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Free Will

Polymath257

Think & Care
Staff member
Premium Member
So we are not talking about free will, but something that would not be free will?
In other words, let's find something that is not free will?
I'll get back to you later. Gotta go..

I don't know. I literally have not been able to make sense of the phrase 'free will'.

Part of the problem is that the 'self' is part of the system, not something separated from it. And that seems to necessarily be the case because otherwise how does information get from the 'world' to the 'self'?
 

osgart

Nothing my eye, Something for sure
I challenge that statement. Religious free will has, quite often in our history, chosen to torture and horribly murder human beings. In many religions. Without religion, it is easy to see that sacrificing a human (or an animal) to a god is evil -- but too often, religion blinded people to that. Without religion it is perfectly obvious that burning a human alive for what they believe is hideously wicked, but religion said, "no, set her alight!" Without religion, anybody can know that it's wrong to own other humans, that children should not be beaten as punishment, that shunning your friends and neighbours for their opinions or their ideological or sexual differences does immense harm to individuals and families -- yet religion has argued and still argues for all of those.

No, if anything, religion makes one a slave -- a slave to unthinking obedience to things you should know are wrong, but can't prevent because religion says so.
That's all true, but you use the term wicked, so I assume that evil is in your dictionary of reality. And if there is wickedness than most assuredly there is also a good to be recognized in life.

My definition for religion is broader than those that fall under Abrahamic religions. A lot of the wickedness you mentioned is from those religions. I have beliefs beyond the physical realm, but I don't adhere to any religion but my own.
 

Evangelicalhumanist

"Truth" isn't a thing...
Premium Member
I don't know. I literally have not been able to make sense of the phrase 'free will'.

Part of the problem is that the 'self' is part of the system, not something separated from it. And that seems to necessarily be the case because otherwise how does information get from the 'world' to the 'self'?
I am so often suprised at the difficulty people have with the term. I guess it depends on how we see ourselves.

For me, this thing called "I" is a complete system. It operates within the context of many, many other systems, but I do not see myself as a "sub-system" contained within any other system. This is key -- connected to, interacting with, but not part of, other systems.

Now it becomes easier. I get that there are parts of this system that is "me" operate independently, without my conscious awareness. Some of those parts (which really are now "sub-systems") operate without information -- things like smooth muscles, elecrical impulses that regulate heart-beat, and so forth. Other parts, sub-conscious or unconscious, operate with access to and informed by all that I have experienced during my life, and also by the networks created by genetic and epi-genetic processes. But it is, to me, in a very real sense, "all me."

Now, whether this "all me" chooses to go ahead and eat 3 scoops of pralines-n-cream ice cream, or forego that in favour of half a celery stick through conscious or unconscious choice, or a combination of both -- it is still "me" making the decision. And only I am responsible for it.
 

RestlessSoul

Well-Known Member
And that seems to me to be even worse for the concept of free will.


Depends how we define both free and will. If free will refers only to the capacity to make choices, a strong (though not definitive) case can be made for our experiencing only the illusion of choice. But isn’t the will something more than that?

What about intent and aspiration, what about that force which motivates the world, which drives and animates it? These are all concepts brought to mind when we refer to the will, and to willpower. Don’t we each, as individuals, have some capacity to direct that will, even if it doesn’t originate from within us? How often do we try, and fail, to bend the world to our will?

In any case, do you really believe that you have no agency in your life, none at all? If that were the case, what purpose would consciousness serve?
 

muhammad_isa

Well-Known Member
..ultimately I think this process, whether we give it any deep thought or not does occur whenever we do something, it is motivated by something and choosing one thing over another is based on whatever convinces us is the best option to reach our goal. Could there be some sense of free will, might be. But in that case, I think it is extremely limited.
..so somebody who decides to plough into a pedestrian and kill them while driving,
presumably has a reason why they do that. They could have decided to put on the brakes.

The only reason that is acceptable, in law, is that the person is insane.
Any other reason, while possibly true, has no bearing on the fact that they decided
to kill somebody .. and that is what I understand to be exercising our free-will.

Maybe the person "lost his/her mind" for a split-second .. makes no difference.
Blaming the devil or evil thoughts is not acceptable, even if true. We are expected to control ourselves..
..or forfeit the right to drive etc.
 

Polymath257

Think & Care
Staff member
Premium Member
I am so often suprised at the difficulty people have with the term. I guess it depends on how we see ourselves.

For me, this thing called "I" is a complete system. It operates within the context of many, many other systems, but I do not see myself as a "sub-system" contained within any other system. This is key -- connected to, interacting with, but not part of, other systems.
Hmmm...is a computer a 'complete system'? Is a house a 'complete system'?

I guess I don't see things as neatly dividing into parts in that way. Among other things, the strength of the interaction is something relevant for determining what is a 'complete system' and what is not. And I guess I see the 'rest of the world' interacting quite strongly with 'me'.
Now it becomes easier. I get that there are parts of this system that is "me" operate independently, without my conscious awareness. Some of those parts (which really are now "sub-systems") operate without information -- things like smooth muscles, elecrical impulses that regulate heart-beat, and so forth. Other parts, sub-conscious or unconscious, operate with access to and informed by all that I have experienced during my life, and also by the networks created by genetic and epi-genetic processes. But it is, to me, in a very real sense, "all me."

Now, whether this "all me" chooses to go ahead and eat 3 scoops of pralines-n-cream ice cream, or forego that in favour of half a celery stick through conscious or unconscious choice, or a combination of both -- it is still "me" making the decision. And only I am responsible for it.

Yes, it is your neural network in conjunction with your body that 'decides'. But in what sense is that decision 'free'? It is determined, from what I can see, by my history, by my interactions, and by basic physics and chemistry applied to my composition. So, while I am the one that 'made the decision', it is not at all clear to me that I 'could' make any decision other than what I made and to what extent the causal nexus really is 'within me'.
 

Polymath257

Think & Care
Staff member
Premium Member
Depends how we define both free and will. If free will refers only to the capacity to make choices, a strong (though not definitive) case can be made for our experiencing only the illusion of choice. But isn’t the will something more than that?
I have no idea.
What about intent and aspiration, what about that force which motivates the world, which drives and animates it? These are all concepts brought to mind when we refer to the will, and to willpower. Don’t we each, as individuals, have some capacity to direct that will, even if it doesn’t originate from within us? How often do we try, and fail, to bend the world to our will?
Sure, even in a deterministic system, the end result is sensitively dependent on what happens in our brains. Even slight differences would lead to very different behavior and end results.

But I am also saying that 'intent and aspiration' are a part of our history and even part of the physics that determines a choice. So to what extent is that choice 'free'?
In any case, do you really believe that you have no agency in your life, none at all? If that were the case, what purpose would consciousness serve?

I am not sure I have a good definition of 'agency'. I am certainly a causal nexus where small changes in my internal state would lead to large changes in behavior and outcome. I have desires, which contribute to that internal state that determines the choices made.

As for the purpose of 'consciousness', I also have a very difficult time defining what it means to be conscious and whether it has a purpose at all.
 

Evangelicalhumanist

"Truth" isn't a thing...
Premium Member
Hmmm...is a computer a 'complete system'? Is a house a 'complete system'?

I guess I don't see things as neatly dividing into parts in that way. Among other things, the strength of the interaction is something relevant for determining what is a 'complete system' and what is not. And I guess I see the 'rest of the world' interacting quite strongly with 'me'.


Yes, it is your neural network in conjunction with your body that 'decides'. But in what sense is that decision 'free'? It is determined, from what I can see, by my history, by my interactions, and by basic physics and chemistry applied to my composition. So, while I am the one that 'made the decision', it is not at all clear to me that I 'could' make any decision other than what I made and to what extent the causal nexus really is 'within me'.
Please forgive me if a make a bit of a departure, but let me try to address your question "in what sense is that decision 'free'?"

In what sense is the rate of your heart-beat free? In what sense do you think it ought to be? How about sweating, when you're over-heated? Do you suppose you should be able to turn it off at will? These things are, for want of a better word, "programmed" into you, with the evolutionarily purpose of keeping you alive, and you have no choice, just as you have no control over the peristalsis that makes sure that what you eat to live makes the complete journey to ensure you don't explode. :eek:

But I think there are also things over which we can have partial control. Ask anyone who has ever quit an addiction like smoking or alcohol or drugs (I smoked for nearly 40 years, and have since trained my "self" to not only not crave it, but to despise it). These things are done through an effort of "will," driven by the knowledge that giving in may well result in that which we'd rather not experience. And I can tell you -- it's a bloody hard fight!
 

Nimos

Well-Known Member
..so somebody who decides to plough into a pedestrian and kill them while driving,
presumably has a reason why they do that. They could have decided to put on the brakes.

The only reason that is acceptable, in law, is that the person is insane.
Any other reason, while possibly true, has no bearing on the fact that they decided
to kill somebody .. and that is what I understand to be exercising our free-will.

Maybe the person "lost his/her mind" for a split-second .. makes no difference.
Blaming the devil or evil thoughts is not acceptable, even if true. We are expected to control ourselves..
..or forfeit the right to drive etc.
Even if we have no true free will, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't be held responsible for certain actions, because in many cases we can suppress our emotions that could lead to such actions. In the case a person is physically damaged, like an insane person which feels no real remorse for their actions, we do not hold them accountable in the same way as a person who is considered sane, which is why they usually go to certain facilities able to deal with them.

I would argue that a person deciding to plough into pedestrians on purpose is not sane if there is no motivation for doing it. A good example I think is terrorists where we have seen many examples of them doing such things or deciding to blow up people, I wouldn't put them in the same category as a physical damage person, but rather people who are highly motivated/convinced by a certain idea.

But even the terrorist you can probably track back to how they ended up doing what they did. In many cases, I don't think these people were born with the purpose of ultimately ending up as terrorists, but things in their lives simply turned out in such a way that they got convinced that doing it was the right thing to do. For instance, there seems to be a tendency that most terrorists are related to some specific understanding of Islam, whereas we don't really see a lot of terrorism going on in Christianity or Judaism or people motivated by atheism. Don't misunderstand me as saying that Islam = terrorism, because obviously, it is far from all that do it. But I would make the argument that a potential terrorist that was brought up in another culture or religious view, probably wouldn't have ended up as a terrorist, due to the mere fact that the experiences and environment would have played out very differently.

And you are correct there is a degree of responsibility involved as well, but humans have a lot of emotions and likes and dislikes, which we have absolutely no control over. For instance, you didn't choose to be friends with person A, because you decided using your free will that the person was nice, but for some reason, you and him/her simply got along and then ended up as friends. And I think that holds true with a lot of the things we end up doing, using the example of driving from the last post, maybe you want to drive to your friend's birthday because you emotionally don't want to disappoint them, even if you don't really feel like going, you will make a for and against whether disappointing your friend is more beneficial for you than simply going there. To me, ultimately it seems to be an emotional decision and again you are not really in control of that. Some will have no problem not going and not feel particularly bad about it while others will.

So again, I don't think it is possible to just take an event and look at it completely isolated like you say "Somebody just decide to plough through pedestrians" as if they were just driving down the road and out of the blue decide to do it. I think that is to oversimplify things to the point where it doesn't make sense, unless the person is physically insane, which would then be the explanation for their action.
 

Willamena

Just me
Premium Member
Some confusion is sure to arise, however, when I try to differentiate that which is me, from those things that are not me. If I and my environment are inseparable, doesn’t that make any definition of me necessarily incomplete? I am looking out at the world from within, yet the vision I have of the world is held within my mind. So where do I end, and the external world begin?
What is the confusion?

And why does there have to be any separation? I mean, what makes separation necessary?
 
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shunyadragon

shunyadragon
Premium Member
..so we make decisions, and are responsible for them.
..and that is what is commonly known as the "free-will" to choose.

Nobody is saying that our choices aren't limited .. just that we make them freely.
If we don't make them freely, then how could we be responsible for them?
No, cite me properly. The definition of free will provided stated the choses must be unimpeded, and by the overwhelming evidence this is not the case. Being held responsible for ones actions are social standards and legal matters and stands regardless of whether there is any free will or not.
 

RestlessSoul

Well-Known Member
What is the confusion?

And why does there have to be any separation? I mean, what makes separation necessary?


That sense of separation, of our selves as a distinct entity within a world of interacting others, is a defining characteristic of our human experience. I see the world through one pair of eyes, the same pair every morning; my paradigm, my view of the world, though I do try to broaden it as much as possible, is always from my unique perspective. I have no direct access, in this life anyway, to a view from everywhere, nor even from anywhere else.
 

muhammad_isa

Well-Known Member
No, cite me properly. The definition of free will provided stated the choses must be unimpeded, and by the overwhelming evidence this is not the case. Being held responsible for ones actions are social standards and legal matters and stands regardless of whether there is any free will or not.
That's just a "cop out" imo.
The definition of free-will provided, i.e. being unimpeded, means that it is not beyond our control.
If you are suggesting that decisions are beyond our control, then nobody should be issued
a driving licence. :)
 

shunyadragon

shunyadragon
Premium Member
That's just a "cop out" imo.
The definition of free-will provided, i.e. being unimpeded, means that it is not beyond our control.
If you are suggesting that decisions are beyond our control, then nobody should be issued
a driving licence. :)
That is not the definition of unimpeded.
 

nPeace

Veteran Member
What if the desires which lead to the choices are determined?
????

What if the choice I wold make is determined?
????

what if *I* am exactly the same as my neural network?
????

And what if the choice I make is also pre-determined? It is me making the choice, but *I* am the neural activity in my brain and maybe that is determined.
????

Um. What were we talking about, again? Free will?
Then let's stick to Free Will... Unless of course you want to change the thread title. ;)
 

nPeace

Veteran Member
Certainly nothing that general, including everyone. But maybe my specific history and specifics of my viewpoints, all determine what I will choose to do.

Now that is an assumption that I am not sure I can make. Why do yo think that the laws of physics only limit your freedom as opposed to determine precisely what you will choose given the history of each individual choice?

I am quite sure that each individual has specifics in their brains that are different enough to give different choices even with the laws of physics applying in each and every case to determine precisely what will be chosen.
Sounds like you are taking liberties.
Yeah. That's free will. Why, you are even free to add a little fantasy to the mix, if you want.
It won't make it reality, or useful to the discussion, but it could lead us down the path of never-ending nothing.
 

nPeace

Veteran Member
Well, the question is whether belief is a choice or is determined by history and personality, etc.



Precisely. What is going on in our minds determines what we will do. And what is going on in our minds is part of the physical history of that decision, right?

So the specific choice was determined by previous choices which were determined by previous choices, etc. And so our choices are determined by our past.
No. Your choices are determined by you.
If your choices were determined by your past, all abused children would be the same.
 

ratiocinator

Lightly seared on the reality grill.
Your choices are determined by you.

Pretty meaningless without analysing how 'you' make choices.

If your choices were determined by your past, all abused children would be the same.

I keep hearing arguments like this and it just doesn't follow. No two children (abused or otherwise) go through identical experiences. It is also possible, I would say almost certain, that even though minds may be deterministic, they would be chaotic (mathematical sense) and hence subject to the butterfly effect.
 
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