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Practical Freedom versus Metaphysical Freedom


Practical freedom, political freedom, and metaphysical freedom

There are 3 senses of 'freedom' that must be differentiated and argued individually:

political freedom -- freedom(p)

(king/oppression vs. democracy/egalarianism)
This is the arena that the cultural critics and political philosophers focus on.
Political freedom is good, legitimate, attainable, and worth seeking.

existential/practical freedom -- freedom(e)

The freedom to move my finger, the sense of freedom
This is the arena that the freewillists focus on - it's at the apparent, surface level.
Existential freedom is undeniably real; your existential freedom is a concrete problem demanding active response

metaphysical/underlying freedom -- freedom(m)

This is the arena that the determinists focus on - it's on a hidden, underlying level. It probably doesn't make any difference whether there is freedom at the underlying, metaphysical level.
Metaphysical freedom is illusory and virtual, false and unreal.

Political freedom is good.
Existential freedom is true.
Metaphysical freedom is false.

Freedom(e), freedom(p), and freedom(m) must be differentiated for arguments about freedom to make progress toward resolution.

>Why do people think that they have free will? How can you prove, that we have some kind of will at all?

People make decisions or choices, and exert autonomous self-control. They take these experiences and interpret them carelessly and label the resulting overextended interpretation 'free will'. It's the world's easiest slip.

Insofar as New Age spirituality is not informed by actual mystic experiencing, they frame spirituality as an increase in "freedom". But in the intense mystic state, freedom is perceived in two ways: so radically free that it's insane; and not free at all, but rather a product of the underlying Ground of Being which bubbles up to give rise to your every thought and every act of will. You become a slave of the Ground of Being, and your freedom is radical but not yours; it's forced upon the mind from outside and beyond the mind. Your wild, uncontrollable freedom is forced upon you from outside of you. You become a slavish vessel of some hidden, alien source that injects your will into you by force (as in rapture, which is the rape and violation of the ego's sense of autonomous will).

People reason "I have existential freedom, therefore free will is true," thus conflating freedom(e) and freedom(m). Or "oppression is bad, therefore we 'must accept' free will," conflating freedom(p) and freedom(m).

The visible practical-freedom level and the logical but hidden underlying-determinism level

Must ask the nature of freedom and self-control -- freedom is not simply true or false

>Determinism is the view that all phenomena (including mental events) are necessitated by antecedent factors. The "self-control" we think we are exercising over our mental processes is in fact illusion. In principal, we have no more control over our minds than we do over the pigmentation of our skin. Both were predestined by antecedent factors without any options allowed. This leaves us as mere spectators of our mental contents--utterly passive observers of the events we call thinking, choosing, valuing, and the like.

That's a nice, standard formulation, with the standard limitations. It is correct, but falls short of the task, that of explaining the real nature of that which we pragmatically call 'freedom' and 'self-control'.

>I would not consider myself a "passive observer", even though I am a determinist. It seems to me that you are arguing against something other than determinism.

You are on the right track in that you are thinking about the nature of self-control. You should fully follow this through by developing ideas about 'self-control cybernetics'. Alan Watts' genius was to understand Zen as insight into self-control cybernetics, a theme that I have followed through to completeness.

The solution is to shift and improve the usages of terms. There is, in some sense, 'self-control' involved in the mind. Something goes on in the mind that can legitimately be labelled 'self-control', regardless of your understanding of this term. The real question is "what is the nature of that which we call 'self-control' that goes on in the mind?" There is a pattern, a set of thoughts or cognitive dynamics that we call self-control. To simply dismiss and deny all forms and definitions of self-control is false, because there is a subject matter to be explained.

At the very least, there remains the problem of explaining the phenomenon of the sense of self-control.

Here is an alcoholic. There is a man who drinks but is not an alcoholic. Therefore we may say legitimately that the first man has "less self-control" than the second. There does exist a subject matter to be explained, some sort of existent "thing" or dynamic, called "self-control".

It is not a yes-or-no question of whether there "is such a thing" as 'self-control'. The whole challenge and problem is in properly understanding all that which can be labelled 'self-control'.

A steam engine regulator exhibits a dynamic that can be called a type of 'self-control'. The problem is when you start sneaking in subtle networks of assumption about the nature of this 'control'. There are real phenomena to be explained, and dismissing all forms and interpretations of 'self-control' is not solving a problem, but denying and ignoring it entirely. Do not think in terms of "disproving" self-control, but rather, concentrate on clarifying and correcting our understanding of the true nature of that which people are trying to talk about when they talk about self-control. There certainly exists a subject-matter that we may legitimately call 'self-control'. "It" exists, though there is profound confusion about "its" nature. Self-control in some aspect or in some sense is illusory, but it's too crude to simply say "there is no such thing as self-control." There are certain mental dynamics -- if you don't call them 'self-control', then you must call them something, because there are particular demonstrable dynamics to be studied.

>>This leaves us as mere spectators of our mental contents--utterly

The above is a perfect example of "dissolving the distinctions." In calling all sex 'rape', the radical feminists lose the possibility of talking about any intercourse which is not rape. Similarly, in characterizing the relationship between "we" and "mental contents" entirely as "we are mere spectators," you dissolve the ordinary distinction between being a spectator or active participant. That statement is correct but insufficiently precise, because you end up declaring a useful, unproblematic distinction to be nonexistent -- an indefensible position. Calling all cognition equally 'passive' is the same as denying any difference between 'voluntary' and 'involuntary' muscle actions. It is easy to define and demonstrate that there is a difference between voluntary and involuntary actions. To declare all action "involuntary" is to lose that provably existent distinction. To do so would be to put forth an easily disprovable viewpoint.

When a person watches the game on tv, they are what we call a 'spectator'. When this person participates in a game, we call that 'involvement' as opposed to being a 'spectator'. It is a matter of simple definitions to differentiate these two, and this distinction is unproblematic. But when you say that "our" relationship to all cognition is that of a "mere spectator" you dissolve and falsely lose the distinction between those thoughts that we normally call 'uncontrolled' or 'involuntary' and those that we normally call 'willfully controlled'.

Sometimes I do activities in which I can be called a 'passive observer'. Other times I do other activities in a different mode. Whatever the real nature of this second mode is, we can label it 'active involvement' that involves 'self-control'.

There is a difference between deliberate thought and being a spectator to thoughts. The challenge is not to deny or gloss over this difference, but to explain it.

The solution is to re-map or re-index all of our mental associations and mental models of all these terms and phenomena. It is insufficient to say simply "self-control is false." You must say "the naive view of self-control is this, and the enlightened, corrected view of self-control is actually this other conception."

It's a matter not of isolated semantics of one or two words, but rather, a conceptual revolution or paradigm shift between two sets of semantic mappings. You re-index all the terms of your mental model from one associational mapping to another.

A few key terms that must take on 2 sets of associations or meanings:

could do otherwise
passive spectator
open future

This solution, of splitting all meanings into 2, is rational. It is the same type of meaning-shift as the shift from Newtonian relativity to Einsteinian relativity, in which these concepts were re-indexed:

gravitational force

Now these terms have two understandings: the approximate, Newtonian conception, and the more precise, Einsteinian conception. The task is to re-understand all of our ideas about freedom, time, and self-control.

Forturnately, Einstein did not say "Newton misunderstood -- there is in fact no such thing as time and velocity. They are illusory and unreal." That would have been a dissolving of the problem. Instead, he clarified the concepts.

The problem in philosophy that most needs attention now is to clarify the concept of self-control, which turns out to be centrally connected to so many philosophical problems and debates that the solving of this puzzle that is built in our heads will be the most important and profound milestone in human thought.

Practical freedom and metaphysical determinism dance together. Tight binding emphasizes practical freedom and has stability of egoic restraint across time; loose binding emphasizes metaphysical determinism and egoic cross-time restraint tends to be disengaged.

Fatalism, predeterminism, free will

You should think about time, fate and self-control too. They are key. Read Watts: _This is It_ -- chapter "Zen and the Problem of Control".

Also read Rudy Rucker: _The Fourth Dimension_. He talks about the block universe and shows it with cartoons.

In modern philosophy, 'fate' has been completely misinterpreted. Modern philosophy has not refuted fatalism, but has misunderstood what the position of fatalism actually claims. Your position essentially is fatalism.

Not only is the end-point fated, but all actions and thoughts at every point along the way is fated.

I have never heard what I consider an attempt at argumentation in support of free will. Only the insistence that we are free, that freedom "must be admitted" or else society would fall apart. Which is mistaking pragmatic necessity for metaphysical necessity.

The real problem is to correctly interpret our experience of freedom, our sense of freedom, or the dynamics of that which we call 'freedom', in such a way as to reconcile it with the logic of determinism. I have not seen anyone attempt this, as such. At least, they have not succeeded in explaining to the freewillists how all the freewill objections are completely met by the properly understood conception of determinism. I don't understand why the argument is still alive at all. All the freewillist objections have been fully met by the better expressions of determinism. Why do people act like the jury is out? The determinists have won, in that their position is consistent, and they have answered all the freewillist objections. It's a dead issue, and yet it lives. Such is the psychological need to feel free, to interpret freedom as absolute freedom with an absolutely open future.

The answer is that neither determinism nor free will have been convincingly reconciled in a way that rings true to all of our experience in its fullness. Determinism is shackled with excessive auxiliary conceptions -- that the universe contains no randomness, that the future does not now, in any sense, exist, but will be calculated and laid out only later, down this chain of dominoes which have not, in any sense, fallen yet.

Determinism, as conventionally defined, puts forth a false conceptualization of our freedom. It is basically correct, but it needs to be re-envisioned. It is too full of conventional, confused thinking about how we "move through" time.

'Fatalism', as traditionally defined, is a very simple position that is much more defensible than determinism, because 'determinism' has been defined as what I call "linear sequential causal non-random predictablism". But I God created the universe with some randomness built in, and a single, static time axis, everything would be frozen and fated forever, but not in a completely orderly way. The universe may or not contain randomness. Thus predictablism is not defensible -- the universe may or may not be ordered and thus predictable in principle -- there is no way we can know which. However, fatalism is a simpler position that is not cluttered and burdened with the shaky load of order or predictability-in-principle. It claims far less than determinism. Fatalism merely claims that the future is frozen, predecided -- not that that future is orderly or predictable. The position of Fatalism has all the advantages of the position of determinism, but without the indefensible auxiliary assertions.

Therefore, fatalism (as correctly, classically understood) is a superior position to determinism. Fatalism is simply frozen-ism -- that the future is as predecided as the past. Determinism as it is always conceived, implies that the future has not happened yet -- that it nowhere exists, yet. But for Fatalism, the future exists during all eternity -- over there, ahead of us on the time axis.

There are new tenseless models of time that fit into this. There is another new book called _The Spatialization of Time_ that supports this.

A great book about this is _Fate, Logic, and Time_ (out of print). You can find it in a library. It shows how the modern philosophers rejected a garbled, crippled version of fatalism. The argument they then used against it was one that was refuted decisively 2500 years ago.

Of course Marvin Minsky in _Society of Mind_ and Douglas Hofstadter in _Godel, Escher, Bach_, and I think Dennett, have written about this in the same mode as you.

Determinists should convert to the slimmer position, fatalism -- and make sure its true conception is communicated perfectly clearly: that every single thought has already been predetermined, and all time is frozen eternally along a single, fixed time axis in the block universe. One writer has called for an adjustment of determinsim into "hyperdeterminism" in their groping toward the ancient position of fatalism, which could be called Universal Static Predetermination.

Zen, types of freedom, proper fatalism is better than conventional determinism

Contrary to the modern misunderstanding, Fatalism is not the position that if you are fated to recover from a disease requiring a doctor, you will do so whether or not you see the doctor. It is the position that your seeing the doctor is itself fated; that your every thought and action is fated, not just the end result, with implicitly assumed intervening freedom or non-fatedness. The latter conception was a grotesque misinterpretation that was perhaps an integral part of modern philosophy. Profoundly misunderstanding what the claims of fatalism are was necessary to sustain the seemingly permanent standoff that kept our status of freedom in suspense for centuries and preserve the hypothetical possibility of our sovereign responsibility, our sense of being our own first cause. But with the rediscovery of the true position of fatalism, the standoff between determinism and free will finally collapses, leaving on the one side, only fatalism (discarding the claim of predictability associated with determinism) and on the other side, only existential freedom (not absolute freedom, not the power to alter our fate or any future thoughts or actions).

The real center or psychological motivating force of the free will vs. determinism debate is the question of whether humans are their own first cause. Zen denies that the person is the first cause. It says the Tao or ground of being is the real first cause, and that human decisions, will power, and the homunculus steersman are actually the second cause, a mere conduit of power. The homunculus, or cybernetic helmsman living inside the mind, does have a particular type of power to control the inner thoughts and the external actions. However, this helmsman is a slave of the Tao -- the helmsman can only move his thoughts or his fingers in the direction that the Tao forces him to. Or taking the time axis into account, you could say that your freedom is encased in the rigid block of spacetime, and you can only move your thoughts or fingers in the direction that the Tao has already, eternally, moved them in. The freedom and power of the inner steersman can be free from ordinary physical constraint, while being completely unfree, "metaphysically" or "on the metaphysical level".

The appearance of spontaneity is indeed an incontrovertible datum. This, really, is not a point of dispute in any refined debate. The question is the interpretation of this appearance of spontaneity. A good interpretation aims to reconcile this appearance of spontaneity with a causal understanding of nature and humans. The position of free will accepts this appearance of spontaneity at face value, as genuine, unproblematic spontaneity. The position of determinism is more skeptical and claims that it is only an appearance of spontaneity. Both these positions fully agree that there is the appearance of spontaneity. Freewillists who urge yet louder that they experience themselves as free and unconstrained are missing the point of dispute. There's no argument over whether the experience or datum exists -- the "sense of freedom" exists -- but only over the actual underlying nature of that experience, aside from the appearance.

The sense of freedom is not only incontrovertible, it's uncontroversial, as a sense.

Existential freedom is an excellent account of this phenomenon of freedom. Decisions really arise and are hard to make, involving mental labor. But this poses no problem for determinism. There simply is no problem in "reconciling" existentialism and determinism. Anyone who thinks they are unreconcilable either doesn't understand what the real position of existentialism does and does not assert, or they don't understand what the real position of determinism does and does not assert.

Actually, determinism has taken no hits from free-will. The only serious blow to determinism (as conventionally defined) was Copenhagenism and chaos, which are taken to disprove determinism because they "disprove" the possibility of predictablism-in-principle. And it's true, the great reasonability of the possibility that the world contains some genuine, unordered randomness, renders a fatal blow to 'determinism', as conventionally defined. But this does not automatically buy us the type of freedom we lust for (the power to control our own fate) and does not prove that we are indeed our own first cause, subject to no force of predetermination. Rather, the possibility of genuine randomness forces the definition of the position of determinism to be scaled back and slimmed down, to the actual traditional position known as 'fatalism'. Fatalism only claims a subset of what determinism claims. It does not claim predictability through mastering the patterns of nature. It does not frame the universe as a domino chain of events moving from past to future. Rather, it conceives the universe as being a giant static block. By 'static', I mean that the time axis does exist, and that 'change' in some particular sense does exist. But the future acts already exist, eternally. All future actions are already cast in stone, just like past actions. This may be a result of the position of determinism, but for fatalism, this picture is more like the starting point, the core of their position, not just a deduction that follows from highly hypothetical assumptions about predictability of domino-events.

Determinism says that the future doesn't exist, but that the dominos of events, falling from past to future, are bound to bring about a particular future, because the dominos have a definite way of falling. Fatalism almost works backwards from that: it starts off saying that all future events already exist, fixed in stone like past events, and that all events along the time axis may fit together more or less perfectly, but they are all fixed, even if chaotic.

These 3 positions are "accounts". We seek the most coherent account, that "accounts" successfully for all experienced data, as concisely as possible. Conventional free-will accounts are satisfactory, as far as they go. But they don't go far. They just reiterate endlessly that our sense of freedom exists, undeniably. Determinism has an elegant core, but with grotesque, unwieldy additions (predictablism and total order or non-randomness) and an overly modernist, linear-progress metaphysics (the domino model of time). Fatalism successfully integrates all the strong points of determinism, without venturing out on a limb with it; is more sincere and firm in its conception of the future as fixed eternally, so much so that the future becomes another place that "currently" exists already; and offers a full account of the sense of freedom and the uncontrovertible datum or fact of our existential situatedness as decision-makers.

There is no logical refutation of Fatalism, only a moral refutation. It is compatible with genuine randomness, chaos, change, existential decision-making, and the sense of freedom. We have the power to control our thoughts and actions. But we don't have the power to control our fate, because fate has already fixed all of our thoughts and actions at all points in the spacetime block.

Some will say that there is an implicit assumption in saying "the" spacetime block. What if there are multiple branching universes? But the answer is that even if there are branches and multiple parallel universes, the branching is fated, and so are all events and thoughts in each parallel universe. If the totality of existence includes multiple universes, then the world is a fixed meta-universe. This point is important because this implicit assumption of non-branching is made in the medieval conception of God's preordaining of action -- that "God sees all points in time as if immediately present". Such a view, of "all points in time", already implicitly assumes that there is a single time axis, a single future story playing out.

Fatalism is a perfectly slim, perfectly flexible account that corrects and resolves both positions -- 'determinism', as conventionally defined, and 'free will', as conventionally defined -- and, with the full development of existentialism, offers the first satisfactory account of the experience of freedom that fits into a rational metaphysical model of the universe and time.

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