Sunday, May 08, 2005

Epistemic Oscillations

I’'ve now finished Elbow Room and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the topic of free will (it may be hard to find though). When I read the passage below, this thought popped into my head: What a wonderful description of a largely ineffable situation, as well as a decent account of what I think about several times throughout the day. Consequently, reading the passage will give your brain some delightful stimulation and insight into my thoughts. I especially identified with the second paragraph, and like the suggestions of the third.
Enjoy (from pages 114-115)

A creature with a particularly hidebound and unadventurous policy of imagination management in its manifest image would no doubt never run the risk of encountering, let alone being bothered by, the problem of free will. But we human beings have proven too clever for that. The manifest image of human beings is the everyday world of colored things (not swarms of molecules); our eyes are macroscopes, not microscopes. We also only perceive only “middle-sized” rates of change; things that happen faster or slower are imperceptible to our naked eyes and ears. But unlike any other species, we have in addition to our manifest image what Sellers calls the scientific image. With our natural equipment we may not be able to see, or track, electrons, but we understand that while “water” is a mass noun for us, water is also a swarm of countable molecules, whose trajectories are trackable in principle, and sometimes even in practice (with the aid of prosthetic extensions of our senses).

Given our extended purposes and circumstances, it even becomes in our interests, in special circumstances, to abandon the wise economies of our manifest image and reconceive portions of our world at a different, more fine-grained level of description. It is then that we discover the incompleteness of the conceptual scheme of our manifest image, and begin to reconceive it as a limited, biased, defeasible perspective on the world. We have seen that our capacity to engage in real-time deliberation – including the deliberation required to engage in scientific research – depends on our manifest image, but it still seems to be a sort of illusion born of cognitive miserliness.

We come, then, to an apparent dilemma, wavering back and forth between the practical – even, perhaps, optimally practical – way of thinking of the world, and an impractical but still rationally endorsed vision. We have made some progress, however. We have found some reasons supporting our parochial hunch that they way we think about our place in the universe is not only the only way we can think of it (on a day-to-day basis), but the only way to think of it – the only way for a finite, rational deliberator to think, whether or not determinism is true. If you want to deliberate, and deliberate well, it is rational for you to act as if the world really does have an open future, with real opportunities.


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