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As free as a bird ... in the sky

directe link naar dit bericht link naar de reacties rubriek: media

Ook mij blijft het boeien, die vrije wil. En dat het een onderwerp is wat steeds meer mensen aantrekt merk ik aan reacties en aan vragen. Daarom nog maar eens een aantal stukken vrije wil, quantum mechanica, chaos.

Uit de geweldige film "Waking Life" komt het volgende stuk waarvan het transcript verder naar beneden staat.

"In a way, in our contemporary world view, it's easy to think that science has come to take the place of God. But some philosophical problems remain as troubling as ever. Take the problem of free will. This problem has been around for a long time, since before Aristotle in 350 B.C. St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, these guys all worried about how we can be free if God already knows in advance everything you're gonna do. Nowadays we know that the world operates according to some fundamental physical laws, and these laws govern the behavior of every object in the world. Now, these laws, because they're so trustworthy, they enable incredible technological achievements. But look at yourself. We're just physical systems too, right? We're just complex arrangements of carbon molecules. We're mostly water, and our behavior isn't gonna be an exception to these basic physical laws. So it starts to look like whether its God setting things up in advance and knowing everything you're gonna do or whether it's these basic physical laws governing everything, there's not a lot of room left for freedom. So now you might be tempted to just ignore the question, ignore the mystery of free will. Say "Oh, well, it's just an historical anecdote. It's sophomoric. It's a question with no answer. Just forget about it." But the question keeps staring you right in the face. You think about individuality for example, who you are. Who you are is mostly a matter of the free choices that you make. Or take responsibility. You can only be held responsible, you can only be found guilty, or you can only be admired or respected for things you did of your own free will. So the question keeps coming back, and we don't really have a solution to it. It starts to look like all our decisions are really just a charade. Think about how it happens. There's some electrical activity in your brain. Your neurons fire. They send a signal down into your nervous system. It passes along down into your muscle fibers. They twitch. You might, say, reach out your arm. It looks like it's a free action on your part, but every one of those - every part of that process is actually governed by physical law, chemical laws, electrical laws, and so on. So now it just looks like the big bang set up the initial conditions, and the whole rest of human history, and even before, is really just the playing out of subatomic particles according to these basic fundamental physical laws. We think we're special. We think we have some kind of special dignity, but that now comes under threat. I mean, that's really challenged by this picture. So you might be saying, "Well, wait a minute. What about quantum mechanics? I know enough contemporary physical theory to know it's not really like that. It's really a probabilistic theory. There's room. It's loose. It's not deterministic." And that's going to enable us to understand free will. But if you look at the details, it's not really going to help because what happens is you have some very small quantum particles, and their behavior is apparently a bit random. They swerve. Their behavior is absurd in the sense that its unpredictable and we can't understand it based on anything that came before. It just does something out of the blue, according to a probabilistic framework. But is that going to help with freedom? I mean, should our freedom be just a matter of probabilities, just some random swerving in a chaotic system? That starts to seem like it's worse. I'd rather be a gear in a big deterministic physical machine than just some random swerving. So we can't just ignore the problem. We have to find room in our contemporary world view for persons with all that that entails; not just bodies, but persons. And that means trying to solve the problem of freedom, finding room for choice and responsibility, and trying to understand individuality."

Een volgend stuk is het bezoek dat auteur en filosoof John Searls bracht aan Google, op 30 oktober 2007.

En een interview met Searls uit de Boston Globe van 4 februari 2007.

Q&A John Searle

By Harvey Blume | February 4, 2007

"IN PHILOSOPHY," JOHN SEARLE told me, "the name of the game is disagreement." Searle, who has taught philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, since 1959, shows no inclination to duck dispute. In The New York Review of Books, for example, where he functions as a sort of philosopher in residence, you can regularly find him at fierce loggerheads with a variety of contemporary thinkers -- including Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Ray Kurzweil, and Noam Chomsky -- over questions of mind, consciousness, and language.

Some of Searle's most serious intellectual brawls are over the question of whether the mind can be construed as a computer. He has argued strenuously that we need to resist the temptation to think of mental processes in terms of computation. "Defined as it is," he said, "by the manipulation of zeroes and ones," the computer model can tell us nothing about how our brains produce mind, consciousness, and a sense of self.

Searle's forte in these battles and in his 16 books, including his new "Freedom and Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power" (Columbia), is his determination to see how science reformulates traditional questions of philosophy. In some cases -- but "unfortunately," he said, "not many" -- science succeeds in putting a vexed question to rest: The discovery of the double helix, for example, and other advances in microbiology, have made it unnecessary, he believes, to call on an "élan vital," or some other mystical force, to explain how life works.

But Searle recognizes that science can also deepen mystery, as it has with regard to free will. The more we know about a universe consisting, he writes, "entirely of mindless, meaningless...fields of force," the harder it is to justify the conception we have of "ourselves as conscious, mindful, free" -- unshakable as that self-conception might be. Searle does not, however, conclude that free will is an illusion. He maintains, instead, that at least for now, we are stuck with a paradox.

I reached John Searle by phone at his office in Berkeley.

IDEAS: You think that questions about the mind are at the core of philosophy today, don't you?

SEARLE: Right. And that's a big change. If you go back to the 17th century, and Descartes, skepticism -- the question of how it is possible to have knowledge -- was a live issue for philosophy. That put epistemology -- the theory of knowledge -- at the heart of philosophy. How can we know? Shouldn't we seek a foundation for knowledge that overcomes skeptical doubts about it? As recently as a hundred years ago, the central question was still about knowledge. But now, the center of philosophical debate is philosophy of mind.

IDEAS: Why the change?

SEARLE: We know too much. The sheer volume of knowledge has become overwhelming. We take basic findings from physics and chemistry about the universe for granted. Knowing much more about the real world than our ancestors did, we can't take skepticism seriously in the old way. It also means that philosophy has to proceed on the basis of all that we know.

The universe consists of matter, and systems defined by causal relations. We know that. So we go on to ask: To what extent can we render our self-conception consistent with this knowledge? How can there be consciousness, free will, rationality, language, political organization, ethics, aesthetics, personal identity, moral responsibility? These are questions for the philosophy of mind.

IDEAS: You call yourself a biological naturalist, and argue that there is a physical underpinning to consciousness.

SEARLE: The question of how it is possible for consciousness to exist in a world made entirely of physical particles is being transformed into a scientific question, much like any other. It's like the question that bothered our great-grandparents, namely how could inert matter be alive, how could life exist, in what is, after all, a bunch of chemicals. Now we have a much richer conception of biochemistry. We don't know all the details, but nobody can feel passionately today that you can't give a biochemical account of life.

How does the brain produce weird states -- consciousness, subjectivity, qualitativeness? That will receive a neurobiological solution. There's a lot of work on it now.

IDEAS: You've argued that no matter what science says, we're inclined to think of ourselves as free.

SEARLE: It isn't just that we're inclined. It's worse than that. You cannot escape the presupposition of free will. When you and I talk, or we order in a restaurant, or vote, we can only do these things on the supposition that we have a choice. We can't think away our own freedom.

IDEAS: Why do so many people find it appealing to think of the mind as a kind of computer?

SEARLE: People have always tried to find a mechanical analogy for the brain. I've come across a passage saying the brain is a telegraph system. Before that people said the brain was a Jacquard loom. In my childhood, people used to say the brain was a telephone system. It was inevitable they'd say the brain is a digital computer.

IDEAS: But you yourself maintain that the brain is a machine.

SEARLE: The brain is a machine, which by means of energy transfers causes and sustains consciousness.

Consciousness consists of private, subjective, qualitative states of feeling and awareness, starting when you wake from a dreamless sleep and continuing until you go back to sleep.

We don't yet know how the brain causes that. Maybe there's no reason why you couldn't produce consciousness in nonbiological phenomena.

IDEAS: Do you really think we can build a machine that has a full grasp of natural language, and has authentic consciousness?

SEARLE: That's a factual question, not a question you can answer by philosophical analysis. My point is that the ability to manipulate symbols, which is what today's computers do, is not the same as the ability to have consciousness.

IDEAS: Wait. You're saying machines can have consciousness. And our brains are machines that have consciousness. Well, a computer is a machine. Why can't it have consciousness?

SEARLE: Sure, the computer you buy in a store is a machine. But computation is not a machine process. Computation is not defined by energy transfer.

People think I'm saying the computer is too much of a machine to be capable of consciousness. That's exactly wrong. I'm saying it's not enough of a machine.

IDEAS: That's tricky.

SEARLE: Actually, it's ludicrously simple. Minds are defined by the possession of mental phenomena -- consciousness, intentionality. Computer operations are defined syntactically, in terms of formal symbol manipulation. And that's neither sufficient by itself for, nor constitutive of, consciousness.

The funny thing is that in all these years nobody's got that point.

IDEAS: Give me an example of the kind of question science doesn't help philosophy answer.

SEARLE: I'll give half a dozen examples. There are the questions that bothered the Greeks: What is the nature of a just society? What is the most satisfying form of life. What are the forms of love? There are questions about ethics and aesthetics. These may have a scientific base, but they're not scientific questions.

IDEAS: Given that many contemporary philosophers agree about the importance of science, why is disagreement among them often so vehement?

SEARLE: I don't worry too much about the fact that philosophers disagree.

Harvey Blume is a writer based in Cambridge. His interviews appear regularly in ideas. E-mail hblume at world.std.com.

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