How physicists handle the idea of Free Will?

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When talking about the mind<>body relationship, i think the first thing a physicalist position needs, is a matching example of a physical<>physical relationship. Is the mind<>brain relationship the same as the water<>riverbed relationship? A rock<>its molecules?

If a physicalist cannot find any relationship in the physical world that matches their ideas of the mind<>body relationship, then by definition it is not a physical relationship and it cannot have arisen in a physical manner.
 
  • #152
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When talking about the mind<>body relationship, i think the first thing a physicalist position needs, is a matching example of a physical<>physical relationship. Is the mind<>brain relationship the same as the water<>riverbed relationship? A rock<>its molecules?

If a physicalist cannot find any relationship in the physical world that matches their ideas of the mind<>body relationship, then by definition it is not a physical relationship and it cannot have arisen in a physical manner.
I think its useful to distinguish between the psychological and phenomenal aspects of mental states. For example, perception and sensation are both aspects of the same mental state. Perception involves the recognition and interpretation of something, whereas sensation is the conscious experience of redness or the smell of a flower. In general, physicalism seems to be on the right track to explaining most psychological mental states (e.g. memory, perception, learning) but there is no hint of a solution to the phenomenal states in terms of physical interactions. As far as I know, the standard approach of a physicalist is to simply deny the existence of any phenomenal states.
 
  • #153
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There is a difference (psychological vs phenomenal) for sure and the Knowledge Argument is still a serious challenge for physicalism.
 
  • #154
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There is a difference (psychological vs phenomenal) for sure and the Knowledge Argument is still a serious challenge for physicalism.
I agree that the knowledge argument shows a gap in our understanding about how phenomenal states arise or what they even are, but I'm not sure there is any real knowledge or information in a qualia like the experience of redness. I can tell you I am seeing red, but I can't give you any information on what that means.
 
  • #155
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I just read the functionalism quote, from Ferris_bg, and i noticed the bold bit:

Type physicalism says that pain is C-fiber excitation. But that implies that unless an organism has C-fibers or a brain of an appropriate biological structure, it cannot have pain. But aren't there pain-capable organisms, like reptiles and mollusks, with brains very different from the human
brain? Perhaps in these species the neurons that work as nociceptive neurons--pain-sensitive neurons--aren't like human C-fibers at all. Can the type physicalist reply that it should be possible to come up with a more abstract and general physiological description of a brain state common to all organisms, across all species, that are in pain state? This is highly unlikely, but how about inorganic systems? Could there not be intelligent extraterrestrial creatures with a complex and rich mental life, one that is very much like ours, but whose biology is not carbon-based? And isn't it conceivable--in fact, at least nomologically if not practically possible--to build intelligent electromechanical systems (that is, robots) to which we would be willing to attribute various mental states? Moreover, the neural substrates of certain mental functions can differ from person to person and may change over time even in a single individual through maturation, learning, and injuries to the brain. We should keep in mind that if pain is identical with physical state C, then pain is identical with state C not only in actual organisms and systems but in all possible organisms and systems.

These considerations are usually taken to show that any given mental state is "multiply realizable" in a large variety of physical/biological structures, with the consequence that it is not possible to identify a mental state with a physical state. If pain is identical with a physical state, it must be identical with some particular physical state; but there are indefinitely many physical states that can "realize" (or "instantiate," "implement," etc.) pain in all sorts of pain-capable organisms and systems. So pain, as a type of mental state, cannot be a neural-state type or any other physical-state type.

This, in brief, is the influential "multiple realization" argument against type physicalism Hilary Putnam advanced in the late 1960s (we will recur to multiple realization in the next chapter). It had a critical impact on the way philosophy of mind has developed since then: It effectively retired type physicalism as the reigning doctrine on the mind-body problem, throwing the very term "reductionism" into disrepute and ushering in the era of "nonreductive physicalism." Further, it inspired a new conception of mentality, "functionalism," which has been highly influential since the 1970s and which is arguably still the most widely accepted view on the nature of mind.
What i see in the bold bit, is that functionalism or multiple realization, cannot be a physicalist position. It holds an abstract entity (abstract functional similarities between physical systems such as brains and computers) to be the cause of consciousness. But abstractions are by definition conceptual in nature, so they cannot be the origin of consciousness. For example, my mind can recognise the abstract similarities between 2 apples and 2 pears, namely that there are 2 of both. But if i claim that such a "twoness" is what brought the first abstraction into existence, it would be the equivalent of saying the first egg came from a previous egg.
 
  • #156
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Functionalism falls in the property dualism category (aka non-reductive physicalism). As you can see from the picture in wiki, the mental is considered a "property" of the physical substance. The problem with these types of theories is that they can't account for mental causation aka the mental is epiphenomenal. And epiphenomenalism is considered by many as not logically coherent (search the forum for Q_Goest posts about the "knowledge paradox").
 
  • #157
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This is all, pretty clearly 'angels-on-pinheads' stuff. I justify this remark on the grounds that, every time a question is asked, a brand new word is coined with which to answer it. I have read more 'new' words on this thread than on all the QM and GR threads put together.
The way Philosophy is going seems to be highly divergent, which is directly against the reductionist aims of yer proper Science. It doesn't surprise me that emotional states, sensations and ideas cannot be linked coherently with physical states simply because the system is trying to examine itself with the very tools that it is examining.

At the simplest level, we look around us and see a whole range of physical arrangements that achieve the same functions amongst animals - think of the number of alternative eye structures that have developed to achieve 'vision' of some sort. We say that a fly has "seen us" without mentioning the fact that its eye and image processing is entirely different from ours.
So, in the context of brain / mind studies, how can it be claimed that mental states can be associated with one particular physical structure when there is no way, even, of equating mental states between one individual and another? As with the earlier example of colour vision and sensation, we can only compare mental states by reference to some external physical setup (a questionaire, Ishihara Colour test etc.) and by communication between individuals. This is just not good enough to produce any more than an arm waving theory, although humans are more than capable of making do with this limitation in their everyday dealings with each other and when selecting paints for their houses.
It seems to me that there is an equivalent of the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle at work here between the Physical and the Mental situation. As long as Philosophers want it to be otherwise then their 'faith' will keep them attempting the unattainable and generating yet more new terms in the process.
 
  • #158
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why look at the process? free will is simply the ability to change our mind. i can decide to flip a coin and roll with the out come on a certain question. bam. heads. i didnt want heads maybe ill flip again. or i can decide this whole coin thing is stupid. i cud even decide to do nothing. where do i lack free will?
 
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  • #159
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The question is whether your choices were predetermined. We k ow we can do what we want, but is what we want predetermined? I think so, I think there's a mechanism for liking and not liking things.

For instance, people can like or dislike food as the pertain to deficiencies in their biochemistry or people will fear things if those things have presented trauma in the past. Other preferences may just be a matter of chance ("how the molecules fell").
 
  • #160
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The question is whether your choices were predetermined. We k ow we can do what we want, but is what we want predetermined? I think so, I think there's a mechanism for liking and not liking things.

For instance, people can like or dislike food as the pertain to deficiencies in their biochemistry or people will fear things if those things have presented trauma in the past. Other preferences may just be a matter of chance ("how the molecules fell").
i get that. but i do things i dont like almost daily. i have a sense of duty. i choose to do these things, yet some times i choose not to. the coin thing is helpful, to me it is the universes opinion. choices are influenced, not predetermined.
 
  • #161
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Functionalism falls in the property dualism category (aka non-reductive physicalism). As you can see from the picture in wiki, the mental is considered a "property" of the physical substance. The problem with these types of theories is that they can't account for mental causation aka the mental is epiphenomenal. And epiphenomenalism is considered by many as not logically coherent (search the forum for Q_Goest posts about the "knowledge paradox").
I don't know. I think, for the most part, most humans experience (for instance) yellow the same way. Especially when it has a light background

There's also a whole subject of color psychology that shows how colors influence psychological states and it's fairly consistent across humans.

And we don't need to account for mental causation... it doesn't seem to exist.
 
  • #162
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why is it called free will any way? it seems to me any decision has a cost. whether we factor that in or disregard it is still our choice.
 
  • #163
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When talking about the mind<>body relationship, i think the first thing a physicalist position needs, is a matching example of a physical<>physical relationship. Is the mind<>brain relationship the same as the water<>riverbed relationship? A rock<>its molecules?

If a physicalist cannot find any relationship in the physical world that matches their ideas of the mind<>body relationship, then by definition it is not a physical relationship and it cannot have arisen in a physical manner.
To your point, we would generally say there is a mind<>brain relationship in the same way there is a relationship between any phenomena which supervenes on its base. As madness points out:

I think its useful to distinguish between the psychological and phenomenal aspects of mental states. For example, perception and sensation are both aspects of the same mental state. Perception involves the recognition and interpretation of something, whereas sensation is the conscious experience of redness or the smell of a flower. In general, physicalism seems to be on the right track to explaining most psychological mental states (e.g. memory, perception, learning) but there is no hint of a solution to the phenomenal states in terms of physical interactions. As far as I know, the standard approach of a physicalist is to simply deny the existence of any phenomenal states.
I presume madness is using the terms "psychological" and "phenomenal" aspects in the same way Chalmers and others in philosophy do. In which case, our psychological states (ie: those objectively observable behaviors) supervene on the physical states of the body and brain. Similarly, we would typically accept that our phenomenal states or mental states supervene on the brain.

I would agree there is no solution to how phenomenal states come about in terms of physical interactions. Some would certainly deny the existance. Dennett is famous for that. He says "So contrary to what seems obvious at first blush, there simply are no qualia at all."

Others, especially those in the scientific world who study the brain for example, simply don't care and don't appreciate the huge logical dilemmas that they overlook. Why should science claim a need for objective observations and then illogically consider subjective phenomena as being physical? Clearly that position is laughable and shows a clear lack of understanding. The knowledge argument as mentioned by Ferris hits the nail on the head.

There is a difference (psychological vs phenomenal) for sure and the Knowledge Argument is still a serious challenge for physicalism.
Agreed. And as Jackson points out, no amount of physical information can describe qualia. However, there is a problem with the physicalist position (and Jackson's position) that qualia are epiphenomenal. This problem seems to get discovered and rediscovered as people study the problem. On more than one occasion, I've seen people 'discover' this problem for themselves, thinking they're the first person who ever considered it. That problem is called the Knowledge paradox as pointed out by Rosenberg in "A Place for Conciousness" who quotes Shoemaker.

I agree that the knowledge argument shows a gap in our understanding about how phenomenal states arise or what they even are, but I'm not sure there is any real knowledge or information in a qualia like the experience of redness. I can tell you I am seeing red, but I can't give you any information on what that means.
The thing about qualia is that it's a phenomena. It is something that occurs. It has some qualitative and quantitative properties to it. But those phenomena are not objectively observable. That's a real problem. If everything is physical, and if everything is caused by something which is objectively observable, then how can any phenomena which is NOT objectively observable, have any influence? How can that phenomena even make itself known? Any phenomena we can't measure or put any physical description to such as ghosts and spirits, should be per physicalism, unable to influence a damn thing. They should be utterly incapable of making their presense known since the only thing that makes its presence known must be the objectively observable, physical interactions.. . right?
 
  • #164
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The thing about qualia is that it's a phenomena. It is something that occurs. It has some qualitative and quantitative properties to it. But those phenomena are not objectively observable. That's a real problem. If everything is physical, and if everything is caused by something which is objectively observable, then how can any phenomena which is NOT objectively observable, have any influence? How can that phenomena even make itself known? Any phenomena we can't measure or put any physical description to such as ghosts and spirits, should be per physicalism, unable to influence a damn thing. They should be utterly incapable of making their presense known since the only thing that makes its presence known must be the objectively observable, physical interactions.. . right?
I seem to have a warped viewpoint on this. As far as I'm concerned, nothing is objectively knowable, and qualia are the only things I can be sure exist - everything you ever experience is an internal representation, and that's all you will ever know. It's not a popular viewpoint in science, but I just read My view of the world by Erwin Schrodinger and he strongly supports idealism against materialism. I just don't understand how someone can deny the existence of the one thing that they can directly know and replace it with something that can never be experienced directly (i.e. an external world independent of any of our experiences).
 
  • #165
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I seem to have a warped viewpoint on this. As far as I'm concerned, nothing is objectively knowable, and qualia are the only things I can be sure exist - everything you ever experience is an internal representation, and that's all you will ever know. It's not a popular viewpoint in science, but I just read My view of the world by Erwin Schrodinger and he strongly supports idealism against materialism. I just don't understand how someone can deny the existence of the one thing that they can directly know and replace it with something that can never be experienced directly (i.e. an external world independent of any of our experiences).
I don't disagree. But I'm not trying to defend my position, I'm just trying to follow through on the logic, explaining how that logic might go depending on the assumptions we defend. I'm just trying to point out the discrepency in the standard, physicalist view taken by most of science.

Thanks for the reference, I'll have to check up on Schrodinger's work.
 
  • #166
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I agree with madness. There is no true objectivity or subjectivity in the same way there is no true conductor or insulator. Everything exists somewhere in between and we use these ideals to target the dominate features of a particular object (or concept).

Measuring the same length with the same yard stick only applies to humans in the same inertial frame with the same set of perceptions. It's still highly objective (i.e. it's empirically consistent across a large population of humans) but it's ultimately a matter of consensus reality.

Color can be described consistently via spectrum (not a single frequency, so that adds thousands of dimensions to the problem... there are thousands of shades and hues and different people are more sensitive to particular shapes of spectra). A single person may even experience this between their two eyes.

But it doesn't really matter to a living system, how they store symbols, as long as they can reliably store them. An evolutionary instinct is built up around particular colors in the animal world; they are associated with poisonous animals. It becomes advantageous then, for other animals to take up poisonous colors to "bluff" about being poisonous (of course, none of this is done intentionally, it exists because it persisted... reproduction of the fittest).

There is nothing intrinsically poisonous about such colors, but they tend to have similarities: they are bright, so they grab attention. But these are the colors that, inadvertently, became associated with poisonous animals, so biological systems have built a semiotic relationship with the color.

As a human society, we build more sophisticated semiotic relationships with colors. Marketers and graphics designers know a bit about color psychology and how to apply it to better communicate (or persuade people of) their point.

But make no mistake, color is the result of a physical process between the very objective optics, and the very objective neural processes in the brain. The only thing that makes it very subjective is that neural processes and environmental lighting conditions can vary. However, we expect, for most of the population, a consistent qualitative result... and we see that. Which is why we have standards and defaults (soft, light background with dark, usually black font).
 
  • #167
Dennett is famous for that. He says "So contrary to what seems obvious at first blush, there simply are no qualia at all."
Are we all talking about the same thing when we use the word 'qualia'? To me, it means the direct, personal, subjective conscious pereception or experience of a phenomenon. I can confirm that these qualia exist in me.

So, his statement intrigues me because he also wrote "qualia is an unfamiliar term for something that could not be more familiar to each of us: the ways things seem to me." That's true for me! And the rest of us, no?

So unless he's using different definitions of the words 'are, 'no' and 'qualia', or has perhaps been taken out of context, I can't imagine a sillier statement.
 
  • #168
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But make no mistake, color is the result of a physical process between the very objective optics, and the very objective neural processes in the brain. The only thing that makes it very subjective is that neural processes and environmental lighting conditions can vary. However, we expect, for most of the population, a consistent qualitative result... and we see that. Which is why we have standards and defaults (soft, light background with dark, usually black font).
But do you agree that the experience of colour has a phenomenal element that is not explained through the optical and neural processes? You seem to be using the word subective to mean variable between people, but I would take it in the much stronger sense that there is a private experience which seems to elude any physical explanation. The experience of red is still mysterious after the neural and optical experiences are accounted for. Your analysis would seem to apply the same type of subjectivity to an imperfect mechanical signal detector as it does to a person.
 
  • #169
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Are we all talking about the same thing when we use the word 'qualia'? To me, it means the direct, personal, subjective conscious pereception or experience of a phenomenon. I can confirm that these qualia exist in me.

So, his statement intrigues me because he also wrote "qualia is an unfamiliar term for something that could not be more familiar to each of us: the ways things seem to me." That's true for me! And the rest of us, no?

So unless he's using different definitions of the words 'are, 'no' and 'qualia', or has perhaps been taken out of context, I can't imagine a sillier statement.
Good question. And yes, we are all talking about the same qualia. If you click on the link you can read his paper.

I had the same question on first reading that statement. I think his intent is not that he should be taken literally since he clearly says qualia exist elsewhere in the paper. What I think he means is that qualia don't exist in any kind of way that can be defined. In other words, qualia can't be described in any way, they can't be compared, they don't cause anything, etc... so in any sense of the term "exist", they don't exist.

"... there simply are no qualia at all." for Dennett means qualia don't exist in any meaningful way as we use the term that something objectively observable exists.

Which is fine, but that concept doesn't hold water for the vast majority of people who would describe qualia as having some qualitative feel to it and that we should be able to explain how qualia arise in some way.
 
  • #170
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madness said:
But do you agree that the experience of colour has a phenomenal element that is not explained through the optical and neural processes?
I don't agree. But realize also that you're using a loaded word: explain. Ask a physicalist to explain how gravity works... you won't get a mechanism, you'll just get an equation describing its effects on objects. We don't know a mechanism for gravity, and once we find it, we won't know the mechanism of that mechanism.

So yes, we can explain phenomenology in the same way we can explain gravity or electromagnetism. Every time we find mechanisms though, we just get more questions. For a scientist, this is merely job security.

I don't think qualia elude any physical explanation; that seems to be an exaggeration. I do agree that the explanations lose objectivity, but that is not quite the same. We use physical metaphors like warmth and intensity to describe the experience, and we can describe ensemble interactions of color with words like 'contrast', 'geometric structure', or 'gradient'. And we can model these properties mathematically.

Realize that the ensemble is really the important thing. Red is only meaningful to you in the context of other colors. If everything we saw was red, then we would not know about color, only lightness and darkness, and our vision and ability to describe things would be considerably diminished.
 
  • #171
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Which is fine, but that concept doesn't hold water for the vast majority of people who would describe qualia as having some qualitative feel to it and that we should be able to explain how qualia arise in some way.
Of coursre, causation != correlation: you may have a "feeling" and perceive "qualia" at the same time because they are both internal physical effects of a single external physical stimulus, not necessarily that they are in a cause and effect relationship with each other.

And in deed, we can influence "feeling" states on people without them experiencing the qualia, the work of subliminal stimuli.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subliminal_stimuli
 
  • #172
Ask a physicalist to explain how gravity works... you won't get a mechanism, you'll just get an equation describing its effects on objects. We don't know a mechanism for gravity, and once we find it, we won't know the mechanism of that mechanism.
This is true. We do now have a mechanism for gravity – the curvature of spacetime by mass-energy. But the obvious next question, ‘how does mass-energy cause the curvature of spacetime?’ has no answer. We just know the mathematical relationship between the two.

"... there simply are no qualia at all." for Dennett means qualia don't exist in any meaningful way as we use the term that something objectively observable exists. Which is fine, but that concept doesn't hold water for the vast majority of people who would describe qualia as having some qualitative feel to it and that we should be able to explain how qualia arise in some way.
I agree. Qualia is the single megafact of a person’s life – by definition, it is the only thing they can experience, since it is the essence of experience itself. This makes me think it is a subject worthy a serious consideration, notwithstanding the seemingly insuperable obstacle of examining it in a scientific way.


I don't think qualia elude any physical explanation; that seems to be an exaggeration. I do agree that the explanations lose objectivity, but that is not quite the same. We use physical metaphors like warmth and intensity to describe the experience, and we can describe ensemble interactions of color with words like 'contrast', 'geometric structure', or 'gradient'. And we can model these properties mathematically.
The thing about explanations of qualia is that, because of the fact that it is qualitatively completely different to everything else, they tend towards the descriptive.

I can’t imagine how qualia can be studied other than through associations between subjective reports of internal experience and external stimuli. But, of course, would be no explanation as to the nature of qualia. While good science is always chasing the next explanation, this problem seems to me to be of a completely different order to the rest, and will be particularly intractable.

So as indicated by Q_Goest, maybe this is why some have said it doesn’t exist - and if it doesn't exist, there’s no need to explain it!
 
  • #173
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The thing about explanations of qualia is that, because of the fact that it is qualitatively completely different to everything else, they tend towards the descriptive.
It actually isn't completely different; that's exaggerative rhetoric. Every model we have requires qualitative descriptions. If we remove qualitative descriptions, we no longer have physics or science. We just have mathematics. 1+1 = 2 is false if you put units of apple, orange, and apple, respectively. Mathematics is necessary but insufficient for quantitative analysis. We need qualitative descriptions for everything we do.

In the same light, aspects of phenomenology can be quantified, but it requires qualitative descriptions. For instance, you can count how many objects you experience vs. the next person. And you can get a different answer depending on your focus (and there can be a third, more objective answer).

We can also quantify what kind of blindness people have and how it impacts their perception. We can also quantify the effects of drugs on people and choose a limit beyond which their perceptions are so messed up, they shouldn't operate heavy machinery or drive.
 
  • #174
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It actually isn't completely different; that's exaggerative rhetoric.

I think he means losing objectivity - how do you objectively describe 'feeling pain' or what it is that is feeling pain? Or 'i understand the meaning of what he says?' or how would you objectify my inner world? You can't. This isn't even a scientific question, no matter what one would like to believe science implies.

BTW, it's impossible to prove to a sceptic that i am not a p-zombie(most of the time) in the same way that it's impossible to technically prove beyond any doubt that an outside world exists. I think your reasoning was completely correct until 30-40 000 BC when the first cave paintings emerged laying the foundations of primitive human arts. Art has no connection with survival, i find it rediculous that some researches would push the TOE to explain away everything, from cold beer to CERN and my late arrival at the hotel tonight.
 
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  • #175
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I think he means losing objectivity - how do you objectively describe 'feeling pain' or what it is that is feeling pain? Or 'i understand the meaning of what he says?' or how would you objectify my inner world? You can't. This isn't even a scientific question, no matter what one would like to believe science implies.
I think this is putting things back to front. We are well aware of our subjective experiences, literally everything you have ever known has been a subjective experience. The whole notion of an objective viewpoint is incoherent. If you take your subjective experiences out of the picture, there's nothing left.
 

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