Author Topic: What does “free will” mean?  (Read 1750 times)

Alain Van Hout

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #15 on: April 17, 2014, 01:57 AM »
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In this context, I still think these words are all synonyms: “Free”, “unconstrained,” “non-deterministic.--Eric

I have to quibble here a bit: 'free' and 'unconstrained' are much more vague than 'non-deterministic' is. While the former could mean just about anything ranging from 'not physically held captive' to 'dualisticly free', the latter refers specifically to the concept of physical causality (arguably also including quantum indeterminacy, since this has been demonstrated to also fallow consistent patterns of probability). As such, even within the (narrow) context of 'free will', they can not necessarily be considered as being synonymous.

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Free will refers to an event, usually a decision, that is made in such a way that is not influenced in any way by any physical event prior to that event.--Eric

If non-determinism is to include quantum effects (as I argued above), then I see no real difference between this definition and saying that 'free will' reflects non-deterministic decision-making. That's not to say I dislike this definition, because in fact I think it's the clearest we have come across so far, and it of course excludes misunderstanding as to what non-determinism means.

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Can we mold this this latter, rather tentative, definition I proposed into something useful? We can discuss the merit of having the word “any” in “any way” and “any physical event.” We can also discuss the merits of having the words “prior” and “[being] influenced.”

With regard to 'any', I would suggest a slight (though rather consequential) modification of the definition: as far as I can tell, nothing in the common parlance notion of free will excludes a decision from being informed. Saying "not influenced in any way by any physical event" would be at odds with that, though I find it difficult to to come up with an alternative that doesn't sound utterly vague.

With regard to 'prior', I think the definition would not inherently be affected if it lost that term, given that 'free will' is generally not associated with clairvoyance (i.e. being influenced by future events). So instead of 'any prior physical event', saying 'any physical event' would mean the same thing. Ultimately, what this entails is that the decision, be it partially or entirely, is not causally connected to this (physical) reality. If we are to move away from a definition based on exclusion, then this would reflect that the decision is either uncaused in any way or caused by something that exists yet is not part of 'physical reality'.

With regard to 'influenced by', based on what I've already discussed I would interpret that term as being 'as a whole, or in part, causally related to'.

Andreas Geisler

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #16 on: April 19, 2014, 08:01 AM »
Free will refers to an event, usually a decision, that is made in such a way that is not influenced in any way by any physical event prior to that event.
Well that's at least one I can give my answer to: I don't believe such decisions exist. There may or may not be quantum mechanical events like that, but they are unlikely to be directly keyed to human decision-making at the top of the chain... i.e. a quantum event produces a human decision by itself, rather than perhaps tipping the scales a bit.
What if the realm of possible decisions is delineated by past events? Does that mean that even quantum events can't effect an event that is not influenced by prior events?
Does that mean the above definition is too strict to create a meaningful distinction?

Human actions seem to be rather consistent, too. We are at least able to rationalize a reason for our actions (and those of others) most of the time. Does this suggest that top-level quantum decisions are made prohibitively unlikely?
(Of course, I do think they're prohibitively unlikely, but it does seem that we have evidence for their unlikeliness as well)

Eric Bright

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #17 on: April 19, 2014, 04:20 PM »
Whether such an alleged concept is indeed possible or not is not in the scope of this topic. We can assess the possibility or impossibility of the existence of a concept, an idea, a thing, an object, etc. only when we have some ideas about what we are talking about. If we have no idea what we are talking about, then there is nothing there for us to prove or disprove?


In this case, “free will” seems to be an abstract concept. An abstract concept, if that is what it is, has to be defined or else it would be prohibitively hard to talk about. Had it been a physical thing, we, probably, would have been able to examine it under a microscope, look as it through a telescope, or measure it with a device to the extent possible, in order to see what it is. Free will doesn’t seem to be a thing, like a hamburger. Free will seems to be like a special kind of will. And a will is not a physical thing but an abstract relationship between physical things. So, the free kind of will cannot be a physical thing either.


Laypeople, philosophers, scientists, and just about everyone else talk about free will as if they already know what they mean by it. Wonderful! “What are you talking about? What kind of will is free?” we are asking in here. We are asking this question in here not because we already made our mind that whatever it is, even if we have no idea what it is, it does not exist. The topic at hand tries to see what laypeople, philosophers, scientists, and everyone else in between refer to. When and if we discover the correct way they are talking about this mysterious concept, then we can see if it can exist the way these people claim it does exist.


Alain, now I can see your point about the “synonyms.” I agree with your observations. They do not perfectly overlap.


As for “quantum indeterminacy,” I don’t think if it will cause any issue with our definition. Whether we add it to the concept or not, (1) it is not sure if such a concept is valid in the strict sense of the term and (2) no one actually has any idea how and why any concept such as that should be put into the free will conversation. Just plugging in a vague concept into another vague concept does not make the second concept any more clear. None of the involving parties in the investigation of the concept of free will has ever shown what this “quantum indeterminacy” is and how it is supposed to work in the context of the discussion. By the same token, one can throw in any other vague concept into any investigation in the hope that the vagueness that it brings in would, somehow, fix the issues with the original concept.


So, I suggest we stay away from adding the questionable quantum indeterminacy into the mix. At least under the current topic.


By the way, quantum indeterminacy, if such a thing can be proven to exist (which I argue to the contrary), does not actually help the concept of free will in any way. An act that is influence by quantum, random events cannot be said to be free by any stretch of imagination. That act would, obviously, be random. And random does not mean free (that I have discussed in my book in more detail).


‘Randomness’ as a mathematical proposal is highly questionable. It cannot be mathematically proven that an arbitrarily-long sequence of numbers can exist with no discernible pattern. Worse than that, if mathematical infinity does exist, randomness cannot exist at all, because any recognizable pattern that can ever occur randomly, will occur (in an infinite sequence of events), not only once but infinite number of times; all by pure chance. So, what is random in here? The fact that I cannot predict or recognize a pattern in a sequence? I hardly believe that can be the measure. Then what? That you cannot predict or detect any patern in a sequence?


There are other concerns about the alleged quantum indeterminacy thing, whatever that might be. Quantum mechanics, the mysterious stuff people refer to without knowing what they are talking about, is not only the Copenhagen interpretation of a set of equations. There are many other proposed quantum systems, equally accurate and equally useful, that have no element of randomness in them. That is to say, there is nothing in their formulation that suggests that events can or should happen with no cause, or event can or should happen randomly. There is simply no quantum indeterminacy in them in the sense of uncaused events or random events (by the way, random does not mean uncaused). Since no one has been able to show that those formulations are inferior to the interpretations with the ghost elements (i.e. randomness) in them, I am not going to put too many of my eggs into the baskets of any of the quantum theory interpretations to make an argument for or against free will. Quantum theory, as it stands today and as it is interpreted commonly, harbors too many ghostly bodies and too many philosophical inconsistencies for me as an acceptable solution. An intermediate approximation? Of course! The final say? Absolutely not! Not even close to it. I don’t think that reality actually behaves as the theory proposes. But that is a topic for another board.


In regards to an event being “informed” by other events, I see no conflict in here. Informing and information can only exist when physical world exist (in its different manifestations). Being informed by an event is a subset of being influenced by a physical event. So, I think that is already included in the super-set of physical events. Please correct me if I am wrong.


Alright. Here is the adjusted definition again:


Free will refers to an event, usually a decision, that is made in such a way that is not influenced in any way by any physical event prior to that event.

[Update: Alain’s correction to the definition is applied. Thank you Alain.]
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Alain Van Hout

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #18 on: April 20, 2014, 06:20 AM »
Regarding quantum indeterminacy, I don't want to lead us away from the main topic, but I thought it beneficial that I clarified my position on the matter: with 'quantum indeterminacy' I'm specifically referring to the theoretical impossibility to know a quantum particle's full state (due to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle). That that doesn't inherently contradict causality, that I entirely agree with, with the same emphasis and nuance as how Eric described it. As for the Copenhagen interpretation, I don't hold that in very high regard since it adds a very strong yet unhelpful assertion to the issue without offering any justification for said assertion.

(In the updated working definition of free will, I think near the end a word may be missing, possibly 'prior', or perhaps the last three words were supposed to have been removed)

Eric Bright

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #19 on: April 20, 2014, 09:57 AM »
Thank you Alain for catching the error. I updated the definition accordingly.
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Andreas Geisler

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #20 on: April 21, 2014, 11:08 AM »
This is getting somewhere, I think. It is at least a question that may perhaps be answered, which is a great leap forwards from the morass before.
I wonder what Pat feels about it, now?

Also, with a multiple feedback system (understatement of the century!) like the brain, will we need to ask Chaotic or Random?
Do we have a way of telling whether an unpredictable outcome is truly random, or merely chaotic, and therefore deterministic?

Eric Bright

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #21 on: April 23, 2014, 03:26 PM »
Those are good questions that we can attend to in another free-will-related topic. Here, we only try to see if we can define the alleged concept at all.

“Random” is a lot more vague than most people think it is. The concept of randomness, whatever that might be, is usually confused with other concepts such as unpredictability or chaos, neither of which suggests anything remotely indeterministic. When attempts are made to clarify the concept of randomness, it quickly becomes clear that most don’t know what they are talking about. I certainly have no idea what it is and have not read anyone else who could demonstrate that randomness can actually be what it is commonly supposed to be.

Also, it is no secret that chaos does not imply indeterminacy. Perfectly deterministic systems can show perfectly chaotic behaviors. So, either unpredictable or chaotic does not mean random (as you said). But, to know how these two are different from a random behavior, whatever that means, we have to know what we mean by a “random” event. Until then, I cannot suggest the introduction of a very specious and questionable concept to our current topic. If it is necessary to do so, then we have to turn to an attempt to define “randomness” first.

At any rate, we can start a topic on randomness under the right board if anyone is interested.
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Alain Van Hout

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #22 on: April 23, 2014, 11:10 PM »
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In regards to an event being “informed” by other events, I see no conflict in here. Informing and information can only exist when physical world exist (in its different manifestations). Being informed by an event is a subset of being influenced by a physical event. So, I think that is already included in the super-set of physical events. Please correct me if I am wrong.

I was specifically referring to the definition stipulating that the 'decision' is not influenced in any way by any physical event. If a decision is informed (inherently by one or more physical events), then it is indeed (partly) influenced by physical causality. One possible escape from this issue could be do define the non-causal subsection of the decision as being a distinct and separate decision, but I think that would be in conflict with the idea of a 'decision' and a conclusion with regard to performing an action (i.e. there's only a single set of actions to decide on, so it's one decision).

I would as such suggest the following adjustment:

Free will refers to an event, usually a decision, that is at least partly not influenced in any way by any physical event

How about the following, which could arguably be said to be more distinct and open to direct scrutiny, while still having the same meaning:

Free will refers to an event, usually a decision, that is at least partly not causally related to physical causality
edit: I just realized that this definition unintentionally leaves open the possibility that we're taking about 'not causally related' in the sense of choice->event, which obviously isn't what's meant.

Pat Johnston

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #23 on: May 30, 2014, 07:56 AM »
(01 - absence of bias?)

Gents, apologies for my prolonged absence – worldly constraints most definitely vary!  As it happened, my brother has been in town and I hadn't seen him since our mom died 8 years prior.

As I've said often,  "attention is a commodity" (especially for those of us getting on in years), and as I'm not one to put out half-hearted thoughts in forums like this, I thought it best to hold my pen until I could re-attend to its lines of inference properly.

I can see too that the absence of my bias has noticeably allowed an alternate course for those lines to unfold. Fair enough - that is as it will be. The bias that exists /comes together is the causal path any existence takes.

And while absent in contributing deed, I have reliably not been, for this subject, absent in thought, given the kind of compelling momentum that has held me fast to it over the years.  And that thinking has repeatedly gravitated to context.

Andreas, you wondered what I might now think of what has been wrought here in my absence?  Difficult question - it looks to have followed a tangential path of its own. It seems to have picked out C2 - physical constraints alone, even though much historic debate centers on the ‘softer’ social and mental influences of C3 and C4. Assumptions, it seems, have been made/applied.
 

Retracing a bit, I left off with an open concern regarding the apparent disinterest in critical affirmation, in favor of negative falsification.  We talked about the idea, notionally of ‘absence of constraint’ being itself a meaningless notion as regards to a definitive freedom, but is it really?

[...Alain, sidebar: an example of a ‘colorless green idea sleeping feverishly’:  CCS - Carbon Capture & Storage,  and the oil & gas industry's fervent push to both make this a technically viable underground reality, and sell the idea to both commercial investors and environmental idealists  …is that sort of what you meant, Andreas?  ;o)...]

More pointedly though, I don't think this idea of 'validated absence of identifiable constraints' is the same as Chomksy's 'nonsensical errors in semantic category' - there is a diametric conceptualization of what ‘unconstrained’ is, by virtue of testing for all known constraints, where all negative results allow for critical affirmation to the extent of the qualified testing parameters.  I think the challenge is to effectively agree on a workable identification and disqualification process. But to do that, we'd have to be looking at this with the same/similar point of view, and it seems to me that we are not.

Take the argumentative expression: “absence of evidence” as it relates to the inverse “evidence of absence.”  I would note two contextually contrasting perspectives routinely adopted by people that play upon this conjoining of diametric expressions for effect:

Wherein, “absence of evidence IS evidence of absence”  – such as in the case where it might relate to, say, a definitive lack of theistic proof of God, where none are to be found in the gaps.

And alternatively whereas, “absence of evidence IS NOT evidence of absence” – as in the case here where it is related to an absence of definitive constraints heralding the viability of a will that has seemed to its agent to have acted to some clear degree freely in a given scenario.

...so ironically, no evidentiary proof means holding firm in the former case (no evidence of God), and dispelling it in the latter case (no evidence of constraint).  …funny how the term can be used in opposable ways, like opposable thumbs, or perhaps a photographic negative, versus the developed photo itself... depending on whether one vies for or against a non material concept. Regardless, both the negative and the photo explicitly outline the same distinct elements of the subject photographed. Conceptualization takes care of the rest.

Think of wind as it drives a sail.  Where there is a lack of wind, we say there is no wind, without due consideration for the why of it. There is simply no evident resistance upon the sail.  Similarly, there may be many reasons why the same/similar constraints do, or do not present as deflecting force upon a given act of will, from one moment to the next. Secondary causes to affect disposition of primary constraints may be numerous and vary greatly from case to case. But regardless, whatever the acting constraints may be, the ‘tell’ is in the ‘sail’ – i.e., the understood initial and intentional trajectory of a willed act is in the outcome of one’s course in comparison to that intent.  And add to that, that even without appreciable constraints in play, any act will itself introduce an ‘apparent wind’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apparent_wind)


Andreas said: “Determinism falsifies free will…”, …well, I would say certainly, in the broadest possible sense that everything taken together might representatively include any impediments to a particular case of it, but said falsification can only be confirmed or denied by identifying the specific and relevant evidentiary constraints, also on a case by case basis, and discounting an agent's fulsome attempts to use their will to overcome them in each case. So better said: “Evidentiary constraint falsifies distinct cases of claimed acts of free will”.

Now to reconsider the two questions as Eric framed them: (Eric, please let me know if I have them right…)

What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for an event to be “unconstrained” or “free”?     Or,
What is a “free” event? What does “free” or “unconstrained” mean in here?

...on their face, I can understand why they’d give a metallic taste – I myself have a bit of a concern re the manner of their framing.

“What is meant by an unconstrained event?” – well to begin, I fear this is actually ‘moving the goal post’ a bit, as it shifts the attribute in question (‘freedom’) from the 'operator' (acting agent) to the event itself. Why would such transference be allowed in the definition? Envision twin agents attempting the same task. One is successful and the other is impeded and fails.  Put aside for the moment any subjective and individual conditions unique to each agent, and consider that both faced similar external conditions. Clearly, the answer can only be that they met with a different set of overall constraints to affect the outcome. It is not about the event itself being unconstrained in itself – it is what constraints each agent faced in each case, and whether they could overcome them or not. 

This however only looks at one half of the problem. For an action set in motion to its consequence, even where assuredly compelled by will to align with intent for its duration, that only provides the posterior and consequent view (and its analysis). There is still the front end challenge to address: has the agent evaded preceding constraints - perhaps better described as anterior impetus that can be argued to potentially subvert their claim to an unbiased freely willed decision?  It must be to both think freely and act freely from that thought, together - it must be a conjoined manifestation. Otherwise, there is no point or purpose to it, whether involving a willful wish unfulfilled, or an unavoidable act reactively caused.

This I think is the bigger issue of debate on free will – physical constraints upon events are measurable and, it can be argued, simply overcome with sufficient force (or not).  The softer constraints are the ones to really watch out for, as they mean to subvert and overrule from the inside out. This is probably why Aristotle articulated not one but four distinct types of cause: material, formal, efficient & final - http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/#FouCau  (...herein it is with regards to 'final cause' in particular that I suggest our causal agency has its best opportunities at being 'causal injection points' in the greater stream of determinism, but please, read on...)

There are subtleties at play here….

These past few weeks, I had the occasion to watch the movie ‘Gravity’, not once, but twice, as my visiting relatives gravitated to its reputed charms.

For musing I took from this movie, not so much the compelling plot with its logical holes (what invisible force is still pulling Clooney away from her, after their momentum was fully impeded?), but rather, an abstracted notional example of ‘variability’ related to constraining forces of various kinds. 

Conceptualize yourself as an astronaut (… but just for the moment, one far less distressed than Sandra Bullock’s ‘Dr Stone’ character) suited up and floating completely free of Earth’s gravity. In your hands is a fully charged fire extinguisher (hey, why not go with it…), capable of jettisoning you in any conceivable direction.   Clearly, were you to do this on the surface of the Earth you would be faced with significantly greater constraints, limiting to null any appreciable impetus.  Whereas in space you would, for a time, be quite capable of directionally unconstrained propulsion. 

I would use this metaphorically to convey the idea of the vastness of variability of constraints.  Key to this: what our will can overcome from the impetus of our decision will vary greatly depending on the type and nature of constraint, and complex of constraints, each decision faces.

However, another salient point stands out with the self propelling astronaut in space – given even this hypothetical act, upon accounting for their relative motion in orbit, that they are free of all worldly gravitational constraints and might conceivably move in any possible direction of their choosing – the thing of it is, they will still 'need to conceive' of a direction in which to move, or even a basis in which to not move. Their orientation of action is to the context available to them – the location of the stars and the sun, the position of the Earth, the local satellites, space shuttle and/or space stations etc. that would motivate a particular choice. All of it is, by degrees, gravitas - context.

Imagine for them to make such a choice in a total void – a blackness absence of all reference. They might deign to make a choice – to apply propulsion arbitrarily - randomly, but this would only suit to affirm the utter lack of reference and pointlessness of their decision – they wouldn’t even have a basis in which to determine that there is any propulsion occurring at all.   

So, in this same manner, the only rational, conceivable way in which one can think of a freedom to will an action, is to do so relative to some salient context, that one could tell a different outcome would be evident in its lacking.  In other words: not just to conceive of abstract trajectory, but to become aware of real and certain constraint, of that which gives reference and context and influence and resistance, that assures an original trajectory that one can maintain reference to, were one not to will it otherwise.

Constraints abound – it is utter folly to think we are completely without them at any waking moment.  Even simply conveying in an unbiased way the idea I have for being able to act “relatively free of constraint”, is itself constrained by my necessarily limiting ability, anchoring of experience and relatively flawed mastery of language.

Were we of a mythical psychic creed that could transmit packets of mental activity – memories of real experiences, reasoned perspectives, comparative moments and reflections – between one another, to be picked up and experienced directly in our minds, then I might have much greater success at conveying my purest meaning, and you in the fullest ‘grokking’ of it.

But we (currently) have no such ability, and so are left to the more intermediary and cryptic devices – and their limitations – that we have at use here.

The ‘bias’ I spoke of before was not meant to be condescending or facetious – I’m of the view that it is for all of us, ubiquitous. It is our necessary 'atmosphere'.  I see it even in the subtle steering of the discourse here. 'Free' and 'unconstrained' are vague, whereas 'non-deterministic' is, what? precise? Precise to who?  To everyone?  The original C1-C4 classes of constraint provided by (some authoring source in) Wikipedia seem to sufficiently account for the different human impeding types of hurdles (both hard/physical and soft/mental) in the particular way of our free outcomes, given the overall debate already had on all of them. So why not work to better understand them? Steering us away from this array is, as it seems to me now, not unlike a bit of 'leading the witness'. (…perhaps as all expressed bias is meant to be?)

As it may be that we will never reconcile a unanimous consenting perspective of the definitive nature of freely willed acts, I can only fall back, pattern-wise, and repeat my oft-stated tenant by which I framed my own associated and motivating perspectives on the concept:

“self-evident free will is an act of conscious intent to hold to an outcome in spite of deterministic circumstances.”   (…noting that ”in spite of…” does not mean “absent of”…)

But I also emphasize here that this is not as easy nor clear nor straightforward to qualify as many would assume. For me, to “know thyself” means to know your own bias. I am constantly re-discovering my own, and this in turn retests for tangible constraint in acts I might have conditionally considered freely willed.

Andreas Geisler

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #24 on: June 03, 2014, 04:56 AM »
…is that sort of what you meant, Andreas?  ;o)...]
Indeed. Also, it has been applied to the kind of environmental outrage felt by people who completely fail to apply any enviromental forthought. The green ideas are "pale", because they are indistinct, not really tied to anything concrete, and they "sleep" because they have no impact on actions, but do so "furiously", because of the emotions they cause, when they are taken out an polished.
But a more general criticism of Chomsky's statement is that something can be meaningless to one person and meaningful to another, even if they speak the same language. It's part of Chomsky's generative assumptions, which are almost certainly completely wrong.

More pointedly though, I don't think this idea of 'validated absence of identifiable constraints' is the same as Chomksy's 'nonsensical errors in semantic category' - there is a diametric conceptualization of what ‘unconstrained’ is, by virtue of testing for all known constraints, where all negative results allow for critical affirmation to the extent of the qualified testing parameters.  I think the challenge is to effectively agree on a workable identification and disqualification process. But to do that, we'd have to be looking at this with the same/similar point of view, and it seems to me that we are not.

Take the argumentative expression: “absence of evidence” as it relates to the inverse “evidence of absence.”  I would note two contextually contrasting perspectives routinely adopted by people that play upon this conjoining of diametric expressions for effect:

Wherein, “absence of evidence IS evidence of absence”  – such as in the case where it might relate to, say, a definitive lack of theistic proof of God, where none are to be found in the gaps.

And alternatively whereas, “absence of evidence IS NOT evidence of absence” – as in the case here where it is related to an absence of definitive constraints heralding the viability of a will that has seemed to its agent to have acted to some clear degree freely in a given scenario.

...so ironically, no evidentiary proof means holding firm in the former case (no evidence of God), and dispelling it in the latter case (no evidence of constraint).  …funny how the term can be used in opposable ways, like opposable thumbs, or perhaps a photographic negative, versus the developed photo itself... depending on whether one vies for or against a non material concept. Regardless, both the negative and the photo explicitly outline the same distinct elements of the subject photographed. Conceptualization takes care of the rest.

Think of wind as it drives a sail.  Where there is a lack of wind, we say there is no wind, without due consideration for the why of it. There is simply no evident resistance upon the sail.  Similarly, there may be many reasons why the same/similar constraints do, or do not present as deflecting force upon a given act of will, from one moment to the next. Secondary causes to affect disposition of primary constraints may be numerous and vary greatly from case to case. But regardless, whatever the acting constraints may be, the ‘tell’ is in the ‘sail’ – i.e., the understood initial and intentional trajectory of a willed act is in the outcome of one’s course in comparison to that intent.  And add to that, that even without appreciable constraints in play, any act will itself introduce an ‘apparent wind’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apparent_wind)


Andreas said: “Determinism falsifies free will…”, …well, I would say certainly, in the broadest possible sense that everything taken together might representatively include any impediments to a particular case of it, but said falsification can only be confirmed or denied by identifying the specific and relevant evidentiary constraints, also on a case by case basis, and discounting an agent's fulsome attempts to use their will to overcome them in each case. So better said: “Evidentiary constraint falsifies distinct cases of claimed acts of free will”.
Thank you for criticizing my apparent application of absence of evidence as evidence of absence... I would like to understand what you refer to, but "evidentiary constraint" simply escapes me. I am confident that it means something in your world, but I can't even begin to guess what it should mean to me. This is no criticism, I merely am not aware enough of the discourse that you refer to, to be able to associate it with a meaning. Can you explain how there is an absence of evidence of constraints?

But if I may present why I do not change my view under the weight of the absence of evidence of constraints (if I assume that constraints in this matter are objects that disprove free will), it is because there is also no evidence of unconstrained action, or indeed of action that is not in fact a necessary consequence of nothing but constraints. So, in that scenario we get to Occam: [Brain > Decision] is more simple than [Brain + non-determinist X > Decision], especially since non-determinist objects are in such little supply as to be hypothetical.

By the way, I think the focus on "event" rather than "agent" comes from the perspective that each supposed application of free will is in itself an event. If a person is capable of making free-will choices, but never does so, ... well, I dunno... maybe I misunderstood it.

Pat Johnston

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #25 on: June 06, 2014, 02:05 PM »
Fair points Andreas…

…seems like we’re fairly aligned on the matter of Chomsky, as I fully agree that ‘making linguistic sense’ is particular to ‘individual perspective’.

My thoughts on absence of evidence being (conditional) evidence of absence, and a form of critical affirmation when it came to constraint validation, was more in response to Alain’s position on it (not yours, I think).

If we can detect no constraint for a given case under the spotlight of attendant observation, to the fullest extent that we can detect, then I think that tenuous hold is achieved. But in holding to such analysis don’t untether and don’t let the back door close on you. Conditions, circumstance, means and methods are always changing, so there may come an improved (or newly invented) detection method that reveals an influencing constraint that was completely transparent to previous methods of detection (or thought non-consequential in its influence).

These same new methods may likewise also reveal a fuller absence of reasonable influencing constraint (for example, as our understanding & testing of neurology expands), further stabilizing the picture. Either way, it is where observation of conditions should be taken from. So for the moment take the footing and look about you; reason from there. It is like continuous exploration. Not for everyone, but maybe for those of the right and secure mindset, those that have full control of their reasoning commitment, and how to reverse it as new evidence is revealed that happens to now equivocally refute it.

Perhaps the singular word of most relevance from the entirety of my last diatribe was the word ‘conceptualization’.  If we can land reasonable ways to validate/invalidate conceptual states we may have convergence of idea with validation. In this case, the premise of free will with the reasonableness of it, given fullest understanding of our nature.

I see Occam’s as an intentionally limited single-step testing method – it’s best guessing each step of the way.  Not an outright & untethered commitment to a position (i.e. “backsie’s” are okay when plying Occam’s). Ply it to a case to test it out, if it holds up, remain there to think up and ply other more corroborative tests – if it erodes/comes undone by this persistent rigor, step back the squares that led you there, and try alternative routes.  We should use Occam’s as exploratory only.

With this approach, I rather am okay (for now) with the latter conceptualization of [Brain {enables potential for} self-determinist X > Decision] if we can reason cases where no detectable constraint exists to deter a willed course of action. (The will is deemed stronger than the constraint.)

(…sorry, had to tweak the method of your formulization, for it to make more sense to me – simply adding “brain” and “non-determinist X” isn’t accurate enough to make the equation work, as it implies the dualist dichotomy, full throttle. We know the ‘machine’ – to draw on Alain’s inference – is fully operational on its own, so there is no way that autonomy rules, and I’ve said before it is more realistic to say, if anything, it is ‘will striving to be free in a sea of deterministic forces’, so chasing gradients of potential for freedom… This could be formulated using symbols for range potential from mechanical to autonomous, or even using integral calculus, but I think that would just add more unnecessary confusion to the meaning…)


I’m reminded of some rather gray insight from one neuroscientist on the topic, that I shared in an exchange on this with Mark Frederick Graves Jr a year ago – unfortunately I can’t find the full thread as I think it was under a post from Simon Clay, so was deleted when he removed himself from G+, but my post (and the neuroscientist’s  comments & link within) was as follows:


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Mark, I agree with you that the brain is an amazing organ, but you continue to focus only on neurochemical processes, and ignore the electromagnetic aspects of the brain’s functioning.  As pointed out before, plausible theories have been put forth in neuroscience that suggest neuro-magnetic signals are the basis for states of consciousness.  In exploring this area, I came across this hypothesis;   

http://www.activitas.org/index.php/nervosa/article/view/75

Not being a neuroscientist myself, but wondering if autonomy of self could be supported in this way, I asked this gentleman the following question:

Hi, I am a layperson in all respects but I’m interested in the philosophical question of “autonomy of self and so would like to ask: Is there an aspect of this theory that would predicate a system of potential autonomy in the electromagnetic/neurochemical exchange, such that the amalgam representation of conscious self in the electromagnetic field patterns may direct (rather than be led by) neurochemical routing and processing, so as to shift alteration states strictly other than as causally directed by experience? (ie, approximating directed intent, or as others might call it, ‘free will’?)


His response:

I have re-written your question, hoping that I understood it as you meant it.

1)   Is there an aspect of this theory that would predict autonomy of the magnetic information, so that the experience of a sense of self in the resulting patterns could direct (rather than be led by) neurochemical routing and processing?
2)   Could states shift without being directed by experience? (ie, approximating directed intent, or as others might call it, ‘free will’?)

To the first question - yes, but neurochemistry would continue to modulate magnetic activity in many cases.  I expect they would each direct and be led by the other.  When the neurochemical bath becomes too salty, so to speak, the state of consciousness will be equivalent to getting some water.  No neural system will ever have complete control, so it can't be that the sense of self is based in either the electric, chemical, or magnetic neural system.

To the second question - yes, but only sometimes, as implied by my answer to the first question.




I am unsure as to how it is he concludes from this variable potential for self control, that "it can't be that the sense of self is based in either the electric, chemical, or magnetic neural system" (perhaps his choice of words were not as robust as he might like - it was just an email reply afterall...) but I think that at least can be one more basis for further inquiry.


For a bit of referential context, this was right after Mark Frederick Graves Jr’s own thread on free will:  https://plus.google.com/111608998445597712453/posts/fWGuK9ETf2y

…good times…

Andreas Geisler

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #26 on: June 07, 2014, 01:29 PM »
Now I am feeling a bit dazed. You see, I have had as my professional work for five years to understand what people mean.
That is what a translator does, understand what people mean, then run that understanding in reverse into the target language.

Yet whenever you post on this matter, Pat, I feel that I am being deliberately kept from understanding your meaning.

And this is a problem for this discussion, since we are attempting to decide on a definition of free will, so that we can even begin to ask the question of whether we think such a thing exists.

Now, your point about Occam's razor seems to be rather irrelevant. Backsies are OK with Occam, but backsies are OK in general. The notion that backsies should not be OK seems to stem more from a desire to keep mysteries mysterious than from a desire to have a good idea about what is true.

And, knowing a good deal about biochemistry and biophysics, I can tell you that having two separate but connected systems only doubles the complexity of the brain, which is of course a big deal, but doesn't substantially increase the order of magnitude of complexity of the brain. My basic model of the brain is more electromagnetic than chemical in many respects, as I tend to see the chemical processes as merely enabling the states and processes of the electromagnetic system. This is because I look at the action of arrays of neurons and their helper cells, rather than of each neuron by itself.

As you probably know, chaos is introduced into a system as soon as it modifies itself. A pendulum from which is hung another pendulum modifies itself through feedback between the first and the second pendulum. The system becomes immediately unpredictable.
The same is true when a neuron can send a signal that passes through other neurons and feeds back to itself to modify its own state.
And the same is true when biochemical processes can affect biophysical processes and vice versa.

So the brain is chaotic, without a doubt. But that doesn't make it non-deterministic, merely unpredictable.

So, again, unless we can agree that free will is something specific, I am wont to describe it as such "Free will is the feeling that one makes decisions". That feeling clearly exists. Even though people do not make decisions at the conscious level at all, merely notice what they are. I would need rather compelling arguments to consider any alternative to be even remotely rational.

Eric Bright

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #27 on: June 08, 2014, 07:01 PM »
I have to report the same observation as Andreas. I cannot make the head and tail of what you say, Pat. The reason why, might be a combination of my lack of intelligence, knowledge, persistence, and etc. You sound cryptic and when you don’t, I still fail to understand the importance of the points that are made.

Please correct me if I am wrong, Pat. This is what I could collect from your points thus far none of which is related to the topic of this thread:

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There is something else to ‘free will’ than what physics can tell.

Or:

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‘Free will’ goes beyond physics.

At least, this is as much as I could get from your posts (Please accept my sincerest apologies for this shortcoming). Certainly, there are a lot in what you said, but I either could not decipher it or could not see the point of it.

As such, this is not an alien stance. John Searle, as an example, thinks along the same lines.

Contrary to what that stance proposes, every single discovery in neuroscience and related sciences tells the same story: that consciousness is nothing but physics and free will as well as consciousness can be reverse-engineered eventually.

Neuroscience has changed enormously since Searle published his famous papers (the Chinese room and such). The play-field does not look anything like when he first argued his case. So, if anyone is basing his case on the material available to us a decade ago (or further back in time), then he will certainly miss hugely on what we know about human brain today. Even a five-years gap is a huge gap in neuroscience. I dare to say a three to a two years gap in one’s knowledge of the field is large enough that it can seriously damage anyone’s stance on the issue if it is not accidentally aligned with our new discoveries. Our knowledge of the brain (including consciousness and the related issues) changes and grows several times per week (and this is a very modest estimate by some standards).

Arguments and verbal discussions can never make up for real-world observations. Not today, not any time in future. In the case of ‘free will’ and consciousness, most thought-experiments are irrelevant and almost silly. Because, if that is not how a brain does what it does, then the thought-experiment does not matter even if it arrives at the same conclusion as a real thing would have. The thought-experiment would have it right for the wrong reasons. It is like speculating the internal mechanism of the engine of a truck by merely looking at the truck from distance, reporting on its moves, how it sounds, and what comes out of its exhaust pipe. These observations would have some values, of course, but they can never reveal the actual mechanism of the engine of the truck. They cannot. Even if a hypothesis is made that, by chance, describes the actual mechanism of the truck, there is no way to test its veracity by mere looking at the truck from distance.

Neuroscience is showing us, at every single step that it takes, that the brain is made out of stuff that can be studied. This is the lesson of millions of hours of painstaking, lab investigations under strict control measures. It also tells us that if we cannot describe the consciousness and the internal volition of the organism towards certain actions over other possible actions, it is only because we have not finished our investigation yet, not because of an intrinsic, supernatural, or metaphysical elements that is in the machinery of the brain. We don’t know it yet because we still need to decipher certain things. These “certain things” are not mysterious elements. We know what these “things” are that are not investigated at all or not investigated closely and deeply enough; yet.

Every turn of every stone only shows us one thing: That the mysteries are of the physical form. If we don’t know it, or even if we fail to know it forever, it is still a physical one.

Think about this: Not today and not at any other time in future will we be able to know anything about the details of the movements of the celestial bodies in the center of the Andromeda galaxy. It is not a challenge for today’s physics, nor is it a challenge for tomorrow’s science. Does it make the challenge itself anything but physical?

Here is another problem: It would be absolutely impossible to know what goes on inside a black hole and to tell it to others who are not inside the same black hole. There is no ‘if’ or ‘but’ in here. Nothing comes out of a black hole, period. Not even information. So, does it make a black hole anything more mysterious than physics can ever allow?

I would not engage in any further discussion with anyone who attempts to convince me that because the internal guts of a black hole is practically unknowable (aside from what we might guess about it), therefore there has to be something nonphysical about it. I would not sit at the same table with such a person to debate this (for a coffee? Sure. To debate? Absolutely not).

Now, why should anyone be more receptive towards a similar claim that the brain’s functions hinges around some stuff that are beyond physics? That because it is not explained by physics yet, or might not ever been explained by physics, therefore it is metaphysical, or supernatural? What makes this claim any less absurd than the one about a black hole? I cannot think of any good answer to this question.

Here is what I believe would close the discussion under this thread:

1-   Randomness does not have a mathematical proof. It cannot be shown, in mathematical terms, that there can exist an arbitrarily long sequence of random elements in which no discernible pattern can be found. No such proof exists or is possible in mathematics
2-   What appear as random evens are, as far as science is concerned, chaotic behaviours of systems
3-   Chaos is not randomness
4-   Chaos is fully deterministic (indeed we can generate infinite number of perfectly valid, chaotic, mathematical formulae)
5-   Quantum mechanics, no matter how hard anyone tries, cannot be based on randomness (because of 1)
6-   Whatever QM entails, it has to be deterministic (there are deterministic interpretations of QM that work just as well, if not better)
7-   QM does not seem to help the free will discussion nor the consciousness discussion. Because what it brings to the table is either irrelevant to the discussion or actually destructive to its supernatural interpretations and here is why:
   a.   Let us assume that the brain works on QM principle (which it does not and we know it)
   b.   Let us assume that randomness can actually mean something (which it does not)
   c.   Let us assume that consciousness and free will are influenced directly by the random elements of QM amongst other things
   d.   Then free will and consciousness are still caused by some elements that are physical and not super/meta-physical
   e.   If consciousness and free will are not influenced by ANY thing, then QM is out, but so is the agency hypothesis. ANYTHING also means the alleged “me” who is supposed to cause the free will
   f.   If free will is cause by “me” and this “me” is physical, then we are back to physics
   g.   If free will is cause by “me” and this “me” is nonphysical, then we have a huge task before us: to explain what this nonphysical, non-natural “me” is? How we know it? What our evidences are for it?

As it stands now, wherever I turn for a definition of “free will,” it is either identical to the definition of randomness (and hence it is not cause by “me” but random, mysterious stuff), or not defined at all.

Consider this thought-experiment of mine:

“I could have done otherwise equally likely. I did x for no better reason than I did not do y. I could have done y instead equally as likely as I did x.”

Now, how is that any different from a totally random event? What is my role in all of this? This seems to be a perfectly random event (or chaotic to be more precise).

If there were clear casual reasons why x happened rather than y, then x happened deterministically with known causes. If not, it happened chaotically, which means determinately with unknown causes.

In a random event when x happens, x happens as likely as ~x could have happened. ~x could have happened just as easily. This is even worse than a chaotic event. If it is random, then it cannot be “me.” If it is “me” then it cannot be random.

How the definition of “randomness” is any different from the definition of “free will” then? That “I” caused it? Then that is deterministic. Did something in me cause it that is not deterministic? What process in the entire universe can be caused with no prior cause? Why?

You see, in all of these a metaphysical element is lurking, because without implicitly assuming the string-pulling effects of an invisible force, this whole idea is nothing but clearly mislead and presumptuous at best and false at worst.

If the only reason for letting this ghost to linger in the background of all of these is “because,” then we don’t have a very compelling reason. All the evidences we have accumulated so far in many different, and sometimes unrelated, disciplines, there is no sign of such a ghost, nor assuming the existence of one seems necessary. So far, all of our problems that have been addressed successfully, is resolved so without adding this element. Not only that, but also there are evidences to the contrary, i.e. there are signs that there cannot be a ghost behind the scene pulling the threads, that each time that one was assumed, it turned out to be non-existent, that physics can do the trick without the help of a “sky-hook.”

When we investigate something, we don’t assume as many things as we desire to start our investigations with. Actually, the opposite is true. Logically speaking, we cannot justifiably start from just any arbitrary assumption if we care about reality. Our assumptions must be justifiable, true propositions. That cannot be obtained unless we gain knowledge. Knowledge cannot be obtained unless we make observations. We form our assumptions and hypotheses through abduction/induction. Where does this ghost come from then? Is it enough to assume it just because we feel like to do so?
“Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.”

Andreas Geisler

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #28 on: June 11, 2014, 01:23 PM »
This is why I feel that the immaterialist questions are like Zeno's paradoxes.
They only appear as problems when the problem is approached from the wrong end (compare how Odysseus and the Tortoise is a simple math problem approached from the wrong end, as the iterative approximation of the time of interception, at a time before calculus made that easy to do).
If we assume materialism, as induction suggests, none of these problems of consciousness and free will ever appear.
And that, ultimately, must count in the favor of that approach.

Pat Johnston

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Re: What does “free will” mean?
« Reply #29 on: June 12, 2014, 02:15 PM »
Andreas, if I may ask - in your role as translator, how much of it is focused on translating utile concepts and common questions, like “when does that document need to be filed?”, or “what does this clause in the purchase agreement mean?”, etc., and how much of it is focused on gleaning what a native speaker means in referencing their unique subjective views of complex abstract concepts like “free will”?   

And in this role, do you routinely apply Covey’s 5th habit to establish corroborative assurance of meaning without injecting bias? (ie “seek first to understand, before being understood”)

I assure you the only “deliberateness” I intentionally apply is to try to hold to consistencies in my views as I express them, making allowance to correct if I’ve misstated something or adapt as new proofs and better reasons supplant them.  On this question of what is “free will”, it is pointless to grant it some obtuse, abstract meaning that fails to jibe with people. Would you like me to provide a paraphrasing synopsis of all that I’ve said in each of my posts for this thread?

My point about Occam’s is only that posits from it should be framed as “…it may be this way…”, and not presented as defacto conclusive, which implies the ‘no backsies’ rule has been invoked.  The temptation is that a new logical tether of assumption can be established on the new position, and one can move on to further exploratory reasoning from there. 

I expect the brain’s chaotic states are brief, and can be subsumed by supervening forms of organization, that advance to maturity at doing this through its formative years.  Wouldn’t the brain’s evolved complex systems, being used to regular chaotic change, have developed adaptive methods to stabilize/incorporate/dampen such change? Also, I thought “unpredictable” was one of the argued litmus tests for “freeness to act” – note this was never one of my arguments. I don’t mean to equate “free” and wild” and “random” (something I also stated before). To me, “wild” is acting on baser impulse.  “Random” in human terms might perhaps be revoking volitional attention to any guidance of action and letting the subconscious chips fall where they may, with some diffuse haphazard allowance of impulse and random thought to play off that voided guidance. I don’t buy into either of these.    If it is my conscious aim to willfully accomplish something – I conceive a view of that predictive assurance of my free will’s ability to do so up front. The outcome then becomes a corroborating measure of it from my POV, and that will be of some finite, comparative nature.

Eric, my friend – we both know that it may be as much about my apparent ostentatious obtuseness, as it is anyone’s relative inability to wade through it. (…but I swear, I’m making sense to myself!)

Eric, (again to be crystal clear) I am not evoking the supernatural. I really thought I made that clear.  I am questioning the materialist need to conflate ‘physical’ with ‘emotional/social’ and ‘mental’ causes, when intelligent people who have spent careers discussing this topic understand what these 3 aspects mean distinct from one another, without the need to rationalize them down to a fully removed level of subatomic physics, and likewise without attributing supernatural origins to them.  I’ve already granted that the form you, Alain and Andreas would be most concerned with (C1 – Theological) is a non-demonstrable, purely conceptual POV, and so can be merged in with C1 Logical and C4 Mental constraints.  The reason to hold to these other causal forms as discrete is because of my point around variability of constraint.  Meeting physical resistance to a motor action has distinct and forceful characteristics to it that are measurable and variable themselves, and as well, set it apart from both emotional compulsion and intellectually reasoned motivation. Physical/instinctual actions seem far more forceful and certain of their outcomes than emotional ones, and intellectual considerations are by far the least forceful (or perhaps better said, ‘most variable’) of the three.  Marrying them up comes in distinctly unique combinations, and likewise seems to present another degree of compounded variability in the ‘forcefulness’ of each cause, as when an idealist creates emotional drivers for their philosophical views.   I simply think that their conflation as a singular form of constraint is contrary to the point of this thread and utterly unnecessary.

Eric, quoting you from earlier in the thread, reply #17 from April 19th…:
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We are asking this question in here not because we <have> already made <up> our mind that whatever it is, even if we have no idea what it is, it does not exist. The topic at hand tries to see what laypeople, philosophers, scientists, and everyone else in between refer to.

I assume we still vie for this admirable objective?

…and most recently…:
Quote
Contrary to what that stance proposes, every single discovery in neuroscience and related sciences tells the same story: that consciousness is nothing but physics and free will as well as consciousness can be reverse-engineered eventually.

Eric, “…every single discovery…”??  …this was one reason I included Tom Murphy’s contrary reference above, as I perhaps intuitively foresaw (…not by psychic powers!) this sort of ‘absolute claim’ coming up.  At the point they are made, he himself suggests the findings are inconclusive, and leaves room for a limited allowance of directional control, though no outright allowance for full discretionary control or a fully seated ‘self’. The jury is definitely still out there.  And a quick search of “neurological basis of free will” surprisingly pulls up this neuroscientist’s viewpoint: Peter Tse, who posits a theory that challenges a determinist basis for the underpinning neurology, suggesting a workable top down model that allows a variable degree of causal control, in a ‘physicalist’ setting:

http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/flickers_of_freedom/2013/12/peter-tses-the-neural-basis-of-free-will-an-overview.html

This turns out to be an interesting post and exchange on the topic, by the way - I would ask that you read through this in its entirety if you have the time and patience, as I am seeing several parallels with what I’ve been suggesting, as I read through it.  Eric, take special note that he attempts to describe the possible mechanics by which quantum indeterminacy may play a role in the sort of top-down decision making capability he’s proposing, which makes use of variable ‘wiggle room’ between outright determined and outright random causal states.  So suggesting it is not an idealistic polarity of absolutes (determinism and randomness); more so a realistic conceptualization of range potential (variability) encompassing the middle. And I imagine it is possible the step scale of discrete causal states at the micro/quantum level is allowing for upper scale processes to utilize them as range-variable. In other words, even something proven non-random at one physical level may still enable emergence of near-random variable constructs/processes at higher complex levels, that give a degree of freedom not manifest in the discrete causal states of the individual sub processes themselves… still very speculative, of course…

…and here is another example, from Alfred Mele:

http://www.amazon.com/Effective-Intentions-Power-Conscious-Will/dp/0199764689/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1334024862&sr=1-1


Gents, I’m still absorbing the Tse conversation, and have not read the Mele book, but this is of course not to go to the argument itself – just to clarify, for purposes of defining the term, that the neuroscientific view is not one of unanimous fait accompli, and so I again ask that you please not leap ahead to that conclusion.

There is a POV to help shape my argument for variability in the definition.  In the simplest life forms there is no distinction between ‘impulse’ and ’will’.  Moderately advanced states of will arise by exception in only the most complex of animal life forms that begin to exhibit cognitive discretion and very rudimentary choice, distinct from impulse, though clearly limited in emotional array and attentive drive.  But only in a human with the advancements of triune brain complexity is there something that may clearly distinguish impulse from discretionary will, while adding to instinct and emotion a 3rd reflective component that produces adaptive reason and opportunities for fully volitional control.

The reason I’m looking at the neural electrical basis for self as a gestalt construct empowered by brain chemistry to make limited autonomous decisions (while that neuro-electrical brain chemistry also goes about running the rest of the show), is because I fathom that this is how something approaching ‘free will’ might arise physiologically.  (With emphasis, as I have been doing, on the words ‘approaching’ and ‘might’, as in, ‘will striving to be free’, but bound by finiteness manifest in the various forms of constraint to fall short of this self-perceived ideal) There is what seems to be an evolved surplus of intellect, which has found alternate ways to end goals, and invented means to improve their effectiveness at accomplishing those goals, in spite of all other competing forces/constraints/drivers, or whatever else you’d like to call the greater existent, impetus of reality.

It may be that evolved, complex brain constructs are working together to create the necessary environment for a gestalt self and provision for the ‘rheostatic-like’ control for the potential for such fully discretional control to occur.  Meaning that in some select cases, brain chemistry did not, strictly speaking, lead me to choose a certain action, but rather followed my adjusting direction to bring it about.  In reading the Peter Tse exposition above, I note a number of similarities in this train of thought that he discusses much more lucidly than I do here.

Regardless, none of this needs a supernatural basis for its plausibility, but it sets one possible framework to understand that decision making, willed follow-through, and a ‘sense-of-self’ (the “I” you refer to) may be emergent concepts and properties of a wholly natural basis, and not simply non-real illusions, or after-echoes of autonomic machines, as is often argued.   …and just to ensure doors aren’t preemptively being closed, here is another general example that there are still multiple valid views on the question:

http://www.amazon.com/Four-Views-Great-Debates-Philosophy/dp/1405134860

I have not yet read this book either, but taken from the customer reviews in Amazon:
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This slim volume serves as a fantastic introduction to the problems in philosophy on the subject of free will. What is unique about this book is that it gives equal weight to four different theories: libertarianism, compatibilism, incompatibilism, and revisionism. These are hardly the only four theories out there, but they are definitely the most important and the most seriously considered options.

After the four theorists are done laying out their case for their preferred view, there are chapters where each philosopher responds to the claims the others have made. This structure is important because it enables the reader to understand why a philosopher might believe a certain view without the reader himself believing it. This knowledgeable stance is vital to communicating the problems of moral responsibility and free will in an academic setting.


(…I hope this book provides as balanced a set of counter perspectives as this suggests, though I wonder how they represent hard determinism in the context of their arguments…)

To try and tidy up the intended meaning behind some of my more obtuse previous posts:

-   My segue into ‘Gravity’ and its variable control demonstrations was only to illustrate that it is about relativity of competing forces and proximity of contexting facts that influence, and that the range and impact of complexity on defining constraint can be vast.

-   My use of the apparent/real wind was analogous to framing how a set of constraints might differ conceptually and factually in each circumstance, and so it is situational variable (and not pre-formulated) resistance to a will’s degree of freeness at any given time.

One philosophical tether that I hang onto as I reason this out is that I don’t lose sight of our finiteness – this is the reason I say all these properties, if they exist, do so within a sea of determined reality, not apart from it. An infinite being would be beyond all local physical constraints, whereas we clearly are not. But neither (do I think) are we handcuffed to purely singular and autonomic courses of action.  The science may (or may not) bear this out in the end.  Aside from this, it is also perhaps worth pointing out that the definition of “physical” is itself changing as we go, and that might mean that a key set of ‘materialist goal posts’ are themselves in transition.  For me this is an aside to the purpose of this thread to provide an accurate and meaningful definition of free will.

I should think the philosophical paradox this argument presents is the real question:  How does something like ‘true localized autonomy and directional action’ emerge as a discretely operating finite property, in such a sea of causal determinism? Saying ‘paradox’ by itself is always unresolved, and so needs to be delineated into its proper form:   veridical (is still logically true), falsidical (uses incorrect assumptions), antinomy (self-contradictory) and dialetheia (simultaneous truth in opposites).  Perhaps this can be worked in another thread, but the premise can’t be formally discounted until the nature of its paradox is also worked through to an evidentiary conclusion. To draw counter-conclusions on hypotheticals because so far the argument appears paradoxical is likewise presumptuous.

Eric, you might ask pointedly why I don’t simply ‘give up the ghost’ on this one due to the overwhelming materialist logic you present (it is exceptional, by the way!).  The answer is simple, and is as you suggest: as much as abstracts convey logical weight, my counters are in “real-world observation”, which you accurately point out, and for which I hold as the basis of my knowledge, but I also note it is (by our finiteness) the basis of the limitations of our knowledge. With these counters and my tether, it just isn’t that overwhelming an argument to me, to say that there is no physical way for a biological construct to give provision for fully volitional decision making.  Without them I would perhaps naively base all my knowledge on similar rational assumptions absorbed from others that blur the lines and round up between incongruous fact and perfect formulation, through typical experience-based observations everyone shares (personal as well as social).

One example: Alain says we don’t have clairvoyance, and that may well be true, but we are very capable of projection, and to such a point where it may become for each of us the basis of Aristotle’s ‘final cause’ that sets a future goal as the overriding cause of current and future actions leading to it. Ironically, it may be an example of this that I don’t just give up, but forge on attempting to convey my meaning until some future final (caused) state that I intend, where each of you finally understand what it is I’m trying to say…


…Eric, all this aside, someday I hope that we may be able to sit together and simply enjoy each other’s company – no philosophical debate – though at this juncture, I expect it will be over a beer for you and a spice rum & cola for me….