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

David McFadzean (
Fri, 14 Mar 1997 01:13:31 -0700

> From: Dave Pape <>
> Date: Tuesday, March 11, 1997 5:04 PM
> >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.

I'd not only agree with that assessment, but go on to say that it
is probably the only possible way for finite creatures to model
their environment. In this case evolution didn't have much of a

> 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]

How is it misleading? In mathematics is it misleading to discuss
integers even when you know they are merely distant points on a
continuum of real numbers?

> 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.

Approximations are necessary when anything else is impossible.

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

The point in abstracting is to knowingly ignore causes that are
irrelevant, uninteresting, or otherwise outside the scope of the
issue at hand.

> >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.

What if explanatory power is useful? I think it is.

> >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.

Point taken.

> 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.

I'm talking about causal complexity as in many interacting and mutually
influencing components. If the more complicated rock was hollow except
for a mass suspended on springs connected to the outside, then it would
have more free will than a normal rock by my definition. It would certainly
appear to from our perspective, moving around seemingly on its own accord
after a normal rock would have come to a rest. That's because at least
some of the special rock's behaviour is caused by the energy stored in
its internal springs as opposed to outside forces.

> 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.

Again I agree. But I also think we have (some) free will for precisely
the same reason.

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Church of Virus       

random abba: when you're gone how can i even try to go on? when you're gone though i try how can I carry on?