Free Will?

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Xial
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Free Will?

Postby Xial » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:24 am UTC

Recently I have been thinking about free will a lot. I am an atheist (or maybe agnostic) and so do not believe (or rather do not have enough evidence to know) that their is a super being which controls my actions and thoughts. However, it seems to me that the traditional religious idea of free will is that there is a soul which exists separate from both the body and brain which can make decisions independent of needs and desires (if one has the will power to resist temptation).

It seems to me that the human mind is simply a computer which takes as inputs past experiences, and models and tries to predict gains and costs and finally weigh these and make a decision which is "best".

Even if this were true I do not believe that future events (or individual decisions) are in any way 100% predictable. The technology required to map out the current state of a brain and then predict what will happen is far beyond the scope of our technology (not to mention that pesky uncertainty principle).

I just wanted to know what others thought.

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Postby Vaniver » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:28 am UTC

If we define "free will" as "a sufficiently complex way of determining decisions", then humans have free will. Other definitions of free will will mire themselves in problems, although they could be considerably more valuable.

[edit]Or, essentially, I agree. There is something computing something, somewhere. But, that doesn't mean that a decision is not being made, or that a program is 'forced' to run itself.
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Postby Gelsamel » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:36 am UTC

It is impossible for the human mind to make a decision which it believes is incorrect or bad.
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Postby Aoeniac » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:37 am UTC

Actually, Xial, from what I can tell being an atheist might actually increase the likelihood that we do NOT believe in free will.

Because the point of there being free will is fairly important to many religions in that they often want to prevent the guilt of our actions from falling on their god, which is often supposed to be perfect.

That's not to say that there's not religions which believe in determinism or that there's not atheists who believe in free will, far from it.

I'm just saying that whether you're a theist or an atheist doesn't have much to do with whether you believe in free will or not.


I'm an atheist, and I believe in causal determinism.
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Postby Xial » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:39 am UTC

Gelsamel wrote:It is impossible for the human mind to make a decision which it believes is incorrect or bad.


Just as it is impossible for a computer to make a bad decision or error. It does exactly what it is programmed to do and so any errors arise in poor program design. Although I suppose that if a computer was physically broken or damaged...

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Postby Gelsamel » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:40 am UTC

"Which it believe is incorrect or bad"

If a computer is broken and makes a "wrong decision" then it makes that decision on faulty logic, thinking it is the best decision.


Edit: Also the universe doesn't have to be 100% predictable for determinism to exist.
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Postby VannA » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:41 am UTC

Free Will cannot exist if you believe a brain to be a deterministic computer, regardless how complex.

You can present the illusion of free will, easily enough.

You can present randomness masquerading, as free will.

But you have a processor. It can only give you one result based on the inputs it has.
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Postby Xial » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:46 am UTC

I suppose that this raises the issue of punishment. If a person can only make a decision that it thinks is right (just as a computer does) than is it acceptable to punish the person for that decision?

I am of the opinion that it is acceptable because it will give that person an incentive not recommit a crime and prevents others from committing the crime.

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Postby Tchebu » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:46 am UTC

what people seem to not understand when they hear that the brain is a computer is that their mind is not something aside from them. It IS them, or a part of them. The brain is a system that DOES make decisions, yes it does them according to certain rules. But these rules are determined by the internal structure of the system, the internal structure of the brain. And the brain IS us, it is what we perceive as our mind. The feeling of free will is the feeling that the decisions we make depend on the internal structure of the brain, the internal structure of us... anything that creates conditions where we say we are restricted in our free will and in the choices we make is an outside influence, which is NOT part of us (if there's a wall, we cannot choose to walk through it). Just because we say "the person" and "the person's brain" doesn't mean that it's not the same thing... its the same as saying that my pancreas is not a part of me, or that my legs are not a part of me... they are. they aren't part of my personality or entity, but that's because legs have nothing to do with personality or entity. Our "entity" is the mind, the mind is the result of brain activity and the internal structure of the mind is defined by the brain...

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Postby Gelsamel » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:49 am UTC

Xial wrote:I suppose that this raises the issue of punishment. If a person can only make a decision that it thinks is right (just as a computer does) than is it acceptable to punish the person for that decision?

I am of the opinion that it is acceptable because it will give that person an incentive not recommit a crime and prevents others from committing the crime.


Consequences factor into the decision making process. Which are predicted through observation of patterns.
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Postby VannA » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:49 am UTC

Xial -

Regardless of whether or not Free Will actually exists, it is more beneficial to act as thought it does.

We all generally feel we are in control.

And, in the end even if it doesn't exist, and all is deterministic from the get go.. then the punishments we deal out are not our choice, per se.

Tchebu.

I don't understand your point.
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Postby Gelsamel » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:58 am UTC

True that, and I like acting that I have a choice :-).

Edit: Even though my acting like it does exist is determined!

That suggests that acting like free will DOES exist is a choice that the brain has tacitly made because it is the best choice to act like it exists.
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Postby Tchebu » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:59 am UTC

I don't understand your point.


hehe...

my point is that free will exists, because the fact that our decisions are determined by some set of rules governing our brain, is a part of the configuration of the brain. When people say we dont have a free will, they mean that we do not control their decisions. That our brains make these decisions independently of "us" as if our brain is someothing separatefrom "us". But the brains ARE us, at least every aspect of us that concerns decision making... this means that the decisions we make are governed by the internal structure of us... which means we really do make our own decisions.

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Postby Gelsamel » Thu Mar 29, 2007 3:00 am UTC

That's just an argument against definition.
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Postby gmalivuk » Thu Mar 29, 2007 3:02 am UTC

I think that Free Will (the capitalized version that most religions and many philosophers talk about) is an illusion.

It (and the Self it...self) are convenient cognitive shortcuts, which our brains treat as real things to save on processor power. It's like a physical center of mass: we know this isn't an actual thing inside every rigid object, but computations are often easier if when we use the center of mass than when we consider every separate bit. (Yes, I'm taking this analogy from Dennet's paper. And my own view is fleshed out here.)

It's mentally simpler to make decisions as though each person has this agent inside which is a simple, independent decision-maker. Psychology, cognitive science, neurophysiology, and the like exist largely to try to break down this illusion and actually get at the processes that underly the decisions we make.
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Postby Vaniver » Thu Mar 29, 2007 3:03 am UTC

Free Will cannot exist if you believe a brain to be a deterministic computer, regardless how complex.
How are you defining free will?
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Postby VannA » Thu Mar 29, 2007 3:07 am UTC

Tchebu wrote:
I don't understand your point.


hehe...

my point is that free will exists, because the fact that our decisions are determined by some set of rules governing our brain, is a part of the configuration of the brain. When people say we dont have a free will, they mean that we do not control their decisions. That our brains make these decisions independently of "us" as if our brain is someothing separatefrom "us". But the brains ARE us, at least every aspect of us that concerns decision making... this means that the decisions we make are governed by the internal structure of us... which means we really do make our own decisions.


Um. No.

I'm saying that if there is no actual 'not-bound-to-the-universe' entity that is 'us' and resides in our brains/bodies. (Ie, a soul) then free will is an illusion.

I'm not seperateing me from anything. If the universe is truly determinisitic, then I have never had a choice about writing this post, or correcting the typos, or deliberately mispelling a werd.

I just think I do. The complexity involved means that we do not understand the instuction set we operate with.

There may be partial determinism, where the rules are immutable, but the inputs are under the influece of random flucations from apparent quantum state fluctuations, etc.. but that's not choice.

In order for their to be true Free Will, with our current understanding of the functioning of the world, a soul-analogue would need to exist, and it would need to be able to do something neat, like collapse a quantum state.
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Postby Vaniver » Thu Mar 29, 2007 3:17 am UTC

In order for their to be true Free Will, with our current understanding of the functioning of the world, a soul-analogue would need to exist, and it would need to be able to do something neat, like collapse a quantum state.
Again, please define free will.

I will argue that the act of deciding is free will. You chose to write that post. The reasons why you decided to that could be determined, yes. That doesn't mean that a choice didn't happen.

It's also silly to assume omniscience. We can't even tell what's happening in the present, on a macroscopic scale. Why are we discussing philosophy on a scale that is both universal and microscopic?
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Postby Gelsamel » Thu Mar 29, 2007 3:25 am UTC

Deciding is NOT free will.

As I said before, computers/brains can NOT choose NOT to make the best decision possible.

Ie.

Person 'Y' with memories and experiences and knowledge 'X' presented with "choices" of

'A' - the best considering X
'B' - the 2nd best considering X
'C' - the worst considering X

Is not ABLE to choose B or C. Therefore it is PREDETERMINED in this system that Person Y with memories, experiences and knowledge X chooses A.

Sure, he has decided on A, but that does not constitute free will because it was predetermined.

Free will is being able to choose 'B' or 'C'.
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Postby Vaniver » Thu Mar 29, 2007 3:32 am UTC

Free will is being able to choose 'B' or 'C'.
But, how do you know that the person is 'unable' to choose them?

You seem to be saying that "free will is randomness in decision-making", and I'm not sure I agree.
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Postby Gelsamel » Thu Mar 29, 2007 3:36 am UTC

In absence of a 'soul' - The brain, and hence thought, is a biological supercomputer, as a computer, it cannot make a decision it believes to be a non-optimal in comparison to other solutions.
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Postby VannA » Thu Mar 29, 2007 3:37 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:
In order for their to be true Free Will, with our current understanding of the functioning of the world, a soul-analogue would need to exist, and it would need to be able to do something neat, like collapse a quantum state.
Again, please define free will.

I will argue that the act of deciding is free will. You chose to write that post. The reasons why you decided to that could be determined, yes. That doesn't mean that a choice didn't happen.

It's also silly to assume omniscience. We can't even tell what's happening in the present, on a macroscopic scale. Why are we discussing philosophy on a scale that is both universal and microscopic?


Except you are not decidiing. You just think you are, because that is part of the operation of the brain. You are presented with the illusion of choice. It's just programming.

Where did omniscience come into it?
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Postby Vaniver » Thu Mar 29, 2007 3:45 am UTC

In absence of a 'soul' - The brain, and hence thought, is a biological supercomputer, as a computer, it cannot make a decision it believes to be a non-optimal in comparison to other solutions.
So, the ability to make suboptimal decisions is, to you, a fundamental requirement of free will? Then, it is whatever the opposite of a tautology is called, and false. But, I tend to not define terms in ways that will result in situations like that.

It's just programming.
I'm claiming that the programming itself is the free will.

Where did omniscience come into it?
Omniscience is required to know all the things that influence a decision-making process, the process itself, and thus predict the result of that process. Now, I am talking functional omniscience instead of true omniscience- one *could* map out every neuron in a brain and how they work. But, then, a little bit later, it would be different.

Looking up free will on wikipedia, I came across this definition: "it may imply that the actions of the body, including the brain and the mind, are not wholly determined by physical causality." If that's what you are claiming is free will, then I will agree with you that naturalism is correct, and we cannot have a supernaturally free will. But, I don't see how the fact that decisions are carried out by chemical processes in a biological computer means that decisions do not occur.
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Postby VannA » Thu Mar 29, 2007 3:47 am UTC

Vaniver - does an electric circuit make a decision or a choice?
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Postby Gelsamel » Thu Mar 29, 2007 3:48 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:I'm claiming that the programming itself is the free will.


10 PRINT "Hello World"
20 GOTO 10

Yeah, the computer is using it's free will to display "Hello World" over and over again.
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Postby Aoeniac » Thu Mar 29, 2007 4:43 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:
Free will is being able to choose 'B' or 'C'.
But, how do you know that the person is 'unable' to choose them?

You seem to be saying that "free will is randomness in decision-making", and I'm not sure I agree.


Because whatever you choose is always the best decision for your purposes.

Let's say you do not want to die, and there is a car about to hit you, but you have enough time to jump out of the way. You can choose to stand still, jump out of the way, or break dance.

Given that you do not want to die, you will jump out of the way. If you decide that you wish to have free will and choose to break dance instead, seemingly going against your best interests, you definitely did not just exhibit free will. You merely changed your priorities from living to attempting to make a decision that is not the best for your purposes. Except you failed because that was your new purpose.

When you think about it THIS way, there's no such thing as free will. Although there's more ways to think about things, no doubt.
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Postby Vaniver » Thu Mar 29, 2007 4:45 am UTC

Vaniver - does an electric circuit make a decision or a choice?
It depends. Does a logical switch count as a decision? (by most dictionary definitions, I'm going with yes).

Yeah, the computer is using it's free will to display "Hello World" over and over again.
I would argue that the boundaries of free will are levels of complexity (and this isn't complex enough). I think you could make a program sophisticated enough to make choices, and once you reached a certain level of sophistication, it would count as free will. The fact that you can predict what it will decide does not negate that it went through the process of a decision.

I'm arguing that predictability does not negate free will. If you feel that unpredictability is part of the definition of free will, then we're arguing about definitions, not concepts.
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Postby VannA » Thu Mar 29, 2007 4:57 am UTC

Defination of Decide and Choice

Both of them explicitly require an intent.

A circuit cannot have intent, can it?
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Postby Vaniver » Thu Mar 29, 2007 5:08 am UTC

Both of them explicitly require an intent.
Excluding the definitions of decide which include choice:
to select as a course of action
to bring to a definitive end
to come or cause to come to a conclusion

The definitions of choose (from the dictionary I prefer):
to select from a number of possibilities; pick by preference
to prefer or decide (to do something)
to want; desire (probably invalid for the circuit)

I don't see the necessity for an intent in all of them.

A logic gate is presented with input and chooses an output. It decides based on its input. That its decision-making process is determined by its geometry does not mean it does not decide.

A circuit cannot have intent, can it?
This depends on how we're defining intent. A logic gate intends to produce output given input. It's a simplistic intent, but I would call it an intent.
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Postby VannA » Thu Mar 29, 2007 5:14 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:
Both of them explicitly require an intent.
Excluding the definitions of decide which include choice:
to select as a course of action
to bring to a definitive end
to come or cause to come to a conclusion

The definitions of choose (from the dictionary I prefer):
to select from a number of possibilities; pick by preference
to prefer or decide (to do something)
to want; desire (probably invalid for the circuit)

I don't see the necessity for an intent in all of them.

A logic gate is presented with input and chooses an output. It decides based on its input. That its decision-making process is determined by its geometry does not mean it does not decide.

A circuit cannot have intent, can it?
This depends on how we're defining intent. A logic gate intends to produce output given input. It's a simplistic intent, but I would call it an intent.


*sigh*

Could a circuit choose a different outcome without physical re-wiring?
How does a circuit 'pick by preference'? How does it 'select'? How does it 'bring to'?
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Postby Vaniver » Thu Mar 29, 2007 5:26 am UTC

Could a circuit choose a different outcome without physical re-wiring?
I'm not arguing that a logic gate has a complex decision-making process; according to my own criteria, it doesn't have free will. I'm just trying to prove the point that it *is* deciding something, even though that decision is predictable.

How does a circuit 'pick by preference'? How does it 'select'? How does it 'bring to'?
I'm afraid I know very little about the physical construction of circuits. Magic? :P

Speaking of which, do you want to continue discussion the definition of decide, or can we get back to whether or not you think predictability destroys free will?
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Postby Gelsamel » Thu Mar 29, 2007 5:32 am UTC

Non-predictability doesn't support free will. And doesn't destroy determinism.

But as to what 100% predictability does.. I'm not sure I'll have to think about it.
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Postby Steve » Thu Mar 29, 2007 5:32 am UTC

Yes. It can, and the 'choices' it makes will be totally dependant on the complexity of the inputs and the stored bank of information it compares it to (circuit geometry in this case). I think the point you are missing in this analagy VannA is that our brain is easily the most complicated circuit we have ever encountered. You have to imagine your circuit as not being a simple logic gate, but instead a complex series of connections that is continually changing itself dependant on inputs, outputs and the feedback those outputs has on the inputs.

In an analagous fasion, imagine a simple set of logic gates that are hooked up to a memory bank. There is feedback from the output to the inputs, and the circuit is designed so that the impact the output has on some 'feedback black box' as measured by inputs are stored in memory. The circuit will then decide (compute) the best output by taking its inputs, matching with the outputs given when other similar inputs were recieved and 'choosing' the output that gives the best result.

A good real-world example of this is software that learns to recognize your handwriting or speach. Through coaching it is able to decide the best letter or word to make in ascii depending on the inputs its given. Our brains are this program except vastly more complex.

Ultimately the concept of free choice is a phantom of the feeback effect, as well as a very effective computational shortcut for the circuitry (imagine doing a cost/benefit analysis in your mind for EVERY decision you make, ugh..).


Edit: Wow, 2 new posts while I typed that. @Gel, 100% determinism is just being able to transverse both forward and backwards in time and get a deterministic system. A semi-chaotic system is only deterministic in the forward direction.
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Postby Oort » Thu Mar 29, 2007 5:37 am UTC

I have a question, specifically for people who do belive in free will:

Do you think (non-human) animals ever have free will? Say, a dog, cat, cow, or insect. If some who and some don't, how would you separate them?

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Postby Vaniver » Thu Mar 29, 2007 5:40 am UTC

Do you think (non-human) animals ever have free will? Say, a dog, cat, cow, or insect. If some who and some don't, how would you separate them?
An arbitrary division based on sophistication.
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Postby VannA » Thu Mar 29, 2007 5:40 am UTC

Steve wrote:Yes. It can, and the 'choices' it makes will be totally dependant on the complexity of the inputs and the stored bank of information it compares it to (circuit geometry in this case). I think the point you are missing in this analagy VannA is that our brain is easily the most complicated circuit we have ever encountered. You have to imagine your circuit as not being a simple logic gate, but instead a complex series of connections that is continually changing itself dependant on inputs, outputs and the feedback those outputs has on the inputs.

In an analagous fasion, imagine a simple set of logic gates that are hooked up to a memory bank. There is feedback from the output to the inputs, and the circuit is designed so that the impact the output has on some 'feedback black box' as measured by inputs are stored in memory. The circuit will then decide (compute) the best output by taking its inputs, matching with the outputs given when other similar inputs were recieved and 'choosing' the output that gives the best result.

A good real-world example of this is software that learns to recognize your handwriting or speach. Through coaching it is able to decide the best letter or word to make in ascii depending on the inputs its given. Our brains are this program except vastly more complex.

Ultimately the concept of free choice is a phantom of the feeback effect, as well as a very effective computational shortcut for the circuitry (imagine doing a cost/benefit analysis in your mind for EVERY decision you make, ugh..).


Edit: Wow, 2 new posts while I typed that. @Gel, 100% determinism is just being able to transverse both forward and backwards in time and get a deterministic system. A semi-chaotic system is only deterministic in the forward direction.


I was getting there, you know.
You've agreed with what I was saying, so I'm a little lost as to why you directed that commentary at me.
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Postby Steve » Thu Mar 29, 2007 5:42 am UTC

The amount of 'free will' is a function of brain complexity imo. It is not neccesary as a mechanism for less complicated systems, and moreso for highly complicated ones. As an abstraction, a being with exponentially higher complexity than us would view us as nothing more than we view an insect or squirrel.

Its all scaling.
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Postby Gelsamel » Thu Mar 29, 2007 5:42 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:
Do you think (non-human) animals ever have free will? Say, a dog, cat, cow, or insect. If some who and some don't, how would you separate them?
An arbitrary division based on sophistication.



So you would argue something which is not sophisticated enough to fulfill the requirements of Free Will would be something that could be described as a simple set of logic gates and or programming code?
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Postby Vaniver » Thu Mar 29, 2007 5:48 am UTC

So you would argue something which is not sophisticated enough to fulfill the requirements of Free Will would be something that could be described as a simple set of logic gates and or programming code?
Sort of. And my definition of simple would be something like, less than ten thousand neurons or a thousand pages or code, except scaled so it provides a worthwhile divide between 'simple' and 'complex enough to have a will'. (It probably wouldn't be a strictly numerical cutoff- you can have ten thousand lines of code which would work just as well as three lines with a for loop)
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Postby Axolotl » Thu Mar 29, 2007 5:49 am UTC

Xial wrote:I suppose that this raises the issue of punishment. If a person can only make a decision that it thinks is right (just as a computer does) than is it acceptable to punish the person for that decision?

I am of the opinion that it is acceptable because it will give that person an incentive not recommit a crime and prevents others from committing the crime.


The thing is though, if you believe that the human mind is deterministic and therefore free will does not exist, those legislating for and administering the punishment have no free will in the matter either, making it something of a moot point. I'm aware of the way that argument can be used to argue against the worth of thinking about just about anything though, so take it with a grain of salt.


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