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03/13/2015

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Hi Gregg, yes, let's build some bridges and get more attention focused on the experiences of agency! And I think I agree with most of your descriptions, at least as long as they stay relatively theory-lite. I don't think our phenomenology delivers enough content to fill out the descriptions of 'ownership', 'conscious will', etc. such that they support the claim that our experiences have libertarian content--i.e., that they have content that provides prima facie support for indeterminism or agent causation. But I certainly think we have experiences of authoring our actions, of having choices, and of consciously controlling some of our actions.

The place where your account seems to smuggle in libertarian content is in (1) where you suggest "agents typically experience themselves as having transparent awareness of the mental states *and processes* involved in decision-formation." I disagree about the 'processes' part. It'd be good to do more experimental work to test this. I won't harp on it here, but I think Nichols work and Deery et al.'s work fails to show that people think they have access to the processes leading to decisions or that they experience those processes as undetermined. Maybe you or others could suggest how we might get evidence for this claim about our experiences of agency.

(I'm trying not to burn any of the bridges you're building!)

I like this project a lot (and I'm engaged in it in my own way). Quick question: the way you describe the sense of authorship and conscious will they sound roughly the same to me. How are you seeing the distinction (or would you ultimately want to identify them)?

Eddy, thanks for the comments. Yes, let us build some bridges! I think this is an important project and it would be nice if we could all hammer out some basic agreement.

You may be right that I was smuggling in some incompatibilism with my reference to "processes." I tried my best to be neutral but I am human ;) I think the work of Nichols, Deery et at. lends some prima facie support to its inclusion but I agree, it would be nice to see more empirical work done in this area. Perhaps we could do some together! Let me try to think up some good empirical methods at getting at the question.

Josh, thanks for the question. I agree that there may be some overlap, perhaps a lot of overlap, between the sense of authorship and the experience of conscious will. It was partly for that reason that I hesitated to include conscious will as a separate, unique feature.

That said, there may still be some slight differences between the two. For example, the experience of conscious will may not necessarily involve a sense of self-as-agent. (I'm being very tentative about this because I'm not convinced I'm right.). In Wegner's account of consciousness will, for example, he maintains the source of the experience has to do with the *consistency*, *priority*, and *exclusivity* of the thought about the action. He doesn't say much about the experience of self and to what extent it plays a role in generating the experience of conscious will. While not endorsing Wegner's account here, maybe something like his account can be made sense of in terms of intentional state without appealing to a sense of authorship per se. Of course the intentional states would need to be accompanied with a sense of ownership for one to experience conscious will, but maybe it's possible to experience conscious will without much focus on the self.

I'm not convinced the above is correct so I would like to know what others think. I'm open to suggestions and revisions here!

Hi Gregg,

On question 2a regarding the asymmetry between intentional states and sensory states, how would you characterize imagination? If it's a sensory state the asymmetry would break down in that case wouldn't it?

Matt

Matt, interesting question. I don't know how to characterize imagination or imaginative states but I guess I wouldn't classify them as sensory states proper. If one insisted on calling them sensory states then I think we could just distinguish between different types of sensory states and say that the asymmetry exists for at least a large class of sensory states.

Another category I didn't mention above is emotional states. An asymmetry exists here too between intentional states and emotional states--but it may be a different kind of asymetry than exists with sensory states. The phenomenology behind how we experiences these different types of states is very interesting to me, and should be included in any comprehensive account of the phenomenology of agency!

Thanks for the question--I was starting to feel like there was no love for my theory-neutral approach!

I certainly think they're interesting questions, not only for free will but experiential consciousness generally.

A related phenomenon you might consider is dream. It seems to me at least that there remains a strong sense of self in dream even though we have no actual sensory input to experiential consciousness (unless our unconscious monitoring forces itself upon up due to danger).

On the face of it this would suggest that imagination can come with agency (imagining while awake) or without it (dreaming while asleep) and the self is retained in both scenarios. But is the dream self the real self being fooled, another related self or not a self at all?

It might also be interesting that the self in the dream environment is so easily and fully convinced it's in a waking (or at least 'normal') environment.

Lastly there's lucid dreaming, where one can apparently switch between the two modes of feeling non-agency or agency over the imaginative content.

I won't pretend to have considered whether these are relevant points or what they might mean yet, but they may be food for thought...

Matt

Thanks for the food for thought Matt!

The situation of how people think about free will reminds me about Augustine's famous dictum about time: I know what it is before you ask me, but when you ask me what it is, I don't know.

One thing that concerns me about X-phi in general--and I'm pretty uninformed about its proper methodology--is erotetic logic about the relationship of questions driving acceptable topic-driven contrast classes of answers. Van Fraassen et al are all over this as a part of the pragmatism of scientific inquiry.

I'd think these circumstances put the folk in a place where interpretation of their responses to X-phi questions are largely a function of the questions themselves. Spit-balling scenarios, I'd wager that if the questions focus on conceivability of action or possible evaluations of action, then incompatibilism will significantly be featured in answers about such thought-experiments of choice. If the questions focus on evaluated consequences of possible actions or actual effects of actions, then compatibilism will significantly be featured in the answers to such thought-experiments of choice. What I mean is that the first kind of scenarios stresses the value of the choice itself, and the latter the value of the results of choice. As with the case in science, I suppose the case of assessing the best answers to such questions poses lots of answers and questions against one another--as you've done in this post Gregg--to see what falls out as some predominate and plausible factor(s) of explanation.

This, along with the fact that propositions about epistemic possibility (based on conceiving prior wider logical possibilities) do not in general entail anything about propositions about metaphysical possibility, seems to me to be why error stands out as the result of so many empirical studies.

Thanks for your thoughts Alan! I'm not as skeptical as you are of x-phi, I think there is some great work being done. Since I haven't done any x-phi myself, I will leave it to others to address your methodological concerns.

To whatever extent I appealed to x-phi in this post, it was just to get to more basic features of the phenomenology. I think you could agree with me on the phenomenology and still question the x-phi findings.

Thanks for the great questions, Gregg. Apologies for the late entry: I was grading exams and essays.

First, about (3) and (4) above: i.e., whether you experience yourself as owner or author of your intentional actions, and whether you experience yourself as causing your intentional actions.

In typical scenarios, I believe that your experience as of performing an intentional action very strongly supports the claim that you, qua unified self, are causing your own intentional action.

However, it seems to me that, equally as strongly, such experience fails to support the claim that you are causing your intentional action *through* the causal efficacy of your mental events, and it also fails to support the claim that you are *free* when you cause your own actions. Thus, your experience as of performing an intentional action strongly supports agent causation, but not agent causal libertarianism.

In fact, thinking about the experience as of performing an intentional action seems to undercut the standard story of action, where it is assumed that your mental states or events are doing all of the causal work in generating and sustaining your intentional actions. The standard story does not seem to be correct, especially if we take seriously what it’s like when moving your body around during your intentional action.

Second, about (2) above: i.e., the claim that our wants, desires, beliefs, and intentions are experienced as spontaneous or uncaused, whereas sensory-perceptual events are experienced as caused by events within the world around us.

In many scenarios, I believe that you do *not* experience your intentional mental events as spontaneous or uncaused. Often, wants and desires are caused by what you perceive to be the case, or by your awareness of your bodily states and associated sensations. For instance, you see that your favourite beer is on the menu and you come to want or desire a pint; or you become aware that you are thirsty and you come to want or desire a glass of water; etc. In such cases, one mental event is the cause of another. Likewise, for beliefs and intentions: often times they are caused by what you perceive to be the case, or by your awareness of your bodily states and associated sensations. For instance, you see that the little old lady needs help crossing the street and you come to believe that you ought to help her and intend to do so right now; or you become aware that your leg muscles feel stiff and you come to believe that you ought to get up and stretch and intend to do just that; etc. Again, in such cases one mental event in the cause of another.

There are, though, perhaps equally as many scenarios in which you experience your intentional mental events as mental actions that you are performing. Here, too, such mental events are not experienced as spontaneous or uncaused, but caused by you, qua unified self.

What do you think?

Michael, thank you for your thoughtful comments. You write: "it seems to me that...such experience fails to support the claim that you are causing your intentional action *through* the causal efficacy of your mental events, and it also fails to support the claim that you are *free* when you cause your own actions. Thus, your experience as of performing an intentional action strongly supports agent causation, but not agent causal libertarianism." I'm starting to think that my (4) should be removed--either because it is redundant or, as you suggest, not phenomenologically accurate. It seems you agree with me about (3) and (presumably) (1), but you take issue with (2) and (4). I'll take that as a start. As for whether our experience supports a sense of agent causation but not agent causal libertarianism, I think that's an open question. But since I was trying to present a theory-neutral approach in hopes of building some bridges, I'm satisfied with your weaker claim for the sake of this post.

With regard to (2) you write: "I believe that you do *not* experience your intentional mental events as spontaneous or uncaused. Often, wants and desires are caused by what you perceive to be the case, or by your awareness of your bodily states and associated sensations." I agree that we may occasionally experience our intentional states in this way, but not always. I also think that even in your beer example, there is still an experiential asymmetry between my intentional states and sensory states. My desire for the beer does not feel causally determined by my perceptual state in the same way that my visual perception of the menu feels causally determined by the menu itself. Do you deny the asymmetry altogether or are you making a finer point about my description of the asymmetry? I'm open to some revision here but I think it's important that we acknowledge some experiential asymmetry.

As for your last point--i.e., that we also often experience our intentional mental events as mental actions--i agree. But I think I acknowledged that in my post.

Thanks for the helpful reply, Gregg.

I would take issue with the claim that, when you are conscious of your wants, desires, beliefs, intentions and other mental events, you are thereby conscious of the *causes* of your intentional actions. I would suggest that when you are conscious of such mental events, you are not conscious of them *as* causes of your intentional actions. For instance, you do not experience your desires, beliefs, intentions, etc., *as causing* the movements of your body. That is not part of the phenomenology of intentional action, free or otherwise.

Additionally, I would suggest that, typically, we *are* conscious of those mental events that cause our wants, desires, beliefs, etc., so I would take issue with the claim that “wants, desires, beliefs, and intentions come to us spontaneously and are uncaused”, and the claim that “[t]he phenomenology surrounding our intentional states…plays an important role in generating…the feeling that our intentional actions are causally undetermined”.

Regarding the asymmetry, I would agree that there is some kind of experiential asymmetry between something like (1) awareness of the way in which sensory events are caused and (2) awareness of the way in which intentional bodily actions are caused. As Searle put it in the passage you cited, in each kind of case, we experience the causal relations quite differently.

For me, though, the subtle, difficult, and interesting question is this: when you attend to the way in which you are causing your intentional bodily actions, what, exactly, do you discover? As I mentioned in my previous comment, I think what you discover is that you, qua unified self, are causing your own intentional bodily action and not *through* your mental events. In fact, with respect to what you're calling the experience of agency, discovery or recognition of yourself as cause might be just what you're looking for.

Michael, I think I agree with you regarding (4), that's why I was reluctant to include it to begin with. I'm going to stick to my guns, however, with the apparent spontaneity of intentional states. When you say, "we *are* conscious of those mental events that cause our wants, desires, beliefs, etc." do you think this is true all of the time? And isn't there a regress problem here--are the also conscious of the cause of those mental events that cause our wants, desires, beliefs, etc.?

Here's what I wrote in the post: "If we further examine our phenomenology, however, we will also find that not all intentional states are experienced as spontaneous and uncaused. When we attended to our stream of consciousness, for example, we often feel a kind of causal connectedness among our thoughts. As David Rosenthal puts it, “Sometimes we are conscious of a desire or intention as resulting from other, earlier mental states; when we consciously deliberate, for example, we are aware of our desires as being due to that process of deliberation” (Rosenthal, 2002b: 216). In cases of conscious deliberation we often feel as though one thought leads to another. These conscious chains of deliberation, however, do not continue indefinitely. There is always an antecedent intentional state we are conscious of but for which we are not conscious of any cause, and we will accordingly be conscious of it as being spontaneous and uncaused. The fact that our conscious chain of deliberation originates from intentional states that appear to be spontaneous and uncaused is enough to generate the feeling of freedom (as long as other conditions are also met)."

Perhaps we can find some a agreement with the above?

Gregg,
I don't want to assert a rigid binary distinction between phenomenology and theory, but I see 1 and part of 2 as lying near the theory end of the spectrum. On 1, we do have access to some of our mental states, and I would agree with you that we sometimes just seem to *see* that a mental state or event brings about another, or brings about an action. This is a case of penetration of perception by theory, but I expect it's nearly universal. But to say that mental states that we don't perceive are unimportant, is to move firmly beyond experience into quite speculative - not to mention downright foolish - theory. I expect that if we do a survey we'll find plenty of people making that mistake, but that doesn't show that this is part of the phenomenology of action. For the most part, we experience presences not absences.

On 2, I suggest that the contrast is not caused versus uncaused but forced versus unforced. If my favorite color is red, no matter how much I wish otherwise I still see the grass as green. But when I plant things in my yard it seems like I could choose either grass or poinsettias. This is still theory-laden perception, but it's so entrenched after a lifetime of successful practice that it feels like a given (pardon the pun).

Paul, you write: "But to say that mental states that we don't perceive are unimportant, is to move firmly beyond experience into quite speculative - not to mention downright foolish - theory." I never said mental states we don't perceive are unimportant! Where do you think I said that?!

I'm not sure I understand your anaology between seeing red and choosing to plant a red flower. The asymmetry I'm talking about it between intentional states and sensory states. If you preferred "forced" rather than "caused" you can run with that term. I still prefer to link sensory states to the environmental and bodily causes, hence I prefer to use the term "caused."

Hi Gregg,

Thanks for the reply. Other than acknowledging that there is some kind of experiential asymmetry, I'm not sure how much agreement there is between us (not that that's necessarily a bad thing, of course).

As far as I can tell, you're searching for an intentional state or event whose phenomenology would support the claim that some aspect of your mental life is spontaneous or uncaused and would thereby generate the feeling that you are free, at least with respect to that aspect of your mental life. I'm suggesting that you have yet to identify the correct candidate intentional state or event, and so you have yet to identify the source of the feeling that you are free.

So, for example, when you say that "[t]here is *always* an antecedent intentional state we are conscious of but for which we are not conscious of any cause, and we will accordingly be conscious of it as being spontaneous and uncaused", I would disagree. That is, I would deny that (1) there *always* is such an antecedent intentional state (2) of which we *are* conscious and (3) of which we are conscious of *as uncaused*, and so I would deny that we have found the phenomenological source for the feeling of freedom, at least in this domain.

Gregg,
Sorry I explained the first point badly. Thanks for your reply. If we perceive our intentions or decisions as uncaused, that implies that we perceive them as uncaused by unconscious mental / informational states among other things. That would be pretty foolish of us, don't you think? We would be taking absence of awareness (of causes) as awareness of absence. It seems to me that your interpretation of folk psychology is uncharitable.

I'm not attributing wild ideas to you, but I am attributing wildness to your picture of the phenomenology of decision. I think we should paint a prettier picture. One that allows the folk to be perceiving many things veridically.

I agree that sensations feel like they come from the object, and so they are caused. Whereas actions come from decisions. I don't think that means decisions feel uncaused, just that they don't feel caused. And decisions feel unforced, but that's narrower. Maybe a good, neutral, bridge building approach is to focus on direction of fit? Sensations should fit their objects, but actions should fit decisions.

Sometimes our thoughts or imaginings are presented as uncaused (by us)).. the melody that we cannot get out of our head is a good example. But there are other times in which thinking and imagining are just instances of willing or at least appear to be so. What are you doing? I am asked. I am say "I am thinking" take the thinking to be an activity that I am doing.. it is not something that just happens to me. Desires themselves do not appear to agent-caused, but our reaction to them appear to be so. Its hardly the case that one weights one desire over another and just automatically gives preference to the "bigger"one. What counts as a the bigger desire is often a retrospective assessment based on the choice we have in fact taken

I suggest the article by psychologist Albert Bandura, "Reconstrual of 'Free Will' From the Agentic Perspective of Social Cognitive Theory." I acquired it free from his Stanford faculty web site a few years ago. If no longer available there, it is a chapter in the book by J.Baer, J.C. Kaufman &R.F. Baumeister (Eds.), "Are We Free? Psychology and Free Will" (pp. 86-127). Oxford: Oxford University Press. If nothing else it delineates what a complex and convoluted process agency is, not readily reduced to neurology and certainly not to physics.

G: "What counts as a the bigger desire is often a retrospective assessment based on the choice we have in fact taken" : well said.

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