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Proof that free will exists

  1. Dec 4, 2003 #1
    So... Can anyone show proof that free will exists? That we are not merely directed by past events?

    I believe I have asked before, but did not recieve proof. And no, this is not for university. I just have trouble finding absolute proof of free will.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 4, 2003 #2


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    I always agreed that free-will is an illusion. I think it is a good illusion though. I envy the people who are blessed with it.

  4. Dec 4, 2003 #3

    I don't know how familiar you are with previous threads on this matter, but I have always responded with the same answer, and I will respond here: It is impossible to prove free will over predestination, or vice versa.

    I'll explain why:

    If I wished to prove free will, then I would take steps in that direction. However, every step I take in that direction could be what I was predestined to do, and therefore every attempt I make to prove free will just further validates predestination.

    The same is true of predestination...if I took steps to prove predestination, each of those steps could be a freely chosen step out of the other possibilities, and thus every attempt I make at proving predestination further validates free will.
  5. Dec 4, 2003 #4


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    I agree with Mendat - and therefore CHOOSE to act according to free will.

    You guys ever read Oedipus? At first glance it appears to be saying that you can't escape your fate. It isn't. Its saying make your own choices and your fate becomes whatever you want it to be.
  6. Dec 4, 2003 #5
    I tend to look at "free will" like this. If i have this will, the decision to will this will was brought upon another will that caused the initial will that I first had to happen. Therefore, the choice I make based upon this will I have was determined in advance by another will that willed upon it. So how can this will, which i think is free, be free if the cause of this will was the effect of a past or another will?
  7. Dec 4, 2003 #6
    Your view is commonly referred to as "determinism" (which is different from predestination). Determinism basically says that we do choose between other possible choices, but these choices are predetermined by choices that we've made before...ergo, if I could know every factor involved in your past then I could determine with 100% accuracy which you choice you will make in this new situation.

    I don't like this view, personally, since it's basically free will (re-stated) and predestination (also re-stated), in my opinion. You see, if there is no probability of my choosing anything other than that which past experience has determined that I will choose, then I am predestined. However, at the same time, the very fact that I can make a choice (however limited) seems to indicate free will with the addition of overwhelming limiting factors. So, I say that determinism is a slightly "grey area", but fits in better with predestination, and cannot be proven for the same reasons.
  8. Dec 4, 2003 #7
    btw, Welcome to the PFs, mikehuntsloose. :smile:
  9. Dec 4, 2003 #8
    I think I'm predestined to have free-will. But I'm also willing to do anything but not sure if it's possible. I'm lost....
  10. Dec 4, 2003 #9
    hey, neato... i made my quote before i read this thread lol... i figured i didn't have free-will way back in grade seven(18 years old now), same time i became atheist...

    basically i think of it in the sense of not free will and predestination, but more as an order Vs. chaos/randomness argument.

    the laws of physics are laws based on what we see, they aren't really substantial as far as an atom is concerned, the atom will do whatever it is supposed to do, regardless of what the human "laws of physics" say. we, however, are pretty good at predicting such things... so it makes me wonder, if every event is based on past events, then whatever will happen is "ordered". ie every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

    now if things are random, then there is nothing that governs how an event will react to another event, no rules.. no laws of physics, no predictability of ANYTHING, and it all falls apart... ie chaos.

    it like a computer, in order there are 1 and 0... simply yes and no. and rules can be built on such certanties. in chaos the number can be anything.. in fact, you can't even limit it to a number! it could be an atom, matter, energy, nothing at all... or something i don't know of and maybe never will. as soon as you put a limit on it, then it is no longer random, but contained within something and therefore predictable because to be limited, is to follow a rule and to follow a rule is to be based on something. once based on something you lose all randomness.

    so, maybe the universe was only random once... at the moment it all came to be... the universe calculated one randomness and then we all spawned from that. so until the universe ends, then nothing in it will be random again.

    so, my proof of no free-will is the fact that i exist in a world that is predictable with little error, based on whatever scraps of information i can obtain with my 5 senses to make those predictions.

    i think this also is the major reason about the big fuss between qantum mechanics and string theory (or M-theory)... one has an uncertainty principle, which is there to balance randomness. the other is a "theory of everything"... so one of them will prove it, however i doubt anyone will pay attention anyways no matter the outcome... that is human nature, what we can't accept we ignore.

    personally i can accept either way, but current evidence points me towards no free-will... but that doesn't mean i'm going to lay down and die... it means i'm going to make the best of whatever this universe has to offere me
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 4, 2003
  11. Dec 5, 2003 #10
    If you look at the history of ideas, you will find that the less meaningful a question, the longer its answer remains elusive. Then someone comes along and clearly shows that the question lacks meaning, and all of a sudden a centuries-old philosophical dilemma suddenly vanishes into thin air.

    For instance, take the famous chicken-and-egg imbroglio. It does sound puzzling at first, but how much does one have to think until one realizes that both chicken and egg must necessarily have come from something that is neither a chicken nor an egg? This answer was knowable centuries before biology came about, yet people assumed there was some unsolvable mystery behind the issue.

    And so it is with this free-will imbroglio. Can you honestly believe that given a choice between, say, coffee and tea, there is some absolute law of the universe which forces you to choose one and decline the other? Can anyone really believe that nonsense? I very much doubt it, so why the debate? Ah, but there is a reason!

    The moment you choose to drink coffee you immediately lose your freedom to drink tea. Your free-will regarding that choice is gone forever. But that doesn't mean you didn't have free-will then, it only means you don't have it now. You give up your freedom to choose so you can actually choose! What use would it be to stare at two cups of beverage for an eternity, only to be sure you have freedom of choice?

    Strange as it is for me, to understand the above seems beyond the ability of some people. Which is why we need someone to come up with a formal proof, preferrably a mathematical one, that the concept of free-will is mutually exclusive with the concept of action. The two can't possibly co-exist. It's like the photon, it can be a wave or a particle, and it may be hard to understand why, but it's easy enough to understand why a photon can never be both at the same time.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 5, 2003
  12. Dec 5, 2003 #11


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    It certainly SEEMS to us that we have free will. Your whole argument is based on that appearance, AKA common sense.

    But on reflection, do we find that appearance really so? That is the question people have asked over the ages, and which your post misses the point of. Given that we seem to have free will, do we really?

    The scientific interpretation in which all our actions and decisions arise from prior neurochemical interactions, which are presumed to be deterministic, undermines our casual cofidence. So do things like Libet's experiment (see thread on biology board), which seem to say our bodies begin going about tea drinking a second or so before we make the conscious decision to reject coffee. So it's not the open and shut case you suppose.
  13. Dec 5, 2003 #12
    It’s not, it’s based on logic. It’s most people’s notion of free-will that is based on appearances and commonsense. What I’m trying to say is that the definition of free-will implies a paradox. As understood by most people’s “commonsense”, neither free-will nor determinism can possibly exist.

    But my point is that they are asking the wrong question. Our actions are neither free nor deterministic, the two concepts don’t apply to the mental act of thinking over our actions. It’s the act of thinking that determines our actions, and thought can’t be free of itself.

    This is an entirely issue altogether. What you are saying is that it’s possible that “we” are controlled by neurochemical interactions. I wonder exactly what you think “we” are other than “neurochemical interactions”. Are you picturing a ghost inside your body whose actions are totally determined by the body? If you are your body and your actions are determined by your body, where exactly is the problem?

    The “ghost in the body” thing again. So Libet’s experiment proves that when “we” think we are moving our arm, we are fooling ourselves, the arm has a mind of his own and we have no power over it. Exactly where does “we” end and “arm” begin? Does anyone really think like that? I know Libet himself never said such a thing, it makes no sense.
  14. Dec 5, 2003 #13


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    No I don't believe in a ghost or a homunculus inside my body or my brain. The farthest I would go is to describe my brain and body as analogous to hardware and my mind and consciousness as analogous to software, implemented on that hardware. In other words as a pattern the neural interactions make.
  15. Dec 6, 2003 #14
    Yea, our perceptions of the past are always evolving and changing which, build up over time and are orchestrated through the "present moment" (just as the events of the past were orchestrated as such). So how could we say the past is static and preordained, when our perception of it doesn't even remain constant? Unless of course, the whole thing is predicated upon "free will."
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2003
  16. Dec 6, 2003 #15
    Freewill is a big problem. If we have freewill the current scientific model is wrong, for the universe is not causally closed as science assumes. Also it would mean that consciousness is causal which, unless you believe that consciousness is material, is in direct conflict with science.

    Yet if we do not have freewill we have to scrap our legal system, and will have a hard time explaining feelings of guilt. One might also ask how come we are never taken by surprise by what we do?

    If consciousness is not causal then we must assume that we can tell the future. Otherwise there would be no explanation for how we can know that we've decided to do something tomorrow and actually do it when the time comes.

    It's a logical minefield.
  17. Dec 6, 2003 #16
    freedom is different then free will. if theres a will there is a purpose. True freedom has no purpose since theres no will for the purpose. It's free!
  18. Dec 6, 2003 #17
    I'd like a little feedback on an analogy for this topic.

    There is a couple long married and happy. The husband loves peanut butter sandwiches. The wife cares for her husband.

    One night she knows he will be home late, and he's always hungry when he gets home so she makes a peanut butter sandwich for him and leaves it on the table, knowing he will eat it.

    The husband walks in, sees the snack and eats it.

    Did the wife preordain this, or did he choose freely - I wonder if both can't exist together.
  19. Dec 6, 2003 #18
    This is where my "limiting factors" come into play. In an old thread on free will vs. determinism, I set up a whole analogy about being on a path, and then coming to a fork in the road. If we are predestined, then there really are not forks in the road, even if a mirage tells us that there are. If we have free will, then there are forks in road, but there are often boulders or cacti or animals, which serve as limiting factors in our decisions.

    In your case, the limiting factor on his free will to follow any path he wants at this particular fork in the road, is the presence of a way to satisfy his hunger (his hunger being a boulder in the path toward avoiding the sandwhich).

    In the end, you still can't tell whether he was predestined, since the other possible roads (and limiting factors therein) could have been part of a mirage, and he could be following the only path that really exists.
  20. Dec 6, 2003 #19
    In an old thread on free will vs. determinism, I set up a whole analogy about being on a path, and then coming to a fork in the road. If we are predestined, then there really are not forks in the road, even if a mirage tells us that there are.

    The whole idea of predestiny implies a supreme being. (Does it to you?)

    It does to me but I'm sure you know that about me by now


    This being having established our lives for us & predestined them, would also know us incredibly well. This being would need to be eternal, outside the restraints of time, in order to know everything about time.

    Even though our lives are set -we exsist at a level far below Him and must truge through time one second after the other. Because we don't know what's coming our free will guides us.

    I do agree with you, my limiting factors would have to be our own inferiority or lack of knowlegde. We have no way of knowing what has been determined - everything seems like our own choice.

    I'm rambling, but this is a hard one to grasp the more you think on it.
  21. Dec 6, 2003 #20
    No, I didn't know this, and I can't say that I completely agree. Sure, most (maybe even all) models of predestination have to do with a Supreme being; however, to look at it scientifically, the question of what predestines us can become irrelevant, and we can just say that it is another part of nature (like gravity or electromagnetism - which, btw, also imply a Supreme Being to some people).

    Time is not a restraint, time is a fact of life. If the being is outside of time, then He can't do anything, because it takes time to do something :wink:.

    Wait a minute, this paragraph looks somewhat contradictory. Are we "set" (by this Supreme Being) or do we have free will to "guide us"?

    Indeed. Which is why it was not an unwelcome surprise for me when I discovered that it was unanswerable.
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