Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#21  Postby Spearthrower » Nov 24, 2014 6:26 am

Willie71 wrote:
Spearthrower wrote:
Willie71 wrote:The idea if free will being anything more than an illusion is a bit bizarre. We exist in the universe and are bound by its laws that are predictable, once the mechanisms are discovered. We are no different, just a bunch of chemicals and proteins suspended in water, following predictable reactions, although the patterns are too complex for us to predict with accuracy at this time.


While I am not taking the position that there necessarily is such a beastie as free will, I don't think your argument above is good reasoning to disclude the concept - free will could be an emergent property of a certain arrangement of chemicals and proteins just as thought or consciousness is.


In the end it would still be an illusion, as the chemical reactions could all be predicted ahead of time, if the variables were all known. Fire doesn't choose to burn, it just does, with fuel and heat. Potassium and calcium will cross membranes at certain thresholds that don't choose when to do so, they just do at the moment they are supposed to. No matter how many connections in concert there are, each could ultimately be predicted in advance with enough awareness and processing capability. Since each moment is novel to us, we believe we are choosing, but all the networks laid down in our brains are the result of every moment before that, through nutrition, insult, growth and development, and experience. It's a lot of data, but not more than the data that makes up a solar system, or Galaxy. Everything functions in a finely tuned way, and I fail to see any compelling argument to the contrary. Theoretical physics has uncertainty, but these physicists state that this idea is misused by those claiming free will is supported by uncertainty. Considering time is an illusion, and that everything that has or could happen likely already exists, the only way free will could exist is with multiple simultaneous realities, where every subatomic probability exists. I am nor opposed to that concept as an idea, but it's not something I would claim is true, based on the current evidence.



Again, I don't think that follows. Emergent systems can have stochastic properties which make them intrinsically unpredictable, even if every quantity is known. Consequently, I think you are placing absolute confidence in something you cannot, by definition, yet know to be true.

On a slight tangent, as I write this sentence, there are a myriad of ways I can express my rationale, I have deleted several portions of sentences and re-written them on the fly to better accord with what I hope to convey - and probably still fail to achieve the precision I could aspire to. If all the output of my cognitive functions was predictable by chemistry, would they predict my mistakes, amendments, additions, etc?

As always with complex issues like this, I often wonder if we're stuck in the type of binary dichotomy which hashistorically proven itself a limitation in explaining the complexities of reality - snapshots where there is a gradient; platonic ideals interfering with the messiness of existence. I can perceive of a free will that, while still restrained by the sum of our experiences, be they genetic, encultured, or individual, is not predetermined in its outcome. If the free will beastie exists, I expect in lurks in stochastic jungles! :)

Do you consider thoughts and consciousness illusions as well?
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#22  Postby Willie71 » Nov 24, 2014 6:54 am

Thoughts and consciousness are not illusions, but representations of the neuro chemistry in the brain. I don't believe that there is a consciousness that is independent of our neurochemistry though. I get what you are saying about complex systems. I have considered this problem for a long time but I haven't been able to convince myself that the outcomes could not be predicted if enough variables were known. I am very open to the idea of being wrong on this, but I am not aware of any compelling evidence that makes me question this. I don't think people can predict these complex systems accurately at this time. On the other hand climate is quite complex, and we have a reasonable predictive ability, even with our limited brains and computational technology.

I take the stance of the authors in this article, who use stochastic modelling for variables that are not understood, or are chosen not to be accounted for. I have always thought that it was understood that randomness goes away with increased awareness of all of the variables.

http://www.springer.com/cda/content/doc ... p174548447
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#23  Postby Spearthrower » Nov 24, 2014 7:17 am

Willie71 wrote:Thoughts and consciousness are not illusions, but representations of the neuro chemistry in the brain. I don't believe that there is a consciousness that is independent of our neurochemistry though. I get what you are saying about complex systems. I have considered this problem for a long time but I haven't been able to convince myself that the outcomes could not be predicted if enough variables were known. I am very open to the idea of being wrong on this, but I am not aware of any compelling evidence that makes me question this. I don't think people can predict these complex systems accurately at this time. On the other hand climate is quite complex, and we have a reasonable predictive ability, even with our limited brains and computational technology.


I've no doubt that you've looked into it considerably, and more comprehensively than me (when you made your first post on this forum, I looked up your name and found out what field you were in :thumbup: ), but I feel that it's the kind of topic where it's easy to make mistakes, no matter our knowledge, because of the way we think - our cognitive legacy.

Just to note that I've effectively made the same statement as you on another thread - that while I know of good evidence showing that our choices are predicated by processes which happen prior to being conscious of the 'choice', I know of no good evidence that strongly affirms that free will exists. It could just be a very compelling illusion.

However, as I think it's both of significant importance to understanding ourselves, and is complex, I think we need to be on guard against being prey to the systematic reasoning errors typifying human cognition. These dichotomies are our own constructs, grossly simplified abstracts rammed full of semantic baggage - and I am not confident they are ever adequate to address complex problems to a desirable level of accuracy. So while I'd agree that the current field of evidence provides no support for free will as traditionally formulated, I am interested in exploring options and ideas other than these binary absolutes.
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#24  Postby ughaibu » Nov 24, 2014 8:46 am

Willie71 wrote:I said if we could know and calculate the variables.
Here you go, no empirical science can ever show there to be no free will, it is logically impossible. If you think about it, this too is painfully obvious, as science is like a lot of other human activities, it requires the assumption that the researchers have free will. Obviously no experiment can show both that there is and there isn't free will, as science uses classical logic.
All healthy human adults unavoidable assume the reality of free will, they can't function without doing so, and they constantly and consistently demonstrate the reliability of that assumption, in other words, they consistently and reliably demonstrate that they have free will. Once you start claiming that the things that you unavoidably take to be real and that you can demonstrate, are illusions, you lose any recourse to demonstrating anything or you can override any demonstration because it conflicts with your dogma. In short, denial of free will is irrational.
Let's consider another manifestation of denialism often discussed on this site; the denial of evolution. The evolution denier has the first order excuse that they have a deal whereby in exchange for accepting a certain amount of bullshit, they get to avoid death. If such a deal genuinely existed, accepting a certain amount of bullshit might well be a reasonable price, but what excuse does the free will denier have? In particular the excuses about free will being used in defence against the argument from evil or that the reality of free will implies a soul, are respectively, a religious argument and an appeal to a soul of the gaps. No atheist should entertain arguments like this for a minute.
So, what's your excuse?
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#25  Postby mindhack » Nov 24, 2014 10:01 am

Since when is it required in science to assume that researchers have free will?
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#26  Postby ughaibu » Nov 24, 2014 10:47 am

mindhack wrote:Since when is it required in science to assume that researchers have free will?
Since science required repeatability and controls.
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#27  Postby mindhack » Nov 24, 2014 10:51 am

ughaibu wrote:
mindhack wrote:Since when is it required in science to assume that researchers have free will?
Since science required repeatability and controls.

I don't follow.
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#28  Postby Spearthrower » Nov 24, 2014 1:14 pm

ughaibu wrote:
Willie71 wrote:I said if we could know and calculate the variables.
Here you go, no empirical science can ever show there to be no free will, it is logically impossible. If you think about it, this too is painfully obvious, as science is like a lot of other human activities, it requires the assumption that the researchers have free will. Obviously no experiment can show both that there is and there isn't free will, as science uses classical logic.



I think this makes some leaps over the difficult bits! :)

Actually, I see no reason why science couldn't be conducted without free will. Learning algorithms, for example could potentially be programmed to engage in observation, hypothesis formation, and prediction/falsification: they could thereby generate science - increasing the volume of knowledge about a physical phenomena - and yet still have no independence from their programming.


ughaibu wrote:All healthy human adults unavoidable assume the reality of free will, they can't function without doing so, and they constantly and consistently demonstrate the reliability of that assumption, in other words, they consistently and reliably demonstrate that they have free will. Once you start claiming that the things that you unavoidably take to be real and that you can demonstrate, are illusions, you lose any recourse to demonstrating anything or you can override any demonstration because it conflicts with your dogma. In short, denial of free will is irrational.


While I am perfectly happy to accept without challenge that all healthy human adults unavoidably assume the reality of free will, you don't explain how they constantly and consistently demonstrate that there is free will, only that they implicitly assume it. More importantly, I don't think it's a good argument: everyone could be wrong. People tend to have a heap of erroneous ways of thinking (a good example is the inductive fallacy) and generally need training, be that in logic, language, or science to even be aware of them, let alone eradicate those errors. An appeal that effectively says that all humans think X, so X must be true is not one I can find convincing - it also seems to contradict the purpose and methodology of science: if we can establish the validity of something just by totting up the number of people who believe it to be true, why would science be necessary in the first place?
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#29  Postby ughaibu » Nov 24, 2014 1:21 pm

Spearthrower wrote:
ughaibu wrote:Once you start claiming that the things that you unavoidably take to be real and that you can demonstrate, are illusions, you lose any recourse to demonstrating anything or you can override any demonstration because it conflicts with your dogma. In short, denial of free will is irrational.
An appeal that effectively says that all humans think X, so X must be true is not one I can find convincing
Well, that isn't what I said.
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#30  Postby minininja » Nov 24, 2014 1:22 pm

ughaibu wrote:All healthy human adults unavoidable assume the reality of free will, they can't function without doing so.

I guess I'm not a functioning healthy human adult then. :oops:
[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: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#31  Postby kennyc » Nov 24, 2014 1:25 pm

minininja wrote:
ughaibu wrote:All healthy human adults unavoidable assume the reality of free will, they can't function without doing so.

I guess I'm not a functioning healthy human adult then. :oops:


It's your choice. :rofl:
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#32  Postby Spearthrower » Nov 24, 2014 1:34 pm

ughaibu wrote:
Spearthrower wrote:
ughaibu wrote:Once you start claiming that the things that you unavoidably take to be real and that you can demonstrate, are illusions, you lose any recourse to demonstrating anything or you can override any demonstration because it conflicts with your dogma. In short, denial of free will is irrational.
An appeal that effectively says that all humans think X, so X must be true is not one I can find convincing
Well, that isn't what I said.


Which is why I said 'effectively says' rather than 'you said'! :cheers:

The first part of the paragraph including the above sentence spelled this out:

While I am perfectly happy to accept without challenge that all healthy human adults unavoidably assume the reality of free will, you don't explain how they constantly and consistently demonstrate that there is free will, only that they implicitly assume it.
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#33  Postby Willie71 » Nov 24, 2014 2:34 pm

Spearthrower wrote:
Willie71 wrote:Thoughts and consciousness are not illusions, but representations of the neuro chemistry in the brain. I don't believe that there is a consciousness that is independent of our neurochemistry though. I get what you are saying about complex systems. I have considered this problem for a long time but I haven't been able to convince myself that the outcomes could not be predicted if enough variables were known. I am very open to the idea of being wrong on this, but I am not aware of any compelling evidence that makes me question this. I don't think people can predict these complex systems accurately at this time. On the other hand climate is quite complex, and we have a reasonable predictive ability, even with our limited brains and computational technology.


I've no doubt that you've looked into it considerably, and more comprehensively than me (when you made your first post on this forum, I looked up your name and found out what field you were in :thumbup: ), but I feel that it's the kind of topic where it's easy to make mistakes, no matter our knowledge, because of the way we think - our cognitive legacy.

Just to note that I've effectively made the same statement as you on another thread - that while I know of good evidence showing that our choices are predicated by processes which happen prior to being conscious of the 'choice', I know of no good evidence that strongly affirms that free will exists. It could just be a very compelling illusion.

However, as I think it's both of significant importance to understanding ourselves, and is complex, I think we need to be on guard against being prey to the systematic reasoning errors typifying human cognition. These dichotomies are our own constructs, grossly simplified abstracts rammed full of semantic baggage - and I am not confident they are ever adequate to address complex problems to a desirable level of accuracy. So while I'd agree that the current field of evidence provides no support for free will as traditionally formulated, I am interested in exploring options and ideas other than these binary absolutes.


I really like this post. I think we can agree to disagree on this one. :thumbup:. Your posts are well thought out, and in my short time here you are someone I have come to respect. I am open to being wrong on this, and do change my mind when the evidence suggests I need to.

I agree with being cautious regarding our cognitive processes. We are much more filtered than most people are aware of, and we can easily be mislead. Language is too simple to account for the continuums in our brains, and makes communicating these ideas difficult.
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#34  Postby Spearthrower » Nov 24, 2014 2:56 pm

Willie71 wrote:
I really like this post. I think we can agree to disagree on this one. :thumbup:. Your posts are well thought out, and in my short time here you are someone I have come to respect.


That's very kind of you to say Willie, but I will undoubtedly disappoint you at some point in the future! :grin:


Willie71 wrote: I am open to being wrong on this, and do change my mind when the evidence suggests I need to.


Very much agree and I try, wherever possible, to make this my maxim on every topic, but I think it's even more important to keep in mind when addressing the questions which have such historical legacy/baggage and are obviously of great significance to us as a species and individuals.

I can freely admit that I would prefer it if we were to have free will (the standard definition thereof) as it would make us all genuinely unique agents in a largely deterministic universe. But if my preferences are not corroborated by evidence, I am happy to relegate them to speculative fantasy and still thereby get some pleasure from conceiving of them.


Willie71 wrote: I agree with being cautious regarding our cognitive processes. We are much more filtered than most people are aware of, and we can easily be mislead. Language is too simple to account for the continuums in our brains, and makes communicating these ideas difficult.


I've really enjoyed seeing this recently being reflected in considerations by anthropologists concerned with the distinction of humanity as a species: how language and symbolic thinking combine to create a powerful tool for effecting change onto the world. I think these cognitive biases may actually represent something genuinely distinct about us, and even something that has been selectively beneficial in our evolution. But they do not appear so useful a legacy when removed from the context of social survival in a Pleistocene environment. The ever more information rich and abstracted world we're now tasked to account for requires more than our genetic and cultural legacy can be expected to provide, but also propels us into a frame of reference that can genuinely hope to unlock these traditional mysteries.
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#35  Postby Chrisw » Nov 24, 2014 3:03 pm

Discussions of free will are not helped by the fact that the concept involves two quite different questions:

1) Can I justify my feeling that I freely choose my own actions and this is not some sort of illusion?
2) Am I morally responsible for my apparently free choices.*

If you answer 'no' to (1) you will presumably have to answer 'no' to (2). And plenty of people would answer 'yes' to both.

But it is quite possible to answer 'yes' to (1) on compatibilist grounds but still to think that moral responsibility requires the kind of power of ultimate origination of one's actions that is compatible with neither determinism nor indeterminism.

In other words, if there was ever a situation where I could not have behaved differently, that ought to get me off the hook morally, but nonetheless the choices I make are still mine. I can't ultimately choose who I am, but neither can I deny who I am.


* Question (2) tends to dominate professional philosophical discussion of free will, whereas question (1) seems to dominate Internet message boards. I'm not sure what that says...
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#36  Postby kennyc » Nov 24, 2014 3:04 pm

morality has nothing what-so-ever to do with free will other than it's a tacked on higher-level sociological concept.
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#37  Postby Spearthrower » Nov 24, 2014 3:22 pm

I think morality provides a nice example ground to test out the claims either way.

The compunction one feels in a morally charged scenario could justly be considered 'determined' by that which came before; but one can override that moral compunction either unthinkingly or through reasoning. If no free will exists, then the type of determinism experienced in such a scenario can only be described as stochastic - it's not just one possible outcome, but a set of possible determined outcomes, but the actual final one isn't then determined. If there are multiple possible determined outcomes, is there not an inch there where will has the ability to influence the particular outcome?
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#38  Postby Willie71 » Nov 24, 2014 3:30 pm

Spearthrower wrote:
Willie71 wrote:
I really like this post. I think we can agree to disagree on this one. :thumbup:. Your posts are well thought out, and in my short time here you are someone I have come to respect.


That's very kind of you to say Willie, but I will undoubtedly disappoint you at some point in the future! :grin:


Willie71 wrote: I am open to being wrong on this, and do change my mind when the evidence suggests I need to.


Very much agree and I try, wherever possible, to make this my maxim on every topic, but I think it's even more important to keep in mind when addressing the questions which have such historical legacy/baggage and are obviously of great significance to us as a species and individuals.

I can freely admit that I would prefer it if we were to have free will (the standard definition thereof) as it would make us all genuinely unique agents in a largely deterministic universe. But if my preferences are not corroborated by evidence, I am happy to relegate them to speculative fantasy and still thereby get some pleasure from conceiving of them.


Willie71 wrote: I agree with being cautious regarding our cognitive processes. We are much more filtered than most people are aware of, and we can easily be mislead. Language is too simple to account for the continuums in our brains, and makes communicating these ideas difficult.


I've really enjoyed seeing this recently being reflected in considerations by anthropologists concerned with the distinction of humanity as a species: how language and symbolic thinking combine to create a powerful tool for effecting change onto the world. I think these cognitive biases may actually represent something genuinely distinct about us, and even something that has been selectively beneficial in our evolution. But they do not appear so useful a legacy when removed from the context of social survival in a Pleistocene environment. The ever more information rich and abstracted world we're now tasked to account for requires more than our genetic and cultural legacy can be expected to provide, but also propels us into a frame of reference that can genuinely hope to unlock these traditional mysteries.



I spent much of my career working in forensic psychiatry (as a psychiatric nurse trained as a family therapist) and we worked under the mantra that every sentence we wrote down could be challenged by a defense lawyer. This honed our skills significantly. We had to be aware of the fallacy of accurate memory, and our many perceptual shortcuts. We had to convey those ideas to judges and other untrained personnel. We also had to learn to not trust common sense, as it was incredibly misleading. We used structured risk assessments as they could be as high as 80% accurate compared to 33% accurate for clinical judgement. So, we are complex, yet simple :scratch: . With accounting for 40 variables, I could mostly accurately predict recidivism with a young offender, and because of my perceptual limitations, the risk assessment often contradicted my intuition. :thumbup:

Our brains are not well suited to our modern world, for the most part, and what we describe as mental illness, at the mild to moderate level, is actually adaptive in a hunter gatherer society. :cheers: :thumbup:
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#39  Postby kennyc » Nov 24, 2014 3:31 pm

Well, yes morality is a method of measuring I suppose, but I still don't see it as being a fundamental part of the question of free will.

If you throw out all the religious baggage and just look at the science that's the core. I suppose it starts with the definition of free-will.

I see it as somewhat related to randomness. Can the decay of radioactive particles be predicted? Is there true randomness or not and how might this play into a much higher level of 'freedom' as in sentient thought and decision making?

For me at that level -- higher level thought processes -- the complexity supporting it (chemical processes, neural firings and branching/connectivity) is such that it is equivalent to free will whether it actually is or not.
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Re: Do Rats (and everyone else) have free will

#40  Postby Chrisw » Nov 24, 2014 4:01 pm

kennyc wrote:morality has nothing what-so-ever to do with free will other than it's a tacked on higher-level sociological concept.

It has everything to do with it: you are only held morally responsible for actions that you make under your own free will.

This is one of the few uses of the phrase "free will" that is actually reasonably clear: free will is the kind of freedom that is necessary for someone to be held morally responsibility for their choices.
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