Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

On free will:

  1. Dec 28, 2004 #1
    This thread is a continuation of a discussion that went off topic on the thread "Can You Prove You Exist?" on the General Philosophy forum. I am doing the honors of starting a thread specific to the subject of the discussion, which was obviously free will.
    Here is the short discussion:
    As this post might get a little bit too long, I'll post again to describe why I think there is free will in more detail soon.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 28, 2004 #2
    I'm not trying to be a jerk :surprised: but why not just continue in any of the numerous other threads on free will?
  4. Dec 28, 2004 #3
    okay imparcticle i am looking forward to hear from u and i am ready to agree with u if u coninced me or to make ugree with me.
  5. Dec 28, 2004 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    obvisouly there are certain physical limitations we have (such as being able to fly completely on our own). but i think if we have a will to become a certain person (such as a pilot), or a will to do certain things (such as fly an airplane), then the only "thing" limiting us is fear within ourselves. the greatest power humans have is choice, whether that choice be choosing between prime rib or tiger prawns for dinner, or choosing to hunt/fish for your food to survive.
  6. Dec 28, 2004 #5
    I agree with that but how does one rule out the notion that physics equations predict how every iota of reality will behave, including the electrons and neurotransmitters in our brains which, presumably, are that which makes the choices you mentioned?

    In a world where everything can be predicted, there is no free will except that induced by ignorance of the future would make it seem like genuine free will.

    But then again, doesn't the uncertainty principle imply that not everything can be predicted already, thus lending credibility to the notion of free will?

    You say we can't fly. I know where you're coming from; indeed, I have never flown myself nor have I seen anyone fly. How do you rule out the possibility that this is either a dream or a simulation where the "rules" could change at any and in every instant? I know it sounds absurd, perhaps, but it's been bugging me how to rule this out. Not that I believe in everything I can't rule out, but it would be nice to rule it out. Anyways, if this is a dream, perhaps it is possibly to make it a lucid dream, take control, and fly away. :tongue2:

    What you're saying is that we have limited free will. Some choices and some non-choices. I presume you'd say it's a non-choice whether we obey the laws of mathematics and physics and I would tend to agree. Billions of observers couldn't be wrong could they?

    A while back I started a thread on destiny which is directly related to free will. My conclusion was also that we have limited free will. We can choose what to have for dinner (or at worst it's a damn good simulated freedom) but not choose what the solution to x+5=2x is (where all entities are real numbers and variables over the real numbers).
  7. Dec 29, 2004 #6
    :smile: :smile: I'm glad you're looking forward to it. Me too. :smile:

    Quite recently today I finished reading (well almost) a most excellent essay regarding free will. It is a logical analysis that is eye opening. It incorperated by own ideas of free will, so instead of me re-writing a summary of the essay and restating only what part was in common with my ideas, I think it is more efficient to have you read parts of the essay that I intend on highlighting. But if you want to read the whole thing, feel free: http://www.sfu.ca/philosophy/swartz/freewill1.htm#intro

    Consider the following two arguments. Argument 1 suggests free will is non existent and furthermore asserts all our actions are all due to natural conditions which induce us to do something.

  8. Dec 29, 2004 #7
    Complexity, Self Organizing Systems, Chaos

    I will make this succinct:

    -From a simple set of rules, complexity arises.

    - Once the system becomes more and more complex, it becomes random.

    - According to definition 1., a system with a random rate of progression has no pattern and its future state cannot be predicted. If it cannot be predicted, then what may happen in the future state of the system cannot be known--with 100% accuracy.

    -According to definition 2., a system with a random rate of progression cannot have its future state be predicted with 100% accuracy, but however, it is possible for it to be "described by a probablity distribution". So, there is x% chance of P happening if Q happens and so on. That is, there is no pattern distinguishable from the basis on which the system (in this case our actions) evolves. If that's not clear either, this is what I mean: It is not possible for any system to evolve on a basis different from the original. For example, the evolution of the universe such that it is disorderly, but still is governed by the laws of nature; So laws are constant to a system regardless if it is random.

    ~~Thus, the future of a system which is random cannot be predicted definitely.

    The universe, according to the accepted laws of thermodynamics, is in a state of entropy.

    If the universe is deemed as being in a state of entropy, then it is a closed system.Therefore, if the universe is in a state of entropy, then it is in a state of randomness. As has already been established, any system which is random cannot be predicted because it evolves with no pattern. It is important to point out here the relationship between "being predicted" which is relative to humans and "having no pattern" which is definite for all reference frames.

    IOW, universe=all that there is. This includes humans. If it includes humans, then it (the universe) includes our actions. If it includes our actions, then our actions are also contributors to the universes' state of entropy. If such is the case, then our actions are also random. If our actions are also random, then what we do next is random. Okay, recall what I said earlier:

    "So, there is x% chance of P happening if Q happens and so on. That is, there is no pattern distinguishable from the basis on which the system (in this case our actions) evolves. If that's not clear either, this is what I mean: It is not possible for any system to evolve on a basis different from the original. For example, the evolution of the universe such that it is disorderly, but still is governed by the laws of nature; random laws do not randomly come out of no where. So laws are constant to a system."

    The laws in the case of humanity are our instincts. They form the basis for our decisions, but DO NOT [DEFINITELY] DETERMINE THE OUTCOME. The outcome is random, and based on probability. Thus, what we decide to do is not neccesarily predictable. There is always a probability of our deciding something that is contrary to that which was predicted. And so we have the choice to go against a prediction.

    Quantum physics supports this: To make this post short, I'll paraphrase from Einstein's famous quote "God doesn't play dice" and say "God does play dice." That is to say, in quantum physics, everything is random. In our case, our actions are also random (I have explained what I mean by that).

    Now, Sabine, convince me otherwise. (THIS IS SO FUN. I hope you're having as much fun as I am. But I understand I wrote alot, so take your time in replying...I understand :redface: .) OKAY, now I'm done!!!!!!! :surprised :rofl: :smile:
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2004
  9. Dec 29, 2004 #8
    read my 2nd post to this thread, and the 3rd quote about natural laws and free will. That'll answer your questions to some extent. :smile:
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2004
  10. Dec 29, 2004 #9


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    imparticle, i think your posts and mine are conveying the same thing, but your explanation is much more scientific.

    the choices you make (here is where I am defining free will) are prior to how the brain will react or act in accordance to the choice/decision. how the electrons and neurotransmitters carry out the messages to the muscles is where the physical boundaries come in to play. our choices are reliant upon our muscles receiving those messages effectively, but the choice is still made.

    it's like asking the question, does our biology rule us, or do we rule our biology?
  11. Dec 29, 2004 #10
    My assertions
    Seem to match in principle yours.

    I don't think 'random' has such a nice definition. Let me give you an example why I dislike definition 2.

    Let's limit ourselves for the moment to sequences of real numbers and ask if the (infinite) strings are random or not. Definition 2 says that if a sequence can be described by a probability distribution, then it is random. Consider the following sequence:

    {666, 666, 666, 666, 666, 666, 666...}

    Just to be perfectly clear, each number in the sequence is 666. This can be described by the following probability distribution:

    P(X=666)=1 and P(X=z) where z!=666 is 0.

    This sequence, by the above definition (2), is a random sequence. But do I have free will if I always eat 666 potato chips (which is one of many interpretations for this sequence)?
  12. Dec 30, 2004 #11
    This definition is much more precise:

    The only thing I don't like about this definition is this part:
    because it suggests that the number is not neccesarily chosen by chance but only seems as it has been chosen by chance. do you agree? I am sure Dr.Wolfram (from whose website I retrieved the definition) worded this very carefully, and it may be that indeed this is what it not only suggests but defines it as. (meaning, a random number is not neccesarily chosen by chance).

    This is the best definition I've been able to find thus far. Perhaps you might suggest one?

    THANK YOU for pointing this issue out. I highly appreciate it.
  13. Dec 31, 2004 #12

    That is a definition for laymen. Hurkyl can help jog my memory but as far as I know there is not a definition of random that all technicians (mathematicians and other theorists) agree on yet. But the one I've heard is that a (possibly finite) sequence is random if it cannot be specified by a program or algorithm or function containing "considerably fewer" characters than the sequence itself. If the sequence is infinite, this means that it is random if it cannot be specified by a procedure of finite length. To me this in essense means that it is practical to predict the sequence (exactly).

    The question then arises of how to prove a given sequence is random. To prove nonrandomness involves finding a formula for the n-th term in the sequence or at least a procedure for finding the n-th term. But to prove randomness would involve proving that no such formula exists. How does one do that??? The proof will have to encorperate the idea that it's not just that we aren't smart enough to find the procedure; there is none.

    Then the question arises, since proving randomness is difficult, is whether there is anything that is random by this definition. As far as I know the only proof of this is nonconstructive; no known sequences are random but you can prove random sequences exist. And also that random sequences are as numerous as nonrandom ones.

    The question with that definition is how does one check that definition? "as if"? Were these numbers chosen as if by chance or not:
    {1, 23, 834,6238}? Well even if there is some formula for the nth term in that sequence (and there is), I did choose them by chance.
  14. Dec 31, 2004 #13
    That depends on what you mean by chance.

    Perhaps we might try working backwards; study the method for generating random numbers. For example, those suggested at this website seem to be a good place to start: http://mathworld.wolfram.com/RandomNumber.html

    (this is the same place I got that "laymen" definition from.. :tongue2: )
  15. Jan 1, 2005 #14


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    I actually think that definition is derived from computer science. It is not a lay definition. A number is called random if it is generated by a random number generator, which is a machine programmed according to any of the methods suggested by that website. But if we had perfect knowledge of the program and the machine, as well as perfect computational ability, we would be able to perfectly predict the "random" number that is generated. The fact that we don't have any of these things makes the generated number appear random. In fact, the better definition of "random" in this case may very well be "any event that cannot be perfectly predicted from the knowledge of its cause" or something along those lines. "Cannot" here is in practice, not in principle. This definition is compatible with determinism in that a "random" number, as defined, can still be determined.
  16. Jan 3, 2005 #15
    Loseyourname: Wouldn't that definition go against the concept of random? You're asserting that the universe is deterministic, but not to us.
  17. Jan 6, 2005 #16
    Free Will is the ability to change things in our realm that may not otherwise be changed if Free Will where not in existence.

    ----- nwO ruoY evaH ,deeN oN <----?eeS I tahW eeS uoY oD
  18. Jan 11, 2005 #17
    It is the minds choosing that is random not the action

    IMPA, the set of rules is a setting/parameters for order. Complexity arising is a misleading or a misomer if the ability for it to arise are within the finite set of rules ergo within the sum-total order of physical and metaphysical Universe. E.g. a human/animal beomes more and more complex as it aquires more expreinces and the number of sensoral connection increase but all of that increasing complexity ability is inherent to its RNA-DNA complex.

    Our random choosing of and action is limited to the set of rules and order of the metaphyscial and physical Unvierse. Rules allows "mind" ergo the rules allows limited choices by mind.

    Sum-totally, entropy succumbs to metaphysical and physical order i.e. there is no universal random entropy beyond that of consciouness's limited choices to move(take action).

    Chaos is superficial and local to metaphysical conscious mind accessing in that it is our inbility to find/see the overall order at to small (micro) or too large(macro) scope of events.

  19. Jan 14, 2005 #18
    I'm not sure I completely understand what it is you are trying to convey; are you agreeing with complexity arising from a set of rules (NOT neccesarily finite) or what...?
  20. Jan 14, 2005 #19


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    Just wondering: do you think you have to make a choice between universal laws of physics and free will, or can they coexist?

    As the laws are now, I don't see any room for free will, in the strictest sense of the term. We're made of atoms that obey the laws of QM. There is a deterministic wave equation, but this only specifies the probabilities of certain events. So, yes, things can't be predicted exactly. But according to QM, they are random. That isn't "free", it's "random". Does anyone believe this is all true, but we still have free will? I agree we can make choices that couldn't have been predicted, but in what sense could they be considered in our control?
  21. Jan 14, 2005 #20
    Complexity Arising

    Yes and no. There are eternal inviolate rules, cosmic laws/principles that set the parameters for all complex possiblities ergo there is only order of Unvierse, except for, human mind making random choice's and perhaps prime numbers.

    The finite set of eternal rules is type A-) complexity and the most universal.

    There are two or more types of numerical complexity but they all have too do with additional relationships.

    Type-B) One type of complexity arises from the additon of more things ergo more relationships. E.g. Two points/nodes/vertexes have one relationship. Three points/nodes/vertexes have three relationships more. this is just more of the same.

    Type-C) Another type of complexity arises when at four points we have a exponential(?) jump in the number of relationships in correspondence to the number of points i.e. at four points we have six relationships/lines. This is abreak from the foregoing pattern.

    Type-D) complexity is that of the unpredicted whole by the sum of its parts a.k.a/ synergy. This type is somewhat a misomer because the if all aspects of type-A-Universal are known then teh whole is predictable but knobody knows it all. Some think they do but they dont.

    The set of RNA-DNA has encoded within it a pre-set level of type A-) universal biologic complexity. The compleity ariseing in biologics from gestation to death is a limited exponential type-C numerical comlexity.

    Hope my personal classifications/subcatgorizations help.

Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: On free will:
  1. Free Will? (Replies: 6)

  2. Free will (Replies: 33)

  3. Free will (Replies: 2)

  4. Free Will (Replies: 78)

  5. Free Will? (Replies: 47)