All posts by Natalie Gramling

What Happens to Free Will?

In “Descartes’ Myth” by Gilbert Ryle, Ryle focuses on the body and mind being connected to make the body function. Ryle recognizes the difference between mind and body: the body houses the mind but the two are not controlled by the same actions—the correlation is not always understood. One can see the physical aspects of another person’s body but can never truly understand what is going on within a person’s mind. The body takes up space, but does the mind?

When someone claims to know something, the verb denotes an occurrence of a stream of consciousness. This definition is not the same for everyone, though. For example, I can claim to know calculus and the process of Rolle’s Theorem. The way I “know” the Theorem may not be the exact same way that someone else “knows” the Theorem. We could have different learning mechanisms that lead us to the same conclusion, but we reach those conclusions through different thought processes.

This information leads to Ryle’s falsification of Descartes’s idea of ‘The Ghost in the Machine.’ Ryle claims that Descartes makes “one big mistake… a category-mistake.” Ryle rejects Descartes’s idea based off the fact that the idea attempts to describe mental processes through physical ones. Ryle argues that the categorical mistakes stem from people not knowing how to understand specific concepts such as “University, division, and team spirit” (page 27.) These categorical mistakes are often made when a person understands the word (the physical) and can apply the concept of a word, but not in every situation i.e. where is the team spirit? Can you see it? Ryle’s goal is to describe thought processes and thinking and feeling as “counterpart idioms” rather than categorical ideas—they are connected.

What is important to note, is that Ryle rejects idea of free will. He argues that free will stems from the acceptance or rejection of someone’s moral actions. If someone is not able to actually know the exact processes of what is going on in someone else’s mind, then how can the morality of an action be determined? Furthermore, how can we determine what insanity, stupidity or intelligence is if the thought processes and mental states cannot be seen? Psychology aims to connect the widespread ideas of these words, but in an individual, mental states could be very different. Ryle reaches the conclusion that in order for our actions to be considered free, they must be moral (Doyle.)

This idea, therefore, would falsify the idea in court that someone committed a crime due to his or her mental states. If our society rejected the use of mental insanity excuses (for lack of a better word) in court, it would no longer be acceptable to argue against or for someone’s sanity. Instead, legal systems would have to focus on the morality of someone’s actions in order to determine the thought processes of the criminal and the actions that the criminal should be punished for.

Below, I have included a cartoon that shows people in a lounge as “puppets.” The cartoon pokes fun at the idea of free will, or better yet, the lack of free will.

Additionally, please click here to watch a video explaining Ryle’s argument.


Doyle, Robert O. “Gilbert Ryle.” The Information Philosopher. Dr. Robert O Doyle, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <>.

You Are Now Dreaming

In “Certainty,” G.E. Moore addresses our perception of reality. Moore addresses the skeptics argument that “I do not know that I am not now dreaming.” Moore’s conclusion to this argument is that “I really cannot now know for certain that I am not dreaming.” (363) Later in the paper, Moore aims to discuss sensory experiences and dreams. This is what I will be focusing on in this post.

Moore admits that a premise is true: “Some at least of the sensory experiences which you are having now are similar in important respects to dream-images which actually have occurred in dreams.” (363) From this premise, we reach the conclusion that if we admit this to be true, we must then have the ability to know that dreams have occurred. If we know that dreams have occurred, then can we also claim to know that we are not in a dream right now? I agree with Moore by saying we cannot. If we claim the first fact is true (that we can experience sensory experiences within a dream and “outside” of a dream), and can admit to knowing a dream occurred, we have an inconsistency in our argument. We cannot claim that we know we are “awake” if we could still be in a dream holding normal sensory experiences. What if we are dreaming inside a dream?

To support this argument, I would like to provide you with an example: Imagine you are dreaming of eating cotton candy. You have the sensory experience of the taste of cotton candy in your mouth, the smell and sticky consistency of the candy. You also could see yourself holding the cotton candy in your dream. After you wake up, you realize that you have been dreaming. If you can admit to having the sensory experience and to having the dream itself, then, how can you say that you are not in a dream at this very instant and you simply have not woken up yet? You cannot.  If we are not aware of our dreams while they are occurring, then we could be in a dream our entire life and never truly “know” if we are dreaming or not.

I would like to create another example for better understanding this argument. In a computer, we can open up the Internet. Within the Internet, we can open up tabs, pages and windows from one (what I am calling) “mother page”—the page that we start out by opening first. This is similar to an ancestor simulation within an ancestor simulation from Bostrum’s argument or a dream within a dream from Moore’s argument. As we keep clicking links from other links and tabs, we dig a deeper tunnel as to where the pages started (imagining that each link is a new dream of the mother page.) The page (assuming it has consciousness in this scenario) only knows of its current state. If it “woke up” from its current reality, only then would it be aware that it was “dreaming.” This is similar to the dream scenario that Moore presents. In a dream, we only know of our current reality, not that we could be in a dream. We can only know if we are dreaming if we wake up and realize it.

Lastly, I would like to leave with you a question: Do you believe we are in a dream, and will we ever know? Please view the link attached at the bottom of the page. It is a video that lends some more information about the idea from popular TV shows/movies/interviews.