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REPLY #64 TO
"RELIGION"



Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).


It's always good to hear positive comments since, by its very nature, a debate forum tends to attract the opposition much more frequently. Of course, if I wasn't ready and willing to hear dissenting views, I wouldn't be doing this in the first place. I'm glad you're enjoying it!
(R) The sad thing is that these religionists many times see YOUR arguments as nonsensical too.
(MB) Such is the nature of debate over strongly-held beliefs. However, it's not what anybody sees but what they can demonstrate through the force (or lack of) of their own arguments that matters.


Americans tend to look for the easy solution to any given problem. Unfortunately, it seems to be easier for a disturbing number of people to abandon their minds and blindly accept the first "feel good" story that comes along. Critical examination of any question requires some effort and too many folks just aren't prepared to make that effort.
(R) When a certain belief is seen as wrong, it can lead to the rational viewing all other beliefs in a skeptical light.
(MB) Skepticism about any given belief is healthy no matter what the status of any other belief might be. How else should we examine all views properly in order to separate the intellectual wheat from the credulous chaff?


(R) Such a thing (for young children) could be finding out the truth about Santa Claus.
(MB) It seems that children are much better able to give up fairy tales and accept reality than are adults who continue to hold similar beliefs.


(R) Seeing a delusion believed by a large segment of society can cause a skeptic to throw out all of the other beliefs held by members of that segment.
(MB) This would be unfortunate. All beliefs should be examined individually and subjected to the same standards of evidence and reason. It would be a shame to miss a good idea just because it was buried inside a bunch of dubious ones.


(R) A good example would be Descartes (who, unfortunately (in my view at at least), didn't go so far as to abandoning his belief in god).
(MB) True, but he didn't seem very adamant in his beliefs. He was commissioned by Cardinal de Berulle (in 1626) to write against skeptics and atheists. The resulting work (Rules for the Direction of the Mind) was never finished over the last 24 years of his life and wasn't even published until over 50 years after Descartes' death.
    Of course, one of Descartes' major propositions was that humans could have a clear and distinct idea of the world's existence if God could be shown to exist and to be perfect. But Descartes himself never showed those things although they fit very well into his overall philosophy of the certitude of experience.



However, I will contend that it is those very workings of the brain that allow for Free Will.
(R) Can other animals have free-will then too (even non-animals or non-life?)
(MB) It would seem to me that any living creature that possesses any quality equivalent to what humans call "consciousness" should have at least some ability to exercise free will.


(R) The workings of the brain follow physical law just like everything else. To say that they don't would be a great claim indeed, and would need proof. Though I don't think that is what you are saying.
(MB) Correct. My argument is that those workings are not strictly and exclusively deterministic in nature.


Minor quibble -- in a universe containing more than three dimensions, there would be no central point of expansion. That said, I agree with the rest of your assumptions.
(R) Why wouldn't there be a central point of expansion??? Though current (string) theory only posits 12 dimensions, there would be a central point no matter how many dimensions you have. ie. for n dimensions the central point is (0a,0b,0c,0d,...,0m,0n) (where a, b, c, etc... is a subscript of 1, 2, 3, etc...)
(MB) The basic reason there is no central point of expansion is that the universe is not expanding into space. Rather, it is space itself that is expanding and that expansion is occuring in more than three dimensions. If there was a central point of expansion, Hubble's Law wouldn't work and we should expect to find a gigantic empty hole in the center of a shell of retreating galaxies. This is because no more matter is being created while the expansion is ongoing.


Except, of course, for the probabilistic effects inherent in Heisenberg Uncertainty. Even if we knew the entire state of the universe to 100% accuracy at any given moment in time, the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics makes it impossible to predict any future state to the same 100% level of accuracy.
(R) Yes, yes. But the non-certain parts of the universe (quantum flux) would obey the laws once they have fluxed. It is obvious (in that newtonian physics, and applied mathematics and non-quantum astrophysics can predict occurences relatively well) that even this flux does not have (at least in the short-term) a huge (or even moderately large) effect on things.
(MB) One needs only observe the Sun shining to see that quantum uncertainty does, indeed, have a very profound effect. Remember also that quantum effects take place on the subatomic level while Newtonian (i.e., "classical") physics describe the macroscopic realm.


(R) Even though it is theoretically possible for all the air molecules in my room to "gravitate" to one point in the corner, they have not, and indeed are very unlikely to.
(MB) Quite true. Of course, long odds are not the same as "impossible". Given sufficient time and trials, even the longest odds proposition will succeed.


(R) Is it really freewill if it just doesn't happen (though there is the chance that it might?)? Is freewill limited, and if so to what extent? (And notice that its the quantum thingies that are fluxing, not the greater parts of our mind. (Unless all the quantum things in a part of the mind flux at the same time))
(MB) I'm not saying that our thoughts are shaped by quantum flux or anything like it. In fact, if that *was* the case, I can't see how we could choose to think about anything. Our thoughts (and our consequent actions) would then seem to be entirely random and uncontrollable.


(R) And are they *really* random??? Or do they just involve higher math, or a complex system that is out of the scope of current theory? (Crap, good ideas are dissappearing like mad in the black hole that is my mind!!)
(MB) There is a school of thought that says that *nothing* is truly random. While this may well be true, I submit that we can never know since we can never make sufficiently accurate measurements. Due to the limitations of Heisenberg Uncertainty, there will always be events that will be "random".


Correct -- if one only considers matter at levels greater than the subatomic. This is why Newtonian gravity, as an example, is still useful for most practical purposes even though it is demonstrably insufficient at the subatomic level. In any case, at this point we are still incapable of an accurate solution to what is known as the "three-body problem", much less predicting the actions and interactions of untold gazillions of bodies of matter.
(R) But we've got the two-body problem down pat (minus quantum quirks, and even those we can semi-predict oddswise)!!! Hooray for humanity!!!
(MB) Of course, any solution to the two-body problem wouldn't translate into much that is meaningful in any system which consists of more than two bodies.


(R) Just because you cannot predict them doesn't mean that they aren't (in some measure) predictable, or allow freewill.
(MB) Quite true, but we need to be a bit more precise about just what is being predicted. For example, for any given macroscopic amount of a radioactive substance, we can predict how much of it will decay over any given period of time. But, we cannot predict which specific atom(s) within it will decay at any point. If there was a different effect produced by the decay of each different atom, we would be unable to predict which one(s) would occur even though we could predict the larger rate of decay.


(R) (I really have no idea what freewill really means. I think it needs to be defined straight out (not all dictionaries are the same). Some of this argumentation might just be because we are each defending a different version of freewill. Personally methinks freewill is a misnomer.)
(MB) "Free will" is the innate ability of an intelligent creature to think and act in any way it wishes (at least concerning matters that are not purely instinctive). Its opposite is the proposition that all such thoughts and actions are the result of purely deterministic forces derived either from the laws of physics or the intervention of a divine being.


This is correct when one properly considers the subatomic realm along with the macroscopic. This is the point where the true believers wish to insert God. What philosophers have dubbed the "God of the Gaps" is the believers trying to invoke God as the explanation for all things that can't be accurately predicted.
(R) Why would god have created a universe in which he could *only* interact through the gaps???
(MB) I don't think he would. The "God of the Gaps" argument purports to demonstrate that God exists by proposing circumstances where the only possible explanation of a phenomenon is the existence of God. The argument continues that the "gaps" would be the points where we would most clearly see his influence, but he would still be present in all things and all places -- gaps or not.


(R) Certainly we could label all non-predictable events as produced by god, and they would be, just not a sentient (much less omniscient) god.
(MB) That argument would lead to the infinite regress problem. Consider, if all non-predictable events are produced by God, and God himself is a non-predictable event, what produced God?


(R) (Even if god only interacted through the gaps, it is still possible for him to appear before people and kill people (as the bible has said he's done) by using *a lot* of gaps.
(MB) True, but as I argued earlier, there would be no need for God to exist only in the gaps. The biggest "gap" seems to be in the logic employed to support the "God of the Gaps" argument.


(R) Why would he show himself and his power throughout the jews existence, but not show it now, when hedonism and the rest are so widespread?
(MB) Maybe he needs to find another downtrodden tribe to lead out of bondage into some sort of "promised land".


Electrons, for example, are considered to be "smeared out" over a range of probabilities and can not be said to exist at one and only one particular point in space at any particular point in time. Recent experiments have proven that it is possible to make electrons "jump" from one place to another place without going through the points in between. This would not be possible if they actually had exact positions or speeds at any time.
(R) There are even instances were, using a screen that has two slits (placed in an unobserved place to get around the schroedinger cat effect), one (and only one) electron is shot at the screen. The scientists then measure the wall that the electron hits and find that the electron has "split" with exactly one half of the electron (or the influence of half an electron) detected on one part of the wall, and the other half of the electron detected at another point on the wall. When the same experiment was run with the screen in an observable (I don't know if it was *actually* observed) place, the electron did *not* split.
(MB) This is (or, at least, is a version of) the famous "dual slit" experiment that is meant to demonstrate the wave-particle duality of the electron. The classic version has a particle impact produced on the wall when only one slit is open and an interference pattern (from wave impact) produced when both slits are open. I wonder if the result isn't due to partial loss or alteration of the information contained within the electron as a result of it being divided by the action of passing through two separate slits.


(R) Which leads to many questions, among them; Is there something special about sentient creatures that allow them to balk schroedinger experiments?;
(MB) I doubt it. After all, in the classic Schroedinger's Cat experiment, the cat is obviously either alive or dead at any point during the course of the experiment whether or not its state is observed.


(R) Is it only the knowledge of what should happen in their heads that causes potentials to collapse and a certain path to be taken?;
(MB) Possibly. Once again, though, what really happens is independent of what we "see" or whether or not we can understand it. Take the case of the rainbow, for example. Just because we didn't discover what caused it until about the 16th century doesn't mean that it ever had any other cause -- no matter what we used to believe.


(R) Will a tree falling in the woods, with no one around, make a noise?.
(MB) Of course. It will still produce the effects on the surrounding air that we call "sound" even if we are not there to hear it. The physics of a falling tree don't change for want of a human observer.


(R) If so, could sentience itself stop freewill?
(MB) It would seem to me that sentience would be a necessary prerequisite to possess Free Will.


(R) What is observed and what isn't?
(MB) This depends on how one defines an "observation". Should they be restricted to the realm of actions of intelligent beings? If so, where should the line be drawn between beings who are capable of observations and those who are not?


(R) This, to me, would be the strongest argument in favor of freewill, and which is why I'm still ambivalent on the issue. (Perhaps freewill needs its own discussion forum?)
(MB) Would willingly establishing such a forum be an act of Free Will? *grin*


The higher brain allows us to collate all sense data that the rest of the brain has collected, bounce it off stored memories and learned responses, examine all possibilities for the meaning of that data, and then make our decision. The brain is a hierarchy of functionality where the data-gathering parts are deterministic while the decision-making parts are not.
(R) Why can't the decision making parts be deterministic?
(MB) I suppose that they could be. However, if that was the case, it would seem to me that we would always make the same decisions given the same initial input. Clearly, we don't do that, so there must be something present beyond mere determinism.


The higher brain has no deterministic mechanism of choice. The other parts of the brain don't make choices.
(R) That depends on how you define "choice". Are you defining choice as an actual "pick something at random" or can it also include "this part of the body can do a variety of things, but under this situation it will *always* choose to do this"?
(MB) For the purposes of my argument, I was defining "choice" as being the process of selection between multiple actions or reactions initiated by another event. If the process is deterministic, there could only be one outcome produced by the same event. If the process is not deterministic, then more than one outcome may be produced. The probabilities of those outcomes may be predictable, but the results of any given individual choice may not.


(R) I think the workings of the brain work deterministically. If you had a certain set-up in the universe, one person's mind would choose to do some particular thing. If you rewound the universe to that same point in time (or somehow created an *EXACT* duplicate of how things were at the time that choice was made (this includes quantum interactions)) the mind would "choose" to do the exact same thing it did before.
(MB) If your initial assumption is correct, then your scenario would go without saying.


(R) It also seems that freewill seems to be a matter of either looking from the past into the future (which would allow freewill), or from the future into the past (in which things would already be determined.
(MB) I think that both of those actions are a part of the choice-making process. All input would contribute towards that process. I think that Free Will involves weighting all input and mixing in emotion and intuition. Deterministic processes would seem to have to leave out the emotion and intuition parts.


(R) (Might there be a difference between "philosophical" freewill and "actual" freewill?)
(MB) If actions are deterministic, then the concept of Free Will would have to be nothing more than philosophy.


(R) The brain may have many different mechanisms of choice. The same way that some software systems use multiple redundant algorithms to determine the best course of action (actually, in software it's usually used to find if you have any bugs in your program, or in the hardware.).
(MB) True, but no software program yet invented can exercise anything other than a deterministic process to make decisions. That's why "Artificial Intelligence" is a misnomer. The final decision from any algorithm can always be predicted.


It might be a better explanation to consider that our brains are constantly roiling with data that are being processed and examined. Most of this occurs beneath the conscious level. When we "think" or "choose", our conscious mind is directed towards the data that is pertinent to the immediate question and sifts through the possibilities. Then, we pick the choice that is the most appealing by applying varying degrees of emotion, logic, reason, rationality (or their opposites).
(R) What mechanisms apply these different filters to our mind's data? I believe it is a very complex sieve (in some cases, though most definitely not all) that might /approach/ freewill in its application, the same way that a googolplex (1e100e100) /approaches/ infinity (ie. nowhere near, but good enough for most equations.).
(MB) If I had a definitive answer to that question, I could become very rich. *grin* It is most certainly quite complex. I'm not sure why nature would develop such a complex system to make deterministic choices.


I think there's something to be said for the fact that people tend to be happier when they are free to make their own decisions and are less happy when those decisions are forced upon them by dogmatic belief or authority. If decisions were always deterministic, I don't see why those emotional reactions should be so sharply contrasted.
(R) Because the authoritarianism of the religion is seen as *obviously* coming from outside of them (though it has been incorporated into their mind). Decisions that come *naturally* have merely been hardwired into the brain much more firmly than religion. Sometimes through genes, other times because it has been so ingrained (hypnotism, etc...) that it just seems natural.
(MB) If all choices were deterministic, that shouldn't matter. In fact, I would think that they should all be devoid of emotion.


Let's take the experiment one step further and use pairs of identical twins as our subjects.
(R) Doesn't change the point at all. Identicals *aren't* identical! Not even completely in appearance (ie. fingerprints). By its very nature, how can the test conditions be *exactly* identical for each twin?
(MB) Remember that this was designed to be a thought experiment. Therefore, we can have truly identical twins.


(R) The complex nature, and ability of small differences to make huge alteration, is seen in meteorology. The very act of pressing the button *once* is enough to change the universe (and the neural net along with it). Given that the universe differentiates more than 1e43 times *every second*, how can the testee press the button rapidly enough to avoid a changing neural net? Gravity is an outside stimulus; How could the test be set up to avoid the inevitable gravitic variances between the twins? Don't say that it is so minute that it won't make a difference; Gravity is one of many things that are subtley different between the two people, All of the differences added together make a tremendous impact.
(MB) True. But, then, how can one claim determinism as the mechanism of choice? The deterministic algorithms themselves would also have to be impacted by the constantly changing state of the universe. Therefore, one also could not be said to make the same choices in response to the same stimuli even under a purely deterministic system.


...the explanation I've offered should qualify as "possible". Some philosophers think that the very existence of the possibility of free will means that it must exist. If it didn't, we wouldn't even have the concept.
(R) Some philosophers think the concept of a "perfect" god means that it must exist.
(MB) Sure, the good old ontological proof of God. However, Free Will is not something that has an independent existence.


(R) Furthermore, MY philosophers are greater philosophers that your philosophers!!!
(MB) Sez You!!! NYAHHH!! *grin*


(R) (Just to show you that you are arguing from authority and using a variation of the ontological argument, both things you should know enough about to not do.
(MB) I do know better. But, since the argument for God posits something that is claimed to have an independent existence, it is not the same as the argument for Free Will.


(R) Also, the explanation offered by many theist apologists are also "possible", that doesn't make them any more correct.
(MB) The problem is that the logical difficulties inherent in their arguments tend to preclude their even being "possible" explanations.


(R) You have obviously offered more hard, scientifically verifiable facts, but you might very well be interpreting them wrong.
(MB) That is the danger in positing any theory of science. I freely admit that I don't have the ultimate answer. Heck, if I did, I'd have the answer to a lot of other questions, as well. Not to mention that I'd likely win the Nobel Prize.


One argument whose implications have had an impact on me says that the best evidence for free will is the fact that one can make specific choices and think specific thoughts when he might just as well make other choices or think other thoughts. William James said, "My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will".
(R) All of this can be explained using complicated, deterministic agencies too. I agree with the spirit of you final sentence to a great extent. How do you know "he might just as well make other choices..."?
(MB) Simple. I can choose to think about the Dallas Cowboys' cheerleaders when I might just as well choose to think about the LA Laker girls or the Oakland Raiders' cheerleaders or the Nitro girls...*grin*


(R) That's like saying (if you were not aware of the law of entropy) "the universe can simply decide to become entirely ordered. (Yeah yeah, not a great analogy, but I hope you see my point.)
(MB) Well...if the universe was sentient, perhaps.


(R) Does this mean that William James didn't have freewill before that moment in his life?
(MB) No. It just means that that may have been his first *act* of Free Will. One can certainly possess some quality without using it.


Furthermore, it seems to me that our ability to conceive original ideas or come up with non-intuitive solutions to problems seemingly out of nowhere is additional evidence for the existence of a non-deterministic functionality within the higher brain.
    Now, I must admit that none of this is absolute proof of the existence of free will. But, I believe that a sufficient case can be made for it that would cause a reasonable person to acknowledge that it is possible -- or even likely.
    Finally, from an experiential point of view, even if free will doesn't exist, the workings of our conscious mind would still present us with the illusion that it does and we would behave accordingly.

(R) Additionally: If you believe in multiverse-like hypothesi (what's the plural for hypothesis again?),
(MB) "Hypotheses".


(R) ...and even if you don't. Quantum theory talks about truly random things happening. Some multiverse theories discuse universes diverging (or existing) that differ in only one random interaction. (or something to that effect. Your know what I'm talking about anyway (I hope???).)
(MB) Yep.


(R) If all possible universes come into being (and even if they don't), then we *have* to be in this one. It would be impossible otherwise (because the universe we *are* talking about is the one were in. If we were in another universe we would be talking about the odds of us being in *that* universe.) Odds and chance are meaningless in this respect; We *have* to be in this universe to even ask the question! Das ist alles.
(MB) Sure, that's the Anthropic Principle. It would seem reasonable that inhabitants of another universe would exist under the rules of the laws of physics that applied in their own universe. Since it's extremely doubtful that we can ever even observe any other such universe, whatever rules apply there could be safely ignored.



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