Naturalism states that we are all completely natural human beings, that there is no immaterial god "out there" and there is no immaterial soul "in here". It also states that freewill is an illusion, that we are as individuals who we are because of our genetics, environment, and culture.

Thoughts?

Tags: freewill, illusion, naturalism, soul

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I disagree. Humans are like the driver of a car in a dream. They think they are turning the wheel, shifting gears, and stepping on the gas, but they are not. In fact, the car doesn't even exist.

I would define naturalism as the belief that nothing exists beyond the material universe. Rather than describe free will as an illusion, it might be more accurate to call it an epiphenomenon or emergent effect. Most of our life is experienced at a distance from the material and the connection of thoughts and emotions with the underlying physiochemistry is not well understood.

It's far from clear that mental phenomena cannot cause physical phenomena—certain emotional states influence blood pressure, body temperature, etc. and some people show dermatographia under stress. Many use images to produce calm, slow their heart rate, etc. so they can enter a meditative state.

Much remains to be learned in this area.

If the belief that nothing exists beyond the material universe (I would call that physicalism) is true, then either mental phenomena could not exist as separate from physical phenomena, or that mental phenomena exists as a property of physical substance (property dualism). I believe that we do know enough about the material universe to rule out free will. As I wrote in a blog post here, an abridged version:

Assuming physicalism, that all phenomena has to abide by the laws of natural sciences, then all phenomena must be caused by something else (i.e. cause and effect). Assuming physicalism, your mind (spirit or soul if you like) must be reducible to brain states. Brain states are reducible to bio-electric signals between neurons. Bio-electric signals between neurons aren't consciously controllable. Therefore, free will is false.

Or we could go on and say each brain state (if you imagine an instantaneous snapshot of all the molecular structures at any given time), when acted upon by the same forces (nerve endings activated by perception at the same given time), will produce the same next brain state. If we were able to reproduce this 10 times using futuristic technology to clone a brain state, and then simulate the exact same perceptual responses, then the next brain state would be the same each time. The objections, either by chaotic movements (e.g. double pendulum) or collapsible wave are both not consciously controllable. Therefore, free will is false.

The illusion of free will can be considered an epiphenomenon, but it cannot be understood to have an effect on physical phenomenon. An epiphenomenon is by definition a mere side effect.

>>An epiphenomenon is by definition a mere side effect.

That has been the traditional, medical use of the term, but my impression is that some now use it in the slightly different sense of emergent effect. I haven't followed the recent arguments closely, but they seem to have important philosophical implications.

>>Brain states are reducible to bio-electric signals between neurons.

So one presumes in naturalism, but in fact no one can yet describe in detail any brain state or connect it with physical states of neurons, also impossible to describe in detail. It seems quite likely that these phenomena will remain difficult to observe. This essential connection is merely a supposition, not an observable fact. 

Observations of brain activity are crude—you might be able to tell from observation that a given brain at a given moment is concerned with sound, but not whether it is the sound of a cannon, ocean waves, or Beethoven.

The essential point is whether we are automatons merely observing mental actions produced by chemical and electrical phenomena—merely the audience in our mental theater—or whether the feeling that we consciously alter our thoughts actually implies we alter the physical state of the brain as well.

>>Bio-electric signals between neurons aren't consciously controllable.

If someone asks you to clench your fist five times and no more, you are able to do so without the least difficulty or you may refuse to follow the request. How does that work? You have conscious control over certain muscular functions without consciously controlling signals between neurons. How does that come about?

So one presumes in naturalism, but in fact no one can yet describe in detail any brain state or connect it with physical states of neurons, also impossible to describe in detail.

There are actually advances in neuroscience now that makes possible predicting observations with brain states. In one study, scientists were able to predict whether the subject was ready to learn by using brain scans. Another study, if I remember correctly, showed subjects pictures, and then measured some neuronal activity, and then attempted successfully to predict which pictures were being shown to the subject. Other studies allowed paraplegics to surf the internet by installing a sensor in their brain, where they would have to only think about moving the mouse in a direction.

The essential point is whether we are automatons merely observing mental actions produced by chemical and electrical phenomena—merely the audience in our mental theater—or whether the feeling that we consciously alter our thoughts actually implies we alter the physical state of the brain as well.

I believe my thought experiment fairly demonstrates it's the former, assuming a physicalist world. The latter would require non-physical (e.g. mental, spiritual, etc.) existence that is not empirically observable or testable. How would this mental dimension arise in the first place? We can object to Christianity's creation of the universe by saying matter has always existed, but surely the mind, if it's not simply created by matter, must arise out of something, unless it just timelessly exists in a parallel universe...

If it could be assumed that mental states which cannot be empirically observed and could consciously change physical states without a cause (such that a higher level entity could affect its lower-level components, or a brain could affect a neuron), then I believe we do not have a claim to refute God.

If someone asks you to clench your fist five times and no more, you are able to do so without the least difficulty or you may refuse to follow the request. How does that work?

Let's see how this would work and remain consistent with determinism. Nerve endings in the ear that are excitable by different aural frequencies that comprise speech sends bio-electric signals through synapses to the brain. Memories (i.e. knowledge) stored in the brain decodes these signals to give us conditioned meaning no different than with Pavlov's dog. Meanwhile, the brain calculates millions of things in the background, some of which may include:

-What's the utility of this action?

a. How hard is it to complete?

b. Would it cause any physical pain, or conditioned emotional pain?

c. Does it make sense (conditioned goal)?

-What's the utility of the person giving the command?

a. Has he given me conditioned pain or pleasure in the past?

b. How's the truthfulness of his words?

c. What conditioned emotion (i.e. chemical) response does this person-object represent?

-What's the immediacy of the situation?

a. Is it urgent?

b. Is it important?

c. What's the magnitude of what could arise out of this action or following this order?

What you consciously perceive is:

-Should I listen to this person? Do I like him? Does he annoy me?

-Should I reject because I don't "feel" like it?

-Should I do it fast or slow because I'm lazy?

Despite all this, as demonstrated by the thought experiment, if we ran this exact situation through the exact same brain state 100 times, you would have made the same decision every single time. I can say that with some certainty because, regardless of what's going on with mental states and whatnot, the only physical forces in action here are the firings of neurons, and the perceptions from nerve endings. A verbal command sends various degrees of bio-electric signals, picked up by nerve endings, which are then sent to neurons. The same neuron, met with the same force, will create a same reaction.

I believe this is implicated by Newton's Laws.

Other studies allowed paraplegics to surf the internet by installing a sensor in their brain, where they would have to only think about moving the mouse in a direction.

If a purely mental action of thinking about moving a cursor can cause a physical action of moving a cursor, how then can you distinguish mental and physical actions so clearly that you can be absolutely sure mental actions do not cause physical changes in the brain? It appears that they must from this example alone.

The latter would require non-physical (e.g. mental, spiritual, etc.) existence that is not empirically observable or testable.

Why do you assume that what is mental is non-physical? According to your view it seems that thought must indeed be a completely physical process.

-What's the utility of this action?

a. How hard is it to complete?

b. Would it cause any physical pain, or conditioned emotional pain?

c. Does it make sense (conditioned goal)?

-What's the utility of the person giving the command?

a. Has he given me conditioned pain or pleasure in the past?

b. How's the truthfulness of his words?

c. What conditioned emotion (i.e. chemical) response does this person-object represent?

-What's the immediacy of the situation?

a. Is it urgent?

b. Is it important?

c. What's the magnitude of what could arise out of this action or following this order?

What you consciously perceive is:

-Should I listen to this person? Do I like him? Does he annoy me?

-Should I reject because I don't "feel" like it?

-Should I do it fast or slow because I'm lazy?

Aren't you saying that none of these thoughts, being purely mental phenomena, can have any influence whatever on the action you take? You cannot choose to do it or not—that is determined by physical processes in the brain to whose content you have no access. You are merely fooling yourself into thinking they matter. Is that not your point?

We exist as automatons who have the illusion that we are making choices and exercising free will, when in fact we are doing nothing of the sort. We cannot, in your view, change our views or alter our opinions, we can only believe—quite erroneously—that we have done so.

It follows that atheists do not choose to disbelieve God any more than believers choose to believe. Your atheism is not the product of rational thinking, you only believe it is.

If a purely mental action of thinking about moving a cursor can cause a physical action of moving a cursor, how then can you distinguish mental and physical actions so clearly that you can be absolutely sure mental actions do not cause physical changes in the brain?

Because what you assume to be mental actions are in actuality physical actions giving rise to the user illusion of "thinking". I do not need to distinguish mental and physical actions because there is no distinction. People do not consciously think, a physical reaction lead them to believe that they do.

Why do you assume that what is mental is non-physical? According to your view it seems that thought must indeed be a completely physical process.

Yes, according to my view, "mental processes" are completely physical, and everything that we know physically exists comply with our understanding of physics. A neuron that is by default in a still state cannot fire an electric signal without an external actor. It is for that reason that no physical agent has free will, or the ability to act without an external cause, or else it violates the Newton's Laws of Motion.

Aren't you saying that none of these thoughts, being purely mental phenomena, can have any influence whatever on the action you take? You cannot choose to do it or not—that is determined by physical processes in the brain to whose content you have no access. You are merely fooling yourself into thinking they matter. Is that not your point?

Yes, besides that I would not call them "purely mental phenomena".

It follows that atheists do not choose to disbelieve God any more than believers choose to believe. Your atheism is not the product of rational thinking, you only believe it is.

There are truths which are harsh in this world that exist as such even if you don't believe it. If by rational, you mean that choice is involved, you are right. If, however, you mean that it is not rational because either the scientific premises are wrong, or the logical deductions are wrong, then you need to provide evidence instead of contradicting by assertion (although atheism has nothing to do with the subject).

People do not consciously think, a physical reaction lead them to believe that they do.

Thinking then, in your view, is a complete illusion—people only think that they think, and even that is another illusion.

All this is predicated on an original assumption of materialism and a consequent deduction of determinism (all illusory of course). Now if your viewpoint is correct, it makes no difference whether you believe it or the opposite—that there is free will and choice. Both viewpoints result in the same reactions, and one theory serves just as well as the other for getting through the difficulties of life because you couldn't change what you think even if you wanted to, because in fact you don't think at all, but merely respond in a particular way given all the inputs you've had.

It follows that you only think you believe in materialism and determinism, there is really no difference between that and any other view—you only have the illusion there is. Your notion that your viewpoint is rational is also an illusion—you don't really think it is, you only think you think it is rational.

Now if your viewpoint is correct, it makes no difference whether you believe it or the opposite—that there is free will and choice. Both viewpoints result in the same reactions...

That's exactly right... That is what a naturalist is to accept to be logically consistent.

Your notion that your viewpoint is rational is also an illusion—you don't really think it is, you only think you think it is rational.

Once again, define "rational". An entity is said to be rational if it possesses the capability of choice. However, an idea is rational if it is logically sound.

You may feel free as you like (or at least you think you do) to call me "irrational". But the idea of determinism in naturalism is a rational necessity. If that is merely what you are suggesting through all this tautology, then you might as well be right. If, like I said before, you are asserting that my ideas are irrational because I am irrational, then you are committing several different fallacies at the same time:

1) ad hominem

2) confusing 2 different definitions of the same word

3) assuming that an irrational being cannot have a rational idea (e.g. A calculator does not have a choice, therefore a calculator is irrational. Therefore 1+1=2 is irrational, because the calculator said so.)

I'm not saying you are irrational, I am just trying to see where your naturalistic determinism leads if you apply it consistently. So let's continue with this point:

Now if your viewpoint is correct, it makes no difference whether you believe it or the opposite—that there is free will and choice. Both viewpoints result in the same reactions...

That's exactly right... That is what a naturalist is to accept to be logically consistent.

If then these two points of view lead to the exactly same reactions, it would seem they are equally rational (or equally irrational) and from a pragmatic point of view of getting on with life, equally valid. If you did not know which view someone held, their actions would not allow you to determine their viewpoint.

To sum up then, you think determinism is rational and correct, but that belief is itself merely an illusion because, as you said, people don't think, but have only the illusion they are thinking. It seems to follow—if you are consistent—that your belief in determinism, like all other thoughts you have, is nothing more than an illusion.

If then these two points of view lead to the exactly same reactions, it would seem they are equally rational (or equally irrational)

So, for instance, if you believed in an ambivalent God, and then proceeded to live your life as usual, would that belief in God then be equally rational to a non-belief in God?

To sum up then, you think determinism is rational and correct, but that belief is itself merely an illusion because, as you said, people don't think, but have only the illusion they are thinking. It seems to follow—if you are consistent—that your belief in determinism, like all other thoughts you have, is nothing more than an illusion.

This bears clarification, although we are pretty much splitting hairs here (but that was your intention, right?): When you say "thoughts" and "beliefs", there are two different things those terms might refer to.

1) The subjective feeling, or qualia, of having a thought or holding a belief; more specifically, the feeling of running through a thought process, or arriving at some belief through conscious will.

2) The actual meaning behind that feeling, the information contained in those thoughts and beliefs somehow recorded physically into the brain.

(1) is an illusion, but not necessarily (2). The fact that I am able to regurgitate these ideas here testifies that these beliefs themselves are not an illusion even if holding the belief is.

For example, the "soul" (or emergent self, whichever you prefer) of a calculator might, upon perceiving several electric signals through its rubbery skin, get a revelation and say, "I finally figured it out! 5 x 9 is 45!" -- when in fact it figured nothing out, and it was merely an effect from an external cause. Does that mean "5 x 9 = 45" is an illusion and doesn't exist? No. It merely means that whatever sensation or qualia the calculator felt was directly reducible to the physical/electrical signals behind it. It means that the calculator did not "think" about 5 x 9, although the meaning or substance of the thought did pass through the calculator.

1) The subjective feeling, or qualia, of having a thought or holding a belief; more specifically, the feeling of running through a thought process, or arriving at some belief through conscious will.

2) The actual meaning behind that feeling, the information contained in those thoughts and beliefs somehow recorded physically into the brain.

(1) is an illusion, but not necessarily (2). The fact that I am able to regurgitate these ideas here testifies that these beliefs themselves are not an illusion even if holding the belief is.

That does not seem to be a sound argument within the framework of your point of view. Your feeling that you are repeating an idea may itself be nothing more than an illusion. In other words you are now relying on your subjective feeling of holding (or repeating) a belief as justification that the content of the belief itself is not an illusion.

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