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Author Topic: Free will ?  (Read 3034 times)

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Offline MediasTopic starter

Free will ?
« on: April 07, 2013, 10:20:03 AM »
Given that the brain is just a set of chemical reactions, and given that all chemical reactions have results that can be predicted, does that mean that we are all predictable? As in, we're heading down a path, predetermined from the moment the Big Bang occurred, with no true free will at all?

Just something I've always wondered...

Offline kajirakate

Re: Free will ?
« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2013, 11:21:56 AM »
While the brain is a series of chemical reactions, it is also a maze of electrical pathways, with a massive number of potential connection patterns, so surely it is too complex to predict.  Because with the same essential chemistry and wiring map, everyone should react the same way to things, and the world around us shows that is not the case.  Good thing to, in my opinion, would hate a world were everyone was the same even if they were like me.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Free will ?
« Reply #2 on: April 07, 2013, 12:03:01 PM »
Spend a little time reading up on quantum physics, and you'll be surprised that we can predict anything at all.

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: Free will ?
« Reply #3 on: April 07, 2013, 12:57:00 PM »
Yes and no. See Kant's 3rd antimony!

Yes, everything you do is subject to natural law and by definition is 'pre-determined' in that it could never have happened any other way and from the same set of conditions the same set of results will always result. However, the complexity of the system makes predicting it a practical impossibility, meaning that in the absence of that information and ability we cannot act as though it is predictable and therefore have free will. Think of it as having to act on the information gleaned from our senses even though that is a negligible fraction of the information that actually exists (see, as much as I hate to recommend it, Meditations on the First Philosophy). So to the perfect observer you have no free will, to any human (including yourself) you do.

Also, welcome to E!

Offline MediasTopic starter

Re: Free will ?
« Reply #4 on: April 07, 2013, 05:29:22 PM »
Ugh mind blown xD

I think I get where you're all coming from though. But I still believe that complexity shouldn't be mistaken for true free will, just because its beyond us to predict what our brains will do next doesn't mean they are beyond predicting. (I think you were agreeing with this at least partially alive)

And KK, I don't want this to be true at all, I think it's a very depressing thought lol

Offline Ephiral

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Re: Free will ?
« Reply #5 on: April 07, 2013, 05:58:04 PM »
Free will is part of the 'could' illusion. What you think of as things you could do are just things you can find a possible path to. In reality, there is nothing you could do, only what you will and will not do. What we think of as free will is just the feeling that we're choosing from the possibilities, when we are in fact doing no such thing. I am probably explaining this extraordinarily poorly.

Offline MediasTopic starter

Re: Free will ?
« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2013, 06:02:27 PM »
Nah I get you. An imagined path is only an illusion, the true path has been predetermined since the beginning of time

Offline Ephiral

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Re: Free will ?
« Reply #7 on: April 07, 2013, 06:06:22 PM »
Pretty much, yes. "To make an apple pie from scratch, we must first create the universe" indeed.

Offline meikle

Re: Free will ?
« Reply #8 on: April 09, 2013, 10:12:23 AM »
Ugh mind blown xD

Someone I knew who was going to school to study neuroscience explained to me that there is a modern theory of consciousness that says that human consciousness is not located in any particular area of the brain, but instead exists in the exchange of information between what the brain is predicting and what is sensed.

That is an idea that blew my mind.

Offline Beguile's Mistress

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Re: Free will ?
« Reply #9 on: April 09, 2013, 11:40:45 AM »
I've often seen discussions on free will haunted by an underlying and/or unconscious attempt to negate responsibility for our choices.  This shows up when the force of the discussion trends toward predestination or predetermined responses and away from a person's ability to choose a path.

"I didn't have any other choice!"  Have you ever heard that and thought how wrong that was?  There are frequently other choices but what we don't say to ourselves or others is that we don't want to accept the consequences of making one of those other choices. 

Since none of us are composed of the exact same chemical and biological cocktail it would be rash to say we can predict with a certainty what the outcome of a choice will be.  We have no knowledge or control of outside and unseen forces at work at the time that could affect the outcome.  All we can do is make the choice that fits our morals and ethics and when those are thrown into the mix free will becomes even more complex.

Think about the times you had to make a choice, decided what it would be and surprised yourself by saying something else; something you mentally fought against or didn't realize you would even consider.

Offline Jude

Re: Free will ?
« Reply #10 on: April 09, 2013, 02:19:07 PM »
Quantum mechanics introduces fundamental uncertainty to the equation, but it is unlikely that free will has anything to do with that uncertainty even though it does destroy predestination. While random events that occur on the quantum level result in all kinds of uncertain outcomes that affect the macro level and our decisions probably have randomness introduced to them from quantum mechanics, that doesn't mean that we make decisions in a way that has room for the concept of free will.

I'd argue that free will is an incoherent concept in the way that it's typically formulated. Think about the things that it could be...

Is free will the ability to make a decision? Nope, computers and logic flow charts make decisions. A decision is simply a mechanism wherein an action is performed on the basis of conditions. If X > Y, take action A. If Y > X, take action B. This is a logical decision point that introduces no element of free will.

Free will is some postulated extra-logical component to a decision. I suppose you could axiomatically decide that quantum randomness fits this definition, but I cannot see that as anything but arbitrary given that we have no control over it. Control seems to be key to the definition, and we certainly have the illusion of control when we engage in deliberative decision making.

It seems more likely to me that "free will" is actually a sensation, not an element of decision making. It is the realization, as a sentient being, that you've come to a decision point and must choose an outcome. That sensation sparks the process of actively combing through available data (relevant memories, active perceptions of the situation, et cetera) to generate priors to use in your decision computation. It also imbues in us a sense of sober responsibility and control over the outcome.

As evolved beings, there's an obvious evolutionary advantage to having such a mechanism. If you don't feel in control and responsible for the outcome of your actions, you won't use your higher reasoning as effectively or frequently in making decisions.

Without invoking the soul, it isn't really possible to generate an extra-logical component to decision making. I think free will's current pop-culture formulation is an old religious artifact.
« Last Edit: April 09, 2013, 02:25:51 PM by Jude »

Offline Oniya

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Re: Free will ?
« Reply #11 on: April 09, 2013, 02:25:30 PM »
I was more going with destroying predestination, actually.

Offline Jude

Re: Free will ?
« Reply #12 on: April 09, 2013, 02:27:25 PM »
And Quantum Mechanics does an excellent job of that. Even if we knew everything that can possibly be known about the universe right now, we wouldn't even be able to perfectly know the past. Some information is lost as the universe progresses, we can't press the rewind button. And the further time marches on, the less we can know about long, long ago.

EDIT: By the way, I don't think that is that cynical of an outlook. If free will is a sensation, and not a thing that plays into all of our decisions, the implications are not so bad.

All it means is that we are ourselves. That instead of both being ourselves, and somehow not ourselves in decision making, all the decisions we make are a reflection of who we are, and they are never NOT a reflection of who we are.
« Last Edit: April 09, 2013, 02:33:34 PM by Jude »

Offline Beguile's Mistress

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Re: Free will ?
« Reply #13 on: April 09, 2013, 02:33:58 PM »
I see computers making calculations rather than decisions.  Decisions take conscious effort and require more that empirical data input.  Feelings and emotions come into play and no machine is capable of that.  Computers can predict results based on input part of which is historical data.  They cannot predetermine an outcome outside of mere mathematical equations.  Free will is a human function with many variables.  Even when a human recognizes the logic of a calculation and accepts the fact that one decision is the best they will still choose one that is illogical because they are free to do so.

Offline MediasTopic starter

Re: Free will ?
« Reply #14 on: April 09, 2013, 05:16:06 PM »
From what i understand though, emotions and such are just chemicals like dopamine and such that your body releases to influence your decision making...

Glad to have spawned such a passionate debate by the way, the arguments and opinions i've see put forward are making fantastic reading :)

Offline Ephiral

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Re: Free will ?
« Reply #15 on: April 09, 2013, 06:43:35 PM »
I see computers making calculations rather than decisions.  Decisions take conscious effort and require more that empirical data input.  Feelings and emotions come into play and no machine is capable of that.  Computers can predict results based on input part of which is historical data.  They cannot predetermine an outcome outside of mere mathematical equations.  Free will is a human function with many variables.  Even when a human recognizes the logic of a calculation and accepts the fact that one decision is the best they will still choose one that is illogical because they are free to do so.
Are you saying current computers cannot perfectly emulate the human brain, or that it is impossible? If the latter, why?

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: Free will ?
« Reply #16 on: April 10, 2013, 07:05:41 AM »
Are you saying current computers cannot perfectly emulate the human brain, or that it is impossible? If the latter, why?
It's a bit of a tangent, and a little bit of a conversation of semantics, but no. They definately can't. A computer that perfectly emulated the properties of a human brain would just be a synthetic brain. Which is theoretically possible, yet kind of pointless. A computer that recapitulates a specific human brain is impossible. This has to do with a combination of basic neurodev principles coupled with the fact that computer technology is already so far superior and more reliable than it would need to be. It's why Obama's new project (and other transhumanist wet dreams) are kind of running jokes in a developmental biology department.



The problem with quantum mehanics attempting to rescue us from determinism is that the universe remains deterministic on the aggregate. E.g. When I spend my afternoon causing excitation and emission of fluorophores, a quantum phenomenon at the level of the individual electrons involved, my results at the macro level will be invariate, predictable, and deterministic because no pragmatic concerns rely on the individual behavior of one of the particles. Kind of like how statistical mechanics doesn't mean you can have system wide second law violations. Schrodinger actually points out that the very reason lifeforms are so large compared to their component particles is that it gives them the freedom to be immune to quantum perturbations.

Moreover, such attempts rely on one interpretation of the not universally accepted Copenhagen interpretation (e.g. the many worlds hypothesis would just postulate a plurality of universes that are completely deterministic even a the quantum scale). The philosphical consequences of quantum phenomena are still kind of up in the air.



Is conciousness, the illusion of choice, and 'higher reasoning' really to our evolutionary advantage? That seems a little arbitrarily sapiocentric without further support.

Offline Jude

Re: Free will ?
« Reply #17 on: April 10, 2013, 10:39:09 AM »
Good points as always Alice.

Also, if anyone's interested, there's a bit more on the subject here (one of my favorite philosophy/science podcasts): http://www.rationallyspeakingpodcast.org/show/rs39-the-science-and-philosophy-of-free-will.html

Offline Vekseid

Re: Free will ?
« Reply #18 on: April 10, 2013, 01:30:27 PM »
It's a bit of a tangent, and a little bit of a conversation of semantics, but no. They definately can't. A computer that perfectly emulated the properties of a human brain would just be a synthetic brain. Which is theoretically possible, yet kind of pointless. A computer that recapitulates a specific human brain is impossible. This has to do with a combination of basic neurodev principles coupled with the fact that computer technology is already so far superior and more reliable than it would need to be. It's why Obama's new project (and other transhumanist wet dreams) are kind of running jokes in a developmental biology department.

This is a bit pedantic since Ephiral was directly speaking to Beguile's statement on emotions and feelings, which we can certainly make computers have.

Offline Ephiral

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Re: Free will ?
« Reply #19 on: April 10, 2013, 01:49:26 PM »
Alice's point is interesting in the extreme, and I welcome it, but Veks has the right of it: The point I was driving at is that thou art physics, and physics is deterministic. If you're going to claim the brain as an exception, there had better be a damn good reason for it.

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: Free will ?
« Reply #20 on: April 10, 2013, 02:38:21 PM »
This is a bit pedantic since Ephiral was directly speaking to Beguile's statement on emotions and feelings, which we can certainly make computers have.

Oh Veks, everyone should know by now that I am an incorrigible pedant (and if they aren't I can demonstrate it to them at length, I know I have some chalk around here somewhere...oh, wait... :P)!

Offline Beguile's Mistress

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Re: Free will ?
« Reply #21 on: April 10, 2013, 03:18:29 PM »
Are you saying current computers cannot perfectly emulate the human brain, or that it is impossible? If the latter, why?
Current computers can't and I doubt there will ever be a computer that can.  They can't go beyond their programming and intuit feelings and emotions, ponder the needs of humans or the impact of the calculations they make.  They can't make decisions.  Computers compute, they calculate, they may analyze input and offer projections based on the forumlae they are given as tools.  It takes a thinking, feeling mind to study the output and see how that may affect people.  The person makes the decision using the computer data.  They can choose to do good or not.  They can override the computer when it's needed.

Computers don't have the capacity to care.  Humans have the free will to decide whether or not to care.

Offline Jude

Re: Free will ?
« Reply #22 on: April 10, 2013, 04:05:29 PM »
We care because we're designed (by evolution) to do just that, and with the right chemical additions to the brain we can inhibit our capacity to care or expand it. People don't choose to be a sociopath, largely incapable of caring, it's a defect, just as those with autism suffer an inhibited ability to approximate and guess at the motivations of others.

I think the error here is the focus on the subjective "experience" of emotion, and not what emotionally actually is. Emotion feels a certain way to us, yes, but we can induce the final affect in a computer (a biasing effect, aka an emotion) that would affect the outcome of its decisions. In the end, the only real smoke and mirrors is in how we program the computer to perceive its own experience of emotion.

How can we even know for certain that our subjective experiences of emotion are all that similar to other people? It's all qualia.

It seems very improbable to me that some day we won't be able to create a non-human entity with similar cognitive sophistication to a human being. If it is impossible, what makes humans special? What is the component that allows us to feel if other configurations of matter cannot?

We are made of the same material in the end. Electrons, photons, neutrons; it's turtles all the way down.
« Last Edit: April 10, 2013, 04:10:55 PM by Jude »

Offline Ephiral

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Re: Free will ?
« Reply #23 on: April 10, 2013, 04:06:02 PM »
Current computers can't and I doubt there will ever be a computer that can.  They can't go beyond their programming and intuit feelings and emotions, ponder the needs of humans or the impact of the calculations they make.  They can't make decisions.  Computers compute, they calculate, they may analyze input and offer projections based on the forumlae they are given as tools.  It takes a thinking, feeling mind to study the output and see how that may affect people.  The person makes the decision using the computer data.  They can choose to do good or not.  They can override the computer when it's needed.

Computers don't have the capacity to care.  Humans have the free will to decide whether or not to care.
Computers can't go beyond their programming in the same way we can't spontaneously develop telepathy. What they can do is modify their programming, much as we can learn to think differently. True, current self-modifying code tends to be pretty limited, but the fact that it exists at all shows that it is not a non-computable problem.

As to "intuiting", what do you mean when you say this? I understand "intuition" as the ability to arrive at conclusions based on limited (conscious) information, which... well, there's a very simple algorithm for that. Decision-making? Deep Blue and a swarm of autonomous quadcopters would like a few words with you on that one. Modelling how people will be affected and how they will respond emotionally? If those are non-computable, then it seems that the entire fields of psychiatry and sociology are wasting their time.

These are all things we are doing right now.

A hundred years ago, people would have told you that computers are good for nothing but basic math. I see no reason the computers of a hundred years from now won't be able to do much more sophisticated versions of the things they can do today.

Can you show an example of something the human brain does that is flat-out non-computable?


Offline Oniya

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Re: Free will ?
« Reply #24 on: April 10, 2013, 04:35:44 PM »
Love.