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Thread: Free Will

  1. #1
    Child's Play CharitySon of Krokodile XVI
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    Free Will

    Is it an illusion or not? I watched a couple of videos. I've never really thought about this topic before, except superficially. This forum has people that I know have thought and read about this a lot.

    One video pointed to the fact that brain imaging shows processes involved in any specific activity firing up before the experience of intent toward that activity occurs. So the brain is already preparing for whatever it is you're about to do, before you think you're going to do it.

    The second larger point of that video was that everything we think and feel at any given moment is the result of all the influences that have accumulated on us prior to that moment. So if you were to trace back a person's history, all his experiences, learnings and so forth, theoretically you could see this domino effect leading up to the present moment of conscious thought.

    Then I watched another video that I think argued for free will, but I'm not even entirely sure. It had Michio Kaku, who is a physicist and a popularizer of physics. He referred to quantum physics, where the activity of particles appears haphazard. If their activity does follow some consistent laws, we haven't discovered them yet. So I think Michio Kaku said that this leaves room for genuine free will. I'm not sure how, though. Random activity at the quantum level doesn't seem to me like it would enable free will, but then I have very limited understanding of the subject. I don't really know anything about quantum physics.
    Looks like we're not going down after all, so nevermind.

  2. #2
    My hunch is that free will is a nonsensical concept.

  3. #3
    Admiral of Awesome
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    My hunch is that the brain is an antenna for a dark matter Boltzmann brain

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Krokodile View Post
    Is it an illusion or not? I watched a couple of videos. I've never really thought about this topic before, except superficially. This forum has people that I know have thought and read about this a lot.

    One video pointed to the fact that brain imaging shows processes involved in any specific activity firing up before the experience of intent toward that activity occurs. So the brain is already preparing for whatever it is you're about to do, before you think you're going to do it.
    If by free will, we mean that your thoughts are the "director" of your actions, then yes 100% it is make believe in my view. As you pointed out, scientific psychology knows well now that you start acting before you start thinking of the action.

    This doesn't mean thinking is all for naught, thinking and reason have their place, but they're more like the shadows of our inner emotions and instincts. But, I can still reason through the choices and choose vegetables over pizza - later effecting my stomach and thoughts. So thoughts do influence behavior, if only in small ways, but over time can build up into larger changes. Also eat your vegetables and get more cardio.

    Quote Originally Posted by Krokodile View Post
    The second larger point of that video was that everything we think and feel at any given moment is the result of all the influences that have accumulated on us prior to that moment. So if you were to trace back a person's history, all his experiences, learnings and so forth, theoretically you could see this domino effect leading up to the present moment of conscious thought.
    Yeah in theory, but this isn't a scientifically verifiable claim. In fact, this line of thinking seems more likely to get people fixated on discovering - or rather, inventing - causes for behavior. Or worse, people develop convictions about what causes behavior, failing to recognize just how incomprehensibly complex the inputs would be if this strict deterministic model held. We know that thinking orbits emotions and instincts and not vice versa, but we don't know every detail about any of the inputs, workings, and outputs of the system. That's actually a good thing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Krokodile View Post
    Then I watched another video that I think argued for free will, but I'm not even entirely sure. It had Michio Kaku, who is a physicist and a popularizer of physics. He referred to quantum physics, where the activity of particles appears haphazard. If their activity does follow some consistent laws, we haven't discovered them yet. So I think Michio Kaku said that this leaves room for genuine free will. I'm not sure how, though. Random activity at the quantum level doesn't seem to me like it would enable free will, but then I have very limited understanding of the subject. I don't really know anything about quantum physics.
    This mostly comes down to a semantic question. What does Kaku mean when he says 'free will'? The most libertarian sort of free will I think is dead in the water, but there are a multitude of formulations. In either case, here's a fantastic Reddit thread addressing this very question, since it's better than anything I can hope to write.

    Anyone who asserts the universe is deterministic or nondeterministic is making a claim that is not verifiable. It's rather a metaphysical claim. Like a statement of your religious belief.

  5. #5
    Admiral of Awesome
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    Psychologists “know” people start acting before making a conscious choice to act, for certain assumptions of where conscious decision making happens, and what conscious decision making looks like on an fMRI.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon`C View Post
    Psychologists “know” people start acting before making a conscious choice to act, for certain assumptions of where conscious decision making happens, and what conscious decision making looks like on an fMRI.
    Are you doubting that decisions are made before they are consciously thought, or just pointing out the definitions of psychologists are arbitrary?

  7. #7
    Admiral of Awesome
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    Quote Originally Posted by Reid View Post
    Are you doubting that decisions are made before they are consciously thought, or just pointing out the definitions of psychologists are arbitrary?
    In general I doubt there exists meaningful distinction between conscious and unconscious decision-making, moreso a confusion between consciousness and introspection. In this particular post, though, I was doubting the ability of fMRI (used in that and similar studies) to detect brain activity accurately enough and timely enough to say anything intelligent about where decisions originate.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Krokodile View Post
    Is it an illusion or not?
    neither, it's a Rush song bro


  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon`C View Post
    In general I doubt there exists meaningful distinction between conscious and unconscious decision-making, moreso a confusion between consciousness and introspection. In this particular post, though, I was doubting the ability of fMRI (used in that and similar studies) to detect brain activity accurately enough and timely enough to say anything intelligent about where decisions originate.
    Raising my hand to stop something flying at me versus raising my hand to wave sure feel like distinct decision making events. That should be accounted for. IMO you don't really need the scientism to explain that decisions are made prior to thinking them, I think it's obvious enough for anyone who has thought about it honestly for a while. Question though, explain what you mean by confusion between consciousness and introspection?

    In my view rational thought is (maybe entirely) for our minds to imagine counterfactual scenarios. "Do I lie or tell the truth?" You reason to the best of your ability, but your instinct tells you which route to choose. A stronger thinking ability simply allows more thorough and accurate models for your instinct to decide on, but your reasoning ability cannot in itself make that decision. I'm equating reasoning here with the "decisiony" part people identify with.
    Last edited by Reid; 07-16-2019 at 06:20 PM.

  10. #10
    Admiral of Awesome
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    The studies you’ve alluded to (by e.g. Libet) did account for “reflexes” and therefore do not attempt to conflate such evolutionarily advantageous low latency actions with conscious decision making. So that isn’t a mistake they’re making, that I’m making, and it’s not one that you should be making.

    What those studies did is try to understand when conscious decision making happens by timing it against subjects’ introspection about their decision, or using diagnostic techniques that all suffer from the same biases (that decision making is localized, takes more energy than execution/introspection, or both). I’m not making a positive statement about whether we have free will, but I do know that trying to prove a negative with **** tech isn’t the way you get there.

  11. #11
    Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will.
    sniff

  12. #12
    Child's Play CharitySon of Krokodile XVI
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    Quote Originally Posted by Reid View Post
    This doesn't mean thinking is all for naught, thinking and reason have their place, but they're more like the shadows of our inner emotions and instincts. But, I can still reason through the choices and choose vegetables over pizza - later effecting my stomach and thoughts. So thoughts do influence behavior, if only in small ways, but over time can build up into larger changes. Also eat your vegetables and get more cardio.
    Does it not follow, though, that the choices made via reasoning are just as much a result of our influences (genes and experiences that have defined and shaped our thinking) than those emotions and instincts which simply occur to us? I mean, our reasoning wouldn't lead to the same conclusions if we were different. And then those conclusions wouldn't lead to the same later outcomes that you alluded to. I'm sorry if I misunderstand you. From what you're saying, I'm getting that you assert reasoning can elevate us above how we've come to think up to the moment of reasoning. But while I agree that reasoning has its place that is integral to personal development, it does still seem to me that reasoning is just as confined to one's accumulation of influences as any other form of conscious activity.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reid View Post
    Yeah in theory, but this isn't a scientifically verifiable claim. In fact, this line of thinking seems more likely to get people fixated on discovering - or rather, inventing - causes for behavior. Or worse, people develop convictions about what causes behavior, failing to recognize just how incomprehensibly complex the inputs would be if this strict deterministic model held. We know that thinking orbits emotions and instincts and not vice versa, but we don't know every detail about any of the inputs, workings, and outputs of the system. That's actually a good thing.
    That's a good point about the complexity of the causes of behavior, and that a lot of it eludes us. Then again, I feel like the validity of a deterministic reduction of people's behavior is still not excluded by the complexity of the system. All those variables still seem to leave us with little to no free choice in how we come to our thinking. That's not to say behavioral decisions don't matter, but they seem to arise from factors that are ultimately beyond our control.

    Can you please elaborate on the point about thinking orbiting emotions and instincts? From cognitive psychology, I understand there's this symbiotic loop of all those components, or at least of thoughts and emotions. But I've also gathered that thoughts are antecedent to emotions so that thinking, whether one is cognizant of it or not, leads to emotion. In cognitive psychotherapy, a goal is to become aware of those thoughts which precede emotion so that injurious thought processes may be interfered with. However, when you say thinking orbits emotions and instincts, I take that to mean the latter two come first and thoughts arise from them. This challenges my understanding of the relationship between those things, so I'd appreciate if you would explain that point in further detail.


    Quote Originally Posted by Reid View Post
    This mostly comes down to a semantic question. What does Kaku mean when he says 'free will'? The most libertarian sort of free will I think is dead in the water, but there are a multitude of formulations. In either case, here's a fantastic Reddit thread addressing this very question, since it's better than anything I can hope to write.

    Anyone who asserts the universe is deterministic or nondeterministic is making a claim that is not verifiable. It's rather a metaphysical claim. Like a statement of your religious belief.
    That was a great Reddit post, thank you. It made me realize that for all we know, free will in humans and quantum mechanics may not even be connected in a way that's meaningful to this discussion.

    By the way, if it seems like I'm biased for determinism, it's true. I've been getting into mindfulness, where the idea (or at least one of the ideas, the one I'm now fixated on) is to assume the role of an observer of one's own consciousness, and to identify that thoughts and emotions are this constant stream that we ultimately don't control because they simply occur to us as reflections of what we've become. Somewhat paradoxically, I suppose, this is a way to gain control over one's destructive mental states because they lose their power when you don't engage them but simply observe instead. This is my current understanding of it, anyway. You can see how this links with determinism and how I'm kind of seeking to validate mindfulness through that.

  13. #13
    I've learned my philosophy about that when I was a teenager from Die Fantastischen Vier. They quoted Albert Einstein, who quoted Arthur Schopenhauer: "You may do what you want, but you may not want what you want."

    And I now realized that I don't want to engage in philosophy so early in the morning.
    Sorry for the lousy German

  14. #14
    It probably says something about our historical moment that the question is generally parsed in terms of the relationship between cognition and the physical aspects of our minds, rather than in terms of social realities. Like, the cultural view that consent is effectively a contradictory idea (e.g., posited by the MeToo movement, but also by tech companies and how they conceive of privacy) assumes a lot that can be described as an implicit position on the the question of "free will" (effectively, they assume that the decisions of individuals are so much conditioned by social context that it doesn't make sense to imagine individual action as independent and internally motivated).

  15. #15
    On one hand, I generally believe that, if there's free will, there's a lot less we have 'free will' over than we likely think. Still, even the smallest amount, as noted in earlier posts, can add up to something we'd consider meaningful, so if we're prisoners of causes and effects in the vast majority of things, it's still worth putting up the fight, so to speak.

    On the other hand, I also believe that, even if there's no free will, the variables in the system of cause and effect are so stupidly complex that even the illusion of free will can significantly impact how that system plays out. We might not be able to actually determine how events play out, but believing we do could play the events differently than if we didn't believe it. Whether that's a "good" thing or not is certainly debatable, though I'd like to think it could be.
    Featured ISB thread: The Never-ending Story Thread^2

  16. #16
    It's Stuart, Martha Stuart
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    I think people talk about whether free will exists before they agree on a coherent definition.

    What is free will? I think people use free will as a proxy for a set of inconsistent ideas about what makes them human. People try to show that free will exists by showing that their choices are not a function of external forces, or at least, not a deterministic function. But what good does that do? It is trivial to construct a machine that measures non-deterministic noise and makes choices as a result. I think a lot of questions about free will are really misdirected questions about about human identity and consciousness.

    For me, I think it makes more sense to think of the will as our "nature", ie the sum of our desires at a given point of time. We have desires, and we have a finite ability to express those desires on the world. Our bodies typically aren't controlled by an outside force in conflict with those desires.

    It seems like there's this idea that if you can point to an external reason for an action, it absolves a person from responsibility for that action. I don't think that's a reasonable take on things. We are the way we are for some reason, but we are still responsible for our actions because our actions reflect what we are. We don't put murders in prison because they happened to be involved in a causal chain that led to a death. We put murders in prison because they are people have proven that they desire to kill without a socially justifiable reason. Why that person got that way is really a separate kind question.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Obi_Kwiet View Post
    I think people talk about whether free will exists before they agree on a coherent definition.
    How you define terms is just as much a part of the debate as the consequences of those definitions. Moreover you will never find universal agreement on any definition.

  18. #18
    It's Stuart, Martha Stuart
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    I agree, but in this case, I think the debate is primarily about the definition. I see a lot of people try to argue for free will without even considering that there may be a definitional issue.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon`C View Post
    The studies you’ve alluded to (by e.g. Libet) did account for “reflexes” and therefore do not attempt to conflate such evolutionarily advantageous low latency actions with conscious decision making. So that isn’t a mistake they’re making, that I’m making, and it’s not one that you should be making.

    What those studies did is try to understand when conscious decision making happens by timing it against subjects’ introspection about their decision, or using diagnostic techniques that all suffer from the same biases (that decision making is localized, takes more energy than execution/introspection, or both). I’m not making a positive statement about whether we have free will, but I do know that trying to prove a negative with **** tech isn’t the way you get there.
    I looked up a study which had a 59% accuracy rating, only 9% better than purely guessing on what the person was going to do. Their experiment involved the person choosing between two images, "randomly". Your ML algorithm could probably just guess the opposite of what a person picked to get that success rate, because most people aren't going to do the same thing more than 2 or three times in a row lol.

  20. #20

  21. #21
    ...effectively gave away the entire movie in the trailer. Good game Hollywood, lol (although to be fair I guess the title already gave it away too, haha)

  22. #22
    Likes Kittens. Eats Fluffies
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    Free? Willy
    In Theaters This Christmas

  23. #23
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    Free Willy, The Attempt to (1993)

  24. #24
    Some stories are about the journey rather than the end.

    Well, I guess most stories are about the journey but you know what I meant.

    No? n/m
    "I would rather claim to be an uneducated man than be mal-educated and claim to be otherwise." - Wookie 03:16


  25. #25
    I don't think Kroko is going to hand out free Will Ferrells after all.

  26. #26
    Free Hat!

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