excerpted from caro's journal: topic: causality

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2015_08_12:15: testosterone and physics envy

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I was looking for a paper co-authored by Robert Sapolsky, "Reductionism and Variability in Data: A Meta-Analysis". He refers to this paper in one of his Stanford behavioral biology lectures, which I just listened to again with fresh ears, Chaos and Reductionism, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_njf8jwEGRo. I didn't find the paper online.

But I did find one of his popular articles, Testosterone Rules, http://discovermagazine.com/1997/mar/testosteronerule1077 . And I also found the abstract of a commentary by Sapolsky in the journal THE SCIENCES: Genetic Hyping, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.2326-1951.2000.tb03474.x/abstract .

For further enlightenment, I watched the next lecture in the series, #22 Emergence and Complexity, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_ZuWbX-CyE .

The lectures and articles are very accessible. The lectures are directed at undergrads, the Discover Magazine and The Sciences articles are directed at lay-persons.
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2001_07_15:18: Causality and Corporal Punishment

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Begin topic Causality.

This entry is inspired by a letter received from a friend, which responded to some of my ruminations on libertarian society, rights, pornography, and the corporal punishment of children. Here's the edited text of the letter:
Thanks for the story. As for your being six and not connecting the damaging of the mattress with yourself, or the beating with the crime, I'm having a hard time believing that. I'll have to search my memory for anything even remotely resembling this, but it seems more likely to me that my mother worked hard at teaching me to dissociate causes from effects, that yours did too, and that most parents I've run into or heard about do this, by being either insane or overly protective.

I don't think children are born seeing causal connections, but I know for a fact that most adults, parents or otherwise, are very hard at work trying to hide them from kids. Their motives are hidden, their emotions are hidden, they try to get kids to hide their own emotions, they reward children for hiding their own motivations and punish them when they own up to their own actions, they nag them incessantly for tiny things that don't merit any possible human attention whatsover, and they ignore things that are objectively noteworthy and are a huge deal to the kids (like nagging about the proper way to Australian crawl, and ignoring the first time they can hold their breath for more than five seconds under water, the kind of event I'm witness to quite a lot in my eerie over the pool). And, like lying to kids, kidding them too much, fooling them too much, embarrassing them by talking about their misdeeds and foibles to people who have no real cause to know, even their more apparently benign behavior seems to result in the idea that causality is not operative. Spanking them after a brief time interval is the least of the assaults on a child's understanding of causality. It's assaulting them at all that is the crime here, because the kid is simultaneously being told that it's ok to use force to get what you want, that one's desires don't necessarily have to make sense to the person who is being forced, that the victim's reasoning about the situation is invalid, that they aren't allowed to use force or any other method they can come up with to get what they want, and that crying out in pain and pleading for mercy from the person who is supposed to be your protector will be ignored. Fortunately, the beating of the child may happen more rarely than any single one of the other things people do to disrupt their ability to make causal connections; but as Ken Livingston said in his lecture on raising good kids, hitting their bodies really gets their attention and sets them up to absorb information. And I've just listed some of the information they'll be absorbing. And then in a scenario so often seen in sado-masochistic pornography, parents have the insane nerve to tell children that they assaulted them because they love them. What a mind job.

I think the reason my mother failed to completely destroy my ability to see causal connections, was that she provided her own contrast object: sometimes she was without a doubt the most rational voice on the planet; other times she was just out in outer space. The two kinds of behavior were clearly differentiatable on a variety of dimensions, including but not limited to the kind of information she was delivering. So when she was being nuts I just ignored her, waiting for the storm to pass, discounting anything that didn't match up with what I knew. It also helped a lot that there were two older siblings, almost adults in comparison to me, who saw no benefit whatever in siding with my mother to present a united front against me--a claim that most sets of adults with power over children can't honestly make.
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2001_07_17:17: Physical Things

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Objectivists have this weird problem with empiricism. They seem to think that if they haven't observed a phenomenon with their naked eye, it would be irrational to believe that it exists, and anyone who says that it has an effect is irrational. This is why my house guests always give me so much grief about my house rules. They simply do not seem to be able to comprehend that something they can't see and that doesn't bother them could affect my health. The source of an allergic reaction is not only hard to track down, it is usually difficult to remove. The most easily recognized case of such a phenomenon is urushiol, the human-skin-irritant in plants like poison ivy. Once that oil is on you or your tools or your clothing, it's there. You can't see it, it is very difficult to remove, and it remains actively irritating for years unless it is thoroughly cleaned and denatured. This is an extreme case, and one that most people suffer from at least once in their lives; but in my case, there are lots of substances that are like this, and causality plainly requires me to be extra careful. My house could very quickly fill up with cat dander, mold, feathers, and other people's dust mites, and I'd never know why I was sick, where it came from, and what needed to be cleaned. Easier to cut it off at the source. People who have chronic illnesses are generally much more sympathetic and cooperative: they haven't seen the allergens that allegedly ruin my health either, but they know that there are such things in reality. Well people prefer to imagine that I've made it all up, that my precautions are about as useful and necessary as a psychic reading.

I'm trying hard to understand why this disconnection persists, even after seeing me in various states of environmental illness, in people who are allegedly devoted to reality, identity, and causality, and who are always talking about how wonderful science is.
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2015_04_23:11: awakening

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This month, I'm thinking about the apparent conflict between science/causality, and free will.

These reflections were inspired by youtube.com

I have been using youtube to entertain me while my body is otherwise engaged. I used to talk to myself with a voice recorder while exercising or laboring. But there have been few thoughts in my head since cancer treatment began in 2011. So I found lectures by, e.g., Robert Sapolsky and Stephen Pinker. Youtube concluded that I'd be interested to hear a lecture on free will by Sam Harris. Oh, why not?

Harris says that he believes that free will is an illusion, and we should too. This strikes some of us (me, Dan Dennett) as funny. When you tell people that they cannot be held responsible for what they have done, but that there is something that they should do in the future, it is a flag that there's something fishy going on. Harris knows it, and attempts to defend his position by saying that, while the past is completely determined by causal chains that go back to the beginning of the universe, we are nevertheless responsible for doing better in the future. And that is merely to restate exactly what was to be proved, begging the question/reasoning circularly.

Harris, and many other people who don't like to think about philosophical issues but don't mind creating lectures and books about them, claim that the problem is that the term 'free will' is ill-defined, squishy, and lacking a clear referent in reality.

Dennett says the problem is that, although we have free will, it is not what we think it is. I think that is sort of right, but it's not quite there.

Cutting directly to the heart of my own position, I will argue that the problem is that causality is not what we think it is.
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2001_07_20:18: Social Considerations

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The problem with free will (or, as John Locke has it, liberty) debates, is that people simultaneously conflate different notions of causation while also equivocating on the term. Do my molecules "cause" me to pick up my cup of tea in the same sense that I "cause" the cup to raise to my lips?
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2015_07_02:12: premise check

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I spent much time analyzing Sam Harris's arguments against free will. That was a detour, and I knew it. But these arguments bothered me so much that I came back to them whenever I had a few minutes. There was something suspicious about them. I couldn't quite put my finger on the problems. Now I know what went wrong. Given my background I felt silly for not having seen it right away. But, I am still just waking up. I'll talk about his errors eventually. But first it's important to deal with why people find Harris's arguments against free will compelling.

Causality is the idea that each event or object is caused by another prior object or event, and it in turn causes a succeeding object or event. This fact can be referred to as a causal chain. The causal chain therefore extends back to beginning of the universe.

The doctrine of determinism says that for every event or state of affairs, there is some prior state of affairs that caused it and made it exactly the way it is. It follows that all future events are already fully determined. So, for example, the Big Bang itself predetermined the exact position of every grain of sand on Pacific Beach at this moment.

These are physical realities which we have discovered.

Do you believe any of that? Do you believe anything vaguely like that, even if you think that I haven't put it quite right or left out some important points?

My most important question for you is, why do you believe it?
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2015_07_02:12:31

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I spent much time analyzing Sam Harris's arguments against free will. That was a detour, and I knew it. But these arguments bothered me so much that I came back to them whenever I had a few minutes. There was something suspicious about them. I couldn't quite put my finger on the problems. Now I know what went wrong. Given my background I felt silly for not having seen it right away. But, I am still just waking up. I'll talk about his errors eventually. But first it's important to deal with why people find Harris's arguments against free will compelling.

Causality is the idea that each event or object is caused by another prior object or event, and it in turn causes a succeeding object or event. This fact can be referred to as a causal chain. The causal chain therefore extends back to beginning of the universe.

The doctrine of determinism says that for every event or state of affairs, there is some prior state of affairs that caused it and made it exactly the way it is. It follows that all future events are already fully determined. So, for example, the Big Bang itself predetermined the exact position of every grain of sand on Pacific Beach at this moment.

These are physical realities which we have discovered.

Do you believe any of that? Do you believe anything vaguely like that, even if you think that I haven't put it quite right or left out some important points?

My most important question for you is, why do you believe it?