Re: [xmca] uncertainites

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Mon Apr 24 2006 - 22:33:56 PDT

The question of where does "constraint" end and
"free will" begin is one of the questions that
romantic science seems better suited to
investigate than the usual reductionist
traditions in classical science. This makes
Luria's thought all the more interesting.

BTW, where does Luria make this intriguing
statement Mike quoted? I have seen it elsewhere and have been wanting to ask.

>"Many observations support our view that the consideration of the voluntary
>act as accomplished by "will-power" is a myth and that the human cannot by
>direct force control his behavior any more than "a shadow can carry stones".

To my ears, the line of thinking in this
particular passage is suggestive of the
Hegelian-originated classical Marxist view on
freedom and necessity, which argues that human
freedom is achievable in proportion to social
(cultural) understandings of natural and social
realities, and the human ability to act on those
understandings. I think Martin put it very well
in his post, that "free will" alone cannot be a
"direct" force. The power and possibility of
free will consists not in its independence from
reality, but in its ability to work with reality
and find ways to transform it. Speaking to
Luria's shadow-carrying-stones metaphor, it is
not our free will alone, but our physical
experiences with and thoughts about real objects
and processes that make it possible for us to
invent ways to haul stones and
boulders. Similarly, our voluntary control of
our bodies and thinking processes is not a direct
product of sheer will, either. The voluntary act
too must be rooted - constrained, if you will -
in real experience and the real processes of
nature, society, our bodies, our nervous systems,
etc. Attempts to explain humans "directly"
controlling their behavior by sheer "will-power"
are as plausible as stories of shadows carrying stones.

As I understand the classical Marxist view, free
will can exist, but it is not itself "free." The
development of free will resides in the historic
struggle of humans to gain control over their own
activity by doing it in conjunction with the
realities of nature and society. Freedom, in
this reasoning process, is the understanding and
harnessing of necessity. As we increasingly
become masters of the necessity and reality of
our lives, we become more free as a species. For
better and worse, as history has unfolded in
steps, alternating advances with setbacks, our
species has been emancipating itself from an
unknown, uncontrolled nature, and obsolete,
oppressive societies by comprehending their
realities, their contradictions, their facts of
existence. In so doing, we have been learning
about becoming free women, men and
children. What Marx and Engels added to Hegel's
insights into this question of freedom and
necessity, in addition to firmly grounding human
consciousness in history and social being, is
that we must make real revolutions in society,
and in science, to move forward toward mass
emancipation, and that these tasks belong first
and foremost to the working people of our planet.

My sense of Luria's statement is it is extending
this philosophical way of looking at freedom and
necessity to the conscious psychological act. In
contrast to mainstream scientific methods of
reducing the use of voluntary behavior, free
will, self-control, etc. to "lower" levels of
reality (especially, biological processes), this
approach begins to show a way toward more deeply
understanding, through historical, sociological,
cultural and psychological processes, how and why
humans make the choices they do.

Here is a classic Marxist discussion of freedom and necessity.

from Anti-Duhring (1878) by Frederick Engels in a
section entitled "Morality and Law. Freedom and Necessity."

"To him [Hegel-sg], freedom is the insight into
necessity (die Einsicht in die Notwendigheit).
"Necessity is blind only in so far as it is not
understood [begriffen]." [From Hegel's
Encyclopedia of the Philosophical
Sciences-sg]. Freedom does not consist in any
dreamt-of independence from natural laws, but in
the knowledge of these laws, and in the
possibility this gives of systematically making
them work towards definite ends. This holds good
in relation both to the laws of external nature
and to those which govern the bodily and mental
existence of men themselves two classes of laws
which we can separate from each other at most
only in thought but not in reality. Freedom of
the will therefore means nothing but the capacity
to make decisions with knowledge of the subject.
Therefore the freer a man's judgment is in
relation to a definite question, the greater is
the necessity with which the content of this
judgment will be determined; while the
uncertainty, founded on ignorance, which seems to
make an arbitrary choice among many different and
conflicting possible decisions, shows precisely
by this that it is not free, that it is
controlled by the very object it should itself
control. Freedom therefore consists in the
control over ourselves and over external nature,
a control founded on knowledge of natural
necessity; it is therefore necessarily a product
of historical development. The first men who
separated themselves from the animal kingdom were
in all essentials as unfree as the animals
themselves, but each step forward in the field of
culture was a step towards freedom."

Engels continues with an interesting discussion
of humankind first discovering how to make fire
from friction, and then thousands of years later,
learning how to make friction from fire, as in the steam engine.

Also, here is a useful url to some relevant Hegel
on this question of freedom and necessity, likely
provided by our own Andy Blunden. The above
Hegel quote from Engels can be found in this section.

- Steve

>xmca mailing list
At 02:19 PM 4/23/2006 -0400, Martin Packer wrote:
>Judy, Ana,
>I read Luria, as cited by Mike, perhaps a little differently:
>"Many observations support our view that the consideration of the voluntary
>act as accomplished by "will-power" is a myth and that the human cannot by
>direct force control his behavior any more than "a shadow can carry stones".
>I'd place emphasis on Luria's word 'direct.' I think he was saying that we
>cannot control our behavior simply by willing ourselves to do something
>(following from a decision reached by means of thought or otherwise).
>Rather, we have to transform our environment, so that it then enables (or
>constrains!) the behavior we wish to perform. (I'm not sure I think this is
>always the case, but I'm sure it often is.) In a sense, then, the
>environment 'causes' our behavior. But since it is we who arranged the
>environment, this causality is under our control. And once again individual
>action is mediated by public artifacts.
>If a teacher wants children to behave differently in the classroom,
>requesting or demanding that they do so has little effect. But change the
>way the classroom is organized...
>On 4/23/06 12:45 PM, "Ana Marjanovic-Shane" <> wrote:
> > Dear Judy,
> > so glad to hear from you! Maybe we are using the word "free" in a
> > different sense.
> > Let's turn your example upside down. What about the torturer?? One: can
> > a torturer stop the torture "at free will"? Also: is a torturer
> > responsible?? All of these are relevant to understand what we mean by
> > FREE will/ or freedom?? What can we "choose" to do, up to what degree of
> > "freedom" or, is EVERYTHING we do determined by forces outside of our
> > ability to control or maybe even to understand?
> > Ana
> >
> > Judith Vera Diamondstone wrote:
> >> Thinking has some force to it, Ana, but it is not free will.
> >>
> >> Think, if you will, of individuals under torture. That's the thought
> >> experiment I apply to such questions. Some
> "break"; some don't. No one thinks
> >> their way out of the torture that's inflicted. Do you think the ones who
> >> don't break exercise free will?
> >>
> >> I would say they exercise constraints they
> have practiced in other situations
> >> in the past, & they have learned to read the conditions in such a way that
> >> 'not-breaking' is desirable.
> >>
> >> Judy
> >>
> >> -----Original Message-----
> >> From: []On
> >> Behalf Of Ana Marjanovic-Shane
> >> Sent: Saturday, April 22, 2006 12:55 AM
> >> To:; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> >> Subject: Re: [xmca] uncertainites
> >>
> >>
> >> I think that Luria was not right in that and that people-kind proved
> >> many times that "a shadow can carry stones" indeed.
> >> In fact I think that our whole science (social sciences) exists because
> >> we believe that thinking (shadow) has some force in it.
> >> Don't you think?
> >> Ana
> >>
> >> Mike Cole wrote:
> >>
> >>> I believe the issue was constraints and
> free will, donna and don. Sorry for
> >>> the distraction of too many words.
> >>>
> >>> These were the one's I was focused on. If
> you are interested in persuing the
> >>> issue beyond snuffing it, lets.
> >>>
> >>> Are constraints a way of avoiding the issue of free will? And will? Luria
> >>> wrote:
> >>>
> >>> "Many observations support our view that
> the consideration of the voluntary
> >>> act as accomplished by "will-power" is a
> myth and that the human cannot by
> >>> direct force control his behavior any more
> than "a shadow can carry stones".
> >>>
> >>>
> >>> Sniff.
> >>> mike
> >>>
> >>> On 4/21/06, Russell, Donna L <> wrote:
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>> Hi Don
> >>>>
> >>>> --for more word fun--
> >>>>
> >>>> " When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said,
> >>>> "It means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."
> >>>> "The question is, said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many
> >>>> different
> >>>> things."
> >>>> "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty,
> >>>> "which is to be the master--that's all."
> >>>>
> >>>> Lewis Carroll
> >>>>
> >>>> Donna
> >>>>
> >>>> Donna L. Russell, Ph.D.
> >>>> Assistant Professor
> >>>> Instructional Technology
> >>>> Curriculum and Instructional Leadership
> >>>> School of Education
> >>>> University of Missouri-Kansas City
> >>>> (email) <>
> >>>> (website) <
> >>>>>
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>> "Quasi-Bedurfnisse" is the sound I make when I sneeze. But I love
> >>>> learning new words!
> >>>>
> >>>> Don Cunningham
> >>>> Indiana University
> >>>>
> >>>> _______________________________________________
> >>>> xmca mailing list
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>> _______________________________________________
> >>> xmca mailing list
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>
> >>
> >>
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