February 28, 2015

Mu to free will vs determinism 5 — living in the past

Yes, you and I all live in the past, all the time, without fail, without exception.

To be precise, our conscious selves live 80 milliseconds in the past.
"What you think you're seeing at any given moment is actually influenced by the future," said David Eagleman, lead author of a study in the current issue of Science. "This doesn't mean the brain is clairvoyant, however." 
He compared the timing of conscious perception to the broadcasting of a live television show, "which is actually not live. The show is delayed by about three seconds, so it can be edited if something happens. The brain does the same thing." 
Using a visual illusion known as the flash-lag phenomenon, Eagleman and Salk Professor Terrence Sejnowski showed that the human brain appears to construct conscious awareness in an after-the-fact fashion, which they term postdiction. Their findings counter a leading hypothesis that visual awareness is predictive, extrapolating ahead of perceived events. 
"In fact," said Sejnowski," it looks like the conscious mind is just catching up on past information."


And, I like the TV analogy. The idea behind that, the idea of "editing," also correlates with Libet-class experiments, conducted years after Benjamin Libet's original They show a delay, albeit longer yet, to "censor" action that's not consciously willed.

Scientific American had more on this here.

And, that's only the tip of the iceberg that David Eagleman has brought to the field. Eagleman, as show in this New Yorker profile, is a very interesting person. His new idea of a middle ground between theism and atheism doesn't totally jazz me up, but, I'd not reject it entirely, and certainly not with the vitriol that the likes of a Sam Harris does. (Nuff said there.)

I do think Eagleman needs to lose his wide-eyed optimism over Obama's BRAIN project, and along with it, his optimism about how well neuroscience will spill some secrets. As I've said before, I think it's still in the Early Bronze Age, and will be for some time; I'm sure Eagleman would disagree.

In turn, all of this corresponds to another idea of mine.

That's the idea of free will as a confabulation deriving from a spandrel.

One way it would have adaptive value is with a rise in teleology in general and goal-directed behavior in particular. The belief that there was some "I" behind certain goals, and especially, an "I" freely choosing such goals, would increase the energy investment in pursuing them.

Then, due to evolutionary pruning, whether more biological or more cultural, what goals were better to attain and easier to attain would be selected for, as would better and easier strategies for achievement.


PDiddie said...

Rick Santorum: "I didn't say black people, I said blah people".

J. A. Le Fevre said...

Largely repeating myself, you have ‘free will’ all wrong. No confabulation, no spandrel, but the winner of evolutionary competition hundreds of millions of years ago where the environments faced by hatchlings were just too unpredictable for determinism to evolve in many life forms – particularly the more complex.

Gadfly said...

J.A., at least you're not a determinist. That said, I didn't say it IS a spandrel; I said it could be.

Otherwise, even if it's not, "free will" didn't magically evolve overnight; it developed as gradually as did consciousness in general.

J. A. Le Fevre said...

I think the business of spandrel can be dismissed pretty simply by looking at the types of problems brains evolved to solve early in the development of articulated bodies. Additionally, free will appears to me a far simpler architecture than evolving a suite of determined responses.
Neural directed locomotion, I suggest, laid the foundation for free will by requiring an extremely plastic instruction mosaic. Using a human for example, hundreds of muscles are required to simply walk upright, each with a neuron directing its tension multiple times a second. A further suit of neurons conducts the full orchestra of walking muscles with precise tension and timing. Walking is not, however at a fixed gate, nor over any fixed footing nor grade. Every change in speed and terrain requires all instructions to be adjusted for force and timing. This full suite of commands similarly requires fine tuning for growth as the individual matures, gains or looses weight. A further impediment to genetic determinance is that every individual has a somewhat unique muscle, skeletal and neural structure. An instruction set for a father walking would not function for the son.

What I see in locomotion is a neural structure adapted to solve problems that are to some degree unique to each individual. The next problem in my list requires decidedly more unique solutions to succeeding generations – that of navigation. Free will appears to me natures solution for individual animals to traverse uncertain terrain, avoid fixed hazards, locate & secure necessary resources and evade predators. These problems require individual by individual solutions for unpredictable situations.

While making moral decisions may be unique to humans, free will was required far earlier for competitive navigation and predator/prey responses.

Gadfly said...

Agreed with plasticity on things like locomotion. That said, locomotion is an automatic activity, not one directed by free will, overall.

Tis true that we think before we step when on uncertain terrain. However, at least a fair amount of the other things, like predator evasion, are at least in part automatic, with in that case automatic responses of the "fight or flight" type being kick-started by agency imputers inside the brain.

Beyond that, no, I don't see locomotion as involving problems that are to some degree unique to each individual, beyond my objection above.

Now, with the invention of tools, humans certainly would have used free will in developing certain predator actions that weren't part of an automatic locomotion toolkit. This is part of my "goal-directed behavior" in the second-last paragraph. But, on the prey side? I don't think so, again, certainly not until some tools were developed as defensive weapons, and humans took the "fight" half of the "flight or fight" fork in a new direction.

And, I think humans had a proto-free will, or more accurately, per my previous posts on the subject, a proto-something like free will, before the invention of weaponry tools beyond the use of a bone as a club.

As for my idea in the last two grafs? I'm not sure what would have spurred the evolution of free will, or something like it, as a spandrel, but I can venture a guess or two. The idea of agency imputation is one obvious one. Seeing theoretical other agents might also have stimulated brain changes that would eventually, but not immediately, lead to guessing what those theoretical other agents were doing, i.e., a theory of mind. And then, after that, something like free will.

J. A. Le Fevre said...

I will suggest that your choice of words is deceptive and that you are confusing a well solved problem for a non-problem. Specifically: ‘locomotion is an automatic activity’. Consider the case of the so-called feral children (suffering sever neglect from early childhood) – they can neither walk nor talk. Neither of these activities are ‘automatic’, and indeed unless mastered as children, they can apparently never be learned. Walking (as talking) is a well mastered habit by most humans, but not deterministic. Walking (as I noted above) is a very active mental process that is primarily subconscious. A high degree of very deliberate free will is required by infants, inspired by watching/interacting with other humans, particularly parents. Children work very hard to make walking and talking second-nature as teens and adults. The effects or our decisions accumulate (often as habits) throughout our lives. When we teach our habits (such as human language and tool making) to our children, the impacts of our will accumulate across generations.
Much of the confusion in this debate rests on our brains solving these reoccurring ‘problems’ so well, we tend to dismiss how much unique, independent thinking our brains are constantly doing – without bothering to interrupt our conscious selves.
As I see it, consciousness and Theory of Mind (and social interactions in general) were made possible by a long preexisting free will.

Gadfly said...

I will first suggest that your commenting on this thread may be coming to an end if you're accusing me of being "deceptive."

Second, development of language skills is not "locomotion." And, feral children have nothing to do with free will. One cannot decide not to do something when one has no knowledge of what the issue is in the first place.

J. A. Le Fevre said...

I am not accusing you of being deceptive, and am sorry for any misunderstanding – it is a question of underestimating the challenge. Dismissing locomotion as ‘automatic’ overlooks how much work it took to refine that skill. Language similarly feels automatic to adults, but requires a lot of work for young children. My point with feral children was to highlight our dependence upon our free will – our learning process as humans is based upon it. Through isolation, they were denied an example to emulate. They were not permitted the choice to learn. Instinct would have motivated them, but an example was required. The very survival of humans depend upon our locomotion and language skills. Neither of these are predetermined by our genes.

I work in an office, and there are many individuals I recognize by their footfalls walking down the hall. I can do that because every individual has ‘solved’ their own locomotion problem uniquely. I am also suggesting that we should consider that free will is not strictly a conscious activity, but a decision making technique of the brain. Locomotion led to a plastic neural order, navigation led, I think, to a simulation thinking process that creates options which are chosen between – free will. We get, as humans, a glance into an advanced version of that simulation process in our dreams.

Gadfly said...

OK on the "deception" and nemo problemo.


I'm not arguing locomotion is easy. I'm just arguing it doesn't involve free will, other than, perhaps, an initial decision to decide to walk rather than continuing to crawl. Even that is more subconscious sub-free will, though, in all likelihood.

As for your office?

If you've been there long enough, and there's not too many people who use the same bathroom, you can probably identify the last person to take a crap. And, other than the decision to take a crap in that bathroom rather than another, no free will was involved.

That said, if you've read all my "mu" series," you'll note that I talk about "subselves" as part of "something like free will." So, I'm not totally against you. But, I am noting that even if we try to put ourselves into our own subconsciousness' footsteps, "something like free will" isn't always what's happening. Sometimes, it's instinctual behavior from the get-go.