Consciousness: a philosopher believes in free will (General)

by David Turell @, Thursday, May 16, 2019, 18:32 (95 days ago) @ David Turell

An interview:

"Christian List, a philosopher who specializes in how humans make decisions, has a new book, Why Free Will Is Real, that tries to bridge the gap.

"List accepts the skeptics’ definition of free will as a genuine openness to our decisions, and he agrees this seems to be at odds with the clockwork universe of fundamental physics and neurobiology. But he argues that fundamental physics and neurobiology are only part of the story of human behavior. You may be a big bunch of atoms governed by the mechanical laws, but you are not just any bunch of atoms. You are an intricately structured bunch of atoms, and your behavior depends not just on the laws that govern the individual atoms but on the way those atoms are assembled. At a higher level of description, your decisions can be truly open. When you walk into a store and choose between Android and Apple, the outcome is not preordained. It really is on you.

"Skeptics miss this point, List argues, because they rely on loose intuitions about causation. They look for the causes of our actions in the basic laws of physics, yet the concept of cause does not even exist at that level, according to the broader theory of causation developed by computer scientist Judea Pearl and others. Causation is a higher-level concept. This theory is fully compatible with the view that humans and other agents are causal forces in the world.


"I am quite happy to concede that free will requires intentional agency, alternative possibilities among which we can choose, and causation of our actions by our mental states. I think the mistake in the standard arguments against free will lies in a failure to distinguish between different levels of description. If we are searching for free will at the fundamental physical level, we are simply searching in the wrong place.

"If you try to make sense of human behavior, not just in ordinary life but also in the sciences, then the ascription of intentionality is indispensable. It’s infeasible and not illuminating to explain human behavior at the level of astronomically complex neural firing patterns that take place in the brain.


"The neuroscientific skeptic is absolutely right that, at the fundamental physical level, there is no such thing as intentional goal-directed agency. The mistake is to claim that there is no such thing at all. Intentional agency is an emergent higher-level property, but it is no less real for that. Whenever our best scientific explanations of a particular phenomenon commit us to postulating certain entities or properties, then it is very good scientific practice to treat those postulated entities or properties as genuinely real. We observe patterns and regularities in our social and human environment, and the best way to make sense of those patterns and regularities is by assigning intentional agency to the people involved.

"The jury is out on whether the world is fundamentally deterministic—it depends on how we interpret quantum mechanics—but suppose it is. This does not necessitate that the world is also deterministic at some higher level of description. Indeterminism at the level of psychology is required for free will and alternative possibilities. That is entirely compatible with determinism at the fundamental physical level.


"to describe the complete state of a human agent, we do not describe the full microphysical state of every elementary particle in the brain and body. That would be the wrong level of description. If our best theories of human agency compel us to postulate forks in the road between which agents can choose, then we’ve got very good scientific reasons to take alternative possibilities at face value. If you ask psychologists, cognitive scientists, and economists, they will give you different theories of how human choice-making works. But they all treat human beings as agents who are faced with choices between different options, so all these theories assume alternative possibilities.

"in the social sciences, we use a different kind of indeterminism based on option availability. In decision theory, we draw a distinction between the options an agent could choose and the option the agent will in fact choose, based on maximizing expected utility or some other criteria. If I’m rational, I’m going to try to systematically make choices that are in line with my beliefs and preferences and goals. But the other options don’t disappear. They are available to me right up to the moment of my choice.


"Let’s suppose, once again, I lift my arm to drink some water. You can fully account for the action by reference to the physical state of my brain, so there is no reason to postulate yet another cause—namely, a distinct mental cause.

"My response, which Peter Menzies and I developed, is that if we accept the interventionist theory of causation, the causal exclusion argument does not generally hold. For any given system, the most systematic causal relations may not involve the lowest-level variables, but could involve higher-level variables, or there might be systematic causal relations at both levels."

Comment: Straight forward, there is no illusion of free will, as per Dan Dennett.

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