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Free Will?

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Joined: 18 Jul 2005
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2005 5:31 am    Post subject: Free Will? Reply with quote

Like most people I've basically assumed that everyone has free will to chose their actions. Lately I've hit some very good arguments as to why that might not be the case. Of the best, one comes from a study of human behaviour, while the other comes from a time-travel thought experiment.

Argument 1. Basically it points out that in our own thoughts, we have the tendency to ascribe free will to our own actions but think/act as if everyone elses' actions are pre-determined.

E.g. Think of a friend that is perennially happy/cheerful/optimistic. Now imagine that they came to work one day and for no apparent reason just went berko. (Australian slang for beserk.) What questions would you ask them/yourselves while trying to calm them down?

10 to 1, they'll be along the lines of:

"What's wrong?"
"What did I say wrong?"
"Has something happened?"
"What happened to make you so angry?"

Notice that all these questions are ascribing an external cause to the person's behaviour. We're assuming that the reason for the person's behavour can be traced back to an external event, rather than a free willed conscious choice. This is a very deterministic way of looking at things.

Now imagine what we'd think if this person then quietly and politely said:

"Oh nothing's wrong, I just thought I'd exercise my free will to scream and shout and break things a bit."

Argument 2. This is taking the above observation and through a thought experiment, applying it back on ourselves.

Imagine some decision/action in your past that you'd like to change.
Now imagine that a scientist approached you and said that they had access to a time machine and could send you back to "fix" that decision/action.

However, there is a limitation to the time machine in that when it sends you back, it has to "reset" everything about you. Including your memories, beliefs and thoughts.

I.e. when you make this decison again, you will only have access to the same ideas, beliefs and memories that you had access to the first time around. Most importantly you won't remember the future consequences of your decison, both good and bad.

What do you think you would do the second time around? Is it possible for you "back then" to make a different decision to the one you made? How likely would you make a different decision?

As a final point, think of most of the time-travel or alternate-live theme movies that are out there. (Groundhog Day, StarTrek, etc.) They all have the common theme that the time-travel or alternative-live travel involves a transfer of information.

In later discussions, I'll talk about the movie Sliding Doors.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 10, 2005 6:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote


I think it is only possible to have an opinion about such a question and not a true or reliable answer.

The human mind is subject to it's own subjectiveness, viewing the world from it's own 'frame of reference' is what gives us any sense of individuality.
Should we ever have an ability to view the universe through a absolute 'frame of reference' we could be sure that what we observe and how we feel about the observations were true.

Re: Argument 1
When we go to sleep at night and dream... are we not time transported for all intents and purposes of this discussion to a very subjective time and place with even more subjective plots that we find ourselves in and live or re-live?
In our dreams we are confronted by the same problem you describe by being transported by an external machine.

Re: Argument 2
Is it at all possible to make a different decision when all variables have been reset prior to the decision making point and no foreknowledge of the outcome of the decision can be retained?
I would have to say, it is not possible to make any other decision.

In this case free will is limited in it's effect to the amount of information available and the desire to obtain a given end with the means at hand.

We would all like to change the world, none of us knows how to do that but we can change ourselves which changes the way we 'see' the world.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 10:33 am    Post subject: response Reply with quote

I would think (that) if I had no greater information or talent than the first time, any second attempt would be just as clumsy as the first.
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 22, 2005 8:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The second argument is pretty convincing. I'm not so sure about the first. I could relate though, as I actually have been in situations where I'd be kicking stuff around for the heck of it, and had people asking what was wrong. I don't see how people's reactions relate to the free will argument, though.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2006 3:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Idea In respect to both of your theories of Argument 2, wouldn't a preminition/ESP or whatever feeling you want to call it, be of help to any of our "free will" choices? In my belief, we all have that ability which comes from God or by Intellegent Design.
However, I have to agree with you K- especially with your last sentence.
I saw an interesting show about airplane accidents on the History channel and on one specific airliner (Aloha - 1985 if my memory serves me well)(the one that a third of the roof blew off @ 25,000 ft. and then they lost an engine, etc.) where upon a passenger boarding that airplane noticed a horizontal seam tear right at eye level just beyond the
entry door, but never told anyone until after the fact. The outcome was surprisingly favorable for all but one of the stuardesses.
Or how about 9/11? How many government agencies new something about those terrorists and their plans....but never acted on it.
Unfortunately, bad things happen to good people; sometimes favorable, sometimes deeply regrettable. Whatever the outcome, you must find the good that comes from any of it. Otherwise, we'd all wallow in regret.
Always be grateful for what you have... it could be alot worse.
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 14, 2006 9:24 pm    Post subject: Free Will decisions in finite time Reply with quote

We have the free will to make decisions.

If God is infinite and forever. And he created us with a finite amount of time on earth.

As it pertains to God, he already knows what our decisions are. Because he's infinite our finite decisions have happened within the infinite.

Does that make sense.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2006 4:55 pm    Post subject: Research Reply with quote


The research may point in the opposite direction to that which you argue with regards to attribution.

In the considerable literature regarding False Attribution Errors (FAE's), we tend to excuse our actions as having external causes (I had no other choice given the situation) and we attribute internal motive to the other person--they did it because they are mean, have a flawed personality, etc. (For example, we make abrupt moves on the freeway because of other drivers and the driving conditions, others make abrupt moves in front of us because they are lousy drivers, rude, etc.)

I understand the idea you are presenting, that we can only know our own consciousness, while the consciousness of the other person is inaccessible, thus we objectify others while running a subjective tape for ourselves. Nonetheless, I believe we do extrapolate conscious awareness to others and recognize their free will nature as well.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2006 5:11 pm    Post subject: Time Travel Reply with quote


Time travel, though much hyped in fiction, is probably just that--fiction. If one looks closely, the "bread loaf" model of spactime where the past, the present, and the future exist at "one time" simply is not observable. The loaf model of four dimensional spacetime is a mathematical model of an abstract spacetime that does not exist in "reality." The reification of this Minkowskian spacetime has confused a great many minds.

Try to stick your arm into the past, or your foot into the future. Try to think of a way to observe the past concurrent with the present--haven't found anyone who can do that. Thus, we can only observe the present.

This view is consistent with Quantum Theory, if postulated without an absolute space and time background. In other words, ditch Newtonian background space and time and ditch Minkowskian spacetime and arrive at a new quantum concept of time and space in which each new moment is a discrete "Now" configuration. More or less like static film frames projected to cause the illusion of motion.

In such a model, the past is always rolled up into the present, there is no sense of time having a spatial extension into the past. Every moment is simply a summing of all prior causes and conditions.

In this picture, individual free will relates to one cause point that determines the next configuration in a probabilistic sense, as it is only one input amongst billions of billions of billions of inputs.

Have you read Wheeler's Sci Am article on decoherence in QM? It hints at such a model.
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 7:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

mcgaffin, if God already knows what decisions we will make, then what is going to happen is going to happen regardless. The same would apply to psychics.

If God has seen me post this post, have one last cigarette and then go to bed by 0315, then right now, do I actually have free will in which to do so, or not to do so? Because in some reality, it's already happened.

We don't choose when we're born, we don't choose when we die,
We think we choose to be honest,
We're told we can't eat this,
We're told we can't smoke that,
We're told we can't go faster than....
or slower than...
We have to work 36-52 hours a week on average, of which around 22% of everything we earn, we never see, then the rest we need to lose to survive... and the money goes to those people who tell us what we can and can't do

Where is our free will? We are all prisoners, if we prove ourselves worthy, we can move to another prison run by another government, but we're all imprisoned and there's nothing we can do about it... IMHO
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 11, 2006 2:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Imprisonment is a state of mind. If you are looking at life that way, you are going to feel like a prisoner.
I eat what I want to eat. No one is telling me I can't. It's only a suggestion. I don't smoke, but the same rule applies to smokers.
The only thing keeping me from speeding are the drivers in front of me. Wink
And if you have a job you actually like, and look forward to being in it every day, you are not imprisoned by it. If you don't like it, then look for a new one.
We are not all imprisoned. I, for one, am not.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2006 1:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

And yet you weren't allowed to post that message without having to log in.

I agree that state of mind has a HUGE part to play, I guess in many cases, ignorance is bliss. (and I mean ignorance in the literal sense not the insulting sense)
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 10:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think a lot of replys in this post went way off on their own tangent and didn't really address the original issue.

I think it's interesting to think about and could be argued around in a circle until the day you die. I can see where both sides of the argument would come from. Such as, it can be said that I exercised free will to make this post...but is it really free will since I never would have made it if the subject was broached by somebody else? Also, what has happened in my past to influence my position and my words today?

I also think the second argument is much stronger because it sounds reasonable to say that the same person in the same situation in the same time would always make the same decision. That's impossible to prove though.

Of course, despite the fact that I've made a decision based a number of different factors...it's still MY decision that I'VE made. Nobody ever forced me to make it. Just because somebody has a bad day doesn't mean that he's gonna come home and start beating on things. He may, he may not. Two people could have the same incident happen to them and deal with it in two very different ways. It's impossible to say that a certain event caused somebody to do something rather than just influenced them.

I think the real problem is that your arguments have their own definition of free will that doesn't match with others'.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 21, 2008 2:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I just ran on this subject,sorry,but I didn't read all of your replies.

I think that,from God's point of view,we have no free will.If God 'knows' every move we're gonna make,every decision or thing we will do,how can there be 'free will'?

From our point of view,well...it's how you take it.You have the free will to do anything you want,that is suprise someone,say something,jump from a bridge,take someone's life,take your own life...Didn't made any great point out of this.

2.Argument: I think that if you take me to the past in the certain moment with the same thoughts,and same situation,how could my reaction in the moment be anything different?Only if something stops me,and let's me think for a moment,then,maybe,the things could change...
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