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Quantum physics and free will

By Bnonn in Science
Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 04:40:58 PM EST
Tags: Focus On... (all tags)
Focus On...

Philosophers, ever in the habit of asking difficult questions, have come up with a number of possible scenarios describing humans, our relationship to time, and how this affects the concept of free will. The most difficult of these situations to address logically, without resorting to metaphysical premises, is that of determinism.


The determinist argument is simple. The universe relies on certain, established physical laws to operate, and therefore the outcome of any interaction of matter or energy can be predicted. As a simple example, observe a pool ball on a table. When the ball is struck, it prescribes a path that can be predicted, ostensibly forever. The pool ball, though a very basic and oversimplified representation, is fundamentally no different from a particle of matter. Thus, all particle interactions can be predicted, from the beginning of the universe to the end.

If this is the case, then observation of the birth of the universe would have yielded all the information required to extrapolate to the current day. All the particles making up the Earth and human beings could be nowhere else, and in no other form. They have been following deterministic interactions since the birth of the universe to reach the positions they currently occupy.

Given this, it is obvious that our brains are bound by these same laws. The firing of neurons that create thoughts is just another part of these deterministic particle interactions. Thus, it seems that the sense of free will humans have is illusionary, and that everything we think and do has been predetermined since the universe first came into existence.

By way of pre-emption of the problems with determinism, let's focus on an argument used by its proponents against opposing theories. This argument is that these theories violate the Law of Excluded Middle. In other words, instead of allowing only two possibilities--"yes" and "no"--these theories allow for a third option. There is, understandably, opposition to this among logicians. Either something is, or it is not. To say that it might be, or might not be, should indicate only that not enough information is known--not that this information doesn't exist.

This, however, is a debate core to the nature of quantum physics. Since Werner Heisenberg first published his Uncertainty Principle in 1927, it has been acknowledged that there is a fundamental limitation to the universe: one cannot know the momentum and position of a particle simultaneously. It's true that both these values can be determined for a particular moment in time, but because they can't both be observed simultaneously this moment will always be in the past. Heisenberg believed that, since prediction is impossible, such determinations are pointless.

Heisenberg's work laid the foundation for an understanding of the universe that directly challenges the idea of determinism. Shortly after the Uncertainty Principle was published, Schrödinger presented his work on particle-wave duality, whereby both particles and waves could be described by the same equation, and in the same way. This resolved the problem of particles exhibiting wave-like properties under some conditions by treating particles and waves as identical, and describing them with a wavefunction.

The Schrödinger Equation has been tested and extensively verified over the past half century. With the emergence of quantum physics, a comprehensive set of theories was built that established the universe as comprised of point-objects exhibiting particle-wave duality. These particles come in two types: fermions for matter, and bosons for energy.

The aspect of Schrödinger's Equation that directly questions determinism is fundamental to the concept of a wavefunction. A wavefunction is simply a way of describing a particle in a manner that agrees with quantum physics: because Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle dictates that position and momentum can't both be known to arbitrary precision, the particle is described as a probability waveform. That is, the wavefunction is the set of probabilities of the particle occupying any particular point in space, with any particular momentum. Until observed, the particle exists as a superposition of all these probabilities; it is not until it's observed that these decay to actual, discrete values that correspond with a particular position and momentum. In other words, until it is observed, the position and momentum values of a particle are indeterminate.

This raises an interesting question. If a particle has no exact position and momentum values until observed (ie, until it interacts with another particle), and if the precision of measurement allowed on one value is inversely proportionate to the precision of measurement allowed on the other, then particle interactions must necessarily be statistical in nature--not deterministic. In fact, the very nature of quantum physics is non-deterministic. Another, disparate example of this is in the spontaneous and random generation of virtual particle pairings. This alone, as a random occurrence, automatically refutes the possibility of the universe as deterministic; but it's merely one symptom of a larger system where randomness and indeterminacy are fundamental principles.

Quantum physics demonstrates that even simple systems do not follow deterministic laws. It is clear the universe is causal, following predictable and consistent laws, but not deterministic.

So, although determinism itself can be demonstrated to be false, what effect does this have on its interpretation of free will? In the short term, apparently very little. Although at the quantum level interactions are statistical, on larger scales they tend to become deterministic, as the effects of Uncertainty Principle are negligible. Though the synaptic pathways of the brain are constructed of microscopic cells, these are still orders of magnitude larger than the smallest quantum particles, and to all intents and purposes behave entirely predictably. Quantum fluctuations within the brain are as negligible to its function as the effects of Uncertainty Principle.

Thus it seems thought processes, consciousness, and the perception of free will are all emergences of the matrix of synapses in our brain--synapses that have been firing since our conception. As they respond to stimuli in their genetically-programmed manner, store memories, and retrieve them in response to other stimuli, they being to provide a foundation for original and unique thought within the constraints of this genetic programming. Despite appearing spontaneous consciously, these thoughts are nonetheless generated in an apparently entirely deterministic way.

In the long term, though, determinism is clearly incorrect in its contention that our very existence has been--to all intents and purposes at least--predetermined since the birth of the universe. In fact, the probability of our existence, or even the existence of the Milky Way Galaxy, would have been on the rounder side of zero at the time of the big bang.

It can be concluded, therefore, that while determinism holds some truth, it is essentially a vast exaggeration of the actual situation. Indeed, given the effects of Chaos Theory and our own limited knowledge of the brain, it may be entirely possible to still formulate an argument in favour of free will without resorting to abstract questions relating perception and reality.


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Quantum physics and free will | 254 comments (239 topical, 15 editorial, 0 hidden)
Not a Physics Expert but... (5.00 / 1) (#8)
by HidingMyName on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 09:58:34 AM EST

If my understanding of philosophy is correct the terms determinism and free will are applied to actions by sentient beings (e.g. human beings). Regarding probability, I'll just go from memory, please correct me if I'm wrong. Stochastic systems with large numbers of entities behaving with statistically independent and identical statistical distributions (i.i.d.) are known to have collective behavior reflecting the mean (according to the weak law of large numbers, this is also reflected in the central limit theorem).This causes the world to very closely approximate a deterministic system at a macroscopic level due to the large number of quantum particles participating in most (directly) observable phenomena. Perhaps more importantly is that scientists make modeling errors (e.g. over simplification) and devices we construct have limitations in their ability to measure both control and response variables. So our predictions tend not to be entirely accurate.

However, free will is typically considered a control issue, not response to or unmeasurable stimulus (otherwise is the choice "freely made"). Often philosophers argue non physical controls (e.g. a soul) for behavior. You may wish to look into those arguments as well.

Scope (none / 0) (#11)
by Bnonn on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:07:36 AM EST

Sadly, math is my weakest point, so I try to approach these kind of topics from the best common-sense viewpoint I can, with research to help me along. I would like to write a second part to this article that investigates the metaphysical ideas I omitted here; I felt these were outside the scope of this essay though, since it's very materialist-based.

From the comments, it seems the most important thing for next time is being careful in defining and using terms...

[ Parent ]

Excellent (will be +1) but ... (2.00 / 1) (#9)
by dmt on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 09:58:57 AM EST

This is a minor, minor point; would it be possible to link to something like Quantum Theory for Dummies?  I think some people will not understand the explicit sources you have supplied.

I'd recommend In search of Schroedinger's Cat by John Gribbin to anyone non-technical, but with a math background (college level math will do).  I'm math savvy and In search of Schroedinger's Cat explained a lot to me ;-).

When "indeterministic" is deterministic (5.00 / 9) (#10)
by khallow on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:04:13 AM EST

This raises an interesting question. If a particle has no exact position and momentum values until observed (ie, until it interacts with another particle), and if the precision of measurement allowed on one value is inversely proportionate to the precision of measurement allowed on the other, then particle interactions must necessarily be statistical in nature--not deterministic.

Well I disagree for the following reason. The problem is ill-posed. You are attempting to apply standards of classical determinism to quantum systems. Eg, position and momentum of a particle cannot be measured with exact precision because they don't simultaneously exist to exact precision (this incidentally is a tautological argument since something exists for all practical purposes only if it can be measured). So what you should be talking about is whether a future quantum state (which is a mixture of possible orthogonal "eigenstates") can be determined from the present quantum state.

Instead, the barrier to determinism is that the measurement effectively destroys your ability to predict future states (I assume this is what you meant). Eg, you can measure the position of an electron to very high degree by slamming X-Ray photons into it (the higher the frequency the better the the precision of the measurement). This makes predictions of the future position of the electron problematic at best.

If somehow an outside observer knew exactly the quantum state of the universe at a given time through some sort of zero effect measurement, then I don't why that observer couldn't predict the future state of the universe. In that sense, it becomes deterministic IMHO.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

Two problems with this (4.66 / 6) (#22)
by epepke on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 12:25:56 PM EST

If somehow an outside observer knew exactly the quantum state of the universe at a given time through some sort of zero effect measurement, then I don't why that observer couldn't predict the future state of the universe. In that sense, it becomes deterministic IMHO.

There are two problems with this, one empirical and one more theoretical.

The dream of somehow knowing the state of something with a zero-effect measurement is at the heart of the EPR paradox. This wasn't settled until the Bell's inequality experiments of the 1960's. In QM, a lot of pairs of particles have entangled quantum states, like the two X-Ray photons produced by the decay of a single "atom" of positronium (an electron and a positron). The polarizations of the photons will be correlated no matter how far apart they get. Since the measurement of one affects the quantum state, there's a dream that you could send a message faster than the speed of light by measuring one in such a way that it affects the other in a measurable way. One problem is that people have tried it and have never gotten it to work. Another is that, if you can send a signal faster than light, according to relativity, you can also send it back in time, simply by accelerating the apparatus. The only way for nature to get around this is for the effects of measurement to have an honest-to-'Bob,' unbeatable randomness.

The other problem is that you can view the universe in a deterministic way, but you have to deal with amplitudes, the things that seem to be more basic than position and momentum and all the other features of classical physics. Amplitudes add and multiply up nice and neatly, and everything's hunky dory. But, people don't like amplitudes. They want something like a billiard ball, something they can grok. And, whenever you try to measure something as if it were a billiard ball, that's when you see that randomness. This has traditionally been dealt with by assuming that the act of observation does something magic. Either it "collapses the wavefunction" somehow (which neglects the equally sticky problem of how the wavefunction gets uncollapsed), or it causes the universe to split off, or something.

However, it is not possible to disprove, and seems more plausible to me, that the appearance of the universe as classical most of the time is simply due to a prejudice to see things in a certain way. Perhaps prejudice is too strong a word, but anyway, all that the owner of Schroedinger's Cat can truly know is that his and/or brain is entangled with the state of the cat, but it is impossible for someone with a brain unentangled with that system to know which one it is.

To see this, assume a largely classical world and imagine that you have done the cat experiment and the cat is dead. Then God or somebody suddenly resurrects the cat and changes all the neurons in your brain to think the cat was alive all along. You would not be able to tell the difference. Of course, this God could flip back and forth every millisecond, and you still wouldn't know the difference. Perhaps that extra bit of classical information, whether the cat is alive or dead, isn't real and wasn't really added to the universe at all. Perhaps the cat is still part alive and part dead, and your brain is part thinking it's alive and part thinking it's dead. And maybe that's all there's ever been in the entire history of the universe. This idea makes people very unhappy, and they usually start jumping up and down and insisting that the wavefunction must collapse because it's so obvious that it does. And then they usually forget everything they've learned about QM and make classical probability arguments that don't work, when they should know better.

In any event, it is probably more accurate to say that quantities like position and momentum do not definitiely really even exist until they are measured, and that they may not really exist even after they are measured. Of course, in the long run, momentum gets conserved, but there's no real way from distinguishing that as a property of many entangled amplitudes than under the assumption of a large number of quasi-classical interactions.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


[ Parent ]
Wow. (none / 0) (#173)
by azzl on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 06:01:28 PM EST

Perhaps the cat is still part alive and part dead

So, if you had a LOT of boxes and a LOT of cats, you could have a massive army of zombie cats! Why, you'd be unstoppable!

I hope terrorists aren't reading this.

[ Parent ]
sad state of affairs (4.12 / 8) (#12)
by tealeaf on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:46:27 AM EST

I feel sad for our philosophers.  They pronounce such silly things sometimes.  Really they bring shame to what I consider is the most noble class of people: the thinkers who think about thinking first and foremost.  Until we thoroughly examine our thinking we, as humans, best not think about any other thing, including science.  First, one needs to be sure that one is sane, and only then proceed.

First, lack of determinism doesn't prove that there is free will or even that there "can be free will".  Randomness and unpredictability do not show or prove free will.

Second, determinism can in no way disprove the existence of free will.  People have a false conception of "will" as a force outside of matter.  Of course, if people imagine that two fundamentally separate universes can exist: one of matter, and one of will, one will come to a conclusion that one of those universes doesn't really exist.  That's because everything that exists has to be related to every other thing that exists, and thus cannot truly be in a fundamentally separate universe.  To put this differently, even if outcome from every single interaction between particles could be predicted, free will would still exist--it would simply not be a SEPARATE FORCE fundamentally outside of the material universe.  In other words, determinism has no bearing on ethics, where the concept of free will plays an important role.

Third, this argument operates under assumption that matter is more than just a perception.  But perhaps it is not?  I've seen no rigorous philosophical proof for the existence of matter.  It is an axiom in science but not in philosophy.

So in the end, physicists have contributed absolutely BIG FAT ZERO to the discussion of free will.  Ah well, the topic remains the domain of philosophers, as it always has been, is now and will be forever more.

so let me get this straight... (3.50 / 2) (#18)
by dukethug on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 11:58:24 AM EST

To put this differently, even if outcome from every single interaction between particles could be predicted, free will would still exist--it would simply not be a SEPARATE FORCE fundamentally outside of the material universe.  In other words, determinism has no bearing on ethics, where the concept of free will plays an important role.

So what would you do with it then? Make free will a force in the material universe? So we'd have gravitation, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force (which is just EM, I think), the strong nuclear force, and free will? Not bloody likely. The fact is that ascribing free will to the physical universe invariably implies determinism, because then free will has to be explained using the same physics that explains quarks and billiard balls, and so far, no one has found a place for free will in physics that soothes our egos.

Determinism has a huge impact on ethics. If we live in a truly deterministic universe, how can we even have an ethics? There isn't any ethics in a system of particles interacting with each other; the particles just behave like particles do. If that same logic can be used all the way up to the macro-level where people are involved, we can't be strictly held accountable for our actions, because they are simply part of a the system. Ethics requires choice, determinism doesn't allow for any.

[ Parent ]

listen to silence (4.25 / 8) (#35)
by tealeaf on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 02:16:17 PM EST

One man says, "From start to finish the universal fate is determined, therefore I will help this man, thus is fate."

Another man says, "From start to finish the universal fate is determined, therefore I will kill this man, thus is fate."

Third man says, "From start to finish the universal fate is determined, therefore I will analyze the situation and reason it cogently and take the best action possible once I make up my mind, thus is fate."

Fourth man says...

...

[ Parent ]

Why determinism matters (3.50 / 2) (#26)
by chemista on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 01:04:30 PM EST

The philosophical description of "free will" is the idea that a person's activity is entirely self-determinable; one may have predispositions in one way or another, but the person has a real choice. In a fully deterministic universe, the sum total of all physical occurrences through one's life, macroscopic and microscopic, uniquely determine the action of the person. Thus "free will" in this sense is impossible. The concept might be a useful fiction (if, for example, the predispositions are a sufficiently great danger to others, though this is a sticky point), but it couldn't exist in reality.
Stop reminding people about the overvalued stock market! I'm depending on that overvalued stock market to retire some day! - porkchop_d_clown
[ Parent ]
"person" (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by xriso on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 02:13:37 PM EST

I shall define "person" to be "the sum total of all physical occurences through one's life, macroscopic and microscopic". In that case, a fully deterministic universe means that every "person" has this free will.

And you know what? That definition of person makes a lot of sense.
--
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)
[ Parent ]

Why determinism doesn't matter (none / 0) (#218)
by bruce on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 08:27:08 PM EST

It doesn't matter whether you define yourself as your brain, or your soul, or something else; fiddly details like determinism don't affect free will. Whatever process you use to reach your decision, you are that process, so you can't escape the consequences of your decisions that easily...

Suppose that the universe is fully deterministic, and the combination of nature and nurture do uniquely determine your actions. Assume further that some omniscient demon has access to all information about your nature and nurture, and wants to predict your actions. Then, he would have to follow exactly the same processes you went through to become the person you are now. In other words, the demon would have to simulate you in such minute detail that the simulation was you, to all possible intents and purposes. In which case, it seems to me that it's still you who makes the choice, whether you reside in the real world or in the mind of a demon.

To take another tack: physically speaking, quantum-level determinism doesn't matter because molecular dynamics are so unstable as to be effectively indeterministic anyway. If you could alter a molecule's position in the 29th decimal place, and compare the result to the unaltered case, a few collisions would amplify that difference so that it starts running into completely different molecules. The difference would immediately spread; the entire microstructure of the world would thus be altered at the Brownian motion level, in such a way that macrophenomena like you and I couldn't tell the difference.

So, ask yourself: "Why do I care so much about this free will thing, anyway?". If you can't tell the difference, why should you care? If determinism would doom me incontrivertably to free will, why should I fear loosing it? The problem is that there are really two definition of free will here: the practical one that people really, justifiably, care about, and the one that philosophers have come up with and tied to destiny and determinism. Confusing them is the fallacy that leads to the dilemma in question.

If I have a grand mal seizure, during the course of which I put out somebody's eye, I did not take that action through free will. If somebody is standing behind me with a gun and telling me what to do, I am acting under duress, not according to free will. In these examples, and in others, free will drastically alters the emotional, moral, and legal consequences; it is the practical kind of free will that we are concerned with. Pretty much everybody needs and wants this kind of free will; since it can be lost and regained, there is every reason why we should care about it.

Philosophical free will, concerned with destiny and determinism, is something that, by definition, cannot be lost or gained. Therefore, on sober reflection, we don't have to worry about losing or gaining it. Finding empirical evidence about such an entity might be amusing, but it doesn't generate any practical consequences, either...

[ Parent ]

Ideas, scale, focus (4.50 / 2) (#16)
by SanSeveroPrince on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 11:46:17 AM EST

Just a few ideas that come from manipulating data at an AI level;

Rules only apply to systems you can fully map.

Anything larger, anything 'chaotic' could simply be part of a data set we do not fully understand yet.
This, I feel, puts a whole new spin on the whole deterministic issue, and it brings physics into metaphysics, and eventually religion: in my mind, god was born as a default explanation to all the things that did not fit the currently understood data sets. As our knowledge expands, god contracts. As our ignorance grows, so does god.

Many things that were metaphysical and mysterious, or even chaotic, are commonplace once we could understand them. Don't make me tell you how we used to worship thunder gods less than two millenia ago.

In view of that train of thought, then talking of 'determinism' and 'free will' is a bit of a moot point. We simply don't know enough, and we may never know enough.

Does anybody remember Plato's cave?

----

Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think


optimal learning for partial datasets (5.00 / 1) (#70)
by martingale on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 09:05:14 PM EST

Rules only apply to systems you can fully map.
Depends upon what you mean by rules. Of course anything we figure out about the world we inhabit is limited by the amount of exposure we have. Consequently, there are no absolute laws of nature, applicable in the completion of the world we inhabit, which we can ascertain with certainty.

But we don't need all this hyperbole. Laws of nature are only a tool to better understand and live in our small section of the universe, so need only apply to that section. We have a small dataset, which we need to model as well as we can. Whether our models apply to hypothetical datasets outside of our directly observable experience is irrelevant: any such hypothetical datasets could only affect us by proxy, via some other phenomenon which is within our observable experience, and must therefore be modelled by our laws of nature (assuming those are developed enough, of course).

In Plato's cave, the people experience only shadows on the wall, so their laws of nature need only encompass those. Everything that can directly affect them must put a shadow on the wall, so belongs within the reach of their laws of nature. If someone leaves the cave, all bets are off and they must create new laws which explain the extended world. However, this only applies to that person, and in no way invalidates the previous laws of the shadow world, either for the others, or for him if he goes back to the cave.

[ Parent ]

Good point (n/t) (none / 0) (#104)
by SanSeveroPrince on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 03:58:08 AM EST



----

Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think


[ Parent ]
Determinism (3.00 / 1) (#17)
by Bad Harmony on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 11:46:57 AM EST

The book Science of Discworld II has an interesting discussion of this topic.

54º40' or Fight!

Just finished reading it. (none / 0) (#27)
by BadDoggie on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 01:15:40 PM EST

A good book, but not as good as the first. It requires the reader have read the first book and have some knowledge of a number of other Discworld books. Many of them, in fact. I can't see understanding anything about elves in the Discoworld context without having read Lords and Ladies, for starters.

I'm a big Pratchett fan and I liked the book overall, although I take exception to many seemingly deterministic &/or fatalistic stances, as well as with some basic suppositions. The supposition that monotheism's single deity is the reason for advancement completely ignores the ancient Greeks' society and contributions. This isn't the place for such a rant, though.

It's easy to be a critic. It's harder to write something and let critics get hold of it.

woof.

Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense.
[ Parent ]

Insert Subject Here (5.00 / 1) (#52)
by Disevidence on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 06:17:34 PM EST

"Discoworld"

Boogie on down! :)

[ Parent ]

I read the article (3.66 / 6) (#19)
by mami on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 12:01:31 PM EST

and have two questions:

Can Quantum Physics explain, why I have choosen to use my free will to not explore this article any further? Was it determined at the creation of the universe that I wouldn't do it?

If the article should have answered my first question and I missed it, is that a sign that Quantum Physics theories are less robust than my free will or is it a sign that statistically the chance of me missing out something very important point in a great article is dependent on me having had a lousy nightsleep, no monring coffee and having been tired already of reading too much junk somewhere else before stumbling on this article?

Heisenberg, where are you when we need you...

I liked the article and would have given it FP, if I had had a coffee on time and hadn't read the sleep-sex-disorder article beforehand.

argh choosen = chosen (nt) (none / 0) (#20)
by mami on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 12:02:22 PM EST



[ Parent ]
who felt insulted about this comment? (none / 0) (#45)
by mami on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 04:58:03 PM EST

I am kidding over an article which I clearly marked as one I like. I voted it into section. Someone rated my comment with a 1.

Can that someone have some thicker skin and take a joking comment with some grace?  

[ Parent ]

Free will is necessary to make sense of morality. (3.42 / 7) (#21)
by Noam Chompsky on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 12:08:37 PM EST

But morality is a cruel trick played upon us by our genes. Our objective importance to the Universe can be measured by our reaction to 1,000,000 dead cockroaches. That's OK; when George Walker Bush finally topples Saddam Hussein in the wake of a nuclear conflagration, the cockroaches won't be wringing their little cockroach hands at our funerals either.

Mao killed 60 million Chinese -- the rocks didn't care. The rocks were busy being free. Emulate the rocks.

--
Faster, liberalists, kill kill kill!

Sir, (none / 0) (#103)
by tkatchev on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 03:22:16 AM EST

You are a dirty liberalist.

When our people come to power, you will be the first against the wall. :))

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

Quantum theory and consciousness (3.80 / 5) (#23)
by number33 on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 12:27:10 PM EST

A couple assumptions:
  1. When you say "deterministic", I take that to mean "fate", as opposed to "predictable", since the Uncertainty Principle clearly refutes the possibility of the latter.
  2. By free will, I understand you to mean the idea that one can be an original source of causality, or a causer of causes, who exercises control over what is caused.
My knowledge of physics is lacking, but I think I'm in agreement with what another comment said, which (I think) boils down to the idea that while we cannot precisely observe the position and momentum of particles, this in no way changes the notion that particles we cannot observe follow some fated path.

Another comment brought up a well known argument in academic philosophy, which stipulates the need for two universes, which can logically be shown to be impossible.  I'd like to mention John Searle, a philosopher of mind at UC Berkeley, who argues that consciousness cannot simply be explained in materialistic terms even while there is only one universe.  It's a difficult argument to see, and at first I outright rejected it because I'd been trained to think purely in materialistic terms.  Check out Searle's "The Mystery of Consciousness".  I would try to reproduce his argument here but I'm afraid I'd do a poor job of it. (Maybe xrefer has a good explanation.)

At any rate, even while there is a scientist or two that believes consciousness may occur at the quantum level, I think it's pretty safe to say that consciousness is a super-quantum level phenomenon.  But if, as I assume, particles still have a fated path, even while WE cannot predict that path, then I fail to see how consciousness could exercise control at the quantum level. (Presumably, the conscious mind is the thing that exercises "free will".)  Even if particles do not have a fated path, I fail to see how consciousness, a super-quantum level phenomenon, could consciously affect its own quantum destiny.  That is, even while you can affect a particle in a lab, you still cannot exercise control over the particles requisite to your consciousness without already having been controlled by their paths.  I think there may be some subtler points that I am missing, which could refute this.

At any rate, I've yet to study what effects determinism and free will supposedly have on ethics and morality, but I'm bound to think that any purported effect is a dubious one, because of the naturalistic fallacy.  I may be completely misunderstanding what the naturalistic fallacy is (this is definitely look-upable on xrefer), but I think it states that you cannot derive an "ought" from an "is".  That is, there are no ethical conclusions that one is forced to conclude given a certain fact about the universe.

One more thing... (4.33 / 3) (#24)
by number33 on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 12:59:12 PM EST

I think someone just beat me to it, but here it is anyway.

Even if there is no free will, the fact that the path of will is unpredictable does not allow us to draw any (psychologically) positive or negative conclusions about our own futures.

In "The Matrix", Neo concisely summarizes why one would want to believe in free will: "I don't like the idea that I'm not in control of my life."

I can testify as to the power of holding this perspective.  The perspective you "choose", so to speak, can have a profound effect on the path your life takes.  This either sounds like I'm saying we do have free will (in deciding which perspective to take), or that we don't (we are fated to hold one perspective over the other).

Keep in mind two things:

  1. While you CAN be fated to never hold the empowering perspective, you can't ever know that this is supposed to be your fate.  The fact of its being a possibility does not allow you to draw any conclusions about which perspective you will hold now or in the future.
  2. Those that are stuck at the point of deciding which perspective to hold may find it impossible to choose the empowering perspective without simultaneously refuting fate, and thus it seems contradictory to believe that you are in control of your life even as you realize you are not.  Well, you probably aren't, but by way of reading this argument you are given an opening to accept the empowering perspective because what you conclude from this argument is obviously not under your control, but nevertheless, is.
After all, it is you deciding, isn't it? :)

[ Parent ]
free^X will (5.00 / 1) (#30)
by tebrow on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 01:47:29 PM EST

I think I have seen two preeminent definitions of "free will", each with its own set of implications.

The first is something along the lines of "the ability to act as we please". This one seems to lead to a very interesting and very recursive train of thought. Supposing that each person acts according to their own motives, "free will" could be construed as the ability to do just that. This is compatible with determinism because their motives are determined beforehand. Now, someone, realizing this, might demand to be in control of those motves which govern their action. Their exercise of this control, however, would be governed by metamotives. It looks to me as if this chain of command will continue upwards until either that person becomes contented with their level on control, or they reach an "original source of causality", as I believe it was called.

This is the second type. On this plane, free will is defined as some prime mover which is not the result of any prior chain of cause and effect. This is the one that refutes determinism. What else can be said of it?

Personally, I am inclined to believe in only the first type of free will, that which allows us to act on our motives.

[ Parent ]
Interesting (none / 0) (#36)
by number33 on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 02:17:18 PM EST

I think your first definition can be seen as a variation on the idea that the chain of events causing you to do any particular thing fundamentally is you, or rather, your will.  That way, it doesn't make much sense to speak of exercising a will over your will.

The notion of free will as the ability to act on your motives seems especially valid when you consider that, in some situations, you actually can't act on your motives.  Believing that you are in control of your life is certainly empowering, but your control is not unlimited.  There can certainly be "pockets" of zero control that occur in your life.

Of course, it's impossible (or incredibly difficult) to know if you are in such a pocket.  After all, MacGuyver got out of a lot of situations that other people would assume they had no chance of escaping. :)

I think the relevance of the free will discussion always lies in the oft-believed fallacy that people can draw conclusions about what their lives are supposed to be like given the conclusion that fate or motives ultimately determine what one does.

[ Parent ]

Hmmm (5.00 / 1) (#51)
by pyramid termite on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 06:10:03 PM EST

On this plane, free will is defined as some prime mover which is not the result of any prior chain of cause and effect. This is the one that refutes determinism. What else can be said of it?

The start of the universe is defined as some prime mover which is not the result of any prior chain of cause and effect. This is the one that refutes strict causality. What else can be said of it?

Is it possible that the same arguments that have been used against the existence of God could also be used against the existence of free will and even consciousness?

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
ok, poorly phrased (none / 0) (#54)
by tebrow on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 06:54:46 PM EST

What I meant to say with that rhetorical question, "What else can be said...", was that I honestly couldn't draw any interesting conclusions from it. I definitely don't hold the proof to assert that free will (of the second definition) does not exist.

On the other hand, I can see how one that disproves God on the premise of "everything must have cause" might might be tempted to apply the same argument to free will. Interstingly enough, I've seen a similar argument on the same premise used to disprove the Big Bang.

[ Parent ]
It's an interesting area of inquiry (none / 0) (#60)
by pyramid termite on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 07:11:44 PM EST

I sometimes get the impression that possibly everything we know is "turtles all the way down". There are those who have taken it so far that one is reminded of a cartoon vacuum cleaner that sucks itself up and disappears - first, God, then consciousness, then the universe, then logic, then ... POOF!

Of course others will violently disagree with this whole line of thinking and draw the line somewhere. I find it easier to believe in something than nothing.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
Maybe I'm an exception, but... (3.50 / 4) (#31)
by wji on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 01:54:06 PM EST

...I'm a third year high school kid with no advanced physics, and I figured this out myself years ago. I mean, haven't we all realized this?

Right?

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.

Naturally, (4.00 / 1) (#64)
by faecal on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 07:56:54 PM EST

but I believe that the fun is meant to be in the anal-retentive debating about the meaning of "free-will".

However, don't forget to do some advanced physics anyway. Chicks dig physicists.

[ Parent ]

I'd like to say (4.00 / 2) (#32)
by xriso on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 02:06:01 PM EST

Mhen people say they believe/disbelieve in "free will", they usually don't know what they're talking about. "Making my own choices" is what plain old will is. Everyone I know has a whole lot of will. Will gives responsibility.

You can say that free will means your choice making is unaffected by something or somethings. Free from flaw, free from the future, free from the past, free from God, free from all of the above, etc. I think some might say that free will means your choices aren't entirely determined by the past, but by a combination of it and a trancendental input.

Pick a definition (careful not to switch to another half way through an argument). Are you talking about freedom from predetermination? Interesting. Does it have anything to do with many other conceptions of free will? No, not really.
--
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)

Hmmm (4.57 / 7) (#33)
by manobes on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 02:13:26 PM EST

First off, I kinda cringe whenever subjects like this come up, so if I seem overly cantakerous, sorry.... But...

That is, the wavefunction is the set of probabilities of the particle occupying any particular point in space, with any particular momentum

Nitpick... the wavefucntion tells you more than that. Indeed if you know the wavefunction, you have specified the complete state of the system, you can give probablities for everything.

Quantum physics demonstrates that even simple systems do not follow deterministic laws. It is clear the universe is causal, following predictable and consistent laws, but not deterministic.

This seems to be the crux of the whole thing. And it's somewhat misleading. Quantum systems do follow deterministic laws, it's extracting information from them that may be improbablistic. and on that note, you ought to look into work on dechoerence... which frames the measurement process entirely in terms of the deterministic theory (albeit deterministic in the sense of classical chaos, deterministic in principle, not usually in practice).

Further, the arguement that this has something to do with whether or not people have free will is shaky. The human brain is a classical object, and the rules of classical mechanics not quantum mechanics, and those laws are deterministic.


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


depends on the timescale (5.00 / 1) (#37)
by demi on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 02:43:17 PM EST

The human brain is a classical object, and the rules of classical mechanics not quantum mechanics, and those laws are deterministic.

Calling the electrochemical transduction in the brain 'classical' may be true in an absolute sense (I certainly don't think it can be called quantum), but determinism in biological systems is only true for extremely short timescales. And for the timescale of human behavior, there is weak or nonexistant determinism.

[ Parent ]

But (5.00 / 1) (#38)
by manobes on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 03:04:24 PM EST

for the timescale of human behavior, there is weak or nonexistant determinism.

That has nothing to do with quantum mechanics, correct? I mean, I'm perfectly willing to say that that, though classical, the brain's behaviour is chaotic. I just don't think quantum mechanics has anything to do with it.


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
Is there any evidence that. . . (none / 0) (#41)
by Pop Top on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 03:38:55 PM EST

biological systems manipulate matter and energy at the quantum level? Therefore I agree with this - "I just don't think quantum mechanics has anything to do with it."

[ Parent ]
I *believe* (none / 0) (#98)
by Canar on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 02:16:20 AM EST

I believe that assuming that human beings are evolved there's no reason to believe why the evolved state wouldn't take advantage of quantum peculiarities. It may not be apparent or even very frequent, but I can't believe that evolution is ignorant of quantum physics, so long as quantum physics is the way the universe truly is.

[ Parent ]
right (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by demi on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 03:39:47 PM EST

I just don't think quantum mechanics has anything to do with it.

Yeah, only if you counted the molecular effects as quantum effects (neurotransmitters use redox couples, and the oxidation states of molecules are strongly coupled to energy level quantization), otherwise this is all a (good) thought exercise for freshmen.

And about chaos theory, its name has led to many wrong assumptions about its implications, just like quantum uncertainty.

[ Parent ]

Thanks (5.00 / 1) (#112)
by Bnonn on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 08:28:17 AM EST

I was hoping I'd hear from you, since your Particle Physics column was the jumping-point for my further research into quantum physics.

Thanks for your comments. Regarding non-determinism supporting free will: you're right. This is a shaky argument, and one I didn't intend to make. Although it wasn't as clear as I'd have liked in the article, my intention was actually to challenge the determinist argument that what is happening throughout the universe at this exact moment was always going to happen since the birth of the universe, and that therefore since we're included in that, free will can't exist.

I just really didn't like this argument. I don't have any issue with the possibility of our brains being deterministic (in fact, I incline towards this belief), and that free will is, on some level, illusionary and ultimately just an emergence of entirely deterministic processes. I just have issue with the idea that even these deterministic processes are subject to a greater determinism, if you will, and this article was my (admittedly somewhat amateur) attempt to explain why.

[ Parent ]

free will contd. (none / 0) (#129)
by illaqueate on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 12:16:23 PM EST

Philosophers have many theories about free will. For example, I am a compatabilist with regard to determinism and free will. According to the "compatibilism and incompatibilism" entry in the Oxford Companion to Philosophy:

"Compatibilism is a view about determinism and freedom that claims we are sometimes free and morally responsible even though all events are causally determined. Incompatibilism says that we cannot be free and responsible if determinism is true. The compatibilist defends his view by arguing that the contrary of 'free' is not 'caused' but 'compelled' or 'coerced'. A free act is one where the agent could have done otherwise if she had chosen otherwise, and in such acts the agent is morally responsible even if determined. The incompatibilist defends his view by arguing that a free act must involve more than this - the freedom to choose called origination. Honderich has argued that both sides, embattled for centuries, misconceive the problem. There is not one true definition of 'free'. There are two entrenched sets of attitudes at war here - within as well as between individuals. The two attitudes involve two conceptions of freedom.

Refs:
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Free Will
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy: compatibilism and incompatibilism, freedom and determinism, origination

[ Parent ]
free will contd. (none / 0) (#131)
by illaqueate on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 12:24:50 PM EST

also, The Determinism and Freedom Philosophy Web Site, but that's getting away from the problem of quantum mechanics and free will.

[ Parent ]
Determinism != Predictability (4.90 / 11) (#39)
by CleverNickname on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 03:20:46 PM EST

As a thought experiment, consider a deterministic Turing machine enclosed in a black box. (If you're unfamiliar with that term just treat it as a regular computer program whose address space is off limits.)

We know that in general, it is impossible to predict the behavoir of a Turing machine on a particular piece of input. However each action of the turing machine is deterministic even though we cannot directly observe it.

This article makes the very common mistake of convolving the two terms. The uncertainty principle does not signal the death of determinism, it merely limits its utility in describing the outcome of phenomenon.

Not quite true. (3.00 / 2) (#62)
by highfreq on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 07:39:38 PM EST

We can certainly predict the turning machine's results. Just run another faster turning machine with the same program outside the box.

One thing that has puzzled me is that the halting problem only says that we can not construct a finite program for a turning machine that will be able determine if a given program and input will halt.

I've often wondered whether this necessary implies that there is some program and input for which we can never show it will halt.

I could certainly see how maybe a program that computes bits of PI and only halts if it hit 1,000,000 zeros in a row may fall into that category.



[ Parent ]
No, quite true. (5.00 / 2) (#66)
by MmmmJoel on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 08:40:41 PM EST

We can certainly predict the turning machine's results. Just run another faster turning machine with the same program outside the box.
That's why he put it in the black box.

we can not construct a finite program for a turning machine that will be able determine if a given program and input will halt
certainly does not imply
there is some program and input for which we can never show it will halt


[ Parent ]
Digits of pi (5.00 / 1) (#69)
by salsaman on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 08:59:33 PM EST

I tell you what I will do. You send me a (non-refundable) development fee of $1,000,000 dollars, and a program (a) which calculates the digits of pi.

In return, within one month, I will send you a second program (b) which will tell you whether or not (a) will halt in a finite time.

At any time, you can run program (a) and if the answer from (b) is incorrect, I will send you $100,000,000 back. Let me know if you want to take me up on the challenge !

[ Parent ]

Halting problem (none / 0) (#126)
by pyro9 on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 11:36:44 AM EST

In a sense, the halting problem simply says we can't sneak a peek into the future. Consider the pallandrome 196 problem for an example. If we write a program that halts if/when it finds out 196 is a pallandrome, and we can predict wether or not the program will halt, we've just taken a huge shortcut and managed to enjoy the results of a computation without performing it.

The only way we can show that an arbitrary program halts is to run it and have it halt. While running, we cannot necessarily say that it will or will not halt. Note that this all applies to an arbitrary program. There are, of course, many specific programs that we can predict with certainty such as '10 stop' and '10 goto 10'.


The future isn't what it used to be
[ Parent ]
you overestimate quantum mechanics (5.00 / 5) (#40)
by demi on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 03:33:46 PM EST

The pool ball, though a very basic and oversimplified representation, is fundamentally no different from a particle of matter.

No, there are some pedagogical situations in which a particle is the same as a pool ball, but they are literally in different worlds. The reason for this is that the various laws of classical and quantum physics do not scale equally with size, and that the net effect of these laws on a 10 cm object is totally different from the same system at a length scale of 100 picometers.

Quantum physics demonstrates that even simple systems do not follow deterministic laws.

We're a long way off from having quantum mechanics being able to predict phenomena in condensed matter at length scales greater than 100 nm. In fact, one of the reasons we are in a nanotechnology boom in science right now is due to people finally being able to make materials small enough to observe quantum effects in matter at room temperature and atmospheric pressure. Quantum mechanics is good at explaining the interaction of light with matter, the energy levels of atoms, or the electronic structure of molecules, but beyond this level (with some exceptions) classical effects dominate with strong determinism over short periods of time. As for behavior, it is still not known what forces, equilibria, and time dependency influence basic human metabolism, so mind the gap...

Philosophers and scientists disagree on what determinism is, to the extent that physical laws in very complex systems are precise but not accurate, and humans tend to be the reverse and do not accept large amounts of dependent variables and statistical error (unless they have a degree that trained them to do so). I make this assertion: give me enough variables to work with, and I can probably do away with the notion of human free will.

There is the possibility that quantum physics operates at another, more insidious long-range level throughout the universe, all but invisible to the experiments designed to test its strongest mathematical consequences, but it still would not explain what women want.

ACT TWO
Scene 3
INTER-SCENE

So we lose the last set without losing RIDLEY. When the set has gone, RIDLEY is in some other place . . . which may be a railway station, or alternatively a place where boats come in, or an airport; whatever the design will take, really. The main thing is that he is a man arriving somewhere. He carries a suitcase. He is a different RIDLEY. It's like a quantum jump. And now we lose him. Perhaps he walks out. Perhaps the scene change has been continuous and he is now erased by its completion.

SCENE 3

BLAIR and KERNER are at the zoo. BLAIR has the 'pink diagram'.

BLAIR: I must confess I always thought that one RlDLEY was enough and occasionally surplus to an ideal arrangement of the universe. Now we've got one in Kensington and one who could be anywhere. I imagine he doesn't hang around, he'd come in and out as required. Could be on a British passport, more likely not. This is, of course, assuming that he exists. Does this (the diagram) prove twins?

KERNER: No. An invisible man is also a correct solution.

BLAIR: You chaps.

KERNER: Mathematics does not take pictures of the world, it's only a way of making sense. Twins, waves, black holes - we make bets on what makes best sense. In Athens, in Paris and at the Pool, two Ridleys satisfy the conditions. He was his own alibi. So we're betting on twins. But we need to be lucky also, and today is Friday; is it the thirteenth?

BLAIR: You chaps don't believe in that.

KERNER: Oh, we chaps! Niels Bohr lived in a house with a horseshoe on the wall. When people cried, for God's sake Niels, surely you don't believe a horseshoe brings you luck!, he said, no, of course not, but I'm told it works even if you don't believe it.

Read more of Stoppard's Hapgood.

I'm with ya demi... (none / 0) (#91)
by joeyo on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 12:15:52 AM EST

So much so, that you've been .sigged!

--
"Give me enough variables to work with, and I can probably do away with the notion of human free will." -- Parent ]

heh (none / 0) (#146)
by demi on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 02:04:09 PM EST

why thank you!

[ Parent ]
But you'll never prove it (none / 0) (#127)
by Wah on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 11:41:20 AM EST

I make this assertion: give me enough variables to work with, and I can probably do away with the notion of human free will.

You might do away with it, but you can't prove it, because I won't believe you. Thus demonstrating the existence of human free will.
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

this problem can only be attributed to... (none / 0) (#130)
by demi on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 12:20:12 PM EST

...human error.

[ Parent ]
human error, a.ka. (none / 0) (#134)
by Wah on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 12:35:34 PM EST

original sin.
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]
So (none / 0) (#136)
by Happy Monkey on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 01:03:33 PM EST

So you're just hardwired not to accept the nonexistence of free will?
___
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
Yes. (none / 0) (#236)
by Wah on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 10:27:22 PM EST

And I did it myself.

:)
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

Determinism and Free Will (4.66 / 3) (#43)
by Simon Kinahan on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 04:37:42 PM EST

The idea that wave functions are the evolution of probabilities over time can be deceptive. Actual interactions between quantum particles are perfectly deterministic. It is only when the wave function collapses that anything non-deterministic happens. Precisely what happens when wave functions collapse is the major question in the interpretation of quatum mechanics. Some proposed interpretations make the theory both deterministic and local, although they do it by proposing entities whose existence cannot be verified experimentally. The question of whether the universe is deterministic is therefore not completely answered by quantum mechanics.

Non-determinism also doesn't provide a very good get-out for those who want to believe that we have free will. QM says that beyond what we can predict with our equations, the universe behaves in a completely random manner. Believing that our behaviour results from a mixture of pure determinism and random fluctuations doesn't seem much better than believing it is completely predetermined.

For us to have free will, I suppose we need to have a meaningful choice between different courses of action, but if our choice is not determined by our mental state, and therefore by the underlying physical states, it is hard to see how it can be meaningful, rather than merely random.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate

the power of rationalisation (none / 0) (#73)
by martingale on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 09:56:08 PM EST

Personally, I'm tending these days towards the idea that my mind rationalises its state changes into a semblance of free will. There are so many examples of "ready explanations" for just about anything which instantly pop into mind whenever there's a measurable change in the environment, this seems to be a capability that the human mind excels at.

While this kind of explanation completely negates "real" free will, it does suggest that perhaps feeling in control is a coping mechanism. If so, there might be a social dimension to it, e.g. it is easier to believe in your own free will if those around you believe in theirs, too. A kind of feedback loop.

Any day now, I'll wake up in a padded cell ;-)

[ Parent ]

Though (none / 0) (#88)
by medham on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 11:30:52 PM EST

You're following the footsteps of this article, I have to remind you that you are making serious category errors here. Penrosian fantasies aside, there is as much relation between intentional mental states and quantum scale as there is between quarks and perfect numbers or Congress.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Unresolved problems lurking in QM... (3.50 / 2) (#44)
by arthurpsmith on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 04:50:13 PM EST

First a little subjective note: You all are just figments of my imagination, so none of you have free will, though I do of course :-)

Ok, so I'm not really a solipsist - but the fundamental disconnect that makes this subject so difficult for science to address is that "free will" and "consciousness" are subjective experiences, and objective science (like quantum mechanics, chaos theory, neurology, etc.) can't get there from here! You can't know what I'm thinking, deciding, willing; even if you could measure all the chemical and electrical properties of my current brain state - that's one point in time, but the me I know is an entity that exists and makes decisions through time - what would seeing a quantum state fall this way or that in my brain tell you about whether or not I had willed it, or it just happened?

But there's something odd there, something in the unresolved issue of the meaning of quantum mechanics (Copenhagen vs. many-world vs. insane-number-of-hidden-variables Born model???), the significance of time (read the current issue of Scientific American for a look at the confused state of our current understanding of time!), and perhaps also the essence of individuality, that cries out for some new explanation!!!

Perhaps it's Penrose's modified GR/QM (Emperor's new mind) though his arguments weren't all that convincing. Perhaps it's something to do with that 90% of the universe's matter that is fundamentally different from our ordinary matter; or the "dark energy" whose effects were recently seen in cosmology. We're missing something here - what is it?!

Energy - our most critical problem; the solution may be in space.


subjective and objective experience (2.50 / 2) (#46)
by logiterr on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 05:25:58 PM EST

assuming that there is such a thing as objective experience. anyways. why not analyze both subjective and objective experience in terms of the patterns the contain. the idea is that objective experience will tend to have a set of patterns that is similar and closer to physical reality and subjective experience will tend to have a set of patterns that is similar and closer to conceptual (or abstract) reality.

this way you dont have to worry about whether there is a conflict between subjective and objective experience and you simply spend your time constructing associative networks of patterns.

i suspect that at the very least our brains store patterns. then those patterns are manipulated. associations are made, segmets of a pattern are highlighted and associated to other patterns (this is how i suppose networks of association are made).

and the behavior of patterns is predictable at the level of individual patterns, but when we look at networks and systems of patterns we see non-deterministic behavior. see. there we go. that's how our brains (deterministic as they are) go about being all random and chaotic sometimes. when those systems compete for attention and each other they can damage each other this might lead to uncertainty if we assume such a system is synonymous with a belief system.

can a bunch of computer viruses behave unpredictably when they interact? or do they behave unpredictably even though their code structures and individual behaviors are very well defined and pre-determined (lets assume there are no unintential bugs, we have perfect virus code here). if the answer is yes, then how much farther do we have to go for such behavior to emerge in groups of neurons?

determinism, randomness, following your program (4.50 / 6) (#47)
by Rainy on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 05:52:09 PM EST

At first glance, we have two choices, both equally lousy: we can follow the program of laws that govern us (genetical, physical) and be like slaves to them, or we can "escape" by means of random error, for example like one following from heisenberg uncertainty principle. We don't have a "say", either way. Why do we feel like we do? It all comes down to what exactly is consciousness.

This story is bad because it misses the point that the question of free will is incidental to that of consciousness. Free will *of what*? Of who?

I think it's Minsky's speech on tech cast where he says that there is no such thing as consciousness, instead you have several concurrent processes, one example he used is that if you "choose" to not attend his talk it may be because your body temperature sensor tells you it's too cold outside. I think that's a dumb side-step of the issue, because it's still obviously job of "consciousness" to decide whether to go with one sensor's advice or the other's, using this same example, your higher mind may be telling you that the talk should be very interesting and catching a cold isn't such a big deal, but that central knot we call consciousness decides whether higher mind or temp sensor will win out.

So I think determinism and quantum uncertainty both have nothing to do with the question of free will. If they did, they'd both mean there's no free will.
--
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day

Basically, not only does God play dice... (3.50 / 2) (#67)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 08:43:35 PM EST

...but the fucker's rolling them inside our heads.

I try not to think about this shit, it's hella depressing.

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

two different topics (3.00 / 2) (#48)
by Phantros on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 05:58:04 PM EST

Free will: The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will. (from dictionary.com)

All external circumstances are affected by the laws of physics as is the "fate" mentioned later in the definition (we'll skip divine will, because that turns this into a religious rather than a philosophical discussion), so if you replace "external circumstances" with "the laws of physics", you get:

The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by the laws of physics...

You then discuss the laws of physics which by definition cannot prove that we have free will, making the entire article meaningless.

4Literature - 2,000 books online and Scoop to discuss them with

nope, one topic (2.50 / 2) (#59)
by NFW on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 07:02:41 PM EST

You then discuss the laws of physics which by definition cannot prove that we have free will, making the entire article meaningless.

It's an indirect proof. Quantum uncertainty does not prove that we have free will, but it proves that determinism cannot be the case. If you believe that free will vs. determinism is a dichotomy (i.e. one is true and the other false), then a proof of the non-existence of determinism is a proof of the existence of free will.

If you believe that there's a third possiblity in addition to determinism and free will, then I'd like to know what that third possibility is. Really, I would. This could get interesting.


--
Got birds?


[ Parent ]

whoa there (4.00 / 1) (#101)
by Phantros on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 03:05:05 AM EST

Determinism: The philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs. (dictionary.com again)

Where in that definition does it say that events have to be predictable? Every state of affairs is the result of previous states of affairs (in other words, as I said, all circumstances are affected by the laws of physics), they are just unpredictable due to quantum mechanics. Either because (a) quantum mechanics is inherently unpredictable, or (b) because we have inadequate knowledge of the laws of physics. It doesn't matter which.

I won't belabour this point, because I see that two other posts have already addressed it:

http://www.kuro5hin.org/comments/2002/9/2/9239/54679/92#92

http://www.kuro5hin.org/comments/2002/9/2/9239/54679/39#39

4Literature - 2,000 books online and Scoop to discuss them with
[ Parent ]

No (4.66 / 3) (#49)
by KWillets on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 05:58:11 PM EST


This raises an interesting question. If a particle has no exact position and momentum values until observed (ie, until it interacts with another particle), and if the precision of measurement allowed on one value is inversely proportionate to the precision of measurement allowed on the other, then particle interactions must necessarily be statistical in nature--not deterministic. In fact, the very nature of quantum physics is non-deterministic.

Unfortunately this article seems to fall into the "probability interpretation as reality" bin.  An interpretation is a plausible scenario which is consistent with, but goes beyond the observable facts.  The fact that QM admits other equally valid interpretations which include determinism does not refute the probabilistic interpretation, but it certainly puts non-determinism in the "beyond observable facts" zone.  Likewise, proof of the existence of God, reincarnation, flying saucers, levitation, and free energy are not supported by Quantum Theory.

I usually post this link right about now.

I'm so happy... (2.00 / 1) (#95)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 01:18:03 AM EST

... to see people posting references to Bohmian mechanics as a reply to this type of article. Thanks.



[ Parent ]

Of course (none / 0) (#100)
by KWillets on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 02:42:49 AM EST

I always mention Bohmian mechanics right after flying saucers.

Actually, thank Sheldon Goldstein; I took a course from him once.

[ Parent ]

Free will (2.00 / 1) (#50)
by pyramid termite on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 06:01:58 PM EST

I seem to be making choices. There does not seem to be any mechanism that can predetermine what choice I make in many instances. Although there are those who would argue that everything I do is predetermined, they've yet to positively demonstrate that this is so.

This is what the evidence of my life shows me. Those who believe otherwise need to show me their evidence.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
Let's see yours. [nt] (none / 0) (#53)
by tebrow on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 06:29:57 PM EST



[ Parent ]
So, you were forced to answer this? (nt) (none / 0) (#55)
by pyramid termite on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 06:57:18 PM EST


"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
No, he was predestined to answer it (4.00 / 2) (#65)
by Mantikor on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 07:59:15 PM EST

Predestination is not coercion or use of force.  He replied to your comment because the physical makeup of his brain and body dictated that he would.  When his brain went through the 'decision making' process, it was following his preset brain program to make a decision, and from the way your post was worded, his brain function resulted in "demand proof!"

Not that I agree with that, I just think you're misinterpreting the ideas of the opposition.  I can't see proof for your view OR theirs.

Your 'evidence' is suspect because "this seems to be the case" or "nothing seems to prevent my decision". You're not acknowledging the concept that your decision might be the result of a predetermined function in your brain, not some detectable exterior pressure to conform.

The world "seems to be" flat.


[ Parent ]

I am, therefore I think? (none / 0) (#74)
by pyramid termite on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 09:57:59 PM EST

You're not acknowledging the concept that your decision might be the result of a predetermined function in your brain, not some detectable exterior pressure to conform.

Taken far enough, that could become solipsism of a peculiar kind, couldn't it? "Everything I perceive, think and feel exists because predetermined functions in my brain create my perceptions, thoughts and feelings."

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
I am, therefore I was built (5.00 / 1) (#85)
by Mantikor on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 11:08:18 PM EST

Taken far enough, that could become solipsism of a peculiar kind, couldn't it?

I tend to think that it implies a creator... I am the way I am and do the things I do because the creator made me so. I guess it ties in to ideas of "God's Great Plan". God wants me to post to Kuro5hin today, perhaps because this will put certain electrons in the right place for world peace in the future.

In other words, the entire universe is a sim game running on God's megaputer =) I hope he has a UPS...

Just in case someone reads this out of context, this is NOT my personal view... it might imply lack of responsibility for one's actions, which I don't agree with (until we can figure out for SURE whether our actions are predetermined ;)

[ Parent ]
I think, therefore I behave (none / 0) (#106)
by dr k on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 05:55:38 AM EST

You only percieve a small fraction of the world. You only see that which you have grown accustomed to seeing. The fact that your awareness of perception fully encompasses only those things which you are capable of perceiving has nothing do to with free-will or determinism - it just means you are ignorant of the limitations of your own awareness. And the only way you can expand your awareness is to be in a situation where new peceptions will be available to you. Unfortunately, you can't actually choose to be in that situation - because you don't know what that situation is.


Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

Subjective, schmubjective. (5.00 / 1) (#71)
by docvin on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 09:07:17 PM EST

This reminds me a bit of one of some stand-up comedian:

"I used to think the brain was the most amazing organ in the human body.  But then I thought.... yeah, who's telling me that?"

Firstly, I think your subjective experience of free will doesn't really count as evidence for anything. An entity with "true" free will ( whatever that means ) would feel exactly the same about it as an automaton programmed to believe it had "true" free will ( - in fact, I find it very hard to imagine a concious mind which did not believe itself to have free will ). For this reason, my subjective experience of having free will doesn't count as evidence either way, and the argument must take place on different ground.

For me, the kind of "free will" you seem to be advocating requires some kind of non-physical action of a spiritual mind upon the physical world.  I find this to be philosophically repugnant, since it raises all sorts of nasty questions:

  1. How does this spirit-force work on the neurons of the brain? Can it turn neurons on and off arbitrarily? Can it push things around? If I inject a small black speck into my brain, can I use my magical spirit-force to move it around? Why is the spirit-force confined to within my own brain? Or is it? If the mind is non-physical, why is it so strongly affected by drugs?
  2. At  what stage of evolution did this spirit-force arise? Does a monkey have it? A lizard? A worm? A single cell?
  3. At what stage in my childhood did I develop this spirit-force? How long after my heart stops beating will I lose it? Do I have it when I'm unconcious?
Basically, "true" free will requires some physical mechanism with bizarre properties to implement it. This seems to me to be multiplying entities way beyond necessity.

[ Parent ]
The cartoon vacuum cleaner in action (2.00 / 1) (#72)
by pyramid termite on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 09:51:36 PM EST

Firstly, I think your subjective experience of free will doesn't really count as evidence for anything.

Except that a good many people tell me that their experience is similar. Furthermore, if you're willing to call our perceptions of our thoughts subjective, then, seeing as our thoughts and our perceptions of the outside world are entertwined, aren't you saying that everything we see is subjective? If we can't trust what our brain is telling us about ourselves, what else can we trust?

An entity with "true" free will ( whatever that means ) would feel exactly the same about it as an automaton programmed to believe it had "true" free will ( - in fact, I find it very hard to imagine a concious mind which did not believe itself to have free will ).

An automaton that is programmed cannot feel or believe anything - it can be programmed to say it feels and believes things. (I can see Mr. Turing peering around the corner as I write this ...) As far as conscious minds believing they have free will, you seem to be telling me that you don't believe this, but yet you seem to be conscious.

For this reason, my subjective experience of having free will doesn't count as evidence either way, and the argument must take place on different ground.

In other words, to consider the question I must be alienated from the processes going on in my own mind? I must pretend that my life and mental experience don't exist? But then, what am I supposed to consider the question with? Is there any I to consider the question at all?

No, to deny the experience of the mind is to deny the importance of the question. To consider the question "on different ground" is impossible, as there is no ground we can consider it on without perceiving it, and thus falling into subjectivity - unless, you're willing to grant that we can percieve things objectively and therefore, can percieve our minds objectively.

I'll stay with my perceptions of my mind, thank you.

For me, the kind of "free will" you seem to be advocating requires some kind of non-physical action of a spiritual mind upon the physical world.

I believe, (meaning I take this on faith and do not have proof for it), in such an action. I do not know if it is required, but suspect it may be.

I would argue that the body is a prism and a fulcrum through which the spirit perceives and operates, imperfectly at times. A black speck could be moved around in your brain by this force, using the tools found in the physical world; that is, until the brain was messed up by the black speck moving around it and the spirit lost control.

2 isn't answerable by me. Sorry, but having never been a monkey, lizard or a worm, I can't answer it and do not remember my single cell days.

As far as 3 is concerned it is my belief you've always had it and always will.

Basically, "true" free will requires some physical mechanism with bizarre properties to implement it. This seems to me to be multiplying entities way beyond necessity.

What would these entities be? Consciousness? (Remember that if you insist your perception of free will is subjective, your perception of consciousness likewise is subjective.)

It seems to be that by starting to argue against free will, you've then moved on to argue against spirit, and now, using the same argument, I think we can eliminate consciousness also.

So, what's left?

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
Re (5.00 / 1) (#84)
by carbon on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 11:05:38 PM EST

Except that a good many people tell me that their experience is similar.

But, just because people agree with you doesn't mean you're right.

Furthermore, if you're willing to call our perceptions of our thoughts subjective, then, seeing as our thoughts and our perceptions of the outside world are entertwined, aren't you saying that everything we see is subjective? If we can't trust what our brain is telling us about ourselves, what else can we trust?

This is a neccessary assumption, though that doesn't mean that it's a good one. Actually, this correlates strongly with one of my counter-arguments to the argument that science is a type of religon; the fundamental difference is, religion treats assumptions as a good thing (they call it faith) and science treats them as an occasionally neccessary evil. A scientist has to have some way of observing the world around them; if they can't, then they have no way of gathering evidence.

I would argue that the body is a prism and a fulcrum through which the spirit perceives and operates, imperfectly at times.

If you would argue this, then go ahead. That statement and the ones following it are completely unsupported.

It seems to be that by starting to argue against free will, you've then moved on to argue against spirit, and now, using the same argument, I think we can eliminate consciousness also. So, what's left?

I don't really understand what you're saying here...


Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
Throwing the baby out with the bathwater (none / 0) (#105)
by pyramid termite on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 05:53:35 AM EST

But, just because people agree with you doesn't mean you're right.

If I'm not given any evidence to the contrary, why would I assume they're wrong and I'm wrong? Remember that my view here is based on my experience - what is yours based upon? What have you or other people observed that contradicts me?

A scientist has to have some way of observing the world around them; if they can't, then they have no way of gathering evidence.

But if you're going to argue that the scientist can't observe his own thoughts correctly, then what can he observe correctly? If you're going to argue that my observation, and other people's observations that a scientist chooses to observe something is subjective, how can you argue that the observation itself is objective?

I don't really understand what you're saying here...

It's simple - the evidence that I'm citing for the existence of free will, personal observation and experience bolstered by what others tell me of themselves, is the same evidence that people can cite for the existence of consciousness and personal identity. Argue against free will because the evidence is subjective, and to be consistent, the other two have to be argued against also.

This is the interesting part - by arguing against free will, we've now called into question the existence of consciousness, personal identity, objectivity and perhaps the scientific method itself. After all, if there can't be an objective observer, the scientific method stops working.

Like it or not, but free will and consciousness are necessary assumptions due to the implications of their denial.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
Re (none / 0) (#197)
by carbon on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 03:28:41 AM EST

If I'm not given any evidence to the contrary, why would I assume they're wrong and I'm wrong? Remember that my view here is based on my experience - what is yours based upon? What have you or other people observed that contradicts me?

Your theory is very dramatically out in left-field (i.e. quite different from currently prevalent viewpoints). This is great, since this is how progressions of all kinds, including scientific, are made. However, since you're the one presenting the theory (that is, of the specific operation of free will and conciousness, not just their existence), it's your responsibility to present evidence if you expect it to be taken seriously. At the moment, it seems mostly be to be conjecture.

But if you're going to argue that the scientist can't observe his own thoughts correctly, then what can he observe correctly? If you're going to argue that my observation, and other people's observations that a scientist chooses to observe something is subjective, how can you argue that the observation itself is objective?

Sorry, but what I said seems to have nothing to do with your response; I did not mention anything about the rather hairy issue of objectivity, and moreover, I was talking about the external senses, not about thoughts. Anyways, this is off topic.

This is the interesting part - by arguing against free will, we've now called into question the existence of consciousness, personal identity, objectivity and perhaps the scientific method itself. After all, if there can't be an objective observer, the scientific method stops working.

Science is not about gaining a truly objective viewpoint (which as you point out cannot be done) but simply about being as objective as possible in your observations. Moreover, the subjectivity of the observations was not called into account at all by my arguments...

Like it or not, but free will and consciousness are necessary assumptions due to the implications of their denial.

I'm not arguing against conciousness, I'm arguing against free will. I agree that conciousness is a reality: "I think, therefore I am" and all that jazz.

However, what I am arguing is that conciousness can exist without free will; that is, you do not have free will, because if you did, you'd always do the same thing anyways, making it redundant and impossible to detect. Something which has no effect on any observable part of the universe simply cannot be detected. Again, I'm referring to free will by itself here, seperately from conciousness. Your decision making process, whether it occurs in your brain or in some other way entirely, must be done in a way that relies entirely upon two things: the manner in which your conciousness personally operates, and the data you recieve.

Even if there was an element of randomness, as some quantum theories (notice the word "theories", and the fact that quantum physics is a very new science) seem to suggest, that would still just be an external influence, just one which cannot be predicted in advance.


Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
Left field? (none / 0) (#199)
by pyramid termite on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 06:13:25 AM EST

Your theory is very dramatically out in left-field (i.e. quite different from currently prevalent viewpoints).

Seeing as I think most people would agree with me that they are conscious and choose things freely, I don't see how you can say that I'm in left field here. It may be a prevalent viewpoint among philosophers, but the average person would disagree - and seeing as the average person is an observer of his thought processes, at some level they have experience of this.

However, since you're the one presenting the theory (that is, of the specific operation of free will and conciousness, not just their existence), it's your responsibility to present evidence if you expect it to be taken seriously.

If the evidence of what most people are saying goes on in their minds isn't good enough, what evidence would be? We've got 6 billion plus people with minds who would give some kind of account of how they think - is this body of information totally irrelevant? Remember that they are direct observers of what is in their heads and you and I cannot be. If that isn't good evidence, I rather doubt anything could be, and I don't think the problem's solvable.

Time's short and I don't have time to reply to all the rest of this (and it's all been said before), but dividing the mind into various aspects or properties is difficult to do - it operates as a whole, not a collection of different properties that can be studied seperately.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
Re (none / 0) (#221)
by carbon on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 01:42:08 AM EST

Seeing as I think most people would agree with me that they are conscious and choose things freely, I don't see how you can say that I'm in left field here.

No, actually I was referring to your theory in a comment much further back in the thread, including the following particularly controversial paragraph:
I would argue that the body is a prism and a fulcrum through which the spirit perceives and operates, imperfectly at times. A black speck could be moved around in your brain by this force, using the tools found in the physical world; that is, until the brain was messed up by the black speck moving around it and the spirit lost control.
Statements about remote spirits exerting physical influence upon the brain, including details regarding some effects and effectivities of this system, require more supporting evidence, even if it isn't scientific (few evidence is, but its often useful anyways).

Remember that they are direct observers of what is in their heads and you and I cannot be.

This was part of my point above. My arguments stated reasons why the perception of free will might not be the same thing as the presence of it. I additionally presented reasons why detecting it, even given uber-pseudo-science tools like time travel, would be nigh impossible. You're right, in that it may simply be undetectable, since its possible (depending on how the whole grand unified theory thing pans out) that free will has no effect on any observable part of the universe at all. Of course, then you can call in the tree-falling-in-the-forest argument, but that's a different can of worms...

Time's short and I don't have time to reply to all the rest of this (and it's all been said before).

Feel free to wait until you have some spare time to use in response at your lesiure; I'm certainly not setting any sort of deadline.

Besides, even if this has all been said before by at least one other person, it certainly still benefits us and anybody reading this thread to (re)discuss it; after all, one thing most people agree on is that human minds are individual.


Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
Oh (none / 0) (#227)
by pyramid termite on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 03:50:03 PM EST

No, actually I was referring to your theory in a comment much further back in the thread, including the following particularly controversial paragraph: (snip)

In a strictly scientific or "real world observational" basis, yes, what I wrote is way out in left field. However there are many religious people and many of them would find this similar to what they believe - but I know better than to try to rationally convince anyone of that sort of thing, so I won't try. Really, I didn't want to get into that aspect of it much as I know that it's more a matter of belief than reason.

Perhaps when this discussion arises again, I'll have more to say on it, but for now, I've said enough.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
Free will is not consciousness. (none / 0) (#135)
by Happy Monkey on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 12:51:24 PM EST

It seems to be that by starting to argue against free will, you've then moved on to argue against spirit, and now, using the same argument, I think we can eliminate consciousness also.

Imagine a technology that can record experiences and play them back. While "watching" one of these recordings, you believe that you are that person, and you feel that you are making all of that person's decisions. You have a consciousness, and you feel like you have free will, but you are reliving an event that has already happened. It is not really relevant whether such a device is possible as described, but that is the concept behind consciousness without free will.

Consciousness becomes something other than it is generally though of, though. In the no-free-will theory, consciousness is the program that generates outputs for the given inputs.
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[ Parent ]
To clarify ... (none / 0) (#156)
by pyramid termite on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 04:05:40 PM EST

... nowhere did I say that free will was consciousness; I said the proofs (subjective personal experience) for them are the same.

I'm not sure that a tape recording or a program metaphor is adequate to explain consciousness. But as long as I'm imagining such a recording, I suppose I could imagine that I was the one who hit the play switch. Be that as it may, I seem to be choosing the words I type here and no imagination is required of me to see this.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
Speaking of clarifying (none / 0) (#171)
by Happy Monkey on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 05:53:22 PM EST

I didn't mean to say that the recording explained consciousness, I meant it to show that you could be conscious without free will. In other words, once the play button is pressed, you are the person recorded, and you do what they did, in your consciousness. Actual consciousness without free will would be different, in that the "recording" is predestination, and you would never get to experience life outside of it in order to know the difference.

.. nowhere did I say that free will was consciousness; I said the proofs (subjective personal experience) for them are the same.

Back to what you meant to say - I disagree with the above statement. Consciousness is the essential "you" that registers experiences. You have empiric evidence of the existence of your consciousness -- "cogito, ergo sum" and all that. As I explained above, you can have consciousness without free will in theory, so subjective evidence is all you have for free will. However, the fact that you have subjective experience implies the existence of your consciousness.

The very existence, let alone consciousness and free will, of other people is only hearsay, though.
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[ Parent ]
Is it that simple? (none / 0) (#181)
by pyramid termite on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 08:06:35 PM EST

You have empiric evidence of the existence of your consciousness -- "cogito, ergo sum" and all that.

I also have empiric evidence, if that's what you want to call it, that I have had choices considered with this consciousness and made them. The problem with the whole recording concept is that the same mechanism that provided the predetermined events could also provide the illusion of consciousness to percieve these events with.

As I explained above, you can have consciousness without free will in theory, so subjective evidence is all you have for free will. However, the fact that you have subjective experience implies the existence of your consciousness.

The very existence, let alone consciousness and free will, of other people is only hearsay, though.


Why stop at people then? It's all hearsay according to that view, right? (Hearsay from whom, I'm not sure, but ...) Just what can I be objective about under these assumptions? You've claimed that I could be objective about my consciousness, but if I've been programmed or predestined to believe I have consciousness, then I will believe I have it and believe there is an "I" to experience it. And that would be subjective, too.

I made some rather bold statements about this issue of free will at the top of this thread. I'm not sure what's more disappointing - the lack of a good rebuttal, the lack of anyone actually agreeing with something that is obvious to most people, or the lack of anyone to point out that perhaps we're asking the wrong questions or seeing this from the wrong viewpoint. I strongely suspect the third would be most accurate, but I still would like to see a better rebuttal of my statements then what I've seen so far.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
You seem to have misunderstood. (none / 0) (#188)
by Happy Monkey on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 09:36:09 PM EST

I also have empiric evidence, if that's what you want to call it, that I have had choices considered with this consciousness and made them. The problem with the whole recording concept is that the same mechanism that provided the predetermined events could also provide the illusion of consciousness to percieve these events with.

No, it couldn't. It could provide the illusion of all of your perceptions, but not the illusion of consciousness. It is your consciousness that the illusion is being imposed upon. In your proposition, what is it that the illusion is tricking?

Why stop at people then? It's all hearsay according to that view, right? (Hearsay from whom, I'm not sure, but ...) Just what can I be objective about under these assumptions? You've claimed that I could be objective about my consciousness, but if I've been programmed or predestined to believe I have consciousness, then I will believe I have it and believe there is an "I" to experience it. And that would be subjective, too.

Indeed, everything except one's own existence is what I flippantly called 'hearsay'. You can't be programmed to believe that you have consciousness if you don't, since it is the consciousness that would be programmed. If you have no consciousness, you can't be tricked into thinking you do.
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[ Parent ]
One last lap around the Worm ... (none / 0) (#190)
by pyramid termite on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 10:00:46 PM EST

No, it couldn't. It could provide the illusion of all of your perceptions, but not the illusion of consciousness. It is your consciousness that the illusion is being imposed upon. In your proposition, what is it that the illusion is tricking?

The mind. Is there anything else that could create or be tricked into simulating consciousness? And how could we tell the difference between the two?

Indeed, everything except one's own existence is what I flippantly called 'hearsay'. You can't be programmed to believe that you have consciousness if you don't, since it is the consciousness that would be programmed.

But that's where a Turing Test might come in handy - could it be possible to write a program that would trick another person into believing they were communicating with a conscious being?

If you have no consciousness, you can't be tricked into thinking you do.

But if we can be fooled into thinking another entity has consciousness, couldn't we be fooled into thinking we did?

Somehow I don't think so ... but, according to the standard of proof you've requested for the existence of free will, I can't provide you with proof of mine or your consciousness.

Oh, well, we're just chasing our own tails now, so I guess I'll pack it in ...

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
Free will (none / 0) (#111)
by jynx on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 08:25:08 AM EST

I seem to be making choices.

That's not enough. Just because you seem to be making choices doesn't mean you have free will. How can you know, after making any given choice that you could have made a different choice?

--

[ Parent ]

Well.. (none / 0) (#139)
by mindstrm on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 01:23:40 PM EST

As nobody can show concrete evidence one way or the other...

I choose to believe that I have free will.

[ Parent ]

Philisophy and hypocrisy & proposed experiment (none / 0) (#161)
by pyramid termite on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 04:31:40 PM EST

Just because you seem to be making choices doesn't mean you have free will.

And just because you seem to be communicating doesn't mean that you actually exist.

Look, there's been a few people trying to tell me that I am wrong when I say I have free will, that I can't prove it, that somehow my mind is programmed to believe so. The main problem I have with that isn't that it's impossible - I'll grant that it is possible; my problem isn't even that it contradicts what I see about myself and my mind and my existence. MY problem with the answers I've gotten so far from people is that although the people answering have claimed they have no free will and no choice, that what they see going on in their minds is subjective and therefore not reliable, they are surely, on a day-to-day basis, living their lives and thinking about their lives as if they DO have choice and they DO have free will.

Think about it - if you run across the street without looking and almost get hit by a car, what do you say to yourself? Do you say, "Why did the forces of the universe predetermine that I would do something that could have killed me?" Do you? If you have to choose between two job offers, take one, and later realize that you aren't happy, do you say, "I made a bad choice" or, "I was predetermined to be in this job that makes me feel unhappy?"

Here's the experiment - for an hour, preferably while you're not trying to do anything important or dangerous, tell yourself, out loud if it helps, that you are doing such and such because you are meant to, that you are now doing this because it was determined that you do so, that you are doing that because you have been conditioned and compelled to do so. For that hour, you are a program, a strict "these stimuli come in and these actions go out" kind of creature, with no thought of choosing to do things, or having the free will to choose. Strip away the false notions of choice and will and be what you are claiming philisophically to be.

Can you do it?
If you can, how did it seem?
Would you like to live the rest of your life thinking like this?
If free will is a crutch or a delusion, shouldn't you be trying to purge your mind of these notions in order to be what you truly are?
Did it seem like a natural way of thought or were you straining?

Let me know the results ...

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
Practical Philosophy? (none / 0) (#178)
by Happy Monkey on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 06:12:59 PM EST

This is philosophy we're talking about here. Why are you talking about practicality? In the philosophical domain, free will is not provable. But we live in the practical realm. In life, not only should you live as if you have free will, you can't help it. Even while performing your experiment, you feel like you have free will. No matter how much you try, you will always feel like you have free will and there's nothing you can do about it!
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[ Parent ]
Earth to Ivory Tower (none / 0) (#180)
by pyramid termite on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 07:46:01 PM EST

This is philosophy we're talking about here. Why are you talking about practicality?

What are you telling me? That philosophy is a another way of saying "useless bullshit"? I don't think so.

In the philosophical domain, free will is not provable.

What philosophical domain?

But we live in the practical realm.

And therefore this philisophical domain is mythical isn't it? It's something we've constructed; you can't actually live in it.

No matter how much you try, you will always feel like you have free will and there's nothing you can do about it!

Actually, there are people who, after years of practicing Eastern (or Western) spiritual or mental disciplines, claim to have attained states of mind where free will might be considered to be irrelevant. I wouldn't know, I'm not one of them.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
Earth to Ivory Tower? (none / 0) (#187)
by Happy Monkey on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 09:22:12 PM EST

What are you telling me? That anything without a practical use is useless bullshit? I don't think so.

Forget my poor choice of words in "philosophical domain". Let's just leave it at "Free will is not provable." It can be interesting to argue pro or con, but in the end it is not provable. However, what I was trying to convey was that one generally lives as if they have free will anyway, with the possible exception of some Eastern or Western meditators. Of course, at some point they probably felt that they decided to follow those disciplines.
___
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
It's probably time to wrap it up ... (none / 0) (#189)
by pyramid termite on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 09:45:23 PM EST

Let's just leave it at "Free will is not provable."

I guess that depends on whether perception of free will is subjective or objective. And that's certainly another question that hasn't been solved. But, yeah, I can see that if someone decides that my experience of such, or more importantly, their experience of such isn't sufficient proof, then there is no sufficient proof I or anyone else can offer. On the other hand, I don't know of any proof they can offer that there is no free will. And the implications of arguing either way are deeper than just "what makes me tick".

Slur's post way down to the bottom of the page is a better treatment of something close to my viewpoint then I've offered.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
Francis Crick (3.75 / 4) (#56)
by johnny on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 06:57:23 PM EST

Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, wrote a book called The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, which is all about brain structure and consciousness and the like. At the end there's this short section "A Postscript on Free Will." Here's a quotation, which I find priceless:

Free Will is, in many ways, a somewhat old-fashioned subject. Most people take it for granted, since they feel that usually they are free to act as they please. While lawyers and theologians have have to confront it, philosophers, by and large, have ceased to take much interest in the topic.

I don't suppose that this adds too much to the discussion, but I've been hoarding that quote for five years looking for a good place to use it, and this discussion seems opportune.

yr frn,
jrs
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.

REALLY now... (none / 0) (#108)
by xriso on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 07:42:06 AM EST

I don't quite believe the "philosophers, by and large, have ceased to take much interest in the topic" part.
--
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)
[ Parent ]
I believe in free will.... (4.00 / 3) (#57)
by NFW on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 06:57:36 PM EST

...because I have no choice.

- Anonymous (unknown to me, at least)


--
Got birds?


"I believe in predestination ... (4.00 / 1) (#58)
by pyramid termite on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 07:01:54 PM EST

... because I choose to."

- The obvious reply ...
"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
Non-determinism does not imply free will. (4.54 / 11) (#61)
by highfreq on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 07:25:04 PM EST

Even if non-determinism is a necessary condition for free will it is certainly not a sufficient condition.

I build a robot and it always does the same programed thing. It doesn't have free will. I add some quantum level random generator and cause all of the robots actions to be random. It still does not have free will. I can set it so that 10% of its actions are random and the rest are by program. Is that free will?

I would not consider any of these robots to have free will. Certainly I would not be satisfied with someone claiming that is the extent of my free will.

I think that searching for free will in non-determinism is dead end. My actions are free because they are my actions, not because at the heart of it they are random. While many of my actions certainly seem random (or at least thoughtless), I don't care if these actions are free or not, because they are trivial.

I have no idea what free will is, but I don't think non-determinism is any more than a bit player, and quite possibly not even part of the show.

But... (4.00 / 1) (#107)
by xriso on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 07:40:35 AM EST

What if that robot was a human brain! [start corny horror music]
--
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)
[ Parent ]
It's called the Copenhagen Interpretation. (4.88 / 9) (#63)
by RobotSlave on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 07:47:12 PM EST

Look it up. It is an interpretation of a scientific model of the Universe. As such, it can not possibly "disprove" Determinism.

It suggests that the world is non-deterministic, yes, but no more.

Heisenberg's principle is a statement about the limits of observation, but it is frequently misinterpreted as a statement about the nature of matter itself. It is true that Heisenberg has shown that man can not construct a perfect replica of reality (and thus dismisses some peripheral questions formerly raised by the debate over determinism) but he has not shown that nature does not obey an iron law, a non-random system beyond the limits of observation (see various "hidden variable" theories, e.g.).

There are many alternatives to the the Copenhagen Interpretation, some more compelling than others, but the average armchair philosopher (along with many a tenured professor who ought to know better) is all too willing to ascribe properties of "certainty" and "proof" to the speculative aspect of scientific endeavor.

In attempting to prove that the world is uncertain, the incautious philosopher will often appeal to a false certainty in science. I find the irony delightful.

Penrose, Quantum Mechanics and Microtubules (3.00 / 1) (#68)
by Woundweavr on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 08:48:55 PM EST

One theory linking quantum mechanics, consciousness and Free Will is Penrose's theory of Quantum Consciousness. It proposes that quantum behaviour in protein structures found in all cells give rise to consciousness. Without consciousness, free will would seem entirely impossible(although it does not neccessarily follow that it ensures it).

Highly simplified, the general premise is that since human behavior at least seems non-algorithmic, it must involve quantum behavior. However, it has yet to be shown that quantum behavior would be possible in a microtubule (it is not "quiet"), nor that such behavior would lead to consciousness. Another theory about these microtubules involved quantum evolution but this is much more radical(there was a k5 story on it once).

Also, if there is free will/consciousness, it follows that even if the rest of the universe is deterministic, some small portion of it is not. Yet, as it is unlikely sentience could alter the eventual progress of the universe (whether it has heat death, big crunch or whatever as a termination) such free will could be seen as simply a small amount of randomness, only as relevent as other quantum behavior.

But then this is all theory and would require an entire article(which I'm not qualified or inclined to write).

Microtubule theory is bad. (5.00 / 1) (#76)
by yet another coward on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:04:09 PM EST

The known functions of microtubules are far removed from the right structures and processes to fit. They are the train tracks within neurons, not the fast message carriers involved in instantaneous thought.

Penrose's ideas have no clout. In general, neuroscientists mock them because they ignore the great body of evidence and drag in microtubules. It is a joke that every halfway famous scientists feels compelled to speculate on consciousness.

[ Parent ]

Penrose should not write about philosophy of mind (none / 0) (#149)
by Victor Danilchenko on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 02:53:52 PM EST

because he is patently unqualified to do so, judging both by his background and, more importantly, by the results of his speculations.

Dragging in quantum effects doesn't allow you to disprove Church thesis, which is what his claim amounts to -- that brain is capable of addressing the problems beyond the capabilities of Turing machine/Church's Lambda Calculus/Gödel's recursive functions.

At most, quantum effects can be harnessed to perform non-deterministic computations (NP or NE, for example) in deterministic time (Polynomial or Exponential, respectively). Cool beans, but not what Penrose was looking for.
--

Victor Danilchenko

[ Parent ]
I REALLY LOVE THIS STUFF (1.87 / 8) (#75)
by That AOL Guy on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:02:29 PM EST

THAT QUANTUM STUFF REALLY BLOWS MY MIND, WHAT THERE IS OF IT, HA HA. AND FREE WILL. WOW. THIS INTERNET SITE REALLY MAKES ME THINK SOMETIMES. ANOTHER GOOD IS WHAT IF THE EARTH AND THE SUN AND THE SOLAR SYSTEM AND ALL THE UNIVERSE WE COULD SEE WAS LIKE JUST A CELL IN THE TOENAIL IN SOME BIG GIANT?

Thanks, AOL Guy! (n/t) (5.00 / 1) (#80)
by zephc on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:15:33 PM EST

 

[ Parent ]
ME TOO! (none / 0) (#99)
by NFW on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 02:23:13 AM EST

That's gonna cost me some mojo...


--
Got birds?


[ Parent ]

The New Science (5.00 / 2) (#77)
by Baldrson on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:05:59 PM EST

The New Science
By Tom Etter
Funded in part by Interval Research Corporation

What's new?

Space, time and matter are no longer primary categories, but large-number effects, like heat.

Large numbers of what?

Anything.

For instance?

Atoms, planets, hopes, nations, photons, elephants, spaces, novels, rainbows, questions, trucks, minds, universes, fears, possibilities, Scotch tape, impossibilities.

How do you put such diverse things together?

They already are together.

Yes, but how do you gather them together into aggregates that can be counted, like atoms?

It's not the things themselves that are counted. The counts are partial relation-numbers.

What are relation-numbers?

This is Bertrand Russell's term for isomorphism classes of relations. Relation-numbers can be taken apart, and the simplest parts, which occur in every decomposition, are the relation-numbers of one-place relations, which are ordinary cardinal numbers.

Is all this in Principia Mathematica?

No, only the beginnings. The project was aborted when it went down a dead end because of Russell and Whiteheads' failure to distinguish between isomorphism classes and congruence classes. The former can't be composed, only the latter, which means that a complex relation-number can only be "factored" into congruence classes, not into other relation-numbers. The exceptional case is one-place relation-numbers, i.e. numbers, which is perhaps why numbers are so important in science.

So we need a new mathematics?

Yes. It's called structure theory. It extends the standard mathematical concept of structure based on relational isomorphism by adding the new fundamental concept of relational congruence and also another new fundamental concept called structural privacy. It also replaces absolute categories by sameness relations. For instance, instead of saying "x is a C", we relativize category C by saying "x is the same kind of a D as y." Of course we must also relativize D.

What will the new science accomplish?

It's major accomplishment will be to give us an intelligible and completely general account of the relationship between mind and matter.

But I thought that categories like mind and matter were to be abolished.

In the mathematics, yes, along with all other categories. That's what gives us the leverage to create a theory. But the empirical world is full of categories; they are how we organize most of our experience. The best of theories won't abolish the difference between the questions "What's in your head?" and "What's on your mind?"

But don't we infer what's on someone's mind by his physical actions?

Ah, now you're reverting to theory, and bad theory.

-------- Empty the Cities --------


Thanks for the plug (none / 0) (#89)
by medham on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 11:32:46 PM EST

Did you know that the Jew Goedel also thought that time-travel was possible? Maybe he wanted to alter some things, eh?

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Who is "medham"? (none / 0) (#208)
by Baldrson on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 03:16:14 PM EST

"Lode Runner" states:
Sorry to spoil the game, folks, but frankly I'm hurt and I just want it to stop. Baldrson's made a mockery of the tremendous effort I've put into name-brand personas like "medham" and "streetlawyer".

-------- Empty the Cities --------


[ Parent ]

Bell inequalities (3.33 / 3) (#78)
by yet another coward on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:09:41 PM EST

Somebody with actual physics knowledge should post about the Bell inequalities and EPR hidden variable theories. Strict determinism gave way to probabilistic processes in physics thought a long time ago. The experimental evidence against determinism is significant. As another point, neurons are probabilistic themselves. At least taken individually, they are unreliable. Their firing behavior varies even when the stimulus is very controlled to be identical over many trials.

Oh, really? (4.00 / 3) (#83)
by RobotSlave on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:53:26 PM EST

Would you care to cite some of this experimental evidence "against determinism?"

Do you understand the distinction between reality and models? Do you understand the difference between a model and an interpretation of a model? Have you had a good look at other statitistical models in science, and gained some appreciation for the conditions that usually force scientists to resort to statistical modeling?

Determinism has never been tested in a lab, period. Hidden variable theories are not the only alternates to the Copenhagen Interpretation.

When you say neurons are "probabilistic," you are wrong-- it is true that the only models we have for neurons are "probabalistic," but this says absolutely nothing about the true nature of neurons.

Scientists resort to statistical models when their methodology lacks precision. In some cases, a boundary of sorts can be drawn (e.g., Heisenberg), but in other realms (such as neuroscience) the limits of observational precision are simply unknown.

In short, "we can't see" does not imply "it is random."

[ Parent ]

A reply (4.00 / 1) (#153)
by yet another coward on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 03:33:26 PM EST

http://www.quantum.univie.ac.at/research/bellexp/

The experiment by Aspect et al. is the one I had in mind. It is evidence against hidden variable theories. Determinism is closely tied to the ideas of hidden variable theories. How much evidence it provides for other models is a related, but different issue.

I'll leave most of your questions unaddressed, but the answers are largely affirmative.

Statistical models are not always resorts from the struggle to address hard problems with precision. Often, they are attempts to capture the true behaviors of systems for which smaller scale descriptions are uninformative.

Many experiments about probabilistic neural response are not limited by observational precision. Detecting and counting action potentials is routine. So are membrane voltage measurements. Knowing the properties of all the individual ions would not reveal much about how the neuron works. The ions and neurotransmitters follow diffusion rules, and statistical mechanics is not a failure of precision. It capture the important features of systems whose components show random behavior. There is a significant body of literature on neural reliability.

I don't know how it is that you think I'm so wrong, but I'll warn you now that I'm not much of a Platonist.

[ Parent ]

Do YOU understand... (4.50 / 2) (#176)
by darkskyes on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 06:11:16 PM EST

the difference between scientific methods, logical positivism, and religious-sounding adherence to something you define as determinism?

Any theory you name is a model, and any evidence you cite is imprecise. It is a fact of life, get over it. The best you can do is interpret the data, and craft theories which make testable predictions, and account for the evidence we have to date.

Hidden variables and strict determinism are valid theories, but everything you can explain with them can be more easily and simply explained by statistical models, or non-strict deterministic models.

As noted in other comments, quantum physics can be interpreted as deterministic, by the way, just not strictly deterministic.

-"Your disadvantage is that you will always, always be outnumbered, and ...your enemy will learn more about you, how to fight you, and those changes will be put into effect instantly." -Mazer Rackham
[ Parent ]

A little more (none / 0) (#177)
by yet another coward on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 06:11:18 PM EST

Maybe my original "somebody with actual physics knowledge" bothered you. Mainly, it was intended for myself. I am not a physicist or a physics student. Neither is the author. EPR, the Bell inequalities and experiments such as the one from Aspect bring important issues into this discussion that were not addressed in the article.

I thought of a good reason for viewing neurons as stochastic. Ion channels open and close according to probabilistic rules that follow quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics. Open and closed are just two allowable energy states (or groups of similar energy states). The actual number of ion channels present in a synapse is often quite small, even in the single digits. Fluctuations in just a few channels can influence the neuron. If quantum mechanics does correctly describe the world as non-deterministic, there is a clear route from there to stochastic neurons.

[ Parent ]

Not a physisist but ... (5.00 / 1) (#113)
by MfA on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 08:39:30 AM EST

I can read, and Bell's theorem only is only said to preclude _local_ hidden variable theories.

[ Parent ]
physics homewrk (3.00 / 1) (#81)
by jnemo131 on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:32:27 PM EST

just when i finish bitching about physics homework and take a break, i find this article and get instantly fascinated with physics. typical.

"I heard the droning in the shrine of the sea-monkey"
-The Pixies
Rush (2.00 / 3) (#82)
by zephc on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:48:15 PM EST

I feel I must quote some Rush lyrics now =]

"Free Will"

There are those who think that life has nothing left to chance,
A host of holy horrors to direct our aimless dance.

A planet of playthings,
We dance on the strings
Of powers we cannot perceive
"The stars aren't aligned -
Or the gods are malign"
Blame is better to give than receive.

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;
I will choose a path that's clear-
I will choose Free Will.

There are those who think that they were dealt a losing hand,
The cards were stacked against them - they weren't born in Lotus-Land.

All preordained-
A prisoner in chains-
A victim of venomous fate.
Kicked in the face,
You can't pray for a place
In Heaven's unearthly estate.

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;
I will choose a path that's clear-
I will choose Free Will.

Each of us-
A cell of awareness-
Imperfect and incomplete.
Genetic blends
With uncertain ends
On a fortune hunt that's far too fleet.

nice (none / 0) (#97)
by zephc on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 02:14:32 AM EST

1.0? Do I have to EXPLICITLY state this isn't a troll?  This is COMPLETELY on topic. *Sigh*

[ Parent ]
Rush (none / 0) (#102)
by Wildgoose on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 03:11:05 AM EST

As a fellow Rush fan I am inclined to agree. But Neil Peart's lyrical poetry whilst excellent, doesn't fit well with the underlying causes of the subject being discussed - unless you want to start a thread on how the Arts have treated the issue of Free Will?

Having said that, I think the 1.0 score is unjustified, your comment should simply have been left alone.

[ Parent ]

Free will through quantum mechanics (4.83 / 6) (#86)
by docvin on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 11:29:02 PM EST

Many philosophers and physicists ( Penrose, for instance ) have tried to link quantum mechanics and free will. The argument goes something like this:
  1. I don't understand quantum mechanics
  2. I don't understand free will
  3. Therefore, they must be related somehow.
You can then go on to explain the connection with some ad-hocerry. Personally, though, I still have my doubts.

To me, quantum mechanics doesn't add much to the free-will vs determinism debate except randomness. If free will is untenable in a deterministic universe, it's still untenable in a half-deterministic, half-random universe.

I might just add that quantum mechanics isn't necessarily indeterministic, both the (ugly, ugly) Bohm-type theories and the (much prettier, imho) many-worlds interpretation are deterministic.

I like it! (5.00 / 1) (#115)
by epepke on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 09:34:40 AM EST

That certainly describes Penrose.

I think the problem is that "free will" doesn't really mean anything. Free, exactly, from what? And how would you be able to tell the difference between a world with True Free WillTM and simply a very complex world?

People use free will as a placeholder and justification. If you decide, for example, that a prisoner had "free will" when committing the crime, then it makes you feel better about putting him and/or her in prison. If you decide that he and/or she didn't have free will, then you put him and/or her in an insane asylum, which is exactly like a prison but with better drugs. Then you go to sleep happy, knowing all's right with the world.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


[ Parent ]
Aurther's brain (none / 0) (#128)
by pyro9 on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 11:41:30 AM EST

The free Will question is a bit like the idea of replacing Arthur's brain (in HHTTG) with an artificial one: "Nobody will know the difference". "I'll know the difference". "No you won't, you'll be programmed not to".


The future isn't what it used to be
[ Parent ]
Which makes you wonder... (3.00 / 1) (#168)
by darkskyes on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 05:18:23 PM EST

Why the continuing debate? Besides it isn't "free will" and freedom of choice, it's whether you have any control over your life and mind or not. But how would you know if you didn't? If there is no "free will" then who cares?

Go with the doubt hypothesis: If you are concerned about it, you are probably ok.

-"Your disadvantage is that you will always, always be outnumbered, and ...your enemy will learn more about you, how to fight you, and those changes will be put into effect instantly." -Mazer Rackham
[ Parent ]

The journey (none / 0) (#170)
by pyro9 on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 05:51:06 PM EST

This is one of those questions where the enlightenment comes from seeking the answer rather than in having it, I suspect.

In the mean while, we're better off assuming we do since otherwise, we risk leaving nobody at the helm.

In light of that, the better question is, 'What is the source of our free will?', 'To what extent is free will compatable with a deterministic universe and how so?'

If it turns out the questions make an invalid assumption (free will) then, as you say, we'll never know anyway.


The future isn't what it used to be
[ Parent ]
My point exactly (5.00 / 1) (#248)
by darkskyes on Sat Sep 07, 2002 at 07:27:02 PM EST

By the way, I am now going to use the word "niggardly" whether it is appropriate or not in all my posts.

-"Your disadvantage is that you will always, always be outnumbered, and ...your enemy will learn more about you, how to fight you, and those changes will be put into effect instantly." -Mazer Rackham
[ Parent ]

O.K. (none / 0) (#254)
by pyro9 on Sun Sep 15, 2002 at 01:40:05 AM EST


The future isn't what it used to be
[ Parent ]
Asimov's counter (4.00 / 1) (#247)
by epepke on Sat Sep 07, 2002 at 11:39:26 AM EST

I believe the following argument is attributable to Isaac Asimov, but maybe not.

Let's say that John's Brain (to give a nod to the Readers Digest articles) is replaced by an electronic analogue. However, it is replaced one neuron at a time. At what point does it somehow become qualitatively different from the old brain, except for the fact that his head looks funny?


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


[ Parent ]
An alternative view. (4.20 / 5) (#87)
by losang on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 11:30:08 PM EST

Bnonn,

Good article. I have some objections to some of your statements and an alternative understanding of the questions you raise.

firing of neurons that create thoughts is just another part of these deterministic particle interactions.

This is an unproved scientific assumption.

Heisenberg believed that, since prediction is impossible, such determinations are pointless.

Heisenberg's principle is not a certainty but just what scientists consider the best view of the world at this time. Just because certain scientists can not know something now does not mean it inherently can not be known. The view that thinks there are things which can not be known has some logical problems when examined in depth.

With the emergence of quantum physics, a comprehensive set of theories was built that established the universe as comprised of point-objects exhibiting particle-wave duality

This view is that of QFT and also has logical problems when examined in depth. In short point-objects are no more than a conceptual construct and have no reality in the physical world.

If a particle has no exact position and momentum values until observed (ie, until it interacts with another particle), and if the precision of measurement allowed on one value is inversely proportionate to the precision of measurement allowed on the other, then particle interactions must necessarily be statistical in nature--not deterministic.

This is not necesarily true. It is merely an acknowledgement of scientists limitations at the present time. If it has no exact position at every given time then how can you talk about the particle being anywhere.

Indeed, given the effects of Chaos Theory and our own limited knowledge of the brain, it may be entirely possible to still formulate an argument in favour of free will without resorting to abstract questions relating perception and reality.

In light of the first comment, which claims that thought are the result of neurons firing, the acknowledgement that scientists have a limited knowledge of the brain raises questions on the validity of this claim.

An alternative view.

The world does operate within the law of cause and effect. This is clearly observable in our daily lives. What comes into question is what priciple is guiding the directional movement caues and effects. Assuming for now that there is no external creator what other options are there? To answer this question we must look deeper at the question of the nature of thoughts and the mind.

The mind is that which can know things and is not made of form. That the mind can know things is self-evident. What is more contentious is the mind not being made of atoms. In order to understand this we must look at the mind on a momentary level.

When considering impermanent phenomena we are talking about something which is changing instant by instant. There is no measurable amount of time in which the object abides unchanging. If this were the case the law of cause and effect would be violated. If one maintains this is not a problem they must explain why flowers don't suddenly grow out of the sky.

The mind is impermanent and therefore changing each instant. If we ask what is the cause of the present instance of mind it must be the previous instance of mind. If the mind is not made of atoms then its previous instance must also not be made of atoms. Additionally the resultant instance of the present instance must also not be made of atoms. This being the case, we must ask what determines the direction our thoughts move in.

From the logical point of view the mind can not be produced by the brain because the cause of mind is the previous instance of mind. Form and non-form are of different natures and as a result can not be the cause of one another. This does not excluded the reality that they are related and can influence each other in various ways. But what is under examination is the actual nature of thoughts.

If one argues that the mind is made of atoms they must show which of the five senses perceives the mind.

The answer to this lies in the mind stream itself. It is the habit of previous thoughts and actions which leave their impression on the mind stream and are directing its movement continuously.

What does all this say about free will vs. determinism? While we are able to shape the direction of our thoughts and actions, they are also influenced and conditioned by our past actions. In order to take responsibility and shape our mind in the future we must work with our present mental dispositions and habits in order to change or manipulate these habits.

Some comments on functional view of the mind (none / 0) (#234)
by exa on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 08:11:18 PM EST

Your reasoning seems to make sense, at least it hints at a deeper problem.

Before going further, I must mention the brain-mind relation in modern philosophy. As you say, mind is not supposed to be identical with the brain. However, the mind is said to be a "function" of the brain. The function is not a usual physical object, but more like a complicated process, such as a computation (claiming that is the computational view of the mind)

Based on the functional view of mind, we can try to give some meaning to your mind-stream description. As you say, there is a cause-effect relation between the state of mind at a given time and previous such states (+ world). Now, this in fact doesn't seem to fit well to a functional view, because it's hard to talk about the state of a function at a time... Is a frozen mind still a mind?

I will be assuming computational view of the mind subsequently. I think it's more convenient to think of the whole computation as the mind, subsuming the temporal dimension. Then, it is a matter of course to say that the outside world comprises part of the input. In usual talk, we don't care about the outside world, but talking of free will we need a larger picture. The problem is the outside world and the mind is not independent. So the cause-effect relation is two-way. Maybe the answer is in "part of" the input. Since the next transition is not determined completely by the outside world we could say that the automaton has a chance to be free! This would require us to assume that free==independent, I have no idea if that is true but it probably isn't sufficient.

It still is very hard to get at the larger picture I suppose. The best thing I could say is that you cannot have any freedom without being aware of it. :)

Now let's drop the computational hat.

It seems like one first needs to be conscious before becoming free. It would otherwise be very difficult to be free at all, because freedom is something that a conscious entity defines.

Otherwise, it would be OK to grant free will to say, insects (my favorite example of a cognitive agent). I would say that an insect seems to have free will, but it is not qualitatively the same free will that we have. Why is that?

If free will simply meant independence from the outside world, well the insect has some independence and so do we, although the degree of independence is different. Hmm, is it this difference in degree that causes the qualitative difference? I am not sure of that, but it's safe to assume NO.

A person is free in that he may change his destiny consciously. A person can choose to become dead in the next hour. A bug would NOT. That is free will at the human level :) The psychology of suicide is a perfect example.

I hope these comments help shape your argument!

__
exa a.k.a Eray Ozkural
low-cost argument generator
__
exa a.k.a Eray Ozkural
There is no perfect circle.

[ Parent ]

Funtional View of the mind (none / 0) (#245)
by losang on Fri Sep 06, 2002 at 03:56:55 PM EST

Before going further, I must mention the brain-mind relation in modern philosophy. As you say, mind is not supposed to be identical with the brain. However, the mind is said to be a "function" of the brain. The function is not a usual physical object, but more like a complicated process, such as a computation (claiming that is the computational view of the mind)

The mind is not a function of the brain. It is a separate entity that maintains it's own existence different and independent of the brain.

[ Parent ]

Egad man! At least support your own conclusion! (5.00 / 3) (#90)
by joeyo on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 11:59:18 PM EST

Indeed, given the effects of Chaos Theory and our own limited knowledge of the brain...

Woah there partner! Did you even bother to define chaos theory?  I won't disagree that chaos theory doesn't play a role here, but you can't just throw terms around like that and expect us the believe you.  At least mention chaos in your main argument!

Anyway, I like many of the things that you have to say, but I'm not at all sure that your evidence supports your conclusions.  You introduce quantum dynamics and then cast it aside, (in my opinion, correctly) by noting that quantum effects are small at the scale of the brain.  But then, just when the reader reaches the logical conclusion of determinism, you spring this mysterious "chaos theory" upon us. And the weak argument that since we don't know much about the brain, it must be non-deterministic. Voila!  FREE WILL REIGNS SUPREME!

Yeah. Whatever.  The brain may not be 100% deterministic, but then again, neither are billiard balls, and that doesn't keep people from being good at pool, does it?  The brain may be statistical, highly non-linear, and yes, maybe even chaotic.  And on top of that., we know very very little about it.  But none of these things prove Free Will to me.  They just buy Free Will a little time until we get faster computers and better analysis techniques.

--
Sure, Dubya has the brainpower of a muppet, but this fuss over terms is rediculous. --

Free Will and Chaos Theory (5.00 / 1) (#122)
by Wah on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 10:57:58 AM EST

But none of these things prove Free Will to me.  They just buy Free Will a little time until we get faster computers and better analysis techniques.

I thought he covered the "faster computer" argument through the quantum mechanics aspect.  This comes in with Chaos Theory in that while the effects are for "all intents and purposes" negligable, they are not when considered from a chaotic perspective.

To create an example, a small change in the way the microscopic synaptic pathways in my brain will not cause me to go and jump off a cliff over the next hour, they could, however, influence whether or not I decide to take the time to reply to a post about Free Will on a web board.  The "exact" determination of where this "will to post" comes from and all of it's causes become extremely difficult to determine (essentially impossible since it could arguably include all matter and energy interactions since the beginning of time (or extremely exact ones at one point, an impossibility under QM)).  It could be a subject that I'm interested in because of other experiences in my life.  Or the use of a word that causes a buzz somewhere in my mind.  Or it could be because I'm bored out of my head at work and just want to vent intellectually, as my work is about as stimulating as the vacuum in deep space.  

Regardless, somewhere, something caused me to post.  "Caused" is the big word here.  Helped, pushed, moved, or a number of other words would also work.  

So I have a "thing" which has caused a change in the reality of the presentation of this web page.  Since anyone reading this would have their lives changed irrevocable, i.e. spending the time and attention necessary to read it, one now has this "thing" which caused the post to become real to deal with.  Since the 30 seconds it took to read this could change the rest of your life, that is, the rest of your life depends sensitively on the initial conditions of your life now, we now have this "thing" which has change your life.

This "thing" is then interpreted as Will, since it was my will that caused the post to happen.  More complicated explanations for what has happened are possible, but because "will" is the simplest, most accpeted explanation for what has happened here, it should be accepted as correct.

That's a general outline of the argument for Will via Chaos Theory.  I'm not sure where it's been made before, or where, but here it is, umm, in a nutshell.
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

In the Wake of Chaos (none / 0) (#195)
by danny on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 01:57:37 AM EST

A good book on the philosophical implications of chaos theory is Kellert's In the Wake of Chaos - it debunks some of the popular (and academic) misunderstandings.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

Determinism != Prediction (5.00 / 5) (#92)
by Peat on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 12:20:01 AM EST

The basic premise of determinism is that there is a causal relationship between all events.  It has nothing to do with whether or not we can actually predict, or if it's even possible for humans to predict behavior.

Take, for example, the discussion about the Uncertainty Principal, that you can't measure the exact location and velocity of a particle at the same time.  That doesn't have anything to do with determinism, it has to do with observation and our human ability to make predictions.  The Uncertainty Principal is just a statement about our failure to measure both attributes at the same time.

Furthermore, determinism isn't bound by what we currently know as the laws of physics or chemistry or mathematics or what have you.  Determinism just states that a law exists to explain the relationship between events, even if we don't know about it yet, and even if it's actually impossible to make predictions due to the fact that we interfere with everything we measure!

bigbluebang internet services - hosting, consulting, tools, and more.

It was my understanding... (none / 0) (#169)
by Control Group on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 05:28:14 PM EST

...that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle was far more fundamental than simply our limitations of measurement. That is, not only can we not measure a particle's position and velocity at the same time, those values cannot be measured. Hence, since nothing can perceive both values, they do not coexist (as long as "nothing" excludes all particles with which the observed particle interacts). Of course, metaphysically, both values might coexist to an arbitrary precision, but if they are precluded from having any effect whatsoever, from a physical standpoint, they don't.

Of course, this is just my understanding of HUP, based on a high school physics course, one semester of physics in college, and a lot of "independent study" (by which I mean reading books on the topic as long as they held my interest). If I'm way off base (probable), someone please straighten me out.

***
"Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon."
[ Parent ]

Greg Egan (4.00 / 2) (#93)
by squidinkcalligraphy on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 01:00:57 AM EST

Greg Egan has some interesting thoughts on these concepts in the sci-fi books `Schild's Ladder' and `Quarantine' (and possibly others); he proposes the brain is capable of collapsing quantum states and thus ensuring only one outcome, so u get free will. Both books are a fantastic insight into this topic (the science can be pretty damn hard to understand tho)

An identity card is better that no identity at all
I think you're misunderstanding him (none / 0) (#118)
by SIGFPE on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 10:13:05 AM EST

he proposes the brain is capable of collapsing quantum states and thus ensuring only one outcome
According to Egan it's more that brains exist in a superposition of many different states but that each one perceives itself to be only in one state. In fact at at least one point in Schild's Ladder the characters deliberately put themselves into superpositions of many different states.
SIGFPE
[ Parent ]
Depends on the book (none / 0) (#162)
by kallisti on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 04:33:27 PM EST

The OP referenced two Egan books, Quarantine and Schild's Ladder. In Quarantine, the permise was that the brain was causing quantum collapse and that this is why we were cut off from the Universe. The gadget in that book worked by supressing the natural ability and allowing the brain to exist decoherently.

Schild's Ladder said that in the olden days, people just thought they were making decisions, when really all the possible states occurred. It was with the invention of the QUSP, which is something like quantum unique singularity processor that it changed to there only being one version.

It seems to me that the two books are basically in opposition to each other.

[ Parent ]

Hawking's Interpretation (3.50 / 2) (#94)
by labradore on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 01:17:11 AM EST

I was struck many years ago by what Stephen Hawking had to say about Free Will. He published his ideas about it (among other things) in "A Brief History of Time". He wrote that historically, we have developed ever more precise theories of physics, advancing greatly in our ability to correctly predict the behavior of the universe. However, our "laws" and theories of physics are only approximations of what actually happens. Our calculations are limited in precision. We are not even sure if it is possible to find a grand unified theory of physics that completely describes the universe.

For now, our best theory for predicting human behavior (as humans are sets of elements in the universe) is the theory of Free Will. Free Will is very imprecise but it is a better approximation than any desterministic theories that we have. I think that Hawking's argument for the existence of God followed similar lines.

Quantum Theory and Free Will (3.00 / 1) (#96)
by Will Sargent on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 01:52:44 AM EST

There's a bunch of arguments about Free Will and Quantum Theory.  My personal feeling is that anyone with a sex drive is operating of his own free will when he decides to go out and get laid, but you still can't pick whether you're gay or straight.  Free Will is a limitation, not a freedom.

Anyway, you're probably interested in Penrose's theories.

http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~philos/MindDict/quantum.html

Which were kind of demolished by Max Tegmark:

http://www.hep.upenn.edu/~max/brain1.html

But which are still clinging on to life:

http://www.consciousness.arizona.edu/hameroff/papers/decoherence/decoherence.html

That ought to keep you busy for a while, but really you're better off reading C.P. Snow and Feynman's Lectures than messing with this stuff.  Science is a big and wonderous topic, and there's more to it than just Quantum Physics.
----
I'm pickle. I'm stealing your pregnant.

Max Tegmark (none / 0) (#109)
by datamodel on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 07:54:52 AM EST

This was the guy who proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the brain was far too hot and wet to support QM coherence? And then someone else demonstrated that coherence happening in a fMRI experiment about four week later....

The refutation you link to also, well, refutes Tegmark's argument.

Unfortunately the QUANTUM-MIND mailing list archive is down at the moment so I can't find the exact ref. for the fMRI, but the paper's out there somewhere...

Cheers,

M.



[ Parent ]

Proove to me (none / 0) (#151)
by krek on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 03:10:12 PM EST

That you could have done anything other than post that comment at 1:52:44 on the afternoon of Tuesday September 3rd, 2002 and then I will believe in free will. The fact that we cannot go back in time makes free will a very difficult thing to proove or disproove.

[ Parent ]
Indetermenistic voice of higher consciousness ... (5.00 / 3) (#110)
by sidhan on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 07:57:41 AM EST

Though the synaptic pathways of the brain are constructed of microscopic cells, these are still orders of magnitude larger than the smallest quantum particles, and to all intents and purposes behave entirely predictably.

This seems to be an isolated view of our brain. If we take into account that, like you've suggested, our environment is indetermenistic and our brain (and behaviour) represents a function of our environment then we must follow that human being again is indetermenistic. Note that this says nothing about our free will, but rather that our behaviour depends on an indetermenistic environment.

On the philosophical side there is an interesting implication: Assume for a moment, that there is something like a higher consciousness in our universe (call it "god") and that it wants to tell us something (or it wants to "show us a way"). If we further suppose that this "god" interacts with the universe through manipulation of uncertainties (i.e. on the quantum level), then we should better interact with our indetermenistic environment to hear what this "god" has to tell us. Interestingly many religions propose to "unify ourselves with the environment" (or "nature" if you will), to become one with god...

There's the rub.. (none / 0) (#124)
by Wah on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 11:17:45 AM EST

Assume for a moment, that there is something like a higher consciousness in our universe

A big assumption, but that's where the idea of "will" in and of itself comes in.  If we accept or believe that we as homo sapiens have achieved this higher consciousness that allows us to manipulate uncertainties (including the uncertainty inherent in this assumption), it allows a great deal of further "truth" to become apparent.  After all, what are many religions but a means to reduce (abolish) the uncertainty inherent in existence.

It's a circular argument, but what else can one do?  One answer is that one could believe that the circle is a zero, but personally I don't find that very creative, or likely.
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

eh? what the....? (5.00 / 2) (#116)
by screaming on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 09:45:20 AM EST

This raises an interesting question. If a particle has no exact position and momentum values until observed (ie, until it interacts with another particle), and if the precision of measurement allowed on one value is inversely proportionate to the precision of measurement allowed on the other, then particle interactions must necessarily be statistical in nature--not deterministic. In fact, the very nature of quantum physics is non-deterministic. Another, disparate example of this is in the spontaneous and random generation of virtual particle pairings. This alone, as a random occurrence, automatically refutes the possibility of the universe as deterministic; but it's merely one symptom of a larger system where randomness and indeterminacy are fundamental principles.

It seems here you do almost a complete 180 in your argument and then you don't back it up? For example, just because the Uncertainty Principal says that we can't measure the speed and position of a particle at the same time how does that mean that particle interactions are statistical in nature? Then you jump to the generalization that ALL quantum physics is non-deterministic (implying that it's statistical). Once again, without backing it up.

It was an interesting article, but you sort of lost me at this point...

/Steve

Answer (none / 0) (#174)
by pexatus on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 06:03:29 PM EST

For example, just because the Uncertainty Principal says that we can't measure the speed and position of a particle at the same time how does that mean that particle interactions are statistical in nature?
Measuring one limits the precision to which we can measure the other. E.g. if we measure momentum to within some precision, then a lower bound exists on the uncertainty (inverse of precision) with which we can measure position. This means that when we take our position measurement, the result we get back out will be a random variable whose range extends at least to the limits of precision already established by the precision of the momentum measurement.

If this variable weren't random (statistical in nature, is how you're putting it), then we would know what it will be and would therefore be measuring it with infinite precision, or zero uncertainty. Since we have non-zero uncertainty, then the position variable must be random.

[ Parent ]

Nothing like QA and FW for big word flingage (4.00 / 1) (#117)
by Shren on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 09:46:09 AM EST

The argument against free will derived from science is that science seems to indicate that a universe in state A, in time T, will end up in the same state B, no matter how many times you run the simulation.

If you go from normal mechanics to quantum levels, then you start getting into Heisenburg's uncertainty principle, which says that A can't be measured accurately, and the many worlds theory, which predicts that a state is not just one universe but infinitely many possible universes.

Toss out the new science and the original statement still seems to be true - A + T = B. You can change what A is as we learn more about the universe, you can decide that A cannot be determined, you can decide that A is many universes and not one. Either way, the world still seems to follow a system, A still proceeds to B within T, and free will, in the original sense of the term, does not exist. All of this seems to be scientists flinging around bigger words and more authority when, like the rest of us, they drink 5 pints of ale and wonder what it's all for.

Science (none / 0) (#132)
by Khedak on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 12:26:44 PM EST

The argument against free will derived from science is that science seems to indicate that a universe in state A, in time T, will end up in the same state B, no matter how many times you run the simulation.

Uh, I was under the impression that scientific assertions had to be testable in order to be valid. How exactly can we test whether if we run the universe again from state A we will reach state B? We can't. Making appeal to "other universes" for proof is no better than making an appeal to God as Creator. Give me something testable, or don't use the word "scientific."

This is why I take issue with the many worlds theory. How exactly is this a testable scientific theory? If we are by definition closed off and seperate from these "other universes" and can neither prove nor disprove their existence, then your theory is a matter of faith, of personal beleif and preference, and not of science.

[ Parent ]
I'm not particularly advocating one theory (none / 0) (#137)
by Shren on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 01:05:04 PM EST

Uh, I was under the impression that scientific assertions had to be testable in order to be valid. How exactly can we test whether if we run the universe again from state A we will reach state B? We can't. Making appeal to "other universes" for proof is no better than making an appeal to God as Creator. Give me something testable, or don't use the word "scientific."

Repeatability is a necessary tennant of science. The idea that the same circumstances will lead to the same result in the same conditions is critical to science. If you take that away then there's no point in data collection as the results can be arbitrary.

This is why I take issue with the many worlds theory. How exactly is this a testable scientific theory? If we are by definition closed off and seperate from these "other universes" and can neither prove nor disprove their existence, then your theory is a matter of faith, of personal beleif and preference, and not of science.

You can take issue with the many worlds theory as much as you like, but take issue in some thread where it's on topic. I'm not advocating it. All I'm saying is that repeatability seems to hold (since science seems to hold), repeatibility implies pre-determination, and that fact doesn't seem to change in light of these new rules.

Maybe QM does say that the exact same event in the exact same conditions will result in different results. I'm no expert. Untill something like that does occur, though, there's no room for free will.

[ Parent ]

Yes. (none / 0) (#142)
by Khedak on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 01:44:27 PM EST

Maybe QM does say that the exact same event in the exact same conditions will result in different results. I'm no expert. Untill something like that does occur, though, there's no room for free will.

That's exactly what QM says. If you didn't know this, then why did you bring up many worlds at all? Many worlds states that when you have a seemingly "random" quantum result, in actuality all possible results have occured in different universes, of which ours is but one. This is an ad-hoc bootstrap to fit this randomness into scientists' ideas of determinism, by saying that although a quantum process can seem random, in actuality all possibilities always occur, which is deterministic. In fact you even alluded to this in your original article, by extending your analogy to include many universes instead of one. If I have misread you, perhaps you'd care to clarify what you meant.

In any case, "Free Will" is a loaded term. We may not have "free will" in the absolute and abstract sense that philosophers discuss. But if there is no way to observe the complete state of a human being and his/her surroundings without altering them, then there isn't any way to build a simulator for it either. Even if our behaviour is deterministic, if the only way to get at the result is by allowing behaviour to occur, this is just as good as free will, since nobody (not even you) can predict what you will do until after you've done it. And yet the system is still deterministic. Whether you call that "Free Will" or not is beside the point. Since we have no way to take a person and "reset" their state and the state of their environment to a precise initial condition and test repeatability in that way, our current understanding is as good as free will. Hypothetical outside observers with absolute knowledge and control over the state of the universe might be able to conduct such an experiment, but we cannot. So the repeatability of human behaviour is not a testable hypothesis, and until someone can show otherwise, talking about free will in that context is purely in the realm of the speculative.

[ Parent ]
Hmm, to clarify... (none / 0) (#158)
by Shren on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 04:21:30 PM EST

Let's say that the many worlds theory is true. In a split second, world A0 splits into the set of worlds A, which splits in another split second into the set of worlds A2, creating a tree with an incredible branching factor. From the big bang to now, you get the set of worlds An, which is a number that cannot be written.

My postulation is that An is the same set of worlds in the end any time you start with the same A0. The fact that the universe now multiplies like a first semester CS student's first try at a recursive algorithm doesn't change the fact that you get the same set in the end.

So: traditional mechanics. Start with one universe, let time T pass, and you end up with the same one universe. You will get the same one universe each time if you start from the same universe state.

Quantum mechanics. Start with one universe, let time T pass, and you end up with a huge set of universi. You will get the same huge set of unversi each time if you start from the same universe state.

I agree with you that "free will" is sort of vague. Personally, my desire to argue over little quibbles regarding free will ended when I read Bergmann's On Being Free - IMO he wrapped up the issue quite nicely.

[ Parent ]

Controlling the outcome quantum functions (4.00 / 1) (#119)
by bobothy on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 10:26:59 AM EST

You might argue that Free Will exists, since we can't determine the outcome of quantum functions.. but what if you could take this a step further?

What if you could actually Alter the outcome of quantum functions by sheer force of will?

Would this allow someone to actually choose the outcome of "random" functions?



I don't really understand Bnonn (3.00 / 1) (#120)
by Humuhumunukunukuapuaa on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 10:40:55 AM EST

Dear Bnonn,

I don't really get what you're referring to by the expression 'free will'.  You could easily clarify things for me.  If you were to point out some actual consequences of my having or not having free will I might be able to get a handle on what you're talking about.  I eagerly await your reply.

Yours Sincerely,
Humuhumunukunukuapuaa
--
(&()*&^#@!!&_($&)!&$(*#$(!$&_(!$*&&!$@

How did this get posted? (4.25 / 4) (#123)
by Spork on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 11:12:47 AM EST

I'm sorry--I teach about this stuff at a university with run-away grade inflation, and in a freshman course, this would be a C- paper (F without the grade inflation).

Maybe the author should have read some refereed articles on the matter; there are tons of them. The real problem with freewill is that even if quantum effects are amplified to the point where it's not determined what action you are about to take, the indeterminacy is just simple randomness. It's like Twister played in your head: where the (random) pointer stops decides your next action. It should be obvious that this is nothing like acting freely. For one thing, no one could ever be held responsible for what are provably random events--exactly because it's not their fault.

If you thought determinism was a problem for free will, you should think about randomness. Remember that you don't control quantum states; they just happen, randomly. If you are trying to tell me that because your actions are determined by the Twister model and that means you have free will, you've got some more reading to do. Try using a library!

It's not their fault.. (none / 0) (#133)
by Rift on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 12:29:10 PM EST

but I can't help holding people responsible for their (randomly created) actions - I don't have the free will to stop!

--Rift
A pen is to a car what a meteor is to a _____
[ Parent ]
It's not your fault... (none / 0) (#140)
by Cadrach on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 01:26:05 PM EST

That's correct; it's not your fault that you're wrong. You are, however, still wrong.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable. --H.L. Mencken
[ Parent ]

derminism and randomness (5.00 / 1) (#141)
by tgibbs on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 01:30:47 PM EST

"Free will" is really dualism in disguise. Mathematically, there are only two choices: either a decision is determined, or it is to some extent random. You don't have to resort to quantum mechanics to get randomness--there are plenty of classical sources of randomness. But randomness will not comfort those disturbed by determinism, because what they really mean by free will is pure consciousness unfettered by matter--and science gives little support for that.

[ Parent ]
The interface with the soul (none / 0) (#225)
by IHCOYC on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 11:17:28 AM EST

It could be argued that supposedly random quantum effects actually provide an interface, giving room for a non-physical being like a soul to operate, allowing it to determine human behaviour despite our biochemical nature. Well-designed experiments at the macro level on ESP and telekinesis suggest that human minds aren't particularly good at influencing or predicting random events at the macro level, but this answer is not conclusive at the level subject to quantum effects.

I am not convinced that indeterminate quantum effects are high level enough to have much of an effect on human biochemistry or human behaviour. This is, of course, an unfalsifiable hypothesis; it might just as easily be claimed that gangs of invisible goblins yank our chains, rather than an individual, discrete, and personal soul. But if there is a link between indeterminacy and free will, it seems to me that it would have to take a shape like this.
--
"Complecti antecessores tuos in spelæis stygiis Tartari appara," eructavit miles primus.
"Vix dum basiavisti vicarium velocem Mortis," rediit Grignr.
--- Livy
[ Parent ]

determinism != prediction (4.25 / 4) (#125)
by illaqueate on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 11:32:22 AM EST

"The determinist argument is simple. The universe relies on certain, established physical laws to operate, and therefore the outcome of any interaction of matter or energy can be predicted." (my emphasis)


I think prediction is an entirely different problem. We can justify determinism by materialism alone, or as you say "established physical laws" independent of our ability to predict or measure particular outcomes in a complex dynamic system.

For example, I can't measure your mental states or decisions but I can appeal to "established physical laws" and findings from neuroscience (lesion method, imaging, electrodes, whatever) that suggest that you are governed by these physical laws even if I am unable to measure the complex outcome of your behavior as part of a determinate universe. Therefore, we can say that the future is determinate but not computable or predictable on a large scale (except, perhaps, when painted with a broad brush).

I am not a physicist (in fact I got high 60's in physics I and II), but it is my understanding that quantum theory is only considered indeterminate in the capacity of prediction. From the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy in the article "determinism and indeterminism":

quantum theory can be interpreted as being deterministic. De Broglie and Bohm showed that such an interpretation of elementary quantum theory is possible, despite the alleged proofs that it was impossible (given in the 1930s by some of the discoverers of quantum theory). The basic idea is that a quantum system consists of both a wave and a particle. The wave evolves deterministically over time according to the fundamental equation of quantum theory (the Schrödinger equation) and it determines the particle's motion, which therefore also moves deterministically, given the wave (hence this interpretation is also called the pilot wave interpretation). This contrasts with the orthodox interpretation. Roughly speaking, the orthodox interpretation accepts only the wave, and accommodates particle-like phenomena by having the wave evolve indeterministically (violating the Schrödinger equation) during processes of measurement (see Quantum mechanics, interpretation of §3; Quantum measurement problem). In recent years, the de Broglie-Bohm approach has been greatly developed so as to yield a deterministic interpretation of more and more of advanced quantum theory, including quantum field theory (see Cushing 1994). Suffice it to say, a deterministic interpretation of quantum theory is entirely coherent.

Prediction is also indeterminate in newtonian mechanics; i.e. the problem of 3+ bodies.

Note: I didn't bother to read more than the first paragraph

Prediction vs determinism, and the 3-body problem (none / 0) (#184)
by docvin on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 08:43:58 PM EST

You're right in making the distinction between predictability and determinism. You might live in a perfectly deterministic universe, but you'll never be able to predict the universe's future from within the universe. If you could, then you could construct a Turing machine to do the prediction for you, and then use it to solve the halting problem. On the other hand, if you're outside a deterministic system and understand the rules governing it, you can simulate it to arbitrary accuracy.

You're wrong about quantum mechanics, though. Most physicists (myself included) consider quantum mechanics to be indeterminate on a fundamental level - it's not just that we can't know the position and momentum of a particle, for instance - it's that the particle simply doesn't have a position and momentum. The "hidden variables" approach that the uncertainty simply represents our ignorance, as espoused by the quote from the encyclopaedia above, is a minority view.

General opinion is that none of the deterministic interpretations of QM really works, though the jury is still out, and I won't attempt to argue it either way myself. ( Personally I prefer a 'true unpredictability' interpretation largely on the grounds that the maths is much prettier. )

The 3-body problem is different - I wouldn't really call it unpredictable. You can't write down an analytic expression to predict future states, but you can simulate the system to arbitrary accuracy if given sufficient computing power. It's not unpredictable, it's just hard to predict.

[ Parent ]

Halting Problem And Determinism (none / 0) (#194)
by CleverNickname on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 11:46:05 PM EST

The power of a Turing machine doesn't have anything to do with the determinism of the universe in which it exists.

In general, one Turing machine cannot predict the final output of another Turing machine. This is very different from predicting the next step of a Turing machine -- which is quite possible as you have described.

The power of a Turing is fundamentally limited (and consequently any device if you believe the Church/Turing thesis) regardless of the physical medium it is relized in.

[ Parent ]
qm -> cm (none / 0) (#198)
by illaqueate on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 06:02:57 AM EST

Thanks. I should re-read my physics text. Although I am wrong about qm on a small scale, it is uncontroversial that classical mechanics emerges from qm, right? Could someone explain this in terms of rates of decoherence?

[ Parent ]
Determinism (4.00 / 1) (#138)
by Humuhumunukunukuapuaa on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 01:17:57 PM EST

Dear Bnonn,

Something else I don't understand: the word determinism. In order to understand what it means I shall describe a model universe and you tell me if it's deterministic.

Imagine a classical universe with a special particle called an X.  At time T the universe splits into two copies that are identical except that in one copy the X becomes a Y and in the other it becomes a Z. Of course there will be two Bnonns, one in each universe. Call the one in the universe with the Y particle Bnonn' and the other Bnonn''.  This universe is completely determined in the sense that the state at time t+1 can be completely figured out from its state at time t if you have a powerful enough computer and can measure everything to enough decimal places.  And yet it's completely impossible for both Bnonn' and Bnonn'' to determine whether the X particle has become a Y or a Z in their universe without actually checking.

By your definition, is this universe deterministic or not?

Yours faithfully,
Humuhumunukunukuapuaa
--
(&()*&^#@!!&_($&)!&$(*#$(!$&_(!$*&&!$@

First define "universe"... (5.00 / 1) (#182)
by docvin on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 08:15:37 PM EST

You're using the word "universe" in two different ways - after time T your "universe" consists of two "universes", which just gets confusing. For clariyty I'll call the smaller universes "worlds" and the bigger universe the WSoGMM.

In this case, the WSoGMM would be deterministic, because its total state (a superposition of a universe with Y and a universe with Z) is completely determined by its previous state.

The world, however, is indeterministic, because the two worlds at time T + dT would share the same past - hence the current state of the world cannot be determined from previous states - it must be indeterministic.

So the many-worlds interpretation, as I understand it, is deterministic on the level of the WSoGMM, but indeterministic on the world-level. Since observers can only observe one world at a time, reality will appear indeterministic, but it remains deterministic overall.

[ Parent ]

True (none / 0) (#204)
by Humuhumunukunukuapuaa on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 12:35:20 PM EST

I like your 'world' terminology better (though I'd rather say 'universe' than 'WSoGMM' :-)

And thank you for making the points that I intended to make.
--
(&()*&^#@!!&_($&)!&$(*#$(!$&_(!$*&&!$@
[ Parent ]

Determinism, quantum collapse, and chaos... (4.80 / 5) (#143)
by Dr. Zowie on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 01:45:54 PM EST

Quantum physics is often described as a non-deterministic theory, but in fact it's only non-deterministic to the degree that the experiments are incomplete.

What do I mean by that? Well, there are two parts to quantum theory: a unitary (ie time-reversible, deterministic) part, in which wave functions interact in an intricate but deterministic way; and a time-irreversible, non-deterministic part, in which wave functions collapse.

But what is this "collapse"? It doesn't seem to fit into the rest of the theory. For one thing, quantum collapse doesn't work properly in Einsteinian relativity -- as pointed out by the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox. In fact, quantum collapse does a kind of end-run around relativity, as demonstrated by the famous Aspect experiment that demonstrates quantum collapse of entangled photons.

Much work has been done (no duh!) on quantum mechanics since the Copenhagen days, and collapse is much better understood as mere ``poisoning'' of the original wavefunction by the wavefunction of the experimental apparatus and physicist himself!

That is to say, wave functions are usually treated as an eigenvalue/eigenvector decomposition -- like overtones coming from a guitar string. We say that the guitar string can only generate certain notes, and that the sound that comes out of the guitar string contains a linear superposition of those notes. Making particular measurements is analogous, in that picture, to placing one's finger on the fretboard of the guitar, changing the spectrum of notes that the string can produce. We could say that plucking the guitar string and then placing our finger on the fretboard makes the string "collapse" into the new state, nondeterministically. But in fact the string evolves completely deterministically -- it's just that the final evolution of the string depends on the (very rapidly varying) phase of the wave as the finger hits the fretboard.

I (and many other physicists) like to think of quantum collapse in the same general vein: that is to say, it is an artifact of our incomplete description of the quantum system. The system includes our own equipment, body, and brain; the description, sadly, usually omits those terms -- or, rather, replaces them with a nondeterministic ``quantum collapse'' approximation!

There are, by the way, quantum systems that have no eigenstates! That is to say, there are (contrived) regimes that cause the wavefunction to behave chaotically rather than to engage in the usual linear superposition of oscillatory states. Nonlinear optics is the most obvious field in which that is the case: photons traveling through a nonlinear crystal such as Lithium Niobate have a significant self-interaction term and don't resonate in the way that we are taught in college-level quantum mechanics courses. Such states can't really be said to ``collapse'' in the usual sense of the term.

Chaotic states are paritcularly interesting because, unlike normal quantum states, they really are sensitively dependent on initial conditions (just like classically chaotic states) and dredge up small perturbations from microscopic to macroscopic levels. Perhaps there is nondeterminism to be found there, quite independent of quantum collapse!

Two good references about quantum collapse are Cohen-Tannoudji's famous textbooks on graduate-level quantum mechanics, and Louisell's "Quantum Statistical Properties of Radiation". Unfortunately, I don't have a good reference handy on chaotic quantum states.

Silly (2.66 / 3) (#144)
by krek on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 01:56:09 PM EST

One) How can you be sure that quantum physics is the end of the road? It is arrogant to think that we have reached the ultimate theory, in fact, already there is M-String Theory which promises to revamp our understanding yet again. As you yourself stated, there is no reason to assume that we have all of the information that is available, and, that given said information, a predictive model could not be formed. It was only about one or two hundred years ago that scientists were telling their students not to go into physics because all of the problems had been solved.

Two) It is again foolish to assume that quantum effects have no sway over the functioning of the brain, maybe it is the quantum effects that give us consciousness, it can't currently be explained any other way.

Three) You state "a particle has no exact position and momentum values until observed", perhaps this has more to do with limitations on our perceptive abilities. I imagine if our sense of the world came not from sound and sight but instead from pressure waves, electro-stimulus, chemical detection or just a proximity-sense, we would have started off on a very different road to discovery, and who knows if we would have ended up in the same spot. Two people who witness the same incident can come away from it with very different impressions of what happened, how can we not extend this to the entire race. What impact do you think it would have had had humans been born with an ability to 'see' quantum effects, or perhaps to only 'see' on a quantum scale; the only thing that I can say for sure is that we would have a very different concept of the way the universe functions.

M-theory... (none / 0) (#147)
by Humuhumunukunukuapuaa on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 02:08:04 PM EST

...is merely an application of quantum mechanics.
--
(&()*&^#@!!&_($&)!&$(*#$(!$&_(!$*&&!$@
[ Parent ]
That (none / 0) (#155)
by krek on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 04:02:40 PM EST

Is a very simplistic view of M-Theory, I would say.

[ Parent ]
No (none / 0) (#160)
by Humuhumunukunukuapuaa on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 04:27:32 PM EST

It's a completely accurate statement. M-theory in no way promises to revamp quantum theory. It is quantum theory.
--
(&()*&^#@!!&_($&)!&$(*#$(!$&_(!$*&&!$@
[ Parent ]
As I understand it, (none / 0) (#167)
by krek on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 05:16:41 PM EST

and perhaps I understand it poorly as my main source of info on this topic is mearly 'The Elegant Universe', but, M-Theory subsumes quantum theory, in that quantum mechanics cannot explain quantum effects since quantum mechanics are simply the rules that describe the effects, but M-Theory can explain the why of quantum effects, maybe not yet, but the potential is there.

And I never said that M-Theory would revamp quantum theory, just our understanding, and not our understanding of quantum theory, just our understanding in general.

I cannot proove it right now, but I feel that I am correct in saying that you are wrong about the relationship between quantum theory and M-Theory, quantum theory deals with things on quantum scales only, M-theory deals with all levels of scale, your reasoning eludes me.

[ Parent ]
Some reading material (none / 0) (#175)
by Humuhumunukunukuapuaa on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 06:05:16 PM EST

Quantum theory subsumes M-theory. If M-theory replaced quantum theory there'd be big headlines about it!

There is a process called quantization. You take a classical physical system (like Newtonian dynamics) and apply a certain mathematical process to it. What you get is called quantum mechanics. Very roughly if you apply it to F=ma (well, E=mv^2/2+V actually but that's just F=ma in disguise) you get the standard Schrodinger equation. You can do the same with the dynamics of a string and you get what's called String Theory. There are a bunch of different approaches to String Theory and they can be unified into a single framework called M-theory. But it's all still quantum theory. A nice introduction is here. If you read the stuff here you'll notice that at no point does anyone say that M-theory replaces quantum theory. On the contrary it discusses quantum theory and simply takes for granted that M-theory is an application of quantum theory.

Unfortunately pop science writers take quantum theory so much for granted they neglect to point out its relationship with M-theory - they just assume that everyone already knows that M-theory is a special case of quantum theory.
--
(&()*&^#@!!&_($&)!&$(*#$(!$&_(!$*&&!$@
[ Parent ]

He clearly meant to say "the Standard Model&q (none / 0) (#192)
by Kalani on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 10:25:06 PM EST



-----
"Images containing sufficiently large skin-colored groups of possible limbs are reported as potentially containing naked people."
-- [ Parent ]
Do you think so? (none / 0) (#203)
by Humuhumunukunukuapuaa on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 12:30:16 PM EST

In that case our discussion will serve to resolve the differences between QM and the Standard Model - a worthy cause don't you think?
--
(&()*&^#@!!&_($&)!&$(*#$(!$&_(!$*&&!$@
[ Parent ]
Well, sure but ... (none / 0) (#216)
by Kalani on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 07:21:15 PM EST

... if that detail itself is a point of confusion then there's a lot that the original poster doesn't know about the Standard Model. You could write a whole bunch of stories about QM theories and the Standard Model (like the ones that Matt did).

Also, I've read "The Elegant Universe" (by Brian Greene, I think), which is what the original poster referenced in his argument. Actually the book does explain that M-Theory is a Quantum Theory but it's understandable that the original poster would make the mistake because the book is pretty light on a lot of details. I think that a lot of popular physics books suffer from oversimplified explanations of complicated things. I've often found myself confused at explanations (by guys like Hawking and Greene) of things I am sure that I understand, because the metaphors get stretched so thin. It's not surprising that people without much knowledge of physics can come away from them without understanding important basic details.

Anyway, that's my long winded agreement with you.

-----
"Images containing sufficiently large skin-colored groups of possible limbs are reported as potentially containing naked people."
-- [ Parent ]
Thin metaphors (none / 0) (#219)
by Humuhumunukunukuapuaa on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 08:49:18 PM EST

I know exactly what you're saying with metaphors stretched thin.

The best 'popular' book on quantum mechanics is Feynman's QED. Even though it's aimed at the 'layman' it's not easy to read - I had already taken quantum field theory classes and found it hard. But it does tell the truth. It uses metaphors - but they're much the same metaphors as physicists use anyway. Before reading QED I'd have said it was impossible to give a good layman's account of Quantum Mechanics - but I was wrong.

What we need today is someone like Feynman writing about M-theory.
--
(&()*&^#@!!&_($&)!&$(*#$(!$&_(!$*&&!$@
[ Parent ]

gale force winded!!1 (none / 0) (#250)
by rev ine on Sun Sep 08, 2002 at 12:28:55 AM EST

n/t!!1 !!!1

[ Parent ]
M-Theory has not done any replacing (none / 0) (#200)
by krek on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 09:58:57 AM EST

because it is not ready yet, and there are still a good deal of people who are not yet convinced.

If you think that M-Theory is just a special case of Quantum Theory then you must believe that Quantum Theory is just a special case of Classical Physics, no? Oh, wait, it seems you do, "You take a classical physical system... and apply a certain mathematical process to it. What you get is called quantum mechanics", are you slow or something? That would be equivalent to saying that General Relativity is a special case of Newtonian Physics, Granted, it was built on the back of Newtonian Physics, General Relativity owes it's existance to Newtonian Physics, but it still remains a fact that General Relativity subsumes Newtonian Physics.

On the first page of your second link, even before they even start to describe anything, they state:

"During the 20th century, there have been some significant advances in science and especially theoretical physics. Two great theories were developed: quantum field theory and the general theory of relativity. Still at the end of the 20th century, it had become clearer and clearer that these two great accomplishments were eventually in conflict with each other and simply approximations of a grand underlying theory. Combining the theory of relativity and quantum field theory has been a major challenge for physicists in the 20th century. Now for the first time there exists a framework for this fundamental theory, which has already effectively combined the two theories and thereby completed one of the greatest tasks in physics. In String Theory and M-Theory, all matter is..."

In your own link it implies that M-Theory is indeed a superior theory that combines the two previously distinct theories of Quantum Theory and General Relativity, the link that you claimed did nothing of the sort. Did you read your own links, I suspect you did, as they offered a very poor quality look at what String Theory is. If you like you should read that which the author of that second link probably read, The Elegant Universe, which, if nothing else, is a good read.

I just do not see how any theory that adequately explains and justifies two previously distinct and incompatible theories could possibly be anything but a superior subsuming theory.

[ Parent ]
This is going nowhere (none / 0) (#202)
by Humuhumunukunukuapuaa on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 12:25:41 PM EST


In your own link it implies that M-Theory is indeed a superior theory that combines the two previously distinct theories of Quantum Theory and General Relativity

It does so by sacrificing General Relativity. Any theory of quantum gravity should have general relativity appear as a good approximation. But just about all attempts to do quantum gravity, at the moment, are fully within quantum mechanics.  Physicists want to make GR and QM meet but in order to do so they are not prepared to sacrifice QM. Rather they modify GR to bring it within QM.

If you think that M-Theory is just a special case of Quantum Theory then you must believe that Quantum Theory is just a special case of Classical Physics, no?

No such implication follows from anything I have said or linked to. Classical physics is an approximation to quantum physics. M-theory is completely contained within quantum theory.

I just do not see how any theory that adequately explains and justifies two previously distinct and incompatible theories could possibly be anything but a superior subsuming theory.

Because Quantum Mechanics is a very general theory - more of a general framework within which you can do physics. Quantum theory isn't a very specific theory that says things like "there exist these particles that interact in this way with these forces etc.", it's much more general. There are very few peer reviewed papers out there that contradict quantum theory - even the most esoteric theorists work fully within the framework of QM. People like Penrose have been working on modifications to QM via Twistor theory but that stuff isn't mainstream and it's certainly not M-theory.

Look, the only sensible way for me to prove this to you is suggest that you start studying the prerequisites required to do M-theory and then study the subject yourself. I have done so already. Come back when you have and then we can continue the discussion.


are you slow or something?

He he.
--
(&()*&^#@!!&_($&)!&$(*#$(!$&_(!$*&&!$@
[ Parent ]
Then (none / 0) (#207)
by krek on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 02:51:07 PM EST

How does Quantum Theory justify the existence of eleven dimensions? It would seem to me that if "M-Theory is completely contained within Quantum Theory" then it would follow that Quantum Theory should be able to predict the existence of eleven dimensions, just as M-Theory does.

I don't know.... maybe I am completely missing your point, or we are actually in disagreement over terminology, but.... M-theory predicts Quantum Mechanics, M-Theory predicts General Relativity, and neither QM nor GR predicts M-Theory, how is it that we are even debating this point? Quantum Mechanics fails at macroscopic scales, does anyone deny this? String Theory does not fail, does anyone deny that? You confuse me.

As far as being ready for discussion, I ended up dropping out of my Physics degree, due to the excessive number of lab reports, and have a better than layman understanding of Quantum Mechanics, and a slighly less well tuned understanding of General Relativity, and as far as M-Theory goes, I have read The Elegant Universe, as I stated before. Beyond this I just do not know what I would need to know in order to represent myself better in this discussion, but if you offered up some reasonable sources, I assure you, since I enjoy the topic of Physics quite a bit, I will read them.

[ Parent ]
More stuff (none / 0) (#209)
by Humuhumunukunukuapuaa on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 03:27:30 PM EST

Quantum Mechanics(/Theory) is a very general framework for doing physics. It describes a set of building blocks from which you can build a specific theory. But you have to actually choose some blocks to actually get a theory - quantum theory itself doesn't dictate which blocks to use.  Choose one set of building blocks and you get the "quantum mechanics of a point particle" and the well known form of the Schrodinger equation. Choose another set of building blocks and you get the theory of quantum computing. Choose yet another and you get String Theory and M-Theory.


How does Quantum Theory justify the existence of eleven dimensions?

11 dimensions comes from doing superstring theory. I mentioned above that when doing QM you need to pick a set of building blocks. It turns out that many of these sets give inconsistent results - for example doing string theory in 4 dimensions simply doesn't work that well. 11-dimensional superstring theory is one of those sets that does actually seem to work.


Quantum Mechanics fails at macroscopic scales, does anyone deny this?

This is totally debatable! Many people don't think QM fails at macroscopic levels. Many people think it fails because of the wavefunction collapse issue. Many people think it fails because there is no way to describe gravity within QM. Some people (Penrose?) think these are the same thing! A fairly mainstream view is something like this: QM is a very loose framework for doing physics. There are many possible building block sets you can choose. As we haven't exhausted all the different sets yet we don't know yet whether QM and gravity are consistent. We do know that trying to naively combine QM and gravity fails. That doesn't rule out non-naive approaches that are completely within the QM framework. In fact, M-theory is one such approach that is a quantum theory and yet contains something that approximates gravity. Unfortunately it has zero predictive value at the moment.

I'm not the person to give good references on M-theory. I learned the subject by doing a degree followed by a PhD. That makes for a pretty long list of books.
--
(&()*&^#@!!&_($&)!&$(*#$(!$&_(!$*&&!$@
[ Parent ]

Robert Anton Wilson's Quantum Psychology (4.00 / 1) (#145)
by dTaylorSingletary on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 02:00:48 PM EST

Regarding the application of quantum theory/physics and its implications on free will, signal-to-noise ratio dynamics, and psychology I would refer any interested readers to Robert Anton Wilson's Quantum Psychology. While his flavor of writing mannerisms is not for everyone, he provides an entertaining and enlightening literary experience. He reviews and considers the underused application of E-Prime in science, and its ability to aid English-speakers in more clearly representing reality in their communication with each other. While not everything in the book will apply for every reader, (of course it wouldn't--that's the whole point) it often can bring the world into a particular kind of focus for a short amount of time, longer if the reader allows it to infect their daily life. The concept of "is" (as RAW calls it, the "is of identity") particularly resonates with these discussions, as the word can be used so noisly and automatically by Western peoples that it takes a certain amount of deprogramming to reveal it's usage as often erroneous to adequatly describe the world, and in particular scientific matters. I highly recommend taking a look at his work, and attempting to remove any prejudice one may have prior to doing so.
--
d. Taylor Singletary, reality technician
music: http://techra.elephantus.com
Talk about missing the point... (4.40 / 5) (#148)
by Victor Danilchenko on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 02:34:03 PM EST

As others have pointed out, determinism has nothing to do with free will; which is to say, the problem of "free will" doesn't go away if we decide to accept that Universe is fundamentally non-deterministic -- randomnness is just as bad a determination.

The real answer is that the concept of "free will", as it is commonly understood, is fundamentally incoherent in an empiric, materialistic philosophical framework; it's just an empty utterance devoid of meaning. In order to have meaningful "free will", you either have to abandon philosophical naturalism, or become a compatibilist.

What is compatibilism? In short, it's a view that "free will" in the classical sense is meaningless, because "freedom of will" and "determination" aren't mutually exclusive; and that "freedom of will" is best understood not as freedom from determination, but rather freedom from coercion. The core argument in compatibilism is that even though your future mindstate is determined by laws of physics, it's also determined by your prior mindstate -- which is to say, you are a participant to the process rather than a passive subject of it, and thus are't deprived of freedom by virtue of being subject to laws of nature.

I must say, the author of this article could use some serious remedial philosophical education. As it stands, that article is almost painful to read, and the inflated list of references only exacerbates the matter.
--

Victor Danilchenko

Interesting concept ... (none / 0) (#165)
by pyramid termite on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 04:57:33 PM EST

... perhaps workable but there's one thing that bugs me - what was your original state of mind before you were born?

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
The Free Will Debate (4.00 / 3) (#150)
by Cadrach on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 03:09:09 PM EST

The free will debate is really quite clear-cut, and does not require resorting to discoveries/beliefs of quantum theory. It is either the case that people are determined solely by the previous state of themselves and the rest of the universe (note that this is compatible with both materialists, pure-spiritualists (people who don't believe in the material-world at all) and dualists (people that believe in both, such as most Christians); in the case of those that believe in spirits, simply include all spiritual properties of people along with any physical properties of people (if any)), or they are not (determined by their previous states and the state of the universe). Note that these are the only possibilities; either it is true that all human actions are wholly determined, or it is not true that all human actions are wholly determined.

First possible case: human actions are determined. If it is the case that human actions are determined by the previous "state" of the person and the state of the universe at that time, then the person (obviously) cannot ever choose otherwise than he/she does choose. To take it a step farther, how did the person come to be the person that he/she was a moment ago? Well, because of who the person was the moment before... This process would continue (recurse) until the first moment of the person's existence. Can a person be considered responsible for the state that they came into being in? So long as a person desires to stick to a definition of free will that captures what is meant when most people use the term, they will be forced to say that in such a world there is no free will.

Second (and only other) possible case: human actions are not determined. Prior to really investigating this option, it appears that free will may find a safe haven if only it is the case that determinism is false. Let us examine this possibility. In this situation, human actions are not determined by the current states (physical and, if applicable, spiritual) of a person, in combination with the state of the rest of the universe. What we mean when we say this, of course, is that a person, presented with exactly the same situation and when he/she is in exactly (this exactness must not be taken lightly; when I say exactly I mean exactly) the same state of mind, might choose to act either one way or another. If this is the case, however, then the person cannot really be choosing his or her own actions; necessarily, if the person might choose differently some times than others, then the person is not really the one doing the choosing. Note that this is very different from me sometimes "choosing" to eat an orange and at other times "choosing" to eat a grapefruit; if, at any given time, I might have chosen either, then the choosing was not really mine.

Notice where this leaves us: if we are determined, we are not free. If we are not determined, we are not free. Conclusion: we are not free.

Peter Van Inwagen is considered by philosophers (the people who study and debate over this type of thing) to be one of the greatest experts alive on this subject. I formulated the preceding argument before I heard of him, and before I found that he also espouses it. I should mention, however, that he does not actually believe it; although he has studied it for "almost thirty years" (PETER VAN INWAGEN: THE MYSTERY OF METAPHYSICAL FREEDOM) and has found everything pointing to a lack of freedom and nothing pointing to it, he cannot bring himself to accept that which he has proven (as far as I and any rational people I have spoken to about this believe) over his sense of freedom. Certainly, we experience a sense of freedom. We experience many senses, however, that have no basis in reality. Do we believe that flying elephants are real simply because some people have hallucinations incorporating them? It is true that we have greater reason to believe that which we sense than that which we do not sense, but this trust of our senses must end when reason demonstrates that our senses are mistaken.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable. --H.L. Mencken

Third case (4.50 / 2) (#166)
by pyramid termite on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 05:11:33 PM EST

There are no human actions, only processes. Could it be that "we" are not just an isolated state of mind existing at a certain time in a certain place, subject to choice, or determination of action, but processes of mind that have no discernable "snapshot" states of mind but rather, a collection of indeterminate states that flow in and out of each other without discernable boundaries? Do free will and predetermination or freedom have relevance to such a concept?

Just a question - that was an excellent, thought provoking article you've written.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
amen man (3.00 / 1) (#224)
by sayke on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 05:06:09 AM EST

everything causes everything else - to think of human actions as causally isolated from the rest of the universe makes no sense whatsoever. why not just consider ourselves aspects of a vast, all-underlying Process?

of course, our next mission is to figure out Process's state transition table... ;)


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

False choices (5.00 / 1) (#201)
by arthurpsmith on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 09:59:22 AM EST

You (and many others here) are making the important (Newtonian physics) background assumption that 'time' exists in the same sense that we think of space. Of course that assumption is also the basis for a lot of physics and traditional quantum theory - but recent study (Scientific American this month) suggests that time really cannot be like that. In fact we don't have a good model for time; and given that, your two choices are far from the only two possibilities.

As a specific example, subjective conscious experience suggests that our "essence", our "selves" are entities that somehow exist only at a single point in time (and localized in space to a particular body with access to the world through the usual senses), but that this point moves forward with subjective time (1 second per second). The usual tree-falls-in-the-forest and other solipsistic questions aside, from my own experience I have no proof that the universe was in any single "state" 10 minutes ago - it's possible that the current universe I experience derived from billions of 10-minute-ago universes that merged somehow into the one I currently experience. The "me" of right now could have been billions of different "me's" 10 minutes ago - and could diverge into billions of different "me's" in another 10 minutes - all I know is what I experience right now. So what are these "states" you are talking about anyway?

Energy - our most critical problem; the solution may be in space.


[ Parent ]
Yea, but .. (1.00 / 1) (#205)
by Wah on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 01:19:25 PM EST

While either of the choices you have provided would tend to disprove the notion of "free will", the argument being presented, as I understand it, as it applies to 1 and 2 would be as follows.
  1. The present state of the Universe cannot be known by us (Heisenberg), hence we cannot test it.  Therefore, for all intents and purposes, the will is free (It is not, but we cannot know that).
  2.  Again, it cannot be tested [What we mean when we say this, of course, is that a person, presented with exactly the same situation and when he/she is in exactly (this exactness must not be taken lightly; when I say exactly I mean exactly) the same state of mind, might choose to act either one way or another. ] So while it passes muster as a thought that the will is not free, it fails in the real world and we are once again given will.
So yes, it is good philosophy.  You can't test it, it can't be proven, but when thought about deeply and analyzed rationally it provides a mind bending contradictory conclusion. :)

It is true that we have greater reason to believe that which we sense than that which we do not sense, but this trust of our senses must end when reason demonstrates that our senses are mistaken.

Reason, and conversation with like minded entities.  Both tend to expose broken senses. [clipped anecdote about my friend learning to fly an airplane by instruments by learning to distrust his own senses]
--
Where'd you get your information from, huh?
[ Parent ]

Can you elaborate on 2 (4.00 / 1) (#229)
by x3nophil3 on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 04:07:08 PM EST


Your write-up is very interesting, but I don't find the second point entirely convincing. Your unnecessarily polarizing the situation. Look at the summary statement in the second case. You say: "human actions are not determined by the current states (physical and, if applicable, spiritual) of a person". What you actually mean, I think, is:

In this situation, human actions are not solely determined by the previous state of a person in combination with the previous state of the rest of the universe

This differentiation is important. Firstly because it's vacuously true that a person's current actions are determined by their current state. What's interesting is whether a person's current state is solely determined by their previous state (the state of the universe is only relevant insofar as it has and does influence that prior state). The question then is that if we know everything about the current state of a persons mind, can we then also predict what the next state of their mind will be?

The other problem I see is with this statement: "If this is the case, however, then the person cannot really be choosing his or her own actions; necessarily, if the person might choose differently some times than others, then the person is not really the one doing the choosing"

I don't see why this is necessarily the case. This statement seems to assume that the person has no say in the matter, that the choice in this matter is determined externally to the person, and yet you've already discounted the possibility that the state of the external world plays a role in the choice. This seems a bit nonsensical.

What I think you fail to address is this possibility: that our mind can produce ideas which it then discards. That is to say, in any given situation there may be a slim possibility than an alternative choice occurs to our conscious mind. If our conscious mind deems that that possibility is valid, it may then take that course of action. This possibility is consistent with your second situation, but doesn't have the same flavour.  

Let me elaborate by way of your example. Supposing at a given time T you are considering a basket of fruit, trying to determine what fruit to eat. The question then is at T' what selection you will make. At T your mind is in a known state, your experience dictates that you like fruits with peels especially oranges, but don't like grapefruit. So given this simplified situation, the first situation dictates that you will choose an orange; you prefer them, and without some stimulus which causes you to select another fruit you, as a determinist automaton, should just keep on eating oranges forever, or until you get sick of them.

The second situation, on the other hand, admits the possibility of whims. In its transition from T to T' your brain goes along it's usual mechanistic machinations, but a random spark fires in one of your axons, and triggers an 'eat grapefruit' response. As this thought occurs to you, it is rapidly rejected as out of line, something that we all percieve our mind doing, as it isn't consistent with the state of your mind at T. A instant later another little spark goes off, and you are randomly compelled to eat a tangerine. This second thought is consistent with the state of your mind at T; tangerines have peels and resemble oranges, even though they are not the same as oranges. So your will is free from determinism, but not free from you. The point you make against the second situation no longer holds, as you still have say in determining your next action, and the state of your mind at T has a huge contribution to T', but the process of thought making admits the possibility of random thoughts. Thoughts which are not a natural consequence of the state of your mind at T, but are consistent with it; a sort of thought mutation that allows your mind to think laterally.

Strictly my opinion, and I have no one to cite, so please feel free to shoot holes in it ;)

Cheers,
~x

[ Parent ]

Well, since nobody else linked to it... (2.00 / 1) (#152)
by jayhawk88 on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 03:17:05 PM EST

Here is a take by Bob the Angry Flower on the whole debate. Um, sort of.

Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web? -- John Ashcroft
Another one (none / 0) (#172)
by Happy Monkey on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 05:58:37 PM EST

On free will.
___
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
Dogma, and Xeno's Paradox (4.00 / 1) (#154)
by Ignatius Reilly on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 03:56:15 PM EST

For years, the study of logic was derailed by a stupendously absurd (in retrospect) fascination with Xeno's Paradox.  At the time, of course, it seemed to hold hidden the key to reality itself.  Eventually logicians and scientists came to realize Xeno's Paradox was no real paradox at all, but a matter of misconception.

Other examples exist: for instance, the farcical question, "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" once stumped many people.  (The answer is, "All of them," of it's a waltz; line dances and foxtrots require a slightly larger pin.)

I believe the question of free will vs. determinism (or predestination) falls into the category of "absurd," at least until we have a better understanding of what constitutes basic intelligence; from there, we can move on to basic consciousness ("self-awareness"), and then on to questions such as the existence of free will.

I suspect the answers to the more fundamental questions will make the distinction between free-will and determinism meaningless.

For a more entertaining approach to intelligence, check out Susan Blackmore's "The Meme Machine."

Zeno's Paradox (none / 0) (#157)
by x3nophil3 on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 04:11:32 PM EST

That's Zeno's paradox. And it's worth pointing out that it's the Zeno that was a student of pythagoras not Zeno of Elea.

Zeno's paradox isn't a misconception. It's a misunderstanding of the mathematics of continuing fractions, afaik.

And you are missing the point of the question of free will entirely. It has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence, basic or otherwise. The question of free-will, in our modern world applies to all sorts of semi-intelligent animals etc.

As I understand it, free will is a 'you can't get there from here' problem. Especially since the uber mechanistic world view was perpetrated on us by the Enlightement, there is a fundamental problem accounting for the possible existence of free will. This is very different from understanding how free will works, which is what your saying is absurd (rightly).

Later.
~x

[ Parent ]

God damnit I already told you... (1.25 / 4) (#159)
by Fen on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 04:26:16 PM EST

Why are people still debating this when I figured it out?

I.  In the beginning there was Love.
II.  Love created two conscious entities.
III.  Love created God.
IV.  God asked Love to increase the number of conscious entities to
the musical number, which is even.  Love does this.
V.  God randomly sets up a qualifying ruleset of physics and starts
the universe--then waits for it to end.
VI.  Repeat the last step.

_Entity, seat, and system are all used as related to consciousness.

1.  An entity is the self.

a.  The amount of entities is finite, musical, and even.

a1.  After the increase from two to the musical number, the amount
never changes.

b.  Each is separate from all other entities.

c.  Each has no beginning.

c1.  Since there have been an infinite amount of universes in the
past, this does not contradict.

d.  Each has no end.

e.  Each cannot input if it is not coupled with a seat.

f.  Each cannot output if it is not coupled with a seat.

g.  Each has a nonquantized infinite storage of previous input.

g1.  The storage resists attempts to glean information from it.

g2.  The storage cannot be directly shared--it must go through
systems.

h.  Other than storage, each is identical to all other entities.

2.  A system is the fusion of one entity with one seat.

a.  It has a beginning.

b.  It has an end.

c.  It has a quantized input.

d.  It has a quantized output.

e.  It must be either active (inputting and outputting) or inactive
(doing neither).

f.  Output is determined by the entity's storage, system input, and
free will.

3.  A universe.

a.  It is quantized.

b.  It has a beginning.

c.  It has an end.

c1.  All systems end at the end of the universe.

d.  It is finite.

e.  It produces at least one seat from its beginning.

f.  It has musical rules of physics.

f1.  These rules are determinate.

g.  If a seat needs an entity that has yet to take part in the current
universe, the entity is randomly selected by God.

--Self.

let's see YOUR theory (none / 0) (#210)
by Fen on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 04:59:26 PM EST

Let's see anybody else come up with something that fits all the data given. So easy to be a skeptic, so hard to come up with something. And BUMP.
--Self.
[ Parent ]
Why love? (none / 0) (#238)
by Mach777 on Fri Sep 06, 2002 at 04:41:27 AM EST

Why love?

[ Parent ]
You prefer decimal? (none / 0) (#244)
by Fen on Fri Sep 06, 2002 at 03:41:20 PM EST

Yeah, the meaning of life is decimal, we use it so much.
--Self.
[ Parent ]
You know.. (none / 0) (#223)
by carbon on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 04:47:51 AM EST

This looks suspciously like a formal RFC and design document. Creepy.

Though it makes you wonder: Universal Vim or Cosmic Emacs?


Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
creepy? (none / 0) (#226)
by Fen on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 03:20:59 PM EST

Hey that's cool. Never done an RFC or much looked at one either. So this would be RFC: "all of reality" then.
--Self.
[ Parent ]
The randomness != freewill argument (3.50 / 2) (#163)
by x3nophil3 on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 04:43:35 PM EST

Pardon me for a moment...

After reading through the comments here, including a rather abrasive one by a prof who would give this article an F, I'm again annoyed by the standard 'randomness is no better than determinism' argument that philosophy and physics types both churn out in response to this sort of discussion.

I have never understood this argument, perhaps someone can enlighten me.

Clearly if you say that randomness does not equate to free-will nobody can really argue. I've never understood why this is interesting, much less relevant.

I don't think anyone who advocates a quantum approach to the problem of free-will is suggesting that quantum phenomena are solely responsible for our actions. If we were quantum machines we would be rather unguided random devices; unpredictable at the most fundamental level. Yes, in this sense randomness is no better than determinism.

But this is a counterargument based on an exaggerated version of the initial argument, not that argument itself. It fails to accept that even the slightest presence of a non-deterministic effect in the process of cognition allows an out from the rigidily mechanistic laws of 'old' science. This sort of all or nothing approach to cognition is reminiscent of behaviourism, and is rather deprecated. The mind is a complicated thing, and I believe in Pinker's suggestions that a lot of it comes pre-programmed by evolution. If the brain doesn't need to bootstrap itself from nothing, than this sort of approach is really unjustified.

Laplace's Demon can be defeated by a very small blow. If non-deterministic inputs infuence brain activity in even the faintest and most subtle way, we have the possibility of a brain which is not entirely bound by the rules of determinism, a brain with the potential to act in a 'free' way. This doesn't have to imply that randomness plays a substantial role in the activity of cognition. Take this idea, for example:

It's a pretty well established scientific fact that the conscious mind is only a small part of the brain's business. We like to believe that the conscious mind is largely rational, and more importantly not random. If it were we'd be in a pretty terribly subjective world, and we could throw debate about ontology and epistemology right out the window. The subconscious, however is a big messy frothing thing that we generally feel is not-so-rational and frequently produces nonsense and garbage (e.g. dreams). Why then, is it harddto accept that there may be a certain random contribution to the subconscious, with the conscious mind acting as a filter, selecting amoung many random thoughts and taking only those which appear to make some degree of rational sense?

This is merely an example, but the point is: why on earth do people assume that if there is a non-deterministic aspect to cognition that that aspect must also be pervasive? Why can't we have a random thought generator tucked under the hood somewhere who's output is judged by decidedly deterministic brain processes based on experience and reason?

Cheers
~x

Really? (none / 0) (#230)
by icastel on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 04:07:58 PM EST

First of all, I think you're pretty confused on your terminology. But that aside, you say

It's a pretty well established scientific fact that the conscious mind is only a small part of the brain's business.

What do you base that on?

The subconscious, however is a big messy frothing thing that we generally feel is not-so-rational and frequently produces nonsense and garbage (e.g. dreams).(my emphasis)

Or that?




-- I like my land flat --
[ Parent ]
Ok (none / 0) (#231)
by x3nophil3 on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 04:39:38 PM EST

It's a pretty well established scientific fact that the conscious mind is only a small part of the brain's business.

Well I could cite any textbook on the matter. It's pretty much self-evidently obvious that motor-skills, visual perception, homeostasis and other such brain functions are beyond our conscious control. If you don't agree try holding your breath until you pass out. I doubt very highly that your conscious will (free or otherwise) is strong enough. Pinker (How The Mind Works, W.W. Norton $ Co, USA) talks about these things quite a bit in the context of evolutionary psychology (his point is that the mind is a highly differentiated system, which must have dedicated subsystems for handling tasks that are clearly beyond the capabilities of our consciousness; I can lift my arm, but could never solve the inverse-kinematic equations required to do so)

The subconscious, however is a big messy frothing thing that we generally feel is not-so-rational and frequently produces nonsense and garbage (e.g. dreams).(my emphasis)

Like I said, merely an example. Freud's sub-conscious is certainly messy (filled with repressed memories) and frothy (tossing foamy bits of neurosis and psychosis flotsam into our thoughts and actions). It was partly rhetoric, and not central to my point.

What terminology am I confused about, in your opinion?

Cheers,
~x

[ Parent ]

Re: OK (none / 0) (#232)
by icastel on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 06:34:41 PM EST

Well I could cite any textbook on the matter. It's pretty much self-evidently obvious that motor-skills, visual perception, homeostasis and other such brain functions are beyond our conscious control.

As you point out, this is "pretty much self-evidently obvious." That, however, doesn't mean that the conscious functions are "only a small part" of the brain's capacity. Let's see your citations.

If you don't agree try holding your breath until you pass out. I doubt very highly that your conscious will (free or otherwise) is strong enough

And what exactly does this prove?




-- I like my land flat --
[ Parent ]
Brain map (none / 0) (#235)
by x3nophil3 on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 08:52:19 PM EST

Well, my neroscience is pretty week, admittedly, but I believe that judgement, perception and 'rational' thought are mostly due to the frontal lobes of the brain, as well as the parietal lobes. That leaves the temporal, and occipital lobes as the rest of the mass of the brain which are left for the mechanical aspects of perception and motor skills.

Here's a link I found quickly, but it's decent. (Although the "religion-brain" site seems a bit peculiar)

~x

[ Parent ]

We Are Not Talking .... (none / 0) (#242)
by icastel on Fri Sep 06, 2002 at 12:29:15 PM EST

... in terms of physical size, but functions. So what if most of the functions are performed by a small portion of the brain?

Kind of interesting link, thank you. I kind of confirms what I've been talking about.

To answer your previous question, you seem to be confused about rational/irrational as being the same as deterministic/non-deterministic, which was really what the original discussion was about.




-- I like my land flat --
[ Parent ]
Is God a Taoist (4.66 / 3) (#164)
by kallisti on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 04:56:05 PM EST

No, not an offtopic comment, but the title of a really good essay by Raymond Smullyan, logician, puzzle maker and philosopher. It starts with a man asking God to remove his freewill, which prompts God to ask why he would desire this. Orginally from The Tao is Silent, this was also included in The Minds I by Hofstadter and Dennett. Both are books I recommend highly.

Defining the terms (3.50 / 2) (#179)
by slur on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 07:30:51 PM EST

The question of "free will" presupposes an awful lot, and frankly it's a very deep question. Right off the top I can see several complications to any "scientific proof" of the existence of free will.

If every electron in the brain is absolutely bound to the existing neural wiring then there can be no freedom to choose how one will think or act in response to a given stimulus.  Under these conditions "free will" is simply a matter of acquiescing to one's "choices" as if they were one's own. The sense of having "chosen" would be part of the fixed computation, as would be the act of reporting to oneself, "I just did what I chose to do," and the act of accepting this statement as the truth.

If we take the brain to be the place where one has ultimate control over "will" it would have to be provable that electrons can "break free" of the laws of cause-and-effect and take a course other than that determined by the current state of the system.

The fact is, what one is at any given time is the sum of the energy in their brain and body. If I say "I chose X" or "I did X" then I have to admit that "the sum of my atoms and electrons did X" or "the sum of my atoms and electrons chose X," or postulate the existence of a "transcendent mind" which has some dominion over "the sum of my atoms and electrons." This postulates an "awareness" that is capable of being and affecting the state of matter from within/without (so to speak).

I believe it is generally accepted that matter and energy is infinitely reducible in terms of its discreet properties. A "quark" or a "boson" is really just a set of discreet observable properties/behaviors which themselves are only known through their effects. Properties of what? Why, properties of energy, of course: energy translated into form, or the physical expression of energy.

The infinite reducibility of matter and energy gives rise to the idea that what we are is infinitely more complex that what can be physically observed through magnification and other clever means of revealing properties. And since we are infinitely reducible then it may be said that even the most infinitesimal fluctuations in the behavior of energy within matter and within electrons can - when compounded - result in more macroscopic effects in the observable universe.

In other words, out of almost nothing at all through the "collective will" of every elementary particle that makes up a being, actions can arise that lean just a nanometer to one side or the other of "deterministic" behavior. When such effects are distributed throughout a very large and complex neural network they could theoretically be quite pronounced.

Generally speaking people speak about "free will" in terms of the quite loud events that occur in their cerebral cortexes. They may say they chose spaghetti even though they would have preferred rotini, because they thought it would please their girlfriend more, or whatever. This is an example of making "choices" based on relative value, and amounts to a simple matter of computation on the level of a handheld calculator. People generally "choose" courses they believe will lead to pleasure, whether long or short term. This is a kind of slavery, but it is central to the nature of living physical beings. There are creatures that make "choices" that lead to their destruction of their individual selves, but such choices can generally be attributed to a collective survival need. Perhaps lemmings "believe" they will find intense pleasure in the ocean depths. Perhaps they do.

It is my understanding that the Will is something which has to be nurtured and practiced, and that it does in fact involve transcendence. If you want to be free to "choose" - for real - you have to get over attachments. Attachments bind and constrain the Will. You have to get over illusions, because illusions misinform the Will. You have to get over dualistic thinking, because the Mind is not a binary computer but a continuum. You have to practice meditation, because meditation is the practice of being Free in the Present Moment - the only place any Choice exists.

Science can never prove that "free will" exists - at least not until it demonstrates that you and i are transcendent force, woven into the fabric of the universe, capable of moving electrons through will alone.


|
| slur was here
|

Check out this movie: (4.00 / 1) (#183)
by LeibowitzN on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 08:37:26 PM EST

Waking Life
http://www.prism.gatech.edu/~gte484v/wakinglife/physicsguy.html

Other than being a good movie it also has a really good discussion about free will and quantum physics. The interesting question it raises is if probability and statistics is enough to satisfy our craving for free will or do we need something more...

theorize all you want (2.00 / 2) (#185)
by brandon21m on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 08:54:29 PM EST

We can theorize about how the universe works, including our own brains, but there are some things we will never know because we will never be as smart as God. We may like to think we are or will be but we won't be. Each new theory will indeed bring us closer to knowing what goes on in God's "mind" but we will never get there. We can only guess as to how some things work and unfortunately we will never know the true answer to a lot of those things. If we did we would be God.

In a way we do have free will. God gave us a choice as to choose right and wrong. Of course everyone likes to have their own versions of right and wrong but that isn't the point. The point is that we are still part of God's master plan and He knows when the world will end. He knows what we think and what is going to happen. No matter what we choose we may think it is free will, and I'd wager to say it really is, however God knows what that choice will be. That's the difference. You can call it quantum physics if you want that causes us to think what we think and maybe that is the underlying theory that makes us tick or it could be our soul doing that. Either way God knows what the final answer will be even before we make it. Maybe when we do get to be as smart as God He will intervene and say that's enough and end it right there. I'm sure we aren't far from knowing *that* answer. In the mean time we can start placing our bets.



What if you're wrong? (none / 0) (#193)
by phr34k on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 11:03:49 PM EST

What if there is no God? What if we abolished all science, replacing it with faith, only to find that science held the answer?

Science is replacing said faith with observations, theories and formulas. It's a religion in it's own right.

If relegion is to be mixed with science, to include God into a theory, don't you first have to prove that he does in fact exist?

[ Parent ]
1 thing religion needs (none / 0) (#214)
by brandon21m on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 07:06:52 PM EST

You forget that with just about any, if not all, religions there is always the element of faith. You can't prove the evidence per se because you believe it in your heart and soul. You can use the contents of the book of your faith be it the Holy Bible, Koran, etc. but unless you develop that faith to allow yourself to *want* to believe that you wouldn't be able to use it as evidence for someone else unless that person too developed the same faith that the content is the truth and real.

Besides, why should we have to prove He exists? Why don't you prove He doesn't? Isn't there a theory in science that says until something is disproven we assume that it is true? Isn't that the way that the Big Bang theory was partially accepted because we couldn't disprove it so most scientists went ahead and believed it was true?



[ Parent ]
No and no (none / 0) (#217)
by Kalani on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 07:39:44 PM EST

Isn't there a theory in science that says until something is disproven we assume that it is true?
No, and further that wouldn't be a theory it would be a principle. There is actually a principle that pretty much all scientists hold, which states that if a thing cannot be measured then it need not exist in a theory (that's why a lot of people say that there's no such thing as momentum/position information in circumstances that violate Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle).

However, when an unmeasurable idea helps to explain a phenomenon and makes the explanation less complicated than it would be otherwise, it's often used in textbooks and the like (that's why first year physics students get the full classical treatment and then modify it based on the limitations of QM).

In the case of the question of God (or gods), Science just doesn't have anything to say.

Isn't that the way that the Big Bang theory was partially accepted because we couldn't disprove it so most scientists went ahead and believed it was true?
No. The theory became accepted more and more as evidence of CURRENT universal expansion was accumulated. Just to highlight how uncommon an expanding universe theory was just under a century ago, you should note that Albert Einstein included in his General Theory of Relativity a cosmological constant that assured a stationary universe (which he later called his "biggest blunder" when later evidence demonstrated that the universe actually was/is expanding).

-----
"Images containing sufficiently large skin-colored groups of possible limbs are reported as potentially containing naked people."
-- [ Parent ]
i heartily disagree (none / 0) (#249)
by rev ine on Sun Sep 08, 2002 at 12:28:18 AM EST

[n/t] !11111

[ Parent ]
Godlike (none / 0) (#196)
by Wulfius on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 03:01:18 AM EST

We have it with us to evolve beyond what we are now.

It is in the basic spec.
By design.

If God had created us he would have created us to be his peers...adventually.
It must be very lonely living in an eternity by yourself.

Indeed does not the Bible say that we were created
in his likeness? It is rather naive to think
that, that only extended to the looks rather than
a basic spec.

Granted on that evolutionary scale we are still
in the toddler stage. And like a toddler shoving
nails into a power socket we may or may not reach maturity.

PS: Topical SIG No?
---


---
"We must believe in free will, we have no choice."
http://wulfspawprints.blogspot.com/ - Not a journal dammit!
[ Parent ]

u are mixing science and religion (none / 0) (#215)
by brandon21m on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 07:18:40 PM EST

Exactly what within us gives us a reason or the ability to evolve?

What would have been the point of being made in God's likeness if we were going to evolve out of it? We are as we were then and will ever be. We haven't changed into humans from animals. If that was the case why haven't all animals changed?

what do u consider a basic spec anyway? Each human reaches maturity usually within 20 years after their birth. The human race never had to reach maturity as the race was never put into a situation where it had to develop in the first place. Think of the chicken and egg problem. Chicken came first as it was created in order to make eggs. If a egg was there first what the heck took care of the egg and the chick when the egg hatched?



[ Parent ]
god what? (none / 0) (#206)
by ph0rk on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 01:30:39 PM EST

we're talking science here people!

what evidence do you have that supports the idea that any entity truly understands the universe?

[ f o r k . s c h i z o i d . c o m ]
[ Parent ]

simple (none / 0) (#213)
by brandon21m on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 07:00:01 PM EST

what evidence do you have that supports the idea that any entity truly understands the universe?

Any good creator/inventor knows exactly how his/her creation/invention works because they made it.

Sometimes, as in the situations that have arisen in this article, our ability to understand something is just simply out of our reach and we just have to accept it as it is based on faith that it works the way it should and we should just let it be. For all we know we aren't actually meant to know how everything works.



[ Parent ]
catch 22 (none / 0) (#220)
by jolt rush soon on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 09:03:47 PM EST

so basically, you're saying that you have no evidence.

it seems consistantly that many religions that have some kind of all-knowing god are simply designed to be un-disprovable. "oh there's this god that you can't see or touch or smell or that has any visable effect or actions or anyway to prove that exists but he's here and i believe because i've got faith and it's means that i don't have to ask or answer any difficult questions". they also seem to promote the action of accepting what is common knowledge and assuming anything else is god's work. if this attitude was taken by everyone, we wouldn't know about quantum physics today; we'd probably still be wondering why we have opposable thumbs. if you accept everything that's easily understandable as it seems and everything else that causes you to think too much to be god's work, you'll never learn anything.

your attitude is simply not helping. anyway, what's this god of yours made of that's so special and non-deterministic anyway?
--
Subosc — free electronic music.
[ Parent ]

In a way, he is right (none / 0) (#212)
by Hoo00 on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 06:23:06 PM EST

Since we don't know what God is really is, focusing on extracting the logic, God can be thought of as the universe itself or someone from outside the universe. Since we, creatures of the universe, is an inseparatable part of the universe, for us to see from the outside of the universe is impossible. Thus,   we can never be as good as God is.

Quantum theory seems to say similar things. We can't determine exactness, not because exactness doesn't exist, but because we are causing the uncertainty in the process of determining. For this reason, the uncertainty principle doesn't rule out an underlying deterministic universe. Neither does it says randomness is the rule. We just won't know.

[ Parent ]

faulty logic (4.33 / 3) (#186)
by btherl on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 09:17:33 PM EST

Hi,

Please don't be annoyed by the tone of this post; my aim is to point out logical holes so that you can fix them :)  (or tell me that I'm wrong)

Your reasoning appears to proceed as follows:

  1. Quantum interactions cannot be predicted by humans
  2. All interactions which cannot be predicted by humans are non-deterministic
From (1) and (2), Quantum interactions are non-deterministic.  However you do not provide a convincing argument for (2).

The following paragraph appears to be the key logical step:


The aspect of Schrödinger's Equation that directly questions determinism is fundamental to the concept of a wavefunction. A wavefunction is simply a way of describing a particle in a manner that agrees with quantum physics: because Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle dictates that position and momentum can't both be known to arbitrary precision, the particle is described as a probability waveform. That is, the wavefunction is the set of probabilities of the particle occupying any particular point in space, with any particular momentum. Until observed, the particle exists as a superposition of all these probabilities; it is not until it's observed that these decay to actual, discrete values that correspond with a particular position and momentum. In other words, until it is observed, the position and momentum values of a particle are indeterminate.

In this paragraph the skip is made from "Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle dictates that the position and momentum cannot be known..." to "...the particle exists as a superposition of all these probabilities...".

Clearly (2) is being used to make this jump, but no evidence is given for (2) itself.

Your argument that quantum interactions are "too small" to affect determinisim on a larger scale is also not backed up.  The statement that "...on larger scales [interactions] tend to become deterministic..." means something very different from "are deterministic".

New points (Chaos theory, "abstract questions relating perception and reality") are introduced in the conclusion without any explanation, which weakens the effect greatly.  It would be better to either develop these points or leave them out entirely.

It's not logic... (5.00 / 1) (#246)
by Nhod on Fri Sep 06, 2002 at 04:17:49 PM EST

I think the issue here is a incomplete understanding of quantum physics. Think of this: You have some variable x. It is "uncertain"--it may be either 4 or 5 (but not in between), and is 50% probable to be either. Before we measure x, we look at another variable y, which is a function of x as so:
y (x) = 2x.
If we measure y, it comes out to be 9. Fascinating, as x isn't allowed to be 4.5.
We measure x, and it turns out to be 4. Now if we go back and remeasure y, it's *8*, because y = 2x, and x has "decomposed" from 0.5*4 + 0.5*5 to just straight up 4. This shows that our simple measurement of x has somehow changed it!

The point here is not that our equations aren't advanced enough to decide if x is either 4 or 5, it's that the universe hasn't really decided yet, and it acts as both.

This also leads into the "trend toward determinism". If you take a trillion "nondetermed" functions between x = {1,2..10} (10% chance of it being any one of the set), it averages out to be 5. Of course, there's still a *chance* that every one will be 10, but that's a 1 in 10^trillion chance. (This effect is what I understand to be "quantum weirdness").
So! in all probablility are the universe will follow the "theory" and be 5, but .. there's always that chance.

**NOTE: this is a highly simplified example, and definitely not a true wavefunction.

[ Parent ]
cafe conversation topics.. (none / 0) (#252)
by btherl on Wed Sep 11, 2002 at 08:33:49 AM EST

Thanks Nhod, that's a nice explanation :)  Quantum physics is a regular discussion topic among people such as myself (who know nothing about it), so knowing more is always good :)

I am very interested in this sentence:


The point here is not that our equations aren't advanced enough to decide if x is either 4 or 5, it's that the universe hasn't really decided yet, and it acts as both.

To say that the universe "hasn't decided yet" sounds like an argument in favour of non-determinism.  But if it is true that measuring x will affect y, and that the formula for determining y from x is always true (taking into account that x may not yet be fixed to a value), then the only opportunity for non-determinism is when the choice is made to set x to 4 or 5.

The question then becomes

  - Is it determined by some as yet undiscovered (and possibly unknowable) laws of the universe that when we measured x, it was destined to become 4, or destined to become 5?

We know it to be true that it acts as both before being measured, and that measurement of y will be affected by the act of measuring x, but I still feel it may be our lack of knowledge that means we do not know which value x will take when measured.

Of course it could be non-deterministic, but we do not know either way :)

[ Parent ]

The AI approach: why it's hard to be free (3.75 / 4) (#191)
by exa on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 10:07:11 PM EST

Real metaphysics is the heart of philosophy, like it or not. Free will has always seemed to me a matter of great confusion, just like consciousness. I think theology is more interested in free will than philosophy, and it may even be said that their views are more consistent!!

The problem with free will is that it is not well defined, therefore it becomes pointless to argue since "free" has no physical meaning. Just like consciousness. Therefore all arguments about free will _will_ approximate a complete mess.

From the computational view of the mind, it will be first necessary to define "free will". It hardly seems that free will is identical to non-determinacy for the following simple reason: random transitions do not have anything to do with our conception of free will. If it is not non-determinacy what is it?

My answer would be, just like consciousness, what we call free will is a set of mental capabilities. For instance the ability to make plans and to carry them out. The ability to generate original thought, etc. When we begin classifying the elements of free will, it no more looks like it has much to do with determinacy. It is rather the feeling of a conscious mind that can act and influence the world in its own way! It is a useful and necessary illusion!

Ending with a serious note:

Computationally, I don't think that it matters whether the input from the outside world is "truly random" or not. Objectively, it's just input. Subjectively, it doesn't make me any more free if a car hits me by chance.

Making the machine itself non-deterministic does not make it more powerful, there is always a corresponding deterministic machine that can do the same thing.

Therefore no sort of randomness is a sufficient condition for free will. Sorry to dispel the excitement :)
__
exa a.k.a Eray Ozkural
There is no perfect circle.

Read my post (none / 0) (#222)
by losang on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 01:46:45 AM EST

I put up a post "An Alternative View". Would like some comments.

[ Parent ]
Silly human. (3.00 / 2) (#211)
by confrontationman on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 06:06:51 PM EST

Your argument that, because you cannot predict with 100% accuracy whether A or B will occur means that it could go either way, is crap. One of the two will definitely happen, you just don't know which one.

The fact is that our laws (I wouldn't even call them laws, they are more like guidelines) of physics are an incomplete model for predicting physical behavior. There is a lot of stuff we don't know, but that doesn't make it unknowable, it just means we don't know it yet.

In conclusion, based on the trend towards humans making more accurate models for predicting physical behavior, I think free will is highly improbable.



I Like Determinism ... (none / 0) (#228)
by icastel on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 03:54:05 PM EST

... because it is so convenient. "But, mom ... the particles made me do it."


-- I like my land flat --
Quantum Physics and Free Will (4.00 / 1) (#233)
by RuthlessBastard on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 07:09:20 PM EST

Actually, the type of randomness that could be introduced by quantum phenomena, even if it can effect the macroscopic goins on in the brain somehow, doesn't say much about free will. Free will is more than just lack of determinism or presence of randomness. For example, If I wanted to eliminate any and all possibility of anyone being able to predict my behaviour, no matter how much information they had about the physical states of my components, all I would have to do is get a Geiger counter and base some of my decisions on whether I heard an even or odd number of clicks during a given period of time. My behaviour would then be partially dependent on unpredicatable quantum phenomena and thus unpredictable in an absolute sense according to our current understanding of physics. However, I could not say that I was excercising "free will" by running my life in that way. Now comes the big question - what, exactly, do we mean by free will? Unless we can define what it is, there is no way of ever knowing whether we have it. There was once a long discussion in one of the usenet groups and several posters asked that question during the course of it, but no one could provide an answer. The most that people could do was agree that it was not deterministic, but it is not random either, nor is it a combination of the two. What else is there? Another thought: provided that someone can define what free will is, we ought to be able to build a computer that exhibits it. Perhaps such a device will be rather simple - this might be a far simpler problem than creating artificial intelligence.

Physics != smartest (2.50 / 2) (#237)
by wytcld on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 11:19:13 PM EST

Remember the dot.com revolution, where anyone who knew a bit about networking was thought to be so much smarter than anyone else in business that all traditional businesses should be replaced by new businesses run by kids who knew a bit about networking? Well, our society is just as silly about believing that those who know a bit of physics should be in charge of all our knowledge. And it makes even less sense. Traditional businesses are back to hiring network consultants as needed. Meanwhile, the denial of free will, which folks with a bit of physics theory took over as a project from those with a bit of theological theory, marches on in its own self-congradulatory, aren't-we-so-smart way.

Let's start just about anywhere in the vicinity of psychology, where the real business that should concern us here is at hand. Until recently it has been impolite to notice in some pretentiously learned circles, but you are conscious. What is that consciousness concerned with? Scanning the horizon for threats and prospects and forming plans to maximize ones chances of having certain sorts of success in life. Is this biologically determined? Certainly, in the sense that the shape of your horizon has to do with ("is determined by," loosely speaking) what kind of creature you are, and that's an evolved type. And it has evolved consciousness.

So the consciousness is there for some good evolutionary reason - it's quite unlikely it would be so persistent among us if it was just a spandrel. And the reason, we can easily observe not just in ourselves but in the behavior of animals such as cats, often involves considering which of several prospects to pursue. Consciousness busies itself with free will. It's not the sort of utter "freedom" we'd have in a universe where nothing connected. But it's certainly not the utter lack of freedom we'd have in a universe where the connections were so tight you'd do the same damn thing even if you never gave the choice any conscious attention.

Which gets us to the political reason the Church never liked free will: Free will allows people to use consciousness to arrive at plans of action that go far beyond church dogma. It's free thinkers who did so with their consciousness who were too often burned at the stake. The same folks brought us both witchcraft and science.

But now science - some science, not all - is trying to set itself up as the new arbiter of reality - the Church's old role. So guess who would rather, for their political purposes, that people exercise less of their own consciousness? Well, there's less reason to exercise consciousness if your choices aren't real. "No free will" is a political move, an attempt to diminish people psychologically. If you accept this move, you will be "correct" in the eyes of some people in physics - particularly older flavors of physics. But does embracing such a belief really accord with your best personal interests in maximizing the power of your consciousness?

Well, why would you want to maximize the power of your consciousness? It's kind of pointless, really, if you've got no free will. Or if you do become convinced you should want to do that, it's just fated, so don't bother to expend effort on worrying whether you should decide to do that.

Which is all quite silly. While there is much unconscious that goes into our actions, and much from the environment, still we are quite aware of quite a bit of effort that goes into some decisions. Biological systems simply do not evolve to put massive effort into activities with no reward.

Another principle of psychological biology is that illusions are much more expensive to mount than reasonably accurate perceptions. This is by the same token that it takes quite a bit more mind work to create a coherent web of lies than it does to simple stay close to a true account of events. So an illusion of free will requires quite a more difficult biological explanation than the real thing would. So if you're doing biology or psychology, you want to start with the premise that we're in a universe where free will somehow works. If you're doing physics, of course, you have a lot more difficult work ahead of you if you're expected to model such a universe, since so much of the physics up until now has gotten its work done by ignoring this difficult issue.

But physics doesn't have the evolutionary constraint that biological systems have. The biological argument for free will is actually much better conceptually motivated. The only real problem is that biologists and psychologists who are aware of these sorts of issues get about as much respect as executives of brick and mortar companies were getting five years ago, and everyone wants to be in with the physics crowd, who, being biological creatures, want to spare themselves the effort of explaining how this universe is structured considering that free will works.

Meanwhile, far too many students think they've learned something tremendously clever when some professor indoctrinates them into the great secret of the clockwork universe. Pathetic, really, but also kind of quaintly cute.

So I take it... (none / 0) (#239)
by Wah on Fri Sep 06, 2002 at 09:37:56 AM EST

...you're a biologist?  (heh, at least you got a comment with your 1)

You want to set up a dichotomy when none exists.  Why not use both fields to gain a better picture of whatever it is you want to draw.
--
Where'd you get your information from, huh?
[ Parent ]

If you found the article interesting, then . . . (none / 0) (#240)
by wells on Fri Sep 06, 2002 at 11:56:24 AM EST

As determinism has been an important part of metaphysics for centuries, the (usual) conclusion 'yup, we're still free...with certain privisos' is sort of missing the point - the article was at least clearly written, but for want of argument in place of exegis. So you may care to have a look at any of the following.

For a good survey of exactly why this issue matters, you could do worse than Ted Honderich's A Theory of Determinism: The Mind, Neuroscience and Life-Hopes, 1988,Oxford University Press. A rather long book, but so is the history of the debate.

Current analytic philosophy is just as metaphysical as ever: for a really excellent, but weighty, look at the issues, see Jaegwon Kim's Supvervienence and Mind, 1993, Cambridge University Press. Jerry Fodor's A Theory of Content and Other Essays, 1994, MIT Press has some good discussion of the issues as well -- and is quite an easy read.

And for those of you who actually think that the goings on at the quantum level might influence the functionalism of human thinking, have a look at the Quantum Consciousness Group at the University of Arizona.

Cheers.

Sorry, try again (none / 0) (#241)
by mkbilbo on Fri Sep 06, 2002 at 12:21:35 PM EST

"So, although determinism itself can be demonstrated to be false..."

No, it cannot. Even if you accept the Copenhagen interpretation (as you do here), you can only justify saying that we cannot *know if the universe is deterministic. Heisenberg pointed out what we are limited in making *measurements. That once you start reaching the level of the Planck constant in measurements, you cannot help but disturb the system as you make measurements.

That dosen't mean the universe cannot be deterministic, it means we cannot *know if it is (or as Hawking put it, we cannot know what has been determined).

Our experience of "free will" could arise from our inability to "know" the future with certainty. That doesn't mean the "future" isn't determined but, rather, that because we cannot predict it with certainty, we *feel as if it is undetermined.

On the other hand, the Copenhagen interpretation is unravelling. In large part because the *other half of the Schroedinger equation was ignored by older physicists who stubbornly clung to classical ideas about time. There is a time-reversed aspect of the equation that hasn't been taken into account until fairly recently.

For example, the Transactional interpretation of QP would eliminate all the quantum "weirdness" and restore a more classical framework. You would have to, however, give up classical ideas of "time." If particles interact both forward and "backward" in time, much of the indeterminance disappears in QP.

That is to say the classic "slit" experiments are determined by what you do in the "future." Interactions between particles in the "present" and "future" could make the experiment deterministic but involve events that, to you, haven't "happened" yet.

You may want to read _Schroedinger's Kittens_ by Gribbin. Also check out Hawking on the "no boundary" proposal (IIRC, you can find some information on this in _A Brief History of Time_). Also the latest Scientific American as the issue of "time" is discussed as possibly an illusion itself. Which would, really, dispose of "free will" entirely.

Frankly, I find the whole concept of "free will" to be a non-starter. It's ill defined and appears more social/psychological a construct than anything "real." A convenient fiction but not necessary. We use "free will" largely to determine "responsibility" in a social context. But it's not actually needed.

For example, if a wild tiger gets loose on a playground, do we debate "free will" issues? The tiger is viewed as acting by "instinct" in threatening the kiddies, not making "moral choices." Yet we still have to get the tiger *off the playground and away from the kids right? Similarly, does it matter if a human murderer is making "choices" or is compelled by incaculable forces to do what he or she does? Either way, something has to be done.

In short, who cares if "free will" exists?

Further and finally, the whole idea that indeterminance is operating in our minds is something I find FAR more disturbing. You would NOT be talking about "free will" but, rather, chaos. Anyone of us, for no reason at all, could randomly behave in way that could be characterized as "insane." You could, for example, suddenly abandon a good, decent, settled life with everything to lose and drive your car into a playground, killing dozens of small children, for no "reason" at all. A loving spouse could suddenly kill for no reason he or she would ever know. A normal, stable person could suddenly, without reason, blow up a building.

That is to say, your behavior and the behavior of everybody around you is, ultimately, RANDOM. Not that they are making "choices" but that they are simply behaving without any predictability at all.

This randomness, by the way, is not what we experience in the main. Humans are actually very predictable people. Live with someone for a long period of time and tell me they aren't predictable. <wry-g>

For myself, I'd rather jettison "free will." If we humans are actually predictable types and generally respond in known ways to circumstances, we have a better chance of surviving as a species. If, for example, we see that general prosperity brings about more peaceful behavior, we *can do something about the world's tendancy to war and violence. Not perfectly perhaps but there *are things we *can do. If it's all indeterminate, we could have nuclear war tomorrow because... because nothing. Because somebody pushed a button for no known reason nobody could predict and nobody could do anything about at all...

Free Will/Determinism are exclusive? Says who? (none / 0) (#243)
by Epssus on Fri Sep 06, 2002 at 02:45:43 PM EST

Whoever said they had to be exclusive? If you accept the idea that time(not directly observable) and space(directly observable) are in some way equivalent, then just as in our observable world, an  object *has* existence in every possible way, in a given number of dimensions. "Time" is not necessarily a single dimension. A line in space can be reduced to one dimension, but its also easy to show that it can be a composite of multiple dimensions, or "possibilities".

This is essentially what quantum theory states. Take for example an electron around an atom. Heisenberg states that you cannot know both the position and velocity of an object at the same time, without making an observation and disturbing it.

Quantum goes on to show that while that is true, the electron exists on a limited *determined* interval. In other words, the set of possibilites is smaller than the full set of spacetime. It is a determined and quantifiable interval. However, in making an observation, one will alter set of possibilites.

in essence, "free will" and the ability to make decisions requires that you make some sort of observation of possibilites, and in doing so, alter the set to a different, but still determinable interval of possibilities that is smaller than the universe as a whole.

in essence one could be assumed to be "traveling" through space and time, just as one might travel through space, in a direction, with a velocity and momentum. The determinism comes from the fact that there is an "event horizon" of possible timelike destinations and directions limited in observation  ultimately by the speed of light. One cannot make a "spacelike" transition (one that would require exceeding the speed of light). Further, it can be mathematically proved that there is a finite and determinable number of dimensions, which is a definite limit on the possibilities. But don't confuse limited with "finite".

More practically, and on a smaller interval than than the total of possibilities is the effect to which you are limited by the quality of your observations. All observations are based on a bounded, closed and finite interval. This is to say that all theories are but approximations.

A very important thing to remember is that a theory has never been completely "debunked" despite what some people would like to say,Theories such observers as Newton's, Bohr's were merely limited by the quality of their observations and data. And their observations *did* hold true on the data they had. Their theories however, were replaced by "better" approximations of larger sets of data.

An important point is that a set of points can be closed, but still infinite. An example of this is a line in space. It can stretch infinitely in both directions (even if it wraps around on itself, IE closed, it can still be infinite in non-euclidian space). If you add a dimension, you have a plane that stretches infinitely in both dimensions. All points on the infinite line can exist on the plane, but it is quite obvious that the plane encompasses a set that is much larger than the line's

In essence, while every possibility is determinable, one might still be allowed to make observations, and in doing so, change the set of possibilities used. This might be called free will. So it is possible that not only may free will and determinism be non-exclusive, it is possible that they could require one another.

Anyone that assumes that determinism requires a one dimensional, finite and completely reduced possibility, and that free will requires open and unbounded possibilities (not to be confused with merely infinite) is taking (forgive the bad pun) a narrow minded view of things, and is ignoring the options that are opened up by quantum mechanics.

Again I'm sure that there are better approximations, but that's the best I can come up with on what I know. The whole point of this article was how quantum opens up other possibilities, but in doing so you also cannot ignore the higher mathematics.

Now I'll pipe down and go back to feeding the dragon I've got in my klein bottle.

so frustrating (3.00 / 1) (#251)
by parasite on Mon Sep 09, 2002 at 04:14:27 AM EST

Why doesn't anyone see that this is comparing APPLES AND ORANGES.

For the love of God -- how do you reach determinism from predictability ?
Okay think about this: if you know EVERY SINGLE particle in the universe,
and have a computer powerful enough to calculate it, you can figure out
what decision I will make. Is this determinism ? NO, because it has nothing
to do with my choice being free. Why ?

First: I made the decision. I MADE THE DECISION. Just because you can
find out what decision I will make, doesn't mean that I didn't make it.

Secondly: Any SIMULATION that is complete enough TO calculate the decision
I made, will INFACT be another universe in itself as complicated as this
one. It will be AS REAL as this world by necessity -- and so it will be
another person making the same decision as I did. This does not contravene
their free-will either.

Finally there is the opposite idea, which is also patently ABSURD and false.
How do you get non-determinism and free will out of randomness ?? If it is
RANDOM, this does not suddenly mean I have control over how the random
operation will occur. It is actually RANDOMNESS that kills free will, because
it is the universe that will perform the 'operation', over which I will
exhibit no control -- in the same way that your C++ program uses the random
function.

The particle/wave reality could be more complex (none / 0) (#253)
by brantsj on Fri Sep 13, 2002 at 04:29:49 PM EST

One of the mysteries of Wave Dynamics modeling has been the universal avoidance of consideration of the full dimensional framework. We know that a wave on a one-dimensional space - the familiar wave on a rope - is actually a two-dimensional model, a displacement of the one-dimensional space in a second dimension. Similarly, a wave on a two-dimensional space - the equally familiar wave on the surface of a pond - is actually a three-dimensional model, a displacement of the two-dimensional space in a third dimension. So why don't we talk about a wave on a three-dimensional space actually being a four-dimensional model - a displacement of the three-dimensional space in a fourth dimension? ("Time" doesn't count as a dimension here.) Perhaps we're reluctant to address the fourth dimension explicitly because we know that such a wave would NOT be detectable within our three dimensional space. We know that a one dimensional scientist living within the 'rope' universe could not detect a wave that was a displacement of his universe in an unknown second dimension; a two dimensional scientist living within the 'pond surface' universe similarly could not detect a wave that was a displacement of his universe in an unknown third dimension - so our scientists would not be able to detect wave effects that were a displacement of our space in a fourth dimension. But we do detect wave effects, so do we have to abandon the wave model? Perhaps not. Going back to the 'two' dimensional model - a wave on a plane surface. If that plane is intersected in the third dimension by another plane, a cross section of the wave form is expressed within the intersecting plane and its effects can be detected by the two dimensional inhabitants of that plane. Extrapolating to wave forms on three dimensional spaces, the intersection of two such three dimensional spaces in the fourth dimension would result in detectable cross sections of each others wave forms within each space. Of course the two three dimensional spaces are otherwise totally unknowable to each other. Could it be that fundamental 'particles/waves' exist in their own spaces, separated by a fourth dimension, and it is the intersections of these spaces that produce our Universe? Or better yet, might fundamental 'particles/waves' exist in an nth dimension and it is the intersections of their intersections of their intersections ... that produce our universe?

Quantum physics and free will | 254 comments (239 topical, 15 editorial, 0 hidden)
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