Wait, can free will exist?

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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby Scyrus » Thu Jun 16, 2011 10:22 pm UTC

FrancovS wrote:
Scyrus wrote: This consciousness or free will may be external to the universe, like an astral body that exists in a more fundamental plane of existence.


The catch is that this more fundamental plane of existence is also either deterministic or random. If it's not random, then you could predict how your soul would interfere with our world given its yin/yang ratio.


Indeed, if it is not random you could predict how it interferes with this universe. And you do, to some extent. If you have the desire to move your arm up, as long as it is physically and biologically possible, it will happen.

You can't predict much more than that but, then again, we can only perceive this universe, I meant it as if we existed in simultaneous planes but are only conscious in this one, as if this universe is what is within the reach of our "eyes", but not the rest of our "body".

If will or consciousness do exist, they are far more complicated than the already complex physics existing in our observable universe, that is basically where I wanted to arrive at, and If they don't exist, they don't exist and it is pointless to discuss it.

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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Jun 16, 2011 10:57 pm UTC

Scyrus wrote:If they don't exist, they don't exist and it is pointless to discuss it.
Like it's pointless to discuss how fire works now that we know phlogiston doesn't exist?
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby Scyrus » Thu Jun 16, 2011 11:26 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Scyrus wrote:If they don't exist, they don't exist and it is pointless to discuss it.
Like it's pointless to discuss how fire works now that we know phlogiston doesn't exist?


If we ever arrive at the knowledge that they don't exist, then yes, their existence will indeed be pointless to discuss. Just as it would be pointless to discuss the existence of phlogiston since we have proof that it doesn't, which we do not yet have for the will.

And your analogy seems fallacious, as you are comparing the existence of phlogiston (which we know not to exist) with the existence of a will (which we supposedly do not know whether it exists, hence the point of all this thread) and the workings of fire with....what, exactly?

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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Jun 17, 2011 3:14 am UTC

The workings of consciousness and whatever it is that *looks* like personal identity and free will, even if those things don't "really" turn out to exist.
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby Chronon » Sat Jun 18, 2011 5:49 am UTC

Deterministic models simply don't suffice to model open systems. Finite, closed systems are well described by deterministic models and should exhibit Poincare recurrence. We never see this in the real world. When we study real-world systems they are never closed, so deterministic models only hold approximately. The arrow of time and entropy can also be described as arising from information and/or energy flowing into unmeasured degrees of freedom.

Life is, by definition, not a closed system. It cannot be well described by a deterministic model. It could be that even if the universe obeys deterministic rules, each open subset of the universe does not. Does this mean that free will exists? Of course not. It remains an unprovable conjecture. Ultimately, free will is a purely subjective phenomenon. In my view, we cannot expect science to answer a question regarding its existence.

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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby Ulc » Sat Jun 18, 2011 6:31 pm UTC

Chronon wrote:Life is, by definition, not a closed system.


Ehm, yes it is.

Admittedly, the scale of the system is rather large, but the universe is finite. dealing with such a large system is impractical yes, but that doesn't mean that life isn't deterministic.
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby A_pathetic_lizardmnan » Sun Jun 19, 2011 1:01 am UTC

Assuming a deterministic universe, a sufficiently powerful intelligence with sufficient information could perfectly predict your behavior in advance. However, unless we have reason to believe that such a powerful intelligence exists, it is reasonable to conclude that your behavior is not perfectly predictable. Since you are not a sufficiently powerful intelligence to perfectly predict your behavior in advance, you do in fact have the ability to make decisions unforeseen to you, so from your viewpoint you do have free will. From the viewpoint of the postulated superintelligent entity, you do not. Likewise, from the viewpoint of a thermostat which is instructed to keep a house at a temperature pleasing to its inhabitants, the thermostat has the ability to decide whether or not to turn on the heat or AC at any time, but will not be able to predict in advance what it will do at a given future time. A human with knowledge of the thermostat's coding and what the heat transfer into/out of the house in could well predict the thermostat's behavior better than the thermostat, but this is a meaningless proposition to a thermostat without this omniscient human. So from the viewpoint of the thermostat, it does have free will to implement the decisions it believes to be optimal, and in its terms that level of free will is the only meaningful one.

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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby JWalker » Sun Jun 19, 2011 10:57 pm UTC

Ulc wrote:
Chronon wrote:Life is, by definition, not a closed system.


Ehm, yes it is.

Admittedly, the scale of the system is rather large, but the universe is finite. dealing with such a large system is impractical yes, but that doesn't mean that life isn't deterministic.


No, life is an open system. A living organism cannot survive without being stable against some destructive forces, and thus must use energy to decrease its entropy (for example, you get a papercut and your body repairs the damage). Life requires energy/entropy/information flux and so living things cannot be closed systems. You may say that living systems are part of the universe which is a closed system (though some will debate whether or not the universe is a closed system), but that doesn't mean a life is a closed system. Open systems can be subsystems of closed systems, but they are still open systems. Chronon is correct in saying that by definition life is not a closed system. However, open systems can still be made deterministic if they can be embedded into a larger deterministic system as you said, but given our current understanding of physics, the universe is not deterministic, so as far as we know we can't make life deterministic.

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Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby Philosophish » Sun Jun 26, 2011 2:11 pm UTC

Dear you,

First off; i cannot find a suitable place for this post, as there is no philosophy dept., but as it involves physics, I decided to post it here. If that is wrong, then I apologize, but implore the mods to create a a philosophy dept.

Ok, so the thought experiment is as such;

If we state that the brain is a complex of natural chemicals, tissues, and all kinds of natural things, which are therefore all subject to natural laws of physics, like causality, then free will is a false notion, as any resulting thought that the brain produces is a mere consequence of those earlier, chemical/physical causes (I for one think this is true).

H.G. Frankfurt had a thought-experiment, which revolved around the idea of an all knowing entity "LaPlace's Demon", that is aware of every physical partical in the universe and also of every physical force/laws To which these particles are subject, and is therefore able to predict any situation of a future point in time (and reconstruct any situation of an earlier point in time).

< metaphore: if you hold up and fill a transparant cylinder with a million marbles and from the bottom end of the cylinder push an object into the mass of marbles, you make every marble in the cylinder move as a consequence. The demon would be able to monitor every marble and predict how much each would move if you push the object into the mass, all because of its awareness of the implications of causality. >


Now let us say that our beloved Randall Munroe has just now built a computer which does just that, and it shows him that after x seconds, he will raise his right hand.

Randall, now having seen that the raising of his right hand is a logical, causally founded consequence, decides to mess with the computer by raising his left hand instead.

However; the computer was aware of every physical process in the universe, and therefore also of the results that Ranall's brain would produce after seeing himself raise his right hand in the future. It would have predicted that Randall would see himself and therefore would in fact raise his left hand, and therefore show Randall that because he would raise his right hand, but saw himself in a prediction, he will raise his left hand after x seconds instead.

But Randall, now having seen that he won't raise his right hand, but his left, decides to raise his right foot.

And so on, ad infinitum.


Does this prove that causality, like the cake, is a lie?
Or does this prove that free will is a cakely lie?
Or does this only prove that causality and free will don't go hand in hand? (a.k.a. 'incompatibilism')
Or does this prove that Causality and free will DO go hand in hand? (a.k.a. 'Compatibilism')


I am very curious as to what you guys can make of this, for with each interesting post on this forum, you seem to generate a magnificent amount of perspective.


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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby Charlie! » Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:00 pm UTC

Even fictional computers shouldn't be big enough to simulate themselves.
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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby Philosophish » Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:12 pm UTC

But causality implies they could.

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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby lati0s » Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:55 pm UTC

Philosophish wrote:But causality implies they could.

how so?

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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby Salanmander » Sun Jun 26, 2011 4:58 pm UTC

There are a couple things that make your thought experiment an impossibility.

One, as was just mentioned, you can't actually simulate the universe with anything inside the universe. To put it simply, in order to store all the information about all the particles in the universe, you would need to use all the information about all the particles in the universe, just to represent themselves. That leaves no matter leftover to read that data, calculate anything etc. In short, the only universe simulator is, in fact, the universe plus the laws of physics.

Two, quantum leaves this in the dust. That's actually the standard means of shutting down this sort of free-will-is-causal thought experiment. First of all, the uncertainty principle states that you /can't/ actually perfectly know the universe. There is a certain precision of position*momentum beyond which you physically can not go. Second, at the smallest scales things are spontaneously appearing and disappearing all the time, and at least as far as we can tell it's totally random how exactly that happens.


As a more philosophical aside, I would say that the existence of free will apart from the system of particles that makes up ourselves does not matter. Assuming for a moment that the human body system is completely deterministic based on the matter inside of it, that doesn't mean I'm under the control of the matter that composes me in any meaningful manner. I am that matter, it is me. So if the particles that make up my brain make a decision, that is me making that decision. I don't really care if, if I were transported back in time with no memory of the decision I had just made, reset to exactly the state just before I made the decision, it would be impossible for me to make any other decision. That makes sense, actually. Of course I'll make the same decision, I'll have the same information.

(Incidentally, I am vaguely dualist in that I don't understand consciousness arising from material properties, but I'm perfectly fine explaining all of human /behavior/ in a materialist sense.)

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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby JWalker » Sun Jun 26, 2011 6:26 pm UTC

Philosophish wrote:H.G. Frankfurt had a thought-experiment, which revolved around the idea of an all knowing entity "LaPlace's Demon", that is aware of every physical partical in the universe and also of every physical force/laws To which these particles are subject, and is therefore able to predict any situation of a future point in time (and reconstruct any situation of an earlier point in time).

< metaphore: if you hold up and fill a transparant cylinder with a million marbles and from the bottom end of the cylinder push an object into the mass of marbles, you make every marble in the cylinder move as a consequence. The demon would be able to monitor every marble and predict how much each would move if you push the object into the mass, all because of its awareness of the implications of causality. >


Even in a universe governed by classical physics, this argument falls apart. In a universe with nonlinear interactions (this one) we must expect some parts of it will occasionally behave chaotically, and thus any prediction of any aspect of the future will become increasingly inaccurate unless we know the initial condition of every component arbitrarily well. This requires that no information be compressed as those tiny discrepancies will be amplified by any chaotic process to where they render any predictions irrelevant (the so called butterfly effect, if you like). Since we cannot compress information if we are to take advantage of the total determinism of the universe, we will need a predictor capable of storing and processing the total amount of information that exists in the entire universe. The simplest system is necessarily the universe itself, as others have explained, and any other system would have to be more complex than the universe itself, and so cannot exist.

Moral of the story: Determinism does not mean predictability. It is easy to mistake the two concepts but they are quite different and neither one implies the other.

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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby Sizik » Sun Jun 26, 2011 6:48 pm UTC

It's essentially the same as if you had a machine that could see into the future, and thus this would fall under time travel paradoxes and the Novikov self-consistency principle.

The solution is that the machine shows Randall not raising his hand, and therefore Randall never gets the idea to raise his hand in the first place.
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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby Argency » Sun Jun 26, 2011 6:51 pm UTC

I'm with Salanmander, except for the bit about dualism. This question always seemed silly to me: any conception of free will that can be knocked down by determinism wasn't coherent to begin with. I mean, if you're shocked and horrified to find out that your decisions are predetermined because that violates your idea of free will then what exactly were you expecting to find instead? The alternative seems to be decisions without cause - decisions which are made without reference to your circumstances or desires - and that certainly doesn't look anything like free will. Rather, it looks like madness.

The problem is that our caveman intuitions haven't caught up to our modern brains. Cave men didn't spend all day pondering the nature of free will, so they got on very well indeed with simple philosophical models: the universe is divided into objects and agents, objects are passive, agents are active, and agents have free will which they assert upon the world. It's a very useful model for negotiating the savanna but a very poor one for conducting epistemological debate.
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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Sun Jun 26, 2011 6:51 pm UTC

This requires that no information be compressed as those tiny discrepancies will be amplified by any chaotic process to where they render any predictions irrelevant (the so called butterfly effect, if you like). Since we cannot compress information...


Its not true that we can't compress information. It IS true that we can't compress in a way that looses information, but we can certainly compress information in a lossless way.

if we are to take advantage of the total determinism of the universe, we will need a predictor capable of storing and processing the total amount of information that exists in the entire universe. The simplest system is necessarily the universe itself, as others have explained, and any other system would have to be more complex than the universe itself, and so cannot exist.


Why is it necessarily the universe itself? How dense is the information in the universe? Could we a make system with a higher information density? Keep in mind the holography conjecture- it may well be possible to simulate regions of the universe knowing only the information from the boundary. One could imagine a system that uses a few moles of material for a processors and rearranges them to simulate small pockets of the universe and then stores the information for the next calculations. Since photon number isn't conserved, why wouldn't it be possible to use soft photons to store information? (photons have the same degrees of freedom as electrons/protons).

It's essentially the same as if you had a machine that could see into the future, and thus this would fall under time travel paradoxes and the Novikov self-consistency principle.


No, it could very well be much, much slower than the actual universe. Imagine a machine that starting from some ridiculous amount of input now can tell me exactly what I'll be doing in 1 year, but it takes 100 years to calculate. It won't ever see into the future, but may have implications for free will.

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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby Sizik » Sun Jun 26, 2011 7:07 pm UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
This requires that no information be compressed as those tiny discrepancies will be amplified by any chaotic process to where they render any predictions irrelevant (the so called butterfly effect, if you like). Since we cannot compress information...


Its not true that we can't compress information. It IS true that we can't compress in a way that looses information, but we can certainly compress information in a lossless way.

We can compress data (that is, 1s and 0s), not information. Data would be something like

Code: Select all

0000000
0111110
0100010
0100010
0100010
0111110
0000000

whereas the information represented by that data would be "a square with a side length of 5 units".
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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby GeorgeH » Sun Jun 26, 2011 10:02 pm UTC

Even assuming that the physical processes governing my actions are completely deterministic and further assuming that a device could be constructed capable of calculating my next action, all raising my right hand instead of my left shows is that different initial conditions give different results.

Build circuit A that does three things:
1) If it sees a red light, flash a green one
2) If it sees a green light, flash a red one
3) Otherwise flash red or green in a fixed and predictable pattern

Now build circuit B that observes everything A does, predicts what circuit A will do, and then mimics it by flashing either red or green. Put circuit B’s lights in circuit A's field of view.

Paradox divide by zero causality infinity does not compute the cake is pumpkin pie? I just don't see it.

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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby Charlie! » Mon Jun 27, 2011 1:29 am UTC

Philosophish wrote:But causality implies they could.

Nope. It's entirely causal to simply have a NOT-gate on the computer's prediction, which then means the computer is always wrong when it tries to simulate itself, and therefore a computer can't generally have a valid simulation with which it interacts.

Basically the example you laid out, except without the confusing idea of free will mucking things up.
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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby JWalker » Mon Jun 27, 2011 1:47 am UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
This requires that no information be compressed as those tiny discrepancies will be amplified by any chaotic process to where they render any predictions irrelevant (the so called butterfly effect, if you like). Since we cannot compress information...


Its not true that we can't compress information. It IS true that we can't compress in a way that looses information, but we can certainly compress information in a lossless way.


I don't see what point you are trying to make here. Are you saying that there is a way to compress information that is lossless? If so I'd love to see it, but I'm skeptical. At the very least, it is not possible to simulate a classical universe using a computational engine of less complexity than the universe it aims to simulate. Since there is no lossless way to map a continuum to the computable reals, you cannot use a finite digital representation of the universe to accurately simulate a classical continuum. You'd have to use an analogue computer, but the simplest possible analogue to a system is the system itself. At least, in a purely classical universe this is true. In a quantum mechanical universe it is possible, but you have to sacrifice Laplace's vision of determinism to do it.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
Why is it necessarily the universe itself? How dense is the information in the universe? Could we a make system with a higher information density? Keep in mind the holography conjecture- it may well be possible to simulate regions of the universe knowing only the information from the boundary. One could imagine a system that uses a few moles of material for a processors and rearranges them to simulate small pockets of the universe and then stores the information for the next calculations. Since photon number isn't conserved, why wouldn't it be possible to use soft photons to store information? (photons have the same degrees of freedom as electrons/protons).


As far as I know (and please correct me if I'm wrong here, as I very well may be), the holography conjecture requires a quantum universe, which I specifically avoided talking about as a quantum universe is not purely deterministic and so presents an entirely different set of objections to the argument in the OP. It surely belongs in this thread, but I wanted to show that there are purely classical objections as well as the usual quantum ones.

As for storing information using photons, in principle this only works in non-chaotic regimes, as any measurable quantity that could be used for storing information is in some way coupled to the rest of the universe (for example, if you wanted to simulate real electrons/protons using information stored with photons, there will be some coupling between the photons and the electrons/protons you are trying to simulate). If you do not account for that coupling, you will be unable to simulate a universe with chaos (from within that universe), as the small unknown errors due to coupling with the rest of the universe will be magnified until they are quite relevant. If you do account for them, you must store all the information in the universe with infinite precision.

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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby Xanthir » Tue Jun 28, 2011 5:29 pm UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
This requires that no information be compressed as those tiny discrepancies will be amplified by any chaotic process to where they render any predictions irrelevant (the so called butterfly effect, if you like). Since we cannot compress information...


Its not true that we can't compress information. It IS true that we can't compress in a way that looses information, but we can certainly compress information in a lossless way.

You can't compress arbitrary data losslessly, though, by a basic application of the pigeonhole principle. For any given number of bits, at most half of the possible sequences can be compressed by a single bit, at most a quarter can be compressed by 2 bits, etc. As well, you have to take into account the complexity of the decompressor, which exists outside the system. We win at compression only when the data we're interested in is sufficiently clustered that we can accept the vast majority of possible bit-strings being massively blown up by our "compression" scheme.

Are you certain that the information content of the universe fits that criteria?
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby Technical Ben » Tue Jun 28, 2011 10:42 pm UTC

JWalker wrote:
Ulc wrote:
Chronon wrote:Life is, by definition, not a closed system.


Ehm, yes it is.

Admittedly, the scale of the system is rather large, but the universe is finite. dealing with such a large system is impractical yes, but that doesn't mean that life isn't deterministic.


No, life is an open system. A living organism cannot survive without being stable against some destructive forces, and thus must use energy to decrease its entropy (for example, you get a papercut and your body repairs the damage). Life requires energy/entropy/information flux and so living things cannot be closed systems. You may say that living systems are part of the universe which is a closed system (though some will debate whether or not the universe is a closed system), but that doesn't mean a life is a closed system. Open systems can be subsystems of closed systems, but they are still open systems. Chronon is correct in saying that by definition life is not a closed system. However, open systems can still be made deterministic if they can be embedded into a larger deterministic system as you said, but given our current understanding of physics, the universe is not deterministic, so as far as we know we can't make life deterministic.

Sorry to get involved in yet another controversial subject, but... If I choose not to eat, how does my energy requirements factor into free choice? Mind you, you said the universe is not deterministic. One of the problems seems to be that people don't like defining choice as "random" or "deterministic". It seems they want there to be a third option. I suppose it's like quantum gravity. We see gravity in the macro scale, but have trouble in the quantum scale. We cannot say "it does not exist" or "it does exist". We have to look for a third option, a different model, between the two observations. So can we conceive an option between random and deterministic observations?
I see free choice in the same way I see life. Someone can tell me I'm "not alive" and am mealy a mathematical, or physical, model of individual "inanimate" matter.
The question of "is there free choice" seems in a similar quandary. Like gravity on the quantum scale. We know gravity exists, but when we look really close, we cannot see it. So with free will, or choice, we can see it exists. But when looking closely, it all seems to fall apart. Does that mean it does not exist?
I know I'm gonna be mobbed for such a comment, but well, the question is not going to keep me up all night worrying about anyhow.
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby Xanthir » Wed Jun 29, 2011 1:13 am UTC

I don't think the analogy holds very well. We can see gravity on the quantum level, we just don't have a good model for it that meshes well with classical gravity.
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby Technical Ben » Wed Jun 29, 2011 8:11 am UTC

Fair enough. But I was looking at it as, we see free will as random on the close up or quantum scale (the universe is unpredictable) but on the macro scale, free will looks deterministic (predictable models).
As it cannot be both, it's either one or the other, or neither. Like how light is probably neither a particle or a wave.

But perhaps a better way to look at free will, is that it could possible be a separate system entirely? As in, mathematics or logical systems can be entirely separate from the restrictions on our universe right? So, could it be a system that is neither limited by the deterministic or random qualities of the universe? If we want a mathematics system to be random, we can create it to be such, or if we want it to be deterministic we can do so as well. Is this limited by the universe in any way? One problem is we don't really have a mathematical model in the middle called "choice" right now.
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby webgiant » Sun Oct 02, 2011 8:07 pm UTC

Coffee wrote:If there's no free will, then I am not responsible for anything I do, since it's all pre-determined and I have no say in the matter.
Since I'm not responsible for it, if I do something illegal, I shouldn't go to jail, since that would be punishing me for actions for which I am not responsible.

Of course, by the same reasoning, the person who puts you in jail didn't do anything wrong either, since they were not responsible for that action.

People trying to come up with "no free will" justifications for their own hedonistic behavior invariably forget that everyone else would be governed by the same definition, so their punishments would remain the same as if free will did exist.

Best just to pretend that free will exists and try to ignore your biochemical processes jerking your strings.

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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby Turtlewing » Mon Oct 03, 2011 9:07 pm UTC

Philosophish wrote:Now let us say that our beloved Randall Munroe has just now built a computer which does just that, and it shows him that after x seconds, he will raise his right hand.

Randall, now having seen that the raising of his right hand is a logical, causally founded consequence, decides to mess with the computer by raising his left hand instead.

However; the computer was aware of every physical process in the universe, and therefore also of the results that Ranall's brain would produce after seeing himself raise his right hand in the future. It would have predicted that Randall would see himself and therefore would in fact raise his left hand, and therefore show Randall that because he would raise his right hand, but saw himself in a prediction, he will raise his left hand after x seconds instead.

But Randall, now having seen that he won't raise his right hand, but his left, decides to raise his right foot.

And so on, ad infinitum.


Sounds like the halting problem http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halting_problem.
It turns out that in order to perfectly simulate a system you need a simulator that is at least as complex as that system. This means that the simulator can't ever be a proper subset of the system it simulates as it would have to simulate itself, and something else, which it can't do because simulating itself takes 100% of its computational power. In short, you can't simulate the universe without being outside the universe.

If you tried to simulate the universe while still inside it you'd end up with something very much like this http://xkcd.com/878/.

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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby thedufer » Wed Oct 05, 2011 2:17 am UTC

Xanthir wrote:
Twistar wrote:So Xanthir, one relevant question, is the determinism/randomness really a dilemma or is there a third option that we hadn't even counted upon? I can't think of anything so I'm inclined to say no, but I also didn't think there was any possible alternative to determinism until I learned about quantum mechanics and it still blows my mind.

No, an event is either determined or not(/random). The fact that there isn't a third way is precisely why "free will" is an incoherent concept if you try to posit it as a real thing, and not an illusion caused by imperfect predictive ability.


There is a third way, although its not to say I subscribe to it. Its definitely interesting, though:

At the quantum level, there appears to be true randomness. However, its possible that at each decision, the universe splits and all possibilities happen. I believe someone postulated that your consciousness may be choosing which universe split to follow, which allows for free will without breaking the usual deterministic model of physics too badly.

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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby doogly » Wed Oct 05, 2011 2:30 am UTC

You can believe nonsense if you want but we can't pretend that it's got the support of physics.
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Oct 05, 2011 3:06 am UTC

That one doesn't even really have the support of itself. How does splitting into every possibility consistent with your consciousness choosing only one of those for you to end up in? Are you suggesting it's not possible for you to end up in the other ones?
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby thedufer » Wed Oct 05, 2011 3:40 am UTC

doogly wrote:You can believe nonsense if you want but we can't pretend that it's got the support of physics.


I didn't make this one up. The many-worlds theory is a possible interpretation of the wave function collapse in quantum mechanics. The consciousness part of it is just a thought experiment, if a fairly well-known one. Its postulated as a way to prove the many-worlds interpretation over the Copenhagen interpretation, but is mostly useless because it only proves it for the observer. This thought experiment is called Quantum Suicide.

gmalivuk wrote:That one doesn't even really have the support of itself. How does splitting into every possibility consistent with your consciousness choosing only one of those for you to end up in? Are you suggesting it's not possible for you to end up in the other ones?


The idea of the quantum suicide thought experiment is that your experience necessarily follows the splits into the universe in which you survive; otherwise, your experience ends. The idea that this could have bearing on the concept of free will in a deterministic universe is speculation on my part.

I occasionally explain myself into corners trying to figure it out, but thats anything related to quantum mechanics. The fact that the thought experiment came out of the physics community implies that there's something at least feasible to it.

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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Oct 05, 2011 4:04 am UTC

thedufer wrote:The idea of the quantum suicide thought experiment is that your experience necessarily follows the splits into the universe in which you survive; otherwise, your experience ends. The idea that this could have bearing on the concept of free will in a deterministic universe is speculation on my part.
And that's the part that doesn't work. If your experience continues in all the universes in which you survive, it doesn't allow any room for free choice of which universes "you" end up in.
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby Technical Ben » Wed Oct 05, 2011 1:02 pm UTC

How about just explaining "choice" as a separate system? To allow "room for" a theory that supports choice, we only need to have a system that is unreadable or unknowable. If for example we cannot measure all the information in the universe, we cannot make predictions on it. If free will is related to any bit of information that is unreadable by any system other than the system of choice it's self, is it not "free" from the restrictions of randomness and determinism?

So, we can predict the deterministic universe via the present (or predetermined) information we have. Or we can get the probabilities to form models based on random events. But, if our system of choice or free will is hidden away and "unreadable", then how can we call it either random or deterministic? As we don't have the data to back either up.
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby Malconstant » Wed Oct 05, 2011 1:52 pm UTC

Determinism has more to do with being theoretically determinable, rather than of practical use. You're right, it turns out that functionally it sure seems like we have free will. Dare I say it's that human experience from which the term was derived. But determinism just says that, theoretically, it would be possible to plug in your initial conditions and through the laws of physics in the universe determine what all of your future actions will be. You don't need to appeal to paradoxes of trying to get that information to you or practical computability in order to see how this undermines certain understandings of free will.

The point is that your third option isn't a real thing. It's like saying "okay, I know that an integer has to be either even or odd, but suppose I use a random number generator so I don't know what the integer will be, then through my ignorance the resulting number is a third option, escaping from the confines of being either even or odd". This is not actually a third option for what an integer could be. It is purely a comment on practical ignorance, not on the actual epistemology of free will.
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby LaserGuy » Wed Oct 05, 2011 8:10 pm UTC

webgrunt wrote:
Angua wrote:... we start getting activity about half a millisecond before we even realise that we've made the decision to move...


I just found out about this recently, and it makes me wonder WTF this thing I think of as "me" is and if it's even remotely like the concept I have of it.


Your conscious self is mostly localized in your (normally) left brain, or probably only a specific part of your left brain. The degree to which other parts of the brain interact with this part is varied, and, especially if you suffer brain damage, can change quite dramatically from your normal experience. For example, some brain-damaged patients may experience alien hand syndrome, where they will lose functional control (but not sensation) in their non-dominant hand (and/or leg), and that hand will act purposefully act in sensible ways (like say, brushing your hair), even though the person whose hand it is actually has no control, as far as they are concerned over the motion of the hand. It's pretty fucked up. There's lots of experiments involving split-brained patients (where the hemispheres of their brains have been partially disconnected surgically) which seem to suggest that the left brain often makes up post-hoc rationalizations for things that other parts of the brain are doing beyond its control.

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Re: Thought-Expermient that (dis)proves Free Will?

Postby WarDaft » Thu Oct 06, 2011 2:10 am UTC

Turtlewing wrote:Sounds like the halting problem http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halting_problem.
It turns out that in order to perfectly simulate a system you need a simulator that is at least as complex as that system. This means that the simulator can't ever be a proper subset of the system it simulates as it would have to simulate itself, and something else, which it can't do because simulating itself takes 100% of its computational power. In short, you can't simulate the universe without being outside the universe.

If you tried to simulate the universe while still inside it you'd end up with something very much like this http://xkcd.com/878/.


Actually, if the universe is infinite, then you could have an infinitely large computer with an infinitely large memory bank, containing the entire universe. You could even run it. Infinity's fun like that. You could not however use it to predict your future and then avert it, because it could not predict the universe faster than the universe itself in the local area of the output terminal.
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby Technical Ben » Thu Oct 06, 2011 5:09 pm UTC

Malconstant wrote:Determinism has more to do with being theoretically determinable, rather than of practical use. You're right, it turns out that functionally it sure seems like we have free will. Dare I say it's that human experience from which the term was derived. But determinism just says that, theoretically, it would be possible to plug in your initial conditions and through the laws of physics in the universe determine what all of your future actions will be. You don't need to appeal to paradoxes of trying to get that information to you or practical computability in order to see how this undermines certain understandings of free will.

The point is that your third option isn't a real thing. It's like saying "okay, I know that an integer has to be either even or odd, but suppose I use a random number generator so I don't know what the integer will be, then through my ignorance the resulting number is a third option, escaping from the confines of being either even or odd". This is not actually a third option for what an integer could be. It is purely a comment on practical ignorance, not on the actual epistemology of free will.


Malconstant, I agree with your first paragraph, but don't understand why the second naturally or logically follows. We are not asking for a third integer separate from even or odd. We are asking "what will the next integer be?" It can be even or odd, however the means of prediction can be "random" "choice" or "determined". We already have a description of the third option, we are not asking for something that does not exit!

All the universe needs to do is say "Well, I'm reality, so your models have to step a side". As, can we consider things only to be real if we have an accurate model to describe it? I am certain man has known the sun to be real since he first saw it, yet when did we get the model to describe fusion or fission? So, if we see choices being made by people, even without the understanding of what the mechanism is, we can conclude it exist. Why is it a third option? Because it fits neither determinism or randomness! I can choose to be random or choose to follow determined actions (this it's self at my own free will).
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby Malconstant » Thu Oct 06, 2011 5:38 pm UTC

I don't know what to say. It's still not a third option, and the reason is the same one that I gave before.

You're talking about our knowledge/ignorance/ability to model something. Perception. I'm talking about the reality, determinism, how the universe really is.

You're talking about our ability to predict a random number generator. I'm talking about the number itself.

I recognize that we can't model reality perfectly, that's besides the point, everything I'm saying here would be just as legitimate if we had the physics models of cavemen. It just doesn't make any sense to say "you've got determinism and you've got randomness, but how about a third option called "choice". It's not a comment on what is, it's a comment on our ignorance. I can keep on saying this over again a few times.

If the universe is theoretically predictable from initial conditions if only we had the perfect theory of everything and perfect information of initial states (shut it QM, just...just shut your random hole in this topic please, you're not productive) then it's deterministic regardless of what we think. You can't have some people being deterministic, and others being random. They're all subject to the same determinism.

From here there's certainly no room for a third option of choice. As if some people are deterministic, but others aren't because of their ignorance. The reality of the universe does not care how ignorant you are.
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby Technical Ben » Thu Oct 06, 2011 11:16 pm UTC

Malconstant wrote:
Spoiler:
I don't know what to say. It's still not a third option, and the reason is the same one that I gave before.

You're talking about our knowledge/ignorance/ability to model something. Perception. I'm talking about the reality, determinism, how the universe really is.

You're talking about our ability to predict a random number generator. I'm talking about the number itself.

I recognize that we can't model reality perfectly, that's besides the point, everything I'm saying here would be just as legitimate if we had the physics models of cavemen. It just doesn't make any sense to say "you've got determinism and you've got randomness, but how about a third option called "choice". It's not a comment on what is, it's a comment on our ignorance. I can keep on saying this over again a few times.

If the universe is theoretically predictable from initial conditions if only we had the perfect theory of everything and perfect information of initial states (shut it QM, just...just shut your random hole in this topic please, you're not productive) then it's deterministic regardless of what we think. You can't have some people being deterministic, and others being random. They're all subject to the same determinism.
Spoiler:
From here there's certainly no room for a third option of choice. As if some people are deterministic, but others aren't because of their ignorance. The reality of the universe does not care how ignorant you are.


Emphasises on "if". We cannot at this point in time even define the universe as determined or random within a reasonable degree of certainty. Yet you wish to tell me I am only allowed to be random or [externally/pre]determined in my actions? If we cannot be certain which things are random or deterministic, can we even conclude that they are the only two options?

Given the same inputs, two people make difference choices. This follows neither random or deterministic models. People "choose" a preference/result/decision. Is it influenced by input? Yes. But both people had the same input, so why did they choose difference actions? Something other than the input (deterministic) and something other than a random result was applied.
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Re: Wait, can free will exist?

Postby Dopefish » Thu Oct 06, 2011 11:56 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Given the same inputs, two people make difference choices. This follows neither random or deterministic models. People "choose" a preference/result/decision. Is it influenced by input? Yes. But both people had the same input, so why did they choose difference actions? Something other than the input (deterministic) and something other than a random result was applied.


Some might argue that the two had vastly different inputs, namely all of their life experiances preceding the point where the 'choice' was made (or alternatively, if they did have the same inputs, they are in fact the same person). Not to mention, two different people are wired differently (in terms of their genes and other physical details) so you wouldn't have reason to expect them to react the same way even if they had the same input even if things were deterministic.

If you give the same person the same input multiple times, under a determinstic universe you'd expect them to make the same choice every time. Unfortunately, that's rather difficult to test since we can't time travel, and so we can't give give someone the same input more then once, as the Nth time has all their experiances including those from the (N-1) preceding times, which is differing input.


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