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Joshua  Beers

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If I had 100% of your genes and 100% of your environmental experience I would be you.

I think that this statement is completely accurate. Do you agree?
Yes? No? Why? Why Not?

The repercussions seem obvious. It's the classic question: Do we really have free will?

In my personal opinion, however alluring "free will" is as a subject of belief, it doesn't exist in any form. Every decision we make, from important to mundane, can be either attributed to genes or environment. What other factor is there? A soul? Did we get to choose that? From my standpoint, I don't see how this CANNOT rule out arguments free will.

As a side note, compatibilists may argue that "choice" IS making decisions based on the given "will" but I would ask them to elaborate. Is that really freedom at all? "Of course we have free will, we have no choice in the matter."

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    May 9 2011: One thing I've always taken issue with in regards to the whole argument of determinism, is the problem with randomness in the universe. As long as true randomness exists in a system (ie. in the form of nuclear decay and electron movement) doesn't the system become non-deterministic as there is an element that is not even theoretically predictable?

    I suppose the obvious follow up question is whether or not these elements of randomness can have any effect on a more macroscopic level. I imagine if you subscribe to chaos theory and the butterfly effect, you'd argue that even the tiniest changes in a system could lead to large changes at a macroscopic level.

    Perhaps I'm trying to answer a different question, though. I just think that the elements of randomness in the universe are something to be taken seriously. Something that might be peculiar to think about is that if we were to "rewind" time back to my birth and press "play", would it not be possible for some of these random events to have happened differently than they did? And if so, would that not mean my life might have turned out differently despite identical initial conditions?

    I really do hope I'm coming across as coherent. If not, I'd love to clarify.
    • May 9 2011: How can you be certain that nuclear decay and electron movement are truly random? I'm extremely skeptical of phenomena that are allegedly spontaneous and random. How can ANYTHING be truly random? They cannot. Things can be mysterious and currently incomprehensible to us, but that does not mean that we should assume they happen for no reason. It's like someone claiming gravity is random, 1000 years ago, simply because they did not know why it existed.

      So, to answer your question, "would that not mean my life might have turned out differently despite identical initial conditions?" -- Your life would be exactly the same.
      • May 9 2011: "How can ANYTHING be truly random? They cannot."

        Why not?

        (I say it flippantly, but I think if you attempt to answer it seriously you may find that that the matter becomes an interesting open question)
        • May 9 2011: Well, it would defy the law of causality, would it not?
      • May 9 2011: What law of causality? There is none. (cf. David Hume)
        • May 9 2011: Fair point. Why is our Universe so orderly if random events can occur? How can there be any limits as to what can and cannot happen if we throw causation out the window?
      • May 9 2011: One answer could simply be "averaging". Although the individual motions of molecules in a glass of hot water are disorderly (in that they are not all following some geometric rule), the overall or average behavior of the water appears orderly at our macro level of observation: the water remains in the glass, appearing even on its surface (and does not, e.g. rise up and take the form of dragon or any other of infinite possibilities).

        In the same way, there may be objective randomness at the fundamental levels of nature, but it is averaged out at the macro level. Note that averaging doesn't preclude the possibility of bizarre events occurring, it just makes the probability of them happening so small that we in our short existence would never happen to observe them and the laws we have are sufficient to account for our observations. In this sense, there is no theoretical limit on what can and cannot happen in a fundamentally acausal universe, but there are practical limits that for all intents and purposes guarantee that we will not observe any bizarre deviations.

        Some (Penrose, Hameroff) have suggested that something like free will could live in a special niche in which the brain--and therefore the mind--is the only thing in the universe tightly coupled to this very lowest objectively random level of nature via quantum effects in microtubules in neurons.
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          May 9 2011: Very interesting stuff Randy. In regards to the last point, do they suggest that this "niche" in the brain/mind manifests itself as cognitive thought??? If so that is incredible! Could you please provide the specific reading materials about that?
      • May 9 2011: Joshua, I'm not sure what reading to recommend, but you could just start with the Wiki page for Stuart Hameroff and read the section under "Theories". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuart_Hameroff. Roger Penrose's book, "The Emperor's New Mind" also addresses these points, I think.

        I myself don't think there is any real scientific evidence in support of these ideas, but they are at least an interesting idea wedge in the door to something like Austin's point about, "How can anything be truly random. They cannot.", particularly as it connects back to consciousness and free will. By the way, Austin, I don't know if nature has any indeterminacy at any level, of course, I'm just saying I don't think I can say with certainty it cannot. It sure seems weird that it wouldn't, but my failure of imagination is not good support for it!

        The other problem I have with Hameroff/Penrose, though, is even if this quantum indeterminacy provides a means by which the behavior of the brain is truly non-deterministic, I'm not sure that affords us the sort of free will that most people conceive free will as. It could only buy us "random will", so to speak, and that is not something the "I" of consciousness gets to take credit for, if you see what I mean.
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          May 9 2011: I've questioned the concept of "quantum indeterminacy" in another conversation:

          http://www.ted.com/conversations/2657/is_universe_design_pre_program.html?c=241872

          Specifically, it seems that the concept has two interpretations. One being that the indeterminacy merely refers to our ability to observe and not to any underlying random foundation.

          Anyone care to comment?
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          May 10 2011: @ Randy, Thank you very much for the reading material. I really appreciate it, I had never heard of such theories before! I would definitely would have to agree with your last point (even though, admittedly I haven't read the theories yet). It seems to me that the typical "free will" does not exist. And I'd probably characterize the "typical free will' as complete, autonomous control of ones identity/decision making ability. Which I guess one could argue is the only, true free will anyway..right?

          @Tim, Thank you for the convo link, unfortunately I can't comment on it cause I think it's fair to say that, that is a good bit "above my head"!
    • May 9 2011: I think a concept inherent in the phrasing of the question is that even if the universe is random, the same outcomes occur. i.e the environments your clone has encountered are the same as those you have encountered to date . So, you both followed the same path and lived the same experiences. This means that even if the universe is random, the outcomes in your life and in the life of your clone are the same.
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        May 9 2011: I suppose it just seems like if that's the case, it seems to me that the question becomes: If I was you, would I be you? Haha. Thanks for the clarification, though, I believe you're right about the intended meaning.
        • May 9 2011: Haha. I thought the same once I got it. I think a more challenging question would be: If I had 50 percent of your genes and 50 percent of your environmental experience, would I be 50 percent of you?
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        May 9 2011: Have to agree with you Robertson. Even though there could be some sort of deep, unpronounced randomness hidden in the fabric of the recedes of the universe. In my, likely ignorant, opinion it's a mute point. Because at our level, at the end of the day, on our level we are determined. And to me, that's what determinism is, determination in OUR lives not cosmically (although it very well could be that as well).

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