Is man merely a machine?

Because anything verbalized will only be *reflection *of consciousness, not the thing-in-itself.

Consciousness cannot define itself until it escapes its own boundaries, comes outside of itself. Only *then *can it even see, let alone define, what it really is.

So what? You said the products of consciousness cannot define consciousness. No definition of anything is the thing-in-itself. A definition is a precise description.

By your reasoning, it seems that I also cannot use words to define what a word is?

What I mean is that it cannot be defined using ordinary means, or ordinary language. Otherwise, we’d already have a standard accepted definition by now and would not be discussing this.

I have no idea what you think you mean by this. Nothing defined is that thing. Words are a meta-level. Not to mention that you are implicitly defining consciousness by categorizing it in this fashion. (You are stating what it can and cannot do, which is a factor in definition.)

What else can’t be defined using your definition? Is consciousness unique? Why isn’t “human” undefinable by humans?

You’re making assertions backed by nothing at all. That’s why scientists mostly try not to get involved in philosophical discussions, especially when each person makes up their own language and their own rules. Nothing can be proved; nothing can be confuted. It’s all fog.

The future holds the possibility, however, that science can explicitly define consciousness as a physical attribute. The only reason we haven’t is that we don’t have the tools necessary yet. There’s nothing a priori preventing this. That’s another assertion with no backing.

I’m not disputing that it’s difficult to define. What I’m disputing is your claim that it’s impossible to define, even in principle. You still haven’t given any reason why that should be so.

Right. And if consciousness is impossible to define how can anyone possibly defend Ouspensky’s assertion that attaining “consciousness” is possible? How would anyone know when it has been attained unless a solid definition exists?

You’re refuting your own argument because you cannot define any of the words or actions you’re describing. This should be a huge honking clue that your argument is faulty, not to say ridiculous.

I think you are saying that the real question is free will, which is also what I got out of the question. My response was that whether we have free will or not is undecidable.
Quantum indeterminacy certainly gives a way of getting to a non-deterministic universe, but I agree it does not create free will. Someone whose actions depend on the throw of many dice is neither acting deterministically or freely. It might affect our thoughts in very small and nearly undetectable ways, they way it effects movement at the macro-level.
On days I think we have free will, I think it arises from our internal state - both in our brain and in the rest of our body. Our internal homonucleus grows from our genetics (not random after the first event) and our experiences (considerably more random.) That’t the thing - dare we call it consciousness - that generates what looks like free will.
On other days it is all highly constrained rules modified by dice throws, and not free at all.

You’re jumping the gun here. There is nothing to decide unless you have defined it coherently. The “could-have-done-otherwise” version of free will is simply nonsense.

I’m sorry, but this is vague content-free gibberish. To restate the definitional problem of could-have-done-otherwise free will: give a coherent logical description of a process by which things happen that are not random, but also not happening for cause-and-effect reasons (non-deterministic)?

Now you’re making sense [my bold]. Of course we have a very strong illusion of free will, an illusion that we could have done something other than what we actually did. That’s why virtually everyone thinks free will is real. But what we lack is:
(a) any objective evidence that we could actually have done otherwise;
(b) any coherent logical description of a process (other than truly random quantum effects) by which we could have done otherwise; i.e. a process by which things happen that are not random, but also not happening for cause-and-effect reasons.

Do YOU accurately sense on a moment-to-moment basis that your actions are 100% automatic?

Of course not. So what?

Your actions really are all automatic and predetermined?

My actions are deterministic, following cause and effect just like the rest of the universe (aside from truly random effects). Any decision I make is solely a function of the internal state of my brain plus the inputs it receives. It may feel as though I’m “freely” deliberating, but in fact the decision is determined by the prior configuration of my brain plus the new inputs. I could only make a different decision if the inputs were different (modulo any truly random quantum effects).

Again, if you do not believe this is the way it works, the burden is on you to give a coherent logical account of how the process of “free will” could possibly work. Successive events are either related by cause and effect or they are not. The former is determinism, the latter is randomness. Neither of these things comport with our feeling of free will, so the feeling is wrong.

“Spooky” free will, the sense that we could have done other than we actually did, is an illusion constructed by our consciousness. There is no evidence that we could have done otherwise, and there is no coherent account of a process by which it could happen.

ETA: Virtually all ordinary people define “free will” in this spooky way - a belief that we could have done otherwise in precisely the same circumstances. And most people believe it is real. Of course, since the illusion is incredibly strong.

But approximately 0% of philosophers believe that this kind of spooky free will exists, because if you think it through carefully it’s an incoherent idea, as I described above. It’s not an empirical belief that it doesn’t exist, it’s not a question of evidence. It’s simply a realization that it’s (literally) nonsense. Philosophers then take one of two approaches:

  • acknowledge that free will does not exist
  • redefine “free will” to mean something other than the spooky could have done otherwise

All those who do the latter will claim that they are doing that.

Good post.

I came to the same realization myself, so it’s frustrating to hear so many people wasting so much time having this debate:
Certainly prominent pop sci writers still horribly miss the point and write whole chapters about why there is / isn’t free will. As well as very smart vloggers like Mike dilahunty, cosmic skeptic and rationality rules (Mike’s “compatibilist” position is the closest to being correct in my opinion, but none of their debates addressed the position that the concept itself is incoherent).

Anyway glad to hear philosophers understand why “Could have chosen differently” is nonsense.

Yes. In fact it’s not a case of “another” definition; it’s the main one.

In common parlance we take being conscious to simply mean just awake / alert, but the concept of consciousness in philosophy and neuroscience is much broader, including sensations like pain, colors etc, emotions, intentionality, meaning (epistomology) etc.

What both sides here are forgetting is that when ‘ordinary’ people say “I could have done otherwise”, they actually mean “I could have done otherwise if I wanted to”. Which is absolutely true. The thing that ordinary people don’t realize is that (because we’re not storing our minds in ethereal soul things outside of reality anymore), that when they talk about changing their mind or ‘wanting to’ do something different, they’re actually proposing an alternate physical reality where their thoughts/mental state at the time of the decision are/were different. What (some) philosophers don’t realize is that when ordinary people use the term, they’re framing the situation differently than a philosopher who is coming at it from a “determinism means our future actions are predetermined” point of view.

It’s a giant massive case of people talking past one another.

It’s easy to blame the ordinary people for this, because they’re misunderstanding what the philosophers mean by ‘free will’.

I blame the philosophers, because they came at the problem entirely wrong - they defined the term as “being unpredictable”, proved that it was mechanically impossible, and quite often didn’t point out that that’s really a redefinition of the term. Most people who believed in the “soul” model didn’t think they were unpredictable; they thought God knew everything, including the future. God knew their souls, and all that. The notion that free will means “being unpredictable” is basically a strawman that philosophers set up so they could look awesome knocking it down.

Free will, as most people think about it, is “I decide what I’ll do.” (I have this vague notion that this originally meant “As opposed to some god or mystical force making me do it.”) Philosophers who respond “No you don’t; causality forces your actions” are ignoring part of the definition: what is “I”?

Under the spiritualist model, “I” was a blobby soul thing that nobody discussed the mechanics of. It was possible to point at that and say “That’s making the decisions!” without thinking too hard about it. But the materialists deny that there’s such a soul, and people suddenly start running around like chickens with their soul cut off in a panic because they lost the thing they keep their mind and ‘soul’ in.

In actual fact, of course, people’s minds and whatever soul they have are contained and operated within the physical body and brain of the person. I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that the body/brain combination is the mind/soul; it’s the physical thing whose mechanics result in a person’s thoughts and mind.

And if your body/brain is you, is “I”, then under materialism it’s entirely accurate to say that “I decide what I’ll do”. Because the how you act is very much dependent upon and decided by that chunk of matter which houses your mind, which is your mind. Which means, by the general perception of what free will is (if we ignore the strawman definition philosophers set up), we do actually have it.

And here we have the real issue. If you remember one time we battled on this you pointed me to a survey of philosophers as a cite. Except that in fact 14% of actual working philosophers did believe in what you call spooky free will. That’s a minority but hardly zero. (Search is down now but I’ll check later on.)

Why would they believe this? Well, for one thing, you admit no evidence exists to back up your assertion. (This sounds familiar somehow.) You say that the internal state of the brain plus inputs completely determines the outcome. However, there are several processes that could indicate otherwise. Emergence ("In philosophy, emergence is often understood to be a claim about the etiology of a system’s properties. An emergent property of a system, in this context, is one that is not a property of any component of that system, but is still a feature of the system as a whole. "). Chaos theory. Quantum effects.

None have been proven to effect consciousness but none have been completely ruled out. Why? Because consciousness has not been defined and no mechanism to explain it exists. Your assertion blithely skips over this all-encompassing fact. You are at base saying that since you can’t think of an alternate answer, the answer you proffer must be true. No science would allow such incoherent gibberish, to use some of your favorite terms.

Any scientist would ask the obvious question: if free will and determinism differ, then what examples are there of such differences? You admit - assert loudly - that there are no differences. What are the differences between inertia and gravity? None? Well, in that case the two are the same thing and the theory must treat them that way. Your response has been that the difference lies in set up of the brain, but gives no proof of this.

Your philosophy (note: I’m taking your explanation as a faithful rendition of what philosophers say, but you could be misinterpreting them or leaving out essential backup in this shortening - that’s always a problem in explanations for the layman) is also an odd thing to assert in this thread of all threads. If the brain is completely deterministic, then man is indeed a machine, full stop. It is a computer programmed by the universe, unless you bring god into it, which Ouspensky did. But the universe is not deterministic. The future is not clockwork. The complete future state of the universe cannot be written down. If so the universe then why not the brain?

The workings of the brain are physics rather than metaphysics. I want a full theory plus experimental proof for any physical hypothesis. You offer neither. Until then, I’m fully justified in dismissing your assertions even if they later turn out to be correct.

I don’t agree. The spooky kind of free will that most people believe in is not about a parallel similar but different universe, where both universes are deterministic but the circumstances are different. They believe that something inside of them “controls” events in some ill-defined manner that floats free of cause and effect. They believe that if this universe were re-run a second time, in precisely the same configuration, they were “free” to act differently. And they are wrong.

I wasn’t talking about consciousness, I was talking about free will. Consciousness does exist, of course. It is (by definition) what we experience all the time.

But we don’t experience free will. We do not ever experience doing anything other than what we actually do. We just have a feeling that we hypothetically could have done something different.

Consciousness is a phenomenon that we need to explain. Free will is not a phenomenon at all, so it requires no explanation.

Why do I have to offer anything? Why do I have to provide an “alternate answer” for something that doesn’t happen?

If somebody claims that there are hippos on the moon, the first issue is not to provide a coherent account of how they could be living there. The burden is to prove that they are living there, to show that there is a phenomenon that requires explanation.

Free will is like the hippos. It’s not a phenomenon that we have any evidence for. We don’t experience doing anything other than what we actually do.

A question I have asked before (the answer to which I still don’t really appreciate) may possibly be of relevance to this thread. So, let me ask:

In the classic double slit experiment, would the outcome be the same if the exact experimental circumstances were completely reproduced?

ETA: I ask because the answer would seem to bear on the notion of “I could have decided/done differently”