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Human Consciousness (Free Will?) [Aug. 29th, 2008|12:16 am]
Wise Tits
wise_tits
[d_h_belmont]
We have the capacity to memorize things; our brain stores visual and audio stimulus.
We have the capacity to learn technical skills.
We have the ability to respond to stimulus...

But does everything we're capable of doing really give us "free will", or are all our actions the result of stimulus combined with programming forged by our memories and experiences?

Even something as simple as deciding whether or not you want a Pepsi or a Mountain Dew doesn't seem to be a "free choice". All the memories of having both drinks, combined with current mood and hunger levels, and countless pieces of stimulus would seem to push us into making a choice. Even an "on the whim" decision seems predetermined. Suppose I suddenly get a Diet Pepsi even though I don't like it. Taking into account the bland repetitive selctions of food available with a short selection of soft drinks available combined with a general feeling of restlessness and a desire for some sort of change, and then taking into account personality type, which was forged through a balance of genetics and a lifetime of experience, would seem to push me into making that decision into choosing that drink.

If someone calls you a "faggot", does your brain not light up all the mental connections your brain has with that word, it's definition, images of obnoxiously flamboyant men, past experiences of altercations where the word was uttered a few times, and with such an offensive remark, doesn't it go so far as to get the "flight or fight" mechanism ready to go?

I view our brains as little more than very complex computers, taking in countless stimulus 24 hours a day, processing it by running it through the collection of memories, skills, mentalities, and so forth, and producing a proper "if situation 'A' occurs, go with action 'B'" response to a situation much like the way a video game works, except with a near infinite number of "if, then" lines programmed in us, with an infinite amount of new lines to be programmed by the stimulus we bring in. Some might view that as a very depressing outlook on existance, but it really doesn't change anything.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: jesuismeursault
2008-08-29 09:27 am (UTC)
i read a very interesting article in college once. the subject was a girl called mary and mary had been raised in a world of strictly black and white. she'd been confined to a room and taught all the facts about the world around her. she was very smart and had a deep understanding of all the things she'd been taught. she'd even been able to watch videos of certain things (all in black and white, of course). she fully understood concepts and ideas about things like colours. one day she was introduced to a red apple (it may have been a tomato; it's been awhile since i read the article, but i believe it was called: what mary didn't know). she knew what an apple was, of course, and understood the concept of the colour red and why humans see red the way that they do, but she'd never before experienced it. there was something missing in mary's understanding of the concept of red that only the richness of experience was able to fill in. this is very different than a computer and implies that what is missing from mary's experience is not merely something physical, but subjective. i remember being taken with this article, mostly because it was one of the few i enjoyed in the analytic philo class (i'm more of a continental gal myself), but also because it seemed to reveal the human being as more than some kind of advanced computer; it made a sharp demarcation between understanding and experience. it's difficult to explain consciousness away, to make it smaller or less important than it is, because we have some limited understanding of how the brain works. and i know some will scoff at the brute reality of experience, but when i interact in the world, i feel acutely the yawning chasm of the kind of terrifying freedom sartre talked about. if someone were to sit me down and explain that, no, here is how my brain actually works and this is what is going on when i am feeling such and such emotion, what would that change when i leave that conversation to face the brute reality of my situation? i don't think it would change anything at all.
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From: d_h_belmont
2008-08-29 09:32 pm (UTC)
I feel the need to point out to everyone that Mary's Room, also known as "What Mary Didn't Know" was not based on a real event (thankfully, because it would have been unethical), but a "thought experiment" by Frank Jackson.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary%27s_room
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[User Picture]From: jesuismeursault
2008-08-30 02:47 am (UTC)
well, of course not. wow.
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From: d_h_belmont
2008-08-30 01:29 am (UTC)
I think there might be a misunderstanding of what I initially wrote. What did you think I was saying with my first post on this topic? I mean this with no offense, but when I read what you've written, I think you've completely missed the point of what I was trying to say. Perhaps, if you could clarify what you were trying to say, I might be able to provide a better response, because I have one in my head, but I'd prefer to know with more certainty that you are saying what I think you are saying.

I fail to see how Mary's Room demonstrated how we are more than computers. Whether it's through experience or by understanding something through studying, it's still input which will forever... color... her judgments in everything. I was certainly not trying to "make smaller or less important" that which we call consciousness, and of course, when you are in the world, you feel that feeling of freedom Sartre talked about, that whole thing about being "doomed to be free". (I can choose between a Mountain Dew or a Pepsi.) I am arguing that in situations like that, where we choose, are a result of an accumulation of experiences and knowledge and other existing factors within the brain. We see "Pepsi", and it triggers a googolplex of thoughts, emotions, and memories. The same applies to "Mountain Dew". I argue that there really is no such thing as a "whim" that makes us do odd things.

If I read the article on Mary's Room correctly, it would seem that Frank Jackson eventually rejected his thought experiment because, to him, it created a contradiction. I honestly don't have the right frame of reference to go much further on his theories and the theories of others.

All this aside, you have certainly given me a lot of homework and I will have to study up on this area of philosophy. I certainly look forward to anything else you have to say on this subject.

I think I might be wandering into something that's over my head.
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[User Picture]From: jesuismeursault
2008-08-30 03:24 am (UTC)
well, what you were saying sounded a lot like what i was hearing from various analytic philosophers during the class i took, which was that the brain/consciousness is completely material and can be explained away and neatly compartmentalized. also, that we could one day form/find consciousness in machines, the whole brain in a vat thing (would it be conscious, would it not be?), and zombies (still not sure what they had to do with anything). it really was of very little interest to me, because that is not the way that i believe consciousness works. it's the condition for all human experience, so it would be difficult to generate in a machine. i thought the article by jackson (i was aware at the time that it was not real, btw, hehe) was interesting because it suggested that there was something additional in experience that could not be easily explained, something that was not material. if mary could know something else about the colour red by seeing it that she could not know from simply reading about it, then that says something very interesting about what kind of thing/experience consciousness is. i remember being very taken by the article, as i saw it as a ray of hope in an otherwise dull class. i also remember being thoroughly attacked by my classmates upon revealing my thoughts on the matter...
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From: d_h_belmont
2008-08-30 04:41 am (UTC)
I didn't mean to attack, and I probably came off that way. Words fail me so much, both in creating them and in understanding the meaning behind the words of others. My first post was made in a hurry, before work. As you read this in a class, I kinda figured you knew it was a thought experiment, although the way you worded it, in my opinion, made it sound... otherwise. Either way, it was for everyone else, too. As for the rest of what I posted, that was a bit of frustration settling in when I had to convert thoughts to English. Lots of the ideas bouncing around in my head can't seem to find the right words. I don't want to have offended you or scare you away from this community.

And let this be yet another lesson in how over 95 percent of communication is non-verbal, so to see everything in letters and punctuation only really leaves everything else up to the reader's imagination.

But all that aside, I'm definitely interested in the philosophical subjects and people you brought up. I am definitely going to read more about it and broaden my horizons as much as I can.
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[User Picture]From: jesuismeursault
2008-08-31 07:32 pm (UTC)
no problem. i enjoy discourse and i've had so little of it since graduating from college. i used to argue things out with friends and classmates on a daily basis, so i sought out this community among a few others in which to do that. i'm happy just to be talking about the things that interest me so deeply again...
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From: d_h_belmont
2008-08-31 09:47 pm (UTC)

Thank Joe for Wise Tits!

It's all good mental exercise, too.

I've felt a sort of lack of so called "deep" conversations for a while now. I guess I've just been too busy for one of those late night intellectual conversations that last until sunrise. This is the next best thing for me.

My brain feels a tad rusty when it comes to all this stuff. In fact, some of my first posts, even these, are hardly thoughts that just came to me without warning in the recent past. These are old topics I've discussed, but I thought it'd be a good way get my mind back into this mode of thought. New people with new perspectives (though I've known a couple people in the community for almost a decade) and you definitely gave me a lot to think about with this topic.

I hope this community and its active members stick around for a while.
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[User Picture]From: hahahasyyke
2008-08-30 04:31 am (UTC)
Although this isn't being presented from a religious point of view, it just makes me think of the Christian faith a little.

I mean, they'll tell us that "God" created us with a completely free will, and then at the same time they tell us that everything will play out as it will play out, "God" knows all... How is that supposed to work? Furthermore, if one decides they believe in the Christian religion/faith, they are presented off the bat with an invariable set of "rules" that they're expected to make the fullest effort of following. This is where I find myself fully supporting your idea that experience and conditioning in one's life determine the choices they will make at any point. So, if "God" existed, and the Christian religion were without a doubt the "truth," right off the bat, a few of the most emphasized aspects of Christianity are contradicting themselves.

We have the appeal of "free will," but when looked at more closely, our freedom is tainted with the knowledge that we'll be "wrong" by breaking rules - thus shaping us to make alternative decisions to the ones we might have otherwise, and then "God" knows the outcome of all things in existence, so we really can't choose. If something has a known destiny, then the events leading up to that are mapped out in such a way to reach that pre-determined destiny.

The last idea I'd like to lay out (despite having gone on and on already) is this:
Going off your thoughts about experience shaping our decisions, to have completely free will, would we have to live a life with no sense of preference and no rules, morals, or consequences? What kind of world would this be, I wonder...
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From: d_h_belmont
2008-08-30 04:54 am (UTC)

Time, religion, and consciousness

I tend to view space time, not like the tape in a VHS cassette, but more as the data on a DVD. It is non-linear (kinda), and as such, all events are the past. Even right now, and five minutes from now, to someone else, those time frames are our past. People argue the future is not set in stone, but I think we will all agree the past is (unless you go into time travel stuff, but I am NOT going to go into that right now) set, so I don't see how the present is suddenly flexible. The only thing that seems to make something changable is simply by our actions. Do we really have that much control on the universe?

Anyway, I find something of a contradiction of sorts in the Christian faith. On one had, God has "a plan" for us all and he knows everything we've done and everything that we will do. That sort of fits with my idea about everything being set in stone. If everything is essentially forseen, how can we really have free will? If God read you your future and said "You are going to to the 7-Eleven and accidentally buy Diet 7-Up at 11:53 PM and upon realizing it, you are going to say 'FUCK!'", that is going to happen. If by God telling you this, you are able to do something else, suppose at 11:53, you stay home and play Super Mario 3 on an old Nintendo, then was God mistaken? Was he able to see the individual's decision not to go to the 7-Eleven? If so, then you were never going to go to that place to begin with and God either was mistaken or lied. Either way, it doesn't quite match the ideas behind the omnipotent and all good, all knowing God.

...So the free will from the religious stand point is questionable to me, too...

Going back to the original post, I ask everyone here, what drives a person to pick a figurative Mountain Dew over a figurative Pepsi? Something must be driving us, I would think, otherwise we couldn't make any decision. We'd just stare blankly at the vending machine and drool on our shoes until someone came and took us back home (laugh here, folks.)
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[User Picture]From: hahahasyyke
2008-08-30 05:10 am (UTC)

Re: Time, religion, and consciousness

My answer to your last question there is pretty simple - Preference. If not preference (say we liked Pepsi and Mountain Dew just the same...), then I suppose it would be habit.
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From: d_h_belmont
2008-08-30 06:59 am (UTC)

Re: Time, religion, and consciousness

...preference and habit formed by a lifetime of events and experiences, and filtered through the disposition of genetics?
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[User Picture]From: hahahasyyke
2008-08-30 07:36 am (UTC)

Re: Time, religion, and consciousness

Precisely.
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