Monday, May 29, 2017

Freedom and Sacrifice, Determinism and Suicide

What follows is a little conversation I had with a fellow commenter on Instapundit regarding an article on whether machines can attain consciousness. The answer is No: not now, not soon, not ever.

Indeed, to even ask the question is to not know what consciousness is, which is to say, qualitative subject and not quantitative object. Why pretend it is possible to reduce the former to the latter? This constitutes the last word in reductionism, since it reduces and thereby eradicates the very entity that caries out the reduction. Truly, it is like jumping into a hole and pulling the hole in after yourself.

Why would you even want to do that? It renders your life quite literally meaningless, with no possibility of any purpose whatsoever.

No, that wasn't a rhetorical question. One could ask the same question of atheists more generally: why do you choose a philosophy that either denies the possibility of choice or renders it absurd?

Well, let's start with the principle that man is what he is, irrespective of what we imagine he is. And one thing man is is epistemophilic. In other words, man loves truth. It's in our nature, and there is no way of getting around it.

If you ask an average atheist if he loves truth, he may or may not admit it. But they always act as if they are devoted to truth, no matter where it leads, in contrast to religious folk, who are attached to childish, consoling, and self-deceptive fairy tales, myths, and superstitions. Atheists are the Adults in the Room, for they are willing to acknowledge Reality without compensatory hallucinations.

So the atheist loves truth as he sees it. Indeed, he loves it so much that he is willing to sacrifice himself on its altar, for he insists that "I believe this, even if it renders all belief, and my life with it, utterly futile."

The commenter with whom I engage below reminds me of this. I don't doubt that he is scrupulously honest -- honest to the point of self-immolation (his responses are indented, while my comments on my comments are in parentheses):


Computationalism is a priori demolished by Gödel, but its simpleminded adherents haven't gotten the memo. Sad!

(That was intended only as a concise little gag. It is literally and eternally true, such that it isn't worth wasting a moment of your life pretending the mind is a computer. I certainly didn't expect an argument against what is certain!)

(Oh and I'm willing to concede that I don't really understand Gödel. If so, then neither does Gödel understand me, and I'm in the right on this matter.)

Godel's Theorems are universal, applying equally to computers and to humans. They don't impinge on computationalism any more or less than anything else.

Yes, but in understanding the theorems we thereby transcend them. In Rebecca Goldstein's bio, she claims that Gödel's point is that man has access to truths that cannot be proved by the systems we construct.

Speaking only for myself, I know with 100% certitude that I have access to suprasensible truths that no computer will ever touch or even know about; they are translogical, not illogical. In short, the limits of truth and limits of logic are very different things: semantics cannot be reduced to syntax -- nor, for that matter, subject to object.

Besides, even if our minds were enclosed in logical tautologies, I would insist otherwise, if only because it's a more fun way to live, and it pisses off all the right people.

That's exactly what Godel proved is impossible. You can't have it both ways.

Use your right brain, man! You're free!

(By which I mean that the left brain is indeed enclosed in logical tautologies, while the right brain transcends all that. Which is why we have one. They are complementary, meant to work in tandem, but the left brain cannot contain the right, any more than the object can contain the subject. And no, I'm not reducing this to brain anatomy; feel free to regard it as an allegory.)

You know how Godel's proofs work? He proved the first Incompleteness Theorem using *arithmetic*. That's how fundamental it is.

It is quite literally inescapable, which is why it is regarded as one of the most important advances ever in the history of mathematics.

Gödel did not show what the mind is, but he certainly showed what it is not, which is to say, a logic machine.

If you take it one step further, among other things, he proved the existence of unprovable arithmetical truths: or in other words -- and this is just common sense -- that there exist things that are both unprovable and true. But only the best things in life.

(Again, literally true: none of the best things in life can be reduced to a logical system. You can try, but you'll be very lonely and bored.)

This is not really something you can have differing opinions on. Godel proved, as you say, that there are statements that are true but unprovable. But we are bound by Godel's proof too. We cannot ever know those statements are true. Sometimes we can know they're unprovable. Sometimes not even that. This is the reality of mathematics, and it's our reality.

The wonderful book Godel, Escher, Bach goes into the implications of this for human and machine intelligence - and art and society as well. I highly recommend it to everyone.

That is not what Gödel believed: he didn't believe his theorems supported reductionism, but rather, a la Plato, the existence of a suprasensible domain of eternal verities. Think of your own case: do you really not know any truths that cannot be proved by logic? -- for example, that man is free to accept or reject truth.

No, I don't know any truths that can't be proved by logic. If they can't be proved by logic, I don't know that they're true. If I don't know that they're true, why call them truths?

There are things I *believe* to be true that I cant prove, of course. But I could be wrong.

I think you're selling yourself short by enclosing truth within logical tautologies. For you, things are true because rational; for me, they are rational because true.

You say you know of no truths that can't be proved by logic. Well, it is impossible to prove man has free will, and yet, we do. One could cite many other examples, but just one suffices to blow up reductionism.

What do you mean by "free will"? There's certainly no evidence that we have any form of free will that contradicts reductionism.

If that's the case, then you were determined to say that, and truth doesn't enter into it. In other words, if we are not free, then we obviously cannot choose truth. Nor could you convince me otherwise, since I too would be bound to believe what I believe.

You ask what I mean by free will: most importantly, freedom to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, reality and appearances. This is what characterizes the human station. Speaking only for myself, I want to live in a system in which I am free to choose truth, beauty, and virtue.

Freedom is metaphysical, not physical, and is more than adequate proof of our transcendence. And of course, there is nothing compelling one to believe this truth. We are always free to reject freedom.

More to the point: is understanding Gödel's theorems just a logical entailment, or does it situate you outside logical systems? If it's just another tautology, then to hell with it.


That was it. One point I wanted to add is that determinism is for Marxists, Muslims, and behaviorists, not Americans. Especially on this Memorial Day, think about it: we are here because thousands of brave soldiers gave their lives for our freedom.

Yes, but What do you mean by freedom? There's certainly no evidence that we have any form of free will that contradicts reductionism.

Oh? This means that these warriors -- this one, for example -- weren't brave at all, merely foolish or deluded, sacrificing themselves to something that doesn't exist. Meanwhile, the atheist sacrifices his mind to the one thing that supposedly does exist: godless matter. But is there any merit in his sacrifice, being that he has no choice but to make it?

I'll say it again for emphasis: freedom is sufficient proof of our transcendence. And those who have given their all in its defense haven't wasted their lives but testified to its ultimate significance. Which is why we honor them.

(I can hear it now: What do you mean by honor? There's no such thing!)


Anonymous said...

A brilliant, impassioned post. And yet I don't think you were able to make a case sufficient to answer the questions.

I'll put forward some concepts which are speculative, but speculation is needed in cases like these.

1. Can free choice be true, and reductionism as well? Are these items are mutually exclusive? Simply elevate reductionism in your esteem, and the problem is solved. Why be so down on reductionism? It may well include the workings of Mind, which may not be outside the bounds of physics, only outside the bounds of the physics which we know. And we don't know the full picture.

2. Mind-can machines achieve it? Of course not, if you think of Mind as something bestowed on a soul on the basis of the composition of their receptor mechanism. People use a wet, protein and fat receptor, and the machine may get a dry set-up, or a wet one, or what have you. But what if Mind is like Wifi, it is everywhere, and you just have to have the right gear to tune it in? Then the machines are in as soon as they get the right gear. Will they have a soul? Most likely. A soul will inhabit any vehicle through which it can get desired experiences. The soul is extra corporeal, and comes and goes as it needs to, when and where it wants.

Well, there is the speculation. On the sacrifice made by soldiers, nothing said by any atheist (or anyone, for that matter) can dim that glory, which belongs to the individual soul who made it, and is engraved in the records of eternity, indestructibly.

julie said...

One could ask the same question of atheists more generally: why do you choose a philosophy that either denies the possibility of choice or renders it absurd?

Because then there is no culpability. You're not depraved because you're deprived, you're depraved because your genes made you do it. And anyway, who's to say what's depraved? You can't tell me what to do. I do what my genes tell me I want!

Also, as I've often seen argued, it doesn't matter how I raise my kids because they'll grow up to be "who they are" pretty much regardless of circumstances. They're programmed that way!


If you ask an average atheist if he loves truth, he may or may not admit it. But they always act as if they are devoted to truth, no matter where it leads, in contrast to religious folk, who are attached to childish, consoling, and self-deceptive fairy tales, myths, and superstitions.

Apropos, Vanderleun linked to someone this weekend who argued that being good is hard, because 90% of the world is either actively or passively opposed to goodness; the good always loses, therefore it is immoral to be good (ridiculously shortened version). If atheism is true, his argument is perfectly reasonable; why fight the world? Notably, he's not saying he's going to give in to evil right now - rather, his claim is there's a moral case for it. Also, notably, he calls himself a purveyor of truth. A truth which seems to be leaving him all but bereft of hope - quite reasonably, again, if one has faith in nothing but matter.

julie said...

Apropos both the day and the topic, today also marks the 4th day of the Novena to the Holy Spirit, traditionally performed between the feast of the Ascension and Pentecost. It is a prayer asking for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, apparently begun by the Apostles as they waited for the coming of the Paraclete. The 4th day is a prayer for the gift of Fortitude:

By the gift of Fortitude the soul is strengthened against natural fear, and supported to the end in the performance of duty. Fortitude imparts to the will an impulse and energy which move it to undertake without hesitancy the most arduous tasks, to face dangers, to trample under foot human respect, and to endure without complaint the slow martyrdom of even lifelong tribulation. "He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved."

common sense bob said...

Good one!


I especially liked: "this is just common sense -- that there exist things that are both unprovable and true". You betchum!

Gagdad Bob said...

If we actually tried to conduct our lives based only on what can be logically proved, we'd be paralyzed.

Thankfully, we are not closed in on ourselves but always open to the transcendent source of truth itself.

Anonymous said...

Let's face it, if you want to sin yourself silly, you must set aside Transcendent truth at times, or it will ruin the party.

Where, oh where, amidst religious life is there a little space, just a little, to get smashed, carouse, and be naughty?

Julie, what is your take on this? Did you debauch yourself during your college years? Where does revelry and merriment fit into a life well lived? Or does it at all?

I'm 24, I'm going to Mass every week, and I fear I will ruin my reputation if I indulge my crazy urges. What is a girl to do?


julie said...

Sorry, I'm probably the worst person to ask about that. I hated partying, and was married at 23 after dating/ living with my boyfriend for 6 years. So, "living in sin" but otherwise was pretty boring compared to the average early 20-something. When my kids get older, I very much hope that instead of choosing to party their young adult years away, they will instead want to marry and start families of their own.

Pat Santy said...

Bob, every time I go away for a while then come back, I become again truly amazed at your marvelous thoughts. My own journey has been rather non-linear but I am hopeful that I have started on the true path, finally: no longer bound up in an atheistic, materialistic, exclusively rational reality, which excludes everything that makes life meaningful. It took me a long time to get here, and now I have a few thousand years of reading and thinking to catch up on. It's wonderful.

julie said...

Dr. Santy, how wonderful to see your comment! I don't think I ever commented much at your blog, but always enjoyed reading.

May God bless you on your journey; it really is wonderful.

Gagdad Bob said...

Mother was right -- I am special.

Seriously -- glad to hear from you Dr. S! The internet hasn't been the same since you abandoned it.

Van Harvey said...

"That was it. One point I wanted to add is that determinism is for Marxists, Muslims, and behaviorists, not Americans."


debass said...

Dr. S, are you still down in Fresno? I read your blog and listened to your podcasts. I was hoping you and Victor Davis Hanson would podcast from there once in awhile. That would be extraordinary. Hope to read your blog again someday.

Gagdad Bob said...

Guy's not giving up. The latest:

Him: Metaphysical things don't exist. That's what the word means. So if your proof of our transcendence is metaphysical, then we're not transcendent, by definition.

But - none of your examples of free will contradict reductionism in any way. I don't deny that we can (and do!) do all of those things. But it's perfectly consistent with reductionism. Computers can do all those things too.

Me: That is not what the word means. Rather, the opposite: things that cannot not be, i.e., being and its properties.

In any event, computers do not freely choose between reality and appearances. Rather, only what they are programed by free beings to do.


I could say a l lot more. Let's see how he responds.

julie said...


Re. computers choosing between reality and appearances, I'm reminded of when Google's AI interpreted images and made up things that weren't there. Of course, someone had to program it to do that...

Van Harvey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Van Harvey said...

Been in a few of those A.I. arguments that really put the 'artificial' in their intelligence. If you can keep them on the line long enough, it seems that their idea of reality - especially the uber-rational ones - comes down to something they end up claiming can't be known, and that's the basis for their 'Rationality' (rationedinanity?).

Good times.

ted said...

As someone once said: it's not that A.I. will become more human, but we are becoming like A.I.

CheyTown said...

Ted, I think there's something to that. The less people exercise their free will, the more the world thinks for them.
Bob, brilliant as usual. I'm not ready to rule out machines receiving consciousness though. In your book, which really resonated with me, matter wakes up to life and life to mind and mind to spirit. Of course, if a machine wakes up, the waking would be a gift from God and the machine would no longer be a machine, but a free agent. Life from dust. Born of the pregnant zero.
Are you simply saying that it would take more than the correct material architecture and human programming for this to happen?

Van Harvey said...

CheyTown, to put in my two cents where they weren't asked for, the presumptions of the A.I. community, that consciousness is nothing more than Calculation + Complexity + Speed, is as silly and artificial as intelligence gets.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

Humans are created to know the real and abide by it. We are all competing in knowing god,the truth and have been provided with the faculties that helps us in our epistemic journey. As there is determinism there is free will. No body is free to choose his parent or the land of his birth or his death etc. God is not a mathematical diagram nor his creation. God is an Unseen energy that defies all the minds and provided his creation as a door to enter to the circle of his presence. No wonder they say we can not know him through our human system because his is out side the systems. Truth is outside us and as Schuon said, it can not be invented but humans are programmed to know it through their honest search for it. This implies what Rebecca Goldstien said, that humans have access to truths that can not be proved by the systems we construct. The doors to him can not open without sincere devotional endeavour, infused with retreat and meditation and contemplation. God light is every where for the honest seekers as Nicholas of Cusa definition of god as A circle whose circumference is no where ans whose center is everywhere. We are the bounded in the frame of the unbounded whose levels are endless and every human can not go beyond the unknown level prescribed to him in light of his effort and the unknown divine grace. No body can tell on what step Jacob had landed on the ladder up to the unknown. I do not think we are here to pass judgement on others but to compete to be honest with him and others.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

I like to add what Whitehead and Swedenborg said about the mania of addressing the cosmos and its creator in term of the mathematical, It is well-known, the mathematical genius of Whitehead who turned to philosophy and said that the ultimate goal of mathematics is to eliminate any need for intelligent thoughts. As for Swedenborg he said he is well aware of the scientific trend in perceiving nature as mathematical relations which he felt it has begun to usurp god in the mind of the educated. We are without doubt made of language, so is our cosmos and god used words to deliver his message and we use words in invoking his words.

debass said...

Some of the newer robots are really creepy. The more the makers try to make them human, the creepier they are to me. It's like Franenstein's monster. An for AI, how does a machine transcend, or how do your program beauty?

Gagdad Bob said...

Weird. He's still trying:

Him: Computers can choose freely between reality and appearances to precisely the same degree that people can.
A given computer program might not do so, but a given person might not do so either.

Me: Tell me more. Where can I purchase one of these computers that can know reality? Mine only does what it's programmed to do.


Why do intelligent people believe such stupid things? I should ask a psychologist...

CheyTown said...

Van Harvey, yes, consciousness is more than the sum of those things. The cosmos is conscious via us. Mind is the reason that matter exists. Here are my questions. What if mind wanted to run on a computer? Could Mind do this, at it has done with biological matter?

Gagdad Bob said...

I don't see how. It would have no nonlocal "center," which is what characterizes the human mind.

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