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Free will?

  1. Jun 2, 2004 #1
    Does free will exist?
    according to Newton the universe is deterministic, and therefore free will does not fit into this. But since the advent of quantum physics, the universe is not said to be entirely deterministic, is there now room for free will? some physicists believe that the wave function of matter/light collapses when a living thing is conscious of it, could this be a sign of free will?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 2, 2004 #2


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    Doesn't the randomness of non-determined events rule out will? Free maybe, but I don't see how you can fit conscious volition into this.

    I think you're better off looking to feedback loops and non-linear causality if you're trying to find free will. Ask Canute about this.
  4. Jun 2, 2004 #3


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    I think you will have to look higher up (or is it lower down? bah) the food chain if you want to find scientific guidance on this problem; at least- biology, better- the cognitive sciences.

    Of course, there is another way to attack the problem. If anywhere, where would freewill exist? Can this freewill be limited in any way?

    Happy thoughts

    Or... if you would like a more direct answer- yes, it exists, and I have already told you this 73 times, now eat your pickles ;)
  5. Jun 3, 2004 #4
    just thought of this the other day also:

    Controling the future = free will
    Predicting the future doesnt nessecarily mean you can control the future(or have free will).
    But controling the future (free will) means you can predict the future.
    This is when A = B, but B doesnt always = A. Is this what they call duality?

    If i dream about a logically unforeseeable event in the future, it means that maybe i can avoid it, or maybe i cant. This has happened to me, and I didnt see it coming at all, but it came anyway. Could i have avoided it?, maybe, maybe not.
    B = A?, yes AND no???

    If i dream up a painting, and then choose to paint it, then thats my free will to control the future.
    A = B YES!
  6. Jun 3, 2004 #5


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    Where are all these Floridians coming from? Er, I mean, what is attracting so many of them to this forum? Strange.

    Anyway, the point is that an apple may not have any choice about the path it takes from the branch to the ground. But people are more complex than apples. One has to consider the emergent properties of the different levels of complexity. Physics is not the place to look for answers about human or animal "free will". If you want to learn about animals, study animals.

    mikesvenson makes the good point that people have the ability to look "before and after", remembering the past and imagining the future.
    People may be bound by physical laws, but their role does not need to be passive, like the apple. People can adjust their will to the laws and the laws to their will.

    I don't think a completely free will is desirable. For instance, I try to be reasonable and logical which adds more laws for me to follow. I am not completely free in my decisions or actions. But to say I am therefore a slave would be a jump, because I can recognize the difference between a slave and an employee. I remain here voluntarily and retain the option to quit.
    Of course, things don't have to be so dramatic; I can also choose what to eat for dinner or to what occupation I will devote my energies.
    Free will doesn't have to be all or nothing.

    Happy thoughts
  7. Jun 3, 2004 #6
    your right,
    of course, if i freely choose to jump off a biulding, i may not freely choose to not hit the ground, since i am bound by the physical laws of gravity, which is well beyond my everyday experiance of free-will. The question that comes to mind for me is, is free-will just a comfortable idea?, is the future predetermined? I think that free-will is a real thing to some extent. I think free-will is the voice of the soul (hopefully), and not just a complex self-aware human computer. I wonder if free-will is strong enough to defy the physical laws.
  8. Jun 3, 2004 #7


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    Do you mean that we could have Superhero abilities if we *really* wanted to? In our imagination, sure. But in reality, I think if it were possible, it would be happening.

    Do you mean "real" as in a physical or supernatural?

    Happy thoughts
  9. Jun 3, 2004 #8
    "Free will" is acausal and therefore impossible. Everything is equal-and-opposite cause-and-effect, or else you get something from nothing.
  10. Jun 4, 2004 #9


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    Well, if you say so then it must be true :rolleyes: Would you care to explain?
  11. Jun 4, 2004 #10
    I don't have "free will" and my death is predeterimed. But i am freely willing to reach my goals before that happens. :biggrin:
  12. Jun 5, 2004 #11
    (superhuman powers)i think i might be possible for a more advanced thinking human which does not exist yet. and if not, then at least possible in an afterlife free will is more flexible.(maybe)
  13. Jun 5, 2004 #12
    you are so right!
    my personal motto is : "i have plenty of time, but none to waste"
  14. Jun 5, 2004 #13


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    He's saying that all events have causes, and this includes mental events. With this being the case, a chain of cause and effect is traceable (at least in principle) for anything back to the interaction of atoms and molecules that are completely bounded by the laws of physics. If this is not the case for mental events, then at some point we must reach an event that had no cause. However, I've already demonstrated that a contracausal event, though free, is not willed.
  15. Jun 5, 2004 #14
    People often believe that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and they also that the universe is made up of positive and negative, good and bad, black and white.

    But of course it is not.

    What is the opposite of a tree branch?

    Is there an opposite of a cloud?

    We assume that physics has taken us to the very edge of creation to a fraction of a second after the big bang. And we include inflation theory along with that.

    Yet of course inflation theory is just something we made up, and which does not in any way shape or form conform to such things as the equivalence
    principal. That is to say that the laws of physics were different then because we say so, and in saying so, it makes our theory work. We made it up.

    If there was no free will, you could not move.

    If you are extending the free will concept beyond such things as having sufficient free will to move your own arm, to being able to or having the capacity to make a choice, then you decide what you will have for dinner do you not?

    Going backwards then, to the atomic level, do thoughts cause atoms to move? Move your hand.

    Do atoms cause thoughts?

    Many believe that consciousness arises out of the complex nueral network in your brain. Many are convinced of this. The same people who are convinced that inflationary theory is fact and not speculation.

    So what was the latest proof for the big bang? Background radiation of the expected temperature? Since then, hasn't Hubble determined the universe is much older than previously thought?

    Since then are not galaxies heading in all directions including towards us, as opposed to only away from some percieved center?

    If you look for _any temperature in the background radiation do you think you will find it, when the scale is in fact infinite?

    Does free will exist? Yes it does. Not completely, because we do not bring ourselves into existence. But once here, we get to choose what to have for dinner, and what to read.
  16. Jun 5, 2004 #15


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    I have free will. My thoughts and actions are not predetermined.

    For example: I'm driving and a person cuts in front of me. I have choices.

    1) I can run into them.

    2) I can hit my brakes and avoid hitting them.

    3) I can pull into another lane and avoid them.

    It is free will that let's me choose.

    Even if there is not enough time to avoid the collision, I had the free will to attempt to avoid it. Just because you can't always avoid something doesn't mean you don't have free will. Free will is the desire to change the outcome.

    The future is not predetermied. We have free will to choose how to respond to previous actions.

    We always have options. They may not always be the options we want, but it is up to us to decide what happens next.
  17. Jun 6, 2004 #16
    so then we don't really have 'free will', but certain options of 'will' dependant on preceding circumstances?
  18. Jun 6, 2004 #17


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    Rick said almost the same thing I was going to say. You cannot explain the motions of the atoms in an organism without examining organisms. It isn't that life *breaks* the physical rules, but it adds more rules to them. Sure, people are bound by physical rules- so what? A rock and a person may be made of atoms, but if you look *only* at the atoms, you will be completely baffled by their behavior. People cannot be explained with only physics; I have already said this. You have to look at the higher levels and their emergent properties- properties which do not exist at a lower level. Supernatural things do not have to enter the picture.
    There is still something which needs to be resolved; if every action has a cause, how can our actions be "free"?
    A question could get this started in the right direction: If yesterday you thought you had freewill, but tonight you discovered that all of your actions are predetermined, what would be different tomorrow? How would you decide what to have for breakfast?
  19. Jun 6, 2004 #18


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    Er, maybe that question is not enough. How about this: what would happen in a person's brain without the person's conscious participation?
    If I believed that my life was out of my hands, and I just sat back, would a lower level kick into gear and move my body, drive me to work, fix my dinner, and write this post? Um, no. So even looking at the human brain- in however much detail- will not suffice, because the person's subjective thoughts must be considered.
    Science has not advanced to the point of identifying a person's conscious thoughts by looking at their brain. Even if this does happen, it doesn't change freewill because it doesn't destroy the subjective experience. When I say that I choose to do something, I am perfectly correct. I am the thing that wants, thinks, and chooses. I am the thing that decides what to eat for dinner. I am the thing writing this post. And scientific knowledge cannot change that.
    BTW I do want to know everything about myself, and I hope that science advances as far as it can. But the discovery of how something works doesn't change how it works.
    Happy thoughts
  20. Jun 6, 2004 #19


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    Free will to me means that I have a choice in how I respond to something, nothing more.

    Obviously what others have done and what has already happened create the situation I need to respond to, but the outcome has not already been determined. I decide what happens next. But I cannot control what happens as a result of my decision.

    The fact that we have free will means that every decision we make can cause another decision to be made. Life is dynamic, it is an ever changing scenario. Every time we make a decision it causes another decision to be made, but they are random.

    Free will doesn't mean you can control anything, it just means that you decide (in your instance) what happens next. The outcome of your decision can be completely different from what you expected, it is all random. I choose option A, which presents you with options 1-5, you choose 2 which presents another person with options 1-3 ands so on and so on.

    This is how life works. We make decisions that can affect others, who in turn have to make decisions that can affect others... But nothing is "predetermined", everything changes with every decision.

    I know I have been redundant in my explanation, but I am hoping by doing so I have made myself clear. :confused:
  21. Jun 7, 2004 #20


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    Evo, I think I understand, but I don't think the decisions are completely random, in fact they *could* be completely mechanistic and predetermined. I agree that it's *you* who decides, and this is exactly why it doesn't matter *how* you decide. The decision is still yours, and if you stop making decisions, then no decisions will be made.
    (There is the sneaky caveat that even not making decisions is a decision- it's sneaky and wrong. Rocks do not make decisions therefore they make decisions? No. Only the initial decison to quit making decisons is a decision, and afterwards, you are like a rock in the decision department.)
    Freewill is not a property of atoms, chemicals, or logic. Though it can have them as its basis, it is something more- an emergent property. Freewill is a property of decision-makers, of choosers. If a person chooses, they have freewill, by virtue of their choice. There is nothing mystical or supernatural about it. It is as natural as sex. Sex is not a property of atoms, chemicals, or logic either. It is a property of sex-havers, of love-makers. And despite what some men claim, there is nothing supernatural about it. :biggrin:

    Evo, if I misunderstood how you meant random, sorry, please correct me if I need it.
    Happy thoughts
  22. Jun 8, 2004 #21
    I agree with you Evo, and you as well Rachel.

    Depending on how you measure free will, you can look at the situation and say that people are free to choose.

    At the same time you can say that perhaps free will is an illusion.
    Occams razor would say that free will exists.

    However, from the point of view "Does God play dice with the universe?"
    Stephen Hawking would say that we will never know because of what goes on inside a black hole, which is hidden.

    From a nuts and bolts perspective, cause and effect, does the fact that
    there is a cause, remove the free will aspect of action? Animated free thinking organisms appear to have some control over their destiny.

    If there are two choices, which are in all related respects equal, what then?
  23. Jun 8, 2004 #22
    Well, free will is acausal, because if an event is caused, then it is predetermined by other events. I take it that this contradicts what is meant by the term "free will."

    All things that occur are contrained by equal and opposite, if conservation is to be intact. You take some here, but you give it there. There is net change int he quantity (such as momentum) of zero. If you take away equal and opposite, the net change in the quantity is no zero, and therefore you have something from nothing.
  24. Jun 9, 2004 #23


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    That reminds me of some story (not a true story) about a donkey that found itself equidistant from two water troughs, equal in all respects, and stood there, unable to make a choice, until it died. So-and-so's donkey, it's called IIRC. If this ever actually happened, I'd be amazed.
    The fact that people are faced with decisions to which they do not have an immediate solution casts doubt on the mechanistic, reductionist view. There is a definite decision-making process. I go through the process on a regular basis. And it is this process which must be examined before concluding whether or not people actually determine their future.
    In my view, the subjective aspect of this process *is* freewill. Whether or not the outcome of the process is predetermined doesn't change the general way the process works. Nor does it obliterate the process. Freewill remains as long as it is used.
    That said, knowledge of how the process works can have a specific effect, as follows. A person who believes their future is already determined may decide there's no point in taking the time and effort to make careful decisions and so may live willy-nilly. (I like that word :biggrin: )They may resent being held responsible for their actions. Someone else may feel an extreme amount of pressure in making decisons, believing they are wholly and soley responsible. They may feel pride or guilt over a decison. And so on.
    Some decisions are mostly random, like which pair of socks to pull from the drawer. Some others depend mostly on moods, like what music you feel like listening to tonight. Because of their highly subjective aspect, they present a hairy problem to an objective observer, and it is very difficult to lay out a decision-making process for these two types. This problem has yet to be fully resolved.
    But in cases where the decison depends almost exclusively on reason, the process can be easily communicated. And these decisions are usually predetermined, in the following way. Given a problem and set of options, there is a *best* option. The best option is determined as soon as the problem is fully set down. And, in this case, the decison-making process is really just discovery; figuring out which option is the best. For example, deciding on which college to attend.
    However, the setting down of the problem includes determining a goal. The goal is what allows the ordering or prioritizing of the options. The goal (or goals) determines the worst, best, and every option in between. In the case of college, cost, location, instructor quality, and social life will assume a certain priority or value and become a set of goals. Granted, there can be restrictions on what kind of goals can be set; money and time are common restrictions. But that is only a part of the process.
    For this type of decision to be taken as predetermined, the setting of goals and assigning of values must be shown to be predetermined. That is no simple task, and it has yet to be accomplished.
    So anyone who says people's decisions are predetermined either has a big secret or a lot of gall.
    Happy thoughts
  25. Jun 9, 2004 #24


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    Then we are using two different definitions of freewill. For my definition, see above.

    Yes, I understand the concept, but I have never heard of conservation laws being applied to consciousness. How do you assign a quantity to abstract thought or subjective experience? How do you measure them? How do they have opposites?
    What is the justification for thinking that everything in the physical world can be fully described by physics? If that is true, someone should tell all the other scientists and philosophers they're wasting their time.

    If I misunderstood and your intention is to show that subjective experiences are connected to physical phenomena in such a way that the rules governing the physical apply to the abstract in the same way, then great. The challenge is twofold. First, the connections must be found. That is, the connection between the subjective and objective aspects of, say, a person imagining their mother's face, smelling a rose, reading the word "rose", etc.
    Second, the nature of the connections must be explained. That is, if they are the same for all people, if they change throughout one's life, if they are coincidental/opportunistic or if there is a stronger determination, etc.
    Only after this has been done can you justly apply physics to thoughts. And it still does not nullify the role of the subjective experiencer, the thing that wants, reasons, remembers, expects, and chooses. The thing that has freewill may arise from and depend upon physical processes, but it is nonetheless a thing in its own right.
    Happy thoughts
  26. Jun 9, 2004 #25
    Our thoughts are brain processses. These processes invovle the transfer of momentum. If these momenta transfers are not the predetermined result of prior states, then conservation is violated. Therefore, the momenta transfers must be the predetermined results of prior states, according to the laws of physics. If these momenta transfers are predetermined, then one's thoughts are predetermined.
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