Tuesday, August 4, 2009

ZenTiger Free Will

To many people, free will is a license to rebel not against what is unjust or hard in life but against what is best for them and true. --Dean Koontz

Some people don't believe in free will, and think we all react exactly the same when the exact same conditions are duplicated. The point that there are so many, many possible conditions (if not infinite, then at least an improbably huge number) then perhaps we can never truly test this theory out.

Aside from that, it's easy to rebel against what is best for us if we cannot even acknowledge such truth.

36 comment(s):

David said...

"The point that there are so many, many possible conditions (if not infinite, then at least an improbably huge number) then perhaps we can never truly test this theory out."

No, the point is that the concept of 'free will' has no more verifiable evidence to support it than the concept of 'god'. 'free will' is the hypothesis, not the more universally accepted concept of causality. That's like asking an athiest to prove the non existence of god.

ZenTiger said...

Ah, thought I might lure you out.

"the more universally accepted concept of causality"

What makes you think that there cannot be both?

And then, how would that make causality more universal than the universally held belief of free will?

If your point is there is no free will because there is causality, then if we could agree that the conditions are impossibly huge, at what point does your causality theory effectively become irrelevant?

To tie this into my other post for tonight, looks like John Key and National have declared they can ignore causality and strike the partial defense of provocation. Seems like they think we are all capable of remaining in control of our circumstances.

How strange that I consider people with free will may be victims of causality and yet some wishy-washy light liberals think causality is irrelevant.

I think the answer to that paradox lies in the comment I made in my third paragraph.

[Updated and replaced previous comments, edited for readability, I hope]

David said...

"If your point is there is no free will because there is causality"

I didn't say that, I said there's no evidence that free will exists, but that causality does.

The laws we create are part of the chain of causality, the question should be whether a particular law has a positive effect. In the case of provocation, in it's current form I don't see a benefit for allowing people such a defense, although I would support tailoring methods to rehabilitate people who are easily provoked.

ZenTiger said...

I said there's no evidence that free will exists, but that causality does.

Then my question is, so what? What is the link you are suggesting between free will and causality then? Why mention it?

The laws we create are part of the chain of causality, the question should be whether a particular law has a positive effect.

They also are part of a chain of a desire for justice and to enforce a social contract. There are many people arguing at the moment that punishment is having no positive effect, and is pointless. They seem to have forgotten the bit about finding justice and keeping society safe from its failures.

Whilst I did mention my other post in my comment, this post wasn't motivated by that passing comment.

In the case of provocation, in it's current form I don't see a benefit for allowing people such a defense,

I would argue the reason is that we recognise people are infallible and that being human is being affected by other causes (I'm picking this particular reason only because you raised the issue of causality) that can remove capacity for sound judgment and reason, through extreme circumstances not stemming from an evil intent (like seeing a loved one killed in front of them; like being tortured every day and then being driven to attack back when the perpetrator doesn't expect it)

although I would support tailoring methods to rehabilitate people who are easily provoked. Most cases where provocation as a defense succeeds are one off cases, not were the accused has a long history of violence. In any event, the sentencing for the crime and the attempt to rehabilitate are two different issues.

Andrei said...

David if the universe is not deterministic how can human behavior
be so?

And if human behavior is not deterministic (bounded) free will follows.

David said...

"David if the universe is not deterministic how can human behavior
be so?

And if human behavior is not deterministic (bounded) free will follows."

... I think you both need a lesson in reading comprehension. When did I say that the universe is not deterministic?

All I said was that causality is widely accepted, but there is no verifiable evidence to support the existence of 'free will', IE the ability humans supposedly possess to escape the bonds of causality.

ZenTiger said...

... I think you both need a lesson in reading comprehension. When did I say that the universe is not deterministic?

And when did I say that you said that? You seem to have ignored my last comment.

I said there's no evidence that free will exists, but that causality does.

Then my question is, so what? What is the link you are suggesting between free will and causality then? Why mention it?

I'm trying to understand your point here:

"the more universally accepted concept of causality"

That phrase implies to me that you are offering the (supposedly) more universally accepted concept of causality over free will.

David said...

You didn't say that, Andrei did, you said,

"If your point is there is no free will because there is causality"

preceeded by

"What makes you think that there cannot be both?"

I'm not offering the concept of causality in place of free will, I'm not saying free will can't exist because of causality. What I'm saying is that free will never had any evidence to support it in the first place, and without it human beings most likely make decisions deterministically.

MrTips said...

David
Free will does have evidence for it, in fact, a ton of it.

There is ethical and psychological evidence for free will, which has even been accepted by determinist psychologists.

Free will is simple: it equals the ability and right to self-determination. We do this everyday by choosing dinner at one end, or choosing our spouse at the other end of complexity.

You need to read this to get an introduction to the Catholic viewpoint:

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06259a.htm#prf

theatavism said...

Free will does have evidence for it, in fact, a ton of it.

Do you care to provide some, (not this "I chose to eat dinner" stuff - that's evidence for the appearance of free will and no one denies that exists)

MrTips said...

Read the link I gave David

theatavism said...

I'm no a religionist - so, for me, theology not evidence.

MrTips said...

theatavism
its not theology
its philosophy
read the link

ZenTiger said...

Whether he reads the link or not, it is his choice.

ZenTiger said...

But maybe he was programmed to be contrary.

Hey, I think I have a quote for that somewhere. Let me see now.

Searching.
Searching.

Ah, here is is: Handy Quote

theatavism said...

Quite a lot of the article at large is theology and you did call it the "catholic viewpoint".

But anyway, it seems to me that the arguments presented in that piece are good arguments that we feel that we have free will and that society presumes people are responsible for certain actions. I'm not sure anyone denies that.

The question is what evidence is there that our apparent free-will is not an illusion built on top of a deterministic brain.An idea that can certainly be supported from neurobiology. (In fact, if your alter the freedom of someones will experimentally they still report to have experienced freedom of action)

I don't really have horse in this race, I just wanted to know where these tonnes of evidence were hiding.

ZenTiger said...

Clearly, how we define free will is going to have a big impact on the discussion.

I'm going to have another go at trying to understand David's point later. The fact that I can pause and consider my action before responding is an example of free will in action.

MrTips said...

theatavism

Thanks for reading the article.

Your question is an interesting one, but the posit you give still allows for free will: if you restrict someone's choices, they can still choose from this restricted subset. If you leave them only one choice, they could choose to do nothing at all.

If you force them to make a choice they don't want to make (such as hold a gun to their head), no-one would call that choice free. However, people can and have chosen to be shot rather than be forced into another choice.

More simple evidences of free will
include overcoming drug or alcohol addiction, smoking addiction or so on. If we are totally determined by structure/function, then we should not be able to overcome these biological realities or predispositions. Not all biological realities can be overcome by pressure of the will (eg. type I diabetes, schizophrenia) but the above can.

Plus there is this paper in the PTRS which argues from a quantum mechanics viewpoint for free will:

http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/360/1458/1309.full.pdf+html

I guess what I am saying is the action of choosing over-rides all other nuances about whether we have free will.

Andrei said...

The question is what evidence is there that our apparent free-will is not an illusion built on top of a deterministic brain

How can the brain be deterministic?

That's a fallacy derived from considering the computers analogues to the human brain.

But the circuits that go into digital computers are not deterministic themselves - we only operate them within ranges where their behavior is deterministic. Go outside the normal bounds of operation and their behavior quickly becomes non deterministic. the reason why we don't work with them in non deterministic regions is that it is not very useful to have a non deterministic and unpredictable machine and of course if we push to far outside the bounds they cook themselves.

ZenTiger said...

If everything is deterministic, what's quantum mechanics all about?

Is causation deterministic by definition? With some thought, we could argue otherwise. We might even see that in quantum mechanics, and perhaps when causation isn't deterministic, we have free will?

What is the definition of free will? I like this one: "the power or ability to rationally choose and consciously perform actions, at least some of which are not brought about necessarily and inevitably by external circumstances".

David said...

"The fact that I can pause and consider my action before responding is an example of free will in action."

It might be, or it might not be, it certainly isn't proof of 'free will'.

"Your question is an interesting one, but the posit you give still allows for free will: if you restrict someone's choices, they can still choose from this restricted subset. If you leave them only one choice, they could choose to do nothing at all."

If you're defining 'free will' as the ability to choose beyond choices allowed by other human beings/the government/social constraints/dogma/existing precidents then sure, we have 'free will'. However I would say that 'non conventional' decisions are simply the result of the complex environment in which we exist.

The kind of 'free will' I was referring to was the kind Ayn Rand believed in, a kind of non-mechanical process that makes the decisions outside the normal bounds of causality. Some might call it the human soul.

That website basically came down to three arguments:

1. I feel like I have free will.
2. Our moral code is based on free will, therefore free will exists.
3. Human beings are self aware, and therefore have freewill.

...None of which constitute actual proof. Self awareness is a very interesting phenomenon, but it doesn't prove the existence of 'free will'.

RE: Quantum mechanics:

Quantum physics is the study of the very small. It's been found that on a quantum level, the laws of physics don't apply with any consistency. It is also hypothetically possible that the random occurances that occur on a quantum level may effect reality on a macroscopic level, our level.

Quantum intelligence is the hypothesis that human decision making occurs partly on a quantum level, granting our actions a greater degree of "none determinism" that occurs elsewhere in our environment.

4 points:

1. I'm unaware of any hard evidence that the random occurances that occur at a quantum level influence outcomes on a macroscopic level, though it's hypothetically possible.

2. Even if it does occur, those occurances would effect all of our reality equally.

3. Quantum intelligence is a fledgling hypothesis for which there is no hard evidence.

4. Even if it turns out to be correct, and that human decisions have a higher chance to be affected by none-deterministic variables, they are random. Why assign random variables such a lofty term like 'free will'?

Andrei said...

David
Randomness operates at all levels of the universe. Watch the lotto draw next Saturday night for an example.

And indeed after the draw someones life will change for the better or worse.

Of course they picked their numbers 'deterministically'? There is a class of problem gamblers who believe this is possible but we know better - don't we?

Anyway the type of proof you seem to be demanding is not possible, its not possible for any hypothesis - even those with a strong foundation of experimental verification and utility in the world as humans perceive it.

David said...

Lotto is a really terrible example of "randomness". It is theoretically possible to predict outcomes (with a margin of error) in such a system. All it would require is some basic physics and all the the variables involved. The reason people don't is because they don't have access to the correct variables. Errors would occur in such projections but that has more to do with the limitations of mathematics and measuring methods, rather than 'randomness'.

...and as I said before, even if 'randomness' exists in reality (which it may), it has very little to do with the concept of 'free will' anyway.

"Anyway the type of proof you seem to be demanding is not possible, its not possible for any hypothesis - even those with a strong foundation of experimental verification and utility in the world as humans perceive it."

I don't demand absolute proof of anything, just enough to meet the magnitude of a claim.

Andrei said...

It is theoretically possible to predict outcomes (with a margin of error) in such a system.

It is? How? Using Newtonian mechanics perhaps? What else if not that?

No - even if the system could be fully described using Newtonian Mechanics (in itself a dubious proposition) There would be no way to set-up, let alone solve all the equations and initial conditions that would govern such a system.

The predictive value of any Newtonian model of the lotto system anybody can conceive would be no better (at very best) than a predictive model based on a statistical analysis using the assumption of randomness.

There may of course be another system of Mechanics that nobody has come up with yet that will do the job, who knows, but until they do an assumption of randomness is the best and most likely answer.

And if there is no randomness at all in the Universe I think you might have to invoke an omnipotent power who can see beyond the limitations of us mere mortals to allow for it - God in fact.

David said...

You say it's limitation of knowledge and methodolgy that prevents us from predicting these outcomes, something I agree with. You then go on to say that, "but until they do an assumption of randomness is the best and most likely answer." - Which is actually quite ridiculous.

You've made the age old argument many thiests make, "We don't know the answer to [insert very complex question] therefore [insert unsupported supernatural explanation] is true"

Not only is your reasoning completely flawed, even if it were valid, it would still have nothing to do with 'free will'.

"And if there is no randomness at all in the Universe I think you might have to invoke an omnipotent power who can see beyond the limitations of us mere mortals to allow for it - God in fact."

Nonsense, what for? This doesn't even make sense, it's completely illogical. You have no idea what you're talking about.

Andrei said...

You've made the age old argument many thiests make, "We don't know the answer to [insert very complex question] therefore [insert unsupported supernatural explanation] is true"

Actually no David - what I am suggesting to you that there isn't an answer for us to know.

I assume you are familiar with this equation

F=Gm1m2/(r*r)

Now this is a very good approximation of how 2 bodies interact due to gravity. But even in a universe containing only 2 bodies it is just an approximation!
A very good one for sure but nothing more.

But the universe contains far more than just two bodies which have to be accounted for when using that approximate equation to predict the future relative position of any two bodies. And the further into the future you try to predict the more uncertain your prediction until it becomes equivalent to being a random guess.

And that is a simple problem in the scheme of things

Andrei said...

And whats all that got to do with free will.

Well we live in a random and unpredictable world and thus we have to behave in a random an unpredictable way in order to survive and flourish.

When people or animals do behave in predictable manners they are liable to exploitation by others.

The hunter knows how his prey is going to behave in a given set of circumstances and uses that to stalk it. If the prey doesn't oblige but reacts differently than the hunter expects it probably survives otherwise...

Thus you can have free will invoking natural selection if you like.

ZenTiger said...

Lotto is a really terrible example of "randomness". It is theoretically possible to predict outcomes (with a margin of error) in such a system.

Love the rider clause: "Margin of error". Presumably that is to balance the chaos factor?

In chaos, there is always some order to be found?

I can understand that you need a vast amount of evidence to support a hypothesis of "free will". I suspect that, like the lotto balls, you are content to define free will as something deterministic with a "margin of error". At that point, I think we are arguing about too abstract an idea to have any material difference to the actual point of the post. You can define FW as causality without the right equation to prove it, and I can call FW the ability to consciously make a different choice from some-one else in the same situation (also, see my above definition) and indeed, moment to moment make a different choice. I don't think it matters that we haven't proof for one or the other.

When I say no proof for causality in this situation, isn't it a leap of faith for you to believe you can predict the outcome of lotto if you just had more information?
Surely that information has to include variables that haven't happened yet?

David said...

Completely accurate predictions are not possible because of the limitations of mathematics. Whole numbers may not exist in nature at all (certainly at a macroscopic level they don't appear to, though I've heard at a subatomic level they can).

Take Pi for example, a figure that would be required for any such calculations, yet we haven't been able to calculate it. It's possible it has an infinite number of decimal places, making any such calculations impossible from a practical standpoint.

As I said before, if you want to define 'free will' simply as the uncertainty of predictions inherant in such a complex system, then sure, we have 'free will'. That however does not mean it isn't deterministic, or that any other supernatural explanations are required. Nor does it equate to any degree of 'randomness', only uncertainty.

ZenTiger said...

I don't want to define free will as how you phrase it (above), and whether I can prove free will or not to your satisfaction doesn't necessarily mean the converse either - that it's therefore deterministic.

I know you agree that it isn't necessarily deterministic, but re-reading all of your comments, you certainly seem to constantly fall back to something approaching that view.

Personally, I'm more inclined to balance your point above about free will and uncertainty with your earlier comment: It's possible it has an infinite number of decimal places, making any such calculations impossible from a practical standpoint.

You are happy to see that in Pi, but not FW?

Which is similar to my point in the post:

The point that there are so many, many possible conditions (if not infinite, then at least an improbably huge number) then perhaps we can never truly test this theory out.

To which you then make your first comment and back we go again :-)

David said...

Well yes, this is what the entire conversation has been about, for me anyway:

"Some people don't believe in free will, and think we all react exactly the same when the exact same conditions are duplicated."

We are all unique, and will react differently when presented with similar sets of circumstances. However, you can't seperate a person from their environment or conditions without altering that person. We are a product of our environment, or more accurately, an extension of it.

By envisioning an experiment of sorts where exact conditions are replicated, you must also be replicating the person as well, in which case the outcome would be identical (random variations due to quantum mechanics not withstanding).

This "theory" that we can't test, doesn't prove something that necessarily needs proving, because the test is essentially just testing whether causality exists or not, something no-one really disagrees with (except perhaps when it comes to human behaviour).

This is because your original statement was based on the assumption that human beings are more than the some of their parts. Experiences, energy, conceptual understandings and material. An assumption for which there is no supporting evidence.

ZenTiger said...

We are all unique, and will react differently when presented with similar sets of circumstances.

No argument there.

However, you can't separate a person from their environment or conditions without altering that person.

Fairly self evident too, I would think. So let's also add that you can alter a person (or they alter themselves) even when you don't separate them from their environment. We are "changing" all of the time.

We are a product of our environment, or more accurately, an extension of it.

And yet, we are all unique extensions of it.

By envisioning an experiment of sorts where exact conditions are replicated, you must also be replicating the person as well, in which case the outcome would be identical (random variations due to quantum mechanics not withstanding).

You hope too much with your experiment to assume your outcome. If you are going to duplicate the exact conditions, you might have to start right from the big bang to duplicate it. Otherwise, there's a "margin of error" factor you might like to throw in to account for not just random variations due to quantum mechanics, but the myriad of factors that precede your perfect experiment that will possibly alter the outcome. And then it still remains an assumption for your hypothesis, because the other possibility is that the person makes a different decision in identical circumstances.

This "theory" that we can't test, doesn't prove something that necessarily needs proving, because the test is essentially just testing whether causality exists or not, something no-one really disagrees with (except perhaps when it comes to human behaviour).

There you go again with saying something you are apparently not saying.

This is because your original statement was based on the assumption that human beings are more than the some (sic) of their parts. Experiences, energy, conceptual understandings and material. An assumption for which there is no supporting evidence.

I'd say there is a lot of evidence. A person is very much a unique individual because of intangibles such as experiences, and how they process those experiences. We may not have a mathematical formula for this, but we have some logic to make a fairly reasonable hypothesis. Not everything requires proof in order to exist. I might just exist in spite of your criteria.

Anyway, the statement in my quote was based on the assumption there is free will. What roll determinism and causality plays is almost immaterial when our society functions on the basis that people have to take responsibility for their actions, are the recipient of those choices, operate from a basic belief that they can actively chose to alter their initial behaviour, and can do so.

Even if there is pure determinism and no FW as you define it, does that effectively matter to you, given the future is unknown, and you still cannot be sure what choices you will have and how you will make them when the time comes, given every moment brings about change? Do you feel an absence of choice in every situation you are in?

David said...

"I'd say there is a lot of evidence. A person is very much a unique individual because of intangibles such as experiences, and how they process those experiences. "

This almost sounds like you equate "uniqueness" with 'free will'? If you want to define it that way, then I'll agree with it. We are unique, but I wouldn't personally equate that with 'free will'

"Even if there is pure determinism and no FW as you define it, does that effectively matter to you, given the future is unknown, and you still cannot be sure what choices you will have and how you will make them when the time comes, given every moment brings about change?"

While I don't think it's possible to accurately predict every decision, we can predict them to degree. Once you get to know the people around you, you can often predict how they will react to events, I'm pretty sure most people would agree with this. I also think that with experience people learn how they themselves will react to events. I guess that the real point here is that I think people should learn from the past.

"Do you feel an absence of choice in every situation you are in?"

Actually I don't. Of course we have choices. What I object to is the assumption that these choices are made independently from causal factors. The idea that we make choices randomly, or as a result of some process that is separate from natural processes and causality is irrational, and I like rationality.

ZenTiger said...

Oops, at least one typo: What role determinism and...

PS: I am also not arguing against the very strong influence our environment and upbringing have on us, just as I am fully aware of the powerful part gravity plays in our lives.

You only have to look at the brainwashed wannabe suicide bombers places like Palestine have churned out to see the depressing effect there.

However, gravity doesn't keep us on the ground all the time, and liberating ourselves from its effects (which we can do to some extent both mentally and physically) may be a metaphor for our spirit being liberated from pure causality and discovering free will.

ZenTiger said...

This almost sounds like you equate "uniqueness" with 'free will'? If you want to define it that way, then I'll agree with it. We are unique, but I wouldn't personally equate that with 'free will'

Neither do I.

ZenTiger said...

Actually I don't. Of course we have choices. What I object to is the assumption that these choices are made independently from causal factors.

I don't believe that either.

The idea that we make choices randomly, or as a result of some process that is separate from natural processes and causality is irrational, and I like rationality.

Only a few people would make choices randomly, and they would be the ones tending towards insanity.

I do not see any conflict with causality and free will. We have gravity, and we also have magnetism. All things will not move solely on the basis of a gravitational force, and can be affected by other forces.

The fact that causality plays a big part in the universe, and that we can guess the reactions of people we know and be reasonably accurate also has no conflict with the concept of free will.

The idea that we make choices randomly,

Free will is not exemplified by "randomness".

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