Does Physics disprove the existence of free will?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by M.I.D, Oct 2, 2018.

  1. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    No, the logical inference is that I'm arguing against free will.

    But, truth be told, it's as Devil's Advocate. I'm not actually sure which way I go on free will; I'm simply trying to follow the logic to see where it leads.

    I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't tell me what I'm doing. That is not conducive to good faith discussion.

    I'm afraid I don't really know what you mean by substrate. It is not a metaphor I associate with discussions of free will.
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  3. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Yes: By requiring that freedom of the will be supernatural, therefore nonexistent. At least, that's what appears to be indicated in your posts.
    I'll find some other way to phrase it.
    The ordinary meaning. One has a substrate - an expanse of sand at the shoreline, say - and the patterns formed on/in/with it - ripplemarks, scoured pools, bird tracks, etc. All patterns are patterns in a substrate (the electromagnetic field folks sometimes argue at that point, but it doesn't matter to this thread).

    The key observation is that these patterns - atoms formed of quarks, molecules formed of atoms, large structures formed of molecules, - are entities in their own right. And - focus - they are not determined by their substrates. The causes of these patterns are not found in the elements of the substrate or anything about them. Nothing at the quark level determines whether a hydrogen or carbon atom is forming. The substrate constrains, prevents (say) four way symmetrical snowflakes, but within that six sided constraint the water molecule patterns have other causes, larger causes, outside influences and feedback adjustments of their own.

    So: Your dreams are not determined by neuron firings. Any "determination", if you must have some, would be at least as validly the other way around - the larger pattern engaging the neurons. Or in your metaphor: The dice don't create freedom of will - the will governs the context and rolling patterns of the dice, what the effect of the throws becomes.
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  5. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member


    I'm saying nothing about supernatural (except inasmuch as I anticipated it as a potential answer and explicitly disqualified it).

    If I said "I can't see how a human being could have their brains on the outside of their skull and still live" would you suggest that I am "requiring supernatural explanation"??

    No. I'm saying I suspect such a thing does not exist. (Again, not because I think it doesn't, but because I don't yet see the mechanism by which it could.)
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2018
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  7. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    I understand what a substrate is; and now I see that you're talking about the brain chemistry (et al), but I'm afraid I still don't see how it logically leads to free will.

    Having many choices - both in one's memory/storage and in one's environment - and a complex chemistry does not, in-and-of-itself, result in free will.

    Sorry, I may not be getting what you're trying to say, because this seems to read as a tautology.

    If the question is: what can the source of free will be? You can't answer that by saying 'the will governs the dice', because we haven't established that there is a will.
  8. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Let's try something different. I'm trying to create a scenario where we can test the presence or absence of free-will. This requires some fudging of reality, so that we can control the tests.

    Let's look at The Matrix.

    We have a rich, ever-changing environment, and we have rich, complex entities in these environments. Both the environment and the subjects in it are - by definition - on the order of complexity of a real person and the (local) environment in which they live. It should matter naught that it is a near-perfect simulation of a biological world as opposed to the actual real world.

    We spin it up, Neo gets in a fight and dodges left.
    Now we reboot the Matrix - resetting both the environent and Neo to their original states (or close enough).

    Is Neo able to choose to dodge right?

    Hold on now. I do not deny that in the next scenario he might actually dodge right. (After all, the Matrix has some amount of error/randomness in it, and never duplicates the scenario exactly.)

    The question is: can it be said that he made that choice?

    If the choice to dodge right was a factor of his environment which includes chemical state of his brain, is that really free will?

    Because, if that's free will, I could make a simple Microsoft 8MHz XT have a bit of error/randomness to its output. By the same logic that would be called free will.

    What's the diff?
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2018
  9. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    I think you might want to reread my post a bit more carefully.
    We observe that there is a will - the pros tell me that using modern imaging and detection techniques they can even spot its pattern in the patterns of patterns of neuron firing.
    The discussion was of its nature - in particular, its freedom. We have observed that some people's will has more freedom than other people's, for example: that's a possible starting point.
    As long as you are sure about that.
    It seems to me that a source of freedom of the will, as that is, makes a possible candidate - unless, of course, one is requiring that "free" will be supernatural.
  10. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    You said I required it to be supernatural. This is false.

    Ah. I see the problem.

    That's your premise.

    I do not grant it.

    This thread does not presuppose that free will exists. Neither can you.

    What dye is used on - what chemical tag attaches to - this free will thingy?

    Brain activity =/= free will.
  11. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    I'd say the problem here is that you are creating a false dichotomy.
    Free will is in the natural; the only alternative would be that it is in the supernatural.

    You discount the third option that free will does not exist.

    And my point is that we must first define free will. My Matrix example, above, attempts to root out the difference between presence of free will and absence.
  12. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Good question.
    The answer would involve taking a good, long, hard look at exactly what is meant by "factor of his environment" and "chemical state of his brain".
    Because we know for a fact, by observation, that the will manifests not as a chemical reaction but as high level pattern of patterns of neuron firings over time. These patterns do not require any given neuron, or any given base level firing pattern of individual neurons - that's just substrate - but instead emerge as recognizable patterns of those lower level ones.
    And we know for a fact, by observation, that the only aspects of the environment that become "factors" are the ones that affect those firing patterns.
    I didn't.
    There was no "premise" - it's an observation. Machines record it, in brain scans.
    Your misreadings are obstacles. I don't omit words like "free" by accident.
    No, it's not.
    You are in fact (you have repeated it now) arguing that because "free will" would have to be supernatural, it cannot exist. That's the structure of your argument.
    I am arguing that freedom of the will need not be supernatural, and therefore can exist - just as the evidence indicates.
    I have mentioned before that it looks like the term "free will" confuses people.
    I am arguing against - not "discounting" - the claim that freedom of the will does not exist.
    Step one: it is compatible with natural law, physical observation, the known world. "Bottom up" determinism does not validly exclude it.
    Step two - haven't got there yet in any discussion of this matter. It will - if reached - consist of a reframing of interpretation via cause and effect, persuading folks that reductive simplification that overlooks logical levels misses the point in some matters - in fact, errs. It's mistaken.
    Step three - years from now, maybe - settling on the new world, recognition of the nature of the will and other behaviors of the human mind, restoration of the folk comprehension of freedom and will within the more sophisticated understanding.
    We are a long way from being able to do that.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2018
  13. geordief Valued Senior Member

    Yes ,very circular with no prospect of resolution.

    Mind you it may only be a problem when we decide to make it a problem.It may be (I can't say) that some people would have to have it explained to them that it was a real issue before they became infected with the "question"

    You know ,like the Emperor's new clothes and all that

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  14. Michael 345 New year. PRESENT is 71 years old Valued Senior Member

    Free will - ability to make choices

    Constraints - inability to defy physics

    More later

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  15. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    It's simply false. Biochemistry does not "drive" the patterns of thought, any more than quark interactions drive the patterns of snowflake formation. Other patterns at the appropriate level do that.
    Substrates do not determine patterns.
  16. Michael 345 New year. PRESENT is 71 years old Valued Senior Member

    The article below is somewhere in Sciforums

    The beginning of the readiness potential precedes the conscious decision to move by at least half a second and often by much longer

    Also is a statement which implies the brain acts before the mind

    Since the BRAIN is the organ and the MIND is a process when occurs within the brain I think it should be something like - the subconscious is acting (active) before the conscious act is performed

    SO WHAT?

    Your subconscious is still YOU, not a implanted pixie with a unassailable mind of its own

    I really don't care how my subconscious takes various inputs from my body to calculate how fast my heart beats, just like it to do it effectively and for another 30 odd years

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    If my mind has organised itself to process stuff without my conscious awareness before passing it along and my conscious actions occurs - again

    SO WHAT?

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  17. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    That is not my argument. (I don't know how you can continue to put words in my mouth.)

    Again, if I said "how can a man live with his brains outside his skull", would you say I'm invoking a supernatural argument?
    No. That is you, inferring it.

    I am simply saying "I don't see how such a thing can exist." But even that's overstating my argument. I'm saying "I don't see the mechanism by which it would seem to operate, therefore I can't just assume it exists."

    You omitting a word is not my shortcoming.
    It's a word critical to the thread topic, which is about free will.

    If you want to talk about what you call simply "will", my continuing to discuss the thread topic is also not my shortcoming.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2018
  18. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Well, that's the argument you're here to defend.
    You have not made that case yet.

    What makes you say this is not so?
    Quarks define how atoms are built. Atoms define how snowflakes are built.

    If you were to change the quarks, you would have different atoms, and therefore different snowflakes (or more likely, no snowflakes at all).

    So I don't see how your assertion is sound.

    If I had a building made out of rectangular bricks, and I altered the brick substrate to spherical bricks, I would not have the same building; I would have a pile of rubble.
  19. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    This is a simplistic definition; it does not shed light on the subject.

    Does a moth have the will to fly toward a bright light?
    (Hint: no.)

    A moth's flight is affected by the amount of light it receives on each wing surface. Differential light on each wing causes it to beat it wings differentially, resulting in a turn in the appropriate direction. It changes its behavior, but it does not have the free will to do so.

    It is "simply" the biochemical action of internal wiring or external stimuli. And yes, that would show up in a scan of the moth's nervous system.

    Maybe this is what Iceaura means by "will", I don't know.

    I grant that we are quantitatively more complex than a moth, but in what way are we ostensibly qualitatively more complex than a moth? (I mean specifically. What mechanisms do we have?
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2018
  20. Michael 345 New year. PRESENT is 71 years old Valued Senior Member

    That's me simplistic
    I'll take your expertise on the matter, except the topic is free will, not will
    I bow to your knowledge
    ✓ agree not will - free or otherwise
    I am going to guess here

    • Bigger brain with
    • Mega increase in storage with
    • Mega options and a
    • Conscious brain which picks from the options and a
    • Subconscious (does a moth brain have a subconscious? Does not matter really ours ours is bigger) section of brain which as noted acts prior to the picked option being taken (performed)
    Can we go further back and imply the sub conscious picks the option before the conscious brain picks the option?

    I don't think so

    So, it seems to me, the situation goes as follows
    • Conscious brain makes a decision
    • Decision gets shuffled off to
    • Subconscious for evaluation with a chance to weigh up options
    • Subconscious picks best option and
    • Give go ahead to
    • Conscious brain take the option subconscious has picked
    But as I have already posted SO WHAT

    Who (in the real, as opposed to the specialised inquisitive) world cares?

    What ever is inside my skin and the processes comprises ME. I include the germy stuff because they might be affecting ME

    Thought bubble. Do mind altering drugs have most effect on the communication between subconscious and conscious brain (ie why called mind expanding) or are they just thought scramblers?

    Don't really care just a rhetorical question

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  21. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    No, it isn't. It's an observed fact. You can modify the patterns of brain waves by speaking words into a person's ear - no biochemicals necessary.
    Humans all have basically the same brain biochemistry. They differ a great deal in the contents and behaviors of their minds.
    Atoms are all built of the same set of quarks.
    Snowflakes are all made of the same kinds of atoms, the same kinds of molecules, completely interchangeable and in constant interchange with surrounding supplies. They vary wildly in pattern. If you melt one, and use those same water molecules to build another one, it will be a different one - different pattern.
    That's constraint, not determination. You can make many, many very different buildings from one pile of bricks.
    What I mean by human will is what the human mind (the active firing patterns in the human brain) does when the human involved performs what people name in English an "act of will". This pattern is observable in a brain scan - crudely, not in detail, but recognizably. An AI can be trained to label it.
    We think on logical levels at least one higher than any moth. So we can, for example, learn to exhibit a new and never before seen behavior on cue - not a behavior we have been conditioned to exhibit, or learned to exhibit, but a new one. No moth can do that. We can recognize ourselves in a mirror. No moth can do that. These are measurable qualitative differences in human behavioral response.
  22. geordief Valued Senior Member

    (You have amalgamated my reply and Dave's post in your quote:I understand what you mean though)

    There is not one input only into a thought or its acting out.That is why it is futile to reduce this to determinism vs free willissm.

    Imo it is mix n match but I am no expert in biochemistry or even rigorous thinking.
  23. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Nor is it mine.
    We have to start somewhere, and starting with the supernatural connotations you and others inevitably attach to "free" will is an automatic fail.
    Besides, we don't seem to have any clear agreement on what the will is in the first place.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2018

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