# Why free will is impossible

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by litewave, May 20, 2011.

1. ### kx000Valued Senior Member

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Our society isn't conditioned at all!

3. ### SciWriterValued Senior Member

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It's only air-conditioned.

5. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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And my hair is conditioned...

Hmm...do laws take away our choice and responsibility? I used to know a number of neighbor kids who chose to break various laws, and eventually got busted comitting fun felonies. They are now in the state pen...

You can still choose to break laws. Most of us break petty ones all the time.
Making something illegal just changes the potential consequences.

For instance:

If I drive too fast :xctd: I can wreck...or get pulled over and get a ticket.
If there were no speed limits and/or traffic laws...there'd be a lot more wrecks as the laws of physics took over from the laws of traffic...but the consequences of your actions would change.
Likely become more severe...as the loons on the road would be everywhere...

7. ### NMSquirrelOCD ADHD THC IMO UR12Valued Senior Member

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If ppl were inherently responsible..this would be all that would be needed to get compliance..

IOW..if you drive fast,you increase the chances of you getting in a wreck..
granted teens (myself included) need to get in a wreck at least once to validate that statement..

now traffic laws are designed to prevent deaths (for the most part..ignoring the monetary influences on traffic laws), most ppl do not want to die. so their responsibility is understanding the cause and effect of speeding..
(this also does not speak to those who do not care about their life)
IOW how many wrecks do you need to get into, to learn not to speed?
i have learned when i am driving in the mountains to respect the posted speed limits..I have not wrecked in the mountains,but have come close a few times, it is this that has caused me to respect the speed limits,not the law..

my point is for ppl to step up and take responsibility,so there will be no need to make a law for any given situation.

8. ### SciWriterValued Senior Member

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Looks like it is proved that they are not all responsible; so, no 'if'.

9. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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"I just had to feed the pets and water the garden and Oh crap! I'm running late again! I don't want to get in trouble, better haul a..."

Conflicting responsibilities...

There's always that...

But some people don't take responsibility for their actions, too, they blame it on the other person...there's a lot of that going around in general.

10. ### NMSquirrelOCD ADHD THC IMO UR12Valued Senior Member

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why do they feel need to blame it on other ppl?

11. ### glaucontending tangentiallyRegistered Senior Member

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Gentlemen,

While I understand how "responsibility" is germane to the issue of "free will" itself, I fail to see how this digression itself is relevant to the topic at hand....

?

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um..uh..oh.

13. ### AnewLife isn't a question.Banned

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what about "reality selection" as a a form of free will ?

Last edited: Aug 4, 2011
14. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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Um...Argh. Brain meet blender again.

As much as I personally have a stake in believing in the reality of free will...and find the lack thereof extraordinarily disturbing...

On (ahem!) another forum, I was pointed to this blog post by Sam Harris: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/free-will-why-you-still-dont-have-it

I had a convo with Cluelesshusband about this...and I realize that I find the idea of lack of free will extraordinarily disturbing. How does one hold a person responsible for their actions if they have only the illusion of control over them?

Much of the distress in my life is a result of one man's refusal to accept responsibility for anything...so the idea of free will is something I really almost need to believe in to keep my world on an even keel.

But there appears to be direct evidence that it just is not so!
Thoughts and actions just bubble up, as it were, without "us"( whatever the h*ll "you" and "I" are) actually deciding anything!

I don't like suddenly looking at evil people as some sort of destructive automata, clockwork life-wrecking machines...very hard to be objective when the life is yours.
On the other hand, I guess I didn't have any freedom in the matter, now did I? Oh wait, there is no I, I'm just a chemical process.

Last edited: Aug 7, 2011
15. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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Having slept, that's still my problem with lack of free will.

It leaves me with a world full of choiceless, powerless automata, grinding away at each other.

16. ### wynn˙Valued Senior Member

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Which goes to show that identity needs to be conceived of a something more than just

if we are to withstand the trials and tribulations of daily life.

17. ### Telemachus RexProtesting Mod StupidityRegistered Senior Member

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I used to be 100% certain that free will existed, even though it is unprovable, until scientists started looking into the physical basis for it and finding disturbing tidbits like those.

I always accepted that some things I "feel" like I have chosen, were in fact automatically generated responses that I've claimed ownership of after the fact, but I was still sure that other choices were clear acts of my own will. Neuroscience seems to be increasingly chipping away at the number of situations in which I can be certain free will plays a role. They haven't conclusively shown that free will never plays a role, but I'm already disturbed at some of the situations where it has been found that it could not.

I find myself hoping on a certain level that science is wrong, which is little better than hoping someone disproves the theory of evolution. It's not a comfortable place for me to be.

For now I cling to the notion that science has not yet chased free will from the field and hoping that my "free will fills the gaps" argument doesn't go the same way as the "god of the gaps" argument went.

18. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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I'm not in a great place to have my underpinnings of reality rattled loose ATM... but nonetheless...that is what it appears to do...

It at least takes decisionmaking down from a conscious level and turns it into as much of an autonomic and involuntary process as, say digestion/excretion, or sexual arousal.

19. ### arfa branecall me arfValued Senior Member

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I don't think there's any reason to get all Descartian about it.

We are programmed by evolution with an innate sense of freedom to act. If we weren't why would any of us bother to eat or drink or do anything?

That we can't tell "what is really happening" at the most fundamental level of reality (is there such a thing if we can't really tell?) makes no difference whatever to this evolutionary "delusion". We have a real sense of freedom of will because we need to have one that looks like it is real, despite what logic and quantum mechanics have to say about it.

It points rather to a problem with also having this logical capacity to question what reality "really" is.

20. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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We're programmed to think we have free, conscious control over our actions, when we really don't though.

So what we think of as self really is an illusion, isn't it?

21. ### Pierre-NormandRegistered Member

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I don't think Benjamin Libet's 'free-will' experiments have the implications most commentators (and Libet himself) have taken them to have regarding the allegedly unconscious causes of our actions. There are two main problems with those experiments that I can see, which invalidates the conclusions that are often drawn from them. The first problem concerns the principles of individuation of actions.

When I perform an action, there usually results some bodily movements. What action these specific movements constitute can vary according to the context and also, most typically, as a function of my intentions. For instance, raising my hand can constitute making a bid in some context (the auction house) or calling someone's attention in another context. External contextual features and my intentions both are relevant in determining what kind of intelligible action my bodily movements constitute. Not all features of the movements I make voluntarily are deliberate or intended outcomes.

If I pick a cereal box on a shelf because I intend to buy it, I may not have deliberately chosen one particular box among many identical boxes. The one I picked may just have happened to be most easily reached. I may have some reason for choosing a box of Corn-Flakes rather than a box of Rice-Krispies, say -- or some unaccounted for preference for the former -- but the choice of some one particular box wasn't the result of any deliberation.

So, if some neuroscientist were to establish that the precise motor-control events that result in my reaching for one specific box are initiated in my brain before I am consciously aware that I have chosen to pick that specific box, would that mean that my action wasn't free? That would be silly. What I did freely, deliberately and responsibly was to pick one sort of food item because doing so fulfils some of my nutrition needs and also satisfies some gustatory preferences of mine. That I used my left or right hand to pick the box, or that I picked this rather than that (identical) box may have resulted from unconscious automatisms or contingencies of the external layout of the items on the shelf. This is irrelevant to the question of the freedom of my choice (i.e. to buy Corn-Flakes) unless we hold that free actions must have all and every features of the bodily movements that accompany them, and all their unintended specificities, under deliberate control.

Back to the case of Libet's experiment: Can't we say that the subjects freely decided to press the button, which they intend to do at some random time, because they freely decided to follow the experimental directives? That the precise time of the action, which the subjects have no particular reason to pick over another time (one second later or earlier, say), isn't itself freely selected but may result mostly from unconscious processes seems just as irrelevant to the problem of free will as is the fact that I don't usually deliberate about which particular cereal box or can of green peas I must pick at the grocery store.

Libet could indeed have asked his subjects to perform the action precisely when the moving point on the oscilloscope (that was used as a timer) was on top of the screen. In that case the subjects would have chosen freely to perform the action at that specific time, assuming only they would have chosen freely to submit to this different experimental protocol. (Likewise, I may choose one specific box I there occurs to me some particular reason to do so.)

The second issue I have with the experiment concerns the alleged timing of the intention. The subjects were instructed to report (using the oscilloscope) on the time they were "first aware of the wish or urge to act". This instruction seems incoherent. When you are instructed to perform an action at some random time of your choosing, can you just sit back and wait for the decision to act to occur and then report on that occurrence? No. You wait until, maybe, you feel that waiting any longer would be silly, and then you decide to act... not just yet.... not now... OK now! This decision is something you do -- or have the illusion of doing -- but whether illusory or not, you aren't related to your own 'decision' in the manner of a passive observer. So, what is this "urge to act" you are supposed to report on? It certainly isn't an irresistible urge, like an urge to sneeze. This you could report on. Here, you are the only judge whether pressing the button is urgent or not. In fact there is no compelling reason to press it now rather than wait a few seconds longer.

Since there is no issue of rational responsibility, there isn't any genuine issue of free-will regarding the precise timing of the act. Libet himself was aware of that fact, I think, since he suggested that the only function of consciousness was to act as a veto for the action that was already unconsciously initiated. Hence the sequence of events is suppose to proceed as follows: (1) The action is unconsciously initiated, (2) I feel "the urge to act", (3) I optionally veto the act (i.e. I repress it), (3) The action occurs (if not vetoed by consciousness). But this analysis is silly. It reduces the whole question of the rationality of the action to the choice of its precise timing. It isn't because of an unconscious urge that the subjects press buttons. It's because Libet has asked them to do so. And they decided freely to play the game. The precise timing of the action is irrelevant to the issue of free-will. So, the relevant sequence should be this: (1) The subject consciously decides to press the button at some random future time. (2) He then decides that the time to act has come and since his only way to assess whether or not "the urge to act" (this mythical beast) occurred is for him to actually initiate the action, he will start moving just as he notes the dot position on the screen. (3) Now, of course, the readiness potential is being measured by Libet. (4) The subject moves as he/she's decided to do.

There is more I should say about the possible confusion of (1) the time one chooses to act with (2) the time one makes the choice. This is related to the so called vehicle/content conflation. But that will have to wait for another time.

22. ### Telemachus RexProtesting Mod StupidityRegistered Senior Member

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Here's free-willed human beings for you:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704547604576263261679848814.html

Or by their free will, I presume.

23. ### Pierre-NormandRegistered Member

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So, if I have gone to work every Monday morning at 8h30 for twenty weeks in a row, some scientist can predict with great accuracy that I will again go to work the following Monday morning...