Wednesday, December 05, 2018

I could have done otherwise

Shouldn't it at least be possible that we could have done otherwise than what we did? If we murdered someone, shouldn't it at least  have been possible that we thought better of it and refrained? Otherwise, is the murder really our fault?

54 comments:

John Moore said...

a) About "could have done otherwise":

If the universe were different, then you would certainly have acted differently. No choice about it. If the universe is the same one you actually live in, then you certainly end up acting the way you do. No choice.

If you lived in the universe in which you thought better of it, then you would certainly have thought better of it.


b) About being at fault:

You will experience the natural consequences of your actions, regardless of the fact that you have no free will. Many actions carry their own punishments, like jumping off cliffs.

Sometimes the natural consequences of people's actions don't seem good to other people, so those other people might pile on social consequences. For example, when somebody seems to be getting away with murder, society can take extra steps to punish the murderer. This is morally fine.

And no, people in society don't have the free choice about whether to punish people or not. See above, under "could have done otherwise."

Legion of Logic said...

Given that I experience decision making throughout the day, every day, it would take an extraordinary amount of evidence to tell me that no, I'm in fact not experiencing it.

And given that we lack the ability to rewind and allow the decision to be made over and over, all we have to factor is our subjective experience filtered through our foundational worldview. And a worldview I disagree with (philosophical materialism) is hardly sufficient evidence to deny free will. So long as I experience it, I have no reason to deny its existence.

oozzielionel said...

No choice we make is free from external influences. Nor is the choice free from the inclinations of our character,

Legion of Logic said...

If free will is defined as existing in a vacuum, then sure I deny it as well. Such a thing can't exist.

Hal said...

Interesting book I stumbled upon regarding differing Christian views of free will:
The Battle Over Free Will


Haven't read enough of it to give an accurate overview but I find it interesting that it is such a contentious issue irregardless of one's metaphysical beliefs.

One Brow said...

Legion of Logic said...
Given that I experience decision making throughout the day, every day, it would take an extraordinary amount of evidence to tell me that no, I'm in fact not experiencing it.

Is free will the ability to make decisions, or some hypothetical ability to have made a different decision? If the former, computers have free will. If the latter, how can you ever know? Don't we always decide according to our judgments and preferences?

Legion of Logic said...

Is free will the ability to make decisions, or some hypothetical ability to have made a different decision?

I don't really know terminology in this topic, but I guess I would fall under some sort of compatibalist heading? A self-driving car must stop ten times out of ten for a pedestrian. A person may stop ten times out of ten and probably will, but he can freely choose not to. The car cannot.

Diving into the theoretical questions of "could it have possibly gone different given the exact same history from creation to present" is a fun exercise maybe, but so long as people experience and resist temptations (while others give in), so long as we weigh pros and cons and make decisions based upon our reasoning, I don't find it particularly useful or compelling to say the word "decision" is an illusion.

Hugo Pelland said...

" A self-driving car must stop ten times out of ten for a pedestrian. A person may stop ten times out of ten and probably will, but he can freely choose not to. The car cannot."

But that's also less and less true as machine learning and complex algorithms introduce ways for software to identify the odds that 1 time out of 10, let's say, the pedestrian was a false positive and the car won't stop.

Taking it even further, the car could one day realize that it's better to hit 1 pedestrian to avoid a crash that would kill its 3 occupants. It's not that far from a human "freely" choosing to hit a pedestrian, as we would instantly asked: but WHY did the human choose that? We would never say, oh it doesn't matter why, it was just their free choice.

I.e. truly free choices make less sense than determined choices. We can't really exlain when we make a choice that appear to be free, like picking a random number. Think of one now, any number, and explain why you picked it... can you?

One Brow said...

Legion of Logic said...
I don't really know terminology in this topic, but I guess I would fall under some sort of compatibalist heading? A self-driving car must stop ten times out of ten for a pedestrian. A person may stop ten times out of ten and probably will, but he can freely choose not to. The car cannot.

If the car is programmed with a random number generator, it may not stop for the pedestrian, even in otherwise identical conditions.

Diving into the theoretical questions of "could it have possibly gone different given the exact same history from creation to present" is a fun exercise maybe, but so long as people experience and resist temptations (while others give in), so long as we weigh pros and cons and make decisions based upon our reasoning, I don't find it particularly useful or compelling to say the word "decision" is an illusion.

I agree that the word "decision" is not an illusion. My point is computers also make decisions, e.g., games between chess-playing AIs are not identical game-to-game. Is the making of decisions enough to say the entity has free will?

bmiller said...

Computers only make the decisions their programmer programmed them to make.
A computer is just a souped-up abacus.

Hugo Pelland said...

bmiller, that's not true anymore. See neural networks; humans can't tell what's happening exactly in the software.

Plus, we also are souped-up abacus so that doesn't change much. We have 1 goal: survive to reproduce. And we've become so good at it that we have time to write on blogs on the side, among other things.

One Brow said...

bmiller said...
Computers only make the decisions their programmer programmed them to make.
A computer is just a souped-up abacus.


As one who programs, I can assure I am sometimes surprised by the outputs. :)

However, this just takes me back to my previous questions:
Is free will the ability to make decisions, or some hypothetical ability to have made a different decision? If the former, computers have free will. If the latter, how can you ever know? Don't we always decide according to our judgments and preferences?

Hal said...

Hugo,
I wouldn't put it quite as crudely as bmiller, but in principle he is correct. Machines like computers may act in accordance with rules, but they cannot follow rules. The programmer decides what rules she intends to follow and programs the computer to act in accordance with those rules.

One Brow,
Even if I do calculations by hand I can be surprised by the outcome.


Computers are fantastic tools invented by humans. I'm very skeptical that they can be used to help illuminate or shed light on the actual capacities humans have. Though at one time I held the view that the human mind was like a computer, I now find that view to be rather perverse.:-)

Hugo Pelland said...

Hal,

Neural networks follow rules the same way humans do afaik. Why do you disagree we with that?

bmiller said...

Crude gets the point across concisely. đŸ˜‰

Hal said...

Hugo,

Neural networks are based on human brains. Human brains do not follow rules. Human beings follow rules.

One Brow said...

Hal said...
Computers are fantastic tools invented by humans. I'm very skeptical that they can be used to help illuminate or shed light on the actual capacities humans have. Though at one time I held the view that the human mind was like a computer, I now find that view to be rather perverse.:-)

I agree with this sentiment generally. I'm not trying to equate humans and computers, rather, I'm saying that if we equate free will to making decisions, that definition also applies to the type of processing computers do, that is, both have the property of being able to consider alternatives and make decisions. Analogously, I can say an apple and a lime are the same shade of green without saying I think apples are just like limes.

Hal said...

One Brow,

I agree with you view that there is more to the question of free will than the capacity to make a decision.

I do have difficulty understanding how computers can give any insight into the question of human free will. Any decision making performed by a computer is simply an extension of human decision making. It is a tool designed by humans.

To make a crude analogy: equating the decision making of a computer to a human making decisions is like equating the crying of a barbie doll to a human crying.

Hugo Pelland said...

Hal,
"Any decision making performed by a computer is simply an extension of human decision making."
But that's not true in the case of neural networks! We​ genuinely don't know how they make decisions.
So yes, it's like a brain, which also has many mysteries when it comes to 'how' decisions are made.
Again, where's the real difference? Complexities, sure, by leaps and bounds, but beyond that... what else?

Hal said...

Hugo,

I don’t see how that negates my original point.

And, to repeat, the human brain does not make decisions. Nor do human brains follow rules.

One Brow said...

Hal said...
And, to repeat, the human brain does not make decisions. Nor do human brains follow rules.

What does?

To make a crude analogy: equating the decision making of a computer to a human making decisions is like equating the crying of a barbie doll to a human crying.

If the doll has been programmed to use crying to indicate error or inadequate resources, how is that different?

Again, I'm with you that silicon computing is not a good facsimile of biological construction.

Hal said...

One Brow,

It is the human being who makes decisions and is capable of following rules. It doesn't make sense to ascribe those capacities to a part of the human (such as the brain). A brain can't satisfy the behavioral criteria we use to identify such powers.

As to your second question, the tears of a human express the pain or emotional distress or joy that human is feeling. A doll has no feelings.

Based on our knowledge of humans, we can make very sophisticated dolls that can mimic human behavior. But that shouldn't fool us into thinking that such dolls are conscious and feel the pain that a crying human does.

bmiller said...

Hal,

Though at one time I held the view that the human mind was like a computer, I now find that view to be rather perverse.:-)

From our prior discussion I think I know how you ended up where you are, but if I understood correctly you originally didn't think the human mind was like a computer, then you did, and now you again don't think so.

I think it's an interesting story. Would you care to elaborate?

Hal said...

bmiller,

Well I was a Christian for much of my early life. So it never occurred to me then that the mind might be like a computer.:-) I did read many of C.S. Lewis's books during that time.

After I'd pretty much abandoned my belief in the Christian God (about 20 or more years ago) I spent more time reading books that focused on biological evolution and philosophy of mind. Also spent a lot of time on the Internet Infidels forum. Reductionism and the concept of the mind as a computer were pretty much the de facto assumption of many of the posters there. If I recall correctly, it was my involvement in a very long thread started by someone who questioned reductionism that began my move away from that position. Also, Ernst Mayr's book What Makes Biology Unique?: Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline was a big influence.

It was Peter Hacker's book Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience that finally caused me to reject reductionism and many of the ideas that were popular in the philosophy mind at that time. Of course, that has led me into a more in-depth study of Wittgenstein and analytic philosophy in general.

Have also been influenced by the writings of Bede Rundle, John Dupre and Mario Bunge. Bunge is a hardcore materialist but he has written an interesting book presenting a good defense of emergence: Emergence and Convergence: Qualitative Novelty and the Unity of Knowledge

Not sure how interesting this all is. Most of the changes in my philosophical views have taken place over a long period of time. Can't really go into much detail over the actual arguments that led to those changes and that is why I listed some of the books that impacted my views.

Hugo Pelland said...

Hal,
You referenced your earlier point, was it: "Machines like computers may act in accordance with rules, but they cannot follow rules. The programmer decides what rules she intends to follow and programs the computer to act in accordance with those rules."
?

That's what I am directly addressing by bringing up neural networks, because they are literally machines that "follow" rules; they do not do what a programmer told them to do. The only thing given to a neural networks is the same you would give the human: rules to follow, not step-by-step recipes.

This is really insightful because it could have failed... nobody knew that these machines would become so good at precisely what you're claiming they are not doing: following rules without any direction at all.

One more thing to clarify: this has nothing to do with 99.99..% of the software we use. You get that, right?

bmiller said...

Hal,

Well I was a Christian for much of my early life. So it never occurred to me then that the mind might be like a computer.:-)

Computers were not yet invented way back then? :-)

Reductionism has never made sense to me at all but it seems sounded convincing to you at one point. How about your earlier beliefs and what caused you to abandon those beliefs if you don't mind my asking?

Hal said...

Hugo,

Perhaps I need to clarify the difference I am making between ‘following a rule’ and ‘acting in accordance with a rule’. Hopefully this example will help:

Two friends are playing a game of chess. They have been doing this since they learned chess in their youth. One of the players recently acquired a pet chimpanzee. While they are playing the chimp comes in the room and pushes one of the bishops diagonally along the board. Is the chimp acting in accordance with the rules of chess or is it following a chess rule?

Hugo Pelland said...

Interesting, I don't know what you mean in this case so can you elaborate?
My gut reaction was to say neither because the chimp might just be copying it just saw happened.

Hal said...

Hugo,

Well, the move was in accordance with the rules of chess. After all the bishop is moved diagonally. But it wasn’t following a rule of chess. One can only follow a rule of chess if he understands the rules.

Suppose you are teaching a young child to play chess. After playing for awhile you notice that the child does move the bishop diagonally but only 2 squares at a time. When asked why, he explains that a bishop can only move two squares at a time. But that is not a rule of chess. Even though he has been moving the bishop in accordance with the rules he has not yet acquired an understanding of the rules. He is not yet following the chess rules due to his lack of understanding of those rules.

Hal said...

bmiller,

How about your earlier beliefs and what caused you to abandon those beliefs if you don't mind my asking?,

I'm sorry, I'm not sure what earlier beliefs you are referring to.

bmiller said...

Hal,

You mentioned you were a Christian for much of your early life. Where you brought up in a Christian home and never questioned things? Or did you find your way there. Then what make you leave your early faith?

Hal said...

bmiller,
I was raised in the Lutheran faith. Of course, like most people I had questions about things that a young child takes for granted. For a number of years in my twenties I attended non-denominational churches. Around age thirty I converted to Catholicism. Then as time went on it became more and more difficult to believe in God. Am not a hardcore atheist. It certainly is possible that God may exist. But I simply lack the belief that there is such a being.

One Brow said...

Blogger Hal said...
It is the human being who makes decisions and is capable of following rules. It doesn't make sense to ascribe those capacities to a part of the human (such as the brain). A brain can't satisfy the behavioral criteria we use to identify such powers.

Would you agree that the brain is the only indispensable part of human for this purpose?

As to your second question, the tears of a human express the pain or emotional distress or joy that human is feeling. A doll has no feelings.

Given only the exterior behavior of a given doll, with no knowledge of the internal construction, how can you tell?

Hal said...

One Brow,
I would agree that a brain is necessary. But why on earth would I want to reduce what it is to be a human to the physiology and anatomy of a brain? A brain can't see or hear or feel without the rest of the human body. A brain by itself can't exhibit any of the behavior we associate with thinking or feeling.

Is it possible given the right circumstances that we could be fooled into thinking the doll was actually expressing real feelings or emotions? Sure, just as moviegoers in the early 20th century were fooled into thinking what they saw in a moving picture was really taking place before them.

We know the doll's history. We know it was constructed by humans in order to mimic or copy some of the behavior found in humans. We know the difference between living organisms and machines. Of course we can imagine such characters as Data or Pinocchio or Mr. Toad existing, but that doesn't mean such imaginary characters can actually exist.

Human behavior doesn't take place in a vacuum. It is part of a community of other humans, part of a particular culture. Some of that behavior is spontaneous but much of it is also learned from the culture in which one lives.

bmiller said...

Hal,

Then as time went on it became more and more difficult to believe in God.

Interesting story. Most people lose their faith in their 20's, but it sounds like you kept interest much longer.
Was there a series of events that made you change your mind or did your faith just become less and less important in your life?

Hal said...

bmiller,

Well I don't recall particular events that made my change my mind. I still enjoy reading the Bible. Am currently reading Robert Alter's excellent translation of the Hebrew Bible. I just can't find myself able to believe in God. Just as I don't believe in the Greek gods but still enjoy reading about them.

bmiller said...

Hal,

I liked the Greek myths too. Of course the Prime Mover of Aristotle and the One of Plato are completely different from the Greek gods.

Hal said...

bmiller,

Good point. Yet the myths, especially as presented in Greek drama, can provide some interesting philosophical positions. For example, in Oedipus Rex, there is no conflict between fate and free will.

I think the God of the Old Testament is more like Zeus than he is Aristotle’s Prime Mover.

bmiller said...

Hal,

Well Zeus and the other Greek gods were never considered the eternal cause of all existence. They were more like comic book superheroes. In fact Thor actually is a comic book superhero. I like the Norse myths also.

One Brow said...

The Genesis story is about the Old Testament Yahoweh taking a preexisting, featureless land and creating world and life, not about being the eternal cause of all existence. Much more similar to Zeus.

Legion of Logic said...

"In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth."

Zeus seems closer to Michael than God, head of the angelic host. Gaia is the closest Greek deity to the Genesis description of God's activities that I know of, though I'm no expert in Greek mythology.

bmiller said...

The Old Testament considers Yahweh not only the creator but also the sustainer of all things. Also the only eternally existing being.

You are Yahweh, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you (Nehemiah 9:6).

Zeus on the other hand was not a creator and came from Rhea who came from Gaia who was preceded by Chaos.

When I started reading Greek mythology I wondered how the ancient Greeks could worship Zeus since he was not considered an eternal creator. He had a beginning so he could also have an end as did the other Greek gods.

Legion of Logic said...

Seems similar to political lobbyists of today. Doesn't matter which politician holds the office, if you need something you go to the office with the power to grant your desire or need and you gain its favor. Probably wouldn't matter to them if Zeus got overthrown, so long as there was someone in place to bring the rains.

One Brow said...

Blogger Hal said...
I would agree that a brain is necessary. But why on earth would I want to reduce what it is to be a human to the physiology and anatomy of a brain? A brain can't see or hear or feel without the rest of the human body. A brain by itself can't exhibit any of the behavior we associate with thinking or feeling.
...
We know the doll's history. We know it was constructed by humans in order to mimic or copy some of the behavior found in humans. We know the difference between living organisms and machines. Of course we can imagine such characters as Data or Pinocchio or Mr. Toad existing, but that doesn't mean such imaginary characters can actually exist.


Hal, I see this as an argument that the feelings of a doll/computer/other sentient mechanical life would be vastly different from what we alien. However, it is another step entirely to say they would have no feelings at all.

Hal said...

One Brow,

The reason for attributing feelings to a mechanical device is that it mimics the behavior that we use to attribute feelings to other humans. But now you apparently want to use these behavioral criteria to identify feelings that are 'vastly different'. Sorry, but that makes no sense to me.

If a talking doll's lips move and fake tears roll down its plastic cheeks while a recorded message the doll-maker has put in it says "I feel sorry.", what is this vastly different feeling that you believe we can attribute to it?

One Brow said...

Hal,

I don't know how we can know what, or if, there is a feeling. As we have agreed all along, the comparison between how our brains work and how computers work is thin and often over-stretched.

However, the thinness of that comparison does not mean there can never be a neural network of sufficient complexity that it has it own decision making process and it's own version of feelings that are not simply programmed responses. We already have neural networks that teach themselves how to play sophisticated games not only better than humans can play them, but even better than humans can program computers to play them. What happens with an AI like that gets combined with a few different ways to learn about the environment, another couple of magnitudes of processing power, and time enough to learn to interact with humans on its own?

Hal said...

One Brow,

I don't know how we can know what, or if, there is a feeling. As we have agreed all along, the comparison between how our brains work and how computers work is thin and often over-stretched.

Have we agreed to that? I wrote this earlier:
Computers are fantastic tools invented by humans. I'm very skeptical that they can be used to help illuminate or shed light on the actual capacities humans have. Though at one time I held the view that the human mind was like a computer, I now find that view to be rather perverse.:-)

And you responded: I agree with this sentiment generally.

To clarify: I find the idea of comparing the brain to a computer to be completely misguided. Computers are designed to mimic some of the things humans can do, but that does not entail that computers are really like brains even if they (computers) are designed with neural networks.

I admit to being somewhat confused by your apparent assumption that there would be any kind of connection between AI and the feelings or sensations that human beings have. Why should the development of more advanced AI entail the acquisition of sensations or feelings? Would you mind explaining this connection?

One Brow said...

Hal,

Sensations are the ways that we interact with the world and within ourselves. We have marvelously intricate and capable interaction mechanisms, but most of them would be duplicable with sufficient technology.

Feelings are reactions to these sensations and the various thoughts they trigger. A self-raised computer would not react to their sensations in the same manner as humans, but they would react.

I'm not sure what you mean by "connection" here, since I have said there would be very little similarity.

Hal said...

One Brow,

I'm not sure what you mean by "connection" here, since I have said there would be very little similarity.

Earlier you wrote

a neural network of sufficient complexity that it has it own decision making process and it's own version of feelings that are not simply programmed responses.

You seemed to imply that increasing complexity in a neural network in order to result in a more powerful AI will also result in the neural network having feelings. The 'connection' was in reference to that complexity.

In any case, it makes no sense to ascribe consciousness or rational powers to the brain. It is the human being who has sensations, perceives the world around him, reasons and acts for reasons, not the human brain. So it makes no sense to think that a neural network modelled on the brain is goig to have capacities that we cannot logically attribute to the brain itself.

Hugo Pelland said...

Hello, online again after a sudden emergency trip...

Hal, based on what you just said, what do you think of someone with locked in syndrome? Are they not human anymore? All they have is basically a functioning brain.

At the same time, I agree it isn't the brain on its own that makes a person, but a piece of software on its own wouldn't be considered conscious either. It might be possible only if the software as some form of inputs/outputs, presumably some hardware or, somehow, some other software decoupled enough from it. But why wouldn't this be a possible sentient being just like human beings?

And again, neural networks are not anywhere near that yet, but they aren't software programmed to do something, anything, by humans. They just respond to their (extremely limited) environment and follow some (extremely simple) rules, just like human beings do by feeling their environment, their own thoughts, and focusing on them selectively based on limits imposed by their own bodies, brains and that same environment. Were is that fundamental difference that makes humans humans?

The theists here have a straightforward answer here; humans have a soul. But I still don't get what your explanation is Hal?

Hal said...

Hugo,
Sorry to hear about the emergency. Hope all went ok.

A computer is a machine, a non-living substance.

Why are you making the assumption that a non-living substance like a computer can have the same capacities found in a human being? Sentience is widespread thoughout the animal kingdom. There are myriad forms of living substances that are conscious and have sensations and perceive and interact with their environment. We can using non-living substances to mimic those living animals. But that does not imply that those non-living substances are conscious entities.

I have an Aristotelian conception of the mind. So I don't think consciousness is a mark of the mental. As I just mentioned, many animals are conscious beings but they do not have minds. It is because humans have rational powers, can retain knowledge, use language and act for reasons that they can be said to have a mind. But the mind is not a seperate entity. The mind does not interact with the body. The mind is not an agent. It is the human being that is an agent and has the capacities I just mentioned.

Most modern materialists are dualists. They identify the mind or the self with the brain and see the brain and body interacting with each other. That sort of dualism doesn't make any more sense to me than the Christian dualism which views the soul (or mind) as an entity interacting with the human body. Not all Christians share that form of dualism.

One Brow said...

Hal said...
A computer is a machine, a non-living substance.

Only living things can ever experience feelings? Why?

Most modern materialists are dualists. They identify the mind or the self with the brain and see the brain and body interacting with each other. That sort of dualism doesn't make any more sense to me than the Christian dualism which views the soul (or mind) as an entity interacting with the human body. Not all Christians share that form of dualism.

I see the mind as the patterns of impulses on the brain, in the same way that a cross is a pattern of positions for sticks. The brain interacts with other parts of the body, but you could say that about the heart, liver, kidneys, leukocyctes, or any other individual cell/organ. The brain is definitely where any activities we think of as indicating a mind occur, as is evidenced by the loss of different parts of the brain means a loss of different types of these functions.

Hal said...

Hugo,
Hugo Pelland said...
Hello, online again after a sudden emergency trip...

Hal, based on what you just said, what do you think of someone with locked in syndrome? Are they not human anymore? All they have is basically a functioning brain.


Of course a person suffering from locked in syndrome is still a human being. I'm not a behaviorist. One may not be able to display the behavioral criteria we use for attributing the rational powers humans have and still have the capacity to reason.

I disagree with your view that all they have is basically a functioning brain. They still have a living body. They are still able to communicate with others.

Hal said...

One Brow,

Only living things can ever experience feelings? Why?

Why is reality the way it is? Why is there something rather than nothing?

Not sure how to answer your question. Different substances have different powers. Inanimate substances can't have have feelings. After all, that is why we call them inanimate.


The brain is definitely where any activities we think of as indicating a mind occur, as is evidenced by the loss of different parts of the brain means a loss of different types of these functions.

Giving reasons for one's actions, describing one's plans for tomorrow, arguing over philosophical issues are some of the behavioral criteria we use to attribute minds to human beings. They are partly constitutive of what it is to be a rational creature. There is a logical connection between those activities and our concept of rationality.
It is only because we already know what it is for a human being to reason and act for a reason that we are able to inductively (non-logically) correlate brain activity with those rational powers.

Neuroscience is great. Hopefully, it can contribute to treatments of neurological disorders that many people suffer from. But it seems to me to be mainly useless in understanding human nature, what it is for creatures such as ourselves to be human beings.