Continuing on with my notes about Chapter 2 of dennett's book "Freedom Evolves"... I'm basically just writing this stuff up in order to better understand it myself. I often read books and take copious notes (which I never look at again). I thought it might be useful (and a different experience for me ) to try doing it as part of a blog this time. I'm not trying to write something particularly "good" - just to get something down really.
According to Dennett, what toy worlds like the Game of Life can demonstrate is that even in a simple and self-evidently deterministic world "all the necessary ingredients exist for he evolution of....avoiders
!. And this is what we need to break "the cognitive illusion that yokes determinism with inevitability".
At this point he reviews the very early development of life in the real world referring to the "incessantly exploratory process of natural selection" , its use of more or less exhaustive "search" leading to structures that could react (in very simple ways) to things that encroached upon them and threatened their survival. A very slow process happening at a snail's pace over millions of generations and involving effectively an arms race of moves and counter moves between different living organisms to develop better (and better) ways of counteracting threat. Nothing conscious and deliberate here but nevertheless it makes real sense to talk of this as a trial and error process of "noticing a problem" and "figuring out" a solution.
We humans are an outcome of that process and the first creatures to have the capacity to foresee
problems before they hit us. Whereas natural selection operates with absolutely no foresight (only what we can call a sort of 'hindsight") it has "invented" creatures with foresight - the evolutionary process has reached a stage 'where exploration within the lifetime of an individual organisms can effect the underlying slow process of genetic evolution and even, in some circumstances, usurp it".
We can see and hear things at a distance and don't have to wait until they sidle up on us - we even have prosthetic extensions of our sense organs and can "solve problems at a tempo approaching the maximum speed limit of the physical universe: the speed of light".
There are some inevitabilites but we are rapidly reducing them. Things we could previously do nithing about are now things we can counter because we can (a) predict them and (b) understand them.Here we get more into the philosophcal argument
How can we be free in a deterministic world?
Dennett argues that we neeed to look more closely at the meaning of the word "inevitable"
What it really means is "unavoidable",
. Something which can be avoided is not (was not) inevitable, even in a deterministic world. Natural selection has (obviously) favoured creatures that can somehow avoid
Here's how he outlines his explicit argument:
In some deterministic worlds there are avoiders avoiding harm
Therefore in some deterministic worlds some things are avoided.
Whatever is avoided is avoidable or evitable ( evitable is the opposite of inevitable...KC)
Therefore in some deterministic worlds not everything is inevitable.
Therefore determinism does not imply inevitability.
He says that many people will find this argument "fishy" because it exposes "hidden assumptions about avoiding and inevitability that have gone largely unnoticed".
Most people intuitvely tend to think that in a determined world whatever occurs is the the inevitable
outcome of the complete set of causes leading up to it.
But what does this actually mean?
Are we correct to persist in using the words "inevitable" and "determined" as synonyms? Does the word "inevitable" convey anything in addition to the word "determined"?
It can be argued (correctly) that in the Life Worlds the configurations which successfully avoid being harmed by other encroaching configurations are able to do this only because their designer determined
that they would do this. if you rerun a particular Life world from teh same starting point a million times each confguration will "do" exactly the same thing. "those that survive survive and those that don't don't, and that's all determined from the outset".
But, Dennett asks, why assume that "determined avoidance isn't real avoidance"???
A typical response to this assertion is that "real avoidance involves changing something that was going to happen into something that doesn't happen".
Here Dennett compares the blink reflex (involuntary and often triggered unnecessarily), with our ability to dodge something like a baseball. In the case of the latter we can, under certain circumstances choose to take the hit rather than dodge it. If someone successfully dodges a baseball was it ever "going to" hit him/her? In that scenario we could say that it was "never really going to" hit the person because it caused their avoidance system to go into action. But if a person decided to take the hit (perhaps because winning a game depends upon it) that person would be avoiding avoidance because they were able to factor in other things - an example of the open-ended human ability based on foresight (as opposed to a completely reflexive response like a blink).
The intuitive response to this is that all the same, no matter how complex and apparently open-ended, the behaviour in such a case still doesn't count as "genuine avoidance" because genuine avoidance involves changing the outcome
. Someone may think they "decided" not to dodge a baseball but in really that was always
going to happen - because it was determined (caused by all the prior events leading up to it).
This type of argument according to Dennett is incoherent. When we talk of "changing an outcome" it makes no sense unless what we mean is changing the anticipated
outcome. "The real
outcome, the actual
outcome is whatever happens, and nothing can change that
in a determined world - or even an undetermined world!"
stopping now - will continue with the last part of chapter 2 when I get a chance....
___________________Did Astro dodge the can????
(a series of clicks will enlarge the image)