Free Will vs. Determinism

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Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  LonghWynn on Wed Sep 16, 2009 2:48 am

Since the RD guys were talking about it today in their latest podcast shows, I think it's time we start a discussion on this topic. My only request is that we all define our terminology for each other, so that we're not just arguing semantics at the end of the day (ex: when I'm talking of determinism, it's different than predeterminism, which is further nuanced by hard vs. soft determinism, etc)

So, which is it guys, are we Free Willies, or are we Determinators? Very Happy

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Stegocephalian on Wed Sep 16, 2009 3:10 am

I'd call myself a compatibilist - I don't think there IS any real conflict between free will and determinism - so the question of whether we're "free willies" or "determinators" seems to me akin to asking whether you like ice cream or wear a hat. There are really two questions here, and they do not, to me, seem to hold any real implications or connection to each other.

Whether or not the world is deteministic, or contains a degree of true randomness, is one question, and whether there is anything worth calling "free will" is another.

I do not believe in contra-causal free will, meaning free will that would not arise out of previous causal chains, but would simply just be somehow "self caused", which to me seems an incoherent concept.

I don't think that determinism or indeterminism has anything to do with it though - free will of the contra-causal kind is no more reasonable in an indeterministic world than it is in a deterministic one. Think about it, what gives rise to your action? What are the possibilities here?

It seems to me that either your action is a result of a deterministic causal chain involving your memories, your emotions (triggered by other causal chains), and your sensory input - all this contributes to the complex causal event that is your "will".

The other option seems to me to be identical to the above, except that there is, at every stage, a small degree of randomness inserted. How are randomly determined things any more free than causal chains with no randomness?

Random does not equal free - and I do not see how a combination of randomness and deterministic rules could somehow give rise to a free will that was in any significant way different than what could be achieved without that randomness.

I believe in a free will that is free in that "I" determine it - the causal process, whether fully deterministic or containing a random element - contains as one of the causal elements a process that is conscious, a process that is "me". In this sense I can say that I am one of the causal elements in my actions, whether or not what constitutes the "I" is deterministic or indeterministic process.

Compatibilism is not the most intuitively easy position to adopt, but it is one that I have gravitated towards, after much contemplation - a while ago I read "Freedom Evolves" by Daniel Dennett where he advances a compatibilist view, and I found that an intellectually stimulating book, one who's thesis I did not initially, even after having read the book, agree with, but one that I found it fiendishly difficult to find a really solid argument against... I eventually came around to the compatibilist view.
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Free Willy vs Determinator (1 & 2)

Post  Momma Heathen on Wed Sep 16, 2009 6:24 am

The Doubtcasters' have a great episode on this very topic. Give it a listen! Twisted Evil
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  MisterChristopher on Wed Sep 16, 2009 8:31 am

Ah yes, I remember this episode, and I remember their mentioning of it in the most recent one, in hopes there'd be a flame war like what's happened over at the vegetarian thread.

However, I'm a bad person to start this flame war, because I haven't quite made up my mind yet, I can see both sides, however, free will in the Christian sense that they believe it happens, doesn't happen. An interesting thought: If God is omniscient, not only do we have no free will, neither does god. He knows everything that we, and himself are going to do, even if he changes it, he knows he will try to. Who does that make more powerless? Us or him?
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  blacklens on Wed Sep 16, 2009 9:17 am

I have to listen to this episode again, just to wrap my head around the concepts properly. I've never even considered the possibility of free will being an illusion before. I must say, though, that the deterministic view was kind of an eye opener for me and actually made a lot of sense. I've had huge difficulties reconciling the idea of free will with the implications of the theory of relativity. As Brian Green puts it in The Fabric of the Cosmos (Chapter 5, p 138):
So: if you buy the notion that reality consists of the things in your freeze-frame mental image right now, and if you agree hat your now is no more valid than the now of someone located far away in space who can move freely, then reality encompasses all of the events in spacetime. The total loaf exists. Just as we envision all of space as really being out there, as really existing, we should also envision all of time as really being out there, as really existing, too.
Somehow a deterministic view makes more sense in this context, where all of space and all of time exists in every now. I have to admit that these things make my head hurt by thinking of them, but boy it's fun! Very Happy
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Thu Sep 17, 2009 4:21 pm

i do not think there could be anything like a libertarian free will, which is very different from merely having freedom, which is something like being free of coercion. the compatibilist view advocates for freedom but not libertarian free will. i've never cared for it as it seems a slight of hand. those worried about genuine free will don't care about mere "freedom." rather, they want the genuine ability to have done otherwise in some situation, likely because they think such is necessary for a coherent ethics in which it is appropriate to offer praise and blame. it seems counter-intuitive to suggest that we should either praise or blame someone if they could not have done other than what they did. as such, they believe they need something that allows for genuine free will, otherwise there is no possibility of any real ethics.
regardless of the meta-ethical implications, it seems pretty clear that neither a world that is determined nor a world that is random has within it any room for genuine free will. as such, i don't believe there is any such thing.
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Neon Genesis on Thu Sep 17, 2009 7:25 pm

The way I see it is that we can choose our actions but not our beliefs. A child doesn't choose to believe in Santa Claus; they're raised to believe it by their parents. Likewise, they don't choose to disbelief in it. They realize Santa isn't real when they happen to walk in on their parents wrapping the presents up. At the same time, they choose how to react to their belief in Santa. They can either choose to improve their behavior for the hope of getting presents or choose to be the same in response to their belief in Santa. I see it the same with God. You don't choose to believe in God. You believe in God because you were raised in the south and your parents indoctrinated you in the local religion. Likewise, I didn't choose to disbelieve in God. In fact, I tried my hardest to keep my faith but the circumstances in my life lead me to disbelieve in God. At the same time, I chose how I acted on my faith and how I reacted to my skepticism. Would this make me a soft determinist?

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Thu Sep 17, 2009 8:33 pm

Neon Genesis wrote:The way I see it is that we can choose our actions but not our beliefs. A child doesn't choose to believe in Santa Claus; they're raised to believe it by their parents. Likewise, they don't choose to disbelief in it. They realize Santa isn't real when they happen to walk in on their parents wrapping the presents up. At the same time, they choose how to react to their belief in Santa. They can either choose to improve their behavior for the hope of getting presents or choose to be the same in response to their belief in Santa. I see it the same with God. You don't choose to believe in God. You believe in God because you were raised in the south and your parents indoctrinated you in the local religion. Likewise, I didn't choose to disbelieve in God. In fact, I tried my hardest to keep my faith but the circumstances in my life lead me to disbelieve in God. At the same time, I chose how I acted on my faith and how I reacted to my skepticism. Would this make me a soft determinist?
i'm not clear on what you mean here. how are you able to make a choice about how to act (this being a wholly different question from whether or not it feels like a choice is being made)? either you are determined in some mechanistic fashion, or the events that led to your behavior had in them some element of randomness for which there is no causal explanation. where does choice fit into that?

for that matter, if you can choose your actions, why can't you choose your beliefs? setting aside children for whom it might simply be a different case, while one might not be able to choose what to believe from moment to moment (e.g. i don't think i could just will myself to believe that you were actually a hyper-intelligent chicken attempting to fool me into thinking you were a human), assuming one could choose anything, it seems that the criteria for the beliefs one has is the kind of thing that could be chosen. for example, i could say that i'm only going to believe those things for which i have good reason, thus ruling out beliefs based on faith or those that run contrary to evidence. so while that might not be directly "choosing" beliefs, it is choosing the basis for those beliefs, and that would have a dramatic effect on the beliefs you have. why can't you do that (again, assuming you could choose anything)?
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Sosa on Thu Sep 17, 2009 9:58 pm

Neon Genesis wrote:The way I see it is that we can choose our actions but not our beliefs. A child doesn't choose to believe in Santa Claus; they're raised to believe it by their parents. Likewise, they don't choose to disbelief in it. They realize Santa isn't real when they happen to walk in on their parents wrapping the presents up. At the same time, they choose how to react to their belief in Santa. They can either choose to improve their behavior for the hope of getting presents or choose to be the same in response to their belief in Santa. I see it the same with God. You don't choose to believe in God. You believe in God because you were raised in the south and your parents indoctrinated you in the local religion. Likewise, I didn't choose to disbelieve in God. In fact, I tried my hardest to keep my faith but the circumstances in my life lead me to disbelieve in God. At the same time, I chose how I acted on my faith and how I reacted to my skepticism. Would this make me a soft determinist?

I don't agree with not being able to choose your belief. People convert to christianity and other religions all the time by choice, even those who don't have a religious or spiritual upbringing.
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Neon Genesis on Thu Sep 17, 2009 11:52 pm

Jim wrote:
i'm not clear on what you mean here. how are you able to make a choice about how to act (this being a wholly different question from whether or not it feels like a choice is being made)? either you are determined in some mechanistic fashion, or the events that led to your behavior had in them some element of randomness for which there is no causal explanation. where does choice fit into that?

To use another example, I didn't choose to be gay, but I can choose what I do as a gay person. Like, I can't choose what gender I like, but if I'm surfing for pics of guys on the Internet, I can choose whether or not I want to go to a specific site. If I don't like what's there, then I'll just simply click on another site. I may not be able to choose what gender I like but I can choose if I want to act on something. If I had absolutely no choice over my actions, then why am I on this site talking to you now? Did I not choose to join this site? Even if there were events that lead up to me finding this site, I still made the ultimate choice. And if we're all just reacting to some other event that's causing us to act in certain ways, doesn't there have to be something that makes a choice to start the chain of the events that leads up to me joining this site? How can you have reactions that cause us to behave in a certain way without an action that causes the reaction?

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Fri Sep 18, 2009 11:56 am

Neon Genesis wrote:To use another example, I didn't choose to be gay, but I can choose what I do as a gay person. Like, I can't choose what gender I like, but if I'm surfing for pics of guys on the Internet, I can choose whether or not I want to go to a specific site. If I don't like what's there, then I'll just simply click on another site. I may not be able to choose what gender I like but I can choose if I want to act on something. If I had absolutely no choice over my actions, then why am I on this site talking to you now? Did I not choose to join this site? Even if there were events that lead up to me finding this site, I still made the ultimate choice. And if we're all just reacting to some other event that's causing us to act in certain ways, doesn't there have to be something that makes a choice to start the chain of the events that leads up to me joining this site? How can you have reactions that cause us to behave in a certain way without an action that causes the reaction?
i'm not seeing where the "choice" is. assuming you buy into your being wholly physical (and, really, even if you're not), then all that's going on in your "choice" are the same sort of causal relationships that apply to the rest of the world. you can no more "choose" what to do than a billiard ball can choose to go left or right once it's been struck by a cue. rather, like the ball, your actions are determined by the previous events in the world and the laws that govern causal chains in general. there's just no room for something like choice in there.
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Neon Genesis on Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:39 pm

But then this brings up the question of what it means for ethics if there are no choices. If we have no choices and everything is determined, then can someone be held responsible for an unethetical act? For example, if someone decides to break the rules of this forum, did they choose to break the rules or were they determined by a chain of events that led them to break the rules? If they had no choice but to break the rules, can we really hold them accountable for breaking the rules? Should people be allowed to break the forum rules without being banned if they didn't choose to break the rules and should not be held responsible because it wasn't their choice?

Disclaimer: I'm not advocating breaking the rules. I'm just using this an example here.

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Fri Sep 18, 2009 7:18 pm

Neon Genesis wrote:But then this brings up the question of what it means for ethics if there are no choices. If we have no choices and everything is determined, then can someone be held responsible for an unethetical act? For example, if someone decides to break the rules of this forum, did they choose to break the rules or were they determined by a chain of events that led them to break the rules? If they had no choice but to break the rules, can we really hold them accountable for breaking the rules? Should people be allowed to break the forum rules without being banned if they didn't choose to break the rules and should not be held responsible because it wasn't their choice?

Disclaimer: I'm not advocating breaking the rules. I'm just using this an example here.
funny, i brought that up in my initial post in this thread:
Jim wrote:those worried about genuine free will don't care about mere "freedom." rather, they want the genuine ability to have done otherwise in some situation, likely because they think such is necessary for a coherent ethics in which it is appropriate to offer praise and blame. it seems counter-intuitive to suggest that we should either praise or blame someone if they could not have done other than what they did. as such, they believe they need something that allows for genuine free will, otherwise there is no possibility of any real ethics.
and, immediately following that, i said this:
Jim wrote:regardless of the meta-ethical implications, it seems pretty clear that neither a world that is determined nor a world that is random has within it any room for genuine free will.
the fact that something might have undesirable consequences is no reason to deny the truth of it. it if turns out that there is no free will, then it just turns out there is no free will, and it is irrelevant that this is problematic for our intuitions concerning ethics.
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  jgrow2 on Sat Sep 19, 2009 9:13 pm

Given the hardware, the operating system and the years of acquired data that make up each of us, I am really not sure what part of these corpses we drag around thinks it has free will.

I recommend a book called The Ego Tunnel for your consideration.
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  snafu on Sun Sep 20, 2009 8:45 am

Sometimes I can't remember the name of someone when I'm having a conversation. Whatever I do, I just can't remember. A few minutes later, or hours later, the name pops into my head. It happens to most people I think. This says to me that we cannot always have the free will to do something. Remembering a name can escape us, even though the name is in fact in our memory. There is something about us at that time which precludes remembering in the instant that we want to recall the name. In that moment, we don't have the free will to do something, even though we want it. I find this an interesting twist to the free will notion, and is more evidence to me that, the me that is me, is not the me that is conscious.
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Sun Sep 20, 2009 10:44 am

snafu wrote:Sometimes I can't remember the name of someone when I'm having a conversation. Whatever I do, I just can't remember. A few minutes later, or hours later, the name pops into my head. It happens to most people I think. This says to me that we cannot always have the free will to do something. Remembering a name can escape us, even though the name is in fact in our memory. There is something about us at that time which precludes remembering in the instant that we want to recall the name. In that moment, we don't have the free will to do something, even though we want it. I find this an interesting twist to the free will notion, and is more evidence to me that, the me that is me, is not the me that is conscious.
I don't see how that's any different than not being able to flap our arms and fly away or not being able to will new worlds into existence. I don't see how not having the ability to do something precludes one from having a free will.
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  zarkwon on Sun Sep 20, 2009 11:46 am

Jim wrote:i do not think there could be anything like a libertarian free will, which is very different from merely having freedom, which is something like being free of coercion. the compatibilist view advocates for freedom but not libertarian free will. i've never cared for it as it seems a slight of hand. those worried about genuine free will don't care about mere "freedom." rather, they want the genuine ability to have done otherwise in some situation, likely because they think such is necessary for a coherent ethics in which it is appropriate to offer praise and blame. it seems counter-intuitive to suggest that we should either praise or blame someone if they could not have done other than what they did. as such, they believe they need something that allows for genuine free will, otherwise there is no possibility of any real ethics.
regardless of the meta-ethical implications, it seems pretty clear that neither a world that is determined nor a world that is random has within it any room for genuine free will. as such, i don't believe there is any such thing.

^ What he said (with the slight revision that I do not accept that there is any such thing, as opposed to not believing (it's a personal thing not a criticism of the intended colloquial usage, sorry to be pedantic, see "Polls" thread for an exhaustive explanation)).
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Sun Sep 20, 2009 12:17 pm

zarkwon wrote:^ What he said (with the slight revision that I do not accept that there is any such thing, as opposed to not believing (it's a personal thing not a criticism of the intended colloquial usage, sorry to be pedantic, see "Polls" thread for an exhaustive explanation)).
You're going to need to explain to me exactly why my use of "belief" was somehow inappropriate in any way. I intended the word to be taken the way we use the term in epistemology. There, a belief is just an attitude we have when we take something to be true. In that case, to not believe something is just to not take it to be the case. So, in a technical sense, how was my use of "belief" in any way inappropriate?
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  zarkwon on Sun Sep 20, 2009 1:21 pm

First, I'm not going to NEED to explain anything. Unless of course you're going to explain to us all where in your childhood the overly antagonistic attitude comes from. I was overweeningly obsequious in my explanation that I was in no way criticising you or the rest of your epistemological fraternity, from which I am apparently excluded, for your use of the word "believe". I think I was also explicit in my instructions as to how you could find my meaning by clicking the "polls" thread. I can only imagine that you haven't because don't you have time in between kicking peoples heads in? I was simply indulging my whim of raising the profile of the debate about the use of the word belief and it's faith based connotations. I understand, of course, that I have simply pounced on one of your words out of context. This is, I reiterate, the reason for my initial apology. There was nothing technically wrong with your usage, look out of the window, you are not surrounded by the police, put the gun down and step away.
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  jgrow2 on Sun Sep 20, 2009 2:25 pm

snafu wrote:Sometimes I can't remember the name of someone when I'm having a conversation. Whatever I do, I just can't remember. A few minutes later, or hours later, the name pops into my head. It happens to most people I think. This says to me that we cannot always have the free will to do something. Remembering a name can escape us, even though the name is in fact in our memory. There is something about us at that time which precludes remembering in the instant that we want to recall the name. In that moment, we don't have the free will to do something, even though we want it. I find this an interesting twist to the free will notion, and is more evidence to me that, the me that is me, is not the me that is conscious.

Free will does not mean that the search engine that is our memory won't have the necessary link in hand to give you a particular name on demand. So you fake your way through it until the name comes to you, or until you can buttonhole someone and get the name from that person. Whatever your personality and resourcefulness says you'd do.

At best, we have the illusion of free will. Like the religious do with their worldview, taking things that are too complex for most to consider (evolution, geology, physics) and just call it "god," we take all the accumulated data we've picked up over the x number of years we've been around, and all the combinations and environmental variables that working through all that data entails, and call that "free will."
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Sun Sep 20, 2009 3:40 pm

zarkwon wrote:First, I'm not going to NEED to explain anything. Unless of course you're going to explain to us all where in your childhood the overly antagonistic attitude comes from. I was overweeningly obsequious in my explanation that I was in no way criticising you or the rest of your epistemological fraternity, from which I am apparently excluded, for your use of the word "believe". I think I was also explicit in my instructions as to how you could find my meaning by clicking the "polls" thread. I can only imagine that you haven't because don't you have time in between kicking peoples heads in? I was simply indulging my whim of raising the profile of the debate about the use of the word belief and it's faith based connotations. I understand, of course, that I have simply pounced on one of your words out of context. This is, I reiterate, the reason for my initial apology. There was nothing technically wrong with your usage, look out of the window, you are not surrounded by the police, put the gun down and step away.
wtf? There was nothing in my post that indicated that I was the least bit upset. Indeed, I was only curious as to what you meant.
I don't know what your issue is, but it isn't with me. I wasn't upset or angry, and nothing in my post indicated otherwise. You're freaking out over nothing.

"look out of the window, you are not surrounded by the police, put the gun down and step away." Indeed, take your own advice.
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  zarkwon on Sun Sep 20, 2009 5:47 pm

Aaahhh. Sorry about that then, wrong end of the stick old chap. I'm afraid that what with our cultural differences and all, I rather jumped to the conclusion that the way your reply was phrased was intended to be confrontational. The "you're going to need to explain" was followed by an implied "or else" in my imagination/conservative English reading of it. Hence the histrionic retort. My bad. Embarassed Laughing
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Sun Sep 20, 2009 6:06 pm

zarkwon wrote:Aaahhh. Sorry about that then, wrong end of the stick old chap. I'm afraid that what with our cultural differences and all, I rather jumped to the conclusion that the way your reply was phrased was intended to be confrontational. The "you're going to need to explain" was followed by an implied "or else" in my imagination/conservative English reading of it. Hence the histrionic retort. My bad. Embarassed Laughing
Haha. Ok. No problem. Now I can't stop laughing over this.
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  snafu on Sun Sep 20, 2009 6:24 pm

I don't see how that's any different than not being able to flap our arms and fly away or not being able to will new worlds into existence. I don't see how not having the ability to do something precludes one from having a free will.

Hi Jim,
I think not being able to remember a name is massively different from flapping arms to fly or willing worlds into existence.
The reason is that the former is a capability that my brain has, but which it refuses to perform until it is ready (for some reason), despite my attempts to make it do it, whereas the latter examples you give are clearly beyond our brains capability.
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Sun Sep 20, 2009 7:00 pm

snafu wrote:
I don't see how that's any different than not being able to flap our arms and fly away or not being able to will new worlds into existence. I don't see how not having the ability to do something precludes one from having a free will.

Hi Jim,
I think not being able to remember a name is massively different from flapping arms to fly or willing worlds into existence.
The reason is that the former is a capability that my brain has, but which it refuses to perform until it is ready (for some reason), despite my attempts to make it do it, whereas the latter examples you give are clearly beyond our brains capability.
I don't see the difference at all, to be honest. One is something I can't do, and the other is something I can't do. They both seem to be something I can't do at that moment. However, I can give a different example that should remedy you concerns.
Ok, how about being unable to lift as much as you did last week. Let's say last week I benched 405 for a triple, but this week, I can't even get up a single rep at that weight. Is that also an example of free will being lost to us? If not, how is that different from being unable to remember a name at some given moment?
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