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Randomness and Free-Will

  1. Feb 6, 2010 #1
    I have often thought that 'true' randomness and free-will are similar in the sense that neither require previous state dependence, but both do require acting as their own 1st cause. The question is: How then might someone talk about either existing, without being led into paradoxes? (Randomness: no causal history, no dependence on initial conditions). If the two could ever be refuted, does this lead one in the direction of superdeterminism?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 6, 2010 #2


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    Randomness doesn't require acting as it's own first cause.
  4. Feb 6, 2010 #3


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    Name some action you have decided upon that was not embedded within a context of experience.

    Free-will is just what we call the state of being so conscious of that context - all the things we could do, should do, would be best to do - that we are also crisply conscious of the converse. So it is a hyper-non random state I would have thought. Our choices could not be more contextualised, more constrained by thoughts about outcomes and consequences.

    In other words, our consciously willed actions are not simply triggered (which can be the case for skilled habits and automaticisms) but complexly caused, weighted by a landscape of information.
  5. Feb 6, 2010 #4
    I'd say that is highly problematic.
    Freewill, requires knowledge of the past, in order for their to be a choice. You can't make a choice without facts.
    And random is pretty much, by defintion, not-caused. So referring to as a first cause is self-contradicting.
  6. Feb 7, 2010 #5
    The major difference between the two is that free will depends only on information thus having some purpose and randomness lacks these two.
  7. Feb 8, 2010 #6
    In a sense I think that true randomness must act as its' own first cause. If we are talking about an acausal event, and there is no cause, then we are led into a paradox of there being an action, but without an initiator (a cause of some kind). If there are no variables or conditions to bring about the event, then why would the event ever emerge? If we don't want to accept that such phenomena is mystical, and occurs without logic, initial conditions, or causes, then we must turn to something like the action or event being its own first cause. I think abandoning classical logic is a mistake. I would say interpretations of first causes are in error too.
  8. Feb 8, 2010 #7
    I do think that our consciously willed actions are simply caused by information , but this comes in many forms (genes, environment, experience, , etc). The process is not random in any way. I just think that in principle, to have 'free will' (choice to do otherwise), requires the mind or 'will' to be the first cause of biological processes. It seems more likely it is the other way around, the bio processes within the brain and body are the first cause of the resulting mind.
  9. Feb 8, 2010 #8
    Determinism leads to order, or is recognised by order. Randomness is expected to lead to disorder. Free will is ordering of random events in the predominantly deterministic framework to bring about outcomes, that is not predictable.
  10. Feb 8, 2010 #9
    I think it would be impossible to know if anything is truly random.

    Randomness can depend on initial conditions. The evolution of a distribution can depend on its initial distribution. If there were no initial distribution it would be hard to know how it could exist.

    Could one also ask in the same way whether determinism can really exist?

    Determinism can emerge from randomness - I think.

    What does free will mean? It certainly involves choice but choice within a context. Maybe it boils down to what is the will.
  11. Feb 9, 2010 #10
    Your thread question has me thinking a lot. I'm happy that you posed it.

    Maybe what you are asking is related to one of Zeno's paradox's - not the one of Achilles and the Tortoise but the one of the arrow in flight. As I remember it the question is: 'Since at each moment in time the arrow just is where it is in space how then can we say that it is moving?' So movement like your idea of free will and randomness has no antecedent in itself.
  12. Feb 9, 2010 #11


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    Or rather - given Newton's inertia and Einstein's relativity - all local action requires a global framing context, whether you want to call it random, determined or willed.
  13. Feb 10, 2010 #12
    I think it is similar to free will and randomness. It seems that truly free willed actions argue for no dependence on prior states, the same can be stated about truly random events, and the same goes for Zeno's arrow too. If there is no movement or acceleration of the arrow within each moment or static state, then there is no resulting outcome that has dependence on previous states of the arrow, as there is no change or movement within each moment.
  14. Feb 10, 2010 #13


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    We are all of us a product of a long chain of events. We are also determiners in that our actions determine a future outcome.

    There is no way we have free will. We are under an impression that we do have freewill, but, after 13.5 billion years, every em wave or particle in the universe has balanced out. Therefore, since we are all but a collection of em waves/particles, we are simply part and parcel of the universal balance... the balancing act. My guess is that no matter what choice you make, it was made for you by the simple physics of balance, thermodynamics and all those other "simple" physical laws.

    Some call it Karma... this is a Hindi word for "motion" or "action" and one of the first physics lessons is that "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" (Newton).
  15. Feb 10, 2010 #14
    But, how can a 'truly random' event or outcome depend on its initial distribution? Unless information is unavailable in principle (for example: position and velocity), then in theory why would a future state of that event not be deterministic (at least in principle), but at the same time unpredictable? On the macro scale - events from Chaos are based on initial conditions, unpredictable, deterministic, and not truly random. It would seem that any time we introduce known (and even unknown) initial conditions, we find ourselves arguing for deterministic (in principle) events.
  16. Feb 10, 2010 #15
  17. Feb 10, 2010 #16


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  18. Feb 10, 2010 #17
    Materialism cannot account for free will and it is very unlikely that it will ever account for free will as a matter of fact. Had materialism been the true description of reality, then you'd be forced to acknowledge that either we don't have free will(which is ludicrous) or that free will is supernatural. With the gradual fall of materialism, free will might be easier to explain(though in a wider context, we'd still be pretty much in the dark).

    I don't think many people would agree that free will and consciousness/awareness is the result of quantum potentials. If anything, it seems to me to be the opposite. No one knows what free will is and how it comes about, so i will not make definite statements, but free will as in free from the laws of the universe sounds somewhat supernatural. Denying the existence of free will seems way too absurd to me. Where would the illusion of free will be coming from?

    You deny that there is an "I" and i find that very unreasoanble.

    I also don't believe in uncaused randomness, but free will seems to require a wholly new scientific approach. If it can't be deduced from constituent parts, then reductionism is probably the wrong tool towards free will. It could be that free will is primary/fundamental or it can simply be incomprehesible to the human way of reasoning. I have seen no evidence so far that we have no free will. The fact that we are holding this discussion is a very good testament that there is an "I" that has free will. Or are you saying we are not having a discussion and that is another illusion by the chain of events that started in the distant past?
  19. Feb 10, 2010 #18


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    There are many popular misconceptions about randomness (and determinism). An excellent recent paper on the nature of statistical models is....


    In particular, it shows how a collection of individually non-random processes will produce "random", or rather neutral, statistical behaviour.

    The random vs determinism philosophical argument is a hangover from the shocks of 17th century science and maths - Descartes, Cardano, LaPlace. Modern thinking has moved on from these simplicities.
  20. Feb 10, 2010 #19


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    Hello Georg

    I wrote most of what you have quoted here.

    That is, the combination of the many states and events that I am has written it.

    Whether I had any choice to write this or not is not the point. I wrote it. Its a done deal. There is no other way that could have turned out... and the proof of this lies in the fact that it is already written.

    You can question whether I wrote from a state of free will but it is difficult to prove if it was an act of freewill or an act of predetermined eventuality. The process of proving either of these methods of arriving at my writing would entail a complete forensic examination of the conditions of the entire universe at the time of my decision to write it and a comprehensive excavation of all the influences on my decision, past, present and future.
  21. Feb 11, 2010 #20
    I don't agree with the illusion of free will as that seems to mean that a God of sorts creates this complex and realistic illusion for us. I don't really believe that waves and 'particles'(or whatever you want to call them) have somehow acquired the ability to observe themselves, to reason and to have free will. Seems like a very absurd statement to me. Either we are missing something truly fundamental in our description of, call reality or universe, or the idealism ideology is right and materialism is wrong(or materialism is valid only in certain domains, but not in others). The mind-body duality(the self-awareness and free will) seems to be greater than determinism-based science likes to acknowledge.

    Do most people here believe they are hallucinating their own existence?
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2010
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