Let's get this week's discussion started:
Why do people like Will Provine say that if Naturalism is true, that means we can't have free will? Why can't free will be just something that emerges out of the brain?
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1 year ago
Here's my attempt at answering this:
If Naturalism is true, that means that everything must be explained as a physical/scientific phenomenon. There is nothing immaterial, such as thoughts or desires or emotions. Instead, these things must be explained as natural processes--chemicals in the brain reacting a certain way in order to give us feelings or thoughts. All the thoughts and feelings we've ever had (and will ever have) are the result of a series of chemical reactions that was determined at the moment of the Big Bang. They are predetermined because chemical or physical reactions all must follow the laws of nature, which don't change and follow a fixed pattern of inputs and outputs. Therefore, we can't have free will, because all of our thoughts/desires (aka the chemical reactions that represent these thoughts/desires) have already been predetermined since the beginning of time. Free will can't just "emerge" from the brain, because the brain and its activity all have to be explained as a result of natural forces, which are already determined in Naturalism.
Hope that's clear...
You say that free will can't exist in a naturalistic world because there's nothing immaterial.. Well, what if free will to the brain is like wetness to the H2O molecules? The individual water molecules don't possess a property called "wetness". The individual water molecules are not wet. But when a bunch of them come together, they possess a property called "wetness". Suddenly, we have this new property that emerges which are not possessed by any of the individual parts. Why can't free will be something like that?
Also, maybe the world is not so deterministic like that. Quantum mechanics seems to show that things are not deterministic.
I think Allen's answer was accurate in describing how we wouldn't have free will in the case of simple brain properties, but emergent properties are a little harder to argue. To do this, I think we really have to know what we mean when we speak of having 'free will'. I think an accurate definition would be that, in two identical situations, a person would act the same way all the time. So far that adds nothing to the definition beyond what we have, but I would add a point about it: If we had the technology to observe everything inside a person's brain, then we could predict 100% of the time their actions and thoughts(on a model of no free will). With this working distinction between having free will and not having it, I think it becomes easier to argue the point. If two people had the same brain properties(that is, all the chemical 'variables' being equal), then why wouldn't the emergent properties also be equal? Wouldn't the same set of water molecules form wetness the same way if they are in the same arrangement? On top of that, is it implied that we can't directly measure emergent properties? Can't we measure wetness, even if on a single molecule it doesn't seem to exist?
I think altogether this points out how, even if you put an 'emergent properties' barrier between the chemistry and our choices, Naturalism won't give you free will.
Well, under Materialism, what you understand to be "you" is just a system of chemical reactions. So just like we can't say that chemical reactions, like say a bonfire, has free will, we can't say that people have free will. "Free will" cannot exist in the sense that we understand it to be - that we CHOOSE to act a certain way - but more of an illusion; like fire moving whichever way, people would do things out of compulsion by other factors such as neurochemistry, past experiences, external stimuli, etc. What seems like "free will" is just an illusion.
The property of emergence doesn't quite give us free will. For the wetness of water, the emergent property would be wetness, and the medium is water. These are both physical things, as the atoms that make them up are physical. But free will is not really a physical phenomena, but mental. When you start talking about free will in a purely physical sense, you won't have the vocabulary required to even describe it. When you exclude the existence of minds from your worldview, you also exclude the properties of minds, including free will. So when we say that someone has free will, there must exist an entity by which that free will can be expressed. But then if the person is simply matter, then what exactly has free will? Your brain is the unified entity with free will? But free will implies nondeterminism, and this is only possible in the brain with the quantum randomness.
But you can't really say free will comes from quantum randomness under a materialistic worldview. I've heard an interesting argument theorizing how God acts through quantum randomness - I don't know how much sense that makes - but under materialism, with God out of the picture, it definitely does not give us free will. Quantum randomness, under materialism, cannot be said to cause free will in the same sense that tossing a coin cannot mean that the coin has free will to choose between heads or tails. Quantum randomness, after all, is randomness. And I think that's a necessary cop-out for the limits of human understanding of the quantum world. These people say that they can't anticipate what quantum particles would do, so they say that's where the illusion of free will comes from. If these particles would behave right, the universe would be deterministic, just like how Laplace said it would. Instead of a mind or a soul, they put quantum randomness in the black box as the cause of "free will." "You" don't control your actions, quantum randomness does, therefore you can't be said to have any power in what you do, therefore you don't have free will. So under materialism, not even emergence and quantum randomness would be able to give us free will, at least, not in the sense we understand as "free will".
I think Allen did well explaining why free will cannot exist in naturalistic world view. If we are just composed of chemicals and function by chemical reaction, then how can person make conscious decision when everything can be explained by chemical reason? Chemical reactions can explain how the action was done, but it is not sufficient to explain why the person did what he/she did.
I agree with Dan's explanation. Yes, it may be the case that free will can be emerge in brain like how wetness property emerges from H2O molecules. But that is the characteristic of H2O molecules in that those molecules will always have the property of wetness. I don't know if the same logic can follow in the case of brain and free will. Human brains are made up same materials, then that would mean that we should have same set of free will and act similar in any given situations. But clearly we see that that is not the case in our society. I guess we could argue that it is hormones that bring about the difference in how we respond differently in different situations. Then this would mean that food that we eat (or hormonal disorders) can change our behavior. Then how much free will do we really have if we can be controlled by chemicals? (Although, this brings me to another question about free will and sin. Is a person suffering from genetic disorder which causes them to have hormonal imbalance which leads to irrational behavior, are they still guilty?)
Also, I don't know if I agree with Dan's definition of free will. I am little confused by the definition. I thought that free will mean that the person has the freedom to choose by his/her own rational reasoning.
What if a Naturalist says:
It's not true that H2O molecules will always have the property of wetness. When there's just a handful of them, then they won't be wet. When they are in gas or solid form, they are not wet. Likewise, the molecules that make up the brain do not possess the property of "consciousness", but when put together, they possess that property.
Also, I'm not sure what your position is regarding free will and chemicals. I am reading two contradictory positions being expressed in the previous comment. Do you see it? Also, a Naturalist would object to the comment above and say that she's begging the question. Do others see it? What would Will Provine say?
On Dan's comment, though you could imagine two completely identical brains coming up with two completely different outcomes, people would argue that quantum mechanics and the non-deterministic nature of that could explain that kind of stance.
Appealing purely to the naturalist view, there still would be no explaination of free will. To say that free will, consciousness, etc is an emergent property of neuron activity, electrical firings, and in the end essentially physics and quantum mechanics would work IF all of these were still essentially one and the same.
Free Will = Collection of Neuronal Activity = Forces of Physics = Quantum Mechanics
If the physical is all there is and by laws of conservation, it isn't possible that something (free will) can be more than the underlying forces. Though quantum mechanics itself is not deterministic, it is still not a personal force as most people would define free will as. Free will would only be a by-product, a sort of illusion creates by quantum mechanics (or whatever the next smallest unit of force we discover). In the end all the underlying forces, if that is all that there is, can be the only thing that affects it.
Some thoughts on this: something like consciousness and free will isn't something that's reduceable. It's impossible to have half a free-will, or even being half-aware. It suggests something that there is something more than just the physical.
if I may bring in what we heard in the Truth Project from Dr Tackett in week 2, the problem with naturalism is that it is based on everything within the 'cosmic cube' of human creation. thus, similar to the philosophy of secular humanism, it neglects that there can ever been external influence because it presupposes that there IS no other entity. This mindset is: human creation ('the cosmos') is all that is, was, and ever will be.
My assertion is that free will is just a human creation anyway, and is never truly 'free' because it's still within the context of the cosmic cube.
This shows a disconnect between the Ontological view and the Epistemological view on life. Naturalists ascribe completely to what they can see, touch, feel, observe, and derive epistemological believe in it, however when it comes to the issue of free will, this formula falls apart.
I agree with Allen that naturalist can't explain free will since they believe everything can be answered by physical means. Since our consciousness,our subjective experiences and thoughts cannot be explained, they basically say it can be answered in the future once we understand the brain better. Yet evidence for how our brain works will not yield the answer for where conscious lies, since they negate a concept of self, a soul the only place left to look is the brain and that is where they will keep exhausting research.
Naturalism doesn't hold up if we carry it forward. When we basically say we are just our brain and a bunch of chemicals and reactions its a pretty bleak worldview. I disagree with the last part of the Time article how it said that morality has a better basis if we believe that consciousness resides biologically in the brain.
Albert, can you explain what you mean when you said, "My assertion is that free will is just a human creation anyway, and is never truly 'free' because it's still within the context of the cosmic cube"? I don't understand what you mean.
In response to Daniel's latest statement about the properties of H20, although it's true that H20 molecules will not always have the property of wetness, isn't it true that in order to produce wetness the H20 molecules do still have to be arranged in particular fundamental arrangements/interactions with each other? So, if we relate that to a naturalistic view of free will, each particular set of chemical reactions would produce a certain action/feeling/thought, and this would negate the ability of a mind to make a choice of free will as we define it. I hope that makes sense..
jenny, what i really mean is that if everything in the world is willfully created by humans, there is no true 'free' will because there is no sense of transcendence. kind of off topic. sorry.
I don't understand the logic behind the above statement. It seems to be a contradiction. If I willfully created something, then wouldn't that actually prove that I have free will?
One problem that a naturalist runs into in describing worldview is a problem of discretion, or even just restraint. If chemicals produce a certain response but its not harmful for us, wouldn't that have been naturally selected out? Why then do we feel like we want to do something, but restrain ourselves from doing it.
Re: Robert’s comments “ If chemicals produce a certain response but its not harmful for us, wouldn't that have been naturally selected out?”
I’m not sure I quite understand. If something is not harmful to a species reproductive success, then according to natural selection, there would be no reason for it to be selected against.
I think having a feeling of restraint is a non factor in arguing for free will. We could have the "feeling" of restraint whether or not we have free will. Either we really do restrain ourselves (free will) or the chemicals in our brain moved in the predictable manner than gave the feeling of restraint (non-free will)
Going back to Ellen's comment, I would play the Naturalist here..
>>"Human brains are made up same materials, then that would mean that we should have same set of free will and act similar in any given situations. But clearly we see that that is not the case in our society."
Of course not, because we have different inputs, different genes and different chance events and mutations happening to us. But if your genes are exactly the same, and you have the same exact stuff that happened to you in the same exact time, then you would be the same, or at least very similar. And this is what you see in identical twins situations. Many identical twins report that they are very similar in personality and reactions. The differences between the two could be explained by the different inputs that they received.
>>I guess we could argue that it is hormones that bring about the difference in how we respond differently in different situations. Then this would mean that food that we eat (or hormonal disorders) can change our behavior. Then how much free will do we really have if we can be controlled by chemicals?
Bertrand Russell would say that of course your behavior is changed by the food you eat! You try eating McDonald's for 1 month and see if you're cheerful at the end. You drink alcohol, and I can guarantee you that you will behave in a different way. I can even predict how a particular chemical will affect your personality.
BTW, keep it up, class. This kind of back-and-forth is what it takes to really think thoroughly through an issue.
I think that I would have tried to articulate exactly what Allen said in the first comment of this post.
With regards to Daniel's follow-up comment regarding free will as a "property," it seems that we need to first define what we mean by "free will." What do you mean by free will that would have you liken it to "wetness in h2o?"
Allen brings out the issue of predetermination seemingly being inevitable b/c of the static-ness of natural laws. Can someone address that?
On another note, Daniel's follow-up comment also brings in quantum mechanics. I don't really know anything about quantum mechanics, what might be a good way to respond?
>> What do you mean by free will that would have you liken it to "wetness in h2o?"
Naturalist answer: I mean by free will that it's a mysterious property that arises out of the brain. The brain is made up of chemicals and molecules like everything else. Each of those molecules do not possess free will. But when put together in a wonderfully complex configuration of the brain, free will emerges. Just like how each of the H2O molecules individually do not possess the property of "wetness", but when put together in liquid form, the property of wetness suddenly emerges... a property that is not had by any of its individual parts. Does that make sense?
BTW, Jenny Zhao's reply to my comment about free will as an emergent property is actually within the ballpark, but how it's currently phrased now is kind of confusing. Anyone care to try to think through it and try to rephrase it better?
a rephrase of Jenny's comment: free will cannot be analogized with water droplets that come together to form a new property (wetness), because free will by itself cannot be deduced into individual naturalistic components.
If we had to dissect and name the components of free will, we would instead be left at the most basic level with "thoughts/feelings/beliefs". If the brain is simply a bag of molecules, Naturalism is still unable to explain the origins of where these came from.
Ok - I think I'm thoroughly confused...
When H2O molecules come together to create the emergent property of wetness, they need to come together in a very specific, pre-determined way in order to do so. Similarly, the brain's chemicals and pieces work together in specific ways in order to create the different subjective feelings/thoughts/perceptions that we have. If that is so, then the physiology of our brain determines our decisions and our thoughts. It would follow, then, that our idea of our "free will" is only an illusion because the origin of causation lies in the physical, neurological functions of our brain - which is out of our control.
So even if the naturalist is able to link the immaterial and material by defining free will as an emergent property of the compilation of our brain neurons, it is only an illusion of "free will".
But according to the article on "Thinking about Thinking," it seems to say that the origin of cause for our consciousness cannot be our neural computations. Because we have the ability to actively and willfully change the physiological make-up of our brain, then there must be an agent outside of this neurological determinism - evidence for free will.
Adding to Jessica, so if all that stuff happens to come together in a particular way, someone ends up “making a certain choice”.
This is truly a bleak picture. If we play this out, I think people like Will Provine would have to admit that they don’t really believe that free will doesn’t exist. Responding to Daniel’s naturalistic explanation for ppl’s behavior (genes, environment etc): So if everything is predetermined by the coming together of “physical stuff”, then morality or right and wrong simply doesn’t exist. Physical stuff is just there. If we are controlled by physical stuff then we cannot make any choices and we are absolved from taking responsibility for any of our choices or actions. If someone takes the life of your child you really cannot blame the person because hey.. if the same physical set of conditions came together in your life, you would have done exactly the same thing. This kind of worldview undercuts the fundamental idea that right and wrong, should and should not exists that bring about the law and order in society so that all of us (including Will Provine) can walk safely on the streets or sleep soundly in his bed without fear of randomly being run over by a car or murdered.
I guess I wasn’t really answering the question…?
I think Jessica's explanation of why free will cannot exist even as an emergent property really hits the nail on the head.
And her confusion about what the TIMES article is saying is actually a real confusion.. the author is confused, and mixing terms, and ends up contradicting everything that was written so far. But without critical eyes, this kind of blatant contradiction would simply be missed, and people walk away from that article saying, "wow, I guess it's true that consciousness is nothing more than brain activity..."
For Jacqueline, I understand what you're getting at, and I think you're right in that if we don't have free will, we don't have right and wrong either... But I'm not sure if you're trying to make a case for the existence of free will by appealing to right and wrong.. That's not a good strategy, because the very people who deny free will also deny absolute morality. So they would say, "of course... that's my point. Free will doesn't exist, and neither does right and wrong."
If you are simply outlining the natural consequence of Naturalism, then that's fine. But from what you wrote, it seems like you're trying to convince people that free will must exist, because otherwise, there's no right and wrong. But Naturalists (and even non-Naturalists) disbelieve in objective morality.. so you seem to be trying to make a case by appealing to a weaker case.
>> This kind of worldview undercuts the fundamental idea that right and wrong, should and should not exists that bring about the law and order in society so that all of us (including Will Provine) can walk safely on the streets or sleep soundly in his bed without fear of randomly being run over by a car or murdered.
Be careful about appealing to apocalyptic scenarios or chaos. Someone can easily reply that that's exactly why people do get run over by a car or murdered. Or someone could say that you're just trying to scare me into believing in something, just because I happen to not like the ramifications. So if believing in a scary God who punishes everyone for doing something wrong brings about peace in our society, does that make it true?
Not really adding much to what Jessica's already said, but when reading the second half of the TIME article, I thought for a while the author was taking on the opposing argument--that there is evidence for free will, by explaining that we are able to control the physiology of our minds.
I would also argue that it's illogical to say that our thoughts emerge from uncontrolled chemicals when we are able to think about these chemicals and the system in which they are a part. Does it makes sense that the product of the system (ourselves or our consciousness) is aware of the system that brought it about?
I agree with Jenn and Jessica, even if we can put in stimuli in the brain that alter thoughts and emotions of a person, the cause, the stimuli still remains unknown, we still cannot say that free will comes from the brain, it comes from the stimuli. And this stimuli that comes from the external, is what we say that is beyond just the brain.
I'll try to propose another approach at why free will cannot just be something that emerges from the brain. We can define "free will" as an individual making their own choices. And if according to naturalistic belief that matter is all there is, that everything came into being by accidental bumping of molecules, that somehow, all these accidental bumps resulted in the current being, then there cannot be a free will possible beyond this randomness. We cannot choose what we want if everything just came about randomly, no one can control what is random.
Rather than free will "emerging" from all of these different properties of the brain, it seems to be that free will, as Jessica explained, is above even these neurological components. So can we say then from a Christian perspective, that it is neurological activity of the brain (such as been able to willfully change the makeup of our brain) which emerges from free will, and not the other way around?
I'm going to make a comment with the risk of repeating other people's argument.
I see Wynn's point on the Quantum randomness, how randomness is not necessarily anything we have control over.
Also, excluding the randomness, if we see the world as a bunch of actions and reactions and if there was nothing else in the world besides what acted and was acted upon, then it's a natural consequence that our mind is also acted upon in this way. It just happens to be that it is acted upon in such a way where it seems like there is emergent properties such as free will. It's as if we look at a programmed system (say some kind of computer), and say it has some kind of intelligence. It certainly seems like it does, but it is only so because the underlining structure is often times too opaque for us to see.
Wish I could have spent some quality time on this subject.
How do you feel about the Naturalist concept that human personality, thought, and emotion are chemical and electrical reactions?
can some one give me their thoughts on this.How do you feel about the Naturalist concept that human personality, thought, and emotion are chemical and electrical reactions?
The problem with the Naturalists' understanding of human personality as being nothing more than electrical impulses in the brain is actually discussed above..
The summary is:
1) It does not make sense for us to equate our consciousness as merely electrical impulses, because electrical impulses are electrical impulses.. and there must be something else that sits on top of those impulses to actually "interpret" those impulses as conscious experiences. Therefore the naturalists' attempt to equate electrical impulses with conscious experiences is a metaphysical fallacy. I refer you to a thought experiment called Mary's Room to explain this fundamental difference. The thought experiment, I think, exposes the fallacy in reducing our conscious experiences to mere electrical impulses.
2) But I think the greater problem with the naturalists' conception of the mind is this: if the mind is nothing more than electrical impulses, then it necessarily means that free will is an illusion (which is the hardest thing to believe, because it really really feels like I'm sitting here deciding to read this), that there is no such thing as a persistent self (which is another ridiculous thing to claim), and it actually makes us completely lose confidence in our rationality, since our brain simply comes up with rational conclusions because it's following the laws of physics.
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