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Author Topic: Conditions in the Womb: An ethical question.
TomDavidson
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quote:
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.
I'm not sure I agree. I think it's entirely possible to believe that ones own consciousness is epiphenomenal and yet be incapable of actually failing to experience consciousness. It's a biological limitation of our brain. In the same way, we can totally believe that we're a mass of molecules mostly separated by empty space and yet be completely unable to, for example, walk through a wall or scrunch under a door.
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Strider
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Tom, I think Rabbit was more likely referring to the idea that epiphenomenalists would fall into some sort of existential despair and never leave their bedrooms. But Rabbit can correct me if I'm wrong. Again, I think this isn't accurate at all (at least not universally so), as evidenced by the fact that many people don't believe in free will (which is essentially epiphenomenalism), and yet live positive meaningful lives.

On the other hand I once convinced a friend of mine that free will doesn't exist, and she spent the rest of the night sobbing.

On a third hand, I think that reaction isn't necessary, and that lack of free will doesn't actually take away any meaning from our lives. In fact, my views on human agency and personhood, I think, make me very empathetic towards others, and lead me to take active interest in helping others through charity and volunteering and being involved in a political process that creates systems that benefit those less fortunate. But arguing for this takes even more work than arguing against free will.

[ July 07, 2011, 12:00 AM: Message edited by: Strider ]

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Strider
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quote:
Originally posted by Aris Katsaris:
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.

You talked about us "as a whole" having free will. That individuals neurons don't, but WE do. What are WE? You have not offered an explanation. We are systems, processes, that have a cause and effect relationship with and in the universe. What is it about the input/output, the interaction, of this system that allows it to have a will, and not other systems? Neurons don't have a will as you say. Why not? What about atoms? What about organizations of people? I'm asking why the causal interactive role we as system play is in some way willed, while other systems lack this will. They also interact with the environment, have input and output and have a deterministic causal effect on the universe.

I agree that if there is an answer to this question, it lies in consciousness. But what is consciousness? How does it arise? What is the self? What does it mean to be an agent? Does thought (or subjective experience or qualia or consciousness) have causal power in the universe? You can't meaningfully talk about will, free or otherwise, without addressing these questions. I was using those questions as a way to prod you to the fact that you implicitly agree with this, but seem to wave you hands at the idea that you need to explicitly address it.

quote:
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.
Yes, I agree. And said so above.

quote:
For all *meaningful* definitions of free will, I believe we have it.
No, to be accurate, for *your meaningful* definition of free will, you believe we have it. And again, that's fine. If you want to adjust the definition of free will to a useful and meaningful phrase based on your understanding of physics which serves a purpose for you, and aren't to bent out of shape about issues surrounding agency and persons and the problematic nature of who the "we" is that has free will, great. But I think it's important to acknowledge you're doing so. You've left behind historic notions of the self as some sort of unified immutable thing or eternal soul, but you've also decided to ignore what that means for the idea of free will in general. You've kept a phrase that was meaningless and adjusted its definition so that it can be used in meaningful social interaction with other humans, and possibly allow for certain systems to be set up (justice system maybe?) that depend on certain notions of responsibility that depend on the idea of free choice existing. I'm guessing here, you haven't explicitly stated why you feel the idea of having free will to be important. This is fine, ideas need labels. But it does lead to confusions when trying to get everyone to use the same words in any meaningful way.
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Samprimary
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quote:
I NEITHER have NOR lack "xyzzyness", because xyzzyness is a meaningless concept.
I'd sure like to see anyone beat Colossal Cave Adventure without xyzzyness (or, for that matter, gumption)
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The Rabbit
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quote:
Tom, I think Rabbit was more likely referring to the idea that epiphenomenalists would fall into some sort of existential despair and never leave their bedrooms. But Rabbit can correct me if I'm wrong.
You are wrong.

It's impossible to draw accurate comparisons between the study of the physical laws of the universe and study of consciousness because our only evidence for the existence of consciousness is our own subjective experience of it. You can't study something that you can't observe. We can't divorce the study of consciousness from our subjective experience of it or we aren't studying consciousness.

I did not say epiphenomenalism could not be true, I said one could not sincerely believe it to be true about ones self. Belief itself is an aspect of consciousness. When I believe something sincerely, it is consistent with my conscious choices and the actions associated with those choices. If it is not, I don't believe it sincerely. It doesn't really matter which is the cause and which is the effect, beliefs are not sincere unless they are consistent with the actions we consciously choose. No person who continues to exert conscious effort to accomplish things truly and sincerely believes that their own conscious effort is merely an epiphenomenon.

I know what happens when I stop exerting conscious effort. Take something as simple as my planning to stop at the grocery on my way home from work. If I allow my consciousness to wander, I end up at home without the groceries. There is no question that I can act without making conscious effort. There are plenty of things I do without consciously thinking about them. But at the same time there are many things which I am incapable of doing without conscious effort: solving a math problem, formulating an argument, following a diet, grading papers, writing code, following a recipe, navigating in new territory, planning a party, all these and thousands more.

Perhaps it is only an illusion that my conscious effort matters in accomplishing these things, but if it is, its an illusion that is essential to sanity. Unless I sincerely believed that making a conscious effort mattered, there are thousands of things I would stop making the effort to do.

[ July 07, 2011, 04:09 AM: Message edited by: The Rabbit ]

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
But I think it's important to acknowledge you're doing so. You've left behind historic notions of the self as some sort of unified immutable thing or eternal soul,
Yes, I acknowledge that I've left behind *those* notions. I don't see why for me to believe I have free will (a statement about the *now*), I need believe anything about e.g. the eternity or the immutability of my existence in the past or the future.

I'm NOT self-created -- physical processes (e.g. my parents) produced me.
I'm NOT eternal -- physical processes (e.g. a truck, or the Sun going nova) one day will dissolve me.
I'm NOT immutable -- physical processes (e.g. the pattern of my thoughts) change me every second.
But physical processes *now* also bestow me with a free will *now*, I for all definitions of free will that I know of which are meaningful.

quote:
But what is consciousness? How does it arise?
I do not know. Unlike free will, consciousness is still an unsolved question for me.

I have some small thoughts mind you; but they're half-formed, and yet unworthy of sharing fully. Some of those seeds, in case they inspire anyone else:
- the mind as a qualia-processing self-altering machine: Mind1(qualia) -> Mind2
- qualia as the derivative of the Mind function, qualia = dMind = lim(Mind2-Mind1)/(t2-t1)
- consciousness not "on top" of the physical universe, but *across* it, a slice of the universe along the time dimensions; affecting our minds to the extent that we perceive the pattern of our self-change.

But again, all the above point may just be nonsense -- as I said, it's just free will that I believe solved, not consciousness.

quote:
Yes, I agree. And said so above.
You keep saying both things -- that the concept of free will is meaningless, and that we lack free will.

If the concept as you define it is meaningless, then don't claim we lack it - because you thus bestow it with meaning in its absence; which caused your friend to sob unnecessarily.

quote:
Does thought (or subjective experience or qualia or consciousness) have causal power in the universe?
It's very strange for discussions about subjective experience to be coincidentally produced by subjective-experience-having creatures without the two (the subjective experiences, and the discussion about subjective experiences) being connected to each other, so I'd say "yes, it has causal power".
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Strider
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quote:
No person who continues to exert conscious effort to accomplish things truly and sincerely believes that their own conscious effort is merely an epiphenomenon.
You state that as a truism Rabbit, but what is your evidence for the statement?

quote:
I know what happens when I stop exerting conscious effort.
See, I here this sort of thing a lot. But it doesn't seem to me that the implication of epiphenomenalism is that we don't need to exert conscious effort anymore. Or that the implication of lack of free will means to stop trying. If you stop exerting conscious effort in your actions you are still conscious. Is there ever a moment where you are awake when you're unconscious? So the act of not exerting conscious effort would itself be a mental state that is along for the ride of the underlying physical states. And it would be determined by the laws of physics and cause and effect interactions over time the same as all other actions in the universe.

I agree this line of thinking leads to confusing places when considering the idea of mental effort. But why should we expect a lack of confusion when discussing consciousness? Again, I don't subscribe to epiphenomenalism, but I think you're making some unwarranted statements about it. Yes, you couldn't do math without conscious effort. But the implication of epiphenomenalism is that consciousness, however it comes about, is a byproduct of the underlying neurophysiological states that ARE necessary for doing that math problem. For that math problem to be done, a certain conscious state must go along with the neurophysiological behavior.

quote:
Unless I sincerely believed that making a conscious effort mattered, there are thousands of things I would stop making the effort to do.
Isn't that basically what I said above and what you said I was wrong about?
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The Rabbit
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Strider, How do you define a "sincere" belief? I have defined a sincere belief to be a mental state that is consistent with the actions associated with ones conscious choices. If you accept this definition, then it follows logically that a person who sincerely believed that their own consciousness was epiphenominal would not exert mental effort to influence the physical world, as that would be inconsistent with their sincerely held belief.

Suppose a epiphenonminalist, who has been pondering the nature of consciousness, suddenly realizes he is standing in the aisle of a grocery story and asks "Why am I here?". If he sincerely believes that conscious thought has no influence on the physical world, he would would not scratch his head trying to remember and then think "Ah, I came here because I want to buy chocolate" because the mental state of "I am here because I desired something" is inconsistent with the mental state of sincere belief in epiphenominalism.

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Tresopax
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quote:
On the other hand I once convinced a friend of mine that free will doesn't exist, and she spent the rest of the night sobbing.

On a third hand, I think that reaction isn't necessary, and that lack of free will doesn't actually take away any meaning from our lives.

Actually, if there's no free will then that reaction was completely necessary - it was decided by the prior state of the universe, and your friend had no choice to do otherwise. [Wink]

...

As I see it, logical problems like the free will problem offer us two options. If assumptions A, B, and C lead us to conclude that there is no free will, then we can either accept that there is no free will or reject one of those three assumptions. We must do one or the other, depending on whether we are more confident of the assumptions or more confident of the conclusion.

Free will belongs in a very small set of propositions that we should have the highest confidence in, because if it were false it would lead to absurdity. It would mean we can't hold anyone morally or ethically responsible for anything, since they didn't really make any free choices for their own behavior. It would render the concepts of "best option" or "what we should do" meaningless, because we wouldn't actually have options. In other words, in order to live our lives in a way consistent with disbelief in free will, we'd have to act and think in ways that we've known are absurd since we were small children, and which would probably end up hurting us significantly. Even those who flatly reject that free will exists nevertheless end up acting and speaking in ways that show they go about making free choices in their daily lives.

So what I wonder is.... what are those assumptions A, B, and C that we are so confident in that, rather than rejecting any of those assumptions, we'd even be willing to reject a conclusion as seemingly clear as free will? Why not reject A, B, or C, and believe in free will - that seems like it would better allow us to live in a way that is consistent with our philosophy?

The way around that is if you separate the notions of making a choice and having multiple options in practical life from the concept of free will. But that seems to me to be simply redefining free will into something that doesn't have any practical significance... if we act in just the same way regardless of whether or not there is free will, and we are able to make choices and have options even without free will, then what is this thing we are arguing about?

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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
because if it were false it would lead to absurdity. It would mean we can't hold anyone morally or ethically responsible for anything, since they didn't really make any free choices for their own behavior.
Haven't we been through why this is completely not true before?
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Tresopax
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Probably, but any way you'd argue that is going to come down to separating ethic questions from free will, which again leads to the question of why we are arguing about free will if questions of practical life are answered just the same whether we have it or not.

Sidenote: It's frustrating when folks argue that we don't have free will but should act like we do, or that there isn't really a self but we should act like there is, or that there isn't an objective good but we should behave as if there were, and so on... and then wonder why philosophy is seen as so unuseful by most people.

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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
Probably, but any way you'd argue that is going to come down to separating ethic questions from free will, which again leads to the question of why we are arguing about free will if questions of practical life are answered just the same whether we have it or not.
We (rather, I) am arguing about free will because arguing about free will is fun and produces a (usually false) sensation that I am exploring deep, important issues. I enjoy that sort of thing due to my genetics, my upbringing, and possibly (he said, pretending briefly to keep the thread on topic) due to conditions in my mothers womb during my early development.

I am a self aware entity that has preferences about what sort of experiences I have. There are processes I undergo, some of which relate to conscious thoughts and feelings. I have found that behaving morally produces a better world that I prefer to live in. This knowledge is one of the things that influence my actions.

It's important for morality to be detached from free will. Free will-based moralities tend to be about vengeance and pushiment, instead of producing the best results possible. Sometimes that results in the same morals that a free-will based morality would, but sometimes it doesn't.

So it's also not true that "we have no free will, but we should act like we do." You can build an accurate worldview off of untrue things through trial and error, but chances are you're going to get attached to unnecessary and possibly dangerous beliefs.

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Raymond Arnold
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I should clarify my stance a bit:

The point of Thou Art Physics is that we experience sensation, evaluate decisions, and take actions based on evaluations. To free-will-proponents, it says "there is nothing magical or special or suprising about this." To determinists (well, to me, anyway), it mostly provides language to better communicate with free will proponents.

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Strider
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quote:
I have defined a sincere belief to be a mental state that is consistent with the actions associated with ones conscious choices. If you accept this definition, then it follows logically that a person who sincerely believed that their own consciousness was epiphenominal would not exert mental effort to influence the physical world, as that would be inconsistent with their sincerely held belief.
Rabbit, I think this only works if the assumption that the brain is a perfectly logical computational device is true. Which is almost certainly not the case. Why can't there be inconsistencies and conflicting processes?

Remember, if someone is an epiphenomenalist, they also don't believe in free will or souls. The consciously experiencing person has no more control over their thoughts than they do their behaviors. They would or would not exert mental effort to influence the physical world due solely to their neurophysiology, due to their brain processes. The experience of mental effort would either be there or not based on that underlying pattern of neuronal firing. A momentary insight, or either a pervasive conscious belief about the nature of mental states being epiphenomenal in know way guarantees that the core processes that underlie behavior will cease, and the accompanying mental states along with them.

You seem to be arguing from the standpoint of presupposing that epiphenomenalism is wrong and that we have free will and a soul. In this situation, someone who believed in epiphenomenalism would use their agency to not exert mental effort. But that's not a necessary result if you accept all the implications of epiphenomenalism.

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Strider
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quote:
It would mean we can't hold anyone morally or ethically responsible for anything, since they didn't really make any free choices for their own behavior. It would render the concepts of "best option" or "what we should do" meaningless, because we wouldn't actually have options.
I don't think this is the case at all Tres. More precisely, it would mean we would be required to have a conversation about the notion of responsibility, and what role it plays in society and human interactions.

It only renders notions of "should" or "ought" meaningless in a limited sense. Since yes, only one behavior happens, and though we have the conscious experiencing of choosing, it wasn't really a real choice. BUT that only works when we take a narrow view of what it means to say someone "should do something" or "should have done something else".

If we're talking about is a normative statement about what is the right way to act, and we understand that behavior/neurophysiology can change through interaction, then we can say meaningful statements about how we can interact with others so they become the kinds of people who act in ways where they do "pick the best option" or "do what they should do" or "act ethically".

quote:
but any way you'd argue that is going to come down to separating ethic questions from free will, which again leads to the question of why we are arguing about free will if questions of practical life are answered just the same whether we have it or not.
Raymond covered in part what I would have said in response to this. I'll also note I've mentioned a few times in this thread that I'm less concerned with free will and more concerned with agency and cognition.

But it's also worth noting that while for me, whether we have it or not does not affect how I believe we should behave based on my ethical system, naive notions of free will and human agency DO very much affect the way people react to and interact with other people, both personally, and at the policy level.

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The Rabbit
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quote:
Free will-based moralities tend to be about vengeance and pushiment, instead of producing the best results possible.
You've made a rather sweeping statement there that I doubt is defensible. While moral accountability is one of the ethical questions commonly associated with the discussion of free will, it is hardly the only one. Even if it were, "moral accountability" concerns far more than vengence and punishment.

If conscious deliberation can not influence whether or not we make moral choices -- then what is the point of any thinking about morality and ethics? If consciousness is truly epiphenominal meaning that conscious thought does not influence the physical world -- then ethical and moral debates are pointless mental gymnastics.

We can disagree about whether being able to make real choices based on our conscious consideration of facts and ideas constitutes free will, but we have to assume that our own conscious effort have real consequences. The alternative is insanity.

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
Originally posted by Raymond Arnold:
I should clarify my stance a bit:

The point of Thou Art Physics is that we experience sensation, evaluate decisions, and take actions based on evaluations. To free-will-proponents, it says "there is nothing magical or special or suprising about this." To determinists (well, to me, anyway), it mostly provides language to better communicate with free will proponents.

The point of Thou Art Physics, is that free will isn't opposed to determinism.

People who see it opposed to determinism see it so because they have the false intuition that physics binds them against some actual inner self, rather than defines that very self.

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The Rabbit
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quote:
Rabbit, I think this only works if the assumption that the brain is a perfectly logical computational device is true. Which is almost certainly not the case. Why can't there be inconsistencies and conflicting processes?
Certainly people do not behave rationally. People are inconsistent and think all kinds of conflicting things. That's irrelevant to my argument. At the bottom of all those conflicting ideas and desires, there is a foundation of beliefs and desires that are most strongly correlated with our conscious choices. Those are, by my definition what we sincerely believe.

You may think you want to loose weight more than anything in the world, but if you routinely choose to watch television and eat ice cream rather than go to the gym and eat vegetables, your desire to loose weight is not sincere. People do what they sincerely want to do. That is what I mean by a sincere desire.

Similarly, a sincere belief is one that is consistent with ones conscious choices. A belief that is inconsistent with ones conscious choices is, by my definition, not a sincerely held belief.

When I said that no one can sincerely believe that their own conscious thoughts are epiphenominal and remain sane, I meant that it would be impossible for a person to make conscious choices consistent with that belief and remain a functional human being. If you disagree, give me an example of a conscious choice that would be consistent with the sincere belief that conscious choice could not effect the physical world.

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Strider
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quote:
We can disagree about whether being able to make real choices based on our conscious consideration of facts and ideas constitutes free will, but we have to assume that our own conscious effort have real consequences. The alternative is insanity.
Rabbit, no one as of yet has argued for epiphenomenalism on this thread. You're tilting at windmills here. But I do think you are making sweeping statements about the implications of epiphenomenalism that are not backed up by anything.

quote:
If conscious deliberation can not influence whether or not we make moral choices -- then what is the point of any thinking about morality and ethics?
Please see my above post to you. You are asking the wrong question. You are setting up a false option for us to choose from. Either think about morality or don't. Whatever choice you make is the one you were determined to make. Whether you think about morality, or cheese, or sex, or bicycles, whether you stop thinking about something mid thought because you decide it's not worth thinking about because you have no free will and consciousness is epiphenomenal, it's all part of the deterministic process that we call you, which an epiphenomenalist would say is epiphenomenal. The underlying neurophysiological activity proceeds as a temporal process in whichever way it is determined to go, and that process has a conscious correlate that epiphenomenalists say has no causal influence because all the causal influence is at the lower levels.

Conscious deliberation itself under epiphenomenalism does not influence whether we make moral choices, but the underlying neurophysiological process that is the correlate of the conscious experience DOES have causal influence. You don't have a choice as to whether you consciously deliberate or not (at least not a real choice), it either happens or it doesn't, based on your neurophysiology.

Btw, I'm greatly amused at my defense of a theory I don't agree with it!

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Strider
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quote:
When I said that no one can sincerely believe that their own conscious thoughts are epiphenominal and remain sane, I meant that it would be impossible for a person to make conscious choices consistent with that belief and remain a functional human being. If you disagree, give me an example of a conscious choice that would be consistent with the sincere belief that conscious choice could not effect the physical world.
I think I've addressed this in my last few posts to you. IF you accept epiphenomenalism, conscious choices are just the correlates of underlying neurophysiology. There really is no choice. No chooser. That's the point of epiphenomenalism. For the sake of argument you are accepting one aspect of epiphenomenalism, but not the whole thing, and it leads to this apparent contradiction.

also:

quote:
At the bottom of all those conflicting ideas and desires, there is a foundation of beliefs and desires that are most strongly correlated with our conscious choices.
I'm not sure that there's warrant for this statement. It assumes that that beliefs and desires are explicit propositional statements of some sort, rather than dispositions towards certain types of behaviors. There is no reason to expect lack of contradictions, even if this foundational level of which you speak exists.
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The Rabbit
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quote:
I think I've addressed this in my last few posts to you. IF you accept epiphenomenalism, conscious choices are just the correlates of underlying neurophysiology. There really is no choice. No chooser. That's the point of epiphenomenalism. For the sake of argument you are accepting one aspect of epiphenomenalism, but not the whole thing, and it leads to this apparent contradiction.
That's irrelevant. All that is required for my statement is that conscious beings experience the sensations of choosing and exerting mental effort. From the epiphenominalist perspective, beliefs, ideas, and choices don't really exist, they are all just correlates of the underlying neurophysiology. None the less, some of the beliefs and ideas will be highly with the subjective experience of making a choice, and some will not. I define the sincerity of a belief to be the degree to which it is consistent with conscious choice. Consistency between mental states can exist whether or not those mental state influence the physical world, hence it is possible, by this definition, to judge certain beliefs to be more sincere than others even from the epiphenominalist perspective.

If you disagree, you need to at least provide some alternative definition of what constitutes a sincere belief. You seem to be claiming that from the epiphenominalist perspective, sincerity is meaningless. This only true to the extent that consciouness itself is meaningless from the epiphenominalist perspective. It is possible to say certain ideas and beliefs are more consistent with the conscious processes of a given choice than others regardless the relationship between the ideas, beliefs and choices to the physical neurological process.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
All that is required for my statement is that conscious beings experience the sensations of choosing and exerting mental effort. From the epiphenominalist perspective, beliefs, ideas, and choices don't really exist, they are all just correlates of the underlying neurophysiology.
From the epiphenominalist perspective, conscious beings don't exist. You aren't thinking big enough.

quote:
I define the sincerity of a belief to be the degree to which it is consistent with conscious choice.
Well, there's your problem.

But, seriously, to address your concern: I do indeed sincerely believe that I am a big mass of random molecules floating through mostly empty space, held together by what may as well be magic. And yet, despite the fact that I sincerely believe this, I do not think when I reach out for a pencil of all the incredible subatomic complexity involved in the act. It's a mental shorthand enforced by my own biology that, while convenient, also prevents me from being physically able to even conceive of the actual truth of the situation.

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The Rabbit
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quote:
I do indeed sincerely believe that I am a big mass of random molecules floating through mostly empty space, held together by what may as well be magic. And yet, despite the fact that I sincerely believe this, I do not think when I reach out for a pencil of all the incredible subatomic complexity involved in the act. It's a mental shorthand enforced by my own biology that, while convenient, also prevents me from being physically able to even conceive of the actual truth of the situation.
That analogy simply doesn't work for me as a chemist. For the first thing, I have spent a good portion of my life studying how the interaction of atomic and subatomic particles gives rise to the macroscopic properties of matter. There is no inconsistency in viewing the pencil on my desk as a solid object useful for writing and understanding that it is an incredibly complex assembly of subatomic particles creating an intricate force field in space. Its no more contradictory than saying that a novel is both a book and a collection of ordered letters. When I reach out to pick up a pencil, there is no need to consider its subatomic complexity. It would not change my behavior in any way. Sincerely believing that both pencil and hand are made of subatomic particles is not in any way inconsistent with choosing to reach out and pick up the the pencil. It is not inconsistent to view the object as a pencil and as a collection of subatomic particles. Both views are physically and objectively true and useful in certain applications.

But this is not the primary reason the analogy fails. Your belief about the nature of matter is a subjective opinion about objective facts. What you believe about the nature of the pencil can not change its nature. No matter how sincerely you believe that both your hand and the pencil are nearly entirely empty space, you won't be able to pass your hand through the pencil. The forces that keep your fingers from passing through the pencil are real whether you believe in them or not.

Epiphenominalism is a subjective belief about the nature of subjective experience. One of the key features of subjective experience is the sensation that what we think influences our actions and behavior. We experience the sensation of trying to accomplish something. We feel we have a choice to continue exerting ourselves or to give up. Our heartbeats whether we think about it or not, but we know that we don't of solve math problems or post on internet forums without and conscious effort and we "decide" whether we will make that conscious effort or not. Whether that decision is real or illusory, the subjective experience of it, at least in my case, involves consideration of my beliefs.

[ July 08, 2011, 09:49 AM: Message edited by: The Rabbit ]

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The Rabbit
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quote:
From the epiphenominalist perspective, conscious beings don't exist. You aren't thinking big enough.
Belief only exists if consciousness exist. A belief in Epiphonominalism is a belief that belief itself is illusory. Can you call a belief sincere if you you believe it to be an illusion?
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scifibum
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quote:
Belief only exists if consciousness exist. A belief in Epiphonominalism is a belief that belief itself is illusory. Can you call a belief sincere if you you believe it to be an illusion?
So you're pointing out a paradox, here? You seemed to be making an argument that not believing in one's own conscious agency would make one insane, but now you're saying one cannot hold that belief at all?

But to answer your question, yes, of course you can call that belief sincere. One's definition of "belief" in that case would include the understanding that the conscious experience of it was only a side effect of underlying physical events. But those physical events would correlate to the same outcome as a "sincere belief" in a non-epiphenomenalist world, so it amounts to the same concept.

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The Rabbit
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quote:
So you're pointing out a paradox, here? You seemed to be making an argument that not believing in one's own conscious agency would make one insane, but now you're saying one cannot hold that belief at all?
No, I was just rebutting Tom's argument.

quote:
One's definition of "belief" in that case would include the understanding that the conscious experience of it was only a side effect of underlying physical events. But those physical events would correlate to the same outcome as a "sincere belief" in a non-epiphenomenalist world, so it amounts to the same concept.
If this makes sense to you, then your experience of consciousness is utterly different from mine. In my experience of consciousness, performing certain tasks requires mental exertion. Since my natural tendency is to avoid exerting myself unless I perceive some benefit for it, I must believe that mental effort has some real effect in order to make that effort. I'm not going to exert myself to solve some difficult mathematical problem unless I believe that this exertion is likely to increase my chances of finding the solution. If I truly believed that the sensation of exerting mental effort was an epiphenomenon that had no real influence on the outcome, I wouldn't do it. My response to every difficult problem would be, "I'll sleep on it. Either my neurons will come to a solution or they won't. Forcing my self to concentrate on the problem can't possibly help." After all, in my conscious experience I do occasionally come up with a solution to a problem by "sleeping on it".

But even though that occasionally works, I know very well that it usually doesn't. If my response to every problem was to sleep on it until a solution popped into my mind, I would cease to function rationally.

You can say "If you believed mental effort was an epiphenomena, you'd keep exerting effort because your neurons would make you do it." If this is what is happening, then, at least in my experience, my neurons make me do it by making me believe that it matters.

At the moment in which in which one consciously chooses to exert mental effort, one sincerely believes that the conscious effort matters.

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Raymond Arnold
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I don't actually fully understand what epiphenomenists believe, or if it's the same thing I'm about to describe. But from what I've read, a lot of decisions that we think of as conscious decisions are in fact made in the subconscious, and our conscious thought process is a "rationalization after the fact."

I don't know whether that's true or not. I'm not a neurologist and I was just reading a pop-sci article. But it sounds entirely plausible to me, and it does not strike me as at all contradictory to say:

"1) My conscious effort is a byproduct of things going on in my unconscious mind that I don't really control.

"2) If I want to get important math problems done, things need to be going on in my unconscious mind that result in me experiencing the sensation of mental exertion in my conscious mind.

"3) If I want those things to happen in my subconscious mind, one requirement is that I am the sort of person who is willing to undergo mental exertions."

If you want a ball to fall from the top of a tower to the bottom, the sound that the ball makes as it falls through the air is not what caused the ball to fall. But if you live in a world with air, it's not possible to drop the ball without producing that sound.

At the moment in which one consciously chooses to exert mental effort, one (may have, possibly) already subconsciously made that choice, and the conscious decision is just like the air whistling - an inevitable consequence of the ball dropping, not the event that threw the ball from the roof in the first place.

I experience the same "mental exertion requirement" that you describe. I find the above entirely plausible, whether or not it's true.

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scifibum
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The thing is, Rabbit, anyone who espouses epiphenomenalism presumably has the same mental sensations and relationship with motivation you are describing. They have simply concluded that it's illusory.

No one can opt out of the illusion (if it is an illusion).

I'm not sure why you think that deciding the sensation of choosing to exert mental effort is illusory would actually change the way that person develops and reacts to motivations. If the conscious experience is just a side effect, the physical processes are going to remain the same. If the physical processes result in a particular belief that relates to themselves, they aren't necessarily going to additionally break down.

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Strider
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quote:
Belief only exists if consciousness exist. A belief in Epiphonominalism is a belief that belief itself is illusory.
Depends on how you define belief Rabbit. If you allow for implicit belief, which I would, then belief does not have to be a conscious propositional statement about the world. In fact, I would argue that no beliefs are at root this. What we call beliefs are the verbal expression of underlying dispositions towards the world. A disposition to act in a certain way, to accept or reject certain statements. You harbor a representation of the world that amounts to a belief. In this way, a human, or an animal, can act as if they believe a statement without actually ever having thought that particular statement. A belief, in the propositional sense, would then be a process taking place in the present.

Otherwise we'd have difficulty accounting for all the infinite number of beliefs that you have (that pink polka dotted 18 wheel trucks are dangerous to stand in front of) but which you have never thought consciously. And all the tangentially related beliefs that are altered by a new piece of knowledge which you never consciously think about.

A belief in epiphenomenalism wouldn't necessarily change how someone behaves in the world at all. Even if I'm wrong about the nature of beliefs, I still don't see how your statements are born out.

quote:
I don't actually fully understand what epiphenomenists believe, or if it's the same thing I'm about to describe. But from what I've read, a lot of decisions that we think of as conscious decisions are in fact made in the subconscious, and our conscious thought process is a "rationalization after the fact."

Raymond, that's not entirely the same as epiphenomenalism, but I guess if you developed that line of thought in the right away, it could be an explanation of epiphenomenalism. The main thrust of the epiphenomenalist argument is that even if all decisions were made consciously, that there was even no such thing as unconscious or subconscious decision making, our conscious decisions, and at root our consciousness itself would be epiphenomenal. There is no causality in consciousness under this account, but rather, all the causality exists in the underlying physical stuff.

I personally think epiphenomenalism gets a bit murky when you try to account for specifics of where the causal power is. At lot of people will argue that all the causality lies in the neurons, and consciousness is the epiphenomena. But why single out the neurons? Wouldn't neurons have the same ontological problem of consciousness? Wouldn't we be forced to say that neurons aren't real either and that the real causal power is in the atoms, or the quarks, or the quantum wave function? What gets to be real and what doesn't? And if there's no causal power in anything besides the at root physical process, why would these other processes exist? Why would they emerge? And if they do have a real ontological existence, why stop at neurons? Why not grant consciousness causal power? Anyway...that's just one line of reasoning that I think pokes some holes in epiphenomalism, though I sometimes mix up the specific tenets of epiphenomalism and eliminative materialism, and that may be more relevant to the latter.

I found this paper by Dan Dennett. And while I don't agree with Dennett's compatabilist take on free will, I thought this paper addresses a lot of the questions surrounding determinism and free will in a really nice way.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
At the moment in which in which one consciously chooses to exert mental effort, one sincerely believes that the conscious effort matters.
I'm thinking that you might fundamentally misunderstand epiphenomenalism. An epiphenominalist would say that there is not only no such thing as a "conscious choice" in the way you mean, but that there is no such thing as a "one" in the way you mean. In other words: the self is a programmed bunch of responses. It perceives itself as a single unit capable of conscious decision, but those conscious decisions are themselves programmed responses being produced by other mechanisms. That it perceives its programmed reactions to be the product of some sort of consciousness is not -- as you seem to be asserting -- a paradox; it's simply the way it works.
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The Rabbit
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Tom,

I understand epiphenominalism extremely well, having studied and discussed with numerous of my academic colleagues. There is no need for the condescension. If an epiphenominalist would say there is no such thing as "conscious choice", then he can not mean it in the way that I do.

When I say "conscious choice", I mean the subjective experience of choosing something that often involves the rational process of weighing options. That subjective experience exists, I experience it. Epiphenominalists agree that conscious beings experience the sensation of "choosing", "reasoning", and "believing" -- they simply claim these phenomena are illusory.

From an academic, biochemical, objective perspective, I can imagine that's true. It could be. What I am saying is that whether its true or not, its not believable. Belief is a subjective phenomenon. Based on my own subjective experience of consciousness, I am compelled to believe my own thought processes matter. I could not function sanely if I did not. Perhaps others conscious experience is utterly different from mine. Maybe you don't experience consciousness at all which is why what I'm saying about the subjective experience of consciousness does not resonate with you. In fact, I'm beginning to suspect from that several people involved in this discussion are zombies.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
What I am saying is that whether its true or not, its not believable. Belief is a subjective phenomenon.
If you're saying that you are limited by your belief structures in such a way that you are not capable of believing that you have no non-physical consciousness, that's fine. But doubting that anyone else can is not, I submit, rational.

I think you're fixated on the idea that your thoughts matter, as noted above, and thus are missing the point. Of course your thoughts matter; your thoughts are part of the process by which the collective entity that is your "self" produces results. But those thoughts are themselves deterministic products of your physical brain.

You would not say of a computer program which controls an assembly line that it doesn't matter. Of course it matters. But neither would you say that the program has no physical existence, that it's just some vague "consciousness" that has somehow been manifested within the computer; it manifests in the concrete physical transfer of electrons through switches. In the same way, your thoughts definitely matter; they are essentially the language in which your high-level software is written. But, like computer programs, your thoughts manifest as physical objects with physical reality; they are not nebulous, non-existent qualia.

Now, I want to stress that I am not personally an epiphenominalist in the broadest sense, in that I absolutely believe that one's mental state is relevant to one's behavior. But I believe that one's mental state is really just the physical state of one's neural network, and that altering the physical state can produce a "mental state" that would be absolutely indistinguishable from a mental state reached by internal processes (and thus produce physical effects controlled by that mental state as if that mental state had been self-generated.) (Personally, I'm more comfortable thinking of this as a strictly materialist worldview, because epiphenominalism is so strongly associated with some ludicrous philosophies, but I see nothing preventing it from being considered a valid argument for epiphenomalism as well.)

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The Rabbit
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My argument hangs entirely on the definition of sincere belief. What constitutes a sincere belief from the epiphenominalist perspective is far from self evident, but since people claim to believe in epiphenominalism, addressing the question is pretty much intrinisic to the discussion of epiphenominalism.

I have defined a "sincere belief" to be a mental state that is largely consistent with ones conscious choices. It is possible to assess the extent to which a persons conscious thought processes are internally consistent whether those process are illusory manifestation of neuronal activity or influence one another, so that definition provides a measure of "sincerity" which is applicable even from the epiphenominalist perspective. I will agree that from the that perspective, the sincerity of ones beliefs is not a particularly meaningful. But then, the whole point of epiphenominalism is that conscious process are not particularly meaningful.

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TomDavidson
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I don't see where you have demonstrated that an epiphenominalist is unable to sincerely (and thus consciously, for a given value of "consciously") hold a belief in epiphenomalism, though, even by your definition.
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Stone_Wolf_
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I haven't been following this thread much...but just for fun I thought I'd stick my head in and give you guys an example of free will:

"Banana sandwich hat sale!"

I choose to say that nonsensical thing.

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Strider
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Well that logic is impeccable.
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Stone_Wolf_
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Do I detect a hint of sarcasm?
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Strider
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I can't help it. My brain made me do it.
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Stone_Wolf_
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*rubs his temples suggestively* Or was it my brain that made you do it? *evil laugh*
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King of Men
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There's a story by (I think) Ted Chiang, called "The algorithm for love", in which the protagonist becomes convinced that she is in fact a Turing machine, executing evolutionary algorithms, and that therefore her life is meaningless. I think this intuition drives a lot of the sometimes nearly hysterical resistance to physical determinism and reductionism; I also think it's wrong. Ted Chiang's protagonist is, unfortunately, executing the algorithms for being a whiny drama queen. It is not possible to be mistaken about the value of one's life due to ignorance of its nature: If it was valuable before you learned the truth about the underlying process, then it is still valuable afterwards, for your estimate of its value was not in fact derived from any wrong perception about the nature of consciousness; it was (and should remain) derived from your perception that by dog, you exist and life is good, and can be made even better.
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rivka
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KoM, this? Not Chiang, although I agree it has some similarities to his work.
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King of Men
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That's the one, yes. Mind bobbled on the author, apparently. I stand by the judgement of algorithms for being a whiny drama queen.
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Raymond Arnold
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At the end of the story it says:

quote:
As well, the tone and central conflict of the story evoke Ted Chiang's excellent "Division by Zero." Chiang's work has had a huge influence on me, and as a gesture of respect, note that my protagonist's words to her husband right before the conception of their child echo the words spoken in similar circumstances by Chiang's protagonist in "The Story of Your Life."]
The story was interesting and I agree with KoM's assessment. I am curious how the story would likely play out in real life. For dramatic purposes, it made sense for the character to act out the whiny-drama-queen algorithm. But in real life:

a) Would developing dolls like that actually give you near-mindreading abilities? (this is plausible for not necessarily true.)

b) What percentage of people working on dolls like that would end up acting out the whiny-drama-queen algorithm, compared to those who just shrugged and rolled with the realization?

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Tresopax
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quote:
If it was valuable before you learned the truth about the underlying process, then it is still valuable afterwards, for your estimate of its value was not in fact derived from any wrong perception about the nature of consciousness; it was (and should remain) derived from your perception that by dog, you exist and life is good, and can be made even better.
And accordingly, if a set of assumptions exist which would require you to reject that perception that you exist or that your life is good, then you must reject those assumptions based on reductio ad absurdum.

For instance, if you know your life is good, and if you logically conclude that having no free will would entail life not being good, then you can rationally conclude you have free will.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
For instance, if you know your life is good, and if you logically conclude that having no free will would entail life not being good, then you can rationally conclude you have free will.
I think that's an epistemological failure, isn't it? Because it falls apart once you ask how you "know" your life is good.
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fugu13
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quote:
logically conclude that having no free will would entail life not being good
I'd also love to see this derived from premises that weren't shaky even for the person doing the premising.
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Strider
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quote:
It is not possible to be mistaken about the value of one's life due to ignorance of its nature:
KOM, I think this works only if "value" is defined clearly. If you simply mean whether life is worth living and caring about, I agree, this shouldn't change whether you have a soul or not, or whether you have free will or not, or whether epiphenomenalism is true or not. But *should* and *is* aren't always the same. And I do think it is possible to be mistaken about the value of one's own life due to a mistaken undestanding of the nature of life.

quote:
And accordingly, if a set of assumptions exist which would require you to reject that perception that you exist or that your life is good, then you must reject those assumptions based on reductio ad absurdum.
Tres, I don't see how this follows.

Same with this:

quote:
For instance, if you know your life is good, and if you logically conclude that having no free will would entail life not being good, then you can rationally conclude you have free will.
I think Tom has the right of it. You're confusing epistemological issues with issues of mental states and content.
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Tresopax
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It follows according to this logical progression:

Premise 1) If A then not B
Premise 2) B is True
Therefore
Conclusion 3) A is False

A = There is no free will
B = Life is good

The protagonist of the story that KoM brought up seems to accept (1). And I think KoM is correct to point out that (2) is true - that you can perceive that "you exist and life is good". I'd think the protagonist of the story should infer (3) rather than reject (2), since (2) is the premise that is easier to directly observe. Rejecting (1) would also solve it, but that depends on how good of a reason the protagonist has for assuming no free will would prevent a good and worthwhile life.

quote:
quote:
logically conclude that having no free will would entail life not being good

I'd also love to see this derived from premises that weren't shaky even for the person doing the premising.
I'd actually like to see such a line of reasoning too, but I think we'd have to start by figuring out what a "good life" entails. I'm not sure how one would do that without relying on shaky premises.
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Strider
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Tres, I think you're missing the point we're making. You need to make a distinction between what a given individual *would* do in a given situation, what a given individual *should* do in a given situation, and whether either of those are universal statements.

Let's take your example:

quote:
For instance, if you know your life is good, and if you logically conclude that having no free will would entail life not being good, then you can rationally conclude you have free will.
Someone might logically conclude that not having free will would entail life not being good. But they may have used faulty logic. Or their logic could have been based on false assumptions.

Similarly, it may be rational for someone to conclude that they have no free will, but that doesn't mean it's the truth. What is rational for a given person is based on their psychology, their neurophysiology, the current configuration of the system so to speak. Given a different configuration, a different psychology, a different history and set of circumstances, a different conclusion may be rationally reached.

What we want to do is figure out what conclusion is actually warranted. You even mention something along these lines. So maybe you're only making a statement about what might be rational for someone to conclude, but not what is actually correct or true.

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TomDavidson
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To me, the key is that that sentence needs to be rewritten this way:

If you believe your life is good, and you have rationally concluded that you would not be able to believe your life is good without free will, you can rationally conclude that you have free will.

I think, once you reword it, its weaknesses become obvious.

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