Sunday, January 29, 2006

On Free Will

[Y]ou should prevent your beliefs about how things are from being contaminated by how you wish they were. --Paul Graham
I find that the sensation of myself as an ego inside a bag of skin is really a hallucination. --Alan Watts


I've been thinking a lot about the notion of free will lately, which may have started in an email discussion I had with Orthoprax. Then, via Atheist Ethicist, I came across Denying Big God and the Little God: The Next Step for Atheists? It makes the following difficult point:

In atheist circles it's conventional wisdom to doubt god's existence on empirical grounds: there's no good evidence that such a being exists, so we don't waste time believing in it. But there'’s an equally suspect, supernatural entity that often lurks at the heart of commonsense ideas about human nature: the freely willing self.

We have, it is widely believed, the power to think, choose, and act in some crucial respect independently of those causal factors that create us as persons, and that surround us each moment of our lives. Unlike anything else in nature, human beings have a special contra-causal freedom to cause things to happen without themselves being fully caused in turn.

Sound familiar? It should, for such causally privileged freedom is a characteristic of god -- the uncaused causer, the prime mover, who acts without himself being at the effect of anything. The assumption of free will, so widespread in our culture, in effect sets us up as supernatural little gods, and it'’s this assumption that a thorough-going naturalism upsets. We should doubt the little god of free will on the very same grounds that atheists doubt the big god of traditional religions: there's no evidence for it.

Just as science has radically altered our view of cosmic reality, replacing the static earth-centered heavens with the Big Bang, and supernatural human origins with Darwinian evolution, so too it replaces the soul with the fully physical person, shaped in its entirety by the complex interaction of genetics and environment. Rapidly accumulating evidence from biology, evolutionary psychology, and cognitive neuroscience suggests we are not causal exceptions to nature. There is no categorically mental agent or soul-essence floating above the brain which can exert a choice-making power that's independent of neural processes. There's nothing supernatural or causally privileged inside the head, just as there's nothing supernatural outside it.


I've resisted this idea for a long time for two reasons: (1) it seems intuitively that we have free will and (2) I found it disturbing to consider that I in fact don't have it. But intuition is often wrong, particularly when considering things which are at different scales from the normal human environment, whether we're considering the long time scale of evolution, the vast distance of space, or the counterintuitive workings of sub-atomic particles. And, as I'm always chiding theists who believe in God because of the perceived negative consequences of disbelief (ahem), I believe we must have the courage to face the truth however difficult it may be or we're just wasting our time here.

Evidence Against Free Will


At this time, though, I must for now accept that we have no free will as it's commonly understood. The only evidence for it is our unreliable intuition, and there is considerable evidence against it once you assume that the mind arises solely out of the brain. First, the brain is physical and as such, according to all the physics we now know, is either mechanistic (unlikely) or probabilistic. Neither choice allows for the kind of "small god" that free will implies. Second, there have been some scientific experiments which suggest that we come to believe we are choosing consciously after we've already reached a decision. In a famous experiment by Benjamin Libet, it was shown that the unconscious part of the brain begins to show activity that a decision was made to perform an action before the person is aware of a desire to perform the action. This seems to rule out conscious free will. (Libet allows for a reduced version of free will by saying that the consciousness retains veto power up until shortly before the action is taken. However, I don't find that line of argument very convincing.) In another experiment, Alvaro Pascual-Leone discovered that we can affect which hand a person chooses "randomly" by stimulating different hemispheres of the brain with a magnetic field. Nevertheless, the people believed they were freely choosing.

Morality Without Free Will


Much as theists like to argue that there can be no morality without God, people first react to the absence of free will with a similar argument: "If we are not free to choose, how can we be held responsible for our actions?" Alonzo Fyfe (the Atheist Ethicist) deals with this question in his entry, Morality and Free Will. As I mostly agree with him, I'll refer you there.

Personhood Without Free Will


The bigger concern for me is our very personhood. Can it be that at this moment I literally have no choice but to type these words? That if I decide to stop, I didn't really "decide" to stop? If I'm just a machine and not a "small god," why bother living? This really troubled me.

But then I realized that I was still assuming too many facts not in evidence. What is this "I" we speak of? Even without the sticky question of free will, the "I" in an atheistic (or Buddhist, I guess) universe is pretty much an illusion. I was introduced to this idea years ago, when I was still a wavering theist, by the Buddhist and Eastern Philosophy scholar Alan Watts's book The Book (On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are). He writes:
We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms- Most of us have the sensation that "I myself" is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body--a center which "confronts an "external" world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. "I came into this world." "You must face reality." "The conquest of nature."

This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not "come into" this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean "waves," the universe "peoples." Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated "egos" inside bags of skin.


For Watts and the Buddhists, the lack of self is beautiful. Since there is no boundary between me and the universe, I am the universe. What I think of as myself is simply the universe manifesting itself through me:

Underneath the superficial self, which pays attention to this and that, there is another self more really us than I. And the more you become aware of the unknown self -- if you become aware of it -- the more you realize that it is inseparably connected with everything else that is. You are a function of this total galaxy, bounded by the Milky Way, and this galaxy is a function of all other galaxies. You are that vast thing that you see far, far off with great telescopes. You look and look, and one day you are going to wake up and say, "Why, that's me!" And in knowing that, you know that you never die. You are the eternal thing that comes and goes that appears -- now as John Jones, now as Mary Smith, now as Betty Brown -- and so it goes, forever and ever and ever.


Those of us who had been believing in ourselves as little gods will have to do some mourning for our lost sense of self, but then we'll realize that we haven't lost anything since we never had it to begin with. Nothing changes but our perspective. As Alonzo writes in the comments of his post, "What will [free will] give you that you would not otherwise have? If I want a chocolate cake, I can still go get a chocolate cake."

36 comments:

David said...

>>there is considerable evidence against it once you assume that the mind arises solely out of the brain.

Why do you assume this? For one thing, it's counter-intuitive and I don't see what the advantage is. What has science demonstrated that convinces you?

Jewish Atheist said...

When people damage their brains, their minds change. When people use drugs, their minds change. When people think, we can observe different areas of the brain lighting up with MRIs. There's no evidence whatsoever for the supernatural.

I'm not saying I can prove it, but given the evidence, that's what I currently believe.

CyberKitten said...

I think the concept of causation is a HUGE red herring. First we have the asumption that every event has a cause, which in itself was caused and so on back to the Big Bang (which was caused by...?).

Which means that every minute action of every atom in the whole Universe was set in motion by the Big Bang. But what does that actually tell us? Not much - and what little it does tell us is basically misleading. The idea that if you knew the location of every particle in the 'Verse at any particular moment you could predict everything in the future was blown out of the water (big style) by Quantum Mechanics. It is impossible (at least as far as we understand things) to know everything about anything. How then can we talk about causation?

Stephen (aka Q) said...

JA:
This is a very interesting post. It isn't the first time I've encountered the idea, but obviously it is very counter-intuitive and it's very difficult to think through its implications. So I can't provide anything but a very superficial response — it's something I will have to reflect on for some while to make any headway.

My immediate reaction is to take you up on this comment:

Can it be that at this moment I literally have no choice but to type these words?

I'd like to push you a little further. You think you have chosen to be an atheist based on the evidence. Now you are at least flirting with the idea that you have no self, again because you think that's the conclusion that the evidence points to.

But what's all this bullshit about following the evidence? You aren't doing anything of the sort. Your decision not to believe in God and my decision to believe in God are equally determined by the workings of the cosmos. Evidence has nothing to do with it.

Are you prepared to agree with that statement? If not, how can you disagree without once again affirming that you have a free self?

asher said...

These arguements have been around for some time. If God knows all that we're going to do, how, in fact, can we have free will?

Issac Batsheva Singer was once asked if he believed in free will.
His answer: We must believe in free will; we don't have any choice.


There is Jewish legend that I'd hate to attribute to chasidic lore but it goes like this:

All of mankind walks through life with one paper in each hand. One reads "The entire universe was created for you, and you alone" and the other reads "You are nothing but a speck of dust in this universe" This duality of purpose is the delemma we are all in.

Dan Doel said...

It should be noted that Daniel Dennett, who's about as much of a physicalist as you can get on the subject of the mind and consciousness, disagrees with Libet's interpretation of the 'unconscious decision' experiment. Essentially he argues that 'activity in the unconscious part of the brain' is ill defined; it assumes that there is some point or threshold at which something is Officially Conscious, which is itself a hold-over from the Cartesian way of looking at the mind that is so ingrained in our way of thinking. There's (as far as I know) no evidence for any kind of central seat of consciousness in the brain, so dividing the brain into conscious and unconscious, and saying that you are a passive observer of some mechanistic decision making in your unconscious, beyond your official control is arbitrary at best.

You might want to look at some of Dennett's stuff. I thought Consciousness Explained was worth reading, and it actually goes into exploring what a 'self' might be, other than a mystical, irreducible point particle in our brains, or strictly non-existent. He also has a book called Freedom Evolves that goes into various notions of free will, and which types might be possible and/or worth having (It isn't all of the 'unmoved mover' variety, and I've been told that 'nobody actually believes in the unmoved mover type of free will anyway'), although I haven't read it, so I can't say whether or not it's any good.

The Jewish Freak said...

JA: You have touched upon areas in which I feel most irrational (and that is very difficult for a rationalist skeptic to admit). I sense so strongly (in myself) the ability to choose an action, it's hard to conceive otherwise. The way I am used to thinking about this issue is analagous to the difference between Newtonian and Einsteinian physics. Einstein's is closer to the truth, but for practical purposes, we go with Newton's equations because for everyday use, they work better. Mind/body is a model that we use in order to understand human behavior, just like free will. It may be farther from the truth, but for the purposes of law and psychology, it suits our purposes.

Jewish Atheist said...

cyberkitten:

The idea that if you knew the location of every particle in the 'Verse at any particular moment you could predict everything in the future was blown out of the water (big style) by Quantum Mechanics.

Even with QM, it's still probabilistic, so I don't see how that helps with free will.

Q,

Your decision not to believe in God and my decision to believe in God are equally determined by the workings of the cosmos. Evidence has nothing to do with it.

You're right. If there is no free will, I can't argue with this. There's a huge paradox involved in even thinking about free will.

asher,

Interesting story, thanks.

Dan Doel,

Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll definitely check it out. I'm definitely new to the study of consciousness so my beliefs are pretty ill-informed right now.

The Jewish Freak,

Yeah, that is a good way to look at it. For most thinking, we have to keep acting as if we have both selves and free will.

Orthoprax said...

JA,

Ironically, it was through the apparent conclusions that I figured out following the logic of a fully mechanistic universe where I began to doubt the powers of rational thought. It certainly is still a powerful tool, but was I willing to bet my entire life's worth and moral constitution based upon my own self-acknowledged limited and easily flawed thinking?

The evidence does appear to bend one way over the other, but we are far from sure about these topics. Me seriously giving up on my sense of self in more than just an intellectual practice based on so much lack of understanding was too big of a leap for me.

I'd rather give some credence to the idea that we do not fully understand the universe and that a purely mechanistic or materialistic worldview is fundamentally flawed in some way. I don't know how exactly, but it may be in some way that allows for individuals and free will of some kind.

I keep an open mind and don't fully believe in something just because the evidence appears to lean towards it. Though I also acknowledge that in doing so I lose some of my standing to critique other non-evidential beliefs. Maybe a "big-God" of some sort also exists.

Rational thinking is great, but it is limited when you use it to examine rational thinking itself and other fundamental issues of the universe and meaningful human life.

Jewish Atheist said...

Orthoprax, I'm inclined to agree with you although I seem to think the supernatural is less likely than you do. When I say that I'm disbelieving in free will, it doesn't mean that I am 100% positive, it's just what I currently believe.

Shlomo said...

re:QM

QM blurs the boundary between matter and fields.

Observations of electron diffraction (beams of electrons in a vacuum are passed through a gold film onto the photographic plate) show that single electrons appear to act randomly, BUT when a large number have passed through the apparatus, a pattern does emerge. That pattern is proportionate, in its intensity, to their original time-space coordinates.

QM and Uncertainty, I believe, have been taken out of their context to promote free will, something that science cannot observe or test. Simply put, these ideas determine our ability to make predictions. We still face some limitations. Ok.

Even if I were to accept randomness on the subatomic level, there is full blown demonstrable determinism the rest of the way up the chain. Human behavior is also fully determined. (See B.F. Skinner's Behaviorism or A. Bandura's Reciprocal Determinism, for example.)

Free will is a mythical creation of those religious apologists who have to reconcile problems within their own belief systems. Nothing more.

Kol Tuv

CyberKitten said...

JA said: Even with QM, it's still probabilistic, so I don't see how that helps with free will.

What I was trying to get at is that the concept of Determinism (as opossed to Free Will) is deeply flawed. So, if this is the case the whole argument between Free Will & Determinism/Causality needs to be looked at again. I think its a false argument.

I also question how such concepts can be properly examined. Is it at all possible to show that we live in a purely deterministic universe? What experiments can we devise to prove Free Will?

oracle25 said...

Forgive me, but I do not understand how a person choosing one hand over the other based on electrical stimulate is any moreover an argument against free will than say... being attracted to a good looking person. In essence, both are reactions to stimulate in the brain. So, the question becomes not which hand he would be more inclined to use, but rather, "could he use the other hand if he wanted too?".

Furthermore, if you follow this logic far enough, as JA pointed out, you start getting into predestination, I'm interested to know how that sits with atheists.

Sadie Lou said...

You might think this is going to sound like more Christian chatter but popular belief among Christians is that you serve one of two masters:
Sin/self
or
God/righteousness

If I serve myself I am selfish
if i serve God--the possibilities for righteousness are endless.
I serve to serve instead of serve to gain; in a nutshell.
and since I use the term serve, that is to say I am a slave. I have no choice. I am a slave to sin with no choice but to indulge myself or a slave to Him with no choice but to keep pursuing righteousness....

Shlomo said...

There may also be confusion between free will and consciousness. The two are not mutaully inclusive.

Free will as a concept is not about making choices, but being able to make choice based upon nothing more than the ability to make a choice. Any and all other influences on that choice are meaningless.

We would be surprised at how many unconscious choices we actually make or at how many unseen, be not unfelt subconscious and hormonal influences play a role in our conscious effort ot choose. To view will as simply a matter of choice is shallow; we should be hunting down the root cause of the choice.

Determinism says that your state of being is the sum total of actions, thoughts, tastes, genetics, social status, intelligence, etc., and how they, through you, interact with and process the world around you.

If I choose a free will scenario then habit and repetition mean absolutely zilch in human behavior. So a man who murders 100 times is not any more likely to murder again than one who has never murdered.

www.determinism.com ......good web site related to Determinism.

Shlomo said...

Predestination assumes there is an end in mind. Determinism is a statement about the process. Two different things.

If something is predestined, then no matter what I do to change it, it will happen. Some call this fatalism. In determinism, everything I do has an effect, large or small that may or may not follow my desired outcome, but something changes everytime I do anything.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

This is about how deep I want to get on Free Will. Here is the definition in Wikipedia: Free will is the philosophical doctrine that holds that our choices are ultimately up to ourselves.

Ok. I am walking in the woods lost and I come to a fork in the road. To the left is a sign that says danger, but I see no danger, and I see what looks to me like a sign of civilization in the distance. To the right there is no sign, and the path looks like it has been used more.

Of course, I will choose the path to the right based on the fact I don't take too many chances regarding my life. But a daredevil type may choose either path based on his life experiences up until that time.

Lets say I have a twisted ankle. I may choose the left side because I see civilization near the end of it, but it still may be a spontaneous choice of danger versus how quickly I can get back to civilization.

What we do is based on some predertermination (nature) but nurture (our life experiences)is a huge element in what we choose.

When it comes to small decisions, I am sure that free will takes a back seat to instinct. And instinct may take over in really dangerous situations. But whenever we don't make a snap decision, free will is definitely a fact. Our decision about relationships and jobs and educational paths are definite examples of free will. Sure there is external pressure that influences our decisions, but we are the ones who ultimately make those decisions.
A great example of Free Will is holding back from arguing with my wife. I have to make a conscious decision not to many times to avoid aggravation.
I have a feeling I'm missing the point of your article though JA.

Hrafnkel said...

I have a few problems with determinism (not least of which is the coincidence that it would seem the viewpoint most copasetic to the existence of an omniscient being, not the "luxury of free will".) Firstly, I think it is interesting to note that material determinism is a bunk idea due to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Not to say that this necessarily caries over to philosophical realms, but interesting nonetheless. My second qualm is the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc Fallacy (After this, therefore because of this). It seems that the vast majority of deterministic arguments commit this fallacy when they assume that merely because of the history preceding a current decision occurred, that the current decision must be what it will be because of the history.

oracle25 said...

It's an interesting problem. Personally I believe there is a balance of human free will and divine predestination, which we cannot understand because we are confined to this three dimensional existence where such things are not possible. But the God I serve has no such restrictions, and so it is completely possible for him.

Orthoprax said...

JA,

"Orthoprax, I'm inclined to agree with you although I seem to think the supernatural is less likely than you do."

I don't believe in supernaturalism, what I consider a distinct possibility is that the surface existence which we think is the whole of the natural world is actually just the surface.

"When I say that I'm disbelieving in free will, it doesn't mean that I am 100% positive, it's just what I currently believe."

What people seem to miss over and over again is that the debate over Free Will is not just a statement over whether we are in fact free or not but that its logical conclusions hold very profound results in terms of how we then think about our own lives.

If we are not free, then morality has no meaning. How can we charge an individual responsible for an action which he ultimately had no control over?

How can we be proud in our success or dismayed in our failures if we had really no conscious part in their happening?

How can you even pretend that your rational philosophizing had any real effect on your present opinions if you truly had no choice but to make them?

In what way do we exist as individuals if there is effectively nobody running the show behind our eyeballs? We become just sacks of memories building up experiences which are eventually deleted when we die. Of what value is even human life?

Can you imagine the ennui and inertia and unmitigated depression that would result in society if these items were truly accepted and understood?

Jewish Atheist said...

Now Orthoprax, you know that appealing to consequences is a logical fallacy.

This post was supposed to be about the idea that maybe the consequences aren't so bad. The moral issue was dealt with by the post I linked to and the Buddhist view deals with the concept of self. I don't think I did a very good job of it, though. My thoughts on this matter are still very much works in progress.

Still, I think we must take what is most likely true as our philosophical starting point and work from there. Otherwise it's just an exercise in mental masturbation.

e-kvetcher said...

I think one of the frustrating aspects of such a discussion, at least for me, is the realization that we are really just at the initial stages of understanding how the mind works. It may take centuries of research to get us to the level where we can explain certain phenomena. I wonder if this is why some of these things seem like paradoxes and conundrums to us. We just don't have enough knowledge to cut the Gordian knot.

Just as an example, one of the things I learned recently was the fact that oxytocin, the hormone that causes the induction of labor in mammals, is also responsible for the bonding of the mother to the newborn. If the hormone production is interfered with, the mother will not form an attachment to her child, and if left to her devices will abandon it. So something that would be looked upon as an immoral act can be reduced to an endocrinological problem.

The hardest part for me is to accept that fact that some discussions can not be advanced until we gain this knowledge, because like most people, I'd like to think that the power of my intellect is strong enough to overcome the lack of understanding. This doesn't mean that I am advocating abandoning further investigation; I'm just advocating the self-awareness to wait until the data is in before we speculate on the conclusions.

Orthoprax said...

JA,

"Now Orthoprax, you know that appealing to consequences is a logical fallacy."

Of course it is, but it may also be a real life fallacy to seriously consider undermining your entire life based on so incomplete evidence and faith in the powers of your own mind.

If you want to rid your philosophical views of all scraps of non-rationalistic beliefs you should consider the very inherent view that you believe your own mind and philosophical views are so rational to begin with. Hmm?

You are a creature with a significant emotional characteristic with a clear potential for belieiving untrue things, as is evidenced by many of your fellow humans. You are one who does not even fully understand how or why his mind works or what it even means to be "conscious." Why are you so sure of your own conclusions?

Something to think about.

"Still, I think we must take what is most likely true as our philosophical starting point and work from there. Otherwise it's just an exercise in mental masturbation."

"Most likely" based on what exactly? Admittedly incomplete and inconclusive evidence. I think I need something much more conclusive before I start breaking up my own constitution and the bedrock of human society as we know it.

dbs said...

One point which is very important, regardless of your philosophical orientation, is that our subconscious has far more influence on our actions than we are aware. I still don’t think that this negates the idea of free will – it just means that truly directing our ‘will’ requires much effort, practice and self-awareness.

Now for that chocolate cake.

Jewish Atheist said...

Orthoprax,

You admitted that the evidence leans against free will. In fact, you convinced me of it. :) That's all I'm saying. I'm not running around undermining my life or civilization; I'm just trying to come up with an (informal) philosophy that makes sense if it's true.

I think that the lack of a single point consciousness in the brain is enough to make the whole question moot anyway. If there's no self, there's certainly no free will. How the parallel processes in our brain cause a consciousness to emerge is a fascinating topic in itself which we really can't comprehend at this point.

You're right that we don't understand it at all, but I'm not willing to throw out our best estimate of the truth just because I don't like it's consequences. I'd rather try to understand the consequences in a better way. E.g., a new way of looking at morality, a new way of looking at ourselves, and a new way of looking at chocolate cake.

Orthoprax said...

JA,

"You admitted that the evidence leans against free will. In fact, you convinced me of it. :)"

I know...I tend to do this. Now is hardly the first time. I make a solid argument for something, convince someone of it and then when the other person brings it up I then see how far I can break it down. See, I'm hardly sure about anything. More than any other philosophical school, I am skeptic. I'm even skeptical of myself.

One can look at the universe a million ways, but we have precious little evidence to come to any truly conclusive understanding of the world. At this stage, all we really can do is consider the possibilities.

Jewish Atheist said...

I try to be the same way, Orthoprax.

Laura said...

Late to the party again? Oh well.

There are those who are not theists who might also argue that free will does not exist. Not because we are controlled by some spiritual higher power, but because our actions, thoughts and deeds are controlled by a higher social power. We think we have free will, but really we're responding in ways we have been socialized to respond. Does the boy toddler reach for the dumptruck over the dolly because he is enacting free will to choose? Or has he been picking up on subtle social cues that tell him which is appropriate?

Tough question really.

Shlomo said...

Laura is right on.

We not only imagine it for ourselves, we project it onto others. How many times have you seen soneone do something either criminal, cruel, or stupid and say to yourself "He could have done better!" You'd be right. He 'could' have done better, but he didn't,there is a reason why he didn't, and also underlying reasons why you won't either.

Nature and Nurture have no choice in them. You do not choose your genetics or your primary social contacts as a child. Those are chosen for you, not by you. As an adult, if you apply some self awareness and cognition, you begin to make real choices based upon thinking things through properly.

Spinoza calls this self-determination through adequate ideas, and it represents the height of our ability to free ourselves from natural and social constraints.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

You do not choose your genetics or your primary social contacts as a child.

This is self-evidently true. And I quite agree that our biology and our socialization erect boundaries around the possibilities that subsequently exist for us.

The question is, do I have free will within the circumscribed zone of possibilities that are actually open to me? I can't will myself to become a star in the National Hockey League, for example — genetics worked against me on that dream. But I can choose to play hockey in the local pick-up league if I want to do so. Or maybe I'll choose to have a weekly movie outing instead.

As long as I am free to choose between the options which are actually open to me — given my human limitations — then I have free will. It's free will within a circumscribed zone of actual possibilities, but it's still free will.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

I should add that the "circumscribed zone" I have in mind includes some of the most important choices we ever make: who to marry and whether to have children, for example.

Socialization limits who is a possible candidate for marriage (for example, I'm not likely to marry royalty) but nonetheless I insist that I have some choice in the matter.

Shlomo said...

Q,

Exactly correct! But it's not free will in the way that a philosopher would use free will. Spinoza makes that distinction by using 'self-determination' to denote the conscious, reasoned, and rational choices we make.

Not every person is self-determined either. Spinoza divides knowledge into two parts, opinion and adequate idea. This is the same distinction that was made by the later Stoics. In short, your level of self determination or freedom is based on self awareness and rational knowledge of the world.

It isn't just knowing that makes one self determined, but the power of the influence. Every drug addict knows clearly that drugs abuse will kill him, but the overriding emotional and sometimes physical drive for the drug overpowers his rational understanding.
He has the choice to stop, but he also has the choice to continue and the choice is directly determined by the power of either choice. It's not magic.

Laura said...

Q said: "do I have free will within the circumscribed zone of possibilities that are actually open to me?"

That's another problem with free-will. If we are, for example, socialized by our educational system to see the world in a particular way (meritocratic and capitalist for example) then the 'possibilities' we are able to imagine are limited to those within that particular world view. So is that really a free choice?

I agree with you guys on very specific behaviors (i.e., committing murder). But for more broad choices, such as whether to have children, it's tougher to discern free will from social coercion. I mean, even now, my choice not to have children is questioned by those around me. Not that long ago, people "chose" to have children not because they thought about the realm of possible choices, but because that was what was expected.

Russel Trojan said...

If we eliminate free will, then we must also eliminate truth. If we are mechanistic or even probablistic then we are always manifesting the sum of our inputs. It that is the case, then we are merely part of the whole system and have no way of knowing that our conclusions are consistent with the rest of the system. Our thoughts and actions merely exists and have not affectual relationship to anything outside ourself. The elimination of free will eliminates abstract reality.

My that's depressing.

Ken B. said...

Yes, our actions are fully by our "inputs". But look at it empirically. We ARE capable of thinking, observing, behaving morally, being productive and happy. None of which rely, theoretically or practically, on the existence of free will.

Ken

Ken B. said...

I meant to say "our actions are fully caused by our "inputs".

K.B.