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

Dave Pape (
Wed, 12 Mar 1997 00:04:25 GMT

I'm replying to David McF's post of 22:31 10/03/97, which was a bit of a
thought-provoker, so thanks David! The reply's non-linear with respect to
your running order- I hope this doesn't piss you off too much.

>> 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.
>You mentioned genes, rabbits, foxes, flowers, butterflies and brains. Why
>are you differentiating these systems from the environment (just by naming
>them) if you think it is sacrilege to do so?

Because I'm bound to, being an organism that exhibits language. I think the
reason we treat objects as (misleadingly) distinct from their context is
because this strategy has been evolutionarily selected, as it's useful to
organisms. It gets you by, without spending an infinite amount of effort
thinking about, eg, how The Whole Universe will react when The Part Of The
Whole Universe Formerly Known As You tries to hit The Part Of The Whole
Universe Formerly Known As This Leopard with The Part Of The Whole Universe
Formerly Known As This Stick.

Sacrilege may have been a bit of a heavy word; I'm saying that to consider a
rock or a genetic species or a mind in isolation from its environment is an
evolutionarily useful, but misleading, heuristic strategy. [Mops forehead-
some hairs fall out of scalp]

>All of science is based on distinguishing systems from the
>environment they are embedded in. Even though it is quite true that that
>nothing is separate from its environment, good luck trying to figure out
>anything about the whole universe at once.

But... every scientific prediction is an /approximation/, and I think a
factor in this is the fact that whenever you make predictions you don't take
The Whole System (Everything) into account.

>> 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.
>I don't think it matters where the behaviours were learned originally
>because free will is more concerned with proximal cause than ultimate

In that case, you're ignoring many causes, modelling only parts of systems,
when discussing free will, so it's going to be a fairly inaccurate concept.

>> [CLIP] In my mind, any will which is
>> deterministic, is not free. It is precisely determined from moment to moment
>You are "free" to define "free" that way, but then nothing is free. What
>does that buy you?

Space in my mental lexicon for a more useful 4-letter word. I allow
discussion of COMPARATIVE freedom from some /particular/ influence, when
that influence doesn't constrain your actions (very much). But I don't think
anything's "free" as in "behaviourally not determined by the initial
conditions of the Universe". Sheesh, this'll go down like a lead balloon
with Quantum Mech fans.

>> [CLIP] 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
>Certainly not if you are "enslaved" by your particles! :)
>Really I agree, IF you define free will that way THEN there is no such thing.
>I just question the utility of such a stance.

Okay, but who ever said that the way things ultimately turn out to work MUST
have utility for people? When it comes to world-views, I'm less interested
in human utility than explanatory power. Plus, maybe we just haven't yet
worked out the utility of a post-freewill philosophy.

>Why hold anyone responsible for
>their actions if they can blame it all on their particles?

Well, if someone does something criminal and pisses you off, you COULD say
that their actions are dictated by the nature of the deterministic universe,
but that they've pissed you off, and that you think that punishing criminals
helps most people have an easier life than if criminality isn't punished,
and who knows, punishment may even help extinguish individuals' criminal
behaviour, so you're still going to punish them. IE you understand that no
free will was involved in the apparent choice to do crime, but you're going
to try strategies to stop it recurring anyway. If I get burgled, I'll still
want the burglar punished.

>> 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.
>True, but look at it this way (this is where the cybernetic approach comes
>in handy). Let's say you have to simulate your behaviour in software. Would
>most of the complexity of the simulation (measured in terms of statements,
>functions, classes, lines o' code, whatever you like) be in the part the
>represents you or the environment? Well, obviously the environment, especially
>if it includes simulations of other people. But hold on, now simulate a
>rock in the same environment. Clearly (the simulation of) you have more
>complexity (and, ipso facto, endogenous control) than the rock so it is
>possible to say that you have more free will than a rock even though we
>can't measure them quantitatively (yet).

When you say that I have more complexity and "ipso facto" more endogenous
control of behaviour... does this mean that a complicated rock has,
comparatively speaking, more endogenous control- hence free will- than a
simple rock? Because it's more complex to model? This isn't just me being
shitty, I'm actually not quite sure what you mean by "ipso facto", but if
you answer "yes", I'll say that your version of free will sounds alien to
the one that I'm arguing against.

Learning involves nervous systems rewiring on a microscopic level, temporary
rewirings being selectively enhanced based on the adaptation conferred on
the host organism.

The rewiring tends to produce successively more and more concerted, complex,
temporally ordered, behavioural output in response to environmental input.
I'm still convinced that everything you do is your body's deterministic
reaction to its perceptual inputs, which are processed deterministically by
your continually rewiring nervous system.


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

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