Do free will and conscious thought exist?

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  • #26
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The way I see the mind is a kind of unfathomably complex cavern, and that free will at the level of thought simply doesn't exist. There may be uncertainty at he quantum level which leads to inherent unpredictability, but I believe that if you knew enough variables about a brain at any given time, you could perfectly predict how a person would react (both physically and mentally) to any set of external and internal stimuli. I fail to understand how the human brain is any different than throwing a ball at a set of stacked cans. Knwoing the exact arrangement of the cans, each of their mechanical properties, surrounding temperature, humidity, relative altitude, longitude, latitude, location of earth relative to the sun, the ball's angular and linear momentum, shape, materials, etc, etc, would allow us to, at least in limit of our perceived reality, perfectly predict the final arrangement after all is said and done. Sure, on a quantum level we might not be able to perfectly predict this, but this event will occur in the exact same way to our brain an infinite number of times simply because the difference would be too minute. I just see the brain as a far more complicated version of this. It seems a bit pretentious that just because the brain is many orders more complex than other types of physical systems that it operates on some different principle altogether.
Very well put warr.

I think many people fail to realise the complexity of the human brain, here are some basic estimates:
the brain contains approximately 100,000,000,000.0 (billion) individual neurons,
each neuron with multiple synaptic connections numbering approximately 10^15 (one QUADRILLION)
operating at about 10 impulses/second,
that gives us about: 10,000,000,000,000,000.0 synaptic operations per second!!!

10 QUADRILLION OPERATIONS PER SECOND!

Really thinking about the scale of those numbers brings new light to the feats that humans are capable of...
 
  • #27
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My philosophy is simple: If all your potential actions and actions are predictable, you have no free will.
Based on this, it's possible to predict all your events, therefor there's no free will, sorry.

PS: Sorry for my vast amount of posts the last 30min.
 
  • #28
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10 QUADRILLION OPERATIONS PER SECOND!
Really thinking about the scale of those numbers brings new light to the feats that humans are capable of...
yah...... size is all relative. I mean, on a much larger scale, than 10 quadrillion, this number could be relatively small actually. And somebody mentioned something about predicting brain function and predicting what somebody could do. Well, at the moment, there's no way to tell whether you can do that or not, because we don't fully understand the brain, and we don't fully understand everything ..... including what happens at quantum level and any other associated/related levels. If we don't know all the degrees of freedom/dimensions or whatever, then there's no telling whether we can predict everything a person could do ...... unless you really do know enough about activities in the brain/cells/ etc at whatever levels.
 
  • #29
Pythagorean
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Really thinking about the scale of those numbers brings new light to the feats that humans are capable of...
I wouldn't attribute it to humans so much as the cells that make them up.
 
  • #30
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What would you not contribute to humans? I normally include the cells that make us up when I say the word human... We are our biology so you can not really attribute anything we do without simultaneously attributing it to our cells.
 
  • #31
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I don't see quite how you get from A to B.
Basically, the composer had a freedom of choice to create the symphony, and arrange it in the way that he/she saw fit. We're just aware that we have a freedom of choice to choose what we want that's presented to us (or not even when not presented to us yet).

Being aware that we have freedom of choice to do something is great. Now, for those people that reckon that people don't really have free-will......well, they're actually in no position to say that, because they don't even understand their own brain/body functions and thought processes at every 'level'......just in the same way that they don't understand what are the origins of the universe......such as how 'energy' got here (or there or anywhere)....or if they believe that energy was always 'there'.....then 'how'. There are many things in the universe that we don't know about. But having freedom of choice is one thing that we can be aware of. Well, maybe not everybody is aware of it, because some people might be 'programmed' differently and don't appear to be as flexible and changeable and self-aware as other people.
 
  • #32
Pythagorean
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Basically, the composer had a freedom of choice to create the symphony, and arrange it in the way that he/she saw fit. We're just aware that we have a freedom of choice to choose what we want that's presented to us (or not even when not presented to us yet).

Being aware that we have freedom of choice to do something is great. Now, for those people that reckon that people don't really have free-will......well, they're actually in no position to say that, because they don't even understand their own brain/body functions and thought processes at every 'level'......just in the same way that they don't understand what are the origins of the universe......such as how 'energy' got here (or there or anywhere)....or if they believe that energy was always 'there'.....then 'how'. There are many things in the universe that we don't know about. But having freedom of choice is one thing that we can be aware of. Well, maybe not everybody is aware of it, because some people might be 'programmed' differently and don't appear to be as flexible and changeable and self-aware as other people.
(emphasis added)
Why isn't the this argument applicable to your own opinion?

There's no way that you can prove (yet) whether what you experience (consciousness) is a product of reactions or not. It may "feel" one way or another, but that's not very informative.

There's no reason that composing music must necissarily prove freewill, either. I used to write a lot of music, and I identified with myself as a creative person but when the music feels right, it just is. There's no reason it couldn't have been an organizational practice my brain needed to engage in to order itself or perhaps to relieve stress.

It's completely possible that choice is an illusion.

Of course, it's my opinion that we do have limited freewill.
 
  • #33
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(emphasis added)
Why isn't the this argument applicable to your own opinion?
It's because I'm aware that I have free-will. And you're probably aware that you have free will too. But if somebody comes along as says to us 'we only have the illusion of free will', then it's our own freedom of choice to tell that person to take a hike (now that's free will). I don't mean you.......I just mean those that mock our intelligence by telling us that what we do/choose is actually in the control of something 'else'. I mean, if they believe that it's not themselves in control of 'the wheel' in their own body, then they have a problem of some sort.
 
  • #34
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It's because I'm aware that I have free-will. And you're probably aware that you have free will too. But if somebody comes along as says to us 'we only have the illusion of free will', then it's our own freedom of choice to tell that person to take a hike (now that's free will). I don't mean you.......I just mean those that mock our intelligence by telling us that what we do/choose is actually in the control of something 'else'. I mean, if they believe that it's not themselves in control of 'the wheel' in their own body, then they probably have 'problems'.
You say that telling someone to 'take a hike' is an example of free will, however the very process of discerning outcomes of situations that that person tried to explain to you, can be applied to discover what your exact response would be. All you need is enough information.

IMO, however, these kinds of exact predictions are not possible. Not because something like free will really does exist, but because the information that you need to base a prediction of a complex system (such as an organism) changes at the speed of light constantly through time. So inherently, there is no possible way to collect the needed information in time (or at all really) to make a prediction. So even though I believe that the macro world is entirely casual and there is no magical 'fee will', because of the inherent nature of the universe I can never prove it through prediction.

I don't think anyone here is saying that they are not in control of themeselvs, or that there is 'something else' controling them, it is simply a fact that we are a manifestation of the universe and hence are subject to its nature.

There is no difference between you and a star. Different forms of the same thing.

Would you say that a star has free will? Or an atom? So why is it that certain groups of atoms would have 'free will' and not others?
 
  • #35
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But having freedom of choice is one thing that we can be aware of. Well, maybe not everybody is aware of it, because some people might be 'programmed' differently and don't appear to be as flexible and changeable and self-aware as other people.
Are you really aware of your "freedom of choice", or could it simply be the case that you are NOT aware of precisely how you decide things (ie you are not aware of the precise mechanism in your brain which leads to your choices) - and you simply interpret this "internal transparency" as "freedom of choice"?

those that mock our intelligence by telling us that what we do/choose is actually in the control of something 'else'
A common misunderstanding. Absence of free will (of the metaphysical libertarian variety) does not imply that what we do/choose is "in the control of something else". It just means that the deterministic processes which result in our choices and decisions (which control us) are an INTEGRAL PART of us. I determine my future, even in a deterministic world, because my actions are determined and controlled by me. But it does not follow from this that I possess (metaphysical libertarian) free will.
 
  • #36
Pythagorean
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what moving finger said.

Specifically, Kenny L, it wouldn't be too far-fetched to propose that our cells code our behavior system through our DNA, based on input responses from the environment, and based on millions of years of evolution in that environment... or that the experience of decision-making is nothing more than a neurological weighing of reward/punishment of similar behaviors in the past.
 
  • #37
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Specifically, Kenny L, it wouldn't be too far-fetched to propose that our cells code our behavior system through our DNA, based on input responses from the environment, and based on millions of years of evolution in that environment... or that the experience of decision-making is nothing more than a neurological weighing of reward/punishment of similar behaviors in the past.
Maybe, pythag.....maybe. But right down at the root/base level we don't know what exactly is going on. So we do not know if our behaviours and ability to do our own thing (consciously) is merely due to neurological weighing of reward/punishment. Even though we still do have some primitive things in us........I reckon we're more advanced than just neurological weighing of reward/punishment of similar behaviours in the past.
 
  • #38
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Hi all, I found this thread and I wanted to share some of my thoughts about this with you, so here's my post.

If we assume that a "random decision" (unpredetermined by the information we have in our brains) is the result of the free will, than we can focus on the following:

Let's suppose a patient with anterograde amnesia (loss of memory of what happens after the injury that caused the amnesia) is taken to a room with 5 tulips (green, red, yellow, black and white) and is asked to choose one of them. This experiment is repeated 10 times in "perfect environment" (I mean the starting conditions are always the same, for example the places of the tulips, where the patient head is oriented to and so on).

Will the patient choose every time the same color (for example choose 10 times the yellow tulip) or is this going to be random?

I don't know the answer to this (I have searched on the web to see if anyone have posted results from such kind of experiment, but I didn't find any), but I think it could take us one step closer to the truth.

Regards!
 
  • #39
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Will the patient choose every time the same color (for example choose 10 times the yellow tulip) or is this going to be random?
It would be interesting to find out. But we also need to remember that people do not necessarily have a single preferred or favourite colour. They might have 2 or 3 colours that they like. Or some people might not have any colour preferences at all.......like maybe they like any colour. And some people may have a very strong preference for one colour only. So the result of this experiment would be interesting, but won't cover for everybody in the world.
 
  • #40
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Hi all, I found this thread and I wanted to share some of my thoughts about this with you, so here's my post.

If we assume that a "random decision" (unpredetermined by the information we have in our brains) is the result of the free will,
Hi and welcome Ferris_bg,

There is no reason to assume that a random decision is free will. I see no paradox even if the outcome was random.
 
  • #41
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There is no reason to assume that a random decision is free will. I see no paradox even if the outcome was random.
Yep, we can't be 100% sure, but it's a possibility.
 
  • #42
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Freewill and conscious thought?

Hello all! Here I am, about to open the proverbial can of worms! Are you ready for some superfantastic fun? Because we're about to go skinny-dipping into one of the deepest, darkest realms of the universe, namely ourselves!

Thus, I'd like to open up a dialogue on freewill and conscious thought. Let me be upfront: I readily acknowledge that both of these things exist, and that neither one of them makes any sense whatsoever; but of course, neither do the alternatives.

Very well then!

Let's start by defining our terms. By freewill, I mean the ability to make decisions that are determined by their final cause; or rather, to select through careful deliberation one path out of many. I do not mean to imply that decisions are uncaused as some people do. I mean that we are the ones who determine our own decisions; freewill is self-determining, in other words.

But how is freewill "self-determining?" We experience this phenomenon everyday of our lives, but are somehow at a loss to explain it. I think the answer is for more simple than we might suspect.

Here, I'm going to briefly accommodate myself to Aristotelian terms, because even today they still have much to recommend them, especially in regard to their simplicity.

Ultimately, our will is compelled by the Good (i.e. True Happiness). When presented with various options, we deliberate, and then go with the option that, at least as far as we know, brings us closest to this Goal. The reason why the will is called "free" is because the will is what, here and now, determines which option we go with.

The will would not be "free" if, for instance, you did all your mental calculations, decided to turn left, and then watched in dismay as you turned right. All that "free" means is that you are determining the path (regardless of what you think "you" actually is, e.g. spirit, matter, flubber, etc...).

Consciousness is very closely related to freewill. In a nutshell, consciousness is the perception of physical states. Thus, when I alter physical states, I consequently alter the perception of those physical states.

A thought experiment is in order. Imagine you're sitting in an empty classroom with a table at the front. There's a soda can on right side of the table, and I move it to the left side of the table. As a result of changing the physical state of the room, I have altered your perception of it; before, you perceived the soda can to be in a different position than it is now.

So, it shouldn't surprise us that when the brain is altered, so is our conscious state. After all, consciousness is the perception of physical states. But the perception of physical states is distinct, though perhaps not separate, from the physical states themselves.

This gives rise to some pretty bizarre implications. There probably is an immaterial aspect to reality, being defined as the experience of the material. More perplexing, science may actually be able to study at least some aspects of this immaterial realm, based on how alterations in matter affect it. It's pretty simple to think of experiments on how to do this, so I'll leave that part up to you all.

This is where it all ties back in with free will. Perceptions of physical states (maybe also a few perceptions of perceptions) are what cause us to determine our choices, when we understand this cause to be in the category of what Aristotle referred to as final causes (i.e. the Good/Goal). This point bears repeating; perceptions of physical states are what cause US to determine OUR choices.

This allows us to clarify what freewill means a little bit more. The will is free when we, based on our perception of physical states, determine our own decisions. The will is not free if these decisions are made first, and then determine the will. The will is also not free when we are forced to act against our desires, and have no ability to resist (i.e. Alien mind control; the poor B-movie heroine becomes a hapless observer as her body runs around town killing people, taking their brainstems, and reporting back to the mother-ship).

Thoughts? Comments?
 
  • #44
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The paper you linked to seems to correspond perfectly to my proposed theory.

The build-up of RP corresponds to the analyses of different paths, which then enter into awareness, are deliberated, and then are either dismissed or pursued. The paper predicts exactly what I would have expected to see at the level of the brain.

Please remember that my explanation used the language of philosophy, which is not technical, but rather verbal and abstract. Taking all things into consideration, the subject flicks the wrist if they think it will get them closest to True Happiness, i.e. the Good. They do not flick the wrist if they think that by doing so, it will get them farther from True Happiness, i.e. the Good.

Happiness is defined as attaining a subject's ideal state of being. It is fairly easy to see how every action, every single one of them, either leads to or leads away from such a state.

With behaviors such as the flick of a wrist, which are relatively, though not entirely, neutral relative to the attainment of the Good, we should observe a fairly random behavior.

Indeed, that's what we observe.
 
  • #45
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The degree of free will in an action decreases as the action's influence on happiness/suffering increases?
 
  • #46
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No, no.

A kind of mental calculus is performed, which we commonly call deliberation, and the option which seems, based on the information available, to lead to a more ideal state of being, is selected by the will.
 
  • #47
Evo
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Please see the other numerous threads already started on this topic. Please try not to start a new thread on an old topic.
 
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  • #48
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It's because I'm aware that I have free-will. And you're probably aware that you have free will too. But if somebody comes along as says to us 'we only have the illusion of free will', then it's our own freedom of choice to tell that person to take a hike (now that's free will). I don't mean you.......I just mean those that mock our intelligence by telling us that what we do/choose is actually in the control of something 'else'. I mean, if they believe that it's not themselves in control of 'the wheel' in their own body, then they have a problem of some sort.
its not that what we do/choose is actually in the control of something 'else'. rather its that 'you' ARE that 'something else'. you just refuse to accept that fact.

it should be obvious that a persons self-image is not always completely accurate.

free will=free whim.
 
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  • #49
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its not that what we do/choose is actually in the control of something 'else'. rather its that 'you' ARE that 'something else'.
Then...he's in control of what he does/chooses, and has therefore free will. I mean, his whole point was that he's in control, and consequently has free will. And you've just told him as much.

Grandpa...are you feeling okay, or did you have too much turkey for Thanksgiving? :wink:
 
  • #50
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how does being in control equate with having freewill? you dont think its possible to be in control yet not have freewill?
 

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