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A pragmatic discussion about free will
Posted: 13 April 2012 12:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 91 ]
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George - 13 April 2012 12:45 PM

Sure, a small part (a very small part indeed) of the “planning” of walking up to the fridge happens in the brain, and for everyday type of communication this description is adequate. But I believe here we are trying to be a little more accurate about the whole thing. It’s as if two psychologist were trying to figure out why, I dunno, some faces may be more attractive than others, and one of them would say “because faces X are sooo cute.” True, but so what?

If you are a historian you may be satisfied with the answer that Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii. As a geologist you will find the effect Vesuvius much larger, both in time and space, and even larger if you are a physicist.

When we talk about what we do in daily life, we’re talking as a historian. We’re taking part of the causal network out and pointing only to a few nodes. It may not be the whole picture (it’s not supposed to be), but it’s no less true for that.

George - 13 April 2012 12:45 PM

So I want to know who or what is the “you” in Gdb’ post that is doing the “planning.” Libet’s study shows it is not the consciousness. What is it, then?

Now that’s an interesting question. It’s clearly your brain activity, but I think we’re still pretty far from a complete picture of how we plan and act.

(And it’s becoming clearer that consciousness, insofar as we really understand what that phenomenon is, is something of an epiphenomenon. Maybe not in the strict, philosophical sense of having no causal consequents, but at least in that its role is less than we’d realized before. My sense is that consciousness is more closely related to memory retention than act-instigation).

George - 13 April 2012 12:45 PM

(And mentioning QM in free will discussions is like mentioning Hitler in any other discussion. If you say QM again, you lose.  grin )

Depends how its used. The illegitimate way to use QM is to relate it somehow to consciousness, and imply that the stochastic nature of QM is what makes us free. That’s clear garbage.

But it’s perfectly legitimate to point out that perhaps the most predominant interpretation of QM among practicing physicists (at least as I’ve been told, perhaps this isn’t correct) is that it invalidates determinism. Causation is only stochastic in character, so if you’d begun the universe with precisely the same initial conditions you would be certain of coming up with a different outcome next time. While that’s irrelevant to the question of free will (since to will freely one’s actions must be determined), it does sink questions about our futures having been set in stone 14 billion years ago.

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Posted: 13 April 2012 12:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 92 ]
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Libet only showed that some behavior occurs before there is any conscious awareness.  It did not show that all conscious awareness, thought, or planning has no impact on subsequent behavior. 

“I” have thoughts that “I” listen to, therefore “I” exists.

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Posted: 13 April 2012 01:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 93 ]
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dougsmith - 13 April 2012 12:56 PM

  While that’s irrelevant to the question of free will (since to will freely one’s actions must be determined), it does sink questions about our futures having been set in stone 14 billion years ago.

I never get how we can tell so much about what the universe was like 14 billion years ago without determinisn being true.

Over such a long time period, indeterminism would make any “predictions” utterly useless, I would have thought.

Stephen

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Posted: 13 April 2012 01:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 94 ]
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StephenLawrence - 13 April 2012 01:08 PM

I never get how we can tell so much about what the universe was like 14 billion years ago without determinisn being true.

Over such a long time period, indeterminism would make any “predictions” utterly useless, I would have thought.

Completely, especially given how chaotic processes like fluid dynamics are. (The early universe, and much of the later universe, is fluid). Chaotic processes are ones that are extremely sensitive to initial conditions, to the point where predicting much into the future necessitates one to know the position and momentum of each atom to well beneath what the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle allows. So it means that prediction is in principle impossible beyond a certain time frame. Earth’s weather is certainly like this, though how far ahead the “in principle” line lies, I don’t know.

There are other less popular interpretations of QM in which ‘hidden variables’ do the deterministic work. (E.g., as I understand it, Bohm’s interpretation, and the many worlds one just has them ALL come true).

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Posted: 13 April 2012 01:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 95 ]
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dougsmith - 13 April 2012 01:13 PM
StephenLawrence - 13 April 2012 01:08 PM

I never get how we can tell so much about what the universe was like 14 billion years ago without determinisn being true.

Over such a long time period, indeterminism would make any “predictions” utterly useless, I would have thought.

Completely, especially given how chaotic processes like fluid dynamics are. (The early universe, and much of the later universe, is fluid). Chaotic processes are ones that are extremely sensitive to initial conditions, to the point where predicting much into the future necessitates one to know the position and momentum of each atom to well beneath what the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle allows. So it means that prediction is in principle impossible beyond a certain time frame. Earth’s weather is certainly like this, though how far ahead the “in principle” line lies, I don’t know.

There are other less popular interpretations of QM in which ‘hidden variables’ do the deterministic work. (E.g., as I understand it, Bohm’s interpretation, and the many worlds one just has them ALL come true).

But I’m talking about predicting backwards Doug.

Why can we predict what the universe was like 14 billion years ago? That’s what I don’t understand (without assuming determinism)

Stephen

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Posted: 13 April 2012 01:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 96 ]
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StephenLawrence - 13 April 2012 01:22 PM

But I’m talking about predicting backwards Doug.

“Backwards” isn’t predicting. Predicting is forwards, by definition.

StephenLawrence - 13 April 2012 01:22 PM

Why can we predict what the universe was like 14 billion years ago? That’s what I don’t understand (without assuming determinism)

Clearly we can’t know everything about the past. Much of that information is lost. But some of the signal remains. If you want to know what kinds of signal, how and why, read about cosmology.

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Posted: 13 April 2012 01:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 97 ]
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TimB-

Of course all behavior is ultimately determined, but the wiggle room, I believe comes in with all the complex “moving parts” of verbal behavior.  e.g., I can say things to myself that act as antecedents which effects the probablilty of behavior that I do, or don’t do, subsequently.  The parameters of what I can say are so expansive that it seems to me that there is some level of “freedom” here. 

“Freedom” is a relative term, however.  If I were let out of jail, I would be free to move around more.  I might not, however, be free to leave the county.  Or if I were free to leave the county, I might not have the means to leave the country.  If I had the means to travel about the world, I still wouldn’t be free to roam the solar system, etc.

We’ve been all through these halls before-they lead nowhere. They are distractive.  Freedom definition.  Jail.  Freedom of movement etc…
Sorry for curt response…but look at the philosophy thread….it’s a twisted menagerie.

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Posted: 13 April 2012 01:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 98 ]
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dougsmith - 13 April 2012 01:26 PM

Clearly we can’t know everything about the past. Much of that information is lost. But some of the signal remains. If you want to know what kinds of signal, how and why, read about cosmology.

I’ve never read an explanation for how, if a signal could have multiple different pasts, that we could know which past it had.

I think we simply assume a determined past.


Stephen

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Posted: 13 April 2012 09:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 99 ]
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FreeInKy - 13 April 2012 09:55 AM

(...) something tells me that there is something “special” about consciousness that raises it above the level of purely mechanical, cause-and-effect processes. I realize that this is both unscientific and fraught with pitfalls that have led others to embrace spirituality as the solution. But I fully accept that we are our brains. I don’t think that “I” am something “out there” above and outside of my physiology. But I also know that there is this idea that consciousness somehow is an emergent property of the organic workings of our brains. Isn’t it just possible that our consciousness somehow creates this free will?

Yes, it is not just possible, it is the case. Consciousness is the capability to anticipate the future, by having a model of the world including a model of the organism itself. It is special in the sense that consciousness is aware of itself. (The trunk of an elephant is special too, but it is not aware of itself.) But the selfmodel is not precise to the last detail: with our thoughts we cannot access our own brains themselves, and this gives the illusion of being independent. But of course, we are extremely complex biological machines, determined by our past. So why should we speak of free will? The answer is simple: because many of our actions are the result of our conscious anticipating of the future. We really have this capability, it is the reason why we are evolutionary successful.

And interesting enough: science is the cultural expression of this phenomenon. We collectively acquire knowledge, to increase our capability of anticipating the future, to increase the spectrum of our realisable goals, to have more alternatives for our actions, i.e. to become more free.

It is interesting to see that the most emotional, irrational reactions on this topic come from those who claim to have a scientific world view. They behave as religious fanatics, insulting and using ad hominum attacks.

Does it really matter to my everyday life if human free will technically exists or not? And if so, how?

My feeling at this point is that it does not matter. Whether my actions are predetermined or not, I operate from the perspective that my actions are my own responsibility.

So I would say, no it does not matter.

I would suggest that if we want to continue the religious wars about free will we do this in one of the existing philosophy threads, and concentrate here on FreeInKy’s question. Does it really matter? Does it matter that I am determined to defend compatibilist free will?

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Posted: 13 April 2012 11:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 100 ]
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GdB - 13 April 2012 09:47 PM

I would suggest that if we want to continue the religious wars about free will we do this in one of the existing philosophy threads, and concentrate here on FreeInKy’s question. Does it really matter? Does it matter that I am determined to defend compatibilist free will?

And the answer is yes, because there are consequences of not believing in Libertarian free will.

I spend a lot of time reminding myself that could if… means would if the past had been slightly and appropriately different and this does change how I feel about guilt, blame, praise etc and yes I think this matters a great deal because we are better off without the Libertarian based version of these things. I certainly think it’s helping regarding my relationships.

I mostly stick to the implications for how we feel towards each other and ourselves as that’s where the benefits are personally. And as everyone becomes more conscious of the wider causes of actions these benefits will hopefully spread naturally.

I’m less inclined to talk about how policy should change, because I’m aware of how complicated it all is and how easy it would be to make bad mistakes. I like the slogan that I saw somewhere, WHAT DO WE WANT? GRADUAL CHANGE. WHEN DO WE WANT IT? AFTER PEER REVIEW.

But I will say that when people object to taxing the very rich, they seem to be basing that on belief that they can deserve their riches in a sense incompatible with determinism. That it’s somehow intrinsically fair that some have better lives than others. (not that I think being very rich really gives people better lives)

What many of us point out is this intrinsic desert that people believe in is incompatible with having one future we can get to from our actual past. In order not to make a terrible mistake today I need luck. I need the luck that is not the one future I can get to from my past. I hope I’m that lucky, I know many sadly won’t be. To blame people for this bad luck in the strong deserved sense that they do, is senseless.

And when training people with praise and blame, reward and punishment, people do not seem inclined to be interested in the science of how to best utilise this, to get the best results and have happy healthy humans. (unlike ,say, dog training)

And that’s because, I’m sure, they often are much more interested in assuring that those who deserve it pay!

It’s the harm that belief in Libertarian free will does which is the problem.

The extraordinary thing about this debate is that sceptics are usually inclined to be wary of erroneous beliefs and be concerned about the harm they might do.

In this case they are not and even make the extraordinary assumption that belief in something so central to our culture, Libertarian free will, and so pervasive, is actually likely to be benign.

Stephen

[ Edited: 13 April 2012 11:39 PM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 14 April 2012 12:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 101 ]
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asanta - 13 April 2012 12:35 PM

Soooo, the other thread on free will wasn’t long enough?? tongue laugh

I think that what’s happening Asanta is that you are expressing the opinion that belief in Libertarian free will is benign, so why all these threads.

I suspect you are thoughtful and recognise that causes are in turn caused and so on.

But the point is that most don’t, they do indeed believe in Libertarian free will and the evidence is littered all over the internet.

Threads arguing against this will keep appearing just like God threads do, for the same reasons.

Because people believe there are negative consequences of believing in what isn’t true.

Stephen

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Posted: 14 April 2012 02:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 102 ]
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Stephen,

Do you feel responsible for your actions? Why?

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Posted: 14 April 2012 05:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 103 ]
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StephenLawrence - 13 April 2012 01:47 PM
dougsmith - 13 April 2012 01:26 PM

Clearly we can’t know everything about the past. Much of that information is lost. But some of the signal remains. If you want to know what kinds of signal, how and why, read about cosmology.

I’ve never read an explanation for how, if a signal could have multiple different pasts, that we could know which past it had.

I think we simply assume a determined past.

Nobody said a signal could have multiple different pasts (Except epistemically: i.e. we may not know which of a number of different pasts it actually had). Where are you getting that idea?

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Posted: 14 April 2012 06:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 104 ]
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GdB - 13 April 2012 09:47 PM
FreeInKy - 13 April 2012 09:55 AM

(...) something tells me that there is something “special” about consciousness that raises it above the level of purely mechanical, cause-and-effect processes. I realize that this is both unscientific and fraught with pitfalls that have led others to embrace spirituality as the solution. But I fully accept that we are our brains. I don’t think that “I” am something “out there” above and outside of my physiology. But I also know that there is this idea that consciousness somehow is an emergent property of the organic workings of our brains. Isn’t it just possible that our consciousness somehow creates this free will?

Yes, it is not just possible, it is the case. Consciousness is the capability to anticipate the future, by having a model of the world including a model of the organism itself. It is special in the sense that consciousness is aware of itself. (The trunk of an elephant is special too, but it is not aware of itself.) But the selfmodel is not precise to the last detail: with our thoughts we cannot access our own brains themselves, and this gives the illusion of being independent. But of course, we are extremely complex biological machines, determined by our past. So why should we speak of free will? The answer is simple: because many of our actions are the result of our conscious anticipating of the future. We really have this capability, it is the reason why we are evolutionary successful.

If the math could be done we could predict actions to a great degree of accuracy.  It only remains in this argument to show that someone could choose something other than the pre-determined action that is destined to take place.(shown by complex calculations.)
That would be free-will.  Choosing something other than what is determined.
All this other stuff is just hooey-the wonderous, complex beauty of life and the mind.  We know it’s beautiful and complex and special.
So strip it down and dispell my proposition that one can choose other than what is determined.  Go ahead.  That’s the argument.

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Posted: 14 April 2012 07:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 105 ]
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VYAZMA - 14 April 2012 06:38 AM

All this other stuff is just hooey-the wonderous, complex beauty of life and the mind.  We know it’s beautiful and complex and special.
So strip it down and dispell my proposition that one can choose other than what is determined. 

No, I don’t have to. You forget I have a combatibilist view on free will. So I fully agree with you that we are determined. So my simple reaction is: so what?

The question is if we still can distinguish free actions from none-free actions. And we can: those actions are free that are in accordance with my believes and wishes. If I am thirsty and want to drink a beer, and I believe there is one in the fridge, then my action to walk to the fridge is a free action.

How do you distinguish free from none-free actions? Or are you seriously saying that this difference does not exist at all?

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