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Free Will Yes or No, Step Two- So What?
Posted: 10 September 2007 07:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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WattaQuestion,

I agree with what you’re saying about free will and the supposed link with capital punishment, which is largely why I started this thread. I suspect Stephen may be the best to provide an argument for the position that a link is necessary, since I get from his previous posts that he feels one is present.

I think your example about the evolution of human behavior is a bit muddled. You seem to be saying that without free will, there is no possibility for change in behavior, which I wouldn’t necessarily agree wiht, but the real problem is that you are assuming a discontinuity in evloution of behavior that I don’t believe is present. Unique abilities are simply new forms or applications of pre-existing structures. Humans can do things other animals can’t, even though we evolved our brain from the brains of previous species that couldn’t do all those things, because pre-existing substrates for behavior (brains) were gradually modified through evolution to allow the development of new capabilities. There is no “Now you can’t do it, now you can” leap that makes the behavior seem to come from nowhere. So even though I am a determinist, in the sense that I think we are purely physical beings and our choices emerge from the structures of our bodies and the physical laws that govern them, and even though I think our abilities developed from those of previous species through evolution, I don’t see this as a problem for the development of new behaviors or our ability to change our behaviors and learn. I agree with Occam and Narwhol that free will may not exist but is a useful concept or shorthand to explain how our choices work. And what we have evolved is the ability to change our behavior through learning. This doesn’t require that free will exist in any absolute sense (since the feedback systems that lead to behavioral changes operate by purely physical laws on a purely physical substrate like evrything else), but it is easier to think of and describe using the concept of free will.

Narwhol,

I’m mathematically illiterate, so forgive me if this is a stupid question. I read James Gleick’s Chaos years ago and was quite taken with the idea that the theory could explain precisely the kinds of failures of reductionism that we seem to be talking about here. Even though human behavior arises from physical causes and physical laws, do you think it truly is fundamentally unpredictable (a chaotic system, perhaps), or is it simply that we aren’t ourselves capable of identifying and following all the variables with sufficient accuracy to seem the causal chains? If human behavior is ultimately unpredictable, then that might be an argument for applying the concept of free will and the self to the system even if, as I think we agree, it is not strictly true.
Just curious what a mathematically-minded sort thnks, since I get the impression chaos theory isn’t much in vogue these days, but I still like the idea that some things may truly be by nature unpredictable.

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Posted: 10 September 2007 09:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Doc,

I’ll go with the idea that what we do looks like “free will” and the term “free will” is a shorthand for what actually happens especially since we cannot actually describe the deterministic influences that lead to making some choice or other, except in the most general terms. If you-all agree that humans can concoct strategies to get what they want based on what they observe and think about, that’s fine by me. I’d really like to know what are the most effective strategies for teaching people how to like learning and accept reality over their delusions. What good is accepting deterministic sources of human behavior if we can’t develop a method to prevent theism, lust for power, murder, tendency for poverty, and other things from the list of “bad” behaviors?

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Posted: 10 September 2007 09:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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I’d really like to know what are the most effective strategies for teaching people how to like learning and accept reality over their delusions.

Hallelujah! When you figure it out, let me know! I’ve been growing only more and more pessimistic that it will ever be possible to teach people that facts and evidence are the best basis for decision-making.

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Posted: 11 September 2007 05:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Hi,

I think there is a kind of misconception here, which might be difficult to understand.

In fact, determinism is the only metaphysics that can explain ‘free will’. Would you like that what you do is dependent on nothing, is just contingent? What I choose depends on the current circumstances and my ‘character’. Would I like to have a freedom, where what I choose is independent on these?

One of the problems is already the word ‘free will’. Formally correct would be to say, that I, as a person, am free when I can do what I want, which means I can act according to my will. ‘Free will’ would mean something like ‘I can want what I want’. Of course you can’t, it is logically impossible! I am not free when I cannot do what I want, because some circumstance blocks me from doing it. But not because I am determined by what I basically am!

A nice definition of ‘freedom’ can be found in the ‘Ethics’ of Spinoza: an entity is free, when it acts by its own necessity.

So freedom exists, but not in the meaning that under the exact same circumstance (same situation, same character, or if you want, same brain state) I could have done otherwise. Freedom means that what will happen next, assuming the external circumstances constant, what will happen next, depends on my decision only. And this is base enough for assigning responsibility for what people do. No reason to change our legal system.

I think I paraphrased the compatibilitist view: it is not that determinism and freedom are just compatable, determinism is essential to explain freedom.

GdB

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Posted: 11 September 2007 06:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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WattaQuestion - 10 September 2007 04:44 PM

What I get from discussions with the “there is no free will” crowd is that believing in free will causes people to support capital punishment.

I’m over-simplfying a little, but most of the time this is usually the idea that comes up when consequences come up.

The consequences are far more wide reaching than this. The belief alters, our thoughts, feelings and behaviour, pretty much all the time when we are interacting with each other.

It leads to our emotions being inappropriate, it leads to a reduction in sympathy inability to empathise and increase in anger and hatred an increase in blame, shame, guilt, pride and much more.

People just can’t see this. It’s like not being able to see what would happen, if we took gravity away. I don’t understand it, sigh.

If peoples emotions weren’t so inappropriate and dysfunctional, due to belief in free will, I think we’d hardly have need for a justice system at all.

On the death penalty the link with free will is this:

Although it is natural to want to retaliate or want revenge, what belief in free will does, is lengthens the duration and strength of these desires. If we felt the murderer was as much an innocent victim, as the victim,  the feelings would soon fade, as say if a shark killed a child, desire to pay the shark back would not last long.

Well with the extra empathy and compassion we would have for the offender,  it would be a much tougher decision to harm them. We’d have to overide our feelings to do it, let our heads rule our heart. Is that a good idea? Isn’t it better to live in a world where our hightened empathy leads to less harm? Isn’t this the best aim? I think so.

Apart from that, whether we have the death penalty depends on what people feel. People won’t vote for it, if they don’t feel the person deserves it. So as always with me, it is not what I think we should do but what I think we would do if we didn’t believe in free will.

If we didn’t believe in free will unless we became cold and callous ( a scary thought) we wouldn’t use it.

Still we would want to prevent murders so what would happen is we would try harder to prevent them, using other means than threats and harsh deterrents.

This would be a very regretable last resort, once we accept that the person who pays the price does not deserve to.

If we lived in a society where everybody accepted nobody deserved their fortune good or bad, we would naturally be more helpful and more willing to alter circumstances that tend to lead to bad outcomes

I think two other things would happen 1. We’d have a very different sense of perspective, terrible things happen to 100’s of thousands of people every day. Our priorities over these things are warped by belief in free will, so if we feel there is someone to blame we go totally nuts about the significance of an incident and blow it completely out of proportion, in relation to our general problems.

The second thing is that we would stop considering somebody to be a murderer for all their lives if they have committed one in their past. They may go on to lead a good productive life, if nothing is done to them at all (not saying we should do nothing)

In the case of most “murderers” the chance of them commiting another murder next week, is probably no greater than you or I committing one next week.

And the chance of anyone becoming a murderer at all would be much reduced if they didn’t have a level of hatred for another human being required to cause them to kill. This level of hatred is often caused by belief in free will.

Stephen

[ Edited: 11 September 2007 07:05 AM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 11 September 2007 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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mckenzievmd - 10 September 2007 01:19 PM

Yes, George, it is dizzying. But you hit on exactly the point I was making in starting this thread. I think we have a natural tendancy to see ourselves as acting freely and making decisions and judgements,

Brennan,

I think we will continue to do so. The trouble is, this just aint the free will, the people who don’t believe in free will, are arguing against, in general.

We do what we do because we are what we are. What we essentially do, is blame people for what it is that they are, if we blame them for the decisions that they make.

This is all we have to stop doing.

Stephen

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Posted: 11 September 2007 08:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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StephenLawrence - 11 September 2007 07:02 AM
mckenzievmd - 10 September 2007 01:19 PM

Yes, George, it is dizzying. But you hit on exactly the point I was making in starting this thread. I think we have a natural tendancy to see ourselves as acting freely and making decisions and judgements,

Brennan,

I think we will continue to do so. The trouble is, this just aint the free will, the people who don’t believe in free will, are arguing against, in general.

We do what we do because we are what we are. What we essentially do, is blame people for what it is that they are, if we blame them for the decisions that they make.

This is all we have to stop doing.

Stephen

Stephen, what is your argumentation against free will, actually?

And do you think that the only alternative for free will is nihilistic determinism? (why make any choice? It was all pre-destined… ) Most people wouldn’t adopt it for practical reasons, which does not disqualify from being the logical consequence.

[ Edited: 11 September 2007 08:39 AM by wandering ]
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Posted: 11 September 2007 09:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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wandering - 11 September 2007 08:21 AM

Stephen, what is your argumentation against free will, actually?

My argument is that choice is what we experience it to be, nothing more and nothing less. That is it.

(Edited in late sorry) Free will is the addition of two mythological elements to common all garden choice making, I’ve named them many times.

I posted a good example of belief in free will on another thread, I’ll post it here to show you what I mean.

This was written by someone who’s belief in free will is causing a loss of sympathy and feelings of hatred.

Every time I want to post a letter, I have choices. Do I run across and post it, leaving Daniel alone for less than 5 mins? Do I take him with me? Do I ask a neighbour or a friend to watch him? And I reason out these choices. Option 1 is bad because it means I am leaving my son in danger. Option 3 is a bit drastic for just 2-3 mins. So Option 2 is what I choose. I choose to take him with me. I could equally choose to do something else.

She describes choice perfectly and then writes, “I could equally choose to do something else.”

It just doesn’t make sense. this wasn’t what she described choice to be like! I’ve challenged her to post a letter, whilst leaving Daniel at home, if she could equally well do that. Of course she can’t! It’s only this nonsense I’m arguing against. It’s only a myth, a belief passed on by person to person, which is contrary to our experience of choice making.

And do you think that the only alternative for free will is nihilistic determinism? (why make any choice? It was all pre-destined… )

Not at all, the alernative is to believe that choice is what we experiences it to be! Without adding the nonsensical belief that we could pick another option.

I don’t know why I can’t get this across, there is no deep philosophy here, just observe ourselves making choices and accept they are as they appear to be and as the poster described, if we omit the last line.

Stephen

[ Edited: 11 September 2007 09:49 AM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 11 September 2007 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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GdB - 11 September 2007 05:24 AM

Hi,

I think there is a kind of misconception here, which might be difficult to understand.

In fact, determinism is the only metaphysics that can explain ‘free will’.


GdB

Yes!

Which as we appear to have freedom, might be a good reason to accept determinism is true.

The thing is, belief is being expressed that free will is an illusion. I don’t think it is, in the way that is meant.

Belief in incompatibilist free will is contrary to our experience of making choices!

Stephen

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Posted: 11 September 2007 10:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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GdB - 11 September 2007 05:24 AM

Hi,


So freedom exists, but not in the meaning that under the exact same circumstance (same situation, same character, or if you want, same brain state) I could have done otherwise. Freedom means that what will happen next, assuming the external circumstances constant, what will happen next, depends on my decision only. And this is base enough for assigning responsibility for what people do. No reason to change our legal system.

GdB

I think this depends on what the purpose of assigning responsibility is, which is what I’m interested to find out.

The other thing is, we need to accept that the person who made the decision, is just the poor sap who happened to make that decision. It’s just a matter of moral luck, (I don’t think many compatibilists do.)

So we have to accept we are harming him not because he deserved it but to help others.

I’m not comfortable with this, at all.

Stephen

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Posted: 11 September 2007 10:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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StephenLawrence - 11 September 2007 09:08 AM
wandering - 11 September 2007 08:21 AM

Stephen, what is your argumentation against free will, actually?

My argument is that choice is what we experience it to be, nothing more and nothing less. That is it.

(Edited in late sorry) Free will is the addition of two mythological elements to common all garden choice making, I’ve named them many times.

I posted a good example of belief in free will on another thread, I’ll post it here to show you what I mean.

This was written by someone who’s belief in free will is causing a loss of sympathy and feelings of hatred.

Every time I want to post a letter, I have choices. Do I run across and post it, leaving Daniel alone for less than 5 mins? Do I take him with me? Do I ask a neighbour or a friend to watch him? And I reason out these choices. Option 1 is bad because it means I am leaving my son in danger. Option 3 is a bit drastic for just 2-3 mins. So Option 2 is what I choose. I choose to take him with me. I could equally choose to do something else.

She describes choice perfectly and then writes, “I could equally choose to do something else.”

It just doesn’t make sense. this wasn’t what she described choice to be like! I’ve challenged her to post a letter, whilst leaving Daniel at home, if she could equally well do that. Of course she can’t! It’s only this nonsense I’m arguing against. It’s only a myth, a belief passed on by person to person, which is contrary to our experience of choice making.

And do you think that the only alternative for free will is nihilistic determinism? (why make any choice? It was all pre-destined… )

Not at all, the alernative is to believe that choice is what we experiences it to be! Without adding the nonsensical belief that we could pick another option.

I don’t know why I can’t get this across, there is no deep philosophy here, just observe ourselves making choices and accept they are as they appear to be and as the poster described, if we omit the last line.

Stephen

Stephen, what are the two mythological elements?

 

 


It is a good idea to observe our daily behaviour, and get a good description of it. If it is true that our mental states, are produced entirely by the brain, or perhaps identical, or non existing or whatever, it certainly is not a good description of our daily behaviour.  And maybe free will is not as well.

I think that your point is that we don’t make abstract choices, while we are free to do anything, but we are acting because of our specific psychology.  Do I get it? It is absurd to think that a person with a very calm temper, and a person with an extremely angry temper are both are “free” in their choice to use violence, or not to.


But again, it seems that if it is this way, then a person might say “it was not my fault, it was the fault of my psychology! “.

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Posted: 11 September 2007 11:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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StephenLawrence - 11 September 2007 10:11 AM

The thing is, belief is being expressed that free will is an illusion. I don’t think it is, in the way that is meant.

Stephen

Hi Stephen,

‘Free will’ comes in several tastes. The one that is opposed to determinism is the free will which interferes with natural laws. But this kind of ‘free will’ really does not exist, cannot exist logically. See my posting. So you could call it an illusion.

Free persons exist, but in a sense that does not contradict with determinism, or even stronger, in a sense that supposes determinism. This understanding of ‘free will’ is enough for making persons responsible, and therefore also for punishment.

You could see it this way: another person, with the ‘right set of values’ would have chosen something else. In this view, punishment is a way of education. But the same person, in exactly the same brain state and in exactly the same circustances could not do anything else as he actually did. But this is no excuse.

GdB

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Posted: 11 September 2007 11:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Sorry, but I just have to mention that we seem to be drifting back into what is free will and what are the arguments for or against it. Interesting topic, but there are several lengthy thread s on it already. If we can, I think it would be best to stick with the consequences of belief or lack of belief in free will.

Stephen,
So you state quite strongly that belief in free will is the root of much (most?) of our poor treatment of each other. You even go so far as to suggest that if we could eliinate this belief “we’d hardly have a need for a justice system.” So a couple of questions:

1) Can you support any of this with anything but your own impressions or feelings? I see the logic, but I’m not convinced that the problem is as deep or pervasive as you think it is.

2) Given that we all (yourself included, it seems) feel as if we are making our own free choices, despite the determinist argument that we really don’t, how can we eliminate the retribution/vengeance problem without convincing everyone to feel as if they are just determinist robots? I mean, I generally agree that we do what we do as a consequence of the physical chain of causes that take place in our brains, and between the external world and our brains, but I’m never going to feel inside like this is true. So how do we work with the fact that most of us will persist in feeling the “illusion” of free will?

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Posted: 11 September 2007 12:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think that one’s position on libertarian or compatibilist free will has any bearing on the issue of responsibility or punishment. One can make out the same arguments for both claims about free will.

On a compatibilist notion of free will, punishment is meant as a deterrent and as a training method. We can train computer systems to do things, and we can also train humans. Both are sorts of complex machines, working by causal laws, and trainable by causal laws.

The debate about libertarian or compatibilist free will only effects people in philosophy or theology debates. Nobody can seriously believe that they have no free will. Everyone is always making choices, weighing opportunities; and to do so, we have to believe that we have options that we won’t necessarily take advantage of.

About the only sort of popular misguided thinking along these lines are the village fatalists who claim that smoking is OK since either they are fated to die by cancer or not, and so what does it matter?

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Posted: 11 September 2007 01:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Hi Wanderer,

Stephen, what are the two mythological elements?

Let’s look at the quote I used again.

Every time I want to post a letter, I have choices. Do I run across and post it, leaving Daniel alone for less than 5 mins? Do I take him with me? Do I ask a neighbour or a friend to watch him? And I reason out these choices. Option 1 is bad because it means I am leaving my son in danger. Option 3 is a bit drastic for just 2-3 mins. So Option 2 is what I choose. I choose to take him with me. I could equally choose to do something else.

Ok the poster has described making a choice, The description gives the impression that given she had the thoughts and feelings she had, that she could have not picked another option.

So there is NO element of could do otherwise in the experience of choice and yet she then says “I could have equally choose to do something else”. She simply and obviously can’t, so myth one is that when we make a choice we could do otherwise, as if that is a component of choice making. It simply isn’t and any example of what happens, when we make a choice proves that.

The belief that a component of making a choice is could do otherwise, is not the only myth because the second myth is that therefore it makes us ultimately responsible for our actions.

Maybe you could call it a myth and a non sequitur based on the myth. 

I think that your point is that we don’t make abstract choices, while we are free to do anything,

No, my point is what ever freedom we have, it has nothing to do with being able to do other than we do!

So the poster experienced the freedom choice making gives her but this had absolutely nothing to do with being able to select another option.

The freedom we experience is compatible with what we do, being the one and only thing we possibly could do!

We experience only doing what we do and we experience selecting the one and only option we can select in the circumstances.

That is what I’m saying.

Now given that is what we experience, why worry, if we could do otherwise or not?

I mean what if she could have had another thought or another feeling and therefore made another choice, so what?

What if I could look out of the window and it could be sunny, when in fact it is raining, so what?

Do you see?

Stephen

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