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08/19/2014

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Interesting stuff, if hard to swallow in this no-compromises Zombie Animals version!

I suspect that most libertarians would want to ascribe free will to us alone (or at most us and our nearest competitors in the animal intelligence stakes), but one question to ask for sure is why we wouldn't want to go the whole way and simply deny them phenomenal consciousness.

I think there's something in your cat gravel example. I've lived with cats most my life, and it always amazed me how they can be so unaware of the human world of contextual understanding around them. For example, if one were to change a fundamental aspect of their world, like replacing their owners with walking-talking apple pies that acted just like the humans they were used to, would they give that a second glance? I think you could change anything in their world, and as long as a certain set of basic needs remained satisfied for them, they'd not pay it any attention. One also sees this in the non-reaction of surrogate cuckoo parents, where they are totally duped despite the cuckoo chicks being twice the size (and presumably smelling unlike) their own chicks. And of course, this lack of understanding can lead to our ability to introduce individuals of different species to one another in a parent/child relationship that would usually not get along in the wild.

One immediate question here is whether human infants - who intuitively appear to lack free will in a similar way to animals perhaps - would also be zombies in that sense? If they were, then it would interesting to think about at what points the "lights come on" as it were, and a possible avenue for evidence. I for one have vague recollections (possibly false recollections of course!) of a primitive phenomenological world. This was elicited recently by zooming in on an old photo with my play-pen in the background, and flashing back in recognition of the toys and decorations in it. I recalled scenes of indistinct shapes and colours, perhaps what one might expect in getting used to a new experiential world.

That said, personally I'm more attracted to a more intermediate view where phenomenal consciousness is sourced non-materially, but the resultant door that opens for free will is not available to other animals, because they are missing a key element; perhaps some form of cognitive sophistication. However, I'm unsure whether I'd locate that key element non-materially, or as an emergent feature of the same physical path of complex systems that would be needed even for zombies. If pushed I'd lean towards the latter picture.

Anyway - food for thought! Thanks,

Matt

Marcus,

I enjoyed reading your post, and I have three comments.

1. A damaged brain state for a small number of humans (i.e., blindsight) doesn’t imply that all normal chimpanzees have a similar brain state. Yes, a few chimpanzees could have PVC damage and therefore exhibit blindsight characteristics, but it’s more reasonable to believe that most chimpanzees don’t have PVC damage, and therefore they’re conscious of their sight in a manner similar to humans. There are many remote possibilities that we could postulate (e.g., dogs aren’t conscious of their sight), but as you said, we’re looking for hypotheses that are supported by the best evidence, and the best evidence doesn’t indicate that all animals other than humans aren’t conscious. For humans to believe we’re the only conscious animals on Earth, goes back to the age-old problem wherein humans think they’re the center of everything – we’re what reality is all about, when the truth is we’re only one infinitesimal part of what’s happening in the universe. In summary, I believe it’s a relatively unreasonable hypothesis to state that *all* animals other than humans aren’t conscious.

2. You mentioned that in order to determine if humans and/or other animals are “special”, we’ll be looking for tell-tale signs of subtle violations of the normal quantum wave-function within human and animal brains, and if we find such signs we may have evidence of libertarian free will. I’m thinking that we’re already seeing events in human brains that are similar to quantum violations, and therefore we’re already seeing evidence of libertarian free will. Here’s why I say that: One type of quantum violation is when “A causes B causes A” (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121002145454.htm). My interpretation of that is: A causes B, while at the same time that B emerges, B simultaneously causes changes to A. So perhaps here’s one way that we can relate that quantum violation model to what occurs within a physical human brain: Neurons cause a thought to emerge, while at the same time that the thought is forming (even as it *first* begins to form), the thought causes changes to those neurons. The forces transcend up and down different system levels at the *same* time, thereby fitting the model “A causes B causes A”. I’m thinking that life existing throughout the 3-D spectrum of scale likely fits that model, and when scientists see that type of violation at the quantum level, they’re simply witnessing life at the quantum level.

3. In the last statement of your post, you said: “we must leave it open to physical observation to tell us one way or the other”. I think you’ll probably agree that humans have only five senses, and therefore we’re limited as to what entities we’re capable of perceiving of in reality. Here’s a parallel to help illustrate: a bat cannot sense light, and therefore, no matter how much observation a bat does of a sunset, it will never perceive of the beautiful colors. In a similar manner, it doesn’t matter how much observation a human does of other life; we’ll never perceive of the new emergent forces associated with said life. Instead, we’ll only perceive of the *result* of the net sum of forces after it has already occurred for each moment of time. In summary; in order for mankind to take the next big step forward, perhaps instead of attempting to investigate/observe something more in physical reality, we simply need to realize a new *idea*: Life exerts new emergent forces, and humans cannot directly perceive of those forces.

Hi Matt: Thanks for your comment, and for the great examples!

You write: "I suspect that most libertarians would want to ascribe free will to us alone (or at most us and our nearest competitors in the animal intelligence stakes), but one question to ask for sure is why we wouldn't want to go the whole way and simply deny them phenomenal consciousness."

Maybe most libertarians would say this, but I, for one, am not one to "legislate from on high." I think it is an open empirical questions whether (some, many, all) animals have libertarian free will, and that the P2P Model entails predictions that would, in principle, enable us to verify the matter one way or the other.

For what it is worth, I am not convinced that if we have libertarian free will, all non-human animals lack it. I discuss this a bit in my (unpublished) book, but I believe that some animals possess some of our "distinctly human" practical capacities in some small measure -- though nowhere to the extent that we have those capacities. So, while it may turn out that we are the only ones with libertarian free will, I for one am not willing to close the book on the matter at this point. I just don't think we have enough evidence yet.

Your next point (after your very nice examples) is: "One immediate question here is whether human infants - who intuitively appear to lack free will in a similar way to animals perhaps - would also be zombies in that sense? If they were, then it would interesting to think about at what points the "lights come on" as it were, and a possible avenue for evidence."

These are very good questions, but here again, I don't think we have anything like definitive evidence one way or the other. Again, on the P2P Model, it all comes down to whether infant brains instantiate violations of the quantum wave-function. I also surmise that the capacity of phenomenal consciousness to "latch on" to the physical (the "lights coming on", as it were) might have something to do not with higher-order thought or perception, but rather with recursive processes. As Douglas Hofstadter argues in "Godel, Escher, Bach", recursion has a bunch of really special properties (think for instance, of two mirrors opposite one another, giving rise to an infinite series of mirror images). Part of me thinks this might be where consciousness comes into the picture, because a certain type of recursion -- fractal-like recursion -- has certain elements of "the infinite" built into it (fractals "continue forever", looking the same no matter how far you zoom in or out). This sort of sits nicely, I think, with my view that reality may be dualistic simulations "all the way down"...though if we weren't being speculative enough already (note: we probably were), this is super-duper speculative!

This speaks to your final point: "That said, personally I'm more attracted to a more intermediate view where phenomenal consciousness is sourced non-materially, but the resultant door that opens for free will is not available to other animals, because they are missing a key element; perhaps some form of cognitive sophistication. However, I'm unsure whether I'd locate that key element non-materially, or as an emergent feature of the same physical path of complex systems that would be needed even for zombies. If pushed I'd lean towards the latter picture."

Again, I don't think the phenomenal (qualitative stuff) can emerge from cognitive sophistication (quantitative stuff) in principle. The quantitative and the qualitative are fundamentally different types of things. It may be, however, that certain configurations of quantitative stuff (infinite, fractal-like recursive structures) may be "the right place" for qualitative stuff to enter the world -- and it may well turn out that this sort of structure emerges physically only when recursion happens in brains (since recursiveness with respect to quantum features might multiply quantum indeterminacy exponentially)...in which case, if only humans have robustly recursive brains, only humans will have physical structures that admit of the kinds of quantum-violations that my Libertarian Compatibilist theory identifies with libertarian free will!

Hi James: Thanks for your comment!

I entirely agree with your point (1). We don't yet have clear evidence that any or all non-human animals are "zombies." But of course that's not something I promised to show in the post! As I explained, my aims were merely to (A) tell a story about how -- for all we currently know -- non-human animals *might* be zombies, and (B) show how the P2P Hypothesis and Libertarian Compatiblism make predictions that might enable us to find answers one way or the other.

On (2): That's not the kind of quantum violation I have in mind. What you are talking about is a standard feature of QM: a single event can be its own cause and effect in a sense. Now, why isn't this a "quantum violation" (in the relevant sense for my theory)? The answer to this is straightforward. The phenomenon you just mentioned (events being their own causes) -- if indeed it is the case -- is an implication of the standard quantum wave-function. The standard quantum wave-function, however, is governed by the Schrodinger equation: it is *purely* probabilistic. This is not enough, in my view, to get genuine libertarian free will, as probability alone is just chance! No, a real quantum violation -- the kind Libertarian Compatibilism holds to be indicative of libertarian free will -- would involve deviations from the Schrodinger equation that are different from person to person, thereby representing each person's libertarian free will collapsing their own "personal wave-functions" according to their conscious will in a higher-reference frame, which is not mere chance.

Does this clarify things?

Finally, you write: "In a similar manner, it doesn’t matter how much observation a human does of other life; we’ll never perceive of the new emergent forces associated with said life. Instead, we’ll only perceive of the *result* of the net sum of forces after it has already occurred for each moment of time."

According to the P2P Model/Libertarian Compatibilism, there is no reason to think that "we will never perceive the new emergent forces." According to these models, if we want to know whether libertarian free will exists, all we have to do is examine whether the particles of the Standard Model of particle physics obey the Schrodinger equation in human brains or not. If they do, there's no libertarian free will. If they don't, there is. End of story.

Now, indeed, you may think "life" is something other than this -- and that's fine. But in that case, if your theory is to be a genuinely scientific one, it will have to make predictions, and its predictions will have to be (as your remarks suggest) different than those made by the P2P Model/Libertarian Compatibilism.

In other words, if my model's predictions are verified, then so much the worse for your theory; and conversely, if your model's predictions are verified, so much the worse for mine. This is what's nice, by the way, about empirically oriented philosophy. They make predictions -- predictions which, if verified, support some theories over others!

I guess I have one final question for you in response (I'm curious!): what unique, determinate predictions do you believe your emergence theory of life entails?

Marcus,

Thanks for your reply.

You asked: “what unique, determinate predictions do you believe your emergence theory of life entails?”. I think I can answer that. (No worries, I’ll keep it brief. I don’t recommend having a full drink in your hand while you’re reading these ideas, since you may damage your keyboard.)

1. We’ll discover that human thoughts exert new emergent forces (i.e., forces which don’t result solely from a direct sum of preexisting forces), and those new forces are partially responsible for controlling the interaction of our thoughts, thereby becoming the basis of our “ultimate/ambitious/strong” sense of free will. In addition, we’ll realize that said new emergent forces enable learning (i.e., changing the physical neural wiring in a human brain in an intelligent manner on the fly) thereby resolving a long-term scientific conundrum.

2. We’ll discover that the growth of the trees in our backyards isn’t controlled solely by the four fundamental forces of physics (4FFOP), and there is freedom (i.e., new life) therein, which exerts forces that transcend to other force fields (e.g., the 4FFOP) and affect the path forward. That concept will apply to all living things on Earth, and mankind will eventually classify those forces as a form of “ultimate/ambitious/strong” sense free will.

3. Neuroscience will realize that our minds are comprised of multiple system levels (as are trees), each of which exert new emergent forces (i.e., life) and those forces transcend across different system levels, adding together with forces from other system levels as well as with the 4FFOP, thereby determining the path forward. We’ll realize there’s a sea of activity within our human brains (and in trees), and it’s difficult to clearly identify a specific agent since it’s difficult to identify which system level is exerting which forces.

4. We’ll acknowledge that life exists across the full spectrum of 3-D scale, and each and every 3-space has at least a small amount of associated life and therefore exerts at least a small quantity of forces which transcend force fields, add into the net sum, and affect the path forward for each moment of time. We’ll stop wondering about the root source of life, since we’ll understand that life is an inherent property across the full spectrum of 3-D scale.

5. We’ll realize that the unexplainable events which are observed at the quantum level are related to life existing at the quantum level, and a predeterministic explanation of said events simply doesn’t exist.

6. We’ll realize that emergent intelligence is associated with the development of a human fetus, and forces of design occur each and every time a newborn is created. Our DNA provides blueprints that are interpreted by a wide range of intelligent lower-level living systems.

7. We’ll realize that our consciousness is a singular type of emergent entity, it’s not complex in nature, and it can’t be reduced into subcomponents. In addition, we’ll realize that our consciousness isn’t what “drives” our free will; we’re simply conscious *of* our free will. Our free will results from new emergent forces within our physical brains, and neuroscience will realize that the short propagation delay between the time when a thought is first formed in our physical brains and the time when we become conscious of said thought doesn’t mean we don’t have free will in the “ultimate/ambitious/strong” sense.

8. We’ll realize that some emergent properties aren’t determined by the entities which cause those emergent properties to come into existence (e.g., the forces exerted *by* our thoughts aren’t determined solely by the neurons that cause our thoughts to come into existence).

Okay, that’s (more than) enough predictions from me – I’d better end it there or Thomas will permanently ban me from FoF! ;)

Hi James: Thanks for sharing your model's predictions.

Here, though, is my general worry. I think we already have a lot of pretty strong inductive argument that your model's predictions are (probably) false. Why do I say this?

Well...we have a theory of quantum mechanics that explains how fundamental particles behave. Out of quantum mechanics, we have a Standard Model of particle physics that explains basic constituents of matter -- including the constituents of atoms -- as well as three out of four of the "four forces of nature" (strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, electromagnetism, but not gravity; note: I put "four forces" in scare-quotes here because I don't think gravity is a force at all but rather a feature of the fabric of spacetime within which all forces act--but whatever).

Anyway, we have the Standard Model, which explains how (known) atoms work. We then know how atoms combine to form molecules. In turn, we know how organic and inorganic molecules function...to comprise LIFE. Indeed, I'm not a plant biologist, but I'm fairly confident (wrongly?) that plant biologists would tell you they have a pretty good idea of how plant biology works, and how it emerges from organic structures...which again, we understand in terms of molecules, which we understand in terms of atoms, etc.

The same goes for animal and human biology. Although there are still many things we don't fully understand about human and animal life, everything we know so far is consistent with animal and human life (including fetal life) emerging from nothing more than molecules and the standard forces of nature.

In short, I think we have quite a bit of inductive evidence that the emergent forces you think we'll find don't exist. We've already explained so much about life without them...and so there are no real a priori or a posteriori reasons to think that we need anything more (such as your emergent forces).

This brings me to two features of my P2P Model/Libertarian Compatibilism that I believe are superior.

First, the P2P Model is consistent with everything we currently know about the physical world. Indeed, as I argue in "A New Theory of Free Will", it is entailed by the conjunction of several physical and metaphysical hypotheses, all of which we have at least some evidence for. Second, as I argue in, "A Unified Explanation...?", the P2P Model promises to provide a unified, concrete explanation of a wide variety of quantum phenomena. [In contrast, your "emergent forces" seem like a disconnected jumble of phenomena without a clear functional model to make any sense of them].

Second, the *only* part of the P2P Model and Libertarian Compatibilism that flies in the face of known physics is the quantum violations it predicts in (human) brains. Here too, however, there are antecedent grounds for thinking that strange physics might indeed emerge specifically in human brains (see Penrose and Hameroff's work, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116085105.htm ). So, the only part of my model that flies in the face of known physics actually seems to have some evidence in its favor.

These considerations, I believe, strongly favor the P2P Model/Libertarian Compatibilism over your alternative model -- but, of course, at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding: empirical observations may demonstrate that one of us is right, or that both of us are wrong. Ultimately, we'll have to wait and see!

Marcus,

In addition to enthusiastically agreeing with James's first point in his first comment, I find another reason for doubting that blindsight has strong implications against animal consciousness. I haven't read Carruthers, but I expect my comment to come from a whole different direction anyway.

I don't think second-order consciousness is the bee's knees. I think first-order consciousness is. If my "talking module" doesn't know I'm seeing blue, that doesn't mean *I'm* not seeing blue.

Consider Sylvia Plath's account of the effect of scopolamine. Given a mixture of morphine and the amnesia-inducing scopolamine during childbirth, women screamed and thrashed in pain during the procedure, but could remember nothing afterward. I would describe this by analogy as "blindpain". After all, the talking self has no notion of any pain. Would you want your wife treated with these drugs during a potentially painful surgery? Would you subject yourself to it? I say absolutely not.

As for cats scratching at imaginary dirt, I wouldn't read much into it. Sometimes you feel like dancing, even without a woman or a tribe to impress (wildly speculating on the evolutionary origins at work here). Your dance "accomplishes nothing". Or so it seems, until you realize that it accomplishes dancing.

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