Volition: How do you know it could have been otherwise?


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http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/volitional.html

Volitional” means selected from two or more alternatives that were possible under the circumstances, the difference being made by the individual’s decision, which could have been otherwise.

Peikoff_t.jpg

Leonard Peikoff,
The Philosophy of Objectivism lecture series, Lecture 3

My question is:

How do you know it could have been otherwise?

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We always know that we have options when we have options.

We can only choose one course of action; does this imply that any particular course we end up choosing was forced upon us? What if we were given the opportunity to make two choices every time we were faced with alternatives?

If every time we were unsure of a choice, we could experience the results of two choices, and go with the one that turned out best, would that be an exercise of freewill? If two is not enough, than surely no finite number of experienced alternatives could provide enough information to make a truly volitional decision--by the standards implied in your question.

So I guess it depends whether you believe freewill can exist without omniscience.

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A chess engine has options. It can choose only one. It does not always play the same move in the same position, because there is a random process based on the state of the computer clock. Does that mean it could have done otherwise? Does it have free will? I don't even know what 'could have done otherwise' means? How can that be reduced to sense perception?

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A chess engine has options. It can choose only one. It does not always play the same move in the same position, because there is a random process based on the state of the computer clock. Does that mean it could have done otherwise? Does it have free will? I don't even know what 'could have done otherwise' means? How can that be reduced to sense perception?

There are probabilistic "chess engines" that use Bayesian Statistics.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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A chess engine has options. It can choose only one. It does not always play the same move in the same position, because there is a random process based on the state of the computer clock. Does that mean it could have done otherwise? Does it have free will? I don't even know what 'could have done otherwise' means? How can that be reduced to sense perception?

Does it have a will? No.

You don't understand "could have done otherwise"? Then you mustn't understand the concept of "possibility", and therefor are unable to act. You should be dead right now.

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Volition is a causal agent in Objectivism.

A prime mover.

Agree or not, that's the philosophy.

Michael

Most of us believe we could have acted otherwise. However all of us are physical down to the molecular level. That means our doings are guided by the underlying processes of nature described rather well by the physical laws of nature as best we know them. There is not an independent Demon in our skulls that operates independent of matter and energy. Matter (dark and non-dark) and energy (dark and non-dark) are all that there is.

There is no spirit, there is no soul. There is only meat and heat.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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This is nonsense for you are saying there is no consciousness or self awareness, not just no volition. Why care about neo-Nazism; they're coming or not regardless and what is done about it will be done about it too?

--Brant

why post at all?--I know: you can't help it although your words are only "meat and heat"

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There is only meat and heat? Gravity exists, but people don't downplay that by saying, "There is only rock and metal."

Why does the fact that consciousness depends on physical matter detract from its complexity, even as a time-invariant force (like gravity, for example)?

If consciousness necessitates "meat and heat", and that combination equally depends on consciousness, then "meat and heat" deserves better than an "only" in front of it.

It begs the question to imply that consciousness only seems amazing, but really its just meat and heat. Why isn't meat and heat amazing if it entails consciousness?

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There is only meat and heat? Gravity exists, but people don't downplay that by saying, "There is only rock and metal."

Why does the fact that consciousness depends on physical matter detract from its complexity, even as a time-invariant force (like gravity, for example)?

If consciousness necessitates "meat and heat", and that combination equally depends on consciousness, then "meat and heat" deserves better than an "only" in front of it.

It begs the question to imply that consciousness only seems amazing, but really its just meat and heat. Why isn't meat and heat amazing if it entails consciousness?

The fact the consciousness if a ripple in the goo does not detract one bit. It simply describes it accurately.

Truth does not have to be wonderful and beautiful and mysterious to be worth something.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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The brain is nothing but meat is one of Bob's favorite ick sayings to get conversations rolling. It's an attention-getting device.

He uses his mind to say the mind doesn't exist. In the real world, meat doesn't talk. It is used by a mind for talking.

But his mind tells his meat to squirt air through some of it to say otherwise.

:smile:

Michael

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The brain is nothing but meat is one of Bob's favorite ick sayings to get conversations rolling. It's an attention-getting device.

He uses his mind to say the mind doesn't exist. In the real world, meat doesn't talk. It is used by a mind for talking.

But his mind tells his meat to squirt air through some of it to say otherwise.

:smile:

Michael

It is also a true statement. No one has ever found a non-meat brain in a human skull.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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"How do you know it could have been otherwise."

I knew someone who committed suicide. We all asked "could it not have been otherwise?"

Just the one alternative decision and he could have gone on making choices to live, most likely for a long while.

Men and women are being volitional every moment - choosing not to end their lives.

Except, we don't think of it that way. We innately value life like animals do, but only humans have the self-knowledge to stop valuing it. That's volitional - and pursuing life at all levels of value is volitional also.

If the outcomes of all one's small and intermediate choices would have caused an 'otherwise' result, what really does it matter, essentially? They all supported the one, big choice, at the time.

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David Kelley has a lecture. In terms of evolution, with a bazillion things to pay attention to, every surviving organism must have some way to filter out the irrelevant and react to that which is consequential to its existence. This is the basis for volition in humans; and volition in humans is highly evolved and sophisticated.

Allow me to add that I find truth in the theories of Julian Jaynes (more dispassionately on Wikipedia here) that writing caused the existence of the "inner voice(s)" which many of us have. Some of us still do not. They function well in our complex, technological society. Have you ever driven home from work and not remembered how you got there? Same thing. Joan of Arc (and millions more) said that she "heard voices" because she did not know where the voice in her head was coming from.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim

Because it was grassy and wanted wear,

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I marked the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Which subatomic condensate 13.9 billion years ago caused jts 13.9 billion years in the future past to accept quack medical theories?

Michael: Rolling bones, don't fail me now!

Gabriel: Seven!

Raphael: jts is a quack...

Michael: Day-amm and I had I hopes for him.

Gabriel: Shut up and roll...

Michael: Seven come eleven on Spock joining Starfleet!

Einstein: Look out! Here comes God!! You know how he feels about playing dice...

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The brain is nothing but meat is one of Bob's favorite ick sayings to get conversations rolling. It's an attention-getting device.

He uses his mind to say the mind doesn't exist. In the real world, meat doesn't talk. It is used by a mind for talking.

But his mind tells his meat to squirt air through some of it to say otherwise.

:smile:

Michael

It is also a true statement. No one has ever found a non-meat brain in a human skull.

Ba'al Chatzaf

So we are all just meat; it doesn't change the fact that we're having a discussion, which is not what one would normally associate with the term "meat". You've just stretched the meaning of the term. You haven't taken away from what consciousness actually is...

If you are just meat, how the hell can you speak with any authority? Our ability to learn and understand our environment is truly amazing.

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Meat is commonly understood to be dead flesh most commonly used for human consumption. Bob is just deliberately misusing the word in a queer form of argumentum ad hominem directed against those who aspire to live admirable and productive lives of integrity--i.e., you're just meat (and heat). Consciousness is a necessary virtue of animal life. Humans though also bring virtue to consciousness through certain thoughts and actions. We can lay on the good--and the bad.

--Brant

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Why does the fact that consciousness depends on physical matter detract from its complexity...?

It doesn't, unless one is trying reduce consciousness to nothing but matter.

However, given that our conceptions of physical matter rests on our perceptions of physical matter — light, color, hardness, softeness, texture, weight, etc. — and that there are no percepts without consciousness, I think it would be more accurate to say that physical matter depends on consciousness.

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It doesn't, unless one is trying reduce consciousness to nothing but matter.

.

What is consciousness other than a physical process?

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You should know; you're always experiencing the non-physical side... Yes, it's a physical process, but that does not mean it doesn't have effects that are something other than physical.

You know it's not just a physical process, otherwise you wouldn't be able to act with volition.

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Baal wrote:

>>>What is consciousness other than a physical process?

What are physical processes other than things of which we are conscious?

That "X" correlates with "Y" clearly means that "X" is not to be identified with "Y".

Read or reread "Biology Without Consciousness (and Its Consequences)" in the Objectivist, by Robert Efron, M.D.

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Baal wrote:

>>>What is consciousness other than a physical process?

What are physical processes other than things of which we are conscious?

That "X" correlates with "Y" clearly means that "X" is not to be identified with "Y".

Read or reread "Biology Without Consciousness (and Its Consequences)" in the Objectivist, by Robert Efron, M.D.

Being conscious of a brick that has shattered your skull is not the brick that shattered your skull. Things exist whether we are conscious of them or not.

And consciousness is something your brain (and mine) does. Our brains are juicy and gooey. Very physical. I am meat. You are meat. Neither of us are spirt or soul. Those are two bogus un-empirical notions. There is no res mensa. There is only res extensa.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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  • 3 years later...

I will slightly change the question at the top of this thread. How would you put 'could have done otherwise' to a scientific test?

Imagine you are playing a series of games of chess, or go or whatever game, it doesn't matter, I happen to be more familiar with chess. You don't know who or what your opponent is. All you know is the moves your opponent plays, on your computer screen. The challenge is to figure out whether your opponent has volition (free will), which in Objectivism means 'could have done otherwise'. How do you proceed?

You have always the same opponent, nobody is playing the dirty trick on you of changing your opponent.

You might test whether your opponent always plays the same move in the same position. If YES, then that would seem to suggest that your opponent could not have played differently and therefore does not have volition by the Objectivist definition. If NO, then maybe your opponent has volition by the Objectivist definition (could have done otherwise).

But chess engines (Komodo, Stockfish, etc) do not always play the same move in the same position and I doubt anyone would say they have volition. It is very easy to make a computer program that plays a game unpredictably. I have done it myself a few times. Simply use a shuffled array of numbers to tie-break moves of equal value. The computer clock assures randomness of the shuffle. Different moves in the same position is not necessarily a sufficient test to prove volition.

Even if we get the computer clock out of the way, the state of your opponent might change. Maybe your opponent thinks, the last time I tried that it didn't work as well as I expected. Or, ah wait a minute, this time I gotta better idea. Or, this time I will experiment with something different. It is possible that a computer program could have 'thoughts' like those without volition by the Objectivist definition. A human, incomparably more complex than a computer program, is much more capable of state changes from game to game than a computer program. A different move might be attributable to a state change instead of to volition. My point is It is hard to prove from different moves in the same position that he 'could have done otherwise'.

I suggest that if it is not possible to devise a scientific test of 'could have done otherwise', then it is not a valid idea. Something like Objectivists say string theory is not a valid theory because it makes no testable predictions. Does 'could have done otherwise' make a testable prediction? You might say it predicts that he could have done otherwise, but how would you test that prediction?

 

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On 4/2/2013 at 5:35 PM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

The brain is nothing but meat is one of Bob's favorite ick sayings to get conversations rolling. It's an attention-getting device.

He uses his mind to say the mind doesn't exist. In the real world, meat doesn't talk. It is used by a mind for talking.

But his mind tells his meat to squirt air through some of it to say otherwise.

:)

Michael

you dismiss one of my deepest held beliefs as "attention getting"????  That is rather discourteous.   My true religion is thermodynamics.  I believe two things beyond question.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics and the principle of non-contradiction.   Everything else is open to question.

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