"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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OK John, let's take your argument at face value - this seems to poison the well.


"Your argument that there is no freewill is entirely founded in the proposition that all of the activity of nature must be the product of cause and effect. Accordingly, as you might be realizing, the problem with your argument is that it collapses on its premise. So far as science can determine not all of the activity of nature is the product of cause and effect and in this nature could have afforded free will."


Once again, John I'll ask you to provide specific examples of your statment - in particular as highlighted here, because, as I have said before, I cannot find any evidence to support your proposition.

I think (if I am not misunderstanding Marc here), that he (Marc) is simply restating the argument I had just recently made a few moments ago. Perhaps because he was writing as I was, and I happened to click "add reply" first. Or whatever. The basic question which I think stands at the root of our rejection of John's argument is this: why specifically free will? The objection John raised seems to say that not all things in the known universe operate according to cause and effect. But of course excepting for the most extremely miniscule particle physics and the most extremely macro-scale, which apparently reaches beyond even our known universe to possible other universes, everything else within our range of experience does operate by cause and effect. I would be surprised to find an objection to this point. And motivation seems to fall so squarely in the middle of our range of experience that to find non-causal events here would be most strange. I suppose that John could respond that many quantum effects could be taking place in our brain, as indeed they may very well do. If this is the direction you would like the argument to go, John, by all means let us know and we shall deal only with this specific argument.


And speaking to this argument, if our brain operated like a quantum computer, as it may indeed do (how cool would THAT be?), well, hmmm. I know only perhaps the very basics of what quantum computing entails. Anybody out these with expertise in this field? I would kind of just like to throw that one out there to see what other people have to say, before I suggest an opinion which wouldn't be all that well-informed. But, ok, I have a response. I think that if our brians WERE quantum computers, I'd have to say I am sorely unimpressed with quantum computing. You would think this would make people far smarter than they are. Perhaps we are only at the beginning of an evolutionary breakthrough in which our brains ARE becoming quantum computers. I'm tempted to say that this hasn't happened yet (but highly anticipate the day when it does!). I don't think our brains are quantum computers (though I am not an expert and so my opinion counts for very little). And if our brains are not quantum computers, then I don't see us having anything like "free" will. I would stick my argument made in the post I made about 30 minutes before I made this one (its a few pages before this page).

"Iwould stick my argument made in the post I made about 30 minutes before I made this one (its a few pages before this page)."


Yeah, Ning really sucks at this... the threads end up all over the shop.




Wanderer, I have an appreciation (if you can call it that - and not a deep one) of quantum computing - if you understand it, you don't; and that's more of a fact than a ready quip.


One interesting idea I heard is that strong encryption would be easily broken by a quantum computer; and even though a quantum encryption would be uncrackable by normal means (even after millenia) a quantum computer could unencrypt it without missing a beat.

But we're floating off topic here and I have an appointment with a bottle of Jamesons... ahhh....

@John - any suggestion that the unconscious mind is not directly involved in decision making is not part of my thesis. The unconscious (autonomic) brain seems to have connection to the memoryplexes - hence we can condition the fight/fight response to be adaptive. This does not invalidate the hypothesis though.


Hey, I just figured out how the quantum world does affect us (and it makes not a "happeth" of difference because we experience it at a macro level.


Light is a stream of photons - and photons are quanta; those quanta appear on our retina by affecting the rods and cones which in turn we see as images. So this quantum effect really does have an effect on us - but not quite how John imagines.

so is this just an atheist version of Calvinism?
Not sure how that would apply, Matt. Care to elucidate?
Well, Calvinists did think that God predetermined everything in your life.  If Matt meant something more than that, i don't know.

not much more than that...thats about it really...

just a predetermination of either metaphysical(nonexistant superstition) or drugs(fun as well as dangerous), or "normal" brain function chem reaction.

the free will Q is a tricky one.

I think we, as a species have ovrcome our genetics and instinct, and to that degree we do have free will. Dr. Steve Pinker says ..."my selfish genes can go take a walk..." or something like that on the conscious decision to not have kids (a wise decision IMO).LLL

we are risen apes, not fallen angels and we have a thought capacity that our cousins (lower primates) dont have. in that way, I think, if we have not done it yet we are on the way to overcoming that "chemical/genetic" predestination.


oh BTW..the clasical calvanist stand is "you were born into sin...full of sin...and nothing you can ever do will fix this condition..you were made for hell and that is where you are predestined to go. you can do all the good works you want but thats where you are going...HELLLL!!!"

I spent some time in seminary style christian edu before I "woke up".

it really is that horrible. one of the worst in the christian dogmas.

I love listening to one of my heroes Christopher Hitchens rip this to shreds.

Thanks Matt - between you and Susan I got your reference.


Applying this idea of my memoryplexes to this one - I failed to make the connection between Calivinism and your point because I lacked the knowledge a priori.

Bollocks - now I'm slipping into philosophy and my fingers are so cold.

Actually, Calvinism and Reformed Theology are the most consistent of Christian dogmas (not saying that I believe it). Everyone ever born or who ever will be born is tainted by the sin of the first human, Adam, and there is nothing you can do to redeem yourself, no matter how hard you try. Only those who accept forgiveness of sin through Jesus will be saved from eternal judgement. One catch, no one can accept forgiveness of their own free will, because no one has free will. God has chosen who will accept forgiveness, only he knows who has been chosen and only those who are already chosen will escape eternal judgement. The only thing you can do is hope and trust that you are one of those he has chosen. Everything else is meaningless because there is no free will.

I agree, for me Reformed Theology was the last stage of my Christianity and brought me directly to atheism. If it is God who decides, what difference does it make if I decide to be an atheist?

The closest thing to expressing my view of free will is in 'The Matrix': We are not here to make the choice, we have already made the choice, we just need to understand why we made the choice.

It is all the baggage that we have accumulated in our lives, what we have learned, as well the effects of our genetic/nutritional/environmental background and exposure that all come together to let us know what decisions we will make. The problem lies when someone or some ideology tries to make that decision for us, there in lies the rub. I am good at going with the flow though and choose my battles.


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