[-empyre-] free will and determinism

If I understand the objections some have stated on the list to the notion
that human thought processes could be algorithmic in their nature, without
exception, it seems to be that there's a feeling this denies free will. But
I don't think this is the case. For us to have free will does not have to
mean (and never did) that if time could be rewound (which it apparently
can't be) that we could choose to do other than we did, given the exact same
state of everything (including us) previously. Why should this be the
condition of free will? We will never know if we have free will, in this
case, because we will probably never be able to rewind time.

Instead, free will resides in our real ability to make decisions and change
ourselves, our lives and, sometimes, others and even the world, in the face
of great difficulties, our own limitations, and the mechanisms of the world
*and ourselves* which *do* resist such committment and desire to live up to
the higher ideals of humanity which, I take it, we would share to some
extent with any creatures subject to similar difficulties and challenges, to
pain and death and suffering and an ability to reflect on their own
situation with the depth language affords. We may also have compassion for
our fellow creatures on this planet and they, sometimes, for us. Compassion
may arise as soon as we glimpse the pain of others and their difficulties,
whether they are from our own culture or are from Alpha Centuri.

None of this is negated or diminished in the notion that our thought
processes are algorithmic. I really don't think that the notion that our
thought processes could be algorithmic in their nature diminishes our
humanity in the least. I think it is an error of understanding what is
involved in the notion that gives rise to the repugnance people feel to the

To some extent the objection is simply that it reduces us to machines, and
there's the same sense of our having been diminished by this as people felt
in reaction to Darwin's idea that we descended from apes. But there is quite
a distance between apes and humans (yet also, as we have allowed ourselves
to observe since, interesting similarities), and there is far far more
distance between humans and any machine currently on this planet.

We are OK with the notion that the functioning of the body is mechanical,
but we balk at the notion that the functioning of the brain and the mind is
also mechanical. So what if it is? This does not diminish us. It doesn't
even make us less reponsible for our actions.

To change ourselves requires will. As Alan pointed out, meaning is
constructed. And we do exercise a certain freedom in constructing what
things mean to us, since we construct meaning and the choices to be made in
its construction are many. We can reshape our algorithms, do this
continually, though this is at great effort, usually, via other algorithms.
And we *are* responsible for many of our actions, *are* capable of grappling
with moral issues, for instance, that transcend culture, and make our
decisions at least with this ability at hand.

The idea that writers such as Penrose offer anything but bogus mathematical
proofs that humans can do things that no computing machine ever can is not
the way to go. Penrose's 'proofs' that humans can do things like solve the
halting problem are utterly disproved and were so more or less from the day
the books hit the stands. Yet they are still held up as offering 'proof'.

As we understand more of the mechanisms of matter and mind, we build around
the world and ourselves what amount both to extensions of ourselves and our
powers and also the challenge of finding/creating the human dimensions of
these extensions, of getting some blood pumping through them, of making them
capable of helping us implement in the world and these tools the compassion
and justice to which we aspire. Rather than having them be steel/binary
claws we use to swipe at one another. How shall we live up to the new
proportions of our own powers and humanity?


This archive was generated by a fusion of Pipermail 0.09 (Mailman edition) and MHonArc 2.6.8.