Thursday, December 16, 2004

Conscious Robots?

Today I received the following email:
Hi there,
I've been wrestling with evolution and being human. Could you let me know where my reasoning goes wrong? You see, I think i've solved not only all philosophical problems, but all of life's problems as well... and i'm wondering why no one else sees it the same way.

It's an interesting site, but although I agree with some of what he says, there are some important points where I think he is quite seriously mistaken. I'll step through these one at a time - his claims (as I understand them) in italics, followed by my response.

1) Free will is incompatible with modern science [read: materialism].

That might be true of the libertarian conception of free will, but it certainly doesn't hold of compatibilism. Ian claims that "when we do something 'because we want to' we can see that we're really just doing what we’re told." Told by who? Our brain, presumably. Well that's us, and I must say I have no problem with the idea of doing my own bidding.

Just because my decisions are embedded in the causal framework of the world, doesn't mean they're not my decisions. (See my post on destiny & determinism.)

I should add, however, that it's entirely possible for an appropriately designed robot (artificial intelligence) to have free will, according to this view. See Jason's evil robot. So I wouldn't deny that we are indeed 'conscious robots', if by 'robot' you simply mean a purely material being.

2) We are entirely pre-programmed by our genes.

I may have misinterpreted, but 'Conscious Robots' seems, in places, to advocate the absurd doctrine of Genetic Determinism. I find it helps to think of genes as biological blueprints: instructions for how to build a body (and brain). However, those instructions give rise to extremely versatile structures, that can respond appropriately to a wide range of environmental stimuli. That is, we have a huge capacity for learning. (It isn't difficult to see why that should be of evolutionary benefit.)

Our genes are just the builders. Once construction is complete, our brains take over control. (This is very much a simplified picture, of course, but I hope it captures what's most important here.) Evolution drives our genes to build a body (and brain) that will be reproductively successful. That does not necessarily mean that our brains (even subconsciously) directly aim to increase the "survival chances" of our genes. Rather, our brains would evolve in such a way as to - overall, and indirectly - facilitate genetic success. Not every little decision will do so, however.

So it is simply false that "when an event in the world makes us feel good it's because the survival chances of our genes have increased." We can feel good for all sorts of reasons, some of which have nothing at all to do with genetic success. The role of our genes, though important, is very indirect. Our feelings are caused by our brains, not our genes. More generally, explanations for human behaviour are best found in psychology, not biology. (The latter is too basic [theoretically fundamental] to deal with the complexities we face here. You wouldn't attempt to explain cellular reproduction in terms of particle physics, would you?)

3) "Our conscious minds are programmed to maximize the pleasure and minimize the pain they experience."

This claim is known as motivational hedonism (a form of psychological egoism), and is simply false. This is easily demonstrated by the thought experiment described here, which shows that we care about objective desire-fulfillment, not merely the subjective pleasure of desire satisfaction (follow link for full explanation).

More generally, the claims at 'Conscious Robots' involve overly simplistic psychology. People are complex creatures; we act from a variety of motives, for a variety of reasons. You cannot reduce these all down to mere pleasure and pain - unless, that is, you redefine those words so as to simply mean 'whatever it is that motivates someone'. But then the earlier claim is an empty tautology: humans are always motivated by whatever it is that motivates them.

4) We should forget about the external world and hook ourselves up to a 'pleasure machine'.

This is the conclusion he reaches based on the previous claim. Funnily enough, this is usually considered a refutation of ethical hedonism . It's obvious that the present claim is false - few people really want to live such a meaningless life - so the considerations that lead to it must be false also. There is more to wellbeing than mere pleasure. (Again, see my post on desire fulfillment.)

Of course, even if we granted all the above, it still wouldn't come close to solving "all philosophical problems". But despite the unrealistic ambitions, the site is quite thought-provoking in places, and you may find it worth a look around.


  1. Interesting stuff. I've also written about the pleasure machine, in a way:

    Posted by Jason Kuznicki

  2. I have been reading CR alot today. My profs were not to happy with me. But they got a laugh over what i was reading. I must say, i would agree with the CR theory if we were not people of souls, cause with out the soul we would not have free will, it is what keeps us man, not mashine.

    Really thinking about talking about this on my blog. It really is an interesting point. The point I am talking about is that we are made of atoms and atoms don't have free will. I would say this proves spirt, but I am just guessing that CR does not. 

    Posted by Chase Whittemore

  3. 1) I think in (1) he is using a slightly different definition of free will to what you (and I) would use. And as such is arguing at cross purposed to almost everyone he talks to.
    Free will may be somthign that does not exist from an absolute point of view (ie if you knew everything oyu could predict everything) but it does exist from a subjective point of view (ie if you had a different attitude you could change things)
    Besides if he decides not to value human existance (by painting it as the same as a computer) then that is incompatable with proceeding any further.
    2) taking the environment as constant I would say 2 is correct. Leaving it as a variable it is obviously ridiculous. Of course in both cases determanism is subject to the point I am laying out in (1)
    3) is generally true but not absolutly true - our brains are not "programmed" (if htey were maybe binary emotions might work) they are just chance guided by natural selection and habit and at a lower level you demonstrate how this is not straightforward as he implies
    4) how does he get to "should" here? he has denied free will previously so that would include himself thus "should" does not exist.

    Or have I misunderstood him? 

    Posted by geniusNZ

  4. Ah, but are we software robots, or hardware robots?


    Posted by Tennessee Leeuwenburg

  5. My reply to point 1:
    I am not the whole human you see in front of you. I am only my conscious mind. My conscious mind is trapped inside my whole brain, and its choices are controlled by the feelings created by the non-conscious part of ‘my’ brain. So when the whole of my body has sex, my conscious mind (me) has made a decision to get all hot and sweaty in an attempt to feel pleasure and satisfaction. If I (my conscious mind) really had free will, it would simply choose to feel all the wonderful feelings of having sex without actually having to do it - or to deal with the relationship issues after – or risk the diseases. Why else would I have sex, other than to enjoy the feelings? The reason I’m forced to actually commit the act is of course because having sex will maximise the survival chances of my genes – my non-conscious mind has been programmed to make me (my conscious mind) feel good when I increase the survival chances of my genes. If my parents hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t exist.

    Point 2
    “The absurd doctrine of genetic determinism.”
    Evolution is the only scientifically accepted theory of how we came to exist, or to be like we are. Do we agree on that? Do we agree that it’s the only theory? If so, then we can make a very important conclusion that should be the centre of every debate about why humans do what they do. That conclusion is this: if there is a behaviour that is generally seen in most humans, then at some point in our evolution, that behaviour must have increased the survival chances of our genes.
    The generally accepted belief is that we humans are somehow ‘more than evolution’: that something about our brains has allowed us to break free and start doing ‘what we like with our lives’. The trouble with that assumption is that it means that there had to have been another method of creation that made humans how they are. Something that took our brains from being creations of evolution to being what they are today. ‘Free’ But there is of course no other method of creation or change that we know of. Evolution by natural selection is the only theory.
    So when you say that our brains take over, what programmed them to take over? Why would the ‘choose’ to do something that they weren’t programmed to do? How could they choose a motivation?

    There’s too much to say here – I’ve put up a whole section on about the importance of evolution.
    I hope it explains why we can’t be ‘more than evolution’. I hope it explains why culture / nurture / upbringing can only change our behaviour in a way that evolution ‘wants’ our behaviour to be changed.
    We need to ask ourselves how we can be more than evolution. And we need to approach it from a scientific point of view, not from your personal experiences of life. That’s very important!

    Point 3
    “Motivational hedonism is simply false.” If you follow the link to the Stanford site, you’ll see the conclusion is that “Both motivational hedonism and normative hedonism remain worthy of serious philosophical attention”. Nevertheless, I’ll show you a weakness in the arguments on that site are. Again, the weakness comes from a failure to apply evolution by natural selection.

    This sentence begins the 7th paragraph: “Any confirmed case of an individual being motivated by something other than pleasure or pain would refute motivational hedonism”.

    Lets say that we weren’t talking about motivational hedonism but instead were talking about ‘pain’. Let’s say I suggested a theory that ‘pain’ is a mechanism to help prevent damage to our bodies: the theory would suggest that when our conscious minds experience pain, we are motivated to withdraw our hand from a flame. Now let’s apply the sentence: “Any confirmed case of an individual not being motivated to remove their hand from a flame would refute this theory”. Would you reject the pain theory if you could find one person who didn’t experience pain when they put their hand in a flame?

    Let’s look at the problem with the Stanford sentence: the problem is that evolution doesn’t work like that. Not all humans are the same. It’s quite possible that a random mutation could create an individual human that didn’t feel pain. And it happens, occasionally. ‘The Science of Happiness’ documents a female in Canada, I think, who didn’t experience pain. She died in her early twenties.
    Anyway, the point is that this objection to motivational hedonism fails to understand basic evolution. It’s quite possible that not all humans are motivated the same way. To explain human behaviour, we’re interested in the majority of humans in the majority of cases.

    My suggestion is that motivational hedonism is the explanation for how our conscious minds are controlled by natural selection. It seems to me that we need such an explanation if we believe that evolution is the only mechanism by which we were created.

    It seems obvious that physical pain and sexual pleasure are mechanisms that cause our conscious choices to maximise the survival chances of our genes. We can then argue about whether or not all our other motivations are attempts to maximise our genes. But, if you suggest that any behaviour that is generally seen in most humans is not an attempt to maximise the survival chances of our genes, then the burden is on you to show how we have become more than evolution. And your answer cannot be 'because our brains take over' - you have to explain how your brains can take over.

    Point 4
    There is more to well-being than pleasure. This is just terminology. By pleasure, I mean any sensation/feeling you would wish to prolong and repeat. That includes 'well-being'. By pain, I mean any sensation / feeling you wish to avoid or to stop.

    Let’s look at ‘well-being’. Do we accept that our brains are comprised of neurones? And that any thought or indeed ‘feeling’ that we have must be somehow caused by electrons moving along neurones and/or chemicals crossing synapses?
    If so, then ‘well-being’ is nothing more (or nothing less) than neurones firing.
    So what does that mean? Again, we’re back to evolution. What causes those neurones to exist, or to fire in the particular way that can create the sensation of ‘well-being’? The answer to the first is clearly ‘DNA’… and the answer to the second? Well, again, it’s DNA. No parent can teach their child to feel ‘well-being’. It just happens. So, it’s there already in our brains. Somehow imbedded in our brains is something that judges whether an ‘event in the outside world’ makes us feel good or bad.
    I can encourage you to listen to the music of The Darkness… but I can’t make you like it. And you can’t make yourself like it either. So who’s deciding whether you like The Darkness or Beethoven? I can’t think of anything other than ‘well, that’s just the way my brain is programmed’.

    Suggestions gratefully received. Nice talking to you.


    Posted by conscious robot

  6. Some of these points (esp. #2) I'll address in a new post. Here I just want to make a couple of quick clarifications.

    In regard to #4, CR is assuming an internalist conception of wellbeing (i.e. that wellbeing is entirely internal to the agent, and depends only upon their mental states). But internalism about wellbeing is false, as I argued in my linked-to 'desire fulfillment' post. (That is, our wellbeing depends not only upon our subjective mental states, but also how they relate to the external world. If you falsely believe that something you desire is true, then you are worse off than if it were true in fact - even though your mental states / subjective experiences are identical in either case.) Put another way, wellbeing is not merely something we feel, it's something we achieve.

    Re: #3. Motivational Hedonism is the claim that pleasure/pain is the ultimate source of all human motivation. So it is simply a matter of logic that indeed "Any confirmed case of an individual being motivated by something other than pleasure or pain would refute motivational hedonism". For such a counterexample would establish that not *all* motivation derives from pleasure/pain, so any claim to that effect is false.

    (The 'pain theory' analogy is not analogous at all, unless it claims that feeling pain is the ONLY source of motivation, in which case it too would be false for just the same reasons.)

    "It’s quite possible that not all humans are motivated the same way."

    If some of those ways are non-hedonistic, then motivational hedonism is false. You say "this objection to motivational hedonism fails to understand basic evolution", but this is exactly backwards: it is motivational hedonism itself that is scientifically absurd. I'm quite happy to say that pleasure & pain are important motivators. But it's absurd to say that they're the ONLY motivators.

    "My suggestion is that motivational hedonism is the explanation for how our conscious minds are controlled by natural selection. It seems to me that we need such an explanation if we believe that evolution is the only mechanism by which we were created."

    All evolution requires is that we're motivated in ways that facilitate genetic success. That doesn't require anything as simplistic as motivational hedonism - we might even do better without it. If we're intrinsically motivated to look after our families (for example), then we will do so even when we could get more pleasure by abandoning them. Parents are willing to die for their children. Do you think they'd be willing to die for mere pleasure?

    (This ties into my previous point. My case for an externalist account of wellbeing depends in part upon the motivational power of the objective. Sometimes we care more about external reality than our internal one. And this makes good evolutionary sense!)

    Re: #1. I think we're better off identifying our subconscious mind as still a part of us. There wouldn't be much 'us' left otherwise! For example, once I've mastered a piano piece, the finger movements become automatic. But it's still *me* playing it; even if it's not a conscious part of me. 

    Posted by Richard

  7. #4 I don't accept that external states are relevant. The only thing that matters is our perception. If I haven't been told that my mother has just died, I'm not sad. The reality is irrelevant, just what I believe. I'm only 'worse off' when I understand what the reality is. At which point my conscious state changes.

    The Alonzo Fyfe experiment: we select the well-being of our family because at the time of selection, we cannot really believe that our memory will be wiped. We've never experienced such a wiping, which is probably why it's almost impossible to behave in a way that takes 'wiping' into account. Hence we choose the solution that if our memory wasn't actually wiped, would give us the least pain. Knowing what I now know (ie that the only thing i care
    about is how i feel), I would choose the torturing of my family - but I'd have to know absolutely for sure that the memory wiping would really happen.

    What happens if you modify the experiment? The mad scientist gives you a lever:
    when you shift the lever to left, you're in scenario 1. Scenario 1 goes like this - the mad scientist has opened up your brain and re-wired your neural pathways so that you feel just great. it's like you're on a continuous, non-fading feeling of contentment, satisfaction, the sensation of being deeply loved. Nothing has ever felt better in your life. At the same time, he shows you the reality of your family being tortured. But although you can
    see the agony, you don't actually feel any of the agony yourself - you're having the most wonderful experience you've ever had (because he's rewired your brain).

    Flick the lever to the right, and you're in Scenario 2 - it's the reverse.
    Your family are having a ball. But you're not. You're in hell. The mad scientist has wired you up to experience absolute fear, despair, lonelines, depression. Your feelings don't seem to connect to what's going on in front of your eyes, but nevertheless, you're in misery.

    Which side are you going to put that lever? When you're watching your family in agony, you're feeling contentment, satisfaction, the sensation of being deeply loved. You struggle to make the connection, but it appears that seeing your family in hell makes you feel fantastic. Flick the lever the other way... and you've never felt worse. How long can you sustain that personal hell? When the alternative is pure delight, and the only downside is this purely intellectual (but with no feelings attached) experience that you should really be feeling rather bad about this, even though it's actually the best day of your life.

    Don't forget - every feeling (be it love, pleasure, hate, altruism, desire to have visitors to your website) - it's all just neurones firing and neurochemicals passing through synapses.

    #3 "Motivational Hedonism is the claim that pleasure/pain is the ultimate source of all human motivation." Isn't that just a question of terminology? If so, it was you that called my argument motivational hedonism. I was trying to describe something that could have been created by natural selection. Which isn't the thing that you describe. The thing that you describe is like saying that either all humans can see or none can. It seems to limit our discussion unnecessarily.

    I think the pain theory is analogous because i'm suggesting that all emotions / feelings we experience are extensions of this basic control mechanism. Pain was where it all started. Road rage, embarrassment, 'satisfaction at sharing a philosophical discussion' are all just evolutionary extensions of pain / sexual pleasure. I still think the analogy is good. We have a variety of motivating sensations. Pain isn't the only one - sometimes it hurts when you have sex, but you carry on because there's pleasure as well.

    You keep objecting to motivational hedonism, without explaining what criteria you use to make a conscious decision. You accept that pleasure and pain are powerful motivators, but say that they aren't the only motivators. What other motivators are there?

    You seem to advocate BDI - ie you accept that humans are motivated to fulfill their present desires. What is a desire, if it's not a feeling?

    "All evolution requires is that we're motivated in ways that facilitate genetic success. That doesn't require anything as simplistic as motivational hedonism"

    Evolution motivates us to enjoy sex - why doesn't it just motivate us to desire children? Why does it make us feel pain in order to motivate us to move our hand from a flame? Why not just motivate us to move our hand?

    What's wrong with a simple explanation? Surely evolution itself is an extremely simple explanation. As is e=mc2. Simplicity is good, isn't it?

    "The separation of the conscious mind."
    Your playing of the piano requires your hands. If I come along with an ax and cut your hands off, you can't play the piano any more. But you're still 'you', even though you are handless.
    Your only awareness of the existence of your non-conscious mind is through your conscious observation of the various actions that the non-conscious controls. If I knock you 'un-conscious' (as you can see, my solutions are all violent), you cease to exist... at least as far as you are concerned - when you're un-conscious, I'm the only one of the two of us that is aware of your existence. Could you tell me more about your problem with seeing yourself as only your conscious mind.


    Posted by consciousrobot

  8. I responded to #4 over in the comments to my desire fulfillment post.

    "You seem to advocate BDI - ie you accept that humans are motivated to fulfill their present desires. What is a desire, if it's not a feeling?"

    Desires are a species of propositional attitude. Suppose I have a desire to be a philosopher. Put another way: I desire that the proposition "Richard Chappell is a philosopher" be true. So a desire isn't just a feeling (though that's surely part of it), but rather is a relation between an agent and some objective state of affairs (as represented by the proposition in question).

    "Simplicity is good, isn't it?"

    Over-simplicity is not. Motivational hedonism isn't capable of explaining all the data in a satisfactory way. (The heroic soldier who throws himself on a grenade is a stock example here. It's possible to explain it away by insisting that he did it for a brief instant of pleasure, or to avoid the later pain of conscience. But such responses seem awfully ad hoc and unconvincing.)

    Besides, as I suggested in the previous comment, certain evolutionary considerations would seem to count against hedonism here.

    Further, there is an important aspect of (good) simplicity which this theory fails to achieve, and that is to cohere with the raw data - in this case, that of personal experience. We find ourselves motivated by a wide range of considerations. I'm not always trying to maximise my pleasure; I care about other things too. It counts in favour of a theory if it fits well with this introspective data. That's a good form of simplicity! But motivational hedonism fails in this respect. It involves an 'error theory', i.e. the claim that we are all mistaken in our everyday beliefs about this matter. (This alone doesn't guarantee MH is wrong, but it's certainly a big mark against the theory.)

    "Could you tell me more about your problem with seeing yourself as only your conscious mind."

    Well, my previous point about authorship is a big one. Surely you can't deny that *I* am the one playing the piano (or driving a car), even when its my subconscious mind that's automatically taking care of the details. If you remove all subconscious elements then we're left with a rather impoverished version of the self! (Most of us don't realise just how little of our cognition occurs at the conscious level.)

    Secondly, if you use your ax to chop off some portion of my (subconscious) brain, then that does change who I am. My conscious thoughts are not independent from the rest of my brain; it's all one unified dynamic system. So I don't think you can separate out the 'conscious self' so easily as you seem to think. For more details, see the Mind category for my posts on consciousness. 

    Posted by Richard

  9. Could you explain how Richard would he be consciously aware of his desire to be a philosopher? How does he experience consciously this desire?

    When ConsciousRobot desires to be a philosopher, he's running through his head images of pleasant interactions with intelligent colleagues and the thrill of winning the arguments (he never loses an argument in his imagination), he's imagining the admiring glances of the ladies, he's aware that his mum would be rather pleased and that pleases him. ConsciousRobot can only describe this desire in the words that we use to describe feelings of pleasure, well-being and happiness. What words does Richard use?

    The heroic soldier. As I've said before, one example could (italics could) just be an example of a genetic mutation. One blind man doesn't negate the theory that most humans can see. Anyway, how many of these heroic soldiers are you aware of? And how do you know what really happened? Army PR men could be inventing such stories to encourage other young men to give up their lives. So can we move on from that one - can you give me some examples of instances where motivational hedonism doesn't explain the majority of behaviour of the majority of humans. Because that's all I'm saying. I repeat - one blind man doesn't prove that sight wasn't a crucial adaptation for the survival of the human race.

    "I'm not always trying to maximise my pleasure - i care about other things to" - can we have some examples please? Don't forget, well-being = pleasure. Do you think that Mother Teresa wasn't trying to maximise her own pleasure? I think she was - it just happened that helping other people gave her maximum pleasure (we can discuss why later on). Or do you think that she disliked helping the poor of Calcutta?

    Conscious mind - perhaps we'd better put this one on hold until we've seen what you do that isn't an attempt to maximise your pleasure. It only helps to see yourself as your conscious mind if you accept that your motivations are all about controlling the feelings that you consciously experience.


    Posted by consciousrobot

  10. I think my awareness of a desire is direct, not merely inferred as you seem to suggest. Indeed, I would take desires as foundational to our mental ontology. After all, why do you seek pleasure? Presumably you desire to achieve that state of mind.

    "Don't forget, well-being = pleasure."

    I've been arguing that you are wrong on this point. I can assure you, that isn't mere 'forgetfulness' on my part. But I'd prefer to keep that discussion over at the desire fulfillment post. So, back to motivational (rather than normative) hedonism...

    Mother Teresa desired to help the poor. You seem to be conflating this with 'pleasure'. That's unfortunate, as there is no advantage to such conceptual confusion. A desire is a propositional attitude; pleasure is a nonrelational conscious quality; these are two quite distinct mental objects.

    One can desire to do things independently of whether they're pleasurable - though we do tend to desire pleasure, of course. And, as a general rule, we can obtain pleasure by satisfying (believing-true) our desires. Perhaps this connection explains why you've got the two confused.

    If I desire that P, then I am (ipso facto) motivated to bring it about that P is true. Doing so might also bring me pleasure; but it would be a logical error to presume that this side-effect must have been the end towards which my actions were originally aimed. Unless, of course, one is acting from a desire for pleasure! But it would be foolish (and unnecessary) to assume that this must be the only desire normal humans ever token. 

    Posted by Richard

  11. Richard says "You wouldn't attempt to explain cellular reproduction in terms of particle physics, would you?"
    Conscious robot says: "Yes"

    You have to. You have to be able to link particle physics to cellular reproduction. Physics has to link to chemistry, which has to link to organic chemistry which has to link to DNA which links to biology. To illustrate we could start with hyrdrochloric acid reacting with a carbonate to release carbon dioxide. That's where my education started at the age of 11 doing 'chemistry'. From that, we go 'deeper' to understand atoms and electrons and then further down into particle physics. Moving 'upwards', we see that organic molecules react together in the same way as hydrochloric acid - interactions caused by electronic charges in spatial arrangements. Particle physics. It explains protein structure and function, it explains how DNA works, and why cells reproduce.
    So, yes, cellular reproduction needs to be explained in terms of particle phsyics.

    In fact, everything about every structure in the universe is explained the same way. Every part of the mooon, every part of the the human brain.

    So where does that get us when we want to understand human behaviour?

    If we look inside every cell in the human body, we find it's 'just' chemical reactions. Big molecules, but still it all comes down to interactions of charged areas of those molecules. Everything is proteins, DNA, water etc. Which means that everything that happens in a human is 'just' a chemical reaction. Which means it's pre-determined. Just like the movement of the moon is pre-determined, the movement of every chemical reaction is also pre-determined. You can't introduce 'choice' or 'random' into a chemcial reaction.

    Everything in any science or medicine is based on the assumption that chemicals will always react the same way, every time. Without that, we wouldn't have mobile phones, or the internet. The internet wouldn't work if the molecules could choose, of if they didn't behave in a pre-determined way.

    So what are the options when it comes to personal choice? Either we don't have it, or we do have it and the human brain is the only structure in the universe that doesn't obey the laws of chemical interaction.

    I don't get it. Where am I going wrong? Every philosophy department in the world seems to assume the second. They don't come up with a scientific explanation to show how they've rejected science, they just... carry on as if it's not needed.

    The other solution? Free will is a delusion. It must be. Me sitting here tapping out these letters must have been pre-ordained at the big bang.

    OK - so how could that be explained?

    By evolution. Evolution is simply molecules reacting together, the same way that any other chemical reaction happens. And hence evolution allows us to get from particle physics to me typing out these words. If it were a slug moving across the keyboard, it would be easier to see: it's a survival machine, the chemical reactions might have got a bit complicated, but what they haven't got is 'random' or 'free'.

    Seeing ourselves as 'conscious robots' allows us to explain the delusion of being in charge. And we need an explanation. Need it. Because without it, we've got to come up with a whole new science. Just to explain the functioning of the tiny human brain. 

    Posted by consciousrobot

  12. The sciences are all interconnected, for sure. My point was that it is impractical to use a 'lower' (more basic/fundamental) science to attempt to explain complex phenomena that are better dealt with by a 'higher' science. Just like we best understand life in biological rather than physical terms, so we best understand behaviour in psychological rather than biological terms. That doesn't mean our behaviour isn't ultimately 'biological' (and indeed even 'physical') in some sense. It just means we aren't (yet) capable of properly explaining more complex levels of reality in austerely fundamental terms.

    "So what are the options when it comes to personal choice? Either we don't have it, or we do have it and the human brain is the only structure in the universe that doesn't obey the laws of chemical interaction.

    I don't get it. Where am I going wrong? Every philosophy department in the world seems to assume the second.

    No, you really don't know what philosophers are saying. You certainly haven't been listening to me. Most philosophers hold that free will and determinism are compatible. There's no conta-causal magic in the brain, and I've never suggested there was. But conflating 'free' with 'uncaused' is a simplistic conceptual confusion. Just because a decision is determinately caused, doesn't make it any less a decision. I've written about this elsewhere, however, so if you want to dispute this point, please continue the discussion in the comments of one of my 'free will' posts (see the 'Mind' category). 

    Posted by Richard

  13. An old post of mine that is relevant to this discussion: Is Everything Reducible to Physics? 

    Posted by Richard

  14. I am surprised there aren't more comments on this particular post. I think I actually found this blog site from googling Conscious Robots, because I actually recieved a similar email from him. I'm not sure initially where CR found my email and interest in philosophy, but it was a long time ago, as is the last comment on this post... However, since this is the first topic that I chanced on upon entering your (Richard) site (I did browse the site and have came back to this bookmark), I am going to introduce myself here and hopefully appear elsewhere on your blog as I am quite intrigued by your accomplishments with this blog.

    As to the discussion and CR's website, when I went and explored the CR website I also found it rather thought-provoking. Though quite a time later I found this site and I am very impressed by your philosophical aptitude (which is why I had to at least add my opinion on the direction of the argument). You obviously have sufficiently disassembled his argument and it is indeed not only in your imagination. With regards to motivational hedonism, I think CR is making a kind of category mistake with his over-generalization of the word 'pleasure' or 'pain' which I think you have appropriately demonstrated.

    I don't usually do much 'blogging' in general but hope to frequent yours to read some of your articles. I am currently majoring in philosophy as an undergrad at Richard Stockton College of NJ and at this point my ideal aspiration would be to go to grad school at Princeton (I don't know how feasible an option that is at the time-being =/ ). If you ever happen to look at this comment..Are you at the graduate level as a student or not yet? Good to meet 'you'.


  15. Oh yes as to my question, I just reread your introduction section. So merely good to meet you.


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