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Old 2010-05-19, 07:34   Link #61
MeoTwister5
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Well I was simply pointing out in my post that for many people, their idea of free will is dictated by ability to do anything and everything they want, which I think is a misnomer. I don't dispute the definition Proto used in the opening post in the basis of philosophical discussion since the definition is correct, it's just that in college I used a different site for studying for my Philo classes:

Free Will (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Upon further thought perhaps there is a convergence of Proto's definition and the one I use: In a sense both eschew the notion that free will dictates that people are not constrained to making a choice among various alternatives. It just so happens that I place more emphasis on a set of choices than on being not constrained.

And as I said in my post this is where I diverge from the definition because I don't believe in the true lack of constraint in making choices. The problem here is that to confirm true "free will" adhering strictly to the definition, people need to be able to confirm without a shadow of a doubt that no restraining force of whatever form does exist to limit human will. You need to be able to PROVE that restraints don't exist.

Which of course leads us to a simpler version of probatio diabolica: You can prove that free will exists by providing proof, but you (probably) can't prove that free will does not exist. The problem philosophy has faced for years, of course, is finding said proof. But going back to PD, how do you prove that the restraints don't in fact exist? Can you claim that proof does not exist because it itself does not, or one simply hasn't found said proof? Of course the absence of proof does not necessarily mean something does not exist.

Last edited by MeoTwister5; 2010-05-19 at 07:49.
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Old 2010-05-19, 07:49   Link #62
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Well, the discussion is meant to ask whether "free will" is valid, that is, whether "free will" is real or an illusion.

It is an "illusion" in the sense that we can't detect the brute fact that every choice we make is controlled or predetermined by physics. We think we are making freely chosen choices, but are actually being cruelly deceived, because we are being controlled by physical forces we cannot perceive.

This view comes from the belief that all reality can be reduced to a set of prescriptive equations. Given an initial state, we can solve an equation to predict the final state.

Which is to say, if a computer knows every single particle that you consist of, it can solve in advance every single choice you will make in your entire lifetime.

It follows that one implication arising from any debate on the validity of free will is whether all the physical laws we humans have "discovered" to date are prescriptive or descriptive in nature.
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Old 2010-05-19, 08:57   Link #63
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Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
I haven't come across "compatibilism" until you referred to it. At first blush, it strikes me as being similar to the way an agnostic might approach the God question, meaning you're simply hedging your bets instead of making a clear stand.

My belief is simply that "free will" is real. It's not just some abstract construct created out of idle thought. It has basic parts but, at the same time, it is not completely controlled by those parts. The expression of "free will" is independent of its parts, as commonsense, everyday observations would suggest.
Compatibilism isn't quite like agnosticism. Rather than saying one or the other may be true, a compatibilist believes a determinist universe does not exclude some degree of will on the part of the agent. For example, one could argue that the universe's physical laws, as well as an agent's genetic makeup, are already set-in-stone. But the agent can exhibit his will when making a decision. When we make decisions, we weigh our options, and ultimately make a choice based on a number of factors including intelligence, culture, and the current state of being the body is in. The options that come to us are most definitely determinist. I can't will myself into randomly considering different solutions. We are simply bound by what our unconscious throw at us. However, some may argue that at the point in which these possible choices 'load' to the conscious, decision-making sphere, we do get to choose the answer. How we formulate our choice is again influenced by predetermined factors, but ultimately that moment of choice can be considered our will.

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Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
Which is to say, if a computer knows every single particle that you consist of, it can solve in advance every single choice you will make in your entire lifetime.
This is not true even by a completely determinist model. The computer would have to be of course, far, far more powerful than the current ones we possess. Even then, the computer would somehow have to possess knowledge in advance as to exactly what environment and circumstances the agent will encounter for the rest of its life. Our makeup plays a part, but it is only one piece of the pie, especially for humans, since we are extremely adaptable animals.

Last edited by ChainLegacy; 2010-05-19 at 09:26.
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Old 2010-05-19, 11:20   Link #64
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I get the feeling that you are contradicting yourself in a few key areas.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ChainLegacy View Post
...For example, one could argue that the universe's physical laws, as well as an agent's genetic makeup, are already set-in-stone. But the agent can exhibit his will when making a decision. When we make decisions, we weigh our options, and ultimately make a choice based on a number of factors including intelligence, culture, and the current state of being the body is in. The options that come to us are most definitely determinist.
Prove the bolded statement. You are making a very strong claim here, that all the options that lie before an agent can be determined, when at the same time you admit that:

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Originally Posted by ChainLegacy View Post
...Even then, the computer would somehow have to possess knowledge in advance as to exactly what environment and circumstances the agent will encounter for the rest of its life...
If you cannot list all the possible pre-existing initial states in advance, on what basis can you claim that all options before us are "most definitely determinist"? You don't even know your starting point, let alone deduce your desired final state.


Then, you go on to state:
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChainLegacy View Post
I can't will myself into randomly considering different solutions. We are simply bound by what our unconscious throw at us.
While at the same time conceding:
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChainLegacy View Post
Our makeup plays a part, but it is only one piece of the pie, especially for humans, since we are extremely adaptable animals.
To me, you can't have it both ways. Either we are complete slaves to what our unconscious impulses throw at us, or we, as adaptable living things capable of conscious thought, are capable of superseding our unconscious impulses should we choose to do so.

Tell me, then, in what way is this "compatibilism" not similar to the agnostic approach that doesn't want to decide whether or not an omnipotent, omniscient mystical being exists?

===============

Quote:
Originally Posted by ChainLegacy View Post
However, some may argue that at the point in which these possible choices 'load' to the conscious, decision-making sphere, we do get to choose the answer. How we formulate our choice is again influenced by predetermined factors, but ultimately that moment of choice can be considered our will.
You're basically trying to use an argument similar to that of MeoTwister's — the "multiple-platform" argument. To put it into simple terms, it's simply an argument that says, for any given "final state", there is an infinite number of possible pathways to reach it from a "initial state".

Each of these possible pathways obeys the laws of physics. The same is also true for the initial and final states. As long as these phase-states conform to physical laws, they can be said to be "deterministic", in the sense that you can always reduce them to "fluff" and "happenings", and from this set of "fluff" and "happenings" re-create the desired final state. Consequently, you can claim that "free will" is an illusion that arises from such a "deterministic" system, because so long as there are an infinite variety of possible ways to reach a final state, "choice" appears to exist.

Now, that is a plausible argument. But it poses a very significant problem: How do you deduce the list of all possible pathways between any given pair of initial and final states? Can all these possible pathways be deduced from any given set of physical laws?

You can't, as demonstrated by Godel's incompleteness theorems, which proved that there exists true mathematical statements that cannot be deduced from any given set of predetermined axioms. It follows then that, even if you could know in advance all the possible physical laws and constants in the Universe, there will always remain pathways — phases between particle states — that cannot be deduced from them.

So, since we can neither list in advance all initial states and all possible pathways between an initial state and a final state, to what extent can we still claim to be living in a deterministic system? Clinging to this scientific view alone would then seem increasingly to be an act of faith rather than good science.

===============

The simple conclusion, then, would be that there are phenomena in this Universe that are real and yet partially lawless at the same time. The evolution of living things is the best possible example of such a phenomenon. It exists, and yet there seems to be no physical law, no algorithm, that could have predicted evolution, and its effects, in advance. This is so even when all the products of evolution conform to physical laws. No laws are broken. An oxygen atom cannot become a nitrogen atom, and I'm not claiming that this can happen.

But the infinite possible interactions between an oxygen atom and a nitrogen atom can produce emergent behaviour that cannot be explained by physics alone. You can describe the behaviour, but you cannot give an adequate explanation, in the sense that, even when given that explanation, I cannot reliably reproduce the exact same chain of interactions that produced the emergent behaviour.

There is no possible way of throwing the quantum dice in the exact same way to reproduce the emergent behaviour exactly, down to the most minute detail. It is this sense that I say physics alone cannot deduce — cannot determine in advance — emergent behaviour.

And it is this space, "emergent behaviour", that "free will" operates. "Free will" is not predetermined by the basic parts that make us who we are. Yes, it obeys the laws of physics, but it is at the same time outside of those laws, in that there seems to be no law that can predict in advance the infinite variety of choices before us, let alone predict which choice we would ultimately choose, out of our own "free will".

Last edited by TinyRedLeaf; 2010-05-19 at 11:41. Reason: To correct typos, grammatical errors.
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Old 2010-05-19, 11:22   Link #65
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Originally Posted by ChainLegacy View Post
This is not true even by a completely determinist model. The computer would have to be of course, far, far more powerful than the current ones we possess. Even then, the computer would somehow have to possess knowledge in advance as to exactly what environment and circumstances the agent will encounter for the rest of its life. Our makeup plays a part, but it is only one piece of the pie, especially for humans, since we are extremely adaptable animals.
The next generation of Core i7 should be able to do that. The computer can calculate all the possible choices for us, but it would be us who will be making a decision.

And I seriously doubt if a person can go through the million possibilities available before time runs out for him.
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Old 2010-05-19, 12:26   Link #66
MeoTwister5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
Well, the discussion is meant to ask whether "free will" is valid, that is, whether "free will" is real or an illusion.

It is an "illusion" in the sense that we can't detect the brute fact that every choice we make is controlled or predetermined by physics. We think we are making freely chosen choices, but are actually being cruelly deceived, because we are being controlled by physical forces we cannot perceive.

This view comes from the belief that all reality can be reduced to a set of prescriptive equations. Given an initial state, we can solve an equation to predict the final state.

Which is to say, if a computer knows every single particle that you consist of, it can solve in advance every single choice you will make in your entire lifetime.

It follows that one implication arising from any debate on the validity of free will is whether all the physical laws we humans have "discovered" to date are prescriptive or descriptive in nature.
It is an illusion so far as to say that we can't prove concretely that free will is "true" in it's definition. At this point it's still a matter of perception. So far I can simply claim that we "think" it's real or we "think" it's an illusion because we don't have sufficient proof to support either conclusion. It just so happens that the current spectrum that humanity can perceive is so wide that people can assume it's wide enough to be near limitless and free.

I suck at math so I won't bother with it, part and parcel of this is the assumption that with a complete set of data and observations you can calculate the entire timeline of phenomena of an entity, present and future from the time of calculation. It assumes of course that every single piece of data observed and calculated from that entity can be formed into an equation. I'm also not a physicist, but if the Uncertainty Principle is correct and that the mere act of observation and collection of data alters matter towards a different direction, how then can you use these to calculate the progression of existence of an entity when the data is no longer 100% applicable?

At this point I have to drop most of the physics discussions. I studied Biology and Philosophy so most of everything else goes over my head.

At the end this leads to a situation similar to Schroedinger's Cat, that is to insist that it is either/or, but not both. Either it is free will or an illusion thereof. At this point, perhaps only the Theory of Everything can provide an answer.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
<Snippity Snap!>
Ok let's see if I can respond without frying my brain.

Part I

The belief that there are an infinite states of possibilities existing leading to specific outcomes is only really an assumption because, quite frankly as you said, how can anyone really test and list it all out to begin with? In my defense I never really claimed that people can list most, if not everything, variables in their brains for any given situation in any given time to predict a desired outcome.

This is simply impossible.

We're dealing with the possibility on infinity here. Infinity for all intents and purposes is simply beyond any computer and any organic being that itself does not exist as a similar level beyond the confines of three dimensional space. We have barely if ever even grasped the concept of eternity and infinity. Logically and metaphysically speaking, you cannot describe or even prescribe something you cannot grasp or experience in it's entirety. We cannot understand something that we cannot contain, study or much less be completely part of. Unless you ARE infinite or can contain the infinite, you cannot very well know what it truly IS.

From that point alone, true determinism abiding strictly the laws of physics would not exist, because such a deterministic model cannot realistically account for infinity itself.

Part II

Which leads me to agreeing with your second part on the only way Determinism can exist, which is in and of itself almost like a Teleological Proof of the Existence of God. Why?

There are simply too many things for mere mortals to wrap their heads around in to believe that everything is mere coincidence or simply something suddenly making physics its bitch. Apparently stuff happens that no amount of math, science or magic can predict or bring about from the pool on infinity. Unexplainable shit happens and happens more often that what some would assume to be statistically impossible, yet they do.

By agreeing with Determinism, based on the logic you have presented, you must acknowledge a force beyond reality and beyond physics that defies all these if it has to, to bring about a specific event. In short, some tour de force that extracts from the pool of infinity a specific route to bring about a specific outcome. Statistically, taking infinity into account, this defies every bit of math I can still remember from high school. To "Determine" a preset course, or number of courses, requires something not bound like we are to this universe that can freely bend and shape reality at will.

This is someone, or something, that has the power beyond our capability to understand. In terms of religion, the Prime Mover, to (incorrectly?) quote Aquinas.
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Old 2010-05-19, 12:27   Link #67
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Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
Prove the bolded statement. You are making a very strong claim here, that all the options that lie before an agent can be determined, when at the same time you admit that:
All options that are present in one's brain at the time of making a decision can be determined. The options that could potentially arise are all based on the individual's genetic makeup, their past and current environment. They don't come out of nothing.


Quote:
Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
If you cannot list all the possible pre-existing initial states in advance, on what basis can you claim that all options before us are "most definitely determinist"? You don't even know your starting point, let alone deduce your desired final state.
I don't think I personally can determine the options, nor do I think any computer can. This doesn't mean they aren't bound by various laws in the universe.


Quote:
Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
Then, you go on to state:

While at the same time conceding:


To me, you can't have it both ways. Either we are complete slaves to what our unconscious impulses throw at us, or we, as adaptable living things capable of conscious thought, are capable of superseding our unconscious impulses should we choose to do so.
To me, you can. Humans are adaptable because our internal programming is made to adjust and adapt. So yes, we have individual will when it is time to choose between the options our brains present for us. But those options are determined by factors out of our control; separate entirely from our will.


Quote:
Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
You're basically trying to use an argument similar to that of MeoTwister's — the "multiple-platform" argument. To put it into simple terms, it's simply an argument that says, for any given "final state", there is an infinite number of possible pathways to reach it from a "initial state".
So, since we can neither list in advance all initial states and all possible pathways between an initial state and a final state, to what extent can we still claim to be living in a deterministic system? Clinging to this scientific view alone would then seem increasingly to be an act of faith rather than good science.
Not really. All I'm speaking in regards to are humans. I'm entirely open to and probably lean towards the universe itself having uncertainties which our scientific models cannot deduce and determine. I just don't see how that has anything to do with human will. I don't even think there are multiple platforms; you may have misinterpreted me somewhere. I'm referring specifically to the decision process that goes on within the human mind. When I wake up and ask myself "What should I do today?" the options that come to me are out of my control, but I choose the one I desire. I believe that moment alone is where humans exhibit will.


Quote:
Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
The simple conclusion, then, would be that there are phenomena in this Universe that are real and yet partially lawless at the same time. The evolution of living things is the best possible example of such a phenomenon. It exists, and yet there seems to be no physical law, no algorithm, that could have predicted evolution, and its effects, in advance. This is so even when all the products of evolution conform to physical laws. No laws are broken. An oxygen atom cannot become a nitrogen atom, and I'm not claiming that this can happen.
I think evolution follows a pretty strict law, actually. Survival of the fittest more or less takes any lawlessness out of the equation. We couldn't have predicted the effects because we aren't capable of seeing into the future. But in my eyes, if we were somehow able to play god, I don't see why we couldn't map out the exact manner in which species would evolve. It is just beyond the human scope of understanding.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
But the infinite possible interactions between an oxygen atom and a nitrogen atom can produce emergent behaviour that cannot be explained by physics alone. You can describe the behaviour, but you cannot give an adequate explanation, in the sense that, even when given that explanation, I cannot reliably reproduce the exact same chain of interactions that produced the emergent behaviour.

There is no possible way of throwing the quantum dice in the exact same way to reproduce the emergent behaviour exactly, down to the most minute detail. It is this sense that I say physics alone cannot deduce — cannot determine in advance — emergent behaviour.

And it is this space, "emergent behaviour", that "free will" operates. "Free will" is not predetermined by the basic parts that make us who we are. Yes, it obeys the laws of physics, but it is at the same time outside of those laws, in that there seems to be no law that can predict in advance the infinite variety of choices before us, let alone predict which choice we would ultimately choose, out of our own "free will".
I see what you're saying, but I think you're more or less agreeing with compatibilism. Free will exists within a confined space inside a universe bound by laws that can be determined. Free will acts within a determinist universe.


Quote:
Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
Clinging to this scientific view alone would then seem increasingly to be an act of faith rather than good science.
It is an act of faith. This is the universe as I see it, based on the evidence I have from science. I am not sure if it is right, but I have some facts behind me that push me towards my conclusion. We can't really answer these questions with science, at least not yet. I'm not pretentious enough to think I'm right; it is just a tentative conclusion I've made.

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Originally Posted by SaintessHeart View Post
The next generation of Core i7 should be able to do that. The computer can calculate all the possible choices for us, but it would be us who will be making a decision.

And I seriously doubt if a person can go through the million possibilities available before time runs out for him.
The next generation of Core i7 can predict every single possible scenario a conscious agent can encounter in their lifetime? Sounds impressive, but I can't help but be skeptical of such a claim.
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Old 2010-05-19, 12:38   Link #68
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I haven't even been paying attention to this. So allow me to reiterate:


A person can decide what they do. A person is made by their life and environment. How they grow up, how they interact with others (if at all, as my case was) makes up their choices in life. In a perspective this is determinism as our choices are made by our past, in whcih we make choices for the present and future.

I'm a free will advocate and I don't believe in destiny, fate, or whatever it's called by the people that don't have the will to believe they live and exist by their choices. Excuse me for being forceful on that as I do believe that.



Whatever free will is, we can have it if we choose to believe in it. The best mind is one that minds, in a manner of speaking. Hopefully that makes sense.


On that I think it's fine to believe in determinism so long it doesn't impend on those with a less firm beleif on it or those with the belief of free will. I would personally hate to see a Knight Templar of determinism, as that would make me an incredibly unlikable person.


What a person decides is a choice, call it free will or determinism. It's a matter of perspective. A point of view with differentiating opinions. From time immemorial people have tried to subjugate other people with what they thought is right. What adheres 'right/true' and what adheres 'wrong/false' is like this argument.

A matter of ideals. I do enjoy saying that word. Ideal. Ideal... Ideal.
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Old 2010-05-19, 12:43   Link #69
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The next generation of Core i7 can predict every single possible scenario a conscious agent can encounter in their lifetime? Sounds impressive, but I can't help but be skeptical of such a claim.
Our current i7 overclocked is technically as much powerful as Deep Blue, which almost beat Kasparov. But seriously, I think a Quad Core or Core 2 can already perform that, given enough time.

You probably get the idea I am driving at. If we let a machine do show us the possibilities, it would be no different from us rolling a d20 before doing something. It's about making our own choices based on the processor mounted on our shoulders.
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Old 2010-05-20, 09:51   Link #70
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I doesn't believe in fate, but even if there is such thing as destiny - I won't let get in my way.
Fate is more of "whatever happens happens," whereas destiny is of course, "it was planned from the very beginning of everything."
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Old 2010-05-21, 16:28   Link #71
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I'm interested in Dennett's proposal of "Free Will worth wanting".

I mean.. Free will tends to evole into a muddled pond of clay. Somehow people think that free will is something that is an "uncaused cause", truly a "free choice". Of course, that is simply not possible.

Basically, what do I want my decisions to be the results of? Well, 1) my history, includes the effects of environment on the "self" up to this point 2) the current environment and 3) randomness to break ties.

If that's not enough, what more could you ask for ?

I remain ignostic about free will
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Old 2010-05-21, 19:41   Link #72
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Do you mean 'agnostic' dawg?
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Old 2010-05-22, 00:44   Link #73
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I'm gonna try to approach this question.

Take a simple, unicellular organism, and insert hormones into its environment. That cell is going to respond in a predetermined manner. The hormone will initiate a transduction pathway, etc etc until a cellular response occurs. In this regard, free will is nonexistant for this creature.

We humans are like this, to an extent. If you pump certain hormones into our bodies, our bodies are going to have a specific, predetermined response. For example, inject us glucagon and our blood sucrose levels will increase. We have no control over this. It'll just happen.

Now you could apply this in a grander scale. A neuron, when given a proper signal, will discharge ions from their neurotransmitters into adjacent cells. Most biologists believe that this somehow causes our thoughts. Our emotions, our feelings, our memories, our thoughts, all of it can simply be categorized as a reaction after a reaction on a large scale. In that regard, free will is nonexistant.

Yet still, despite the biology, I will still stand by my belief that free will does exist, to an extent. Sure, we cannot control a specific chemical and biological reaction our body has (put food in mouth, amylase is gonna be released from our salivary glands), but I believe that within the complex network of neurons, free thought exists in choice and decision making. Such a process is naturally affected by genetic and environmental influences of course, and if you wanna write that being the reason we don't have free will, so be it.

Here's my thing:
You are given a fork in the road. How will you react?

Well you're going to go by sensory input. Both look the same. Both smell the same. They feel the same. They taste the same. They are the same color. They are the same temperature. There is no difference to be noted from this. Then you're going by your memory. You've never encountered these roads. You have no recollection of these roads. You never have been in this situation. You don't know where either of them leads. The memory isn't giving you information.

So now the decision. What do you do? Is there a genetic trait that causes you to prefer one to the other? Probably not. The environmental factors have to kick in. Perhaps, since you are right-handed, you take the right. Or maybe you decide because you are right-handed, you should take the left. Maybe you do decision tricks like "eeny meeny miiny mo" or perhaps you decided to just turn around. At this point, I don't think biologically you can say there is anything major to contradict the hypothesis that, given this situation, you get to make a decision. And that is free will.

Also it's 1:43am and I'm tired and have no idea what I'm talking about so maybe this post should be ignored but whatever I'LL SAY IT ANYWAY (free will of mine to speak, or predetermined that I'd do this? YOU DECIDE!)
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Old 2010-05-22, 09:58   Link #74
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That example speaks fairly strongly for free will. What about the subconscious though? How can you be convinced that the subconscious, which we cannot control, isn't affecting our descision-making?

So when you, in that fork in the road, think you made an unbiased descision with your willpower alone to take the left or turn back or whatever, actually you were unwittingly, subconsciously affected by a faint memory, like which side your mother used to grab when lifting you out of the crib.

This brings me back to my central dogma about free will: At any given situation, you are being swindled by environmental factors without you realising it.

Therefore from an objective viewpoint, no free will necessarily existed in that fork in the road. It's more likely that free will only exists for each individual within their own minds, as an illusion, a construct, a feeling. Our conscious mind is just too limited to see through it.

I still can't disprove that free will exists as a special, emergent descision-making power possessed by humans. But that is the same thing as being unable to disprove the existence of God. At least Occam's razor is on my side: Free will isn't needed to explain our descision-making, so it's more likely that it doesn't exist. Meanwhile, the subconscious is known to exist as something beyond our conscious control. Therefore that's probably a more logical explanation to our feelings of free will.

This is all something TinyRedLeaf seems to admit, yet he seeks another niche where free will could probably exist. To be honest, I'm not following him at all. XD

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Old 2010-05-23, 16:16   Link #75
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Originally Posted by SaintessHeart View Post
Our current i7 overclocked is technically as much powerful as Deep Blue, which almost beat Kasparov. But seriously, I think a Quad Core or Core 2 can already perform that, given enough time.

You probably get the idea I am driving at. If we let a machine do show us the possibilities, it would be no different from us rolling a d20 before doing something. It's about making our own choices based on the processor mounted on our shoulders.
There's a big difference between mapping out all possible outcomes on a chess board - with its defined players and movements - and predicting outcomes in life. Look into a technology called "neural networks" if you're interested in it, it's designed to be able to predict outcomes in real-world scenarios for specific things (such as natural disasters). If this is your first time hearing about it, it's probably because the technology is in its infancy. And it isn't for lack of computational power.
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Old 2010-05-23, 16:42   Link #76
Irenicus
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Originally Posted by Jaden View Post
I still can't disprove that free will exists as a special, emergent descision-making power possessed by humans. But that is the same thing as being unable to disprove the existence of God. At least Occam's razor is on my side: Free will isn't needed to explain our descision-making, so it's more likely that it doesn't exist. Meanwhile, the subconscious is known to exist as something beyond our conscious control. Therefore that's probably a more logical explanation to our feelings of free will.
I'd argue that, given the sheer complexity of the environmental argument, and just how much we frankly don't know about it, it's a little hasty to be declaring that the principle of Occam's Razor favors the environmental side. At what point does the chemically-predetermined brain stop, if at all? At what point does the randomness factor start? At what point is randomness isn't truly random but is neurologically guided towards a certain spectrum of possible decisions? What should we call that randomness in the spectrum? Do we actually get to make a decision within that spectrum -- and call it free will? Many questions abound...and I'm not even touching the actual science of the brain, which is beyond my expertise and, I'd say, most everyone here. Occam's Razor is fine as a principle to eliminate overly complex hypotheses, of course, but the less we know about the other hypothesis that the principle supposedly supports the more the principle is undermined.

Then there's just a little irony with supporting the chemicals-control-everything-we-do side of the argument with logic, a tool explicitly born of the human conscious mind -- and a system which does not acknowledge inefficiencies inherent in the natural environment, human physiology included. Of course, I will admit outright that irony isn't a valid argument in philosophy, and that's why I'm not a philosopher.

Rather, I worry that nowadays it is fashionable in the same manner that Freud was fashionable to declare everything under the sun -- perhaps I should say everything above the atom -- to be all about the chemicals. It says more about the society we live in more than the abstract notion we discuss, I think. Kamui wrote earlier that whether metaphysically free will exists or not, in our everyday lives we assume its existence for convenience, and all is fine, more or less. I was inclined to agree with him, but this new notion of chemicals-own-us, this sort of philosophical side product (if one is negative, one could say "waste product") of scientific advances can have...unintended side effects...on our way of thinking about ourselves. Say, Democracy works because we assume a person to be a singular, autonomous entity, entitled to certain rights; but what if a person isn't a single entity but a nebulous, non-autonomous organism guided by the chemicals involved and easily manipulated by the amount of ritalin dosage given...?

Last edited by Irenicus; 2010-05-23 at 16:55.
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Old 2010-05-23, 17:23   Link #77
Ledgem
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Originally Posted by Irenicus View Post
..and I'm not even touching the actual science of the brain, which is beyond my expertise and, I'd say, most everyone here.
...
Rather, I worry that nowadays it is fashionable in the same manner that Freud was fashionable to declare everything under the sun -- perhaps I should say everything above the atom -- to be all about the chemicals.
...
Say, Democracy works because we assume a person to be a singular, autonomous entity, entitled to certain rights; but what if a person isn't a single entity but a nebulous, non-autonomous organism guided by the chemicals involved and easily manipulated by the amount of ritalin dosage given...?
My research area is in immunology, not neuroscience, so I won't pretend to be a brain expert. However I've done my fair share of reading about the brain and know some of the basics of its functioning and signaling. Some of my favorite studies to read about were neuroscience studies. It's really a fascinating area.

You're right that society is getting a little too happy with the idea that we're controlled purely by the chemicals in our brain. It's a nice concept to people who don't want to take responsibility for their actions. It's also wonderful to think that we could take a pill to alter our brain chemistry and somehow become better, happier people - all without having to put in the time, energy, and thought into improving ourselves and working through our issues.

The environment around us does impact us quite heavily. Think about your reaction when you're insulted, or when someone you despise starts talking to you - your heart rate goes up and you start to get angry. You have little to no control over that, and there are many more examples like that. You're responding to stimuli in a purely animal manner. However, our brain and hormonal activity is not purely induced by environmental stimuli - we are capable of altering our brain activity ourselves. In the anger example, suppose you tell yourself to calm down, and think nice thoughts - now you're working against the environmental stimuli and are altering your body and brain activity. As far as I know we're not really sure where those thoughts start and come from, when they're derived from ourselves. It doesn't matter though - it's an expression of free will if there ever was one.

The truth is that we as individuals are largely open systems. Hormones, other chemicals, brain trauma - these can change our emotions, memories, and even personalities. We're not destined to purely react to our environment without a second thought, but our environment does impact us. It's partly for that reason that society and nations are occasionally called "super organisms." It all scales: cells are made out of groups of organelles; tissues are made out of groups of cells; organs are made out of groups of tissues; organ systems are made of groups of organs; bodies are made of multiple organ systems; society is made of multiple individuals. Just as a cell would unlikely be able to comprehend the greater body that it belonged to, it's difficult for us to step back and appreciate or understand how we're just a tiny part of a living society - a "super organism" - and how all of the interactions within such an organism impact us, as we impact it back.
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Old 2010-05-23, 22:22   Link #78
Slice of Life
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You're right that society is getting a little too happy with the idea that we're controlled purely by the chemicals in our brain. It's a nice concept to people who don't want to take responsibility for their actions.
Well, at least it won't help you in court. I'd love to see an exchange like this:

Accused: Not guilty, your honor! Free will is an illusion, I was determined to do it.
Judge: It might be that free will is an illusion but in that case I'm determined to put you into jail for 5 years nevertheless - because that's what I'm doing hereby.
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Old 2010-05-24, 01:58   Link #79
Irenicus
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Originally Posted by Ledgem View Post
Some of my favorite studies to read about were neuroscience studies. It's really a fascinating area.
Indeed it is. One of my regrets in college is actually not choosing a groundbreaking scientific field as my major and throwing myself into it. Though I had no intentions to ever become a researcher, it would have enriched my experience so much.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ledgem
You're right that society is getting a little too happy with the idea that we're controlled purely by the chemicals in our brain. It's a nice concept to people who don't want to take responsibility for their actions. It's also wonderful to think that we could take a pill to alter our brain chemistry and somehow become better, happier people - all without having to put in the time, energy, and thought into improving ourselves and working through our issues.
My "worries" are pretty simple. The language and metaphors we use reveal certain ways we think which can be quite troubling. An old example would be how people carelessly replaces "intelligence" with "IQ" and consequently mistakes and limits the scope of intelligence; I'm rather annoyed by similar carelessness in the new frontier of genetics.

The less we think of people as people the more troubled I am. I'm of the "let's make robots sentient" camp rather than the humans-are-just-robots camp. Sentience -- thought, autonomy -- being the big word I'm rather fond of, for obvious reasons.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ledgem
The environment around us does impact us quite heavily. Think about your reaction when you're insulted, or when someone you despise starts talking to you - your heart rate goes up and you start to get angry. You have little to no control over that, and there are many more examples like that. You're responding to stimuli in a purely animal manner
...
The truth is that we as individuals are largely open systems. Hormones, other chemicals, brain trauma - these can change our emotions, memories, and even personalities. We're not destined to purely react to our environment without a second thought, but our environment does impact us.
Even with the rudimentary knowledge I have I don't think I can deny that -- or want to, anyway. I'm no extreme neo-Platonist who thinks the Ideal supersedes the Real or some such nonsense.

Of course, I believe you're just expanding on the position, and I agree completely. We are affected by our environment; we change as we live, sometimes drastically, even so completely that the very question of identity is in doubt. The autonomy -- if we assume it exists, since that's the debate here -- is never absolute. But I'd still like to think it exists at some level. I think, at least. Or I think I think. On the other hand, while we sometimes call societies by the biological metaphor of "superorganism"...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ledgem
It's partly for that reason that society and nations are occasionally called "super organisms." It all scales: cells are made out of groups of organelles; tissues are made out of groups of cells; organs are made out of groups of tissues; organ systems are made of groups of organs; bodies are made of multiple organ systems; society is made of multiple individuals.
...which is a rather sweet metaphor, mind -- it is still just a metaphor. A human has the crucial distinction of being able to act and most importantly think* autonomously. A cell can't do that. A nation doesn't have, well, a brain.

*Or "a phenomenon we mistakenly call thought," if the argument that there really is no free will is taken to its logical extreme.
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Old 2010-05-24, 05:05   Link #80
Jaden
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Originally Posted by Irenicus View Post
I'd argue that, given the sheer complexity of the environmental argument, and just how much we frankly don't know about it, it's a little hasty to be declaring that the principle of Occam's Razor favors the environmental side. At what point does the chemically-predetermined brain stop, if at all? At what point does the randomness factor start? At what point is randomness isn't truly random but is neurologically guided towards a certain spectrum of possible decisions? What should we call that randomness in the spectrum? Do we actually get to make a decision within that spectrum -- and call it free will? Many questions abound...and I'm not even touching the actual science of the brain, which is beyond my expertise and, I'd say, most everyone here. Occam's Razor is fine as a principle to eliminate overly complex hypotheses, of course, but the less we know about the other hypothesis that the principle supposedly supports the more the principle is undermined.

Then there's just a little irony with supporting the chemicals-control-everything-we-do side of the argument with logic, a tool explicitly born of the human conscious mind -- and a system which does not acknowledge inefficiencies inherent in the natural environment, human physiology included. Of course, I will admit outright that irony isn't a valid argument in philosophy, and that's why I'm not a philosopher.
Yeah, I guess so. The way I see it is that the situations where the alleged free will comes to play can be broken down to making some kind of decisions. And our brain is so awesome, it can further break those descisions down to binary ones, weigh the options and make a choice based on only 'environmental factors' as you cleverly grouped them.

And all those factors are indeed near inifnite and hard to grasp. Maybe if on top of them we possessed some kind of esp-like power of free will, it wouldn't even be that strange?

Quote:
Rather, I worry that nowadays it is fashionable in the same manner that Freud was fashionable to declare everything under the sun -- perhaps I should say everything above the atom -- to be all about the chemicals. It says more about the society we live in more than the abstract notion we discuss, I think. Kamui wrote earlier that whether metaphysically free will exists or not, in our everyday lives we assume its existence for convenience, and all is fine, more or less. I was inclined to agree with him, but this new notion of chemicals-own-us, this sort of philosophical side product (if one is negative, one could say "waste product") of scientific advances can have...unintended side effects...on our way of thinking about ourselves. Say, Democracy works because we assume a person to be a singular, autonomous entity, entitled to certain rights; but what if a person isn't a single entity but a nebulous, non-autonomous organism guided by the chemicals involved and easily manipulated by the amount of ritalin dosage given...?
Machines as we might be, we do require motivations. If we're part of the environment that defines how we turn out, we should be inclined to improve that environment and indeed ourselves. People won't fall into despair just because philophers are unable to find the meaning of life, surely.
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