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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 10 2011: I realize my comment below is way to abstract so I will attempt to put it in a more practical application.

    We are the creators of the experiences in the world, think of social institutions and belief systems like culture, religion, education etc . . These large social processes DO have a tremendous effect on our actions and set the parameters under which action is taken. However, these processes are essentially created by us, they have formed out of our collective interaction. It is our actions and collective interactions that essentially create these processes. IMO they can thus never fully control behavior. Think Frankenstein. The scientist created him and Frankenstein eventually became more powerful then scientist himself, even threatening his life. Frankenstein severely impacted the scientists daily life and the choices he had to make but it did not take away his ability to choose.

    Free will is the "X Factor," the essential, infinite quality of existence. As social influences increase and effect us more and more they can never be total in scope as they are ultimately created by us. As said below, I think some people are in more of a position to exercise free will then others. In order to truly make a choice you need to be fully aware of the influences acting on you. Some people may be totally ignorant to these influences (I envy them and their convictions) and others may understand these influences and stand in a position to act (for these individuals the burden is heavy as they are the ones who can implement change and who can not plead ignorance).

    Getting back to your original question, you are right if a person had 100% the same genes and 100% the same experiences then yes you would be them because that is saying that they made 100% of the same choices. But, they would only be them up until this specific moment. Going forward, I would argue, they would diverge as they make different choices. Some people would diverge more then others.
    • May 10 2011: "Going forward, I would argue, they would diverge as they make different choices. Some people would diverge more then others."

      What variable would allow them to diverge? The environment + genetics = the summation of our choices; what would cause anything to change if everything is exactly the same? The only possibility is an uncaused, completely unbiased event that could theoretically alter the environment and/or genetics for one of them and not the other -- which I don't see happening.
      • May 10 2011: I am suggesting that their exists an "X Factor" called Free Will. That there is something that is unmeasurable and to a certain degree chaotic and unpredictable.

        Where is the proof for this? Just think about it, you can do anything you want right now, go ahead do something that is unpredictable. Now you may do something unpredicted right now and say it is the result of my input or you can not do something unpredictable and claim that is the result of previous conditioning. You are right in both cases. But you are faced with a choice none the less and you could potentially do either or. My input merely expanded the possibilities, your action will be determined by your choice which will further expand possibilities in the world.

        Choices are definitely conditioned my experiences and inputs but are not just determined as a sum of all events.

        You are claiming that you could hypothetically create a computer that monitored and calculated all human action and thus accurately predict behavior? I'm not saying I'm right but that believing everything is determined is depressing and defeatist. I would much rather be wrong and choose to act in honest and righteous ways then to simply believe it is all determined and not care about the impact of my decisions on this earth.
        • May 11 2011: "Where is the proof for this? Just think about it, you can do anything you want right now, go ahead do something that is unpredictable....you are faced with a choice none the less and you could potentially do either or"

          I think that is the mistake. You can't (I believe) do just anything You can only do what your brain is ready to do at the moment you do it. And your brain will be ready to do it based on its state at that moment, and that will be based on all sorts of things like the setting, your mood, your degree of tiredness, the current thoughts in mind, etc. But I can't gather together all those factors and then take credit for what my brain did, claiming "I" made a choice, or that "I" was free to do otherwise.

          It seems like there is an X Factor/Free Will because we are not consciously aware of the mechanism by which the brain makes its decisions, just like it seems like the sun moves across the sky when in fact it is the Earth turning.
      • May 10 2011: "The environment + genetics = the summation of our choices; what would cause anything to change if everything is exactly the same? "

        Agreed, this is why I would argue they would be the same up until this point. After this point different choices would = different environment and possibly genetics (depending on substance use).
        • May 10 2011: Ok, maybe I'm misunderstanding... Let's clarify.

          Say hypothetically we both had the 100% of the same genetics and 100% of the same environment. You are saying this will change (we will diverge, as you phrased it)in the future? If we are both in the exact same situation how might they diverge? Any possible change in input for either of us will be the same since our environments are congruent. I'm sorry if I'm mistaking what you're saying.
        • May 10 2011: With regards to your first response--

          "I am suggesting that their exists an "X Factor" called Free Will. That there is something that is unmeasurable and to a certain degree chaotic and unpredictable."

          I agree that free will is unpredictable in a larger sense, but on an atomic level it is predictable. Agreed?

          If a computer was created so that it knew literally EVERYTHING then, yes, I guess it could. I mean... it's ridiculously improbable that such a device could be built... A device that knows all of the properties and mechanics and locations of every single quark of matter in existence... lol.
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          May 10 2011: What influences those "different choices"?
        • May 12 2011: Hi Debra,

          "One major part of what influences those different choices is simply the presence in the environment of another."

          If we were talking about twins, then yes. But we are talking about the same exact person essentially in alternate realities, in which case, nothing would cause them to diverge.
      • May 11 2011: Exactly. . . My difference in thinking is that the inputs (genetics and environment) only set the framework in which we operate. Within this framework we make choices that are random and unpredictable. Thus, two people at the same point now would not necessarily end at the same point in the future. They might but I would argue most likely not. If one choice was different in the future it would severely alter all proceeding choices.
        • May 11 2011: But Mathew, if they were 100% the same up until now, they are essentially the same person in alternate realities. On what basis can you say their choices may not continue to be the same?! Are you suggesting there is another dimension or level of existence through which we can make these random decisions? Why would the SAME exact person choose different choices in alternate realities? Can we not ask "why" when we make choices?
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          May 11 2011: I share Austin's same questions here, but would also like to add: wouldn't the allowance for such "pure random" decisions make for a world in which people DO very, not just random, but often incoherent things. (i.e. going to the bathroom in a random spot, speaking random sentences, to random things/people, at random times....)...Because there is no determined causality for actions the individual basically just plays a gigantic game of "enee menee minee mo" (yeah, don't know how to spell that lol)?
        • May 11 2011: "Because there is no determined causality for actions the individual basically just plays a gigantic game of "enee menee minee mo" (yeah, don't know how to spell that lol)?"

          Good point! Hadn't even thought about it that way.
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          May 14 2011: @Joshua: In a sense, the random actions you cite are exactly the kinds of things people do. We all relieve ourselves in random locations (these locations just happen to all be *bathrooms,* hopefully, but the point is you don't always use the same one, right?), we all speak sentences that are to some degree random (do you always use the *exact* same words to express a particular thought?), and we constantly engage with random people.

          It's not that everything must be determined or that everything must be random. As complex systems, our bodies and minds obey certain physical laws, but there is room for variance. Think of a magnetic compass jostled by physical vibration: the compass tends to point north all the time, but the random shaking causes it to drift a bit over time. Here you have determinism (an internal, fixed "will" to point north) mixed with randomness (an outside influence causing it to drift).

          However . . . I admit this doesn't answer your original and compelling question of whether or not two genetic twins with absolutely identical experiences would differ. It would be like asking whether two magnetic compasses experiencing all the same vibrations would jostle and drift exactly the same over time. Unless the system in question is influenced by quantum events (where it seems identical structures and circumstances can and do result in different outcomes), I'd wager the results would be identical every time.
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          May 15 2011: @Tony: Very very intriguing perspective, one that I will have to maul over for some time...I will say that the last part is the most important to me, because the "interference" seems to just be things we cannot/have yet to understand, but that doesn't take away the thought that "you" and "I" are LESS in control of our identity than we may think which was what I got out of such a "thought experiment."
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        May 12 2011: As I have stated in other threads in this conversation I do think there is free will that would cause the entities to diverge, along with random decisions. Even if you want accept that there would still be divergence caused by random environmental circumstances. For one small example you are at a reception desk where there is a dish of candy, you reach in and grab a piece without looking to decide what, as does the alternate. You come up with a cinnamon candy and the alternate comes up with the adjacent root beer candy. While this is a minute difference it is a divergence, and that divergence could compound to become a further separation of what once was the same. That root beer candy could lead me to order a root beer at lunch instead of a Pepsi and so on and so forth
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          May 13 2011: I don't see how the received candy would be different....The alternate would grab the cinnamon as well. Where did the change from? I am not very smart, so I think this is why it is taking so long lol, so please spell it out for me....if the environment is 100% the same, the context, the candies would be in the EXACT same location in the room and the EXACT same location in the bowl. And "you", with your exact same genes (innate food preferences, hunger cycles, etc.), and environment would come in at the EXACT same time and take the EXACT same candy!
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        May 13 2011: There are two corners of the wrappers that are touching, by one of the corners the candy is withdrawn. Both are grabbed, one happens to slip away and the other remains. The forces are so similar between the two that it is random happenstance that determines which is retrieved.

        In environment there are random occurrences, this is how the divergence happens.
        • May 13 2011: I think this is where you and I fundamentally disagree, Thomas. In my opinion, if the candy wrappers really were both grabbed equally and both had the same chance of slipping, one of three outcomes could happen (in both realities): 1. neither would slip. 2. both would slip. 3. or one candy would slip but it would be the same candy for both considering there is nothing different in how they grip the candy and their environment.

          But again, to clarify, I do believe free will exists macroscopically. And I do think there is a possibility that our choices are dependent on more than just this Universe-- that there may be a sort of dualism that exists in our consciousness, but that it is also predictable.

          If we are 100% unpredictable nothing would separate us from one another except for the arbitrary actions and behaviors we have randomly committed in the past.
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          May 14 2011: This is where, I fundamentally disagree as well...I just can't wrap my mind around how this could even occur. (It seems so illogical to me)."The forces are so similar between the two that it is random happenstance that determines which is retrieved."....I just can't make sense of that, and fail to see how it translates to free will! But hey, "to each their own" I suppose!
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        May 14 2011: @Austin Why do you think that if your third option took place it would lead to the same outcome every time?

        @Joshua So you think everything is predetermined and orderly?
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          May 14 2011: Yes, I don't see any other way around Thomas!
    • May 10 2011: I get what you mean Mathew. Culture, religion, education are belief systems that we created. I just fail to see how being more educated means you have more free will. It does give you more options to choose from. But think of it this way: You only know what you know.

      Let's say you are faced with a problem: "should I eat this apple or this orange?" The problem needs urgent solving. So you go in your brain and you look for past experiences that can help you solve this problem. Given that your knowledge is finite, you will choose the best solution to the problem according to you. A clone of yourself facing the same problem, and knowing exactly what you know, placed in the same environment, will make the same decision you would have made. So,that clone will still end up wherever you would have ended right?

      I hope that made sense.
      • May 12 2011: These are all great challenges to what I had proposed and to a certain extent I agree with all of them. Our decisions are based on our finite experiences. We, as social creatures do adhere to social norms.

        But if we take this to the extreme then where does innovation come from, where does change come from and where does progress come from? If we did not have the ability for free thinking then there would exist no progress. Looking at indigenous cultures that were held together by strong moral ties (Durkheim, Spencer, etc . .) they heavily persecuted any deviation from the norm, but deviation did exist. Deviance is often the driving engine for social change and is predicated on conscious decision making.

        Think about your intentions as a person: your morals, values, belief systems, etc . . Now think about your actions. You do not think that you can make a conscious choice to bring your actions more in line with your intentions?? What we want to do and what we actually do are often separate. Consciously making choices to close this gap reflects some element of free will, IMO.
        • May 12 2011: Mathew,

          Why can't progress and innovation be the results of neurons firing in a new and unique pattern? Free thinking does bring about creativity in a macroscopic sense, but not on the microscopic level. From what I've read/heard, new and innovative thought is just the combination of our experience and thinking about different aspects of the world (in our experience) in a unique way. I can't think of a single invention or theory that was not caused by the inventor/theorist's past experience and/or environment. Tell me if you can think of one.

          You stated, "If we did not have the ability for free thinking then there would exist no progress." Every living organism on earth genetically adapts to the environment (progress!). This biological progress is not the direct result of free thinking is it?
      • May 12 2011: @ Austin

        I agree that there does exist causality and that innovation is a result of combined past experiences. I am saying that some people probably do operate as you say and are on "autopilot." However, some people can and do operate with conscious decisions that quite possibly act against everything that they have been environmentally exposed too.

        For me, and I think this is where we disagree, consciousness is not purely a physical process. Yes we are bound by a physical existence that adapts to both the physical and social environment, but for me anyways, there does exist a conscious (if not spiritual) part of all conscious creatures (animals included).

        Without this "x factor" then life is pointless and meaningless. We are all just in the matrix running on autopilot. If that is the case then why have life in the first place? There would not be life if there was not purpose.

        As I said I am not a religious person, but I think my argument is faith based and I probably would not be able to give a purely physical scientific answer. One quick question though? Have you ever meditated and tried to pause your mind and exist in the space in-between thoughts??
        • May 12 2011: "For me, and I think this is where we disagree, consciousness is not purely a physical process." I apologize if I made it sound like I believed it was purely physical, I don't. I know it's unsubstantiated, but I feel this uniformness regarding my identity and who I am should not be possible. It almost defies logic. Our identities are the result of a unique biological process, our bodies are cellularly overturned every seven years; the system of processes that occur in each of our bodies is what separates us physically, it is the only constant. The strange thing, is how these processes can be capable of creating such a firm sense of identity like we do. This paradoxical sense of identity that a mere system of processes can achieve is the reason I believe it is possible that we exist on a deeper level. But, to be clear, (I believe) this "next level" of consciousness, even if it is not physical, is still deterministic in my opinion. If it weren't deterministic, what would make each conscious entity intrinsically different from one another?

          "Have you ever meditated and tried to pause your mind and exist in the space in-between thoughts??"

          I have not. I will try it out.
        • May 12 2011: "There would not be life if there was not purpose."

          Why not?

          (I'm not rejecting the possibility that we have purpose; I want to explore all options.)
        • May 13 2011: I don't believe I have contra-causal free will, and yet life seems far from pointless and meaningless to me. This is because my "un-free" will directs me toward the world, and I enjoy it as I go (at least some times).

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