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Do you believe we have true freewill?

I am curious to know if you believe we are more than just chemical and physical reactions in our brains.

What do you believe, and does that belief affect how you live and make decisions?

Edit: I have modified the question to allow for a more broad discussion on the general concept of freewill.

There seems to be a lot of confusion around the definition of the term "freewill". I have gathered some definitions from a few sources below to use:

"The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion"
Source: Google dictionary

"Free and independent choice; voluntary decision: You took on the responsibility of your own free will."
Source: Dictionary.com

Lets try to not get too caught up on the semantics. There has been some interesting discussions so far. I would like to summarize the main points on each side of this topic when I have time.

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    Jun 9 2011: From a neuroscience aspect, the decisions we make are decided before we are consciously aware of them. Thus, Sam Harris claims we do not have free will. How can I "control" a decision when I'm not even aware it has been made?

    EDIT: This is backed up by empirical evidence.
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      Jun 9 2011: I saw that same research and did have an idea of how this could potentially be explained. There could be the possibility of a 'lag' in terms our subjective experience as our 'self' integrates the decision into its narrative. We consciously make the decision, have control over it and therefore have free will but my subjective experience of having made the decision is subject to a time lag - in terms of Sam Harris study, the time differential was tiny - which manifests itself as evidence that the decision was made before I was aware of it, but isn't actually the case.
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      Jun 9 2011: Andrew, it is absolutey backed by evidence even fMRI evidence where the computer could pick with 100% accuracy the decision before the participant had made it. However, I am not sure that the conclusion that it negates free will is right.
      We are an amalgam of our endowments by genetics, our experiences, our temperment and our physical health and our unique place in the universe at this moment but they are all still 'us' and they all combine like parts of a machine to determine what our free will choice will be - even it they predict it a microsecond before our conscious mind is aware of the decision.
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        Jun 9 2011: I think you hit the nail on the head there Debra. This particular facet of the argument revolves around what you define as "I". Defining ones self to be the imediate consious experience, separate from the brain, and not the machinery of the brain leads to the illusion that the brain is making decisions for a person where as infact the brain IS the person.
        Just because our consious selves weren't aware of a decision right away doesnt mean it wasn't us making it.
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          Jun 10 2011: Honestly, do you understand the concept of free will?

          If a computer can determine our thoughts before we can, than what the hell is the point of justifying free will? We've already undermined the works of "god", and we are mere specks in the universe. Not EVEN.

          Free will means that we are a completely blank slate, with our own minds and the freedom to be whoever we want. It's now been broken down to "we have the freedom to make whatever decision we want" and "you are your brain, therefore however it makes decision, that is you making the decision". I mean seriously? Obviously you make the decision. But you have no role in how that decision is made. Why do you believe in what you believe? Answer that.

          Do you understand genetic determinism, genetic fixity, innate capacity, etc.?

          Moral liberty is in the words of Andrew Buchmann a "bronze age ideology" It's like storing sour milk in a brand new refrigerator.
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          Jun 10 2011: If one accepts the notion of soul (and inherently "free will"), the only reconciliation is that a soul is not the same thing as consciousness, and that it has a large lag, during which the brain is "ordered" and becomes consciously aware of the decision. In that case though, the notion of a soul needs to be carefully revised to match this new notion... with consciousness out of the picture, a soul is nothing but sub-sub-consciousness (sub-consciousness' driver), and the once romantic concept of "this metaphysical thing that represents what I perceive as me" is gone in favor of "this metaphysical thing that controls this physical thing that controls what I perceive as me".

          If one does not accept the notion of a soul, then free will, as in "decisions made independently from physical laws" becomes a false one, and the new mantra becomes, to quote Sebastian Seung's TEDTalk, "I am my connectome".
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          Jun 10 2011: @ Cole, I really enjoy speaking with intelligent young people rather than arrogant or angsty ones who pick fights. To answer your question about whether I understand. Hmmmmmmmm. I'll put my thesis in neuroscience against yours any day. These issues are more nuanced than your blanket condemnations suggest. As to free will - you may have a point! What am I doing responding?
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          Jun 12 2011: @Cole: Free will isn't as obviously defined as you may think. There are a few ways of thinking of free will that go under names such as the determinist, libertarianist, and compatibilist view.
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          Jun 14 2011: Would somebody give me biological proof that innate capacity does not exist? It looks like I need some.

          Everything is situational, there is genetic influence on how one acts upon a situation but seriously, you don't control what brain you're born with.

          Also I would like biological proof that the human brain can make rational decisions without any prior knowledge of anything.

          @Debra, If all of these variables throw together the free will that we have, technically you can say that our free will is chosen for us by our brain. Yes or no?
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          Jun 14 2011: Hi Cole! That's a really great question.

          My stance is this: neuroscience discoverys are surprising many who had preconceived notions forcing rapid adaptation. Our brains are born with endowments and temperments including I think about 5 basic personality elements or tendencies. Based on the built in 'hardwiring' the newborn begins to lay down programming that is purely experiential while ongoing growth of the brain continues with proper nutrition. Some scientists actually think that all of our senses are intertwined at this early stage (synesthesias) so that we can do some hyper learning. Somewhere at about two years the child gets some form of free will or real consciousness. Within the limits of their endowments they begin to consciously interact with the world -choosing experiences and making decisions. At this point they begin to lay down conscious decisions that will guide them for a lifetime and that process of creating cognitive structures like stereotypes and schemas is ongoing and has mechanisms for self corrections. When a person runs into a traumatic event - those stereotypes and scehmas are shattered - and this is one of the prime things that I see as evidence of free will. A person who has their mental models shattered by an event like rape or war or other trauma needs to stop and cannot immediately function because they have to go back to purely conscious- which means slow, painful and very deliberate free will choices in every minute of every day. As long as the decisions you made previously let you get by in day to day life' they support running on 'autopilot' but when the situation is novel or traumatic or very serious we re-engage an appropriate obvious free will. So as unsatisfying as this answer maybe I say I do not separate the brain from free will because the brain is 'us' and we are still in the driver's seat just as a pilot who flys a plane equipped with autopilot still chooses the destination and has to deal with crises. Free will- yes.
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          Jun 14 2011: @Cole: What you say is true and I think in those terms when it comes to free will. So I'm with you on the idea that we don't have free will. Nevertheless, there are some definitions of free will where this view you express is compatible with the idea of free will. This is the view apparently expressed (I say apparently for I have yet to read it) in "Freedom evolves" by Daniel Dennet.

          Now you're free to propagate your view and defend it as the one that makes more sense, but you have to remain mindful that some people here could actually be talking about free will without being wrong, but simply looking at it from a different angle.
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          Jun 14 2011: Matthieu, really great and balanced advice!
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          Jun 14 2011: Well, assuming our brain is our 'free will", do we choose which brain we are born with?

          And regarding the bit about traumatic events, what is traumatic to one may not be traumatic to another. This is because some live in harsh conditions where as other don't.

          The brain makes all decisions, the brain is built by genetic codes, we do not decide which code we want.
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          Jun 17 2011: @Cole "Obviously you make the decision. But you have no role in how that decision is made." Contradicting yourself again. Babies are blank slates, there brains can form very differently due to environment even if they are genetically identical. So what brain we are born with doesn't matter as much as you seem to be saying. We can choose to take different meanings from situation that structures our thinking differently. These decisions start at a very early age. Also I have to disagree with you about the brain making the decisions, it merely presents facts while the mind makes the decisions.

          @Debra, Hello! Interesting point how we have in our life decided so many things that when a decision comes along it likely fits into predetermined (by us in our past experiences) parameters. So the decision isn't made shortly before we our conscious of it it may be made years before that current time being just a mix between similar experiences. This reminds me of some thoughts I had years ago about the shape of memories and how situations with similar shapes are grouped together then if the present situation has a similar shape to past situations the outcome is shaped closely to the others.
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          Jun 19 2011: Hi Thomas, forgive me for the delay in responding- I missed your comment.

          To me it is as though our being is like an army. Decisions are only 'kicked upstairs' if there is no protocol in place to handle it or if the part of the army whose job it is to deal with the situation is 'off sick'.

          Even the delay noted in fMRI studies between the point where a decision can be predicted and when a person is conscious of it - is only the marshalling of resources to ensure it can be carried through. There is no sense in deciding to go to the beach if you have no gas or suntan oil to make a silly example. The delay is filled by an assessment of the ability to carry out the decision.
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          Jun 19 2011: @Thomas, that is not a contradiction. You and I seem to have a different definition of "you" or "i". For me, it's the connectome.

          We are the connectome, but how can the connectome control itself, when it is making decisions based on what reality presents.

          It all comes down to innate capacity.
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          Jun 19 2011: Cole, I'd like to work to understand your argument here a little better. How does this innate capacity enlighten your thinking? How can individual innate capacity matter if each person- billions- function independently and each have their own consciousness? If we are all the product of innate capacity or endowments and we each develop them with experience - how does that advance your position? (Written words are funny and can appear to be more argumentatvie than intended please read my questions as a sincere request for information.)
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          Jun 19 2011: Innate capacity means that each individual is a product of the environment they exist within.

          Everyone is different, everyone is their own individual person.
          This is also parallel to the fact that everyone's experience in life is different.
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          Jun 23 2011: Cole, It has taken me awhile to think how to respond to you.
          I believe in free will for many reasons. Partially just through my studies of the brain, partially through a lifetime of observation and study in avariety of areas but also because I watched my 5 kids grow. I watched them become who they are and I watched them make choices that were uniquely their own. While I know case studies are hardly compelling, I think they add to my conviction with real life illustrations.

          I think lives develop in a pattern that resembles the dentritic structure - the same structure you see in the dendrites of the brain and in the branching of trees and in the run off of water on dry ground. This structure is altered at any moment by uncontrolable events. If a brilliant child is bullied too far the brain prunes off the growth in certain areas, if a kitten does not see certain structures at the right time, it will never be able to see them, if a kid who is not that bright learns from a supportive teacher to work hard they can surpass the brilliant ones and become very successful. My point is that there are too many random events which come into our lives and which we choose to engage or not to engage to be influenced or not to be influenced.
          We choose all the time in millions of things and these choices prune the dendrites of our brain so we go further or we inhibit our own growth. This is to me free will. It makes the future utterly unpredictable. What if Einstein had been born into another family who did not have that electrical equipment for him to imagine about?
          There are too many what ifs and too many ways we choose for me to think the initial endowment of our brains is the only thing that counts. It is one of many factors.
          I think all the random influences that are utterly unpredictable (no matter how determinists think that they will eventually predict everything) intersect with oices we must make in every novel situation.
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          Jul 4 2011: Perhaps your theory is technically correct by todays understanding of the human brain.
          But todays understanding of the human brain is not nearly close to a complete understanding.

          One day we will understand what makes us who we are and how our decision making is determined, and what makes us choose different paths.

          I think saying we have true free will is still ridiculous, In my opinions it's not really a theory it's more of a constantly updated ideology that conforms to what modern science has disproven.

          Much respect for your activity in the field of neurology.
      • Jun 10 2011: The rat race has begun I would say. Also slightly of topic but my brain tends to make decisions too early and then my body doesn't respond which is really annoying.
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        Jun 10 2011: @Debra: I think your description of the state of things is entirely accurate, but I wouldn't call free will what you call free will. As I discovered from my TED debate on the same question was that indeed free will my have a slightly different significance for different people.
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          Jun 10 2011: Matthieu, I think that is a valid point. We may all have different definitions. Pinkers work is compelling but at the same time, I think that we take all of what we are and I feel that we end up in very different places doing very different things. Twin studies are interesting and some would say compelling but I still see enough evidence of individuation and self expression and different ending points to maintain a belief in free will - as I define it.
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        Jun 11 2011: @ Deb

        I believe the issue comes down to how we define free will. What Harris is saying is that the "I" is the conscious experience and therefore can not be the thing making decisions. It seems you are making the claim that the "I" is the whole kit and kaboodle; neurons, body, place in the universe, etc. This is a fair assumption but there are some philosophical issues present such as personal identity Again, great discussion, I just hate the commenting design... does not work well with discussion.
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          Jun 12 2011: Hi Andrew!

          I love his work as well. I just remind you that many of our decisions have been consciously decided and pre-made step by step during the person's individual lifetime to form stereotypes to guide fast decisions and save cognitive space and time- especially time. We do not come pre-made with all of the cognitive structures. They are deliberately built based on experience and individual reaction and decision of conscious choice that are filed away.

          I am not suggesting a remaking of 'free will' but arguing that it is more like one long sentence built into our lifetime of reactions not just what is evidenced in the moment by a momentary response like one word. My thesis was measuring what the brain did on the level of microseconds when given an emotional stimuli. I know we react exquisitly individually to the events of our lives and that directs us in ways we are not even consciously aware to react as we have concluded to direct ourselves long before- to keep us safe.

          I see that as free will based on cumulative serial decision making.

          As to commenting design that's interesting- I responded to a particularly rude swearing person who habitually uses this style and who happened to hold your opinion and who received no such rebuke.
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        Jun 13 2011: I'm not saying anything against you Deb, just so I'm clear. When I say I hate the commenting design, I'm referring to the thread formatting with replies. It becomes confusing with the sub-arrows because you can't respond to all of them. Like I said prior as well, I am thoroughly enjoying the dialogue we are all sharing.
      • Jun 19 2011: If you an I are thinking of the same experiment, it wasn't 100% accurate, but 60%. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought_identification#Predicting_intentions
        If it is a different experiment, however, I would like to know to which one you refer.
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      Jun 10 2011: Neuroscience explains the brain's components and patterned thinking processes.

      But can human minds overcome even their own programing?

      If so, does that mean free will?
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        Jun 10 2011: I don't think they can, but if they could that would indeed be some sort of free will. That overcoming of the brain's programming would have to be ex-nihilo. A very unlikely event.
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          Jun 10 2011: "I still seem to decide what films I go to see, I don't feel it's predestined, though it must be determined somewhere in my brain." - Patrick Haggard


          Personally, I feel we are wired for predestined decisions based on our natural personalities and learning behaviors. I further believe that studying and thinking in terms of cognitive science critically, would prove people to be able to have high levels of free will.

          I also consider free will to be degrees, levels, or plateaus; based on being a human animal and not being absolute consciousness and be able to completely be aware of everything constantly. That is just crazy to try and give the label free will too.

          Also if we go computer science on this idea of overcoming the brain's programing, we could simply reprogram ourselves, so perhaps there is a intrapersonal answer to free will being achieve as well a mechanical answer.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism_and_incompatibilism is more or less my position on free will.

          Edited: Since we are discussing neuroscience, I would like to post websites that have simple explanations towards the terminology, facts, and scientific understands of the brain.

          http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2011/05/10-fascinating-facts-about-the-human-body?new (newer facts about our whole bodies + brain)
          http://www.brainexplorer.org/neurological_control/Neurological_Neurotransmitters.shtml (the chart at the bottom of this page is very simple, also this website allows defining words upon clicking without bringing you to another page)
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          Jun 10 2011: @ Nick
          What is this redefined format of free will that you speak of? What is it? Are we born with it?
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          Jun 10 2011: First a formula I considered.

          Freedoms + [cognitive] educations + personality/learning behaviors = degree of free will

          Bare with me on my example.

          In West Africa, the schools are free but usually the children have to stay home and take care of their families. The children that do not go to school, receive only the education they create reflecting on the world through their predestined personalities/learning behaviors and/or from their local community friends.

          Now you, were born in America. Not only are you automatically going to school for 15 - 20 years (since you NEED college now to get an academic job) you have the internet, friends, family, teachers, and social networks in which you put yourself in. You have miles of choices in which to be educated from.

          Both you and this child in Africa could have the same personality and the same learning behavior. You are both a similar robot of a human being. Except when our natural instincts happen and we create patterns in which guide us through positive emotions. You my friend will have much more to choose from than our African child example.

          You have the freedom not to have to work and help your family and through your attitudes, personalities, and behaviors you have the chance to become something great. That is a higher degree of free will.

          The degree of free will however does NOT equal happiness in the form of positive emotions. Your happy emotion of getting an A on a test could be equal to the happy emotion of getting a good trade at the market for food today...

          Indeed, depending on your predestined locational birth, growth, and environments will depend on your free will level.

          To be educated upon self (in entirety; how our brain creates patterns, gets tricked by our eyes and ears working together, how much emotions really effect our choices, what it takes to be a good person, etc) others (how they relate to you and how they benefit/take away from you), and the world (what is your place in it) = high FW
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          Jun 12 2011: Nick, we were given this free will. So in africa, they do not have as much free will because they were not given it?

          So it's not free, it's a gift that a select few have.
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          Jun 12 2011: You have a higher degree of free will than someone in Africa, yes...

          But you both are born with the ability to pick what you want..

          You just get more educations in the form of social networks, schooling, extracurricular activities, that an African child would not receive without being in the upper classes.

          So you know more about what you want, the details, the consequences, the options, etc... You just know more thus your free will of choices rises to a higher degree..

          That's really it.. depending on how much you know, how much you understand, and how much your environment allows (your freedom) is what creates my idea of "free will" or something that would be the closest that humans can have.

          True free will is B.S philosophy

          Also I do interpret that some are more lucky than others in this world. I was lucky yo be born into my upper-middle class family where I do not have to kill for my food or work 8 hours a day to support anyone besides myself... counting blessings could be apart of how free your mind really is, to me.
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          Jun 17 2011: Meditation can allow us to overcome the programming of our brains. The mind controls the brain. I'm not saying it's easy but with enough focus and a long enough tangent I think it is entirely possible to redefine the emotional reaction to chemical stimuli.

          @Nick, as to your example of the African child, I don't think that the free will would be different between the two, merely the ability to enact the free will.
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        Jun 10 2011: Hi Nicholas,

        Thanks for the link. I am a compatibilist, too.

        I think hard indeterminist free will is nonsense. I explained my position to some extent in my post from yesterday. (1) We are determined to be what we are by the physics, biology, and chemistry of our bodies (including our nervous and endocrine systems) to the extent to which the physical processes are deterministic processes, and (2) we are undetermined by anything including our will to the extent that those physical processes include a degree of randomness (from quantum mechanics).

        While the language of physical causality is quite important, the words in which we talk about ourselves as minds or spirits are very important, too, because they are the context in which we make decisions and evaluate our decisions. They form the language of ethics and identify what is most important to us: living as beings with cares and concerns which cares and concerns should be respected when we choose how to act. Value disappears if we only use physical language to describe ourselves.

        That there are two ways of speaking about ourselves does not mean that we should just follow Kant in saying these are contradictory antinomies. They are not. To really understand will and decision making is to understand it as a process which arises out of an underlying causality, but which should not be abandoned merely for that reason. The natural process of will and decision making is a useful process. The rationality that often emerges from the natural processes is generally better than the alternative of abandoning ourselves to irrationality.
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          Jun 10 2011: "While the language of physical causality is quite important, the words in which we talk about ourselves as minds or spirits are very important, too, because they are the context in which we make decisions and evaluate our decisions."

          Well put. The entire second paragraph is delightfully simple.

          Indeed, logical reasoning, is only one way in which to approach life. Natural philosophy is also a great and powerfully spiritual way in which to consider schools philosophies and other belief systems. Logic and reason come in many fashions, scientific communities are only now considering what religious communities have for centuries. It is amazing to consider what reflection on life can do as a disciplined practice.

          I agree completely.
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        Jun 10 2011: Nicholas, I think you are on the right track. Did you know that in all of the study of Psychology and Neuroscience there is barely a predictive tool that can predict what any one will do beyond a corelation of .4? That means 6/10 no predictive test can guess what any individual is going to do. Every human resources test that is being used in business cannot tell beyond about .3 whether or not someone will do the job they are being hired for well. If the best tools around (short of this one fMRI scan cannot predict with any accuracy at all if you will choose chocolate milk or coke, blondes or brunettes, to be a prof or a postman, whether you will dance or not dance, whether you will see this movie or that (now this might be as high as .7 if they have your age- that says to me that there is still plenty of variation that I attribute to FREE will. How does everyone else explain the obvious facts that we do not all make the same choices and that we don't always make the same choice twice in a row? Gas?
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          Jun 10 2011: Still new science to everyone Debra.

          I have personally taken the studies of cognitive science as a hobby. One day I will probably go back to school for it after I travel the world. This science is going to evolve the modern world towards transhumanistic changes and be of value for all of the citizens of the world, because this field will simplify us as humans being programed robots as Haggard notes. If he is a robot, we are all essentially robots will free wills.

          I know psychology is being enhanced by neurology, it is terrible to be in that profession right now and have to go to all these lectures and seminars that say everything you thought you knew was either wrong or not all the way there... anyone doing psychology now I would tell them to continue education towards CS and not psychology. It is truly a booming field and I'm glad we got someone like Andrew on TED as patron to dictate anything changing in the extremes in regards to the fields CS covers.
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      Jun 10 2011: Hi Andrew,

      I think the notion of a will that is free in the sense of rising above natural causality is nonsense. See my post from yesterday. But I do not think the Sam Harris argument you refer to is adequate to prove that.

      I would suggest that Sartre was right to make a distinction between pre-reflective and reflective consciousness. Stopping to make oneself an object of one’s own consideration takes time and it is not one’s ordinary way of being conscious. Generally, one’s focus is upon the things in the world with which one is interacting.

      It is useful to note that there are degrees of making something an object of consideration. It has to do with focus. It also has to do with how many varied associations one brings to the consideration of the current object of one’s focus. Seeing something as an object has to do with seeing it as a part of an infinite series of phenomena in which the object has, does, will, might, might have, might yet, etc., appear to me or to others, and all of the rules and principles by which those appearances or potential appearances are caused, connected causally, and otherwise connected.

      To say we can’t make decisions if we are not reflectively aware of our decision making process as it is occurring is just not in accord with our memory of what happens. In the usual case when we think back to making a decision, we remember ourselves as thinking through the options and relevant factors without focusing upon ourselves as we were thinking through the options and relevant factors.

      The advance from Descartes to Sartre was that Descartes seemed to assume that pre-reflective self awareness was complete and inerrant. Sartre recognized that the pre-reflective “self knowledge” is not objective. It is merely background awareness that does not rise to the level of focused, objective awareness and does not guarantee that afterwards, when one tries to reflect upon that prereflective awareness, one will do so without making mistakes.
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        Jun 11 2011: I enjoy the following thought experiment from Sam Harris:

        "Imagine that a mad scientist has developed a means of controlling the human brain at a distance. What would it be like to watch him send a person to and fro on the wings of her “will”? Would there be even the slightest temptation to impute freedom to her? No. But this mad scientist is nothing more than causal determinism personified. What makes his existence so inimical to our notion of free will is that when we imagine him lurking behind a person’s thoughts and actions—tweaking electrical potentials, manufacturing neurotransmitters, regulating genes, etc.—we cannot help but let our notions of freedom and responsibility travel up the puppet’s strings to the hand that controls them."

        -From Sam Harris' "Free Will (And Why You Still Don't Have It)."
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          Jun 19 2011: I am sorry but I do not buy Sam Harris' logic here. The product of a healthy brain is thought. Thoughts are the mind. The mind is the source of free will. When you usurpt the ability of the brain to independently produce its own thought you preclude the possibilty of free will. The experiment itself is tainted. You can chain a man's body and limit his free will too. Proving that you can take control of the brain does not prove free will does not exist just as stealing a plane and turning off the autopilot does not prove that the plane does not have autopilot.
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        Jun 24 2011: Let me help explain things a little...

        When the scientists is in control of the mind he is manipulating physical variables within the brain (tweaking electrical potentials, manufacturing neurotransmitters, regulating genes, etc.) This is NO different that what the brain is doing normally, without scientist or consciousness involved.

        I don't think you are equating the last part right Deb. Could you be clear and distinct with regards to what each term refers to" Thanks , its just that the mad scientists isn't taking away any control from the person, he is just doing everything the brain would be naturally doing. Again the person had no control over their decisions to begin with. How can a person have control/free will over something they aren't consciously aware of.?

        And as always, my above comments should not be taken to be malicious. Sarcasm is as far as i will ever go down the rabbit hole.

        EDIT: Dry humor as well
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      Jun 11 2011: The here used definition of free will is a contradiction. We can be concious of something only if it happened in the past. If we would be aware of a decition while we make it this decition would need to have been made before.
      This means, If we need to be consious of oure decition while we make it and need to decide free in the sense of undetemined at the same moment of time to have free will, free will is impossible by definition.
    • Jun 13 2011: A note on the comments about the brain's signals being made before we are aware of them: I don't dispute this happens, but... my thoughts lead to one's sub-consciousness. I do believe the way our sub-conscious and conscious works may trigger one chemical reaction/ brain signal over another. WHO one actually IS, may determine what signal is fired.

      An example is word association. If I say 'wing', what's the first thing that pops into your mind? A bird wing? A plane wing? etc Furthermore - associated words of wing are also flagged up in your mind, ready to be used: 'bird', 'feather', 'plane', 'metal', 'fly', 'air', 'wind' and so on. So because of one's own past experiences and education etc, the thoughts that occur really come down to YOU, the likelihood of you thinking something in particular is because of what you have 'learned' sometime previous.

      Humans are also (arguably) the only animal that is able to choose to die or take one's own life - the one idea that goes against the basic instict - survival. That being said - in the big picture - it is ultimately nature that dictates what we do.
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      Jun 19 2011: who says you're not. if you're your body only, perhaps yes, but if you're an underlying energy form then yes, the decision originates with you.
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    Jun 20 2011: One of my professors used to reply to this question with a single example (with which I strongly agree):

    :: a baby is *born* into language, and a particular language, at that (that is: specific neurological stimuli in the brain based on particular sound-patterns). It doesn't choose its own words, it has no free will at all. It is born into culture (a unique set of sensory stimuli). Once this culture is acquired, it can "play" within it. But it will never decide for itself in which language or culture it is born. ::

    In short, humans have no real free will. Only some room to "play" within existing systems.

    Most of us exaggerate the importance of this "play", which only scratches at the surface of the strong structures which determine our existence.
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      Jun 20 2011: It's nice to see this.
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      Jun 21 2011: Interesting perspective.
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      E G 10+

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      Jun 21 2011: right Laurens
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      Jun 21 2011: I am not sure an analogy of where one is born is really an example of the lack of free will. It's a bit existential, or perhaps a religiously based assertion. . . "Predestination, in theology, is the doctrine that all events have been willed by God..." So in effect I could take your professor's statement to mean... "we are predestined from the beginning, God has the big plans set in place, play a little if you like, but you will never truly have control of things.." I'd double check with your prof to see if he is a Calvanist? Or, is it a religious school you attend?
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      Jun 22 2011: I agree with some of what you describe, but I think if you observe: a two year old child, a teenager and a retiree - you will see many examples of "free will " ! During certain times in our lives, we 'personally-revolt' because we need to express the "I want to be 'me' !" feeling because somehow our 'free will ' was suppressed.

      I agree that even when we live in a positive environment, we are faced with Cultural pressures that can suppress our "free-will spirit " through "confined" family, religious, educated or social barriers - even if they are very well meaning.

      I think 'free will' is an inborn natural sense, and even if suppressed - yet it can be revived.

      As we grow up, if we naturally focus on choosing to play, live or work with an interest that makes us happy, we consciously or unconsciously followed our 'free will' and probably went against socially accepted choices in doing so. I think the pivotal moment of recognizing you have 'free will' is when you realize you can make your choices on a consistent basis.... this realization can happen anytime throughout your life, from infancy through old age.
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      Jun 23 2011: So this is like Karma? Because everything in the universe, or rather, within the universe must have its cause, and every cause must have its effect. But a baby is just born, so it had no opportunity to act. The logical conclusion is that the baby acted in some previous existence, and those acts caused it to be born in the family and circumstances.

      Sometimes, our logic may be perfect, but we may not find physical proof or evidence for it.

      (Sorry, this is a little off-topic, but somewhat related)
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    Jun 18 2011: No, free will is something that is made up by religion.

    The entire universe can be quantified by heavy logic and calculations. Why did you look both ways before you crossed the street? Why did you decide to have beef for dinner instead of chicken? It's because that's what you were going to do, regardless of how you thought you were going to do it. Free will, sure.. we can decide what we do and don't do, but it's already laid out for us anyway. Try thinking of the universe as an extremely complicated computer program, with zero probability. It's a bit mindboggling, but those stars are moving in the direction they're set to move in.
    • Jun 18 2011: I would respectfully disagree. the universe is not deterministic, at least that is my interpretation of modern quantum theory. zero probability is a concept that has come and gone. perhaps it will come around again but i doubt it.
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        Jun 18 2011: Hello Chandan,

        I am open to the idea, since we don't know it is all truly speculation right now. Thank you for your input, I am interested to see where science leads us in our quest for knowledge on this subject.
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        Jun 19 2011: I have already written about the fact that quantum indeterminancy does not in any way help the concept of free will. Notwhistanding the obvious fact that brain impulses manifest at a level too high to be considered quantum mechanical, all quantum mechanics would add to a brain's function is probabilistic random outcomes. Randomness is not a substituion for free will. If anything it's less desirable than a deterministic brain (not that desirability should be treated as a good argument) because the brain would act in an erratic fashion.
        • Jun 19 2011: As far as I've seen, there *are* quantum affects on the brain. The main reason being is that water effectively magnifies quantum effects to a higher level. Due to the unique bent structure of water, it's highly responsive to quantum changes, having orientations rotate, magnetic fields fluctuate, etc. And these effects have a tendency to have domino effects into the rest of the nearby water molecules, which adjust other molecules, etc. It's a butterfly effect, akin to in meteorology. Granted, it averages out to a relatively stable system (like how our atmosphere doesn't decide to freeze or boil us all to a crisp randomly every other day) but fluctuations can affect many different functions (like having random tropical storms spring up.)

          Also, why *isn't* randomness not a substitution for free will, especially if said randomness can affect the outcomes of later otherwise random events? Isn't that effectively what free will is?
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        Jun 19 2011: Free will is the power to make a decisions independent of environmental stimuli of any kind. How does quantum mechanics give anyone the power to circumvent the obvious material boundary of the laws of physics? If electrons have a certain probabilistic configuration around a nucleus, is that called a decision? Of course it isn't. Quantum mechanics is just that thing in science that nobody understands so its used as a last bastion for free will. To borrow an expression from religious debates, it's very much "free will of the gaps".
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          Jun 19 2011: A human being functions in a stimulus rich environment. How could free will or any other construct or anything else require us to be free of stimuli?I am not speaking in terms of Quantum theories neither am I speaking from a religious perspective.
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        Jun 19 2011: Well Debra I've already acknowledged that you and I mean something very different by free will. You have what's called in philosophy a "Compatibilist" approach to free will whereas I have a "Determinist" (an unfortunate name given what I'm arguing) approach. The way in which some people deal with free will here is to invoke free will as being on some higher plane of existent exempt of all influences by physical laws. This idea in my opinion is better dealt with a "determinist" approach which speaks more to a "Liberterianist" audience than "compatibilism" does. There's an exchange between Robert Wright and Daniel Dennet where they both argue free will on their own terms and the conversation doesn't really lead to anywhere, so in the interest of clarity I'm sticking with this one definition here.

        So of course I agree with you here Debra. Only I don't call what's left "free will".
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          Jun 19 2011: Just so I understand your stance, Matthieu,is yours an argument of philosophy alone?
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        Jun 19 2011: I'd say it's an argument based mostly on scientific considerations.
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          Jun 20 2011: Could you outline the most compelling evidence of those scientifc considerations or if you have already done so can you direct me to where I might find them please?

          Edit addition:

          Matthieu: would you also have a reference or a cite where I could view the Wright/Dennett exchange?
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        Jun 22 2011: http://meaningoflife.tv/video.php?speaker=dennett Robert Wright and Daniel Dennet. You can skip to free will on the left. I think Wright describes my position, although I watched it a long time ago so I can't remember how much detail he goes into.
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          Jun 23 2011: Matthieu,Thanks so much for that link!

          I am definately on the side of Dennett in most of his arguments but I do think that Wright has something in his impression of Consciousness. Consciousness is not just explicable from the brain physiology alone- at least not yet. It may have more to do with the prefrontal lobes and their tasks of integration. Free will is to me evident in that we choose to avoid negative outcomes every time we can do so. In any deterministic world we are nothing but victims and I can never agree to that when i see how often human beings outsmart the bad and the deadly.
    • Jun 19 2011: Free will is not merely the invention of religion, but a necessary presumption for moral philosophy, The only way a discussion of what people should do becomes possible is by assuming that what people will do is not yet set.
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        Jun 19 2011: People confuse it with a religious topic because it is not quantifiable in terms of measurement or fact, but we are constantly encountered with things that lack substance and can't be quantified, from the simplest thing such as color, to the more complex concsious experiences such as meaning and language. Disregarding non-quantifiable phenomena is not the answer in my opinion, that's why I am not so quick to disregard it just because it's not measurable or consistent with cause and effect.

        However I am not gonna go full fledged metaphysical on the subject and say that it justifies any spiritual realm or existence. It's just like all other subjective phenomena, it's outside of measurement, it's like trying to measure colors.
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          Jun 19 2011: I like your style Budimir and your reasoning. However most colors can be scanned, rated and reproduced reliably by a variety of methods. Perhaps you were referring to peoples perceptions of color? Free will, assuming it exists, must be subjective and ephemeral and would be as hard to prove as many other subjective experiences like love, which many people claim is just a false concept. One might say that if it were possible to prove free will it would then negate itself by denying the freedom of skeptics to avoid any responsibility for their choices. The simplest evidence for free will against entropic determinism is that given by M. Scott Peck when he observed that it was counter intuitive that MOST people(not all) are healthier and in many respects saner than their parents. If reactionary determinism ruled then you would expect them to be the same or worse.
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        Jun 19 2011: That is an interesting way to think about free will, proving it will negate the choice to be irresponsible. Haven't thought about it like that. I also have to look into M. Scott Peck.

        It is very much like love, or joy, or hate. It something that we experience, and I think there is nothing skeptical about it, I can't get into other people's minds and experience love or free will. But we all come to a common consensus and we can infer that we share very similar subjective experiences. It's right here in front of us, no one here can truly say that they haven't experienced love unless they are a sociopath. Whatever we call that subjective experience it is there we feel it, we just can't measure it.

        I also note eariler that whether free will exists or not, no one can deny that it is a very important notion. It is the foundation for our theories of justice. If it is that important people might as well live with it. We let dice decide so many trivial matters like games even though we know dice are not truly random, it just hard to determine the outcome. So if responsibility is that important to us we might as well accept the notion that we are free just like we accept the notion that dice are random.

        Finally, I know we can reproduce colors, but what I was getting at is that we can't really measure the redness of an object, any attempt to do so will not provide us with a physical value of red.
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        Jun 19 2011: The free will isn't a necessary presumption for the moral philosophy because the moral philosophy is about the morality not about how the morality is applied by us (the last perhaps is more about social philosophy ).
        • Jun 21 2011: Morality is the discussion of good and bad applied to human interaction. If human interaction is not in any way the product of free choices but rather is determined like any natural phenomenon, it becomes irrelevant to assess choices for their virtue. How can a cloud be immoral?
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          Jun 23 2011: Only humans are capable of taking moral actions. Morality cannot manifest without somehow being applied.
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        Jun 23 2011: That's right only humans are capable of taking moral action , but the morality can manifest without being applied , it manifest in our mind , it manifest as idea , as impulse and can stay at only this level of idea, of impulse without being applied, therefore the morality can be studied without it's manifestation and so the free will isn't necessary to be brought in the discussion about morality and neither the reverse.
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          Jun 23 2011: Ok so lets assume morality can manifest as intention rather than a moral action. Your argument makes sense. But then is it really useful to talk about morality or think about morality if we acknowledge that we are determined beings. We acknowledge that our intention or willingness to act is irrelevant because no matter what we do, fate decides, not us. No matter what our intention is we can't change how we act, it's not in our power, further we can't change our intention because that is determined too. So why talk about morality if knowing about it has no real consequence on our actions?
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        Jun 23 2011: We don't assume in my opinion, we know, the morality manifest only as impulses which determine us to have some intentions (because we have the intentions), the intentions are part of us not part of morality , a moral action is what we do not what the morality do, the morality doesn't manifest like a moral action but we manifest morality through moral actions (morality can't make actions, it's not a being, is it?:)) ,ok?
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        Jun 24 2011: I've deleted a part of my last post, you know remained in my mind your afirmation from above that 'fate decides,not us' and now when I opened the computer I've remember of that and of what I wrote you as an answer (that was a bit incorrect) .
        I don't agree that fate decides , I think the fate is rather the sum of all our decisions than what decides , and this change the problem as you put it . It's interesting something knowing that you are an atheist , should someone/something decides ?
        We all have instincts , reason etc., all these are determined , I mean how and with what they work (it is important now). Suppose that we have to make a choice between good and evil , what do you think we'll choose? the good of course, why? .........our instincts , reason etc. The morality is something what impulse us to do the good all the time and more than that we know that we have to do the good all the time , and what we know is determined , but does it matter now regarding your question? ...............therefore the morality have real consequences on life , on our actions .
        Our life is determined but it doesn't mean that we are some beings doing what we can't escape of doing . It's all determined but the morality is what determine us too (I've tried to say a bit how above...) therefore it has real concequences on our actions. .
    • Jun 19 2011: If the laws of physics were purely deterministic, we would not need error bars or P values in science.
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        Jun 19 2011: That's such an anthropocentric answer. Has it ever occurred to you that the reason we need P values is because we don't know all parameters of the systems we analyse? Don't blame nature for being indeterministic, blame yourself for not knowing enough about your subject of study.
        • Jun 19 2011: I apologize for my short quip response, and not going into more comprehensive detail. I believe it would be more accurate to say that it is irrational to assume that heavy logic and calculations can be used to quantitatively understand the universe. For one, there is no evidence for this claim, yet there are multiple things that stand against it. Among them, that we have yet to find an absolute law of nature (one that requires no error bars or P values). However, this are a simple and easily argued example.

          A better example would be the mere existence of irrational numbers such as pi. It is a "known" value that can never be fully quantified.

          Yet another example would be Godel's incompleteness therom. In short, no system of absolute rules may be both consistent and complete. If the universe is purely deterministic (running completely on a giving set of rules), the universe must either be inconsistant or incomplete, which would immediately imply there are things outside of its rules.
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        Jun 23 2011: Nice examples. (i.e., pi , Godel's theorem)

        What if our entire grand enterpise of scientific inquiry has a major, major flaw that is so fundamental that we cannot find it out because it does away with "objective" methods?
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    Jun 9 2011: Last time this topic came about, I was, and still am on the stance, that lack of free will in nature doesn't mean lack of free will in a social context.

    I think I might have a good metaphor to describe what I have in mind... Imagine you have a robot that drives a car. The robot is programmed to avoid hitting obstacles, which among other things includes pedestrians. The robot is a deterministic machine, but just because it's deterministic doesn't change the fact that should it hit a pedestrian, the fault is in the robot's programming.

    Of course, the metaphor breaks here because our programming, while deterministic, is also deterministically alterable with time, experience and knowledge. While the robot might improve its obstacle dodging ability, it will still strive towards that preprogrammed known goal, whereas we don't have that specific programming, and might therefore stray away from the original programming, whatever that might be.

    There's also a difference between something being deterministic and being determined. We are most probably deterministic (i.e. operate in a potentially fully predictable way), but the moment something becomes determined (i.e. known to someone), its previously determined course again changes... deterministically. Our life, our actions, they're deterministic, but not determined.
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    Jun 9 2011: I ignited this debate a while ago:http://www.ted.com/conversations/1107/there_is_no_such_thing_as_free.html

    First of all, let me just say that the way you've phrased the debate is unfair (as Tim has pointed out). It's an appeal to emotion, with sentences that include "more than just" and "simply", which automatically suggests a certain inadequacy of the idea of no free will. You're suggesting a void that needs to be filled.

    Let's also put implications aside for now. The implications might only trigger an emotional response rather than a rational one. It's not a question of what is desirable, but what is. Everything at the macro-scale from cells to galaxies act in a deterministic fashion. Humans are part of this macrocosm and as part of this, they and their minds are inevitably governed by the same rules of physics. Thus free will in the sense in which you discuss it is indeed impossible.

    A point that I would like to make, which I was unable to make in my previous debate because it close, is that quantum mechanics indeterminacy is not the saviour of free will as many herald it to be. Indeed, what a strange idea to suggest that the probabilistic behaviour that emerges from quantum mechanism can be equated with making a choice. If anything, quantum indeterminacy is much less desirable than determinism (but as I stress, desirability should not enter into our judgement here) because it's chaotic. In either scenario, there is no free will to be found, unless you are ready to call up on a higher being or a higher plane of existence, but supernatural speculations will lead nowhere.

    I feel like Tony's answer appeals to something otherworldly. Can't agree with it. Scott makes the mistake of given too much weight to implication: "If there is no freewill, then there is no point", whatever that means. Also his view that gene determinism is rife isn't really all that true anymore. Saying GOD=DNA is a joke and I do not see the logical link between his conclusion and premise.
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      Jun 11 2011: Steve Bruno,

      I suggest altering this conversation more towards Matt's format and suggestions, as this is a valuable topic as was his now closed topic.

      1. Everyone should read what's there.
      2. Everyone should explore a few philosophers stand points on free will. This topic is one of the oldest in history.


      I enjoyed your response, it was insightful, however.

      "but supernatural speculations will lead nowhere."

      This is not true. Starting from the sky and working down towards earth in philosophy is just as powerful as working from the ground to the sky. Taking generalizations and trying to understand how they apply to everything is just as a beneficial practice as knowing all the details of what pertains to everything.

      Cognitive science was built on generalizations between sciences in order to start forming a meta-science of cognitive learning. Possibly one of the most spiritual sciences known to western culture! In my opinion.

      "Eastern Brains: Probing the Partnership Between Buddhism and the Brain Sciences "

      Buddhism has developed similar ideas, a long time ago, to what we are now only considering to be a reality about the human brain. (Also why I defend religions as a whole as not being a waste.)

      Logical thinking is only one way to look at the world!
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    Jun 18 2011: Free will is a intensely debated topic in anarchist literature as well. One side leans towards the existentialist or absurdist idea that free will exists and humans have no essence they are simply absurd beings just like the rest of the universe, which is what I lean towards. Then there is the other idea where anarchists acknowledge people are determined, but they might as well act "freely" because they feel responsible for their actions. The second notion is like our notion of dice roles or randomness. Throwing dice only appears to be random but it is actually not, for practical purposes we use dice however. same can be said about free will.
  • Jun 17 2011: There is a very simple philosophical argument one can take to at least show that our choices are the results of circumstances beyond our control:
    1. actions are either impulsive [involuntary] or voluntary [rational]
    2. rational acts are an attempt to balance costs with benefits, and are thus based on available information
    3. available information derives either from involuntary exposure or voluntary enquiry
    4. voluntary enquiry is a rational choice
    5. premises 3 and 4 regress to that point where we, as childs, accesed information involuntarily only, as we were incapable of voluntary enquiry.
    6. Thus all choices are ultimately the result of something involuntary.

    Free will is a useful myth.
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      Jun 17 2011: Interesting.

      "6. Thus all choices are ultimately the result of something involuntary."

      Indeed, this is the reality of our choices. - Upon understanding this reality, do you not feel you have something that would be like "free will"? OR do you feel you are more wise to your own choices - I'll explain. Free will is the idea we have the absolute choice over absolute amount of decisions, roughly. True free will is impossible, but free will-like considerations should be made in my opinion, agreeing with your final statement fully.

      Do you feel you have a better "existential understanding" of the world, from understanding what you have dictated in response to this conversation?
      • Jun 17 2011: My feeling is that whether or not I recognise that ultimately my choices are not voluntary, the vast complexity of my mind is such that for all intents and purposes I should act as though I do choose. That in itself is the result of a work ethic others have inculcated in me, though, and possibly the simple fact that fatalism is evolutionarily untenable.

        If we accept that a person's behaviour is the result of the information available to them, then it follows that we should not concern ourselves with morally judging individuals but rather with morally judging behvaviours. If we hope to reduce the prevalence of a 'bad' behaviour, then we should identify what information is likely to move a person to this behaviour and what information is likely to move a person to eschew this behaviour, then minimise the social presence former while maximising the latter.

        Ethics becomes a strategic enterprise, whereby we calculate how best to engineer society according to our moral norms.
    • Jun 19 2011: I am not certain of your intention when you use 'myth'.

      I am in the midst of considering the TED talk concerning memes, so my interpretation of free will in in a state of flux. However I do not believe my decision to have a brew vs. a coffee is a useful interpretation of the standard arguments.

      Personally speaking only, whether I am able to demonstrate free will or not has very limited interest to me, especially when the topic revolves around the decision-making process. Whether I am engaged in the myth-enhancing process associated with being human is more engaging.
  • Jun 13 2011: Get rid of our hormones, our memory of our past history, any philosophical beliefs and there you go...free will!
  • Jun 10 2011: Our ability to predict decisions based on our understanding of neurology doesn't compromise the validity of the decision made. It is simply the understanding of HOW decisions are made. Yes, the conglomeration of our physical endowment with our experiences, temperament, and location in space and time is what influences the makeup of our decision-making system, but the products of that system's process are still decisions nonetheless.

    We are this system that we call our brain and body. If our decisions and actions ARE predetermined by the rules of physical and chemical reality, I personally, cannot deny the fact that i still FEEL in control of my conscious thoughts and actions. I am my system, and you may be your system. And our own particular autonomy is what makes us human, even if different from person to person.
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      Jun 10 2011: We are patterned creatures, but we can pick our own patterns?
      • Jun 10 2011: I think so. Possibly the potential to choose and alter our deliberations is ingrained in our biological makeup a priori. Within the objective rules of our physical workings, there lies a subjective factor. Call it the SPIRIT FACTOR hahaha. Terms like neuroplasticity and adaption come to mind when i think of this, and even free will. I think it is because of such a phenomenon as this that we all have varying beliefs and attitudes that make up the whole of a value pluralistic.
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    Jun 10 2011: If the will is completely free in the sense of having no natural tendency toward any decision, then it has no nature, and hence, no identity. If it has no identity, then (1) it cannot be identified with my identity, and (2) it is nothing. If free will is nothing, then free will does not exist. Furthermore, if it is not my identity, then something else is my identity. Consequently, if free will did exist, it would not be my free will, but something that interfered with my being me. It would be an external force rather than that which I am identified with. Clearly, this idea of “free will” is contradictory nonsense.

    On the other hand, if the will is a natural tendency toward some goal, the will does have an identity and can be identified with my identity. Such a will would be a something and hence it could exist. Freedom of such a will would be (1) freedom FROM hindrance, inability, or defect that prevented it from pursuing or achieving its goal, and (2) freedom TO pursue and achieve its goal. This second idea of “free will” is not plagued by the same contradictions and nonsense as the first purported idea of free will.

    Hence, the “free will” is best defined as a will that always pursues its natural goal and does so with no hindrance, inability, or defect that prevents it from succeeding in achieving its goal.

    What is the natural tendency that defines the will?

    Spirit’s nature is to desire to serve spirit. The “will” is this natural tendency of spirit. Often, spirit’s love of spirit is expressed as selfishness. As I have explained elsewhere, selfishness is the result of combining love of spirit with ignorance of spirits beyond one’s own spirit. Selfishness results from our failure to have the same direct, concrete experience of other spirits that we have of our own. Thus, ignorance of this sort is one of the main factors that deprive our will of freedom. The route toward greater freedom of the will is through empathy.
  • Jun 8 2011: i'm sorry but i'm materialist (completely), a biological robot.
    But reductionnism has limits, you must study cybernetics and the systemic.
    on brain, you can study "connexionnism", it's astonishing.
    no freedom.
    but you will see that if you happen to materialize the thought, like one does it with the robots, then it will be possible to develop state of consciousnesses/feelings/emotions/intelligence with a degree very important...like one does it with the robots.
    To think the absence of freedom makes it possible to think an exponential development of our condition.
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    Jul 5 2011: I think that we have free will within the confines of what we know. Only if you knew absolutely everything would you have free will.
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    Jun 19 2011: Yes we do have free will ! You have the choice to do right, or wrong ! Eat to much or getting fit ! Love or hate ! ALL BECAUSE WE CAN CHOOSE ! In any case, a chain a reaction happen, depending of that choice.

    Furthermore, having freewill does not mean that you have control over your life ! I deeply believe that whatever that we goes through in this life : "good or bad", was plan ahead, to experience a situation that will make our soul and spirit grow stronger etc.

    At the end, do good only, respect yourself and others, detached yourself from people that will bring you down or negatif about your ideas, friends, family and specially you.

    Be a giver not a retainer ! Peace.

    Mireille Chéry
  • Jun 19 2011: Well actually a Newtonian view of a causal universe is still compatible with quantum physics. A Newtonian approach isn't disproved by quantum physics, it's just that in the realm of quantum physics we do talk about things as being probabilistic. Also, just because the world is in-determined doesn't mean we have free will. If, hypothetically, the root cause of my actions are random, then the cause of my actions still doesn't not rely on my own free will, but on those causes. So to say the universe isn't determined isn't a good argument for free will. Besides that I think there is two approaches. If you believe that the mind/soul and body are separate then there might be room for free will because our souls are independent in this case from the universe in that they are immaterial or spiritual (and if something is not of this world (or empirical) than why should empirical logic apply to it). If you don't believe in a body/soul dichotomy then I think there is still some argument for free will as a monist (the mind and body are one interlinked unit). Behaviourists such as B.F. Skinner proposed the idea that our behaviour can be determined and therefore how can we truly be free. The problem I have with behaviourism is that, although important, it's too stimuli-response. The reality is that we have a frontal cortex, which allows us to make intelligent decisions with foresight and an understanding of their moral weight and consequences. So I think the old view of free will, as absolute free will over our actions, is a bit ridiculous. This is partially because if our actions didn't have a cause then when wouldn't have any reason to do anything. I think a more modern view of free will that doesn't dumb people down, is a view that our free will is our capacity to understand complex moral problems (or any problem for that matter) and make an informed response.
  • Jun 19 2011: yes.
    we have free will.
    when you want to decide between two option and ask yourself:
    if I do this or not?
    this shows you have free will.
    if you had no free will you did not ask yourself I do this or not?
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    Jun 19 2011: Yes of course our sense of what and who we are is influenced by our physical reality. At the same time non-tangibles like faith or superstition can affect our physical being decisively. In example a witch doctor curses an enemy and he dies within days or a medical doctor tells someone he has inoperable cancer and he collapses within a month. Yet I have known people who were given such a death sentence and are still here 10 yrs later. I would say that everyone has the seed or potential for free will at birth and they then "program" their own brain with their choices in such a way that they increase or decrease their capacity for free will. It is subtle and their are indeed MANY influences ie. emotional, nutritional, societal, some stronger than others. We do indeed tend to react mechanically to most input based on our unconscious and conscious attitudes, yet we still chose those attitudes consciously or unconsciously. The fact that it is possible to examine and change those attitudes even against the pressure of outside influences is to me evidence of what can be described as free will. Thus when Socrates stated that the unexamined life is not worth living I think he was addressing this very issue. The mechanism is a bit analogous to our purely physical being. When I walk away from a doughnut even though a thousand devils are tempting me I feel I am exercising free will. When I get up at 6am to walk in the snow and wind when I would rather stay in bed ditto. Free will is not a fact it is a potential capacity like compassion or patience. Some people have developed these things and some have not, by their own choices. Heightened self awareness is a choice, it doesn't just happen. It is by nature anti-entropic. I have developed by choice a skeptical existentialist view that is always checking for other explanations. All the same metaphysical experiences have proven to me that my consciousness is not always a dependent symbiont of my brain-body matrix.
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    Jun 17 2011: To the nay-sayers of free will, those who feel all is determined and we have no say in the matter, do you look both ways before you cross a street? If so why? Without free will or consequence from our actions then there really is no need for caution because things will play out as they will, no matter what you think of them.

    Free will exists.

    Here is a conversation that I see as a shade of this one
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      Jun 17 2011: You miss something with your example : you should look 'both ways' with
      your argument , you forget us , we determine ourselves by what we are, for example : if I look both ways when I cross the street this is a also factor which will determine what will happen next , the caution is a factor , I look and I see that comes a car and I stop walking therefore the fact that I look save my life , if not the fact that I don't look both ways I cross the street is a factor to my death and so on ......... in other words the things plays out as they 'will' determinated till the last second .
      It is more on the philosophical side than about genetics or another sciences.
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        Jun 18 2011: Still, when people deny free will I can't help but think of Mr. Magoo
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      Jun 17 2011: if there is no free will, the "why they" question makes no sense, does it?
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        Jun 17 2011: Not necessarily in the sense that we are part from the picture (I've corected myself a bit ........the spelling....).
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      Jun 18 2011: Why do you look both ways when you cross? Because you've acquired this behavior. It fits with your personality and it ifts with your current state. If you're trying to illustrate free will, this might not be the best example as you're talking about a situation where you systematically would chose the same action no matter what.
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        Jun 19 2011: Matthieu, Ok but let's consider that you are in the middle of the street with your girl friend and a car careens around the corner - do you not make a free will choice about what to do next?
    • Jun 19 2011: Determinism must not be confused with the doctrine of fatalism. Nobody would seriously say , "Why should I bother to look when I cross the road, for my fate is already decided."
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    Jun 14 2011: In my own personal opinion I believe that seeing as we can even contemplate the idea of free will we must have free will. Current scientific knowledge may point to everything being predetermined and that if we knew the position of every molecule in the universe (dark matter included), its movement, speed, heat, weight ect we would be able to predict everything that will ever be. This is where my own opinions tell me this cannot be true, or at least if it is true; because we do not know everything about the universe we cannot make this value judgement. Either way you look at it, this will never give anyone any excuse ever to do something morally wrong.
  • Jun 14 2011: "We are free to create our own interpretation of ourselves in relation to the world, to create a project of possibilities, of authentic actions as the expression of freedom."
    - Jean Paul Sartre
  • Jun 14 2011: Free will exists within parameters defined by the physical environment, which for purposes herein includes the mind. It is frequently confused with free choice, but it is my belief that as long as it is contained to what is physically possible, which by necessity it must be it is, then the word free doesn't work here.

    If the term was "free will within the set of currently existing physical or mental options," then I would say yes, it exists . . . but free as unlimited, unbound by the conditions that currently exist, no. There can be no free will.

    As much as I would like to and believe i have the free will to do so, I cannot fly by flapping my arms, or urinate without a bladder containing urine.

    Free will is a myth of the ego.
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    Jun 13 2011: I belive we dont have a true freewill because everything you think and do is influenced by your Environment.
    For example lets take Religion, if you grew in a muslim Environment you will be a Muslim. its because you are belive in it? or its because you are what your Environment is? if you take that muslim baby and put him in Christian Environment he will grow as a Christian And probably will be Christian for the rest of his life. so its hard to tell if you realy have a freewill.
    I think its Environmental influence. a freewill is not possible.
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    Jun 13 2011: continued:

    Assume, for instance, that we are 100% sure that all that we do in our lives is determined by our biology and external conditions we know. Let us even assume that we are able to calculate and foresee the future of every single newborn baby. In that case, sb would say that we'd proved there's no freewill. Wrong! In that case we can still imagine some kind of a soul that makes a decision before a child is born. It knows the future and decides what life to live (like we decide what film to watch). It may choose a life that gives it an opportunity to experience and learn new things. As long as we won't prove there is no such soul, we are unable to say there is no freewill. And we are unable to prove there is no thing we can't observe, like we cannot prove there's no Russell's teapot. But if we prove that there actually exists something like a soul, that still won't be any prove for the existence of a freewill either. Someone could argue then that behavior of that soul is fully determined by sth and not by itself. So it'll demand from us to look for the causes of that soul's behavior and the causes of these causes and so on. So, again, we must know the program and the ultimate cause (a programmer or a chance).
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      Jun 13 2011: First cause is only relevant in philosophy, not science. In science you look for empirical evidence.
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        Jun 13 2011: ... and that is why I claim that we're unable to prove inexistence of 'freewill'.
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          Jun 13 2011: And that makes your claim, we have free will, true? Prove to me that there is not an alien mother ship crashed on the dark side of the moon.
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        Jun 13 2011: I haven't made myself clear enough. I don't argue that it exists. I just think this question may be unresolveable. If we cannot prove that sth doesn't exist, it doesn't have to mean it does.
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      Jun 13 2011: however, if we can prove (to a convincing extent) that the observed world is deterministic, it poses some interesting questions. in that case, all the stories those souls can choose to participate in, are written previously. that means that only a limited set of stories are available, like some sort of menu. unless the world is endless in space and/or time, of course, in which case the menu is infinite, and thus can contain all possible stories.
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    Jun 12 2011: I believe we do have true freewill, and our brain is just a bio-machine that controls our physical body but not our decisions and thoughts. Actually it is our thoughts that controls our brains.
  • Jun 12 2011: I believe we are born with a larger sense of destiny. It's like a bare boned picture. It's what we are given. We fill in the details, the colours, the textures. That is free will. We choose what we put into our picture.
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    Jun 10 2011: I needed no evidence, it's all in your head.

    One day, after being prescribed too much Aderall, I was incredibly wired in, and perceived reality differently. I didn't feel like a human, I felt like I was observing people.

    Anyways, I just sat there one day in class and thought really hard and deep and just realized, this is not free will. This is cause and effect, this is a chain.
    Sure enough I came home that day and googled the crap out of the phrase "neuroscience suggests", and everything I found explained what I was thinking.
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      Jun 10 2011: I also realised this in the context of the classroom when I was summoned to write a philosophy essay "what is freedom?". Interestingly, after writing a pretty generic first paragraph about freedom in terms of law, I wildly veered into a discussion of free will. This obtained me my highest mark in philosophy.
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    Jun 9 2011: Not taking iinto account the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, I think we should approach this question as two right answers, perhaps due to the limitations of our mind we could never develop a mechanism to determine the step ahead, therefore as humans and only in that perspective the argument can be seen as in favor of freewill. But if we were to drop those limitations and ascend in understanding, with all the indications that neuroscience and rationality induces, freewill can be easily shredded to pieces.
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    Jun 9 2011: Free will is an illusion. If we have any choice about it, I recommend we live it.
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      Jun 11 2011: There are definitely ways to create our own illusions Tim!

      How well we can manipulate reality freely.. the more free will of choices you can master!

      Keep the idea of free will in terms of being human and not being a philosophical creature of the highest degree!
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      Jun 11 2011: I agree... just another product of consciousness.
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    Jun 9 2011: Of course we do. We are like children who have been granted a huge inheritance but do not yet know, and so walk around completely ignorant of the wealth that awaits us. Then we discover we have all this wealth, and what do we do? Either we use it well, and live beautIful, fulfilled lives ever after, or squander it and lose all in a blink of an eye, and blame the world for deceiving us. For me free will is a huge gift we all have, the will to choose what to do with the circumstances we "find" ourselves in, at the moment of our awakening to the world around us. We can complain, we can get angry, we can blame others, be envious of those who seem to have it easier or better than us, we can throw up our hands in helplessness, we can accept the situations and call it fate...or we can do something to get ourselves out of those circumstances that we find uncomfortable. This right to decide how to approach each day and each event that we come across is, to me, what free will is all about. We choose how to react to life. And that is something no one can take away from us.
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    Jun 9 2011: I think definition of the 'free' in freewill here makes a difference.
    If we take the mind as a black box and talk about freedom from external manipulation/control then to a certain degree yes we have free will. Although we receive input stimuli from many sources which influence us and could in some circunstances remove or limit this freedom.
    If however we delve into the processes of the mind based upon the laws of physics, I would say that we are not free. Though this presents no real problem. I am my mind. Simpley the physical processes at work in my brain. To say that I am not free to think other than how I think is to say that I am not free to be someone/something else which is obvious.

    Matthieu touched on some interesting points in his post about the determinism of the macroscopic universe and the quantum uncertainty of the microscopic universe.
    I am no phyisist and as such know little about either but from what little I do know I wasn't aware that the macroscopic was deterministic. Surely if it is build upon quantum mechanical uncertain laws, it too must have some uncertainty?
    If the universe is indeed deterministic at lowest level there is no free will but it should not affect our behaviour. What matters to us still matters and our actions still have the effect that they have. Predestined or not.
    If the universe is not deterministic then the idea of freewill that people seem to find most contentious would still be false. Searching for it in quatum mechanical uncertainty would be effectively saying our actions are random.