Definition of Free Will

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Greyarcher
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Greyarcher » Thu Jan 24, 2013 2:56 am UTC

Technical Ben wrote:
So if the question is, "Are human decisions 'free'?" then I would normally "shelve" the question because our studies of the brain and genetics have yet to reach a depth where we understand the many influences and interactions that go into the process.
Fair enough. I've no comments if that is what you wish to do. Are you saying we cannot make any meaning full decision based on what we can observe?
I am indeed of this opinion, and find it surprising that you think there are sufficient observations to make a judgment about "freedom". Offhand, the only freedom I think I can observe is a freedom of the body from basic physical constraints like chains and such. But freedom that relates decisions would, I think, at least involve observing and extensively understanding how the brain produces thoughts and actions.

jules.LT wrote:
ucim wrote:One can choose after deliberation, or one can choose without deliberation.
One can choose with very little deliberation, but with no deliberation at all it isn't a choice, it's an automatism.
Deliberation, choice, and automatism...that's an interesting relation. I've been thinking about how thoughts generally arise from the pre-conscious. For instance, the word choice in ideas and thoughts that pop into our heads--I wouldn't think people would say, "we chose those thoughts down to the wording itself" unless we pre-planned to think a specific thought. And I generally wouldn't think that most of the content or occurrence of thoughts are chosen either; it's spontaneous. So why do we have the set of thoughts that we have rather than the set of thoughts that someone else has? Introspectively speaking, I'm certainly not "consciously choosing" every single thought I have; I don't imagine others are either.

In other words, I'm preoccupied by the role of the pre-conscious in actions. Thoughts are just one example of internal action; but I think it works as a stepping stone to doubt on the topic of external actions. Also, since thoughts hypothetically impact external actions, there's a peculiar interaction there if thoughts are not themselves "consciously chosen". I'm not sure I could call a decision "free" before--among other things--working out how the pre-conscious operates in these matters.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby ucim » Thu Jan 24, 2013 4:59 am UTC

jules.LT wrote:One can choose with very little deliberation, but with no deliberation at all it isn't a choice, it's an automatism.
I don't entirely agree, but just realized why. If an entity is not capable of learning, and it chooses with no deliberation at all, then I would agree that on some level, it is automatism. The same entity will make the same choice all the time. But if an entity is capable of learning, then that very act (of learning) is itself a form of deliberation. True, this "deliberation" occurred before the choice presented itself, but I don't think that's a fundamental problem. And true, some forms of learning are somewhat trivial. But that is a matter of degree, not of kind.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Greyarcher » Fri Jan 25, 2013 3:56 am UTC

ucim wrote:
jules.LT wrote:One can choose with very little deliberation, but with no deliberation at all it isn't a choice, it's an automatism.
I don't entirely agree, but just realized why. If an entity is not capable of learning, and it chooses with no deliberation at all, then I would agree that on some level, it is automatism. The same entity will make the same choice all the time. But if an entity is capable of learning, then that very act (of learning) is itself a form of deliberation. True, this "deliberation" occurred before the choice presented itself, but I don't think that's a fundamental problem. And true, some forms of learning are somewhat trivial. But that is a matter of degree, not of kind.
If an action isn't an explicit outcome of conscious deliberation, I'm not sure that the resulting action is different from a thought that merely pops into one's head. Putting aside freedom, I think it would be odd to even call either the action or the thought "chosen".

I'm not sure how acquiring information (i.e. learning) at some prior time really plays into that.

Also, tangentially, I would think that memorization of facts would count as learning but is probably, casually speaking, distinct from what we'd call "deliberation". So I'm not at all clear how the "learning = deliberation -> choosing" progression works.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby ucim » Fri Jan 25, 2013 4:29 am UTC

Greyaracher wrote:I'm not sure how acquiring information (i.e. learning) at some prior time really...
Acquiring information is not learning - not in the sense that I mean it. Learning is changing one's predisposition towards (some future unknown) action because of acquired information. To make a parallel, deliberation results in changing one's predisposition towards some (pending known) action because of already acquired information. I suspect the time element can be abstracted away without loss of generality.

Jose
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby shvedsky » Fri Jan 25, 2013 6:40 am UTC

XTCamus wrote:
shvedsky wrote:Maybe the "metrological" approach could work? For instance, what experiment could I carry out to verify that I have free will?

You should be able to prove that you yourself have free will, or at least a degree of free will, as most here do not consider this a binary question, by first thinking of a simple act that you are capable of (or even recording your intent somewhere if you want "evidence"), and then performing that act. I.e. I intend to raise my right arm.


This experiment does not convince me that I have free will. Suppose I write down my intent of raising right or left arm on a piece of paper (to use as evidence), and then act accordingly. It could be free will indeed. However, this could also be the result of blindly following whatever order is written on a piece of paper, which is not free will by itself. I have to prove first that me writing on the paper was an act of free will, so that raising my hand would transitively be such, too. Therefore, before writing on a piece of paper, I should pull another piece of paper, and write my intent of writing a specific instruction there. And then I need one more paper, and one more, and infinitely many pieces of paper and time to fill them; this shows that we need a different, realizable experimental framework.

Most people already strongly believe in this degree of free will so they never bother actually performing experiments.

Not actually performing experiments challenging their beliefs is what most people have been doing for millennia, that's correct. :)

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Fri Jan 25, 2013 5:12 pm UTC

Greyarcher wrote:If an action isn't an explicit outcome of conscious deliberation, I'm not sure that the resulting action is different from a thought that merely pops into one's head. Putting aside freedom, I think it would be odd to even call either the action or the thought "chosen".

The research showing that we can detect the intention before the subject is aware of his intention strongly points towards the idea that consciousness is only an after-the-fact analysis of already-decided actions. So no action would be an explicit outcome of conscious deliberation...
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Cinemal » Fri Jan 25, 2013 6:21 pm UTC

How would you define free will for the purposes of a philosophical debate (not actually looking for a debate)?

The initial question here is invalid. The whole approach of "defining terms" and then having a "philosophical discussion" is not legitimate. The questions you decide to ask and not to ask determine the answers you will arrive at.

The philosophical debate itself must cause the terms "free" and "will" to arise, in order for the term to have any utility. If one defines the term before that discusson, one has decided the debate without having it. Indeed, one may have decided the debate without even thinking about it.

If one arrives at an understanding of "free will", it will be within the philosophical context which produces a description of what the will is, and what it is free to do or free from being obliged to do. In context, "free will" will be a label, not an answer -- it will be a term with a definition, not an insight -- it will be a means for referencing a concept within its context, not a solution to a problem. It will be neither the beginning nor the end of a philosophical discussion.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Greyarcher » Fri Jan 25, 2013 10:19 pm UTC

ucim wrote:
Greyaracher wrote:I'm not sure how acquiring information (i.e. learning) at some prior time really...
Acquiring information is not learning - not in the sense that I mean it. Learning is changing one's predisposition towards (some future unknown) action because of acquired information. To make a parallel, deliberation results in changing one's predisposition towards some (pending known) action because of already acquired information. I suspect the time element can be abstracted away without loss of generality.
Ah, so you're distinguishing learning-1 (acquisition of information) from learning-2 (behavioral change that takes into account new information(?)).

jules.LT wrote:
Greyarcher wrote:If an action isn't an explicit outcome of conscious deliberation, I'm not sure that the resulting action is different from a thought that merely pops into one's head. Putting aside freedom, I think it would be odd to even call either the action or the thought "chosen".

The research showing that we can detect the intention before the subject is aware of his intention strongly points towards the idea that consciousness is only an after-the-fact analysis of already-decided actions. So no action would be an explicit outcome of conscious deliberation...
Really? Interesting! That's a little troubling, but it fits well with the parallels I've been making with thoughts and the pre-conscious. Perhaps, functionally, the conscious part pre-conditions possible future actions and/or exercises a limited veto on intentions that fail to meet some standard that the pre-conscious processing didn't take into account. Like a little government.

But having these things arise from the pre-conscious seems a bit troublesome for tying identity to choice. To make another parallel, I think we wouldn't say we choose to be hungry. It's simply a phenomenon of the body/brain that arises from the pre-conscious. Or to make a parallel that might be more closely related to thought: earworms--the music that appears in the conscious part and can be hard to shut down. It's odd to call that "chosen" too. Similarly, if an intention arises from the pre-conscious, it could be a bit troublesome to say that people chose it.

--I still like that bit about the conscious "rubber-stamping" things from the pre-conscious. It'll be interesting to some day find out how much the conscious actually works into the overall behavioral system.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Fri Jan 25, 2013 10:28 pm UTC

shvedsky wrote:Maybe the "metrological" approach could work? For instance, what experiment could I carry out to verify that I have free will?

See if you can make a choice separate from external influence. Or better, to define it as "free will" over "random will", make a choice with external influence, but while not being under force.

Like, you can choose to eat or leave it some time. Despite the forcefulness of our hunger response. Or stay awake. Or visa versa, sleep early and eat more.

If we are unable to make a decision, while under forceful influence or externally applied power, then "we" never made a decision, the external force or power did. Right? If I setup a set of computers dominoes, the computers dominoes never made a choice, my setting them up specifically did. (There is no difference other than scale between a domino and a computer! :D )

So, defining the mechanism of "choice", defines the area it acts in. Calling it "free", just removes the ambiguity of where that mechanism is. If we had theoretical computers dominoes that did have free will, we would only be saying the defining state was not set up by the mechanism that set them up. Although I do not know if we could make computers or dominoes act with free will, because I don't know what the mechanism is, or what is required to replicate such a mechanism.

Greyarcher, I do not need to understand gravity or aerodynamics to observe birds do fly. Likewise, I do not need to understand the all and everything about the mechanisms of choice (although thankfully we understand some of them) to observe people do act freely. Would you agree?

I think Cinemal's comment was helpful. Observing and trying to understand why and how people make choices, is better than trying to define what we think they do.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Greyarcher » Fri Jan 25, 2013 10:55 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Greyarcher, I do not need to understand gravity or aerodynamics to observe birds do fly. Likewise, I do not need to understand the all and everything about the mechanisms of choice (although thankfully we understand some of them) to observe people do act freely. Would you agree?
No. I think ucim mentioned that you weren't observing freedom; I am of the same mindset. Rather, freedom is a conclusion or judgment you are making based on some observation. Moreover, actions are intricately bound up with the internal processes of the brain, so any judgment you make that doesn't take into account those processes isn't a proper judgment about the action as a whole. So it seems more like, "Well, that action looked free from influence A, but I don't actually know much about how that action came about." Making a general statement that the action is 'free' would be overstepping one's knowledge.

A more careful statement would be that you observe actions that go against what you would expect, actions that seem contrary to the influences placed on the person, etc.

Edited a few times for clarity and precision!
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Sat Jan 26, 2013 9:09 am UTC

That would play false to my humble reflection of my knowledge about the system or mechanics of it. I'd be suggesting I know more than I do, so as to conclude I know it is not free.

While free will states the decision is free, it does not suggest it cannot be part of a determined or random mechanic, does it? It just states it's free from other will mechanics (or other mechanics in general). I'm not certain if it requires it to be free from all mechanics and other wills (as in, I've not observed a requirement for this I guess).

Or would you say it's impossible for us to define or observe anything as freely acting?
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby ucim » Sat Jan 26, 2013 2:38 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:While free will states the decision is free, it does not suggest it cannot be part of a determined or random mechanic, does it? It just states it's free from other will mechanics (or other mechanics in general).
Well, that's the question isn't it? Just which mechanics should be considered, and which ones should not? And isn't that just a way of saying "what part of the entity will I be looking at when I decide whether this decision is 'free'"?

It's a matter of how you look at something, and it's a matter of degree. The way we ordinarily "look at" (and interact with) people leads us to the conclusion that people have free will, but the closer we look, the more we find that, well, it's not quite so true. Just look at how a supermarket is laid out, and how susceptible people are to subtle influences. And I don't think you can dismiss this by simply saying "well, they are choosing of their own free will to not to choose of their own free will".

Jose
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Greyarcher » Sat Jan 26, 2013 10:02 pm UTC

Spoiler:
Greyarcher wrote:
Technical Ben wrote:Greyarcher, I do not need to understand gravity or aerodynamics to observe birds do fly. Likewise, I do not need to understand the all and everything about the mechanisms of choice (although thankfully we understand some of them) to observe people do act freely. Would you agree?
No. I think ucim mentioned that you weren't observing freedom; I am of the same mindset. Rather, freedom is a conclusion or judgment you are making based on some observation. Moreover, actions are intricately bound up with the internal processes of the brain, so any judgment you make that doesn't take into account those processes isn't a proper judgment about the action as a whole. So it seems more like, "Well, that action looked free from influence A, but I don't actually know much about how that action came about." Making a general statement that the action is 'free' would be overstepping one's knowledge.

A more careful statement would be that you observe actions that go against what you would expect, actions that seem contrary to the influences placed on the person, etc.

Edited a few times for clarity and precision!
Technical Ben wrote:That would play false to my humble reflection of my knowledge about the system or mechanics of it. I'd be suggesting I know more than I do, so as to conclude I know it is not free.
What is "that" referring to here? Is this from a draft response before I made one of my edits? The first sentence is unclear, and the second sentence has you jumping to conclusions despite a recurring theme in recent discussion being "not enough info to say".

Tangentially, it seems odd to say that "that"--even though not sure what the "that" referred to--didn't fit with your knowledge of the system or its mechanics. It seems like a bit of a double-standard considering how you've handled 'freedom' and its mystery mechanic. At one point you were suggesting that we were ignorant enough that it was permissible to propose the mechanic could be neither random nor deterministic, but what is that if not speculative fiction that oversteps our understanding? You were coming up with a purely speculative internal mechanism and trying to adapt it against objections so it can be used to explain an external behavior. It's a very questionable method. I'd almost say it's the opposite of a good method for understanding the world--it lacks proper constraints to keep it grounded against reality.

Technical Ben wrote:While free will states the decision is free, it does not suggest it cannot be part of a determined or random mechanic, does it? It just states it's free from other will mechanics (or other mechanics in general). I'm not certain if it requires it to be free from all mechanics and other wills (as in, I've not observed a requirement for this I guess).
I wouldn't work backwards from a concept of "free will" in the first place. Rather, I'd work forwards from the human: describe human functions, methods of influencing and manipulation human actions, internal factors that may influence human decision, areas of ignorance, etc.
--I haven't arrived at a 'free will' concept yet. Partly because it's a sloppy phrase. But also because, I think, it would involve understanding more deeply the constraints and influences on human decision-making and the decision-making process as a whole. And then seeing if there's something within that space that would fit our sense of "free".

Technical Ben wrote:Or would you say it's impossible for us to define or observe anything as freely acting?
I think "impossible" would also be overstepping our knowledge. Unless the world gets really screwed up, I expect we'll deepen our understanding of the human mind bit by bit. We just have different principles and standards; I tend to have unusually high standards in general; I like avoiding error and favor methods that reliably deliver results. Accordingly, among other things, I think you jump to conclusions that aren't warranted due to important gaps in your information.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Sun Jan 27, 2013 9:15 am UTC

ucim wrote:
Technical Ben wrote:While free will states the decision is free, it does not suggest it cannot be part of a determined or random mechanic, does it? It just states it's free from other will mechanics (or other mechanics in general).
Well, that's the question isn't it? Just which mechanics should be considered, and which ones should not? And isn't that just a way of saying "what part of the entity will I be looking at when I decide whether this decision is 'free'"?

Spoiler:
It's a matter of how you look at something, and it's a matter of degree. The way we ordinarily "look at" (and interact with) people leads us to the conclusion that people have free will, but the closer we look, the more we find that, well, it's not quite so true. Just look at how a supermarket is laid out, and how susceptible people are to subtle influences. And I don't think you can dismiss this by simply saying "well, they are choosing of their own free will to not to choose of their own free will".


Jose

Are stars made out of chocolate or candy? I only know of the two materials, I also recon they are an exclusive list. If something is not chocolate, it is candy, because I define candy as "not chocolate" and chocolate as "not candy" (it either is made of sugar or not ;) ). So this limits the process of burning in the stars to processes that include chocolate only or candy only?

Or can I consider that the stars burn "by whatever means they burn"? Following this on, can I consider people choose "by what ever means they choose"? Why do we need to know the specific element or chemical composition before concluding "I observe stars are hot"? Likewise, why do I need to know the specific mechanism before I conclude "I observe people choose freely"?

It's a matter of how you look at something, and it's a matter of degree.

How I look at things gives me more information, it does not change the thing, does it?

but the closer we look, the more we find that, well, it's not quite so true.

Ah, thanks, this is the bit I would not agree with. Show me how someone chooses to have children, eat food, make music or decide to wear a seat belt. The mechanisms and the thoughts? Can we make that decision on the mechanics yet? I'd not conclude I know stellar orbits by observing the earth is the center of the universe (valid observation, wrong conclusion). Are we doing the same here?

Sorry Greyarcher, I was referring to "No. I think ucim mentioned that you weren't observing freedom". To conclude too far the other way (that I cannot observe freedom, or have not observed it in any manner), would also be too presumptuous. As much so as concluding I did observe it, or I observed determinism or randomness. I would though say that so far I strongly consider it to be free choices that I observe. Because they are observed to act freely.

but what is that if not speculative fiction that oversteps our understanding

Ah, I meant it merely as a admission that I cannot say the two options are exhaustive and unchangeable. To say "I know of only light and dark, nothing else can exist" seems very restricted in thinking. Or "I know of only large and small, nothing else can exist" also seems to be playing false to my ability to reason.

I'd work forwards from the human: describe human functions, methods of influencing and manipulation human actions, internal factors that may influence human decision, areas of ignorance, etc

Ok. But to do so we need to start at the begging and have complete information. Do we have either?

But also because, I think, it would involve understanding more deeply the constraints and influences on human decision-making and the decision-making process as a whole. And then seeing if there's something within that space that would fit our sense of "free".

This is where I find it strange to first say I'm assuming will is free, then seeing the other assumption being will is not free. Why can we not first assume "will is what ever it may be, free (a method we do not yet know, or a mixture of others) or not, deterministic or not (only a deterministic method), random or not (only random)"? Why do we decide "it's only ice cream or not ice cream", as knowing it's not ice cream is rather redundant information here, and stops me looking for other things it could be, if I just decide "It's not ice cream, so I now know what it is"?
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby ucim » Sun Jan 27, 2013 3:37 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:I also recon they are an exclusive list. If something is not chocolate, it is candy, because I define candy as "not chocolate" and chocolate as "not candy" (it either is made of sugar or not ;) ). So this limits the process of burning in the stars to processes that include chocolate only or candy only?
The error in reasoning here is your concept of exclusive list. {chocolate, non-chocolate} is an exclusive list. {candy, non-candy} is an exclusive list. But these are useful lists only to the extent that we already know what chocolate or candy are to begin with. Given what we know about chocolate and candy, {chocolate, candy} is not an exclusive list. If however we subscribe to your defintion of each one being "not-the-other", we don't really have any list at all, because there is no starting point. If you don't know what glorp is, then while {glorp, non-glorp} is an exclusive list, there is no way to assign elements to membership in one set or the other.

Technical Ben wrote:Why do we need to know the specific element or chemical composition before concluding "I observe stars are hot"?
We don't. But we do need to know what "hot" means. More to the point, we need to know what "burn" means if we are going to say that stars "burn", by whatever means.

Technical Ben wrote:How I look at things gives me more information, it does not change the thing, does it?
It does not change the thing. But free will is not part of the thing, it is a part of how we describe the thing.

Technical Ben wrote:Show me how someone chooses to have children, eat food, make music or decide to wear a seat belt.
Read about supermarket design; supermarket behavior is probably one of the most carefully scrutinized aspects of the psychology of choice. It's not quite at the mechanics level, but provides insight on how subtlely we can be influenced, which belies free choice. I won't even mention the effects of addictive substances, or hormones. Do you deny their role in choice?

I'm not claiming I know the mechanics. I'm claiming the mechanics are there, and have consequences. And, btw, you are not observing the earth to be the center of the universe, you are concluding this based on observations of the apparent motion of the heavenly bodies. There is a huge difference between an observation and a conclusion. Mixing them up leads to nonsense.

Jose
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Sun Jan 27, 2013 10:34 pm UTC

ucim wrote:But these are useful lists only to the extent that we already know what chocolate or candy are to begin with.

Exactly. I would say it is a large assumption to ask me to consider we (or I) already know what randomness and determinism are. To which I have to make the same admission as I would with chocolate or candy, that randomness and determinism may not be exhaustive options. Because I do not know for certain enough about the laws of physics or the workings of the systems I observe to make that assumption.

we don't really have any list at all, because there is no starting point.

Which is also what I see with the random/deterministic problem. They are both assumptions. Not "proofs". We have to first assume that an event is random, then match to it. Or assume an event is deterministic, then match to it. Yes we can predict or fail to predict, but we cannot be certain of that ability, and that the observation is not an illusion. If we cannot confirm that the observation of randomness and determinism is not an illusion, but accept them anyhow on the merit they are working assumptions, why not do the same also for free will? In that free will fits the observations or a person better than determinism and randomness do?

If you ask me to throw free will out, as it's a poor assumption and "an illusion when you look closely" I would have to do the same with determinism and it's opposite, randomness, as both can (and do) disappear and appear to be "illusions" at certain levels of observation. In fact, I cannot confirm that I have met the closes observation so far (as we keep learning new things about each system we try to predict or fail to predict). So, I can only conclude "I will note it as what I see it as". I see people act freely, although as you say they are open to influence.

We don't. But we do need to know what "hot" means. More to the point, we need to know what "burn" means if we are going to say that stars "burn", by whatever means.

Ah, ok. By hot, it would be something observed and felt. An opposite of cold. So free will, is an opposite of "forced will". Perhaps "forced action" or "forced decision". It would be the amount of input we have in our own decision making ability. But if we don't consider there to be a self, we can never consider the term. As said, it requires a few assumptions (one here is that "we" have a self), but so do the thoughts on determinism and randomness, as noted above.

It does not change the thing. But free will is not part of the thing, it is a part of how we describe the thing.

That is a fare way of looking at it. I've only been concerned about the comments suggesting we must rule out the possibility of free will. That is to rule out the observation. I'll have to consider the difference between "a person has free will" and "a person is free willed". Is this the distinction you wish to draw?

Supermarkets can influence. I can also conclude (as in, I would need to rule out other possibilities before accepting one as the only option) that those shopping do not will to stop the shop deciding for them. I can observe the contrary to the claim "supermarkets force decisions" quite easily. I go in to the store and check the labels, ignoring their adds (already do this. ;) ). So, while a person can decide before walking into a store "I will buy whatever the store says" or "I will not", they can make that decision before walking in. Thus the decision is not forced, it is still "free" to reside with them. Would you agree? Or can it be proven that the store can influence them before they walk in, and additionally they cannot stop any influence once they have walked in?

AFAIK seeing the earth as the center of the universe is a valid observation (in fact the only one we can make, being limited by our own light cone and residing on earth). So it is not nonsense, just a difference in describing the same system. It was an example of using the first observation (we are centered on our ability to observe) to make a wrong second observation (that all other things are centered, such as planetary orbits). Likewise, I'd not conclude a persons will is deterministic, if I observe other things being deterministic.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby ucim » Mon Jan 28, 2013 3:01 am UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Exactly. I would say it is a large assumption to ask me to consider we (or I) already know what randomness and determinism are. To which I have to make the same admission as I would with chocolate or candy, that randomness and determinism may not be exhaustive options.
If you know what randomness is, then {random, non-random} is exhaustive and useful. If you know what determinism is, then {deterministic, non-deterministic} is exhaustive and useful.

Your sticking point seems to be simply that you do not see randomness and determinism as opposites. Fair enough. Determinism carries baggage that makes is hard to use neutrally. Random however does have a mathematical definition, and does not seem to carry much philosophical baggage. Observations of the real physical world support the idea that true randomness exists in it on the micro scale.

Technical Ben wrote:We have to first assume that an event is random, then match to it. Or assume an event is deterministic, then match to it.
I have no idea what that means. Randomness has a mathematical definition which can be used here. "Driven behavior" (the term I prefer for what some people loosely call 'determinism' as applied to an entity, and for what you will shortly call "forced action") can also be defined easily enough. (Given any starting condition, the same ending condition will always occur via the same steps and through the same process). Free will however has no such definition (which is the reason the thread exists in the first place).

Technical Ben wrote:But if we don't consider there to be a self, we can never consider the term [free will]. As said, it requires a few assumptions (one here is that "we" have a self)
Exactly! That is my main thesis - that any discussion of "free will" is incomplete to the point of vacuousness without a strong understanding of what is meant by the "self" in this context. I hold that the concept of free will is a concept that only applies at a high level of abstraction (of the "self" of the entity under consideration). Randomness and driven behavior are not concepts that apply only at a high level of abstraction, in fact they apply mainly at a low level.

Technical Ben wrote:Supermarkets can influence....
Yes, they can. And you can also decide prior to going to the store that you will only buy what is on the list, and you will traverse this path, etc... But in doing so you will have (of your own free will) become an automaton!

If you want to exercise free will, you have to let the world influence you. You have free will to the extent that the world influences you in ways in which you are aware. You fail to have free will to the extent that the world influences you in ways in which you are not aware. The latter happens a lot.

Technical Ben wrote:AFAIK seeing the earth as the center of the universe is a valid observation
No, it is not an observation at all. It is a conclusion. It is a mental model. It is a paradigm.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Mon Jan 28, 2013 11:26 am UTC

ucim wrote:Observations of the real physical world support the idea that true randomness exists in it on the micro scale.
No, it's undecidable (so far, at least). The formula includes a random component (with specific probabilities by event), but we don't know if there's a hidden variable that makes it non-random. Distressingly for physicists, the evidence points both ways.

ucim wrote:
Technical Ben wrote:But if we don't consider there to be a self, we can never consider the term [free will]. As said, it requires a few assumptions (one here is that "we" have a self)
Exactly! That is my main thesis - that any discussion of "free will" is incomplete to the point of vacuousness without a strong understanding of what is meant by the "self" in this context. I hold that the concept of free will is a concept that only applies at a high level of abstraction (of the "self" of the entity under consideration). Randomness and driven behavior are not concepts that apply only at a high level of abstraction, in fact they apply mainly at a low level.
A randomness that would apply only at the quantum level is low-level indeed, but driven behaviour is very high-level and totally relevant.

ucim wrote:You have free will to the extent that the world influences you in ways in which you are aware. You fail to have free will to the extent that the world influences you in ways in which you are not aware.
That, to me, is essential. We cannot help wanting what we want, but we can be aware of why we want what we want, and that additional information can allow us be truer to ourselves. This is the essence of Spinozism.

ucim wrote:
Technical Ben wrote:AFAIK seeing the earth as the center of the universe is a valid observation
No, it is not an observation at all. It is a conclusion. It is a mental model. It is a paradigm.
It's not a conclusion or a paradigm, maybe a mental model. It's really a choice of point of reference. As valid as any other, but probably most convenient for many questions concerning ourselves. Other good centers for points of reference are the Sun, the central black hole of the Milky Way or the center of the universe.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Jan 28, 2013 10:26 pm UTC

ucim, while I agree about our observations, they still rely on assumptions. If we say randomness is mathematical, it relies on mathematical axioms or assumptions, right? It relies on our assumptions of observation (that we do not have hidden variables, which I agree the maths seems to suggest is true). In that case, we do have true randomness, however we also have "not random". I can happily say I observe a persons free will to be "not random" but I'll add that, it is not random to themselves. I'd not go as far to suggest that anything I cannot predict is required to be "random" but neither is it required to be "not-random". It's also not required to be in one state constantly and for all instances. Is it?

Given any starting condition, the same ending condition will always occur via the same steps and through the same process

What of events that in by their definition, or our limitation, can never be re-started? It does not matter if it's "theoretically possible", if we can never get a test case to actually tell one way or the other, is it? Say "Dave always chooses chocolate" is rather hard to prove here. Can it be said each starting condition is "the same"? Can it be said each is "different"? Again, with limited information (and for the foreseeable future in both decision making mechanics and physical laws of the universe) I conclude that the decision mechanism is what it is. Or to paraphrase "it is free".

If the term "free will" is too cumbersome, then how about "free choice" or "the ability to choose independently"? Or "the ability to choose"? If we state the universe and everything in it is deterministic, we do not have "choosing" mechanisms, nothing actually does any choosing, it is all "dominoes". Right? We do not define "random" as having a mechanism of choice. Thus both "random" and "deterministic" or "not random" and "not deterministic" do not describe the term "choice". Do they?

I'm not sure what the references are to low level and high level, sorry for that. May I say though, that again, do I need to know what self is to observe it? I do not know what a "sun" or "star" is other than a thing we point to with certain properties, either "hot" or "bright". Likewise, I do not know the entirety of what a "person" is or "self". But I can point to a "person" or say "I am myself". I can also observe a property of "freely choosing" to both of those (others do not choose for me, I do not choose for them). Do I need more information than that?

But in doing so you will have (of your own free will) become an automaton!
That is an interesting concept. If I walk out of the store, then continue as "normal", am I still an automaton? Is there a problem with some functions being automatic (without influence) form the outside, while still having influence form the inside? Or, what if I choose store A over store B? I still made a choice, yet the opposite store still has zero influence. Thus I always have a part of choice that is "free" (here the other store is free from my influence and visa versa). In this example, I still make a choice right, but does the store have power over me?

Thanks, I agree that there are definitely times or ways to remove the ability to act on free will. But I'd don't think that means it never exists at any other time, does it? If a person makes 1 free decision in their life, they still "have free will". It's just a very small amount.

PS, again, from what I've read we are at the center of our own lightcone. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_cone
Thus we are at the center of the "universe" as we can possibly observe. To conclude it orbits around us is a false conclusion, to make the observation "I am at the center of my observations" is not. Is it?

jules.LT wrote:We cannot help wanting what we want

If I have seen people change their desires and wants (although agreeably not without help), then is it more correct to say "We alone cannot help wanting what we want"? If any one additional choice is presented, we can make that choice. Even if we did not have it available previously, it can be made available by another who can present it. For example, if I do not know of a way to stop heart disease, I cannot choose (even with free will) to not die from heart disease. However if someone tells me of the medication or lifestyle/healthy living to prevent it, I can choose not to die from heart disease. This was a "I cannot help" situation changed to a "I can help" one. Likewise it could be the "want of alcohol" or "the want of drugs" that can be changed. If instead you mean "I am what I am", then I find it does not tell us anything. :(
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby shvedsky » Tue Jan 29, 2013 7:27 am UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Or would you say it's impossible for us to define or observe anything as freely acting?

Given that there is a struggle with defining an actual experiment to verify a nonzero degree of free will, it's probably impossible to observe. This doesn't mean that it's impossible to define, but what it could mean that the border that discriminates free will from "non-free" will lies completely within the so-far unobservable, i.e. within the thoughts of the subject. Which, again makes me suggest that free will is defined by what we think rather than by how we act.

Technical Ben wrote:Show me how someone chooses to have children, eat food, make music or decide to wear a seat belt. The mechanisms and the thoughts?

We are driven by our instincts, external circumstances, and our automatically trained neural network into doing certain things. As we get more and more inclined to doing these things (I start to think that "choice" doesn't happen instantaneously, but is rather a function of probability over time), we begin to realize that these things would be sensible, until we finally do them.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby ucim » Tue Jan 29, 2013 5:56 pm UTC

jules.LT wrote:
ucim wrote:Observations of the real physical world support the idea that true randomness exists in it on the micro scale.
No, it's undecidable (so far, at least).
Observations may not prove the idea, but that was not my claim. I'm not convinced it is undecidable in principle. In any case, hidden variable theories seem to me to require moar epicycles, although pure randomness or the surrender of causality leaves me uncomfortable.

The universe does not care whether or not I am comfortable however. :)

What evidence points in the direction of hidden variables?

jules.LT wrote:A randomness that would apply only at the quantum level is low-level indeed, but driven behaviour is very high-level and totally relevant.
Driven behavior at a high level is driven by driven behavior at a low level.

jules.LT wrote:[seeing the earth as the center of the universe] not a conclusion or a paradigm, maybe a mental model. It's really a choice of point of reference.
I don't think Technical Ben meant the mathematical transformations that would result in the earth being at the origin of the system used to describe the universe. Clearly these are arbitrary, although they will result in the equations of motion (ect.) being simpler or more complex in a given frame. Philosophically, it would be a conclusion (this is the way the world is). Scientifically, it would be a model (The equations are simplest when cast in this form). Culturally it would be a paradigm (a way of thinking of ourselves in relation to the universe).

But in no case is it an observation.

jules.LT wrote:
ucim wrote:You have free will to the extent that the world influences you in ways in which you are aware. You fail to have free will to the extent that the world influences you in ways in which you are not aware.
That, to me, is essential. We cannot help wanting what we want, but we can be aware of why we want what we want, and that additional information can allow us be truer to ourselves.
I agree with your agreement. :) Perhaps this is the starting point for a good definition of what we mean by "free will". Built into it is the sense of what we mean by "free" - that is, what we mean to be free of.

Technical Ben wrote:If we say randomness is mathematical, it relies on mathematical axioms or assumptions, right? It relies on our assumptions of observation (that we do not have hidden variables, which I agree the maths seems to suggest is true).
Math is not subject to observations. Observations are of the real world; math is not. Math supplies a definition, we can observe the real world and see how closely it matches the definition. Since (true mathematical) randomness is infinite in scope, we can never be 100% sure that the (real world) system we are observing is truely random, or if we just got lucky and came upon a random-like stretch (or v.v.) But the more observations we make, the more likely we are to have a good picture.

Technical Ben wrote:We do not define "random" as having a mechanism of choice. Thus both "random" and "deterministic" or "not random" and "not deterministic" do not describe the term "choice". Do they?
Whether a choice (or selection) is random or not has nothing to do with whether or not it is a choice (or "selection", for jules.LT). It's a red herring.

Technical Ben wrote:I can also observe a property of "freely choosing" to both of those (others do not choose for me, I do not choose for them). Do I need more information than that?
More careful observation, and a better defined sense of what you are observing. For example, when you observe somebody going into the store and buying a beer, selecting one brand over another, this selection may be influenced by store layout, lighting, beer commercials he or she has seen, as well as by his or her own experience with that brand of beer. Marketing can have subtle influences on people, and as people's psychology is better understood by marketers, the influence can get more powerful. So... how would you set up an experiment to see whether or not a person is "freely" choosing one beer over another, or is perhaps "under the influence" of marketing? (and how important is that?)

You may conclude, after doing sufficient experimentation, that the person's choice is free to thus and such extent. But it would be a conclusion - an interpretation of results.

Technical Ben wrote:That is an interesting concept. If I walk out of the store, then continue as "normal", am I still an automaton? Is there a problem with some functions being automatic (without influence) form the outside, while still having influence form the inside? Or, what if I choose store A over store B? I still made a choice, yet the opposite store still has zero influence. Thus I always have a part of choice that is "free" (here the other store is free from my influence and visa versa). In this example, I still make a choice right, but does the store have power over me?
You can have more free will in one circumstance than in another. Sure. But sometimes, you won't know whether your choices were really "free" from "undue" influence. And maybe that's the underlying issue. You are always under influence (or there's nothing to choose!). But if you are under too much influence, there's no freedom. Where is the "right" balance?

Technical Ben wrote:PS, again, from what I've read we are at the center of our own lightcone. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_cone
Thus we are at the center of the "universe" as we can possibly observe. To conclude it orbits around us is a false conclusion, to make the observation "I am at the center of my observations" is not. Is it?
I'd go along with that. Note the difference between "I am the center of my universe" and "I am the center of the universe."

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Greyarcher » Tue Jan 29, 2013 6:55 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:
We don't. But we do need to know what "hot" means. More to the point, we need to know what "burn" means if we are going to say that stars "burn", by whatever means.
Ah, ok. By hot, it would be something observed and felt. An opposite of cold. So free will, is an opposite of "forced will". Perhaps "forced action" or "forced decision". It would be the amount of input we have in our own decision making ability. But if we don't consider there to be a self, we can never consider the term. As said, it requires a few assumptions (one here is that "we" have a self), but so do the thoughts on determinism and randomness, as noted above.
Reading those last lines about the self and the amount of input one has, I suddenly realized--or perhaps remembered--partially why I don't have a model of "self". It's not clear to me where or why I'd draw a particular line distinguishing "internal input" (oneself) from "external input" (the world). To say the obvious: humans are born. Given that starting point, everything seems to be external input. So when and why would I start linking things to an internal input, or the internal system, as if the external input was not crucial and constitutive of the system and its so-called internal input?

Nnn, actually, I think my high standards are at work here. It's like...I identify mostly with my reflective, thinking self and its incredibly high standards; therefore, I do not identify with the rest of my mind insofar as it acts contrarily to the thinking self and its standards. After all, if the thinking self cannot exercise perfect control over the rest of the mind, why would one consider the rest of the mind "oneself"? It may as well be another person for all the imperfect control one has over it.

Ugh, it's irritating to think of it. But it raises a theme I think I've mulled over before. To what degree is "free will" an identity question, and to what degree is it a mechanics question? Or, to come from a different angle, "who wills?" may highlight the identity issue behind the question "is the will free?".

It's a little ironic really. Naturally, we can't will our hearts to stop and be successful. But I never reflected on being unable to successfully will other parts of my brain/mind to be a certain way. There's no surprise if we can't. But I consider that a major problem. The brain/mind, after all, has a lot of influence on action. So how much of a farce is it if the conscious, thinking "me"--the "me" I most identify with--isn't able to will the rest of the brain/mind to be a certain way? It's absurd! What level of control over one's actions is that?

--well, that's high standards for you. The gap between reality and the ideal is ever a frustration and disappointment.
Eh, I mean to type more on other points, but I think I'll leave it at this for now.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Tue Jan 29, 2013 8:29 pm UTC

I would say it is to be too presumptuous of ones self to allow our own definitions to shape our observation of the world. It should be the observation that shapes our definitions. So if the observation does not agree with the math, but the observation happens none the less, I have to conclude I need a "better model". :)

So, if I cannot model free will, but observe people acting freely, I can only conclude it's a failure in my model, not an "illusion" of observation.

Free will is an identity problem, yes. Why? Because if we have no defining factor, we do not have 2 objects. I see 2 people acting as separate things, thus cannot define them as "the same thing". If people have differing "will", then they have something I cannot define as "the same". To attribute the cause of will to the same source, is to attribute it as the same will. I do not observe people having the same will (they vastly vary and oppose), so the source cannot be "the same". Can it?

Whether a choice (or selection) is random or not has nothing to do with whether or not it is a choice (or "selection", for jules.LT). It's a red herring.

While the conversation has already been had, I'd still say the choice mechanism is distinct from the "random" or "deterministic" mechanism. A computer with the same input every time, makes no "choices", even though it's coded for it. While a computer with random inputs has different end states, it's layout is deterministic in which end state it chooses depending on which starting state. Thus it has no choice "but to choose what it chooses". While a completely random piece of code has no mechanism of choice again, it's completely random.

So, am I not left, not with a problem in the description of "free will", but in the description of choice? If I cannot model choice with the current mechanism, is it a failure in my observation, or just a limit in the models and our knowledge?
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Greyarcher » Tue Jan 29, 2013 9:46 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:So, if I cannot model free will, but observe people acting freely, I can only conclude it's a failure in my model, not an "illusion" of observation.
This is a remark you repeat, so I will ask: what do you observe about people that must be explained by "that person must be free" and cannot be explained by "my understanding of that person was imperfect"?
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby ucim » Wed Jan 30, 2013 3:53 am UTC

Technical Ben wrote:So, if I cannot model free will, but observe people acting freely, I can only conclude it's a failure in my model, not an "illusion" of observation.
How do you know that the people you are observing are acting freely?

Technical Ben wrote:While the conversation has already been had, I'd still say the choice mechanism is distinct from the "random" or "deterministic" mechanism.
I have no idea what you mean by "the choice mechanism". You are using it as if it were a type of mechanism (as opposed to a random or driven mechanism). I don't think anybody else is using that way, and I certainly am not.

A mechanism which makes a choice can embody driven parts and random parts. There's no such thing as a "choice" part (unless it's USDA). :)

Technical Ben wrote:A computer with the same input every time, makes no "choices"
Sure it does. It may make the same choices every time, and it may not. But not giving it different input doesn't make it unable to choose.

Technical Ben wrote:While a computer with random inputs has different end states, it's layout is deterministic in which end state it chooses depending on which starting state.
...if it's a deterministic computer (which I'm assuming for this discussion).

Technical Ben wrote:While a completely random piece of code has no mechanism of choice again, it's completely random.
I take it you don't mean "code that consists of random bytes" but rather, "code that simply employs a random element (like radioactive decay) to produce its results".

Random or not, a mechanism can't help but choose what it chooses, so long as there is a mechanism. Free will is not a useful concept at this level. It becomes more useful at a much higher level. It's kind of like chaos. Not completely ordered, but not completely disordered either... perched on an interesting balance between them.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Wed Jan 30, 2013 9:39 am UTC

Technical Ben wrote:
jules.LT wrote:We cannot help wanting what we want
If I have seen people change their desires and wants (although agreeably not without help), then is it more correct to say "We alone cannot help wanting what we want"? If any one additional choice is presented, we can make that choice. Even if we did not have it available previously, it can be made available by another who can present it. For example, if I do not know of a way to stop heart disease, I cannot choose (even with free will) to not die from heart disease. However if someone tells me of the medication or lifestyle/healthy living to prevent it, I can choose not to die from heart disease. This was a "I cannot help" situation changed to a "I can help" one. Likewise it could be the "want of alcohol" or "the want of drugs" that can be changed.
I was talking about wanting at a deeper level, where what people tells us is judged by what we more deeply want and only changes shallower desires.
But external input can indeed ultimately change what we want at any level, and that has nothing to do with whether it's a person or not. And we can't help receiving external input. On the deepest level, it's "I am what I am" indeed.
Jules.LT wrote:If instead you mean "I am what I am", then I find it does not tell us anything. :(
Yet I was using it for further argumentation that I consider essential:
We cannot help wanting what we want, but we can be aware of why we want what we want, and that additional information can allow us be truer to ourselves. This is the essence of Spinozism.

ucim wrote:Culturally it would be a paradigm
It is a paradigm in the historical context, when talking about when it was a single lens through which we saw everything, but not when we talk of it as one of the many points of reference available to us.[/nitpick]
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Wed Jan 30, 2013 9:44 am UTC

Greyarcher wrote:
Technical Ben wrote:So, if I cannot model free will, but observe people acting freely, I can only conclude it's a failure in my model, not an "illusion" of observation.
This is a remark you repeat, so I will ask: what do you observe about people that must be explained by "that person must be free" and cannot be explained by "my understanding of that person was imperfect"?

That would apply. It can be "my understanding of that person was imperfect". But I cannot conclude "because my understanding of that person was imperfect, then they must be X, Y or Z", can I?

What is the "free" that I observe? Try to get a computer to act against it's input (programming). Now, can a person?

jules.LT, I would say as far as I can see, there are always 2 choices with a person being able to choose between them. It could be weighted 99% to 1% from one to the other, but they can always "choose or not choose". So to me, no matter the extent of the external (or internal) information, force or influence, their is still an ability to choose present. Would you agree, that even under extreme influence, a persons "will" or choices would apply on a level we could consider?
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Wed Jan 30, 2013 1:58 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:jules.LT, I would say as far as I can see, there are always 2 choices with a person being able to choose between them. It could be weighted 99% to 1% from one to the other, but they can always "choose or not choose". So to me, no matter the extent of the external (or internal) information, force or influence, their is still an ability to choose present. Would you agree, that even under extreme influence, a persons "will" or choices would apply on a level we could consider?
This is going back to the basics that we answered on the very first page, which you should have read before posting here (Serious Business rule):

Whatever determines whether you choose one way or the other is the product of external input.
The monocellular organism that you used to be was the product of external input, and everything in between
(unless you're talking about causeless souls, but that's something I won't discuss)
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Wed Jan 30, 2013 8:15 pm UTC

It does not require "souls" as far as I can see. I don't consider us anything more than made in this physical universe of physical things. Why? I don't observe either a need of a non-physical makeup or observe there is anything of us that is non-physical, It just requires any part of our physical universe to be "uncaused".

I don't see that as a problem to the physicists. If they are an atheist, and at least 1 thing is uncaused, the universe. Either way, I don't see there being a problem with uncaused things existing in the scope of physics.
I don't see it being a problem with physical observation. Some things are "random" and it would appear to be true randomness (that is, both mathematically and as observed by science).
I don't see a problem with stating any particular action in the universe is uncaused. Say "the specific noise of the background radiation". As I can claim those have no cause, I could make the same claim to a persons decisions, without invoking a "soul", can I not?

If there is a need to invoke a "soul" when ever someone mentions a decision based without external input, what would make that a requirement?

Do I still observe people acting freely? Well, they can have 99% of the information suggesting to take action A, but they still take action B. Others will take the action that matches the information. But each person, to their own selves, makes the choice they feel is their own decision. Why should this be an illusion and not an actual observation?
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby ucim » Thu Jan 31, 2013 11:47 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:What is the "free" that I observe? Try to get a computer to act against it's input (programming). Now, can a person?
Distinguish between programming (i.e. the entity itself) and input (i.e. stuff external to the entity, which influences it).

Technical Ben wrote:Do I still observe people acting freely? Well, they can have 99% of the information suggesting to take action A, but they still take action B. Others will take the action that matches the information...
I don't know what this means, other than different people do different things under similar circumstances. This is not an argument for (or against) free will.

There are two kinds of things that people lump together in arguments dealing with free will. One is freedom from one's self ("I couldn't help myself") and the other is freedom from external coercion ("My boss made me do it."). Confusing the two is probably the origin of many long discussions on free will.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Greyarcher » Fri Feb 01, 2013 11:46 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:
Greyarcher wrote:
Technical Ben wrote:So, if I cannot model free will, but observe people acting freely, I can only conclude it's a failure in my model, not an "illusion" of observation.
This is a remark you repeat, so I will ask: what do you observe about people that must be explained by "that person must be free" and cannot be explained by "my understanding of that person was imperfect"?

That would apply. It can be "my understanding of that person was imperfect". But I cannot conclude "because my understanding of that person was imperfect, then they must be X, Y or Z", can I?
The bit you're missing is that we already think people are X, Y, and Z. A living organism; an animal; a body and brain; a complex data processing system with tons of internal and external inputs that we're still learning about.

In other words: any surprise we have can be easily understood as due to our shallow understanding.

Assume people aren't free, but are constrained but extremely complex data processors with years of internal and external inputs and interactions that we only know a little bit about. Also, we don't fully understand the hardware, we don't have a log of all their data. Basically, people are complex as heck. Is it any surprise if some of these processors give unexpected outputs?

Technical Ben wrote:What is the "free" that I observe? Try to get a computer to act against it's input (programming). Now, can a person?
...this irritates me. How simple do you think a person is? Do you have a detailed manual for them? An in-depth blueprint? Commented source code? A log of all the data that's been saved to their drive over the years?

They're not some 80s computer that people invented and produced according to a standardized design; they're not running BASIC; there is no need to be surprised about them not all chirping "Hello, World!" no matter how much we try to drill them into chirping it upon command. --to put it simply: we don't have even know their programming. Heck, looking back, we only first mapped the human genome after the turn of this century.

----
Edit: Yow, that reference to the human genome project made me realize how poorly I've kept abreast of science news. Slack, very slack.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Thrasymachus » Tue Mar 19, 2013 9:57 pm UTC

Since this is apparently the place to continue this discussion, I'll continue it here.

To reiterate what I claimed on the computer thread, free agents are not normally agents that surprise us, and for us to continue to consider them free after they have surprised us, we must consider it possible to "deflate" the surprise, that upon being made aware of facts and considerations we did not know about when we were surprised, we would agree that those actions "made sense," and were performed according to what we would consider to be a valid reason under those circumstances.

Humans are deeply ingrained to assume free will obtains for any object, and learn to exclude objects from the class of those that are free over time and with experience. Any two-year old will tell you quite seriously about the motivations and desires of such various objects as her blankets, her food, and her toy blocks, and when we're frustrated by the mere objects around us, we often resort to appealing to their "free will," insulting them, pleading with them or flattering them. We learn those things aren't free because they don't act like we do when we treat them this way. Begging your car to make it to the gas station has no effect on whether it makes it or not. Kissing your blanket goodnight doesn't make a bit of difference to how well it "sleeps."

And we get to be really good at excluding things from the class of free agents too. Eventually, most of us learn to exclude nearly all animals, and even other human beings from that class. Vast cultural differences can make us conclude that that group of people over there are savages, nearly animal, or soulless automatons of their state, a fact which makes it vastly easier to coerce us into often pointless war or social division. Even so, we often quite readily make distinctions in our exclusion. Those barbarians in that other culture are less free than ourselves, but still probably more free than some dumb cow, which is again more free than the blades of grass it eats, which is probably freer than the bits of dirt and photons it consumes.

Freedom on a deep metaphysical level does seem to imply that for any event, there could have been another, distinguishable event instead. Current physics does strongly suggest that local variables are at least not sufficient to absolutely determine events. I read an article a while back that I don't really care to look up at the moment on how curved space-time is able to reduce Heisenberg uncertainty, which seems to suggest to me that it remains possible, even probable, that the inclusion of global variables may prove sufficient to absolutely determine events, but I wonder what else global variables could be if not emergent, that is, based on the extra-local distribution and character of matter/energy. If free will is anything, it is an emergent phenomenon.

When you study a system to see what its properties are, you conceptually cut it off from the rest of the universe. The properties of that system interact with one another (that's what makes it a system) in such a way that the absolute determination of one variable will make any determination of some other variable impossible. In describing the evolution of such a system, one is thus forced to assign probabilities to the outcomes of the system, when that system is modeled purely on the basis of the variables that make up that system, that is, the local variables. But for any system in the universe, it is always embedded within a larger system which carry some of the global variables that, when incorporated into the analysis of the now sub-system, can overcome some of the indeterminacy of the local analysis.

Freedom on an individual level, however, only requires the appearance of options, and a decision process that is self-determined. The appearance of options is feature of the individual, his internal system of receiving inputs from the environment, processing them into a model of the environment, and simulating future possible states of the environment given the local variables and models it has to work with. The decision process is also a feature of the individual, but it is determined by the self, which is something distinct from the individual.

When an organism represents its environment, which is a necessity for any stimulus-response type of behavior, included within that environment are other organisms. With sufficiently complex representation, the organism will represent other organisms as representing as well, and further complexity will include what those other organisms are representing. Among the things these other organisms will be representing is the original organism itself. When the original organism unifies its representations of other organism's representations of itself into a single representation, it has a self. When this self constitutes the determining feature of the decision process in choosing between apparent alternatives, that choice is free.

Of course, this freedom in the deeply metaphysical sense applies only at the local level, where it appears that events have alternatives. At the global level, events are entirely "pre-determined" and based on the actual interactions between social organisms that shape their individual concepts of self.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby ucim » Wed Mar 20, 2013 2:51 am UTC

Well, there certainly is a lot there. I'm going to pick and choose what I think is the most relevant. (It's either that, or write a book!)
Thrasymachus wrote:free agents are not normally agents that surprise us...
I think we are using a different definition of "surprise". Although I'm not surprised that Susie went into nursing, if I had to predict a priori, I would not always be correct. (Hindsight makes us believe we have foresight.) People are not on (easily visible) rails. But free will is often taken to mean two different things, and these map to two different ways something can surprise you. I am concentrating mainly on "freedom from one's self", which on the most basic level does not exist at all. However, on a higher level, it is a useful abstraction. It is in that sense that I am talking about being "on rails".

Thrasymachus wrote:Eventually, most of us learn to exclude nearly all animals, and even other human beings from [the class of free agents]
And that is an error.

Thrasymachus wrote:Freedom on a deep metaphysical level does seem to imply that for any event, there could have been another, distinguishable event instead. Current physics does strongly suggest that local variables are at least not sufficient to absolutely determine events.
That is not what it means to me. Otherwise, dice would be "free". While QM does introduce randomness, that is not the source of freedom from ones self, since that randomness would be as inescapable as the rails.

Thrasymachus wrote:Freedom on an individual level, however, only requires the appearance of options, and a decision process that is self-determined.
Well put. (I take it you mean "appearance" in the sense of existence, as opposed to the sense of presentation.) But what is that self? Look closely enough and its on rails (or dice, which are equally inescapable). But step further back so you can't see the rails, and for a sufficiently complex system, the paradigm of "free will" becomes useful.

Thrasymachus wrote:The decision process is also a feature of the individual, but it is determined by the self, which is something distinct from the individual.
What do you mean here? I'm afraid I couldn't really follow the next paragraph. You seem to be saying that an "internal representation" is what is necessary for a choice to be free.

Thrasymachus wrote:Of course, this freedom in the deeply metaphysical sense applies only at the local level...
I think we are saying something similar, but where you say "local" I would say "high" (as in highly abstracted) and where you say "global" I would say "low" (as in atoms and molecules, or bits and bytes).

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Thrasymachus » Wed Mar 20, 2013 5:48 am UTC

Although I'm not surprised that Susie went into nursing, if I had to predict a priori, I would not always be correct.
But the more you know about Susie, the more likely you would be to predict correctly, and if you knew Susie really well, and you knew she had an aversion to blood, you might be very surprised. And if you were, you'd go looking for an explanation for why she went into nursing that made sense to you, given everything else you know about Susie. The more you know about a person, the better you'll be able to predict what they'll do, and the more you'll demand a sensible explanation for what they do when they surprise you. But we don't regard the people we know best as less free than the ones we know least, in fact, we usually regard them as the most free, precisely because what they're doing makes sense to us.

And that is an error.
You can learn a lot about a system by looking at the errors it throws. And coming to understand why it throws those errors can help you understand what it's doing when it's not throwing errors. Neuroscientists and research psychologists don't study brain disorders and mental illness just to find cures for them, after all, though that is an important reason.

That is not what it means to me. Otherwise, dice would be "free". While QM does introduce randomness, that is not the source of freedom from ones self, since that randomness would be as inescapable as the rails.
Metaphysically, if the randomness of the dice is indeed sourced in the quantum indeterminacy of its constituent particles and is not merely an artifact of a lack of knowledge of all the states of those particles and the particles in its local environment, then those dice are free. This doesn't mean they're free wills. They didn't make a choice of what number to land on, because there was no representation of alternatives made to those dice beforehand. And regardless, it is irrelevant, because it remains possible that global variables can eliminate the indeterminacy. The mass, shape, velocity, rotation, rigidity, viscosity, charge, and so forth of the dice, the air, and the landing table may not be enough to determine beforehand how the dice will land, but the overall distribution and character of matter/energy in the rest of the universe might well be.

Well put. (I take it you mean "appearance" in the sense of existence, as opposed to the sense of presentation.) But what is that self? Look closely enough and its on rails (or dice, which are equally inescapable). But step further back so you can't see the rails, and for a sufficiently complex system, the paradigm of "free will" becomes useful.
Actually, no, I don't mean that the appearance of options means that those options are both really possible. I mean that the system under consideration represents those options to itself as both possible alternatives. Options appear real at a local level that may be entirely illusory at a global level. Your insistence that a "free will" not operate "on rails" suggests to me that you don't think it should follow rules. On the contrary, a free will does follow rules. It follows rules it crafts and approves of itself.

What do you mean here? I'm afraid I couldn't really follow the next paragraph. You seem to be saying that an "internal representation" is what is necessary for a choice to be free.
Internal representation is necessary for the appearance of choice. Alternative futures, even if they are really possible, do not (yet) exist. In order for an alternative to be selected, it has to be represented. For the selection to be free, the principle of selection must be determined by the self. But the self is itself a unified composite representation. In order to be free, the individual has to be able to make a special kind of representation that plays an active role in the process of representing.

I think we are saying something similar, but where you say "local" I would say "high" (as in highly abstracted) and where you say "global" I would say "low" (as in atoms and molecules, or bits and bytes).
Almost exactly the opposite. These are nested sets. Global is the set of all sets, local is any subset of that set. If free will is anything at all, it is a process of determination. It makes things one way or another. Physics tells us that local systems are insufficient for determining everything that happens, in order to determine things, a global variable is needed. Psychologists can evaluate a person and give us a (rough) prediction for the various ways an individual might behave, but the variables they include in their model are insufficient to determine this particular individual's future course of action, even though they can lay out all the alternatives, and even rate their likeliness fairly well. As with particle physics, they do very well with predicting masses of people acting. But something is determining the behavior of the particular individuals, and that this something is global is shown by the predictability of the masses of behavior. Move up the scale, and the unpredictability/indeterminacy of the behavior appears to disappear. The "self" is a global variable held within the representational apparatus of the individual. It is determined by the innate representational mechanisms of the individual and the interaction of that individual with its environment, especially including other social members of its environment. As it is so determined, it in turn modifies, adds to, and rejects the innate representational mechanisms of the individual. In this way, the self is present in the individual, globally determined, and self-determined.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby ucim » Thu Mar 21, 2013 3:43 am UTC

Thrasymachus wrote:But the more you know about Susie, the more likely you would be to predict correctly
Yes, on the larger scale. On the smaller scale I still won't be able to predict the path she will walk throughout the day unless I know a lot more about her. But in theory (barring QM), I could even do that with sufficient knowledge. After all, at the most fundamental level, she is on rails too (or dice), following the laws of physics.

Thrasymachus wrote:You can learn a lot about a system by looking at the errors it throws...
Yes, but that's not what I was talking about. Whether we make the error of thinking a blanket has free will does not give us much insight into whether or not it actually does.

Thrasymachus wrote:Metaphysically, if [QM is real], then those dice are free.
Free from what? Free from one's self ("I couldn't help myself") or free from external coercion ("My boss made me do it.")? Or something else?

I would say that if the dice are completely "run" by QM randomness, then they don't really have a "self" to begin with. On a subatomic level, identical particles are in fact indistinguishable, and this has experimental consequences. However, none of this impacts what I mean when I use the term "free will".

Thrasymachus wrote: I mean that the system under consideration represents those options to itself as both possible alternatives.
A system represents to itself that it can choose between A and B. However, only A is actually possible. What happens when the system actually chooses B?

Thrasymachus wrote:Your insistence that a "free will" not operate "on rails" suggests to me that you don't think it should follow rules.
It suggests to me that "free will" is, at its most fundamental level, illusory. But if you don't look at (or don't see) the rails, and the system is complex enough (to be interesting), then this illusion makes a useful abbreviation when interacting with the system. This is (to me) the crux of it all.

Thrasymachus wrote:For the selection to be free, the principle of selection must be determined by the self. But the self is itself a unified composite representation.
Yes, exactly. But that makes the self separate from the system. It is an abstraction of the system. Free will is a property of that abstraction, not a property of the system.

Thrasymachus wrote:Global is the set of all sets, local is any subset of that set...local systems are insufficient for determining everything that happens...
I think I have a sense of what you are getting at here, but it's fuzzy and jumbled by the time it reaches my brain. To wit - "The "self" is a global variable held within the representational apparatus of the individual." makes no sense to me. I think you may be alluding to something like a new-agey "oneness" that we are all a part of. But even granting that, I don't see where free will relates to it.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Thrasymachus » Thu Mar 21, 2013 6:47 am UTC

A system represents to itself that it can choose between A and B. However, only A is actually possible. What happens when the system actually chooses B?


The agent fails. The ability to choose does not guarantee success, in fact, it pretty much guarantees a failure rate.

Free from what? Free from one's self ("I couldn't help myself") or free from external coercion ("My boss made me do it.")? Or something else?
Free from any determining force. When the dice are thrown, there is nothing that determines how they will land. And yet, they will land with a determinate result. So the future state of the dice is determined, but it isn't determined by anything. It is this kind of metaphysical freedom that you seem to be insisting that a "free will" must possess, otherwise, it would be "running on rails." But this kind of freedom is simply a fundamental randomness, which, as you also appear to recognize, isn't a free will.

"Free will" has two parts to it, the "freedom" part, and the "will" part. "Willing" is more than simply behaving, it is the act of choosing between various apparently alternative behaviors for some reason. This is what gets glossed over, I think, in your difficulty. For it to be a "will," it has to be on rails. But if it is metaphysically free the way dice or quantum indeterminacy are, then there is no reason for the choice, and hence no will. So the "freedom" in "free will" either can't mean that kind of metaphysical freedom, or the concept of "free will" is self-contradictory. Luckily, there's another option for "freedom." That's self-determination. A free will is on rails. It's on rails it built or consents to running on itself.

To wit - "The "self" is a global variable held within the representational apparatus of the individual." makes no sense to me. I think you may be alluding to something like a new-agey "oneness" that we are all a part of. But even granting that, I don't see where free will relates to it.
Not at all. An organism's internal representations have a role to play in generating behavior. You don't get to have a concept unless you can trace that concept back to some sort of innate, primitive stimulus-response. Concepts arise in behavior, and are used to control behavior. The concept of the self arises in a certain kind of social situation, one where it is possible and makes useful sense to model the representations of other members of one's society, and generalize across those representations.

When you model the minds of your social fellows, as you note in your Susie example, those models are often incomplete and less than fully predictive. We model the options we think are available to others given what we know about their perspectives. We also model their models of us, which are also incomplete and less than fully predictive, at least, on an individual basis. But when we sum across all those models we think our social peers have of us, average them out and generalize them into a single model of ourselves, the incompleteness and unpredictability factors itself out. We know ahead of time what we're gonna try to do based on our concept of our selves and our available options, and we know why, even if we don't, and perhaps can't fully know what someone else will do or why they might do it. The concept of our selves is modeled off of our model of other people. How do we model other people's minds? We start out by assuming they have one, and we fill in what their internal representational schema must be like by interacting with them. If it doesn't have a mind, the the assumption will eventually be less than the most efficient model we could otherwise construct, so we abandon it for the most efficient model, at least as long as that model works. When it fails, we fall back on our assumption. The interaction that makes these kinds of internal representations necessary introduces the global variables into the local individual's representative schema.

Yes, but that's not what I was talking about. Whether we make the error of thinking a blanket has free will does not give us much insight into whether or not it actually does.
Yes, actually, it does, because it tells us how we recognize free will. It also tells us something about the concept of free will when we correct those errors.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby ucim » Thu Mar 21, 2013 7:17 pm UTC

Thrasymachus wrote:The agent fails. The ability to choose does not guarantee success
Then it is not much of a choice. In my use of the word "choice", it must be able to succeed to be valid. I cannot choose to fly, but I can choose to attempt to fly. The attempt is an action that I can take. Similarly, I can't choose to become a movie star. I can however choose to try out for movie roles.

If I represent to myself that I can choose among alternatives, but in fact, there is only one for which I can actually make the choice, then I'm on rails, at least for that particular "choice".

Thrasymachus wrote:
ucim wrote:Free from what? Free from one's self ("I couldn't help myself") or free from external coercion ("My boss made me do it.")? Or something else?
Free from any determining force. When the dice are thrown, there is nothing that determines how they will land. And yet, they will land with a determinate result. So the future state of the dice is determined, but it isn't determined by anything.
Then there isn't a choice being made, and free will is inapplicable.

Thrasymachus wrote:But when we sum across all those models we think our social peers have of us, average them out and generalize them into a single model of ourselves, the incompleteness and unpredictability factors itself out.
I am unconvinced of this. I will grant however that the more (valid input and processing) we throw into the mix, the better our models are.

Ultimately, we're all on rails. We can't help but be ourselves, and do whatever it is that we are doing. We are not "free" from ourselves. But we don't actually see the rails, and like to think of ourselves as having a "self" that is making our decisions. To that "self" we ascribe free will. We can keep up this charade as long as we don't look at the rails. But as medical science advances, and uncovers some of the rails (and in doing so, some of the causes of what we sometimes call mental illnesses), the facade is broken.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Thu Mar 21, 2013 7:27 pm UTC

Thrasymachus wrote:Free from any determining force. When the dice are thrown, there is nothing that determines how they will land. And yet, they will land with a determinate result. So the future state of the dice is determined, but it isn't determined by anything.

What?? And what about, you know... physics? QM don't make results chaotic, only impossible to know beforehand.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Fire Brns » Thu Mar 21, 2013 7:35 pm UTC

jules.LT wrote:
Thrasymachus wrote:Free from any determining force. When the dice are thrown, there is nothing that determines how they will land. And yet, they will land with a determinate result. So the future state of the dice is determined, but it isn't determined by anything.

What?? And what about, you know... physics?

This. There is fundamentally no difference between dice being rolled and atoms and universal forces interacting in the brain.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Thrasymachus » Thu Mar 21, 2013 10:10 pm UTC

If indeterminacy is correct, physics doesn't determine what the answer will be when the dice lands. It merely demands that they land on some result, and lays out what the alternatives are and in what probabilities they will occur if the dice are thrown multiple times. "Chaotic" doesn't mean nonsensical, it means "sensitive to small variations in initial conditions." And it's irrelevant anyway, because chaos, if difficult to predict, is still predictable in theory. Fundamentally random is not. And fundamentally random doesn't require an infinite number of options to land in. A coin flip is fundamentally random, but the result is still only one of two possible states. As far as we can tell using local variables, physics doesn't determine that in this individual instance of flipping the coin, the result will be heads. Physics determines that there will be a result of one of two possible values in this individual instance, and if we flip the coin a bunch of times, we'll get roughly equal numbers of both results, the more we flip, the closer to equal they'll get, and that's all. But when the coin is actually flipped just once, and it lands on heads, that value is determined in that instance, but that value in that instance is not determined by anything.

Then it is not much of a choice. In my use of the word "choice", it must be able to succeed to be valid. I cannot choose to fly, but I can choose to attempt to fly. The attempt is an action that I can take. Similarly, I can't choose to become a movie star. I can however choose to try out for movie roles.

If I represent to myself that I can choose among alternatives, but in fact, there is only one for which I can actually make the choice, then I'm on rails, at least for that particular "choice".
That would seem to imply that a free will cannot fail. That flies in the face of all our real observations of free agents, i.e. people. The success or failure of any freely chosen behavior is pretty much irrelevant to whether it was freely chosen. It's free because you don't know ahead of time which will succeed and which will fail. If you know ahead of time that only one option can succeed, while all the rest are necessarily doomed to failure, do you really have a choice?

Ultimately, we're all on rails. We can't help but be ourselves, and do whatever it is that we are doing. We are not "free" from ourselves. But we don't actually see the rails, and like to think of ourselves as having a "self" that is making our decisions. To that "self" we ascribe free will. We can keep up this charade as long as we don't look at the rails. But as medical science advances, and uncovers some of the rails (and in doing so, some of the causes of what we sometimes call mental illnesses), the facade is broken.
The concept of being "free from ourselves" is a self-contradiction. Having selves is what makes us free. Yes, we are on rails. Having selves enables us to see those rails, change them, and consent to the direction they make us go. That's what makes us free. As medical and social science progresses, it makes us aware of rails we were previously unaware of, which gives our selves more freedom to direct our behavior.


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