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The seat of free will

  1. Mar 13, 2007 #1
    How must we overcome the laws of physics as independent actors? Can there be a science that explains this personal divergence from mechanical description? Is free will the rule of the universe rather than the exception?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 13, 2007 #2
  4. Mar 13, 2007 #3
    What I get from Conway is that if a free agent can interact with neutral matter, then all mechanics is susceptable to free will.
  5. Mar 14, 2007 #4
    Much of the quantum logic he describes can be found previously in Jeffrey Bub's "Interpreting the Quantum World."
  6. Mar 14, 2007 #5
    In what ways do we act independently of the laws of physics? The choices we make seem to be reflections of who we are, does this allow for freedom? When you say free will, do you mean freedom from our personal constraints - our simian heritage, our imprinting, conditioning, programming - do you mean freedom from the "I", the Self. For any decisions or choices made within the Self surely cannot be free. And even if we do reach that kind of level of personal freedom, surely the laws of physics will dictate the kinds of choices we make as they reflect the kind of universe we exist in. By which I mean the laws of physics will determine the range of options we have to choose from.
    Conversely, freedom means to be without external constraint, which can certainly be said about the universe. The universe is free and if we consider its "components" in a holographic sense rather than a mechanical sense we see that everything contains this freedom rather than being a "slave component" of the Great Machine. Reality is free, existence is free. It may be that we are only enslaved by the concept of freedom.
    Can a choice, free from external constraint, be expressed in a mathematical way?
  7. Mar 14, 2007 #6
    Well, Conway makes the statement that IF humans can be said to possess free will- then particles must also have some degree of free will, because in a sense they are making decisions according to the interpretation of some experiments.

    Of course- that doesn't prove that humans have free will.

    I'm not an expert on his 'Free Will Theorem paper', but it is worth reading- just for fun if nothing else.
  8. Mar 14, 2007 #7
    I heard one physicist say that we don't have the free-will to disobey the law of gravity.

    Beyond that- consciousness only emerges in vastly complex systems (i.e. our brains). It must be pretty complicated.

    Don't forget that airplanes obey the same laws of physics as rocks. However one flies and the other drops to the ground.
  9. Mar 14, 2007 #8
    Your replies have a zen koan quality about them. They seem to contain deep information but I'm kind of missing how they relate to my own post. More contemplation on my behalf may be required.
    There is a good outline of freewill on the Freewill thread, post # 4, Anssih.
    What is meant by the "seat" of freewill?
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2007
  10. Mar 14, 2007 #9

    BTW, it's not so much the laws of physics- it's more basic than that. Many suspect that consciousness can be built into any 'Turing machine'. In other words- if you had the right program- then you could effectively code all the consciousness and decision making of the human brain into your PS3 (or any other computer), such that your PS3 acts like a brain emulator.

    For an example of massively complex behavior in a 'universe' with much simpler laws of physics than our own- Google/Wikipediate 'Conway's Game of Life'. Effectively the entire universe on an infinite checkerboard.
  11. Mar 14, 2007 #10
    I do not believe there is a free will.

    Free will implies that the universe is not completely governed by physical laws but also up to a certain extend by the imagination of the mind.
  12. Mar 14, 2007 #11
    We certainly have the illusion of free will.

    Let me invent the term 'meta-free will' to describe the illusion of free will.

    You must then admit that 'meta-free will' does exist and is governed by the laws of the universe.

    If you don't accept that- then I'll just ask you to explain meta-meta free will.

    Here's the question....

    What's the difference between 'free-will' and 'meta-free will'? I don't think there is any practical difference. I'd be quite happy to settle for my brain having 'meta-free will' if you disproved the first.

    Of course, you could disprove all of the meta^n free-wills, but then I'd resort to using Cantor's notation for different levels of infinity. You don't want me to do that do you?
  13. Mar 14, 2007 #12
    That does not logically follow at all.

    It is a term you just invented.

    It most certainly won't impress me, and logically speaking, it does not make any sense whatsoever.
  14. Mar 14, 2007 #13

    Uh.... you could be a little less sarcastic.

    I think you can admit that we at least have the illusion of free-will. If you don't admit that- then I will claim that we have the illusion of the illusion of free will... and so on.

    Just telling me that 'it does not follow logically' isn't much help.
  15. Mar 14, 2007 #14
    You can claim whatever you want but what is the relevance of such claims? :confused:

    So what that someone has the illusion of free will? How does that prove anything relating to free will? There are people who have the illusion they are Napoleon, how in any way does such an illusion relate to the real thing?

    See what I mean?

    By the way:

    Conway's theorem does not pertain to the existence of free will but to a consequence of free will.

    The theorem could be paraphrased by: "experiments are not coincidences!" :smile:

    In this regard, I agree with the notion that humans are not free (as in free will) to perform scientific experiments.
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2007
  16. Mar 14, 2007 #15
    OK, so you agree that we have at least the illusion of free will- we possess 'meta-free will' as I called it.

    My stance is that 'meta-free will' is pretty much a good enough substitute for actual free will in most instances. I can't think of anything I can do with free will that I can't do with meta-free will.

    It pretty much comes down to Turing's argument for AI from thereon. If my meta-free will is indistinguishable from actual free-will to the outside observer- then you probably should grant me free-will, or at least reserve judgment.

    If someone thinks they are Napoleon in a wide variety of ways and manners- then to some extent they are Napoleon. That extent is determined by how easily they can fool other people.

    'We are who we pretend to be, so we must be careful who we pretend to be' (Kurt Vonnegut)

    I'm not saying that all of reality is a social construct. There is an external reality- but only so far that we can devise tests to probe it. If there's no test to distinguish 'true' from 'meta' free will- then I don't think it's meaningful to call free will an illusion at all.
  17. Mar 14, 2007 #16
    "I imagine I am Napoleon therefore I am Napoleon".
    Completely false reasoning.

    Yes but we are talking about facts right? Whether free will is a fact or not, not if we can "fool" people to believe it right?
  18. Mar 14, 2007 #17

    Maybe Napoleon was too extreme an example. However, imagine that someone goes to such extremes - learns all about the life of Napoleon- pictures himself as Napoleon in every way. Eventually it makes a certain amount of sense to treat him as if he were Napoleon.

    In the case of Napoleon- the emulation can never be perfect- because for one thing- we know that Napoleon is dead! However, in the case of free-will- emulation can become extremely precise. Precise enough that people can have detailed arguments about whether a person has free-will or not.

    Again- you didn't really explain why you think my reasoning is false- you just proclaimed it to be false. You may be right- but you do need to explain yourself if you want to be involved in a discussion.

    If you think I'm crazy- then Google/Wikipediate 'the Turing test'. It may be self evidently wrong to you- but Alan Turing didn't think so.
  19. Mar 14, 2007 #18
    Free will exists in so far as we do have the ability to make choices and decisions. However, whether these choices are free from external constraints (constraints external to the choices themselves) is another matter. Choices are made by the Self, the Self seems to be an amalgum of various processess such as imprinting, conditioning, programming etc. directed by various environmental factors such as family, society and a multitude of life experiences. In this light the Self cannot be seen as being free from external constraints, so it is difficult to see how the choices it makes can be free. The Self can certainly imagine free will exists (the illusion of free will) and can construct a logical framework to demonstrate its existence, but as long as these things are generated by the Self I cannot see how they can be deemed to be free.
  20. Mar 14, 2007 #19
    Is the physical universe like Western religion's God in that one is allowed "free will" as long as (s)he respects certain constraints, or is free will absolute in these situations?
  21. Mar 14, 2007 #20
    Try to exercise free will to overcome gravity if you fall out of a window. You can't- you've always got to obey the laws of physics.

    However, it's not obvious to me that obeying the laws of physics at all times imposes any severe constraints on what we normally think of as free will.

    Chess for example is played according to fixed rules- but the outcome is still determined by choices people (or machines) make. Those choices are unpredictable (even in the case of a computer).
  22. Mar 14, 2007 #21
    To answer the title of the OP,--what is the seat of free will ?--for me the answer goes--"the seat of free will is the human mind" (at least for life on earth). Therefore, free will is very much the exception in the universe as now known by humans. By free will I mean the fact that the human animal is a material being with volitional consciousness--e.g., each individual human has free will choice to "think or not to think". The science that explains divergence from the mechanical is called "reason". Humans with free will to think or not to think via reason can overcome at least one of the laws of physics--gravity--the only one that operates at the macroscopic scale of the human body as a material being. Thus we overcome laws of physics by using free will choice to think or not on the question of how to overcome. Now we read that quarks have property of absymtopic freedom--but this is not a type of free will since quarks do not gain this property by volition.
  23. Mar 14, 2007 #22

    Be careful. We can't overcome gravity by free-will. We can build a plane or a rocket that appears to defy gravity- but of course a more careful analysis shows that they obey all laws of physics (including gravity) at all times.
  24. Mar 15, 2007 #23
    Don't the constraints you mention go against the idea of freedom (that which is without constraints)? Free will must be free (ie: without constraint). The complexity of the mind allows for the illusion of free will (by which I mean we are free to choose, but the choices themselves are constrained).
    For Christianjb - free will implies the freedom to make a choice. Making a choice does not rely on gravity and in that way it defies the law of gravity. Free will does not imply superhuman feats.
    For Rade - how are we free to "not think"? I can see how we are free to apply thought to whatever we choose to, but to choose not to think seems, to me at least, unlikely.
  25. Mar 15, 2007 #24
    From what I understand, many Christians believe that God allows us self-determination until Judgment Day: the promise of heaven or threat of damnation.
  26. Mar 15, 2007 #25
    Is self-determination the same as free-will? Does the physical universe "allow" us anything? If so, in what way? How does 'belief' affect the existence (or not) of free-will? What about the Jewish, Moslem or Hindu religions?
    Surely any religion provides its own constraints on the way an individual chooses, as does science, as does philosophy, as do family, society, culture and tradition.
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