A Bittersweet Valentine from the Romantic Materialistic Determinist

A Bittersweet Valentine from the Romantic Materialistic Determinist

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If both determinism and materialism were true, what would “love” be?

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52 thoughts on “A Bittersweet Valentine from the Romantic Materialistic Determinist

  1. I’ve asked this same type of question to some in my acquaintance who hold to materialistic determinism, and they essentially say that it boils down to chemicals firing in the brain. Interestingly, one of them rejected that notion later when they themselves fell in love. Their words were, “I could no longer live the lie” referencing the notion that emotions weren’t “real” apart from the material element.

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    • Thanks for sharing that, JW. Those are the kind of practical examples of people coming face-to-face with what they hold to be true that I like to hear.

      I often wonder that if sincere people — “determined” materialist LOL — were faced with a situation that didn’t like, wouldn’t they have already automatically forfeit their right to complain given their view point?

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  2. In your question beneath the picture, you ask “If both predeterminism and materialism were true, what would “love” be?”

    Are you sure you don’t mean determinism?

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  3. If both determinism and materialism were true, what would “love” be?

    Love is a word.

    Perhaps a better question might be, “What is it that the word ‘love’ describes?”

    ‘It’ – eventually – always arrives at a material explanation. Always.

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      • If everything is just chemicals, what significance is there in any feeling or choice?

        I have never understood why there seems to be this immediate jump between a biological reaction and the presumed negation of significance (and/or meaning)… unless the person doing the jumping first presumes that there must be some exterior agency providing it. Why can we as individuals not apply our very own significance (and meaning) to these experiences? Falling in love, for example, is very meaningful for the person falling in love according all the data. By all reports, it is a unique experience with all kinds of transformative significance to those who have fallen in love. Why must we automatically include some foreign agency to explain the significance we feel, or belittle the experience to be without significance?

        This is always a false dichotomy, in that the folks who presume in the existence and intervention of the foreign agency then insist that those who do not share their presumption are trying to paint the experience as meaningless and without significance. I can’t find a single person who says any such thing.

        This false dichotomy isn’t just ridiculous; it seems to me to be a tactic to avoid having to provide evidence for this supposed external interventionist agency as well as a means to avoid having to explain by what mechanism the hypothetical agency causes the presumed significance to be implanted into our biology and how that intervention results in the chemical cascade of our limbic systems that all individuals who fall in love report as a significant (and meaningful) experience?

        There is no mind-body problem. This notion is an invention – an imaginary creation called dualism by those who presume there is a distinction without compelling evidence to back it up. All the evidence indicates that the mind is an emergent property of the brain. In other words, mind is what the brain does and we have compelling evidence for this because we can affect mind by slight alterations of the brain.

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      • I have never understood why there seems to be this immediate jump between a biological reaction and the presumed negation of significance (and/or meaning)…

        Well, your thinking is what I’m highlighting in the cartoon, I think. If love is merely a chemical reaction and not a conscious decision of the people involved, doesn’t that make some difference?

        Let’s turn it around. Couldn’t people justify any action — murder, theft — by saying it was just a chemical reaction? (In the world-as-it-is, we punish people for their decisions.)

        I don’t want to simplify the mind-body problem as you have. In my opinion it’s similar to someone trying to explain that programs (the mind) that run on the computer (the brain) by appealing to the mechanics of the computer. (Explaining how something may work doesn’t explain where it came from.) But then aren’t you assuming that we actually know how the brain works?

        Here’s an interesting, relevant article:

        Greatest Mysteries: How Does the Brain Work?

        In addition, I distinctly remember reading a case of a young man who had actually no brain, merely a membrane-like layer in his head. Then there are people like Jason Padgett. He got attacked and then suffered brain damage, after which he became a mathematical genius.

        Joshua

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      • The only information I can gather about Lorber and this remarkable story if true is from Wiki (not the most reliable of sources, I grant):

        “David Bowsher, professor of neurophysiology at Liverpool said “Lorber’s work doesn’t demonstrate that we don’t need a brain”, and neurosurgeon Kenneth Till said that Lorber is “overdramatic when he says that someone has ‘virtually no brain.'” Lorber admitted it later, saying that he “was only half serious”, but defends himself with: “I can’t say whether the mathematics student has a brain weighing 50 grams or 150 grams, but it is clear that it is nowhere near the normal 1.5 kilograms.”

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  4. Josh, I’ll look more at your links and comment about them later, but right now I have to ask: do you honestly think people choose (as in, make a conscious decision) to fall in love?

    I’m flabbergasted!

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      • “It’s not merely an internal, emotional climax. I also fail to see it as the natural end-product of completely biological process.”

        Right. But I was asking about it being a CHOICE. Again, how do you figure it’s a ‘conscientious’ (I’m guessing you mean conscious) choice? You mean you stopped and figured to yourself: “I think it best that I fall in love with that person” and then decided to do it? This has nothing to do with determinist arguments for or against, you’re saying that falling in love is a conscious decision, people DECIDE to fall in love? Do they decide to fall out of love too?

        “What does it mean to “love” someone and to “fall in love”?”
        Now you’re sounding like Prince Charles when he was asked if he loved Diana! “Whatever love means…”

        Your cartoon was (I guess) trying to make fun of a perceived lack of romance in the determinist view, but one could equally make a cartoon lampooning your apparent view:

        “I sat down and calculated the pros and cons of falling in love with you, and worked out that the pluses outweighed the minuses, and so decided to fall in love with you, whatever it actually means to “love” someone or “fall in love” with them. Calculatingly yours, Josh”.

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      • “Conscientious” just means “governed by or conforming to the dictates of conscience”.

        Well, your lampoon doesn’t work because I still had a choice in the matter. As tildeb said “choice” on determinism is a very fuzzy thing. Apparently, choice doesn’t mean the same thing to a determinist as it means to most of the rest of the world (to select freely and after consideration).

        I’m not going to dwell on the phrase “fall in love”. It doesn’t make much sense in a literal sense and it’s not a phrase I use. Besides, you’ve not answered the second part of my challenge, nor the first part. I asked you to summarize determinism, since you claim to understand it. tildeb has done a great job of explaining certain concepts and giving examples. I applaud him for that and I’ve read his comments multiple times. Now I’m waiting for you, not Wikipedia, to summarize determinism in a quick couple of sentences and then give us the best argument for and against it. Surely that’s not going to be a problem for someone like you who understands it?

        Joshua

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    • Me too. I’ve never met anyone who thinks we CHOOSE to fall in love. Oh, I guess some proponents of arranged marriage believe it. At least I’ve heard such people say one LEARNS to love someone. Funnily enough, that makes it seem more clinical and reductive to me than determinism.

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      • Well, I think the problem comes with the idiom, not the reality. What does it mean to “love” someone and to “fall in love”?

        Love is a conscientious choice on the part of a person. It’s not merely an internal, emotional climax. I also fail to see it as the natural end-product of completely biological process. (Again, I refer you to Origen’s thoughts on the matter.)

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  5. “Couldn’t people justify any action — murder, theft — by saying it was just a chemical reaction? (In the world-as-it-is, we punish people for their decisions.)”

    Why would that mean you don’t punish them? The punishers could say their punishing is also a chemical reaction. You’re back where you started. I think a lot of people see determinism as being equivalent to having the choice of picking Coke or Pepsi, and some wanting Pepsi, but some chemical reaction is like a gun to your head forcing you to pick Coke. Chemicals or not, the choice is still yours.

    Interestingly, Calvinists tend to believe that we have no choices in our life, that it’s pre-ordained whether we’re damned or not, and yet we’re still liable, still responsible, even though we effectively had no choice.

    I’d recommend you listen to the Reasonable Doubts podcasts series of podcasts on determinism. ‘Free willy versus determinator’ was one (Episode 29). They go over all the objections to determinism. I think one of the things they point out is that the alternative to determinism isn’t free will but chaos. I’m pretty sure there was at least one follow-up podcast to that one, as listeners had so many extra questions on the issue.

    A final thought – did God choose/decide your life-partner for you? If so, doesn’t that mean it wasn’t a free choice for you?

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    • Regarding punishment: Well, do we punish people for being born white? Or fat? Or skinny? Or tall? If determinism were true, then everyone is equally innocent of anything else. When people are punished for actions, they are punished on the basis of what they chose to do (implying that they could have chosen otherwise).

      Points take, Andy, especially about Calvinism. My first thought was to leave the original wording as “predeterminism” for the Calvinist visitors. :)

      Believe it or not, I have heard those episodes of that Podcast before. I think it was about a year or so ago. I may give them another listen when I have time. The thing I meant with my comments is that it seems if we relegate every emotion or feeling to just an uncontrolled chemical reaction, I think it does cheapen both emotions and feelings and even decisions on top of those. (Again, that’s what I’m trying to subtly highlight in this cartoon.) It certainly leaves us little room to complain or expect improvement from ourselves or others, don’t you think?

      If you haven’t read it before, I would recommend reading Origen’s writing on the human will. Here’s a short excerpt from “De Principiis”:

      “4. If any one now were to say that those things which happen to us from an external cause, and call forth our movements, are of such a nature that it is impossible to resist them, whether they incite us to good or evil, let the holder of this opinion turn his attention for a little upon himself, and carefully inspect the movements of his own mind, unless he has discovered already, that when an enticement to any desire arises, nothing is accomplished until the assent of the soul is gained, and the authority of the mind has granted indulgence to the wicked suggestion; so that a claim might seem to be made by two parties on certain probable grounds as to a judge residing within the tribunals of our heart, in order that, after the statement of reasons, the decree of execution may proceed from the judgment of reason. For, to take an illustration: if, to a man who has determined to live continently and chastely, and to keep himself free from all pollution with women, a woman should happen to present herself, inciting and alluring him to act contrary to his purpose, that woman is not a complete and absolute cause or necessity of his transgressing, since it is in his power, by remembering his resolution, to bridle the incitements to lust, and by the stern admonitions of virtue to restrain the pleasure of the allurement that solicits him; so that, all feeling of indulgence being driven away, his determination may remain firm and enduring. Finally, if to any men of learning, strengthened by divine training, allurements of that kind present themselves, remembering immediately what they are, and calling to mind what has long been the subject of their meditation and instruction, and fortifying themselves by the support of a holier doctrine, they reject and repel all incitement to pleasure, and drive away opposing lusts by the interposition of the reason implanted within them.”

      De Principiis 3.1.4

      Are you yourself a determinist?

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      • “Well, do we punish people for being born white?”

        I don’t get the connection. If you have a gun in your hand and you shoot someone, there is still a point when you have a choice NOT to shoot them. No-one else made that choice for you. It’s not like you didn’t want to shoot them, but your chemicals forced you to. If you genuinely interpret determinism as us being automatons who can make no choices at all, then you must equally figure that the people who dole out the punishments ALSO have no choice, and therefore there’s no point in complaining about the punishments.

        If the punishers can reason out that they shouldn’t punish the shooter, then the shooter can equally reason out no to shoot.

        It’s one or the other – you can’t have it both ways.

        “Are you yourself a determinist?”

        Not sure. I’m open to both arguments. So far I find the determinists more convincing.

        “I think it does cheapen both emotions and feelings and even decisions on top of those.”

        It doesn’t cheapen either for me.

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      • Your first paragraph is making my point for me, Andy. We do have the ability to choose. If determinism is true, it’s not really we who are deciding, but the chemicals in whatever chemical process in charge at the time, isn’t it? And if we deny that reality, we’re in a silly, endless loop of endless, pointless interactions.

        However, experience shows us that we are not just creatures at the whim of whatever chemical reactions happens in our body at any given time. In the end, as Origen says:

        “…when an enticement to any desire arises, nothing is accomplished until the assent of the soul is gained, and the authority of the mind has granted indulgence to the wicked suggestion” (De Principiis 3.1.4)

        A brilliant, beautiful way of saying when we are presented with a choice to do right or do wrong, we do have a real choice to make. And that justifies punishment for doing wrong and praise for doing right.

        The connection to being white and killing is that, were determinism true, both are equally the predetermined, inescapable conclusions different chemical processes, but chemical processes nonetheless, right?

        Joshua

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  6. Josh, I do not think you understand what determinism means in the way opponents of free will use it. In a nutshell, given the identical situation molecule for molecule, could the person doing the ‘choosing’ for any considered ‘free’ choose to do otherwise? In other words, those who see the merit in determinism understand it to mean that it forces us to seriously examine what we mean by ‘choice’ and the inescapable conclusion seems to be that ‘free will’ meaning multiple choices is really an illusion, which is why brain scanning can successfully predict up to 20 seconds prior to the choice event what ‘choice’ a person thinks he or she is making freely (granted, the data I’ve seen shows a success rate between 70-80%, which raises the question why not either 0% or 100%?). And this is where we run into problems defining what we mean by choice and find out if that fits with the notion we have of being ‘free’ to make it differently than we do.

    You have jumped from this fascinating area of study to asserting that choice is reduced to biological processes alone… seemingly not manipulated by other biological processes. That’s why I don’t think you really ‘get’ what determinism means.

    To clarify, for example, I can ‘choose’ to go into a classroom and be exposed to new ideas. Exposure to these ideas will cause my brain to interact with this environment and all it produces. I may find it too boring to stay awake. I might notice another student’s physical features and be attracted or repulsed. I may be bothered by a problem I am trying to resolve. I may be very interested. I have a very wide range of responses, all of which I (and all my biology) may not be precognizant and have no way or means to know a priori. My neurology will immediately begin to process data and instigate new synaptic connections to be formed. Through repeated use, these connections may take precedence over other connections. If left alone, my brain will disconnect these new pathways and use them for other things. This is the biological basis of what we call ‘learning’. We didn’t ‘learn’ because our genes ordered the learning prior to the event, and the learning didn’t occur because it was preordained by our biology that we would create these new neural paths in a just-so kind of way. We learned because this is what our biology does when interacting with our environments in different ways and at different times and expressed differently by different people. It is not open to choice in the conventional sense of the word but a response over which we have no predetermined power to do otherwise. And that’s why determinism seems to have the inside track on reflecting how things really are in regards to the choices we make and the freedom we presume to have in making them. Of course, this explanation is just a poor facsimile offered up by determinism’s proponents.

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    • You have jumped from this fascinating area of study to asserting that choice is reduced to biological processes alone… seemingly not manipulated by other biological processes. That’s why I don’t think you really ‘get’ what determinism means.

      I’m glad you agree that it’s fascinating, but I don’t see how determinism shouldn’t be reduced to just biological processes. Yes, as your fine example shows, there can be external stimulus, but, in the end, it is still a matter of biological processes, is it not? I mean, I can’t control what happens to the parts of my brain in their response to the ideas, can I?

      I’ll need to read your example a couple more times, though. Thanks.

      And I should clarify that I’m not a 100% free will proponent either. (I don’t have a problem with the word “will”, but I do have an issue with “free”.) I’m still trying to make sense of these concepts. And I don’t think it’s a subject that will be resolved this side of when we each give account of our actions to God (Romans 14:12).

      There are other views, too, like compatibilism.

      Joshua

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      • Determinism is not a straightforward or easy concept because of several reasons. The first is the terminology is rather fuzzy. For example, what do we really mean by ‘choice’? Usually, this is phrased as “Given exactly the same conditions, could I have done otherwise?” And the problem here is that it’s untestable because to all appearances a ‘choice’ was made, and that’s why the category is placed as metaphysical. In other words, this notion of ‘choice’ upon examination is actually highly problematic.

        Probably the best explanation I’ve come across (and I’m paraphrasing here) is a driving example where from a distant altitude it seems drivers approaching a tee intersection appear to have a simple choice: some turn one way, some the other. We appear from this distance to have the freedom to choose. But is this what the drivers are actually doing?

        As we begin to zoom in to find out more about this apparent ‘choice’, we see that certain conditions seem to affect the ‘choice’. The physical conditions show us that drivers in the left lane almost always turn left and the drivers in the right lane turn right. As we get even closer, we see there are markings of bent arrows on the pavement, that there are signs for drivers to see and read approaching the intersection that indicate which lane should exit which way. Is this where the ‘choice’ occurs?

        Well, how do these drivers actually choose? When we ask individual drivers who have turned how they went about deciding which way to turn, we find out that destinations play a very great role in determining which choices drivers actually made. Sure, they say that they could have turned opposite to the way they did, but justify after the fact why they did not, such as that turning other than they did would directly and adversely affect achieving their destination. They say they could have switched lanes or turned left from the right lane or right from the left lane but this would have put them and others unnecessarily at higher risk for an accident or getting served a traffic violation. (Maybe there were traffic cameras at the intersection!)

        Because the drivers turned the way they did, we don’t know if, given the identical conditions, any of the drivers could have made a different ‘choice’ than the one they actually did. We presume it is possible but then have to consider that we have no compelling reasons to assume they would. Why would they?

        Without some additional factor, there is no evidence we can find that suggests any other ‘choice’ could have been made than the one that was made, in which case we have nothing but the illusion there was a real ‘choice’ made (and this makes us very uncomfortable). But there is a chain of evidence to suggest that what appears to be a ‘choice’ in the case of these drivers to turn a particular way was in fact made step by step leading up to the actual turn so that the turning was simply an inevitable result rather than a choice. All the evidence (apart from our assumptions) seems to indicate that the actual turning was determined step by step along the way and not a ‘free’ choice a moment before the turning took place.

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      • Now, when you complain that determinists insist that ‘choice’ is a biological product, I think you are really complaining about its implications as Andy suggests.

        A biological product can be a very complex, highly sophisticated, specifically regulated, incredibly creative, truly insightful thing. It can be considered brilliant, evil, remarkable, ugly, awesome, beautiful, astounding, perverted, mystical, etc.. Yet it all comes from chemical interactions in a causal chain of effects leading up to and culminating as a biological product then described in these various ways. It doesn’t help further our understanding or deepen our appreciation about biological products to point to, let’s say, Handel’s Messiah or an industrial toxic waste dump and shrug either away as ‘chemicals in action’… even though this is technically true.

        What is helpful is moving away from the metaphysical and into the physical, finding out in detail what these chemical and biological processes really are, how they operate for everyone everywhere all the time, what affects them, what causal factors are in play and by what mechanisms they are implemented. This understanding can’t help but offer us intentional ways and means of promoting what we desire and hindering what we do not. The discussion then changes to figuring out what we want to promote and hinder and then using this knowledge to try to inform policies and procedures to achieve best practices. Going only by assumptions and appearances and illusions without in depth inquiries (that produce knowledge) seems to me to be a sure fire way of fooling ourselves into producing policies and procedures that may work directly against informed consent, directly against our best interests, directly against the public good and the improvement of human well-being, directly against discovering what these may be in action.

        And the implications are huge.

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  7. “However, experience shows us that we are not just creatures at the whim of whatever chemical reactions happens in our body”

    Well experiments show that our unconscious can make decisions before our conscious minds are aware we have made them. In other words, we think we made a conscious choice, but in fact it had already been made. We also know that humans make post-hoc rationalisations for decisions we made without thinking. It’s been likened to a man riding an elephant, and acting like he’s riding the thing, when in reality it pretty much has its own ideas about where it’s going.

    And I agree with Tildeb – I don’t think you quite understand determinism. I really would recommend you check out that podcast, as it describes all the arguments very well, and sets out exactly what determinism is.

    “both are equally the predetermined, inescapable conclusions”

    And likewise the punishment for killing would also be ‘predetermined’ and ‘inescapable’. Also, punishing killers discourages other killers. Knowing the punishment awaits killers becomes part of the causal chain in leading to the choice made by a potential killer, potentially leading them not to kill.

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    • I’d be curious how tests are run on the sub/unconscious minds.

      Well, I’m not ashamed to admit that determinism doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Of course, that you and tildeb would claim to understand it isn’t a surprise to me. But I won’t give you the benefit of the doubt and think that you understand it any better than I do. And since you’ve now positioned yourself in the superior knowledge of determinism seat, I’ve got a challenge for you:

      How about instead of recommending a Podcast (that I’ve already told you I listened to before), maybe you could save us some time and (1) summarize what determinism is and (2) what is the best argument for and against it?

      I don’t expect that to be a difficult task for a fellow that understands determinism.

      Joshua

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      • Tildeb already summed it up, but wiki does a good job too: “Determinism is a metaphysical philosophical position stating that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given those conditions, nothing else could happen.”

        To me that seems self-evident. If you ran the whole situation through again, with all variables being the same, the same thing would happen. How could anything else be the case.

        And it’s more the implications of it that I think you get wrong. Though you also seem to see it as a person WANTING to do one thing, but being forced by their ‘chemical reactions’ to do something else, such that they’re helpless.

        “But I won’t give you the benefit of the doubt and think that you understand it any better than I do.”

        I can live with that!

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  8. “what is the best argument for and against it?”

    I’m not aware of any decent arguments against it. I just hear people saying they don’t like (what they imagine to be) the implications of it, and from that argue that it can’t be true.

    I don’t see how determinism being true makes any difference to how we actually live our lives. Any more than believing that God knows every move any of us are going to make should make any difference. Any thing you do… that’s exactly what God knew you were going to do. If you think ‘He’d expect me to do THIS, I’ll do THAT instead’… well it turns out God knew you were going to do THAT all along anyway. So what? It still comes down to your choice, regardless of whether a God knew you were going to do it, or whether your choices come down to physical processes.

    What’s the alternative to physical processes? Magical processes? Chaotic ones? At the end of the day, even if you think parts of the mind are completely non-physical, your choices are still being based on something. Making them partly supernatural doesn’t strike me as any kind of get-out.

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    • I don’t see how determinism being true makes any difference to how we actually live our lives.

      So it makes perfect sense that you would spend time here arguing and discussing it, right?

      I think you’re missing a big part of the picture. Do you have any relatives that suffer from depression or other mental disorders? There’s one argument against determinism. Most of the time, those people don’t want to feel or (re)act the way they do, so they go get a bunch of medicine.

      What’s the alternative to physical processes? Magical processes? Chaotic ones? At the end of the day, even if you think parts of the mind are completely non-physical, your choices are still being based on something. Making them partly supernatural doesn’t strike me as any kind of get-out.

      Now, now. You talk about the knowledge of the mechanics of the brain like it’s as easy as counting 1-2-3. I would caution you into thinking that any scientist or group of scientist has got it all figured out. We shouldn’t pretend that we understand exactly how it works in relation to the body, let alone how it words in relation to the will. Even people in the brainy professions call it the most complex piece of 3 lb. matter in the Universe. Furthermore, we have not seen nor know of any natural process that can create something as complex as the brain. (If you do, name one.) So that it may have supernatural — non-natural — elements to it would be no surprise to the honest inquirer not committed to materialistic atheism.

      That God has given each of us a sphere / space in which to exercise a will is something clear from the Bible. How free or predetermined all the variables has preoccupied philosophers for ages. So, I don’t feel the least bit ashamed to stand on this side of the argument — the undecided and confused. (You two have been defending determinism. I’m just passing the ball back into your court, since nobody is here propping up arguments for free will.)

      Joshua

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  9. “Do you have any relatives that suffer from depression or other mental disorders? There’s one argument against determinism.”

    How is that an argument against determinism?

    “You talk about the knowledge of the mechanics of the brain like it’s as easy as counting 1-2-3”

    I don’t think I did.

    “Even people in the brainy professions call it the most complex piece of 3 lb. matter in the Universe. ”

    I’d say that ESPECIALLY those people would call it very complex, not ‘even’.

    “Furthermore, we have not seen nor know of any natural process that can create something as complex as the brain”

    Evolution.
    Have you seen any SUPERnatural process create anything (complex or not)?
    Please don’t say this is special pleading or begging the question. If evolution is the only process that creates such complex structures, then so be it. To say if there are no other examples you refuse to accept that one is like saying you refuse to accept that whales are mammals until I show you another mammal of equivalent size.

    “You two have been defending determinism”

    I guess. I said myself that I sit on the fence but find the determinists more convincing.

    “That God has given each of us a sphere / space in which to exercise a will is something clear from the Bible.”

    That’s not an explanation, that’s just a blanket assertion. Please understand that I am NOT complaining that you haven’t PROVED it, I just mean it has no explanatory power. You’re just declaring that we have a space to exercise free will, without explaining how that’s supposed to work, or even establishing that it even makes sense as a concept. It’s like the old joke of explaining how a sleeping pill works by making reference to its ‘dormative properties’. All you’ve done is declare that we have free will.

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    • I expected you to say “evolution”, but you’ve never seen it create something, especially not a brain. But I don’t want us to get off into another subject. Let’s stick to determinism.

      My comment about God giving us a space to exercise a will wasn’t meant to explain anything, but to say that I understand that people have wills and a life in which to exercise them. You have misread it as an argument for “free will”, but I deliberately didn’t use the word “free”. In fact, I said in the very next sentence: “How free or predetermined all the variables has preoccupied philosophers for ages. So, I don’t feel the least bit ashamed to stand on this side of the argument — the undecided and confused.”

      And I also shared with tildeb that:

      “And I should clarify that I’m not a 100% free will proponent either. (I don’t have a problem with the word ‘will’, but I do have an issue with ‘free’.) I’m still trying to make sense of these concepts. And I don’t think it’s a subject that will be resolved this side of when we each give account of our actions to God (Romans 14:12).

      There are other views, too, like compatibilism.”

      But you want to continually harp on my cartoon. My cartoon merely highlights one facet of this ridiculousness I perceive if determinism were true. And I also just learned there are different types of determinism. The type you two seem to be defending is more accurately called scientific determinism because it deals with natural causes and effects. In the theory, everything is beyond a person’s control and they are left to the dictates of whatever the factors of biological processes have concocted, independent of any input from them. As one write said:

      “If we consider the mind to be material activity in the brain i.e. chemical impulses, then our thoughts and decisions are also pre-determined.” (Free Will and Determinism)

      That works to establish the pre-determined nature of love and hate and thus their insignificance (since you don’t really have any input or choice in the matter) in a world where scientific determinism is true.

      Joshua

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      • Well, the brain is a very complex interdependent and interactive organ where directed use can achieve novel responses and new patternings. In addition, we effectively have two brains – each hemisphere, so to speak – that sometimes work together and sometimes in competition for attention – and done in different ways! So to reduce it all to ‘chemicals’ doesn’t do justice to reflect what’s really going on. That’s why the emergent property we call ‘mind’ is so difficult to identify: it’s much more like flocking behaviour that gives the appearance to be a discrete thing. The notion of ‘choice’ – an independent entity in charge – makes it seem like there’s a little driver at the brain controls, so to speak, and there is zero evidence for this. Different parts of the brain assume a sort of leadership depending on many variables and stimuli and chemicals and organic processing environments, so it’s very difficult to get people to view the brain and its mind not as a discrete thing but as a process that gives the appearance of unity when we know it is no such thing.

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      • I appreciate the candidness of your comment, tildeb. Sometimes it may be simple to see a thing work, but it is much more difficult to know how and why (the brain, for example).

        Do you think there’s any distinction between the mind and the brain? If so, what distinguishes them?

        That the brain and mind are so complex, especially how it interacts with the will and external stimuli, as you pointed out, is why I’m hesitant to accept a simplistic explanation for how it operates (biological processes).

        Joshua

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      • “I expected you to say “evolution”, but you’ve never seen it create something, especially not a brain.”

        Yet all the evidence points towards evolution as the explanation. If we saw a brain being created in real time (I don’t mean in utero), then that would NOT be evolution. In other words, we don’t EXPECT evolution to create things ‘in front of our eyes’. But likewise we don’t expect soil erosion to create the Grand Canyon in front of our eyes either. That’s no a valid demand for a piece of evidence.

        And as I said, we’ve never seen the supernatural create anything either, yet you’re positing that as alternative explanation…

        “But you want to continually harp on my cartoon.”

        Sorry Josh :(

        “In the theory, everything is beyond a person’s control and they are left to the dictates of whatever the factors of biological processes have concocted”

        I don’t know. That suggests, as I pointed out before, a person wanting to choose door A, but their biological processes forcing them to choose door B. You are separating the wanter from the chooser. When they are part of the same person. This seems like a get-out similar to a person saying that because God has already planned everything they are going to do, they actually have no choice in the matter – whatever they do, that’s what God planned for them to do.

        But we’re going round in circles now, possibly both repeating ourselves.

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      • Good point about people using “God’s plan” as a get out. That is one thing that annoys me personally — people blaming God for their decisions.

        I appreciate your continued interaction. I apologize for repeating myself, if I have. It does happen, especially when your job is in teaching (where you have to say the same thing 100 times sometimes).

        Anyway, let me think about these things, put them on my mental shelf and reference them later.

        Joshua

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  10. “Well, your lampoon doesn’t work because I still had a choice in the matter.”

    You having a choice makes no difference to my ‘lampoon’. My lampoon wasn’t predicated on you having no choice, so you pointing out you have one doesn’t change it. In fact, that was kind of half the POINT of my lampoon. I guess you’re not the only one who gets their lampoons misinterpreted!

    You seemed to be saying the ‘lack of choice’ view sucked the romance out of things. But when I think of all the romantic stories I’ve seen, many or most of them seemed to rest on this notion of people powerless to resist some force compelling them to love another person. This seemed to be fairly key to the romance of the story. Often it would be love at first sight, or a situation when falling in love with a particular person presented massive difficulties – far more convenient for Juliet to ‘choose’ to fall in love with Paris, no?

    Perhaps even more common is the stories when a couple who hate each other are forced to share some adventure and fall in love along the way. Again, there’s NO choice here. The romance is through seeing a couple who can’t stand each other – desperately do NOT want to fall in love – finding a mutual attraction despite themselves and finally, reluctantly, falling head over heals for each other.

    The only stories where people have to ‘choose’ to fall in love seem to be ‘arranged marriage’ tales, and they’re not really seen as romantic. Unless there’s an arranged marriage and then they ‘fall in love at first sight’ anyway. Or they hate each other at first and then find themselves falling in love despite themselves.

    So, sure, you might find it more romantic to have this idea of choosing to fall in love, but I think you are in the minority – even among non-determinists.

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    • Thanks.

      Well, in the field of “love” and one of its expressions (sex), excuses like “I just couldn’t control myself”, etc. are often used to excuse immoral / inappropriate behavior, when we all know that, in the case of sex, it’s always a conscious choice on the part of the participants. And when I think of love, I think of it as a conscious decision because it isn’t just a feeling. We may have certain predispositions towards this or that ethnicity or body type, but we choose. We do certain things for and with the people we love that we don’t do with other people. I can’t prove to my Wife that I love her, but I can do many things to show her that I do. And while they do entail feelings, those things I do are conscious decisions. Again, the Origen quote way up there speaks about this.

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  11. “I’m hesitant to accept a simplistic explanation for how it operates (biological processes).”

    I don’t see why you see that as simplistic. You seem to presuppose what biological processes can do. And really it’s ‘physical, chemical and biological processes’. What’s simplistic about that? To say it encompasses a large amount is to damn with faint praise. Not wanting to beg the question, it pretty much encompasses everything! Everything we know in the universe pretty much falls into two categories: 1) Things explained by those three processes. 2) Things we can’t explain yet.

    Even if you’re convinced the supernatural is still required to fill in gaps for the brain, you can’t deny that the biological/chemical processes we DO know about for the brain are ASTONISHINGLY complex – nothing simplistic about them.

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  12. “I apologize for repeating myself”

    Not at all – I did say we might both be doing it. It’s more that the conversation can go round in circles, and you suddenly realise you’re back where you started. I do find this an interesting subject, but I should back out myself for a bit and do some work.

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  13. I’ve got to say, Josh, that I do not share your opinion that biological processes is a ‘simple’ explanation (hence the ridiculous length of this comment but bear with me, please). But what we do know from flocking behaviour (that gives the appearance of a discrete entity in much the same way that ‘mind’ gives the same appearance) is that very complex behaviours arise from individual units following local rules, and this is exactly what we find at the most basic level of brain processes. That it yields tremendous complexity should no longer surprise us.

    And there’s a very clear distinction what we are talking about when we use the terms ‘brain’ and ‘mind’; the brain is the organ that does a thousand things we’re completely unaware of, whereas the mind (and I say this because this is where the evidence leads us) is one of many an emergent properties of it. This is why I think we get a better description of what it is when we’re talking about with ‘mind’ to think of it more along the lines of a flock; it appears to be one thing – a discrete entity with agency. But we know that we can affect the mind by small changes to the brain, and – as importantly – affect the brain by making small changes to the mind (think of ‘learning’ to get a handle on what it is this means) so we know the two are intimately and intricately connected. But the term ‘connected’ is a bit of a misnomer, leading us to go back to the old way of thinking about brain and mind as two rather than one thing.

    I see the brain and mind as a single thing, although when we talk about it, it is we who are making it into two things to aid in discussion determining if we are talking about the physical organ or this particular emergent property. And that’s why I like to say the mind (and consciousness) is what the brain does (rather than what the brain produces). I’ll say more about this in a moment.

    We are at the very front end of beginning to learn about this organ and its properties. Our ignorance about it is vast, but we are starting to understand by what processes it operates. These processes are fundamentally chemical (not just in the brain itself but throughout the body – like finding neural peptides in other organs, presumably to facilitate interactive communication with the brain). In no way do I see this as a demeaning or reductionist description – that this makes us slaves to our genes or excuses human behaviours to be inevitable as some suggest (and with some merit) – but as a base upon which to understand changes whereby we can get a handle on cause and effect. If the mechanism – chemistry – is wrong, we’ll find this out. If it’s right – and it seems to be – then we’ll begin to figure out just how the brain works at the chemical level (like understanding the causes and effects that interfere with how the Krebs cycle functions, for example) and how chemical changes here affect physiological changes there… but as importantly, how physiological changes here cause chemical changes there… until such a time as we can see patterns of behaviour and patterns of reasoning and patterns of feeling – physiological and cognitive and emotional – to be reliable indications of specific brain functions.

    The point I’ve been beating around the bush trying to make here is that the notion of the mind/brain/consciousness as one biological thing therefore means we are slaves to determinism is only half right – and not even the important half! The other major part is that the brain is what mind does! We can re-pattern (if that’s even a term) our physical, cognitive, and emotional structures by how we think (meditating monks have been demonstrating this for centuries). We can stimulate chemical responses by thought (which itself is a chemical process) alone (just think of the last time you dreamed a powerful dream and woke up in a different physiological state than when you fell asleep). We know we can reduce pain (neurological signalling) by changing nothing but visual input. This is all astounding stuff and shows the depth of complexity and interaction between our brains and our environments.

    And this is where it gets so cool: our brains are meaning makers that transform themselves (the physical brain) by the meanings they make! And I don’t mean this in some mysterious, supernatural way but demonstrable by those who have learned (who have intentionally re-patterned their neural circuitry) to see with their tongue and balance by their skin – functions once attributed to organs like eyes and the inner ears but now better understood to be preferred ways for the brain to gain environmental input before processing into meaning (and mapping)… but obviously not the only way!

    So when you suggest that a physiological approach to understanding the brain/mind/consciousness is a way to depreciate purpose and meaning of our lives, I think this is exactly backwards; I think this scientific approach is a way to begin to understand with applicable knowledge how to enrich our lives by learning methods to establish how to increase the role of directed purpose and directed meaning into our lives, in ways that we can gauge their positive or negative effects on our physiology, our cognitive abilities, our emotions, in ways that increase the role we ourselves play in determining the quality of our own lives.

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    • It looks like we’ve hit on area that you have studied. Your lengthy, well-worded comment demonstrates one thing that is true to me: The brain is a complex organism. It also highlights that its mechanics may be chemical (I don’t say wholly chemical; for example, Where do the instructions for how to handle input from the environment reside? How did they get there?), but that is neither simplistic or the whole story.

      Joshua

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    • Hey, tildeb and Andy!

      I sat — actually, that’s not true; I walked and played basketball by myself — and read and thought a lot about this issue today. One thing that struck me and I wanted to ask you two was this:

      Given that you express / support (choose your word) a type of determinism, at what point in the biological processes is a person truly accountable / responsible for their actions? (There’s a little more to the background of this question than I have time to write now…)

      These thoughts were sparked as a I re-read a section of the first chapter of Origen’s De Principiis, Book 3, where he writes:

      (5)…those things which happen to us from without are not in our own power; but that to make a good or bad use of those things which do so happen, by help of that reason which is within us, and which distinguishes and determines how these things ought to be used, is within our power.

      6. And now, to confirm the deductions of reason by the authority of Scripture —viz., that it is our own doing whether we live rightly or not, and that we are not compelled, either by those causes which come to us from without, or, as some think, by the presence of fate… […] and in issuing certain other commands, conveys no other meaning than this, that it is in our own power to observe what is commanded. And therefore we are rightly rendered liable to condemnation if we transgress those commandments which we are able to keep. And hence He Himself also declares: “Every one who hears my words, and doeth them, I will show to whom he is like: he is like a wise man who built his house upon a rock,” etc… […] Otherwise there would be a contrariety in commandments being given us, by observing which we may be saved, or by transgressing which we may be condemned, if the power of keeping them were not implanted in us.

      In my thinking (which is always trying to improve and get better), I can always be held accountable for my actions because my actions are based on a conscious decision to act, not merely a reflex.

      NOTE: In that fine book, Origen also discusses really sophisticated matters about the interaction of the will (which, in the context of our interactions, I would define as the invisible, immaterial initiators and rules that govern chemical or biological processes in the brain and body) with the mind / brain.

      Any thoughts?

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      • at what point in the biological processes is a person truly accountable / responsible for their actions?

        An excellent question, and an important one to consider because responsibility is such a central concern to the causes and effects of human behaviour.

        I think we are always responsible for our actions. Responsibility – in full or in part – lies with the person whose behaviour can cause affect, who can exercise power to alter or change something through behaviour. We (meaning our prefrontal cortex) grant ourselves (our biology) the power to transfer (to physically express) thoughts and desires and feelings into actions, and it is here where we exercise executive command and control (sometimes too much, in fact). We may think, desire, and feel whatever we do, but a release, a consent, must occur to transfer these into purposeful and meaningful actions (whether people admit to this or not). And that’s where we assume responsibility.

        If that executive consenting release is somehow compromised by development, damage, or interference, then we must mitigate this notion of full responsibility and recognize the impact it has on assigning how much or little responsibility for behaviour. And, of course, we do this all them time; for example, children are in the process of developing executive function so we do not hold them fully responsible for behaviours as we would adults expressing the same (although I know many an adult whose temper tantrums and juvenile emotional manipulations would make a two year old blush in shame).

        This understanding of developing executive command and control has an especially tremendous impact on how to teach (guide) children responsible behaviour – not just over expressing their own thoughts, desires, and feelings appropriately and positively but to learn how to teach (guide) themselves on how to further that development through acting responsibly on appropriate expressions for all of them. This is what being mature is all about: achieving full responsibility (and full freedom that accompanies this acceptance).

        I think that in order to be a healthy and happy responsible adult who is mature must be autonomous… that is, able and willing to own (to be fully responsible for) his or her ethical and moral standards (among many other adult and mature concerns). An autonomous individual does good and behaves well because he or she consents to doing so for better self-evaluated reasons than doing otherwise. This is important to being a mature person, a person who accepts both the full weight of responsibility in order to achieve the full weight of autonomous freedom, to represent an ethical standard in action, to represent a moral position in action.

        A dependent person – someone who borrows his or her ethical standards or morality (or borrows from others to deal with many of these other adult and mature concerns) – can still exhibit the same behaviours but does so for much poorer reasons…. reasons that do not have to undergo the crucible of self-evaluation and acceptance but on the granting of some other source an authority, and so are less able to withstand contrary and irresponsible impulses because their evaluation has been thwarted by this reliance on authority.

        The first person – the autonomous individual – is fully responsible (and fully free) and therefore mature; the second one – the dependent individual – has a ways to go to achieve the same level of maturity, the same level of autonomy and freedom, the same level of responsibility for ethical and moral behaviour.

        This understanding of what constitutes responsible behaviour and the reasons for achieving it is (or, at least, should be) central to the parenting goal of developing healthy and happy children into happy, mature, (meaning autonomous and responsible) adults.

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  14. “I can always be held accountable for my actions because my actions are based on a conscious decision to act, not merely a reflex.”

    I don’t think my actions are only based on reflexes. There’s nothing in my philosophy that states my decisions are not ‘conscious’ either. There’s a difference between someone trying to hit you, and without thinking you block their blow, and you seeing a man running up to you from a distance and having a choice about whether to stay and fight or flee. Whether you calculating your choices comes down to chemical reactions, you ARE still making a calculation. No-one else is making it for you. If you choose to kill someone, knowing the consequences, you are still accountable for them. No-one forced you to pull the trigger.

    BTW, I was thinking about your posts in my down time too. I was thinking more about your ‘hetero’ T-Shirt.

    I was reading an interview with the gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, a very brave man who has suffered permanent physical damage from continually being beaten up by homophobes. He was talking about recently getting duffed up by Neo-Nazis in Russia over a gay pride march in Moscow. The Neo-Nazis carried out their thuggery with the full support of the authorities, who banned such marches (for ‘the next 100 years’ in fact!), but allowed the Neo-Nazis to hold an ‘anti-gay’ rally.

    Perhaps you still don’t get why gays may feel the need to stick together, have solidarity, and hold rallies and marches in the face of this kind of oppression. But at least you can figure you might have a good market for your ‘proudly hetero’ T-shirts – I bet you’d do a roaring trade to those Neo-Nazis holding their ‘anti-gay’ rallies!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/may/28/russia.gayrights

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    • I don’t see much difference between our views on the responsibility we bear for our actions. But I do see a problem with one of the implications. What if the result produced by those biological processes (the action) don’t conform to social / legal standards? Yes, people can be arrested, imprisoned, or killed. But what gives one person the authority to condemn the biological processes of another given your worldview?

      I’ll address your issue related to my “proudly heterosexual T-shirt” (remember those weren’t the only words on the T-shirt) if you’ll kindly put that part of your comment over in that thread.

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      • “remember those weren’t the only words on the T-shirt”

        A little disengenuous – the name of the thread was “A Wonderfully Wordy T-Shirt for Heterosexuals”!

        No, I’m done on that thread – it got derailed by SynapticConfusion, who I long-since concluded is a troll, and an unpleasant one at that. To be honest, I get no pleasure whatsoever interacting with him. If it stops being fun (and it certainly isn’t informative) then there’s not much point in continuing.

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      • RE: “A Wonderfully Wordy T-Shirt for Heterosexuals”

        Well, given that you’d like to align me and my work with the actions of hate-filled, violent neo-Nazis, it’s very easy to see that you’re not bringing up the subject in order to have a real conversation, but merely as a means to enjoy taking ridiculous cheap shots at this peace-loving, Christian pacifist cartoonist.

        And I’m not going to waste head space or web space on such childish, insensitive and blind nonsense, Andy.

        Move along,

        Joshua

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  15. I’m sorry that I offended you Josh, but my post did have a point – to show you exactly what gay groups are fighting against when they have ‘gay pride rallies’, as you seem to think it’s just about sticking two fingers up for the sake of it. But also, yes, there was an element of wanting to shock you into seeing who’s ‘on the same side’ as you. But mainly it was pointing out what gays are fighting against, and why the notion of ‘gay pride’ is sadly still necessary.

    Now, I’m delighted that you distance yourself from those thugs, but at the end of the day, while you may be a pacifist, you argue against gays enjoying the same right to marriage you have. It’s not a knee to the groin, but it’s certainly a metaphorical slap to the face. If someone started telling me that they would dissolve marriages like yours and your wife’s if they could, I would give them a stern talking to. If they protested that they were a pacifist, I wouldn’t let them off the hook any more lightly than I do you.

    Finally, you’re adopting the moral highground here with regards to me supposedly linking you to thugs, but I’m pretty sure the implication of many of your cartoons is that people who share my philosophy are ultimately nihilists or might as well kill themselves or kill other people. Certainly I’ve been told often enough by apologists that atheism leads directly to Nazism.

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    • Andy, you don’t know me very well, so I accept that you also wouldn’t know that you didn’t offend me. (I’ve listened to far too much Zappa to be easily offended.) You just keep adding insult to injury. Even after you wanted to align me and my work with neo-Nazis, I still politely asked you to move your comments regarding that other cartoon to the appropriate thread so I could address it there. You didn’t, so I directly and briefly responded briefly to your previous ridiculous comment above. I’m not going to waste time and extend the same courtesy twice, especially when the preacher is high on the soap box.

      Enjoy yourself!

      Joshua

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      • ” I still politely asked you to move your comments regarding that other cartoon to the appropriate thread so I could address it there”

        I did explain why I refrained from doing that.

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