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Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illusion

  1. Nov 2, 2009 #1
    I started this thread for the discussion of the consequences of our knowledge of physical determinism/probabilism on consciousness. What are your viewpoints regarding what I think are two possible scenarios:

    a.
    Consciousness can be solely attributed to the physical brain (it is a physical phenomena), thus the free will that most of us think we have doesn't actually exist. Consciousness is created by biology/chemistry, which is determined by physics, which is all that exists - nothing escapes physics. Everything in the physical universe can be predicted (or, with the emergence of QM we can predict the probability that it will occur, and map out a massive number, or perhaps infinite[if space is infinite and not a loop] number of probabilities of all possible futures - assuming copenhagen interpretation) and as such every thought you will have can also be predicted (to a maginificently huge probability) by full knowledge of the physical laws of the universe and the location of every particle in that person's brain and the location of every particle in the surrounding environment which impacts upon the brain. Of course, as QM comes into the picture you get probabilism, except you should still be able extrapolate all future possibilities with knowledge of the properties of all the wavefunctions in the universe & all the physical laws. (Hmm, perhaps the uncertainty principle forbids this, although you should still be able to compute the thoughts of a person into the future (due to the brain's scale)based on full analysis of the brain and the environment acting upon it).

    [If you're going to argue emergent phenomena, then wouldn't this would indicate an escape from causality which we have no reason to believe has ever happened in this universe?]

    b.
    Free will exists only because something called the soul exists. Without it everything we do could be determined(or a probability of it happening).
    The argument that even the soul should be determined cannot be put forward here because all our experience tells us that determinism is part of the fundamental reality in which we exist (the universe) which would give us bias in our formulation of opinions. If souls did exist, then this would hint that the physical universe may not be the fundamental fabric of reality and free will may be allowed to exist in a reality we cannot even contemplate.


    I conclude that the belief that you have free will and the belief that consciousness is produced solely by the brain to be incompatible.
    Does anybody disagree with the conclusion I've made that either we have free will and a soul from a separate reality, or we don't have free will and consciousness can be attributed to the brain?

    My main question is this, if the materialism perspective is reality, then why is free will such a persistent illusion? Would the illusion of free will be a necessary one in a materialistic/deterministic/probabilistic universe? Is this illusion an emergent property of the inner workings of the brain, or do we actually have free will (your opinion here)?

    I haven't read much on this topic, so I'm trying to battle test my thoughts.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 2, 2009 #2
    Re: Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illus

    My personal opinion is free will existed before the universe existed. Once the universe came into existance free will was gone but the effects of it having existed are felt even today :) In short we do not come inorder to make the choice instead we come to understand it.
     
  4. Nov 2, 2009 #3

    apeiron

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    Re: Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illus

    This as usual is the cart before horse approach. If you are being "scientific", why not first explore the issue of human decision making at the appropriate level of modelling. So consider what is known in neuroscience and cultural anthropology about the actual shaping of decisions in humans?

    Chance and necessity, or indeterminancy and determinancy, at the micro-scale of physics is a different issue. There is nothing in science to suggest that "freewill" - or decision-making - in humans has anything to do with these issues.

    Sure, philosophers might argue that if, say, determinancy is true of micro-physics (contra evidence like the success of QM models) then it would seem that we exist in a block universe. But that debate should not be conflated with the matter of human "freewill" as there is no data to suggest any necessary link across the 34 orders of magnitude that separate micro-physics from biophysics.

    So begin again asking how do humans make choices? Study the neuroscience and the cultural anthropology. Then if you can still see an explanatory gap, that might be the time to look wider across explanatory scale.

    The same goes for "consciousness" too of course.
     
  5. Nov 2, 2009 #4
    Re: Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illus

    Good reply. Although, if it is true that there is the emergent property of free will in biophysics that cannot be attributed to micro-physics, then doesn't this break causality? Everything we have observed in this universe so far has had a cause, then what could cause free will if not what underlies biophysics - microphysics?

    "But that debate should not be conflated with the matter of human "freewill" as there is no data to suggest any necessary link across the 34 orders of magnitude that separate micro-physics from biophysics."

    I don't see how TRUE free will could emerge from biophysics. I can only see the ILLUSION of it emerging as the only possibility. As I said, doesn't physics determine chemistry, which determines biophysics and how the brain operates? I think the argument of emergent properties is kind of like people in the middle ages calling someone with autism possessed. Just because the sum of the huge number of parts produces something amazingly complex doesn't mean it cannot be reduced to its parts for an explanation. (I think)

    I can only imagine true free will existing in something separate from this physical universe, as everything contained in this physical universe is dictated by its inescapable laws.

    As for QM, this doesn't create free will. This just means you have a probability of forming a thought one way and a probability of forming a thought another way, which can be calculated. Some are hugely more likely and some are incredibly unlikely and are probably never going to happen ever. (In the materialist perspective) This also assumes the copenhagen interpretation is reality.

    Although, this is just my opinion. I will research some of the things you suggested which I haven't yet. Thankyou.
     
  6. Nov 2, 2009 #5
    Re: Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illus

    Seems like a valid assumption given the lack of evidence of anything else.
    That is more tricky. Most people believe in some sort of supernatural freewill.... which involves a non-physical soul. But the fact freewill is poorly defined, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism
    This is also problematic. Something may be wholly determined, but predicting something involves processing power. Even if we had the initial conditions of the universe, the amount of energy needed to 'predict' events occuring after any given time might simply not be available within the universe, making prediction impossible. This is what I like to call the fallacy of omniscience.
    You should be careful with the the word 'possibilities'. The fact that something is extremely unlikely doesn't mean its impossible. What is 'possible' is essentially just an opinion.
    The brain's environment is the universe. That's a pretty tall order.
    No. Emergent phenomena just describes top-down causality, not an escape from it.
    If you are talking about a supernatural soul, it is a self-contradicting idea. If my soul exists, and is free from determinist influence, it could not learn new things. It could not even make decisions since decisions require inputs, and that would entail a causal relationship. Its a similar problem with any supernatural agency. A creator god is also problematic in this way. If a creator god creates the universe, where was he sitting before his creation? If nothing existed before the universe, then the creator god is... nothing.
    In other words, freewill is magic we can't understand, so discussing it is futile.
    First, you have to understand the source of the common notion of freewill. The concept is designed for a religious purpose. Without freewill there is no sin, and without sin, god is to blame for everything that happens in the universe. Freewill is an attempt by relgious people, who claim an all powerful, all loving, god, to explain suffering and evil in the world. As such, its a bit of a contortionist act.

    If you eliminate this need, it becomes much less problematic.
    The real problem is creating a useful definition of freewill.
     
  7. Nov 2, 2009 #6

    apeiron

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    Re: Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illus

    If you ain't got causality, you ain't got nuttin. Agreed. And emergence - as it is used these days by many people to mean supervenience - is already a break with causality, regardless of whether it is emergence from micro- or bio- physics.

    The position I defend is systems-scale emergent - emergence with causality. And central to the systems approach is the belief in top-down causality, as well as bottom-up. So what would "underlie" the biophysical scale of modelling would be both the micro- and the macro- physics. So, for example, both QM (if we have to drill down that far - no proof of that) and equally the macro-scale of the second law of thermodynamics (which in fact clearly plays a part in the reasons why life and mind emerges as complex adaptive systems).

    This is in fact precisely the claim that has to be examined. And great physicists like Gell Mann, Davies and Schroedinger have made the case against naked micro-reductionism very well.
     
  8. Nov 3, 2009 #7
    Re: Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illus

    I don't get why determinism is latched onto so strongly in considering free will, when there is an enormous example of the universe violating this principle staring us right in the face. The example I'm referring to is the origin of the universe itself.

    Sure, we have a name for it and various ideas as to what may have occurred, but no one has any idea what caused the universe. Why did it bother existing in the first place? What is the original cause? If there was no time before the big bang, then how could anything have possibly happened "before"?

    Until the ultimate primary cause for all existence can be said to exist - definitively - then all of determinism is completely meaningless. Deterministically, the universe should not exist.

    Freewill +1
     
  9. Nov 3, 2009 #8
    Re: Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illus

    Would you agree that free will is more likely to have existed before the universe did then after it existed?
     
  10. Nov 3, 2009 #9
    Re: Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illus

    I don't see how an intangible concept such as free will, which is a property of conscious beings, could have predated the existence of such beings, much less the universe itself. My criticism of the primary cause is directed more at causality and determinism as a model of reality; freewill is something that emerges within a universe that allows for "non-clockwork" phenomenon.
     
  11. Nov 6, 2009 #10
    Re: Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illus

    Free will is a poorly defined idea. The fact is, behavioral patterns are observed. If a person is born into a society where most people choose political ideology A, religion B, artistic preference C, culinary preference D, etc., that individual has a high probability of choosing those same beliefs. We have the sensation that we choose "freely", even while our choices exhibit repeated patterns and limited ranges. Where is the "free" part?
     
  12. Nov 6, 2009 #11
    Re: Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illus

    My personal opinion freewill is just the ability to make a choice at random. In other words the more randomly you can make a choice the more freewill youd have. So like being able to choose only between 2 things would have less of an element of freewill then 4. But actual free freewill would require that you can make any choice... So thats why I think the only real chance for freewill was at the beginning of the universe. When anything was possible because nothing had been done yet. This is the best I can come up with for freewill anyone got a better way of putting it?
     
  13. Nov 6, 2009 #12
    Re: Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illus

    The free part is in the autonomy, the ability to do what one is disposed to do.
    Any choice will involve a history.
     
  14. Nov 7, 2009 #13

    BobG

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    Re: Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illus

    Haven't you combined two different conditions in "a."? In "a.", you seem to say that everything can be predicted because only one result can come from a given set of conditions, or you can't quite predict everything perfectly because there is a possibility of two different results coming from the same conditions (even if one of the results is far more likely).

    And then, because "a." has encompassed both determinism and variable results, then "b." must be false because you've run out of conditions?

    I think you need more conditions:

    a. Determinism - any result can be predicted perfectly if the initial conditions are fully known. This proves souls and free will cannot exist. In other words, the only reason probability comes into play at all is because it's impossible to fully know the initial conditions.

    b. Probability - a probable result can be predicted if the initial conditions are fully known, but it's possible to get two separate results given the same initial conditions. Any variation in results has absolutely nothing to do with souls or free will.

    c. Probability - a probable result can be predicted if the initial conditions are fully known, but part of the variation could be because of souls or free will.

    d. Determinism - any result can be predicted perfectly if the initial conditions are fully known. This proves free will can't exist, but says nothing about the souls that can observe their own fate, but can't change them (like the stories, "Appointment in Samarra" & "Oedipus Rex", etc)

    e. Determinism - any result can be predicted perfectly if the initial conditions are fully known. This proves that if free will does exist, it only affects how a soul will feel about an impersonal and unchangeable fate. It can't affect how a person will physically react to a given set of conditions.

    You could probably come up with a couple more conditions.
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2009
  15. Nov 12, 2009 #14
    Re: Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illus

    I don't know why people always connect free will with soul / something non-material. I think it's just part of the way the brain function. I'll try to explain that... So I define "free will" as control over the brain calculations. Who says that this control could not be done by the brain itself and there must be a soul in order to apply the control? And by saying brain calculations I don't think only of actions, decisions, choices, but also feelings, emotions, etc. Now is it possible to become very happy without receiving any new input / stimuli to the brain when you are in a sad mood (time is some input too, so let's say you received a bad news just before 1min)? No it's not possible (you can suppress the bad feeling but that's not the same), thus we don't exercise control over our brain reactions, doesn't matter if thats decisions or emotions.

    But let's say in the future the brain science advances and finds a way to implant some microchip allowing us to command every aspect of the brain input and output. That would be a great fun, you will know that you are not taking the most adequate decision every time, but you will actually feel better about it, because you will have control over this, meaning that you have a free will. What I try to say is that free will for me is the ability to change the way how the brain is interpreting the reality. And I think that it's obvious that we humans lack this, but it's not impossible for sure.
     
  16. Nov 12, 2009 #15
    Re: Free will & the soul, Or the brain, determinism/probabilism & the free will illus

    Its all about sin, and hellfire.
     
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