Free Will

Total Posts:  129
Joined  09-01-2012
14 February 2012 10:34

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)

Michael Kean
Michael Kean
Total Posts:  336
Joined  16-10-2011
15 February 2012 03:10
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 21:13 by Michael Kean]
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Joined  09-03-2012
10 March 2012 22:19
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.”