Joshua  Beers

This conversation is closed.

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 8 2011: The question then is if we have 5 identical doors to choose from would the two of us choose the same door every time? If that does not happen we will diverge and are no longer the same.
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      May 8 2011: I believe "we" would choose the exact same one...
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        May 12 2011: "We", the identical, are part of a bigger system - the Universe. In that system "we" could not occupy the same space and time while making the doors exercise. That would create divergence that could result in a different choice.

        Now... , to make us truly identical (occupying same space and time) you have to have "us" made from bosons. If there is even a single fermion in our structure (we are actually made of them) then we would already have slightly different perspective on reality since we are going to be looking at it from different locations or time interval. Eventually this could lead to divergence.
        • May 12 2011: Well I was under the impression he was implying this being the case in two separate, identical realities. Because as you state, it is impossible to put two things in the same exact spot. lol
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        May 12 2011: @ Austin R.

        Well..., if the 2 separate realities are" identical" then by definition everything in them would be identical.
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    May 7 2011: No, you'd be my twin and according to Steven Pinker we could still be pretty different because if we were raised together we would have chosen to differeniate. Great question!.
    • May 7 2011: Good point, Debra. Though, twins only share about 98% of the same environment throughout their childhood. Plus, as you said, they also may chose to differentiate because they are so alike.
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      May 8 2011: I agree Debra, I agree. I would be your twin AND then (only because there is a joint existence) would differences begin to manifest themselves. But my point is (and I believe now that I did a poor job of articulating it before) all there is to human identity is genes and environment, nothing more. Would you agree...?
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        May 8 2011: There are times that people act uncharacteristically from both genes and environment.
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          May 9 2011: I think there are times when they appear to act uncharacteristically (outside the usual people that are in similar situations) , but I think it's only appearance. What influences an individual other than genes/environment?
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          May 9 2011: To your comment below Joshua (it wouldn't let me enter it in the proper place).

          You are right. As the question is defined this too would be part of environment.
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        May 8 2011: Not quite Joshua, even in utero, twins can be subject to different amounts of nutrition. Scientists are starting to have much greater focus on this stage of life because it can have great influences through nutrition (one twin could have had a bette blood supply and therefore better nutrition or have implanted in a less advantageous place on the uterine wall. In utero hormonal influences can also be great.
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          May 9 2011: Isn't that just a very intricate, complicated environmental factor though? In other words, if that's happening we are only "twins" in the colloquial sense of the word, but we have failed to be twins in the 100% purest sense.
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        May 9 2011: "What influences an individual other than genes/environment?"

        Mood for one, and that can change despite nature/nurture.
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          May 9 2011: To me, mood seems like a great example of something that is the byproduct of natural disposition ("genes") and a given situation ("environment'). No...?
  • May 9 2011: It's a question of definition, What is 'you' as opposed to 'me' ?, what is 'will' and what is it free from?
    Try to imagine all that is floating through your mind right now, are you aware of all of it or is your awareness limited? Are you the limited awareness or are you the whole body, or something more or something less? You might stretch 'you' even further to include multitudes.
    So defining 'you' & 'me' becomes a question of choosing a point of view or frame of reference. Seen through the widest frame possible you and me are parts of the same 'thing' in a similar way a finger and a toe can be parts of the same body...
    I think that our limited awareness creates the illusion of the self as a survival mechanism which has evolved as a way to prioritize needs and methods of fulfillment. Once you let go of your attachments you begin to realize that we are all one groovy happening. Then the question of you vs. me becomes simply a question for linguistics..
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      May 9 2011: Ahhhh! Thank you for that Brandur, truly interesting, intriguing thought indeed! I would have to say that the "you" I am referring to is "your" individual identity. Which I guess you might disagree with...? But you must recognize your cognitive individuality at some level, correct?
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      May 9 2011: Individually we are all just pieces of us collectively.

      I think the subconscious is where we lose the limits of awareness.
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        May 9 2011: I agree, it would seem to me that the very definition individuals is a piece of a collective of some sort.

        Please expand on that second sentence if you would, I didn't quite follow you...
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          May 9 2011: At a certain point into the subconscious we lose our individualism. We become the same as others, until the point of being a species, one being made of many. Or there is at least an intermingling of minds in the parallels of subconscious, some parts being indistinguishable from individuals.
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        May 9 2011: Interesting, I would agree that the further the subconscious level, the more alike we all are (due to shared desires/innate "drives")
  • May 8 2011: Joshua, this is one of those Pandora box type discussions. The philosophy, AI and neurobiology guys who get into this get so complex so fast that when I was slogging my way through a single paper, it involved reading several books just to pick up the basic argument.

    The existence of qualia, zombies and quantum effects in color perception all seem to be involved, and I am going to have to admit my continuing inability to even have a decent opinion on this stuff.

    But anyway, this wont get in the way of my readiness to deliver one :D. Consider a quick reversal of the argument. Is it possible to replicate 100% of any genetic information, and 100% of any environmental experience? As I understand it, current biological and physical sciences sciences say no to both. If not, is any form of determinism possible? If nothing is truly replicable, then every circumstance, action and decision must be unique. From this you can deduce that it is impossible to predict any decision until the decider has made it, which sounds quite a lot like free will to me.
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      May 8 2011: John, I am disappointed to know that this is such a "high brow" issue, only because I am severely ignorant when it comes to comprehending such ivory tower content like "quantum effects." Perhaps this is simply my said ignorance talking, but to me it doesn't seem like it needs to be a very complex issue. While I agree that in practical terms we could never replicate 100% genes or environment, replication isn't really the point I had in mind. I simply think that one has to admit that (despite being a rather unpalatable idea) they are simply the byproduct of genes and environment. Nothing more, nothing less. As much as you may dislike another person, think you are better than them...in the end, I think, you are essentially "random."
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        May 9 2011: Joshua, when explained in this manner I understand your statement better. I am not versed on much of science and quantum physics but I have made it a personal quest of mine to understand such questions on a spiritual plane. Therefore, I would say that we are shaped by or genres and environment but like john said there are very important factors that are clearly not in our control. And, if that be the case we clearly are missing possibly huge chunks to your generalization. If we were to have such ability we would have to be able control all of creation (obviously including time and space). To get an exact replicate you would have to repeat time in a hybrid time bubble that could be manipulated without disturbing what already is existing and somehow incorporate those elements all at once....

        Maybe it is more beneficial for us, in the constraint of time, to enjoy our "free will" in our fixed condition. Lol
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          May 9 2011: "...there are very important factors that are clearly not in our control."
          Lloyd, this is my point exactly, there are so many complicated things that play into who we are, BUT all of them are outside of our control. Time, location, relationships, menial occurrences (all I would put under "environment") all with genetics, brain chemistry (all I would just put under "genes"), etc. It all comes together at such a fascinatingly intricate level to form you. YET it is all out of our control, it may seem like you have control but that is just part of the process in and of itself. All those factors just run on themselves and that's what we deem choice and consequently change in/for the individual.

          Your last point, is practically a new topic altogether! I tend to agree with you, we are probably a lot more happy enjoying our "free will" (which is probably why we are subconsciously "wired" to think so!).
  • May 7 2011: Are you implying an alternate world?
    Because if it is in this world, and it still behaves normally, then you cannot occupy the same space I do, so you will see things differently and your world map would definitely differ from mine.

    So, unless I don't exist, you cannot be me. And if I don't exist, you still cannot be me, because you are still you.
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      May 8 2011: Robertson, while that does make sense, this was proposed as a hypothetical. The point I was trying to make (and see if it has any holes in it) was that an individual is simply an amalgamation of complicated genes and environmental influence, nothing more.
      • May 8 2011: Well, yes.It does make sense then. If you had 100 percent of my DNA and environmental experience, you should be me.
        I was wondering though if mind altering substances could change that. Say, if you get drunk, do your thoughts become random? If they do then that could cause a deviation from your 'path' right?
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          May 8 2011: Ahhh interesting thought! (With many repercussions) I also have had similar thoughts about blacking out while drunk, and how memory influences identity. In my opinion, while it definitely makes things a bit more complicated, "determinism" still stands. Let's take being drunk. The thoughts you are having while intoxicated become increasingly bizarre and disconnected from your usual outward personality with each passing drink. But they are not a completely new identity. It's not like you are getting those thoughts from a new source. I am certainly no neurologist, but I imagine your brain is undergoing changes while drunk (this is certainly true of hardcore narcotics I would think). And so this is just another layer of intricacy to add to the the genes/environment amalgam.
      • May 9 2011: I was just looking at George Spilkov's argument with the five doors. You wouldn't necessarily place any thought behind it. If I had five identical doors in front of me and there were no way of reasoning my way out of this problem, I would probably close my eyes and choose a door at random.
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          May 9 2011: Right, but whatever made "you" decide to close your eyes and randomly choose would be something influenced from genes/environment. I think those types of situations seem so difficult to think they are determined because their influencing factors would be so deep and often times (like in this example) deemed unimportant by us. But what is the alternative? That you somehow turned off you brain and had some unbiased force control your hands as you covered your eyes with one and pointed with the other?
      • May 10 2011: No, because that external 'unbiased force' is probably determined. But I think closing your eyes and depriving yourself of some external stimuli should change some things.

        I was also thinking that if we pursue your argument to it's extreme, a corollary should be that our date, time, and second of death are determined. Now if only there was a way to calculate that.
        • May 10 2011: A similar argument that interests me would be: Is life an illusion? Is there any real difference between animate and inanimate matter? If the Universe is simply a mechanism, along with everything in it, we are no different from the helium gases of stars and the water we drink.

          Personally I don't agree, but interesting question nevertheless.
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          May 10 2011: @ Robertson, must admit, I didn't quite get your first point there...it would add to the "perceived randomness" of the choice?...As for your second point, that is a very intriguing thought indeed. In this frame of thinking, it is amazing to think how your life is moving together into one culminating moment: it's end. Quite incredible to think about.

          @Austin, such questions seem to rely on a good deal of personal, respective introspection (I don't think this means that we can't move closer to what we deem "truth," it just means it is a highly difficult process.) Personally, the more I think, the more it has become increasingly obvious to me that the lives we all lead are very deep, complex, interwoven illusions. I don't know anything about animate/inanimate matter, but it seems to me that, contrary to what we are innately "programmed" to think, we are not esoteric beings, we are not detached from nature with respective purposes that transcend the boundaries of the material world. In actuality, we are every bit a part of the "natural" world as "the water we drink."
  • May 7 2011: Hi Joshua,

    Interesting question, but it doesn't make sense.

    If you had 100% of someone else's genes and environmental exposure then "you" wouldn't exist. You wouldn't be them, because the term "you" relates to your unique genetic composition and environment.

    Now, regarding "free will". We are all deterministic to certain extent. How do I know this? Well, we all have specific personalities. Our personalities, by definition, restrict how we behave. But, this does not mean we do not have any "free will", we still choose to do what we wish, even though these choices are the product of our personality and environment.
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      May 8 2011: Hi Austin,

      Completely agree, the "you" becomes useless, because under this circumstance...who knows maybe "I" am "you" under these rules right now hahaha....

      If you don't mind, could you please further explain your second point. "we still choose to do what we wish, even though these choices are the product of our personality and environment." While I agree that this does happen (I feel like I chose to write a response to this post for example), I think the mistake comes in actually deeming this as freedom, for if it is constricted to personality and environment, although I perceive I am making a choice, in actuality I have no control...
      • May 9 2011: "(I feel like I chose to write a response to this post for example)"
        "although I perceive I am making a choice, in actuality I have no control..."

        You did choose to write the response-- it is no illusion. Just because our choices are dependent on our personalities and can be predicted, does not mean they are not real choices. Do you disagree?
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          May 9 2011: Well this certainly depends on how you categorize the "real" part of "real choices." It's a choice all right. But as for it being "real," well that depends. To me, a "real" choice would have to be a completely unbiased decision. But this seems impossible, so maybe there is no such thing as a "real" choice (which to me is what freedom would be). Which would mean the problem is categorizing "regular" choice as being equated to freedom. When in actuality you could never be free (ability to make unbiased, "pure" decisions) ,yet still have choice (ability to "make", more like adhere to, completely influenced decisions??? Does that make any sense at all??? hahaha I hope so, sorry if it doesn't...
    • May 9 2011: Well, speaking about the sense of "you", self-consciousness, i want to draw your attention to the fact that there's no constant and solid "me", we all exist of different, emm.. let's call it "sub-personalities", specialized on adaptation in different environmental conditions. I believe, there's no such thing like "soul"(it's non-scientific, mystic) and out mental processes are created by out physiology and effect each other mutually.

      Our organism does not have qualitative differences from other organisms, only quantitive differences. We have eyes, ears and so on like many other animals.
      Our "basic self-consciousness" is similar to other peoples'. It's similar even to other species of animals. (This basic thing may have slight differences from organism to organism, i think, due to genetic and environmental experience differences of particular individuals. But the basic principle is all the same)
      I'm very sorry i can't explain and prove that idea in 1500 characters and foreign language. It requires a background of knowledge of neuroscience, psychophysiology and processes of evolution.
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        May 9 2011: Hey Constantine, That is a very interesting, important thing to note: that individuals are not static in nature. I would tend to agree, that we are more an amalgam of given environmental situations/effects constantly "doubling over" on themselves. I understand that it is a hard idea to flush out in such a short way (especially if it's a foreign language too!), but I appreciate these initial thoughts/ assertions nonetheless!
        • May 9 2011: Joshua,
          "To me, a "real" choice would have to be a completely unbiased decision. But this seems impossible, so maybe there is no such thing as a "real" choice (which to me is what freedom would be)."

          Yes, I agree it is impossible. If we made completely unbiased decisions we would all be the same person! There would be no unique influence going into any of our decisions-- what would separate us from one another?

          Constantine,
          "Our organism does not have qualitative differences from other organisms, only quantitative..."
          What species of animals have the capacity for conceptual thinking? Humans are the only species I am aware of who can think in abstract terms.
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        May 9 2011: Austin, Do you then agree with the rest? ...that true freedom is then impossible?
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        May 9 2011: While I agree, I tend to find it both humbling and disheartening at the same time. What do you think Austin, what are the personal ramifications of believing this for you?
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    May 17 2011: Ok so what you are seeking to prove or disprove is environment + genetics = humanity - free will. The only thing I can think of to defend free will is we can never take in all environmental stimulation at a given time so we select what environment we let in our brain. Imagine your on a bus with a conversation going on behind you and in front of you. Genetically you are just as capable of eves dropping on either one of them, but the mind can not make sense of both of them. So you choose what information from the external you pay attention to, or you ignore both of them and day dream out the window. Maybe this is where free will is decide, choosing to let some information in while leaving some out.
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    May 14 2011: Hi Joshua,

    The question of free will is one that has puzzled me for a long while. As far as I can tell, the fundamental problem seems to be defining what free will even is. Surely we can think of examples of determinism (will without freedom) as well as examples of randomness (freedom without will). But what in the world is "free will" anyway, never mind whether or not it exists?

    I had a great conversation with my brother about this topic a year ago, and his insight went something like this: "If you had `God-vision' and could see inside the working mind of another human being, what would their free will look like? I have no idea." If we cannot even define what free will is, it's quite pointless to debate its existence.

    On a practical note, we know for certain that many of our thoughts we attribute as "original" are actually nothing more than re-mixes of things we've experienced before. For an interesting example of this, watch this YouTube video on a prank pulled on a pair of advertising artists:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f29kF1vZ62o

    Likewise, I'm an amateur inventor, and one of the most helpful tricks I use to invent a mechanical solution to some problem is to stare at a pile of mechanical parts and components, looking for shapes to trigger ideas in my mind. Even if my final design bears little likeness to the parts that triggered the thought, it's the initial triggering of the idea that is so important to getting the process started. As Thomas Edison once quipped "To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk." Ideas that might *feel* completely original to me are so heavily influenced by my experiences (and perhaps genetics too) that I'm inclined to think of myself as a random re-mixer of ideas.
  • May 14 2011: A little off topic but definitely related, the issue of Fate. How many people believe in fate? I use to believe but no longer do. I get very irritated when I hear the expression "things happen for a reason." I think anyone who says this or believes this should be grateful as it illustrates that that person has been fortunate to live a privileged life.

    I say this because many people have to bear many unfortunate burdens. Do you think a person who is in jail for life for something they did not do had that happen to them for a reason? Does a child who cries to sleep at night from hunger pains have that happen to them for a reason? I think believing in fate is the result of living a privileged life. Thoughts??
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    May 14 2011: By definition, you are right. You would be me.

    Concerning free will: depends on your definition.
    To me, free will is the idea the complex entity has that he/she/it can intentionally influence the environment.
    (See Dennet 'freedom evolves')
    Or it can be a juridical concept to defend our system of law (and punishment).

    You seem to forget that a sufficiently complex system can shut of external influences and work on its own... as genes unfold into a conscious being, so free will arises, and the creature obtains more and more of it as it evolves.
    Even in deterministic systems, one can evolve something we call free will.

    Free will must be seen as the relationship the agent has towards it's environment.
    If you were me, you would be me as an agent, and behaving as me (as you would be me) acting as free as I act now (in the exact same matter, by your definition)
    If you say that that is not free will, let us use another term to define what I described...

    I think the whole debate on whether or not free will exists should be turned around to
    "what concept of 'free will' can we use in our practical life" and then start from there.
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    May 14 2011: No. As chaos theory dictates, even you control every variable, you cannot predict thee course a body will take. All you'll be doing is narrowing the possibilities to increase the chances that this clone is somewhat like you.
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      May 14 2011: Sorry I'm not familiar with the idiosyncrasies of chaos theory, could you please tell me where the divergence would come from?..."chaos"???
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        May 14 2011: @ Elizabeth

        1) Chaos theory is a deterministic theory and says something about predictability.
        2) Joshua Claimed we did know the initial state perfectly (100% the same), in such event, chaos theory is 100% predictable (at least in principle, as it might be NP or NP-Complete)

        @ Joshua
        the divergence comes from the measurement problem:
        measurement is always inaccurate (can be but a tiny fraction), and we predict from our measurements.
        In chaos theory, a small difference (the inaccuracy here) can lead (sometimes very fast) to big differences further down in time... making it unpredictable (even though the system in chaos theory is deterministic)
        Chaos is, in chaos-theory, more or less defined by the degree of entropy (chaos increases as entropy increases)
        • May 14 2011: Chris,

          I really like this answer. I think purely deterministic models rely to heavily on the rational scientific model which is increasingly being shown as having limitations. IMO, the scientific method is only a perspective, a very useful perspective, but just a perspective nonetheless.

          I love this: "measurement is always inaccurate (can be but a tiny fraction), and we predict from our measurements."
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          May 14 2011: I keep seeing this "IMO" what does it mean?
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          May 15 2011: In my opinion
        • May 15 2011: Mathew,

          Chris was agreeing that because we knew 100% of the initial conditions that the two worlds won't diverge. I thought you disagreed with this? Why do you like this answer?
        • May 20 2011: I really liked it because he seems to agree with both of us. He does claim that Chaos theory is ideally deterministic but that our limitations do not allow us to accurately predict. I think this exemplifies the point I have been trying to make, that yeah the environment does impact us and to some extent "Control" us, but not 100%.
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    May 13 2011: We are free to have a Free Will but only when the Will of the bigger powers does not collide with ours.

    Some examples: defying the will of the country could lead to diffident choices for us; defying the will of the boss could lead to unemployment and poverty; etc.

    When 2 wills collide they inevitably emerge changed.

    My free will (and other's too) is very Freudian and Maslowian (meaning selfish, sexual, oriented towards maximising pleasure and minimizing pain, seeking attention, recognition, satisfaction,etc). We begin to restrict our Free Will in our heads before it even gets out, so, we often confuse what our free will really is.

    If we are given unlimited power our True Free Will will emerge making us corrupt unlimitedly.

    But is it really a Free Will if it is more or less the same with every one of us? Almost, as if, it is a built-in program of a sort. The difference in choices emerges from the way we prioritise what is good for us (what makes us feel good). As a result we may choose to suffer in one way to gain satisfaction in a different way.
    However if we had "Freedom of will" our ideal choice would be not to suffer and to gain satisfaction.
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    May 12 2011: So what of free will? I hold the position that free will does exist. Especially in circumstances of future change. When I look at situations that are occurring and take action to sway the outcome that is free will in action.
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      May 13 2011: Thomas, with all due respect, I feel like you have yet to make the full case for truly random events let alone translating those repercussions into full blown free will. (I apologize for what what may be my inability to "connect the dots.")

      "When I look at situations that are occurring and take action to sway the outcome that is free will in action."

      Where do you think the decision to do that came from?
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        May 13 2011: Regardless of where the decision comes from the ability to choose the direction in which you go is free will.
        • May 13 2011: Thomas,

          I think that simply states (which is usually very hard to do) exactly what I was trying to get across. Thank you.
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          May 14 2011: @Thomas

          That seems to me, to be the very definition of compatiblism. Whose sole, major criticism is that while correct in fundamental rationale, it is incorrect in labelling its result "free will."
  • 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).
  • May 10 2011: Great discussion. I think the essence of the questions is asking whether or not Free Will exists. I would have to agree with most that from the perspective presented that everything is determined. However, I think we are viewing it from the infinite (macro) perspective.

    Lets take the assumption that all choices are determined by genes and environment and then ask the question does free will exist? IMO the two are not mutually exclusive. Under this assumption free will can still exist as we see an exponential increase in possible choices as experiences increase. Meaning, you have more possible "determined outcomes" the more educated you are and the more experiences you are subjected to.

    I would argue that we could only be 100% determined if we knew 100% of all possible outcomes. If possible outcomes are infinite then our possibilities for action are also infinite. If both are infinite then nothing is determined as there is no 100% of anything the exists. Free will is thus the "X factor." It is the creator of new experiences with infinite ripple effects.

    I guess what I am saying is that if all things were determined then there would be nothing as there would be the possibility of knowing everything. This duality fades away with the singular concept of "infinity." Infinity presupposes free will and the "X factor" as the foundation of existence (not necessarily consciousness though).

    I hope this makes sense, sometimes its hard to put thoughts into words. Words are a very limited set of symbolic tools that we use to try and convey our thoughts.
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    May 9 2011: Joshua, it would be helpful if you were to tell us what you mean by environment.
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      May 9 2011: Completely my bad Thomas, I'm sorry. I would say that environment is more or less life context, whether that be broad things like time, place, etc or smaller things like overhearing a conversation, seeing an ant on the floor, etc. Perhaps it would be more accurate to define it as "environmental experience" because that articulates the gravity of it...?
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        May 10 2011: What of thought then? Is thought a part of environment or something that may be effected by environment?
        • May 10 2011: I was under the impression that the "environment" includes every physical process and ounce of matter besides our genes.
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          May 10 2011: @Thomas, Yeah I think that thought is just the response to environment (/genes)..and then it just compounds on itself...

          @Austin, I mean for all intensive purposes I would agree
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        May 11 2011: @Joshua, I must disagree with this, there is choice when it comes down to it. Thought is a response to energy, ideals be they internal, external, or extraternal. Some thoughts are simply responses to thinking.

        What of the decisions that have to be made where that equal inputs and researches have been made for all opposing solutions? We are in a nearly constant state of decision making. With the shear numbers of different decisions made in a lifetime there are bound to be some equally balanced decisions. Then to mention the cumulative decisions made by all the people, even if everyone doesn't get an balanced decision a few will.
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          May 11 2011: "Some thoughts are simply responses to thinking."...This is why I said that "it just compounds on itself"...the determination plays on itself...its a domino effect, one effects the other, and another, etc.....but there is a start point, and it's far from random.

          So thinking/thought is the "unbiased source"? To me it can't be. It has to be influenced by something, that seems like common sense...So if its not environment/genes, what's the influence? You say "energy"...what do you mean by that, it seems vague.

          I agree, that there is a perception that we are in constant decision making "mode" But what is "equally balanced decisions'??? do you mean choices in which we are 50-50 split in our preferences???? I would argue that there can never be a decision that comes of a choice in which there was a pure 50-50 preference (even if its the most slight preference imaginable, you can't have a decision from a pure 50-50).
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        May 11 2011: 'By equally balanced decisions' I mean the decisions that have equal argument in favor of or against them. So a pure 50%/50%, or 33.3%/33.3%/33.3%. While odds are they won't happen often, they will happen. For instance if you have decided to get some pizza and you like the pizza from the place on main st. best but the place on holland is much closer and it's already late. You generally will go with the place on main due to preference but the time it takes to get there would be cutting it close to when you need it. This situation played out enough will reach an equilibrium of sorts where that there is no difference between the decisions cumulative reasonings. There are around 7 billion people alive today, with all those making many decisions everyday, not to mention all people that came before. Although it my even be rare there is instance for free choice.
        • May 12 2011: "So a pure 50%/50%, or 33.3%/33.3%/33.3%."

          But just because something has a 50/50 chance of happening does not mean there is any less predictability or causation responsible for the result. For example, both sides of a coin have a 50% chance of landing on either side, but this probability is just in theory-- it does not take into consideration environmental factors such as the specific location of the coin in the person's hand who is going to flip it. Probability gives theoretical percentages, they do not change the fact that the outcomes are predictable when they are applied to each specific situation.
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          May 12 2011: @Thomas, I agree with Austin. And I hope you aren't offended if I say that, in my opinion of course, you have a bizarre outlook on what free will is. From my understanding, you are making the contention that choices can be determined, but in the rare case that choices are equally favoured it becomes an absolute random affair. But I would argue that if there ever is a PURE 50/50 split, there would be no action taken, that AS LONG AS THERE IS A DECISION, there could not have been a 50/50....(there could be a 50.1/49.9). And I will echo Austin and agree that "just because something has a 50/50 chance of happening does not mean there is any less predictability or causation responsible for the result." In my opinion, this is very well put, for it gets at what seems to be the core of your argument.
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        May 12 2011: When I say the equal decision I do mean equal in all aspects. So not only is the chance of happening balanced but the influences are also balanced.

        When this situation comes about you think that the decision is to move on to another decision without making a choice? "If you chose not to decide you still have made a choice"

        This outlook may seem bizarre but free will does exist.
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          May 13 2011: Thomas, I guess we will have to agree to disagree, because I see things differently at a fundamental level. To me, there can never be a CHOICE that is "equal in all aspects" let alone a DECISION that is "equal in all aspects (how does the latter make any sense?...if you've made a decision how could it's factors be equal?) I guess you are saying that what makes it unequal is the "random variable", while I maintain that such a thing defy's logic, that the choice had a preference, no matter how small. Regardless we both seem to agree that there is always a choice made, so there always had to be an inequality somewhere....

          But even if you were correct, I think you still have quiet a ways to go before you label such a "random variable", typical "free will." What you describe seems to be miles away from the cognitive, intellectual freedom often implied in the definition. At the very least, it seems you would have to concede that you are at a loss of true control in your life.
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        May 13 2011: Agree to disagree indeed. This is a very interesting conversation though.

        My view on life may be somewhat different to the main stream. I consider the multiverse as a way in which free will has reign. I can choose to enter different parallels that better suite my wants. Random occurrences are oft the gateway to a parallel.
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          May 14 2011: Hey, sometimes agreeing to disagree is all you can do! I thoroughly respect your position (even though I strongly disagree), and I really appreciate your participation in the conversation (and consequently having to deal with my tedious questioning!)

          I'll be honest and say, I haven't the slightest clue what you talked about at the end there...
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        May 14 2011: Yes, that end bit is a whole other conversation.
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    May 9 2011: Depends on whether randomness is a part of the universe. Einstein said "God does not play dice". Other scientists disagree. It's a tough question, perhaps impossible, to resolve.
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      May 9 2011: Agree completely, nice articulation of the basic tenets of determinism I would say!
  • May 9 2011: The statement is not completely accurate in a long-term perspective. You would be me for a very short period of time. Anyway, after creation of two "copies", they would start getting different environmental experience and you should know all the consequences of this(we suffer changes, figuratively, with every heartbeat, i mean with every interaction with reality in real time), so there's no chance for you to remain 100% me any longer than for a couple of moments :)
    Otherwise, we should provide 100% identical environmental experience for both " copies" and influence upon them (identical evnironment and influence both: internal and external), but it's impossible for obvious reasons.
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    May 9 2011: Even if you yourself lived your own life once again, it would be different. 'cuse I believe there must be something in your past you would like to change and do better. People are people. We have our own minds.
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      May 9 2011: Hey Wang,

      I believe if I "started" again, I would have no memory of my previous actions...so even though I would like to change some things, I would not have the mental/memory capacity to do so. We have our own minds, but how did they get to be the way they are?
  • May 9 2011: In my view, in I have 99% of your genome, 99% of your connectome, 99% of your environment ...... I will be 99% of 99% of 99% ... you
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    May 9 2011: I think that this statement is completely accurate. Do you agree?
    Yes? No? Why? Why Not?
    No
    Because man=gene+ environmental experience+ soul
    you missed the secret of life the soul which is beyond the scope of science beacuse its intangible and you can not test it in the lab
    I know you do not believe in it but this what the messenger of GOD told us
    death = body - soul
    life= body + soul
    and we die every day during sleeping when you sleep the soul leave the body
    and it come back when you wake up
    that why some thing you see future event in your dreams
    when you soul see some information of the mater book of life (where every thing is written there ),I know this will sound weird for you but remember the reality is stranger than imagination
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      May 9 2011: Hey Abdel,

      Please tell me about the Soul. Because to me the "Soul" is just your mind: the cognitive center with which your identity is formed. Because if it is not from your mind, how is it even a part of "you"...it would have to be separate from your identity, would it not? And if you don't think so, please tell me how it differs from this, and why I should care about it, if it's not "me"?
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        May 9 2011: you as Joshua = Joshua body+ Joshua soul
        when you die we will have Joshua body only the soul is gone for ever
        soul we do not have much knowledge about
        but its the part that give life
        so every body has his own soul
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          May 9 2011: I think it's more like "Joshua= Joshua body + Joshua mind" How is the soul different from the mind?
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        May 9 2011: mind is part of the body like heart , arm
        mind =! soul
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          May 9 2011: Right, But how, specifically/character wise, does the mind differ from the soul? What makes the two entities different from each other?
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        May 9 2011: think of soul and body like computer and electricity
        body=computer
        mind=cpu +software +ram
        soul=electricity
        if no power , computer exist but useless
        when you die body exists but useless
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          May 10 2011: I think that such a comparison is lacking in a few key departments. Namely computers (as far as I know..) lack the imperative ability to have cognitive self awareness which seems to be the cornerstone of consciousness/ mind operations. So really what you said was body= total computer, brain=cpu, ram, etc., and food/water=electricity.

          Could you please just explain the difference between the mind and the soul, what characteristics make the two different from each other...?
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    May 9 2011: I agree; we don't have freewill. The choices we make arise from a limited range available to us (our genetic and social inheritance). Our ego manufactures this illusion of choice and control in our lives.

    The living of my life has made it clear to me that we don’t have ’freewill’. I think the choices we generate are the result of unconscious prior social conditioning and genetic predispositions. Recent neurological studies provide strong evidence that the neurological processes are already underway shortly before we consciously are aware of making our decision. As a result, we do not consciously choose, rather our choices are initiated by our unconscious psychological structures. The idea that human actions are ever initiated by our own conscious choices is a deeply-entrenched illusion. Some people have generated ideas about why this ‘illusion of control’ exists within our cognitive system (I think it supports follow through).

    I believe we may impact this process a little. This is one reason people go into analysis, to make that which is unconscious conscious; ‘to know thyself’. An ever so slight realignment of one’s worldview can make significant changes to unconscious motivation that can increase our array of choices; but this is real work and requires a strong motivating force like the threat of punishment or excessive personal psychological suffering.
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      May 9 2011: Alicia, I thought those studies were really important for having us rethink what we know as well.
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      May 9 2011: Completely agree Alicia, It's funny (yet shouldn't be surprising) how hard we try to cling to the idea that we are in control. Our cognitive conscious truly does mental gymnastics to give us the illusion that we have some sort of esoteric, "pure" self, that harbors all our favorite seemingly innate characteristics about ourselves. I am aware of some of the neurological studies, including the fairly recent findings that magnetic pulls in parts of the brain seem to influence the moral spectrum that a person constructs for themselves.
  • May 9 2011: There would be a copy of me, yes. The two people would not be mathematically identical but would be identical for any other test.

    This would really be the best empirical test for free will: make the copy, allow time to pass, and see if the two "twins" take the same actions. If they do, the traditional concept of free will is incorrect; if they don't, it may be correct.
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      May 9 2011: Agreed, and as long as the "two" are in completely different, identical "realms" Then I think they would be making the same actions. How would you think otherwise?
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    May 9 2011: Another interesting thought experiment with regards to "self" relates to the Ship of Theseus. If I were to replace one neuron in your brain with a mechanical replacement that functioned identically, you'd probably have no problem saying you were the same person, thought the same, and enjoyed the same things. So what if I replaced two neurons? Three?

    I think you're seeing where I'm going with this. If I replaced 80% of the neurons in your mind, perhaps it wouldn't be so easy to argue you were the same person. At the very least, I find it an interesting thought. What makes me, me?

    And I have absolutely no answer, haha.
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      May 9 2011: Ahhhh Yes! I had forgotten about that! Thank you for bringing that up Josh! Yeah I would be lying if I said I knew lol. But from what very little I have read about consciousness, I know that you have something like 200 times the people on this planet, in neurons making up your brain, and every-single one of them is, for all intensive purposes, autonomous. But together, we get the perception that it is one, cognitive entity: ourselves! I have heard the same point made in this example. Suppose there is a car, and you replace one bolt. Is it still the same car? I think most would say absolutely! What if you replace all the bolts? Or the muffler or the wheels or the engine? If you replace everything but one bolt, most would probably say you have a completely, utterly different car. So when does the different car become different? I don't know about that. But going off the autonomous neurons, I would have to make the tentative contention that if you replaced my neurons with exact replicas (I'm guessing this is at birth/conception, to avoid environment issues.....) "I" would still be "me"...Only because, in my opinion, the "me" is only an extreme illusion in the first place. So far all I know this could have happened many times over to "me"! Hope that made at least some sense lol!
      • May 10 2011: In this case, replacing a single bolt is enough to call it a different car.
        • May 12 2011: I agree with that Thomas.

          A weird thought though--
          Pretend it is 5000 years in the future, and that we have all been dead for a while. If a clone of us is created and all of the neurons fire exactly how ours originally did, then is it really us?

          (why does it post this above your comment Im responding to? lol)
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          May 12 2011: Is it the neuron that makes you or the pattern in which they fire? I would think you could replace all of them and remain yourself as long as nothing happened to how they were fired.
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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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    May 9 2011: Joshua, your elegant thought experiment would be pointless even if it could be done since because, in essence, you are trying to prove a negative, which is philosophically impossible. It is not even like the solution to the carpenters conundrum of how to know if she should use a screw or a nail? Answer, drive a nail and if the wood splits you should have first drilled and then used a screw. Yes 20/20 hindsight but still provable. Unfortunately I can't see how you could do this with humans.
    If it makes you feel better proving the existence of free will to another person is also not possible. We all accept or reject "evidence" about most things based on our prejudices. A quarter of Americans for example may never chose to accept that the President was born in the States regardless of any evidence. You are apparently more comfortable believing that there is no free will. Some might think that indicates a "Liberal" predilection so that no one need take full responsibility for their actions. Since you question the existence of a soul what the hell is your concern?(humor) You ask if your example were some how proven true, would it rule out some arguments for free will? Of course not, it would only count as evidence to those who accept it as valid. So if your wish is to convince others I would say you may succeed with those who already lean towards your belief. For myself I take 100% responsibility for all my experiences in that I acknowledge my "ABILITY to choose my RESPONSe" If you want my perception, I think there is a possibility of free will but only to the degree you are conscious. That then brings up the next question, can we choose to be conscious or not? Shakespeare and I seem to agree that at least at some level we do. Just as when we choose to drink alcohol we are choosing to pickle some brain cells and lower our ability to respond to subsequent events
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      May 9 2011: Hey Chad, I'm not so sure you can fully prove anything to anyone. But that's not the goal of this conversation, the goal is not to tallying up some sort of intellectual score, it's to delve into a seemingly deep, multi-faceted subject, I would hope, with the common goal being further understanding of the issue. My intent was a vetting of ideas, not a sales pitch.

      I don't know if I would say that I am "comfortable" not believing in free will at all. In fact, I find the idea rather unpalatable (so perhaps this is a deep, subconscious attempt to convince myself otherwise via community forum). But I currently don't find "free will" rationally sound.

      I'm glad to know that you take 100% responsibility for your experience based on "ability to choose my response," I would just like to know how you came up with that idea? How did you figure that out? And as for choosing consciousness, who made the initial choice of your existence?
  • May 9 2011: The repercussions are much bigger than merely the question whether we have a free will or not.
    If you can jump over the first obstacle and conclude (as any average rational person would) that free will is simply an illusion, then you might be ready to take it to the next level.

    Let’s look at the example of “Beam me up Scotty” machine. We will assume that at one point in the future we will be able to teleport ourselves. How would that work?

    1) Advance scanner would scan every atom of your body (brain – most importantly)
    2) You would evaporate at your original location
    3) The information would be “faxed” to the different location (planet)
    4) An advance assembler would put you (exactly) back together at the new location
    5) You go on with your business

    The million dollar question: Is that still the same person?

    Now I do realize we will have to leave some of them behind, because I don’t want to get lost in minor details about free will, faith, God and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle just to preserve a concept of a soul.

    At the bottom of the rabbit hole lays realization that you and I are not as much different as you might assume we are. But yeah... Let’s make one step at the time with reason and logic being our guide.
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      May 9 2011: Hey Ren,

      I remember hearing about this before, isn't there some philosopher who proposed this? (I absolutely could be mistaken). To me, this is like the subject that Josh Varty has now brought up: what constitutes the "you", in regards to your neurological makeup. I would make the very tentative contention, that "you" would still be "you" because at the end of the day all "you" really are is the collective illusion made by the millions upon millions of autonomous neurons in your head.

      On your other note, I'm not so sure that the "average rationale person" can get over the hurdle that free will is simply an illusion. In my opinion, it seems to be a deeply ingrained idea, that fights incredibly hard to maintain its own viability.
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    May 8 2011: As soon as you became then you would be different. There are more factors to decision making then nurture/nature, and we are in a constant state of decision. You may make a decision as simple as getting a strawberry ice cream cone instead of a vanilla even though vanilla is your usual simply because you happened to see someone smile with the strawberry. This little difference can grow into a life altering situation. Say you got that strawberry cone and someone used that as common ground to start a conversation that would not have been started by the choice of vanilla. This conversation could lead to a new career or valuable relationship. This all with the same environmental and genetic history of an other individual. So my answer is you are on the same pathway but will still be different
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      May 9 2011: I agree with you Thomas, but I said 100% environment and that would include even the smallest minutia like seeing "someone smile with the strawberry"....
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        May 9 2011: There are still other decision factors.

        If you mean to ask if 100% of absolutely everything was 100% the same, then why ask? Who would say that is something was 100% similar to another object then it was anything except that object?
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          May 9 2011: Thomas, I think you have proven my point, for it seems as though 100% genes/environment IS "100% of absolutely everything."
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        May 9 2011: I think you mistook my reply. I did not say that genes and environment are everything. If you mean to say this then what is your definition of environment?
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    May 8 2011: I agree on the condition that the word "100%" hold true meaning of "100%".
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      May 8 2011: agreed, even the slightest variance could have large chain reaction changes I would presume.
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    May 8 2011: callin on Hope, Faith, and Peace. There will be a time for each and everything. Patience and trust. Think about Younger Loved Ones and what they might want to experience when they get older, Cherish that which what you Love Most.
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    May 8 2011: I don't agree, I have a soul. You Have a soul. and there's an infinite amount of world's, etc... In some way the two of us will collide in being (different.) I'd say it's more towards "the roots" of bondage, that will keep us who we are!
  • May 8 2011: strongly disagree.
    we could be genetically the same but the way we respond to our environment will be different. the basic thread of biology is chaos. we respond differently to the same situation. we will be similar, but our choices will be different.
    i will respond to..say... abuse differently in different states of mind/times.
    same environmental experiences? to put it in a macro level...all humans basically have the same theme to their life..to survive..at a macroscopic level we all have the same experiences..but do we make the same decisions? the same goes to the genetic make up too...
    there is as much probability of you and i (similar)making the same decision as you and i (dissimilar)do :)
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      May 8 2011: how could "we" be genetically 100% the same and yet respond to our environment differently (if "we" have the exact same of that environment leading up to whatever given point...). where does such a change come from? what is the influence of such a decision?
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        May 8 2011: there are at times forks in the road that are taken simply on whim, where everything points that if the individual were to have that same choice there is really nothing preventing the pendulum from swinging the other way.
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          May 9 2011: What is "whim"? I agree that some choices seem very "up in the air", but I fail to see how that undermines the fact they could be determined....Yes I could have gotten KFC instead of Pizza Hut last night. In fact, in the future, if put in a similar situation I may very well go for some popcorn chicken. BUT if I were to replay the EXACT situation as last night, how could I ever choose KFC?
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        May 9 2011: Are you replaying the result or just the situation? If you stop the replay at the point of decision and let it go from there then it's a matter of probability. If both choices were equal in energy to accomplish as well as reward for accomplishment then there would be a 50%/50%. If one were preferred a little or a little closer or the people working were more enjoyable those factors would change the odds but there still is a chance to choose differently.
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    May 8 2011: Completely accurate. I agree.
  • May 7 2011: If I'm interpreting it right, yes...
    It sounds like you're asking if someone exactly the same as you that had exactly the same life as you would make the same decisions and be identicle, which to me answers itself the same way as 'would you live your life exactly same if you started it again with no memory of having already lived it.'

    I don't believe in free will being a completely seperate entity from genes and environment, they have such an influence on things, and everyone will have made a particularly memorable decision good or bad due to something mundane or unrelated. In particular what springs to mind are the bad ones with something affecting emotion; being tired, too hot, dehydrated, hungry... etc All very small things that could potentially affect a big choice.

    To go one step further, alot of those examples relate to levels of various chemicals in the body, particularly hormones (yes we all have and need them!) and the things that might affect them from exercise to what you had for lunch, as fruit for example may affect hormone levels.

    -Okay this is small volumes, but potentially enough to tip a balance causing a reaction or a chain of reactions, perhaps this makes you feel that little bit less dehydrated and more awake & alert that you make conversation with someone that offers you a job, instead of sitting quietly in the corner.

    There is however such an incomprehensible amount of variables for a decision, and every single person is different that 'a decision' will be 'your decision' and free will as it were.
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      May 8 2011: 'would you live your life exactly same if you started it again with no memory of having already lived it.'

      Yes! That's a good way of putting it. If 100% genes/environment I think you would have to say yes, and that was my point.

      I agree with a lot of the various minutia of the idea that you elaborated on. However I must disagree with your conclusion. While yes the variables are incredibly intricate, and thus make unique individuals, and while this leads to the perception of free will. It isn't. It seems like it. But to me a very very very complicated determinism, is still determinism.
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        May 9 2011: I'm going to say no that there's different dimensions/mirror worlds, and the true you never really loses your memory in the first place.
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          May 9 2011: Please explain Collin, what exactly is the true "you'"? How did it come about. Is it just an esoteric force that floats around in all these dimensions harboring what you deem to be key components/characteristics of your identity/personality. If so did you get to choose those components/characteristics?
      • May 9 2011: I agree there to determinism but it depends on how you define free will; to me that is a fine (but good) point to a far incomprehensive degree with so very very many variables, as far as I’m concerned is free will.
        How else can you define it without having an unexplainable force involved, to explain it would make it predictable?
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          May 10 2011: "I agree there to determinism but it depends on how you define free will; to me that is a fine (but good) point to a far incomprehensive degree with so very very many variables, as far as I’m concerned is free will."

          To me, that seems like you are saying that a very very very elaborate perception of free will is basically just free will because the facade is so thorough...No?