Sunday, January 07, 2007

Thinking about Freewill

A friend of mine got me thinking about issues of freewill (again). Admittedly, I've been trying to come up with a bit more nuanced statement on my position concerning free will. I think I'm satisfied with this one for the moment:

S has freewill to perform some action A just when (1) S might perform A or S might not perform A; and (2) the collection of all knowable physical facts about S are not sufficient to predict S's performance ahead of time.

I acknowledge that (2) is a fairly strong claim b/c it does not presume one can have all physical facts (consistent with current claims about quantum physics); and, it assumes there are facts about us which are not physical.

Note well that I do not mean to make this entail the existence of "souls" in the Cartesian sense, but only that there might be facts about our information structures, facts about our temporal-properties, facts which are about other facts about us (i.e., meta facts, such as about counterfactual states of affairs -- e.g. it is false that Brint might eat a concrete block.)

Sometimes physical facts might be enough to predict S's performance ahead of time. For example, someone could be addicted to nicotine in a way such that after a Mexican meal, the urge to smoke cannot be vetoed by their will. They might engage in smoking behaviors withoutt consciously monitoring or even thinking about it, much like we keep our head level on our shoulders without consciously monitoring or even thinking about it.

However, that S's actions can sometimes be predicted, does not mean S is never free. For S to be free, there has to be at least some instances where S might perform A or S might not perform A. It's just that in the Mexican meal case to claim "S might not perform A" happens to be false. The deeper issue would be to determine when or when not S does have a freewill.

I should note that by "might" I don't mean just the logical sense, but the stonger physics sense, where something might or might not happen given the way natural world is ordered. One might worry whether there are "unnatural" worlds, so perhaps my phrase "natural" world doesn't make sense. However, here are at least unnatural logical worlds, since computer simulations can manipulate objects with adjustments in what are otherwise the equations which map the natural world -- the latter being the one we are all born into. (Whether there are unnatural physical worlds is very controversial. My inclination is to say there are not.)

I think many worries about lack of freewill are present in people who forget that physical facts are merely a subset of all facts.


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At 11:11 AM, Blogger brinticus said...

smoking skeleton image taken from:

At 10:22 PM, Anonymous Grue Hair Man said...

so, your example is interesting. You basically say that some things you do can not be veto'd consciously because they are too hard wired into the brain.

So lets take this a step further, what if a 40-something guy who does the exact same routine day in and day out gets the routine so hard wired into his brain that he can no longer choose not to do it. Has he lost all free will entirely? How can one determine when they have it and when they don't?

As you know I suffer from a mood disorder, sometimes this causes me to do things I wouldn't normally do (e.g., spend much more money than I should, become unable to get out of bed, etc). How is my free will affected by this? I don't think that I can simply choose not to do these things. If I can't choose not to do these things can I be held morally accountable? What will be my punishment in heaven for gluttony, lust or anger related to my meat machine brain malfunctioning?

At 7:36 AM, Blogger Taylor said...

The timing of your comment is kind of eery. About a week ago, I watched the Discovery Channel special "Walking With Cavemen." While it wasn't really anything new and a lot of it could be classified as infotainment, I started to observe people differently for a few days. It started when I switched the show off and started watching one of the bowl games. One of the players sacked the QB, and the celebration he did to incite the crowd was almost the exact same as the reinactment's version of prehistoric man's victory dance after having defeated another male.

Later, my friends and I watched a UFC fight, and you can literally see the physical adaptations that some of these alpha male types have maintained--protruding brow, large jaw, pinned back ears, etc.

None of those were really new, but because the TV show made the lives of our ancestors so real and personable, it's really made me reconsider the "human struggle" and what it means to have success in life. On one hand, we come from people who used the same hand axe for almost a million years, and on the other hand, we're the people who went from libraries to the internet in ten years.

Do you know of any articles or books that talk about social constructs curbing the evolutionary process? In other words, the people who are procreating the most are actually at the lower end of society because of the social constructs we have in place.

At 10:54 PM, Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

RE: freewill

Freewill - "Turn or Burn"

At 12:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Next time you use me as an example I want a percentage of your salary.


At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I acknowledge that (2) is a fairly strong claim b/c it does not presume one can have all physical facts"

There are some things it is impossible to know; but of course, it is impossible to know these things:

therefore we have a soul.


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