Dancing with Causality: Purposeful Steps

Dancing with Causality: Purposeful Steps

Free will, in the form of self-determinism, is only a big mystery if you allow your thinking to be governed by the centuries of philosophers who have never managed to figure it out. They've been arguing in circles because they've defined "free will" to fit their premises. This is because they didn't know anything about the brain: not even its electro-chemical characteristics.

But that's changing. Neuroscience has found a host of feedback mechanisms in various modules of the brain. It's feedback, in particular, that has led me to an understanding of free will as self-determinism. In a nutshell, our brains use feedback to interact with the world around us (causality); learn from it; understand it; and anticipate it. Our ability to anticipate causality represents a temporal advantage over causality by enabling us to prepare for it on our own terms.

Intelligent feedback works with causality to extend the potential of humans (and many other animate beings) beyond the fixed and predictable action/reaction of inanimate objects. To deny this fundamental difference between rocks and brains is simply ignoring the obvious: animate beings behave variably . . . inanimate objects react predictably. Intelligent feedback is, perhaps, the single most significant component responsible for this qualitatively more complex and transformative mode of response from animate beings: particularly human beings.

Causality determines the SCOPE of our POTENTIAL -- but not necessarily the minutiae of our thoughts and actions. There is variability and adaptability in our choices. We can make up our minds and change our minds. We can modify our own behavior. This is enough, overall, to produce the only form of "free will" we possess: self-determinism.

Another misconception about causality is that it's a continual process controlling our every move. Causality is not usually domineering: it can be, of course, but is usually just "background noise" that our autonomous and subconscious systems handle automatically (like when we're driving, for instance).

Causality is a physical process of action-reaction. Events lead to other events. A photon traveling through space causes no reaction until it impacts something else, like the surface of an object or another subatomic particle. The majority of its existence is in a state of inertia. So, yes, causality is at work at the beginning and the end of that photon's existence but it has nothing to do in between. In the same way, causality works on us through genetics and the events of our lives but, when causality isn't grabbing our attention, we think about those events and experiences and learn from them, then anticipate causality's next moves and prepare for them accordingly. This intelligent interaction with causality extends determinism to self-determinism. It's all part and parcel of causality. By anticipating causality, we dance with it, and move through life with purposeful steps.

Views: 90

Tags: brain, causality, determinism, feedback, free, freewill, intelligence, mode, potential, scope, More…self-determinism, will

Comment

You need to be a member of Atheist Nexus to add comments!

Join Atheist Nexus

Comment by Atheist Exile on December 17, 2011 at 12:46am

@Matt VDB,

My reply to you is too long. It's posted as a new blog entry here.

Comment by Matt VDB on December 15, 2011 at 10:37am

I'm not saying the human brain transcends causality. I'm saying what I said. The human brain is advanced enough to recognize, learn from, anticipate and USE causality for human purposes. Trying to subvert that message is an indication that you don't like that message. 

I'm not trying to subvert your message, I think you're needlessly complicating something that is really quite simple.

Yes, the human brain anticipates causality... which is to say that the causally determined processes in your brain can figure causality out.

"Causal determinism" -- like causality -- is simply another way of saying cause and effect. Causality is a law of nature. Determinism is a philosophical assertion.

No, causal determinism and determinism are BOTH philosophical theses.

Causal determinism, in particular, is the thesis that says that causality is a law of nature and applies to everything (other philosophical theses like libertarianism deny this and say that some things are exempt).

Causality is not a law of nature in any sense of the term. If anything, it seems to us that causality follows from the laws of nature; but there's much debate on how exactly causality works and to what extent it applies to quantum physics and the like.

With intelligent feedback, effect can influence cause the next time that cause occurs. 

Sorry Exile, but that's simply some creative labelling. Effects can cause other effects all the time; cause -> effect -> another effect. 'Effect' in this case will be a cause to 'another effect', so we can also see that cause causes another cause.

This is all just semantics. If my neighbour plays music too loud and I go over and smash his radio to pieces, you can view that as 'feedback' if you like. But that's not adding anything tangible over talking about causes and effects.

Yet the future unfolds differently than it would have if humans could not manipulate events.

Yes... Only fatalists would say otherwise.

Even a hard determinist would agree with all of this, so why is it relevant?

That's because intelligent feedback (a product of causality) empowers us with the ability to alter future events by manipulating cause and effect for our own purposes.

Of course, but this doesn't even touch on the discussion of free will at all. To say that I do not believe in your free will does not mean that I think you are a zombie who has no mental life and is not thinking and making plans.

What we're saying is that this mental life, these thoughts, this plan-making, is itself causally determined by neural and chemical events which are completely beyond your control. That is the issue.

Nobody is denying that you are able to think about the past. But what causal determinism says is that every time you think about the past, it is because at some level your brain was prompted to do so.

If your self-determinism is not in agreement with this, do spell out where. And if it is in agreement, how are you adding anything to the general view of consciousness in a causally determined world with the word 'self-determinism'?

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on December 11, 2011 at 8:20pm

Exile, you can call it self-determinism. You will have to use that label for other mammals too. Predators use the past to predict the actions of their prey and change their strategy accordingly. In fact you will have to extend that label beyond mammals. Cuz what you are describing is not uniquely human.

And it in no way changes what was always going to happen.

Comment by Atheist Exile on December 11, 2011 at 8:09pm

Damn it! I wrote a reply but when I posted it, only part of it displayed! I'll try again.

@Matt VDB

I'm not saying the human brain transcends causality. I'm saying what I said. The human brain is advanced enough to recognize, learn from, anticipate and USE causality for human purposes. Trying to subvert that message is an indication that you don't like that message. It's simple enough to understand and has been repeated often.

And you also ignore my repeated assertion that self-determinism is the only kind of "free will" we have and that the term "free will" is too nebulous for mixed company (which is why I always enclose it in quotes).

Causality is one thing. Determinism is another. "Causal determinism" -- like causality -- is simply another way of saying cause and effect. Causality is a law of nature. Determinism is a philosophical assertion. The following are from Wikipedia:

Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen.

. . . and . . .

Determinism is often taken to mean simply Causal determinism: an idea known in physics as cause-and-effect. It is the concept that events within a given paradigm are bound by causality in such a way that any state (of an object or event) is completely, or at least to some large degree, determined by prior states.

The "or at least to some large degree" qualifier part kind of muddies the water it seems to me. All that self-determinism requires is intelligent feedback. Does that qualify for the qualfier?

Anyway, causality is responsible for everything. That's a fact. And it doesn't stop at the skull. If causality is responsible for everything, then it's also responsible for our intelligent feedback.

What I'm saying is that this intelligent feedback is transformative by its very nature. That's because intelligent feedback can traverse causality backwards: it permits us to tie effect to cause. We understand consequences. Causality itself can't go backwards. It's strictly cause, then effect. Like time, causality is unidirectional and unfolds in sequence. Effect CAN'T influence cause because cause came first . . . unless you've got some sort of feedback.

With intelligent feedback, effect can influence cause the next time that cause occurs. Because of feedback, we learn and adapt. While causality is unidirectional, we can virtually (mentally) go back (past) and forth (future) in time; tracing effects back to their cause (the past) and even examine prior causes and effects leading up to a specific one . . . PLUS we can extrapolate what we've learned into the future and align our purposes with what we expect from causality later.

What is key to understand is that there is no dualism: no violation of causality. Yet the future unfolds differently than it would have if humans could not manipulate events.

Thanks to the junk we left behind, the moon weighs a little more than it would have if we had never manipulated events with a monumental, single-minded, purpose. This must (ever so slightly) affect the gravitational future of the moon.

What this means is that causality unfolds passively and predictably in the inanimate universe but can unfold differently and unpredictably where human intelligence makes its mark. That's because intelligent feedback (a product of causality) empowers us with the ability to alter future events by manipulating cause and effect for our own purposes.

I don't know what else you need to understand self-determinism. You can try to deny that human intelligence interacts with causality but that's just stubbornness, it seems to me. Cause precedes effect. Always. We count on this fact to manipulate future events. THAT is self-determinism. We ALL do it. Denial doesn't change it one bit.

Comment by Matt VDB on December 11, 2011 at 9:01am

What does VDB stand for?

It's an abbreviation off Vandenberghe. My last name.

If anything has a chance of partnering with causality, it's the human brain.

That's a strange syllogism. Causal determinism is either a property of the laws of nature in this universe, or it is not. It therefore either applies to every object (including the human brain) or it does not.

Saying that, while everything else in the universe is subject to causality, the brain's complexity allows it to transcend it, is non-sensical. Complexity no more helps you transcend causality than it helps you to transcend gravity.

Unless mind matter is a different kind of matter than anything else in the universe, which is quite a claim to make. We may not know precisely how the human brain works, but it's clearly animated by physical matter (like neurons) like everything else.

The hard (absolute) determinist takes the law of cause and effect one step further and says that "free will" (however they mean the word) can not exist because of causality. Causality is a fact of nature. Determinism is an unproven and unprovable assertion.

You're the one who needs to define free will if you want to say that it exists. I'm not going to say something does not exist until I know what you mean by it.

If the free will you're talking about is contra-causal, then by definition, it means it can transcend causality and is incompatible with it.

As for determinism... it's not even really relevant to this discussion. Indeterminism could well be true and we'd still not necessarily have free will. It does not follow.

Would you deny that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain?

Of course not. But any property that emerges from unconscious and causal processes in the brain, is not going to get you any closer to free will of any form.

The world around us is causality manifest. Consciousness and causality are inseparable. Why can't the same integration exist between causality and intelligence? That seems much more plausible to me than the suggestion that our exchange in this discussion was determined 13.75 billion years ago.

You're still confusing causal determinism with predeterminism

Simple causal determinism (cause-and-effect) means contra-causal free will does not exist. And I must admit I don't understand what the rest of that paragraph is trying to say...

Comment by Atheist Exile on December 11, 2011 at 6:43am

@Matt VDB,

What does VDB stand for?

The human brain thinks. That's what it does. I don't know many of the details of how it does this: nobody does. Suffice it to say, it does. The human brain is the most complex object in the universe, as far as we know. If anything has a chance of partnering with causality, it's the human brain.

The hard (absolute) determinist takes the law of cause and effect one step further and says that "free will" (however they mean the word) can not exist because of causality. Causality is a fact of nature. Determinism is an unproven and unprovable assertion.

RNA, DNA, or whatever chemical concoction facilitated life on Earth is an example of emergent properties resulting from random combinations. Life is the emergent property of an organic bond. After billions of years, the universe beheld an entirely new kind of object: a self-replicating cell.

Would you deny that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain? Actually, consciousness is equally reliant on sensory organs and on the external world around us. If there were never any world around us or sensory organs or brain (or any combination thereof) there could never be consciousness. The world around us is causality manifest. Consciousness and causality are inseparable. Why can't the same integration exist between causality and intelligence? That seems much more plausible to me than the suggestion that our exchange in this discussion was determined 13.75 billion years ago.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on December 11, 2011 at 5:50am

Atheist Exile,

You are claiming the knowledge where in my opinion it is impossible to obtain. I am denying that you have it-that is all.

To elucidate the analogy to special creation and geocentric theory ( I see now that I used the wrong word) it is like a theist who conceives that this unimaginable cosmos is all here for the greater good of his sect and that all of the other organisms on earth are an afterthought. In other words cause and effect went there merry way for 13 billion years; along comes a human and a grand detour is taken.

God did it is a nonsequitur. Awareness of the path of events is not a precondition to a cause and effect cosmos.

It is quite an uncomfortable realization at first. It is quite natural to squirm.

Comment by Matt VDB on December 11, 2011 at 5:46am

Now, you could claim that our ability to learn from causality and alter future cause and effect is itself predetermined. But then you get into an infinite regress in which every little event -- even our thoughts and actions -- were set in stone at the moment of the Big Bang.

Why is that ridiculous? It makes perfect sense.

Think about it like this: you've started out as a single-celled organism. A fertilized egg. At that point, you did not have any thought processes of any kind. Slowly but surely, this cell would have multiplied itself, various organs would have been formed, including your brain. Surely you agree that all of that is completely causally determined in some sense.

Now you're telling me that at some stage during your development as a human, there comes a stage where you can "intelligently anticipate" causality. I agree that you can. But the reason you can is dependent on (i) you having a working pre-frontal cortex (ii) on the way your neurons operate on a moment-to-moment basis, etcetera. There is nothing here that is in principle different from the zygote you started out as; you just got more complex.

While the word "predetermined" is tricky, since it suggests that the whole thing is necessarily predictable (which may or may not be true, there might be randomness at work which would make it unpredictable, but is still not worth caring about to us).

So yes, every event, action and thought is caused and influenced by a great many variables, which are all again the productof other variables, etcetera. What else could there be?

Comment by Atheist Exile on December 11, 2011 at 4:13am

"The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance - it is the illusion of knowledge." ~Daniel J. Boorstin

Comment by Atheist Exile on December 11, 2011 at 3:06am

@Glen Rosenberg,

You said,

I view your dance as another form of human arrogance. Not quite as grand as the heliocentric conceit or special creation, but in the same vein.

Human arrogance? I think knowledge is a relatively safe addiction . . . until it become idolatry. The know-it-all syndrome. Now that is arrogance.

For instance, you claim that "if one is to assume a cause and effect universe, there is no escaping the conclusion of the strict determinist". What you're not taking into account with your self-satisfied proclamation is that cause and effect operates in lockstep with time . . . and time is unidirectional. Whether or not you're dealing with classical or quantum (probabilistic) causality, events unfold in sequence. Cause creates effect but effect has zero influence on cause. But intelligent human beings clearly learn from consequences and can alter conditions to modify, prevent or avoid future instances of the same cause. By stepping in with our knowledge of the cause and preparing for its consequence(s), we alter the effect or avoid it completely. Thus intelligence give us a very real temporal advantage over causality. We alter the way causality unfolds.

Now, you could claim that our ability to learn from causality and alter future cause and effect is itself predetermined. But then you get into an infinite regress in which every little event -- even our thoughts and actions -- were set in stone at the moment of the Big Bang. That's ridiculous. You might as well say God did it. That's the mindset of Luke Skywalker.

May the force be with you.

Support Atheist Nexus

Donate Today

Donate

 

Help Nexus When You Buy From Amazon

Amazon

 

© 2014   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: Richard Haynes.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service