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Since we have no free will, what purpose does/did consciousness serve?


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#1 knownothing

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Posted 17 April 2013 - 06:25 AM

Since we have no free will, what purpose does/did consciousness serve?

 

For the purpose of this topic, let us assume that free will does not exist.  I do not believe in it, and I am not trying to debate its existence.  And I am not the sharpest knife so don't hesitate to correct me if I am wrong about something.  This is being asked purely from curiousity.

 

I have been very troubled recently, and I have been turning this idea around in my head over and over again.  Doesn't the absence of free will (that is to say that all lifeforms are nothing more than calculating machines) make consciousness pointless?  We are robots whose only purpose is to not die and have sex.  Now, I realize that the social behavior of humans is a great survival mechanism.  I am not saying that personalities are not beneficial to survival.  What I am asking is why such a thing as consciousness is needed for someone to have a personality or feelings.  Couldn't something have feelings and emotions without actually having consciousness.  After all, feelings are just a physical process.  We are all just here "for the ride" and are merely watching as these machines that we are trapped in go about life and attempt to have sex and not die (by proxy of many activities).

 

Why not remove the pointless spectator from each human.  It doesn't seem like anything would change, since our true selves are cold computers acting without our permission.  Yes, we as conscious entities feel things but that doesn't mean that the meat puppets we are inside of don't effectively pretend to feel the things as well.  All that matters really is that another human experiences your behavior.  The internal aspect is entirely unecessary.

 

Say that you are running an internet search.  The search results you get would be there whether or not your search engine thought that it was choosing the results carefully.  It would only think that it chose them.  It is the the same way with humans.

 

I know that humans choose different things randomly, unlike computers, but that is only because we must deal with situations that are much much more complicated than running an internet search.  We must attempt to answer problems for which there are no objective answers.  Our brain sees the world as a bunch of numbers.  Social interaction is reduced to a math problem.  We are left to sit and say that we "should have done this" and we don't realize that "this" was never even a possibility.  What is the point of regretting something that cannot be changed.  I can understand that feeling sad about the outcome of something might be beneficial as it could show that you are in need and the group may help you, but why do you actually need to feel sad.

 

Now, we seek out things meant purely to sooth our conscious self.  This has nothing to do with survival and is often self-destructive.  It would seem that the thing called consciousness is so pointless to survival that it causes people to do things like substance abuse and suicide.  Not only is consciousness not required for social behavior (it is done by the supercomputer behind your eyeballs and not by your superficial thoughts) but it also causes harm to the species.

 

Basically, my question is: What advantage could come from consciousness that would make our ancestors more likely to survive and procreate?

 

Could it be that consciousness was an unrelated side effect of something that was beneficial?


Edited by knownothing, 17 April 2013 - 07:08 AM.

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#2 CharonY

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Posted 17 April 2013 - 02:51 PM

I think the question is actually: "what is consciousness"? 

It may very well be an emergent property of how our brain works and does not need to be beneficial per se.

Couldn't something have feelings and emotions without actually having consciousness.  After all, feelings are just a physical process.

 

Also consciousness is a physical process (as evidenced by by lesion studies). So why the distinction?


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#3 proximity1

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Posted 17 April 2013 - 03:33 PM

for "advantages" (I put that between parentheses to emphasize that the term is meaningful only from some presupposed perspective and, in this case, that perspective is Darwin's Evolution by natural selection and its attendant features, whether biochemical or social or a mixture of the two) I  suggest these :

 

  in assuring the procurement of food, and all the other necessities of life, including reproduction, consciousness affords advantages in the appreciation of the organism's environment and in acting to meet challenges to survival which spring from changes in that environment.  It helps to bear in mind that, 1) we have never stopped evolving and 2) traits, charactersistics which are heritable, will be passed along as long as they are not <i>so harmful as to present actual disadvantages to survival and reproduction</i>.  Thus, a trait which is neither (any longer)  "useful" nor "harmful" to survival can persist indefinitely, and, 3) the evolutionary process is easily and fully explained as being "blind", without any "larger" point or purpose.  So, again, "beneficial" or "not beneficial" have no discernable meaning outside a particular interested point of view--and, as a process, evolution has no interested point of view. 

 

From our own perspective, our species is quite important.  From the perspective of some other species, we can be readily seen as nothing other or better that a pest species, a nuisance to the life and prosperity of the other species.  In either case, nature, as a grand stage of action, isn't aware or interested in such conceptions.  Consciousness was proven out as evolutionarily advantageous long, long before primates came on the scene.  Thus, humans have had the advantage of a characteristic which long predates human kind;  we needn't, then, view consciousness as having had anything originally to do with "benefiting us" --it simply benefited some life -- and as it happened, that included our ancestors--and our kind appeared later. 

 

  I subscribe as well and generally to the comments above, by CharonY.


Edited by proximity1, 17 April 2013 - 07:03 PM.

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« The point is not to get—at least I don't think the point is to get—people to believe in evolution merely for the sake of believing in evolution. The point is to get people to think rationally about the data of their senses, and, and, to understand logical arguments, and, to, we—we want people to think in the style of science, not merely to sign on the dotted-line after each, uh, each, scientific finding. » --Sam Harris, 2012 Global Atheist Convention 13-15th April - Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre, Presented by the Atheist Foundation of Australia

#4 knownothing

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Posted 17 April 2013 - 05:24 PM

Also consciousness is a physical process (as evidenced by by lesion studies). So why the distinction?

It may very well be an emergent property of how our brain works and does not need to be beneficial per se

I was just saying that it doesn't seem be a useful physical process at all, since we our brains decide to do things before we are even aware of so our decisions.  If it was just an emergent property, I can understand why it would exist, though.

 

  in assuring the procurement of food, and all the other necessities
of life, including reproduction, consciousness affords advantages in the
appreciation of the organism's environment and in acting to meet
challenges to survival which spring from changes in that environment. 
It helps to bear in mind that, 1) we have never stopped evolving and 2)
traits, charactersistics which are heritable, will be passed along as
long as they are not <i>so harmful as to present actual
disadvantages to survival and reproduction</i>.  Thus, a trait
which is neither (any longer)  "useful" nor "harmful" to survival can
persist indefinitely, and, 3) the evolutionary process is easily and
fully explained as being "blind", without any "larger" point or
purpose.  So, again, "beneficial" or "not beneficial" have no
discernable meaning outside a particular interested point of view--and,
as a process, evolution has no interested point of view. 


 


From our own perspective, our species is quite important.  From the
perspective of some other species, we can be readily seen as nothing
other or better that a pest species, a nuisance to the life and
prosperity of the other species.  In either case, nature, as a grand
stage of action, isn't aware or interested in such conceptions. 
Consciousness was proven out as evolutionarily advantageous long, long
before primates came on the scene.  Thus, humans have had the advantage
of a characteristic which long predates human kind;  we needn't, then,
view consciousness as having had anything originally to do with
"benefiting us" --it simply benefited <i>some life</i> and
our kind appeared later.

 

When I say "our ancestors" I mean the entire animal kingdom that is specifically behind the human species.

 

So, why might an animal need to be self-aware to procure food, appreciate the environment and in general meet the needs of survival?  Is it merely an unintended consequence of the other parts of the brain coming together in such a way that helped the animal to survive?


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#5 proximity1

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Posted 17 April 2013 - 05:49 PM

RE: knownothing @ 5:24 p.m.

 

 

When I say "our ancestors" I mean the entire animal kingdom that is specifically behind the human species.


 


So, why might an animal need to be self-aware to procure food,
appreciate the environment and in general meet the needs of survival? 
Is it merely an unintended consequence of the other parts of the brain
coming together in such a way that helped the animal to survive?

 

  I agree, "our ancestors" should refer to all our predecessors and that is how I intend it, too. 

 

 As I understand it,   In evolutionary processes, there are any number of variations extant in any living population.  They arise independently of any pre-existing "need".  If they aren't harmful, they can persist.  If, later, the variations prove advantageous under certain circumstances--present or future, and they are present, then they prove at this point "useful" from that perspective.  So, "need" is a term which is wholly circumstance-dependent. 

 

 RE:  "Is it merely an unintended consequence of the other parts of the brain
coming together in such a way that helped the animal to survive?"

 

  I think that everything in evolutionary natural selection is an unintended consequence.  There is no "intention" in nature's processes.  So, the short answer, I think, is "yes."

 

---

 

  P.S.  I wanted to add that,  since humans are supposed to have evolved from other species, those species being, also, conscious, then this issue of why human kind might "need to be conscious" is very much getting things backwards, it seems to me.  If, as all the known evidence suggests is the case, our nearest ancestors were also conscious, it would be quite remarkable if we evolved from this or these conscious species but <i>didn't</i>, in the same process, possess a similar brain with similar consciousness, wouldn't it?  I don't intend to assert that such a course couldn't ever happen.  Evolution via natural selection can produce losses of formerly existing characteristics.  Since we started out as an off-shoot of a previous conscious ancestor or ancestors, the matter of whether we needed consciousness or not simply doesn't come into the picture. 

 

----

 

See the Wikipedia page on Dr. Eric Kandel and the entry re :  Medical school and early research .  He studied molluscs--(Aplysia californica) for their rudimentary nervous systems and memory capacities.   

 


 

"Kandel began to realize that memory storage must rely on modifications in the synaptic connections between neurons and that the complex connectivity of the hippocampus did not provide the best system for study of the detailed function of synapses. Kandel was aware that comparative studies of behavior, such as those by Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen, and Karl von Frisch had revealed conservation of simple forms of learning across all animals. Kandel felt it would be productive to select a simple animal model that would facilitate electrophysiological analysis of the synaptic changes involved in learning and memory storage. He believed that, ultimately, the results would be found to be applicable to humans. This decision was not without risks since many senior biologists and psychologists believed that nothing useful could be learned about human memory by studying invertebrate physiology.
 

"In 1962, after completing his residency in psychiatry, Kandel went to Paris to learn about the marine mollusc Aplysia californica from Ladislav Tauc. Kandel had realized that simple forms of learning such as habituation, sensitization, classical conditioning, and operant conditioning could readily be studied with ganglia isolated from Aplysia. "While recording the behavior of a single cell in a ganglion, one nerve axon pathway to the ganglion could be stimulated weakly electrically as a conditioned [tactile] stimulus, while another pathway was stimulated as an unconditioned [pain] stimulus, following the exact protocol used for classical conditioning with natural stimuli in intact animals." Electrophysiological changes resulting from the combined stimuli could then be traced to specific synapses. In 1965 Kandel published his initial results, including a form of pre-synaptic potentiation that seemed to correspond to a simple form of learning." 
 

(Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia...._early_research )


Edited by proximity1, 17 April 2013 - 07:23 PM.

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« The purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to overcome it. ...And that's the onus on scientists. … If people don't understand these things, it means we're doing a bad job. And we have to do a better job. …. But we as scientists are not doing a—a—a good job at—at explaining what we're doing or why we're doing it. …. The point is that we, i—, i—if , if we, if we continue to alienate—as scientists seem to do with the public—then, then we're not, then we shouldn't be surprised if they, uh, if they don't support science. » --Lawrence Krauss in a public discussion at Stanford University on Sunday, March 9th 2008 with Richard Dawkins.

« The point is not to get—at least I don't think the point is to get—people to believe in evolution merely for the sake of believing in evolution. The point is to get people to think rationally about the data of their senses, and, and, to understand logical arguments, and, to, we—we want people to think in the style of science, not merely to sign on the dotted-line after each, uh, each, scientific finding. » --Sam Harris, 2012 Global Atheist Convention 13-15th April - Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre, Presented by the Atheist Foundation of Australia

#6 overtone

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Posted 17 April 2013 - 06:10 PM

In analogy to the principle that a proof teaches us where to concentrate our doubts:

 

If you assume that reality is other than it appears to be, and specifically that the observed physical role and function of consciousness does not exist,

 

and then find yourself confronted with many mysteries, and specifically several related to the stubborn existence and behaviors of a purposeless and role-free consciousness, 

 

there is at least one obvious possible conclusion.

 

I was just saying that it doesn't seem be a useful physical process at
all, since we our brains decide to do things before we are even aware of
so our decisions.

The fact that the ability to communicate awareness of a decision takes a second or two implies very little about the role of consciousness in making that decision. Take away the consciousness during the decision making,  and what happens?

 

Alternatively: How does the decision making process differ in situations free of consciousness? That is no idle question - we make thousands of decisions a minute without any consciousness being involved. One of the hallmarks of great skill is the complexity of the decisions the skillful can make unconsciously, without "thinking about them". That normally takes a great deal of practice.


Edited by overtone, 17 April 2013 - 06:33 PM.

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#7 jp255

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Posted 18 April 2013 - 03:08 PM

I don't like the OP (the post! not the person!). There are many unsupported claims in there and I am a little confused, though overall the whole post gives me the impression that you have had an episode of confirmation bias because you mention an assumption and then talk as if the assumption is correct.

For the purpose of this topic, let us assume that free will does not exist. I do not believe in it, and I am not trying to debate its existence

 

I hope that you have good evidence to support your belief, and if not I hope you realise that your belief has a certain uncertain probability of being incorrect.

 

I guess I will join in on the speculation, even though I have no idea what the definition of conscioussness is, and have little amounts of knowledge on the topic of conscioussness.

 

If I were to assume free will does not exist, then feelings would be of no value unless they themselves are factors which contribute to the initiation of any other event. If they do not contribute to any other event in this deterministic universe, then they cannot affect the progression of events in the universe and are irrelevant in that respect. Such feelings could only be an event themselves and could not cause any other event. If you think that is pointless then great, but I'd ask you why the universe itself isn't just as pointless. In my opinion, as long as consciousness cannot contribute to the cause of any other event, it can be said that conscioussness cannot affect the chain of events in the universe. I don't that this is very likely though, when someone cries and another tries to console them, I think it's likely that the crying event contributes to the initiation of the consoling event.

 

Overall, I disagree with the OP. No free will does not mean conscioussness is pointless. You would have to prove that it cannot contribute to the cause of any other event to show that conscioussness events are of no relevance to the universe. From an experimental point of view, that would be relatively challenging. 

 

My own belief is that free will does exist, though I think some behaviours are determined by our conscioussness decisions more often than others (e.g sexual bahviours might have less causative contribution from conscioussness). Though some behaviours can be very complex I'd think about behaviours and decisions in a way similar to that which we use to explain other traits, that there could be many genetic and environmental factors which can contribute to the cause of a particular decision/behaviour (with interactions being possible). That is just my opinion, and so there is a certain uncertain probability it is incorrect. I think this because of the following reasoning. I feel as though I am in control of my life, the things that I intend to do are done. Other people I know also claim this. If my and other people's intentions do not contribute to the cause of anything I or they do then what is the purpose of the intention? Unless there is an advantageous benefit to such a trait it is unlikely that this trait could become fixed.

 

I let my speculation run away like Fisherian run away. Back in reality, we have major problems determining whether or not a decision was made by the unconscious or conscious, the research being done is in its still in it's infancy.


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#8 Bill Angel

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Posted 18 April 2013 - 04:26 PM

I'm troubled by an assertion in the original post, that "all life forms are nothing more than calculating machines." If this were true, then why is there such divergence in the abilities of individuals to learn mathematics? Most children born with normally functioning brains learn to talk by a certain age. But students' abilities in mathematics can diverge significantly. And have you ever tried (as I have) to impart the principles of quantum theory to a group of university undergraduates? Student's whose ability to express themselves linguistically was equal to or better than mine would hit a stone wall when it came to understanding quantum theory. It is difficult for me to believe that a subject like the mathematics underlying modern physics can be mastered intuitively or subconsciously, but I realize that some excellent scientists and mathematicians would disagree with me on this issue.
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#9 knownothing

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 04:55 AM

I don't like the OP (the post! not the person!). There are many
unsupported claims in there and I am a little confused, though overall
the whole post gives me the impression that you have had an episode of
confirmation bias because you mention an assumption and then talk as if
the assumption is correct.

 

I am open to free will being proven to exist, but this was assuming that it didn't for the purpose of the thread.  I was under the impression that no such thing as free will could exist because self awareness is only a passive process, like watching yourself do things.  Am I wrong?  I had come to hold that belief because I had heard of many scientists saying so (Sam Harris being the most notable).  I'm a layman, so I really can't look past the jargon of something scientific and judge it unless it has any specific red flags like talk of metaphyiscal things or homeopathy.  To me as a layman, it sounds reasonable.

 

I know that most of these terms have no solid definition, so let me say that my idea of free will would be the ability to originate your own thoughts without external stimuli determining what you think and how you feel.  And pondering things by yourself would still not count since that is just the long-lasting ripple of real life experiences.  I honestly do not think that we can conceive of anything that isn't a shadow of something we already know of, and I think that it is impossible for someone to truly do something they do not want to do.  People will say "you must do things you don't want to in life" but these people are simply choosing what they consider to be the best option (in this case, sacrificing pleasure to invest in the future).  I don't think that it can demonstrated that someone could do something that they haven't made up their mind to do.  They might have regret for it later, but at the time it was what they had made up their mind to do (and by that I mean their mind made up itself).  It naturally follows that pride/pleasure would be used to trick your body into making the same decision over and over again and shame/pain would be used to trick your body into attemtping to make a better choice; your brain has a system by which it programs itself to act a certain way.

 

Anyway, I wasn't really trying to say that has been proven definitively.  I was wondering if consciousness could come about by evolution in the abscence of free will, and that is why I put the disclaimer at the top.  I am open to discussion on that, but I wanted it to be assumed just for the sake of this topic.  I came here because I was hoping that some of you people could make this easy for me to understand.  It seemed the better alternative to reading jargon-filled scientific journals or searching the vile pit of yahoo answers.

 

If I were to assume free will does not exist, then feelings would be of
no value unless they themselves are factors which contribute to the
initiation of any other event. If they do not contribute to any other
event in this deterministic universe, then they cannot affect the
progression of events in the universe and are irrelevant in that
respect. Such feelings could only be an event themselves and could not
cause any other event. If you think that is pointless then great, but
I'd ask you why the universe itself isn't just as pointless. In my
opinion, as long as consciousness cannot contribute to the cause of any
other event, it can be said that conscioussness cannot affect the chain
of events in the universe. I don't that this is very likely though, when
someone cries and another tries to console them, I think it's likely
that the crying event contributes to the initiation of the consoling
event.

 

I was thinking, in my original post, that crying and consolation could happen without self awareness.  I think that Overtone and the others explained it sufficiently to me, though.  The idea is that the consciousness is a naturally emerging part of the neural processes that lead to decision making.  So I guess that self-awareness is not separate from the decision-making process at all.

 

And when I think of what Overtone said about the decisions we make when we are unconscious, it seems to make sense that consciousness is required to make more complex decisions.  That is to say that nobody can tie their shoes while they are unconscious, although someone could probably do so while sleepwalking during REM sleep which is like being conscious.  So it seems that consciousness does play a very important role in our every day activities regardless of whether or not free will exists.

 

I'm
troubled by an assertion in the original post, that "all life forms are
nothing more than calculating machines." If this were true, then why is
there such divergence in the abilities of individuals to learn
mathematics? Most children born with normally functioning brains learn
to talk by a certain age. But students' abilities in mathematics can
diverge significantly. And have you ever tried (as I have) to impart the
principles of quantum theory to a group of university undergraduates?
Student's whose ability to express themselves linguistically was equal
to or better than mine would hit a stone wall when it came to
understanding quantum theory. It is difficult for me to believe that a
subject like the mathematics underlying modern physics can be mastered
intuitively or subconsciously, but I realize that some excellent
scientists and mathematicians would disagree with me on this issue.

 

I meant calculations in the realm of subjectivity.  I believe that I would be right in saying that your sub-conscious brain, when it decides what course of action is the best for your survival needs, must try to make sense of a situation that is very much different from a scientific formula.  If someone asks "does this dress make me look fat" there is the factual answer (yes, no, somewhat - and indeed it would true because "fat" is only relative so she would look "fat" to you) but that is not the kind of calculations I am talking about.  Your subconscious scans the situation in a way that a computer cannot (that I know of).  The question here is whether or not to lie.

 

So I mean that they are calculating machines in a sense that they find the answer to questions that have no objective answer.  How would a computer decide whether or not to tell its dad that it is gay?  There is no answer, and yet humans will consistently be able to determine one.


Edited by knownothing, 19 April 2013 - 05:10 AM.

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#10 jp255

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 11:49 AM

I am going to carry on with the criticism, because the best kind of response is not one which simply answers the question, but one which seeks to improve the question asker's way of thinking. 

 

I am open to free will being proven to exist, but this was assuming that it didn't for the purpose of the thread. I was under the impression that no such thing as free will could exist because self awareness is only a passive process, like watching yourself do things. Am I wrong? I had come to hold that belief because I had heard of many scientists saying so (Sam Harris being the most notable). I'm a layman, so I really can't look past the jargon of something scientific and judge it unless it has any specific red flags like talk of metaphyiscal things or homeopathy. To me as a layman, it sounds reasonable.

 

Yes, I understand that you made the assumption but all we have to go by is what you write. I wished to convey in my previous post that some ackowledgment that your claims might not be true is appropriate. I wanted to find out if you believed those unreasonable claims to be true or not. Overall, those claims were not even necessary.

 

Ok, good to know you are a layman. It seems to me that you are not sceptical enough and you do not show much consideration for possible opposing arguments. You say self awareness is a passive process, like watching yourself do things, but is it? you don't seem to consider the opposing stance, and why do you deem opposing possibilities to be  unlikely?

 

It is not about right or wrong. It is about what is most likely to be true. There is no evidence which puts the questions concerning free will's existence to rest. Imo, it is not good science to claim that free will does not exist with the evidence we currently have, and I disagree with Sam Harris' reasoning. The conclusions he draws and the extension of the conclusions he draws from simple behavioral evidence to complex behaviours isn't appropriate.

 

I am still a little confused about your overall opinion here. You state that self awareness is passive, like watching yourself do things, but then you also make statements that people don't do things unless they truly want to. 

the ability to originate your own thoughts without external stimuli determining what you think and how you feel. And pondering things by yourself would still not count since that is just the long-lasting ripple of real life experiences

That is going to be quite hard to show! Though your reasoning is not acceptable, you should not dismiss the opposing possibility so easily by waving all pondering thoughts off as a "long-lasting ripple of real life experiences".

 

I'm not sure why you hold the position you do, but I can't shake off the possibility that you are biased considering that you have mostly been arguing for one side the whole time. If people only do things that they want to do, then why do you want to believe in free will's non-existence?

I was thinking, in my original post, that crying and consolation could happen without self awareness

Yes, that is a possibility. I was stating that the actions and decisions associated with conscioussness are not pointless as they can influence the chain of events in the universe, since those actions can contribute to the initiation of other events.

 

As for the other belief which you have described, that we are watching ourselves do things, I guess the feelings and emotions would be pointless and simply occur (this assumes that the feelings and emotions themselves do not contribute to the initiation of other events). There is practically no evidence in support of conscious decision making (we control our lives) or for unconsciouss decision making (no control of our lives), though I'd bet that the former turns out to be true/most likely.

 

I just want to comment on the evolution being blind. Blind may be interpreted as random, and certain mechanisms evolution uses to search the fitness landscape (in some species) are not random. It is for this reason I don't like the term blind.


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#11 knownothing

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 06:29 PM

Yes, I understand that you made the assumption but all we have to go
by is what you write. I wished to convey in my previous post that some
ackowledgment that your claims might not be true is appropriate. I
wanted to find out if you believed those unreasonable claims to be true
or not. Overall, those claims were not even necessary.


 


Ok, good to know you are a layman. It seems to me that you are not
sceptical enough and you do not show much consideration for possible
opposing arguments. You say self awareness is a passive process, like
watching yourself do things, but is it? you don't seem to consider the
opposing stance, and why do you deem opposing possibilities to be 
unlikely?


 


It is not about right or wrong. It is about what is most likely to be
true. There is no evidence which puts the questions concerning free
will's existence to rest. Imo, it is not good science to claim that free
will does not exist with the evidence we currently have, and I disagree
with Sam Harris' reasoning. The conclusions he draws and the extension
of the conclusions he draws from simple behavioral evidence to complex
behaviours isn't appropriate.


 


I am still a little confused about your overall opinion here. You
state that self awareness is passive, like watching yourself do things,
but then you also make statements that people don't do things unless
they truly want to.

 

When I say that you "want" to do something, I mean that it is what your brain has determined will be in your best interest.  It's different from desiring something, because it is possible to do something contrary to what your conscious self desires.  This would be like sacrificing pleasure in the short term for an investment that would pay off later, like going to college right away instead of skipping a year.  So we could say that you don't desire to go to college but your brain has determined that it is a superior course of action.

 

I'm not sure why you hold the position you do, but I can't shake off
the possibility that you are biased considering that you have mostly
been arguing for one side the whole time. If people only do things that
they want to do, then why do you want to believe in free will's
non-existence?

 


 

Okay, a better title would have been "if we have no free will, what purpose could consciousness serve?"

 

Do you know of any good readings you would recommend on the subject of free will?


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#12 pwagen

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 06:45 PM

Do you know of any good readings you would recommend on the subject of free will?

The obvious answer would be Sam Harris' book "Free Will". I haven't read it myself, but I have a huge respect for Harris, so I'm going to commit a logical fallacy and recommend him out of authority (his, not mine).


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The above may be false.

pwagen get freaken name u another weirdo gay evil demon not a builder to lv frever creep


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#13 overtone

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 09:58 PM

For a more scientifically grounded approach than Harris's,

 

Daniel Dennett's writings ("Darwins' Dangerous Idea" preliminary, "Freedom Evolves" if you're solid)

 

Iain McGilchrist's enlightening "The Master and His Emissary"

 

or even, if you're prepared to extend on your own, Gregory Bateson's lifetime of essays (a gentle posthumous collation with significant expansion by his daughter Mary is titled Angels Fear)

 

Dennett includes a critique of the claims based on that often mentioned delay between a decision and the communicated awareness of it, mentioned above.

 

 

Okay, a better title would have been "if we have no free will, what purpose could consciousness serve?"

An analogous inquiry might be: If we cannot choose differently according to how objects reflect light , what purpose would awareness of colors serve?

 

The basic problem is the tendency of people to elevate some human abstractions, heuristics, mental shortcuts, etc, to unearned status superior to others - especially: cause and effect - as it they were somehow more real or part of reality. The consequence is a naive collapse into a simplistic determinism as soon as the person recognizes that there is no "supernatural" component in mental events.

 

The natural world is too easily underestimated. In the old days those who rejected the supernatural fell back into clockwork or other mechanical oversimplifications,  nowdays into the computer - an improvement, but essentially the same box of billiard balls simplistically described.


Edited by overtone, 19 April 2013 - 10:02 PM.

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#14 jp255

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 10:35 AM

When I say that you "want" to do something, I mean that it is what your brain has determined will be in your best interest. It's different from desiring something, because it is possible to do something contrary to what your conscious self desires. This would be like sacrificing pleasure in the short term for an investment that would pay off later, like going to college right away instead of skipping a year. So we could say that you don't desire to go to college but your brain has determined that it is a superior course of action.

I think I understand your position more clearly now, thanks.

 

If I was to counter claim and say "it is our counsciousness that has determined the superior course of action and not our unconscious", who would be correct?

 

I would be careful when basing a belief on other people's opinions (even if it appears to be informed). I'd rather not hold an opinion than base a belief on someone else's opinion these days.

 

I have not read much on this subject (not far beyond the wiki page of neuroscience of free will). However, I have come across Sam Harris' quotes before and I would not recommend his book because I think his conclusions have weak support. Maybe the quotes I read was his attempt at trying to promote his book? Either way I wouldn't buy that book, that's for sure. I've not heard of Overtone's other suggestions before, but I'll look them up since he/she says they are of higher scientific quality.

 

My opinion is that it will be fairly difficult for us to devise experiments that allow us to find an answer, unless we are somehow able to take away awareness/consciousness as overtone mentioned. We have to somehow find a solution to overcome the current difficulty, overlapping conscious and unconscious activity before the action (and also determining from this overlapping activity what is causing the action/outcome, both? just one?). As far as I am aware, pretty much all the scientific literature is based on simple experiments examining decision making (e.g the decision to push a button) and more complex decisions like planning have not been researched. From the research so far I have concluded that the existence of free will is still an open question. I agree with Overtone that the fact, unconscious brain activity occurs before conscious activity which occurs before an action/decision, explains little about the role of consciousness in the process of decision making. 

 

So I think the standard position should be "I don't know if free will exists yet". Though I did express my gut feeling that all actions/decisions can be explained by genetic and environmental factors (where "freedom of choice" can be a contributing factor), I attach little value to it and maintain what i think should be the standard position.


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#15 Dekan

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 02:37 PM

Human show free-will, because they can choose to commit suicide. No animals do that. I mean, can you give an example of an animal that willfully kills itself? (Lemmings have been sufficiently debunked already.) Animals are controlled by instinct, which would never allow an animal to commit suicide. Only humans can do it. Doesn't that prove we have free-will, and ultimate control over our actions?
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#16 jp255

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 03:46 PM

Human show free-will, because they can choose to commit suicide. No animals do that. I mean, can you give an example of an animal that willfully kills itself? (Lemmings have been sufficiently debunked already.) Animals are controlled by instinct, which would never allow an animal to commit suicide. Only humans can do it. Doesn't that prove we have free-will, and ultimate control over our actions?

So free will is determined by the display of a behavioural trait that no other animals possess? I'd offer birdsongs as proof of free will for the family of bird-of-paradise. You can't really claim that instinct would never allow for suicide either, not unless you know that suicide is a behavioural trait which is not a possibility of the fitness landscape.


Edited by jp255, 22 April 2013 - 03:58 PM.

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#17 Delta1212

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 06:10 PM

Human show free-will, because they can choose to commit suicide. No animals do that.I mean, can you give an example of an animal that willfully kills itself? (Lemmings have been sufficiently debunked already.)Animals are controlled by instinct, which would never allow an animal to commit suicide.Only humans can do it. Doesn't that prove we have free-will, and ultimate control over our actions?


Are you quite certain that there isn't a single animal in the entire world capable of choosing to kill itself? Because most of the times I hear people say "Only humans do x" where x is a rather broad behavior, they're mistaken.
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#18 knownothing

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 12:58 AM

Yes, I think that it would be better for me not to have a position until I understand more, especially since I am just a layman.  As far as Harris's book is concerned, I have not read it, but I'd like to check it out along with some of the things that Overtone suggested.  I'm okay when it comes to concepts but I have difficulty judging a scientist's credibility as long as there aren't any red flags (like an endorsement for homeopathy).

 

As for suicide, it can go from an ideation (I could make this pain stop) to an impulse (I can't take it anymore).  Suicide is just one more way that humans can solve their problems.  Someone sucides for the same reason that a kid runs away from home.  The amount of failed suicide attempts that stem from improper methods (mainly drug poisoning with weak drugs) shows that people really don't think twice (even ruling out suicidal gestures).  I would say that the only thing keeping a lot of people from suiciding is religious beliefs, the pain that it would immediately cause to themselves and the longterm suffering it would cause their friends/family.


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#19 overtone

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 02:06 AM

There is some arena of possibility in action, some "degree of freedom" (in a sense analogous to the engineering or statistical one) in willed behavior,  that a drug addict has less of - agreed?


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#20 knownothing

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 02:15 AM

There is some arena of possibility in action, some "degree of
freedom" (in a sense analogous to the engineering or statistical one) in
willed behavior,  that a drug addict has less of - agreed?

 

Yes, some people are more impulsive than others for various reasons.  I would say that it could also be a learned behavior, such as having a strong work ethic, which is on the other side of the spectrum from being impulsive.


Edited by knownothing, 23 April 2013 - 02:16 AM.

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