Definition of Free Will

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Technical Ben
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Tue Oct 09, 2012 10:54 am UTC

Notice it's "we have defined" not "the universe dictates". We are trying to use our assumptions to prove/disprove our assumptions. Something that cannot be done, nor is it needed.
But perhaps to put it another way, think of someone with complete colour blindness.

They can state "there is only black and white. Some things have both of these in part, but everything is made up of these two ingredient, there is no third option". Now, someone else who sees colour could come along. It would be difficult, but they could explain how other options do exist. Such as green, blue and red. Granted, even those things are made up of a linear expression (more frequency or less frequency).

The universe was not required to only be in black and white, but was observed to be so. Observing only black and white tells us only that there is those two colours. It does not rule out alternatives. Is that right?

So to me, knowing of deterministic systems and random systems does not rule out alternative systems. Even if I have not observed or cannot comprehend it (just as the monochromatic person cannot comprehend colour!)

So, to me saying "free will cannot exist because determinism and random is the only option" is the same as stating "[assumption a] cannot exist because [assumption b] and [assumption c] is the only option". AFAIK that's not how assumptions work. We use assumptions because they fit the thing we need them to. Science makes/has it's own assumptions that fit it. Decision making has another, the ability to decide.

PS, to some degree, assuming a determined universe breaks the possibility of randomness. Assuming a random universe breaks the possibility of determinism. Notice how we still use both though. So adding another assumption, this time free will, only breaks this when we apply that assumption out of context. Just as trying to apply determinism to randomness or randomness to determinism does.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby deepone » Tue Oct 09, 2012 12:07 pm UTC

curtis95112 wrote:@deepone: I understand that the problem of Free Will matters socially, in much the same way Santa Claus does. But we don't discuss how Santa should be defined so that Santa becomes a coherent concept.

If I thought that Santa had a social effect that was nearly as important as Free Will then I certainly think that it should be discussed, and agreeing on definitions is simply a prerequisite for discussion. I doubt that there are significant differences in how we define Santa, but if there are they should be addresses in this hypothetical situation.

Then again, another motivation for wanting to discuss Free Will is that it is simply interesting as a psychological/cultural phenomenon. And maybe a discussion of Santa would be similarly interesting, "just for fun". :)

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Oct 09, 2012 2:45 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:So to me, knowing of deterministic systems and random systems does not rule out alternative systems. Even if I have not observed or cannot comprehend it (just as the monochromatic person cannot comprehend colour!)


Oh? What other type of system could exist, then?

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby morriswalters » Tue Oct 09, 2012 4:21 pm UTC

Just speculating, but wouldn't any system with properties other than the ones we know of be indeterminate. Assuming a surrounding universe with different rules, how could you test. Every piece of instrumentation that we use depends on interacting in a specified way in the universe in which we exist. In other words, they work because they are part of this universe. Assuming another universe around us how could we know anything about it and how could we test for it? However the reverse is not necessarily true. Is it?

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby deepone » Tue Oct 09, 2012 4:43 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:
Technical Ben wrote:So to me, knowing of deterministic systems and random systems does not rule out alternative systems. Even if I have not observed or cannot comprehend it (just as the monochromatic person cannot comprehend colour!)

Oh? What other type of system could exist, then?

Given the "even if I ... cannot comprehend it", maybe we shouldn't demand an answer to that. :)

I think it's kinda interesting though. What's the common way to describe quantum mechanics in terms of determinism? I guess one could say that something causing something else with a certain probability is kind of in-between randomness and determinism. I suspect that's not quite right though. ( know it's not right according to some interpretations, but mostly I don't know. :) )

Anyhow, I don't see how adding uncertainty to something deterministic changes anything concerning free will. Randomness still goes against the idea of will, and determinism still goes against the idea of freedom (in the strictest metaphysical sense). So you can have both problems at once - yippee. ;)

EDIT: To clarify, even if you can have will and freedom affecting your actions at the same time it's not your will that is free. On the contrary, the "freedom" specifically reduces the impact of your will on your actions. (Or, in the case of a many worlds variant, allows you to make all possible choices at once, which doesn't really help here in my opinion).

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Oct 09, 2012 5:54 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:Just speculating, but wouldn't any system with properties other than the ones we know of be indeterminate. Assuming a surrounding universe with different rules, how could you test. Every piece of instrumentation that we use depends on interacting in a specified way in the universe in which we exist. In other words, they work because they are part of this universe. Assuming another universe around us how could we know anything about it and how could we test for it? However the reverse is not necessarily true. Is it?
Nope. Because you haven't defined the boundaries of the 'surrounding' universe.

The first metaphor that springs to mind is a universe where our universe is just a simulation inside of their universe. We cannot test for their universe in any meaningful way, because we are just a simulation inside of their universe. Our boundaries are the simulation itself; their boundaries contain our own (we are a subset of their universe). We can't test for them, but they can test for us, because their universe includes ours--but ours does not include theirs. It only (completely) intersects with theirs.

It gets a little weirder when you realize the entire idea of 'inclusion', 'exclusion', and 'intersection' (that something can contain something; that something can not contain something; that something can overlap with something) may just be simulations in of themselves, and that the 'outer universe' may not 'include' or even need these concepts.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby morriswalters » Tue Oct 09, 2012 6:57 pm UTC

You just defined the possibility of a God space. You've also defined a space where Science doesn't work. Determinism and free will are like that space, a product of language. The ability to lie. Sciences greatest strength is the ability to create a lie about something you don't know exists, and then test the lie. That's my opinion. By the way, the use of lie here is just an interesting way to phrase it.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Oct 09, 2012 7:31 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:You just defined the possibility of a God space. You've also defined a space where Science doesn't work.
Right, and keep in mind, the only definition of that space is, literally, 'A space where science doesn't work'. That's all I've defined about it. In fact, that's all I can define about it--because we can't describe spaces where science doesn't work. It's like trying to describe a space that is indescribable. Definitionally, it defies description. If I could describe it, it wouldn't be indescribable!

Which is my take on the 'controversy' surrounding free will: It's just playing games. As far as we can tell, the universe is deterministic. If it's not deterministic, we can not (currently) describe it meaningfully. Any bits of the universe that are not deterministic defy (current) description. So if you put 'Free Will' in the bits of the universe that aren't deterministic, you've put 'Free Will' in the same space as God. It's a place science can currently not go, because we have defined it as a place science can not go. Speculating about that space must be done outside our current paradigm of science1.

In other words, any conversation about non-deterministic free will is, definitionally, not a conversation that involves science. Or logic. Or, hell, just plain old arithmetic.

And I don't find conversations like that to be very interesting.

1 I say 'current paradigm' instead of just 'paradigm' because, one day, science may find a way to describe spaces that are not deterministic. I find that highly unlikely, and really, really weird, but it's possible. Until science finds a way to do that, though, talking about them is pointless, and any speculation about them excludes science by definition.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Tue Oct 09, 2012 10:17 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:
Technical Ben wrote:So to me, knowing of [the colour black] and [the colour white] does not rule out alternative [colours]. Even if I have not observed or cannot comprehend it.


Oh? What other type of [colour] could exist, then?


Simple. Any other colour.

Would you agree with the above example of colours?

Tyndmyr wrote:
Technical Ben wrote:So to me, knowing of deterministic systems and random systems does not rule out alternative systems. Even if I have not observed or cannot comprehend it (just as the monochromatic person cannot comprehend colour!)


Oh? What other type of system could exist, then?


Simple. Any other system.

I'll also add, that free will may not necessarily be required to be neither "random" or "deterministic". It may only be required to be "sufficiently" free, non deterministic or non random. Perhaps a mid way point between the two.

Basically, it only needs to be a "sufficient method of choice for one's self". With sufficient being dependent on a persons own requirements here (theist/atheist/scientific/general/emotional etc) and "one's self" also being rather subjective I agree. But the individual only needs to see sufficient ability to choose of their own ability, and observe it to be free (or self acting) to the extent they are satisfied with. Notice "free will" is not "possible to do everything". Even the normal concept of free will is limited (thus has partially determined results) to the physical limits of the universe. I could say "choose coffee or tea" and it has a determined outcome, you cannot then choose "orange juice". But choosing "tea" is still a free choice in that example. So free will could be both, neither or one of those systems, but it just has to be sufficient for us to make a choice.

I'd say you've probably got the view of it I can relate to the most here The Great Hippo. But what about things in the future, we have not yet predicted or comprehended? As far as I can tell, they lie "outside of science" as well. Just as the example of colour to a monochromatic person. Or perhaps like general relativity to someone doing science 400 years ago. Such things were "undefined", thus unable to be viewed with a scientific mind. There was only "slower and faster", no other option existed. It was impossible for them to describe relativity. It was "unscientific" at that point. Would that be correct? (PS, something like Quantum gravity is also "undefined" at the moment, and arguably "outside of science", as I'm sure someone could argue it's "impossible" due to our current understandings. ;) ).

So would you agree, that while things are not necessarily applicable to science, this does not rule out their validity? It may just mean our models need much more improvement (as with the case of making a model to include relativity)?
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby curtis95112 » Tue Oct 09, 2012 10:35 pm UTC

Technical Ben. The problem is that Randomness is pretty much defined as anything non-deterministic. To use your color example, it would be as if we said everything was either black, or brighter. Then red, green, etc are subsets of this. You can have a red apple, but that still has a brightness of say, 124. Now if someone was to come and say that objects which don't fall into this spectrum exist, we would disregard them.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Oct 09, 2012 10:37 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Basically, it only needs to be a "sufficient method of choice for one's self". With sufficient being dependent on a persons own requirements here (theist/atheist/scientific/general/emotional etc) and "one's self" also being rather subjective I agree. But the individual only needs to see sufficient ability to choose of their own ability, and observe it to be free (or self acting) to the extent they are satisfied with. Notice "free will" is not "possible to do everything". Even the normal concept of free will is limited (thus has partially determined results) to the physical limits of the universe. I could say "choose coffee or tea" and it has a determined outcome, you cannot then choose "orange juice". But choosing "tea" is still a free choice in that example. So free will could be both, neither or one of those systems, but it just has to be sufficient for us to make a choice.
Free will means that it's impossible to determine what your choice would have been in advance. In other words, if I say 'tea or coffee', there is no way for me to know in advance which you would respond with. I might have an inkling; I might even have a very strong suspicion. But I cannot know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what you are going to say.

If it is possible to predict the future with absolute accuracy, it is impossible for free will to exist. The future can be predicted with absolute accuracy if and only if the future is 'knowable'; IE, the future is determinable. The future is determinable if and only if the universe is deterministic. Therefore, free will cannot exist in a deterministic universe.

Science assumes a deterministic universe (universes that are not deterministic cannot be predicted; for science to work, the universe must be predictable). So as far as the paradigm of modern science is concerned, free will doesn't exist. The same goes for all things that the modern science paradigm contains--biology, neurology, chemistry, etc. Hard science relies on predictions. If you can perfectly predict something, it does not possess free will. Ergo, in these fields, free will cannot exist. Not until someone figures out a way to do science without predicting things.

That leaves free will with precious few places of relevance. Because that which is irrelevant in science is, in many respects, irrelevant to the reality we perceive.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby zmic » Tue Oct 09, 2012 11:29 pm UTC

curtis95112 wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:Yes, sometimes people will attempt to use this as a defense against moral responsibility for deeds, then attempt to extend this to saying we should not punish or reward people for things they aren't responsible for. This confuses me. If you accept that all actions are reactions to things, then, yes, using punishments and rewards to induce behavior is perfectly rational.


Indeed. All that is required is that you see ethics as a means to an end (Usually the well-being of humanity or some superset thereof). In fact, I think free will becomes mostly irrelevant once you adopt this approach.

Why does free will matter anyway? It's not like it'll have observable consequences, religious objections notwithstanding.


Without free will I have no choice whether to accept or reject your opinion. I'll reject it anyway. If you think about it, the concept of having a discussion becomes somewhat ridiculous without the presence of free will. The whole notion of "truth" becomes fishy.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Wed Oct 10, 2012 12:49 am UTC

First, let me present my thesis by making a declaration: Anyone that wants to claim "Free will doesn't exist" should always end the sentence with "...because I selected a definition of free will that's meaningless". :) Of course that's just my opinion of what people should do, but I think it relates what I think is the significance of such a statement. Since free will is a nebulous concept, I'm not going to call anyone wrong for using it in such a nonsensical fashion, but I would emphasize that it's not really profound in any way.

Second, I would have no great heartache if everyone decided to do away with the term "free will" since I personally don't hang much significance on the label. However, since a lot of people (myself included) do have an intuitive sense that we have free will, I say it makes more sense to select a definition that matches this. That's the point I made in this post from another thread. And within this thread, jules.LT linked to an article with another such definition (and I gave my response in the following post). In my opinion, it just makes way more sense to adopt something like that.

Third, the notion of non-random non-determinism has come up a few times as the hurdle that any definition of free will has to overcome. I want to address this, and this quote gives me a good segue way for that:
deepone wrote:I think it's kinda interesting though. What's the common way to describe quantum mechanics in terms of determinism? I guess one could say that something causing something else with a certain probability is kind of in-between randomness and determinism. I suspect that's not quite right though. ( know it's not right according to some interpretations, but mostly I don't know. :) )

Determinism is about perfect predictability, i.e. with a given set of starting conditions, there is precisely one possible outcome. So if there are any random events involved then it's strictly a non-deterministic process. And while this would defy perfect prediction, in practice much of our predictions can be quite reliable. And at the macro level, this is what we see in the world around us. It's possible that heat, sound, vibrations, etc. could all combine precisely at a point just below a ball on the floor and hit it with enough force to knock it up onto a table, but such a thing is so unlikely that we dismiss it. We can predict with a high precision that the ball will stay on the floor. So on a very practical level, non-determinism doesn't really prevent us from making good predictions. In fact, the larger limitation is our bounded knowledge and the fact that we live in a complicated world.

And this leads to my proposal for a system that has properties related to both non-randomness and non-determinism: A chaotic system. Of course this won't help if there is a strict requirement that the system be both precisely deterministic and non-deterministic at the same time. But I don't think our intuitive notion of free will has any such requirement. Instead, in my opinion, we need some sense of agency (can express a will, set goals) that can react in reasonable ways to the world around us (responds to incentives, avoids pain), but it needs a behavior that's not wholly captured by a precise process or algorithm (free to follow it's own goals). This fits in well with a chaotic system that is often predictable, but where arbitrarily small errors in measurements can cause arbitrarily large errors in our ability to predict outcomes.

So chaotic systems are the reality in which we live, and I think this gives us a good place to rest the notion of free will that's completely independent of whether the universe is fundamentally deterministic or not.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Oct 10, 2012 1:07 am UTC

guenther wrote:First, let me present my thesis by making a declaration: Anyone that wants to claim "Free will doesn't exist" should always end the sentence with "...because I selected a definition of free will that's meaningless". :) Of course that's just my opinion of what people should do, but I think it relates what I think is the significance of such a statement. Since free will is a nebulous concept, I'm not going to call anyone wrong for using it in such a nonsensical fashion, but I would emphasize that it's not really profound in any way.
I'm fine with this, so long as it's understood that free will and science do not function together--not unless you redefine free will as something that exists within the bounds of determinism.

Another way to put this: If human beings have 'free will' in the scientific sense, then there must be some part of the human decision making mechanism that science cannot grasp. There must be a 'black box' somewhere that science cannot penetrate. If you want to define that black box as God, or if you want to say it's the human soul, that's fine; the point is only that this 'black box' is something science, definitionally, cannot make any meaningful statements about.

And as far as I know, science has yet to encounter any impenetrable black boxes--so there's no reason for science to suspect that such a black box might exist.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Wed Oct 10, 2012 1:18 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:I'm fine with this, so long as it's understood that free will and science do not function together--not unless you redefine free will as something that exists within the bounds of determinism.

Why is this? One our most successful scientific theories of all time has non-determinism at it's core. So why should there be a scientific requirement that consciousness be purely deterministic? I don't know this, but I suspect that parts of the brain are in fact sensitive to quantum effects, which would mean that we can't precisely model our mind or any aspect of it (including free will) in a purely deterministic way.

I don't get the rest of your post where you say that free will must be a black box that science can't touch.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Oct 10, 2012 1:38 am UTC

guenther wrote:Why is this? One our most successful scientific theories of all time has non-determinism at it's core.
'Most successful scientific theories'?
guenther wrote:So why should there be a scientific requirement that consciousness be purely deterministic? I don't know this, but I suspect that parts of the brain are in fact sensitive to quantum effects, which would mean that we can't precisely model our mind or any aspect of it (including free will) in a purely deterministic way.
'Quantum effects'? What?

I have no idea what Quantum Mechanics implies for a deterministic universe; I know jack shit about physics. I also don't like to speculate about things I have zero comprehension of, and Quantum Mechanics is definitely one of those things. Whether or not Quantum Mechanics has any implications for a deterministic universe, I couldn't say. I'm going to assume the answer is 'no' until someone who thorough understands Quantum Mechanics tells me otherwise.

There is an enormous risk in using theories you don't understand to justify things you'd prefer to be true. I'm not accusing you of doing this--but rather warning you of the possibility that you're doing it unintentionally. Remember What the Bleep Do We Know? 'Quantum' is this age's 'Galvanization'; people with zero comprehension use it to give credence to their ideas. Be very, very wary of doing this unconsciously.

(I beg pardon if the above comes off as hostile, but this is a very easy thing to do)

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Wed Oct 10, 2012 1:59 am UTC

My apologies for not being more clear. Quantum theory is the most successful theory of all time if we measure that based on how accurate the predictions are. And fundamentally at the core of QM are random processes. Instead of an electron existing in one place, its position is modeled as a wave function that has a statistical likelihood of predicting various different positions. (At least that's my understanding from consuming popular science books, articles, and podcasts. I don't have a strong theoretical background in this, so I might be wrong on some technical details.)

But really my point is that our best model in science (QM) uses non-determinism at it's core, and thus it could be argued that our world is fundamentally non-deterministic. And I don't know a good argument for it being deterministic other than it just feels better to us. The whole "God doesn't play dice with the universe" thing.

So if non-determinism is well grounded in science, I don't understand where a scientific requirement for a deterministic free will comes from. By the way, determinism means that given a set of initial conditions, there is precisely one possible outcome. If any random effects are added into the system, then it becomes strictly non-deterministic. Thus quantum mechanics is a non-deterministic theory, and science handles that just fine.

The Great Hippo wrote:There is an enormous risk in using theories you don't understand to justify things you'd prefer to be true. I'm not accusing you of doing this--but rather warning you of the possibility that you're doing it unintentionally. Remember What the Bleep Do We Know? 'Quantum' is this age's 'Galvanization'; people with zero comprehension of the word use it to give credence to their ideas. Be very, very wary of doing this unconsciously.

I am trying to have my usage of science terms be in line with our scientific understandings. I am happy to entertain any critique about my usage that's more concrete than a vague emphasis of caution. :) (And no I didn't detect hostility.)
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Oct 10, 2012 2:05 am UTC

guenther wrote:So if non-determinism is well grounded in science, I don't understand where a scientific requirement for a deterministic free will comes from. By the way, determinism means that given a set of initial conditions, there is precisely one possible outcome. If any random effects are added into the system, then it becomes strictly non-deterministic. Thus quantum mechanics is a non-deterministic theory, and science handles that just fine.
Again, I don't know enough about Quantum Mechanics to talk about it in any meaningful way--but you're right to point out that I'm misusing determinism. Science doesn't actually need determinism to function--it just needs prediction to function. One can have predictive models without deterministic ones.

A predictable universe is actually not equivalent to a deterministic one, because a predictable universe can have multiple ends (with some probability value associated with each of those ends), but a deterministic one can only have one. So it was hasty of me to claim that free will can't exist under the scientific model--because the scientific model may reveal that we can't determine the future; only predict various possible futures and associate accurate probabilities of which one will occur.

EDIT: Though now it occurs to me: Even with multiple ends, there is a limit to how many ends can reasonably exist. So the shape of the universe is determined by the boundaries of those ends--we just don't know which end we're traveling toward at any given moment. If you can calculate all ends, you have determined all possibilities. If you can't change the probability that you're moving toward a certain end at any given moment, then the universe is chaotic, but within predetermined constraints, which makes it non-chaotic (in the broadest sense).

Actually I find this idea enormously confusing and I'm not sure how to sort it out.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby deepone » Wed Oct 10, 2012 9:14 am UTC

Oh, I really don't have time to write what I'd like to write here now but just a few points.

It seems to me that guenther and The Great Hippo are talking past each other on the question of what free will can or should be. I read guenther as agreeing that you should not use a definition of free will that does not make sense, but that The Great Hippo is still attacking this nonsensical definition of free will.
guenther wrote:First, let me present my thesis by making a declaration: Anyone that wants to claim "Free will doesn't exist" should always end the sentence with "...because I selected a definition of free will that's meaningless". :) Of course that's just my opinion of what people should do, but I think it relates what I think is the significance of such a statement. Since free will is a nebulous concept, I'm not going to call anyone wrong for using it in such a nonsensical fashion, but I would emphasize that it's not really profound in any way.

My point is that if we drop the nonsensical definitions of free will, which seems to be non-obvious but something that most here agree with, then the definition that we are left with, i.e., a deterministic, scientific, definition of free will, is meaningless in relation to certain specific issues (e.g., what decides if you go to heaven and hell is "just" your genes and your environment, possibly with some randomness thrown in) and not helpful in other, social contexts. It's not meaningless in a general logical meaning. It's just "pointless" in our human context.

About QM, my limited understanding suggests that it does not require non-determinism and that there is no practical limit on how many worlds there can be in a many worlds interpretation. Me claiming this doesn't prove anything, but it suggests that you shouldn't claim the opposite with certainty if you are not an expert yourself. :)

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Wed Oct 10, 2012 9:15 am UTC

curtis95112 wrote:Technical Ben. The problem is that Randomness is pretty much defined as anything non-deterministic. To use your color example, it would be as if we said everything was either black, or brighter. Then red, green, etc are subsets of this. You can have a red apple, but that still has a brightness of say, 124. Now if someone was to come and say that objects which don't fall into this spectrum exist, we would disregard them.


But we do have objects of "darker than black", it could be something infrared to us. It would be a colour we cannot measure the brightness to. It would have brightness, but we would be unable to measure it (in this case, until we get a model and detector able to detect and model colours past the visible spectrum).

I'd still see free will as past our current models, not past what is possible.

Add to that, that free will could include deterministic systems or random systems. It just needs to have the sufficient ability to act freely of systems. I'm not sure if this would make it a "halfway" point of them all. But that it's not the construction of the system or models that are a concern, but that they work or fit the observations.

TGH, science is not a problem for free will if the problem lies in the assumptions. Assume a deterministic universe, ah you can do science. This is helpful. Assume a non-deterministic universe, ah you can calculate probabilities. This is helpful.

Another way to put this: If human beings have 'free will' in the scientific sense, then there must be some part of the human decision making mechanism that science cannot grasp. There must be a 'black box' somewhere that science cannot penetrate.
Like quantum mechanics, black holes or probabilities then? :wink:
Assume free will, ah you can make choices. This is also helpful. :)

deepone wrote:About QM, my limited understanding suggests that it does not require non-determinism and that there is no practical limit on how many worlds there can be in a many worlds interpretation. Me claiming this doesn't prove anything, but it suggests that you shouldn't claim the opposite with certainty if you are not an expert yourself. :)

It neither requires or forbids. Were still saying "free will can be either deterministic, not deterministic or something else we have not yet accounted for". We just agreed the universe is either random or deterministic, it's not required to be either, both or neither. Again, "assume deterministic" and you can only have deterministic systems. But it's still an assumption, and just as valid as "assume random" and also "assume free will". Assumptions are valid until they stop giving predictable/working results. Then you change the models and assumptions. Would you agree?
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby curtis95112 » Wed Oct 10, 2012 11:26 am UTC

deepone wrote:My point is that if we drop the nonsensical definitions of free will, which seems to be non-obvious but something that most here agree with, then the definition that we are left with, i.e., a deterministic, scientific, definition of free will, is meaningless in relation to certain specific issues (e.g., what decides if you go to heaven and hell is "just" your genes and your environment, possibly with some randomness thrown in) and not helpful in other, social contexts. It's not meaningless in a general logical meaning. It's just "pointless" in our human context.

This is very close to my position also. All the proposed definitions for free will in this thread are either meaningless or useless. I wouldn't claim that free will doesn't exist but I am skeptical of its value.

And Technical Ben, you are completely missing the point. The practical ability to measure brightness does not matter. My claim is that if you define A as something fulfilling conditions X, Y, and Z, and define B as everything else, there will be nothing that is neither A nor B. I find this argument hard to contest. You would be better off contesting my definition of randomness, that is, "everything that isn't deterministic". For the purposes of this thread, I will define a deterministic process as one that has an outcome that can be, in principle, predicted from the initial conditions.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby lutzj » Wed Oct 10, 2012 12:17 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:But we do have objects of "darker than black", it could be something infrared to us.


Infrared = redder than red.

There are objects darker than black in theory (black holes appear to emit net negative light), but to any given observer you can't get below "zero light" in a meaningful way.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Oct 10, 2012 12:29 pm UTC

deepone wrote:It seems to me that guenther and The Great Hippo are talking past each other on the question of what free will can or should be. I read guenther as agreeing that you should not use a definition of free will that does not make sense, but that The Great Hippo is still attacking this nonsensical definition of free will.
Did you see the post where I acknowledged guenther was right and I stated that I was conflating what is determinable with what is predictable? It's directly above the post you just made.

If something is non-determinable, it has free will. That's my definition. How is that at all nonsensical? How does it at all disagree with the definition guenther proposed?
Technical Ben wrote:Like quantum mechanics, black holes or probabilities then?
I don't know anything about quantum mechanics, and I don't know of any reason to assume that black holes are black boxes. We're refining our understanding of black holes as time goes on (it's even been surmised that energy can escape them; see Hawking radiation). That being said, my confusion over a determinable/predictable universe is what led me to presume that the existence of impenetrable black boxes are the only means that free will could exist. Without this presumption, I don't know.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby leady » Wed Oct 10, 2012 1:10 pm UTC

By definition there is no free will in a purely deterministic universe, because by definition there is no choice, just the rationalisation of pre-determined actions.

Yes QM on its current understand does effectively break the view that our universe is purely deterministic, its probablistic instead, which is remarkably difficult to show in the natural world (radiation, single photon double slit are the only two that spring to mind) because of statistics. (I've got a theoretical physics degree that gives me a fair view on QM, but its implications on philosophy is clearly a module I missed between 'fing hard maths' and 'fing fing hard maths" :))

Does "non-deterministic" mean "free will"? Well not really, because of the "will" problem. There are a lot of non-deterministic processes that have no "will". Of course there is always the argument that "will" its an illusion even in an non-deterministic universe.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Oct 10, 2012 1:18 pm UTC

leady wrote:Yes QM on its current understand does effectively break the view that our universe is purely deterministic, its probablistic instead, which is remarkably difficult to show in the natural world (radiation, single photon double slit are the only two that spring to mind) because of statistics.
If that's the case, I appreciate the clarification (I am loathe to say something means something without understanding both somethings)!
leady wrote:Does "non-deterministic" mean "free will"? Well not really, because of the "will" problem. There are a lot of non-deterministic processes that have no "will". Of course there is always the argument that "will" its an illusion even in an non-deterministic universe.
I like 'agency' instead, because 'agency' is easier--it's the ability for something to move from a sub-optimal state to an optimal state. Life 'starts' when a pattern of chemistry gains agency.

'Free agency' is more neutral and avoids the philosophical conundrums. It's also necessary for 'free will'--so if you can't prove free agency, you can't prove free will anyway.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby leady » Wed Oct 10, 2012 2:33 pm UTC

Don't get me wrong, at the macrolevel to the ability of humans to measure everything is completely deterministic and those one in a gazillion chances never occur and even when they do they are statistically drowned out - but if a casual chain is probablistic its probablistic.

I'm not sure I get the concept of "agency" sorry, if you could elaborate?

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Oct 10, 2012 2:47 pm UTC

leady wrote:I'm not sure I get the concept of "agency" sorry, if you could elaborate?
The ability for something to 'choose' or 'discern' one thing from another. Life got started when some chemicals got lumped together in such a way that their reaction increased the likelihood of those chemicals being lumped together in a similar way in the future. 'Agency' can be described as the process of those chemicals 'choosing' to move toward more optimum states.

If 'free agency' exists, agency is non-determinable; the 'decision' of a single celled organism to move toward a warm place rather than a cold place can never be predetermined. If 'free agency' doesn't exist, it can be determined--we can predict every possible decision this single celled organism would ever make, and more so, control the nature of those decisions (by perfectly 'fooling' the single celled organism).

If the universe is non-determinable, we cannot say free agency does not exist, because it's impossible to control--with absolutely no margin for error--what a given organism may or may not do. The inability to determine the future of something is what gives it free agency.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Wed Oct 10, 2012 2:50 pm UTC

lutzj wrote:
Technical Ben wrote:But we do have objects of "darker than black", it could be something infrared to us.


Infrared = redder than red.

There are objects darker than black in theory (black holes appear to emit net negative light), but to any given observer you can't get below "zero light" in a meaningful way.


Yep. But how are you defining light? As energy? As information? Saying "you cannot have something darker than dark" does not rule out me having "multiplication" or "chocolate". These things we don't measure via their colour or brightness, but by their concept, use and resulting actions or effects.

Similarly, defining "determinism" does not rule out other types of definitions. Would you agree determinism has to be an assumption? One we must use to apply predictability to a "universe"? Would you agree randomness is also an assumption? One we have to use to apply to "unpredictable"? So, being assumptions, are they not only valid by themselves? Likewise, would you consider free will a valid assumption for applying decision making to "self"?

TGH, as to the comment on black boxes. A black box would include anything we don't currently know the workings of, but can see results from. So yes, there are many black boxes in science. Anything yet to be tested is a black box. So far, the leadings are some of these are true random (QM, check wiki on it for proofs), some are true determinism (most of the rest of macro science). Interestingly, there are possibly "models" that suggest we can have both (multiworlds etc), or either (only QM view or only deterministic view) or neither (something we have not yet thought of as a model). Notice how it's our models plus our models do not rule out other options (because they so far can be either, as science is still trying to find out if it is a deterministic or random universe).
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Wed Oct 10, 2012 2:53 pm UTC

jules.lt wrote:quantum mechanics do not necessarily mean that anything is non-deterministic: check the many interpretations of quantum mechanics other than the Copenhagen interpretation
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby deepone » Wed Oct 10, 2012 2:54 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
deepone wrote:It seems to me that guenther and The Great Hippo are talking past each other on the question of what free will can or should be. I read guenther as agreeing that you should not use a definition of free will that does not make sense, but that The Great Hippo is still attacking this nonsensical definition of free will.
Did you see the post where I acknowledged guenther was right and I stated that I was conflating what is determinable with what is predictable? It's directly above the post you just made.

If something is non-determinable, it has free will. That's my definition. How is that at all nonsensical? How does it at all disagree with the definition guenther proposed?

If something is non-determinable, it has "freedom". But I suggest that any sensible concept of "will" as affecting anything must depend on determinism! How could you say that your will was involved in a decision if your will was not the (determinable) cause of your action? I.e., freedom and will "go in opposite directions" and combining them into once concept becomes nonsense (with a definition of freedom as non-deterministic).

I might have missed the point in the section you refer to, about you agreeing with guenther, but I think there is still some real confusion about which definitions you want to accept or not. As I understand guenthers objections to my reasoning he thinks that I should not use a nonsensical definition of free will at all. I agree, but I think that such a definition still must be treated exactly because you, and many others, believe that it is the only sensible definition of free will. :)

Yes, I do mean to say that I think that what you describe as the only reasonable definition of free will is nonsense. And I understand guenther as being willing to accept this and as advocating a definition of free will that is compatible with science and determinism. (That's the view presented in the article referred to by guenther somewhere around here, about free will and neuroscience, etc).

EDIT: This means defining "freedom" as something else than "total metaphysical freedom", like "independence above a certain degree". So you would have free will if your will is, e.g., independent of what's happening around you currently to a sufficiently high degree, or something similar. Is it correct that you would accept (and prefer?) something like that, guenther?

jules.LT wrote:quantum mechanics do not necessarily mean that anything is non-deterministic: check the many interpretations of quantum mechanics other than the Copenhagen interpretation

QFTW! (I just learned that acronym! ;)) [fixed "no" -> "not"]

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Wed Oct 10, 2012 3:06 pm UTC

I'd agree with TGH on the term 'Free agency' being better than 'free will' (that's not one I use to describe it anyhow!). I'm not scared of scientific definitions and wordings. :)

With "free", it's still clear we only require a system excluded from external influence. Would you agree most people are only concerned about the influence being internal, not external? How a system works is of less concern, than that is works for one's self. Right?

"Agency", well, I'll have to check up on the dictionary on that one to make sure I don't go wrong. The dictionary gives me:(2) a person or thing that acts or has the power to act.

So, do we end up with a "freely acting person"? Most people realize freedom is not always absolute. It only needs to be sufficient for them. They want to be free from oppression, but not free from the effects of gravity. Or they are "free to go wherever they like" but "except for trespassing".

So, free will might have limitations. It might be limited to our current understanding of the universe, or it might be limited to other aspects we did not realize do exist in this universe. Fact of the matter is, we do have a mechanism of choice. That mechanism is observed as being "one's self" to a sufficient degree we can assume it is "ourselves" making decisions. Would you agree that's a good enough reason to assume "free will"?

Else we could lead back to the "I'll decide to believe because..." jokes.

So, what is "free will" or "free agency"? It's an assumption and it's required to make any predictions about persons making decisions. :)

(PS, this means free will could be 100% free, but is not necessarily necessitated to be so. It also is not necessarily 0% free either. It will be whatever it ends up being once we have perfect information on the universe and human minds... which will be a long time to get to that conclusion!)
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Oct 10, 2012 3:07 pm UTC

deepone wrote:If something is non-determinable, it has "freedom". But I suggest that any sensible concept of "will" as affecting anything must depend on determinism! How could you say that your will was involved in a decision if your will was not the (determinable) cause of your action? I.e., freedom and will "go in opposite directions" and combining them into once concept becomes nonsense (with a definition of freedom as non-deterministic).
You decided to define will as necessarily deterministic. That's not how I'm defining it. The only reason you parse my definition as nonsensical is because you've inserted your own definition into mine.

This is why I prefer 'free agency'. People get too tangled up in what 'will' means. 'Will' is a fancy way of abstracting the process of making a decision. The larger question is "Are decisions determinable?".
jules.LT wrote:
jules.LT wrote:quantum mechanics do no necessarily mean that anything is non-deterministic: check the many interpretations of quantum mechanics other than the Copenhagen interpretation
This is why I cringe whenever people bring up Quantum Mechanics in relation to philosophy. It seems to me you need to be a Quantum Physicist to understand what Quantum Physics means in philosophical terms.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Wed Oct 10, 2012 3:09 pm UTC

From the nice table at the end of the article, I like the De Broglie–Bohm theory best.
The Copenhagen interpretation makes the absurd assumptions that we know all the variables, so while it may be useful in practice I consider it good for the bin if we're going for theory.

Many people forget that the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment is meant to show how absurd the Copenhagen interpretation is.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Wed Oct 10, 2012 3:17 pm UTC

Don't worry TGH, QM is either deterministic or random. It's not a guarantee to be either currently! So anyone arguing for one side of the coin over the other is trying to trick people into accepting their assumption over anyone else's. They still have no proof for those currently. I tend to go for looking at both sides. First assume nothing, make some observations. To get those observations to work assume a deterministic universe, and go with that. When it's no longer good for calculations, try a probabilistic universe model instead. When that's no good, use your own free will to choose something! :P

Same with Newtonian mechanics, we use it only as far as we can, then go to relativity. Then when that's exhausted to QM. And guess what? QM then fails at the macro scale and we have to scale back to relativity and Newtonian mechanics again. Why?

Each level of our models or observations have limited information, time and ability. Each model fits not the universe, but the limited data we have at each point. So likewise, determinism, randomness or free agency are models that best describe the systems depending on the information we have.

We don't have perfect information here. Sometimes people act deterministically. Sometimes they act randomly. Other times they "decide for themselves". So, we apply the model that fits best on the information we do have.

Would that be a fair way of doing it?
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby deepone » Wed Oct 10, 2012 3:22 pm UTC

Going from "free will" to "free agency" is definitely a step in the right direction, in my view. Of course we can do this process and get a definition of "free will" that is sensible and true, but my primary problem with "free will" is strongly related precisely to the use of these words, and to their relation to traditional intuitions about the concept in society.

If we actually want to discuss a real phenomenon I think it's better to use a different concept, and not "free will". In line with your (Technical Ben) reasoning I would suggest dropping "free" as well, and instead try using "independent agency". Now that's something that I definitely think makes a lot of sense! (Even if I don't think that the independence can be complete).

The Great Hippo wrote:
deepone wrote:If something is non-determinable, it has "freedom". But I suggest that any sensible concept of "will" as affecting anything must depend on determinism! How could you say that your will was involved in a decision if your will was not the (determinable) cause of your action? I.e., freedom and will "go in opposite directions" and combining them into once concept becomes nonsense (with a definition of freedom as non-deterministic).
You decided to define will as necessarily deterministic. That's not how I'm defining it. The only reason you parse my definition as nonsensical is because you've inserted your own definition into mine.

This is why I prefer 'free agency'. People get too tangled up in what 'will' means. 'Will' is a fancy way of abstracting the process of making a decision. The larger question is "Are decisions determinable?".

People get tangled up both in what "free" means and in what "will" means, which is pretty much my primary reason for disliking the concept. Unfortunately, I think that there are ideas attached to "free will" that does not work with "independent agency", which means that we need to find a way of talking about "free will" in order to address such issues. But pragmatically, it's probably a good approach to first establish what we agree upon concerning "independent agency", which is probably a lot easier.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby leady » Wed Oct 10, 2012 3:27 pm UTC

jules.LT wrote:
jules.lt wrote:quantum mechanics do not necessarily mean that anything is non-deterministic: check the many interpretations of quantum mechanics other than the Copenhagen interpretation


The key phrase there being "interpretation"

To an observer in this universe, the distinctions are moot.

If you can see all outcome universes in an infinite cascade then even that is still non-deterministic at a point in space-time. Knowing all the paths is very different than knowing the chosen route.

I'd be extremely surprised if QM collapses to a classical deterministic theory over time to resolve this and there is no evidence to support this position.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Oct 10, 2012 3:30 pm UTC

deepone wrote:People get tangled up both in what "free" means and in what "will" means, which is pretty much my primary reason for disliking the concept. Unfortunately, I think that there are ideas attached to "free will" that does not work with "independent agency", which means that we need to find a way of talking about "free will" in order to address such issues. But pragmatically, it's probably a good approach to first establish what we agree upon concerning "independent agency", which is probably a lot easier.
Okay.

'Independent agency' means 'agency that is non-determinable'.

That was easy.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby deepone » Wed Oct 10, 2012 3:31 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:You decided to define will as necessarily deterministic. That's not how I'm defining it. The only reason you parse my definition as nonsensical is because you've inserted your own definition into mine.
I parse the definition like so not only because I use my definition but because I cannot see what a sensible alternative definition would be. How do you define (acting, with agency) will if it does not require (some measure of) determinism?
With "some measure of" I mean that I include "probabilistic determinism". If the probability that you do something is determinable based on your will then your will has a determinable effect on the universe (i.e., determining the probabilities). (I realize the wording might be shaky here but I'm doing my best to explain what I mean and I hope that you will read it favorably. ;))

[EDIT: What remains after the "will" has determined the probabilities is a random selection from the resulting distribution of possibilities. That allows for a mixing of freedom and will, but they are still working against each other rather than with each other. More freedom means a more uniform probability distribution, and vice versa.]

EDIT:
The Great Hippo wrote:
deepone wrote:People get tangled up both in what "free" means and in what "will" means, which is pretty much my primary reason for disliking the concept. Unfortunately, I think that there are ideas attached to "free will" that does not work with "independent agency", which means that we need to find a way of talking about "free will" in order to address such issues. But pragmatically, it's probably a good approach to first establish what we agree upon concerning "independent agency", which is probably a lot easier.
Okay.

'Independent agency' means 'agency that is non-determinable'.

That was easy.

That's not us coming to an agreement. ;) That's the hard part. :)

Briefly, I would say that the most useful definition of independence in this context is one with degrees. That's what's required for a scientific and practical definition of independent agency, at least if we're talking about anything more complex than quantum "stuff" (and maybe there as well). :) (This (complexity) might be required for a useful definition of agency anyway).
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Oct 10, 2012 3:40 pm UTC

deepone wrote:I parse the definition like so not only because I use my definition but because I cannot see what a sensible alternative definition would be. How do you define (acting) will if it does not require (some measure of) determinism?
With "some measure of" I mean that I include "probabilistic determinism". If the probability that you do something is determinable based on your will then your will has a determinable effect on the universe (i.e., determining the probabilities). (I realize the wording might be shaky here but I'm doing my best to explain what I mean and I hope that you will read it favorably. ;))
Look, maybe my inability to understand what you're saying here represents a failure on my behalf. I can buy that being the case.

But this doesn't strike me as very difficult or 'tricky', definitionally. Definitionally, free will/free agency/independent agency is the ability to perform non-determinable actions. Can a rock perform non-determinable actions? Well, assuming I have perfect control over a rock's environment, can I always predict precisely what a rock will do in response to that environment? What if I have perfect control over a human's environment?

If a given human in a given environment with a given set of conditions will always engage in precisely the same actions, human action is determinable; ie, not 'free' or 'independent'. If it is impossible to create a given human in a given environment with a given set of conditions--or if a given human would not engage in precisely the same actions--then human action is non-determinable (from our perspective).
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Wed Oct 10, 2012 3:41 pm UTC

leady wrote:I'd be extremely surprised if QM collapses to a classical deterministic theory over time to resolve this and there is no evidence to support this position.

Look no further than 3 posts above yours :|
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