Free Will

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Re: Free Will

#12841  Postby Cito di Pense » Jul 10, 2018 10:03 am

GrahamH wrote::lol: :thumbup:


Well and truly, Graham. This brand of emergence manifests only in cognition. Only the metaphysically-astute will insist that emergence is out there. That's why this kind of emergence is strictly philosophical, and nohow scientific. When we want emergence to be scientific, we are just looking at the historical angle. It doesn't sound so philosophically hefty to say "this followed that".
Хлопнут без некролога. -- Серге́й Па́влович Королёв

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

#12842  Postby zoon » Jul 10, 2018 12:18 pm

romansh wrote:I think Sabine's point is that the causal chain might not extend down to the fundamental substrate of the universe … whatever that might be. It is not clear to me how the strong emergence at the small scale leads to the possibility free will. Unless we are arguing that strong emergence leads to a freedom at some brain sized scale?

Regarding what one might mean by free will … for me it would be, could I have acted in someway that was independent of the deterministic and indeterministic processes that the universe is made up of? ending the sentence in a preposition

(Ending English sentences with prepositions is often fine, see here and here. Apparently some 17th century Latin-obsessed introverts tried to make English conform to Latin rules when it doesn’t.)

As you say, it’s not at all clear that strong emergence, supposing it was shown to happen, would make it more likely that we have what would ordinarily be called “free will” which was also independent of physical laws. When you say: “could I have acted”, you are presumably talking about a deliberate choice for which you could give reasons, not just some tremor or random muscle twitch. For this to be possible, there would have to be something driving that choice which would be separate from the mechanisms in your brain, and that something would have to be highly organised, not just a source of randomness. There’s no evidence for any such organised driver of choice outside physical brain mechanisms, and strong emergence doesn't look like a candidate. As with gods, the problem for libertarian free will isn’t so much the lack of gaps (in the end, we can’t prove the absence of free will any more than the absence of gods) as the lack of any positive evidence.

It seems to me that both legally and in common sense, a “free will” which is defined merely as the absence of coercion or mental illness is enough for the mechanisms of social control which we need. Some people who want to do away with “free will” as a term (for example Sapolsky) give the impression of thinking punishment should be abolished (which would be unworkable), or renamed “negative consequences” or some such (which seems to me unnecessary, and slightly missing the point). When deciding whether punishment is a good idea, it’s useful to distinguish between an action which was coerced and one which was not, or, more simply, free or not. I see no need to insist that the term “free will” has to involve independence of the laws of physics, but this is probably a semantic point by now.
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Re: Free Will

#12843  Postby romansh » Jul 15, 2018 3:26 pm

zoon wrote: … For this to be possible, there would have to be something driving that choice which would be separate from the mechanisms in your brain, and that something would have to be highly organised, not just a source of randomness. There’s no evidence for any such organised driver of choice outside physical brain mechanisms, and strong emergence doesn't look like a candidate.

I can't help thinking the concept of "separateness" while useful, it allows us to understand how the universe ticks, it is ultimately false.

zoon wrote:As with gods, the problem for libertarian free will isn’t so much the lack of gaps (in the end, we can’t prove the absence of free will any more than the absence of gods) as the lack of any positive evidence.

Being agnostically inclined, I can find sufficient evidence to dismiss literal Christian gods and perhaps some not quite so literal. If we are referring to some god that set things in motion and then buggered off somewhere … then that sort of thing is not testable (as yet) and far as I can tell irrelevant. Science does not deal in proof. Disproof yes.

zoon wrote:It seems to me that both legally and in common sense, a “free will” which is defined merely as the absence of coercion or mental illness is enough for the mechanisms of social control which we need. Some people who want to do away with “free will” as a term (for example Sapolsky) give the impression of thinking punishment should be abolished (which would be unworkable), or renamed “negative consequences” or some such (which seems to me unnecessary, and slightly missing the point). When deciding whether punishment is a good idea, it’s useful to distinguish between an action which was coerced and one which was not, or, more simply, free or not. I see no need to insist that the term “free will” has to involve independence of the laws of physics, but this is probably a semantic point by now.


Sure free will in the sense of not being coerced, tricked and lacking mental capacity ... that is fine. From what I have read in Sapolsky's book ... I think he advocating against punishment in the sense of retribution. Using punishment (ie some harsh consequence) likely has little desired effect on the individual or society at large I suspect. I think Sapolsky's point is to try and fix the miscreant's behaviour or if unfixable secure the individual. Not exactly ground breaking.

Yes I do mean choices that we can ponder and act on. Describing this type of free will in terms physics, chemistry etc makes the concept of free will a little dodgy (an oxymoron if you like).

The legal concept of free will is interesting and perhaps even useful, but it is at odds with the rest of the universe and how it is unfolding. And this is what I am interested in ... how are the mechanics of human activity different from the rest of the universe. Sure the mechanics are really complex, do they lead to strong emergence? If so, so what?
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Re: Free Will

#12844  Postby DavidMcC » Jul 15, 2018 5:22 pm

romansh wrote:
zoon wrote: … For this to be possible, there would have to be something driving that choice which would be separate from the mechanisms in your brain, and that something would have to be highly organised, not just a source of randomness. There’s no evidence for any such organised driver of choice outside physical brain mechanisms, and strong emergence doesn't look like a candidate.

I can't help thinking the concept of "separateness" while useful, it allows us to understand how the universe ticks, it is ultimately false.
...

I suspect that that was the point he was making!
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Re: Free Will

#12845  Postby zoon » Jul 20, 2018 3:18 pm

romansh wrote:…..
zoon wrote:It seems to me that both legally and in common sense, a “free will” which is defined merely as the absence of coercion or mental illness is enough for the mechanisms of social control which we need. Some people who want to do away with “free will” as a term (for example Sapolsky) give the impression of thinking punishment should be abolished (which would be unworkable), or renamed “negative consequences” or some such (which seems to me unnecessary, and slightly missing the point). When deciding whether punishment is a good idea, it’s useful to distinguish between an action which was coerced and one which was not, or, more simply, free or not. I see no need to insist that the term “free will” has to involve independence of the laws of physics, but this is probably a semantic point by now.


Sure free will in the sense of not being coerced, tricked and lacking mental capacity ... that is fine. From what I have read in Sapolsky's book ... I think he advocating against punishment in the sense of retribution. Using punishment (ie some harsh consequence) likely has little desired effect on the individual or society at large I suspect. I think Sapolsky's point is to try and fix the miscreant's behaviour or if unfixable secure the individual. Not exactly ground breaking.

Yes I do mean choices that we can ponder and act on. Describing this type of free will in terms physics, chemistry etc makes the concept of free will a little dodgy (an oxymoron if you like).

The legal concept of free will is interesting and perhaps even useful, but it is at odds with the rest of the universe and how it is unfolding. And this is what I am interested in ... how are the mechanics of human activity different from the rest of the universe. Sure the mechanics are really complex, do they lead to strong emergence? If so, so what?

I’m not clear if you are saying there that the legal concept of free will is different from the compatibilist version? The compatibilist version is “ free will in the sense of not being coerced, tricked and lacking mental capacity”, which is compatible with our being, in the end, determinate mechanisms. I think Sam Harris has argued that the legal system in the US assumes libertarian free will, but I would agree with Richard Carrier in an article here on “Free will in American law”, where he argues against Sam Harris that only compatibilist free will is assumed in American (and also in British) law. Punishment is to be used for deterrence and reform, not for retribution, and the assumption that intentions cause actions is not incompatible with determinist causes at work (or are you saying that it is incompatible?) Quoting from the article:
Richard Carrier (2013) wrote:
The conclusion is therefore quite clear. The Supreme Court rejected (and even deemed well-settled as almost universally rejected) such contra-causal/libertarian-free-will notions as retributive and retaliative justice (i.e. vengeance) as purposes of assigning guilt and instead upheld the distinctly compatibilist purposes for assigning guilt: the deterrence and reform of those of vicious will.

Key to this construction, in fact, is a compatibilist notion of free will: not only do deterrence and reform imply an assumption of causal determinism (because in this scheme judging the guilty must be believed to have causal effects on people: to cause them to refrain from crime, or to cause them to change their ways), but more clearly than that, by explicitly linking the concepts of “free will” and “freedom of the will” to the requirement of establishing intent to prove guilt, the U.S. Supreme Court (and all its cited legal experts and precedents) is making clear that a will is free precisely when it results in a decision that can be causally construed as evidence of intent, and is not free precisely when it results in a decision that cannot be construed as evidence of intent.

This is why a claim of duress, for example, exonerates the guilty: even though someone who has a gun to their head can certainly choose to be killed rather than do what they are being commanded at gunpoint to do, courts universally recognize that such actions cannot be evidence of a defendant’s vicious will, since they can only be evidence of a defendant’s wish not to be killed by the one holding the gun—the vicious will in that case is that of the one holding the gun, and they are held accountable for what results. Their will is in that case being substituted for the defendant’s, therefore the defendant’s actions are not evidence of the defendant’s criminal intent, but the criminal intent of the one coercing them.

Similarly, insanity and other defenses that exonerate the guilty all have as their defining component a presumption that, if that condition did indeed obtain, then what the defendant did cannot be considered evidence that they have a vicious will (mens rea) and therefore cannot be used as grounds to punish them for having a vicious will [thus even diagnosed psychopathy never produces a valid insanity defense, and schizophrenia does only if, for example, the psychotic hallucinations it produces tricked someone into doing something bad without knowing it was wrong, a key point to understand in the next section].

The fact that the Supreme Court declares the punishing of a vicious will (and not the mere doing of harm) as the function of the law entails embracing a compatibilist notion of free will, whereby what makes a will free is not a will being free of causation, but a will being free of interference, such that what a person chooses to do can be held as evidence of what their true will was.



If I have misunderstood you above, and your point is rather that having choices we can ponder and act on is, or at any rate appears to be, incompatible with our being determinate mechanisms like the rest of the universe, then I would argue that the appearance of incompatibility is the result of our evolved way of predicting each other. We see each other as having goals and intentions which we ponder as the basis of our actions, while scientific descriptions avoid all mention of goals or intentions; for science, everything is predicted in terms of causes, or merely mathematical descriptions of successive events.

I think the crucial point here is that science is so far almost entirely useless for understanding or predicting human brains in real time, because the mechanisms are too complex. Instead, when dealing with other people, we rely on an evolved and largely automatic set of tricks and guesses in the brain known collectively as Theory of Mind (ToM). For predicting normal adults in real time, our evolved, pre-scientific ToM is massively more effective than anything science has to offer.

The main reason why the evolved guesswork of ToM is still so much more effective than the best of modern science, is that it involves simulation. Human brains are very similar to each other, and one person’s brain can run a simulation of some aspect of another person’s without having to know anything about the mechanisms. Some of the simulation mechanisms are hardwired and very ancient; mirror neurons, which fire both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another, are found in a number of primate species (the mirror neurons aren’t a special kind of neuron, rather, they are the end points of mirror systems in the brain).

When using simulation to predict another person, a useful shortcut is often to guess that person’s goal, then to simulate to guess how they will act to reach that goal. This happens even at the level of mirror neuron systems in non-human animals; quoting from the same Wikipedia article here:
Many studies link mirror neurons to understanding goals and intentions. Fogassi et al. (2005)[52] recorded the activity of 41 mirror neurons in the inferior parietal lobe (IPL) of two rhesus macaques. The IPL has long been recognized as an association cortex that integrates sensory information. The monkeys watched an experimenter either grasp an apple and bring it to his mouth or grasp an object and place it in a cup.

In total, 15 mirror neurons fired vigorously when the monkey observed the "grasp-to-eat" motion, but registered no activity while exposed to the "grasp-to-place" condition.
For 4 other mirror neurons, the reverse held true: they activated in response to the experimenter eventually placing the apple in the cup but not to eating it.
Only the type of action, and not the kinematic force with which models manipulated objects, determined neuron activity. It was also significant that neurons fired before the monkey observed the human model starting the second motor act (bringing the object to the mouth or placing it in a cup). Therefore, IPL neurons "code the same act (grasping) in a different way according to the final goal of the action in which the act is embedded".[52] They may furnish a neural basis for predicting another individual's subsequent actions and inferring intention.


The scientific evidence is that we are mechanisms obeying the laws of physics, but that we have evolved to understand and predict each other as if we were essentially goal-seeking. If this is correct, it would explain why the legal concept of free will is at odds with the scientific view of the world. It’s not that the mechanics of human activities are different from the rest of the universe, it’s that we’ve evolved to see each other as if we were different from the rest of the universe.
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