I came up with the title ‘Ignoring Agency is Ignorance‘ while reading David Berlinski’s article at the Inference magazine where he reviews Brian Green’s book “Until the End of Time“. In that article David Berlinski touches on many subjects especially the concept of “agency” which is also known as the “freedom of the will” or simply as “free will”.
“Common sense suggests that men act freely when they can, and when they cannot, they do not. This is as far as common sense can go and, for the moment, we have only common sense to go on.” – David Berlinski
Common sense clearly indicates that agency is a causal factor.
The role of agency in causation is empirically obvious. When I move my hands and grab the coffee mug and drink coffee the cause of these events is me (the agent). No one in his right mind can argue that water molecules mixed with coffee conspired to enter my mouth. You cannot explain these events with the laws of physics. It was my mind directing my muscles to grab the coffee mug and drink coffee. The laws of physics are involved throughout the process but obviously the real cause is the agent (my mind). If you are a persistent reductionist you can keep arguing. You can say that the mind is the resultant of brain function and the brain function consists of connected neurons and the neurons are made from atoms and molecules and therefore the ultimate cause is the conspired actions of all the components in the brain. I am not impressed by this reductionist argument.
Erik P. Hoel has similar views. You can read his essay titled “Agent Above, Atom Below” and the article Natalie Wolchover wrote about his work.
“If you just say something like, ‘Oh, my atoms made me do it’ — well, that might not be true. And it might be provably not true.” – Erik P. Hoel
After the emergence (for lack of a better word) of mind from matter in the natural evolution of this universe “agency” becomes a causal factor. Unfortunately, physics completely ignores the role of agency as a causal factor. Only in Quantum Mechanics the role of agency is tangentially discussed in the context of “measurement” but there is much confusion there. The role of agency in Quantum Mechanics is often referred to as the “Measurement Problem”. Physicists are still struggling with the concept of agency as a causal factor.
Agency can be “unit” or “cosmic”. In other words, we cannot ignore the role of the Cosmic Mind as a causal factor. The reason for confusion is the fact that everything happens within the Cosmic Mind. There is nothing outside of the Cosmic Mind. This prevents science to identify Cosmic Mind as a causal factor.
The “unit agency” on the other hand can be integrated into the scientific theory. Concepts of “unit agency” and “cognitive core” are related.
If an entity has an internal part that partially explains its behavior then that part should be recognized as the cognitive core.
Elementary particles have intrinsic properties such as charge and spin that determine the particle behavior as much as the surrounding forces. Various charges and spin constitute the cognitive core of elementary particles. Similarly, the nucleus of an atom, the nucleus of a biological cell, the nucleus of a galaxy functions as the cognitive core. Behavior of entities can be partially explained by the attributes of their respective cognitive cores.
Does a gaseous cloud have a cognitive core? Where is the cognitive core in the all-pervading Higgs field? In both cases the cognitive core is located in the unit (gas molecule and field quantum – Higgs particle, respectively).
The evolution of a quantum field cannot be explained fully without knowing the intrinsic properties of its field quanta. Similarly the evolution of spacetime cannot be fully explained without the knowledge of Black Holes – cognitive cores of spacetime.
If the cognitive core is the primary explanatory factor what is the catch-all label for the other explanatory factors? The answer is “interaction”.
Cognitive cores interact with each other. Evolution of a field is determined partially by the intrinsic characteristics of the field quanta and partially by the interaction among the quanta.
Any explanation of change (evolution) requires both concepts: cognitive core and interaction. One obvious example, of course, is the evolution of organisms. DNA is the cognitive core. Environment is the interaction. Evolution of an organism is partially determined by its DNA and partially by the environment.
Explanation of change (evolution) gets more complicated after the emergence of the brain/mind which may be considered by some as the third category of explanatory factors. I see “mind” as a blend of the “cognitive core” and the “interaction” categories.
Can cognitive cores exist without interaction? Cognitive core is an expression of the cognitive aspect of Consciousness while interaction is an expression of the creative aspect of Consciousness. Remember, the cognitive and the creative aspects of Consciousness are inseparable. This implies that cognition cannot take place without creation. This also implies that cognitive cores cannot exist without interaction.
Once a cognitive core forms it will tend to multiply because that’s the only way interaction can take place. A cognitive core cannot exist without interaction and for interaction to take place there must be other cognitive cores. In the absence of other cognitive cores there will be replication of the cognitive core in question.