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Musings - Judgement - Pieter van der Ploeg's response

[This is a response from Pieter van der Ploeg to my April 21, 2015 article about judgement in the context of free will, here:  http://www.atheistgoddess.com/musings/judgement/]

April 28, 2015 by Pieter van der Ploeg (Pieter van der PloegGoogle+)

In a recent article by Fidem Turbare called "Musings - Judgment" the non-existent Goddess muses about free will, freedom of thought, predetermination and the claim made by others that it is an "unavoidable requirement" for conscious individuals to judge about every idea they encounter.  The musings of the Goddess caused all kinds of ideas and thoughts to pop up in my brain, as one perhaps might expect from musing Goddesses, and I would like to present my own musings here.

Free will is often associated with the notion that an individual could have made another choice than the one she or he actually made.  See for instance http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will.  Legal systems are often based on such a definition of free will.

Finding evidence for that definition is difficult however, if not impossible.  It is extremely unlikely that the exact circumstances, in all minute details of approximately 100 billion interacting neurons, can be reconstructed after a choice has been made, to check whether an individual actually could have made another choice.  So at least for the time being there is no way to prove that freedom of choice is a real attribute of conscious individuals.  The same applies for freedom of thought, defined as the possibility to think whatever one wills.  Freedom of choice, freedom of thought and free will are, perhaps, only concepts to please the human ego.

Then there are the laws of physics to consider.  These laws are deterministic with respect to the time evolution of the phenomena they describe.  That also applies to quantum physics by the way.  The time evolution of the wave function, governed by Schrödinger's equation, is deterministic.

There is no reason to think that the human body, including its brain, does not function in accordance with the laws of physics.  Free will and making choices are (the result of) deterministic brain processes, i.e., the outcome of these processes is determined.

Determinism is considered by many to be inconsistent with free will.  Determinism does not necessarily implies predictability in some practical sense however.  The weather for instance is determined by deterministic physical laws, yet its predictability is limited, due to chaotic behaviour resulting from higher order feedback loops in the weather system.  So "free will" and "freedom of choice" perhaps mean "unpredictable."

Another musing is that words like "free," "freedom," "judge" and "decide" are implicitly or explicitly always accompanied by qualifiers like "fear," "suppression," "true," "wrong," "right," etc.  One is always free "from something," or free "to do something."  "Judging" is also often accompanied by qualifiers; usually some set of criteria like right or wrong, good or bad, useful or useless, dangerous or save, interesting or boring, guilty or not guilty, etc.

Aristotle's "entertaining a thought without accepting it" may perhaps also be called judging, as the thought is judged to be interesting enough to entertain.  "Accepting" in the previous sentence is perhaps just another qualifier of judging.

The ability to entertain an idea and discuss it with others like one would walk with others around a Gaudi building and noticing different features and properties, without liking or disliking it, seems very well possible to me.  The Gaudi building is then judged to be worthwhile to be investigated and talked about.

Judging in this sense, apart from its accompanying criteria, can be defined as the act of taking a position regarding an idea or event, in a "space" defined by its qualifiers.  That kind of judging is perhaps unavoidable, as an idea cannot be "unthought" once it has entered a brain.  It has to be processed by that brain, with a possible result of getting dismissed.  A discussion about judging being an unavoidable requirement of a conscious mind is perhaps discussion about qualifiers of judging.

The role of consciousness is also something to be considered in this context.  Not all decisions made by a conscious mind are the result of an act of "free" will.  For instance if you cycle from home to work and back every day, then after a while you do not consciously notice the buildings next to the road.  Unless something has changed since the previous day, like a front door being repainted in some striking colour.  Then your brain forces you to turn your head to look at the door without you having consciously willed to do so.  So perhaps "judging," defined as processing an idea by a brain, is unavoidable but does not require consciousness.

An important question still to be answered is of course:  What exactly is consciousness?  That is a much discussed topic; for the time being musing about it requires more divine inspiration, if not a divine intervention.

See also:  Pieter van der Ploeg's Google+ page at https://plus.google.com/+PietervanderPloeg.

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