Definition of Free Will

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Re: Definition of Free Will

jules.lt wrote: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.

Suppose two stores are selling similar things, but one generally has lower prices. Since most people would predictably choose that store, does that mean their freedom is inhibited or controlled by the retailer? I don't think it makes sense to talk about it like that. There are certainly many ways that advertisers can subtly alter our behavior, but that doesn't mean each and everything is an external control. And internally most people value money, but our internal values are the landscape of our decisions, they are not inhibitions on our freedom.

jules.lt wrote: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.

Well, determinisic versus random is really just describing the observer's relationship as well. Randomness is just our way of modeling an unpredictable system. But what I'm talking about is independent of whether our world is deterministic or random. In my opinion, what is relevant is whether we can precisely predict human behavior (i.e. are we free from some known algorithm) or whether that process is obscured in some way. A complex system may be just as unpredictable as a non-deterministic one if that system is sensitive to variations that are finer than the resolution of our measurements. In a post from almost precisely a year ago, I expanded my perspective on what's required for free will.

jules.lt wrote: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.

If you look on wikipedia, it describes free will as an ability that agents have, not a quality of the actions they take. While it is both important and fascinating to talk about how we make individual choices, in general I see free will talked about in this way, so in my own proposed definition I keep to that.

And I am enjoying the discussion as well.
Last edited by guenther on Tue Aug 23, 2011 5:09 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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guenther

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Re: Definition of Free Will

guenther wrote:
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. 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.
It typed some stuff up, but it looks like Jules covered a lot of what I intended with the bouncing rock idea. I'll just toss it in a spoiler in case it still provides some insight on how I approach the idea.
Spoiler:
I think it's a rather succinct illustration. It's an illustration to the "ultimately external inputs" comment; sentience and will are already subsumed by that (indeed they are constructed by those inputs), and trying to illustrate them would only muddy the point. The point tying back to our discussion about people's constraints, and how there was a fundamental sense in which the sum of external influences may wholly define one's path and "free choice" was an odd phrase to apply. Thus, why I found it puzzling/dissonant that at someone speaking as if it's quite importance that people can be attributed with a certain type of "free will"--in some vague sense--or that you base the quality of your treatment of others on them having free will. Hearing that you'd even adopt a different concept of free will just so that people could still possess it--because if they didn't have some sort of thing you could call "free will" you'd have to treat them poorly?--still confounds me.

I found that little changed with me not applying the concept to humanity. So I'm curious how you think your behavior would change if you didn't apply the concept, and why exactly that change would logically follow.

guenther wrote:
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.
....then what about an individual who is mentally damaged and was furthermore never raised by humans? Someone animal-like? Are the actions this individual engages in choices? Because the way you talk about internally calculated choice suggests to me that the underlying element you're concerned about isn't best described as freedom per se. Instead, it's the existence of this internal processor, along with the various minor features of this processor (like the degree of complexity in its processing, its responsiveness to external influences, its unpredictability, and suchlike).

Basically, I get the vibe that what's important is the ability of the system to be complex and responsive processor, such that external actions don't simply determine all its outputs, but they can gradually alter the way the system processes and produces its outputs. Rather than a free system, it's more accurately a malleable system.

...ninja'd while I was typing this up! And from your most recent post, it looks like I was sort of on the right track with my sense on the internal processor. I'll have to look over that some more and let those posts sit and percolate in my mind.
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Greyarcher

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Greyarcher wrote:Hearing that you'd even adopt a different concept of free will just so that people could still possess it--because if they didn't have some sort of thing you could call "free will" you'd have to treat them poorly?--still confounds me.

I wouldn't *have* to treat them differently. I could simply ignore the dissonance in my head. My adoption of the new concept of free will came from resolving the dissonance, not because it was imperative or else I would treat people badly.

Greyarcher wrote:Basically, I get the vibe that what's important is the ability of the system to be complex and responsive processor, such that external actions don't simply determine all its outputs, but they can gradually alter the way the system processes and produces its outputs. Rather than a free system, it's more accurately a malleable system.

It's not just a processor, it's a processor that has self awareness and can express desires. And I'd say such a system is malleable, but I don't think it precludes a label of free will. Basically if that process of expressing desires and controlling it's own behavior is able to run as it naturally would (based on what we've observe natural to be), then it's free.

Think of those self-driving cars from Google. They stop being free when they are controlled remotely by a person. However, they don't have free will because they don't have a will.

EDIT: I just noticed this one:
Sophokles wrote: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.

While it's up for debate about whether our responses are predetermined, our responses may simultaneously be both the product of physics and our choice. "Choice" could describe the process of physics and biology within us that creates the response.
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guenther

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Re: Definition of Free Will

guenther wrote:[...] our responses may simultaneously be both the product of physics and our choice. "Choice" could describe the process of physics and biology within us that creates the response.

I couldn't put it better
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

jules.LT

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Although, if that conclusion that our actions are based on the biology and physics within the human body, then wouldn't it be possible to, given enough information, predict what action someone will do? And if that's true, doesn't that imply the existence of 'fate'?

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Not really, becuase you have to take into account that something else is always going to be created to throw off the current information known.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Radium wrote:Although, if that conclusion that our actions are based on the biology and physics within the human body, then wouldn't it be possible to, given enough information, predict what action someone will do? And if that's true, doesn't that imply the existence of 'fate'?

Not if things are always somewhat probabilistic?

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Re: Definition of Free Will

jules.lt wrote:I couldn't put it better

Thanks!

Radium wrote:Although, if that conclusion that our actions are based on the biology and physics within the human body, then wouldn't it be possible to, given enough information, predict what action someone will do? And if that's true, doesn't that imply the existence of 'fate'?

First, the most precisely tested theory in the history of science (quantum mechanics) has randomness at it's core. So it may be that some information is physically unknowable.

Second, even if determinism does lie beneath it all, chaotic systems are hard to work with because small errors in measurement can lead to arbitrarily large errors in the prediction. Thus, even if it's theoretically possible to know everything about everything, there may be no feasible way to actually do this, leaving fate for all practical purposes as just some metaphysical fancy.

Third, suppose we were able to make a prediction, that you will wear a red shirt tomorrow. Well, you can use that info and decide to wear a green shirt instead. So your prediction of the future has to include the fact that you know the future. I don't really understand what this would do to the math involved, but it sounds like it could blow up pretty quickly and not yield any results. So from a purely mathematical point of view, predicting the future might be problematic.

Lastly and more generally, if we can't have access to this information about the future, then it's completely irrelevant if the path ahead of us is completely predetermined or not. And if it's irrelevant, then it shouldn't be relevant to deciding if we have free will, at least in my opinion.
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guenther

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Re: Definition of Free Will

guenther wrote:Lastly and more generally, if we can't have access to this information about the future, then it's completely irrelevant if the path ahead of us is completely predetermined or not. And if it's irrelevant, then it shouldn't be relevant to deciding if we have free will, at least in my opinion.

Not in any practical sense, anyway.
You can have definitions of free will that take into account elements that are irrelevant to real life, but then when those elements change whether you have free will or not... it doesn't change their irrelevance to real life!
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

jules.LT

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Re: Definition of Free Will

That's true. People can include whatever they want including fate, God, and souls. I was just giving my opinion of what should be relevant.
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guenther

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Re: Definition of Free Will

guenther wrote:
Greyarcher wrote:Hearing that you'd even adopt a different concept of free will just so that people could still possess it--because if they didn't have some sort of thing you could call "free will" you'd have to treat them poorly?--still confounds me.

I wouldn't *have* to treat them differently. I could simply ignore the dissonance in my head. My adoption of the new concept of free will came from resolving the dissonance, not because it was imperative or else I would treat people badly.
Well, to rephrase, the part of you that bases their treatment on some sort of "free will" would think they should be treated differently. That's the element that confounds me.

My thoughts run like this: "The qualities that people have don't change based on whether you label those qualities with the tag "free will" or not. So why, exactly, would altering your concept of "free will" affect your dissonance/view of them?" --it's confusing how you can adopt a different concept of free will that nevertheless has an unchanging effect on your dissonance/view on treatment of people. Is there an underlying similarity between your former concept of free will and your current one?

Greyarcher wrote:Basically, I get the vibe that what's important is the ability of the system to be complex and responsive processor, such that external actions don't simply determine all its outputs, but they can gradually alter the way the system processes and produces its outputs. Rather than a free system, it's more accurately a malleable system.

It's not just a processor, it's a processor that has self awareness and can express desires. And I'd say such a system is malleable, but I don't think it precludes a label of free will. Basically if that process of expressing desires and controlling it's own behavior is able to run as it naturally would (based on what we've observe natural to be), then it's free.[/quote]Ha! It looks like, in the end, this discussion mostly boils down to a linguistic disagreement rather than a conceptual one.

Imagine a table covered with cups, some empty, some full, some semi-full. I see your usage of "free will" akin to simply saying, "the table's cups are empty". I.e. the different cups parallel the different ways in which the will could be called "free" or "not free"--how people are free and not free from different things--but you simply say, "free/empty".

But, eh. If it's mostly linguistic, I'll just take the [adjective]* usage in mind and move on.

* [adjective] or...adjective-defying?! Yeah, I was just too lazy to consult a thesaurus or find an adjective that properly matched my thoughts. So: [adjective].
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Greyarcher

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Sorry for the delay in response.

Greyarcher wrote:My thoughts run like this: "The qualities that people have don't change based on whether you label those qualities with the tag "free will" or not. So why, exactly, would altering your concept of "free will" affect your dissonance/view of them?" --it's confusing how you can adopt a different concept of free will that nevertheless has an unchanging effect on your dissonance/view on treatment of people. Is there an underlying similarity between your former concept of free will and your current one?

Basically it boils down to this: most people I know treat other people like they have the capacity for decision-making, like they are in charge of their own choices, and like they should be held accountable for their actions (barring cases like being a child or mentally incompetent, etc.) We raise our children with the belief that what choices they make matters. If we're just boulders bouncing down a hill, why does it matter? Why should we empower people to shape their own future? For me, all of this is answered with free will. Free will is a label we use to assign precisely this sort of empowerment and responsibility. If we designate a robot as having free will, we would be granting it freedom and responsibility. When we say it's just a tool of the programmer, then that programmer has the freedom and responsibility. So free will is not physical or metaphysical, it's an abstraction--a way of viewing the world that helps us understand it and relate to it.

As for my previous beliefs, I always just assumed we had free will in some vague, undefined way. The dissonance came when I heard what seemed like compelling arguments that we don't have it. I couldn't understand why we should live life like we have free will but then intellectually deny it.

Greyarcher wrote:Imagine a table covered with cups, some empty, some full, some semi-full. I see your usage of "free will" akin to simply saying, "the table's cups are empty". I.e. the different cups parallel the different ways in which the will could be called "free" or "not free"--how people are free and not free from different things--but you simply say, "free/empty".

I'm not sure I follow the cup analogy exactly. Just because people have the capacity for making free decisions (as how I've defined it) doesn't mean they do that all the time. Also, there can be lots of ways the world around us can influence our choices without inhibiting our free will (like the price example I gave earlier). So I'm not sure "the cups are empty" captures what I'm saying. But maybe I just don't understand.
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guenther

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Re: Definition of Free Will

guenther wrote:I always just assumed we had free will in some vague, undefined way. The dissonance came when I heard what seemed like compelling arguments that we don't have it. I couldn't understand why we should live life like we have free will but then intellectually deny it.

Why would we need to label ourselves as having "free will" as it is absurdly defined in the common language for our choices to be significant?
In a way, we are those choices. What does it matter that we have a beginning, an end, and are subject to causality in the meantime?

ETA: The way I see it, an individual isn't the particles he's made of or some strange thing that animates them: they move of their own accord due to their current arrangement. The individual is the weird phenomenon by which this bunch of particles acts like what we call a human being. He's not the particles or something that animates them, he's their movement. And even more so for the part that is most complex unique to an individual: his thoughts and choices.
Last edited by jules.LT on Tue Aug 30, 2011 8:46 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.
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jules.LT

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Re: Definition of Free Will

guenther wrote:Suppose two stores are selling similar things, but one generally has lower prices. Since most people would predictably choose that store, does that mean their freedom is inhibited or controlled by the retailer? I don't think it makes sense to talk about it like that.

This reminds me of a great example of Dan Dennet's, of being offered \$1000 to torture someone. Every time you received that offer you would (you hope) turn it down, no matter how many times it was repeated and how the specific details were varied. The predictability and consistency of your behaviour isn't a sign that you lack 'free will'; rather, it is the very expression of it. Underlying a lot of incompatibilist intuitions, there's an assumption that 'a free agent must be volatile somehow' (think that's the quote, don't have the article to hand) but closer examination shows that that assumption is questionable at best.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

It may be useful to try to build up a model of what it would take to convince someone that they had freewill, either by giving them the illusion of freewill, or actually giving them something we could agree acts as freewill. Work from the bottom up, as opposed to the top down. By top down, I mean that right now we're looking at how we behave, and what we think, and how we interact with the world, and are trying to identify what part of all that is freewill. We're an extremely complicated system, and we don't even have full access to all (or maybe most) of the processes happening in our own brain, or even a very good way to get study what's happening in a brain when we're making simple decisions, or thinking simple thoughts. With such limited information all we can do is make guesses. But it might make things clearer if we start with simple assumptions, and build up from there and try to get to the most basic system that would make someone believe they had freewill.

For example: lets assume that we have a person on a roller coaster - which represents the laws of physics, at least classical physics, we can leave out uncertainty and probability waves for now (and add them back later if we need to). This person wouldn't think they had free will because they can clearly see they have no input on where they go. What if we put them in special single seater car on the roller coaster that was also built like a flight simulator, it has video screens in all directions. The screen shows them going up and down mountains, or along a river, or through a city. Now, the person still probably wouldn't think they had freewill, but instead of thinking that they're stuck on a single track (a deterministic universe) they think that they're in a universe controlled by chance. That they could've potentially gone anywhere, and it was just chance that they went this way down the mountain, or turned at a particular street in the city. If the images we played, and the actual path of the track lined up well, they could probably deduce some of the forces that govern the world they're moving through, like how strong gravity is, or what the force of friction or wind resistance is like.

Now, lets give them a steering wheel, obviously it can't change their direction since they're still on a track, it's not hooked up to anything. If they had time to do a little experimenting they would probably figure out that it didn't do anything. But what if we made the video particularly dramatic? Had lots of scary edges, rushing traffic or charging bears? With enough apparent dangers, and a short enough ride, we could probably convince someone that they were steering the car, that they had freewill to control whether they fell off a cliff or gotten eaten by a bear or not. They could very well finish up the ride and think that they were a very skilled, or at least very lucky driver.

This probably isn't very realistic, we're not always presented with lots of very bad choices and one good choice, instead we often have a lot of OK choices with none being clearly a lot better. But it might be getting at the idea. Instead of constant danger lets instead give the "driver" a guide, someone who can say "oh, if you go over here there's a great view you'll like" or "to get downtown, it's fastest to take a right at the next light." As long as this guide knew what was coming up in the video, they would be able to give the person "advice" or a "guided tour" that could make them think they were making lots of choices they weren't. This is probably a lot more effective than the "constant danger" trick. If we think of the "guide" as our "conscious voice" this might be the start of a fairly simple model of "conscious choice" and "freewill."

Compare this model to the experiment (carried out by William Grey Walter and presented to the Osler Society, Oxford University in 1963. His WIkipedia Page I mentioned before:

This is obviously still an extremely simple model, what else would it take to really convince the person inside that they had freewill, at least over where the car was going?
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Re: Definition of Free Will

jules.lt wrote:Why would we need to label ourselves as having "free will" as it is absurdly defined in the common language for our choices to be significant?
In a way, we are those choices. What does it matter that we have a beginning, an end, and are subject to causality in the meantime?

Well, in common speech I don't think it's used absurdly. It's certainly a vague notion, but from my experience people use it to mean that we are entities that have the power to make choices and shape our own future. At least that's how I've understood it. However, the philosophical definition is pretty absurd and doesn't make any sense whatsoever. That's why I have little regard for it. But I do think it makes sense to regard ourselves as entities that have the freedom to make choices, and I promote a new notion of free will that embodies this without invoking magic or metaphysics.

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guenther

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Re: Definition of 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

jules.LT

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Thanks for the link. It was a good read. I particularly liked this quote:
Eddy Nahmias from the article wrote:It is like inferring from discoveries in organic chemistry that life is an illusion just because living organisms are made up of non-living stuff.

Here's the definition they give for free will, which makes a lot of sense:
Eddy Nahmias from the article wrote:Many philosophers, including me, understand free will as a set of capacities for imagining future courses of action, deliberating about one’s reasons for choosing them, planning one’s actions in light of this deliberation and controlling actions in the face of competing desires. We act of our own free will to the extent that we have the opportunity to exercise these capacities, without unreasonable external or internal pressure. We are responsible for our actions roughly to the extent that we possess these capacities and we have opportunities to exercise them.

In the past, I have tried listing out what I thought was required for free will, but this is much more complete. I'd add one point since this article is written exclusively from the point of view of people, brains, and neuroscience. I think we'd need to add more specificity before we could apply this definition to when artificial life forms should be considered as having free will (like how do we distinguish when the robot is in charge of it's actions rather than simply following the programmed algorithm). But maybe this will come from a "I'll know it when I see it" perspective, and we'll retro-fit the above definition accordingly when we see true AI move from science fiction to reality.

I also like this piece from the conclusion, which puts free will into a real testable frame of reference.
Eddy Nahmias from the article wrote:So, does neuroscience mean the death of free will? Well, it could if it somehow demonstrated that conscious deliberation and rational self-control did not really exist or that they worked in a sheltered corner of the brain that has no influence on our actions. But neither of these possibilities is likely.
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guenther

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Re: Definition of Free Will

jules.LT wrote:Here's a nice piece on the subject, from a NYT blog:
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/is-neuroscience-the-death-of-free-will/?ref=opinion
His mention of other people's remarks on free will amuses me. It's like we have the rest of society in microcosm all here in our free will threads. In fact, we've pretty much already covered and moved past everything he wrote about in this thread alone, or in our own personal discussions and thoughts.

This section interested me though:
Our studies suggest that people sometimes misunderstand determinism to mean that we are somehow cut out of this causal chain leading to our actions. People are threatened by a possibility I call “bypassing” — the idea that our actions are caused in ways that bypass our conscious deliberations and decisions.
I agree that there's a sense of "bypassing", but I don't quite agree with his description of it. It's not that conscious deliberations are bypassed. Rather, the "self" is bypassed because the deliberations are themselves enveloped as part of an unbroken chain leading inevitably from external factors to action. There is a muddying and erosion in the distinction between "external causes" and "self-cause" insofar as the self's deliberations are merely part of a chain of causes that began outside the self. --at least, that's my sense of it.

The free will he speaks of--quoted by guenther--seems to me like an irrelevant sham use of the word "free" since it fails to address the problem of self-cause being subsumed into external cause. Though that's something we've already discussed ad nauseum in this thread.
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Greyarcher

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Hello everyone!
I've started to be interested in the subject about a year ago, when a friend of mine asked me how computer work. I became talking about levels of abstractions and meanings, then we reached the topic "differences between humans and machines" and from there I think I started my curiosity-drawn journey towards the meaning of consciousness and free will.
Now, I am not a physicist and I don't have a deep understanding of quantum mechanics, I just collected sine basic notions learnt watching lessons on youtube.
It would be nice if someone with a greater understanding of the matter could tell me if my "theory" could be based on something scientific.
Anyway, this is what I think: I believe the topic "free will" needs to be treated from a very high level of abstractions. Not the quantum level, nor the atomic nor molecular, not even biological, but from the level of thoughts. For instance: our memory is, of course, the conformation of our brain cells and everything, but at our level of abstraction is, also, at the same time, a collection of our experiences, notions, and memories. We can have access to it from many levels of abstractions: all the physical (chemical, biological etc) (e.g. lobotomy, pharmacy...) and all the non-physical (psychology, psychiatry, everyday life).
From this, if I got right the fact that randomness is at the base of quantum mechanics, my question is:
can't it be that randomness at the lowest level of abstraction (quantum physics level) is, also, at the same time, free will at our consciousness level?
If free will is the ability to "choose" from an alternative or more options, than isn't this what happens when some particle could have different quantum states?
If a particle has no law telling it what to do but still does something, than isn't it making a choice? And isn't possible that a huge amount of tiny particles making choices seen from a higher point of view could give born to a complex system of choices that can be seen as free will?

mat.tia

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Re: Definition of Free Will

It's possibly worth you picking through some of the (many!) free will threads this forum has had.

The problem with quantum randomness as the foundation for free will is it doesn't really lead to a more intellectually comforting solution.

Ok, so on the one hand, we have a deterministic universe - which means that, although we appear to be making choices of our own volition, essentially, our preferences and desires are merely a deterministic consequence of an earlier state of the universe, and hence not really 'free'.

Now, imagine that you've got a decision to make: Eat ice cream or apple pie for dessert tonight.

The deterministic model says that, though you may decide to eat ice cream, that choice was set in stone from the moment the universe was born.

Suppose you tried to subvert that, though. Suppose you decide to choose which to eat by flipping a coin (and for the sake of argument, let's presume that flipping a coin could be a truly random event rather than a deterministic though unpredictable one).

So, you choose which of ice cream or apple pie to eat by flipping your coin. And it comes down tails, which means apple pie. Well, is that really an improved state of affairs over a deterministic universe? I mean, it's still not 'you' making the decision. In a deterministic universe, it's the initial state of the universe plus the laws of physics which determine what you'll end up eating. In a random universe, it's the flip of some quantum coin that decides it. In neither case did 'you' have any input.

No, the only way out of this is to accept that - whether the universe is deterministic or not - that our consciousness is a crucial cog in the machinery. 'We' are a fundamental part of how the universe brings forth the future into the present. And that is no less a wondrous thing than having free will. Part of the universe is conscious and self-aware. How damn cool is that???
elasto

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Why is this an interesting question? I posit two things.

That it is impossible to define free in any meaningful way.
That is impossible to define will in a meaningful way.

The question is a price of using language. Language can ask questions that can have no answers. It is a definition for intelligence. The ability to ask questions for which you have no answers. But if you can ask the question then you can search for an answer. This is either profound or stupid and I'm not sure which.
As a disclaimer anything I say is my opinion and should not to be confused with fact.
morriswalters

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Re: Definition of Free Will

morriswalters wrote:Why is this an interesting question? I posit two things.

That it is impossible to define free in any meaningful way.
That is impossible to define will in a meaningful way.

The question is a price of using language. Language can ask questions that can have no answers. It is a definition for intelligence. The ability to ask questions for which you have no answers. But if you can ask the question then you can search for an answer. This is either profound or stupid and I'm not sure which.
It's profound because, before the century is out, we will be asking questions about whether all sorts of non-human things have free will or consciousness - from genetically modified animals to hard-AI creations to perhaps, eventually, non-carbon based aliens .

Advances like this one in creating artificial neurons are making these sorts of questions ever more profound.

(And, incidentally, make the case ever more strongly that free will as most people conceive of it does not really exist.)
elasto

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Re: Definition of Free Will

elasto wrote:[...]
Suppose you decide to choose which to eat by flipping a coin (and for the sake of argument, let's presume that flipping a coin could be a truly random event rather than a deterministic though unpredictable one).

So, you choose which of ice cream or apple pie to eat by flipping your coin. And it comes down tails, which means apple pie. Well, is that really an improved state of affairs over a deterministic universe? I mean, it's still not 'you' making the decision. In a deterministic universe, it's the initial state of the universe plus the laws of physics which determine what you'll end up eating. In a random universe, it's the flip of some quantum coin that decides it. In neither case did 'you' have any input.

I understand your point of view, but I do not completely agree with it.
To me, the proportion 'electricity running through axons':'thought'='quantum randomness':'free will' makes sense.

We are a system, not an item. If we look at the system only from a low abstraction point of view, we could say that we do not even exist as individuals (where would you put the boundaries around what an individual is? What contains his DNA? And what if you lose a hair? What if you eat a chicken that will then become you?)
So we need to look at the system as a whole abstract entity.

I've read in many places that the idea that quantum mechanics has to do with consciousness is often proposed. So what if in our brains, whenever we need to make a choice, there are quantum sub-systems that are "activated": this gives as a range of infinite various opportunities at a very low level, which, at a higher level, represent the opportunity to make a choice and can be seen as "free will". We do not have the power to decide directly which quantum state each particle will have, as we do not have the opportunity to decide in which axon electricity will pass, but it might be that we do have the power to decide what to do as we have the power to think (not to decide what to think).

To say it in a different manner, we assign meanings at all those computational processes, calling "three" those low-level configurations that, at a higher level, represent what we intend as a tree. In the same way we could give meaning to randomness and call it "free will".

I hope I made myself clear, sorry if not; the topic is already quite hard to be treated for a native speaker, which I am not, and my English probably doesn't allow me to express myself at my best.

mat.tia

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Re: Definition of Free Will

mat.tia wrote:To say it in a different manner, we assign meanings at all those computational processes, calling "three" those low-level configurations that, at a higher level, represent what we intend as a tree. In the same way we could give meaning to randomness and call it "free will".

Sure, we can call randomness free will if we like - but how are we really better of in doing so? Randomness, by it's very nature, can't be controlled or directed. Once the randomness enters the 'classical', 'macro-level' of the brain (so to speak) it proceeds to affect the brain deterministically again. So what does it gain us?

If there is randomness in the human brain (which is possible), it does not cause us to have free will, it just causes our actions to become unpredictable. To have free will through quantum randomness, you'd need something like a soul 'outside of' the universe directing the randomness - giving it 'meaning'.

It depends what you want out of the concept of free will. If you want humans not to be predictable, well, frankly, they probably aren't predictable anyway. Not in any useful, long-term sense anyhow. You'd not only need a complete model of the working of the subject brain you'd need access to all sensory input. If you want humans to be responsible for their actions - again, losing the concept of 'hard' free will doesn't change anything. If a thermostat goes faulty and stops turning on the air-con when it should, you don't say 'it's not its fault, it didn't have free will', you correct it just the same. When human beings commit faulty actions you correct them with education, reward and punishment just like you correct a thermostat with a screwdriver. Nothing fundamentally changes at all.

We are, in truth, like conscious thermostats. We think we make the choice to turn on the air con when it gets hot, and turn on the heating when it gets cold, but in fact it's all just deterministic (with, perhaps, a sprinkling of randomness). That's not a bad thing, though, it's an amazing thing - and opens up the possibility that all sorts of other things we are all but certain don't have free will might also be conscious. Heck, how certain are we that our computers couldn't possibly be conscious?

I hope I made myself clear, sorry if not; the topic is already quite hard to be treated for a native speaker, which I am not, and my English probably doesn't allow me to express myself at my best.

Sure. I'd still recommend you read up some of the existing threads here. There are literally thousands of posts on the topic and quantum randomness comes up commonly as a way to square the circle. It misses the point, though.

I'm a relative newbie in these forums so I don't mind addressing the topic again :p
elasto

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Re: Definition of Free Will

elasto wrote:It's profound because, before the century is out, we will be asking questions about whether all sorts of non-human things have free will or consciousness - from genetically modified animals to hard-AI creations to perhaps, eventually, non-carbon based aliens .
...
To have free will through quantum randomness, you'd need something like a soul 'outside of' the universe directing the randomness - giving it 'meaning'.

These two things seem to be at odds. You say that we can ask profound questions like if non-human things can have free will. But then you hold to a notion that free will requires things outside the universe magicially affecting us. If you define free will in some completely unscientific way, then naturally science will not find it. There is nothing profound there at all.

elasto wrote:We are, in truth, like conscious thermostats. We think we make the choice to turn on the air con when it gets hot, and turn on the heating when it gets cold, but in fact it's all just deterministic (with, perhaps, a sprinkling of randomness). That's not a bad thing, though, it's an amazing thing - and opens up the possibility that all sorts of other things we are all but certain don't have free will might also be conscious. Heck, how certain are we that our computers couldn't possibly be conscious?

You say deterministic, but perhaps you mean predictable. If there is a sprinkling of randomness, then it is precisely not a deterministic process, even if we can approximate it as such at a big level. The quality of the approximation is based on the quality of the predicatibility, and thus I say that predictability is what matters.

But just because we are predictable in a lot of our behavior, it does not mean that conscious deliberation has no effect. A thermostat cannot choose to sit there and endure the heat, but a person can. Did you read that article that jules.LT linked to? It deals with a lot of the stuff you're talking about. If you read it, what do you think?

mat.tia wrote:I understand your point of view, but I do not completely agree with it.
To me, the proportion 'electricity running through axons':'thought'='quantum randomness':'free will' makes sense.

I used to hold to the notion that quantum randomness gave us the key we needed to have free will since it defeats the idea that the universe is deterministic. But then I had the thought that the key was about predictability, not determinism. If the universe is deterministic, but we don't have access to be able to use that to perfectly predict what will happen, then it doesn't matter to our scientific inquiry at all. So if we want to have free will describe something real, not magical, then determinism shouldn't be relevant.

Regarding predictability, if we can model behavior with an algorithm such that we can perfectly predict behavior, then I'd have a hard time accepting the notion of free will. This isn't an issue with people, but it is an issue if we want to judge when artificial intelligence has free will. If an AI passes the free will equivalent of the Turing Test, but then some programmer describes precisely how it made all of its choices and can even tweak the programming to make it make different choices, then that doesn't seem free. But if we imagine a Jonny 5 scenario from Short Circuit where the creator doesn't understand the process, then I can buy it. Does it take lightning to create AI, or can we use some deliberate design process to make something that has an emergent property of will that stems from a well-defined algorithm? I don't know.

morriswalters wrote:That it is impossible to define free in any meaningful way.
That is impossible to define will in a meaningful way.

The process of defining is easy, and we can do so such that free will is either meaningless or meaningful. The challenging thing is getting everyone to agree on how it should be defined.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
guenther

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Re: Definition of Free Will

maybe i do not understand how my idea is equivalent to elasto's, it's probable, but to me, what we get wrong, is perspective.
We see these quantum entities as independent items that kind of "make choices" for us.
I think we all agree that these "particles" do make choices, even if they're not aware of it, because they somehow are one thing while they could have been something else at the same time.
The thing is, these particles are part of us, these particles are us. So, yes, we don't have any say in what they decide individually, but altogether, my opinion is that randomness does not exist at our level of perception, and that it is seen as our free will.
I'm not saying our desires, ideals, opinions, create some metaphysical (or, why not, physical but still unknown) force that somehow draws particles to make the choices we want them to make.
This is a very fascinating idea, but i'm afraid it is too far from reality.
I'm just saying that all these tiny choices, seen all together, from our human point of view, might define free will.
If free will was intended as something that could influence the individual particles' choices, would mean that this free will goes beyond the laws of physics.
My view of free will is of a way through the system, within its own laws, to make choices that are not already written, decided, predicted somewhere.
With this, the question would move to: is a person the result of what it's always wanted to be, since it was born, or is it the result of what it wanted to be an instant ago? I think that my view of free will matches the common view on the topic I just proposed.
Our personality keeps changing, our "I" is of course different every second, (we learn, we lose hair, we eat chicken...) therefore we only have one choice for each instantaneous "I" that will reflect to the successive one and will be carried on to all the future ones.
Also, what I meant that we give "meaning" to something and call it free will, of course I didn't mean I can see an apple and give it the meaning of "office". I meant that if there wasn't our consciousness, nothing would have meaning: not our computational and biological processes, not the quantum randomness, not anything.
I don't know, I somehow I have this ideas of meanings as a consistent "set", the set of all things seen from an abstract point of view, and I believe that in this set "free will" should be mapped onto quantum uncertainty.

mat.tia

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Re: Definition of Free Will

mat.tia wrote:I think we all agree that these "particles" do make choices, even if they're not aware of it, because they somehow are one thing while they could have been something else at the same time.

A rock bouncing down a hill, on the lowest known level, also depends on quantum processes: how does your reasoning not apply to it too?
(btw, I absolutely do not agree that something that does not have awareness can make a "choice")
Also, quantum mechanics do no necessarily mean that anything is non-deterministic: check the many interpretations of quantum mechanics other than the Copenhagen interpretation

mat.tia wrote:these particles are us.
[...]
Our personality keeps changing, our "I" is of course different every second, (we learn, we lose hair, we eat chicken...)

We "are" not the particles of our body: changing each and every one of them without changing their arrangement wouldn't change who we are. We're their arrangement and movement.
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

jules.LT

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Re: Definition of Free Will

jules.LT wrote:A rock bouncing down a hill, on the lowest known level, also depends on quantum processes: how does your reasoning not apply to it too?
(btw, I absolutely do not agree that something that does not have awareness can make a "choice")

And I agree with you. For a rock bouncing down a hill, it's not the rock making the choices, or at least, it probably is, (who else would it be "deciding" for it? either itself, the universe as a whole, god..?) but the stone is not complex enough nor does it have any "consciousness apparatus" (I suppose) to be aware of what it's doing.

Maybe it's just a wrecked idea. but to me it's the same reason why planet do not love each other. I mean, they do have attraction forces towards each other, as we do towards other people (even if much more complex). The difference is that we can either look at those attraction forces as the result of chemical and biological processes or we can look at it as love,friendship... and both of the views are correct at the same time. Planets cannot even look at those forces in anyway because, again, I suppose, they do not have any kind of awareness that let them know they're attracted to something else nor any kind of apparatus that let them look at something.

jules.LT wrote:Also, quantum mechanics do no necessarily mean that anything is non-deterministic: check the many interpretations of quantum mechanics other than the Copenhagen interpretation

Thanks, will go revise it
jules.LT wrote:We "are" not the particles of our body: changing each and every one of them without changing their arrangement wouldn't change who we are. We're their arrangement and movement.

All right, "it ain't the meat, it's the motion" : ) But what difference does it make? Still the physical substrate in which our "motion" is planted matters, because it's what defines the possibilities of future arrangements. We are the particles that we "contain" (or are represented by). Of course we change them every instant (as does change the arrangement) and that is why I was talking about many instantaneous I's.
Anyway, I understand this topic has been raised many times, so I'll go have a look and see how else other people that conceived the same (or similar idea) to mine were criticized!

mat.tia

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Free will is intrinsically defined by identity (your sense of self).

Consider dividing the universe by your identity. There is everything that is you and there is everything else. By definition then all interactions between you and the universe are at the boundary of your identity. The only information you get is at the boundary of you and the universe.

The universe operates on a complex system of relationships and mechanisms. Similarly, you run on mechanisms and relationships, but we consider those mechanisms to be free will because they cannot be introspectively examined in the same way.

So for any given entity, free will from a local reference inside that entity is simply the internal system of relations that connects the inputs and outputs of that entity.
Danny Uncanny7

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Many points that I'd like to do has already been made but I hope you will allow me to summarize my position briefly and then push a question that I would like to see further discussion on.

1. Free will in the sense of "nonrandom non-determinism" is nonsense, as remarked early by curtis95112.

2. The possible existence of some supernatural soul or spirit makes no difference to the point above. That simply moves the question to "how could this spirit have nonrandom non-determinism", which is still nonsense.

3. Thus, only some deterministic interpretation of free will remains.

4. Humans clearly have the ability to influence and act upon their environment. This influence is to some degree removed from immediately available external stimuli. I would prefer to describe this as "humans have a will".

5. Choice does not require freedom in any sense that I can see to be meaningful. (A definition requiring freedom would run into the "nonrandom non-determinism" problem as far as I can see). I reasonable definition of choice would be conditional action, which if how the universe works at all levels. Making choices is not special to humans in any fundamental way.

6. Our definition of and potential belief in free will matters. It affects how we view other people and what interventions we believe to be reasonable in relation to their actions and "choices".

Given these points my primary question is: "Why should we (not) use the concept of free will"?

While I think that the concept of free will is fundamentally problematic my primary objection to using this concept is that I think it encourages misconceptions and prevents us from seeing the truth about how to best deal with human behavior in many situations.

For example, to quote Sam Harris: "And, needless to say, you can take no credit for the fact that you weren’t born a psychopath." I think that people often do take credit for not being a psychopath, and that this is a really bad thing.

Note that the absence of free will does not in any way remove the fact that some people need to be contained and that actions need to have consequences in order to protect society. But I think that how we view such people is really important, and that dropping the concept of free will would make it easier to see how to best deal with such problems.

I can recommend this post by Sam Harris (the quote above is from this post):
http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/life-without-free-will

deepone

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Re: Definition of Free Will

deepone wrote:For example, to quote Sam Harris: "And, needless to say, you can take no credit for the fact that you weren’t born a psychopath." I think that people often do take credit for not being a psychopath, and that this is a really bad thing.

Free will aside, people still generally prefer non-psychopaths, so the general "at least I'm a good person" pride is not entirely misplaced. I mean, sure, genetics and such made it happen, but it's desirable regardless of how it came to be. It's not really different from pride in your ethnic heritage or eye color or whatever, really. It's mostly just "I'm happy/proud that I have good qualities".

Choices are still meaningful, though. Consider, if you will, rolled dice. It's perfectly normal English to refer to a die itself as an entity, as in the phrase, "that die rolled a 20". Now, we all know the die didn't roll itself, but dice are extremely sensitive to initial considerations, making it extremely difficult to guess in advance what a die will roll. Correlations to people, in this instance, are obvious. We're far more complicated, so computing in advance what a particular human will do is...unreasonable.

So, by "choice", we're really referring to something that's deterministic, but beyond our computational ability to determine in advance. We don't speak of someone's choice to continue falling after jumping off a cliff, but we do speak of their choice to jump or not. We would not, however, consider it to be the same person's choice if someone else tossed them off.

"choice" is still a useful word when you think of it in this light, but it is mostly separated from connotations of complete independence.
Tyndmyr

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Tyndmyr wrote:
deepone wrote:For example, to quote Sam Harris: "And, needless to say, you can take no credit for the fact that you weren’t born a psychopath." I think that people often do take credit for not being a psychopath, and that this is a really bad thing.

Free will aside, people still generally prefer non-psychopaths, so the general "at least I'm a good person" pride is not entirely misplaced. I mean, sure, genetics and such made it happen, but it's desirable regardless of how it came to be. It's not really different from pride in your ethnic heritage or eye color or whatever, really. It's mostly just "I'm happy/proud that I have good qualities".

I think there is an important difference between being happy/proud and being happy/thankful. I am most definitely happy/thankful that I am not a psychopath. I think the real difference is how we view others, though, depending on this distinction. If I'm proud to not be a psychopath I'm much more likely to look down upon and loathe and not want to deal with another human that is a psychopath, than if I'm thankful that I'm not a psychopath. If I realize that it is in some sense just luck that it's not me in that straigth jacket I really believe that this will make me treat this person more humanely, even while realizing that his/her behavior must be restricted.

EDIT: You could say that I believe that dropping the concept of free will encourages understanding, respect, and ultimately - love, between all humans.
Tyndmyr wrote:
Choices are still meaningful, though. Consider, if you will, rolled dice. It's perfectly normal English to refer to a die itself as an entity, as in the phrase, "that die rolled a 20". Now, we all know the die didn't roll itself, but dice are extremely sensitive to initial considerations, making it extremely difficult to guess in advance what a die will roll. Correlations to people, in this instance, are obvious. We're far more complicated, so computing in advance what a particular human will do is...unreasonable.

So, by "choice", we're really referring to something that's deterministic, but beyond our computational ability to determine in advance. We don't speak of someone's choice to continue falling after jumping off a cliff, but we do speak of their choice to jump or not. We would not, however, consider it to be the same person's choice if someone else tossed them off.

"choice" is still a useful word when you think of it in this light, but it is mostly separated from connotations of complete independence.

I agree, "choice" is a useful word. I think we need to use it, I don't know if a good alternative. But dropping the connection between choices and free will changes your perspective on choices I think. They're still there, still important, but different in ways that are sometimes important.

deepone

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Re: Definition of Free Will

deepone wrote:I agree, "choice" is a useful word. I think we need to use it, I don't know if a good alternative. But dropping the connection between choices and free will changes your perspective on choices I think. They're still there, still important, but different in ways that are sometimes important.

I've not found the metaphysical argument of "free will" to ever be relevant in life from a pragmatic point of view.

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.
Tyndmyr

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Tyndmyr wrote:I've not found the metaphysical argument of "free will" to ever be relevant in life from a pragmatic point of view.
Are you saying that we might as well drop the idea of free will?
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.
I think I agree, if I understand you correctly.
I would point out that even if we do not have "free" will we certainly have a will and we have personal impact on our environment. That implies responsibility well enough for me, even if it is a slightly different version of responsibility. Humans are very powerful agents in the world and should be treated as such. That is independent of any free will concept.

deepone

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Re: Definition of Free Will

deepone wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:I've not found the metaphysical argument of "free will" to ever be relevant in life from a pragmatic point of view.
Are you saying that we might as well drop the idea of free will?

Basically, yes. Or, we can use the term to mean a much more limited form of freedom(ie, not currently being constrained), if we wish, more along the lines of "free to do as you like", without exploring the deterministic nature of what you like is.
Tyndmyr

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Re: Definition of Free Will

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.
addams wrote: There is no such thing as an Unbiased Jury.
curtis95112

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Re: Definition of Free Will

curtis95112 wrote:Why does free will matter anyway? It's not like it'll have observable consequences, religious objections notwithstanding.

Of course, if you don't believe in free will you (I) don't believe that is has any "real/direct" consequences. However, the concept of free will and the attitude that people have towards it are real, and I think this matters.

deepone

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Re: Definition of Free Will

If I observe a purple red object, I have two options. Either my original logic/assumptions/reasoning was incorrect, or my observation is. So there are two options:

1) If there are factually purple red objects, then I'm wrong. Reality is reality, it has no obligation to follow any rules I learn about it, it defines the rules.

2) If my observation is incorrect, I need better observations. I cannot keep a contradictory understanding.

Notice how we cannot assume or reason, use logic or theory to prove 1 as better than 2 or vis versa. We can only check data and get perhaps a better assumption for next time. It's always reality that trumps our understandings.

So, if there is, or is not free will is somewhat by the by. We cannot conclude "only deterministic or random things exist", because we can only conclude "only what we observe can we assume to exist". Observing a decision process is somewhat difficult, not impossible, but difficult. So we need to get better observations before we can make comment on it.

Theists are given a "choice" by their God in most instances. This would assume free will if it's not give a predetermined result. So, free will is one of the assumptions. It cannot be proven/disproved in this case. It's a safe assumption to make, because without it, well "choice" becomes somewhat meaningless.

It's not wrong to make certain assumptions. Even science requires them. Such as "Nature is orderly, i.e., regularity, pattern, and structure. Laws of nature describe order."
Being able to reason and make choices on that reason requires the assumption of a freely acting decision mechanism.
It's all physics and stamp collecting.
It's not a particle or a wave. It's just an exchange.
Technical Ben

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Re: Definition of Free Will

I'll assume you've defined purple and red so that an object can't be both at the same time. If I've misunderstood, please let me know.

How do you know that you've observed a purple red object? You would have to have some predetermined criteria for deciding if an object is purple red or not. Then. you have to match your observations to those criteria. Except that if you've defined purple and red as mutually exclusive, there are no circumstances under which you'd conclude you've seen a purple red object. This isn't logic trumping reality. Reality can do whatever the hell it wants. It's just that you won't call it purple red.

Similarly, we've defined 'deterministic' and 'random' in such a way that there is no third alternative. The only assumption I make when I say nothing is neither deterministic nor random is that reality is self-consistent. An assumption, to be sure. But one I hope you won't contest.

I don't understand what you're trying to say here:
Technical Ben wrote:Being able to reason and make choices on that reason requires the assumption of a freely acting decision mechanism.

@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.
addams wrote: There is no such thing as an Unbiased Jury.
curtis95112

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