The Free Will Straw Man

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snow5379
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The Free Will Straw Man

Postby snow5379 » Wed Jul 06, 2011 5:08 am UTC

This isn't a thread about if free will exists or not but the straw man set up in debates about free will: determinism. Also to be clear free will is the ability to perform an uncaused action in an attempt to accomplish something. For example an atom randomly moving about doesn't have free will but an atom consciously moving about in an attempt to accomplish something does. If it's movements aren't caused by anything other than its own will that is.

Now first off if an atom can randomly move around or not has NOTHING AT ALL to do with if we have free will or not so why do people even bring up quantum mechanics in these debates? Second off from what I've gathered events at the quantum level can't cause a neuron to fire anyway so, again, WHY BRING UP DETERMINISM? Furthermore I've even seen some arguments for free will existing INSIDE a deterministic universe so, again, there is no point in bringing up determinism in these debates.

There's also another straw man that I'd like to point out: responsibility. How many times have you face palmed when reading about how criminals shouldn't be held accountable for their actions in a (brace for it) deterministic universe? If people who kill others get locked up or whatever then I'm not going to kill anyone myself. Laws and law enforcement exist for evolutionary purposes and social growth and have nothing to do with free will. Okay?

I think the best way to approach the issue of free will is to, instead of asking if humans have free will, attempt to define the simplest possible being that could have it. Could a mind floating in space in some other universe with no input or output have free will? What requirements are there? I think we should forget about the things that have been argued over and over again in the past and try to break new grounds.

Boomase
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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby Boomase » Wed Jul 06, 2011 5:32 am UTC

Whether or not determinism is relevant to the question of free will's existence depends on what your definitions of free will and determinism are. It's a lot more complicated than it first seems, I gather from reading the wikipedia article on the subject. I think most people when they're referring to determinism mean causal determinism: "future events are necessitated by past and present events combined with the laws of nature."

You might say that this statement being true can coexist with freewill. Others, like me, would disagree. Just because you hold one position doesn't mean that the other position shouldn't be brought up at all.. that's just ridiculous.

As for the responsibility part, well yea people who say that criminals aren't accountable are thinking about determinism wrong, and frankly give the argument for determinism a bad name. The fact that the universe is deterministic is irrelevant to things like responsibility. Putting criminals to jail makes sense (arguments about effectiveness of jail put aside) whether or not determinism is a factor. If the universe made you out to be a murderer, well that is really unfortunate for you, but it doesn't change the fact that you're a murderer, nor does it make you less immoral (again arguments about morality aside)

Determinism is much more interesting and relevant to things like the existence of heaven and hell.

snow5379
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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby snow5379 » Wed Jul 06, 2011 5:53 am UTC

From what I gather you believe in a deterministic universe and feel that free will, and by extension heaven and hell, can't exist.

The problem here is that the evidence implies we do not exist in a deterministic universe and we end up arguing over that instead of all the other problems with free will. I agree that free will doesn't exist except if it's defined in some obscure way and by extension heaven and hell can't exist... but how do we go about proving this? The whole determinism thing is just a straw man that doesn't get us anywhere.

When it comes down to it random movement doesn't mean something has free will... and I think the deterministic argument seems to miss this point. Deterministic or not free will STILL can't exist, crazy obscure definitions aside... so it's not really relevant.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby snow5379 » Wed Jul 06, 2011 5:59 am UTC

This is really why I suggest tacking the problem with a hypothetical consciousness floating in space. All it can do is think yet I doubt anyone who believes in free will would say it can't have free thoughts and such. From here it's easy to deconstruct the concept of free will and show how ridiculous it is on all levels without the need for arguments over determinism or morality.

Future thoughts would either be random, determined by a past chain of thoughts, or a combination of the two... neither of which are truly free or willed. Furthermore the minds wants and desires can't be chosen (even if you change your wants you must have wanted to change your wants... that's just semantics).

So take, for example, a hypothetical god that wants to create a universe. Why does it want to create that universe? If it chose to want to create, then it would have wanted to want to create, and wanted to want to want to create, and so on which just doesn't work and leads us to believe that such a being would have had the desire either planted by an outside force or generated randomly. To say that is "free" or "willed" is laughable at best.

I think the chain of events following the "desire" is largely deterministic based on past experience, judgment, and so on and the "desire" itself is what people REALLY think about when they reference that magical thing outside of the universe. Yet really desires aren't all that magical and since you can't really chose to love things you currently hate you're basically a slave to your desires. Sure sometimes the desire to stay fit is stronger than that for the junk food but that again is just semantics. Free will? What a joke.

Boomase
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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby Boomase » Wed Jul 06, 2011 6:40 am UTC

I have to say that I'm having a really tough time following your words and thoughts clearly, that might just be me though. Anyway I don't think that determinism existing necessarily implies that heaven/hell can't exist, just that it wouldn't make much sense logically (which doesn't mean it's not possible to exist) In my opinion, being punished on Earth for something you do in a deterministic universe makes sense because this punishment supposedly serves to better society in the future for example by being a deterrent etc. But being eternally punished for something you do in a deterministic universe doesn't really make sense at all. Because you, in a grand cosmic sense you aren't accountable for your actions, it's just that this fact isn't relevant to dealing with society so it doesn't apply to the whole criminals and prison thing.

I can't really find a way to justify hell, but I can think of a situation where heaven makes sense in a deterministic universe. It's possible that heaven is supposed to be some perfect society/place and life on Earth is just a testing ground to sort out the good from the bad. A lot of people are created here and let's say they run out their determined lives on Earth and then the best of them are chosen to be taken to this heaven. Still there would be no reason for the others to suffer an eternal hell.

More on topic I guess, nothing you've said has convinced me that determinism isn't relevant to the question of free will's existence. Could you maybe try explaining the space thing again more clearly? Also you said something about evidence? What evidence? And on the issue of proving one way or another, I don't really think that's possible, and I just form my opinion based on the fact that it logically makes sense to me.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby snow5379 » Wed Jul 06, 2011 6:52 am UTC

By proof I mean beyond a reasonable doubt. How far you can prove ANYTHING is a whole other debate. Anyway my point was that free will can't exist in either a deterministic or nondeterministic universe so arguing over determinism is a waste of time. Also:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-slit_experiment
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schr%C3%B6dinger%27s_cat

There are many experiments that show the probabilistic nature of the universe. Now you might argue that what appears to be randomness on the quantum scale isn't random at all but rather we just aren't seeing the full picture. Can you prove either though? Nope... so nothing is really solved and the whole determinism thing leads to a stalemate and is just a dead end for debates like this.

I know I can be hard to follow sometimes and sorry about that. I'm just saying there are stronger arguments that don't deal with determinism or morality and we should investigate those as the determinism and morality arguments only ever lead to dead ends and stalemates.
Last edited by snow5379 on Wed Jul 06, 2011 6:56 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby sje46 » Wed Jul 06, 2011 6:56 am UTC

snow5379 wrote:There's also another straw man that I'd like to point out: responsibility. How many times have you face palmed when reading about how criminals shouldn't be held accountable for their actions in a (brace for it) deterministic universe? If people who kill others get locked up or whatever then I'm not going to kill anyone myself. Laws and law enforcement exist for evolutionary purposes and social growth and have nothing to do with free will. Okay?
As a psychology major, I have difficulty seeing the usefulness of assuming a "free will". The reason why we do certain things is because the circumstances combined with the structure of our brains dictated it. You can say that the reason a serial killer is a serial killer is because he's a dick, but you can't say that he isn't a dick because of his brain biology shaped by genetics and a lifetime of experiences. "Punishment" for crimes shouldn't be out of vengeance for this reason...it should be a utilitarian reshaping of the brain.
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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby Chen » Wed Jul 06, 2011 12:56 pm UTC

snow5379 wrote:I think the best way to approach the issue of free will is to, instead of asking if humans have free will, attempt to define the simplest possible being that could have it. Could a mind floating in space in some other universe with no input or output have free will? What requirements are there? I think we should forget about the things that have been argued over and over again in the past and try to break new grounds.


In asking a question like that you need to then question the mechanism behind "free will". Is this a physical mechanism? If it is tied to natural laws of the universe then it clearly needs to take determinism into account (assuming a deterministic universe). If the mechanism is supernatural then what is the point of trying to rationalize it? I can make up any argument and say "well its supernatural so it works".

Take your floating brain with no external stimulus. The only physically explainable mechanism for its free will would be something internal. It is still composed of atoms and molecules so is the mechanism of its free will the collisions of said atoms and particles? If so determinism should still be able to explain the supposed "free will". Basically when we go though it, what is/are the root cause(s) of our thoughts and actions? Either they are based on something outside of physical laws or based on physical laws. In the former case we have no real way of meaningful discussion and in the latter case determinism needs to be addressed.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby LaserGuy » Wed Jul 06, 2011 1:27 pm UTC

snow5379 wrote:By proof I mean beyond a reasonable doubt. How far you can prove ANYTHING is a whole other debate. Anyway my point was that free will can't exist in either a deterministic or nondeterministic universe so arguing over determinism is a waste of time.


If free will doesn't exist in a deterministic universe and doesn't exist in a nondeterministic universe, then free will doesn't exist. Excluded middle and all that.

snow5379
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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby snow5379 » Wed Jul 06, 2011 7:30 pm UTC

Yeah I'd think that it would be "free will doesn't exist, case closed" but some people still believe in free will because if makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside. Their arguments tend to be something like "randomness exists, therefore we have free will!" which is a huge jump that makes no sense at all. I mean just look at the free will thread that has been going on forever.

We should be discussing the mechanics of free will. How does it work? Why does it work? Asking these questions destroys the concept of free will in a much stronger way than just arguing about determinism.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby Captain_Thunder » Wed Jul 06, 2011 8:05 pm UTC

snow5379 wrote:There's also another straw man that I'd like to point out: responsibility. How many times have you face palmed when reading about how criminals shouldn't be held accountable for their actions in a (brace for it) deterministic universe? If people who kill others get locked up or whatever then I'm not going to kill anyone myself..


Just because we need to punish bad behavior doesn't mean that people are responsible for their actions. I believe that we need to punish undesirable behavior (and reward good behavior) in spite of the fact that people are not responsible for those behaviors. This might seem nitpicky, but most people I've talked to have had it firmly set in their minds that punishment=responsibility, and it's difficult to get them to separate those two concepts.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby LaserGuy » Wed Jul 06, 2011 8:36 pm UTC

snow5379 wrote:Yeah I'd think that it would be "free will doesn't exist, case closed" but some people still believe in free will because if makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside. Their arguments tend to be something like "randomness exists, therefore we have free will!" which is a huge jump that makes no sense at all. I mean just look at the free will thread that has been going on forever.

We should be discussing the mechanics of free will. How does it work? Why does it work? Asking these questions destroys the concept of free will in a much stronger way than just arguing about determinism.


Pretty much any question that you ask about free will is rooted in determinism or nondeterminism. I don't really understand how/why you call it a strawman. It's like having a discussion about Christianity and calling the Bible a strawman.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby snow5379 » Wed Jul 06, 2011 10:01 pm UTC

There is strong evidence that our universe is nondeterministic so you shouldn't use determinism in an argument against free will. Also a nondeterministic universe doesn't in any way imply free will. From this is it not clear why people should stop bringing up determinism?

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby ++$_ » Wed Jul 06, 2011 10:39 pm UTC

Are you familiar with the De Broglie-Bohm interpretation of quantum mechanics?

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LaserGuy
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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby LaserGuy » Thu Jul 07, 2011 12:14 am UTC

snow5379 wrote:There is strong evidence that our universe is nondeterministic so you shouldn't use determinism in an argument against free will. Also a nondeterministic universe doesn't in any way imply free will. From this is it not clear why people should stop bringing up determinism?


A nondeterministic universe also cannot support free will either. That's sort of the point. Neither type of universe produces an acceptable situation under which free will can exist, therefore free will does not exist because there is no middle ground between determinism and non-determinism. (Non-)Determinism isn't a strawman; it is a powerful argument that is used to refute the idea of free will.

I'll mention as well, that the universe is can only be considered non-deterministic on a quantum level. As you pointed out in your preamble, this randomness is largely irrelevant to the macroscopic world, which behaves deterministically.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby elasto » Thu Jul 07, 2011 3:21 am UTC

LaserGuy wrote:
snow5379 wrote:By proof I mean beyond a reasonable doubt. How far you can prove ANYTHING is a whole other debate. Anyway my point was that free will can't exist in either a deterministic or nondeterministic universe so arguing over determinism is a waste of time.


If free will doesn't exist in a deterministic universe and doesn't exist in a nondeterministic universe, then free will doesn't exist. Excluded middle and all that.

Depends if the root of free will is in this universe. If it's not, the universe is not deterministic but neither is it random. Law of excluded middle does not apply.

I'm not saying I necessarily buy that argument myself, but there's no point discussing free will itself when we have so many already threads doing that already. (My belief is that we are constrained to only be able to choose to do that which we would want to choose to do. ie that free will is an illusion but that it doesn't matter, because we wouldn't choose anything differently even if we did have 'true' free will. It doesn't even matter in terms of moral responsibility, because there are still good reasons for societal rewards and punishments as have been pointed out in this thread)

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby Twistar » Thu Jul 07, 2011 7:43 am UTC

Here's my stance (Taking my definition of free will which may or may not be common.) Free will can't exist in a deterministic universe or a random universe due to my definition of free will. Looks like a dilemma. Well, maybe the universe isn't deterministic or random. Maybe non-deterministic != random. Of course this third type of universe would be strange, and typically requires some type of immaterial explanations which gets into wacky mind-body issues.

Point being my stance is pretty weak, but I do claim that it is at least logically consistent. Here's another question, why do I believe (and it is very much JUST a belief,) we have free will? It's because I believe that people are morally responsible (I understand the punishment/responsibility thing, I actually think people are responsible.) If people didn't have free will they wouldn't be responsible for their actions and I'm not down with that. I also feel that while there are physical limitations within the universe, if humans had free will that would be a pretty unrestrained power, which I think is cool. Note: this whole paragraph doesn't make any philosophical points, it is just my personal motivation on this subject and may explain why I and others argue about what we do.

About discussing determinism too much, I agree. In my opinion it is pretty straightforward that free will cannot exist in a deterministic or random universe, and it is boring trying to get someone to agree with this and this usually ends up in an argument about what is meant by free will and then I get more bored because compatibalist definitions of free will are boring. I think we should try to discuss some of the less explored aspects of the argument that haven't been beaten to death. Namely, ways to avoid the dilemma of free will and non-material explanations.

So I threw in a bit of my personal views there, please don't mix that up with the philosophical points I'm trying to make which are, in my opinion consistent.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby curtis95112 » Thu Jul 07, 2011 8:24 am UTC

Has anyone defined free will in a noncontradictory manner? That is, non-deterministic yet not random? I fail to see how free will can even be sensibly defined (metaphysical dualism aside).
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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby Twistar » Thu Jul 07, 2011 9:16 am UTC

curtis95112 wrote:Has anyone defined free will in a noncontradictory manner? That is, non-deterministic yet not random? I fail to see how free will can even be sensibly defined (metaphysical dualism aside).

Well, as far as I know no one has even generated a sensible way the universe can be other than deterministic or random. I definitely don't see any possibility of an alternative in a purely materialistic universe (is this what you mean by metaphysical dualism aside?) So the stance I am proposing requires a dualistic universe with an idealistic as well as materialistic reality and these interplay in such a way that free will would make sense.

"In such a way" those are the key words right?
I haven't thought about this enough to say more about this line of thought than this, but I'm curious to see if this is a fruitful corner of the debate, or if it simply me naively grasping at straws. But to stay relevant to this thread, I think this is just one of many interesting things to talk about free will OTHER THAN the determinism/randomness thing. The purely materialistic branch of the argument has been run through so many times, are other views even worth considering?

Actually, I'm a little unclear as to the purpose of this thread. I'm sort of taking it to be a meta-analysis of the typical free will debates

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby elasto » Thu Jul 07, 2011 11:32 am UTC

curtis95112 wrote:Has anyone defined free will in a noncontradictory manner? That is, non-deterministic yet not random? I fail to see how free will can even be sensibly defined (metaphysical dualism aside).
I somewhat agree, however I don't see what's wrong with saying free will is the ability of an agent to pick from all the choices physically available to him and do whichever one he most wants to do.

The fact that it also happens to be compatible with determinism, and hence 'true' free will is actually illusory isn't all that important. I mean, do you really want the ability to do something you don't want to do? You already have that in the above model, after all, in that if you 'want to do something you don't want to do', that in itself is something you 'want to do'.

I think LaserGuy's argument is sound if this universe is all there is (and hence I disagree with the OP argument that determinism isn't useful to debates because it does lead directly to LaserGuy's argument), but it is irrelevant in that I believe the above version of free will is as good as 'true' free will. And if this universe isn't all there is I think all bets are off in terms of debate. I don't see how you could come to a firm conclusion either way even in theory.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby curtis95112 » Thu Jul 07, 2011 12:35 pm UTC

elasto wrote:
curtis95112 wrote:Has anyone defined free will in a noncontradictory manner? That is, non-deterministic yet not random? I fail to see how free will can even be sensibly defined (metaphysical dualism aside).
I somewhat agree, however I don't see what's wrong with saying free will is the ability of an agent to pick from all the choices physically available to him and do whichever one he most wants to do.

The fact that it also happens to be compatible with determinism, and hence 'true' free will is actually illusory isn't all that important. I mean, do you really want the ability to do something you don't want to do? You already have that in the above model, after all, in that if you 'want to do something you don't want to do', that in itself is something you 'want to do'.

I think LaserGuy's argument is sound if this universe is all there is (and hence I disagree with the OP argument that determinism isn't useful to debates because it does lead directly to LaserGuy's argument), but it is irrelevant in that I believe the above version of free will is as good as 'true' free will. And if this universe isn't all there is I think all bets are off in terms of debate. I don't see how you could come to a firm conclusion either way even in theory.


I agree with you. It would make no difference whether people had free will or not. Hence this whole debate seems irrelevant to physical reality.
Mighty Jalapeno wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:
Роберт wrote:Sure, but at least they hit the intended target that time.

Well, if you shoot enough people, you're bound to get the right one eventually.

Thats the best description of the USA ever.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby snow5379 » Fri Jul 08, 2011 3:31 am UTC

Also about the material world....

If there was a higher realm beyond the material world that realm would also follow rules even if those rules are different than our own. So questions about how free will would work, mechanically, are still valid even if we toss in crazy pseudophilosophy. Usually though such crazy pseudophilosophies require tossing logic out of the window entirely (i.e. having something neither deterministic nor nondeterministic as the free will believer on this thread mentioned). Now how do you expect something to work, mechanically, in a universe without logic?

"It just does" isn't ever a valid argument. Why does it rain? It just does. How does a clock work? It just does. Is this the world of ignorance we want to live in? Unless you have a mechanical explanation of this "magical" force that "just does" work called "free will" it's laughable at best.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby elasto » Fri Jul 08, 2011 11:47 am UTC

Well, why do particles attract proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of their separation? They just do. Why do the fundamental ratios of nature have the values they do? They just do.

Physicists can propose models that observations of the universe correlate with but it doesn't mean those models are 'right' at a fundamental level, it just means those models are useful. Physics can say gravity works like it does because it propagates in three dimensions of space and one of time. But why does it do it that way? It just does. It doesn't even help to say that all possible universes exist and we just happen to be in this one, because why do all possible universe exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? There just is.

I would draw the opposite conclusion to you: "It just does" is what you always eventually end up with in science if you drill down deep enough. Even if we do come up with a theory of everything and it's at some fundamental level 'real', it is still very unlikely to explain why reality is as it is and not some other way. It just will be.

I also dispute that it impossible to conceive of a higher realm where logic does not apply. Heck, it may not end up even always applying in this universe. We just haven't found any exceptions yet.

I'm not saying 'it's conceivable therefore we should believe in it'. That would be an absurd way to approach life. I'm merely saying I don't think it possible to rule out free will in a higher realm being 'an effect without a cause' - something non-deterministic yet non-random - where 'will' is as fundamental a law in that place as gravity appears to be in this.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby curtis95112 » Fri Jul 08, 2011 1:42 pm UTC

Snow5379, but when we start discussing higher realms, we have to realize that logic is a property of our realm. I would go as far as to say that, in a sense, logic has been empirically derived via evolution. It seems obvious that no property of any higher realm is unknowable, both in practice and in principle.
Of course this is all irrelevant. When that higher realm intrudes upon ours, it immediately enters the domain of science. I think we can do a good job of analyzing it if that's the case. Hell, we can distinguish between hidden variables and pure probability. What can't we do?
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Tyndmyr wrote:
Роберт wrote:Sure, but at least they hit the intended target that time.

Well, if you shoot enough people, you're bound to get the right one eventually.

Thats the best description of the USA ever.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby iop » Sat Jul 09, 2011 1:00 am UTC

snow5379 wrote:There's also another straw man that I'd like to point out: responsibility. How many times have you face palmed when reading about how criminals shouldn't be held accountable for their actions in a (brace for it) deterministic universe? If people who kill others get locked up or whatever then I'm not going to kill anyone myself. Laws and law enforcement exist for evolutionary purposes and social growth and have nothing to do with free will. Okay?

No. Our legal system strongly relies on the assumption of free will. If you kill somebody, punishment depends a lot on your mental state at the time: Did you do it on purpose? With planning? Were you in control of yourself at the time of the murder, i.e. did you have "free will"? The answer to these questions will decide whether you get executed or not in the US.

Whether free will exists or not is an interesting debate. For current criminal law to work, however, we have to posit that free will exists.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby stevey_frac » Sat Jul 09, 2011 1:53 am UTC

Twistar wrote:Well, as far as I know no one has even generated a sensible way the universe can be other than deterministic or random.


Perhaps I am interpreting this statement incorrectly, and if so, the following post is reduced to a pedantic nit-pick. If this is the case, my apologies in advance.

The universe can be probabilistic. This is neither random, nor deterministic. Randomness implies there is no way to determine an expectation of an outcome. This is clearly not the case. We can defiantly look at trends, and expect them to hold up in some way into the past, and future, and across various variables

Randomness is defined on the great wiki as:

Wikipedia wrote:Having no definite aim or purpose; not sent or guided in a particular direction; made, done, occurring, etc., without method or conscious choice; haphazard.
Closely connected, therefore, with the concepts of chance, probability, and information entropy, randomness implies a lack of predictability. Randomness is a concept of non-order or non-coherence in a sequence of symbols or steps, such that there is no intelligible pattern or combination.


In a probabilistic universe, you can preserve free will. There are multiple choices presented before you, and while you will probably choose to do sensible thing A, or sensible thing B, there is no deterministic force that is requiring you to do either. You could decide that this particular time is the appropriate time to yell 'BANANAS', and take your shirt off, despite the funeral procession in front of you.

Now, I suppose you could argue that is just the way the dice rolled this time, and if presented with the exact same situation 100 times, you might choose differently if you are a non-detirminist, (or exactly the same, if you are a detirminist), but is there really a functional, observable difference between being unpredictable, and having free will?

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby jakovasaur » Sat Jul 09, 2011 2:04 am UTC

iop wrote:
snow5379 wrote:There's also another straw man that I'd like to point out: responsibility. How many times have you face palmed when reading about how criminals shouldn't be held accountable for their actions in a (brace for it) deterministic universe? If people who kill others get locked up or whatever then I'm not going to kill anyone myself. Laws and law enforcement exist for evolutionary purposes and social growth and have nothing to do with free will. Okay?

No. Our legal system strongly relies on the assumption of free will. If you kill somebody, punishment depends a lot on your mental state at the time: Did you do it on purpose? With planning? Were you in control of yourself at the time of the murder, i.e. did you have "free will"? The answer to these questions will decide whether you get executed or not in the US.

Whether free will exists or not is an interesting debate. For current criminal law to work, however, we have to posit that free will exists.

Not true. We could instead require intent or control in order to make sure that our punishments are only used to deter future crimes. Even if our choices are determined, that doesn't mean we can't change the forces at work in that deterministic process. For example, punishing murderers is a good idea, because in the future people will know that they will be punished if they murder, and thus will be less likely to do it. In cases we call accidents, however, there is no way for our punishments to enter into the decision-making process because there is no conscious decision made. So there is a justification for considering intent that does not require an assumption of free will.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby elasto » Sat Jul 09, 2011 5:17 am UTC

Yup. The point has been made in other threads that even if the universe is deterministic, the part of us that appears to us to be us exercising our free will is a critical part of that deterministic process, and it's that which the criminal justice system is aimed at altering. And it can do so whether the overall process is deterministic or not.

In any case, the system ought to slowly be moving over to rehabilitation rather than punitive punishment as our tools to rehabilitate get better and better over the coming century or two. i.e. people should be offered the choice of staying as they are and being incarcerated for their crime as now or volunteer for neural reprogramming - and in that case it matters little if the crime was committed in a state of insanity or if it was done consciously and with aforethought - that just means a slightly different area of the neural net to twerk.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby scruff » Sat Jul 09, 2011 6:48 pm UTC

Twistar wrote:
curtis95112 wrote:Has anyone defined free will in a noncontradictory manner? That is, non-deterministic yet not random? I fail to see how free will can even be sensibly defined (metaphysical dualism aside).

Well, as far as I know no one has even generated a sensible way the universe can be other than deterministic or random.


Non-deterministic and non-random is how people generally approach all interactions with other people. If you respond to me, I won't have determined your response, and hopefully your response will not be random. This kind of thing is so commonplace and natural for people that honestly I have a hard time understanding why it is so difficult to conceive of in the context of this issue.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby snow5379 » Sun Jul 10, 2011 1:08 am UTC

Guess what isn't the topic: Whether we have free will or not.

- Az

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby LaserGuy » Sun Jul 10, 2011 3:36 am UTC

scruff wrote:
Twistar wrote:
curtis95112 wrote:Has anyone defined free will in a noncontradictory manner? That is, non-deterministic yet not random? I fail to see how free will can even be sensibly defined (metaphysical dualism aside).

Well, as far as I know no one has even generated a sensible way the universe can be other than deterministic or random.


Non-deterministic and non-random is how people generally approach all interactions with other people. If you respond to me, I won't have determined your response, and hopefully your response will not be random. This kind of thing is so commonplace and natural for people that honestly I have a hard time understanding why it is so difficult to conceive of in the context of this issue.


You won't have determined the response, true, but that doesn't mean it can't be determined. You are operating in a highly chaotic system with extremely limited information about the past or even present state of the universe, and thus cannot make accurate predictions about almost anything.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby Plasma Mongoose » Fri Jul 15, 2011 1:36 am UTC

Whenever free-will actually exists or not, if the notion that free-will does not exist takes hold, many people will start to act like assholes and crime rates will go way up.

Therefore, the belief of free-will is important to the continued existance of a reasonable, stable society no matter what the truth is.

I am displeased that you didn't read enough of the thread (it's only one page) to realize that this is, specifically, not the topic.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby Shivahn » Fri Jul 15, 2011 1:46 am UTC

Or maybe people will start seeing criminals as victims of circumstance and we'll start rehabilitating them rather than punishing them, resulting in a relatively crimeless utopia.

Or, more likely, people will still go about their days without generally pausing to think about the fact that it wasn't really them that wanted that beer, but a collection of circumstance tracing itself back billions of years.

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby Plasma Mongoose » Fri Jul 15, 2011 2:08 am UTC

Shivahn wrote:Or maybe people will start seeing criminals as victims of circumstance and we'll start rehabilitating them rather than punishing them, resulting in a relatively crimeless utopia.

For every person who is compelled to see criminals as victims, there will be another person who will be compelled to see criminals as damaged goods and act accordingly

Shivahn wrote:Or, more likely, people will still go about their days without generally pausing to think about the fact that it wasn't really them that wanted that beer, but a collection of circumstance tracing itself back billions of years.

What about religion? For key religions such as Judeo-Christo-Islamic ones, free-will is an important part of their beliefs, otherwise it all falls apart and the result affects billions.

Fixed your tag mess for you

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby Whimsical Eloquence » Fri Jul 15, 2011 2:28 am UTC

Plasma Mongoose, perhaps you're foreign to the idea of logic, but just because there's a negative consequence to something being untrue doesn't make it true.
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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby Plasma Mongoose » Fri Jul 15, 2011 2:40 am UTC

Whimsical Eloquence wrote:Plasma Mongoose, perhaps you're foreign to the idea of logic, but just because there's a negative consequence to something being untrue doesn't make it true.


You could call it a strange variation of the placebo effect, but the belief in free-will seems to be enough for many people to act like they have it, it must be in our programming I guess.
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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby Shivahn » Fri Jul 15, 2011 4:37 am UTC

Plasma Mongoose wrote:
Shivahn wrote:Or maybe people will start seeing criminals as victims of circumstance and we'll start rehabilitating them rather than punishing them, resulting in a relatively crimeless utopia.
For every person who is compelled to see criminals as victims, there will be another person who will be compelled to see criminals as damaged goods and act accordingly
Shivahn wrote:Or, more likely, people will still go about their days without generally pausing to think about the fact that it wasn't really them that wanted that beer, but a collection of circumstance tracing itself back billions of years.
What about religion? For key religions such as Judeo-Christo-Islamic ones, free-will is an important part of their beliefs, otherwise it all falls apart and the result affects billions.

You've offered no evidence for your assertions, is my point. Neither have I, but without any more evidence my point is that all those possibilities are just that, and no more, and acting as though it's given that crime will go up or belief in free will is important is not particularly rational.

There's also the matter that plenty of people with no belief in free will are perfectly fine (many people here, indeed, do not hold those beliefs.) From what I'm reading in studies, people are more likely to cheat on tests after reading passages suggesting determinism, so perhaps there is merit in the belief being a vaccination of sorts against unethical behavior, but unfortunately I can't find any data supporting this difference in people who've actually held those beliefs, instead of being introduced to them and being tested in a somewhat naive state, so I'm skeptical of the result's applicability to the larger argument. There is also the fact that presumably a society wherein people don't believe in free will is going to have a different social conception of what it means to have no free will, which makes the results even further inapplicable.

Regardless, Whimsical Eloquence is right and an appeal to consequences is fallacious. Since this topic is about the fact of the matter, so to speak, we should probably not head too far into whether or not we should act as though we have free will. That would make an interesting topic in its own right, however, and if you want to make a thread about it I would be happy to engage with you.

... or it would fit nicely into any of the pre-existing free will topics.

- Az

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby Plasma Mongoose » Fri Jul 15, 2011 6:42 am UTC

What I offered to this thread was little more than opinion and extrapolation based on the combination of personal observations and tidbits of information gleamed from various sources over the years.

While I am aware that this isn't as good as going to uni to study relevant subjects such as human behaviour, my personal form of logical positivism is all I can offer as of this time.
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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby IcedT » Fri Jul 15, 2011 8:35 am UTC

Plasma Mongoose wrote:What I offered to this thread was little more than opinion and extrapolation based on the combination of personal observations and tidbits of information gleamed from various sources over the years.

While I am aware that this isn't as good as going to uni to study relevant subjects such as human behaviour, my personal form of logical positivism is all I can offer as of this time.

Isn't the whole message of determinism the fact that your actions and decisions are informed by beliefs and attitudes you've previously acquired and are limited by your physical circumstances? I've never been convinced that free will is anything more than a meaningless semantic invention and it seems a lot of people just misunderstand determinism. It's a little important in a religious context because it's necessary to establish that God isn't responsible for the damnation of individuals, but then again I kindof think God is a meaningless semantic invention too (I'm an apathetic ignostic).

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Re: The Free Will Straw Man

Postby Azrael » Fri Jul 15, 2011 12:15 pm UTC

Once again, this thread is not here to discuss whether we have free will or not. Since the on-topic discussion seems to have tapered off, locked


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