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Rohan Somji

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Is Evolution by natural selection against Free Will?

Natural selection works by the principle of survival of the fittest. Any mutation that is beneficial for a dynamically changing environment is propagated, and any anomalies encountered are crushed in this race of survival. If the first organism evolved by this process, so did the brain, ie- if external conditions are shaping internal environments of organism for suitable responses, the human mind developed free will due to external conditions. Free will gives us the ability to make a choice regardless of external conditions. This implies at any point of time a human can choose to live or die. But if organisms who can choose compete with organism who can't, and if even only 1% choose to die at a certain age, the rate of propagation of organisms without Free Will, will exceed those with free will until all organism with free will are dead. Thus it seems absurd that natural selection will allow a long term chance for a possibility of life-defeating mechanism to exist in a populace.

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    Jan 27 2014: Hi Rohan, you mentioned

    "if external conditions are shaping internal environments of organism for suitable responses, the human mind developed free will due to external conditions"--

    I think this statement would negate the fact that we have any free-will at all because we know that much of who we are is dependent upon our brains. It is known that the physiology of our brain changes depending on the environment. In spite of my belief that there are many things that influence our brain this does not negate the fact that we have choices and this is the grounds in which I have to disagree with your notion that suicide is proof that we have free-will. Suicide is a choice that would seem to be more powerful than our natural instinct for survival but ultimately this choice is dependent upon other factors that are outside of the choice itself. Such a choice did not arise out of a vacuum.
    • Jan 29 2014: I don't see how my statement negates the fact you mentioned in the first statement. Kindly elaborate. Its true, Choices do not arise out of a vacuum. This is the main reason that I think free will is an illusion. The fact that we always have a very narrow set of choices demonstrates that choices are always dependent on other factors that are outside the choice itself. Any choice we make is always based on some evaluation of the external environment or of our own psychology, which itself is shaped by the external environment. I understand that suicides can also be committed by non free willers who are just driven by external circumstances. The suicides which are a true expression of free will are ones like self immolation or samadhi attained by Religious people who cut off all external bonds and take a purely internal decision to meditate to death. I am saying that there can be no decision so pure that it is not influenced by external conditions, and thus true Samadhis don't occur. But if anyone can argue for free will, I propose that illusion of free will may work better than free will itself and thus survive better in natural selection as pure free will can give rise to samadhi or self immolation.
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        Jan 29 2014: Hi Rohan,

        In that case I must of misunderstood the original point that you were making. When you stated:

        " if external conditions are shaping internal environments of organism for suitable responses, the human mind developed free will due to external conditions. Free will gives us the ability to make a choice regardless of external conditions. This implies at any point of time a human can choose to live or die"

        I took that paragraph to mean that you were essentially advocating for free-will. That is why I mentioned (and as you pointed out) there are other factors at play here that would negate the notion of free-will. Reading over your last sentence again clarified your position so I apologize for taking some sentences in isolation.

        And as you mentioned with the Samadhi, even if they do cut off external bonds completely, their beliefs play a role and I believe that their beliefs were the result of external factors (society, culture, parents, tradition, etc). So I agree with you in saying that no choices are so pure to allow for such absolute, unconditioned freedom.
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    Jan 21 2014: Hello Rohan,
    I think there is some confusion in your introduction argument.

    1). Although "survival of the fittest" might appear to be how things work on planet earth, it is only partially so, and in a limited sense. I would suggest that unconditional love is also in operation on planet earth, even though its results might not hit the news headlines each day...

    2). ... Hence you are confusing "free will" with "might is the only basis for action".

    3). You are also assuming that "free will" is a product of the evolution of the brain. Although it is currently a popular belief that the brain produces consciousness etc, anyone who can think clearly outside the confines of scientism will probably conclude that consciousness is pre-existing outside of physical forms (especially looking at your religious Indian practices and heritage).

    You state finally "Thus it seems absurd that natural selection will allow a long term chance for a possibility of life-defeating mechanism to exist in a populace." I agree with you; it is absurd - but maybe not in alignment with the reasoning you have given.
  • Jan 21 2014: You're confusing free will with suicidal tenancies.
    While the latter cannot exist without the former, the opposite is not at all true. Having the option to commit suicide is not at all the same as actually wanting to.
    • Jan 23 2014: People who have the option to commit, can commit. If someone can commit, 1 in 1,00,000 will commit (as is committing right now). This problem does not exist if free will does not exist.
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    Jan 23 2014: .
    Free Will originally is for Natural Selection.
    But Free Will for Invalid Happiness does not.
    .
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    Jan 23 2014: a couple of concerns: 1) humans are the only know species (so far) to have 'free will'. Therefore how is it explanable that "the human mind developed free will due to external conditions"? It's mathematically improbable that no other species on the planet would have developed "free will due to external conditions" since all species are in the same environment. 2) regarding the 'rate of propagation' of free will vs. non free will organisms, what if the free will organisms decide to propagate beyond the natural incentives? Would that not nullify the (in your example) 1% imbalance? 3) Is not 'natural selection' trumped by free will's ability to decide - because of it's ability to observe, calculate, and choose - therefore making moot 'natural selection's' ability to be effective against free will? Medicine is a perfect example: We have conquered (in many cases) natural selection's ability to destroy us through medication - a product of free will. Is this not just the beginning of free will's triumph over the 'natural' world?
    • Jan 23 2014: I like the way you are countering my argument logically. I will counter them one by one.
      1) your 1st statement also implies that ''Parrots are the only birds who can imitate sounds'' Therefore how is it explainable that ''the parrot developed its voice due to external conditions''? This distinct feature does not stop natural selection from working.
      2) If free will organisms decide to propagate beyond natural incentives, a new external condition will be set for non free will organisms in this survival of the fittest game and thus the non free willers will try to out propagate the free will ones. But the suicidal in non free will wont be able to die, while suicidals in free will, will always continue to devour the populace ultimately making the small group of free willers difficult to fight with non free willers over the resources. So it would have nullified ''1% imbalance'' if it did not end up setting up a new condition for the non free will. Frankly i did not think of that problem beforehand. Nice one though.
      3) I used to think that way too. The key is to stop calling man made - unnatural. If beavers build a dam or pigeons a nest- its natural. But if humans build Dams better- they are unnatural or artificial. Thus look at all human phenomenon and activity as a course nature is taking for all life. Thus there is no triumph of us over nature, Our triumph is nature's triumph. If we perish some other species will survive and propagate and thus its triumph is nature's triumph. Nature is always in a win-win situation. So to your specific eg- Didn't we develop medicine to cure the sick who were forced to be sick by accidents and diseases. We ourselves are forced to develop medicine due to social, moral obligations, self interest, altruistic nature etc. External conditions(Social, political, environmental circumstances) giving rise to internal conditions(Psychology, emotions, etc) which bring about action (Eating, Fighting, Development, Creating, etc).
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        Jan 31 2014: Thank you for your excellent response. 1) Yes. I realized that myself after I posted. There are many species that have singular attributes. The avatar I use here at TED is a sea-jelly which is the only known living thing that is considered immortal. 2) I see where you're going, and logically it could be argued as valid. But I view the premises as incomplete. I disagree that 'natural selection' is the ultimate determiner. The fact that 'free will' changes the selection process - even if the selection process adapts naturally - makes for the final outcome in my view. 3) I absolutely agree that anything 'man' does is natural, and I really like that statement: "Our triumph is nature's triumph". But I would wholesale disagree with your 'external conditions' argument - except for 'self-interest', which is the only motivator man (or even all of nature) has as all the others you cite can be traced to man's (nature's) need for self-fulfillment. Again, in my opinion only. Thanks for the interesting debate.