Author Topic: Is there different degrees of freedom, versus constraint, in causal...  (Read 189 times)

Pat Johnston

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Is there legitimate differentiation by degrees of freedom, versus constraint, in causal agency?

Before a rush to judgment, I suggest this essential question's answer must be one found set to honesty - to first acknowledge a certain and encompassing truth: that we are 'finite' beings, and concede to what that actually means. In terms tempered by age, senses, acuity, continuity, ability and the like. Although all of our limits may be knowable, we might only fully deduce that all of our knowledge has limits. Even, the limits to which a sense of 'certainty' itself may be objectively sustained and inwardly trusted.

Thinking traps abound. The mind, driven by experience as it often is, requires both in depth training and rigor of attention to avoid the pitfalls of logical fallacies, and there are also several cognitive biases we all must contend with at any given moment. Confirmation bias, projection bias, probability neglect, belief bias, framing, etc. The 'honest witness' should therefore be as much on guard with outbound thoughts as inbound impressions. Reason should, in the end, be the most tested thing there is.

So within the confines of our bounded nature we can wrestle with the demarcations of knowledge and supposition that finite beings might have, but honesty compels us to acknowledge that all statements of universality are in the end, from the perspective of a finite being at least, conjecture, because they cannot be fully validated from our limited stations.

If so, then consider the following premise:

"From a universal perspective, all properties are 'emergent'."

If this statement of conjecture is held reasonable, and given all that we can deduce within the framework of our finiteness there is no reason to presume it otherwise, then so too should the following:

"True causal agency in sentient life, if it exists, will be an emergent property in the formation of sentient life, given that all properties of the universe are ultimately emergent."

In other words, the existence of an autonomous agent, found anywhere in the universe, would necessarily be an emergent consequence of the local circumstances of existence found in that area of the universe that produced such an agent. It also presumes the possible veridical paradox this would outwardly manifest, from the perspective that contrary yet naturally forming freedoms of causal agency can somehow emerge in an apparantly deterministic world. I say veridical and not falsidical paradox, because our knowledge, though having its limits, is still growing in key differentiating areas, and revealing underlying mechanisms of discrete and potentially autonomous agency. It may even give rise to plausible theories of process by which we might have evolved in such a manner so as to have these autonomous faculties.

Is this 'knowledge bias'? Perhaps, but let us use it as a test of the formation of a reasonable understanding of how free will might arise naturally.

To be honest and clear about where we are in our understanding, we must first separate out and dispel several misconceptions about where such freedom can be corroborated. So to each our own very local case, and what has been generally noted by some hard determinists as 'illusionary' in the attendant perceptions we hold and the causal evidence that stands behind them - the self as 'honest witness' - through the bountiful majority of our routine behaviors, which through conditional analysis and testing can be shown to have numerous and valid autonomic and hedonistic causes. This is demonstrable and verifiable with little contention from the 'honest witness'. And an even bigger 'claimed illusion' is whereby, holding to this first person perspective of one 'in the drivers seat' through the event, we commonly mistake those habituations and reactions as freely 'self directed'. Under the unyielding light of honesty, they are clearly not that.

In like manner, we can easily set aside Sam Harris's overly simple 'thought experiment' proof against free will, wherein he asks us to "name a city, any city", by recognizing this mental exercise for what it actually is: habituated data retrieval from a learned, finite memory set. (...putting aside for the moment the point that we could simply invent a new, as-yet-existing city with new plausible reasoning about how it might come to be in some future state of existence...)  Such a routine mental act does not allow for any degree of discrete arbitrary agency. It sits squarely in the realm of causal determination, and is no different then any other obligatory mechanical action needing compliance to preset parameters to fulfill itself.

There is quite a lot of this in our routine mentations, so it is understandable that the 'honest witness' loses sight of solid ground where the argument is then extended, through logical abstraction alone, to the 'everything and the kitchen sink' position, by use of (what I would call) the flawed logic of 'finite beings' assuming conclusions of absolute cause.

By this other habituation - this 'habit of generalization' - every unique case of conscious intent and adaptive reason put to use by us, is thereby arbitrarily placed in the same class of, say,  'non-stochastic causal driving motive' as any other rote habituation and autonomic compulsion, discounting them all equally of any legitimate autonomous and self directed agency.

But are all rational causes formed in the same calibration and constraint?

Through the same lenses of honesty and sustained observation of the 'honest witness', I don't see this.
 
There is clear distinction of counter resisting forces, and effort to hold to aims, from experience to experience. And as well, one can offer alternative perspectives, that as examples, better explain our circumstances,  than the irrational conjecture of hard determinism.

Consider, for example, that this property of 'true causal agency' may itself still be in the process of emerging in our species. Arising haphazardly, over great lengths of genetic time. Crawling out of the mire of causally determined biology in sputtering, marginal steps,  and only under the right conditions, emergent upon a complex and evolving bed of deterministic biological function. 'We' being at or near the tipping point of its greater emergence.

 ...it may well be an emergent way to 'be free'

...very simply:
 
=>'emergence' equals manifestation of legitimate new properties.
 
=>'emergence' does not equate to the 'illusion of false properties'.
 
...so, if it is all about finding the way to be free, and 'will, striving to be free', and this is just one plausible way of looking at it - then what I see as the real struggle is taking a definitive step. And by its very nature, irony abounds in this great debate of ours.

Irony, in the form of a catch 22: it may be that a vast majority of people don't see a need to take any step, and so continue on 'in the pattern' with beguiling contentment. Ergo, for them, no desire for the conceptual ideal of free will, and so consequently, no intent to ever struggle for it. They give in and submerge within the flow completely, with all the causal currents downstream, riding 'mechanical triads' of doing-seeing-being to their fates, with yet another great truth about humanity reclaimed: 'by our own actions, we are so defined'.

Now shifting to yet another perspective that still considers a bounding view within unfolding emergence: these potential deniers - what if they may simply not (yet?) be at the front of the bell curve of adaption to this still emerging property? Cautious and skeptical laggers, all together missing this emergent wave that crests with properties anew...

All of course, as much conjecture as many other theories of this sort, but taking us back to the salient focus of the opening question: Is there legitimate differentiation by degrees of freedom, versus constraint, in causal agency?

Pat Johnston

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Note from Moderator: Parking & locking this question for discussion at another time.  Pat