Does my cat have true free will?

Does my cat have true free will?
psychotick
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Posted Oct 29, 2011 - 3:24 PM:
Subject: Does my cat have true free will?
Hi,

Yes I know it sounds like a strange pseudophilosophy question, but it's actually meant to be taken seriously.

I have found myself from time to time wondering about my cats' behaviour, and trying to understand why they do what they do, and naturally enough not being a cat, coming nowhere in the hunt for answers. The problem isn't that I can't explain some of their behaviours through cognitive processes such as instinct, it's that they do other things for no obvious reason.

Consider Miss T or Tabby for example. She wanders through my kitchen at night opening cupboards for some reason. Why? I haven't taught her to open cupboards, the only ones she opens are on the ground, I presume the ones that she can reach, and there is no food in them, never has been. So how did she learn this behaviour, and what's the reason for persisting in a behaviour for which there is no obvious reward? Or does she find satisfaction in the behaviour itself? (Which raises a whole new set of questions in itself about feline intelligence.)

Three days ago she was happily sleeping at night in a chair in the second bedroom. Then she abruptly decided her roost of choice would be the pile of laundry on the dryer. Why the change?

Brutus being somewhat oversized, tends to want to sleep a lot and really loathes exercise. No problem there. But of course he raises his head from time to time and looks around. My question is why does he look to the right some times and to the left others? He's inside the house, going outside would entail too much effort, there's no air currents to tickle his whiskers or unusual scents. Noises are generally minimal, it's a quiet house. So why left and not right, or right and not left? (And yes I know he has a completely different sensory world to mine, and I may be comparitively deaf and blind, but still as a human watching him, I see no obvious reason for him to look one way and not another.)

My question though is less about why my cats do what they do, and more about where does the impulse for these behaviours come from. Is it a deterministic universe and if we knew every aspect of their neuronal firings and the world they live in, we would be able to predict their behaviour? Or is it that even animals have a metaphysical free will. And when you think about it, the basis of metaphysical free will is not self awareness and the ability to make complex decisions, but only sufficient ability to make decisions, and most animals do that.

Cheers.
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Posted Oct 29, 2011 - 4:11 PM:

The cat is a living thinking being, and as such it makes decisions. I would think that its decision making skills are much less advanced than ours, but evolution demonstrates that the basic principles are probably the same.

I do not think this form of decision making would qualify as free will though, because the concept of free will is based in abstract thinking, the ability to seperate thought from the physical objects which are thought about. This allows us to make decisions which are not based on the sensations of our immediate surroundings, but on some reasoned principles. The cat's decision making is probably entirely reliant on its immediate sensations.
psychotick
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Posted Oct 29, 2011 - 7:27 PM:

Hi,

I kept thinking that too for the longest time, until I realised that the essence of the debate about libertarian free will centres not on the types of choices / decisions being made, but where the impetus for that decision comes from. Free will says that there is something beyond the materialistic / deterministic world that makes the decision independantly. We just tend to mix that up with issues like self-awareness and moral choices etc. But to my mind, if we except the tenat of libertarian free will then it must surely apply to all choices / decisions.

So if I assume that I have true free will, and by extension other people, and potentially other intelligent beings, then why not animals? I know my cats have will, i.e. they choose to do things and don't just sit around like blobs all day (mostly), and I know they do make choices. Are those choices all fixed?

Cheers.
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Posted Oct 29, 2011 - 9:52 PM:

Will directs. What is willed is something in the future; one wills it into being and if one's will is efficacious it will be as one has willed. The cat that waits by the mouse-hole wills that the mouse will come out. Cats have will that is shown in purposeful, future directed behaviour.

Perhaps there is something more, that in the case of humans (potentially) liberates the will in a way that cats are bound by their will. If there is, I think it might be conscience. I do not think that cats have a conscience that might lead them to restrain themselves from following their will 'for the sake of the poor mouse'.

If this is right, we might better speak of 'freedom from will'.
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Posted Oct 29, 2011 - 10:57 PM:

Hi Unenlightened,

I think what you're actually referring to hishigher consciousness, metacognition. I'm fairly sure my cats don't have that. But will is about determing events as you say, making decisions, making choices. Tab in opening up the kitchen cupboards at night shows that. It's not instinct, it's some sort of learned, (self-directed learning at that), behaviour. So if Tab has will, then it only becomes a question of whether it's free or not.

What you're talking about I think would be libertarian free metacognition(?) for want of a better term.

To my mind the whole debate has been captured by human centric thinking. The idea that free will is about ethics, empathy and moral choices. But when we talk about free will my view is that we are talking about every decision a person makes, whether to turn left or right, whether to open a cupboard. And some of these decisions are ones that animals also make. So if I have free will in determining whether to turn left orright, and you have the same, why would it not be reasonable to assume that my cats do too?

Cheers.
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Posted Oct 29, 2011 - 11:35 PM:

psychotick wrote:
So if I have free will in determining whether to turn left orright, and you have the same, why would it not be reasonable to assume that my cats do too?

Cheers.


Well this is where I depart from normal philosophical abuse of language. It requires no willpower nor determination to turn my head. I can do it freely. 'Can you turn your head?' the doctor asks; 'Well it's a bit stiff, only this much...'

'I will my legs to walk.' - only a philosopher, or one suffering from paralysis would say it.

If you think about will and freedom as independent ideas, I think they both make more sense.

When I am exerting my will to the max, I tend to say things like "I am determined to beat my high score tonight." Not "I am free to..."
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Posted Oct 30, 2011 - 2:41 AM:

Free from what?
psychotick
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Posted Oct 30, 2011 - 4:46 AM:

Hi Unenlightened,

It actually does require a decision to be made, a choice to be taken to turn your head. It's a trivial one to be certain, but if at some point you did not make the choice to turn your head, your head would not turn. That is will.

Cheers.
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Posted Oct 30, 2011 - 6:10 AM:

Your cat, very wisely, does not care whether or not it has free will.
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Posted Oct 30, 2011 - 6:21 AM:

But I think the essence of free will is in allowing the will to be free from making decisions about the sensible world, the world we sense, letting the decision be based totally in the intelligible world of reason. This allows the will to make decisions based totally in abstract reasoning, (decisions of logic for example), without regard to the world of sensation, giving us a higher level of intelligence. I consider that we are different from other animals in this way, and this is what motivated Aristotle to define man as a rational animal.

This leads to the assumption, which you describe psychotick, made by libertarians, that there is something beyond the material, deterministic world, which is making the choice. If choices can be made based totally on abstract reasoning, without regard for the sensible world, it is assumed that the thing making the choice must exist independently of the material world as well. But if this immaterial "agent" exists within the human being, its existence is not produced by free will, its existence is demonstrated by free will. So there is nothing to prevent us from assuming such an agent exists within the cat, or other animals which have not developed the capacity to make choices based on abstract reasoning.
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