Free Will

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Re: Free Will

#13641  Postby romansh » Aug 03, 2019 10:34 pm

felltoearth wrote:
Let’s be clear here. I am not a denier or an asserter for either free will or determinism.

Technically, I try to be agnostic about this too, The problem I can't see a rational argument for asserting.

The bonus is, the world makes so much more sense when we give up the notion of free will.
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Re: Free Will

#13642  Postby LucidFlight » Aug 04, 2019 12:58 am

romansh wrote:
felltoearth wrote:
Let’s be clear here. I am not a denier or an asserter for either free will or determinism.

Technically, I try to be agnostic about this too, The problem I can't see a rational argument for asserting.

The bonus is, the world makes so much more sense when we give up the notion of free will.

It can certainly be more relaxing. I can understand why people who believe in free will get so infuriated by the so-called denialists. It's as if people are choosing to be infuriating. Can you imagine such a thing? If you leave free will out of it, though, you simply realise that people are the way they are and they can't help it at some fundamental level of the universe's goings-on.
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Re: Free Will

#13643  Postby zoon » Aug 04, 2019 8:01 am

LucidFlight wrote:
romansh wrote:
felltoearth wrote:
Let’s be clear here. I am not a denier or an asserter for either free will or determinism.

Technically, I try to be agnostic about this too, The problem I can't see a rational argument for asserting.

The bonus is, the world makes so much more sense when we give up the notion of free will.

It can certainly be more relaxing. I can understand why people who believe in free will get so infuriated by the so-called denialists. It's as if people are choosing to be infuriating. Can you imagine such a thing? If you leave free will out of it, though, you simply realise that people are the way they are and they can't help it at some fundamental level of the universe's goings-on.

Addressing felltoearth, romansh and LucidFlight: Without blaming people at a fundamental level, do you think it also makes sense to continue using praise and blame much as before in order to control antisocial behaviour, while we still don’t understand brain mechanisms? This is controlling individuals with the threat of group sanctions.

I’ve been arguing that free will is still a useful concept, because we don’t want to blame or punish someone for an action they were coerced into doing. To blame somebody when they were coerced would not encourage them to change their behaviour, and would sent the wrong message to everyone else?

For this purpose, I’m defining someone with free will in a minimal way, as someone who is uncoerced and mentally capable. I’m also thinking this use of the concept of free will may fade away as brain mechanisms become better understood.
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Re: Free Will

#13644  Postby LucidFlight » Aug 04, 2019 9:16 am

Encouragement and discouragement are still useful for educating people about the sort of behaviour that is deemed to be beneficial.
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Re: Free Will

#13645  Postby GrahamH » Aug 04, 2019 11:23 am

zoon wrote:
LucidFlight wrote:

I’ve been arguing that free will is still a useful concept, because we don’t want to blame or punish someone for an action they were coerced into doing. To blame somebody when they were coerced would not encourage them to change their behaviour, and would sent the wrong message to everyone else?

.


OTOH you can think of penalties and rewards as other forms of coercion. You could also think of antisocial behaviour as coercion of the wider society (can't go out at night, no go areas, having to secure property, having to pay taxes to combat crime and insurance to cover losses etc).

Then the justice system is part of a pragmatic feedback system to rebalance coercive influences.
Why do you think that?
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Re: Free Will

#13646  Postby minininja » Aug 04, 2019 11:48 am

While I understand the argument for a pragmatic compatiblist notion of free will, I've not seen anything solid to convince me of its effectiveness as a useful concept for society to hold. I feel it just adds confusion, leads people to believe dualistic notions, and ends up reinforcing harmful images people have of themselves. Too much praise or blame directed at the individual, rather than analysing the actions they took in a given situation.

Just because someone wasn't obviously coerced doesn't mean there wasn't a reason for what they did, and while it is unlikely any time soon that we will be able to fully understand those reasons in precise scientific terms, I think it's generally going to be more helpful to try and understand those reasons, even in day-to-day conversational terms, than to write someone off as a wrong 'un or to paint them as in some way inherently deserving. Use of free will as an explanation for actions just seems like giving up trying to understand. Separating obvious coercion from non-obvious coercion doesn't seem helpful to me.
[Disclaimer - if this is comes across like I think I know what I'm talking about, I want to make it clear that I don't. I'm just trying to get my thoughts down]
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Re: Free Will

#13647  Postby GrahamH » Aug 04, 2019 11:55 am

minininja wrote:While I understand the argument for a pragmatic compatiblist notion of free will, I've not seen anything solid to convince me of its effectiveness as a useful concept for society to hold. I feel it just adds confusion, leads people to believe dualistic notions, and ends up reinforcing harmful images people have of themselves. Too much praise or blame directed at the individual, rather than analysing the actions they took in a given situation.

Just because someone wasn't obviously coerced doesn't mean there wasn't a reason for what they did, and while it is unlikely any time soon that we will be able to fully understand those reasons in precise scientific terms, I think it's generally going to be more helpful to try and understand those reasons, even in day-to-day conversational terms, than to write someone off as a wrong 'un or to paint them as in some way inherently deserving. Use of free will as an explanation for actions just seems like giving up trying to understand. Separating obvious coercion from non-obvious coercion doesn't seem helpful to me.


Is that an accurate picture of how things are? I don't think the UK justice system is oblivious to reasons for what people do nor are people written off as "a wrong 'un" or inherently deserving.

Where causes of actions can be identified I think they are considered as mitigation (or it's compliment - aggravation).

I don't know enough about the justice system to make any strong statements about it. Do you have any examples in mind?
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Re: Free Will

#13648  Postby zoon » Aug 04, 2019 12:05 pm

LucidFlight wrote:Encouragement and discouragement are still useful for educating people about the sort of behaviour that is deemed to be beneficial.

Before making use of encouragement or discouragement, and in particular before using any major discouragement, it still makes sense to be reasonably clear that the behaviour was not coerced, and that the person was mentally capable? This is the concept of free will as minimally defined. I’m happy enough to go on using the term “free will” as meaning for practical purposes what it’s always meant, like “sunrise” or “sunset”, but if people feel it comes with too many metaphysical or generally unscientific overtones, I won’t argue too strongly.

Perhaps any atheist position on free will often needs to be stated with clarifications? To say firmly that there is no such thing as free will may imply a view, for example, that the law should be radically overhauled, which may or may not be the atheist’s opinion.
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Re: Free Will

#13649  Postby Cito di Pense » Aug 04, 2019 12:19 pm

zoon wrote:To say firmly that there is no such thing as free will may imply a view, for example, that the law should be radically overhauled, which may or may not be the atheist’s opinion.


As mentioned humourously, above, people obey the law because they can't help themselves. People who break the law are in the same boat. We are all in the same boat. Who would insist that the law be overhauled if we are all in the same boat, except in terms of violation of the law? Only someone who really believes in free will. While you're not one of those (or so I surmise), it seems as if you are teetering very close to the edge on this one.

zoon wrote:
Before making use of encouragement or discouragement, and in particular before using any major discouragement, it still makes sense to be reasonably clear that the behaviour was not coerced, and that the person was mentally capable?


Whether a mentally-incompetent person or someone under coercion is unfairly treated in the prosecution of the law is a function of what some particular society wants in terms of its laws. Some societies are barbaric, and some societies are so hamstrung by the kind of consideration you're offering that the police are nearly-powerless to respond when hooligans are loose on the streets. Neither situation is what we want.

Only someone who believes (unreasonably, I might add) in the infinite power of rational discourse (instead of some infinitely powerful god) believes also that we can get what we want by rational debate. What you'd end up with is a quasi-static legal process, one that takes fucking forever to figure out how someone should be treated.
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Re: Free Will

#13650  Postby minininja » Aug 04, 2019 12:25 pm

GrahamH wrote:
Is that an accurate picture of how things are? I don't think the UK justice system is oblivious to reasons for what people do nor are people written off as "a wrong 'un" or inherently deserving.

Where causes of actions can be identified I think they are considered as mitigation (or it's compliment - aggravation).

I don't know enough about the justice system to make any strong statements about it. Do you have any examples in mind?

Certainly much of the justice system has room to take into account prior causes for actions, I suspect this might be influenced by the many different examples of reasons that will have been given when cases are looked into in detail. However the broad political view of criminal justice still seems to be one of individual responsibility and punishment. Our new Home Secretary a few years ago argued to bring back the death penalty ffs.

And I think the notion of free will is also often an underlying assumption for the basis of neo-liberal politics. The idea that inequality is a morally justifiable result of individuals making the right or wrong decisions makes it easy to ignore that the systems we have in society might be simply unfair.
[Disclaimer - if this is comes across like I think I know what I'm talking about, I want to make it clear that I don't. I'm just trying to get my thoughts down]
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Re: Free Will

#13651  Postby zoon » Aug 04, 2019 12:26 pm

GrahamH wrote:
zoon wrote:

I’ve been arguing that free will is still a useful concept, because we don’t want to blame or punish someone for an action they were coerced into doing. To blame somebody when they were coerced would not encourage them to change their behaviour, and would sent the wrong message to everyone else?


OTOH you can think of penalties and rewards as other forms of coercion. You could also think of antisocial behaviour as coercion of the wider society (can't go out at night, no go areas, having to secure property, having to pay taxes to combat crime and insurance to cover losses etc).

Then the justice system is part of a pragmatic feedback system to rebalance coercive influences.

As you say, there are unstated issues behind the use of the term "free will", such as the acceptable coercion of society being contrasted with unacceptable coercion which reduces blame. It's one of the reasons I think the concept's still useful, it is usually understood in spite of not being simple, and trying to replace it with more "scientific" terminology may be as misleading as keeping it, though in a different direction. I won't argue too heatedly that the term "free will" needs to stay, it certainly does have unscientific connotations, but I don't think it can be dropped as easily as gods.

Edited to add, I've changed the quote tags inside GrahamH's original post, GrahamH was answering a post which I wrote, not LucidFlight.
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Re: Free Will

#13652  Postby romansh » Aug 04, 2019 3:46 pm

zoon wrote:
I’ve been arguing that free will is still a useful concept, because we don’t want to blame or punish someone for an action they were coerced into doing. To blame somebody when they were coerced would not encourage them to change their behaviour, and would sent the wrong message to everyone else?

I think by all means praise someone if you want and think praise will get more of that behaviour. Praise is a reinforcing behaviour, is it not?

So should we blame people and perhaps penalize them for trying addictive drugs and risk becoming addicted? Are they using their free will here? Is, say, succumbing to peer pressure or perhaps curiosity free will by your definition?

zoon wrote:For this purpose, I’m defining someone with free will in a minimal way, as someone who is uncoerced and mentally capable. I’m also thinking this use of the concept of free will may fade away as brain mechanisms become better understood.


Are you suggesting people with low IQs have less free will here? Or perhaps a summary judgement on mental capability? While my mental capability is not bad (I suspect) in certain situations it might be positively dangerous.

While you may be advocating certain definitions of free will as useful, I am advocating of doing away with the idea all together as being more accurate and less likely to cause mischief.
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Re: Free Will

#13653  Postby GrahamH » Aug 05, 2019 9:34 am

romansh wrote:
Are you suggesting people with low IQs have less free will here? Or perhaps a summary judgement on mental capability? While my mental capability is not bad (I suspect) in certain situations it might be positively dangerous.


A possible link between free will and mental ability has come up before, possibly from john platko.

This could work either way. Greater understanding of potential consequences could be more restrictive. Awareness of too many options could lead to "overchoice".

OTOH too little understanding or imagination could lead to too few choices or "hobson's choice".


Maybe there is a happy median position with a few fairly easy choices. Enough to feel you make a difference but not too much that it paralyses you.


I'm tempted to associate free will with liberty - experiencing a wide open space of possibilities with safe paths to take rather than a closed-in hard to navigate maze.
Why do you think that?
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Re: Free Will

#13654  Postby scott1328 » Aug 05, 2019 11:52 am

GrahamH wrote:I'm tempted to associate free will with liberty - experiencing a wide open space of possibilities with safe paths to take rather than a closed-in hard to navigate maze.

I think I read it somewhere that slime molds are totally expert maze solvers they must have the most free will of all. (In addition to their predilection for choosing lottery numbers.)
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Re: Free Will

#13655  Postby GrahamH » Aug 05, 2019 1:04 pm

scott1328 wrote:
GrahamH wrote:I'm tempted to associate free will with liberty - experiencing a wide open space of possibilities with safe paths to take rather than a closed-in hard to navigate maze.

I think I read it somewhere that slime molds are totally expert maze solvers they must have the most free will of all. (In addition to their predilection for choosing lottery numbers.)


Or the least free will, since the exit route is predefined and all they can do is follow the chemical gradient.

And the lottery numbers must be prescience or magic or something. ;)
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Re: Free Will

#13656  Postby felltoearth » Aug 05, 2019 1:48 pm

GrahamH wrote:
scott1328 wrote:
GrahamH wrote:I'm tempted to associate free will with liberty - experiencing a wide open space of possibilities with safe paths to take rather than a closed-in hard to navigate maze.

I think I read it somewhere that slime molds are totally expert maze solvers they must have the most free will of all. (In addition to their predilection for choosing lottery numbers.)


Or the least free will, since the exit route is predefined and all they can do is follow the chemical gradient.

And the lottery numbers must be prescience or magic or something. ;)

So, the takeaway is flip enough coins and you’ll eventually reach your end?
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Re: Free Will

#13657  Postby felltoearth » Aug 05, 2019 1:58 pm

zoon wrote:
LucidFlight wrote:
romansh wrote:
felltoearth wrote:
Let’s be clear here. I am not a denier or an asserter for either free will or determinism.

Technically, I try to be agnostic about this too, The problem I can't see a rational argument for asserting.

The bonus is, the world makes so much more sense when we give up the notion of free will.

It can certainly be more relaxing. I can understand why people who believe in free will get so infuriated by the so-called denialists. It's as if people are choosing to be infuriating. Can you imagine such a thing? If you leave free will out of it, though, you simply realise that people are the way they are and they can't help it at some fundamental level of the universe's goings-on.

Addressing felltoearth, romansh and LucidFlight: Without blaming people at a fundamental level, do you think it also makes sense to continue using praise and blame much as before in order to control antisocial behaviour, while we still don’t understand brain mechanisms? This is controlling individuals with the threat of group sanctions.

I’ve been arguing that free will is still a useful concept, because we don’t want to blame or punish someone for an action they were coerced into doing. To blame somebody when they were coerced would not encourage them to change their behaviour, and would sent the wrong message to everyone else?

For this purpose, I’m defining someone with free will in a minimal way, as someone who is uncoerced and mentally capable. I’m also thinking this use of the concept of free will may fade away as brain mechanisms become better understood.

This sounds a bit like a repackaging of “I could have chosen differently.”
Humans do what they think works whether rationally or emotionally. The assumption is that the rational special sauce is what gives us free will. It’s one reason used for not giving woman voting rights or even control over their own sexual reproduction to this day. I see no evidence of a connection between our “rational” mind and free will. In all these pages no one has ever put anything forward. In fact, there is a lot of evidence against that notion which is why I haven’t given up determinism as a possibility.
Let me know if that doesn’t answer your question.
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Re: Free Will

#13658  Postby GrahamH » Aug 05, 2019 2:30 pm

felltoearth wrote:
GrahamH wrote:
scott1328 wrote:
GrahamH wrote:I'm tempted to associate free will with liberty - experiencing a wide open space of possibilities with safe paths to take rather than a closed-in hard to navigate maze.

I think I read it somewhere that slime molds are totally expert maze solvers they must have the most free will of all. (In addition to their predilection for choosing lottery numbers.)


Or the least free will, since the exit route is predefined and all they can do is follow the chemical gradient.

And the lottery numbers must be prescience or magic or something. ;)

So, the takeaway is flip enough coins and you’ll eventually reach your end?


The takeaway is if you try to figure out free will you never reach an end.
Why do you think that?
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Re: Free Will

#13659  Postby Cito di Pense » Aug 05, 2019 2:31 pm

felltoearth wrote:
zoon wrote:
LucidFlight wrote:
romansh wrote:
Technically, I try to be agnostic about this too, The problem I can't see a rational argument for asserting.

The bonus is, the world makes so much more sense when we give up the notion of free will.

It can certainly be more relaxing. I can understand why people who believe in free will get so infuriated by the so-called denialists. It's as if people are choosing to be infuriating. Can you imagine such a thing? If you leave free will out of it, though, you simply realise that people are the way they are and they can't help it at some fundamental level of the universe's goings-on.

Addressing felltoearth, romansh and LucidFlight: Without blaming people at a fundamental level, do you think it also makes sense to continue using praise and blame much as before in order to control antisocial behaviour, while we still don’t understand brain mechanisms? This is controlling individuals with the threat of group sanctions.

I’ve been arguing that free will is still a useful concept, because we don’t want to blame or punish someone for an action they were coerced into doing. To blame somebody when they were coerced would not encourage them to change their behaviour, and would sent the wrong message to everyone else?

For this purpose, I’m defining someone with free will in a minimal way, as someone who is uncoerced and mentally capable. I’m also thinking this use of the concept of free will may fade away as brain mechanisms become better understood.

This sounds a bit like a repackaging of “I could have chosen differently.”
Humans do what they think works whether rationally or emotionally. The assumption is that the rational special sauce is what gives us free will. It’s one reason used for not giving woman voting rights or even control over their own sexual reproduction to this day. I see no evidence of a connection between our “rational” mind and free will. In all these pages no one has ever put anything forward. In fact, there is a lot of evidence against that notion which is why I haven’t given up determinism as a possibility.
Let me know if that doesn’t answer your question.


What if we did 'understand brain mechanisms'? Would we predict that somebody was going to do something we don't like and incarcerate him/her before that could happen? We'll need a nice track record of predictions of bad stuff, fulfilled. Who'd be in charge of that, you think? The scientific brain mechanics. I mean, couldn't we just program people to enjoy being programmed, once we work out all those brain mechanisms? Too much science fiction in there, for my taste.

Zoon's thinking about these matters is much more muddled than it appears at first glance (to some, at least). I think zoon is looking for science to step in where god used to be. Some people just still need some sort of god. It's got all the attributes, except, you know, for the supernatural part. How on earth does somebody end up worshiping rationality (i.e., "brain mechanics") quite that much? I'm far from saying "it can't be done", but what's going to matter is what people want. Unless we put something in the water, y'know. Wink-wink.

Some people should just go back to church, where everything works out, in the end. If the brain mechanics succeed, and it turns out to demonstrate deterministic behavior, who's going to stop there? It won't be the neuroscientists, and their erstwhile clients, the filosofeezers.
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Translation by Elbert Hubbard: Do not take life too seriously. You're not going to get out of it alive.
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Re: Free Will

#13660  Postby romansh » Aug 05, 2019 3:10 pm

GrahamH wrote:
I'm tempted to associate free will with liberty - experiencing a wide open space of possibilities with safe paths to take rather than a closed-in hard to navigate maze.

That's fine from a compatibilist point of view [I am not suggesting you are one]. If I were to use the phrase … this is how I might think of it too.

Nevertheless, we can ask are these safe path possibilities really available to us? I suspect the reason I entertain the idea of free will, is because by and large I am almost completely oblivious to the underlying mechanisms of decision making.
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