Author Topic: The 'Free Will' Topic Queue...  (Read 543 times)

Pat Johnston

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The 'Free Will' Topic Queue...
« on: February 11, 2014, 02:35 PM »
Folks, in keeping with the club's guiding principles to promote more in-depth discussion on each post, but not lose sight of good questions and provide a broader scope of inquiry, we would like to use this as a holding pen for suggested topic ideas.

The current topic will be the only active post, but we'll keep a running list of proposed topics here, showing which one is on deck next. Once the current topic has run it's course it will be closed, and the next topic will be released.

People should feel free to post comments to the open topic at any time. If you have a suggestion for a new topic to add to this list please leave it in the comments here.

We expect this will also help to cut down on the same topics being posted repeatedly.

Given the breadth and history of the topic of free will, some grounding is in order. We'd like to reference two common sources, though many others may be tabled for consideration in the spirit of discussion.

First, this wiki page gives a fair overview of the topic's breadth:

   http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will

And this page in the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy holds a comprehensive description of the array of positions held on the topic:

   http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/

Please where possible take these two sources into consideration in the grounding and common language of your perspectives, so as to help with the consistency of dialog and the evolution of ideas.

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The FREE WILL Topic Queue:

CURRENT OPEN TOPIC:
 
"Instead of the usual 'is there free will', let's ask, 'why do we push for, or against it?' "


In the queue:


2. What do we mean by “free will”?

3.   Is Schopenhauer's famous, 170 year old axiom - "man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills" - truly irrefutable?

4.   If free will is said to be assurance of autonomous agency of self in clear and unfettered guidance of our actions, then it is a necessity in its meaning that one's intent drives planned actions to fruition.  Given that, what relevance does stochastic origin, quantum indeterminacy or randomness itself have in the way in which free will occurs?

5.   If we allow, for the sake of argument, that the foundation of reality includes an element of indeterminacy at the fundamental level, what might be the most plausible mechanism within the mind/brain interface to take advantage of this 'flexibility'?

6.   Can free will be an emergent property of sentient life in a deterministic universe?

7.   (currently parked)  Is there legitimate differentiation by degrees of freedom, versus constraint, in causal agency?

8.   ---


David Harvey

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Re: The 'Free Will' Topic Queue...
« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2014, 02:26 PM »
Very much looking forward to the next two questions. I don't quite understand the current one, so I'll leave that for now.

I'd like to ask a question as to whether probabilities as found (according to current theories) in quantum mechanics, can tackle the problem of randomness and the problem of rationality.

If need be, I'd be happy to explain them both. I thought these two problems played a significant role in the Free Will debate but curiously I have yet to see many people refer to them.

Eric Bright

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Re: The 'Free Will' Topic Queue...
« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2014, 04:26 PM »
I'd like to ask a question as to whether probabilities as found (according to current theories) in quantum mechanics, can tackle the problem of randomness and the problem of rationality.

I added that under Metaphysics (it was called “Etiology,” but I changed its name to ”Etiology, Determinism, Randomness” to make it even more clear). Please feel free to suggest a main topic for that.
“Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.”

David Harvey

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Re: The 'Free Will' Topic Queue...
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2014, 04:44 PM »
Eric, I think my question may sound as if it is orientated around aetiology, but I feel it has more to do with free will.

The problems are as follows: if a person has free will, then some action must be purposive in the sense that we act in a certain way to achieve a certain goal.  That action must also be our own "choice" rather than the result of cause and effect.  The problem of rationality is essentially that if someone offers you £20 or £200, the most rational person would take £200, and we can easily see the external causal factors which bring them to this particular decision (it is worth more and more can be done with it etc).  This, the argument goes, is the case for every (or most) decisions.  You may argue that someone could take the £20, but perhaps if they do so, it is because they have grounds for believing the £200 is fake money, or maybe must go to charity, and so again, most rationally choose the other option.

But what if someone chooses the £20 but with no intention or rational thought? Here we have the problem of randomness for it is not enough to suggest that an action can be unpredictable because if I say that it was not caused that I randomly state MAN in this sentence, it is not really free will that I am exercising - it was not my choice to say MAN - but it was random. So if a person randomly chooses £20 or £200, the same problem of randomness remains.

The main question I was hoping for was to look at whether or not probabilities in quantum mechanics solve the issues? Probabilities aren't random after all. I haven't thought deeply enough about it yet myself so could be persuaded either way. The thought is, however, that if it can find a way of defeating the two problems above, free will is plausible, but if not, free will seems stuck in no man's land.

Perhaps, upon consideration, a wider question about these two problems could be pursued concerning whether or not they are actual problems for free will (assuming a particular sense of the term)?

Pat Johnston

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Re: The 'Free Will' Topic Queue...
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2014, 09:23 PM »
David, if I may;

The problems are as follows: if a person has free will, then some action must be purposive in the sense that we act in a certain way to achieve a certain goal.  That action must also be our own "choice" rather than the result of cause and effect.

Question number 3 aims to get at/test a common misconception about free will having disassociation from and cause and effect.  Free will as a concept only in potential, is really just a question of ‘ability’. Free will manifest in practice would have to necessitate a self-directed purpose as overriding cause. The logical outcome of the action will still amount to a definitive cause and its specific effect.

The problem of rationality is essentially that if someone offers you £20 or £200, the most rational person would take £200, and we can easily see the external causal factors which bring them to this particular decision (it is worth more and more can be done with it etc).  This, the argument goes, is the case for every (or most) decisions.  You may argue that someone could take the £20, but perhaps if they do so, it is because they have grounds for believing the £200 is fake money, or maybe must go to charity, and so again, most rationally choose the other option.

…I think this goes to a working point of question number 1 – looking at rationality alone presents too broad a canvas for delineating cause, and introduces a slippery slope for logic, recognizing that many mental exercises fall into that “class of habituated data retrieval from a learned, finite memory set”.

But what if someone chooses the £20 but with no intention or rational thought? Here we have the problem of randomness for it is not enough to suggest that an action can be unpredictable because if I say that it was not caused that I randomly state MAN in this sentence, it is not really free will that I am exercising - it was not my choice to say MAN - but it was random. So if a person randomly chooses £20 or £200, the same problem of randomness remains.

Back to question 3, as I ask in contrast to a free will that works to a certain aim, how stochastic (i.e., statistically probable) processes, quantum indeterminacy and/or randomness might have relevance…

The main question I was hoping for was to look at whether or not probabilities in quantum mechanics solve the issues? Probabilities aren't random after all. I haven't thought deeply enough about it yet myself so could be persuaded either way. The thought is, however, that if it can find a way of defeating the two problems above, free will is plausible, but if not, free will seems stuck in no man's land.

Perhaps, upon consideration, a wider question about these two problems could be pursued concerning whether or not they are actual problems for free will (assuming a particular sense of the term)?
 

Ok… perhaps if you work through the current questions with us, additional insight as to what more specifically to ask regarding the two problems will emerge?  To start I was hoping to have assistance and insight working through these first questions – for example if we can agree that there are different classes of self-directed action that demonstrate a variability between liberty and cause, and that it doesn’t all fall back into circular sophism that begs the question by claiming from the outset that self and free will are illusions, then perhaps we can determine if more or less personal bearing on causal outcomes matters, and how adaptive reason can play into its effectiveness.

David Harvey

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Re: The 'Free Will' Topic Queue...
« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2014, 05:04 AM »
I'm very happy to do what you have suggested Pat. And I completely overlooked Question 3 there, you're right!

I look forward to these debates! Thank you!

Ryan Evans

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Re: The 'Free Will' Topic Queue...
« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2014, 10:00 PM »
I find it difficult to contemplate free will questions without basing the philosophical arguments through a subjective lens of one's understanding regarding the nature of reality.

If one views through a mechanistic  materialism lens, with consideration of the QM implications and  naturalistic processes equating brain matter with mind, then free will results in the last analysis of an illusion at best or impossible at worst. If all thoughts are simply electro-chemical  inevitabilities then all thoughts are subjugated by  intrinsic materialistic uncertainties within the physical nature of energy/matter. Ironically, in my view, superconscious postulating of the nature of will is incompatible with a strictly materialistic view of consciousness genesis.

If one views through a reality of differentiated levels of  materialism/immaterialism (physical, mindal/spiritual/deified/undeified/etc) then incompatabilism is irrelevant and meaningless. The determinism of existential destiny, held supermaterially within an external level/being, and the and the individual free will choices within one's mind and within material reality can either diverge or converge depending on individual desire. Likewise, if the mind =/= brain matter (supermaterial consciousness utilizing material matter as a computational matrix) then the inevitabilities of QM aren't overcontrolling will expression or lack thereof. Similarly,  M-theory postulations of continuously growing and diverging multiverse inevitabilities become less problematic since the over control of destiny resides within an external eternal actuality/infinite upholder/absolute potentiality/first source.

Like most philosophical topics, the nature of everything is still contemplated within an incompletely understood physical reality thereby necessitating subjective belief structures must impact one's analysis - objective reasoning impossibility, IMO.

So as for your most valuable question, in my humble opinion #1, the philosophy of free will is valuable but meaningless. Ethically, it is meaningful but the potential conclusion against free will is dire to society or existential destinies. Can society even create laws against that which is personally inevitable and utilize collective subjective justice against predefined actualizing of individual potentialities?

The final person is the agnostic/atheist which does not possess either of the above views of reality because nothing is proven in totality within physical validation of reality hypotheses - the lack of proof. Therein is the philosophical murkiness where either side of the free will debate can be logically and philosophically rationalized but i would contend that said murkiness must eventually conclude with "I cannot know and I do not know that I actually desire to know".

Pat Johnston

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Re: The 'Free Will' Topic Queue...
« Reply #7 on: February 22, 2014, 11:16 PM »
Ryan, thanks for the complex perspective, but this is just the free will topics queue. Do you have a concise topical question to propose for the queue?

Is it something about whether society should outlaw uninhibited fullfilment of potential? Are you proposing that agnostic and atheistic views of free will are similar? Don't most athiests actually adhere to a 'mechanistic materialiasm lens', generally as you describe it? I'm also unclear as to whether you think free will is "valuable but meaningless", or "ethically meaningful"? (or both?)  clarity helps... what actually makes up the 'murkiness'? etc.

Distinctions in our 'world views' aside, for someone to posit that "...all thoughts are electrochemical inevitabilities ... and subjugated by intrinsic materialistic uncertainties within the physical nature of energy/matter." ...is merely begging the question by presupposing without substantiating one view countering the principle doubt the question aims to resolve. Seeing this, one would further ask if any of these subjective outlooks would be considered 'open minded' in the sense that a fair inquiry would have it.

Generally said, not sure I read a concise offering out of this. I understand this to be your broad brush summation, and so can work through the 1-2 conflicting subtleties of your turns of phrasing in presenting a complex array of views, but we're trying to avoid digression into subjective dialectics in the queue itself.

Could you try rephrasing as a concise question, or as multiple questions? For fun, break it down a bit, as we have open time and a new 'forum of minds' before us. You could pick one of your 'lens' outlined here, and shape a more unique and interesting question about it.

Or being as we're 'perspective engines', you could try inventing an altogether new 'lens' to explore...


 


Ryan Evans

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Re: The 'Free Will' Topic Queue...
« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2014, 08:55 AM »
My apologies, I did not intend to distract.

Generally I meant that it is near inevitable to have some level of subconscious desire to rationalize one's beliefs when contemplating free will. As such, people argue for or against it in accordance with underlying belief structures.

As for confusion 1: the absence of free will, or the illusion, seems an inevitable conclusion, fully able to be philosophically argued, according to naturalism or  mechanistic materialism. As such, the implications of ethics and social morals in society are perplexing, if individual potentials must be actuated.

Value corresponds to the discovery of truth, meaningful means the experiencing of values. So the determination of free will truth is valuable but it would not change our experiential life so it has no meaningful implication. If free will exists, people continue to act upon volitional desire. If free will is an illusion, people continue to believe they act upon volitional desire.

As for confusion 2: my above views on foundational belief, and corresponding implications to mind and consciousness, naturally beg the question of a philosophical argument toward/against free will. So it seems that an open minded or objective analysis of free will is impossible. Both sides of for/against free will possess sound philosophical arguments IMO. Do you think objectivity is possible?

I'll try and come up with some questions later, I just wanted to see if I could clear up any confusion.

Pat Johnston

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Re: The 'Free Will' Topic Queue...
« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2014, 07:57 AM »
No worries, Ryan, not a distraction...

Generally I meant that it is near inevitable to have some level of subconscious desire to rationalize one's beliefs when contemplating free will. As such, people argue for or against it in accordance with underlying belief structures.

These people would then be caught in a rationalist paradigm, in which presumption precludes inquiry. To begin with, 'belief' is a transitory concept, as it is dependent on finite data sets. To inquire is not to argue or to rationalize. It is to explore, discover and if possible, validate what ever may be. Preconceptions are to be left at the door. I make reference to the idea of an 'honest witness' in the first open question for this reason.

As for confusion 1: the absence of free will, or the illusion, seems an inevitable conclusion, fully able to be philosophically argued, according to naturalism or  mechanistic materialism. As such, the implications of ethics and social morals in society are perplexing, if individual potentials must be actuated.

'Fully able' is questionable because most arguments I hear for/against are founded on unsubstantiated premise and/or assumption.  By far the most typical assumption I see, is that it is a given that the manifestation of 'free will' is an 'all or nothing' proposition. Why is this so?  We have numerous examples of phenomena that manifest only under limited conditions and to varying degrees. The periodic table contains a number of very rare elements, some of which do not exist under the natural conditions of our local environs. Another presumption is that it needs be proven in a universal context (I recall you referenced infinity/eternity elsewhere) - again why would this be so? Relativity and its corollary 'proximity' are a proven determinant factor of reality. 

Without substantiation, any such conclusion is begging the question. Naturalism and mechanistic materialism both must acknowledge the severely restrictive ( and, I might emphasize, self-imposed) finite data sets upon which they can base conclusions, and withhold such conclusions wherever substantiating datasets are lacking. So far, what we have is a great number of working and still emerging theories.

I'm also unclear as to why the presumption that individual potentials must be actuated in all cases? Particularly if multiple potential actualizations of an individual could theoretically be simultaneously in play? This seems to allow a preconception of the fatalist view, which leads me to wonder as example in contrast: when someone like Einstein set out at the start to frame his theories around matter, energy and relativity, do you think his going in position was something along the lines of "we cannot know that we will ever know such and such...".  My point is that this is not a premise of logic, but rather a position of attitude, and as I have said often, "our foremost asset is our attitude."

Value corresponds to the discovery of truth, meaningful means the experiencing of values. So the determination of free will truth is valuable but it would not change our experiential life so it has no meaningful implication. If free will exists, people continue to act upon volitional desire. If free will is an illusion, people continue to believe they act upon volitional desire.

I am of the understanding that values actually correlate to beliefs, because of their subjective, conditional and transitory nature. They are circumstantial - allegiances can swing on a dime.  Principles on the other hand are said objective, independent and consistent, and so would correlate more legitimately to truths. From my own experience, I would say that actions predicated and reasoned on principles carry far more meaning than the ephemeral satisfaction gain from value-triggered impulses. There is no (or at least,  far less, if allowing for conflicting circumstances) post hoc guilt association triggered from principle-based actions.  In this context, the concept of free will would carry a legitimate weight of difference towards the conscious pursuit of principle based actions. Pursuit of volitional desire may then not only be irrelevant to the purpose of free will, it may actually hinder and contradict it. A giving in to the deterministic undertow of our lives...

As for confusion 2: my above views on foundational belief, and corresponding implications to mind and consciousness, naturally beg the question of a philosophical argument toward/against free will. So it seems that an open minded or objective analysis of free will is impossible. Both sides of for/against free will possess sound philosophical arguments IMO. Do you think objectivity is possible?

It seems your view on foundational belief is predicated on preestablished bias, which may have some validity, but as I say, such presumption of bias can be identified and removed (or at least noted openly) if the dualist paradigm (to argue for/against) is dismissed in favor of a conscious pursuit of principle-based inquiry. In willfully holding to this aim alone, judgment may be reserved for an open minded consideration of the facts, the absence of facts, the import of bias, and the open possibilities, regardless of the consequent position they may take you.

Though you likely understand this, I should also point out that the challenge of objectivity is not exclusive to the inquiry into free will. It is the first hurdle to all philosophical inquiry. Failing it falls back into solipsism. The means to account for it - that it takes a seemingly small leap of faith to trust in the correlation of facts - validation - with beings other than my 'self', to progress a common body of knowledge.

I'll try and come up with some questions later, I just wanted to see if I could clear up any confusion.

That would be fantastic! Hopefully my comments give you some latitude within which to consider areas of inquiry further.

Ryan Evans

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Re: The 'Free Will' Topic Queue...
« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2014, 09:12 AM »
Pat, wonderful response, truly.

I must say that I agree with everything you've said (actually I tried to convey the same thoughts with much less clarity, clearly).

I was attempting to answer your original question #1 "In stead of the usual 'is there free will', let's ask, "why do we push for, or against it?"

That was why I brought up functional belief implications: to suppose that is the cause of pushing for either (or some compatible admixture) side of the free will metaphysical question.

I wholly agree with the uncertainties you mentioned in belief foundations and that was the genesis for my supposition of meaninglessness. Similarly, that is why I believe that an honest witness is impossible - their witnessing is subjected to their existential constraints (whatever they may be).

By "fully able" I meant logically sound with respect to the subjective presuppositions of pustulates. For example, the reference of known unknowns, unverifiable knowns, or unknown unknowns in "arguments" for or against free will.

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It seems your view on foundational belief is predicated on preestablished bias, which may have some validity, but as I say, such presumption of bias can be identified and removed (or at least noted openly) if the dualist paradigm (to argue for/against) is dismissed in favor of a conscious pursuit of principle-based inquiry. In willfully holding to this aim alone, judgment may be reserved for an open minded consideration of the facts, the absence of facts, the import of bias, and the open possibilities, regardless of the consequent position they may take you.

I fully agree, but again I was trying to answer your question #1.

Edit: I now understand the forum policy of "one question at a time" and shamefully realize I was discussing an "in the queue" topic the entire time. Honest dumb mistake. Sorry!

Pat Johnston

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Re: The 'Free Will' Topic Queue...
« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2014, 01:56 PM »
Ahh - well now, that adds a bit of clarity!   Speaks to my first aphorism: "data without context is noise"...

What I could try, is to park the current open topic (not getting much interest at the moment) , queue up this next question,  and tranfer over these comments.  Let me see what I can do...