Old 01-09-2009, 04:30 PM   #1
KnowledgeIsPower
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Lightbulb Free Will

Free will is human agency and volition. There's nothing mysterious about it. It doesn't mean that the "laws" of physics are being violated nor does it mean that any chains of causality are being broken.

Free will requires causality. Acausal events are random. There is no choice in randomness, only chance. Therefore anyone still hung up on the notion that free will is free from causality is simply wrong. Free choices aren't random, they aren't free from being caused but rather they are caused in the right way based on the beliefs and desires of the agent. A choice is made freely when the agent could have chosen otherwise if the agents beliefs and desires were different.

Now that determinism and causality are out of the way some people still might point to neuroscience as proving we don't have volition and they would be wrong.

If you want to get at the real scientific data and read what neuroscience has to say on the issue then read The Volitional Brain: Towards a Neuroscience of Free Will by Anthony Freeman, Benjamin Libet and Keith Sutherland.

As for actual scientific journals that have had articles that agree with human agency:

Volition and Conflict in Human Medial Frontal Cortex
Current Biology, Volume 15, Issue 2, 122-128

"Controversy surrounds the role of human medial frontal cortex in controlling actions [1, 2, 3, 4 and 5]. Although damage to this area leads to severe difficulties in spontaneously initiating actions [6], the precise mechanisms underlying such “volitional” deficits remain to be established. Previous studies have implicated the medial frontal cortex in conflict monitoring [7, 8, 9 and 10] and the control of voluntary action [11 and 12], suggesting that these key processes are functionally related or share neural substrates. Here, we combine a novel behavioral paradigm with functional imaging of the oculomotor system to reveal, for the first time, a functional subdivision of the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA) into anatomically distinct areas that respond exclusively to either volition or conflict. We also demonstrate that activity in the supplementary eye field (SEF) distinguishes between success and failure in changing voluntary action plans during conflict, suggesting a role for the SEF in implementing the resolution of conflicting actions. We propose a functional architecture of human medial frontal cortex that incorporates the generation of action plans and the resolution of conflict."

Human volition: towards a neuroscience of will
Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9, 934-946

"The capacity for voluntary action is seen as essential to human nature. Yet neuroscience and behaviourist psychology have traditionally dismissed the topic as unscientific, perhaps because the mechanisms that cause actions have long been unclear. However, new research has identified networks of brain areas, including the pre-supplementary motor area, the anterior prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex, that underlie voluntary action. These areas generate information for forthcoming actions, and also cause the distinctive conscious experience of intending to act and then controlling one's own actions. Volition consists of a series of decisions regarding whether to act, what action to perform and when to perform it. Neuroscientific accounts of voluntary action may inform debates about the nature of individual responsibility."

To Do or Not to Do: The Neural Signature of Self-Control
The Journal of Neuroscience, August 22, 2007, 27(34):9141-9145

"Voluntary action is fundamental to human existence. Recent research suggests that volition involves a specific network of brain activity, centered on the fronto-median cortex. An important but neglected aspect of intentional action involves the decision whether to act or not. This decision process is crucial in daily life because it allows us to form intentions without necessarily implementing them. In the present study, we investigate the neural correlates of intentionally inhibiting actions using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Our data show that a specific area of the fronto-median cortex is more strongly activated when people prepare manual actions but then intentionally cancel them, compared with when they prepare and then complete the same actions. Our results suggest that the human brain network for intentional action includes a control structure for self-initiated inhibition or withholding of intended actions. The mental control of action has an enduring scientific interest, linked to the philosophical concept of "free will." Our results identify a candidate brain area that reflects the crucial decision to do or not to do."

We have free will. It just isn't anything magical like some might have thought.
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Old 01-09-2009, 05:11 PM   #2
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Old 01-09-2009, 05:43 PM   #3
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But even observing the extra energy a person expends when faced with different choices does not tell you if they would or would not make the same choice every time. If they always come to the same conclusion, having the same history and given the same options, they aren't exercising free will.

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Old 01-09-2009, 06:13 PM   #4
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But even observing the extra energy a person expends when faced with different choices does not tell you if they would or would not make the same choice every time. If they always come to the same conclusion, having the same history and given the same options, they aren't exercising free will.
That's because you think free will equals randomness. It doesn't. Having the same history means having the same beliefs and desires. Given the same beliefs and desires why would you expect me to make a different random decision? Why do you think free will means leaving things up to chance?
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Old 01-09-2009, 06:29 PM   #5
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Old 01-09-2009, 07:55 PM   #6
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So your free will has a cause huh? lol

I dont know man, your argument seems odd to me. I dont think its a radical freewill. I think your trying to describe a soft determinism type of freewill, that still is determinism to me.

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Old 01-09-2009, 08:15 PM   #7
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So your free will has a cause huh? lol

I dont know man, your argument seems odd to me. I dont think its a radical freewill. I think your trying to describe a soft determinism type of freewill, that still is determinism to me.
So you're saying that humans behave exactly as if they are agents and have volition but they don't really because of [insert some unprovable philosophical garbage about determinism here].
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Old 01-10-2009, 07:44 AM   #8
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Old 01-10-2009, 08:24 AM   #9
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Old 01-10-2009, 09:20 AM   #10
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Old 01-10-2009, 12:38 PM   #11
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Free will is human agency and volition. There's nothing mysterious about it. It doesn't mean that the "laws" of physics are being violated nor does it mean that any chains of causality are being broken.

Free will requires causality. Acausal events are random. There is no choice in randomness, only chance. Therefore anyone still hung up on the notion that free will is free from causality is simply wrong. Free choices aren't random, they aren't free from being caused but rather they are caused in the right way based on the beliefs and desires of the agent. A choice is made freely when the agent could have chosen otherwise if the agents beliefs and desires were different.

Now that determinism and causality are out of the way some people still might point to neuroscience as proving we don't have volition and they would be wrong.
...
We have free will. It just isn't anything magical like some might have thought.
We do not have free will, and it still isn't magical.

You cannot dismiss causality so easily. You are right that randomness does not bring free will or volition as some have suggested since the basic process is still mechanical and merely deviates from ordinary causality in a non-volitional way. At best, randomness does not help the issue because it is not "your" randomness so nothing of your possible free will is involved with it.

Let us take a distilled mental experiment and see how causality (even if randomly perturbed) constrains all of our choices until there are none remaining. --

You are walking along a narrow path halfway up the side of a smooth cliff. On your left, rubbing your shoulder, is the smooth cliff face. To your right is empty air for a thousand feet. Lunch or some other ordinary goal awaits at the end of your walk, but you stop partway along, where there is a small alcove cut from the rock where you might stand off the path. You have decided to put your free will to a test. You define three possible choices: turn left, go straight (to lunch), or turn right. The stage just set, which of those three choices can you make?

You may recognize that human perception of reality is imperfect so you might mistakenly believe that the void is on your left and the safe alcove on your right. Can you, in that moment, change either your belief about reality or your goal of having lunch? That is, can you change what you called above your "beliefs and desires"? On what basis do you do so? Can you really control your beliefs and desires to the extent that you could decide to step off into the void at that moment?

I say not. Every "decision" we make is indeed colored by beliefs and desires, as you say, but they, along with other factors like whether there is a place to stand on, totally control the outcome of each decision. It is our inability to break that specific causal chain that denies us free will.

Suppose you have a bad habit and (thousands of sensory inputs like friend's cautions and health-care warnings, make you suddenly decide to quit. Can you simply turn off the desire for that activity or do you have to set up another chain of events to force yourself into a different path?

If the universe is, in fact, strictly causal (purely random elements acknowledged), then potential choices are illusory except for the one that causality decrees.

Of course, through evolution, we must "feel" certain that we have free will because we could not function mentally otherwise. This is one reason why tightly confined, regimented people who are denied any form of creativity or choice will generally rapidly become deranged robots.

Nature has discovered, quite by accident, that it is easier to evolve an emotion of free will than to evolve actual free will. That is partly because true free will would require a whole different and currently unknown force by which ordinary causality could be diverted.

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Old 01-10-2009, 12:39 PM   #12
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Large, please, with extra cinnamon!

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Old 01-10-2009, 12:45 PM   #13
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But even observing the extra energy a person expends when faced with different choices does not tell you if they would or would not make the same choice every time. If they always come to the same conclusion, having the same history and given the same options, they aren't exercising free will.
You are right, but even different choices (outcomes), under those conditions, do not demonstrate free will because there is no way to account for all of the influences to be sure they are always the same.

This time, instead of the large, I chose the medium PopCorn because, on very deep introspection, I had a small stone in my sock this time.

There is also the cumulative factor: even with everything else held constant, the choice of a second box of PopCorn has to be colored by having had the first.

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Old 01-10-2009, 12:50 PM   #14
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You cannot dismiss causality so easily.

It seems you have a fairly distorted view of the laws of nature and causality. Causality doesn't force anything. The laws of nature are just a description. How do you think a description is able to force something to happen? How do you even know these unobservable forces exist? What's the difference between the regularities of nature simply being a coincidence versus there being some underlying hidden causality that forces things to be the way they are? How can you prove this difference is real? What empirical observations lead you to believe that there are forces at work causing things to be the way they have to be.

Do you really expect me to believe that you can tell the difference between real choices and illusory choices just based on your gut instinct?
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Old 01-10-2009, 12:53 PM   #15
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That's because you think free will equals randomness. It doesn't. Having the same history means having the same beliefs and desires. Given the same beliefs and desires why would you expect me to make a different random decision? Why do you think free will means leaving things up to chance?
Free will does not mean leaving anything up to chance. That would be making choices by flipping a coin and it is still causal to the decision.

You have eliminated all of the forces under which causality works and you have eliminated randomness (and I agree), so now what is the process of free will? Is it (as some have suggested) a fifth physical force whose effect on matter is measurable and predictable yet which can psycho-analyze the agent to evaluate his beliefs, desires, biases, immediate needs, mood, and his historical experiences of love and hatred?

Renaming free will "volition" and saying that it may manifest itself in some parts of some brain activity does not define it very well.

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