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January 28, 2012


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After understanding Dennett I tend to agree that it seems that during evolution we developed a guessing mechanism that observes the other and supposes intentions to make the other predictable. Like we suppose intentions with a chess computer in front of us just to 'choose' the right move, we can not calculate its exact state. This mechanism has let us to think that we have intentions ourself to. Our 'me' is the result of these supposed intentions.

On the other hand what would a moral sense be for if there was not a kind of free will? It would have no function in evolution and I don't see how it is a byproduct of something else. I can very well imagine a world of creatures calculating each others intentions and reacting without a sense of good and bad, just maximizing their benefit.

But we do not just maximize our benefits. Do we?

The first question to ask on free will imo is whether nature is truly deterministic or whether there is an aspect of randomness to the universe?

Biology is to extent deterministic, but the theory of evolution relied firmly on random mutations. Classical physics was deterministic, until quantum mechanics came along with its uncertainty, unpredictability and quantum indeterminacy. Einstein famously said God does not play dice with the universe, but QM says God does play dice, chaos theory says the dice are loaded and hawkings says the dice are sometimes thrown where they cannot be seen.

The second question is whether such randomness or indeterminacy is truly random or chaotic (apparently random).

We don't know the answers to either of these questions, but we do know that chaos is a result of massive complexity. That is, a system that potentially has so many causes, factors or variables influencing one another in unknown relationships, that for all practical purposes chaos is random.

If our conscious minds are emergent products of such chaotic complexity, as opposed to some random aspect (which science has not discounted), it still means that for all practical purposes our will is also 'free'. I think this is dennet's viewpoint. This is why on a day-to-day basis we are able to exercise a degree of control over our more primitive desires. Even if this is a result of environmental conditioning, the whole system is so complex that for all practical purposes such as criminal justice we do have free will.

Whether criminal justice is fair or effective is another question, and to what extent societal moral norms should govern the individual is another question.

George, if randomness rules the roost in our consciousness in some fashion (quantum uncertainty?), then I don't see how this fosters free will. After all, there is no will involved in rolling the dice and following whatever comes up: "Even, I buy this car; odds, I don't."

With highly complex chaotic systems, there is hidden determinism. We can't predict what will emerge from the system, largely because small inputs (butterfly flapping wings) can result in large outputs (hurricane).

I also don't see how free will is present in that sort of situation, if the system is deterministic. Like I said in this post, free will as defined by Coyne seems to require the ability to stand outside of the physical brain/body and make a choice that is utterly unconstrained by the material qualities of neurons, atoms, chemical goings-on in the brain, and such.

As Coyne put it, rewind your life and restore the exact qualities of every atom and subatomic particle, then imagine yourself making a different decision than you did. I don't see how this is possible. Personally, I do this all the time in a more limited degree.

For example, I think about a mistake I made, a wrong turn in my car, or whatever, and recall my state of mind at that moment. Then I wonder, "Could I have done anything different, given what I knew, how I was looking at things, etc? I answer, "No." Same inputs, same output.

So where is the free will? I don't find any room for it, unless I change one or more of the inputs. Then I have a different deterministic system, not genuine free will.

Dear nietzsche,

Your phrasing "...reacting without a sense of good and bad, just maximizing their benefit" is inherently contradictory; i.e., "maximizing their benefit" already involves "reacting with... a sense of good and bad."

Robert Paul Howard

[George, sorry for delay in publishing this comment. Somehow it went into the TypePad spam filter, where I just discovered it. -- Blogger Brian]


Well if there is a truly random aspect to the universe, and this influence mechanisms such as gene shuffling or random mutation, this means our genes aren't determined from the time of the big bang, neither is our biology, nor the universe nor our present consciousness, nothing is in fact determined.

But as you say there is alot of order around us, so how can random quantum effects be accounted for? I think those are the two big questions, what is the underlying nature of reality (if any) and how do we get from that state to the apparently ordered world we see around us?

Some possible explanation are: that our ordered apparently determined world is only one of many worlds (so at each instant all quantum states branch off), that order has somehow emerged from disorder through some as yet uknown relation between the laws of entropy and gravity, that nature is inherently both ordered and disordered, or that reality is fundamentally ordered just apparently chaotic as you seem to suggest and then order again emerges superficially?

I think 'free will' basically means our human-ability to not be enslaved to our biology. I think it means some sort of higher cognitive ability which frees us from our natural genetic inheritance. We are a particular kind of ape, whose behavior more than any other ape or animal is more influenced by our culture than our genetics. Not only but we seem to have an even higher cognitive ability in being able to reason and critically evaluate a rule or norm taught to us (conditioning). Hence, we can overcome not only our genetic inheritance (nature), but also our environmental conditioning (nurture) to some extent. Perhaps not totally but to a very great extent, hence free will in a relative sense. But I mean the brain is the most complex structure in the known universe, tho it has a finite number of neural connections, for all intents and purposes it is a very massive number of connections, which pretty much explains why the appearance of free will seems likely to be a pretty good approximation. Genius, invention, creativity, spontenaity - are these truly orginal or merely products of a very complex, albeit finite determined system? Its largely irrelevant the effects are still the same for all practical purposes.

It occured to me that free will might be spontaneous behavior. Random fluctuations that differ a little from normal behavior. Then this behaviour is reinforced or weakened by culture etics or whatever feedback system is present. In that way we evolve very much faster than we could on dna mutations alone. The end result is that one person tries bad behaviour without the etics feedback and becomes a criminal relying on social punishment. The other one becomes a good person ontroling himself.
Justice is still needed and you need good dna to get out of the ghetto.
But these random fluctuations make life very interesting.
Free will gets less and less important.
I also like Dennetts view on humor. He sees it as tryal and error that is rewarded with pleasure. We constantly try new things and laugh them away or adopt them in our system. It is a very strong reward system for important behavior.
But the random variations could also be little choices ;)

Hi Robert I agree with that on later introspection. What I was thinking of was some information about the scools in nazi Germani. I read that they teached Darwinism there. They used argumentation based on survival to justify their behaviour.
Than what is the difference between the nazi good and bad and the jewish good and bad? Or are they not that much different? I find that conclusion difficult. Do we need a God to not maximize our potential like the nazis did?

It is medically and scientifically proven that when there is a sensation in the body, let's say a tingling in your finger, it takes half a second before it is perceived in your brain. Therefore, there is a delay between the stimulus in your finger and the registration of consciousness of it -- a gap of half a second, which we call space. This gap is where the possibility of free will resides.

What usually happens is that in this half second you immediately react and therefore there is never space, or what one could call free will.

If you can observe the space and not react to the impulse, you have exercised free will. This could also be called detachment. Therefore, free will arises when you cease to react to impulse.

On "exercis[ing]...free will" one might cf. the case of "Jesus" in Guam, a Chamorro who was suffering lytico-bodig disease (pp. 156-159 of Oliver Sacks' _The Island of the Colorblind and Cycad Island_ [1997]). Other cases are also referred to in the book.

Robert Paul Howard

___For one thing, we have instinctive as well as rational choices that are necessarily probabilistic. No two instinctive choices will ever be the same. Is that free will?
___For a rational choice, given the exact same situation with 50:50 benefit/deficit for a free will choice, wouldn't we expect a second round to make another 50:50 choice, and so on?
___Suppose you continued your logic and unwound a whole life of choices and remade them all one by one. Wouldn't you eventually come to lot of free will choices as a result?
___Finally, the universe is inherently probabilistic. The uncertainty principle simply says that when push comes to shove, we definitely move but not always in the direction intended.

Just wondering...

'However, we never see those "what if's" in reality. There's only one path through time and space that we follow. '

Two other things we don't see are deterministic physical laws, and our future space time trajectories. It is of course a fallacy that if we have a unitary past history, we must also have a unitary future.

"Coyne says..."

Coyne goes in to repeat the common argument that operating under the laws of physics is the same as operating under deterministic laws of physics. (At least he provides no separate argument against indeterminism based free will)

Determinism in physics is a complex subject. Eg, John Earman s Aspects of determinism in modern physics.


'Hmmmm. So an intuition pops into awareness from my subconscious, and when I follow it, that's "free will"? Even though I was not free to will it '

Why were you not free to will it? Because your unconscious mind has nothing to do with you? But that is to flatly contradict Pigliucci. Or because you did not have a conscious experience as of freely choosing? But the absence of the feeling of choice doesn't automatically mean absence if actual choice, any more than the presence of the feeling of choice automatically means the presence of actual choice,

But the absence of the feeling of choice doesn't automatically mean absence if actual choice, any more than the presence of the feeling of choice automatically means the presence of actual choice,

Did you choose to publish your spelling and grammatical mistakes, or should the reader assume you couldn't have corrected them due to your genetics, your conditioning, and the circumstances?

Why something rather than nothing?

Why is that something ordered at all?

Why is that order so finely tuned?

These are very strong arguments against indeterministism.

Feynman said that the universe is stranger than we could possibly imagine. I believe that is correct. If we can imagine God, then it's possibly even stranger then that.

There are certain tenets of modern physics which are so far off from explaining reality and our existence, that I suspect we don't have any clue.

So the Big Bang was the moment rverything was created.

Before the Big Bang there was nothing.

Yet we also know from the second law of thermodynamics that energy cannot be created or destroyed. We also know that matter and energy are converable qualities from Einstein's infamous e=mc2 simplification of special relativity.

So if energy cannot be created or destroyed and if part of it was converted into matter during the Big Bang, this raises some wierd-arsed questions

It means that there has always been a finite and fixed amount of energy in the universe. Cos it can't be created or destroyed. So what is his number and who decided on it?

This means energy is external and fixed - it has always existed. But this is wierd, because surely only a supernatural entity is eternal. What physical element is eternal? None.

Also what triggered the partial conversion into matter? Why the bang


Oh well. Allah alone is perfect.

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