January 11, 2014

Problems with determinism — mu to free will vs determinism, part 3

As a result of my blog posts about saying "mu" to the old free will vs. determinism battles, I've gone beyond talking about what I call "something like free will" that, decoupled from a Cartesian meaner and a Cartesian free willer, that we will find at the core of an eventually messy picture of what human consciousness is about.

I've started taking a bit more of a look at determinism. I've already said that classical determinism is undermined by quantum mechanics. Well, it's also undermined by things like chaos theory. Related to that, my ideas on "something like free will," as well as consciousness itself, is that both are going to prove out to be emergent properties, and with multiple layers of emergence. Hence, as we might talk about the consciousness of a gorilla, while noting that's not on the same level of consciousness as a human, ditto, the "something like free will" of a gorilla, if we think a gorilla has enough consciousness to manifest this, will be of a different level as that of a human.

But, back to determinism and its being undercut by quantum mechanics, chaos theory, and other things.

A blog post I saw on Facebook via a Facebook friend of a friend gave me a philosophy "aha" moment a few days ago.

Per this blog post, isn't determinism subject to Aristotle's worries about an infinite regress, until it posits an undetermined Prime Determiner? I had never thought of that before, but at least more simplistic versions of determinism seem capable of shooting themselves in the foot on this.

Beyond that, I have some psychology-related concerns with determinism. Or, rather, with how many of its ardent backers present it, as well as with determinism itself.

They can come off as too black and white, often not just about determinism vs. free will but about issues in consciousness in general. In turn, this can reflect a broader overly black-and-white approach to issues scientific, manifested in things like a hard or greedy reductionism.

And, people who read me on philosophical musings are probably aware that I say not "mu" but a flat "no" to greedy reductionism. That includes accusing the likes of Dan Dennett of being a greedy reductionist even as he denies that he is.

That, in turn, is why I reject his compatibalist version of free will, and others' as well. Why should free will be bent into a pretzel to be made compatible with some classical or classical-like version of determinism? Why shouldn't determinism be made to move at least halfway itself? Other than the narrowest idea of, what's logically possible or not in terms of action given a particular human's physical state X within a surrounding physical state Y, I don't think free will needs to bend itself to be compatible with determinism at all.

So, if we use the word "compatibilism" narrowly, call me a compatibilist. If not, don't. But, I'm not at all an incompatibilitist, so don't call me that.

The problem is, per this piece by Smith on libertarian free will, most compatibilists, in my opinion, define both it and incompatibilism badly. And, he goes further down that route in his next piece in his series, undercutting libertarianism and contra-causal issues. (I'm not a libertarian free willer, let me stress.)

The failure? It's at core a failure to distinguish between hard determinism, on the one hand, and what I've called psychological constraints or similar, on the other. I don't consider past elements of our lives, and the degree to which they've implanted and developed certain tendencies, likelihoods and directions within us, to be "determinism" at all.

Hence, I can voice some quasi-libertarian argument for "something like free will" without being an incompatibilist. Call me a "soft libertarian" or whatever. Maybe an "emergent libertarian." Or, per my first phrase, a "quasi-libertarianian."

Anyway, more on how Smith and others like him go wrong?

It's like the nature-vs-nurture argument in human development. Defenders of all-nature are like compatibilists, and defenders of all-nurture are like incompatibilitists. (And we haven't even talked about a philosophy of mind analogy to epigenetics yet!)

Anyway, that in turn gets back to my original "mu." Within saying "mu" to free will vs determinism, I now officially say "mu" to compatibilism vs incompatibilism.

I think I've made myself as clear as I can on why I say that, within the constraints of language on philosophy of mind that's already badly muddied.

Finally, while Smith's series has enlightened my thinking a bit, and sharpened my thinking a fair degree, I find him about as wanting as Dennett, ultimately, and for similar reasons.

Per Tractatus-era Wittgenstein, can't philosophers of mind in general be more precise with their language on this issue, and shut up if they can't?

2 comments:

Thomas Jones said...

"can't philosophers of mind in general be more precise with their language on this issue"

I'm reading this (perhaps wrongly) as a rhetorical question. I've given up on the prospect of anyone satisfactorily addressing the free will vs determinism debate as it relates to human behavior. Imagine what might ensue should someone provide "proof" of one or the other. Would behavior somehow change? I don't think so. Bedrock is we have no choice paradoxically other than to act "as if" we have a role to play in the narrative of our lives. Choice may not be literal; it is, however, metaphoric.

Gadfly said...

No, you're right; it's rhetorical as much as anything, and you're on the smae track as me as to why.

That's why I continue to stress that on science of mind, we're just in the Early Bronze Age. Therefore, no we can't be more precise, and won't be able to for some time.

I agree on the act as if. If you accept "subselves" or something similar, and also accept different levels of consciousness, like us vs. another primate, then primate vs a dog, etc, on down, that "act as if," in my opinion, is part and parcel of what happens when consciousness emerges/evolves to a certain level.