Blog Coordinator

« Attributability and Daddy Issues | Main | John Kruk on Desert »

05/06/2012

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I wish I could attend the conference at Padua; it sounds like fun. I’ve been thinking a lot about the neuroscience viewpoint of FW, and I may have identified the fundamental issue. Here it is in a nutshell.

Neuroscience (NS) believes that a person’s thoughts are controlled in a predeterministic manner by the four fundamental forces of physics (4FFOP) and the current neural net wiring of a person’s physical brain. If that’s what they really believe, then NS *must* also believe that a person’s thoughts don’t affect neural activity when they’re learning something new; thoughts don’t exert the intelligent forces that cause a person’s neurons to be rewired on the fly while they’re learning. In other words, NS cannot believe that neural activity is controlled solely by the 4FFOP while also believing that neural activity is controlled by our thoughts, since that would be a contradiction. Therefore, NS believes that the intelligent forces that change a person’s neural wiring as he’s learning, result directly from a summation of the 4FFOP.

Here’s the fundamental problem with that NS belief: It implies that human intelligence is somehow innate to the 4FFOP (e.g., gravity).

Perhaps the truth is: The intelligent forces that cause a person to learn, emerge from higher-level processes within a person’s brain (i.e., their thinking), and those forces transcend down into the electro-chemical level thereby changing the neural net while a person is learning. The intelligent forces I’m referring to emerge at the “pattern” level of neural activity, not at the singular neuron level. Here’s why I say that:

While a neural pattern (i.e., a thought) is emerging within a physical brain, imagine one of the singular neurons that’s wired to another singular neuron; it fires multiple times and then its neural wiring is changed by an intelligent force. Where did the intelligent force come from? I believe the intelligence is located at the pattern level of neural activity (where billions of neurons fire in a coordinated manner). In other words, the intelligence doesn’t emerge at the direct interface between two singular neurons, and therefore it’s unreasonable to believe the rewiring of those two neurons is somehow controlled intelligently and solely by subcomponent forces associated only with the firing between those two neurons. The point I’m trying to make, is that there must be a connection between the “pattern” level of neural activity (where the intelligence is located) and the individual neurons; forces are exerted from the pattern level that intelligently affect the neuron level.

If you agree that the source of human intelligence is from new emergent forces (i.e., forces not determined solely by the 4FFOP), then perhaps you’ll also agree that free will results from new emergent forces. In other words, if new emergent forces exist within a physical brain, and those forces affect neural activity, then it’s reasonable to believe that our thoughts aren’t determined solely by the 4FFOP.

When mankind figures out how to prove free will exists, I believe the proof will initially be by argument. The reason I say that, is because no matter what experiment mankind develops, NS will always be able to point to the physical experiment and say “all of the matter and energy comprising the experiment is abiding by the 4FFOP”, and they’ll be correct. In other words, it won’t matter if a distributed new emergent force is eventually sensed at a living system level, since it will be impossible to separate that force from the net sum of forces in real time. I’m thinking that the eventual *argument* that proves FW exists, will be related to showing that the intelligent forces that cause a person to learn aren’t simply a summation of existing forces (i.e., the 4FFOP). This comment is already too long, but if anyone is interested, I’ll be happy to post a second comment (much shorter, sorry) stating my best shot at creating that argument.

James -- interesting comment. I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “intelligent forces.” I’m assuming you’re referring to that special ingredient that makes the brains of Homo sapiens the sole producers of true free will in the known universe. You seem to be operating on the assumption that “intelligent forces” are OBVIOUSLY distinct, immune, or otherwise elevated above or detached from the “4FFOP.” Is this special quality of human intelligence so obvious? In fact, I tend to see human intelligence (if it can be called that) as OBVIOUSLY the necessary results of the 4FFOP playing out in a chaotic universe. In your words, “intelligent forces that change a person’s neural wiring as he’s learning, result directly from a summation of the 4FFOP”: exactly.

In regards to “emergent properties” and “pattern levels,” I think the following mistake is often made: Because we cannot yet completely trace every aspect of larger scale brain behavior back to neuron level activity, those higher level patterns become (in some new and exciting way) detached from their humble neuron level beginnings. And it is this vague space, this final dark frontier, where libertarians often make their last desperate scramble. But of course, complexity does not grant reprieve from the 4FFOP.

Finally, and slightly off topic, I found this phrase “When mankind figures out how to prove free will exists” to be hugely interesting in its own right. I’ve argued elsewhere that proponents of free will (libertarian or compatibilistic) take exactly this stance. As if free will is a puzzle to be solved. That of course it exists, now all that is left to do is the dirty work of proving it. In other words: “well, obviously there must be free will…now lets see how we can make it make sense.” First, does anyone deny that most philosophers approach it in this way? And finally, does anyone think this is the right way to approach it? Obviously I think this tendency shifts the whole debate wrongly towards the free will end (compatibilist or libertarian).

Brent,

Thanks for your comments. The reason why the FW debate has gone on for so long without resolution has to do with a basic human reference issue – it’s about the way we sense reality. We only perceive of the *result* of the net sum of forces after it has already occurred for each moment of time. Therefore, it’s *extremely* difficult for humans to perceive of forces that are exerted from system levels other than our own. In other words, *if* it was true that new forces are an emergent property of living systems (i.e., forces distributed within the 3-space of a living system), I think you’d probably agree with me that mankind would have extreme difficulty perceiving of those forces, because those forces would always be summing in real time with all of the other forces in play and we simply couldn’t sense them. That’s *the* fundamental reason why the FW debate has gone on for so long.

Please consider the following argument, and see if you think it holds any water. (It also helps to explain what an “intelligent force” is.)

Premise # 1: The source of human intelligence isn’t directly from the four fundamental forces of physics (e.g., gravity).

Premise # 2: When a person is learning something new, “intelligent forces” are exerted which change the person’s neural net wiring on the fly. (The reader will likely agree that *some* type of force is exerted when a person’s neural net wiring is changed. In addition, the reader will likely agree that there must be intelligence associated with those forces; otherwise, the changes made to the neural wiring would be random in nature thereby causing the person to become less intelligent overall; they wouldn’t learn anything.)

Premise # 3: The intelligent forces that change a person’s neural net wiring on the fly don’t result solely from a direct summation of the 4FFOP. (This follows from the first two premises.)

Conclusion: The intelligent forces that change a person’s neural net wiring on the fly while they’re learning something new, are an emergent property of processes within that person’s physical brain, and those intelligent forces aren’t simply a summation of existing forces (i.e., the 4FFOP); they are new emergent forces (i.e., living forces).

In addition to proving that Living Forces exist, the argument shown above also proves that free will exists. We can believe that’s true, because the argument proves that the activity located inside a human brain isn’t controlled solely by the 4FFOP. In other words, if new emergent forces exist within a physical brain, and those forces affect neural activity, then it’s reasonable to believe that our thoughts aren’t determined solely by the 4FFOP. Our thoughts have *life* to them – they exert “living forces” (i.e., free will forces).

Brent, it’s difficult to explain a system of ideas in short comments like these, but I’m *really* excited about a new concept called “living forces”. I believe it’s going to be the key to resolving the FW debate. If you’re interested, click on my name below for a more comprehensive explanation.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Books about Agency


3QD Prize 2014: Marcus Arvan