[an error occurred while processing this directive]
About
Content
Store
Forum

Rebirth of Reason
War
People
Archives
Objectivism

Post to this threadMark all messages in this thread as readMark all messages in this thread as unreadPage 0Page 1Page 2Page 3Forward one pageLast Page


Post 0

Thursday, June 15, 2006 - 6:41pmSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
Good essay, Merlin. I will have to chew on it before any further, printed, analysis though.

I do have one ready-made retort about the animals (surprised?) -- where you had used what I call the Argument from Just Too Much Similarity ...

==============
Even ignoring evolution, brains and nervous systems are too similar to invoke such a sharp dichotomy.
==============

But even though our brains look similar to chimps' brains -- there's a huge difference in metabolism. If you look at the animal world, you'll find that brain-size and brain-metabolism track well -- except when you get to humans. Humans have brains that use 3 times the size-predicted energy. Compared to us, then, the chimp brain is in a constant stupor -- regardless of similar morphology.

Ed





Post 1

Thursday, June 15, 2006 - 10:35pmSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
Merlin,

===============
Part of attention is choosing what to observe. In order to know reality, we need to do a lot of observing, which is better done with an attitude of absorbing, letting reality dictate one thoughts. When Rand referred to thinking, it seems she meant reflection and analysis. However, they can come later. We first need to observe in order to have the input needed for analysis and reflection.
===============

Firstly, I'd say that when we 'choose' what to observe -- that we are using conceptual awareness, and that we are not 'letting reality dictate' our thoughts; but actively interacting with the stimulus array that is being continuously tracked via perception. We do need to first observe, but we don't 'observe' in a vacuum. We don't, aconceptually, observe our surroundings -- at least not the second time we've ever observed something.


===============
A mental choice would be quite useless without the ability to implement it with bodily action.
===============

Good point.


===============
Does a young child choose to think before it thinks? I think not. We are born to think. A child perceives a multitude of novel and fascinating things, and thinking about them comes natural. Such things capture the child’s attention.
===============

Good point. Any 'choice' made by young children to 'think' is tacit.


===============
It also seems that self-consciousness is required to even consider the question, Shall I think or not? Children do not become self-conscious until well past two years old.
===============

Try 3. The 'terrible twos' is the age-range that infants think they're 5-star generals (their wish is the world's command). The 'threes' are when they realize they've been demoted to a private, 3rd class. I'm stealing a concept from M. Scott Peck here.


===============
Volition is not a constant over a lifetime. It develops.
===============

True enough.


===============
Is the onset of thinking by a child arbitrary? According to Peikoff, it must be, and for adults, too.
===============

Here, I'd charge you with a less-than-generous interpretation of the P-meister. Sure, he said ...

===============
In short, it is invalid to ask: why did a man choose to focus? There is no such ‘why’.”
===============

... but, in one respect, the 'why' here does presume no human identity (a point you touched on -- when you said that we are 'born to think') -- though a list of reasons for 'choosing to focus' is still unavailable to an onlooker, a potential list is available by examining each individual human life. In other words, while there is no universal, ready-made, reason to focus -- there is, always, an individual reason to focus (if for no other reason than to stop bumping one's infant head against the table edge).


===============
There may be no cause, in a very limited sense, but there are motives and goals. The motive or goal may be as simple as eating to relieve hunger.
===============

Good point. Again, this goes back to us being 'born' to think. We are that animal that has to learn how to think straight -- if we are to live happily. The goal of happiness is uncriticizable.


===============
A lion focuses upon a particular gnu in a herd when it pursues its prey. It likely doesn’t choose to focus. Rather its focus is motivated by its hunger.
===============

Right. It's focus is regulated via instincts, 100%.

Ed






 




Post 2

Friday, June 16, 2006 - 8:13amSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
Thanks for commenting, Ed.

I don't deny that humans have much greater brain capacity and use their brains far more than any other species. However, I don't regard all other species as purely mechanistic or -- as you put it -- "being in a constant stupor." I think it's very plausible that some of the higher species have some capacity to choose and control their own behavior, at least with regard to perceptual attention and their bodies. I don't have proof, but there is no disproof either. Moreover, their behavior is not completely controlled by current, external forces, akin to a rock or a lawn mower. As for more human-like abilities, many higher-level animals learn and adapt their behavior. Such behavior is influenced by other than current, external forces.

I think there is more to consider than just the brain, too. Sensory organs have biological functions that are basically no different for humans than for other animals. They pick up information from the environment that the animal or human can use to maintain its survival.

You quoted from my article: "Even ignoring evolution, brains and nervous systems are too similar to invoke such a sharp dichotomy." Now I wish I had included sensory organs in that sentence, too.

You wrote:
It's [a lion's] focus is regulated via instincts, 100%.
I'd say its hunting for food is instinctual, but its targeting one gnu in a herd as prey is plausibly a matter of choice. Many animals have to learn how to hunt successfully, which suggests it isn't mere instinct. Regarding the claim that its targeting one gnu in a herd is instinct, I call that an assumption, nothing more.





Post 3

Friday, June 16, 2006 - 9:39amSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit

Regarding the claim that its targeting one gnu in a herd is instinct, I call that an assumption, nothing more.
Higher animals do choose. The key difference from humans is that animals simply can't choose on moral grounds

Human (moral) volition can't be rooted in brain electrochemistry, because that would logically represent the denial of an authentically "free" volition. By definition, moral decisions can't have a mechanistic cause.

Joel Català





Sanction: 5, No Sanction: 0
Sanction: 5, No Sanction: 0
Post 4

Friday, June 16, 2006 - 11:21pmSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
From an old RoR Science thread ...

--------------
"So why don't our close evolutionary relatives, chimps and other primates, have similar abilities? The answer, recent analysis seems to suggest, lies in the fact that while humans and chimps have many genes in common, the versions expressed in human brains are more active than those in chimps."
--------------

Marcus, this is perhaps the most highly-plausible account for the evolution of humans to which I've come across. Basically, the genes (for our Big Brains) were always there in primates--but have always been switched off, in all of the sub-human varieties of such.


--------------
"What's more, the brains of newborn humans are far less developed than those of newborn chimps, which means that our neural networks are shaped over many years of development immersed in a linguistic environment."
 --------------

Excellent point indicating the unique "plasticity" of human brains! This point also resonates quite well with the principles of Objectivism.

It also highlights the importance of development (a real-life "jungle boy"--artificially mentally retarded--may not ever conceptually "leave" the jungle!)


 --------------
In a sense, language is the last word in biological evolution. That's because this particular evolutionary innovation allows those who possess it to move beyond the realms of the purely biological. With language, our ancestors were able to create their own environment - we now call it culture - and adapt to it without the need for genetic changes.
 --------------

Rand would be smiling.

See Merlin (humans are 'special')?

Ed




Post 5

Friday, June 16, 2006 - 11:23pmSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
Joel,

=============
By definition, moral decisions can't have a mechanistic cause.
=============

Poignant.

Ed




Sanction: 4, No Sanction: 0
Sanction: 4, No Sanction: 0
Post 6

Friday, June 16, 2006 - 11:45pmSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
Here's a link (showing a uniqueness of H. sapiens -- from the animal world) ....

http://www.beyondveg.com/billings-t/comp-anat/comp-anat-4a.shtml

Ed




Post 7

Saturday, June 17, 2006 - 4:35amSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
Ed,

In post 4 you wrote:

See Merlin (humans are 'special')?
Agreed. Our dispute seems to be whether or not any nonhuman animals make any choices at all. Thanks for the link in post 6, but neither it nor post 4 say a word about that.




Post 8

Saturday, June 17, 2006 - 5:19amSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit

Merlin Jetton proposes here some qualifications on Rand’s view that one’s choice to think or not is “the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and character.” Merlin’s enriched portrait of human choice goes nicely in the sequence of portraits on this topic by John Enright (1991) and by Jay Friedenberg (1993).

 

The portrait by Enright is titled “Ascent to Volitional Consciousness.” In this Objectivity (V1N2) essay,

Enright assembles our best understanding of the degrees of conscious control in higher animals. By comparison with these capabilities, the nature of human volitional consciousness is brought into richer relief. The following theses are defended: Animals have a kind of awareness, which guides their actions, particularly their locomotion. An animal’s actions are limited by its range of awareness. Higher animals contemplate possibilities. The conceptual faculty of humans opens a vast set of possibilities for them. Humans are far more self-aware than any other animal. One’s understanding of one’s own habits allows one to control them and hence control the development of one’s own character. The choice to think has enormous ramifications in human existence.

The portrait by Friedenberg is a portion of his essay “Intricate Consciousness” in Objectivity (V1N5).

Friedenberg’s is a modern information-processing perspective of consciousness and the subconscious. In part of his essay, he surveys recent theories on the evolution of consciousness, including the theory of Dennett. He presents some history of the conception of consciousness as an efficacious selector and controller, and he recapitulates recent psychological research on that aspect of consciousness. Informed with contemporary psychology, Friedenberg refines Rand’s ideas on the morality of focusing one’s consciousness. 

What are the implications, for Rand’s moral theory, of Merlin’s differences with Rand over the scope of the choice to think? I have one idea concerning this question, which I will relate in my next post.

(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 6/17, 7:27am)




Post 9

Saturday, June 17, 2006 - 7:21amSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit

In Rand’s 1957 exposition of her ethics in Galt’s Speech, she writes that for man “to remain alive, he must act, and before he can act, he must know the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot obtain his food without a knowledge of food and of the way to obtain it. He cannot dig a ditch—or build a cyclotron—without a knowledge of his aim and the means to achieve it. To remain alive, he must think” (AS 1012).

 

She continues: “But to think is an act of choice.” The key to human nature “is the fact that man is a being of volitional consciousness. Reason does not work automatically; thinking is not a mechanical process; the connections of logic are not made by instinct.”

 

A few pages later, she remarks that “all work is creative work if done by a thinking mind, and no work is creative if done by a blank who repeats in uncritical stupor a routine he has learned from others” (1020).

 

The quotation from Rand in my first paragraph is expressed in the generic mode of Man. It is descriptive of the overall condition of the species. The quotation in my third paragraph is expressed in the personal mode of each listener’s possibilities. This personal mode is descriptive in the range of human possibilities it poses, but it is also normative. It harkens back to the preceding generic mode of Man and denigrates individual human life not rising to the creative requirements for Man overall.

 

Taking theses three quotations together, Rand seems to say she is reserving the term thinking for levels of human cognition requiring purposeful creativity. I surely agree with Merlin’s picture of us as having natural desires to think. Furthermore, thinking can become a habitual proclivity, in the sense Rand portrayed in her story “The Simplest Thing in the World” and in the premature “retirement” she composes for the character Dagny in AS.

 

To some limited extent, also, our thinking skills can become automatic. Practice at catching, scaling, and frying fish makes less the deliberate thought needed to accomplish the bitty steps. Practice at proof in high school geometry does not seem to make it any less deliberate, although it does make us faster in generating a proof (one not memorized). Reduction in deliberateness or easiness in thinking does not abolish, we should notice, its substantial willfulness and creativity.

 

Let me return to the implication for Rand’s moral theory of our having a habitual proclivity to think. Does maturing so as to have the habitual proclivity to think abolish the choice: to think or not to think? It certainly seems to make the not-to-think option deeply inaccessible for such a person. Which thinking remains a perpetual life-and-death matter for such a person, until a caretaker who is other takes over. On the other hand, for generic Man, there remains the standing choice: to be really thinking or to be wiped out by nature.

 

To choose to think would seem to remain a central moral precept, undisturbed by the fact that many people develop into chronic thinkers. (In one of Rand’s entrances onto the Johnny Carson Show, he greeted her by remarking “you seem so happy tonight,” to which she replied, “yes, I am chronically happy.”)  Many people chronically have that moral trait, and I suggest we can continue to regard it as a moral trait even though these people cannot readily choose to lose it.

 

Many other people develop a habit of religious faith, around which and in accordance with they organize their lives. Faith in the sense of an act of suspending critical reason does seem to be a perpetual matter of choice. In faith of this genre, one is choosing not to really think. It seems to me that even though one is deeply invested in the method and content of such religious faith, it is possible for one to pause and directly turn one’s heart and mind to expanding one’s sphere of reason and accepting the natural world of one’s senses full weight. In such a case, one could be choosing to think—to let reason go everywhere—and this could have grand results for one’s life and one’s understanding of one’s life and world.





Post 10

Saturday, June 17, 2006 - 9:52amSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
Merlin,

============
Our dispute seems to be whether or not any nonhuman animals make any choices at all.
============

No, not really. Even a dog makes a 'choice' whether to sit down, or to stand, at any given moment in time. Our dispute is whether or not any nonhuman animal engages in rational contemplation (deliberation).

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 6/17, 9:53am)




Sanction: 6, No Sanction: 0
Sanction: 6, No Sanction: 0
Post 11

Saturday, June 17, 2006 - 12:44pmSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
Joel wrote:

Higher animals do choose. The key difference from humans is that animals simply can't choose on moral grounds.

Human (moral) volition can't be rooted in brain electrochemistry, because that would logically represent the denial of an authentically "free" volition. By definition, moral decisions can't have a mechanistic cause.

Joel Català


Joel, are you a Brain Surgeon? What do you know about Brains?

The fallacy in this is that you think, biologically, there is no difference between a human brain and an animal's brain. So to your understanding, in order for us to explain man's intellectual superiority over animals, we have to resort to some supernatural entity to explain humans having free will or volition. But your premise is wrong, although human and animal brains are made of the same stuff, they are not equal in the sum of their parts. Human brains are biologically different from animal's brains so much so that it can explain for the level of intelligence human's have. Chimpanzees, the closest species of animal to humans, have shown empirically in behavior studies to exhibit some rudimenatary moral descision-making.

Your premise is "Human (moral) volition can't be rooted in brain electrochemistry" is an arbitrary assertion.

From a view of Science, we can make use of Occam's Razor to help explain the source of man's intelligence. Is it more likely a supernatural entity called god created man's intelligence, or is it more likely the source of man's intelligence is his brain. A brain far more complex than an animal's brain?

Since supernatural is an impossibility, and we have empirical proof human's have complex brains, I'd go with the brain idea instead.





Post 12

Sunday, June 18, 2006 - 6:13amSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
Ed,

You are an elusive guy. You said "humans are special" w/o saying in what way. Since my article was about volition, I guessed it was about that. You respond with:

Our dispute is whether or not any nonhuman animal engages in rational contemplation (deliberation).
I have said nothing about that for you to dispute (unless you meant a lion picking a particular gnu from a herd as prey). Of course, you can easily defend your position by setting the bar high enough. If a chimp stacks boxes in order to climb them and reach some bananas (w/o having been taught), is that "rational contemplation"? Some chimps engage in deception. Is that "rational contemplation"? Or would a chimp have to build a car or philosophize to pass the bar? :-)

(Edited by Merlin Jetton on 6/18, 6:32am)




Post 13

Sunday, June 18, 2006 - 7:54amSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
Merlin,

============
Ed,

You are an elusive guy.
============

Ahh, but I'm not PERSISTENTLY elusive (like a Danny Barnes, a Brendan, or a Nathan Hawking). And this difference is key. When called out, I come directly to the center of the ring (with my 'dukes' up). 

My point about the contrast between a possibly-thoughtless, 'whim-determinism' (dog sits, dog stands, dog sits back down again) and an actual, rational contemplation (e.g. creating something) -- is a valid point. It ties volition to morality, for instance.

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 6/18, 7:55am)




Post 14

Sunday, June 18, 2006 - 8:07amSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
John,

================
Chimpanzees, the closest species of animal to humans, have shown empirically in behavior studies to exhibit some rudimenatary moral descision-making.
================

Got any references?

Here's a couple that would seem to contradictory your current point of view on the matter ...

================
Chimpanzees are indifferent to the welfare of unrelated group members. Nature. 2005 Oct 27;437(7063):1357-9.

Humans are an unusually prosocial species-we vote, give blood, recycle, give tithes and punish violators of social norms. Experimental evidence indicates that people willingly incur costs to help strangers in anonymous one-shot interactions, and that altruistic behaviour is motivated, at least in part, by empathy and concern for the welfare of others (hereafter referred to as other-regarding preferences).

In contrast, cooperative behaviour in non-human primates is mainly limited to kin and reciprocating partners, and is virtually never extended to unfamiliar individuals. Here we present experimental tests of the existence of other-regarding preferences in non-human primates, and show that chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) do not take advantage of opportunities to deliver benefits to familiar individuals at no material cost to themselves, suggesting that chimpanzee behaviour is not motivated by other-regarding preferences.
================

================
What's in it for me? Self-regard precludes altruism and spite in chimpanzees. Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Apr 22;273(1589):1013-21.

Sensitivity to fairness may influence whether individuals choose to engage in acts that are mutually beneficial, selfish, altruistic, or spiteful. In a series of three experiments, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) could pull a rope to access out-of-reach food while concomitantly pulling another piece of food further away.

In the first study, they could make a choice that solely benefited themselves (selfishness), or both themselves and another chimpanzee (mutualism). In the next two experiments, they could choose between providing food solely for another chimpanzee (altruism), or for neither while preventing the other chimpanzee from receiving a benefit (spite).

The main result across all studies was that chimpanzees made their choices based solely on personal gain, with no regard for the outcomes of a conspecific. These results raise questions about the origins of human cooperative behaviour.
================

Now of course, you could argue that, according to accepted Objectivist principles -- these chimps WERE acting morally (because of the virtue of selfishness); but then you'd be stuck with the arduous task of showing how the chimps independently arrived at an objective philosophy for living on earth (or expect me to just ignore this large hole in reasoning).

Regardless, the chimps showed a more cut-throat selfishness than would be possible from accepted Objectivist premises. Indirectly, Objectivism prescribes an 'other-regarding' selfishness (a non-narcissistic selfishness).

My guess is that the apparent moral decision-making that you mentioned -- is better explained by reciprocity or selfish genes (kin selection).

Ed






Post 15

Sunday, June 18, 2006 - 2:11pmSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
In Post 9, Stephen Boydstun quoted Rand as follows:
To think is an act of choice.” The key to . . . "human nature “ . . . is the fact that man is a being of volitional consciousness. Reason does not work automatically; thinking is not a mechanical process; the connections of logic are not made by instinct.
This is an interesting quote, because a compatibilist could agree with this. If all that is meant by "volitional consciousness" is that reason does not work automatically, that thinking is not a mechanical process, or that the connections of logic are not made by instinct," then Rand is not saying anything that a compatibilist would disagree with. To say, as the compatibilists do, that the choice to think must be motivated and is therefore not free does not imply that reason is an automatic, mechanical or instinctive process. It implies only that the choice to think is determined by a one's antecedent values. Of course, Objectivists are on record as denying this latter view as well, which Rand does not consider in this context, although she did in her philosophic journals.

Back on May 9, 1934, she wrote:
The will does not have to be without reason, or motivation, in order to be free. One's act may be motivated by an outside reason, but the choice of that reason is our free will. An example of the determinists: if a man drinks a glass of water, he does it because he is thirsty, therefore his will isn't free, it's motivated by his physical condition. But he drinks the glass of water because he needs it and decides that he wants to drink it. If his sweetheart's life had depended on his not drinking that water, he probably would not have touched it, no matter what his thirst. Or if it were a question of his life or hers, he would have to select, and make the decision. In other words, he drinks because he's thirsty, but it is not the thirst that determines his action, the thirst only motivates it. A motivation is not a reason. (Journals of Ayn Rand, pp. 68,69)
But observe that Rand's argument against the man's not satisfying his thirst is based on her acknowledging another, superior, motive - the man's desire to preserve his sweetheart's life - which trumps his desire for the water. She points out the necessity of his having to decide between his own life and his sweetheart's, stressing that his thirst doesn't "determine" his action or decision, but only "motivates" it. But if he values his sweetheart's life more than satisfying his thirst, then his thirst doesn't motivate his action, because it is superseded by a more powerful motive, the man's love for his sweetheart. In this context, the motivation of the man's desire to preserve her life does indeed provide a compelling reason for his action. His decision is based on his values, not the other way around.

- Bill
(Edited by William Dwyer
on 6/18, 2:13pm)




Post 16

Sunday, June 18, 2006 - 2:41pmSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
Bill Dwyer wrote:
To say, as the compatibilists do, that the choice to think must be motivated and is therefore not free does not imply that reason is an automatic, mechanical or instinctive process.
Because something is motivated does not imply it is "not free." As long as there are alternatives, there is some freedom of choice.
His decision is based on his values, not the other way around.
Not necessarily. Some values are chosen.

Changing the topic:  http://cogprints.org/729/00/THESIS.txt

This article is somewhat off the topic of volition, but is very relevant to the topic of human versus animal intelligence which has been raised on this thread. For a few years I've hypothesized that the big differences between the intelligence of humans and other animals are the former's ability to represent the past and future and to represent the self  -- past and future self as well. Such abilities are fundamental for causal knowledge, including the role of one's self in a casual sequence. The article is long but I think well worth reading for someone interested in the topic.




Post 17

Monday, June 19, 2006 - 6:18amSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
In post #11, John Armaos criticized the following words of mine 
"Higher animals do choose. The key difference from humans is that animals simply can't choose on moral grounds.

"Human (moral) volition can't be rooted in brain electrochemistry, because that would logically represent the denial of an authentically "free" volition. By definition, moral decisions can't have a mechanistic cause." 

through the following lines (on grey background):

Joel, are you a Brain Surgeon?
Irrelevant to the discussion. Good brain surgeons may be perfectly ignorant on the issue of volition.


What do you know about Brains?
To correctly address the discussion, John Armaos doesn't need to know what I know.


The fallacy in this is that you think, biologically, there is no difference between a human brain and an animal's brain.
Incorrectly described. 

I think that while there are no significant qualitative differences between a chimp's brain and a human brain --significant quantitative differences, of course there are--, biology can't explain the additional qualitative element of the human mind we name morality.



So to your understanding, in order for us to explain man's intellectual superiority over animals, we have to resort to some supernatural entity to explain humans having free will or volition.
More exactly, to explain morality, something animals never possess.  

But your premise is wrong, although human and animal brains are made of the same stuff, they are not equal in the sum of their parts.
Nonsense: to describe morality as an "emergent entity" of the brain may fit to your Atheistic prejudice, but it is pseudo-science.

 
Human brains are biologically different from animal's brains so much so that it can explain for the level of intelligence human's have.
Intelligence, yes. But morality is a new feature. Qualitatively.


Chimpanzees, the closest species of animal to humans, have shown empirically in behavior studies to exhibit some rudimentary moral decision-making.
"Moral decision-making" by chimps? I don't think so. Could you provide sources? Thanks.


Your premise is "Human (moral) volition can't be rooted in brain electrochemistry" is an arbitrary assertion.
Wrong: your judgement of my words is baseless. 


From a view of Science, we can make use of Occam's Razor to help explain the source of man's intelligence. Is it more likely a supernatural entity called god created man's intelligence, or is it more likely the source of man's intelligence is his brain. A brain far more complex than an animal's brain?
Complexity or superior intelligence can't explain morality. (Your use of scientific jargon did not make your view more persuasive.)


Since supernatural is an impossibility,
Is that a premise or a conclusion?


and we have empirical proof human's have complex brains, I'd go with the brain idea instead.
Again: brain complexity can't explain morality. A chimp's brain is rather complex, too.

Metaphysical materialism ain't the proper description of morality, the pinnacle of human freedom.

Joel Català

(Edited by Joel Català on 6/19, 6:41am)




Sanction: 5, No Sanction: 0
Sanction: 5, No Sanction: 0
Post 18

Monday, June 19, 2006 - 10:10amSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit

In connection with Merlin Jetton's post #16, I would like to register a paragraph from Ronald Merrill on the self-conscious character of free will. In this passage, Ron ties free will to extended self-consciousness (a tie also stressed by John Enright 1991, and, more famously, by Harry Frankfurt 1971 and Robert Nozick 1981).

 

The paragraph I quote here is from Merrill’s 1993 essay “On the Physical Meaning of Volition” in Objectivity V1N5.

Intuitively we tend to believe that a choice is not a free choice unless it is self-conscious. A decision that is not consciously a decision—a decision not accompanied by the thought, “I could decide this way, or I could decide that way”—a decision in which the decider is not aware of himself as a deciding entity—is hard to imagine as a volitional decision. When a computer program runs down a list of data and selects an item based on some predetermined criterion, that is not an exercise of volition. Neither is a leopard’s choice of prey based on its conditioning by previous successes and failures. Even human choices are considered to be more or less nonvolitional when we respond to a stimulus reflexively or by “force of habit.” In fact, even when the mind is fully focused on an intellectual task, its decisions may not be really free if they are not self-conscious. “Why did you select that option for the design?” “Well, it was clearly the best solution; I had no choice.” It is noteworthy that Ayn Rand located volition, not in thinking choices, but in the basic choice to think. (83)

I pose this claim of an essential connection of self-consciousness in free will simply for the reflection and possible response of the reader. I want to turn to another strand being discussed in this thread. 

 

Merrill mentioned, in the paragraph quoted, the freedom of choice that a predator such as leopard exercises in selecting a particular prey. This ability had also been raised and assimilated (as operant conditioning) in John Enright’s 1991 essay “Ascent to Volitional Consciousness” (pp. 48, 54–56).

 

In an essay from 1960, we get some of Rand’s conception of the consciousness of the higher animals:

An animal has no critical faculty; he has no control over the function of his brain and no power to question its content. To an animal, whatever strikes his awareness is an absolute that corresponds to reality—or rather, it is a distinction he is incapable of making: reality, to him, is whatever he senses or feels. (FNI)


In 1961 Rand delineated further her conception of the mental makeup of higher animals:

An animal is guided, not merely by immediate sensations, but by percepts. Its actions are not single, discrete responses to single, separate stimuli, but are directed by an integrated awareness of the perceptual reality confronting it. It is able to grasp the perceptual concretes immediately present and it is able to form automatic perceptual associations, but it can go no further. It is able to learn certain skills to deal with specific situations, such as hunting or hiding, which the parents of the higher animals teach their young. But an animal has no choice in the knowledge and the skills that it acquires; it can only repeat them generation after generation. And an animal has no choice in the standard of value directing its actions: its senses provide it with an automatic code of values, an automatic knowledge of what is good or evil, what benefits or endangers its life. An animal has no power to extend its knowledge or to evade it. (OE)


 

There is one thing, only one thing, that seems awry to me in the preceding conception of Rand’s, and that is in the first of these two quotes. Perhaps it is only an indelicacy of expression, but it is this: Rand writes that an animal “has no control over the function of his brain and no power to question its content.” The odd thing is the word brain where one would expect the word mind. It gives the impression that Rand had such a deterministic view of physical (viz. neurophysiological) processes that she was inclined to have the human mind (supported by, yet) winging free of its physical processing. There is a similar oddity in Galt’s Speech when Rand expresses the necessity of veridicality in sensory perception by saying that the perceptual process is physically determined. Doesn’t it seem that the oddity of the statement of Rand’s that Jetton spotlighted at the beginning of his article "Scope of Volition" is a result of the same tendency to see higher human consciousness as winging free from its physical substrate?




Post 19

Monday, June 19, 2006 - 11:19amSanction this postReply
Bookmark
Link
Edit
Bill Dwyer wrote:
To say, as the compatibilists do, that the choice to think must be motivated and is therefore not free does not imply that reason is an automatic, mechanical or instinctive process.
Because something is motivated does not imply it is "not free." As long as there are alternatives, there is some freedom of choice.
The purpose of my statement wasn't to defend the compatibilists, but merely to point out that their views do not contradict Rand's in this context. But it doesn't follow that as long as there are alternatives, there is (metaphysical) freedom of choice. To be sure, choice implies an alternative, but it does not imply freedom of choice, in the sense of libertarian free will.

For example, if I am taking a multiple-choice test, I will necessarily choose what I believe to be the right answer; I cannot choose an answer that I believe is wrong, because I have no interest in doing so. Yet, I do make what can properly be called a "choice." Granted, I do have a conditional freedom of choice: I can choose an alternative answer, if I happen to believe that it is the right one. It is this conditional freedom that makes my action a choice. I am conditionally free to choose an alternative answer, because nothing or no one is preventing me from choosing it if I should decide that it is correct - if I should decide that it is worth choosing. What the compatibilist is saying is that all of our choices are like that - that we necessarily choose what we believe to be the best alternative under the circumstances, and could only choose differently if we were to value differently. Do you see the argument? You don't have to agree with it, but it's important that you understand it. In other words, a person's choice or decision "is based on his values, not the other way around."
Not necessarily. Some values are chosen.
How so? A choice is made for the sake of a value; when you choose something, you are seeking to gain and/or keep it, which means that you must already value it. Otherwise, you would not have chosen it. Unless one is speaking loosely and metaphorically, to say that values are "chosen" is to say that one can choose to appreciate something - choose to want or desire it. I would like to know how that is possible. Here you are. You have no interest in something; you do not value it in any way, shape or form. For example, you have no interest in supporting green politics; you do not value it at all. Yet you can simply choose to value it? I don't think so! Choice presupposes value; value does not presuppose choice.

- Bill



Post to this threadPage 0Page 1Page 2Page 3Forward one pageLast Page
[an error occurred while processing this directive]


User ID Password or create a free account.