An In-Depth Exploration of Free Will.

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Reply Mon 13 Jul, 2009 03:16 pm
There is a long-standing thought experiment in game theory concerning the possibility of predicting an entities choices with 100% accuracy. It goes something like this:

Imagine you have two identical boxes in front of you, of which you have the option to either take only the left box or both the left and right box. Also imagine, that prior to your coming here, an entity that claims to have superior choice predicting skills has predicted the choice it believes you will make.

If, in this case, it predicted that you would take only the left box, then it placed 1 million dollars under that box and nothing under the right. On the other hand, if it predicted that you would take both the left and the right box, then it has placed 1000 dollars under both boxes.

And the question that needs to be solved in this experiment is... Is there a way to predict with absolute certainty the best option to take in this experiment, with 100% accuracy and certainty?

This experiment seems to suggest that there is not. In which case, there seems to be a possibility of scenarios in which our actions can not be predicted. After all, do we assume that the entity has predicted correctly, and thus take only the left box? 1 million dollars is very tempting. On the other hand, if the entity has predicted wrongly, and we take both boxes, we'll be leaving with a cool million + thousand. But which action do we take? We have no way of predicting what the entity predicted! This must be absolute evidence of Free Will!

Not.

This is the point at which most philosophers I have read that tackled this thought experiment stopped probing, much to my regret. For, it is obvious to me that this thought experiment is meant as a test, a test to find out the possibility of accurately predicting the choices of rational beings. And to this end, it is obvious that the test has failed.

What's not so obvious is the entities claim of superior predicting abilities. Barring the supernatural, his claim is precisely, what this thought experiment seeks to test, and then, of course, precisely what this thought experiment has shown impossible to do.

In other words, If we accept that this thought experiment is proof of free will, then we must accept that the the entity has no predicting abilities. What does this mean?

It means that the best option in all cases is to take both boxes. In fact, given any rational being that has come to this same conclusion, it is obvious that they will pick option B. In all cases, we can conclusively prove that a person seeking the best option WILL take both boxes.


Oh my god! Absolute prediction of a person's actions is perfectly possible!

Not. Don't stop probing yet. If you, the reader, knew I was going to say that, I commend you. :Glasses: Good work. The rabbit whole does indeed go much deeper than this!

I know observe that this can't possibly be right, because it is a paradox. A proof of free will leads to a proof that free will is non-existent? What's going on here? Another question comes to the surface: If the entity with superior predicting power knows that the best option is option B, then doesn't that mean that it could keep us from getting the cool mill? After all, it is now certain of our actions. But what if we know that, and so choose option A? Will it know that we know that, and thus expect option b?

And so on ad infinitum. We're back where we started. Or are we?

The most pertinent fact I can see that has been ignored by this thought experiment comes about only through observation. You see, the choice taken by the chooser comes down to one thing: Do they believe that the entity has predicted correctly? What most philosophers will fail to perceive is this: If we know what the chooser believes, then we know what option they will choose. It seems to be observed, that observation is the key to accurately predicting the choices of sentient beings. Outside information is the key.

So... does free will exist? The truth is, not only are our predictions based on limited knowledge, but so are our choices. It seems to me that we can observe that the more knowledge a prediction artist has, the more likely they can predict the actions of others. But it doesn't stop there, because a predicter with perfect knowledge can still be wrong if the chooser doesn't have perfect knowledge.

The truth is that free will is a relativistic concept in the same order of magnitude of space and time. It's not fixed everywhere. The truth is, as information clusters, randomness decreases. Free will is relative to the perspective of the person choosing[/i]. And as there are many many perspectives, there are many many levels of stretchy free will.

There is just one thing, however. It is observed that the total amount of information in the world is finite. Does this mean that it is possible to predict the future of the universe by ammassing all knowledge?

Nope. Prediction depends on outside knowledge, it seems. An omniscient person would not only be stuck outside of any knowledge of what will come next, but would actually realize there is no next. Not for him. Not for ever.

 
TurboLung
 
Reply Sat 18 Jul, 2009 08:01 am
@DasTrnegras,
our eyes turn what we see upside down in our brain, so, what you look at is actually inverted; meaning that technically if you choose the right box, you are really choosing the left. the machine is floored.
 
de budding
 
Reply Sat 18 Jul, 2009 11:11 am
@DasTrnegras,
Are we presuming here that having free-will is simply having choice?

Regards,
Dan.
 
validity
 
Reply Tue 21 Jul, 2009 11:19 pm
@de budding,
de_budding;78140 wrote:
Are we presuming here that having free-will is simply having choice?

Regards,
Dan.
Do you mean in that the choice we make is not restricted by cause in the normal cause and effect relation?
 
Jackofalltrades phil
 
Reply Wed 22 Jul, 2009 01:36 am
@DasTrnegras,
Hi Folkes.... I am fresh out here and so just checking out the reply system.

Hope it works out fine.

anyway, I find the topic of Free Will interesting and let me say that it is a negative interest. I describe this phrase in regards to those topics, subjects or concepts which I tend to instinctively negate or dismiss. But to be dismissive is bad for the philosophically inclined, and hence I wish to learn more about this subject.

A naughty thought: Can anyone postulate whether Free Will applies to a slave or not. Is Free Will applicable to Children, What about the animals in zoo or the guinea pigs in the lab? Does this imply that Will exist only if the body and mind is Free?
Is Birds the best examples of Free Will or were the hippies of the '60s great exponents of Free Willers!? Or for that matter is Hugh Hefner a philosopher and guide of Free Will?

rgds
 
de budding
 
Reply Wed 22 Jul, 2009 02:22 am
@validity,
validity;78758 wrote:
Do you mean in that the choice we make is not restricted by cause in the normal cause and effect relation?


Well yes... I think. If some one answered my question with 'yes:choice = freed-will' I would perhaps challenge them using a parable about a man in prison, shackled to the walls and slowly starving to death who feel 'free' because he still has the choice to wiggle his toes, blink his eyes and to hum/sing a song to himself. But above all he feels still feels he has free-will because he can choose whether to die with his head flopped to the left or flopped to the right.

Also, I find that cause and effect seem to trap us. Out decisions are made for us already because the stage is already set. I remember discussing this before last year n here and coming to the conclusion that free will would, in the truest sense, be becoming God. Being able to go any where any time with the restriction of physics, not having to eat or drink without ding - being outside death- and so on and so on.

What are your thoughts?

Dan.

Dan.
 
validity
 
Reply Wed 22 Jul, 2009 03:09 am
@de budding,
de_budding;78762 wrote:
Also, I find that cause and effect seem to trap us. Out decisions are made for us already because the stage is already set. I remember discussing this before last year n here and coming to the conclusion that free will would, in the truest sense, be becoming God. Being able to go any where any time with the restriction of physics, not having to eat or drink without ding - being outside death- and so on and so on.

What are your thoughts?

Dan.

Dan.
I do not see free will as enabling such powers. Considering we do not possess god like powers, we can not go any where at any time and are restricted by physical laws, are you suggesting that that is sufficient proof to deny the existence of free will?

To me free will allows for the mind to act outside any causal loops.
 
de budding
 
Reply Wed 22 Jul, 2009 11:51 am
@validity,
What I mean to imply is that I once reached a conclusion that: to truly have freedom of the will would be to have Godlike powers. Ergo, we don't have such powers so we don't have free-will.

But more interestingly... the mind operating outside of causal loops? I am undecided as to whether or not I agree. I do believe the brain, mind and therefore conscious experience to be a reducible piece of bio-machinery, as reliant on cause and effect for operation as an analogue clock. And this is reinforced by (a) my experience with digital technologies which I think reflect closely the operation of our own minds and (b) Steve Grand's book - which I hold as somewhat of a reductionist bible - Creation: Life and How to Make it. Both have lead me to believe in the brain as a reducible and essentially electro-mechanical structure. I don't see how such a structure can operate outside of causal loops - it is built from them and reliant on them for operations.

Conversely, I understand that I feel free - especially in my own mind; in myself. But, then again, some days I feel a slave to my emotions and it all seems so obvious: I am not in control; how I react to situations and decisions is predetermined by my life experience which, in turn, has attuned my emotions and informed my decisions and preferences.

When asked to choose between peas and carrots my decision is informed by my preference which is informed by my life experience of eating. Add to that the traumatizing childhood experience I had with a giant carrot which, ever since, has prevented me from being in the same room as a carrot. Alas, it seems the decision between peas and carrots is made for me already.

Regards,
Dan.
 
validity
 
Reply Wed 22 Jul, 2009 05:00 pm
@de budding,
de_budding;78830 wrote:
But more interestingly... the mind operating outside of causal loops? I am undecided as to whether or not I agree. I do believe the brain, mind and therefore conscious experience to be a reducible piece of bio-machinery, as reliant on cause and effect for operation as an analogue clock. And this is reinforced by (a) my experience with digital technologies which I think reflect closely the operation of our own minds and (b) Steve Grand's book - which I hold as somewhat of a reductionist bible - Creation: Life and How to Make it. Both have lead me to believe in the brain as a reducible and essentially electro-mechanical structure. I don't see how such a structure can operate outside of causal loops - it is built from them and reliant on them for operations.
I am not suggesting that the physiology of the brain operates outside causal chains. This captures the problem of the mind rather well though. The essence of my point is that why should we expect that the 'will', which is not seen in the deterministic parts, to follow causal chains? Will is a higher level function of the parts and not a property of the individual parts themselves. We certainly need more information on the brain.


de_budding;78830 wrote:
Conversely, I understand that I feel free - especially in my own mind; in myself. But, then again, some days I feel a slave to my emotions and it all seems so obvious: I am not in control; how I react to situations and decisions is predetermined by my life experience which, in turn, has attuned my emotions and informed my decisions and preferences.

When asked to choose between peas and carrots my decision is informed by my preference which is informed by my life experience of eating. Add to that the traumatizing childhood experience I had with a giant carrot which, ever since, has prevented me from being in the same room as a carrot. Alas, it seems the decision between peas and carrots is made for me already.

Regards,
Dan
I see will as operating at a higher level than emotions. I am looking at a mandarin on my desk. Now if the mind is causal how can I think the mandarin is purple? How can I say out loud that my mandarin is square if my will is bound by causal chains? I can think about picking it up and my body wont react. It is my will that forces my body to react, not my thinking about it. It is that which is the will. Not past experiences, past preferences, but this seemingly higher level function of my brain. This higher level process is not found in any parts and I do not think it can be easily restricted by its parts.
 
de budding
 
Reply Thu 23 Jul, 2009 03:54 am
@validity,
'Will is a higher level function of the parts and not a property of the individual parts themselves. We certainly need more information on the brain.'

Biological systems like the brain are bottom up systems, so, yes, I see consciousness and the will as properties of the mind resulting from evolutionary development. Is it perhaps that you don't see the will as a mental operation as such?

Also, regarding the mandarin, is it not true that you would not have questioned yourself and not thought of it as purple and square if I had not, as a environmental contributory factor, pushed you to it with questioning. I cornered you into so to speak.

Perhaps you could indulge me more and explain what you definition of will/free-will is and how you see this becoming a higher level function.

I think the causal operations of our brains have become so complex that they seeming step outside of cause and effect... it is seems like chaos but it is just very, very complex mathematics. No what I mean?

Regards,
Dan.
 
pagan
 
Reply Thu 23 Jul, 2009 11:51 am
@de budding,
Free will is a tricky subject for those of us compelled to say yes! I think at first that anyone who believes we do have free will is often reacting to the implied consequences of we dont..... ie we are squashy machines reacting to input and producing output.

The problem with objecting to this is that the consequences of free will are often a reaction to input! Ie we feel we choose by some means other than just mechanical/biological reaction at times. Sometimes we do indeed respond without thinking as in protecting ourselves from immediate physical danger. But free will is supposed to be something extra.

So what is the mechanism outside internal 'programming' that adds free will? Perhaps the trojan horse here is in the seduction of the word mechanism implied in the fear of such a complete reductionist perspective in the first place. Ie The problem is accentuated by inventing an extra mechanism, because that only elevates the reductionist criticism to another realm. It seems to offer no escape. In particular, free will by believers is couched in the language of 'cause/effect' such that free will was the cause
 
validity
 
Reply Thu 23 Jul, 2009 05:16 pm
@de budding,
de_budding;78951 wrote:
Biological systems like the brain are bottom up systems, so, yes, I see consciousness and the will as properties of the mind resulting from evolutionary development. Is it perhaps that you don't see the will as a mental operation as such?
I do see the will as a mental operation. I see it as a higher level operation than consciousness though.

de_budding;78951 wrote:
Also, regarding the mandarin, is it not true that you would not have questioned yourself and not thought of it as purple and square if I had not, as a environmental contributory factor, pushed you to it with questioning. I cornered you into so to speak.
There is no way for you to prove that now. Why not try it again but design it so that you can prove it.

de_budding;78951 wrote:
Perhaps you could indulge me more and explain what you definition of will/free-will is and how you see this becoming a higher level function.
Post hypnotic suggestion can disable free will and not disable the conscious experience of having what is thought of being free will. To me this means that free will is higher than consciousness as it can be removed without toppling the entire stack, so to speak.

de_budding;78951 wrote:
I think the causal operations of our brains have become so complex that they seeming step outside of cause and effect... it is seems like chaos but it is just very, very complex mathematics. No what I mean?

Regards,
Dan.
Yes I know what you mean. Great complexity can arise from simple algorithms.
 
de budding
 
Reply Fri 24 Jul, 2009 11:37 am
@pagan,
pagan;79022 wrote:
Free will is a tricky subject for those of us compelled to say yes! I think at first that anyone who believes we do have free will is often reacting to the implied consequences of we dont..... ie we are squashy machines reacting to input and producing output.

The problem with objecting to this is that the consequences of free will are often a reaction to input! Ie we feel we choose by some means other than just mechanical/biological reaction at times. Sometimes we do indeed respond without thinking as in protecting ourselves from immediate physical danger. But free will is supposed to be something extra.

So what is the mechanism outside internal 'programming' that adds free will? Perhaps the trojan horse here is in the seduction of the word mechanism implied in the fear of such a complete reductionist perspective in the first place. Ie The problem is accentuated by inventing an extra mechanism, because that only elevates the reductionist criticism to another realm. It seems to offer no escape. In particular, free will by believers is couched in the language of 'cause/effect' such that free will was the cause


Thanks for that succinct overview which makes more sense than any discussion I've had on the subject; has helped as lot.

So why do people not like the reductionist idea that free will doesn't exist? It doesn't change the way we feel or are? It also means we can choose to operate proactive, doing things which may increase our palette of choice. In scouts we called this 'being prepared'.

I also find that developments in quantum mechanics change very little about the human experience of cause and effect, which after all is simply our sens of time; our experience of time. Reading David Hume's 'An inquiry into human understanding' I was quite convinced that cause and effect will always be essential to us as a mechanism for understanding how things work and for learning in general. Unless quantum mechanics can drastically change our perception of how the mind operates, or anything - a clock for example - I don't think it makes a whole lot of difference.

Regards,
Dan.
 
MrEnigma
 
Reply Fri 24 Jul, 2009 01:20 pm
@DasTrnegras,
This is a very interesting concept. You mentioned:

Free will is relative to the perspective of the person choosing.

I was under the impression that Free Will was the choice of a individual that could not be determined by a physical or divine force.

Now, if I understand you correctly and correct me if I mis-interpret; but you are saying that the choice that an individual makes depends on their past choices and habits and the person making the prediction would have to have knowledge along in regards to this person's behaviour? Is this Free Will or just a test of the person's behaviour? Could this actually be a test to Free Will if a divine force could not determine a person's habit the from the difinition that I gave earlier?

It seems to me that Free Will is something that can't be measurable or tested. What if I decide not to accept either box. Does this apply?
 
de budding
 
Reply Sat 25 Jul, 2009 04:19 am
@DasTrnegras,
'Is free will just a test of [a] person's behavior?'

Yes, and whether or not they have their own independent influence over it; whether they can or cannot act outside of their own experience.

In essence, if our behavior (our choices and decisions) conformed to some pattern, albeit an extremely chaotic and complex pattern, then some divine figure could watch our lives up to a point and then predict our next choice. We would then, surely, have no free will.

However, I question: If we did adhere to patterns of behavior each individual would have his own unique pattern which would be tantamount to his soul/character, it would be shaped by every experience and decision thus far and to predict such a pattern you would have to watch with great intent the entirety of an individuals life... If such a pattern exists it would be far to complex for us to ever fathom, so why would it matter?

Our behavior must have evolved from more simple predictable behaviors, like the chirp of a chick when it sees the food-promising red of its mummy's beak looming over it, and so it must be that our behavior is still be causally dependant - that is pattern adhering. I can't seem to see past this principle idea.

Dan.

Dan.
 
pagan
 
Reply Mon 27 Jul, 2009 03:25 pm
@de budding,
Hi dan Smile

de_budding;79343 wrote:

So why do people not like the reductionist idea that free will doesn't exist? It doesn't change the way we feel or are? It also means we can choose to operate proactive, doing things which may increase our palette of choice. In scouts we called this 'being prepared'.


Well it depends i suppose whether the reductionism goes to the point of theoretical determinism.

Pragmatic indeterminism isnt really good enough for some of us who feel that free will is essential to being a life form with actual choice. If the history of a life is theoretically determined than that takes away the magic ingredient. Choice from temporarily fixed states of being, albeit ones that have evolved from other fixed states is just choice by present delusion of not being a squashy robot. I realise that fixed states evolving is a contradiction, but i hope you get what i mean. At least any evolution of that kind would be 'bitty' rather than continuous. e.g. Even computer programmes can evolve, but they are still finite bits of electronic operations. Paralellism doen't help much either (multi narratives) because there would always be a determined response when they come together.

Free will is intrinsically linked to the present, even though desires, fears, experience and memory come into play.
Quote:


I also find that developments in quantum mechanics change very little about the human experience of cause and effect, which after all is simply our sens of time; our experience of time. Reading David Hume's 'An inquiry into human understanding' I was quite convinced that cause and effect will always be essential to us as a mechanism for understanding how things work and for learning in general. Unless quantum mechanics can drastically change our perception of how the mind operates, or anything - a clock for example - I don't think it makes a whole lot of difference.
Well what IS the human experience of cause and effect? That is the key point here..... and we dont know the answer. While it is true that the introduction of quantum mechanics into how we understand our minds would make a difference, it isnt the only possibility. Emergence of new forms and dynamics with say complexity of living systems is another. After all from a scientific point of view, quantum mechanics emerged as a radically new narrative on cause and effect when looking at the small scale. Why not something else emerging when looking at a new kind of frontier........ namely biological complexity.

In fact in the context of the preservation of the kind of free will i and others prefer, it would have to be the case that such a new scientific narrative of understanding would add a challenge to the limits of reductionism as a useful narrative ........ or at least profoundly modify its interpretation. As quantum mechanics has done in its own way.

For me there are times when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts........... reductionist parts and otherwise.
 
manored
 
Reply Tue 28 Jul, 2009 02:37 pm
@pagan,
To me, all deciders are computers on a lower or higher level of complexity, and "free will" is an measure of how much the decider "cares" for the object wich will act. So, A person acts with more free will then it acts of by a decision made by itself than then it acts due to a determination of its boss, and a robot receiving decisions from a computer withing itself has more free will than one receiving these decisions from an outside computer. Basically, that wich is the supporting pillar of the highest decider has free will.

I think I just use the word with a different meaning, because I refuted the "magical" side of free will long ago, but the concept is still usable =) A big simplification is that necromancers have free will and their zoombies do not. But off course I will end up using the other meaning too on this thread =)

DasTränegras;77077 wrote:

It means that the best option in all cases is to take both boxes. In fact, given any rational being that has come to this same conclusion, it is obvious that they will pick option B. In all cases, we can conclusively prove that a person seeking the best option WILL take both boxes.
I disagree, the rational being would also take in account what we are especting him to decide. The best option is A because the rational being would predict that we will chose A because we know that he will bet correctly. Chosing both would be a mistake because he would have predicted this and we would leave with a lot less money.

DasTränegras;77077 wrote:

So... does free will exist? The truth is, not only are our predictions based on limited knowledge, but so are our choices. It seems to me that we can observe that the more knowledge a prediction artist has, the more likely they can predict the actions of others. But it doesn't stop there, because a predicter with perfect knowledge can still be wrong if the chooser doesn't have perfect knowledge.
I disagree, if the predicter has perfect knowledge, he also knows what the chooser doesnt knows, and thus knows perfectly what he will chose. I personally dont believe its possible to have perfect knowledge though.

de_budding;79343 wrote:
So why do people not like the reductionist idea that free will doesn't exist? It doesn't change the way we feel or are? It also means we can choose to operate proactive, doing things which may increase our palette of choice. In scouts we called this 'being prepared'.
People dont like it because it reduces their power and relevance in the world. Even if we still dont know what a person will do because we dont have all the information about what their brain and even if we had couldnt handle it fast enough, stating that this is possible if we have the 2 elements mentioned makes people less relevant, for something predictible has less relevance and power than something that is not. Animals, in most part, never had the advantage of being considered with "free will", and thus taking away free will pulls us closer to animals.
 
prothero
 
Reply Tue 28 Jul, 2009 08:22 pm
@DasTrnegras,
I think most of us realize and accept that our "will" is constrained by inumerable factors: the laws of physics, our prior experiences, conditioned reflex, etc.Thus in many respects our "will" is not "free".

Non the less the common sense notion of "free will", is the ability to choose from among availabe alternative courses of action and therefore the acceptance of a degree of responsiblity for our actions and choices.

In the process of living we all make the assumption that we have "free will" of this nature. Even those who deny free will in "theory" exercise it in "living" and in their interactions with other people. It is difficult to see what the pragmatic or utilitarian value of denying "free will" is, except perhaps as an excuse for our own bad behavior. The mere act of engaging in discussion indicates a belief in the ability to change our own or someone elses mind.

In addition there is no reason on the basis of available evidence to think that this type of "free will" is excluded by a scientific understanding of the world. Mechanistic determinism had its brief moment between Newton and Einstein and every since the universe seems to be one more of ordered possiblity than of deterministic predictability. The difference between no freedom and a little freedom is all the difference in the world.
 
 

 
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