Eric Luther

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Eric Luther
Posted over 1 year ago
Is "free will" an illusion?
Point one is false. Dualism has been laughable in the philosophy of mind for more than a century. It's used as a cautionary tale for not being adequately patient with the progress of neuroscience. The only things which we can contemplate we do so by virtue of the physical structures of our brains. Damaging particular regions or removing a whole lobe of the brain have consequences for the how the individual perceives and responds to the world. People who have hemispherectomies (half of their brain removal) suffer from partial paralysis on the opposite side of their body because even though many functions of the one hemisphere can eventually be adapted by the other hemisphere there is a large degree of lateralization of function between the hemispheres. On a side note, a person in a coma is there because a good bit of their brain has been shut off and if we were to quantify this amount of brain which is shut off it is probably less than 80%. Hemispherectomy information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemispherectomy Lateralization of Brain function information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lateralization_of_brain_function Point 2 is also False. An accident is when an intention is undermined by circumstances. Accidents account for a lot of the day to day work for an emergency room doctor. It keeps the insurance business alive. That everything "happens for a reason" is called the principle of sufficient reason. There is no requirement that the reason has to be immediately knowable to humans close to the situation or humans proper, however, and given our limited sensory and critical faculties we have reason to suspect that there are a lot of accidents in our lives we either don't register or we rationalize through a worldview. There should be no comfort in the fact that everything happens for SOME reason, but instead realistic resignation seems more appropriate. Point 3: Replace "free will" with choice, and we are probably in agreement.
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Eric Luther
Posted over 1 year ago
Is "free will" an illusion?
"Free will" is a nonsense term. The perception of choice is a product of our ability to check our experiences (stored as learning and memory) against the situation as we perceive it at the moment and infer possible futures from it. You can only infer outcomes inasmuch as you understand the nature of the elements involved in the system. In this way what you "will" is bound by the antecedent conditions imposed by your physiology and your environment. "Free will" inappropriately suggests that the small part of our brain which generates self reference (the thing that calls itself I) is somehow causally independent from the rest of the brain, the body, and the outside world. "Free will" is important in religions and governance because it allows punishment to be justified, this may be partly why the debate rages on. Believing that having free will matters ratchets up the emotions associated with our choices. It enhances the pleasure of success, the righteous anger at someone who chooses in a way differently from how we would , and the guilt of doing X,Y, or Z. Emotions are not reliable indicators of anything except internal states, they do not reflect the world around us. The weather does not change when we are sad, but the weather can lead us to feel sad. The notion of free will is just another example of man misunderstanding his place in the physical universe.
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Eric Luther
Posted over 1 year ago
Why are man-made creations so symmetrical?
The Fibonacci sequence is a particular set of numbers derived from the Fibonacci polynomial. This polynomial is a differential equation. Differential equations are used in biology to model dynamic systems (those whose rate of function changes as the function proceeds). Interestingly, the physical constraints which dictates how the rate of a biological function changes is related to the process of diffusion. All living things are composed of cells and all cells carry out internal processes which largely depend on passive diffusion (though there are internal "shuttles" for some substances). In summation the apparent symmetry and mathematical regularity of our natural world is due to the particular set of physical rules that our universe seems to exhibit.
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Eric Luther
Posted over 1 year ago
Why are man-made creations so symmetrical?
I think I see what you're getting at. I was focused on her examples which were artifices in which case human nature has a larger explanatory role. In calculus we have the concept of maximization and minimization to help us explain this phenomenon of natural systems approaching symmetry. A perfect sphere minimizes volume while maximizing surface area. This mathematical phenomenon has relevance to the observable world when we look at the shape of a bacterial cell and cells in general (I'm a microbiologist, so this was an example that came easy). Exposed surface area is important because all of the cell's metabolic processes are powered by a difference in electrical potential generated at the cell surface. Most of the chemical processes going on inside of the cell rely on diffusion. The greater the volume of a system the more potential paths there are for a single particle to travel. Therefore, greater volume means that the rate of diffusion is lessened. Minimizing volume means the cell can carry out its metabolism efficiently. Maximizing surface area means the most amount of space is dedicated to energy production. Constraints imposed by the nature of the physical universe and the tendency for perfect geometrical shapes to either maximize or minimize values would explain the abundance of near symmetrical objects. For multicellular organisms sphere comes into play again. Most organisms we think of are bilaterally symmetrical. This is a consequence of the nature of embryological development and the various physical constraints. Diffusion and spheres come into play again as cells communicate with and coordinate their development into an organism. Based on the passive diffusion of chemical signals to one another the blank stem cells form into the various cells of tissues. Since diffusion is three dimensional the signals go left and right from a central population of cells. The result is that the organism ends up with mirroring left and right sides.
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Eric Luther
Posted over 1 year ago
What IS religion?
The human brain is the topic we should be most concerned with when addressing questions of religion. As an organ it generates and manipulates representations in the form of physical states and through this process generates a transect of the reality we inhabit. The brain receives raw sense data and interprets it based on hardwired biases (like high attention being paid to bright colors or high aversion towards unexpected loud noises). One of the biases that is built into our brain is a high preference to human subjects. This makes a great deal of sense given our natural history of evolving as social creatures. In fact it seems that we have evolved a system of intuitions about the operations of others' mental faculties. This bias is not perfect, however, because it does not only make inferences about human subjects. This personhood module fires in response to almost any set of "contingent" behaviors. Objects in free fall are handled by our intuitive physics. Things which move apparently under their own power get handed to the personhood module. This has allowed us to outsmart potential prey and predators as well as form tight nit social groups, because we are able to think about thinking. This ties back to religion, because religion is an extension of our bias towards anthromorphism. We are capable of mistaking that the universe must have a human face because it seems to be a never ending series of contingent events. The human brain loves patterns, but in the absence of any discernible pattern, it will impose order onto the outside world. This is exemplified by our ability to "see" figures in clouds. We do not literally "see" the face in the clouds, but BECAUSE THERE IS NO PATTERN, we invent them. With the advent of written language we have seen the codification of social norms, natural history, and metaphysics in terms of anthroporphism reinterpreted a multiplicity of times which is explained by their underlying etiology being individual human anthropomorphism.
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Eric Luther
Posted over 1 year ago
Why are man-made creations so symmetrical?
In the strictest sense of symmetry, the only things which are truly symmetrical are mathematical abstractions. Real objects are made of molecules which are constantly undergoing changes in bond orientation, so the next question becomes why are we convinced of symmetry in real objects as a phenomenon. A common theme in psychology is that our brain employs shortcuts (heuristics) to solve problems. One of the problems that our brain has is how to represent a three dimensional reality out of sounds, light, and proprioception (the ability to sense where your body parts are without looking at them). Visual data is especially important in reaching judgments in discriminating between objects or in analyzing the features of an object, but our brain can only process a very small point of the entire visual field at any given moment, so the eyes are constantly darting here and there taking in little bits while the brain generates the perception of a whole/intact outside world. Perfect geometrical objects have fewer irregularities that the brain needs to process in order to form a theoretical object, so it seems plausible to me that the human tendency to create pseudo-symmetry is related to how it allows an object whose goal is aesthetic or functional to fade into the mental background more quickly than something irregularly shaped. Checking my intuitions it seems that I would notice a fallen tree in the forest more quickly than I would notice an intact tree amongst many. This can be tested, of course. In summary, the perception of symmetry might be an illusion derived from the brains tendency to create shortcuts and the visual simplicity of regular geometric solids results in their being less attention grabbing.
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Eric Luther
Posted over 1 year ago
Is "free will" an illusion?
The problem for free will from a materialist metaphysics is that materialism and physicalism suppose that the universe is causally closed. An example of this principle is the second law of thermodynamics: energy is neither created nor destroyed for a given process. Psychology and neuroscience both approach questions about the brain's nature and how our nervous system acts as an interface between the reality underlying the world we inhabit as determined ultimately by physics, but the picture that neuroscience gives us is still lacking in completeness. If the materialism which underlies the natural sciences is correct, however, it is theoretically the case that neuroscience will be able to explain the true nature of our thoughts and behaviors while maintaining parsimony with physics which does not admit of causation except between material bodies. This bears on free will depending on how exactly you understand free will. If you understand free will to mean that you can pick from one of several choices, then you have to wonder where the perception of choice comes from. We have the ability to contemplate alternative futures based on our experience and the ability to use abstract analogy in case of events we have not fully encountered before. These abilities arise from the computational and modular nature of our neurosystems, so the will is not free because what you "will" arises from previous experiences stored as memory in the physical structure of your brain and the ability to manipulate that experiential data (i.e. having various components of intelligence) is constrained by the nature of your particular nervous system. If you understand free will to mean "Green Lantern" free will, where you just want something really hard then *poof it happens, then simple observation points to the inherent absurdity. Regardless of free will's existence, here's the clincher: we will always have to live with the perception that there are choices to be made.