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Author Topic: Do People have Free Will, or is the Concept Nothing But Illusion.  (Read 14717 times)

Offline Gordian Knot

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David Cooper and I have been having fun (at least I have been having fun; I hope he has too!) discussing whether people have free will or not. That discussion is buried in another topic though so I thought I would start a fresh one as I am interested in everyone's views.

My original statement from the other thread:

Much more complicated than I was aware of. Some branches of modern science, especially Neuro-Scientists, have concluded that free will isn't all that free. Then there is the view from physics.

Stephen Hawking on Free Will:
Under the assumption of physicalism it has been argued that the laws of quantum mechanics provide a complete probabilistic account of the motion of particles, regardless of whether or not free will exists.[51] Physicist Stephen Hawking describes such ideas in his 2010 book The Grand Design. According to Hawking, these findings from quantum mechanics suggest that humans are sorts of complicated biological machines; although our behavior is impossible to predict perfectly in practice, "free will is just an illusion."[48] In other words, he thinks that only compatibilistic (deterministic) free will is possible based on the data.

There is apparently quite a debate going on between scientists and philosophers about what free will is, and how real, or unreal it is. Here is another example from Nature Magazine.

http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110831/full/477023a.html#B1

My opinion is that in the big picture statistically, free will is largely an illusion. But I DO believe on an individual moment by moment basis, free will is available to us.

David believes there is no such thing as free will.

If anyone is interested, they can follow the first page of comments starting here:

http://www.thenakedscientists.com/forum/index.php?topic=41586.50


 

Offline Gordian Knot

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Continuing the discussion from where it left off.

David Cooper wrote: "One has multiple options, but one always goes for the one which appears to be the best one. Often it may not be the best one, but you can't be bothered thinking it through and just go for the first one that looks as if it will do - in such a case the drive that wins out may be tiredness or laziness, so it is the best option on that front and you've made the judgement that that's the most important consideration."

This statement, to me, is saying there is a choice. If one has multiple options and you always choose the best one, that is making a choice! Isn't it? One has to weigh the options, as you outline, and choose the one that makes the most sense. Making a choice means there is free will. If there were no free will, there would be no set of choices to pick from. There would only be THE one response you act on. That is not the case.
 

Offline Joe L. Ogan

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Wait just a minute, I have to ask my wife!  Thanks for comments.  Joe L. Ogan
 

Offline David Cooper

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This statement, to me, is saying there is a choice. If one has multiple options and you always choose the best one, that is making a choice! Isn't it?

It is making a choice, but it's directed by a system of drives which aims to make you choose the best option. If you were allowed to make random choices instead every time you would be far less successful in life and evolution would select against you - it would probably result in a very early death as you would have nothing to stop you running out onto a road in front of fast-moving traffic. Allowing completely random decision making would of course be extreme, but when would it ever be sensible not to do the best thing?

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One has to weigh the options, as you outline, and choose the one that makes the most sense.

So how can you find a role for free will?

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Making a choice means there is free will.

Except it doesn't if your decision is forced, and it will be forced - various drives have an input into the decision making process and the choice that's made will be dictated by those and by the mechanism that weighs them up. You would need to have some additional free-will input into the system, but how would it work? Would it have to do the weighing up too or would it just make blind guesses? If it does the weighing up, is it designed to make bad decisions or good ones? Alternatively, if free will isn't the mechanism for weighing up the inputs but rather is an input (or more than one input) based on what you like and dislike, how is it free will when you aren't in charge of what you like and dislike?

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If there were no free will, there would be no set of choices to pick from.

There can be a long list of choices, but the inputs and the mechanism which weighs them up will dictate which one will win out, unless the difference is marginal in which case it doesn't matter which is chosen and a random decision can be made. As it happens, we aren't good at making random decisions when the weightings are even and it can cause us to stall.

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There would only be THE one response you act on. That is not the case.

It often is the case that there is only one clear choice which you must act on, even though there is a range of possible alternative actions. If you are a prisoner and I offer you the choice of being executed or released, is that a real choice? In other cases it takes more calculation to make a decision, such as where you have to choose between two chocolates with different flavoured fillings when you like them both equally and can only have one. Where decisions are easy, there is clearly no role for free will, but where they are hard they become more like random choices - the only thing that can make them non-random is if you can find something to drive the decision in the direction of one choice over another, and that drive will be some factor which makes one choice look like a better option.

When I have to select an apple from a plurality of apples (which I'm going to be eating over a number of days), I've had to develop a number of rules which I follow so that I don't spend ages trying to work out which one to go for each time - I take the most damaged one first, but if there's no clear winner on that front I'll look for the biggest one next (because that way I always feel that I'm getting the biggest one), and if there's still no clear winner I go for the lightest in colour (because they tend to be the tastiest). If there's still no clear winner by that point, I might lose a couple of minutes of my life trying to make a random choice.
 

Offline Nizzle

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How about this:

I'm free to have my decision depend on a dice I roll.
Let's say: I'm eating Chinese if I roll 1, 2 or 3 and Italian if I roll 4, 5 or 6.

What I'm eating tonight is a matter of fate/randomness (dice outcome), but I've chosen freely to have the dice "decide" for me.
« Last Edit: 17/02/2012 14:44:01 by Nizzle »
 

Offline David Cooper

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What I'm eating tonight is a matter of fate/randomness (dice outcome), but I've chosen freely to have the dice "decide" for me.

You've chosen to use a mechanism to make a random choice for you, so why would you do that rather than making the choice yourself? If you'd prefer to eat Italian, you wouldn't want the choice to be taken away from you and handed to random luck - you'd be driven to choose Italian food directly instead. Ditto for Chinese. However, if you can't make up your mind because both options are equally appealing, it isn't easy to make a choice. You have to try to find something that will push you one way rather than the other, but you can't. So, you try to make a random choice, but that's just as hard. You think about possible ways of using a tool to force the decision, such as a coin or dice, and if one of those is available you can then use it to make the decision for you. Your motivation for allowing something external to make the decision for you is that the decision is too close to call and you can't make up your mind. That isn't free will - your failure to make the decision drives you to find a random decision making device which will get the decision done for you.

Alternatively, you do have a preference for Chinese, but instead of just choosing Chinese you decide that there's an opportunity to override that preference and make a random choice which may force you to eat Italian instead. Why? Because it would demonstrate your free will. But would it? No: the thing driving you to do this would be your belief in free will and desire for it to be real, so it is your desire to cling to a false belief that would drive you to hand over the decision making to something random.
« Last Edit: 18/02/2012 01:17:37 by David Cooper »
 

Offline neilep

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If it's discovered that we have no free will...then what ?
 

Offline Gordian Knot

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Wait just a minute, I have to ask my wife! 

For the record, definitely the best answer so far! :)
 

Offline Gordian Knot

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Okay David, let's try another one. One is driving down a country road and come to a fork. You have no clue where either road goes. You have a choice to turn left or turn right. You must make a choice, or drive into a ditch! The ability to make a choice means you have free will.
 

Offline David Cooper

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If it's discovered that we have no free will...then what ?

It has been, and so we just continue to do what we're driven to do.

Wait just a minute, I have to ask my wife! 

For the record, definitely the best answer so far! :)

Agreed.

Okay David, let's try another one. One is driving down a country road and come to a fork. You have no clue where either road goes. You have a choice to turn left or turn right. You must make a choice, or drive into a ditch! The ability to make a choice means you have free will.

Send a robot down the road instead of a person. If it can find no reason to prefer one route over the other, it will call a routine that makes a pseudo-random choice for it (or make a possibly-genuinely random choice if it has the right hardware attacthed to it). A person will do very much the same thing. The robot does not have free will. How is the person any different?

If there are no brakes and the road is going downhill, the choice may need to be made in a hurry to avoid crashing into the ditch, and people are so bad at making rapid random choices when in situations where the options are hard to choose between that they often can crash into ditches.

Here's something else for you to consider - if the only room you can find for free will is in making random decisions, what kind of free will is that? In any other situation where a non-random decision is made, some factor(s) win(s) out by making one option look better than the rest, and that certainly isn't free will.
 

Offline neilep

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If it's discovered that we have no free will...then what ?

It has been, and so we just continue to do what we're driven to do.

Wait just a minute, I have to ask my wife! 

For the record, definitely the best answer so far! :)

Agreed.

Okay David, let's try another one. One is driving down a country road and come to a fork. You have no clue where either road goes. You have a choice to turn left or turn right. You must make a choice, or drive into a ditch! The ability to make a choice means you have free will.

Send a robot down the road instead of a person. If it can find no reason to prefer one route over the other, it will call a routine that makes a pseudo-random choice for it (or make a possibly-genuinely random choice if it has the right hardware attacthed to it). A person will do very much the same thing. The robot does not have free will. How is the person any different?

If there are no brakes and the road is going downhill, the choice may need to be made in a hurry to avoid crashing into the ditch, and people are so bad at making rapid random choices when in situations where the options are hard to choose between that they often can crash into ditches.

Here's something else for you to consider - if the only room you can find for free will is in making random decisions, what kind of free will is that? In any other situation where a non-random decision is made, some factor(s) win(s) out by making one option look better than the rest, and that certainly isn't free will.


I don't understand...if we have no free will....then where does the ' drive ' you mention come from ?
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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Our genes.

We're just robots programmed by our genes to have certain traits and certain flexibilities, learning capacities, desires, and semi-random behaviours.
 

Offline neilep

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so are you saying that without free will everything is predetermined ? There is simply no free choice at all ?....It has been mentioned that free will is a false belief......so.....just saying so....makes it so ?

I believe I can entertain the possibility of free will......can't you  ?

What about instinct and intuition?
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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Does a chess computer have free will?

If I say it always makes the move it wants, does that give it free will?

Most people say not, because humans programmed it to want certain things, that tend to make it win, even though they don't have that much control over what moves it plays, and modern chess programs usually have some ability to learn for themselves what is good and bad play. And no, the result is not predetermined.

But then, you are programmed by your genes, with random perturbations, and you have the capacity to learn.

There's not, fundamentally, a lot of difference really. You're more flexible, you can learn a lot more things and you have far more general intelligence, but the basic principles are similar, even if the exact implementation is very different.
 

Offline neilep

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But I'm not a chess computer !......even chalk and cheese does not come close to differentiating between a chess computer and a persons capabilities.

My genes may have programming  but I would guess that they are there to assist in decision making....I don't believe I am dictated by them.


I'm just finding it very difficult to accept the notion that free will does not exist !

 

Offline wolfekeeper

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That's good, I don't think your genes find it in their best interest for you to know that you have no free will, or more accurately, that you only have the free will they've given you!

The genes (mostly) don't directly determine what you do, any more than a chess computer's programmers decide what moves to make; it's more that they decide what you should find valuable, and then your body/brain generates behaviours to match what the genes have designed you for.
« Last Edit: 19/02/2012 15:47:48 by wolfekeeper »
 

Offline neilep

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I think you think that our genes are acting on a separate plane of consciousness...In fact...it appears you attribute them with an arbitrary nature. They are a part of me and they just assist....They don't fool me into thinking that I believe in a free will !...what's the point of that ?

 
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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They're certainly not conscious, but they are adaptive, and they're not exactly part of you. They have their own 'agenda' in that nearly all of them are in other people as well and they look out for (in an adaptive sense) themselves, not you.
« Last Edit: 19/02/2012 15:49:42 by wolfekeeper »
 

Offline neilep

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What is their "agenda" ?...what's their Modus operandi ?..and if they are not exactly a part of me then what are they a part of ?


Just for clarification :

When you say we have no free will ...are you saying that what ever decision we make is not our own ?..it's a result of some programming ?...or some design ?
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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What is their "agenda" ?...
Ultimately, increased reproduction of themselves.
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what's their Modus operandi ?
You are, and everyone else with that gene!

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..and if they are not exactly a part of me then what are they a part of ?
They ARE a part of you, but they're not just a part of you.
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Just for clarification :

When you say we have no free will ...are you saying that what ever decision we make is not our own ?..it's a result of some programming ?...or some design ?
I can only really state this again:

"We're just robots programmed by our genes to have certain traits and certain flexibilities, learning capacities, desires, and semi-random behaviours."
 

Offline neilep

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In MY opinion I can't accept that we are programmed....I can accept that we are influenced by our biological proclivities, our environment and personal circumstances be them physical, physiological or psychological . It seems that you are saying that we are just a vehicle for bunch of genes !


Don't you think that in their programming of us that they've made a programming error when it comes to destroying ourselves ?...and thereby...themselves too ?
 

Offline neilep

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Can i also add that if we were programmed...then would it not be impossible for us to know that ?
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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In MY opinion I can't accept that we are programmed....I can accept that we are influenced by our biological proclivities, our environment and personal circumstances be them physical, physiological or psychological . It seems that you are saying that we are just a vehicle for bunch of genes !
Do you mind? We're not just a vehicle, we're a really elaborate vehicle for a bunch of genes!

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Don't you think that in their programming of us that they've made a programming error when it comes to destroying ourselves ?...and thereby...themselves too ?
Who knows? But in the long run, we're all dead, even our genes.
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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Can i also add that if we were programmed...then would it not be impossible for us to know that ?
Maybe if evolution had tried it many times before and each time it had gone bad eventually genes that preclude it from being known would eventually evolve, but I don't think that that has happened, and genes have absolutely no foresight.
 

Offline Gordian Knot

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Wolfe said "They ARE a part of you, but they're not just a part of you."

Okay Wolfe, you win the gobbledegook award for the thread! That comment makes NO sense whatsoever. LOL.

Wolfe 2 "They're (our genes) .... they're not exactly part of you. They have their own 'agenda' in that nearly all of them are in other people as well and they look out for (in an adaptive sense) themselves, not you."

Don't mean to be singling you out Wolfe, but I had no choice! No free will and all. (Yes, smart ass remark! Couldn't resist, so just ignore).

I would really like to see some verification, any verification of this remark. Our genes are a part of us, but they have their own agenda????? Whose? May I ask? I never considered that our genes had their own agenda separate from our own individual agendas.

David, do not want to ignore you. Your theory seems to suggest that we have no free will because whatever we decide, that is what we were going to decide. Ergo, Ipso Facto Columbo Oreo (I just love that line!) But I digress.....

There is something logically wrong with that concept, though I do not know  how to put it into words. Yet.
 

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