"I think therefore I am." Descarte's most basic tenet of free will. But how "free" is it?The more I study this and make observations of the people around me, the more I am convinced that free will is nothing more than an illusion.


"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke.


Now let me rephrase Clarke's third law in context of this discussion:


"Any sufficiently complex memoryplex is indistinguishable from free will."


Note the phrase memoryplex, not memeplex. I'm referring here to our collective memories from the earliest retained memory right up to this instant. That instant has now passed (a few milliseconds ago) and as you continue to read, those instants are similarly passing into your collective memoryplex.


If our decisions are based on what we know (assuming that we're not mentally ill) and what we know is the memories we have formed, then free will simply isn't.


I've thought about this for some time now and I'm only summarising here, but if this is correct, it has frightening implications. For instance, what you've just read, based on what you already know, has influenced you - and you have no choice in what you're about to do: reply, ignore, digest, etc... everything is based on your experience to date plus this last few dozen words of argument.


So how "free" is your will?

Tags: free will

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Replies to This Discussion

Excepting what we've already discussed here, John, and I'm not presupposing what Wanderer might have to add, do you have an example where an effect happens without some definable cause? I'll admit to being at a loss except perhaps for Big Bang but that's essentially outside the realm of nature because nature didn't exist until some pS after the event.

John, your argument seems to be this: since not everything in the known universe may operate according to cause and effect, and thus not everything may be determined by prior causes, this opens up the possibility for free will. Any problems with this reformulation?


If not, then this seems to imply that many other such things besides free will may now be entirely open as possibilities. Fruits could suddenly pop into existence out of thin air, or we might suspect that our hair could spontaneously catch on fire. My question is why you wouldn't suspect these things but you do suspect free will? Why specifically free will?

To your first question:

That is a proper reformulation if it means I am saying that freewill like all characteristics in the universe may have come into existence spontaneously.


To your second question:

The reason that I afford freewill to the spontaneity without having to afford it to things like fruits popping into existence out of thin air is that scientific principles on the macro level for all intents and purposes must be consistent with each other. (That is, they are supposed to be manifestations of randomness on the micro level that happened to not be cancelled out by other randomnesses there. In that they are manifestations of the events on the micro level that survived the mutual cancellation process the macro level principles are consistent with each other. Put another way some say that scientific principles on the macro level are manifestations of significant probability amplitudes on the micro level). The reason that fruits don't pop into existence out of thin air is that such events on the macro level have a probability amplitude of almost zero. On the other hand the characteristic of freewill on the macro level might have a high probability amplitude and, in this, might not be inconsistent with other scientific principles on the macro level. Resultantly, it might coexist with them even though fruits don't pop into existence out of thin air. As such, spontaneity affording the characteristic of freewill would not as well require it to afford things like fruits popping into existence out of thin air. Accordingly, subscription to freewill would not mandate accepting things like fruits popping into existence out of thin air.  

am I understanding that free will is a physical thing?  because I'm pretty sure all the things you are talking about are physical, except for free will.

I'd concur Park, free will is conceptual - but then if free will is illusory (according to the proposition) then it would be... Woahhh... I gotta stop smoking weed. I think it's fair to say that the thing that gives us the idea of free will is physical.

Then lets discuss that, because I'm sorry, but there are too many missing steps in these conclusions.  At what point has a mechanism for free will been discussed?  Is that like having a physical soul?  If its merely the effects of quantum mechanics in the brain, then have we discussed how they go from the smallest of the micro to a relatively large version of the Macro?  This all sounds like conjecture, and I'm having trouble understanding why these shifts in plane and scale, and lack of clarity surrounding them haven't been addressed.


But then again, maybe its just me.

Why might free will "have a high probability amplitude" on the macro level while nothing else does? The question remains, why specifically free will?
What do you mean nothing else does Wander? There are lots of different things in the universe and they all need significant probability amplitudes to exist. Can you establish that freewill is not one of them? If you say it is not because existence is the slave of cause and effect then modern science vehemently disagrees with you. I think you would get a lot out of reading Hawking's book, The Grand Design.
Sure, everything that exists has a significant probability amplitude. I cannot establish that free will is not one of them. Can you establish that it is? Until then, we are arguing about invisible pink elephants. Just like god, we cannot claim that he exists or that he does not, based on the empirical evidence. If we are to simply return to the empirical evidence at this point, we would all simply revert to our older arguments, and I'm sure we would not have gotten far in persuading you. But if this is all you are going on, that free will may exist just because it hasn't been proven that it hasn't, you have not provided any reason at all to doubt what we already have concluded based on the empirical evidence. Did you not read my argument that the mind may be a quantum computer, by any chance? I thought that at least gave your position a fair shot.

One of the reasons that I don't think people should jump to the conclusion (without proof) that there is no freewill is that so doing would require that nobody should be held responsible for their behavior no matter how seemingly inhumane it was. It would necessitate for example that the Nazis should not be held responsible for what they did to the Jews. I think we need to be sure that there is no freewill before we take a posture such as what happened to the Jews during WWII wasn't the Nazis' fault and the cause and effect argument does not provide that surety. 

You mentioned the mind as a quantum computer. Do you think there is or is not a difference between living and nonliving energy? 

There is no freewill, John.

Doesn't matter what the Nazis did - or anyone else for that matter - those actions are the products of interactions between the memoryplexes - or in a case such as this, a memeplex - which is why I have said, the ramifications for the penal system and society as a whole are dire and profound.

Note that I'm using a memeplex here - that's another layer of abstraction above the memoryplex. It's a bit like converting from analog to digital and then back to analog again.

Nazis were influenced by a memeplex - that Jews (and whole bunch of other folk who are often ignored) should be exterminated.

The memoryplex is where the memeplex hides: and that is where we derive our judgment from. Memoryplexes are the caves where the memeplexes hide.

As far as your objection that relinquishing the notion of free will entails that we should not hold people responsible, I think this is entirely false. Yes, with no free will this means that there are always causes for people's actions, and hopefully this means that we will try to address those root causes before damning a man for being in the unfortunately wrong time and place. That said, I think of this ethical situation thusly: if we find that someone or some thing is causing damage to us or to people and things we hold dear, we should do what we can to prevent such damage from occurring. Say someone robs our convenience store. We can try to force him to pay resitution, or do time to show him that such behavior will not be tolerated. It may be possible to show this man better alternatives to his own problems, and if we can help him we also help ourselves. In such a way a man might be held responsible for his actions AGAINST US, whereas he is not being held responsible in any cosmic sense. I think this is the humane approach. A lot of good could come from understanding a man's circumstances before crucifying him (did I spell that word right?). It is also possible that such a man can not be made to serve the good of the group (society, humanity, whatever). In these cases you as the one perceiving damage to your interests are perfectly in the right position to defend your interests against those who would deny them to you.


You can go on and on explaining the ethical dimensions of this position, but the point is that I think this provides a superior, not an inferior, ethical position. It has direct ramifications for our judicial and prision systems, for one thing. And to take children as another example, do we simply punish them when they are destructive? Or do we rather try to take into consideration their circumstances (they are children after all), their motivations up to that point (to explore the world and discover how things work), and then try to show them the best way of doing things in the most understanding way possible? As for the Nazis, if we find ourselves in a war over ideas (perhaps some very horrible ones indeed), we simply put all our strength into the matter and put an end to it. If we have the stronger position, our ideas win. If their ideas have actually made them stronger, then they will have the advantage. And so on and so forth.


I'm going to have to agree with the other poster (not sure who that was at this point) and say that there does not seem to be any difference between living and non-living energy. Where are you going with this? (I hesitate to ask).


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