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Joined: June 10th, 2010, 7:23 pm
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I was wondering how many people here believe in free will and how many believe our actions are deterministic? And do you think it makes any difference?

Even though I've been religious, I think I've always doubted free will. I think our actions and decisions are probably predictable if enough of the contributing factors are known (which they couldn't possibly be, of course). This was a problem for me in believing in divine judgment, but now I'm pretty comfortable with the idea. Just wondered if this was a typical view among humanists or not.

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June 20th, 2010, 2:27 pm
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I tend to think that there are only a limited number of, broad, "types" of people - "stereotypes" being obvious examples of these. Go to a golf club bar on a busy day and you can spot them. They are the very stuff of casting in plays and films.

If this is so there is possibly a genetic component in our behaviour, and that behaviour may determine our path through life. So, for most of our race it is probably a deterministic fate we face.

There will be those who break the patterns under stress or illness (including mental illness) who seem to plot their own path - but that usually turns out to be an "antisocial" or "asocial" one - the eccentrics, the berserkers etc.

I like to think that I make my own decisions, but then they turn out to have a limited scope; I am too short, too fat, not bright enough etc. etc., all things that may have a genetic component.

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June 20th, 2010, 6:22 pm
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It's a fascinating area, Wrestler. You'll find proponents of both ideas here :)
I like to think free will is more than just a concept, but something we can grasp if we have the gumption to do so. It's our life so we make the choices. In some ways it can be seen as a cop-out to say "I have no choice. All is determined". If all was determined I'm absolutely sure my life wouldn't be as it is now :wink: Of course our genes and experiences make our choices more complicated than they may otherwise be, but if our well thought through choices are working to create a life which is good and harmonious that's surely a more positive attitude than not bothering to think at all as there's nowt we can do about it.

It may be an illusion. So I don't know if there is free will, but I live my life under that assumption. That's where I feel comfortable enough to grow...


June 20th, 2010, 9:14 pm
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Quote:
Wrestler
I think I've always doubted free will.
How can you doubt free will?
I had the free will to decide I was going to get married (I did) I then had the free will to decide if I was going to add to this already overpopulated planet (I chose not to) I had the free will to decide to spend out my life on a remote Island (I chose to do that) etc, etc.
Do you think all these things were "predestined" Or do you think I have free will?
If you think they were predestined (and so no free will) Please explain.

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June 20th, 2010, 10:32 pm
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I think "free will" describes something we experience, something we feel. It is no more or less real, no more or less imagined, than love, or hate, or happiness, or sorrow. I also believe that everything we do (allowing for a certain unknown level of true randomness) is determined, not just genetically, and by the circumstances of our birth, but by everything that happens to us from conception onwards. I don't think that means that we have no choice in what we do, or that our futures are mapped out in advance. Determined does not mean predestined. It doesn't even mean predetermined. The world is so complex and so chaotic that the particular combination of events that lead to any one human action cannot possibly be predicted. It just means that every action we take, every choice we make, is caused, by things other than our selves (allowing for that element of true randomness). I don't think that we have a self that is separate from our biological characteristics and our experiences, something that can somehow rise above all the things that make us who we are or that impinge on us in any way, and make decisions that have nothing to do with those things.

Emma


June 20th, 2010, 10:58 pm
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The religious leaders most certainly believe in the existence of free will.

They know that if it is allowed to flourish, then the preachers, priests, and popes will see their power and income fade away.

They know full well that their continued existence depends on controlling peoples' minds.

Their principal tactic is "catch 'em young".

They shamelessly indulge in the evil business of infecting the impressionable minds of children, to render them incapable of excercising free will.

They aim to make it self-perpetuating; infected parents infecting their offspring.

They have the nerve to claim the moral high ground!

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June 21st, 2010, 12:23 pm
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Alan C. wrote:
Quote:
Wrestler
I think I've always doubted free will.
How can you doubt free will?
I had the free will to decide I was going to get married (I did) I then had the free will to decide if I was going to add to this already overpopulated planet (I chose not to) I had the free will to decide to spend out my life on a remote Island (I chose to do that) etc, etc.
Do you think all these things were "predestined" Or do you think I have free will?
If you think they were predestined (and so no free will) Please explain.

I think our choices are determined by factors such as our personality, our experiences, biological factors affecting our mood etc. I think if all these factors were known, a person's behaviour would be predictable in principle (but not in practice). Many chaotic systems - think butterfly flapping its wings in China causing a tornado in Brazil - are deterministic, meaning they could be predicted exactly if enough detail is put into the model. I'm not sure about the human mind but I have always tended to think it is deterministic.

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
I don't think that we have a self that is separate from our biological characteristics and our experiences, something that can somehow rise above all the things that make us who we are or that impinge on us in any way, and make decisions that have nothing to do with those things.

Yes, that expresses my view pretty well!

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June 21st, 2010, 5:29 pm
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Life presents us all with a vast number of choices, where we excercise free will.

We can imagine many more situations which are beyond realistic achievement.

There will also be some choices which are denied us [or made difficult] by our own mindset.

There are millions of people who cannot totally obliterate the fear [implanted at a tender age] of eternal hellfire.

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June 21st, 2010, 6:58 pm
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Or, peterangus, putting it another way:
Quote:
Life presents us all with a vast number of choices, where we excercise free will.

or

Life presents us with a vast number of choices that we will select according to our mindset, partially set by out genes and partially by our experience of life - there are limits to those choices.

Quote:
We can imagine many more situations which are beyond realistic achievement.

or

We can imagine many more situations but are constrained to succeeding only those that are within our inherent capabilities.

Quote:
There will also be some choices which are denied us [or made difficult] by our own mindset.

or

We can learn new skills for challenges new to our experience but again, only within our inherent capabilities.


Now, is there a difference between "inherent" and "pre-determined"?

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June 21st, 2010, 8:44 pm
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New to the forum. We'll see how it goes in resurrecting an old thread.

Obvious to me that there's no such thing as true free will. Each decision we make could be predicted if we had all the data as to neuronal configuration in the brain, chemical concentration throughout the brain, electrical charges in the brain, and so on - and the mental firepower to put it all together. Of course we don't, and there are quantum uncertainties to deal with, and maybe 1000 years from now it will still be impossible for man and computer to calculate it all accurately, but theoretically it is possible, and if God exists, he should be able to figure it out to a high degree of accuracy. If there is true free will, then there must be some supernatural quality we have where we make decisions outside the confines of our brains - and most of us on this forum don't believe in a soul or anything like it.

But of course we have free will in every meaningful way. We can decide to go left or go right. So theoretically there's no free will, but in practice there is.


November 12th, 2010, 10:28 pm
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A more interesting question is whether anyone is really responsible for what they do. Someone who grows up in a ghetto high crime environment is much more likely to go into a life of crime himself and more likely to commit murder than the average. But then take the example of a young man from a wealthy family who kills his girlfriend out of jealousy. Our first thought would be that the inner city kid is less responsible for his crime than the rich kid, because of their environments. We might be more inclined to give the poor kid a break. But in both cases the young men arrived at a brain state that directed them to commit murder, and in both cases in one sense their brain states were beyond their control. This assumes that our brains assume their configurations as a result of our genetics and our environments. In the absence of a soul, what else could affect our brains - our intelligence, our prejudices, our interests, our violent tendencies, our mental defects - except for genetics and environments?

My conclusion from all this is that the only logical approach is to disregard environmental factors as an excuse for crime. Punish according to the criminal act alone.


November 12th, 2010, 10:37 pm
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You don't say where in the world you are Wilson but in a welfare state such as the UK there is no excuse for criminality.
Quote:
If there is true free will, then there must be some supernatural quality we have where we make decisions outside the confines of our brains
There is no such thing as "supernatural" So I don't even understand that remark, care to elaborate?

Welcome to the forum by the way, although you could have had the courtesy to introduce yourself.
Ah well.

Am I right in thinking you are not resident in the UK?

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November 12th, 2010, 11:27 pm
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Alan, thanks for the welcome. Didn't know that introductions were expected.

Hi, I'm Wilson.

You're right. I live in California, where extenuating circumstances at trial are used in an attempt to reduce the perpetrator's sentence. I assumed it was done similarly in the UK.

My comment about the supernatural was meant as an argument against true free will - that unless each of us has an entity outside our physical selves, then each decision we make is the product strictly of how things are arranged in our brains at the moment of decision time.

But that's of no practical value as an excuse. I certainly hold people strictly responsible for what they do.


November 12th, 2010, 11:59 pm
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Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
I think "free will" describes something we experience, something we feel. It is no more or less real, no more or less imagined, than love, or hate, or happiness, or sorrow. I also believe that everything we do (allowing for a certain unknown level of true randomness) is determined, not just genetically, and by the circumstances of our birth, but by everything that happens to us from conception onwards. I don't think that means that we have no choice in what we do, or that our futures are mapped out in advance. Determined does not mean predestined. It doesn't even mean predetermined. The world is so complex and so chaotic that the particular combination of events that lead to any one human action cannot possibly be predicted. It just means that every action we take, every choice we make, is caused, by things other than our selves (allowing for that element of true randomness). I don't think that we have a self that is separate from our biological characteristics and our experiences, something that can somehow rise above all the things that make us who we are or that impinge on us in any way, and make decisions that have nothing to do with those things.

Emma
I agree with your view of the self and its free will, but will quibble about "determined" and "predetermined". If each effect has a prior cause, the factors in a particular decision I make, whether "free" or not, will be temporally prior to it and themselves caused by other prior factors; so I would have thought that "determined" must in fact mean "predetermined". About predictability (given that this refers to a possible human action of forecasting), even in principle, I am not so sure, since "even" weather systems seem nowadays to be accepted as so complex as to be in principle unpredictable.


November 13th, 2010, 9:29 am
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Wilson wrote:
A more interesting question is whether anyone is really responsible for what they do. Someone who grows up in a ghetto high crime environment is much more likely to go into a life of crime himself and more likely to commit murder than the average. But then take the example of a young man from a wealthy family who kills his girlfriend out of jealousy. Our first thought would be that the inner city kid is less responsible for his crime than the rich kid, because of their environments. We might be more inclined to give the poor kid a break. But in both cases the young men arrived at a brain state that directed them to commit murder, and in both cases in one sense their brain states were beyond their control. This assumes that our brains assume their configurations as a result of our genetics and our environments. In the absence of a soul, what else could affect our brains - our intelligence, our prejudices, our interests, our violent tendencies, our mental defects - except for genetics and environments?

My conclusion from all this is that the only logical approach is to disregard environmental factors as an excuse for crime. Punish according to the criminal act alone.

don't agree - we know, for instance, that sexually abused people are much more likely to become abusers themselves because they become habituated to this type of behaviour as the norm, so I think some attention does have to be paid to background during sentencing. On your argument, you would presumably punish even people who are clearly mentally ill?


November 13th, 2010, 9:36 am
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animist wrote:
don't agree - we know, for instance, that sexually abused people are much more likely to become abusers themselves because they become habituated to this type of behaviour as the norm, so I think some attention does have to be paid to background during sentencing. On your argument, you would presumably punish even people who are clearly mentally ill?


Someone who was sexually abused and becomes a sexual abuser is, at this point in time, just as dangerous to others as someone who became a sexual abuser even though he wasn't abused. And the abuser who was not sexually abused got that way because of his genetics and environmental experiences, both of which were beyond his control, just as with the abused person. Naturally we feel more sympathy for the abuser who has a more straightforward explanation for how he got that way, but it was a catastrophe for the other guy as well. In neither case should society excuse their actions. Both could be considered victims of bad genetic and environmental luck; both should be punished; both should be locked up away from potential victims.

The term "mental illness" covers a lot of sins. Someone who isn't in touch with reality obviously needs medical treatment and might have a better prognosis in terms of futurecrime if he stays on his medications. But how about somebody who is a malignant sociopath - that is, someone who has no capacity for empathy and is a career criminal. He could be considered mentally ill, but we have to protect ourselves against him by incarceration.


November 13th, 2010, 8:01 pm
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animist wrote:
I agree with your view of the self and its free will, but will quibble about "determined" and "predetermined". If each effect has a prior cause, the factors in a particular decision I make, whether "free" or not, will be temporally prior to it and themselves caused by other prior factors; so I would have thought that "determined" must in fact mean "predetermined".
Hmm. Well, as I understand it, "predetermined" means something like decided or fixed or mapped out or, at the very least, known in advance. It implies some kind of designer or planner or agent of some kind that did the deciding or fixing or mapping out, or at the very least some kind of hypothetical observer or computer, perhaps, capable of knowing what all the factors are that are going to lead ultimately to a particular event and how they are going to combine to do so. It requires either planning or prediction.
animist wrote:
About predictability (given that this refers to a possible human action of forecasting), even in principle, I am not so sure, since "even" weather systems seem nowadays to be accepted as so complex as to be in principle unpredictable.
Well, exactly. And if we look at the complexity of human lives, the way they interact with each other and with other biological entities and with natural phenomena like weather systems and with quasi-random events like the toss of a coin or the throw of a die or the biological equivalent thereof, then we're talking about things that are clearly unpredictable in principle. And I'd have thought we were talking about a level of unpredictability that makes something like predicting the outcome of the toss of a coin or the throw of a die look like child's play. And that's without thinking about the possibility of true randomness, at the quantum level, and what effect that might have on things. But then, of course, we would have quasi-determinism, rather than determinism. Image

Emma


November 14th, 2010, 12:41 am
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Wilson wrote:
animist wrote:
don't agree - we know, for instance, that sexually abused people are much more likely to become abusers themselves because they become habituated to this type of behaviour as the norm, so I think some attention does have to be paid to background during sentencing. On your argument, you would presumably punish even people who are clearly mentally ill?


Someone who was sexually abused and becomes a sexual abuser is, at this point in time, just as dangerous to others as someone who became a sexual abuser even though he wasn't abused. And the abuser who was not sexually abused got that way because of his genetics and environmental experiences, both of which were beyond his control, just as with the abused person. Naturally we feel more sympathy for the abuser who has a more straightforward explanation for how he got that way, but it was a catastrophe for the other guy as well. In neither case should society excuse their actions. Both could be considered victims of bad genetic and environmental luck; both should be punished; both should be locked up away from potential victims.

The term "mental illness" covers a lot of sins. Someone who isn't in touch with reality obviously needs medical treatment and might have a better prognosis in terms of futurecrime if he stays on his medications. But how about somebody who is a malignant sociopath - that is, someone who has no capacity for empathy and is a career criminal. He could be considered mentally ill, but we have to protect ourselves against him by incarceration.

The sociopaths - I am not sure that these people do count as mentally ill in the sense that schizophrenics, suffererers from bipolar or pathological depression etc clearly do; I think they are a problem for psychiatrists as far as classification. As far as people who are mentally ill are concerned (and I think that your phase "a multitude of sins" is unfortunate) I am not suggesting that perpetrators of serious crimes, whatever their mental condition, be left alone to commit more, so in that sense I agree with you: they need treatment and possible restraint. But this thread is about free will, and surely you would agree that people who are diagnosed as suffering from some clinically recognised condition are less "free" than you or me. I think you confuse the issue when you insist that all people are equally the product of their environment and heredity (and thus somehow equally "victims"); this is almost a tautology, and Emma's post on what determinism means is a sensible statement of the freedom/determinism problem, IMO. And on the practical level, a main purpose of judicial punishment is deterrence; but you cannot deter a person who is pathologically conditioned towards a particular behaviour in the same way that you - possibly - can someone less committed to it. You are also possibly ignoring the fact that reform is one of the principles of sentencing, and it would be reasonable to think that those who have indeed suffered from an abusive or deprived upbringing are more likely to be reformed than someone from a privileged background.


November 14th, 2010, 1:29 am
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Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:
I agree with your view of the self and its free will, but will quibble about "determined" and "predetermined". If each effect has a prior cause, the factors in a particular decision I make, whether "free" or not, will be temporally prior to it and themselves caused by other prior factors; so I would have thought that "determined" must in fact mean "predetermined".
Hmm. Well, as I understand it, "predetermined" means something like decided or fixed or mapped out or, at the very least, known in advance. It implies some kind of designer or planner or agent of some kind that did the deciding or fixing or mapping out, or at the very least some kind of hypothetical observer or computer, perhaps, capable of knowing what all the factors are that are going to lead ultimately to a particular event and how they are going to combine to do so. It requires either planning or prediction.
animist wrote:
About predictability (given that this refers to a possible human action of forecasting), even in principle, I am not so sure, since "even" weather systems seem nowadays to be accepted as so complex as to be in principle unpredictable.
Well, exactly. And if we look at the complexity of human lives, the way they interact with each other and with other biological entities and with natural phenomena like weather systems and with quasi-random events like the toss of a coin or the throw of a die or the biological equivalent thereof, then we're talking about things that are clearly unpredictable in principle. And I'd have thought we were talking about a level of unpredictability that makes something like predicting the outcome of the toss of a coin or the throw of a die look like child's play. And that's without thinking about the possibility of true randomness, at the quantum level, and what effect that might have on things. But then, of course, we would have quasi-determinism, rather than determinism. Image

Emma

to me "predetermined" doesn't imply planning, maybe predictability in principle, whatever the latter means; I can only repeat what I said before, that I can't quite see what "determined" means, if you are talking about causation, without some connotation of temporality, and that is all I mean by "predetermined". I know that randomness obtains at the subatomic level (Heisenberg and all that, which I assume is what you mean by the quantum level) but am not sure that the complexity of things like weather systems or flipping a coin is the same phenomenon; maybe it is simply that our computer models are not powerful enough to do this at present. However, I must admit that, just checking on wikipaedia about weather prediction, it does seem definite that weather systems are "chaotic" and that chaos theory and the "butterfly effect" make exact prediction impossible "in principle". This to me puts the whole idea of determinism (whether we call it predeterminism or not) into confusion!


November 14th, 2010, 1:49 am
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Alan C. wrote:
Quote:
Wrestler
I think I've always doubted free will.
How can you doubt free will?


Assuming you accept philosophical naturalism, a better question to ask would be: "what makes you think you have 'free will'?"

The Universe is an automaton. We are part of the Universe. Therefore, we have no free will.* End of story.

* Compatibilism is a load of mealy-mouthed rubbish.


January 30th, 2011, 6:46 am
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