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David Lucifer
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Free will and the meaning of life
« on: 2002-06-21 12:59:01 »
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I found an interesting discussion on free will on BJKlein's excellent Home To Immortals BBS. While there I also discovered Eliezer's answer to the meaning of life which is apparently linked to by Ask Jeeves when visitors ask the ultimate question. I like and agree with Eli's answer.

Here's my contribution to the thread on free will:

I've spent some time trying to reconcile the apparent experience of free will with the knowledge of how the brain works, and in the end I resolved it with a refinement of the definition of free will.

First, let's dispense with the idea that free will is a binary property. Like 'life', 'intelligence' and 'consciousness' it is a continuous attribute covering a spectrum of possibilities from undectable (in the case of a simple rock) to obvious (in the case of most humans) and possibly beyond our current imaginings (in the case of aliens or future AIs or posthumans).

Now let me propose that a system (animal, rock, computer, organization, etc.) has free will to the extent that its behavior is generated endogenously. A rock may display behavior like eroding, tumbling down a hill or stream, arcing through the air as a projectile, but in every case the cause is external to the rock so it has practically zero free will. Animals, at the other end of the known spectrum, are still subject to external forces like gravity and other animals but display a tremendous amount of complex behavior generated internally by their nervous systems (at least animals with nervous systems do).

I think a major advantage of this redefinition is that it conforms very well with out intuitions and every day usage of the phrase. Humans *do* have free will, simpler animals do as well, but less than we do. Inanimate objects have little or none depending on their complexity. Computers might, and definitely have the potential if they run the right software. As an added bonus, we have the potential to achieve more free will by gaining more power over our environment (with technology) and increasing our understanding of how the universe (including ourselves) operates.

I want more free will! Personally I cannot do everything I want. I want to fly like I do in my lucid dreams. I want more control over my desires (Greg Egan explores this possibility in his excellent SF novels). I want more willpower to focus on important goals (like immortality and AI) without being distracted or lazy. I need to exercise more. I need to eat better and less. I would like to read more and faster. There are dozens of interesting fields of knowledge I know almost nothing about, and my stack of books to read is now taller than me. I could go on and on.

I just skimmed Eliezer's answer to the Meaning of Life. He sees the Singularity as the Interim goal, not knowing what the ultimate goal is but confident that the Minds on the other side will have a better chance of discovering or creating it, and achieving it. In the same sense I see achieving more free will as a personal interim goal. Gaining knowledge and power will no doubt help achieve all other goals, no matter what they are.

Do you agree?

« Last Edit: 2002-06-21 13:03:15 by David Lucifer » Report to moderator   Logged
rhinoceros
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Re:Free will and the meaning of life
« Reply #1 on: 2002-06-21 20:48:58 »
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Interesting. Just a few thoughts.

Quote:
I want more free will! Personally I cannot do everything I want. I want to fly like I do in my lucid dreams. I want more control over my desires. [...] I want more willpower to focus on important goals (like immortality and AI) without being distracted or lazy.


It looks like you already have the "free will" for flying, and what is missing is making it possible, i.e. an available option. So, human "free will" seems to include options which are conceivable but not available, and this seems to be a very important attribute. The will for more "free will" seems to be something similar.

What does "more free will" mean? The easy case is "more willpower" -- we could call this attribute "depth" or maybe "focus" of free will. There is also the case of increasing the options -- the "width" of free will. This one seems more complicated, because there are the "available options", which can be increased by technology, social evolution, self-improvement, or even emigration, and the "conceivable options", which can be increased by learning, speculation, intuition etc.
« Last Edit: 2002-06-21 22:20:35 by rhinoceros » Report to moderator   Logged
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Re:Free will and the meaning of life
« Reply #2 on: 2002-06-22 09:56:51 »
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Re:Free will and the meaning of life
« Reply #3 on: 2002-06-22 12:09:39 »
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[redcane]
The fact we can't do things we want to isn't a lack of free will. Being forced to do things is a lack of free will.

[rhinoceros]
Ok, being forced to do things is a lack of free will (reduced options).
Being forced *not* to do things is also a lack of free will (reduced options).
The fact that we can't do some things may be interpreted as being forced (by nature, society etc) not to do them (currently unavailable options --> reduced options).

So, our working hypothesis about increasing our free will, so that we are not only something more than rocks, plants and animals, but also something more than what we are today still stands. And we could say that is what people have always been doing in the past (increasing their options).
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David Lucifer
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Re:Free will and the meaning of life
« Reply #4 on: 2002-06-24 03:54:53 »
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[redcane] In my understanding your missing the point greatly.

[Lucifer] I'm not sure who or what you are disagreeing with here.
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Re:Free will and the meaning of life
« Reply #5 on: 2002-06-25 07:45:38 »
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Re:Free will and the meaning of life
« Reply #6 on: 2005-04-23 21:26:02 »
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Free will is a really important topic.  I was happy to read your posts on it and see your perspectives.  Here's mine, as grim as it is:
I don't think anyone or anything has freewill.  It certainly seems like it but that is an illusion.  The reason i think this is that we can not decide who and what we are.  It is impossible to change our natures, and every act that is imagined to be consciously chosen is mandated from the constraints on our brains and environments.  Your genes and memes were not chosen by you, they just happened to and around you.  The resulting behavior from an imagined choice is in fact simply a natural process playing itself out.  Everything obeys physical laws, inside and outside our bodies.  Inductively, the brain obeys the laws of chemistry without any elbow room.  Fate has wound her clock and we can only flow through it 1 way.  Every move is a forced one.

I hope I'm wrong about this, and i hope someone can convince me of it.  I think that it follows inductively that predictable laws governing the universe rule out any power in us, for our obediance to these laws is total.
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Re:Free will and the meaning of life
« Reply #7 on: 2005-04-27 00:44:11 »
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Quote from: fishsuit on 2005-04-23 21:26:02   

I hope I'm wrong about this, and i hope someone can convince me of it.  I think that it follows inductively that predictable laws governing the universe rule out any power in us, for our obediance to these laws is total.

Why does that rule out free will? Who is making your decisions if not you?
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Re:Free will and the meaning of life
« Reply #8 on: 2005-04-27 13:50:53 »
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Quote:
Why does that rule out free will? Who is making your decisions if not you?

Decisions just happen.  They aren't your will, you don't have power over what you want, or what you're willing to do to get it. 
My decisions get made without my consent.  The body is full of reflexes that are quite predictable, whether they are mental emotional or physical.  I'm not just talking about man.  Every other creature does the best it can do with its environment and genes. 
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Re:Free will and the meaning of life
« Reply #9 on: 2005-04-27 18:53:00 »
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Re:Free will and the meaning of life
« Reply #10 on: 2005-04-30 11:37:08 »
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What I think is that the "free will does not exict" idea comes from a confusion between different abstraction layers.

You learn, for example, that the orbits of the planets are produced by the law of gravity, and you go on to say that "orbits of the planets are just an illusion, there is only gravity". Or, you can say that "a chair is an illusion, there are only molecules, atoms, elementary particles, superstrings..."

What's worse, when it comes to the planets we have a definite method to deduce their orbits from the laws of gravity, but when it comes to free will we have no such method to deduce human actions from the universal causal chains which allegedly produces them them. A hopeless model for testing anything...

More specifically, now, a classic argument against the use of the concept of "free will" is that anything must have a cause, and that free will implies that the "self" makes a choice without any cause at all.

This is not necessarily so. It is true that "free will" implies that our "self" makes an intrinsically produced choice, sometimes against external factors. But the "self" -- another oft disputed concept -- is not a transcedental entity. It is a real and material encoding of a person's whole history. It *contains* encoded "causes".

So far, it has been always much easier to use this "self" as a starting point, often venturing into personal stories which made one's self what it is today. Tossing aside the concept of the self and trying to follow the cosmic chain of events which led to a decision or an action is not yet a good bet...


Oh, there is also the idea that everything we do was already determined at the time of the bing bang and we might as well lie down and do nothing... but we won't do that if that was not what was determined... Fun stuff, but not much else.

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Re:Free will and the meaning of life
« Reply #11 on: 2005-05-02 18:00:46 »
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Re:Free will and the meaning of life
« Reply #12 on: 2005-05-04 00:46:47 »
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Free will vs. predetermination is probably the oldest philosophical argument in history. Still, it is more important today than ever. It is a paradox that we may never solve. But even if we can’t solve it, we should continue to try. We need to understand the nuanced arguments for and against. For the religious fundamentalists free will is simple. God gave it us so we could either choose him or eternal damnation. For a thinking person it is not so simple at all.

I personally believe in free will. I can’t prove it and I know this smacks of faith, which many will find problematic. Maybe it is like the particle/wave problem in understanding light. When you look at light it behaves either like particles or waves, but it can’t be both at once. In the same way when you look at life you can see free will or predetermination, but not both at the same time. Kind of like an optical illusion.

I believe we have reached a point in human history where free will is a more important issue than ever. We can choose to save the environment or destroy it. We can even choose to direct evolution itself, or we can just inbreed and wait for the rapture.

I think you have to exercise free will in the same sense that you have to exercise your muscles or your mind. That is the way to get more of it! It’s not just about money, or power, or knowledge, but an enlightened use of all your assets. 

When I think of free will in terms of religion, it makes me think there probably isn’t any. But when you look at it, you see the people at the top exercising a lot of free will while the masses follow in lock step. I see this as free will used for evil. Free will is inexorably tied up with good and evil; but that is a discussion for another day.

Here is paradox: there are infinite choices that diminish one’s understanding of reality, but the choices that increase one’s understanding always converge on just the one reality: that which is approximately described by science. I posit that making choices that diminish understanding reduces one’s free will, while making choices that improve understanding increase free will. But it always appears to be the opposite: Those with limited understanding actually appear to be freer because they can do whatever stupid thing they want, while those who are enlightened will tend to limit themselves more rational or “better” choices and therefore may appear less free.
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Re:Free will and the meaning of life
« Reply #13 on: 2005-05-04 15:28:16 »
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“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” Sartre
At every turn we are confronted with choices that impact upon the conception of our own identities. Thus we are always in a state of becoming and, in this sense, we are, as the great man said, 'doomed to be free'. A superb paradox - there is no choice but to choose.

Best Regards.

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Re:Free will and the meaning of life
« Reply #14 on: 2005-05-04 18:58:14 »
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