Comment of the Day

Yay!  Albert the Abstainer is back!

Real free will is illusionary. Don’t believe me, try controlling
your thoughts or dreams. The state we occupy is continuously changing
in response to being a physical part of a physical universe. Our
complexity not withstanding, emergent states are not within our ability
to anticipate and control. We are not independent or even partially
independent of the universe in which we reside. Hence, no free will.

We do, however, a strong subjective sense of being an independent
free agent, such that all but the most dogmatic of deterministics
behave as though real free will existed.

So there is your paradox of the day.

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  • Isn’t this the distinction that was being drawn in yesterday’s quoted comment? That we do not have _unlimited_ free will because we are limited finite beings, but that our day to day decisions are not purely the result of the deterministic mechanics of our environment? Given the holes that quantum physics has poked through deterministic mechanics, this is hardly a paradox.
    There seems to be no debate that the freedom of our will is limited. The debate seems to be whether we have a will at all. If our will is not free in any sense, then it is no will at all. It is merely a frustrated collection of desires and needs which are trapped inside an impotent consciousness, completely at the whim of either the mechanical universe of the whim of an all powerful deity, which is a little creepy.
    But again, I’m still waiting for clarification from yesterday’s quote, so I may be misunderstanding.

  • Perhaps I’m thick, but I don’t see the paradox in the quote. What I read is a strong deterministic statement, coupled with a phenomenalistic account of a false sense of free will. I paraphrase but what I read is this: “We ain’t got free will, but you think you do.” Am I missing something?

  • The more we discover about the way the brain works, the harder it is to believe in free will at all…the interesting component to this is how this knowledge affects our notion of punishment, consequences, etc.

  • Makeesha, are you referring to the idea that because our thoughts are nothing more than electro-chemical events within the brain tissue we have no control over them? Or something else.

  • I realize that all of these comments are made by people smarter then I. But, I still have to think I have free will within the bounds of my natural existence, or at least that is what I believe I find myself prevented from doing something I want to do. I think the great thinkers that are posting here are over thinking the concept a little too much. I would have to agree with Erik Leafblad, that the idea must be I that I think I have free will, but apparently I don’t. I just can’t come to full agreement with that. I want a coke one day, I have a coke, I want a pepsi the other day I have a pepsi. Seems like free will to me. Now if I went after a coke and ended up with 7-Up, then I would question my free will. I am possibly over simplifying it, but then I dropped out of intro to philosophy twice too, so I tend to be dense on such subjects.

  • Dennis

    You’re right, however using the word “paradox” sounds cool and smart.

  • Your Name

    Ah, Brian said what I said in the earlier entry about science.
    Even determinists practice free will when they decide what they want on their pizzas.

  • Even if we can consent to a theoretical determinism as the comment posted here does, human beings still have a functional free will. Humans must make decisions that have real consequences in the fabric of reality and experience. So the issue of whether or not this is an illusion is really quite meaningless in the long-run. My question is so what? Going this abstract on the issue lends theology and philosophy to anemic irrelevancy.
    People are still going to die because they have no healthcare, can’t get a job, are at the whims of a political despot, are going to be raped and murdered, are going to be addicted to drugs, and have serious mental problems they cannot fix by themselves. Lives that are at the mercy of such hard conditions are as close to determined as we can get because they have no functional choices in many cases. That’s what matters and that’s the ball that we should should be following rather than this sort of angels on the head of a pin nonsense. The issue is that we need to make a distinction between the substantive determinism in the referenced comment and functional determinism which creates tangible limits on human experience.
    We know, without any doubt really, that humans have a functional free will (we make decisions internally based largely on the relationship of cost to reward in a given social frame). We also know that there are conditions that mitigate the salience of that functional free will (the cost and reward are determined for you externally without any opportunity to choose for one’s self). That’s the more pragmatic and necessary question. The chemicals in my brain are not determining that now are they? Even if they were, I would not know it so it is pointless to speculate.

  • Jeebus Freak

    Exactly. If an illusion is inescapable and mitigates every facet of our lives, then it’s not an illusion. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck…

  • Ken Haynes

    OK- sorry about this – I am sure this has been asked somewhere but is there an RSS Feed for Google reader for this blog. I see one for McKnights but do not see one for this one.
    Tony- keep up the great writing….come back and see us in Birmingham !

  • Daniel King

    “We do, however, [have] a strong subjective sense of being an independent free agent, such that all but the most dogmatic of deterministics behave as though real free will existed.”
    Because we sense being independent free agents we act as though free will exists (when in fact it does not). The exception to this are a special breed comprising the most dogmatic of determinists who *behave* as if real free will does *not* exist.
    How does one behave in such a way? Since free will is illusionary (as you have shown) then I am eager to know how one might behave in accordance. How does one become a dogmatic determinist so as to avoid the behavior of acting as if free will exists?

  • Albert the Abstainer

    Daniel, thanks for adding the word I missed. (I hate that once the submit button is hit, there is no way to edit the message. C’est la vie.)
    In answer to your question: Being shaped by the unfolding of events will result in a particular present. It is not a matter of conforming or attempting to conform to a deterministic philosophy. Your state necessarily changes, be it towards or away from a dogmatic philosophical position, and there is nothing to be done about it.
    What we do have, and in my experience it is precious, is a temporal existence, a place in the unfolding tapestry which is both necessary and contingent. I do not know what my state will be 5 minutes from now, and I do not know whether I will still be alive 5 minutes from now. That awareness is not something I own, and I may not even possess myself, but I experience the awe of it none the less. It as though I were to say, “Not my will, (since I have no will), but thine.” And that to my mind is the essence of faith, joy, wonder and awe. It is in the not-knowing and the process of experiencing that I am alive and greet the mystery that expresses through the universe. That the changes to my state are not mine to make does not bother me one way or the other. That I am not a permanent form and have no independent existence is not a cause of angst, but of comfort. I am blessed to be, to have a place in it, and to be inextricably bound to the universe and whatever lies at its root.

  • Elucidation requests for words or phrases used in preceding post and quoted comment:
    Real free will:
    free will:
    Could you please expand on the whys of each of these individually?
    “…a place in the unfolding tapestry which is necessary:
    “…a place in the unfolding tapestry which is contingent:

  • Albert the Abstainer

    Real free will: An ability to choose alternatives such that the possibility of an alternative action is real and not the product of a particular history of preceding events.
    Free will: A state wherein a person experiences the sense of choosing to act. The state itself is real, (i.e. existent/emergent), but the action is the product of a particular history of preceding events. (In other words the actor does not have any degree of freedom. ) That requires that an act, other than the one which results, was a possible outcome. This form of free will is subjective not actual.
    State: A state is a discrete condition. A mental state is a discrete state of mind. A machine state is a discrete state, (i.e. the switch is on or the switch is off.)
    ” a place in the unfolding tapestry which is necessary and contingent” – the universe unfolds moment to moment changing with the passing of time. I am a member of the set and process that is the universe. My existence is necessary by the fact that I exist. My existence is contingent in that it requires a particular history, (i.e. another history could have occurred such that I do not exist.)