Free Will: An attempt to make sense of it.

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Techne, Sep 28, 2011.

  1. Techne Registered Senior Member

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    The topic of free will is always an interesting topic. Some deny it exists, others see it as a necessary prerequisite to make moral choices, still others think the concept as a whole is nonsense.

    A lot of "-sms" tend to be flung around in discussions related to free will. Some of these include determinism, indeterminism, compatibilism, libertarianism etc. Any meaningful discussion of course relies on proper definitions or at least a proper agreement on definitions among the participants in a discussion.

    People have different views and definitions of the concept free will. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy lists at least three models for the concept of "will" alone.

    These include:
    Faculties Model of the Will
    Hierarchical Model of the Will
    Reasons-Responsive View of the Will

    Stanford Encycolpedia of Philosophy defines free will as "a philosophical term of art for a particular sort of capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives."

    In this seemingly simple definition there are terms which demand definitions as well. E.g. "capacity", "rational agent", "to choose", "action".

    We are faced with many definitional problems and questions before any discussion will appear fruitful.

    1) Which model of the "will" is right?
    2) Do all agree on the definitions? Do all even understamd the defitions of terms within a within specific definition?
    3) Can empirical physical sciences prove or disprove free will or show which model of the will is right? How?
    4) Can quantum mechanics contribute to the discussion?
    5) Does a person's concept of "matter" play role in the discussion?
    6) Can free will only be proven or disproven through the general sciences such as logic, philosophy and metaphysics?

    So let's look at a few definitions and see if we can get some sort of agreement among those who are willing to participate in this discussion.

    On the Definition of Free Will
    What does it mean to be free and what does it mean to have a will? There are various definitions and as always it is important to be clear about what you are talking about. So I'll be choosing the definitions I think are most appropriate to the current discussion.

    Free: Not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being.
    Will: The will is an intrinsic faculty or capacity of something that causes it to desire or have an appetite for something or be attracted to something. I'll try and make this more clear as we discuss examples.

    As you can see, the concept of free will has two parts, "free" and "will". Implicit in the definition is that one can have at least four types of "things";
    1) Things that are not free and do not have a will.
    2) Things that are free without having a will.
    3) Things that have a will and are not free.
    4) Things that are free and have a will.

    One way of coming to understand the concept of free will is to first look at examples of each of the four things above,

    1) Things that are not free and do not have a will.
    Take for example the falling piece of glass (see below). It does not appear to have a will, it's attraction to mass is as a result of the force of gravity AND its mass. It's mass cannot really be said to "desire" to be closer to other masses. It is also not free since it's attraction to other masses is determined by something beyond itself i.e. the force of gravity. So I would argue the example of a falling piece of glass constitutes something that is not free and does not have a will.

    2) Things that are free without having a will.
    Perhaps the easiest and best example of something that is free is to look at quantum mechanics. The Stern-Gerlach experiment is a good example of quantum phenomena.

    Below is a crude representation explaining some of the phenomena (Here are some slides from MIT and here is a technical explanation for those interested. Here is also a nice link that let's you do the actual experiment).

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    Detectors A and B detect Sz spin (spin pointing along the vertical axis z)
    Detectors C and D detect Sx spin (spin pointing along the horizontal axis x)
    At time zero (T0) an electron in a state with spin pointing along the vertical axis is prepared.

    One can say that if an electron with a spin Sz=+½ (spin pointing along the vertical axis) is prepared at T0 then;
    1) Detectors A and B will always detect electrons with spin Sz=+½ at T0+a (a=infinity with no other interference)
    2) Detectors C and D will always detect electrons with Sx=±½ at T1 (the first measurement). Sx is thus indeterminate before T1.
    3) If at T1 Detector C measures Sx=-½ (after measurement) then Sx will be -½ at T1+a (a=infinity with no other interference) and Sz will be ±½ at T2. Sz is indeterminate before T2.

    Or stated differently:
    1) An electron prepared in the initial state with Sz=+½ will have a determinate Sz value (+½) whenever it is measured if left undisturbed.
    2) An electron prepared in the initial state with Sz=+½ will have an indeterminate Sx value (±½) before measurement.
    3) An electron prepared in the initial state with Sz=+½ will have an indeterminate Sx value (±½) before measurement and a determinate Sx value after measurement. However, after the Sx measurement is made, the Sz value becomes indeterminate.

    From this one can argue that an electron prepared in the initial state with Sz=+½ is free to have either an Sx=+½ or Sx=-½ and this freedom is NOT determined by anything beyond itself. So I would argue the example of an electron with spin pointing along the vertical axis (Sz=+½) constitutes something that is free and does not have a will.

    3) Things that have a will and are not free.
    I'd like to propose that the instinct of living things may satisfy something that is a will but is not free. Therefore, an instinct is a kind of will that is not free. Now things that have free will may have instincts, it does not mean that if you have instrincts you cannot have free will.

    Take an ant as an example. An ant has an intrinsic faculty or instinct to desire or have an appetite that causes it to be attracted to food. I think an argument can be made that it is not free. While an ant's instinct is intrinsic, it is determined by extrinsic factors such as the availability of food.

    4) Things that are free and have a will.
    Imagine some sort of alien life form. It has an intrinsic faculty or capacity that causes it to be attracted to something or desire something or have an appetite for something. Let's say this capacity is free. This implies that this capacity or faculty is not determined by anything beyond itself.

    It follows then that this alien is free to follow its desire or not to follow its desire (or will if you want) and this freedom is NOT determined by anything beyond itself.

    Next, let's look at a few of the "-sms".


    The "-isms"

    "-isms" are usually big words that tend to make everyone feel stupid. What follows is just my attempt to make sense of all the "-sms" and other definitions nomrally associated with discussions surrounding free will.

    Check out these links for more info:
    Free Will (IEP)
    Free Will (wiki)
    Free Will (SEP)
    Foreknowledge and Free Will (IEP)
    Foreknowledge and Free Will (SEP)
    Causal Determinism (SEP)
    Determinism (wiki)
    Hard Determinism (wiki)
    Dilemma of determinism (wiki)
    Compatibilism (SEP)
    Incompatibilist (Nondeterministic) Theories of Free Wil (SEP)

    Determinism and the different main varieties
    After reading the above I think I am comfortable with distinguishing between three varieties of determinism. Logical, causal and hard determinism.

    For the purposes of this discussion I will briefly define them as I understand it.

    Logical Determinism: Logical determinism is associated with propositions. A proposition such as "Married bachelor" is false now and is always false. The proposition that "X will happen at time Y" is true or false now and forever.

    Causal Determinism: Causal determinism is associated with causes. In a nutshell, every event is causally necessitated by antecedent events or to state it differently; the same causes acting in similar circumstances will always produce the same effect.

    Hard Determinism: In the context of this discussion I would characterise hard determinism as a combination of logical and causal determiniation and analogous to the epistemic determinism described here. Briefly, causal and logical determinism are both true and all causes and propositions are known.

    Indeterminism and the main different varieties
    I will use the same classification scheme. Briefly:

    Logical Indeterminism: Logical indeterminism is associated with propositions. A proposition such as "Married bachelor" is false now and is always false. However, proposition about events are not always true or false, they are only true or alse at the event and not before it. In other words the proposition that "X will happen at time Y" is neither true nor false before time Y and true or false at time Y and forever after time Y.

    Causal indeterminism: Causal indeterminism is associated with causes. In a nutshell, every event is causally necessitated by antecedent events oor to state it differently; the same causes acting in similar circumstances will always produce the same effects (plural). Note the plural. In other words it may be the case that the same cause may produce different effects in an indeterminate manner.

    Hard Indeterminism: In the context of this discussion I would characterise hard indeterminism as a combination of logical and causal indeterminism. Briefly, causal and logical indeterminism are both true and all causes and propositions are known. However, as a result of the indeterministic nature of causality, it is logically impossible to know the effect of a particular cause that may produce more than one effect since the effect is caused in an indeterminate manner. Below is a summary (Scheme A).

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    Scheme A

    Take the following example following the above scheme:
    A = Falling piece of glass
    B = Shattered glass on floor
    C = Fully in tact piece of glass on floor
    D = Chipped piece of glass on floor

    The proposition "the glass lies shattered on the floor at Time=1+x" is always true for Logical Determinism.
    The proposition "the glass lies shattered on the floor at Time=1+x" is indeterminate before Time=1+x and always true at and after Time=1+x for Logical Indeterminism.

    The falling piece of glass at Time=1 will always cause the shattered glass on the floor at Time=1+x for Causal Determinism.
    The falling piece of glass at Time=1 will always cause either the shattered glass on the floor or the fully in tact piece of glass on floor or the chipped piece of glass on floor at Time=1+x for Causal Indeterminism.


    The proposition "the glass lies shattered on the floor at Time=1+x" is always true AND the falling piece of glass at Time=1 will always cause the shattered glass on the floor at Time=1+x for Hard Determinism.
    The proposition "the glass lies shattered on the floor at Time=1+x" is indeterminate before Time=1+x and always true at and after Time=1+x AND the falling piece of glass at Time=1 will always cause either the shattered glass on the floor or the fully in tact piece of glass on floor or the chipped piece of glass on floor at Time=1+x for Hard Indeterminism.


    A few interesting questions appear from this classification.
    1) Can Logical Determinism and Causal Indeterminism be simultaneously true?
    2) Can Logical Indeterminism and Causal Determinism be simultaneously true?

    I'll leave this one for now, it is open for debate.

    What about acausality?
    Is it possible to have acausal determinism and acausal indeterminism? Perhaps, however, it would appear that it has to have the form of logical Determinism or Indeterminism.
    Note that in the above scheme logical determinism and logical indeterminism are opposite but it is not the case with causal determinism and causal indeterminism.

    Below is a summary.
    Scheme B.

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    Scheme B​

    Taking the above example:
    The proposition "the glass lies shattered on the floor at Time=1+x" is always true AND the falling piece of glass at Time=1 is in no way causally related to the shattered glass on the floor at Time=1+x for Logical Acausal Determinism.

    The proposition "the glass lies shattered on the floor at Time=1+x" is indeterminate before Time=1+x and always true at and after Time=1+x AND the falling piece of glass at Time=1 is in no way causally related to the shattered glass on the floor at Time=1+x forfor Logical Acausal Indeterminism.

    One thing I think that can be concluded from the above discussion is that the will is something that has a causal influence on something else and freedom is indeterminate. Whether freedom is causal or acausal is of course another thing that can be debated.

    Before we try and figure out whether something with free will can exist if any of the "-isms" are true, let's first tackle the issue of whether there is a difference between something that is random and something that is indeterminate and how this relates to freedom.

    Randomness vs Indeterminism


    There is no agreed definition of randomness, however, one can perhaps make sense of the concept as an absence of ALL order or ALL predictability.

    Suppose there is something that behaved in a way that could only be described as random smething that changes in a totally unpredictable manner. Let's take an electron with spin Sz=+½ as an example. One moment it is an electron with Sz=+½ around the nucleus of hydrogen in laboratory on earth, the next moment it is moving towards the sun and randomly changes to a proton of carbon and then inexplicably moves back, the next moment it is some gold nugget on its way towarsds Mars. Suppose you want to measure Sx, you could never in principle know whether it would suddenly change into a gold nugget or a proton or fly to the sun or Mars and back or just be Sx=+½ or Sx=-½ etc.

    One can say that such an electron would have freedom and this freedom is not determined by anything, not even itself. There is no part or property or nature of the electron that determines what it will change into. The freedom is purely random as it is not determined by what kind of thing the electron is.

    Contrast this with the freedom of things that are indeterminate. Let's take the electron with spin Sz=+½ again as an example. From experiments we know that Sx is indeterminate and that the electron is free to be either Sx=+½ or Sx=-½. upon measurement of Sx. We are able to predict that it will be either Sx=+½ or Sx=-½ even though it is indterminate before measurement. The freedom is determined by something that is part of the electron, some property of the electron. One can say that the electron has certain dispositions, there is order (either Sx=+½ or Sx=-½, not pure radmoness) in the freedom of an electron. The freedom is not random, it is merely indeterminate. So while randomness entails indeterminism, indeterminism does not entail randmoness. One can have indeterminism and order and one can have indeterminism and randomness.

    The obvious consequence is that Free Will can be ordered and free will can be random. But that is a debate for another day.
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2011
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  3. Techne Registered Senior Member

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    The next question then is to determine whether free will is compatible with any of the "-isms".

    Consider the following example for the purpose of this discussion.

    A) We have an observer, let's call him Obsy.
    B) We have an alien, let's call him ET (very original I know), and we think he has free will, but we are not sure.
    C) ET is in the following situation. He is sipping coffee at a coffee shop and has the following desires, i.e. he is naturally attracted towards the following options (See figure 1):
    1) Buying an XBOX11
    2) Buying a Play Station 10
    3) Saving the money to pay for his studies

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    Figure 1​

    Now if ET has a will, his "will" will be able to have a causal effect on the outcome of the natural desires (Figure 2)

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    Figure 2​

    Also, ET's will is of course being causally influenced by other things, such as his desire to enjoy playing new games. He has a desire to play PS10 games and XBOX11 games as well as a desire not to be bankrupt and have a good education. So his will is causally influenced (figure 3).

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    Figure 3​
     
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  5. Techne Registered Senior Member

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    Some time after having the different desires, ET ended up saving the money for his studies (Figure 4, clever chap this ET).

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    Figure 4​

    We also have this Obsy chap hanging around. Something of a think-he-knows-it-all chap that makes all kinds of propositions whenever he wants (Figure 5).

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    Figure 5​

    The first obvious questions seem to be;
    1) What is the difference between ET's natural desires and his will?
    2) Can ET's "will" be free it is causally influenced?

    Answers
    1) They way I see, if we are to make sense of the will, it is would be a natural capacity just like other capacities to have desires, only the will is able to have a causal influence on the outcome of desires.

    2) If the will is free, then perhaps the only thing we can say is that, while the will can be influenced, it reacts in an indeterministic manner. It would have to be analogous to the electron with Sz=+½ that is causally influenced by an obsevation but reacts in an indeterministic manner to become Sx=+½ or Sx=-½. So in the manner quantum mechanics can help us visualize or understand fow something can be free.

    What's left now is to see whether one can actually have free will if any of the "-isms" are true.

    Logical Determinism vs Free Will
    Suppose Obsy says ET chooses to save money for studies.
    Suppose now that this statement is true now, was always true and will always be true.

    Does ET have free will?
    At first thought it appears not to be the case. Obsy seems to know something that ET does not. If ET did have free will, or to put it differently, if ET's will was indeed free, then it is not determined by anything but itself. Obsy seem to know that ET's will is determined towards only one outcome. So I would say if such the proposition is so specific them ET does not have free will.

    However, suppose Obsy says "ET chooses either to save money for studies OR to use the money to by an XBOX11 OR to use the money to by a PS11".

    Suppose now that this statement is true now, was always true and will always be true.

    This statement appears to be compatible with ET having free will.

    So logical determinism appears to be compatible with the existence of free will, it just depends on the propositions.

    Causal Determinism vs Free Will

    If causal determinism is true and if will is causally influenced by other things then it appears free cannot exist. ET can have a will, but it won't be free since it would react in a deterministic way.

    So if we live in a reality where causal determinism is true everywhere then I would argue free can not exist in such a reality. The same of course then applies to Hard Determinism.

    Indeterminism vs Free Will
    The appears to be no difficulty in reconciling the existence of free will in a reality where there is indeterminism.



    So the concept of free will seem to be compatible with logical determinism and indeterminism and incompatible with causal determinism and Hard determinism. The next question I suppose is to ask what kind of reality do we live in and whether we do have free will or not.

    The concept itself seems to be logically defensible at least.
     
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  7. Emil Valued Senior Member

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    Yes we have free will because we have no other option.
     
  8. Techne Registered Senior Member

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    That sucks, especially for those chaps who choose to believe we don't have free will

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    :bugeye:

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    .
     
  9. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    Yes, there's little point in bothering with FW if it is going to be defined in a way where it's dead as soon as it gets out of the starting gate. Or if one is going to always critique it from a metaphysical realist stance where determinism, physical laws, naturalism, heteronomy, etc., are treated as either immutable facts or concrete empirical items like an oak tree and a house rather than useful concepts or inferred generalities, methodological approaches, etc. (whichever is applicable to a particular employment of them).

    Kant made room for the possibility of human autonomy by pulling the rug out from under speculative reason -- rejecting or introducing agnosticism about the prevailing belief that the forms of experience and thought also regulated a metaphysical external world. This left only practical reason to venture anything about such transcendent territory, which was only funded by arguments of necessity or utility since "proof" via reason was no longer credible, as well as the usual lack of perceptual verification for non-phenomenal circumstances.
     
  10. peterk301 Registered Member

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    21
    From the original question: "The topic of free will is always an interesting topic. Some deny it exists..." And I've always thought BF Skinner is the one who had such a profound effect on American culture when it came to how so many people began to believe that Skinner was right: there's no free will. How ironic is it that an American was responsible for this?
     
  11. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    15,058
    Given that we are talking about free will, this problem with definitions may be a good thing.
    Namely, unlike some other issues, free will is something that applies at all times, come what may, including every instance of talking about free will.

    In this sense, a discussion of free will can have the practical value of bringing us into the present moment (in the Buddhist sense), and thus having us judge and urge what the best thing would be for oneself to do, in this very situation, on this Saturday morning at 10.39 AM.

    Of course, this can feel like taking the wind out of one's philosophical sails - but it may well make for a better, happier life.
     
  12. Arkonos Registered Senior Member

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    34
    True Free Will, to me, is illogical. How can somebody make a decision without cause? Even if a decision is made at random, the randomness is the causal factor. ET chose to save his money because of neurological causal influences. The Will, in so far as can be determined, is a part of the mind. Even if it were separate, the random factor still comes into play. I feel like you just wasted a whole while explaining nothing.
     
  13. Techne Registered Senior Member

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    211
    I think it is fallacious to assert that true free will implies making a decision without cause.
     
  14. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member

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    13,968
    Signal,



    Exactly. In techne's example, he forgot to mention that ET decided to drink coffee, and decided to go in that particular coffee shop. He decided to sip the coffee, and all the the decision he made leading up to that point in time.

    Of course there are deterministic factors, but there is always a choice to make in order for things to be accomplished. ET may be addicted to coffee, but he still has choices to make such as which coffee to drink, milk or no milk, sugar etc..


    jan.
     
  15. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    9,151
    You can think that, but perhaps it might help if you explain WHY you think it.

    How can one make a decision without a cause?
    How can one even know a decision has to be made, or can be made, without an external cause?
    How can one make judgement values of the various options without external cause?

    How can each isolated part of the brain operate without external cause - i.e. from another part?
    Any part of the brain that is utterly isolated in that regard can safely be removed for it is useless.

    The only thing that could be free of external cause is a hypothetical "brain in a jar" that has no senses of any description - unable to take in any sensory input / cause. It would also not be conscious, but would work purely on instinct.

    But if you think it fallacious, at least say why, and perhaps suggest an example of where a choice can be made without cause?
     
  16. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member

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    To believe that, one must take oneself out of the equation, otherwise one
    will immediately realise that his thinking this is not determined.

    jan.
     
  17. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    How will they realise this?
    Perhaps they "immediately realise" (at a sensory level) that they have the sensation of free-will but also "immediately realise" (at an intellectual level) that this is a conscious illusion of what is really going on.
     
  18. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member

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    The ''realise''- ing has to be outside of the illusion.
    The knowledge of ''what is really going on'' implies, clarity, not being under illusion.
    IOW, a person who uses reason, has the ability to break free of the shackles
    of illusion.

    jan.
     
  19. Techne Registered Senior Member

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    211
    All I am saying is that free will does not necessarily entail that a decision is made without a cause.

    By definition (the one relevant to the discussion here), one's will is an intrinsic faculty or capacity of something that causes it (the something with free will) to desire or have an appetite for something or be attracted to something.

    If it is free then it is NOT determined by anything beyond its own nature or being.

    So one's will can be causally influenced and the will can itself be free in the sense that it reacts in an indeterministic manner and one's will can have a causal influence.

    So there is no need to outright define free will as the ability to make a decision without a cause.
     
  20. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    I disagree... one only has to consider rather simple optical illusions to have the knowledge of what is really going on, yet this knowledge can not alter the way your eyes and brain perceive those illusions:
    http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/

    While the understanding of the optical illusion can not alter the way our eyes operate (i.e. they still see and react to the illusion), so the illusion of free-will, since it is an illusion that affects the very seat of our consciousness, can not be escaped by any aspect of our actions that is driven out of that same consciousness - no matter how we might understand it.
    It is an inescapable illusion for the conscious mind.

    Note that by "illusion" I do not mean that it does not exist... only that it exists differently to how it is interpreted by the things that it affects.
    In the same way that optical illusions exist... but the interpretation by the eye/brain (i.e. that which the illusion affects) is different to the reality.
     
  21. Telemachus Rex Protesting Mod Stupidity Registered Senior Member

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    That is demonstrably not true. If a man is being water boarded, his body and mind react in fear and panic at the sensation of drowning even though *he knows full well* that he is being waterboarded and not being drowned.

    The intellect cannot override emotions. I know that there are no such things as ghosts and zombies, and yet, if I were to walk past a foggy graveyard late at night, I'd feel apprehensive.

    If a man loses his arm in an industrial accident, he may well still "feel" the arm in the sense that his mind creates the illusion that it is still there. This is true even after he knows it is gone...aka the phantom limb syndrome.

    Related, anyone can be made to believe that a rubber hand is their own: http://hight3ch.com/robber-hand-illusion/

    This effect is so strong that if the tester hits the rubber hand with a hammer, the test subjects who feel the effect momentarily panic in apprehension of the pain they imagine they will feel (despite "knowing" on an intellectual level that the rubber hand is not their real hand). People experiencing a true phantom limb sometimes even report feeling real pain in the non-existent limb.

    "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them."
    --David Hume

    He was right, and it follows that Reason is not the commander of the feelings we have.
     
  22. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    Yet your arguments don't demonstrate/explain how that is possible.

    So you're saying its own nature is the cause.

    But then you're left with how that nature is developed such that it not only has the capability of choice, but also how it arrives at its judgement values that it uses in making its choice.

    And here you seem to be equating "free" with indeterminism?

    I remain confused as to your line of argument.
     
  23. Gustav Banned Banned

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    12,575
    patently untrue since that very observation implies you have.

    to wit....

    free will is an illusion
    the illusion is inescapable

    yet here you are, outside that sphere of illusion, positing otherwise

    ??
     

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