Fate of Free Will?

Discuss philosophical questions regarding theism (and atheism), and discuss religion as it relates to philosophy. This includes any philosophical discussions that happen to be about god, gods, or a 'higher power' or the belief of them. This also generally includes philosophical topics about organized or ritualistic mysticism or about organized, common or ritualistic beliefs in the existence of supernatural phenomenon.
Ecurb
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Fate of Free Will?

Post by Ecurb » July 24th, 2020, 6:25 pm

I've never understood the conflict between "fate" and "free will". Calvinists insist that an omniscient God must (of course) know what choices we will make before we make them. Common cant suggests that if this is the case, there cannot be free will.

I don't buy it. I think this commonly held notion misunderstands the meaning of the words "free" and "will". In this sense, "free" means "unconstrained". If we were not forced to make a decision based on coercion or threat, our decision is "freely made". If God (or anyone else) can see the future, I don't see how that makes our decisions less free.

Here's what I mean: if I say, "Yesterday, I freely chose to go to the store and buy a loaf of bread", that statement is coherent and rational. Yet I can no longer make any other decision. It's a done deal. How does this differ from an omniscient observer knowing what decision we will make in the future? As far as I can tell, it doesn't. Therefore, I conclude that free will and fate are not incompatible.

Here's another example. Let's posit a card came, draw poker. You are dealt four clubs. You wonder what the chances are that you can draw one card and fill your flush. Clearly, its 9/47 (there are 9 clubs left in the remaining 47 cards). Now we need not posit an omniscient observer to know that this is incorrect, merely a useful fiction. Anyone (omniscient or not) who can see the other side of the cards knows that there is either a 0% chance you will fill your flush, or a 100% chance. Nonetheless, TO YOU the odds are the best you can do. You are "fated" to either get a club, or some other card. However, knowing that the cards are already shuffled and unmarked, you have to wing it.

It's the same with the future and the past. Future events are like the unnumbered side of the playing cards. Past events are like the cards you have already been dealt. Both are equally fated. So if it is reasonable to say, "I freely chose to go to the store yesterday" (although no other choice can be made), it is reasonable to say, "I will freely choose whether to go to the store tomorrow" even if someone already knows what your choice will be, but you do not.

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Re: Fate of Free Will?

Post by Gertie » July 25th, 2020, 1:03 pm

I've never understood the conflict between "fate" and "free will". Calvinists insist that an omniscient God must (of course) know what choices we will make before we make them. Common cant suggests that if this is the case, there cannot be free will.

I don't buy it. I think this commonly held notion misunderstands the meaning of the words "free" and "will". In this sense, "free" means "unconstrained". If we were not forced to make a decision based on coercion or threat, our decision is "freely made". If God (or anyone else) can see the future, I don't see how that makes our decisions less free.

How about if we replace god with a super-duper computer, which has knowledge of where every particle currently is and their momentum, and complete knowledge of all physical forces, quantum probabilities - all physical factors in play.

Such a computer would be able to determine whether the next card is a club from the distribution of of the ink particles. Could it determine whether you will bet all your money on the next card, based on the physical forces working on your physical neuronal processes?

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Re: Fate of Free Will?

Post by Gertie » July 25th, 2020, 2:32 pm

It's the idea behind La Place's Demon https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laplace%27s_demon

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Jing or Jang
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Re: Fate of Free Will?

Post by Jing or Jang » July 26th, 2020, 1:11 am

The "will" or choice is free. The consequence is not. The consequence is never free. That is why we calculate percentages.

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Re: Fate of Free Will?

Post by LuckyR » July 26th, 2020, 2:23 am

Ecurb wrote:
July 24th, 2020, 6:25 pm
I've never understood the conflict between "fate" and "free will". Calvinists insist that an omniscient God must (of course) know what choices we will make before we make them. Common cant suggests that if this is the case, there cannot be free will.

I don't buy it. I think this commonly held notion misunderstands the meaning of the words "free" and "will". In this sense, "free" means "unconstrained". If we were not forced to make a decision based on coercion or threat, our decision is "freely made". If God (or anyone else) can see the future, I don't see how that makes our decisions less free.

Here's what I mean: if I say, "Yesterday, I freely chose to go to the store and buy a loaf of bread", that statement is coherent and rational. Yet I can no longer make any other decision. It's a done deal. How does this differ from an omniscient observer knowing what decision we will make in the future? As far as I can tell, it doesn't. Therefore, I conclude that free will and fate are not incompatible.

Here's another example. Let's posit a card came, draw poker. You are dealt four clubs. You wonder what the chances are that you can draw one card and fill your flush. Clearly, its 9/47 (there are 9 clubs left in the remaining 47 cards). Now we need not posit an omniscient observer to know that this is incorrect, merely a useful fiction. Anyone (omniscient or not) who can see the other side of the cards knows that there is either a 0% chance you will fill your flush, or a 100% chance. Nonetheless, TO YOU the odds are the best you can do. You are "fated" to either get a club, or some other card. However, knowing that the cards are already shuffled and unmarked, you have to wing it.

It's the same with the future and the past. Future events are like the unnumbered side of the playing cards. Past events are like the cards you have already been dealt. Both are equally fated. So if it is reasonable to say, "I freely chose to go to the store yesterday" (although no other choice can be made), it is reasonable to say, "I will freely choose whether to go to the store tomorrow" even if someone already knows what your choice will be, but you do not.
You are missing a small but important point. Namely, that if outcomes are pre-determined (the mechanism by which the omniscient god "knows" your future "decisions"), then you could figure out how to predict the future with 100% accuracy. Thus while you would not be overtly coerced into making the "choices" you make, you're not really making a true choice (a selection between options). You think you have a 9 out of 47 chance of getting a flush, when in reality you're not getting a flush, ie a zero percent chance.
"As usual... it depends."

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Re: Fate of Free Will?

Post by Sculptor1 » July 26th, 2020, 5:57 am

Ecurb wrote:
July 24th, 2020, 6:25 pm
I've never understood the conflict between "fate" and "free will". Calvinists insist that an omniscient God must (of course) know what choices we will make before we make them. Common cant suggests that if this is the case, there cannot be free will.

I don't buy it. I think this commonly held notion misunderstands the meaning of the words "free" and "will". In this sense, "free" means "unconstrained". If we were not forced to make a decision based on coercion or threat, our decision is "freely made". If God (or anyone else) can see the future, I don't see how that makes our decisions less free.

Here's what I mean: if I say, "Yesterday, I freely chose to go to the store and buy a loaf of bread", that statement is coherent and rational. Yet I can no longer make any other decision. It's a done deal. How does this differ from an omniscient observer knowing what decision we will make in the future? As far as I can tell, it doesn't. Therefore, I conclude that free will and fate are not incompatible.

Here's another example. Let's posit a card came, draw poker. You are dealt four clubs. You wonder what the chances are that you can draw one card and fill your flush. Clearly, its 9/47 (there are 9 clubs left in the remaining 47 cards). Now we need not posit an omniscient observer to know that this is incorrect, merely a useful fiction. Anyone (omniscient or not) who can see the other side of the cards knows that there is either a 0% chance you will fill your flush, or a 100% chance. Nonetheless, TO YOU the odds are the best you can do. You are "fated" to either get a club, or some other card. However, knowing that the cards are already shuffled and unmarked, you have to wing it.

It's the same with the future and the past. Future events are like the unnumbered side of the playing cards. Past events are like the cards you have already been dealt. Both are equally fated. So if it is reasonable to say, "I freely chose to go to the store yesterday" (although no other choice can be made), it is reasonable to say, "I will freely choose whether to go to the store tomorrow" even if someone already knows what your choice will be, but you do not.
Unconstrained or not. God knows what you are going to do next.
There is a class of thought in which the will is compatible with determinism. If you accept that "free" does not mean free in spite of causal factors; inspite of yourself; free from your own antecendant motivation, needs and inclinations. Radical free will often means an absolute ability to choose as if you had not previous inclinations.
Where determinism is compatible with "free will" is called compatiblilism. That means unconstrained will acts to factors determined by the individual at that moment.
"Fate" is something else.
If there is an omnipotent god, then there is not doubt that every sparrow that falls, every breath you take etc. is known to god. You are fated to act in a way that god has dtermined for you since the beginnging of time.
There is even a more extreme view of fate, which includes a sort of useless radical free will. If you have ever seen Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence saves one of his servants for being killed for a transgression. The people around him say - it was written that he should die. Lawrence diagrees. We make our own fate. Later, after the siege of Acaba, the servant is caught stealing. Lawrence is forces to execute him himself. "Ah you see, Lawrence it was always written that he should die." That is fatalism.

My view is that we are unavoidably determined to act in ways that is based on antecent factors.. and that should we repeat the same situation, with everything the same as it was, then we would act in exactly the same way again.
I am glad that this is the case, since my actions given my current knowldge and situation make perfect sense at the time. Whilst more knowledge can improve my actions at a future time, I am happy to record that progress can be made from learning about previous successes and mistakes.

Without god, the future is unknown and practically unknowable.
No fate, no radical free will.

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Marvin_Edwards
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Re: Fate of Free Will?

Post by Marvin_Edwards » July 26th, 2020, 6:30 am

Prediction does not mean control. A man's wife may know precisely what he will order from the menu before he does, yet it will still be his own choice.

No decisions are made for us before we're born, because the equipment necessary for making that decision has not yet arrived.

Determinism asserts that every event is the reliable result of prior events. But to be true, it cannot exclude us or replace us as valid parts of that causal chain, the parts that actually make the choices and that through those choices control what happens next.

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Re: Fate of Free Will?

Post by Sculptor1 » July 26th, 2020, 8:39 am

Marvin_Edwards wrote:
July 26th, 2020, 6:30 am
Prediction does not mean control. A man's wife may know precisely what he will order from the menu before he does, yet it will still be his own choice.

No decisions are made for us before we're born, because the equipment necessary for making that decision has not yet arrived.

Determinism asserts that every event is the reliable result of prior events. But to be true, it cannot exclude us or replace us as valid parts of that causal chain, the parts that actually make the choices and that through those choices control what happens next.

And for any given moment in history all following actions are fully determined by the antecedant conditions. So whilst we appear to make "free" choices we always and at all times act according to our current determination.
To assert radical free will is to assert the impossible; being free of who and what we are.

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Re: Fate of Free Will?

Post by Marvin_Edwards » July 26th, 2020, 10:33 am

Sculptor1 wrote:
July 26th, 2020, 8:39 am
Marvin_Edwards wrote:
July 26th, 2020, 6:30 am
Prediction does not mean control. A man's wife may know precisely what he will order from the menu before he does, yet it will still be his own choice.

No decisions are made for us before we're born, because the equipment necessary for making that decision has not yet arrived.

Determinism asserts that every event is the reliable result of prior events. But to be true, it cannot exclude us or replace us as valid parts of that causal chain, the parts that actually make the choices and that through those choices control what happens next.

And for any given moment in history all following actions are fully determined by the antecedant conditions. So whilst we appear to make "free" choices we always and at all times act according to our current determination.
To assert radical free will is to assert the impossible; being free of who and what we are.
Free will is when we decide for ourselves what we will do, free of coercion and other forms of undue influence (mental illness, hypnosis, deception, authoritative command, etc.) That's the only definition of free will that makes sense. And, fortunately, that's the one that everyone outside of philosophy uses when assessing moral or legal responsibility.

It should be noted that causation never causes anything and determinism never determines anything. These are concepts that describe how the actual objects and forces that make up the physical universe interact to bring about events (causation) and the assertion that their behavior is reliable (determinism).

We happen to be one of those objects that goes about in the world causing things to happen and deciding what we will do next. Causation and determinism are about us. They cannot replace us.

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Re: Fate of Free Will?

Post by Papus79 » July 26th, 2020, 11:09 am

As far as I've examined this it's a problem of poorly defined terms. I think this is also part of why people get annoyed with compatibilists, why Sam Harris ends up getting in spats with Dan Dennett on this issue, and it mostly has to do with (at least on the part of people like Harris - and I agree with this) discharging a lot of mud around personal accountability and some of the ways in which were rather cruelly twisting the knife in people.

So in the OP a couple things I fully agree with:

1) There's no evidence that any of us could go back in time to a given point and have done something different and this similarly applies to what seem like 'random chance' events, ie. you could sort of see the 'x' axis of time as something that freezes life in amber, a bit like we're all on a DVD and the 'now' is just the play point (which really has a Minkowski block universe flavor to it).

2) People who don't use the term 'free will' to mean 'with exactly who I was yesterday I could have gotten a carton of eggs instead of a loaf of bread' (which is ill-defined for all kinds of reasons, that 'could' for example ignores all the structure that lead to that decision), what they actually mean is that 'this decision was uncoerced' and it says something about their relationship to themselves and their inner workings whereas if they really wanted to buy a carton of eggs but someone with a gun to their head and forced them to buy a loaf of bread instead of that this would mean that the decision says little more about their inner workings than 'I want to live'.


I think clearing this one up is probably the most important for social reasons.

As the sort of apes we are we love mud, obscurity, unknowing, etc. because it allows the Darwinian grift. If we have plausible deniability we can treat other people, in the space of that plausible deniability, however we want. For example while people like Johan Hari and Gabor Mate's views of addiction are likely incredibly spot-on they're unlikely to be popular because they cut directly against our near lust to stomp out the vanquished. The way we do meritocracy at the moment, for example, seems to suggest that it's a grift that the victors love and it serves the purposes of their genes - ie. I live you die - remarkably well.

The challenge - we could likely have a better world if we had rule sets that closed windows for Darwinian grift where they undermined our national and global security, environmental security, and in the places where they lead to pain thresholds of the like that lead to revolution, failed states, despotism, etc.. If we actually need to have Darwinian grift, at some level in some place, as part of how we do status then we need to channel that to places that won't do harm and the trick is figuring out how that works. As far as Darwinian gene battle and grift is concerned though we really don't want that in the chain of a person's a) food supply, b) shelter, c) ability to find and maintain work. If people are into stabbing each other at the base of Maslow's hierarchy we have a worse world because there's legitimate cause for rage in people who got scapegoated in the Girardian sense.

Should we focus on determinism itself as a culture?

That's a tougher question. We generally don't because it doesn't seem like actionable information aside from what I mentioned above (such as thinking much more critically about punishment and whether it actually helps or makes things worse in various areas). At least the more thoughtful of us experience near infinite accountability for our actions and results in our lives, while that can seem like an insanely internal locus of control I'd call it something more like an internal locus of accountability, and for a lot of people who externalize that they go through incredible pain but it seems to be a 'learning after the fact' or 'learning by ones own mistakes rather than others'.

It's probably quite important to take this issue (ie. no 'liberatarian' free will) seriously in terms of ethics, there's a whole lot we wouldn't do anymore if we understood it to be non-essential constructive coercion, there are places where such coercion isn't voluntary (ie. society collapses if people can run around raping, killing, stealing, etc. with impunity, and there's only so many slots for people truly leeching off the system - best reserved for those who have no fault in that situation) but we have to be extremely careful how we dish out punishment to each other. When the 'supply and demand' economics for example show that everyone's turning into a workaholic, everyone's terrified of losing their job, everyone's running the race as if they'll be guillotined if anything goes wrong, the other side of that equation has incentives to keep raising the bar of acceptability and these sorts of runaway effects easily lead to destruction of a society if there's nothing to check them.
People aren't fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, we're fundamentally trying to survive. It's the environment and culture which tells us what that's going to be.

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Re: Fate of Free Will?

Post by Terrapin Station » July 27th, 2020, 9:49 am

T1, T2, etc. are variables for times.

Say that we're proposing that you can choose either vanilla or chocolate ice cream.

The idea is that at T1, God knows what you'll "decide" at T2--vanilla.

At T1 you haven't made a choice yet.

But God knows at T1 that you'll "choose" vanilla at T2.

So between T1 and T2, you can't actually make a choice. Before you made a choice, God knew you'd choose vanilla, and God can't be wrong. This means that you can't choose chocolate at T2. Vanilla was your only option. That's no choice.

There are various ways that people have suggested out of this conundrum, but they all have problems, aside from the solution that there's no God (with omniscience, etc.) after all.

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Re: Fate of Free Will?

Post by Terrapin Station » July 27th, 2020, 9:54 am

Marvin_Edwards wrote:
July 26th, 2020, 6:30 am
Prediction does not mean control. A man's wife may know precisely what he will order from the menu before he does, yet it will still be his own choice.

No decisions are made for us before we're born, because the equipment necessary for making that decision has not yet arrived.

Determinism asserts that every event is the reliable result of prior events. But to be true, it cannot exclude us or replace us as valid parts of that causal chain, the parts that actually make the choices and that through those choices control what happens next.
Predictions can be wrong. The problem with the God scenario is that God can not be wrong. It's not possible for anyone to make a choice other than what God knows they will make.

With your example, the husband's wife could turn out to be surprised as the man decides to order something she didn't predict. It's possible for the man to make a different choice.

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Re: Fate of Free Will?

Post by Terrapin Station » July 27th, 2020, 9:57 am

It's important to remember that if it's not actually ontologically possible at T1 to choose either A or B, so that you could say either at T2, then there is no choice. If there's only one possibility (at T1) re A or B for what you'll say at T2, then there's no free will.

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Re: Fate of Free Will?

Post by Papus79 » July 27th, 2020, 10:07 am

Terrapin Station wrote:
July 27th, 2020, 9:49 am
There are various ways that people have suggested out of this conundrum, but they all have problems, aside from the solution that there's no God (with omniscience, etc.) after all.
I'd say they're reading to wrong to need to invoke 'God', it's a side effect of being able to plot time as a line on an x axis where the line never doubles back over itself, really locking all factors of the states in at any given slice of time.
People aren't fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, we're fundamentally trying to survive. It's the environment and culture which tells us what that's going to be.

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Re: Fate of Free Will?

Post by Marvin_Edwards » July 27th, 2020, 5:28 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:
July 27th, 2020, 9:54 am
Marvin_Edwards wrote:
July 26th, 2020, 6:30 am
Prediction does not mean control. A man's wife may know precisely what he will order from the menu before he does, yet it will still be his own choice.

No decisions are made for us before we're born, because the equipment necessary for making that decision has not yet arrived.

Determinism asserts that every event is the reliable result of prior events. But to be true, it cannot exclude us or replace us as valid parts of that causal chain, the parts that actually make the choices and that through those choices control what happens next.
Predictions can be wrong. The problem with the God scenario is that God can not be wrong. It's not possible for anyone to make a choice other than what God knows they will make.

With your example, the husband's wife could turn out to be surprised as the man decides to order something she didn't predict. It's possible for the man to make a different choice.
I take it you've never been married.

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