Citation for this page in APA citation style.           Close


Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
Isaiah Berlin
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
Michael Burke
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
Sam Harris
William Hasker
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
C. Lloyd Morgan
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Karl Popper
Huw Price
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf


Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
John Herschel
Werner Heisenberg
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek


Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
A.O. Gomes

A.O. Gomes of the Instituto de Biofisica, Universidade do Brasil, in Rio de Janeiro, presented a quantum mechanical model for free will at the 1964 Study Week of the Pontificia Academia Scientarium in Rome on the topic Brain and Conscious Experience.

The Study Week was organized and led by John Eccles and dedicated to two of his recently deceased illustrious colleagues, Charles S. Sherrington and Erwin Schrödinger, who were Fellows of Magadalen College with Eccles when they were elected to the Pope's Academy of Scientists in 1936.

While the Gomes model is little more than an elaboration of Arthur Holly Compton's amplifier, it is at least more peaceful. Where Compton's photodetectors blow up dynamite, Gomes' multiple electron detectors and computer algorithms play music on a piano.

According to Gomes, Schrödinger was one of the first to attack free will models involving quantum uncertainty as inadequate to explain the "rich order" of free action or of life. Gomes called these criticisms unfair and said they were based on the arguments of philosopher Ernst Cassirer. Cassirer was a strong proponent of determinism. He influenced others who should have known better, including Max Born. Of course, criticisms of chance as the direct cause of human action had been criticized since antiquity.

The Brain-Consciousness Problem in Contemporary Scientific Research
From Brain and Conscious Experience, ed. John Eccles, Springer-Verlag, 1966, p.446
Among the different formulations of the brain-consciousness problem in the modern scientific world, Sherrington's has become the most widely known — and, if we can say this of the statement of a puzzle, the most cherished one. Sherrington's exceptional stature as a scientist, allied to the sincerity, directness, and wise humility of spirit so vividly revealed in his writings, easily explains the success of his formulation of the problem. How can physical sense receptors affect sense? he asks. How can a reaction in the brain condition a reaction in the mind? How can the (often quoted!) "enchanted loom" of nerve impulses in the brain, which always weaves meaningful, but never abiding, patterns — how can this "loom" evoke such rich mental experiences as the vision of everything we see, all the sounds we hear, all the bodily sensations we may ever become aware of? Mind is not physical energy such as compose the electrical impulses, Sherrington proceeds, and no process occurring only with physical energy could produce "mind out of no mind." Yet, "unless mind have working contact with energy, how can energy serve it?" "The energy-scheme brings us to the threshold of the act of perceiving, and there . . . bids us good-bye." The difficulty with sense, Sherrington also recognizes, is the same difficulty from the converse side, as besets the problem of the mind as influencing our motor acts. The extent and moment of this question, he acknowledges with another very cogent, inmost pathetic expression: "Physics tells me that my arm cannot he bent without disturbing the sun. Physics tells me that unless my mind is energy I cannot disturb the sun." Yet, the theoretically impossible happens; an( despite the theoretical, as Sherrington [1955] puts it, the mind does bend the arm and thus disturbs the sun.

Of course, the question of a reaction in the central nervous systen affecting a reaction in the mind is not restricted to the case of perception which Sherrington more closely insisted on. The relation of the complex interweaving of electrical impulses in the brain to other types of mental experience defines no less challenging puzzles for us. Since the time of the height of Sherrington's career, scientific research has disclosed 0 whole wealth of new facts pertaining to that relationship, the most striking of which may have been those obtained by the technique of artificial stimulation of the brain by means of either chronically implanted electrodes that penetrate to the most central regions of the organ, or by means of mere contact probes that survey the exposed surface of the cortex. The behavior of the animals with which the chronic electrode experiments are conducted is reported to indicate most significant alterations of emotional experience—enhancement, for instance of a mood of meekness or, on the contrary, of anger, even changes from one to the other — as well as sensations such as hunger, thirst, and sexual appetite. As to the electrical exploration of the exposed cortex, which has been performed during cerebral surgery in human subjects affected with epilepsy — we actually have in this congress the greatest authority in the world on this technique — it has yielded, besides vague experiences of sounds, lights, and colors, when the appropriate regions are stimulated, recollections and approximate relivings of past events, as well as definite interpretations of the experiences which, of course, should also be counted among their significant features.

The widely known facts referred to here up,to this point have all come to light in the laboratory or the hospital room, and have all been elicited by the specialized work of experts. They are thus the facts of the most immediate interest for a scientific review of the general problem with which they are connected, but it seems convenient and pertinent to supplement their mention with that of other events which frequently come about in the current life of nearly everybody, but which ultimately have the same meaning as the phenomena specified above. Sometimes there is again the work of the scientists, or of the expert, in some other sense, behind the events: for instance, when we take a tranquilizer pill which may change a feeling of anxiety or restlessness into one of calm and relief; or when we resort to some analgesic in order to put an end to some uncomfortable pain. Other times, the phenomena are still simpler, as in the case of the profound changes in our mood which may — and often do — follow the ingestion of alcoholic drinks; or even in the case of a more drastic, though fortunately less frequent transformation of mental state as, for instance, the one that may result from a vigorous blow in the head—which is no less than a change from full consciousness to the complete cessation of it.

Of course, there is no difference, for our problem, between the action of physical and of chemical stimuli, since, at the level in which the phenomena must be investigated in the nervous system, that distinction does not ultimately hold in any sharp form. However, the explicit mention of chemical stimulation immediately brings up at least two other cases beside those few already specified here: hallucinogenic drugs and medical anesthesia.

The second general aspect of the brain-consciousness problem is that which Sherrington has dramatically stated with the reflexion of how could his mind move his arm and, thus, affect the sun itself. Scientific research has on the whole been rather biased against this side of the problem, and more often than not has tended to reduce it either to the first aspect, or simply to another problem that is not so puzzling; it has tacitly or explicitly admitted that the mental processes apparently at the origin of the physiological or bodily changes are merely the result, in turn, of some former physiological courses of events. As a result of this, research is frequently conducted as if the whole occurrences under study were ultimately nothing more than the transformations of some physiological events into others; the mental phenomena involved are either ignored or given only a secondary importance. They are thus regarded as no more than apparent relays between physiological occurrences or, more exactly, as epiphenomena of the initial part of these occurrences. Of course, there are several cases of the control of bodily action — mostly those of the demonstrably simplest reflex nature — where physiological processes are in truth nearly everything worth being investigated. But this is very far from being the general case, since, more usually, the problem of that control coincides, to a very significant extent, with the problem of free action, which, for multiple and obvious reasons, is at the very core of a host of other questions about individual and social life in general — including the fundamental question of communication of ideas between persons. Thus it is no wonder that Sherrington should have been so impressed with the momentous character of that problem, that he preferred to admit that what for him was theoretically impossible — that is, his mind moving his arm and thus affecting the sun — actually happens.

Owing to the scientific nature of the present symposium, I shall not develop the last remarks into any discussion of philosophical matters. Nor shall I even simply mention the immense and complex catalogue of topics that the subject of brain-consciousness relations also evokes in the specific field of philosophy. Suffice here to say — and this only as a partial explanation of the divergence of interpretations frequently found among scientists concerning many facts that they disclose and analyze in the field now under revision — suffice here to say that the significance of our general problem is also so great for philosophy, when translated into its specific terms, that practically all the chief currents of the philosophy of nature, and even some of the main conceptions of the theory of knowledge, can be fairly characterized in their outlines by the particular conception which each of them entertains about it — either explicitly or by implication.

As a matter of fact, it is not only the interpretation of the phenomena which is open to wide variability and, with it, to some arbitrariness. It is also the very questions that spontaneously define themselves by the disclosed facts: they may take for granted what is not definitely established, or elucidated, either by science or by philosophy.

The nervous control of action has so far been systematically and detailedly studied only with the application of the principles of prequanta physics. Of course, there is still an almost inexhaustible wealth of material to be significantly explored with the application of only those principles —and hardly any opportunity yet for the specific employment of quantum physics to any branch of the empirical investigation of the nervous system. 70 Yet, the idea that the great novelty that came to light in quantum theory —microphysical incertitude—might play a significant role in the nervous control trol of action, and, on account of this, might allow a great and decisive advance in the scientific understanding of the steerage of free action—that idea, I say, was to some degree entertained by several scientists shortly after the development of quantum mechanics and the establishment of the uncertainty relations. Bohr himself was one of the first to sketch some conjectures about the subject [Bohr, 1932]. Eddington discussed it [1928, 1935]. Pascual Jordan devoted a great deal of attention to the topic and elaborated the conception of amplification of results of discrete, uncertain events [La Physique et le Secret de la Vie Organique]. Herman Weyl, James Jeans, and, for a time, Louis de Broglie [Weyl, 1949] have at least occasionally considered the new ideas. Elsasser has more recently returned to them [Elsasser, 1958]. And Eccles conducted some brief computations about the subject and made a short review of it [Eccles, 1953, Chapt. VIII], which was perhaps the first and only instance of discussion of these matters in the context of a work of neurophysiology. The author of the present paper has also made an approximate quantitative analysis to verify the amplitude of uncertainty to which some of the chief components of the physiology of neurons could be subject, and he has found that that amplitude may be in different cases quantitatively compatible with the possibility of the occurrence of differentiable processes of amplification of discrete, uncertain events.

However, the criticism raised from different quarters against the incipient conceptions very soon became more intense and widely accepted than the new attempts themselves. Several arguments have been forwarded in opposition to the novel ideas, the least tenable, but not the least frequent of which, stating that according to the new physics, physical indetermination can hold good only in the microphysical level, and never be translated into macrophysical processes. Another argument is, however, apparently very pertinent; it stresses the complete inadequacy of the resort to phenomena that are characterized above all by randomness — such as discrete microevents — for the elucidation of processes as elaborate and rich of order, significance, and motivations of several sorts as those of free action, or of life in general. Yet this argument takes for granted that whoever speculates about a possible relation between micro-incertitude and free action necessarily commits the gross mistake of attempting simply to reduce the latter to the former, or explain the one by the other. Schroedinger has unfortunately been one of those who developed a criticism based only on that unfair assumption [Schroedinger, 1952]—and he tried to strengthen his position with references to a very powerful thinker, Cassirer, who made suppositions to the same effect [Cassirer, 1937]. However, it seems only too obvious that what can be logically expected of microuncertainty in the physiological control of action is only the establishment and the maintenance of conditions different from those which would impose a completely deterministic work for the nervous system, which can thus become, in principle, favorable for the occurrence of free action—never the whole key to this action. Schroedinger [1952] again expressed another objection to the same hypothesis, which would seem much more pertinent than the former; and approximately the same argument has also been stated by Eddington [1928]. It says that there is certainly no determinism, according to the quantum theory, in the occurrence of discrete microevents; yet, when these repeat themselves in the same circumstances, the resultant series of events obey statistical laws which, of course, are not much more compatible with free action than the deterministic laws of classical physics; as a consequence, free action could only profit by microphysical incertitude if it violated the statistical laws of those series, so ultimately there would be no smaller interference with the regularity of the physical world than a break with Ow classical, deterministic laws. However, this is once more in objection that oversimplifies the hypothesis against which it is directed. It would be decisive if that hypothesis stated that free action is directly and almost exclusively controlled in each living organism by microphysical indeterminate controls — that is, amplifying systems with output not completely and uniquely determined by the input, or a series of discrete microphysical events with effects amplifiable within a macrophysical structure and somehow connected by this structure, which, in the case of a living being, would be some part of the organism. If, on the contrary, we suppose, as we should, that such controls — preferably, but not even necessarily in a very large number — are coupled to other controls of physically determinate nature (that is, with the output completely and uniquely determined by the input), the coupling of all of them can be such that the steerage of which the whole set is capable results in macro-physical work that is at the same time ordered and indeterminate, without this requiring either the violation of the statistical regularity of each indeterminate control or the translation of the statistical character of that regularity into any output of the steered system that is not an exceedingly long run.

In truth, if a machine is steered by a complex interlocking of several units of indeterminate and determinate control, the number of states it can come to under the determining influence of the overall controlling situations of the steerage system can be as large, in principle, as the number of the combinations among the differentiated indeterminate configurations possible for each unit of indeterminate control. Yet, while planning the system, we can easily do it in such a way that only the controlling situations which can be interpreted as orderly are allowed to work out their influence. But the selection among these would still be indeterminate, because dependent on physically uncertain processes. This principle can be true both of the final situations of the machine considered statically, and of the successions among them — which means that these successions themselves can also be made at the same time well ordered and indeterminate.

It would be convenient to introduce a concrete illustration of a case of this nature. To this effect, let us imagine, as a unit of indeterminate control, a cylindrical vacuum chamber with a very tiny aperture in the center of one of its transversal walls, and a ring with a certain number of differentiated parts electrically insulated from one another and each of them connected to a high-sensitivity detector amplifier capable of responding to discrete manifestations of electrons of very low energy over the corresponding area of the ring. Let its also suppose a source of low-energy electrons before the aperture in the first wall, and a low accelerating difference of potential between the two ends of the chamber. If the aperture is small enough, each electron which penetrates the chamber will have its spatial localization very sharply defined, and will consequently suffer a physically indeterminate disturbance of momentum, with the magnitude given by the uncertainty relations of Heisenberg. The chamber can be so constructed that the medium diameter of the ring in the second transversal wall coincides with the region of the most probable manifestation of the indeterminately disturbed electrons. The place where each electron will appear upon this ring — and thus upon one or other of its several differentiated parts — is completely indeterminated, and the laws of microphysics require only that in sets of relatively large numbers of individual manifestations their distribution be uniform along the circumference of the ring, and thus that the number of the discrete arrivals upon each part of it be approximately equal for all of them. There is, however, absolutely no law for the localization of a particular manifestation upon the ring or for the step-to-step successions.

an orderly but physically indeterminate machine

If we connect some macrophysical gadget to each of the detector amplifiers coupled to the several elements of the ring, and have those gadgets performing some macrophysical operation under the switch-on, switch-off command of the detector amplifiers, in such a way that they are put to work or to rest every time that a disturbed electron manifests itself upon the corresponding part of the ring, the assembly as a whole will constitute a macrophysical system completely undetermined in the order of its final operations. We can imagine, for instance, a jukebox with the selection of its records commanded by a unit of indeterminate control, or some sort of roulette under the same guidance.

So far, our device illustrates only physical indetermination in a series of macrophysical processes which can be in themselves either very simple — the case of the roulette — or very elaborate — the case of the reproduction of a record in the jukebox. With the further purpose of illustrating order which is significantly indeterminate all along its development, let us now imagine a piano Fig. 18.1 with a certain number of keys — say, 100 — and the activation of each of these keys decided by the output of one indeterminate control with a corresponding number of possible different states. Let the connection between this device of indeterminate control and the final mechanism of activation of the keys pass through circuitry specially designed to switch it off every time that the message started a unit that does not conform to a set of rules of musical composition which can be translated into the intermediary circuitry. This circuitry may, of course, incorporate a recording mechanism for all the operations of the system; and the rules of composition may accordingly state that after the successful activation of one key of the piano, only a few other keys — say, 5 among the 100 — may follow. The rules may also be such that in certain special cases they condition the activation of a new key in a sequence, not only to the immediately preceding element, but also to whole previous passages of the sequence; and they may as well comprehend other factors of musical composition such as rhythm and harmony of simultaneously sounding notes. Yet, as long as each new step in the musical succession admits more than one possibility which is in turn decided by the indeterminate control, the output of the instrument will also remain undetermined, irrespectively of the high degree of order and organization which it can maintain.

Now, if elaborate and ordered, but physically uncertain and, in not very long runs, statistically irregular work is thus possible for merely physical machines, it is clearly also possible, in principle, for living beings — very specially for those with a highly developed nervous system. Such a nervous system may house millions or billions of nearly simultaneous processes equivalent to those described in connection with a unit of indeterminate control, and have all these connected according to the most elaborate interlocking; hence it can afford the opportunity for the accomplishment of sequences of meaningful, organized, and not-statistically monotonous behavior, very far exceeding in length of time the span of individual life.

In exceedingly long stretches of work, certain statistical regularities would in principle be rediscovered. But they would ultimately mean nothing more than, say, the statistical regularity of biological or social phenomena in their broadest scale, which, important and significative as they may be to the study of those phenomena in that scale, do not in the least account for a host of events that, for one reason or other, may be of the greatest possible significance, not only for nonstatistical sciences but also for other forms of interpretation of phenomena extremely meaningful and important for us.

During the last decades, certain devices have been designed and constructed which harness what are apparently indeterminate variations, or trial-and-error processes, into well-ordered sequences of behavior, or which simply associate the two by means of the employment of the so-called random generators. The work of Ross Ashby, Grey Walter, and other cyberneticians in that field is already widely known. However, the type of system and processes outlined above is like the reverse, in a very important sense, of what those other devices accomplish and exemplify - in spite of all the significant points of contact between the two cases. In fact, in the system proposed here as an illustration of the basic compatibility between physical indeterminacy and elaborate organization, the indeterminacy is ultimately real and absolutely irreducible to any sort of implicit physical laws; and the influence which the indeterminate events have on the system is not merely a restricted interference with what would otherwise be a completely defined determinate work. It is much more than that, since the indetermination actually occurs between the input and the output of the system; and, thus, contrary to the case of the cybernetic devices which incorporate "random-generators," does not manifest itself only in processes which can be ultimately regarded as a part of the input of the devices. Each new indeterminate step in the musical sequence "composed" by the piano outlined here is most significantly decisive for the whole rest of the sequence; and no sign of randomness properly could be discovered in the sequence. Music itself would be its order.

However, although it is thus clearly possible to put randomness and statistical regularity at the service of elaborate order in macrosystems significantly affected by discrete microevents, we should not overlook what is actually random, or merely statistically regular, in life, when we speculate about the possible role, or presence, of microincertitude in the steerage of living organisms. Schroedinger supposed that the transition from randomness into regularity or, as he calls it, the "order-from-disorder" principle, was an exclusive feature of the inanimate world, and that living matter might even be distinguished from inorganic matter by its observance of the different principle of "order-from-order" [Schroedinger, 1944]. There are, however, too many striking and ponderous exceptions to this rule for it to be attributed such an importance. Let us initially remark, in passing, that the semblance of a change of indetermination into order, in the work of devices such as those designed by Ashby and Walter, is exactly one of the chief reasons why they are often regarded as remarkably similar to living beings. Let us then notice that few things can look more haphazard than, for instance, the behavior of a unicellular organism, which, nevertheless, accomplishes what it must in order to survive or to fulfill the tasks it has to serve. No less random in aspect are also the variations of the physical shape of different intracellular structures which perform definite, ordered functions, among different specimens of a same species, and even in the same unicellular specimen along different moments of its life. The development of plants within a genus is again subject to a very wide random diversity. And once more liable to the same type of variation are the most typical behavioral patterns of several animals. The detailed study of some bird species, for instance, has led Professor Thorpe to remark "puzzling irregularities, uncertainties, and differences in individual and specific behavior" [Thorpe, 1961], an observation which certainly falls in with that made by other members of the ethologist school.

The research work of this school has, in fact, disclosed that the instinctive behavior of many vertebrates, which so often looks like a set of functional wholes very well ordered in all their several stages of development and completely predetermined from the start in all their chief features, is, as a matter of fact, open to a number of fortuitous variations. There are indeed well-determined innate action patterns, but these are often far from covering whole instinctive and behavioral functions, and thus also far from coming already mounted in broader schemes adapted to the functions — no matter whether or not they are among the most important which the animal will have to perform. The functional wholes are the later product of complex combinations, sometimes called "instinct-training interlockings," among innate and acquired patterns—such random flexibility prevailing in the shaping of the second of these patterns as well as in the processes of their compounding with the first ones that individual cases not infrequently arise quite out of harmony with what would be the normal rule, or the normal function. Many a most bizarre situation may then be defined. Let us just remember, at this juncture, the extremely curious — and sometimes delightful — observations of such phenomena which Lorenz has so vividly recorded and analyzed. Referring to the work conducted with chimpanzees by another ethologist, Schiller — a scientist of as strong behavioristic tendencies as Lashley — has textually said the following: "Playful manipulation is the instinctive response to objects. The acts are performed with no prescience of usefulness, and in the problem situation the very acts which might solve the problem may be performed in such way as to prevent success. The appropriateness of the act for such a task as getting food is discovered only by chance" [Lashley, 1957].

The shaping and the maintenance of order in conjunction with fortuity is thus something very currently accomplished in the biological domain with much ampler random variation and an even more unmistakable resource to haphazard procedures than in the merely physical machines of the type conjectured above, which can be made to work at the same time orderly and indeterminately. And if, on the one hand, we may suppose —without lapsing into simple fantasy — that microphysical incertitude affects the nervous system according to schemes in many points physically equivalent to those outlined here, we have to admit, on the other hand, that there is not even an invariably direct proportionality between degree of development of nervous system and ordered complexity of behavior physically controlled by it. This fact is more frequently and strikingly apparent during the early stages of individual life, but not always only then. The behavior of some insects is at the same time extremely more elaborate and regular than that of a very large number of fully grown vertebrates which, nevertheless, are endowed with incomparably more developed nervous systems.

If we consider, in addition, that no other transformation of haphazard, trial-and-error methods into rich and advanced order is accomplished between extremes as far apart as those defined by the behavior of human babies on the one side, and adult human behavior on the other, we shall certainly tend to conclude logically and realistically that the fully developed nervous system must be much more apt to work on the disorder-to-order principle than on the order-to-order one. If things are really so, the matchlessly intricate organization of the system provides us, not only with examples of striking coordination of all-the-time determinate functions — which are unmistakably always present, from the very start of individual life — but with no less remarkable instances as well, of a gradual fashioning of order against a background of randomness.

The systematic study of behavior of human infants furnishes indications basically in agreement with those we can get from the investigation of animal behavior — in spite of the very significant fact that the behavior of human beings is much more rudimentary, at its individual beginnings, than that of so many other animals species. The poverty of early human behavior does not exclude, of course, a number of definite reflex and automatic action schemes; but these, as in the case of the animals studied by the ethologists, do not come organized into broad, elaborate, instinctual, or functional wholes. Before this organization takes shape and acquires enduring structures, the accomplishment of some basic functions depend, to a significant extent (that is, in nearly all that is not achieved with learned external guidance ), on random activity. This activity at best, but not always, betrays only the semblance of a purposeful groping, and no more than a monotonous statistical regularity. As a matter of fact, a theory has already been advanced which asserts that the adaptation of the human infant to the different circumstances that he will have to live with is fundamentally effected by means of trial-and-error methods, that is, groping. Piaget, who does not subscribe to the "groping" theory in its simplest and most radical form, does not fail, however, to recognize explicitly the occurrence and the importance of random activity in the early development of infants [see, for instance, Piaget, 1959].

It might also be pertinent, at this moment, to make just a general reference to the role of play in the behavioral and mental development of the child. I would not attempt, of course, to identify play with random activity. Yet, there is no denying that one of the basic modalities of play — and one widely practiced by infants, as well as by animals — presents a characteristically random element in its development. It is the kind of a mere exercise of activity, which Piaget calls "practice games" [Piaget, 1951]. Besides, if there is not anything properly random in the other modalities of play, there is nothing there either, which denotes strictly determined order. Play is always characterized as a reverse of compulsion. Even in the case of games with definite and complex rules, these rules are there as if to define a structure within which, or around which, free variation can manifest itself; so that play actually provides a very cogent illustration for the conception of free order...

MAC KAY: I am very much in sympathy with Dr. Gomes' insistence on the usefulness of spontaneous activity in the nervous system, in that this relieves the animal from the sort of dilemma of which Buridan's donkey died, being unable to choose between two equally tempting bundles of hay. On the other hand, I am not sure that I have properly understood his connection of this with freedom of action. In exploring the idea of spontaneous processes in the nervous system, it has seemed to me that the effect of a random change in my neuron net would be something I would experience as happening to me rather than being done by me. In references [MacKay, 1951, 1952, 1953] in my paper, I have suggested that changes in the order in which ideas occur to one, for example, might be produced by processes which a physicist would describe as partly random; but I imagine that one would experience this as "an idea popping into one's head unbidden." I wonder if Dr. Gomes would agree that this field where spontaneous activity can be invoked is really quite separate from the domain of conscious sober control of action, without caprice?

GOMES: The main purpose of the part of my paper dealing with the possible role of microphysical incertitude in voluntary action is the proof of a rather negative aspect (because it chiefly aims at the removal of objections) that there is no inevitable antagonism between what necessarily are the physical characteristics of free action and the regularity of the physical elements of the world, such as the science of physics sees it today after the introduction of the uncertainty principle. I have not intended to proceed with my discussion to the core of the problem of free, responsible action, because I would then have to go very far into problems and hypotheses, the nature of which lies outside the scope of this Study Week. The point that it was my purpose to stress is that if anything equivalent to the system I have now described actually exists in the brain, the actions controlled in this organ may have the physical characteristics of free action—that is, they may be ordered and physically indeterminate at the same time. Let me add now that if the human will exerts a control over a system of that nature, it can do it without any violation of the physical regularity of the physical elements of the brain.

As to the question of randomness itself, I have shown in the subsequent part of my paper that the more advanced is the place of a species in the animal scale, the more does the behavior, and probably the mental experience, of a specimen begin at a rudimentary level. Randomness is then often a very obvious feature; and it is only gradually during life that this randomness is changed into order.

MAC KAY: Perhaps I did not make my question clear. I was not discussing this theory in particular, but rather the nature of our freedom to control our actions. Would you not agree that if an element of randomness came into the chain of control of my action, this would tend towards excusing me from responsibility for it, rather than crediting me with responsibility for it?

GOMES: That I sharply distinguish between randomness and freedom should have become sufficiently clear in several passages of my exposition, though I have purposely avoided the philosophical question of their detailed characterization. However, I do believe that randomness has a decisive role in the genesis, though not properly in the full exercise, of freedom and responsibility. This is a point which, owing also to the shortage of time, I have now only very hurriedly referred to. Its full exposition would require the development of a whole genetic theory of individuality, which, of course, I cannot do now.

BOHR, N. La Theorie Atomique et la Description des Phenomenes. Paris: Gauthier Villars, pp. 94, 95, 109-111 [1932].

CASSIRER, E. Determinism and Indeterminism in Modern Physics. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, Chapt. 13 [1937].

ECCLES, J. C. The Neurophysiological Basis of Mind. The Principles of Neurophysiology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, Chapt. VIII [1953].

EDDINGTON, A. S. The Nature of the Physical World. New York: Macmillan [1928].
. New Pathways in Science. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge Univ. Press [1935].

ELSASSER, W. M. The Physical Foundation of Biology — An Analytical Study. London: Pergamon Press [1958].

FLETCHER, R. Instinct in Man. London: Allen & Unwin [1957]. GOMES, A. E. Os movimentos dos Beres vivos (The movements of living beings), Revista Brasileira de Filosofia (Sao Paulo), No. 20 [Oct. 1955]; No. 21 [Jan. 1956].

GRANIT, R. Receptors and Sensory Perception. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, p. 9 [1955].

HALSTEAD, W. C. Thinking, imagery and memory, in: Handbook of Physiology, Section I, Neurophysiology. Washington, D. C.: Amer. Physiological Soc., Vol. 111, p. 1675 [1959-1960].

JORDAN, P. Die Physik und das Geheimnis des organischen Lebens. Braunschweig, F. Vieweg [1941].

LASHLEY, K. S. In search of the engram, The Neuropsychology of Lashley (ed. by D. O. Hebb, C. T. Morgan, H. W. Nissen). New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 478 [1960].
. Introduction, in: Instinctive Behavior (ed. by C. S. Schiller). London: Methuen [1957].

PIAGET, J. Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood. London: Heinemann, Chapt. V [1951].
The Child's Construction of Reality. London: Routledge [1955].
La Naissance de Intelligence chez l'Enfant. Neuchatel: Delachaux et Niestle, Chapt. I and Conclusions (Sect. 4, 5) [1959].

, and B. INHELDER. The Child's Conception of Space. London: Routledge [1956].

SCHROEDINGER, E. What Is Life? Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge Univ. Press, Chapt. VIII [1944].
. Science and Humanism; Physics in Our Time. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge Univ. Press, pp. 60-62 [1952].

SHERRINGTON, C. S. Man on His Nature. New York and London: Penguin and Pelican Books, pp. 187, 216, 219, 249, 257, 258 [1955].

TEUBER, H. L. Perception, in: Handbook of Physiology, Section I, Neurophysiology. Washington, D. C.: Amer. Physiological Soc., Vol. III, p. 1649 [1959-1960].

WEYL, H. Philosophy of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, pp. 279, 282 [1949].

For Teachers
For Scholars

Normal | Teacher | Scholar