Free Will or No Control?

Do We Have Free Will?

We think, we feel, we desire. These three attributes of our being have been recognized since ancient times. But how much do we control do we really have over our lives? This question has vexed us since the beginning of time.

Fate and Fortune

The ancients believed that fate guided us to our end. There was an order to the universe that was unavoidable, and the collected wisdom of ancient culture described how one’s behavior affected one’s destiny. When they observed a person acting against that wisdom, they could predict how it would trip them up. Fate did not control all outcomes. Fortune played a part as well. Fortune could protect a person or a whole community from the evil in the world or it could deliver them over to it. Between fate and fortune, man had agency to live his life even if the outcome was predetermined.

Free Will / Human Agency

There are two questions involved in this debate:

  1. What is Free Will? This is the ability to make decisions and by making them make a change in Reality. It could be an attitude change or a physical change, but the change if affected by one’s will, not the physical world imposing the change on the person. We also call this: human agency.
  • What exactly is the process of human agency? How are we able to make decisions? If we are only affected by the physical and chemical reactions of our body, how can we make an independent decision?

Behaviorism and Determinism – Rejection of Free Will

 Some people think we do not have actual agency, but only a sense of agency. We only think we have influence over our environment, but in fact all our responses to the world have been conditioned by physical forces and evolution.

This has led to the belief that human behavior can be modified if our environment is altered. This is the basis of much of economic and social engineering projects in today’s culture. However, this belief raises some obvious questions. If humans are controlled by their environment, how could they alter their environment significantly enough to change their own behavior? And, secondly, by what measure can they perceive a difference? Thirdly, assuming the previous two questions could be answered, how can we know those environmental changes will lead to a positive result?

Behaviorism

the theory that human and animal behavior can be explained in terms of conditioning, without appeal to thoughts or feelings, and that psychological disorders are best treated by altering behavior patterns.

– treatment using the practical application of the theory of behaviorism.

Google definition

Determinism

the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. Some philosophers have taken determinism to imply that individual human beings have no free will and cannot be held morally responsible for their actions.

Google definition

The point is that if we are incapable of making decisions apart from our environment, why should we trust someone else’s flawed agency to make those decisions for us? By what authority could they possibly point to in order to impose those changes on others?

Education in the sciences lacks a philosophical foundation today. Because of this, scientists are taught to believe that every problem has a solution, if only one can redefine the problem in terms of a physical system. But if we are restricted only to the physical aspects of the human being, we will never be able to consider the true nature of the problem we are trying to solve.

Next time: Gateway to Free Will

Einstein’s Orginal Sin

Confusion over what Einstein’s Theories of Relativity actually revealed about the true nature of space and time created a major storm of controversy in the early part of the 20th century and continues, though more quietly, to this day. Most people think that Relativity has been “proven” by science and that only cranks would continue to think there is something to debate.

What is not known, by the general public, is that later in life Einstein himself began to reflect on what he had accomplished and expressed some doubt that he had, in fact, been correct about some interpretations of his theories ideas concerning the true nature of time and space.

The Original Sin

Einstein’s original sin, centered on his use of the discovery of the speed of light and the fact that it seemed to be constant no matter which reference frame it traveled in. This means that no matter how fast a light source travelled, the maximum speed light that was emitted from that source had a fixed upper limit. There are other interpretations that could be imagined about the nature of light, space and time from that discovery, but it was Einstein’s interpretation that world came to accept as the true one. Let us see why.

Continue reading “Einstein’s Orginal Sin”

Human Concepts and Divine Ideas – Brain Theory

Last time I wrote about Levels of Being and the difference between consciousness and self-awareness. I have also written about mental maps and how we sometimes confuse our mental constructs (models of reality) with reality itself. I find it useful to think we have mental frameworks, but what do we actually know about how our mind creates concepts?

The answer is (like so much of what we think we know): Not much.

Science vs. Philosophy

Philosophy is the study of all knowledge about the essence of Reality and all that exists in it, including human beings. Science used to be called “Natural Philosophy.” It was a branch of philosophy that dealt with the physical nature of things. It is only very recently that the later term was dropped, and we call all things that we study about the physical world: Science. Further, it’s only since the early part of the 20th century that people began to think that science had developed far enough along that it could replace all of philosophy to explain all of Reality. By the time I went to college, philosophy was no longer a core subject of study. I think this is a mistake because without some understanding of philosophy it is difficult to formulate conclusions about what we see in the models and experiments that scientists conduct.  (See Bergson vs Einstein).

I believe that science can help inform other branches of philosophy, but when it comes to questions that border on the edge of our understanding, it helps to be familiar with the a broader philosophical approach that has developed over the centuries.  

What is a concept?

Philosophers separate the problem of concepts into 3 categories:

  1. Concepts as mental representations
  2. Concepts as abilities
  3. Concepts as abstract objects

Continue reading “Human Concepts and Divine Ideas – Brain Theory”

What Don’t We Know About Gravity? Answer: Everything

Nobody knows what gravity is, and almost nobody knows that nobody knows what gravity is. The exception is scientists. They know that nobody knows what gravity is, because they don’t know what gravity is. – Richard Panek

Yesterday, I wrote a post, A Tale of Two Brains, where I mentioned that scientists don’t know what gravity is. I thought I should add a separate note about it because most people are unaware how much mystery there is in the subject and I thought I should provide a reference to back up that shocking admission of scientific failure.

Richard Panek has written an interesting book on the history of our study of gravity. He also writes about the how most people do not know that science is not as certain about its understanding of how the universe as we think.

In the first pages of his book, he writes of typical conversations he has with the general public and with scientists about gravity. He says that they fall into two categories:

Category One:

ME: Nobody knows what gravity is.
CIVILIAN: (Pause.) What do you mean, nobody knows what gravity is?
ME: I mean nobody knows what gravity actually is.
CIVILIAN: (Pause.) Isn’t it a force of nature?
ME: Okay, fine – but what does that even mean?
CIVILIAN: (Silence.)

Category Two:

ME: Nobody knows what gravity is.
SCIENTIST: That’s right.

We call gravity a force and we say it takes the form of a field, but we only say this because we don’t know how the force of gravity exerts its force over a distance. We can calculate its strength, but beyond that we don’t understand how it interacts with matter at all. Still, the general public thinks scientists know all about it.

We live in a time where scientists write all our new mythologies. That is an interesting thought because the purpose of mythology is to explain things that we cannot know for certain about our lives and the world around us. But, the people who come to believe these same stories don’t seem to know that scientists aren’t writing about what they know, but what they don’t know. And it’s well known that scientists are notoriously imprecise with their use of language. Good with math, not so good with words.

So, it’s a very curious thing that we live in a time where the storytellers are scientists and it’s even more curious that there is so little curiosity about it.

A Tale of Two Brains: How Men and Women Approach Science

While writing about how we conceptualize the universe, I was reminded that when I was a physics student I often found myself dumbfounded over the way the subject was taught. Notation among physicists often seemed arbitrary and inconsistent (“Only a man could think this is clear,” I thought). And then why would my professors use one system of equations – drop them completely and pick up another – without explaining why or how it connected to the branch of physics we were supposed to be studying?

Sometimes, things were just so. Take for example, Einstein’s Equivalence Principle. In what Universe is gravity – which is a field and keeps us tethered to the earth, (Einstein did not know what that means and, to this day, no one knows what that means) the same thing as a force of acceleration – like when we leave the same earth in a rocket ship? And, I must add, I really don’t care if it’s because Einstein said so. He just made principle up to make his geometry work out, ad hoc. (See What Don’t We Know About Gravity?)

Anyway, I was always lost. Truthfully, everyone was lost – all the young men (40 of them) and women (about 4 of us). But even then, over forty years ago, I could see that men and women approached problems differently and that included subjects that one would think that were beyond our differences like math and science.

As I was recalling all this from my past, I remembered this excellent comedy bit by Mark Gundor, a marriage expert, that I had seen a few years ago. He helps explain, in an entertaining way, the compartmentalized approach to real world problems that men use and women find baffling.

Text:

We’re gonna start discussing men’s brains, women’s brains and how they’re very different from each other. Now I wanna start with men’s brains. Alright? Men’s brain are very unique, men’s brains are made up of little boxes and we have a box for everything. We have a box for the car. We got a box for the money. We got a box for the job, we got a box for you, we got a box for the kids, we got a box for your mother somewhere in the basement.

We got boxes everywhere, and the rule is: “the boxes don’t touch”. When a man discusses a particular subject, we go to that particular box, we pull that box out, we open the box, we discuss only what is in that box, alright? and then we close the box and put it away being very, very careful not to touch any other boxes.

Now women’s brains are very, very different from men’s brains. Women’s brains are made up of a big ball of wire, and every thing is connected to everything. The money’s connected to the car, the car’s connected to your job and the kids are connected to your mother, and everything’s connected to everything ….

It’s like the Internet super highway, Ok? And it’s all driven by energy that we call emotion. This is zzzzz. It’s one of the reasons why women tend to remember everything. Because if you take an event and you connect it to an emotion, it burns in your memory and you can remember it forever. The same thing happens for men, it just doesn’t happen very often because, quite frankly, we don’t care
.

Mark Gundor

Please note that I am not advocating rewriting the world of STEM for women. That would be very difficult and counterproductive. However, I think women need to hear from other women what it’s like to enter the world of men’s minds – at least at the scientific level. A big problem women have to overcome in going into “traditionally” male fields is not that they cannot understand the material, but that it is full of male mental frameworks that women find frustrating.

But, after all, is it any wonder that over a hundred years after Einstein proposed his Relativity theories in 1905, physicists have developed a model of all the forces that we know of in the universe, called the Standard Model of Particle Physics, except for gravity and its mysterious fields which touch everything?

I hope you enjoy the video. And I will be referring back to it in the future, I’m so very sure. 🙂