Is Free Will Too Cheap?
April 26, 2016
Do we possess a genuine capacity to choose, or is our sense of agency always an illusion? Or to put it another way: is it free will or just a cheap trick?
“Your conscious life”, neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran declares, “is nothing but an elaborate post-hoc rationalization of things you really do for other reasons”. This is the general position of a disparate group of researchers who insist that free will is merely an illusion, a self-deception we conduct upon ourselves. That we frequently deceive ourselves in these ways is hardly news – philosophers and clergy from the sixteenth century onwards were already discussing this oh-so-human capacity, and older references can also been found. What has made these ‘new illusionists’ into something newsworthy has been their willingness to inflate these claims into the broadest strokes: it is not that there is a risk of self-deceit, there is no free will at all, because what really motivates human action is never occurring at a conscious level.
The historical context for the contemporary dismissal of our conscious lives have been concisely discussed by Mary Midgley in her book Are You An Illusion? She quotes co-discoverer of the DNA molecule, Francis Crick, as giving one of the clearest examples of this fairly recent trend, when he wrote (in 1994): “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their attendant molecules.” Midgley raises a proverbial eyebrow at Crick’s use of ‘in fact’, and justifiably questions whether what we are dealing with here really is a factual concern. This is clearly a case of scientists muscling in on philosophical turf – and one should always be careful when claiming authority over somewhere that’s already populated.
As it happens, the new illusionists are latecomers to a game that is as old as philosophy – and in this case, both in its Western and its Eastern traditions. The core of the philosophical conflict has primarily been over the question of how human freedom relates to the apparent causal nature of the physical world. The common sense perspective is philosophically defended by supporters of what are known as libertarian positions – we have a genuine capacity to choose. This was a particularly important argument in Medieval Europe since such freedom had both theological and juridical implications: you cannot blame someone unless they have responsibility for their own actions. But there are two other main camps opposed to this understanding.
The incompatablist position is arguably the default position on free will at the moment. Since cause follows effect so reliably (the standard argument goes), free will would seem to be excluded since in a deterministic universe there is no room for it. Free choice must mean the possibility of having chosen differently – which determinism presumably excludes. The new illusionists come at this position armed with experiments that purport to provide proof of a slightly different kind – namely that our conscious deliberations aren’t evidence of free decision making anyway, since we act unconsciously. The outcome of such lines of attack are still firmly incompatablist, however: free will is excluded by arguments about (psychological) causation.
Back in 1738, the Scottish philosopher and intellectual rake David Hume turned the two established positions over free will on their head with a robust compatabilist argument. Libertarian claims could not be correct since to suggest a different decision could have been made amounted to breaking causality by bringing in a random element. Yet if chance was involved in our decision making, we could hardly claim to have ownership over our choices! Hume carefully defined necessity and liberty and demonstrated an absence of contradiction. The assumption that ‘we could have chosen differently’ has a rather suspicious meaning when it is examined closely, and we need determinism to make sense of our choices (Hume suggests), lest they unravel into randomness.
The argument advanced by Hume, if accepted, would destroy the credibility of every hokey science fiction tale that hangs on a branching timeline where a character makes different choices. If his argument is accepted, these no longer make a lick of sense: from where could this different outcome spring, exactly? If it comes from chance, there can be no coherent claim for the will to command our actions. But if it comes from elsewhere, are we committed to some extra-physical component of mind to explain how multiple outcomes could emerge from the same decision?
Free will cannot mean that in a parallel universe you chose differently: a different outcome would mark a different person. This has been my understanding of the problem of free will ever since I read Hume. We make an utterly metaphysical (i.e. untestable) assumption when we think ‘choosing freely’ must mean the possibility of different outcomes, since we only ever exist within time, and within just one sequence of events. Incompatablist arguments are making untestable assumptions on a grand yet oft-unnoticed scale. But whilst I found Hume's arguments very compelling on this subject, something always felt out of place in his account. It has taken me some time to track it down.
In a fascinating book thriving in the interface between philosophy and empirical research, Nancey Murphy, George Ellis, and Timothy O’Connor collect a host of perspectives on what contemporary neurobiology means for the discussion of free will. Entitled Downward Causation and the Neurobiology of Free Will, the most liberating aspect of this volume’s eclectic discussions is its clear recognition that the traditional debate about free will has run aground over its assumptions about determinism. In a decidedly Humean move, the editors recognise that libertarian vs. incompatablist arguments are held up on a perception of causality that is essentially reductionistic – they presuppose a single dimension of causation, from the ‘bottom’ upwards.
Contemporary researchers give ample examples of emergent behaviours that contradict reductionism, and thus display what can be termed downward causation. In a 2006 paper, for instance, philosopher Robert C. Bishop points to Rayleigh-Bénard convection as a simple paradigm case: self-organising non-linear structures in heated fluids (convection cells) must be understood at a scale above that of individual molecules or the entire phenomena is incomprehensible. Bishop correctly recognises the importance of this case for metaphysics and philosophy of mind, since it demonstrates (without any torturous assumptions) that treating causal relations as merely one-directional isn't even sufficient for physical systems, let alone living organisms, or complex minds.
For the traditional arguments regarding free will, the entire conceptual framework is thrown open by bringing into doubt the more simplistic conceptions of causality. It is no longer plausible to assign responsibility for cause and effect in a purely linear and reductionistic fashion, as if atoms were the sole foundational element of reality. Rather, there is a growing recognition in both philosophy and the sciences that downward causation is both plausible and indeed necessary to explain all manner of complex systems. In the case of human behaviour in particular, our symbolic faculties, such as language and mathematics, create spaces for downward causation whereby understanding what counts as a ‘cause’ has to mean much more than simply reducing our focus to the sub-atomic.
As the 2012 volume (which is based on a workshop from 2007) explores, these changes in empirical understanding massively reframe the free will argument, and undermine new illusionist claims. Two such viewpoints are discussed at length: Benjamin Libet’s neurobiological research that suggests our brains begin responding before we are consciously aware of willing an action, and Daniel Wegner’s psychological work separating the feeling of volition from the mental causes of action. Both Wegner and Libet are looking to deflate conventional views on free will. The philosophical push-back demonstrates once again a confusion of concepts, particularly in Timothy O’Connor's chapter, which simultaneously debugs both the new illusionists and conventional understandings of free will, sketching a new framework for understanding volitional behaviour.
In the broadest strokes, however, all the new illusionists are offering self-defeating accounts. This is a point mentioned by numerous authors in the aforementioned anthology, and also by Allen Wood in his discussion of Fichte’s notions of absolute freedom. The essential problem is that if, as Ramachandran and others assert, our entire conscious life is an illusion, there can be no scientific investigation of any credence –these too must be reduced to “elaborate post-hoc rationalization”. Fichte’s arguments, from the tail end of Hume's century but buffed-up by Wood’s contemporary scholarship, form a sharp point of rebuttal. If there is no free will, then there can be no concept whatsoever of understanding, at least as it is usually considered. To understand inherently implies a wavering between possibilities before settling upon one as the adequate explanation. All the sciences depend upon this mental phenomena. Yet if determinism destroys the possibility of free will (or, in the contemporary argument, conscious thought is mere confabulation) this must also make the sciences impossible, since this wavering between possibilities is the essence of free decision-making.
Thus it transpires that it’s the new illusionist arguments that are far too cheap to be taken seriously. But by engaging with them, philosophers once again show the benefits of inter-disciplinary discourse, and the productive gains available when the sciences exchange ideas with philosophy. The classical free will problem is not resolved (nor can it be, because of its inherent metaphysical assumptions), but perhaps we have at long last begun to move beyond it into a new and productive understanding of the relationships between volition and action.
The opening image is Hilma af Klint’s Free Will (1907). No copyright infringement is entailed by displaying this image.
A proper answer would make a rather long comment, maybe i should post an article on this issue. However i will provide the germs of an answer (which of course can be further elaborated).
The crux of the question is around:
1. Causality does not need nor imply determinism. Determinism is one thing, causality is another. In fact determisnim is consistently falsified (and i'm not talking just about modern quantum mechanical approaches). Determinism was falsified even in the ancient autocratic regimes where it was first formulated. Determinim is a concept to serve a certain social order and function. This is a fact.
2. How can that be? Here is a simple example: the cause is the square of a number and the effect is the square root. But both a positive and a negative number satisfy the causal condition of the square root? Which one will it be? We have perfect causality but NO determinism. Find this very simple and naive example? Physicaly squares and square roots are all over the place (energy is a square, total energy is also a square). This is a fact.
3. Causality is NOT Effectality. By playing with words we come to an important point. What matters is the ability to determine causes from effects (i.e causality), not necesarily effects from causes (i.e effectality and the crux of determisnim) which is always falsified. This is a fact. So indeterminism and free will are perfectly compatible with perfect causality.
4. Following along these lines, a cause or causes may have a set of effects which is COMPATIBLE to the cause or causes. But one effect will be. And this one effect has a causal relationship with the cause or causes, in other words the effect POINTS uniquely to the cause but the cause DOES NOT POINT unquely to the effect (one-to-many relation). This is all over the place. This is a fact.
5. Yeah but IF we take into account everything, including the environment, THEN either one of the two numbers ought to happen, and this is perfectly determined. Nope, you just tried to shift the problem to another position, but it is still there. For example total energy is a square. This is a fact.
6. Conscious elaboration of criteria for a decision DO NOT constitute free will. This is wrong. This is THE ESSENCE of free will and free choice. Of what it means for one to choose and will, to have consciousness. That one can elaborate, estimate, choose criteria, experiment, even guess or flip a coin, imagine and all that in order to arrive at a decision. This the essense of free will and free choice. This is a fact.
Well one could say that this was not very "philosophical", maybe, but at least it used some facts.
Posted by: Nikos M. | September 28, 2016 at 07:19 PM
If our decisions are not explicable through our conscious decision-making process, does that invalidate free will as a concept? That seems to me to be the challenge that is being laid out by the 'New Illusionists', and it seems to me that you (like me) are rejecting their position roundly.
Many thanks for taking my invitation to follow through to this topic, and for commenting upon it. Your thread of linking ideas has a lot of points I would agree with, but I'll (inevitably) focus upon the disagreements...
"In fact determisnim is consistently falsified..."
I don't think this claim can hold. Determinism is a metaphysical (i.e. untestable) thesis about whether events always go the same way given identical starting conditions. There is (by definition) no way to test this - it would require rewinding the universe. Running equivalent operations and seeing different outcomes is not a test of determinism, although one can certainly draw a (metaphysical) conclusion from such matters. I am often tempted to do so.
"Determinim is a concept to serve a certain social order and function. This is a fact."
I'd be careful about this kind of assertion: you appear to be making some further claim by adding the phrase 'this is a fact' to your observation about determinism. But nothing follows from naming your proposition a fact here... Although I appreciate it serves a rhetorical role in your argument by punctuating each step in the same way. (I'm wary of the way 'fact' is used in arguments... it is not often helpful to identify facts.)
"...(one-to-many relation). This is all over the place. This is a fact."
I'm not entirely convinced that the one-to-many relationship between causes and effects has any bearing here. It seems to me that causes and effects can be many-to-many across the board, but that this doesn't bear upon any specific problem in this space. I might be missing something in your logic, though - a tangible example might help bring this into focus, if you feel moved to clarify.
"Conscious elaboration of criteria for a decision DO NOT constitute free will. This is wrong. This is THE ESSENCE of free will and free choice. Of what it means for one to choose and will, to have consciousness. That one can elaborate, estimate, choose criteria, experiment, even guess or flip a coin, imagine and all that in order to arrive at a decision. This the essense of free will and free choice. This is a fact."
Now here this is definitely not a fact in any conventional sense of the term! :) The question of the criteria for free will is precisely what is up for grabs here, and it's not clear that any conventional use of the term 'fact' applies in this instance, precisely because of the disagreement as to what constitutes free will.
The 'New Illusionists' cited in this piece are trying to claim that there is no free will because motivations are not executed at the level of conscious deliberation. And oddly, given the tone of this piece, I agree that this is the case. But it would have to be the case in any plausible neurology, so the importance of this is probably not what they think it should be! :)
I rather suspect what we have here is a case of researchers finding a powerful way of getting media traction for their work, by spinning it in the way that has the most impact. (This was also what got Richard Dawkins into a weird place with the 'selfish gene'.) It's quite unfortunate that this works as well as it does, and in my view does no favours for the sciences as a whole, although others would disagree with me here.
Some folks in and around the 'free will' topic have moved to a place they find comfortable by rejecting the notion of 'free will', without actually arguing against it as such (just suggesting the concept is muddled). Although these arguments are fairly coherent, I'm not a fan of this approach... I think, like you, that it is not as mysterious or arcane a concept as it can appear when we get swept away in particular scenarios that seem to call it into doubt.
The fact (it's about time I used a fact!) that not all of our decisions are explicable through our conscious decision-making process is not evidence against free will at all, but rather a reminder that our freedom to act is fragile, and subverted all-too-easily. That for me does not call for abandoning or denying free will at all: it calls for precisely the opposite, the application of our free will to resist, subvert, and overcome that which robs us of our free will through lazy seduction and distraction. About this, I don't think we're in any way adequately prepared as a species!
Alas, my discussion went down some tangential paths - but I thank you for drawing this out of me, and taking the time to comment.
Until next time,
Posted by: Chris | September 29, 2016 at 04:38 PM
Ok Chris, i'll try to answer (or provide steps toward answers) for the points you make.
i'm aware of the "philosophical debate" of ontology over gnosiology (although the terms might have changed). yes this "philosophical approach" (i'm using quotes throughout) cannot tell if this is day or night. Yet one may get suburns.
You mention that determinism is a metaphysical question and thus not testable nor anything else. Does that mean that it is meaningless as well? Irrelevant? What is NOT a metaphysical question?
At least for the practical terms for what is used to serve and propagate is certainly not metaphysical and practicaly testable. And this IS a fact and in this practical sense IT IS falsified all over the place. One wants to keep it as a metaphysical position, no problem. But one does not want to do that, one uses this to provide practical consequences. That determism IS practical and should be obeyed practicaly. But this is not the case.
This answers your first two points.
"...(one-to-many relation). This is all over the place. This is a fact." This is an example (in fact i provided specific example to demostrate that one can have perfect causality and no determinism). This is an example. That energy is for example a square, is a fact. That known causes have a multitude of compatible effects is a fact and is all over the place. Be careful i'm not saying this is conclusive. But is important.
"Conscious elaboration of criteria for a decision DO NOT constitute free will. This is wrong. This is THE ESSENCE.."
"The question of the criteria for free will is precisely what is up for grabs here, and it's not clear that any conventional use of the term 'fact' applies in this instance, precisely because of the disagreement as to what constitutes free will"
Yeah i know this is the last crux of the question. But notice something here, the answer given simply responds to the disagreement. The disagreement is just there as a disagreement trying to conjure-out something. What if one (or many) disgarees in what means to eat? For example, saying that eating DO NOT constitute in taking food (in your mouth) and leading to your belly. Does that mean that we do not actualy eat? What i'm saying here is that this disagreement effectively tries to take away any meaning of what it means to choose and will. This IS what it means. Deciding and justifying choices is part of that. If one tries to take that away (or rhetoricaly conjure it away) you have nothing but we (all) know we have something. We dont go around like zombies, why not? When summer comes we dont go like zombies to the beach to cool out. There is heat, there is a need to cool out and hang out. But we decide where we will go, when, why. Maybe i have sth else more important and skip this or there is my favorite show on TV and go later, but then again my friend comes and i would rather hang out with her, but i remember reading the I Ching once and decide to try it out and throw a coin and decide to watch my show instead. Are there things and processes taking place at some other level, of course, yet there are processes taking place there and we are NOT zombies. Why?
"The fact (it's about time I used a fact!) that not all of our decisions are explicable through our conscious decision-making process is not evidence against free will at all, but rather a reminder that our freedom to act is fragile, and subverted all-too-easily."
Tricky point here, free will entails this. Creativity. Let me be clear and firm about this. There are attempts to reduce people behaviour mechanisticaly (mechanical is one thing, mechanistic is another). To control. Is there something tangible behind these attempts, as it should be since this is exactly what they put forward? No, squarely no. Speculation is one thing, yet the very thing that is put forward here should be the easiest to demonstrate (if this is the case of course). There is none. And this is a fact. That these attempts are there is a fact as you very well observe. We come back to question one about determisnism and what function it serves.
As far as illusionists are concerned, let me say this:
A global, consistent and persistent illusion is just reality. Want to name it "illusion", no problem, same difference.
Is free will cheap? Well, it's free.
Posted by: Nikos M. | September 30, 2016 at 02:51 PM
Furthermore (as i have pointed out elsewhere) reductionism cannot tell the difference between a "pile of elementaries" and a "body of elementaries".
Anyway, thank you for the will to have the discussion and comments. And again sorry for not seeing that my comment was still there initialy on scrolling the page. (i have commented here and there and have been censored or not even published my comments occasionaly so its not foreign to me to face that). Maybe you get an idea why. Sometime ago i wanted to make a comment/discussion on another site on free will (on determinism supporter) only to find out that the next day my comment (to suggest to start the discussion, discussion didnt even start) was deleted.
Posted by: Nikos M. | September 30, 2016 at 03:38 PM
I note that in terms of our philosophical position on free will, we agree. My counter-arguments were put against you to tease out your position; to see how strong your arguments were in practice. I have a sense that inside your argument is a stronger point than has been drawn out yet, but alas it has still not quite fallen into place.
Interesting to hear you use the term 'gnosiology'; this presumably marks you as a speaker of Greek. I think you refer to what in English is currently referred to as Epistemology (although your point is clear either way). Either way, I agree with you here that the battlefield between study of being and study of knowledge is misleading, and largely unhelpful.
"You mention that determinism is a metaphysical question and thus not testable nor anything else. Does that mean that it is meaningless as well? Irrelevant? What is NOT a metaphysical question?"
This is a fair challenge, at all levels. But I hope it's clear from how I argue that I do not mean to dismiss matters because they are metaphysical - far from it - and am indeed generally interested in metaphysical concerns and how best to address them (given that they will not be settled through testing). Everything touches upon the metaphysical at some point, but that doesn't reduce everything to a metaphysical question. It is not a metaphysical question to ask what seahorses eat, where water freezes, which cultures would recognise a distinction between two shades of green.
And no, clearly my marking this question as metaphysical does not mark it as irrelevant. But we ought to be cautious about treating as settled a matter beyond testing. In the case of the free will argument, it's may be helpful to recognise Hume's argument that if our behaviour was not deterministic, then we would be deceived to think that we were in control of it (since it would imply that our actions resulted in part from some random factor, some perturbation beyond free will). I view this as quite an important argument on this topic if one chooses to engage in it. Of course, you are free to dismiss it - but the force of any objection depends in part on how much it engages with the key arguments. You are well within your rights to take perturbations of outcome (say) as evidence against determinism - but this kind of move does not address Hume's argument, it only sidesteps it.
"A global, consistent and persistent illusion is just reality. Want to name it "illusion", no problem, same difference."
I have a great deal of sympathy for this position, but again the argument only goes so far. Is it not a global, consistent, and persistent illusion that the sun goes down? Even 'knowing' that this is because of the Earth turning doesn't change the observation that the sun does indeed go down. So we get to the recognition that saying "the sun doesn't really go down, the Earth turns" is not so much a matter of fact as it is a question of interpretation - but only because of that 'really', which presumes to say which kinds of observation are real.
I might come at this kind of issue a slightly different way and say it is a fact that the sun goes down (reliable observation), and it is a fact that the Earth turns (reliable deduction). What's more, there is a relationship between those two facts, and that relationship is what is interesting here. My way of touching this subject does not require identifying one thing as illusion, and another as reality. In this, perhaps, you might also agree!
Thanks for continuing our discussion. I took the liberty of unpublishing your two comments about the missing comment, since they didn't apply; I can put them back if this feels like censoring. I am not into censorship; the purpose of my blogs is the hope of discussion.
Posted by: Chris | October 03, 2016 at 07:04 AM
Hi again Chris
(small note, maybe an edit/delete option for comments would be helpful, but other sites dont have this also so whatever, no problem)
You are quite right, in what you say throughout.
Regarding Hume's argument, i'm aware and the part that i said this is not conclusive i include replying to it as well (although a kind of reply has already been given as example), yet a further elaboration would make a PhD here :)
You are again right about the sun-earth example, yet it is not such a problem.
For example lets take the matrix (the movie, the first movie). What can i say, pop culture :))
"The matrix is all around you (global), every time you wake up from bed, when you pay your taxes (persistent), a prison where you cannot smell, taste nor touch (inconsistent)." (Morpheus)
The thing with the matrix was that it was inconsistent and if one looked closely and carefuly one would see that somewhere (or even everywhere). That was the point. maybe that's why "everything tastes like chicken" :))
Posted by: Nikos M. | October 04, 2016 at 07:58 PM
i had a blog once (i have other things to face right now, but thats another story) where some essay-like posts of mine were published along with other work (i'm a programmer currently), the blog is closed but one of my posts i have added as comment here https://aleadeum.com/about/, which addresses some parts of your arguments (i think)
Posted by: Nikos M. | October 04, 2016 at 08:16 PM
Your 'smashed mirror' is very much the kind of example I was fishing for, and I think works quite well. I would like to quote from it here, as much for posterity as anything else:
It seems there is some quite sophisticated thinking going into your arguments here, and I will certainly have to ponder this further. I still think you are too quick to dismiss the concerns regarding free will - even though I agree with your conclusions, and think there is something in your general method worth digging out further.
Lastly, my apologies for taking over a week to reply - I am experiencing a tremendous collision of demands upon my time right now, and although my blogs are very important to me they are also unpaid work, and thus all too easily sidelined by other demands.
Many thanks for the discussion, and again, my apologies for the delay in replying.
Posted by: Chris | October 12, 2016 at 11:16 AM
My little essay (which was posted also as comment) is an explanation on what randomness means and a small but somewhat definite reply to the "random=meaningless" objection.
What makes something random is (per the analysis) the non-computable, un-predictable component and not meaninglessness per-se (if i can use such term).
Meaning is related to how something is "connected" to the (rest of the) "cosmos" (to avoid the term "system"). For example it is here and not there, such and not such other and so on and so forth. This IS meaning. In this sense everything (even "random") has, or is the carrier of "meaning" (in the sense stated). And randomness in this sense then is recast as "(created) new information"(=carrier of meaning) (like noted earlier as creative process) and this as an instance of "uniqeness" (and this makes more clear the connection and elaboration with the "arrow of time", but this is a larger issue to delve deeper at this time).
i dont think someone can disagree with this formulation. Of course someone CAN disagree, claiming that "meaning" can only be (derived) deterministicaly.
This objection states, in other words, that meaning cannot be created, or re-assigned, etc, etc.. Meaning not known in advance is not meaning.
But this (per the summary provided) does not change the fact that the way meaning is asserted is through (inter-)connections. And this does not invalidate meaning, nor forbid new and created meaning. One could go on and say that this is a (almost) fact!
Thanks for your time so far.
Posted by: Nikos M. | October 24, 2016 at 04:04 PM
Thanks for adding some further explanation, here. The idea that meaning is asserted through interconnections strikes me as being conceptually related to Hume's philosophy of mind (i.e. that thought is always constrained in terms of the 'raw materials' available to it). That said, it's a very contemporary way of looking at the matter, and one with much to recommend it.
I don't think much of the objection that 'meaning not known in advance is not meaning'; this depends upon the refusing to take into account the role of consciousness in the construction of meaning. This kind of claim wouldn't get very far these days. (Admittedly, we may have gone too far down the rabbit hole in terms of moving meaning away from that kind of clarity, but that's a wholly different problem.)
I also concur with your assessment that meaning and randomness are conceptually distinct; I can think of many ways of generating meaning randomly (such as the I Ching, or for that matter procedural narrative games) and would object to attempts to deny the term 'meaning' in such cases... You might disagree on this specific point, however. :)
Posted by: Chris | October 24, 2016 at 05:42 PM
"I can think of many ways of generating meaning randomly... You might disagree on this specific point, however"
Actualy no, i dont disagree (in the sense already stated). And of course on the other hand one can take as meaningless (or irrelevant) things and processes which are not directly involved in a case and range of study even though they might be perfectly determined and not random.
So this is the converse form of the same argument that randomness is not related to absence of meaning but rather to non-computability (un-predictability, as a creative process).
Posted by: Nikos M. | October 25, 2016 at 04:34 PM
To add some more here. Even physical experiments (talking about really hard science huh :)) are random, yet utterly meaningful. Experimentation is of no use for a completely determined outcome. And yet these random experiment outcomes are full of meaning, in the sense that they can alter and/or create conceptions, theories and technologies.
Posted by: Nikos M. | October 25, 2016 at 04:43 PM
Btw, talking about procedural narrative games, here is a link to a MIT project to build procedural narratives in games (i.e dynamicaly generated at each game and not pre-set).
Procedural Generation of Narrative Puzzles in Adventure Games: The Puzzle-Dice System, Fernández-Vara, Thomson (https://dspace.mit.edu/openaccess-disseminate/1721.1/100267)
Taking advantage of this, let me note one more thing: The inter-play between randomness (even pseudo-randomness) with creativity (creative process), especialy in formalised systems (like programs).
When someone wants to design/simulate a creative process (actualy how can a creative process be formalised and simulated?), one resorts to some kind of randomness in one way or another (even physical entropic randomness, instead of non-linear algorithmic randomness). It is quite interesting to note that and links nicely with this discussion as it has evolved.
Posted by: Nikos M. | October 26, 2016 at 11:18 AM
Thanks for your further comments here! Not much to add, really - you've pretty much said it all! :) I completely agree that experimentation is not a means of producing determinate outcomes; I fell out with my Physics degree over this.
Posted by: Chris | October 28, 2016 at 11:40 AM
This blog is full of people evidently more intelligent, and learned than I, so it is with some reluctance that I comment, yet I feel I have to.
My simple thought is: it is a very tender view to see how all humans, of all convictions, strive to avoid surrendering to the reality that we cannot know "how things are".
Nihilists, atheist scientists, illusionists, have a great need to feel different, but are they? Their conviction is faith-like.
So when they when you run across some pontifical affirmation as
“is nothing but an elaborate post-hoc rationalization of things you really do for other reasons”
you feel to reply: well, that may well be the case; yet, what gives you confidence that your own certainty is different in kind?
You, Sir, are a reason-driven being in the age of the Empire of reason. You uncover instinct's little and big secrets, and cry out "Gotcha!" in enthusiasm.
But all you say comes from Reason, and Reason is too a human-bound, limited, utilitarian, tool.
There is nothing absolute in it, its judgments, its findings.
We might well be in a simulation ran by angels, or devils, as Elon Musk has guessed (with a love for anthropomorphizing). Or anything else.
Our job is to live, and take pleasure in researching knowledge and truth.
You can enjoy hiking and picking mushrooms, you can enjoy giving your life to philosophy, or more likely in the 21th century, scientism.
But it's still within the hobby of life, there is nothing absolute to it.
Posted by: anonymous passerby | April 12, 2017 at 06:33 PM
Hello again, anonymous passerby!
This comment is much clearer than the other that you left, and I agree with much that you say here. I completely agree that reason is a human tool, and I might even go further and say that our (multiple) systems of reason are human tools, since Alasdair MacIntyre has rather convinced me that there is always more than one form of reason. And like our tools, our reason can drive us if we're not paying attention! It's an ever-present risk.
I also might agree that there is nothing absolute in reason... the truths of logic are absolute, but only because they are divorced from all reference. But I think the focus on absolute truths as a point of comparison is not always helpful... that's why I have become interested in 'reliable knowledge' as a touchstone, since 'absolutes' are always escalating a little beyond the sensible. In this piece, I'm playing at philosophical aikido, so it definitely has a feel of 'reason pitted against reason'. That's not my only philosophical mode, though...
Given the general perspective you put forth in this comment, I want to gesture towards this ten-year old piece on 'The Meaning of Life':
I'd be interested to hear what you make of that.
Again, thanks for commenting! New voices are always welcome here.
Posted by: Chris | April 20, 2017 at 11:33 AM