My World View – Free Will … A Revisit – Part 3

What follows is an opinion. You can like it or not. If you disagree, I’m open to new ideas or refinement of these. I like to think that this is based on observation and education, something I like to call a hypothesis.

In part 1 I described how the human brain seems to work with an executive process, or what I’ll call consciousness.
In part 2 I described the materialist actions of our brains and how these simple physical phenomena can be used to account for complex brain functions.

In the first two parts I have described how it might be possible that our brains act seemingly on their own before we understand that we’re doing anything, and how this is both natural and resultant from the same brain that we use to think about stuff with. Importantly, I’ve also tried to explain why this is both good for us and necessary.

In the second post I asked readers to make a decision about something. This as you might know is an act of free will. I did not have to ask them to do it because as soon as they saw the picture they will have made a decision or 17 about the picture. They would do that upon seeing the picture whether they read the post or not. This is simply the matter of our brains assimilating data and analyzing patterns. That is what our brains do all day long. This happens without our consent, and without our prompting. It’s automatic. Just like hearing is automatic and seeing things is automatic… we can cover our ears or close our eyes, but the normal state of things is that these senses are always on. Yes, always. Sound and light can wake you up, right? It’s just that when we sleep, our brains stop listening to most of the sense data from these senses. In fact, our brain shuts off motor control during sleep, except in those unfortunate enough to be sleep walkers.

Why would that be the case? As we think we use the same pattern machines to visualize what we are thinking about or dreaming about in this case. If the motors are still engaged, as you’ve seen a dog do, if we dream of running our legs and arms will flail as we sleep. Sometimes when we wake in the middle of the night, we get ‘creepy’ feelings because the motors are still shut off and we’re not really listening to the sense data from our limbs.

The idea here is that we/our brains are machines of a kind. Not a perfect machine but a machine nonetheless. One of the things that nature and evolution was not able to afford was a trillion dollar monitoring system. That is to say that if our appendix is not quite right we don’t really know about it until it’s time to visit the hospital. If we had a trillion dollar monitoring system built in we’d know long before hand that something was wrong and we need to see a doctor. This monitoring system that we don’t have would also be able to tell which parts of our brains are involved in what actions, reactions, and decisions. Simply put, we are aware that we exist but we are not aware of every possible internal situation or state. Think about it, we get headaches – and that covers a ton of wrong stuff. Tons of things to go bad and all we get is ‘headache’ to let us know. This monitoring system is actually pretty shitty as monitoring systems go. It mostly doesn’t do much except yell at us OH SHIT, SOMETHING BROKE… PANIC.

So while we have some amazing senses, we cannot be aware of every possible internal state. Do you know what your colon is doing right now? I don’t know what your colon is doing either but that is how most of us are… unaware of what is going on inside us, inside our bodies, inside our brains.

The Second Universe

Yes, there is a second one… well, probably over 7 billion of them to be non-exact. Each of us holds a model of the world / universe inside our brain. This is how we make predictions about the world around us. It is how we perceive the world around us. It is in fact the world around us but a model that we can change at will to model novel ideas, predict reactions and such. In our internal universe all the giraffes can be purple and taste like oranges. Likewise, we can have a universe full of things and creatures that do not exist in the ‘real world’. We use our senses to modify our version of the universe. It is completely possible that our perception of the ‘real world’ can be tainted by objects and people that exist only in our model universe. We can in fact  incorrectly translate sensory data and get a picture of the world that is false. It could easily take days to write this out, so here and here are good discussions of this theory of the real universe that we know.

Why The Rules Don’t Apply

The model that we keep is not a complete working model, but only the parts that we need for right now. We can stitch all the pieces together to make it quite big but we only deal with the currently important parts most of the time. Great minds can do this for things they’ve never seen. Imagine theoretical physicists envisioning in their heads what it takes huge effort to do with computer graphics. As they do this, normal rules don’t apply because we aren’t seeing the real world. Rather we are seeing our highly reliable representation of it which is continually adjusted and updated by sensory data. This is why when you are walking and close your eyes, you don’t fall down. Your brain still has predictive powers about what muscles to move and for how long. The accuracy of the measurements normally taken will not be good enough for you to safely do this for a long period, you’ll bump into something soon enough. The thing here is that you can see how you’re using a model and not the real world as you think about the world. This allows us to imagine things. To see the world where it is not necessary that the rules apply.

Mismatching For Fun And Profit

In fact, we do this bending of the rules so often that we are able to use this to solve problems, create art, invent new technologies and so forth. Think about the woman, Tabitha Babbit, who brought the circular saw to the saw mill. She was watching men cut wood with cross cut two-man saws and thought there has to be an easier way. This required she be able to think of both what was in her senses and what was not and put the two together in a way that solves a problem. D’ya know what Lucas-films did with this ability? I thought so. Fun and Profit.

One of the reasons that we cannot be sure of anything that we sense is because the sensory data is not being interpreted directly. Rather it is being used to update the model of the world in our heads. This is another way that we see delay between real world and our model. If you interrupt the sensory data between your body and that internal universe model, you might end up feeling like a part of your body is no longer yours or you might find that a missing limb still seems to be there after amputation. Your brain retains the model where you have an arm even after your body no longer does. Essentially, the internal universe model theory explain many things about our brains that do not otherwise readily make sense.

If you remember early in the first of this series I mentioned that we might live in a simulation and that it was not so far fetched. For all intents and purposes we do live in a simulation. The trick is that the simulation is owned and operated by our brains. There is no trick to it, it is our own simulation and it _is_ how we experience the world. Our senses keep it updated with real world values so our simulation is a very reliable copy of the real world even if it is a simulation. This allows for failures and errors. Still, it’s pretty damned accurate.

Now all of this has to lead to Free Will at some point, right?

Let me hit you up with the synopsis for the next post:

Do we have free will? Sure feels like it. Even Sam Harris says so. He also states that we do not have free will. To back up this claim he makes two main assertions:

1 – The delay between when our brain fires and when we’re aware of making a decision can be several hundred milliseconds. His conclusion is that this is obviously not us making the decision. I hope that I’ve shown how this is not supported by fact or reality.

2 – All the things that we done or experienced so far have lead us to this point and we could not make any other choice when a choice it is that we have to make. I believe that I’ve countered this claim to show this is false. We can make other choices – imagination and modelling novel ideas and methods in our heads is exactly that. Talk to a toddler and see exactly how much imagination they are using just trying to get their internal model correct.

Mr Harris has in effect made a positive assertion for which he does not have the proof. It is his burden.

What I’ve done is try to show enough reason to doubt simulations, external control, etc. by explaining the oddities of the brain and how it functions. More to the point I’ve tried to show why thinking about the brain with the brain is problematic.

I’ll expound on this a bit more in yet one more post. Hopefully this doesn’t raise too many questions but I’m absolutely ready to explore them. Ask away… please.

Questions? Comments? Leave them below…

    • Argus
    • March 28th, 2013

    I blitzed Sam’s book in a great hurry. The only thing I remember about it is how disappointed I was after all the hype … pretty cover, though. Love red.

    • He uses a presupposed model of how the brain works and never really talks about how the brain works. Not his field, but I don’t think that you can talk about consciousness without it.

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