Free-will poll

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Who still believes in a true 'soul like' free will? Hasn't neuroscience done enough to refute this ancient idea? And if not true free will, then what guides human behavior?
 

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  • #2
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Emotions?
 
  • #3
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And if not true free will, then what guides human behavior?
Adaptation to circumstance.
 
  • #4
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I still think the theme of the question is: Is behavior directed by only neuro/physics/bio processes. And if so, then all behavior is based on previous physical states/conditions, and therefore is determined in principle, but unpredictable in practice. It seems behavior could be based on random outcomes of physical processes, but in actuality this is no better than being determined, as it is still beyond our control and ultimately does not lead one to a path of free-will.

1) Behavior is either based on physical bio processes (random or determined)

or

2) Behavior is based on free-will, which is not physical in nature (as it is not dependent on the processes of the brain)


Which one sounds more logical and consistent with science?
 
  • #5
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This is what is called a false dilemna. There is no reason to think that 'freewill' is not physical. And in fact, freewill depends on determinism.
 
  • #6
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If free-will is physical, then it is based on bio processes. If true, then bio processes must occur prior to the experience of free-will. If free-will occurs prior to the bio processes then it must not be physical.
 
  • #7
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If free-will is physical, then it is based on bio processes. If true, then bio processes must occur prior to the experience of free-will.
You seem to be arguing for a brand of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiphenomenalism" [Broken].

There are some really good arguments for AND against this.

Also, you characterize 'freewill' as existing magically at the moment of choice or not at all, which is where your false dilemna comes in.

In my experience, choices are more often a process, the fact that process might involve both 'conscious experience' and other 'unconscious' elements, presents no problem for me. The human mind is a complicated thing and 'experience of choice' is by definition a self-reflective thing, which means it would require more processing than simply making the choice.
 
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  • #8
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Yeap, free will exists
 
  • #9
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Freedom and moral responsibility exists, and it presupposes that our behavior is a result of who we are. This is compatibilism.

"Freedom evolves" - Daniel Dennett
 
  • #10
Fredrik
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There is no reason to think that 'freewill' is not physical. And in fact, freewill depends on determinism.
I agree about the first part, but if we're right about that, then the whole concept of "free will" is meaningless. How would you even define it? As "the ability to sometimes feel like you're making a choice when an inevitable physical interaction takes place in your brain"?

Is there any meaningful way to interpret the question "Do we have free will?"? The only interpretation that feels intuitively right to me is this: "Is consciousness something more than a physical interaction?" However, there's a problem with that interpretation. We don't have an exact definition of "physical interaction". We're of course talking about interactions between pieces of matter, but we don't have an exact definition of "matter" either (or "pieces"). So how about this instead: "Is it possible to find a scientific theory of consciousness?" Unfortunately, this has problems too. How do you define "consciousness"? The only way seems to be to say that an entity is conscious if it behaves in a certain way, but in that case, our "theory of consciousness" is just a "theory of behavior", and that sounds a lot less impressive, especially considering that it's not difficult at all to come up with a really simple theory of behavior that can make some correct predictions.

So it seems to me that what we're really asking is if there exists a (still undiscovered) scientific theory that can predict all kinds of human behavior. (Because of QM, we obviously can't require it to predict specifically how a particular human would behave, but we can require that it's able to accurately predict probabilities of all the different behaviors). If such a theory exists, we do not have free will. If it doesn't, then we do.

If that's the best definition of "free will" that we can come up with (and I suspect that it is), then there's no way to settle the matter conclusively unless there exists a logical/mathematical proof that such a theory can't exist, something similar to what Penrose tried (unsuccessfully) in The Emperor's new mind and Shadows of the mind.
 
  • #11
Q_Goest
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Hi Fredrik,
I agree about the first part, but if we're right about that, then the whole concept of "free will" is meaningless. How would you even define it? As "the ability to sometimes feel like you're making a choice when an inevitable physical interaction takes place in your brain"?

Is there any meaningful way to interpret the question "Do we have free will?"? The only interpretation that feels intuitively right to me is this: "Is consciousness something more than a physical interaction?" However, there's a problem with that interpretation. We don't have an exact definition of "physical interaction". We're of course talking about interactions between pieces of matter, but we don't have an exact definition of "matter" either (or "pieces"). So how about this instead: "Is it possible to find a scientific theory of consciousness?" Unfortunately, this has problems too. How do you define "consciousness"? The only way seems to be to say that an entity is conscious if it behaves in a certain way, but in that case, our "theory of consciousness" is just a "theory of behavior", and that sounds a lot less impressive, especially considering that it's not difficult at all to come up with a really simple theory of behavior that can make some correct predictions.
I’d agree with all this. Also, what causes any physical interaction is only other physical interactions. For example, “What caused the transistor to change state?” The answer isn’t “free will” or “because I wanted it to” or “because it was red” or anything like that. Transistors change state because there is a change in voltage on the base. Our emotions, beliefs, desires, etc… can’t be invoked to prompt a physical change. Only physical changes can prompt other physical changes. So what’s the point of even discussing mental causation? There are no mental causes which change the state of anything physical. And if we claim that the mental state is an epiphenomena, or that it simply follows the physical change of state (and thus we might claim the mental state “causes” the physical state change) then we have two separate causes for a single physical change of state and also, the mental state doesn’t even “reliably correspond” to the physical change in state. In other words, it doesn’t matter if we desire something or not – the physical change of state is not governed by this “emergent phenomena” that we call desire or free will. It does not reliably correspond because there is a physical change of state that governs, not some “downward causation” that changes a switch position because of some overall configuration. The overall configuration of a computational device can be reduced to the individual configurations of the parts. A computer is merely the sum of the parts with no ability to change any particular part simply because there is some emergent phenomena allegedly controlling the computer.

So it seems to me that what we're really asking is if there exists a (still undiscovered) scientific theory that can predict all kinds of human behavior.
Most in the scientific world have the greatest problem not with behavior, but with mental causation and qualia/experience. Behavior is a study of how physical things change state. We can study how certain chemical interactions for example, change behavior. That’s all well and good… Qualia however, doesn’t have any measurable properties. Qualia include those things we experience, such as our beliefs (or our belief in free will). Also, mental causation is a problem as pointed out above.

Why is mental causation important? (Per Jaegwon Kim, “Mind in a Physical World”)
It is no wonder then that for most philosophers, the causal efficacy of the mental is something that absolutely cannot be given away no matter how great the pressures are from other quarters. Jerry Fodor is amoung these philosophers; he writes:

“… if it is literally true that my wanting is causally responsible for my reaching, and my itching is causally responsible for my scratching, and my believing is causally responsible for my saying… , if none of that is literally true, then practially everything I believe about anything is false and it’s the end of the world.”

If mental causation is only an illusion, that perhaps is not the end of the world, but it surely seems like the end of a world that includes Fodor and the rest of us as agents and cognizers. The problem of determinism threatens human agency, and the challege of skepticism threatens human knowledge. The stakes seem even higher with the problem of mental causation, for this problem threatens to take away both agency and cognition.
 
  • #12
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It is easy to define free will. Free will is the ability to do that which you want. Seems like a common sense definition to me. Claiming that quantum mechanics somehow makes it impossible to predict the behavior of a particular human would behave is just greedy reductionism and confuses the level of analysis that has to do with subatomic particles and the level of analysis that deals with the human brain. Also, free will presupposes determinism.
 
  • #13
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I pretty much agree with Fredrik and Q Goest. Also, the word "free" seems a misnomer. There's so many ways in which the mind is limited, no matter how much we don't want to admit. There's so many dimensions for which humans don't exist and havent' explored, that we are fairly caged up in limitations. Lets hold off on discussing what's possible and lets just use current limitations of what humans can do. In that respect, no, we are not free. Are we as free as we want to be, I'd assume most of us are. We are bound by the same laws everything around us is. Is there some way of determining what our behavior is going to be on a larger scale? I'd guess so but we can't say for certain and I don't see much point in dwelling on it. It's of no use to me so it is a truth for which I won't seek. It's just another truth for which we don't care to seek unless there's something in it for us, which is usually a religious agenda or personal one. I suppose some people want to know that what we are doing is pre-determined and ordered by some higher power and there's a purpose, perhaps. Some people may feel emotionally caged or for some other reason, looking for freedom so they may want to see free will as something entirely in their control.

So again, I'll go with my typical copped out answer and just say however you want to see it is just as fine and valid as my own view, imho. After all, this is the Philosophy forum. I'm not sure there is a right answer.
 
  • #14
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How would you even define it?
The ability to change one's intention into action.

This is the essense, I think, of Compatibalism.

Arguing that one is not free because we can only make one decision at a time, ignores the fact that another person, in our same situation, based on their own, possibly different intentions, is free to do something else.

Having the computational power and theoretical ability to predict action really has no bearing on an individual making their choice. A prediction doesn't force the person to make that choice, the 'prediction' would simply be an accurate model of that choice.
 
  • #15
Q_Goest
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Should we give up on mental causation simply because computationalism doesn't allow it?

Perhaps we should give up on computationalism.
 
  • #16
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I don't agree with the religious kind of free will, but I'll either agree with compatibilism, or that there's simply determinism all the way through and free will is an illusion. I'm always stuck on the subject.
 
  • #17
Fredrik
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Free will is the ability to do that which you want.
The ability to change one's intention into action.
You can't use undefined terms in a definition. The meaning of what you guys said depends on what "you/one" is, and on what a "want/intention" is. Are "you" a physical interaction or a soul? Is your "intention" a physical state of a subsystem or a kind of "qualia"?
 
  • #18
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You can't use undefined terms in a definition.
I'm happy to go with a dictionary definition.
None of the words I used are particularly complex jargon.
Nor was I making a claim to knowledge of the specifics of cognition.
Oh, and I CAN use any terms I like, you can't stop me :-p
The meaning of what you guys said depends on what "you/one" is, and on what a "want/intention" is.
We could argue about what any of those words mean, and whether words mean anything at all. But thats hardly productive.
Are "you" a physical interaction or a soul?
We have substantial evidence for physical interaction, none for soul. Soul is a secondary hypothesis with little explanatory, and no predictive, value.
Is your "intention" a physical state of a subsystem or a kind of "qualia"?
Even if one believes in a soul, a physical state would be necessary, or the soul could not interact with the (physical) brain. Which means a soul hypothesis is at best unecessary, at least in terms of a general understanding of freewill. Now we can argue what 'physical' means... but in any meaningful dialogue some assumptions must be made, else communication is not possible, and conversation reduces to semantics (a definition war). This is a poll about freewill, not physicality.
 
  • #19
Q_Goest
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Hi JoeDawg,
Even if one believes in a soul, a physical state would be necessary, or the soul could not interact with the (physical) brain. Which means a soul hypothesis is at best unecessary, at least in terms of a general understanding of freewill.
Just as you’ve pointed out that a ‘soul’ can not interact with the physical brain, there is a much more fundamental problem with any ‘physical’ theory of mind. That problem is often referred to as simply “mental causation”. The problem is, how can phenomenal aspects of mind interact with, and be causally responsible for, our actions. At best, this causal influence is simply epiphenomenal. At worst, there is no reliable correspondence.

People see the mind as being equal to the brain, so they think that covers the problem - it doesn't. Compatibalists don’t even understand the problem, let alone provide any meaningful solution.

Any discussion about free will should boil down immediately to the problem of mental causation. In defining the problem of mental causation, one should also define what paradigm they assume (ex: computationalism, quantum mechanical mind, etc…). Without any understanding of the problems, and without presenting what model they reference in defining those problems, threads like this just spin helplessly in circles.
 
  • #20
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Just as you’ve pointed out that a ‘soul’ can not interact with the physical brain, there is a much more fundamental problem with any ‘physical’ theory of mind. That problem is often referred to as simply “mental causation”. The problem is, how can phenomenal aspects of mind interact with, and be causally responsible for, our actions. At best, this causal influence is simply epiphenomenal. At worst, there is no reliable correspondence.
The epiphenomal view of consciousness has a certain enjoyably nihilistic flavour to it, but its not without problems of its own. The most obvious one, and there are others, is the evolutionary issue.

Consider, a computer that runs programs entirely within a command prompt, and then a second that uses a fully realized and realistic virtual 3d game space. The difference is non-trivial when it comes to both memory requirements, and raw computing power. If consciousness is entirely epiphenomenal, then it has no effects on the organism. If this is true, it seems rather extraordinary that we have evolved such a detailed virtual reality environment in our brains.... one that has absolutely no effect, and therefore, no use. One would think that something requiring so much energy to maintain, but which provides no benefit, would quickly go the way of the human appendix. And yet, our consciousness seems to be the key feature that allows us, a fairly weak, slow and ilequipped predator, to not only survive, but dominate the planet.

No, I'd say that we simply have a poor understanding of what the world 'mental' means, but that mental causation hardly demands epiphenomalism.

In defining the problem of mental causation, one should also define what paradigm they assume
The problem is, we simply don't have a viable model of 'mental causation', let alone a good understanding of what either word really means. So picking a random paradigm isn't much use. Jumping to the epiphenomenal conclusion ignores the fact that the word 'mind' isn't much better defined than soul. Neuroscience is still in its infancy. Dualism is still an open question. What we do know is that brain and mind seem to be related, which is a huge step really, considering the ancient greeks thought the brain's only function was to cool the blood.
 
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  • #21
Q_Goest
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Hi JoeDawg,
Consider, a computer that runs programs entirely within a command prompt, and then a second that uses a fully realized and realistic virtual 3d game space. The difference is non-trivial when it comes to both memory requirements, and raw computing power.
Not sure what your point is here. Certainly there’s a difference between one program that runs without output and another that runs with output, the second needing more memory space.

If consciousness is entirely epiphenomenal, then it has no effects on the organism. If this is true, it seems rather extraordinary that we have evolved such a detailed virtual reality environment in our brains.... one that has absolutely no effect, and therefore, no use. One would think that something requiring so much energy to maintain, but which provides no benefit, would quickly go the way of the human appendix. And yet, our consciousness seems to be the key feature that allows us, a fairly weak, slow and ilequipped predator, to not only survive, but dominate the planet.
Agreed. Note that this ‘mental causation’ is something we need somehow to keep rather than give away as computationalism does.

The problem is, we simply don't have a viable model of 'mental causation', let alone a good understanding of what either word really means.
The term “mental causation” is well defined in the literature. It is the concept that phenomenal properties of mind as defined by Chalmers for example, actually have causal influence over the physical world.

So picking a random paradigm isn't much use.
Actually, one MUST select a specific paradigm, and the literature is replete with those who argue for or against a given paradigm because of the logical conclusions each paradigm must contend with. For example, Kim points out that mental causation is a problem for computationalism.
 
  • #22
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Not sure what your point is here. Certainly there’s a difference between one program that runs without output and another that runs with output, the second needing more memory space.
Without output?? No, I never said that.
Agreed. Note that this ‘mental causation’ is something we need somehow to keep rather than give away as computationalism does.
We don't need to do anything other than follow the data. Parts of our experience may be epiphenomenal, other parts may not be. We really don't know what the mind is. Strict epiphenomenalism doesn't seem to work though. It seems to be an oversimplification.
The term “mental causation” is well defined in the literature.
A definition is easy. A model that works is something different.
It is the concept that phenomenal properties of mind as defined by Chalmers for example, actually have causal influence over the physical world.
If you mean 'emergence', its not well understood, and often debated, Searle for example. You seem to want to characterize opinion as fact.
Actually, one MUST select a specific paradigm,
You're not reading what I wrote. I never said you didn't.
For example, Kim points out that mental causation is a problem for computationalism.
So what? All that implies is that either our idea of mental causation is wrong and/or computationalism is wrong.

I lean towards 'and'.
 
  • #23
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I agree with you Emanresu56, however, I think compatibilism is a watered down version of determinism. It is just what is focused on that is different. Meaning, to feel that one is not psychologically or emotionally compelled or forced by any variable, yet at the same time to be guided and directed by physical laws. It's still determined.
 
  • #24
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I agree with you Emanresu56, however, I think compatibilism is a watered down version of determinism. It is just what is focused on that is different. Meaning, to feel that one is not psychologically or emotionally compelled or forced by any variable, yet at the same time to be guided and directed by physical laws. It's still determined.
That doesn't make sense to me, I've heard people criticize compatibalism as diluting the definition of 'freewill'. Although I'm of the exact opposite opinion. Before compatibalism the word was much more vague. But Compatibalism actually reaffirms determinism, it doesn't water it down, it doesn't change it even one bit, it relies on determinism.

Compatibalism simply eliminates the idea that a determined choice is equivalent to lacking choice.

It's modern notions of 'probability' and 'uncertainty' that are problematic for classical determinism.
 
  • #25
Q_Goest
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Compatibalism simply eliminates the idea that a determined choice is equivalent to lacking choice.

It's modern notions of 'probability' and 'uncertainty' that are problematic for classical determinism.
How does compatibalism allow for any kind of mental causation, free or otherwise? Phenomenal properties of mind can not cause a physical change in any deterministic physical system - only physical properties can invoke physical changes in deterministic physical systems (ie: computational structures). If phenomenal properties can't cause physical changes, and yet we maintain that these phenomenal properties 'reliably correspond' to the physical changes, then we have a much more serious issue, which is how these phenomenal properties could have ever come about since they are not needed and don't have any causal influence over a physical system.

This is like saying, "For a deterministic, computational chicken, why did the chicken cross the road." and in responce a compatibalist might incorrectly suggest "because he wanted to get to the other side." The problem here is in suggesting a desire by the chicken (ie: a phenomenal property of the chicken's mind) somehow influenced the deterministic physical system (ie: the chicken and its behavior/physical states). The truth is that the chicken crossed the road because the individual parts of the chicken interacted and resulted in the chicken crossing the road.

Any other mechanism, such as the phenomenal property of desire, can't have causal influence over any part of the chicken when there is already a physical property which causes that responce. This is the problem Kim has pointed out in a long series of papers and books. If one suggests that the phenomenal property corresponds to the behavior, such as compatibalism suggests, then we have a problem to explain. Why should there be a reliable correspondence between the phenomenal property and the physical cause? Why should we WANT to do something and then magically find that the physical interactions in our body match that desire? What evolutionary benefit is there to such an ad-hoc system? The compatibalist has to respond to the concern of why these phenomenal experiences should correspond with physical states in a way that is appropriate and generally truth-conductive. Compatibalism fails on the grounds that it has no way of explaining this reliable correspondence.
 

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