February 23, 2014

The simplemindedness of #determinism

Since I'm talking about philosophical determinism, the idea that we have no volition, free will, or what I think will eventually be discovered to be "something like free will," there's a pun in that header. Consider this an extension of my series on saying "mu" to the polarities of free will vs. determinism.

A touch of background to this.

As I've said elsewhere, and you can just click the tags below to find details, I think that cognitive science and science of mind are, at best, in the Early Bronze Age of understanding, and perhaps in the Neolithic. That's part of why I've said "mu" in those previous posts. We just don't know enough about the mind to say exactly what we should call decision-making. I am going to call it that, though, with the clear implication that we will find that "something like free will" exists.

In other words, like the young Wittgenstein, we should be quiet until we can say more. Or, in the line of logical positivism, we should recognize that "free will" is a phrase without definition.

Determinism? We can speak about that, and quite easily refute it with some simple intellectual judo.

Here's the analogy.

The cosmological argument for the existence of God argues that everything has a cause, and this can be traced back to a First Cause or Prime Mover. The obvious failure here is, "What caused the First Cause?" "What moved the Prime Mover?"

Well, you may be thinking with or ahead of me.

Determinism is normally, in everyday English, expressed as "All our thoughts are determined."

My reply, of course, is:

"What determined the first determinor?" Oops!

So, determinism is simple-minded, or simplistic, if you will.

It also seems to rely on a very black-and-white view of consciousness, namely, that either one has it, or not.

Let me illustrate.

If I asked you, "Does a dog have free will?," you'd scratch your head for a minute, then maybe say, "Well, maybe something like free will." (If you're like me, you'd say, "It has something like something like free will," of course.) You'd then go on to explain that a dog has some degree of consciousness, and you think it has enough to make decisions in some things and is not a purely instinctual animal.

If I asked you, "Is a dog determined?", you'd probably think the question is at least twice as ridiculous as asking if a dog has Buddha nature. I know I would.

Or, another example.

Take two homo erectus, one male, one female. My gut tells me that a determinist would say that if both of them crossed a magic line to consciousness level X, their kids would be determined, period, and that none of them could have a lesser degree of consciousness that would fall below X.

But, if one combines the "something like free will" (or even a more robust free will, which I don't) with consciousness as embodied cognition and as an embodied-based emergent property, than degrees of "something like free will" are free to evolve and develop.

That then leads to another point.

I just don't see determinism as being very compatible with an emergent property understanding of consciousness.


jeffry said...

we needn't know the initial state of a system to say it's determined. someone fires a projectile of mass m at velocity v at some angle a in a vacuum on a planet with gravity g. we needn't know any of the actual values to calculate an equation describing the motion of the projectile. nonetheless, that motion is determined - the projectile has no "free will" to exercise.

if the brain is composed of atoms and molecules in interaction, those interactions are either determined or probabilistic in a quantum-determined sense. whether they are determined or probabilstic, those molecules have no "free will" to exercise.

the pressure and temperature of a gas are "emergent properties" of the statistical mechanics of that gas viewed at an atomic level. to know that is not to deny the existence of pressure or temperature on a macro level. but those phenomena are fully determined by the atomic properties.

if consciousness is an "emergent property" of some complex ineractive system, it may be viewed as similarly determined.

Gadfly said...

In my opinion, you're either stretching the definition of "determinism," or shrinking that of "emergent properties," in Procrustean ways.