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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Conditions in the Womb: An ethical question. (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Conditions in the Womb: An ethical question.
The Rabbit
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There is a growing body of evidence that a wide range of personality traits are strongly influenced, maybe even determined, by chemical conditions in the womb. This encompasses things ranging from sexual orientation to disposition to musical ability.

Suppose that in the near future it becomes possible to "engineer" your child's personality by diet, pills or injections administered at appropriate point during pregnancy. What ethical concerns do you see?

What if you could take a pill that would dramatically change your child's chances of being intraverted, cheerful, athletic, mathematical, adventurous, or conservative?

Would it make a difference if it was a pill or a vitamin supplement or just eating more X?

Would you draw a distinction for traits that are commonly considered a disability (like ADD or Autisim or maybe homosexuality) vs. those that are just normal personality traits?

How would it change society if a mother could choose her child's personality?

There would likely be trade offs. If you knew that eating more brusselsprouts (for example) while you were pregnant would improve your child's intelligence ability but increase their chances of suffering from anxiety as an adult -- what would you choose?

What if it were discovered that some combination of diet & drugs could determine whether your child would be conservative or liberal, religious or atheist, serious or fun loving?

And I should add, at least some of this is likely to become a realistic possibility in the next few years, long before it would be possible to genetically engineering such traits.

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Foust
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I don't think there are any real moral concerns here.

Let's say you completely buy into determinism. We have no soul, no disembodied mind - we are just a series of chemical reactions. Then what does it matter if we induce one chemical reaction over another?

If you do believe in a soul or some sort of free will, then what does it matter what genetic chances are introduced in the womb? You're still you, the person God (or whatever) made you to be.

That being said, the idea of absolute physical determinism is kinda goofy. I do consider myself a hard-core materialist, but the idea of complete determinism is just as silly as the idea of complete free will.

I'm being interrupted, gotta go.

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Aris Katsaris
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I think to a great extent we can determine this by a "would I want it done to me" question, and trying not privileging either action or inaction while asking this.

Would I want to be autistic? A very strong NO. So I wouldn't do it to my children, and if there was a way to prevent autism from my children, I'd take it in a heartbeat.

Would I want to be gay? A less strong "no", which is primarily mainly caused not by the condition itself but by the context of living in a heteronormative (and often homophobic) society.

If I could choose to be bisexual though, I'd probably take it; so I'd likewise be tempted by a diet/drug that would increase the possibility (or ensure) of bisexual children.

quote:
If you knew that eating more brusselsprouts (for example) while you were pregnant would improve your child's intelligence ability but increase their chances of suffering from anxiety as an adult -- what would you choose?
It probably depends on how much overall happiness/success I would anticipate for them throughout their lives.

quote:
drugs could determine whether your child would be conservative or liberal, religious or atheist,
If they determined directly "believe in thing A" versus "believe in thing B", either determination would be a negative by itself, as it would mean that thing was believed for the sake of the belief rather than because it held the correct truth-value and corresponded to the reality of the universe.

If they merely indirectly led to these beliefs, by more circuitous and more proper paths, then I would choose the values that best corresponded to reality as I perceived it, since this would mean a greater correspondence with such positive features as sanity, intelligence, problem-solving.

In the current circumstances for me this would mean "atheism", rather than "religion".

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
I don't think there are any real moral concerns here.
Your post argues that are no real moral concerns *anywhere*, so frankly you don't belong in this discussion. You are not discussing the topic in question, you are just saying "nothing matters". Which is actually self-evidently false.

Some things matter to me.
Hence some things matter.
Hence your position is disproved.

quote:
Then what does it matter if we induce one chemical reaction over another?
Moral concerns matter, because they matter to people, and people are real.

They matter to people, because people are so made as to care about what happens to them and to other people, regardless of whether they're made out of chemical reactions or "soul-stuff".

A child doesn't know if things are made out of chemicals or soul-stuff, but they still matter to it. And hence they matter full-stop.

quote:
That being said, the idea of absolute physical determinism is kinda goofy. I do consider myself a hard-core materialist, but the idea of complete determinism is just as silly as the idea of complete free will.
What is goofy is that you think determinism and free will are opposites. They aren't opposites but REQUIREMENTS of each other. If our present selves don't determine our choices then we don't have free will. Free will is only meaningful if we DETERMINE our choices, hence free will is directly proportional to (and meaningful IF AND ONLY IF) determinism.
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PSI Teleport
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quote:
Your post argues that are no real moral concerns *anywhere*, so frankly you don't belong in this discussion.
Wow. I...think you jumped to a lot of conclusions about Foust's intentions, and in doing so missed the point of his comment: that human intervention should not be able to trump God's sovereignty over the matter, if you believe in such a thing. And if you don't believe in such a thing, then where is the moral problem?
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The Rabbit
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quote:
I don't think there are any real moral concerns here.
I think it raises all kinds of ethical questions that have nothing to do with free will, the soul or chemical determinism. Conditions in the woman are at most one of many components that influence development of a human being.
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Strider
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quote:
Let's say you completely buy into determinism. We have no soul, no disembodied mind - we are just a series of chemical reactions. Then what does it matter if we induce one chemical reaction over another?

I think it matters a lot. But defending that would take a lot of time, I'll try later to put something together.

Let me ask you this though, why would determinism, or even a non-deterministic universe where there is no free will, make all life meaningless and all choices irrelevant? You seem to be arguing that there can be no ethics without god, why?

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dkw
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Thinking back to when I was pregnant, I would have to be really motivated to adopt any eating plan other than "What will make me the least queasy?"

If there was evidence that eating or not eating certain things would drastically reduce the chances of serious life-threatening illnesses I would probably do it, but for personality traits? I'll take whatever massive quantities of watermelon gets me.

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Synesthesia
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Other than health, no, I would not tamper with a future child like that....

Unless it made them more likely to have synesthesia. But, supposed they were driven up a tree and overwhelmed with colours that swim in front of their eyes?

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The Rabbit
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quote:
If there was evidence that eating or not eating certain things would drastically reduce the chances of serious life-threatening illnesses I would probably do it, but for personality traits? I'll take whatever massive quantities of watermelon gets me.
I presume that you avoided alcohol and nicotine when pregnant? They can cause serious birth defects, but are very rarely life-threatening. What about folic acid supplements? These reduce the incidence of a number of birth defects, but once again these are rarely life threatening.

What if there was a pill that could dramatically reduce the incidence of Schizophrenia or any other serious psychological problem?

Where do you draw the line?

[ June 30, 2011, 11:35 AM: Message edited by: The Rabbit ]

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dkw
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I don't drink or smoke anyway, so no I didn't specifically avoid them while pregnant.

And I did a lousy job of taking my prenatal vitamins last time -- I think I maybe took 12-15 of them the whole 9 months.

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Anna
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
quote:
If there was evidence that eating or not eating certain things would drastically reduce the chances of serious life-threatening illnesses I would probably do it, but for personality traits? I'll take whatever massive quantities of watermelon gets me.
I presume that you avoided alcohol and nicotine when pregnant? They can cause serious birth defects, but are very rarely life-threatening. What about folic acid supplements? These reduce the incidence of a number of birth defects, but once again these are rarely life threatening.
Spina bifida, which folic acid help preventing, is a serious disease.
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dkw
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It would be more accurate to expand "life-threatening" in my post to include threatening quality of life and life-shortening, not only immediately-terminal illnesses.

I did take folic acid supplements before I got pregnant, but once the nausea (and brain-scatteredness) kicked in the vitamin regime was not as regular as it should have been. I feel bad about that.

Edit to add: "Feel bad" is an understatement. I in no way think that pre-natal vitamins are unimportant. I only posted what I did to point out that for me if I can't even keep to a vitamin regime that has clear and documented heath benefits while pregnant the idea that I would change my eating habits or take daily pills to change personality traits or reduce the chance of social anxiety is ludicrous. Other women have much different experiences while pregnant, of course, or are more motivated to affect those sorts of traits. But you did ask "what if you could . . ." and "would you . . ." and the answer for me is that I doubt I would even if I might want to.

[ June 30, 2011, 12:24 PM: Message edited by: dkw ]

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Olivet
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If I could, I would pop out Aspies (or near-Aspies) like and Aspie-popping machine.

Which, I guess I sort of did anyway. (I was going to throw in a smilie, but to be perfectly honest, I'm not even entirely certain whether or not I'm joking.)

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Foust
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And I'm back, rather belatedly.

I'll complete my original thought, then deal with the responses.

The OP has a duel subtext. The first subtext is an anxiety about a parent's influence on their children more generally, the second is an anxiety about what humanity actually is.

So, parents. Parents take their kids to be reflections of themselves to the world. If the kid is smart, then the parent must be smart. If the kid is well adjusted, then the parent is emotionally stable.

Except, of course, kids are individuals. Kids grow up and inevitably stymy their parent's best laid plans for constructing perfect little robotic reflections of themselves - because hey hey, personality development is ridiculously complicated.

You're not going to engineer your kid out of a craving for commodities a sense of disgust at working in a Cube Farm or any of the other things that go along with living in our culture. You're still going to raise a 21st century North American, with all the pros and cons that entails.

All this stuff about genetic manipulation just seems like a really, really expensive version of forcing your kid take piano classes.

That's what the "ethical" question in the OP is basically asking: should you be a genetic Tiger Mom?

Which is not bad, perhaps just... expensive and ineffectual. And of course if I could prevent my kid from having Down's or autism, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

The second subtext is about the nature of humanity, which I basically covered in my first post. Are we only genetics, or is there something more? If we are only genetics, what's the problem is changing them? If we are something more, then changing our genetics will not affect that "something more."

The too long, did not read version: 1) The OP is asking if we should be genetic Tiger Moms, but I am convinced that any version of the Tiger Mom project is basically useless, whether it focuses on nature or nurture. 2) The OP is asking if it is ok to genetically tamper with a person's humanity, and I am saying the question of humanity is meaningless.

quote:
Some things matter to me.
Hence some things matter.
Hence your position is disproved.

Lollerskates. You actually don't see that (2) is just a repeat of (1)? And (3) has no connection to either premise, or anything I said?

quote:
What is goofy is that you think determinism and free will are opposites. They aren't opposites but REQUIREMENTS of each other. If our present selves don't determine our choices then we don't have free will. Free will is only meaningful if we DETERMINE our choices, hence free will is directly proportional to (and meaningful IF AND ONLY IF) determinism.
Dude, your equivocations cause me pain. Like, physical pain. You're saying the present self determines itself - that is just the old version of free will by another name. You're talking about an autonomous self, but for some reason, using the word "determinism."

Edit: First post! Not first power.

[ July 01, 2011, 07:28 AM: Message edited by: Foust ]

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
You actually don't see that (2) is just a repeat of (1)?
No, it's not a repeat.
(1) "Some things matter to Person X" is more specific than (2) "Some things matter".

As such (1) proves (2), but (2) doesn't prove (1)

quote:
And (3) has no connection to either premise, or anything I said?
Your position, the way I understood it, was that things don't matter.

I've disproved it.

quote:
You're saying the present self determines itself
No, I'm not. I'm saying the present determines the future. Our current self is part of the "present". Our choices create part of the "future".

So for a person (part of the present) to be able to determine their future course of action (part of the future), it is a REQUIREMENT that the present (as a whole) determines the future (as a whole).

Because person is part of the "present"
Because future course of action is part of the "future".

The people who think there's a contradiction between determinism and free will are the people who are already confused by millenia of clerics talking garbage about non-physical souls. WE ARE PHYSICS. Our choices are real BECAUSE they are embedded in PHYSICS.

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Aris Katsaris
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And I suggest you stop using such a mocking tone, when your reading comprehension is so weak that you can't see the difference between "some things matter" and "some things matter to me". That's a whole two words you failed to notice.
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Anna2112
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quote:
The OP has a duel subtext.
*ahem*

I think that to some extent we do try to influence our children's traits anyway, to improve their quality of life. On a fundamental level, we raise them with values that we want them to internalize. We want our children to believe "treat others the way you want to be treated" and we try to raise them to be kind (among other traits. I tried to pick a non-controversial one.) On a more tangible level, we sign them up for classes that will make them smarter (Or that we hope will. Kindermusic?). So yes, I would definitely take a pill that would make my child more intelligent if I could, if I was sure there were no side effects.

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Foust
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quote:
Originally posted by Anna2112:
quote:
The OP has a duel subtext.
*ahem*
What, am I overestimating my audience? I apologize.

Ok, Aris, I'll spell it out.

1. Some things matter to me.
2. Hence some things matter.
3. Hence your position is disproved.

In order for (2) to not be reducible to (1), you have to add the word "inherently".

1. Some things matter to me.
2. Hence some things matter inherently.
3. Hence your position is disproved (because some things matter inherently).

Except just because X matters to you, does not mean it matters inherently.

If you refuse to make "mattering" something inherent in the object, what you get is this:

1. X matters to me.
2. Therefore X matters to someone.
3. ????
4. PROFIT!!!

And anyways, my argument was not that I don't think anything matters or that there is nothing of moral or ethical importance. Your interpretation was way overextended.

quote:
Your position, the way I understood it, was that things don't matter.

I've disproved it.

I think my second post should have clarified what I meant there. The question of how we'd modify our kids in the womb is interesting to us, and it feels pressing to us, because underlying it is a question of what our humanity is. If we're just chemicals, re-arranging those chemicals will not impinge on our essential humanity. If we're more than chemicals, re-arranging those chemicals will not impinge on that "something more."

quote:
Because person is part of the "present"
And what of the chain of conditions that led up to the present? Either we are exempt from the past chain of conditions, or we aren't. If we aren't, then we do not "determine ourselves."

You go on to say we are embedded in physics. To the extent that this is true, it barely makes sense to speak of a self, never mind a self-determining self.

quote:
And I suggest you stop using such a mocking tone
You started it. What'd you expect in response?
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Strider
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Aris certainly has an interesting take on this. I don't think determinism necessarily disproves free will, but if true, it does force us to defend a theory of persons, and the emergence of the self. If determinism is true we have to be able to defend some notion of a "free choice" at the level of persons. What that would entail, I'm not entirely sure.

But to argue that determinism is NECESSARY for there to be free will. That's something I've never seen before. And it doesn't seem like Aris is providing any real justification for the position. Aris, a choice in the present does determine the future, yes. But in virtue of what is it actually a "choice"? You call it a choice because you feel there were other choices that could have been made, and other courses of action that could have flowed from that choice. But in the end, only one thing was chosen, one path was followed. And if the behavior initiated was itself the result of a causal deterministic chain, how was it really a choice? In what way was it free?

I think you're confusing the subjective feeling of choosing, with the idea of free will.

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The Rabbit
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If your choices aren't determined by anything (even your self) but are just random, how is that freedom?
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Strider
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Are you asking that to me?
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Strider
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I'll answer anyway. I never said that choices aren't determined by anything. And I certainly didn't say that randomness bestows free will on an agent. I don't think that indeterminacy grants free will to an agent any more than determinism takes it away.

My point is that determinism or indeterminacy alone do not preclude free will. And determinism or indeterminacy alone also are also not necessary conditions for free will.

What I'm saying is that whether physical causal determinism is true, or whether the universe is non-deterministic (as quantum mechanics is pointing towards), neither case on its own answers the free will question. We need to define what exactly we mean by a free choice, and then we would have to defend how that type of free choice can exist at the level of persons. Is consciousness supervenient on lower level physical states, or can consciousness be said to emerge and have its own ontological nature? If the former, then free will questions are meaningless, if the latter, it is at the level of the decision we need to evaluate free will, not at the level of atoms or quarks.

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Raymond Arnold
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I've taken to just linking to Though Art Physics rather than getting into free will debates. TLDR: Yes, everything is mechanically determined, yes, you make decisions. (Reading this article saved me weeks of pointless free will debates. I recommend it)

quote:
The OP is asking if we should be genetic Tiger Moms, but I am convinced that any version of the Tiger Mom project is basically useless, whether it focuses on nature or nurture.
This is an empirical fact, which can might be true or false. The opening premise of the thread is that it is false. IF you can dramatically alter a child's personality by eating stuff during pregnancy, what are the ethical concerns of that? (I think the notion that it's impossible to shape a child is, frankly, obviously wrong. Yes, there are elements of my personality that my parents didn't create, but there are also elements that clearly exist because of ways I was raised, as well as the peer groups I had access to. And genetic/womb manipulation could easily be far more potent than parenting)

I don't believe in God. I think we are quarks bouncing around according to deterministic rules. But things still matter to me, and when multiple people share the same preferences, a discussion of morality is useful.

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Geraine
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I think this all comes down to intent.

Would I like my child to be as smart as possible so that they have the opportunity to have a very fulfilling life? Absolutely. If there were certain things my wife could do in a diet or using supplements to help this, I would encourage it.

If you go in with the intent of creating a musical prodigy or a child actor or beauty queen simply for your own gain, I think that is where I would draw the line.

Helping your child to have opportunity for their own benefit is one thing, but if you were going to alter them to fit what YOU want them to be, well that is just selfish and wrong.

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Stone_Wolf_
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quote:
...but if you were going to alter them to fit what YOU want them to be, well that is just selfish and wrong.
No, it's just parenting. We make all kinds of moral and defining decisions for our children every day, and who else's judgement are you going to use but your own?

It is one thing to have them genetically or surgically altered...but to eat different foods?

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Aris Katsaris
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Foust -- I never said that things matter "inherently". I said they matter. Something mattering or not mattering can only be defined in relation of conscious agent that have the capacity of having things matter to *them*.

To put it differently something "matters" if it matters to *anyone* in the world.

Your supposed concept of things mattering "inherently" is just confusion. It doesn't mean anything, you can't define it as anything, it's just distracting noise.

If it's not just noise tell me what it would mean for something to matter "inherently".

quote:
Either we are exempt from the past chain of conditions, or we aren't. If we aren't, then we do not "determine ourselves."
For you to have free will *now*, you think you need your current self to have determined your *past* self?

No, it doesn't work that way. Our past selves helped determine our current selves. Our current selves help determine our future selves. I didn't say we determine our *current* self, I said we help determine the future.

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
But to argue that determinism is NECESSARY for there to be free will. That's something I've never seen before.
As Raymond said, Thou Art Physics is a good article to read.

quote:
And it doesn't seem like Aris is providing any real justification for the position. Aris, a choice in the present does determine the future, yes. But in virtue of what is it actually a "choice"?
It's the imagining of possible scenarios, the conscious selection among those options by your preferred criteria, and the following of the course of action which was thus selected.

Imagination, Judgment, Selection - in what way would it *not* be defined as choice?

quote:
You call it a choice because you feel there were other choices that could have been made,
No I'm calling it a choice because it's the conscious deliberate selection of one path among several.

quote:
And if the behavior initiated was itself the result of a causal deterministic chain, how was it really a choice? In what way was it free?
I said you are free, I didn't say you were self-created. A person doesn't choose to be born.

We can see in what ways it is free will, by thinking of the many ways in which it would NOT be free.

It wouldn't be free will if I couldn't imagine between different alternate courses of action. (a rock can't imagine falling or not falling).

It wouldn't be free will if my action was a non-deliberate action (like your heart beating) instead of the product of deliberation.

It wouldn't be free will if I could imagine alternate course of actions, but had no power to act upon them (if I'm dropped out of a plane, I can imagine flying, but can't do it, so gravity wins, and my free will is nullified - I have to drop whether I want to or not).

Hence the existence of free vs unfree actions in meaningful terms.

quote:
What I'm saying is that whether physical causal determinism is true, or whether the universe is non-deterministic (as quantum mechanics is pointing towards)
"Many-worlds" is a deterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics.
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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
"Many-worlds" is a deterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics.
That makes sense, and explains why I dislike the many worlds interpretation so much.
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Strider
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Aris, I think defining terms would help this conversation a lot. For instance, you talk about your current choice "determining" the future, but this use of the term determine, is not the same as the concept of metaphysical determinism.

Similarly, you seem to define free will by an action that is consciously chosen, when other alternatives existed, and which is not constrained by some sort of other factors. But as I was trying to point out above, just because you have the subjective experience of choosing, just because an action came about as the result of a conscious process, does not in itself make the final choice a result of "free will". It may be "free" in the sense that you are defining, but where did you get your definition? What is this "will" of which you speak? Who does it belong to? Why are conscious decisions more free than unconscious ones? Why would the inability for me to imagine another course of action make my action less free?

If the process of conscious deliberation is as much a part of the deterministic algorithm that is the universe, why should the result of that process be labeled free will?

On a related note, as mph points out, I think it's a bit early to jump on the determinism bandwagon based off one interpretation of quantum mechanics. But more importantly, indeterminacy at the quantum level doesn't necessarily mean there is indeterminacy at the neurophysiological level. You'd have to show that that indeterminacy has causal consequences all the way up to the level of choice.

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
For instance, you talk about your current choice "determining" the future, but this use of the term determine, is not the same as the concept of metaphysical determinism.
I don't understand what you mean by "metaphysical determinism". What I mean by determinism is that the future state of the universe is calculable from the present state of the universe.

Our present personalities, minds, preferences have meaning to the extent that their present state is taken in consideration during this calculation of the future.

To the extent that the future (as a whole) is NOT determinate by the present (as a whole), this reduces the extent that our present selves can help direct the future.

Therefore the more determined the future, the more our current selves affect it, the more influence our selves have. The *less* determined the future, the *less* we affect it.

Imagine a function for the state of Universe: Universe(t+1) = Constant * Universe(t) + Random.

If (Random is always 0), it's a determinist universe.
If (Random is indeterminately selected) then it's a non-determinist universe.

You seem to think that your free will increases if the *random* factor increases. But that doesn't make sense, because your current self is enclosed in the *other* half of the equation, in "Universe(t)", not in the "Random" factor.

quote:
You'd have to show that that indeterminacy has causal consequences all the way up to the level of choice.
Why would you *want* some sort of randomness in your decision process which has nothing to do with your present state of your mind, either in your preferences, or your virtues, or your memories, or your likings and dislikings?

What sort of free will do you seek, that would choose stuff using an algorithm that has nothing to do with who you currently are?

If two people want to choose between two movies to watch, "Starwars" or "Lord of the Rings" -- and Alice chooses Starwars, because she likes robots and laser battles, while Bob just flicks a coin heads-or-tails and ends up seeing Starwars too, but only as a matter of indeterminate chance, do you think that Bob executed *more* free will than Alice, just because Bobs's choice was less deterministic and less predictable, while Alice's choice could have been determined by the state of who she was?

The way I see it the fact that Alice actually had her likings *affect* her choice means she exercised more free will.

What sort of definition of "free will" do you seek, that makes choices happen that have nothing to do with who are and what you want? ("who you are" and "what you want" is enclosed in the current state of the universe)

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Strider
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Aris, you're putting a whole lot of baggage into what I'm saying that I don't have.

quote:
You seem to think that your free will increases if the *random* factor increases. But that doesn't make sense, because your current self is enclosed in the *other* half of the equation, in "Universe(t)", not in the "Random" factor.
I think no such thing, and said no such thing. What is this in reference to?

quote:
Why would you *want* some sort of randomness in your decision process which has nothing to do with your present state of your mind, either in your preferences, or your virtues, or your memories, or your likings and dislikings?

I don't *want* any such thing. What I want or don't want is not relevant to whether there is some sort of indeterminacy in the universe or in human action. And as I've pointed out, indeterminacy doesn't give an agent free will anyway.

quote:
What sort of definition of "free will" do you seek, that makes choices happen that have nothing to do with who are and what you want? ("who you are" and "what you want" is enclosed in the current state of the universe)
I don't seek any sort of definition of free will. I don't think free will exists. I AM terribly interested in the causes of human behavior, and how we should interact with each other, and what kinds of systems we should set up in society given our understanding of human cognition and behavior. But I generally think that the free will debate is a red herring, in that it's not actually addressing what I feel is important about human agency.

I'm just disputing the notion that because something is consciously chosen or determined rather than random, that this is what free will is.

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Strider
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Some of my other questions that you reference have to do with questioning the nature of the self. For free will to exist, there has to be an agent that possesses it. I'm questioning the unified nature of this self, and whether there is actually an agent that is making a choice. I'm not necessarily arguing against the notion, but it seems to me that you have to defend the notion of the self as having a real ontological nature before you can defend free will. Otherwise, as others have pointed out, you can just point to quarks and forget about the person, the choice, and any will whatsoever.
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Stone_Wolf_
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I never thought I'd run across a discussion too theoretical and wordy for me...I was wrong.
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Frisco
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I'd be interested to see something like what Rabbit posted (or Gattaca Hollywood-ized) come about, because I'd like to see just how much of our innate predisposition gets overridden by our experiences.

Also, they need a new premise for Law & Order episodes.

"My parents made me this way, I had no choice!"

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Geraine
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quote:
Originally posted by Stone_Wolf_:
quote:
...but if you were going to alter them to fit what YOU want them to be, well that is just selfish and wrong.
No, it's just parenting. We make all kinds of moral and defining decisions for our children every day, and who else's judgement are you going to use but your own?

It is one thing to have them genetically or surgically altered...but to eat different foods?

So if it was your dream to have a musical prodigy as a child and you knew that dieting / popping certain pills and listening to Yo Yo Ma every day for an hour would make your child that prodigy, you wouldn't consider that selfish in any way?

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with helping your children have an appreciation for music, but unfortunately there are many parents that make it their mission to make their children enjoy a certain activity, their child's wants and needs be damned.

I grew up in a house where my parents were indifferent about music. My father's parents however are classical music nuts. Growing up the only music I ever listened to was classical, as it was the only music that interested me. I began playing the cello at an early age, and by the age of 14 I was already playing with a city orchestra here in Las Vegas.

I have since stopped playing, but never once do I feel like my grandparents forced me to play the cello. (I regret it, and I need to start playing again) If a parent raises their child like this, I have no problems with it.

It just comes down to how the parent uses the knowledge. Look at parents of some child stars for example. Do I think Lindsay Lohan's parents had her best interests at heart when she was young? Not at all. I think they saw their daughter's talent and only wanted to cash in on her success.

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Stone_Wolf_
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I take your point Geraine, but I feel there are miles of difference between "eating a lot of broccoli" (or popping a vitamin for that matter) with the hope of your child later developing skills and ignoring your children's wants, pressuring and using them. When they are in the womb, they don't really have the ability to be pressured or exploited.

As to Lohan...I don't have the info to judge, because I never had the interest to pick any up.

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Samprimary
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Oh man, let's go down the list of the "make your child X" pills

- any intelligence increases absolutely not associated with autistic spectrum disorders

- no fatty

- no heart disease

- no anxiety or depression issues

- anything that reduces lifetime incidence of strokes, cancer, diabeeetus, etc

- prolonged lifespan

- no tremor, enhanced manual dexterity

- personality typing associated with 'can get and keep a job' or whatever, go nuts

- no seriously let's go flat out gattica here

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Strider
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Aris, I think maybe I haven't explicitly stated a line of reasoning that I think helps clear up part of what I'm arguing.

You are arguing that a deterministic world is necessary for the existence of free will. That free will lies in the choices we each make that determine our future (again, noting here the way you are using the word determine is different from the idea of determinism).

But I'm saying that if physical determinism is true, then even your thoughts (which are underlied by physical causal processes) and the act of weighing alternatives and choosing is all part of the deterministic process. It's almost like you're saying that the action itself is determined, but the thought process is some sort of black box with free will inside it, and action pops out. But what if your subjective sense of thinking and choosing is just epiphenomenal? It's all just along for the ride. It seems to me that your arguments so far don't address this.

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Teshi
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I would not, provided the child was going to be within the bounderies of normal or plus normal intelligence and normal physicality.

I don't actually believe that the time spent in the womb, aside from massive issues like alcholism and drugs or very poor diet (and I generally have a good diet) really makes that much of difference to a child's intelligence or athleticism.

I'd rather focus my efforts on raising them to be intelligent and active. I feel that most human babies have the potential to be of value (and seen as intelligent and productive) in the world, provided the environment in which they grow up is rich (not in the money sense!) and safe.

There are obvious standouts who despite a normal childhood and youngadulthood are psychopathic, but that's a tiny tiny minority.

I like diversity. I like knowing kids who are crap at some things but amazing at others. I often find the kids labelled as "less intelligent" have merely something else to give.

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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
I don't actually believe that the time spent in the womb, aside from massive issues like alcholism and drugs or very poor diet (and I generally have a good diet) really makes that much of difference to a child's intelligence or athleticism.
What makes you think this? I haven't read the evidence one way or another so I'm just willing to take this as an interesting thought experiment. But Rabbit started by saying "there is growing body of evidence that..." People's personalities and other traits come from somewhere. It could just be genes and parenting, but I see no reason it couldn't also be events in the womb.

quote:
I would not, provided the child was going to be within the bounderies of normal or plus normal intelligence and normal physicality.
What if everyone else is doing it, so "normal" is at a higher standard?
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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
I don't seek any sort of definition of free will. I don't think free will exists.

We have different understandings of what it means to have 'free will', but I think that free will can be said to exist for all *meaningful* definitions of free will.

What I mean by 'meaningful': Let's say that we dispute whether a thing such as a "unicorn" exists. Let's say that we define unicorn as a horse-shaped animal with a single horn on his forehead and friendly towards young human maidens.

If we search the whole universe, we'll either detect such an animal or we won't. More to the point, we can imagine the *opposite* scenario. So there's an actual difference between the two hypothetical worlds: The Unicorn world, and the No-Unicorn world. We can make stories about the other world, whichever world we're in.

But let's say you state "free will" (according to whichever definition you prefer) doesn't exist. Before deciding whether that statement is true or false, you need determine whether that statement is *meaningful* -- and you can show it to be meaningful if you can imagine a world with free will, and a world without free will, and tell me how they differ.

According to *my* definition of free will, I can imagine a different world where I would have none. Here's what it would seem like to me: I'd see myself taking actions that have nothing to do with my preferences. Though I prefer chocolate, I might see myself buy and eat vanilla icecream. I'd feel I had no more control over the actions of my hands and legs, than I'd have over the beating of my heart.

This hypothetical universe doesn't coincide with the one I currently exist in, so I can meaningfully say: "Free will exists".

For you to say "Free will does NOT exist", and that statement to be meaningful you need be able to imagine a universe in which free will (according to your definition) does exist. How would such a universe differ from our own?

quote:
Some of my other questions that you reference have to do with questioning the nature of the self. For free will to exist, there has to be an agent that possesses it. I'm questioning the unified nature of this self, and whether there is actually an agent that is making a choice.
I don't think that's a requirement. I don't believe in a unified self either. We're fragments of memories and desires and habits. But a cloud can have a specific velocity as a *whole* even though its composed of a trillion atoms all moving chaotically around.

As a whole, we have free will. Now each individual neuron of our brain doesn't. An individual neuron doesn't have any will at all: as a whole we do.

quote:
I'm not necessarily arguing against the notion, but it seems to me that you have to defend the notion of the self as having a real ontological nature before you can defend free will. Otherwise, as others have pointed out, you can just point to quarks and forget about the person, the choice, and any will whatsoever.
I am those quarks. My will and my choices are made of those quarks, much as my hand is made of my fingers, and yet that doesn't mean my hand is non-existent just because I can point to the fingers or the many bones beneath.

quote:
But what if your subjective sense of thinking and choosing is just epiphenomenal? It's all just along for the ride. It seems to me that your arguments so far don't address this.
I don't think epiphenomenalism is a defensible position either. Our subjective sense of thinking and choosing is actively causing us right now to discuss this subjective sense of thinking and choosing. If it's just a passenger, how come it's holding the wheel? At worst, it's the passenger of a taxi who has chosen the direction.
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scifibum
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quote:
For you to say "Free will does NOT exist", and that statement to be meaningful you need be able to imagine a universe in which free will (according to your definition) does exist. How would such a universe differ from our own?
I don't really agree with this, Aris.

Some definitions of "free will" seem to be anti-definitions. Some people seem to think "free will" is the absence of some definable physical mechanism (or many such mechanisms) for conscious choices. Pinning it down to something that can be described/measured/defined seems antithetical. There is no way to describe how this WOULD work if it existed*, yet saying this kind of "free will" doesn't exist seems fair to me.

*I keep asking people when the subject comes up, and nobody bites. If it's not a matter of cause & effect, and yet it is something rather than nothing, then what is it? How does it work? How, ultimately, can it be different from a deterministic version of subjective experience and choice? I'd actually like for someone to point me to a good argument along these lines. [I agree totally with the "you are physics" argument linked earlier.]

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Strider
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quote:
For you to say "Free will does NOT exist", and that statement to be meaningful you need be able to imagine a universe in which free will (according to your definition) does exist. How would such a universe differ from our own?
I don't think that's a fair statement at all. Philosophical hypotheticals are interesting, but I tend to agree with Dan Dennett when he calls them intuition pumps. Just because we can imagine something, doesn't make it so. Just because you can imagine a world where you have the opposite of your definition of free will, doesn't mean that hypothetical world is actually possible. Just because we can imagine Swampman, an atom for atom replica of a human, but who lacks subjective experience, doesn't mean Swampman is actually possible. But that hasn't stopped countless philosophers from positing that there has to be something more than the physical, something more than function, to account for consciousness.

You've also set the question up in such a way to force me into your conclusion. But part of my argument is that the concept of free will itself is meaningless, which is why I don't think we have it. It seems to me, that for there to be something called free will, it would have to not be causally determined, to make it free, and yet at the same time not be random, to make it willed. This is nonsensical, and so I argue that the our historic notions of free will are nonsensical. A holdover from a time of souls and a theory of persons that does not match the reality...thou art physics right? I read that link, and while I have some quibbles with it, I think it's important to note he doesn't really talk about free will much. He just constrains human agency within physics, while giving it its own ontological nature. That's fine...but where does free will come into the picture?

If you want to take the words "free will", and define them as XYZ, that's fine. I might even agree with your definition. But that doesn't change the fact that we've now redefined the phrase free will from a nonsensical phrase, to one which can have meaning, in virtue of that redefinition. And again, I tend to think the argument is a bit of red herring. Okay, free will...so what? Do we treat someone differently whether an action they committed was one that stemmed from free will? If so, why? I'm less concerned with whether you want to call something free will or not, and more concerned with how our understanding of human behavior affects the ways we interact with each other and the systems we set up in society.

quote:
As a whole, we have free will. Now each individual neuron of our brain doesn't. An individual neuron doesn't have any will at all: as a whole we do.
Seems to me you are conveniently defining the "whole" as the person. But why? Why can't a group of people be considered a whole? A city. A country. The planet. As a whole, these entities are causally constrained by physics and determine the future. What is special about persons? I think there IS something special about persons. But that's because I think there is something special about how consciousness can arise from purely physical processes. And since as far as I know no philosophers or neuroscientists or psychologists have figured out yet how this all happens, I think it's a bit early to wave your hands and say, "well, obviously neurons don't have free will, but WE do."

quote:
I don't think epiphenomenalism is a defensible position either. Our subjective sense of thinking and choosing is actively causing us right now to discuss this subjective sense of thinking and choosing. If it's just a passenger, how come it's holding the wheel? At worst, it's the passenger of a taxi who has chosen the direction.
While I'm personally no longer an epiphenomenalist, there are enough bigwigs who are that I think flat out stating it's not defensible does not really serve as a knock down argument. You're saying, "i can't believe thoughts are just along for the ride, because how could you possibly have a thought where you think about thoughts being along for the ride!" It's confusing yes, but that's not an argument against it. If the causal process of thought is led to a recursive pattern of thinking about thought, this kind of stuff can happen, even in an epiphenomenalist world. Again though, if you want to argue against epiphenomenalism, it seems to me you have to have a real theory of consciousness and persons, an emergent theory, which is tricky business. Because otherwise you left with eliminative materialism, or reductionism of some sort where you'd be hard pressed to defend thought and consciousness as actually having causal power in the universe. Or if you have some other alternative, write it up and publish it and the nobel prize is yours! [Wink]
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The Rabbit
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Epiphenomenalism is so far removed from the personal subjective experience of consciousness that it impossible to truly sincerely believe and remain sane. One can believe it the abstract, about other people, but not in the concrete about ones self. Too much of human life requires conscious effort. If one truly sincerely believed that their own consciousness was merely an irrelevant epiphenomenon, it would be impossible to continue to exert the conscious effort necessary for much of what we do.
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Tresopax
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quote:
But to argue that determinism is NECESSARY for there to be free will. That's something I've never seen before.
I've argued that position on this forum before... Lack of determinism means your choices are random, and "choosing" randomly isn't really a choice at all (I wouldn't say a flipped coin "freely" chooses to be heads or tails for instance, and it wouldn't be any different for the human equivalent of that coin.) In order for something to be a choice it must be determined by you and your reasons for making that choice. Someone who knew you and your reasons perfectly could predict any choice you'd make.

And I think that's typically what is meant by the concept of "freely choose". It doesn't mean random; it means determined by you.

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Strider
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Tres, that's fine, but doesn't really address where the conversation has gone since then. Determinism on it's own does not get you free will, you need to make a further argument about the nature of persons and decisions and choice and will, about how decisions are made, who is making those decisions, and in what sense they can be free. I haven't seen this done in this thread. Or in the Though art physics link that everyone seems to like. Just saying that we need determinism, otherwise choices are random, doesn't get us there.

Rabbit, tell that to all the people who subscribe to epiphenomenalism. I don't think we should be making proclamations about about issues in cognitive science based on feeling. Or any science. What we feel about how the universe works has no bearing on quantum mechanics. If you intuitively feel that epiphenomenalism can't be right, then okay, set out to show the reasons why. I agree that epiphenomenalism isn't exactly satisfying, but if we want to say that consciousness has causal influence in the world, then we need a theory of consciousness. How did consciousness arise? Why? What was its function? If higher order emergent processes have causal influence we need to explain how this is so.

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Tresopax
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You are right - and I agree with you that, in addition to determinism another key element is that for free will to exist, there has to be an agent that possesses it. In order for something to be determined by you, there must be a you.

The trouble is that you are approaching it from a materialist perspective (which I disagree with). Under the materialist perspective, it's going to be difficult to pin down the existence of any "agents" at all. And if there's no such thing as an agent, then the whole question becomes moot - it's not so much that free will doesn't exist, as it is that the concept of free will doesn't even mean anything. It only begins to mean something when you exist, as an agent who could potentially exercise free will.

I think you'll have to determine what makes something an agent and what constitutes subjective experience under a materialist view - and only then can you clearly define what free will is.

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Strider
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quote:
Originally posted by Tresopax:
You are right - and I agree with you that, in addition to determinism another key element is that for free will to exist, there has to be an agent that possesses it. In order for something to be determined by you, there must be a you.

The trouble is that you are approaching it from a materialist perspective (which I disagree with). Under the materialist perspective, it's going to be difficult to pin down the existence of any "agents" at all. And if there's no such thing as an agent, then the whole question becomes moot - it's not so much that free will doesn't exist, as it is that the concept of free will doesn't even mean anything. It only begins to mean something when you exist, as an agent who could potentially exercise free will.

I think you'll have to determine what makes something an agent and what constitutes subjective experience under a materialist view - and only then can you clearly define what free will is.

I pretty much agree with your entire post. And is basically what I have been arguing above.

I wouldn't actually say I'm coming at things from a materialistic perspective, nor physicalistic...probably naturalistic would fit best, since I come at things from a process framework rather than a substance framework. But replace "materialistic" in your sentence with "non dualistic" and we can move on.

Anyway, I agree belief in some sort of soul makes things to a certain degree easier in the free will debate, but has its own host of baggage that I personally reject.

As an addendum, these types of issues are precisely what I'm going to grad school for, so check back with me in a few years and I'll let you know how it's all coming. [Smile]

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
Why can't a group of people be considered a whole?
I don't know what you're trying to say. We were talking about thinking, will, and consciousness. I'm aware of my own thinking, will, and consciousness, and the evidence suggests other people experience similar awareness.


quote:
I don't think that's a fair statement at all. Philosophical hypotheticals are interesting, but I tend to agree with Dan Dennett when he calls them intuition pumps. Just because we can imagine something, doesn't make it so. Just because you can imagine a world where you have the opposite of your definition of free will, doesn't mean that hypothetical world is actually possible. Just because we can imagine Swampman, an atom for atom replica of a human, but who lacks subjective experience, doesn't mean Swampman is actually possible. But that hasn't stopped countless philosophers from positing that there has to be something more than the physical, something more than function, to account for consciousness.
I don't know how you can have misunderstood me so much.

When I asked about the hypothetical no-free-will world, I didn't say it would prove it possible -- I said it would prove someone's definition of free will *meaningful*.

If you talk about a concept, but you can't imagine a single difference between a universe that has it, and a universe that doesn't have it, then it's not an actually meaningful concept, it's a confusion of worlds.

quote:
But part of my argument is that the concept of free will itself is meaningless, which is why I don't think we have it.
If it's meaningless, then it doesn't make sense to say we lack it anymore than it makes sense to say we have it. I have legs, I lack wings, I have a mind, I lack telepathy, but I NEITHER have NOR lack "xyzzyness", because xyzzyness is a meaningless concept.

For all *meaningful* definitions of free will, I believe we have it. Meaningless definitions of free will are confusions that should be dissolved away.

quote:
In order for something to be determined by you, there must be a you.
My "me" doesn't need to be eternal, persistent, indivisible or uncopiable; qualities that are traditionally given to the mythical "soul". I am cognitive processes that loosely consider themselves a self and bear the illusion of persistence and continuity. But at this moment this me exists, and my will exists, and my consciousness exists (and NO, I don't know the exact way that they arise from the level of neurons), even if they all exist grouped together by the fuzzy arbitrary concepts of my brain's operating system.
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