Freewill [Philosophy]

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infernovia
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby infernovia » Tue Mar 08, 2011 3:41 am UTC

Tchebu wrote:To be honest, I don't see the point of your double box experiment.

He is saying that the only way to simulate exactly what will happen in the future to that particular thing is by accounting for all factors/particles/things that could effect it. However, this is impossible because this "system" we are considering is called "the universe" and it is a fallacy for the universe to contain itself (a thing inside of the universe containing the universe). So even if there was determinism, there would be no way to be certain of it.

I also take issue with your differentiation beetween "existence" and "ability to be observed", but that's a whole different can of worms. Either way, determinism could very easily be observed just by doing your calculations ahead of time (or even later, but without peeking at the system in question).

You are predicting behaviors much more complicated than a simple weather pattern, which we still can't predict as reliably as we would want. Anyway, this is a non-issue.

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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby Tchebu » Tue Mar 08, 2011 4:16 am UTC

infernovia wrote:You are predicting behaviors much more complicated than a simple weather pattern, which we still can't predict as reliably as we would want. Anyway, this is a non-issue.

Yes, of course. I was talking about the ability to do that in principle, which is sufficient to deny the comparison to Sagan's dragon.

Also we don't have to settle for nothing less than the entire universe when we're predicting stuff. We can try to isolate parts of it to some extent, and try to quantify that extent in the form of predicted errors on measurements or something. There's still the chance that we didn't isolate the system as well we need, but even then the discrepancy between prediction and observation due to such a mistake would look quite different from, say, acausal chaos or whatever a non-deterministic universe should look like... I guess I'm really just describing the way science works, but that's kind of the point. Science is a sort of ongoing test to see if the universe is deterministic and to what extent, so Rye's comparison of determinism to the dragon in the garage, for which no test can ever be designed, is not very good.
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby guenther » Tue Mar 08, 2011 5:55 pm UTC

mmmcannibalism wrote:--weird random tangent on something I just noticed. Does anyone else feel like their self is located in their head. That is, you feel things from the perspective of where you brain(perhaps its actually eyes) are located?

I think it's actually eyes. I just heard this podcast about how you can give people an out of body experience by presenting them with visual and tactile illusions. Basically you set up cameras on the wall, one for each eye. Then you give the subject goggles that gives them a third person perspective on their own body. The research said that alone doesn't create the effect. But then you have a hand touch just below where the cameras are (making it look like they are getting poked in the chest) and have something actually cause that stimulation on their actual chest. This gives people the sense that when they see their actual body from the outside, it's not really their body.

I bet you could create a similar illusion by putting cameras on your belly and then wearing goggles that give you that visual perspective. Then you'd feel like your self is located in your belly instead of your head.
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby fr00t » Thu Mar 10, 2011 8:15 pm UTC

omgryebread wrote:You observe my box, and reproduce it exactly in the other box, down to every particle. At this point, what difference is there between Rye and SimulacrumRye? Both are in identical universes, sharing every conceivable trait. Are not two objects that share every trait the same object?


The question most people are trying to answer when they talk about free will is an epistemological one. If a pure-free will advocate were to consider this thought experiment, they might answer that SimulacrumRye actually wouldn't do the same thing "because of free will." As I said a long time ago on this thread, this foggy notion of free-will that is thrown around seems to completely encapsulated by the idea that no conceivable observing agent could predict ones actions.

The dilemma seems to stem from the fact that for most humans, reductionism reduces value and meaning. If thought is just a sequence of synapses firing, how can we have free will? If a mother just has chemical reactions for her child, how can she love it? If there is no omniscient and omnipotent being to impose meaning on my existence, what is the point of living?

omgryebread wrote:So in other words, there is no actual model that will predict behavior that isn't an exact simulation. Given that it's impossible to produce an exact simulation, determinism is not ever observable. So if something is never actually observable, why does it make sense to talk about it? I could tell you that I have an invisible unicorn that objects pass through. This unicorn in no way affects anything. Your response should not just be "no, that unicorn doesn't exist" but "that unicorn is nonsensical."

Of course, free will is also a nonsensical concept. Existence or lack of free will implies absolutely nothing observable.


I agree with the fundamental intractability of predicting human behavior. However, the same holds for predicting the behavior of more than a handful of elementary particles, a falling rock, and even barring these "pragmatic" limitations, the halting problem ensures that the same is true of at least some subset of computer programs.

By your reasoning we may as well say that rocks and computers have free will, because determinism doesn't mean anything. This is precisely the reason why "decision" needs to be categorized as a specific type of process that can occur in a sufficiently complex computing device, rather than "something that is not completely predictable".

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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby Indon » Sat Mar 12, 2011 7:26 pm UTC

The following bases an argument regarding 'free will' based on the Arminianist view:

I would claim that the deterministic or non-deterministic features of the universe is irrelevant to this concept of free will.

Let's posit that the universe were largely or wholly non-deterministic in this manner, that events occured without causation frequently, and people made decisions at random rather than for a reason. Would actions taken in such an environment constitute this definition of 'free will', such that, for instance, God would be entitled to punish people's (randomly made, mind) decisions with an eternity of Hell? I would posit not.

From there, we have free will as being a thing that can not exist in either a deterministic or non-deterministic universe, and that the Arminianist concept of free will does not exist and is meaningless.


Personally, I prefer a practical, social definition of 'free will', which is wholly distinct from the theologically derived definition, which involves things like physical coercion and psychological manipulation. Such a definition can have meaning and value in our society.

I'm seeing in this thread a lot of conflation between what I feel is two distinct concepts that are both called free will - one an idealistic concept, and the other a practical one. Lacking Arminianist free will is irrelevant to our legal system - however, being coerced or manipulated into a crime, thus lacking practical free will, is of significance.

So, thoughts on separating discussion of free will to two concepts, one the purely philosophical arminianist definition, and the other the practical legal and ethical definition?
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby Glass Fractal » Sat Mar 12, 2011 9:29 pm UTC

Neither seems like a falsifiable concept so it doesn't seem to be worth debating as far as I'm concerned. Generally I throw my hat in with the determinist crowd that points out we've never found a natural process that has free will and we've never found evidence that humans are anything but a (complex and awesome) natural process. Morally, however, I'm of the compatibalist slant, people need to be held accountable for their actions but the existence of external influences on what they do is pretty undeniable.

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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby Indon » Sat Mar 12, 2011 10:05 pm UTC

Glass Fractal wrote:Neither seems like a falsifiable concept so it doesn't seem to be worth debating as far as I'm concerned. Generally I throw my hat in with the determinist crowd that points out we've never found a natural process that has free will and we've never found evidence that humans are anything but a (complex and awesome) natural process. Morally, however, I'm of the compatibalist slant, people need to be held accountable for their actions but the existence of external influences on what they do is pretty undeniable.


The practical definition is a social concept, and so is about as falsifiable as stuff like social contracts - it's an abstraction to describe specific social phenomena, not so much a distinct physical thing.

In this sense, free will is essentially the criteria to be held culpable for your actions. It would exist regardless of if the universe is deterministic or not, and regardless of if there exists a creator deity or not.
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby lati0s » Sun Mar 13, 2011 9:10 pm UTC

I'm a compatibilist, I believe that free will and determinism can coexist. I think the reason that many people disagree with this idea is that reductionism causes dissociation. When someone says every single bit of your life is determined by the interactions of fundamental particles, people hear it as some outside force controlling their life. but the truth is people are the interactions of fundamental particles. so when I say "your life is controlled by the interactions of particles" what I'm say is "your life is controlled by you"

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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby guenther » Sun Mar 13, 2011 9:27 pm UTC

Indon wrote:The practical definition is a social concept, and so is about as falsifiable as stuff like social contracts - it's an abstraction to describe specific social phenomena, not so much a distinct physical thing.

In this sense, free will is essentially the criteria to be held culpable for your actions. It would exist regardless of if the universe is deterministic or not, and regardless of if there exists a creator deity or not.

The practical definition is what interests me. Normal, rational people have what seems like free will, so let's just call it that. Then it's just a matter of what are the defining characteristics that separate us from those that don't have it. This could be humans in a reduced mental state, or it could be animals or AI. I think the AI concept is most interesting; laying out a boundary for when we can say that machines have free will.
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby Greyarcher » Mon Mar 14, 2011 1:52 am UTC

lati0s wrote:I'm a compatibilist, I believe that free will and determinism can coexist. I think the reason that many people disagree with this idea is that reductionism causes dissociation. When someone says every single bit of your life is determined by the interactions of fundamental particles, people hear it as some outside force controlling their life. but the truth is people are the interactions of fundamental particles. so when I say "your life is controlled by the interactions of particles" what I'm say is "your life is controlled by you"
Or it may be that the people who disagree absorbed a notion of free will that isn't compatible. It's an old phrase that's had lots of different meanings stuffed under its label.

Also, since you say people are interactions of fundamental particles, what I'm seeing in a sentence like "Your life is controlled by the interactions of particles" is "The interactions of fundamental particles is controlled by the interactions of particles". That doesn't say much of anything. Also, you seem to be speaking of psychological dissociation. But psychological dissociation is distinct from causal dissociation; if our will is causally dissociated from controlling important aspects of ourselves and our actions, then the psychological dissociation is rightly founded on a causal dissociation.

guenther wrote:
Indon wrote:The practical definition is a social concept, and so is about as falsifiable as stuff like social contracts - it's an abstraction to describe specific social phenomena, not so much a distinct physical thing.

In this sense, free will is essentially the criteria to be held culpable for your actions. It would exist regardless of if the universe is deterministic or not, and regardless of if there exists a creator deity or not.

The practical definition is what interests me. Normal, rational people have what seems like free will, so let's just call it that. Then it's just a matter of what are the defining characteristics that separate us from those that don't have it. This could be humans in a reduced mental state, or it could be animals or AI. I think the AI concept is most interesting; laying out a boundary for when we can say that machines have free will.
If we're talking about practicality though, free will is a superfluous concept. We simply hold people accountable if it's practically optimal--like training an animal, and punishing it to make it avoid an undesired behavior, no "free will" concept is required.

Well, I suppose if we're talking pure practicality then some notion of "free will" could be a useful deceit. But that's a bit too conniving and dishonest for my tastes.
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby Indon » Mon Mar 14, 2011 2:33 am UTC

guenther wrote:The practical definition is what interests me. Normal, rational people have what seems like free will, so let's just call it that. Then it's just a matter of what are the defining characteristics that separate us from those that don't have it. This could be humans in a reduced mental state, or it could be animals or AI. I think the AI concept is most interesting; laying out a boundary for when we can say that machines have free will.


Well, I think a good starting point would be to consider the concept of competence in a legal context. I feel that people not competent to make decisions can not be held culpable for decisions they make, which is the ultimate objective of free will in this context. To be competent to make a decision, you need to be able to demonstrate that you know what the decision you're making is, and you need to be able to describe the consequences of the decision.

I would further bring in the concept of coercion, and assert that to have free will you need to be free of coercion. This requires that a person not be blatantly manipulated towards their actions - and in turn requires that a person not be very easy to manipulate (as children are, for example).

So to list in brief what I would have as the requirements:
  • 1 - You know what you're doing
  • 2 - You know what doing that thing will do
  • 3 - Nobody is responsible for making you do it when you otherwise wouldn't
  • 4 - You aren't so impressionable that it's impossible to tell the difference regarding the last requirement

With this, I'm rather leaning towards a concept of free will that isn't necessarily tied to a person, but tied to a person in regards to an action - so for instance, you can have free will regarding what to eat for breakfast, but if someone threatens you while you're eating and forces you to do something, you don't have free will regarding that action even though you're employing free will in breakfast choice at the same time.

Also, the concept isn't discrete - All four criteria are gradual scales, as understanding can increase or decrease, and manipulation and manipulability can be more or less blatant. So you could say that you have more free will (or that your will is freer) regarding what to eat for breakfast versus whether you go to work that day - in the latter, circumstances provide a stricter degree of coercion, because you probably don't want to lose your job.

This leads to a concept of a sliding scale of culpability - someone who steals for 'teh lulz', as it were, could be held more culpable than someone who steals to feed themselves. Someone who has an unclear idea of a law could be held less culpable than someone who clearly understands it. Education would increase culpability; misinformation would decrease it.

So, to apply the concept to less mentally capable people, animals, and artificial intelligences:

Unsmart people - people who are mentally handicapped or severely uninformed of any level of intelligence might fail criteria 1 or 2 regarding actions fairly easily. People who are more childlike, including children, are more manipulable, meaning they can fail criteria 4.

Animals - Wild animals would have free will regarding things they clearly do as part of their lives, like foraging, hunting, or mating. Domesticated animals probably fail criteria 4 for most actions because the act of domestication involves becoming more impressionable.

Artificial intelligences - Programming that bypasses normal decision-making (such as the Laws of Robotics) would cause an AI to fail criteria 3 for the applicable actions. An AI whose programming can not deal with a situation can easily cause it to fail criteria 1 or 2. An AI designed to be extremely obedient would fail criteria 4. So to have humanlike free will, an AI must be designed with general decision-making capabilities that are not interfered with by 'hacks', and the AI must be comparably manipulable with a human.

Greyarcher wrote:If we're talking about practicality though, free will is a superfluous concept. We simply hold people accountable if it's practically optimal--like training an animal, and punishing it to make it avoid an undesired behavior, no "free will" concept is required.


Historically, free will predates and justifies the existence of the concept of culpability (not necessarily accountability, which has the additional requirement of being responsible for the accountable thing). I see nothing unnecessary about refining the concept towards its' practical application.
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby Greyarcher » Mon Mar 14, 2011 7:24 am UTC

Indon wrote:
Greyarcher wrote:If we're talking about practicality though, free will is a superfluous concept. We simply hold people accountable if it's practically optimal--like training an animal, and punishing it to make it avoid an undesired behavior, no "free will" concept is required.


Historically, free will predates and justifies the existence of the concept of culpability (not necessarily accountability, which has the additional requirement of being responsible for the accountable thing). I see nothing unnecessary about refining the concept towards its' practical application.
I think we are seeing practicality in different ways here. You spoke of the practical value of a free will concept. But if we already hold people culpable because doing so is practically valuable, then there is no need for a prior concept or justifier like free will. The only question is when it's practically valuable to hold people culpable. That's a difficult question which would probably require a deeper understanding of humans than we are yet capable of. But searching for the answer to that question or employing stop-gap answers while we search has an explicitly practical focus. You could perhaps implicitly be answering the question by employing the old and familiar free will concept; but it seems contrary to your characterization of free will as a prior justifier of culpability's existence--a characterization that contrastingly fails to emphasize practical results. In other words, your remarks on social concepts and practical value in the case of free will are cognitively dissonant with the lack of focus on practical value regarding when to hold people culpable.

Hooah, that paragraph was a bit dense. But yeah, anyway, if we're simply talking about when it's practical to hold people culpable, then there's no need to try and fit that answer under the label of "free will" (and it may be counter-productive since the actual answer need not necessarily match up with what we would normally mentally associate with such words as "free" and "will" or the phrase "free will").
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby guenther » Mon Mar 14, 2011 2:35 pm UTC

Greyarcher wrote:If we're talking about practicality though, free will is a superfluous concept. We simply hold people accountable if it's practically optimal--like training an animal, and punishing it to make it avoid an undesired behavior, no "free will" concept is required.

Well, I suppose if we're talking pure practicality then some notion of "free will" could be a useful deceit. But that's a bit too conniving and dishonest for my tastes.

I'm not sure what you mean by "a useful deceit". Who would be deceived? I agree with you that a more developed notion of free will isn't that useful in terms of holding people responsible for their actions. However, as we create artificial intelligence, when do we stop holding programmers responsible for robot choices and start holding the robots responsible? The practicality of this is still a ways off, but we will presumably get there at some point. The reason I mentioned animals is because we already have an intuition about the free will of animals and people so we'd want a definition of free will that's consistent with that.

Indon wrote:Artificial intelligences - Programming that bypasses normal decision-making (such as the Laws of Robotics) would cause an AI to fail criteria 3 for the applicable actions. An AI whose programming can not deal with a situation can easily cause it to fail criteria 1 or 2. An AI designed to be extremely obedient would fail criteria 4. So to have humanlike free will, an AI must be designed with general decision-making capabilities that are not interfered with by 'hacks', and the AI must be comparably manipulable with a human.

If the laws of robotics are implemented as rules that bind the robot's actions, then that certainly impedes upon their freedom. But if robots are programmed to have values such that they're not simply restricted from those actions, rather they would never choose to do it, then that might be compatible with a notion of free will. For example, we are programmed with certain survival instincts. Is a person free to starve themselves to death when in the presence of food? Some people have done that, but I bet many would fail even if they tried. Does that mean they don't have the freedom to do that? But most people would simply decide that it's a bad thing to do for most normal circumstances, so it doesn't really impede upon their freedom at all. So we have certain survival instincts programmed into us, but it's done in a way that makes us generally choose not to make those choices rather than us simply being restricted from making those choices.

Earlier, I laid out some off-the-cuff requirements for free will. Maybe it's not very complete, but those are what seemed to me to be required. Robots could have programmed desires, but perhaps they could still be described as having free will.
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby Indon » Mon Mar 14, 2011 6:53 pm UTC

Greyarcher wrote:The only question is when it's practically valuable to hold people culpable.

And exploring the concept of free will, which is the state required to be culpable, can do that. No profound understanding we don't have is required.

Each of the criteria I posit suggests a non-punitive corrective action for those lacking free will regarding an action who nonetheless perform that action. The first two necessitate education and training (because they didn't know what they were doing), the third can involve punishing the manipulator and helping the individual avoid manipulation (because they got blackmailed or scammed), and the fourth necessitates caretaking until and unless the individual can cease to be readily manipulable (because they're a child or otherwise mentally incapacitated).

This theory brings together multiple areas of law formerly thought to be disparate - coercion, laws regarding minors, and various affirmative defenses, and brings them together into a single legal framework. I certainly don't see that as a 'lack of focus on practical value'.

guenther wrote:If the laws of robotics are implemented as rules that bind the robot's actions, then that certainly impedes upon their freedom. But if robots are programmed to have values such that they're not simply restricted from those actions, rather they would never choose to do it, then that might be compatible with a notion of free will. For example, we are programmed with certain survival instincts. Is a person free to starve themselves to death when in the presence of food? Some people have done that, but I bet many would fail even if they tried. Does that mean they don't have the freedom to do that? But most people would simply decide that it's a bad thing to do for most normal circumstances, so it doesn't really impede upon their freedom at all. So we have certain survival instincts programmed into us, but it's done in a way that makes us generally choose not to make those choices rather than us simply being restricted from making those choices.


The thought of wholly alien emotional drives, or beings which lack emotional drives we possess, is a difficult one. I would argue that emotions largely regard the third and fourth criteria I described, the ones regarding coercion and manipulability. An artificial intelligence designed to be highly emotionally responsive to humans, for instance, to the point where it would want to do whatever people say, would fail criteria 4 and would lack free will due to how easily manipulated it is.

The framework I posit can't be used to draw a line and say, "This person has universal free will and culpability," so it can't be done for an AI, either. Just as people can exercise free will regarding some things more readily than others, AIs will have that same variance, only potentially to an extreme degree because of how unlike a human mind an AI could potentially be.

guenther wrote:- Must have self-awareness
- Must be able to express desires
- Must have a sufficiently complicated thinking process so that the decision-making algorithm is at least somewhat hidden


I'd say each point is already largely included in my model - I would posit that you need to be self-aware in order to understand the consequences of your actions (criteria 2), the ability to express understanding is required to demonstrate criteria 1 and 2, and being a 'black box' to some degree is likely required to avoid being easily manipulated (criteria 4) - people, after all, can be easily manipulated if others readily understand their behavior, so I see nothing different with AIs in that regard.

However, I question the requirements of 'self-awareness', and expressing desires. A being can have and act upon desires without needing to express them, and I don't see how free will is affected by such a scenario. It is certainly easier to determine if an actor is being manipulated if you can understand what their desires are, but I don't see how it's necessary for the actor to demonstrate their desires.
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby guenther » Mon Mar 14, 2011 8:44 pm UTC

@Indon: I didn't know exactly what to do with your criteria, so before I just wrote out what my goal was in regards to a practical notion of free will instead. However, since I failed to comment your criteria before, I will do so now.

Indon wrote: 1 - You know what you're doing
2 - You know what doing that thing will do
3 - Nobody is responsible for making you do it when you otherwise wouldn't
4 - You aren't so impressionable that it's impossible to tell the difference regarding the last requirement

What does it mean to "know"? If the information is programmed into a computer's memory, does it know? If self-awareness is required, then including that as an explicit criteria would make it clearer. Also, people with self-awareness often make choices without thinking about actions, or perhaps even more commonly, they think they know but are wrong. Does this count as "knowing what doing that will do"? Do you really just mean an ability to imagine future scenarios regardless of actually "knowing" with a certain degree of precision? If someone thinks a gun is a water pistol, did they exercise free will when they pulled the trigger at their friend? (Assuming a wet friend was the outcome they desired.)

Does criteria three just mean that there shouldn't be a means of controlling your behavior that doesn't appeal to your ability to make choices (i.e. appeal to your desires, values, or sense of reason)? In other words, no remote control, puppet strings, or a terminal where you can type "Do X"?

And 4 just seems too vague to have much meaning. Clearly if a robot simply does whatever you say, it doesn't have free will. But where's the boundary? To me the distinction is about having desires, not necessarily the willingness to follow orders. You must have things you want and an ability to make choices in regards to them.

Indon wrote:The framework I posit can't be used to draw a line and say, "This person has universal free will and culpability," so it can't be done for an AI, either. Just as people can exercise free will regarding some things more readily than others, AIs will have that same variance, only potentially to an extreme degree because of how unlike a human mind an AI could potentially be.

I agree that people can exercise free will more readily in some cases than others. But I'm talking about having the potential to do this, not the actual act of exercising it. This doesn't apply to the computer sitting on my desk under any circumstances. And while this might describe animals in some cases, they lack in self awareness. Currently, we can make computers look like they're succeeding on all of this, but we know there's a person behind the machine that fabricating the illusion.

So I'm talking about a quality of an individual, not something specific to each action as you have said your criteria references. Even under the case of duress with a gun waving in your face, some people can choose to ignore that threat. Or if you choose to comply, it doesn't mean you didn't freely choose to value your safety. This use of "free" departs from what people mean in regards to legal or moral responsibility, but I think that's OK. I mean "free" in a more basic sense of an individual with self-awareness being able to control individual actions. If a gun makes you freeze in panic, then you are not free to make choices. But if you are level-headed as you comply, you are making free choices.

Indon wrote:However, I question the requirements of 'self-awareness', and expressing desires. A being can have and act upon desires without needing to express them, and I don't see how free will is affected by such a scenario. It is certainly easier to determine if an actor is being manipulated if you can understand what their desires are, but I don't see how it's necessary for the actor to demonstrate their desires.

I meant "express" in a very broad way. If you act on your desires, you are in a sense expressing them through action. This criteria means that you must have desires and you must be able to make choices based on them.
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby Indon » Tue Mar 15, 2011 11:27 pm UTC

guenther wrote:What does it mean to "know"? If the information is programmed into a computer's memory, does it know? If self-awareness is required, then including that as an explicit criteria would make it clearer. Also, people with self-awareness often make choices without thinking about actions, or perhaps even more commonly, they think they know but are wrong. Does this count as "knowing what doing that will do"? Do you really just mean an ability to imagine future scenarios regardless of actually "knowing" with a certain degree of precision? If someone thinks a gun is a water pistol, did they exercise free will when they pulled the trigger at their friend? (Assuming a wet friend was the outcome they desired.)


Well, as far as a human is concerned, you know something if you can be demonstrated to know it, such as being able to express it. AIs are trickier because it's possible to put information into an AI that the actual process can't access, so I'd say the information must be present and accessible to the decision-making program.

If you have a misconception about an action you're going to take, you're failing critieria 2. If someone thinks a gun is loaded with blanks, and shoots someone on stage, killing them because the gun was in fact loaded with real bullets (and this has happened before), they aren't culpable for their actions for that reason, because they didn't know what shooting the gun would do. Now, criteria 2 also takes into account an inability to comprehend the consequences of an action because for any reason you can't imagine what it will do (it might be a very complicated action with systemic consequences, for instance), which would also take into account the possible lack of ability to imagine future scenarios.

guenther wrote:Does criteria three just mean that there shouldn't be a means of controlling your behavior that doesn't appeal to your ability to make choices (i.e. appeal to your desires, values, or sense of reason)? In other words, no remote control, puppet strings, or a terminal where you can type "Do X"?

I think our culture desperately needs to contemplate methods of manipulation to better answer this question. But right off the bat, it covers everything you posit in addition to things like threats and scams - if it can be shown that I somehow tricked you into committing a crime, you shouldn't be culpable for it.

guenther wrote:And 4 just seems too vague to have much meaning. Clearly if a robot simply does whatever you say, it doesn't have free will. But where's the boundary? To me the distinction is about having desires, not necessarily the willingness to follow orders. You must have things you want and an ability to make choices in regards to them.

It's hard to define such boundaries with humans, too: Consider the subject of child testimony in court. It's very, very easy to coach a child into making earnest, desirable testimony even regarding things the child never experienced. Under this model, the child fails criteria 4 because when a child gives testimony, it is effectively impossible to tell if the child was coached into giving it. But there are circumstances in which it is vital that child testimony be acceptable in order to ensure that justice is done, particularly in regards to crimes perpetrated against children.

This model broadens the principle seen here.

guenther wrote:I agree that people can exercise free will more readily in some cases than others. But I'm talking about having the potential to do this, not the actual act of exercising it. This doesn't apply to the computer sitting on my desk under any circumstances. And while this might describe animals in some cases, they lack in self awareness. Currently, we can make computers look like they're succeeding on all of this, but we know there's a person behind the machine that fabricating the illusion.

There is no consistent free will under my model. If you are forced to take your every action upon threat of immediate death, for instance, there is no effective difference between you having free will that you can never exercise, and you never having free will. So, for convenience, the model assumes that anything and everything can have free will when it can meet the criteria. This also minimizes the chances of being surprised by the first truly "strong" AI, which is likely to be intelligent, but probably in a way that will make its' free will inconsistent or sketchy - for instance, it might not be able to understand very advanced concepts.

That is to say, why is 'free will' something you have, rather than something you do? I would argue that 'will', decision-making capability, is something many beings have, including beings which can never or rarely exercise free will (such as children), but the ability to exercise it without internal or external difficulties.

guenther wrote:Even under the case of duress with a gun waving in your face, some people can choose to ignore that threat.

And that's why the concept is also not binary - you can have more or less free will because your will can be more or less free. If you work someone into a suggestive fervor, for instance, they may become less culpable for their actions in that state, but not completely so as your 'freeze in panic' example could imply.

guenther wrote:I meant "express" in a very broad way. If you act on your desires, you are in a sense expressing them through action. This criteria means that you must have desires and you must be able to make choices based on them.


I would argue that this is axiomatic, and that many things that will never demonstrate free will about anything are capable of this, such as even the least intelligent animals. This touches upon my concept of decision-making in general, lots of things are decision-makers but that will never be culpable for actions taken under the model of free will I posit.
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby guenther » Wed Mar 16, 2011 12:22 am UTC

We are talking about two different things. Let me give two examples:

1) Consider a case where Tom is robbing a store and points a gun at Sue behind the register and says "Freeze". If Sue has a fear of guns and simply can't help but freeze, she is not really making a choice. However, suppose she has had a lot of training with guns and has the capacity to act calmly even with a gun in her face. But in this instance she recognizes the threat and feels the prudent action is to remain still just as ordered. In either case, a jury might decide that she's not culpable for letting Tom take the money. However, I'd say there's a difference in what Sue did. Even if the outcome is the same, how the brain processes the information and controls behavior is different. We're talking about different notions of "free".

2) Even if Sue is frozen in fear, it doesn't mean that she has no potential to overcome this with training. So, the concept I'm talking about is not merely describing how someone has made choices in a particular instance, but about their ability to make choices. And with this concept, there are still gradations. Maybe Sue will never overcome her fear, but she can make free choices in other areas. However, another person who is not so troubled by phobias has a greater freedom.

So we differ on what we describe as "free", and on whether we're describing an ability of a person or how they made a particular choice. I'm not too worried about which should be called "free will", but I just wanted to illustrate the difference. Both have applicability, but in different places. When I said I was interested in a practical notion of free will, I meant I was interested in the concept I'm describing. :)
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby Greyarcher » Thu Mar 17, 2011 9:35 am UTC

I see my paragraph was indeed too densely written. Ah well.

guenther wrote:So we differ on what we describe as "free", and on whether we're describing an ability of a person or how they made a particular choice. I'm not too worried about which should be called "free will", but I just wanted to illustrate the difference. Both have applicability, but in different places. When I said I was interested in a practical notion of free will, I meant I was interested in the concept I'm describing. :)
Heh. And this is one of the reasons why I said there's no need to apply the "free will" label. It's an old label with its own baggage, and trying to refine a specific technical meaning for it just adds to the baggage and makes discussions muddled. If we're just looking for when it's best to hold people culpable, then we simply need to answer/analyze when it would produce the best results. Tacking an old baggage-laden label onto that answer doesn't seem to add value or be...practical.


Off topic, but I'd say criterion 3 isn't quite right. For instance, if someone is blackmailed, they fail #3, but we'd still hold them culpable in some scenarios (e.g. blackmailing a guard so you could steal firearms; the guard would be held culpable for failing in his duties). #2 doesn't quite capture carelessness either. Someone who fails to fulfill his duty by, for instance, ignoring a certain safety procedure may not understand what the consequence will be. Until a major accident happens. And then that person would be held culpable despite their ignorance.
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby guenther » Thu Mar 17, 2011 8:16 pm UTC

Greyarcher wrote:I see my paragraph was indeed too densely written. Ah well.

I didn't think so. I actually agree with you that using "free will" to help flesh out a concept of culpability doesn't really add any value. When I talked about a more practical notion, that's not what I meant. My point is that there's a thing that people intuitively recognize as "free will" that many will call an illusion. But I say it's only an illusion because of how it's defined. We can keep the intuitive concept and simply define it as real. It like how we have a concept of self. Consider the term "self-awareness", which treats the self a thing that exists and is knowable. But the term "self-illusion" would work just as well, where we create a narrative about who we are and use that to guide our actions. Is the self fiction or reality? I say it something we create and make real. It's an abstraction that we can use to help us make sense of our place in the world around us. We don't have to worry about whether the self actually exists beyond the abstraction unless we tie it to concepts like the soul.

"Free will" can be as real as the concept of the self. If we tie it to some external magical agent, then we get into metaphysical debates about whether that sort of agent actually exists or whether the whole concept even makes sense. But if we tie it to an abstraction of how we see ourselves and how we make choices, then the debate is over. We have free will because we define free will in a way that describes what we have. Nothing magical there. Then that concept can be applied to artificial beings to decide when we should start treating them as entities with a self that have free will. It's not about whether they have a metaphysical property, but rather whether we should treat them with similar abstractions. The practicality is a long ways off, but I still think it's useful notion.

Having said that, I don't really care about the label "free will". I like my use and I chose it because I think it's consistent with how people intuitively understand the term. But it's the concept behind the label that interests me. So as I said to Indon, I am not too concerned about debating over what the term "should" mean. My participation here is really just an expression of my opinion that the philosophic notion is pretty much irrelevant. :)
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby Greyarcher » Fri Mar 18, 2011 4:37 am UTC

guenther wrote:My point is that there's a thing that people intuitively recognize as "free will" that many will call an illusion. But I say it's only an illusion because of how it's defined. We can keep the intuitive concept and simply define it as real. It like how we have a concept of self. Consider the term "self-awareness", which treats the self a thing that exists and is knowable. But the term "self-illusion" would work just as well, where we create a narrative about who we are and use that to guide our actions. Is the self fiction or reality? I say it something we create and make real. It's an abstraction that we can use to help us make sense of our place in the world around us.
Hmm, comparing it to the self is interesting. In some ways, they may be related. For instance, a person who feels that their will is widely constrained may view that much of their "self" is "other" because they don't feel control over it.

guenther wrote:I agree that people can exercise free will more readily in some cases than others. But I'm talking about having the potential to do this, not the actual act of exercising it.
Yes, this reminds me of a paper I read in the past. It made remarks about the freedom to change your own will. You could say that some people have more obstructions in the way of that freedom than others. Addictions and, as you mentioned, phobias are the more obvious examples of large obstructions. But there may be many lesser obstructions: hence we talk about the difficulty of getting rid of bad habits, or how we cannot so easily do what we abstractly recognize as the best thing.

guenther wrote:So I'm talking about a quality of an individual, not something specific to each action as you have said your criteria references. Even under the case of duress with a gun waving in your face, some people can choose to ignore that threat. Or if you choose to comply, it doesn't mean you didn't freely choose to value your safety. This use of "free" departs from what people mean in regards to legal or moral responsibility, but I think that's OK. I mean "free" in a more basic sense of an individual with self-awareness being able to control individual actions. If a gun makes you freeze in panic, then you are not free to make choices. But if you are level-headed as you comply, you are making free choices.
To an extent, I agree. But I think there are subtler unfreedoms too, like the person who wasn't frozen with fear and didn't want to submit, but just couldn't manage to stand up to the threat. So I mentioned obstructions to freedom earlier: in this case, instead of a huge obstacle like a phobia, it's a smaller obstacle. But even if it's smaller, that doesn't mean the person is strong enough to climb over it.

Dealing with these sorts of obstacles is tricky. Good pedagogy probably involves, in part, building up good habits so people never encounter these obstacles. Or so that they have enough of a built-up habit that they have the momentum to make it over the obstacle.
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Re: Free will, determinism, QM and all that jazz

Postby Philosophish » Fri Jul 01, 2011 10:57 am UTC

Iulus Cofield wrote:I've long maintained that determinism and free will coexist in our mechanical universe. Here is the probably confusing thought experiment I usually use:

Today happened, but then a wizard reverses time back to 12:01 and everything that happened in this 24-hour period is undone.
Today again proceeds as normal. Our universe being seemingly mechanical, everything happens on Run 2 as it did on Run 1, including every decision that everyone made.
So that's the deterministic aspect.
Free will, in my opinion, still exists because we made choices. We had desires, we had values, we weighed possibilities and ultimately made decisions. While the specific decisions that we made were inevitable to be made, our particular personalities, values, and desires all culminated in what we chose to do. Simply because we had reasons for making those choices, doesn't remove us from the decision making process.

I feel like I'm expressing myself well. It makes more sense in my head.


you're redefining 'free will', as opposed to compatibilize it with determinism. you're stating that despite having free will, the repeated 24-h sequence would be identical to the original, because every deterministic fact that was used in people's reasoning, will again be used, and therefore the people will make the same decisions/make the same actions.

isn't that just saying that free will reacts to deterministic facts and is thus a consequence to those facts, and thus subjected to determinism?

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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby infernovia » Sat Jul 23, 2011 9:49 pm UTC

He is basically saying that the capacity of free will that everyone likes, that you decide your actions, is certainly feasible in a deterministic model. But they are not "free," just like everything else, they must be exchanged (aka are byproducts of society, teachings etc.).

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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby TrlstanC » Wed Aug 03, 2011 9:19 pm UTC

infernovia wrote:He is basically saying that the capacity of free will that everyone likes, that you decide your actions, is certainly feasible in a deterministic model.


I would agree with that, although it all comes down to how we define "free will." There are certainly definitions that people believe in that explicity exclude the possibility of free will in a deterministic universe. For example, we can talk about computers making decesions, or coins making decesions, and those are both clearly deterministic. While some people may believe in souls or other similiarly non-physical interactions making decesions.

I think the real question is "is free will a part of our consciousness" with the other option being that we just believe the illusion that free will is part of our consciousness. If we accept that part of our brain is creating our consciousness, and we only have information available that somehow makes it to this part of our brain, is the "free will" part of our brain in the conscious part, or is it outside. Do we make decesions consciously, or do we make them subconsciously, and then tell ourselves (at least some of the time) that it was a "conscious decession", or is it possible that the free will circuitry in our brain is spread around, part of it is conscious, and part not?

For more background info on thoughts consciousness (not related directly to free will), see the paper posted here: http://www.consciousthoughts.net/definition.php

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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby guenther » Wed Aug 03, 2011 10:34 pm UTC

TrlstanC wrote:I think the real question is "is free will a part of our consciousness" with the other option being that we just believe the illusion that free will is part of our consciousness. If we accept that part of our brain is creating our consciousness, and we only have information available that somehow makes it to this part of our brain, is the "free will" part of our brain in the conscious part, or is it outside. Do we make decesions consciously, or do we make them subconsciously, and then tell ourselves (at least some of the time) that it was a "conscious decession", or is it possible that the free will circuitry in our brain is spread around, part of it is conscious, and part not?

This is an interesting question. My opinion is that it's spread about amongst the conscious and subconscious. A lot of our decision-making happens in our subconscious, but it's still a part of what makes us who we are. Our brain places a layer of emotions, values, and feelings on everything we see and interact with before any of it hits our awareness. And sometimes it propels us to act before our conscious mind can even get its shoes on. I don't think there's a clear way to divide the impact of our conscious and subconscious minds on our desires, behaviors, and choices, which means if we are being treated as people free to make decisions, all of our cognition processes need to be taken into consideration.
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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby tearcastle » Thu Aug 04, 2011 12:59 pm UTC

My opinion is that free will is only a concept formulated by our minds to make us feel free. Humans, I believe, naturally want to be free. The freedom to go wherever you want to go makes you feel happy, since you have satisfied a desire you had, and you are able to think that you can satisfy yourself still at later times. However, if you don't have this freedom, then you will not be able to go to the place where you want to go, and you will not be able to think that you can satisfy your other desires at anytime, and so you will remain dissatisfied and frustrated.
But if you don't have this freedom, you still think you have the freedom, even though it is blatantly obvious to you that you don't have the freedom. And in the moments where you are able to satisfy your desires, even without supposedly having this freedom, you conjure up a way to make you think that the past and present doing was not your own doing, but was instead someone else's, so that you may still think that you are in control, so that you may still satisfy yourself with dreams of being able to satisfy yourself at anytime. This leads to religion, which leads to half-true order, which leads to half-understanding, which leads to satisfaction, since knowing, even if half of that knowledge is probably false, makes you think that you have the means to satisfy yourself, besides the ability.
In other words, I think the mind makes up free will to satisfy its need to know that it could satisfy itself whenever it wants to satisfy itself. But what is its correlation to having free will? Well free will, being the capability to do whatever you want, is most likely, as said by the former statement, a creation of the mind to satisfy its own wants. But then, that means that it knows that if it does not create it, all desires will be impossible to fully satiate, which means that the mind is above nature, for the knowledge of something that is "something else" means that the mind is part of that "something else". This, of course, means that there is a "something else", clearly a concept of the mind. Which, of course, leads to a circular arguement. However, if there truly is a "something else", then all must be controlled by this something else, so there must be no free will.
In other words, I believe there is no free will since the mind created the concept of free will to satisfy us, assuming that at this point free will is there or not, but then if the mind needs the concept to be satisfied, then it knows a grimmer reality, that there is no free will, so it knows what is not there, so it knows what controls all, and it truly knows, for if it does not then that would make this a more brain-in-a-jar type arguement, and so there is something controlling us all.

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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby TrlstanC » Thu Aug 04, 2011 8:19 pm UTC

tearcastle wrote:My opinion is that free will is only a concept formulated by our minds to make us feel free.


I'd definitely agree with this. It also really changes the question from "does free will exist?" to "why to we believe that we have free will?" Which could still be answered as "because we do have it" but it also leaves open the door for more interesting answers and lines of questioning as well.

If we accept the idea that free will isn't "I can do anything anytime I want" but more of "I believe that I'm in charge of my decisions" then a lot of other concepts come up for questioning too. For example, what about willpower? A lot of people view willpower an extension of free will - something everyone has, but that some people choose not to use sometimes. If we accept the deterministic view of free will then attributes like willpower are no longer an infinite non-physical resource, but a result of your environment and genetics (and genetics are really just a very special kind of your environment.) It becomes a lot harder to look down on someone as being "lazy" or "weak" if it was ever possible to know that fundamentally or deterministically they may just not be wired to react to the world in the same way you are.

Of course that doesn't mean everyone should be excused of all their crimes and excesses, but I do think it means that in general we should work to realize that in many instances when we feel anger or hate, we should instead be feeling pity. I understand why feelings like hate can be useful in evolution of the species; they make us want to remove harmful or disruptive elements from our community or society. But if we're at the point where we can question if we really have free will or if it's just a useful illusion, we should also be at the point where we can ask if some of our other feelings are still providing useful information or not.

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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby infernovia » Fri Aug 05, 2011 4:35 am UTC

TrlstanC, I have to be honest, I don't think you are actually responding to the comments or not really reading the answers. I fear that this post is probably worthless since I have made this same point many times before to no avail, but why not...

me wrote:What is free will? What are you free of? The world, the chemicals that composes you, your body, society, others? Yet you are exactly free of none of those things, there is nothing free, there is always an exchange.

In reality, your mind is intricately connected to the world, so all "free will" is simply a play of power. One that we give to others or demand for ourselves (and not just from fellow human beings, but from God as well). To speak of freedom, "free-will" is unnecessary, as it is how powerful you are, how strong you are, etc.


Which btw, answers this question completely:

TrlstanC wrote:I think the real question is "is free will a part of our consciousness" with the other option being that we just believe the illusion that free will is part of our consciousness. If we accept that part of our brain is creating our consciousness, and we only have information available that somehow makes it to this part of our brain, is the "free will" part of our brain in the conscious part, or is it outside. Do we make decesions consciously, or do we make them subconsciously, and then tell ourselves (at least some of the time) that it was a "conscious decession", or is it possible that the free will circuitry in our brain is spread around, part of it is conscious, and part not?


Consciousness and subconsciousness does not have anything to do with the concept of free will, subconsciousness is just the first indicator that our actions owes much to our surroundings. Modern neuroscience has made the "truly free part of the brain" portion an invalid assumption because we know that everything is driven by the principle of exchange. But like I mentioned before, freedom can still be judged based on how unrestricted/powerful you are.

Whether this means other core ideals/emotions upheld by our society needs to be re-evaluated (like "belief," "hope," "faith" etc.) really is out of the scope of the thread.

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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby Free_Galt_ATL » Fri Aug 05, 2011 5:17 am UTC

Freewill, do we have it? Determinism stares us in the face like a ulgly truth, yet one must take into account the combinations of the entire universe's determinism interacting with eachother's determinism. Some say that we are enslaved by the choices others make that determine our lives. For example I go left becuase someone is in my way although I could have gone right, stopped, straight, but all of these choices were created by the existance of that person in my way which gives me the lack of free will. However without those choices I woud be trapped in a open space of nothing, lonely with no objects to apply my free will too, since the existence of another object other than myself limits my freewill. But absolute determinism is false. The universe is constantly expanding which increases the freewill of the objects that reside in it's sphere. for example a car is in a small room and it can only move back or forward but as that room expands that car has the ablity to spin, turn, drive farther, flip, and the choices keep growing like the choices of every being in the universe. In addition the choices of someone added to the choices of another increases the choices of another and keep adding till we get an almost endless amount of limited freewill. But all those choices came from one big bang right? Even if these choices are created by one motion we constantly stop believing that all matter evolves through combinations that give it the ability to move on it's own freewill to choose choices. For example as humans evolved we gained the ability to create, which gave us more choices to choose from. For example the wheel gave the caveman the choice to carry his load or roll it. That is a perfect example of evolution giving a creature more choices to choose from through its own ability to create. The ability to think through evolution has given humans frewill. Then there is the internet which has given humans the idea of countless others that open another hall of doors. I moved beyond my point but, the motion that happend from the big bang only set things in motion but once a certain combination comes together that allows a being to move through its mind or ability given by the combination it can move through the massive motion of matter around that said being. basically the universe's motion from the big bang used to control our freewill, we used to be controlled by determinsim but once we gained the ability move freely through thought and rational choice we stepped out of the sphere of the universe, and moved through it in our own sphere that is limited by the universe itself. a circle packed full of spheres have very limited room to move freely but once that circle expands so too does the free will of the spheres that reside in the circle.
Last edited by Free_Galt_ATL on Wed Aug 10, 2011 6:22 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby TrlstanC » Fri Aug 05, 2011 1:46 pm UTC

So all "free will" is simply a play of power. One that we give to others or demand for ourselves (and not just from fellow human beings, but from God as well). To speak of freedom, "free-will" is unnecessary, as it is how powerful you are, how strong you are, etc.


I would expect that this hasn't gotten a lot of response because it seems to be exactly wrong - instead of answering the question of do we have free will (and what does it mean if we do/don't), it instead redefines free will to mean something different than commonly understood. In fact, that seems to be almost completely opposite. I think most people would agree that even if you have no power, you have no ability to demand anything from anyone else (or god?), and have no strength, you can still have free will. When we talk about free will we're talking about the sense we have that we're making decisions consciously - and yet this seems to be contradictory to the evidence that we live in a largely (if not entirely) deterministic universe. So, if all of our actions are predetermined why do we believe that we're deciding what to do?

I believe that it's exactly that, a belief, but a false one, we're making an incorrect prediction about what's going on in our mind based on what we can observe. And what we can observe is what we're conscious of. Is this can of mistake possible? For example if all of the process of decision making happened unconsciously (which it might), would we still believe that we had free will and were making decisions? Or what if it was all made consciously, but it was 100% deterministic, would we still believe we were exercising free will? I think that we would, our consciousness has certainly made similar mistakes, and we’ve believe other similar things that aren’t true.

Now some people might argue that this is a contradiction since our consciousness is the "truly free part of the brain." But it's exactly that belief, that consciousness is free that underlies the assumption of free will. Given our current understanding of neuroscience, it doesn't look like that's possible. And as we learn more about how the brain works I think we'll find more evidence to support the idea that free will is a false belief. It's more likely that our brain is just making a prediction about what the world is like based on the information is has available. But the brain has limitations, both in processing power (which while impressive, is limited compared to the amount of information it has to deal with) and in information (in particular it has very little information about what's going on inside itself, which is only natural, it's impossible to fully model a system inside itself). The belief in free will is a nice "short cut" it's a simplifying assumption that ties together and explains a lot of complicated events without having to have a complex explanation, it saves us a lot of processing power and is probably, from the standpoint of evolution, a pretty good trick (similar to a belief in god).

However, at some point, collectively, we start to understand enough about how the world works, and how our brain works that this simplifying assumption doesn't fit so well. It may still work nicely day-to-day, but when we look at it in detail it starts to fall apart. At that point it's worth questioning if there's anything we've built up on this false belief that we should take a second look at.

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Re: Freewill [Philosophy]

Postby infernovia » Sat Aug 06, 2011 12:03 am UTC

I would expect that this hasn't gotten a lot of response because it seems to be exactly wrong - instead of answering the question of do we have free will (and what does it mean if we do/don't), it instead redefines free will to mean something different than commonly understood.

First of all, I said "to no avail" to imply that my arguments haven't gone through, I have gotten plenty of responses to it. Moreover, I am not redefining free-will, I am defining how the social aspect can still work, and in fact work better, without the concept of free will. Because free-will, if it has been used for anything at all, has been just a way to justify the play of power between humans. Which is why I not only pointed out that free-will is an illusion, but the idea that has succeeded it.

Anyway, it is pretty clear from neuroscience and the human desire to explore extremes that there is nothing inside humans that will defy the physical, the only thing missing is a clear model that will show or "prove" this fact to everyone.


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