Free will and predictability


by andresordonez
Tags: free will, predictability
andresordonez
andresordonez is offline
#1
Nov7-10, 10:16 AM
P: 68
I'm new at philosophy (not so new at physics though), I mean, I haven't read much about it, so please bear with me if I'm asking something obvious.

A couple of days ago I realized that assuming humans obey the laws of physics we know so far, there's no place for free will. Free will is something hard to explain for me, so I'll ellaborate a little more on my idea, and hope you (and I) understand what I mean by free will.

Suppose you have to make a decision on something anyone would think can make a decision, for example, when choosing what to eat at a restaurant. The desicion you take must be the result of some physical phenomena in your brain (assuming we make our desicion with our brains), these physical phenomena obey the laws of physics we know so far, and so you don't really choose, you just evolve as a system under certain constraints.

I know that we cannot predict the evolution of a system such as the human brain, and for what I've read (which isn't much) there's some relation I don't understand about not being able to predict something and therefore possessing free will. But what does predictability have to do with the fact that the desicion we take is just the evolution of a system? The fact that we can't predict the evolution of the system doesn't mean we can decide the path the system will take right?

P.S.
Ok, now I understand a little more what I mean by free-will. Free will is the ability to change the path of evolution of the system, when the system is our brain.

By the way, if you find some error in my english please inform me.
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Boy@n
Boy@n is offline
#2
Nov7-10, 12:01 PM
P: 240
Lots of threads on free-will topic here around. In short, I agree that physical laws are firm and unbreakable, but free-will is element of consciousness, and consciousness is not just physical, even if it emerges out of it, or on top of it, and as such, it can make free-choices.
wuliheron
wuliheron is offline
#3
Nov7-10, 01:02 PM
P: 1,967
Yeah, a lot of philosophers today are determinists.

However, another way to look at the issue is linguistically. When words like free will and determinism are applied to such broad contexts as life, the universe, and everything they become meaningless. It's like saying everything is "pure energy" when the simple fact is energy is defined by mass and vice versa. Maybe everything is pure energy, but what the heck does that mean and how useful is such a statement?

Spinoza speculated that only the universe en toto was free because by definition it has nothing to constrain it. Likewise we might say there is nothing to constrain the laws of nature and, so, ultimately they are free. We can go round and round and round juggling abstractions without ever making a single demonstrably coherent statement.

Upisoft
Upisoft is offline
#4
Nov7-10, 01:14 PM
P: 348

Free will and predictability


Free-will. To be a will it must be a cause. As you think it must be able to change the path of evolution of the system, it must be external to that system. Now pick your best candidate. Supernatural 'something' or our natural perception of the natural world.
Dr Lots-o'watts
Dr Lots-o'watts is offline
#5
Nov7-10, 07:19 PM
P: 675
IMO: We all feel we have free will, but among the choices we each have, we always choose what makes us the "happiest". And the "happy" feeling is just a series of mostly deterministic (or quantum mechanical)) neurological/chemical/physical reactions.

Our individual futures are deterministic because just like ants, we'll each undoubtedly go where food, oxygen, proper temperature etc. is easier to get.

But I'm ok with that! It's the feeling (of free-will) that counts, and it will always be there. I don't find any disagreement between determinism and free-will.
andresordonez
andresordonez is offline
#6
Nov8-10, 09:30 AM
P: 68
Quote Quote by Boy@n View Post
Lots of threads on free-will topic here around. In short, I agree that physical laws are firm and unbreakable, but free-will is element of consciousness, and consciousness is not just physical, even if it emerges out of it, or on top of it, and as such, it can make free-choices.
what arguments do you have to say that consciousness is not just physical?
andresordonez
andresordonez is offline
#7
Nov8-10, 09:40 AM
P: 68
Quote Quote by Dr Lots-o'watts View Post
IMO: We all feel we have free will, but among the choices we each have, we always choose what makes us the "happiest". And the "happy" feeling is just a series of mostly deterministic (or quantum mechanical)) neurological/chemical/physical reactions.

Our individual futures are deterministic because just like ants, we'll each undoubtedly go where food, oxygen, proper temperature etc. is easier to get.

But I'm ok with that! It's the feeling (of free-will) that counts, and it will always be there. I don't find any disagreement between determinism and free-will.
You mean you don't find any disagreement between determinism and the feeling of free will.
andresordonez
andresordonez is offline
#8
Nov8-10, 10:32 AM
P: 68
Quote Quote by wuliheron View Post
Yeah, a lot of philosophers today are determinists.

However, another way to look at the issue is linguistically. When words like free will and determinism are applied to such broad contexts as life, the universe, and everything they become meaningless. It's like saying everything is "pure energy" when the simple fact is energy is defined by mass and vice versa. Maybe everything is pure energy, but what the heck does that mean and how useful is such a statement?

Spinoza speculated that only the universe en toto was free because by definition it has nothing to constrain it. Likewise we might say there is nothing to constrain the laws of nature and, so, ultimately they are free. We can go round and round and round juggling abstractions without ever making a single demonstrably coherent statement.
You're right about the usefulness of that kind of statement, there's no practical use (apparently anyway) to such a thing like not really having free will. And I guess it would be very hard if not impossible to demonstrate that we don't posses free will, in fact it would be as hard as demonstrating that everything is indeed physical.

But the thing for me (someone who does believe that everything is physical), is that if my reasoning is correct, as a consequence of everything being physical there's no such thing as free will, just an illusion of it, so it doesn't need to be demonstrated directly as it is a consequence of something I take for granted. I assume everything is physical and go from there.

Though it may not be useful to realize something like that I don't think it's meaningless. It's kind of like the question about death, you die and that's it? or your soul (or whatever) goes on?, you can't do anything about it, knowing it doesn't have any practical use besides changing the way you think about life.

So I guess I feel it is important to realize that we don't possess free will, because although it may not be of practical use in science and/or engineering, it has some practical value in the way you take life (even if you don't have a choice at all!)
wuliheron
wuliheron is offline
#9
Nov8-10, 01:56 PM
P: 1,967
If practical value is what matters then why not just focus on that rather than assuming that everything is physical?

For me it is most useful to remain unbiased. Thus I can remain open to using a screwdriver even when it at least superficially seems that a wrench should work better. I don't need to take a metaphysical stance and can instead merely allow myself to be open to the possibilities. This is the great strength of the sciences, not physicalism.
Noja888
Noja888 is offline
#10
Nov9-10, 02:42 PM
P: 53
Could freewill be like the uncertainty principle in QM? You can have a prediction based on data/evidence but the result is not known until the measurement is made?
Rasalhague
Rasalhague is offline
#11
Nov9-10, 08:30 PM
P: 1,400
But what does predictability have to do with the fact that the desicion we take is just the evolution of a system? The fact that we can't predict the evolution of the system doesn't mean we can decide the path the system will take right?
I agree. There's a video out there on YouTube or somewhere in which Daniel Dennett makes this point too. Some people do seem to equate unpredictability with free will in this context, but unpredictability is hardly free will in any normal sense of the expression.

By the way, if you find some error in my english please inform me.
I just read your posts very quickly, but your English looks pretty good to me.

You're right about the usefulness of that kind of statement, there's no practical use (apparently anyway) to such a thing like not really having free will.
I'd replace "like" with "as" here.
Rasalhague
Rasalhague is offline
#12
Nov9-10, 08:39 PM
P: 1,400
Regarding practicality, here's an interesting discussion of possible benefits to society of a belief in free will:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/bl...y-d-2010-04-06

As the paradoxical scenario at the beginning suggest, it's not an easy question! There are others who argue that belief in free will is harmful to society on a larger scale.
andresordonez
andresordonez is offline
#13
Dec21-10, 09:10 AM
P: 68
Quote Quote by Rasalhague View Post
Regarding practicality, here's an interesting discussion of possible benefits to society of a belief in free will:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/bl...y-d-2010-04-06

As the paradoxical scenario at the beginning suggest, it's not an easy question! There are others who argue that belief in free will is harmful to society on a larger scale.
That link was interesting, thinking that there's no free will takes all the responsability of your actions away from you, what about those who argue that belief in free will is harmful to society on a larger scale, where can I find that?

(Thanks for the correction)
DBTS
DBTS is offline
#14
Dec21-10, 01:59 PM
P: 20
Spinoza speculated that only the universe en toto was free because by definition it has nothing to constrain it.
Is the universe constrained by its own nature?

I believe in the act of freely choosing a decision, however, I do not believe in the concept of having total free will.
genome66
genome66 is offline
#15
Dec21-10, 03:45 PM
P: 16
-In regard to your third paragraph.

Your theory seems solid, but I leave you with this to ponder, andresordonez, it may seem that we have no free will. But it is my belief, that the decision that results from that physical phenomenon is based on the person in questions individuality, so though a phenomenon makes our decisions, is it not the same decision we would make (if possible) in absence of the phenomenon? (pardon my graphical errors)
Ynaught?
Ynaught? is offline
#16
Dec21-10, 06:56 PM
P: 64
Quote Quote by andresordonez View Post
But the thing for me (someone who does believe that everything is physical), is that if my reasoning is correct, as a consequence of everything being physical there's no such thing as free will, just an illusion of it, so it doesn't need to be demonstrated directly as it is a consequence of something I take for granted. I assume everything is physical and go from there.
andresordonez, I trust you have an imagination and I trust that you dream. The objects in both are not physical. In fact, the objects may not even be physically possible (in the strict sense of the expression). They are nonetheless "something". They are thoughts. Einstein's thought experiments are excellent examples. It is certainly not possible to ride a beam of light, but such musings lead him to develop the theories of relativity. "Everything" therefore is not physical and non-physical things can have meaning.

Specifically to free will, have you considered the ramifications that Bell's Theorem has to the question? Quantum uncertainty seems to undermine determinism and so predicates free will.
DBTS
DBTS is offline
#17
Dec21-10, 10:41 PM
P: 20
Could you explain that in a bit more detail, ynaught?

Dreaming or thinking takes the form of non-physical objects… What I am wondering is whether that same form of dreaming and thinking follow the rules to an extent of the physical laws or what could be inferred by them? Alternatively, in other words, whether those same thoughts or dreams are guided by the extrapolation of physical objects? I am thinking of a nail, is that nail non-physical?

I did not get it exactly...
andresordonez
andresordonez is offline
#18
Dec22-10, 09:42 AM
P: 68
Quote Quote by wuliheron View Post
If practical value is what matters then why not just focus on that rather than assuming that everything is physical?

For me it is most useful to remain unbiased. Thus I can remain open to using a screwdriver even when it at least superficially seems that a wrench should work better. I don't need to take a metaphysical stance and can instead merely allow myself to be open to the possibilities. This is the great strength of the sciences, not physicalism.
Well it's not like I'm 100% sure that everything is physical, it's more like if I have to make a bet I would go for saying that everything is physical. I'm like 99% sure that everything is physical (if such thing can be measured at all) given that for the relatively short time we've been doing physics (I mean the humans), we've been able to explain SO MANY phenomena. So it's something similar to the way I feel about god(s), I don't rule out the possiblity that there some kind of god, but I do everything like if there was no god.

Another example would be the fact(?) that we don't know if we're asleep right now, or that maybe we're just a simulation of a supercomputer, or anything like that (I realize that I don't know much about these ideas, so I might be plain wrong), I haven't ruled out that possibility, but in practice I forget about that.

By the way, how is it useful to think that there are phenomena that are not physical?


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