TED Conversations

Arkady Grudzinsky


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Is "free will" an illusion?

Can someone explain to me how to understand "free will" from a purely materialistic point of view?

Let's assume that my mind is a product of my physical brain. This means that everything that's going on in my mind is a product of neural activity. Say, I'm looking at a can of vanilla and a can of strawberry ice cream and try to make my choice. WHO makes the choice?

Again, if my mind is nothing more than neural activity, then, perhaps, visual stimulus activates some associations and connections from my past experiences, and I pick vanilla, because it is associated with some childhood memory. This means that our response to every situation is predetermined by the neural connections that make my memories. Right?

Doesn't this mean that "free will" is an illusion? Can we really make decisions or do decisions "just happen"? If not, then WHO makes the decisions?

  • Oct 21 2012: After reading the all comments below (which took a long time too) I can't answer your question however I can put forward a couple points. Firstly it is incredibly difficult to answer your question since consciousness is not material, you can't touch or see it. You can see and detect neurons however I see those as different to your consciousness. Secondly many people below have mentioned that free will doesn't exist, that conditioning and experience mean that we will respond accordingly to achieve the best outcome for ourselves. My point about that is this; assuming that this is the case then surely we would have no real creativity? We would just improve on ideas that already existed, nothing new would ever be created because all we would be able to rely on was information from sources that already existed. I know that this doesn't answer the free will question but it's my opinion that my point means we cannot use that argument to refute the existence of free will.

    Our consciousness is created from the network neurons in our brains but that doesn't eliminate free will. For your above example, what if somebody had never tried one of those flavors and decided to do so? If all we did was act on previous encounters surely we would just pick the same one every time that we already knew we liked?
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      • Oct 21 2012: "What is the evidence that consciousness creates free will, anymore than unconsciousness,or both?" In my opinion if you compare the two you can see a difference that I would call free will. Say you compare a machine and a person doing a job, you tell the person how to do the job and also have the machine do the job in the same way. No matter what the machine will do that job in that way unless you change it, the machine has no choice and hence no free will. The person might realise there's a different way to do the job they then have the choice to try that different way or continue with the current one. Following on from that example, you could also tell that person to do the job another way, say this other way also happens to be the other way that they thought of. Assuming that they perceive they have to do as they are told, that they have no choice, we can still see a difference between choosing to do that way yourself and being told to do it. This, to me, suggests that we have free will.

        I had another thought after my post above to further illustrate the idea that we aren't simply acting solely on past experience and conditioning. In this society we always teach children to be good and act in a way that is beneficial to everyone else yes? Why then do we still get some people who behave in an undesirable way? Some children still bully others, people who have perfectly normal functioning brains and who were brought up in a normal family will still sometimes grow up to commit crimes. Surely this shows that at some point they made a choice to go completely against their conditioning in early life?
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          Oct 21 2012: budy .that is inertia thinking.can you make a baby that ? you can not,
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      Oct 22 2012: Daniel, your remark on creativity is interesting. Don't you think that we create "new" ideas by association with old ones? In other words, new ideas can be, simply, an association of old impressions with new impressions. The more associations a person can make in his brain, the more "talented" the person appears. Much like biological evolution happens due to combinations of old genes and mutations due to environmental influences.

      In your example with a worker vs. machine, the reason a worker may come up with a better algorithm is that experience may create an association in his brain that would suggest a better solution.

      This does not mean we don't have "free will". We still have capability to change our environment. However, "free" is, perhaps, a poor name for it.
      • Oct 22 2012: Sometimes yes, I agree that ideas are created by associating new information with old information but other times it seems, to me at least, that an idea is created spontaneously without anything similar existing before it. I use the term "idea" broadly however, I realised I might be implying inventions and scientific theories exclusively with that term which do usually rely on improvement of a previous idea. An example, although strange I know, is the game noughts and crosses (tic-tac-toe). Why did this game come about? The game itself has been dated back at least as far as ancient Rome, at what point did somebody have the idea for this to be a game to play? I can't relate this game to anything that hasn't stemmed from it myself.

        I also agree that "free" is not a good way of expressing what we mean my the term "free will". This suggests that we have some conscious part of ourselves completely separate from everything else, something not linked to our physical being which I very much doubt is the case.
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          Oct 22 2012: Re: "...but other times it seems, to me at least, that an idea is created spontaneously without anything similar existing before it."

          From what I read in Julian Jaynes's book "The Origin of Consciousness", the process of associating ideas is subconscious. Even when we aware of the association, we often do not consciously create it or recall it. There is also an Internet article by an animal scientist regarding animal thinking (http://www.grandin.com/references/thinking.animals.html) which implies the same:

          "A horse trainer once said to me, "Animals don't think, they just make associations." I responded to that by saying, "If making associations is not thinking, then I would have to conclude that I do not think." People with autism and animals both think by making visual associations. These associations are like snapshots of events and tend to be very specific. For example, a horse might fear bearded men when it sees one in the barn, but bearded men might be tolerated in the riding arena. In this situation the horse may only fear bearded men in the barn because he may have had a bad past experience in the barn with a bearded man."

          My point is that when an idea appears to be new, it's probably, based on some implicit memory we are not aware of.

          It may be an easy and useful way to think of our mind as separate from our body. It allows us to make a distinction between our ideas and the real things they symbolize. I don't think, there is anything wrong in describing reality that way. Our ideas are always just a reflection of reality, never 100% accurate. So, I don't object to using such concepts as "free will", "mind", "God", or "spirits". None of those concepts reflect reality accurately, anyway. I'm a utilitarianist in this respect.
      • Oct 22 2012: I suppose this is all down to perspective thinking about most of these points now then.

        In my opinion even if all these ideas and decisions are created by the subconscious mind through association the fact that we the consciously recognise the fact that we have an idea or that we have multiple decisions to choose from shows free will exists. I think that if instead we only ever saw one decision for any scenario that this would be a lack of free will, the fact that sometimes we find a decision very hard to make sometimes further reinforces it for me since we, the conscious mind, have to think to make a decision.

        I accept however that others see that since all our thoughts and ideas may in fact be the product of subconscious information associations that this removes the "free will" aspect as we don't control the creation of these ideas.
  • Oct 22 2012: You are asking two separate (though interlinking) questions here, both of which have masses of literature dedicated to each: Is free will an illusion? And, What is the self?

    With regards to your initial question, you have answered it in your introduction (para starting "Again, if my..."). Whether that gives you a yes or know depends upon how you define free will. For example if free will is a decision made without present explicit coercion by that which is legally considered to be you then free will exists, those neural connections that make your memories are a part of you.

    It is worth noting that you have massively simplified the process though. I appreciate that this was necessary but it does make the process sound a little bit unsatisfactory. If you un-simplify it all, not only does it appear a lot more wonderfully amazing, but it may also affect the answer to your question.

    Regarding the second question have a look at: http://www.ted.com/talks/julian_baggini_is_there_a_real_you.html
    It is a TEDyouth talk so it is a bit slow but it makes some relevant points (including touching on the fact that the "you" within the brain is scattered all about).
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      Oct 23 2012: Yes. I don't think, it's quite possible to explain it. In a sense, we do not have free will which is a liberating feeling, because we don't have to worry too much about our choices. Thanks for sharing the link.
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        Oct 23 2012: Hi Arkady,
        It doesn't feel very "liberating" to me. If we do not believe we have free will, then we "don't have to worry too much about our choices"? That means that we don't have to be concerned with accountability? Responsibility? Cause and affect? Ramifications and consequences of our actions?
        That means that I would be giving up many aspects of who and what I am, and how I live the life experience? Doesn't feel liberating....feels oppressing to me...not my preference:>)
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          Oct 23 2012: Coleen, I said, I don't think, it's quite possible to explain it. You are right, however, I was talking about "letting it go", "not worrying about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself". I thought, we were in agreement on that - that kind of liberation. :-)

          The link (and Theodore's article that you did not read) is about perception of ourselves. We don't "have" the experience, we "are" the experience. We don't "have" free will, we "are" free will. Those things are parts of ourselves. I won't insist on this perception, because it's just a perception - we "are" the perception of ourselves. It also seems to agree with your view that if you "perceive" or "believe" that you have free will, then you do. So, it seems like we contradict ourselves by letting go of the idea of self, but, in a sense, we "find" ourselves that way.
      • Oct 23 2012: Free will is a 'function' of being not having.
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        Oct 23 2012: Hi Arkady,
        I thought we were in agreement too, which is why your statement surprised me...perhaps I misinterpreted it.

        I agree...we "are" the experience...we ARE the perception of ourselves...the experience is part of ourselves, just as every experience becomes part of our "self"....well said:>)

        I suggest that as a process, perhaps it is neither holding onto or letting go, but rather a flowing process:>)
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          Oct 23 2012: Yes, that's what I meant. Or, following the Heraclitus analogy with the road up and down, the point is moving along the road :)
        • Oct 23 2012: Hi Coleen

          Your comment in response to mine below is a well expressed extension of what I would like to believe best explains the concept and nature of free will. I certainly sense your free will. Take away the liberating part of free will and we would all have the blank look of a grizzly bear.
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          Oct 23 2012: Regarding the comment Dan refers to, re: "In my perception, I DO INDEED have evidence of the process of free will in every moment of my life adventure, while I do not have evidence of a god."

          In my perception, the idea of God is an abstraction of our human self. I can't imagine people thinking of God without thinking of themselves. I'm quite convinced that "relationship with God" is the same as "relationship with ourselves".
  • Oct 21 2012: "Free will" is a nonsense term. The perception of choice is a product of our ability to check our experiences (stored as learning and memory) against the situation as we perceive it at the moment and infer possible futures from it. You can only infer outcomes inasmuch as you understand the nature of the elements involved in the system. In this way what you "will" is bound by the antecedent conditions imposed by your physiology and your environment. "Free will" inappropriately suggests that the small part of our brain which generates self reference (the thing that calls itself I) is somehow causally independent from the rest of the brain, the body, and the outside world. "Free will" is important in religions and governance because it allows punishment to be justified, this may be partly why the debate rages on.

    Believing that having free will matters ratchets up the emotions associated with our choices. It enhances the pleasure of success, the righteous anger at someone who chooses in a way differently from how we would , and the guilt of doing X,Y, or Z. Emotions are not reliable indicators of anything except internal states, they do not reflect the world around us. The weather does not change when we are sad, but the weather can lead us to feel sad. The notion of free will is just another example of man misunderstanding his place in the physical universe.
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      Oct 22 2012: Thanks. I think, this is a fairly accurate account. Free will seems to be a feeling which results from applying our memories of past experiences to make choices in current situation.

      It seems to be similar to a multiple choice test. If we studied for the test, the choice is determined by our knowledge. If not, it's random. "Free" seems to be a misnomer. "Freedom", in general, is an elusive concept.
  • Oct 20 2012: As I see it. An assumption is made: that thought is fixed and it is really objective in order to explain free will.

    We see that thought is neural activity in the brain, it then seems to be assumed that all the neural activity in the brain is thought. Therefore thought is all activity in the brain and objectively telling us how things are. But "Introspection illusion" tells us that is not accurate. Thought doesn't know what's going on when introspection is tried.

    The associations and connections by stimulus which I call "conditioning" seems to be in agreement with scientific findings. Then I can say that thought works as a system, it just happen.
    But, If being aware of the conditioning at the moment it unfolds is possible, then conditioning is there, but also that is not all.

    Then thought is not all, is not as objective as it seems to be. Thought is not what we think it is.
    If thought is just starting to be grasped, answering a question that involves thought, doesn't seem accurate.
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      Oct 21 2012: Re: "Thought is not what we think it is." I like that :-) What is it, then?..
      • Oct 21 2012: Well, I don't know ;>)..
        What I'm just saying is that if thought is conditioned, then there would be implicit thoughts. Thus thought is affecting what we see; or the way we think about things affects how we see them.
        • Oct 21 2012: Hi, Yuri !
          I don't know either , maybe thoughts are quantum ripples and quantum ripples are thoughts. Thoughts can only take on 'shape' when you concentrate on them, iow, a thought only becomes ' real' when you ' see' it in your mind. If you focus on a thought, other thoughts blur, so you always have a fraction of the whole picture ; the very act of fixing/shaping it via language separates it from the flow and makes it less true. And " the way we think about things affects how we see them " so, it's a kind of a vicious circle. That's why in the very act of thinking about free will , we lose its meaning and replace it with freedom of choice.
          And free will is in a good company here :) Can we define/understand/explain Truth Love God ...Free Will , Infinity ?
          But we tend to come up with explanations for things we don't really have an explanation for.
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          Oct 21 2012: Julian Jaynes in his book "The Origin of Consciousness" mentions that most thinking is not conscious. E.g., when we weigh two small objects in our hands and decide which one is heavier, we are not aware how this judgment happens. Another experiment suggests that "one does one’s thinking before one knows what one is to think about". E.g. when we are asked to find associations with words, we are not aware how and why these associations come to our mind. This implies that, most often, we are not aware of the "conditioning". Also, it does not seem that we control which association would come to our mind for any particular thought.
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          Oct 23 2012: I tend to agree with Natasha. The way we think seems to be similar to the way we see. At any given moment, we can clearly "see" only a small area. The reset of "what we see" is a mental picture which exists, mostly, in our memory. It's like searching in a dark room with a flash light.

          And it is also true for some things that the harder we try to explain them, the more we lose the meaning and find ourselves saying nonsense.
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          Oct 24 2012: Arkady,
          "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes..."
          (Marcel Proust)

          Perhaps our discussions, like this one, open the door to let more light in that "dark room":>)

          Maybe the reason it may feel difficult to "explain" some of these things, is because we may be trying to make logical sense of something that may not work in a human logical way....or does it?

          When we expand our thinking/feeling processes, and cease trying to seperate the different parts of the processes and systems, we may "see" and experience more. We (humans) sometimes get in our own way by staying in that "dark room" (as far as perceptions go), rather than simply opening the door to allow light. If we want the computer (our brain) to work, we need to know how to turn it on, and choose which programs we want to use at any given time...sounds like free will doesn't it? :>)
      • Oct 22 2012: Arkady: I agree, it does not seem that we control which association would come to our mind for any particular thought.
        Perhaps that's why this notion of free will is confusing. There's something that seems to be missing I would say, it is in the nature of thought.
      • Oct 22 2012: Hi Natasha.
        Yes, we tend to come up with explanations for things we don't really have an explanation for. or thought tends to come up with explanations because it got used to. :-)

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      Oct 24 2012: Hi Yuri:>)
      I think/feel you are demonstrating why this topic may seem confusing. While you are bringing everything together, recognizing that it is a "system", you are also seperating parts of the system.

      Your statements:
      "Thought doesn't know what's going on when introspection is tried".
      "Then I can say that thought works as a system"
      "But, If being aware of the conditioning at the moment it unfolds is possible, then conditioning is there, but also that is not all."
      " the way we think about things affects how we see them".
      "it does not seem that we control which association would come to our mind for any particular thought".

      I suggest that when we "know" ourselves well, thought, introspection, being aware of the conditioning at the moment it unfolds are one and the same...it works as a system, as you insightfully say:>)

      That being said, I agree...
      "the way we think about things affects how we see them" AND we CAN "control which association we USE, as ALL information "would come to our mind for any particular thought".

      I perceive the mind/brain to be similar to a computer, which has energy running through it with information all the time, and can also store information. As multi-sensory, multi dimensional humans, we have the ability to choose what we think about, and how we use the information at any given time. So if we are aware of our abilities and use them effectively, we see that we have choices regarding how we use the system, and we recognize the interconnectedness:>)
      • Oct 24 2012: Hi Colleen,

        I feel the same too. Seems to be difficult trying to put into words some perceptions. :D

        "when we "know" ourselves well, thought, introspection, being aware of the conditioning at the moment it unfolds are one and the same". In a way, I could say it is.
        When I said thought is conditioned reflex I mean there is a misperception on thought, then thought became the most important, and it is said: "I think, without any influence", "I objectively think". is that a fact? or is an idea, a belief?.
        So, if thought works as conditioned reflex, then it just happens. But it does not mean we're doomed. Thought as part of a system is not all, there is more. But this more is not thought, it is not conditioned.
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          Oct 24 2012: Hi again Yuri:>)
          Our thought process CAN work as a conditioned reflex, or, we can be more mindful and aware of how our thought process works (this may be the "more" you are refering to?)....it's a choice, in my humble perception:>)
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    Oct 19 2012:  I am not sure if you could ask a more difficult question, except maybe to explain consciousness itself in a materialistic way. As a materialist I have asked myself this many times. Some parts of me want to say we do not have free will and infact consciousness itself is an illusion. However, this goes against my daily experience where i feel i have complete control of my choices and i am very conscious. If we are made up of trillions upon trillions of particles, which i believe, then i don't believe there is a singular entity we can call ourselves. I think we are a combination of particles that store information and together use this information to best keep from destruction. What we experience as consciousness and free will is actually just the trillions of possibilities that could have happened. This is a very crude and unfinished answer to your very difficult question, if anyone could also help me with some insight to this it would be greatly appreciated.
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      Oct 20 2012: I agree Marshal, that we may be made up of trillions of particles, and in that respect, we are all interconnected. I also agree that there may be many possibilities that "could" happen at any given time, and we make choices and decisions based on information we take in and "store". I believe the brain is a recepticle and storage for information. I also believe that information is carried with the energy that flows through us, and you have done a GREAT job of describing the process:>)
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      Oct 20 2012: Theodore has shared an article, but his comment disappeared.

      The notion of multiple personalities inside our head brings up a question: is it reasonable to say that a nation or a community (e.g. a church) has "free will"?

      It hardly can be said that a neuron has a personality or a will - it's just a cell. But if trillions of neurons or millions of people collectively can be said to "have free will", can the same be said of the universe? Then, don't we come to Pat's idea of a universal "free will" (except that it cannot exist without matter)? Isn't this idea, then, similar to what Coleen calls "energy" or Christians call "the Holy Spirit"?
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        Oct 20 2012: Arkady: so much for free will.

        For me the universe is the actual expression of Being - within which life consciously participates.

        Human consciousness only is a top layer of life's consciousness which became possible after the enclosure of a self sustaining process within a cellular membrane. This process involves a chemical communication through that membrane to take in and release molecules as needed to sustain life. Knowledge of the availability and necessity of particular molecules is primeval. Multi cellular organisms just are strategies to be more efficient for this perpetuation of the one cell.

        That’s why I can’t go in on your other question about robotics which to me can never go beyond simulation. Behind life there’s a motivating force perpetuating awareness and expanding consciousness unto where it encompasses the universe. No manmade object ever will have any properties that equals consciousness because they are units while life and the universe is a unity.

        Perception is an act that involves the perceived and the perceiver by which any organism only functions as a modulator for how it is perceived.
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        Oct 20 2012: Arkady,
        Regarding multiple personalities...
        I suggest that we all have many different personas and characteristics, and each individual will often focus on one, two or several, as his/her identity. The many different "parts" of our "self" are what give us the ability to reach out to others with compassion and empathy. What causes genuine compassion/empathy? We need to "feel" what another person is feeling? Imagine ourselves in another person's situation? Even though we may not completely "know" what another person is feeling, we can imagine, or speculate because of the different personas or characteristics that we may not get in touch with on a daily basis as part of who we are....make any sense? I ask this...."make any sense", because if something does NOT make sense on a logical basis, we will not accept or understand it.

        The article you mention, starts out by saying..."we each have multiple selves- all with different desires and all fighting for control".

        I didn't even read any further, because I do not agree with the very first statement, and I think it sends a counterproductive message.

        As I said in the beginning of this comment, I believe we have many different personas, and if we understand this, they can work together, rather than having "different desires and all fighting for control".

        We CAN have the will, and we DO have the freedom, to decide if we allow different "parts" of our "self" to work together (mindfully aware), or if we are going to allow those personas to constantly fight against each other.

        I say we CAN bring ourselves together as a nation or community to work toward similar goals. This would involve the free will choices on the part of members of a group. Yes, I agree that there is a "universal free will", and I also agree that it is the same as what I call energy, and what some people may call spirit, soul, etc. I believe that the terms spirit, soul, god, etc., were created by humans to try to explain the energy that flows through us
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          Oct 21 2012: Re: "Declaring that you have free will does not make it so. It simply means that you BELIEVE you have free will."

          Theodore, there are things which come into existence solely because we believe they exist. E.g. values, rights, love, or happiness. Free will seems to belong in that category as well. We are happy when we believe we are happy. When Coleen says, "I believe, I have free will", she does, which she was able to demonstrate by choosing not to read the article :-).
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        Oct 20 2012: Theodore,
        I have the free will and the right to CHOOSE what I want to read....preferably without harrassment from you. I do not respond favorably to people who tell me what I "should" do.....I have free will.

        I see no purpose whatsoever in continuing a conversation with me, and I would appreciate it if you did not continue to try. As you may, or may not have noticed, I have not been responding to your comments, because you seem to want to be controversial, and that does not interest me.

        I actually HAVE NOT been dismissive of anyone's point of view. I simply used my free will to NOT read a document you provided. Thank you for the opportunity to test my patience:>)
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        Oct 21 2012: Theodore,
        I am NOT dismissive of anything, or anyone. I chose not to read an article that you submitted as "proof" of something....get over it!

        You wrote..."What is the purpose at this point of continuing in a conversation with you when your only interest is to spout your point of view and are dismissive of my point of view or those of others?"

        I responded..."I see no purpose whatsoever in continuing a conversation with me..."

        Theodore, YOU have suggested TWICE that there is no point in continuing conversation with me, and yet you keep coming back to me, apparently for the purpose of berating me?

        I KNOW what the conversation is about Theodore, and I am participating with comments that are on topic. Declaring that I have free will DOES INDEED make it SO...FOR ME. If you choose NOT to believe that you have free will, I respect YOUR choice for YOU. That is PRECISELY why I speak about me, and me alone. Each and every individual makes a choice for him/her "self", and I do not presume to speak as a representative of "WE". If you want to try to speak for EVERYONE, go ahead.....how's that working for you so far?

        Theodore, the information I share is from 60+ years of the exploration of life, reading hundreds of books written by sages, teachers, gurus, philosophers, psychologists, etc. etc, attending and facilitating hundreds of workshops, discussion groups and support groups, guest lecturing at univ., and various other institutions of learning, interacting with people who are incarcerated, in shelters, in terminal care facilities, etc. etc. etc. I have faced life AND death with gusto. The MOST IMPORTANT for me, is that I have applied the information that has come to me with various life experiences, and that is something each and every one of us can do.....if we choose.

        If you want to have a respectful, interactive conversation, I am happy to participate with you. Otherwise, stop harrassing me NOW.
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    Oct 23 2012: Hi Arkady,

    There is no "who" separate from you.

    From a materialistic perspective, the words "freedom" and "free will" are not defined well enough to sustain discussion.

    Lately, I try to avoid using those words. instead, I find the terms "agency" and "potential agency" carry a lot more meaning.

    Consciousness requires a "self" around which to organise self-persistence(survival).
    We observe, evaluate and act on behalf of self-persistence in a continual loop.

    Evaluation of our observations can result in a surplus of potential agency (options).
    Any option that will reduce our persistence will be rejected - narrowing potential agency to potential advantage.
    Evaluation of potential advantage will take into account internal and external factors to arrive at an optimal choice before it is comitted to agency.
    In most cases, the optimal will be clearly identified(rightly or wrongly).
    But in some cases, there will be no basis for the discrimination.
    For example, if you decide to buy something - but there is a choice of colour, and if the colour has no affect on the use, then you will have to resort to some heuristic such as eeny-meeny-miney-mo.

    Freeedom and free will are illusory.

    What is not illusory is potential agency. What people argue as "freedoms" and "rights" are really about factors that reduce potential agency.
    A reduced field of potential agency injures one's range of options in dynamic circumstance. Such injury might even go as far as leaving no options of potential advantage.

    I would rejoice to see "potential agency" replace the word "freedom", because it would clarify the arguement. It would also expose the field of potential advantage for scrutiny in a social environment where the agency (and sufficient advantage) of others is cogent to the welfare of teh society.
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    Oct 23 2012: Free will is happening right now. Illusion is your reality.
  • Oct 22 2012: Hello, Arkady. Interesting topic, again.
    Again, Kant can give you an answer in some part.
    Every choice we make reflects our inner desires or unpredicted coincidences including your childhood memory part.
    And sometimes what we claim to be our free will can be subordinate to our emotions and desires.
    If all our reasons are based on our own intuitions--we talked about it last time, remember? :) , then, I suppose free will is in itself “not independent”.
    And I think there’s no free will unless all people think and act like Kant(He’s kind of uncanny, btw).

    The word “free will” could be disguised by its sound.
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      Oct 22 2012: Yes. I think, the word "free" is the source of confusion here. "Freedom" itself is a strange concept.
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      Oct 23 2012: I agree Elizabeth, that free will is not independent, and that every choice reflects our inner desires. Dan F reminds us that it is a process of neural activity, so I perceive that our emotions and desires are very much a part of our free will choices.

      I really don't understand why the words "free" or "freedom" are confusing or a strange concept.

      If we look at some of the elements of the definition...
      "enjoying personal freedom: not subject to the control or domination of another; not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being; choosing or capable of choosing for itself; determined by the choice of the actor or by his wishes; given voluntarily or spontaneously: not bound, confined, or detrained by force..."

      We use all of these concepts in our everyday life....or not....as we choose. We have that freedom....do we not?
  • Oct 22 2012: A couple of points: your mind is not the product of your brain, but your brain is the conduit for your mind. Experients and events showed that people losing even half of their brain m,atter can think as before...or rats with 80% of their brain removed still can find the end of a maze for food.
    2.There are no accidents even when there are 2 possible outcome is presented, nor are coincidences only co-incidences.
    Free will on one hand does not seem free from "today"s point of view, but it is the result of a free will decision we made in the past. Therefore it seems not really free.
    Also it is relative, because we are controlled by our 3D physical bodies, the untrained , separate function of the 2 hemisphere of the brain , environment etc.
    3. Our free will is as free as the scope of our overall depth and awareness of our consciousness
    • Oct 22 2012: Point one is false. Dualism has been laughable in the philosophy of mind for more than a century. It's used as a cautionary tale for not being adequately patient with the progress of neuroscience. The only things which we can contemplate we do so by virtue of the physical structures of our brains. Damaging particular regions or removing a whole lobe of the brain have consequences for the how the individual perceives and responds to the world. People who have hemispherectomies (half of their brain removal) suffer from partial paralysis on the opposite side of their body because even though many functions of the one hemisphere can eventually be adapted by the other hemisphere there is a large degree of lateralization of function between the hemispheres. On a side note, a person in a coma is there because a good bit of their brain has been shut off and if we were to quantify this amount of brain which is shut off it is probably less than 80%.

      Hemispherectomy information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemispherectomy
      Lateralization of Brain function information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lateralization_of_brain_function

      Point 2 is also False. An accident is when an intention is undermined by circumstances. Accidents account for a lot of the day to day work for an emergency room doctor. It keeps the insurance business alive. That everything "happens for a reason" is called the principle of sufficient reason. There is no requirement that the reason has to be immediately knowable to humans close to the situation or humans proper, however, and given our limited sensory and critical faculties we have reason to suspect that there are a lot of accidents in our lives we either don't register or we rationalize through a worldview. There should be no comfort in the fact that everything happens for SOME reason, but instead realistic resignation seems more appropriate.

      Point 3: Replace "free will" with choice, and we are probably in agreement.
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        Oct 22 2012: Eric, Veronica, perhaps, refers to the fact that if hemispherectomy is performed on young children, the brain is still capable of reconfiguring itself so that the person grows up to be a normal adult. Here is a quote to this effect from your link to the Wikipedia article you posted:

        "A. Smith 1987, demonstrated that one patient with this procedure had completed college, attended graduate school and scored above average on intelligence tests. Studies have found no significant long-term effects on memory, personality, or humor after the procedure,[2] and minimal changes in cognitive function overall."

        Brain damage in adults has more permanent consequences, because adult brain cannot reconfigure itself and restore all the damaged connections.

        This, of course, does not prove that mind is independent of the brain. Apparently, if the whole brain is removed, the person would die.

        I don't think it's worth to argue whether mind is a product of the brain or brain is a conduit for a mind. Both of these phrases seem like a figure of speech to me.

        Point #2 is, essentially, a "determinism" vs. "free will" argument which is circular at the core. A brief look at this link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will) shows that this question is fundamentally messed up. I agree with your comment that "free will" is a nonsense term. Essentially, it is a feeling, and we "have" it as much as we have "compassion", for example. This is, essentially, what I tried to understand and confirm, because I hear from materialists all the time that "we can make moral choices without religion" and that puzzled me a lot. Now I, sort of, understand what is meant by that phrase :)
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    Oct 21 2012: So, How is free will not in action when you decide to change your diet from a fast food one to a green vege one but the latter is more expensive and you've never had much vegetables in your life or was influenced by any medical advice?
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    Oct 20 2012: Like 'what if's' so a materialistic explanation for the concept of 'free will'. Ideas are dangerous, words are powerful. In some communities words and ideas have a direct link to wealth and power. Some communities are flexible enough to be able to tolerate a diversity of words and ideas and some are more rigid. It seems the more hierachical and pyramidical the society the less tolerance there is of difference and diversity. I get these thoughts from my reading of the ancient greek philosophers plus other cultural and spiritual texts. I am sure you understand what happens to people who are too loud in a society, firstly they tend to be suppressed then they tend to disappear. You might note that it tends to be the less resourced people who get hidden away. That's one line of thought, you may find it a bit pessimistic. The argument looks a bit like 'monkey see, monkey do' if you are familiar with that turn of phrase. So yes it is an incredibly complex situation. What does the monkey see, what does the monkey do and what might be the outcome and what might be the motive. Regarding the last bit 'who truly makes the decisions', well think you might need a whole library to debate that one. I like the word 'zeitgeist' which I understand to be a combination of factors that mean sometimes it is the result of a person or persons, in a place at a time where something constructive results. Made up my own little formula C=ETTr2=C. Creativity results from the energy between two people in dialogue and leads to consequences but you are more than welcome to fill in your own words. BTW I get the idea of a circle from Jung and mandalas. Use the idea of community and creativity and consequences. Sorry if it sounds a bit woolly. Neural connections posits the idea we are simply mechanisms and we are so much more than that. Referenciing the Data character from Star Trek: Next Generation. An on-going debate. See Jung's universal conscious and archetype ideas.
  • Oct 20 2012: To truly understand 'free will' one must take the environment into consideration. Check out this brilliant talk on 'free will' by industrial engineer and behaviorist, Jacque Fresco: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jjy-FU6tqPI
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      Oct 20 2012: Wow! Another great talk. And another confirmation that "free will" is nothing but a feeling.

      This leaves me puzzled again. So, according to Jacque Fresco, there is no free will. We are conditioned by society, nature, etc. to behave certain way in certain situations which appears to us as our choice, but, in fact, we act on past memories. As he puts it, it is a proud opinion of humans that they have free will.

      This brings me back to the garden of Eden and the original sin. The story, kind of, tells us that it was proud of humans not to trust God that they would die if they eat from the tree of knowledge. At the same time, "free will" is praised to give humans a "choice" to choose good. So, having free will is proud (according to Jaque's materialist view as well), but without free will, we would not be able to choose any good.

      It does seem to me that without this "feeling of having a free will", we would not have "feelings of good and bad" either.

      There is another paradox in the video. If there is no free will, criminals cannot be held responsible for criminal behavior. Yet, they are punished so that next time they make the right choice. Then, what is the purpose of capital punishment? There is no "next time" after death... To teach others? But how can others be taught without being punished themselves? Following this logic, public brutal executions served more the purpose of teaching others than "humane lethal injection" behind closed doors. Is it just me or is it really that messed up?

      This is hopeless... :-)
      • Oct 20 2012: "So, according to Jacque Fresco, there is no free will. We are conditioned by society, nature, etc. to behave certain way in certain situations which appears to us as our choice, but, in fact, we act on past memories."

        Yes, but these keep changing as people are subject to many different environments.

        "It does seem to me that without this "feeling of having a free will", we would not have "feelings of good and bad" either."

        You're absolutely right. The brain can't differentiate or decipher between good and bad. The notion of good and bad usually stem from religion thus from the environment.
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          Oct 20 2012: Re: "The brain can't differentiate or decipher between good and bad."

          I agree. This is what I get from Hume's empiricism as well. There is another controversy here, whether morality can follow from science or reason, but that's a different story.
      • Oct 20 2012: "There is another paradox in the video. If there is no free will, criminals cannot be held responsible for criminal behavior. Yet, they are punished so that next time they make the right choice. Then, what is the purpose of capital punishment? There is no "next time" after death... To teach others? But how can others be taught without being punished themselves? Following this logic, public brutal executions served more the purpose of teaching others than "humane lethal injection" behind closed doors. Is it just me or is it really that messed up?"

        Yes, it is messed up. The current dominant punishment system is based on the belief that "free will" exist. "Criminals" can't be held responsible for their actions, because all values thus behaviors and actions stem from the environment and are not fixed. Also, punishment never works. Dr. James Gilligan, best known for his series of books entitled Violence, where he draws on 25 years of work in the American prison system to describe the motivation and causes behind violent behavior realized that it actually had the opposite effect. That punishment "is the most powerful stimulant of violence that we have discovered yet." Here's a little clip where he talks about just that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMSsi4Krd5Q If this is an interesting topic to you, I encourage you to explore more of Dr. Gilligan's work on violence, he is truly amazing.
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          Oct 20 2012: I agree Mats that punishment does not work, and because humans are able to assimilate information, sometimes, with new information there is the possibility to change the direction of offenders. I volunteered with the dept. of corrections for 6 years, and part of my experience was to co-facilitate cognitive self change sessions.
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        Oct 20 2012: Mats and Arkady,
        I only watched about half of the video in which Jacque Fresco compared free will to the way mechanical things, like tires, lawn mowers, wind turbines, etc. operate, and how they fail when something is wrong. He says that choices are made because of cause, and I agree that "cause" affects choices. He also says that all things in nature are subject to natural force, which I also agree with.

        Although some mechanical operations can in some way be compared to how the body/mind works, I do not perceive a connection to free will in humans. Humans are multi-sensory, multi-dimensional beings, with the ability to think, feel, reason, take in information and act/react according their desires, which mechanical "things" cannot do.

        So, I agree with a comparison of human being to mechanical "things" in that we are all subject to natural forces, and the internal components need to work together to function, and for me, the comparison ends there. Mechanical things do not have the ability to think, feel, take in information, have ideas or opinions, etc. In my perception, mechanical "things" do not have choices.

        I agree Ardady, that free will is a feeling, which I said in my first comment. If I "FEEL" that I have free will, then I have it...if I do not feel that I have it, I don't have it. While everything, including human beings, are subject to natural forces, as multi-sensory, multi- dimensional beings, we have choices, which we can make based on information, whereas mechanical "things" do not have that choice.....as far as I know:>)
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          Oct 21 2012: Re: " we have choices, which we can make based on information, whereas mechanical "things" do not have that choice.....as far as I know:>)"

          This is the issue I discuss in another question here "Is artificial intelligence possible without pain and pleasure?" (i.e. feelings and emotions) http://www.ted.com/conversations/14279/is_artificial_intelligence_pos.html

          I have not seen a convincing argument yet. People suggest that it may be possible to create a machine capable to survive and reproduce (even an amoeba can do that), but my question is why would a machine have motivation to send a probe to Mars or write a piece of music (something that is way beyond basic survival needs). Whence would a machine get motivation to do anything unless it is turned on and programmed to perform a task? Machines can make "choices" based on information, but how would they choose a purpose for their activity?
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        Oct 20 2012: Arkady, by the way, some of those issues / questions are addressed in Sam Harris' book "Free Will". Anyway, I'm not trying to "plug" his book. I'm just saying :)

        I'll go slightly off topic here, and say that criminals are obviously not punished solely for the (perceived) “therapeutic” benefits of that punishment. They are also punished to protect others. They are punished because they pose a real threat (of some kind) to society.

        So, regardless of whether the criminals freely chose to behave as they did, they still exhibited that behaviour. And, our legal system needs to maintain order, and help protect citizens from those that would do them harm.

        I understand that I have not addressed the idea of capital punishment versus lifetime imprisonment. I'm not sure if I can tackle that one. I have the same question that you have.

        Anyway, I just wanted to “come from a different direction” and interject a comment about the punishment of criminals. That's all.
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          Oct 21 2012: Dave, thank you very much for your comment. I appreciate it. "Protection" is a good point. I'll take a look at Sam Harris's books when I have time. At least, to find the flaws in reasoning. This is a fundamentally circular question. I don't think that a flawless logical explanation is possible, but every circle of discussion adds to our understanding of ourselves and other issues along the way.
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          Oct 22 2012: Re: "They are also punished to protect others. They are punished because they pose a real threat (of some kind) to society."

          I am just dismayed when I read statements that over simplify complex systems.
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      Oct 20 2012: Mats, Coleen below seems to agree with me that the only area where we can exercise free will is controlling our own emotions and feelings. This means that we can deliberately let go of certain negative emotions (hate, anger, fear, bitterness) and feel happy regardless of our physical circumstances. On the other hand, some people are grouches regardless of their physical condition as well. Would you agree with this?

      You might see the implication for our entitlement for happiness. We can feel free to feel good. Don't you think?
      • Oct 20 2012: Well, I certainly think one could do so by acquiring a set of skills or tools that deal with that. But this, again, requires that somebody learn you these skills and that the "right" environment is stimulating you to acquire them.
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        Oct 20 2012: Arkady and Mats,
        Yes, we have a choice as to whether or not we will hold onto emotions, or exercise free will in using emotions productively. Yes, I agree that "some people are grouches regardless of their physical condition"....it is a choice:>) Those who choose to hang onto the "grouchy" emotions are making a choice to do so.....free will.

        Yes, we can acquire skills or tools to change our demeanor. It does not necessarily require somebody to teach us the skills, it requires free will to choose to learn the skills, and in my humble perception, the "right" environment is whatever environment we are in at any given time:>)
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          Oct 21 2012: I agree with you, Coleen, in a sense that "I also feel that way". However, we are getting into a circularity again. Mats has a point that unless a person is exposed to examples of emotional self-control, she will not learn it, just like a dog would never learn to control when to bark - it will do whatever comes from instincts. However, even if a person is exposed to such training, she might choose not to learn or still go with her impulses. Perhaps, it depends on how strong the emotional impulses are and how good the training is. We might say that grouches "choose" to be unhappy, but do they, really? Depressed people don't really choose to be depressed and it does not seem that all can master emotional self-control to avoid depression. I.e., we do not choose whether we learn self-control and free will or not... or do we? If free will is a feeling, can we learn how to feel?

          We cannot do more than we can until we do it... Do we choose how to feel or do we feel what to choose? Perhaps, feeling IS choosing.
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        Oct 20 2012: Free will apart from choosing a good feeling over a bad one can be exercised by neglecting or overriding natural impulse. For any one set of choices one of them would be the best the others less. Our feeling sends an impulse to react on the best choice which then we can override by thoughts and deliberations that tell us to choose different or not at all.

        A bird that sees an opportunity on a spot what is known to provide a good pick reacts to the urge to go hither while a man can think and tell himself it is too far and maybe a different direction could provide unknown riches. This may be or may not be the case but let him explore to find among failures also some new opportunities.

        So the "knowledge of good and evil" is to disobey the natural impulse said to be the voice of God.
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          Oct 21 2012: I agree Frans, and to build on what you insightfully offered, I believe that the process of "choosing" anything, is influenced by how well we "know" ourselves. Humans act/react from many different levels of consciousness, perceptions, insight and knowledge of ourselves. "Thoughts and deliberations" with our "self" may happen on more or less aware, conscious levels.....yes?

          I believe it is the thoughts and deliberations with ourselves that often feel confusing and circular. The more we "Know Thyself", the better chance we have of recognizing this process:>)
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        Oct 21 2012: Arkady,
        You say..."we are getting into a circularity again". I do not feel like I am in a "circularity".

        I agree with you and Mats, that exposure to examples of anything, generally provides more information, and a person can choose to learn, or not. Each person may choose, based on individual underlying beliefs, intent, goals, etc. How is that circularity?

        You write..."We might say that grouches "choose" to be unhappy, but do they, really? Depressed people don't really choose to be depressed and it does not seem that all can master emotional self-control to avoid depression. I.e., we do not choose whether we learn self-control and free will or not... or do we? If free will is a feeling, can we learn how to feel?"

        You seem to be intertwining "grouches" with depressed people, and I prefer not to do that. I've met quite a few depressed people who are generally not grouchy.

        There are many levels of depression, and each situation is different in some respects, so I prefer not to generalize regarding depression. In the instance of clinical depression for example, there is often an imbalance in the chemicals of the body, and in that case a person MAY NOT be able to make choices for him/herself.

        As normal (whatever that is!) functioning adults, I believe we have many choices regarding free will, and how we choose to feel at any given time. The more we learn about our "self" the better chance of understanding where certain thoughts, feelings, beliefs, ideas, opinions and actions/reactions come from. It could be "programmed" information from parents, society, religion, etc. Information we get from past experiences, information from our logical thought process, and/or intuition/instinct.

        You write..."We cannot do more than we can until we do it... Do we choose how to feel or do we feel what to choose? I'm lost again... "

        In my perception, choosing and feeling work interconnectedly. We are multi-sensory, mult- dimensional humans. You are an explorer....not lost:>)
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      Oct 20 2012: Theodore, the article is just awesome. In retrospective, who wouldn't agree to have multiple personalities? A few interesting thoughts, though:

      Re: "We used to think that the hard part of the question “How can I be happy?” had to do with nailing down the definition of happy. But it may have more to do with the definition of I." Hmm... surprise, surprise. The answer seems to be so trivial that it sounds like a revelation: "I am who I am". :-)

      Re: "it provides a useful framework for thinking about the increasingly popular position that people would be better off if governments and businesses helped them inhibit certain gut feelings and emotional reactions." -- isn't this what religion was always doing - letting go of worry, anger, bitterness? If gone wrong, religion can also suppress good emotional impulses as mentioned at the end of the article on example of terrorism.

      Re. imaginary friends: "First, contrary to some stereotypes, children who have imaginary friends are not losers, loners, or borderline psychotics. If anything, they are slightly more socially adept than other children. Second, the children are in no way deluded: Taylor has rarely met a child who wasn’t fully aware that the character lived only in his or her own imagination. And third, the imaginary friends are genuinely different selves."

      Reminds, again, of Jesus. A lot of people call believers delusional for "talking to God", but it's just not true. I think, it's a perfectly normal and acceptable method of self-regulation.

      Thank you very much for sharing the article :-)
  • Oct 19 2012: No, free will is real, but we are not conscious of it and we don't exercise it. We invest heavily into freedom of choice and that is the illusion.
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      Oct 19 2012: Good point. Choices are rarely free. There are always constrains - social, moral, physical. Also good point that we often do not control our choices, but make them subconsciously, often knowingly or unknowingly ignoring the constraints.

      Associations with the Bible come up: "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly." and the original sin story.

      "Spiritual blindness" in NT seems to refer to not knowing our own good - being unaware of the constrains. Once we are aware of the constrains, ignoring them causes moral issues: "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains." "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins." This seems like a simple recommendation to exercise more self-control over our subconscious and associates with the concepts of "unreliability of introspection" and "choice blindness" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introspection_illusion.

      Again, I need to make a disclaimer that I do not argue for the existence of God, but simply point out that Bible seems to have deep insights into our mind which are now being researched by neuroscience. The question, of course, remains whether the texts had this meaning originally or we give them the new meaning as we go...
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        Oct 19 2012: Hi Arkady!
        There is a theory that the human life experience is an illusion...(a misleading image presented to the vision; perception of something objectively existing in such a way as to cause misinterpretations of its actual nature; a pattern capable of reversible perspective).

        I do not agree that there are ALWAYS constrains to our choices. We are sometimes limited because of the physical reality of a situation, however, we still have choices regarding HOW we interpret and feel about any situation. I believe an underlying factor regarding our perception of constraints, is, as you insightfully say..."knowingly or "unknowingly".

        Regarding your statement that the..."...Bible seems to have deep insights into our mind which are now being researched by neuroscience."

        I suggest that the bible, like many other books, reflect many human behaviors that have been apparent since the beginning of humankind. Science has evolved, and we now have the capabilities through technology, to explain some human behaviors. I do not agree that the bible, or any other book has "deep insights into our mind..."

        I make my own decisions and choices based on information I have in any given moment, so I feel very strongly that I do have free will. If one is allowing someone else to make choices/decisions for him/her, it seems like s/he is giving up an opportunity to experience free will. If we don't make our own choices, someone else will!
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          Oct 19 2012: Theodore

          Regarding Kathryn Schultz's talk (which is one of the best on TED) she made the decision to assume that the picnic table symbol was a Chinese symbol.

          Regarding free will I think the correct question is What is organic to man? I don't think memes, culture, training, mental pictures, or genetics are organic to man. So much of this talk is based on a false premise and assumption.
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          Oct 20 2012: Re: "I do not agree that there are ALWAYS constrains to our choices. We are sometimes limited because of the physical reality of a situation, however, we still have choices regarding HOW we interpret and feel about any situation. I believe an underlying factor regarding our perception of constraints, is, as you insightfully say..."knowingly or "unknowingly"."

          To this I agree. There is no difference between having an emotion and feeling it. This seems to resolve the contradiction - we have free will, because we feel so.

          I would say "free will is a choice" (a circularity again). We have it when we believe we have it. Same goes for faith and happiness :-).
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        Oct 19 2012: Theodore,
        I HAVE what I FEEL I HAVE. Of course our decisions are influenced by information we have, or do not have. I said that in my comment! I repeat..."I make my own decisions and choices based on information I have in any given moment..."

        No, my friends DO NOT make me fat because I CHOOSE to be healthy, rather than fat.
        I DO NOT blame others for my feelings. If you do, that is YOUR issue!!!
        I understand MYSELF Theodore, and there is nothing I "need to clarify".
        If YOUR "freedom of choice is limited to the wrong choices", that also is YOUR issue!
        If you believe that "free will is a component of philosophical thinking that might not be valid any longer", that is something that you might want to clarify and understand in yourself.
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          Oct 19 2012: Coleen, "I HAVE", "I FEEL", "I CHOOSE", "I DO NOT", "MYSELF". I guess, my question is, who is this "I"? Is it your physical body? A bunch of neurons making connections to each other and reacting to stimuli or is it something immaterial? I have hard time getting it. If it's just the body with neurons, then it seems to be controlling itself. Is consciousness or will even necessary for us to operate?
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        Oct 19 2012: Arkady,
        "I have"..."I feel"...."I choose"...."I do not"...."myself".........
        These are all words which are human constructs, created to express ourselves as humans.

        When I speak of "I", it is the physical body of the human named Colleen, and yes...a bunch of neurons making connections. I believe we are a material body, fueled by energy. It is the interconnected energy flowing through me that causes it (me) to be interconnected with all that is, and open to many possibilities....including the choice of free will...in my humble perception:>)

        Often, I feel that people try to make this WAY too complicated! You ask..." Is consciousness or will even necessary for us to operate?" Depends on how one wants to operate:>)
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          Oct 19 2012: Coleen, to know how one wants to operate, one needs some sort of will :) It's hopeless, there is no way out of this nonsense...
      • Oct 19 2012: I think people who deny the 'meaning ' ( very deep, actually ) in biblical stories deny our common human legacy, and it seems not a clever way to do human business :) Nobody knows the original meaning , there are people who claim they do , but i don't quite believe them.
        I like your interpretation of the myth of the fall. "eating from the tree of knowledge" made a 'being ' aware of being aware, it pushed us into Time, it gave rise to ego intellect and made us ' subjectively ' mortal. It gave us the power to create our own world ( illusion, maya , where we grow old and die ) and with power came the possibility to abuse power. And here we are ! But I don't think we are tainted by sin, it's just the way , one probability among infinite potentially existing probabilities.
        We are chosen inside out iow we are the choice and the chooser. We were 'out' quite a while and now we feel the necessity to go 'in'. Inside we may find free will " God is within " ; if we stay 'out', we'll multiply choices, but i don't think we have millennia gently unfolding in front of us, iow . we can't afford it any longer .
        I see it like this, it doesn't mean that i think it is true :)

        Re : to exercise more self-control over our subconscious

        I don't think we should seek control over our subconsciousness . Can you control your dreams ?
        Maybe we should do the reverse , i mean , we'd better to learn to 'unfocus' our mind and let the right hemisphere, intuition connect the dots.
        It may help to dissolve ego and make us wise.
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          Oct 19 2012: Re: "Maybe we should do the reverse..."
          Go figure... It's both ways again :-) Most likely, we should exercise more control over ourselves by "letting it go" (subjecting ourselves to the will of God, speaking metaphorically). Power through submission, so to speak... If that makes any sense, which I doubt. :)
      • Oct 19 2012: "coincidentia oppositorum" ?

        OK, you are right, " should " was definitely a wrong choice there :)
        It may happen when it may happen.
        " Let the chips fall where they may "
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        Oct 20 2012: Arkady,
        In my belief and perception, you have hit on an important element regarding this question..."exercise more control" and "letting it go". I suggest that we can experience "more control" when we are mindfully aware and "know" ourselves. I also agree that to recognize our capabilities regarding free will, it is sometimes helpful to let go of the need to control, and surrender to reality, as we know it, or believe it to be. In other words, we have the ability and free will to make certain choices and decisions, and it helps to know exactly what we have control of, and what we do not have control of.....make any sense?

        Regarding your statement:
        "Coleen, to know how one wants to operate, one needs some sort of will :) It's hopeless, there is no way out of this nonsense... "

        Perhaps the "way out", is actually the way IN. When we explore deeply in our "self" there is a much better chance of understanding ourselves, other people, and the world we live in, all of which gives us information to make better choices and decisions.....free will:>)
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          Oct 20 2012: Re: "I also agree that to recognize our capabilities regarding free will, it is sometimes helpful to let go of the need to control, and surrender to reality, as we know it, or believe it to be."

          Makes perfect sense to me, Coleen (whatever it means to "make sense" - another 'feeling' without meaning. People who make sense often don't have it :). In other words, forget "what ought" and experience "what is". This attitude might solve a lot of social problems.

          Re: "Perhaps the "way out", is actually the way IN." Yes. "The road up and the road down is the same road." I "feel", our opinions are converging! :)
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          Oct 21 2012: “Some of us think holding on makes us strong but sometimes it is letting go”
          ― Hermann Hesse
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      Oct 19 2012: Theodore, most neurological studies I've seen so far focus on short-term planning of muscle movements. It's fairly clear that most of these are subconscious. We don't plan where we put each foot when we walk. We would soon stumble and fall.

      However, it's hard to deny that we are capable of long-term planning. E.g. I can say what I plan to do in 1 hour from now and, if circumstances do not change, I can do it. How does that process work? How do people do strategic planning of complex projects? I doubt, there are any neurological studies on that. The technology is too young, and it may be difficult to find out which exact process in my brain corresponds to long-term planning of a specific project.
    • Oct 20 2012: Hi Theodore, re-connecting with you here about what you said.

      "The Bible was compiled so that there was only one way to interpret it. That is the whole point."

      Sorry, but what do you base that on??

      What if someone, starting in 1749, could write 5,807 pages explaining, consistently and making total sense, three levels of meaning that are contained in the text of Genesis and Exodus?
      What I mean with "consistently" is that it is applicable to our stages of mental development, free choice and even near death experiences.

      For those interested, this is about why we do have a Bible in the first place and why it was written the way it was.
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    Oct 18 2012: It depends of the context.

    Free will is real when you're trying to work out whether to fire an employee, or whether your brother should marry Jane or Helen. I mean that reducing human behaviour to chemical reactions is a bad idea if you're trying to understand anything about human behaviour. To say that we have free will is a more efficient way of understand anything.
    However, even if the reductionnist attempt to explain human behaviour is a bad one, it doesn't mean it's false. And there is no reason to believe that we operate on anything else than the rules by which everything else operates.

    So free will exists when you scold your kids, but as a useful misinterpretation.
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      Oct 18 2012: Good point. Kind of like the wave-particle dualism in physics. All depends on what we are trying to explain. "What is true and what is useful are completely different considerations." - I love this quote of Mark Meijer from another TED conversation. I wonder if it's his own or he got it somewhere else. :-).
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    Oct 18 2012: No
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      Oct 18 2012: I love your answers, Pat: "But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil..." Biblical literalism :-)

      Which question do you refer to? "Is 'free will' an illusion?" meaning that it's not or "can anyone explain...?" meaning that nobody can?
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        Oct 18 2012: I side with the free will camp. Free will is the only truth, what you see is the illusion you create, not the other way round. If the universe disappeared (very disconcerting I don't recommend it) free will imo would still be there.
        • Oct 19 2012: Interesting ...
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          Oct 19 2012: Quantum mechanics says that there is a fundamental uncertainty in nature - there is room for probability in how the universe develops. It is fundamentally impossible to measure exact locations and speeds of particles. So, there is room for choice. I doubt that our minds are able to control the wave functions of the electrons in the neuron cells, but what do we know?

          This possibility for "free will", of course, only makes sense when matter is present. Most of other philosophical categories like time and space also make sense only when matter is present. It is possible that free will came into existence at the same time as the matter which I find plausible, because existence of free will without matter corrupts my understanding of "nothingness".
        • Oct 19 2012: Arkady !
          David Bohm introduced the notion of ' quantum potential " , google it, if you are interested. I have my own understanding, but maybe it is irrelevant ; I've got the impression that it has something to do with free will on quantum level and morphogenetic field in the context of biology and evolution.
          Any idea should be tested in the context of different disciplines, if it resonates it must really mean something !

          Sorry, Pat for hijacking you reply button :)
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        Oct 19 2012: If the universe has an age it had a beginning. Free will cannot be measured. Since free will cannot be measured time is irrelevant to it. Free will and cause are the same thing. Cause has always existed...
        • Oct 19 2012: Pat !
          There was a question somewhere in philosophical context, not religious one :
          " Does God have free will ?"
          After your " If the universe disappeared, free will would still be there. 'comment , it occurred to me, that God does not HAVE free will, it IS free will.
          It sounds true enough :)
          Thanks !
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        Oct 19 2012: That's right, you get it, this was before the beginning

        Until you get this point all the other stuff sounds plausible which it really is not.

        The question is what is organic to the real you? The answer is nothing, only you who are cause.
      • Oct 22 2012: @Arkady Grudzinsky:
        Re. "I doubt that our minds are able to control the wave functions of the electrons in the neuron cells, but what do we know?"
        This is not a valid test of free-will. We can already demonstrate control of far more than wave functions of electrons. Right now, I am controlling not just the electrons, but also the billions of atoms needed to type out this message.
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      Oct 20 2012: I think, we are getting each other's point. With circular stuff, we have nothing else left, but to believe one way or another. "It is as you say" - is how Jesus answered Pilate's questions regarding his identity. That's what I see most people doing here.

      Self-refuting ideas are of two types (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-refuting_idea): self-consistency or self-contradiction. In a most simple form, self-consistent circular statement is "This statement is true". If it's true then it is true, if it's false then it's false. "It is as you say." Oddly, even if we assume that it is false, it is still true about itself. Reminds me of faith. It takes a side and does not change back and forth.

      The most basic self-contradiction is "This statement is false". If it's true then it's false, if it's false, then it's true. It switches back and forth all the time. Reminds me of perpetual doubt - mental torment, absolute lie, absolute skepticism. To doubt everything, I need to doubt myself, my own existence. Those who say they don't have faith, should, at least, believe what they say :-).
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        Oct 20 2012: Arkady

        I started reading your link and found it to be mind numbing.

        Another way to look at this is from a workability point of view. If you assume that everything is predetermined then you are saying that you are not cause, that you are effect. Being effect is not conducive to sucess? Imo it is better to choose the perspective that works.

        I disagree with assumption that the mind is a function of the brain, it also would still be here if you took everything else away.
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          Oct 21 2012: Pat, I agree that this stuff is mind-numbing. There is no way to analyze it with reason. All we have left is to believe one way or the other. I don't think, reason or scientific experiments can help us understand this problem. A lot of people believe that accepting a belief without experimental evidence is wrong. I think, such belief does not have any evidence, so I do not accept it :-)

          Objectively, it does not seem that there is any cause for anything. All we see is changing matter - one event follows the other in circular patterns which, however, never repeat exactly. How they started is a speculation.

          Questions "how" and "why" are often confused. Science is good at answering "how", but it never answers "why". "Why" is a human question. We give things our own reasons and purposes and I think, there is nothing wrong with it.

          Anyway, I can go on and on about these things, but you are right - this stuff is mind-numbing. I don't think that debating cosmological beliefs is a useful activity :-).
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        Oct 21 2012: At the end of the day the question is how can I use this stuff. If it is purely academic the hell with it, "learned individuals" are not learned individuals if they cannot do anything with this stuff.

        Viewing things from cause and free will are very empowering. How do I know? because the individuals who make a difference in the world view it from a free will/causative point of view. The others prefer some sort of mental masturbation and don't get a damn thing done other than to get in the way of the producers.
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          Oct 21 2012: Good point. I don't think, however, that trying to understand myself is a totally useless activity. Sometimes, thinking about these mind-numbing things clears up my mind and teaches me to recognize flaws in my own thinking which is a valuable skill.
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          Oct 21 2012: Pat,
          I think we have talked about this point before...LOL

          APPLICATION! I totally agree with you..."viewing things from cause and free will are very empowering...individuals who make a difference in the world view it from a free will/causative point of view".

          I very much agree that it is a "point of view", which we can embrace.....or not.....it is a choice! Which is why I have said that people sometimes make things WAY more complicated than it really is.

          "One of the great difficulties in the new order of thought is that we are likely to indulge in too much theory and too little practice. As a matter of fact, we only know as much as we can prove by actual demonstration."
          (Ernest Holmes - "The Science of the Mind")

          That being said...
          Trying to understand yourself is a good thing, in my humble perception. What is the benefit in labeling any of your thinking "flaws"? We are human beings, on a life adventure, and in my humble opinion, one step of the thinking process takes us to another and another step in the journey....the process is not flawed, in my preception....it is simply a journey of discovery.
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        Oct 21 2012: Arkady

        How is it a valuable skill?
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          Oct 21 2012: If we do not recognize our own flaws, we cannot improve. If we don't know what we want, we cannot "do unto others what they would have them do to us". Understanding who we are is important.
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        Oct 21 2012: To what benchmark?
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          Oct 21 2012: To our own benchmark. I have noticed that we often feel unhappy or frustrated over circumstances or other people. I have also noticed that the source of this frustration often lies not in the circumstances or the people, but within ourselves.

          "If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us." -- Herman Hesse

          I have also noticed that we, sometimes, hurt other people with our best intentions. It is important to recognize it as well.

          I hope, this answers Coleen's question "What is the benefit in labeling any of your thinking "flaws"?
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        Oct 21 2012: That seems like a very subjective bench mark. Subjective is not particularly useful.
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          Oct 21 2012: Values are subjective. Do you see any use in buying or selling stock?

          Perception of usefulness of a product is subjective. Do you think, advertisement industry is not useful? Why do people pay millions to create subjective perceptions?

          Does objective judgment even exist? (sounds like a topic for another conversation).
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        Oct 21 2012: Arkady,
        Sorry...I am not getting the connection you are making to the question...""What is the benefit in labeling any of your thinking "flaws"?

        I agree with having our own benchmark.
        I agree that the source of our frustration lies within ourselves.
        I agree that we are mirrors to each other and reflect information back and forth.
        Other people may CHOOSE to be hurt even if we have the best of intentions

        I'm sorry, but I do not see the connection with all of this and the belief that some of our thinking is flawed.

        Actually, this feels like an old programming....we are born with flaws? Original sin? We must be saved"??? Where does the belief that some of our thinking is flawed come from?
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          Oct 22 2012: Coleen, perhaps "flaw" is not a good word. What I mean is that our unhappiness often comes from perceived difference between "what ought" and "what is". When our perception of "what is" matches our perception of "what ought", we are content and happy. Often, the reason why "what ought" is different than "what is" lies within us, not in the outside reality. This is where I see self-analysis useful.

          And I wouldn't blame others for feeling what they feel. It contributes to the difference between "what ought" and "what is". Sometimes we have the luxury of dismissing other people's reactions and letting go of people, but sometimes we have to let go of our opinions to keep relationships.
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        Oct 21 2012: Arkady

        Yes objective does exist it is called reality or more accurately it is the objective agreement called reality.

        People survive according to reality therefore the benchmark should be held in reality. In other words the bench mark should be applicable to reality. All happiness comes from how we succeed or fail in the real world.
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          Oct 22 2012: Pat. You said that analyzing circular statements is not useful. I say it is. It allows me to recognize circular reasoning and avoid it. We are heading towards this vortex going nowhere.

          First, I mentioned "objective judgment", not "objective" [reality]. "Objective judgment" does sound like an oxymoron. "Objective" [reality] does exist, but it is your (and my) belief. It cannot be proven that reality is real. Solipsism is logically self-consistent. It does not contradict itself. You cannot refute solipsism with experiments. You can only believe that you are not "a brain in a vat". What reality is - nobody knows. I suggest not to argue on this, because this argument is circular and because you and I believe that reality exists.

          Re: "All happiness comes from how we succeed or fail in the real world." -- success and failure are subjective and relative. Fail what? To reach our subjective goals?

          Our goals ARE subjective. If you believe in free will, you should admit that we set our own goals, create our own reasons for existence, etc. So, goals and benchmarks are subjective. I don't see anything wrong with that, but I'd like to realize this to avoid useless disagreements with people who do not follow my "objective" goals and do not meet my "objective" benchmarks.

          Another thought: "success" (reaching our goals) does not guarantee happiness. One can set a goal to make a million dollars, reach it, and feel unhappy. Understanding ourselves helps to figure out what would make us happy and set goals accordingly.
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        Oct 22 2012: Yes the goals are subjective.Which is as far as I care to go as I don't want to risk tautology.

        Happiness comes from striving towards goals. The goals are subjective but the effort is objective.

        Happiness does not come from things. Look at the rich who have inherited everything they have.
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          Oct 22 2012: Re: "Happiness comes from striving towards goals."

          Struggle comes from striving towards goals. Happiness is a feeling. It just comes. :-)
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          Oct 23 2012: I agree Pat, that happiness sometimes comes from striving towards goals. I also suggest that happiness is a way of travel, not necessarily simply a destination. Happiness is a choice in every moment of our lives...in my humble perception and experience:>)

          That being said Arkady, I also believe that struggle is a choice.

          Consider your statement above, which I agree with....
          "unhappiness often comes from perceived difference between "what ought" and "what is". When our perception of "what is" matches our perception of "what ought", we are content and happy. Often, the reason why "what ought" is different than "what is" lies within us, not in the outside reality. This is where I see self-analysis useful."

          I suggest that most struggle, is because of exactly what you state...
          "unhappiness...comes from perceived difference between "what ought" and "what is"....

          When we have expectations of how things "should" be (what ought), and our expectations do not match reality (what is), we are sometimes unhappy....yes?

          What happens, when we change our perception of what should be, or what ought to be? Then we don't need to struggle with the differences between what ought and what is....yes?

          We have the freedom to change our thoughts, feelings and perceptions all the time, do we not? So, I agree with you that self-analysis is useful.

          It IS, however, only useful when we apply the information to our life experience, which I think Pat may be getting at?
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        Oct 22 2012: There you go. I'm done.
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    Oct 18 2012: I have not read all of the comments, so I hope I'm not repeating something. Anyway.....

    Perhaps you have heard of the author, and neuroscientist, Sam Harris. As you may know, he wrote a book called "Free Will". In my opinion, it addresses the original question (and explanation) exactly.

    If could distill the book into only one of Harris' ideas, it would be that science has learned that our thoughts, intentions, desires, ideas, etc., do not originate in our consciousness - they merely appear in our consciousness. Clearly, this has huge (negative) implications for the notion of free will.

    As an aside, I believe the question of "vanilla versus strawberry ice cream" is dealt with nicely in Harris' book :)

    I took a philosophy course in university. But, other than that, I'm likely not equipped to address the question with any of my own ideas. Harris' ideas are far better. If you haven't read the book, I think you would enjoy it.
  • Oct 18 2012: The problem for free will from a materialist metaphysics is that materialism and physicalism suppose that the universe is causally closed. An example of this principle is the second law of thermodynamics: energy is neither created nor destroyed for a given process.

    Psychology and neuroscience both approach questions about the brain's nature and how our nervous system acts as an interface between the reality underlying the world we inhabit as determined ultimately by physics, but the picture that neuroscience gives us is still lacking in completeness. If the materialism which underlies the natural sciences is correct, however, it is theoretically the case that neuroscience will be able to explain the true nature of our thoughts and behaviors while maintaining parsimony with physics which does not admit of causation except between material bodies. This bears on free will depending on how exactly you understand free will.

    If you understand free will to mean that you can pick from one of several choices, then you have to wonder where the perception of choice comes from. We have the ability to contemplate alternative futures based on our experience and the ability to use abstract analogy in case of events we have not fully encountered before. These abilities arise from the computational and modular nature of our neurosystems, so the will is not free because what you "will" arises from previous experiences stored as memory in the physical structure of your brain and the ability to manipulate that experiential data (i.e. having various components of intelligence) is constrained by the nature of your particular nervous system.

    If you understand free will to mean "Green Lantern" free will, where you just want something really hard then *poof it happens, then simple observation points to the inherent absurdity.

    Regardless of free will's existence, here's the clincher: we will always have to live with the perception that there are choices to be made.
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      Oct 18 2012: Thanks, Eric. Good explanation.

      "Green Lantern" free will is not how I define it.

      I looked at "free will" entry in Wikipedia. Oh, my, what a muddle! There are views directly contradicting each other. Here is what neuroscientists have found: "... studies of the timing between actions and the conscious decision bear upon the role of the brain in understanding free will. A subject's declaration of intention to move a finger appears after the brain has begun to implement the action, suggesting to some that unconsciously the brain has made the decision before the conscious mental act to do so. Some believe the implication is that free will was not involved in the decision and is an illusion. The first of these experiments reported the brain registered activity related to the move about 0.2 s before movement onset. However, these authors also found that awareness of action was anticipatory to activity in the muscle underlying the movement; the entire process resulting in action involves more steps than just the onset of brain activity. The bearing of these results upon notions of free will appears complex." Hmm... Doesn't it? :)
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      Oct 18 2012: Stephen Hawking in his book "The Grand Design" makes an analogy with the Conway's "game of life" where cells have simple deterministic rules of behavior. When multiple cells interact, new behaviors can be observed - e.g., "crawlers", "shooters", etc. These "objects" do not follow from the original simple rules of cell behavior. Hawking argues that when we observe a system that consists of a few billion cells, its behavior may be so complex that it creates an impression that the system has "free will" whereas it is based on deterministic underlying processes. This is all great. But "creates an impression" in whom? A similar system of a few billions cells? What's this "impression thing"? Is it necessary at all?

      It does not look like free will is necessary for life. What is it for? Is it just a byproduct of brain evolution which, along with consciousness, just makes us suffer? If there is no "free will", there is no "sin" as well since we have no choice how to behave. There is also no responsibility for anything. Then, why do we put people in jail?

      I've heard an opinion that religion turns people into puppets in hands of their imaginary God. OK. How exactly is materialism "liberating" people? This appears to be complex, indeed...

      Well, religion has problems too. Consider the Genesis story. Didn't the omniscient God know that humans are going to eat from the tree? If he did, couldn't he, being omnipotent, prevent this accident? And why did he plant the tree anyway? That was a very "pro-choice" decision. This, actually, makes more sense than materialism. It leads to the logical conclusion that love cannot be forced, but must be chosen which is a self-consistent statement and seems to resolve the conundrum. It also implies that we cannot know that we are happy without suffering - which also makes sense. If omniscient God exists, he can still know all our choices. But we don't. And we are doing all this "free will" game for our own sake.
  • Oct 23 2012: My answer to the title question: Maybe yes. Maybe not.

    Doesn't this mean that "free will" is an illusion?
    -Not necessarily.

    Can we really make decisions or do decisions "just happen"?
    -Does not look like they "just happen." They seem to depend on a series of factors. I think that this is a false dichotomy.

    If not, then WHO makes the decisions?
    -Since you said before that the options were either we decide or decisions just happen, how would it follow that there's a "WHO" making such decisions? Why not leave it at "just happen," or leave deciding to a "what" rather than to a "who"?

    Sorry, but the whole thing seems like rather malformed ideas/arguments.
  • Oct 22 2012: no..you can improve a machine..it is still inanimate, machine...a mind, which is by the way also attached to emotions, feelings..is more higher than functioning braincells..
    In reverse....first you always have an idea in the mind then you create the material to make it...the materials do not make things..
    but whatever I am done
    • Oct 22 2012: and you can't improve a mind?

      Well the kids will be happy that there is no point in going to school but there may be a few buddhist monks who feel a little disappointed that those years spent meditating have been rather wasted.
  • Oct 22 2012: dualism laughable?...dont get you...the mind is outside of the brain...fuctiones though it though..if the brain would birth the mind..it would mean it would create something higher then itself its components...if you mix clay with clay you don't get water...
    agree with realistic resignation..or acceptance one can work with
    • Oct 22 2012: Is not the telling of time by a watch not an example of something creating something "higher than itself its components"? In fact aren't all machines such examples? Have i missed the point of that statement?
  • Oct 22 2012: Let's assume evolutionary biology is responsible for how we got here.

    It follows cultural evolution was a spin off of biological evolution. A result of the biological development of the human brain. If that is true then memes came into play. That means there is added interaction between our purely physical being on an individual basis as well as at a social level all reflected in our cultural development. Interestingly, cultural evolution took on an independent cumulative life and path of its own. It allowed us to excel as a species by enabling individuals to become better communicators and more educated via language, elders, libraries, etc., which extended each person's ability to be more and more abstract within their own faculties as well as with others.

    From a biological angle the idea of free will makes sense because it has allowed us to think and ponder life apart from all the automatic, reactive, spontaneous, etc., responses that described nearly all of our routine behavior. Now we can actually try to understand and direct our instinctive nature outside the normal tug of war that describes our struggle for survival. We can seek more thoughtful goals, which almost by definition involve the concept of free will. These efforts in turn could be helpful in self preservation.

    I think the value of abstract thought is under valued by the convention wisdom of religion and those less tuned into biological and the concurrent cultural evolution it brought about. It has enable deeper and more abstract ventures within our selves and made possible the concept and reality of free will - it seems to me.
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      Oct 22 2012: Dan, thanks for your comment. A few thoughts.

      The term "memes" invented by Mr. Dawkins is an interesting one. This is an example of how our brain works. At the very basic level, brain does not do much except creating connections between neurons. The idea of memes is an example how a biologist, thinking of ideas, would find an analogy with genetics. One might agree that there are no "memes" in nature - it's just our way to describe certain perceived phenomena. At the same time, Mr. Dawkins vehemently opposes other ideas created by humans such as God, Spirit, etc. How are "memes" more real than "spirits"?

      Re: "From a biological angle the idea of free will makes sense because it has allowed us to think and ponder life apart from all the automatic, reactive, spontaneous, etc., responses that described nearly all of our routine behavior."

      It seems to me, though, that abstract thinking is just a higher and more complex level of the same "automatic, reactive, spontaneous, etc. responses". E.g., we do not know how and why one thought or image brings up an association from our memory. This process seems to be fundamentally similar to the one that made Pavlov's dogs associate bell ringing with food.

      Re: "I think the value of abstract thought is under valued by the convention wisdom of religion and those less tuned into biological and the concurrent cultural evolution it brought about."

      I think, the level of abstract thinking in religion is underestimated by materialists. God, as I see it, is the highest abstraction of our human self.
      • Oct 22 2012: How are "memes" more real than "spirits"?

        Dawkins doesn't consider that they are. I think he would argue that neither physically exist other than in the firing of our synapses.
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          Oct 22 2012: Then, I'm puzzled why Dawkins opposes the idea of God and religion in general. It seems to me that most believers are quite aware that there is no and cannot be a physical evidence of God. Religion is not about factual truth and physical evidence, and not everything is or should be, in my opinion. The whole anxiety around religion vs. atheism seems nonsensical to me - circular arguments, creating a destructive vortex, like a hurricane.

          Anyway, just a side note. I don't mean to start a discussion on this topic here or offend anyone. This discussion can get heated very fast. It's just one of my ideas that I consider "worth spreading".
        • Oct 22 2012: Hello Arkady

          "Then, I'm puzzled why Dawkins opposes the idea of God... "

          This is interesting. I want to pursue this a bit,

          Its because Dawkins is a biologist with a diametrically conflicting world view based on the role biological evolution plays in our emergence as a species. Religion was and is presented with considerable factual details and appealing supplications that are in direct conflict and contrary to the biologist understanding of natural history.

          I do think this diversion does tie to your question and position.

          Is not the attraction of religion all about the appeal to one's free will? If you are willing to commit, ask for forgiveness and a few other things that free will to do so will be rewarded - and those who do not will be condemned forever.

          Perhaps free will is best described and tested by this power and control struggle, although I like my explanation above best.

          Thanks Qab I snuck in under your reply button and I liked your comments - thanks!
      • Dan F 50+

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        Oct 22 2012: Hi Arkady,

        Although in accord with the likes of Dawkins , Harris, Pinker, et al (biologists with horsepower) I only speak for myself. I sure they would concur!

        The point of the construct I made was to explain how free will came to be through evolution. It's a consequence of our realization (a developmental discovery) that we are mortal in a precious temporary circumstance, which reorients everything. Now we begin to see truths and acknowledge perspective, etc., that entails reflective thought. That developmental (evolutionary) progression in my mind introduces the concept and existence of free will by its liberating realizations of mysteries that abound and the perplexing thoughts and choices the unknowns foster on the individual emerging thought process.

        Word definitions can have a life of their own. I don't deny free will is a neural activity. What I dismiss is that it can't be initiated by a creative spark enabled by a suspension of all the standard background thought triggering activity of personal conciseness or outside noise, fear, etc.

        Admittedly, I like the idea of free will because if gives me hope for our earthly destiny.
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          Oct 23 2012: Dan, thanks for your comment. If you read through the comments in this thread, I think, there is a consensus that materialism cannot explain "free will". It is my understanding that "free will" is just a misnomer. If we make our choices based on past experiences, these choices are not free. If we make choices randomly, we cannot really call them "will". There are a couple of links that make it clear that materialism cannot explain the concept of free will.

          I understand that each of us is confident that we have free will. Where does this confidence come from? I am getting convinced that it's just an impression similar to emotional feeling.

          So, when you say that you believe that humans have free will, you seem to believe something without evidence, based on your emotional feeling. If you claim yourself to be an atheist, then it puzzles me why it's appropriate to believe without evidence in some things and not in the others.

          This is something you may want to think about. I have been through this kind of debates a few times and they lead nowhere. There is no logic in circularity. Note, I don't argue that God or spirits exist. I'm well aware there is no evidence, burden of proof, etc.

          I understand why Dawkins, as a biologist, is upset with creationism. However, spreading his frustration to religion in general seems like an unjustified generalization.
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          Oct 23 2012: Dan,
          You refer to free will as an emerging thought process and neural activity, which I agree with.

          You write... "If we make our choices based on past experiences, these choices are not free. If we make choices randomly, we cannot really call them "will"."

          If we perceive free will to be a thought process, based on neural activity, we understand that as a "process", it embraces ALL neural activity. I believe that is what the brain is for...store and sift through information, organize thoughts and processes so we can make better choices regarding the life experience.

          As a "process" of neural activity, we can be MORE or LESS aware of how it functions. If I have serious choices to make, the decisions are based on ALL available information, so the "process" may be more in depth, and may very well include information from previous experiences. If the choice or decision is simple, like your example of vanilla or strawberry ice cream, the choice/decision may be very random.....and there are various ways to use the concept and process of free will, depending on the challenge or question we face.....make any sense?

          You ask Arkady...where does our "confidence" in free will come from? It comes from application. If we are aware of a process in ourselves and use it, we recognize the existance of that process....just like we recognize the thinking process.....or not! For me, the fact that I DO think, and I DO make free will choices all the time, is evidence to me. If a person is not aware of the processes of the body/mind, they may have difficulty recognizing how they work. The idea that a person who does not believe in a god (me for example) can understand and embrace the process of free will, does not seem relevant to this conversation. In my perception, I DO INDEED have evidence of the process of free will in every moment of my life adventure, while I do not have evidence of a god.
      • Oct 23 2012: Of course memes are real. They are viral ideas. They "survive" because they are catchy. Such as the ideas of gods or spirits. How are memes more real than spirits? Easy, we can easily see that ideas can catch and spread. Thus memes exist. The idea of spirits is but one example. Spirits on the other hand would have to be demonstrated to exist other than as ideas. Seems to me that you have trouble distinguishing the reality of what a concept points to, from the concept itself. I might be completely wrong though.
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          Oct 23 2012: Hi, Entropy Driven,

          Don't take me wrong. I'm well aware that spirits are ideas (immaterial). And I appreciate that you admit that you (and I) might be completely wrong. :) My point was that if spirits are memes, then believing in memes is not much different than believing in spirits provided that we can tell an idea from its representation in reality.
      • Oct 24 2012: Hey Arkady,

        Then I got your point well. So, my point still is that believing that there's memes is very different to believing that there's spirits, since memes are too evidently true. We can witness the ideas spread. Spirits, we can witness the idea of spirits spread, but spirits themselves? So, quite the difference. (I might still be missing something, but does not seem like that.)

        (I do not think that ideas are "immaterial," but I rather not discuss that. Perhaps I should say instead that rather than dividing things into material and immaterial, to avoid fallacies of equivocation, we could describe things by what they are, rather than by what they are not. Example, ideas can be conceptual, or abstract. Not the same "immaterialness" that one could easily equivocate for "supernatural.")
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          Oct 24 2012: Hi, Entropy,

          The dictionary has 25 definitions of the word "spirit". Some of them are, perhaps, archaic, but some are, certainly valid and make sense:

          - an attitude or principle that inspires, animates, or pervades thought, feeling, or action: the spirit of reform.
          - spirits, feelings or mood with regard to exaltation or depression: low spirits; good spirits.
          - excellent disposition or attitude in terms of vigor, courage, firmness of intent, etc.; mettle: That's the spirit!
          - temper or disposition: meek in spirit.
          - an individual as characterized by a given attitude, disposition, character, action, etc.: A few brave spirits remained to face the danger.
          - the dominant tendency or character of anything: the spirit of the age.
          - vigorous sense of membership in a group: college spirit.
          - the general meaning or intent of a statement, document, etc. (opposed to letter): the spirit of the law.

          I skip references to alcohol. These definitions, definitely, make sense to me. The first of these definitions is not much different from the "meme" concept.

          Re: "we could describe things by what they are, rather than by what they are not." Describing what things are IS describing what they are not. You cannot do one without doing the other. http://logictutorial.com/ That's how our language works.
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          Oct 24 2012: It helps to understand the boundary between space and metaspace.
          The boundary is actually arbitrary, but helps ground-out a lot of the vagueness in discussion. There actually is no "metaspace" as it can all be pointed to, and observed, as physical phenomena.
          So the arbitrary divide goes like this (it is an infinite loop):
          Space: Senses.
          Metaspace: Perception--> evaluation (there are lots of meta-fields within this)-->Agency


          Perception and agency are the boundaries of metaspace. They define the entire realm in which memes, spirits and other meta phenomena are observed to operate.
          The boundary formed by perception and agency define the domain of "self".

          In neural-based organisms such as humans, the perception and agency systems are physically topological as defined by dynamic synaptic potentials. These systems are inherently adaptive - that is, basically, all they do - adapt. They are not particularly concerned with "truth" or "reality" beyond being close enough to persist into the next moment.
          Neural systems have some known bugs. It is within these bugs that a lot of spurious perception arises. These shortcomings also provide an environmental niche for other patterns to take root. For instance: facebook. Facebook is a parasitic meta-creature that feeds on human agency - it extracts actual energy from each user sitting at a computer to keep itself alive into the next instant - it does this by exploiting the human gregarious function.
          Facebook, in turn gives rise to other "selves" that feed on the wasted network potential that facebook excretes. Creatures such as market-targeting and secret-service intelligence bots - which have real perception/agency nodes that facebook does not posess.
          When you look long and hard at things like memes, you see that there are a few phenotypes that depend on the magnitude of teh perception/agency function.
          For instance, a computational series might give rise to a standing-wave persistence e.g. nyan cat.
      • Oct 24 2012: However, it would help better understand where we are if we knew this before. If you meant "ideas" when you said "spirits," then your complain about Dawkins evaporates and becomes meaningless. After all, Dawkins is not talking against the existence of ideas, but against those ghostly supernatural things. As per the reference to things by what they are, you missed the point. Talking about the "immaterial" can lead to equivocation. Good for rhetoric, but not for understanding or for reaching meaningful conclusion. Example, if we talk about memes as "immaterial," then their reality could be misused to support the existence of, say, gods. This because "immaterial" is too imprecise. Try and misuse "conceptual" or "abstract" that way. You could, but it would be much harder.

        But I think that once we reach the point of using dictionaries and arguing about semantics while losing from view the original problem we are not communicating any more. Have a nice conversation.
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          Oct 24 2012: Re: "This because "immaterial" is too imprecise. Try and misuse "conceptual" or "abstract" that way. You could, but it would be much harder."

          I agree that term "immaterial" opens the door for all kinds of nonsense. However, terms "conceptual", "abstract", and "ideas" are slightly different from what I understand as "spirit" as "spirit" is an idea loaded with intent, motivation, attitude, will. ("an attitude or principle that inspires, animates, or pervades thought, feeling, or action") Ideas, in general, do not have this quality. Anyway, I agree that this discussion is not particularly useful, but I'm glad we could get down to the source of the disagreement and find common ground. :-)
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    Oct 22 2012: I think, how we make life choices is described in the movie "Forrest Gump" quite well :-) E.g.:

    Forrest Gump: [voice over] That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road, and when I got there, I thought maybe I'd run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd just run across Greenbow County. Now, thinking since I'd run this far, maybe I'd just run across the great state of Alabama. And that's what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. No particular reason. I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured since I'd gone this far, might as well turn around, just keep on going. And when I got to another ocean, I figured since I'd gone this far, I might as well just turn back and keep right on going. When I got tired, I slept. When I got hungry, I ate. When I had to go...you know... I went.

    [reporters ask Forrest his reasons for running all this time]
    Forrest Gump: [voice over] They just couldn't believe that somebody would do all that running for no reason.
    Reporter: Why are you doing this?
    Forrest Gump: I just felt like running.

    [young man starts running and following Forrest]
    Young Man: I mean, it was like an alarm went off in my head, you know. I said, here's a guy that's got his act together. Here's somebody who's got it, all figured out. Here's somebody who has the answer. I'll follow you anywhere, Mr. Gump.

    [Forrest stops running and the group running behind him stops waiting expectantly]
    Young Man: Quiet. Quiet. He's going to say something.
    [Forrest pauses for a moment before speaking]
    Forrest Gump: I'm pretty tired. I think I'll go home now.
    [Forrest turns and the group parts for Forrest as he walks down the middle of the road]
    Young Man: Now what are we supposed to do?
    Forrest Gump: [voice over] And just like that, my runnin' days was over. So I went home to Alabama.
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      Oct 21 2012: What about the coin flip?

      I call it this as i dated a twin that was completely opposite to her sister. One was reactive and the other was rational yet they could feel when one was in strife. Twins are certainly interesting.