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Gerald O'brian


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Free will and the illusory open-ness of the future.

The controversy seems to be making a comeback through quantum mysticism and such attempts to put consciousness at the core of reality.
I've seen comments about this on several discussions. I'd love to see how far these arguments go in favour or not of the reality of free will.


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  • Oct 6 2012: Gerald,

    All you are calling for is a huge mess. I will give it a try before mumbo-jumbo comes to the stage.

    1. I am not sure that determinism is correct. Why not? Because it is an overenthusiastic conclusion from the perfection in the mathematical descriptions of the workings of such things as the parables described by cannon balls in the planet to their connection to the ellipses described by planets in orbits around the sun. My point being that some "laws" of physics are quite precise, but that does not mean that everything in nature is. Thus it is possible that not everything is predictable from the positions and momenta of every atom in the universe. It is possible that the conclusion towards determinism was a hasty generalization.

    2. We have evolved in a way that we are able to "weight data," stuff going on around us. If the universe is deterministic, then at least it is not so predictable and weighting probabilities has been part of survival mechanisms for living beings.

    3. I could rephrase the above as this: laws might narrow, delimit, what can and cannot happen. That does not mean that they determine what exactly will happen.

    4. From the above I would conclude that at the very least some measure of free-will exist regardless of how much deterministic people would argue that the universe is. Why? Because we have still evolved as if things are unpredictable, as if we can make decisions. That is free-will at the very least at a level that we can understand.

    5. It is very hard to decide what free-will means (I know, I used one definition above, but you will see). This little point will be the source of most of the problems in this thing if you get more public.

    6. This will become religious and mystic and pseudoscientific (thus nonsense) in no time. So that's it from me.
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      Oct 7 2012: Free-will : the idea that complexe computation is less influenced by the laws of physics and its initial state than simple computation is.
      • Oct 7 2012: If you define free-will the way you did. Then there's no debate to be had. That's false by definition.

        What about free-will: the idea that complex computations being more than the sum of the parts does not go against the laws of physics? Or what about free-will: the idea that the laws of physics leave some room for decision making? Then you have authentically open questions. Questions that will not be easy to solve anyway, but at least something we can put our minds to run around.

        (Nice mess above.)
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          Oct 7 2012: "If you define free-will the way you did. Then there's no debate to be had"

          There is a debate : I've caused you to supply another definition, haven't I?
          So, there is a treshold in the complexity of computation, you say, at which point free-will emerges? Why not. Any idea (wild guess) where that line might be?
          But then it raises a new problem ; what's a free-will decision VS a more basic decision?

          I personnally think there is no special threshold in the scale that goes from chemical reactions to wondering whether Beethoven or Bach was the best composer. And I expect to be refuted.
      • Oct 8 2012: Hum,

        I might have created an undesirable problem. One of assuming that complex computations are simple computations on top of each other. Or maybe not. After all, we have seen that most logics can quickly lead to paradoxes. So, maybe it is the possibility and inevitability of paradoxes where the problem lies. Maybe if we were computing as exactly on complex problems we would find ourselves in one paradox after another ... interesting thought. Think of self referencing paradoxes like "this sentence is a lie."

        Since I am just thinking aloud I have created a million problems more. The thing being, we can't assume that simple computations put on top of each other are just as solvable. Roads to paradoxes can become invisible. Undecidability unavoidable, if we kept working with the wrong paradigm. Perhaps that's where the solution, if there's any, might be found. Simple computations can help us understand how things work at a very basic level. That does not mean they can help us understand exactly and unambiguously how much more complex problems work at the highest levels.

        No, I don't know where the line can be found. Maybe it is not a matter of lines, but of how the edifice is built. We quickly find a problem in a simple liar paradox. We might not so easily figure out complex systems where liar paradox would stop us were it not because reality does not truly work the way simple models work.

        I know, I lost you, didn't I? I lost myself, so no problem ... (can-of-worms/pandora's box thus opened.)
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          Oct 9 2012: At least it's well written.
          Yeah you really lost me with the introduction of paradoxes into this argument. I'll read it once more...
        • Oct 9 2012: This self-defeating limitation is built into the structure of logic itself. Try fuzzy logic , "where the truth value may range between completely true and completely false "
          Whenever we are confronted with opposites, we'd better try to unify them, to create a "coincidentia oppositorum" so that the differences can resonate and become complimentary rather than contradictory.
          You may get really 'something' out of it , but it's just hard as hell to talk about that what you've got ! :)
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          Oct 9 2012: I got lost a little bit in your response but enjoyed reading it and agree with your approach so plus-1.

          I like the metaphor of there being a dance and dancer in regards to this thing we call life. Many of us assume we are the dancer leading the dance. Perhaps more conscious folks accept that they are the dance. Perhaps even more that more consciousser (ha) peoples have a realization that they are both the dance and the dancer in this life of ours. pppp pppppp ppppparadox.
      • Oct 12 2012: Gerald,

        Maybe that's the point. Determinism was an overly enthusiastic idea born out of, again, the success of models of the physics of some century/centuries ago. Models are models. They represent reality, yet they are not reality. They could have trapped people into thinking that because their predictions about, say, gravitation-thus-elliptical-orbits, then everything would be predictable from such first principles, thus predetermined. No room for any deviations. Yet, we know that the predictions were not that accurate. That imagining all the mass and shape of the objects to be contained into points helps us develop the models, but that it is far from being an accurate representation of reality. if we know all of that, why believe that the universe behaves that way and still accept the idea of determinism?

        So, my paradox example shows an obvious defect in one kind of logic. This kind of logic is still useful, yet not the absolute model to judge the way nature works. Natasha then suggests fuzzy logic. This logic allows for some freedom and thus less predetermination. Right? It is still a model, yet it has not reached the minds of physicists to renounce the idea that they had everything figured out and that the universe, while somewhat predictable, is not completely predictable. That computations might not always be on/off bit to bit procedures. That models are models, while reality is reality.

        Thus, I stand by what I said. This is undecidable, but it looks a lot like we have free-will (something pretty much like it). So, for all practical purposes we have it. Could it be illusory? Yes. Could it be real? Yes. Can we break the laws of nature then? I don't think so. Does that not mean that free-will is an illusion? Nope. we know that these laws mean constrains, but we do not know that such constrains are absolutely precise. In rather metaphorical words, we do not know if such constrains allow for fuzzy-logic or demand boolean logic.

        See ya my friends.

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