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mattbrowne's avatar

Nothing can touch the freedom of your inner thoughts - Do you really believe that?

Asked by mattbrowne (31719points) April 1st, 2009

The question of free will is whether, and in what sense, rational agents exercise control over their actions and decisions. Addressing this question requires understanding the relationship between freedom and cause, and determining whether the laws of nature are causally deterministic. The various philosophical positions taken differ on whether all events are determined or not — determinism versus indeterminism — and also on whether freedom can coexist with determinism or not — compatibilism versus incompatibilism.

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18 Answers

Zen's avatar

Stupid question. You smell.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

No. I also don’t believe in purely original thought, at least my own are always seem to be gleaned and whored from elsewhere ;)

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

If myself and everyone you know, tell you everyday that the sky is green, after a long enough period, you’ll think it’s green as well.

my point is that outside forces influence our train of thought very very much. If someone you love is shot and killed due to no fault of your own, obviously you will develope a stance against guns. Likewise if someone attempts to rob you but are repelled because you were carrying a weapon, you would advocate gun ownership rights.

GAMBIT's avatar

My inner thoughts are mine until I share them with someone else.

There is an old Al Bundy joke. His wife asks “what are you thinking Al” and he responds “if I wanted you to know what I was thinking I would be talking”.

wundayatta's avatar

Isn’t it pathetic how they don’t even know? Anyway, my platinum hoodie is keeping me safe. Those aliens aren’t gonna control my mind!

oratio's avatar

I suspect we are talking about absolutes. I don’t see any possibility of absolute freedom in any aspect. Freedom is relative. Most of our actions and daily function is governed by instinct and the unconscious, which by itself indicates that we are mostly deterministic. Also the fact that the variety of possible choices you can make with your free mind are chosen by the actions and events that brought them into existence. Freedom as I see it is the possible choices you can make where the world gives you an opening.

wundayatta's avatar

INteresting point @oratio. In the last year I experienced my thoughts being controlled by chemicals. It wasn’t just my mood that was controlled, but actual specific thoughts.

I think the freedom of thought is an illusion that makes us feel like we have choices. Perhaps we do, to some extent. But our thoughts are constrained much more, I believe, that we are aware of.

Freedom is a strange word. It implies a lack of constraint on anything. Of course, our choices are constrained all the time – starting with the physical laws of our universe, and moving on to constraints of local environment, social constraints, brain chemistry constraintes, and on and on.

Where is freedom in all that? I suppose it is relative, that given all those things, do you have less constraints than others, or more?

We like to think that inside our brains, we can think whatever we want. It is totally free. Our imaginations can run free. No one can see inside anyone else’s head. No one can control your thoughts.

These last two things, we now know, are not true. We can see inside people’s heads, using fMRI. We can control thoughts if we administer certain chemicals.

My real answer is that a tinfoil hat is not going to help me, because aliens aren’t the problem. It’s other human beings and their knowledge of the architecture and chemistry of my brain that is the problem, enabling them, now, to invade my thoughts and tell me what to think.

So they have done, and I am grateful, because I probably wouldn’t be alive if they hadn’t. But the result is that I am no longer the “natural” me. I think things that will keep me alive, and the natural “me” would have killed himself.

Does that make everything I say suspect? We know my thoughts are being controlled by the Lithium. Who is the “real” me? My thoughts have been touched. They are no longer free. Can you trust me?

ninjacolin's avatar

I believe the statement “Nothing can touch the freedom of your inner thoughts” is bogus because it is clear to me that we do not control even our inner thoughts.

As best as I can tell, my brain seems to have a “cursor” just like in a word document. It jumps around on it’s own going wherever it wants. Over a period of time, the places that the cursor will visit in my mind are what I refer to as my “train of thought.”

Because my brain is “healthy” it tends to jump around within a certain range which allows me the ability to have coherent thoughts and actions. While someone with dementia, I suspect, is someone who’s cursor takes larger, unrelated leaps rendering their thoughts and actions incoherent and impractical for regular human society.

I believe we have many cursors in our brains, actually. I don’t know how many but they seem to fire simultaneously allowing us to multitask. I seem to imagine we can’t possibly have more than 6 – 10 cursors going.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ninjacolin – I like this notion of cursors. Thanks for sharing this!

oratio's avatar

Well, that cause you are a computer scientist, Matt! :p It works, I guess. So what’s your take on this question? Are we deterministic in nature?

ninjacolin's avatar

a computer scientist? nice.

matt, to add to the idea then (now that I know you’re hip) I would suggest that our cursors run more so like a computer program running through it’s lines of code. they function on basic if-then-else statements. They don’t ever seem to do anything any more extraordinary than that except for the fact that they process so much information so darned quickly.

I would love to work on a human brain simulation one day. I think the libertarian computer and neurology scientists are held back by their beliefs in free will. And I find many of the scientists who claim to be deterministic don’t even understand it well enough to apply it.

mattbrowne's avatar

@oratio – I’m not an expert in this field, but my thoughts are the following: People depending on their maturity are 80 – 99% deterministic in a sense that our rational brain is influenced by all other parts of the brain (brain stem, limbic system etc). But how can we explain true free will or non-deterministic actions? I’m not sure about an explanation. Perhaps it’s the randomness on the quantum level that influences the neurons and the chemical reactions in the synapses. But I might be on shaky grounds here.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ninjacolin – Have you ever used the emacs text editor? If you set it to Lisp mode and actually start creating Lisp code, the cursor is always hopping around supporting you to keep track of all the nesting and parentheses.

(they function on (basic (if (then) (else)) statements))

I believe that the reverse engineering of the brain can be completed within the next 20 years. Whether this will allow us mind uploads I’m not so sure about.

ninjacolin's avatar

cool, i’ve never used that emacs text editor. i’d like to try that.. i don’t quite understand what you mean about how it can hop around.. how can it hop around without your input in a coherent way? sounds confusing to me as described.

lol.. ignorantly, i assume that a brain sim could be complete in about 2 weeks once these scientists give up the wild goose chase for free will.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ninjacolin – Emacs is one of the best and most powerful editors. You will find a description and how to download it here:

Emacs can even become a psychotherapist. I’m not saying you need one ;-)
You need to enter M-x doctor and can start talking to “him”. It’s fun. Maybe you’ve heard about ELIZA.

ninjacolin's avatar

thanks guy. downloaded.. just have to install and try it out.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ninjacolin – Share with me what you think when trying it out! Including the chat with the doctor ;-)

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