Free Choice
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29-12-2012, 04:12 PM
RE: Free Choice
(28-12-2012 08:56 PM)GodlessnFree Wrote:  I take the brilliant response that Chritopher Hitchens used to answer this question: "I have no choice but to assume that I do" (have free will).

On the other hand neursocientists like Sam Harris and physicists like Michio Kaku say that the evidence seems to imply that we don't have free will. According to neuroscience, thoughts arise in our brain several seconds before we are conscious of them, so we don't have absolute control over them. Michio Kaku also agres with that position. He says that modern physics proof that the future in a strange way "already exists" so the thought that you will have in one year at 3:00 p.m. is already determined.
To insinuate this is the case is to insinuate that understanding location of every particle in the universe for an extended period of time is possible.
Such a feat would require god like technology.
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29-12-2012, 06:29 PM
RE: Free Choice
(29-12-2012 04:12 PM)Diablo Wrote:  
(28-12-2012 08:56 PM)GodlessnFree Wrote:  I take the brilliant response that Chritopher Hitchens used to answer this question: "I have no choice but to assume that I do" (have free will).

On the other hand neursocientists like Sam Harris and physicists like Michio Kaku say that the evidence seems to imply that we don't have free will. According to neuroscience, thoughts arise in our brain several seconds before we are conscious of them, so we don't have absolute control over them. Michio Kaku also agres with that position. He says that modern physics proof that the future in a strange way "already exists" so the thought that you will have in one year at 3:00 p.m. is already determined.
To insinuate this is the case is to insinuate that understanding location of every particle in the universe for an extended period of time is possible.
Such a feat would require god like technology.
Yeah I know it. This is one of the most complex issues humanity faces. We must answers this kind of questions with a high degree of humility and intelectual honesty. I don't think that anyone really knows for sure the answer to this question, not even Michio Kaku or Stephen Hawking. However, we can say what the evidence suggests.

I think that we won't be able to determine the answer to this question until we are able to run a simulation of two lives with the EXACT same factors. Meanwhile, let's continue looking for the truth with logic and reason.

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14-01-2013, 12:49 AM
RE: Free Choice
I've always found it interesting why it is that determinists bother arguing against free will. After all, if I have no choice but to think, do and say the things I think do and say, then what sense does it make to attempt to change my mind?
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14-01-2013, 07:18 AM
RE: Free Choice
(14-01-2013 12:49 AM)bbeljefe Wrote:  I've always found it interesting why it is that determinists bother arguing against free will. After all, if I have no choice but to think, do and say the things I think do and say, then what sense does it make to attempt to change my mind?
I suppose they think you have no choice but to accept their opinion Big Grin

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15-01-2013, 03:42 AM
RE: Free Choice
(14-01-2013 07:18 AM)Luminon Wrote:  
(14-01-2013 12:49 AM)bbeljefe Wrote:  I've always found it interesting why it is that determinists bother arguing against free will. After all, if I have no choice but to think, do and say the things I think do and say, then what sense does it make to attempt to change my mind?
I suppose they think you have no choice but to accept their opinion Big Grin

Perhaps the better answer would be, those arguing have no free will to choose to not argue their point. By their own arguments, they are beholden to their own thoughts that arise from their own consciousness as it occurs, completely out of their own control. Thus they don't have a 'choice' to not argue their case.

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15-01-2013, 09:43 AM
Re: Free Choice
I've got an issue with how Sam Harris claims we don't have free will - why is a thought being in our conscious rather than subconscious required for it to be free will? Our subconscious is still "us" and may or may not operate in much the same way as our conscious mind in terms of weighing options. I see no reason to treat the subconscious as an externality or mechanistic... Do we understand it enough to treat it as such?

Even so, I don't believe we have the same kind of unfettered free will as most theists imagine. We are certainly limited to choose based on our experiences and influences, thus our choices are shaped by our circumstances and are in many ways deterministic. But within those bounds, I think we *may* have a limited sense of free will - in our subconscious at least.

I'm at very least unwilling to rule it out of the realm of possibilities based on the arguments I've seen. Simply treating the subconscious as an externality to the process doesn't work for me - it rules out free will if it is defined in a way that requires conscious thought rather than just thought, but I don't see the rationale for treating the subconscious as "not you" or mechanistic.

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17-01-2013, 04:35 AM
RE: Free Choice
(15-01-2013 09:43 AM)Azaraith Wrote:  I've got an issue with how Sam Harris claims we don't have free will - why is a thought being in our conscious rather than subconscious required for it to be free will? Our subconscious is still "us" and may or may not operate in much the same way as our conscious mind in terms of weighing options. I see no reason to treat the subconscious as an externality or mechanistic... Do we understand it enough to treat it as such?

Even so, I don't believe we have the same kind of unfettered free will as most theists imagine. We are certainly limited to choose based on our experiences and influences, thus our choices are shaped by our circumstances and are in many ways deterministic. But within those bounds, I think we *may* have a limited sense of free will - in our subconscious at least.

I'm at very least unwilling to rule it out of the realm of possibilities based on the arguments I've seen. Simply treating the subconscious as an externality to the process doesn't work for me - it rules out free will if it is defined in a way that requires conscious thought rather than just thought, but I don't see the rationale for treating the subconscious as "not you" or mechanistic.

I guess it really comes down to, how 'free' is 'freewill'?

The Following is an except from one of Sam Harris' talks on Free Will, I choose this point as it's is a little thought experiment that you can participate in while you read and it illustrates his point quite nicely. The excerpt was transcribed as accurately as I could from this presentation, from about 19~25 minutes into the talk.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCofmZlC72g


Lets run a little experiment, think of a city anywhere in the world. Choose any city you want. Now of course I could have primed you, with artfully placed cues in my speech in the last few minutes that would make you more likely to think of Las Vegas for instance. So just to be on the safe side, don't pick Vegas. So pick a city, any city, and pay attention to what this conscious process is like. Now the first thing to notice about this is, this is as free a decision as you are ever going to make in your life. Okay? You have all the cities in the world to choose from, and I'm just asking you to pick one. Now several cities have probably occurred to you, just focus on one.

Everybody got a city? Well I'm sorry to say everybody picked the wrong city. Don't ask me how I know this, but I do. So I just want you to do this again, so you can see what the process is like. Pick another city, it can't be the first, and notice what that experience is like. Okay, can you see any evidence for freewill? Now, we better be able to find it. If it's not here, it's not anywhere, so let's look for it.

First, lets set aside all those cities whose names you don't know, and therefore you could not have picked. Because you couldn't have picked one of those had your life depended on it. There is no freedom in that obviously. And there are many other cities, whose names are quite well known to you, but which simply didn't occur to you to pick. For instance, perhaps Cairo didn't occur to you. You absolutely know that Cairo is a city, but for whatever reason, your Cairo circuits were not engaged. As a matter of neurophysiology, Cairo was not in the cards.

So I want you to think about this. Were you free to choose that which did not occur to you to choose? Based on the state of your brain moments ago, Cairo was not coming. Where is the freedom in that? Of course if you did think of Cairo you should consider yourself a genius. Now you probably thought of several cities, and lets say you thought of Paris, New York, and Tokyo. Then you thought, "I love Paris, I'll go with Paris", then you go "no, no, Tokyo, I'll go with Tokyo".

Now this is the sort of decision that motivates the idea of freewill. You've got two or more choices and you're picking between them, and it's just you and your thoughts; there is no coercion from the external world. You are doing it. But when you look closely I think you'll find you're in no position to know why you picked what you picked. In this case, why you chose Tokyo over Paris. I mean you might have some additional stories to tell about it. You might think "well, I had Japanese food last night, so I remembered it and picked Tokyo".

Now of course we know from psychology that these kind of stories are rather often false. Whenever people are manipulated in the lab, they always have some tale to tell of why they did what they did, and it never bears any relationship to the actual variables that cause them to behave that way. You can cause people to like one person more than another or to cooperate more on economic aims by simply giving them a hot beverage to hold as opposed to a cold one. And they never tell you the reason they were biased the way that they were was because the temperature of the cup in their hand.

Psychology is replete with evidence that we are very poor judges of why it is, retrospectively, why it is we do what we do. But even if you are right in this instance, and even if your choice of Tokyo over Paris is based on your memory of having Japanese food last night; you still can't explain why you remembered having Japanese food last night, or why the memory had the effect that it did. Why didn't it have the opposite affect? Why didn't you think "well I just had Japanese food last night, so lets go with something new, lets go with Paris"? The thing to notice about this is, you as a conscious witness of your inner life are not making these decisions, you can only witness these decisions.

You no more picked the city you settled on in, subjective terms, than you would have
if I had picked it for you.

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17-01-2013, 09:39 AM
Re: Free Choice
I've seen that video and was actually referring to Sam Harris' depiction of the subconscious in my post. My point was that yes thoughts arrive in our subconscious first before our conscious mind and we are limited to our experiences (which is what the 'name a city' example is saying) but given that, I don't think we have enough to definitively say that there is no such thing as free will.

Sure it must be limited and not utterly free (I can't choose outside of a given set of options afforded me by my experiences) but I don't agree that these limitations make it no longer free will.

I especially don't agree with treating the subconscious as an externality unless there is a fundamental reason why it cannot be seen as weighing options and making a choice based on something other than a formulaic "if A + B then C" type decision.

For example, I might feel like eating vanilla ice cream one day and chocolate the next. I wouldn't agree that there would be a set of data that could predict my decision given only information external to me (if you could 'read' my subconscious, you might be able to predict my choice a few seconds before I was consciously aware though). Would my choice depend on the temperature? What signs I saw first? What was on sale? You could make an argument for some influences, but could never gain 100% accuracy in predicting even given absolutely all relevant data (excluding what my brain is doing at the moment).

If the subconscious must indeed be treated solely as a mechanistic process that doesn't make choices, but only takes inputs and creates outputs, then I would agree that free will is an illusion. But I'm not comfortable stating that as fact and I'm not sure we understand the brain to the level needed to make that distinction, even for neuroscientists like Sam Harris. If he's addressed this though I've yet to see it, but if so I could very well be wrong. I'm simply not sure if I agree with his claims about the subconscious until I get some supporting evidence and arguments that prove to me that the subconscious cannot be treated as an agent or anything more than a machine taking inputs and creating outputs.

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17-01-2013, 12:41 PM
RE: Free Choice
"Now, we better be able to find it."

That's a presupposition that implies all knowledge that can be known is known. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a fundamental problem I have with determinists. They act as though they can explain everything about consciousness but when you press them to prove it, you get creationist style, presumptuous explanations coupled with simple mind games... literally, in this case.
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18-01-2013, 12:05 AM
RE: Free Choice
(17-01-2013 09:39 AM)Azaraith Wrote:  Sure it must be limited and not utterly free (I can't choose outside of a given set of options afforded me by my experiences) but I don't agree that these limitations make it no longer free will.

To be fair, I think this statement is fundamentally flawed. Unless freewill is truly 100% free, then it is by definition not freewill. It is then limited-will or determistic-will. Perhaps true freewill is an illusion or a contradiction, in the same way omnipotence and other omni traits are.

We'll never 'know' weather or not our consciousness are completely deterministic, because how wold you test for that? You'd need two or more identical people, isolated from birth, and given identical stimuli for years. Then compare their reactions to identical controlled stimulus. An experiment like this would be considered inhumane.

But when you run experiments and try to account for as many variable as possible and then test of just one, as in the temperature of the beverage, you get a statistically significant result. So we can be relatively confident that some of the input that goes into our decisions is done subconsciously, and out of our control, thus pure freewill is not truly possible.


It doesn't have to be 100% deterministic to NOT be freewill. Even 1% deterministic to 99% conscious decision is still NOT freewill. Freewill is an absolute, thus anything less than that absolute is not freewill. The amount of determinism is debatable and needs more testing to help clarify, but we can make a good argument that freewill (as an absolute) does not in fact exist.

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