Re: Free Will (was Re: virus: Re: Rationality)

Dave Pape (
Mon, 10 Mar 1997 22:30:38 GMT

At 17:47 09/03/97 -0700, David McF wrote:
>At 11:47 PM 09/03/97 GMT, Dave Pape wrote:
>>Human beings' behaviour "is generated (mostly) by their nervous system"? I
>>think that claim's a bit hollow, I'm afraid, because I think that a nervous
>>system not influenced by the outside world would exhibit little if any
>>patterned behaviour at all.
>Non-sequitur. Compare a normal human's behaviour with the behaviour of
>a human without a nervous system.

Is there a misunderstanding here? I'm not claiming that the nervous system
isn't a crucial part of the behaviour-generating setup. That'd be ludicrous.

BUT, our nervous systems are in the state they're in because of the way
they've interacted with their environment since they began to function. The
activity I feel arising in my nervous system when I lie down, eyes closed,
not moving (the closest to non-environmentally influenced processing that my
N.S. does), tends towards more and more meaningless crap: trashy obsessions,
fantasies, dreams. It's only when my nervous system interacts with its
environment that I actually learn or behave in a coordinated way (inasmuch
as I ever DO).

What I'm saying is in answer to your point that

>Humans have a great
>deal of free will considering that their behaviour is generated (mostly) by
>their nervous system which is considered to be within the human system.

I'm saying that no meaningful behaviour is generated by the system
Nervous-System-Not-Environment. The "choices we make" I think arise from
competition between candidate courses-of-action learnt from previous
/interactions with the environment/, and the input which triggers this
actually ongoing and dynamic competition is environmental in its source.

So, trying to describe some behaviour as endogenous in terms of its source
is erroneous because the only system that produces coordinated, adaptive
behaviour is Nervous System + Environment.

So, equating free will to endogenously generated behaviour won't work,
because there's no clear distinction between endogenous and environmentally
triggered behaviour.

>> My whole anti-freewill argument is based on
>>behaviour being (massively and beautifully complex, but) deterministic
>>responses by our nervous system to sensory input (transduced from energy
>>patterns from our environment), taking into account that, as learning
>>entities, the microscopic structure of our nervous systems has been
>>modulated (again, in an astonishingly complicated way) by its past
>>interactions with the environment.
>I don't disagree with your description at all. I just don't think determinism
>has anything to do with free will. The opposite of deterministic is random.
>The opposite of free will is no will. Both free will and no will can be

Okay... when I hear the words "free will" I tend to start worrying that
people are imputing something in consciousness that's non-deterministic.
What I'm fighting is ideas like "no matter what ideas I have in my head, I
can choose to do whatever I want to do right now," as if that choice somehow
transcends the deterministic nature of the physical or biological universe
(PLEASE no-one take offense at my made-up quote- it wasn't intended to mimic
anything anyone particular's said recently). In my mind, any will which is
deterministic, is not free. It is precisely determined from moment to moment
by the way the components, which make up the body which houses the nervous
system which runs the memes which give rise to the sensation of that will,
interact with each other. I'm saying that, in making any choice, I am
enslaved to the choice I make by the nature of the particles which make up
the nervous system in which that choice is made. That's not "free" in my book.

>>In a world where all learning arises from the interaction of nervous systems
>>with their environment, and in which all behaviour involves a deterministic
>>response by a nervous system to sensory input from the environment, to say
>>that most human behaviour /isn't/ generated by the environment doesn't work.
>That's true if you don't differentiate a system from the environment it
>is in. But that's not very useful.


1 Thinking about myself as being defined by and bound to my
environment has helped me understand my genetic heritage, how my body works
as a colony of cells working as a (dysfunctional?) part of an ecology, and
(I reckon) how I came to know the things I know, and what it means to know
those things. And this in turn helps me not to get cross in arguments. Which
is pretty useful to me because I'm shit at fighting.

2 In a sense, I think it's /sacrilege/ to differentiate a system from
its environment because genetic species are defined by how their genes
interact with genes expressed as /other/ species (rabbits run fast because
otherwise foxes would catch them, budleias have certain flower types because
butterflies like those flowers, but the butterflies have certain proboscises
because budleias have a certain type of flower), and memospheres are defined
by the memes which impinge on their brains.

> ...good definitions have to correspond to our intuitions. It is a necessary
>(but insufficient) criterion for a definition's quality.

Can you explain please? I think I might disagree with this quite strongly,
but don't yet understand it enough to bite.

Cheers, Mr McF!

Dave Pape
Limit the Fun. Prescribe the Fun. DESTROY THE FUN!
-(Southport & Formby Round Table Association slogan, 1994-1995)

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