Posts Tagged ‘Free will’

Physics Killed Free Will and Time’s Flow. We Need them Back

June 19, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of an important article by physicist Nicolas Gisin the May 20, 2016 edition of the “New Scientist.”  Descartes stated, “I THINK, therefore I am.  Most humans would agree with this statement.  After all, are we active agents free to influence our thoughts and decisions, or are we just passive laundry machines through which thoughts happen to pass?.

Gisin  notes that the ability to ask the question seems to require the first interpretation, yet modern science—in particular—modern physics—almost unanimously plumps for the second.  According to modern physics in a deterministic universe, where one thing leads inevitably  to the next, any conception we have of free will is an illusion.

Gist does not buy this.  He thinks that we are missing something fundamental to our formulation of science.   “And the solution of the problem of free will is linked to another glaring deficiency  of today’s physics—its insistence that time as we know it does not exist.”

Jules Lequyer, a French philosopher of the 19th century wrote, “Without free will, the certainty  of scientific truths would become illusory.”  We need free will to decide which arguments we find convincing, and which we dismiss, which is the essence of doing science.

Gisin  wrote, “What irony, then, that the search for scientific truth seemed to kill free will.  That started with Newton and his universal law of gravitation.  Derived from observations of the solar system bodies, it speaks of a cosmos that operates like clockwork and can be described by deterministic theories. Everything that happens today was set in motion yesterday, and indeed was determined in the initial conditions of the big bang; nothing truly new ever happens.

Gisin further writes, “Things became even more inscrutable with Einstein’s relativity, which showed that there was no unique definition of simultaneous events.  To square that with a deterministic universe, a picture known as the “block universe” emerged.  Here we dispense not just with free will, but also with a flowing time.  Past, present, and future are al frozen in one big icy block.  The present in which we are free to think and be—in which exercise free will—is just as illusory as free will itself.”

And, believe it or not, philosophers of science bend over backwards to explain why we think we have free will.  They argue that we are programmed to always make choices that correspond to a predetermined necessary future.  So the feeling that our choices are free is illusory.

This presumed reasoning is obviously nonsense and it is depressing to realize that so many intelligent people buy it.

Gisin is a quantum physicist and he argues that real numbers are not real at all.  He notes that most real numbers are never ending strings of digits that can contain an infinite amount of information.  He notes that they could encode the answers to all possible questions that can be formulated in any human language, but that a finite volume of space-time can only hold a finite amount of information.  So the position of a particle, or the value of any filed or quantum state in a fine volume, cannot be a real number.  Real numbers are non-physical monsters..

Gisin notes that free will chimes with the dominant “Copenhagen” interpretation of quantum theory, made popular by Werner Heisenberg.  Making a measurement “collapses” the wave function describing a quantum system into one of a number of pre-ordained states.  Quantum theory is a random, non-deterministic theory, but it creates a determined world—and seems in no way incompatible with a common sense conception of free will.  So, God can play dice with the universe and win.  Quantum theory is frequently used in practical scientific and engineering problems.

Gisin also frees up the flow of time.  He notes that there is a time before a non-necessary event happens and there is a time after it happens, and these times are different.  This happening of a non-necessary event, like the result of a quantum measurement, is a true creation that can’t be captured by a mere evolution parameter.  He calls the sort of time this requires “creative time.”

Gisin concludes by stating that “creative time’ is extraordinarily poorly understood by today’s science, but that could change with future physics, such as quantum theories of gravity that might replace Einstein’s theories that spawned the block universe.  Time passes, and free will exists—any other way, science makes no sense.

Gisin is not the only physicist who advocates free will Roger Penrose (who healtymemory (HM) believes was on the dissertation committee of Stephen Hawking)  is a distinguished physicist, mathematician, and philosopher, who extols consciousness and the role of quantum effects in consciousness and free will.  Penrose’s book, “The Emperor’s New Mind goes into considerable detail on these topics.  He formulates the notion of Correct Quantum Gravity (CQG).  Although this book was written for the general public parts involve heavy sledding.  Nevertheless it is good to know that an extremely intelligent and knowledgeable scholar is on the same or similar train of thought.  Unfortunately, Roger is much further down these tracks than HM is.  Should healthy memory ever manage to make it further down these tracks, he will get back to you.

Outside of physics there have been many HM blog posts on consciousness and free will.  Even though we all have intimate experience with our own consciousness, there are still many who contend that this is epiphenomenal.  HM argues that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon with adaptive value.  It is essential  to effective interactions with the environment and for choosing courses of action.  Neuroscientists have stated that all mammals, some invertebrates such as the octopus, and many birds are conscious and there consciousness has adaptive value.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Self

May 18, 2016

The final cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is “The Self.”  It does make the important point that we do not entirely know ourselves.  Our conscious mind represents an infinitesimal part of our selves.  Only a limited amount of our mind is even accessible.  Very often we do not understand what we do or why we did it (See the healthy memory blog post, “Strangers to Ourselves”).  “Strangers to Ourselves:  Discovering  the Adaptive Unconscious” explains how we can use self-narratives and introspection to understand ourselves.  Note that Wilson is one of they key researchers documenting the errors of introspection.  Nevertheless he explains to us how we can learn to use our introspections to help ourselves.  I did not find any indication of his work in this chapter on “The Self.”

This entire chapter makes no reference to Kahneman, Tversky, or Stanovich.  These authors are discussed in healthy memory blog posts.  They, along with Wilson provide a meaningful conceptual structure for understanding the self.  This chapter rambles on and on to no good effect.

The worst part of this chapter is that it condemns free will.  Moreover, it uses Libet’s experiment (go to the Wikipedia to learn about this experiment) to condemn free will.  To quote, “Libet revealed that Free Will is an illusion.”  However, Libet himself did not conclude that Free Will is an illusion.  In fairness to the authors, many do cite Libet to support this conclusion. But this is a matter of sloppy scholarship.  The authors cherry pick the literature.

See the healhymemory blog post “Free Will.  This post reviews a book that provides an authoritative review of the issue.  Healthymemoy finds the philosophical arguments for Free Will compelling.  If one is not persuaded by the philosophical arguments consider the empirical data.  What is happening during meditation?  What is producing changes in the physical brain during meditation?  Placebo effects are based on the mind’s belief  can be seen in specific activities of the brain”

If philosophical arguments and empirical data are not sufficient, then do a cost/benefit analysis.
Who do you think will be healthier and more successful,
A believer in free will who believes the mind affects the brain and the body or
someone who believes that everything is determined and that they are only along for the ride.
The mind is going to be a central concept in all human endeavors.
QED

Please consider reading or rereading the healthy memory Post “The Relevance of Consciousness and the Brain to a Healthy Memory.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Future of Consciousness

April 8, 2016

The Future of Consciousness is the seventh chapter of “Consciousness and the Brain:  Deciphering How the Brain Codes our Thoughts” is an outstanding book by the French neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene who is the Chair of Experimental Psychology at the College of France.  This is the eighth consecutive post on this outstanding book.  A more accurate title would have been “The Future of Consciousness Research.”  It is unlikely that consciousness is going to change in the near future, but consciousness research and theory should quickly advance.

In this chapter Dehaene discusses the consciousness of babies and animals.  Apparently he is unaware that on July 7, 2012 his fellow scientists declared that all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopi possess the neurological substrates for consciousness (See the healthy memory blog post, “Consciousness in Both Human and Non-human Animals”).  Dehaene goes on to discuss whether human consciousness is unique.  Sometimes I wonder whether humans have some sort of inferiority complex that causes them to look for distinctions between ourselves and other animal species.

Dehaene discusses diseases of consciousness under which one might include psychoses, neuroses, character disorders, and addictions.  It is almost a virtual certainty that unconscious processes also play a prominent role, but conscious processes can play a useful role in their treatment.

Finally, he discusses free will.  His position is similar to that found in the healthy memory blog post “Free Will.”  Our conscious minds control our will.  That does not mean that we always do what we intended, but our conscious minds (System 2 Processes in the terminology of Kahneman) monitor what we do and say and can make corrections.   Dr. Dehaene does not write this, but I would argue that his work on consciousness has identified the homunculus in our brains, and that homunculus is our consciousness.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Free Will

July 13, 2015

On the last day of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) convention I attended a session on the general topic of free will.  One of the papers analyzed choices people make as a source of data, which is very close to the approach advocated in a book I had recently read.  I recommended this book to the presenter.  He thanked me as was unaware of this volume.  I decided that a review of this book would be more informative than a discussion of the papers at this session.

Free Will is an important philosophical topic and is also the title of the book by Mark Ballagher in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series.  He is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at California State University at Los Angeles.  He is the most remarkable philosophical author I have ever read.  In my experience philosophical writing involves making the same point with the most subtle nuisances over and over again to what is, in my view, beating a dead horse.  I think in many cases Cliff Notes will suffice and one need not suffer the abuse of philosophical writing.  Mark Ballagher is  an exception.   He is writing is highly readable and to the point.  He allows the horse to live.  He neatly dissects the topic and makes his points concisely.

In the case of free will he dismisses arguments that justify free will on external basis not relevant to the philosophical argument per se.  For example, arguing that free will is necessary or there would not basis for law and punishment.  Ballagher states up front that he has no religious beliefs and does not believe in God.  So those issues are out of the way.

He argues that the big problem with the classical argument against free will is that it just assumes determinism is true.  That makes it easy.  But what makes determinism true? Determinism is still an open philosophical and scientific question.  Quantum physics undermines determinism because it entails uncertainty, but there are still clever arguments that attempt to deal with this uncertainty in undermining free will.  But these are arguments, not compelling arguments, and do not disprove free will.  Philosophical arguments against free will do not hold up  to Ballagher’s analysis.

Then he addresses the scientific argument that there is empirical evidence against free will.  Psychologists might argue that subliminal perception and the fact that the vast amount of mental activity is unconscious (see the healthy memory blog post, “Strangers to Ourselves”).  But to argue that we are unaware of some, even most of our mental activity, does not mean that we never control or make decisions on the basis of mental activity.

Evidence from neuroscience appears to be stronger.  There is LIbet’s experiment that there was neural activity indicating the action before we decided to perform the action.   Ballagher does not mention this, but I believe that LIbet himself did not believe this, although many have used his data to make the argument.  Haynes’ studies appear to be a more successful attempt to debunk free will, but Ballagher digs into the scientific data to reveal its flaws.

Ballagher even criticizes philosophical arguments for free will, for example Hume’s compatabilism.  Ballagher gets to his point by asking what is meant by Free  Will actually.   It is true that most of our information processing  occurs below our level of consciousness.  Ballagher introduces the notion of torn decisions to explain what he means by free will.  Examples of  torn decisions are which restaurant to go do, which movie to see, which college to go to, and so forth.  One can still argue that these decisions are made subconsciously, but this is an assertion, not proof.  Ballagher would not claim that he has proved the existence of free will.  Rather he has defended it from those who attempt to debunk free will.

It is impossible to do justice to Ballagher’s dissection of this topic.  For those interested in this topic, I strongly recommend reading the book.  I would also recommend reading this book to see how informative philosophy can be when incisively analyzed and concisely written.

I would close by providing my reasons for believing in free will.  I am sure that Ballagher would disagree with what I am about to write on philosophical grounds.  Also it is important to realize the Ballagher makes no attempt to prove the existence of free will.  Rather, he is debunking arguments that attempt to disprove free will.  I would argue for believing in free will on pragmatic grounds.  The basic concept of mindfulness is that we have enough control of our conscious minds to modify our behavior and emotions.  And there is much evidence that mindfulness works for those who believe in and practice mindfulness.  If one does not believe in free will, then there is little basis for trying.  If we are without free will, then we are stuck sitting in front of a television set with no ability to change channels.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Attendance at 27th Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science (APS)

June 9, 2015

I attended the first meeting of APS (although it was called the American Psychological Society then) and gave a poster presentation.  I haven’t attended all of these meetings, but I have attended some of them, and I’ve found that they don’t disappointment.  Nor did the 27th meeting.

The Keynote Address at the Opening Ceremony was given my Michael Posner.  It was titled “Fostering Attention for Human Needs.”  Posner is one of the leading researchers of attention, and attention is central to human cognition, human behavior, and human health.  At least one additional post will be done on Posner’s work.

One of the first session was titled “Cognitive Capital:  Causes and Consequences.”  The researchers were relating the economic success of different countries to what they called cognitive capital.  To do this they needed measures of cognitive capital, which they produced.  The notion of Cognitive Capital is an intriguing, one which will be addressed in subsequent posts.

Another session was on the “Biased Processing of Political Information.”  This is an important topic and is one of the obstacles to an effective democracy.  Some interesting reach was presented that suggested that judges and lawyers process information different that we lay people.  Obviously, they have biases also, but within these biases the evidence suggests that legal minds think differently.  This session also included a paper on the topic of why historical misconceptions endure, such as the holocaust being a myth, or that 9/11 was a tragedy done by the United States to the United States for nefarious purposes.  Unfortunately, there was no information on how holders of these misconceptions can be disabused of their misconceptions.  People’s biases simply blind them from facts.

There were many papers on how cognition works, and on the neural structures underlying cognition.

Michael Gazzaniga gave a presentation that I was unable to attend, but I think it was similar to the presentation he gave at the 2013 meeting of APS that was reviewed in this blog.

LeDoux presented his new concepts on the differences between fear and anxiety.

Angela Duckworth, who is a 2003 MacArthur Award recipient gave a presentation on Grit, which she defined as staying engaged to overcome frustration.  There will be a post devoted to her work that will includes some tips for fostering grit.

A highly worthwhile session was given on the “Other Side of Positive Psychology.”  There have been prior healthy memory blog posts on Positive Psychology.  Instead of debunking Positive Psychology, this session provided some very useful advice on “fine tuning” Positive Psychology.  There will be blog posts on this topic.

There was an interesting session of false confessions that will be covered in subsequent healthy memory blog posts as well as on a session on the “Central Park Five.”

The work on Timothy Wilson was covered in the Healthymemory blog post, “Strangers to Ourselves.”  He gave a presentation expanding on this topic.

Franz B.M. de Waal gave the Bring the Family Address titles “Humans and Animals:  Politics, Culture and Morality.  It was very interesting and highly entertaining.

There was a very interesting presentation on Free Will.  I shall be discussing a book, in a future healthy memory blog titled “Free Will” by the philosopher Mark Balaguer.   I informed the presenter about this book as they have similar views to Balaguer.  They were grateful for this information.

As always, there were too many interesting presentation to attend.  And even when one was able to attend presentations, there was too much information to absorb.  These conventions leave me physically and mentally depleted, but with the knowledge that I have learned much.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

We Are the Law: The Human Mind, Free Will, and the Limits of Determinism

June 8, 2011

The title of this post is identical to the name of the presentation Michael S. Gazzaniga gave at the recent annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science (APS). Some are convinced that the world, indeed the universe, is deterministic. Albert Einstein did not believe in free will. One of the founders of the DNA helix, Francis Crick, does not believe in free will. Richard Dawkins, the ethologist, evolutionary biologist, atheist, and author of The Selfish Gene, does not believe in free will. Benjamin Libet conducted experiments in which he demonstrated that measurements in the brain indicated that the action to move a finger occurred before the individual realized that her finger was moving. Some have taken this as proof of determinism, that there is no free will, and that consciousness is only along for the ride. It is interesting to note that Libet himself did not take this position. He spoke of free won’t, in which consciousness can reject an action proposed by the brain. That is conscious volition is exercised by the power of rejection.

Results from brain imaging research also can be interpreted as being supportive of determinism. For example, juvenile impulsivity can be attributed to the low level of utility in the medial prefrontal cortex. So are delinquent juveniles to be excused on the grounds that their medial prefrontal cortices are not performing correctly. Actually, one can go further than this. The medial prefrontal cortex does not reach its full maturity until the mid to late twenties. By this time, most of us have already needed to make important decisions that could have adverse effects on our lives. Do we all have this excuse for the poor decisions of our youth?

On the other hand, there remains much to be said for free will. Although Einstein with his deterministic bent said the “God does not play dice with the universe” findings in quantum mechanics by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg indicated that quantum mechanics did behave in a probabilistic manner and, at least at the subtomic level, God did play dice with the universe.

There is also the notion of emergent properties. These are properties that occur as a result of underlying processes. So consciousness can be regarded as an emergent property that emerges from the underlying psychophysiological processes. In the case the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and consciousness can exert its effects on underlying psychophysiological processes.

Gazzaniga’s own work with Roger Sperry on split brain phenemona support this notion. In these split brain studies the corpus callosum is split (for medical and not research purposes). Because of the wiring from eye to brain, stimuli can be selective presented to the respective hemifields that go to the left or right hemispheres. So different stimuli can be sent to the left and right hemispheres. Under normal viewing circumstances this does not present a problem as the different stimuli would go to both hemisperes. But in the experimental condition the two hemispheres are unaware of what the other has seen. In this situation the experimental participant is asked what is seen. Different reports will be made for each hemisphere. No matter how bizarre the differences, the experimental participants are able to make sense of what they have seen. In other words, consciousness is making sense of the different reports of each hemisphere.

Gazzaniga notes that cognition is both parallel and distributed. Cognition is also modular, yet it is modular with apparent psychological unity. He also noted that there exists innate notion of fairness. This has been demonstrated with experiments involving infants.

Gazzaniga concludes that the notion of free will is a bad idea. He asks “Free from what?.” He notes that while brains might not be free, people are free. There exist notions of fairness and responsibility and that we need to have a contract with our fellow humans.

Essentially Gazzaniga is a pragmatist. William James, the famous psychology and philosopher, was also a pragmatist. He also believed in free will. When free will is contrasted with pragmatism, it is clear that free will is the more pragmatic notion. It is much better to adopt the belief in free will and believe that we can affect our brains and our lives via the exercise of our free will. Determinism can promote passivity via the belief that consciousness is only along for a free ride.