Free Will, Modernized

Converted Canadian Muslims crush, and shoot Canadians. Hey, they read it in a magazine! Do those killers have free will? Or are they just Qur’an programmed machines? This is the sort of quandary which advances in neurology show the ancient debate on Free Will ought to be about. Here is a tiny refresher about the Qur’an:

Quran (2:216)Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.”

Quran (3:56)“As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help.”

Quran (3:151)“Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority”.  This speaks directly of polytheists, thus including Christians, since they believe in the Trinity (Muhammad incorrectly believed that Christians had ‘joining companions to Allah’… as his mentor was a relative, a Coptic monk!).

Quran (4:74)“Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward.”

Quran (8:12)“I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”

Quran (8:39)“And fight with them until there is no more fitna (disorder, unbelief) and religion should be only for Allah”

OK, I stop here with Qur’an machine’s quotes, because this essay is not about Islam, but about Free Will. The preceding makes it clear that whoever really believes textually and literally in what’s written in the Qur’an ought to march into the Parliament in Ottawa, and destroy the disbelief there, to gather the vast reward.

And the question is: do these people have Free Will?

The modern debate about Free Will has not been about that. It has been, for centuries, about “gratuitous acts” [actes gratuits]. This has been an entirely stupid debate, the provinces of lost philosophers; any bear or lion hunter knows free will exists, not just in humans, but in the minds of ferocious beasts (thus making them hard to predict; once I found myself weaponless, 10 years old, and facing the largest lion I ever saw; I carefully paid my respects, and backed off slowly as I anybody in such circumstances ought to do, acknowledging the splendor of the king of beasts, making Him feel very good about Himself, and thus making my on-going existence something which, however minute and unworthy, represented an element of satisfaction for the Lord of Africa).

Modern brain scanning techniques have brought a twist on that: the launching of an act is preceded by unconscious brain preparations, several tenths of second prior.

That is totally unsurprising. The brain is like an immense, giant machine, with millions of programs and preparations running simultaneously. Consciousness looks, and can only look, at very few of them.

At least, we know this now.

For example the latest Nobel in Biology was attributed for the discovery of tiny hexagonal networks of neurons which act like microscopic Geostationary Positioning Systems. Such circuitry is active continuously, to provide a sense of place. It influences consciousness, and thus Free Will.

(Say: if the internal GPS indicates we are falling off, the Free Will debate will be shut-down. Instantaneously.)

The free will debate is thousands of years old. It became acute after Constantine’s terrorizing dictatorship imposed as state religion an omnipotent, omniscient god. How can be free, if god is everything?

That had the pleasant consequence that intellectuals, instead of worrying about the dictators, conducted 17 centuries of sterile debates about whether god allowed them to be free (in truth it’s Constantine and his tyrannical successors who did not allow them to be free).

When a bell rings, Pavlov discovered that the dog’s digestive system sprang to attention. The free will is the one who rings the bell. But what if it was not an individual ringing the bell, but history itself? Would we be conscious of it?

Of course the phenomenon of springing to attention is familiar to macho men seeing a beautiful woman in the distance. Conditioned reflexes are all over. But could it be that the exaggerated masculinity of those who spring to attention when seeing a woman, be itself a conditioned neural, glial, and neurohormonal system of sorts?

It is well known that people learn to fake emotions and behaviors: homosexuals living in the closet have long done this. But not just them. I claim it’s all over the place. Even in the fascination with wine. So some will reach happiness only when they can drink a bit of alcohol, etc. This conditioning is cultural: Bacchus has been celebrated, and associated to wine, for millennia. A fundamental sensation, happiness has been subjugated to a cultural notion.

Each nation has its crazes, its conditioned reflexes, its own notion of free will. Most of the minds are made from the outside, complete from ideas to emotions, to what to say in most situations encountered. And so it is, all over.

But then what happens to fee will? Is it all about conditioned reflexes from elaborated systems of mood and thoughts, many of them culturally given?

When called to exert free will, all what is happening is a cocktail of conditioned reflexes of long, and subconsciously established, systems of thoughts, emotions and moods. In other words, most people are just puppets from the genealogy of ideas, morals, moods, emotions, and conditioned reflexes.

What’s Free Will?

I started with Qur’an programmed robots. But then the Anglo-Saxon enslaving West is not a place exempt from the most absurd, obnoxious and criminal programmation.

I recently partook in an exchange on Free Will on an interesting and open minded philosophical site. The author had extolled the “philosopher” David Hume as the “first psychologist” Let’s roll a quote from that great Anglo-Saxon genius. Here is David Hume, enthusiastically buttressing the Anglo-Saxon slave masters’ system:

“I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences. On the other hand, the most rude and barbarous of the Whites, such as the ancient Germans, the present Tartars, have still something eminent about them, in their valour, form of government, or some other particular. Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen, in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction between these breeds of men. Not to mention our colonies, there are Negro slaves dispersed all over Europe, of whom none ever discovered the symptoms of ingenuity; though low people, without education, will start up amongst us, and distinguish themselves in every profession. In Jamaica, indeed, they talk of one Negro as a man of parts and learning; but it is likely he is admired for slender accomplishments, like a parrot who speaks a few words plainly.”

This grossly racist quote is from whom some Anglo-Saxons searching for respect call the “first psychologist”, David Hume. It brings the same question about Free Will.

Notice that Hume does not just imprint with offensive notions about “negroes”, but also offensive emotions about them. And by “offensive” I mean just that, inducing an offensive, that is, an attack.

That anti-human Hume’ notion of sub-humanity sprang from the greed of gross exploitation: having armies of slaves overseas made many a plutocrat in Western Europe extremely wealthy.

In this, it does not differ from the Qur’an’s main axis of attack. We know from the Hadith (a book gathering all what was said about the life of Muhammad by direct witnesses) that the context of the very first (2; 216) quote is that Muhammad the Prophet, then Master of Medina, was trying to convince his followers to go attack and raid some caravans.

It’s an axis of attack, but also an axis of imprinting, of making people into assault machines, enslaving, killing, “striking off their heads and striking off every fingertip of them”. As seen on TV.

So what’s Free Will if we are just machines programmed, emotionally and logically, from the outside? Even for the most inhuman tasks?

If any, Free Will has to incorporate the impact, the struggle, one is having feeding one’s brain with seriously, strenuously examined data. It is exactly what parrots do not have.

One cannot decide when to decide. One can only decide to examine with an open mind, what one’s deciding structures will be constructed with. At best.

Patrice Ayme’

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14 Responses to “Free Will, Modernized”

  1. gmax Says:

    Those terrorists Muslims were converted indeed, the news say. I guess they maybe converted bcs they wanted to kill. It’s not just that they truly believed in the Koran BS

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      A lot, apparently most, of converted Muslim Jihadists have mental or familial problems. 12,000 Jihadists in Syria, including 3,000 Westerners with 15% women. Biggest contingent is from France (930), officially (but other sources maybe underestimating the problem).
      PA

  2. dominique deux Says:

    Most people keep to the religion of their birth, even though they agree that there is no good reason to do so on religious grounds. It simply is part of their identity, like the habit to drink wine over meals, rather than soft drinks. We are shaped by taboos and totems, and as long as we’re aware of that, why not.

    Conversion is a typical act of free will – yet it is also a truly pathological act, including for the heathens embracing the Good Book (!).

    Conversion does not create psychopaths, it exposes them.

    (also that’s because syncretism has been discredited by Abrahamic crazies. Syncretic adjunction of a new deity to your personal collection was a perfectly rational and sane act!)

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Conversion to, and through, the Qur’an (see the quotes) is not the same as conversion to Zen Buddhism, or a form of Yoga, or Wine Tasting as religion as the Silicon Valley has it.

      An important point is that, according to French intelligence agencies, 80% of the ISIL/ISIS/Daesh troops are FOREIGN MERCENARIES, so they need to be paid (hence the interest of destroying the oil infrastructure). Syria, of course, is a tangential problem. Assad ought to be “replaced”… 😉

  3. Paul Handover Says:

    Fascinating essay. However, what I am left with after reading it is wondering how you are defining “free”? For surely the word free implies, implicitly or explicitly, freedom from something.

    The will of a person cannot be seen as divorced from the brain of that same person.

    I’m no expert on the matters of the human brain but it strikes me that every single thought, expression and action is the direct consequence of the rational and emotional complexity of who we are. That, as Dominique wrote, is our identity.

    A flippant expression from my England days comes to mind: “We are screwed up by our parents in order for us to screw up our own kids!” Although I recall a version of the expression where the word screwed was replaced by a cruder word! 😉

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Paul: The expression “Free Will” (= “Libre Arbitre” = Free Judge) is traditional.
      The question has long been, what does it mean, or what do the individual terms it is composed of, mean? Many strong positions have been held about them. The quarrel of Jansenism, a near-war among Catholics in France, around 1700 CE, was held about them.

      That the Will is, so to speak, the Brain, is the modern position. Even Descartes did NOT officially have it (in private it may have been different, as he officially considered animals to be machines; for humans he claimed the soul may be located in the Pineal Gland…).

      From my point of view, which I tried to make clear, the brain is indeed a programmed machine. It’s immensely complex, and it differs from the computer we have in two ways:

      1) the programmation modifies its geometry.
      2) it is Quantum

      The problem with 1) (as demonstrated by Quranic programmation) is that the geometry inflicted by the program is logico-emotional. It can be so strong as to overwhelm any traits passing for human. As you pointed out with your wood (?) working analogy… 😉

      2) generates a true random factor (its exact nature is unknown in physics, although part of it is explored, to make Quantum Computers capable of vast computations)

      • Paul Handover Says:

        Patrice, your reply, especially the second half, provides a lesson for me. That half the time I don’t really know what I’m talking about. The challenge is not knowing which half that is!

        My science days definitely predate the quantum era thus your second point leaves me scratching my head.

  4. Paul Handover Says:

    My lesson is as follows!

    Often when one is reading there are words where the precise meaning does not come immediately to hand. I was engrossed in your explanation of:

    “But could it be that the exaggerated masculinity of those who spring to attention when seeing a woman, be itself a conditioned neural, glial, and neurohormonal system of sorts?

    It is well known that people learn to fake emotions and behaviors: homosexuals living in the closet have long done this. But not just them. I claim it’s all over the place. Even in the fascination with wine. So some will reach happiness only when they can drink a bit of alcohol, etc. This conditioning is cultural: Bacchus has been celebrated, and associated to wine, for millennia. A fundamental sensation, happiness has been subjugated to a cultural notion.”

    but in the corner of my mind, while reading, was the awareness that some of the words used couldn’t be precisely defined. Words such as: glial and subjugated; the latter in the context with which it was used.

    Again when I read: “When called to exert free will, all what is happening is a cocktail of conditioned reflexes of long, and subconsciously established, systems of thoughts, emotions and moods. In other words, most people are just puppets from the genealogy of ideas, morals, moods, emotions, and conditioned reflexes.” while I had a reasonable idea of what you were saying, if I had been asked to say exactly what you were conveying, I might have stumbled.

    Then the last five or six paragraphs only reinforced my uncertainty of what you were conveying. As in precisely conveying.

    In days long ago when I was a freelance journalist for a Scandinavian magazine, I found it incredibly helpful to say to my interviewee; “What exactly do you mean when you use the words ….”. “Or when you say ‘xyz’ what are the feelings those words arouse?” I’m sure you get my drift!

    Thus this essay would have been most valuable to me if I had had you sat across from me, a beer in your hand, and I could explored in much more detail what you were conveying!

    That’s all!

    Now must dash – have a blog post to write! 😉

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hmmm… I have to run right now. Whenever one engages in thinking, one, in the end, even in mathematics, use terms which become hard to define, if one pushes the envelope. So it’s more the structure that conveys the message. That’s the central idea of Category Theory, in mathematics. After decades of controversy, it’s bringing great results.

      We can’t do the beer in hand thing, first because I don’t drink beeeeeer.
      Second, it’s not efficient. Better to write things down… For posterity, and clarity of mind.

      The basic idea of the essay was that minds are programmed, just as computers are. “Free Will” has to mean free programmation.
      PA

      • Paul Handover Says:

        Structurally, I was comfortable with the essay and the underlying proposition. Thank you. Re chatting over a beer/wine/tea/coffee/et al who needs total efficiency all the time! 😉

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Chatting over the Internet has the advantage that all of humanity, and even centuries, not to say eons to come, can partake. I never pretended that modesty was my strong point…
          Real philosophers are, by necessity isolated… Sort of. At least, they have to work on it.

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