четвъртък, декември 12, 2013

On value and agency

This is a video made by a YouTube philosopher. I used to put extreme importance on philosophy when I was a teenager. Now that I am a boring adult I tend to be more interested in politics, economy, science. Anyway, this video reminded me of the problems I mulled over when I was 14 to 16 years old.

My comments on the problems posed in this video:

On agency

The problem of agency (free will) really comes from mixing subjective and objective. If we assume that on a basic level, everything is particles and causality (or quantum randomness, it doesn't really change the premise), then agency does not exist at all on this fundamental level of the world; but in the same way, thoughts, surprise and life do not exist in the world as well.

To solve this, I prefer to think of the world in layers. Like, "on the layer of the bricks there is no wall, on the layer of the walls there is no house". This doesn't mean that the house does not exist on its own layer (even though its layer is still completely contingent on the lower layers). A "house" just doesn't make any sense outside its own layer. This is applicable to any form of life as well, the processes that make an amoeba be an amoeba are no different from the processes that make non-amoebas non-amoebas. Different patterns emerge only if you change the layer you're on. So I'd like to iterate again - when we think about agency, we have to keep in mind that on the basic layers of the world "thoughts", "surprise" and "life" do not exist either.

A sociologist, Peter Berger, wrote that determinism and free will are both true, but should not be mixed "in the same sandwich" because otherwise you get errors in your conclusions, that is, I think he also had this notion of "which layer are we discussing right now?"
My position is also that both things are 100% true at the same time, but on different "layers". Just like neurons firing signals in my brain and me typing words about that are two very different things that are true at the same time.

On values

On the problem of values. Why is good good? Why is bad bad? Why is the meaning meaningful? Can the eye see itself (without a mirror), can the unit for measurement measure itself? Obviously not.

But, we face the same problem in math. Why do axioms in mathematics exist? Why do we need to have founding principles that don't have other principles behind them? We also have the cosmological problem - does the first cause have its own cause?

I have the following suspicion. I think that axioms have an origin but not in the layer that they exist in. For example, living things try to live, survive and procreate, everything they are and do is built on top of that. This desire is their "axiom". Without it you have no life, just like without Euclid's axioms you can't have his type of geometry. But this "life axiom" originates in the non-living physical layer, and we know that this urge to live is caused by evolution. Similarly, the founding, initial cause of a causal universe may come from another universe (or layer) which has no causality at all (and in addition, the things that pose a problem in the causality layer are totally fine in the non-causality layer).

So what appears to be an axiom or a paradox on one layer may originate from things positioned in another layer. Unfortunately this still leaves the axiom unsolvable on its own layer, so that's why I think humans will never be able to solve the problem of value and meaning as long as they are human. (I interpret the 42 joke in the same way - the answer exists, but is totally useless, unrelated and inadequate on our own layer).

The other approach is to try and leave our own layer. This is what both religion and nihilism are trying to do. Nihilism for example negates all axioms, but this is just self-destructive and nobody can solve a math problem by burning the paper it's written on. Religion tries to transcend our layer but does not have a compelling argument that this is anything different from self destruction as well. That's why I think negating / transcending our axioms is futile. What we can do is starting from the axiomatic value ("we just want to live") or setting some other axiomatic values ourselves ("thinking and curiosity are good") to construct a logical, coherent structure that helps the initial axioms to unfold their potential as much as possible.

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