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Free Will
Posted: 06 February 2012 08:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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I don’t think free will as unencumbered will would tickle most people’s fancy.  What they really want is non-determinism.  Most people who wring their hands about free will are thinking about it in terms of some unquantifiable, invisible, mysterious root of consciousness, out there in a super natural world somewhere, and that is their free will.


To me, that doesn’t make any sense.  You can do what you will, but you can’t will what you will.

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Posted: 07 February 2012 09:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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QuakePhil - 06 February 2012 08:38 AM

You can do what you will, but you can’t will what you will.

Yeah - it’s a good point.  Like softwarevis, I think that there probably isn’t any free will in the sense most people think of it.  And maybe even no free will in any personal sense.  But I don’t think free will as an illusion is a helpful idea at all.  There has to be a better way of framing sentient will than as an illusion.  As a species we struggle to make sense of our world and to survive based on that sense.  This seems not only a valid thing to do but also essential to personal sanity and social harmony.  Seeing self as an illusion and society as an illusion seems unnecessarily self-destructive.


As you know, my view is that instinctive drives were shaped by growing consciousness over evolutionary time to ‘create’ what we call will.  I kinda think consciousness is passive in every sense except as an observer, whereas instincts lead to behaviours.  So consciousness’s observations just act as another input, along with raw inputs from the environment via the senses, to our instinctive drives playing out in the body’s chemicals, muscles, etc.  Do instincts respond to the environment? Yes they do - this is not an illusion.  So would instincts respond to consciousness?  Yes they would - and this would not be an illusion.  And would consciousness be conscious of instinctive drives?  Of course.  So I think there is a feedback loop between instincts and consciousness.  So which is the initiator and which is the follower?  Well does it really matter after the system is up and running - who can tell?  Seems like it can be both ways.


So we can will what we do with our instincts and we can observe what we do with our consciousness - and consciousness can inform our will along with all other inputs that inform our will.  Of course we can’t will our will - this is irrelevant.  If the question is can consciousness’s observations somehow inform the ‘will’, then I’d say ‘Yes’.  But does this make it free?  I’d say ‘No, just (self-)aware - but this is huge in itself!’ 


Where I think there is a problem is that just because instincts such as emotions kick in before cortical functions (or consciousness) and even override them in emergencies, some jump to the conclusion that free will is an illusion.  But this seems to be a non-systematic view.  If we include quick instincts and slow consciousness within the mind/body system then as a system, why can’t it be considered as having a degree of agency (limited by cause and effect)?  That is, the question of agency should not be decided on the basis of graphed reaction speeds of the neo-cortex alone.  The question should thus move to consider cause and effect and our attitude to the causes and effects within our mind/body system.  Is it just a matter of a claim or a naturalistic contract?

 

[ Edited: 08 February 2012 02:12 AM by Michael Kean]
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Posted: 08 February 2012 06:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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Michael Kean - 07 February 2012 09:22 PM

But I don’t think free will as an illusion is a helpful idea at all.  There has to be a better way of framing sentient will than as an illusion.

You switched terms there.  “Free will” is nonsense indeed.  “Sentient will” is a reality, and I prefer to simply call it “will”.


Furthermore, the illusion of free will is not as useless as you think.  For example, there is the illusion of a round atom with electrons orbiting it.  Certainly this is not an accurate picture of the world and therefore an illusion, but it helps us understand lots about the atom.  The same can be said about the illusion of newtonian mechanics.  Certainly they are not accurate when examined in terms of relativity theory, but the illusion is close enough to make a lot of conclusions about mechanics.


So the illusion of free will, even though its not an accurate picture of reality, is useful to make conclucions about our wills.  In particular, if you’re a murderer you can’t appeal to the nuremberg defense by saying “but, free will is nonsene, I’m just following out my natural determinism.”  Even though it is, and he/she is, he/she still has the illusion of free will and is therefore responsible, as a unit, for his/her consequences.

[ Edited: 08 February 2012 06:13 AM by QuakePhil]
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Posted: 08 February 2012 04:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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QuakePhil - 08 February 2012 06:08 AM
Michael Kean - 07 February 2012 09:22 PM

But I don’t think free will as an illusion is a helpful idea at all.  There has to be a better way of framing sentient will than as an illusion.

You switched terms there.  “Free will” is nonsense indeed.  “Sentient will” is a reality, and I prefer to simply call it “will”.

No - didn’t switch terms, just took a big short cut.  People feel as though they have free will.  If you call that an illusion, then they won’t deny what they feel, just the way they think about it.  So the true will they feel as a sentient being will be incorrectly labelled an illusion.  This is what could be self-destructive.  My hunch is that if you take away the concept of free will you will leave a void that needs to be filled in order to explain the “feeling”.  So it is probably better to carefully explain the alternative view of the feeling of will at the same time as you say that it is not free even though it feels like it is.  Once you take this route, there is no need to talk negatively of illusions - just talk positively of alternative explanations.

Furthermore, the illusion of free will is not as useless as you think.  For example, there is the illusion of a round atom with electrons orbiting it.  Certainly this is not an accurate picture of the world and therefore an illusion, but it helps us understand lots about the atom.  The same can be said about the illusion of newtonian mechanics.  Certainly they are not accurate when examined in terms of relativity theory, but the illusion is close enough to make a lot of conclusions about mechanics.

I think this is different.  Sam is challenging the idea of freedom of will point blank.  This would be like challenging the orbitals of electrons point blank.  Some analogies are helpful, even if limited, and some are not helpful and plain wrong.

So the illusion of free will, even though its not an accurate picture of reality, is useful to make conclucions about our wills.  In particular, if you’re a murderer you can’t appeal to the nuremberg defense by saying “but, free will is nonsene, I’m just following out my natural determinism.”  Even though it is, and he/she is, he/she still has the illusion of free will and is therefore responsible, as a unit, for his/her consequences.

I think Sam’s response to this would be that moral choices still exist in his alternative view of the world.  And that these choices still have impacts on the lives of others.  Thus we still have a ‘moral duty’ of sorts.  But someone who fails to perform that duty is not punishable but rather in need of some kind of subconscious reprogramming.  Maybe someone can put it more subtly than me - but I think you get the idea.

[ Edited: 08 February 2012 05:10 PM by Michael Kean]
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Posted: 08 February 2012 07:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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QuakePhil - 08 February 2012 06:08 AM

. . . “Free will” is nonsense indeed.  “Sentient will” is a reality, and I prefer to simply call it “will”.

I like this interpretation. But a line at the top of each page of this forum makes me wonder if Harris has changed his mind about the matter: “FREE WILL is now available. . . .”


It exists “. . . for pre-order,” at least.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 08 February 2012 09:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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Michael Kean - 08 February 2012 04:49 PM

I think Sam’s response to this would be that moral choices still exist in his alternative view of the world.  And that these choices still have impacts on the lives of others.  Thus we still have a ‘moral duty’ of sorts.  But someone who fails to perform that duty is not punishable but rather in need of some kind of subconscious reprogramming.  Maybe someone can put it more subtly than me - but I think you get the idea.

If this last post is kind of accurate, then it makes me think in terms of the non-deterministic view again – if reprogramming is what an errant behaviour requires, then surely such a tweak could be consciously and internally “realised” by the guilty party through some kind of carefully selected learning exercise!  Wouldn’t this suggest a degree of freedom of will?  This suggests a lot of issues: 
1. The ongoing question of a non-deterministic universe.  How does Quantum Physic’s non-deterministic universe accord with the assumption of strict cause and effect at the level of consciousness?  This is to suggest that consciousness is effectively a classical device, which is not as yet proven to be the case.  In fact Dennett’s own non-deterministic ‘pandemonium model of consciousness’ very much accords with Krauss’s non-deterministic model of ‘something’ arising from chaotic and quantum ‘nothingness’ discussed in another thread.  That is, consciousness may yet be a non-deterministic quantum device at some necessary level;
2. The idea that the will is just ‘consciously directed’ instinctive drives and therefore deterministic.  But in the deterministic, clockwork view how or why would these drives arise?  In the non-deterministic view drives arise because of evolution – i.e. its non-deterministic mutations in the struggle for life.  And why is there a struggle for life rather than acquiescence to death?  Because emergent order seems to struggle against disorder and entropy at all material levels, not just in life.  Yes, but why does order emerge from disorder – why can’t reality be content with infinite disorder?  Because nature tells us that there is no real or direct infinity: Every time we approach this limit, e.g. in (1/distance), speed, (1/temperature), etc. weird things happen.  So nature tells us that anything approaching infinity is inherently unstable or uncertain.  By implication, as we find an interpenetrating balance between something and nothing (or the direct and indirect, such as matter and space) far from infinity’s limit we find a state more stable (or less of a struggle; a kind of equilibrium or homeostasis if you like).  Something does not arise from classical nothingness but from chaotic and quantum nothingness.  Chaotic and quantum does not mean purely random – it means a kind of ‘bounded randomness’ in which defects of order must break out from disorder in the feedback arrangement.  So to sum up, there are drives in living organisms because of the inherent instability between something and nothing in a non-deterministic but bounded universe.  I have no idea how you would explain the weak emergence of animalistic drives in a deterministic, clockwork universe;
3. The idea that as we learn from others we take on board something that originates with ‘others’ in society but becomes ‘ours’.  That is, ‘originality’ of a thought doesn’t really matter much when we talk of a free or consciously-directed will;
4. The idea of a ‘tweak’ that is an input to the instinctive subconscious via consciousness alone, giving the feeling of a ‘free’ or ‘consciously directed’ will that weakens the idea of determinism as it might apply to the will;
5. The idea that we may have efficient and effective ways of reprogramming the will.  Can NLP or something else deal with such requirements?  If yes, isn’t this just a more indirect version of consciously-directed will in a non-determinate universe?
6. On a slightly tangential note, the idea of who would decide, or how it would be decided, in a scientifically-determined moral world which morals are appropriate in a certain situation and which are not.  This is an area where I think a more realistic, non-deterministic, emergent and naturalistic view of life can be very helpful and a deterministic or fixed set of moral Standards very detrimental.
But maybe I have purposely confused a lack of free will with a deterministic universe…

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Posted: 09 February 2012 06:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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Michael Kean - 08 February 2012 04:49 PM

But someone who fails to perform that duty is not punishable but rather in need of some kind of subconscious reprogramming

I agree, punishment is not very useful.  Prevention, on the other hand, education, separation from the crazies, this is all very useful to reduce immorality.  Rather than spank your child when they do something wrong a second time, explain to them why it is wrong, show what actually happens when people cross a street without looking, hold their hand, etc.


Also, I have yet to find a clear and concise (one or two sentences) definition of “free will”; in particular one that can assail the observation: we do what we will, but we don’t will what we will.

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Posted: 10 February 2012 12:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
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I have this running in another thread in the philosophy section but noticed there’s one here as well.  The thread was titled the illusion of freedom.  In the thread I defined freedom and freewill aside from nonsense concepts.  For freedom, I looked at what people consider freedom, and this is experiencing what a person wants to be experiencing.  That is when people feel free.  Will is a matter of what you want.  In order for the will to feel free you must have a want that you want to have.  If you have a want you don’t want to have you’re not going to feel like you’re experiencing freewill, just like when you’re not having an experience you don’t want to be having you feel encumbered and not free.  I think both of these terms are definable and not nonsense to discuss with each other.

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Posted: 10 February 2012 01:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
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Seems to me like word shuffling.  You can freely do what you want, but how can you freely want what you want?

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Posted: 10 February 2012 03:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
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QuakePhil - 10 February 2012 01:06 PM

Seems to me like word shuffling.  You can freely do what you want, but how can you freely want what you want?

Some people don’t want to want what they want, such as alcoholics, sometimes they are in disagreement with each other, and it is in this disagreement that people experience a lack of free will IMO.  When the want is in agreement, I believe a person experiences a state of what they would consider an unencumbered will, it would be free.

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Posted: 12 February 2012 10:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
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QuakePhil - 09 February 2012 06:26 AM

Also, I have yet to find a clear and concise (one or two sentences) definition of “free will”; in particular one that can assail the observation: we do what we will, but we don’t will what we will.

My attempt: “Free will is a mind/body system made up of instinctive drives, sensory inputs and conscious moderations that give the mind/body a subjective feeling of unencumbered intention as it makes its choices.”


Hi Phil,  maybe you can expand on your thinking here for us because obviously my idea that we can will what we do with our instincts and we can observe what we do with our consciousness, and consciousness can thus indirectly inform our will - wasn’t sufficient for you.  I also said that “of course we can’t will our will”.  What I meant is that the effect can’t also be the cause without other intervening circumstances.  For instance we can’t walk our walk either: We need balance, our senses, sensory elaboration in the brain, etc. to aid us.  But a step taken can be fed back to the senses that help us walk.  So this concept of the walking system can also be applied to the willing system.  We can’t will our will, but having chosen something, we can use our conscious faculties to feed back to the next thing to be chosen ‘with intent’.


As to the definition - how would you define the walking system - just in terms of muscle movements in the legs resulting in a kind of motion, or as a whole mind/body system?  I think if we thought about it for a little while we would use the broader definition.  So likewise with the willing system.  Let’s not define it in terms of its effects or our feelings alone, but also in terms of its causes; instinctive drives, sensory inputs and conscious moderation.


The next question is whether or not the will is free.  If I drive a car I am dependent on the conditions of the road, the limited abilities of the car, the mechanical condition of the car, other users of the road, etc.  To the extent that I am dependent on these things I am not free to do anything I want (without undesirable repercussions at least).  There are also road rules or mores I must obey.  The background laws of physics also apply.  But I am still the driver.  I can still choose, using my driving system, whether or not to turn left at the next corner through a mere “tweak” of the system under my limited control.  And if my aim in driving a car is nothing more than getting from point A to point B this might be enough for me to achieve my desired purpose and thus feel free.  So likewise the willing system.  Of course it is bounded by the finite universe and its self-organising patterns or rules.  But if we can “feel” like a driver, then we can “feel” free.  But all such feelings are necessarily subjective.  One person’s freedom is another person’s shackles. 


However this is not to denigrate subjective feelings per se.  Subjectivity is both the cost and reward of our fallible moral agency.  So the question comes back to what is the right notion of our fallible moral agency.  Is the notion of “self” as a fallible moral agent valid or do we need to modify our very independent Western claims and accept our full dependency on the universe and its systems that blindly grant us our being?  Or are both views correct?  The answer speaks to the notion of freedom in a naturalistic sense.  Thinking we’re free and actually being free are two different things.  Does cause and (probable) effect make us shackled or does it grant us the freedom we enjoy?  Or both?


If we’re looking for an objective freedom, then I’d suggest that overall we exist in a bounded system or finite universe and so not ultimately free.  But within this bounded system there is a certain chaotic uncertainty at many levels that is not bounded in itself but is rather full of potential to mold order from disorder.  We seem to be able to make intended choices that might be negated by other factors (like matter eliminated by antimatter) or that make a real difference to the unfolding system - whether or not we are aware of those effects.  The CO2 levels in the atmosphere being a pertinent example.  So I suspect we exercise real “freedoms” within the finite system, just as Dr. Krauss pictures something arising from nothing.  Our species makes a difference just like every other species.  And each individual is unique just like every leaf on a tree is unique (due to uncertainty).  But are these freedoms ultimately ours or the system’s?  More correctly, I think they are the system’s and we its fallible moral observers/agents (and not just its survival machines).  And I suspect Sam is reaching the same conclusion using just a different and more carefully constructed language…

[ Edited: 12 February 2012 10:27 PM by Michael Kean]
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Posted: 13 February 2012 06:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
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0username0 - 10 February 2012 03:26 PM

Some people don’t want to want what they want, such as alcoholics

I think this is a great example that will is not free.  There’s no reason to do what you don’t want, but there’s no sense in asking a reason for wanting what you want.  Alcoholics want to drink, by definition.  These wants may conflict with other wants, but under the influence of alcohol their will is steadfast.  And clearly not free (but under the influence of circumstance).


In other examples, our will is also steadfast and not free, its just not as clear as in the case of alcoholics.

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Posted: 13 February 2012 06:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
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Michael Kean - 12 February 2012 10:14 PM

My attempt: “Free will is a mind/body system made up of instinctive drives, sensory inputs and conscious moderations that give the mind/body a subjective feeling of unencumbered intention as it makes its choices.”


Good.  Then what is the difference between will and free will?  I contend that your definition is actually that of will.  The key challenge in defining free will is defining the free part.


I don’t understand what you mean by “walk our walk.”  The “will” is a modifying word, “I will to do X” means that I intend to do x.  I don’t see any anlog to “walk”, in the sense that walk can be used as a modifying word.  Walking describes a distinct action one can take.


We probably agree down the line.  Yes, we have intent.  Yes we have consciousness, instinctive drives, sensory inputs, conscious moderation, and whatever other fancy words you can put together.  My question now is, what is free will?  How is it fundamentally different than will?  It seems to me that we have wills, but I don’t understand what is so free about them.  We can feel free (whatever that means) and have the illusion of free will, but I don’t see anya ctual way to demonstrate such a freedom (except, as I showed earlier in this thread, to go back in time and change our choice, introducing a plethora of paradoxes which suggests this is impossible)


Certainly there is chaotic uncertainty, and so on.  But again, I don’t see how these quantum principles apply, any more than I can see how black-hole radiation on the quantum level could possibly suggest the popping of an elephant (and an anti-elephant?)  into a room on the macro level.  On the macro level we have, as a combination of all these chaotic uncertainties and so forth, our will.  But what is so free about it, and does it even have to be free?

[ Edited: 13 February 2012 07:03 AM by QuakePhil]
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Posted: 13 February 2012 10:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
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QuakePhil - 13 February 2012 06:51 AM
0username0 - 10 February 2012 03:26 PM

Some people don’t want to want what they want, such as alcoholics

I think this is a great example that will is not free.  There’s no reason to do what you don’t want, but there’s no sense in asking a reason for wanting what you want.  Alcoholics want to drink, by definition.  These wants may conflict with other wants, but under the influence of alcohol their will is steadfast.  And clearly not free (but under the influence of circumstance).


In other examples, our will is also steadfast and not free, its just not as clear as in the case of alcoholics.

Hmm… You seem to be agreeing with me somewhat but not all the way.  When wants clash, I consider the will to be encumbered and not free.  I would argue that so long as the alcoholic is experiencing a clash of wills that they are experiencing an encumbered will, and they are experiencing a state of a lack of what would be considered free will.  If they are a fully functional alcoholic, meaning that it doesn’t effect their personality too much and they can maintain their responsibilities then perhaps they are experiencing a state of free will.  However, they may be concerned about larger issues such as liver damage, I believe a single drink kills about 100,000 cells in the liver if I’m not mistaken, and this is not a particularly sustainable endeavor.  So, again wants may clash and the person may be experiencing an encumbered will, however this encumbered will is dictated by the way reality works with respect to their urges.

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Posted: 13 February 2012 11:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
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0username0 - 13 February 2012 10:41 AM

...

I agree with everything you said (although I might have issue with the terminology, such as encumberance vs freedom - why use different words here?, and will vs clash of wills - do we have one will or multiple?) and yet I still don’t know the difference between free will and will.


Whatever the alcoholic wills at any given point in time, that’s what he does.  But, at any given point in time, the alcoholic can’t will what he will.  If he could, then he would have free will; to demonstrate (and not just assume) that he could will what he wills, can he do anything else but the impossible time travel experiment?  How can we demonstrate, or even define, the difference between the obvious (will) and the supposed (free will)?

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