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(io9)   Free will doesn't exist. So, Fark Admin on duty tonight, green this. It's not subby talking, it's SCIENCE   (io9.com) divider line 86
    More: Interesting, motor cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, scientific evidence, nature news  
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2300 clicks; posted to Geek » on 15 Jan 2013 at 9:30 AM (1 year ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2013-01-15 01:19:36 PM

roc6783: I said "We may in fact discover that you are right, and there is no free will, at that point, you would be correct." Just because you say, "free will is supernatural in origin, therefore, you cannot believe in free will, yet criticize people who believe in divine beings." That's begging the question as your initial premise has no supporting evidence, yet it must be true for your conclusion to be true. If you have some sort of evidence beyond your own opinion, please feel free to share it.


Once again: if we discover that there is no free will, I would NOT be right because I don't believe that there is no free will. I do believe in free will, and I'd appreciate it if you'd stop imputing to me the very opposite of what I believe.

Nor did I say that you can't believe in free will while criticizing belief in divine beings. What I did say is this:

If you believe in free will, then you believe in something supernatural, because the laws of physics leave no room for free will*. Therefore it is illogical to criticize belief in a divine being on the grounds that it is supernatural. There are lots of other possible grounds for criticizing belief in a divine being, but "it's supernatural" is not a reasonable one coming from somebody who concedes the existence of the supernatural elsewhere. Is that clearer?

Now, maybe this argument is much more subtle than I thought, given the number of people misunderstanding it. Or maybe the problem is the word "supernatural". It doesn't just mean miracles and lightning striking down the heathen and demonic possession: it means anything that isn't governed by physical law. And if you believe that the actions of your body are not entirely determined by the physical processes in your body including your brain, then whatever else is involved and whatever name you give it, that thing is by definition supernatural, i.e. not governed by physical law.

Other than the word "supernatural" I don't think this logic is very complex: either you are entirely a biological machine, or you aren't. I really don't see what other options are on the table?

*If you believe otherwise, please show where free will can enter into the equations without itself being governed by those equations.
 
2013-01-15 01:21:30 PM

czetie: I'm not sure what point you're trying to make?

Unconscious actions certainly exist. The open question is whether free choices exist, determined by a "you" that is somehow distinct from the physical processes of your brain. It may turn out that explanations such as "I went to the opera because I like Wagner" are exactly as descriptive and no more indicative of free will than "I pulled my hand out because the water was scalding hot".


The point is that even you still have free will even if your actions are purely deterministic because you're still the one making them. There is no hidden puppet master controlling your body from outside. That renders the distinction of thinking about your action then doing it or doing your action and then realizing why you did it more of a question about how the brain processes things than if free will exists. Either way you did it based on your decision making process.
 
2013-01-15 01:24:20 PM

torusXL: czetie: In short: If free will exists, even if it is exercised through hypothesized quantum processes, it's still supernatural.

You've pulled so much out of your ass that I can't believe you haven't yet turned inside out.

Quantum processes are a physical process. They're about as supernatural as when I take a shiat and the turd disappears in the toilet because it slipped down into the drain too far.


You are still completely failing at reading comprehension, while completely succeeding at being a total asshole. A lesser person might suggest that your problem is that the last time you took a shiat, you slipped down the drain and the turd was left behind. But that would be beneath me.

Once again, I did not say that quantum processes are not physical or that they are supernatural. Go back, re-read, and try for understanding this time.

However, at this point it is demonstrably clear that you have no interest in anything other than acting like a complete dick in this thread, so I will leave you to it.

*plonk*.
 
2013-01-15 01:30:27 PM

adenosine: czetie: I'm not sure what point you're trying to make?

Unconscious actions certainly exist. The open question is whether free choices exist, determined by a "you" that is somehow distinct from the physical processes of your brain. It may turn out that explanations such as "I went to the opera because I like Wagner" are exactly as descriptive and no more indicative of free will than "I pulled my hand out because the water was scalding hot".

The point is that even you still have free will even if your actions are purely deterministic because you're still the one making them. There is no hidden puppet master controlling your body from outside. That renders the distinction of thinking about your action then doing it or doing your action and then realizing why you did it more of a question about how the brain processes things than if free will exists. Either way you did it based on your decision making process.


Like an ant climbing a blade of grass, over and over. Like a mosquito circling a flame before it's demise.
 
2013-01-15 01:34:47 PM

adenosine: The point is that even you still have free will even if your actions are purely deterministic because you're still the one making them.


Ah, I think I get it. We aren't using the expression "free will" in quite the same way.

When I use the term "free will" I mean precisely that there is, to borrow your phrase, a puppet master controlling the body. (Whether it's something "outside" the body or, as medieval philosophers imagined it, a homunculus inside the head is pretty arbitrary). And conversely, if I say that the body/brain system is deterministic, to my definition that is the same thing as saying it doesn't have free will.

However, you seem to be using the term "free will" somewhat differently when you say that even a deterministic body/brain can have free will, because there is an identifiable unified "you" that both experiences the stimulus and produces the output. Do I have that right?
 
2013-01-15 01:38:10 PM

czetie: However, you seem to be using the term "free will" somewhat differently when you say that even a deterministic body/brain can have free will, because there is an identifiable unified "you" that both experiences the stimulus and produces the output. Do I have that right?


Exactly. I don't think the first definition of free will is useful nor is it what most people would associate with the phrase.
 
2013-01-15 01:39:29 PM

czetie: You are still completely failing at reading comprehension, while completely succeeding at being a total asshole. A lesser person might suggest that your problem is that the last time you took a shiat, you slipped down the drain and the turd was left behind. But that would be beneath me.

Once again, I did not say that quantum processes are not physical or that they are supernatural. Go back, re-read, and try for understanding this time.

However, at this point it is demonstrably clear that you have no interest in anything other than acting like a complete dick in this thread, so I will leave you to it.


Let's review some of what you've posted.

czetie: Actually, I do believe in free will; I'm just very upfront that doing so is to believe in the supernatural.

So to be clear (rather than provocative): it's perfectly possible that free will exists but that a divine being doesn't. In fact, that's my own preferred belief system.


czetie exists in a superposition of confusion and sophomoric wordy over-think.

Someday, czetie will collapse into sense.
 
2013-01-15 01:47:46 PM

czetie: roc6783:***snip***


The only way your assertion that free will is supernatural were to be "true" would be that we find there is NO free will due to physical processes, therefore, free will is a supernatural process. There is no way to find something that is supernatural. Things either fit or change our understanding of the way physics works. If there is free will, then it isn't supernatural, it just is. If it doesn't exist, then you can call it supernatural.
 
2013-01-15 02:45:27 PM
Sorry, but my entirely-determined cognitive processes produce an outcome that disagrees with you. As they are entirely determined, there is no point in your trying to persuade me to change my mind.
 
2013-01-15 02:57:52 PM
This, like most philosophical questions, is the result of a failure in terminology.

What, exactly, is "free will"?
 
2013-01-15 03:37:51 PM
Vonnegut nods approvingly.
 
2013-01-15 03:44:47 PM

Dokushin: This, like most philosophical questions, is the result of a failure in terminology.What, exactly, is "free will"?


I'd say it's a red herring to ask what is "free will".

We can ask: Can a person make a choice that is unpredictable by objective measurement of the person's mind?
The answer to this is no. If an objective measurement can be made, then their behavior can be predicted exactly.

We can also ask: Is our measurement objective enough? Predicting the actions of a person implies that the measurement is "good enough": the measurement has small enough errors to be accurate, the measurement captures every state of the person's mind (position of all molecules, which genes are on and off for each cell, etc etc). Along with that, we'd need to know the physics to say what happens along each "time step" of the operation of their mind.

I wonder if the definition of free will lies somewhere between these two questions. It's possible that no measuring device could ever measure a human mind accurately and precisely enough to predict 100%. If that is the case, then free will exists because people will always be able to make a choice that was unexpected. If not the case, then free will doesn't exist.

But neither of these cases change the fact that humans experience free will. We'd still feel and experience things the same way, whether or not someone could hook us up to measuring equipment and predict what we'll do next. The article is interesting, and the action potentials can predict a small amount. However, the scientists don't know - and I highly doubt they're trying to claim - if the action potential causes the choice or if the choice is caused by something else and the action potential is the effect of the choice (journalists like to spice things up, don't forget).

No divine creator entity needs to exist. Maybe one does exist, maybe it doesn't. Either way, the divine entity set the world up the way it is, or laws of physics caused the universe to be created the way it is. No pseudo-science about special quantum effects needs to be invoked too. Quantum effects play a part in every bit of matter, so saying we need special quantum physics for free will is a moot point and just like saying we need magical Wetness Fairies to make water be wet.

(Speaking of red herrings, how bout this one: if we invented something to fully simulate a person's brain to predict their actions, is the simulated mind a conscious entity?)
 
2013-01-15 03:46:22 PM

adenosine: czetie: However, you seem to be using the term "free will" somewhat differently when you say that even a deterministic body/brain can have free will, because there is an identifiable unified "you" that both experiences the stimulus and produces the output. Do I have that right?

Exactly. I don't think the first definition of free will is useful nor is it what most people would associate with the phrase.


Obviously we're going to disagree about that. But at least we can do so politely.
 
2013-01-15 03:51:48 PM

czetie: Obviously we're going to disagree about that. But at least we can do so politely.


I think it is predetermined that czetie gonna cry, poor baby.

There's probably no way you can not cry, unfortunately. Unless the Quantum Free Will Leprechauns can help you out.
 
2013-01-15 03:53:20 PM

torusXL: czetie: Obviously we're going to disagree about that. But at least we can do so politely.

I think it is predetermined that czetie gonna cry, poor baby.

There's probably no way you can not cry, unfortunately. Unless the Quantum Free Will Leprechauns can help you out.


Hey, that's funny. Mean, but funny.
 
2013-01-15 03:56:43 PM

torusXL: Speaking of red herrings, how bout this one: if we invented something to fully simulate a person's brain to predict their actions, is the simulated mind a conscious entity?


If a fully simulated brain predicts their actions, isn't that a refutation of free will? That is, if you can capture the state of a brain and then predict subsequent states, then (via n, n+1) you can predict all future states, which means that behavior was deterministic at least from the point of the simulation.
 
2013-01-15 04:05:08 PM

Dokushin: torusXL: Speaking of red herrings, how bout this one: if we invented something to fully simulate a person's brain to predict their actions, is the simulated mind a conscious entity?

If a fully simulated brain predicts their actions, isn't that a refutation of free will? That is, if you can capture the state of a brain and then predict subsequent states, then (via n, n+1) you can predict all future states, which means that behavior was deterministic at least from the point of the simulation.


Yeah, that would be a refutation of free will and in fact, I would bet money that human behavior is fully deterministic. I'm not debating a concept of free will though. I'm talking about a subjective experience of free will.

In a nutshell, my thoughts are that there is not metaphysical power and no special indeterminism in the Universe at large. From a human perspective, there may be one or even both those things. And somewhere in that muddled realm of limited perspective is the experience of free will.

The question in my hypothetical thoughts about subjective free will would be how much evidence is possible to be gathered. Chaos theory says that some systems are so widely varying with ultra tiny changes that from n to n+1 (where n is a very small scale) that the system might be physically impossible to measure. Weather is thought to be one of these systems (we can make predictions, but we'll probably always be wrong sometimes). Note that a chaotic system is totally deterministic. It is just so subtly varying that we can't peer at a close enough scale to see all results.
 
2013-01-15 04:08:26 PM
meh...planet of playthings, we dance on the strings
of powers we cannot perceive
 
2013-01-15 04:11:41 PM

SevenizGud: meh...planet of playthings, we dance on the strings
of powers we cannot perceive


I hate Rush but the lyrics to that song are brilliant.
 
2013-01-15 04:12:53 PM

Dokushin: torusXL: Speaking of red herrings, how bout this one: if we invented something to fully simulate a person's brain to predict their actions, is the simulated mind a conscious entity?

If a fully simulated brain predicts their actions, isn't that a refutation of free will? That is, if you can capture the state of a brain and then predict subsequent states, then (via n, n+1) you can predict all future states, which means that behavior was deterministic at least from the point of the simulation.


What other sort of action would "free will" imply? If you can accurately knew the entirety of someones mind wouldn't you expect to be able to predict what choice they wold make in any given situation?

What seperates this from making predictions about the changes a complex chemical state will undergo when exposed to any given stimuli?
 
2013-01-15 04:17:01 PM

roc6783: czetie: roc6783:***snip***

The only way your assertion that free will is supernatural were to be "true" would be that we find there is NO free will due to physical processes, therefore, free will is a supernatural process. There is no way to find something that is supernatural. Things either fit or change our understanding of the way physics works. If there is free will, then it isn't supernatural, it just is. If it doesn't exist, then you can call it supernatural.


Actually, I would say this: if we find that there is NO free will due to physical processes, either free will is a supernatural process or free will is an illusion (albeit an impressively convincing one).

But yes, you are almost certainly right that, by definition, there is no way to find something that is supernatural -- at least, using the tools of the natural world. Logically I don't know whether there is in fact any way to distinguish the cases "free will exists and is supernatural" vs. "free will is an illusion".

However, the last step doesn't quite follow IMO. More depressingly, it may turn out that free will is perfectly real, but subject to laws beyond our conception of physics, and even beyond the ability of a brain built according to physical laws to comprehend, and that as beings subject to physics we simply have no frame of reference for describing things that are not subject to physics.

(Now at that point it becomes a matter of taste as to whether you want to say that those laws are simply "more physics" (I'm guessing you would) or "supernatural" (in the sense of "beyond physics"). But I hope we can agree that a "natural" explanation of free will would require a revision of our understanding of physics as radical as... well, as radical as the first discovery that the world does operate according to natural laws rather than chance and the whim of deities in the first place?)

For comparison, consider the possibility that our universe is actually a simulation inside a real universe, and the fact that mathematics is so "unreasonably effective" in our universe is precisely because the simulation operates mathematically, and we are actually discovering the rules of the simulator. But the real universe operates by a set of rules that are not embedded in the simulation, and there is simply no possibility that we can discern them, any more than Pac-Man can discern that he is inside a video game. Now take away the simulation part of that argument -- it is possible that the physical universe is embedded in something radically different, and we are doomed to only ever understand the physical part of it in which we are embedded, with the very existence of free will -- in defiance of everything we know about physics -- as the only clue that there exists something more...
 
2013-01-15 04:23:24 PM

Holocaust Agnostic: Dokushin: torusXL: Speaking of red herrings, how bout this one: if we invented something to fully simulate a person's brain to predict their actions, is the simulated mind a conscious entity?

If a fully simulated brain predicts their actions, isn't that a refutation of free will? That is, if you can capture the state of a brain and then predict subsequent states, then (via n, n+1) you can predict all future states, which means that behavior was deterministic at least from the point of the simulation.

What other sort of action would "free will" imply? If you can accurately knew the entirety of someones mind wouldn't you expect to be able to predict what choice they wold make in any given situation?

What seperates this from making predictions about the changes a complex chemical state will undergo when exposed to any given stimuli?


Yes, you'd be able to predict any choice they made. But not necessarily in any given situation. To do so in any given situation implies that you've also accurately enough measured all the sensory input that person is receiving.

If you could do both: measure their brain completely and measure all their senses (there are like 20 senses btw), then you could predict them completely and it would be no different than measuring any other chemical soup.

The question is whether or not we can do these measurements. According to chaos theory, there's a chance that we never will be able to. It might be possible of course, but knowing if that technology will be invented is an unknown-unknown, not just a known-unknown.

If someday we can do those measurements, we might next ask ourselves, does it matter? Does it change that we at least feel like we have free will, i.e. experience pseudo-free will? After all, the human brain can't measure itself 100% accurately. Even if it could, it couldn't comprehend the reams of data. A brain that could wouldn't be a human brain, that's for sure.
 
2013-01-15 05:19:35 PM

czetie: roc6783: czetie: roc6783:***snip***


The only point I was trying to make was that saying a belief in free will is not the same as the belief in a deity, as an explanation of free will need not be supernatural, whereas a deity by definition is. Do I think that we have the capacity to "prove" the existence of free will? Not in any foreseeable future, but that shouldn't stop people from looking.
 
2013-01-15 05:28:33 PM

torusXL: The question is whether or not we can do these measurements. According to chaos theory, there's a chance that we never will be able to


According to the uncertainty principle, we definitely can't know the exact state of a system at a given moment. Not just us (humans), but it is simply unknowable in this universe.

Determinism is an illusion.
 
2013-01-15 05:30:30 PM

Holocaust Agnostic: If you can accurately knew the entirety of someones mind...


You can't.
 
2013-01-15 05:55:17 PM

ThrobblefootSpectre: According to the uncertainty principle, we definitely can't know the exact state of a system at a given moment. Not just us (humans), but it is simply unknowable in this universe.


The uncertainty principle applies to very small systems, but what if it is possible to know the velocity and position of "enough" particles/molecules in the brain to "just about enough" precision to, say, predict someone's mind to 99.9% precision?

For example a particle's velocity could be measured to some bounded precision, say 98% accuracy, and by knowing a few things about the measuring device, the position could be known to some % accuracy too. And bigger particles will have tighter bounds. The brain generally uses pretty big particles, so it's not a complete 100% answer that determinism of the human mind is an illusion.

Physical determinism might just be an illusion due to the UP, but hidden variables aren't necessarily ruled out. Local hidden variables are pretty much ruled out as far as I've heard, but that doesn't rule out strange loop holes. Take the state of entangled particles which have "instant correlation" with each other. Well, the possibility of higher dimensions could allow for weird effects.

Just to make some stuff up for fun, maybe entanglement is the result of two particles being able to exist in the same coordinate in time while separating in distance. That might sound like a paradox because how could particles move through space and sit in time? Well, photons going the speed of light aren't moving in time. So perhaps there still are hidden variables in action that create entanglement while still not allowing instantaneous information transmission over distance. Maybe the photons are just sitting in a higher coordinate system than we know, hanging out at one point in time and some other space we don't know about. If time is the only portion of these dimensions that we humans can perceive, then they would appear to have instant correlation.

Anyways, long winded way of saying you may be right, but not 100% surely right.
 
2013-01-15 06:12:55 PM

torusXL: The uncertainty principle applies to very small systems, but what if it is possible to know the velocity and position of "enough" particles/molecules in the brain to "just about enough" precision to, say, predict someone's mind to 99.9% precision?


I think that's where chaos theory kicks in at the macro level, as you already correctly pointed out. Even a very small imprecision in the knowledge of the initial state can cause extremely huge differences in future states.

Also, just knowing the states of the brain is only a small part of the problem. As already pointed out in other posts, we need the state of all sensory inputs to predict what the output will be. So we will work with your 99.9% certainty figure. Say the brain takes in 1000 bits of information, among all senses (visual, hearing, etc), in a given experiment. Since we can only accurately measure each of these inputs with 99.9 percent accuracy, then the probability of predicting the correct state of the whole is 0.999 ^ 1000 = .36 (Notice this is less then our probability of guessing the outcome of a coin flip.)
 
2013-01-15 06:13:10 PM

ThrobblefootSpectre: torusXL: The question is whether or not we can do these measurements. According to chaos theory, there's a chance that we never will be able to

According to the uncertainty principle, we definitely can't know the exact state of a system at a given moment. Not just us (humans), but it is simply unknowable in this universe.

Determinism is an illusion.


On the other hand, we definitely know that torusXL has his head so far up his ass he can lick his own tonsils.
 
2013-01-15 06:17:10 PM

czetie: On the other hand, we definitely know that torusXL has his head so far up his ass he can lick his own tonsils.


Meh, I didn't have an emotional problem with anything he said anymore than I did with anything you said.

I don't see where torus is certainly wrong, or posting in willful ignorance.
 
2013-01-15 06:19:09 PM

ThrobblefootSpectre: torusXL: The uncertainty principle applies to very small systems, but what if it is possible to know the velocity and position of "enough" particles/molecules in the brain to "just about enough" precision to, say, predict someone's mind to 99.9% precision?

I think that's where chaos theory kicks in at the macro level, as you already correctly pointed out. Even a very small imprecision in the knowledge of the initial state can cause extremely huge differences in future states.

Also, just knowing the states of the brain is only a small part of the problem. As already pointed out in other posts, we need the state of all sensory inputs to predict what the output will be. So we will work with your 99.9% certainty figure. Say the brain takes in 1000 bits of information, among all senses (visual, hearing, etc), in a given experiment. Since we can only accurately measure each of these inputs with 99.9 percent accuracy, then the probability of predicting the correct state of the whole is 0.999 ^ 1000 = .36 (Notice this is less then our probability of guessing the outcome of a coin flip.)


Ah, which gets massively smaller as more bits are used....

Good news everyone, free will exists!

czetie: On the other hand, we definitely know that torusXL has his head so far up his ass he can lick his own tonsils.


Well, yes. It's a very good way to keep my breath fresh. You ever tried to brush your tonsils with a toothbrush? You'll throw up in the sink from gagging.

No...wait...wait...I'm sure you have a very well developed control of your gag reflex.
 
2013-01-15 06:20:43 PM

ThrobblefootSpectre: czetie: On the other hand, we definitely know that torusXL has his head so far up his ass he can lick his own tonsils.Meh, I didn't have an emotional problem with anything he said anymore than I did with anything you said.I don't see where torus is certainly wrong, or posting in willful ignorance.


Czetie, you were trollbait to the max, man. Just laugh about it and move on.

I for one had some great laughs. Thx bro ;)
 
2013-01-15 06:47:18 PM

DamnYankees: You don't need scientific evidence of this. Free will is basically impossible at a logical level.


The brain can create the illusion of free will using quantum amplifiers. At the very least it provides unpredictability, a useful survival tool.
 
2013-01-15 10:58:09 PM
So what you all are saying is that the Calvinists are right. Right?
 
2013-01-16 12:33:11 AM
I decided once that I had free will, and I've been coasting on autopilot ever since.
 
2013-01-17 04:24:03 AM
Misleading title.
A better one would be
"Scientists discover the source of our instinctual impulses."

We always have choice, to respond or not to respond.
 
2013-01-17 10:59:04 AM

Unhip1: Misleading title.
A better one would be
"Scientists discover the source of our instinctual impulses."

We always have choice, to respond or not to respond.


I don't know man. Every time your mom makes advances on me, I impulsively throw up.

(Couldn't resist. I guess the real impulse was to post this).
 
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