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Sam’s new thoughts on free will
Posted: 16 September 2012 12:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 91 ]  
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ncarver - 15 September 2012 11:41 PM

I think we are saying the same things. I’m not claiming that randomness allows free will, not at all. I’m also not convinced of a completely determinist universe, either. I’m saying that probability allows for something other than either free will or complete determinism… we just don’t have a word to describe it.

Not to spend too much time agreeing with one another:


I once read a physicist who said something like “in an infinite universe, anything that is not prohibited from happening, must happen.”  That seems to be a good description for how natural selection begins as well.  Overtime, all of the changes that might occur in a species show up in some individual, and if the change grants a reproductive advantage - it continues and compounds until changes in that direction no longer improve survivability.  If it turn out to be true that any survival advantages result at any level of biological existence on the basis of an organisms ability to make arbitrary choices, then the determinists are done.  Of course, unlike my avatar, I’m not smart enough to piece together any kind of model that would be convincing on that point. 


For the naturalists to be closing the book on the question of free will at this stage of our understanding is evidence either that I am woefully uninformed on our current state of research, or they are accepting propositions on faith.  I’ve read several popular science books on neurology and psychology, and that question just keeps looking worse for them.

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Posted: 16 September 2012 12:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 92 ]  
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ncarver - 14 September 2012 10:16 AM

....1. The evidence against free will (conscious choice) is that brain scans can tell what decision we will make before we are conscious of that decision. (leaving aside the annoying half-baked ad hominems that toombaru keeps interjecting.)

This interpretation of the Libet-Experiments has been thorougly refuted in this thread. I don’t want to repeat myself, but read one of my earlier posts.

2. Let’s assume this is correct even for highly complex decisions, not just turn right or left.

That’s no evidence, that’s a hypothesis. You are assuming what you are trying to prove. This is called circular reasoning.

3. The question I have is “Is there still a decision being made?” If not by the imaginary “I” but by the mass of neurons we call a brain?

So what? Is asking questions the same as providing evidence?

Well, well,... ;-(

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Posted: 16 September 2012 01:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 93 ]  
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kikl - 16 September 2012 12:59 PM
ncarver - 14 September 2012 10:16 AM

....1. The evidence against free will (conscious choice) is that brain scans can tell what decision we will make before we are conscious of that decision. (leaving aside the annoying half-baked ad hominems that toombaru keeps interjecting.)

This interpretation of the Libet-Experiments has been thorougly refuted in this thread. I don’t want to repeat myself, but read one of my earlier posts.

2. Let’s assume this is correct even for highly complex decisions, not just turn right or left.

That’s no evidence, that’s a hypothesis. You are assuming what you are trying to prove. This is called circular reasoning.

3. The question I have is “Is there still a decision being made?” If not by the imaginary “I” but by the mass of neurons we call a brain?

So what? Is asking questions the same as providing evidence?

Well, well,... ;-(

 

There is no decision being made and the actions of sentient beings are not pre-determined.
The brain cells merely react to the perceived world based on their unique programming and the sense of self emerges to claim the so called choice.
If the sense of self is not even aware of what the brain reacts to, how can it claim to be the one deciding?
End of story.

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Posted: 16 September 2012 01:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 94 ]  
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toombaru - 16 September 2012 01:55 PM

.. There is no decision being made and the actions of sentient beings are not pre-determined…

Circular reasoning galore. Again, you are presuming, what you are trying to prove.

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Posted: 16 September 2012 02:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 95 ]  
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Coolinator writes: “It [a housefly] may, in fact, choose any direction that is consistent with the pattern that its genes prescribe so long as an environmental factor such as the presence of wall does not preclude the option.”


Hello Coolinator,
I think issues like this can become anthropomorphic traps.  The fact is, houseflies don’t have much of a brain—perhaps a proprioceptive system, some sensory equipment and reflexive neuronal networks.—they don’t do a lot of thinking and they probably don’t “choose”.  When houseflies respond to stimuli (like an incoming fly swatter) the behavior is reflexive.  The response is random in the sense that it can take any form within the limits of the fly’s physical systems and the surrounding environment.  But that doesn’t suggest free will—at least not in the traditional sense of the word.  Suppose a fly veers to the left because that area is darker and thus it is less exposed, or suppose that there are left-handed and right handed flies.  In fact there are as many possible physical explanations as there are outcomes.
A few examples: the random movement of air molecules and the dead frog leg twitch.  It’s interesting that we don’t assign purpose to these things—there is no molecular free will and dead frogs don’t choose to do anything.  Amoebas have the ability to search out food sources and are photophobic (they avoid bright light.)  They go about the business of survival and reproduction, and yet they have no brain cells.  Where’s the free will in that?  When behaviors are simple we accept them at face value but when they become more complex and harder to explain we invoke free will.  It’s intellectually dishonest. 

[ Edited: 16 September 2012 05:59 PM by Wreck of M Deare]
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Posted: 16 September 2012 04:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 96 ]  
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I love this whole forum, thank you for so many intelligent yet unconscious mechanistic and surreal contributions., at least for some of you.

Newbie, is it intellectually dishonest to say, (like my compatriot Descartes) Cogito ergo sum? a brain has enough firing synapses that it builds a self awareness ( and not just in humans)  isn’t that called Consciousness?  consciousness exists however you qualify “exist”, because this body of mine experiences it, unlike a machine, (so far , may be one machine,  or the net at large is close to reach the fatidic number of firing synapses) and it could be that we are but the tools of our selfish genes, even so we are conscious of reading this blog.  Sam uses the concept of consciousness to make his demonstration, doesn’t he? . So unlike amoebas we can point to the tool that creates consciousness. Even if there exist a black swan of a brainless consciousness, all the better.

If consciousness exist, it leads to reasoning, and to making at least some choices. the probabilistic aspect of the choice could be similar to quantum physics, where a particle passes simultaneously through slots as long no detector attempts to define how . Probability is a poor descriptor of what happens, it seems that both events do happen, until a external constraint forces the wave to collapse.

Perhaps a decision is operating along the same path, both outcomes are true until ...hmm ..what causes it to collapse, the “what” , could be a gene or environment, it could be also the result of values , of a rational reflection, leading to a conclusion, that I may choose to ignore, but if so I ignore consciously to cater to my instinct , which provides more pleasure maybe . This I call Free will, I have environmental freedom to choose, and even my subconscious fires a decision in favor of chocolate, whose definition is it to deny that this is not free will. some times I resist he urge , some times I don’t, and sometimes I almost do it, then I don’t, or I allow myself to be convinced to do otherwise. This is free will.

I read twice the eponymous book, the evedence essentially standing on the brain scans, which are interpreted to meet a preconception. Again to deny consciousness and free will becomes a non falsifiable dogma. I love Sam Harris,  I read all his books but on that particular point , I feel ( Me , my consciousness) he is going out on a precarious limb on flimsy evidence. I hope he goes back and put more flesh to the argument. And hope that you guys can further enlighten this self sentient contributor ( why do I contribute in the first place ? I was free not to, free not to post now).

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Posted: 16 September 2012 06:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 97 ]  
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Hello Totof,
I guess my question to you is:  Do you believe everyone experiences consciousness in the same manner?  Or is it possible that our perceptions are shaped by our unique genetic endowment, our history of learning (what we’ve learned and experienced throughout our lives) and our current physical environment?

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Posted: 16 September 2012 07:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 98 ]  
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Just finished reading Sam’s new post on free will.  I have to say as a ‘free will agnostic’ of sorts, I find this a difficult area, because even if free will doesn’t exist in an ontological sense it may be damaging to society at large to teach this - and certainly if we are as yet unsure about the ontological status we may be making a very damaging mistake.

Sam puts himself forward as an example of how a lack of belief in free will may be a good thing, not a bad thing.  However, teaching children the ‘truth’ may not be such a good thing.  The problem here is that what it suggests to me is that those who profess free will to be an illusion, don’t behave as if they believe it.  Through the years of the ‘illusion’ they’ve been inculcated with a behaviour that assumes agency, incorrectly on Harris’ account.  So learning later on that the basis for this behaviour might be an illusion doesn’t necessarily alter it, but it may if taught at a young age, and Harris appears well aware of this problem but really skirts around the implications.

There is some empirical evidence that people behave differently based on different beliefs about free will, in particular one study that suggests they may be more willing to cheat, etc.  Harris’ claim that society will be more compassionate and equitable is really based on the assumption of a society that ‘doesn’t tell’ their children the truth, or deliberately misleads them, inculcating behaviour based on an illusion, establishing it firmly, before pulling out the rug later on in life and hoping the illusory behaviour has been established well enough that there will be no negative side effects.  On the one hand Harris appears to agree that there are potentially socially detrimental effects to teaching a ‘lack of free will’ and on the other he dismisses those as only being relevant to children; fully grown adults will be much better off on Harris own account.

I see a tension here that he is only tacitly willing to accept and seems to tiptoe around.

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Posted: 16 September 2012 07:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 99 ]  
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totof - 16 September 2012 04:43 PM

I love this whole forum, thank you for so many intelligent yet unconscious mechanistic and surreal contributions., at least for some of you.

Newbie, is it intellectually dishonest to say, (like my compatriot Descartes) Cogito ergo sum? a brain has enough firing synapses that it builds a self awareness ( and not just in humans)  isn’t that called Consciousness?  consciousness exists however you qualify “exist”, because this body of mine experiences it, unlike a machine, (so far , may be one machine,  or the net at large is close to reach the fatidic number of firing synapses) and it could be that we are but the tools of our selfish genes, even so we are conscious of reading this blog.  Sam uses the concept of consciousness to make his demonstration, doesn’t he? . So unlike amoebas we can point to the tool that creates consciousness. Even if there exist a black swan of a brainless consciousness, all the better.

If consciousness exist, it leads to reasoning, and to making at least some choices. the probabilistic aspect of the choice could be similar to quantum physics, where a particle passes simultaneously through slots as long no detector attempts to define how . Probability is a poor descriptor of what happens, it seems that both events do happen, until a external constraint forces the wave to collapse.

Perhaps a decision is operating along the same path, both outcomes are true until ...hmm ..what causes it to collapse, the “what” , could be a gene or environment, it could be also the result of values , of a rational reflection, leading to a conclusion, that I may choose to ignore, but if so I ignore consciously to cater to my instinct , which provides more pleasure maybe . This I call Free will, I have environmental freedom to choose, and even my subconscious fires a decision in favor of chocolate, whose definition is it to deny that this is not free will. some times I resist he urge , some times I don’t, and sometimes I almost do it, then I don’t, or I allow myself to be convinced to do otherwise. This is free will.

I read twice the eponymous book, the evedence essentially standing on the brain scans, which are interpreted to meet a preconception. Again to deny consciousness and free will becomes a non falsifiable dogma. I love Sam Harris,  I read all his books but on that particular point , I feel ( Me , my consciousness) he is going out on a precarious limb on flimsy evidence. I hope he goes back and put more flesh to the argument. And hope that you guys can further enlighten this self sentient contributor ( why do I contribute in the first place ? I was free not to, free not to post now).

 

The sense of being a separate self that resides in the brain you think of as yours will probably continue to believe that it has free will until the body dies.
Most identified entities stumble through life thinking that they are in charge.
If you are right, the self that resides here has evidently decided that it doesn’t have free will.
Also, if you are right, you should be able to decide not to have free will.
I highly recommend it.
If you don’t like living without choice, you can always choose to have it back.

 

 

 

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Posted: 16 September 2012 08:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 100 ]  
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Wreck of M Deare - 16 September 2012 02:00 PM

Hello Coolinator,
I think issues like this can become anthropomorphic traps.  The fact is, houseflies don’t have much of a brain—perhaps a proprioceptive system, some sensory equipment and reflexive neuronal networks.—they don’t do a lot of thinking and they probably don’t “choose”.  When houseflies respond to stimuli (like an incoming fly swatter) the behavior is reflexive.  The response is random in the sense that it can take any form within the limits of the fly’s physical systems and the surrounding environment.  But that doesn’t suggest free will—at least not in the traditional sense of the word.  Suppose a fly veers to the left because that area is darker and thus it is less exposed, or suppose that there are left-handed and right handed flies.  In fact there are as many possible physical explanations as there are outcomes.
A few examples: the random movement of air molecules and the dead frog leg twitch.  It’s interesting that we don’t assign purpose to these things—there is no molecular free will and dead frogs don’t choose to do anything.  Amoebas have the ability to search out food sources and are photophobic (they avoid bright light.)  They go about the business of survival and reproduction, and yet they have no brain cells.  Where’s the free will in that?  When behaviors are simple we accept them at face value but when they become more complex and harder to explain we invoke free will.  It’s intellectually dishonest.

I am not advocating that a housefly has any meaningful free will.  I am only point out that it (say 0.1%) cannot be ruled out.  This is interesting only in my larger point, which is the power of natural selection to develop even the most mundane attribute to a startling degree of perfection. 


I’m trying now to remember a book (Dawkins - I think) in which the process by which the evolution of the eye is laid out in great detail.  He goes on to show how it certainly proceeded from a single photo-sensitive cell and from there the eye became not only possible, but inevitable since light sensitivity is known to convey a survival advantage.  Further, he alluded to research which showed that the eye had probably evolved something like 7 different times that we know about.  Sadly, this is from my pre-ebook days and I can’t readily go back and cite the book for you.


None of this shows that free will exists, I admit.  But my purpose is only to show that the time is premature to rule it out.

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Posted: 16 September 2012 08:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 101 ]  
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Ah Ha!  It was River out of Eden.  In which Dawkins reportedly said: “it is no wonder the eye has evolved at least forty times independently around the animal kingdom.”


Thank God for the search engines and the wikipedia.  Can I get an amen, fellow atheists!

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Posted: 16 September 2012 08:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 102 ]  
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bledcarrot - 16 September 2012 07:08 PM

The problem here is that what it suggests to me is that those who profess free will to be an illusion, don’t behave as if they believe it.

I also am ambivalent on the issue of free will.  However, my experience is that the statement above is as far from the truth as one can be.  Trust me: they believe it.  My concern is, on what grounds?

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Posted: 16 September 2012 08:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 103 ]  
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totof - 16 September 2012 04:43 PM

I read twice the eponymous book, the evedence essentially standing on the brain scans, which are interpreted to meet a preconception. Again to deny consciousness and free will becomes a non falsifiable dogma. I love Sam Harris,  I read all his books but on that particular point , I feel ( Me , my consciousness) he is going out on a precarious limb on flimsy evidence. I hope he goes back and put more flesh to the argument. And hope that you guys can further enlighten this self sentient contributor ( why do I contribute in the first place ? I was free not to, free not to post now).

^^!  I can only hope that you are a woman so that my proffers of marriage are in compliance with the law.

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Posted: 16 September 2012 09:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 104 ]  
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TheCoolinator - 16 September 2012 08:26 PM
bledcarrot - 16 September 2012 07:08 PM

The problem here is that what it suggests to me is that those who profess free will to be an illusion, don’t behave as if they believe it.

I also am ambivalent on the issue of free will.  However, my experience is that the statement above is as far from the truth as one can be.  Trust me: they believe it.  My concern is, on what grounds?

But you might not have fully understood my point here.  I have no doubt they ‘believe it’ in an academic sense - the question is whether they believe it in a deep sense, to the point where it is even entrenched within the unconscious.  I suggest that the way they behave is still very much rooted in a belief in their agency.  They still ‘make decisions’ as if they are making them, but they are able to rationalise it after as really just ‘going with the flow.’  My point is that if you took a child from birth and raised it to deeply believe in the absence of free will you would have an individual that behaved and thought very differently, an individual that perhaps acted purely on instinct and without consideration of consequences or weighing of options at all.  After all, these are merely post-hoc and ineffectual.  Because every single one of those who professes to now reject the existence of free will has themselves grown up and developed with a deep seeded belief IN it, their behaviour has been established in their formative years, and their behaviour still reflects that of a being that believes in its agency, deep down where it matters, even if not at the level of rationalisation (which does NOT matter on their account.)

So when people like Harris use themselves as examples of how much better people can be if they reject the idea of ‘free will’ what it seems to me they are really saying, and Harris’ most recent article where he suggests ‘not telling’ children is a good idea would seem to accord with this, is that people are better off if they develop with a belief in free will, indeed if they still deep down BEHAVE as if they have freedom of the will, but if they academically reject it.

 

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Posted: 16 September 2012 10:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 105 ]  
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bledcarrot - 16 September 2012 09:02 PM
TheCoolinator - 16 September 2012 08:26 PM
bledcarrot - 16 September 2012 07:08 PM

The problem here is that what it suggests to me is that those who profess free will to be an illusion, don’t behave as if they believe it.

I also am ambivalent on the issue of free will.  However, my experience is that the statement above is as far from the truth as one can be.  Trust me: they believe it.  My concern is, on what grounds?

But you might not have fully understood my point here.  I have no doubt they ‘believe it’ in an academic sense - the question is whether they believe it in a deep sense, to the point where it is even entrenched within the unconscious.  I suggest that the way they behave is still very much rooted in a belief in their agency.  They still ‘make decisions’ as if they are making them, but they are able to rationalise it after as really just ‘going with the flow.’  My point is that if you took a child from birth and raised it to deeply believe in the absence of free will you would have an individual that behaved and thought very differently, an individual that perhaps acted purely on instinct and without consideration of consequences or weighing of options at all.  After all, these are merely post-hoc and ineffectual.  Because every single one of those who professes to now reject the existence of free will has themselves grown up and developed with a deep seeded belief IN it, their behaviour has been established in their formative years, and their behaviour still reflects that of a being that believes in its agency, deep down where it matters, even if not at the level of rationalisation (which does NOT matter on their account.)

So when people like Harris use themselves as examples of how much better people can be if they reject the idea of ‘free will’ what it seems to me they are really saying, and Harris’ most recent article where he suggests ‘not telling’ children is a good idea would seem to accord with this, is that people are better off if they develop with a belief in free will, indeed if they still deep down BEHAVE as if they have freedom of the will, but if they academically reject it.

 

Within this sentient being, there is no more belief in free agency than there is belief in a creator god. people who can bend spoons with their mind or purple angels on the moon.
They are all seen as egomaniacal-magical thinking.
My day flows along unburdened by the illusion of choice.
I find it shocking that anyone believes in gods and free will.
The persistent denial of evolution seems no less logical than insisting that they are the one who actually chooses there own actions.

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