars.")

Hawking is correct, we have an obligation to spread Earthly biology and human civilization to other Earth-like planets. The sooner the better.

2) Your Powerpoint charts and your talk leads me to believe you think the widespread belief in the existence of free will and the traditional Deity are negative influences. I agree they are both not literally true, but that does not mean human civilization would be better off without them. Indeed, I think they are not simply useful myths but are absolutely necessary adaptations for human civilization, both past and future.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Human choice is a gradual evolutionary emergent quality as is consciousness. Do David and Ira think that intentional choice requires consciousness in humans?

If so, then do you think consciousness is also an illusion?

Howard Pattee said...

I believe Dierdre’s favorite quotation is derived from J. B. S. Haldane, Possible Worlds and Other Papers (1927), p. 286:

“I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

It is sometimes attributed to Eddington (without any citation). Of course he would have agreed with Haldane.

joel said...

I'm surprised at the amount of discussion that this question of free will incites. I must be missing the point, since nothing I've seen so far cannot to solved as a easily solved, simple semantic puzzle. See for instance the blather and confusion that reigns on;

The origin of the issue was quite valid at the time of Saint Augustine. If God knows everything that includes the future. If the future is known to God then humans have no choice in their actions. God gives man free will and holds his or her soul responsible for choices. How can a fixed future and free will exist simultaneously? That kept theologians busy for a good long time.

With the march of time and without God and the soul, the philosophical problem mutated to one in which simple determinism was enough to create a situation in which man is absolved of responsibility for his choices, since there are in fact no choices. The trouble is that we don't seem to have redefined terms in this Godless and soulless version of the problem. In the old dualistic version of the problem the soul was there to take responsibility and suffer punishment. In the "brain as machinery" version we are not sufficiently careful about talking about who it is that has free will or free choice or has the "illusion" of these two. As a consequence we are still stuck in dualistic thinking. If one says, "How can we hold "him" responsible for choices that are only illusory?" we are not defining what we mean by "him." We are speaking as though "he" exists outside of the very brain machinery that created the censored action. "He" is a word that we use as shorthand to speak of the collective of all the cells making up his machinery. It is not a separate entity. Therefore "he" is responsible for the choices made by his decision making process. Exactly how we deal with that responsibility is a function of what you believe about the efficacy of various schools of thought about efficient criminal justice. However, that is not the issue here. The point is that choice and responsibility are words that define macroscopic or collective things, while brain machinery is a microscopic thing. You can't mix the two levels of description any more than you can say that Seurat's "La Grande Jatte" pointillistic painting depicting bathers is not beautiful, because the dots are not all the same size. Judgment depends upon point of view.

If we settle the semantic problem, we are left with the more rare philosophical problem that occurs in punishing "him" if "him" is a different "him", because of the removal of a tumor (for example) that interfered with making good choices.

Howard Pattee said...

Joel’s point is correct that, “choice and responsibility are words that define macroscopic or collective things, while brain machinery is a microscopic thing. You can't mix the two levels of description.”

This point is well-known in physics by the two models of a gas. Microscopically the dynamic model of an ideal box of atoms is reversible (time-symmetric) while the thermodynamic model is irreversible. Clearly these models are formally contradictory and therefore neither model can be derived from (or reduced to) the other. As Max Planck noted: “For it is clear to everybody that there must be an unfathomable gulf between a probability, however small, and an absolute impossibility . . . Thus dynamics and statistics cannot be regarded as interrelated.”

But these are not Mickey Mouse problems! The point Joel is missing is just how you should choose which contradictory model to use. Schrödinger’s equation is reversible. Measurement is irreversible. How do you choose which model to use? That is the called the quantum measurement problem. When do we say a molecule is a message? That is called the symbol-matter problem. When do we say the brain is neurodynamics and when do we say it makes a choice? That is called the mind-body problem.

There is certainly a lot of “blather and confusion” on these puzzles, but they cannot be dismissed as simple semantics. Philosophers call it epistemology. Physicists see it as the deepest problem in the foundation of quantum theory.

Deardra MacDonald said...

Thanks Howard for letting me know that the quotation came from J.B.S. Haldane. They are both contemporaries, so I can see how that happens. The new addition of "Possible Worlds" includes an introduction by Carl A. Price. I will have to read more of Halsens writings.

It has always intrigued me why brilliant scientist lock themselves into one theory or law and give no credence to another well thought out approach to the same theory or law. When Ira, Joel, Howard and others differ with each other about a theory, I always delve into their thoughts and conclusions.

When I have given myself time to seriously mull it over, I always say,"only the future will determine which one is right and which one is wrong." I usually favor one a little more than the other, but "my" thoughts cannot make one right or one wrong. I take my hat off to the future because only the future (time) holds the truth and has the right answer.

Keep up the good work guys, and thank you for this compelling and challenging educational journey...

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard asks if "intentional choice" reqires consciousness, and, if so, is consciousness also an illusion.

Intentionality is a philosophical term that generates more heat than light.

When one of us has a thought about, say Howard, that thought is "intentional" because it has an "aboutness" to it - it is "about Howard". For example, when I "desire" Howard to agree with me, I am being intentional.

On the other hand, if a voice recognition computer system at the bank is dealing with Howard, there is no "aboutness" since the computer is simply executing code written by someone else, the programmer. The computer may ask Howard to speak his account number, but there is no real "desire" on the part of the computer. (The programmer has intentionality and desire and everything else, but not the computer system.)

Daniel Dennett famously suggested that we should take the "intentional stance" and ASSUME any automated system that acts something like a human is intentional and so on, but that seems a "cop-out" to me. (Long ago, before Howard shaped my head, I was on Dennett's side with respect to John Searle's famous "Chinese room" thought experiment. Now, I am on Searle's side. We believe a programmed computer is not intentional, but we hold open the possibility some other kind of computer may be.)

As for consciousness, it seems to me that there is a homunculus ("little human"), my "conscious self", sitting in the control room in my head viewing my "mind's eye" images and making decisions and throwing the levers that animate me. I assume most of us have that kind of picture in our minds. The problem with that is, how does my "conscious self" make those decisions? Is there a still smaller homunculus in its head, and so on ad infinitem?

So yes, consciousness is also an illusion, along with intentionality and free will. As soon as you shine the "light of reason" on them they vanish like so many roaches. Perhaps the problem is actually with our faith on our ability to REASON?

If, as Eddington and/or Haldane say, the Universe is weirder and queerer than we CAN imagine, perhaps the problem is not with the Universe, but rather with OUR ability to imagine? We depend on our illusions to make sense of what we will never really comprehend!

Ira Glickstein

Deardra MacDonald said...

Ira, what a thought provoking statement you just made!

When you said, " Perhaps the problem is not with the Universe, but rather with our ability to imagine? We depend on our illusions to make sense of what we will never really comprehend. I laughed for about 2 minutes when I read that statement, because that clarified what I have been trying to understand! Illusion is such an every day process of the human brain's sincere activity to understand. Yes, I have those same (little Humans) sitting in the control room in my head. How many of us are willing to look at the possibility that our consciousness is an illusion?

Deardra MacDonald

Ira Glickstein said...

Deardra: The following appears on page 2 of my PhD dissertation:

Tiger gotta hunt.
Bird gotta fly.
Man gotta ask, "Why, why, why?"

Tiger gotta sleep.
Bird gotta land.
Man gotta say "I understand."

-- Kurt Vonnegut

We gotta tell ourselves "I understand" even if we really don't - indeed ESPECIALLY if we don't!

Ira Glickstein

joel said...

I think that I'm going to take exception to all this "free will is an illusion" and "consciousness is an illusion." A dessert mirage is an illusion. A straight stick partially in water is an bent stick illusion. These both contain an element of falsity or error that cause them to be termed illusions. The shimmering water on the sand is not actually present. The stick is not actually bent. From a previous post; my daughter's washing machine is not really saying "running bear, running bear." Consciousness and free will are not errors anymore than the color "blue" is. They are not illusions. They are internal feelings that we can't show others, but they are not false or non-existent. I'm looking for a better word than "illusion." I myself have used that term many times to convey to others that they are not magical spiritual things, but rather mechanistic. Perhaps we should say that consciousness, like blue, is an impression. Free will is also an impression. It is not false. It is simply internal and cannot be seen by others. My daughter's washing machine creates the illusion that it speaks. It does this because my auditory neurons that try to make phonic sense out of all repeated sounds, create an internal impression that I interpret incorrectly as "running bear." I'm the victim of an illusion. If I come to believe that there is a spirit within the machine that is speaking to me, then I'm suffering from a delusion.

joel said...

P.S. My dessert illusion should have been that it contains zero calories...or is that a delusion?