Does free will exist ...

and if it doesn't what are the implications for religions?

According to this article from the Guardian long read series there are a number of philosophers arguing that free will does not exist:
“This sort of free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics,” says one of the most strident of the free will sceptics, the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne. Leading psychologists such as Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom agree, as apparently did the late Stephen Hawking, along with numerous prominent neuroscientists, including VS Ramachandran, who called free will “an inherently flawed and incoherent concept”

If this is true, what are the implications for God? Does that mean the God who observes every feather fall is as described by:
Pierre-Simon Laplace, writing in 1814, who most succinctly expressed the puzzle here: how can there be free will, in a universe where events just crank forwards like clockwork? His thought experiment is known as Laplace’s demon, and his argument went as follows: if some hypothetical ultra-intelligent being – or demon – could somehow know the position of every atom in the universe at a single point in time, along with all the laws that governed their interactions, it could predict the future in its entirety. There would be nothing it couldn’t know about the world 100 or 1,000 years hence, down to the slightest quiver of a sparrow’s wing.

the article does go on to challenge this idea, but I'm trying to limit the quotations to fair usage.

(This article was listed in an email a few weeks ago, which I noticed but didn't pursue until reading a number of threads assuming free will and thought it might be an interesting thread.)
«1345

Comments

  • My first thought is that while 'mechanical' systems can be deterministic (if that's the right term) biological systems depend on each organism's whim and cannot be predicted with precision. Maybe if the idea goes to subatomic particles, then even our choices could be predetermined but that seems unlikely to me.

    I'm happy with the idea that we have free will and prefer not to have my comfort spoiled.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    If this is true, what are the implications for God? Does that mean the God who observes every feather fall is as described by:
    Pierre-Simon Laplace, writing in 1814, who most succinctly expressed the puzzle here: how can there be free will, in a universe where events just crank forwards like clockwork? His thought experiment is known as Laplace’s demon, and his argument went as follows: if some hypothetical ultra-intelligent being – or demon – could somehow know the position of every atom in the universe at a single point in time, along with all the laws that governed their interactions, it could predict the future in its entirety. There would be nothing it couldn’t know about the world 100 or 1,000 years hence, down to the slightest quiver of a sparrow’s wing.
    the article does go on to challenge this idea, but I'm trying to limit the quotations to fair usage.

    The following paragraph seems a little too glib to be described as a "challenge":
    It’s true that since Laplace’s day, findings in quantum physics have indicated that some events, at the level of atoms and electrons, are genuinely random, which means they would be impossible to predict in advance, even by some hypothetical megabrain. But few people involved in the free will debate think that makes a critical difference. Those tiny fluctuations probably have little relevant impact on life at the scale we live it, as human beings.

    I'm not sure it's possible to argue that neurons are controlled by the laws of physics but then ignore those laws when it comes to the electrons moving between those neurons. I wouldn't be so quick to assume that small variations all cancel out over time. There are numerous systems where even tiny variations in initial conditions will cause radically different outcomes after enough time. A theory that depends on a mechanistic, Newtonian clockwork universe for its validity is not a theory that's familiar with any physics of the twentieth or twenty-first century.
  • quetzalcoatlquetzalcoatl Shipmate
    I have slowly come round to the view that free will doesn't exist, but I can't say that it bothers me. But it's a complicated issue, for example, what does "free" mean, not having a cause? There is also the issue of randomness, which may exist. Also, it doesn't negate having choice.
  • QuestorQuestor Shipmate
    The problem with this line of reasoning is that it impossible to put it to the test.
    We observe eclipses of the sun & moon which scientists predict with amazing precision.
    Transits of Mercury and Venus are also predicted with uncanny accuracy.
    What seems harder to predict is which cake a hungry school child will choose when presented with a plate of cakes.
    People like to cite Quantum Mechanics as a source of ambiguity in the outcome of certain events. I admit to being out of my depth.
  • HugalHugal Shipmate
    What does this mean for God? Well I do believe we have free will and God knows what will happen which ever choice we make. The choice is still ours.
    As to functions of space and the planets. Well we are changing how this planet works. Out industry has hit our environment badly. We choose to destroy things that help us. That is free will.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    My first thought is that while 'mechanical' systems can be deterministic (if that's the right term) biological systems depend on each organism's whim and cannot be predicted with precision.
    Questor wrote: »
    The problem with this line of reasoning is that it impossible to put it to the test.
    We observe eclipses of the sun & moon which scientists predict with amazing precision.
    Transits of Mercury and Venus are also predicted with uncanny accuracy.
    What seems harder to predict is which cake a hungry school child will choose when presented with a plate of cakes.
    People like to cite Quantum Mechanics as a source of ambiguity in the outcome of certain events. I admit to being out of my depth.

    You don't even have to resort to quantum mechanics (though you shouldn't ignore it if you're going to rest your claim on the way electrons behave in the brain). Here's a video of a mechanical system that starts out identically (to the naked eye) but ends up performing radically differently in each of the six run-throughs recorded. In this case it's not quantum mechanics at work but variations in initial conditions too small to be measured.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »

    You don't even have to resort to quantum mechanics (though you shouldn't ignore it if you're going to rest your claim on the way electrons behave in the brain). Here's a video of a mechanical system that starts out identically (to the naked eye) but ends up performing radically differently in each of the six run-throughs recorded.

    ISTM that the illustration you link to has real power -- no-one would seriously suggest that those pendulums (penduli?) exhibit free will. The notion that establishing that a system is not fully describable by a theory somehow demonstrates that there is free will is clearly shown as inadequate by this kind of example.

    Nonetheless, we all act as though there is such a thing as free will. If Trump had ever actually shot someone on Main Street, the vast majority of society would insist on holding him accountable. Even the sleazy lawyer he would undoubtedly employ would not argue that there was no free will -- at most, he would argue that Trump was driven to a state that made him unaccountable for his actions in this case (presumably from the emotional damage caused by having been hounded by the lame-stream media.)
  • chrisstileschrisstiles Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Here's a video of a mechanical system that starts out identically (to the naked eye) but ends up performing radically differently in each of the six run-throughs recorded. In this case it's not quantum mechanics at work but variations in initial conditions too small to be measured.

    But that doesn't mean they aren't deterministic, just that we can't measure the initial conditions with sufficient precision to predict the end states.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »
    If this is true, what are the implications for God? Does that mean the God who observes every feather fall is as described by:
    Pierre-Simon Laplace, writing in 1814, who most succinctly expressed the puzzle here: how can there be free will, in a universe where events just crank forwards like clockwork? His thought experiment is known as Laplace’s demon, and his argument went as follows: if some hypothetical ultra-intelligent being – or demon – could somehow know the position of every atom in the universe at a single point in time, along with all the laws that governed their interactions, it could predict the future in its entirety. There would be nothing it couldn’t know about the world 100 or 1,000 years hence, down to the slightest quiver of a sparrow’s wing.
    the article does go on to challenge this idea, but I'm trying to limit the quotations to fair usage.

    The following paragraph seems a little too glib to be described as a "challenge":
    It’s true that since Laplace’s day, findings in quantum physics have indicated that some events, at the level of atoms and electrons, are genuinely random, which means they would be impossible to predict in advance, even by some hypothetical megabrain. But few people involved in the free will debate think that makes a critical difference. Those tiny fluctuations probably have little relevant impact on life at the scale we live it, as human beings.

    I'm not sure it's possible to argue that neurons are controlled by the laws of physics but then ignore those laws when it comes to the electrons moving between those neurons. I wouldn't be so quick to assume that small variations all cancel out over time. There are numerous systems where even tiny variations in initial conditions will cause radically different outcomes after enough time. A theory that depends on a mechanistic, Newtonian clockwork universe for its validity is not a theory that's familiar with any physics of the twentieth or twenty-first century.

    Either way, it seems obvious that what most people mean by free will is neither a Newtonian nor a quantum phenomenon.

    The question is how confident you are that everything that happens in the universe can be explained in either Newtonian or quantum terms.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Here's a video of a mechanical system that starts out identically (to the naked eye) but ends up performing radically differently in each of the six run-throughs recorded. In this case it's not quantum mechanics at work but variations in initial conditions too small to be measured.
    But that doesn't mean they aren't deterministic, just that we can't measure the initial conditions with sufficient precision to predict the end states.

    True, but if you couple that with quantum mechanics, which states that indeterminacy is embedded in the universe, you're never going to be able to make those measurements.
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    Hugal wrote: »
    What does this mean for God? Well I do believe we have free will and God knows what will happen which ever choice we make. The choice is still ours.
    As to functions of space and the planets. Well we are changing how this planet works. Out industry has hit our environment badly. We choose to destroy things that help us. That is free will.

    This is where I am at.
  • QuestorQuestor Shipmate
    Does God have free will?
    Can He make choices?
    'In My opinion, solution A is better than solution B. so I choose A.'
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    I'm not sure it's possible to argue that neurons are controlled by the laws of physics but then ignore those laws when it comes to the electrons moving between those neurons.

    Quantum mechanics is not "ignoring the laws of physics" - it's doing it right. The uncertainty principle is not some kind of "ignore the laws of physics" bolt-on loophole, but a fundamental part of the way that quantum systems behave.

    Which, as you point out, is probabilistic and not deterministic.

    It's also worth mentioning that the idea that "we just can't measure it well enough" is explicitly false in the quantum regime.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    As I always say, I have no idea what free will is, what difference it could make, whether God has it and nobody, as in absolutely nobody, is able to demonstrate it in any meaningful way.
  • churchgeekchurchgeek Shipmate
    I'm not sure quantum physics is the place to go here. Admittedly, I haven't yet read the linked article, but when we're talking about free will, we're talking about human behavior - human choice - and perhaps animal behavior as well.

    I need to read that article...I remember reading in recent years about psychological studies that indicated our choices are made before we're conscious of them. It would be worth dissecting whether a subconscious or preconcious choice is still a choice. That's the murky realm where our culture messes with us quite a bit (consider implicit bias, which is at least believed to be based largely on scripts formed by our culture), and so does our amygdala... and we don't necessarily make the choices we'd prefer to make.
    I have slowly come round to the view that free will doesn't exist, but I can't say that it bothers me. But it's a complicated issue, for example, what does "free" mean, not having a cause? There is also the issue of randomness, which may exist. Also, it doesn't negate having choice.
    (Emphasis added - cg)

    Philosophers, theologians, and, I suspect, psychologists, tend to equate free will with having a choice. I'd like to hear what you mean by the fact free will doesn't exist doesn't negate having choice.

  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Questor wrote: »
    Does God have free will?
    Can He make choices?
    'In My opinion, solution A is better than solution B. so I choose A.'

    I would say no. God doesn't act on opinions but on Her nature, which is unchanging.
  • Questor wrote: »
    Does God have free will?
    Can He make choices?
    'In My opinion, solution A is better than solution B. so I choose A.'

    An entirely deterministic computer can make such a choice (and they do, every day). But the fact that the algorithm on your phone can say "I think that's a photo of a bridge" doesn't mean that your phone has free will.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Questor wrote: »
    Does God have free will?
    Can He make choices?
    'In My opinion, solution A is better than solution B. so I choose A.'

    An entirely deterministic computer can make such a choice (and they do, every day).

    If they're entirely deterministic, in what sense can it be said to be a choice? That seems to run counter to the meaning of "choice" that is being discussed in this thread.
  • mousethief wrote: »
    If they're entirely deterministic, in what sense can it be said to be a choice? That seems to run counter to the meaning of "choice" that is being discussed in this thread.

    Well, that's what I'm getting at. I can evaluate multiple options, and select the best one, in a completely deterministic fashion. Suppose you offer me, a human, a cup of tea. That's a choice, right? Would I like tea?

    Suppose I employ a completely deterministic algorithm to answer your question. I allocate a score for how thirsty I am, how badly I need a bathroom, how likely you are to provide proper tea rather than some weird herbal stuff, and how offended you'll be if I say no, and I accept iff my algorithm scores above threshold. Why isn't that a choice?
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    If they're entirely deterministic, in what sense can it be said to be a choice? That seems to run counter to the meaning of "choice" that is being discussed in this thread.
    Well, that's what I'm getting at. I can evaluate multiple options, and select the best one, in a completely deterministic fashion. Suppose you offer me, a human, a cup of tea. That's a choice, right? Would I like tea?

    Suppose I employ a completely deterministic algorithm to answer your question. I allocate a score for how thirsty I am, how badly I need a bathroom, how likely you are to provide proper tea rather than some weird herbal stuff, and how offended you'll be if I say no, and I accept iff my algorithm scores above threshold. Why isn't that a choice?

    Part of the problem here is that a lot of choices humans make don't follow a strict algorithm. We've gotten to the point where we can design a narrow AI that can do just about any task a human does through conscious application of reason (solve math problems, play chess, etc.) but have a lot of difficulty getting computers to do things humans do without consciously thinking about it (recognize faces, drive a car, etc.). My guess is that the question of whether you want tea, or maybe would prefer coffee, or nothing, falls into the latter category rather than the former.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    If they're entirely deterministic, in what sense can it be said to be a choice? That seems to run counter to the meaning of "choice" that is being discussed in this thread.

    Well, that's what I'm getting at. I can evaluate multiple options, and select the best one, in a completely deterministic fashion. Suppose you offer me, a human, a cup of tea. That's a choice, right? Would I like tea?

    Suppose I employ a completely deterministic algorithm to answer your question. I allocate a score for how thirsty I am, how badly I need a bathroom, how likely you are to provide proper tea rather than some weird herbal stuff, and how offended you'll be if I say no, and I accept iff my algorithm scores above threshold. Why isn't that a choice?

    Because you couldn't have chosen anything else.
  • mousethief wrote: »
    Because you couldn't have chosen anything else.

    But the only person that knows that is me. To you, me evaluating some algorithm and me just saying "yes, I do fancy a cuppa" looks the same.

    Most of the "choices" I make on a daily basis are choices between two alternatives that aren't equivalent. There's a good choice and a bad choice, for whatever values of "good" and "bad". I'm pretty certain that my family can predict the choices I'll make in these cases with about 100% certainty. Are they not choices?

  • churchgeekchurchgeek Shipmate
    That's exactly what this discussion is about. By all appearances, we are making choices. Some say we're actually not.

    If my decisions are made by algorithms, I may not be making choices (unless I chose the algorithms, then it gets more complicated), but it might appear to others that I am.

    And yet we're unaware of what's going on behind our thought processes - both the un-/sub-/pre-conscious and the biological processes that influence our decisions.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    edited May 10
    If free will exists, it must exist a few steps earlier than the action I take. Suppose I want X and the best way of achieving it is through Y. There is no free will involved in doing Y once I've worked out that it's the best option, and the process of working out that Y is better than (say) Z is a logical process rather than an exercise of free will. The scope for free will is in deciding whether I want X or something else entirely.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    I'll just note that not only Calvin but Luther denied humans had free will in the sense meant here. Humans in bondage to sin have their will in bondage, while humans in a state of grace and therefore free always choose the good. Both would argue that a conception of freedom according to which a free will could choose the worse over the better isn't freedom at all.
    Determinism is a possible Christian position.

    Myself, I don't know. We don't know what we're going to decide to do until we've decided, which could be an explanation of why we don't feel our choices are necessitated by our current state. Nevertheless, it doesn't feel as if we are deterministic, nor as if we are random.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    And I'm delighted to be none the wiser again.
  • quetzalcoatlquetzalcoatl Shipmate
    Ricardus wrote: »
    If free will exists, it must exist a few steps earlier than the action I take. Suppose I want X and the best way of achieving it is through Y. There is no free will involved in doing Y once I've worked out that it's the best option, and the process of working out that Y is better than (say) Z is a logical process rather than an exercise of free will. The scope for free will is in deciding whether I want X or something else entirely.

    So free will means that there are no causes for my decision? That's what I find spooky.
  • quetzalcoatlquetzalcoatl Shipmate
    The old argument was that I can act on my desires, but I don't choose which desires to have.
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    If free will didn't exist, God would not have needed to give us a brain capable of thinking
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Telford wrote: »
    If free will didn't exist, God would not have needed to give us a brain capable of thinking

    Apart from the fact that He didn't directly, what's the connection? Between having a brain capable of thinking and free will? Whatever that is?
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    If free will didn't exist, God would not have needed to give us a brain capable of thinking

    Apart from the fact that He didn't directly, what's the connection? Between having a brain capable of thinking and free will? Whatever that is?

    If you do not have a brain that's capable of making choices, you can't have free will. We do have a brain capable of making choices.
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    I'm pretty sceptical about 'free will', but tend to go along with Dr. Johnson; "Sir, we know our will is free, and there's an end on it." As the lexicographer observed: "All theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience for it."

    Incidentally, do we need to make a distinction between what we will and the passion that drives action? As St Paul writes to the Romans (7:19): "For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing."

    Perhaps I should have read The Guardian article, but it looked to me like a re-hash of an old conundrum rather than news.
  • Marvin the MartianMarvin the Martian Admin Emeritus
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Part of the problem here is that a lot of choices humans make don't follow a strict algorithm.

    Or at least not one we are anywhere near being able to understand.

    Ultimately, all brain activity is bioelectrical signals and biochemical reactions. There’s no reason to think that given exactly the same starting point those signals and reactions wouldn’t lead to exactly the same end point. The thing is, exactly the same starting point never happens twice - cannot ever happen twice. So there’s no possible way to test it.

    In practice, the incomprehensibly complicated way even one brain works - never mind billions of them interacting together - means that for the purposes of philosophy and morality we may as well assume some form of free will.
  • quetzalcoatlquetzalcoatl Shipmate
    But what does Johnson mean by saying our will is free? That our will has no reason behind it? Then it is random. I'm not sure that what it feels like is indicative. After all, the earth feels stationary.
  • Marvin the MartianMarvin the Martian Admin Emeritus
    Ultimately, all brain activity is bioelectrical signals and biochemical reactions.

    Of course, it’s also true that for a lot of the things we do (remaining upright while walking or removing a body part from a source of pain, say) the signals never even get to the brain, and the “choice” happens somewhere in the spinal cord.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Ricardus wrote: »
    If free will exists, it must exist a few steps earlier than the action I take. Suppose I want X and the best way of achieving it is through Y. There is no free will involved in doing Y once I've worked out that it's the best option, and the process of working out that Y is better than (say) Z is a logical process rather than an exercise of free will. The scope for free will is in deciding whether I want X or something else entirely.

    So free will means that there are no causes for my decision? That's what I find spooky.

    No cause but your choosing. Not sure why your choosing should be spooky.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    But what does Johnson mean by saying our will is free? That our will has no reason behind it? Then it is random. I'm not sure that what it feels like is indicative. After all, the earth feels stationary.

    Lewis distinguishes between reasons and causes. If your will is free, you can have reasons for your choice. If your will is not free, all you got are causes.
  • Marvin the MartianMarvin the Martian Admin Emeritus
    mousethief wrote: »
    But what does Johnson mean by saying our will is free? That our will has no reason behind it? Then it is random. I'm not sure that what it feels like is indicative. After all, the earth feels stationary.

    Lewis distinguishes between reasons and causes. If your will is free, you can have reasons for your choice. If your will is not free, all you got are causes.

    What difference does it make?
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Telford wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    If free will didn't exist, God would not have needed to give us a brain capable of thinking

    Apart from the fact that He didn't directly, what's the connection? Between having a brain capable of thinking and free will? Whatever that is?

    If you do not have a brain that's capable of making choices, you can't have free will. We do have a brain capable of making choices.

    What has free will got to do with making choices?
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    quetzalcoatl: But what does Johnson mean by saying our will is free?

    Indeed, and you might ask the same question of all others, including ourselves, who think about and discuss the matter. Socrates, I guess, would persuade us that none of us knows what we are talking about.

    What attracts me to Johnson's position is that whatever the theoretical objections to Free Will, including its definition, we have to operate on the assumption that human beings have a significant degree of freedom to make moral and ethical choices. If that were not so it would be difficult to justify a criminal justice system, for example. Civilised society, ISTM, cannot operate on the principle that "to know all is to forgive all", even where it recognises the limits of criminal responsibility and includes mitigating circumstances in sentencing. The necessary assumption of Free Will in greater or lesser degree, of course, illustrates how shaky are the dogmatic bases of normative social behaviours, and lie within the aphorism of Voltaire that if God did not exist he would need to do so. Where, I think, the questioning of Free Will comes into its own is its support for the universal nature of salvation.

    On the general theoretical question, an issue raised respecting Marx' scientific view of historical development, is whether his enunciation of the process, revealing the course of history, provided the bourgeoise a knowledge sufficient to change its inevitability................

  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    But what does Johnson mean by saying our will is free? That our will has no reason behind it? Then it is random. I'm not sure that what it feels like is indicative. After all, the earth feels stationary.

    Lewis distinguishes between reasons and causes. If your will is free, you can have reasons for your choice. If your will is not free, all you got are causes.

    What difference does it make?

    Reasons are your internal process. Reasoning. Arguing. Thinking about this versus that. It's a thinking, feeling thing. Causes are things outside you that force you to do this or that. If the world is mechanistic, all there are are causes. Atoms banging into molecules, etc. If we have free will, than things other than external causes come into play -- our thinking and free choice.
  • Marvin the MartianMarvin the Martian Admin Emeritus
    Kwesi wrote: »
    we have to operate on the assumption that human beings have a significant degree of freedom to make moral and ethical choices. If that were not so it would be difficult to justify a criminal justice system, for example.

    Not at all. Even if all our decisions are the inevitable outcome of the specific (and unique throughout space and time) circumstances in which they are made, the existence of a criminal justice system and associated penalties is one of those circumstances. As is the prior experience of any such penalties.
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    Marvin the Martian: What difference does it make?

    Degree of responsibility, praise and blame, for one's actions.
  • Marvin the MartianMarvin the Martian Admin Emeritus
    mousethief wrote: »
    Reasons are your internal process. Reasoning. Arguing. Thinking about this versus that. It's a thinking, feeling thing. Causes are things outside you that force you to do this or that. If the world is mechanistic, all there are are causes. Atoms banging into molecules, etc. If we have free will, than things other than external causes come into play -- our thinking and free choice.

    What is this “me” that apparently exists independently of my body, and indeed the universe itself? My “self” exists, in whichever way, as the sum total of the bioelectrical and biochemical reactions happening inside my body. Those reactions - in their incredible quantity and complexity - are my internal process. And each individual one of them is just as mechanistic as the most basic of primary school chemistry experiments.
  • Marvin the MartianMarvin the Martian Admin Emeritus
    Kwesi wrote: »
    Marvin the Martian: What difference does it make?

    Degree of responsibility, praise and blame, for one's actions.

    That depends on what you think “one” means in that sentence. And, indeed, what you think the rest of the words mean. Is one only truly responsible for a decision if that decision is made in perfect isolation from any and all external influences, up to and including the very biological processes that make up one’s own body?
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    But what does Johnson mean by saying our will is free? That our will has no reason behind it? Then it is random. I'm not sure that what it feels like is indicative. After all, the earth feels stationary.

    Lewis distinguishes between reasons and causes. If your will is free, you can have reasons for your choice. If your will is not free, all you got are causes.

    What difference does it make?

    Reasons are your internal process. Reasoning. Arguing. Thinking about this versus that. It's a thinking, feeling thing. Causes are things outside you that force you to do this or that. If the world is mechanistic, all there are are causes. Atoms banging into molecules, etc. If we have free will, than things other than external causes come into play -- our thinking and free choice.

    What is free choice? What does it have to do with free will? What is the difference between internal and external causes?
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    Part of the problem here is that a lot of choices humans make don't follow a strict algorithm.

    Ultimately, all brain activity is bioelectrical signals and biochemical reactions. There’s no reason to think that given exactly the same starting point those signals and reactions wouldn’t lead to exactly the same end point. The thing is, exactly the same starting point never happens twice - cannot ever happen twice. So there’s no possible way to test it.

    Isn't this where quantum theory comes in? That even if you could have the same initial conditions you couldn't guarantee the same outcome.
  • Marvin the MartianMarvin the Martian Admin Emeritus
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Part of the problem here is that a lot of choices humans make don't follow a strict algorithm.

    Ultimately, all brain activity is bioelectrical signals and biochemical reactions. There’s no reason to think that given exactly the same starting point those signals and reactions wouldn’t lead to exactly the same end point. The thing is, exactly the same starting point never happens twice - cannot ever happen twice. So there’s no possible way to test it.

    Isn't this where quantum theory comes in? That even if you could have the same initial conditions you couldn't guarantee the same outcome.

    And yet sodium dropped in water always has the same reaction.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Part of the problem here is that a lot of choices humans make don't follow a strict algorithm.

    Ultimately, all brain activity is bioelectrical signals and biochemical reactions. There’s no reason to think that given exactly the same starting point those signals and reactions wouldn’t lead to exactly the same end point. The thing is, exactly the same starting point never happens twice - cannot ever happen twice. So there’s no possible way to test it.

    Isn't this where quantum theory comes in? That even if you could have the same initial conditions you couldn't guarantee the same outcome.

    Indeed so. The problem is that while Quantum Theory is used to break down the wall of Determinacy that was apparently erected in front of Free Will, we find standing behind it Randomness instead.

    Now, it's entirely possible that externally existing souls use exactly that apparent quantum randomness to inject free will into an otherwise deterministic process (IIRC Ken Miller in Finding Darwin's God very tentatively suggested it wasn't impossible for God to influence evolution at the DNA molecular level this way in an in principle undetectable manner, but didn't state it outright as a hypothesis) but, well, it's in principle undetectable if so.

    That our perception of our decision making process gives us the illusion of free will is equally tenable. Possibly more so inasmuch as it doesn't have to invent undetectable entities (souls) or mechanisms.
  • chrisstileschrisstiles Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Part of the problem here is that a lot of choices humans make don't follow a strict algorithm.

    Ultimately, all brain activity is bioelectrical signals and biochemical reactions. There’s no reason to think that given exactly the same starting point those signals and reactions wouldn’t lead to exactly the same end point. The thing is, exactly the same starting point never happens twice - cannot ever happen twice. So there’s no possible way to test it.

    Isn't this where quantum theory comes in? That even if you could have the same initial conditions you couldn't guarantee the same outcome.

    This keeps cropping up, but is somewhat of a red herring -- indeterminacy of this kind doesn't suddenly open the door the free will, it just adds a source of apparent randomness to determination.
Sign In or Register to comment.