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Why Contra-Causal Free Will is not an option

The existence of "free will" in humans is - it seems - a default assumption. But when we try to conceptualize what we mean by that, we run into trouble. Free will is of value to us - we conceive of ourselves as agents, not as puppets simply being pulled in one direction or the other. We are rational agents, we make choices, we strive to do the right thing. Surely, for all this to mean something - we have to have free will. Or at least, these are the kinds of gut-feelings most people have.



Consider the following two hypothetical situations:

(1) Your friends invite you to a night out. You know it's going to be fun - it always is. You haven't seen them in a while and look forward to meeting them again. They tell you they are going to meet at the local bar where you always have had good times together at 9 o'clock. It's half past seven - and, unexpectedly, you get a call from another very dear friend with whom you go way back - and he tells you that his significant other has just left him and he is very much in need of a good friend right now. So, you decide to call your friends and tell them you won't be able to make it. You meet with the friend who just called you - you help him get through the night.

(2) It's tuesday morning, and you're on your way to work. Along the way - you suddenly stop. You decide to take off all your clothes, climb on the roof of a parking car and start singing "Hit me baby one more time". When asked later why you did this, you (truthfully) state that you did it for no reason at all - that you were well aware that you could have chosen to do otherwise, but that you simply did what you did - end of story.


Which situation would you consider a good example of free will?
I predict it won't be (2)... but why not?

After all - you were not aware of any antecedent causes of your behaviour - and let's assume there really were none. It is actually a prime example of what Contra-Causal Free Will proposes. Contra-Causal Free WIll proposes that a decision is free if it is not causally determined.

This example shows both what we really want from free will and what an applicable concept thereof necessitates: Responsiveness to reason and reasons.

In (1), you are confronted with a situation which necessitates a decision. You evaluate it - you weigh up the reasons for both courses of action (meeting with your friends for a night out - helping out a friend in need) and come to the conclusion that your obligation to your friend in need - and yourself as a moral agent, outweighs the desire to have a night out with your friends whom you haven't seen in quite a while.

What connection was there between the various reasons, your evaluation that the reasons for helping your friend through the night outweigh those for the other course of action and your decision of doing so?
I propose it is a causal connection. The situation with which you are confronted in combination with the way you evaluated that situation caused you to act as you did.

For everything we really want from free will - responsiveness to reason and reasons is indispensible. Contra-Causal conception of free will is unable to account for that.
From the position of contra-causal free will, your decision would be completely causally isolated - a singularity of sorts. Our choices are informed by reason and reasons... and this connection is one of causation. What else would it be? Can you construct a coherent and sufficiently detailed conception of reason and reasons influencing a decision where that influence is not causal?

I am not stating that pure reason, the rational evaluation of reasons provides a completely sufficient cause for the decision - but they certainly do play a causal role.
We have very good reasons for accepting (at least stochastic) determinism - and, as I have shown, we have more than sufficient reason for accepting that any applicable concept of free will cannot do without invoking a causal connection between reason, reasons and the decisions in question. So, whatever else the concept of Contra-Causal Free Will can do for us - it is unable to account for this, and can never be satisfactory.

Contra-Causal free will still has many proponents. Why? Because people think that "could have done otherwise" is important. Well - in (2), that is assumed. But it doesn't help us at all. The decision is still an anomaly, a singularity. Unexplained - even unexplainable in principle.

"Could have done otherwise"... what does this even mean? Of course, if things had been different, things would have been different. So we have to take some things as fixed. Contra-Causal Free Will would mean that in the exact same situation you could have acted differently. This means not only with the same antecedent brain states - but with the same reasons for doing one instead of the other.

"Could have done otherwise" is supposed to be necessary for moral responsibility and accountability. But how exactly would the possibility of deciding "freely" in (1) on a course of action contrary to what your rational evaluation of the sitation led you to decide make the actual decision you made a moral one, make you accountable? Assume that you couldn't have done otherwise, because your responsiveness to reason and reasons always determines your decisions and actions. How would that make it immoral, or you unaccountable? Simply stating "Well, because if you couldn't have done otherwise, it wasn't a choice." won't do - because that already presupposes Contra-Causal Free Will as necessary... but I'm asking why this should be so.

We now know enough about reasoning and the brain to able to account for responsiveness to reason and reasons from a physicalist perspective. We furthermore have sufficient independent reasons to accept (stochastic, at least) determinism, to accept causal closure of the physical world and to reject substance dualism. This makes compatibilism the position of choice: Free Will is compatible with determinism in that free will can only be coherently conceived of with responsiveness to reason and reasons - and this can be gotten from determinism.

But why, then, does it seem to us that we "could have done otherwise"? From a physicalist perspective, this is not hard to account for. The processes for making decisions are incredibly complex and multi-layered. It is impossible for our brains to model themselves to a sufficient degree (especially in advance) so as to know beforehand that there really was no possibility (given the same situtation) that we would have done otherwise.

So - while there are many more arguments to consider, I think I have shown conclusively that Contra-Causal Free Will is necessarily untenable, because it cannot provide a basis for responiveness to reason and reasons - which is both all we have sufficient grounds for wanting from an account of "free will" and what we see in the world: People are responsive to reason and reasons.



________________________
Recommended Reading: "Elbow Room" by Daniel Dennett

Comments

(Anonymous)

Nice post Mike. I think that is the hardest part for people to get about the free will debate. Free will doesn't mean randomly doing things. We all do things for reasons, all of which have a cause somewhere.

Brian.
Indeed, but I do wonder why this point is so hard to get across...(?)

(Anonymous)

Because causation implies machinery and free will implies some romantic idea of nature unfettered I suppose. I think it has some romantic connotation somewhere.

(Anonymous)

Hi Mike,

I’m confused again, do I have free will or not? I think you are saying no.

"Could have done otherwise"... what does this even mean? Of course, if things had been different, things would have been different. So we have to take some things as fixed. Contra-Causal Free Will would mean that in the exact same situation you could have acted differently. This means not only with the same antecedent brain states - but with the same reasons for doing one instead of the other.

Given the same situation (when all the planets are aligned in the same way and the such like) I might be able to behave differently (just not realise it)

At the quantum level we have uncertainty, so there is a random element that cannot be predicted so I could behave differently couldn’t I – even given the same quantum states for everything at the moment of making a decision.

I think I have just gone against what you just said – Oops, it will mean I am wrong somewhere, so I hope you can sort me out.

Not sure this gives us free will or just maybe the illusion of it since in any situation I could behave differently given the chance.

I do accept your reasoning argument, this makes sense, I am just saying when something comes down to 50/50 a flip of a coin may happen - it might tip the balance.

I’ve probably missed the point again... sorry in advance.

Lee
Quantum events probably don't have any effect on brain activity - they are too small. Also, brain structure of and function is pretty robust. It concerns masses of neurons, not individual particles.

That is my understanding anyway.
As Steve said - quantum events probably don't have any effect on brain activity. But there's more to it than that.... when we think of "could have done otherwise in the same circumstances", this is usually conceptualized as "if the world was EXACTLY the same", and that would include quantum events.

But there's even more... with "could have done otherwise", we mean that we could have chosen otherwise. Quantum indeterminacy means randomness - and random events cannot be directed intentionally, cannot "carry" a determinate function. When we talk about actions, we talk about intentional actions. Intentional actions aren't random. Thus, if we "could have done otherwise" because of quantum events, that would be a random, and not a deliberate difference. So it would be useless.

But I am questioning the criterion "could have done otherwise" itself. Why should "could have done otherwise" be important for morality, accountability and free will in general? I see no reason for that.

(Anonymous)

mphil wrote: "But I am questioning the criterion "could have done otherwise" itself. Why should "could have done otherwise" be important for morality, accountability and free will in general? I see no reason for that."

Hi, my name is Stephen and I've been interested in AI for a long time which eventually wonders into this and related issues. Causation has been a major philosophical since the Greeks and more recently with Hume and Kant. Though thousands of papers have been written on causality, little progress had been made in defining/understanding it until 1973 and the Lewis paper "Causation" which brought counterfactuals into play. His idea was seen as a breakthrough at least to the point that 100s of more papers have been written with myriad subtle and not so subtle distinctions. "Causation and Counterfactuals" is a good book presenting several views.
I don't think one can fully describe "free will" without bringing in a facet which limits or proscribes free will, the causal foundation, which I define as our perception that chains of events unfold over time. This classical perception has not been reconciled with quantum theory because of the question of quantum gravity (time). So I think "could have done otherwise" is important at least to the as yet undetermined degree of importance of the counterfactual concept, which at this point is held in high regard by many philosophers. After all, these types of assessments are speculative because the fact of the matter is not yet known.
Presuming Physicalism over Dualism is still an argument of plausibility, not a presentation of fact (even though I agree with Physicalism).
Some people define free will in terms of a lack of sufficient information to make accurate and detailed predictions which you alluded to, and that the true state of affairs is predetermined.
Others point to different levels of chaos and fundamental unpredictability.
At this point we are unable to separate the wheat from the chaff and know what type of free will we have, perhaps only predictive ignorance,
or fraught with elemental randomness. So what I find interesting is that "indistinguishableness" pervades philosophical question areas, such as if a program can pass the email-type Turing Test, a panel of judges cannot distinguish the program's responses from that of a genuine human, does it matter if that program also possesses a mind like humans have? Does that TT passing program have moral obligations and free will and a right to human rights? Anyway, this AI area questions "original intentionality" versus a program's "derived intentionality" which I think is another way to look at "free will".
Hi Stephen. Glad you found this interesting.

I am aware of the importance of counterfactuals, of Lewis' paper etc.

Anyway - I have to disagree with this:
Presuming Physicalism over Dualism is still an argument of plausibility, not a presentation of fact (even though I agree with Physicalism).

Substance dualism is not a coherent concept because causality outside of a spacetime framework doesn't make sense. You might be interested in reading Jaegwon Kim's "Physicalism, or something near enough", where he goes into quite some detail on this point.

So I think "could have done otherwise" is important at least to the as yet undetermined degree of importance of the counterfactual concept

I'm not sure about this. There is an important difference here between "could have done otherwise" and "could have happened otherwise". As the analysis of counterfactuals go - "could have been otherwise" would be completely sufficient, and is compatible with stochastic determinism, since it can deal with quantum uncertainty and different antecedent conditions. But "could have done otherwise" implies some spontaneous, uncaused agent-causation - which is untenable for various reasons. Among them for the reasons why physicalism is untenable - because it's not a coherent concept (just a name for something for which there can be no coherent concept) and because causal closure and exclusion hold (see Kim).


Re: "Turing Test"... since you're interested in AI, (as am I), this is of course very important. The Turing Test might give us empirical criteria - but I propose the question of the nature of intelligence can be answered in more than just this pragmatic and un-elucidating way. Here, I can really recommend the work of Paul Churchland. In his "Neurophilosophy at Work", he addresses this topic in some detail.

Re: Intentionality.

In my opinion, intentionality (which is, after all "aboutness") can be analyzed successfully as control based on representation, which neural networks certainly can do. I'm not so sure the question of free will is identical to that of free will, or that they can be reduced.

Anyway - compatbilism is a major position in contemporary philosophy... and while it acknowledges the importance of counterfactuals (and incorporates them into analysis), it denies the uncaused agent-causality that would be involved in "could have done otherwise".

Glad you took the time to comment! - Welcome!
Damn, not "among them for the reasons why physicalism is untenable"... but "[...]why dualism is untenable"

Sorry

(Anonymous)

"Substance dualism is not a coherent concept because causality outside of a spacetime framework doesn't make sense. You might be interested in reading Jaegwon Kim's "Physicalism, or something near enough", where he goes into quite some detail on this point."

Stephen says: Substance dualism is a claim for a supra-physical plane of existence. Its existence is outside of the physical universe and does not obey causality; there is no claim for causality applying in this speculated, outside of the physical universe realm (God or Magick etc.).
The Scientific Method takes no position on the supernatural (meaning above or beyond the physical realm) it applies to the physical universe where physical evidence may be found. There is a further philosophical stance adopted by perhaps a majority of scientists who use the scientific method: That if some postulated concept or phenomena cannot be detected or measured by a physical experiment, then it does not exist. That is a philosophical claim, not a fact. The same goes for God, or Karma and past lives; there is no evidence, but lack of evidence is not evidence of lack and so there is no proof that God does not exist. That doesn't mean I believe in God or the Platonic realm.
Jaegwon Kim is highly respected, but philosophers offer opinions not facts, and they are likely to change their views during their lives, Wittgenstein for example. Another example is the highly regarded Judea Pearl:

"Ten years ago, when I began writing
Probabilistic Reasoning in Intelligent
Systems (1988), I was working within
the empiricist tradition. In this
tradition, probabilistic relationships
constitute the foundations of human
knowledge, whereas causality simply
provides useful ways of abbreviating
and organizing intricate patterns of
probabilistic relationships. Today,
my view is quite different. I now take
causal relationships to be the
fundamental building blocks both of
physical reality and of human
understanding of that reality, and I
regard probabilistic relationships as
but the surface phenomena of the causal
machinery that underlies and propels
our understanding of the world."

SH: I've seen Pearl's ideas attacked by another high level philosopher, Nancy Cartwright. My point is that finding an esteemed philosopher who happens to support your own view is not all that hard to do, nor is finding a contrary pov.

SH: "So I think "could have done otherwise" is important at least to the as yet undetermined degree of importance of the counterfactual concept."
mphil replied:
"I'm not sure about this. There is an important difference here between "could have done otherwise" and "could have happened otherwise".

SH: I'm not sure what the important difference is? If one postulates could *not* have happened otherwise, that means that events are fated, predetermined, there are no alternatives, there is no fork in the path, no choice in the matter. Thus it follows that if things can't happen otherwise, then also people can *not* have done otherwise, because there is no such thing as a choice to make or alternative to choose from, what they do is also fated, like every other physical process. At best, they can have an illusion of being able to do otherwise called free will (from lack of information to predict).
I think this reasoning from "not" is called a contrapositive but it has been awhile. Anyway if one 'can actually do otherwise' it is only when the potential for another physical outcome actually exists also, it also must actually be able to happen otherwise as a prerequisite for real free will rather than an illusion arising from being unable to predict the future, type of free will. Bell did some experiments and discovered "inherent acausal connectivity" in quantum theory which is called nonlocality. So the standard of universal causality is a classical assumption. Also, Quantum Theory does not follow the rule of the scientific method, always able to provide a falsifiable experiment.
Its existence is outside of the physical universe and does not obey causality;

That makes no sense. Interactive dualism maintains that there is mind-to-body causation (my immaterial soul's decision to move my arm causes my body to move my arm), body-to-mind causation (Someone slapping my face causes my immaterial consciousness to experience pain) and mind-to-mind causality (One thought causes another).
As any concept of causality necessitates both change (temporality) and pairing-relations (spatial or pseudo-spatial relation), the concept of an non-spatiotemporal realm interacting with a spatiotemporal realm makes no sense. Not even the concept of various things in this non-spatiotemporal realm interacting makes sense.

That if some postulated concept or phenomena cannot be detected or measured by a physical experiment, then it does not exist.

I don't think most empirical scientists think that. I would say that most think (correctly) "Our senses only pick up natural things - we are creatures of nature. Anything that leaves no trace in nature for us to discover is something of which we can never have sufficient justification of including it in our ontology". (okay, that's too formal and philosophical - but I think that's the correct underlying assumption). If it makes no difference in the world, we have no means whatsoever to decide whether it exists or not - and thus no reason to include it in our ontology.


[...]The same goes for God[...]
Well, yes - in a sense. But when we can show logical inconsistencies in any specific concept of god - that means this concept cannot have a real referent, it cannot denote. Just like "square circle". Thus, we can actually, logically, disprove various concepts of deities, by showing (for example) that aseity, personality PLUS non-spatiotemporality, personality PLUS immutability etc are logically inconsistent.


My point is that finding an esteemed philosopher who happens to support your own view is not all that hard to do, nor is finding a contrary pov.
You're absolutely right of course - but I can advance the arguments, and if they're not refuted, I have every reason to accept the conclusion. Also - I personally do produce the actual arguments instead of just refering to authority.

I'm not sure what the important difference is? If one postulates could *not* have happened otherwise, that means that events are fated, predetermined, there are no alternatives

There may be no actual physical "could have been otherwise" (except for quantum-indeterminacy)- but there are logical ones. The descriptions of these situations are not analytically true, and the states-of-affairs cannot be known a priori. Thus, these situations are contingent (that is, if the distinction "necessary"/"contingent" has any relevance at all - of which I am not sure)

Thus it follows that if things can't happen otherwise, then also people can *not* have done otherwise

I completely agree! But proponents of contra-causal free will state that a decision is made freely only if there are NO sufficient causes - that means even if the entire world(including quantum-states) would have been the same.

The concept of "free will" and "choice" with which you are arguing relies (tacitly) on a "contra-causal free will"-interpretation... But I propose that this cannot be gotten anywhere if we want to retain the notion of decisions being connected to reason and reasons. I therefore argue that our concept of choice makes no sense - it has no real referent, but can be modified as "several evaluations are logically possible - the agent's decision is made in favour of one over all the others".

Bell did some experiments and discovered "inherent acausal connectivity" in quantum theory which is called nonlocality. So the standard of universal causality is a classical assumption.

[...]

(Anonymous)


SH: I'm going to assume you are employing these philosophical terms with their standard meaning.
Chalmers brought up the thought experiment of a Zombie world which is physically identical to Earth and its inhabitants in every way except that the Zombies, who act exactly like Earth people, have no consciousness, unlike Earth people. So Zombies have no free will, assuming one agrees that consciousness is necessary for implementing free will, one needs a mind in order to exercise choice. Chalmers claims that this situation is logically possible, which doesn't imply or entail anything more than it can be imagined. Chalmers gedanken faces many criticisms, such as because something is logically possible doesn't mean that it is physically possible (there is also a metaphysically possible category). Classically, if you have two identical physical systems, they have identical properties. So there is no substance to Chalmers claim that Earth humans
and Zombies are identical in every respect, except one, consciousness. So things which are logically possible, may or may not be physically possible.
The philosophy you are arguing from is called Naturalism, which has an unproven foundational premise that the universe is purely physical, that there is no such thing as non-physical. It adopts Science as its discovery tool because Science only deals with that which is physical.
There is another philosophy called Dualism which presents an unproven foundational premise that there are physical entities and also non-physical entities, or a non-physical plane of existence. Causality only operates on the physical plane. So according to Naturalism there is no such thing as "contra-causal free will" because it is a tenet of Naturalism which claims everything is physical and fully causally covered. "Your thoughts, experiences, feelings, decisions, and behavior are all things your brain and body does." It doesn't matter if you experience different logical possibilities for your decisions because they are irrelevant; your decision is already beforehand fully physically and causally determined. The best one can do is argue that about the foundational assumptions of philosophies is that one is more plausible than another. But one cannot disprove them because they don't start with a proof and there is no complete physical theory of the universe (yet) which can provide a "fact of the matter".
Quantum theory is a microcosmic theory, not yet a universal theory because it hasn't yet reconciled the problem of quantum gravity with the macrocosmic Relativity theory. Classical Physics is deterministic. Quantum theory is non- deterministic, and postulates truly random events, not random in the sense of being unpredictable due to lack of information. There is a lot of literature which argues about whether this randomness constitutes a basis for human consciousness (actual)free will, with claims that perhaps consciousness collapses the wave function. There is one highly accurate quantum mathematical formalism which predicts experimental results to I think 12 or 14 digits of accuracy. There are at least 8 major philosophical interpretations about what that accuracy means or describes about reality. Science is in no position to provide a fact of the matter about which particular philosophy is a true description of the correct assumptions which encompass reality.
That leads me to something which you said that I haven't seen substantiated. What I've read is that philosophy very rarely informs science, but it is the other way around. You made a statement which was something like 'philosophy of mind provides insights for neuroscience'. Excluding Relativity because it might be mathematical reasoning fueling philosophical reasoning rather than the other way around, can you name two examples of philosophy providing experimental pathways of discovery for let's say all of Physics which will include neuroscience. The most recent failure in this category was Penrose's failed attempt to use Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, its philosophical implication, to disprove the possibility of a physical strong AI instantiating on a computer.
Do you know of a couple of successes?
Zombies are identical in every respect, except one, consciousness. So things which are logically possible, may or may not be physically possible.

No, they aren't possible. The whole thought-experiment is question begging. Zombies would only be logically possible if no identity-relation holds - but that is what the physicalist is denying.

It's a petitio principii.

And btw - you don't need to explain to me all these things. I have studied philosophy for quite some time under very apt professors :)

And again - Neither dualism nor any pluralism can do without causality. That's just a wrong claim of yours.

Also, I didn't say that philosophy can provide insights for neuroscience - it can help us make see which conceptual implications certain scientific findings really have. And this is very important works -because sometimes, empirical scientists are quite naive about the concepts they use and the philosophical implications of their work.

Anyway - proof that philosophy can also inform empirical science would be Daniel Dennett's role in the design, evaluation and improvement of experiments in the study of animal cognition

(Anonymous)

SH: I'm going to assume you are employing these philosophical terms with their standard meaning.

mphil responded quoting:
SH:Zombies are identical in every respect, except one, consciousness. So things which are logically possible, may or may not be physically possible.

mphil: No, they aren't possible. The whole thought-experiment is question begging. Zombies would only be logically possible if no identity-relation holds - but that is what the physicalist is denying.

SH: Of course they are possible. I mentioned at the start of that post that I was going to assume that you knew the meaning of the philosophical usage of terms and how that differs from ordinary usage. Substance, and logically possible have precise meanings, for instance. A logical impossibility is created only one way, an inherent logical contradiction within the sentence such as: Mike is a married bachelor. "married" and "bachelor" are logical contradictions. There is no such thing as a logical impossibility imposed by a failure to meet a physical requirement. That is precisely called a physical impossibility.
Now you used the word "possible" as if it had only one meaning (physically possible by the standards of physicalism). I had already stated that I didn't think the Zombie gedanken was physically possible: Stephen wrote: "Chalmers gedanken faces many criticisms, such as because something is logically possible doesn't mean that it is physically possible (there is also a metaphysically possible category)."
mphil: ... "it has no real referent, but can be modified as "several evaluations are logically possible - the agent's decision is made in favour of one over all the others"."

Stephen: Here you use the term "logically possible" which is a very weak form of commitment. Didn't you actually mean that the agent had the authority to exercise a physical possibility, actually being able to make an actual choice to make a physical decision,
one which was favored above other possible physical choices? I think you meant more than just being able to conceive of different possibilities which defines logical possibility.
mphil:
Substance dualism is not a coherent concept because causality outside of a spacetime framework doesn't make sense.

And btw - you don't need to explain to me all these things. I have studied philosophy for quite some time under very apt professors :)

And again - Neither dualism nor any pluralism can do without causality. That's just a wrong claim of yours.

Stephen says: Substance dualism is a claim for a supra-physical plane of existence. Its existence is outside of the physical universe and does not obey causality; there is no claim for causality applying in this speculated, outside of the physical universe realm (God or Magick etc.).

SH: You can see there is no claim one way or another about causal interaction between the mind and body, how they affect each other, within the physical realm.
So I didn't make a wrong claim because I didn't make the claim you imagined I did.
...
[...]Stochastic determinsm takes care of quantum theory. Also, quantum uncertainty and nonlocality cannot provide a basis for freedom of will - as you will know we have the tenet of "no hidden variables" - this means genuine randomness. Bell's theorems and various favoured interpretations of Quantum Mechanics speak to that. Anyway - randomness does not give us free will... if we make this the basis, it only gives us arbitrariness - like example (2). That's not what our concept of "free will" aims for: It aims for accountability and responsiveness to reason and reasons.

Cheers!

(Anonymous)

...
mphil:
"Substance dualism is not a coherent concept because causality outside of a spacetime framework doesn't make sense."

Stephen: There is no causality outside a spacetime framework. That doesn't mean such a framework doesn't exist! There is already a framework outside of spacetime which precludes causality in that realm by quantum theory. I don't mean that this quantum realm is equivalent to non-physical substance dualism claim. Rather, that it undermines an objection to the possibility of a non-physical acausal realm. For the benefit of others who may read this postI'm going to review a basic of Quantum Theory (QT).
For a long time classical theory taught that the universe was entirely deterministic, every event was fully caused, so that the concept of Free Will was quite implausible. Then there were some physical experiments performed which produced results which defied the classical expectation. The double-split and later Bell experiments. The experiments produced evidence of superluminal or faster than light transmission of information. Classically, causality is bound so that it can not exceed the speed of light. The explanation for this is that there is a quantum realm which exists outside of spacetime, therefore beyond the scope of causality. Causality is violated.
Now we know that the universe is not completely deterministic because QT is a non-deterministic theory. That means that the presumption of a fully causal physical(=spacetime) universe no longer counts as evidence against free will. QT means there is no "in principle" objection to free will. Yes, it is arbitrary, whether one assigns plausibility to QT enabled philosophical free will, or arbitrarily chooses to judge free will as implausible, there is no in principle way to tell what the true status of reality is nor any physical experiment to perform at this time to produce "a fact of the matter". Basic philosophical stances are assumed to be true, they are not proven to be true, working like assuming fundamental axioms in mathematics. All philosophies face objections, there is no clear solution to the mind-body problem after ages of dispute back and forth, like Chalmers whose paper produced hundreds of pro and con feedback papers. Physicalism or Naturalism does not sit on a pristime pedestal above all objections. That is the nature of philosophy, it is ambiguous and it asks more questions than it answers. It is the classical scientific method which approached the quantum enigma and by experiment uncovered the causality paradox, sometimes known as the basic mystery of QT. I think Feynmann said that.

Title: Quantum randomness can be controlled by free will arxiv.org/abs/0804.0871
-a consequence of the before-before experiment.
Authors: Antoine Suarez ...

"By contrast today’s quantum physics assumes
events which are not completely determined by
the past, and cannot be explained by means of
observable causes alone. In this sense this
theory offers a description of the world which
does not exclude free-willed agency in principle.

This paper aims to show that quantum physics
does not entail the presumed incompatibility
of quantum randomness with order and control.
Section II argues on the basis of the before-
before experiment that quantum randomness can
be controlled by unobservable influences from
outside spacetime and, therefore, is compatible
with freedom in principle: Both quantum
randomness and free will, refer to agency which
is not exclusively determined by the past.
Section III answers a number of other
objections. ...

As I said, whether quantum theory and its indeterminism and restraint on causality
support free will is merely a matter of opinion,
and depends upon whose paper you read.

This all seems to be going nowhere...

You said: Of course they [Zombies]are possible.

No, they are not - they only are when you're begging the question.

And I'm talking about logical possibility. When between mind a brain a Kripkean necessary identity known a posteriori (like with evening-star and morning-star) holds, Zombies are not logically possible. There can be no possible world in which there are Zombies. So anyone claiming that zombies are logically possible has to deny that a Kripkean necessary identity a posteriori hold - and thereby beg the question against the physicalist.

You said further: That means that the presumption of a fully causal physical(=spacetime) universe no longer counts as evidence against free will.

Again, not true, for two reasons:

1. Stochastic determinism takes care of that
2. Quantum indeterminacy is randomness, and thus cannot save non-compatibilistic free will.

You said: There is no causality outside a spacetime framework. That doesn't mean such a framework doesn't exist!
It means it cannot serve as an explanation for anything in this world. And as such, no explanation of ours requires an ontological commitment to such a realm.

And of course the dualist requires mind-to-body, body-to-mind and mind-to-mind causality. That's the whole point of dualism. But since causation doesn't work outside spacetime, dualism is meaningless, as is and interactive pluralism.


There is already a framework outside of spacetime which precludes causality in that realm by quantum theory. I don't mean that this quantum realm is equivalent to non-physical substance dualism claim. Rather, that it undermines an objection to the possibility of a non-physical acausal realm.

No, it doesn't - quantum-effects are not outside spacetime.

A non-physical acausal realm - what would that even be. No one has ever provided anything approaching a coherent concept of such a thing.

And causal closure still holds - anything that is not random has a cause, anything that has a cause has a cause in spacetime.

As I said - this seems to be going nowhere.
Great post. I made me wonder - "could have done otherwise" is a bit of a problem for morality, isn't it?

Suppose there was a good act, and an evil act. If one chooses the good act, what would it mean to say "I could have done the evil act"? That one's morality is arbitrary, and one could have decided to do evil?
Hmm - I think you are on to something there. People who advocate "could have done otherwise" think that for an action to have moral value, there has to be a real choice. Someone who has a psychological condition that absolutely forces him to obey social, moral norms, his actions would not have moral value - nor more than that of an unconscious robot.
We also think that if someone suffers from a psychopathology that led him invariably to commit a wrong action, he is not accountable. Society may have to be protected from him, but he is not capable of being guilty in a moral sense.

As I said - I question the usefulnessness of the entire "could have done otherwise" criterion.

I think you are right - one's moral convictions are not arbitrary only if one can rationally justify them... responsiveness to reason and reasons again. If one could have done otherwise, that would mean that one can chose arbitrarily between following one's moral code or not.

I must say you are proposing a very interesting thought here - that that which has been thought to give moral actions their moral value (that one can contra-causally chose freely whether to follow one's moral code or not) is in fact that which really would make such an action arbitrary. Yes, you are right!

Since contra-causal free will means that one's decisions are compeltely unconnected to reason and reasons - they are arbitrary, and thus no action that follows from them can have moral value. They can only have moral value if the decisions leading to them are informed by reason and reasons.

But our actions do have sufficient causes - and this does not make morality or accountability impossible as long as there is in human beings a general capacity to be responsive to reason and reasons.
Have you any idea how good it feels to have made a useful point on your blog :)

(Anonymous)

I don't mean to sound dense so please forgive the following;

Are you saying that in situation(1), choosing to go party at the bar and not helping out the friend who is down would indicate the moral quality already established in the chooser? They in essence didn't make a choice but simply followed their pre-existing morality? The choice itself is merely an illusion?

-- Gregg (Podaar)

(Anonymous)

Nevermind. It's up to me (as the DYI student) to learn how to follow what you (as the professional) are saying in your precise style. I'll either figure it out or I won't. ;)

-- Gregg

(Anonymous)

MPhil,
After reading your original post through several times, while referring to terminology definitions, I’m (slowly) beginning to see how uninformed my original question was. So much so, that I’m embarrassed enough to regret not being able to delete it. My apologies for bringing the discussion low.
I'm sorry I didn't manage to respond until now.

I don't think your question was a bad question. In fact I think it was a useful and interesting question - and it did positively contribute to the discussion. Don't underestimate yourself, Gregg!

For a while, I thought about using the example of the person in (1) deciding against doing what we all would consider "the moral thing to do"...

What it would come down to in that case would be the same. Some of the sufficient causes of the decision would have been different - it might be that the person came to a different conclusion in the moral evaluation of the situation, or it might be another cause. Still, if the decision was to be described as a prime example of an exercise of free will... reason and reasons have to play a major role in the sufficient causes.

(Anonymous)

Hi Steve

Quantum events probably don't have any effect on brain activity - they are too small.

Damn... shot down in flames again. Oh well, I keep trying.

I thought if you said ‘Quantum’ in your reply it automatically means the answer is mysterious and therefore possibly true (or is that pseudoscience I was thinking of – back to the DIY drawing board)

I was talking from a position of ignorance (of course) and just thought/hoped I could get away with the idea that electrons were interacting with one another that caused the brain to function.

This would be then at the Quantum level and I hoped made my argument valid.

And I would have ‘gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for these pesky kids....’

Lee

Is Time A Factor?

mphil - Very informative article. My question may be a bit off-topic, but I am curious as to your opinion concerning free will as it relates to time constraints. Many of the choices we face in our daily lives don't provide us with the luxury of evaluation on what would seem to be a conscious level. By this I mean where a decision has to be made in a split-second. Fight or flight. An impending car accident where, given no obvious choice do I veer left or right? A bus is about to hit two children, neither of which I have ever seen before, but I can only save one. You get the idea. At what point, if any in your opinion, do time factors enter the picture? Would time series prediction, since it is applicable to artificial neural networks be of any use?

Re: Is Time A Factor?

At what point, if any in your opinion, do time factors enter the picture? Would time series prediction, since it is applicable to artificial neural networks be of any use?

An interesting question!

I would say that our concept of free will has only conscious decisions as its domain of applicability - since the mind, which is supposed to be "free" is thought of as conscious.

This would mean that only those decisions in which evaluation is not entirely non-conscious - in which we don't conceptualize reason and reasons would even fall under the domain of the question.

It's not just "fight or flight" that are unconscious, "pre-programmed" decisions... for example when you trip and just manage to catch yourself... your brain does immensely complex calculations and evaluations here - but neither these nor the "command" to counteract these in a certain way are consciously made.


Does this answer your question?

(Anonymous)

Very interesting article.

Can you explain gambling in terms of "Causal Free Will"? I'm not referring to the habitual gambler but, rather, the occasional decision made on a hopefull assumption.

To demonstrate that I'm now going to assume that you can easily recall a similar real life situation even though I have the choice to provide you with a clear example!

'Could Have Done Otherwise'

COULD HAVE DONE OTHERWISE....

I just want to know how you got hold of ALL my old school reports!

Freedom of Information, I suppose.

Contra-causal free will

Mphil: I didn't know till I read this that others had the same opinion as myself. I've been arguing for two years against the concept that free will had to be contra-causal. It can't be. I don't understand why determinists, especially those who are published at http://centerfornaturalism.org believe that WE believe it must be contra-causal. It can't be. That would mean it was disconnected from objective reality, from the very things that cause us to use our judgement in the first place. If objective reality didn't exist, we wouldn't even be talking about will power because there would be nothing to exercize it against. My latest tirade against it is here: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20091021040011AAkCf2i

(Anonymous)

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