Re: virus: Re: Rationality

Eva-Lise Carlstrom (
Sat, 8 Mar 1997 19:17:47 -0800 (PST)

On Fri, 7 Mar 1997, Dave Pape wrote:

> At 15:16 07/03/97 GMT, Drakir wrote:
> >But surely free will allows one to do exactly what one wants. Irrespective
> >of memes.
> Why do you "want" to do what you "want"? Imagine for a moment that you ARE a
> memetic entity. Thus, all of your "wants" are memes which are vying for
> dominance in your mind. In my shoddy model of how minds work, memes are
> competitive entities and compete with many memes, as well as being
> associated with some other memes. The ongoing output of this competition
> (with alliances being formed between various groups of memes, etc) is that
> you get actions controlled by the most successful competitor memes. At any
> moment, you "want" to do various things... but by the interaction of the
> memes in your mind that code for these "wants", you /feel/ a kind-of (but
> not really) serial flow of desires.
> >If I were to exercise my internal free-will, I could get up
> >from my desk, and rampage round the office wielding my telephone at
> >people in a threatening manor. Is that a meme?
> I reckon it certainly has a memetic basis. And... you /could/ do that. Just
> entertaining the idea is kind of like wanting to do it a bit. Because the
> meme is being allowed to be active in your mind. But if you did do it, it
> wouldn't (in my eyes) be you exercising your freewill... it would be that
> meme succeeding in a contest for temporary control of your actions.
> >I'm not going to
> >do it for the simple fact that I'll get sacked if I do. Is that a
> >meme?
> Again, it has a memetic basis, and, as a well-programmed ("civilised") young
> hominid, this threat-of-sacking meme usually outcompetes "go on a rampage"
> memes in office-workers' heads.
> This "interacting memes" thing... have you read any papers about associative
> models of brain function? If you live in UK and want to read some, I could
> snail-mail you some. Otherwise, you can websearch using keywords like
> "Rumelhart", "McClelland", "associative", "parallel distributed", etc., or
> check out some Marvin Minsky. There's lots of pretty, memey (I think) models
> of brain function which hinge around parallel competition between lots of
> neural groups/brainstates/ideas/memes, with the winners being the things you
> think you decide to do.

I just dug up Douglas Hofstadter's take on the issue, which makes good
sense to me. Here is an excerpt from the dialogue "Who Shoves Whom Around
Inside the Careenium?", in _Metamagical Themas_.

TORTOISE: ....So I'd like to ask you, Achilles, can you freely decide to
do anything?
ACHILLES: Of course I can! That's precisely what free will is about! I can
decide to do whatever I want!
T: Really? Can you decide, say, to answer me in Sanskrit?
A: Obviously not. But that has nothing to do with it. I don't speak
Sanskrit. How could I answer you in it? Your question doesn't
make sense.
T: Not so. You can only do what your brain will allow you to do, and that
is very crucial. Let me ask you another question. Can you decide to kill
me right now?
A: Mr. T! What a suggestion! How could you suggest such a thing, even in
T: Could you nonetheless decide to do it?
A: Sure! Why not? I can certainly _imagine_ myself deciding to do it.
T: That is beside the point, Achilles. Don't confuse hypothetical or
fictitious worlds with reality. I'm asking you if you _can_ decide to kill me.
A: I guess that in this world, in the _real_ world, I could not _carry
out_ such a decision, even had I "decided"--or claimed I'd decided--to do
it. So I guess I _couldn't_ decide to do it, actually.
T: That's right. That innocent-seeming trailer phrase that one tends to
tack on--exactly as you did--is very telling, after all.
A: What innocent phrase? What do you mean?
T: Don't you remember? You insisted vehemently to me, "I can decide to do
_whatever I want_." Now that phrase "whatever I want" may _sound_ like a
grand, universal, all-inclusive, sweeping phrase--but in fact, it
represents quite the opposite: a severe constraint. It's not true that you
are able to decide to do _anything_; you are limited to being able to
decide to do only things you _want_. Worse yet, you are in fact limited to
doing, at any time, the _one_ thing that you _most_ want to do! Here,
"want" is a complex function of the state of the entire system.
A: Are you saying that choice is an illusion?
T: Only to the extent that "I" is an illusion. Let me explain....

I recommend reading the entire dialogue, indeed, the entire book.