Sitting outside the world

All physical things follow certain rules of cause and effect. One event causes another event, which causes another. These sequences of cause and effect are called causal chains. Science can explore the causal chains by altering the cause and measuring what happens to the effect. If we can find things that don't follow those laws, then those things are not part of the physical world.
The subjective experience of color, sounds, pain, and so forth are caused by physical events. But they are outside the realm of what can be measured. (For example, there is no way, even in principle, to know whether my sensation of red is the same as your sensation of red.) This is because the experiences don't have a causal effect on the world which could be measured.
On the other side, free will choices can not be caused by anything, but they do have effects on the world. If subjective experiences are the ends of causal chains, free will choices are the beginnings.
It wouldn't be hard to build a machine that replaced subjective experiences and free will with a causal chain connecting the incoming and outcoming chain together. If the chain was complex enough or contained random elements, an outside observer couldn't know whether the system was causally connected or not. But we know from our own experience that that isn't the way it works within our own minds. The internal subjective experience would be absent in such a system.
Some people would claim that we can't be sure that such a system doesn't have a subjective experience. But I think we can be sure. There are parts of our own brains' workings that are inaccesible to consciousness. If we build a system that works in the same way as these parts, we can be certain that it won't have conscious internal experiences or free will.
Subjective experiences and the free will choices are connected. It is the presence of a conscious field of experience that makes free will choices possible. Our choices could simply be choices of which experiences to give more weight in the determination of an effect, by freely paying attention to certain aspects of the conscious field more than others. Every choice we make is a creative artwork, where we put the emphasis on what we decide is important.
It's analogous to a video game. Within the computer, everything happening in the game world is deterministic. But the causal chain ends in a display of colors on the monitor. New causal chains begin within the world of the game with the movement of the controller. But we sit outside the world. The colors on the screen don't cause the movements of the controller, but they provide the environment in which coherent choices of how to move the controller can occur.
There is another part to this connection between experiences and will. When we make a difficult choice ("exercising" the will), the choice is difficult because of the pain or discomfort it causes. When people deserve praise for having made good choices, it is because they did the right thing in spite of the pain it caused them. Without the subjective sensation of pain, there could be no working of the will.
The key to all this is that the choices are neither random nor caused. They are influenced by all kinds of things, but in the end are capable of working opposite to every influence.
The discoveries of the last century in quantum mechanics, chaos theory, and algorithmic information theory make such a world seem more possible and reasonable than in the period since Newton where science only knew of the more familiar kinds of mechanical causes. Quantum mechanics tells us that there will always be uncaused events in any system. Scientists believe uncaused quantum events to be completely random, but it is a gap in the system where subtle causes could sneak in. Chaos theory tells us that such minute causes could be amplified into macroscopic effects on the entire brain and from there, the outside world. In fact, neural networks are ideal for such amplification effects. From AIT, we know that even in mathematics, there are effects without causes.
It is reasonable to believe in such a system outside the physical world. We have internal evidence for it that is compelling. It requires the convoluted and unbelievable warping of the evidence to sustain a picture of the world that doesn't include such a supernatural world.

Notes for those with a background in philosophy: by "free will" I mean libertarian free will. By "subjective experience" I mean qualia. In this post I am assuming both as given from experience.

Comments

Jon said…
Oops... a pretty good train of thought spoiled by the emergent conclusion that it proves a supernatural world. Anyway, that's not what I'm interested in, just wanted to point out some flaws in the reasoning:

Could we know if out perceptions are the same if an organic part of out brain in which all mental images are projected were discovered, along with a part of the brain which interprets such discoveries. I think it's safe to say as we have differences in all our capacities as people, I tend to assume there are differences in our perceptions too. This is strengthened by the fact that conversation and philosophical argument evidences that perceptions , or at least experiences, are different between people. You couldn't experience the exact shade of red as me unless you could experience the exact same perspective on reality as me, for which the only way would be to be me. So on the whole I don't think it's practically possible for any two people to ever experience any identical perceptions. Just because they're different people.
Jon said…
One of my favourite remarks on perception (actually used to illustrate affective emotion) is when two divers see the same fish, the first identifies it as an aggressive poisonous fish and swims for shore, the other identifies it as a harmless peaceful fish and carries on swimming. It's the same fish, only the divers perception of it is different. In this case, the difference in perception is measurable in reality. As it is when one person complains of bright colours or loud noises or cold breeze that another standing next to them are not concerned by.

"That blue is hurting my eyes"
"Not mine".

Obviously this could be the result of cataracts or an eye defect but such defects or differences are analogues of differences in perception that can occur anywhere along the highway of perception, including with the cerebellum.
Jon said…
It is because free will choices cannot be caused by anything which causes philosophers to think that free will exists nowhere except in hypothesis. To support this argument you'd have to prove that something can happen with nothing to cause it.

How can a see-saw tip without the presence of something to affect the motion? Even if you presume that agent come from outside of the natural world it can't tip the see-saw unless it has an inaugural effect within the natural world. The see-saw still must be contacted, a force must be exerted to initialise the motion or the see-saw will stay still. It's basically newtons law... something won't change direction unless you touch it. But even in this example you can break the causal chain between natural and supernatural notionally but you can't do it really... the see-saw can't move unless it is effected in this world, the thing that effects can't effect unless it is effected.

In other words your whole argument depends on the assumption that causal chains can have beginnings and ending, but it is an assumption, writing "maths agrees with me" is meaningless if you don't show how it does. I'm a computer programmer, I use maths daily, and I have never heard of such a thing.
Jon said…
"All physical things follow certain rules of cause and effect" - says who?

"If we can find things that don't follow those laws, then those things are not part of the physical world" - this is self contradiction, you cannot find something in this world that isn't a part of it. You're getting caught in an argument where you're thinking that things can exist by themselves. Like your colour statement, the colour does not exist by itself, it exists because of the meeting point of a wavelength of radiation (perceived) meeting with the retina (perceived) and interpretation centres of the brain. Yellow isn't a self-existent thing, it only happens as an interpretation of a ripple in radiation, like making words, they don't exist except as ripples of pressure waves in air. Only the conciousness can see words in the ripples and make connotations out of them. In other words, the world is your conciousness, you can separate them notionally i.e. "birth is not death", but not really i.e. "birth and death are not two totally unconnected things".

You're trying to separate the natural from the supernatural but you can't. You're trying to create a dualism... why bother?
Jon said…
"Subjective experiences are the ends of causal chains"

This is just plain wrong. If I punch you, is that the end of a chain? Nope, it's just another link.

Is your supposed "free will" to write about the matter a start of a causal chain? Obviously not as you are not the instigator of any of the words / concepts or ideas you are dealing with. You are reacting to the stimuli in your environment. Your just the middle of a causal chain like a football rolling around space under inertia. You don't have any choices. Roll a marble around a curved surface. That's you. The marble doesn't have any choice, the thought you are different from a marble is caused by the same process which proves you aren't.
Jon said…
In other words, the belief you have free will coupled with your belief in the supernatural has been caused by completely natural effects that can be explained using the completely natural means of beginningless, endless causality chains.

The trouble with your thought is that it perpetuates the believe you are finite, which means, in position of ignorance of the truth, you are infinite.
D said…
jon,
You wrote so many things it would be hard to address them all. One of the most important points, though, is about causal chains. Your punching me in the arm would cause a sensation of pain in my arm. But I can choose how to respond to that pain. I can become angry and hit you back, I can walk away, I can turn the other cheek. Which action I will take isn't determined entirely by my previous experiences. There is a genuine disconnect here, like a switch in a wire that can take one causal chain coming in, and link it to one of many causal chains leading out. But the switch itself is not set causally. I think we can conclude that based on our own internal subjective experiences.
Blogtest said…
[In response to your personal email]: Yep, good response... I'll contemplate it. Thanks! : )
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