Mar 21, 2009

I read it, but I don't get it

The title of this post is stolen from one of the best books any English teacher (or any secondary teacher, for that matter) can buy. I thought of Tovani's classic while attempting to read this paper [pdf], offered as "homework" by blog-neighbor Mark Olson. Here's a sample:
If either one of these functions, say θF/a , is influenced by some information that is free in the above sense (i.e., not a function of A’s choice of directions and events F-earlier than that choice),then there must be an an earliest (“infimum”) F-time t0 after which all such information is available to a. Since the non-free information is also available at t0, all these information bits, free and non-free, must have a value 0 or 1 to enter as arguments in the function θF/a . So we regard a’s response as having started at t0.
You can be the world's most competent reader--me--and still have no idea what you're reading, if you lack the requisite background knowledge.


JASON said...

From what I can tell, it's an attempt to demonstrate free will by noting that at least one property of elementary particles is nondeterministic. This still doesn't prove the philosophical idea of free will, however. It appears only to impute it to an object, with a lot of anthropomorphizing to make it all work.

Assume a die to be nondeterministic for our purposes.
One can never, then, determine which face will land upward. Yet it doesn't have intentionality, responsibility, or any of the other attributes we typically ascribe to the will.

In Daniel Dennett's phrase, this isn't a free will worth wanting. Moreover, violating strict causation is perhaps not even necessary to having a will in the sense usually meant by philosophers. Compatibilism between deterministic properties and free will is my own preferred answer, though I'd prefer not to explain it in a comment. (It takes a while... though happily there's no math. I may have to get back to you on it.)

Jim Anderson said...

"...with a lot of anthropomorphizing to make it all work."

That was my gut feeling, but as a non-expert, I wasn't sure if my gut was really getting it.

Mark said...

Compatibilism between deterministic properties and free will is my own preferred answer, though ...

Does your compatibilism need reforming given that the universe is not deterministic?

JASON said...

I am unsure whether the universe is entirely deterministic.

Some aspects of it clearly are deterministic, while some may be nondeterministic.

If it's possible to build a free will solely from deterministic parts, however, the nondeterministic ones can either exist, or not, and we still have a workable theory of the will.

Mark said...

What do you mean by, "Some aspects of it clearly are deterministic?"

My feeling is that you really should be "building your free will" from a non-deterministic (not a deterministic) foundation.