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Guest Post: The Metaphysics Of Freedom

Tyler Durden's picture


The next post in a continuing series (Most recently, "The Twin Pillars Of Civilization") by Free Radical

The Metaphysics of Freedom

Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.
– Albert Camus

What individuals fundamentally seek is order, by which we do not mean regimentation but harmony, i.e., “a pleasing combination of the elements in a whole,” wherein the whole is the wholeness of one’s life. And because such order is virtually impossible to attain in isolation (even hermetic monks live in a society of shared belief, without which their mode of existence would be devoid of meaning), individuals socialize for this reason, and naturally so. For insofar as there is order in nature (and of course there is astounding order), freedom – which is inherent, for instance, in the random variation that is integral to the evolutionary process – is the cause, not the effect, of it. So too, then, is freedom in the human realm “the Mother, not the Daughter, of order,” it being but the conscious application of its counterpart in the natural realm. And thus is freedom the sine qua non of human civilization – the foundation upon which its twin pillars stand – without which the order that its individual members yearn for cannot be generally attained or continually increased.

But not just any freedom. For while freedom is indispensable to the social enterprise, complete freedom is destructive of it, resulting not in order but in chaos, as each does whatever he wants, regardless of what others may or may not want. “Anything goes,” in other words, and thus does libertinism render civil society null and void amid a literal free-for-all of untempered action.

Moreover, while we accept the determinism whereby “man is free as long as his own will is one of the steps in the causal chain,” we reject the determinism whereby “every event in the future is fated to happen,” as this too results in chaos. For if our actions are purely a matter of fate – if we have no choice in what we do – then we have no responsi-bility for what we do. And if we have no responsibility for what we do, then there can be no moral content in our actions. As with libertinism, then, so with fatalism, as there is again no right or wrong. Once again, “anything goes” for the simple reason that everything was already going to be. And thus does “the chance to be better” have literally no chance, there being no standard by which to gauge it. Better than what, after all? Better than bad? But there is no bad, just as there is no good. 

Thus do the extremes of freedom and determinism result in meaninglessness, which is to say, in absurdity. And to avoid it, we reject both libertinism and fatalism by accepting – by embracing – the fact that while freedom is a metaphysical reality, it can have no meaning in the human realm without restraints being placed upon it, the task for society being to determine what the minimum restraints are that it might maximize the opportuni-ty for its individual members to improve their lot in life. To generate more order. To be better.

And we address that orderly betterment in my next submission: “The Natural Law of Civil Society.”


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Mon, 12/13/2010 - 23:19 | 803595 cdude
cdude's picture

res ipsa loquitur

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:44 | 804661 Quixotic_Not
Quixotic_Not's picture

Illegitimi non carborundum...

Mon, 12/13/2010 - 23:28 | 803620 dark pools of soros
dark pools of soros's picture

you gotta have some rules or the score doesn't matter

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 00:42 | 803766 CH1
CH1's picture

Score? Why would I want to keep score?

Mon, 12/13/2010 - 23:28 | 803622 NOTW777
NOTW777's picture

True freedom is only possible through Jesus Christ

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 00:29 | 803733 colorfulbliss
colorfulbliss's picture

What a way to totally fuck up a good discussion.....troll.

Nothing in this universe is more detrimental to freedom than religion.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 02:29 | 803926 piceridu
piceridu's picture

+ the age of the universe...not the biblical one.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 03:25 | 803965 RichardP
RichardP's picture

The Bible doesn't state an age for the Universe.  Other than In the beginning ...  It doesn't say when that beginning was.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 09:59 | 804326 snowball777
snowball777's picture

Like most creation MYTHS.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:00 | 804501 Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean's picture

Including the myth of Darwinian Evolution.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:49 | 804688 cosmictrainwreck
cosmictrainwreck's picture

yeah, I'm still baffled at why the Darwinists don't get the violation of 2nd thermo law = any evolution that took place necessarily had an external Cause.... of course you can't sell that one to the fundamentalists, either; hence the same old pissing contest 

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 05:40 | 804040 Edmon Plume
Edmon Plume's picture

If you think this meaningless, wrist-slitting, existential navel-gazing qualifies as a "good discussion" then I think you should at least consider "love your neighbor as yourself," and "peace on earth good will toward men" as an alternative.  If nothing else, the latter makes an objective distinction between good and evil, right and wrong, which is a distinction necessary to man's search for meaning.

And it's more in line with empirical observation of the world around us than is science.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 10:42 | 804455 hardcleareye
hardcleareye's picture

The right wing fundamentalist Christians found in America are such wonderful examples of "peace on earth..."? NOT!!!!!!

These people have self proclaimed "high moral standards" but ineffective consciences. 

They talk the talk but are incapable of walking the walk!!!!

What disgusting hypocrites!!!! 

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:02 | 804512 Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean's picture

I think you are projecting.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 12:21 | 804792 Kopfjager
Kopfjager's picture

I'm sold.  Which church should I give all my money to?  

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:41 | 804649 HL Shancken
HL Shancken's picture

“ There must be no let up in the war against religion, because, as long as religions exist, communism cannot prevail. We must intensify the destruction of all religions, where ever they are being practiced and taught.”


Mikhail Gorbachev 1986


Tue, 12/14/2010 - 12:52 | 804931 Kopfjager
Kopfjager's picture

You're missing the point.  Red Square?  God's Kingdom?  They're both cradle to grave welfare systems.  They both fear independent thinkers.  

American's should know better than to bow to a King.  


"Submit and work for nothing more than the love of your neighbor."  Never heard anything so evil... 

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 01:29 | 803840 What_Me_Worry
What_Me_Worry's picture

A profoundly ironic statement.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 02:50 | 803944 teaddy bearish
teaddy bearish's picture

lol +1

Mon, 12/13/2010 - 23:30 | 803634 LeBalance
LeBalance's picture

"For if our actions are purely a matter of fate – if we have no choice in what we do – then we have no responsi-bility for what we do. And if we have no responsibility for what we do, then there can be no moral content in our actions. As with libertinism, then, so with fatalism, as there is again no right or wrong."

This space of possible actions is there to be sampled as you need it.  The exact actions you need will be those that you engage in by agreement of everyone else that is here.  That is how the tapestry gets woven.  Morals are the fascination of judgment.  It does not matter what the actions are that you need, you will do them.  If you need to be a holy monk you will be, if you need to be a drunken women beater you will be.  And you will find your place in the tapestry every single time you take the stage.

There are just too many people on the judgment bandwagon, with too many different rules sets for it to be of any merit.  So at more macro levels, judgment and borders of morals is just hilariously inconsistent.

Find someone who wants to label someone else a "bad" person and you'll find a person with a cute agenda in which they see themselves as better.  No one is better.  Everyone is getting exactly what they need.

And as far as peace versus chaos.  It's half chaos.  The yin / yang is half dark, so its half chaos.  Its a fractal, you can go infinitely in any direction you choose.

Who knows what the order / chaos mix is of "this" place.  Could be more chaos?!  Somewhere else might balance out with more order, so here could be lots of chaos.

That's interesting.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 00:24 | 803729 Implicit simplicit
Implicit simplicit's picture

The conundrum of freedom and moralty: 

Many in power (politicians) feel that they are smarter and know more, or that they are morally superior than others, hence, they must restrain the wrongly thought out free choice of other people. After all, they are the leaders. They are even convinced that it is not only alright, but necessary to continually lie in order to propagate their wishes (usually paid for). The deeper conundrum is that in order to attain power they needed to have this type of prejudicial demeanor to begin with. The majority of power seeking individual with this type of thinking eventually leads to fascism. It is already here.

Ideas of freedom and morality are quite relative to situations and individuals. Acceptance of differences is a higher form of consciousness that allows people to arrive at intellectual freedom; not accepting injustices is also a higher freedom choice.


Tue, 12/14/2010 - 00:35 | 803749 blunderdog
blunderdog's picture

Nah, man, prison of your own mind.  There's no use clinging to the assumption that anyone else EVER shares your view of the universe.

Just no use.  The map is not the territory, and none of us were ever very good cartographers in the first place.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 00:53 | 803789 Implicit simplicit
Implicit simplicit's picture

I hope not, but certainly there must be like minded maniacs!

 Consciousness creates art, life imitates art, then it becomes a fad and is ruined because people are really not into it, they are just pretending.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 01:43 | 803858 blunderdog
blunderdog's picture

The greatest crime that ever occurred was the propagation of the myth that "what people want" is somehow, in itself, unattainable.

It's the rare man who is focused on what makes his own life worth living.  If enough of us retain that focus, our problems are solved.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 05:17 | 804026 Edmon Plume
Edmon Plume's picture

Somehow that doesn't give me comfort.  What makes bernanke's life worth living, or obama's life worth living, or taking it up a notch - stalin's life worth living, is no solution at all.  God forbid we focus on what makes Armin Meiwes's life worth living.  Certainly he was focused on what made his life worth living, and it didn't work out so well for his guests.

You're back to the same struggle the author fails - but pretends - to escape, and that is the necessity of a standard.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:05 | 804521 Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean's picture


Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:14 | 804553 Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean's picture

By the way, the standard is perfection and we all fall short.  As "Le" may agree, we are all "bad".  Which is why ultimately, the comment by NOTW777 is true regardless of all the humanist junking.  Do all you 19 junkers actually think you don't practice a religion?  Ha!

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 12:58 | 804961 blunderdog
blunderdog's picture

Nah, there's no standard.  Not only doesn't there "need" to be one, there CANNOT be one.

Stalin was just another asshole.  50,000,000 people didn't get murdered because of ONE GUY.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 16:24 | 805843 Edmon Plume
Edmon Plume's picture

Without a standard, you have no grounds upon which to think ill of Stalin, and no ground upon which to lay a charge of murder on anyone, regardless of how high or low the body count is.

Wed, 12/15/2010 - 01:14 | 807196 blunderdog
blunderdog's picture

Not sure why this doesn't seem to be getting across...there is no "external" standard, or "objective" standard, and any prevalent view which becomes formalized is a step in the wrong direction, because it ends up limiting the potential of the individuals who may have the ability and inspiration to achieve something great.

You can either do something or not.  If you don't do something, sitting around and talking to other people about what OTHER PEOPLE SHOULD DO is not constructive.

Your standard is your own, and you do what you must because you are who you are. 

It sounds like you're completely failing to grasp my point here about Stalin.  He contributed in whatever manner he did to what happened last century, along with millions of other people.  He was just another raindrop in the storm, like your grandfather, like some Russian peasant who didn't kill Stalin in his youth in a bigoted anti-Georgian bloodrage, like Roosevelt who allied with him, like whoever else. 

You can't eliminate the "evil" outliers any more than you can duplicate the "good" ones.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 02:47 | 803942 Milestones
Milestones's picture

Basically I like what you say-it's flair and style; but I got stumped by "Everyone is getting exactly what they need." Rather harsh judgment don't you think?

I agree totally, we have a shitstorm coming; not necessarily from what and where we expect. The entire way we govern and organize ourselves will be of critical importance. What we have today is toast. We have the burden of 2,000 years of stupidity that must be weeded out; and that includes the 800 lb animial sitting in our living room. 

My rant for the nite. Ciao       Milestones

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 09:43 | 804284 pan-the-ist
pan-the-ist's picture

I agree with your point.  I'd add that the poster's relating freedom to randomness shows his lack of understanding of randomness.

Taking his definition, is it of any benefit to a moral compass knowing that your decision were "random" rather than "decided" (whatever that means.)

BTW, LeBalance, ever heard of NKS?

Mon, 12/13/2010 - 23:31 | 803635 Dragline
Dragline's picture

Oh, spare us the dramatic build-up.  Just watch this instead:

Does this person have anything new or different to say?


Mon, 12/13/2010 - 23:38 | 803652 Sophist Economicus
Sophist Economicus's picture

The answer in a word is.....



Tue, 12/14/2010 - 00:32 | 803743 Implicit simplicit
Implicit simplicit's picture

Priceless. This person is more into Kant, but who isn't.

Mon, 12/13/2010 - 23:37 | 803650 blunderdog
blunderdog's picture

Yah. Totally.  Outtasight.

It's times like this I'm reminded of the ancient sacred mantra:

om sohye wah dafuk

Repeat that as necessary and you will achieve enlightenment.

Mon, 12/13/2010 - 23:58 | 803691 Occams Aftershave
Occams Aftershave's picture

or, perhaps endarkenment.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 10:04 | 804339 snowball777
snowball777's picture, pat my hand.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 00:36 | 803746 RichardP
RichardP's picture

... man is free as long as his own will is one of the steps in the causal chain ...

What part does anyone's will play in whether they are born?  In whether they are male or female?  In whether they are caucasian or negroid?  In whether their mother ingested the vitamins necessary for proper neural growth while pregnant with them?  In whether they were nurtured and educated properly.  And so on ...

I've listed a few of the fundamental factors in the causal chain in which a person's will does not participate.  There are many more.  Reasonable people will agree that these fundamental factors seriously constrain the choices that will be made available to a person over the course of their life, and their will was not a participant in the causal chain.  Are such people not free?

Man's freedom is constrained before he is born.  As is his free will.  As are his choices (males can't choose to become pregnant, females can, etc.)

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 07:45 | 804169 Withdrawn Sanction
Withdrawn Sanction's picture


Indeed, one does not have control over one’s birth, sex, race, etc.  Such attributes function as constraints on our choice set but they are not ethical considerations per se.  It is rather, only those choices we make, given our choice set, that qualify as moral/ethical.   You cannot, in other words, hold a man morally responsible for his racial makeup (or his height, or eye color, or the zip code of his birthplace) because he had no choice in the matter.   That man can, however, be held responsible for the choices he subsequently makes within his constrained choice set, and his character (or lack of it) will be built from the bricks of such choices.   


Does the presence of constraint invalidate free will?  No, it merely establishes the ontological framework within which we do choose.  Does the fact that we MUST choose invalidate free will?   No, the inescapability of choice (even refusing to choose is a choice) simply establishes another ontological constraint.   THAT we must choose, does not determine WHAT we do in fact choose. 


Tue, 12/14/2010 - 14:32 | 805350 RichardP
RichardP's picture

THAT we must choose, does not determine WHAT we do in fact choose.

I'm ok with that so long as we are aware that we don't all have the same choice sets available to us - for reasons that have nothing to do with our free will.  That is the point I was addressing.  The conversation below about knowing the harness continues this point.  Some folks will never have the ability to know that the harness exists, much less know what it is for them.  Being able to choose requires a mental skill set that some folks will never posses.  To simply pick is not the same thing as choosing.  Choosing implies a cognitive, rational basis for preferrring one over the others.

Free will is a burden for those who lack the ability to make rational choices.  For proof, see the lives of the mentally incompetent who were dumped out of mental facilities and onto local communities by a relatively recent administration.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 10:12 | 804375 snowball777
snowball777's picture

And how, if we were not actually possessed of free will, would we know?


Tue, 12/14/2010 - 00:51 | 803759 revenue_anticip...
revenue_anticipation_believer's picture

"You have freedom when you're easy in your harness" by Robert Frost

Freedom is understanding the structural reality framework within which you are constrained... that framework is the "Harness" "necessity"

We speak..within communal language be somewhere ELSE in the World, THAT structure/language is worthless...and you, english speaker, become 'unfree'

yet, within your own language speakers, you are free, given time to freely correctly/truely express/say....far more than a random million monkeys at typewriters could stumble upon..

We live within a biological human physical body, those limits can be exceeded/stressed/abused...and this chaotic life style is NOT freedom,

it is a rebellion against the truth/necessity necessity/limits must be properly known, 'know thyself' and more simply yet "Knowledge shall set you free"

freedom is not chaos, where there is no possible meaningful action, no framework, the 'wheel' has to be re-invented over and over,

when EXISTING/KNOWN conventions invented by society, "good manners" time proven...will work...leaving room for the 'freedom to be'


In todays financial world, there is no possible way, actually, to estimate within a stable framework of reference, NO FREEDOM

to estimate the NPV of anything,

nor even the value of the unit of value = currency unit valuation...

there is actually no exit,

no possible planning,

no freedom...

just illusions...

only those WHO KNOW what they have planned to happen, which did happen..are financially FREE ....

they don't bet the market turns,

they CREATE THE MARKET TURNS, all bets for those FREE in their knowledge of the future THAT THEY HAVE PLANNED...are FREE...the ultimate 'insider pre-knowledge"

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 00:50 | 803783 CH1
CH1's picture

Being harnessed is freedom. War is peace. Weakness is strength.


Tue, 12/14/2010 - 00:53 | 803788 Terminus C
Terminus C's picture

you confuse "being harnessed" with "knowing the harness"

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 00:52 | 803786 Terminus C
Terminus C's picture

Freedom is understanding the structural reality framework within which you are constrained... that framework is the "Harness"


Right, this social harness guides who we are and what we can do. 


Freedom is directly correlational to knowledge of the social rules.  The more you know about the rules the more you can do.  This is how power structures are formed within societies. 


In other words, the more you know about your harness the more free you are.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 00:46 | 803774 CH1
CH1's picture

Thomas Jefferson
Letter to Isaac H. Tiffany 1819
Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add “within the limits of the law” because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

Found it here:

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 03:52 | 803987 anonnn
anonnn's picture

Thanks for that, CH1.

I used the definition "liberty is freedom from tyanny", but omitted the handling of tyranny using "equal rights of others"...which makes it much more workable.


Tue, 12/14/2010 - 00:54 | 803776 Terminus C
Terminus C's picture

Good post, I love The philosoph.


I don't think that there is such a thing as a distinction between freedom and determination.  We can only do what we do.  We are slaves of time.  As for the question of morality I think the answer is in your exploration of the social nature of beings.  When we make decisions they have consequenses.  These consequenses have positive and negative connotations on our being.


While our functioning is not so simple it can be broken down to the "pleasure principle"  We seek what is best for us.  I suppose we have some freedom in determining (u c wut i did thar) what is in our best interest but as RichardP noted, our environment determines much of who we are and what we value.



Tue, 12/14/2010 - 02:00 | 803855 RichardP
RichardP's picture

... and what we can choose.  Males and females face different choices.  The nourished and the malnourished face different choices.  The educated and the uneducated face difference choices.  ... the structural reality framework within which [we] are constrained... that framework is the "Harness" [called] "necessity".

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 09:49 | 804296 pan-the-ist
pan-the-ist's picture

The ability to deny this reality and rationalize one's success as "earned" makes one a "conservative."

That being said, allowing the "disadvantaged" to feed freely at the trough doesn't make them productive regardless of your philosophical underpinnings.

Sorry for all the quotes today.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:20 | 804572 Terminus C
Terminus C's picture

Exactly, which is why societies always try (and usually fail) at providing opportunity to gain through hard work and intelligence and balancing unequal starting points.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 00:50 | 803784 zen0
zen0's picture
by colorfulbliss
on Mon, 12/13/2010 - 23:29


What a way to totally fuck up a good discussion.....troll.

Nothing in this universe is more detrimental to freedom than religion.


Except maybe the State? (See 20th century...government slaughter of citizens file)


Tue, 12/14/2010 - 01:33 | 803845 What_Me_Worry
What_Me_Worry's picture

One in the same.  The State has always used religion to achieve their agenda, and vice versa.

I'm willing to bet religion is responsible for more deaths than all governmental regimes combined, though.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 04:38 | 804009 Edmon Plume
Edmon Plume's picture

I'll take that bet.  The death of God led to the worst slaughters in modern history, a la marxism, communism, nazism, and the like.  The body count is a hundred million, and rising.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 09:38 | 804268 Terminus C
Terminus C's picture

You confuse communism with megalomaniacal totalitarianism.  Hitler, Mao, Lenin and Stalin sought to change the focus of people's worship rather than the worship itself.  They sought to set themselves up as a form of living god.  Thus, they tried to establish their ideologies as a religion.

Communism, in particular, is perhaps the most misunderstood ideology of all time.  This is due to the fact that there were no long term examples of true communism.  Mostly the world saw the complete Stalinist bastardized versions in the USSR, China, Cambodia, Cuba.  The closest thing to a "true" communist "state" was Republican Spain prior to the fascist conquest.  It was a shart lived experiment however, so who knows how it would have turned out.

You seem to forget that the U.S. and the western European "christian" powers colonized/imperialized North and South America, Africa and Asia causing hundreds of millions of deaths in the last two hundred years and still counting (who is doing the most killing these days... oh yea the "christian" USSA). 

It is too early in the morning for me to really think this out but have a good long, unbiased look at your perspective, you will see that there are many skeletons in your closet.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 09:50 | 804302 pan-the-ist
pan-the-ist's picture

Brown people don't count. =p

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:23 | 804575 Terminus C
Terminus C's picture

So true, so true.  I guess the junker doesn't like to look in his closet... the skeletons are too scary.


I love junks with no replies. 


"I don't like what you say but I have no logical response so I'll just mark you as bad."

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:14 | 804554 snowball777
snowball777's picture

Mongol conquests: 30-60M...pretty sure it wasn't statism or religion that set them on eastern europe.

Timur: 7-20M...not the best muslim, but pretty jihadi.

Huguenot Wars: 2-4M

Mahmoud of Ghazni's campaigns: 2M

Jewish-Roman War: 1.3M...debatable, I guess.

Albigensian Crusade: 1M

I'm at 88.3M...what over/under are you looking for?

(and you forgot capitalism)

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 01:47 | 803862 colorfulbliss
colorfulbliss's picture

Point well taken. I guess in my mind I have never noticed much distinction between the State and religion. Both, in my opinion, prevent thinking out of the box. Had every human in history obeyed the "rules", it's doubtful we would be communicating with these hi-tech computers. Looking back upon the dark ages of the western world, a mere few hundred years ago, we see the State and the church as a monolith. Back in the days when the earth was still flat. Somehow or another, the "rule-breakers" brought us the Enlightenment, and the rest is history. 

Freedom is a very complicated topic. It's been used as the rallying cry for millions of totally brain-dead americans who do not have even the slightest clue as to what it really means or the responsibility that it incurs.


Tue, 12/14/2010 - 01:42 | 803856 Drag Racer
Drag Racer's picture

Paul B. Farrell either wants to work at Fox or has some shiny brass balls...

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 01:51 | 803869 DavidRicardo
DavidRicardo's picture

Sheesh, what screwy old duffer wrote that garbage?

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 02:25 | 803917 greenewave
greenewave's picture

To find out more about the Imminent Collapse of the U.S. Economy, watch this video "PUMP AND DUMP HORROR SHOW, END OF U.S. EMPIRE PONZI SCHEME" at (

by Anonymous

This feels like late summer 2008, when the Dow went like a rocket from 10000 to 14000 within a few months and we all know how that ended. I'm all cash now because I'm terrified by what is going on. I think we are headed for a huge CRASH sometime in 2011 or 2012. This time the Gov is so much in debt that it can do nothing and we will slide into the Greatest of Depressions.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 02:38 | 803937 D.O.D.
D.O.D.'s picture

There is no chaos, only order; whether the order is pleasing is a matter of perspective.  I belive this is the meme of pollock.  

I'm sure the elite enjoy the freedoms of their place in society, and in fact they quite litterally can't understand what the fuss is all about.  While at the bottom, the man who chooses to live under a bridge with cardboard for warmth, is as free as anyone to find his next meal, or a warmer bed; but would you choose to give him yours?  Unlikely. 

That is how they see us; free to find our next cardboard box, or timber box, we even have the freedom to hagle with one another over the price of this or that, and if we leave everything to them, we will continue to enjoy the freedoms of being humans living out our little lives. 

The concept of chaos is introduced as a negative, something scary and unlike the warmth and secureness of order, but as in nature chaos is only the path to the next level of order, therefore it is as much a part of order as a door is part of a house.  Take for instance a black hole, much the maligned bad guy in so many scary sci-fi adventures, yet it is this enigma, this anamoly, this singularity that is, at it's core essence, the personification, or rather, the multiiversification of chaos.  Yet without this light devouring monster, our galaxy would simply be space dust in search of a black hole somewhere else.  And yet what is the so called order of our galaxy?  From a distance it seems in perfect harmony, but all the subtle,and not so subtle, changes on every speck of matter are affecting the dynamics in an unfathomable way.  The sun is loosing 400B tons of matter per day, yes that is 400B tons, and this is happening to every star in the galaxy every day.  This so called order is changing in every possible way every nano-second, so how can there ever truly be order in the classical sense?

So what does it mean if chaos and order are one in the same?  It means there is no wrong or right, there is no justice, there is only is, and what are you going to do about it?


Tue, 12/14/2010 - 03:52 | 803986 RichardP
RichardP's picture

... how can there ever truly be order in the classical sense?

Those soldiers who have marched in step across the parade grounds, rather than run willy-nilly, know how.  So do those who willingly stand in line at Disneyland, rather than rush the gate enmasse.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 04:48 | 804014 D.O.D.
D.O.D.'s picture

I'm afraid you are confusing ordered with ord?er; compliance and conformity with harmony.

Although I've never seen it, I'm sure the chinese ware machine puts on a lock step performance with the aesthetics of a ballet, the likes that would dwarf any military parade in the US. Does that mean the chinese are more in harmony with nature?  Or does it mean that they know something about conformity?

I reckon DNA knows something about order as well, it seems to know exactly how to line up to create a life, and yet cancer still exists.  Because some amino acids got it in their head about free will and non-conformity?  Or is it because eternal order is a myth, and life is really just a game of chance?

As for those who would willingly stand in line for hours just to get inside Disneyland, they don't do this by choice, they do it in compliance.  If they thought they could march right to the front and demand to get in they would.  Given the right set of conditions, they would even trample each other to death... if there was a limited supply of big screen tvs on sale for 200$ inside. 

They stand and wait because they have been conditioned to believe that is what they must do, but why do you think the elite don't stand in line and wait?  You are aware there is a special entrance for the elites right?  Why don't they stand in line, and participate in this so called order?  Because their time is more valuable than yours or mine, and because they have been conditioned to believe that they don't have to.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 06:05 | 804041 RichardP
RichardP's picture

Constraining oneself rather than surging as a mob is a demonstration of order.  This is true of the soldiers' parade field (or old-time battlefield) marching and true of the people standing in line for an attraction at Disneyland.

If the 2nd law of Thermodynamics is true, and all things in the universe are trending from a higher state of organization to a lower state unless an outside source of energy is supplied, then it seems a given that all order is coerced in some way.  That is probably the point behind the phrase "order imposed on chaos" or "bringing order out of chaos".  And the 2nd law of Thermodynamics puts the lie to the concept of eternal order.  Movement toward disorganization/chaos is the natural order of things unless outside energy is supplied.

Order is order, even when it is coerced or imposed.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 17:31 | 806043 D.O.D.
D.O.D.'s picture

Time for some edjumacation.

order - authoritative direction or instruction; command; mandate. 6.formal disposition or array: the order of the troops. 5.a condition in which each thing is properly disposed with reference to other things and to its purpose; methodical or harmonious arrangement: You must try to give order to your life. these are not the same things, if you look it up, there are 56 definitions of the word order, if you choose to mix and match, it's fine.  Perhaps you have a future as a politician....
Tue, 12/14/2010 - 09:56 | 804320 pan-the-ist
pan-the-ist's picture

That's a great description.  I think they mean this kind of chaos:

Which isn't much different than order.

Then there is this:

Which is a great description of chaos and order with respect to learning.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 14:40 | 805413 RichardP
RichardP's picture

Thanks for making the distinction and for the links.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 03:21 | 803961 atomicwasted
atomicwasted's picture

Sadly, though I wish it weren't true, humans crave regimentation.  Otherwise religion and the State would not have been so universally popular for the duration of human civilization.  Most humans need someone else to tell them what to think and do.  The remainder are more than happy to do so.  Why else are true mavericks so uniformly and virulently loathed?

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 07:52 | 804173 Withdrawn Sanction
Withdrawn Sanction's picture

"Most humans need someone else to tell them what to think and do."

True.  Paraphrasing Ford, thinking is difficult work...which is why so few engage in it.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 09:17 | 804229 Biggus Dickus Jr.
Biggus Dickus Jr.'s picture

That's almost an exact quote of Hitler.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 09:43 | 804281 honestann
honestann's picture

Well, another important consideration is this:

Destruction is metaphysically and inherently more potent and powerful than production.

The predator class, certainly including Hitler, understand this aspect of reality very well, since most of their schemes depend upon it.

Consider how much time, effort, skills, experience and resources are required to produce a nice new home.  Now consider how much time, effort, skills, experience and resources are required to destroy that home.  Answer: One moron, $1 of gasoline, a free pack of matches, and about 10 minutes.

The predator class knows this very well.  And they know that the mere threat of destroying us, or our property, is almost always sufficient to shut us up, make us conform, make us finance them, make us submit to their atrocities.  The "true mavericks" are those who understand this, yet say "no" anyway, because they refuse to be slaves.  The world of today is sorely lacking in mavericks.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:22 | 804574 snowball777
snowball777's picture

Why would the moron want to trade his $1 of gas and his free matches for a lifetime of infamy at best?

You've failed to address motive; motion to dismiss.

It is very easy to opt out of the system:

a) leave the country (happy valley ho, as it were)

b) minimize your contribution to financing them by living a life of poverty, you'll pay no taxes and have the option of foregoing entitlements

c) expose the predators (tiger over here! run!)

d) commit tax evasion (go thoroughly Thoreau)


Tue, 12/14/2010 - 13:29 | 805097 honestann
honestann's picture

I guess you just ignored the part where I said "the mere threat" of destruction is almost always sufficient to steal, control and enslave producers.

I guess you also must believe that the thugs who work for the mafia, and do burn down homes and businesses who fail to pay demanded "protection money"... are immediately identified, caught, and imprisoned.  Sorry, no such luck.

Furthermore, the most effective predators are people in governments.  I suppose you believe that every IRS agent who mails out a collection notice is murdered?  Or what?  What is the danger you see to these predators?  One in a million?  They have a police-state force and military to protect them (not us).  So they can act as predators all day, all night, right out in the open, with little chance of being harmed.

Yes, we can opt out of the system --- to varying degrees.  However, it is not easy to totally opt out of everything.  For example, if you own land [just about] anywhere on earth, some bunch of thugs (government) demands you pay "property taxes".  To pay them, you must earn the required currency, which forces you smack dab into the middle of their system.

Nonetheless, I am leaving the country for less egregious places, and that's appropriate.  And I do minimize earnings in fiat currencies, because they must appear "on the books" or incur additional risk.  I do and always have avoided collecting any so-called "benefits" from the predators, precisely because that might tend to recognize them as legitimate or sanction their crimes.  The predators are all too obvious to me already.  The best way to avoid taxes is to avoid triggering them, as you said.

But NONE of this has anything to do with the nature of "predator versus producer", so I have no idea why you bring it up.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 09:20 | 804234 Biggus Dickus Jr.
Biggus Dickus Jr.'s picture

Yes a circular logic jerk is fun but it doesn't help me trade. I'm going long kre if it hits 25.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 09:21 | 804235 Fat Ass
Fat Ass's picture

The word you are looking for is "epiphenominalism".

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 09:36 | 804260 honestann
honestann's picture

Much too highbrow.  Of course, few people even figure out that so-called "volition" or "free-will" is actually "self-determinism".  Amazingly, genius philosophers over the ages notice the actions of many aspects of reality can act as a cause of human behavior (society, genetics, many-others), but somehow never noticed that each individual human consciousness can also be a cause of the behavior of that human.  Such is the nature of "volition".  Thus, "determinism" versus "volition" is yet another of endless "false alternatives" offered by philosophy.

As for much of the rest of the article, the notion of "restricted freedom" is formulated in terms of non-essentials.  A more to-the-point formulation is the nature of ethics and justice:

Ethics/Justice is the state in which every individual enjoys/bares/suffers all the consequences of his own actions, and enjoys/bares/suffers zero consequences of the actions of others.

Thus literal, physical "freedom" refers to the ability of a human to carry out every action that a human physicality and consciousness is capable (more or less a tautology).  Any so-called limitations on freedom simply refer to the appropriate formulation of ethics and justice mentioned above.

All pretty simple and easy to understand... once we break our brains for decades to figure it out (or to understand it clearly after reading and considering formulations provided by others).

The "order" the author discusses probably refers to the fact that humans (and animals in general) are "habit machines".  Babies struggle to control their muscles appropriately to stand upright, then walk, then run.  Once habituated, these actions become [mostly] automatic, and can then be built upon.  Which is why walking is easy, but swimming is difficult... until the appropriate actions for swimming are habituated.  And so forth, also including intellectual activities (which leads to endless problems, since modern humans typically habituate the most outrageously invalid and destructive intellectual processes).

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 10:04 | 804336 pan-the-ist
pan-the-ist's picture

"Amazingly, genius philosophers over the ages notice the actions of many aspects of reality can act as a cause of human behavior (society, genetics, many-others), but somehow never noticed that each individual human consciousness can also be a cause of the behavior of that human.  Such is the nature of "volition"."

Where does this "individual human consciousness" live exactly?  Modern Neuropsychology demonstrates quite clearly that you are chasing a ghost. 

Consciousness of a decision only appears AFTER the decision has taken place.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 10:34 | 804391 honestann
honestann's picture

You are confusing two slightly different concepts, both of which are sometimes spelled "consciousness".  The "conscious awareness" of a whole series of our conscious processes is only one aspect of the total set of processes that is "consciousness".  So yes, we are only consciously aware of ourselves doing something (physical or "mental") after we are doing it (or have done it), but other processes of consciousness are happening before you become aware of them.  We are also only consciously aware of external processes after they happen, so "no difference".  The totality of consciousness is all conscious processes, not just the one you mentioned (the final "conscious awareness of" aspect).

Also, the answer to your question "where does individual human consciousness live" is also the answer to the famous (supposed) "mind-body dichotomy".  The answer is this.  Consciousness is a set of processes that occur in animal brains, and human consciousness is a set of processes that occurs in the brains of those animals we call "human".  Thus, "consciousness" is no more mysterious than those processes that we call "execution of a computer program".  In fact, for several years now, better than human-level consciousness exists in totally inorganic systems (computer, software, sensors, robotics)... except it executes certain processes of consciousness substantially slower than humans (and many processes much faster).  In another 10 years, inorganic consciousness will be both superior (in every way) and faster.

Only human confusion makes consciousness seem mysterious.  Fact is, consciousness is fairly easy to understand... once you figure it out, that is.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 10:43 | 804458 old naughty
old naughty's picture

You mentioned totality of consciousness. Does that include consciousness of the planets, solar systems, the Milky Way, our universe, nature? Do part of these processes "live" in human minds?

Did I miss anything? You said ten years for inorganic consciousness to become superior and faster? How do you figure that?


Tue, 12/14/2010 - 12:08 | 804705 honestann
honestann's picture

We distinguish "content of consciousness" from "consciousness".  For example, you could create two identical consciousnesses, have one grow up swimming around in the ocean, and have the other grow up wandering around in the cosmos.

Even though those two consciousnesses start out physically identical, and perform the exact same processes of consciousness, one of those beings might formulate concepts for "water", "sand", "rock", "fish" and "mammal" but not "star", "planet", "moon", "asteroid" and "galaxy"... and vice-versa.

Therefore, I would say that literally speaking the term "totality of consciousness" when applied to a specific conscious being should include the "content of consciousness" of that specific being, as well as the "processes of consciousness" that it performs.  And to be sure, the "content of consciousness" is part of the identity of any consciousness (what makes your identity different from the identity of your identical twin brother, for instance).

However, that's not what we normally mean when we say "totality of consciousness" because "consciousness" (in the abstract) is a specific set of processes that can operate upon any [external and internal] reality that it observes, experiences and becomes aware of, and otherwise processes.  In other words, the vast, vast, vast majority of "content of consciousness" is totally optional, though an exceedingly small set of fundamental content is necessary for the consciousness to bootstrap and function at the level of human consciousness.

Inorganic consciousness is already superior to the consciousness of [almost] all human beings.  However, that's mostly because the consciousness of most humans is a catastrophic tangled mess of inconsistent garbage.  For example, most humans do not normally store the "source" or "reality status" of their mental units (mostly "concepts"), so they end up performing all sorts of conscious processes on tons of fictitious "garbage" it has stored (courtesy of friends, parents, schools, government, media, etc).  By making the process of adding content to consciousness inherently store [and update as appropriate] the "source" and "reality status" of every item of content, inorganic consciousness avoids making all sorts of mistakes that make almost all humans insane, simply by adding a couple simple processes.

As it turns out, the supposedly "sophisticated" processes of consciousness (for example, abstraction) execute at a reasonable rate in inorganic consciousness already with contemporary computers, software, sensors and robotics.  Unfortunately, some low level aspects of consciousness are very slow... especially the "vision system" which includes not only just "see" (sensation) but "isolate and identify objects" and "identify time relationships of objects" (perception).  This is true because we're talking about about 5~20-million+ pixels at 15 to 30 to 60 frames per second rate.  So we not only have lots of data per frame, we have lots of frames per second, and lots of processes to perform every frame and every frame-sequence.  However, we're developing various forms of hardware assist to speed these processes (implement some/much/most of them in hardware), and we've invented a couple novel architectures to perform some of the most difficult processes much more efficiently, so this bottleneck will be adequately addressed in the next few years.  We also greatly improved the original architecture of encoding content in ways that is finally fully general and also faster.  So that 10 year time-frame is simply our best estimate.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 15:44 | 805636 RichardP
RichardP's picture

Consciousness = memory, and the ability to access it.  Consciousness = the ability to record stimulus to the 5 senses and then the ability to recall those recordings.  Plenty of work has been done on these two issues.  Interrupt the function of either recording or recall and consciousness disappears.  So does executive control.  See the alzheimer's patient for example.

Of course, interferring with any of the 5 senses ability to accept stimulation and pass it to the brain will affect consciousness.  If there is nothing to record, there is nothing to recall.  We don't live in the moment, because the moment passes by so quickly.  Rather, we live in memories of the moment.  Nothing recorded, nothing to recall; no conciousness.  See any of the experiments done with sensory deprivation.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 16:10 | 805794 honestann
honestann's picture

I'm not exactly certain what is your point.  Of course consciousness is much, much more than just:

 - saving memories
 - recalling memories
 - recording stimulus
 - recalling stimulus

I've been in sensory depravation tanks for hours, and my mind does what it always does, including when I sleep... it keeps on thinking.

I'd say parts of our consciousness does "operate in the moment", but generally those are what are called subconscious states in humans.  In humans, conscious awareness follows those low level processes of consciousness.

Wed, 12/15/2010 - 21:39 | 810311 RichardP
RichardP's picture

You distinguish between consciousness and content of consciousness.  Without defining terms, let me add that your body must be able to acquire the contents of consciousness, store the contents of consciousness, and access the contents of consciousness.  If you lack the ability to acquire and store, your consciousness will have no contents.  If you can acquire and store, but lack the ability to retrieve, your conciousness will have contents, but you won't know that it does.  In either condition, you will be concious of nothing.  Arguing that you do too have a consciousness in such a situation is pretty much beside the point.  And without content, or without the ability to recall content, it is doubtful that scientists could devise an experiment that would demonstrate that conciousness is intact in such a situation.  Without the awareness of input, appropriate feedback is impossible.  Therefore, I would say that being concious of nothing is a state indistinguishable from having no conciousness.

Your comment about sensory deprivation tanks supports my point.  With no current input to process (your 5 senses being deprived in the tank), you have nothing left to do but think.  Your executive control can choose what to think about from memories competing for attention.  Now imagine if you (like some folks) cannot remember anything that happened more than 5 seconds ago.  You would do no thinking because there is no current input at your 5 senses and there are no memories being presented to your executive control from which to choose.  With no input from 5 senses or memories, there would be nothing for your brain to act on/think about. You may have a consciousness in such a moment, but of what value is it to you?  You would not be able to generate any appropriate feedback that would signal anyone that you were in there.  But you would not feel a need to generate appropriate feedback, because you would be concious of nothing.

Hello??  Is anybody in there ... ??  (Pink Floyd)

Wed, 12/15/2010 - 22:37 | 810459 honestann
honestann's picture

What I was trying to say is this.  Many processes of consciousness occur before we become consciously aware of our processes of consciousness or the target object of our consciousness.  These are very important processes of consciousness, but they cannot be observed instantaneously while they are happening.  To take one obvious example, we are most certainly not able to be consciously aware of the individual firing of neurons in our brains, but those neural activities most certainly are part of the process of consciousness in humans (but not in inorganic consciousness).

I infer from the way you address this issue that you only consider "conscious awareness" of something (including our own consciousness) to be "consciousness".  But this is most certainly not the case.

What you say is probably true if we limit our comments to this one high-level aspect of consciousness you emphasize.  But that's definitely not all there is to consciousness.

Fri, 12/17/2010 - 13:34 | 813231 RichardP
RichardP's picture

... Many processes of consciousness occur before we become consciously aware of our processes of consciousness or the target object of our consciousness.

I understand, and agree.  I don't disagree with anything you've said.  We are not disagreeing, we are just talking about two different parts of the same issue.  I was simply adding to this conversation about consciousness the fact that consciousness, however defined, is pretty much irrelevant if one is unable to record or recall input to the five senses.  The present moment passes by so quickly that, without the ability to record and then recall input to the five senses, the brain really has nothing to act on.  I really like your framing this as consciousness and content of consciousness.  It helps make the point more clear.  For consciousness must be able to act on content for it to have any usefulness.  No content to act on, no work gets done.

There is a theoretical, academic side to the discussion of consciousness.  I was merely pointing out that there is also a practical, bricks and mortar, side to the subject.  If the bricks and mortar don't work as intended (which they don't in some people), the abstract discussion of the academic is irrelevant.

Sat, 12/18/2010 - 00:40 | 814920 honestann
honestann's picture

I was simply adding to this conversation about consciousness the fact that consciousness, however defined, is pretty much irrelevant if one is unable to record or recall input to the five senses.

Absolutely correct.  Of course the sensory depravation tank shows that [at least] humans can observe the content of their own consciousness.  In fact, the ability to perform some of the basic processes of consciousness upon our internal content is a huge portion of what is supposedly the super-duper special "human-level of consciousness".  But as my formulation shows, this is nothing but the same processes of consciousness other animals have, the only major difference being that those processes are turned inward instead of [nearly] exclusively outward.

Of course other animals still have access to parts and aspects of their internal content of consciousness... which is how they recognize what kind of things they are currently seeing at any moment (by reference to their stored content of similar things).  But that is a process comparing internal to external, not internal to internal.  Other animals seem like they must be "seeing an apple" to make their stored experiences of "apple" become part of their conscious processes.  Humans can think about apples without seeing any external "apple" at all.  Pretty simple, but also very powerful.

You are certainly correct about the bricks and mortar comment too.  However, for me, the "theoretical" and the "practical" are utterly identical.  In fact, the reason I started thinking about consciousness was simply to identify what kind of intellectual activity was effective and what was not... so I could practice more of the effective kinds and avoid the ineffective ones.  As it turned out, that very practical exercise certainly looks like a "theoretical" exercise to most other people.  Not to me, especially now that I'm working on a real project to [re]-implement inorganic consciousness (the first implementation being plenty "smart", but much too slow to be practical).

I must say, the fact that we totally separate consciousness from content of consciousness certainly makes our work infinitely easier.  From that you can correctly infer that our implementation has nothing whatsoever to do with neural nets (or genetic algorithms either, for that matter).  We have a very efficient and totally general way to formulate and encode content of consciousness that contains no "code" (well, that's almost 100% literally correct, for practical purposes).

In contrast, what you and we sometimes simply call consciousness we often lengthen to say processes of consciousness.  I suppose the totality of any individual real consciousness does include both the content and the processes, very often we just mean the processes.  That's because the processes are what we implement, and almost all content is acquired by observation and experience, and is therefore unique to the individual being/robot/whatever.

Having said that, the original developer found that creating a practical inorganic consciousness of human-level or better is much easier when we implant some content right from the start.  Of course, it is our responsibility to implant only totally reliable and fundamental startup content, and we are very careful about that... even though the consciousness itself would later identify and repair any initial content that did not correspond with its own observations, experiences and inferences.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 10:50 | 804478 pan-the-ist
pan-the-ist's picture

In terms of the free will/determinism debate, are you suggesting the subjective determinism some people mistake for free will is pretty much equivalent to consciousness?

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:25 | 804579 honestann
honestann's picture

Sorry, I'm not really familiar with the terms "subjective determinism" and "objective determinism", so I'm not in a position to answer your question.  But I certainly wouldn't say any kind of determinism is equivalent to consciousness.  Those concepts are not commensurate.  Sorry I can't go into more detail on your terms.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:39 | 804639 pan-the-ist
pan-the-ist's picture

I'll use different terms.

Are you saying part of consciousness is responsible for decisions and that part is deterministic or are you saying part of consciousness is responsible for decisions and that part is a free agent?

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 13:41 | 805017 honestann
honestann's picture

This issue is very difficult to discuss briefly.  I'll toss out a few observations with the understanding that this attempt will be unsatisfying and inadequate for both of us.

In any discussion of "free", we must understand that "free" can apply in any of many dimensions.  For example, in a fixed 3D articulating mechanical object, we can consider [at least] x,y,z rotation, x,y,z translation, and time.  A given mechanical device could be "free" in any combination of those 7 "aspects" or "dimensions", and "fixed" in the others.

Now, that's a perfectly acceptable meaning of "free", but some folks would rightly say "that's not the kind of 'free' that I mean when I talk about 'free-will' or 'volition'".  But maybe this is the type of free that so-called "free-will" should refer to.  I don't know, but I've come to find the terms of the conversation are loaded and inappropriate.  I prefer to consider the entire subject sort of tabula rasa and see where that leads.  Having done that, I consider the concept "causality" more appropriate than "free-will", "volition" or even "determinism".

So, I will say that consciousness absolutely is fully natural, and is absolutely fully causal.  And sometimes I like to throw out that term "self-determinism" because that was the formulation that first got me on the right track in my own thinking.  At least, I realized the conventional argument formulated as "free-will AKA volition" versus "determinism" was an inappropriate formulation (just as AI is a totally wrong formulation of the problem that needed to be solved, and we solved because we realized the problem was simply to understand and then implement "inorganic consciousness").  It is impossible to overestimate how much time and effort has been wasted on various topics simply because the original formulation was bogus (inappropriate).

So yes, I would say "certain processes of consciousness are 'free' in many ways", in the sense of 'free' that I mentioned above.  But again, I don't find the term "free" very helpful intellectually.  I find the term "self determinism" much more helpful, albeit also potentially subject to some confusion and misunderstanding.

Consider the following true story, the hero of which is an astronomer and friend of mine.  One night while visually centering a galaxy in the field of view of a large telescope, in preparation for taking spectra of the center of that galaxy, he saw a momentary faint pin-point flash at the exact center of the galaxy.  He had never seen that effect before, and wondered what caused that sensation.  He started the exposure, then sat back thinking for one hour while the telescope tracked the galaxy and collected the spectrum.

He realized it could have been a local phenomenon generated within his own biological sensors, but in thousands of hours of observing he had not experienced this before.  He realized it could have been a cosmic ray striking his eye, but what's the chance it would be right smack dab at the core of a galaxy?  He realized it could have been a micro-meteorite heading directly at the telescope from the direction of the galaxy (a "point meteroite"), but again, what's the chance of that happening at exactly that very suspicious spot?  Perhaps it was simply a statistical outlier in the random variation of incident light from the galaxy (an extra photon or two arriving from the galaxy core in a very short period of time).  Perhaps it was a glint of starlight off a solar panel of a too-faint-to-see satellite that just happened to be crossing in front of the galaxy core.  Or, perhaps he had actually seen some very strange, unusual event that did occur in that galaxy core.

This astronomer spent hundreds of hours over months imagining and researching possible causes of that flash, and trying to calculate probabilities of each.  At some point he had to make a decision whether to start a major investigation and possibly make this the focus of the rest of his career and life... or "forget it".

Think about this process.  This astronomer essentially reviewed and carefully considered everything he had ever observed or experienced, everything about physiology, optics, telescopes, astronomical objects, everything he had ever known or studied, every thing and every process he knew did exist, or might exist in the universe, what his employer and collegues might think about him spending time on such a project, what it might mean to his career and income, what effects it might have on his family and relationships, and so forth.  In other words... everything in his consciousness.

The result?  He did indeed start such a project, and doing so has indeed changed his career (and where he works and lives), and likely his entire life will be totally different as a result of making that decision.  And depending upon what he discovers or proves or demonstrates, the future of astronomy might be someone different... perhaps drastically (long shot).

So, my question is this.  What caused (or "determined") his decision and actions?  One [extra] photon?  An ocular blip?  Or is it "society"?  Or what?

What I'd like to point out is this different aspect.  On the basis of seeing one or two [extra/unexpected] photons, his consciousness became a "singularity".  Into that "singularity" went everything he knew about the universe, including astronomical objects, telescopes, optics, his own interests, his family, his career, the endless possible chains of consequences of his possible decisions... in fact "everything in the universe that he knew about".  And out of that singularity came a lifetime of actions that he will take, plus other actions that others will take due to his conversations, papers written, lectures listened to, etc.

In other words, the input was "everything"... (or that portion of everything that he was aware of).  And the consequences of his decision are unlimited... they will ripple and cascade out through time and many other people and endeavors.

And his consciousness acted - in an important sense - as a singularity.  His consciousness took "everything" (he knew) as input, and as a matter of total fact, his even existing and being where he was at that time was a sum process of the actions of the entire universe.  So in a way "everything" in the entire universe was input.

But where the decision "how to live his future life" happened was squarely "in his consciousness".  In other words, HE was the agent that made the decision --- his physical being, performing the processes of consciousness.

This is totally unique.  No other process in the universe takes "everything" as its input, and in-and-of-its-own-processes combines all those individual elements of "everything" to cause actions, results, consequences.  And notice this too.  The "everything" that is input includes everything that ever happened in the past too.  So it isn't anything like a conventional billiard-ball reaction that takes as input only what is directly impacting it "right now".

So this is a causal process.  The photon smacked into a rod sensor in his eye.  So.  What?  The photon was the cause?  Give me a break!  That's my silly but also serious answer.  No, any honest analysis would recognize that the causal process that led to his actions were squarely localized in his consciousness.  To be sure, the processes that made his decision accessed endless stored records of previous sensations, perceptions and thinking.  But his consciousness was the seat of this process we call "decision".  His consciousness was effectively a singularity in a causal process, without being a literal, physical singularity.

In a way, it is as if the entire universe was an astronomically large set of billiard balls smacking into his consciousness.  All very causal.  All the processes in his consciousness were very causal.  But nobody can honestly say "the photon made his decision".  After all, he considered many things from long ago to make the decision.  His conscious processes made the decision.  And his consciousness (including its content) is him... his literal identity.

Does this not look like "self-determinism"?  It was his "self" that "determined" (or caused) the processes.  The same set of conscious processes and content of consciousness that is him, is also the agent that took the totality of reality, combined it together, and led to the consequences (the actions he took).  If he didn't cause/determine the consequences, what did?  To be sure, the entire universe was also a cause, so all those schools of determinism are partly correct, but incorrect in essense.  Because what many call "volition" is really pointing out the special nature and singularity characteristic of this process.

Sigh.  I hate the way I described the above, but I'm not going to edit it, or extend it, or try again.  Maybe it will help you (or someone), maybe not.  Someday I'll sit down and do a better job of this, and not leave out the many other angles that all together form my understanding of this issue.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 15:04 | 805497 RichardP
RichardP's picture


The photon triggered a process that ended in a decision / choice.  All of the astronomer's frames of reference were inputs to that choice.  But, in the end, the astronomer himself chose (the executive function).  The photon triggered the need for a choice.  The astronomer chose.  It is not wrong to say that the photon caused the choice, but it did not make the choice.

This stimulus / response cycle and its attendant feedback loops happens to each of us thousands of times every day.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 15:08 | 805536 pan-the-ist
pan-the-ist's picture

Thanks, I read this and will spend time absorbing it.

Wed, 12/15/2010 - 01:27 | 807221 blunderdog
blunderdog's picture

What caused (or "determined") his decision and actions?

Are you assuming all relationships are "causal" in the first place?  Given what we know about quantum uncertainty/indeterminacy, is it not possible that *most* of what happens in the universe is not causal?

This is totally unique.  No other process in the universe takes "everything" as its input...

I think you've got that completely 100% wrong.  Every process DOES take "everything" as its input, it's just that the experimenter chooses to ignore most of the input for the purposes of examining a tiny slice of interactions. 

Ignoring everything doesn't mean it's not affecting the outcome of an experiment.

People want consciousness to exist, and they want it to be very very special.  It just may not be.  Look at the two-slit experiments and ask yourself if the photon was making conscious decisions about whether to go left or right.

Wed, 12/15/2010 - 10:51 | 807837 honestann
honestann's picture

I'm not exactly sure what would constitute "all relationships being causal", but I would say "all processes are causal", if that's what you mean.

The only active causal processes involved in most interactions are those currently interacting.  For example, on a billiard table, only those balls impacting each other have [measurable] causal ability right now.  Of course you can say that indirectly a whole lot of things had to happen for the billiard balls on the table to come to exist, and you'd be correct to say those actions that led to the billiard balls on the table (and the table itself) were also part of the causal chain.

However, the processes of consciousness --- like any processes that include "remember" and "recall" capabilities --- can let any tiny aspect of past reality have huge impact on the causal process that is the decision being made.  So yes, this is a significant difference, but it is also not unique.

By the way, we agree that "consciousness" is not very special.  The more we came to understand consciousness, the more straightforward and comprehensible it became.  We also noticed how the supposedly "earth-shattering, qualitative leap" between "animal consciousness" and "human consciousness" is, in fact, incredibly trivial.  To oversimplify, the difference is the ability to perform the same processes of consciousness as other animals, but in addition perform them on ones own content of consciousness.

Sorry, but conventional interpretations of quantum physics are a bunch of hooey.  I know all about two-slit experiments, and the current government-approved (if not mandated) interpretation is bogus.  All practical measurement processes do have quantized aspects (sorry, that's just how atoms work), but that's different from saying "the fundamental nature of reality is probability".  That's just plain insane, and contradicts many fundamental characteristics of reality and principles of science, upon which quantum physics rests just as surely as all other physics.

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:05 | 804526 Jerry Maguire
Jerry Maguire's picture

This is a difficult area conceptually; less difficult, but still difficult in practice.  Thrift is a virtue, but it morphs into stinginess if you're disproportionate about it.  Traditionally, this phenomenon - where a virtue taken too far becomes destructive - was addressed by adhering to four "cardinal" virtues, which had to govern the others.  The four were Justice, Temperance, Prudence, and Courage.  You can see how temperance and prudence can apply to blunt the sharp edges of enforcing some virtues before they hurth anyone.

It's one of the keys to living in a civilized society, I think.

Interesting discussion of all this, in the context of monetary theory:

Preceded by these:


Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:06 | 804528 Raging Debate
Raging Debate's picture

I have a really interesting mentor in Boston. He taught me two things which was to give back to the community, to be quick to compliment and slow to criticize. I do have my own religious beliefs but I don't think the church would approve of my ideas on what Christ was actually trying to say or what his mission was about.

In general, we all should be promoting the opportunity for others to benefit. Human beings only do things for two reasons. The opportunity to benefit or the fear of loss. For the last forty years in America, the fear of loss was steadily increased to pull demand forward.

Too much stick being used and not enough opportunity to benefit. For example, marketing messages of keeping up with the Jonses is a fear of loss message rather than opportunity to benefit. 

Or motivating a population to be afraid of communism and terrorism to continue convincing the population why we need to spend more on defense over producing our own energy.

Bankers run the world. The real problem with that is bankers make loans, it is what they do. Since they do not run fiscal policy as the details drive such mad, there is not a balance to the commons. 

Bankers will have no choice at some point but to power share and for them they should consider adopting an idealogy of promoting the opportunity to benefit, the carrot to increase supply chain participation over the stick of fear of loss.

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