Dancing with Causality: Purposeful Steps

Dancing with Causality: Purposeful Steps

Free will, in the form of self-determinism, is only a big mystery if you allow your thinking to be governed by the centuries of philosophers who have never managed to figure it out. They've been arguing in circles because they've defined "free will" to fit their premises. This is because they didn't know anything about the brain: not even its electro-chemical characteristics.

But that's changing. Neuroscience has found a host of feedback mechanisms in various modules of the brain. It's feedback, in particular, that has led me to an understanding of free will as self-determinism. In a nutshell, our brains use feedback to interact with the world around us (causality); learn from it; understand it; and anticipate it. Our ability to anticipate causality represents a temporal advantage over causality by enabling us to prepare for it on our own terms.

Intelligent feedback works with causality to extend the potential of humans (and many other animate beings) beyond the fixed and predictable action/reaction of inanimate objects. To deny this fundamental difference between rocks and brains is simply ignoring the obvious: animate beings behave variably . . . inanimate objects react predictably. Intelligent feedback is, perhaps, the single most significant component responsible for this qualitatively more complex and transformative mode of response from animate beings: particularly human beings.

Causality determines the SCOPE of our POTENTIAL -- but not necessarily the minutiae of our thoughts and actions. There is variability and adaptability in our choices. We can make up our minds and change our minds. We can modify our own behavior. This is enough, overall, to produce the only form of "free will" we possess: self-determinism.

Another misconception about causality is that it's a continual process controlling our every move. Causality is not usually domineering: it can be, of course, but is usually just "background noise" that our autonomous and subconscious systems handle automatically (like when we're driving, for instance).

Causality is a physical process of action-reaction. Events lead to other events. A photon traveling through space causes no reaction until it impacts something else, like the surface of an object or another subatomic particle. The majority of its existence is in a state of inertia. So, yes, causality is at work at the beginning and the end of that photon's existence but it has nothing to do in between. In the same way, causality works on us through genetics and the events of our lives but, when causality isn't grabbing our attention, we think about those events and experiences and learn from them, then anticipate causality's next moves and prepare for them accordingly. This intelligent interaction with causality extends determinism to self-determinism. It's all part and parcel of causality. By anticipating causality, we dance with it, and move through life with purposeful steps.

Views: 79

Tags: brain, causality, determinism, feedback, free, freewill, intelligence, mode, potential, scope, More…self-determinism, will

Comment by Albert Bakker on December 9, 2011 at 11:39am

Interesting view.

Comment by Unseen on December 9, 2011 at 12:03pm

As I constantly point out, free will is a muddy non-concept. It doesn't really start out meaning anything, but that leave it open to being defined by someone like you and then shot down strawman style. Things happen for a reason. We make choices out of available options, which allows us to feel free. However, there's no reason—given all we know about physical reality—to suspect that one can somehow step outside the causally-determined physical process which seem to operate everywhere and do anything, including making a choice, that couldn't be traced back to physical processes over which the individual has no control whatsoever.

Comment by Ed on December 9, 2011 at 11:25pm

There's a ton of "free will" baptists and pentecosts around my neck of the woods. I probably passed a dozen churches yesterday by that name. They're not particularly philosophical about the meaning of free will.  They have a simplistic view: You have the free will to either go to heaven, via jesus, or go to hell for all eternity.

"Another misconception about causality is that it's a continual process controlling our every move." 

Why would it not be a continual process? Every moment we are conscious we are interacting w/ our environment on some level; continually receiving input to our senses, processing the new information, and reacting. A continual feedback loop if you will.

Comment by Unseen on December 10, 2011 at 10:34am

One thing the anti-causality crew conveniently forget is that it is causality which makes making choices possible. Otherwise we'd live in a world that'd be impossible to understand, much less live in. Do they say, "Sure, causality exists except when I want to do something or decide something"? If that is what they are saying, that makes no sense at all.

Comment by Arcus on December 10, 2011 at 11:42am

The issue with causality is it's unidirectionality. Whether one deals with strict causality, if A then B, or probabilistic causality, if A then B1(pB1), B2(pB2)...Bn(pBn), is that one cannot marry this concept with the effect influencing the cause, B having influence on A. However, for sentient/self-aware/conscious beings, the consequence clearly influence the initial choices. For instance, your knowledge of the fact that if you skip work you will get fired leads you to go to work, which means that you don't get fired. An effect which never occurs therefore influences the cause, breaking the causal chain. Likewise, our knowledge of effects may lead us to make certain choices, if you get a degree you will get a job you like better, so you get a degree, thus the effect influences the cause.

The important impacts of paths-not-chosen and self-fulfilling prophesies tends to be forgotten by the advocates of causality.

---------

In my experience, these advocates are quite often hard science focused an of the opinion that the soft sciences have nothing to offer but vague answers and generalities.

Comment by Unseen on December 10, 2011 at 2:29pm

The anticipation of consequences without doubt has a linear and unidirectional logic to it as well. By DESCRIBING the anticipated effect as the cause of the action, that is not a true description. Goals based on consequences are motivations, not causes. It's a psychological metaphorical description but it doesn't imply that somehow the linear and unidirectional description, based on brain processes, has been superseded.

Comment by Albert Bakker on December 10, 2011 at 3:52pm

Good points. We have now principles of causality and determinism enabling us to predict with some measure of confidence the consequences of our actions through feedback with the actual world through experience and acquired knowledge that enables us to make a choice between options and then act (hopefully) sensibly on existing situations.

Motivations are real causes of action. By projecting consequences for a range of possible actions and acting upon desirability or undesirability of certain consequences, that is self-determination and that is the (practical) ordinary/ colloquial notion of free will. You need no magic source of true randomization by quantum processes or anything of that nature for that to exist in the brain, just to put it as simple as possible that input and processing of information precedes output.

There is no extra layer. There is no Cartesian "you" somewhere exempt from the physical processes going on in your brain where free will should eventually originate. The freedom to decide between actions that were not predetermined needs to reside only in the capacity of the conscious brain to deliberate.

We need not go into the fact that this capacity is usually somewhat overestimated, it is there nevertheless.

Comment by Unseen on December 10, 2011 at 4:49pm

"The freedom to decide between actions that were not predetermined needs to reside only in the capacity of the conscious brain to deliberate."

Yet, brain science is showing that our supposedly conscious choices are actually made in the subconscious brain before we are even aware of having made a choice.

Comment by Atheist Exile on December 11, 2011 at 2:03am

@Ed,

You said:

There's a ton of "free will" baptists and pentecosts around my neck of the woods. I probably passed a dozen churches yesterday by that name. They're not particularly philosophical about the meaning of free will.  They have a simplistic view: You have the free will to either go to heaven, via jesus, or go to hell for all eternity.

"Another misconception about causality is that it's a continual process controlling our every move." 

Why would it not be a continual process? Every moment we are conscious we are interacting w/ our environment on some level; continually receiving input to our senses, processing the new information, and reacting. A continual feedback loop if you will.

Christian doctrines are not my concern. I'm not concerned with whether or not they're right or wrong. I'm not discussing free will. I'm discussing self-determinism. Free will is too nebulous to discuss in mixed company.

You quote my statement that "Another misconception about causality is that it's a continual process controlling our every move.", then attack it -- omitting the "controlling our every move" part.  If you're going to argue my words, argue them properly. Quote-mining is a strawman tactic that changes my meaning into your meaning . . . you're thus arguing with yourself. I, in fact, argued that causality does not CONTROL our every move because it does not always operate on us at significant levels. It's simplistic to think of causality as monolithic. It's more complex and subtle than that.

Absolute determinists, such as yourself and others here, are very predictable. Maybe you really are controlled like puppets. I -- nor anybody else, yet -- is denying that causality threads its way through everything. I do, however, challenge the notion that it controls us absolutely. Causality itself does not rule out the potential for our intelligent interaction with it. I believe that intelligent feedback changes our relationship with causality from passive to proactive. The reactions of inanimate objects are passive and predictable. The behavior of intelligent human beings is proactive: making it unpredictable or even capricious, at times, for each individual. Inanimate objects don't prepare for causality. Intelligent animate beings do.

The cards we are dealt is causality . . . how we play them is self-determinism. Intelligent feedback informs our decisions. It is natural and normal for us to adapt to new information. Adaptation is proactive. Anticipation is proactive. Planning is proactive. Harnessing causality (i.e. technology) is proactive.

Causality is a law of nature. That doesn't mean that intelligent beings violate causality by being proactive: anticipating, preparing for and harnessing cause and effect for our own designs and purposes. I call this self-determinism -- NOT free will. The difference, to me, is that causality absolutely does determine many things about us (i.e. heredity) and delimits the scope or our individual potential. But within that limited potential, we can make informed decisions that take causality into account.

This uniquely human process of intelligent interaction with causality is a transformative one that makes us self-aware, future-aware manipulators of causality. We're so inured to it, we take it for granted . . . or, in the case of absolute determinists, don't even recognize it.

You guys may insist that causality rules out self-determinism but I say you're denying the obvious for the sake of an unprovable -- scientifically unfalsifiable -- claim.

Comment by Atheist Exile on December 11, 2011 at 2:39am

@Albert Bakker,

You said,

There is no extra layer. There is no Cartesian "you" somewhere exempt from the physical processes going on in your brain where free will should eventually originate. The freedom to decide between actions that were not predetermined needs to reside only in the capacity of the conscious brain to deliberate.

I totally agree. It seems to me that almost all absolute determinists are physical reductionists who think they can explain everything in terms of molecules and particle physics. I say good luck trying to make sense of consciousness via a reductionist philosophy.
 

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