The Function of FreeWill
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12-12-2013, 08:50 PM
The Function of FreeWill
Please note, I do not intend for this thread to be a rehash of the old Free Will vs. Determinism wrangle. Been there, done that to death.

For the purpose of this discussion I'd like to assume that Free Will does not exist and that we live in a deterministic universe. Within that framework, what is the function of the concept of Free Will? We observe that the concept of Free Will occurs in (almost?) every culture and is widely held by a large number of people. While we know that a belief's popularity does not make it true we also know that a widely held belief, especially one that span cultural divides, arises for a reason even if that reason is silly. Nature provides nothing that is not necessary so what is the purpose of this pervasive illusion of choice?
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12-12-2013, 09:26 PM
RE: The Function of FreeWill
(12-12-2013 08:50 PM)Paleophyte Wrote:  Please note, I do not intend for this thread to be a rehash of the old Free Will vs. Determinism wrangle. Been there, done that to death.

For the purpose of this discussion I'd like to assume that Free Will does not exist and that we live in a deterministic universe. Within that framework, what is the function of the concept of Free Will? We observe that the concept of Free Will occurs in (almost?) every culture and is widely held by a large number of people. While we know that a belief's popularity does not make it true we also know that a widely held belief, especially one that span cultural divides, arises for a reason even if that reason is silly. Nature provides nothing that is not necessary so what is the purpose of this pervasive illusion of choice?
Well, that's certainly an interesting question. I'm a pragmatist through and through so I'm going to answer your question from that perspective. In a deterministic universe, we wouldn't be able to hold anyone accountable for his or her actions because our judicial systems operate under the assumption that we have at least some form of free will. This means that even if it was conclusively proven that free will doesn't exist, it would make practical sense to act as if it did to ensure that people who 'intend' (bear with me, I can't think of a deterministically equivalent term that makes sense right now) to cause harm to others are not able to do so.

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12-12-2013, 09:43 PM
RE: The Function of FreeWill
(12-12-2013 09:26 PM)Vosur Wrote:  
Well, that's certainly an interesting question. I'm a pragmatist through and through so I'm going to answer your question from that perspective. In a deterministic universe, we wouldn't be able to hold anyone accountable for his or her actions because our judicial systems operate under the assumption that we have at least some form of free will. This means that even if it was conclusively proven that free will doesn't exist, it would make practical sense to act as if it did to ensure that people who 'intend' (bear with me, I can't think of a deterministically equivalent term that makes sense right now) to cause harm to others are not able to do so.

So the illusion of Free Will might be viewed as a sort of psychological crutch that allows us to pass judgement on another's actions. Certainly easier to get across and probably more palatable to the masses than the equivalent, "This individual is damaged and dangerous and needs to be restrained until repaired or recycled." It might well facilitate a whole host of other social interactions that are simpler to comprehend if a choice is assumed.
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12-12-2013, 10:42 PM
RE: The Function of FreeWill
(12-12-2013 09:43 PM)Paleophyte Wrote:  So the illusion of Free Will might be viewed as a sort of psychological crutch that allows us to pass judgement on another's actions. Certainly easier to get across and probably more palatable to the masses than the equivalent, "This individual is damaged and dangerous and needs to be restrained until repaired or recycled." It might well facilitate a whole host of other social interactions that are simpler to comprehend if a choice is assumed.
Yes, that's the gist of it.

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13-12-2013, 07:50 AM
RE: The Function of FreeWill
(12-12-2013 08:50 PM)Paleophyte Wrote:  Please note, I do not intend for this thread to be a rehash of the old Free Will vs. Determinism wrangle. Been there, done that to death.

For the purpose of this discussion I'd like to assume that Free Will does not exist and that we live in a deterministic universe. Within that framework, what is the function of the concept of Free Will? We observe that the concept of Free Will occurs in (almost?) every culture and is widely held by a large number of people. While we know that a belief's popularity does not make it true we also know that a widely held belief, especially one that span cultural divides, arises for a reason even if that reason is silly. Nature provides nothing that is not necessary so what is the purpose of this pervasive illusion of choice?

Free will is indeed a concept. The discussion should not really be whether
free will exists, but rather, whether it is a useful concept.

Whether there is determinism is really irrelevant for our lives, unless
we have determinism in a practical, observable sense. That would
mean that we would be able to perfectly predict the future. Our experience
is that with science we are able to predict more and more stuff, but
it seems foolishly optimistic to think that we would be able to predict
a humans entire life any time soon (or ever). So from a practical point of
view, we live in a non-deterministic world. So "randomness" is still
a useful concept, even though we might live in a deterministic world.

For free will it is the same thing. You might believe that there is no free will.
But in a practical sense, we can predict some human behavior.
And with science we may be able to predict it more and more. However
it does not seem that we can predict all of human behavior
in the near future, and perhaps we will not be able to do that ever.
There may be a reason why it is fundamentally impossible to predict
human behavior. Suppose you created a machine that tells you
what I am going to do in the next minute. Now I will have a look at
the output of the machine. It predicts that I will stick up 1 finger.
What I'll do is, I stick up 2 fingers. It seems strange to think that
I would be unable to stick up 2 fingers, because of the prediction. How
is the machine going to prevent me from sticking up 2 fingers. It seems
that such a machine can never be built.

In any case, if human behavior cannot be predicted, then, in a practical
sense, the concept of free will is valid. Free will is all the behavior
of humans that cannot completely be explained by outside influences.
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