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Steve Bruno

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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 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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