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Compatibilism: What's that About?

Marvin Edwards

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What degree of reliability are we talking about to get "reliable"?
We know that classical physics provided a really good approximation to reality, to the point it allowed people to go to the Moon. Yet, a claim that classical physics provides a true depiction of reality (no qualifications) would be false.

I believe there are three distinct classes of causal mechanisms that correspond to three levels of organization: physical (inanimate objects respond passively to physical forces), biological (living organisms, biologically driven to survive, thrive, and reproduce), and rational (intelligent species making deliberate choices by reason or calculation). Quantum events are most likely happening at a fourth level of organization, with quarks operating by a fourth set of rules.

To get a world of perfectly reliable cause and effect, we would have to presume that each of these causal mechanisms is perfectly reliable within its own domain. Then we could further presume that every event is reliably caused by some specific combination of physical, biological, and rational causation.

Physics does not get us to the Moon. But an intelligent species imagining that possibility, as a way of increasing the likelihood of biological survival, is able to use its knowledge of physics to make sure the rocket and the Moon show up at the same place at the same time.

So, I agree with you that physics is not sufficient to explain how all real world events come about.

Is the behavior of the coin deterministic?

Yes. I am assuming that deterministic means that how it will land is reliably caused by physical events that make the result theoretically 100% predictable, even though we don't usually have the ability to make that prediction in practice.

That said, I do believe the problems we deal with are generally problems of knowledge, not of causation.

Right. But the question is whether it is reasonable to assume a world of perfectly reliable cause and effect, where each event is reliably caused by preceding events.

Indeed, assigning (close to) 1/2 to the hypothesis that an ordinary coin will land heads is rational, but so is the (almost) 1/2 prediction that it already landed heads, if we know it landed already. So, in this case, our focus seems clearly on knowledge. Nevertheless, this does not tell us that the coin is deterministic, or that the universe is. Maybe it is. Maybe it is not.

I'm working under the assumption that the real world operates with perfectly reliable cause and effect. There is a second question as to whether this assumption has any meaningful implications for any human scenarios.

So, the post pushes us to the opposite extreme, where cause and effect is perfectly unreliable, just to consider what that might look like.

But if it is not, it seems to me that the sort of indeterminism that there is, is not the sort of indeterminism that threatens or ability to act of our own free will. It might at most reduce it a little bit in some odd circumstances, but generally we can act of our own free will regardless of whether determinism happens to be true. Furthermore, some forms of indeterminism - if real - would not reduce the aformention ability at all.

My position is that freedom requires the ability to reliably cause effects. If I cannot reliably cause any effects, then I have no freedom to do anything at all.

To the degree that the outcome of my actions is unreliable, I would necessarily lose some ability to accomplish what I chose to do. So, my freedom goes up as the reliability of causation goes up, and my freedom goes down as reliability of causation goes down. And this is the reason that causal indeterminism does not improve our freedom.

Well, in any case from the little I know there are some difficulties with that, no matter how big the collider. But that's a side issue. I do not have the belief that the world is not deterministic. I do not have the belief that it is deterministic, either. But my objection is to the claim that indeterminism would have the consequences that you say it would have. Granted, some forms of indeterminism would do that. But others wouldn't.

I believe that as long as determinism is limited to asserting that we live in a world of perfectly reliable cause and effect, there should be no problem. It is only when determinism is claimed to strip us of freedom and control, of free will and responsibility, that people find the notion of determinism repulsive, and feel a need to invoke indeterminism to counter those false implications.


Marvin Edwards said:
I don't see how it is possible to deterministically produce a causally indeterministic number. We can easily produce a number that someone else cannot guess (determine as in "to know"). But I don't think it is possible to deterministically cause a causally indeterministic number. The means by which the number is produced makes it predictable in theory, if not in practice.

You just need a rule in the universe that is something like (If B obtains, then the output is a number between 1 and 10), and no rule that fixes which number it is. I'm not suggesting that this is how our universe works. Rather, it's an example to show that some forms of indeterminism would not threaten our ability to act of our own accord.

But, if nothing fixes which number it is, then either nothing will be output, or all numbers will.
 

Marvin Edwards

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Carl Hoefer one of the more influential authors of the Stanford Encyclopedia chapter on Determinism wrote the following Causality and Determinism:Tension, or Outright Conflict?: https://revistas.ucm.es/index.php/RESF/article/download/RESF0404220099A/9609

Then there's Determinism_without_causality https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235357679_

Abstract Causality has been often confused with the notion of determinism. It is mandatory to separate the two notions in view of the debate about quantum foundations. Quantum theory provides an example of causal not-deterministic theory. Here we introduce a toy operational theory that is deterministic and non-causal, thus proving that the two notions of causality and determinism are totally independent.

I suggest you read these before you go forward with your windmill constructions.

In other words your premise is pure fiction, has nothing to do with determinism and further removes from possibility of any issue about compatibility.

Oh the chaos we raise when our hands begin to wave.
Read then revise, or better, abandon.

Second point be sure to have the following available to you was you read>

Determinism: The world is governed by (or is under the sway of) determinism if and only if, given a specified way things are at a time t, the way things go thereafter is fixed as a matter of natural law.

Also: Determinism and natural law work forward and backward so how do you get backward causation.

Oh the chaos we raise when our hands we begin to wave.

I've read Hoffer's original article on Causal Determinism in the SEP, and I did a critical analysis of it here:
https://marvinedwards.me/2017/08/19/determinism-whats-wrong-and-how-to-fix-it/

But I have not read articles separating determinism from universal causal necessity. I tried to read Hoffer's other essay on separating the two, but found it too difficult to follow, and gave up on it.

On the other hand, the notion of determinism has accumulated so many false implications that it might be useful to totally drop the word, and start clean again, with the notion of causal necessity. But, since that is the underlying foundation of the notion of determinism for most philosophers (thus Carl's regrets about having to attach "causal" to the title of his SEP article), that it seems to be best to attack the false implications where they already exist.

I'm certainly open to hearing your views (or Carl's for that matter, if I could understand them) about the distinction between determinism and causation.
 

Bomb#20

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Determinism: The world is governed by (or is under the sway of) determinism if and only if, given a specified way things are at a time t, the way things go thereafter is fixed as a matter of natural law.

Also: Determinism and natural law work forward and backward so how do you get backward causation.
There's nothing in your definition of determinism that requires it to work backward. Just because given a specified way things are at a time t, the way things go thereafter is fixed as a matter of natural law, that doesn't imply that given a specified way things are at a time t, the way things went before is fixed as a matter of natural law. Consider the rules of Conway's Life, for example. It's deterministic going forward but not going backwards -- it's trivial to come up with two different patterns at time T that have the same successor pattern at time T+1.
 

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Am I missing some subtlety in your presentation, or are you claiming to have demonstrated the existence of "hidden variables" underlying quantum mechanics, by philosophizing from your armchair?

I don't know anything about about quantum mechanics. I'm simply demonstrating the problem with indeterminism.
But you haven't demonstrated that there's a problem with it; and not knowing anything about quantum mechanics is a bad idea if you want to philosophize about determinism. It's like Aristotle philosophizing about motion without knowing anything about force, mass and acceleration: he deduced erroneous conclusions about an unmoved mover. You need to learn enough about QM to stop taking 19th-century physics concepts for granted.

The hard determinists present reliable causation (causal necessity) as a boogeyman that robs us of our freedom and control of our destiny. This sends the theist running to the supernatural and the atheist running to quantum indeterminism. I'm demonstrating why indeterminism is not a source of freedom.
It certainly isn't; but it's not indeterminism's fault that Christianity trained western culture to equate determinism with lack of freedom. 1920's physicists didn't adopt nondeterminism because they were running to it in search of freedom. They adopted it because they were a bunch of hard-core classical Newtonian physicists committed to determinism, who had been raised steeped in 19th-century assumptions, but they were dragged kicking and screaming to non-determinism by the outcomes of their experiments.
 

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And yet, since it was a new restaurant, I had to consciously open and read the menu before my unconscious mind could perform its calculation and report the choice back to my conscious awareness. Otherwise, how could the unconscious functions have the information required to make the choice.

That's not how it works. The brain must first acquire information before it is processed and presented in conscious form. Conscious experience must necessarily follow acquisition and processing of information. What you experience has already been decided by prior processing;

Decision making
''Decision-making is such a seamless brain process that we’re usually unaware of it — until our choice results in unexpected consequences. Then we may look back and wonder, “Why did I choose that option?” In recent years, neuroscientists have begun to decode the decision-making process. What they’re learning is shedding light not only on how the healthy brain performs complex mental functions, but also on how disorders, such as stroke or drug abuse, affect the process.''

''Recent findings: Voluntary, willed behaviours preferentially implicate specific regions of the frontal cortex in humans. Recent studies have demonstrated constraints on cognition, which manifest as variation in frontal lobe function and emergent behaviour (specifically intrinsic genetic and cognitive limitations, supervening psychological and neurochemical disturbances), and temporal constraints on subjective awareness and reporting. Although healthy persons generally experience themselves as 'free' and the originators of their actions, electroencephalographic data continue to suggest that 'freedom' is exercised before awareness.

It makes no difference if "'freedom' is exercised before awareness" as noted in your excerpt from the abstract. If the choice is made unconsciously, and then presented to awareness as a dinner already cooked, then the choosing is still being performed by that same brain. And the only explanation we have for the choice is how it is described by the conscious experience of events, the part of the brain that Michael Gazzaniga calls the "interpreter", the part that explains our behavior to ourselves and others.

So, if deciding what we will do, while free of coercion and undue influence, is happening consciously or unconsciously, it makes no difference. Free will is not freedom from one's own brain. That's an impossible freedom. Free will is a question of whether the decision making performed by that brain is free of coercion and undue influence.

As the abstract notes, neuroscience is studying how volition works. Volition is will. Will is chosen. Hopefully, neuroscience will continue to increase our understanding of how the brain performs this function. But explaining how something works does not "explain it away", it simply explains how it works.

The notion of "free will" references both internal (mental health) and external (coercion) influences upon our process of choosing what we will do. The neuroscientist provides information to the psychiatrist as to any physical causes behind a mental illness. The psychiatrist addresses mental illness due to both physical and psychological factors.

In any case, free will remains what it has always been, choosing what we will do when free of coercion and undue influence.


But within a deterministic system there is no actual ''freedom is exercised before awareness'' either. Some use that figure of speech to convey the meaning that the results are determined before awareness, that it is not consciousness itself that processes information and produces response.

Freedom simply means the attributes and abilities of a brain to perform its function according to architecture, inputs and memory.

The same freedom that a planet orbits a star, water cascades down a gorge, the same freedom that trees grow and birds fly.... abilities that have nothing to do with 'will' or 'free will.'


For compatibilism to select behaviour that is uncoerced, unforced, and call this an example of 'free will' fails for that reason.

The only true freedom within a determined system would be the possibility to have done otherwise within any moment in time. But of course determinism does no allow multiple selections at any moment in time, and this essentially kills the possibility of free will.

Feelings can be deceptive. We simply have ''will.''

Will is not free.
 

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Not always, and especially not when it comes to brain function.


Feelings of free will;
''When it comes to the human brain, even the simplest of acts can be counter-intuitive and deceptively complicated. For example, try stretching your arm. Nerves in the limb send messages back to your brain, but the subjective experience you have of stretching isn't due to these signals. The feeling that you willed your arm into motion, and the realisation that you moved it at all, are both the result of an area at the back of your brain called the posterior parietal cortex. This region helped to produce the intention to move, and predicted what the movement would feel like, all before you twitched a single muscle.

Michel Desmurget and a team of French neuroscientists arrived at this conclusion by stimulating the brains of seven people with electrodes, while they underwent brain surgery under local anaesthetic. When Desmurget stimulated the parietal cortex, the patients felt a strong desire to move their arms, hands, feet or lips, although they never actually did. Stronger currents cast a powerful illusion, convincing the patients that they had actually moved, even though recordings of electrical activity in their muscles said otherwise.''



For the reasons given above, we have the perception of conscious regulative control. The perception of conscious regulative control, as shown in the given examples is an illusion formed by a disconnect (absence of a feedback loop) between the means of experience and the experience itself, which lacks awareness of the underlying production activity.

Of course, once the drive and desire to act is formed, there is no impediment to action;

''Wanting to do X is fully determined by these prior causes (and perhaps a dash of true chance). Now that the desire to do X is being felt, there are no other constraints that keep the person from doing what he wants, namely X.

I would suggest that Michel Desmurget is simply overstating his case. Explaining how something works does not explain it away, it only explains how it works. The fact that certain areas of the brain function to provide a given experience is not a surprise. The key fact here is that the experience explains the behavior: I was told to stretch out my arm. I decided to actually do that. And then I did that. There is nothing inaccurate about my description of what happened. Desmurget provided additional facts about what parts of the brain were involved in doing what. But none of these facts contradict the objective observation that "I was told to stretch out my arm. I decided to actually do that. And then I did that."

The second paragraph describes the experiment where Desmurget's team manipulated a patient's brain to produce the feeling that he had performed some movement that he did not actually do. Whenever a person is effectively manipulated they are not acting of their own free will. Their own free will would involve their posterior parietal cortex being altered only by their own brain as part of its normal process of deciding what it will do.

The experiment did nothing to falsify the objective observation that "I was told to stretch out my arm. I decided to actually do that. And then I did that." It was my own brain that exercised regulatory control of the movement of my arm.

Now if someone else's brain, say the brain of Desmurget, was experimenting upon me to see what manipulating my posterior parietal cortex would do, and he made my arm move, such that it punched someone in the face, then he would be responsible for that act, and not me.

But if my own brain decided to stretch out my arm and punch someone in the face, then I would be held responsible. Because I did so deliberately, of my own free will.


I would suggest that Desmurget is not overstating his case. I would point out that he is describing his experiments on the human brain and their results.

He is not the only one. The evidence coming out of neuroscience supports everything that has been said: basically, that the brain is a modular system which acquires and processes information and generates output based on architecture, condition, inputs and memory, a failure in any of these elements disrupting or destroying consciousness.

Will has no say in the matter.

Mark Hallet is a specialist;


How Can There Be Voluntary Movement Without Free Will?

''Humans do not appear to be purely reflexive organisms, simple automatons. A vast array of different movements are generated in a variety of settings. Is there an alternative to free will? Movement, in the final analysis, comes only from muscle contraction.

Muscle contraction is under the complete control of the alpha motoneurons in the spinal cord. When the alpha motoneurons are active, there will be movement. Activity of the alpha motoneurons is a product of the different synaptic events on their dendrites and cell bodies. There is a complex summation of EPSPs and IPSPs, and when the threshold for an action potential is crossed, the cell fires.

There are a large number of important inputs, and one of the most important is from the corticospinal tract which conveys a large part of the cortical control. Such a situation likely holds also for the motor cortex and the cells of origin of the corticospinal tract. Their firing depends on their synaptic inputs. And, a similar situation must hold for all the principal regions giving input to the motor cortex.

For any cortical region, its activity will depend on its synaptic inputs. Some motor cortical inputs come via only a few synapses from sensory cortices, and such influences on motor output are clear. Some inputs will come from regions, such as the limbic areas, many synapses away from both primary sensory and motor cortices. At any one time, the activity of the motor cortex, and its commands to the spinal cord, will reflect virtually all the activity in the entire brain.

Is it necessary that there be anything else? This can be a complete description of the process of movement selection, and even if there is something more -- like free will -- it would have to operate through such neuronal mechanisms.

The view that there is no such thing as free will as an inner causal agent has been advocated by a number of philosophers, scientists, and neurologists including Ryle, Adrian, Skinner and Fisher.(Fisher 1993)''
 

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Notions of random or chaotic behavior suggest problems of prediction (knowledge) rather than problems of causation. For example, a coin toss, to see who goes first, appears to produce a random (unpredictable) result. But, if we give it some thought, we know that the behavior of the coin is reliably caused by the location and force of the thumb during the flip, and then the air resistance, and then the bouncing before the coin settles, heads up or tails up.
We don't know that. Maybe a random radioactive decay will send an ion through the air, or not; and maybe that variation will be exponentially amplified by the chaotic behavior you describe enough to make heads or tails turn on whether the random radioactive decay occurred.

People often assume QM effects are so tiny they only matter to the microscopic world. In freshman physics our teacher posed the problem of a perfectly sharp pencil balanced exactly on its point, and challenged us to predict how long it would stay standing up. In classical physics, forever, since the forces on it are exactly in balance; but in QM nothing is ever exact because of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. So the students offered guesses: we ranged from days to centuries. Then the prof worked the problem on the blackboard. Quantum uncertainty knocks the pencil over in a random direction in about five seconds.

And we can imagine building a machine where all these factors are controlled, such that the machine could always cause the coin to land heads up. So, random or chaotic behavior is still deterministic, in that the result is reliably caused, even if we are unable to predict the results.
But what we can imagine doesn't affect what the world does. Maybe if you actually try to build that machine you'll always fail. Maybe when you've controlled every variable you can, you'll still get a random result.

So, we use statistical analysis to predict the coin's behavior over a large number of cases. And, couldn't that be the same problem with quantum indeterminism?
It could be. That's not a reason to decide it is.

Isn't it more likely that the behavior of quarks is actually reliably caused but simply unpredictable?
That seemed a lot more likely back in the 1920s, when physicists had only spent a couple of years trying to come up with deterministic alternatives, than it does now. Quantum mechanics is 95 years old, and a lot of the smartest people in the world have spent years of their professional lives trying to come up with a deterministic theory that matches experimental results, and so far they've all* failed. Doesn't that shake your confidence that reliably caused quark behavior is more likely?

(* Unless you think the "Many Worlds" hypothesis qualifies as a viable option. (That's the interpretation that says all possible universes are real parallel universes. Where the quark goes is in some philosophical sense "deterministic" and "known in advance" -- it goes everywhere -- but that's useless for making predictions, because one copy of you will see it here and another copy of you will see it there.))

We generally get our "physical laws" by observing reliable patterns of behavior. But it is very difficult to observe the behavior of quarks without building huge colliders.
This isn't an issue of huge colliders and quarks. The fundamental problem shows up in simple desktop experiments you can do with light bulbs and prisms and vacuum tubes and so forth. Quantum systems show an effect called "entanglement" in which events on this side of the lab appear to make a difference to what happens on that side of the lab, faster than the speed of light. Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance". It's mathematically very difficult to reconcile that with Relativity in a theory with reliable causation.

The means by which the number is produced makes it predictable in theory, if not in practice.
Predictable in which theory? The situation would be different if we had an unpredictable theory that works and a predictable theory that works; then philosophizing about how the number is predictable in theory would carry some weight. But as it is, in 2021, all we have is an unpredictable theory that works and a bunch of predictable theories that don't work.
 

The AntiChris

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I don't know anything about about quantum mechanics. I'm simply demonstrating the problem with indeterminism.
But you haven't demonstrated that there's a problem with it; and not knowing anything about quantum mechanics is a bad idea if you want to philosophize about determinism.

I think QM is a red herring. I don't think Marvin is making a case for universal determinism - I think he's talking about Adequate Determinism.

The hard determinist case against free will relies on adequate determinism being true. Marvin is making the case that adequate determinism is no threat to free will.
 

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Determinism: The world is governed by (or is under the sway of) determinism if and only if, given a specified way things are at a time t, the way things go thereafter is fixed as a matter of natural law.

Also: Determinism and natural law work forward and backward so how do you get backward causation.
There's nothing in your definition of determinism that requires it to work backward. Just because given a specified way things are at a time t, the way things go thereafter is fixed as a matter of natural law, that doesn't imply that given a specified way things are at a time t, the way things went before is fixed as a matter of natural law. Consider the rules of Conway's Life, for example. It's deterministic going forward but not going backwards -- it's trivial to come up with two different patterns at time T that have the same successor pattern at time T+1.

Have a baloney sandwich.

It's just as trivial to come up with two or more distinguishable at time t that have the same predecessor pattern at time t-1.

It's not requirements in maths it's structure of maths where forward backward calculations are achieved simply by manipulating transactional operators.

Of course if you can show me a "can't do that" rule ... Now if you are talking natural law and you suggest entropy I'll suggest negative entropy. Logical equivalent not scientific equivalent.
 
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