Thursday, March 24, 2011

Post No. 162a: Article of Interest: Do You Have Free Will? Yes, It's the Only Choice


The following article is taken from the electronic edition of the New York Times:


By JOHN TIERNEY
Published: March 21, 2011

"Suppose that Mark and Bill live in a deterministic universe. Everything that happens this morning — like Mark’s decision to wear a blue shirt, or Bill’s latest attempt to comb over his bald spot — is completely caused by whatever happened before it.

"If you recreated this universe starting with the Big Bang and let all events proceed exactly the same way until this same morning, then the blue shirt is as inevitable as the comb-over.

"Now for questions from experimental philosophers:

"1) In this deterministic universe, is it possible for a person to be fully morally responsible for his actions?

"2) This year, as he has often done in the past, Mark arranges to cheat on his taxes. Is he fully morally responsible for his actions?

"3) Bill falls in love with his secretary, and he decides that the only way to be with her is to murder his wife and three children. Before leaving on a trip, he arranges for them to be killed while he is away. Is Bill fully morally responsible for his actions?

"To a classic philosopher, these are just three versions of the same question about free will. But to the new breed of philosophers who test people’s responses to concepts like determinism, there are crucial differences, as Shaun Nichols explains in the current issue of Science....

To view the remainder of the article, click here.

19 comments:

  1. I am surprised that no one has commented yet. Perhaps they chose not to.

    "Free will" is, to me, the foundation for personal responsibility. My father would have given no leniency, however, to either of 2 and 3 but would have answered "yes" to the first. Possibly because he did not believe in a deterministic universe.

    Personally, I think we are driven by mostly internal forces. That doesn't mean that external forces have no influence but it is the internal forces which determine how we react to the external ones.


    The question then, for me, is whether "free will" is something learned and then used to control the reactions and to moderate their influence. I think it is.

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  2. Free Will is a man-made philosophical concept; DNA is not.

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  3. Also, Free Will is a term without absolute meaning. The laws of physics that govern the behaviour of matter are absolutely rigid - no freedom there.


    Do this experiment. Offer someone you know a small envelope. See how many will choose not to take it. If they say 'what's this?' Tell some lie or other.
    If almost everyone takes it, this does not mean they have no free will - it means they didn't know a decision was required!

    Thousands of actions are taken by any live person every day. Most of them are involuntary; blinking, regulating respiration, and so on. Some of these can also be taken by choice, some not.

    The other actions, especially complex ones which involve other people, are partly involuntary, partly voluntary. We don't ever know the balance of these two kinds of action. Has anyone proved otherwise?

    I am a shy person. I CANNOT be otherwise - except occasionally...

    NOTHING determines the future in detail,of a complex chaotic system. The future has not happened, therefore it cannot be known, even if it can be guessed.

    NOTHING can escape the determined laws that control the exact movement of every particle in the universe.

    Whether a child molester or rapist can 'help' what s/he does or not is of no interest to me. Secure prison is (the minimum) demanded to protect us all.

    'Deterministic Universe' is a stupid term to insert into a discussion about human nature or belief. Human behaviour or 'will' IS NOT PART of the universe.

    Look at the clouds in the sky. Absolutely every one different, changing by the millisecond. But the size and movement etc. of each droplet is absolutely determined by simple physical laws. Total chaos ruled absolutely by laws.

    Human will is like the clouds in a physical body. Constrained - and free.

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  4. I also think "free will" and "conscience" are intertwined. One does not exist without the other. And they are both constructs necessary for the existence of society.

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  5. I’m not seeking to offend, but I must be honest: I think that the whole fatalism-predestination discussion is an alluring topic for navel-gazers. For the remainder of us it is, shall we say, not a time-efficient pursuit.

    Was it predestined at the beginning of time that I write these words and post them to this blog on March 26, 2011?

    Get real.

    The Independent Cuss

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  6. Perhaps my last comment was a bit abrupt. Permit me to restate my perspective.

    The universal predestination discussion is moot, perhaps even dangerous. Let us suppose that everyone on the planet simultaneously embraced fatalism, and that they did not do so because some higher power, mystifying oracle, space aliens (whatever external influence) prompted this conceptual sea-change.

    Rather, the peoples of the world simply said in unison “Okay, you great thinkers must be right – so we quit, we give up. There is no free will, there is no God, there is no point in trying to make things better for our families, our fellow man or ourselves. We’re just going to say ‘to hell with it’ and let the chips fall -- because they’re all going to land in the same place anyway.”

    Soon thereafter, unchecked entropy and resignation take their inevitable toll and we end not with a bang, but with a long, sad whimper. Is such a scenario the result of predestination? Or simply the predictable consequence of too much focus upon an academic (and perhaps irrelevant) topic?

    As long as man is willing and able to envision multiple outcomes and then strive to attain the most desirable and noble option among them . . . why on Earth would one think it wise to discourage such a pursuit by questioning its relevance?

    Cuss

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  7. Douglas wrote:

    "I also think 'free will' and 'conscience' are intertwined. One does not exist without the other. And they are both constructs necessary for the existence of society."

    Does, for the existence of society, or the quasi-orderly management and operation of society?

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  8. From the external observers point of view, the subject has no free will.
    From the subjects point of view, she has free will.
    There is no human alive who can attain an external point of view, thus proof cannot be obtained.
    Without proof, there is only conjecture.

    As a spokesperson representing the Amalgamated Union of Philosophers, Sages,
    Luminaries and Other Professional Thinking Persons; we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!

    DNA is sorely missed.

    Thank you for the comment IC.

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  9. Sans Pantaloons:

    Thanks for stopping by and joining our forum. Free will is arguably a concept used by people who choose to use it when it suits their purposes. We miss DNA also.

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  10. The Inspector wrote:

    Does, for the existence of society, or the quasi-orderly management and operation of society?

    Which, though missing a word or two defining the subject, probably means something. My answer might be "both." Society does not exist without order. And society is a construct, man-made, devised to allow people to live and work together and progress (I know... define "progress")

    In order to move from the status of animal clans, man constructed the concept of society. This allowed stability and order so that he did not have to roam in search of food and shelter, so he could have assistance in fending off predatory animals, and so on. In order to construct a society out of a nomadic clan of mostly related humans, he had to develop something called "rules" and find a way to encourage his associated humans to follow them even when he was not around with a big club (or sharp spear). He eventually called this concept "conscience." It is that inner voice that says "Uh oh, you're breaking the rules. You will be punished." That conscience had to have a set of rules, along with a system offering reward and punishment. Let's call that "religion."

    It gets a bit more complex and there isn't enough room in a comment to fully explain 50,000 or more years of societal evolution.

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  11. Douglas - Perhaps primitive society evolved, (like walking upright instead of on all fours) because it worked, not because it was designed. Then humans became clever enough to start constructing society. I wonder where that is leading us.

    Conscience, for me, has always been an inner feeling of 'wrongness' after the act, or a 'voice' telling me not to do something contemplated. NOT from the fear of punishment, but because it was wrong. The priests love to use fear to encourage 'belief/faith', especially on chilren.

    Sorry - nothing to do with 'free will'

    The 'will' is as free as a fish in a lake.

    Cuss (Sat. 11.38)...."we give up. There is no free will, there is no God, there is no point in trying to make things better for our families'...

    I preferred your abrupt comment. Who runs their life on the basis of philosophical ideas? I KNOW there is no 'god', but it does not run my life. I KNOW there is 'free will' but it doesn't run my life either.

    SP (without pants eh?) "There is no human alive who can attain an external point of view, thus proof cannot be obtained." Can it not? Prove it!

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  12. CorfuBob wrote: "Who runs their life on the basis of philosophical ideas?"

    We suspect that most of the people who take the time to comment on this blog run their lives on the basis of philosophical ideas, at least to some extent.

    As CorfuBob intuitively and correctly observed a couple of months back, he, the Inspector, and others similarly situated in terms of thought process, have, for one reason or another, had "privileged upbringings."

    We were fortunate enough to be taught to think through our actions and about the actions of others. This results in a pattern of, or justification for, behavior. Do we have the nice, neat classifications of professional philosophers? Perhaps not; but we have thought through the propriety of certain conduct by ourselves and others, and act accordingly.

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  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  14. Corfubob, I would suggest to you that your parents used a bit of fear to install that conscience in your head. Let's call it "guilt", for lack of a better word. "Carrot and Stick" would be the best description I have for early childhood training. We also (well, most of us who aren't sociopaths) learned "actions have consequences" from those first authority figures in our lives. All part of the design. I agree wit you that "design" is a poor descriptive word in this case. It came about through trial and error, shaping itself. One might say designing itself over many, many generations.

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  15. You were partly right Douglas; my father used mild fear, AKA discipline, but did not use conversation of any kind to instruct. My mother, who strangely enough was slightly religious, used no threats of any kind, even the mildest.

    If they read any of all this they would be embarrassed. Inspector, I was thing of Philosophy rather than philosophy. But we are a fearfully small minority perhaps. There are plenty of rude names for our sort!

    Hey, I'm glad we haven't any more drivel about 'determinism'.

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  16. Corfubob, my son thinks, to this day, that he was spanked mercilessly as a child. I swatted his behind one single time. One swat as I grabbed his hand as he started to dart out into the street, a busy one. He was 4, I think. He was not spanked at any time of his young life. But the fear of it was there. I used the old "one... two..." phrase to invoke it. It worked but he often held out until I started to say "three." But I think our moral codes are "set" by the time we are 4 years old. Few of us will remember how those moral codes were established.

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  17. My father never laid a hand on me - he just used (very very few) words. One spank wouldn't create 'fear' but help to create an essential memory.(or conditioning)

    It also moderated his 'free will' What's wrong with that?

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  18. My father never laid a hand on me - he just used (very very few) words. One spank wouldn't create 'fear' but help to create an essential memory.(or conditioning)

    It also moderated his 'free will' What's wrong with that?

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  19. Douglas wrote:

    "I also think 'free will' and 'conscience' are intertwined. One does not exist without the other. And they are both constructs necessary for the existence of society."

    Does, for the existence of society, or the quasi-orderly management and operation of society?

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