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The greatest proof of free will…
Posted: 02 October 2011 01:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1441 ]
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Mingy Jongo,

Now, the free will I believe we can know we do have.

It’s still the thing we have to have to be morally responsible for our actions, so it’s a question of defining moral responsibility.

To be morally responsible is to be apt target of praise and blame.

I suppose I don’t have what apt is worked out completely but I think I have enough to know we can be.

The main point about being apt targets, is we must be able to be influenced by praise and blame, the prospect of them and the prospect of any reward or penalty that may follow from being held responsible.

If not 1) it wouldn’t work 2) it’s not fair. (this is relative fairness, absolute fairness is out the window because the choice isn’t totally up to us, and ,by the way, the thing we benefit from slinging out the window)

The key is, do we need to be able to do otherwise in the precise same circumstances to satisfy these conditions of being apt targets of praise and blame?

If not determinism is no problem for moral responsibility and so no problem for free will of this variety.

So it’s a question of looking at what able means and it turns out able doesn’t mean in precisely the same circumstances.

When we use the word able, we don’t mean in precisely the same circumstances and we can just check and see. A windmill has arms that are able to turn through 360 degrees.

But, nobody thinks that means it’s able to in the precise same circumstances in which they are not moving.

It’s the same for the type of ability we are interested in regarding this variety of free will.

And we can check and see because this ability needs to allow praise and blame to 1) work and 2) be relatively fair.

Quite sketchy I know but it’s a much tougher job more fully explaining how we can know we have this variety of free will than how we can know we don’t have libertarian free will.

But there is enough there to satisfy me and it’s fun to try and broaden and deepen the theory as time goes on.

Stephen

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Posted: 02 October 2011 04:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1442 ]
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It sounds like you’re satisfied to leave things there Steve - and why not?

But I will suggest something to add to you future cogitations!

If we were molecules of a gas in a flask then we would move around in random ways, deterministically if not (thanks to chaos theory) entirely predictably. 

But there would be no question of some us being good molecules (apt targets for praise) and some of bad (apt targets for molecule jail, or atom hell!).  If you think of a person as ‘just a very big molecule’ then the same conclusion would apply. 

But while we are - from one perspective - just great big hydrated organic molecules (you can disassociate us into our component atoms to prove that that if you like), that is not the only perspective one can take.

We are big molecules with consciousness.  If free will operates it cannot operate at the simple level of atoms, because atoms are strictly deterministic (albeit in a weird quantum sort of way).  An atom finding itself in a given situation cannot not choose what it will do (unless quantum effects are the result of the atoms exercising their free-will, which seems unlikely!).  So how can it be that lots of atoms in a lump (ie our bodies) can do what individual atoms can’t?

A possible answer is that this ‘lump of atoms’ has an ‘emergent’ property (‘consciousness’) not found in individual atoms.  That makes all the difference.  A single atoms does not have free will because it does not have consciousness.  We do have consciousness, so it is possible we do have free will after all, as an aspect of our consciousness. 

All the proofs that free-will is impossible we have seen in this thread can be used (with little tweak and often not even that) to show consciousness is impossible - yet we are conscious!

But to say consciousness is an emergent property is not to explain consciousness.  It is an admission that we don’t have the slightest idea how a bunch of atoms get together to produce consciousness.  We have some idea about how atoms organise themselves to produce life, but consciousness?  No, not the first inkling of a vague possibility of a conceptual outline.

Free will derives not from the deterministic nature of atoms (I think we’ve established that), but I think it may well come about as an aspect of consciousness.. it’s just a pity we haven’t got much of a handle on consciousness!

[ Edited: 02 October 2011 04:19 AM by keithprosser2 ]
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Posted: 02 October 2011 11:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1443 ]
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keithprosser2 - 02 October 2011 04:10 AM

If we were molecules of a gas in a flask then we would move around in random ways, deterministically if not (thanks to chaos theory) entirely predictably. 

No problem for the type of free will I believe in.

You think there is a problem because you’re brain is set to the default position on free will.

The default position is that we need to be able to do otherwise in the circumstances.

Not so for the version of free will I’m describing, anymore than a windmill needs to be able to be turning in the precise same circumstances in which it is not. 

But there would be no question of some us being good molecules (apt targets for praise) and some of bad (apt targets for molecule jail, or atom hell!).  If you think of a person as ‘just a very big molecule’ then the same conclusion would apply. 

No, that’s not true, as long as the big molocule can be influenced by praise and blame like the windmill can be influenced by the wind and as long as it can be relatively fair to the big molecule to have it enter into an agreement in which it will pay a penalty if it behaves in one way and be rewarded if it behaves in another.

But while we are - from one perspective - just great big hydrated organic molecules (you can disassociate us into our component atoms to prove that that if you like), that is not the only perspective one can take.

but it makes no difference to the version of free will I’m describing.

Free will being compatible with determinism means free will compatible with being deterministic choice making machines.

We are big molecules with consciousness.  If free will operates it cannot operate at the simple level of atoms, because atoms are strictly deterministic (albeit in a weird quantum sort of way).  An atom finding itself in a given situation cannot not choose what it will do (unless quantum effects are the result of the atoms exercising their free-will, which seems unlikely!).  So how can it be that lots of atoms in a lump (ie our bodies) can do what individual atoms can’t?

You’re viewing able to do otherwise as able to in the precise circumstances.

That is the default position but what I and GdB and Doug are saying is the default position is wrong.

All the proofs that free-will is impossible we have seen in this thread can be used (with little tweak and often not even that) to show consciousness is impossible - yet we are conscious!

The proofs are fine, of course we aren’t ultimately responsible for our actions, of course we aren’t causa sui, of course being in the wrong bit of the lottery isn’t absolutely fair.

The proofs are not against the version of free will we actually have.

Free will derives not from the deterministic nature of atoms (I think we’ve established that),

No we haven’t established that, determinism is no problem for the free will we really have.

but I think it may well come about as an aspect of consciousness.. it’s just a pity we haven’t got much of a handle on consciousness!

Conscious doesn’t play a role in the way that you think, we don’t need “conscious control”, to have free will but of course if we weren’t conscious there would be no suffering so no need to hold people morally responsible for their actions.

So in my theory of free will it’s simply enough that people are conscious and so capable of suffering.

Apart from that consciousness is a different subject entirely.

Stephen

[ Edited: 02 October 2011 11:34 AM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 14 November 2011 05:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1444 ]
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keithprosser2 - 02 October 2011 04:10 AM

... We are big molecules with consciousness.  If free will operates it cannot operate at the simple level of atoms, because atoms are strictly deterministic (albeit in a weird quantum sort of way).  An atom finding itself in a given situation cannot not choose what it will do (unless quantum effects are the result of the atoms exercising their free-will, which seems unlikely!).  So how can it be that lots of atoms in a lump (ie our bodies) can do what individual atoms can’t?

A possible answer is that this ‘lump of atoms’ has an ‘emergent’ property (‘consciousness’) not found in individual atoms.  That makes all the difference.  A single atoms does not have free will because it does not have consciousness.  We do have consciousness, so it is possible we do have free will after all, as an aspect of our consciousness. 

All the proofs that free-will is impossible we have seen in this thread can be used (with little tweak and often not even that) to show consciousness is impossible - yet we are conscious!

But to say consciousness is an emergent property is not to explain consciousness.  It is an admission that we don’t have the slightest idea how a bunch of atoms get together to produce consciousness.  We have some idea about how atoms organise themselves to produce life, but consciousness?  No, not the first inkling of a vague possibility of a conceptual outline.

Free will derives not from the deterministic nature of atoms (I think we’ve established that), but I think it may well come about as an aspect of consciousness.. it’s just a pity we haven’t got much of a handle on consciousness!


Organisms are capable of doing things (behaving) that individual atoms cannot.  Still, for the most part, their behavior is primarily determined either by preceding stimuli or by consequences. The “emergent property” that you refer to as consciousness is not as inaccessible to our understanding as you suggest.  There are neurological correlates for our thinking about what we percieve, just as there are neurological correlates for simply percieving something.  There are neurological correlates for any behavior that we do. Simple respondent behaviors emerged in organisms, as these behaviors made some more likely to survive and reproduce in their particular environmental circumstances.  More complex behaviors (and particularly the mechanism of operant behavior development made organisms that could develop more complex behaviors in order to adapt to changing circumstances within the life of a single organism) have developed also through this evolutionary process.  Social behaviors made some species more likely to survive to reproduction, and hence more and more complex social behaviors have developed in some species.  The most complex social behaviors of all, verbal behaviors eventually evolved.  With verbal behavior we are able to think (covertly speak to ourselves) about what we percieve. We are able to formulate concepts such as “free will”.  With a “good enough understanding” of what controls our behavior when we do the behavior of exerting our will, we should be able to behave in ways not subject to the general deterministic contingencies of the universe or particular situation we are in at the time.  “A good enough understanding” includes our verbal behavior that describes what our “free will” behavior might be. It also includes recognition of the factors that would control our behavior in the absence of our being able to think about our behavior. <Thinking (covert self talk and examination with one’s verbal behavior) is, I think, what consciousness is (or a good portion of what we are referring to when we speak of consciousness.>  It enables us, I think, to potentially do the behavior we refer to as free will.

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As a fabrication of our own consciousness, our assignations of meaning are no less “real”, but since humans and the fabrications of our consciousness are routinely fraught with error, it makes sense, to me, to, sometimes, question such fabrications.

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Posted: 14 November 2011 11:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1445 ]
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TimB - 14 November 2011 05:28 PM

<Thinking (covert self talk and examination with one’s verbal behavior) is, I think, what consciousness is (or a good portion of what we are referring to when we speak of consciousness.>  It enables us, I think, to potentially do the behavior we refer to as free will.

That is an interesting view point. But are there ways to distinguish between ‘behaviour we refer to as free will’ and other kinds of behaviour? Can these ways be discovered with natural science?

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Posted: 15 November 2011 04:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1446 ]
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“That is an interesting view point. But are there ways to distinguish between ‘behaviour we refer to as free will’ and other kinds of behaviour? Can these ways be discovered with natural science? “

I think so, although it would not be easy. One would need to be aware of all of the contingencies impinging on his/her choosing one behavior vs. another, then make the choice, not based on one’s personal contingencies (historical as well as current) but based on some outside set of objective criteria. If we then behaved according to that set of objective criteria, it would be a kind of “free will behavior”, except of course it would actually be under the control of the chosen or established set of objective criteria.  (The irony occurs to me that I seem to be suggesting that our closest approach to exhibiting “free will behavior” would be in choosing to behave in a way that is consistent with some set of criteria outside of ourselves.)

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As a fabrication of our own consciousness, our assignations of meaning are no less “real”, but since humans and the fabrications of our consciousness are routinely fraught with error, it makes sense, to me, to, sometimes, question such fabrications.

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Posted: 16 November 2011 12:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1447 ]
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TimB - 15 November 2011 04:59 PM

One would need to be aware of all of the contingencies impinging on his/her choosing one behavior vs. another, then make the choice, not based on one’s personal contingencies (historical as well as current) but based on some outside set of objective criteria. If we then behaved according to that set of objective criteria, it would be a kind of “free will behavior”, except of course it would actually be under the control of the chosen or established set of objective criteria.  (The irony occurs to me that I seem to be suggesting that our closest approach to exhibiting “free will behavior” would be in choosing to behave in a way that is consistent with some set of criteria outside of ourselves.)

I do not quite get it. Are you saying: only behaviour that is guided by outside objective criteria counts as “free will behaviour”? Doesn’t that mean that as long we have no outside objective criteria we do not express “free will behaviour”? And does guided mean under control? Sorry, this does not clear up anything yet. Can you give an example of what you mean? E.g. the choice of drinking tea or coffee, or the choice to spend my money for Haiti or a new car?

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Posted: 16 November 2011 03:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1448 ]
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TimB - 15 November 2011 04:59 PM

“That is an interesting view point. But are there ways to distinguish between ‘behaviour we refer to as free will’ and other kinds of behaviour? Can these ways be discovered with natural science? “

I think the only way is to look at practical examples.

So if I say to my daughter what do you want for dinner, pizza or jacket potato, it’s “up to you” i.e your “free choice” what do I mean?

What I’m doing is saying I have no preference, or I’m not revealing my preference to you because I don’t want you to be influenced by what I want, I want you to pick whatever you want free from that influence.

Not sure how science comes into it?

Stephen

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Posted: 23 November 2011 02:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1449 ]
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GdB - 16 November 2011 12:35 AM
TimB - 15 November 2011 04:59 PM

One would need to be aware of all of the contingencies impinging on his/her choosing one behavior vs. another, then make the choice, not based on one’s personal contingencies (historical as well as current) but based on some outside set of objective criteria. If we then behaved according to that set of objective criteria, it would be a kind of “free will behavior”, except of course it would actually be under the control of the chosen or established set of objective criteria.  (The irony occurs to me that I seem to be suggesting that our closest approach to exhibiting “free will behavior” would be in choosing to behave in a way that is consistent with some set of criteria outside of ourselves.)

I do not quite get it. Are you saying: only behaviour that is guided by outside objective criteria counts as “free will behaviour”? Doesn’t that mean that as long we have no outside objective criteria we do not express “free will behaviour”? And does guided mean under control? Sorry, this does not clear up anything yet. Can you give an example of what you mean? E.g. the choice of drinking tea or coffee, or the choice to spend my money for Haiti or a new car?

Honestly, I don’t quite get it either.  But to attempt to clarify:  The concept of my having “Free will” assumes that “I” can make a choice that is independent of the influences’ of my history of exposure to environmental contingencies and independent of my current environmental contingencies.  So if I choose coffee over tea, “I” am not responding independently of these influences, unless, 1) I have thought it through, in advance and have a clear understanding of the contingencies that have impinged and are impinging on me to effect my choice. and 2) I have somehow made those contingencies inconsequential to my choice.  I am proposing that any behavior guided by our wants or needs, is not “free will”.  The other thing that I proposed, (and I am not so confident about this point) is that establishing a set of rules by which your choices would be made, would be free will in that you “chose” to act according to those rules.  In retrospect I think that choosing to follow a set of rules is also, at least initially, a factor of one’s contingencies and once the rules are in place, they exert influence on any choice.  Therefore, I suppose that in my belief system there is no such thing as free will.  I appreciate your questioning which helped me think through my stance, and apologize for my rambling which has probably been of no benefit to you.

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As a fabrication of our own consciousness, our assignations of meaning are no less “real”, but since humans and the fabrications of our consciousness are routinely fraught with error, it makes sense, to me, to, sometimes, question such fabrications.

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Posted: 23 November 2011 03:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1450 ]
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TimB - 23 November 2011 02:49 PM

  Therefore, I suppose that in my belief system there is no such thing as free will.

Right.

Worth remembering there is such a thing as belief in free will. (the type you have been mulling over)

Stephen

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Posted: 24 November 2011 05:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1451 ]
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Hi TimB,

What you deny is the concept ‘libertarian free will’, the idea that free will must be able to overrule causally determined events. That idea is of course already incoherent from the beginning. It would need events that are not caused, but from the other side, are caused by an independent agent. That does not work of course, it is just dualism in disguise. It also just shifts the problem of free will to another non-physical realm, and the same question would arise in that realm.

But then, given that there is no such physically independent agent, what are you denying? That we, as independent agents, are bound to the laws of nature (that is what non-free will would mean opposed to free will…)? But what when laws of nature give rise to agents, how can a conflict between laws of nature and our will can occur? It seems the concept of free will you are using does not apply at all.

If the concept ‘free will’ does mean something, in such a way that saying ‘we have no free will’ has content (a scientific discovery maybe?) you should look for another concept of what free will could be.

[ Edited: 24 November 2011 05:35 AM by GdB ]
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Posted: 24 November 2011 09:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1452 ]
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GdB - 24 November 2011 05:25 AM

Hi TimB,

What you deny is the concept ‘libertarian free will’, the idea that free will must be able to overrule causally determined events. That idea is of course already incoherent from the beginning.

Yep.

And as we’ve seen over and over, that is what people mean by free will (usually)

So let’s not deny that.

Stephen

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Posted: 24 November 2011 10:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1453 ]
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StephenLawrence - 24 November 2011 09:23 AM

And as we’ve seen over and over, that is what people mean by free will (usually)

So let’s not deny that.

I will deny it. What people mean by ‘free will’ is what is standardly encountered in law: acting with free will is doing what one wants to do, as distinguished from acting under compulsion.

It’s true that this basic notion is misinterpreted by some with inadequate philosophical training to mean that to act with free will one has to act counter to causal determination. As we know, in fact it does not require this incoherent notion.

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Posted: 24 November 2011 10:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1454 ]
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dougsmith - 24 November 2011 10:14 AM
StephenLawrence - 24 November 2011 09:23 AM

And as we’ve seen over and over, that is what people mean by free will (usually)

So let’s not deny that.

I will deny it. What people mean by ‘free will’ is what is standardly encountered in law: acting with free will is doing what one wants to do, as distinguished from acting under compulsion.

Not a snowball in hell’s chance Doug. Nobody is arguing over whether one can do what one wants to do. And we have the empirical evidence.

Stephen

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Posted: 24 November 2011 11:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1455 ]
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StephenLawrence - 24 November 2011 10:37 AM

Not a snowball in hell’s chance Doug. Nobody is arguing over whether one can do what one wants to do. And we have the empirical evidence.

People argue over it all the time, particularly in the courts: whether an act was done freely or under compulsion. Or accidentally, for that matter. There’s no mystery about the general issue, although people do want to mystery-monger. I think it’s part of the casual BSing one finds in dorm-room philosophizing.

I think this is the time to read Dennett’s Elbow Room.

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