The Determinists Strick Back: A Social Media Dialogue
What follows is a real dialogue exchange. Names have been altered except for Richard Cocks. “If determinism is true, it makes no sense to speak of someone being “intelligent.” The outcomes of your thoughts and actions are better than other people’s. Well, who is responsible for that? Certainly not you.” Person 1: Woooah, I’m not… The post The Determinists Strick Back: A Social Media Dialogue appeared first on VoegelinView.

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What follows is a real dialogue exchange. Names have been altered except for Richard Cocks.
“If determinism is true, it makes no sense to speak of someone being “intelligent.” The outcomes of your thoughts and actions are better than other people’s. Well, who is responsible for that? Certainly not you.”
Person 1:
Woooah, I’m not a philosopher, by any stretch, but what a loaded statement….
Someone who is intelligent has “better” outcomes than other people? Or someone who thinks they are intelligent has better outcomes?
Does ‘someone’ have to be responsible for intelligence?
To me the big issue here is that we don’t have an accepted definition of intelligence. It is many things – it certainly isn’t just education …
And that’s before we get to the determinism issue – lol …
Richard Cocks replies:
Person 1 If you look into it you will find there is a well-established scientifically validated body of literature on the topic. The field is called psychometrics. They study G factor.
Richard Cocks replies:
Person 1 “General intelligence can be defined as a construct that is made up of different cognitive abilities. These abilities allow people to acquire knowledge and solve problems. This general mental ability is what underlies specific mental skills related to areas such as spatial, numerical, mechanical, and verbal abilities.”
Richard Cocks:
Person 1 The faster you solve problems and the harder they get before you are stumped the smarter you are. As a professor, I’m sure you can assess the intelligence of students effectively.
Richard Cocks:
Intelligence has a good predictive value. Smarter lawyers, for instance, earn more on average.
Richard Cocks:
The main point is that there is no “you,” and “me,” under determinism. So, we have no qualities at all – intelligence being just one of them. Determinism is a denial of consciousness – as being anything meaningful at all. If we are not agents – centers of decision making and choice – then we are indistinguishable ontologically or perhaps metaphysically from the surrounding environment. Chairs and tables are merely subject to physical deterministic forces and so are we. Under determinism, there are merely sequences of events stretching back to the Big Bang. I find it painful to contemplate how many people call themselves determinists without thinking through the implications.
Richard Cocks:
There is also no such thing as creativity and imagination under determinism which is a bummer. Determinism postulates train tracks from which we may not deviate. How can simply traveling down those tracks be “creative,” or, “intelligent.”
Person 1:
I teach about intelligence tests when covering A.I. – we discuss human intelligence (briefly) before jumping into artificial intelligence. I think psychometrics and the G factor are just one of many ways to measure intelligence. And sure higher intelligence correlate to higher academic performance – but is that really all intelligence is? I don’t have time to write full responses here today, or read the stuff you sent (but I will) – but this stuff fascinates me …
Person 2:
I agree with Person 1. Whatever issues we might have with determinism, it doesn’t seem to undermine the concept of intelligence. Let’s assume determinism is true for sake of discussion. Intelligence can be measured in different ways but seems to be compatible with determinism. One sense of intelligence would seem to be an organism who is more attuned to his or her environment. If you ask me what the capital of New York is and I say Albany, I am more in tune with the facts about my environment than someone who says Syracuse.
Richard Cocks:
Person 2 There can be no sense of “attunement.” Under determinism, everything is a meaningless chain of cause and effect stretching back to the Big Bang. Organisms need to be aware of their environments in order to respond intelligently or appropriately and determinism involves the denial of consciousness – certainly consciousness as agency.
Person 2 replies:
To continue, this can also be cashed out in terms of nonverbal responses. Someone who recognizes that a wolf is dangerous rather than trying to pet the growling dog is acting more intelligently than the person who ultimately gets mauled. A libertarian sense of free will need not play any role in this. Similar comments might be made for the recognition of human social environments.
Richard Cocks:
Person 2 There are no “actions” in determinism. Actions require an actor. A marionette does not act.
Richard Cocks:
Person 2 “Recognition” is a term from folk psychology to be reduced to brain physiology and physics. If you want to give recognition any content, you will need to reintroduce meaningful consciousness on the part of an agent for it to do any work.
Person 2:
To your last comment, I disagree. Right now I am watching March Madness. Many of the players are reacting intelligently to what is happening in their environment without conscious thought. The reactions need to be so fast that sometimes they do not allow for conscious thought.
Richard Cocks:
Person 2 I think I’ll point back to “marionettes don’t act.” The implications of determinism are far more far-reaching and radical than determinists seem to think. They want a kind of “business as usual” with minimal disruption to ontological and metaphysical categories and are lulled into stupefaction and complacency by the fallacy of popularity. Other people agree, so it cannot be that crazy. In fact, it is even crazier than solipsism. At least the solipsist takes consciousness seriously. Determinism is its denial. Consciousness is the precondition of attaining knowledge of any kind, including scientific knowledge. One has to, for instance, read scientific instruments and then to trust that one’s senses are moderately reliable. Solipsism, at least, does not contradict this.
Person 2:
Why must recognition require conscious thought? Of course, it requires a reaction to stimuli. If you define recognition in terms of someone being able to say (for example), “Yes, I (consciously) recognize that I am looking at a church.” then recognition requires consciousness. However, a simple animal that moves away from a painful stimuli could be said to recognize that there was danger.
Richard Cocks:
Person 2 Introducing the phrase “reaction to stimuli” most unexpectedly is unwarranted, illegitimate and in contradiction to determinism. A mindless physical causal reaction is not “reaction to stimuli.” The phrase also appeals to an outmoded psychological theory called “behaviorism” which also denies the existence and causal efficacy of consciousness and mind. See below.
Richard Cocks:
Person 2 Before a skill is learned one must consciously think about it – a right hemisphere phenomenon. Once it has been learned it moves over the left hemisphere and can be done relatively robotically, with a minimum of attention. Conscious awareness is required, if not much if any thought. If the animal has seen a dangerous thing before it can react relatively automatically. Otherwise, evaluation is needed.
But even reflex responses require some kind of conscious awareness. Imagine a baseball is heading for your face. Your hand whips up and catches the ball just before it strikes you. The most parsimonious explanation is that the organism is demonstrating agency. It is the organism reacting on its own accord, not the Big Bang. Determinism sets train tracks from which one must not deviate. Train tracks that were laid down 13.5 billion years ago. From a determinist point of view, catching that baseball is a miracle, since the Big Bang had no idea that human beings and baseballs were even going to exist and that human beings would have very negative attitudes towards baseballs hitting them in the face corresponding to a survival instinct.
Richard Cocks:
With regard to Person 2’s example of intelligently not petting a growling wolf, for determinism to be true, the Big Bang has to know that this animal will exist and at this precise time it will encounter this threat. The animal makes no decisions of any kind. That is all an illusion if determinism true. In fact, why is the animal avoiding the threat? Self-preservation. Acting to preserve your life is to act purposefully. Purposes do not exist in determinism since they are mind dependent and goal driven. Goals do not exist yet. They exist in the future and pull us forward. Physical determinism involves pushing only. Cause and effect only. Modern science since 1600 or so has tried to eliminate teleology (end driven, goal driven behavior) from the world. Determinism most assuredly does the same thing.
Richard Cocks:
Person 2 The time frame for all this is too short. Determinism can seem kind of plausible if you restrict your focus to an hour or two, or a few hundred million years perhaps, but not when you realize that the chain of cause and effect extends unalterably into 13.5 billion years ago. There is no “reacting to stimuli” in such a scenario.
Richard Cocks:
Person 2 In reference to intelligent plays by basketball players in March Madness, in order to get that intelligent seeming pass, for instance, to work, the Big Bang had to line up all the hot gases in just the right way so that stars exist, then planets exist, then life exists, then humans exist, then basketball exists, then those players exist, and then that one perfect pass happens with no intervention of conscious thought. What an amazing fluke! Either that, or the Big Bang is omniscient and is basically God but without being good or moral.
Person 2:
No, no, no! The time frame is not too short! Evolution has finely tuned us to reacting to our environments. (Those who were not finely attuned perished!) Here is my last word on this. I think the determinist would be happy to acknowledge that human beings typically live under the illusion of free will. This means that we will need to revise our understanding of concepts that we have originally come to understand under this illusion. Imagine the following situation: I am CONSCIOUSLY CONTEMPLATING where to vacation, Buffalo or Albany. (No one could blame me for being conflicted as both are glamorous vacation spots that draw travelers the world over.) I then DECIDE to vacation in Buffalo because the beautiful Niagara rivers runs through it. My contemplating though is simply a matter of my not immediately being drawn to one or the other. (If the two options had been Buffalo and Paris, there would have been no conflict. Paris, ick!) My “decision” is simply something that appears in my conscious mind. If I need to explain this to myself I fixate on the Niagara river as that which made me DECIDE to go to Buffalo instead of Albany. But this was all determined.
Richard Cocks:
Person 2 Yes. Under determinism, you are not an agent, but an automaton. There is in effect no “you” at all. All that exists is a constant stream of cause and effect moving from the past and into the future with nothing to distinguish you from all the rest. Consciousness that actually does anything is denied. So, you are no different from any nonsentient being in that regard. Evolution requires purposes and goals, therefore, for the determinist, evolution is an illusion too. All is mechanical and inexorable. Back in the real world, since the world is unpredictable, organisms need to be able to improvise. Having agency is the simplest explanation following Ockham’s Razor. Without mind being causally efficacious, all must have been foreseen by the Big Bang in order to get the “right” result.
Richard Cocks:
Evolution is far far far too short a time frame. The Big Bang had to organize even evolution. You’re just making things harder, not easier.
Of course, Person 2 cannot “consciously contemplate” something, or if he does, it will be causally inefficacious. He then self-contradictorily claims that he will decide something while admitting he is deciding nothing. There is a very long list of concepts and phenomena to which a determinist cannot appeal because he denies their existence. Consciousness, purpose, decision-making, and so on are on that list. Why does Person 2 refer to “decision” and even shout it by capitalizing it? He does it because unconsciously, in what is in effect an act of bad faith, he knows, or should know that for him, decisions do not exist.
A determinist cannot admit that consciousness exists because that would mess up his determinism. In Person 2’s example of the holiday, he has consciousness as a passive spectator only. What philosophers call an epiphenomenon. Consciousness in this case can be compared to the smoke from a combustion engine. It is there, but it does nothing productive and it does not and cannot turn around and effect the engine. The image that comes to mind is of the antihero of A Clockwork Orange who is forced to watch violent images and listen to his favorite composer whether he likes it or not, and is powerless to stop or change anything. It is the kind of consciousness experienced by someone with “Locked-in syndrome.” This is a thankfully rare condition where someone has normal intelligence but cannot move their bodies to communicate in any way other than their eyes. One poor man was considered a vegetable and spent years watching Barney play on TV as a result; a fate worse than death.
It is significant that Person 2 suddenly and unexpectedly introduces the terms “stimuli and response.” Those concepts were introduced by the psychological school called behaviorism and behaviorism attempted to explain all human interaction with the world, human and environmental, in terms of rigid, law-driven rules. Given this stimulus, you get this response. In the beginning, behaviorism explicitly simply bracketed out “mind,” from the equation because minds are invisible and too difficult to study. This then progressed to rejecting the concept of “minds” all together, and replaced it with stimulus/response pairings. Unfortunately, after fifty years of flogging a dead horse, behaviorism as an all-encompassing theory of psychology, was abandoned. Cognitive behaviorism, which is something quite different since it takes cognition seriously, does not pretend to be an explanation for everything, and it can be quite useful. It involves consciously thinking different thoughts rather than the ones that appear spontaneously. Instead of thinking “This is scary. I’m going to fail,” you say to yourself, “Everything is manageable. I’m going to be fine.” And, you do that consciously in an attempt to override pathological tendencies and self-fulfilling prophecies. Repetitive prayer too can be seen as washing your mind in purifying and uplifting thoughts.
Behaviorism failed because there are no lawlike regularities between stimuli and responses, or rather, the smarter and more complex an organism is, the fewer such regularities exist. Very simple and relatively dumb animals like pigeons, with minds of low complexity have more predictable behavior, but dealing with human beings who have all sorts of complicated and sometimes ambivalent feelings and motivations, not so much. The reason that responses vary is because of mind; thoughts, feelings, motivations, desires, worldviews, culture, hormones, and all the rest. Any reasonable explanation and/or prediction concerning human behavior will need to take into account facets of mind. The existence of consciousness is why we sometimes respond one way, and sometimes another. Better predictions of human behavior can be made if mind is acknowledged than if it is not.
David Chalmers posited the hypothetical existence of his doppelganger David Chalmers Prime who resembled him in every way except qualia – an inner life or subjective experience – what was known as the zombie theory. Part of the zombie theory is that there is nothing self-contradictory about imagining that someone could do everything he does right now without being conscious. He could talk, write, smile, and navigate the world as a completely unconscious automaton.  Since it is consciousness that allows us to do all those things, the zombie theory seems tantamount to saying you could drive a car without a car. There are in fact amusing stop action films of people sitting on the ground in a driving position doing just that but no attempt is being made to pretend this is real. David Chalmers Prime seems to be merely impossible rather than logically impossible. Determinism involves David Chalmers Prime or at least consciousness with locked-in syndrome – powerless to causally influence the world around him.
Evolution 2.0” shows that evolution, contrary to the logical implications of determinism, is very much real and some of it, at least, involves incredible acts of intelligence, problem-solving, and thus agency. Horizontal gene transfer and transposition are the most incredible instances of this. The former involves cells choosing abilities of other cells and then replicating them within themselves by copying strands of the relevant DNA in other cells. Transposition involves cells editing their own genes in real time in order to, for instance, join up broken bits of DNA – broken by radiation – in order to regain the ability to reproduce. Maize cells can do this. The ways the radiation harms DNA cannot be predicted, so the maize has to be very intelligent at fixing the problem. Even evolution requires agency. And it certainly requires teleology, something no determinist can countenance without subverting his own metaphysical commitments.

The post The Determinists Strick Back: A Social Media Dialogue appeared first on VoegelinView.

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