Author Topic: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...  (Read 11282 times)

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Online JeffPT

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #261 on: January 25, 2013, 10:52:38 PM »
This isn't freedom of will, 3sigma.  Randomness is not freedom.

I think freedom of will means that my will is not under the control of another will. I think the applicable meaning of freedom is the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants or, more specifically, the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity. You and your fellow protagonists apparently have a very different idea of freedom of will. Perhaps you could give me the meaning of freedom you are using when you say we don’t have freedom of will.

Have we not done this already a bunch of times? 

Maybe an analogy will help...

Alright, you're lost in the woods.  There are 2 paths up ahead of you and you don't know which one will get you out, so you are faced with a 'choice'.  Now... your brain, being the information processing juggernaut that it is, receives information about the world around you (sight, smell, taste, touch, hear), and that information is then sent to the brain in the form of electrical signals.  For the sake of argument, I'm going to seriously oversimplify this and say it fires nerves 1 through 150.  It doesn't matter how many it fires or which ones are fired, but let's just say it fires a specific amount.  Once those nerves fire, a chain reaction of signals is sent around the brain and millions of nerves fire; some to the emotional centers, the decision making centers, the frontal cortex, etc, but all following natural processes of stimulus and response.  Everything about your history adds in to it including things like how hungry you are, how long it is before dark, whether or not you're going to be in trouble, but each nerve input boils down to fire or no fire.  Go or no go.  Completely natural; cause and effect.   

So nerves 1 to 150 fire to the other centers, activating more nerves and we eventually get an output that is completely individual to you (say it eventually fires nerves 250 to 400 which leads to going left), but no more or less than that because when nerves 1 to 150 fire, the eventual outcome could only be 250 to 400 due to the natural cascade of stimulus and response.  If nerve 151 fired (another neural input of some kind), then you might get a different outcome, but for nerves 1 to 150, only nerves 250 to 400 will be your end result.   

What (I think) everyone is saying is that when we talk about free will, we mean the ability to impact our own response to nerves 1 to 150 firing to the brain, and go right instead of left.  When we say we have no free will, what we mean is that those first nerves that sent information to our brain (1 to 150) will ALWAYS output 250 to 400, and thus we had no 'choice' but to turn left.  All things being equal, if the universe rewound to that exact spot in time, and everything played out such that nerves 1 to 150 fired, the subsequent neuronal cascade would always give you the firing of nerves 250 to 400, and thus we never had a choice in it at all.  We just do what our brains tell us to do and we'd go left every time.  Cause and effect, stimulus and response, go and no go. 

Where do you see a possibility for 'us' to impact the natural cascade of neural activity and make an alternate decision?  You could say 'well, what if I thought about this other time when I went left and I should have gone right'... and I respond by saying no matter what happened, at that very moment in time, if nerves 1 to 150 fired, either it would activate that memory, or it wouldn't, but it would do it every time you rewound the situation back due to the cause and effect nature of the system.  You don't have control over the activation of that memory.  A nerve fires and it either makes the next one fire or it doesn't.  In order for us to have free will, there HAS to be some sort of mechanism by which we can have nerves 1 to 150 fire, and cascade out nerves 500 to 550.  I just can't see one, and thus it just makes more logical sense to say we don't have free will.  I could be wrong about it, but the theory that we have no free will is only problematic from an emotional standpoint.  It fits with all the facts. 
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 3sigma

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #262 on: January 26, 2013, 06:34:07 AM »
Here, I'll highlight the bullshit by swapping a few terms around...

Disregarding the sheer improbability of ever having all that information, quantum indeterminacy still guarantees that the outcome of the computer's decision-making process is not predictable and hence its will is free.

This is just as accurate as your own quote.  Still stand by it?

Are you serious? Can’t you do any better than make up some ridiculous straw man argument? Of course I wouldn’t stand by that statement because I wouldn’t be silly enough to say that a computer has a will comparable to that of a human.

I asked you what meaning of freedom you are using when you say we have no freedom of will. How about answering that question instead of evading it and making up a straw man.
A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. – David Hume 1711–1776

Offline 3sigma

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #263 on: January 26, 2013, 06:35:44 AM »
In order for us to have free will, there HAS to be some sort of mechanism by which we can have nerves 1 to 150 fire, and cascade out nerves 500 to 550.

Why? What is your objection to having a mechanism that causes a different group of nerves to fire (not 1 to 150) that achieves the result of 500 to 550 firing? The result is what is important because a different result is a different choice for the same inputs. That result could occur if quantum indeterminacy causes, say, nerve 99 not to fire and 163 to fire instead. And yes, in that case you could rewind the universe to the same spot and play it forward, but this time achieve a different result.

What meaning of free are you using when you say we don’t have free will? The free will deniers here don’t appear to be talking about freedom at all, but instead about control. You apparently want us to be able to control which nerves fire, but that control has to occur without firing any other nerves, yet it’s the firing of nerves that gives us control. It’s like asking me to change the spelling of a word without changing the letters. It’s a ridiculous and meaningless restriction. Free will is the ability to make decisions without constraint or coercion. If you want to say free will is the ability to make different decisions based on the same inputs then quantum indeterminacy gives us that as well.
A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. – David Hume 1711–1776

Online Azdgari

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #264 on: January 26, 2013, 06:44:17 AM »
Are you serious? Can’t you do any better than make up some ridiculous straw man argument? Of course I wouldn’t stand by that statement because I wouldn’t be silly enough to say that a computer has a will comparable to that of a human.

You would be silly enough to say that a human has free will in the sense you were describing, so why not a computer?  What's wrong with my alteration?  Seriously, man up and say what's wrong with it.  Because whatever is wrong with it, is also wrong with your position.

I asked you what meaning of freedom you are using when you say we have no freedom of will. How about answering that question instead of evading it and making up a straw man.

I did not make up a straw man.  I highlighted a problem with your position by pointing out that it applies equally to computers.  You have refused to face up to that, in the same way that a theist refuses to apply the same standards to other gods that (s)he does to his or her own.  It is the same religious behaviour.

When I say that humans have no free will, I mean that our wills behave mechanistically.  You cited quantum randomness as making us "free" from such things.  Well, that doesn't just happen in our brains.  All objects contain such processes.  Therefore, by your argument, they are also free.  Rocks have free will.  Computers have free will.  Pretty crazy, but that's the argument you made, inadvertently.
« Last Edit: January 26, 2013, 06:46:50 AM by Azdgari »
I have not encountered any mechanical malfunctioning in my spirit.  It works every single time I need it to.

Offline Iamrational

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #265 on: January 26, 2013, 09:51:17 AM »
This is why when the debate about free will comes up, I just watch the Sam Harris video again. I get confused just by all the different perspectives. I feel Sam lays it out pretty well.

Offline Anfauglir

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #266 on: January 26, 2013, 11:06:02 AM »
.... if quantum indeterminacy causes, say, nerve 99 not to fire and 163 to fire instead. And yes, in that case you could rewind the universe to the same spot and play it forward, but this time achieve a different result.....

Yes indeed.  Never argued it.

What control do you have over quantum indeterminacy in your brain?  If the ONLY way that your brain can reach a different result is through QI, then in what sense did you make a "choice", as opposed to something totally random happening?

.....I wouldn’t be silly enough to say that a computer has a will comparable to that of a human.

Explain to me the difference.  Seriously, what     processes go in in a human brain hat do NOT go on in a computer?

I asked you what meaning of freedom you are using when you say we have no freedom of will.

Personally?  In THIS discussion, I am using "freedom of wll" to mean "capable of making a non-random decision that is not the inevitable result of the mechanistic processes of the universe so far".

And yes - so far as I am able to tell, nothing and nobody has "freedom of will" that matches that definition.  THAT is the point: that everyone and everything will take the inevitable actions that proceeds from their current state, modified by random QI fluctuations.  Nobody has any soul, or will, or magic property that enables them to override the mechanistic and cancel the random and thus be truly making a decision.
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 3sigma

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #267 on: January 26, 2013, 06:36:09 PM »
You would be silly enough to say that a human has free will in the sense you were describing, so why not a computer?  What's wrong with my alteration?

When I say that humans have no free will, I mean that our wills behave mechanistically.  You cited quantum randomness as making us "free" from such things.  Well, that doesn't just happen in our brains.  All objects contain such processes.  Therefore, by your argument, they are also free.  Rocks have free will.  Computers have free will.  Pretty crazy, but that's the argument you made, inadvertently.

Really? Rocks make decisions, do they? When we are talking about free will, we are talking about the decision-making process. Rocks don’t make decisions so was saying my argument means rocks have free will a straw man or not?

It is fair enough to say that computers make decisions, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say they have free will. I would reserve the term free will for a decision-making process as complex as ours and some other animals with large brains. You could argue (as do the other mechanistic advocates) that it’s all just zeros and ones, but at some level of complexity that analogy breaks down. I think free will is an emergent property of the brain due to its complexity—the same as consciousness, self-awareness, feelings and emotions.[1] Computers don’t have consciousness, self-awareness, feelings or emotions, but we do have those properties so it is obvious the computer analogy can’t be extrapolated to rule them out. I think the same applies to free will. That’s what is wrong with your alteration of my argument.
 1. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not implying any supernatural causes. I think it’s the result of purely natural features and processes yet to be explained.
A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. – David Hume 1711–1776

Offline 3sigma

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #268 on: January 26, 2013, 06:40:38 PM »
What control do you have over quantum indeterminacy in your brain?  If the ONLY way that your brain can reach a different result is through QI, then in what sense did you make a "choice", as opposed to something totally random happening?

We don’t have any control over QI fluctuations. That’s what makes the choices arising from them free. I’m not implying that QI fluctuations could make you pick some random choice. They would merely colour your choice by slightly changing the number of various inhibitory or excitatory inputs to neurons. For instance, in JeffPT’s previous fork in the woods example, with all else being equal QI fluctuations could weight the choice one way or the other. They aren’t going to make you suddenly choose to dance a jig instead (unless that was already one of the options you had in mind).


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Explain to me the difference.  Seriously, what     processes go in in a human brain hat do NOT go on in a computer?

I don’t know. No one does. We don’t yet have an explanation for consciousness, self-awareness, feelings or emotions, but it is obvious that it isn’t valid to say that because computers don’t have those properties then neither do we. I think those properties and free will are emergent properties of the brain due to its complexity. We don’t yet know how they arise or work, but they arise and work nonetheless. Again, I think the explanation, when we discover it, will be purely natural. I think adamantly insisting that we can’t possibly have free will is premature because we don’t yet have an explanation for it. You are coming to a conclusion without enough evidence. You are making an assumption. You might as well insist that we can’t possibly have consciousness. Computers don’t have consciousness so why aren’t you arguing that neither do we?


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In THIS discussion, I am using "freedom of wll" to mean "capable of making a non-random decision that is not the inevitable result of the mechanistic processes of the universe so far".

And yes - so far as I am able to tell, nothing and nobody has "freedom of will" that matches that definition.  THAT is the point: that everyone and everything will take the inevitable actions that proceeds from their current state, modified by random QI fluctuations.

If the result is modified by random QI fluctuations then it isn’t inevitable. It can change from one iteration to the next even if you rewound the universe and replayed the decision.
A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. – David Hume 1711–1776

Online Azdgari

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #269 on: January 26, 2013, 09:16:09 PM »
Really? Rocks make decisions, do they? When we are talking about free will, we are talking about the decision-making process. Rocks don’t make decisions so was saying my argument means rocks have free will a straw man or not?

The rocks part was stretching.  Not an excuse to dodge the clear point, though, which is what you did.  You clearly don't want to think critically about this.

It is fair enough to say that computers make decisions, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say they have free will.

Of course you wouldn't.  It's an arbitrary distinction, though, given the standard you've laid out.

I would reserve the term free will for a decision-making process as complex as ours and some other animals with large brains. You could argue (as do the other mechanistic advocates) that it’s all just zeros and ones, but at some level of complexity that analogy breaks down.

At some level of complexity, the mechanistic becomes supernatural.  You can't give details, of course.  Supernaturalists never can.  If they could, then it would be natural.

I think free will is an emergent property of the brain due to its complexity—the same as consciousness, self-awareness, feelings and emotions.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not implying any supernatural causes. I think it’s the result of purely natural features and processes yet to be explained.

...that are non-mechanistic.  You're not being very convincing in denying your supernatural beliefs when you describe your beliefs as being supernatural, in practice.  Complexity breaks naturalism.  Ho-hum.

Computers don’t have consciousness, self-awareness, feelings or emotions, but we do have those properties so it is obvious the computer analogy can’t be extrapolated to rule them out. I think the same applies to free will. That’s what is wrong with your alteration of my argument.

Non-sequitur.  Stop trying so damned hard to salvage your religious beliefs.
I have not encountered any mechanical malfunctioning in my spirit.  It works every single time I need it to.

Offline Anfauglir

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #270 on: January 27, 2013, 02:27:13 AM »
What control do you have over quantum indeterminacy in your brain?  If the ONLY way that your brain can reach a different result is through QI, then in what sense did you make a "choice", as opposed to something totally random happening?

We don’t have any control over QI fluctuations. That’s what makes the choices arising from them free
So you agree that there is NO control over the QI fluctuations that occur.  So in what way did YOU make the choice?  (I agree with the rest of your post)

Explain to me the difference.  Seriously, what     processes go in in a human brain hat do NOT go on in a computer?
I don’t know. No one does. We don’t yet have an explanation for consciousness, self-awareness, feelings or emotions, but it is obvious that it isn’t valid to say that because computers don’t have those properties then neither do we.
I asked it before - I'll do it again.  How do you KNOW that computers do not have those properties?

I think adamantly insisting that we can’t possibly have free will is premature because we don’t yet have an explanation for it. You are coming to a conclusion without enough evidence. You are making an assumption. You might as well insist that we can’t possibly have consciousness. Computers don’t have consciousness so why aren’t you arguing that neither do we?

And aren't you doing the same?  Insisting that there IS such a thing as free will when all the evidence points against it?  I agree we have the sensation of free will, but to explain it, at the moment (as Azdgari says) you need to invoke the god of the gaps.  Is that a reasonable course to take?

I am coming to a conclusion based on every bit of evidence there is.  That the universe is causal.  That a particular neuron, given particular stimuli, will always fire in the same way.  That QI events may influence the universe, but in a random and undirected manner.

Those are the facts I am using to come to my conclusion.  Your rebuttal seems to be "make a system large enough and causality breaks down".  Please note - I entirely agree that a complex system may not be predictable due (solely) to its scale.....but if we agree (do we?) that causality applies at the level of one neuron, and at two, and three.....then at what point are you saying that causality stops?

If the result is modified by random QI fluctuations then it isn’t inevitable. It can change from one iteration to the next even if you rewound the universe and replayed the decision.

Yep.  How is that anything to do with you?  All you are doing is agreeing that another external factor wil amend the "decision" that you would otherwise have made.  I honestly don't see where you can claim to have been responsible for what you eventually did.
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
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Offline 3sigma

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #271 on: January 27, 2013, 10:35:01 PM »
The rocks part was stretching.

Here’s a suggestion. How about you stop “stretching” and stick to reasonable arguments instead.


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At some level of complexity, the mechanistic becomes supernatural.  You can't give details, of course.  Supernaturalists never can.  If they could, then it would be natural.

No, the process doesn’t become supernatural, but at the moment it’s unexplained.


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...that are non-mechanistic.  You're not being very convincing in denying your supernatural beliefs when you describe your beliefs as being supernatural, in practice.  Complexity breaks naturalism.  Ho-hum.

I’m not denying the underlying cause (firing neurons) is mechanistic, but one of the final effects of billions of interdependent neurons firing in complex patterns is what we call free will. It isn’t supernatural. It’s as real as consciousness, self-awareness, feelings and emotions. Complexity doesn’t break naturalism—it just makes it unexplained and unpredictable.


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Non-sequitur. Stop trying so damned hard to salvage your religious beliefs.

No, it isn’t a non sequitur and along with dropping the “stretches” will you please stop trying so hard to misrepresent my thoughts as religious beliefs. At the lowest level of our brain’s operation the firing of neurons is influenced by a combination of deterministic and stochastic causes. The combined effect of billions of neurons firing across trillions of connections in innumerable complex patterns results in consciousness, self-awareness, feelings, emotions and free will. None of those effects or phenomena can be explained by the simple mechanistic process of neurons firing, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist or they are supernatural.
A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. – David Hume 1711–1776

Offline 3sigma

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #272 on: January 27, 2013, 10:40:09 PM »
So you agree that there is NO control over the QI fluctuations that occur.  So in what way did YOU make the choice?

I’ll answer this where you ask it again at the end.


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I asked it before - I'll do it again.  How do you KNOW that computers do not have those properties?

I’m pretty sure computers don’t have consciousness, self-awareness, feelings or emotions because I don’t think we’ve ever seen a shred of sound evidence to suggest they do possess those properties. I’ve never seen any scientific papers, reports, articles or news items reporting or even suggesting such things. Have you? I think we would both know about it by now if such a thing were true. Do you think computers have those properties? If not then why aren’t you arguing that we don’t have those properties either because you seem to be using the fact that computers don’t have free will to argue that we don’t have free will? If you aren’t going to argue that we don’t have consciousness, etc. because computers don’t have those properties then how about you just drop the arguments relying on computers altogether.


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And aren't you doing the same?  Insisting that there IS such a thing as free will when all the evidence points against it?  I agree we have the sensation of free will, but to explain it, at the moment (as Azdgari says) you need to invoke the god of the gaps.  Is that a reasonable course to take?

The “sensation of free will” is what we call free will. It’s an effect generated by the billions of neurons firing in complex patterns across our brains, just like consciousness, self-awareness, feelings and emotions. The underlying cause of all those effects or phenomena is the mechanistic firing of individual neurons from deterministic and stochastic causes. At the moment we don’t have an explanation for how that brings about those effects, but the effects exist nonetheless. I’m not implying in any way that the effects are supernatural. I’m just saying that we haven’t yet explained them, that’s all.


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I am coming to a conclusion based on every bit of evidence there is.  That the universe is causal.  That a particular neuron, given particular stimuli, will always fire in the same way.  That QI events may influence the universe, but in a random and undirected manner.

Those are the facts I am using to come to my conclusion.  Your rebuttal seems to be "make a system large enough and causality breaks down".  Please note - I entirely agree that a complex system may not be predictable due (solely) to its scale.....but if we agree (do we?) that causality applies at the level of one neuron, and at two, and three.....then at what point are you saying that causality stops?

No, causality doesn’t stop or break down, but as you say, the effect is unpredictable, which leads us to the phenomenon (or sensation, if you prefer) of free will. It may well be causal, but the combination of deterministic and stochastic processes generating innumerable complex patterns of nerve impulses across our brains causes the phenomenon (sensation) of free will. You can make decisions and choices based on reasoning and influenced by feelings and emotions. You can change them at will. You can act impulsively or on a whim. You can be unpredictable. All those things happen and that is what we call free will. You can say in theory it’s all causal, but in the practical sense that doesn’t matter because the overall result is unpredictable. It is the resultant behaviour that matters. We consider people to have free will because that is exactly how they behave.


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Yep.  How is that anything to do with you?  All you are doing is agreeing that another external factor wil amend the "decision" that you would otherwise have made.  I honestly don't see where you can claim to have been responsible for what you eventually did.

The ’you’ you speak of is the sum total of everything that is going on inside your brain, which includes those stochastic effects. They are part of ‘you’, not external. The overall effect or result is that you can make decisions and choices and change them at will, which means ‘you’ experience free will.
A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. – David Hume 1711–1776

Offline Anfauglir

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #273 on: January 28, 2013, 04:35:20 AM »
No, causality doesn’t stop or break down, but as you say, the effect is unpredictable, which leads us to the phenomenon (or sensation, if you prefer) of free will. It may well be causal, but the combination of deterministic and stochastic processes generating innumerable complex patterns of nerve impulses across our brains causes the phenomenon (sensation) of free will.

Absolutely.  100% in agreement. 

You can make decisions and choices based on reasoning and influenced by feelings and emotions. You can change them at will. You can act impulsively or on a whim. You can be unpredictable.

...and now suddenly not.  HOW do you do that?  Decisions happen, choices are made - but in what way are you controlling those outcomes?  What - and how - is overriding the causal binary properties of neurones and they accumulated effects?  What - and how - is overriding the random QI effects?


All those things happen and that is what we call free will. You can say in theory it’s all causal, but in the practical sense that doesn’t matter because the overall result is unpredictable. It is the resultant behaviour that matters. We consider people to have free will because that is exactly how they behave.

And we are back in agreement.....almost.  I agree that everything appears to be able to actually make choices.  It feels that way, sure.  It looks that way to the outsider, as well.  And it is, I agree, entirely unpredictable due to the colossal number of variables involved.

BUT.  And its a big But!  That does not mean it is true.

I've tried to explain my position a couple of times but we seem to keep slipping back into the same argument.  The point, is the middle set of quote/response above.  The point, is that every bit of science tells us that what an individual meat robot does is causal, or random, or a mix of the two.  And yes - that does lead to "sensations" of consciousness.....but so what?  Doesn't mean for one moment that we therefore DO really get a "choice" - that there is some process by which we can, in ONE particular situation, reach TWO or more outcomes that are not the result of randomness.

That, above, is the ONLY thing I am arguing - that despite all the perceptions and sensations, we do NOT, actually, have the ability to make choices.  We always make the only choice we could ever make, unless a random blip makes us do something slightly different. 

And that is colossaly, crucially, important.

It should affect the entirety of our system of justice.  It should blow out of the water any religion that relies on making a "choice" to obtain salvation.  Because the actuality of the world I describe leaves NO opportunity for judgement based on someone's "decisions", because they never had any control over the inevitable outcome of their actions.
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 #274 on: January 28, 2013, 04:45:07 AM »
I’m pretty sure computers don’t have consciousness, self-awareness, feelings or emotions because I don’t think we’ve ever seen a shred of sound evidence to suggest they do possess those properties. I’ve never seen any scientific papers, reports, articles or news items reporting or even suggesting such things. Have you? I think we would both know about it by now if such a thing were true. Do you think computers have those properties? If not then why aren’t you arguing that we don’t have those properties either because you seem to be using the fact that computers don’t have free will to argue that we don’t have free will? If you aren’t going to argue that we don’t have consciousness, etc. because computers don’t have those properties then how about you just drop the arguments relying on computers altogether.

So because nobody has proved it, it can't be true?  Isn't that the exact reverse of the argument you've been using to show that humans DO have free will?   ;)

Tell me - how exactly would you go about testing to see if a computer had - or did not have - free will in the same way a human does?  Both receive inputs, both give outputs, both move from one to the other based on causal relationships and physical laws, plus/minus QI events.  What test would distinguish the one from the other?  Some kind of Turing test, I'm guessing, but we're talking specifically about the "free will" aspect here - the perception that something can make a decision based on particular inputs.  Serious question - how would you tell if a computer has free will or not?

Not consciousness, emotion....those are two different things.  "Emergent properties", I believe the expression is.  Again, how would you test for them?  Remember that a computer is greatly restricted in the outputs that it can demonstrate to the world, so how can we know that they are not conscious but are in fact just locked in to their plastic frame?

Consider a person who has locked-in syndrome, to the extent that they are no longer in control of ANY voluntary movement or response.  How would you determine if they still had consciousness?  Still experienced emotion?  Seriously - if you were unable to meaningfully communicate with them, how could you test if they were "conscious" or not?
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
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Offline plethora

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #275 on: January 28, 2013, 04:57:18 AM »
The presence of quantum indeterminacy in the decision-making process means that if we rewound time to the beginning of the process and replayed it, the resulting decision could have been different. The decision is not constrained by purely deterministic causes. It is free to be different each time the decision is made.

As I've said before ... the universe has both deterministic properties and stochastic (random) properties. I never, ever, said that the universe is purely deterministic or that our choices are the result of purely deterministic causes.

You are basically saying that "random = free" , which is ridiculous.

An agent cannot control the random events occurring within its brain. It is subject to them.

So whether we're talking about random events or deterministic processes, the agent is subject to both of them with no control over them.

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So there is an explanation of how it is theoretically possible for us to have acted differently from how we actually did. In reality, however, that is always masked by the fact that we never encounter exactly the same situation. Our decisions are the result of a combination of millions or billions of neurons firing in various patterns. Those patterns are constantly changing due to the absence or presence and strength of various internal and external stimuli from our environment, our emotions, our memories, our hormones, etc.

All you're saying is that the agent could have acted differently if the random events it is subject to had been different. So what? Even if we replay the universe from that specific point in time, in the exact same state it was, and different random events occurred the second time around ... the agent is still subject to these random events. Where is the agent's 'freedom of will' in all this?

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Disregarding the sheer improbability of ever having all that information, quantum indeterminacy still guarantees that the outcome of the decision-making process is not predictable

I never said a person's decision making process could ever be predictable. I agree that, due to the stochastic properties of the universe, even with all the information possible at our hands we could never, ever predict an agent's actions with 100% accuracy.

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and hence our will is free.

How did you jump to that conclusion? It does not follow.

What you've said about the impossibility of predicting random events just reinforces the fact that the agent is not 'free'. It is simply subject to whatever random events happen at the quantum level within its brain. It has no control over this and the series of events that follow and lead up to decision making are a result of that.

You still have not explained how an agent is truly 'free' to make a choice without being subject to something it has no control over.
« Last Edit: January 28, 2013, 04:58:57 AM by plethora »
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Offline wheels5894

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #276 on: January 28, 2013, 08:09:45 AM »
As I understand it, most decisions are made in the sub-conscious part of the brain and are only passed into the conscious part of the brain later. the conscious part of the brain then has to explain why the decision was made. That's why some reasons for a decision sound really weak.

What we really have, if we care to admit it, is free will only to the extent that we see many, many choices we could make and then choose to think we made a free choice whilst it was rather the interactions in the sub-conscious brain that did the deciding. Thus we think we have free will and assume others act the same.
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Offline 3sigma

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #277 on: January 30, 2013, 06:02:56 AM »
HOW do you do that?  Decisions happen, choices are made - but in what way are you controlling those outcomes?  What - and how - is overriding the causal binary properties of neurones and they accumulated effects?  What - and how - is overriding the random QI effects?

An agent cannot control the random events occurring within its brain. It is subject to them.

So whether we're talking about random events or deterministic processes, the agent is subject to both of them with no control over them.

What meaning of ‘free’ are you two using when you say that for something to be free you must have control over it? On second thought, don’t bother answering that because it’s beside the point.

The point is that the term ‘free will’ refers to the person as a whole not to the neurons within their brain. Free will is a bulk effect, like colour. I’m sure you wouldn’t argue that nothing can have colour because atoms don’t have colour yet you want to argue that a person doesn’t have free will unless they can control the firing of individual neurons. It’s almost a category error. A person has free will if they can make decisions for themselves and they can control their actions. It is the resulting visible effect that matters.


That, above, is the ONLY thing I am arguing - that despite all the perceptions and sensations, we do NOT, actually, have the ability to make choices.  We always make the only choice we could ever make, unless a random blip makes us do something slightly different. 

And that is colossaly, crucially, important.

It should affect the entirety of our system of justice.  It should blow out of the water any religion that relies on making a "choice" to obtain salvation.  Because the actuality of the world I describe leaves NO opportunity for judgement based on someone's "decisions", because they never had any control over the inevitable outcome of their actions.

You are tilting at windmills. You can go on a quixotic quest to try to convince people that no one has free will if you like, but the fact remains that no one cares what a few nitpicking pedants have to say about it. You have as much chance of convincing people to behave as though no one has free will as you do of convincing them to behave as though nothing is really solid because atoms are mostly empty space. Nearly everyone accepts that we have free will because that’s how the world works. Look around you. People behave exactly as though they have free will. They make decisions for themselves and they control their actions. If people can’t make decisions for themselves or control their actions then they usually need to be placed under professional care.

That’s it. I am now so thoroughly sick and tired of this pointless philosophical discussion that I can’t be bothered continuing. If you want to live your life as though you can’t make decisions for yourself or control your own actions then good luck to you.
A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. – David Hume 1711–1776

Online Azdgari

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #278 on: January 30, 2013, 06:43:49 AM »
You have as much chance of convincing people to behave as though no one has free will as you do of convincing them to behave as though nothing is really solid because atoms are mostly empty space.

We do behave in such a manner.  Matter being mostly empty space only entails the kind of nonsensical behaviour you're thinking of if we misunderstand what empty-space-matter means.  Empty-space-matter has solid boundaries that collide and interact.

What would solid matter behave like?  I'm inclined to think that it would behave like a black hole, but I'll let someone with more of a physics background correct me on that.

The point I'm making here is that the drastically different actions you think people might take under a new paradigm would often only be carried out by people who are still clinging to the old paradigm.  Example:  "You can't be good without God".  A Christian who accepts this will behave like a normally-moral human being, and would expect atheists to act quite differently.  To understand that one can be good without God, the Christian would have to drop that part of his or her old paradigm and adopt some understanding of the new one.  Misunderstanding the new paradigm - be it matter as empty space, or atheists behaving morally, or whatever - is what causes these silly misconceptions like you're having about living without the delusion of free will.

Nearly everyone accepts that we have free will because that’s how the world works. Look around you. People behave exactly as though they have free will. They make decisions for themselves and they control their actions.

Sounds like an argument against arguing for atheism.  Except, you know, with a few words swapped.

If people can’t make decisions for themselves or control their actions then they usually need to be placed under professional care.

Wait, when does this happen, in your opinion?  I thought that free will was an emergent property of our brain matter.  It can be prevented?!

That’s it. I am now so thoroughly sick and tired of this pointless philosophical discussion that I can’t be bothered continuing. If you want to live your life as though you can’t make decisions for yourself or control your own actions then good luck to you.

Your graceless concession is noted.
« Last Edit: January 30, 2013, 06:51:25 AM by Azdgari »
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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #279 on: January 30, 2013, 06:45:10 AM »
That, above, is the ONLY thing I am arguing - that despite all the perceptions and sensations, we do NOT, actually, have the ability to make choices.  We always make the only choice we could ever make, unless a random blip makes us do something slightly different. 

And that is colossaly, crucially, important.

It should affect the entirety of our system of justice.  It should blow out of the water any religion that relies on making a "choice" to obtain salvation.  Because the actuality of the world I describe leaves NO opportunity for judgement based on someone's "decisions", because they never had any control over the inevitable outcome of their actions.

You are tilting at windmills. You can go on a quixotic quest to try to convince people that no one has free will if you like, but the fact remains that no one cares what a few nitpicking pedants have to say about it. You have as much chance of convincing people to behave as though no one has free will as you do of convincing them to behave as though nothing is really solid because atoms are mostly empty space. Nearly everyone accepts that we have free will because that’s how the world works. Look around you. People behave exactly as though they have free will. They make decisions for themselves and they control their actions. If people can’t make decisions for themselves or control their actions then they usually need to be placed under professional care.

That’s it. I am now so thoroughly sick and tired of this pointless philosophical discussion that I can’t be bothered continuing. If you want to live your life as though you can’t make decisions for yourself or control your own actions then good luck to you.

Fair enough.  Personally, I think that the fact that so much of the way we live our lives could be based on a false premise is colossally important.

In the justice system: that when we sentence someone we assume that they could have chose to act other than they did is a HUGE factor.  It has immense bearing on how we sentence them - on the balance of "rehabilitation" against "punishment".

In religion: one of Christianity's big message is that we will be judged according to the choices we make, the things we do, whether we "choose to accept Christ".  The actual ability to be able to MAKE that choice - as opposed to the apparent ability - is, again, of colossal difference.

It's like.....you have a red button and a blue button, ostensibly linked to a red light and a blue light.  You must push a button, and will be rewarded if the blue light comes on.  But if BOTH buttons are linked to the blue light - or both to the red light - then in what way is the reward or punishment correct?

I note from your response here that you haven't addressed my reasons for caring - about the effect on justice, and on religion - but diengaged because "you'll never get people to change their minds".  Maybe I won't.  But my belief is that the stakes are important enough to try.  And - perhaps crucially - you haven't let us know where our reasoning is wrong.

I'm fine that you decided you don't want to continue - if you don't think the subject is worth discussing, that's cool.

Not that you had any control over your decision, of course.....  ;)
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 plethora

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Re: A thought on a Godless universe and its implications on free will...
« Reply #280 on: January 30, 2013, 08:33:27 AM »
That’s it. I am now so thoroughly sick and tired of this pointless philosophical discussion that I can’t be bothered continuing.

Alright then.

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If you want to live your life as though you can’t make decisions for yourself or control your own actions then good luck to you.

I refer you to my sig below.
The truth doesn't give a shit about our feelings.