Matthieu Miossec

Doctoral Student - Genetic Medecine (Congenital Heart Disease),

This conversation is closed.

There is no such thing as free will.

Some questions that might be relevant to the debate on the existence or otherwise of free will:

What do we mean exactly when we talk about free will and how do we make sense of it in the light of our current scientific knowledge?

Can we really claim to have indeterministic brains in an essentially deterministic world?

Is it fair to separate our thought processes from the rest of our body?

Is free will the illusion of complexity in the brain as chance is the illusion of complexity in the world?

Closing Statement from Matthieu Miossec

Both sides of the debate have been strongly defended in this debate. When re-reading this debate, one should try and understand in what sense one means 'free-will' as many have meant very different things by 'free-will'. I will let my fellow TEDsters decide what the conclusion of this debate is rather than imposing my own view.

  • thumb
    Apr 6 2011: Fun conversation, Matthieu. Thanks for instigating.

    I spent 4 weeks of my philosophy course at Oxford lying on my back on the floor of my room trying to answer this question.

    I was unsuccessful.

    I think we won't be able to answer it satisfactorily until we know why the physical world generates consciousness. Consciousness does not appear a necessary ingredient in most scientific explanations. Is it therefore a non-consequential thing? Hard to accept that... But that is why we don't know whether we have free will. The riddle is not so much the 'free will'. It is the 'we'. We truly don't know who we are.

    (P.S. My brain made me write this.)
    • Comment deleted

      • thumb
        Apr 6 2011: Without free will, every criminal has a defense. Without free will, many people lose a sense of 'empowerment'. Easy for fatalism to take over.

        Is the future a line that's already been drawn (that we can't yet see), or a line that hasn't been drawn yet (and we wield the pen)? Those two views of the world are profoundly different.
        • thumb
          Apr 6 2011: Thanks for sharing your opinion with us Chris, it's an honor!

          I have to say whatever certainties I had about free will, I'm certainly reconsidering now in light of all the opinions that are gathered here.

          An interesting question to ask to someone who might be somewhat depressed by the prospect of not having free will is whether they would really make different choices if they had this free will.

          Also as to whether criminals have a defense in their lack of free will, I've tried to argue in the past that this suggests that each person is a passive observer of his own actions which I don't think is the case, even without free will. I think we're still responsible for our actions, our actions defining in a sense who we are. But these are just ideas of mine.

          Consciousness is a tricky part of ourselves to understand. I was tempted until recently to just pass it off as an emergent property of brain complexity, but reading "The Emperor's New Mind" by Proff. Roger Penrose (in which he argues strong AI isn't possible because of the nature of consciousness) makes me suspect there's so much more to consciousness and that my ideas on it were a little defeatist.



          @Richard: to be perfectly honest, I just find it an interesting topic and that's all that motivates me (of my free will or otherwise) to think about it.
        • thumb
          Apr 7 2011: Isn't punishment for crime an argument AGAINST free will? Society is attempting to impose outside influences in order to guide behavior. Since the will is not free it is assumed it can be thus influenced.
        • thumb
          Apr 8 2011: Even if we could prove that there was no free will (in particle terms a.k.a. small world) I don't think criminals (in middle world terms) will have a defense for themselves.

          Something being predictable doesn't make it known or predetermined (i.e. we could alter it, even if the action of altering is itself predictable). Anyone claiming to know his fate or that of anyone or anything is simply (predictably) being a slave of his own perception about it, which has in turn caused his "free will" into the direction of committing said crime.

          OK, that last part may have sounded a little confusing... too much of our terminology is rooted into the perception of mind and body being different things existing in parallel universes. I'm having a hard time linking my "free will in small world - no; free will in middle world - yes" thesis because of this (IMHO) flawed terminology.
        • thumb
          Apr 8 2011: Vasil, I have found to experience the same problem as you. Language as it stands isn't really geared up to identify an individual's mind and body as a unit when talking about conscious actions and their consequences.
        • thumb
          Apr 9 2011: Chris I believe that your are speaking about choice. When someone is faced with a set or circumstances and analyzes them then selects a course of action (premeditated or impulsively) they have made a choice. But how much of their decision is Free Will and how much is their predisposition to a specific course of action is the question. I suppose when one does something instinctively, without thinking (a purely random act) just simple action without any basis of thought, that may be the only time Free Will is exercised. I suppose that random acts are an exercise in Free Will.
          BMG
        • Apr 10 2011: Very Interesting discussion and very good points.
          I have read somewhere in my philosophy studies (I believe it was Jewish philosophy) a different perspective to the question of free will that touches on Brian's comment above:
          According to that perspective, Free Will is exercised whenever someone does what they want as opposed to doing what they feel like doing.
          For example, when you ask your child to clean her room, or finish her homework and she replies "I don't feel like it", she is giving up her right to exercise free will. Alternatively, when you decided last night to get up at 6am, but then when the alarm goes off you 'snooze' till you eventually get up at 8am, you have also surrendered to your physical body and failed to exercise your free will. So, whenever you wish to have a certain result and despite an enormous amount of effort and despite seeing many others fail where you hope to succeed, you push forward, by choosing to persist you are exercising your free will (and those who give up before they gave it their best, gave up on themselves).
          This concept may not provide an answer to the scientific question of free will. But I find it very useful for life.
        • Apr 10 2011: A fascinating idea, that someday our language will be able to very simple describe consciousness and free will. I hope the solution will be obvious to my grandchildren -if determinism allows me to have them :)

          Remeber, that the existence of the "Élan vital" or the vital substance behind life was a topic of intense philosophical debate at one time- is now irrelevant due to our understanding of biology. I think its safe to apply this concept to neuro-biology and consciousness/free will.
      • Apr 6 2011: Talking about free will, when we make big decisions is illusion, it's a cocktail of too many ingredients to be conscious of. Human free will reveals itself in every minute of our life, watch yourself even if there is nobody to judge you. Eventually it'll help you to be what you choose to be.
      • thumb
        Apr 7 2011: Your very existence is the consequence of human acts during those circumstances leading up to and culminating in your inception (all of your ancestry) and beyond.

        Defining our level of control in a given matter is paramount In order to properly own our responsibility to create such incredible changes in our universe.
        • thumb
          Apr 8 2011: I think you hit it Wayne. We "define" ourselves as "free".
      • Apr 8 2011: I've wondered about this myself, and I recently found an interesting piece in the New York Times discussing just that. It seems experimental philosophers have proven there is a societal benefit to believing in free will, as to not believe it aleviates guilt in some situations. It also has an interesting comment on what happens to moral responsibility if we decide against having free will. The articles was called "Do You Have Free Will? Yes, It’s the Only Choice" by John Tierny.
        • thumb
          Apr 8 2011: I think we should never let what's in the best interest of everyone to believe to get in the way of arriving to the actual truth whatever the consequences may be.
    • Apr 8 2011: I agree with you Chris: it's not so much the "free will," but the "we" that is to be questioned. In "On the Prejudices of Philosophers," Nietzsche questions this relentlessly. He asks, how Descartes we say, "I think, therefore I am," so freely, when even this statement takes so much for granted? For example, any attempt to describe the process of cognition in consciousness will show that we don't actually will thoughts into being, but rather thoughts "come" to us. For me to will a thought into being would require an absolute reference point, for otherwise I would need a thought to create this will, and a thought for that thought, ad infinitum. With every thought I'd be pulling myself "out of the swamp" into existence by my own hair.

      Thus, a more appropriate model is one where we consider consciousness to be a system where every thought is causally linked to either a previous thought (i.e. physically electricity in the brain), an electrical impulse from a sensory organ, or a previous memory (i.e. physiological structure of the brain). In this way, our "consciousness" is essentially us watching a movie screen of all of our thoughts, experiences, etc., and self-identifying with the screen as its causal predecessor.

      This doesn't mean that the justice system is inadequate. If somebody commits a crime, they have been "wired" wrong, and thus are just as likely to commit the crime in the future given the right circumstances. So you put them into prison or punish them to prevent this from happening. When you punish them, you add a memory of punishment associated with crime to be associated with this chain of thought in the future, thus deterring the crime. If a robot malfunctioned (which we know for a fact are determined), we'd either put it away or rewire it.

      This model does, however, lead away from any humanism. Free will is a valuable heuristic, and, as such, we will all continue to encounter our world with its guidance. (See next box)
    • Apr 8 2011: Just because the future is determined doesn't mean it can't be damned fun!

      Always remember, "we're here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you any different." -Vonnegut
  • Apr 11 2011: I may not be able to answer all your questions. Let me attempt some.
    1. No you cannot separate thought processes from the rest of the body.
    2.Yes; Free will is illusion of complexity. If there are no absolute and everything is relative;where is the question of free will?
  • Apr 10 2011: One of my favorite ponderings! I'm not even going to try to answer it but would love to share a bit of my perspective.

    First, the burden of proof always lies on the claimant and hence free will is something that remains to be proved. So by default we should be refusing to believe it exists from a scientific perspective, which asks us to be skeptical about things before we accept it. But that is hardly the case and it seems we have a STRONG innate inclination to believe that we are acting on a free will. This innate inclination might be a necessary evolutionary adaptation, which our dear Robert Wright calls one of the many self-deceptive traits of our psychology. There is every reason to challenge the idea of free will.

    Another related but sort of irrelevant fact: it has been established in scientific experiments that people who are happy and confident have a very strong 'feeling' of free will and this 'feeling' reduces proportionately as you move down on that scale with depressives feeling like they have very little control and free will in their lives. Little risky to re-phrase abstracts of experiments, but it is on those lines. Great, great debate. I personally believe it is a self-deceptive evolutionary adaptation.
    • thumb
      Apr 10 2011: Funny you should mention Robert Wright as his name came up in earlier conversation. I mentionned to Christopher Cop a conversation he and Daniel Dennet had about free will. The link to the conversation is still there if you want to check it out.
    • Apr 11 2011: I agree, it all depends on how much self deception one needs to deal with reality
  • thumb
    Apr 7 2011: Very interesting discussion. I've read through most of the comments and find them interesting, but very "up in the air", lacking solid logic and foundation. If anyone would care for a down to earth, logical argument, please chime in.

    My reasoning goes as follows. Firstly, let's go from the bottom to the top. Let us agree, that what you are and how you behave originates from your physical body, mainly from your brain (lets just call it brain for simplicity). We know that any physical system is deterministic (or maybe at times random, but that wont make a difference in the argument) . From these two assumptions we can conclude that every future state of the brain is "in principle" determined by the physical laws, its current state and the state of the world around it.

    If we agree on this, we can rephrase that as follows: brain's future "timeline" is one and it does not branch. I.e. there cannot be two or more alternative states.

    Now since we come to some understanding of what's going on, we have to define exactly what we really mean by "free will". And i don't really want to go too deep into this, but precise definition is a must. Otherwise the whole discussion will be handing in the air, as it is now.

    At the first glance it seems that all definitions will require the existence of alternative brain states. But i'm sure that on careful analysis you will discover that this isn't true. For example, many definitions will include something like "based on surrounding conditions, choose a course of action deemed most suitable for yourself". This does not require presence of different states, because "surrounding conditions" are determined and "best interest" is also determined from previous state. This is a very crude example, but hopefully you see what i'm getting at.

    So let's work out a definition first. And that is a hard thing to do. Depending on it we may come up with very different answers.
    • Comment deleted

      • thumb
        Apr 7 2011: Nicholas, I did read your comments below.

        I do not understand how your reply relates to what i have said in my comment, which was that i think a much more rigorous and basic discussion will give a better progress in this question. "You need to have free thought in order to have free will" is of course true in a sense, but does not help answer the question - does it actually exist in the first place. And then saying " free thought = true free will" needs at least a good definition and an explanation.
        • thumb
          Apr 7 2011: I guess if I had to break down my analysis further I would say emotions determine our free will. How well our emotions respond to the cognitive environment is the result of how well we respond to back to it.

          I am thinking in terms of human nature I guess, I never thought to look at the question as an absolute.

          Does what exactly exist in the first place? free will or absolute free will? I guess for absolute free will you would have to know everything! Would be awesome.
  • Apr 11 2011: Hi Matthieu. We are all deterministic to some extent-- it is what makes us unique. The fact that we have unique personality traits automatically restricts us to a certain degree of predictability.
  • Apr 11 2011: Maybe free will does not exist, but we'd better live as if it does. :)
  • thumb
    Apr 10 2011: If free will means to summons a thought or commence an action that has no precursor..then clearly that is not possible in this universe. Not only because the universe is somewhat deterministic, but also because; to have no "reason" to do something is just another phrase meaning randomness
  • Apr 10 2011: A man can do as he will, but not will as he will. - Schopenhauer
  • Apr 9 2011: I'm prolly wrong cause I don't study much of anything and this is all just my thoughts but i'll throw in anyway lol. I don't think free will exists cause I don't think anything has any inherent existence independent of everything else. IMO each thing is just an intermingling of all the influences of everything else coming together at that point in time and space. The word thing might be bad though cause that implies something that has a solid existence free of any influences. Nothing exists except by virtue of everything else I spose is what I'm trying to say.

    I think part of the sense of having free will might just be from how communicating things to others requires you divide up the universe into many separate parts instead of just one flowing system if that makes any sense. Words like me/I/you and such. I think some degree of consistency (may be a bad word for it) also might be a part of the sense of free will or self directed action or whatever you wanna call it.

    Like how the factors that you identify with your idea of 'you', like your likes and dislikes and views on things and even the matter that makes you up changes over time. So many factors that only a small fraction of them are changing at any point in time. Over time all of them will have changed to where you're pretty much a completely different person than you were 10 or however many years ago, but they happened so gradually and without shaking up the large majority of the factors in too short a time. You have time to integrate the changes into your concept of your self bit by bit. You'll be in every way a different person. Just the changes will have been so minor and unnoticeable at any point in time to where you'll have the feeling of a consistent solid self going through life at all times since you focus on all the factors together at once as you and they don't all change at the same rate or time or whatnot. Gives the feeling of a solid consistent you at the reigns going through life
  • Comment deleted

    • thumb
      Mar 11 2011: I would agree that the big bang did not result from anyone, but a massive explosion is a result of multiple things taking place at once so it is not nothingness.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 11 2011: I'm saying that the big bang did not result from nothingness.
          Yes I think that as long as there is motion there will always be something that precedes something and I think the big bang was an act of free will.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 11 2011: there can never be nothingness if there is motion. If motion stopped then I think there could be nothingness
        • thumb
          Apr 5 2011: Nothing is something.

          The paradox is that if you don't believe in something then anything you say means nothing.

          Once again it is our understanding that is relative.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 12 2011: put it this way, this conversation is irrelevant if we are talking about nothing.
        • thumb
          Mar 12 2011: Birdia, Black holes don't contain nothing, but quiet the opposite. The gobble up everything they can get a hold of.
          But nothingness does exist. You just can't make something out of nothingness. Energy (and matter is energy too) can only be transformed, but you can't make it out of nothing.
        • thumb
          Mar 15 2011: I think nothingness would refer to the absence of energy. The concept of free will only exists with nothingness, but as soon as energy comes into the picture which is largely dependent on reactions, free will no longer can exist.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 12 2011: Sartre does an extrodinary job of defining concsiousness and also how nothingness is vital to the being of all things in Being and Nothingness(by the way an excrutiating book to read if you are not a philosophy scholar), but I must also be critical of him. He doesn't touch on the subject of how this nothingness which is consciousness can influence our physical bodies.
        • thumb
          Mar 12 2011: Haven't yet read Sartre, although I'm currently reading Heidegger's "Being and Time" from which he extrapolated his title. From what I do know about Sartre, he was reacting to the horror of World War II and attempting to get people to take accountability for their actions (perhaps foremost Heidegger). I can see the pragmatic utility of a belief in free will, but does that prove it's existence?
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 12 2011: Yeah the gaze of the other is a very important idea to existentialism and it is a major process of how we construct our identity. But our identities are not essential to our being. In fact our identity is like a mirror image of the self which the true self can never be united with. There is always this lack of being. Because when we posit our identity to ourselves we posit it as the Other. So our identity can't determine us because it is never truly us, it is a safeguard or a defense mechanism to ensure that we don't deal with the anxiety of responsibility.

          I am interested in Taoism, are you a Taoist? Is it true that it very closely resembles anarchism and there is also a lot of feminist philosophy in it?
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 12 2011: Cool. Yeah I am thinking about finding a good book on it.,

          Yeah Being and Nothingness is a difficult book, and it's long. His short stories are alot better though, they describe his philosophy very well and with none of the metaphyscal jargon.
    • thumb
      Mar 12 2011: Free will requires something/somebody being able of willing. And willing requires consciousness. Who/what would that be in the case of the big bang ?
      • Comment deleted

        • Apr 6 2011: Hi! Birdia, thank you for Tao and 'chi', I'll try to study this. And about "nothing", it is another word for "everything" "Nothing" is full, what is empty is also fertile" "Nothing containes the power to create everything" What I've read about "nothingness" can be condensed into this: the amount of possitive energy locked up in the total mass of the universe's devided matter is exactly the same as the amount of negative energy coded into the distances between the matter that is devided. So the net energy in the universe is 'O' To make the universe , one did not have to have something for nothing. Yet nothing is everything. To make it work " free will" is enough.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Apr 6 2011: What you wrote is just awesome, I totally agree with you, Birdia! Thanks for sharing this, I wasn't thinking about how Hawking's theory is so related to free will. TED is very, very powerful, isn't it?
      • Comment deleted

        • Apr 7 2011: Hi! Birdia!The source is my notebook, real notebook with pencil and pen in it.It's quite messy, quates, thoughts, my thoughts on theories and etc.. The theory, you are interested in , is somewhere in Paul Davies books, Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman once suggested that every cubic centimeter of vacuum contains enough energy to boil all the oceans on earth. So smth.must be there. Sorry for this loose link, when I figure out where this idea came from /it is not mine, for sure/ I'llTell you :)
    • thumb
      Mar 12 2011: There is a point in the Universe's history, in the very first moments of the Big Bang, called the Planck Epoch where all four fundamental forces are joined together acting as one. The lack of unification between General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics means that you cannot predict anything about the state of the Universe beyond that epoch and so to say that the Universe came out of nothing or the Universe came out of something is to advance a view, which in both cases, is speculative.

      I was expecting debate specifically on human free-will (or at least the free-will of the living), but this thread nonetheless has some interesting ideas.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 12 2011: I think here what Jean-Paul Sartre is arguing is that we can go against the societal norm but whether that is free will or not is where we'd disagree. Obviously, our brain being complex machines, we can question the legitimaty of many things and come to conclusions that go against the norm. But free will, as it is understood by many people seems to include the idea that somehow our mind is free from the constraints of nature and that our choices truly comes ex-nihilo, almost from some different realm than the material world. This kind of definition of free will I could not agree with.
        • thumb
          Mar 12 2011: As Matt pointed out correctly, beyond a certain point in the history of the universe everything becomes speculation.
          So, coming back to the original issue of free will:
          It's a question I pondered already many time and never came up with a satisfying answer.
          Obviously, my ego tells me that I have free will. The problem is, I can't be sure about that. I might believe that whatever I'm doing is done because of my free will, but can I be really sure that there isn't any unknown ¨force" behind that pulls the strings ?
          Looking at it with the eye of science I ask, how can we objectively measure the existence of free will ?
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 13 2011: He made a decision, this decision was the culmination of the formation of a complex brain filled with knowledge and past experiences and innate knowledge aquired through evolution. This brain responded to inward and outward stimuli triggering a response typical of that particular human being.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 12 2011: Hi Birdia, at a first glance one would assume he acted out of free will, but did he ?
          Did you watch the Matrix ? People living in the Matrix were sure that this was reality and they did believe in their free will.
          I think, unless we get the chance to look at the system from the outside (which we obviously cannot do) we never will know whether or not we actually have free will. We also will have difficulties of getting an objective view of reality. I think these 2 issues are linked.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 12 2011: Well, I don't think one has to resort to religion and superstition to tackle the question.
          It's just too easy to get religion into the game as an explanation, because nobody can contradict it without getting into endless faith based discussions.
      • thumb
        Mar 12 2011: Suppose there is no free will. But we believe we have free will. What's the difference?
        • thumb
          Mar 12 2011: I agree with Tim. From a practical point of view, having or just believing in free will doesn't make much of a difference. Again, remember the Matrix. People "living" in the Matrix lived a perfectly normal life from their subjective point of view. They never knew that they were actually farmed in vats for the purpose of energy supply. They still were able to enjoy a steak in all its nuances ;-)
          So, pondering the question of free will might be of interest from a philosophical point of view , but with little relevance to our life.
          Another question is, if we were to discover one day that we actually have no free will, what would that mean to society ?
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 13 2011: It's probably getting confusing because we just don't have any means to prove or disprove free will ;-)
          Anyway, I'm gone for today. See you guys on Monday.
          Have a great weekend
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 14 2011: Birdia, not sure what warranted this rather.....hmmm....not so polite comment.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 14 2011: sorry, I have no idea what you are talking about. What are you referring to ?
          I'm not aware that I was impolite at some point. If so, let me know where. There must be a misunderstanding of some sort.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 14 2011: Ok, so yes we apparently had some misunderstanding here.
          1) My point that we probably can neither prove nor disprove free will, doesn't mean that I'm not willing to engage in conversations. As a matter of fact I did engage. It's like with religion. There are countless discussions going on about the existence of God. Again, we can't prove (disprove) either view. Nevertheless, this doesn't mean we should stop discussing.
          2) Yes, without seeing a face, it's sometimes difficult to interpret a comment properly. That's where I think, smileys can be helpful in showing the mood to a certain degree.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 14 2011: no problem ;-) (here comes the smiley again !)
          Can you give me the link again please. I can't find where you posted that.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 15 2011: Hi Birdia, I watched the video, and it's indeed amazing. However, I don't think that when it comes to animals we can actually talk about free will. Although I'm not an animal behaviorist, I think what we see there is more based on instinct than on any act of will.
          I own a dog, and I know, sometimes it really seems that he has his own will, but at the end it comes down to instincts and conditioning.
          Somebody asked the very valid question about defining free will. What is free will ? Is it to decide to drink a glass of beer instead a glass of wine ? If so, then yes, we very well might have free will. When I think about free will, I think about the larger picture and then I have to recognize that our free will is quiet limited, mostly by genetics and environment.
          This covers the first half of your post. I'll read your conversation with Tim and get back on that in a separate post
        • thumb
          Mar 15 2011: Ok, now I read your thread with Tim.
          Overall I would agree with Tim's view. However, you are right when you say that arguing against free will would remove all responsibilities from us. If there is no free will, a killer, very well could argue that killing somebody wasn't his fault.
          So, I think everything hangs on the definition of free will. As I said above, there might be instances where we definitely apply free will. but there are also situations where we don't have free will.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 15 2011: I think it's not only about the term. If we get to the bottom line the question is whether we control 100 % of life (which should be the case if we have free will) or don't we.
          I'm not sure that anybody could claim to control all aspects of his/her life.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Mar 15 2011: Hmmm, I think we already have a programmed appreciation for music. Composing a piece of music follows certain rules. Even in Free Jazz, although it seems spontaneous, it still follows rules. It's not simply a wild mix of tones. The player knows (even it's probably subconscious) exactly what tone sequences work and which don't. That's why even Free Jazz still feels like music to us and not just a series of tones.
        • thumb
          Mar 15 2011: There was an interesting study done by Benjamin Libet, that concluded that actions are already underway, shortly BEFORE we formulate the will.
          http://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/scientists/libet/
          What can we make of that ?
    • thumb
      Mar 14 2011: Can you understand and explain to me, define, nothingness ? God is nothing. God is not a being...God is the ground of being. God is existence.
      • thumb
        Mar 15 2011: Helen, your statement assumes the existence of God, an assumption many would not share.
        So, it might be a bit difficult to relate a definition of "nothingness" to God.
        Nothingness is simply total void or nonexistence. So, if you say that God is nothing, then it actually makes the existence of God impossible too.
        • thumb
          Apr 2 2011: Hi Harald.......Maybe the term "no thing" would be better used in refering to "God" Godf is such a loaded word and has as many definitions as there are people. I cannot understand the essence of an uncaused existence but yes I assume there is an existence that did not cause itself. Would you agree that love exists ? Many years ago I asked myself .......why does love exist.............and many years later I found an answer that seemed reasonable to me.......Love is its own excuse for being. (:>)
      • thumb
        Mar 15 2011: In the interest of debate Helen, I would suggest that nothing be taken for granted and everything argued thouroughly. Thanks.
  • thumb
    Mar 11 2011: I think the question is "free from what?".

    One mind not being directly controllable by other mind(s) should essentially mean that there is "free will" as in "free from another will".

    On the other hand, scientific knowledge currently shows most particles as having a predictable behaviour. Seeing that we're made of particles, this should mean our behaviour is also predictable, just not as clearly due to the complexity of the particles involved. Therefore, there's not really such a thing as "free will" as in "free from the movement of the particles you're comprised of".

    There's a difference between something that we can't currently predict (and can therefore consider it "free" or "unpredictable") and something that's truly unpredictable. History shows it's only a matter of time before the latter turns into the former. That nothing is truly unpredictable.

    I find people often introduce destiny (as in "lack of free will"; bond by something supernatural) when they're faced with mentally dealing with a sad death. When I hear news of someone being ran over by a truck as he was crossing the street, I think "What an idiot this truck driver is! And where was the pedestrian looking anyway?". People believing in destiny think "It was meant to be. Destiny had it for him (the pedestrian)", and they move on. Same with lucky turnarounds... if it's not destiny, it's a god... same deal.
    • thumb
      Mar 12 2011: I agree with a lot of what is said here, I think there's a tendency for people to make clear-cut distinctions between mind and body which ultimetaly are misleading. The idea of 'free-will' as many conceive it sounds a lot like the metaphysical idea of a soul which influences the physical material reality without itself being bound by the laws of nature. You draw the same parallel as I do between the complexity of the brain and the complexity of life, to which we attribute labels such as 'free-will' and 'chance'.
      • thumb
        Mar 12 2011: Matthieu: I like that line:

        "the metaphysical idea of a soul which influences the physical material reality without itself being bound by the laws of nature."

        Will have to remember that one.
    • thumb
      Mar 25 2011: Are particles the only makeup of humans and even if they are what about inspiration, intuition. Are attitudes determined by particles . Please shed some light on this ?
      • thumb
        Mar 26 2011: Particles and the interactions between them which manifest themselves as forces.
        • thumb
          Mar 27 2011: Hi Matt...I am not being churlish, but where is the verb in your statement ?
      • thumb
        Mar 27 2011: Manifest is a verb.

        I'll rephrase to make it easier for you to understand:
        Humans are essentially made up of particles and the interactions between those particles which manifest themselves as forces (gravity, electomagnetism, weak and strong nuclear force).
  • Apr 11 2011: It is very difficult to know. This is my take on it. Although we often think we make choices out of free will, it might often be the case that the choice is a product of circumstance and history. An analogy would be insect traps and baits. Food and attractive lights are used to attract insects and trap them. The insect may "think" (if it has any thought process) that it is going to forage for food or see the attractive light for whatever reason. May be it perceives that other insects are disappearing. But due to lack of cognitive function and possibly lack of sensory information many insects do not correlate death with that source of food / light. Although as humans, we do not control the exact path of the insect (at least not yet), we manipulate the world around them and use their overpowering instincts to make them do certain tasks.

    On a related note, looking back at history, what was a task for an intelligent person many many years ago is now a task that is performed by computers. Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms of recent years are beginning to mimic the decision making process of humans. In that sense, once we understand the rationale, motivations and the chain of reasoning behind making a decision, it may be possible with varying degrees of accuracy to setup the environment where a particular choice is favored.

    As human beings, we are driven by stimuli from various sources. If a hypothetical being with better senses, cognition and IQ is able to track our learning, understand the way we respond to various stimuli, that being may be able to guide our path and the choices we make by manipulating the environment around us in various ways. However, like the insect from the example above, with the instrumentation and senses we currently have, we may never know if the choices we make, the serendipity and coincidences we experience are a product of the chaos of the universe or the result of choices that we make without understanding why.
  • Apr 11 2011: Regarding the questions raised about how lack of free will would impact criminal trials, etc, why not look to what we do with objects that are dangerous (guns, drugs, etc)? Typically, we regulate distribution of them or destroy them... Does the current prison system do anything different than this? Whether the "choice" to commit the crime was truly theirs does not change that they were the person who physically manifested the crime
  • Apr 11 2011: free will...
    This implies an autonomous subject to act. There is a subject/object relationship in this. If you remove the subject from context of home, friends and family, work, it gets very challenging to identify a discrete 'self' to be having any volition. The consideration of whether something which doesn't exist can have a volition lands us in the realm of theologians and mystics.
    In that in any given event, the event will be unique and there will be one and only one choice which we actualize, there is no repeatability of the 'experiment' possible in this. Thus it is not possible to determine verifiable quantitative components of any 'free will' or lack there of. We're left with speculation.
    But in a cultural context, things are what we say they are and free will has meaning, whether it has a measurable existence or not.
    Of course, you're free to believe differently.
    :-)
    matt k.
  • Apr 11 2011: I would agree, and personally don't understand why people would even think there is. Ever ask someone what they want for dinner? You'd think that'd be an easy question...
    • Apr 11 2011: because someone is indecisive it means they dont have free will? how? isnt it possible we do have free will but are just bad at it?
      • Apr 11 2011: Well that comment was meant to be a joke, not a logical proof of any sort.

        My position would be that it's on others to give evidence for the existence of free will, and to continue to be skeptical of it until then.

        In my own personal life experience, I tend to see the way I'm controlled and defined much more clearly than I do any sense of independence. More and more I've also seen the way I control and define my environment right back as well.

        I think people need to focus less on free will, and more on how things flow. It's wonderful watching how all the pieces fit.
      • Apr 11 2011: Besides, wouldn't it be more logical that the reason we are bad at exercising it is because we don't possess it, and what we are bad at really is pretending otherwise?
  • thumb
    Apr 10 2011: Free will is relative to the time and space you inhabit. As a construct, I don't think it could exist in the capacity we are discussing here until our needs for survival were first met on a consistent basis. The will to survive cannot be equated with free will. Freedom for some also meant enslavement for others, historically speaking. Even in the most democratic cultures on earth today, a negotiation of freedom is made between citizen and state so that pure freedom is never possible. I cannot be stateless; I must surrender certain liberties to attain security and to assure that my base needs are met before I can 'be free' in the context of my country.
  • Comment deleted

    • thumb
      Apr 10 2011: Sorry, but I checked out this man you're talking about. Sounds like a charlatan. He proclaims himself a pioneer in the field of consciousness research yet has no wikipidia page or papers published in any academic journal I can find. Please avoid posting new age mysticism.
      • Apr 11 2011: Matthieu, I wish I could give your comment five thumbs up. Ed Schulte, please take your mysticism to another site, preferably one that doesn't involve science.
  • thumb
    Apr 10 2011: Reality is immutable, but your perception changes everything.
  • Apr 9 2011: Also one more thing is that if we live in a universe based on cause and effect (I think we do) then free will is an impossibility. Everything as far as I know in its current state is dependent on everything that's happened in the past, I've never heard of anything being able to supersede cause and effect and if nothing can then free will can't exist. I think it can seem otherwise though just cause of how many factors go into making up conscious experience.

    It's not easy to keep track of everything seperated as much and notice that it's just a very complex and large amount of factors changing in response to causes and in turn becoming causes for future effects with no times where any part of you can rise above cause and effect and in turn that makes free will impossible. If you can't rise above cause and effect then you can't have free will because the state you're in at any moment is fully dependent on all the causes in the past, which are dependent on the same and so on forever into the past (or atleast to the point of the big bang, I'm not sure if cause and effect ruled before that)
  • thumb
    Apr 9 2011: As I read the sentence that began this discussion "There is no such thing as free will" my brain immediately began to process the letters and words in terms that it has been trained or conditioned to first recognize and secondly to decipher. Had this sentence been written in any other language other than english I would not be able to process it and consequently not been able to respond to it in any meaningful way. Sure I may be able to determine the language through deductive reasoning and familiarity with some words, but I would not be able to respond in a way expected of the writer of the sentence or the participants here on Ted. So from the time I have read the sentence and everything that you've read so far have been all that I am conditioned to do in responding to the eight simple words. I am not even sure that these are my words or simple an output from my brain in the best way it knows how, based on all that was inputted (taught) to it up until now. My life experiences, my education and my influences are more to do with my response than any cognitive or independent (of my total self) thought process. Any other response would not be me simple because I can only source what my brain has available or stored and output a fixed response. Even if I went on and on in response to the topic of free will at some point I will begin to repeat myself as the total sum of my knowledge and experience (being) with the topic is satiated as will you all. And so what I've said up until now is a packaged response based on my knowledge, experiences and influences, but what of my decision to respond at all to the words "There is no such thing as free will"? Was that Free Will? Was that the part of me that is independent of the sensory and reasoning electrics of my brain? Did I have a choice in responding as I have? Perhaps, but then again there were probably other internal prodding that had less to do with Free Will and more to do with other human needs like ego and fame. (P1)
  • Comment deleted

  • thumb
    Apr 5 2011: In my opinion...chaos can only exist if every moments circumstance is not the consequence of some in/action in the moment before. Chaos is order with options.

    Luck or chance is a human concept used to explain a situation or outcome determined by and dependent on events beyond the limits of our physiology to perceive and therefore predict or order...

    So as far as free will is concerned, we are dealt our cards (ordered options) and depending on our 'luck' use our willfulness to create or define the consequence our place in the game permits.

    The scope of what we can choose and therefore accomplish is defined by those ordered options (which include among other things conditioned environmental response and current paradigm...) we are open (or able) to perceive.

    We have a part to play in a defined game and our role although limited is still ours in part to define.

    It is our understanding that is relative.
    • thumb
      Apr 5 2011: another very interesting perspective :-)
      • thumb
        Apr 5 2011: Do not curse the darkness, light a match.

        Do what you can with what you have where ever you are...

        All things considered we may in fact all be equal, just not at the same time.

        "It is in our very nature to manipulate that which we would understand, therefore it is our collective responsibility to collaborate towards creating a culture and legacy which supports our ability to do so."
  • thumb
    Apr 1 2011: Nick.......I AM NOT A MONKEY. Please do not compare me with monkey minds.

    Vasil...I have no idea what "middle world" is and I do know what Hobbits are.

    Matt...I opt out of the discussion because I am too ignorant of what it is you are proposing. I would not dare to use my archaic ideas to debate with you. It's been fun ? Your atoms apparently are pre programed and therefore there no purpose in debating.
    • thumb
      Apr 1 2011: Helen, you are evolved from monkeys, besides that and it was only a general example used to explain free will.

      If you looked at my other examples I talked about extremist also, are you not an extremist either?

      What would you like me to clarify about free will?
    • thumb
      Apr 3 2011: you're not a monkey, but you're an ape. At no point does my opinion nullify the importance of debate. Try and make an effort to understand it before you denigrate it please.
      • thumb
        Apr 4 2011: MM.............I am an evolved ape and so I have more mental capacity than an ape. As do all human beings.
        • thumb
          Apr 5 2011: All modern apes are evolved apes to be fair. Although yes, arguably we have more mental capacity than all others.
      • thumb
        Apr 4 2011: Didn't say your opinion did, i said your emotions did. Your emotions also created your opinions no matter how bullet proof the opinion is.
        • thumb
          Apr 5 2011: The emotion I would call affection and love is much more than an emotion. It is a verb. To love means means to care and respecr whatever it is that you love.
      • thumb
        Apr 6 2011: That's limiting love Helen

        Edited: In regards to this statement "To love means means to care and respect whatever it is that you love."
        • thumb
          Apr 6 2011: Hi.....Please explain how caring and respect limit love. I am interested.
      • thumb
        Apr 6 2011: (Read edited commented above)

        What is love?

        Asked so often. A question that if asked at the correct time will be like saying I love you. Love is an emotion; I know it is just that simply. However emotions are no simple subject. Emotions are responsible for everything we do as human beings; they effect every decision, every idea, every word, every movement, every thought, etc. So, emotions are necessary as a part of your life, your emotions create who, what, where, when and why you are you. You can learn to manipulate them, understand them, and even control them. Except one. - Beatnick

        Love...true love, genuine love, unconditional love does require respect and caring but in a universal manner. Everyone deserves love because everyone wants love, only those who prove to want otherwise deserve such.

        (The golden rule = love)
        • thumb
          Apr 6 2011: N.I agree that love is an emotion. I don't think I said otherwise. I agree with you that it is an emotion but let me give an example of what I mean. I have a cat, whom I call Butchie. Now Butchie is the apple of my eye......I love him. I am very happy when I interact with him. We play a lot. But would you say that I love him if I would not give him food, water and affection ? Caring and respect without affection is sterile and repugnant. I experience that myself quite often. I think that the definition of love is not complete without a physical show. Peace
    • thumb
      Apr 4 2011: Oh, sorry... I forgot the term "middle world" is only familiar to people who've had a glimpse of Richard Dawkins work. Basically, "middle world" is the world we live in. The world you can see and feel, even if you were in outer space. "Small world" in contrast is all we can't observe with our bare eyes, but can observe in other fashions, which includes everything in chemistry and quantum physics. There's also "Big world" which is everything cosmology and astronomy is about - everything that we can only talk about on a galactic and solar system scale and can't really feel happening while being in the middle of it.

      So, what I meant was that socially speaking, there is free will, and inherently, there is responsibility. But below that, in "small world", for the most part, things on that level are predictable (well, separately... collectively, they're too complex for one to predict your whole life), and considering that once upon a time, nothing on that level was predictable, there is the possibility that the currently unpredictable stuff is also going to become predictable. Of course, even then, we won't be able to easily predict someone's fate due to the complexity of reactions involved, so the concept of free will we have will remain in "middle world".

      Besides, there's this movie "Next" in which Nicolas Cage's character said something very profound:
      "Here is the thing about the future. Every time you look at, it changes, because you looked at it, and that changes everything else."
      So yeah, even if we know we had no free will, we'll act as if we do.

      You're still not getting the ape thing... you're a descendant of early apes, and modern monkeys are also descendants from those early apes. But since that common ancestor, we've evolved differently, and yes, you evolved to be smarter than today's monkeys, as do all of today's humans. It's like if you have a brother which turned out to be a scumbag while you turned out to be a millionaire, only on a larger scale.
      • thumb
        Apr 5 2011: Thank you for explaining "middle world" I had never heard that expression. And yes I am familiar with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. I am wondering if it might be that we do not know enough to evaluate that. I do get it about apes. It seems that somebody thinks that I cannot surpass the learning technique that stops monkeys at that point. If that is true then maybe I would never get over hard times or solve hard problems.
      • thumb
        Apr 6 2011: Vasil You are quoting....and I am wondering if the idea in the quote is correct ? Does the future change becase we observe it or can there be another reason maybe?
        • thumb
          Apr 6 2011: In terms of "small world", yes. The future does change if we observe it.

          Us observing something is still some particles (light, sound, etc.) arriving into our brain, and our brain in turn having a chemical reaction based on the input, in turn affecting everything else. The future wouldn't be an exception. Heck, knowing anything... knowing the PAST will affect how you think and in turn, your future.

          You've probably heard the saying "Those who don't know history and bound to repeat it". That's a subset of this very thought, and so is the quote.

          It's the only conclusion that I for one can come to when replacing "supernatural" with "unknown, but natural".
      • thumb
        Apr 6 2011: Vasil...........Probably it is too complex to explain how us observing can change anything physical. "in quantum mechanics there is such a phenomen as a particle not being there until we look at it". But for the life of me I just cannot comprehend what my action would have to do with the particle's situ at a particular time. I am not a scientist I just read a lot. What say you ?
        • thumb
          Apr 7 2011: The paradigm shift required for you to see my point would be to realize we are physical.

          What you could call "soul" or "mind" has a physical presence. Your brain isn't a driver for your body that obeys your soul/mind (the actions of which may or may not be predetermined). Your brain is not a physical manifestation of your soul/mind. Your brain IS your soul/mind.

          It is from there you could go on to see that since your soul/mind is physical, it obeys physical laws, therefore, it is as predictable as anything physical.

          Yet, everything physical is constantly interacting with every other physical thing around it. Your belief or lack thereof in something (including free will), your knowledge of lack thereof in general, your emotions or lack thereof.... everything about you is physical, therefore it is all predictable, but at the same time, your perception about it, also being physical, also affects what you'll do.

          You thinking you have free will is one predictable physical thing that affects further actions (yours and those around you) in a predictable way. You thinking you don't have free will is another predictable physical thing that affects further actions in another different, but still predictable way.

          Note also the difference between "predictable" and "known". Your actions being predictable in full detail doesn't mean anyone (including you) would ever know them in full detail.

          Personally, I believe my decisions were my decisions - they are my free will by the social definition - but they happened in a predictable way that no one (not even me) knows.
  • thumb
    Mar 31 2011: There is, but not free consequences. "Will" is relative. "The ability to make choices that are not externally determined". However, who makes the selections to choose from? The limiting of said selections is where free will is eroded.
    • thumb
      Mar 31 2011: Yess!! William, thank you for putting that into words here.
  • thumb
    Mar 31 2011: Dang, I wish I saw this debate earlier...

    Where to start, oh my. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZeiSKnhOBc

    Well first, you need to have free thought in order to have free will. Now with free thought you able to critically think about anything with no restrictions of preordained guide lines of reasoning. Examples of preordained guide lines of reasoning: Believing in a religious based god, growing up with racist parents, having automatic wealth, and/or being educated in America (oh yeah, I went there).

    Anyways if your free thought is corrupted by bad beliefs, bad basic knowledge, and/or just a limited foundation of knowledge; your free will is directly affected.. So, when you (as a child) watch the people around you drink a soft drink and see it on T.V, when you go to get a drink most likely that you are going for the soft drink. This is your free will. You CHOOSE the drink, but in life your free thought was tainted by the evidence that the soft drink is the better choice. Now this is only an example but I tried to keep it general. If you were taught from somewhere soft drinks rot your teeth, or their are healthy delicious choices that are not commercialized you now gains a better free thought basis and can continue to increase your free will.

    So ultimately free thought = true free will. Otherwise your free will is subject to being controlled by the environment in which you are born, brought up, happy in, and live in, because this is where your thoughts are created. Indeed emotions do play a major role in free thought.

    And I really really want responses to this, because this is a great topic.
    • thumb
      Mar 31 2011: So if I understand you right, for you free will is the increase of knowledge around a given situation. That's another interesting perspective. I think I need to update my definition of free will to take in all these new ideas I've gathered on this page.
      • thumb
        Mar 31 2011: I would say the collective interpretation of situations. Consider the extremist of a religion/philosophy/ideology or any sort, they have gone through life building on the idea that their ideology is the ultimate answer and everything else will be looked at from this perspective. This person's free will when confronted by someone telling them they are a fool for their beliefs, the choices of how to handle this confrontation are limited, because their ideology is the foundation of their life. They will now fight you, argue you with you until you walk away or they do, and/or kill you.

        The freedom to debate with you sensibly is impossible because you have insulted not just their faith and ideas but their life. An extremist free will is limited to what their ideology tells them, which I would like to think isn't true free will at all.
  • thumb
    Mar 29 2011: I believe we have free will to a certain extent which is governed by the modes of nature, which has it's own free will, which in turn screws with our free will lol.
  • thumb
    Mar 13 2011: Yes and no.






    I don´t know. But I am sure that most of us very often act in a certain way, not because our free will directed the action, but because all the circumstances created a greater force that made us act that way.
    And I think that if we admit that, we might stop judging ourself and others, saying this person is good and this one evil.
    For some reason we humans have created moral, religion and law. But maybe we did not do that either out of free will...
  • thumb
    Mar 13 2011: Pleas read Danniel Dennet's "freedom evolves"

    If you still have the same question or debate: try to go from there.

    In the meanwhile my claim is:
    "Free will is a concept we understand and use for juridical reasons"

    No need to think about it in terms of determinism or indeterminism.
    & whether it exists or not depends greatly on the definition you have of "free will"

    I don't know about your last question. I think it sounds good, but is nonsensical.
    • thumb
      Mar 13 2011: Thanks for the suggestion, I very much like Daniel Dennet so I might just do that. I do seem to remember the notion of free will being a point of disagreement between Daniel Dennet and Robert Wright during a particular interview. Here it is in fact: http://meaningoflife.tv/video.php?speaker=dennett&topic=complete

      I think that from what I've read on this debate so far there's been two main but radically different definitions of free will. That I focused on one in particular and assumed this was the one most people meant when they spoke of free will is a mistake on my part.
      • thumb
        Mar 14 2011: Thanks for the link!

        I gather he will touch some of the points he made in freedom evolves.

        As with most concepts: one can have an opinion of what something is, or one can use a (working) definition. The latter reduces freedom of interpretation and allows for less vague debates
  • thumb
    Mar 13 2011: Free will can be a concept that we derived because it is useful. Also we do not have full free will, you can do exactly one of your wills at any time.
  • Mar 12 2011: (1) What does it mean exactly when we talk about free will and how do we make sense of it in the light of our current scientific knowledge?

    The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines Free Will as ”[...] a philosophical term of art for a particular sort of capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives. Which sort is the free will sort is what all the fuss is about.”

    That is probably as much objectivity on the topic of free will you'll get; this is due to the fact that we don't really know what it is yet. The Newtonian physics espoused deterministic views on the world, contemporary physics on the other hand argue that the universe is probabilistic, that there is room for ”freedom” or probabilities. A probabilistic universe allows, maybe not full freedom, but some; that is unless it is viewed as meta-deterministic.

    If one is to remain skeptical, one could argue that contemporary physics hasn't come a long way, and that a majority of the universal truths or laws are still unknown to us; in other words we rely on observations until we find better one's - physics is bound to be modified sooner or later.

    The question offers, at the time being, no satisfaction.

    Personally, I remain undecided but believe that free will has practical applications with remarks to society, since a lack of it implies that no one can be held accountable for anything.
    • thumb
      Mar 13 2011: I wouldn't say that all contemporary physics argues a probabilisitc view, but only a part of it: Quantum Mechanics. The modern theory of relativity remains very much part of the deterministic view. I would say the mind and its action potentials happen on the macroscopic and therefore deterministic scale. Although I'm sure someone has argued for a quantum origin of the mind before, I'd have to look it up.
  • thumb
    Mar 12 2011: I remember writing a philosophy paper back in university when I was an undergrad and I was debating the existence of free will. My argument went something like this, it was a little silly. Imagine time machines existed, if that was the case is it not true that I could always go back in time and do the opposite of what I had done before. It is true that I could do that but that is because if we could indeed recieve information from the future that would disrupt present day causality.

    It is common sense that everything is the object of causality and to say something isn't such as free will is to disassociate the free will from it's surroundings. It is to make it a seperate object that is not object of existence. From this common sense view it seems like free will really is implausible

    However as humans we tend to place a lot of weight on our capacity to be free agents and have self anatomy. Whatever we wanna call it we respect our freedom very much and we would rather be agents than live a coercive existence. Further our sense of responsibility also derives from the notion that we are free, we are agents and therefore responsible for our actions. It's hard to find a human being that can completely denounce all responsibility. So whether free will is an illusion or not I think the idea of freedom is very important to us as humans.
    • thumb
      Mar 12 2011: The idea of freedom of course still remains important with or without free will, yes. Furthermore, to claim no responsability of ones action is to miss the point: that having no free will does not mean you're not in control anymore, it simply means there's no real dissociation between the self and the rest of the you.
    • Apr 10 2011: The problem of free will comes from the gap between our reasons and our actions. Reasons do not cause us to do anything, but having sufficient reason wills (but doesn't force) us to act. So in any decision situation we experience a gap between our reasons and our actions. This is what causes us to think that we have free will. (or so they tell me in the philosophy of mind lectures I have been following)

      This is the definition of free will I use when I think about the freedom of the will. Can anyone agree or disagree with it so that I can have a more thorough spectrum of the concept of free will to apply all this too?
  • thumb
    Mar 11 2011: as a side note, i want to share an observation from book. it is in hungarian, so i summarize instead of quoting. if you ask people what "free will" means, they often answer something like "i can do what i want". if you look at it thoroughly, this is not free will. free will would be something like "i want what i want". if i can do what i want, it is free action. if you ask people if they think they can act in line with their will, the answer is mostly yes. but if you ask people whether they can choose their will freely, the answer is most likely no, or at least mixed. also some studies suggest that will is actually not free. will is something out of our direct control.
  • Apr 11 2011: Without getting into the nitty gritty of what freedom is or how free or fre-er one can be in a given circumstance , I think we all have the capability of exercising our free will , we can choose being what we want to be in a given moment without undue bias entering into our decision making process.
    Scientifically, yes ,the complexity of brain function depends on millions of years of evolution and even as an individual a whole lot of integral processes lead up to determine what we think right now but in a larger social context, say, if we have to choose an electoral candidate ,we do get to exercise our free will or as someone commented maybe a self-deceptive idea of free will.
  • Apr 11 2011: Can I point out determinism doesn't necessarily mean that free will doesn't exist. To NOT have free will suggests that someone who knew the rules of the universe (or a subset, such as logic within neural networks) and an initial condition could technically control a person's actions, however the complexity of neural circuits in the brain may prove to be too hard to predict. Furthermore, since the universe is quantum, uncertainty plays a role in all measurements, and if we imagine a posthuman race that had qubit brains, it would be inherently impossible for anything within the (deterministic) universe to calculate their thoughts and thus control them.

    Until computers can accurately predict human brains, and MRIs can get the details required to capture an initial state, humans effectively have free will. The fact that universe has only one outcome or is basically a simulation, is irrelevant, since nothing that existed within the parameters of the universe could ever know what this outcome is (because of uncertainty in measurement), and anything outside the universe (if such a contemplation even makes sense) could not interact with it without changing said outcome.

    You should probably define your use of freewill and determinism within the context of this debate more accurately. Free Will doesn't necessarily have to be freedom of action over physical laws. People (most of them) don't think they can defy gravity if they thought enough, nor do they claim they can walk through walls by exerting their will. The idea of free will stems from the fact most people believe the active agent in the choices they make is themselves. The brain, as well as any other computer of certain complexity, can easily follow deterministic laws and be such an agent.

    On a side note, I believe that free will doesn't exist, but that is more because I do not believe that the decision making part of the brain is necessarily the same as the conscious part. Determinism doesn't play a role.
  • thumb

    Drew B

    • 0
    Apr 11 2011: Your just going to have to accept that this is real and we have free will. You have to base everything off of something thats real. This is just like all those other questions like, Do we exist?, are we just part of someones imagination?, are we dreaming? You have to accept concrete proof that this is real life
    • thumb
      Apr 11 2011: 'you just gotta' isn't a valid argument...a lot of people made some great arguments against free will. You ought to read them.
  • thumb
    Apr 10 2011: I think that free will exists. but it is influenced by other free wills. we should not look at it separated from surroundings and influences. if you drive a car your will would be driving the car , but the properties and quality of that drive is determined and influenced by many other factors. we should not think black or white . there is a gray-scale.
    the other solution is that we look at the consequence of a Will . we could consider a free will is something that should result to our benefit. because no one wills against himself. the influencing will of others could be against us or could have a mutual benefit. so others might be willing to change our will for their own benefit. if they are so kind they might consider a mutual benefit. :) . so i think ( I do not know) that we should talk about free will in relation with other free wills and influences.

    we could will to do something but unless we have the condition needed we can not do it. or the condition might be there but we do not will to do it. or someone might change your free will to match her free will.
    so more than talking about free will i am interested in what makes a Will satisfactory and beneficial to have. our perception is part of it . who could affect your perception can affect your free will.
  • Apr 10 2011: I have been running into poles and spacing out at work thinking about this stuff, with no one to talk to! Ted is a godsend :D

    1. The problem of free will comes from the gap between our reasons and our actions. Reasons do not cause us to do anything, but having sufficient reason wills (but doesn't force) us to act. So in any decision situation we experience a gap between our reasons and our actions. This is what causes us to think that we have free will. (or so they tell me in the philosophy of mind lectures I have been following)

    2. I think it is more of a question of how much determinism is there. Im not qualified (yet!) to give a detailed explanation of the neuro-biological and psychological process of decision making- but it is crystal clear that if consciousness is caused by the brain that it is somewhat determined by physical processes creating it. It seems impossible to theorize about this without a PHD in everything. Our own minds trying to understand the underlying process that causes decision making, it almost seems like a joke to theorize at my current level of understanding. I think it will take a dedicated group of researchers from MANY disciplines to appropriately tackle this problem.

    Searle describes the process: We have the first-person conscious experience of acting on reasons. We state these reasons in the form of explanations. [T]hey are not of the form A caused B. They are of the form, a rational self S performed act A, and in performing A, S acted on reason R.

    But to people with messed up brains have free will? Do animals? Which part of the brain enables it? Does our free will degenerate?

    3. The Mind-Body Problem. Im going to jump in bed with Searle again on this one and state that consciousness is a system feature of the brain. Hopefully in the near future our neurobiology will shed a little more light on what "the self" is and how "we" perceive it.
  • Apr 10 2011: 4.

    In my own mind (haha)- free will could go either way. I feel as if I am floating through uncontrollable events in my life, and that due to chance learning about myself and the way things work- I am developing a sort of 'free will.' Ridding myself of bad or training myself to have good habits, while learning to control my "behaviors" and emotions in order to more appropriately direct my intention and achieve what I desire (but does an organism learning behaviors constitute will, or free will?)- all of that over the backdrop of my general disposition or outlook on life (which is probably a product of deterministic learned behavior and perhaps a little biology *vagus nerve activity, for example). Did I forget anything? Oh yeah- my current mood, and perhaps even a more intermediate outlook on life.

    A mind confused by the illusion of complexity? I cant tell!
  • thumb
    Apr 10 2011: Yes
  • Apr 10 2011: I think you need to explore the idea of a conscious/soul.

    I believe that we do have free will. I can choose to be happy/sad, I can choose to walk outside in the grass, or to take off all of my clothes and start screaming. A dog can choose to run away, or it can choose to sit down and growl to let it's master know that there is a squirrel close by. Both the human and the dog do this by evaluating outcomes and choosing the one they feel is best based on previous experiences.

    Similar to an AI robot being turned on for the first time, it will bump into all the walls, but then quickly learn where the walls are, and that it shouldn't bump into them because it causes a sensor on it's side to fire.

    If you put a wireless chip in your brain which can communicate in and out, then connect "storage" (blank wireless brain with exact same ability as human brain), then randomly "cut out the power" to each brain off and back on so that they learn to become identical copies instead of simply increasing brain size, then completely shut down the 1st brain, you still act the same, are you the same person?

    What does it mean to be the same person? Is it possible that we're a new person every time we go to sleep? Then why do I not FEEL like a different person?

    It's pretty obvious that people who have massive brain damage do not act the same at all, and many times, family members will even say that they "are not the same person." This leads me to believe that brain matter matters. In the brain copy example, does the original person's soul "die"? I don't know...
    • thumb
      Apr 10 2011: There's also that very interesting case of a guy with a split-brain whose two hemispheres have different personalities. Is either one the original person with the non-split brain?
      • Apr 10 2011: Are they really two different people though?
        • thumb
          Apr 10 2011: They have different personalities and aspirations which hints that they are, in effect, two conscious people.
        • Apr 11 2011: arent we all aware of our different personalities? one part of me is dying to be wealthy, and part of me knows that excess money is stupid and won't make me happy. im sure everyone has similar experiences. even though part of you might believe something, another part believes the opposite. if anything i think it only suggests that personality is a give and take between different regions of the brain, maybe the more primal and more evolved brain hemispheres. I dont think this suggests two separate people living in my brain though, because there of course is that third voice that reaches the compromise of working hard to achieve wealth, while enjoying my life as it is. is that free will, i dunno lol but i like to think it is.
    • Apr 10 2011: Who chooses to be happy? I cant do it. Can you choose to be happy while at the same time watching a child be tortured, or having your finger cut off? Maybe some meditation experts can :)

      An "AI" robot that moves around and stores locations of walls so that it doesn't run into them does not actually learn- it is only manipulating symbols it has no ontological experience of understanding.

      I often wonder about the problem of being unconscious during sleep and waking up to be the same person. There is no acceptable answer to this philosophically- sadly. Unless the soul counts :(
      • Apr 11 2011: Who chooses to be physically hurt? Same principle. Endorphins (chemicals) activate neurons in the brain that are associated with happiness, thus creating the experience of happiness, just like a physical injury (e.g. scraped knee) activates nociceptors in the nerve endings at the site of the injury, which enters the brain at the thalamus, and activates all of the neurons in the brain associated with pain.

        Consider depression. How can somebody completely change their outlook on life by going on anti-depressants, without their "identity" (conscious experience of self) in some way being tied to materialist causes?
  • Apr 9 2011: Prove free will does not exist.

    Now because someone will challenge me to prove it does. I will, by not posting on this thread again, regardless of what is posted.

    Everything else is just semantics.

    Have a great day all
    • thumb
      Apr 10 2011: good for you Dave...
    • Apr 11 2011: Dave, the possibility and predisposition for this action, as well as the words you used to declare it, already existed inside of your brain (in dormancy). This is a pretty easy proposition to refute. Just like I have a predisposition to eating food when it is in front of me, conditioned by other dispositions, like whether I know that I own this food, how hungry I am, whether I have had bad previous experiences with this food, etc. All of these capabilities compete for existence in the decision-making structures of your brain, and, in the case of your comment, that capability which claims to free will by NOT further commenting has won out over other, less desirable propensities.

      So, in many ways, your comment is "just semantics" (I'm not sure that the common use of the word semantics in this sense is really appropriate to its meaning."
  • thumb
    Apr 9 2011: ...Continued

    I think that the observational bias I mentioned before can be found in the way consciousness interacts with time. Time is essential to rational though. Without time nothing moves, the universe is static. It is only through the dimension of time that positions can become motions, objects become actions. In order to think the brain must think in time.

    If you take the view that everything that can happen has happened then time becomes a series of frozen moments chained like images on a film strip. Free will then becomes ability to change the probability that a state will occur, not the exclusion of alternate pasts and futures via actions, but the inclusion of them in a timeless probabilistic environment.
  • thumb
    Apr 9 2011: This has been a very interesting dialog to read, many of the points represented here mirror my own thinking on free will. I hope that my own options as written here differ in a beneficial way from what I would have written before exposure to the viewpoints in this TED conversation.

    To begin with my position on free will is slightly paradoxical; I think that its existence depends on the perspective from which the question is asked. It exists and we act with freedom, but freewill is an emergent phenomena based in a deep rooted observational bias. So it exists as far as humans are concerned, but I do not think that there is feature that necessitates it as a universal principle.

    Free will as I see it is this. A person is sitting at home, one hour later they could be at a coffee shop or they could be in a clothing store. Both states are equally probable, but one person cannot experience both. There is nothing except the X ingredient of free will that allows the individual to choose actions which will allow a selected physical state to occur.

    Determinism I always think of in terms of dominoes set to collide in a massive chain reaction when a single domino is set in motion. If one falls the others must fall. Depending on the degree to which a person espouses determinism this view can be applied to everything from the interactions of electrons to human social patterns.

    Continued...
  • Apr 9 2011: From what I've seen, science does not know nearly enough to make even an educated guess on this topic. I think that most people have their own beliefs about free will and mine is as follows....

    I believe in an infinite number of universes. I believe that every single time an event occurs that leads to a change in the universe another universe is formed where the opposite change occurs. For example, consider the phenomena of radiation. A single radioactive atom may or may not decompose at any given time, while half-life tells us how a large number of atoms will behave as a group, it does not tell us the exact time a single atom will decay (although it will give a probabilistic distribution where you could estimate a range of likely times). So consider a single moment in time (I also believe time is discrete), an atom may or may not decay, and at any given moment of time two universes are born, one where the atom decays and another where it doesn't.

    I believe that life is like this. We go through life making decisions and through these decisions we carve our path in the infinite number of universes. So my belief is that we do have free will, but every possible outcome of the universe will be achieved. I don't believe that there is only one destiny for our universe.

    Anyway, as I said before I think that just about anything on this topic is speculation. Science barely knows the nature of consciousness, let alone free will.
  • Apr 9 2011: Free will certainly exists, but it may or may not show up results depending upon whether the past free will has been used or abused !
  • thumb
    Apr 9 2011: (Cont)
    Everything we do are reflexes and responses based on our life experiences and influences. Some of us respond differently because of what we have stored inside of our brains, and those with larger capacity may be more eloquent and informative. But none of us can ever form a thought or opinion that is independent of what mans total knowledge has been up to now. You ever wonder why all those people that see aliens describe them in the same way? You may suggest it is because they've all seen the same aliens, but I assert that they've all inputted the same data. Try to imagine and then draw a new creature from your imagination and I bet it would have arms and legs or trunks and tails, whatever it eventually looks like it will be a combination of what you have already seen or experienced.
    So is there such a thing as Free Will? Well I suspect probably not. We are logical beings much like a computer, our responses to everything can only be based on the information stores we individually possess. We cannot even create without first being inspired and inspiration in a quantitative input from some know external source. There were six topics above that one could have read before opining here but what would be the point in a discussion like this when any new data read from those topics would spill out into your response here and further solidify the case for No Free Will.
    When we can base any decision or action on no know facts or external influences whatever that may be the instance where Free Will is exercised.
    So if you chose to reply or not to my comments are you exercising Free Will or Choice? Is there a difference?

    BMG - http://brians-say.blogspot.com/
  • Apr 9 2011: Free will exists in perfection. Our human minds have restriction of free will but that restriction is slowly degraded as we continue to learn and strive for perfection through all physical, mental, and moral actions. It is known that perfection is never attained but rather expounded upon to grow in incremental pieces with every step in the right direction. Free will is tied to this perfection.

    Each person chooses their own path towards this attainment of perfection. It is not what you choose but how you choose, not what you do through that choice but how you do that choice.
    • Apr 10 2011: How do you account for someone that is brainwashed ,with your view of a person "choosing" their own path towards attainment of perfection. It seems you are arguing that some people have it and some people dont. I find myself leaning towards something like this, also. But, at which point in our mental development do we have the ability to choose. I feel as if mine has just kicked in (Im recently 25 and my brain has probably just finished developing). It seems to me that everyone, based on their unchoosable born into circumstances goes through life and does the best that their psychology, biology, socioeconomic situation, and learned behavior allows them too. Is free will acquired?
  • thumb
    Apr 9 2011: Vasil..... Your explanations are so lucid and to the point, I don't uunderstand how anyone could not be enlightened by them. It does take a conversation that is explanatory so that the person asking can explain all the objections in his mind regarding the idea. Thank you so much. You deserve you +58 cred. Peace
  • Apr 9 2011: In my opinion, free will exists. Do I have free will? No. It is something I strive towards. How do I know if I have free will? I look at the decisions I take in my life and I see what is motivating me to take these decisions. Am I free to take this course of action or that course of action? A lot of the times, I see that I take certain actions and follow certain path out of fear. In that case I am not free. One example of this can be that I "decided " or exercised "my free will" to enrol in accounting at university because I believe it will provide me financial security. There is no free will there, it is an illusion. I am only doing this out of fear, fear of not having enough, fear of not being able to support myself. Now what I really want to do is learn how to paint and play the piano but I am too afraid to pursue that because once again I am living in fear. So I am not free.

    Another example could be in regards to the hatred or ill feelings I have towards some people in my life. Lets say I am invited to one of my friends birthday party. I would love to go. But I find out that someone I can't stand will be there. So I decide to "exercise my free will" and not go. Was I really free when I made that decision? Not really I was letting my hatred for him, and to some extent him, run my life and my decision at that time.

    That's just my humble opinion. I strive for more freedom everyday. Free will is an ideal that I work towards. I am open minded to the idea that maybe, just maybe one day I can exercise free will in all areas of my life.
  • thumb
    Apr 8 2011: The question of the existence of "free will" is analogous to the question of whether we exist in a "deterministic" reality or a "probabilistic" reality. I contend we live in a probabilistic universe; and therefore, we have "free will", given the constraints of our universe (or circumstance, environment, etc.). Yes, God does play dice. ;-))

    I would further argue that our "free will" (thoughts/beliefs/behavior) is not only the domain of our conscious mind, but our unconscious mind as well. Our thoughts and actions can not only be effected by the books we read and the conversations we have, but also by the food or drugs we consume, our environment, our level of physical or psychological wellness, etc. Our conscious and unconscious mental states are by-products of the cumulative effects of multiple cognitive systems accessing and processing sensory input information and/or memories simultaneously. In addition, the conscious mind can't make a reasoned decision without input from the the irrational mind (subconscious feelings) in order to value the relevant information being considered in the decision-making process. So, "free will" can emanate from the conscious and subconscious cognitive states, and can be rationally and irrationally derived.
    • thumb
      Apr 8 2011: I'm not sure if free-will can be reduced to a problem of determinism vs. probability. Isn't there some determinism in some types of probabilities anyway? The description you make of free will in the second paragraph I would argue sounds a lot like my definition of a lack of free will.
  • Apr 8 2011: Some thoughts on this.....Does a Question always have to have an Answer. Why does it matter if we have free will or not. I think this is more a question about Control around concepts like Time, Birth, etc. To boil it down to its essence ...are we one, many or the same person......its all an experience...relax and go with the flow.
  • thumb
    Apr 7 2011: Vasil..........I appreciate the time and effort it took to reply to my post. I am just wondering........when we talk about "in the spirit of"" are we talking about something physical ? I most certainly agree that mind does not exist without body. Does my gaze determine the position of a particle ? The microcosmic world is certainly a big puzzle to me.
    • thumb
      Apr 8 2011: The meaning of "in the spirit of" depends on context... but I find it that it's often a simpler way of saying "In order to preserve the mood in accordance with the typical mood for". And "mood", as you can guess, is a state of mind/soul/brain (with its own physical patterns and so forth).

      For example:
      "In the spirit of TED conversations, I'm going to be open minded."
      is pretty much the same as
      "In order to preserve the mood in accordance with the typical mood for TED conversations, I'm going to be open minded."
      But the first is more convenient, so you'll often find even people like myself who have a different position on "spirit" use the phrase.

      "Does my gaze determine the position of a particle ?"
      No, but it does determine your perception of the position of a particle, which could in turn affect further events in a different way.

      Also, in order for you to have a gaze, there were some particles between the particle you gaze at and your eyes/ears/whatever which not only affected your particles, but all particles around them. That in turn can have an affect on the gazed particle's further interactions.

      The problem is you're constantly part of the system. Whatever environment you were to set up, even in a lab with as much interferences as possible blocked, everything is still part of the system. You're observing a system you're part of... that's different from most other kind of observations we're doing, whether it's in "middle world" or "big world". You spying on a... let's say a restaurant across the street... doesn't make you part of the restaurant's system. You looking at another galaxy doesn't make you part of that galaxy. But in terms of small world there's always particles interacting, with all of the universe being part of it.
      • thumb
        Apr 8 2011: Vasil.... I guess that I really didn't know how to ask the question properly but you have answered my intent very well. Thank you. But if perception is part of what appears to be random I was just wondering if we knew more about particle interactions would we still think that this is random? My eyes have receptors to light,etc..........but doesn't our brain filter these things according to a mind/brain set.? Maybe that is a slly idea. Can you shed some light on this as this is something that is very exciting to me. Peace
        • thumb
          Apr 8 2011: "but if perception is part of what appears to be random I was just wondering if we knew more about particle interactions would we still think that this is random?"
          No. We wouldn't think it's random. That's precisely my point ^_^ . Once we know how something works, it's no longer "random", but "predictable" instead. It doesn't necessarily mean we can alter it in a way we'd like, but it does mean that said thing has a behavior we could predict.

          The weather was once completely "random" until we learned how to predict it. It's still not fully predictable because we don't understand its full extent, but it's no longer fully random either. It's only random to a degree (hah... degree... excuse the pun). We can and do alter some of the parts we do understand (did you know many countries shoot rockets against clouds that are predicted to bring hailstorms?) but we do so without judging the consequences in full extent (some of those clouds turn into raining clouds that give near areas that "The weather guy was wrong" feeling and sometimes they dissolve completely; it depends on the cloud and the point at which the rocket detonates).

          "My eyes have receptors to light,etc..........but doesn't our brain filter these things according to a mind/brain set.?"
          Yes, but the filter changes (predictably) since its still part of the same system. You may look at a picture and see one thing and see another looking at it a second time after having a different mind set. TED is the best example of a place where your filter constantly changes as your mind/brain thinks about all kinds of information arriving into it. What is popularly called a "rewiring" of the brain is your filter being changed, affecting further things after that change.

          We might have watched the same TEDTalks you and I, but if we watched them in a different order, theoretically, we might reach different conclusions, because our filters changed differently. Not to mention we had different filters as a starting point.
  • thumb
    Apr 5 2011: Matt...I have a question. You are familiar with "Les Miserable" . Do you think that particles and their interactions caused the bishop to tell the law that the candelabra was given to Jean ? Or Maybe there was something else going on ? There was force involved but which one?
    • thumb
      Apr 7 2011: No I have not read it. Not really my cup of tea. I think Valery in her first post beautifully describes in her 2nd paragraph what I'm trying to get at.
  • thumb
    Apr 5 2011: Don't "get" your last paragraph. But I do understand the rest of your post.
  • thumb
    Mar 31 2011: Matt...This is a no brainer...Why even ask the question if you already know the answer ? Actually you are vindicating my position. If humans have no free will then we can hardly be held accountable for any decision we make while sane. Talk about freedom.......that is real freedom. Please read my previous text and see if I did not say that man is an animal !!!! I believe in the evolution of species and I am not as ignorant as you might suppose. Further I think that man is self aware to a degree that animals are not. Tell me is psychology a pseudo-science ? Do animals philosophise ? BTW....If someone broke into your house would you then say ..The (instinct) made him do it and let it go at that ? Animals have an hierachy but I don't see any justice system. Do you ?

    Tim ................The answer is yes. I am sorry you are having trouble understanding.

    Nick...............Are you saying that some people are free-er than others ?
    • thumb
      Mar 31 2011: You are taking the phrase "free will" as a single thing.

      On the social level, in "middle world" (not to be confused with LOTR's "middle earth"), there IS indeed free will, so if someone broke into your house, they'd be doing a thing that is wrong regardless of why they did it. Whether they do it or not IS a matter of their free will, and it IS a matter of our free will how to react.

      The only way for free will not to exist in middle world is for someone to be in near full control of your decision making process, similarly to the radical religions Nicholas used as an example.

      On the cellular, atomic and subatomic level, in "small world", there is NOT free will, as the behavior of all particles is (for the most part) predictable and seemingly random in all cases that are currently considered unpredictable. We are made of those things, therefore we have no free will (or if you prefer - we have random will) on that level.

      In middle world, you have the free will to believe or not believe something, but whether you do or not depends on the activity in small world within your brain. Your brain will fire certain neurons based on the evidence (or lack thereof) your eyes and ears collect from the world and based on your previous activity (a.k.a. memory).

      Think of it this way... the end result can typically be viewed as free will, but the process itself is deterministic, destined if you will.
    • thumb
      Mar 31 2011: Of course some people are more free than others, that is without question! Those who think in terms of "anything is possible" and those who "conform to guidelines" are not only two different people one is much more free than the other.

      Watch the movie of the 5 monkeys I posted earlier, then continue...

      You see the 5 newest monkeys free will is limited to by what they been taught, they have been taught to follow in line. They think they no longer have a choice in what they can do because they were trained to think that way.

      Now the day will come when no one is looking maybe a monkey will attempt the stairs again, this monkey upon not being hosed down (because the moderators took them away) will gain more knowledge/awareness, he will not be punished for climbing the stairs. In fact he will be rewarded for his curious behavior with a banana This monkey will thus be more free than his fellow monkeys. And based on that new freedom comes the free will in the choice of whether or not to show the others they will NOT be hosed for getting a banana.
    • thumb
      Apr 1 2011: Only if you continue making the difference between mind and body do you come to the conclusion that lack of free will leads to lack of responsability. If anything it's the opposite.

      And I don't know the answer to this particular debate, I have heard many interesting perspectives here.
      • thumb
        Apr 1 2011: Free will is never the beginning it is always the result, and if free will is the result of responsibility that is impossible. Responsibility also would be part of life experiences into what one would consider to be important or not important.

        So, I do not understand this response.
        • thumb
          Apr 3 2011: It was a response to Helen. What I am saying is that people sometimes argue that the fact that our free will (or arguably our lack of free will) is completely deterministic somehow means that people are no longer responsible for their actions because they are no longer 'in control'. What I'm arguing is that the separation between mind and body which this argument rests upon makes no sense given my proposition and that the individual remains wholly responsible for his actions as he is defined by his actions. Lack of free will (in this sense only; as we've seen, there are many different ideas about it) is not lack of responsability. Besides, it's an appeal to emotion.
  • thumb
    Mar 30 2011: To Matt...Please explain to me in layman's language why you say that I don't have free will Thanks

    To Sargis........I woulike to see acontinuation of this video......................say until the monkey can take care of itself or reaches an edible size...............
    • thumb
      Mar 31 2011: Well two definitions of free will have emerged from this discussion. I was talking about free will in the context of freedom from determinism. The idea is that some people seem to believe that the choices we make our independent of the state in which we are in when we make our choices. What I defend is that you make a choice depending on your current physical state inside and outside the body at one time. I guess to a lot of people here, this is a trivially obvious idea which is why free will has been used in different context.
      • thumb
        Mar 31 2011: t.... Matt...........Thanks for clarifying this for me. I believe that what I decide is based on what I know or believe at the time of my decision if I am in control of my emotions. That to me is free will. However if I react instead of act then It's not my free will. Kind of a paradox, huh ?It seems that we really are two selves........animal and human.
        • thumb
          Mar 31 2011: Are you saying that humans have the possibility of free will, but animals don't?

          I'm having trouble understanding why one would and the other not.
        • thumb
          Mar 31 2011: To add to Tim's comment.. I think animals have more free will than humans because they live on instinct we live as a reflection of our environment and education.Plus we are animals, if we had the chance to only live on our instincts we would have more free will than I feel most humans have now.
        • thumb
          Mar 31 2011: There are other words for what you're describing here. You're talking about the difference between instinct and reasoning rather than free will. Also, humans ARE animals. What's more many animals display a lot of the decision patterns that we humans do too (an obvious no brainer given that we've evolved from the same common ancestor). I think your vision of the rest of the animal kingdom might be a little archaic.
  • thumb
    Mar 29 2011: My (likely humble, simplistic, et al) opinion on the matter is that "free will" is nothing more than ignorance; blind to all possible outcomes, incapable of predicting far-flung future results, and impossible to see how any act, refusal to act, or lack of recognition of an opportunity to act does, itself, impact and affect all future moments.

    I assert, therefore, that we do, in fact, have "free will", but that it is not so grand or great a thing as we make it out to be; if anything, it is evidence of our frequent ambition, arrogance, short-sightedness and, of course, ignorance.
  • thumb
    Mar 26 2011: If I read a simplified version of your sentance "There is no such thing as free will" on a day in my early childhood, when I had been caught stealing a cookie from the pantry I might have said "I couldn't help it" and agreed with you. Later in the day when taken for an innoculation and being offered a reward if I sat still and allowed it without a fuss, I weighed the two scenarios and choose what my simple logic and emotions at the time deduced was most beneficial to me. I chose to sit still. I then would have disagreed with you.

    I use an example of an actual chilhood response to avoid "but what if" postulations.

    The question of whether it is fair to separate our thought processes from our body is a discussion that can be applied to culpability on an almost unlimited number of topics. Crime springs to mind.

    This could possibly be more a question about predestination or "fate" than free will.

    It would seem the complexity of the brain has passed beyond theory into an acknowledgement of fact. But as I am under no illusion as to my lack of education I could be deciding to accept the wrong perception!
  • thumb

    jag .

    • 0
    Mar 25 2011: Hmm, I think this has been pondered by many people. A good author which can explain this is an interesting and easy way is Eckhart Tolle, he answered alot of my spiritual questions.
  • thumb
    Mar 23 2011: Mat...I would like to see a hungry lion, of his free will say, I will not eat Helen today because that would compromise my ethics.
  • thumb
    Mar 21 2011: Separate thought processes from our body? One hopes one thinks after death. Or at least listens.
  • Mar 18 2011: So far I don't believe there has been on agreement on what we mean by free will. Two definitions I think are good possibilities: the access to alternative possibilities, or to be the source of your own actions.

    Either way, a good way out of this problem is dualism. Still it seems ridiculous to assume that consciousness--which may exist independent of matter--can affect the physical world. Although I think it's important to consider phenomena such as the placebo affect, I don't think we can confidently say we know everything about our physical reality.

    The way I see freewill is that cognition is a higher thought process where the 'self' is capable of choosing from a variety of present options. It is not complete freedom however, because the options presented are rarely in our control. The freedom stems from using cognition to actually experience a free action. It's weak responsibility. But in this sense, we can influence reality around us through conscious choice.
  • thumb
    Mar 18 2011: It is not fair to separate our thought processes from the rest of our body. But then you have to apply the same way of thinking with the individual mind-body and the surroundings.
    And so on so forth, everything depending on everything in eternity....
    Even in some ancient time people thought about this and saw the paradox. They invented zero, nothingness. And our mathematics and physics rely on that. I think that in some way eternity and nothingness, the highest number that can exist and zero, are the same.
    And we both have free will and are predetermined.
    It is just our brain that is wired to think in either/or, just as the computers we have created in our image.
  • thumb
    Mar 15 2011: what about committing actions which are mistakes? would that be against the ideology of free will. I think we don't have free will, we can only make free intentions.
  • Mar 13 2011: Matthieu, General society does rely an utilize thier own free-will, so in a sense you are right in your statement, I believ that our world would be far more a loving and joyous place if this was not the case, as it seems to me that those who live life with belief in a celestial force guiding thier destiny tend to be the greatist beings mankind has produced, Ghandi, Albert Einstien, William Blake and Mother Terressa to name a few. Scientific Advancement would not have brought us to this point if Free-will was an ideology only. In about 1900 hundred the latest Scientist predicted that the 'car' would be a fad only and people will go back to riding horseback, If people like Henry Ford had no free-will he would have listened to the so called 'expert's - hence an example of free-wll--however I bet you Mr Ford had a little voice in him guiding him and saying 'Go on make the thing it will happen, it will work" and It Did!! so I think maybe Free-will is a reality that is guided by the power(God/Nature) that created everything and which put's the little idea's that pop into our consciousness. There is no such thing as Chance, There is the light of Love that rules all thing's only and knowledge is not as quick or as poignant as imagination, because imagination is not bound by freewill but by the power of Life/God.
    I offer these view's so you can further get to a point where you do not need to debate such a topic as you will know the answer at the same time you imagine the question, Thank you- From one non christian non religious believer of now, Paul X :)
    • thumb
      Mar 13 2011: Given that we fundamentally disagree, sometimes on the notion of free will itself, we will be debating this for a long time to come. I welcome the debate.
  • Comment deleted

    • thumb
      Mar 13 2011: I would like to point out there's a fundamental difference between instinct and lack of free will. I am not for a moment suggesting that we are purely instinctual beings and neither are many non-human animals.

      Also 'accountability' is reccurent theme when talking about free will but it really doesn't need to be. Lack of accountability would be true if there was a lack of control, but there isn't a lack of control. Having no free will does not make one a passive observer in an out-of-control body. I'm arguing that we shouldn't dissociates body and mind so much. If you do something wrong, you're still guilty as charged as your actions define you.
  • Mar 12 2011: We have free will, or free agency. Yes, God does know what is going to happen and what choices we make; he isn't forcing us to make those decisions, though. We make choices and suffer the consequences.
    I'm sorry if somebody already said that...I didn't read all the replies.
    • thumb
      Mar 13 2011: Is it free will if it can be pre-determined though?
      • Apr 10 2011: pre-determined meaning God decided on it in the past and cannot change the decision I take it.. what makes anyone think God is restrained by time (past present future) though?
        • thumb
          Apr 10 2011: No Ahkamul, most of us weren't thinking it in terms of God. Not everyone here believes in God. I certainly don't.
      • Apr 11 2011: Yes and I have no problem at all with that, well then does pre determined means the choice was not a choice at all, that choice is an action determined by the culmination of genes, experience ,interaction and knowledge which then manifests itself as that action? if so, this sense (or false sense if you prefer an evolutionary view) of freedom that one have control over one's actions can safely be said exists? but only inside the consciousness.at least as far as we can tell.
  • Comment deleted

    • thumb
      Mar 12 2011: Had trouble responding to your first question and went on to your second question and perhaps coincidentally answered your first question.

      Don't believe I've seen any place where Heidegger uses the term "free will". In fact, perhaps he avoids it. One characteristic of Heidegger is that he eschews common usage of terms and coins his own expressions so that he can give them new meaning and start from scratch. He uses the term Dasein to refer to humans. And defines Dasein in terms of "care". So I think he is saying that humans are entities which are aware that there are consequences of their actions and thus take care. Another aspect of Dasein that he stresses is that we are a "Being-in-the-world." Which is to say, we have no meaning except within our context.

      So perhaps what you mean by "free will", a term which is somewhat scary to an individual such as myself indoctrinated with determinism is the same thing as "care". What do you think?

      And expound a bit on Jazz. I think I know where you're going with that, but want to be sure.
  • Mar 12 2011: Matt,
    Could you please expand on this statement?

    "But free will, as it is understood by many people seems to include the idea that somehow our mind is free from the constraints of nature and that our choices truly comes ex-nihilo, almost from some different realm than the material world."

    Are you stating that many people think of free will as just ideas that come from nowhere, aka nothing? That is the way I read it, but I want to be sure there aren't some kind of religious overtone that I was missing there.

    If the definition is how I read it, then no, free-will does not exist in my opinion. However, that does not mean there is not complexity in the brain nor in the world. Complexity is all around us. That is why there are billions of pages of information on the internet, and we still haven't answered all the questions. The brain is not separated from nature, but is a product of it. Very complex electro-chemical neuro-signals are zooming back and forth at the speed of light creating the complicated thoughts and emotions we have. By any definition, very complex.

    My claim of no free-will as defined above comes from the fact that we are very complex creatures in a very complex world.
  • Mar 12 2011: Nothingness is determined as something whenever we mention it, The Big Bang was a happening destined to occur when the creature (GOD) ruling the 10,000 fated it to do so, The Feeling you feel from the wind is real tho you may not see it as a kiss from nature but rather a scientific happening due to the heat from the sun reacting to differing global temperatures hence causing the wind, To talk insesintly is against Nature/God/Father so I shall stop and hope you see the unknown as all knowing X :)
    P.S. The cost of Free Will, will forever be Love :)
    • thumb
      Mar 18 2011: I don't think God is a creature.
  • thumb
    Mar 12 2011: I look at it this way. The past was destiny. The future is free will. Not very scientific but it works for me.

    Now if time starts moving backwards, I might have to reconsider.
  • thumb
    Mar 11 2011: There is free will. This is so because you cannot force anything to wilfully accept what you propose. That thing may agree, disagree or feel nothing but it's will is never under your control making it free.
    • thumb
      Mar 11 2011: how can you be so sure of that ? You might BELIEVE it is your free will, but you never can be 100 % sure.