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LostInParadise's avatar

What do these experiments say about free will?

Asked by LostInParadise (27689points) April 24th, 2018

You may be familiar with the experiments that show that the nervous system initiates an action before we consciously decide to do it. I just came across an article that describes some experiments done quite some time ago by Jose Delgado. He wired people to do some motions. The people were unaware that they were being forced to move and claimed that they did so of their own volition. Doesn’t that suggest that our belief in free will is illusory?

This is the article. It makes a pretty good case against free will, but I only want to talk about the work done by Delgado. I looked for other places on the Web for these specific experiments but could not find anything. People are more impressed that he was able to stop a bull by stimulating a part of the bull’s brain.

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25 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

To answer this, one really needs to define what constitutes “Free Will”.

Theologically, Free Will means that a higher power or deity does not interfere with the actions of an entity.

While the conscious mind may not have formulated a thought prior to an action, the entity, the individual and its nervous system, is still generating the impulses that cause the action. Because the entity is a whole being, it is (when not wired up by the good doctor) free to express its own volition.

gorillapaws's avatar

In theory, it would be possible for free will to exist in the universe and a person could also be manipulated externally and falsely believe that they willed that action to occur. The two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive.

LostInParadise's avatar

That is true, but the experiment takes away the argument that we have free will just because that is our perception.

Yellowdog's avatar

If I were you, would I be thinking YOUR thoughts, or my own thoughts?

Individuals are always who they are, sans the artificial stimulation that may cause the brain to do something not independent.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

My will is not free. It’s half price.

gorillapaws's avatar

@LostInParadise You’re point is kind of flirting with Radical Skepticism. Yes, perception can be deceived (any perception). A radical skeptic might argue that we’re in a Matrix/dream/simulation etc. Most philosophers agree that while we’re never 100% certain that our reality is what our senses tell us it is, if we assume they are reasonably accurate we can gain useful knowledge from them.

In other words, yes, I can’t prove that my brain isn’t in a simulation, but assuming it’s not, then my eyes tell me that Elephants have trunks. This isn’t a perfect proof, but it’s good enough to be useful.

flutherother's avatar

I think free will is subjective. If we think we have it then we have it. From a scientific point of view everything is cause and effect and free will isn’t possible.

LostInParadise's avatar

@gorillapaws , The experiments offer a specific instance where our perceptions are wrong. There is no need for radical skepticism. The people believed they initiated behavior which was in fact not under their control.

Pandora's avatar

I believe there is a limited amount of free will and maybe what God knows is what is known as a pattern. But patterns can be broken. Not usually hard set patterns.

Lets take my morning routine. I get up and the first thing I always do is go to the bathroom to pee. Once in a blue moon something will disrupt that. A phone call, or my dog urgently needing to be let out. Most days you can definitely count on me going to the bathroom first. I do it without thinking. My bladder sets this pattern in motion. I could ignore it for some time but eventually I will have to go or my bladder will simply make the decision for me. All the free will in the world won’t make me not pee.

So life is the same way. We each have pretty much the same pattern. We are sent to school to get educated and then to get a job to survive. The need to survive sets many of our patterns in motion, but we each react to it differently. To some, surviving means clinging to someone else like a life boat, and to others it means doing it all alone and to others, it means having a large circle of friends to help along the way and some just choose to exist. All of these things are partially pre-determined by life experience and some by mental instability, but rarely is it all done by a whim.

So think of it this way. Lets say you have a large network of friends that you know better than their own mom. You decide to put them all on an island. You can probably predict their behavior in different situations and who would most likely group together because of the things they like, but it doesn’t mean you took away their free will. So think of God in a larger scale. With the ability to predict every thing every human being will do in their life time, but he never tipped the scales one way or another. Never intervened with the exception of deciding when it is your time for you soul to leave your human body because he didn’t give us unlimited life.

Or another way of looking at it, is humans are one large living organism. Some are cancerous but we all work for the goal of making this planet work. (Except the cancerous ones) Where we go and what we do is someone pre determined by where we came out. Like a liver cell will be liver cells, and lung cells will be lung cells. Billions of cells in every organ, and any one of us may decide to go bad. That is as far as our free will goes.

LostInParadise's avatar

Does God reward or punish souls for what he knew in advance that they would do? Alternatively, if God does not interfere with us while alive and does not reward or punish us afterwards, what is it that God does?

Pandora's avatar

@LostInParadise Even though I am Christian, I believe in the possibility of reincarnation. Jesus rose on the 3rd day. True he wasn’t born as someone else, but the belief is that he will be born again at the end of creation. Our bodies are just physical husks that surround our soul. So perhaps we are born again until the rebirth of Christ and each life time gives us a chance to learn and become better. But I am not God nor do I know how he thinks exactly but I like to think since he made man kind out of love there is an opportunity for each of us to set our own path right that won’t change anything. Imagine it was your destiny to deliver a very important package that will set someone elses life in motion. You are in a bad mood and you are frustrated and you punch a coworker in the face on your way to deliver the package. You did your job, but should you be rewarded? There was another option. Deliver the package without punching anyone. Free will.

Yellowdog's avatar

Lostinparadise: The relevant question, I think, is, why does God allow people to be born at all if God knows these people will NOT follow Him or receive Christ, and be eternally condemned.

My answer isn’t perfect, but I’d say, condemned as they may be, they have a choice, and that’s free will. God allows them to be born and live relevant lives because they still have a right to make those choices and are of infinite worth to God.

Pandora: I really don’t know where you are getting that Christ will be re-born a baby since he (according to Christianity) rose again on the third day in an eternal ‘resurrected body’ and is coming again in glory. But I think a case can be made that John the Baptist was a reincarnation of the prophet Elijah. Elijah is supposed to come again and announce the Messiah and John the Baptist declared Jesus to be the Messiah and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Pandora's avatar

@Yellowdog Yep, your right. He’s suppose to be at the rapture. It doesn’t really say he will come back. Just that he will be judge of our sins as is told in the Nicene Creed. ” He will come to judge the living and the dead” but it doesn’t really make it clear how he will come.

LostInParadise's avatar

I am confused. If God knows in advance what we will do, how can there be free will?

Pandora's avatar

@LostInParadise What would be the difference between knowing what you are going to do in advance? Let’s say you tell me your 10 year plan for your life in detail and indeed you do what you set out to do. By me knowing it, was your free will taken away?

If you put chocolate in front of a child as temptation to eat and ask them not to eat it, did you take their free will away. You didn’t forbid them or threatened them. You simply asked them not to eat it. They can choose to eat it or not. But you know this child loves chocolate and will eat it. I think there is a difference between free will and strength of will. To a certain extent we have free will because living dictates we do certain actions, but it is our strength of will that dictates course.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@Yellowdog my problem with that line of thought is the very real appearance that God is busy stacking the deck. One man is born with an IQ of 180 to loving parents with silver spoons, at the same time some urchin is born to an unwed speed freak in a tar paper shack in West Virginia. The dictate goes out “free will fellas. Make the most of it”. But wait- things aren’t as they appear. Jesus openly stated his preference for paupers and kids, and warns the first guy that if he dies in possession of those silver spoons, his ticket to heaven is cancelled. It’s all too confusing.

LostInParadise's avatar

@Pandora , What will happen in the future is not completely knowable by humans. I can give you a highly detailed copy of my ten year plan, but the chances are that circumstances will turn up that force me to deviate, quite possibly to a considerable extent.

For God to know what will happen, it means that all future events, down to the smallest detail, are completely determined by the current state. There is no room for deviation, based on strength of will or any other factor. If the future is knowable by God, then we have no choice but to behave in the precise manner foreseen by him.

Pandora's avatar

@LostInParadise If you are going upstairs to retrieve an item in your home and there are two stair cases and one of them is a slightly longer way, does it matter in the end which side you took. Your goal was to get the item. Not how much longer it took you to retrieve it. You still knew you were going to get it. Your destiny didn’t determine your path unless your believe in the butterfly affect. I don’t. I do believe in the domino affect though. Certain large thing are going to happen, but the years in between is filled with dust. Not enough to change the larger course of your life.

I think a bigger question, is, is there a destiny? Or did God just through the human seed down and figured man kind will drive their own way? People are the ones who want to believe that God knows our whole future. What if he /she doesn’t?

LostInParadise's avatar

My personal belief is that everything is predetermined, but this is not possible to show, so it becomes an academic matter. The impossibility of prediction is easy to show. If there were some computer that presumed to tell me what I would do for the next day, I could always act otherwise. The article I linked to mentioned this point.

Yellowdog's avatar

The idea that God knows the future is based on the premise that God exists in all time and space at once, and not in some sort of forknowledge or psychic trick. God IS already (not “will be”) IN the future, and IS in the days of Moses, all at once. This is what is meant when God refers to Himself as the “I AM”

God’s knowing every detail of what you will do with every minute decision of second of one’s (your) life has nothing to do with God predetermining or deciding or controlling what you will do or what choices you will make. Those ARE your choices. God knows them because He is always there, but YOU made them.

LostInParadise's avatar

Why should God punish or reward us for things that he knows we are going to do?

Yellowdog's avatar

What does pre-knowledge of such an act have to do with rewards or punishment or any other response?

LostInParadise's avatar

As you see it, as soon as God created the universe, he knew who all the saints and sinners would be. From God’s point of view, the universe is static. Time is just another dimension. All choices have already been made. It seems, to me at least, that rewarding or punishing people in this static universe is pointless.

Yellowdog's avatar

The argument can also be made that, since God exists outside of Space / Time and through all space / time at once, God cannot possibly enjoy music. There is also the argument that people only live to appease God for the reward of eternal bliss or out of fear of eternal agony. If God is all-knowing then God surely knows who is being deceptive. Even I have pointed out that, why would God allow people to be born or procreated at all If God knows beforehand who will never receive Christ—and what happens to those who don’t.

I recognize that the situation is far more complex than these cases imply, but I cannot change the nature of, or doctrine of, God just because I don’t understand or comprehend God. I can APPREHEND what I do know.

flutherother's avatar

If God exists throughout all space and time at once then that surely denies Him free will. He seems hardly worth worshipping.

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