The many faces of the free will problem

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Mgrinder
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The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Mgrinder » January 18th, 2016, 5:26 pm

Hello,

I've written up my thoughts on the free will problem in a long essay that you can see by clicking the URL.

The main point I am making is that the free will question seems very ambiguous - it has multiple interpretations. Further, these interpretations are not equivalent. I have discussed it more than a few times with many different people, and it seems to me that alot of people had different ideas about what the question was, let alone its solution.

I have tried to collect all these different interpretations into eight different, non-equivalent questions. The questions are:

(1) Are we being impeded?

(2) Do our wants and needs cause our actions?

(3) Are we determined by physical causes. Can we do things beyond the laws of physics?

(4) Are we predictable?

(5) Can we choose what we value?

(6) Could we have done otherwise?

(7) Do we determine ourselves, or does something else do it?

(8) Are all our thoughts and actions unconscious?

The questions are not all the same. They are asking different things. Many of them seem related, but all are not necessarily the same thing.

For instance, the answer to (2) (Do our wants and needs cause actions?) seems to be obviously yes. If I happen to want to throw my coffee cup out the window, it will happen, unless I am stopped by something. If this is all the question of free will means (and it might be all it means) then obviously we do have free will. However, the answer to question (5) (Can we value what we don’t want?) is also obvious, but the answer is no, we can’t value what we don’t want. If this is all the question of free will means, the answer is no, we don’t have free will.

So what is the proper question? Is there a proper question? Is there a proper answer?

So one thing I'd like to do is to get opinions on FIRST: are these all the questions? Are there more interpretations of the free will question that you have seen? SECOND, which is the one that you think pertains most to the proper question?

For what it's worth, after writing this up, my opinion is that the proper question is whether or not "we" are a determining thing. Does our consciousness determine things to happen or not, and in what way?

THIRD, I guess, I'd like criticism about my analysis of each question, but not really. I'm quite tired of this question, and am not feeling like debating it endlessly too much. However, I would appreciate if you had more insight into my analysis of each separate question.

Anyways, please read my longish essay if you'd like to know my analysis of each question, and please let me know if I am missing any major interpretations of this question. :)

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Togo1 » January 18th, 2016, 8:51 pm

You've left out all the moral/ethical questions of free will.

If I could not act otherwise, am I responsible for my actions?
If I could not want to act otherwise, am I responsible for my actions?
Does predetermination limit my moral responsbility?
etc.
Usually bound up in discussions of compatibalism, and the most common form found in theology.

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Mgrinder » January 19th, 2016, 12:52 pm

Togo1 wrote:You've left out all the moral/ethical questions of free will.

If I could not act otherwise, am I responsible for my actions?
If I could not want to act otherwise, am I responsible for my actions?
Does predetermination limit my moral responsbility?
etc.
Usually bound up in discussions of compatibalism, and the most common form found in theology.
Well that's a good point, for sure. However, it was just the existence of free will or not that was piquing my interest. :)

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Togo1 » January 19th, 2016, 1:10 pm

Mgrinder wrote:
Togo1 wrote:You've left out all the moral/ethical questions of free will.

If I could not act otherwise, am I responsible for my actions?
If I could not want to act otherwise, am I responsible for my actions?
Does predetermination limit my moral responsbility?
etc.
Usually bound up in discussions of compatibalism, and the most common form found in theology.
Well that's a good point, for sure. However, it was just the existence of free will or not that was piquing my interest. :)
Sure, and whether or not compatibilist free will exists or not is an important moral consideration. Some argue it does, some that it doesn't.

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Mgrinder » January 19th, 2016, 2:08 pm

Togo1 wrote:
Mgrinder wrote: (Nested quote removed.)

Well that's a good point, for sure. However, it was just the existence of free will or not that was piquing my interest. :)
Sure, and whether or not compatibilist free will exists or not is an important moral consideration. Some argue it does, some that it doesn't.

Did you read Sam Harris' little book on free will? I was trying to understand his central argument against free will in question 8, but not sure if I'm getting it?

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Togo1 » January 20th, 2016, 11:23 am

I don't much rate Sam.

Sam Harris is a public speaker who writes like he speaks, and this means his reasoning tends to strike me as very readable, but weak and incomplete. So I've not read that particular book. From videos of him, however, I would assume his argument against free will is largely as the argument portrayed by RJG and others. That Free Will requires certain traits, and those traits are either counterfactual or contradictory. While it sounds good, it's very hard to build a case for the non-existence of something based purely on a straw man, and he appears to make little effort to confirm that his proposed traits are actually needed.

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Mgrinder » January 20th, 2016, 12:24 pm

Togo1 wrote:I don't much rate Sam.

Sam Harris is a public speaker who writes like he speaks, and this means his reasoning tends to strike me as very readable, but weak and incomplete. So I've not read that particular book. From videos of him, however, I would assume his argument against free will is largely as the argument portrayed by RJG and others. That Free Will requires certain traits, and those traits are either counterfactual or contradictory. While it sounds good, it's very hard to build a case for the non-existence of something based purely on a straw man, and he appears to make little effort to confirm that his proposed traits are actually needed.
I agree that RJG and Harris seem similar, to be honest, I don't think I understand their argument(s). I've tried, but the actual claim seems elusive..

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by RJG » January 20th, 2016, 10:02 pm

Mgrinder, Togo, -- Do you pick and choose those thoughts that seemingly pop into your head (…or do they just “pop into your head”)?

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Syamsu » January 21st, 2016, 12:00 am

I think the right approach is to analyze common discourse. Analyze the logic people use when they talk in terms of choosing. Define terms as to their logical function only. Start with the most simple decision. Then regard that logic as if it is a scientific theory.

Then you might see what the discrepancies are between established scientific theory, and the logic of choosing, and bargain between them. That our knowledge about choosing is used practically in daily life, it provides a high confidence that it accurately reflects the real world. If it did not accurately reflect reality then I would expect much chaos because of the difference between what is actually happening, and what we say is happening.

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Togo1 » January 21st, 2016, 8:02 am

Al Mele uses that approach very effectively, in books like Effective Intentions. He argues that a decision is an intention to act, while much of the discourse in neurophysiology revolves around planned actions. The gap between the two is that a planned action is generally a motor activation pattern, which is easy to trace, occurs well in advance of an event, and persists for a long time. However, what people generally mean by a decision is an intention to act, since actions are much easier for actual people to identify. Since the motor activation patterns tracked by Dennet, Haynes, etc. occur whenever the subject is asked to think about an action, even if they are told not to act on it, they can't be described as decisions, but rather as preparations to act.

However, I do feel that it's permissible to talk about any subject, rather than just those subjects that occur in common discourse, and thus we need to be prepared to go beyond the definitions of common discourse, to reach subject matter that may not consist of terms from common discussion.

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by RJG » January 22nd, 2016, 2:17 pm

From my view, "free-will" is synonymous with "conscious control".

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Mgrinder » January 22nd, 2016, 4:03 pm

RJG wrote:From my view, "free-will" is synonymous with "conscious control".
Hmm.. maybe another question to put in. DO you think it's the same question as "Are we a determining thing?"

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by RJG » January 22nd, 2016, 7:30 pm

RJG wrote:From my view, "free-will" is synonymous with "conscious control".
Mgrinder wrote:Hmm.. maybe another question to put in. DO you think it's the same question as "Are we a determining thing?"
No, to me these are different. “Conscious control” implies an ‘autonomous’ being/entity/mind in charge and running the show; calling the shots independent of the influences/causes/determiners acting upon it. To me, a “determining thing” can be just a machine that does (determines) something, and can exist without an ‘autonomous’ control center.

As you probably know, I claim that “conscious control” is not a logical possibility, therefore we humans are simply “experiencing machines” that auto-react accordingly. So in effect, I agree with you that we ARE a determining thing, BUT one that lacks free-will / conscious control.

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Bohm2 » January 22nd, 2016, 10:12 pm

RJG wrote:As you probably know, I claim that “conscious control” is not a logical possibility, therefore we humans are simply “experiencing machines” that auto-react accordingly. So in effect, I agree with you that we ARE a determining thing, BUT one that lacks free-will / conscious control.
Can you define what you mean by "machine"?

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Re: The many faces of the free will problem

Post by Mgrinder » January 23rd, 2016, 2:51 am

RJG wrote:
RJG wrote:From my view, "free-will" is synonymous with "conscious control".
Mgrinder wrote:Hmm.. maybe another question to put in. DO you think it's the same question as "Are we a determining thing?"
No, to me these are different. “Conscious control” implies an ‘autonomous’ being/entity/mind in charge and running the show; calling the shots independent of the influences/causes/determiners acting upon it. To me, a “determining thing” can be just a machine that does (determines) something, and can exist without an ‘autonomous’ control center.

As you probably know, I claim that “conscious control” is not a logical possibility, therefore we humans are simply “experiencing machines” that auto-react accordingly. So in effect, I agree with you that we ARE a determining thing, BUT one that lacks free-will / conscious control.
I know you keep saying it, but I'll be darned if I can see what sense you think there is behind the claim. Why can't I say that my experiences are just one part of a broader phenomenon, where this broader phenonenon has at least two parts: (1) Expereinces (2) a thing which determines what will happen based on those experiences. So If I can claim ownership of (2), then I am the thing that determines. Then I am the thing which calls the shots. I've asked you this before, you just ignore it whenever I ask you. I don't think this time will be different.

You say we are expereincing machines, and we have nothing to do with the thing which puts thoughts in our heads. HOwever, we are the thing that puts thoughts in our heads, you give no reason to disbelieve this. You say it is not a logical possibility that we can control the expereince that pops into our heads, because we experience it after the deciison is made. However, we are the thing that made it pop into our heads before the thought got put there. WE are more than just expereinces, we are also the thing that puts the expereinces in there. NOt completely, we don't control the outside world, but we are the thing which evaluates how to react to the outside world.

Now I have a feeling that what i said will be just ignored, and you're going to use the word "logical impossibility" again even though I just showed how it isn't. So please, do me a favor, try to get it this time...

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