On Knowledge and Free Will: Neither Entirely Complete Nor Entirely Absent

I will discuss the questions of whether causal laws determine all action, including human behaviour (determinism), and whether a person can choose how they act (free will).

Some claim that there cannot be knowledge or free will because a person doesn't have ABSOLUTE knowledge or freedom. That is, there are limits and circumstances that prevent a person from knowing or doing some things that they could imagine wanting to know or do, meaning they don't have freedom to know or do some things completely. However, a lack of absolute knowledge or freedom doesn't mean that a person has NO freedom.

No freedom of choice at all implies no ability to understand or think, as all of a person's behaviour would be an automatic mechanical process. If you have no freedom of choice, and therefore no ability to consider what you are reading now nor to choose which ideas seem more plausible and which seem less plausible, there would be no point in reading anything like this article as your response would be predetermined.

Some people proceed from an assumption that nothing physically exists (or, at least, that no reliable observation can be made of anything that physically exists). Often people advancing this proposition will rely on the authority of someone like Descartes and use an “I think, therefore I am” line of reasoning to claim or imply that knowledge, identity and even physical existence are dependent on the way someone thinks about it. Many popular variations of this kind of reasoning involve a proposition that all knowledge, identity and even physical existence are constructed by processes of interactions between people.

If the universe is entirely deterministic, the functional workings of that deterministic process are unknowable in absolute terms. Therefore there can be no absolute knowledge of social organisation or even of a single mind (despite academically popular notions of social organisation, cultural ideology, psychosocial interaction etc) and I would recommend anyone to be cautious about thinking they know 'the structure' or 'the poststructural dynamics' of something. If the universe is deterministic, each of us can only plan (or automatically respond) based on a partial understanding (or automatic interaction, processing only part of the information in the universe), which approximates a finite range of variables from an infinite possible range.

I propose that, while no absolute observation or description can be made of something, approximate observations can be made to within certain degrees of accuracy. The level of accuracy of particular observations allows those observations to be useful for certain types of use.

For example, the eyes (and attached brain and body) of a person tracking a red ball through the air can detect light phenomena consistent with having a wave length of about 650 nanometers reaching photoreceptors in the eyes. This degree of accuracy in the visual field, combined with the speed of nerve-transmission and other factors, is useful enough to track a ball casually thrown to the person from a distance with the accuracy required to allow the person to catch the ball. If you reach the outer limits of any of these factors useful range of accuracy (via increased speed of the ball, decreased visual acuity (ie eyes that can't focus as well), reduced speed of nerve transmission etc) they can fall outside the range useful for tracking a ball so that the person can catch it. The fact that the person cannot accurately identify the position of the ball with a precision of 1 or 2 nanometers doesn’t take away from the person’s ability to make approximate its position with a degree of accuracy sufficient for tracking the movement of the ball and catching it.

The person in the above example has no ABSOLUTE knowledge of the ball's location at any time, but can still make observations with degrees of accuracy useful for specific purposes.

Also, if your measure of accuracy is how accurately someone can 'reproduce' an experience through verbal description or visual image, it will always be incomplete and never have absolute stand-alone accuracy in which the verbal expression or image is able to entirely substitute for the experience.

I propose that knowledge is not identical with conversion of experience to a verbal description. (In the term experience I include that which exists and precedes any given instance sensation, perception and conception as well as the actual sensation, perception and conception. This means that experience is not merely a surface extrapolation of sensory data).

I propose that the abilities to have degrees of observation, understanding and choice allow each of us some degree of knowledge and freedom - but not absolute knowledge and freedom nor no knowledge and freedom.

Go back to the top of this page

No comments:

Post a Comment