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My problem with Free Will

Free Will

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#21 Dennis Hardin

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 05:32 PM


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.



#22 Dglgmut

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 06:38 PM

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.

#23 Michael E. Marotta

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 02:08 AM

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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#24 Hazard

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 01:07 PM

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

#25 Hazard

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 01:17 PM

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

#26 PDS

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 01:34 PM

Hazard: give this mini essay a whirl, as it seems to be a pretty good description of the interplay of the fallacy of the stolen concept and free will.

Also, you can go on you tube and hear National Branden describe the fallacy as a guest lecture of Barbara Branden's Principles of Efficient Thinking series.

#27 Xray

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 02:17 PM


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.

Jordan,
The above example refers to a biological necessity. Where there is no alternative, one cannot speak of a choice. One cannot e. g. choose to stay alive and not to breathe.
But keep in mind that humans can still choose, despite the hardwired biological program working against it, to end their lives.
(This would be choosing between the alternative 'life' vs. 'death').


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.

The reason why I choose X over Y is exactly what you mentioned above: I attribute more value to X.
It's the values we have which guide our choices.
The idea of free will as a potentiality to choose uncoerced is a very abstract issue.
Each of our actions has a reason, and in every concrete situation where we make a choice, our will is always linked to a value judgement on our part.

Imo working with the concept of "value judgement" instead of the too abstract "free will" is more practical.
For it allows a detalied (and also, if necessary, ethical) assessment of those value judgements, the motives that lie behind them, the effects they have, etc.

#28 Dglgmut

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 09:08 AM

If what a thing does is the only evidence of its nature, then it can never act contradictory to that nature. Everything you do is further defining yourself. Every choice you make, as you cannot be in the same situation more than once, is a demonstration of your nature relative that particular situation. The question becomes not whether events have been determined, but whether the nature of reality has.

If everything has been determined, but the outcome is only as knowable as an irrational number, then how does it even matter? Determined, undetermined... what's the difference if it's impossible to know everything?

It's like an old movie you've never seen--it's still new to you.

And determinism doesn't take away the responsibility from the individual to make their own happiness.

Imagine in the future we've made a machine that can predict upcoming events infallibly--it obtains and analyses an infinite amount of information and comes up with an answer that takes into consideration even the operator's knowledge of the answer. Imagine a person using that machine to learn about their own future. The machine would have to come up with the most desirable outcome in order for that person to consciously follow what would basically be instructions for his/her future. If the machine came up with an undesirable future, the person just wouldn't do it, and the machine would be wrong.

If determinism is completely theoretical and can never affect the way things are, then what's the use in thinking about it?

It's not depressing because you still exist, and you're still you. It's like being forced to be free... is it really that bad?

#29 Hazard

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 03:31 PM

Hazard: give this mini essay a whirl, as it seems to be a pretty good description of the interplay of the fallacy of the stolen concept and free will.

Also, you can go on you tube and hear National Branden describe the fallacy as a guest lecture of Barbara Branden's Principles of Efficient Thinking series.


Ah, so he is suggesting that purpose and intent exist as a byproduct of free will. Well, Google defines purpose as: "The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists." And defines reason as: "A cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event.". If one asked, "what is the purpose of life (in general, not just human life)?" One could argue that the purpose of life is to sustain and continue its processes. Anything that lives multiplies and reproduces, its one of the qualifiers that allows something to be labeled as "life". If something that does not have free will (life in general) can have a purpose, then the argument is void because purpose is not a byproduct of free will. Purpose is simply and explanation for the reason or cause behind an action with respect to an outcome. For example, "what is the purpose of photosynthesis?" To sustain the life of the plant. It is the end that the action supports. That is purpose and that is independent of free will. Do you disagree?


Jordan,
The above example refers to a biological necessity. Where there is no alternative, one cannot speak of a choice. One cannot e. g. choose to stay alive and not to breathe.
But keep in mind that humans can still choose, despite the hardwired biological program working against it, to end their lives.
(This would be choosing between the alternative 'life' vs. 'death').

The reason why I choose X over Y is exactly what you mentioned above: I attribute more value to X.
It's the values we have which guide our choices.
The idea of free will as a potentiality to choose uncoerced is a very abstract issue.
Each of our actions has a reason, and in every concrete situation where we make a choice, our will is always linked to a value judgement on our part.

Imo working with the concept of "value judgement" instead of the too abstract "free will" is more practical.
For it allows a detalied (and also, if necessary, ethical) assessment of those value judgements, the motives that lie behind them, the effects they have, etc.


Ok, so are you agreeing with me? That is exactly how I am saying that decisions are made, per my previous post.


And determinism doesn't take away the responsibility from the individual to make their own happiness.

Right, I still believe that we are responsible for our actions. Crime should still be punished, etc. Even though I don't believe in free will, I don't think anything should change about how we actually act. Its an odd conclusion that I've come to, I know.


Imagine in the future we've made a machine that can predict upcoming events infallibly--it obtains and analyses an infinite amount of information and comes up with an answer that takes into consideration even the operator's knowledge of the answer. Imagine a person using that machine to learn about their own future. The machine would have to come up with the most desirable outcome in order for that person to consciously follow what would basically be instructions for his/her future. If the machine came up with an undesirable future, the person just wouldn't do it, and the machine would be wrong.

Not so, if the machine could analyse an infinite amount of information then it would know how this person would react to hearing any future and it would continue to foresee reactions until it found the future that the person would obey.


-Jordan

#30 Bob_Mac

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 03:48 PM

The bottom line is this:

We either have free will or we don't. In order to answer the question one way or the other, we have to be able to distinguish between feeling like we have free will and actually having it. Until we can tell the difference, everything else doesn't really matter (meaning the goofy arguments not based on evidence).

The argument that I have free will because I decided to write this post from my own free will is absurd on its face.

Bob

#31 Merlin Jetton

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 03:54 PM

The argument that I have free will because I decided to write this post from my own free will is absurd on its face.

A great example of begging the question, a straw man, or argument by a-priori definition. Choose one or more. :smile:

#32 Bob_Mac

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 03:56 PM


The argument that I have free will because I decided to write this post from my own free will is absurd on its face.

A great example of begging the question, a straw man, or argument by a-priori definition. Choose one or more. :smile:


Exactly.

#33 Merlin Jetton

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 04:22 PM

Exactly.

I think you misunderstood. My comment was not about the argument, but what you said about it.

#34 Dglgmut

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 08:00 PM

Jordan, with the noise and the book scenario, you say that you could not choose to be concerned, and therefor the concern for the noise causes you to react without any necessary free will.

Well, and what of self-referential thought? When you think "I", was your own existence the cause of the thought?

Again, if you are part of your own cause... then that means you are determined to be you, which, yeah, that is the case.

#35 Bob_Mac

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 07:11 AM


Exactly.

I think you misunderstood. My comment was not about the argument, but what you said about it.


Orrllllyy? You get all that from 'absurd'???

What's funny is, if I were to explain why it it indeed absurd, your previous comment is bang on correct.

Bob

#36 Silvana Maria

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Posted 21 April 2012 - 09:41 AM

Dear Jordan,

I would take your theory to a deeper level (I'm sorry if you did already, I didn't read all the posts 'cause I'm in a hurry, but your post stroke a chord and I wanted to answer) and bring Nietzsche up, with his theory of how all philosophies are built the same way and it's hard to get out of the box because you think on the structure on which your language is built on. I would go way back to our parents and the society directing us in a certain direction, which is quite deep and hard to realize completely how far it goes. But even like that, at one point in your life you can choose to go back as far as you can and change everything. If you're really smart, as far as building another language on new rules. Just because we, humans, in time, built limits, doesn't mean that those limits really exist anywhere else than in our heads. It's all your choice.

It stroke a chord because a few months ago, when I turned 18, my dad asked me how I feel. And I said it's all a bit frightening. Because I realized that no matter the age, I could still find fingers to hide behind, but in the end, in front of myself I'd have to be honest and admit it was me who took all those choices. Being so free can scare you a bit. It does scare me and I'm pretty sure it scares everybody. You can find all the philosophical deep fingers to hide behind, but the truth is quite as simple as it seems. Leo Tolstoy said "Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.". That's just how it goes, no matter what you add around it, it might be sparkly, it might be pretty and interesting, it might seem smart and profound, but it's still not it.
You can cut your fingers off. You can do whatever you wish. The only reason you don't do it is because we only have one instrument to use through all this freedom and that is logic. And people lose logic. Think about all the teenagers and pop stars who do all of those non-sense things for attention. Wearing a telephone on your head is not so far away from cutting your fingers, conceptually speaking, there is still no reason.

Sorry if it seemed immature or anything, but I think keeping it simple is really the best option.
- Silvana

p.s.: not reading the whole discussion was using my free will and I'm not proud about my choice, but I did it, not because anyone else or destiny or anything at all say what I have to do now is more important, but because I consider it more important.

My theory:
There is no such thing as Universal good or bad, it's what each individual chooses is good or bad for their own self. The fact that some choose to follow others instead of thinking their own values doesn't mean anything, it's still a choice.
"If you want to be happy - be." ~ Leo Tolstoy

#37 Hazard

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 12:28 AM

Hi Silvana,
In my earlier post I made a distinction between making a choice, and having the free will to make any choice. My theory in it's most crude state explains that people are more likely to do certain actions (like eat breakfast) than they are to do others (like cut off ones fingers). This can be seen throughout society, it is an observable fact - that people tend to follow a particular set of general actions. However, I take it a bit further. I lost my belief in free will when I realized that I could determine the cause of any one of my actions - even complicated ones. Either experiences, or emotions, or whatever you want to point to - I could see how they were the reasons that I did what I did. So I do think that my hypothesis has observable evidence that supports it.
To answer your example, teenagers and popstars who do nonsense things to get attention are doing these things because they know it will get them attention. Thats the reason clear and simple.

So, in response to your theory, again, I do believe in "choice" just not free choice. We, as humans, are constrained. The more complicated the decision, the harder it is to see the cause, but its there.

I have been unsuccessful with defining free will concretely. Google defines it as: "The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion" However, I dispute the idea that our discretion is truly free. It is developed - nature nurture. If you were born in another country with another family do you think your free will would lead you to have the same values as you do today. I don't think so. I don't believe in a spirit, and I don't think that what you may call "free will" exists outside of our physical brain. We develop, we learn, we refine, but in the end our "choices" are a very complex method of sorting information and picking the best option at the time. Whether urges are driving the brain to choose cake or reason prevails to choose the salad. These things are learned choices. Simple logic decisions "I want the cake, but I will get fat if I eat it so I will choose the salad" or non-logic "I want the cake, i want the cake, i don't care about consequences"

Anyways, that's my idea. Its still a work in progress

-Jordan

#38 Morten

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Posted 15 June 2012 - 06:06 AM

I just want to say that after I stopped believing myself to be a determinist drone and started to apply my will as if it was free, my life has improved greatly, and I expect it to continue to get better as I gain more experience in making concious choises. Hope this can contribute to your decision in what you believe.

#39 whYNOT

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Posted 15 June 2012 - 10:48 AM

Hi Morten.

Welcome.

May I say that's a very good insight. We can theorize all day, but the proof
of the pudding... etc.
We practise free will and discover the confidence to practise further.
(Backed up by neuroscience's findings that we can select different, or little
used neural pathways.)
"To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge". Nicolaus Copernicus (An original objectivist) 1473-1543 ***No man may be smaller than his philosophy...***

#40 Brant Gaede

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Posted 15 June 2012 - 02:34 PM

Free will works fine for me. Before I had any I was living in the woods with the wolves who found me when I was a baby. They liked the way I could bring down a deer with my 30-30 repeating carbine.

--Brant
they found me with it along with a photo of my parents next to their wrecked Jeep

Rational Individualist, Rational self-interest, Individual Rights--limited government libertarian heavily influenced by Objectivism





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