Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Freedom and Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power

It ranges from interesting to almost brilliant, all beginning with presumption. There's no reason for presuming that consciousness initiates action. There's no reason to accept "reasons." Consciousness could just as easily be described as the penumbra of physical processes. That's the simplest solution. Until we know better, why not except it?
1- I punched a hole in the ballot paper because I wanted to vote for George Bush
2- I got a bad headache because I voted for George Bush
3- The glass fell on the floor because I accidentally knocked it off the table.
Searle relates 2 and 3 as simple causality, with one being the exception as having to do not with causes but reasons.
But before we get to where he wants to go I read them this way:
1- I punched a hole in the ballot paper because I wanted to vote for George Bush
2- I got a bad headache because I voted for George Bush
3- The glass fell on the floor because I accidentally knocked it off the table.
First of all, everything beyond this needs to be tested, and some of them hold up better than others. Searle however jumps immediately to building a logic separating causes from reasons for action. How does he defend the existence of reasons? By arguing that we experience our reasons for doing things.
Assumption 1: Explanations in terms of reasons do not typically cite causally sufficient conditions.
Assumption 2: Such explanations can be adequate explanations of action.

How do I know that assumption 2 is true? How do I know such explanations can be and often are adequate? Because in my own case I often know exactly what reasons I had for performing an action and I know that an explanation that cites those reasons is adequate.
What is this knowledge and where does it come from? Searle doesn't say. It seems to come from the same place Chomsky's language tools come from, his own sense of its moral necessity.

"I drank a glass of water because I was thirsty"
Is that a description of causes or reasons?
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July 25

I set my alarm-clock to ring at 6 Am. Does my alarm-clock have free will?
I began by giving Searle some credit, but following and picking through his arguments I have less and less patience. He's not interested in the simplest and most direct solutions but in the simplest and most direct solutions that serve his purposes.
He seems both awed and flummoxed by notions of time and memory, though he doesn't use either term. In his discussions of man as the only political animal (many animals are social) and his in his discussion of free will, he vests his "gaps" with far more significance than they can bear. A promise is not the creation of a "desire-independent reason" it's simply a delay. The human mind has the capacity to remember details that make such deferments possible.
There's nothing in his arguments that wouldn't be better and more simply explained by describing consciousness as the byproduct of brain function, but that notion offends him so he avoids it.
Consciousness is not rationality or reason, it's indecision [its manifestation]. That's what separates animals from the machines they make.

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