Author Topic: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...  (Read 8802 times)

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Offline 3sigma

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #145 on: January 06, 2013, 05:37:06 PM »
Because I was changing the numbers on the fly and I did not proof read before final post.  Is this seriously your response to that set of questions?  Because I've never suggested at any point that "predetermined" equals "infallibly correct".  Still, it gave you an easy dodge to avoid the thrust of my point, I guess.

No, it wasn’t my response to your questions. My response was to ask you to show that it is valid to extrapolate your over-simplified, single neuron, purely deterministic model more than nine orders of magnitude to billions of neurons, trillions of connections and an uncountable number of firing patterns and assume it exhibits the same properties. In your proof, don’t forget to include the noise from quantum indeterminacy, which you arbitrarily excluded yet again. You should include the effect of hormones as well. While you are about it, perhaps you could show us how consciousness, self-awareness and emotions also emerge from your simple mechanistic model. A single neuron or a small group of neurons doesn’t have free will, but neither does it have consciousness, self-awareness or emotions. All those properties emerge from the interaction of billions of neurons with trillions of connections between them. At the macroscopic level, we have all those properties.

My point was that you were making decisions about which numbers to write. Can you make decisions or not? Do you have control over your actions or not? We have ample evidence that at the macroscopic level we can make decisions and do have control over our actions. You can be pedantic and argue that at the microscopic level our decisions and actions are predetermined—even though quantum indeterminacy means they aren’t—but such argument is pointless. Regardless of the underlying mechanism, our patent macroscopic ability to make decisions and control our actions is what we define as free will.
A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. – David Hume 1711–1776

Offline Azdgari

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #146 on: January 06, 2013, 06:32:33 PM »
The burden is not on him to demonstrate that causality is unbroken.  The burden is on you to establish the existence of the supernatural influence you require.
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Offline CutePuppy

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #147 on: January 06, 2013, 06:37:02 PM »
I cannot see how there can be free will without something in the mix that does not follow the rules.  Free will would mean that there are things in the universe which are governed by no laws.  Has that been observed?

I think if you characterize "free will" like this then it's no different from "randomness". And (free) "will" isn't one of the characteristics of "randomness". So what's your saying doesn't sound accurate to me.

Offline Azdgari

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #148 on: January 06, 2013, 06:42:37 PM »
Consciousness is the result of physics and chemistry so whichever way you look at it our actions are the result of physics and chemistry.

Except that you're claiming consciousness to be free to act in ways that are uncaused, yet not random.  Please explain specifically how something can be uncaused yet not random.

I apologise for the misunderstandings. I’m trying to learn to express myself more clearly, but I struggle to see how others will interpret or misinterpret what I write. What I mean seems so clear to me as I write and read it, but obviously something is lost in the translation. I can only hope I might improve with practice.

Thanks...but the trouble is, you now seem to be espousing exactly the sort of position you were misunderstood to hold in the first place.  Apparently, at some level of complexity, the causality of physics and chemistry breaks down.  Please be specific about that, because it's a very bold claim.
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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #149 on: January 06, 2013, 06:48:44 PM »
Are there rules that govern that interference?  You've said its not random, so presumably there ARE rules?

So for a collection of neurons, HOW does the interference produce one result one time, and another result another time?
It has to do with mathematics and emergent networks.  I don't have the technical knowledge to explain this further than I already have, and I'm getting tired of trying.  I'm going to borrow Azdgari's earlier words - you're basically religious about your belief in determinism.  Seriously - try substituting "the will of God" for 'determinism' in your argument, and see how it comes out.

When someone starts a discussion about free will, you eventually come in and expound on your belief about how it not only does not exist, it can not exist.  For proof, you offer your thought experiment, which is basically an untestable logical construct.  Nobody can disprove it because it's not testable either way, and it's admittedly an appealing explanation, since it's simplified and straightforward.  However, you don't present your belief with the intent of actually convincing people, as your belief in determinism negates that approach.  If you could convince them, then that would mean they'd have an actual choice in the matter, which would undermine the logical supports you've painstakingly constructed for your belief.

Your approach, therefore, is to keep presenting your belief every time the subject comes up, and if someone persists in refusing to accept the 'inevitable' conclusion, you levy additional arguments which are based around the same premise.  Basically, to keep those who disagree with you perpetually on the defensive, so that your argument can convert them into believing in determinism like you do.  Or as you might put it, so that they come around to the 'inevitable' conclusion that you knew they would have to from the very start.  If you'll excuse me borrowing kcrady's words, it's a viral thought meme, and this is how it propagates.  Any argument in favor of "free will" is a threat to it and must be argued down at any cost.

I'm not saying this to be spiteful.  Indeed, I wish I didn't have to say it, because I respect you quite a bit and it's somewhat painful to have to elaborate on this subject.  But your attitude here in this thread has left me with the choice of either withdrawing from discussions on this subject, or confronting you on it head on.  I chose the latter because I'm finally starting to understand just why leaving an unprovable belief alone is ultimately detrimental and damaging.  Because a belief like this, whether it's about determinism or about God, is ultimately just going to keep spreading unless it's stopped, just like a real virus.

Offline Azdgari

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #150 on: January 06, 2013, 06:53:46 PM »
Jaime, the burden of proof lies with the one with the idea that adds to ontology.  Yours does.  Ours does not.  Causality, not supernaturalism, is the default position.  And what you have described is supernaturalism, not mere emergence.

What Anfauglir keeps pressing with is for you to put up and explain wtf you're talking about.  Link to someone else's explanation if you must.  Because right now the idea you're putting forth makes no sense:  That at some level of complexity, causality objectively breaks down.

I cannot see how there can be free will without something in the mix that does not follow the rules.  Free will would mean that there are things in the universe which are governed by no laws.  Has that been observed?

I think if you characterize "free will" like this then it's no different from "randomness". And (free) "will" isn't one of the characteristics of "randomness". So what's your saying doesn't sound accurate to me.

Randomness is governed by laws.  What screwtape is referring to is incoherence, not randomness.
« Last Edit: January 06, 2013, 06:55:52 PM by Azdgari »
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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #151 on: January 06, 2013, 09:43:16 PM »
No, I have not been describing supernaturalism, and it is extremely frustrating to have to repeatedly fend off accusations to that effect, based on people misunderstanding what I'm trying to say or flat-out ignoring it because they hear "free will" and assume that I must mean something supernatural that provides it.  You know how theists tend to dismiss arguments because of their misconceptions about them and then reply based on the misconceptions?  That's how I'm feeling, talking about this.

My point is that causality doesn't break down.  Freedom to make decisions can exist within causality without a supernatural element to provide it.  I've talked with a friend who has a degree in psychology, and he's the one who elaborated on emergent networks to me after I described this argument to him.  I have another friend who's a working biologist who I talked to about this, and he expounded on several points, such as how you can't explain things like memory using neural chemistry.  He explicitly made the point that if neural chemistry determined everything, we'd never have moved past tribalism in the first place.  The problem is that these were casual chats, rather than something I can cite, so I have to describe their arguments as best I can.

However, the second friend recommended a book that he's read, Freedom EvolvesWiki, which makes a strong case for free will (defined as freedom to make decisions without duress, rather than the religious definition, freedom from causality).  Basically, that decisions aren't inevitable, because we can anticipate the consequences and act to avoid undesirable ones.  But for that to work, it requires causality.  You can't have that ability to make decisions and anticipate consequences without it.

Offline 3sigma

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #152 on: January 06, 2013, 10:17:24 PM »
The burden is on you to establish the existence of the supernatural influence you require.

I’m not saying our ability to make decisions is supernatural. I think it is a natural emergent property of the brain due to its complexity.


Except that you're claiming consciousness to be free to act in ways that are uncaused, yet not random.  Please explain specifically how something can be uncaused yet not random.

Apparently, at some level of complexity, the causality of physics and chemistry breaks down.  Please be specific about that, because it's a very bold claim.

I’m not saying our decisions are uncaused. I think our ability to make decisions is caused by the complexity of the brain in ways we don’t yet understand. We also don’t understand how consciousness arises, how we have self-awareness and how we possess emotions. We just don’t know enough about how the brain works to explain, specifically, how we make choices.

This argument is pointless. Our ability to make decisions and choices in everyday life is self-evident. We don’t know how we have that ability, but it obviously exists nonetheless. Ask anyone around you if they can make decisions or choices and what will they say? They’ll say, “yes”, of course. Try to convince them that they can’t make decisions or choices and see how far you get. They will ignore you. If you eventually convince some people that it is all just an illusion due to a chain of causes, they may nod in agreement and then go back to ignoring you. No one behaves in everyday life as though they cannot make decisions or choices. I don’t behave that way and neither do you so all this to and fro about free will is nothing more than a pointless philosophical argument.
A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. – David Hume 1711–1776

Offline Add Homonym

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #153 on: January 06, 2013, 10:54:34 PM »
However, the second friend recommended a book that he's read, Freedom EvolvesWiki, which makes a strong case for free will (defined as freedom to make decisions without duress, rather than the religious definition, freedom from causality).  Basically, that decisions aren't inevitable, because we can anticipate the consequences and act to avoid undesirable ones.  But for that to work, it requires causality.  You can't have that ability to make decisions and anticipate consequences without it.

You might be stating it backwards. It's possible to have no free will in a universe which is acausal.
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Offline JeffPT

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #154 on: January 06, 2013, 11:10:05 PM »
My point is that causality doesn't break down.  Freedom to make decisions can exist within causality without a supernatural element to provide it.  I've talked with a friend who has a degree in psychology, and he's the one who elaborated on emergent networks to me after I described this argument to him.  I have another friend who's a working biologist who I talked to about this, and he expounded on several points, such as how you can't explain things like memory using neural chemistry.  He explicitly made the point that if neural chemistry determined everything, we'd never have moved past tribalism in the first place.  The problem is that these were casual chats, rather than something I can cite, so I have to describe their arguments as best I can.

Please read this article by Robert Sapolsky.  Its not long, and it's relative to the discussion.  If you don't know him, he is a relatively famous neuro-biologist from Standford with a shit load of stuff on his resume.  Let's just say he's an expert in this stuff and leave it at that.  Look him up on wiki if you wish. 

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-sapolsky-brain-and-behavior-20120715,0,5186378.story

If you'd like to know more about emergence and complexity, Mr. Sapolsky does an awesome job in this course lecture on it at the following link.  Go down to video 22.  It's awesome.  If you have an hour or so and you want to understand about emergence and complexity, I advise you take a look.  It doesn't do your argument any favors, however. 

http://www.virtualprofessors.com/stanford-bio-250-human-behavioral-biology

If memory can't be explained by neural chemistry, then how is it explained?  I'd like to see the evidence to support the alternate explanation. 

Maybe the people you were casually chatting with aren't right? Or maybe they aren't experts in neural anatomy and physiology?  Not to take anything away from them but I think it's best to listen to the people who are the experts in specific field we're talking about.  I have an advanced degree in a medical field too, but you wouldn't come to me for the latest information on neurology.  Nor would I go to a biologist (who studies life in general) or a psychologist (who studies behavior and mental function).  I'd go to a neurologist, neurobiologist, neurosurgeon, etc. 

However, the second friend recommended a book that he's read, Freedom EvolvesWiki, which makes a strong case for free will (defined as freedom to make decisions without duress, rather than the religious definition, freedom from causality).  Basically, that decisions aren't inevitable, because we can anticipate the consequences and act to avoid undesirable ones.  But for that to work, it requires causality.  You can't have that ability to make decisions and anticipate consequences without it.

The book you linked... is the author saying exactly the same thing that you are about free will? 
Whenever events that are purported to occur in our best interest are as numerous as the events that will just as soon kill us, then intent is hard, if not impossible to assert. NDT

Offline jaimehlers

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #155 on: January 07, 2013, 12:26:58 AM »
Please read this article by Robert Sapolsky.  Its not long, and it's relative to the discussion.  If you don't know him, he is a relatively famous neuro-biologist from Standford with a shit load of stuff on his resume.  Let's just say he's an expert in this stuff and leave it at that.  Look him up on wiki if you wish.
I read over the article, and I'm not sure what you're trying to get across by linking it.  I know quite well that there's a lot of things we have no control over.  But that's not the same thing as saying that we have no choice in anything.  Honestly, it sounds like what he's saying is supporting the idea of self-determination.

Quote from: JeffPT
If memory can't be explained by neural chemistry, then how is it explained?  I'd like to see the evidence to support the alternate explanation.
I don't have an "alternate explanation".  My point is that what we know about neural chemistry doesn't adequately explain how memory works.  Or similar brain functions, such as consciousness.

Quote from: JeffPT
Maybe the people you were casually chatting with aren't right? Or maybe they aren't experts in neural anatomy and physiology?  Not to take anything away from them but I think it's best to listen to the people who are the experts in specific field we're talking about.  I have an advanced degree in a medical field too, but you wouldn't come to me for the latest information on neurology.  Nor would I go to a biologist (who studies life in general) or a psychologist (who studies behavior and mental function).  I'd go to a neurologist, neurobiologist, neurosurgeon, etc.
It's entirely possible that my friends might not be right.  But it's entirely possible that these big-name experts are also incorrect.  In fact, it's likely that they are getting things wrong simply because we don't know enough about how the brain works.  And that's one of the things I've been trying to get across - that we shouldn't be trying to draw firm conclusions about things like self-determination based on the little we do know so far.

Quote from: JeffPT
The book you linked... is the author saying exactly the same thing that you are about free will?
Not exactly the same thing, but it's fairly close to what I'm trying to say.  If nothing else, I agree with him that we can't afford to define free will (self-determination) as being outside of causality, because that's incoherent and makes no sense at all based on the context of what we know.  What you have to understand is that my disagreement is with the idea that we could play back the universe like a tape recorder and have it all play back exactly the same way.  With no way to possibly test that, we can't rely on a thought experiment to tell us what the result would be.

Offline Anfauglir

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #156 on: January 07, 2013, 07:02:22 AM »
I think perhaps I need to go back to basics - and, as far as possible, try to avoid any thought experiments.

First point: by "free will", I mean that what I might call a "true" decision is capable of being made.  I quite happily accept that we all appear to have what we call free will, and agree that when I pause for a moment to think of the mot juste, I present every sign of utilising that "free will" in my decision.  There is no possible way for anyone - including myself - to predict what word I will choose, and so in general terms it is reasonable to infer that we do, indeed, have "free will".

That, if you like, is the practical definition.  I'm not trying to argue that we all seem to be able to make choices, and that at any decision point in time, we fully feel as if we really COULD make any decision at all.  Please bear that in mind for everything that follows.

That's not what I am arguing against.  What I am arguing is that - to ME - when you call something "free will", it ACTUALLY means that you have the ability to make a decision.  That in absolutely identical circumstances, we truly could make this decision, or that - AND, that it would indeed be a "decision", and not the result of randomn quantum events.

Randomness first: if a part - or, perhaps, ANY part - of the decision-making process is random, then I can't see how that can in any way be called "will".  If my "decision" as to whether to turn left, or right, is ultimately governed by a (metaphorical) toss of a coin, then I can't dignify that with the word "will".  If "free will", in the sense I am now discussing, comes from absolutely random events, then that - to me - is not will.

Causality second: its my understanding that the physical laws of the universe are fixed.  That for a specific set of circumstances, there is one specific outcome.  That outcome may be completely beyond our capability to predict, due to the vast number of variables that need to be considered, but will nonetheless produce the same result every time, in the same circumstances.  If you do A, to B, where you can account for EVERYTHING about both A and B, you will ALWAYS (in a causal universe) get outcome C.  In a completely causal universe, I can't see how "free will" is possible, with the emphasis on "free".  If we accept that physical laws will yield identical results in identical circumstances (and I can't see how we can assert otherwise), then there is no "free will" that can exist.  The universe would run from start to finish in exactly the same way every time, if we were able to wind it back and start again.  And yes - that IS an untestable assertion, but I am, I believe, basing it on the logical conclusion that physical rules will always produce the same result - that 1+1 will always be 2.

Causality PLUS randomness - which I believe is how the universe actually IS - is also a non-starter for me when we are talking about "free will".  Parts of this universe exclude "free", other parts exclude "will" - and, to my mind, the exclusion of each part individually does NOT mean that, when combined, free will suddenly becomes possible.  I also do not intend to inder that - in a universe of THIS type - we would indeed see the same results every time on a "wind back and re-start" experiment: of course not, if there is GENUINE randomess in the model, then like the butterfly in China we would rapidly see the universe going off on a completely different tangent.  I entirely accept that....BUT, that still does not, to me, grant that we have "free will".

It comes down, to me, to this.  For a specific set of variables - by which I am talking about ALL variables in the universe, with all the history leading up to that point - an entirely causal universe can ONLY move to a single, specific next point, because every interaction will be governed by specific physical laws that accumulate to give particular results.  Add randomness to the mix, however, and we will indeed see one specific set of variables produce two, ten, a billion, an infinite number of "next steps".  THAT is indeed, the universe we live in (although clearly the quantum randomess must have very small impacts, else we'd see a lot more people spontaneously turning into banans!).

That's the universe we live in, a universe that by combination of causality and quantum gives the strong illusion that we are - somehow - able to make genuine "choices" and "decisions". 

I get that - I really do.  What I don't get - and which, I'm afraid, referring to concepts like emergent complexity don't answer for me - is how it can be asserted that a "person" is able at a particular point in time to (if you like) suppress the randomness, and overrule the causal elements, and be able to say about itself "there was nothing predetermined, and nothing random about the choice I just made.  No physical laws governed what I just decided, I CHOSE.  I operated my Free Will and made a decision that was not the inevitable result of what came before".

I honestly, genuinely, do NOT understand how "free will", in any manner worthy of the name, actually works.

It may well be that the explanation is out there, but I've not seen it.  Or if I've seen it, I've not understood it.  But my position can be "easily" (heh) altered: if emergent complexity IS the answer, it just needs to explain (in words I can understand, natch!), how increased complexity caused there to come a point where physical laws can produce two (or more) outcomes from a particular set of variables, without those outcomes being random.

Not "demonstrate", I'll grant that - neither my position, nor the alternate, is possible of being proven in a real-world experiment.  But what I feel extremely strongly about is that my hypothesis works, and is both internally consistent, and consistent with what we know of the universe.  I genuinely and honestly do not feel that any legitimate counter has been given to my hypothesis, in that in no case has it been explained where and how it is going wrong.

Jaime, you're right - I DO keep popping into these threads and making this point, and its for that exact reason!  Nobody can show me the expereiment that proves me wrong, and that's not what I am after - all I want to change my mind is the clear explanation of where and how my logic breaks down.  If I've missed that, I sincerely apologise, there's an awful lot of words on these topics and quite possible I missed it!

And sorry for the length!  On the positive side, if you read this far (and believe in free will) you have no-one to blame but yourself!  Feel sorry for me though - I had no choice but to type every single letter - typos and all!
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Offline Add Homonym

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #157 on: January 07, 2013, 09:14:42 AM »
The definition of YOU has also been changed, since YOU are a collection of atoms that piss out, and come in via food.

Thus the sentence: "you have free will", means that spaghetti you ate a few days ago, that now resides in your brain, has the free will to make you crave more spaghetti.

We are the pawns of spaghetti.
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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #158 on: January 07, 2013, 10:52:13 AM »
I think perhaps I need to go back to basics - and, as far as possible, try to avoid any thought experiments.

First point: by "free will", I mean that what I might call a "true" decision is capable of being made.  I quite happily accept that we all appear to have what we call free will, and agree that when I pause for a moment to think of the mot juste, I present every sign of utilising that "free will" in my decision.  There is no possible way for anyone - including myself - to predict what word I will choose, and so in general terms it is reasonable to infer that we do, indeed, have "free will".

That, if you like, is the practical definition.  I'm not trying to argue that we all seem to be able to make choices, and that at any decision point in time, we fully feel as if we really COULD make any decision at all.  Please bear that in mind for everything that follows.

That's not what I am arguing against.  What I am arguing is that - to ME - when you call something "free will", it ACTUALLY means that you have the ability to make a decision.  That in absolutely identical circumstances, we truly could make this decision, or that - AND, that it would indeed be a "decision", and not the result of randomn quantum events.

Sorry to butt into a well-developed conversation, but I really wanted to comment here. Firstly I just wanted to say to Anfauglir that this is a really elegant outlining of why, given a ‘materialist reductionism philosophy’ [from here on referred to as just ‘materialism’] (ie that the only thing which exists is physical matter and all phenomena can be adequately explained in materialistic terms), we might feel compelled to reject free will as ‘illusion’.

Personally I am not 100% convinced in the coherency of materialism as a philosophy , I have certain problems with accepting various premises required by it (especially a ‘hard realism’ with regard scientific theory – for a good overview of this see Worrall: Structural Realism – The best of both worlds). However I do not want to debate that here.

What I would like to do is offer a way within a materialist understanding of the universe that we can still defend the notion of free will. The following is deeply indebted to the ideas of Dan Dennett as outlined in Elbow Room.

The deterministic hypothesis, so eloquently put by Anfauglir, as I understand him (please correct me if I am wrong), runs as follows:

Any moment of purported choice by a free agent can be completely explained by a full understanding of the laws of nature and the antecedent conditions. In other words, if I know exactly how the universe works, and exactly how the universe is shaped at a given time, I can fully predict how the universe will be shaped in the future (whether deterministically or probabilistically) without any reference to ‘free will’ or ‘choices’. Eg: If I really know everything about the universe on Monday I know what I’ll be having for dinner on Sunday.

This leads Anfauglir to make the general claim, that I could never have done otherwise than what I actually did (see quoted passage above). In other words if I chose bacon for breakfast I was always going to, no matter how much I thought I might have had toast this apparent choice was illusion.

In all of this I, playing the role of a good materialist, am in complete agreement. Where I disagree is in saying that this excludes “free will”. Instead I want to argue that “free will” is a completely meaningful term – not an “illusion” – and that this does not require any dilution of my materialism.

To do this I need to make one, vital qualification. I do not accept that “free will” means “I could have done other than what I actually did”. Rather “free will” means “I am able to act on the basis of reasons”. This re-definition might seem like cheating, but there are at least two very good reasons for preferring the latter definition.

Firstly “I could have done other than what I actually did” cannot be tested, it is non-falsifiable; it is strictly a non-scientific proposition. There is no way of gathering evidence for or against this claim; no two states of the universe are, or could be identical so no testing ground could ever exist (2nd law of thermodynamics). Being a good materialist I am therefore compelled to point out that “I could have done other than what I actually did” is in fact a meaningless proposition and cannot be taken to be a reasonable definition of free will.

Secondly the only moments that we would ever wish to call “moments of choice” that is “moments where I can exercise my free will” are when I have competing reasons for acting one way or another. We distinguish, for example, between falling off a cliff and jumping off a cliff in terms of having reasons. Falling requires no reasons, jumping does require reasons (except for certain trivial grey areas such sleepwalking off a cliff, or jumping off a cliff in error – ie thinking it was a mere step).

The question now becomes: is the claim – “I am able to act on the basis of reasons” – allowable within a materialist framework? Let us take a very simple organism, the sunflower. The sunflower will, in the course of a day, turn its face to track the sun. Now it would be absurd to argue that this organism is in the possession of ‘reasons’; however what we do have is ‘behaviour’ arising from – in the most primitive sense – goals, that is the evolutionary benefit gained by the behaviour.

Now let us look at the human. The main difference between the sunflower and the human is found in terms of complexity, both in terms of structure and behaviour. However just like the sunflower our behaviour is dictated by these goals. If the sunflower’s behaviour follows the arc of the sun, what does our behaviour follow? The answer is clearly ‘reasons’. Now these reasons are of course reducible to the shape and rules of the material universe, but we engage with these pushes and pulls as ‘reasons’. It is precisely this that we call “free will”.

An analogy might help clarify this admittedly subtle distinction. If I press the ‘n’ key on my keyboard, the letter ‘n’ appears on the screen. I can explain this in two ways; firstly I can say that the ‘n-key’ causes the ‘n’ symbol to appear thanks to a certain set of computer coding. Secondly I could explain it in terms of changes in magnetic switches and the movement of current through liquid crystal. The former account is far shorter and may well be incomplete but it is, none the less an adequate account. “Free will” can be understood in similar terms: we can explain our behaviour with a long-winded physical account; or we can explain our behaviour in terms of ‘reasons’; just as we can explain the behaviour of a computer with a long-winded physical account ; or we can explain it in terms of ‘computer code’. (NOTE: as with any analogy it is not perfect, but I hope it helps elucidate the account I have given)

In other words “free will” means the capacity to say “I did x for the following reasons” and this does not conflict with the claim that our behaviour can also be explained in purely physical terms. “Free will” then is both a meaningful and philosophically robust concept. It may not be the “Free will” that allows is to suppose “we could have acted other than we did”, but it is, to quote that great materialist Dan Dennett “the only type of free will worth wanting”.

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away." - P.K.D.

Offline jaimehlers

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #159 on: January 07, 2013, 01:06:22 PM »
Add Homonym:  Perhaps it's the Flying Spaghetti Monster that's responsible?  (j/k)

Anfauglir:  At what point does something that seems like an illusion or a fiction stop being so?  Let's say we have a person who's fundamentally selfish - who only cares about himself and things insofar as they pertain to him.  This person ultimately only wants a comfortable life where they can do things because they're desirable, rather than simply necessary, so they act in a relatively unselfish manner in order to advance themselves and their own desires.  At what point does the pretense of being a decent person become the reality?

Yes, you can argue, quite cogently, that it's all just subatomic particles at base, and that any sense of free will or self-determination only springs from within the mind itself, rather than coming from the basic structure of the brain, the web of binary pathways that serve only to transmit electricity.  Neurons don't have self-determination, they don't decide whether to transmit electrical signals or not, they depend on input from outside (neurotransmitters) to do so.  And those neurotransmitters also don't decide whether they want to be sent.  The problem is that we can't really follow that chain all the way from the bottom to the top, because we don't truly understand just what the consciousness is, let alone how it works within the context of the brain.

What that means, ultimately, is that any conclusion we might draw from our current observations is at best incomplete.  And it could be wrong, or even misguided, not due to any deliberate intent, but simply due to the dearth of conclusive knowledge that we use to make those conclusions in the first place.  There's several hypotheses regarding the consciousness, such as the quantum mindWiki hypothesis.  It's based on the premise that classical mechanics simply don't explain the nature of consciousness and that we need to look at quantum mechanics to come up with a theory that explains things properly.  For example, if the consciousness does use things like quantum entanglement and superposition in order to function, then a purely deterministic model of the consciousness is akin to Newtonian physics - correct as far as it goes, but simply not capable of explaining certain things which would radically change our understanding of the overall system.

It's true that these hypotheses are in need of further work.  For example, with the quantum mind hypothesis, we have the problem of how the brain would keep its own quantum states from decohering before they became useful for neural processing.  It's possible that it, and other hypotheses that attempt to explain consciousness, may simply not work as viable explanations.  In the meantime, I'm not suggesting that we should make unwarranted assumptions about self-determination, or that those skeptical of it should accept it simply because it's appealing.  But neither should we act as if the deterministic relationships that we currently understand are the be-all, end-all of reality.  If nothing else, we've shown that self-determination does exist, even if it's subjective in nature.  That subjectivity wouldn't make it any less existent than, say, a personal preference for vanilla over chocolate, since we can't really tell everything that makes someone prefer something over something else.

Well, that's my point.  Self-determination may 'only' be an illusion (though I do not consider it to be so), but technically, the reality we experience is itself is an illusion.  The sun shining outside the window, my fingers tapping the keyboard as I write this - it's ultimately nothing more than the interaction of electromagnetic forces.  It's all just an illusion that we experience because of the limitations of our senses.  Yet, for us, the illusion is what's real.  Similarly, self-determination may be nothing but an illusion, but for all intents and purposes, it's part of our reality.

Offline screwtape

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #160 on: January 07, 2013, 10:15:23 PM »
And (free) "will" isn't one of the characteristics of "randomness". So what's your saying doesn't sound accurate to me.

vice versa.  Randomness is a characteristic of free will.  Or, I guess maybe I am using the wrong concept (as Az pointed out).  Not randomness.  Incoherence.  Some quality disconnected from the rules.
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Offline 3sigma

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #161 on: January 07, 2013, 11:32:27 PM »
That's the universe we live in, a universe that by combination of causality and quantum gives the strong illusion that we are - somehow - able to make genuine "choices" and "decisions". 

I get that - I really do.  What I don't get - and which, I'm afraid, referring to concepts like emergent complexity don't answer for me - is how it can be asserted that a "person" is able at a particular point in time to (if you like) suppress the randomness, and overrule the causal elements, and be able to say about itself "there was nothing predetermined, and nothing random about the choice I just made.  No physical laws governed what I just decided, I CHOSE.  I operated my Free Will and made a decision that was not the inevitable result of what came before".

I honestly, genuinely, do NOT understand how "free will", in any manner worthy of the name, actually works.

It may well be that the explanation is out there, but I've not seen it.  Or if I've seen it, I've not understood it.  But my position can be "easily" (heh) altered: if emergent complexity IS the answer, it just needs to explain (in words I can understand, natch!), how increased complexity caused there to come a point where physical laws can produce two (or more) outcomes from a particular set of variables, without those outcomes being random.

I’m using this section of your post because I think it embodies the problem best. I did read all of your post (and penfold’s and jaimehlers’ as well). Again, I think the problem lies in how we approach the question of whether or not we have free will. We see two points of view: the macroscopic and the microscopic. Here is how I see it.
  • Macroscopic world: consciousness, self-awareness and free will.
  • Unknown territory: the mechanism by which those properties arise.
  • Microscopic world: no consciousness, self-awareness or free will.
I think others and I take the top-down approach. We see that we can make decisions and choices and we can act at our own discretion so to us it is obvious that we do have free will. However, we cannot explain how that ability arises from the causality and determinism of the microscopic world because the mechanism is unknown. We can say “complexity”, but as yet, no one can explain how complexity actually achieves the result.

I think still others and you take the bottom-up approach. You look at the microscopic world and see that it is dictated by causality and determinism (with a nod to randomness) and you see there is no free will inherent in the system. However, you cannot understand how the consciousness and free will we see in the macroscopic world could arise from such simple causes because there is a gap in our understanding.

It’s like the argument people used to have about the Sun and how it could have burned for so long. One side said it was obvious the Sun and the Earth had been around for a long time because we had plenty of other evidence supporting that idea. The other side said there was no known mechanism or fuel the Sun could be using to sustain it for such a long time. It took the discovery of radioactivity (leading to the true mechanism and fuel) to put the argument to rest. That’s what we need here.

I think this perennial argument will remain until someone maps that unknown territory and discovers the true mechanism so perhaps next time someone asks, “Do we have free will?” we should answer, “Yes and no”. The answer is yes if you take the top-down approach and no if you take the bottom-up approach, but neither side can fully justify their position.
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Offline CutePuppy

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #162 on: January 08, 2013, 01:29:25 AM »
And (free) "will" isn't one of the characteristics of "randomness". So what's your saying doesn't sound accurate to me.

vice versa.  Randomness is a characteristic of free will.  Or, I guess maybe I am using the wrong concept (as Az pointed out).  Not randomness.  Incoherence.  Some quality disconnected from the rules.

Az's point does make sense, now I think about it. I stand corrected.

I'm still not sure what you describe is what I'd consider (free) "will", though. In what sense is that different from "chaos"?

Offline Gnu Ordure

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #163 on: January 08, 2013, 04:31:43 AM »
Yes, there should be sanctions insofar as an attempt to placethe affected parties in the state they were beforehand - there should NOT be sanctions as punishment over and above that.  Apologies, I thought I'd made that clear before.

So, for example: thief steals your wallet, and is later caught.  In every scenario below, rehabilitation occurs, as well as:
1) Your wallet is returned as it was - he had no time to go through it.  No further sanction required.
2) Your wallet is returned, missing £10.  Thief is made to pay you £10.
In either case is he fined any additional money, nor is he given any additional "jail time" over the time required for rehabilitation.

LOL. The same old meat puppets flogging the same old robohorse. Don't you get bored going round in circles?

What a bunch of stupid cunts you are.

Offline Anfauglir

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #164 on: January 08, 2013, 04:44:28 AM »
In other words “free will” means the capacity to say “I did x for the following reasons” and this does not conflict with the claim that our behaviour can also be explained in purely physical terms. “Free will” then is both a meaningful and philosophically robust concept. It may not be the “Free will” that allows is to suppose “we could have acted other than we did”, but it is, to quote that great materialist Dan Dennett “the only type of free will worth wanting”.

Sure.  THAT definition of free will is perfectly coherent.  I just don't think its the best word for it. 
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #165 on: January 08, 2013, 04:46:41 AM »
LOL. The same old meat puppets flogging the same old robohorse. Don't you get bored going round in circles?

Sadly, I have no choice in the matter.  I have no free will to decide otherwise.   ;D    It's those poor people like Jaime and 3Sigma who CHOOSE to keep coming back here.....  ;)
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #166 on: January 08, 2013, 04:50:26 AM »
I think this perennial argument will remain until someone maps that unknown territory and discovers the true mechanism so perhaps next time someone asks, “Do we have free will?” we should answer, “Yes and no”. The answer is yes if you take the top-down approach and no if you take the bottom-up approach, but neither side can fully justify their position.

Almost on side with you.  I just look at it from the point of view that we have many examples where things seemed to be one thing, but when we began to measure them we realised it wasn't correct (classicly being the old "sun round earth or earth round sun" position.  I relate this to the debate we are having in that man has thought for generations that he has free will, but that the evidence we are beginning to accumulate is pushing towards the conclusion that we do not. 
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
Why is it so hard for believers to answer a direct question?

Offline Gnu Ordure

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #167 on: January 08, 2013, 05:01:46 AM »
LOL. The same old meat puppets flogging the same old robohorse. Don't you get bored going round in circles?

Sadly, I have no choice in the matter.  I have no free will to decide otherwise.   ;D    It's those poor people like Jaime and 3Sigma who CHOOSE to keep coming back here.....  ;)
Anf, I called you a stupid cunt.

What are you going to do about it?

Offline Anfauglir

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #168 on: January 08, 2013, 05:16:09 AM »
Anf, I called you a name.

What are you going to do about it?

Nothing at work.  The profanity filters will pick it up!   ;D

I'm not going to do anything.  I realise that you didn't "choose" to call me that, it was just inevitable given your life so far.  Why take offence over something someone didn't choose to say?  It'd be as meaningless as someone who believes in free will taking offence at something a Tourette's sufferer called them (and how DOES that work, BTW?  Why does free will seem unable to override Tourette's?)

And I suffered no detriment from it, so far as I am aware, so I see no requirement for reparations on your part.
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
Why is it so hard for believers to answer a direct question?

Offline penfold

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #169 on: January 08, 2013, 05:54:53 AM »
In other words “free will” means the capacity to say “I did x for the following reasons” and this does not conflict with the claim that our behaviour can also be explained in purely physical terms. “Free will” then is both a meaningful and philosophically robust concept. It may not be the “Free will” that allows is to suppose “we could have acted other than we did”, but it is, to quote that great materialist Dan Dennett “the only type of free will worth wanting”.

Sure.  THAT definition of free will is perfectly coherent.  I just don't think its the best word for it.

But isn't this, in fact, what we mean by "free will"?

The alternative definition "that I could have acted otherwise"; is such a bad definition as to boarder on the meaningless. Actions I have already taken are necessarily the case (as time only flows in one direction) to propose that I could have acted otherwise is to propose, that “were what is necessary, not necessary, something else could be necessary”; the first part of which (“were what is necessary, not necessary”) is a nonsense. It is akin to the statement “where a square not a square it could be a circle”! It is absurd to argue that this can be what we mean by free will.

It seems to me much of the kind of determinism which you outline (and has a rich heritage from Laplace to Spinoza) is actually attacking a straw man – though a straw man wilfully taken up by many defenders of free will. I would argue that when people say they have “free will” what they in fact mean is that they are capable of acting for reasons.

Let’s take an example of allegedly free action vs action which is clearly not. Imagine two football players (soccer); one of them is tackled and falls to the ground the other is not tackled but takes a dive in order to get a free kick. The first player does not ‘choose’ to fall over, her tumble is caused by forces ‘beyond her control’. The second player does ‘choose’ to fall over, her tumble is caused by her succumbing to the temptation to try and win a free kick. Both players were determined to fall; the first player by a tackle, the second by virtue of her reasons. Both are determined but we can still meaningfully distinguish the two events because the cause of the second player’s fall is a ‘choice based on reasons’. Both players are determined but only one player made a choice.

Thus when we act on the basis of reasons (as opposed to other causes) we call that process choosing. Whether or not we could have acted otherwise is simply not relevant. This ability to act on the basis of reasons (as opposed to other causes) is exactly what we mean by “free will”.

How would you phrase it?
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away." - P.K.D.

Offline Gnu Ordure

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #170 on: January 08, 2013, 06:04:19 AM »
Quote
I'm not going to do anything.

er, what about the Rules, Anf? I know I've been away from the Forum for a while, but surely calling a bunch of people 'stupid cunts' is some kind of transgression?

And you're a cop in this society; you're not supposed to just shrug amiably when someone breaks a Rule right under your nose.

Offline 3sigma

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #171 on: January 08, 2013, 06:10:32 AM »
I relate this to the debate we are having in that man has thought for generations that he has free will, but that the evidence we are beginning to accumulate is pushing towards the conclusion that we do not.

Man has thought for generations that he has consciousness and self-awareness as well, yet I’m guessing your single-neuron, causality driven model doesn’t predict them either. Does that push us towards the conclusion that we don’t have consciousness and self-awareness? If not then why think that we don’t have free will? We have the ability to act at our own discretion. That is solid evidence that we have free will (in fact, it’s the definition of free will). What we don’t have yet is an explanation for it. And now I’m going to exercise my free will and choose to make this my last post in this thread.
A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. – David Hume 1711–1776

Offline Gnu Ordure

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #172 on: January 08, 2013, 06:13:40 AM »
Anf, I'm sorry I called you all stupid cunts. I've Reported my post to the Mods.

Offline Gnu Ordure

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #173 on: January 08, 2013, 06:25:08 AM »
Actually, I'm not sorry at all, I was just pretending to be sorry.