Free will and choice
Posted: 27 April 2012 10:45 AM   [ Ignore ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  4
Joined  2012-04-27

I may just be misinterpreting Mr. Harris from a lecture I saw on YouTube -  http://youtu.be/pCofmZlC72g - but if there is no free will…no “choice” that can be made - then what provides the influence to make one thing rather than another occur?  If everything is only a product of previous causes - down to the very smallest particle interaction - and those interactions are theoretically mathematically predetermined (or at least one event is more “probable” than another)...then there would appear to be no way to influence the outcome of, well…anything.

To paraphrase the self-writing book metaphor: “...if I did not choose to write it, this book would not have written itself…”.  If the above is true, then it was at least extremely probable that the book would have come into existence regardless of any choice.  If there is no choice, then influences are unaffected by anything but probability.

Please validate or refute my understanding.

Thanks!

Profile
 
 
Posted: 27 April 2012 05:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  802
Joined  2010-11-12
AlekT - 27 April 2012 10:45 AM

I may just be misinterpreting Mr. Harris from a lecture I saw on YouTube -  http://youtu.be/pCofmZlC72g - but if there is no free will…no “choice” that can be made - then what provides the influence to make one thing rather than another occur?  If everything is only a product of previous causes - down to the very smallest particle interaction - and those interactions are theoretically mathematically predetermined (or at least one event is more “probable” than another)...then there would appear to be no way to influence the outcome of, well…anything.

To paraphrase the self-writing book metaphor: “...if I did not choose to write it, this book would not have written itself…”.  If the above is true, then it was at least extremely probable that the book would have come into existence regardless of any choice.  If there is no choice, then influences are unaffected by anything but probability.

Please validate or refute my understanding.

Thanks!


Outside of the mind’s labeled overlay there are no separate things or events.
There are no separate causes and no separate effects.
“Reality” is one vast interaction…....(even that statement assumes the existence of separate things like"reality”.)
There is simply no way to discuss a problem by using language which is the very cause of the problem.
The mind in man evolved to make connections between its conceptually separated events.
It assumes that objects exist in isolation and concocts a world composed of causes and effects.
Into this illusory world it factors what it imagines to be its own will.
Events are determined by everything that preceded them.
The mind makes its “choices”, which are determined by innumerable factors that preceded them and the sense of self claims emerges and claims responsibility.
There is no choice involved.
The brain is actually reacting in the only way it can.
The “problem” exists only in the conceptual mind in its mis-take concerning the actual existence of separate “things”
Simple as that.

 

 

Profile
 
 
Posted: 27 April 2012 07:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  147
Joined  2011-05-06

OP, you have it right, that is, your understanding of what is being said is correct. 


This was something the intellectuals actively struggled with in the 19th century.  In this view, all matter including the world and every single thing in, it including you and me , formed a big clock which wound up at the time of the Big Bang a few billion years ago. 


After that Big Bang, the laws of physics have completely determined what has happened and will continue to completely determine what will happen. This determinism extends to all all events including your own thoughts at any given time and every decision you’ve ever made or will make. What has happened anywhere could not have been any different from what it was given the initial conditions of matter and energy and the laws of physics.


That’s about as stark and plain a representation of this POV as can be formulated.


Perhaps most physical scientists buy into this view. It was revolutionary and sophisticated in the 19th century, but there are rebuttals available to us today that they could not have availed themselves of.  I made my quasi-rebuttal here just a few days ago here:

http://www.samharris.org/forum/viewthread/16597/

From a sociological POV I would say there’s now a complete split between lay people and physical (physics, chemistry biology) scientists. Other scientists don’t seem to ponder it or hold strongly definite opinions on the topic. (source: me)


Intellectuals and artists still actively take up the issue and have strong feelings about freewill/ determinism. For instance, Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”  (and the book it was taken from) is all about just this issue. The question there is “are people’s actions and characters determined.. are people a kind of organic clock…. a clockwork orange (orange as in fruit) ? “


You can see how Kubrick treated this idea in the context of the then prevailing BF Skinnerian notions of operant conditioning and the rejection of cognition as causally potent (or even real).


I read Harris as a sort of throwback to this view, albeit he is not rejecting thought itself as Skinner did. For Harris people still think, but the agency implied by that activity is denied and dismissed as an illusion.


Wikipedia will quickly tell you everything you need to know about BF Skinner if you aren’t familiar with his theories. Essentially, Skinner said all outward behaviour was a result of conditioning by the outside world and not the result of any kind of thought or reflection or inner processing. Such things were casually impotent epiphenomena at most. Skinner weirdly thought they were   actually non-existent. 

 

I remember my first year cog sci instructor introducing us to the concept of algorithm by giving us a certain hard puzzle to solve- the Towers of Hanoi (details unimportant). After we spent some time messing around trying to solve it, he told us how to think about the problem so as to find a solution. It was easy after that.


“There”, he said, “that’s sort of a mini refutation of BF Skinner and behaiourism” and in fact it was just that.


Most cognitive scientists now view Skinner as having been just run-of-the-mill wrong. The whole thing was just weird from the start. He denied you had thoughts (yes, he did) . Yet you know you have them through introspection. So who are you going to believe, Skinner or your lying eyes?

 

Another sociological note. I know people from the time when BF Skinner ruled the roost (inside joke intended). His POV became a kind of “party purity test” wherein if you did not subscribe, you were subtly viewed as just unable to accept the hard truth about people; you were too weak to let go of your old fashioned comfort-producing notions that you had a meaningful inner life inside your head. 

 

I see much the same thing with the freewill debate now . Determinism was revolutionary cutting edge thinking- 150 years ago. There’s reasonable room for other interpretations of reality not because determinism isn’t a correct description of reality but because today we are more comfortable with the idea that the very basics of how we construct reality- time, space, causality, little particles effecting each other etc etc -and by implication all phenomena -may just be one limited aspect of something we can’t or haven’t grasped yet.

 

Of course, if we don’t   know anything about it, then “it” can’t be used as the basis of an argument for or against anything, including freewill except in the very vague and universal sense in which things may ALWAYS be different than our current theories have them. The thing is, this very general asterisk at the bottom of every theory is interesting in this context.  There’s something f Pascal’s wager at work here. What do you lose if you believe you have no free will and it effects you in a very bad way and then it turns out later that we were just wrong about the whole way we conceptualized the problem and “something like” freewill does in fact exist. It’s not like nothing is at stake here, is it?

 

 

[ Edited: 02 May 2012 07:29 AM by softwarevisualization]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 27 April 2012 10:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  802
Joined  2010-11-12
AlekT - 27 April 2012 10:45 AM

I may just be misinterpreting Mr. Harris from a lecture I saw on YouTube -  http://youtu.be/pCofmZlC72g - but if there is no free will…no “choice” that can be made - then what provides the influence to make one thing rather than another occur?  If everything is only a product of previous causes - down to the very smallest particle interaction - and those interactions are theoretically mathematically predetermined (or at least one event is more “probable” than another)...then there would appear to be no way to influence the outcome of, well…anything.

To paraphrase the self-writing book metaphor: “...if I did not choose to write it, this book would not have written itself…”.  If the above is true, then it was at least extremely probable that the book would have come into existence regardless of any choice.  If there is no choice, then influences are unaffected by anything but probability.

Please validate or refute my understanding.

Thanks!


There is not even probability.
That is a term that the mind invents in its efforts to predict outcome.
There is only a flowing edgelessness.

 

 

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 May 2012 12:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  2
Joined  2012-05-13
toombaru - 27 April 2012 10:50 PM
AlekT - 27 April 2012 10:45 AM

I may just be misinterpreting Mr. Harris from a lecture I saw on YouTubehttp://youtu.be/pCofmZlC72g - but if there is no free will…no “choice” that can be made - then what provides the influence to make one thing rather than another occur?  If everything is only a product of previous causes - down to the very smallest particle interaction - and those interactions are theoretically mathematically predetermined (or at least one event is more “probable” than another)...then there would appear to be no way to influence the outcome of, well…anything.

To paraphrase the self-writing book metaphor: “...if I did not choose to write it, this book would not have written itself…”.  If the above is true, then it was at least extremely probable that the book would have come into existence regardless of any choice.  If there is no choice, then influences are unaffected by anything but probability.

Please validate or refute my understanding

Thanks!


There is not even probability.
That is a term that the mind invents in its efforts to predict outcome.
There is only a flowing edgelessness.

 

 

In short, free does not come easy.
“Sometimes our independence comes at the cost of something else And that cost can be high.”

[ Edited: 07 June 2012 01:03 AM by KimberlyNapier]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 May 2012 12:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  3
Joined  2012-05-13

Hi there, I am new to this discussion. I am currently reading Sam’s book Free Will—not quite done yet.

It does me no good at all to think that everything I do is predetermined. It can’t even be right, because the future has not happened yet. There are causes and there are effects, things are unfolding and ‘I’, whatever that is, is part of the causal energy. Is this getting somewhere near the right understanding? Perhaps it what Sam means when he says “You are the storm,” page 14.

So what is the language that can help people understand? Is it personal anecdotes in terms of martial arts skills? My own version of this would be—who chooses what I wear today? Because that ain’t me!

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 May 2012 12:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  3
Joined  2012-05-13
AlekT - 27 April 2012 10:45 AM

I may just be misinterpreting Mr. Harris from a lecture I saw on YouTube -  http://youtu.be/pCofmZlC72g - but if there is no free will…no “choice” that can be made - then what provides the influence to make one thing rather than another occur?  If everything is only a product of previous causes - down to the very smallest particle interaction - and those interactions are theoretically mathematically predetermined (or at least one event is more “probable” than another)...then there would appear to be no way to influence the outcome of, well…anything.

To paraphrase the self-writing book metaphor: “...if I did not choose to write it, this book would not have written itself…”.  If the above is true, then it was at least extremely probable that the book would have come into existence regardless of any choice.  If there is no choice, then influences are unaffected by anything but probability.

Please validate or refute my understanding.

Thanks!

About the youtube lecture. At the end one guy asks about consciousness being an illusion, and Sam says that’s nonsense. But I am wondering if the questioner actually meant to ask if consciousness is an epiphenomenon.

 

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 May 2012 01:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  3
Joined  2012-05-13

One thing I wish Sam had addressed, Freedom to and Freedom from. Maybe that’s for another book. As the book ends, Sam is getting something to eat. Freedom to—is that no-one is stopping him from getting up and getting something to eat—he is free to follow his inclination. Freedom from—that is not having the need to get up and eat. Something like that.

Freedom to choose Smileys: snake
Huh. I thought there would be a snake.

[ Edited: 13 May 2012 01:31 PM by CynthiaG]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 30 August 2012 07:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  802
Joined  2010-11-12
omarca - 30 August 2012 03:56 AM

Free will means that human beings have the ability to choices. Human beings are different free-will choices. Our creator shows this confidence through the gift of free will.

 

And the gift of cancer.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 September 2012 12:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  4
Joined  2012-04-27
softwarevisualization - 27 April 2012 07:48 PM

OP, you have it right, that is, your understanding of what is being said is correct. 


This was something the intellectuals actively struggled with in the 19th century.  In this view, all matter including the world and every single thing in, it including you and me , formed a big clock which wound up at the time of the Big Bang a few billion years ago. 


After that Big Bang, the laws of physics have completely determined what has happened and will continue to completely determine what will happen. This determinism extends to all all events including your own thoughts at any given time and every decision you’ve ever made or will make. What has happened anywhere could not have been any different from what it was given the initial conditions of matter and energy and the laws of physics.


That’s about as stark and plain a representation of this POV as can be formulated.


Perhaps most physical scientists buy into this view. It was revolutionary and sophisticated in the 19th century, but there are rebuttals available to us today that they could not have availed themselves of.  I made my quasi-rebuttal here just a few days ago here:

http://www.samharris.org/forum/viewthread/16597/

From a sociological POV I would say there’s now a complete split between lay people and physical (physics, chemistry biology) scientists. Other scientists don’t seem to ponder it or hold strongly definite opinions on the topic. (source: me)


Intellectuals and artists still actively take up the issue and have strong feelings about freewill/ determinism. For instance, Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”  (and the book it was taken from) is all about just this issue. The question there is “are people’s actions and characters determined.. are people a kind of organic clock…. a clockwork orange (orange as in fruit) ? “


You can see how Kubrick treated this idea in the context of the then prevailing BF Skinnerian notions of operant conditioning and the rejection of cognition as causally potent (or even real).


I read Harris as a sort of throwback to this view, albeit he is not rejecting thought itself as Skinner did. For Harris people still think, but the agency implied by that activity is denied and dismissed as an illusion.


Wikipedia will quickly tell you everything you need to know about BF Skinner if you aren’t familiar with his theories. Essentially, Skinner said all outward behaviour was a result of conditioning by the outside world and not the result of any kind of thought or reflection or inner processing. Such things were casually impotent epiphenomena at most. Skinner weirdly thought they were   actually non-existent. 

 

I remember my first year cog sci instructor introducing us to the concept of algorithm by giving us a certain hard puzzle to solve- the Towers of Hanoi (details unimportant). After we spent some time messing around trying to solve it, he told us how to think about the problem so as to find a solution. It was easy after that.


“There”, he said, “that’s sort of a mini refutation of BF Skinner and behaiourism” and in fact it was just that.


Most cognitive scientists now view Skinner as having been just run-of-the-mill wrong. The whole thing was just weird from the start. He denied you had thoughts (yes, he did) . Yet you know you have them through introspection. So who are you going to believe, Skinner or your lying eyes?

 

Another sociological note. I know people from the time when BF Skinner ruled the roost (inside joke intended). His POV became a kind of “party purity test” wherein if you did not subscribe, you were subtly viewed as just unable to accept the hard truth about people; you were too weak to let go of your old fashioned comfort-producing notions that you had a meaningful inner life inside your head. 

 

I see much the same thing with the freewill debate now . Determinism was revolutionary cutting edge thinking- 150 years ago. There’s reasonable room for other interpretations of reality not because determinism isn’t a correct description of reality but because today we are more comfortable with the idea that the very basics of how we construct reality- time, space, causality, little particles effecting each other etc etc -and by implication all phenomena -may just be one limited aspect of something we can’t or haven’t grasped yet.

 

Of course, if we don’t   know anything about it, then “it” can’t be used as the basis of an argument for or against anything, including freewill except in the very vague and universal sense in which things may ALWAYS be different than our current theories have them. The thing is, this very general asterisk at the bottom of every theory is interesting in this context.  There’s something f Pascal’s wager at work here. What do you lose if you believe you have no free will and it effects you in a very bad way and then it turns out later that we were just wrong about the whole way we conceptualized the problem and “something like” freewill does in fact exist. It’s not like nothing is at stake here, is it?

 

Thanks for this lucid and clearly thought out response, softwarevisualisation. 

I paraphrase (and agree) with Richard Dawkins who, in the prologue to the most recent edition of “The Selfish Gene”, said that way the genomes actually operate and the manner in which he hopes people will try to act are 2 completely separate things.  He and I both hope we will try to create a world of where decisions making with compassion toward all species is paramount, and tolerance of different perspectives is commonplace.  But that doesn’t mean we our basic particles will comply with our wish - they may eventually - but they operate on and are subject to different principles than those very complex rules we have constructed and forged into morals and ethics.  They operate on primarily objective principles described by the laws of physics and chemistry.


Physics is continually trying to better itself by deducing more and more accurate and reliable theories of how things work and why.  Physics is of course based on Mathematics, which is a human construct.  M-theory in Physics gets around the idea that theories create a kind of “fishbowl” (where we have a vision of reality skewed by our senses, instruments and methods) by allowing for many theories that, in combination describe the same reality.  They don’t disagree, rather they augment and compliment each other while working toward an ever more accurate and subjective version of what how the universe (and it’s contents) are constructed.  It is very likely there will never be a model or combination of models that cannot be improved upon…but Physics is getting to the point where it is very close to being better at describing phenomena than we can intuit - and that wasn’t always the case.


It is my understanding that the question we can try and answer is: How would one go about proving or disproving that we have free will?  I’m not sure what the answer is.  I do know there are many new studies that invalidate free will in limited scenarios.  For example, a recent experiment identified the chain of neurological events leading to what a patient thought was his/her “choice” - and that the choice was made nanoseconds before the operator was aware of it.  In short, the patient took ownership of the choice after it was made…and justified through a series of convoluted connections how the decision was “theirs”. 


This finding is consistent with the deterministic theory of phenomena…wherein all things exist due to the proper causes and conditions having brought said phenomena to fruition.  While I agree that there is always room for refinement, there is currently no scientific basis for any other force that those that physics has identified. 


How would one prove the existence of free will?  I believe it might involve creating something from nothing - using the power of a human or animal mind to create a phenomena where no prior cause could be identified.


I welcome your thoughts on this topic!

Profile
 
 
   
 
 
RSS 2.0     Atom Feed