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Old 24th February 2010, 11:24 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

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I'm not sure anything is a choice.
There are always choices to be made. I think you're disputing who or what makes those choices and why.
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And how would we know if we were making a choice or not?
That's more difficult to say, but it depends on the choice. Not all are near-instant (though they can be made so with the tossed-coin trick).
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We can only be said to make a choice if it is possible for us to vary our decision given the exact same circumstances. But the circumstances will never be exactly the same twice, so how can we know that a combination of genetics and previous experience -- nature plus nurture, if you like -- hasn't precisely determined how we go about the decision-making process, and thus hasn't precisely determined exactly what our "choice" will be?
This is a measurement problem rather than something that tells us whether we are able to make choices.
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Going from philosophy to science, I think it's been demonstrated that the neural activity related to a particular decision -- to pick up a card, say -- occurs (or at least is measured as having occured) after the physical activity has commenced. In other words, we consciously rationalise as a decision something that our subconscious has already set in motion.
There was an Horizon programme in the last few months or so where the researcher (using an MRI? scanner) knew what answer the guinea pig (the programme's presenter) would give seconds before the guinea pig knew. But all that tells us is that it is not always our conscious mind making the decision. But is that any diffrent from a computer programme requesting an answer from a maths chip (integrated or otherwise)?

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It's not a comfortable idea that free will might be an illusion. If it is an illusion, it's one on which the western legal and religious systems are largely based. It might even be one that's necessary for the functioning of society, but that in itself doesn't make it true.
Is the legal system really based on this? Does it care what it is inside our heads that makes decisions? Where "faulty" decision making is seen to be endemic (and not just beneficial to the person "making" those decisions), we somethimes declare that an accused is not fit to stand. In other cases, juries (or judges) try to determine what happened, who did it and why (in the external sense). They do not spend much time involved in psychological assessments before judgement (as opposed to sentencing).

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Actually, I believe that we have the capacity for free will, but that our willingness to go with the decisions suggested to our consciousness by the hidden parts of our minds means that we almost never exercise it. But maybe, if humankind is allowed to evolve, that will change.
I believe there is free will.



Oh, and free wills are available on the Internet. (A big boy made me type that, but he's run away into my subconscious....)
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Old 24th February 2010, 11:29 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

Free Willie is available on the internet, too.

(I typed that all by myself).
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Old 24th February 2010, 11:41 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

LOL - really
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Old 25th February 2010, 08:41 AM   #19 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

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There was an Horizon programme in the last few months or so where the researcher (using an MRI? scanner) knew what answer the guinea pig (the programme's presenter) would give seconds before the guinea pig knew. But all that tells us is that it is not always our conscious mind making the decision. But is that any diffrent from a computer programme requesting an answer from a maths chip (integrated or otherwise)?
Could you expand on that last line? The way I read it seems to support my case, but since you're arguing against it, it clearly shouldn't.

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Is the legal system really based on this? Does it care what it is inside our heads that makes decisions? Where "faulty" decision making is seen to be endemic (and not just beneficial to the person "making" those decisions), we somethimes declare that an accused is not fit to stand.
I meant sentencing rather than judgement. The legal system is based at least in part on a sentence having a punishment aspect. If free will were accepted not to exist and we were all, in effect, incredibly sophisticated robots, this could not be valid, since no one could be said to be legally to blame for his actions. The punishment aspect would be removed from sentencing, which would become wholly concerned with rehabilitiation and deterrence. (Of course the punishment aspect is part of the deterrence, so that would be hard to disentangle.)
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Old 25th February 2010, 10:01 AM   #20 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

If the legal system accepted free will did not exist, then both rehabilitation and deterrence are also non-starters. If it is my fate and/or my biology which makes me steal, then no amount of ordinary rehabilitation or deterrence will stop me or those whose fate/biology is similar to mine. In that event, the only options are (a) taking no action against me, leaving me free to pursue my burglarious career; (b) putting me somewhere for all time so that my fate/biology no longer impinges on others; (c) treating me to make the necessary amendments to my biology.

The law actually does take into account behaviour which falls short of mental illness of the kind which renders someone unfit to plead. There are defences such as automatism where the necessary mens rea ('guilty mind') is absent trhough no fault of the accused eg sleepwalking. By and large they fall into category (a) in that no further action is taken. Which is fine when there are only a handful of cases each year. If every defendant could claim, then there would be a radical shift in how these cases are treated.

NB Dr Johnson:
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If a madman were to come into this room with a stick in his hand, no doubt we should pity the state of his mind; but our primary consideration would be to take care of ourselves. We should knock him down first, and pity him afterwards.
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Old 25th February 2010, 10:31 AM   #21 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

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Could you expand on that last line? The way I read it seems to support my case, but since you're arguing against it, it clearly shouldn't.
When I ask an application (say Excel) to make a calcualtion, I do not really care whether a) it is done, in machine code, by Excel; b) it is done, in machine code, by some O/S function; c) it is done by inbuilt routines by the CPU; d) it is done by a maths chip external to the CPU. I think - correctly, I believe - that the computer has done the calculation.

My decision-making functions are within me. It does not really matter where exactly a decision is made (which part or parts of the physical brain, whether the "software" that has performed it is considered to be part of my conscious mind or not).

What I'm suggesting is that we cannot say we lack free will simply because of where in our heads any particular decision is made. (Reflex actions are, of course, different as they invlove simple nerve paths outside the brain.) This is not a positive argument for free will, merely questioning one suggested argument against free will.
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Old 25th February 2010, 12:27 PM   #22 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

This...

Freedom Evolves: Amazon.co.uk: Daniel C. Dennett: Books

... from a great writer, may interest you!
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Old 25th February 2010, 12:44 PM   #23 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

Actually, fascinating concept. Free Will as an evolutionary process, possibly culminating in the ultimate freedom: To create.

I like this concept.
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Old 25th February 2010, 01:27 PM   #24 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

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If the legal system accepted free will did not exist, then both rehabilitation and deterrence are also non-starters. If it is my fate and/or my biology which makes me steal, then no amount of ordinary rehabilitation or deterrence will stop me or those whose fate/biology is similar to mine.
Not at all. I don't believe our biology solely influences our behaviour, but all our experiences since, and our current environment. Deterrence works by persuading some that the risk of committing a crime is too great. The ones it works against might be a particular group whose genes/experience/environment lead them to accept this argument, but it still works. And rehabilitation can also work, since it changes a person's experience, which is a major determinant of behaviour. It might not work on all criminals, but its effectiveness isn't limited by the absence of free will. The robot, if you like, gets reprogrammed throughout life, by everything that happens to it. Biology, as in one's genetic nature at birth, is only a small part of the matter.

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When I ask an application (say Excel) to make a calcualtion, I do not really care whether a) it is done, in machine code, by Excel; b) it is done, in machine code, by some O/S function; c) it is done by inbuilt routines by the CPU; d) it is done by a maths chip external to the CPU. I think - correctly, I believe - that the computer has done the calculation.

My decision-making functions are within me. It does not really matter where exactly a decision is made (which part or parts of the physical brain, whether the "software" that has performed it is considered to be part of my conscious mind or not).

What I'm suggesting is that we cannot say we lack free will simply because of where in our heads any particular decision is made. (Reflex actions are, of course, different as they invlove simple nerve paths outside the brain.) This is not a positive argument for free will, merely questioning one suggested argument against free will.
It's also questioning the definition of free will, which I now realise I rashly took as read. Obviously your definition differs from mine above. How would you (or others) define it?
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Old 25th February 2010, 01:45 PM   #25 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

Sorry for double posting

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This...

Freedom Evolves: Amazon.co.uk: Daniel C. Dennett: Books

... from a great writer, may interest you!
Thanks Stephen, looks very interesting. I'll definitely read it.

Maybe I should repeat, in case it got lost in my first post, that I'm not arguing that free will can't or doesn't exist, only that at this stage in human development, it is very rare. But I think it will develop, and the route to that development is an increased understanding of consciousness, so that we can become more -- and hopefully, in the end, almost fully -- aware of the powerful influence of our subconscious elements on our behaviour. (Though as Stormfeather pointed out, we can never be completely aware of all these billions of individual influences.)

A quote from a review of the book linked to above:

Quote:
the free will debate has neither feature: we all think we are free to choose; as a brute fact either we are or we're not: but either way, we can't change it (if we're not free, then we aren't free to change to be free; if we are free, we're not free to decide not to be). Whatever the answer is, it can't make any difference to the way we live out our lives, since whether we're free to choose begs the very question we're asking.
I disagree with this for the reason above -- the capacity is there, however unexercised, and we can change it, with effort and with awareness of how we work.
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Old 25th February 2010, 02:51 PM   #26 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

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** Parson may be able to hold simultaneously two contradictory ideas but I don't think that's the case for all his brethren


***
There once was a man who said 'Damn!
It is borne in upon me I am
An engine which moves
In predestinate grooves
I'm not even a bus, I'm a tram.'
(Maurice Evan Hare)
[Sigh!] Too true your Honor! But it should be much less true than it is for the Bible that we hold to be truth manages to take both sides of the question and declare them true. Why can't we who follow Jesus and the Bible do the same?



Freedom Evolves: Amazon.co.uk: Daniel C. Dennett: Books


Very interesting summary. I might add this book to my collection. So far as I see it he is arguing for evolutionary development of free will.
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Old 25th February 2010, 06:13 PM   #27 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

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Not at all. I don't believe our biology solely influences our behaviour, but all our experiences since, and our current environment. Deterrence works by persuading some that the risk of committing a crime is too great.
Now I'm getting confused. If a person can make a decision based on past experiences, why is this not free will? I thought the whole point was that if you don't have free will, you don't make decisions as such, you simply do what biological imperatives require. Only if the experiences affect the chemical make-up of the brain can free will be lacking - which is the 'treatment' I was referring to as option (c).

Lack of free will to me means being made to do something by 'forces' outside one's control. If one can think, on no matter what level, 'If I steal this I'll be back in chokey again' and a decision is made not to steal, then that is free will in evidence I'd have thought.

If I'm understanding you aright, you think something can only be free will if the person knows each and every 'force' acting upon him/her -- including all the hidden forces of chemicals/neural pathways etc -- thinks about each force and how it is capable of 'requiring' one decision or another, and then he/she makes a considered decision not simply on the facts but taking into account all of those other factors and the influences they are bringing to bear. That to me seems far too convoluted. You might get a better decision that way (though how we define 'better' is likely to run into problems) but I can't see that a person who does that is exercising free will in a way that is alien to someone who makes a not-quite-snap judgement.
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Old 25th February 2010, 06:40 PM   #28 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

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If it doesn't, then why do we have brains?
They didn't give me a choice....
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Old 26th February 2010, 10:59 AM   #29 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

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Now I'm getting confused. If a person can make a decision based on past experiences, why is this not free will? I thought the whole point was that if you don't have free will, you don't make decisions as such, you simply do what biological imperatives require. Only if the experiences affect the chemical make-up of the brain can free will be lacking - which is the 'treatment' I was referring to as option (c).
But past experiences affect the neural make-up of the brain, which is much the same thing. (Maybe.)

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Lack of free will to me means being made to do something by 'forces' outside one's control. If one can think, on no matter what level, 'If I steal this I'll be back in chokey again' and a decision is made not to steal, then that is free will in evidence I'd have thought.
But if you have a genetic/chemical/neural propensity to say "I'll take the risk" or "I won't take the risk" is that not a force outside one's control? (I suppose that might depend how one defined "one")

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If I'm understanding you aright, you think something can only be free will if the person knows each and every 'force' acting upon him/her -- including all the hidden forces of chemicals/neural pathways etc -- thinks about each force and how it is capable of 'requiring' one decision or another, and then he/she makes a considered decision not simply on the facts but taking into account all of those other factors and the influences they are bringing to bear. That to me seems far too convoluted. You might get a better decision that way (though how we define 'better' is likely to run into problems) but I can't see that a person who does that is exercising free will in a way that is alien to someone who makes a not-quite-snap judgement.
I'll redefine my argument to say that I believe conscious free will, in its true form, can only be exercised where the decision is not influenced by the subconscious. (And I suppose I might qualify that with "strongly influenced".) My contention is that at present, pretty much all activity is subconsciously driven, only to be consciously rationalised after the event. When you talk to someone, do you think out what you say before you speak it? Almost invariably not; you have a general idea of the point you want to make and the words are generated without forethought by previous linguistic programming.

And where does the initial idea come from? Anyone with any experience of meditation knows that thoughts arise in the mind on their own, without any "will" on the part of the individual. Same in the rest of our lives. Our subconscious minds are huge thought-generating machines that run on their own, and get us to run after them - and we think it's our conscious selves that are in control! Madness! Madness, I tells ya!!!!

OK, now I lie down.
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Old 26th February 2010, 11:47 AM   #30 (permalink)
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Re: Does free will exist?

A difference which makes no difference is no difference.

If, to he who experiences it, the illusion of free will can not be distinguished from the 'real thing', I submit that it truly doesn't matter.

There exist physical models of the universe (including must of those allowing time travel) where everything past present and future is fixed, predestination of the most rigid, invariant kind, and time is just an explanation for our dimension-limited senses. I don't particularly like them (or my particles wouldn't, if they had enough free will to like or dislike anything), but I can't disprove them.

On the other hand, with a slightly more flexible plenum, Heisenberg uncertainty guarantees us that any sufficiently large telephone exchange will give a certain irreducible percentage of wrong numbers. Could it be this Brownian fog of errors that makes us think we are thinking, deciding? Even if it is this, overlaying a lifetime's experience of previous mistakes that directs our choices, the sensation is that we call 'myself', which, if it is an illusion, is a very consistent and hard-wearing one.

To a metaphysician, consciousness might be a mess of genetic influences warring with experience, of random numbers that change with chemical stimuli, be they internally or externally applied interreacting with direct observations by the senses. But, in general, I 'like what I fancy I feel' and some of those aforementioned genetic factors suggest I stick to the illusion of 'feeling' a while yet.
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