- Paperback: 482 pages
- Publisher: Information Philosopher; First edition (June 19, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0983580200
- ISBN-13: 978-0983580201
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
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Free Will: The Scandal in Philosophy Paperback – June 19, 2011
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In the introduction to this book Doyle reviews the 1960s insight of physicist David Layzer who realized that what makes information structures possible in our universe is that, thanks to constant expansion, the potential for entropy in the universe rises faster than actual entropy. This insight of Layzer's might be one of the most consequential ideas in all of physics with which a much later book (Terrence Deacon's "Incomplete Nature" which I have reviewed) makes use. It is from the difference between potential and actual entropy that all of the structure (which is, in the end, information) from stars and galaxies to complex molecules and living organisms arises.
With that introduction, Doyle introduces the issues that underlie the free will puzzle. I would think he would begin with mind in which, after all, free will, if it exists at all, is exercised, but his is a more abstract approach concerning the possibility of any free will (minded or otherwise) in a universe having only two fundamental types of causes, the determinism of the large scale universe and the genuine randomness of quantum mechanics. Neither of these can be said to properly characterize what we all take to be the directed (non-random, but not determined) nature of our will.
Beginning with a review of the history of the debate (Dr. Doyle is nothing if not well read and includes copious quotes and references) he moves on to address more recent (that is 19th, 20th, and 21st Century) dual-aspect theories of free will, each advanced to reconcile randomness and determinism with the nature of our freedom and will. He then presents his own dual-aspect theory, a more nuanced variation on those that preceded him. In all of this work, he is careful to retain his informational touch point. The same difference between potential and actual entropy is what grounds the possibility of conjoining randomness and what he calls "adequate determinism" that isn't pre-determined by the physics of the universe going back to the big bang. It is this that makes the free part of free will possible, but the will part is a little more problematic.
Doyle believes that "adequately determined" comes down to desires, beliefs, emotions, reasons and habits are causes in mind and it is those causes that constitute the will part of free will. I believe he is wrong about this. These things, while certainly influential, are not causes, adequate or otherwise. E. J. Lowe ("Personal Agency") and Nicholas Rescher ("Free Will: A Philosophical Reappraisal") both demolish this idea. Another problem for Doyle is that all of his discussion of will presupposes agency. By doing this (and failing to adequately recognize its implications) he doesn't solve the crucial problem of how even beliefs, desires, reasons, and so on, determine the will but only pushes it back up a level. In my opinion, Doyle's two-stage free will process does in fact capture that freedom possessed by mind in general, for example that exhibited by the higher animals. But it does not capture the depth and breath of human freedom or will because humans possess a special agency not present (at least there is no evidence for it) by animal mind.
Because the chapters of this book come from weblog essays they are very redundant. This is perfectly understandable in a weblog. To make any point in an essay one has to introduce enough background, in every essay, to make the central argument of the essay comprehensible. When a collection of these essays is brought together in a book however the result is a lot of redundancy. Had Dr. Doyle edited out this redundancy, the book would be much better, but half its length.
In sum, not a bad book. Not too technical for amateur philosophers or physicists interested in this issue. It is worth a read at least for the very thorough summary of the history of the free will problem and well illustrates why it remains a problem despite some 2500 years of philosophical efforts to resolve it. Doyle's attempt is a worthy continuation of this work, but in the end he too misses the mark.
In order to remotely understand the nature of the human will it is critical to come somewhat to terms with what the nature of consciousness is. After all, the will (whether free or determined) operates largely in the conscious domains of the mind. We also need some understanding of what constitutes the mind, whether the mind is merely a set of material functions of the brain, or whether the mind transcends the brain.
Regarding the nature of the mind and consciousness, here are some excerpts from Doyle’s own ideas (from page 245):
“Consciousness can be defined in information terms as an entity (usually a living thing, but we can also include artificially conscious machines or computers) that reacts to the information (and particularly changes in the information) in its environment.
“In the context of information philosophy, we can define this as information consciousness.
“Thus an animal in deep sleep is not conscious because it ignores changes in its environment. And robots may be conscious in our sense. Even the lowliest control system using negative feedback (a thermostat, for example) is in a minimal sense conscious of changes in its environment.”
I wish to pounce on this definition of consciousness, because it is precisely this sort of materialist deflation of the glory of consciousness that renders much of modern philosophy a pitiful subterfuge, one that gravely undermines respect for moral responsibility, true freedom of the will, and the human capacity to freely choose to be a moral being versus an immoral one. Let me point out what is wrong with Doyle’s definition of consciousness. Firstly, there is simply no evidence whatsoever that any thermostat, any computer, or any robot (including Deep Blue) has one iota of consciousness. If Doyle wishes to toe the line of scientific strategies in constructing his philosophy, then let him point to even an inkling of scientific evidence that any nonliving (non-biological) entity, regardless of how complex a device (including computers) it is, has any element of consciousness at all. That he has not done, but has merely (arbitrarily) “defined” consciousness as the condition of any entity that reacts to information and changes in information. This is NOT a valid definition of consciousness. Consciousness involves a subjective element, and reactions to information can be detected objectively. Consciousness is a property of reality which includes at least an element of radical subjectivity. The condition of a mechanical or electronic device that reacts highly responsively to environmental inputs provides no evidence whatsoever that it (the device) can experience any feelings, sensations, thoughts, pain, or pleasure. Unless Doyle can provide evidence for such subjective states in such devices, his definition of consciousness is hopelessly flawed, and it is a grave subterfuge to define consciousness as the functions of a physical device that highly efficiently reacts to its environment.
Since Doyle’s Two-stage Cogito Model fails to even account for consciousness, his entire system fails. Now, with regard to Doyle’s understanding of free will, he says on page 257-258 the following:
“Freedom of the will requires the randomness of absolute chance to break the causal chain of determinism, yet the conscious knowledge that we are adequately determined to be responsible for our choices….
“This randomness must be located in a place and time that enhances free will, one that does not reduce our will and our actions to pure chance….
“Freedom also requires an adequately determined will that chooses or selects from those alternative possibilities. There is effectively nothing uncertain about this choice….
“So there is also a Determinism Requirement – that our actions be adequately determined by our character and values. This requires that any randomness not be not be the direct cause of our actions.”
After reading Doyle’s book, here’s what I think I understand about his model of “free will”. He ascribes to our brains quantum properties that are sufficiently substantially probabilistic as to permit decisions of the person to possess an element of indeterminism. However, as I understand his model, even though there is sufficient indeterminism in the brain’s functions to render choices capable of deviation from the consequences of past choices, these indeterministic effects only introduce into the conscious functions “stochastic noise”, but that every decision made by the person will be precisely determined by the person’s beliefs, values, and character. Since every decision that is made is made within context of the confluence of the effects of “random noise”, that decision is strictly determined by previous choices that have defined one’s character and values, and the previous choices will have earlier been determined by yet preceding choices that had been determined by the preceding character and values – thus resulting in regressively determined choices, all the way back to the earliest choices in childhood. Therefore, no new character traits or attitudes can be voluntarily introduced into one’s character.
Admittedly, this is a fairly technical and difficult set of ideas to tackle, but as I see Doyle’s Two-stage Cogito Model, agential causation that has freedom in determining character changes or moral choices is not allowed for. In other words, Doyle’s model does not endorse agent-causal libertarianism. According to my way of understanding the mind, consciousness, and free choice, any “free will” that denies the efficacy of agent-causal choices simply repudiates the existence of genuine freedom of will that empowers a person to change, grow, and modify character in ways that are simply not contained within the character of the person before the agential choices were made.
Therefore, notwithstanding Doyle’s claims to rescue libertarian free will from the determinists who would endorse either compatibilist free will or reject free will entirely, Doyle’s efforts simply do not go far enough, given that his model renounces the true nature of consciousness and the mind, and fails to account for the (ultimately) spiritual nature of consciousness and genuine free will. Notwithstanding my criticisms, I regard Doyle’s book (“Free Will”) to be the most intelligently and informatively written book of any that I have yet read regarding the highly controversial and contentious questions pertaining to human free will. I highly recommend “Free Will: The Scandal in Philosophy”, but with the caveat that Doyle’s “model” of consciousness misses the mark significantly.
Read it now, and share it freely. Your choices can make a difference.