Do humans have free will?

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Andre Wissler

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Do humans have free will?
« on: 15/11/2010 08:30:03 »
Andre Wissler asked the Naked Scientists:
   
Hi Chris,
 
I try and catch you as often as possible on Rudi's show on 702 Talk Radio in Jhb. Great show and love your answers to the questions.
 
I was wondering if you ever touched on the subject of "free will" i.e. do we have "free will" in the actions that we do as human beings or are our actions / day to day activities all governed by our environment or perhaps even "pre-programmed"?
 
I suppose it is a bit of the Nature vs. Nurture argument.
 
If you have a podcast around this topic I would be interested to listen to it, please can you send me the link. Else perhaps you can discuss it this Friday with Rudi.
 
Please let me know.
 
Thanks and kind regards
Andre

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 15/11/2010 08:30:03 by _system »

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Offline Bored chemist

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« Reply #1 on: 15/11/2010 19:17:14 »
We are predestined to think we do.
It depends on the definition of freewill you choose.
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Offline Don_1

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« Reply #2 on: 16/11/2010 11:25:19 »
Yes, we do have free will, but only within certain constraints can we come to realise it.

As far as nature goes, our free will may be impossible to realise. For example, the will to fly like a bird cannot be realised due to the constraints of nature.

Our free will to chose our own destiny may be contrained by our own abilities or by outside forces. Nurture may not subdue our free will, as can be seen in Burma, China and other totalitarian regimes. But such regimes can, and do, suppress free will.

As for those in the 'free' world, even our free will is suppressed by the constraints of acceptability, economics and whole host of other factors.

So, yes, you can have free will, but acting it out is a different matter altogether.
If brains were made of dynamite, I wouldn't have enough to blow my nose.

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Offline Bill S

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« Reply #3 on: 16/11/2010 19:10:47 »
Interesting how even the scientifically minded can resort to dogmatic statements when the subject is right. 
I doubt that anyone would deny (is that the only 4-letter English word ending in "eny"?) that our free will, if we have it, is subject to constraints, but what about some evidence as to whether or not we actually have it; or should this thread be in something other than science?  [:P]

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Offline Bored chemist

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« Reply #4 on: 16/11/2010 19:36:34 »
" Since I don't have a clue about the original question I will answer this one instead.
(is that the only 4-letter English word ending in "eny"?)
I will choose randomly from a number of alternatives.
Eeny, meeny, miney, mo....
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SteveFish

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« Reply #5 on: 17/11/2010 01:29:01 »
Do humans have free will? If you ask the strongest advocate of free will to define what he/she is talking about it is easy to explain their example as deterministic. So, the answer to the question is yes, but free will is determined, and free will versus determinism is not a dichotomy. This is one of those questions that is fun to argue about, but has little effect on daily life. If you don't agree, please define free will.

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Offline Bill S

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« Reply #6 on: 17/11/2010 12:41:30 »
Quote from: B C
Eeny, meeny, miney, mo....
Some of your 4-letter words betray a sad disregard for basic arithmetic.
Back off - this could get very silly. [::)]

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Offline Bored chemist

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« Reply #7 on: 17/11/2010 19:04:07 »
Work is a four letter word.
The important point is that "eeny" is too, and so demonstrates the falsehood of the hypothesis.
If you look closely, you will see that most of the words in my  post don't have 4 letters.

Do you know the nursery rhyme that starts "Eeny, meeny, miney, mo"?
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Offline Pikaia

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« Reply #8 on: 21/11/2010 19:42:22 »
It seems like a meaningless question to me. Suppose you had two identical Earths, but on one people had free will, on the other they didn't. What differences would you expect to see?

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Offline Bored chemist

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« Reply #9 on: 21/11/2010 21:05:35 »
On one earth when you asked people if they had free will they would say they did and they would be right.
On the other earth they would still say they had free will, but they would be wrong.
I'm not sure how you could tell which was which.

I think you have essentially nailed this debate.
Well done!
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Offline Bill S

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« Reply #10 on: 30/11/2010 00:34:04 »
Quote
Do you know the nursery rhyme that starts "Eeny, meeny, miney, mo"?

Yes, and it is as dubious politically as your reasoning seems to be, logically. [;D]

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Offline Bill S

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« Reply #11 on: 30/11/2010 00:37:58 »
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On the other earth they would still say they had free will, but they would be wrong.

Unless, of course, they knew they did not have free will, in which case they might say no.

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Offline Bored chemist

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« Reply #12 on: 30/11/2010 11:42:30 »
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On the other earth they would still say they had free will, but they would be wrong.

Unless, of course, they knew they did not have free will, in which case they might say no.
Then they wouldn't be people.
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Offline CliffordK

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« Reply #13 on: 03/12/2010 04:19:40 »
There is always a balance between "Nature", "Nurture", and "Free Will".

There are certainly aspects of a personality that are genetic, or a genetic predisposition.  They are hard to explain, but at least there is growing evidence for  genetic aspects such as addictive behavior. 

Likewise, if you think of Autistic Spectrum, at some levels it leads to very dysfunctional people.  At other levels it can lead to some extremely bright scientists, and musicians.  I'm convinced that it is more than a "disorder", but many scientists and engineers have a "scientific mind".

Many parents would love to have no "free will", and everything based on "Nurture"...  if their children would only do what they were TOLD!!!!  But, at the same time, one certainly doesn't want puppets. 

A lot can be learned though.  Some things not entirely intentional.  For example my mother makes her dog sit in the back seat of the car.  He gets a treat if he sits back on his own seat...  so what did he learn?  Well, the first thing when he gets into the car is to get his two front feet up onto the center console...  so Mom will command him "back"...  and then he gets his treat.

In the end, there may be some desires and compulsions.  We may learn to control some, and not others, and perhaps even develop more that we've learned.

But...  we don't just puppet back what is in our genes, or what someone has taught us, but we add a little something unique to each of us, and unique to each situation.  And this is our "Free Will".

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Offline CPT ArkAngel

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« Reply #14 on: 03/12/2010 04:48:23 »
If you agree with the Theory of conservation of the information that says that all information of our material Universe cannot be lost in any way, Free Will would imply that we generate new information all the time... If we are generator of information, does it mean that our consciousness is not only in the material Universe but in other dimensions that are interacting with the material Universe? New information has to come from somewhere else... The material Universe could be perfected eternally by being modified by our free will and consciousness...
« Last Edit: 03/12/2010 05:08:30 by CPT ArkAngel »

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Offline Geezer

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« Reply #15 on: 03/12/2010 05:30:25 »
If you agree with the Law of Conservation of Information, you will probably also agree with the "theory" of Intelligent Design and disagree with the Theory of Evolution.
There ain'ta no sanity clause, and there ain'ta no centrifugal force æther.

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Offline CPT ArkAngel

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« Reply #16 on: 03/12/2010 06:34:07 »
The Theory of evolution may be true but the creation of evolution would be caused by the interactions of consciousness through the material world... Both Theory could be true... Everybody would be happy... [:o)]

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Offline CPT ArkAngel

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« Reply #17 on: 04/12/2010 17:11:36 »
When you choose to have a baby with your girlfriend or boyfriend, you make a decision that will change evolution. I have no doubt about the Theory of Evolution. It is not complete but there is enough science to prove it...

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Offline tbarron

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« Reply #18 on: 04/12/2010 19:35:14 »
Quote
On the other earth they would still say they had free will, but they would be wrong.

Unless, of course, they knew they did not have free will, in which case they might say no.
Then they wouldn't be people.
My guess is that on both planets, the majority of the respondents would say "Yes" while a minority would say "No". On Planet Free Will, the majority would be right and the minority wrong. On Planet Determinism, the majority would be wrong and the (smart) minority would be right. You still wouldn't be able to tell which planet is which.

(Reality held a gun to my head while I wrote this post. I had no choice.)

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Offline yor_on

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« Reply #19 on: 06/12/2010 17:19:24 »
Of course we all have a will, but if it's a free one? As so many pointed out here it's constricted by circumstances, and when taken to its limit pointless. What would you call being give a choice of how to die, it's 'free will' but for a healthy, reasonably happy human, not a especially engaging spectrum of choices.

But as a theory I would say, sure we all have a 'free will'. We even surprise ourselves with it sometimes :)
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Offline Bill S

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« Reply #20 on: 07/12/2010 21:34:57 »
Quote from: ArkAngel
Free Will would imply that we generate new information all the time...

The information we generate may be new to us, but can we be sure it is new to the Universe.  Might we not just be recycling information?

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Offline CliffordK

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« Reply #21 on: 08/12/2010 01:50:04 »
Quote from: ArkAngel
Free Will would imply that we generate new information all the time...

The information we generate may be new to us, but can we be sure it is new to the Universe.  Might we not just be recycling information?
I would have to say that we are taking old information and combining it in new ways...  and thus creating new information, or successive generations of new information.

Modern computers wouldn't exist without the Eniac, and the Apple II and the TRS-80's and the Commodore PETS, and CPM.

But, had all the information to build today's microcomputers existed in the 1940's...  wouldn't people have just stared with a 2010 laptop rather than the Eniac?

Certainly humanity has forgotten many things.  We're still trying to figure out whether the Ancient Egyptians had access to technology that has been forgotten for thousands of years.  But, if we discover the secrets behind an ancient Druid anti-gravity device...  it still might be a "new" discovery.

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Offline CPT ArkAngel

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« Reply #22 on: 08/12/2010 03:50:05 »
The way i see it, no, unless we have no free will. Free will imply that we are a source of information that violates the Entropy Principle and the Information Principle. For Life, it seems to be the case regarding the Entropy Principle. If your will depend entirely on information of the material universe, it is not free. It may be the case, but i hope not because we would be like puppets in a strange freak show...

What about the Information Principle if the universe is infinite?
« Last Edit: 08/12/2010 03:55:27 by CPT ArkAngel »

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Offline Ellingtonlong

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« Reply #23 on: 11/12/2010 06:40:18 »
Yes is the simple answer it does. However, I like the fact that it does. We do have free will, but what the whole Hell and Heaven thing is to teach us that in the long run, if you do something bad to someone, something will be bad to you. Basically it's the same as karma.

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« Last Edit: 11/12/2010 07:01:24 by Geezer »

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Offline Bill S

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« Reply #24 on: 11/12/2010 14:40:17 »
Quote from: ArkAngel
What about the Information Principle if the universe is infinite?

An infinite cosmos does, at first glance seem to militate against free will, but this may not be the case if free will is relative. 
Here is an extract from some notes I made while I was trying to sort out my ideas about infinity.

Consider the following possibility.  The cosmos is infinite; therefore every part of the cosmos is the cosmos.  Everything, including our apparently finite Universe, is infinite.  The birth of the Universe and perhaps its ultimate death exist together in infinity, along with all the things that “happen” between those two points.  It is all there, in eternity, in an all-embracing now.  We perceive spatial differences, and the passage of time, because our minds need to make sense of the partial image to which we are restricted.  This sounds like a recipe for predestination, but I am not suggesting that we should abdicate all responsibility for our actions; far from it.  In eternity, things are as they are, permanently.  However, we cannot entirely rule out the possibility that they are as they are, to some extent, because of the choices we seem to be making now.

I think that what I was trying to get at here is that we have free will within our frame of reference, and, in this instance, that F of R is our Universe.

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Offline Bill S

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« Reply #25 on: 25/12/2010 20:55:57 »
Is this proof that we have free will?

I posted something which many people would find ridiculous, but which everyone has chosen to ignore. 

Free choice, free will, you saw it here.  [8D]

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SteveFish

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« Reply #26 on: 25/12/2010 23:31:34 »
"Do humans have free will?" This question is nonsense because one can't say whether it is true or not unless the notion of free will is well defined. Otherwise it is just mental masturbation.

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Offline sliffy

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« Reply #27 on: 29/12/2010 20:15:43 »
sorry for my bad english...

i think that we are living in a world which is regulated by rules (phisical)... i don't see any entity which is independent from the rules... not even us, people...

if we know the current condition of a system which works in accordance with rules than we can compute its condition in the future... that's why i see the whole universe's future determined... i don't say that we or the designer has the ability to compute the future but it's determined

you may say that the designer can interfere... i say yes, but he lives in an upper level which should be determined as well...

so the free will is illusory only... nobody is responsible for his decisions... we are just robots in the theatre
« Last Edit: 29/12/2010 20:43:40 by sliffy »

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SteveFish

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« Reply #28 on: 29/12/2010 21:23:34 »
Here is my problem with this whole free will issue. When looking at the “lowest,” most automatic of our brain functions, such as body homeostasis, movement control, balance, and so on, it is easy to understand this as determined because the brain mechanisms just take in sensory information and output an action without conscious thought. At the highest levels of brain function that include consciousness, cognition, emotion, and decision making, all the output of the much more complicated brain processing is based on sensory data, inborn and learned proclivities, and memory, so they are also determined. This is abundantly clear when looking at people who have suffered some kind of brain damage. Nobody can be free of this or would even want to be free of this. This is also determinism. Even in instances where one makes the decision to do something random because there is no basis for a decision is a determined action. What does anyone think is a thought or action that is outside of one’s brain processes or that they think would demonstrate free will? The free will/determinism issue is a false dichotomy.
« Last Edit: 29/12/2010 21:25:39 by SteveFish »

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Offline QuantumClue

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« Reply #29 on: 29/12/2010 21:49:30 »
I believe determinism exists. Indeterminism is a concept where meaning does not exist. Using logical thought, since our universe follows a principle of least action ∫ Mv ds = ∫ p dq would have our universe work the most efficient way. Efficiency would result in some type of meaning, reducing a concept to its most simplistic form.

Because of this, one must assume that indeterministic universes cannot exist at this lower component of understanding.

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Offline Christina

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« Reply #30 on: 30/12/2010 09:34:11 »

if we know the current condition of a system which works in accordance with rules than we can compute its condition in the future... that's why i see the whole universe's future determined... i don't say that we or the designer has the ability to compute the future but it's determined

so the free will is illusory only... nobody is responsible for his decisions... we are just robots in the theatre

WHAT? OK, seems we need to define our terms here prior to any discussion on whether humans have free will. Obviously, we can't do Anything we want just because we want to; I am not free, for example, to jump over tall buildings in a single bound. However, given the choice between doing something that I desire to do and one I don't necessarily feel like doing, and assuming that I have the physical and mental capacity to do either, I've been known to totally forget about Newton's 3rd law and do the thing I FEEL like doing.  I am generally a hedonist, and although I may well know that said choice will eventually lead to a negative result, I exercise my free will to seek my pleasure now and deal with the effects at some future date.

"God" may have prior knowledge of the course that I will choose to follow, but he'll only have knowledge of the future that I CHOSE. It's almost as if he first turns to the last page of the autobiography he's reading, so even as he reads he knows what will eventually happen. But that does not mean that he caused the book to end as it does.

This human had the free will to make stupid decisions for years despite of her education and intellect. I wish that I had chosen to do things a bit differently, but without the freedom to make my own choices I might as well be a television set. [8D]
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SteveFish

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« Reply #31 on: 30/12/2010 15:57:05 »
Christina, just going against what you think might be the best choice is not free will. You made your choice because you felt like it and there is a reason and history to your feeling. If we define free will as ones ability to make bad choices it makes the free will question trivial and suggests that self centered teenagers and criminals have the most free will. Steve

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Offline sliffy

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« Reply #32 on: 31/12/2010 14:02:28 »
Christina,

yes, you have free will... you can decide... but your decisions are computable so your free will is illusory
just think of a robot >> does it have free will? yes, it can decide and act free but it makes decisions by it's sense organs and it's program... that's why it's decision are computable and it hasn't real free will >> like us

we also have sense organs (ear, eye...) and program (dna) ...



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Offline yor_on

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« Reply #33 on: 31/12/2010 22:58:45 »
No, its good arguments but its still a clock work universe building on the concept that if we only knew it all. The only way to know it all is actually to look at what already happened. The problem being that even when we do so if we are three persons we will get three versions. I say free will exist, even though circumstanced by our beliefs and ideas etc etc.

Assume that you decide to do what you do by throwing a dice first, letting that symbol define you action? Assume also that the you don't know what the choices are, being someone else's? Your free choice is to be in this game or not. What happens once you join is a very free expression of that first choice. And there is no way for you to backtrack the action to your actual 'state of mind'. And I can easily think up any number of reasons to why you might join :) Also we have 'bifurcations' coming at some point in time, impossible to backtrack, and 'many paths' etc. I think indeterminacy is 'built in' in our universe.
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SteveFish

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« Reply #34 on: 01/01/2011 02:01:27 »
Yor_on, your post is so difficult to understand that I have to think that it is meaningless. Perhaps someone would like to interpret it for me (Geezer?) so that I might be able to respond. Steve

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Offline Geezer

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« Reply #35 on: 01/01/2011 04:57:42 »
I think Yoron is simply pointing out that "Life is but a bag o'shells."

(Sorry about the poor pun, I should have said "Life is but a bagatelle")
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Offline sliffy

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« Reply #36 on: 01/01/2011 10:03:07 »
yor_on,

my native language is not english, please explain your opinion more detailed... i'd like to understand

1. imagine the whole universe working by it's rules but without material... is it's future determined?  i guess yes... it would remain as it is... vakuum forever

2. imagine the universe with 1 elektron only... push the elektron and let it move... is the future of the universe determined? i guess yes... even you could compute the elektron's position in the future

3. why do yu think that the result is not the same if the universe is filled with material? with planets and living being on them? the universe's condition in the future is determined because of the working rules... i think
« Last Edit: 01/01/2011 10:05:09 by sliffy »

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SteveFish

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« Reply #37 on: 01/01/2011 16:38:40 »
So, Yor_on thinks that because there are many choices in life and, because once a choice is made it is impossible to backtrack, that the universe is indeterminate, and Geezer interprets this, in turn, as meaning that life is but a trifle. I am confused.

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Offline sliffy

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« Reply #38 on: 01/01/2011 17:08:24 »
it seems that the number of choices is infinity... but it isn't... your choice is computable >> there is one path in the time only... one event follows the other

do you think that animals have free will?
i think no... they have neither... they are bio robots as well... not so complex like us of course but they make decisions based on their inputs as well (eye, ear and other sense-organs...)
« Last Edit: 01/01/2011 17:10:17 by sliffy »

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Offline yor_on

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« Reply #39 on: 01/01/2011 17:20:58 »
Okay, it might have to do with my choice of English. Look at it this way then. We have an indeterminacy in all things physical, do you guys agree?

If you do, do you agree to that humans fall under the 'physical' category too?

If you, as me, think we all belong to a physical system called 'SpaceTime' and also accept the indeterminacy, what the he* does that have to do with free will?

To me the equivalence is there. Free will is something where you can't say what's going to happen just by looking backwards, when it comes to an individual.

But when using statistics we will still find certain patterns that makes it possible to plan ahead. And that makes us no different to the indeterminacy seen at a QM level that then still express itself in stable patterns like what we call 'matter'.

It's easy to prove 'free will' at a individual level, not as easy when looking at statistics as we then see this tendency of things to recur and 'stabilize'  :)

But let me turn it around, anyone ever proved the statement that you can 'predict' what a human will do, anywhere? Don't you think governments would love that idea? So perfectly behavioristic :)
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Offline sliffy

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« Reply #40 on: 01/01/2011 17:31:42 »
yor_on,

you don't understand me... i don't say that god or anybody else can compute the future
i say that the whole system works by rules and that's why the world and our fate is determinated

we are talking about 2 things
1. you say that we have free will because we can decide between "a" or "b"
yes, i agree with that

2. i say this kind of free will is illusory because we are working by rules so our decisions are computable
« Last Edit: 01/01/2011 17:35:37 by sliffy »

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Offline yor_on

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« Reply #41 on: 01/01/2011 17:53:18 »
Nope.
Not on the individual plane.

Turn your question around instead.
Is there anywhere in history we could say that one man/womans free will have made a big difference to us?

If there is, do that mean that one 'particle' can decide the behavior of a pattern?
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Offline sliffy

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« Reply #42 on: 01/01/2011 18:06:43 »
i understand your question but i don't understand your meaning

Is there anywhere in history we could say that one man/womans free will have made a big difference to us?
we are talking about free will... i say there is no free will so in my opinion your question has no sense

i suggest let's start with the roots...

1. do you agree that everything in our universe work by rules?
« Last Edit: 01/01/2011 18:08:43 by sliffy »

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Offline yor_on

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Do humans have free will?
« Reply #43 on: 01/01/2011 18:12:24 »
Do you know them?
==

Look I think my point of view is simple.
Not difficult to comprehend.

And I've given what I see as good examples to why free will should exist.
Both expressed in negatives as positives.

As for what rules that steer this SpaceTime, that's a open question.
I do not have the answer.

And if you think you have?
Present them.
« Last Edit: 01/01/2011 18:15:46 by yor_on »
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Offline yor_on

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« Reply #44 on: 01/01/2011 18:18:06 »
I can give you a hint for what I expect to steer them though.

Constants.
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SteveFish

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Do humans have free will?
« Reply #45 on: 01/01/2011 18:36:42 »
Yor_on. I agree with Sliffy. The inability of a government to predict human behavior only gives people some freedom from government, not free will. The inability to predict the future does not equate to free will. I presume that some of your invocation of indeterminate nature of the physical world has something to do with quantum mechanics. If so, you should state this up front so somebody might actually understand what you are talking about. I am not sure at all that the indeterminate properties of particles has any effect whatsoever at the level of reality that brains work in, or that if it did that it would have any importance to this discussion. Steve

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Offline yor_on

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« Reply #46 on: 01/01/2011 18:42:27 »
Steve, I made my statement already. This is the second time you tell me that you don't understand what I'm saying :)

That's okay with me.
Just do your thing.
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Offline sliffy

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« Reply #47 on: 01/01/2011 19:05:58 »
the rules are phisical rules
some of them know we already... a lot of them we have to discover
 

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Offline yor_on

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« Reply #48 on: 01/01/2011 19:11:16 »
Sliffy, your question seems to come down to the question if SpaceTime can be seen as a 'whole process' where all things ultimately have to be 'accounted for' as they took place inside this 'closed system'. Looked at that way I will direct you to 'bifurcations' and then you should look at 'Feigenbaums constant'.

What you see there is non-linearity impossible to backtrack but still inside a 'linearity' represented by this Feigenbaum constant.

And the constant is the really interesting part here.
Once we thought the world to be a linear thing, steered by 'forces'
Then we realized that the linearity was like islands inside non-linearity.
Now we start to find that it is like dolls inside dolls inside dolls ins...

So I think free will exist, for sure.
But I don't know if it makes a difference.
Can you see my point better now?
« Last Edit: 01/01/2011 19:26:18 by yor_on »
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Offline Joe L. Ogan

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« Reply #49 on: 01/01/2011 19:28:31 »
Everyone has limitations, i.e. Physical. intellectual, financial,  etc. etc.  Within those limitations, one has free will to act as one sees fit.  Thanks for comments.  Joe L. Ogan