Testimony of Freedom

Page 1:  Personal Freedom vs. The Mechanical Cosmology

Condensed version of Page 1

··· a.  A Statment of The Mechanical Cosmology

··· b.  A "Cosmology" Is a Collection of Principles That Supposedly Govern Every Situation

··· c.  The Mechanical Cosmology Excludes Personal Freedom

··· d.  The Mechanical Cosmology is False to the Facts

··· e.  An Alternative, Non-Cosmological View of Reality Has Personal Freedom at the Center

Place for link to full version of Page 1 in .pdf format.

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The Mystery of Freedom

Freedom is mysterious to us: we cannot "explain freedom" or bring freedom within a system of existing concepts. I suggest that there are two reasons for the mystery.

First, our minds are filled with misleading and even false imagery put there by our culture and education, imagery I call The Mechanical Cosmology.

Second, our minds are not capable of "explaining freedom." Our intelligence has only a limited repertoire of methods for obtaining knowledge. Our knowledge comes only in certain forms. These methods and forms are insufficient to construct an explanation of freedom.

I propose an alternative approach to freedom that does not look for an explanation or rely on a supposed cosmology. The alternative approach would proceed through constructions involving a novel class of devices (described in terms of Quad Nets). The constructions would be guided by psychological and spiritual principles, as set forth in this Testimony and related pages. My views and principles are decidedly different from those encountered within The Mechanical Cosmology. The approach begins with criticism of The Mechanical Cosmology, as seen from a perspective where personal freedom as described in A Witness for Freedom is of chief importance.

Condensed Version of Page 1:
Personal Freedom vs. The Mechanical Cosmology

a.  A Statement of The Mechanical Cosmology

As stated in Society of Mind (1986), § 30.6, by "computerized intelligence" pioneer Marvin Minsky:
According to the modern scientific view, there is simply no room at all for "freedom of the human will." Everything that happens in our universe is either completely determined by what's already happened in the past or else depends, in part, on random chance.

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b.  A "Cosmology" Is a Collection of Principles That Supposedly Governs Every Situation

I distinguish between cosmological principles and situational principles. A situational principle applies to certain kinds of situations but not to others. A cosmological principle applies to all situations.

The concept of situation is based on the fact that a person is always interacting with some particular environment. Situations include workspaces, sports fields, traffic jams, kitchens and conferences. There is no general situation with respect to which all situations can be defined. There are many situations but a person is usually in exactly one of them, with only a small amount of time between situations. A combination of situations, e.g., working on a math problem while riding on the bus, is itself a situation.

A situational principle applies to a particular class of situations and has limitations that set up or restrict its application to such a class. Typical words that are used to limit, restrict or set up a situation are "if" and "when." "If the shoe fits, wear it." "When in Rome, do as the Romans."

Two inconsistent situational principles can co-exist if they are limited to distinctly different classes of situations. Playing with the previous examples, different rules apply to an ill-fitting shoe or to a visit to a rural community. If a new situation arises, there may be uncertainty as to which situational principles, if any, apply. As shown by civil law, it is often possible to resolve such uncertainty in a principled way. Sometimes, however, all known situational principles are ineffective. For example, a court may, as a matter of duty, enforce a law that is unjust in a novel situation and declare that correction is up to Congress.

In contrast to limited situational principles, a cosmological principle applies to every situation. Nothing can occur in any situation that is inconsistent with a cosmological principle. A person encountering an entirely novel situation is entitled to apply a cosmological principle previously discovered.

A cosmological principle has no limitations and no restrictions. The unlimited and unrestricted range of application of a cosmological principle is supposedly co-extensive with a reality that is behind all situations. Often the cosmological principle is treated as if it were a statement about reality. A cosmological principle cannot co-exist with an inconsistent principle, whether such principle be situational or cosmological. Unlike a situational principle, which would limit the application of an inconsistent principle, a cosmological principle denies the very existence of an inconsistent principle.

A single cosmological principle does not comprehend a situation. There are good candidates for true cosmological principles - namely, Einstein's gravitational field equations; but these only set a stage in space and time for activities of matter that are subject to more complex influences than simple gravity.

A collection of principles comprehends a situation if knowledge of the principles enables a person to predict the future behavior of important features of the situation. Cosmologists prefer impersonal statements and the equivalent impersonal statement is that "the principles govern the situation." An advantage of the impersonal statement, at least for cosmologists, is that no person need have knowledge of the principles; they can be imagined to exist independently in some sort of space of principles. There are situations where this approach works, e.g., in successful demonstrations of physical principles during lectures in college physics courses and in high-tech manufacturing plants.

A cosmologist is a person who holds that there exists an integrated collection of cosmological principles that comprehends every situation and that define the reality that stands behind all situations. Each cosmologist proposes principles of a cosmology but there are many different proposals. Cosmologists do tend to assert families of principles and thus gather into different and sometimes adversarial communities, e.g., physics cosmologists and Christian cosmologists. In these Pages, I explore various cosmologies; and I also explore American civil law, which has some cosmological tendencies that have been curtailed out of practical necessity.

All cosmologists believe that the principles asserted apply to every situation. Cosmologists commonly use language such as that used by Minsky: "Everything that happens in our universe..." Some cosmologists assert that particular constructions they favor are co-extensive with reality and they declare that reality is "just" their favored constructions. Religious cosmologists rely on the supposed divine authority of scriptures. See the essay on Page 3: "Fundamentalism in the Christian religion, American civil law and physical science," discussing the general human propensity to believe in the cosmological truth of symbolic formulations, e.g., Biblical texts, law codes and mathematical physics.

In my approach, there is no genuine cosmology. All principles are situational. Our intelligence is not strong enough to understand a genuine cosmology, assuming one exists. Belief in a cosmology misleads a person and produces an erroneous view.

I hold that all valid, useful principles are situational, limited to certain kinds of problems and tasks. I hold that, because of limits and defects in our intelligence and its products, we human beings are incapable of stating true cosmological principles. Principles we want to believe are cosmological are no more than situational. Principles of physics apply exactly only in highly specific situations. When the situation deviates from such specificity, the principles no longer apply exactly. Such failures of application are concealed by exclusion because scientists only employ procedures designed to produce exactitude. Only exact results are reported in the journals.

I believe that if a true cosmological principle about the activities of matter were to be handed to us, we could not understand it and it would not resemble current laws of physics. Current laws of physics cannot be truly cosmological because they ignore and even would exclude important facts about persons, personalities and freedom; and they contain other serious shortcomings, inconsistencies and further defects that are ignored or brushed aside by cosmologists. See subsection d, below.

On the other hand, some cosmologies have proved useful and have served as vehicles of freedom (see Page 3). My constructions use several cosmologies and parts of cosmologies. I take cosmologies seriously and endeavor to conform my style of thought and action to the discipline of a cosmology or similar ideology in particular situations, e.g., working on a Quad Net device design (acting within a material cosmology), representing a client in court (where legal principles comprehend the situation) and divine worship and intimate interpersonal communications (acting within a Christian cosmology).

Mechanical cosmologists believe that "principles of mechanics" or "laws of physics" are cosmological and comprehend all activities of matter, in the sense of the Minsky quote at the top of the page, speaking of "everything in our Universe." In this approach, "determinism" is the result of a universal governing network of "mechanisms." "Random chance" was added during a complete makeover of The Mechanical Cosmology during the 1920's and is needed to sidestep or cloud over various defects in the mechanistic imagery revealed by refined experiments.

Known principles of mechanics are those set forth in the primal Newtonian mechanics and its various clones, successors and variants, e.g., Hamiltonian mechanics, Lagrangian mechanics, relativistic mechanics (which includes Einstein's field equations), statistical mechanics, matrix mechanics, wave mechanics and quantum mechanics. Although there are many variants, they are all variants on a small number of themes. Mechanical cosmologists believe in the existence of a yet-to-be-discovered "final theory" which will resemble those previously discovered (motivating present discoveries) and which will be cosmologically successful.

The alternative approach of these Pages presents a view that is different from that presented by a cosmological approach. Here, each construction starts with a particular situation. A situation is specific to the particular environment of a person and has features of the situation with which the person is interacting. Those features of the situation with which the person is interacting are called attachments of the person to the situation. E.g., as a writer, my present situation, I am interacting with the text in the document through attachments that are part of my workstation, namely, my keyboard, monitor and mouse. I also use my chair and lighting controls as attachments to the situation or environment. The approach has its primal focus on a person's selections in a particular situation and the attachments of the person to the situation become the means of accessing those selections. The working definition of the situation is in terms of the attachments and the selections they enable. There is no need for a cosmological setting.

The easiest situations to learn or to study are those where the attachments have only a few features that are fixed or smoothly-changing, where selections (choices) are few and clear and where results can be readily evaluated. A computer workstation is such a situation. Such situations can be said to be domesticated, in contrast to wild situations that have poorly defined risks, confusing networks of features, unforeseen changes in features, puzzling results and other complicating occurrences. Domesticated situations include a laboratory procedure, a set-up game space, a jury trial and a family dinner. Wild situations include complex mountainous terrains, battlefields and lawless markets, e.g., for illegal drugs.

I hold that a stable and directed life of a person begins in highly domesticated situations of infancy and early childhood and extends outward from such domesticated situations to wilder situations. The early development of a child's personal integrity depends on support from such domesticity. Extending oneself from domesticity to wilderness is a difficult endeavor and, in some situations, a person can do so only to a certain extent while maintaining personal integrity. We operate within classes of situations through situational principles. Although the boundaries of the classes can be stretched and extended bit by bit, the situational confines remain and there is no "breakthrough" into a cosmology that is comprehensive of all of reality.

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c. The Mechanical Cosmology Excludes Personal Freedom

Minsky, quoted above, expressly denies freedom. In Minsky's view, people are completely determined machines, except for decisions made by random chance. Either you were compelled to choose the homemade nut bar over the brandname ice cream for dessert, or you might as well have flipped a coin. There could be no place for personal choice, weighing of personal values or personal freedom. According to Minsky, you are deluded if you believe that you could have "chosen" the ice cream but that you "preferred" the nut bar. Your "choice" or "preference" is just a myth, a fake story you tell yourself that disguises the total compulsion and randomness of reality, a pretense that you are not a machine.

Many mathematicians, scientists and engineers join in unison with Minsky in affirming The Mechanical Cosmology. It is difficult to find opposition of substance in their ranks. Individuals, of course, vary in their adherence to The Mechanical Cosmology. Many mathematicians, scientists and engineers get along quite well without it and, indeed, without any cosmology. In their publications, some non-adherents express astonishment at how little we understand; but few non-adherents dispute The Mechanical Cosmology or suggest an alternative.

Express opponents of personal freedom like Minsky claim to base their denials and deconstructions of freedom on "science" but that claim is false. Their claims are actually based on The Mechanical Cosmology. The Mechanical Cosmology takes the facts of science and adds hypothetical cosmological principles in attempts to extend the reach of science.

Cosmological science does not reach what is most important to us: the facts of freedom, of personalities and of persons. It is my own person and personality and other persons and their personalities that are at the center of all that I do or care about. My capacities to make choices and the choices that I make are the essence of my personality. Similar statements, I believe, would be made by every adult person of ordinary intelligence. Science has not dealt with these facts in any satisfactory way. Minsky and other mechanical cosmologists do not address the facts but rather try to belittle them and pretend that they do not exist.

These failures are reasons to reject The Mechanical Cosmology. They are not reasons to reject science, only reasons to conclude that scientific principles essential to cosmological claims are situational and not cosmological.

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d. The Mechanical Cosmology is False to the Facts

The Mechanical Cosmology Fails to Reach the Character of Physical Materials.

There are many defects and shortcomings in The Mechanical Cosmology. Of chief importance here is a large class of failures to reach the character that is inherent in each physical material. Pure sodium is a soft metal that explodes in water and pure chlorine is a toxic gas; but they combine to form table salt that we all eat daily. Iron is solid and hard at room temperature but mercury, another metal, is a liquid. Liquid water freezes to solid ice and boils to gaseous steam. The Mechanical Cosmology has little to say about these facts.

Prepared for first-year students at the California Institute of Technology, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. I (1963) by Richard P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton and Matthew Sands presents The Mechanical Cosmology with many details.

Seeking at the outset to state the single most important scientific principle, Feynman says:
"I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or the atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms - little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another." (Page 1-2, emphasis in original.)
Central in Feynman's statement is the word "all" and it is another version of The Mechanical Cosmology. It is false and the falsehood goes to the heart of the these Pages. Most "things," including brains, are not made of atoms, they are made of materials. As Clifford Truesdell and Walter Noll observed in The Non-Linear Field Theories of Mechanics (3d ed., Stuart S. Antman 2004) at 1:
"Matter is commonly found in the form of materials. Analytical [classical] mechanics turned its back upon this fact, creating the centrally useful but abstract concepts of the mass point and the rigid body, in which matter manifests itself only through its inertia, independent of its constitution; 'modern' physics likewise turns its back, since it concerns solely the small particles of matter, declining to face the problem of how a specimen made up of small particles of matter will behave in the typical circumstances in which we meet it. Materials, however, continue to furnish the masses of matter we see and use from day to day: air, water, earth, flesh, wood, stone, steel, concrete, glass, rubber..."
Materials are not simply "made of atoms" - there is a character to a material that typically requires for its expression a volume of material at least large enough to be seen by a person. Each material has a particular character in a given situation and the character can change when the situation changes, e.g., liquid water boils to become steam or freezes to become ice as the situation changes from jug to stewpot to refrigerator.

Factually, a piece of wood is not "made of atoms." No matter how many scientists work at it, no matter how much money and time is spent, no matter how many "atoms" are provided: there is "no way" to make a piece of wood out of "atoms." I state this as a fact rather than a cosmological principle - factually I can be proved wrong. Another fact is that there is only one known way to make a piece of wood and that way starts with a seed. Even laboratory extraction and nurturance of the essential germ plasm would involve the equivalent of a seed. "Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree." (Joyce Kilmer.)

Further, shifting attention to the biological processes, I suggest that a tree is "made out of" light at least as much as it is "made out of" constituent "atoms." A piece of wood is made by biological processes that run on light. Factually, all food originates with light and the energy that fuels our brains has its source in light.

Light is certainly not the atomic stuff that Feynman describes in the extract quoted above. Light is a rather different area of physics investigation and light maintains its mysteries despite all the physicists' skills. Light is not material because no material particle can travel at the speed of light (the effective mass would be infinite).

People have known important facts about light for thousands of years because we have always used "light" to refer metaphorically to a powerful benevolent influence in our lives that is other than a material substance. The metaphor extends to influences that we do not see with our eyes. "God is light, in him there is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5.) In my religious beliefs (based on Quaker writings and teachings but not to be ascribed to other Quakers), I use the word "Light" to refer to the presence of God that is within each adult person and that each person can sense and know. A person adhering to spiritual disciplines attends to the Light and seeks to make his or her choices and selections under the direction of the Light.

Feynman falsely declares that "all things are made of atoms." His "atoms" are conceptual inventions that work well at modeling some situations but they are by no means universally applicable to all situations. They fail to reach the facts of persons, personalities and freedom. In domains of physical science, they fail to reach the character of physical materials in many situations. Such character and changes in such character are of paramount importance in the alternative approach.

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e. An Alternative, Non-Cosmological View of Reality Centers Around Freedom

In opposition to the false claims of The Mechanical Cosmology, I offer the facts of changes in the character of physical materials, called phase changes or phase transitions. These are facts that have been studied in the laboratory and applied by scientists and engineers. During a phase change in a material system, the character of a body of material undergoes a transformation. Ice melts to become liquid water and liquid water boils and evaporates to become steam. You can skate on ice but don't try it on liquid water. High pressure steam is uniquely suited for driving turbines, which generate most of humanity's electricity.

Phase changes are phenomena that exist throughout the natural and technological worlds. However, phase changes are only partially understood. As stated by physicist, David Ruelle, in Chance and Chaos (1991) at 122-124:
"One puzzling phenomenon is the boiling of water, and the freezing of water is no less mysterious. If we take a liter of water and lower the temperature, it is not unreasonable that it should become more and more viscous. We may guess that at low enough temperature it will be so viscous, so stiff, as to appear quite solid. This guess about the solidification of water is wrong. As we cool water we see that at a certain temperature it changes to ice in a completely abrupt manner. Similarly, if we heat water it will boil at a certain temperature, i.e., it will undergo a discontinuous change from liquid to water vapor. The freezing and boiling of water are familiar examples of phase transitions. These phenomena are in fact so familiar that we may miss the fact that they are strange indeed, and require an explanation. ... So here is a problem for theoretical physicists: prove that as you raise or lower the temperature of water you have phase transitions to water vapor or ice. Now that's a tall order! We are far from having such a proof. In fact, there is not a single atom or molecule for which we can mathematically prove that it should crystallize at low temperatures. These problems are just too hard for us." (Emphasis in original.)
The brain models discussed in Quad Nets are described in terms of phase changes. Methods of description are drawn from principles of pure thermodynamics, which does not rely on The Mechanical Cosmology. Quad Nets and later writings are detached from The Mechanical Cosmology. Through detachment, I follow an alternative approach that avoids certain defects and limitations that follow from and beset The Mechanical Cosmology.

I further suggest that my approach provides insight regardless of whether Quad Net models have any validity. Most important, in my approach, there is an arising of a flicker of experience that occurs during a phase change. Phase changes are occurring continually in many places in a brain, often repeatedly. Individual flickers of experience aggregate to form a collective body of experience, like stitches being continually woven into a tapestry. This imagery is consistent with results of brain research by conventional (cosmological) neuroscientists. As a matter of fact, a person's experience surely does arise from activity of the person's brain. How that arising occurs is simply not anywhere to found in cosmological physics.

[I see nothing to be gained by crediting speculations about principles of a cosmological nature, e.g., quantum gravity (Penrose) or novel collective non-local quantum mechanical transitions in scattered neuronal microtubules (Bohm's followers). None of these provide any insight into the actual nature of experience or its arising.]

My alternative view to the arising of experience is presented in Page 2 of this Testimony, setting forth the principles of Quad Net models for lay persons. Quad Net models lead to further suggestions. First is the psychological suggestion that brains generate families of possibilities related by resemblances and that a person acts by selecting one possibility to become actual, e.g., choosing and making a move in a game. Second are suggestions about the nature of institutional disciplines (physical science, civil law and the Christian religion) and their role in the development of civilization.

No cosmology is involved in my models. Each institutional discipline depends on its own principles, which have cosmological tendencies that depend on the subject matter of disicpline. Some institutional disciplines, e.g., civil law and the Christian religion, have developed alternative approaches that avoid cosmological traps and closemindedness.

This is a construction approach where the basic construction unit, the selection, has (1) a psychological aspect based in personal experience of activities involving exercises of human intelligence and (2) a material (physical) aspect based in supposed operations of our brains. I describe the psychological aspect in terms of observations of my experience and of behavior of others. I interpret the physical aspect through operations of a class of "Quad Net devices" that I have proposed. The physical aspect and psychological aspect depend on each other and each is used to help describe the other.

From another perspective, the construction unit, the selection, models a choice in human experience. I suggest a physical and psychological model of consciousness where the unit of consciousness is consciousness of making a choice, which includes consciousness of the possibilities involved in the choice and consciousness of matters of comparison and contrast between and among the possibilities. There are large areas of human activity - such as work tasks, games and purposeful travel - where this model deals with the substance of the activity.

The chief features of the selection can be viewed from the physical aspect or from the psychological aspect. Viewed from the physical aspect, the chief features are as follows: A selection is a process that tracks and controls certain phase changes as they occur in time. The simplest selectional processes are cyclical or repetitive. During a selection, two or more ("multiple") possible courses of action change into a single actual course of action. The multiple possible courses of action belong to and make up a repertoire and the actual course of action belongs to the repertoire. The actual course of action emerges as the winner of a competition among the multiple courses of action. The change from multiple possible courses of action to a single actual course of action occurs during a critical moment in the process.

A critical moment is a moment during which there are overall changes and it is difficult to describe. Indeed, the critical moment marks the mysteries of consciousness and freedom that I believe are beyond our understanding. A chief feature of the critical moment is the transient co-existence of the multiple possible courses of action. Each appears in a germinal form that is itself weak but that is capable of growth. During the critical moment, all the possible courses of action co-exist and they are in competition. They are susceptible to influences and influences may shift the balance one way or the other, back and forth. Possibilities turn into each other; and fragments of one possibility can be combined with fragments of another possibility. As the critical moment proceeds, however, the competition resolves into the single actual course of action, which is expressed through muscular action.

The alternative method for the investigation of the arising of experience follows a path of device construction. The proposed thermal devices are not mechanical devices. Quad Net device parts are not machines, such as computers. Instead, they are devices that control phase changes and thus resemble cooks' ovens, potters' kilns and metallurgists' furnaces. I hold that we cook up our experiences, not that we calculate them.

The focal activity of an ideal Quad Net device part is selection. The change from "multiple possible courses of action" to a "single actual course of action" is a phase change. Through application of "universal" principles involving phase changes and benefiting from necessary speculative assumptions, I suggest that a selection in a Quad Nets device part or assembly models a selection occurring in our brains that we experience as choice. I suggest that selection in Quad Nets helps to reveal the nature of freedom that is occurring in our brains.

In Quad Nets, the principle of selection is called "shimmering sensitivity." At a critical moment, there are two or more ("multiple") possible activity patterns available for selection. The multiple activity patterns are momentarily co-existing, giving rise to shimmering. During such a critical moment, one activity pattern can easily change to another activity pattern and back again, in whole or in fragments. As selection proceeds, one possible activity pattern dominates and become selected. The selected activity pattern is that which actually generates muscular activity. E.g., a person performs a particular muscular act. The other possibilities then cease to exist, even as possibilities. Multiple activity patterns co-exist (e.g., in fragments of germinal forms) at the critical moment but, as the process proceeds, only one can survive to be selected and the others perish. During the selection, there are influences that come, e.g., from the senses or from memories that are stimulated by the present situation. Sometimes, a very tiny shift in balances of influences can lead to a distinctly different activity pattern being selected, giving rise to sensitivity.

Shimmering sensitivity is the physical principle of freedom. I suggest that the same principle operates in brains as in Quad Net device parts and that, during a selection made by a person, a brain part passes through a "critical moment" when it is in a condition of shimmering sensitivity. Multiple possibilities are co-existing and turning into each other and the selection may depend on tiny incremental influences.

Consider a situation at a potluck dinner you are attending where you get to choose your dessert, either a piece of homemade nut bar or a bowl of brandname ice cream. As you approach the table with the two desserts, two or more activity patterns co-exist in your brain. You will select an activity pattern to choose the dessert. If you select one particular activity patterns, you will pick up a piece of the homemade nut bar. If you select another particular activity pattern, you will pick up a bowl of brandname ice cream. Perhaps there is a third possibility where you walk away without picking up anything.

Let us suppose that, at the outset, you have no pre-selected choice and you approach the table ready to select or even to turn away empty-handed. All three possibilities are present in your mind. You may feel an impulse to pick up the nut bar or you may feel an impulse to pick up the bowl of ice cream and the impulse may shift between the two. Suppose the ice cream is your favorite flavor and you hear from someone else at the table that the nuts are walnuts, which you generally think taste like sawdust. But then you hear that the walnuts come from a tree in Joyce's own backyard and, knowing of Joyce's excellent cooking skills, your decision shifts again. As parts of your brain (repeatedly) pass through critical moments, you experience and re-experience the selection of the homemade nut bar - indeed you visually experience the nut bar itself - and you pick it up. The selection is an exercise of freedom.

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Copyright © 2008 Robert Kovsky