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  1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Free will and biology

    Discussion in 'Debate Room' started by Steerpike, Sep 23, 2015.

    Since this keeps getting batted around in a certain other thread. Two thoughts:

    1) Asking how biology explains free will presumes there may be some reason to believe biology precludes free will (biological determinism or something). I don't think that's true. A counter question would be: why shouldn't a sentient biological organism have free will; and

    2) When it comes to scientific explanations, it seems to me complexity and emergent properties are likely to play a role here. If you insist on a scientific basis for free will, that seems to me to serve as well as anything.
     
  2. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I asked @Steerpike why he started this thread, I'm sure he'd be able to explain his motivation, 'Since this keeps getting batted around in a certain other thread' etc. If the issue hadn't arisen in another thread, would @Steerpike have started this thread now? Probably not, because he'd have no reason to. To start a thread or not to start a thread; this is apparently a free choice. We weigh up the options, we consider the alternatives, but no matter what we choose, we can always say, 'I chose this, because of that.' While there is a 'because', there is a reason why one option was chosen over another. Where's the freedom?

    Free will seems illusive. How can I be free to choose anything when I have a reason to choose one option over another? If I have no reason, I'd be reduced to choosing something at random (like a meal in a restaurant where I know nothing of the options on offer). There may be freedom in this, but where's the will?
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @Aled James Taylor does the reason make it compulsory? I had a reason for starting this thread, but I could have decided not to start it. You could argue that I had the illusion of choice to start it or not, but that the choice didn't really exist and I'd start the thread no matter what. But I don't see any support for that idea. I'm not sure how you could support it, empirically, but I think most of us, in our own minds, feel that we have a choice in things that we consciously elect to do.

    As for it being illusive, another question is this: if is it illusive, but if the illusion is so good that we truly believe we have free will, then does it matter?
     
  4. outsider
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    outsider Contributing Member Contributor

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    The hard determinist would maintain that although you firmly believe that you made that choice of your own volition and by virtue of free will, and although you can explain your reasons for making that choice, you did not. You were predisposed to arrive at that decision by the chemical balance of your brain, your genetic make up and any number of other variables. A predestination, of sorts.
     
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  5. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think free will is directly related to our known options and our known and unknown motivations. If I am hungry(motivation), and I have a choice between a steak and tofu(options), I pick the steak, because I know it tastes better and that it is healthier. The taste and the health are both information regarding those options and are also secondary motivations, because presumably I like taste and health.

    The question is, do we describe free will as a sequence of interconnected events, are or as an agency that occurs throughout those events which we can quantize?

    If person a walks to the fridge and picks the first thing he sees, without thinking, like an animal, whereas person b looks through the entire fridge and spends twenty minutes contemplating the right choice, is person b exercising more free will than person a? If so, then I would argue that free will itself is a faculty that can at least be relatively quantitative.

    Thing get more interesting if you consider "consciousness," which I personally define as self reflection. Higher level reflection, such as an attempt to understand how and why you understand certain things, removes one self further and further from emotion and knee jerk instincts. It's in a way a division between the intellectual and the physical. It's something that makes (some) of us unique from a fish or a plant.

    I don't think everyone has equal levels of free will, and it is exactly that reason that I think free will is more than just the description of motivation, knowledge, and action, but a complication vehicle, which, with higher levels of consciousness, increases.
     
  6. Adenosine Triphosphate
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    Adenosine Triphosphate Old Scratch Contributor

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    You have the freedom to act on your desires, but not necessarily to choose them, if genetics and environment are taken into account.
     
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  7. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not saying that you didn't have a choice or that you didn't make a choice. You could have considered the expected consequences of starting the thread and compared this to the expected consequences of not starting it. Like opposing sides in a courtroom drama, the arguments and counter-arguments could have played out in your mind. Ultimately the strongest case wins. It's a no-brainier.

    Alternatively, you might have jumped to your conclusion immediately, thinking. 'It's bound to be a good thing to do', based on your previous experience of starting threads.

    Whatever method you use to make your decisions, your conclusion is determined by that method, (including what you know, your emotional reactions, etc). Our minds make decisions in the way our minds are set up to make them.

    As for it mattering, we make decisions in the way we make decisions whether we believe in free will or not. It matters when we come to ask: 'What is the right decision?' Then we need to know, why we chose what we do.
     
  8. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Free will is an abstraction. It is a concept we invented so we can reason about our own behavior and about ethics in a way that is agnostic to the mechanical details of the brain and agnostic to metaphysical questions. It is not a thing that either "exists" or "does not exist", and "how does biology explain free will" is a meaningless question.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2015
  9. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    Consider this:

    When a meteorologist tells you there is 80% chance it's going to rain, you know that those calculations are based on all of the information he/she knows or can obtain. For example, he/she knows that there are clouds coming in from the east, and wind meeting it from the north, chilling it down just above your area, leading to rain (I don't know if these are actual conditions for rain).
    The 20% of uncertainty comes from variables that exist, but are unable to be known by us because it's either too far back or we just don't have all data. But that data exists, and whether we know it or not, is absolutely causing the conditions you and the rest of the world is experiencing.

    In theory it is possible to know if it's going to rain 100%, but we must know all the past and all the present (literally everything, down to the very atomic movement of a drop of a gust of wind during a storm 30,000,000 years ago). However, because we don't know it and currently can't know it, we must be happy with expanding our knowledge and capabilities to increase the certainty minutely and glacially, and reduce the variables slowly over time.

    Humans are complicated weather systems. We must satisfy ourselves knowing that though we don't know anything certainly, those elements are the only moving force behind the veil of free will.

    Just like @Aled James Taylor mentioned in his first post, he can show you the 'major', visible, and directly related events that led to asking the question, but there are minute details that we could never possibly know or even find a correlation, but that are there and infinitely complex.
     
  10. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    A very interesting question. We probably need to define "free will" first, but that is just pedantic.

    Evolution is a proven fact, anyone with half a brain recognises that, but they do not always understand it. They might understand that the most suited to their environment survives, but they may not understand how a social animal becomes social. If I can put it in the most obvious terms, it is self-preservation. Social animals require someone to look after their kids while they hunt, or to look out for predators while they sleep. This is where morals come from. Morals are a truly evolved trait, it come from a need for a prootocooperative relationship in order to survive.

    Free will is an interesting one. In fact it may be a new line to draw given that all social animals including pet dogs (but not cats) exhibit intelligence. I would say that it is social conditioning myself, perhaps we all have the intelligence to achieve it, including out pet dogs, but only out current circumstances allow it.
     
  11. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    Does intelligence provide free will?

    Intelligence provides complexity. In order to answer a particular question, we might ask: 'Do I need to research this?', 'Is this information reliable?', and 'Should I ask the opinion of others?' But each of these questions would require decisions that we would have to make, and we would make those in much the same way as any other. A more thorough process would produce a more reliable conclusion but I can't see how this would make it any more free. We may find that the issue becomes so clear that the conclusion is obvious So we would be effectively 'railroaded' to our answer. (Instead of having the choice of; meal A or meal B, the choice might become; tasty nutritious food, or something bland and harmful.) The better our process, the more our conclusion is dictated. (If we use the full scientific method, no matter who carries out the work, the conclusions should always be the same). There's little or no freedom here.

    Intelligence provides independence. We may be less inclined to rely on what others have taught us and more included to rely on lessons we have learned for ourselves. But wherever our preexisting knowledge comes from, it is preexisting, and would inevitably form part of our thought process. If someone is unfettered by the traditions of their people, they might say, 'no one is influencing me, therefore I am free,' but this overlooks internal controls. They would still be limited by their knowledge and abilities and they'd be guided by their habits. No matter how much knowledge we acquire or abilities develop, we can only perform our tasks better, but not different.

    I'm not seeing any 'threshold' that increased intelligence would allow us to cross. More thinking would produce a more reliable conclusion, but the actual thinking would be much the same as the less intelligent.
     
  12. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I feel like you're referencing a recent study that found that patients make their choices within a few second of being offered them and then rationalize them later? I know of this study but I can't actually find it anywhere. I'm beginning to think I heard about it in one of Scott Adams blog posts, so I'm not going to go back there to look for it.

    If that is what you're talking about, do you have the link?
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I haven't heard of that, actually, but now that you refer to it I'm interested in seeing it if you can find it. It strikes me as how humans likely operate.
     
  14. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Damn. Okay, let me work on that.
     
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  15. Bookster
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    Bookster Banned

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    That idea was explored in Malcolm Gladwell's 2005 book, Blink.
     
  16. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    So apparently it's actually a series of studies, and it's based solely on motor control. Patients were asked first to select a finger to move, and later from a choice of buttons. Apparently there is a time delay between when the subjects brain made a signal, and when they perceived that they had made a conscious decision. As much as 10 second in some cases.
    Here's the article, it goes on pretty long, and I kind of checked out when they started bringing in philosophers to talk about the ramifications. Philosophers, on the whole, kind of bore me.
    http://io9.com/5975778/scientific-evidence-that-you-probably-dont-have-free-will

    Of course this is just deciding to move a finger. It says nothing about your decision to buy a house or get back with your ex. Just because a delay has been found in motor control does not preclude free will, as there could be a brain process we don't understand.

    Or it could be that your soul makes a split second decision and your brain catches up to you. Which would be the Baha'i perspective I believe.
     
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  17. Adenosine Triphosphate
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    Adenosine Triphosphate Old Scratch Contributor

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    Even if there turns out to be some measure of randomness at play, our attributes are still largely determined by a combination of our genetics and our environment. One ramification of this is that non-psychotic mental disorders (ADHD, anxiety, most forms of depression, etc.) and personality defects potentially occupy a similar realm in terms of individual responsibility. Or lack thereof, if you're soft/brave enough to go that far.
     
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  18. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even if there is a large amount to randomness, this would be akin to making decisions on the basis of tossing a coin. The results would be unpredictable but would lack a 'will', free or otherwise. The more randomness there is, the more our 'will' is replace by the 'internal coin throw'. This doesn't provide freedom, as we'd be compelled to obey the 'coin' instead.

    Emotions are the result of brain chemistry which are provoked by types of thought. (Think of a tragic loss, and you'll feel sad, think of a triumph, and you'll feel happy. The reaction of audiences at movies is predictable.) Maladaptive thinking can occur when people think about how they feel, a feedback loop is set up and emotions can become extreme, also people can develop a habit of thinking in particular ways. People can manipulate this, if they are aware of what's going on, and know the techniques to make changes. This requires decisions based on knowledge, so it's no different from any other decision someone might make. (If you feel angry, counting up to ten will make you calm, but you have to decide to count up to ten.)
     
  19. Adenosine Triphosphate
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    Adenosine Triphosphate Old Scratch Contributor

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    Thus, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where any pure form of the idea can be sustained, even if determinism turns out to be false.

    Conversely, the compatabilist "freedom to do what you want" version of free will exists, and it might be enough for some people, but it offers no escape from basic causation.
     
  20. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    People may think of themselves as being free to do as they want, as no one else is forcing them to act in a particular way. But people are also compelled to do as they want (by their own internal processes) Why would someone choose to do something that they don't want? They may have some belief that has a stronger influence that their desires, but then they would be compelled to follow that instead. (When on holiday, I had a choice of breakfasts. A fried breakfast (which I desired) or a bowl of muesli (which I believed was better for me) I had a choice. Ultimately, my conclusion (what I wanted most) depended entirely on which was the stronger influence, my desire, or my belief. I was then compelled to choose that option.

    Suppose someone decides to prove determinism false. They say to themselves, 'Next time someone offers me tea or coffee, I'm going to choose tea, even though I'd much prefer coffee. In choosing something I don't like, I'll be proving determinism false, and proving this is what I want most.' This doesn't work. The person is still doing what they want most. People will choose things they don't like if, and only if, there is a better reason for choosing it.
     
  21. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It's interesting, but I don't know how far you can go with the conclusions. You have to take into account the setup of the experiments, and that the subject are aware they're in an experiment and that some decision is forthcoming. How do we know that being placed in that position doesn't cause the brain to begin to prepare early in anticipation of some decision as opposed to some subconscious part of the brain making the decision?
     
  22. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    I agree that biology itself does not allow free will, but there are biological determinants to affect, cognition, and behaviour. Examples would be genetic inheritence, neurotransmitter imbalances, diet and its impact on the brain, lifestyle choices that have bearing on, ultimately, the brain. A person seeking mental health services will be asked if their mother had infections or viruses during pregnancy, in addition to alcohol/substance abuse regardless of whether they were raised by the parent. I don't really get part 2 of the question. Can you reword it?
     
  23. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is a tautology. Determinism is true by your implicit definition.
     
  24. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    Perhaps I worded something badly. If you could point out the problem, I'll try again.
     
  25. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Remember, this is a guy that made up a definition of "morality" so he could claim that religion doesn't have it. I'm not sure what you expected.
     
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