General Question

Hobbes's avatar

Can anyone find a hole in this argument against free will?

Asked by Hobbes (7309 points ) October 8th, 2008

I would really like to believe that we have free will, but this argument is very convincing:

1. The universe is composed of subatomic particles.
2. The trajectory each of those particles was set in motion by the Big Bang.
3. This trajectory, combined with the laws governing the interactions between said particles, determine all their present and possible movements.
4. The human brain is composed of particles, which are in motion.
5. Therefore, all the interactions in the human brain which govern behavior are determined by the interactions of particles, which are in turn determined by the aforementioned forces.
6. Therefore, everything you do, from whether you have Captain Crunch for breakfast on Thursday, to whether you accept a job, to whether to move your arm a little to the left was predetermined at the moment of the big bang.

Without recourse to God or the idea of a soul (I’ve had that discussion at least ten thousand times), can you find any flaws in the above argument?

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184 Answers

squirbel's avatar

Um, that I don’t believe in a Big Bang?

That’s a pretty big hole in logic – sound logical theorems should not contain theories.

gailcalled's avatar

I have no free will. It is pre-determined that I must empty a litter box…now or it will be pre-determined that I will receive a tangible message from Milo, on a spot that I can’t miss.

squirbel's avatar

@gail: lmao

Hobbes's avatar

@squirbel – Well, this is all based on the assumption that the big bang theory and the theories of quantum and particle physics are true. None of these are seriously questioned in the scientific community, and while I agree that an argument shouldn’t be based on faulty premises, these two ideas are the closest to truth the scientists can come.

@gail – cats give the strongest arguments against free will

robmandu's avatar

Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) writes prolifically about this subject on his blog.

bodyhead's avatar

Hobbes, do you really believe the statements from the original post?

I disagree with the statements on a theoretical level. To bring it to a subatomic level I’ll put it like this:

Those theoretical particles even have (some version of) free will. Everything orbits in a slightly off way. I believe that there’s something akin to a random number generator in each particle which decides whether it vibrates right or left. Because the vibrations could be slightly different on a microscopic level, it could hypothetically create a humongous number of future possibilities for that particle. Multiply that by a million particles and you get everything where anything could have happened but only one thing did happen.

Fate and predetermination are things that can only be 100% when they are based on things that have happened in the past.

gailcalled's avatar

If you want to get technical about the current cosmological theories, the universe is mostly composed of nothing. HTH.

Rotwang's avatar

Hobbes you would be correct in a Newtonian universe. But those days are gone and the new “best-guess” odel is the Einsteinian universe, which isn’t as “clockwork lockstep” so you might look into that.

gailcalled's avatar

More than you want to know about the contents of the universe according to recent research and theories.

squirbel's avatar

I’m sorry – when it comes to logic – I am completely black & white. There is no grey logic – it works or it does not.

If you tell me outright that I am working with theories, I will dance in the grey all day.

But draw the line – because where logic and theory are allowed to frolic together, confusion and disarray are always the end result… or perpetual result. [did you see what i did thar?]

Harp's avatar

I’m not a physicist, but it’s my understanding that the kind of determinism you’re outlining depends on a strictly Newtonian interpretation of sub-atomic phenomena. Quantum mechanics tells us that sub-atomic particles don’t behave in the deterministic way billiard balls do, but in ways that can only be understood in terms of probability.

If it’s impossible to calculate with 100% certainty the behavior of any sub-atomic particle, then how could a future event which depends upon the enchaining of untold myriads of such probabilistic occurrences be predetermined?

Bri_L's avatar

the forces of these subatomic particles changed as things developed and were driven away during the blast. As galaxies and worlds developed and gravitational pulls and such didn’t that change everything. Aren’t we now down to the point where a MRI can change the polarization of our molecules for imaging purposes?

So I can choose to walk if the light is green or not.

Or answer this question or not.

For that matter how would it dictate certain things like innovation?

Hobbes's avatar

@bodyhead – well, that depends on what you mean by “random” for one thing. We say a dice throw is “random”, but it really isn’t – the result is simply determined by such a vast number of factors that we have no way of predicting it.

Also, Unless you’re using the loosest possible definition of the word, a particle whose movements are random doesn’t have “free will”. If your premise is true, our behavior may not be mechanistically determined, but it being randomly or probabilistically determined isn’t much better.

@squirbel – What I’m doing is saying “If X is true, then Y”. I’m assuming a premise is true and deriving its logical consequences. What’s incorrect about that?

queenzboulevard's avatar

If someone knows what we’re going to do, we can’t change that.

Harp's avatar

@Hobbes
trying to understand how something can be “probabilistically determined”

squirbel's avatar

1. The universe is composed of subatomic particles. [logic, proven]
2. The trajectory each of those particles was set in motion by the Big Bang. [theoretical, unproven – the big bang has not been proven anymore than creation. It also sounds like creation – just a scientific version, lending credence to the creation theory]
3. This trajectory, combined with the laws governing the interactions between said particles, determine all their present and possible movements. [logic, proven]
4. The human brain is composed of particles, which are in motion. [logic, proven]
5. Therefore, all the interactions in the human brain which govern behavior are determined by the interactions of particles, which are in turn determined by the aforementioned forces. [theoretical, unproven – we don’t know for sure that all behaviors are determined by the movements of these partcles.]
6. Therefore, everything you do, from whether you have Captain Crunch for breakfast on Thursday, to whether you accept a job, to whether to move your arm a little to the left was predetermined at the moment of the big bang. [theoretical, unproven – even if the Big Bang were true – the particles in the future had not moved yet – and the randomness of the movements could not have been predetermined.]

My main issue with this entire question is that you allow theory and logic to play together so closely – you never get straight or solid answers when you investigate in this manner.

robmandu's avatar

I think the paradox of Shrödinger’s Cat needs to be addressed before serious discussion of quantum pre-determination can lead to resolution.

Oh, and I like what squirbel said.

squirbel's avatar

Shrödinger’s Cat is immortal – dead and alive all at once. Chew on that :D

Hobbes's avatar

@squirbel – I’m assuming the Big Bang model is true because a.) So far, there isn’t a better one and b.) there is a pretty large body of observational evidence to support it.

If the human brain is composed of particles, how could its behavior possibly be controlled by anything other than the movements of those particles?

I understand you, squirbel, but I really don’t see anything wrong with assuming a few theories are true and then determining their conclusions.

To address the argument many people have put forth: assuming that subatomic motion is probabilistic (sorry, Harp, you’re right – it can’t be deterministic and probabilistic at once), that still doesn’t demonstrate free will to me. If an action is taken due to quantum randomness, it’s still not controlled by “free will”.

squirbel's avatar

Truth, and belief – two very different things.

Truth is logic and logic is truth. Theories are only beliefs with supposed logic.

Harp's avatar

@Hobbes
No, it doesn’t demonstrate free will, but it would put a hole in the above line of reasoning.

robmandu's avatar

“If the human brain is composed of particles, how could its behavior possibly be controlled by anything other than the movements of those particles?”

The soul, as separate and distinct from the body.

Since your hypothetical here precludes the concept of a soul, then all you’re left with is particle interaction. Not here to define the soul for anyone, but if science has yet to construct life even at the most rudimentary level, then I think it’s safe to say that there’s some “secret ingredient” that isn’t yet accounted for.

fireside's avatar

The big leap is made between these two points.

4. The human brain is composed of particles, which are in motion.
5. Therefore, all the interactions in the human brain which govern behavior are determined by the interactions of particles, which are in turn determined by the aforementioned forces.

Why assume that the movement of the particles in the brain is determined by the aforementioned forces?

It is said that when you measure the acidity of someone’s tears the tears will be more acidic if the person is angry, upset or depressed. If the person is happy or calm, then the tears are more alkaline.

Through anger management, prayer, meditation, relaxation techniques, curious robot methods (apparently), etc. you can learn to control your anger. Thus, the brain is now controlling the interactions between the particles that control the level of acidity.

Are you saying that at the moment of the Big Bang, Dennis Leary was predetermined to need therapy?

Harp's avatar

@rob
Because I value your input as an intelligent guy, let me ask you something that has always puzzled me about the “soul” concept:

To what extent would you say that thought and emotion and memory are physiological phenomena, and to what extent are they properties of the soul? If “soul” and “body” are separable, then do the memories encoded in my neurons belong to the body or the soul? And if thought and emotion can be altered by physical or chemical manipulation of the brain, then can they be said to belong to the soul?

So, to bring this back to the question at hand, if free will exists, how could it be disentangled from the physiological processes of thought and emotion?

Not trying to start a debate; I’d just like to hear your view. Really

gailcalled's avatar

And the second that Rob mentioned Shrödinger’s Cat. it was foreordained that I would cite Heisenberg’s Uncertainly Principle.

bodyhead's avatar

@Hobbes, I’m actually marrying the definitions of random and free will for that explanation. I’m saying that vibrating one way instead of another is the subatomic form of free will because it would seem like randomness to anyone who actually would observe it.

Harp's avatar

Hey Gail, could we borrow Milo for a bit?

nikipedia's avatar

Oops. Nevermind. Sorry guys. That’s what I get for skimming.

squirbel's avatar

@harp: BAHAHAHAH

Poor Milo.

gailcalled's avatar

@All; Milo has a levée on Tues. and Thurs., at 10 AM. You have to face him on entering and back out of the throne room on departing. Contributions are voluntary.

bodyhead's avatar

Yea Hobbes, I’m trying to explain something akin to Heisenberg’s Uncertainly Principle (which gailcalled mentioned).

I think my little explanation up there is just an idiots guide to Heisenberg’s Uncertainly Principle. I knew there must be a reason that I concocted that nutty little jem.

robmandu's avatar

@niki, yes, I think you’re right. Uncertainty to me also means “unknown”... in that it’s not just that there might be a prohibitive number of variables, but that there are some variables we don’t know yet how to quantify or describe.

@Harp, your question makes perfect sense. I enjoyed the biological psych courses in college and remember being astounded by what happens when a person has their corpus collosum interrupted (usually surgically). Best I can reason – and this is not my forté – the mind/body connection is that the brain (and body as a whole) acts as a gateway/filter/bridge for the soul.

PIXEL's avatar

I do not believe that life is fixed. What would be the point. If it was I wouldn’t be writing this answer and you wouldn’t have asked this question. What would be the point if time was fixed. Thats just silly.

Hobbes's avatar

@body – niki said it best: why would more than one possible outcome to the system necessitate free will?

@squirbel – theories are beliefs backed up by experimental evidence.

@rob – I’m beginning from the assumption that there is no soul. I think scientists haven’t suceeded in synthesizing life yet because life is very complex and difficult to create from whole cloth, not because there’s a thing that somehow exists outside of the physical universe and transcends the laws of cause and effect, yet is also fundamentally connected to the universe, but only at the level of a few lumps of grey matter on one of hundreds of billions of planets in one of millions of billions of galaxies.

Harp's avatar

Aside from the doctrinal necessity of free will and in religious belief systems, it seems to me that an illusion of free will is as good as the real thing. As long as we believe that we guide our decisions, and as long as we’re unable to prove the contrary, then whether that is or isn’t actually the case is immaterial. We will perceive it as working out the same either way.

If we’re happier and society functions better when operating under the assumption of free will, then there’s not much point in calling it into question.

Hobbes's avatar

Bri_L – Sorry, I accidentally missed your answer.

The forces of the subatomic particles did change, yes, in that they didn’t keep traveling in the same direction after the blast because they collided with one another, were attracted to each other, or were repelled from one another. However, their state at any given moment could be predicted based on the initial trajectory of all the particles, because you could predict their interactions. Of course, this prediction could never happen in practice because it’s all incredibly complicated. And when you add in quantum randomness, it just gets even more so.

The thing is, we may be able to change the polarization of molecules, but the interactions between particles in our brains that lead us to do so are themselves determined by the very complex interactions of subatomic particles, not an outside will.

@Harp – Well, that’s probably true. And yet, saying that we shouldn’t question anything that makes us happy seems to be a rather insidious proposition to me. If we were all constantly on mood-altering drugs, would you refuse to question their use because they held society together and made us all content?

Harp's avatar

Hobbes, this is different in a very important way: if there is no free will, then we have no choice whether or not to question it, so our “choice” not to question it would be inevitable anyway. But if there is free will, then our choce not to question it would be the factually correct one anyway.

Hobbes's avatar

OK, yes, fair point. To function in the world, we must behave as though we have free will. However, I think the question of whether we do have it in actuality is still interesting and important

nikipedia's avatar

Well. I have nothing to add at this point as I am desperately trying to write a paper that may or may not end up being on the same topic, and I hope, @Hobbes, I can talk you into giving it a once-over before I turn it in. If I come up with anything good I’ll paste it here. Anyway, am glad you have (ostensibly) come around to my hardline materialist viewpoint.

fireside's avatar

Sorry, but I still don’t see how controlling our emotions can be considered anything other than free will.

If there was no free will, then people would act much as they do when they are children or when they become aged, mainly they don’t care if they impose themselves on others.

The fact that adults, for the most part, are able to control their emotions with effort shows that they have chosen how to respond.

nikipedia's avatar

@fireside: The difference between children and adults is that adults have (supposedly) learned how to control their behavior. Learning is a physical process.

robmandu's avatar

@fireside, I think one point is that human emotion is closely tied to hormones and other chemicals present in the body. Manic-depression, for example, would be a case where one could argue that physiological conditions dictate a person’s actions moreso than his/her choices.

Or more bluntly, a brain surgeon can poke electrodes into your brain and arbitrarily make you see colors, hear sounds, feel happy, sad, cold, or nauseous… all without your free will’s input.

fireside's avatar

Sure, but neither of those take away from a person’s choice to respond positively or negatively to a situation. I can allow my blood to boil and vent, or I can relax and let the moment pass.

That changes from situation to situation, not just from person to person.

The physical process is controlled by the will.

Just because the same synapses can be fired from an external stimulus, doesn’t take away from the internal processes. That would be like saying that every time i stub my toe, i will react the exact same way.

Hobbes's avatar

@fireside – the point is that the brain’s “decision” to control or not control an emotion is determined by the interaction between particles in the brain. Perhaps the “I” that makes that choice doesn’t do so because of the lizard brain’s influence, but that “I” still arises from the interactions between neurons, and thus from the interactions between subatomic particles, and thus all decisions the “I” makes are dictated by the motions of those particles, not by an “willer” removed from the whole mess.

fireside's avatar

Perhaps is a huge word in the middle or your theory.

The fact that the “I” is able to build upon past stimuli and modify the interactions of the neurons that cause the reaction to the stimuli shows that something independent from the process is happening.

What you are saying is that the motion of the subatomic particles emanating out of the heart of the big bang is what is causing my neurons to react differently as I age rather than my mental processes that are building upon my past experiences; because I am learning and my blood is pumping and my subatomic particles are in motion, then that is invariably all attributed to the motion of the particles based upon my relation in time and space to the big bang; and even though I have the same growth and recognition in different parts of the world, it is still because those particles that are in motion and passing through my subatomic field are affecting me the same way as the other particles that were in motion in a different place and time?

Fair enough.
My belief in God is not much different, except for the free will thing.

But I still think that controlling our actions and deciding whether to act in a positive or negative way to a repeated stimuli is proof of our capacity to choose our path and exercise our free will.

It is like that old flinching game. the fact that you are able to learn to control your lizard brain and not react instinctively, shows growth. What you are saying is that the subatomic particle stream just happens to be affecting your synapses in the exact same way when presented by the same stimulus, regardless of place or time.

bodyhead's avatar

@Hobbes, Even if you just have two possible outcomes, if both outcomes are just as likely then the object which holds the deciding factor will appear to have free will. Whether it actually does or not is debatable.

Harp's avatar

But in an absolutely deterministic universe, there could only ever be one possible outcome. The appearance of other possibilities would be an illusion caused by our unawareness of all the factors at play.

fireside's avatar

In that case, we couldn’t assign the cause to the motion of the subatomic particles emanating from the Big Bang. Since that may just be one of the factors and there may be many others of which we are unaware.

I guess this question as posed would really be an argument for Astrology.
But even Astrology assumes the individual is free to disregard the warnings of what may be based on the alignment of the stars.

Hobbes's avatar

@Fireside – The ability to “control” our actions (That is, override impulses from one part of the brain with impulses from another) may give the appearance of free will, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s actually there.

I think you made my argument overly complex. All I’m saying is that, since all the stimuli that our brains process arise from the interactions of particles, and since all the processes of our brains arise from the interactions of particles, and since all interactions of particles arise from the laws of physics (that is, a combination of their initial trajectory, their past interactions with particles, and Weird Quantum Stuff I Don’t Fully Understand), there’s no point at which something separate from the system “makes a decision”.

@bodyhead – Ah. I see what you mean now. Well, yes – we appear to have free will too, but just like that vibrating particle, it seems to me that the appearance is a false one.

@Fireside – Well, we assign the motion of the particles to the Big Bang in any case because it’s the best theory we currently have available to us. There may of course be factors of which we are unaware, but we’re proceeding from the assumption that the Big Bang theory is correct because nothing else matches the evidence.

Astrology presumes that the movements of the planets in our solar system determine specific aspects of our lives, and that the effects they have can be charted and understood. I suppose that the particles that compose the planets would affect the particles that compose our bodies and brains, but not in the way that Astrologers claim. Plus, according to my argument, everything in the universe affects everything else in the universe, and so any attempt to codify, understand and predict all those immensely complex interactions would probably be an exercise in futility.

bodyhead's avatar

Hobbes I think that it depends on your perspective. We have free will in the present and it was fate in the past.

Even if free will is an illusion, I would say it’s a fully complete illusion that no one will ever crack.

Hobbes's avatar

Well, unless we understand all the past and present interactions of every particle in the universe, as well as their current and future implications = ]

bodyhead's avatar

I guess we better get started. That’s a pretty big job.

fireside's avatar

This question is like asking everyone to find a hole in the following theory:

We are all just a part of someone’s dream.

Go ahead and debunk that one. good luck

Hobbes's avatar

@bodyhead – I think there’s a team of scientists in Nebraska currently doing preliminary research on the subject. I believe their methods involve a whole lot of shrooms and a bottle of Vodka.

@Fireside – Not really. The difference is that I’m proceeding from what we’re almost positive is true about the universe, and then deriving the implications. That is, my argument is possible to disprove – just prove that the universe isn’t actually composed of the interactions between physical things, or that something besides the laws of physics controls those interactions, or that the big bang never happened.

fireside's avatar

Oh, ok, well i can see why you asked the question on Fluther then.

Let me bust out my high school science kit and get back to you in a couple of weeks.

Hobbes's avatar

Look, fireside, all I’m saying is that the question isn’t completely impossible to prove either way. It may be mental masturbation, but dammit, it’s scientifically valid mental masturbation!

fireside's avatar

lol, fair enough.

btw, what’s the opposite of absolute zero?

gailcalled's avatar

Hobbes; Be careful. You are get getting dangerously close to the event horizon.

Check out String theory… a still-developing scientific approach to theoretical physics.

Theories at the edge of present-day scientific knowledge are just that; theories.

From ^^ link; “String theory itself consists of many theories with different mathematical formulas.”

Nimis's avatar

[pipes in real quick]
since all interactions of particles arise from the laws of physics

Isn’t it the other way around? The laws of physics arise from [our study of] all interactions of particles. Kind of like how you don’t invent physics, but rather discover physics? No?

Hobbes's avatar

Ooh. Good call, Nimis. It should be “All interactions of particles are determined/governed by universal laws (some of which we’ve discovered and many of which we haven’t). The point still stands, though, I think.

Hobbes's avatar

Here’s a reworked version of the argument, by the way:

1. The universe is composed of subatomic particles.
2. Various physical laws govern their motion and interaction (some of which we have discovered and partially understood, some of which we haven’t).
3. All brain input arises from the motion and interaction of these particles.
4. All brain and body processes also arise from this motion and interaction.
5. Assuming there is no such thing as the “soul”, the totality of the mind, and thus the totality of human consciousness, arises from a combination of the brain’s input and the brain’s and body’s processes.
6. All of human experience arises from the motion and interaction of subatomic particles.
7. All of human consciousness arises from various physical laws.
8. All decisions any given human makes are determined by these physical laws.
9. “Free Will” does not exist.

fireside's avatar

10. Removal of the “soul” causes the death of “Free Will”

: )

bodyhead's avatar

I can actually sum that down even more Hobbes:
Everything that happens, looks like it was suppose to happen (from 1 second in the future).

@Fireside, Do cats and dogs have souls? Do monkeys have souls? They seem to have free will.

fireside's avatar

Sure, why not?
Every living thing has the breath of life.

wundayatta's avatar

@Hobbes, why are you trying to make a case for determinism?

wundayatta's avatar

Chaos theory probably has something to say about this. I believe it is proven than it is impossible to predict the future accurately, and this is because you can not know both the position and direction of particles at the same time.

The significance of this is multiplied at every level of increased size. We are not in a Newtonian universe. So our choices matter. The presence of the observor changes things. Our choices change things. Even we can not predict our own choices.

Critter38's avatar

The laws which govern at the scale of the atomic and subatomic level are in all but extreme situations not observable at larger scales. They do not govern at the scales of interest.

Harp's avatar

Might they not govern at the scale at which genetic mutation happens?

Hobbes's avatar

Well, yes, daloon. But the Uncertainty Principle does not relate to “choice” or “free will”. It simply means that particle movement is probabilistic, not deterministic – there’s still nothing in our mind that “chooses”, something outside of the physical interactions and motions of particles.

@critter – and yet, there must be some relationship there, as Harp says. Everything is made up of particles, so the laws which govern particles must govern very complex arrangements of particles. We just haven’t unified the two fields yet.

robmandu's avatar

“Observation” implies (to me at least) an intelligent, aware observer.

The observer’s action, that is mere observation, affects probabilistic outcomes.

Therefore, the observer is an agent of change.

And change is in some ways synonymous with choice.

Not trying to bog this down with semantics, but perhaps someone else could help distill this concept down better to show that free will not only exists, but is also possibly a necessary ingredient in the makeup of the universe.

fireside's avatar

@rob- its a non-starter. hobbes already explained this away by saying that the observer too is made of subatomic particles. its a loop. where did the subatomic particles come from and what set them in motion? well, we don’t know yet, but it must have something to do with subatomic particles

Hobbes's avatar

@rob and fireside – You guys are right: I think I have been using somewhat circular reasoning. Here’s a (hopefully) non-recursive answer:

The Uncertainty Principle just states that any observation will affect the particle observed. That is, for us to detect a particle, a photon must interact with it, and thus change its position. It doesn’t state that the observer’s choice to observe or not observe affects the particle in and of itself. If a robot that was completely unconscious observed a particle through a means the same as a human eye, the effect would (as far as I know) be the same.

Also – change and choice aren’t synonymous. Galaxies change and morph constantly, stars break down, and the world’s temperature alters over millions of years, but none of these changes are driven by choice.

And sorry, Fireside, but I must point out that the origins of the particles themselves was never part of the argument.

Critter38's avatar

An amino acid like Phenylalanine has a double bond with an oxygen atom. Is there any evidence to suggest that the subatomic particles contained within oxygen are the principle controlling forces behind the behaviour of the amino acid, or is the behaviour of the amino acid consistent with the combination of forces and interactions from all its chemical components?

This is why I say that the laws which govern at that scale do not govern at larger scales. A unified understanding will help to mesh all of our understanding. And our current understanding is as I put it, these laws don’t govern at higher scales. So unification theories would presumably have to incorporate such observations, rather than overturn them.

Hobbes's avatar

@critter – I was suggesting that the behavior and makeup of that molecule is determined by the behavior of all the subatomic particles that compose it. I don’t think I ever said that particles of the oxygen atom control the rest of the molecule. I may be missing something, but it seems to me that the problem is not that the universe is inconsistent, but that the models for it we’ve come up with don’t scale well.

robmandu's avatar

It might be that the universe is inconsistent. PhysicsWorld [dot] com reports :

Now physicists from Austria claim to have performed an experiment that rules out a broad class of hidden-variables theories that focus on realism—giving the uneasy consequence that reality does not exist when we are not observing it.

PIXEL's avatar

Why does everyone think free will does not exist?! What would be the point in life. Do you think it was already decided that we would talk about not having free will? We wouldn’t’ even be having this conversation! What would be the point if time was fixed?! We always have free will.

Nimis's avatar

Burp.
(Shouldn’t really be replying while drinking. Logic misplaced somewhere with my keys.)

Critter38's avatar

I think the problem is, as you rightfully point out, that our models don’t scale well. But that is our understanding at the moment, that at some point of scale quantum doesn’t apply. Not sure where that point is, but the end result is regardless of the models we use to understand the processes, the patterns themselves do not support the scaling up of quantum mechanics.

In either regard, the analogy that our behaviour is dictated by quantum mechanics fails if there is a point in the logic that breaks down. My point with the molecule was that if it is certainly broken down at this stage, to the best of our knowledge, then it isn’t controlling our fate. I hope no one believed that it did…

Sorry mate, it’s midnight here and I got work tomorrow. Not sure if that was clear. Ill stick for 5 minutes.

Critter38's avatar

@ pixel, three cheers for free will. you’re not alone.

Hobbes's avatar

Pixel, I believe you said something similar near the beginning of the thread. It would be nice if free will existed, but our desire for something to be true does not make it so.

@critter – Mm. That makes sense. But it still seems that the behavior of neurons must be dictated by the movements of particles, because neurons are made of particles and nothing else, even if we don’t completely understand the connection.

Also, @everyone who’s arguing against me – I think I’m right, but I hope you guys are.

Critter38's avatar

Neurons are cells and are almost infinitely more complex than the amino acid analogy I used previously.

Hobbes's avatar

Well, yes, but aren’t they still formed and governed by the interactions of particles, even if those interactions are almost inconceivably complex?

gailcalled's avatar

Even the plebian electron can be either (or both) a particle or a wave. Now if we could only find the Higgs boson; we’d know.

Harp's avatar

To fall back on my earlier comment about genetic mutations, a single atomic particle, the result of radiation, can affect a genetic mutation. The behavior of that particle will conform to the probabilistic rules of quantum mechanics, so it could be said that the event of mutation itself is subject to the same set of probabilities. But those mutations will have actual consequences in our macro world. It might even be that these quantum behaviors are what have shaped and diversified all life forms. I don’t think we can say that there is some theoretical fence beyond which the influence of quantum mechanics doesn’t extend.

finkelitis's avatar

Harp and others have nailed the error in the argument, but I’ll add a little something: quantum mechanics (and the uncertainty principle) basically tell us that it’s impossible to predict what small particles will do, so calculating where all the subatomic particles are going is somehow intrinsically impossible, even with perfect tools and infinite calculating power. Moreover, chaos theory tells us that big changes can come from small ones, so these tiny differences matter. This totally smashes the argument that we live in a deterministic, “clockwork” universe.

Where is free will though? Well, perhaps you can think of it as being in the random elements; perhaps you can assume it as a useful model without worrying about if it is “true” (since from a physics perspective, models are really judged by their predictive utility rather than some broader notion of objective truth); or perhaps there is space in the quantum universe for self referentiality and observation (which, weirdly enough, changes the behavior of particles/waves) to change things. This gets into weird territory, and I still don’t know if you want to call it free will. Personally, I’m happy to have a random element, and that’s all the free will I need in my universe. But Hofstadter has theories (see Godel, Escher, Bach, or I Am a Strange Loop) about how this happens. I’m no expert there.

But certainly your original argument does not hold under our current understanding of the universe.

Addendum to others: the big bang is a very well established theory, and the predictions that came from it have been confirmed in one of the most striking experiments ever. You do it a great injustice to compare it to religious creation stories or anything else.

Hobbes's avatar

@fink – Well, that’s why I changed my original argument. I haven’t studied quantum mechanics in depth, but I still don’t see any reason why randomness=free will. Again, I’d really like to believe that “free will” exists (even though I have the bad habit of defending any argument I make to the bloody death), so perhaps you could expand on the aspects of quantum mechanics you mentioned?

Critter38's avatar

Perhaps part of the problem is that there is a difference between being composed of something and having one’s interactions completely dictated by that composition to the point of only allowing one possible future. The composition may limit that types of structures one may form, but if the structures they form are capable of creating multiple possible combinations either with the same types of other particles, or with different types of particles, some dictated by random chance, yet still within the limitations of those structures, then there is freedom even within the constraints of the structure. These freedoms increase with the complexity of possible interactions and the complexity of structures formed. This gets to the level that essentially infinite combinations and interactions are possible once one gets beyond even a small number of different combinations of building blocks, hence free will.

That’s my take on it.

Critter38's avatar

@ harp. Agreed, but having an influence on the range of possible structures or interactions allowable, is not equivalent to determining all subsequent interactions or the specific form that is created.

It’s like lego. :) each piece influences the types of combinations that can be formed by its own peculiar characteristics. eg. there is a limited way of combining one piece with another piece. As such their influence is certainly seen in the resultant structures that are formed. But, because of the range of different types of lego (sub atomic particles), given sufficient numbers of them will result in a vitually limitless variety of different resultant structures with a mindboggling comlpex range of potential interactions. And once built, these structures have emergent properties which in turn govern the behaviour of their components. I can build a car or a robot, same basic bits of lego, but in combination they form structures with very different properties.

Upquarks and down quarks can build a proton or a neutron, depending on the proportion of up quarks and down quarks combined. So depsite the similarity of the building blocks, adn the influence these must have on the resultant structure, proton and neutrons do not behave in the same way. The difference in the relative combination of bits dictates an emergent property which in turn governs the range of behaviour of their building blocks.

I can “mutate” one of these pieces of lego (snap it) and this may result in it not being capable of bonding to other pieces, or bonding in a different way. This may alter the eventual structure’s form, or not alter it due to its lack of use in the resultant structure. I don’t have to use the piece, and a mutation may or may not result in an amino acid being formed that can code for anything at all. Even if it does, then this will in turn be selected for or against with time. the environment both within the cells and outside the cells will determine whether or not such a mutation survives, not the subatomic particle, even though mutations are influenced by the range of combinations of sub atomic particles that can occur.

I agree with influence, but I fail to see determinism (as I understand that to mean in this thread). But perhaps the goal posts have shifted somewhat?

robmandu's avatar

For my part, I would not say that randomness == free will.

I would point out that perceived randomness could mask the result of what we call free will… but since there’s no room for the soul (or more fairly, anything not measurable given today’s scientific standing) in this hypothetical, there’s no where to go.

fireside's avatar

Agreed – the argument seems to boil down to: everything is made up of subatomic particles and thus everything is the result of the motion of subatomic particles. ok.

Harp's avatar

@Critter
No, I’m not arguing in favor of determinism at all. The fact is, I don’t have an opinion one way or the other on the matter of free will. No matter what our philosophical stance on the question of free will, we nevertheless behave as if free will exists, and as I said earlier that amounts to the same thing. So I’m perfectly willing to leave the question unresolved.

@rob
While it’s true that randomness≠free will, wouldn’t randomness be a precondition for free will? It’s only by virtue of the fact that outcomes can’t always be fixed that choice becomes possible.

Critter38's avatar

@Harp Fair enough. I didn’t mean to assume that you did. Just came out that way.

I get the impression that these discussions have been going on since humans started to get a sense that nature had laws that governed the interactions between things smaller than ourselves.

I think though, following Sagan, that extraordinary claims requires extraordinary “arguments”, and my feeling is that if we follow that line of argument the onus on the “we don’t have free will” camp to make the case.

But perhaps I had no choice but to say that…

robmandu's avatar

@Harp. I don’t think I have an answer. I mentally painted myself into a corner by answering that question three ways with a Yes, No, and Maybe. :-\

Harp's avatar

Ah, screw it. Let’s have a beer.

Critter38's avatar

My round

robmandu's avatar

Hear, hear! A nice wheat might fit the bill for me.

Nimis's avatar

If only all threads ended with a round of beers.
That would be AWESOME.

gailcalled's avatar

I’m free, but Milo is too busy computing π to 10^300 place.

robmandu's avatar

Ended up buying a six pack of Budweiser’s new American Ale. It’s better than I expected. Here’s to you, and you, and you, and you…

Harp's avatar

Cheers! Happy weekend!

gailcalled's avatar

^^; I’m determined to, but will I?

Nimis's avatar

Rob: Seriously? I saw that commercial and was feeling a little dubious.
Now you’ve piqued my curiosity.

robmandu's avatar

Down here in Texas, A-B also brews Ziegenbock, which is excellent, but a pretty shameless ripoff of the local Shiner.

So, I’m not too surprised that the American Ale is pretty good.

Mmmm. Beer.

Nimis's avatar

Their slogan might explain why I’ve never had/seen them before. Will try ‘em when I do.
Budweiser isn’t bad. Though I was pretty appalled to see everyone drinking it in Germany.
Because it was an import they said. Good grief

LostInParadise's avatar

One interpretation of the Uncertainty Principle is that the momentum and position of particles not striclty determined but is only probabalistic. If this is true then the Universe is not strictly determined.

Suppose then that this interpretation of the Uncertainty Principle is incorrect, that our inability to accurately measure position and momentum is stricly a limitation on our measuring ability. From a practical point of view, things are still the same as in the probalistic interpretaion. Chaos theory tells us that even the smallest errors in our measurements will eventually make a very large difference in predicted results. This tells us that in even the most theoretical sense it makes no difference whether things are strictly predetermined, since we can never accurately predict the future.

Now imagine some Universe that contains intelligent beings, but is not subject to the Uncertainty Principle. I claim that there is a fundamental paradox that makes it impossible to predict the future. Suppose that there was some program that could determine everything that will ever happen. Imagine that an intelligent being uses the program to determine what it will do next. It can now confound the program by simply doing something different from what was predicted.

In conclusion, although your question is interesting, it is fundamentally meaningless because it makes absolutely no difference whether everything is predetermined, since we can never use that informration to accuraely predict the future. We are forced to live our lives as if we have free will.

fireside's avatar

Did you just watch Minority Report?

stratman37's avatar

take the blue pill

Zuma's avatar

I hope this isn’t too late. There are actually two flaws in the argument, one of which conceals the other.

The first flaw is that your fully determined universe assumes complete information. The only way that you can know that your universe is fully determined is if you occupy a “god’s eye” point of view in which you can see the trajectory of every wave and particle in the universe from the very beginning to the very end, all at once in an ever-present now. And not only do you see your own universe splayed out across time, but you see an infinite number of parallel universes which enumerate all possible decisions at all possible decision points from all possible points of view. In other words, you are standing outside of what mathematicians call Hilbert space, looking in at the cosmos from outside.

Since you are looking at the four dimensions all at once, the cosmos appears static (and mind-bogglingly huge). However, once you assume a point of view, you not only choose a location in the three spacial dimensions, but you become situated in time. This enables you to perceive motion and change relative to the other three dimensions, so in this respect, assuming a point of view places you inside the cosmos. Assuming a point of view imposes specific limits on the completeness of your information, and this incompleteness is what creates the subjective sense of indeterminacy in a fully determined universe.

Now you might be thinking, “If I had a snapshot of the universe, I could extrapolate the position of every wave and particle from the Big Bang forward.” but in principle you can not. The reason is that you have chaos even in the fully determined universe (you can call it chaotic determinism), which is sensitive to initial conditions. The mere act of choosing a viewpoint seeds the system with a random variable that defeats any attempt at meaningful prediction, except in the very short run.

Its as if you went from standing above a billiard table where you could see all possible games unfolding before your eyes, to the viewpoint of a single ball in a single game. When you assume a point of view, you are necessarily limited as to what you can see. The past is fully known and determined while the future remains unknown and indeterminate. So the first flaw in the argument is that it doesn’t allow for a point of view—which is, to say the least, the very cornerstone of our consciousness, and a necessary condition.

The second flaw is that the variables we take into account in making decisions are “emergent”—which is to say, that even though consciousness appears to subjectively center on the individual, and therefore reducible to the physical processes of the brain, what one experiences as consciousness is not the brain itself but the computational space created by the brain. For example, an electronic calculator may only have a certain number of integers and a certain number of arithmetical operators whose permutations comprise a huge computational space.

The brain is a massively parallel analog computer which creates a “mind’s eye,” holographic memory, linguistic sign and symbol definitions in its own kind of computational space. One could define consciousness as a kind of “decision space” in which information accumulates weight, meaning, and salience until there is enough of it to reach a tipping point, at which time the individual makes a decision which triggers a cascade of electrical, chemical and physical events, causing the individual to do something different than he was doing before. In this respect, the decisions being decided in decision space are driven by collective, cultural, “hive-like” processes—e.g. price information, social gaming strategies like the prisoner’s dilemma, symbolic interaction, memes, etc.

Think of decision space as the individual surfing on a cascade of information, making minor adjustments to keep himself from wiping out. Information accumulates to solve a number of smaller problems which, in turn, are “chunked” into solutions to larger problems. The more information the individual has, the more of a “no-brainer” these decisions become. But, where one must make decisions based on incomplete information, one must exert effort in order to decide. That effort may take the form of seeking additional information, or calling the decision based on some heuristic or algorithm. In any case, that exertion is what we commonly regard as “free will.”

Typically, we apply “free will” to decision tasks that involve competing moral outcomes, such as the decision to be selfish or to be altruistic in any given instance. These may seem like individual decisions, but in the aggregate, they determine the content of culture and the course of cultural evolution. In this respect, individual decisions are shaped by informational cascades that create things like zeitgeists, “ideas whose time has come,” and historical events.

So, if you allow the observer to have a point of view, you have a subjective consciousness that can be organized in such a way as to solve problems. And the effort necessary to overcome the indeterminacy of these decision tasks, can meaningfully be called “free will” even in a fully deterministic cosmos.

See also:
Ian Stewart
David Deutch

SpTaAiYd's avatar

The particles of the big bang could not possibly determine the outcome of random events. Randomization, think about that for a while. It proves free will.

Hobbes's avatar

I guess I just don’t see why randomness is any more conducive to freedom than determinism. Both seem to me to be entirely beyond and different from anything resembling the mind or something that might make choices of its own accord.

finkelitis's avatar

Yeah—there’s no proof of free will here either. Just no disproof in your original argument. But at least you’re not predictable!

In the end, free will may just be a useful way to think about and deal with behavior that can also be thought of as a bouillabaisse of paradoxical self-referentiality, random or near random chemical interactions, and other things that are equally hard to understand. Determinism isn’t it. Free will might not be either, but it’s much more useful. From that perspective, we may even say that the random element is somehow vital to free will. This is a subtle point though, and maybe a little weird.

Hobbes's avatar

Mmm. That’s a good way of putting it, finkelitis. My only real problem with the idea is intellectual, not really pragmatic. It just seems to essentially be another form of “the soul” under a lot of arguments.

finkelitis's avatar

I ended up being happy with the idea that randomness was the missing element. Somewhere a choice happens, and it’s unpredictable. If you want to argue free will, it’s a lot of work, and you can never definitively get it.

To paraphrase an old general: existential questions never die; they just fade away.

ninjacolin's avatar

I feel certain now that free will is a myth.

But I really disagree with sentiments like this: ”free will may just be a useful way to think about and deal with behavior

Actually, i think dealing with behaviour from a libertarian (free will) perspective CAUSES more problems than it’s worth.

For example, if the reality is that a criminal COULD NOT choose whether to commit a crime.. then why do we punish him as if he deserves it? The answer is, that we punish him because we are pretending that he has free will. But of course, it’s not pretending, since society at large IS libertarian. Society believes falsely that people are guilty of the crimes they commit when really they are innocent.

Usually, people don’t think much further than “oh the univers is cause and effect, cool!” when thinking about determinism. It’s not just cool. It’s useful. Instea of wasting a criminal’s time (and society’s time) by making a criminal sit pretty in a cell.. we could be using that time to educate them on how to be productive members of society.

These criminals are not just born criminals.. they are people who are deterministically bound to their lifestyle because they simply do not know of any betteroptions . IF they knew better, they would not commit crimes. This is a deterministic reality. (and i know i haven’t explained it well enough, but perhaps you get what i mean.. if not i can go into it further)

Determinisim isn’t just a matter of random chaos as some would have you believe. Determinism, as it applies to living creatures, means that creatures act on the evidence before them, cause and effect.

It means that we can control behavior by ensuring that individuals’ or populations’ needs are met in advance of a decision.

I promise to clarify my ideas if need be. Sorry, it’s late.. i need sleep.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

@gailcalled there’s that darn cat again! I thought it was dead!

atlantis's avatar

a) the big bang is a theory
b) we don’t know sub-atoms very well. Right now were just guessing about the atomic structure
c) the whole is more than sum of parts
d) more if i had time to think about this….

stratman37's avatar

My, this is one DEEP thread!

erniefernandez's avatar

Who the hell cares? Don’t you, and I, and all of us, have real problems to worry about?

Your actions are only pre-determined if a consciousness determined them for you (as determination is, by definition, a conscious act).

Your actions are only predictable by a consciousness which can determine an inevitable result from a given pattern (in this case, one of infinite complexity).

Seeing as to how the “Big Bang” is not conscious, and no (unhypothetical/mythological) mind in the Universe is aware of every aspect of every movement of every particle in your body (brain included), your actions are neither predetermined or predictable, because as of now no mind has the capacity to anticipate your neural activity, not even with all the graph paper in Taiwan.

So could your actions, hypothetically, progress toward an inevitable result? Doubtful, considering the randomness principles of quantum physics.

But even within a hypothetical inevitability, we feel we have choices, and we act based on that sensation. So, for all practical purposes, we do have freewill, since “choosing” to like immorally because you “have no freewill” is still as much of a choice as living morally.

Besides, even if I told you your action were pre-determined, would you stop brushing your teeth and let yourself slowly die? No? Then stop wasting cognitive energy on meaningless hypotheticals.

Using our time on speculation, as the Buddha said, we are like soldiers pierced with arrows who—before allowing a doctor to attend to their wound—want to know who shot the arrow, the trajectory of the arrow, what the arrow was made of and how the bow that shot it was formed. All these answers could, in theory, be answered. But he’ll probably die, first.

ninjacolin's avatar

“we feel we have choices”

no. see, the fact is we’re not feeling freedom.. we’re feeling determinism, like a form of magnetism, pushing us one way or another. forcing us to smother h1 sauce all over that big juicy steak just like our uncle used to do when we were kids.. as a personal example.

what you’re feeling is determinism, not free choice.

the point of it is to recognize how actions evolve. our recognizing this in itself forces us to apply it as a science in our goal of attaining happiness.

Zuma's avatar

@erniefernandez Who the hell cares about Quantum Theory either? In fact the question of determinism is related to our cosmology and our physics. Why is it that when you have two paired electrons or photons and you observe one of them, the other disappears? Our choices determine reality. That our choices might themselves be determined in some ultimate sense is beside the point; the world of ultimate causes is unknowable to us because we are confined to a single point of view.

@ninjacolin As I point out in my long post not far above, your choices may be determined, but the determinants are hidden from your point of view. The moment you live in is undetermined from your point of view (again see above); so its not a feeling of choice, it is choice, albeit within a range of choices that are narrowed, by time, space, circumstance, and history.

ninjacolin's avatar

I agree that “choice” is a good word to describe the causal phenomenon of a changed mind. But it is misleading to suggest that choice is free: Choice is determined, just like the waves that hit the shore are determined. Unless of course, you’re comfortable saying that the ocean is also making choices of which waves will hit the shore and when..

stratman37's avatar

what if there were no hypothetical questions?

ninjacolin's avatar

@stratman37, what do you mean?

Cruiser's avatar

I wouldn’t approach your question attempting to point out flaws other than lack of other participatory information. Everything in your question for the most part is simple fact but again there are many other quantum forces at play the much of what is occurring is anything but predetermined. The simple dynamic of interaction and simple observation will completely change the direction of these subatomic particles and send them off in a completely anything but predetermined direction. The Copenhagen interpretation touches on the concept of observation and it’s effect on atomic dynamics. Randomness is a mind bending concept when applied to our existence.

Coloma's avatar

Much has been written of which you speak.
It is called non-dualism.

Read up on Adviata Vendanta and other non-dual concepts.

Not far fetched, and, quite frankly, I tend to feel a lot of truth in this.

Whatever happens cannot not happen as it was brought into being by the totality.

kess's avatar

The argument concludes This..

…A Thoughtless bang controls a thoughtful Mind…

It more beneficial for ONE to say….

…A Thoughtful mind is in control of the Bang….

Unless of course if they usually Speak before they think.

ninjacolin's avatar

@kess, actually, the idea is that the mind is less special than the universe. It’s often considered that the thinking mind is something magical and more powerful and more real than the rest of the universe.

with determinism, the thoughtful mind is just another complex phenomenon. It’s no more special than the changing of seasons on a given planet. Thoughts are a result of the bang, they aren’t superior to the bang. The bang and the whole universe is greater than any and all thoughts.

kess's avatar

@ninjacolin it might be a challenge for you to accept but this is the reality of all things.

The mind and the universe is one, therefore all bangs are product of the mind/universe and not vice versa.

It is impossible that ignorance should rule over knowledge indefinitely, as such as implied in the OP.statement, though it will for a time.

ninjacolin's avatar

I agree that the individual mind and the universe belong to one another. But the parts are not greater than the sum. They are together but one gave birth to the other across time.

Our minds tell us that the big bang came first. Therefore, it’s true.

kess's avatar

Then may you please explain to me the what was the cause of this bang, it’s nature and any other particulars comfortable for you?

By the way I am using the term “big bang” so as to relate to an event which this post seems to be reffering to.

For in reality there was no such thing as big bang at the beginning .

All things came into being in a flash of blinding light (again I use light so as to relate for this has very little to do with the sight of the eyes)
instantly and quietly, and this is the beginning and the end in itself.

And there was no before this Flash and there is no After this flash but all things exist within it, serene ,and absolute.

ninjacolin's avatar

I wonder what you think of this: “No, there wasn’t a flash. There was a big bang and it resulted in the universe that we have now, including this discussion.”

more to come but try this first!

kess's avatar

Please don’t trouble yourself too much, I am not the kind to walk with the crowd for the sake of the crowd

s321scba's avatar

even if you programed a computer to simulate a human’s “actions”, how they move, but also how they calculate (not quite think), it would still be just alive as the sand it was made out of. “Feelings” along with many other theoretical, “ideal existences”, in human conciousness are not, at least, only calculations

ninjacolin's avatar

If you grew an amoeba out of some dirt and a human brain out of an amoeba.. it would all still be dirt.

s321scba's avatar

there’s more to a person than physics, we don’t just go with the flow, we think and we know that we think, you can alter something in a way that can be interpreted by a person as information but unless that something you altered was a person it would not know, or care, we exist physically but we have “theoretical properties”, we have an opinion, we think, we know, we care

ninjacolin's avatar

@s321scba we’re not any more than the raw materials that made us. There was no magic injection in history where life became magical. Life is just raw materials complexly organized. A volcano is more complex than a grain of sand but it’s no more or less alive than a grain of sand. Life is more complex than a volcano but no more or less alive than a volcano.

s321scba's avatar

do you “care”
think about it

ninjacolin's avatar

Do I experience the sensation of care? Yes.
Why is that relevant?

s321scba's avatar

you experience a sensation of being, i don’t know how many and what range of things have this, i don’t think people are made up of beings, at least it doesn’t feel like it, it could be part of everything. i don’ know wether or not beings are predictable similarly to physical material (in our brain or other) or by existing prediction methods, but i think any physical interaction is just in information and that we always can choose.
is anybody else still tracking this page

Hobbes's avatar

@s321scba

“i don’t think people are made up of beings”

What about cells? Each one is an individual “being”.

s321scba's avatar

they are called alive but how would you test it

Hobbes's avatar

What do you mean? Cells are the basic units of all organisms, the most fundamental thing which meets the various scientific criteria for “life”.

Wikipedia defines life thus:

“In biology, the science of living organisms, life is the condition which distinguishes active organisms from inorganic matter. Living organisms undergo metabolism, maintain homeostasis, possess a capacity to grow, respond to stimuli, reproduce and, through natural selection, adapt to their environment in successive generations.”

Cells meet all these conditions.

s321scba's avatar

how does; being made up of cells, maintaining homeostasis, “persuing food,” creating replica’s of itself, reacting to it’s environment, and growing, define life. this whole discussion is to establish proof against the idea that everything is a direct result of the past, i don’t know if beings are predictable, i think they would be, or if and what they are made out of, but i’m unnaware of modern physics, or popular physics philosophy, accounting for ”theoretical existance”

Hobbes's avatar

Well, how would you define life? A cell is alive by pretty much any definition I can think of. Of course, an individual cell doesn’t have a brain, it isn’t “intelligent” in the way the entire human system is, but that brain and that system are entirely made up of complex interactions between “mindless” cells.

s321scba's avatar

my first comment 13 ^
there’s some differnce between us, beings, and other stuff. we have “contiousness, we know that we know” and i believe it is the only rightful claim to life.

Hobbes's avatar

You think human beings are all that is truly alive? Or you think only things with brains are? In either case, brains are still made of cells, which are not individually conscious, but which somehow give rise to consciousness through the pattern of their interactions.

s321scba's avatar

Being as feeling you exist
I know me and assume, or function as if I assume, that fundamental properties in me, such as consciousness, exist elsewhere (animals, biological termination, mainly, not sure about plants)
It’s not like I try to guess whether or not each and every thing I see is “alive” or not, it’s just a what if? i have

Hobbes's avatar

Ah, so you’re talking about your subjective experience of yourself as alive and conscious. But just because you have an experience of a certain quality doesn’t mean that quality is intrinsic or fundamental to you. We behave as though we have free will because it feels as if we do, it feels as though we are separate agents, acting on the rest of the Universe. But this feeling can still be an illusion, albeit a pervasive, powerful and (sometimes) useful one.

s321scba's avatar

whether or not it’s an illusion you still feel

Hobbes's avatar

Well, yes, but the reality of the feeling doesn’t mean that it isn’t an illusion.

ninjacolin's avatar

Caring, thinking, feeling.. being conscious.. this is just what we do as human objects.
Rocks have different properties and abilities than us, flowers have different properties and abilities than us.

Consciousness is simply a part of our deterministic contract. You’ll notice we can’t do anything more than these typical human things. We aren’t free to do whatever we want (like fly around like superman, for example) we are restricted to the few thousand amazing things that we can do and that’s it.

s321scba's avatar

haveing free will doesn’t necessarily mean you can do any thing you want, i think we can think whatever we want, what we want might be controlled by past wants which were influenced by your experience
also i don’t think modern physics has addressed anything like our “conciousness”. i think it would fall more under information theory

Hobbes's avatar

@s321scba – Nope, it doesn’t. We can’t really think anything we want either – there are limits to our imagination. Infinity, for example, we can’t wrap our minds around. Yeah, consciousness is way too complex a phenomenon to actually be fully described by modern physics, I’m just saying that it’s theoretically possible.

ninjacolin's avatar

“haveing free will doesn’t necessarily mean you can do any thing you want”

Free will doesn’t seem to describe anything we experience at all. We just don’t seem to have liberty from our remembered past in any kind of significant way. The past shapes our present. Our present, the moment where all the free decisions are suppose to be happening, are products of our past. Our futures are products of our past. There doesn’t seem to be any escape from it.

I just don’t see how the concept of “free” describes anything relevant to our decision making abilities.

Hobbes's avatar

@ninjacolin

Well, because in the present we’re often faced with decisions, and generally feel that we might have chosen differently if we had decided to. It’s a very powerful illusion.

s321scba's avatar

what is it that is an illusion

Hobbes's avatar

The sense that we are separate from the rest of the Universe.

s321scba's avatar

isn’t it the other way around we feel very much a part of our surroundings whether or not that’s an illusion

Hobbes's avatar

I think humans tend to feel separated from their surroundings. How is feeling a part of the Universe an illusion?

s321scba's avatar

it’s considred crazy to believe you’re not where you are, doing what you’re doing; but you could actually be crazy and think you’re where you’re not, and you’re doing what you’re not

Hobbes's avatar

Don’t you see? You still are where you are, doing what you’re doing. It’s just “you” are composed of a pattern of particles, which are part of the ever-changing field of particles we call the universe. If you zoomed down far enough, you wouldn’t be able to tell where your arm ends and the air begins.

s321scba's avatar

but some “where” there is a “substance” that is not “officially” recognized in physics yet, it doesn’t explain knowledge, things knowing stuff
i think colin might have a point that our past limits our future, but computationally much more than mechanically

ninjacolin's avatar

^^ yeah, lately I’ve been able to imagine ourselves as being a really deep layer of complexity in the universe. When you consider what it took for us to get here it seems we’re just a small little feature of a whole universe that just seems to splash out these kinds of things at the fringes of it’s existence. Like a tassel on a stripper.. we’re fancy.

ninjacolin's avatar

carry on. :)

s321scba's avatar

what are you saying

Hobbes's avatar

I think he’s saying that the universe generates complexity. Our brains are a particularly complex example, a tiny little thing that happened to evolve here and now because the conditions are exactly right. We’re not a necessity for the universe’s existence, we’re a particularly fancy expression of its ability to create complexity.

Our subjective experience of thinking, by the way, of being a thing which knows stuff, can be seen as an emergent property of the neuron network that is our brain. The experience doesn’t exist anywhere within the individual neurons, and it isn’t somewhere outside of them either. The experience is just the result of an extremely complex network of interactions.

s321scba's avatar

but there is still an experience

ninjacolin's avatar

seems so. mine at least.

s321scba's avatar

how does modern physical science (all predictions, observed patterns, and beliefs of the way things move not just “physics”) account for conchoiceness?

ninjacolin's avatar

lol, conchoiceness? do you mean bad choices?

s321scba's avatar

no, with choice, in reference to our experience

Hobbes's avatar

Well, we can’t explain exactly why people make x choice, because the brain is possibly the single most complex thing in the universe. However, the evidence seems to suggest that our experience is a subjective phenomenon which arises from the interactions of neurons and the various other processes of the body.

ninjacolin's avatar

“we” may not be able to explain it, but I certainly can.. try. Well, I won’t say it in a “Try” fashion, I’ll tell it to you as I see it. Take it with a grain of salt and all that, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got this shit down, whatever that means:

Socrates identified the means by which decisions about propositions are reached. The rules of formal logic equate to the laws of physics that brains make decisions by. That is exactly to say that no healthy brain (which I’m comfortable suggesting would include about 99% of registered voters worldwide) is irrational. That is exactly to suggest that in all cases where:

All cats are red.
Jimmy is a cat.
Therefore, Jimmy is red.

What makes people make different choices is the propositions they happen to believe to be true at the time of their considering a matter. For example, if one happens to believe that all cats are red then the above conclusion would be considered sound. If on the other hand, the person making the consideration does not believe all cats are red, then the conclusion would be deemed unsound.

People don’t seem to have free choices about these laws that Socrates identified. Brains decide sharply according to the rules of formal logic, but subjective based on what a brain happens to believe is true or false.

More examples:
It’s such a great day today! Oh really? Tell that to someone who’s had a death in the family.
Does this dress make me look fat? Husband’s response: No. Brother’s response: Yes.

What determines which propositions are true or false? Raw experience over time which train and influence your memory. For example, you might tell your child to go get a cookie from the cookie jar because you were ignorant to the fact that your husband found them and ate them all off.

ninjacolin's avatar

Maybe the best example: If you disagree with me. It’s only because you believe other propositions are true than I do. From those propositions you then rationalize your beliefs the same way that I do.

Our rationalizations can be judged by the rules of logic as either sound, unsound and also valid or invalid.

Hobbes's avatar

Well, what I meant is that we can’t figure out the exact neuronal basis for any given decision.

ninjacolin's avatar

Mind you, they have mapped out the 300 neurons in a worm. They mapped all 7000 connections. It’ll be a while before they can do the same (plus interpretation) for a human.

Ron_C's avatar

Your argument is correct as far as it goes but falls apart at its conclusion. If the universe was a clockwork, digital choice sort of place, we would be essentially robots with no independence or originality, further, we would probably know it and not have a problem with it.

The difference is that we have intelligence and are able, to some extent, to control our environment. Secondly, the universe is analog and choices and reactions are infinitely variable. Human intelligence has the ability to skew the results a bit. I don’t believe that anything is foreordained except for finite items like the life of stars.

ninjacolin's avatar

“If the universe was a clockwork, digital choice sort of place, we would be essentially robots with no independence or originality, further, we would probably know it and not have a problem with it.”

per se:
A robot is a machine invented by the decisions of intelligent living beings.
Intelligent life is a machine created by the process of biological evolution.
Both are the products of the big bang.

Absolute's avatar

ITS LOGICAL on paper but falls apart once applied to everything you know.

What I mean is you have to deny your mother loves you, your wife loves you, you love your kids, that you think murder is wrong, that child pornography is wrong, that when someone asks you a question your not actually searching for the answer—it simply pops out from the initial motion of the big bang. Your actually nothing but a lifeless conduit for particles to express themselves.
It doesnt matter if QM is true and particles dont have location until observed—they are still acted on. The results have no impact on freewill.

The absurdity that your opinion forming when your reading this very post has nothing to do with your Will is enough to end all discussion of this topic. But there is a big problem with that isnt there?
This topic is a direct result of Materialism and will lead, if thought through to its conclusion, to atheism. But we all know that, for the majority, it is Atheism that leads backwards to this complete denying of what we *Know is true. You are free and no matter how great this can look to you on paper it is denied in every single second of your life.

So to be clear. You can destroy your conclusion as illogical by simply understanding that particles, which have zero intelligence or will, spewed out your predetermined(or random if thats someones pleasure) opinion.

You see, you cant explain, naturally, the universe. That has led to infinite universes where your wearing a skirt right now, barking like a dog, with the stars spelling out this is the absurd multiverse.(somehow these theorists cant envision what they propose and why Hitler didnt randomly dance while making speeches in our world).

There is a reason it takes most humans 2 seconds to see there is intelligence behind us. You have to be the OJ Simpson jury to allow the obvious to be completely rejected.

When you heap on all that our existence entails instead of writing down 7 lines on paper with a conclusion you can see Imagination alone is insurmountable let alone space, atomic cohesion, etc. It takes a great wall blocking all reason, the reason materialists preach, to reject your not a real person.

WyCnet's avatar

If it is all determined by the sum of histories then a shortcut through the histories would deny what was once thought inevitable.

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