Debate: Free Will V. Determinism
A topic anyone who mingles here will no doubt have experience with, I ask you to revisit this battleground to hash out your argument for free will, determinism, or the crossbreeds thereof (if you are going to go with one of the lesser known hybrids/independents, please define it for those who are not away of its stance).
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I’m not sure about determinism, but I’m fairly sure there is no such thing as free will. If there was total free will, we would at an instant be able to do what we want, travel wherever, IMMEDIATELY. Right now I may want to fly to the moon, but obviously I can’t. So even if there is free will, it is LIMITED to a certain extent. I feel safe in saying there is no such things as true free will…..well on this Earth/life right now. When you talk about dreams and metaphysical stuff etc… it gets a bit murky…
@ijesuschrist, I don’t believe the seemingly randomness of quantum mechanics precludes the universe from being deterministic.
1) It depends on your definition/view of determinism. If you define determinism as the ability to predict what happens given perfect knowledge of the causes (as you seem to), then yes, determinism and the randomness of quantum theory are hard to justify (though not impossible, as I’ll address in point 2 lol). That said, if you view determinism simply as the lack of free will and the idea that when all is said and done, every effect is an uncontrollable result of previous causes, than determinism is 100% compatible with quantum mechanics. Under this definition, the ability to predict the outcome is not a prerequisite for determinism. The outcome itself is moot, the fact that the probabilities exist in exact measurable (theoretically of course) amounts is enough to say determinism exists.
In essence, randomness doesn’t make determinism impossible, it just makes it unpredictable. Some may say this isn’t determinism at all, but imo that is just semantics. The essence of the debate is control (free will) vs lack of control (determinism), and the existence of true randomness in quantum mechanics certainly doesn’t point one way or the other.
2) Even if you require the ability to predict any given outcome, I don’t think quantum mechanics necessarily precludes this either… Our current understanding of the quantum world is elementary at best, and what may seem like random probabilities now may simply just be too complex for us to understand. There is a possibility that quantum randomness isn’t actually random at all, which would change the entire argument lol.
Either way, I think the conversation is a very interesting one simply because of the number of ways the debate can be approached. For me personally, I am fascinated by the studies of the human brain that have shown evidence that neurons begin firing to do something before people become consciously aware they have made a choice. The implication being that “free will” isn’t a cause, it is an effect. Our sense of free will is simply the story we tell ourselves for something genetically (or biologically, or whatever) our body has already started doing. I think to myself “I decided to raise my hand because I know the answer to this question”, but before I ever had that thought to raise my hand, my brain had already begun firing and sending the message to raise my hand. So if it wasn’t my thought that caused my hand to raise (since it happened after the process started), what was it? And what in turn was my thought?
It’s sort of like the question, where do thoughts/ideas come from? What causes an idea to come to me, am I really the creator of these brilliant ideas, or am I merely the observer? Are we in control of our brains, or are we merely observing life while pretending to be in control?
If it’s pure determinism, from the moment of the big bang, the entire future of the universe was already set in course and predicted. How could it be any other way if this is purely the case? Chemicals bounce off one another and sometimes stick together. Leading to the formation of gases and stars, and then eventually to life forms. Chemicals keep reacting and that’s what eventually led to us. From this standpoints, our thoughts and opinions are made from purely the chemicals our brains are made of mixing and firing off neurons. For there to be free will, there would have to be something that exists outside of matter that is a part of us. I’m starting to think there is, so I think that free will exists, but it is not absolute.
Sorry just thought of this as well.. but isn’t my thought that something outside of matter exists that enables us to have free will just a pre-determined thought, already planned out by the reactions of chemicals? If you understand why it’s not, then you have free will. And the understanding is beyond intellectual description or thinking. So you can think you understand, but if all you have is an intellectual understanding, then you aren’t actually exercising free will at all.
for a second I thought Will V. Determinism was a person in jail or something…
I feel like some things in the universe pre-determined.. mainly because of math and physics.. but I also believe a conscious being can change things a bit. too late to get into it so ill get back to this tomorrow.
@mikeyw829, what if there is a determining force that carries an awareness and can choose to exercise that power in the case of circumstance?
What if we are scripting our lives and there exists an authority to overwrite and extend the script into tour futures if it chooses, but seamlessly and in such a way that we could never know for sure which measures of our life are meant.
From a purely logical standpoint, the world appears to be Deterministic. People act based on reason, which is developed by their experiences and interactions with their environment all the way as far back as birth, up until the present moment. Every aspect of a person’s personality and tendencies are determined by their circumstances and how they have affected them, including any genetic predispositions they might have been born with. The very structure of your own body is part of the circumstance in which your life is determined. Any not to be oversimplified, this is far from black-and-white. You can’t look at somebody’s life and state definitively how one particular aspect of circumstance caused them to act in one particular way. It’s beyond our understanding, at a chemical, physical, psychological level, why certain things might cause certain reactions. But as far as we can tell, it is a “mechanical” operation, completely Determined.
However, it is in these intricate details that, though beyond the reach of modern science, we pretend to understand anyway. That is why it is easy to cast away the idea of Free Will in favor of Determinism. But I believe this is the very setting where Free Will and Determinism become compatible. There is an undeniable, “spiritual,” “metaphysical,” element to the physical reality of our universe. Though mainstream science is extremely hesitant to credit any of the growing research, the studies are undeniable.
One such study that is particular relevant, I believe, is the observation that so-called “random number generating” computers, which are usually measured to be certifiably random in distribution of numbers, somehow cease to be perfectly random at the time of certain cataclysmic events, such as the collapse of the Twin Towers. This could possibly be due to the intense emotion felt during such events, or the outpouring of prayer and meditation, or simply the concentrated awareness and thoughts, but it shows a clear aspect of physical reality which modern science hasn’t even begun to understand yet.
These studies, along with many similarly perplexing studies in the field of Quantum Physics, lead me to believe that there is much more at play here than the mechanical, logical view of Determinism. Human will has “meta-physical” power in a manner that is impossible according to modern physics. Perhaps Free Will exists in a manner somewhat related to that fact, if that makes any sense. I don’t know.
@lytning91, isn’t that what I was saying? Sorry if I didn’t explain myself too clearly. As to the questions you’re asking.. that’s where it comes down to knowing (free will) vs. beliefs and thoughts (determination). How do you know that the questions you’re asking are true? If there is a presence outside of our awareness that is controlling everything, we wouldn’t even know it exists, we’d just believe it does. And beliefs are just that.. beliefs. They don’t really stem from anything. There is a difference knowing and beliefs. Only the individual can know for himself, but the knowing isn’t a thought or idea. So I can never prove to you that free will exists, and you could never prove it to me. Nor could I ever truly know if you BELIEVE in free will or if you KNOW free will, and you could never truly know for me either. We could probably have good ideas as to where the other person is coming from though. You can only know it yourself.
What I find to be a pretty solid case for determinism is precognition. It happens all the time to many people, deja-vu. It happens to me a lot and I can even recall the dream I had that was the situation/environment I found myself in very specifically. The weirdest one was when the dream was the night before my deja-vu experience, they don’t usually happen so close together in time.
@misssunbeam, deja-vu is the coolest. I have it pretty frequently, so long as I am doing activities outside of the house and stuff. I usually don’t have them when I am shut in at home…has to be something more involved and less predictable, surprisingly enough
Even if determinism is true, and our past does determine our future or we are “pre-programmed”, that doesn’t mean we lose our self control. Like a space probe.. we program it, but then it goes on to do it’s own thing, in a way, based on it’s environment. And even if every point on life’s path is determined by prior events and brain events, part of what makes these determined events happen is YOUR thoughts and actions.. Proving that all it is, is you making a decision (cause), and it’s outcome (effect). We’re free in deciding but not so free in what outcome this decision brings upon us. I dunno, our sense of freedom is pretty inescapable and it’s all we really need, if you wanna do something, you can do it! Nothings holding you back, not even “determinism”. Just gotta be smart and know that there are consequences to your actions.. think before ya do shit.
@lytning91, isn’t it the most amazing feeling? Every time it happens I want to grab onto that moment and savour it. I like to know that no matter what I do, I will always do exactly that which I’m meant to do. So free will or no, I’m doing what I like and it’s always the right path.
I don’t believe in determinism, some things don’t add up. I believe people are bound by their past decisions, but I believe they can “change the direction of the ship” so to speak. I also think gut feelings and spontaneous decision making are evidence of free will. I think the choice to trust your gut instinct is some sort of proof of free will. I think determinism is just easy to believe because it’s obvious people to don’t change easily.
what if our brain is a computer that is playing a through a program. everything you see think and know is set up by lines of code the computer is reading. it tells you to have so and so thoughts and feel as if you have free will. free will just being a line of code within the program that is your life as you know it. so therefore you have free will in a sense that you believe you do but in all reality it is something that is already predetermined by the code that runs you life and you are unaware of it.
well maybe they are programed to think there is more and yet there is not its just a computer code. or they may not existence. they only exist because you do, because they are in your programming. you see them as they are and see all that see because you were programed to do so. it goes back to the age old adage “i think therefore i am” you only exist because your are programmed to exist but that do not mean anything else does. it only does because its data is within your system. “its like if a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound” one would think yes, its only logical o sense nthat it would but if its not in your sight and you have no senses connected to it, then it really does not truly exist in your minds eye. But try telling tree it doesnt exist. so you see even if we know it its quite hard to grasp, because of our programing.
Either way it does not effect your life one iota. Perhaps it is like a train, the passangers can interact with whoever they want, whenever they want, but there are predetermined stations that it stops. People get on, people get off but the train terminates at the end of the line no matter what the passangers do, at the same place but the time only depends on any delays that happened to interfere with the schedule.
@staringatstars, sorry I didn’t mean to leave you hanging last night on this one.
Anyway, I’ll take it this way: we are programmed. That means there is a programmer. That means that the programmer has knowledge beyond our own such that it can tailor our perceptions and processes. They would, therefore, have to place within our heads the ability to think of a free will. If we were mechanical and self-programming, free will would not really be something we could have the ability to access. I believe the concept is too foreign when compared to the human mind, and the way of life and science. So foreign that it must have been in something else’s mind before our own. This could also be said for ‘God’ or ‘Other beings.’
what you do now affects the past, not the other way around. Most things in the physical universe are determined, this is why we can predict flight paths for sending out space probes and whatnot. We know the universe will behave a certain way given current conditions, this allows us to make very accurate predictions (science)
however, i think consciousness and free will are immaterial things that are emergent properties of life/matter are are thus not subject to determinism of physical laws
Quantum mechanics instantly shows us that there is no determinism, there is no way to possibly predict anything, therefore the universe is not “determined” as far as we know, all things are just probabilities.
This gives way for the possibility of free-will, but for free will to manifest from probabilities is incredibly hard to comprehend. I can’t understand how the two could be related, but I have a feeling it is possible.
The problem with Rick’s conclusion is that in order to have free-will you cannot have determinism. Determinism is then limited to certain things, and your accuracy will continually get worse, the more accurate you attempt to be (as freewill will increasingly affect your predictions)
But the real argument against free-will / determinism is that :
Determinism requires we can predict everything, if given enough information. Free-will would then tell us that not all things can be predicted perfectly, because free-will will have an effect on the physics of certain occurences. Here is where the problem lies; how can free will affect physical objects? It would require energy in order to change an orbit, or a flight of an airplane, and we all know that we cannot just create energy from nothing.
This is solved by quantum probabilities – that is, we can account for disturbances in our predictions by accounting for the quantum world having probabilities of states, or actions. This would then limit consciousness to some kind of tie to probabilities in the quantum world.
There is one really good example I came up with (I believe, anyways) to illustrate how sketchy this subject is:
Imagine a super computer that is so good it can predict everything that happens on earth with great accuracy, it even takes into account its own’ affects (perhaps a paradox arises here, I’m not sure). The computer predicts your death. Do you still die from the same causes, the same way? I don’t think so, at least you’d have the choice not to.
@ijesuschrist, yeah the flouting argument (not the actual name), if you haven’t heard it before.
-B will choose a card, black or red, to show A
-A knows everything there is to know about B
-A can, therefore, predict what B will pick
-A makes a prediction, but B can always choose to do the opposite to flout A’s guess.
It’s something to that effect and you can try to search it if you like.
Who is to say some higher being such as god did not create everything and like an experiment it played out well. Who is to say he did not create the earth and life and he set it so that creatures would evolve. he could have set up certain parameters and with that the ball was sent rolling. So free will could exist in a world created by another if the experiment functions. The being may have set the ball rolling, or the earth spinning, but ultimately left it alone to observe and we have had free reign over this world only limited by the parameters set, but those parameters are just the functions of the earth and weather and so on. so just the basic of our own lifes that we except as science anyway.
@staringatstars, no one is to say and I think this is around the thing that myself and another user were discussing towards the middle of the first page.
I believe I phrased it as our lives being a script that the free-will-possessing God had the option of overwriting when he saw fit, such that our lives would seem seamlessly determined until we were made aware of a change in the plan
Because it is difficult to predict things does not mean that determinism does not exist. If I think that simply because something happens it was meant to happen, regardless of how good or bad we think it is. This does not really affect your choices because tommorow you can decide to jump out of a plane and then jump out of a plane, this happens because it was meant to. If you decide to jump out of a plane but don’t then it wasn’t meant to happen.
The point is you can live your life any way you want, and it doesn’t always work out how you want, but in the end you have lived your life exactly how it was meant to be lived.
@alljuicedup, As you have stated, you see randomness exists in the universe.
How can you then exclude free-will?
“seem like random probabilities now may simply just be too complex for us to understand.”
The thing with quantum mechanics is the situations are very, very simple. Electron is in area “A”. Based on classical physics, and all that we know, we can never tell if it will jump to area “B”, or if it will stay in area “A”. There is a 30% chance it will leave to area “B” but there is absolutely no way to tie this probability to any other physical characteristic of the particle. That we know of.
“Are we in control of our brains, or are we merely observing life while pretending to be in control?”
Yes that is the question.
And as I have given in an example before, say determinism holds true, even with the probabilities faced in quantum mechanics. Well that would mean that if a very large computer were to predict your death, you would have absolutely no say about it, for the computer took into account all of your neuron’s, all of the world’s events, and even it’s own existence in displaying this to you.
Would you still die the same way?
Of course not, unless you really wanted to.
Interesting. Death is certain. I imagine free will as self-configuring/programming our own thoughts, with manual management of our personality and being completely insane, and willing to be unpredictable. The point is, whatever you believe is true in philosophy, is going to have an opposite truth about it and they’ll both co-exist. Imagining what a subject is capable by learning its history, could lead to surprises and that’s why there are never-ending researches of cause and effect and maybe even explains the theory of evolution. Not making absolute sense and making sense of something nonsensical is a good explanation, although only logical in a world of paradox. – I am not quite sure what I said, but I have an idea.
Times there are a’ changin’! And not much.
I think this is one of the most interesting subjects today because of the amount of uncertainty science gives us in respect to the relation of object-observer.
I think that the universe is essentialy a deterministic system, that is to say; Each event will (according to cause and effect) Determine the situation/environment of the next event, and in greater or lesser way the nature of the event.
But we, as beings who are capable of releasing energy to alter a current situation, we can determine the direction in wich the determinate system will unfold.
Imagine a huge ball, who is pushed from point A to point B, If there is nothing in his way it will arrive at B without any trouble, but if along this way something touches the ball only slightly on the side, it will miss point B and will set course for point C and then the proces can happen again.
So what I think is that there is definately an escaton built in to this universe, but how and when and through wich means is up to its sentient inhabitants.
and the fun thing with quantum physics is that now it seems that things cannot exist without an observer, so the possibility of the universe not existing in the ‘old way’ becomes slowly evident
@ijesuschrist, I can’t exclude free will based on quantum randomness, I was simply stating it is not an argument for free will… it is not an argument for or against either side, that was my only point, that it doesn’t disprove determinism.
As for your computer program example, you say that in a deterministic existence, if a large computer were to take into account every possible variable (including the computers own existence) and predict my death, and I was made aware of this prediction, that I then wouldn’t die the same way… why not? It seems like a leap of faith to say that, does it not? Especially considering the truth is that it’s a scenario so bizarre, you (or I, or people much smarter than us) couldn’t possibly say what would happen. To rule out life wouldn’t continue to play out exactly as the computer states is foolish though.
While on the “computer simulation” topic, here’s a far more mind bending twist… if a powerful enough computer was built that could perform the above said task, then it stands that reality as we know it is but a computer simulation. Consider, that inside our computer that is simulating the world, another computer would be build that is simulating the world. Inside that simulation, another computer would be built that is simulating the world, and so on and so forth an infinite amount of times. It holds then, that if there are an infinite number of simulations happening that are simulating our existence, what are the odds that our reality is the top level? If such a computer is built one day, it implies that it is an almost mathematical certainty that we are but another simulation of reality that is being run, and that the “reality” running our simulation is but a simulation themselves, and so on and so forth an infinitely long amount.
Here’s a short story explaining the concept… http://qntm.org/responsibility
And for the brave, here’s an overly complicated article written in Philosophical Quarterly in 2003 by an Oxford professor making the same argument (and then some)… http://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.html
@alljuicedup, Well, my definition of determinism would be that the future is pre-determined. And with probabilities at play, for everything we know as of now, determinism just doesn’t hold water. There is no conceivable way around Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
This doesn’t prove free-will exists, but it allows for a place for it to manifest.
I think the most important thing here to realize is the definition of free-will:
There are three possibilities of an action (Correct me if I’m wrong):
Determined – i.e. 100% of the outcome will always be explained in such a way
Probability – i.e. It is determined to a set number of paths, but the path ‘choice’ is undetermined.
Complete randomness – no explanation needed.
Since any action / reaction has to fall into one of these 3 categories, for free will to exist it must be controlled by one of these situations. Bear with me I’ll try to make it more clear:
For free will to exist, we must assume that our actions are partially governed by physics, but there is the ability for the “soul / mind (what have you)” to interject and change the course of matter / energy in our reality.
Since this interjection, by definition, cannot be determined (because it is free-will) this means that, really, Free-will must be complete randomness, otherwise it would be based off something that could be determined.
So this argument really boils down to;
Does the “soul” or “mind” have some deterministic method of action/reaction
Is it completely random?
If you believe that free will is not randomness, I will argue that you have to believe it must be determined.
I feel like this is probably one of the most important concepts to this debate. What is the definition of free-will? People don’t often ask that question.
I don’t really disagree with anything you said. I agree that for free will to exist the universe would have to be random (I’ve never agreed with the people that say determinism and free will can coexist). The very essence of free will demands that something outside of the laws of this physical universe be acting upon the physical (call it a soul, whatever).
That said, I’m not sure what we’re debating, because as I originally stated in my first reply, randomness itself does not imply free will (just as saying something is a rectangle does not imply it is a square)… it simply means the conditions make free will 1 possible explanation. We appear to agree on this lol
You can still have a random universe with no free will (this would be your example #2, the probability scenario… which path something takes is based on probability, but ultimately random).
The difference of opinion again goes back to semantics… I would classify both scenario 1 and 2 and deterministic, while you see scenario 2 as something wholly different. Either way, the existence of true randomness on the quantum level does not point towards determinism or free will one way or the other (of if you’d prefer, between control and no control :) ).
But hell, nevermind free will… getting your head around that concept is relatively easy. If we agree that free will is the non physical exerting itself into the physical universe, the true essence of “random,” than what the hell is quantum randomness? What the heck is causing that? I guess that’s why even the smartest people in the world have trouble wrapping their heads around the quantum world!
The one ultimate stopper for analysis of any sort is ‘INFINITY’. When something is infinite, thinking/analysis as a goal oriented activity suddenly loses all relevancy.
If I tell you, there is an extremely complex system, if you believe that you can understand it, then you proceed to study, think, ponder, explore, question etc.
But if I tell you that there is a system that is infinitely complex, where would you start?, what would you analyze?, what beliefs are you going to have? How far would you analyze? What is the purpose of your analysis?
Its starts to get more introspective/subjective after that. Does it matter if reality was objectively based on free will or determinism beyond my beliefs about it? Aren’t the rest of the factors just stories we are telling ourselves? Is the story we tell ourselves/perception what ultimately matters?
Another issue this question reminds me of is ‘final causation’. What is the final cause of things? It’s unknown. If you ask a child ‘why does a bird have wings?’ It will say ‘To fly’. If the child gets older and studies evolution, it may come up with a longer explanation about how birds evolved into having wings, hollow bones etc. But persist with the ‘why’ question and an unknown is reached. The complicated thread of story is so tightly tied, it seems so convincing. But if you go on excavating with the ‘why’ question a final cause is not found.
As someone mentioned in the thread, who or what is the thinker of thoughts? is a conundrum. The other one is ‘Is there any real doer of actions?’.
From a purely metaphysical perspective, if there is not total free will in one’s actions then one ceases to exist and the argument becomes entirely unimportant. This would be comparable to a robot who was programed to complete a specific task and nothing else. The robot doesn’t actually have an identity, it is simply a tool, a catalyst of sorts, by which other things are accomplished.
So I haven’t read the whole thread, I’m just new here and want to talk about awesome things!
Here’s what I think; Free will is mostly an illusion, determinism is what is true, BUT we need to keep living AS THOUGH free will is a thing, because the IDEA that we can control our selves will lead to positive differences in behaviour, even if we don’t actually control those differences.
But there is a way in which admitting determinism can also help people, as articulated by Sam Harris; the same way that we do not feel rage, or prolonged bitterness or the need for vengeance if, say, our homes are destroyed by a hurricane, or if a loved one is killed by a lightning strike, so we should feel about crimes that are inflicted by other people. I think this change in perception; realising that people are ultimately as much in control of their actions as the weather is for its actions (that is to say, not at all), will lead to a lot less bitterness and hate in the world, and a lot more healthy psyches.