February 2, 2009

What if you knew that to be human was nothing more than to be a machine?

I'd say forget it and continue on as before.

86 comments:

Ron said...

The post title reminded me of an old Woody Allen joke: "Suppose everything is an illusion and nothing really exists. In that case, you paid too much for that suit."

Mark in Spokane said...

Well, in a way, we are machines, or at least analogous to machines. As a person of faith, I happen to think that we are more than that, but if I weren't a person of faith, I don't think it would be that much of a shock to find out that we were "nothing more" than machines.

traditionalguy said...

I have never encountered a machine that can hurt when it has lost something. Nor have I seen an emotional response from a machine (except that GPS order giver voice in rental cars telling you to make a U-turn and obey her instructions... she comes close to sounding like I hurt her feelings). Some one needs their self esteem built up by good human relationships, if they are starting to see machines as equal to their self image. Wait,my computer-machine just told me not to talk to strange commenters who want responses.

Buford Gooch said...

Mark in Spokane said...
without God and a soul, we are, by definition, meat machines. Ou control center is a bit more sophisticated than that of the "lower" animals, but that is true of machines on many levels. And, actually, if you think about it, we are still machines, just machines driven by souls.

Ann Althouse said...

But now assume you know that we are just machines... what do you do about it? I say: nothing.

Revenant said...

What if you knew that to be human was nothing more than to be a machine?

I do know that. Well, ok, I don't know it for certain, but I'm pretty darn sure it is the case. :)

Personally, I think it makes life even more amazing. If some all-powerful God created us then, eh. So what? Like that's hard? The guy's omnipotent. But the notion that we're a collection of atoms operating in a way that leads to Led Zeppelin playing "Nobody's Fault but Mine"? Now that's interesting.

Ann Althouse said...

Ha ha. I love the way Led Zeppelin got in there.

Revenant said...

I have never encountered a machine that can hurt when it has lost something.

If(something_lost)
{
happiness--;
}

There you go.

If you mean that you don't know of a machine that experiences emotions, well, how can you tell? It is hard to know what emotions other humans feel, sometimes. Harder still to tell the emotions of an animal like a dog or cat, although most pet owners agree those animals have emotions too. Then what about mice? Beetles? Ants? Plants? Rocks? Bees ACT angry, but do they feel angry or just act in a manner we anthropomorphize as "angry"?

Is there a certain point beyond which things don't feel emotions or experience consciousness, or is it just that we don't recognize it because the things in question are too far removed from our own experiences? We don't know that. I don't see how we can rule out being machines on the grounds that machines don't feel.

Besides, even if we're capable of emotion and no other machine is, why does that prove we're not machines? Suppose no known class of objects, other than humans, was capable of experiencing emotional pain. Well, no class of objects other than rockets is capable of controlled flight from the surface of the Earth to the surface of Mars. Does that prove rockets aren't machines? Most classes of machines have something special about them that other machines either can't do or can't do well. Maybe, for us, that thing is "emotions".

Freeman Hunt said...

I thought about this a lot when I was an atheist. Disturbed by the implications for ethics if free will doesn't exist. Free will under atheism seemed implausible.

No tension there now as I'm no longer an atheist. (That isn't why I'm not an atheist though.)

Freeman Hunt said...

Oh, but what do you do?

What does it matter if you're a machine? You have no choice as to what you'll do. I guess you just wait and see what you do.

mcg said...

I'd say forget it and continue on as before.

Exactly. There are a lot of these questions that are nice to kick around in your head, but do you squat good when you're actually living your life.

John Althouse Cohen said...

"Free will under atheism seemed implausible."

How so? I don't understand.

I can see people either believing or not believing in free will, but I don't see how a belief in God affects it. I would think that whatever your beliefs about free will (exists, doesn't exist, or uncertain), you'd also apply to God.

See Peter Van Inwagen's essay "The Mystery of Metaphysical Freedom" in the book Metaphysics: The Big Questions:

"The problem ... is so abstract, so very nearly independent of the features of the world in which agents happen to find themselves, that it could -- it would; it must -- arise in essentially the same form in a world inhabited only by immaterial intelligences, a world whose only inhabitants were, let us say, angels."

So people's disbelief in free will doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the view of people as just "meat" (as another commenter said). It's not dependent on people as physical things at all. And I don't see how the problem is solved by introducing God into the picture (assuming we're convinced God exists). Whatever made free will implausible as applied to humans would just apply to God all the same.

(Note that I'm assuming someone who, like you, found free will implausible to begin with. For those who believe in free will already, the above comments don't apply.)

Shawn Levasseur said...

"continue on as before."

aka the Saul Tigh method.

blake said...

Rev channels Phil Dick.... He can't be sure there's anyone else but him, and he's not even sure about himself.

From a technical standpoint, it hardly matters: biological or mechanical. It's the ghost in the machine that matters.

Revenant said...

Oh, but what do you do? What does it matter if you're a machine? You have no choice as to what you'll do. I guess you just wait and see what you do.

Say the brain is just a machine.

Well, predicting the future state of the machine would require perfect knowledge of both the current state of the machine and of all the inputs to that machine (from senses and whatnot) between now and then. This cannot be accomplished by the brain itself because it requires storing both complete information on the state of the brain AND the thoughts necessary to analysze it -- i.e., 100% of the brain and then some. Analyzing the exact state of the human brain would have to be done from outside the human brain, but something with more capacity than the human brain. I.e., not you. Even then, if quantum effects play into it (which is likely given the scale at which neurological events take place) any predictions would still be off.

So whether we have "free will" (whatever that means) or are "just machines", our exact future thoughts and feelings remain a mystery to us. We can hazard guesses about them -- "if my mother died, I would be sad and cry a lot" -- but not with anything like perfect accuracy. We've all, I'm sure, had occasions where our feelings about an event weren't what we thought they would be.

Anyway, I don't get how atheism precludes believing in free will OR how theism makes it easier. It seems to me that if there's an all-powerful God then by definition you're only thinking what thoughts He decides to let you think. That's free in the sense that an absolute dictatorship is "free" so long as the dictator agrees not to interfere with your life. On the Atheist side of things, it could be that free will is an emergent property of the inherently unpredictable nature of the universe -- quantum mechanics, again.

traditionalguy said...

Revenant... You are making my mind hurt. Did you ever think about how small a person is, on this earth, in this solar system, in the milky way, in the universe of galaxies? That hurts too. I will only say that machines lke you out there talk to me with meaning that I can respond to forming a fellowship of speaking spirits inside you ugly, old machines. Come to think of it, The Professor needs to re-post her 1976 polaroid. That should end all doubt about whether she is only Machinery.

Revenant said...

Rev channels Phil Dick.... He can't be sure there's anyone else but him, and he's not even sure about himself.

That's pretty much the exact opposite of what I said, blake.

blake said...

Free will requires cause.

If there is only the physical, than all things are ultimately effect of the Original Cause. All things have proceeded from the initial point without intervention, and can be explained by the immutable rules of the universe.

To cause something, to be really responsible for something happening, is to interfere with the inertia of things.

Cedarford said...

Kurtzweill - The sigularity.

Man is promised immortality and a quest free of hazard as we journey to the Stars ..as long as we transcend linited biological means of conveying our intelligence.

Biological man cannot prosper or multiply outside limited Earth environs.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Disturbed by the implications for ethics if free will doesn't exist.

You have that backwards. Things get disturbing in ethics if we DO believe free will exists.

To have free will, you have to have a mind separate from cause and effect. Someone like that would be devoid of language; devoid of reason. Less than animals even. They'd be unteachable and untrainable. More crazy than a rabid dog. They'd probably save you the trouble of shooting them by killing themselves.

Why anyone would want free will is beyond me. Probably because they've never seen any examples. And I doubt they exist.

Revenant said...

Blake, you're confused "follows immutable laws" with "is completely predictable". What we know about the universe to date is that it appears to follow laws and is in no way completely predictable. We can't even say with certainty what the exact state of a single atom will be between right now, and 1/5x10^44 of a second from now. The old saw about how predictability precludes free will is 19th century thinking. We've known for a long time now that that's a straw man argument, because the universe isn't perfectly predictable. It is *generally* predictable, but then again so are people.

Anyway, I'd also point out that your scenario is also self-contradictory. You posit that free will requires cause, and posit God as the cause. But God himself either has free will or doesn't. If he does, then you refute the idea that free will requires a cause, because God has no cause and yet has free will. If he doesn't, then you concede that it is possible for something with no free will to induce free will in other things.

Christy said...

If we are machines then isn't murder inconsequential?

Chaos theory convinced me there is no free will.

Shawn, I love Saul Tigh and I'm not sure when it happened. Probably when he poisoned his wife.

traditionalguy said...

Free will I understand, it gives you complete responsability. If you can't take being responsable, then refuse to take up your free will in that situation.The corollary is that the definition of stress is having accepted the responsability without the free will(Authority)to get anything done. You guys are just jealous that any God can out smart you. But he wouldn't be much of a God if He could not out smart you.

Revenant said...

Free will I understand, it gives you complete responsability.

That doesn't make much sense. A guy goes up to a little kid, puts a gun to the kid's head and kills him. The guy killed the kid. Whether this is due to having an evil soul or having bad wiring, the fact remains that he killed the kid. He can refuse to accept responsibility, but whether the order came from a soul or from his internal machinery the fact remains that the order "pull the trigger, kill the kid" came out of HIS brain.

He could say "but I can't help it, I'm just wired this way and as a machine I can't stop myself". As arguments go this is as valid as "but cancer cells are SUPPOSED to grow uncontrollably, that's what they are wired to do". I think people become confused because so many folks treat "natural" and "good" like they were synonyms.

Freeman Hunt said...

Whether or not an outcome can be known by a finite being makes no difference to free will. My computer doesn't "know" what it will output before it creates the output, but it has no free will.

Anyway, I don't get how atheism precludes believing in free will OR how theism makes it easier.

I don't see how free will is tenable under materialism. Reactions will happen, particles will move, all will hum along without your direction. You have no ultimate say.

As for how theism makes it easier, see Aquinas: God creates free will and holds it in existence. Or you could consider it more broadly in that theism posits a universe that is more than materialism. The immaterial soul, for example, can serve at the vehicle for free will.

I find the idea of absence of free will deeply unsatisfying.

It seems to me that if there's an all-powerful God then by definition you're only thinking what thoughts He decides to let you think.

Many many philosophers would disagree with you. That gets into discussion of what is meant by "all-powerful" as it relates to God.

Jason (the commenter) said...

He could say "but I can't help it, I'm just wired this way and as a machine I can't stop myself".

"You are a machine and you can't stop yourself. Because you don't have free will, society is going to punish you to rewire you. Then you wont have this problem."

pduggie said...

I don't think we are mere machines, but if I did know we were, I would thing heavy investment and study of design improvements and supplementation would be in order.

EDH said...

Sometimes it's hurts to much to answer the question: What am I?

John Althouse Cohen said...

I don't see how free will is tenable under materialism.

Materialism isn't atheism. You can be an atheist without being a materialist. (You can certainly be an agnostic without being a materialist.) They're not synonymous. For instance, mental states and abstract concepts aren't material but aren't God. So even if your critique of "materialism" is correct, that doesn't automatically translate to a critique of atheism.


The immaterial soul, for example, can serve at the vehicle for free will.

But what about Van Inwagen's "angels" point?


As for how theism makes it easier, see Aquinas: God creates free will and holds it in existence.

If the idea of free will makes sense ... then why bring God into the picture? Why not just say, "Free will exists in nature, and who knows why?" I still don't understand how the concept of God has any explanatory power here.

Also, the fact that a famous philosopher believed something says very little about whether it's true. "See Aquinas" is not an argument.

traditionalguy said...

"Free will" presupposes beings who will to do things. The hard part for us is to accept that just because God knows what we will do before we do it,we are still not releived from Judgement of God for doing it. His eternal foreknowledge does not get you out of playing your role in life.That's why he choses some people to do things, because he already knows how they will use their free will. Paul tries his best in Romans 8:28-30 to make sense of it all.

Freeman Hunt said...

You can be an atheist without being a materialist.

True. I should have been more specific. I was an atheistic materialist; that's what I'm referring to.

If the idea of free will makes sense ... then why bring God into the picture? Why not just say, "Free will exists in nature, and who knows why?" I still don't understand how the concept of God has any explanatory power here.

Also, the fact that a famous philosopher believed something says very little about whether it's true. "See Aquinas" is not an argument.


"See Aquinas" wasn't the argument. The sentence following the colon was a summation of how theism can have explain free will.

As for free will making sense, the point is not that free will makes sense on it's own. The point is that it does not make sense on it's own in a material universe and so Aquinas argues that God must create and hold it in existence.

John Althouse Cohen said...

The point is that it does not make sense on it's own in a material universe and so Aquinas argues that God must create and hold it in existence.

OK ... well ... whatever that thing is that God "creates and holds" ... why couldn't that thing just EXIST, period? Note that I'm not arguing against the existence of God. There might be other good reasons for believing in God. I just don't see how free will is one of them.

Revenant said...

Whether or not an outcome can be known by a finite being makes no difference to free will. My computer doesn't "know" what it will output before it creates the output, but it has no free will.

That's an interesting blanket statement. How do you know it is true? Certainly we can point to computer programs that don't have free will, but since it is trivial to create programs whose output is, to humans, completely unpredictable from its input, how exactly do we go about determining that such a program lacks free will?

But let's posit that all computers lack free will, just for the sake of argument. The point is, the computer itself can't tell if it has "free will" or is purely deterministic. You or I are in the same position -- whether we are "just machines" or have "free will" (whatever that is), from our perspective the experience is the same.

I don't see how free will is tenable under materialism. Reactions will happen, particles will move, all will hum along without your direction. You have no ultimate say.

I think the problem here is that "free will" has no real meaning. Either you have reasons for what you do or you don't. The former can be modeled procedurally, the latter by random chance. Materialism covers both possibilities, so what's the problem with free will under materialism?

As for how theism makes it easier, see Aquinas: God creates free will and holds it in existence.

As arguments go that is indistinguishable from "free will Just Happens and we don't know why". Materialists can believe that too -- it is an amazingly common among Objectivists, for example.

Many many philosophers would disagree with you.

Yes, but none of them would do so coherently. :)

Revenant said...

The hard part for us is to accept that just because God knows what we will do before we do it,we are still not releived from Judgement of God for doing it.

This would be "accept" as in "take the Church's word for it that there's nothing wrong with God's behavior here".

There's no difference between creating something whose every future action is known to you, and creating something with no free will that is programmed to follow that exact behavior. Both entities behave in exactly the same manner, think the exact same thoughts, and reach the exact same ends. Either way you're an asshole if you decide to *punish* something that you knew with perfect certainty would turn out wrong before you ever made it in the first place. :)

Jason (the commenter) said...

But let's posit that all computers lack free will, just for the sake of argument. The point is, the computer itself can't tell if it has "free will" or is purely deterministic.

Couldn't you program a computer to say it had free will? Likewise, the feeling of being in control that we have could be destroyed by removing the proper neurons.

It would be funny to put probes in the brains of people who deny free will and stimulate their sense of free will so much that they changed their minds.

blake said...

Blake, you're confused "follows immutable laws" with "is completely predictable".

No, not at all. Imagine a big box with marbles on tracks, like this, with a bunch of marbles being dropped in.

Those marbles are going to get to the bottom and the path they follow is going to depend entirely on the action at the top.

Those marbles can "decide" they're going to change their fate, but they can't really, because they're wholly contained by the box. They are entirely subject to its rules.

Now, if there's someone outside the box, reaching in, that guy can change the marbles, reverse their course, etc. He's not subject to the box's rules.

From the perspective of the universe, the guys outside the box have the free will--no matter how much any particular guy tries to convince you that he is, in fact, just a marble, set in motion by actions long ago.

Anyway, I'd also point out that your scenario is also self-contradictory. You posit that free will requires cause, and posit God as the cause.

Free will doesn't require cause, free will is cause. It's the ability to cause things to happen.

That's what free will is, by definition.

What I'm saying is that there's no way to be completely inside the box and yet defy its rules. Free will requires you to, em, act outside the box.

And I never mentioned God. God is a matter of faith. Heh.

jdeeripper said...

What if you knew that to be human was nothing more than to be a machine?

I'd say where can I buy a machine that looks like a young Raquel Welch?

In fact considering how Raquel Welch has aged I'm not sure she isn't some kind of machine.

Revenant said...

No, not at all. Imagine a big box with marbles on tracks, like this, with a bunch of marbles being dropped in.

Ok, I said you were confusing "follows rules" with "is completely predictable". You denied it, then responded with an example of something which is almost completely predictable. There are plenty of things in our world which follow laws and rules and are completely UNpredictable.

Take the game of craps, for example. 7s are more probable than 4s, which in turn are much more probable than 2s. You'll never know in advance how a craps game will turn out -- but the system follows strict rules nonetheless. You've expended considerable effort proving that a deterministic system cannot be unpredictable without outside intervention. Nobody's disputing that point. What you're missing is that "machine" does not automatically imply "deterministic".

From the perspective of the universe, the guys outside the box have the free will--no matter how much any particular guy tries to convince you that he is, in fact, just a marble, set in motion by actions long ago.

Has it occurred to you that in your example the marbles don't have any free will at all? I don't see how this is an argument for the existence of human free will. It is an argument that we're all God's deterministic puppets, it is just that the laws we obey deterministically are God's whims instead of natural laws. Either way the "marbles" have no say in what happens to them, in your example. Just wanted to point that out.

Revenant said...

Blake,

At 10:11, you wrote:

Free will requires cause.

Now, just under two hours later, you write:

Free will doesn't require cause, free will is cause.

I've heard of moving the goalposts but that's effing ridiculous.

If free will doesn't require a cause then the existence of "the guy outside the box" is irrelevant to the existence of free will, because it is capable of existing without any causal factors bringing it into existence.

If it DOES require a cause then it can't exist, because any theory you'd care to cite for how it came to be eventually traces back to something that didn't have a cause, and therefore couldn't have free will, and therefore couldn't create free will in others. Your scenario requires a "guy outside the box", who requires his OWN guy outside the box to give HIM free will, and so on, turtles all the way down, etc etc.

blake said...

We were using "requires" in a different way. (And I was referring in the second message to your use of requires, not mine in the three-hour earlier message. Still, sloppy, and I apologize.)

You used "requires" in the sense of "cause is a prerequisite for free will", something has to create free will, in other words. That's not what I'm saying at all. (And I have a hard time grasping that concept, though I'm reading what Freeman has posted.)

Now, what I'm saying is you can't have "free will" unless you allow for causality. That's the sense that I meant "requires". (Now, actually, "free will" is a subset of cause with a lot of implicit baggage, because it implies that will can be other than free, but that's another can of worms.)

And yes, I know the marbles example was very simple and very deterministic one; I had hoped that would be simple enough to illustrate the point. If you prefer, substitute The Matrix for my box of lost marbles. Or a Platonic cave.

I have a difficult time making this complicated enough for you to understand.

Cause is about the simplest and most basic concept of existence. Without it, you are--well, you're effect. You're a rock. Inert. If we can't originate cause, if it's just a delusion, then there is nothing, anywhere, any way that matters.

There's no good or evil, no ethics, no right or wrong, really, because there is no evaluation of events, just effects of some long lost cause.

Which leads us to the answer to the question of "What if you knew that to be human was nothing more than to be a machine?"

If you really believed it, you're probably majoring in 19th century German and Russian philosophy and on the fast-track to suicide.

But if you recognize the inherent paradox in the question (what if WHO knew that to be human was nothing more thant o be a machine?) then you just ignore it, because it's not true.

bearbee said...

Define machine.

Pogo said...

Do androids dream of electric transcendence?

Do dogs get the unshakeable feeling there is something more?

Do atheists find comfort in the impending void when they are about to die?

Do machines have guilt? Or feel love? Regret? Hope? Sadness?

Would a robot paint the Sistine Chapel? Why?

Do appliances have virtue? Honor? Integrity? Kindness?

Too many negatives here for me to embrace mechanistic nihilism.

Original Mike said...

The post title reminded me of an old Woody Allen joke: "Suppose everything is an illusion and nothing really exists. In that case, you paid too much for that suit."

If that's the case, what difference does it make how much you paid for the suit?

John Althouse Cohen said...

Do atheists find comfort in the impending void when they are about to die?

More so than thinking there's even the faintest chance of going to hell.

Look, whatever happens after we die happens; it doesn't matter whether you LIKE it. Aside from that, your other points are very good ones.

Original Mike said...

The hard part for us is to accept that just because God knows what we will do before we do it,we are still not releived from Judgement of God for doing it. His eternal foreknowledge does not get you out of playing your role in life.That's why he choses some people to do things, because he already knows how they will use their free will.

Believers ask the question, "If there is no God, what is the point?". I read stuff like the above and say, "If God already knows what you're going to do, what's the point?" Seriously. From his point of view, what is the point? And, if from his point of view it's pointless, isn't it also pointless for you?

Original Mike said...

Look, whatever happens after we die happens; it doesn't matter whether you LIKE it.

Exactly. Which is why you "forget it and continue on as before."

John Althouse Cohen said...

"If God already knows what you're going to do, what's the point?" Seriously. From his point of view, what is the point? And, if from his point of view it's pointless, isn't it also pointless for you?

Oh, I think it's coherent to suppose that God created the world with free will and that he doesn't know what you're going to do. It could be like delegating authority: he had the power to control everything, but he chose to delegate it to people.

I'm not taking a stand on whether that's a correct or incorrect picture of the world -- just saying I don't think the existence of God would be mutually exclusive with free will. (Of course, I was arguing above that the absence of God isn't mutually exclusive with free will. I don't think the concept of God solves the problem in either direction.)

Pogo said...

"it doesn't matter whether you LIKE it."

Oh, but it matters to you, as all suffering matters to the sufferer, unless you don't matter, and then I have no answer for that.

Henry said...

I already knew that.

Original Mike said...

just saying I don't think the existence of God would be mutually exclusive with free will.

Me neither. What causes smoke to come out of my ears ("Norman, coordinate") is when people claim he already knows what you're going to do. If that's so, what is the point (to him) of actually playing it out. That makes no sense. (And I already know the rejoinder. "We can't understand his ways." Meh.)

Original Mike said...

Pogo - It doesn't matter in the sense that, whether you like it or not, there's nothing you can do about it.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Oh, but it matters to you, as all suffering matters to the sufferer, unless you don't matter, and then I have no answer for that.

Well, I didn't mean it like that. When I said "it doesn't matter," I didn't mean you're indifferent to it. I meant: whether you like something is irrelevant to the question of whether it is actually the case. It "matters" to me whether innocent people are dying in the Congo, in the sense that I would love for it not to be the case, but that has nothing to do with whether it is the case.

Pogo said...

" I didn't mean you're indifferent to it....whether you like something is irrelevant to the question of whether it is actually the case"
Then, quite naturally, there is no reason to object to any outcome of anything at all in life, don't you see? What difference could your own suffering mean in life, if it is all meaningless in death?


"that has nothing to do with whether it is the case."
Only if you think that whatever happens after we die happens and nothing you do in life can affect that outcome.

But Christianity disagrees; in fact, it's the entire point of the religion.

As Pascal put it:
"If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is....
..."God is, or He is not." But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. "No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all."

Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.
"That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much." Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite."

Original Mike said...

Then, quite naturally, there is no point to object to any outcome of anything at all in life, don't you see?

Fixed your post. (HTML question: How do you put a line through (i.e. cross out) existing text?)

What difference could your own suffering mean in life, if it is all meaningless in death?

It matters right now.

Pogo said...

"It matters right now."
Why should it, if it won't matter later? Why does saying now alter things a whit? Lacking meaning, whatever happens merely exists, like sand or wind or trees.

If my behavior ultimately has no meaning, what does it matter what I do? Only man-made rules to follow, or avoid getting caught. Otherwise, what does it matter that I kill someone?

Original Mike said...

Then, quite naturally, there is no reason to object to any outcome of anything at all in life, don't you see?

Didn't read this closely enough the first time (my apologies). There's no point to object to the final outcome, but there's plenty of reason to care about things as they're happening.

Original Mike said...

We've been here before. If you need a prize at the end, fine, but don't think your needs are shared by all. It matters to me quite a lot what's happening now. Now is all I've got, and I'm not giving it up.

Pogo said...

"It matters to me quite a lot what's happening now. Now is all I've got, and I'm not giving it up."
I don't disagree with you; no one really could honestly reject the now entirely, though many have tried. But living only for the moment has its own perils.

I object to the derivation of any meaning from living for the moment. There is none. It soon becomes mere satisfaction of desires, and one becomes quite consciousness of the meaninglessness.

More, it serves as no guide at all to behavior. Just arbitrary rules that can easily be skirted or ignored or flouted. And evil has no meaning either, just capture.

I don't feel the need for a prize, and I don't mean to beat the issue into the ground, I just have never heard a satisfactory explanation for this, and still do not find one.

Henry said...

Freeman Hunt wrote: What does it matter if you're a machine? You have no choice as to what you'll do.

I don't assume that being a machine and having consciousnous are exclusive.

We are biological machines. Part of our machinery may be consciousnous. It is mysterious, but doesn't make it impossible.

Freeman Hunt wrote: I guess you just wait and see what you do.

I think that is exactly how most people live their lives.

Crimso said...

"What causes smoke to come out of my ears ("Norman, coordinate") is when people claim he already knows what you're going to do. If that's so, what is the point (to him) of actually playing it out."

This presupposes that a god exists in or experiences time the same way we do. I assume that a true god would "see" past, present, and future as a complete whole (a finished work, though that would be an inapt analogy since "finished" would imply temporal experience; so would "work" for that matter).

Original Mike said...

More, it serves as no guide at all to behavior. Just arbitrary rules that can easily be skirted or ignored or flouted. And evil has no meaning either, just capture.

Been here before, too. I think the rules of moral behavior are obvious, not arbitrary at all. Kind of like religion without all the trappings. And when I "sin", I feel bad and resolve to do better. So far, I've done pretty well (no murder, bank robbery, sweetheart mortgage deals, ...).

John Althouse Cohen said...

Then, quite naturally, there is no reason to object to any outcome of anything at all in life, don't you see? What difference could your own suffering mean in life, if it is all meaningless in death?

I don't know what you mean by "object." Frankly, this has become buried in so many layers of irony and rhetorical questions that I've lost track of what you're arguing here.


But Christianity disagrees; in fact, it's the entire point of the religion.

Oh. Well I disagree, so there!

As for Pascal's wager, which you quoted, why not apply it to Hinduism or Buddhism or vegetarianism or Satanism or anything? Why can't I say you must devote your life to worshipping me as a god because either you're wrong, in which case it doesn't matter, or you're right, in which case I'll give you infinite rewards? What if God will send all the skeptics to heaven and send all the Pascal-wagererers to hell? Pascal's wager is a famously bad argument for these and many other reasons (e.g. it seems inherently sleazy and dishonest).

Original Mike said...

What if God will send all the skeptics to heaven and send all the Pascal-wagererers to hell?

Now that would be funny. And doesn't God have to be, by definition, the funniest guy around?

Pogo said...

" Been here before, too."
Well, these are ultimate questions, and unanswerable. But I don't mean to bore.


"it seems inherently sleazy and dishonest"
I don't believe I've ever come upon that description of Pascal before, and I don't see how one could arrive there after actually reading his words.


"Why can't I say you must devote your life to worshipping me as a god...?"
Because you, too, bleed.


Moreover, neither you nor Mike can seem to give any good reason to adopt a moral code other than that you think it so (" I think the rules of moral behavior are obvious, not arbitrary at all."). Such arbitrariness is curious.

Original Mike said...

Well, these are ultimate questions, and unanswerable. But I don't mean to bore.

Which is why I spend a lot of time on them. I don't mean to bore, either. In fact, I'd love to be convinced. But, to date, I've found the argument circular and very unconvincing. And as to the specific question of "can you have morality without belief?", I know you can. It's the one thing in this arena that I know for a fact.

John Althouse Cohen said...

I don't believe I've ever come upon that description of Pascal before, and I don't see how one could arrive there after actually reading his words.

Then you're not very up on the standard criticisms of Pascal. The point I'm making is made all the time: that if you're just believing based on a self-interestedly calculating wager, it's not a very noble belief, and it's hard to believe that such a cold calculation would determine whether you go to heaven or hell. Who cares if you haven't seen this argument before? There's a first time for everything, and you've seen the argument now. It's a famous argument that's routinely made in discussions of Pascal's wager. Again, I don't understand why you think Pascal's wager is convincing. It's not. You can gush over how beautiful and Christian it is, but it's not a valid argument.

Christopher Smith said...

This is kind of the plot of Battlestar Galactica. You should watch it!

Original Mike said...

if you're just believing based on a self-interestedly calculating wager, it's not a very noble belief, and it's hard to believe that such a cold calculation would determine whether you go to heaven or hell.

This objection ocurred to me the first time I heard the argument. I was probably 10 years old. Not trying to be snarky. My immediate response was, "God's not going to fall for that."

Henry said...

(" I think the rules of moral behavior are obvious, not arbitrary at all.")

Isn't this a reason for not needing God?

On a mechanistic planet, advanced animals form social groups based on the psychological predisposition of their gene pool. Does God need to tell the gorillas to pick nits off each other's heads or is it built in? (If you believe in God, just rephrase -- does God build it in?)

It is said of the Massachusetts Puritans and the French Acadians that the only commandment they followed was "be fruitful and multiply." Yet even that would not have been possible if these colonists were not inclined toward cooperative behaviours.

Did they need God to make them cooperate? No. They were born that way. Why were they were born that way? Because their ancestors passed on those genes. Animals that aren't inclined to cooperate don't build sailing ships.

Original Mike said...

I think the rules of moral behavior are obvious,

I should amend that to say that, of course there are hard moral questions. "Is it moral to kill Hitler?" - A particularly easy "hard question", but you get the point. But the existance/non-existance of God doesn't change the calculus.

Pogo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pogo said...

"Then you're not very up on the standard criticisms of Pascal."

I don't mean to appear so stupid.

I concede.

There is no God.

Thanks.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Gee, John, how embarrassing for me.

Hey, you brought up the fact that you hadn't heard of certain arguments. Since they're actually pretty well-known arguments, I'm naturally going to point out this fact. I would just as soon not even discuss issues like who has heard what arguments before or how many people are convinced by which arguments, since I don't see much point in meta-debates like that.


Perhaps you can explain why so many many people are completely dissatisfied with your answers, why they seem so weak and circular and angry.

Obviously if people disagree with things I've said then I, in turn, disagree with them. Just stating that someone disagrees with someone doesn't say anything about who's right. Maybe I'm right or wrong; maybe they're right or wrong; but who's right or wrong has to be based on the merits of the arguments. I've said what I think about the merits, and I think it goes without saying that people are free to agree or disagree.

As for calling my argument "weak and circular and angry," read my blog post from just yesterday about how I've resolved not to care about adjective labels that are pinned on me. These adjectives mean nothing. They're what you rely on when you have no serious argument.

Again, this whole meta-discussion about who has heard what or who believes what is a convenient way of dodging the actual substantive questions about Pascal's wager, etc.

Jason (the commenter) said...

JAC:As for Pascal's wager, which you quoted, why not apply it to Hinduism or Buddhism or vegetarianism or Satanism or anything?

We could make a list of all the different beliefs of all the different religions and follow the beliefs that the most religions backed.

Jason (the commenter) said...

JAC: Obviously if people disagree with things I've said then I, in turn, disagree with them.

That's a very lawyerly way of behaving, isn't it? When people disagree with things I've said, I try to understand their point of view and see if what I've said was in error. And then maybe concede the point. But I do see how your way works for you.

Revenant said...

Now, what I'm saying is you can't have "free will" unless you allow for causality.

Materialism allows for causality. The concept of causality is a cornerstone of science.

If you really believed it, you're probably majoring in 19th century German and Russian philosophy and on the fast-track to suicide.

That's an idiotic thing to say. Why would a machine want to destroy itself just because it knew it was a machine?

Revenant said...

"it doesn't matter whether you LIKE it."

Oh, but it matters to you, as all suffering matters to the sufferer

Explain the leap from "my suffering matters to me" to "what happens to me after death matters to me".

Obviously it will matter to me that I'm dying, assuming I've time to think about it. But since I don't have any reason to believe anything will happen to me after death and will in any case find out for certain -- why worry about it? It isn't like I could say "on second thought there IS an afterlife and I don't like it, I think I'll just not die after all".

Revenant said...

What difference could your own suffering mean in life, if it is all meaningless in death?

That presumes that life is nothing but suffering, which is not true. Even the most miserable life has good parts.

Jeremy said...

Christopher Smith-
I was going to recommend Lost. I'm pretty sure that that's where the last two seasons are headed.

blake said...

That's an idiotic thing to say. Why would a machine want to destroy itself just because it knew it was a machine?

Because it's not.

Revenant said...

Why would a machine want to destroy itself just because it knew it was a machine?

Because it's not.

Please stop substituting zen koans for arguments. First we have the thing that is caused but isn't caused, now we have a machine that isn't a machine.

I believe I am a machine and yet feel no desire to commit suicide; in fact, I wonder at the sanity of people who think I ought to feel that way. So if a non-machine would automatically feel compelled to kill itself if it though it WAS a machine, the fact that I think I'm a machine and don't want to kill myself proves I'm right.

blake said...

Dude, I'm not arguing with you.

If I wanted to change your mind, I'd just reprogram you, like any other machine.

Revenant said...

If I wanted to change your mind, I'd just reprogram you, like any other machine.

Machines have been capable of learning for several decades now, blake. They "change their mind" all the time. Got a spam filter for your mail client? It changes its mind about what constitutes spam on a regular basis, just on the basis of the mail it reads.

blake said...

Oh, Good Lord, Rev.

Have you noticed your spam filtering program needs to be updated periodically? It's having its mind changed. If it were cause and not effect, if could revise its own program based on original concepts of what constitutes spam.

Because it can't, and because human spammers can change the bits around in a way that's completely lost on spam filters, yet completely obvious to humans, a human must intervene.

The physical universe is only particles and energies, a space to hold them in and a timeline to keep things organized. It's outside observation that attaches significance to those particles.

That's why a spam filter can't ever fully work. Because to a computer, bits are bits. They have no color. There's no "bad" bit.

In your universe, apparently, if you just write enough code and it's just complicated enough, then it becomes sentient. How is that not just techno-mysiticism?

Revenant said...

Have you noticed your spam filtering program needs to be updated periodically?

Mine doesn't, since I use Bayesian filtering. The program can learn to identify mail it has never seen before as spam, simply by virtue of having been exposed to lots of other examples of spam. Obviously not human-quality reasoning, but considering it has less processing mojo than a field mouse that's some grade-A learning ability. Other examples are capable of learning things without any human feedback at all, e.g. robots learning to walk and navigate around obstacles.

So I'll skip ahead a bit to the parts of your argument that aren't based on ignorance of modern computer science.

The physical universe is only particles and energies, a space to hold them in and a timeline to keep things organized.

Congratulations for arriving at a definitive understanding of everything the physical universe consists of. I'll notify the physics community that they can all stop working now.

More seriously, "energy and particles" are just (some of) the parts of the physical universe that we can directly detect. The underlying structure of things appears to be a lot weirder than that. Take superstrings, for example -- they are neither matter nor energy, and yet a convincing argument can be made that they exist. Another example would be raw vacuum, which contains neither matter nor energy and yet spontaneously and unpredictably produces both. Related to this are so-called "virtual particles", which we *thought* were just a clever trick of mathematics until they turned out to actually, in a sense, exist. Yet another example is information itself, with mathematics being a particularly good example.

But in any case, if free will exists then it has to exist in the physical universe, as anything interacting with the physical universe is by definition part of it. So it must be composed of one of more of the things in whatever "comprehensive list of everything in the physical universe" list you'd care to make.

In your universe, apparently, if you just write enough code and it's just complicated enough, then it becomes sentient.

You are the one claiming that things like free will and sentience are impossible without mystical intervention.

My point is simply that we have no rational reason to think such intervention is necessary. Your entire argument is based on the fallacy of argument from incredulity -- you can't imagine how these things could exist without mystical intervention, ergo they must be impossible. Your inability to think how something might be possible is not an argument for its impossibility.

How is that not just techno-mysiticism?

We have hundreds of billions of examples of organisms that exhibit sentience. In all cases that sentience relies on the proper functioning of the brain; mess up the brain, and the sentience goes away. We have thus far encountered no evidence of anything that can be sentient without a brain, nor have we found any evidence that the brain is acting as a conduit for an outside source of sentience. So the rational thing to think is "this physical object, also known as 'the brain', is responsible for sentience". You can label that conclusion as "techno-mysticism" or whatever other asinine insult you'd like to think up. I promise to pretend to care.

Original Mike said...

The physical universe is only particles and energies, a space to hold them in and a timeline to keep things organized.

Blake, I take back my comment about your big brain.