Materialism, Determinism, Free Will

June 2024 Forums General discussion Materialism, Determinism, Free Will

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  • #89792
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    robbo203 wrote:
    An  idea is not a “material condition” is it?  There is no such thing as a unicorn in material  reality yet people have the thought of a unicorn.

    Of course it is! Unless you can show it is something else. Where did the idea of the unicorn come from if not from the physical brain? When an artist ‘creates’ they create form their material existence and the creation takes place within their physical brain. and with the use of their physical body.

    robbo203 wrote:
    ” clearly ” ideas” do affect the economic base in all sorts of ways  which I touched on earlier e.g.. technical knowledge, innovation , production motives etc etc “

    The economic base of society – the mode of production in material life – requires ideas. ‘Base and superstructure’ is a model. Both constitute ideas. We use our mind/ideas to enter into economic relations. So to say that the superstructure effects the base is to say that we are acting upon something we created albiet unwittingly as Marx argued:”inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will” When we recognise how the base is effecting the superstructure – how the relations we entered into are effecting everthing else in society – the superstructure/ our ideas, then we can consciously change the economic relations to a conscious form – Common Ownership. 

    #89793
    robbo203
    Participant
    TheOldGreyWhistle wrote:
    robbo203 wrote:
    An  idea is not a “material condition” is it?  There is no such thing as a unicorn in material  reality yet people have the thought of a unicorn.

    Of course it is! Unless you can show it is something else. Where did the idea of the unicorn come from if not from the physical brain? When an artist ‘creates’ they create form their material existence and the creation takes place within their physical brain. and with the use of their physical body.

     No. You are confusing two quite separate things again.  The idea of unicorn itself is not a material thing, it does not have an objective material  existence unless you want to denude the term “material” of any real meaning.  The “idea” is a figment of our imagination,To imagine it certainly requires a human brain.  However it is one thing to say that imagining a unicorn requires a human brain , it is quite another to say that it “comes from” the human brain.  For one thing,  the human brain is an organ that processes sensory input.  The component traits of our imaginary unicorn are traceable, as I said earlier, to characteristics of several different kinds of animals which characteristics are then assembled imaginatively in the mind  in the form of a montage which we call a unicorn.  So even on your own materialist terms, it is simply  not true that the idea of  unicorn “came from the physical brain” . It came at least in part from outside the human brain in the form of the sensory perception of objects external to the brain – namely the aforementioned animals – that constituted the raw material out of which the idea of a unicorn emerged For another thing, as I ve argued in an earlier post, the brain and the mind are NOT one and the same thing.  Brain does not equal mind.  Mind depends on the brain but is not reducible to the brain. It is crucial to understand  this point in order to properly grasp the nature of mind-brain interactions. This has important implications for a materialist conception of  history .  For instance , the SPGB would point to the role of ruling class propaganda in perpetuating capitalism.  But what is propaganda but a set of ideas circulating in the social environment which the mind assimilates and acts upon to modify  the behavior of the individual concerned.  It really does not make much  sense in terms of a Marxist theory of society and history to say that “ideas come from the human brain”.  Are you suggesting we now have capitalist brains wired up to perpetuate capitalism? Old fashioned identity theory in the cognitive science which cliams that brain states equal mind states has been superseded by non reductive physicalism which sees the relationship between mind and brain as one of  token identity rather than type identity.  An example of a type identity is “the morning star” and the evening “star” which is the same planet – Venus -seen at different times of the day.  Token identity is different…If I were to say that the book I was reading at the moment – let us say, “Wuthering Heights” – was a library book,  I would be alluding to a token identity in this case.  I would  not be saying that there is something about  this book called “Wuthering Heights” which means that it can only ever be obtained  from a library (one could conceivably purchase it from a bookshop) since that would entail a type identity in which “Wuthering Heights” supervenes on “library book”.  I would simply be asserting that this  particular copy – or token instance – of the book I am reading, called “Wuthering Heights”, happens to come from a library and that what this indicates is nothing more than a token identity. So it is with the relationship between mental events and neurophysical events. The pain that I experence today may involve a particular neurophysical event and the synaptic firing of a particular neuron but the pain I experienced the day before might have involved a different neurophysical event or process.  Of course , every pain involves a neurophysical event just as every copy of Wuthering Heights is a book but it does not follow that my pain must involve the same neurophysical event anymore than every copy of Wuthering Heights must be a library book We know very well that identical cognitive tasks can be performed under quite different neurophysical conditions.  I can still add up 2 and 2  and arrive at 4 which I first learnt to do as as child but the neurophysical  configuration of my brain is quite different now. It is this assymetry between brain states and mind states that decisively refutes the claim that the latter can be completely explained in terms of the former.  That being so one is logically bound to accept the conclusion that mind – at least in its workings –  has a degree of  autonomy in relation to the brain despite being dependent on the brain We know also that the mind, despite being dependent on the brain , can exert what is called “downward causation”on the brain  (as well as being subject to upward causation by the brain) in the form of such phenomena as psychosomatic effects etc which I’ve already touched on.  There is a quite interesting discussion of downward causation here:http://www.counterbalance.org/evp-mind/downw-body.html There is another interesting piece here:We can speculate whether the relationship of the mind to the brain represents an emergent quality. Individual brain-cells have no emotion, or memory, or self-consciousness. Consciousness arises through the interactions of billions of brain cells, and once it exists, there is a downward causation: the new structural level of consciousness begins to determine the behavior of the components, as the recently discovered brain functions that are summarized under the term “neuroplasticity” demonstrate. We now know that brain functions can be re-located to new areas of the brain in case of injuries. (Stroke victims learn how to speak again, re-learn motor skills, etc.) Learning a skill will create new synaptic connections, or even trigger the growth of new nerve cells. Consciousness exists within matter, but once it exists it is no longer determined by it. The physical brain is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for consciousness. The human mind, once created, acts according to a logic of motivations, emotions, and thought processes that is no longer determined by physical processes. Rather, it acts by ordering the causal chains of physical systems – The human mind begins to function as a cause in the physical worldhttp://braungardt.trialectics.com/sciences/physics/emergence/    

    #89794
    DJP
    Participant

    To me all this talk of non-reducibility and emergence seems to be side stepping the issue. Is it possible to have ‘free will’ as traditionally conceived without  contravening the laws of physics? The answer still seems to me to be a firm NO.To me to talk of ‘free will’ only makes sense in the context of absence of coercion i.e. “I did it of my own free will” i.e. I wasn’t forced to do something. But even in this sense the meaning is fuzzy.This short blog post is interesting:http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/did-freedom-evolve/

    #89795
    DJP
    Participant

    Sam Harris seems to be hitting all the nails on the head in this video, going to give his book a try:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCofmZlC72g

    #89796
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    #89797
    DJP
    Participant

    What’s your opinion on that link you posted OGW?It’s just a knee jerk emotional responce with no substance. I haven’t read Harris’s book but the points he makes in the video are not answered here. Read the comments.We have to follow the facts and base our conclusions upon them. Not find what we’d like to be true then find justifications for it.

    #89798
    DJP
    Participant

    Here’s the argument in comic form:http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1993-05-30/

    #89799
    robbo203
    Participant
    DJP wrote:
    To me all this talk of non-reducibility and emergence seems to be side stepping the issue. Is it possible to have ‘free will’ as traditionally conceived without  contravening the laws of physics? The answer still seems to me to be a firm NO.To me to talk of ‘free will’ only makes sense in the context of absence of coercion i.e. “I did it of my own free will” i.e. I wasn’t forced to do something. But even in this sense the meaning is fuzzy.

     Well no – this talk of non reducibility and emergence is not side stepping the issue.  It is very much to do with the issue.  If mind is not reducible to the brain as emergence theory contends then that rules out a deterministic interpretation of brain-mind interactions.  Mind must then be seen as having a degree of autonomy in its own right.  Of course,  that might not necessarily mean that the mind is still not  “determined ” in some sense . There are other forms of determinism to which it may in theory be subject such as environmental determinism which became popular in the 19th century  but has been largely discredited by  cultural anthopology since then I take a moderate  – and, as  I like to think, reasonable :-)  –  position on the question of free will and really dont see what the laws of physics have got to do with it.  We cannot choose some things but we can choose others  and it would be absurd to deny we cannot.  If you see a young thug beating up an old woman you can choose to intervene or you can choose not to.  You have free will to that extent.  We are not talking about free will in some absolutist sense but in a relative sense and to deny that is to abdicate completely a sense of responsibility for your own actions.  That doesnt seem a tenable postion for a socialist to take who, after all, urges precisely that workers should take their destiny in their own hands and strive for their own self emanicipation. I’m with Marx on this. Men make their own history but under conditions not of their own choosing.  They still neverthless make choices in the process of making their own history and to that extent exercisie a degree of what might reasonably be called “free will”

    #89800
    DJP
    Participant

    STOP THINKING OF DOLPHINS RIGHT NOW!We do not choose what comes into our consciousness, and neither are we aware of, or choose, the myriad of factors that contribute into us making a choice. What other things did you think about when you read this sentence? Did you choose them?Am I responsible for my actions? On the deepest level, no. I didn’t create the circumstances that gave rise to my being. On a practical level, yes. People are social animals and as social animals it is advantageous to encourage certain behaviours and discourage others. Men make their own history but under conditions not of their choosing, but it is also under conditions not of their choosing that men are made.Mind states are not reductable to brain states, I agree. But I’m not sure how “Mind must then be seen as having a degree of autonomy in its own right” necessarily follows. The non-reductive things are things like intentionality “aboutness” and phenomenological experiences i.e. the ‘what it is like’-ness of a mental state. It seems difficult as to how you’d capture these in a physical description of the brain. Non-reductivness does not mean that mind states are free from the influence of physical laws.I refer you again to Dilbert:http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1993-05-30/

    #89801
    DJP
    Participant
    old uncle fred wrote:
    Freedom does not consist in any dreamt-of independence from natural laws, but in the knowledge of these laws, and in the possibility this gives of systematically making them work towards definite ends. This holds good in relation both to the laws of external nature and to those which govern the bodily and mental existence of men themselves — two classes of laws which we can separate from each other at most only in thought but not in reality. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/anti-duhring/ch09.htm%5Bemphasis mine]
    #89802
    robbo203
    Participant
    DJP wrote:
    STOP THINKING OF DOLPHINS RIGHT NOW!We do not choose what comes into our consciousness, and neither are we aware of, or choose, the myriad of factors that contribute into us making a choice. What other things did you think about when you read this sentence? Did you choose them?Am I responsible for my actions? On the deepest level, no. I didn’t create the circumstances that gave rise to my being. On a practical level, yes. People are social animals and as social animals it is advantageous to encourage certain behaviours and discourage others. Men make their own history but under conditions not of their choosing, but it is also under conditions not of their choosing that men are made.Mind states are not reductable to brain states, I agree. But I’m not sure how “Mind must then be seen as having a degree of autonomy in its own right” necessarily follows. The non-reductive things are things like intentionality “aboutness” and phenomenological experiences i.e. the ‘what it is like’-ness of a mental state. It seems difficult as to how you’d capture these in a physical description of the brain. Non-reductivness does not mean that mind states are free from the influence of physical laws.

     Nobody -leastways, not me – is saying mind states are free from the influence of physical laws. The bio- chemistry of the brain can obviously have mental and behavioural effects.  For example, the rate at which serotonin and acetylcholine is released through biochemical activity in the brain can affect one’s mental state and give rise to mood disorders such as depression which, in turn, can be regulated by medication.  But, even so, the mind is more than the brain upon which it depends.  The mind can effect the brain , can exert “downward causation” on the brain as I tried to show earlier In precisely the same way society depends on empirical  individuals but exerts “downward causation” on individuals.  This does not mean that society exists as something ontologically separate from individuals  (any more than the mind exists separately from the brain). But  it does mean that society cannot be explained simply in terms of psychological facts  or “human nature” expressed in individuals.  This is so basic to a Marxist theory of history and society that I cannot see how anybody claiming to be a Marxist can deny it. Emergence theory, I suggest,  is the paradigm within which a sound Marxian approach to things can  operate  but it means abandoning once and for all any kind of totalistic  or deterministic mode of explanation in favour of an interactive approach. It means recognising that history is creative  process as much as a determined one. It means acknowledging that we can choose  and that we do have free will but it is not absolute free will; it is constrainedI very much agree with the passage from the article to which OGW provides a link:Here’s the difference. The man with a tumor has no choice but to do what he does. I do have choices, which I make all the time. Yes, my choices are constrained, by the laws of physics, my genetic inheritance, upbringing and education, the social, cultural, political, and intellectual context of my existence. And as Harris keeps pointing out, I didn’t choose to be born into this universe, to my parents, in this nation, at this time. I don’t choose to grow old and die.But just because my choices are limited doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Just because I don’t have absolute freedom doesn’t mean I have no freedom at all. Saying that free will doesn’t exist because it isn’t absolutely free is like saying truth doesn’t exist because we can’t achieve absolute, perfect knowledge.Harris keeps insisting that because all our choices have prior causes, they are not free; they are determined. Of course all our choices are caused. No free-will proponent I know claims otherwise. The question is how are they caused? Harris seems to think that all causes are ultimately physical, and that to hold otherwise puts you in the company of believers in ghosts, souls, gods and other supernatural nonsense.But the strange and wonderful thing about all organisms, and especially our species, is that mechanistic physical processes somehow give rise to phenomena that are not reducible to or determined by those physical processes. Human brains, in particular, generate human minds, which while subject to physical laws are influenced by non-physical factors, including ideas produced by other minds. These ideas may cause us to change our minds and make decisions that alter the trajectory of our world. This perfectly sums up my own position. If we cannot choose as conscious beings and so exert a cause ourselves  then we are left with a fatalistic teleological view of the universe in which the future is already decided and lies latent within the configuration of forces that constitute the present.  Actually, I would maintain that this view – because it surrenders the future to what has gone on in the past –  is the most hyper-idealistic and mystical view imaginable.  We are rendered completely at the mercy of some unimaginably vast objective mechanism in which everything is predetermined and worked out in advance.  FATE has replaced God in this schema or perhaps it might just be an expression of God’s “will” It concerns me that there are Marxists who toy with the deterministic language of a teleogical model of society and history.  Though Marx explicitly rejected teleology,  there are some passages in his writings that skirt perilously close to a teleological viewpoint –  like the famous one about social being determining consciousness rather than consciousness determining being – as if consciousness and social being could ever be separated in the first place and as if causality in this case could be demonstrated  in the manner in which one billiard ball impacts upon another and “causes” the latter to move in a given direction and with a given velocity The attempt to dismiss free will,  human intentionality and human creativity as  mere idealism is utterly misplaced and is itself a form of hyper-idealism.  It reduces us to the status of tiny cogs in a  vast machine whose purpose is inpenetrable to our mortal minds Freedom and necessity are both ONLY understandable in relation  to each other and to that extent I go along with the quote from Engels that you provide.   But I still cannot escape the niggling feeling that what is being suggested is  that freedom  (free will  , human creatively) is some kind of by-product of “objective necessity” and if this is the case then this is to misconceive the relation between them.  The one is never separate from the other  in the same way that consciousness is never separate from social being and so cannot be fully explained – or determined –  in terms of that latterWe are always free to choose even if  we are constrained in what we choose.  We should acknowlege and celebrate this fact because the self emancipation of the working class depends upon us freely choosing to get rid of capitalism and establish socialism

    #89803
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    DJP wrote:
    What’s your opinion on that link you posted OGW?It’s just a knee jerk emotional responce with no substance. I haven’t read Harris’s book but the points he makes in the video are not answered here. Read the comments.We have to follow the facts and base our conclusions upon them. Not find what we’d like to be true then find justifications for it.

    I have to admit, I didn’t read it. You set my interest away and I was looking for the book ‘Free Will’ and came across the link. I thought it might be a genuine critique but I was wrongYou can sometimes find ebooks on ‘share’ sites. I will send you a copy if I come across it.

    #89804
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Does the party have and accept as members people that reject metaphysical materialism?

    #89805
    DJP
    Participant
    Fabian wrote:
    Does the party have and accept as members people that reject metaphysical materialism?

    I guess the answer is ‘yes’ but it depends what you offer in its place.

    #89806
    DJP
    Participant
    TheOldGreyWhistle wrote:
    You can sometimes find ebooks on ‘share’ sites. I will send you a copy if I come across it.

    Thanks, but I found a paperback copy for about a pound.

    robbo203 wrote:
    Nobody -leastways, not me – is saying mind states are free from the influence of physical laws. The bio- chemistry of the brain can obviously have mental and behavioural effects.  For example, the rate at which serotonin and acetylcholine is released through biochemical activity in the brain can affect one’s mental state and give rise to mood disorders such as depression which, in turn, can be regulated by medication.  But, even so, the mind is more than the brain upon which it depends.  The mind can effect the brain , can exert “downward causation” on the brain as I tried to show earlier

    I don’t think anyone is denying this “downward causation” either. All I’m denying is that there can be causes that are not caused by something or somethings else.

    John Horgan wrote:
    Harris keeps insisting that because all our choices have prior causes, they are not free; they are determined. Of course all our choices are caused. No free-will proponent I know claims otherwise. The question is how are they caused? Harris seems to think that all causes are ultimately physical, and that to hold otherwise puts you in the company of believers in ghosts, souls, gods and other supernatural nonsense.

    Until yesterday I don’t think I had heard of Sam Harris. But the briefest look at his website shows that the final sentence of this is pure strawman. See this for example: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-mystery-of-consciousness

    John Horgan wrote:
    But the strange and wonderful thing about all organisms, and especially our species, is that mechanistic physical processes somehow give rise to phenomena that are not reducible to or determined by those physical processes. Human brains, in particular, generate human minds, which while subject to physical laws are influenced by non-physical factors, including ideas produced by other minds. These ideas may cause us to change our minds and make decisions that alter the trajectory of our world.”

     Again myself, or Sam Harris, do not deny that ideas have an influence in the world. The question is do minds somehow magically escape the world of causation? There is a lot of empirical evidence to suggest they do not. And if they do I have not seen an explanation of how they do this, but maybe I’ve missed something.Did you watch that video Robin?I’m not convinced that ’emergence’ is an adequate theory of how consciousness came into being anyhow, but I admit I need to look into the issue more.

    Sam Harris wrote:
    Most scientists are confident that consciousness emerges from unconscious complexity. We have compelling reasons for believing this, because the only signs of consciousness we see in the universe are found in evolved organisms like ourselves. Nevertheless, this notion of emergence strikes me as nothing more than a restatement of a miracle. To say that consciousness emerged at some point in the evolution of life doesn’t’ give us an inkling of how it could emerge from unconscious processes, even in principle.I believe that this notion of emergence is incomprehensible—rather like a naive conception of the big bang. The idea that everything (matter, space-time, their antecedent causes, and the very laws that govern their emergence) simply sprang into being out of nothing seems worse than a paradox. “Nothing,” after all, is precisely that which cannot give rise to “anything,” let alone “everything.” Many physicists realise this, of course. Fred Hoyle, who coined “big bang” as a term of derogation, is famous for opposing this creation myth on philosophical grounds, because such an event seems to require a “preexisting space and time.” In a similar vein, Stephen Hawking has said that the notion that the universe had a beginning is incoherent, because something can begin only with reference to time, and here we are talking about the beginning of space-time itself. He pictures space-time as a four-dimensional closed manifold, without beginning or end—much like the surface of a sphere.http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-mystery-of-consciousness
    robbo203 wrote:
    It concerns me that there are Marxists who toy with the deterministic language of a teleogical model of society and history.

    No-ones suggesting a “theological model of society”. Teleological explanations explain things in the sense that things happen “in order to” do something. Deterministic explanations explain things in the sense that everything happens “because of” everything else. Clearly not the same thing. I am not a Marxist by the way!

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