Showing posts with label Determinism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Determinism. Show all posts

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Cool Idea For Neuroscience Experiment

I love the recent experiments in neuroscience that are shedding light on the nature and origin of consciousness. I just thought of a cool test I would love neuroscientists to do if it hasn't been done already.

Sniper Target Confirmed - Wallpaper

Imagine if instead of asking the subjects to flicker their wrist, or push between one of two buttons, why not have them viewing a hostage crisis and being put in a sniper's position where they have their hand on a mock gun with a trigger and they're asked to save a person who is being held with a gin to their head, and they have to either do nothing, or try to shoot the perpetrator in order to save the hostage. Then we can monitor their brain patters and ask them to acknowledge when they had the desire to kill the kidnapper, the same basic way we do in other experiments. This would be more challenging of course because the subject would have to be thinking about whether or not to shoot a kidnapper, and they'd have to try and remember to note what letter appeared on the screen at the time they thought of it. I'm not saying it can be done without problems but it's a nice idea to see if the same kinds of predictable signals occur before conscious knowledge of a choice when there is a moral factor to the decision.

Dear Theists, A Question About Dualism And Neuroscience

Dear Theists,

So you believe we have an immaterial soul in addition to our physical bodies, don't you? What's that? No, you don't believe in dualism? OK, fine. Then I'm not talking to you. I want to talk to the substance dualist. Imagine that you're a neuroscientist right now and you want to be the person who finds out something groundbreaking in the field about consciousness. What epistemological framework are you going to adopt while in your work? - that there are parts of the immaterial and/or supernatural world interacting with and causing neurological or conscious activity, or that there are natural and physical explanations to seek in order to help shed more light on consciousness?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lawrence Krauss On Quantum Mechanics And Determinism

"Quantum mechanics is not indeterministic as many people think, it's a completely deterministic theory. It's second order differential equations with boundary conditions and they're completely determined. Once you give the initial conditions the wave function of a particle after some time is completely determined, so there's no indeterminacy. Now what happens when you measure the properties of that particle based on its wave function that's probabilistic." 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Exploring The Implications Of Determinism

It took me about 2 years, but I eventually made my way from being a naive believer in free will to a determinist. The road was paved with many bumps along the way and I found myself desperately clinging to the last thread of free will before I finally and inevitably had to let go. Like most people, it is hard to come to grips with the idea that there is no free will. We have this intuitive sense that our thoughts and actions are of our own volition. And a few years ago, if you were to have asked me whether or not I thought I had free will I would have cited that subjective intuition as my primary evidence. Perhaps I also would have thrown up the apparent indeterminacy of quantum mechanics as some scientific scientific evidence for free will. But all in all, I really didn't know what I was talking about.

What lead me to determinism was a greater understanding of quantum mechanics, which is deterministic, coupled with the data from neuroscience that our brain states occur before and determine our conscious mental states. Furthermore, when the very concept of free will is critically examined it doesn't really make sense. How can my mind have free will and disrupt the atoms in my body without a physical trace? How can my mind "choose" to have certain thoughts over others? My "free will" would have to spontaneously arise with no prior causal antecedents and without any explanation, because if there is an explanation, then it's determined. It also seems that if one must retain the belief in free will, then they must accept some kind of substance dualism. Free will must therefore be believed on faith - there is no evidence that we have it.

These questions and more make free will to me seem like something incoherent and unexplainable. So given that determinism is better supported by the evidence, it is not immune from from its own tough questions. If we all are determined beings, then how can we be held morally and legally accountable for our actions? How can anyone take credit for the good they do? And why do we feel so strongly as if we have free will?

Sometimes when I am in the midst of the throngs of commuters on my way to work I reflect with amazement on the idea that they are all determined - every single one of them, and that this drama was to be played out since the very first nanosecond of the big bang. It is mind boggling to think of the world in such a way. I also struggle to cope with the idea that all suffering was also determined. The holocaust, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, every war and disaster, all the suffering endured by every sentient being - it was all determined to happen and could not have been avoided. And I think to myself, why does the universe have to be so cruel? Why couldn't it have been a place with a little less suffering? But of course the answer is that the universe just is; one shouldn't expect it to be one way or the other when it comes to the suffering of sentient life.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Maybe I'm Not Human

I'm going to get a little personal here for a moment.

I think I'm missing out on one of life's most amazing gifts: being in love. I'm in my early thirties and I have never once been in love before. By "being in love" I mean being in a loving relationship with someone who is also in love with you. I do not mean to say loving someone who does not love you back. I'm talking about the full package, the two-way street of mutual love. I have never had a relationship where I've been in love with the person I've dated where she loved me back. I thought I came close to it once, but in retrospect, I don't think I could call it true love. It may have been obsession masquerading around and fooling my brain into thinking it was love.

Some of you have been in love. Some of you maybe are in love. Some of you fell in love, got married and are still in love with your spouse. But love for me so far has never happened. I'm very picky about women. I need a girl with a certain look. I tend to fall in love with my eyes pretty easy, but that isn't really love, that's lust. True love means you have to be able to look past the surface to the inner core of a being. You have to accept them for all their flaws, you have to still be able to love them at their worst moment. That for me is the hardest thing to do. I have a really hard time loving the whole person and seeing past their flaws. The most beautiful woman are far from perfect.

I've been on many sides of the love dilemma. I've been in what I thought was love with women who didn't love me back. I've had women who were in love with me that I didn't love back. I've been in love with a woman's looks but hated their personality, and I've been in love with a woman's personality but wasn't attracted to their looks. It is not fun being in either of these situations and they all lead to emotional suffering for those involved.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Coming To Grips With Determinism

Relatively recently, I accepted determinism as the way the universe works. It took me several years and I fought tooth and nail to hold onto some notion of free will, but in the end I've had to accept that we are all determined beings and that free will is an illusion. If one accepts a purely materialist universe, which is essentially what atheism is, then one pretty much has to accept the notion that there is no free will. This is an implication of atheism that even many atheists do not even consider.

But consider this:

(1) If the universe is fundamentally material and all material obeys the laws of physics, and
(2) If human beings are fundamentally material, then
(3) Human beings obey the laws of physics, and
(4) Therefore there is no free will

There is no way to squeeze free will into this picture if one accepts materialism. But how then can we reconcile this with our experiences and how can we call ourselves "freethinkers" if we really are just determined organic machines? I've recently been thinking about this after getting into an online debate with a dualist over the data we have from neuroscience and its interpretations.

The data from neuroscience is completely compatible with the idea of determinism. In fact, it is from the data of neuroscience that one can reasonably conclude that we are determined by the laws of physics. Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in London says, "As a neuroscientist, you've got to be a determinist. There are physical laws, which the electrical and chemical events in the brain obey. Under identical circumstances, you couldn't have done otherwise; there's no 'I' which can say 'I want to do otherwise'. It's richness of the action that you do make, acting smart rather than acting dumb, which is free will."

The fields of neuroscience and physics are filled with materialists. Given the data we have about how our consciousness is the last thing to show up on a list of brain functionality, I find it hard to see how anyone can still be a dualist, especially since both Cartesian dualism and interactionist dualism do not correspond with the data and have failed to yield any predictive power.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Why I'm An Atheist

I've been feeling a bit compelled recently to write about why exactly it is that I'm an atheist and what reasons I have for being one. While I feel that this post was long overdue, an adequate justification for my atheism has been the product of a learning curve several years in the making. I know many others have written posts explaining why they aren't a Christian or why they aren't a Mormon, or a Muslim, etc., but technically I can't write a post like that because I was never myself a member of any religion. What I can do, is justify why I'm an atheist and why I think the naturalistic worldview best describes reality, and so here I want to put into a single post the main reasons why I personally am an atheist, and why I think you should be one too if you aren't already. I apologize for the length.

Monday, October 14, 2013

J.P. Moreland's Attack On "Scientific Atheism" Part 3

The next section of Moreland's chapter is the meat and potatoes of his argument against naturalism, which he titles, FIVE RECALCITRANT FEATURES OF THE IMAGE OF GOD. He reiterates god's attributes, and touches on the happy coincidence that they're just like the ones the "beings that are alleged to have been created to be like God" have. (p. 37) Thus, he deduces that biblical theism predicts these features and this provides confirmation for biblical theism. He attacks labels such as "emergent phenomena" that many property dualists like myself ascribe to. "How, for example," asks Moreland "could it be that they emerged in the first place?"  (p. 38)

Moreland offers his first line of evidence against naturalism and in support of "what would be predicted if biblical theism were true." (p. 38)

1. Consciousness and the mental

Moreland states that it's easier to see consciousness being created by a conscious entity, like god, rather than through natural processes. But look at nature. In nature we can see all different levels of consciousness exemplified, from complex consciousness like what we have, to simpler versions found in other mammals and birds, to highly rudimentary versions found in reptiles and amphibians - exactly what we'd expect if consciousness was something that developed and evolved over time. And if a soul is responsible for consciousness, when exactly did that come into our evolution? Consciousness didn't just "appear" overnight. It was a gradual development. And I don't know any theists who think the soul evolved in stages - it's pretty much all or nothing. But then animals should have some kind of soul because many animals are conscious too. Perhaps we got the deluxe souls and animals got the basic souls? Alas, I am not a neuroscientist, so I cannot explain consciousness to the degree that someone more qualified than me could. But I know enough about science and evolution to know that if you really consider the idea that consciousness is due to a soul, considering our evolutionary past, it opens up numerous problems. I've challenged the dualistic assumption with a list of questions here.

Moreland offers four points about mental states (p. 38):

  • There is a raw qualitative feel or a "what is it like" to have a mental state such a a pain.
  • Many mental states have intentionality---ofness or aboutness---directed toward an object (e.g. a thought about the moon).
  • Mental states are inner, private and immediate to the subject having them.
  • Mental states fail to have crucial features (e.g., spatial extension, location) that characterize physical states and, in general, cannot be described using physical language.

Neuroscientists and neurobiologists are discovering more and more exactly how our conscious states are indeed related to the physical matter in our brains, but there is still an awfully lot to learn. A mental state, like being in a state of pain, is nature's way of letting an organism know something bad is happening to it. Mirror neurons in our brains fire when we see others in pain, even when ourselves aren't, and it's one of the reasons why we're capable of being empathetic. When it comes to intentionality, thinking of objects does create certain physical brain states that correspond to the object being thought of. Researchers have recently been able to map images of what people see using fMRI scans of their brain states as they are watching a movie. Although the research is still in its infancy, we may be able in the not to distant future, to literally read one's thoughts as they're thinking or dreaming. This shows a physical correlation between neurological brain states and consciousness. So it is far from certain that mental states have no locations or spatial extension.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

J.P. Moreland's Attack On "Scientific Atheism" Part 2

At the heart of Moreland's attack on atheism is his thesis that consciousness cannot be adequately explained without recourse to substance dualism, that is, that human beings are body + soul composites. In the part of his chapter entitled, THE NATURE OF SCIENTIFIC NATURALISM, Moreland outlines that naturalism includes

  • rejection of "first philosophy" and an acceptance of either weak or strong scientism.
  • an etiology bereft of all supernatural causes for all things that came to be, central in cosmology and biology
  • a general ontology which only includes (a) things that are similar to what can be described in physics, or (b) are contingent or determined by the laws of physics

This is not all that inaccurate, but since naturalists approach epistemology diversely, let me explain how I approach knowledge within my naturalistic framework. I would embrace a form of weak scientism as it is sometimes described, in that I privilege empiricism and verification over all other epistemologies, especially when it comes to ontology. The reason why is that empiricism, especially scientific empiricism, is the most reliable methodology, by far, for determining what exists and what doesn't. But I do not embrace a strong scientism that says scientific empiricism is the only way to know ontological truths. Logic can work, but it can only take you so far. And religious faith, like revelation, is inadequate and demonstrably unreliable as an epistemology. And that's just a fact.

Moreland speaks of this methodological naturalism and its conclusions as the "Grand Story." It has 3 key features according to him. (1) It means "that causal explanations are central to the (alleged) explanatory superiority of the Grand Story"; (2) it "expresses a scientistic philosophical monism according to which everything that exists or happens in the world is susceptible to explanations by natural scientific methods"; and (3) "the history of the universe is a story of unfolding chains of events in which small particles constantly rearrange to form larger and more complicated wholes (for example, atoms, molecules, organisms, planets)." (p. 36)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Thoughts On The Soul

I've been thinking about the existence of the soul lately and substance dualism - the belief that humans are composed of the physical body and an immaterial soul. One analogy given by dualists to illustrate the correlation between the soul and the body, is to imagine that the physical body is like a machine, like say a piano or a car, and the soul or mind is like the person operating it. So, they say, physical damage to the piano or car would render its operator unable to control the machine properly, but the soul would remain intact despite damage to the physical body.

I wonder then, how can the soul be held eternally accountable for what it does, if the body it has to work with is damaged? For example, imagine you're driving a car and the brakes fail. You crash and kill someone. After an inspection of the car, you are not deemed criminally responsible because it was caused by a mechanical error and not any kind of negligence on your part. But with our souls, I'm being asked to believe that god holds them eternally responsible, even if they have a physically damaged body that they cannot control properly. It would be like holding the driver of the car criminally responsible for the car's brakes failing, even though they could do nothing about it.

And what about genetic predispositions for violent and/or aggressive behavior? What about schizophrenia? Psychopathy? Sociopathy? Brain tumors? Mind controlling parasites like Toxoplasma gondii? Or conditions that attack impulse control and cognitive rationality? These are all physical problems that affect the way we behave and think and our ability to make moral judgements. It's hard for me to imagine that the mind is causally disconnected to these factors and is somehow floating above the brain in perfect condition, while the body it has to work with is suffering some kind of debilitating disease or condition. 

And how does that mind or soul deal with these disorders if the soul remains perfectly functional? Is it like brakes failing in the car from the driver's point of view? Is it like the soul wants to turn right but the car instead turns left? That must be very frustrating from the soul's perspective. How does this all work and how could the soul be held eternally accountable given it has a broken machine to work with that it cannot properly control? 

Everyone agrees that there are mysteries about consciousness. We can't yet fully explain it, but substance dualism is not something that appeals to me despite our ignorance. There are what are called property dualists, who believe that the mind is another property that emerges from the physical brain, but who do not accept that a soul is needed to explain consciousness. Property dualism is something I can embrace. The mind in this case would be an emergent property contingent on the physical brain. 

It seems that consciousness may just be the process of us becoming aware of physically determined phenomenon occurring in our brains that we have the illusion were our own decisions. I remain officially an agnostic on determinism, but I lean towards the world probably being fully deterministic (in which case if true, I'd be a compatiblist).

But the belief in the soul does what just about every other theistic belief does: It tries to solve a mystery by postulating another mystery, in which case there are too many unanswered questions regarding the nature of the soul and its relationship with the physical body that make it highly implausible to me. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fate Reconsidered

Growing up, I felt an inner-disgust whenever I heard anyone speak of fate. The notion that there was some sort of spiritual force dictating events and making things happen according to some grandiose plan, made me want to vomit. I was adamantly opposed to such possibilities and happily preferred to be ruled by chance and chance alone. To me there was no grand purpose, there was no such thing that anyone could call fate, everything just happened by chance and coincidence.

Through my ongoing study of physics and philosophy, I am now somewhat reconsidering my attitude towards fate. And the main culprit behind why is due to the strong possibility that we live in a completely determined universe. If we do, then "chance" events are not really by chance, they were determined to occur, and they could have never been avoided. No other possible scenario could have unfolded. This means that if two people were to meet in a way that looked like a chance encounter, it was in real a sense fate that brought them together. Not fate guided by some conscious spiritual force, but fate guided by the laws of physics.

There have been times in my life when I've met somebody special, like a girl that I dated, where the circumstances under which we met made it seem magical - as if all the pieces fell right into place. It almost did seem as if fate was working behind the scenes. Previously, I'd never allow myself to entertain such notions in the past, but now I am reconsidering that we might all be truly fated in everything we do.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Holographic Universe Theory

One interpretation of the Holographic Universe Theory states that there is no external objective reality, and that the physical reality we observe is actually just a subjective illusion derived from our consciousness. I'm immediately drawn to two questions regarding this theory: What did physical reality consist of before conscious life evolved if reality is a product of consciousness?  And, is it possible that physical reality came into being at the moment consciousness arose and did not exist prior? If the latter is so, how could consciousness arise before there was a physical reality? Can consciousness exist immaterially?

Neuroscientists have discovered that when we make a conscious decision to do something, like say reach for a glass of water, or choose one object over another, neural imaging technology can know you are going to make that conscious decision up to 6 seconds prior. That means that someone else can consciously know what you're about to consciously do, even before you're conscious of it.

"The 'Higher Self' conceives; the physical brain receives; the personality mind perceives. That's all it does", so says "Bashar" who is said to be a "multi-dimensional extra-terrestrial being who speaks through channel Darryl Anka from what we perceive as the future." Right. I don't want to get into the realm of pseudoscience with concepts of consciousness, but there is enough mystery about it that all possibilities should be considered, even supernatural ones.

People tend to be more critical towards ideas that contradict their worldviews. That's why theists tend to be highly skeptical towards a lot of biology and physics whenever it steps on their theology, but they'll grant the existence of talking snakes, flying horses and miraculous healing without a shred of evidence. I myself tend to believe that there is an objective external reality that exists outside our subjective minds. The Holographic Universe Theory however punches holes in that by saying all of reality is subjective and that your reality is different from mine. Whether or not your reality and mine can be causally related I'm not sure.

Below is an interesting video discussing the Holographic Universe Theory on consciousness. It makes the case that the "Higher Self" is determining the thoughts and desires of the brain, which then receives these signals or "downloads" them, which then the personality makes sense of. It's similar to how a radio receives invisible radio waves and then interprets them into music that we can make sense of. The radio is the physical brain, the radio waves are the Higher Self, and the personality mind is what makes the music that we can understand.

In this view of consciousness, we are all simply like physical machines that receive and react to what information our brains are receiving. The Higher Self in this case is like an external force, like the wave that the surfer rides: he doesn't create the wave, he perceives the wave. This gives a very satisfying argument for the determinist who believes that we're all causally determined in our thoughts and actions by external forces. The Holographic Universe Theory also states that our perception of the Higher Self creates the holographic universe that we perceive as our external physical reality, but is a subjective illusion.

It's true that as we discover more and more about the nature of reality, the more and more unrealistic it seems to become. The idea that our reality is a subjective hologram is not something most people digest easily, even for me, although it could be correct for all I know. So while neurology confirms that our thoughts develop inside our brains by factors we are not consciously aware of, I'm not yet ready to believe that these thoughts also create the physical world we see around us.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

How To Talk To A Christian: Debating Materialism & Free Will

I live for debate. I really do. One thing I get a real kick out of is challenging theists on their nonsense. I have been debating this ultra-conservative Christian fundamentalist named Daniel for several months now, largely out of entertainment. He writes a blog dealing with Christianity, problems of faith and other things related to his religion. He occasionally attacks atheism and secularism using some of the typical tricks I see and hear theists make all the time. Whenever I can, I try to respond to his posts and call him out on his bullshit. We recently debated determinism's impact on free will and although I'm not a determinist, we were still able to disagree with the overall concept of free will.

On his blog Daniel writes in part of free will and materialism:

The atheist starts out with the presupposition or worldview that there is no spiritual reality, just matter and energy – what you see is what you get. Accordingly, thinking and choosing must also exclusively be a matter of chemical-electrical activity.

This understanding leaves little or no room for freewill...A denial of freewill goes against everything we intuitively know about ourselves and our lives. When I make any decision, like flipping through the TV channels, it seems that I am freely choosing one station over another. Of course, like anyone else, I am subject to powerful biological-genetic forces. Admittedly, I am biologically predisposed to not like loud and glitzy programming. Therefore, some will say, “Well, this proves you’re pre-programmed to make certain choices.”

If our brain chemistry compels all of our choices, then we cannot truly be culpable and responsible moral agents....These ideas mean the destruction of civilization, and the atheists recognize this. Consequently, they are scrambling to resurrect the concept of moral responsibility, which they have undermined.

I wrote back:

Well, a person who becomes an atheist, usually doesn't start out "with the presupposition or worldview that there is no spiritual reality, just matter and energy". Rather, he/she comes to the conclusion that there is no spiritual reality because there is no evidence to support it, and then after that becomes an atheist. That was how it was for me anyway and many atheists that I know who were once religious.

I don't think you mentioned compatiblism here. It is the most popular position for people who identify as naturalists and determinists. Compatiblism says that although all matter in the universe may be determined (hence our lack of free will), since we can never know the future, we can operate under the assumption that the choices we make are not determined, even if it is an illusion.

It's kind of like an actor in a play whose every action and word is known in a script. But the actor doesn't have access to the script, and so when they do or say something, they think they are doing it out of free will, but really they are following along the script. 

I personally am not a determinist, so I do believe we make actions that are not determined by prior events. But, it must be acknowledged that we are all born with predetermined genetics and situations that can push us towards many negative life choices. So, we are hardly complete agents of total free will.

Monday, April 23, 2012

On Determinism

The area of philosophy that I am most concerned with is ethics and morality, but recently I have been obsessed with the idea of determinism. Determinism is not just a philosophical belief, but a metaphysical claim on the nature of the universe, and if true, has many philosophical, religious and ethical implications. Bluntly put, determinism is the idea that the movement of all physical matter, from the stars and planets, to every animal and human, has its fate already determined in the moment of the creation of our universe, the Big Bang. So just as we can predict the movement of every billiard ball on a pool table when smashed with a cue ball from a certain angle, if determinism is true, every atom in the universe behaves in much to same way.

The implications of determinism could have profound effects on the idea of free will. There are those that call themselves compatibilists who believe that determinism does not cancel the idea of free will, and that notions of free will and determinism can coexist. One example given, is the idea that you are in a long corridor lined with several doors each containing a letter of the alphabet. You can choose to open any door you like.You decide to open door A and do so. What you didn't know, is that the laws of deterministic physics made you open door A and that all the other doors would have been locked to you. So doors B through Z were unable to be opened, but you did not know that, and so from your perspective you think you were making a free choice. In other words, what ever we choose to do has already been determined for us, but since we don't know the future, we are under the impression that when we make decisions we are making them out of free choice.

If determinism is true, then the notion of fate is true. Each and every one of us would have our future known in antecedent quantum events. I've always rejected the idea of fate, because I felt that it removes my free will. I like the idea that I am making decisions with my rational brain everyday, and that these decisions are not the result of a quantum chain reaction. I am not a determinist, largely because of quantum unpredictability, like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. I believe that determinism's existence in reality is largely a question of physics and not a philosophical one. And as such, if determinism were to be true, I guess I would fall among the compatibilists, who believe that we can still operate under the guise of free will existing, even though it wouldn't really exist, because we cannot know the future. But the thing about determinism is that, if enough information about the quantum world could be obtained, then every event in the future could be predicted and known, and we would therefore know the future. But I've often wondered that if we could do that, wouldn't we then be able to deviate from what the laws of physics have already determined we will do? It seems more likely that, the universe would never allow us to know such a thing because it would in a way, just like the time traveler who alters the past, open a paradox.

There are a great many famous determinists. It was the reconciliation between determinism and indeterminism that nearly drove Einstein mad toward the end of his life. I too am plagued with such a conflict as Einstein was but certainly to a much lesser extent. I sometimes wonder if I can trick nature by purposely doing something different from what I originally intended. But I know such attempts are futile in that all my actions and thoughts, no matter how much I think I can alter them from what I would have done, are all accounted for in the natural order, if determinism is true.

Along with my fascination with determinism, I've reconsidered existentialism once again after having tossed it away to the waste-bin of intellectual rubbish. Existentialism has long been the philosophy of bohemian intellectual types, often with french names. It is a philosophy I have been reluctant to embrace perhaps, because I tend to be more of an empiricist, rather than one who embraces subjectivism. Perhaps I could reconsider?


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