Do People have Free Will, or is the Concept Nothing But Illusion.

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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
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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.
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Offline Joe L. Ogan

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

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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.

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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 »
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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 »

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Offline neilep

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

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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 ?
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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.

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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?
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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.

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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 !

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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 »

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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 ?

 
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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 »

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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 ?
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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."

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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 ?
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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 ?
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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.

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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.

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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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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 !
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.

In MY opinion....this is nonsense .......I am assuming you meant as a species yes ?
« Last Edit: 19/02/2012 18:00:31 by neilep »
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Offline wolfekeeper

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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.
Their own agenda is to reproduce themselves more. In some situations, those genes will cheerfully kill you, if that means that they get to reproduce more widely.

A classic example is a spider that gets devoured by her own baby spiders.

Your genes are not on your side, they're on their own side! Often they're fairly well aligned, but sometimes completely not!

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Offline Gordian Knot

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Again, what proof do you have for this concept that my genes are not on my side. It is a bold statement. You need to back it up with some evidence. Otherwise it is your opinion.
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Offline Gordian Knot

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Thank you sir. This will take some time to digest. I will return!
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Offline David Cooper

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

We're talking about causes. What causes you to do one thing rather than another? One option may be better than another, but how can that cause the decision to be made in its favour? Computation has to be done to determine that one option is better, so something in that computation shares the causation. To map the entire mechanism of the causation, you need to understand how the computation is performed. It's easier to follow this in ordinary computers than with neural computers like the brain, but they can be running identical algorithms.

I don't know how much you know about programming, so I'd better just explain a little about how computers make decisions to clarify things. We can skip the programming language level and go straight to the machine code where things are really simple. Suppose a robot needs to head in the direction of a light. There is a sensor on the robot which points in one direction, and as the robot rotates it will detect more light as it turns towards the light and less if it turns away. It has to make decisions all the time as to whether to turn left or right as it makes its way towards the light source. So, how's it going to work? The first thing it will do is read the input from the sensor, which will come in as some value between 0 and 255. Let's say it's 20 to begin with. The program takes that value and stores it in a CPU register. The robot now turns a fraction either to the left or right - we have to program in an initial preference for which direction it will turn first, though we could modify the program later to make a pseudo-random decision about this or maybe consider other factors which might make turning one way more likely to be successful than the other. Anyway, let's just make it turn to the right for now. It turns to the right a bit and the sensor is read again. This time the value is 19. We now compare the 19 with the number we stored earlier, and that might be done by subtracting the stored 20 from the new 19 that's just come in. That will set a carry flag in the CPU because a the result is negative. A machine code instruction will now cause a jump if the carry flag is set, which it is, so we jump to a different bit of code to handle this, and the result will be that the robot will turn to the left next time instead. So, the robot now turns a bit more to the left and the sensor is read again. The new value is compared with the old value and that again determines which way the robot will turn next time. The program will cause the robot to keep turning until the sensor value is as high as possible, and it will keep count of how many times it's changed direction so that it stops when it's pointing the right way. It can now move forwards. While moving forwards it may repeatedly read the sensor value and compare it with the previous value. So long as the value keeps going up, it might as well keep running forwards, but as soon as it starts to fall, the robot needs to go back into rotate mode to realign itself with the target. All these decisions are made by comparing two values and seeing which is higher, and it's the same for any decision made in any program in a computer - a subtraction is always made and then the program branches according to whether the result is positive, negative, zero, not zero, etc. - various flag bits are set according to different results and then conditional jump instructions branch to the right part of the program to handle the result.

People make their decisions in much the same way - this tastes better than that, so I'll eat this. Wait a minute though - that is healthier than this, so maybe I'll eat that instead. Anyone who's done a bit of programming should be able to see how these decisions could be programmed for, and as soon as you can see the algorithm that underlies the behaviour, you can see how the result is forced.

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.

It comes down to what a decision is and how best to make them. If you just make random decisions, it won't be long before you make a bad one that will wipe you out. You have to be designed to make good decisions rather than random or bad ones, and only to try to make random ones when you can't tell which option is best. It's all about trying to do the best thing, and that forces your hand every time. This chair's uncomfortable, but the one over there looks soft, and there's more light over there which means I'll find it easier to read this book, so I change location: yes, that's so much better. That isn't free will. Everything we do is cause and effect, but the causes can be multiple and complex. Free will is something people believe in if they don't understand the mechanisms, but as soon as you do understand the mechanisms you have to ditch the idea of free will. This isn't something to worry about too much though - it usually forces us to do the best thing. The problems come in where someone for example likes food more than they like being a healthy weight, and it's precisely because there is no free will that they are driven to get fat. If they get scared about their health at some stage or depressed at being overweight, that may be able to drive them to hold out more strongly against the desire to shovel the food in, but it's tough because so it's hard to get the weight off, and that tends to lead to them lapsing and pouring the food in. Evolution designed us to stock up when food is in good supply, and that's hurting us now - nature used to force us to starve the weight off again from time to time. A computer doesn't have likes or dislikes, so it would be easy for it to maintain the correct fuel intake just by deciding what the best amount is, but our likes and dislikes aren't programmable - we just get what we get and have to live with it.

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Offline Nizzle

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Their own agenda is to reproduce themselves more. In some situations, those genes will cheerfully kill you, if that means that they get to reproduce more widely.

A classic example is a spider that gets devoured by her own baby spiders.

Your genes are not on your side, they're on their own side! Often they're fairly well aligned, but sometimes completely not!

If this were true, how do you explain the fact that I willingly choose not to reproduce?
I am fully capable of reproducing, but I have my personal selfish reasons not to do it.
How come my genes aren't forcing me?

Or do my personal genes have a different agenda than anyone else's?

And then @ David Cooper, how does the Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle fit in your theory of the non-existence of free will? The fact that physics at the very very basic level isn't "certain of itself" means that it has consequences for all higher order 'stuff' not being certain of it's future...
Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Most poems rhyme,
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Offline wolfekeeper

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Their own agenda is to reproduce themselves more. In some situations, those genes will cheerfully kill you, if that means that they get to reproduce more widely.

A classic example is a spider that gets devoured by her own baby spiders.

Your genes are not on your side, they're on their own side! Often they're fairly well aligned, but sometimes completely not!

If this were true, how do you explain the fact that I willingly choose not to reproduce?
I am fully capable of reproducing, but I have my personal selfish reasons not to do it.
How come my genes aren't forcing me?

Or do my personal genes have a different agenda than anyone else's?
No, they certainly haven't got their little protein heads around contraception yet! it hasn't been long enough, evolutionarily speaking.

It may be that you're too smart for your genes to survive.

But there is also a thing where individuals don't have to survive, provided (on average) they increase the survival of genetically related people who do reproduce; so genes for altruistically increasing the survival of the village (historically, we evolved in villages) at your personal expense probably exist, because they're all brothers and sisters and uncles, aunts etc. Presumably that's partly how people can go to war for example, because they protect their genes that are elsewhere.

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Offline Gordian Knot

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So it does take a village. Bravo Hillary!  ::)

Wolfe. I have studied up on Dawkins. I do agree with his comments on religions! On his determination for the lack of free will, that one is harder. I am still trying to get my mind around the concept that our genes control our decisions in all things. I believe that I am making an accurate statement when I say that everyone does agree that our genes are not conscious or aware in any sense of those words.

Thus making the leap that one part of what makes me me, controls every choice I make is difficult. I could accept that one's genes make it more or less likely for one to be able to make free choices. After all this follows the pattern of genes in other areas of how we are made. Our genes give us varying levels of strengths and weaknesses in all that we are. From the very basic like hair or eye color, to capability of math skills, or motor skills to be an athlete.

This is how I understand how we are biologically constructed. If the genes that control free will were to act like the other genes in our body, at the most they should give each of us a different level of skill, and freedom, at making our own decisions.

The concept of controlling our decisions forces genes to act, in this one instance, completely different to how genes act in every other aspect of who we are.

There are, obviously, those who disagree with Dawkins' theories, the late Stephen Jay Gould being one of the more recognizable names. And for all the discussion, it still comes down to concepts more of philosophy than science.

The reason I say that is there have been no experiments, at least that I could find, to support a claim for or against the combatting theories on free will. To state that Dawkins' ideas are the way we are wired is premature.  If it cannot be tested, it cannot be anything more than opinions. Not fact.
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David, your comparison to the programming of a computer is problematic. The human mind is orders of magnitude more complicated than even the most sophisticated program we have been able to code at this time. Your comments may be appropriate as a simple example of the process. As a direct comparison to human behavior, though,  I believed it is flawed.
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Offline Geezer

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I think Wolfekeeper is quite correct.
 
We like to think we are somehow "special", but usually that's where religion comes into the picture. There is nothing to show that we are any more than machines, exquisitely elaborate machines of course, but machines none the less.
 
That's why the "free will" argument breaks down. If we have free will, and we are machines, any machine can exhibit some amount of free will. If machines, by definition, cannot have free will, neither can we (unless you use the "special" argument, which means we are back to religion).
 
(All complaints regarding this post should be sent directly to Sheepy)
 
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Offline neilep

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(All complaints regarding this post should be sent directly to Sheepy)
 

THANKS !!  ::)

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Offline David Cooper

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How does the Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle fit in your theory of the non-existence of free will? The fact that physics at the very very basic level isn't "certain of itself" means that it has consequences for all higher order 'stuff' not being certain of it's future...

19 - 20 = -1. In order to get a different result, you need to start with different numbers. If a sensor is somehow sending both a 19 and a 21 at the same time by branching off a new version of the universe, that could allow different results and different actions to be triggered in those different universes. If we suppose for the moment that is actually happening (which I find hard to believe for a couple of reasons), then that wouldn't help the case for free will at all - if multiple actions are happening, you are actually having some of your decision making taken away from you: e.g. if you think you're choosing out of your free will to have an Italian meal rather than Chinese, the reality could be that instead of making a decision you're branching the universe instead and having both.


I am still trying to get my mind around the concept that our genes control our decisions in all things. I believe that I am making an accurate statement when I say that everyone does agree that our genes are not conscious or aware in any sense of those words. ...

Genes don't control all our decisions. What genes do is build and maintain the hardware. Some of the design of that hardware forces some of your behaviours, but a lot of it is not programmed by genes at all - the brain is programmed to a large degree by external, environmental factors. This can be illustrated most easily by thinking about how education programs people to be able to solve problems in particular ways which uneducated people would be unlikely to work out for themselves. If no one helps you learn how to read, you aren't going to read books. The brain is a general purpose problem solving machine, and it collects methods for doing simple things which it can then try to combine into compound solutions for new complex problems. Huge components of its decision making are therefore driven by environmental factors which influenced the way it was set up.

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David, your comparison to the programming of a computer is problematic. The human mind is orders of magnitude more complicated than even the most sophisticated program we have been able to code at this time. Your comments may be appropriate as a simple example of the process. As a direct comparison to human behavior, though,  I believed it is flawed.

The way the human mind works appears to be complicated for a number of reasons, including the one that it actually is complicated. However, it clearly must be using efficient algorithms that keep things separate when it's an advantage to keep them separate - there's no point in mixing up two separate decisions you're trying to make that relate to different problems because all it would do is introduce harmful errors. You don't want visual input to interfere with your ability to walk either unless the thing you're seeing is relevant to the way you're walking - it makes sense to jump over a dog poo on the pavement, but you don't want to jump at the sight of one on the far side of the road. Data is comparmentalised and is only sent where it's useful to send it.

I work in artificial intelligence and my job is to work out how I think and to try to turn that into program code to enable a computer to do the same things I do. Bit by bit, I'm working out algorithms that the brain must be using, and I always get a feel for when the algorithm is right because it ties in so perfectly with the way I think and act. I've discussed a little about my work in this thread http://forum.osdev.org/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=24698 which sets out how the mass of complexity in the way our minds work can be broken down into manageable chunks which a machine could duplicate, and far from the brain being orders of magnitude more complex than anything we can program today, I am currently building a system (A.I. software) which I reckon ought to be able to match my own intelligence on a very ordinary machine within a few months of learning after the build is complete (which should be around the middle of this year).

On the small scale, the mechanisms would not be the same because the brain uses neural networks to do its processing, but neural nets can be simulated on standard computers and standard computers can theoretically be simulated on neural network machines, though it would be hard to train them to do the job properly. Indeed, it's hard for our brains to be trained to do any job properly, and that's why we're so error-prone in everything we do. Neural nets are trained by doing things over and over again until they get things right most of the time, but they never reach perfection. A neural computer trained to add two numbers together may give 4 as the answer to 2+2 a thousand times in a row, and then suddenly it may spit out a 7 instead because the neural net is still not perfect. That can be got around to some degree by double-checking for errors, but most of the time they will get things right and that's usually good enough. However, a single thought may involve hundreds of different processing components in the brain, and it only takes an error in one of them to result in a wayward result, which is why we make lots and lots of errors. The important point though is that the components will act the same way as procedures/subroutines in a computer program, the essential algorithm being the same, so the fine detail is unimportant, and most of the complexity of neural nets can simply be bypassed in a program which has been put together intelligently to carry out a task in the optimal way and without possibility of errors.

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Offline Geezer

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If you don't get me just leave a message on my answer machine.....


I asked my answering machine to call your answering machine to see if, together, they could sort it out.

Bleeping thing told me to bleep off!
There ain'ta no sanity clause, and there ain'ta no centrifugal force Šther.

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Offline Gordian Knot

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I think Wolfekeeper is quite correct.
 
We like to think we are somehow "special", but usually that's where religion comes into the picture. There is nothing to show that we are any more than machines, exquisitely elaborate machines of course, but machines none the less.
 


Perhaps. There is one very big difference between us and computers that makes us much more than just elaborate biological machines. We have sentience. Sentience brings an additional dimension to the human brain. It makes the human thought process more complicated than computer programming. It makes how we think, how we make decisions, very different from how computers compute.

p.s. I tried to leave this message for Sheepy, but his damn answering machine seems to be preoccupied with other things.
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Offline cheryl j

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I read about an interesting experiment where they demonstated, I think using PET scans, that a person's brain had made a decision to act or not act, before the person was conscious of having made a decision. I wish I could find the source. But when I read it, I thought, wow, that does mess with the concept of free will somewhat.

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Offline Geezer

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I read about an interesting experiment where they demonstated, I think using PET scans, that a person's brain had made a decision to act or not act, before the person was conscious of having made a decision. I wish I could find the source. But when I read it, I thought, wow, that does mess with the concept of free will somewhat.

There are many human reactions that are completely involuntary. Our conscious "self" may think it is charge, but it clearly is not. Involuntary human reactions are no different from the reactions of a machine, which proves to some extent that we are machines.

But  that does not prove we lack free will.

I think the issue here might be that we have a hard time accepting that anything else can have free will too. This brings me back to my argument that humans want to believe they are special just because they are different.


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Offline Nizzle

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I am currently building a system (A.I. software) which I reckon ought to be able to match my own intelligence on a very ordinary machine within a few months of learning after the build is complete (which should be around the middle of this year).

Will it be able to tell a lie and be aware that it's lying when it does so, like your brain surely can when you say something simple like "Grass is red"?
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Back on topic on free will discussion, I think I will have to join the side that claims there is no free will, but I want to make a nuance that there's still a difference between 'lack of free will' and fate (see below).
 
No one will argue that you can decide for yourself what you're having for dinner this evening, but some people, like David Cooper, will say that the current (quantum)physical state of your brain and body will make you choose one or the other and thus the decision will be made for you, by your brain and body.

But it happens to be that that's exactly what we are.. We are a brain in a body. So if the brain and body makes the decision for us, we make it for ourselves.

Now, you can drive it a bit further and say that the (quantum)physical state of brain and body are completely dependent on what has happened all across the universe for the entire time from the beginning of time leading up to the "Now" moment, then you could argue that there is no free will, but then you would also first have to prove whether this statement is correct.
And this is where I want to get Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle involved. When we zoom in to very very small scales, absolutes become probabilities and these probabilities are expressed through randomness. If we then zoom out again, randomness will be spread all over the universe.

Now there's two options.
1. you are a fan of randomness, and have to accept you don't have free will and everything happens "ad (quantumscale) random", but your future is not written in stone and there is no 'fate'.
2. you are no fan of randomness, and you have to accept you don't have free will because all your decisions were already made at the beginning of time, which would also imply that you have to accept your future is written in stone and you have to believe in 'fate'.

So are you a random supporter or a fate supporter?

Go Team Random!!
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Offline Gordian Knot

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I read about an interesting experiment where they demonstated, I think using PET scans, that a person's brain had made a decision to act or not act, before the person was conscious of having made a decision. I wish I could find the source. But when I read it, I thought, wow, that does mess with the concept of free will somewhat.

Yes, I saw this somewhere as well. The logic of it though does not make sense to me. Subconsciously we have made a decision before we are consciously aware of it - and that means we don't have free will?

That doesn't follow at all! Whether it be our conscious or our subconscious that comes up with the decision first, it is still some part of US making that decision.

This would only be relevant if our subconscious were somehow not us.
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Geezer, I'm not sure why you brought up autonomic functions of the body just to say that doesn't prove we don't have free will. Autonomic functions by definition are beyond our day to day control. I'm not understanding what your point is.

Yes many people still believe the human animal is somehow the apex of evolution. Enough science has been done to show that that is not the case at all (which is the point you are making). Humanity is not special, and we are not the height of evolution. We are one more throw of the evolutionary dice.
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Offline Gordian Knot

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Nizzle said "No one will argue that you can decide for yourself what you're having for dinner this evening, but some people, like David Cooper, will say that the current (quantum)physical state of your brain and body will make you choose one or the other and thus the decision will be made for you, by your brain and body.

But it happens to be that that's exactly what we are.. We are a brain in a body. So if the brain and body makes the decision for us, we make it for ourselves
."

You lost me! You start your discussion with the statement you fall on the side of the discussion where there is no free will. Then you give the above example that shows we are making our own decisions, even if it is at a quantum level, it is still us.

This is analogous to Cheryl's comment that our subconscious is making our decisions, you have simply taken it further. My answer remains the same. No matter at what level a decision is made within ourselves, it is still US making the decision, be it the subconscious or the quantum us.

Unless you are stating that at the quantum it is no longer "us". My question then becomes, if the quantum level of us is not us, who or what is it?
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Offline Geezer

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Geezer, I'm not sure why you brought up autonomic functions of the body just to say that doesn't prove we don't have free will. Autonomic functions by definition are beyond our day to day control. I'm not understanding what your point is.


I think it depends on what we mean when we say "us" or "I". I take that to mean our conscious thoughts. My point was only that a lot of brain functions are entirely automatic and mechanical, so they don't have much to do with "I"
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Offline cheryl j

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I'll leave the physics of determinism alone, but from a purely biological point of view there would be an evolutionary advantage to being an animal that can deviate from default mode of behavior to respond to novel environmental stimuli or solve some kind of new problem that has never been encountered before, for which there is no automatic behavioral response.

But even that may not be entirely "free" since all the animal has is a selection of learned or instinctive behaviors to combine in some new way, and maybe a bit of randomness in the firing of neurons, or the random effect of different environmental experiences in shaping learned behavior.

I sometimes wonder if free will isnt something of a butterfly effect. An action I take today may be quite predictable or not entirely consciously chosen, but it is the end product of all previous little decisions and their effect on me. The books I read, the movies I watch, the people I talk to, the place I live, all change my thinking in some way, and I may make a different choice than I would otherwise, had any of those things had been different. The question is, could any of those influences have been different at any point along the way? Did I have any control over those selections or was each one predetermined by instinctive or subconscious drives?

Can I consciously alter my subconscious by intentionally programming myself to respond certain ways later on? That is essentially what people try to do in Twelve Step programs. They deliberately sit and listen to the stories and advice of other alcoholics over and over and over again, so that when they experience an intense urge to drink, they can over-ride it. They know if they dont do this, and the opportunity to drink arises, they wont be able to resist, and they will go back to a default mode of behavior. Is that an example of free will?

« Last Edit: 21/02/2012 23:54:21 by cheryl j »

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Offline Gordian Knot

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In response to Geezer:

Agreed, our autonomic functions are normally running in the background without any thought on our part. It would be incorrect to say those functions are "entirely" automatic, however. Examples abound of consciously slowing your breath rate, slowing your heart rate, lowering brain activity levels, etc. through hypnotism and meditation. We can learn to take control, at least for a period of time, of what are normally automatic functions.
« Last Edit: 21/02/2012 20:32:24 by Gordian Knot »
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Offline cheryl j

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The autonomic nervous system controls involuntary body functions like heart rate, breathing etc. I dont think the dividing line between conscious and subconscious behavior is as clear cut as the divsion between automatic and somatic nerves. There are alot of brain structures that seem to ride the fense between conscious and subconscious, and that is essentially their function, like the thalamus for instance. If I understand it right, the thalamus scans the sensory data for anything that is bad or unexpected and sends messages to both the higher levels of the brain, but also to the hypothalamus that triggers autonomic responses.

I once read that if you came home and saw your roommate's severed head lying on the floor of the apartment, you would become extremely upset and frightened, prehaps even run out of the room, before you consciously understood that it was a head, it was your roommates, or wonder how it got there.

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Offline David Cooper

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Will it be able to tell a lie and be aware that it's lying when it does so, like your brain surely can when you say something simple like "Grass is red"?

It will know that the statement it's making clashes with its database of knowledge and is therefore a lie.

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We've now reached the point where discussing free will leads to discussing consciousness. Computers lack consciousness. People generally believe themselves to be conscious. Let's try to add something conscious to a machine. A robot has sensors all over its surface designed to detect contact with other objects, and if anything hits it it will send a signal to the processor to trigger an action. The processor then runs a bit of code to handle the situation and try to move the robot away from whatever it might be that hit it. Now, if we want to make this more like a human, the processor should maybe experience pain. So, lets arrange for it to feel pain whenever a signal comes in from one of these sensors. What's the result? The robot behaves exactly the same way as it did before, but with the addition that something in it feels pain. The pain becomes part of the chain of causation, but it doesn't change anything about the choice that is made, so there is no room for it to introduce any free will into things. What it does do, however, is introduce the idea of there existing something in the machine that can feel sensations and which can be identified as "I", and that's where we run up against the real puzzle, because even if you could have a component capable of feeling pain in the system, you have the problem of how you could ever get that component to inform the system that it is actually feeling pain and not just passing on the same signal that was fed into it. For the component that feels pain to be able to pass on knowledge of pain to the rest of the system, it would have to be a lot more complex than something that simply feels pain. What we'd need is something complex which collectively feels the pain and which understands that it is feeling the pain and which is able to articulate the fact that it is feeling the pain and which feels as if it is involved in the mechanism for responding to that pain. The last part of that is what makes people feel that they have free will (even though they don't), but the rest of it is problematic as it doesn't look as if it should be possible for something like that to exist at all.

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Offline Geezer

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We can learn to take control, at least for a period of time, of what are normally automatic functions.

I can assure you that if a bear comes after you in the woods, you will have an autonomic response that will require a change of clothing.
There ain'ta no sanity clause, and there ain'ta no centrifugal force Šther.