Re: The 'left' of evolutionism

Danny Yee (danny@STAFF.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Wed, 11 May 1994 16:35:25 +1000

D. Read replies:
> Let me try out a way to avoid the usual quagmire that arises when dicussing
> choice, free will, etc.
> In some sense, what seems to be meant by "free will" or "choice" is the
> notion that regardless of the inputs I have received, I am potentially as
> capable of making one choice as another. The opposite view would be that my
> decision is in fact determined by those inputs and I only have the illusion
> of making choice.

But these are not the only alternatives! There are many who feel
that human decisions can both be "determined" by inputs and the result
of choices (basically all soft-determinists and commpatibilists).
For a really good discussion of the quagmire I recommend Daniel
Dennett's _Elbow Room_ (review appended).

> Now let us suppose that the brain has two distinct levels. First, a level
> which operates without our awareness and which is capable of the kind of
> reasoning that we usually associate with conscioius thought; i.e. rational
> thought. Let us suppose that this level uses some criterion like
> "optimality" for decision making. So given a set of inputs, this level of
> the brain processes the inputs and arrives at a decision: Do X. Let us
> allow that decision making at this level is "predictable" if we know the
> criterion that is used. Now consider the so-called conscious mind as being
> capable of examining the state of the first level and taking the state of the
> first level as input which it can examine in terms of higher level constructs
> such as meaning (leaving aside the question of what constitutes meaning!).
> So this second level takes the state of the first level--Do X--and examines
> it at a higher level of meanings and, further, can override the first level.
> In this scenario the second level is acting at a metalevel which is
> inaccessible to the first level. We can postit that the second level, since
> it is (in this scenario) capable of overriding the first level, capable of
> giving this action a "meaning" e.g., the second level views this override
> action on its part as "free will". However, there is no reason to assume
> that the second level is capable of overriding any and all outputs from the
> first level; e.g. overriding the first level might require a destabiliztion
> of the first level.

> This is a crude model, but would allow for viewing decision, free will, etc.
> not in absolute terms but as a tension between different levels of the brain.

This is certainly the case, but there's a danger that one will just end
up pushing the problem of free will or consciousness onto a smaller
part/level of the brain. It's like viewing the brain/mind as being
an assortment of i/o processing devices with a small person at the
centre making the "real" decisions, exercising "freedom of choice"
and so on. But what makes this homunculus or inner level/agent work?
For a really good account of these and other issues in consciousness
see Daniel Dennett's book _Consciousness Explained_.

(In case you haven't gathered from the above, I'm a great fan of
Daniel Dennett's. I take the liberty of appending a book review of _Elbow Room_.)

Danny Yee.