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My problem with Free Will

330 posts in this topic

In the past I have received many fiery responses from this idea, so I will try to be as concise and clear as I can. (Please let me know if the analogies help to get my point across or if they are a waste of space)

My Theory:

I do not believe in free will, even though I want to.

There is a very important distinction in the topic of free will that most people miss: the difference between what one can do and what one will do.

I can take the door on the left or the one on the right. But I will choose only one. I therefore suggest that whatever causes me to choose the left or the right (or to walk away from both doors) decides for me what I will do - despite the fact that I physically can walk through either door.

Therefore, because our actions or choices have a cause (at lease, I believe that they do - I will explain further), we are unable to control the effect (our choice). Not only do I believe that we do not have free will, but I believe that free will is just as much an impossibility as a circular square.

I believe: Choices are determined by external stimuli (any information we receive through our senses) and the internal machine (our brain: memories, previous conclusions, etc.) which result in the output (the choice). Just as a calculator takes in numbers (external stimuli) uses those numbers in its internal machine (brain) and outputs a result (the "choice"). Each human is a different "calculator" with a different internal machine (which is why people respond differently to the same stimuli).

The History:

I first began to doubt free will when I noticed that certain actions of mine were heavily influenced by(or caused by, as I believe now) certain things that happened to me (stimuli). For instance, when I'm very thirsty (and if I have water available) I drink. Now, my critics might say "Yes, but you could have chosen not to drink." But again I point to my distinction between can (could) and will. If I have no reason not to drink water,and I have a reason to drink water, and I have water available to me, then I will drink water. I have no choice. This theory developed simply through observation. Believe me, I want to believe in free will, but the evidence just doesn't add up.

Think of an experiment designed to test if people have free will: As we know in experiments, all variables are isolated except for the ones we are testing for, so that the result of the experiment is not influenced by something that was not being measured. Therefore, in this experiment we will assume that the human subject remains in the exact same state of mind in each scenario. Presented with the same stimuli and no memory of the experiment previously, one can imagine that the subject will repeat the same "choice".

"Door number one contains a fruit basket. Door number two contains a stapler. Please choose one:" Jordan picks door number two because he wants a stapler and is indifferent to fruit. Yes, he can pick either door, but he will pick #2 because his want of a stapler and the absence of any reason to not pick that door dictates that he pick door #2.

I am anxious to hear what you all think of my theory. Please feel free to criticize and rip it to shreds if you want to, I am more than happy to refine or discard ideas if I am wrong.

Respectfully,

Jordan

Edit:

The "anti-proof"?:

I just remembered that in Math, you can prove something to be true by proving the opposite impossible (or something like that my memory is a bit fuzzy)? (If not A, then A; right?)

So, assuming that free will is possible, that would mean that it is capable to make any choice regardless of any present stimuli. For example:I will choose to cut off my fingers even if I have no reason to (including the reason to prove that free will exists, for those of you who want to be extra difficult ; ] ), and I do not want to. As we all know from experience, in no universe would a sane human do something that they don't want to do if they also have no reason to do it.

Not sure how sound that reasoning is, but it just came to me so I thought I'd give it a shot.

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Your choices are, in a sense, "dictated" by something else: your values. If eating lots of rich-tasting food is more important to you than health, you will likely keep on eating until your health is significantly impaired (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, etc.).

But your values are determined by the thinking you choose to do or not do. If your doctor tells you that your health is in danger from over-eating, you can either choose to think about the consequences of that next pizza or slice of pie--or evade those consequences. If you decide your long-term health is more important than momentary indulgence, you will change your values and, thereby, your behavior (or choices).

Objectivism views free will as consisting of the choice to think or not to think, to focus or evade, If you refuse to think and are just guided by the values drilled into you by your parents, you are defaulting on the responsibility of awareness--i.e., you are not exercising your free will. Then, of course, you will just continue to act and make the same value-choices as you have in the past. That's the scenario you seem to be describing in your post.

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Edit:

The "anti-proof"?:

I just remembered that in Math, you can prove something to be true by proving the opposite impossible (or something like that my memory is a bit fuzzy)? (If not A, then A; right?)

So, assuming that free will is possible, that would mean that it is capable to make any choice regardless of any present stimuli. For example:I will choose to cut off my fingers even if I have no reason to (including the reason to prove that free will exists, for those of you who want to be extra difficult ; ] ), and I do not want to. As we all know from experience, in no universe would a sane human do something that they don't want to do if they also have no reason to do it.

Not sure how sound that reasoning is, but it just came to me so I thought I'd give it a shot.

The principle is called modus tollens. It goes like this: P implies Q if and only if -Q implies -P. To prove a proposition Q from premises show that -Q (the denial of Q) contradicts one or more of the premises. It is the basis for the phrase Ayn Rand uses a lot: check your premises. An elaboration of this is: if a set of premises conjoined implies a flat out contradiction of the form

P & -P then at least one of the premises must be false.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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I first began to doubt free will...

Jordan,

Do you mean your free will kicked in and started doubting itself?

You could have stuck with the program.

:smile:

btw - Have you heard of the triune brain? It's a very useful concept, albeit a bit oversimplified. in this idea, you can have both free will and not have free will at the same time, depending on what your brain is processing.

Once you get over your time-travel contradiction, you might be interested in how the brain works. I've got some good things I can suggest.

As to time travel, let's put it this way. The best thing about the past is that it's over. The best thing about the present is that you're in it. And the best thing about the future is that you can do something about it.

Your free will only affects the future. It can't affect the past or present.

Now, if you decide--in your mind--to jump to a time before the future has happened (how's that for a weird concept, but that's what you are doing), then look at your "can and will" thing, you will imagine there is no free will. This is because your future will look like the past. The problem is, you ain't at that time and place, are you? And neither is anyone else. It doesn't exist. And you can't get there. Ever.

You only have free will in reality. And reality says the future is open-ended. You can't get in front of it. Only the past and present are done deals. A metaphysics where no free will exists can happen only in your mind, but only if you divorce it from reality and start time traveling.

Michael

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I've dumbed down determinism to meaning: A thing does not determine what it is, and must act in accordance with its nature.

A cannot be non-A, and in this sense, A has been determined. And A could not have chosen to be A in the first place.

The "anti-proof" is that you are part of your own cause. Self-awareness complicates things, because now you are not only reacting to external input, but are part of that input.

What makes you think "I"? Has something outside of you determined your thoughts? Partially, but you, and your awareness of yourself, had a large part in it as well.

But now we're back at the "a thing does not determine what it is" part. If you influence your choices, but you were determined to be as you are by outside forces, then you belong to something else, as do your choices. We all do belong to the universe, in a way.

But is existence itself free? What could possibly set the rules of existence, non-existence?

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In a more practical look at free will, whether a person displays a certain level of self-control or self-guidance, Dennis mentioned the choice of "to think or not to think."

Ayn Rand wrote in Capitalism the Unknown Ideal: "Force invalidates and paralyzes a man’s judgment, demanding that he act against it, thus rendering him morally impotent. A value which one is forced to accept at the price of surrendering one’s mind, is not a value to anyone; the forcibly mindless can neither judge nor choose nor value."

I've taken this out of context a bit in applying it to the way children are raised. Rather than looking at free-will per se, if we look at, let's say, self-guidance, the choice of thinking or not thinking must be present. To be unable to "judge nor choose nor value" seems to be the equivalent of being unable to think. "Force," as Rand is talking about, is an adult kind of life-or-death type of force, but with children it doesn't have to be that severe.

Forcing a child could be as easily as offering them candy or threatening them with a minor punishment. They aren't capable of weighing situations properly, and simply choose based on a very limited amount of information. Candy appeals to their pleasure mechanism, while punishment is associated with their pain mechanism or something equivalent. Children are exposed to an alternate reality that does not prepare them to think, as thinking is often inconsequential in that reality. What is consequential? Pleasing certain people at certain times.

If we are talking about self-guidance, we are looking at someone thinking in order to make a decision. The choice, really, is to choose or not. Children are often not raised to be able to choose, but raised to be lead. "Show some respect." for example, is telling a child to act as if they respect someone, whether they feel that way or not. If respect is due, the child should be shown why, not simply told that it is due.

Free will, in nature, is the responsibility on oneself to choose in order to survive. In that reality, there is consistency; there is a clear signal of whether a choice was right or wrong. A brain is useful under those circumstances. A sense of what ought to be can not be taught, only what is.

There is a fear of making decisions, I believe, that people have. They don't want the responsibility, because in accepting it they are acknowledging that they have not been making their own decisions in the past. That's my take on it, anyway.

I differentiated between free will and self-guidance, as I put it, because I am under the impression you made this thread in order to discover a sense of free will for yourself. You could argue causality to yourself and be convinced that nothing is really in your control, or you could look at the limits of your apparent control, and focus on maximizing your potential within that space.

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Therefore, because our actions or choices have a cause (at lease, I believe that they do - I will explain further), we are unable to control the effect (our choice). Not only do I believe that we do not have free will, but I believe that free will is just as much an impossibility as a circular square.

Explaining why an indivdual chose X over Y does not refute the concept of a free will.

Explaining the reason for our choices is operates on different level:

Since we humans are valuing, goal-seeking entities, there exist of course reasons and motives for our choices.

But we have more choices open to us because our thinking is more differentiated.

For example, I can decide not to eat another piece of the rich chocolate cake because I don't want to gain weight.

But my dog cannot make these kind of 'decisions'.

So, assuming that free will is possible, that would mean that it is capable to make any choice regardless of any present stimuli.

For example, a person can consciously disregard present stimuli.

Therefore, because our actions or choices have a cause (at lease, I believe that they do - I will explain further), we are unable to control the effect (our choice).

But we can assess, before making a choice, the possible effects our choice can produce.

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I have always enjoyed Free Will, but my favorite is Red Barchetta, followed closely by Tom Sawyer, of course. :cool:

Seriously, isn't the fallacy of the stolen concept the game-ender here?

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Ultimately, the Uncertainty Principle requires that you cannot know what choice you will make. I mean that if strict physical cause and effect define our choices, then at the quantum level, knowledge of cause and effect becomes probabilistic.

Moreover, the fact that we can play a "What if ..." game like this is itself validation of the very claim being denied. In other words, unlike heaven or life on Mars or luciferous ether or the family village of humanity, of all the things we can imagine, free will is the one that is created by thinking about it.

Seriously, isn't the fallacy of the stolen concept the game-ender here?

Well, yes, but we were trying to be polite... Along comes this person who is condemned by fate to talk us into changing our minds on a subject. If he succeeds or fails, was it his clever words or silly song or were we predestined to accept or reject his claims?

Here he is on a complex carousel-rollercoaster-waterslide and he cannot see what is next, but interesting things keep happening to him. He is spun and jostled and dipped and dowsed and next thing you know, he is in an Objectivist discussion board telling people that free will is a fallacy and then he zooms off again beyond his control whisked into a new amusement by a Commanding Agency whose nature he can hardly imagine and never test.

Life is what you make it, apparently...

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Seriously, isn't the fallacy of the stolen concept the game-ender here?

Well, yes, but we were trying to be polite... Along comes this person who is condemned by fate to talk us into changing our minds on a subject. If he succeeds or fails, was it his clever words or silly song or were we predestined to accept or reject his claims?

Here he is on a complex carousel-rollercoaster-waterslide and he cannot see what is next, but interesting things keep happening to him. He is spun and jostled and dipped and dowsed and next thing you know, he is in an Objectivist discussion board telling people that free will is a fallacy and then he zooms off again beyond his control whisked into a new amusement by a Commanding Agency whose nature he can hardly imagine and never test.

Life is what you make it, apparently...

Michael E. Marotta and PDS,

I would cut a 20-year old some slack for being on an [epistemological] "complex carousel-rollercoaster-waterslide".

I would even call this kind of young-age 'watersliding' as a precondition to an individual's further philosophical insight and understanding

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I think Michael was just illustrating the OP's point of view. I didn't take it as an attack of any sort, but more of an exposition.

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Your choices are, in a sense, "dictated" by something else: your values.

Dennis,

I do believe that our choices are dictated by our values, additionally, I believe that our values are "chosen" for us. Sane humans value food, for instance. We have no choice in the matter. You are unable to choose to stop valuing food.

Ba'al,

Ah, thanks for the explanation.

You only have free will in reality. And reality says the future is open-ended. You can't get in front of it. Only the past and present are done deals. A metaphysics where no free will exists can happen only in your mind, but only if you divorce it from reality and start time traveling.

Michael, I see what you are saying here, but I don't see how you are backing up these statements. Where does reality say that future is open-ended? As for my time-travelling. I'm not looking at the future so much as I am looking in the past and thinking "My choice was determined. I drank water because I was thirsty"

Forcing a child could be as easily as offering them candy or threatening them with a minor punishment. They aren't capable of weighing situations properly, and simply choose based on a very limited amount of information. Candy appeals to their pleasure mechanism, while punishment is associated with their pain mechanism or something equivalent. Children are exposed to an alternate reality that does not prepare them to think, as thinking is often inconsequential in that reality. What is consequential? Pleasing certain people at certain times.

[...]

Free will, in nature, is the responsibility on oneself to choose in order to survive. In that reality, there is consistency; there is a clear signal of whether a choice was right or wrong. A brain is useful under those circumstances. A sense of what ought to be can not be taught, only what is.

[...]

I differentiated between free will and self-guidance, as I put it, because I am under the impression you made this thread in order to discover a sense of free will for yourself. You could argue causality to yourself and be convinced that nothing is really in your control, or you could look at the limits of your apparent control, and focus on maximizing your potential within that space.

The "child" example is exactly how I view our (adults) ability to make choices - our values are determined by the pleasure pain mechanism, which influences our future choices. Adults are just much more complicated than children so it is harder to see what causes their choice.

"Free will, in nature, is the responsibility on oneself to choose in order to survive."? I agree, which is why we don't have free will because we are programmed to choose to survive (in most cases). If door 1 = survive and door 2 = die, most humans are programmed to "choose" to survive. Therefore - its not a free choice.

Yes, I did make this thread because I am trying to take control of my life and maximize my potential so I am hoping some of you will help me find a way that I can understand how free will is real.

For example, I can decide not to eat another piece of the rich chocolate cake because I don't want to gain weight.

I would use this example as a support against free will. Something inside of you gives you a negative reinforcement to the thought of gaining weight (almost like how pain works), therefore you choose not to eat the good tasting cake because you value ​not being fat over eating cake. Its a simple value assessment. Which want has more sway over your mind? The want to be fit? or the want to have cake? Whichever is more potent will cause your choice.

Mike M.

Not sure what you mean by that. I'm not trying to be hostile and change anyone's mind. I was actually hoping one of you would refute me in a way that I could agree with, as I stated above.

PDS,

Hrm, the fallacy of the stolen concept is new to me. Are you suggesting that the fact that I wrote this thread proves that I do have free will? If so could you elaborate? I don't believe that intelligence denotes free will. Google defines "intelligent" as: "Able to vary its state or action in response to varying situations". A plant can "intelligently" grow twords the sun, but there is no free will there. Just as a computer can choose to execute a command if the "if-statement" is fulfilled. Neither of these examples use free will to choose to use intelligence.

-Jordan

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Yes, I did make this thread because I am trying to take control of my life and maximize my potential so I am hoping some of you will help me find a way that I can understand how free will is real.

-Jordan

If you are seriously seeking an answer, it has already been provided.

As Nathaniel Branden once said in a seminar I attended, I have great confidence in your ability to answer your own question. No one can "help you" choose to think.

From this point on, as far as I am concerned, you are on your own.

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PDS,

Hrm, the fallacy of the stolen concept is new to me. Are you suggesting that the fact that I wrote this thread proves that I do have free will? If so could you elaborate? I don't believe that intelligence denotes free will. Google defines "intelligent" as: "Able to vary its state or action in response to varying situations". A plant can "intelligently" grow twords the sun, but there is no free will there. Just as a computer can choose to execute a command if the "if-statement" is fulfilled. Neither of these examples use free will to choose to use intelligence.

Jordan:

Are you familiar with this link?

http://aynrandlexicon.com/

It is all alphabetical and can really help as a resource.

"The “stolen concept” fallacy, first identified by Ayn Rand, is the fallacy of using a concept while denying the validity of its genetic roots, i.e., of an earlier concept(s) on which it logically depends."

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/stolen_concept,_fallacy_of.html

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Jordan, the highest level of self-awareness I can think of is an awareness of one's deliberation in the present. What are you doing right now? Where are you putting your effort? Do you even know?

Objectivism has been described as a philosophy for living consciously, and I think it has to do with this question. For the most part, people do not worry that they cannot answer to themselves what the hell they are doing, because they don't even know. They don't want to know, either.

This is the most consequential instance of "to think or not to think." Do you want to acknowledge what your choices are/have been?

Self-awareness is pivotal to the existence of free will, so you won't find your answer without factoring that in.

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You only have free will in reality. And reality says the future is open-ended. You can't get in front of it. Only the past and present are done deals. A metaphysics where no free will exists can happen only in your mind, but only if you divorce it from reality and start time traveling.

Michael, I see what you are saying here, but I don't see how you are backing up these statements. Where does reality say that future is open-ended? As for my time-travelling. I'm not looking at the future so much as I am looking in the past and thinking "My choice was determined. I drank water because I was thirsty"

Jordan,

I don't need to back it up. Time is part of existence and that's a common enough experience. Do you want me to back up a claim that time exists? Or that the past is over? Or the present is where you are at right now? Or that you haven't yet lived the future?

I don't understand what you want backed up.

You asked, "Where does reality say that future is open-ended?" I was using a metaphor. Reality obviously is not a person and can't talk. I was merely referring to the fact (the reality) that we do not exist in the future. Do you exist in the future? If not, you have no way of calling anything you have not yet done an unalterable fact. To do that, you have to travel to the future in your mind and pretend there is only past.

Which is what you do. Look here:

You said, "I'm not looking at the future so much as I am looking in the past..." As I said, you have no free will over the past. You can only use free will in the present, but you can't even use it to affect the present. It only works for determining the future.

Let's put it another way. Time exists.

Free will exists within time.

Do you believe life exists without existing in time? Would you say that all life is dead because you look to the past and see that all living things that have died are dead? And then you imagine the future and imagine that the living things around you, including you, will be dead? So that means they are already dead just by being alive? That's the same logical process you are using on free will.

Essentially you are saying, because I cannot change what I have already done, I cannot change what I will do in the future. That's only true once the future becomes the past. It's not true until then.

You exist in the present and you can exercise free will only in the present. You cannot exercise it in the past. And you cannot exercise it in the future until the future becomes the present. Wanna know why? Because you cannot exercise anything except by doing it in the present.

Furthermore, as I said, free will only affects the future. Although you exercise it in the present, it does not affect the present. The instant right after you exercise your free will, your action is in the past, i.e., at that point in an unalterable form.

When you imply that the future determines the present/past and this makes us without free will, you are (1) running time backward and (2) pretending you are in the future--as if it were the present--and looking back. We do not experience time in that manner.

Sorry, we experience time from only one perspective, the present, and flowing only in one direction, from past to future, and that is axiomatic. It's what Rand would call "the given." There is no way to back that statement up. You can only observe that you exist within a unidirectional flow of time, use that as a fundamental basis for building your thinking, and report it. You cannot step out of time.

You can't say, "Hey! I don't want to be part of this time thing anymore. I don't like time and I refuse to adhere to it."

If you want something within the human experience without free will, there you go. It is true that you have no free will over existing in time. But you also have no free will over whether you exist as a human being. Or whether you exist at all. That's just part of who you are.

(You have free will over whether you will exist in the future--you can commit suicide. But you have no free will over whether you exist at the present, i.e. as you read these words. You exist. Take my word for it. :smile: )

To be more precise, you can imagine stepping out of time, but that is using your mind for postulating something that is totally disconnected from the reality you experience.

If you want to use your mind for reality, you get free will. If you want to use it for science fiction or something imagined that does not correspond to reality, you can get predetermination. But then, maybe you won't. :smile:

Michael

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Dennis,

Fair enough

Adam,

Very interesting, I did not know about this.

Dglgmut,

Ok, I see where you are going with that. "Self-awareness is pivotal to the existence of free will, so you won't find your answer without factoring that in. " I'll have to give that some further thought. That makes sense, but what I have observed about myself is that despite my best efforts, I have been unable to choose to do something ahead of time. For example, as an alcoholic can be completely intent upon not drinking and end up drunk later that night, so I have found myself determining not to do something later that day, while I ended up doing it anyway. This frustrating circumstance has been one of the biggest reasons why I don't believe in free will because I noticed that if certain events (stimuli) occurred, I was almost powerless to do something otherwise. This has happened to me over and over, the nature of addiction is one of my best evidences against free will, and yes I know addiction can be broken, but only if the circumstances (stimuli) are right. Enough pressure, and anyone can crack.

Michael,

Okay, that isn't exactly what I meant. I meant "how do you know the future is open ended" in the sense that "How do we know there isn't only one possible course for the future to take?" Yes, I do understand the nature of time, that isn't what I meant.

Ah, I see what you mean now, you life analogy is very good. So you're saying that: because I can see the result of a free choice after it has happened, I interpret that to mean the choice was determined and not free because I am seeing it after the fact. Thats very interesting. I'll have to sleep on this idea to let it sink in.

A follow up question for you then, how are choices made? Whenever I inspected my own choices I could say "This influenced me and that influenced me to do this." I reasoned that if there is a reason for why something is done/chosen than the choice isn't free because the reason caused it, right? My "drinking water example" for example. If I want water, and water is available, and there is no reason why I shouldn't drink the water, isn't the only possible course of action be that I drink the water? What part of me inside of me gives me the freedom to not drink the water when those circumstances exist.

-Jordan

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... If I want water, and water is available, and there is no reason why I shouldn't drink the water, isn't the only possible course of action be that I drink the water? What part of me inside of me gives me the freedom to not drink the water when those circumstances exist. -Jordan

Free will. You begin with the assumption that you "want" water. I assure you that there are many hours during the day when my body reminds my brain to find food and my brain tells my body that it will just have to wait. Water gets a higher priority, but the principle is the same. The problem - the fallacy of the stolen concept - is your assumption that you "want" something. What do you mean by "want"? We have all kinds of impulses and internal signals. Something sorts them out; that something is will. (NASA mission specialists who train for EVAs learn quickly and soon to ignore itches.)

Objectivist philosopher David Kelley locates the origin of will in the choice to focus on sensory perceptions. At some point in our evolution as a species (and, I add as invidivuals) our brains allowed the processing of so much input that a regulator was required to choose what to pay attention to. Compare reptiles (and other animals), for instance, that only perceive moving objects. Their central nervous systems do not require free will for their survival. Ours does. If we had not evolved (discovered, invented, created, been blessed by God with, etc., etc.) free will, likely we would not have gotten much past the stage of being large apes.

(And I grant, fully, that this is a gradual continuum. I recently watched a video about crows: they are smarter than parrots, though parrots have larger brains. I lhave lived with cats for many years. They do seem to choose, begging for food, then turning their noses up at what is offered. I know no absolute answer here to differentiate humans in every case, but clearly, we are separated by a quantum leap. Chimpanzees might choose, but they seem not to choose to worry about choosing. If they signal each other over their existential angst, we are missing the clues.)

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Seriously, isn't the fallacy of the stolen concept the game-ender here?

Well, yes, but we were trying to be polite... Along comes this person who is condemned by fate to talk us into changing our minds on a subject. If he succeeds or fails, was it his clever words or silly song or were we predestined to accept or reject his claims?

Here he is on a complex carousel-rollercoaster-waterslide and he cannot see what is next, but interesting things keep happening to him. He is spun and jostled and dipped and dowsed and next thing you know, he is in an Objectivist discussion board telling people that free will is a fallacy and then he zooms off again beyond his control whisked into a new amusement by a Commanding Agency whose nature he can hardly imagine and never test.

Life is what you make it, apparently...

Michael E. Marotta and PDS,

I would cut a 20-year old some slack for being on an [epistemological] "complex carousel-rollercoaster-waterslide".

I would even call this kind of young-age 'watersliding' as a precondition to an individual's further philosophical insight and understanding

Xray, maybe so, but I have never been accused of cutting people too much slack, and my disposition isn't as sweet as yours...

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Your choices are, in a sense, "dictated" by something else: your values.

Dennis,

I do believe that our choices are dictated by our values, additionally, I believe that our values are "chosen" for us. Sane humans value food, for instance. We have no choice in the matter. You are unable to choose to stop valuing food.

Ba'al,

Ah, thanks for the explanation.

You only have free will in reality. And reality says the future is open-ended. You can't get in front of it. Only the past and present are done deals. A metaphysics where no free will exists can happen only in your mind, but only if you divorce it from reality and start time traveling.

Michael, I see what you are saying here, but I don't see how you are backing up these statements. Where does reality say that future is open-ended? As for my time-travelling. I'm not looking at the future so much as I am looking in the past and thinking "My choice was determined. I drank water because I was thirsty"

Forcing a child could be as easily as offering them candy or threatening them with a minor punishment. They aren't capable of weighing situations properly, and simply choose based on a very limited amount of information. Candy appeals to their pleasure mechanism, while punishment is associated with their pain mechanism or something equivalent. Children are exposed to an alternate reality that does not prepare them to think, as thinking is often inconsequential in that reality. What is consequential? Pleasing certain people at certain times.

[...]

Free will, in nature, is the responsibility on oneself to choose in order to survive. In that reality, there is consistency; there is a clear signal of whether a choice was right or wrong. A brain is useful under those circumstances. A sense of what ought to be can not be taught, only what is.

[...]

I differentiated between free will and self-guidance, as I put it, because I am under the impression you made this thread in order to discover a sense of free will for yourself. You could argue causality to yourself and be convinced that nothing is really in your control, or you could look at the limits of your apparent control, and focus on maximizing your potential within that space.

The "child" example is exactly how I view our (adults) ability to make choices - our values are determined by the pleasure pain mechanism, which influences our future choices. Adults are just much more complicated than children so it is harder to see what causes their choice.

"Free will, in nature, is the responsibility on oneself to choose in order to survive."? I agree, which is why we don't have free will because we are programmed to choose to survive (in most cases). If door 1 = survive and door 2 = die, most humans are programmed to "choose" to survive. Therefore - its not a free choice.

Yes, I did make this thread because I am trying to take control of my life and maximize my potential so I am hoping some of you will help me find a way that I can understand how free will is real.

For example, I can decide not to eat another piece of the rich chocolate cake because I don't want to gain weight.

I would use this example as a support against free will. Something inside of you gives you a negative reinforcement to the thought of gaining weight (almost like how pain works), therefore you choose not to eat the good tasting cake because you value ​not being fat over eating cake. Its a simple value assessment. Which want has more sway over your mind? The want to be fit? or the want to have cake? Whichever is more potent will cause your choice.

Mike M.

Not sure what you mean by that. I'm not trying to be hostile and change anyone's mind. I was actually hoping one of you would refute me in a way that I could agree with, as I stated above.

PDS,

Hrm, the fallacy of the stolen concept is new to me. Are you suggesting that the fact that I wrote this thread proves that I do have free will? If so could you elaborate? I don't believe that intelligence denotes free will. Google defines "intelligent" as: "Able to vary its state or action in response to varying situations". A plant can "intelligently" grow twords the sun, but there is no free will there. Just as a computer can choose to execute a command if the "if-statement" is fulfilled. Neither of these examples use free will to choose to use intelligence.

-Jordan

Jordan:

The fallacy of the stolen concept is an arrow you should examine closely and add to your quiver, and I say this regardless of its having been identified by Ayn Rand and/or its application within Objectivism.

Here is the most concise way of applying it here: if there is free will, then this conversation actually matters. If there isn't, then it doesn't.

MM is right above. David Kelley would be a good resource for you on this topic. I remember him once describing free will this way: imagine you are at home enjoying a glass of wine and reading a favorite book. Suddenly you hear a scratching sound outside a window in another room. The noise concerns you. In order to examine the source/nature of that noise, you focus your perception. You put your book down, and listen more closely. You do so consciously. You realize it is the wind shuffling outside. You have just exercised your free will, by, in effect, tightening the screws of your senses and analysing the data from said senses.

One could argue that the entirety of life consists of the accumulation of such actions, with an occasional "glass of wine" sprinkled in.

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Objectivist philosopher David Kelley locates the origin of will in the choice to focus on sensory perceptions. At some point in our evolution as a species (and, I add as invidivuals) our brains allowed the processing of so much input that a regulator was required to choose what to pay attention to. Compare reptiles (and other animals), for instance, that only perceive moving objects. Their central nervous systems do not require free will for their survival. Ours does. If we had not evolved (discovered, invented, created, been blessed by God with, etc., etc.) free will, likely we would not have gotten much past the stage of being large apes.

From my notes on David Kelley’s 'The Nature of Free Will’:

Consciousness emerges as a control mechanism at a certain stage of development within a nervous system, to preserve an organism’s ability to function as a unit—i.e., to deal with numerous external factors in such a way as to preserve its integrity. The organism must evaluate input by the standard of needs in the context of the overall value of preserving its life.

For man, the same problem breaks out at the level of consciousness itself. The conceptual mind is in danger of being pulled in a hundred different directions at once. To preserve man’s ability to function as a unit—to enable him to make choices appropriate to his needs in light of an open-ended amount of knowledge and values available—man needs a higher-level control mechanism. That control mechanism is the ability to focus.

Causality is often viewed simplistically as a linear sequence through time. Within a complex system of organization, however, such as the human brain, an event could easily be the product both of antecedent factors and of simultaneous factors operating at higher and lower levels of organization. The capacity to focus is a product of ‘upward’ causation’ (i.e., evolution), the context is a product of antecedent factors, but the choice to focus is an instance of pure ‘downward’ causation’—i.e., of conscious activity directly affecting neural activity. The same cause only obtains at the moment of conscious effort; it is only then that we see ‘the same effect.’

'Downward causation' involves factors operating at higher levels setting constraints on what happens at lower levels at the same moment. For example, the effect of recognition on the visual cortex.

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I think Michael M's point in his first post is also interesting. You don't know what you will do in the future, yet it will be you who decides your actions when the future comes. If our actions are determined by something other than us, we cannot possibly hope to understand what that means.

Even if you don't have a say in what you want, you have a huge say in whether you get what you want.

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Michael E. Marotta and PDS,

I would cut a 20-year old some slack for being on an [epistemological] "complex carousel-rollercoaster-waterslide".

I would even call this kind of young-age 'watersliding' as a precondition to an individual's further philosophical insight and understanding

Right... It would be a good habit to read the bio before responding, especially for the first time to a newcomer. Good point. Still and all, the online world in general and objective pursuits such as science in particular tend to ignore the "who" and consider the "what."

See the comments on "Changing Your Name."

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Thank you, I will look into David Kelly.

You've brought up some very interesting points. To better understand your argument, can we define what you mean by free will more specifically(This may be self-evident, but bear with me)? For instance, when I explained this theory to my dad he said, "are you saying that we as humans are predisposed to certain actions, but still have the free will to choose between those actions?" That isn't what I meant, but that brings up an interesting point. Is this what you all believe free will to be.

Predisposed, as in: we are predisposed to drink water and not poison, but within that predisposition, we have the free will to choose any non-lethal beverage?

I would narrow down this definition of free will as: What we can physically do -> What we can mentally choose -> Our range of choices.

For example: (We cannot choose to fly) - (Sane people will not choose poison) - (non-lethal beverages)

Is this how you would define free will?

Free will. You begin with the assumption that you "want" water. I assure you that there are many hours during the day when my body reminds my brain to find food and my brain tells my body that it will just have to wait. Water gets a higher priority, but the principle is the same. The problem - the fallacy of the stolen concept - is your assumption that you "want" something. What do you mean by "want"? We have all kinds of impulses and internal signals. Something sorts them out; that something is will.

By "want" I mean that my body has a predisposition to attempt to obtain water, just as plants "want" to grow towards the sun. Plants are physically able to grow any which way (I would assume - I am not an expert on plants), but the direction that they will grow is towards the sun. The fact that you are able to postpone the action of getting water only means that at the moment you value something or some action more than water.

This is how I would describe how choices are made without free will:

We start with automatic values (certain dispositions) as babies: Seek out pleasure, stay away from pain. These are automatic and branch out into more specifics such as obtaining food and pulling your hand away from a hot stove when burned (though this action is very clearly automatic, without choice, and the former is not clearly without choice). Then, though our lives we develop what I call a "value hierarchy", which can change from moment to moment depending on what is happening to you, but has an underlying structure. For example, the desire to drink water will go up the value hierarchy the longer you are without water, it will become more and more of a conscious priority. We have no control over how much our body wants water, though we can ignore the want until it gets too strong. This "want" for water is automatic, and not a result of free will. The "choice" to fulfill that want depends on whether there are other actions that you value more at the given moment. (The NASA mission specialists have enough self control to not itch because they have more important things to do, higher values).

Therefore, I do not believe that I am victim to the fallacy of the stolen concept because the want for water does not stem from a free choice. Babies do not think "Hm, I think I will choose to want water(/milk) for the rest of my life."

That "something [that] sorts them out", as you mentioned, I believe to be the simple process of rearranging our value hierarchy subconsciously through the filter of "is this good for me, or is this bad for me."

For example, "Water is good for me, but I need to adjust the calibration of this space satellite more than I need a drink of water right now so I will wait to have a drink until I am done with this adjustment."

Or, "I am dehydrated and haven't had a drink in three days, I will have some water right now rather than finish this adjustment."

These look like choices from the outside, but I suggest that they are merely the highest momentary value taking precedence over what the astronaut will do.

if there is free will, then this conversation actually matters. If there isn't, then it doesn't.

I will have to disagree. Something "matters" or "has significance" when that something effects an defined outcome. For example, sun light matters(has significance) in regards to the subject of the life of a plant. (Obviously it cannot matter to the plant, because the plant is not conscious, but the sunlight has significance relative to a desired outcome, growth and life).

Continuing life is an automatic value for anything alive on our planet (whether that thing has free will or not), otherwise they would not have survived natural selection. By value, I mean "an outcome which the actions of that living thing are attuned to support". Grow towards the sun, avoid predators, eat food, etc. This value is apparent in living things that obiously do not have free will, cells for example - they multiply - an action that furthers life. I trust no one will dispute me on this.

Therefore, I suggest that humans work the same way, just a billion times more complicated. If we are intelligent enough to perform introspection, and we question our free will in regard to how it helps us obtain our values - I suggest that it does matter because it will help us to determine how to better obtain the values that we have no choice in owning.

I remember him once describing free will this way: imagine you are at home enjoying a glass of wine and reading a favorite book. Suddenly you hear a scratching sound outside a window in another room. The noise concerns you. In order to examine the source/nature of that noise, you focus your perception. You put your book down, and listen more closely. You do so consciously. You realize it is the wind shuffling outside. You have just exercised your free will, by, in effect, tightening the screws of your senses and analysing the data from said senses. One could argue that the entirety of life consists of the accumulation of such actions, with an occasional "glass of wine" sprinkled in.
*Bold added

Why does the noise concern you? You did not choose to let it concern you. If that concerning noise caused you (or was the stimuli that caused you) to "put your book down, and listen more closely" I suggest the opposite, there is no free will involved.

Dglgmut said: "Even if you don't have a say in what you want, you have a huge say in whether you get what you want."

Yes, some people will be lazy and not achieve their wants while some will be dilligent; however, I still think that those choices are the results of billions of inputs filtered through our very complicated minds that will lead us to make these choices. Why do certain people exercise patience, diligence, and hard work every day while other people choose to be lazy every day? Is is because every day they make a fresh, uninfluenced choice to behave in this way? I think its more reasonable to assume that over time the hard worker has nurtured character values which molds him into the person that makes those same positive choices every day, while the other did the opposite.

I hope none of you think that I am being obstinate here. You all are raising good points, but those points allow be to be more specific about how I think that humans make "choices". I have considered similar ideas before (the wine glass for example) and these are the responses that I have come up with over the years.

The fallacy of the stolen concept is new to me, but I don't think it applies here as a "want" does not predicate free will (as I have demonstrated).

Respectfully,

Jordan

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Within a complex system of organization, however, such as the human brain, an event could easily be the product both of antecedent factors and of simultaneous factors operating at higher and lower levels of organization. The capacity to focus is a product of ‘upward’ causation’ (i.e., evolution), the context is a product of antecedent factors, but the choice to focus is an instance of pure ‘downward’ causation’—i.e., of conscious activity directly affecting neural activity. The same cause only obtains at the moment of conscious effort; it is only then that we see ‘the same effect.’

'Downward causation' involves factors operating at higher levels setting constraints on what happens at lower levels at the same moment. For example, the effect of recognition on the visual cortex.

Dennis,

I think you are actually describing my point (please, correct me if I am wrong). I am suggesting that "an event" / "choice" is the products of the complex operation of our brain using the "value hierarchy" to focus. This focus is not a choice, but a preprogrammed action in order to support the values. Just as a spider will "freak out" and run around like crazy when it feels threatened, its focus leaves making the web or what ever it was doing to concentrate entirely on staying alive. I believe this example can be applied to almost any living animal. Is this what you mean by focus?

Mike M.,

What do you refer to here: "See the comments on 'Changing Your Name.'" ? Could you post a link? I can't find it on the forum.

-Jordan

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