Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Matt 24 watch, 105: Living in an Orwellian, 1984 world

In recent weeks, I have been testing out a beta version of an online course reader, for the Independent Origins Science Education (IOSE) course, also hosted at Blogger. In doing that, I have been engaging in commentary exchanges at several discussion threads at the Design Theory blog founded by leading Design theorist, Dr William Dembski, Uncommon Descent.

In the most recent of these discussions, the issue that rapidly became focal is the reality of a transcendent "I" (i.e. self) that is conscious, perceives, feels, values, thinks and decides for him- or her- self; however much we may struggle to consistently live up to good intent, and however much we must seek the help of the Transcendent to be transformed from within by the renewing of mind, heart and life  (as Rom 7 - 8 and 12 outline). 

In particular, it was argued that the sense of inner freedom to decide, to incline one's self, and to act -- however one may struggle in so acting -- is not only ill-conceived, but is actually incoherent. In particular, both materialistic and theistic determinists now often argue for "compatibilism," by which it is promoted that since one acts according to one's inner inclinations and states of mind [or whatever], one is in reality "free" even though such inner states are in turn subjected to pre-determining forces and factors that trace to powers and processes beyond one's local control.

Wikipedia aptly summarises:
Compatibilism, as championed by the ancient Greek Stoics and the early modern philosopher Hume, is a theory that argues that if free will and determinism exist, they are in fact compatible. Determinists argue that all acts that take place are predetermined by prior causes, including human actions. If a free action is defined as one that is not predetermined by prior causes, then determinism, which claims that human actions are predetermined, rules out the possibility of free actions.

A compatibilist, or soft determinist, in contrast, will define a free act in a way that does not hinge on the presence or absence of prior causes. For example, one could define a free act as one that involves no compulsion by another person. Since the physical universe and the laws of nature are not persons, actions which are caused by the laws of nature would still be free acts- therefore it is wrong to conclude that universal determinism would mean we are never free.

For example, you could choose to continue reading or to stop reading this article; while a compatibilist determinist would not deny that whatever choice you make will have been predetermined since the beginning of time, they will argue that this choice that you make is an example of free will because no one is forcing you to make whatever choice you make . . . . according to Hume, free will should not be understood as an absolute ability to have chosen differently under exactly the same inner and outer circumstances. Rather, it is a hypothetical ability to have chosen differently if one had been differently psychologically disposed by some different beliefs or desires . . . . Hume also maintains that free acts are not uncaused (or self-caused as Kant argued) but rather caused by our choices as determined by our beliefs, desires, by our characters, or just for the hell of it (spontaneous random act). While a decision-making process exists in Hume's determinism, this process is governed by a causal chain of events. For example, one may make the decision to support a charity, but that decision is determined by the conditions that existed prior to the decision being made.
 If you feel that you are being "had" through the clever art of subtly loaded redefinition of key words, you are right; or -- with all due respect to those who sincerely believe the above -- you are as close to right as makes no effective difference. 

For, first, as Wiki goes on to note, critics rightly observe that "the compatibilists are showing something to be compatible with determinism, but they think that something cannot properly be called free will." In short, genuine freedom of mind and heart are at stake. And, on the premise that genuine love -- from the Golden Rule, the foundation of virtue from which (As Jesus said) all the law and the prophets hang -- requires the freedom to choose, morality and accountability over our morally freighted choices are also at stake.

You may doubt that love requires genuinely free choice.

To see why that is so, think about an advanced technology, where we meet a robot pre-programmed to carry out all the words and acts that would be associated with love. 

At first, we do not know that we are dealing with a pre-programmed robot; until, one day, we happen to push a hidden button behind the right ear, and the robot's head opens up, a printer screes away for a few minutes, and the control program is revealed to us. 

Our perception of what has been happening will immediately shift, and what hitherto appeared to be self-sacrificial love suddenly turns out to be predetermined computer code. At best, we now hope that the programmer of the robot did so out of genuine love, but we feel cheated and the robot has fallen steeply in our estimation. For, it is now merely a programmed machine, not a freely choosing and responding, loving person.

Worse, consider what we would now think about the many serious discussions we had with the robot on many topics. 

Now that we know that there was no freedom to think and follow the force of the logic from ground to consequent, or from body of credible facts to the best explanation, just a spewing out of preset strings of symbols on receipt of particular inputs, we have to rethink the credibility of the arguments and conclusions. 

We now no longer respect what we thought was the mind of the robot, but instead we want to assess the soundness of its programming, and ask ourselves whether we have reason to trust the programmer. (One hopeful clue is that there was that hidden button.)

So, we can see just how much is at stake on this subject.

It gets worse. For, as the issue of the trustworthiness of the programmer of the robot reveals, a very direct and horrendously practical inference from the above point of view, can be to lend unwarranted credibility to abusive control by imposing what Garvey aptly called (in a phrase Marley popularised), "the chains of mental slavery." In short, compatibilism smacks far too much of Orwellian double-speak: language now has an outer meaning for the ordinary common-sense thinking person, and an inner, manipulative one for the inner circle of manipulators. 

So, we must beware the Jabberwock, my friends.

As I commented earlier this morning (with slight adjustments):


>> Often, we are tempted to see wranglings over meanings of words as pointless and useless. 

But, if we will remember George Orwell’s 1984, we will be reminded that the manipulation of language and of concepts are often the first steps to the manipulation and captivation of minds. As Wiki — that hostile witness — acknowledges in the just linked [and the onward links are worth exploring]:
As literary political fiction, 1984 is a classic novel of the social science fiction subgenre, thus, since its publication in 1949, the terms and concepts of Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Memory hole, et cetera, became contemporary vernacular, including the adjective Orwellian, denoting George Orwell’s writings and totalitarianism as exposited in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm (1945) . . .
Thence, we see how manipulation of our thought life is a tool towards the loss of liberty, as Plato also subtly warned of in his Parable of the Cave.

In recent years, for instance, it was saddening to see how the term “Democracy” was cynically used to promote tyrannies of one stripe or another. Similarly, in even more recent years, I have lived to see “marriage” suddenly being deemed — with a straight face — a far more flexible and ambiguous term than any previous generation would have tolerated. 

And more, much more . . . .

Now, as we may see, even the term “Science” itself is a subject of manipulation by those who would reinterpret it away from what it is at its best:
science: a branch of knowledge conducted on objective principles ["objective: external to the mind; actually existing; real"] involving the systematized observation of and experiment with phenomena, esp. concerned with the material and functions of the physical universe. [Concise Oxford Dictionary, (Oxford: Clarendon Press) 1990 -- and yes, they used the "z." (Definition of objectivity from the same source added.)]
scientific method: principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge [[= "the body of truth, information and principles acquired by mankind"] involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. [Webster's 7th Collegiate Dictionary,( Springfield, Mass: G & C Merriam), 1965. (Definition of "Knowledge" in the same dictionary inserted.)]
All of these are soberingly important cases in point. But, they pale into relative insignificance when we reflect on the significance of the key word whose meaning is at stake in this thread:
Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the history of the past 500 or so years, will know just how important freedom has been, and how central has been the concept that the individual human being, the transcendent I that unifies our conscious experiences and memories, is inherently free within, and ought not to be subjected to chains from without.

However — and though it will be painful to some participants, it is necessary to put this plainly, as what is at stake is so important — as Bob Marley reminds us from Marcus Garvey’s classic remarks, in an era of the wily and ruthless manipulator (I almost wrote: in an era of the ad man and the PR consultant — propagandists for hire), we must ever be vigilant for “the chains of mental slavery.”

So, pardon a cite from the ever-helpful Collins Dictionary, 2003:
freedom  n
1. personal liberty, as from slavery, bondage, serfdom, etc.
2. liberation or deliverance, as from confinement or bondage
3. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) the quality or state of being free, esp to enjoy political and civil liberties . . .

6. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) autonomy, self-government, or independence
7. the power or liberty to order one’s own actions
8. (Philosophy) Philosophy the quality, esp of the will or the individual, of not being totally constrained; able to choose between alternative actions in identical circumstances . . .
So, let us understand what is at stake.

And, let us understand why some of us have been willing to go to the wall to stand up for the premise that the intuition of inner liberty of mind and will to think, analyse and incline one’s heart to love, and that to incline one’s intention to the way of the truth and the right in love — however stumblingly — are vital to any coherent understanding of the intelligent and purposeful self.

Having said all of this, it must be noted that in the end, design theory does not depend on first positing these premises. As has been repeatedly highlighted, the fundamental design inference is about observing that there are empirically reliable signs of the frequently observed or experienced causal pattern of directed contingency, or design. On the strength of this — especially in mathematical forms linked to information theory and onward to statistical thermodynamics [cf my online note for an introduction] — we have every epistemic right to inductively infer from the reliable sign to the signified causal process, design, even in cases where we did not directly observe the design process. 

This is the same basic uniformitarian principle of inference on origins science matters formerly used by Lyell and Darwin et al, only, we are applying it to a causal pattern that hey did not emphasise in their work. But the causal pattern is a well established one, and we have every right to use it.

When we apply it to the digitally coded, Functionally Specific Complex Information in cell based life on earth, it points to the design of such life. In simple terms, we empirically know how codes, algorithms, specific data in data structures and organised implementing machines reliably come about: directed contingency, aka design. 

We also know that directed contingency comes from intelligence, and so we have every right to infer to design as the cause of cell based life on earth. (Observe, this thread shows abundantly how no serious empirically credible counter-example exists to this inference.)

From Thaxton et al in the mid 1980′s, in the very first modern technical design work, it has been freely acknowledged that this empirically based — as opposed to metaphysically based — inference is insufficient in itself to infer to designers that are either known to be within or beyond the cosmos. (The intensity of debates over this case is linked to the history over the past 150 years, where advocates of materialism in one form or another used the concept of the chance and necessity driven spontaneous origin of life and of biodiversity [i.e. Evolution], to imply and infer that God was out of a job.)

When we lift our eyes to the origin of the observed cosmos, and see that it shows fine-tuned complex organisation that enables the existence of Carbon-chemistry cell based intelligent life, we can make an inference to design that does point to an extra-cosmic, powerful, knowledgeable and highly intelligent designer. An inference that as John Leslie showed, comes through even in the context of a suggested multiverse, as the point is that our cosmos is locally fine-tuned, and hitting a locally isolated target is just as significant as would be hitting an absolutely isolated one. But . . .  many who so stridently object to the credibility of the design inference on design of life [where issues of an extracosmic designer are not actually directly at stake] fall oddly silent in the face of the evident fine-tuning of the cosmos and where it invites us to infer.

And that is maybe the most telling point of all.>>

So, let us beware the Jabberwock of subtle manipulation, friends! 

And, let us dare take up the Vorpal Sword of truth (used in tough love) to strike and strike hard, before it is too late. END


Ilíon said...

"If you feel that you are being "had" through the clever art of subtly loaded redefinition of key words, you are right; or -- with all due respect to those who sincerely believe the above -- you are as close to right as makes no effective difference."

The "all due respect" due to those who "sincerely believe the above" is nil -- for one cannot honestly be said to sincerely believe something such that which one has to protect with tendentious false usage of language.

To put it another way, no one sincerely believes that "A = not-A." One may assert it, but one is intellectually dishonest in doing so; one is not simply and honestly mistaken.

GEM of The Kairos Initiative said...

Ah Ilion:

Some do sincerely believe.

(I discreetly refrain from further analysis.)


Ilíon said...

"(I discreetly refrain from further analysis.)"

I bluntly don't. What I said follows from this analysis --

There are three, and only three (*), general categories of explanation for why a person believes (or asserts) that which is false (and, of course, in a specific instance, there may be a complex interplay between these, or at any rate, between the final two):

1) disability -- inability to do otherwise, or to understand the truth of the matter. To put it crassly, stupidity. While this category of explanation is a logical possibility, I can't see how, in pertinent to most questions, any one of us is in the position to determine that another (or ourselves) is unable to understand some truth of the matter;

2) ignorance -- the person lacks proper understanding some of some logically prior knowledge which is necessary for correct understanding of the particular point at question. In general, this is honest error -- when it is not coupled with category 3), producing an obstinate disinclination to correct the erroneous understanding -- and, as such, it is correctable;

3) disinclination -- this is assuredly not honest error; it covers a range going from a disinterest in investigating reasonable indications that one's belief is incorrect in some way to an outright refusal to refrain from asserting what one knows to be false. To put it bluntly, this is intellectual dishonesty ... and no amount of reasoning and/or attempted instruction by others can correct it, for it is a choice of the person at error. Only he can correct the error, by choosing otherwise.

(*) I've posted this analysis on others' blogs; I really need to gather the various versions together into one more fleshed-out post on my own blog.