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Ripheus23

Can free will be proved?

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Posted (edited)

More particularly, can a strong concept of free will be proved? Let us say that we are looking for the kind of free will involved in the representation of "Choose Your Own Adventure" books: same conditions at time t but divergent outcomes at t+. Then not, "They were free to do otherwise if they had chosen otherwise," but, "They were free to choose otherwise in the first place."

The basic argument from moral concepts is that, if ought-implies-can, then when we do as we ought not, we could've done otherwise; ergo... This has proven less convincing than it was supposed to be (one major philosopher, Immanuel Kant, made it the touchstone of his argument for strong free will), among other things due to doubts about the unrestricted license for "ought-implies-can."

However, let us suppose that a "moral fact" would always correspond to some imperative. Then, "X is right," corresponds to, "Do X." So let us focus on imperatives themselves. Now an assertion is semantically satisified if it is true, whereas an imperative is semantically satisfied if it is complied with. "This sentence is true," has for a counterpart, "Comply with this imperative" (and then the paradoxical, "This sentence is false," maps to the paradoxical, "Don't comply with this imperative"). So imperatives are "action-guiding." I think it can be quickly demonstrated that this condition requires strong free will to "make sense."

Let's start with an intuitive statement: "An imperative I holds if and only if I can be complied with for the sake of being complied with." We will not elaborate much on this word "holds," here. Roughly, it is a concept of semantic satisfaction (again), this time one that is applied such that an imperative I is "meaningless" just in case I doesn't hold. The individual words used in the imperative might be meaningful, true. But imagine that you have a friend F and you are in Antarctica and F is in northern Canada. You say out loud, "F, don't let the dogs out." Your command is meaningful partwise, but supposing F can't hear you when you issue it, then your command doesn't hold for F. Even if F doesn't let the dogs out, this is not "for the sake of" complying with your command since F is unaware of your command.

Next, immediately, an imperative doesn't hold if it can't be complied with at all, i.e. if the command is to do something impossible. Or if you are already doing what someone then tells you to do, or if some outside force is forcing you to independently do such a thing, then again this what-you-are-told-to-do isn't being complied with for the sake of compliance, but for some other reason. And it wouldn't work to say that, by commanding someone to do something, I then cause them to do this thing: the way imperatives are addressed inherently represents addressees as the ones meant to cause compliance.

So it seems that, for an imperative to hold, the corresponding action must be possible, but also contingent. Voila, imperative semantics requires disjunctive free will.

This is all well and done, but the rejoinder could just be, "Then imperatives are never really meaningful as such." That is, one of the same things we might have said about moral concepts, we can say about all imperatives, moral or not. Our faculty of imperatives is an "error" in our neural circuitry, or whatever along these lines.

This won't do, though. First, consider an imperative like, "Don't think of cats." In understanding it, you can't help but think of cats. So in essence, even the meaning of individual words requires imperative transyntax in the background. The meaning of an individual word W is always in part an imperative like, "Refer to the referent of W." But if this is true, then all meaning whatsoever requires free will.

That's an incredible conclusion to come to, but it can be defended very well. Consider the place of sentences like, "Let such and such be the case," or, "Allow that..." or, "Assume that..." in deductive reasoning. Axiomatic assertions are in effect commonly introduced by imperative transyntax. Moreover, rules of inference have an imperative form: modus ponens can be thought of along the lines of not just the assertion that "If A then B; A; therefore B" but as "from, 'if A then B,' and, 'A,' infer, 'B.'" Indeed, without this form, modus ponens enters the vicious circle discussed in e.g. Godel, Escher, and Bach (namely, it figures in a "proof of itself" that presupposes the thing to be proved).

Or consider erotetic transyntax, too (the logic of questions). Let us suppose that iterated skepticism ends with self-answering questions. In other words, to the person who keeps asking, "How do you know...?" the trick is not to keep offering assertions that the skeptic then just questions, but to ask the skeptic a question that will commit them to an assertion, namely, "What do you mean by, 'How do you know?'?"

Granted this, it becomes evident enough that the faculty of inquiry in itself is at the heart of the solution to issues of proof, evidence, rational belief, etc. Facts about this faculty are among the fundamental facts of axiomatic and other assertoric systems. They are on a par with laws like, "No contradiction is ever true," or, "Not-not X reduces to X," in assertoric logic. No less is true than that the essence of the faculty of inquiry is even the source of our "justification" for accepting the law of noncontradiction, etc. (or rather: if this law is provable in a way that doesn't "beg the question," it is with reference to the nature of all questions as such---to be sure, at this point, we would just import Aristotle's, "Those who don't accept this law, fail to use the concept of negation in the first place, then," but our importation is shown to be very well-motivated).

Even if we didn't say "all meaning requires imperative transyntax," it would not be hard to illustrate how erotetic meaning "requires" (or is automatically interpolated with) this. First, there is a theory of erotetic functions that says that a question encodes an imperative to decide the question. E.g., "What day is it?" corresponds to, "Tell me what day it is." Asking someone, "What day is it?" is the same thing as telling them to tell you what day it is. (Well, as long as our question is not rhetorical, anyway...) Without accepting this encoding as a reduction, we can accept it (the traditional view is reductive, though). So, if erotetic logic "grounds" the axioms of assertoric logic, then its counterpart imperative transyntax assumes its fundamental place in logic such that free will is, once more, implicated in the form of all knowledge (including all knowledge of meaning).

Luckily(?), we can do even better than this.* Go back to the notion that moral assertions are mirrored by moral imperatives. In fact, there is a question whether moral concepts are ever assertoric as such in the first place. But what we can say, then, is that even if we "just start out with" imperatives, there is a basic erotetic function that enfolds imperatives into an assertoric form, i.e. transcreates the very form of moral assertions. This is the question, "Why?" as in, "Why do X?" An answer to this question will be an assertion that some J = why.

So if moral logic emerges from the fusion of all the forms of transyntax (assertoric, imperative, and erotetic**) and if these forms of transyntax have axiomatic value across the board, then we can even bring back "ought-implies-can" as a fundamental fact about all knowledge and meaning whatsoever(!). This is truly said anyway inasmuch as we have to find a formal harmony between deontic and modal logic; but at this stage, the proof is sufficient (the bridge of deontic and modal logic then being "icing on the cake").

*[Or: the ability to ask questions is itself the metaphysical source of free will. Viz., this ability allows us to question not just individual cause-and-effect (deterministic) claims, but the entire claim of causation (determinism) itself. The initial semantic underdetermination of questions (e.g. the essence of expressions like "what," "who," "where," and so on, in erotetic space) is tantamount of an indeterministic circuit of causality, from within erotetic space. Think of it like this: suppose "desires cause all our actions." Then we would tend to say that, if I desire a piece of cake, this will cause me to move towards a piece of cake, etc. But what if we "desire to act indeterministically"? What will this desire cause? If it causes anything, it doesn't seem as if it would deterministically cause things. Or, not completely deterministically... Likewise, if a pure question were a cause, it doesn't seem as if it would be able to force its possible effects to be limited to one and only one outcome.]

**[For the empiricist-minded: it is an empirical fact that these are the only forms of transyntax that universally exist in natural language. Or so I have heard (quote me on this if it would please you so...).]

... Also, despite its novel intricacy, this entire line of argument hearkens back to (A) the theory that "private language" being impossible is a priori proof of "other minds" and an "external world" (referring to Wittgensteinian/Putnamian reasons on these scores) and (B) the notion that knowledge can't be arbitrarily caused by outside factors (a la the normative idea of epistemology, e.g. re: Jaegwon Kim). To be sure, (B)-arguments are usually not strongly formed; my argument, though it vitiates the (B)-ones, has to be set up in a stronger way.

Edited by Ripheus23
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So, as a basic counter argument. When I make a choice to do something, that choice is never made in isolation. It is made with the consequesnces of previous choices behind me, and with multiple opportunity costs in front of me. Under the same set of circumstances, and with the same set of prior experiences, it is highly likely that I would make that same choice again. Given this, was there ever really a choice? Was that free will, or merely one thing being higher on a hierarchy of decisions than another?

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I suppose I'd question that "is highly likely that" claim. I'm not that well-versed on probability, though. The most I can say for now is that there is a difference between chance and randomness, probability has more to do with chance, free will might not be random but so maybe it would count as a third (or whichever) alternative on the "same level as" things like determinism, probability, and randomness.

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I could prove I have free will but I won't. 

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Posted (edited)

First off, I'm a big fan of your theories and posts @Ripheus23, you are one of the few sharders whose posts I'll always check out when I see you have a new one.

But this all doesn't hold if thought is merely an effect of non volitional, deterministic causation (this is a position I don't hold by the way).

If I understand your argument (correct me if I'm wrong), because words are by their nature, according to your analysis, imperative directives to call up their meaning, and the imperative implies the potential to do or not do, that the simple process of recalling a word's meaning is an act of freewill seems like the wrong basis to argue freewill from. There is rarely conscious thought involved in recalling the meaning of a specific word, and to say that I choose not to know what the word apple means in the statement "Share some of your apple pie", while perhaps serving the function of not having to share would otherwise seem nonsensical.

I think where the deterministic chain of causation breaks down is the special case where thought is both subject and object. You can think about thought, and thoughts can affect thoughts. It's possible to have n level recursion of thought where thought is the sole object of thought. It could start from a specific thought (a response to an external stimuli) and then the thought can focus on the qualities of that previous thought, and subsequent n-levels of recursive thought can contemplate the n-1 levels of thought.

As an intuitive argument for freewill, I offer up the following thought experiment. Read the following paragraph and then close your eyes and think about the thoughts you are having. Analysis is spoilered below the paragraph.

You are in a room with white walls, it appears that you are on the inside of a cube. From the ceiling a single incandescent bulb depends casting a sphere of light. You stare at a corner of the room and see the soft gradations of gray grow darker across the three planes of the walls and the floor until they meet at the darkest point at their shared vertice. You stare at this single point until you can notice the tiniest perturbations of the darkness at this point caused by the variations in the light and the warping of your vision from the disturbances of the vitreous humors in your eyes caused by the expansion and contraction of your lungs. This point of highest contrast swims before your eyes and suddenly all else is lost, you see only this single darkened point. Now think of the first childhood memory that comes to mind, while you simultaneously think about what you want to do with your life. Hold both of these thoughts in your mind while you put your fingers in your ears and listen to the sound of your blood pumping through your body. Breathe deeply, does this effect your memory or your future desires?

Spoiler

The preamble with the setting is to help you enter into an imaginary space, a featureless gallery where the only object for contemplation is thought. Once primed you are directed to think of the imaginary space in detail.

Thought about thought.

Once you are thinking about thought you are directed to think along both axes of time simultaneously (memory from the past and thought about the future)

Thought about thought while recalling past thought and projecting future thought.

When you are immersed in this recursive time independent bubble of thought, you are given a directive to close another channel of sensory interference, and add an additional layer of self reflection to the chain of thoughts.

Thought about thought while recalling and predicting while evaluating sensation from the present.

Then you are directed to perform a conscious action (breathe deeply) and then reflect upon the whole series of thoughts and further to think if there is a difference between the states of pre-reflection and post-reflection.

Thought about thought about thought about thought of recalling and thought about predicting and thought about comparing the above thought chain with itself after a specific action was performed.

Somewhere in that complex chain, freewill I believe is at the helm, steering the ship of consciousness across the abstract seas of potentialities unrealized.

 

Edited by hoiditthroughthegrapevine
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 Changed my mind.

                    I have free will.  This is obvious. I can make a choice, petunia.  The problem with the majority of arguments here is not the concept of free will but the concept of I (or whatever being we're talking about).   I is a complicated concept that appears simple and thus is often misunderstood.   Is the pencil I hold in my hand part of me? Is the skin on my hand?  I control both but I can put them down and walk away.  How about the muscles and the bones?  How about my car, my organs?  Which part of my brain is me or is my brain itself not part of me but merely the thing that holds me?  How about my memories?  Which memories can I lose and still be myself and how many times can I revisit the same memory and rewrite it  before it's not the original?  What of my beliefs, my senses, my life, my family, which of these are part of me and which are not?  The truth is there is no easy line.  Our skin is a deception.  Even our most basic cognition is far different than we imagine, neuroscience has shown that our minds are far less unified than we naturally believe. We present as a neat package and people treat us that way.  We learn to draw this line, this is me and that is you. When we realize that the line is not so solid, we experience this emotional reaction, discomfort, rebellion, crisis of faith.   You ask, who is this we I refer to?  I have just deconstructed the individual and yet now I refer to hir.   The truth is that what you think of as I is a choice.  We have drawn a circle in the sand and said that I am this and this is a part of me and that is not.  Indeed, you can see people drawing and redrawing that circle around themselves every day.  The fact that you have drawn the circle does not mean it does exist nor that it lacks meaning.  When I say "I have free will, the ability to make a choice", the I in question is a deterministic set of quark reactions, a chaotic biologically driven electrical storm filtered through a somewhat loquacious literary voice and most of all a compilation of experiences located an and bound to a particular sociohistoric context.  That does not mean it is any less I.  Or that I have not made a choice.  People see this fact that the individual can be deconstructed and reduced as problem , this depressing, even horrifying fact.  The importance of individuality is so strong in our species and our culture.   To me it is not depressing it is liberating, even transcending, we are part of each other, we are who we choose to be, we can grow and change.  Your 'I' is not some tiny thing hiding in a philosophical loophole it is the entirety of your life and your thoughts. This is a message of hope. 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

On 6/20/2020 at 2:10 AM, hoiditthroughthegrapevine said:

If I understand your argument (correct me if I'm wrong), because words are by their nature, according to your analysis, imperative directives to call up their meaning, and the imperative implies the potential to do or not do, that the simple process of recalling a word's meaning is an act of freewill seems like the wrong basis to argue freewill from. There is rarely conscious thought involved in recalling the meaning of a specific word,

I have a notion of free will as involving the structure of time, such that we don't always or even perhaps mostly make choices "moment by moment." Free will ranges over entire line-segments (of the timeline), sometimes, consolidating our actions over periods of time. So once a word's meaning is learned, the chain of thought behind that learning gets consolidated, so it doesn't manifest as a "decision" to know what words mean, each time we use a word. I guess, to a degree, that decision has already been partly made, by the time we learn the word. But then think of those moments when you say a word over and over again and its meaning seems to sort of dissipate? I wonder if that's relevant to what I'm saying...

 

On 6/20/2020 at 2:10 AM, hoiditthroughthegrapevine said:

You can think about thought, and thoughts can affect thoughts. It's possible to have n level recursion of thought where thought is the sole object of thought. It could start from a specific thought (a response to an external stimuli) and then the thought can focus on the qualities of that previous thought, and subsequent n-levels of recursive thought can contemplate the n-1 levels of thought.

In my model, I guess this appears at the erotetic level. Here, thought has an assertion function, but also a question function. The question function is the one that allows us to directly keep ascending the staircase of recursion (always taking itself as an input...).

Edited by Ripheus23
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On 6/28/2020 at 6:59 AM, Ripheus23 said:

In my model, I guess this appears at the erotetic level. Here, thought has an assertion function, but also a question function. The question function is the one that allows us to directly keep ascending the staircase of recursion (always taking itself as an input...).

Hmm, this doesn't seem quite right. The soul of freewill is really in the movement from the interrogative to the declarative to the imperative. To say that it only resides in the ability to question questions seems to ignore the active outward aspect. 

Here's a simple chain to illustrate what I'm talking about.

Start with a primary question.

Q:Am I a good person

This branches to declarative determinations (particulars)

I helped that lady across the street.

I stole a candy bar when I was 10.

I eat too many potato chips.

This can then branch to imperatives (eat less chips, volunteer at the soup kitchen, etc) or a further string of questions and particulars, but I posit that at the end of any chain of reflection is always an imperative (unless it simply analysis of sensation).

It's a self directed imperative, but I think this is the true face of freewill.

Imagine a golden age of reason type character, with a perfumed wig, shooting out of the ocean and arcing in slow motion over my head as I stand with arms upraised on a man made jetty, that is Free Will(y).

 

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