Sunday, October 31, 2010


Lot's to respond to here. First, I apologize for any too cranky remarks I may have sent Paul Harrison's way. The only thing that got my dander up (the only thing) is that someone named Beth Love entered the site and introduced two topics—hierarchies and where are the women. Dominance hierarchies seemed very much a part of the free will discussion. Then, when Ms. Love positions were debated, she withdrew, and, next, I hear from Paul that it was my continuing interest in free will that is driving people off the site. Since I'm only interested at this time in those issues and most of my free time reading revolves around neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, I felt that I was being asked to quit participating because one angry and cranky woman complained. Paul, I didn't know that numbers are falling and that you are trying to decide why, but, truly, do you think one discussion thread or two can be blamed for falling numbers? Paul, I can find no movement in the history of humankind where schisms haven't occurred. The more intelligent and forceful (argumentative?) the participants, the more likely that differences will appear.

Thom wrote: I just had that déja vue feeling that we are engaged in little more here than that age old freshman psychology debate about "nature vs. nurture".

Thom, when you say that, I see that you don't approach the topic quite as I do. Our genetic structure lays down a whole host of potential neural pathways. Every experience then strikes lines of meaning (i.e. synaptic connections) across those neurons. Unused neurons begin to die off as experience grooves the most used pathways. All through life, nurture alters the neural pathways. Thus the influences of experience upon neural structures and their genetic proclivities both work by first establishing and next altering the neural architecture of the neural pathways. Thus it is both our genes and our experiences that form the electrochemical substrate of each continuing decision. Since both nature and nurture form the basis for each following decision (a decision is an electrochemical action) and then the results of that decision are electrochemically folded into the next decision (in an unbroken chain), I can't see where my brain can claim free will except in the most ruminative way. Imagination can alter the electrochemical settings. Because our brains do imagine future and past situations, they also experience the sensation of having free will even though the human brain is as bound up by genes and experience as a steer waiting to be branded. Even visions and reflections that arise into consciousness are predetermined by preceding electrochemical states.

Interestingly, Thom, believe it our not, I think something Frost wrote years ago about writing and which has stuck with me ever since may be one of the electrochemical settings that became part of my brain's current electrochemical arrangement when it comes to decisions. He wrote that experience is like throwing large stones into a marshy field so that one may, in future, strike lines of meaning across those stones and travel across. That image of the creative process has always seemed to be most accurate. Did I already mention that elsewhere? Old age plays tricks on me.

Walter replied to Ron asking: "Can we define a term which unites the idea of useful fiction and real phenomena?" by writing "I think perhaps the phrase would be "emergent properties."

Walter and Ron, when I read your discussions of "emergent properties", I guess my paragraph above is already accepted and I'm tonguing a loose tooth to feel the pain. Does this mean that you think that free will will emerge fully in time or will it remain an emergent property that can never be fully grasped or realized? If I continue to do tongue my loose tooth, it's because I'm still trying to get the exact description of free will that satisfies me because all around me every day, I talk with people who can't imagine the complexity of their own bound situations in the real world. With humility and because of having spent most of my working life in machine shops, factories and shipyards, I say that sometimes I imagine that I stand on a hill observing the comings and goings of people in a valley who don't have the view I have, and that makes me feel lonely. Thus, to be anywhere where people are at least discussing from the same viewpoint is refreshing. Of course, my imagination also tells me that I'm most likely standing on a foothill and that just behind me, out of sight, are people standing on the mountain who see not only the people in the valley, but me too, with my limited perspective. Not only that, my imagination informs me that down in that valley are others who also imagine that they stand on foothills or mountains from whose preeminence they also look down on me and others. My very best friend in the world says (as did Jacob Bronowski) that imagination is the most important human faculty in the world. He's a creative genius and, in this day and age, pursues a lonely path of self-publishing. The academic world of writers and the commercial writers of hack fiction and poetry and my pal's imaginative world are at odds with one another, and his view is not particularly cherished at the moment. His view remains personal and limited. He doesn't claim to know anything much beyond his own experience of the world. His name is Geoff Peterson and you can find his work on Amazon. His work is highly personalized and very imaginative.

Two more items.

1) I'm still waiting for the remaining free will advocates to show me how a grizzly's seasonal trips to the salmon run are not exercises of free will, given their definition of the phenomenon.

And 2) Thomas wrote: To a physicist trained in reductionism and statistics, the best tests of free will are either-or propositions. Even an individual electron is free to decide which slit it will go through (or both?) in Young's double slit experiment, yet a barrage of those electrons falls into a predictable interference pattern on the other side.

That idea has come up several times in these discussions and something always troubles me about it. Let me see if I can say what that is. It has something to do with perspective. Maybe our perspective is skewed by whether we base our conclusions on observing physical phenomena like the laws of physics at work or physical phenomena like organic brains at work. We assume that discoverable laws are at work behind the phenomena of the physical universe, but when it comes to observed human phenomena, we seem to assume something quite different is at work, and we assume that we will never be able to conclude what drives human behavior, therefore, human behavior, being unpredictable, is free behavior. I can't for the life of me come to that conclusion.

Further, the tester is an observer outside of the situation or entity she is observing. At the moment any decision separate from the observer becomes observable to the observer, the act of decision has already activated the phenomena the observer is testing. Just because the observer can't predict or tell whether the decision is a free act or a determined act does not define that act as a free act. It just tells us the tester needs more information. This is perhaps why Paul would conclude that our discussion is already beyond solution. And perhaps it is beyond our testing, but I say it is a matter of such importance, it's almost as important as was the conclusion that the Earth is round and that Earthpeople are not the center of the Universe. Just how much would human psychology change if humans could see themselves as less guilty and more determined? Would not forgiveness and compassion result from such an observation, fully realized in the human psyche?

Also when one observes a natural event in the world of physics, for example, the observer already assumes that the outcome is determined by preexisting laws which she is trying to discover. However, when observing human behavior, we seem to already assume that there is free will involved in human actions. If we unconsciously assume that humans do or don't have free will before we observe a human being being human, how does that affect our observation? I think we must hypothesize at the outset, by all evidence in the natural world, that humans are not free and then set up our tests to prove that conclusion. I believe all assumptions and discussions before evolutionary psych and modern neuroscience came into existence were biased by the idea that humans possess free will and are responsible individuals.

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