Posts tagged with free will

A plant that turns toward the light, or a worm that writhes after severation, doesn’t do so out of free will.Their internal biochemistry mechanically responds in a deterministic (if stochastic) way. They don’t make choices.
In Vehicles, Valentino Braitenberg asks if we humans aren’t the same way.
 
Even I could come up with the easy arguments for stimulus→response:
something annoys me → bad mood → don’t pay attention to the car that’s pulling out → accident
physics says so
I read a compelling book about robots → inspired to go to graduate school and dedicate my life to synthetic consciousness → entrenched in a career with no prospects
people predictably respond to stimuli: we avoid people & situations we don’t like and gravitate to what we do like (subject to feasibility constraints).
 
But Braitenberg does something much more convincing. He builds robots to prove his point.
He starts by resolving the problem of Burridan’s Ass stochastically. A phototropic robot might be stuck at θ = 0° between two light sources, but since we can’t get it to exactly 0° the robot—without free will or choice—heads toward one of the “bales of hay”.

What seemed like a paradox according to pure thought went away when someone took the paradox seriously enough to build a physical model. 
That problem is resolved with two wires connecting two stimuli to two engines. As the book progresses Braitenberg builds more lifelike robots using more connections—complex networks that reroute external stimuli to mechanistic, deterministic robotic response.

Braitenberg doesn’t get all the way to the dramatic complexity of "I love you! … I know." but given what’s possible with a few tens of connections, what could be possible with hundreds of trillions of connections?

Because of this book I went through years of my life believing I was probably an automaton.

A plant that turns toward the light, or a worm that writhes after severation, doesn’t do so out of free will.
image
Their internal biochemistry mechanically responds in a deterministic (if stochastic) way. They don’t make choices.

In Vehicles, Valentino Braitenberg asks if we humans aren’t the same way.

 

Even I could come up with the easy arguments for stimulus→response:

  • something annoys me → bad mood → don’t pay attention to the car that’s pulling out → accident
  • physics says so
  • I read a compelling book about robots → inspired to go to graduate school and dedicate my life to synthetic consciousness → entrenched in a career with no prospects
  • people predictably respond to stimuli: we avoid people & situations we don’t like and gravitate to what we do like (subject to feasibility constraints).
 

But Braitenberg does something much more convincing. He builds robots to prove his point.

He starts by resolving the problem of Burridan’s Ass stochastically. A phototropic robot might be stuck at θ = between two light sources, but since we can’t get it to exactly the robot—without free will or choice—heads toward one of the “bales of hay”.

image

What seemed like a paradox according to pure thought went away when someone took the paradox seriously enough to build a physical model

That problem is resolved with two wires connecting two stimuli to two engines. As the book progresses Braitenberg builds more lifelike robots using more connections—complex networks that reroute external stimuli to mechanistic, deterministic robotic response.

image

Braitenberg doesn’t get all the way to the dramatic complexity of "I love you! … I know." but given what’s possible with a few tens of connections, what could be possible with hundreds of trillions of connections?

image

Because of this book I went through years of my life believing I was probably an automaton.


hi-res




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The Nervous System

  • dissections of live criminals’ brains
  • animal spirits (psychic)
  • neuron νεῦρον is Greek for cord
  • Galen thought the body was networked together by three systems: arteries, veins, and nerves
  • Descartes as the source of the theory of reflexive responses—fire stings hand, νευρώνες tugging on the brain, fluids in the brain tug on some other νευρώνες, and the hand pulls away—automatically.
  • the analogy of a clock (…today we’re much smarter. We think of brains as being like computers, which is definitely not an outgrowth of today’s hot technology!)
  • cogito ergo sumsensation is what’s distinctive about our brains. How could a clock feel something? (Today again, we’re much smarter: we think it’s the ability to reflect on thought—anything with at least one “meta” term in it must be intelligent.)
  • Muscles fire like bombs exploding (a chemical reaction of two mutually combustible elements)—and the fellow who came up with this theory had been spending a lot of time in the battlefield where bombs were the new technology.
  • autonomic, peripheral, central nervous systems
  • Willis, Harvey, Newton
  • What makes nerves transmit information so fast?
  • Galvani’s theory that electricity is only an organic phenomenon. (Hucksters arise!)
  • The theory of the synapse—it’s the connections that matter.
  • The discovery that nerves aren’t continuous connected strings, but rather made up of billions of individual parts.
  • Activation thresholds—a classic and simple non-linear function!

(Source: BBC)




The jazz educator David Baker had this to say about jazz improvisation:

You start out learning scales; modes; whole songs. You   play along with your favourite records. Then you start breaking it down to pieces—licks, long bits of solos. Gradually as you get more and more mastery of your instrument and over yourself, your control becomes more and more atomic. At the level of full mastery you are feeling, and choosing, every note, every rest. Eventually it’s every fraction of a note, or fraction of a rest, that you’re playing. Actively.

You also want to extend your range. Your body has a wide range of expression at your command. It’s not just your instrument that can make sound. Clomps, stomps, screams, claps, yelps, lip trills, Brooklyn raspberries, exhaling, inhaling, crying out—all of these are tools at your disposal. You also want to become comfortable in every range of your instrument—even very very high, and very very low, have a purpose that in expressing some emotion you may want to utilise.

The bolded part especially rings true for me much more broadly than in music performance. Free will, I feel, can be exercised to varying degrees. If I check my email in the morning, go on Facebook, check my twitter notifications, whatever, I’m yielding up my free will. I’m passively responding to things that I put in front of myself. On better days, or at least the days when I assert more atomic control over my time and choices, I actively spend time in the moment and/or ask myself what I really want to be doing, rather than rolling the wheels through the ruts of habit or letting stimuli lead me to respond.

For me the question of free will isn’t about yes/no deductions—it’s about how much, today?




[T]he impulse of the heart often coincided with other imperatives.

happy love, i.e., love which is socially approved and thus likely to succeed, is nothing but that kind of amor fati, … love of one’s own social destiny, which, by the apparently hazardous and arbitrary paths of free choice, unites partners already socially predestined for each other.

Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie — quoting Pierre Bourdieu




This was a rhetorical question our chess teacher used to ask us. It’s a reminder that even though materiel, position, and tempo are worthwhile achievements that advance your interests, the goal is to check-mate the King.

For example the Blitzkrieg or “Scholar’s Mate” doesn’t capture materiel or obtain an advantageous position. It just goes directly for the kill.

It’s worth asking this question whether you’re just out the gate or mid-game. Is there a way within a few moves that you could mate early? Never forget to look for that in the quest for materiel or position.

  

I use the question now in my life as a shorthand for

  • why am I doing this?

. Getting money, obeying authority, learning things, obtaining credentials (résumé builders”), maintaining a low weight—all are “good” goals which advance my interests. But why? What is it aiming towards? What am I really trying to do?

In chess the goal is well-defined, whereas in life one can choose one’s own goals. In particular they can be

  • continual (“Go for walks”)
  • or circular (“Raise kids, so they can raise kids, so they can raise kids, …”)
  • rather than once-and-done (“Get thin”, “Mate the King”).
  • (And they needn’t be zero-sum.)

I think that makes the question What is the object of the game of chess? even more important.

That’s something that helps me and I hope it helps you. I’m going to pause now for some quiet reflection.




It is therefore, I think, a mistake to think of the individual as a sort of elementary nucleus, a primitive atom or some multiple, inert matter to which power is applied, or which is struck by a power that subordinates and destroys individuals. In actual fact, one of the first effects of power is that it allows bodies, gestures, discourses, and desires to be identified and constituted as something individual.

The individual is not, in other words, power’s opposite number; the individual is one of power’s first effects. The individual is in fact a power-effect, and at the same time, and to the extent that he is a power-effect, the individual is a relay: power passes through the individuals it has constituted.
Michel Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended” (14 January 1976)




Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes

I was raised up believing
I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes
Unique in each way you can see

And now after some thinking
I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery
Serving something beyond me

But I don’t … know what that will be


What’s my name, what’s my station
Oh just tell me what I should do
I don’t need to be kind to the armies of night


Or bow down and be grateful

To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls
And determine my future for me

And … I don’t know who to believe


If I know only one thing
It’s that every thing that I see
Of the world outside is so inconceivable
Often I barely can speak



If I had an orchard
I’d work till I’m raw
If I had an orchard
I’d work till I’m sore

And you would wait tables
And soon run the store

(por LewisLickitung)




Girl in an expensive American city tells me to travel often and quit my job.
http://www.secretstopeace.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/This-is-your-life-poster.jpg




Chuck Palahniuk holds a gun to a man’s head and makes him promise to follow his dreams.
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_v8hYRweI4vY/TGCiIB6PFEI/AAAAAAAAAT0/pQ-yQlORYbU/s1600/humansacrifice.jpg




Paul Ryan Spending Final Day Of Campaign Reminding Homeless People They Did This To Themselves

(As I tried to submit this to @pastabagel, I saw an ad by an institute of higher learning suggesting that I further my career by giving them money. A nice coincidence made possible by the fact that ads for higher degrees are more ubiquitous than weight-loss ads.)

(Beware: some of the images beyond “Read More” are violent.)

Read More




Another reason for economists to take a close look at inequality, social rank, envy, greed, dreams, social or cultural messages/expectations, and so on as determinants of experienced utility.

Sapolsky’s observation is that human beings engage evolutionary stress hormones in response to purely psychological stimuli. Looking at babboons, who cause each other stress as we do, he finds that lower ranked (submissive) males carry higher amounts of epinephrine (adrenalin) and glucocorticoids than dominant alpha males. (No reports in this documentary on fat-shaming or that ugly females have higher stress.)

So that may be a basis for thinking that social inequality—where a rank and a distance exist—really does mean a lower quality of life for the bottom-rungers, even if they have an absolutely high standard of living. (Sapolsky remarks that in the park he visits, food is so plentiful for the babboons that they only need to work 3 hours a day to survive. So they could be said to have an absolutely high wealth.)

Of course the “right” use of Pareto optimality always took into account the possibility that giving more money to Bill Gates could make me more miserable—but utility is so hard to pin down that a social-optimality conversation can easily be turned by “Well, it’s wrong of you to envy the rich” — casting aside the normative/descriptive distinction.

My first thoughts leap to envy-free solutions of pie-splitting problems (S J Bram, P C Fischburn)

image image image image

but maybe there are some free-lunch alternatives as well. Such as, is there something I’m doing that makes other people feel ashamed or stressed? Some subtle pitches to my voice or subtle movements of my eyes when I’m internally judging someone but trying to not say anything out loud? Why do I care anyway if some hippie wants to be an organic farmer and not get a job? I don’t think I even have a good reason to care; “ideological opposition”. Maybe you can make some arguments sometimes that I should be stressed about the possibility that my government gets overrun by a bunch of irresponsible ideologues and it’s worth the time to debate about it. Fine, but still maybe there are some free lunches in just not socially shaming other people. Just because I have more money doesn’t mean I need to look down on you as less a person. There certainly are narratives that tell that story—"Contribution to society" type narratives or "Hard work" narratives and sometimes even Smart narratives. But I don’t need to embrace those, especially if it’s suboptimal.

 

Minute 28 they show pictures of monkey brains lighting up in the pleasure centre or stress zones.

image

Making me think again of taking an integral of the chemical flows over someone’s life (how to deal with time I don’t know) as some kind of selfish evaluation of the pain/pleasure experienced over the lifetime. The naïvest thing would be to measure dopamine and integrate it up over time, perhaps convolved with a risk preference function, anti-variance or pro-variance preference, and some time preference (either NPV/Ramsey or work hard in youth for a delightful old age). Something more realistic would have to take into account that a full life should experience a variety of emotions and corresponding chemical combinations. When your father dies you don’t want to go on smiling and partying, for example.

  

Minute 48 we get Sapolsky’s interpretation: rank isn’t necessarily it, but rather what rank means in your culture. And our own psychological freedom to decide which hierarchy we think is important. Maybe, RS. Just because I have free will doesn’t make me Herculean, it depends how hard it is to override the bad thoughts with self-affirming thoughts.

Giving rather than receiving. Ask a middle-class parent if s/he is looking forward more to giving something to their child or receiving a present from a friend, partner, or coworker this Christmas? Yet the economics 101 just takes consumption and leisure as life’s desiderata.

So put this together with Daniel Kahneman's supposed finding of an “enough” level (around $45k for Americans I think) above which extra income doesn’t add very much to one’s sense of well-being.

That is, above $45k suponemos que income sea more of a ranking tool or a “You did right” reward. People’s happiness se determine más por the way coworkers and people around them act toward them [do I have to deal with this stressful person today? Does Mr Z laugh at my jokes? Do people look and speak to me as if I’m respectable, smart, admirable, good-looking, sexy, competent, fun, nice—what kind of person am I? Am I good?

image

] y menos por consumption por sí. Their home is comfortable enough, their food is good enough, life is easy enough. Money removes discomfort rather than providing happiness, kind of idea.

Hat tip @ArcAldebaran.




I had judged The Emperor’s New Mind by the negative reviews but never actually picked it up. It has a lot of great stuff, almost like an “early draft” of The Road to Reality.




All I knew about Emperor’s New Mind before was that it invokes quantum mechanics to explain free will, which was perceived as “icky” by people who study the brain. (Despite that, like quantum nonsense, the “greats” of QM—Bohr, Schrödinger—also weighed in with QM/free-will speculations (do you hear me, Conrad&Kochen? Quantum communication folks?) — because, let’s be real here, free will is a millennia-old conundrum and I think we’d all appreciate it if the people who understand compositions of Hilbert spaces weighed in on whether and what the latest “master theory” (bringer of semiconductors = transistors, LCD’s, lasers, MRI/PET and certain polymers/piezoelectrics/other materials) would say about the age-old question)

I got a bit more of the debate whilst reading about pi-1 sentences, which is a computability/knowability/logic dealio. But again, this was the level of “What’s RP’s argument in a nutshell?” rather than “Is here anything worth reading in the 400 pages?”. It’s a lot of good.