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Free Will?

Do we have free will?  

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  1. 1. Do we have free will?

    • Yes.
      10
    • No.
      3
    • I don't know.
      4
    • I would decide, but I don't have free will.
      1
    • Other. (Do tell, do tell.)
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No one here asked for it, but it's here anyway. I don't think the subject needs to be explained any further than to point out that this is concerning fundamental free will, if you will, as in it is possible that you could or can act as an agent and with a conscious and purposeful agenda influence reality, in such a way that allowed for other possibilities and tangents to occur. Basically your choices exist and actually affect and change reality, even if in small ways.

 

As always, try to keep it civil and remember debates are more interesting than just stating your opinion.

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Right now in my life, there are many directions I could work towards. My free will allows me to choose which direction I take. People who don't believe in free will expect someone or something else to make such a choice for them. I'm stuck wondering how I'll manage to make the decision for myself. I could wait and hope some form of "fate" will make the choice easier, but unless such a thing happens soon, I'll be stuck having to decide for myself. The chances of each possible choice going poorly in some way or another frighten me. Still, there is some control I have in my life. Difficult or not, it's good to be able to make your own decisions and be accountable for your own actions.

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Yes we have free will... No, nothing else controls our fates... Yes, everything we do DOES affect everything else, even if it's imperceptibly... No, it isn't possible to be controlled without your consent...

Don't insult me. I have trained professionals to do that.

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I see. Perhaps I should rephrase the question somewhat for clarity's sake, although this area of free will is fine. I meant, is it POSSIBLE to make choices, or is the universe deterministic?

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The results of the choices we make may be deterministic, but the possibility of making them in the first place is within our own power. Opportunities may present themselves to us during the course of our lives, it's up to us to make the choice of taking advantage of them.

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The results of the choices we make may be deterministic, but the possibility of making them in the first place is within our own power. Opportunities may present themselves to us during the course of our lives, it's up to us to make the choice of taking advantage of them.

This.

 

Also, not choosing is a choice itself. (it's impossible to not choose)

Don't insult me. I have trained professionals to do that.

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They can be if choices are illusory in nature, which is what they'd have to be if the universe was purely deterministic. Also, it's possible to not choose on the basis of not knowing the choices and the subject of the choosing, like a multiple choice question you'll be given in twenty years. Not choosing CAN be a choice though, just not all of the time. Anyway, to get a proper debate rolling, Why and/or how do we have free will according to your opinions?

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I think it's just our nature. We have the ability to make choices and we act upon them. It's how we've evolved as a species.

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I'd contend with that personally, but the question here is less to do with us directly and more to do with the universe in a way, I probably should have made that clear. Once again though this is fine, except for it not being much of a debate. What I meant was, do we live in a deterministic universe (and by extension have no free will), like the game of life, where if you were omniscient you could effectively predict everything that would happen because it's just a set of rules and systems playing out in a scenario? If you do or don't think so, tell us why!

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I believe there's some theory in quantum mechanics involving a supercomputer that would calculate the deterministic values of our universe, but that it would require more energy than that contained within our universe. Such a computer could not exist within this universe, as it could only operate under the power of a different universe. If such a computer were to operate under the power of a different universe, it would not be operating within the same laws of our own universe, thus would lose it's deterministic value.

 

Resultingly, a universe can only operate with a set of unknowns and unknowables. Human free will is potentially one of these unknowables. With enough knowledge, some human choices may be deterministic, however, the other unknowns of the universe prevent the vast amount of deterministic values needed to prevent free will from existing.

 

Of course, this is just to my understanding of a theory I can't recall the name or specific details of, nor can find at the current time. I'll try to look it up again and make any notes on my thoughts expressed here accordingly.

 

EDIT: Laplace's Demon might have some involvement in the theory I'm thinking of. Seems to match up somewhat. I'll give it another look later.

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Interesting. Although just because such a computer cannot calculate the universe doesn't mean the universe isn't necessarily deterministic. Similarly, we can theorize of a game of life setting larger than anything calculable by any machine we can theorize. Yet still such a set size would operate just as perfectly as any other. Although you could be referring to a sort of absolute computer that runs the universe itself like the game of life. In that case, nobody actually knows why or how anything is here, much less how or even if something runs it, perhaps partially because it defies our sense of reason. The universe doesn't conform to our logic, we try to conform to its, but we originally did so on earth in jungles and later savannahs and plains, and so some things like the origin of the universe are utterly baffling once you break them down to the deepest level, and I don't really feel like going into that subject.

 

My personal view on free will is that the universe isn't deterministic, and I point to the classic example of quantum indeterminacies, fundamental particles in particular. I've heard some say that it's irrelevant to the macroscopic world, which is very ignorant considering this example. A physicist is observing a particle, and when he does, the superposition will collapse and it will either be in state A or B, let's say. He observes it, it collapses and he writes A on a sheet of paper. Not only did randomness strongly influence and even (indirectly) cause macroscopic events, it also influenced the mind of a conscious being. We could imagine state A or B of that one particle affecting the destiny of an entire civilization, or making the difference of whether Freeman's Mind will be in HL2, so, affecting the destiny of an entire civilization. I'd say therefore we can have free will owing to the physicist's decision based on random influences, and what I'll mention in the next paragraph.

 

Now to reconcile that with the seeming determinism of things like classical mechanics or fluid dynamics, and really the macroscopic world in general, I would say although the particles individually are random at least to some degree, the net effect of scores of these particles gives you an average tendency. scale this even larger and you get a kind of superficial determinism, or a determinism of averages, as I like to call it. There could be exceptions to this in the macroscopic world, like we humans. I have some logic however to back up why we are not only in-deterministic but also why we have free will, and that lies with consciousness. For us to be deterministic would render our consciousness useless, it would make us a mere spectator to the goings on of our body. However, this spectatorship comes at a cost, for a mind to be conscious would undoubtedly require an enormous part of a creature's energy, not to mention space and nutrients, and now for no use whatsoever, thus giving them a huge disadvantage in survival. Add to this the fact that something as complicated as consciousness would need to take millions of years to be realized, all the while it being costly and useless. Furthermore, we're not random either, as this would not only be yet MORE dangerous to any creature 'afflicted' with consciousness, but it's as well disproven by simply observing our own selves. We live and act for reasons and desires, not for no reason at all. This I think makes the thought of us NOT having free will absurd.

 

Wow that was long, sorry about that.

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On the question of free will - to me actually it's one of the least important philosophical questions because it is just a consequence of the resolution of more general questions.

 

Even if the Universe is super-deterministic and every decision we will ever make in our lives is predetermined from before the Big Bang, we still have to live as if we are free to decide. Subjectively, it feels as if we have free will and so we should exercise it.

 

It would be a fallacy to say "I don't think free will exist and therefore I will act as if my decisions are not real and do not matter" - this would be fatalism.

 

Whether or not free will exist - if you step in front of a moving bus, you will be run over. In a random world that would be your decision that made you the casualty statistics, in a determinist world it would be the solely possible consequence of all events preceding the bus-body collision. You prove nothing.

 

Only if the Universe can be re-wound and re-run more than once through the same chain of events will the question of free will have any meaning. Since it is not going to happen (I think), whether the free will is real or simulated is irrelevant.

 

I point to the classic example of quantum indeterminacies, fundamental particles in particular.... A physicist is observing a particle, and when he does, the superposition will collapse and it will either be in state A or B, let's say.

 

I am not a quantum physicist - that's a disclaimer, so I may be wrong on any or all of this, but...

 

1) Quantum Mechanics is an abstraction of reality, not the reality itself. As any abstraction it is a simplification and a generalisation of our understanding of reality.

 

The quantum uncertainty is "universally" misunderstood. The wave function is a function of distribution of probabilities of our finding a quantum value of a particle in a particular range, if we were to measure it. It does not mean that the real particle itself does not have a specific value at any particular moment, we just can't predict it better than that using the current mathematical state of the art. The "collapse of the wavefunction" is also just a mathematical concept used to describe interaction of quantum systems and its actual meaning in reality is still open to interpretations.

 

The QM theory is supported by observations and it can explain and mathematically describe properties of reality which could not be explained by "classical" theories (e.g. entanglement). However, it is not the ultimate truth and it is possible that a refined theory will be developed in the future which will allow more precise handling of these properties.

 

There will always be the "hardware" limitations of the Universe though, which will make absolute precision impossible.

 

2) The process of "measurement" in QM is also the source of confusion and misconceptions. It is popularly believed that "measurement" requires a conscious and intelligent "observer" to perform the measurements *and* interpret the results and that the reality only arises out of its undetermined superposition of all states after that conscious interpretation has been made.

 

This is definitely not so. "Measurement" is any interaction of one quantum system with another resulting in the transfer of information to the "classical" system. The "Observer" for a particle can be any other particle which happened to pass-by and interact with it, even if that "Observer" particle itself will never reach the eye of a scholar with a PhD in physics.

 

So, these "measurements" happen all around us all the time and so, the processes that for now can only be described by QM, aggregate into processes that can be expressed and understood in classical terms and give us the picture of "reality" we can perceive.

 

Regards

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On the question of free will - to me actually it's one of the least important philosophical questions because it is just a consequence of the resolution of more general questions.

 

Even if the Universe is super-deterministic and every decision we will ever make in our lives is predetermined from before the Big Bang, we still have to live as if we are free to decide. Subjectively, it feels as if we have free will and so we should exercise it.

 

It would be a fallacy to say "I don't think free will exist and therefore I will act as if my decisions are not real and do not matter" - this would be fatalism.

 

Whether or not free will exist - if you step in front of a moving bus, you will be run over. In a random world that would be your decision that made you the casualty statistics, in a determinist world it would be the solely possible consequence of all events preceding the bus-body collision. You prove nothing.

How so? I was speaking in evolutionary terms, in that a deterministic world provides no advantage to any creature with consciousness. Rationality, or even wisdom and creativity for sure, but consciousness itself would be rendered superfluous. It's important to note though that imagining an indeterministic universe and making it deterministic or vice versa would greatly change how it operates to a degree where little can be said conclusively, even if much can be seen as probable or inferred upon. Also important to note is that consciousness even though we experience it absolutely is nonetheless a highly nebulous subject, but this is a casual discussion on a forum so it's probably best that we aren't sending essays to one another.

1) Quantum Mechanics is an abstraction of reality, not the reality itself. As any abstraction it is a simplification and a generalisation of our understanding of reality.

Completely true of course, I just felt this didn't need to be stated. Perhaps even just five minutes from now the standard model will be disproven, or we have conclusive evidence for the many worlds theorem, or we have an alternative for dark matter (how ever that would work), or superstrings can cause earthquakes, et cetera. Physics, especially today is a rapidly moving field, so I just drew from what has been relatively stable over the decades.

The quantum uncertainty is "universally" misunderstood. The wave function is a function of distribution of probabilities of our finding a quantum value of a particle in a particular range, if we were to measure it. It does not mean that the real particle itself does not have a specific value at any particular moment, we just can't predict it better than that using the current mathematical state of the art. The "collapse of the wavefunction" is also just a mathematical concept used to describe interaction of quantum systems and its actual meaning in reality is still open to interpretations.

I agree that it's misunderstood, and I'm familiar with the wave function and its associated oddities, I was just simplifying it down for my argument. I might've simplified it too much, I'm sorry if I did.

The QM theory is supported by observations and it can explain and mathematically describe properties of reality which could not be explained by "classical" theories (e.g. entanglement). However, it is not the ultimate truth and it is possible that a refined theory will be developed in the future which will allow more precise handling of these properties.

Once again, this is always possible, and my argument instantly crumbles if we can probe deeper in and eliminate the postulated element of randomness.

2) The process of "measurement" in QM is also the source of confusion and misconceptions. It is popularly believed that "measurement" requires a conscious and intelligent "observer" to perform the measurements *and* interpret the results and that the reality only arises out of its undetermined superposition of all states after that conscious interpretation has been made.

 

This is definitely not so. "Measurement" is any interaction of one quantum system with another resulting in the transfer of information to the "classical" system. The "Observer" for a particle can be any other particle which happened to pass-by and interact with it, even if that "Observer" particle itself will never reach the eye of a scholar with a PhD in physics.

I'm also aware of this, and once again if I fell into the common misconception I'm sorry, I hate it when that happens. I'll admit I didn't think of this when I was writing though.

So, these "measurements" happen all around us all the time and so, the processes that for now can only be described by QM, aggregate into processes that can be expressed and understood in classical terms and give us the picture of "reality" we can perceive.

Exactly, much like I said, just put somewhat more eloquently and explained further.

 

I guess by and large I was being unspecific and superficial when I was explaining my premise about physics. This is just a discussion on philosophy, so I felt I should keep it simple, but aside from that I don't really have any defense.

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I was speaking in evolutionary terms, in that a deterministic world provides no advantage to any creature with consciousness.

 

I don't think so. Let's assume that there is a world which is superdeterministic and where every new event is the only possible result of the combination of all previous events. Suppose also, there is a conscious and self-aware entity existing in such world.

 

As an external observer (from outside of this world) we know that all decisions that the entity will ever make during its existence are determined strictly and irreversibly by all that has happened before and therefore all such decisions can be calculated and predicted (by us but not by the entity) with 100% accuracy.

 

The entity however, is travelling along the arrow of time in its world and has to encounter each choice and make these decisions one by one, sequentially. Even though we know all the choices it will make, it itself doesn't and has to make them as it goes along. In making these decisions the entity will be guided strictly by the sum of all previous events and interactions but it will still "feel" as if it is making those evaluations and makes a logical choice depending on the prevailing circumstances (which are of course the consequence of all events, as well) and its future expectations (which are the result of the process in its brain, which is the consequence of all events too).

 

So the entity feels like it has free will but all its choices are in-fact predetermined. If we were to stop and restart such world from some arbitrary point in its past, the entity will again make the same decisions all over again but still feel that it has made the choices freely.

 

If there are more than one such entity they fell feel that they are competing with each other and those making "better" decisions (say thermodynamically optimal for that state of the world at that point in time) win and others lose. But for us, from outside, the outcome of this competition will be known in advance.

 

Regards

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I see, well argued. However, I'd still argue that consciousness is superfluous, because it's entirely unnecessary to have consciousness in order to make the kinds of decisions you're referencing. This is because you don't need to have consciousness to have intelligence, or logic. A computer or any AI is an excellent example, they can not only respond logically to stimuli but also learn, adapt, rationalize, and so much more without the slightest need for consciousness. And, as a materialist, I'd stipulate that consciousness isn't some freebie that just sort of floats around the body, it comes from the mind and would require like I said, significant space and energy. Why would a creature requiring more space and energy for what can be easily achieved by a creature without consciousness in this deterministic world, be favored?

 

One could make the argument that consciousness is the mere byproduct of rational processes. But, this is obviously disproven by AI, which now possess very rational processes, and are as most agree, not conscious. Therefore, consciousness is at least a semi-distinct entity, requiring at least a semi-distinct means of creation. So there'd have to be a benefit for having consciousness, and I think that lies in free will. As we know, computers are deterministic machines, operating in deterministic fashions, if complicated ones. Now, despite their logical capacity, in a world largely deterministic (either truly or superficial, like I suggested) they could still be doomed to fatal events, perhaps not even frequently, but with many of them (like a species), it would be sure to arise. However, something with consciousness, and by extension free will, could as it were break free from the chains of its deterministic death sentence by influencing reality and changing forever its course of events. And this process is not random, as any being with consciousness would I think require some measure of intelligence, and therefore would problem-solve, like the computer, but with the added freedom of free will, giving it a strong competitive advantage. Thus, in purely deterministic universes intelligent 'computers' will arise, and in universes allowing for indeterminism, intelligent conscious beings will arise, and obviously since we're conscious, by virtue of this argument we have free will.

 

Now, I have left a few things unspecified, but I'll let that come forth to be discussed and clarified later.

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Why would a creature requiring more space and energy for what can be easily achieved by a creature without consciousness in this deterministic world, be favored?

 

What I am trying to say is that from the perspective of a conscious person existing in a universe like ours, a fully deterministic universe can be indistinguishable from purely probabilistic one and so can free will be, comparing to a pseudo-free will.

 

Determinism by itself does not have to fundamentally change the way such universe will work. Simplistically speaking, in a fully deterministic universe an interaction of two particles with certain quantum numbers and momentum will have a specific result with probability 1, in a non-deterministic universe the result may or may not be exactly the same.

 

The same macro laws (e.g. thermodynamics) may be equally valid in either of the universes. If these laws lead to origination and evolution of life and intelligence in one of them, they would equally do so in the other.

 

One could make the argument that consciousness is the mere byproduct of rational processes. But, this is obviously disproven by AI, which now possess very rational processes, and are as most agree, not conscious.

 

I, personally, am sympathetic to such argument. I do not in any way consider that it might have been disproven by our attempts at AI because the state of the art today in the area of AI is very primitive and inefficient, comparing with living conscious organisms.

 

I think that consciousness (or self-awareness) may be a function of complexity of an information processing system, but it may, in addition, be dependent on specific architecture as well (so it's not just complexity for complexity's sake but it has to be complex in a certain way, which we are yet to find).

 

Thus, in purely deterministic universes intelligent 'computers' will arise, and in universes allowing for indeterminism, intelligent conscious beings will arise, and obviously since we're conscious, by virtue of this argument we have free will.

 

And, whenever we try to imagine a computer confronting a conscious human we invariably find a scenario where it is defeated by the human. :-) Now, this maybe anthropocertrically biased, but it probably is true. And it should hold true regardless of determinism or lack of it in the Universe.

 

What do you think?

 

Regards

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I, personally, am sympathetic to such argument. I do not in any way consider that it might have been disproven by our attempts at AI because the state of the art today in the area of AI is very primitive and inefficient, comparing with living conscious organisms. I think that consciousness (or self-awareness) may be a function of complexity of an information processing system, but it may, in addition, be dependent on specific architecture as well (so it's not just complexity for complexity's sake but it has to be complex in a certain way, which we are yet to find).

To some extent that's what I meant by semi-distinct. I'll also grant you that our AI is quite primitive in comparison to our own brains, though with such leaps in progress that don't yield even an inkling or a seed of consciousness (to nobody's surprise of course) we can effectively rule out consciousness as a sort of passive, contingent feature that any rational entity has. But I think that it would be statistically unlikely that the 'correct' mind, the one giving consciousness, would be chanced upon by accident and thrive, as like I suggested, it would be selected against in a deterministic universe for its additional requirements. On a related note, I think I'd have to stress that it's somewhat irrelevant to the issue what the entity in question feels like it has, and I'm not using that as any way to gauge whether or not I have free will, because as you pointed out it's completely unreliable. I'm just trying to use logic (emphasis on trying) to determine whether it's likely we have free will, my argument I think is valid although it does rest on a couple shaky premises.

And, whenever we try to imagine a computer confronting a conscious human we invariably find a scenario where it is defeated by the human. :-) Now, this maybe anthropocentrically biased, but it probably is true. And it should hold true regardless of determinism or lack of it in the Universe.

What do you think?

Really, I don't know which one would win in general myself. Although I'd venture we'd win theoretically because we have free will, I know we're not that special so we could easily be defeated given the circumstances. Also, I think I'm a bit exhausted from debating (I've been doing a lot recently) which is why this post isn't so much me continuing the argument as it is awkwardly lifting it and throwing it a few feet. Still though, it's been fun debating with you, most people just begin to wander off when things get started.

 

Anyway, anyone have more thoughts to add? Free will is a pretty expansive subject, believe it or not.

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And, whenever we try to imagine a computer confronting a conscious human we invariably find a scenario where it is defeated by the human. :-) Now, this maybe anthropocentrically biased, but it probably is true. And it should hold true regardless of determinism or lack of it in the Universe.

What do you think?

Really, I don't know which one would win in general myself. Although I'd venture we'd win theoretically because we have free will, I know we're not that special so we could easily be defeated given the circumstances.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Have_No_Mouth,_and_I_Must_Scream

 

We can't always win...

Don't insult me. I have trained professionals to do that.

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Definitely don't believe in it. I'm a hard determinist. It wasn't pleasant becoming one. Atheism wasn't hard, but I struggled for years to find some excuse to believe in free will. It got to be kind of a painful joke. Philosophers who defended 'free will' used such watered down interpretations I wondered why they bothered. "You have free will! I mean, you feel free, and that's what free will is! Feeling a sense of agency!" Those types were annoying but at least they had some logical consistency. Some of the others were...just goddamn idiots.

 

I think the spark that got me fully on the path came from the thought that there were definitely times when I didn't have free will, such as when I was asleep. Further, I clearly didn't have choice over when those periods of time ended. So I couldn't choose to choose.

 

I'd think of other questions from time to time. I could imagine drinking myself into a stupor. In other words, choosing to give up choice. Where in the gradual process of going blotto does this magical ability vanish? I figure I either have free will or I do not, one can't 'kind of' have it.

 

When in my childhood did it develop? Do some people die without ever getting it? Can brain damage be inflicted which removes it but doesn't noticeably affect someone? It can't arise from non-random forces, and it can't arise from random forces, so where might it come from?

 

Free will, in any satisfying sense of the term, is just too magical an idea to defend. Free will in the watered down sense of the term isn't very much fun to talk about. Certainly it's less productive to discuss than, say, whether or not clam chowder should have tomato in it. (It should not.)

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