Free Will

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Free Will

Post by romansh » Wed May 19, 2010 1:20 am

Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote:We have to believe in free-will. We've got no choice.
Many of the threads on this forum deal with the deep mysteries of existence. But a good number of the reponses appear to accept free will as a given.
eg the current virtue thread I wonder how can we discuss subjects like this without nailing down (at least a bit more) free will. We can say virtue is (whatever) assuming we have free will. Then what does virtue look like if we don't have free will?

So my focussing questions are:
1) What does Campbell say about free will?
2) What is the definition of free will you are using?
3) What is your evidence for or against free will?

To start with here's my definition.
The ability to act or to make choices independently of the environment or of the universe.
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Post by romansh » Wed May 19, 2010 1:55 am

I think this quote sums up the debate quite nicely
Samuel Johnson wrote:All theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience for it.
from ... http://www.samueljohnson.com/freewill.html
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Post by Transom » Wed May 19, 2010 2:01 pm

Well, I suppose we should let Neoplato address this topic 8)

But for the moment, I'll take a stab, though I am primarily interested in hearing more about what you have to say on the subject, because I don't understand your own personal definition: The ability to act or to make choices independently of the environment or of the universe.

This does not seem possible. It is however 1 sentence, so if you would elaborate I would love to hear more, and then I will be better able to join the discussion.
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Post by Overmanwarrior » Wed May 19, 2010 2:27 pm

Interesting, I would have to say that virtue cannot exist without free will. Therefore, nothing is virtuous if free will does not play a part.

In the United States, we have a current debate about the “virtue” of capitalism and the “virtue” of socialism, capitalism being out for oneself and competition driving everything, some succeed, some fail. Socialism being that the playing field is leveled so all levels of society have a fair shake at something, the debate being centered here on wealth redistribution and who has a right to another’s property and other assets such as income.

Under socialist thought charity is taken by a third party, “government,” and distributed where it sees fit. The intention is that where disparity is discovered, then it can be assisted by the government organization.

But I would say that this is not virtuous, although it might be marketed that way. Because the charity was not given under free will. That would make the government virtuous, but at the expense of individual free will.

Virtue is meaningless unless free will is a factor. Subtract “free will” and all you have is a word, “virtue.”
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Post by Neoplato » Wed May 19, 2010 4:27 pm

Well, I suppose we should let Neoplato address this topic
NO WAY! :shock:

You guys are on your own in here. :twisted:

I'll meet you at the other end of the "Rabbit Hole". :lol:
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Post by Overmanwarrior » Wed May 19, 2010 5:03 pm

Neoplato wrote:
Well, I suppose we should let Neoplato address this topic
NO WAY! :shock:

You guys are on your own in here. :twisted:

I'll meet you at the other end of the "Rabbit Hole". :lol:
LOL, this is a rabbit hole! : )
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Post by romansh » Thu May 20, 2010 12:45 am

Transom wrote:Well, I suppose we should let Neoplato address this topic 8)

But for the moment, I'll take a stab, though I am primarily interested in hearing more about what you have to say on the subject, because I don't understand your own personal definition: The ability to act or to make choices independently of the environment or of the universe.

This does not seem possible. It is however 1 sentence, so if you would elaborate I would love to hear more, and then I will be better able to join the discussion.
Yes I would agree it is an (awfully) all inclusive definition ... and frankly it does bother me a little.

Now when I look for free will at various levels:

eg the every day level - we are products or at least strongly influenced by what we have experienced. Does this seem reasonable?

the genetic level - when people do studies of how people vary from one another in terms of behaviours, approximately 50% of the differences can be ascribed to our genetics. (The other 50% is our environment - according to my understanding of Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate)

When we look at chemical and biochemical aspects of us then it becomes even harder to see a free will. Our chemistry is well described by the laws of mass action and the first and second laws of thermodynamics. How do I consciously speed up certain chemical reactions within my body? Did this make sense?

At the fundamental physical level "probabilities" appear to rule. There's certainly no part of me that appears to control the quantum probabilities that are involved.

Then there is Schopenhauer's "A man can surely do what he wants to do. But he cannot determine what he wants." While as written this is obviously false, but if we throw in a few recursive "wants" and "wishes", the idea of wanting To do something becomes hard to justify.

So at any level I'm not free from my environment.
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Post by romansh » Thu May 20, 2010 12:46 am

Neoplato wrote: You guys are on your own in here. :twisted:
I'll meet you at the other end of the "Rabbit Hole". :lol:
Follow the light Neo ... follow the light .... :roll:
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Post by romansh » Thu May 20, 2010 12:49 am

Overmanwarrior wrote: Virtue is meaningless unless free will is a factor. Subtract “free will” and all you have is a word, “virtue.”
I agree ... but I did not want to derail the thread (or at least was warned off ... :lol: :lol: )
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Post by boringguy » Thu May 20, 2010 1:53 am

Hi romansh,

Don't know if I have time to jump back into this free will thing with both feet, although I did have some later thoughts the last time it went around that I didn't get around to posting. If I have time I'll dig back into it again, as a starting point I recalll that there are several schools of thought as to what a proper definition of 'free will' actually is, and this certianly affects ones take on the question. But off hand I'm not sure I can totally agree with you here;
At the fundamental physical level "probabilities" appear to rule. There certainly no part of me that appears to control the quantum probabilities that are involved. - romansh
Isn't it the act of observation that supposedly causes the wavefunction collapse? And while there is little understanding as to what actually constitutes an observer, we do seem to be that. Not sure what all, if anything, that has to do with free will, but I think that's still the current view. Just a laymans understanding of course.


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Post by romansh » Thu May 20, 2010 3:34 am

boringguy wrote: Isn't it the act of observation that supposedly causes the wavefunction collapse? And while there is little understanding as to what actually constitutes an observer, we do seem to be that. Not sure what all, if anything, that has to do with free will, but I think that's still the current view. Just a laymans understanding of course.
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I would agree there is little understanding as to what constitutes an observer, but from my understanding it is when there is an exchange of energy.

In no way is a sentient observer implied.

here's a nice quote from the late John Bell, a proponent of Bohmian Mechanics:
John Bell wrote:It would seem that the theory [quantum mechanics] is exclusively concerned about "results of measurement", and has nothing to say about anything else. What exactly qualifies some physical systems to play the role of "measurer"? Was the wavefunction of the world waiting to jump for thousands of millions of years until a single-celled living creature appeared? Or did it have to wait a little longer, for some better qualified system ... with a Ph.D.? If the theory is to apply to anything but highly idealized laboratory operations, are we not obliged to admit that more or less "measurement-like" processes are going on more or less all the time, more or less everywhere. Do we not have jumping then all the time?
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Post by boringguy » Thu May 20, 2010 4:31 am

romansh,

I'm really not trying to be antagonistic here but a couple of thoughts come to mind related to what Bell is saying.


First;
Do we not have jumping then all the time?
Maybe, but I don't understand that experimental evidence shows wavefunction collapse to be radomly occuring all the time. Of course there are attempts to see this from different angles, such as quantum decoherence, but nothing that is a glove fit yet. I understand Bell's point and tend to agree, that Nature does exist without my observing it, but tend to side with Berkley's third alternative in that I as I now know myself may not be the totality of 'the observer'.


Secondly;
Was the wavefunction of the world waiting to jump for thousands of millions of years until a single-celled living creature appeared? Or did it have to wait a little longer, for some better qualified system ... with a Ph.D.?
:)
It seems that from a totally deterministic stand point which procludes free will one would have to say yes, no?


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Post by romansh » Thu May 20, 2010 5:19 am

boringguy wrote: romansh,
I'm really not trying to be antagonistic here but a couple of thoughts come to mind related to what Bell is saying.
It did not read as being antagonistic in anyway BG ... :)
boringguy wrote: Maybe, but I don't understand that experimental evidence shows wavefunction collapse to be radomly occuring all the time. Of course there are attempts to see this from different angles, such as quantum decoherence, but nothing that is a glove fit yet. I understand Bell's point and tend to agree, that Nature does exist without my observing it, but tend to side with Berkley's third alternative in that I as I now know myself may not be the totality of 'the observer'.
I don't think Bell is saying this. Bell in actual fact was a critic of Quantum Mechanics and a proponent of a deterministic interpretation of Schrödinger's equation. But either way, if an indeterministic interpretation holds sway, I don't see how this helps the case for free will.
Here's a link to some of Bell's thoughts ... http://www.math.rutgers.edu/~oldstein/quote.html
I'm not familiar with Berkley ... do you have a link?
boringguy wrote: :)
It seems that from a totally deterministic stand point which procludes free will one would have to say yes, no?
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Not sure I'm understanding your question here, but Bell's interpretation would preclude the indeterminacy argument for free will.
"That's right!" shouted Vroomfondel, "we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!"
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Post by jonsjourney » Thu May 20, 2010 11:24 am

I just want to say one "little" thing here, but in many ways I am going to avoid the actual "free will" debate, for now...is that a choice or not?

I am on the road to becoming a "scientist" of sorts, in the field of Psychology. Along the road, I have learned something about science, that very few scientists wish to admit. They are as dogmatic about science as a person who is a religious fundamentalist can be. There is an arrogance about their method because it has brought forth so much technology and innovation.

I have heard all the defenses, including the "yes, but we are willing to throw out a bad theory or proposition when evidence is produced that contradicts it". This sounds great on paper, but is actually practiced with much resistance. Why? It is human nature to hang on to what one believes in.

In my view, and this is just my view, the illusion lives in the claim of "objectivity". The scientific method is good, but it is not necessarily objective. Scientists, like all of us, have goals. Those goals often bring tremendous pressure to succeed (financially, prestige, tenure...etc). Those pressures have an effect on the observer, just like the observer has an effect on the nature of a particle (be it human, or animal). Replication is offered as a defense against this, but the effect on the experiment is, like the original experiment, very much subject to what the researcher wants to find.

Another artifact of modern science is to create a need for a "discovery" that was not intended. This has been the dominant trend in psychopharmacology since the late 1800's. Viagra was created to help with heart disease. When it failed at that job, but was found to have a potentially valuable side effect (sexual arousal), the syndrome of Erectile Dysfunction was born. The same happened with "Restless Leg Syndrome". When seratonin was found to have an effect on brain chemistry that seemed to lift people's mood and states of consciousness, a relatively rarely diagnosed psychological dysfunction known as depression became mainstream. By the literature produced today, one would think that everyone was depressed and it was reaching epidemic proportions...and this propaganda, presented as "fact", is supported by the APA, AMA, and the WHO to name just a few.

Interestingly, antidepressant medications rarely outperform placebos in clinical trials. What is more, there is still NO solid understanding of what they do, other than make someone feel good, which can be accomplished by many drugs (legal and illegal) or activities. Yet, science marches on telling us that we are all a little depressed and antidepressants offer a solution...one would be hard pressed to not be diagnosed as having some kind of mood disorder (dysphoria, Minor Depression, Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and the all-capturing "Adjustment Disorder") if they had to sit down with a researcher using a structured interview and then applying those numbers to interpretation in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV-TR). Again, it seems we find what we are looking for.

So then...I know this was not "little" or brief, but I think that we have to be careful at what type of arguments we offer as proof either for, or against, humans having free will. Like so many things we observe in this universe, free will seems to be quite paradoxical. It straddles the line between sense and nonsense, reason and speculation. The methods of science are susceptible to perversion, just like so many of the world religions became perverted from their original ideas. Any idea or concept can be taken to an unreasonable end when our own passions become intertwined with the quest for knowledge and meaning.

Religion and science do seek the same things (knowledge and meaning) and both have something to say about free will. Like so many of the paradoxical aspects of existence, perhaps both are a little bit right and a little bit wrong. Maybe free will is illusion, maybe it is the ultimate underlying drive to human action. In either case, we seem to think we have it, even if at times we try to convince ourselves that we do not.
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Post by romansh » Fri May 21, 2010 12:50 am

Hi JJ

Dogmatic scientists - Just curious, have I been dogmatic anywhere? I understand you may not be suggesting I am - just curious :) But I absolutely insist, in no uncertain terms dogmaticism is unsavoury. :shock:

Human Nature - no arguments on that one from me.

The claim of objectivity - I understand what you mean, but I think we could take Darrow's quote:
Chase after the truth like all hell and you'll free yourself, even though you never touch its coat tails.
and replace "truth" with "objectivity" and still be on the right track.

Pharmacopeia - again I agree, But the inevitable "but" - I think many of us take a really short term view of science. Is it going to fix my problems today, is it providing me a more accurate truth now? We have to be patient. Centuries patient

Now if you are saying "we cannot know whether we have free will or not," I would agree with you. But what amazes me is the number of people that will ipso facto assume that we have it, and cannot be moved to a 'don't know' position. If we admit don't know, then we also "should" take into account in our daily lives and philosophies that free will may be an illusion.
"That's right!" shouted Vroomfondel, "we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!"
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