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Free Will is not an illusion. Sam Harris is mistaking.
Posted: 06 April 2012 08:31 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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—Given that the brain is a physical organ for dealing with information. 
—Since it has evolved in humans to be powerful enough to hold a representation of the organism that holds it, (a self), of its surroundings and circumstance so that it can respond to it in an appropriate way.
—Since the brain has probably evolved because of the advantage that this gives its body and genes.
Then it is necessary to expect that the brain can hold an individual point of view different and unique to this one individual.

This uniqueness can be called, in this sense “free” and if the individual thinks at all about its situation, it will even think of scenarios and then it will use this unique point of view to alter its future. This is what is free will.

For example, I’m conscious that this is my unique point of view. This is created by me. No one I know has ever thought of this. I am free do as I please. 

The choice of an ice cream flavor is frivolous and requires no attention. The thought of a career, requires consideration.

Furthermore, the power of computing from this individual uniqueness is possibly the experience of self and consciousness. The responsiveness is a “will”. And so with no metaphysical or spiritual property, this will is correctly called “free will” but it could possibly be more accurately be described as “unique will”. Unique for each and everyone’s body and circumstance. It is free in the sense that it can effectively respond uniquely, intelligently and in a timely matter to the unique circumstance that faces the individual. Obviously, this is prone to error and varies in accurateness and speed, but this can correctly be an attribute of the degree of freedom. 

Obviously, no cerebral function is attributable to inexplicable cause in principal, and even a quantum randomness property is not metaphysical. Brains are hard wired and programed by its genes and developmental chemicals and physical circumstances, by there experience and exposure to information.  None the less when things go reasonably well, the individual has the advantage to respond to its circumstance appropriately. It is a given that some do it better than others. But the great flexibility that the brain gives to enable the individual to adapt uniquely to its circumstance, or environment, if you prefer, is the powerful property of the brain. Because this is the brains greatest advantage, I think you the reader can correctly, with me call this a “free” will.

Free as in “my own”.

Free as in “not yours” or not necessarily yours.

Free as in “I’ll make up my mind on my own”. 

So free will is no illusion.

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Posted: 07 April 2012 08:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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You can define “free will” in any way you like. However, this doesn’t refute Sam’s argument. He is arguing against the “free will” of humans being able to act independently of causal events, random events and matter. If we did have free will, then serial killers could have chosen not to kill their second victim and I could have easily chosen not to type this argument. This simply isn’t coherent. The very fact that I typed this sentence is not through any free agency of my own, it is due to a chain of events (perhaps some that were random) since the beginning of space-time that has culminated in me, a primate on planet earth, typing out these sentences.


Consider by analogy a cannon ball being fired in a southerly direction. We are like this cannon ball. Free will is the idea that we can suddenly change direction mid-air and go anywhere whenever we want. However, in actuality due to the laws of physics, we can only go south. It doesn’t matter if the events preceding an action are ones by causality or randomness.


The very fact that I don’t believe in free will arose out of causal events and or random events, not my free agency. This idea is incredibly strange and almost poetic. Causal events in this universe has led to the existence of conscious beings that realize that their realization that there is no free will arose purely out of causal and or random events.


The reason why I am not Ted Bundy is not a matter of agency, it is a matter of only circumstance.


The free will that most people believe in simply makes no sense.

[ Edited: 12 April 2012 08:01 PM by AmazingAtheism]
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Posted: 08 April 2012 08:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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AmazingAtheism,
Maybe I’m wrong but I can’t reconcile what you are saying with the idea that thinking about something, I mean concentrating on a problem, has an effect that at my human level, my consciousness, will change my future. I think it is rather reductionist, mostly beside the point to go to level of electrons and the like.
How can someone have a novel idea, with out free will?

What is free will if not the ability to decide things for one’s self and circumstance? Influences are part of the game. They are a given. At the level of the self, we must decide. And can decide to put things off. Intelligence is to do things better.

With individual will, I will consider the situation, and I will decide on what I resolve to be the best decision. That is free will.

I believe that at the consciousness level, the individual has the power to at least somewhat change his future. That is intelligence. That is free will. It is the use free will. It is being creative. 

As for the canon ball analogy, I know I am missing your point that things happen at the physical level, but self guiding missiles, like the Cruse missile can change direction in mid air to reach the target. It uses intelligent onboard programmes and the like. We are much more like that.

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Posted: 09 April 2012 05:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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There is no doubt that concentrating and deciding things influences our futures. There is also no doubt that those concentrations and decisions are important. This is especially so in decisions of morality. What we must understand, however, is that ‘we’ (not a free agent) are not the cause of the concentration and the making of decisions. At any given time it seems that we can concentrate on making a decision in an infinite number of ways (relating to an action). However, the action of thinking and concentrating was itself formed by previous events. The action we decide or choose to take e.g. dancing, is the only one that we would do given the prior events in the universe that had built our existence (our circumstance). Our actions also may be influenced by completely random events, but as I said above that cannot give us free will. It is in this way that we do not have free will. To illustrate this in a particularly strong way here is an example:


Raise your left and right hand, then choose a hand to flap madly around. All that Sam Harris is arguing for is that we are not free as we think to move whatever hand we choose. Whatever we choose to do was logically itself caused by a long line of events (each event being caused or random) that preceded the mad hand flap. You could also choose any other action such as not flapping any hand, ad infinitum, however this is the same as above. Our actions and decisions depend entirely on our situation built by prior events (our circumstance). Random events independent from causality may also play a small role (but of course this doesn’t give us free will).


Relating to the cruise missile analogy, that is how it appears to us. However, whichever direction the missile takes is determined by a huge unknown quantity of factors that happened prior to the direction change (the most obvious being where the heat source is or whatever). These factors may have been random (indeterministic) or caused (deterministic). The intelligent missile (us) was not the independent cause of the decision to turn. The decision was just part of the flow of events, like a marble hitting a marble and that marble responding by moving.


I enjoy reading, debating, listening to music and hanging out with friends. Why do I enjoy these things? It makes no sense to say ‘well I could have chosen not to enjoy those things’, I just do, because millions of factors/ preexisting events have caused me to be so. Why did I stop believing in free will when I was 14 years of age? Why am I an atheist, a student, a gay rights supporter and a free thinker instead of a religious homophobic? I must confess that I only know a small amount of the factors that have led to my character, but I know that I think that I have the right beliefs (which seems rather arrogant and almost ironic).


We have to admit that if each of us (well it wouldn’t be us) was put in EXACTLY the same circumstance (down to the last electron) as a sadist then ‘we’ ‘ourselves’ would become a sadist. No amount of tiny random quantum events could make us otherwise.


We need to be very careful with this information. It doesn’t follow that choices are somehow meaningless or pointless. It also doesn’t follow that there are no bad or good actions. There are still good and bad people, it just means that they are not the cause of their badness or goodness.


What does logically follow from this, is that it is pointless to punish criminals as RETRIBUTION. It is more necessary to treat them as unfortunate victims of circumstance, who will sadly need therapy, rehabilitation or a prison sentence (to stop them harming people). What the criminals have done (murder, theft, rape etc) are still terrible things make no mistake. They have just done these things due to a gigantic list of factors pre-existing their horrible act. The list of factors would be massive; genetics, mental health, friends, family…....... etc etc etc.


Myself (hopefully), Circle of life (probably) and probably the majority of people on this forum are compassionate, good people. This is a very fortunate thing to be.


However, there are unfortunate people who are criminals because of circumstance. There are also unfortunate people who are affected by these criminals.


There isn’t a single country in the world who’s laws don’t depend heavily on this idea of free will.

[ Edited: 12 April 2012 08:11 PM by AmazingAtheism]
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Posted: 22 August 2012 05:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Free Will/Won’t ——-  a different angle
Before language we lived in groups and members cooperated. When we learned more efficient cooperation it was due to improvements in communication of what the different organisms   intended to do. It was done by by signs,  sounds and, later,  words.  The intensions/decisions were formed in the (sub)conscious workings of that organism.
With time,  we got better and better in communications and we even created a word for the ‘announcement’:  ‘I’ !  But that did not mean that we added a function to our organism:  an ‘I’  that suddenly could deliberate and decide about things! 
Through 1000s of years we then used ‘I’  to give agency to decisions that were communicated and then we started to believe that what was communicated was really made by   ‘I’,  as we had little idea about how a decision came to. 
We are still in that situation;  most people have no idea about how an organism makes decisions….they just assume that ‘I’  did it.
And …. As ‘I’  did it…‘I’  have Free Will.
Voila!
But…..
My organism is still doing decisions in the same way as it has done for 1000s of years! Only   better due to access to more information.
A big confusion was created when this witnessing and announcing function of my organism’s deliberations and decisions was also supposed to have the powers to do them; i.e.  when the announcement got the confusing ID:  ‘I’ ?  Or rather:  Who is there to have Free Will?  There is no one! 
Without anybody   to own the Free Will/Won’t mechanism; it can not exist.
But my organism will continue to make decisions and announce them and many people will continue to believe that a Free Will decision has been announced.

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Posted: 12 September 2012 03:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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> author=“AmazingAtheism”
> You can define “free will” in any way you like. However, this doesn’t refute Sam’s argument. He is arguing against the “free will” of humans being able to act independently of causal events, random events and matter. If we did have free will, then serial killers could have chosen not to kill their second victim


Yes they could. But they didn’t. Why? Because they *wanted* to kill the second victim. Could they change their *want*? Sure. People change their preferences all the time. There are people who get married, then get divorced. Some of them think about the idea of marriage and realize that their reasons for getting married are bad, thus changing their preference for marriage. Some of them don’t think much, or they do think but don’t realize that their reasons for getting married are bad, so they don’t change their preference.


You can try out my argument right now. You might be someone that thinks that the idea of marriage is a good one. You might have already tried it and failed (i.e. divorced). Either way, I claim that the idea of marriage is bad. It causes suffering and has no upsides at all.


One way to think of it is like this: What problem(s) does marriage solve? List the problems and their attributes. Then think about what other options you have besides marriage.


At this point, you may still think marriage is a good idea, in which case your preference for marriage hasn’t changed. Or you may have realized that marriage is a bad idea, in which case you have changed your preference for marriage.


For those of you that changed your preference, you’ve have proven that you have free will.


For those of you that haven’t changed your preference, check out the new relationship philosophy called Autonomy Respecting Relationships:


http://www.curi.us/1539-autonomy-respecting-relationships


And if you like it, join the discussion group to learn more. And if you don’t like it, join the discussion group to persuade us that we’re wrong.

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Posted: 06 May 2013 01:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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AmazingAtheism - 07 April 2012 08:08 PM

You can define “free will” in any way you like. However, this doesn’t refute Sam’s argument. He is arguing against the “free will” of humans being able to act independently of causal events, random events and matter. If we did have free will, then serial killers could have chosen not to kill their second victim and I could have easily chosen not to type this argument. This simply isn’t coherent. The very fact that I typed this sentence is not through any free agency of my own, it is due to a chain of events (perhaps some that were random) since the beginning of space-time that has culminated in me, a primate on planet earth, typing out these sentences.

I have not actually read the book, but watched a lot of Sam Harris on Youtube.
You seem to be saying what I have finally seem to get from the debate.

The confusion is that when he says there is no free will, he means that we are influenced to various degrees, by all kinds of things.Genes, environment etc.
He is not saying we have no choice, but we have a limited number of choices, compared to the number of choices we might have, if we had completely free will.
At least that’s the understanding I can readily accept and comprehend.

 

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Posted: 02 June 2013 11:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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I’m just finishing up a class in neuroscience and got into a discussion with some of the other students.  This is one of my responses on the subject of Free Will
==============================.
Celine and all - Thank you for your thoughtful answers.  Please let me tell you what I consider to be the correct way to understand this most important assertion – There Is No Free Will

I understand that what I am proposing is a difficult concept to accept – it’s a paradigm shift, much more difficult than the switch to the view that the Earth is round.  It takes a real effort to contemplate casting old concepts aside to reason openly about this.


First a second assertion that I am sure you will accept based on what you have learned in the class is this: Memory is contained in each neuron.  Its spread over the whole brain not localized.  Each neuron builds its own memory to fire or not based on the number and frequency of stimulus it receives.  That’s it.  There is no way to isolate memory because it’s spread over the whole brain.  Do you agree?


Since memory is contained in the neurons individually and the neurons operate is a strict manner then you could say that your memory is a deterministic system - Right?  No neuron makes a decision to build a memory on its own.  It simply follows its inputs and does the only thing it can do.  Its actions are completely determined in advance by its chemistry.


Now – for free will to exist each neuron would have to have the ability to make a choice, on its own, without any specific input, to fire or not to fire.  Each neuron would have to have a non-deterministic process built into it, a little ‘mind of its own’ and its own version of Free Will to make a decision not based on inputs but rather on – what?  Individual neurons have no concept of the operations going on in the brain as a whole! Even if this version of neuronal free will were found to exist – that process itself would have to be deterministic (unless of course it had its own version of neuronal free will, free will).  And then what?  Another layer yet?


Clearly each neuron is deterministic, memory is deterministic, the brain is deterministic and the mind is deterministic.  Tough nut to swallow I agree but there it is.


When thought about it this way and bringing it to its logical conclusion – You Have No Free Will


By the way I do understand that in order for any sentient being to operate in the world they, You and I, have to accept the illusion of free will as true but that does not make it so

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Posted: 05 June 2013 12:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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JamesBrown,
I agree with your examination of the problem but not with your conclusion. I think there is a fallacy in reducing things in your way.

I think that each neuron collaborates so that a new property emerges. This property can be thought, consciousness, decision making and having an individual point of view for the organism. It can in tern influence the firing and the architecture of the brain and so this is an individual with a substantial amount of freedom: Free will and creativity.

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Posted: 05 June 2013 12:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Circle - I have heard that argument over and over (“the whole is greater than the sum”) in many fields of enquiry but it never seems to make sense to me.  After all if I knew absolutely everything there was to know about a physical system (impossible for sure) then I could predict all of its responses to any stimulus.  Dont you agree?

I prefer the idea of emergent properties where a property, unpredictably, comes from a combination of simpler constituents.  This is clearly an effect that you and I see all the time but it is not that it can’t be predicted only that it is difficult to predict. This is classed as ‘weak emergence’ in philosophy.

I do think these higher levels of functioning (decision making, art, etc.) can be explained by studying lower levels of functions.  If I did not think this I could only explain this failure by attributing it to some unfathomable non-physical operation (God or strong emergence same thing) and I don’t think this is necessary.

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Posted: 05 June 2013 05:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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James, - Well, yes and no. I don’t agree. You could predict all responses and in that sense there is no free will but, as you said, it is impossible, but even if , lets say you could simulate, the individual would still have a unique point of view. It would still be emergent. You would observe, tinker with it, if you wish, but you could not remove consciousness of the subject when it arises. This consciousness has an effect on willing.  Could you remove consciousness and still think you could predict the decisions of that simulation?

I don’t expect consciousness and deliberation to reside at the neuron level of complexity. Single neuron level is way to basic to accept. That is like looking for the movie Avatar in single transistors of a television. Reduction to neurons sort of kills the experience and the reality of willing.

I think that because, as I see it, an emergent property is involved, this means that you can’t find it (free will in this case) by taking the thing apart. I think that this causes Harris and people with your point of view mistakenly call it an illusion. But it is not. It exists because of complexity, emerges from interactions with many… parts of the brain. Of course someone intoxicated is less free than a sober person. A person that has had a stroke has lost power to think things threw.

Do you accept that emergent properties exist? If so you can not walk up the complexity mountain without, at some point exposing yourself to a leap in reality, flying for example. 

 

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Posted: 06 June 2013 08:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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AmazingAtheism - 09 April 2012 05:11 PM

What does logically follow from this, is that it is pointless to punish criminals as RETRIBUTION.

But when is that not the case within sound epistemology and reasoning?

AmazingAtheism - 09 April 2012 05:11 PM

It is more necessary to treat them as unfortunate victims of circumstance, who will sadly need therapy, rehabilitation or a prison sentence (to stop them harming people). What the criminals have done (murder, theft, rape etc) are still terrible things make no mistake.

I’d argue it’s better to eliminate the emotional issues from the equation—what we do with those who pose a predatory threat to others is about preventing them from preying on others first, and correction a close second (largely because if the predatory inclinations can be corrected that would be the most complete and effective way to prevent them from preying upon others). It also seems that shifting the self-centered desire for revenge from perfectly reasonable (or even heroic) to unacceptable would also go a long way toward reducing predatory tendencies on the large scale.

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Posted: 29 September 2013 09:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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  Free will has a bit of uncertainty to it.  If you take into consideration Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle.  That states you cannot know an electrons place and speed at the same time.  This breaks down the Newtonian concept of the universe being a clock that you can fast forward to determine an event   in the future.  Even though I agree with Harris that we are a product of our environment and that ideas arise out of our subconscious and are not determined by us, they are pre- determined in advance by our environment with uncertainty.  If you take the uncertainty principle into account, it is not as clean cut as to being able to predict a person’s outcome as Mr. Harris had suggested.  However I do not think it would have any change on a person not being able pick what arises from his subconscious it only makes it impossible for anyone to predict with any certainty what will arise.  Please let me know what you think.

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Posted: 01 October 2013 07:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Interesting.
You bring up a possible objection to Harris’s Illusion of Free Will. I think you might be onto an important point.

I think that you would first have to see if quantum uncertainty is effective at the brain’s scale. If that is the case then, yes, this could counter the clock argument. Does that counter the argument of freedom of decision making being an illusion?

If I follow your point of view then a person would think in a somewhat random way. But overall, conditioning and other influences like genetics would still be predominant or at least substantial.

If the uncertainty principle acts on the brain, then it is possible that this could generate novel ideas and not just the consequence of all the influences that the person has gone through.
If this is the case, then the person would in effect be able to generate ideas and decisions that are at a distance from its past. From there a person could erect a personality, a self that stands above the mountain of influences that brought it into being.
All this is obviously speculation. But I think it is sufficiently valuable to warrant consideration.
I wonder how the uncertainty principle could be tested on neurons? Synapses, action potentials, where could it act?

I still believe that an emergent property of brain’s complexity is the mind and that this is the key to the person’s individual and relatively free point of view.
I prefer my counter argument to Mr. Harris that the self is an emerged property of the complexity of the brain and mind. As such, we develop a level of operation with a unique point of view, awareness, consciousness and point of decision that is beyond our mere conditioning and so for all intensive purpose, we have free will, not the god given kind. It is a reality, not an illusion.

[ Edited: 08 October 2013 10:53 AM by Circle of life]
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Posted: 04 October 2013 11:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Quantom Mechanics, states that the fundemental nature of “stuff” reality (and yes the brain—> which is “stuff” Ie. matter) is satistical and probalistic. That reality is an informational media.
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Its not a wierd effect that is happening to the fundemental concrete particles on certian scales. It is, that the particles are not at all concrete or fundemental, that they are a conceptual construct. It applies to all scales and all of reality. 
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When we get the interference pattern on the double split, it is because there never was a “real” particle that traveled through the air. the interference pattern displayes the “options” or querys or opportuinity to create information…. Because QM tracks the particle as IF it was real, Once we choose to view or constrain the path (ask a specific question) we get ONE of the options as concrete information. That Concrete information (appearance of a particle) then acts objective. If we erase or destory the information we will get a new answer (particle configuration) the next time we view the answer. Information is rendered at the level of accuracy of the question we ask. If we very generaly ask where a particle is, we get a very broad location, (ie the interference pattern), because the particle is not fundementally real.
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That is very important in this conversation because. IT is becuase, peoples intents can modify the probablity of random outcomes, and that reality gets modified when a conscousness views or creates information….that the>>>>
Person or their mind is not purely derived from matter, but that it process and percieves it.
***** It is the 100 years of exeriments and personal experience such as these that makes Free Will a scientific necessity. 
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Your brain interfaces you to the reality and allows for you to most importantly express your choices into direct action. It gives constraints to the choices and actions you can take.

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Posted: 08 October 2013 11:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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Feather - 04 October 2013 11:34 AM

Quantom Mechanics,.... That reality is an informational media. ...
If we erase or destory the information we will get a new answer (particle configuration) the next time we view the answer.
peoples intents can modify the probablity of random outcomes, and that reality gets modified when a conscousness views or creates information….

I don’t know how to put this briefly. From what I understand of quantum mechanics, the effect of observation on reality is not what you seem to think .
Subatomic particles, from what I understand, are so small, that they can move back behind the veil of time. When they come out and are observed, they then collapse the probabilistic unfolding of time. Consciousness has nothing to do with it, the intent of the observer has nothing to do with it.
The woo effect of consciousness on it is not scientific.

 

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