Monday, December 26, 2016

4.  Practical Alternative Choices

A step towards a concept of practical responsibility is a further explanation of how varied circumstances and determinants represent real alternatives and not just imaginary unspecified possibilities.  Physical things differ in terms of flexibility in their structure, a degree to which they are sensitive to more changes in conditions than others.  Machines in particular are made to vary as with steerable wheels on cars and rudders on boats.  Steerage gives more alternatives to motion than a railroad car confined to tracks.  The technical term "degrees of freedom" gives precision to describing mechanical linkages.  A standard hardware "universal joint" moves in all directions compared to an ordinary door hinge.

Besides a steerable car being capable of following alternative routes, to alternate destinations, flexibility is central to accomplishing goal directed action.  Obviously the opportunity is presented to select a route which reaches a destination by making the necessary turns.  An additional factor, though, is correcting errors in travel along a route, keeping a vehicle on a course.  Cars are continuously steered to compensate for inability to roll perfectly in a straight line (not to mention navigating curves.)   Ships at sea must handle wind and waves.   The procedure involved has a technical term, Adaptive Control, adapting to external forces with actions to compensate.  As machines in the age of high technology are capable of such control, as in autopilots and all sorts of things (including weapons systems), an engineering subject of Control Systems Theory exists with special university degrees.  Such control immitates capacities of living things and abstracts the principles on which creatures operate, pursuing the original 17th century concept of the body as a kind of machine for living, now advanced to a high degree.  In this case though, the ancient separation from the body of all mental actions into a spiritual realm has been breached.  The mind as a mechanism is now a scientific topic, with engineering studies of artificial intelligence, AI, far beyond simple controls.  How a machine can exhibit personal responsibility is sought in this exposition (for inclusion in the operating manual for minds).

Whether this kind of control constitutes Fischer's "Guidance Control" is left to others to say with the obscurity there.  The idea here is a specific mechanism and means of control.

The common idea of mechanism is a clockwork, the original historical type of mechanism, essentially defined by its repitition and so predictability (so unique originally as to fascinate people with the property).   The clock writ large in the heavens in the regular motion of planets in orbit enhances the imagery.   This image affects intuitions about the role of determination in choices.  The more complex control mechanisms of the modern era were unavailable (and so ignored) by philosophers pontificating about mind from ancient times.  These more complex instruments are not predictable (at least internally) as they dynamically respond to random circumstances (even though success of those responses make them predictable in the end; the instruments work as intended).  They illustrate a fundamental feature of goal directed action, that it is accomplished adaptively with constant changes instead of making decisions once and for all.  As the poet said, "the best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray."  Even plans for a travel route can encounter detours, so much that standard road signs exist for the case.

Flexible things then have a distinctive destiny in the determined realization of fate: they are determined to vary a lot.  They are logically described as having alternatives in action in different circumstance, because their circumstances are always changing.  The planets may be regular but spaceships rocketing among them are not.

Philosophy renders alternatives in conscious choices puzzling by abstracting from the dynamics of control extended over time.  Choices are described as being at a fork in a road (or more often a garden, where philosophers meander) and selecting one path or another.  Isolating choices to one point in time eliminates the real flexibility which exists, realized over time, in favor of indeterminate possibilities.   In practice there is no single path, as a wrong turn results in finding yet another path back to an intended course, adaptively (which in a broader context could be described as redemption).

Philosophy summarizes ideas of alternatives with the proposition "ought implies can", meaning ability to achieve values by making choices.  No one is responsible for impossible actions (as though this explains anything).   The requirement would seem to be logically satisfied, in a Compatibilist manner, by posessing the mechanisms for adaptive control allowing use of the advice and evaluations of choices made, for that purpose.  All that is intuitively recognized contemplating choice introspectively is the flexibility present in  mental powers, not magical abilities of indeterminate action.  Being determined to make a wrong choice of some kind, hardly negates possession of the functions of realistic control, even when those functions include making mistakes as inevitable fate.  Like a famous saying, there are more things in fate than dreamt of in philosophy...  The mysterious powers of choice are realistically ability to learn from mistakes (requiring a certain level of intelligence).  Moral issues distract from this perspective, by presenting issues as nothing to learn but as something given by moral authority.  Attention to all the other issues of action, in all practical affairs from science to business, gives a different and more realistic perspective.  That philosophers are often off in an academic or religious world devoid of much practical concern could be a factor in the intellectual history.  The division in philosophy between so-called Rationalist schools and Empiricists can also be involved.  The empirical revolution in science revealed a role of learning from experience  over time, compared to the ideas truth (and correct choices) could be found just by deduction (and paying tuition to philosophers).

Not all values are accomplished by making choices; making good choices is just one particular value, a question of valuing cognitive performance, a sort of higher order value.  No one chooses having a need to eat, yet this need justifies a lot of action (which gets expressed in the military, where "no excuses" is a popular attitude, given the dire circumstances of war where it is do or die.).  An argument sometimes seen claims values are about what is good, regardless how they are  acquired or not, thereby supporting compatibilism, in response to the "ought implies" view; this logic does not seem relevant here.   It is good to advance technology but it can take whole generations to make some discoveries;  simple choices are not involved.  The issue with personal responsibility is whether mind is a relevant cause of choices requiring action directed at this particular cause , introspectively, in the course of goal directed action.

Industrial control mechanisms respond to external forces only, assigning responsibility for all situations to those externalities or determinants beyond the mechanism itself -- no personal responsibility.  Autopilots respond to deviations from course, not questions about their own internal operation.    Thermostats attend to room temperature and not dirt on their switch contacts.   It will be further argued, however, that in solving problems of a sufficient complexity, more in the AI realm, an introspective aspect emerges in the necessary operations of control mechanisms.

To be complete, a realistic concept of possibility or potential, what "can" be, compared to what is,  is needed compared to the metaphysical ideas in ancient philosophy.  The possible as opposed to actual can be considered an instance of abstraction, where the abstract properties of things define a class of  different possible member instances, however much only one possibility is realized, the rest termed counter-factual.   The reality of the alternatives is that of the abstract attribute expressed in terms of hypothetical possibilities, all of which are attributes of actualized particulars.   The singular particular actual facts are even the product of their abstract properties and possibilities.  The flexibile steering of a car makes many different routes possible, with no weird possibilities all being actual in some metaphysical sense.  The concept of possibility is context dependent in usage, relative to particular objects of discourse (invasion from Mars becoming relevant only in writing science fiction).

No comments: