Free Will vs. Determinism

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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  jgrow2 on Thu Sep 24, 2009 9:10 pm

Jim--

Thank you for your response. I didn't want to do a quote on it because of the size, but I value it greatly. I didn't mean to imply that the agent was anything like the Kantian captain or a homunculus separate from the brain itself. The agent would be something closer to the kernel and core software analogy I used before (again with the computer!). Actually, firmware would be more appropriate than software in the analogy. At least that's my vision of it. In building the case, I see though that I can't seem to demonstrate that adequately without it sounding like a little man sitting in a chair picking and choosing, so I apologize for the inaccuracy on my part.

In thinking about it, the vision that comes to mind is like the character of Minerva in Heinlein's Time Enough For Love, or Holmes in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Each one was a computer that over time became self-aware. Heinlein may have been making a commentary about the real nature of sentience with each. I like to think so, though the books were both written in the 1960s and '70s.
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  Jim on Thu Sep 24, 2009 9:34 pm

jgrow2 wrote:Jim--

Thank you for your response. I didn't want to do a quote on it because of the size, but I value it greatly. I didn't mean to imply that the agent was anything like the Kantian captain or a homunculus separate from the brain itself. The agent would be something closer to the kernel and core software analogy I used before (again with the computer!). Actually, firmware would be more appropriate than software in the analogy. At least that's my vision of it. In building the case, I see though that I can't seem to demonstrate that adequately without it sounding like a little man sitting in a chair picking and choosing, so I apologize for the inaccuracy on my part.

In thinking about it, the vision that comes to mind is like the character of Minerva in Heinlein's Time Enough For Love, or Holmes in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Each one was a computer that over time became self-aware. Heinlein may have been making a commentary about the real nature of sentience with each. I like to think so, though the books were both written in the 1960s and '70s.
i wasn't trying to pick on your analogy, and, like i said, i think it works great. feel free to continue in that vein. i just don't see how a computer, no matter how sophisticated, can escape the physics, and, within the physical laws, i don't see any room for anything like a choice.
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  2buckchuck on Thu Sep 16, 2010 11:11 am

I'm a scientist and I'm very much aware of the fact that most natural systems are nonlinear. Among other things, nonlinearity means that small changes to the input of the system may not always be associated with small changes to the output. Put another way, even though some abstract (i.e., mathematical) representations of physical systems are deterministic, their output can be very hard to forecast. The weather is a classical example of nonlinearity and it's notoriously difficult to forecast.

As humans, I'm pretty confident that we're pretty nonlinear and we may not have a conscious explanation for why we do things. Given that humans don't necessarily understand themselves perfectly, it's quite possible that our perception of free will is only an illusion. Life can be both deterministic and stochastic, when the systems under consideration are nonlinear.

Nevertheless, the classic theist description of free will makes zero sense to me. If the deity is all-powerful, can do literally anything, is outside of physical laws (omnipotent), and knows literally everything (omniscient), then I just don't see any wiggle room in there for free will. This deity supposedly made me, and he surely knows what my choices will be for every choice I'll ever make. In fact, he made me to make those very choices. Yet, if I make the "wrong" choice, he's going to send me to eternal torment. And yet again, he loves me! (omnibenevolent).

It seems to me that with his putative capabilities, he must have made me for the sole, long-range purpose of banishing me to everlasting pain, since I'm an atheist. I have yet to hear any theist come up with an explanation on behalf of free will under those conditions that makes any rational sense. Either one or more of the premises is wrong (omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence), or the whole free will argument is nonsense. Those darned infinities ... they getcha every time ...
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The 'Topic of Topics -- Free Will'

Post  corynski on Tue Nov 16, 2010 10:46 am

Greetings All,

Sorry I'm late for the party, it looks like you've about covered the subject by now. But I did take the opportunity to follow up a number of leads, mostly to Benjamin Libet and his work. And to all your postings, which I'm still reading to get up to speed.

As an ol'timer I've thought about free will/determinism for nearly 50 years now, and still haven't made up my mind. So I'll not stop now.....

I am impressed by Marvin Minsky, of the artificial intelligence lab at MIT, and would recommend his book "The Society of Mind", 1985 as a fascinating account of how a mind 'might' be constructed and function. Here's some thoughts of his:

"To comprehend what knowing is, we have to guard ourselves against that single-agent fallacy of thinking that the "I" in "I believe" is actually a single, stable thing. The truth is that a person's mind holds different views in different realms."

"We each believe that we possess an Ego, Self, or Final Center of Control, from which we choose what we shall do at every fork in the road of time..... Whence comes this sense of being in control?"

"Everything that happens in our universe is either completely determined by what's already happened in the past or else depends, in part, on random choice. Everything, including that which happens in our brains, depends on these and only on these. There is no room on either side for any third alternative. Whatever actions we may "choose", they cannot make the slightest change in what might otherwise have been -- because those rigid, natural laws already caused the states of mind that caused us to decide that way. And if that choice was in part made by chance -- it stills leaves nothing for us to decide."

So, Minsky states that "...whenever we find some scrap of order in the world, we have to attribute it to Cause -- and whenever things seem to obey no laws at all, we attribute that to Chance." 'Free will' he suggests, doesn't exist.

Minsky's work is illuminating because he goes back to the earliest moments in a human's life, where homeostatic functions dominate, when moisture or salts in the infant body vary, and physiological systems act to return them to normal. A feed-back loop. Pain and hunger on the one hand, pleasure and surfeit on the other, together they keep us to the norm. So, the question becomes, if we have incorporated the pains and pleasures of the past for reference, is this not how and where our decisions are initially made, using the unconsciousness of our childhood past. Thus it seems to be our complete memory, our forgotten memories together with our remembered memories that we access consciously, that we use to conclude that 'I' made that decision consciously.

Well, maybe..... I can't think about it without getting confused.

Here's hoping we can keep the thread going, there's nothing more interesting....
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  toro on Wed Dec 15, 2010 10:51 pm

While the subject of determinism and physical laws has been brought up, it hasn't really been expanded upon to describe why we see the world the way we do. In my opinion, quite a lot can be gleaned from modern interpretations of modern physics.

What is gained from both relativity and quantum mechanics are different sides of the same coin - the aspects/values of a system must be evaluated from a certain reference system, and the aspects/values of that reference system determine the final new physical outcome/state/values. Furthermore, those systems outside said interacting systems do not physically exist. Hence, the universe can be defined as any given closed system - whether it be an overlap of neurological signals in Jimmy the bike shop mechanic in 2008 or a spin-up electron on a carbon valence shell on Park Ave., NYC.

So, our consciousness is simply a specific closed quantum system and is in point of fact, the universe/existence. As time passes, so the universe changes. As the changes are typically small for a given closed neurological system, it seems as though |toro(7:47:23.39712)> is the same as |toro(7:47:23.39713)>. When our brain signals shut down/change, we disappear. When they go back to what they were, we reappear slightly changed. I am this universe/state at this time, with these interactions. When any of them change, I disappear and the new universe/me is created.

That's my thought anyway. No consciousness. No freewill. No 'us'. Just the universe. Look forward to your thoughts.
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Re: Free Will vs. Determinism

Post  danquixote on Fri Dec 17, 2010 11:35 am

Here's an interesting article from the BBC:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11998687

Apparently since animals exhibit complicated reactions to stimuli, something that appears to be akin to making a "choice," the only logical conclusion to draw is that Determinism doesn't exist. It apparently didn't even cross anyone's mind that the inputs influencing the animal's "choice" might be as complex and varied as the inputs that influence a human being's, and that if determinism looks like free will in people, it just might look much like free will in other mammals, too.

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And another perspective......

Post  corynski on Sat Dec 18, 2010 10:02 pm

Greetings All

I've been occupied with other matters, and can't remember how or where I came across this from the NYT Opinion Page, a fascinating article entitled: "Your Move: The Maze of Free Will", by Galen Strawson, Reading University Professor of Philosophy:

"There is, however, an argument, which I call the Basic Argument, which appears to show that we can never be ultimately morally responsible for our actions. According to the Basic Argument, it makes no difference whether determinism is true or false. We can’t be ultimately morally responsible either way.
The argument goes like this."

See: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/22/your-move-the-maze-of-free-will/?scp=1&sq=july%2022,%202010&st=Search

"Does this argument stop me feeling entirely morally responsible for what I do? It does not. Does it stop you feeling entirely morally responsible? I very much doubt it. Should it stop us? Well, it might not be a good thing if it did. But the logic seems irresistible …. And yet we continue to feel we are absolutely morally responsible for what we do, responsible in a way that we could be only if we had somehow created ourselves, only if we were “causa sui,” the cause of ourselves. It may be that we stand condemned by Nietzsche:

The causa sui is the best self-contradiction that has been conceived so far. It is a sort of rape and perversion of logic. But the extravagant pride of man has managed to entangle itself profoundly and frightfully with just this nonsense. The desire for “freedom of the will” in the superlative metaphysical sense, which still holds sway, unfortunately, in the minds of the half-educated; the desire to bear the entire and ultimate responsibility for one’s actions oneself, and to absolve God, the world, ancestors, chance, and society involves nothing less than to be precisely this causa sui and, with more than Baron Münchhausen’s audacity, to pull oneself up into existence by the hair, out of the swamps of nothingness … (“Beyond Good and Evil,” 1886).

Is there any reply? I can’t do better than the novelist Ian McEwan, who wrote to me: “I see no necessary disjunction between having no free will (those arguments seem watertight) and assuming moral responsibility for myself. The point is ownership. I own my past, my beginnings, my perceptions. And just as I will make myself responsible if my dog or child bites someone, or my car rolls backwards down a hill and causes damage, so I take on full accountability for the little ship of my being, even if I do not have control of its course. It is this sense of being the possessor of a consciousness that makes us feel responsible for it.”"

Now let me think about that ........

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