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Free-will poll

  1. Feb 16, 2009 #1
    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?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 16, 2009 #2
  4. Feb 16, 2009 #3
    Adaptation to circumstance.
  5. Feb 17, 2009 #4
    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)


    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?
  6. Feb 17, 2009 #5
    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.
  7. Feb 17, 2009 #6
    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.
  8. Feb 17, 2009 #7
    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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  9. Feb 17, 2009 #8
    Yeap, free will exists
  10. Feb 17, 2009 #9
    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
  11. Feb 17, 2009 #10


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    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.
  12. Feb 17, 2009 #11


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    Hi Fredrik,
    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.

    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”)
  13. Feb 17, 2009 #12
    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.
  14. Feb 17, 2009 #13
    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.
  15. Feb 18, 2009 #14
    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.
  16. Feb 18, 2009 #15


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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.
  17. Feb 19, 2009 #16
    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.
  18. Feb 21, 2009 #17


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    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"?
  19. Feb 21, 2009 #18
    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
    We could argue about what any of those words mean, and whether words mean anything at all. But thats hardly productive.
    We have substantial evidence for physical interaction, none for soul. Soul is a secondary hypothesis with little explanatory, and no predictive, value.
    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.
  20. Feb 22, 2009 #19


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    Hi JoeDawg,
    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.
  21. Feb 22, 2009 #20
    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.

    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.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2009
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