Fermi Society of Philosophy

Discussion Minutes for Is My Will Essentially Free?

by Lev Burov

Having listened to Alexey’s recap of his talk on freedom and the active mind, our small society has engaged into an unusually productive discussion. Thus, the organizers thought that taking some “minutes” would be a tremendous idea.

The first question went to Matt, who expressed the dissatisfaction with an apparent arbitrariness of the idea of free will. Even quantum indeterminacy obeys laws of probability, how can there be something that follows no rules at all? Alexey’s response was to point out that the implication of the existence of freedom is its irreducibility. He also stressed that QM does nothing but remove the old contradiction between the free will and determinism of physics. When the future is not fully determined, a window for the free will opens.

To intensify the problem, though, Lev stated that quantum indeterminacy is already difficult to accept because indeterminacy implies a certain independence from the logical structure of the universe, which in turn implies a postulation of a different substance altogether, something like chaos. Irreducible liberty, however, adds another level of difficulty: if it exists, then not only it is an independent substance but it is capable of producing fundamentally new entities. It is fundamentally creative.

In this new light, Swapan suggested to consider the old question of whether mathematics is discovered or invented. Since we’re already allowing creativity through the visitation of the powerful Active Mind, would it not have the power to create mathematics upon visiting a mathematician?

Alexey reminded of his talk from last year, Mathematical Platonism as a Necessity of Reason. He suggested to account for the opinion of those people that have been most familiar with the world of mathematics. In the vast majority of cases, mathematicians insist on discovery, Alexey remarked, citing Andrew Wiles. He also pointed out the cultural universality of mathematical theories: Euclid’s theorems are as convincing today as they were everywhere during the 24 centuries since their discovery.

If that is unacceptable, asked Lev, then what new things can there be that cannot be described by mathematical forms? Music was considered as consisting of more than just its written representation.

The next question proved to be quite difficult, and its discussion took up the rest of the hour. Someone asked whether by the Active Mind we mean God or a state of mind?

Swapan explored the idea that the active mind could exist at all places at once, thereby being both. He, then, added the question of why would a perfect being create imperfect wills. As one possible answer, he told of a perfect being, complete in itself, to whom a doubt occurred, whether it truly is perfect. As this doubt grew, the completeness fractured more and more, until it eroded into pure disorder. As an alternative, he brought up the idea of play, that the perfect being felt lonely and incomplete without others, so he had to create others to enjoy the world with. Alexey met the idea with enthusiasm, and added that these new creatures couldn’t be boring, and therefore too predictable, otherwise this perfect being would just “close shop” for the lack of interest. Perhaps creative people save the world, pondered Alexey.

Swapan talked of sitarists who claim that they do not make up their music but take it from somewhere. Is it really us that are creative, or is it this playful divinity? He stated an inclination to believe that “freedom happens but I don’t have it.”

Lev reframed that statement. If the Active Mind is indeed a perfect and divine being, then perhaps on its own it has not freedom either. There is no time needed to contemplate a thought to perfection, nor to realize it. All that a perfect being could create on its own is instantly real. Therefore freedom “happens” when the passive mind is visited by the active one.

Already on the way home, Lev thought of the old theological distinction between absolute liberty and true freedom, in this regard. It occurred to him, that the former can be termed irreducibility of will, while the latter its creative realization. He also thought of an ontological difference between beings like reason and beings like life, but the meeting was long over, and so these ideas had to be saved for another time.

 

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Meeting November 10

by alexeyburov

Dear all, our next meeting is Friday, November 10, 12:00, Req Room (WH4NW). We’ll discuss a talk on the free will problem I gave a month ago. Everybody is welcome. Feel free to come with your lunch.