Definition of Free Will

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Radium
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Definition of Free Will

Postby Radium » Thu Aug 18, 2011 1:13 pm UTC

Now there have been a large amount of discussions on this fora about free will, however, the actual topic is pretty poorly defined, which makes actually debating the issue slightly problematic.

My definition is likely flawed and/or incomplete, and is that:
Free will is the independence of action and instinct, and the ability to make a decision that is unhindered by external factors.

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

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Sanjuricus » Thu Aug 18, 2011 1:22 pm UTC

For me, free will is plain and simple. It is the ability to choose.
Sometimes the choices may be unlimited: Which route shall I drive on my road trip?
Sometimes the choices are limited: Shall I go for a swim or not?
Sometimes the choices are affected by external factors: Shall I use this riot as a chance to loot me some gear or shall I stay out of it and avoid the potential consequences?
Sometimes it is just figuring things out for yourself.
Whatever it is, it always boils down to the simplest factor....the ability to choose. :)
Mostly kind of almost...ish.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby TrlstanC » Thu Aug 18, 2011 3:32 pm UTC

I believe that the large amount of discussion has been mostly about how to define free will, since once you define what it is, other questions about it become pretty straight forward. If you state that Freewill "is" something, everything else is just applying that information logically. My guess is that we don't have enough information about how the brain and consciousness works to definitely say what free will is. However, instead of asking something like "freewill is X, do we have free will?" We can instead define a question like "why do we believe we have freewill?" Which might have an answer like: "we believe we have freewill because we appear to be able to make decisions consciously." Some people might not agree with answer, or we might not have enough information to support that answer, but we can have a discussion about it, and at least identify the areas where we need to learn more before we can make definitive statements.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Thu Aug 18, 2011 5:53 pm UTC

We clearly have something that looks like free will, so I say we just define the term in a way that includes what we have. Then it's just a matter of coming up with a qualitative notion of what it represents about us, as well as criteria that's required for other beings (animals, robots, etc.) to possess free will or perhaps for humans to lose it. To me, the fascinating question is what qualities would we expect of artificial life in order to perceive them as free to make their own choices rather than slaves of their creator's programming.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby TrlstanC » Thu Aug 18, 2011 6:05 pm UTC

guenther wrote:We clearly have something that looks like free will.


I'd agree with this if it was changed to:
We clearly believewe have something that looks like free will.


Since this is essencially a question of how our brains work, and we're still a long way from fully (or even mostly) understanding how they work, I don't think we can make any definitive statements about what is or isn't going on in there. We can definitely make statements about what we believe, knowing full well that we may find out, as our knowledge about ourselves increases, that we've had an incorrect belief.

Is there any test we can do to determine if we have free will, as opposed to just believing that we do?

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Thu Aug 18, 2011 6:56 pm UTC

TrlstanC wrote:Is there any test we can do to determine if we have free will, as opposed to just believing that we do?

Not without defining what free will objectively looks like. :) My statement above was meant as a description of our perception, so adding "believe" is fine.

My point was that we can use free will as an abstraction of qualities we have much like how we can talk about the self without getting into debates about whether the self is real or fabricated. The self describes how we see ourselves and our place in the world around us. It is born from our perception, but that doesn't mean that it's just an illusion. It's an abstraction that has a real and useful meaning.

My problem with declarations of "free will doesn't exist" is that the statement doesn't really mean anything. It just means we don't have some made up metaphysical property. But so what? Does anyone really think we should tell people that it's unimportant how we make choices, how we control our future? Of course not. Giving people a sense of empowerment over their lives is important. Treating people like they can make choices, should make choices, and will be held responsible for those choices is absolutely essential. Our notion that we can choose is woven into the very basics of who we think we are. So let's have free will describe that. We believe we have free will, therefore we do.

At least that's my opinion.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby FrancisDrake » Thu Aug 18, 2011 9:58 pm UTC

Free will is the ability to manipulate space, time, and matter.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Fri Aug 19, 2011 12:54 am UTC

Free will is commonly understood as the ability to make choices "independently", as if causality didn't apply to our thought processes.
From an objective/"outside of the individual" point of view, it's pure nonsense unless you believe there's a ghost from another plane being the "real you" and who has a will that is unaffected by your environment (and somehow still has a will about that environment).

Internally, it's the way the counscious mind sees itself while making decisions based on previous experiences and the data at hand (and emotions, etc.)
It's a useful illusion, because you can't take decisions efficiently if you think about the way that decision is already decided by the current arrangement of the particles in the universe.

Well, that's how I see it anyway.

ETA: In fact, pretty much this:
guenther wrote:My problem with declarations of "free will doesn't exist" is that the statement doesn't really mean anything. It just means we don't have some made up metaphysical property. But so what? Does anyone really think we should tell people that it's unimportant how we make choices, how we control our future? Of course not. Giving people a sense of empowerment over their lives is important. Treating people like they can make choices, should make choices, and will be held responsible for those choices is absolutely essential. Our notion that we can choose is woven into the very basics of who we think we are. So let's have free will describe that. We believe we have free will, therefore we do.

I'd add that "free will as it is commonly idealized doesn't exist" is a fact, but a pretty misleading one. We do make choices, because we aren't our body: we're the process that comprises and animates it. We are those choices. Our will is the conscious part of ourselves, and it being only a part of a huge process that is the universe doesn't mean that it doesn't have some measure of coherence that could be roughly described as "independence" or "free will".
Bertrand Russell wrote:Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.
Richard Feynman & many others wrote:Keep an open mind – but not so open that your brain falls out

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby curtis95112 » Fri Aug 19, 2011 1:53 am UTC

It's clear that we don't have free will if free will is naively defined as something non-deterministic yet nonrandom.

However, that definition of free will doesn't mean anything. We haven't solved the problem, we've just defined free will as something that cannot logically exist. What's clear is that when people say free will, they mean the freedom of choosing what we want to choose. They just don't know how to articulate it in a noncontradictory manner. They don't mean an abstract metaphysical concept that makes no testable predictions either way.

If we define free will as the ability to choose what we want to choose, we have free will. Of course, the catch is that we can't choose what we want, but we know that already. We all like/hate someone although we (rationally) don't want to, have secret desires that we don't really want to have. That much is clear.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby infernovia » Fri Aug 19, 2011 4:32 am UTC

guenther wrote:My problem with declarations of "free will doesn't exist" is that the statement doesn't really mean anything. It just means we don't have some made up metaphysical property. But so what? Does anyone really think we should tell people that it's unimportant how we make choices, how we control our future? Of course not. Giving people a sense of empowerment over their lives is important. Treating people like they can make choices, should make choices, and will be held responsible for those choices is absolutely essential. Our notion that we can choose is woven into the very basics of who we think we are. So let's have free will describe that. We believe we have free will, therefore we do.

Fixed because those sentences are completely unnecessary and are empty words anyway. You don't need to use free will as an excuse to imprison people you know.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Fri Aug 19, 2011 5:00 am UTC

I guess the people I've imprisoned will be happy to hear that. I don't think we're talking about the same thing at all.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby FrancisDrake » Fri Aug 19, 2011 5:14 am UTC

curtis95112 wrote:It's clear that we don't have free will if free will is naively defined as something non-deterministic yet nonrandom.

However, that definition of free will doesn't mean anything. We haven't solved the problem, we've just defined free will as something that cannot logically exist. What's clear is that when people say free will, they mean the freedom of choosing what we want to choose. They just don't know how to articulate it in a noncontradictory manner. They don't mean an abstract metaphysical concept that makes no testable predictions either way.

If we define free will as the ability to choose what we want to choose, we have free will. Of course, the catch is that we can't choose what we want, but we know that already. We all like/hate someone although we (rationally) don't want to, have secret desires that we don't really want to have. That much is clear.


your right absolute free will doesn't exist right now and never will exist again as long as I can help it, but limited free will does. I said free will but really I meant limited will is the manipulation of matter, space, and time but this level of will is free will to most people. Free will is being one in a cosmos of nothing else to take will from that one. Your also right in saying Free will isn't defined by choice becuase the ability to make choices is an ability of limited free will. For instance a man is in a room and has only two choices: then a 3rd choice is given, then a fourth, and as the number of choices increase so too does the man's ability to manipulate matter, space, and time. Basically the more matter, space, and time there is to manipulate the more choice there is as well. The ability of will power will only increase with the increase of space, matter, and time, and with the increase of space, matter, and time choice will also increase. limited will is ability to create and we all have it, but I have a theory that limited will increases with creation, which is an ever expanding will, which is better than free will. This next part is extremely abstract and true, but I don't blame anyone if they don't believe me. Determinism is that the creation of the universe has made every choice that has ever been made or will be made for everything. However that is only a piece to the secret of free will becuase that was the beginning of free will. To explain Free will is to explain the creation and purpose of the universe. The universe was created to create. With the creation of free will more will be created and we now have the ability to create from the matter around us new matter but the universe has been doing it for awhile. In addition I don't believe in a big split becuase like the atom bomb explains a split ends and the theory now is that the universe is ever expanding. So the beginning of the universe is creation of creation. I know that the universe was created by matter coming together and making different varitions of new matter to form new matter and so on and so forth you have the universe and expanding will, trust me free will is lame. Now the only thing I wonder is what this ever expansion of creation will create and if it could end? I love the idea that there will always be a never ending flow of knowledge to be learned becuase there is a never ending flow of creation which is a never ending flow of new will. Determinsim is knowing what the end result of everything is and that won't happen in a ever expanding creation.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby curtis95112 » Fri Aug 19, 2011 7:29 am UTC

FrancisDrake wrote:
curtis95112 wrote:It's clear that we don't have free will if free will is naively defined as something non-deterministic yet nonrandom.

However, that definition of free will doesn't mean anything. We haven't solved the problem, we've just defined free will as something that cannot logically exist. What's clear is that when people say free will, they mean the freedom of choosing what we want to choose. They just don't know how to articulate it in a noncontradictory manner. They don't mean an abstract metaphysical concept that makes no testable predictions either way.

If we define free will as the ability to choose what we want to choose, we have free will. Of course, the catch is that we can't choose what we want, but we know that already. We all like/hate someone although we (rationally) don't want to, have secret desires that we don't really want to have. That much is clear.


your right absolute free will doesn't exist right now and never will exist again as long as I can help it, but limited free will does. I said free will but really I meant limited will is the manipulation of matter, space, and time but this level of will is free will to most people. Free will is being one in a cosmos of nothing else to take will from that one. Your also right in saying Free will isn't defined by choice becuase the ability to make choices is an ability of limited free will. For instance a man is in a room and has only two choices: then a 3rd choice is given, then a fourth, and as the number of choices increase so too does the man's ability to manipulate matter, space, and time. Basically the more matter, space, and time there is to manipulate the more choice there is as well. The ability of will power will only increase with the increase of space, matter, and time, and with the increase of space, matter, and time choice will also increase. limited will is ability to create and we all have it, but I have a theory that limited will increases with creation, which is an ever expanding will, which is better than free will. This next part is extremely abstract and true, but I don't blame anyone if they don't believe me. Determinism is that the creation of the universe has made every choice that has ever been made or will be made for everything. However that is only a piece to the secret of free will becuase that was the beginning of free will. To explain Free will is to explain the creation and purpose of the universe. The universe was created to create. With the creation of free will more will be created and we now have the ability to create from the matter around us new matter but the universe has been doing it for awhile. In addition I don't believe in a big split becuase like the atom bomb explains a split ends and the theory now is that the universe is ever expanding. So the beginning of the universe is creation of creation. I know that the universe was created by matter coming together and making different varitions of new matter to form new matter and so on and so forth you have the universe and expanding will, trust me free will is lame. Now the only thing I wonder is what this ever expansion of creation will create and if it could end? I love the idea that there will always be a never ending flow of knowledge to be learned becuase there is a never ending flow of creation which is a never ending flow of new will. Determinsim is knowing what the end result of everything is and that won't happen in a ever expanding creation.


Kinda hard to parse, but I'll reply to what I understand.

The end result can (in principle) be known if the "creation of creation" as you put it follows knowable rules.

Why do you think that the purpose of the universe is creation?

If you define free will as the manipulation of matter, space and time, then a motor connected to a battery has free will. You're talking about a completely different thing.
Mighty Jalapeno wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:
Роберт wrote:Sure, but at least they hit the intended target that time.

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

Thats the best description of the USA ever.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Fri Aug 19, 2011 8:19 am UTC

The problem is that we think of some choices as "free" and others as "non-free" as if there was a difference in nature between them.
In fact, it's a continuum.
Wikipedia article on Spinoza wrote:Freedom is not the possibility to say "no" to what happens to us but the possibility to say "yes" and fully understand why things should necessarily happen that way. By forming more "adequate" ideas about what we do and our emotions or affections, we become the adequate cause of our effects (internal or external), which entails an increase in activity (versus passivity). This means that we become both more free.

As we become more aware of what moves us, we / our "choices" become more free.
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Richard Feynman & many others wrote:Keep an open mind – but not so open that your brain falls out

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby ReadeS » Fri Aug 19, 2011 8:40 am UTC

FrancisDrake wrote:Free will is the ability to manipulate space, time, and matter.


This is, I think, a very interesting definition. There's been a little discussion, but would you mind defending your answer? It gives me a little tick in my brain, cause it seems like you might have something good, or at least interesting, to say. I'm just wondering what your justification is. And, for my sake, if you choose to do so, small words and lots of paragraph spacing? :P Thanks.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Fri Aug 19, 2011 9:49 am UTC

Depending on your definition of "manipulating", I don't see how this discriminates between sentient beings and the rest, or "free"/"non-free" action for that matter.
That will need more explaining if it's to be more than hot air, and the clarity of the whole post leaves me with low expectations.
I'd be delighted to be wrong and learn something, though.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby TrlstanC » Fri Aug 19, 2011 6:56 pm UTC

FrancisDrake wrote:Free will is the ability to manipulate space, time, and matter.


I don't know if this is precise enough to really get us anywhere, the term “manipulate” is too open to interpretation. The moon is orbiting the earth, it's causing time and space to warp as it does, and is affecting a lot of matter on the Earth (and is having some effect on all matter in the solar system). Does that mean it's manipulating the matter? Some people would say yes, some other would say it isn’t. Unless we could say that the moon “wanted” to have those effects. At the very least this definition would need to better define manipulate, which would probably mean we would have to clearly define "wanting to do something" and that would probably mean defining “consciousness” at some point too.

jules.lt wrote:Free will is commonly understood as the ability to make choices "independently", as if causality didn't apply to our thought processes.

My guess is that this common belief is almost certainly wrong. And that this mistake is due to the fact that we have very limited information about what's going on inside our brains, so we come up with simple explanations to make sense of our observations. For example to explain all of our thoughts, desires and actions we can assume that we have a soul. These kinds of mistakes are possible because we make the mistake of believing that we know what's going on inside our brains, that we have perfect access to all the processes. In fact, it seems more likely that what we know consciously is only part of what's going on in our brains, and that we don't even have a very good understanding of our consciousness.

For example, there's an experiment (I'll see if I can find a link, or if anyone else has it that would be great) where subjects had sensors attached to measure brain activity in different parts of the brain, and also given a button to push to advance a slide projector. The researchers were able to see the burst of activity that indicated the subject had decided to advance the projector, and would even set up the projector to advance in response to it (the button was a dummy in this case, it did nothing). The subjects responded that the projector (which was advancing in response to their brain activity) was activating just before their conscious decision to hit the button. Somewhere in their brain the decision had already been made, but that information hadn't made it to their consciousness yet. The belief that they were consciously choosing to hit the button is incorrect.

We could describe what's actually happening as more like "a series of neurons fire in response to some pattern of current observations and stored information that sets of the physical reaction of hitting the button. The consciousness then comes to the false conclusion that it exerted free will over the process and made the choice to hit the button."

I'm sure that this belief is a useful tool for the consciousness, and that the consciousness is a supremely useful tool for the brain to have, but that doesn't mean we should always assume our conscious beliefs are perfect reflection of the physical reality. The real question in this situation then becomes: what purpose does the false belief in free will serve?

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Fri Aug 19, 2011 8:00 pm UTC

TrlstanC wrote:The real question in this situation then becomes: what purpose does the false belief in free will serve?

jules.lt wrote:you can't take decisions efficiently if you think about the way that decision is already decided by the current arrangement of the particles in the universe.

In order to make a decision, you need to consider the possibilities as if there were several.
Bertrand Russell wrote:Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.
Richard Feynman & many others wrote:Keep an open mind – but not so open that your brain falls out

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Vash » Fri Aug 19, 2011 10:38 pm UTC

curtis95112 wrote:It's clear that we don't have free will if free will is naively defined as something non-deterministic yet nonrandom.

However, that definition of free will doesn't mean anything. We haven't solved the problem, we've just defined free will as something that cannot logically exist. What's clear is that when people say free will, they mean the freedom of choosing what we want to choose. They just don't know how to articulate it in a noncontradictory manner. They don't mean an abstract metaphysical concept that makes no testable predictions either way.

If we define free will as the ability to choose what we want to choose, we have free will. Of course, the catch is that we can't choose what we want, but we know that already. We all like/hate someone although we (rationally) don't want to, have secret desires that we don't really want to have. That much is clear.


I think this is a good way to put it. I also would like to mention that people can want to do something, but lack the actual ability to attain that goal. I.e. I can want to have six arms or be ruler of the world by playing virtual bingo.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby FrancisDrake » Sat Aug 20, 2011 8:17 am UTC

The end result can (in principle) be known if the "creation of creation" as you put it follows knowable rules.


No it doesn't follow knowable rules becuase once something new is created the rules change. Also there is no end to an ever expanding universe that is constantly creating new matter, space, and time. One can't ever know the end result to an ever changing universe. This not to be confused with one can't ever know anything becuase you know what is when it is. In addition once something is created the opportunity to know it has also been created.

Why do you think that the purpose of the universe is creation?

If you define free will as the manipulation of matter, space and time, then a motor connected to a battery has free will. You're talking about a completely different thing.


Becuase it always has and everything is creation. Both the motor and the battery have limited will. Both the battery and motor manipulate matter, space, and time and when combined have more will then either had previously had. We created both to increase our own will as well.

Depending on your definition of "manipulating", I don't see how this discriminates between sentient beings and the rest, or "free"/"non-free" action for that matter.

There is no such thing as a free sentient being becuase for that to happen we wouldn't exist. The only thing that would exist is the sentient being that has free will, becuase to have free will is to have no choice, becuase to choose is a force against your free will. The idea of choice is you have to make one no matter what. in a cosmos of one, nothing can force that one.

What discriminates sentient being's will over other will would be the amount of options or choices that sentient being would have to choose from. For instance a man with a boat can cross the sea, but a man that doesn't have a boat can't. In addition sentinent beings that can create to enhance or expand their will has more will than those that can't. My definition of Manipulate is to create matter, space, and time using matter, space, and time which is manipulation.

I don't know if this is precise enough to really get us anywhere, the term “manipulate” is too open to interpretation. The moon is orbiting the earth, it's causing time and space to warp as it does, and is affecting a lot of matter on the Earth (and is having some effect on all matter in the solar system). Does that mean it's manipulating the matter? Some people would say yes, some other would say it isn’t. Unless we could say that the moon “wanted” to have those effects. At the very least this definition would need to better define manipulate, which would probably mean we would have to clearly define "wanting to do something" and that would probably mean defining “consciousness” at some point too.



The moon does manipulate space, time, and matter but is also being limited by the will of others, such as gravity. Everything is limited by everything but with new creation, things move beyond it's previous limits. For instance communications in humans. Before the mailing system people couldn't speak to each other from far distance so quickly becuase they were being limited by space. But after the creation of the mailing system humans could increase their ability to speak to each other at faster speeds and different mediums. This example has also grown to what is know as the internet which has increased our limited will over information and other aspects as well.

We want to do something becuase the option is there to do it. For instance a human wants to eat a nice meal becuase there is an option to do so. When human is faced with something he wants but can't do he/she creates a means to do so. For instance a human wants to cross the ocean because it would be a faster route, or he see fish do it but can't with the limits he is endowed with so he creates a boat. In addition a human looks up at the stars and can see the moon. After staring at the moon that human wants to go there becuase it is there to go too so he/she builds a spaceship. This can be applied to everything. For instance I want to save someone becuase I know there is a possibilty to do so and can create a means to do so. Basically as man's knowledge of matter, space, and time increase so too does his ability to manipulate matter, space, and time which increases his knowledge of more matter, space, and time. this entire system gets more complex as more matter, space, and time is created and this system is built to create matter, space, and time. more options weigh on your decisions and your will becomes more complex and free with each option added.

For example, there's an experiment (I'll see if I can find a link, or if anyone else has it that would be great) where subjects had sensors attached to measure brain activity in different parts of the brain, and also given a button to push to advance a slide projector. The researchers were able to see the burst of activity that indicated the subject had decided to advance the projector, and would even set up the projector to advance in response to it (the button was a dummy in this case, it did nothing). The subjects responded that the projector (which was advancing in response to their brain activity) was activating just before their conscious decision to hit the button. Somewhere in their brain the decision had already been made, but that information hadn't made it to their consciousness yet. The belief that they were consciously choosing to hit the button is incorrect.


This is understandable because the rules and options of this experiment are extremely limited, and the patient can only push a button it knows it will push from the beginning. The only thing that is unknown is the projection, and once that is known the only option is to push the button for more information. The mind was set in a caste system where it can only make one choice once the information was shown. I suggest opening the project up to create a completely unknown system of choices that follow unknown rules to find information to create new choices and new rules that need to be combined by the patient in order to reach an end that will never end, then and you might have something that is what we have The mind needs choices to even begin to have some will and in a system where the only choice is predesigned and is known to the patient than obviously the choice had already been made. One doesn't need to make a decision when the decision is already made. In addition the project would have faired different if the patient had to create a means to change slides with a wide selection of matter to be put together to change the slide.


I think this is a good way to put it. I also would like to mention that people can want to do something, but lack the actual ability to attain that goal. I.e. I can want to have six arms or be ruler of the world by playing virtual bingo.

I said it earlier but you create the means through will. For instance you want six arms you manipulate matter to create six arms, you can also manipulate the world into a system where virtual bingo is a deciding factor on who rules the world. Do you think humans always had the ability to fly?
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby TrlstanC » Sat Aug 20, 2011 7:17 pm UTC

Here's the reference for experiment I mentioned. It was carried out by William Grey Walter and presented to the Osler Society, Oxford University in 1963. His WIkipedia Page

FrancisDrake wrote:. The only thing that is unknown is the projection, and once that is known the only option is to push the button for more information.


Actually the patient had complete control over when to push the button, it was left entirely up to them, and the timing of when they pushed the button, and when they thought they had decided to push the button was the whole point of the experiment. The results are conter-intuitive given the classical understanding of free will. Apparently the brain set made the decision, and set it's result in motion before the patient was consciously aware that they had made a decision.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby FrancisDrake » Sat Aug 20, 2011 10:01 pm UTC

The mind is already being driven to that decision by the will of the predesigned project. In addition, you are always going to push the button if that is the only option available. From the beginning of the project the patient knew and decided that he/she was going to push the button becuase the rules state you will push the button to move on. The entire experiment was a determined path to prove deterministic decision making. It would be like saying we are going to prove x is true in an enviroment built for its existance.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby TrlstanC » Sun Aug 21, 2011 12:52 am UTC

It wasn't an experiment to test if determinism or free will exists, it was entirely about the timing of the belief. The whole point was to eliminate every other factor except when to push the question.

Having access to information (the data from the implanted probes) allows us to make comparisons that aren't available when we're just relying on people to self report their beliefs. In this case the experiment only focused on the timing of the belief, and revealed a result that was at odds with our classical understanding of the world. The result definitely wasn't predicted ahead of time and definitely wasn't what anyone would have predicted given the standard understanding of conscious decesions.

Looking at the results I have to come to the conclusion that there is substantially more happening in our decesion making process than we're aware of consciously, which means that relying on self reports of what free will is will be necessarily limited, the information we have access to consciously is less than perfect (perhaps a lot less.) This also casts an interesting new light on the question of "why do we believe we have free will?"

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby FrancisDrake » Sun Aug 21, 2011 6:41 am UTC

Yes I know the project was about studying the human brain, but I was keeping to the subject of the thread and the conception that the study disproves will.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Greyarcher » Sun Aug 21, 2011 6:53 am UTC

jules.lt wrote:Free will is commonly understood as the ability to make choices "independently", as if causality didn't apply to our thought processes.
From an objective/"outside of the individual" point of view, it's pure nonsense unless you believe there's a ghost from another plane being the "real you" and who has a will that is unaffected by your environment (and somehow still has a will about that environment).

Internally, it's the way the counscious mind sees itself while making decisions based on previous experiences and the data at hand (and emotions, etc.)
It's a useful illusion, because you can't take decisions efficiently if you think about the way that decision is already decided by the current arrangement of the particles in the universe.

Well, that's how I see it anyway.
That's more or less how I understand it as well. Thus, I don't believe I am free, but at the same time I often have no chafing experience of unfreedom, so it's rather moot and doesn't bother me at all.

infernovia wrote:
guenther wrote:My problem with declarations of "free will doesn't exist" is that the statement doesn't really mean anything. It just means we don't have some made up metaphysical property. But so what? Does anyone really think we should tell people that it's unimportant how we make choices, how we control our future? Of course not. Giving people a sense of empowerment over their lives is important. Treating people like they can make choices, should make choices, and will be held responsible for those choices is absolutely essential. Our notion that we can choose is woven into the very basics of who we think we are. So let's have free will describe that. We believe we have free will, therefore we do.

Fixed because those sentences are completely unnecessary and are empty words anyway. You don't need to use free will as an excuse to imprison people you know.
I'd cut one more line from the very end. :D There's no special weaving. It's just: if people don't feel like their choices are constrained, they naturally tend to think they are free. It's simply an overly hasty conclusion based on one's personal experiences.

We could easily teach children that they don't really have a proper basis for thinking they can choose. But the usefulness of doing so is questionable.

Might make a nice social experiment though.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Sun Aug 21, 2011 7:24 am UTC

TrlstanC wrote:Looking at the results I have to come to the conclusion that there is substantially more happening in our decesion making process than we're aware of consciously, which means that relying on self reports of what free will is will be necessarily limited, the information we have access to consciously is less than perfect (perhaps a lot less.) This also casts an interesting new light on the question of "why do we believe we have free will?"

I agree with you on the idea that the unconscious mind does a whole lot more than people generally give it credit for. But as for your question, do you associate having free will with the ability to make choices? If so, then the question is "why do we believe we can make choices?", to which the obvious answer is "because that's exactly what we do". Even if a lot of that process is hidden from our consciousness, it is stuff within us and part of us that is making the choice.

Greyarcher wrote:I'd cut one more line from the very end. :D There's no special weaving. It's just: if people don't feel like their choices are constrained, they naturally tend to think they are free. It's simply an overly hasty conclusion based on one's personal experiences.

I'm not talking about constraint. Even in a situation where choices are constrained, people still feel like they can make choices. Our whole way of thinking about ourselves, our species, our culture involves people making choices. It's in there at a very basic level. That's what I meant by woven. We could start teaching people that we don't really make choices much like we could tell people that there isn't really a thing called self. But I also question the value of doing such a thing. We can use notions of the self and free will to describe qualities of ourselves without creating illusions or fabrications. It just means we should stop connecting those concepts to magical things and ground it within the ever-expanding body of research surrounding human behavior, neuroscience, sociology, etc.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Cres » Sun Aug 21, 2011 10:05 am UTC

guenther wrote:It just means we should stop connecting those concepts to magical things and ground it within the ever-expanding body of research surrounding human behavior, neuroscience, sociology, etc.


guenther what is your view on the P.F. Strawson line from Freedom and Resentment (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/dfwstrawson1.htm - link although I imagine most have already read it)? You seem to take a similar view to the effect that our practices of blaming, praising, punishing etc. don't stand in need of justification, and that abstract metaphysical talk of 'free will' is at least unhelpful if not confused.

But Strawson thinks these practices stem from a framework of interpersonal attitudes (resentment being one example) which don't require justification because they are simply there: we cannot sustain the objective view of other people presupposed by the free will debate for any real length of time (punch an incompatibilist in the face and see if he gets angry with you :D ). You seem to be appealing to scientific knowledge to play a grounding role, although I'm not quite sure how that grounding works in your view?

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Greyarcher » Sun Aug 21, 2011 7:08 pm UTC

guenther wrote:
Greyarcher wrote:I'd cut one more line from the very end. :D There's no special weaving. It's just: if people don't feel like their choices are constrained, they naturally tend to think they are free. It's simply an overly hasty conclusion based on one's personal experiences.

I'm not talking about constraint. Even in a situation where choices are constrained, people still feel like they can make choices. Our whole way of thinking about ourselves, our species, our culture involves people making choices. It's in there at a very basic level. That's what I meant by woven. We could start teaching people that we don't really make choices much like we could tell people that there isn't really a thing called self. But I also question the value of doing such a thing. We can use notions of the self and free will to describe qualities of ourselves without creating illusions or fabrications. It just means we should stop connecting those concepts to magical things and ground it within the ever-expanding body of research surrounding human behavior, neuroscience, sociology, etc.
When I spoke of constraint, I spoke of internal constraints that do make people feel like they cannot make certain choices. I believe we've spoken about such things before employing the more obvious examples of, say, phobias and addictions. It is not my understanding that people still feel "free to make choices" in those areas where there will is more obviously obstructed by psychological phenomena.

But it's true, your line didn't precisely say what I objected to, and perhaps barely connoted it. Let me rephrase: The notion that we are free in our choices is not necessarily woven into who we are. The notion that we "choose" is not necessarily a problem at all, because when we get into the practical elements of that, it's really just about "acting" and "thinking about actions". And neither of those necessarily involve a notion of "free choices" of the independent type jules described.

However, I'm skeptical that the word "choice" would necessarily be construed free of any cultural baggage or connotations from the "free-meaning-independent choice" idea. The words "choice" and "free will" could be co-opted in the manner you describe, but it seems likely that a lack of cultural influence would merely result in a few people using old words and phrases to mean something else, and would merely muddy the language further.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby TrlstanC » Mon Aug 22, 2011 2:36 am UTC

guenther wrote: If so, then the question is "why do we believe we can make choices?", to which the obvious answer is "because that's exactly what we do".


An obvious seeming, but not necessarily correct answer. Unless we can claim to fully understand how our brains work, or the deterministic nature of the universe, we shouldn't be able to say with any confidence that we know why we believe we have free will (or make choices).

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Mon Aug 22, 2011 6:25 am UTC

Cres wrote:guenther what is your view on the P.F. Strawson line from Freedom and Resentment (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/dfwstrawson1.htm - link although I imagine most have already read it)? You seem to take a similar view to the effect that our practices of blaming, praising, punishing etc. don't stand in need of justification, and that abstract metaphysical talk of 'free will' is at least unhelpful if not confused.

But Strawson thinks these practices stem from a framework of interpersonal attitudes (resentment being one example) which don't require justification because they are simply there: we cannot sustain the objective view of other people presupposed by the free will debate for any real length of time (punch an incompatibilist in the face and see if he gets angry with you :D ). You seem to be appealing to scientific knowledge to play a grounding role, although I'm not quite sure how that grounding works in your view?

Well, I'm saying that we can choose to ground the concept of free will within science, not that science will prove out that free will is grounded there. My whole point is that making up metaphysical concepts and then proving that they're not real doesn't really accomplish anything. But people seem to have an intuition about free will, so why not capture that intuition and apply it to concepts that do make sense. Let's ground the concept in real world ideas.

I hadn't heard of P.F. Strawson nor his lecture, but after a skim it seems in line with my own views. I liked the line at the end: "What is wrong is to forget that these practices, and their reception, the reactions to them, really are expressions of our moral attitudes and not merely devices we calculatingly employ for regulative purposes. Our practices do not merely exploit our natures, they express them."

Greyarcher wrote:When I spoke of constraint, I spoke of internal constraints that do make people feel like they cannot make certain choices. I believe we've spoken about such things before employing the more obvious examples of, say, phobias and addictions. It is not my understanding that people still feel "free to make choices" in those areas where there will is more obviously obstructed by psychological phenomena.

Well, I agree that things like phobias and addictions do limit our freedom; however, just because something is an influence doesn't mean it's a constraint. One might be predisposed to make certain choices or live by certain patterns based on their upbringing, culture, social network, etc, but it doesn't mean that these take away from their freedom. Sometimes these may cause one to unthinkingly behave in certain ways; in which case maybe it's poor to describe those as choices. However, anyone can ruminate and reflect on those aspects of their lives and choose to continue living that way (or in a different way). If that's the case, I don't know why we shouldn't call that a free choice.

Greyarcher wrote:But it's true, your line didn't precisely say what I objected to, and perhaps barely connoted it. Let me rephrase: The notion that we are free in our choices is not necessarily woven into who we are. The notion that we "choose" is not necessarily a problem at all, because when we get into the practical elements of that, it's really just about "acting" and "thinking about actions". And neither of those necessarily involve a notion of "free choices" of the independent type jules described.

Jules also said that that independent type of free will was pure nonsense. And I agree. That's why I don't find it very profound when people declare that it doesn't exist.

TrlstanC wrote:An obvious seeming, but not necessarily correct answer. Unless we can claim to fully understand how our brains work, or the deterministic nature of the universe, we shouldn't be able to say with any confidence that we know why we believe we have free will (or make choices).

We don't need to fully understand how the brain works to recognize that an individual made a choice. We ask someone to pick either and apple or an orange, and when they pick one, we can describe that process as a choice, regardless of what's happening under the hood. In a similar way, if we feel that the person was of sound mind and not under any duress or influence that would impair their ability to choose, then we could say that the person chose of their own free will. These can be broad, abstract terms that don't give much insight into how the neuroscience works. But these terms do give meaning in the context of how we treat others and how we respond to their choices.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby billyswong » Mon Aug 22, 2011 12:49 pm UTC

curtis95112 wrote:It's clear that we don't have free will if free will is naively defined as something non-deterministic yet nonrandom.

Where's your clarity come from? Why is such kind of definition naive? I don't understand that. For me, free will, if exist, has to be something non-deterministic yet nonrandom, quite a bit like the concept of soul. Else, all talks of "choices" are nonsense, as many things can make deterministic "choices", ranging from the computer in front of me, to a tiny thermostat in the air-conditioner. Oh, a dice can make random choices too. Will we call them "having free will"? Me not, neither do you, I hope.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Greyarcher » Mon Aug 22, 2011 2:10 pm UTC

guenther wrote:
Greyarcher wrote:When I spoke of constraint, I spoke of internal constraints that do make people feel like they cannot make certain choices. I believe we've spoken about such things before employing the more obvious examples of, say, phobias and addictions. It is not my understanding that people still feel "free to make choices" in those areas where there will is more obviously obstructed by psychological phenomena.

Well, I agree that things like phobias and addictions do limit our freedom; however, just because something is an influence doesn't mean it's a constraint. One might be predisposed to make certain choices or live by certain patterns based on their upbringing, culture, social network, etc, but it doesn't mean that these take away from their freedom. Sometimes these may cause one to unthinkingly behave in certain ways; in which case maybe it's poor to describe those as choices. However, anyone can ruminate and reflect on those aspects of their lives and choose to continue living that way (or in a different way). If that's the case, I don't know why we shouldn't call that a free choice.
However, the sum of influences may produce an ironclad constraint on the decisions one makes. This possibility seems natural from rejecting the free-as-in-independent idea, and thus--for me at least--it provides a bit of peculiar dissonance when saying one makes a "free choice". Certainly in one sense it's free, but in another sense it's not.

...but come to think of it, I'd probably have no actual problem with that usage if I were to came across it outside a "free will discussion" context. But when free choices are brought up in the context of free will, my mind immediately clicks to the possible ways in which the will/choices may not be free at all, thus making me skeptical of the language used.

If we wish to speak of how people are free, there are more specific and exact ways to do it. Free from coercion, free from impairment by drugs or alcohol, etc. etc. In contrast to merely speaking of a will that is in some vague and undefined way "free" [from something-or-other].
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Mon Aug 22, 2011 8:23 pm UTC

Greyarcher wrote:However, the sum of influences may produce an ironclad constraint on the decisions one makes. This possibility seems natural from rejecting the free-as-in-independent idea, and thus--for me at least--it provides a bit of peculiar dissonance when saying one makes a "free choice". Certainly in one sense it's free, but in another sense it's not.

For me the dissonance is treating other people like they have free will, but then trying to make an intellectual case for why they don't have free will. That's something I can't resolve in my own head. If I'm going to conclude that people don't have free will, then why shouldn't I start treating them that way? Why don't I start treating myself that way? But that prospect sounds awful, so I either ignore the dissonance, or I adopt a different concept for free will, one that is intellectually consistent with how I choose to behave.

The other problem I have with the free-as-in-independent idea is that not only is such a notion not supported by science, I can't even think of how it would even make sense. If we met a being that had this type of free will, would they interact with the world differently than us? Could we measure a difference when observing them? Sometimes I imagine it sort of like in a role-playing game, the PCs clearly have a will that's independent of the world that the gamemaster has created. But those players sit in a physical world, and they are the product of that physical causation. So why wouldn't the external being have such a thing? Anyway, perhaps it's merely the limits of my own imagination, but I can't even come up with a thought experiment where that type of free will makes any sense. So I have trouble thinking of it as relevant in any way.

Greyarcher wrote:...but come to think of it, I'd probably have no actual problem with that usage if I were to came across it outside a "free will discussion" context. But when free choices are brought up in the context of free will, my mind immediately clicks to the possible ways in which the will/choices may not be free at all, thus making me skeptical of the language used.

I would argue that sometimes outside influences don't constrain freedom whatsoever, they just shape how people choose to exercise their freedom (e.g. carrying on cultural traditions, etc.). So I'm not hit with that same sort of skepticism.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Greyarcher » Mon Aug 22, 2011 10:40 pm UTC

guenther wrote:For me the dissonance is treating other people like they have free will, but then trying to make an intellectual case for why they don't have free will. That's something I can't resolve in my own head. If I'm going to conclude that people don't have free will, then why shouldn't I start treating them that way? Why don't I start treating myself that way? But that prospect sounds awful, so I either ignore the dissonance, or I adopt a different concept for free will, one that is intellectually consistent with how I choose to behave.
I never really based my treatment or thoughts of people on an idea of free will, so I don't share that dissonance at all. Did you have teachings related to it early on?

I agree, free-as-in-independent doesn't make much sense to me either. But from various uses I generally gathered a meaning like "free-as-in-independent from factors y1, y2, etc.". Probably because of the problem of calling certain actions 'free' and a 'choice' if y1, y2, etc. made those actions the only real path. It would strike me like calling a rock bouncing down a hill "free", and each bounce a "choice". Even if the rock were conscious and felt that the direction of each bounce was a personal decision made after thinking about where to bounce, an outside observer wouldn't really have reason to call the bouncing rock a free chooser deciding its path.

I am akin to the bouncing rock, thinking carefully about each bounce, but also able to step outside and conclude that I am nevertheless still a bouncing rock. The conclusion does little besides affect my language in certain situations though. :D And perhaps makes me a bit more sympathetic towards others.

guenther wrote:
Greyarcher wrote:...but come to think of it, I'd probably have no actual problem with that usage if I were to came across it outside a "free will discussion" context. But when free choices are brought up in the context of free will, my mind immediately clicks to the possible ways in which the will/choices may not be free at all, thus making me skeptical of the language used.

I would argue that sometimes outside influences don't constrain freedom whatsoever, they just shape how people choose to exercise their freedom (e.g. carrying on cultural traditions, etc.). So I'm not hit with that same sort of skepticism.
Heh, see, your usage of "freedom" there is clicking that part of my mind, and it's immediately asking "exercising their freedom from what?", "what freedom isn't constrained by outside influences?", and "how exactly are they 'choosing' to exercise their freedom--is there a prior freedom to exercise choices about their freedom? And what exactly is that freedom?".

I suppose I have no intuitive grasp on how you use the concept because it has no similar place in my mindset. For instance, I'd write that puzzling sentence of yours simply as, "Outside influences shape how people act."
(I may even agree that, ultimately, they wholly shape how people act. After all, individuals are constructed of external inputs--it's not like there's an internal state that was "them" prior to all of the external inputs. Hence, everything ultimately external. The rock bouncing down the hill.)
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Mon Aug 22, 2011 11:25 pm UTC

guenther wrote:For me the dissonance is treating other people like they have free will, but then trying to make an intellectual case for why they don't have free will. That's something I can't resolve in my own head. If I'm going to conclude that people don't have free will, then why shouldn't I start treating them that way? Why don't I start treating myself that way? But that prospect sounds awful, so I either ignore the dissonance, or I adopt a different concept for free will, one that is intellectually consistent with how I choose to behave.

That's because "has free will"/"doesn't have free will" is a false dichotomy.
As I understand it, the only thing in our universe that is completely unaffected by anything else is our universe.
Everyone's affected by all they interact with, and they're as free as they're counscious and in control of the processes that lead to their actions.

This is in fact reflected in our judicial systems, where people who are mad, badly under the influence of someone else or very unfree in some other way are not treated as harshly as people who knew what they were doing. Society cuts them some slack, because we morally think they deserve it AND because we can afford doing so as a society without losing too much on other criteria (mostly security).

What kinds of "unfreedoms" can be allowed leniency, at what level and in which situation is something that's mostly decided at the society's level.
(the treatment of mad people across time, as described by Foucault, would be quite informative here)

guenther wrote:The other problem I have with the free-as-in-independent idea is that not only is such a notion not supported by science, I can't even think of how it would even make sense.

That's the whole point: it's what people usually mean when they say "free will", and it doesn't make sense!
What makes sense is what GreyArcher did: always say free from something and allow a range of levels of freedom, rather than just "free" and "non-free".
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Mon Aug 22, 2011 11:34 pm UTC

Greyarcher wrote:I never really based my treatment or thoughts of people on an idea of free will, so I don't share that dissonance at all. Did you have teachings related to it early on?

No special training. I just don't treat bouncing rocks that "choose" to hit me the same as I would a person. :) In regards to people, I don't generally factor free will into the equation because every has it (or doesn't :)) and thus isn't critical to any decision I make. But with animals, how much I anthropomorphize does directly factor into how I regard them. I treat animals on a farm to be slaughtered closer to objects, but I treat my pets as much closer to people. This includes regarding them with something sort of like free will (though I probably wouldn't ever actually say that a pet has free will).

Greyarcher wrote:I am akin to the bouncing rock, thinking carefully about each bounce, but also able to step outside and conclude that I am nevertheless still a bouncing rock. The conclusion does little besides affect my language in certain situations though. :D And perhaps makes me a bit more sympathetic towards others.

While on some physical level, we may be akin to bouncing rocks, there's such a difference in complexity that I don't think the analogy works at all. Maybe you could make a comparison to weather "choosing" to rain. But then my problem would be that the weather doesn't express sentience or a will.

Greyarcher wrote:Heh, see, your usage of "freedom" there is clicking that part of my mind, and it's immediately asking "exercising their freedom from what?", "what freedom isn't constrained by outside influences?", and "how exactly are they 'choosing' to exercise their freedom--is there a prior freedom to exercise choices about their freedom? And what exactly is that freedom?".

I guess I'd say free from someone or something else making that choice for them (or somehow controlling the outcome). A person approaches a set of options, and the result of which path is taken is calculated internal to that person. Nothing inside a rock is making a choice. If we build "smarts" into computers, they can make choices based on the particular situation at hand, but then they can't express a will.

So there's some process inside a person that can choose and if that process is working normally as far as we can tell, and it isn't inhibited by the things that constrain freedom (addiction, phobias, etc), and isn't being externally controlled (duress or brainwashing), then it's acting freely. It doesn't mean it's free from physics or causality. And this concept doesn't require knowing the neuroscience behind how it actually does any of this. It's an abstraction based on macro behavior.


jules.lt wrote:That's because "has free will"/"doesn't have free will" is a false dichotomy.

I only have time for a quick response, but I don't mean it like a dichotomy. But I do regard most normal healthy people as if they have free will. My point was the dissonance created by treating people as if they have free will but then intellectually arguing that they don't.

jules.lt wrote:That's the whole point: it's what people usually mean when they say "free will", and it doesn't make sense!

It could mean "It doesn't make sense based on what we know about the world". That's what I was distinguishing it from. I was saying "It doesn't make any sense whatsoever".


EDIT: Let me mention one more thing: In engineering, there's a concept of "free running" that means that something is running naturally without control from the outside (see example). So when I think of "free will" I think of our expression of will operating in it's natural manner.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Tue Aug 23, 2011 1:13 am UTC

guenther wrote:So there's some process inside a person that can choose and if that process is working normally as far as we can tell, and it isn't inhibited by the things that constrain freedom (addiction, phobias, etc), and isn't being externally controlled (duress or brainwashing), then it's acting freely. It doesn't mean it's free from physics or causality. And this concept doesn't require knowing the neuroscience behind how it actually does any of this. It's an abstraction based on macro behavior.

Addictions and brainwashing are easy calls. It's the more widespread nevroses and external pressures that are impossible to judge at the macro level. We're rarely obviously "controlled", but always influenced. As Grey said, it could be argued that since there's no magical source for decisions to come from it's ultimately all external input.

guenther wrote:I do regard most normal healthy people as if they have free will. My point was the dissonance created by treating people as if they have free will but then intellectually arguing that they don't.

In practice, usually and as pertains to the situation at hand, and most importantly considering the information at hand people have mostly free will. And in many cases it's much less free.

The main difference between people and the bouncing rock is that we don't have an external point of view allowing us to visualize as well the constraints that make people act/react the way they do.
Bertrand Russell wrote:Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.
Richard Feynman & many others wrote:Keep an open mind – but not so open that your brain falls out

guenther
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Tue Aug 23, 2011 4:18 am UTC

jules.lt wrote:Addictions and brainwashing are easy calls. It's the more widespread nevroses and external pressures that are impossible to judge at the macro level. We're rarely obviously "controlled", but always influenced. As Grey said, it could be argued that since there's no magical source for decisions to come from it's ultimately all external input.

The fact that it ultimately came from external input is irrelevant. And the fact that we're influenced doesn't change my point.

jules.lt wrote:In practice, usually and as pertains to the situation at hand, and most importantly considering the information at hand people have mostly free will. And in many cases it's much less free.

The main difference between people and the bouncing rock is that we don't have an external point of view allowing us to visualize as well the constraints that make people act/react the way they do.

That's not true. We can observe each other in third person, and our ability to explore these areas is growing. The difference is that we're much more complicated than bouncing boulders. Not to mention we can think, express our opinions, desires, values, and take actions.

Also, while we can talk about the freedom of each action, when I talk about free will, I mean it as a quality of the person not the action. It represents a person's potential. It's like saying someone is smart, but that doesn't mean they apply those capabilities with everything they do. Also, it has about the same level of precision as saying someone is smart. If we want to actually dive into the behavioral science, then free will probably isn't as useful of a term.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Tue Aug 23, 2011 9:43 am UTC

guenther wrote:So there's some process inside a person that can choose and if that process is working normally as far as we can tell, and it isn't inhibited by the things that constrain freedom (addiction, phobias, etc), and isn't being externally controlled (duress or brainwashing), then it's acting freely. It doesn't mean it's free from physics or causality. And this concept doesn't require knowing the neuroscience behind how it actually does any of this. It's an abstraction based on macro behavior.

guenther wrote:The fact that it ultimately came from external input is irrelevant. And the fact that we're influenced doesn't change my point.

The problem is that "inhibited by things that constrain freedom" and "externally controlled" is true of each and every one of our actions, only at varying levels. Now, were you to add in modulators and only conclude that they were acting "mostly freely", that would be another matter.

guenther wrote:
jules.lt wrote:The main difference between people and the bouncing rock is that we don't have an external point of view allowing us to visualize as well the constraints that make people act/react the way they do.

That's not true. We can observe each other in third person, and our ability to explore these areas is growing. The difference is that we're much more complicated than bouncing boulders. Not to mention we can think, express our opinions, desires, values, and take actions.

Both are complex systems reacting to external pressures in unpredictable ways because we lack enough information to predict their behaviour ("unpredictable" doesn't describe an object, it describes the observer's relationship with it). The difference is that we have enough information and understanding about the bouncing rock to not doubt that it's deterministic.

guenther wrote:Also, while we can talk about the freedom of each action, when I talk about free will, I mean it as a quality of the person not the action. It represents a person's potential. It's like saying someone is smart, but that doesn't mean they apply those capabilities with everything they do. Also, it has about the same level of precision as saying someone is smart. If we want to actually dive into the behavioral science, then free will probably isn't as useful of a term.

So "having free will" is having less external/non-conscious constraints on one's choices, right?
I think it's still pertinent to talk about individual actions, because one person's constraints can wildly differ depending on the action at hand and individual actions can be analyzed more precisely.

Enjoying the talk, btw :mrgreen:
Bertrand Russell wrote:Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.
Richard Feynman & many others wrote:Keep an open mind – but not so open that your brain falls out

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Sophokles » Tue Aug 23, 2011 2:39 pm UTC

I once had a long, thought-provoking discussion on the topic of artificial intelligence that turned into an argument about free will. If an AI has the unbreakable logic, "If factor X is just so, then choose Option 1 over Option 2", and this logic precludes our notion of free will, then is human free will likewise an illusion? My companions concluded that humans cannot express freest will because our minds are purely physical in nature. Pure thought can only be achieved in the absence of physical interference, it seems.

Yes, we can choose a career, manipulate people, and even make the self-destructive decision to end our lives. But can we choose to stop eating? Perhaps we can force ourselves to starve, but the word "force" invalidates free will. We are unable to make the decision to ignore hunger in the same way that Google is unable to ignore a search request. Thirst and sex drive are also factors that shape our decisions without our consent. Pain definitely makes a huge impact in our consciousness, yet we are totally incapable of changing that.

This is because, we argued, consciousness is completely based on the actions of neuro-chemicals upon nerves (as was mentioned previously on the thread). This is directly analogous to machine code in that a machine's consciousness consists solely of rules stored in silicon. Although we think we can shape our destinies, we are only doing what our hormonal and neural drives want us to do. Do plants want to grow toward the sun? Can a plant make the decision to avoid the sun? Of course not, photo-tropism is a rule which is fundamentally impossible to ignore. In us, instead of the movement of auxins, emotions and actions are determined by hormonal secretions. On the most basic level, our choices are perfectly logical, since they are based on how atoms interact with each other in our brain. For this reason, our actions are not choices but predetermined responses forced by the laws of molecular bonding. If you choose to become a investor, there was not actually any choice involved. It could not be any other way, thanks to the proportions of hormones in your brain.

Because the human mind is directly linked to a human body, free will is simply a side-effect of necessary and predictable physical drives conflicting with each other. We think that we are above making choices based on hunger, pain, and sexuality; but in reality this is all what consciousness is composed of (not the mythical "pure thought" we always assume it is). In this way, we have just as much control over our actions as a Logo turtle.


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