[Paleopsych] free wills and quantum won'ts

Thrst4knw at aol.com Thrst4knw at aol.com
Fri May 20 13:45:13 UTC 2005

Yes, I think new metaphors are needed, and new math, and probably also new 
(perhaps interdisciplinary) ways of empirically testing hypotheses that relate 
to the mind-brain question.  But I suggest there are still some fairly 
significant gaps in our current knowledge that need to be bridged before we can begin 
to apply and test such new ideas to directly bridge the classic divide of 
"free will" and mechanism, or what some call the manifest and scientific images of 

My suspicion is that Dan Dennett managed to capture one of the pieces the 
concept of "free will" and why it confuses us ... our natural human talents let 
us operate with different explanatory stances for different kinds of domain of 
phenomena.   Without realizing why they are inane, we probably often get lost 
in inane questions like whether "free will" exists. In effect I suspect that 
we often end up arguing across different conceptual models where we don't have 
the tools (at the time) to make them 'commensurable.'  In extreme cases like 
this, Kuhn probably had a reasonable point about arguing across 'paradigms' and 

For example, having "choices" is something that make sense from the 
perspective of a reasoning human agent trying to explain their behavior and that of 
other reasoning human agents.  They have "choices" because they have (1) the 
capacity to represent different outcomes which they value differently and (2) 
because they have some weakly understood mechanism for feeding back that 
information regarding that capacity into the parts of the nervous system that drive 
behavior and initiate new patterns of attention and thought.  In other words, we 
can envision different options and we can pick one.  More importantly, we 
simply take that process for granted because it is wired into us.  We truly don't 
know the specifics of how it is implemented in terms of causal models that 
relate back to our sciences.  That leaves us with various extreme explanatory 
options that rely more on individual plausibility than empirical testing for 
their resolution.

I think it is the fact that (2) is so weakly understood that makes "free 
will" remain a philosophical rather than (yet) a scientific issue.  (Naturalistic) 
philosophers struggle with how the apparently emergent high level global 
properties of mind can have a causal effect on the nervous system from which they 
arise.  To oversimplify just for rhetorical purposes, having the mind do 
something physical seems from a strictly monistic naturalist position a little like 
the wetness of water having an effect on the hydrogen and oxygen that 
composes it.  The question of "top down causation" of high level mind properties on 
physical things is hard to get past.  

I think this is not just a matter of metaphors and mathematics (broadly 
speaking, what other thinking tools do we have?) but because we don't yet know the 
specifics of how the mind's global high level properties arise from the 
complex processes of the body.  The metaphors and math will have to bridge that gap 
in order to bridge the physical and intentional explanatory stances.  That 
means they will have to capture the evolutionary and developmental history of the 
mind and how it gives rise to something capable of representing options and 
choosing between them.

I've seen several speculative attempts at this, but nothing that yet comes 
close to being what I would consider empirical.  My suggestion would be that we 
should first map out the missing levels of description tentatively before 
imagining that we've bridged the explanatory gap.  The cognitive linguists and 
related cognitive scientists like Lakoff and Johnson and Mark Turner have made 
some initial attempts at this, but I'm not yet persuaded that they've really 
bridged the whole gap.  They have testable hypotheses about how neural function 
leads to computation and loosely how computation leads to cognition, but no 
model of cognition that captures the phenomena relevent to "top down causation" 
as seen from the perspective of a human observer.  

For example, look at all the different interpretations of Libet's "half 
second delay" experiments; ranging from paranormal to outright denial, with 
Dennett''s and Dan Wegner's naturalistic explanations in the middle. This kind of 
phenomenon is important because raises central issues in the relationship of 
perception, cognition, and "top down causation."  I think if we could agree on 
what is happening there, we would have a huge step forward to understanding "free 

I think that is a more productive avenue than directly investigating quantum 
effects, for example, although it seems unavoidable that "quantum spookiness" 
and nature at the lowest levels will _eventually_ have to be considered 
somewhere in the causal models.

kind regards,


In a message dated 5/16/2005 11:28:09 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
dsmith06 at maine.rr.com writes:
Traditionally, the problem of free will is not a question of whether or not 
we have choices, it is the question of whether or not these choices are caused 
by prior events.  


----- Original Message ----- 
From: HowlBloom at aol.com 
To: paleopsych at paleopsych.org 

Sent: Monday, May 16, 2005 11:19 PM
Subject: [Paleopsych] free wills and quantum won'ts

This is from a dialog Pavel Kurakin and I are having behind the scenes.  I 
wanted to see what you all thought of it.  Howard

You know that I'm a quantum skeptic.  I believe that our math is primitive.  
The best math we've been able to conceive to get a handle on quantum particles 
is probabilistic.  Which means it's cloudy.  It's filled with multiple 
choices.  But that's the problem of our math, not of the cosmos.  With more precise 
math I think we could make more precise predictions.

And with far more flexible math, we could model large-scale things like 
bio-molecules, big ones, genomes, proteins and their interactions.  With a really 
robust and mature math we could model thought and brains.  But that math is 
many centuries and many perceptual breakthroughs away.

As mathematicians, we are still in the early stone age.

But what I've said above has a kink I've hidden from view.  It implies that 
there's a math that would model the cosmos in a totally deterministic way.  And 
life is not deterministic.  We DO have free will.  Free will means multiple 
choices, doesn't it?  And multiple choices are what the Copenhagen School's 
probabilistic equations are all about?

How could the concept of free will be right and the assumptions behind the 
equations of Quantum Mechanics be wrong?  Good question.  Yet I'm certain that 
we do have free will.  And I'm certain that our current quantum concepts are 
based on the primitive metaphors underlying our existing forms of math.  Which 
means there are other metaphors ahead of us that will make for a more robust 
math and that will square free will with determinism in some radically new way.

Now the question is, what could those new metaphors be?

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