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[P]
The nature of "Free Will" insofar as it exists.

By Farq Q. Fenderson in Op-Ed
Tue May 29, 2001 at 01:33:12 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)
Science

There's been a lot of debate over "free will" lately, and whether or not it exists. I assert that it does, and I will attempt to explain its nature.

You won't find me blaming it on randomness and the only magic that I'll call upon is emergent phenomena - which can be fully understood.

Within a certain, I think fruitful, definition, I'll show that "free will" does exist. You can decide whether or not you accept my definition.


First, a definition of "free will" must be decided upon. "Uncaused" is too paradoxical to have any meaning, virtue of the fact that it leaves us with simple randomness to look to - and I agree, that isn't very satisfying, nor does it permit those who posess free will to actually have it, since they're really just acting as a channel for the random.

I will revise this to "indeterminate cause" - and show why this is a good definition, and why it is indeed "free".

By indeterminate, I mean of no determinable cause. Yes, a cause exists for everything that happens, but not all of them are knowable. This is readily demonstrable by the simple fact that you cannot know everything about the universe simply by looking at one piece of it.

"Will" itself, I define as what causes us to do what we do. It is important to make this distinction, otherwise I'm "begging the question" by starting with the assumption that free will exists. I'm assuming the notion of "will" as I've defined it is readily agreeable (not necessarily that it's a good term for the definition, just that something of that definition exists - though I hope that it's an acceptable term - that the definition doesn't debase the term.) What I have to show, of course, is that this will that we have is somehow free - and I'll be very careful as to not bebase that term.

When a distinct phenomenon occurs from interactions of other phenomena, it is a higher order phenomenon - or "emergent". This "interaction" is a process of some kind. The important part is this: different orders are at a loss of terms to describe what occurs in other orders. For example, describing societial phenomena in terms of particle physics is inappropriate and inaccurate at best, impossible at worst.

Effectively, atomic (basic, the given set of phenomena) phenomena cannot describe emergent phenomena without actually going through the process of interacting to cause those other phenomena to emerge - this is important.

Our will - or "drives" - must have emerged, somehow*, from what we understand as the material, the physical. This is apparent through the repeated failure of scientists to describe will in purely physical terms - without resorting to some process (which necessarily gives rise to emergent phenomena.)

(*perhaps emergent from other emergent phenomena - a higher order still)

Given that will is necessarily an emergent phenomenon, then it is of a higher order of than that of physics, and physical terms are inappropriate to describe it. That's not the point, though.

The order wherein the will exists, the lower order of physics (or even biology - which I assume to be an intermediate order, but this is unimportant) does not exist. Things do not literally gravitate together - nor do they react like chemicals do. Yes, metaphor can be used to make these terms relevant - but it cannot be used to bind them to physics. In short, the physical laws violate scope, and do not hold. This is very important.

Since the physical laws are out of scope, they themselves are not identifiably responsible for the the behaviour of the will, when you look down on it from the level of the will. Yes, the will as we know it does emerge from some chain of phenomena that roots in physical laws, but any phenomena that behaves that way could give rise to it. (If you're familiar with "Turing Completeness" you might draw an analogy between this and the fact that any Turing Machine can emulate any other - consider for a moment that the emulated machine has emerged from the host machine.)

We do identify the physical laws as the cause for will because it is the only set of phenomena we have discovered that could be the root cause of the will - but it's important to acknowledge that a parallel set of phenomena that could give rise to the same emergent phenomena that are used in the creation of the will - or used to emerge the will - would also stand as a candidate for a root cause.

I think it can be said, within reason, that higher order phenomena are atomic in their own right - holism, if you will; they are not simply the sum of their parts - but something different altogether.

How does this give the will its necessary freedom? I'm hoping the argument is coming together for you now, and that you already see it. The freedom lies in the fact that there is no necessary identifiable cause for the actions of the will. What I mean is that while there is only one system that has apparently caused it to emerge, an infinity of possibilites exist for what could have actually caused it, and no one set of rules can be identified as the necessary (unique) cause. This, I consider freedom. Not uncaused, but of indeterminate cause.

The reason why I am satisfied that this is indeed free will is that it answers the question why did a given person do what they did? with a big fat juicy because that's what that person does. And that's as far back as you can go, with authority - because if you resort to a set of physical (or chemical, biological, social, whatever) laws, you exclude many possibilites and are thereby incapable of giving an authoritative response.

It might be interesting to note that one short month ago I did not believe that free will could possibly exist, or that I could ever accept any reasoning behind it.

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Poll
Free Will exists:
o Yes - and this is how it works. 9%
o Yes - but you've got it all wrong, dude. 24%
o No - you're full of it. 11%
o No - the theory works, but the terms have been debased. 6%
o You expect me to read all that?! 48%

Votes: 95
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Also by Farq Q. Fenderson


Display: Sort:
The nature of "Free Will" insofar as it exists. | 83 comments (80 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Free will...does it matter? (4.60 / 5) (#2)
by ucblockhead on Fri May 18, 2001 at 01:40:43 PM EST

Suppose we don't actually have free will. In other words, suppose everything is utterly determinant, and our actions are all the inevitable result of chemical responses in our brains to sensory inputs that could be predicted perfectly with enough computing power.

Does it matter?

The feeling of free will is certainly there, and the feeling that different choices on my part will result in different things. Seems to me that this is really all that is important. If that free will is just an illusion, well, I don't know that the knowledge really has any bearing on my life. It is like knowing that the world isn't solid, but actually 99.9999999999% empty space with a few atomic nuclei floating around. Interesting, perhaps, but certainly not something that has any bearing on what I do.


-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

Maybe not a bearing on you directly... (none / 0) (#5)
by nads on Fri May 18, 2001 at 01:57:34 PM EST

.. but it willd efintiely effect you one way or the other. The fact that most of the earth is empty space has effected scientists quite a bit. The fact that there is no free will could go on to effect politicians and the policies htey make.

[ Parent ]
There is nothing new under the sun (none / 0) (#7)
by Anonymous 242 on Fri May 18, 2001 at 02:08:16 PM EST

Stoicism, Epicureanism and many other philosophies that enjoyed a good deal of popularity in antiquity held to various forms of hard determinism. One of the problems that Justin the Martyr came up against when attempting to convert people to Christianity during the second century CE was that a good number of philosophers believed that their lives were controlled by fate and that nothing they could do would make a difference in one way or the other.

I won't even start on the various forms of Christianity (such as Calvinism) that hold to double predestination which asserts hard determinism.

My point being that the question of free will impacts less behavior than one would think. While a few people might ponder the question and then embark on a course of action one way or the other because of their reflections on whether humans can control their own fate, I doubt many people would.

[ Parent ]

A Variation on Pascal's Wager (none / 0) (#47)
by Monster on Sun May 27, 2001 at 06:20:36 PM EST

You're right, it doesn't.

Pascal said that if there is no God, then a person's opinion on the question of His existence is irrelevant. Only if God does exist does it matter whether one believes in Him or not.

Similarly, the only way that our opinion on the subject of free will matters is if it does in fact exist. Then, being of the opinion (or more accurately, acting as if one were of the opinion) that free will does not exist is a detriment to optimal thinking.


SVM, ERGO MONSTRO
[ Parent ]

on the other hand ... (none / 0) (#56)
by BlueOregon on Wed May 30, 2001 at 01:38:14 AM EST

Pascal's Wager only seems to be a good analogy, since the "god or no god" system wasn't truly binary ... after all ... what about "if god(s), which god?" Pascal's Wager is poorly formulated.

As for the free will question .. it, too, might be poorly formulated. Are there only two (discrete and separate) possibilities?

Furthermore, Pascal's Wager assumed free will, or at least the choice to believe in free will or not. If there is no free will, we can't rightly 'choose' to believe in it or not ... then again, it does depend somewhat on your definition of free will.

Perhaps I'm completely off my rocker.

--SK

[ Parent ]

On the Gripping Hand. (none / 0) (#62)
by Monster on Wed May 30, 2001 at 03:57:52 PM EST

It doesn't matter whether Pascal was binary or not, since believing in the wrong god gets you sent to Hell the same as not believing in any of them.

There is nothing to be gained from the belief that one does not have free will, and much to be lost.
SVM, ERGO MONSTRO
[ Parent ]

Pascal's Wagner (none / 0) (#77)
by Steeltoe on Sat Jun 02, 2001 at 04:33:23 PM EST

I haven't heard this before, but it doesn't sound logical to me. If people chose to believe in Him/Her/It, it has an impact on themselves as well as the environment. Modern physics and ancient religions argues that it has in fact impact on the whole universe since it is holographic in nature. Maybe I just misunderstood the point, but I can't help breaking it. Similarly, the discussion of free will have an impact in itself. Although, I don't think it has much practical value as you have to argue from a perspective outside yourself, contradicting the fact that we do live our choices every day.

- Steeltoe
Explore the Art of Living

[ Parent ]
What's all the hubbub, bub (3.50 / 2) (#3)
by DesiredUsername on Fri May 18, 2001 at 01:48:07 PM EST

What exactly would it mean for us to "decide" or discover that we don't have free will? And if people started committing suicide once they heard the news, would that disprove the theory? Or would that be confirmation that they are acting in accordance with their "programming"?

My view is, it doesn't matter if we "really" have free will. The universe behaves exactly the same either way.

Play 囲碁
Hmm (none / 0) (#78)
by Steeltoe on Sat Jun 02, 2001 at 04:53:50 PM EST

My view is, it doesn't matter if we "really" have free will. The universe behaves exactly the same either way.

Not necessarily true. If we have free will we can change the universe dynamically, if we don't it's just a big movie playing from start to end. Big difference.

- Steeltoe
Explore the Art of Living

[ Parent ]
The perils of tautologies (4.75 / 4) (#4)
by Anonymous 242 on Fri May 18, 2001 at 01:53:51 PM EST

This argument works, but the question I would ask is: is the definition of free will provided is equivalent to what most people mean by the term free will?

If I understood the Farq properly, any action for which the cause is unknown is indeterminate. Free will is, therefore, reduced to being merely a product of ignorance.

This could very well be the case if hard determinists are correct in their allegations that free will is a mythical beast.

OTOH, from my little corner of the world, it seems to me that free will is much more than simply not knowing. . .

Kudos! (none / 0) (#6)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Fri May 18, 2001 at 02:01:13 PM EST

The first statement highlights a concern that I have. I do think it is equivalent, and it's certainly equivalent to the definition that I've always held.

I have tried to show that it's more than not knowing... that the level on which it occurs is actually atomic to itself, but I can see how people would disagree - so I won't bother arguing with them.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
Indeterminate cause in classical physics (none / 0) (#13)
by dennis on Fri May 18, 2001 at 03:11:21 PM EST

The laws of classical physics look just the same, whichever direction you go in time.

Given two sets of similar initial conditions, an infinitesimally small difference between them causes a wide divergence over time. This is "chaos." No matter how close we measure, we can't tell which of various widely divergent futures will occur.

But since time is symmetric, for any given point in time, there are an infinite number of widely divergent pasts which could have produced that moment, within whatever level of tolerance that moment can be measured. Everything that happens has an infinite number of possible causes, and we don't know which actually occurred.

However, quantum physics changes the situation drastically.

By the way, I've also seen a suggestion that free will is possible only when an entity can modify its own past.

[ Parent ]

Two problems I see (2.75 / 4) (#8)
by weirdling on Fri May 18, 2001 at 02:15:47 PM EST

First is the definition of free will: 'what causes us to do what we do'. Unfortunately, this definition kind of implies your conclusion. If will is that which causes us to do what we do, then it is ipso-facto free. However, if you define the term more narrowly, as is often done by Christian apologetics, you will see why the ensuing discussion often gets less civil. The average definition of free will there runs somewhat more like 'that which enables us to make independant choices'. This definition implies that there is no real governance by environment and genetics and is at the heart of the 'make gay straight' and 'just quit drinking' type of movements.
Now, for the second quibble. I agree that things of higher order are often not analysable by a lower-order construct, but let's not forget that that's where they come from, which is to say that the system *could* be analysed if it weren't so complex. Hence, it is a question of ignorance rather than an actual mitigating factor.
That being said, no emergent construct can be more random than the underlying construct, so the concept of 'free will', in the classical sense, doesn't exist, as the randomnimity is not there. For instance, one can't choose a path one has not forseen, so at the very least, 'free will' is limited to the available choices. I think that statistical analysis will find that people have a randomnimity constant that can govern how likely they are to repeat or try new, implying some wills to be freer than others, but I digress...

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
Hold the phone! (3.50 / 2) (#10)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Fri May 18, 2001 at 02:25:57 PM EST

First is the definition of free will: 'what causes us to do what we do'. Unfortunately, this definition kind of implies your conclusion.

No, not at all... that was the definition I gave for will - not free will - and then went on to show that the will that we have is free.

The rest of it is effectively up for debate.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
"No emergent construct can be more random tha (4.00 / 1) (#33)
by marlowe on Sat May 19, 2001 at 12:18:29 PM EST

the underlying construct?"

This may be true is some mathematical sense, but not in any sense that is relevant to real life. In real life, complex systems are nonlinear, and their behavior is usually (not always) as close to nondeterministic as makes no difference.

-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
[ Parent ]
Ignorance no defense. (3.00 / 1) (#37)
by weirdling on Mon May 21, 2001 at 02:43:13 PM EST

The only reason people assume such systems are non-deterministic is that the underlying organization is poorly understood. Essentially, you're saying that because we don't understand the system, we may assume it is random. However, from a purely mathematical approach, the randomnimity of an underlying construct does, indeed, limit any emergent construct.
Now, that limit can be a multiple or an exponent of the underlying construct, but it does exist, hence the randomnimity of the emergent construct is finite, ergo limits 'free will' to that which the randomnimity allows.
That we don't know what the randomnimity of said construct is does not stop us from observing that it must be finite.

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
[ Parent ]
Chaos theory (none / 0) (#79)
by Steeltoe on Sat Jun 02, 2001 at 05:12:05 PM EST

Not so fast. We are talking about non-linear systems here. Like fractals and real-world models that have been heavily researched. Their properties are not what you call "random", but mathematically chaotic. Which means that the smallest differences can make huge changes in short time ("the butterfly effect"). This is a proven mathematical concept which shows why it is so hard to predict "the real world". The world is full of feedback, thus our efforts to measure everything and calculate it out turns out to bad weekly weather forecasts. Basically such equations have a neat graph in the beginning, but quickly turns into a "cloud" of changes that may seem totally random, periodically the graph may return to neat lines again. We are making good progress in understanding what's going on, and how to interpret these systems. However, the interpretation of a real world system would never be perfect because our measurements are imperfect and too many factors are in the play. But that doesn't matter, a good interpretation is more important than the best measurements we can make. Even if it turns out to be ambigous, or contain options.

That we don't know what the randomnimity of said construct is does not stop us from observing that it must be finite.

Why must it be finite? Where's your proof? Did you know a fractal is infinite? That the length of any portion of a fractal's side is infinite?

I'm not saying this to prove the real world is infinite just because some mathematicians have found a new toy to play with on their supercomputers. I'm just asking why you want to limit the universe so much.

- Steeltoe
Explore the Art of Living

[ Parent ]
I will chose the path that's clear. (4.00 / 8) (#9)
by Office Girl the Magnificent on Fri May 18, 2001 at 02:17:22 PM EST

I beleive firmly in free will. I was predestined to do so.

Hee hee hee...

The Experiment: Beginnings

well, duh. :P (4.28 / 7) (#11)
by delmoi on Fri May 18, 2001 at 02:47:19 PM EST

Free will exists for all practical purposes. Saying that free will doesn't exist is like saying that energy doesn't exist. It can be true, if you want to look at it in the most pedantic level. But it's really a pointless thing to argue.

IMO people who claim we don't have "free will" are just being pedantic bastards who want to prove how much smarter they are then everyone who doesn't "get" it.
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
I am endebted (none / 0) (#12)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Fri May 18, 2001 at 02:58:19 PM EST

I couldn't have put it any simpler... and I think this clarifies my point quite a bit.

Makin' SRI SYADASTI proud, you are.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
but (none / 0) (#18)
by ODiV on Fri May 18, 2001 at 06:25:39 PM EST

I would say that talking about this can be of some use other than to prove how much smarter I am than everyone else. ;)

Think about the prevention side of crime. If we believe in determinism then we can try to figure out what shapes the individuals who turn to crime. If we believe in free will, we're less likely to ask that question. It's not so much blaming the circumstances (It was society!!!) vs. blaming the individual. It just comes closer to answering questions about why people act the way that they do... Just mho.


--
[ odiv.net ]
[ Parent ]
Oh please (none / 0) (#19)
by delmoi on Fri May 18, 2001 at 06:50:55 PM EST

Anyone trying to make laws based on philosophical points should have their heads bashed in. There is tons and tons of real scientific data about what it will do, how predictable it is, and how to change it. Look into social psychology sometime.

If you want to know how people are going to behave think up some hypothesis, write down some operative definitions (something you can test for), and do some experiments.

Government, Law enforcement, These things are practical issues, and need to be looked at in the light of practical knowledge. Not highbrow, gee-wiz mental masturbation.
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
oops... correction 'it' refers to human mind (none / 0) (#20)
by delmoi on Fri May 18, 2001 at 06:52:46 PM EST

Sorry 'it' in the first paragraph refers to 'the human mind'.
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
well geez (none / 0) (#21)
by ODiV on Fri May 18, 2001 at 07:02:16 PM EST

Anyone trying to make laws based on philosophical points should have their heads bashed in.

Where do you think all this stuff comes from? Ever take a philosophy of ethics class? People who study stuff like that end up being beurocracy (sp?).

If you want to know how people are going to behave think up some hypothesis, write down some operative definitions (something you can test for), and do some experiments.

I agree completely. Philosophy certainly doesn't give you scientific answers. It can help direct the course of your study though.

Government, Law enforcement, These things are practical issues, and need to be looked at in the light of practical knowledge. Not highbrow, gee-wiz mental masturbation.

Once again... Where do you think government comes from? I'm not saying practical knowledge doesn't apply. It most certainly does. You're not giving philosophical thought and debate enough credibility in the progression of human thought department.



--
[ odiv.net ]
[ Parent ]
This distinction does matter (none / 0) (#27)
by Solipsist on Fri May 18, 2001 at 10:07:53 PM EST

As you stated, of course "free will" exists. But it is a social construct. I have most often heard free will used to justify the idea of justice. The community is justified in punishing you because you choose to act against the law. I don't know if I buy this, but a lot of people seem to buy it.

So the difference comes when a group justifies punishment again an individual outside of their social contract using free will. I think that this should be acknowledged as defensive act against a disruptive outside element rather than social justice.

I don't know. Maybe that is just a pointless distinction

[ Parent ]
Free Will? (2.00 / 8) (#14)
by jd on Fri May 18, 2001 at 03:40:21 PM EST

...But the Senate didn't impeach him!

...But it's not GPL!

...As in beer?

Lately? (4.50 / 4) (#15)
by Rand Race on Fri May 18, 2001 at 04:21:45 PM EST

"There's been a lot of debate over "free will" lately..."

Uh, by lately do you mean the past 3000 years or so?

I'm not sure I agree with you, emergent phenomena seems like an ad hoc hypothesis to me. I'll have to mull it over for a while. Meanwhile, +1 the free-will/determinism thing is always good for some discussion although chances of us coming up with anything the philosophers of the last three millenia have missed is scant.


"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, He must approve the homage of Reason rather than that of blindfolded Fear." - Thomas Jefferson

ya got two options, man - random and deterministic (4.50 / 4) (#16)
by sayke on Fri May 18, 2001 at 05:42:50 PM EST

i don't know of and can't concieve of any possible middlegrounds, and i've thought about this a bit. talk of "free will" sounds to me like an appeal to an obsolete (sorry, judeo-christians) moral system predicated on personal responsibility - a concept that both randomness and determinism render incoherent. i bid it good riddance... but that's another discussion.

anyway, it sounds to me like you confused determinism with predictability - they have important differences. in as much as you find yourself inside the system you're trying to model and predict, certainty of prediction is impossible. if you try to model your ontological universe, you end up having to model yourself, and that doesn't work, etc... this has been known since before godel, although his theorem really articulated it.

not to mention that your take on causality ignores many important complexities. there's a strong case to be made for looking at the notion of discrete cause as a useful anthropomorphism, and nothing more. for example, if the tuna fish slips out of my sandwich and splats on the floor, what would you say caused it? my clumsiness? muscle relaxation in my thumb? the neural impulse that triggered the muscle relaxtion? gravity? overly-slippery tuna fish salad? inadequatly abrasive bread? for any discrete event, infinite discrete causes can be found.

this dilemma can be resolved in a couple of interesting ways. regardless, things get fairly complex hereabouts, and i think you would find the previous body of work on this fascinating and informative. that is to say, i don't think you've done your research, man, and it's too bad... here there be epistomological dragons, and i think your article does a bit of a disservice to those who spent and spend blood, sweat, and trickery to slay those dragons.


sayke, v2.3.1 /* i am the middle finger of the invisible hand */

what? (none / 0) (#26)
by klamath on Fri May 18, 2001 at 09:54:51 PM EST

i've thought about this a bit. talk of "free will" sounds to me like an appeal to an obsolete (sorry, judeo-christians) moral system predicated on personal responsibility - a concept that both randomness and determinism render incoherent.
Do you know what the word 'incoherent' means? How can one introduce a new theory which makes an existing theory 'incoherent'?

(I'm generally interested; well, that and I think you're bullshitting...)

[ Parent ]

it never had much coherency, but you have to... (none / 0) (#31)
by sayke on Sat May 19, 2001 at 06:49:56 AM EST

examine it carefully to see that, and when you do, you run into a choice of either determinism or randomness. in light of that choice, the notion of free will appears quite incoherent, but till ya examine it, it has that "of course the sun flies around the earth" simplistic appeal.

that, and i think calling "free will" a theory is something of a misclassification... at least, i've never heard it coherently stated or described. i've heard people call it things like "the alternative to randomness and determinism!!!!!)(@!#%)(@$#", and i've heard people say "it's indistinguishable from unpredictability" (why not just say unpredictability then?), but i've never heard anyone say anything both coherent and non-trivial in defense of the notion.


sayke, v2.3.1 /* i am the middle finger of the invisible hand */
[ Parent ]

It's not bad at all... (none / 0) (#45)
by tgochenour on Thu May 24, 2001 at 02:26:50 AM EST

that he "hasn't done the research." If he hadn't made the attempt you wouldn't have had the opportunity to reply. And I, for one, am glad you did. I happen to like seeing dragons flying about.

[ Parent ]
Emergent phenomena breaks a big assumption (4.33 / 3) (#17)
by error 404 on Fri May 18, 2001 at 05:49:56 PM EST

There is an assumption that a thing can be understood by understanding all the parts. In other words, that a thing is the sum of its parts.

But the idea of emergent phenomena is that a thing can be more than that.


..................................
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

Clarification... (5.00 / 1) (#30)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Sat May 19, 2001 at 01:39:47 AM EST

A thing is not merely the sum of its parts but the *result* of the synergy between its parts.

In that sense, a thing is exactly the same if the its actual parts are removed and replaced with a completely different set of parts that give way to the same synergy. This is emergent phenomena - it doesn't matter how it is made, but that it is.

It's crucial that the interaction of the parts is the key. It's process not physical composition.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
The varieties of free will worth wanting (4.75 / 4) (#22)
by danny on Fri May 18, 2001 at 09:20:38 PM EST

The best book on the "free will" debate I've read is Daniel Dennett's Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]

thanks! (none / 0) (#25)
by klamath on Fri May 18, 2001 at 09:49:28 PM EST

That looks like a very thought-provoking book (I've read some Dennett before -- he's pretty interesting). Thanks for the recommendation!

I'm going to pick that up ASAP.

[ Parent ]

Subatomic particles have free will! (5.00 / 4) (#24)
by Solipsist on Fri May 18, 2001 at 09:48:54 PM EST

No one really know what causes subatomic particle to collapse the way they do. The best models that we currently have are probabilistic (social models of human behavior are probabilistic too). Since the cause of their actions has many possible explainations (the Copehagen intepertation, the multi-world intepertation, etc.), and no one has any idea which is right, subatomic particles have free will (as you have defined it). I think that you would have a hard time convincing people to accept a definition of free will that includes everything we don't understand.

A related problem is that this definition is relative to a person. If I understand how gravity works, but Joe Smith doesn't, does the rock falling to earth have free will or not? Again, I think that you would have a hard time convincing people that free will is not an objective property.

Mostly right. (3.00 / 1) (#28)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Sat May 19, 2001 at 01:31:15 AM EST

Given my current argument your first statement is absolutely right. I could revise the definitions to exclude this, but I'm satisfied that cross-order phenomena *do* have free will anyway. Not very complicated free will, but free will nonetheless. It's not my agenda to show that this quality is distinct on those terms.

Your second point, however, is a little misguided - because it's not the rock, but gravity itself that I would (technically) acsribe the will to...

Yeah, no one will agree with this, on a definitional level, I know. But that's not really my concern.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
I was wondering ... (4.00 / 2) (#55)
by BlueOregon on Wed May 30, 2001 at 01:29:59 AM EST

mentioning the Copenhagen Interpretation and Many Worlds interpretation, I don't suppose you know the current view of David Bohm's work among those doing QM? His works experience a sudden rise in scholarly popularity after his death (when he was no longer taboo), but that's been several years now, and I was wondering if you'd read anything on this topic ...

Just wondering, since my own knowledge is getting out of date.

--SK

[ Parent ]

A Counterpoint. (4.00 / 4) (#32)
by Crashnbur on Sat May 19, 2001 at 08:31:18 AM EST

It seems to me that you are basing your assumption that free will is truly free because it "lies in the fact that there is no necessary identifiable cause for [its] actions", and therefore "an infinity of possibilites exist for what could have actually caused it".

While I do not refute this, by the same principle I must also explain that this does not stop the fact that there is a cause, singular or not, and that our will is based upon that cause. Whether we know the system under which we are running or not, we are still a part of that system, and we are still merely free to act only within that system.

Our will is not free - we are bound by too many rules, and our will is much too conditioned. (The fact that we can draw so many parallels between, for example, a traumatic childhood and a terroristic adulthood lend to support this.)

On a second note, I would like to add that, insofar as our mental abilities may go within that system, our will is free, because we have no vision above or beyond that system. We can only act within the system, which goes back to the original argument about range or scope. We have no vision of any higher power that controls our will, so, insofar as we shall ever be able to tell, our will is free within the system.

So while I may argue that, absolutely, we have no free will, we certainly do have free will in that (1) we do not certainly know our causes or effects outside our system, but (2) we certainly know our causes and effects within that system, which is how we come about making our decisions.

(Another thing to consider alongside the absence of absolute free will (which, if it were absolutely free, would include the ability to fly) is what driving force is actually ... driving us. We are merely constituents of a system, but how did this system come to be, and who is to say that that system is not merely part of an even grander system?)

Et cetera...

crash.neotope.com


and then there is ... (3.00 / 1) (#54)
by BlueOregon on Wed May 30, 2001 at 01:27:34 AM EST

The Schopenhauer "Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung" model ... touching upon your last point. Assume free will at the sub-atomic / physical leve -- I'm not convinced this can be carried over to the biological level, and what is stopping us from taking "will" as an illusion we maintain -- one that hides us from the underlying meaningless (except for eat, sleep, reproduce) of existence.

Of course, such philosophical systems generally result in an 'act' of free will ... self-destruction of the individual.

I need more Dr. Pepper.

--SK

[ Parent ]

Free will in limited realms (4.00 / 1) (#63)
by panck on Wed May 30, 2001 at 04:47:31 PM EST

My view of this all is that we have neither Free-will nor determinism (in the broad view), and that certain realms of interaction may have more of one or the other.

For example in the physical realm, we have very little control over anything that happens. A truck runs you down, or a meteor crashes into the earth and wipes out your species. Either way, no "will" of mine would have prevented those things. (The movie "Armageddon" aside, at some level we have no control over physical things.)

On the other hand in the "social" realm, you might argue that we do have free will. I think I would argue against that also. Do I ask Susie out or not? If I am bashful, I probably won't. If I'm gregarious I would be more likely to. But both of those qualities arise from either nature or nurture (our genes or our experiences). We have no will over what our genes are. Now we are left with our experiences. What is an experience? A previous reaction to previously unknown stimuli? How do you react to a previously unknown stimuli? This would be determined by your genes, which are out of your control. Also the stimuli itself is created out of the world around you somehow, and *you have no control over what other people do*, much less over physical phenomena. A man with a gun tries to mug me...I give him my money and he leaves, or I fight with him and get shot, or maybe I fight with him and take away his gun. This man was complicit in the experience, and I had no will over his actions...I didn't even know he existed before hand.

How about determinism? Are our actions already "set"? I don't believe that, for the same reason I don't believe that we have free will. I think there is too much randomness in the external world, which becomes part of our experiences, and so that affects our future reactions to things.

So I believe that although the future is not set, we have limited control over our actions. Everything you do you do for a reason, whether you know what it is or not. I believe these reasons would be a combination of your experience with the past, and your genetic inheritance. This means that any "will" that you exercise is somehow determined by them. Thus "free will" and "determinism" kind of collide in their definitions. Maybe there are just "actions", or maybe it's merely "responses to stimuli".

[ Parent ]
From Whence? to Wither? (5.00 / 3) (#34)
by citizen shishah on Sat May 19, 2001 at 12:37:12 PM EST

Above, Solipsist proposed that it was a reductio ad absurdum for your model, that subatomic particles would have "will" as you've defined it. It's not; because the reductio isn't carried far enough. It doesn't even matter whether the Copenhagen Interpretation, the Many Worlds school, or any of them are "right." They're simply not debating the why of the matter, but the how.

Solipsist has neglected the fact that we're not talking about a lack of information, but rather a different scope of rules; different scope, different rules. It's not contradictory in the least, nor is it absurd, to posit will in physical objects of study, so long as we recognize that this will isn't accompanied by the normal ammenities we associate with "will" -- eg., intelligence, desire, memory, etc. This idea is well over 100 years old (I'm getting it from Nietzsche). In other words, their will isn't necessarily free. Farq's definitions accommodate the problem.

But this does cast doubt on the idea of "emergence." If an intentional model (Daniel Dennett's term) of human action is considered emergent from a mechanical model (maybe my term, maybe Dennett's, I can't remember, but you get the idea) of physics, but that very physical model can be considered emergent from the wills (intentions) of those particles, then what, exactly, is emergent from which?

If I say, "I like the smell of Stetson," and you say, "Why?" -- I could reply, "Because my neurons respond to chemicals in the cologne such that blah blah blah," or I could reply, "Because my grandfather wore that cologne, so when I smell it, it reminds me of him." The funny thing is, for either of those responses, if you asked, "And why's that?" -- each functions as an explanation of the other. Or, I can give a further reply which, again, changes the kinds of terms I'm using. I could say, "Because that's what my neurons want to do when those chemicals touch them."

In any event, the same facts -- an association that's been built in my mind between a certain chemical and a series of past events involving my grandfather -- are parsed thoroughly. But they're parsed in different ways, and different relationships between facts become clear when different vocabularies are used. This, to me, would indicate that both "will"-talk and "force"-talk aren't exactly "emergent" in a hierarchical way, but rather parallel vocabularies which lend themselves better to parsing different sorts of facts -- neither of which is more fundamental than the other.

How would you say this fits together?

From hence! To thither! (none / 0) (#39)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Mon May 21, 2001 at 07:28:47 PM EST

In any event, the same facts -- an association that's been built in my mind between a certain chemical and a series of past events involving my grandfather -- are parsed thoroughly. But they're parsed in different ways, and different relationships between facts become clear when different vocabularies are used. This, to me, would indicate that both "will"-talk and "force"-talk aren't exactly "emergent" in a hierarchical way, but rather parallel vocabularies which lend themselves better to parsing different sorts of facts -- neither of which is more fundamental than the other.
That one answers the other I see as a demonstration of linguistic flexibility and has nothing to say about emergent phenomena at all - not in this context anyway. (It might prove as evidence of something else when it comes to information processing, but that's well outside the point.)

It can be demonstrated quite easily that one level rests upon the other. The concepts you've formed about the chemical rely heavily on your neurology; if it weren't for something at that level, to allow you to form those concepts in the first place, you simply wouldn't form the concepts in the first place. Indeed, the smell wouldn't be a smell without your senses.

I'm sure the heirarchy is obvious by now. The neurology is definitely fundamental in this case because it is what permits the concepts to be formed. It doesn't matter that it's "neurology" as we know it, though, anything that has the same effect is fair game.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
After sleeping on it... (none / 0) (#40)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Tue May 22, 2001 at 08:19:13 AM EST

I've come to a realization. I don't know how to express it very well, but while they do have a certain heirarchy but within the philosophy that an order of emergent phenomena is atomic, then they are all of equal 'merit' - regardless of which actually forms the underpinning of which.

"Merit" is certainly a poor term, but it's the best I can think of right now. I recognize the possibility that the linguistic trick I highlighted is a necessary symptom of our ability to recognize the emergent. I am slow to rely on linguistics for proof, however (which I think you'll find accepable.)

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
Many great points, but problems with the definitio (4.66 / 3) (#35)
by MoxFulder on Sat May 19, 2001 at 09:07:49 PM EST

I would have to agree with Solipsist, who claims that under your argument, atoms have free will, and with the poll option "No - the theory works, but the definitions have been debased."

You define free will as, basically, "anything that we do that has no determinable cause." I won't argue with the "no determinable cause" part, but I don't know exactly who you mean by "we." If we can be anything, even atoms, then I can give you a simple argument as to why atoms have free will:

According to quantum mechanics, an atom can exist in a superposition of states. When some physical property of one of these atoms is measured, the atom "collapses" to a single state, which is what you measure. Their is no known method of determining how the atom "chose" a state.

Moreover, according to Bell's Inequality, a rigorous mathematical theorem, no (Einstein-local) theory can produce the same experimental results as quantum mechanics while at the same time requiring the existence of "hidden variables" that make the theory underlyingly deterministic, even if the limits of current technology prevent us from measuring the hidden variables.

I really like your argument that emergent systems can have multiple possible origins in lower-order phenomena. For example, my arm can move because a tree falls on it or because a nerve triggers in my brain! This is something I never thought about before, but I realize now that it is very important, even if it seems trivial once you get it.

However, I dispute your holistic argument that emergent systems are more than the sum of their parts, even if you can't figure out what those parts are... I think that the "the whole is more than the sum of the parts" question is what has relegated arguments about free will to philosophy rather than science.

Other than the reliance on holism, I like your argument. I think you should refine the definition of free will. I think your argument is a good one, but that it applies to a more precise definition of free will than the one you actually give here!

"If good things lasted forever, would we realize how special they are?"
--Calvin and Hobbes


ahh... (5.00 / 1) (#36)
by syrrath on Sun May 20, 2001 at 02:55:12 AM EST

Interesting thought, the only form of "free will" that could possibly exist is one that can readily alter the reality (or its internally modeled perspective, atleast) that it responds to and interacts with. Think about it, any system that doesn't have the ability to modify its itself/reality/surroundings can't have a free will. It throws out the atom thing, anyway...

As for argument with holistic systems, an organism that is self contained, the emergent gualities can easily go beyond those of the separate parts. The efficiency of the parts acting as one, with multiple interdependencies and energy re-utilizations, seems to the only base from which life came about and is heavily relient on. From bio symbiosis to any form of waste reuse, the parts add up to the greatest value when holistic organization is found.

The scientific idea that energy can not be destroyed or created actually forms the basis behind any argument which say all self-perpetuating organization are holistic. Without holism, any realized model is fully inefficient and should be rethought (well, any system that is suppose to be survive, anyway). --- I know, I'm rambling...

--
Does anyone have a problem with the following definition of an intelligence with a "free will:"
A self-aware organization that acts as its own causal agent.
Can you phrase the idea any better???

[ Parent ]

Interesting (5.00 / 1) (#38)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Mon May 21, 2001 at 07:06:08 PM EST

I do know how to apply this theory to a more specific definition of free will, though I do not forsee any proof that doesn't involve emergent phenomena since the properties I see are properties in their own right - indivisble properties.

By analogy, when you break a hydrogen atom in half you don't get two particles each with attenuated properties of hydrogen, you have lower-order phenomena that combine to create a higher order phenomenon - the hydrogen atom, or element. Hydrogen behaves like hydrogen - not subatomic particles.

I'm currently working on a mode of expression that will make it easier to understand and recognize emergent phenomena and the interesting property known as synergy. Also, it is important to note that a holistic system is different from (as opposed to simply "more than") the sum of its parts - hydrogen doesn't behave like electrons, for example, even though it contains one electron.

That aside, the reason why I did not write this out to address free-will on a basis of sentient beings only is that it's not a part of the criteria I need to be satisfied. I have been accused of debasing terms - to fit them into the problem, while this conclusion is understandable, it's simply not the truth. I noticed that I had a theory to explain the definition of free will that I've held all my life, and the fact that it easily applies to -all- holistic systems doesn't bother me one bit. That's why I wrote it the way I did.

If I make later revisions, I'll probably produce several versions (one I have in mind is mostly argument by analogy - for fun) and one of them will apply specifically to conscious beings (or at least beings that we readily recognize as having consciousness.)

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
a further question ... (none / 0) (#53)
by BlueOregon on Wed May 30, 2001 at 01:20:33 AM EST

While I find your argument for free will (that causes cannot epistemologically be uniquely determined) rather interesting.

I want to go a different direction, though. Using similar arguments, could one not use, among other things, the many-worlds interpretation of QM, or even a traditionCopenhagen Interpretation, to show that there isn't a well-defined unique result of action? Or, for that matter, a different turn: let's say, based on a given starting point A, we can get to result B through deterministic and unique means? What result might this have for a free will argument?

One might argue that if one wants to argue for free will and make the claim that we have it (or, that it can exist), then one should be able to draw some conclusions from it. Does your definition of free will (which seems to be that cause and effect is not a one-to-one and onto function) gain us any knowledge?

Just a question or two.

--SK

[ Parent ]

QM and all that... (none / 0) (#58)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Wed May 30, 2001 at 10:21:59 AM EST

I purposely avoided QM because of the fact that it's often used in a black-box style to explain too many things. It always leaves me with the sense that the author is saying, "I know this is the cause, but I cannot understand it at all."

However, there's a different angle which seems to work, involving QM. I haven't entertained it, or even studied the evidence very deeply yet. It's the observer-phenomenon - that the observer is cause to its own existence.

This is fairly profound in the sense that it implies (or seems to) that everything is "unto itself." It strikes me though, that the observer-phenomenon would - or could - very easily be emergent of another system entirely... I suppose it's possible to build (simulate) one, though I don't know where to start, or have the time to do it.

I'll point out here, though, that this is a kind of reflectivity - the ability to observer and/or change one's own state - and the human brain contains oodles of reflectivity. A sufficiently complicated neural net is fiarly reflective, and a lot of people, myself included, believe that sufficient reflectivity is key to consciousness - not necessarily some quantum effect.

I've applied this to my work in AI - which I'm writing about on occasion in my diary. Soon I'll put up a page on my website about it.

As for knowledge gained... I don't know. In my mind, it hardly changes anything. I've said before, punishing a person for something they've done wrong, for example, would be no different with or without Free Will. In the former case, it's fairly straight-forward, in the latter, however, you've got to take into account that you can't punish the rules that the person goes by, so you can only punish that particular collection (or pattern) of rules - the individual person itself.

Writing this, of course, has lead me to that conclusion, so perhaps understanding how it works, if it does, will gain more insight than knowing that it does.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
Atoms may have free will for all we know (none / 0) (#76)
by Steeltoe on Sat Jun 02, 2001 at 04:11:17 PM EST

What can you say against atoms having free will? You are only debunking on that ground because you do not believe atoms can have free will or consciousness. Do not mistake me, your argument was good, but it's just as biased as the article. It's an utterly hopeless topic to discuss without being biased though :-)

On being more than sum of your parts, again I think the author makes a strong point. We are different from our parts. Wether we call it more is just a matter of opinion. Like comparing bi and bicycles. ;-)

In conclusion. If free will or consciousness or whatever you want to call it, where can it come from but from our "parts". The circle is complete, we've arrived at the atoms again. :-)

- Steeltoe
Explore the Art of Living

[ Parent ]
Free Will vs.... (none / 0) (#41)
by Elkor on Tue May 22, 2001 at 12:27:34 PM EST

I think one of the "problems" with this article is that there isn't an opposing viewpoint. What the is the alternative to free will? What exists in its place if it doesn't exist? It seems like you are arguing that a flower is blue without saying that it could be red or yellow.

While you can't define something by what it isn't, it can be fun to look at it that way.

So, what are the alternatives? Typically, I have seen them argues as predestination and determinism (which is touched on by some of the comments).

The general idea behind predestination is that there is some Higher Power that controls what we do according to some higher plan/whim and we merely act out the schedule of events in some program somewhere.

If Predestination is truly the alternative to Free Will, then the point is moot. If we are predestined to believe in Free Will, then we will (as was commented by someone below). However, if we aren't supposed to believe in Free Will, then we won't, that is just the way it is.

Determinism is the belief that all of life is a great big system. A modification of a Law of Physics: "For every action, there is a ... reaction." This reaction is, itself, an action that causes a reaction that causes another reaction, and so on. A single event can launch a chain of events that can contribute, modify or erase other event chains that are going on.

If we are deterministic, then again, the point is moot because any comment we make is merely our reaction to an event that has happened at some point in the past. However, I cannot deny that I react to my environment. If I am hungry, I eat. I stub my toe, I curse. Someone says "hi" I reply. However, if I believed I was acting solely on the inputs to my biological system, then life would lose a lot of its challenge, and as a result, its fun. And if it's not fun, why do it?

Therefor, I believe in deterministic Free Will until someone makes me believe otherwise.

Regards,
Elkor
"I won't tell you how to love God if you don't tell me how to love myself."
-Margo Eve
Indistinguishable (none / 0) (#71)
by Shalom on Thu May 31, 2001 at 04:54:08 PM EST

Just as sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, free will is indistinguishable from predetermination. How the hell would we know if the choices we are making are "our own" or those of a deity?

But think about this: if there is a Predeterminer, then why don't we pretend he's a part of the "universe"? Now we are left with the question, are his actions predetermined, or are they uncaused? If uncaused, they are random. If predetermined, find Predeterminer and repeat procedure.

Either you have Predeterminers on to infinity or you stop at "random" somewhere.



[ Parent ]
Absolute Nonsense. (none / 0) (#72)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 08:13:44 AM EST

Either you have Predeterminers on to infinity or you stop at "random" somewhere.

Uh-huh... and where does the random come from? You're making the assumption that regular behaviour cannot be uncaused but random behaviour can... hardly orthoganol and completely unsupported.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
Uncaused = Random (4.00 / 1) (#80)
by Shalom on Mon Jun 04, 2001 at 07:40:32 PM EST

It's completely supportable. And your question "where does the random come from" is a good one, but it contradicts the nature of randomness. If the random came from anywhere, it wouldn't be random! With a truly random choice, there is no way the choice could have been predicted in advance.

Causation is the opposite of prediction. If a thing is caused, then it could have been predicted using the causes. If a thing can be predicted, then the things you are using to predict are in fact the causes.

OK, so that means that it's impossible for a thing to be both random and caused. If it's random, it can't be caused. And if it's caused, it can't be random. All that's left is the central question: if it's not caused, can it be non-random?

If a thing is not caused, that means that a choice was made that could not have been predicted by an omniscient being. And that's precisely what random means! So if it was not caused, it was random.

Therefore, "x is random" and "x has a cause" are mutually exclusive.

(This is not precisely true, BTW, because you can have complicated choices that have both random and caused elements. But you can separate which elements are random and which are caused. If I am told to choose a number between 1 and 10, but I first secretly decide that I'm only going to choose an even number, then there were two choices--one to narrow the scope of numbers, and one truly random choice.)

Not Only That, But ...

So we've shown that the universe had to be created by some combination of random choices and real choices. Now let's show the original argument.

Let's pretend the choice to make this universe exist was partly random, and partly caused. Say God had some say in it, but not necessarily all. Discard the random part because we know there's no cause there, nothing to see here, folks, move along. Now let's take the causes and include them in the universe. Specifically in our hypothetical, God. Was he random or caused? If he was random, fine. If not, find the causer. Etc. etc.

The only place this breaks down is if the causes of the things in the universe are already in the universe. Then you have circular causation loops ("A caused B which caused A") and I am not going to touch that :)



[ Parent ]
Alright... (none / 0) (#81)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 08:43:24 AM EST

Okay, I see what you mean in the uncaused vs. random thing (kudos), BUT:

Causation is the opposite of prediction. If a thing is caused, then it could have been predicted using the causes. If a thing can be predicted, then the things you are using to predict are in fact the causes.
The last case is untrue, demonstrably so. Gaseous particle spread, for example, behaves statistically... but tell me why? Are you going to say that there's a law of statistics? How is it that such a law would exist in the first place.

But moreso... people predict things they don't fully understand all the time. The statement predicts that in order to understand classical physics, one must understand quantum (foundational to classical) physics... which simply isn't the case.

So we've shown that the universe had to be created by some combination of random choices and real choices. Now let's show the original argument.
Have we? No we haven't. We can't. I'd go so far as to say that uncaused (random) cannot be shown, since it's always possible that there's a foundational layer to whatever you've deemed "uncaused" - in fact, we don't ever worry about "true random" - we worry about sufficiently random - of intederminable, given the circumstances, cause. QM seems to show that it's in fact circular - which is royally fubar - but you're never going to find an absence of a cause for anything, according to QM.

There's a big suprise waiting for everyone who figures this one out... but I'm not going to let it out of the bag just yet. Probably never... but think about a system that affects the very foundational nature of its own state... where have you seen it before?

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
Humans vs. Gods, And Quantum Physics (none / 0) (#82)
by Shalom on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 02:08:56 PM EST

people predict things they don't fully understand all the time. The statement predicts that in order to understand classical physics, one must understand quantum (foundational to classical) physics...

I suppose when I speak of true prediction I mean 100% prediction, as a God or other omniscient being could perform. To err is human; we make approximations and we live with them. We only live 70-80 years anyway. Hell, we get along pretty well using psuedorandom numbers instead of "true random," that is, predictable random that is simply "too hard to predict."

Classical physics is in fact an approximation, because it does not take into account quantum fluctuations that occur even in large objects. You can introduce an "error factor" but then you are doing only partial prediction and admitting either unknown or random causes in your equation.

Gaseous particle spread, for example, behaves statistically... but tell me why? Are you going to say that there's a law of statistics?

Statistics is an approximate description of many things at once. It is not a law, and while it has predictive power, it is only approximate predictive power and it is not a true cause. I do not think that you, or anyone else, would say that the law of statistics is really the cause of those particles moving around, would you?

You could make an anthropomorphic version of "uncaused" that is "anything where the observer cannot figure out the cause." And you could make an approximate version of prediction that says "anything that can predict an event to some degree," But I am talking about the pure version here, and I think in the determinism vs. free will debate that's what you have to talk about.

I'd go so far as to say that uncaused (random) cannot be shown, since it's always possible that there's a foundational layer to whatever you've deemed "uncaused"

I fully agree, up to this point. There is no way that we as fallible human beings can actually find the point of the true Uncaused (random). Even in quantum mechanics, where we believe there are true random numbers, there could be capricious beings who are choosing numbers exactly so that they seem random to us.

However, I do not think that invalidates the argument. In this debate we have to argue from the point of view of someone who knows every cause--someone who is omniscient. And this person in fact would be able to see these pixies snickering and making funny random values to confuse huamnity.

The argument says that all things must either be true random or have a cause. This pretty much requires that any uncaused things be random. And that includes the true beginning of the universe.

As I said before, though, there might be no true random in two cases: (a) there are causal loops, and (b) there is an infinite series of Creators.

There is a third case that I bring up for the sake of completeness: it is possible that this universe is the only possible universe. In other words, no choice had to be made so there was no random involved. I don't believe this, however, because there had to be a choice, at least between nothing existing and this current universe existing.

QM seems to show that it's in fact circular - which is royally fubar - but you're never going to find an absence of a cause for anything, according to QM.

I'm sorry, I don't know of anything in QM that is circular. QM seems to say that things move with true randomness. There are theories (like Feynman's theory that a force or photon cannot be transmitted without something to act upon--There Are No Fields) that postulate that the past, and the future, must all exist in order for QM to work. But I don't see that as circular. Perhaps you can help me out here? I definitely don't know everything in this area :)



[ Parent ]
Circular QM (none / 0) (#83)
by Shalom on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 04:49:41 PM EST

Aha, I figured out what you're talking about. Correct me if I'm wrong: you're talking about the really really interesting theory that matter and anti-matter are not really two different things, but in fact anti-matter is just matter traveling backwards in time. So an annihilation is really just the matter stopping and turning around in the time-loop, and the same with a creating.

I gotcha. Scientists believe that all the time, everywhere, little matter/anti-matter pairs are popping up and destroying themselves almost instantly. They are freaks escaping from the clutches of nothingness for one beautiful instant, riding on the back of a random fluctuation, and then cruelly pulled back because it wasn't random enough to let them stay apart.

It raises the interesting question of whether all matter was not created this way, and therefor the total energy of the universe is zero. Are we all just really wide arcs of matter waiting to be smashed into our corresponding anti-matter at some point? Do our twin particles exist somewhere?

I am not sure what this does to my argument. It could be argued that even though these causation loops exist, they exist because these random fluctuations harness the laws of quantum physics--seen from a certain perspective outside of this time, they are not causation loops at all, just gleaming rings of matter, that some omniscient being sees as . But then again, that seems like cheating to me, even though it's possible. Causation is about time, and it seems sort of like avoiding reality to create some "uber-time" for my argument even if it exists.

It is possible, though. Thinking about some of Feynman's and Einstein's theories, it seems like both the future and the past have to exist for certain things to be true. So it might not be so far-fetched to have a time outside of our time, where a God could look on everything at once, like a reel of movie.

Finally, even if they are all a bunch of causation loops, something had to cause the laws of quantum physics (or they had to exist at random).



[ Parent ]
There's a basic flaw in the argument (5.00 / 4) (#42)
by pookieballs on Wed May 23, 2001 at 01:01:38 PM EST

And indeed in any argument about free will. The issue is one of epistemology; simply, we do not and cannot know the causes of our behaviour completely. You can always go the ridiculous (and valid) extreme of positing the infinitely powerful deity that controls everything and doesn't want you to know about it. Or you can go the other way and be a solipsist and give your will and imagination absolute reign over the universe. Either way, you're just making stuff up. You don't and can't know.

So basically, you get to choose for yourself. Pick the option that satisfies you best and get on with it. If everything is really predetermined but you act like you've got free choice, you're wasting some mental anguish over your "decisions", but so what? You get that extra feeling of being in control. And if you really have free will then adopting an attitude of passive acceptance might be an abrogation of your "responsibility" as a free being, but so what? Sometimes, it nice to feel like it's all out of your hands; takes the pressure off.

And anyway, it doesn't matter. Your suffering won't be less acute with the knowledge that your will is or is not free.

Pants! (4.00 / 1) (#43)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Wed May 23, 2001 at 03:03:09 PM EST

I have interest in this area, and I think the underlying concepts can take sciences a long way. In any case, I saw an opportunity to show as best I can something that there's a lot of opposition to scientifically... it's a challenge.

I don't care about justification or any of that crap, because it doesn't change anything either way. If my pattern - free or no - does something, *it* reaps the rewards, and suffers the punishments.

Whether the physical laws are the or whether it is unto myself that I perform the actions that provoke the response the response must come to me. You don't curse physics when your SO treats you poorly, do you? - even if you disbelieve in free will?

Regardless of the freedom of will, responsibility is simply not affected by it.

That said, my point isn't simply that we don't know, but there is *no* authoritative cause of our actions - even if we did know it wouldn't be the only cause that corresponds to those actions. What I'm saying is that our wills behave as themselves and not as the result of any specific system.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
Yes, yes. Very well put. (5.00 / 1) (#44)
by tgochenour on Thu May 24, 2001 at 01:54:16 AM EST

But then you assume that there is suffering in either case. This epistemological argument can never be resolved while we hold on to that belief.

I am one who enjoys a bit of mental anguish and/or loss of control. It's what makes life livable as a human being.

It's also what makes us unique as a species on this planet.



[ Parent ]

then we approach ... (4.00 / 1) (#51)
by BlueOregon on Wed May 30, 2001 at 01:08:44 AM EST

... a nice, near-Kantian "as if" situation. So now, assuming we agree on the epistemology, should we for the sake of ethics assume free will. That is, we can't prove it exists, and we can't actually prove it doesn't based on our knowledge of what we can know, but is it worthwhile to act as if it does?

Just a question.

--SK

[ Parent ]

sorta (4.00 / 1) (#59)
by pookieballs on Wed May 30, 2001 at 10:26:57 AM EST

Just pick something. Act as if you have free will if you feel like it or don't if you don't. They're epistemologically equivalent choices.

Practically speaking, I think there's probably advantages to one or the other depending on your circumstances. Knowledge aside, you're still presented the the phenomenon of life and the attitude you "choose" to take towards it may alter your experience of it.

[ Parent ]
Unfortunately... (4.00 / 1) (#60)
by Samrobb on Wed May 30, 2001 at 03:21:51 PM EST

Every world culture is based in some way on the supposition that free will does exist. I'm unaware of any country or culture where stating "I was destined to stick a knife in his chest" would keep you from being charged with murder.

The starting premise, aparently, is that you can control yourself, and are in some way responsible for your own actions. If the society you live in is going to react to you as if you have free will, then what's the sense in believing that you don't?


"Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment." Job 32:9
[ Parent ]
Moreso - (4.00 / 1) (#61)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Wed May 30, 2001 at 03:37:46 PM EST

I think the issue of Free Will is irrelevant to ethics, consider:

If a (non-intelligent) robot is programmed to stick knives in chests, it would be punished all the same - likely even destroyed since that's all it does.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
Except that (none / 0) (#75)
by Steeltoe on Sat Jun 02, 2001 at 03:53:50 PM EST

If a (non-intelligent) robot is programmed to stick knives in chests, it would be punished all the same - likely even destroyed since that's all it does.

Sadly enough some people find that a valuable trait - like people in the military.

It's a good point, even though ethics get a bit blurry when concerning robots. Would destroying a robot be unethical? If we don't have free will, then what is the difference between us and a robot? I believe one point to always remember is that ethics are subjective opinions. We have ethics because we are prejudiced toward humanity and other living beings, in that order.

- Steeltoe
Explore the Art of Living

[ Parent ]
Should we believe in free will? (4.50 / 2) (#46)
by kreyg on Fri May 25, 2001 at 11:09:44 PM EST

Assuming that there are only two possibilites, that "free will" exists or it doesn't, then:

1. If free will exists, we should believe in it.
2. If free will does not exist, we don't have any choice in the matter of believing in it.

There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler's mind. - Douglas Adams
and oh what an assumption ... (none / 0) (#50)
by BlueOregon on Wed May 30, 2001 at 01:00:50 AM EST

The assumption is wrong, although he tried to get around it with definitions. There aren't just two possibilities.

free will is neither free nor will ... discuss ...

Question 1: is there will? (yes or no)

Question 2: if yes, is it free?

One might argue that will is a convenient fiction we use as part of construction of the self; furthermore, it's not a mere metaphysical exercise, as our ethical systems often rely on the will of the individual.

If there is no actual will, then how could it be free? Hence, why even ask the question.

--SK

[ Parent ]

Fairy Cake (none / 0) (#48)
by der on Tue May 29, 2001 at 05:06:20 PM EST

This is readily demonstrable by the simple fact that you cannot know everything about the universe simply by looking at one piece of it.
Oh, can't you? Then I'd like to see YOU step into the total perspective vortex and emerge unscathed! ... No cheating, ala Zaphod either.

and further ... (none / 0) (#49)
by BlueOregon on Wed May 30, 2001 at 12:55:06 AM EST

Ok, I'm on my 18th-20th century German Lit/Phil. kick tonight, so I think I'll respond to a bunch of posts here (if only for the fun of getting modded down, etc.)

His assumption about not being able to understand the whole through a part is a nice and recent concept in western civ. As counter examples I give the following:

  • Medieval / Renaissance "Microcosm/Macrocosm" concept
  • This continues to the Baroque
  • Enlightenment period Deist and Pantheist macro/micro concept of seeing God reflected in the details of nature (see Brockes, for example)
  • Leibniz and his monadism

Ok, I'm skirting the point ... after all, he's interested in our inability to know all causes. The particular type of determinism concept he's using shows up in the 19th century. According to George Simmons (probably quoting Bell), "Napoleon tried to get a rise out of Laplace by protesting that he had written a huge book on the system of the world without once mentioning God as the author of the universe." (Simmons, 830), to which Laplace replied (supposedly): "Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis." But, we're getting away from free will now, aren't we?

--SK

[ Parent ]

This doesn't disprove determinism at all. (4.50 / 2) (#52)
by JJ Molloy on Wed May 30, 2001 at 01:13:22 AM EST

This is harder to swallow than Cartesian dualism. Stating "we don't know what causes our actions" does not provide you with evidence to say that nothing does. We don't know why quantum superposition happens, but that doesn't mean particles have free will, does it?

I'm also a litte alarmed by your claim that the answer to the question "why did a given person do what they did?" is "because that's what a person does". Given that you stated earlier that you didn't want to beg the question, I'd like to know what you think you are doing here.

I also think the people who have responded to this article by pointing out that no matter what you believe, the universe will still work the same way should shut up. If you don't want to discuss things, don't.

<grin> (none / 0) (#57)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Wed May 30, 2001 at 10:01:39 AM EST

No, you're right - it doesn't disprove determinism, in fact, it depends on it.

I was wondering when someone was going to make note of that. You get a cookie!

But really, I'm trying to demonstrate that Free Will can arrive deterministically, in some way. Nondeterministic systems can arrive wholly of deterministic ones, in fact.

Take a card game, War. You split the deck, each play the card at the top, high card wins, and in the case of a tie, the next challenge gets the pot. The human players only follow the rules... no decisions are made about how to play. However, it is impossible to tell the outcome without actually playing the bloody game through.

It's also possible to have a configuration of cards such that the game will never end.

It's this kind of interaction that creates something contradictory to its underlying mechanics, and this is what I'm capitalizing on.

It's either folly or courage to accept what I've written - provided that I'm right. I think it's courage, provided you understand it, folly if you don't.

I still believe that I am correct, though I maintain that I'm not infallible, and so, I welcome all arguements.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
You're on to something (none / 0) (#74)
by Steeltoe on Sat Jun 02, 2001 at 03:38:44 PM EST

I cannot say wether your conclusion is right or wrong. It may depend heavily on your perspective/model of the universe. Take this discussion from a hinduistic (vedic) point of view for example (search for "free will" 3 times). If you take science, physics talk about space-time as one coordinate system for our macro universe. Some people question scientist's interpretation of their own models (not a good link I know..), arguing that spacetime must be static. From that point of view determism permeates the universe. Indeed. Science has whole has as a goal to model the whole universe as deterministic (understandable, calculable), or at least get as close to the brink to non-determinism (if that exists) as possible.

None of this helps us much. As you have argued (I believe), we can call it "free will" if it is impossible for us to fully understand our choices. In order to solve the dispute we need to put things into perspective. Here your analogy of a game is perfect:

Take a card game, War. You split the deck, each play the card at the top, high card wins, and in the case of a tie, the next challenge gets the pot. The human players only follow the rules... no decisions are made about how to play. However, it is impossible to tell the outcome without actually playing the bloody game through.

Aside from the fact that this is a very tedious and boring game, it shows your point perfectly in two perspectives:

A) Free will: The person playing never sees the deck, and believes he is making all the decisions (new cards). Fun game.

B) Non-free will: The person sees the whole deck, and can therefore calculate the whole game. Boring game.

It's the same game, but the perspective makes all the difference. Personally, I believe if we were Gods, we would chose the fun game and mutually agree to never take a peek. There is alot of fun in limitation when you are unlimited. Just think of MUDs and other online realities. If everyone has the best stash, blackest stallion and piles upon piles of gold, there's not much play left. It becomes boring and you seek other challenges.

Also, the debate of free will is simply theoretical masturbation, because in practice we should act as if we have it anyways. Unless we want to become/remain predictable, controlled and non-free, but that is a decision in itself. We don't know enough to know wether we first made that decision "freely" or not, whatever that means. However, from a hinduistic point of view, the experience is what counts, not how much we can decimate our experience in intellectual gibberish in limited understanding and measuring. I happen to agree. :-) Existence is a fact, to argue differently is just to exercise our neurons :-)

To put this in Black & White (a computer game) terms: Our bodies are Creature and our soul (or whatever) is the player. The soul is having alot of fun teaching us simple tricks through invisible (and cumbersome) leashes, much as we in turn do with our Creatures in the game. ;-)

- Steeltoe
Explore the Art of Living

[ Parent ]
I don't know much about free will. (2.00 / 1) (#64)
by Caranguejeira on Wed May 30, 2001 at 04:51:10 PM EST

But one thing I know for sure: There is a Free Willy.

A few comments (4.50 / 2) (#65)
by kpinhead on Wed May 30, 2001 at 06:47:33 PM EST

"Will" itself, I define as what causes us to do what we do.'
Um, I don't really think this is the common definition of "Will". For most people, "Will" implies intent. Your definition includes unintended actions as well. Without intent, your definition of will is merely causation, a very different thing.

Our will - or "drives" - must have emerged, somehow*, from what we understand as the material, the physical. This is apparent through the repeated failure of scientists to describe will in purely physical terms - without resorting to some process (which necessarily gives rise to emergent phenomena.)'
This is not really a logical implication. Just because "scientists" haven't been able to describe will in purely physical terms doesn't imply that it must therefore be emergent. In fact, it just means that whatever the "cause" of will, we haven't found it yet - nothing more.

Furthermore, I also find your immediate assumption that the ultimate cause of will be "in the physical" highly questionable. Where does this assumption come from? You yourself admit that "scientists" have yet to find a source in the material world. Are you so completely sure that thousands of years of religious philosophy is completely off the mark?

Re: A few comments (2.00 / 1) (#67)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Thu May 31, 2001 at 08:36:43 AM EST

"Will" implies intent. Your definition includes unintended actions as well.
Sure, but I don't think that changes anything. The definition was written in haste, but limiting it to "intended actions" changes nothing.

The issue of whether intent need be conscious, however, would involve an equally long essay.

Just because "scientists" haven't been able to describe will in purely physical terms doesn't imply that it must therefore be emergent. In fact, it just means that whatever the "cause" of will, we haven't found it yet - nothing more.
Are you saying that there must be, then, sub-chemical particles that behave just like all the elements that we have? You're not going to find the "helium particle, indivisible" because the helium atom is a system. Like the human body...

This sounds like vitalism - complexity explained away by some black-box ingredient that cannot be understood.

You're not going to find a society that behaves according to the physical laws. Sure, the physical elements do, but the social ones? Not at all...while attractiveness, for example, can be described as a "gravity" it's just a metaphor.

Furthermore, I also find your immediate assumption that the ultimate cause of will be "in the physical" highly questionable. Where does this assumption come from? You yourself admit that "scientists" have yet to find a source in the material world.
I'm not going to blame "God" or anything. God's another black box - theo-vitalism. My assumption is that some set of laws can give rise to free will - and further, that many sets of laws could do so.

Are you so completely sure that thousands of years of religious philosophy is completely off the mark?
Religious philosophy? Religion comes with its own set of vestigial assumptions that are wholly incompatible with the general case. As I said, I will not blame God, or any other black-box. If it's God's doing, then it can't be understood, and the matter is futile.

I don't think it's God's doing, and I think it can be understood, indeed, I think I do understand it. Consider for a moment, do you know of any religious philosopher who has claimed that Free Will exists and to understand it - without the use of black boxes? I highly doubt it.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
The very idea of determinism requires free will (none / 0) (#66)
by wytcld on Wed May 30, 2001 at 07:27:44 PM EST

[This is excerpted from my article "Y's Domain" in the Journal of Consciousness Studies (vol. 6, 1999, Aug/Sept), copyright, used with permission. It's basically a proof that in a universe without real free will you'd never come up with a concept of 'determinism.' It proceeds by teasing apart the various senses of 'determine.' Pardon the subscripts, but that device is used to track those senses of the term and concept.]

To fathom the origins of the faith in determinism, we should consider how determination is situated as a human activity. There are at least three major ways in which the term 'determine' can take center stage:

1. We can, as we often seek to do, determine what can and will happen in the passive sense of assesment, of investigation. (This also more broadly includes determining what something is, which consists essentially of determining what it can cause to happen, its properties, what role it can play.) Call this determine1.

2. We can, as we often seek to do, determine what will happen in the active sense of causation, of instigation. Call this determine2.

These first two are closely linked: we what to know what may happen largely because we should like to do something about it. Indeed, it appears animate life has evolved brains for the first capacity precisely to serve the second capacity.

3. We also speak, by extension from the first two senses, of a thing, rather than a person, determining3 another thing. That is, when we determine1 from one thing some subsequent thing, we might also speak of the first thing determining3 the subsequent, meaning that we can generally determine1 from the first thing that the second will likely happen. Or we can determine2 the second by causing the first, which we have determined1 will lead to the second. In this case, we also say that first determines3 the second, and may project to it an agency derived from our own determination2. (Thus we can tease this out further into determination3a and determination3b, where determination3a is an alternate syntax for naming evidence for determination1, while determination3b refers to the intermediate means of a determination2 in progress. This distinction is not so important for the current argument, but shows that in common occurrence even determination3 may be not a simple, pure concept but a conflation.)

The first two senses, determination1 and determination2, directly involve human beings as observers and agents. The third is an abstraction or projection in which the human being is left out. To apply these to billiard-ball causation: If I see one ball rolling towards another, and observe it well, I might determine1 (other things being equal) that it will knock the other into the pocket. If I determine1 that setting one ball rolling towards another, at an observed angle, will (other things being equal) knock it into the pocket, I can determine2 to knock it into the pocket by striking the first ball appropriately. In either case, I can say, by extension and abstraction from the human determination1or2, that the motion of the one ball determines3 (other things being equal) that the second ball will go into the pocket. But this doesn't literally mean that it determines1 at all, just that we can use our observation of it to determine1. And the only sense in which it determines2 is a metaphorical derivative from - or shorthand for - our own agency; the determination2 accurately belongs to us, not to it.

Does determining3 really have any meaning independent of the human-involved senses of determining1and2? For instance, it is commonly held that the proof of scientific knowledge is its predictive utility. From this perspective, whenever we say that one thing determines3 another, the proof of this is that we can determine1 the second's likelihood from the first. In practice in the lab this often means determining2 the first, in order to test whether it determines3 the second. In such a case the proof for determination1 is nothing other than our ability to use it in determination2 - determination3 is a subsidiary concept useful at best for referring to intermediate stages which themselves are ultimately conjectures requiring proof by determinisms1and2. Indeed, much of human interest in science is because when we can determine1 things, we can determine2 things - science leads to technology.

Determination3 may have no separate sense or meaning, and be completely parasitic on determination1, with the metaphorical implication of derived agency from its use in association with determination2. Since the evolution of the capability for determination1 would be a very hard story to tell in the absence of a real capacity for determination2, there may be no possibility for determination3 existing as a human concept which does not depend on a state of affairs in which determination2 is real.

On the surface this resembles the anthropic principal in cosmology, the claim that for the universe to exist it must be observable, for which it must be able to support life, for which it must be within certain parameters. But this is a more modest claim: for a creature to exist that has a concept of determinism3, it must be the case that the world in which the creature exists is one in which the creature truly has the capacity for determinism1, which in turn will only evolve given that determinism2 is a true capability of the creature in that world.

A world describable in terms of determinism3 is often taken to be a world in which there's an absence of real freedom. This may be a mistake arising from confusion of determination3 with the concepts of determination1and2 from which it depends. When a human being employs a billiard ball as an agent in order to determine2 where a second ball will go, the first ball as it determines3 the course of the second is, if we have imparted the right impetus to it, the perfect slave of our own determination2, insofar as we can determine1. There is a tendency to work backwards from this to the suspicion that our own determinations2 may be a case of similar perfect slavery to determinations3 which are outside of our conscious selves, the very selves which engage in determinations1 in support of a (by appearances real although obviously constrained) range of free choices of what to determine2 to do.

Indeed, in determining2 we often use ourselves instrumentally, and also may employ human as well as mechanical agents beyond ourselves. We have something of a stake in determinism3 being at least a good approximation of an explanation of our human agents' actions - to the extent that it is not, they have either failed us, or acted as partners in determining2 rather than solely as slaves. So our stake in determinism2 motivates a social reality in which determinism3 can at times apply to descriptions of people, considered in the sames terms as inanimate objects ('objectified') for the purposes of determining1and2 what they will do.

But again, the success of determinism3 here derives from our interest in determinism2, and its approximate truth in this circumstance depends on our human agents' becoming determined2 to accord with our own determination2. Implicit in determining2 is the reality of choice. Choice itself is bound up with the concept of consciousness, so to understand this more fully we should look at how consciousness, in which we quite apparently conduct much of our determinism1and2, is itself situated in human experience.

Unproven Assumptions (none / 0) (#68)
by Shalom on Thu May 31, 2001 at 03:38:14 PM EST

OK, I just read this argument and think it's wrong. I will try to summarize the argument as faithfully as I can. Please correct me if I have misrepresented.

In summary, the argument appears to assume that action requires choice (free will), which of course is the central question of the free will vs. determinism. Then, it looks like, he argues that determinism requires action (laws about how things work cannot exist without humans to observe them and use them). Thus, by implication, determinism requires choice.

There are two problems here.

First, if the deterministic theory is true, a cause-and-effect action does not require choice--you have to first answer the question of free will vs. determinism to find this out. This is an unresolved problem.

Second, one must explain why natural laws (gravity, etc.) or at least consequences of natural laws cannot exist without human observers. In other words, when a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? This is a disturbing question that has arisen even in quantum physics. It is also unresolved.



[ Parent ]
The Free Will Percentage (5.00 / 1) (#69)
by Shalom on Thu May 31, 2001 at 04:28:43 PM EST

I used to think that free will being equivalent to "random behavior" was the death knell for free will, because that would just be absurd. But now I have realized that ultimately everything is based on random behavior, and it's only over a sliced period of time that you can say it is determined. Herein is a way for a demigod to calculate just how much free will enters into the equation.

Quantum mechanics has basically stomped on my argument. Even if you take matter and energy and the laws of physics completely, every decision comes eventually back to the movements of particles, which is random.

So the original definition of determinism is useless now too: no longer is it possible to say that the universe works like clockwork. Even a demigod that knew everything it is possible to know about the present and the laws of physics would be unable to predict the future with much certainty. After a while, those randomnesses can start to add up and screw up your calculations.

This would annoy most demigods I know. To know everything, but be unable to do much with it? What a crime! But there is something a demigod could do to help us with the question of free will.

What he can do is take a slice of time leading up to a decision, take the things that happen at time t0 as deterministic assumptions (initial conditions), and then basically figure out how much random events affect the decision up to time t1. e.g., how much different would the random events have had to be in order for the final outcome to be different? It's a combinatorial problem of huge proportions, but a piece of cake for our demigod :)

In doing so you can come up with a percentage over a given period of time: from the start of my writing this article, the chance of me writing this word at this time was, say, 5%. (I suspect there was a lot of stuff that affected the words before this, a lot of deletions, etc.)



Systems Must Be Self Contained (5.00 / 1) (#70)
by Shalom on Thu May 31, 2001 at 04:46:20 PM EST

Here's the problem with the argument you make: systems have to be more or less self-contained, to really qualify as systems. You have to be able to describe them almost completely without reference to the systems they emerged from. With fluids, for example, we have whole sets of laws that show how they behave, with almost no reference to the underlying molecules and particles that make up the fluids. Even though you can show how the fluid laws follow from the laws of particle physics, they can each be considered their own system.

Will does not pass that test, at least not yet. It's not a system, at least not from what I've heard so far, so how can it, by any definition, be called an emergent system?

And this is more than a problem of words. If the argument cannot support will as an emergent system, then it must fall back to being a series of decisions, simply consequences of the underlying system (in your example, the biological).

If you can describe the will as logic, emotion, and even some random component (provided most likely by quantum mechanics), then you can call that an emergent system.



Simpler kind of free-will (4.00 / 1) (#73)
by Any onymous on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 11:21:35 AM EST

A simpler form of free-will is the belief that an individual tends to act in the manner with the highest expectation of benefit. If I a) learn about a new opportunity for food or sex, b) learn about a technique for acquiring them, or c) learn how to avoid some kind of pain, I will change my behaviour to take advantage of the new knowledge. The 'intent' (goals or will) of my body *can* select my actions partly independent of external intents. Of course, I might be captured and be no longer be 'free' to follow the 'will' of my body.

This sort of free will would be an important idea even in a predetermined universe. If I am an intelligent being in such a universe with the ability to learn, I will notice several things about myself. I will notice that in most general situations there are many actions that my body 'could' perform. In addition, I will notice that my body frequently uses the action that gives it the most benefit. It is useful for me to notice this because now my body knows more about how to control animals and other people.

Yes, it is all predetermined. But it is still important for your package of knowledge (or body) to include that concept of 'free-will'. It is still important for your package of knowledge to be 'responsible' for its errors. If it is, it will be better able to satisfy its 'will'.

Of course, someone outside the system would know you can't choose to improve your package of knowledge. You can just count yourself lucky that you read this note. :)

The nature of "Free Will" insofar as it exists. | 83 comments (80 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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