Free Will

on fundamental matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and ethics.

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Re: Free Will

#13721  Postby GrahamH » May 14, 2020 2:24 pm

Hermit wrote:
zoon wrote:If an individual who has broken a rule was coerced into doing so, then there’s no point in going to the trouble of punishing them.

Behaviour conditioning via aversion therapy works just as well without having to invoke free will, personal responsibility, blame and the entire moralistic crap that goes with it.


The point is surely to apply some influence to change the antisocial behaviour. Rehabilitation, incarceration, fines, social pressure, counselling economic aid, training, medication, surgery etc. These are all a little coercive. If you believe too much in free will you should reject all these on the basis that your actions were freely and independently willed. Something unspecified that is immune to circumstances will still be just as free to re-offend.
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Re: Free Will

#13722  Postby scott1328 » May 14, 2020 4:52 pm

Hermit wrote:
zoon wrote:If an individual who has broken a rule was coerced into doing so, then there’s no point in going to the trouble of punishing them.

Behaviour conditioning via aversion therapy works just as well without having to invoke free will, personal responsibility, blame and the entire moralistic crap that goes with it.

citation needed.
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Re: Free Will

#13723  Postby Hermit » May 14, 2020 4:57 pm

scott1328 wrote:
Hermit wrote:
zoon wrote:If an individual who has broken a rule was coerced into doing so, then there’s no point in going to the trouble of punishing them.

Behaviour conditioning via aversion therapy works just as well without having to invoke free will, personal responsibility, blame and the entire moralistic crap that goes with it.

citation needed.

Traffic citations. :mrgreen:
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Re: Free Will

#13724  Postby zoon » May 14, 2020 8:58 pm

Hermit wrote:
zoon wrote:If an individual who has broken a rule was coerced into doing so, then there’s no point in going to the trouble of punishing them.

Behaviour conditioning via aversion therapy works just as well without having to invoke free will, personal responsibility, blame and the entire moralistic crap that goes with it.

Aversion therapy is extremely limited in scope and is also inflexible, it can’t be used, for example, to get people to drive below 30 mph on one stretch of road and below 50 mph on another (at least without an extraordinary amount of effort, which would be wasted if the speed limits changed to 20 and 60). We don’t yet know nearly enough about humans as mechanisms to control them in anything like the detail which is possible with the moral systems that are seen in every functioning human society (supplemented by legal systems in large societies).

I do agree with you that the words “punishment” and “moral” come with supernatural overtones that have no basis in reality. If “punishment” is taken to be an action with which someone can be threatened to influence their behaviour, and “morality” is a society’s system of rules and punishments, then the supernatural element is lost? What remains is an evolved pattern of behaviour for coordinating a group's actions to everyone's benefit, which, so far, still works better than anything developed by scientists.

It’s the moralising insistence on altruism which grates, when only kin altruism can be expected to evolve through natural selection? Altruism is not essential for this type of cooperation to work, only enough social intelligence to recognise that the rules of the society need to benefit other people as well as oneself, if cooperation is to be achieved. At the same time, this extensive calculated cooperation would never have evolved through natural selection without kin altruism (citing the paper linked below, not for the first time), and kin altruism also makes it more robust: cooperation is less likely to break down if everyone has a network of kin across society.

(The 2018 paper is “The coevolution of cooperation and cognition in humans”, linked here)
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Re: Free Will

#13725  Postby Hermit » May 15, 2020 12:55 am

Behaviour conditioning is not 100% effective? Wow! May as well not bother, then. And don't bother with gun control either. Yo'll never stop shooting deaths or even just massacres. Continue with the usual invocation of free will, personal responsibility, blame and the entire moralistic crap that goes with it. We know it works so much better.
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Re: Free Will

#13726  Postby Cito di Pense » Jan 19, 2022 4:20 am

Matthew Shute wrote:Russian-American Jaime Lannister (Edward Frenkel) on numbers and free will.





Frenkel's arguing that humans aren't "just" machines, computers, sequences of numbers, or algorithms - which of course isn't the same as defining a free will as something more, and then setting about to demonstrate it.

For the sake of argument let's just grant that we're not computers or machines, and let's also suppose humans aren't reducible to numbers (or even anything susceptible to rationality). Free will doesn't just get to exist by default if all that's case. This is similar to people trying to get to free will (or Frenkel's "something extra") by trying to disprove determinism. Introspection is great, but you still have to pin down what the something extra is, and demonstrate it, if you want to convince someone skeptical of the claim, from the outside. At one point (in the second video) the interviewer asks Frenkel how his argument from experience is different from people who say they "just know" god exists because they experience him.

He's pretty persuasive on his map vs terrain points. But even if all our representational maps were utter rubbish (he's not arguing anything of the sort, by the way, I'm just pushing it for effect), how would that inform us at all about terrain?

Still, something a bit different. A smart man coming at this with some maths-y arguments. They just don't do what's on the tin.


I'll put the onus on the dedicated proponent of free will to delineate that by means of which supposedly free will is not constrained. Not that I care, but I'm sure they'll re-define it to suit, as freedom of conscience, or something. I was just searching the forum to see whether anyone had discussed this video, the main point of which is not free will at all. Numberphile put the words "free will" into the title to get some views, and that is something that the dedicated proponents and opponents of free will can latch onto. I guess they're the pigeons in this drop, taking away nothing and leaving only noise. Maybe the kindest thing I can say about the topic of free will is that I treat it a lot like a subreddit of "social interaction". It's just a community with an incomplete set of rules about what constitutes a contribution to the discussion of free will, and now someone will say that it's incompleteness that frees us. I think Frenkel might agree.

Frenkel is among the most grounded of mathematicians I have encountered, and some of that is out of his capacity to feel. His UC Berkeley Math 53 lectures on multivariable calculus are available on youtube, and while they move at a leisurely pace in the first half, are filled with insight. His book, "Love & Math" is very popular, for reasons, and the above particular video can be discussed more soundly as math and not as philosophy. Among Frenkel's research interests is something called representation theory, so you can peek at the whence and hence of it.
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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

#13727  Postby zoon » Jan 20, 2022 12:47 pm

Perhaps it’s easier for mathematicians than it is for biologists to be convinced humans are special? A computer program is very different from a human being, and even the most impressive robot is a tool for human use. By contrast, living things have their own agenda; and modern humans are not so different from australopithecines, who were not so different from great apes, which are not all that different from other primate species, which are not so different from …..(insert gradual evolutionary steps)….tumbling bacteria. Where is the line drawn?
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Re: Free Will

#13728  Postby hackenslash » Jan 20, 2022 12:56 pm

zoon wrote:Perhaps it’s easier for mathematicians than it is for biologists to be convinced humans are special?


Not sure where you get that notion, but it certainly doesn't match my not-inconsiderable experience of mathematicians at all. I know quite a few mathematicians, several right here, and none of them have given voice to the idea that humans are special. Quite the opposite, in fact.
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Re: Free Will

#13729  Postby Cito di Pense » Jan 20, 2022 1:31 pm

zoon wrote:Perhaps it’s easier for mathematicians than it is for biologists to be convinced humans are special? A computer program is very different from a human being, and even the most impressive robot is a tool for human use. By contrast, living things have their own agenda; and modern humans are not so different from australopithecines, who were not so different from great apes, which are not all that different from other primate species, which are not so different from …..(insert gradual evolutionary steps)….tumbling bacteria. Where is the line drawn?


The line for computability can be drawn with complexity measures that even you can understand. It is not apparent that the solution to the traveling sales rep problem is computable (or not) on a graph with, say, 500 nodes and an average of 3 or 4 outbound and inbound links to each node. If your measure of "special" is "exactly computable", you have much smaller fish to fry before you conclude that mathematicians are convinced of anything about people. When you assess the computing resources needed, you find that the solution cannot be computed before the heat death of the universe ensues. I'm pretty sure you've been reminded of this more than once by now. In my reply to Shute, I also pointed out some other things about freedom that you need to address if you're going to make remarks like you just did, above. If you're just collapsing into binarism regarding free will, there is hardly any point trying to reason with you. And, as hackenslash just pointed out, the free will question is for wibblers, and not for mathematicians or scientists. You can take a big step toward putting this thing to bed for yourself if you just stop engaging in binarism in order to argue with proponents of free will. Maybe Frenkel would chuckle at the old wibble that you're free to choose what to do about it, but you're not free to choose what you want.
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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

#13730  Postby archibald » Feb 21, 2022 8:19 pm

Cito di Pense wrote:
Matthew Shute wrote:Russian-American Jaime Lannister (Edward Frenkel) on numbers and free will.





Frenkel's arguing that humans aren't "just" machines, computers, sequences of numbers, or algorithms - which of course isn't the same as defining a free will as something more, and then setting about to demonstrate it.

For the sake of argument let's just grant that we're not computers or machines, and let's also suppose humans aren't reducible to numbers (or even anything susceptible to rationality). Free will doesn't just get to exist by default if all that's case. This is similar to people trying to get to free will (or Frenkel's "something extra") by trying to disprove determinism. Introspection is great, but you still have to pin down what the something extra is, and demonstrate it, if you want to convince someone skeptical of the claim, from the outside. At one point (in the second video) the interviewer asks Frenkel how his argument from experience is different from people who say they "just know" god exists because they experience him.

He's pretty persuasive on his map vs terrain points. But even if all our representational maps were utter rubbish (he's not arguing anything of the sort, by the way, I'm just pushing it for effect), how would that inform us at all about terrain?

Still, something a bit different. A smart man coming at this with some maths-y arguments. They just don't do what's on the tin.


I'll put the onus on the dedicated proponent of free will to delineate that by means of which supposedly free will is not constrained. Not that I care, but I'm sure they'll re-define it to suit, as freedom of conscience, or something. I was just searching the forum to see whether anyone had discussed this video, the main point of which is not free will at all. Numberphile put the words "free will" into the title to get some views, and that is something that the dedicated proponents and opponents of free will can latch onto. I guess they're the pigeons in this drop, taking away nothing and leaving only noise. Maybe the kindest thing I can say about the topic of free will is that I treat it a lot like a subreddit of "social interaction". It's just a community with an incomplete set of rules about what constitutes a contribution to the discussion of free will, and now someone will say that it's incompleteness that frees us. I think Frenkel might agree.

Frenkel is among the most grounded of mathematicians I have encountered, and some of that is out of his capacity to feel. His UC Berkeley Math 53 lectures on multivariable calculus are available on youtube, and while they move at a leisurely pace in the first half, are filled with insight. His book, "Love & Math" is very popular, for reasons, and the above particular video can be discussed more soundly as math and not as philosophy. Among Frenkel's research interests is something called representation theory, so you can peek at the whence and hence of it.



I only watched the first video, and, as you say, it's not about free will at all.

But I wasn't sure what his point was. He demonstrated that humans aren't just numbers.

But that doesn't seem to say anything about whether or not they are machines, which is surely the relevant claim (that humans are machines).
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Re: Free Will

#13731  Postby zoon » Feb 22, 2022 1:16 pm

archibald wrote:….
I only watched the first video, and, as you say, it's not about free will at all.

But I wasn't sure what his point was. He demonstrated that humans aren't just numbers.

But that doesn't seem to say anything about whether or not they are machines, which is surely the relevant claim (that humans are machines).

I think you have summed up the argument of both videos, and the correct response. As Edward Frenkel says, we are not just numbers. As you rightly point out, that has no bearing on whether humans are machines.

Both the mathematicians in the videos appear to be taking for granted an unstated premiss that computers, and by extension all machines, are essentially numbers or mathematical structures, rather than objects consisting of silicon, carbon, iron etc. Physicists and computer engineers, as well as the rest of us, would be unlikely to take that line.

Quoting Edward Frenkel from the second video, starting at about one minute in, my colour addition:
The problems begin when we actually start convincing ourselves that we are nothing but machines, that we are nothing but algorithms, specialised computers which are just processing information. And I know it’s very tempting, and especially if you look at some people, how they incessantly text and send emails. We talked about the menu and the meal, they don’t even have time to enjoy the meal. So of course the difference between the menu and the meal is lost on them, because they eat it but they don’t enjoy it. So that is true. But I think that if we actually do experience our lives, if we do go through those experiences, when we realise that what we do is not an algorithm, is not a formula, we’re not following a formula, we’re not following an algorithm, this realisation, for each person, I think, ultimately should come from within. I’m not going to prove it to you: if you believe that you are a computer, I will not be able to convince you otherwise. My point is not to convince you that you are not a computer.
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Re: Free Will

#13732  Postby archibald » Feb 22, 2022 10:37 pm

zoon wrote:Quoting Edward Frenkel from the second video, starting at about one minute in, my colour addition:
The problems begin when we actually start convincing ourselves that we are nothing but machines, that we are nothing but algorithms, specialised computers which are just processing information. And I know it’s very tempting, and especially if you look at some people, how they incessantly text and send emails. We talked about the menu and the meal, they don’t even have time to enjoy the meal. So of course the difference between the menu and the meal is lost on them, because they eat it but they don’t enjoy it. So that is true. But I think that if we actually do experience our lives, if we do go through those experiences, when we realise that what we do is not an algorithm, is not a formula, we’re not following a formula, we’re not following an algorithm, this realisation, for each person, I think, ultimately should come from within. I’m not going to prove it to you: if you believe that you are a computer, I will not be able to convince you otherwise. My point is not to convince you that you are not a computer.


Yes, I agree with you. I've watched the second video now and it's more of the same. And he's definitely getting close to claiming we have free will. At one point (and removing his 'entity itself/numbers that describe or rule its action' conflations) he says "I know, from my lived experience, that I am not just a machine'. Well, so does (or would) a sentient Buzz Lightyear.

I wonder would he be happy to describe a human biological cell as a machine? If so, why not, in the end, an admittedly fiendishly, almost incomprehensively complicated and unpredictable array of them? He might say, 'because a cell doesn't make intentional choices' but it doesn't address the suggestion that our choices aren't in fact free, they just feel, to us, like they are.
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Re: Free Will

#13733  Postby Cito di Pense » Feb 23, 2022 8:42 am

archibald wrote:
zoon wrote:Quoting Edward Frenkel from the second video, starting at about one minute in, my colour addition:
The problems begin when we actually start convincing ourselves that we are nothing but machines, that we are nothing but algorithms, specialised computers which are just processing information. And I know it’s very tempting, and especially if you look at some people, how they incessantly text and send emails. We talked about the menu and the meal, they don’t even have time to enjoy the meal. So of course the difference between the menu and the meal is lost on them, because they eat it but they don’t enjoy it. So that is true. But I think that if we actually do experience our lives, if we do go through those experiences, when we realise that what we do is not an algorithm, is not a formula, we’re not following a formula, we’re not following an algorithm, this realisation, for each person, I think, ultimately should come from within. I’m not going to prove it to you: if you believe that you are a computer, I will not be able to convince you otherwise. My point is not to convince you that you are not a computer.


Yes, I agree with you. I've watched the second video now and it's more of the same. And he's definitely getting close to claiming we have free will.


Well, it can be about what somebody has said, or it can be about what you can decide is bullshit or not. It's true that something somebody said may be bullshit, but that contributes nothing to the discussion of a philosophical question. All it can be is the verdict that somebody isn't a very good philosopher. Imagine Edward Frenkel's heart being broken by that.
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Re: Free Will

#13734  Postby scott1328 » Feb 23, 2022 4:07 pm

To me the first video was just a VERY long-winded way to say "the map is not the terrain". I didn't watch the second video. I have no idea why "free will" was included in the title at all.

Also, I take this also as saying that algorithms and math can only model humans, and that he believes that the machines built from the algorithms and math could not model humans either. I do not see how this rescues free will, nor do I see how this refutes "functionalism" either. But I am bad at philosophy, and my math intuition is college sophomore level.
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Re: Free Will

#13735  Postby romansh » Feb 23, 2022 4:13 pm

archibald wrote: he says "I know, from my lived experience, that I am not just a machine'.


Welcome back archibald.

This is a common trick played by those in the free will business. No one is claiming we are just a machine [bag of chemicals]
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Re: Free Will

#13736  Postby archibald » Feb 25, 2022 4:08 pm

Cito di Pense wrote:All it can be is the verdict that somebody isn't a very good philosopher. Imagine Edward Frenkel's heart being broken by that.


I guess it's not his main source of income or area of expertise.

He and I have that in common at least.
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Re: Free Will

#13737  Postby archibald » Feb 25, 2022 4:12 pm

romansh wrote:No one is claiming we are just a machine [bag of chemicals]


Hi romansh. :)


Er........ :ask:

Actually, I think I would claim the above.

But it depends on what we mean by 'machine'. If we include 'very complicated biological entity' then I can't see how we're not a machine.

Complicated enough to have intentions and agency and an ability to make choices, at least some of the time.

Just not freely-willed ones, imo. :)
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Re: Free Will

#13738  Postby romansh » Feb 26, 2022 8:52 pm

archibald wrote:
romansh wrote:No one is claiming we are just a machine [bag of chemicals]

Er........ :ask:

Actually, I think I would claim the above.

I too would claim we are machines. It's the word "just" that I think is the problem.
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Re: Free Will

#13739  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 26, 2022 9:19 pm

I would say it's implicitly metaphorical. A machine is something designed to produce a particular effect, and design is necessarily teleological. The way biochemistry works has machine-like properties in that energy is harnessed to effect a particular process, but there are far more ways in which biochemistry occurring in our bodies which don't lend themselves seen together as being like any machine.

I think you could just say that we're living organisms, and that should convey the same sense that is being driven at via the analogy but without any of the metaphor's baggage.

Similarly we are not a bag of chemicals - our bodies have many different processes, many micro-environments with very specific chemistry occurring in discrete locations. Plus the manner in which those chemical processes came to be employed has a historical contingency that is indivisibly part of being a living organism.

I do think that analogies can be useful at times, but they should never be perceived as full proxies for the real phenomena.
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Re: Free Will

#13740  Postby romansh » Feb 26, 2022 9:43 pm

Spearthrower wrote:
Similarly we are not a bag of chemicals - our bodies have many different processes

And yet here we are, a skin filled with chemicals. But the point you make is correct ... we are not just a bag of chemicals ... which is the one I was trying to make. Like machines, these bags of chemicals have processes within them, they have sensors to the outside world (with deference to FrozenWorld). The chemical reactions within this bag respond to the chemistry going on in the sensors.

Of course describing everything in terms of physics and chemistry may not be ultimately very useful, but I can't help thinking our descriptions might be coherent with the underlying chemistry.
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