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Philosophy Free will - what does it mean and do we have it?

Indian Summer

Cult Leader
Administrator
I've come to believe the problem of reconciling 'free will' with determinism (or indeterminism, which is equally difficult) is not really possible with our usual understanding of what 'free will' means.

So, what do you think 'free will' means or should mean? And is it compatible with reality?
 

Andy_T

Addicted Poster
Forum Moderator
Call me a cynic, but I would guess that the people who are most arduously investigating this questions nowadays all work in marketing research...
 

Mischief

Stranger in a strange land
If we don't have at least some degree of free will, then there isn't any point to anything, IMO.
 

becky

Star Member
Free will is the ability to make choices based on the circumstances. However, choices people make are the result of past experiences, social norms, expectations and other subtle external influences.

We do have free will, but it is within a sphere of limitations that reduces our choices.
 

KLS52

Only Kindness Matters
I just typed a whole long winded post and deleted it, lol. I’m all over the place with this one. I believe in free will, to an extent. But yeah, there are too many variables. I definitely have some issues with it but it may just be my enabling personality and need to excuse certain bad behaviors because I feel like some people can’t “help” themselves. Bleeding heart, I suppose.
 

Indian Summer

Cult Leader
Administrator
If we don't have at least some degree of free will, then there isn't any point to anything, IMO.
I'm not entirely sure about that! But in any case, I think first we have to understand what free will is supposed to be.

It seems to mean we have some degree of autonomy of our mind and body. Outside factors can only determine our decisions / behaviour in a limited way. The mind - body decision system would itself surely have to be deterministic, so that we don't make random decisions, and that we carry out our decisions without randomly changing our minds afterwards. This would still compatible with an outside world with elements of randomness / indeterminism.

Then there's the question about the actual 'will': likes, dislikes, desires, wants, inclinations ... Where are they all coming from? At best, they would seem to have developed from outside influences interacting with internal factors of the mind - body that ultimately are congenital and therefore beyond my control. At worst they are entirely congenital.

So where does that leave the 'free' part of 'free will'? There seems to be precious little freedom here, that is at least my conclusion.
 

Indian Summer

Cult Leader
Administrator
Free will is the ability to make choices based on the circumstances. However, choices people make are the result of past experiences, social norms, expectations and other subtle external influences.

We do have free will, but it is within a sphere of limitations that reduces our choices.
How about the seemingly deterministic nature of the laws of nature? Everything in the universe must obey the laws of nature, so how can we have any free will at all if everything is determined?
 

Indian Summer

Cult Leader
Administrator
I definitely have some issues with it but it may just be my enabling personality and need to excuse certain bad behaviors because I feel like some people can’t “help” themselves. Bleeding heart, I suppose.
I agree that it seems wrong to blame or judge anyone for anything when one can only be blameworthy if one has free will, and yet free will doesn't seem compatible with science!
 

becky

Star Member
How about the seemingly deterministic nature of the laws of nature? Everything in the universe must obey the laws of nature, so how can we have any free will at all if everything is determined?
Humans are not laws of nature. Our bodily functions may operate on those principles, but our minds have evolved self awareness. That's a significant difference because laws of nature operate without awareness. Gravity doesn't know it exists.
 

becky

Star Member
How about the seemingly deterministic nature of the laws of nature? Everything in the universe must obey the laws of nature, so how can we have any free will at all if everything is determined?
We're all just simulations in a massive software program, so this conversation is moot...;):rolleyes:
 

Indian Summer

Cult Leader
Administrator
Humans are not laws of nature. Our bodily functions may operate on those principles, but our minds have evolved self awareness. That's a significant difference because laws of nature operate without awareness. Gravity doesn't know it exists.
Hm, I'm not sure I understand how self awareness matters? Are you suggesting minds are non-physical and operate somehow beyond the reach of the laws of nature? If so, you wouldn't be the first to do so! See mind-body dualism etcetera ....
 

Indian Summer

Cult Leader
Administrator
Well, I'll flip the question. How do the laws of nature make us all mindless automatons?
Obviously, we're not mindless automatons :) For example, as you pointed out, we do have self-awareness. Although, in one particular sense, we are still like automatons: Whatever we do, we could not have acted differently. Given the laws of nature, the current and previous physical states of the universe, whatever happens next is entirely determined. And while the future is (thankfully!) much too complex to predict, it is still determined in the manner I explained. (This view is called physical determinism.)

(And before you interject "but quantum mechanics!": I'm telling you those people are misguided! There is a difference between apparent randomness and true randomness. In Einstein's words, God doesn't play dice with the universe! And even if Einstein is wrong and quanta do behave somewhat randomly, how does randomness help the case for free will!? Free will is stuck between a rock and a hard place, between determinism on the one hand and indeterminism on the other.)
 

becky

Star Member
Obviously, we're not mindless automatons :) For example, as you pointed out, we do have self-awareness. Although, in one particular sense, we are still like automatons: Whatever we do, we could not have acted differently. Given the laws of nature, the current and previous physical states of the universe, whatever happens next is entirely determined. And while the future is (thankfully!) much too complex to predict, it is still determined in the manner I explained. (This view is called physical determinism.)

(And before you interject "but quantum mechanics!": I'm telling you those people are misguided! There is a difference between apparent randomness and true randomness. In Einstein's words, God doesn't play dice with the universe! And even if Einstein is wrong and quanta do behave somewhat randomly, how does randomness help the case for free will!? Free will is stuck between a rock and a hard place, between determinism on the one hand and indeterminism on the other.)
"Whatever we do, we could not have acted differently" is one of those cleverly worded statements that drives the false narrative that any and all actions we take are fixed by nature. But it's deceptive, because of course every action/decision we take is how we are going to act. But that is not what free will is... Free will is being able to choose a red shirt, or a blue shirt, or no shirt at all. Free will is being able to make poor decisions that go against your best interest, such as wearing shorts in the dead of winter. Free will is being able to act like a jerk, or act like a nice person. It's a choice. If you say it's in our nature to make choices, then you are saying it's in our nature to have free will.

Wherever you go, there you are. Try to dispute that one....:)
 

Indian Summer

Cult Leader
Administrator
"Whatever we do, we could not have acted differently" is one of those cleverly worded statements that drives the false narrative that any and all actions we take are fixed by nature. But it's deceptive, because of course every action/decision we take is how we are going to act. But that is not what free will is... Free will is being able to choose a red shirt, or a blue shirt, or no shirt at all. Free will is being able to make poor decisions that go against your best interest, such as wearing shorts in the dead of winter. Free will is being able to act like a jerk, or act like a nice person. It's a choice. If you say it's in our nature to make choices, then you are saying it's in our nature to have free will.

Wherever you go, there you are. Try to dispute that one....:)
But how can the will be free if it's determined? It may feel like we are choosing freely, but are we really? I don't think so. Yes, we're choosing, but not freely.
 

blues

World Class Member
But how can the will be free if it's determined? It may feel like we are choosing freely, but are we really? I don't think so. Yes, we're choosing, but not freely.
Maybe we have an impression of choosing freely according to the conditioning of our own minds.
 

FortyTwo

Custom Title
There is a kind of pre-determination in that we operate according to fundamental, strict laws of physics and the systems that arise from them, but these systems are so complex that even the most sophisticated iteration of life, human or otherwise, couldn't understand how they intersect with each other and with our daily lives, so the distinction is meaningless and we do have free will.
 

Indian Summer

Cult Leader
Administrator
Maybe we have an impression of choosing freely according to the conditioning of our own minds.
Absolutely, I think most people's intuition is that we are choosing freely, maybe because the "rules" constraining our choices are so bewilderingly complex and besides rely on physics not yet fully understood.
There is a kind of pre-determination in that we operate according to fundamental, strict laws of physics and the systems that arise from them, but these systems are so complex that even the most sophisticated iteration of life, human or otherwise, couldn't understand how they intersect with each other and with our daily lives, so the distinction is meaningless and we do have free will.
That's an interesting take on it. Yes, the "rules" are super complex, and therefore our actions resulting from them are unpredictable. Perhaps in a remote future, AIs will be able to predict/emulate an individual's entire set of behaviour (choices, actions, ...) with some margin of error?

On a related note: While it's difficult to predict an individual's responses to different stimuli with current science and technology, we do already seem to have a good idea of how to manipulate a huge group of people through targeted advertising or propaganda e.g. to sway an election one way or the other ... But I'm not sure if I'm talking about the same thing now.
 

VegFred

Well Known Member
Free will, to me is quite a tricky subject. To me free will is about believing that I can do things and take decisions about my own life without any external influence. It doesn’t involve any other person but myself, because immediately another person comes in the scene, his/her views and feelings will matter, then free will is lost.

So I think I have free will about matters concerning myself, like what to read in college, the person to marry, and other private stuff. But if I should get married, for example, another person comes into the scene, this person’s views and feelings need to be considered when making some decisions, so free will to some extent is lost.
 

Indian Summer

Cult Leader
Administrator
Free will, to me is quite a tricky subject. To me free will is about believing that I can do things and take decisions about my own life without any external influence. It doesn’t involve any other person but myself, because immediately another person comes in the scene, his/her views and feelings will matter, then free will is lost.

So I think I have free will about matters concerning myself, like what to read in college, the person to marry, and other private stuff. But if I should get married, for example, another person comes into the scene, this person’s views and feelings need to be considered when making some decisions, so free will to some extent is lost.
I think we can make it even more tricky than that :) Let's say you're trying to decide whether or not to eat a nectarine as part of your breakfast. You only have one nectarine. But then your wife wakes up and you know she really likes nectarines as well. You ought to let her have it - after all it would be the gentlemanly thing to do - and gamble that the fruit bowl will be refilled with new nectarines soon enough. But then you pause. How did we arrive at this desperate situation with two nectarine fanatics having only one nectarine left in the fruit bowl? Why is there an expectation that a man will forgo his own nectarine desires in favour of his wife's? Why is it that you feel obligated to fulfill this expectation? In the end you decide to find something else to eat, but you feel less sure you could have made a different choice, so where does that leave so-called free will?
 
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