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How physicists handle the idea of Free Will?

by fbs7
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Q_Goest
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May5-12, 01:06 PM
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Hi Pythagorean,
Quote Quote by Pythagorean View Post
Right, but you missed my point in the previous post about the hard problem existing in gravity, too.
Not everyone in these philosophy forums has a good background in philosophy, so it's difficult sometimes to distinguish between knowledgable arguments and those that come from the perspective of a non-expert, say someone with a background in engineering or a background in biology. Those folks with no background in philosophy are sometimes difficult to identify, especially if you have little or no background in the field yourself. There is an entire branch of scientists who specialize in the logical arguments made to conceptually understand topics such as consciousness. They call themselves philosophers. Some of us frown upon their work because we don't understand it. They use words we're not familiar with and say things in a way that confuses us. At times, we ridicule them because what they say makes no sense to us. But what they're discussing has everything to do with the science.

I wouldn't walk into a microbiology forum and, as an engineer not understanding what they're talking about, tell them they are missing my point. I wouldn't tell them they don't need all those words to describe molecular interactions since I obviously understand chemistry and don't use those words. Unfortunately, many people tend to feel that their background in some other area of science has prepared them for discussions regarding the philosophy of mind.

It's diffucult to explain to someone without the background why there is no "hard problem" of gravity, dark matter or even of dark energy. It's difficult without the background to explain why subliminal stimuli has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Because there's an entire field of research and logic that can't be funneled into a single post just as it would be impossible for a microbiologist to explain to an engineer such as myself, details regarding microbiology.

I have no doubt you could understand this topic if you really wanted to understand it. But it seems like you really aren't interested in understanding it, and that makes it frustrating for anyone with a background in philosophy to try and measure up to your expectations.
Pythagorean
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May5-12, 01:16 PM
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Insinuating ignorance isn't a solution to the problem. That's not what we do in the biology forums. We might even report somebody for trying to slip a subtle ad hominem in. Your post makes no argument and contributes nothing to the understanding of the problem.

In the science forums, we do patiently break it down and explain it as long as we can. You should expect us to not "need all those words to describe molecular interactions" because that's the point of the forum. To explain things without jargon because it helps exclude silent pretense.

The only reason you would say "oh I can't explain it to you, you're ignorant" is if you don't have any real substance.
Pythagorean
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May5-12, 01:21 PM
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I realize that the "hard problem" is specifically defined for consciousness, but what I'm arguing is that it's analogous to "problems" in gravity. We don't know why matter has gravitational or electromagnetic fields in the same way we don't know why subjective experience can arise from matter. These are all enigmatic properties that we just accept to be true.
madness
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May5-12, 01:34 PM
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Quote Quote by Pythagorean View Post
Right, but you missed my point in the previous post about the hard problem existing in gravity, too. Above, I was demonstrating they both have an easy problem. The point is that all rational studies have a hard and easy side to them. Remember that the problem is with the loaded word, "explain".

If you want to reject physicalism approaches to consciousness, your arguments would apply to physicalism approaches to gravity as well. Physicalists reject dualist arguments because they move forward and make grounds in prediction with the core physicalist assumption (cause and effect).

So no, we can't explain how the right arrangement of matter can have a subjective experience, but we can't explain how gravity arises either. But we know rules and operations for both (what arrangements are more likely to produce what effects).
I agree with this to a large extent. What we need is a theory which can relate physical or informational quantities to conscious experience or qualia. The only real attempt that I'm aware of is Tononi's Integrated Information Theory (http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2202/5/42). We may never understand how subjective experiences arise or what they are, but we can describe observed relationships mathematically just as we have done for gravity and electromagnetism. For me though, there is a big difference between applying this type of explanation to gravity and qualia. For gravity, we are modelling the correlation between very similar physical quantities (basically speed, position, acceleration). For consciousness, we are modelling the correlation between entirely different categories, physical (possibly informational) and experiential.
Pythagorean
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May5-12, 01:43 PM
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Quote Quote by madness View Post
For me though, there is a big difference between applying this type of explanation to gravity and qualia. For gravity, we are modelling the correlation between very similar physical quantities (basically speed, position, acceleration). For consciousness, we are modelling the correlation between entirely different categories, physical (possibly informational) and experiential.
But to me it appears to me that you are comparing:
1) only the easy problems of gravity
to
2) the gap between the easy and hard problems of consciousness.

The hard problem of gravity is essentially the same as for consciousness: there's an explanatory gap: we know about speed/position/acceleration just fine, but that doesn't explain why gravity exists in the first place. How this property (gravity) can emerge from particles and their interactions. We can't even explain why there are particles and interactions in the first place. We can't explain why there's something instead of nothing. These are all hard problems of science. Science doesn't just fail at explaining consciousness, it fails explaining a lot of human questions about the universe.

But it's possible that the questions are meaningless, too. It's easy to see why "does fist eat orange?" is a nonsensical question. But other questions that are more emotionally appealing to us might seem more reasonably when they're really not.

One huge difficulty is that it is an ill-defined question in the first place: there's no reliable definition of consciousness.
micromass
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May5-12, 01:47 PM
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Quote Quote by Q_Goest View Post
Hi Pythagorean,

Not everyone in these philosophy forums has a good background in philosophy, so it's difficult sometimes to distinguish between knowledgable arguments and those that come from the perspective of a non-expert, say someone with a background in engineering or a background in biology. Those folks with no background in philosophy are sometimes difficult to identify, especially if you have little or no background in the field yourself. There is an entire branch of scientists who specialize in the logical arguments made to conceptually understand topics such as consciousness. They call themselves philosophers. Some of us frown upon their work because we don't understand it. They use words we're not familiar with and say things in a way that confuses us. At times, we ridicule them because what they say makes no sense to us. But what they're discussing has everything to do with the science.

I wouldn't walk into a microbiology forum and, as an engineer not understanding what they're talking about, tell them they are missing my point. I wouldn't tell them they don't need all those words to describe molecular interactions since I obviously understand chemistry and don't use those words. Unfortunately, many people tend to feel that their background in some other area of science has prepared them for discussions regarding the philosophy of mind.

It's diffucult to explain to someone without the background why there is no "hard problem" of gravity, dark matter or even of dark energy. It's difficult without the background to explain why subliminal stimuli has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Because there's an entire field of research and logic that can't be funneled into a single post just as it would be impossible for a microbiologist to explain to an engineer such as myself, details regarding microbiology.

I have no doubt you could understand this topic if you really wanted to understand it. But it seems like you really aren't interested in understanding it, and that makes it frustrating for anyone with a background in philosophy to try and measure up to your expectations.
Right, so if I get you right, then you are saying that philosophers know more about science then the scientists themselves. If I want to ask people about gravity, then I'll ask the physicists, not the philosophers.

This entire argument is an argument by authority and is a logical fallacy.
madness
#187
May5-12, 01:57 PM
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Quote Quote by Pythagorean View Post
But to me it appears to me that you are comparing:
1) only the easy problems of gravity
to
2) the gap between the easy and hard problems of consciousness.

The hard problem of gravity is essentially the same as for consciousness: there's an explanatory gap: we know about speed/position/acceleration just fine, but that doesn't explain why gravity exists in the first place. How this property (gravity) can emerge from particles and their interactions. We can't even explain why there are particles and interactions in the first place. We can't explain why there's something instead of nothing. These are all hard problems of science. Science doesn't just fail at explaining consciousness, it fails explaining a lot of human questions about the universe.

But it's possible that the questions are meaningless, too. It's easy to see why "does fist eat orange?" is a nonsensical question. But other questions that are more emotionally appealing to us might seem more reasonably when they're really not.

One huge difficulty is that it is an ill-defined question in the first place: there's no reliable definition of consciousness.
But the problem is that there is no "gravity" that emerges from the particles and their accelerations. All there is are the particles and their speeds, positions and accelerations. Gravity is a piece of conceptual machinery to model their evolution in time. With consciousness, there is something else other than the particles and their speeds and positions. This is what the fundamental difference is. The gravitational field is just a mathematical trick to explain the observables, which are fundamentally just position and time.
Q_Goest
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May5-12, 01:57 PM
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Quote Quote by Pythagorean View Post
Insinuating ignorance isn't a solution to the problem. That's not what we do in the biology forums. We might even report somebody for trying to slip a subtle ad hominem in. Your post makes no argument and contributes nothing to the understanding of the problem.

In the science forums, we do patiently break it down and explain it as long as we can. You should expect us to not "need all those words to describe molecular interactions" because that's the point of the forum. To explain things without jargon because it helps exclude silent pretense.

The only reason you would say "oh I can't explain it to you, you're ignorant" is if you don't have any real substance.
That's a valid response and I do feel bad for not being more helpful. My apologies. I would only say that I have also felt that the way many of your responses and those of others here are worded, they truly frown upon this entire branch of academia. Not understanding the topic and still debating your personal views is why the philosophy forum is under general discussion, and the reason for the new rules started the beginning of last year.

If you feel gravity is somehow parallel to consciousness, you should provide references from philosophical journals and provide some background. Explain your argument not just in your own words and from your own perspective, but utilize the background in the subject and show how it fits into your viewpoint.

If you really want to understand more, I'd suggest Chalmer's book "A Conscious Mind". Chalmers is an encyclopedia of sorts and although his personal contributions are limited, the fact is he manages to provide detailed explanations on a very broad number of topics within cognitive science. Within the first 100 pages you'll find considerable discussion on how things like gravity or EM fields are not like consciousness. These are objectively observable phenomena. Dark matter or dark energy and the problems regarding galaxy dynamics similarly are not "hard problems" as the term is defined. Science relies on objective observations. If none are available, we generally relegate claims of phenomena that are not objectively observable by everyone to be crackpottery. Yet we don't consider that to be the case with consciousness. The kinds of claims made by folks not familiar with the issues can become exhausting. If one isn't familiar with the literature and the field of study, those folks should be asking questions, not insisting they have the answers.
Q_Goest
#189
May5-12, 02:03 PM
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Hi micromass,
Quote Quote by micromass View Post
Right, so if I get you right, then you are saying that philosophers know more about science then the scientists themselves.
Not at all. I'm suggesting that they are not the dolts many here are making them out to be and suggesting they don't have any understanding of the science is an insult. I'm suggesting that to understand the philosophy, then just as physicists, biologists, engineers, etc... have had to study their topic, there is a need to similarly study philosophy in order to comment intelligibly.
Goodison_Lad
#190
May5-12, 02:58 PM
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Quote Quote by Pythagorean View Post
Right, but you missed my point in the previous post about the hard problem existing in gravity, too. Above, I was demonstrating they both have an easy problem.
I did see and understand the point, and I don't disagree with it entirely. Developments in our understanding of, say, gravity, have been step-by-step, and you could say that a 'hard' problem of gravity (ignoring the little one of unification with QM for the time being!) is why stress-energy should cause curvature of spacetime. But this problem is of the never-ending sort that keeps science moving on. We explain this, this generates more questions, we address them and so on. They are about phenomena in the same category.

But the hard problem of consciousness is to do with a categorically different phenomenon to the easy ones that are currently amenable to scientific investigation. Itís all about category.

I'm not suggesting that the elusiveness of qualia means it can never be successfully addressed. But I am suggesting that the difference between the nature of qualia and the 'easy' problems of consciousness is of an entirely different order to the difference between our understanding of the Einstein Field Equations and our lack of understanding of the underlying cause of them. My guess is that physicists will succeed in this hard problem of gravity (only, of course, for it to be replaced by yet another one for them to tackle. That's life). Giving up is no answer.

The why and how of qualia represents a very major challenge for science, and itís my opinion that recognising the size of the cliff to be scaled would be a useful first step.
Evo
#191
May5-12, 03:04 PM
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Quote Quote by Q_Goest View Post
Hi micromass,

Not at all. I'm suggesting that they are not the dolts many here are making them out to be and suggesting they don't have any understanding of the science is an insult. I'm suggesting that to understand the philosophy, then just as physicists, biologists, engineers, etc... have had to study their topic, there is a need to similarly study philosophy in order to comment intelligibly.
But to be honest, a degree in philosophy does not make them able to comment knowledgeably on topics of science, engineering etc, unless they also happen to have degrees in these subjects. That is a big problem here in the philosophy forum, people that read a few books on philosophy feel that they can post on topics that they know next to nothing about.

The only thing a philosopher can post about is philosophy, unless they actually hold degrees in the other subject they are posting about. it does state in the rules that the same standards of discussing science also applies in the philosophy forum.
Q_Goest
#192
May5-12, 03:42 PM
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Hi Evo,
Quote Quote by Evo View Post
But to be honest, a degree in philosophy does not make them able to comment knowledgeably on topics of science, engineering etc, unless they also happen to have degrees in these subjects. That is a big problem here in the philosophy forum, people that read a few books on philosophy feel that they can post on topics that they know next to nothing about.

The only thing a philosopher can post about is philosophy, unless they actually hold degrees in the other subject they are posting about. it does state in the rules that the same standards of discussing science also applies in the philosophy forum.
I would certainly agree that some philosophers have degrees limiting them to philosophy. Of course, to get a PhD in philosophy, the study of the natural sciences or other sciences is a large part of that. Chalmers for example has a background in mathematics, but there are a tremendous number of philosphers who have a background in physics and especially, quantum mechanics. I've been very surprised to find just how much good information is available about quantum mechanics that's been written by philosophers.

Again, I apologize for the insinuating remarks earlier.
Pythagorean
#193
May5-12, 04:02 PM
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Quote Quote by Q_Goest View Post
That's a valid response and I do feel bad for not being more helpful. My apologies. I would only say that I have also felt that the way many of your responses and those of others here are worded, they truly frown upon this entire branch of academia. Not understanding the topic and still debating your personal views is why the philosophy forum is under general discussion, and the reason for the new rules started the beginning of last year.

If you feel gravity is somehow parallel to consciousness, you should provide references from philosophical journals and provide some background. Explain your argument not just in your own words and from your own perspective, but utilize the background in the subject and show how it fits into your viewpoint.

If you really want to understand more, I'd suggest Chalmer's book "A Conscious Mind". Chalmers is an encyclopedia of sorts and although his personal contributions are limited, the fact is he manages to provide detailed explanations on a very broad number of topics within cognitive science. Within the first 100 pages you'll find considerable discussion on how things like gravity or EM fields are not like consciousness. These are objectively observable phenomena. Dark matter or dark energy and the problems regarding galaxy dynamics similarly are not "hard problems" as the term is defined. Science relies on objective observations. If none are available, we generally relegate claims of phenomena that are not objectively observable by everyone to be crackpottery. Yet we don't consider that to be the case with consciousness. The kinds of claims made by folks not familiar with the issues can become exhausting. If one isn't familiar with the literature and the field of study, those folks should be asking questions, not insisting they have the answers.
You're still insinuating that the problem is with my understanding and mispreresenting my position as "having the answers" (which I never even implied). If that were the case, then you can simply respond to the actual argument I made and counter them. Instead, you rely on arguments from authority, refer to technicalities, and position yourself as the referee (and thus ultimate authority) on both science and philosophy.

This only convinces me that my argument was good and you didn't like the implications of it, so you generated a false sense of controversy.

Exactly opposite of your representation, I actually responded to the typical "science can't explain" with "of course it can't and it's not obliged to, and this problem exists outside of consciousness". I'm not saying I have all the answers.

And I will conclude with agreement: science can't explain everything (that's, in fact, a characteristic of a pseudoscience) but I addendum that science, at least, explains something and that the people that continue to criticize science for not explaining everything aren't able to explain anything. Of course, explain, in this context, very specifically means "can utilize empirically-informed models to predict behavior".

Also, you know my position, it's a fairly common position: it's the physicalist position. Again a misrepresentation, claiming that these are my personal wishes and desires. I also share some views with Lowe.

Lastly, it's unfair to post a reference and expect somebody to read it all. If you have a specific point to make from a reference, quote it, interperet it, and state how its relevant. Otherwise it's just more "oh the answers in there, you're just too ignorant to see it... but don't mind me not being able to state it".

Now let's put these posts in "arguments 101 thread" and get back to discussion... I believe the ball was in your court (unless your just waving your arms for nothing).
Pythagorean
#194
May5-12, 04:07 PM
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Quote Quote by madness View Post
But the problem is that there is no "gravity" that emerges from the particles and their accelerations. All there is are the particles and their speeds, positions and accelerations. Gravity is a piece of conceptual machinery to model their evolution in time. With consciousness, there is something else other than the particles and their speeds and positions. This is what the fundamental difference is. The gravitational field is just a mathematical trick to explain the observables, which are fundamentally just position and time.
You argument is that there is no gravity. That's really not satisfactory...
I don't see how you can selectively use that argument on gravity and not on consciousness.

They're both products of the same system of perceptions.

I think if you're to take Lowe's view, you can't be selective about it.
Pythagorean
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May5-12, 04:11 PM
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Quote Quote by Goodison_Lad View Post
But the hard problem of consciousness is to do with a categorically different phenomenon to the easy ones that are currently amenable to scientific investigation. Itís all about category.

I'm not suggesting that the elusiveness of qualia means it can never be successfully addressed. But I am suggesting that the difference between the nature of qualia and the 'easy' problems of consciousness is of an entirely different order to the difference between our understanding of the Einstein Field Equations and our lack of understanding of the underlying cause of them. My guess is that physicists will succeed in this hard problem of gravity (only, of course, for it to be replaced by yet another one for them to tackle. That's life). Giving up is no answer.

The why and how of qualia represents a very major challenge for science, and itís my opinion that recognising the size of the cliff to be scaled would be a useful first step.
Throughout your post, you keep saying "no, no, it's different" in tautology. You still haven't shown me how. It's about category might have been a start? Perhaps you should dive further into that thought for me.
John Creighto
#196
May5-12, 04:51 PM
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I know this is slightly off topic but this quote keeps comming up in this thread:

Originally Posted by madness View Post

But the problem is that there is no "gravity" that emerges from the particles and their accelerations. All there is are the particles and their speeds, positions and accelerations. Gravity is a piece of conceptual machinery to model their evolution in time. With consciousness, there is something else other than the particles and their speeds and positions. This is what the fundamental difference is. The gravitational field is just a mathematical trick to explain the observables, which are fundamentally just position and time.
I read about the following in the big bang theory (TV Show) discussion:

"Loop quantum gravity (LQG), also known as loop gravity and quantum geometry, is a proposed quantum hypothesis of spacetime which attempts to reconcile the theories of quantum mechanics and general relativity.
Loop quantum gravity postulates that space can be viewed as an extremely fine fabric or network "woven" of finite quantised loops of excited gravitational fields called spin networks. When viewed over time, these spin networks are referred to as "spin foam" (which should not be confused with quantum foam). The theory of LQG is considered a major quantum gravity contender, along with string theory, but has the perceived advantage of consistently incorporating general relativity without requiring the use of "higher dimensions"."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loop_quantum_gravity

and I think this theory would address these issues, but I do not know what the status of this theory is (in terms of being accepted on the same level as more classical theories in modern physics).

As for the main point of contention in the recent part of this thread, I do think that it is perfectly reasonable to compare the hard problem of consciousness to the question of, "Why does mass curve space time?". However, I can suggest one difference. In the case of qualia, we have reason to believe that there is something which our theories aren't able to explain though laws of nature.

However, when it comes to why does mass curve space. Why can't some laws be fundamental and not need further explanation? Aristotle would refer to this as the concept of a first cause but this does not imply a God. Aristotle thought that there should be some principles which existed at the beginning of the universe. He called these principles, "Unperishable Principles" and he discusses this in his book Metaphysics:
http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/a/aristotle/metaphysics/
Pythagorean
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May5-12, 06:34 PM
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I don't know that it makes them fundamental, or whether there's a need or not, but it always appears that the nature of things (gravity, EM, consciousness, existence) don't have an explanation. But we learn a lot about how to model and control systems of particles involving them when trying to find one.
Goodison_Lad
#198
May5-12, 08:08 PM
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Quote Quote by Pythagorean View Post
Throughout your post, you keep saying "no, no, it's different" in tautology. You still haven't shown me how. It's about category might have been a start? Perhaps you should dive further into that thought for me.
I'm sorry, but I'll have to risk repeating myself: as I said in earlier posts, qualia is different because it is pure experience itself - it is entirely subjective.

It seems to me that no EEG, MRI scan, blood test or any other tool currently at the disposal of neuroscientists is likely to get us any nearer to the understanding the nature of conscious experience. Things that contribute to consciousness Ė sure. Theyíll tell us, Iíve no reason to doubt, about all sorts of systems that combine to produce the content of which we are aware, but not the actual conscious experience itself. Of course, the usual caveat applies: that may change one day.

This is why I think it represents a great challenge for scientists who want to understand it in terms of brain systems.

So Iím afraid I canít really give you any clearer reason for conscious experience being fundamentally different to objectively investigable phenomena than this.

Quote Quote by John Creighto View Post
In the case of qualia, we have reason to believe that there is something which our theories aren't able to explain though laws of nature.
Why can't some laws be fundamental and not need further explanation?
Qualia is certainly merits investigation, but who knows whether it will ever yield to explanation? If it doesnít, and has to be deemed as fundamental, then it would effectively be a self-contained fundamental property.

I think itís this that would make it unlike the stress-energy/curvature relationship: if that turns out to be fundamental because it has no underlying explanation, the stress-energy/curvature relationship doesnít stand alone Ė it Ďexplainsí a higher-level phenomenon, even though it itself has no explanation.

Iím glad Iím not working on either!


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