Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Determinism and consciousness

  1. Sep 19, 2006 #1
    The truth of the matter is that most people who are into science see the universe as nothing but a blob of evolving energy and matter.
    They have an innate feeling that nothing conscious or alive controls how the universe works, and also that it has always been like this.

    In other words the universe is run by somewhat dead "stuff" that just interact with other "stuff."
    At the bottom level many people believe that it is as simple as a 1 and 0 system, wherein there are two states of existence, where determinism is the guiding factor.

    In other words, the universe is just an evolving thing of energy.

    That's fine and dandy, but there's a couple of problems..

    When I look around and see all the stuff that interacts with eachother, my brain immediately starts to see things in a logical way.
    For example if I drop a glass to the floor on purpose, I expect it to break into pieces, which has happened in all equivalent events in the history of this planet.

    If I go to bed at night, I expect the sun to rise in the morning when I wake up, when I type this on the computer I expect the pixels to draw the letters I am typing into this php text form, and so forth.
    This is called determinism and is a very powerful phenomena of the universe.
    Without some kind of determinism I don't know how the universe, or much less humans, could make any sense or live at all.

    Another thing that is very powerful, is the power of logic.
    Logic to me is a direct decendant of determinism, logic is a conscious algorhithm like function that conscious agents use to compute the possibilities from any physical or mental thing, it is very powerful because it makes us able to predict.

    With these two components in hand, we start to puzzle together that determinism and logic runs the universe.
    And if everything is indeed deterministic and logical, then there is really no possible way that a conscious mind can "override" this determinism.
    It is this way because we assume that consciousness is somehow an entity with elusive "free will." of which nobody has any clue what is supposed to mean at all..

    The best way to puzzle this together would be to say that consciousness and free will are actually deterministic events.
    That on every level consciousness is run by the fundamental and emergent properties that make up the brain and body, and that the consciousness is simply an emergent state of the fundamental objects.

    Of course, strong emergence is not an easy topic, but I see no other way for consciousness to exist in a deterministic and logical universe, had it not been strongly emergent.
    This is because we have done extensive research on the brain and body, and not ever have we been able to actually extract the data, the information, the actual thoughts in any physical form.

    So the only other option is that a thought is not just contained in the brain, but rather a combined emergent property of whatever else makes up a thought, like say the body.

    But if we then try to analyze what this emergent property is, and what components it is made up of, we hit another problem.
    Namely the one where if you combine the physical events, you still don't get the actual information.
    Say someone made an immensely complex computer program, so complex in fact, it was a 1:1 copy of a brain, body, and a small portion of timespace(enough for the brain and body to evolve a consciousness and a self), if we had then created a 1:1 copy of everything inside the computer, would the person inside this program gain consciousness as we experience it?

    Well there's a couple ways to find this out.
    A computer program works by receiving input from say a keyboard or a mouse, then runs a small application inside its application, called a function, that performs whatever function was called.
    In theory this can be deducted to the following sequence:
    1. Receive input
    2. Process input with logical if/else/+/-/etc operators and methods
    3. Send output back to monitor

    So for our person inside our computer to work, in the real world, it would have to do the following.

    1. Receive input from the eyes/ears/touch/etc
    2. Process input logically in brain with more advanced forms of logical physical states, VERY advanced too.
    3. Send output back to ????

    And voila, here's the missing piece.
    It's very easy to create a computer that receives and processes information, it's also extremely easy to send that information to a monitor, a printer, or any form of medium that can carry information as bits, or transform it from digital to analog.
    However, there is no known formula for what medium consciousness is.
    Strictly speaking, in a logical world, we would need some kind of logical function that stemmed from deterministic states of matter/energy, that somehow creates consciousness.

    Another problem is of course, we would never know if the person was conscious.
    He could even be exactly like us and talk to us, but we could never know if it was a logical emergent and immensely complex program, or a conscious being speaking.

    But wait a minute, what's the difference there?

    It seems as if theoretically, a human could just be an immensely complex "stimuli machine", where everything follows a deterministic logical order.
    Humans innate definition of a machine is one which does not do what it "wants" but rather follows a complex logical set of deterministic events, as in, it has no CHOICE but to do what it does.

    So what is the opposite of this "option?"

    Many people feel it is indeterminism.
    If the definition of a machine is one that is guided by something that is deterministic, then the opposite of a machine would be that which is guided by something which is NOT deterministic.
    However, the problem here is that those who believe that do not go to the root of the problem; namely that in both scenarios the machine is still guided by SOMETHING.

    This is because humans have an innate feeling that they are "above" the physics of things, and as such, determinism and indeterminism are layers that are lower than their free will.
    The problem as I see it now, is that it doesn't really matter what guides the conscious mind, whether it be indeterminism,

    determinism or hooblaganism(:P), because when you get down to it, the conscious mind is not DIRECTLY stemming from determinism or indeterminism, it is rather an independent entity, which is not controlled by neither at all.

    Because if you think about it logically, if the mind was controlled by determinism, we would be machines, and if it was controlled by indeterminism, we would also be machines.

    In both scenarios this is not an acceptable answer for day to day living, simply because we have an innate feeling that we are above mere machines.
    But what if this isn't the case?

    I believe that we are indeed machines, and that instead of pondering what this "free will" is, we should rather think about it logically.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 21, 2006 #2
    A very long post, where you referred to several alleged problems, but I'm having trouble understanding just what those problems are supposed to be. Can you summarise in a much shorter post just what you think the "problem(s)" is/are?

    Best Regards
  4. Sep 22, 2006 #3

    Many people say that for the undefined free will to exist, the universe must be indeterministic.
    I say this is nonsense because if things were indeterministic, the consciousness would still be controlled by the most fundamental entity.

    The only way for free will to exist was if consciousness was primordial, because only then could it define its own rules.
    Any emergent property emerging from a primordial entity must follow the entities rules, right?

    If it is like many believe it is, that consciousness is NOT primordial and that it is indeed only an emergent phenomena in nature, then it is completely bound to whatever fundamental entity exists, as such any free will we have must be emergent and not fundamental.
  5. Sep 24, 2006 #4
    Hi Octelcogopod

    thanks for the summary.

    Broadly, I agree with you.

    What you are saying is a variation on the "ultimate responsibility" argument, which basically goes thus : Free will entails that I must be ultimately responsible for my free will acts. But if I am to be responsible for an act then I must also be responsible for the causal antecedents to that act (if an act has no causal antecedents, ie is indeterministic, then I can hardly be responsible for it can I?); but if I am to be responsible for the causal antecedents to that act, I must also in turn be responsible for the causal antecedents to the causal antecedents.... and so on ad infinitum. This leads to an infinite regress of ultimate responsibility (which is essentially saying the same as you, that responsibility must be grounded in something).

    The only escape from this infinite regress is :

    Either (1) ultimate responsibility is somehow created from nothing (this is the argument of philosophical libertarians, but nobody can explain how such a thing would work naturalistically, hence most libertarians tend to favour a supernaturalistic "explanation", whether they admit it or not)
    or (2) ultimate responsibility has always existed ever since the big bang (this is your "primordial entity" idea, but I don't think anyone seriously considers this to be the case)
    or (3) ultimate responsibility is incoherent thus non-existent (this is the argument of compatibilists and free will skeptics such as myself)

    See http://www.moving-finger.com/papers/Swamp.pdf [Broken] for more on this.

    Best Regards
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook