I am Everything. I am Nothing.

the self

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In continuing my thoughts on consciousness, I want to look at the self. As I discussed in my last post on consciousness, thoughts, sensations, everything attributed to experience seems to arise and have an effect on consciousness. I think this is fairly intuitive to most people in one way or another, whether they are looking at it through a correct or incorrect lens. What I mean by this is, people seem to, at the very least, believe that things happen to themselves. There is this separation of the mind, the body, and the self. Nobody tends to feel, or believe they are, identical to their body or their brain. That is, you don’t feel identical to your hands, you believe you have hands. You don’t feel identical to your brain, you believe you have a brain. There is the body, the brain, and the self. The self is what people tend to believe is consciousness, the “I”. I look at this differently and the self will be the topic of this post.

The first thing we need to do is talk about redefining “I”. Now if you have read my earlier posts, you can see that I want to do away with the term free will. Free will really seems to be a term that carries around too much implicit baggage that really isn’t there. Intellectual supporters of the term want to use it to differentiate reactionary from intentional behaviors (What makes the term more needless is there are words we can use that are more precise and don’t carry the baggage. Terms like reactionary, intentional or unintentional, for instance. It’s really that simple.). They also boast that the term acknowledges the complexity of the mind, in many cases proclaiming that our ability to make the sane and logical choice is what free will is. But with that argument comes a dualistic perspective that is almost impossible to accept when being truly critical of who and what we are and it is why I tend to argue so fervently against it. Supporters of the term will bring with it, whether they truly realize it or not, the claim that we have the ability to step outside the mind, almost. Suggesting, implicitly, that we can go beyond the processes of the brain and use the information given to us by the brain to make our very own, self-authored decision. This is incredibly dualistic to believe. For instance, to be able to use what the brain gives us begs the question; who is this “us” that is separate from the mind and it’s processes. In their argument, there is the mind and then there is the self, the conscious ego resting behind the eyes utilizing the body and brain as a tool separate from itself. This is the only light in which a free will that people want seems to make sense. It is this personal control, or power beyond the natural order that they desire that naturally spawns the dualistic perspective. It is the only way that the term free will can be held so near and dear to one’s heart. So one might wonder, if I believe the self, or the I is an illusion as well, why I don’t want to simply rid of these terms also. Unlike the needlessness of the term free will, “I” is fully integrated into our every day language. The use of terms like “I” or “myself”, etc. are almost as reactionary as breathing. You would really have to stop and pay close attention to avoid these terms. And in many cases you wouldn’t know what to use in their place. I am also not trying to be in the business of creating new words or making new terms and it would be much more convenient to adopt a different view of the term “I” rather than abandoning it altogether. However, I wouldn’t say this is adopting a new view so much as developing a more comprehensive understanding of what it means to say “I”. Because, to this point, I think there is still a way to use these terms in a way that makes sense, while still carrying no additional baggage about the self that the critical mind can see isn’t really there.

Most of us don’t feel identical to anything that makes up “us”. You don’t feel identical to your hands, you feel like you have hands. I would also confidently say that most people don’t feel identical to their brain, they would say they have a brain. This is made especially clear when we say “my brain”, a phrase that simply does not make much sense when we think about this critically. Who is the possessor of this brain? Can we really be something that isn’t the brain? And even if you could claim that you are part of your brain, does that really give you any ownership of the brain? I digress.

Now it’s easier to look at your hands or feet and say, “these are my hands”. It is very difficult, and most likely impossible, to feel identical to our hands. If there is a self or a feeling of “I” that can reside anywhere that we can feel connected, it is in the brain where consciousness arises. That is, this experience that we are all having is completely due to the existence of consciousness. It is in the psychology that contains most of what we value about ourselves.

Something begins to happen, however, as we look at consciousness and the experience. We begin to feel like we are more than the experience itself. We believe that we are inside the brain. This separate entity, of sorts, that is calling the shots. This ego, or self, that is using the body and the brain as a tool to aid in it’s experience. For many, this is where people can place things like free will. The ego is the ultimate author and decider of our thoughts and actions. This ego is ultimately responsible for everything we do, and it is the power of this ego, self, or I, that we can judge, praise, respect, or hate and condemn. Because of the ego’s appeal on the surface, many people are reluctant to analyze the validity of this belief. What many will find when doing so, is that the ego, the self, “I”, does not exist.

There is a phrase that has been running through my head lately when I think about “I” which is; I am everything. I am nothing. If someone asked me what I call me, or, what would be “I”. So when I’ve used the term “I” without quotations, what am I referring to? This is my answer; I am the continuous psychological and physical entity correlated completely to this brain and this body. In that sense, I am everything. I am consciousness and it’s contents. I am consciousness and a body and the only consciousness and body that is correlated to this brain which, as far as we know, is the sole reason I can even conceive of the idea of an I. I know, it is convoluted, a little complex, and maybe on the forefront, it sounds ridiculous or senseless, but it is the best way I know how to explain it. The easiest, most appealing way to say it, I am consciousness and it’s contents, and in that sense, I am everything.

If you want to feel “the self” drop, there is no easier way to do it, than to introspect and try to find a self within you. If you try to find something that is separate from the brain and it’s continuous stream, you will find yourself somewhere that nothing else exists. The self will drop. When I look at this, I am nothing.

When one refers to the self or “I” in a way that means they are a conscious observer that is basically residing behind the eyes, using the brain as a tool rather than being merely a direct cause of the brain, they will never be able to truly find this self when they look for it. I came up with the analogy of a home to explain this.

Imagine the house that you live in, or perhaps a friends house if you do not live in a house. Now if you go inside this house and try to find the house, you will not find anything. You can’t point at a piece of furniture and say, “There’s the house!” You can’t point to a cupboard or a bedroom either. If you look for something within the house that you call the house or the home, you will never find it. There is nothing. You have to consider everything when you are talking about the house as a whole. The same goes for I.

What I currently like about the phrase, “I am everything. I am nothing.” is it allows you to conceptualize how you should view the “I”. If you look at the I as a means of representing everything that you are and the continuous stream that represents everything that you have been and everything that you will be, you are looking at it in a way in which a very reasonable, and very real, you, exists (I am everything.).

If, on the other hand, you begin to view the I as something that is more than everything that you are and the continuous stream that represents everything that you have been and everything that you will be, you will continually find nothing, because it just isn’t so. There is no self to pinpoint residing behind the eyes (I am nothing.).

This can be a lot to take in, and there are many emotions that this can lead to. I am still pondering this a lot and critiquing my thoughts on this often. Everything that I said above is still a rudimentary framework. You are witnessing a brainstorm of sorts, though I must say that I think I am on the right path. I’m just not sure how far down this path I have gone yet.

The next time I explore consciousness, I think I may look at more of the emotional implications, and the lens through which we should look at this. But I am not certain. I will continue to think about this and try to build off this hopefully with the feedback of others, both on this blog and in my life. I’m not sure when I will return to this topic on this blog. It may be soon, it may be a while. One thing is for certain. More to come.

Questions for the reader: If you would like to respond to this, of course say whatever you would like, but also, if you would like, I have some questions that if you could answer would help me look at other perspectives of consciousness.

1.) How would you explain consciousness?

2.) What are your views on the self? Do you believe it is an illusion? If not, where is the self?

3.) What are you referring to when you say “I”?

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28 thoughts on “I am Everything. I am Nothing.

  1. The questions are good. But difficult to answer. 🙂 I am of the belief that there is no constant I as such. It’s the self with a color as and how the time requires the self to be.

  2. 1.) How would you explain consciousness?
    Consciousness is an effect of our brains simulating the world around us using the data we acquire from our senses and stored knowledge. Both and neither are required for consciousness but that is how we understand it. It is the ability to simulate the world around us and use that simulation to make predictions about the world or other things which are simulated in our consciousness. Conscious thought is not all there is to consciousness. There is the subconscious mind which contributes anonymously to the simulation that our conscious mind is.

    2.) What are your views on the self? Do you believe it is an illusion? If not, where is the self?
    Self is real. It is the perspective that the simulation runs. Information used in the simulation is either internally generated or externally generated. That which is internally generated, included sensory data is ‘self’ and anything else is not ‘self’

    3.) What are you referring to when you say “I”?
    I am referring to the self that is in my head. I am angry explains those emotions associated with ‘self’ as described in #2. I, meaning something that is generated or wholly contained in the simulation which is not from outside, those parts which are inseperable from my simulation. You can cut off my leg yet my brain retains a connection to that leg through nerves which have no other purpose and which are inextricably part of the inputs to the simulation that runs in my brain, that I call ‘I’

  3. I think I agree in general with what you’ve said here. There’s a lot on this topic I’m still not sure about though. As for your questions..

    I would say consciousness is a big mystery. However, I think some very general statements could be made about it. Subjectively speaking, I would say consciousness is the qualitative part of nature which is all forms of experience. Beyond that, the most general statement I would make about consciousness is that it’s simply a mathematical pattern and information correlated to this brain and body, that evolves with time. In much the same way we would describe how any sort of wave or field evolves with time.

    From what I’ve read and seen, people who claim the self to be an illusion don’t usually mean that there is no self, but that it’s not what it seems. Typically, people feel as though there is a “self” that is having a series of experiences. A self that is experiencing this moment and then the next and so on. I don’t think there is this experiencer, but instead the experiences themselves. In that sense then, this self or “experiencer” I would say is an illusion.

    When I refer to “I”, I find I have to be very broad and contextual or things turn into a mess. If I refer to “I” as literally the activity arising from this brain, then it doesn’t make sense for me to say most things referring to me. If I say, “Oh I went for a walk today,” then I would be wrong to say that “I” am the activity in this brain. The activity in this brain didn’t go for a walk. If I say that “I” understand physics or whatever, then I would be wrong to say that I’m the brain activity occurring while I was stating that sentence. If I sit here and reflect, “Oh here I am doing X or Y,” although it feels like there was this constant self there during that reflection, it was really a constant state of change. A causal stream of events. Because of this, “I” can really only be a state of referring to this entire brain/body system. For a creature in a universe of change, this seems to be the only meaningful way to refer to the self. There’s no deeper, constant self to refer to.

    • I agree with what you say here a lot. “Because of this, “I” can really only be a state of referring to this entire brain/body system. For a creature in a universe of change, this seems to be the only meaningful way to refer to the self. There’s no deeper, constant self to refer to.” I couldn’t have said this better myself.

  4. The question is what is the use of the term “free will”. If it serves a useful and meaningful purpose, then you can’t just go around suggesting we eliminate it. To most of us, “free will” is just our ability to make decisions for ourselves. The only people who seem to be confused by the term are philosophers and theologians, who use specialized definitions for the purpose of endless debate.

    Or, as William James says in “Pragmatism and Common Sense” (lecture V in “Pragmatism”), “The moment you pass beyond the practical use of these categories (a use usually suggested sufficiently by the circumstances of the special case) to a merely curious or speculative way of thinking, you find it impossible to say within just what limits of fact any one of them shall apply.”

    “Ourselves” are the living biological organisms that deal with our environment by organizing our perceptions of it into useful concepts like “I” and “us” and “environment” et cetera.

    An “illusion” is something you can walk through. If you reach for it and you can pick it up then it isn’t an illusion. The fact that consciousness exists within a physical brain and neurological system that one can in fact pick up, means that it is false to call it an illusion. Thinking and choosing is happening in reality, and is just as real as standing and walking.

    • I never said consciousness was an illusion, the last paragraph here sounds like you are arguing that I did. If I did above, I misspoke. I have never had the belief that consciousness is an illusion.

      “To most of us, “free will” is just our ability to make decisions for ourselves.”
      – This is incorrect, I have never had a discussion with someone on the topic of free will where the term was left there. There is much more that goes along with this term, in skimming your other comments, it looks like you express this fact, I will be commenting on those soon. If you read my post “More on Free Will” you should notice that I say, I believe a few times at least, that when people try to debate free will cleverly, they produce a plain and bland version of free will that most, including myself, would acknowledge exists, IF that is PRECISELY all you mean by free will. time and time again, further into the conversation I always see the smuggled implications brought in. I’m sure I will touch on this more as I respond to your other comments.

      • Michael: “… when people try to debate free will cleverly, they produce a plain and bland version of free will that most, including myself, would acknowledge exists, IF that is PRECISELY all you mean by free will. time and time again, further into the conversation I always see the smuggled implications brought in.”

        This “plain and bland version of free will” is sufficient to create universities and hospitals, set a man upon the moon, and raise the temperature of the planet. So, yeah, I’m happy with my version of free will.

        And, since it is the only type of free will that actually exists, or can exist (all the rest are “straw men”), I will take exception to those arguing that free will is merely an illusion or that the idea of deterministic inevitability conflicts with this free will in any fashion. It don’t. The conflict is an illusion.

    • I don’t understand your point. Michael is clearly refuting the libertarian form of free will here. In my discussions of free will, I find this is the version most people think they have. You are taking a compatibilists approach, yet compatibilists tend to deny libertarian free will as well. Personally, I don’t understand why it’s so important to compatibilists to hold onto the term “free will”. It’s not even useful. If I decide to do something, I don’t need to proclaim that I did it of my own free will. What would be the point?

      • ExPhysics: “Michael is clearly refuting the libertarian form of free will here. In my discussions of free will, I find this is the version most people think they have. ”

        Most people think that “libertarian” is the political party of Rand Paul.

        I think what you’re referring to are religious people who believe that have free will, and that this free will means that it is actually up to them, and them alone, to decide what to do next. All of the influences that they are aware of, and which they take into account during their choosing, they are free to follow or discard as they will. But they will inevitably follow the influences which they believe are the most valuable and significant to their lives when they can. Why would they do otherwise? Not only this, but they believe they actually have both options at the outset of their deliberations, and for all practical and meaningful purposes, they actually do. It is only after they make the decision that the inevitability of the decision presents itself. And if asked to make the same decision at that point, they would make the same choice without further deliberation.

        All of that is real. And none of that conflicts in any way with deterministic inevitability.

    • I find this position among many atheists as well, actually. I’m still not sure what point you’re trying to make. We can talk about how things like reasoning and deciding are only coherent in a causal form and not in this abstract libertarian free will people think they have in which in a given moment they could have thought or acted otherwise. We all agree on this and it’s been acknowledged that the form of free will you have presented exists. But it seems as though you think your version is being argued against. Am I wrong? I’m still unclear on the importance of adopting your definition of free will. As I said, I never find the need as I live to proclaim my free will.

      • I don’t think that anyone actually believes they could repeat history without actually repeating history. But I can see why those who believe (correctly) that they have free will can claim they could have made a different choice.

        At the beginning of any serious, deliberate choice, where you have two options A and B, there is uncertainty. Without the uncertainty you would simply skip to the end and declare the choice. But at the beginning, the decider can honestly say, “I can choose A or I can choose B. I just don’t know which yet until I think it over.”

        After his decision, when reflecting upon the reasons and feelings that led to choosing this rather than that, the decider may realize that the choice was inevitable, given who he was and what he believed was important, and the nature of the choice.

        But he also remembers the beginning, where he was truly uncertain, and may have, for all he knew, chosen either A or B. That experience was true, and it did happen precisely that way.

        When the determinist attempts to convince him (to no good purpose other than being a pain) that he only ever had one choice, he does not believe it, because he knows it was not true at the beginning, during the uncertainty.

        So the determinist attempts to show the decider how “stupid” he is, because the decider seems to be claiming that given the same circumstances, he would always make the same decision. And, the decider will stick to his guns on this, because otherwise his whole self is destroyed and replaced by a long causal chain that cares nothing about him.

        The determinist denies the decider’s experience, feels superior, and ridicules the decider for believing he could have made a different choice if history were repeated from that point.

        So that’s the psycho-dynamics of the issue.

        As a Humanist, and a Unitarian Universalist, I don’t want to attack religion. I believe that every man that claims to be seeking moral good is an ally. And we should not be trying to make enemies of them if we wish to move progressively to a better world.

        The attack on free will is a back-door attack on religion. And that is illogical, because free will has sufficient secular meaning to justify its continued use, with or without religion.

    • Well of course repeating history means repeating it. What a lot of people actually think is that if you were to rewind the clock to before a decision is made, a different decision could be made that time around. This is because they think they author it in some ultimate way. Again, the libertarian view of free will.

      Of course there is epistemic uncertainty, but deciding has to happen since it’s all a part of the causal chain. Libertarians (most people I’ve encountered) believe they can step outside of this causal chain. Again though, there isn’t an argument being made against your compatibilist position, so I’m still not sure why you’re trying to defend it.

      The determinist you seem to be describing is not a determinist but a fatalist. Choice is a real causal event that happens to be determined. There are still multiple choices to deliberate over. Saying there was only one outcome that could happen is not the same as saying there is only one choice. This implies that choosing doesn’t matter, which is a fatalist position because the fatalists are the ones saying that it doesn’t matter what you do. So it’s also only the fatalists that would say that the experience doesn’t matter. That’s also a reductionist position which I suppose some determinists are as well.

      I don’t know of determinists trying to make people feel “stupid” or to “feel superior” or to only be making this argument as an attack on religion. Even if there are, I still don’t know why it’s relevant to the argument against libertarian free will and why this evokes your argument for a compatibilist position on free will when no one is arguing against it. Also, I think it’s important for people to let go of libertarian free will because it’s a source of a lot of unnecessary hate.

      • And if you actually could rewind the clock, then you would also return to the same point of uncertainty, where one can truthfully say, “I may choose option A or I may choose option B. I just don’t know yet which one.”

        By the way, they actually do “author it in some ultimate way”. Because they are a necessary cause of the choice. None of influences, neither genetic nor environmental, can make anything happen without their choice. If you rewind the clock, and stop their heart before they can act upon their decision, then every result of their choice changes. All of the influences become impotent without their causal agency. So, yes, they ultimately author all of the effects of their choice.

        They remain the final (last in sequence) responsible (may be held accountable) cause of what happens next. That too is an inevitable truth of determinism.

        EP: “Libertarians (most people I’ve encountered) believe they can step outside of this causal chain.”

        And perhaps that is because “hard” determinists tend to describe inevitability as being “chained” in the first place. Who would not want to be free from such “chains”, where free will no longer exists, and we are but victims of “inevitability”? (Chandler, for example, had a website titled “anti-choice determinist”).

        EP: “The determinist you seem to be describing is not a determinist but a fatalist. ”

        How are you perceived as not fatalistic if you use the term “causal chain”? How is any determinist claiming to be non-fatalist on the one hand and arguing to discard the whole concept of free will, removing “free will” from the language, on the other?

        EP: “Also, I think it’s important for people to let go of libertarian free will because it’s a source of a lot of unnecessary hate.”

        And what the heck does that mean? How is free will a source of hate?

    • Marvin: “And if you actually could rewind the clock, then you would also return to the same point of uncertainty, where one can truthfully say, “I may choose option A or I may choose option B. I just don’t know yet which one.””

      Yes, but what’s your point? I was only describing a libertarians view. Their view as that choosing means something completely different. To them, choosing lies outside of causality. This is not the sense in which you mean it.

      Marvin: “By the way, they actually do “author it in some ultimate way”. Because they are a necessary cause of the choice. None of influences, neither genetic nor environmental, can make anything happen without their choice. If you rewind the clock, and stop their heart before they can act upon their decision, then every result of their choice changes. All of the influences become impotent without their causal agency. So, yes, they ultimately author all of the effects of their choice.”

      By this line of reasoning, that for something to author something, it must be a necessary cause, then everything authors everything. Photosythesis is a necessary cause in plant growth, but I don’t say it’s the author. I don’t say you author the warming of the seat you’re in simply because you are causing it. At this point it doesn’t distinguish anything to call it an author. So this argument is beside the point I’m making and isn’t what a libertarian means when they think they author a thought. They are completely ignorant to what their next thought will be, precisely. They think that they can step outside of causality and generate their thought.

      Marvin: “They remain the final (last in sequence) responsible (may be held accountable) cause of what happens next. That too is an inevitable truth of determinism.”

      Of course consciousness causes things. Although, I don’t know precisely where it falls in the causal stream of things. It depends on what exactly the thing that you’re saying “happens next is”.

      Marvin: “And perhaps that is because “hard” determinists tend to describe inevitability as being “chained” in the first place. Who would not want to be free from such “chains”, where free will no longer exists, and we are but victims of “inevitability”? (Chandler, for example, had a website titled “anti-choice determinist”).”

      I think people think they can step outside of the causal chain for similar reasons they believe in the supernatural. I don’t know precisely why they think they have thay ability but they do. I don’t think it’s a reaction to determinists though.

      Marvin: “How are you perceived as not fatalistic if you use the term “causal chain”?” This makes me think you don’t understand the difference between a determinist and fatalist. A determinist says everything is causally connected and so everything depends on everything ultimately. A fatalist will say some things are “fated” to happen regardless of what you do. So for a fatalist, there is a disconnect in causality. That’s a big difference.

      Marvin: “How is any determinist claiming to be non-fatalist on the one hand and arguing to discard the whole concept of free will, removing “free will” from the language, on the other?”

      Because determinists tend to mean a different thing when they say “free will” than you. You seem too focused on the term ‘free will’ instead of what people are actually trying to refer to. Just because I say there’s no free will doesn’t mean I’ve said that your brand of free will isn’t real. You can define free will how ever you want, and it’s the claims about reality that that definition makes that will be scrutinized. Libertarians definition about free will makes claims about reality that are just false, so their free will doesn’t exist.

      Marvin: “And what the heck does that mean? How is free will a source of hate?”

      Again, I’m not referring to your compatibilist definition of free will. The libertarian view looks at people as something beyond causality. So although some people harm others just like a tornado can harm others, libertarians hate people in a much deeper sense than a tornado. Instead of seeing people with certain problems as creatures that need fixed and help, they are seen as creatures that deeply deserve their problems and don’t care to find help for these people. These are views I’ve witnessed first hand from libertarians.

      • EP: “To them, choosing lies outside of causality. ”

        I guess what I’m trying to say is that, that is not what they really mean. What they mean is that they are not the slaves of prior causes. They are not chained to a course of action that they have no control over. That is, they still have free will. Their choices matter. And every sane adult is responsible for their own choices.

        And when determinists tell them they have no “real” choice and that their “free will” is merely an “illusion” because they are actually chained to and controlled by prior causes, and now, even the concept of their own “self” is being questioned, as we carve off the prior causes that are actually a very real part of us, well, you get the idea. Sounds pretty fatalistic to me.

        Here’s the thing. We all exist in the same real world. Despite their belief in a God’s ability to heal their illnesses, they still go to the doctor, just like the atheist. (And the parallel may be said of the “hard determinist”, that despite their belief that they have no choice, they continue to exhibit choosing behavior daily).

        So it should not require a degree in philosophy or physics to use the term “free will” in its ordinary, meaningful sense. You won’t find them lobbying to get rid of doctors, so why are we lobbying to get rid of free will?

        EP: “They are completely ignorant to what their next thought will be, precisely. They think that they can step outside of causality and generate their thought.”

        If you step outside of causality then you can no longer cause anything. Therefore, what they really mean is that they are not slaves to prior causes. That is the fear that underlies their words.

        So, how did you deal with that fear when you realized the fact of universal inevitability?

        EP: “Of course consciousness causes things. Although, I don’t know precisely where it falls in the causal stream of things. It depends on what exactly the thing that you’re saying “happens next is”.”

        I’m saying that within a deterministic universe the mind of a person imagines alternative ways to solve a problem, chooses a plan, and then puts it into action. And I’m saying this is actually a real thing happening in the real world (specifically in the living organism’s neurological system, of course). And the person (you know, the biological organism of the human species) making that choice may be held responsible by other persons if the means he chooses cause unnecessary harm to other persons or their rights — especially if the chooser is a sane adult acting of his own free will.

        Let me know if there is anything inconsistent with determinism in that paragraph. I assert it is all wholly compatible with determinism.

        To attack free will is to undermine the validity of the evolved social concepts necessary to moral and legal justice.

        EP: “A fatalist will say some things are “fated” to happen regardless of what you do. ”

        Just to be clear, (a) I assert that has happened was inevitable and that everything that will happen is also inevitable. The difference between my viewpoint and the fatalist is that (b) I know I am the real and the final responsible author of my own choices.

        EP: “Because determinists tend to mean a different thing when they say “free will” than you.”

        Well, stop it. The “free will” that you attack is one that you admit cannot possibly exist. It is a windmill, a straw man, a source of endless confusion and debate.

        EP: “Instead of seeing people with certain problems as creatures that need fixed and help, they are seen as creatures that deeply deserve their problems and don’t care to find help for these people. These are views I’ve witnessed first hand from libertarians.”

        Those would be the political libertarians. I’ve talked with them as well. They are a political cult in my view, full of a lot of silly, and especially self-serving ideas.

        I assume that none of these “libertarian free will” believers are Christian, right? Christians teach that we should feed the poor, heal the sick, and visit the prisoner. Christians teach that “The Good Samaritan”, who was from a religious sect that was so despised that good Jews would go miles out of their way just to avoid traveling through Samaritan towns, that these Samaritans were also to be included in the command to “love thy neighbor as thyself”.

        Which “haters” that you’re talking about?

        EP: “Instead of seeing people with certain problems as creatures that need fixed and help…”

        Another aspect of “free will” involves the “worth and dignity” of each individual. A sane adult who has committed a crime must be allowed to choose whether they will participate in rehabilitation efforts. They cannot be forced to undergo “re-programming” against their will. But when I hear a lot of determinists describing people as “meat robots” or other terminology where the “self” is minimized to near non-existence, I worry that this kind of thinking can be used to justify those kinds of privacy violations.

    • EP: “To them, choosing lies outside of causality. ”

      Marvin: “I guess what I’m trying to say is that, that is not what they really mean. What they mean is that they are not the slaves of prior causes.”

      No this isn’t true. They think they are outside of causality. That’s part of the very definition of being a libertarian. They’ve also made it explicitly clear. Each thought is the result of the countless causes in the brain. They don’t think so. They don’t think a thought could be predicted by the laws of nature, in principle.

      Marvin: “And when determinists tell them they have no “real” choice and that their “free will” is merely an “illusion” because they are actually chained to and controlled by prior causes, and now, even the concept of their own “self” is being questioned, as we carve off the prior causes that are actually a very real part of us, well, you get the idea. Sounds pretty fatalistic to me.”

      A determinist is arguing against the libertarian free will. You keep committing a straw man here. Again, a fatalist says things can be fated to happen INDEPENDENT of cause. That is not determinism.

      marvin: “. (And the parallel may be said of the “hard determinist”, that despite their belief that they have no choice, they continue to exhibit choosing behavior daily).”

      Yes, because a determinist knows that their behavior matters, unlike a fatalist. To think you can stop doing this is to invoke dualism.

      Marvin: “So it should not require a degree in philosophy or physics to use the term “free will” in its ordinary, meaningful sense. You won’t find them lobbying to get rid of doctors, so why are we lobbying to get rid of free will?”

      Only libertarian free will. If you want to hang on to your compatibalist view of free will, go ahead. I have nothing against that form fundamentally. But I’m not convinced that the compatibalist form is the “ordinary sense” of free will. I really don’t need the term either. I do what I do, and as I said before, I don’t need to proclaim that I or humans have free will. To need that seems to be some sort of emotional need.

      Marvin: “If you step outside of causality then you can no longer cause anything. Therefore, what they really mean is that they are not slaves to prior causes. ”

      No they just think they can step outside of causality, regardless of it’s incoherency. People believe crazy shit.

      Marvin: “I’m saying that within a deterministic universe the mind of a person imagines alternative ways to solve a problem, chooses a plan, and then puts it into action. And I’m saying this is actually a real thing happening in the real world (specifically in the living organism’s neurological system, of course). And the person (you know, the biological organism of the human species) making that choice may be held responsible by other persons if the means he chooses cause unnecessary harm to other persons or their rights — especially if the chooser is a sane adult acting of his own free will.”

      I never disagreed with this. As I said, I and most determinists i’ve heard don’t really find anything fundamentally wrong with the compatibalist view.

      Marvin: “To attack free will is to undermine the validity of the evolved social concepts necessary to moral and legal justice.”

      This would be true if we were attacking your brand of free will. But we’re not.

      Marvin: “Just to be clear, (a) I assert that has happened was inevitable and that everything that will happen is also inevitable. The difference between my viewpoint and the fatalist is that (b) I know I am the real and the final responsible author of my own choices.”

      I’m not calling you a fatalist. I was just pointing out that you were confusing determinism and fatalism.

      Marvin: “Well, stop it. The “free will” that you attack is one that you admit cannot possibly exist. It is a windmill, a straw man, a source of endless confusion and debate.”

      Why? Because I know it can’t exist is why I attack it. That’s why debate happens for different ideas. There are ideas that are incoherent and so I attack those. I don’t go redefining the terms into something that is real. Just because a term can have multiple meanings doesn’t mean I must use the “real” one. People have different definitions of God, ones that I can’t argue against such as god is the laws of nature. But I use the traditional definition because thats what most people mean and in my experience most people use the libertarian definition of free will. So that’s the definition I use and debate. Again though, I don’t see why the term is so important to hang on to.

      Marvin: “I assume that none of these “libertarian free will” believers are Christian, right? ”

      most of the ones I’ve encountered are. In fact this is the form of free will religioun tenss to preach.

      Marvin: “Christians teach that we should feed the poor, heal the sick, and visit the prisoner. Christians teach that “The Good Samaritan”, who was from a religious sect that was so despised that good Jews would go miles out of their way just to avoid traveling through Samaritan towns, that these Samaritans were also to be included in the command to “love thy neighbor as thyself”.”

      Well christians are usually hypocritical on these matters. Most christians I’ve talked to hate prisoners.

      Marvin: “Another aspect of “free will” involves the “worth and dignity” of each individual. A sane adult who has committed a crime must be allowed to choose whether they will participate in rehabilitation efforts. They cannot be forced to undergo “re-programming” against their will. But when I hear a lot of determinists describing people as “meat robots” or other terminology where the “self” is minimized to near non-existence, I worry that this kind of thinking can be used to justify those kinds of privacy violations.”

      Well, humans are a form of robot. I don’t think that reduces humans though. The consequences of that would be for a discussion on morals. We can’t argue against something just because we fear it’s consequences though. It’s either right or wrong and their may or may not be bad consequences associated with that.

      • I think I understand where you’re coming from, but there are still some real world problems that arise from simple statements like “scientists have determined that free will is only an illusion”. Dr. Eddy Nahmias wrote an article reviewing several studies showing that normal people, when they hear statements like that, tend to “cheat more, help less, and behave more aggressively”. Here’s a link to the PDF if you want to read it for yourself:

        http://eddynahmias.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Neuroethics-Response-to-Baumeister.pdf

        Having a philosophical debate about a non-existent form of free will may be alright between philosophers and theologians, but when ordinary people hear this talk they are hearing ordinary free will.

        Personally, I would rather stick to the free will that ordinary people understand.

        After all, the initial reaction of people to the idea of universal inevitability, of causal chains from the big bang deciding for me what I will choose to do five minutes from now, well, that’s pretty ominous and downright scary. It suggests at first that ordinary free will does not really exist.

        The mistaken idea that I am no longer in control of what I do is the specific brand of fatalism that I was referring to (yep, you can choose your “fatalism” as well as your “free will” according to Wiki).

        And when you pile onto that the idea that we are no longer responsible for what we do, then it is not surprising that this would lead to more unrestrained bad behavior, as the studies found.

        EP: “I don’t need to proclaim that I or humans have free will”

        I don’t think the utility of the concept is in its proclamation. Its utility is in establishing responsibility in deliberate choices and deliberate acts. Its utility is in determining the more effective corrective penalty. Its utility is in preserving the meaning and significance of the individual person and their choices.

        EP: “But I use the traditional definition because thats what most people mean and in my experience most people use the libertarian definition of free will.”

        I think we could agree that those who use the “libertarian” (anti-causal) definition of “free will” don’t really know what they are talking about. And, since it cannot actually exist, the free will that these people are exercising must necessarily be ordinary free will. And whenever you tell them that “free will is an illusion”, you are misleading them, because the “free will” they hear is the actual and real free will they experience, not some theoretical construct.

        EP: “Well christians are usually hypocritical on these matters. Most christians I’ve talked to hate prisoners.”

        So the minister says to Mr. Jones, “I haven’t seen you in church recently.” Mr. Jones say, “I’d come more often, but the place is full of hypocrites!” Said the minister, “Don’t worry, there’s always room for one more.”

        Anyway, my ex-wife’s sister participated in a local group called “Offender Aid and Restoration” (OAR). She helped people getting out of prison to find a job and avoid recidivism. I’m pretty sure she was doing this as a Christian. So, they’re not all hypocrites.

        The church I was raised in was the Salvation Army, which had programs for alcoholism and unwed mothers and also operated a Boys Club in Richmond. The Methodist church that I have to take my mother to (she’s 94) also does a number of volunteer projects, including a winter program of housing the homeless overnight (my UU church also participates).

        EP: “It’s either right or wrong and their may or may not be bad consequences associated with that.”

        Of course. And, of course, it is factually wrong to say that “free will” does not exist or that it is merely an illusion. After all, it’s what we do.

  5. I explain consciousness as being aware of what is happening. It seems to be what all living things have in common as far as I can tell. It would seem that death is the end of consciousness. To suggest otherwise invokes dualism.

    I think that the self is the collection of all the matter connected into what we perceive as objects. The self of a jigsaw puzzle would be all the pieces combined.

    So when I say “I”, I am using it for convenience to identify something that is collection of cells that make up a human body containing the hands that type this message. Perhaps “we” is more accurate but it sure would confuse people.

  6. “Free will really seems to be a term that carries around too much implicit baggage that really isn’t there. Intellectual supporters of the term want to use it to differentiate reactionary from intentional behaviors (What makes the term more needless is there are words we can use that are more precise and don’t carry the baggage. Terms like reactionary, intentional or unintentional, for instance. It’s really that simple.). They also boast that the term acknowledges the complexity of the mind, in many cases proclaiming that our ability to make the sane and logical choice is what free will is. But with that argument comes a dualistic perspective that is almost impossible to accept when being truly critical of who and what we are and it is why I tend to argue so fervently against it. ”

    Totally agree. There are less controversial terms to communicate with than using “free will” for a variety of different things. Multiple definitions of free will have made the debate go on just as debates about the existence of god. It’ s all in the definition.

    • On the other hand, if we give it a little thought, we can dismiss the bogus definitions. And in order to be meaningful, the term “free will” need only name one real and meaningful thing that the will be free of to distinguish it from an “unfree will”.

      The fact that a person can be forced to choose or act against his or her will is meaningful. Therefore it is meaningful to say that the will under such coercion is “not free” and that acts under such coercion are not acts of one’s “free will”. And further, in totally secular terms, this meaning of “free will” versus “unfree will” is significant in identifying moral as well as legal responsibility. So, we know that there is a legitimate secular definition of the term “free will” which is significant and useful to us in the real world.

      Compared to this legitimate and secular meaning, we have many people suggesting irrational, and therefore meaningless definitions of “free will” for the sake of theological or philosophical debate. For example:

      (A) Some suggest “free will” must mean “freedom from causality”. This is irrational because without the reliability of cause and effect the word “will” becomes meaningless, because there is no longer any reliable means to effect its intent. What’s the point of a will if it cannot effect what it needs or wants to effect? (In a deterministic world, I pick an apple from the tree and expect to have an apple in my hand. In an indeterministic world, picking an apple will sometimes result in a cat in my hand, or a pair of slippers, or the apple simply goes “poof!” There is no point to a will in a world of indeterminacy). So those who attempt to define “free will” as freedom from determinism are dealing with a meaningless concept. This definition can be rejected out of hand.

      (B) Some suggest that “free will” must mean “freedom from self”. This is irrational because it means the will is not your own. And if it is not yours, then whose is it? And if it is yours, then it would reasonably be expected to reflect your own reasons and feelings, your own values and beliefs, your own learning and experience, etc. That is, if it is your own will then it reflects all of the influences of your biological and personal history. To say that “free will” must be free of these influences or it is not free is irrational.

      So, if we discard the meaningless definitions, the one’s based in sophistry and metaphysics, and stick with the simple, ordinary, secular meaning of free will (the ability to decide things for yourself), there should be no difficulty continuing to use the term correctly and effectively.

      • If you break the law of your own free will you are legally responsible for the results of your actions. If someone forces you to break the law against your will (your family is held hostage, for example, or a gun is literally to your head) then the person forcing you is legally responsible.

        If something is immoral, but not illegal, like when I put pins in my little sister’s modeling clay, then the older bother is punished by the father, but the police are not involved.

      • “So would you say that responsibility is inseparable from punishment?”

        Actually no. Responsibility is also associated with praise and reward. For example, the soldier who was responsible for rescuing his wounded comrades may be pinned with a medal for his bravery.

        The essential thing here is the use of the concept, and whether it is used to support moral goodness or used to support moral harm. Responsibility identifies the cause of a benefit or of a harm so that it might be praised and rewarded or censored and corrected.

        Chandler, you have argued that responsibility is a bad thing because it is often followed by retributive punishment (as opposed to corrective penalty). You seem to have the notion that attacking free will eliminates all forms of punishment and that eliminating punishment will make things better.

        That’s not how it works. Free will and responsibility are essential to secular concepts of justice.

        William James says in “Pragmatism and Common Sense”, “My thesis now is this, that our fundamental ways of thinking about things are discoveries of exceedingly remote ancestors, which have been able to preserve themselves throughout the experience of all subsequent time. They form one great stage of equilibrium in the human mind’s development, the stage of common sense. Other stages have grafted themselves upon this stage, but have never succeeded in displacing it.”

      • Corrective penalty is certainly much better than retributive punishment. In reality your view is not that different from what I think should be done. However, if you look at books, movies, and the statements of most people, you will see that retribution is a synonym of justice. They say that people deserve to burn in hell or experience pain because they deserve it.

        I would like people to move towards correction instead of revenge, but I expect that will be a difficult task.

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