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Journey 11 - ANIMACY AND FREE WILL

A typewriter will never turn itself on in the middle of the night and begin clacking out the "Great
American Novel." However, a cat will wake itself up in the middle of the night, find a ball of yarn,
and bat it all around the living room, leaving a tangle of yarn around the legs of chairs. There, in a
nutshell, is the difference between all machines and all life. It is odd that the behaviorists, alleged
students of behavior, do not seem to have noticed this difference.

We know that no real car will ever behave like "The Love Bug" in some Disney movies, partly
because we have at least some crude knowledge of how cars work. The great humbug of AI
(Artificial Intelligence) arises because most programmers do not become fluent in assembly
language, and never learn the physics of a logic gate. It's just a dumb machine, and like any other
machine, it does only what we tell it to do. If we don't tell it to do anything, it is just an expensive
paperweight. Our ordinary everyday experience is that machines behave very differently from
living creatures when it comes to Animacy. Hollywood writers instinctively recognize this
difference. When they want to show us AI, instead they show us Animacy. Herbie the Love Bug
starts by itself and goes where it wants, regardless of the operator's inputs. Hal 5000 has to be
cajoled, and the crew is nervous about its decisions. If Reductionists want to claim that living
creatures are machines, the burden of proof is on them. Our ordinary experience is that machines
and living things are very different in behavior.

We have to push the buttons on machines. Living things, on the other hand, may initiate action
without anything pushing their buttons. The first attribute of Animacy is initiative.

When we run a computer program with the same inputs, it always produces the same outputs. This
is still true if the program includes a random number generator, with the same "seed" number.
Given the same environment, cloned life-forms take different actions. Thus, the second attribute of
Animacy is choice.

A virus may attack a cell immediately, or it may lie low and hide for years. Don't blame this on
quantum mechanics. In any case, the equations of quantum mechanics are deterministic.

The third attribute of Animacy is strategy, such as the strategy of a virus that decides to hide out in
some unusual host while it rearranges genes until it can survive some new antibody to it. See
Kilboume's book Influenza. Strategy is a combination of purpose and creativity.
It is this combination of initiative, choice, and strategy that gives empirical content to the empty
philosophical term "free will."

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is a belief in magic. It is an age-old dream, one found in Pinocchio, the
dream of bringing an inanimate object to life with some magic spell. In the case of AI, the "magic
spell" is a computer program. AI enthusiasts believe if they can just make the program big enough
or smart enough, the computer will suddenly "come to life," like Number-5 in one of those Disney
movies ("Short Circuit"). It will never happen. There are no essential differences between
computers and other machines. If a computer can come to life, a car or a screwdriver can also come
to life. Ally Sheedy says, "I'm a machine, and I'm alive." Well then, she should have a serial number

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stamped on her butt. We should be able to take her all apart, put her back together again, and have
her “run,” or more exactly, “live.” I wouldn’t attempt that, Ally Sheedy. It won’t work.

All living things have Animacy. Viruses, bacteria, fungi and plants display Animacy and coherent
behavior without a trace of a nervous system. To see the free will in a tree, we have to look at the
world from a tree's point of view. Study carefully the complex pattern the limbs make against a
winter sunset. No two trees are alike. Nor do they sound the same in the wind. Not only are
different species different in the wind, each individual tree of the same species makes its own song.
Each tree decides when to turn colors in the fall and when to drop them. The exact patterning of
colors is different on identical clones of identical species in identical soil. Therefore, there is choice
at work here, but one must have a deep appreciation of the exact details to see it.

I give two examples of coherency. If we watch bacteria under a microscope, we see all the internal
parts jiggling around, doing the dance of life. At cell death, all cease simultaneously. There is no
ripple of failure that spreads out from one place or another. Another instance of unexplained
coherency comes from the study of Neuro-physiology in higher animals. A certain stimulus causes
certain columns of neurons in the cortex to fire. However, there remains an inexplicable leap of
faith from that fact to the coherent field of perception.

See "The Puzzle of Conscious Experience," by David J. Chalmers, in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN,
December 1995, p. 80. Physiology can never jump that gap.

No reductionists can explain any living thing in terms of heredity and environment. The truth is that
Reductionists have ignored Animacy. They haven't explained it away, any more than they have
explained away consciousness.

Another way of looking at Animacy is in terms of challenge-and-response. Sometimes it is
opportunity-and-response. The great historian Arnold Toynbee found repeated patterns of
challenge-and-response in human affairs, although no one has ever found an example of cause-and-
effect in history that could stand up to close scrutiny. This is why I list Arnold Toynbee as one of
the philosophers of the 20th Century. He has laid the foundations for what could be a splendid
science of history, and the first legitimate science of history, one that looks for patterns of
challenge, and patterns of response, rather than cause and effect. So far, the historians and
philosophers of history have totally misunderstood Toynbee.

How can Sir Karl Popper put Toynbee among the "historicists" who believe in some deterministic
view of history? The truth is just the opposite. Toynbee is the first historian who didn't do that, the
first to give meaning to free will as it applies to history. In academic philosophy, synonymous with
sophistry, free will is an empty concept that seems to leave no connection between antecedent and
consequent. Note that this is not true of Toynbee's patterns. There is a connection between
antecedent (the problem) and the consequent (attempted solution). However, it is not one of cause
and effect, for if it was, we could predict it. One can never predict a creative response to a problem,
nor can one predict whether it is creative enough. The connection is that of problem and solution.

Consider the two contemporary civilizations, on opposite ends of Eurasia in Classical times. In the
West, we had the Greco-Roman civilization in 4 stages: Mycenaean, classical Greek, Rome, and

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Byzantium (which always called itself Roman). Homer was the favorite author throughout this
space and time (about 3000 years) and chariot racing the favorite sport. In the East, we have
classical China, beginning with the marvelous bronzes of the Shang, then the Chou (age of warring
states and great philosophers), Han (universal state, like the Roman Empire), T'ang (600 CE to 900
CE) which rose to brilliance just as the Western part of the Roman Empire was sinking into a dark
age, and followed by Sung, Ming, and Manchu (I am leaving out a few). The classical Chinese
civilization finally came to an end in 1912, but had been decadent for several centuries. The typical
lifespan of civilizations is 3000 years, so the Classical Chinese Civilization is exceptional in having
a lifespan of 3500 years.

And what is the civilization of China today? It is a variation of Western civilization, and we find
such variants all over the Pacific Rim.

When historians ask, "why did we have a Dark Age in the West," they should add, "and not in the
East?" Both civilizations were about the same age, had the same challenges at the same times from
the same barbarians and the same plagues. Both had an absolute dictatorship at about the same
time, one that fell to pieces, as government and the army became top-heavy and insupportable.
Both Byzantium and China made creative responses to these problems, including the Mandarin
system of government in China, and Greek fire in Byzantium. The Greeks and Romans never did
solve the problem of lawful succession. Civil war bled Rome white.

China, by contrast, was able to absorb wave after wave of invaders from the North and was always
able to restore stable government. Give the Emperor all the Earthly treasures and pleasures he could
imagine, but leave the government and the tax collecting to the Mandarins, who were so good at it.
In the West, the Greco-Roman civilization could not re-establish itself after absorbing barbarian
invasions. Byzantine society was not very creative. The religious wars over icons lasted centuries
and sapped its strength. In the East, they maintained separation between church and state. The
Mandarins were followers of Confucius, but the result was social theory, not religion. In most
periods, there was some tolerance for a variety of religions, including Taoism, Buddhism, Nestorian
Christianity, Jesuits and Islam.
This analysis is my own contribution to the once and future science of Toynbeean history, the study
of patterns in challenge-and-response.

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