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Free Will
Posted: 13 February 2012 01:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]  
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QuakePhil - 13 February 2012 11:46 AM
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)?

I’m applying the idea of what we consider freedom to the idea of will itself.  We don’t consider ourselves free when we can decide, we consider ourselves free when we’re having experiences that we want to be having.  This is when a person feels unencumbered.  They feel freer, they feel free.  When it comes to the matter of will, the same principle applies, if I have a will that is in conflict, my will feels encumbered, it doesn’t feel free, it is a will structure in terms of experience that I would rather not be having.  When this will structure is less encumbered by other variables, I experience a sense of being freer in my will structure.  In the other thread I raised the level of abstraction to the concept that one persons sense of freedom and even freewill can impose upon and lessen another persons sense of freedom or free will and that the ideal is to acquire the most freedom and free will between all parties involved and not just one party, to collect as an aggregate the most freedom or free will.  Do we have a choice in this matter?  If it’s for the best, I certainly hope we do.  If it’s not for the best, I certainly hope we don’t.  Do I think there is such a thing as choice in the universe?  I’m not sure.  I’d like to think the gravity of conscious beings is freedom and freewill.

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Posted: 13 February 2012 03:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]  
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Would you agree then that we have choice, but not free will?  We can choose coffee or tea, but once the choice is made, it cannot be unmade.  So if you look at time topographically, we made the choice, and we can talk about all the details in that choice, but we would never presume for that choice to be mutable, non-deterministic, or anything else like that.


The more we talk about it, the more “free will” seems to be a simple contradiction in terms, least of all anything metaphysical.

[ Edited: 13 February 2012 03:36 PM by QuakePhil]
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Posted: 13 February 2012 09:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]  
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QuakePhil - 13 February 2012 06:59 AM
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.

No - I think I did that with the phrase “that give the mind/body a subjective feeling of unencumbered intention”.  If I was defining the will alone I would simply drop this phrase out.  But basically we’re on the same side - we both agree that ultimately there is no free will.  To be free of a system we have to stand apart from it - outside it, like a god might stand above or outside the cosmos.  We can’t do that; we’re part of this system or cosmos.


However the nature of this system is fascinating.  It has made us emergent, self-aware observers within it.  We are not creations (magical something from nothing) but we are nevertheless here having this conversation across the planet on the world wide web of ‘our’ making.  Quantum physics tells us we are non-deterministic arrangements of the cosmos’ finite stuff (that’s why we all look subtly different and behave subtly differently).  No stuff inside the universe is deterministic, even though it may appear to be so at some superficial (classical) level.  So how can fixed order or determinism come to some idea of self (the will) and not anything else within this system or cosmos?  So my idea is that the will is not ultimately free, but there is ‘wiggle room’ within this system of ours.

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.

If walking was an example of intent it would not be an analogy.  I was focussing on two separate mind/body systems - trying to ignore any crossover between the two (e.g. the intention to walk).  Walking is an action of the mind/body.  Willing is an action of the mind/body.  Both to walk and to will are verbs.  When we analyse the walking system we can analyse its parts and therefore to some degree how it works.  Similarly the willing system.  When we walk, what is happening in the motor areas of the brain?  Are they lagging the calf muscle movement or leading it?  What does it matter?  Muscle & motor areas of the brain are both parts of the feedback system that results in walking.  So likewise the willing system.  It has the amygdala, the neocortex, hippocampus, pre-frontal lobes, thalamus, etc. that are all doing different things at different times.  If the cortical regions lag the amygdala in their connections with the thalamus does this necessarily wipe out the possibility of free will within the system as a whole?  I guess the answer will be a part of Sam’s new book.

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)

ok, I agree - we have to separate the system that promotes a feeling of free will from the reality/illusion of free will.  Yes we can define the fallible free will system and describe to some extent the feelings or subjective experience of free will but this is different to objective free will.  For instance objective free will has little to do with the feelings of inadequacy in an alcoholic.  But it does have a lot to do with each of us intentionally choosing to do things that affect or trap the future, against the drives of our instincts or social mores of our cultures or the status quo of our circumstances.  Objective free will suggests we are capable of ‘creativity’ in the weak sense (i.e. not as a god might create something from nothing, but as a composer might rearrange notes to form a new melody).  Is the creation of a new melody an example of objective free will at work?  If not, why not?  If you answer ‘because it is simply an arrangement of what already existed in its separate parts’ then I’d suggest your demand of objective free will is too strong: Every behaviour of everything in our universe can be reduced to particular arrangements of its parts.  (And every arrangement is subject to a non-deterministic uncertainty.)


However if you agree that the new melody was certainly formed and so it did affect the future, but the composer cannot claim true authorship, again I’d suggest an argument about ‘claims’ either way is objectively weak (see prior posts about social claims/contracts/constructs and the ultimate claim to a self).  The only way we could redeem a sense of self is if we see it as a natural part of the blind outworking of the entire system or cosmos, in which case I’d respond that it is up to us to freely claim whatever we want within the confines of the system: If we make detrimental claims against the wellbeing of the system that supports us, we will end the reign of our species sooner rather than later.  So the best view of our apparently fallible moral agency (or apparent free will) is to just accept it, respect it and take personal responsibility for its effects (rather than give that responsibility up to some kind of god or dogma or belief).  To take responsibility is to try to understand how the system works, how we fit within the system, how we affect the system and how we can promote the wellbeing of the system over the medium to long term.  As observers of the system we seem to also become custodians of the system.

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?

Yes - this is a key question we can’t answer very clearly as yet.  But we do know that order and disorder are in an uneasy relationship in every arrangement of matter from the very small to the very large.  If you can’t see that the quantum principle of chaotic uncertainty applies to the uniqueness of every leaf of every tree or every face you touch or see at the macro level then what can I say?  So we know the quantum principle of chaotic uncertainty applies to the behaviour of humans as well - we just don’t know how it applies to the workings of indirect consciousness and its subjective feelings of free will.

[ Edited: 13 February 2012 09:33 PM by Michael Kean]
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Posted: 14 February 2012 08:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]  
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QuakePhil - 13 February 2012 03:34 PM

Would you agree then that we have choice, but not free will?  We can choose coffee or tea, but once the choice is made, it cannot be unmade.  So if you look at time topographically, we made the choice, and we can talk about all the details in that choice, but we would never presume for that choice to be mutable, non-deterministic, or anything else like that.


The more we talk about it, the more “free will” seems to be a simple contradiction in terms, least of all anything metaphysical.

I would probably reverse these and say that we have such a thing as free will that we observe, but that we are not certain whether any choices exist.  I say this because I define free will as an unencumbered sense of will.  This is a state of being that people experience.  I would hope there is choice if choice is required in order to cultivate more free will.  You seem to think that going back in time and changing our decisions has anything to do with free will.  It may have to do with getting what we want out of a situation, then again it may not, but I’m not sure this thought experiment is central to the theme of free will itself.

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Posted: 14 February 2012 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]  
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Than what’s the difference between an unencumbered sense of will and a sense of will?

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Posted: 14 February 2012 10:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]  
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QuakePhil - 14 February 2012 08:07 AM

Than what’s the difference between an unencumbered sense of will and a sense of will?

A sense of will is about what you want.  The sense of what you want will either be more encumbered or freer.  Free does qualify will when people describe free will.  I would say the opposite of free will is encumbered will or something that constricts the flow of the will.  These constrictions come up in how reality is with respect to given wills and how wills find themselves working against each other.  When a person is satisfied with their wants, their wills would be unencumbered.  When they are dissatisfied with their wants their wills would be experienced as being encumbered or constricted.

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Posted: 14 February 2012 10:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]  
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Sounds very wishywashy to me.


I think it is the exact opposite.  It is exactly when we reflect and consider if our past actions (and wills) were consistent with our current will, that is when we realize that our will in the past was actually determined and unavoidable (since it was the only one not avoided.)  Sure, our current will might disagree with our past will, but that has no bearing on the fact that in the past (or at any given moment in time) our will was our will; and because it (our current will) has no bearing on that (our past will), it goes to show that we don’t actually have free will, insofar that our will at any given point is determined.


That said we have the illusion of free will as subjective experience, but we can never demonstrate it, (and if we could we would create logical paradoxes) and I don’t think redefining free will in terms of reflection is useful, or logical itself (in the worst case, your definition of free will is actually almost circular in a way, since in judging how free or encumbered your past wills were, you are using your current will to do so)

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Posted: 14 February 2012 11:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]  
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QuakePhil - 14 February 2012 10:34 AM

Sounds very wishywashy to me.


I think it is the exact opposite.  It is exactly when we reflect and consider if our past actions (and wills) were consistent with our current will, that is when we realize that our will in the past was actually determined and unavoidable (since it was the only one not avoided.)  Sure, our current will might disagree with our past will, but that has no bearing on the fact that in the past (or at any given moment in time) our will was our will; and because it (our current will) has no bearing on that (our past will), it goes to show that we don’t actually have free will, insofar that our will at any given point is determined.


That said we have the illusion of free will as subjective experience, but we can never demonstrate it, (and if we could we would create logical paradoxes) and I don’t think redefining free will in terms of reflection is useful, or logical itself (in the worst case, your definition of free will is actually almost circular in a way, since in judging how free or encumbered your past wills were, you are using your current will to do so)

You’re confusing concepts here.  The idea of whether our decisions are determined or not has to do with whether there is such a thing as choice in the universe.  I was stating earlier that when a person feels their will to be unencumbered that they experience a free will, the person is not interested in whether they have choice or not, they are interested in experiencing freedom or free will.  An unencumbered state of being with a series of unencumbered wants.  The fact that people do experience this state of being suggests that there is in fact what would be considered a freer experience and a freer will than when they experience other states of being.  I don’t think it is meaningless or illusory to suggest that people experience unencumbered states of will relative to other states of will. The question of free will as determinism or choice is whether people can actually cultivate these states more frequently through their decisions or is there no such thing as decision.

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Posted: 15 February 2012 03:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]  
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QuakePhil - 13 February 2012 03:34 PM

Would you agree then that we have choice, but not free will?  We can choose coffee or tea, but once the choice is made, it cannot be unmade.  So if you look at time topographically, we made the choice, and we can talk about all the details in that choice, but we would never presume for that choice to be mutable, non-deterministic, or anything else like that.

The more we talk about it, the more “free will” seems to be a simple contradiction in terms, least of all anything metaphysical.

Phil - you seem to misunderstand the nature of time in the above quote.  Time is not a sum of seconds or hours consistent across the universe - that’s just how we assume it is for the sake of convenience.  Time exists because of changes at all levels of matter and at differing local rates throughout the universe.  It is due to the variable decay or loss of orderliness of all systems, or increasing entropy, probably as the logical consequence of an expanding universe.  Entropy is also the reason for the humanly perceived “arrow of time” (always moving forward).  This would also suggest that psychological time (which I suspect is the same sort of time subjectively experienced by all organisms) is perhaps not wholly unrelated to actual time as it exists in this expansive stage of our universe’s development.  So time is local and intertwined with (inseparable from) interactions between matter and space.  This means time is quantum mechanical like or with matter.  So when two separate particles are subject to quantum entanglement, so is local time.  When matter is non-determinate before quantum collapse, so is local time.  Thus while your “block universe” or “topological” view of time might be a dubious tool of some philosophers, it is not a basic tenet of quantum theory.


Perhaps the best way to think of time is that, as you say, the past is determined or locked in (and actually no longer existent).  However the present retains one last degree of non-deterministic freedom and the future (which is also non-existent) is even more open or probabilistic due to time’s quantum nature (in the unfolding moments).  This is a process view of time.  So finally we come to your above quote “we would never presume for that choice to be mutable, non-deterministic, or anything else like that”.  Actually we can’t assume that a choice in the present is determined - this is the whole point of the discussion.  In fact QM would tell us everything in the present is ultimately non-deterministic.

QuakePhil - 14 February 2012 10:34 AM

“...and because it (our current will) has no bearing on that (our past will), it goes to show that we don’t actually have free will, insofar that our will at any given point is determined.

Again, this is not helpful.  The important point here is that what happened in the past has a bearing on the present but does not lock in the present in a QM or non-deterministic universe.  This means my current will is not locked in by the past (or future).  This is a prerequisite for free will.  Thus free will is not quite disproved as yet.


A lot of this discussion centres on the issue of determinism and in particular, causality.  We tend to think in terms of a universe that is either deterministic or non-deterministic.  But maybe we should think about how QM non-determinism works a little more deeply.  Over the eras of time arrangements of matter have gotten more complex.  Some call this tendency emergence.  More complex arrangements of matter bring about more complex properties and behaviours of matter.  For instance, the eventual arrangement of hydrogen and oxygen into molecules of H2O brought about the property or behaviour of what we perceive as ‘wetness’ in water.  Now wetness on a smooth surface can cause someone like you or me to slip, lose balance and fall to the ground.  From this simple example we can see that not only are the arrangements, properties and behaviours of matter emergent, but so are the causes of matter!  So in a QM world natural causes are not simple, linear or determinate like in a game of billiards.  They are complex, non-linear, non-determinate and emergent.  And in complex systems such as in organisms, they are part of the blindly self-organising mechanism as well.  I think that like Darwin, we do not have to go back to an original cause (of life) to see that causes are emergent (or to see that life evolves).  If causes are emergent then effects are also emergent - feedback in our cosmos’ closed system makes this so.  If causes emerge then risks (and Darwinian struggles for life) also emerge - which is exactly what the insurance industry has learned with the rise of more complex financial markets.


This view of non-determinism and emergent causality gets us a lot closer, I think, to an understanding of the link between QM non-determinism and the emergence of instinctive drives in animals.  The link between instinctive drives in animals and partially free will in humans should be a much smaller gap to straddle, which has already been discussed.  It seems to me then that QM, coupled with an emergent causality, can get us closer to a more robust ‘philosophy of mind’.  So even though we don’t understand how free will exists, I think we can eventually agree that it does exist, objectively and to some limited extent, within the confines or constraints of our finite universal system.  Maybe the best way we can describe the nature of human will is that it is ‘emergent’ will rather than ‘free’ will.  But I guess Sam’s book will set me straight very soon…

[ Edited: 20 February 2012 09:13 PM by Michael Kean]
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Posted: 10 March 2012 10:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]  
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QuakePhil - 30 January 2012 09:48 AM

I forgot the author of this quote.  But it sums up best for me the contradiction in terms that is free will:


“I do what I will.  But I don’t will what I will.”

It’s a paraphrase of a quote of Schopenhauer.

Einstein wrote:
“Schopenhauer’s words, ‘Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot want what he wants’, accompany me in all life situations and console me in my dealings with people, even those that are really painful to me.”

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