Notes over the free will debate.

-Are arguments against free will also arguments against social or cultural influence? If physico-mechanical laws cannot be broken for a soul, why can they be broken by a culture? Attempts to make culture or society an “environment”, as though it were some physical system, involve pretty clear equivocations. An engine part is not a member of a car culture.

-Fire in the presence of paper will burn it, and a scanner in the presence of a barcode will scan it, but a builder in the presence of boards will not necessarily build them. Though non-human animals have differences from both, in this limited respect they seem to act like the fire or scanner (we don’t blame the mother bear for mauling a lost intruder, or wait to see if the shark will attack a seal we throw to it). So this leaves us with something to explain about human action.

-“Human beings are not different from the fire, scanner, or mother bear; they’re just more complex systems.” But if science discovered that burning were actually as complex as the brain action, or even if there were some Rube Goldberg contraption that was as complex as neuronal firing,  would we then have a reason to become confused about whether they were free?

-If complexity is the cause of ignorance, and a more perfect brain would know the truth that it is determined, then increasing complexity is the cause of diminishing ignorance.

-Said another way, the appeal to complexity wants to have it both ways:  increase in complexity causes both understanding and ignorance. Sure, we can resolve this in the usual way by qualifications and specifications, but complexity as such is lost as a sufficient explanation.

-We see a mother bear defend herself, and a man choose to fast. We know a priori that there is a difference between them (even if the difference is just our ignorance of the human system) but we do not know a priori that the one is more complex than the other. Would discovery that the bear system is more complex lead us to be more confused about whether they are free or responsible for what they do? Complexity seems like a superfluous cause, like checking the weather in Bangladesh to know whether our middle name has changed. We know bears aren’t responsible before we start putting them in fMRI’s.

-If we want to say there is only natural action, then we are saying that our beliefs in human freedom are caused by our ignorance of the system (due to its complexity). But this commits us to holding that noetic states cause actions other than themselves. But then why can’t an undetermined noetic state be the cause of an undetermined action?

-Sure, we’re less free than we think we are; and real freedom involves  good deal of work. Most of life might well be the a ride upon desires that arise without our initiation. But.

-If you wanted to make a mechanical contraption that was able to add numbers, it would probably be as big as a large closet; if you wanted one big enough to play Pong, it might be as large as a house; and an AI mechanical computer might be as large as a nation. But what then? All we get is a nation-sized Leibniz mill.

– Ignorance of complex systems cuts both ways. A primitive person looking at a watch might conclude it was alive, just as all Europeans thought clocks were good life-analogues before we became familiar with them.


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