A quick summary of my two main objections to Bakker’s Blind Brain Theory. That’s essentially all I was repeating this past two months on comments on his blog. There are lots of implications, but I think these two points are at the origin. Besides, I largely accept the theory, and what I’m actually arguing are the consequences and implications of that theory.

1) Formal error. I think this is evident to Bakker already, but he may underestimate it. His intent with the Blind Brain Theory is to reverse the approach to how we can explain consciousness. Inverting the frame of reference. So he believes that if we posit that “consciousness” is a perceptive fraud/illusion, then you could explain consciousness from the “outside”. Starting from the natural world. That way, in his intention, the consequence is that consciousness should be “explained away”. In the sense that he should be able to describe how consciousness comes to be, how it works, and why it is perceived in the way it is (and why this is only a sort of hallucination).

The formal error, I think, is evident. We know the concept of “turtles all the way down”. The problem is that, even more specifically when you deal with consciousness, we know exactly the “origin”. It’s the brain/mind. The postulate is that everything begins in the brain, and so every consequent observation and description need to start from the brain. The switch Bakker makes from an internal self-description, to a “scientific” description from the outside is a formal violation. It’s like in a book switching from first person into third. So this is why I called it a literary trick. It’s a magical handwaving, and so negates exactly the possibility of what you were doing (that is: the possibility to have a description from the outside, looking in).

2) The second objection has roots in the first. I wrote this on Bakker’s blog:

I’m going to ask all of you a question.

We could postulate that all characters in fiction live deterministic stories. There is a god who supposedly knows everything and creates every small bits that becomes material substance in that story. If it’s a book, then a writer writes every single word, then is then made into thought and then projected as a world.

Have these characters free will? Obviously not, as consequence of living in a deterministic world. But what makes a “good story” is the fact that the system is closed to the god. The rules are clear and not continuously violated. And that the characters are true to themselves and the world, as they are set up from the beginning.

But does it matter to us? Does it matter that we know those characters have no free will? Do we stop reading simply because we already know “who did it” (the writer)? Or maybe we still feel compelled to continue, because we are trapped in that first person, and that’s all that matters?

So, knowing the first person is an illusion, does empty it of all its value?

The first point explains that you can’t transcend the limited point of view. Hence the formal violation. Even in science we could posit that there’s a god as a first mover. An entity that sits right outside the system of the world. Science, however advanced, CAN’T disprove this. It’s always possible, however improbable. Being this god “external”, it means the god has no power once the system is in place and starts. Everything moves accordingly to its rules. This system is deterministic, which is what science tells us. This means that if you knew a single moment at any point of the lifetime of this system, you could be able to deduce/reconstruct all its history, past and future. Because deterministic means a cascading of consequences, each having always the exact same outcome, like a very complex domino.

The question is: do people living within a deterministic system have free will? The answer is: no. Because deterministic system means that the choices people make are direct and sole consequence of the environment (where the person is itself undifferentiated part of it). But this leads to a false perception. A deterministic world doesn’t mean that there’s someone with a joystick outside the system that pilots us around. It simply means that we are bound to the environment, not independent from it. The “illusion” of free will is simply due to the limited capacity of our brain, that can’t remotely grasp the totality of reality (and if it did it would break the system, because would break the inside/outside rule, and so automatically make it non-deterministic since the system wouldn’t properly “close”, and closure being the necessary condition of a deterministic system), and so is limited to know one perspective. And that’s the key to solve this riddle.

This is a problem of relativity. A deterministic system can both have free will, and then deny it. If you had the capacity to exit the system, and looking in from the outside, then the system is made deterministic, and so free will vanishes. But if instead you are caged in one perspective, bound to it, then this makes free will something true. Whether free will exists or not depends on who’s asking. This is not just a philosophical abstraction, but a concrete thing. The discovery that the system is deterministic (if such a discovery was possible) can have no effect on the first person point of view (neither in abstract nor in concrete, since “effect” implies choice and so free will). It makes a difference if you were able to exit the system completely. But that would mean changing the perspective. It’s the perspective itself that gives or takes free will.

So my conclusion is that it makes no difference no matter how you spin the paradox. Observations are only “legal” if they don’t violate your perspective, and at the same time you know that having one perspective means that this perspective has “authority”, which means it defines what is true for you. In this case, free will is true. As long we have an identity, we have free will. Breaching the system, would still mean we have free will. Free will would be denied only if we were able to depart from ourselves, and then see us in a picture, but losing entirely the possibility to return.

2 Comments

  1. I could be missing something here, but couldn’t we determine (in the future) the absence of free will with scientific experimentation? I understand that even with such evidence we would still experience free will, but we would be knowing that this is all an illusion. Or are you looking for more than a significant correlation between two concepts (aka scientific evidence) in order to determine the existence of free will?

    Also, about the fact that our experience of free will is sufficient for us to believe in it, does that mean we cannot be sure other people experience it as well?

    Pardon me if my questions are simplistic, I don’t have any big philosophical background.

    • I’m examining consequence.

      I’m saying “free will” as an idea is a matter of perspective. We can ALREADY infer that we don’t have free will, but this knowledge can’t have any consequence. It’s like knowing you’re a character in a book written by someone else. The knowledge “won’t set you free”.

      It’s like knowing that there’s a fourth dimension. Yet you can’t perceive or use it, ever.

      On Bakker’s blog there are a few steps forward in regard to this. The point is the divorce between knowledge and experience. In this case, knowledge is irrelevant because we are limited to what we experience.

      In his opinion, in the future, we’ll be able to directly manipulate experience.


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