Buridan’s Ass Decisions (2)

-If free choice experiments all turn on BADs, do we understand them well enough? Say I wrote a program determining how I would deal with BADs and programmed it into my brain. The program would run, I’d become conscious of it, and Libet would observe the effect of my previous choice to program myself.

-Given the frequency of BADs, you’d expect the self to develop or be born with some system to deal with them. In fact, don’t non-human animals need such a system? Don’t actual donkeys find themselves equidistant between bales of hay?

-Would you want free choice to deal with BADs?

-The experiments define freedom as control by conscious intention fixing on one thing as opposed to another, but then test for the existence of such a thing in using a BAD, i.e. in a circumstance when conscious intention has no reason to fix on one thing as opposed to another.

-Can a BAD have a moral consequence? The idea seems crazy. If freedom is morality-relative then free choice experiments have yet to deal with it. But say that Libet got the same results when asking grad students to make a moral choice. Aristotle would interpret this as the effect of habitual action, and the habits as results of previous imperfect choices.

-Moral conversion often happens after some time of being dissatisfied with one habits. Presumably, any bad habit is a case of reason being powerless before subconscious drives. But this dissatisfaction seems to itself act on the subconscious, and at times a power from within this region bursts forth with a re-orientation of psychic energy toward goodness. Is our dissatisfaction true freedom, even if an instrumental cause of the re-orienting power?

Aristotle: Virtue is wholly voluntary and wholly habitual. Is free choice simply the agreement of choice and the habitually performed human good? Is most free choice our dissatisfaction with our action, i.e. the only way in which our choice and the good agree? This dissatisfaction has long work-arounds and nudges that it can make to the action, but on the whole it depends on the divine re-orientation of the person to goodness.



Buridan’s Ass decisions

Call Buridan’s Ass decisions (BADs) those which break a deadlock when reason doesn’t. All the beers in the cooler are the same, but you take that one; all your jobs that day are equally distasteful, and you pick this one. All the critiques of free choice by contemporary neuroscience  (Libet, Sun, Harris, etc.) take BADs as paradigm cases of free choice, and then conclude that the choice is not free since the work of deciding gets done before one is aware of it.

In one sense, BADs seem like free choice stripped to its essentials since there is only the choice and no motivating reason. If free choice is anywhere, Harris claims, it ought to be here. But it’s a strange account of freedom that leaves you with no account for why you did what you did. If someone asked me why I picked that beer out of the cooler and not this one, there’s simply nothing to say.


Being is not a being

This being is not a being. The statement is familiar when said of God, but he is the limit case of the claim, not the only one for whom it is true.

Being is said from existence, or what stands apart or is separate. So taken it is divided from the common or homogenous. But any definable being, or being describable on a Porphyrian tree is never entirely divided from what is common or homogeneous, since the whole point of such classification is to tell us what we’re dealing with.

It is only to the extent that self-existence is one’s existence that it separates from the common or homogeneous. Self-activity enters the world with living being – in the inorganic world  “a single substance” is nothing but a heap built up from minimal homogenous parts. Self-existence only becomes a source of activity when it compares itself to the world in its knowing the truth, and so belongs in a peculiar way to intelligent beings.

In humans, intelligence exists in the minimal degree, and always as constituted by pre-rational givens – not just sensation but any activity of the central nervous system, along with unconscious desire and motivation (and who knows where all that comes from). Still, to the extent that we are self-existent there is something setting us apart – and not “signate matter” but some unassimilable point irresolvable into a genus.


Truth, self, freedom

Zombies don’t know what STA called truth, or comparing one’s thoughts about the world to the world itself and seeing how they measure up.

Knowing truth involves being able to act in line with it, which is freedom in the sense of acting by oneself.

Sam Harris is right that we are not free to the extent that we neither control our thoughts nor can account where they came from. If Harris asks me to think of a random city, then to the extent that “Tokyo” comes out of nowhere it was not freely chosen. But what about the decision to let the name of a city just happen? No doubt Harris could point out the many elements in this decision that we don’t control: why render ourselves pliable to this suggestion? Why not just respond to the suggestion to “think of a city” by blowing it off? So sure, our disposition might “come from nowhere” and so not be freely chosen. But for all that, these drives and dispositions are experienced as things to be dealt with, and so my desire to try out Harris’s argument always has an element of, say, deciding to let a random city pop into my mind.

Mt. 13: 25

[W]hile his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.

1.) [W]hile his men were sleeping. The plural (τοὺς ἀνθρώπους) makes it clear that these are subordinates to the one who sows. The work of evil therefore always presupposes some absence of vigilance among secondary causes, though not every such absence is culpable, and the parable seems to speak to our non-culpable limitations of vigilance. The enemy comes when the men are sleeping, not, say, when they were drunk or off carousing. We have limited prudence. We cannot predict accidental outcomes. We are often far down a road that seemed like the right path before we figure out it is the wrong one, like when we keep trying something that worked well in the past but no longer fits the circumstances. Things that seem like small or tolerable evils turn out to be the hills we should have died on, and vice-versa. Doing any finite good requires neglecting something else and opens up new possibilities of corruption.

2.) The enemy… sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. At its heart, the work of the enemy is the rejection of fatherhood, cultivation, drawing out the latent potentialities of things, etc. All this takes time, patience, and a willingness to take things as they are and work with them face-to-face. The enemy has not “pitched his tent among us”, but does his deed “and went away”. The enemy does not even see the field – he sneaks in at night and throws weeds about randomly.  While the Farmer wants wheat for what it is, keeps it in his house, has made it for himself, and works with it as it is, all the enemy can “see” in the field is an opportunity for vengeance. The Farmer feeds on the crop in the sense of bringing it into his own life; the Enemy has no desire to share his life with anything this is why he only works with “weeds”, i.e. things that are worthless for sustaining life and which therefore demand no tending.

Information and spirituality

Shannon explicitly leaves aside much of what we mean by information when he formulates his theory. Meaning is completely ignored, but what remains is still an important element in information: novelty. 

Information is what I depend on another to get. If you send me a message like 2, 4, 6, 8… I quickly hit the point where I no longer depend on you for what comes next. If you send me < >MJJJ?”?>>kgkufy6-oh… then I am very dependent on you for whatever comes next. It’s this sense of “information” that leads to the paradoxical conclusion that the meaningless and random has “more information” than a meaningful sentence fragment.

In this sense, the information content of any physical medium is limited. Even in the random message above, you still had pretty-good-odds-for-a-lottery of guessing the next character (It had to be something typeable on a standard keyboard with English-language settings, for example.)

Plato’s theory of recollection argues that all learning is from previous learning and so is infinite. Aristotelianism arrives at the same conclusion by its hylomorphism: all limitation is from physicality or matter, and so the spirituality of mind makes it an unlimited being proportionate to an infinite source of information. What does this mean?

Infinite information would be perpetually surprising or novel – the amazement of the new could not wear off. The tour guides in the Grand Canyon don’t get to have the same rush of novelty as the tourists, but this is due to the limitations in physical objects. The Romantic exultation of the sublime was really exultation of novelty or of something inseparable from the novel, and so was an argument for human spirituality.

Cognitive neuroscience has also discovered the value of the novel. The bizarre and novel has always been away of increasing memory, because the brain seems built to look for it. Novelty is an essential element in triggering dopamine, in the sense that the amount released goes down with the familiarity or predictability of the stimulus. The inevitable lassitude, burnout, and boredom that results from acting as if physical pleasures could be infinite is a result of their intrinsically limited information content. Make orgasm a god, and it will soon be no more pleasant than sneezing; make a drug a god and you will soon only do it to stave off the pain caused by its absence. Physical pleasures only link up with the infinite to the extent that they can be a part of some spiritual good – the communion of persons, the fluidity and joy of discourse, the deepening of interpersonal bonds, etc.

Any two angels are more information rich than the physical universe. To see any one part of the physical universe allows you to predict another with greater accuracy than seeing one angel would allow you to predict another. After you go to heaven and see your first angel, you will see a second one and say “what is that”? (among the damned, the novelty of the same experience will only be in horror, which has its own novelty – think jump scares.) Even this image turns on the idea that they will be in different places, when in fact this part of the metaphor falsifies it.

At the summit of novelty is the triune God, made by the continual outpouring of divine cognitive and volitional possibility. God’s power is limited in what he can create, since creation itself has limitation, but the procession if the Arche into the Logos and the Life is entirely unlimited and novel. God alone is the Heraclitean river that one cannot be twice the same. There is no re-cognition of God as he processes into his cognitive and volitional persons, only the continual amazement of seeing him for the first time. Palamas is right that the essence of Trinity is unknowable, but this is not a darkness but the perpetual impossibility of re-cognition. One cannot say of the Trinity that it is just what he saw before.

The resurrection is into spiritualized matter that overcomes the limitation of physical information. This is why the physical body of Christ was not recognizable and was trans-dimensional, appearing at will and having a true physicality even while now “in heaven”. The assumption of his Mother was not the act of levitating her into orbit but of taking her entirely into this same trans-dimensionality.



Immortality and Plato, arg. 1 and 2

The first two immortality arguments in Phaedo are not so much trying to prove pre-existence as a conservation law of life.

1.) Life is neither generated nor destroyed but only changes states from embodiment to disembodiment. If death is life-separation, becoming a living substance is life-incarnation. Plato borrowed the myth-at-hand of an underworld as the to which the disincarnate go and from which they return, but Dawkins’ idea of life as a meme which is encoded in matter would work just as well. Something has to account for how information can be encoded in different formats, pre-existing and post-existing them all.

2.) Learning is recollection, and so always presupposes pre-learning. Learning is thus never generated from non-learning and so has a conservation law. Any production of a rational soul could not be an intra-natural act.

Simmias and Kebes raise the two main objections: life may not be relevantly similar to information but might be simply an accident of arrangement, i.e. life results from material without previously informing it. The lyre objection begs the question. The first string on a guitar both produces “E” and was produced to so make it, i.e. the luthier made the instrument with an idea of making “E” long before the instrument itself could do so. The objection, however, allows Plato to restrict the scope of argument (1). As formulated, it argues for an immortality of everything, but Plato restricts it in the response to self-directing (i.e. rational) life.

Conservation laws made from pre-existence leave open the possibility that perhaps nature is so constructed that things go from infinity to point X, after which they disappear (this is the tailor’s coat objection). But this overlooks that, for the living, life is existence.

Recollection without Pre-existence.

-Plato’s arguments for recollection show there is no first learning. Your life is already infinite. All learning is recollection, and so requires some previous learning, which requires some previous learning, ad infinitum.

Creation is to give a finite temporal beginning to what does not need it. If elements in fact only go finitely back in time then they were created since the conservation of elements does not demand that beginning. This is the Christian modification of Plato. In other words, Plato proves the conservation law of intelligible reality, and the Christian only insists that, in fact, intelligible reality started for you at time X.



First Way.

(This started as a thought experiment of what I would say if someone wanted a cosmological argument in under a minute. The obscurity is intentional.)

Say I want an account of motion. If I want to explain how we got animals, I’d have to place myself in an animal-less world and describe how we got the animal-filled one around us; so an account of motion involves placing myself in a motionless world and describing how I got the motion-filled one around me.

We describe such a world all the time – both abstract laws and kinetic energy are motionless in their own way, as is a block universe. But kinetic energy is whatever moves something, and to the extent that we see this as  concrete and physical it is hardly motionless. Abstract laws aren’t agents, and the block universe doesn’t exist at one time. So all these might be as close as we can get to the motionless world while staying within physics, but they point to a more fundamental explanation prior to physical interaction.

So time is relative to eternity.  Here’s the difference between the two: in time things exist without being all at once, and this generates serial differences that create a problem of locating where in some series something is or happens, which in turn requires setting up some sort of measurement system to solve problems like this (like clocks, calendars, day-divisions, etc.). In eternity things exist all at once. No serial differences arise and the measurement system is superfluous.

The common idea of both worlds is the “at once” or simul, which is neither temporal nor eternal and so is the common locus of both. The simul for things in time is a limit or abstraction from things that cannot have their whole existence in that limit; but for things in eternity the simul is where they exist wholly.  Since eternity relates to time in the simul as causal or explanatory it includes all that, in time, has been or will be. Both the fixity of the past and the contingency of the future are causally compossible in the simul of eternity.

Though the simul is the locus of time and eternity does not mean there is only one such locus. Following Relativity, there seem to be as many actual “at once” moments as there are actual observers.  Observation (which is fundamentally mind or consciousness) is therefore the gate between eternity and time. This leads us to expect a similarity between eternity and intelligence, since intelligence mediates eternity and time.


Recollection v. Abstraction

Plato’s defense of recollection is made in defiance of the doctrine of abstractionism. Plato is impressed by the fact that we get ideas not just from things similar to the ideas, but from things dissimilar to them. We form all sorts of ideas by negation, counterfactual reasoning, use of the principle of contradiction, fiddling around with conditions of existence, etc. Abstractionism therefore has a difficult time accounting for intellectual creativity.

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