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Onkar Ghate and Yaron Brook provided a discussion a few days ago that I liked with the topics free will, Sam Harris, determinism, and materialism. I'm posting two videos, one is the entire discussion which is just under and hour and the other a shorter clip where Sam Harris is discussed. Here is the 6 minute Sam Harris clip: Here is the complete discussion, having more topics:
I'll first provide a short post as context. Then I'll provide an elaboration of my reasoning. I started this discussion elsewhere, so there may be some strange references, but nothing significant. Context: My thesis for free will: Free will is deterministic. I acknowledge that free will is our ability of choice, but choices are caused by mental contents. Introspection reveals that we make choices on the basis of mental contents. Example: If I possess the mental contents that the Blackjack dealer has 21 and that my well-being is a value, it will cause me to decide to fold; another person who doesn't have either of these mental contents will not make the decision of folding. Determinism states that human actions are necessarily caused by prior events. Traditionally, these events are physical, but I contend that in human actions, they are mental. The kicker though is that we immediately begin stocking our minds with beliefs since birth, and as children, we are not in full control of ourselves—we are like lower animals until we more fully develop the faculty of reason. **So if choices are caused by antecedent mental contents, do we ever escape the path set by childhood?** Even my awareness that I have choice is caused by the mental content of a correct conception of choice, the mental contents that constitute the skill of introspection, etc. People who lack these mental contents would not arrive at the same awareness I have. Elaboration: I'm starting a thread because my there isn't enough space here. I'd like to focus now on the implications of free will being deterministic. And the more I think about it, the more confident I am that free will is deterministic: I cannot think of choosing (whether it's between options or whether to focus) that is not predicated on antecedent mental contents. Firstly, I think the term, "free will," has too much baggage; I prefer to just acknowledge that we have choice. However, choice is determined by mental contents. This doesn't mean that we cannot have control of our lives. I posit that self-control is not a binary case of whether one has it or not; rather, one possesses self-control in degrees. The degree of self-control is a function of how well a certain belief is integrated; that belief is that one *can* choose. Specifically, if someone believes he can choose, but only in certain circumstances, he only has self-control in those circumstances. For example, if one believes that he is a product of society or mob mentality, he will by default not choose to evaluate (more specifically, choose not focus on) majority beliefs. Because he is not consciously guarding his mind from the beliefs of others, this leaves him susceptible to absorbing them. This absorption is a metaphor for consciously accepting beliefs on the basis of appealing to the majority, not identifying fallacies, etc. or subconsciously integrating them because of the automatic association with mental contents. This susceptibility is a function of the rational integrity of his mental contents. However, this same person may still choose to examine an aspect of a majority belief if that aspect conflicts (conceptually or associatively) with a personal belief that falls within the range of circumstances in which he believes he can choose. This may start a chain of thinking that eventually leads to the thinking about the majority belief itself; in other words, thinking about a part may eventually lead to thinking about the whole. For example, if this same person is at a party and everyone agrees that marijuana improves thinking so now would be a good time to smoke, he will initially be inclined to agree because examining a majority vote never enters his radar of choice. But he has learned from experience that marijuana impairs highly abstract thinking for many hours, and examining whether he needs highly abstract thinking for the next eight hours immediately enters his radar of choice. Since he has a test to study for afterwards, he chooses to decline smoking. If his mind has already subsumed abstract thinking as a species of thinking, as opposed to abstract thinking and thinking as two distinct genera, he will realize the connection and start the ball rolling towards examining the majority belief that marijuana improves thinking. So the belief that one can choose is contextual. An example of an incorrect context is emotions; the correct context is the beliefs responsible for emotions. Whatever the context, the belief that one can choose causes one to focus on circumstances if they are relevant to the context.So choice (free will for those who are attached to the term) is contingent on how well this belief of choice is integrated. Prior to integrating this belief, one is void of choice. Now, something else I've been chewing is whether our conceptual ability necessitates the belief that we have choice. After all, to conceptualize is to choose what symbol to represent the concept, and what characteristics are essential. Can one conceptualize without being aware of his choosing? Does being aware of his choosing necessarily mean he is aware he can choose at least in certain contexts? If so, how does he learn under what contexts he can choose? I would say the answer to the first two questions is "yes" and "no" respectively. My answer to the third is that the very first beliefs are introduced by the environment and that one's innate predisposition, if such things exist, dictate what formative beliefs are absorbed; if predispositions do not exist, then the formative beliefs are directly absorbed from the environment until one has enough beliefs to serve as a "postdisposition." This is also why philosophy is so powerful—it serves as a postdispositional, self-reinforcing view of the world—and why it is so difficult to get others to see the errors in their own philosophies. If choice is determined by mental contents, it will mean that there ought to be a resolved focus to persuade individuals and society by correcting their mental contents—their beliefs.
In the past I have received many fiery responses from this idea, so I will try to be as concise and clear as I can. (Please let me know if the analogies help to get my point across or if they are a waste of space) My Theory: I do not believe in free will, even though I want to. There is a very important distinction in the topic of free will that most people miss: the difference between what one can do and what one will do. I can take the door on the left or the one on the right. But I will choose only one. I therefore suggest that whatever causes me to choose the left or the right (or to walk away from both doors) decides for me what I will do - despite the fact that I physically can walk through either door. Therefore, because our actions or choices have a cause (at lease, I believe that they do - I will explain further), we are unable to control the effect (our choice). Not only do I believe that we do not have free will, but I believe that free will is just as much an impossibility as a circular square. I believe: Choices are determined by external stimuli (any information we receive through our senses) and the internal machine (our brain: memories, previous conclusions, etc.) which result in the output (the choice). Just as a calculator takes in numbers (external stimuli) uses those numbers in its internal machine (brain) and outputs a result (the "choice"). Each human is a different "calculator" with a different internal machine (which is why people respond differently to the same stimuli). The History: I first began to doubt free will when I noticed that certain actions of mine were heavily influenced by(or caused by, as I believe now) certain things that happened to me (stimuli). For instance, when I'm very thirsty (and if I have water available) I drink. Now, my critics might say "Yes, but you could have chosen not to drink." But again I point to my distinction between can (could) and will. If I have no reason not to drink water,and I have a reason to drink water, and I have water available to me, then I will drink water. I have no choice. This theory developed simply through observation. Believe me, I want to believe in free will, but the evidence just doesn't add up. Think of an experiment designed to test if people have free will: As we know in experiments, all variables are isolated except for the ones we are testing for, so that the result of the experiment is not influenced by something that was not being measured. Therefore, in this experiment we will assume that the human subject remains in the exact same state of mind in each scenario. Presented with the same stimuli and no memory of the experiment previously, one can imagine that the subject will repeat the same "choice". "Door number one contains a fruit basket. Door number two contains a stapler. Please choose one:" Jordan picks door number two because he wants a stapler and is indifferent to fruit. Yes, he can pick either door, but he will pick #2 because his want of a stapler and the absence of any reason to not pick that door dictates that he pick door #2. I am anxious to hear what you all think of my theory. Please feel free to criticize and rip it to shreds if you want to, I am more than happy to refine or discard ideas if I am wrong. Respectfully, Jordan Edit: The "anti-proof"?: I just remembered that in Math, you can prove something to be true by proving the opposite impossible (or something like that my memory is a bit fuzzy)? (If not A, then A; right?) So, assuming that free will is possible, that would mean that it is capable to make any choice regardless of any present stimuli. For example:I will choose to cut off my fingers even if I have no reason to (including the reason to prove that free will exists, for those of you who want to be extra difficult ; ] ), and I do not want to. As we all know from experience, in no universe would a sane human do something that they don't want to do if they also have no reason to do it. Not sure how sound that reasoning is, but it just came to me so I thought I'd give it a shot.