Does free will exist? (Not a religious debate)

Discussion in 'Science' started by spludgey, Nov 20, 2008.

  1. spludgey

    spludgey Member

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    I believe that free will exists but I don't quite understand why. It would make more sense to me if true free will didn't exist. I for one don't believe in anything supernatural like the soul, spirits, etc. So if we are a sum of the atoms that we are made of, then I assume that if an exact copy was made that this copy would be identical in every concivable way. Even in the way it thought.
    Now our neurological network is also comprised of atoms, meaning that the way in which electrical impulses are fired should be predictable.

    If I take all these assumtions to be correct I arrive at the conclusion that the decisions we make and even our thoughts are predetirmened and that if there was an infinitly fast computer that knew where every single particle in the universe was located, it would be able to calculate everyone's thoughts.

    Surely I missed something or am I just bonkers?
     
  2. SLATYE

    SLATYE SLATYE, not SLAYTE

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    You missed quantum physics. It's not possible to predict everything, regardless of how much information you have. Some things depend purely on probability; and you won't know the outcome until after it's happened.

    Free will doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. As you've said, the human brain is just a big bunch of atoms. How can a big bunch of atoms be said to have "free will"? Sure, they might not be predictable (as above), but is that the same thing?
     
  3. Assasinator_2

    Assasinator_2 (Banned or Deleted)

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    I am by no means a biologist - can quantum effects come into the analysis of the brain? Are neurons getting down to that level enough to exhibit even some quantum effects?

    If so, could the combination of a small 'seed' of innate randomness from the quantum influence, propagated by the overwhelming complexity of the network that forms the brain, produce some cascaded chaotic results allowing for, in a way, free will?
     
  4. Impression

    Impression (Banned or Deleted)

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    you can copy/produce a clone of say a hard drive. the drive will be exactly the same as it's original, but the data held within won't be the same as the original.
     
  5. Assasinator_2

    Assasinator_2 (Banned or Deleted)

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    ..and how does that tie into free will? Are you saying that identical results not being from identical objects is a demonstration of free will or something?
     
  6. Print Scrn 12

    Print Scrn 12 Member

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    Depending on how you define free will, determinism does not necessarily mean a lack thereof.
     
  7. Ashpool

    Ashpool Member

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    It comes down to your definition of will/concience and thus more of a philosphical debate.

    Basically if you define will as the ability to make decisions then yes you can decide either way. That implies free will, however if you also define yourself as a collection of determinate parts then due to the ability to predict the decision made then no there is no free will as the decisions are just the sum of the parts working in a deterministic way. Now we all no that from chaos theory only a small change in the input to a complex or iterative system can produce a very very drastic change in output. An due to quantum influences then well it one could argue that these small changes in input could cause different decisions to be made. And due to the quirks of quantum mechanics then if you try to measure these small inputs then you influence the result.

    In short, you can't measure it because if you tried you would influence your results.
     
  8. power

    power Member

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    i like where the OP is going here and i understand what you are saying, will watch this thread with interest.
     
  9. Foliage

    Foliage Member

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    Yes whilst this makes the universe non deterministic (what spludgey was saying) it does not imply free will, at best our universe is random.

    Atoms can't choose, so why should anything that is made of atoms be able to choose? Yes they can display the act of choice, but is it just an illusion? The choice is based on a long chain of actions and causes and your brain uses this to work out whether it goes left or right.

    Personally I'm not bothered by lack of free will, as although we can't choose to go left or right, our brain uses a complex never ending series of events to pick the better option.

    Umm so what? that just means the cloning process is flawed, doesn't imply anything at all.

    http://forums.overclockers.com.au/showthread.php?t=265557&highlight=determinism

    I started a thread about 4 years ago on this same topic if people want to do some reading

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19025504.000-free-will--you-only-think-you-have-it.html

    Great new scientist article on the topic as well
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2008
  10. matarael

    matarael Member

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    Apart from the semantic issue of a definition of free will vs determinism, a big factor in the whole debate is emergence.

    When talking about the neural substrates of free will (regardless of it's definition), you've gotta take into account that there is no currently known area of the brain that can be mapped to consciousness. Sure consciousness didn't just magically appear, but neither is there specific neural locations for free will. This is where emergence comes in. We cannot predict what most neural networks will do, how they interact with each other, and where consciousness/ free will comes from. These are higher level concepts with no dedicated brain centres (that we currently know of). Therefore the current theory is that these complex characteristics emerged from multiple simple neural interactions.

    As a psychology student, I believe determinsim is a major factor in human behaviour. That theories can predict behavioural choices made by people shows to some extent that peoples behaviour can be partially determined by their environment, upbringing, personality type, motivation level, mental illness....whatever. The fact that these theories do not fully describe how any individual will act does not prove free will but gives us two alternatives. The first, that free will exists, and we will never be able to fully predict someones behaviour, or the second, that we just don't know all of the antecedents for predicting behaviour.

    As Prnt Scrn 12 said: "Depending on how you define free will, determinism does not necessarily mean a lack thereof."

    The whole above paragraph hinges on free will and determinism not being mutually exclusive. It also depends on definitions of the two, but without getting into a semantic arguement, I think that free will exists along side determinism. Peoples actions can be partially determined by a multitude of factors, but eventually there is some decision making process, some choice that gives us free will.
     
  11. Mark Baldwin

    Mark Baldwin (Banned or Deleted)

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    Don't feel bad.
    Your brain is designed by evolution for the pretty much sole function of , well, as the bishop said to the showgirl, etc.
    It is not designed to understand free will and determinism.

    Try reading some Dan Dennett.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_Evolves

    You can subvert the dominant paradigm by using the knowledge you gain to impress geeky uni type chicks so they sleep with you.
     
  12. Fortigurn

    Fortigurn Member

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    I remember we had a discussion on this quite some time ago. Despite the fact that I'm a materialist when it comes to the emergence of consciousness, alarm was expressed whenever I failed to agree with the 'hard' reductionist materialists who believe that there is no such thing as true volition and that consciousness is a chemical accident.

    It was feared that agreeing with the scientists who are 'soft' non-reductionist materialists and believe that consciousness is greater than the sum of its parts constitutes sneaking the soul in the back door. It might be time to revisit that discussion.

    From what I keep being told, at a quantum level nothing is truly predictable. Does this apply here?

    It has been proposed before. There's a wide range of conclusions on what constitutes the correct answer.

    Ah, there we go.

    That depends on how you define free will. I think it also depends on how you define consciousness and volition.

    Dennett in before the second page of the thread, must be a new record. I'd love to hit him in the face with a brick and apologize that it was inevitable because everything is pre-programmed. Nothing personal or anything. :lol:

    Dennett would be a lot more balanced and objective if he wasn't trying so hard to disprove religion. Since this is the fundamental aim of a lot of his work, it's difficult to take him seriously sometimes. I'd much rather read Dawkins.
     
  13. chip

    chip Member

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    What the hell does an argument over the concept of free will have to do with science? Thread belongs in SD.
     
  14. Fortigurn

    Fortigurn Member

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    Please, read the thread. This issue is hotly debated by mathematicians and quantum physicists. It is directly related to science.

    If it was moved there it would die from excess of ignorance.
     
  15. Foliage

    Foliage Member

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    Sometimes I post things in the forum with the more appropriate user base rather than because it will be more 'on topic' for the forum. I think this discussion is a case of being quite intellectual and is best suited for the sort of people in the science section.
     
  16. Fortigurn

    Fortigurn Member

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    Well said. :thumbup:
     
  17. rush

    rush Member

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    The act of observing influences the outcome, doesn't it?

    If the particles that are being observed are also responsible for observing (i.e. the atoms within the brain being used to observe the atoms within the brain), then what are the implications?

    I am unsure of any arguments for free will that do not rely on a metaphysical aspect.
     
  18. Whisper

    Whisper Member

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    From a quantum mechanical point of view, you cannot make an exact duplicate of all the atoms of one thing and then claim they are identical. As far as we know it is not possible, at least not at a quantum mechanical level.

    Take 1 mole of Carbon 14 and then take 1 more mole of Carbon 14 fashioned into an identical shapes, would they still be the same?

    From a macroscopic point of view they will most definitely appear to be identical, they will have the same mass, will fill the same about of volume in three dimensional space, but they wouldn't be the same, would they?

    Electrical impulses are electrons, and you aren't going to much more quantum mechanical than that. :)

    Suffice it to say predestination/determinism versus freewill is a philosophical debate as old as philosophy itself. I wouldn't get to caught up with it unless that was my specific field of study, or my field of study was closely related to it.

    If you have free will, you can do whatever the hell you want, but if you don't, no amount of arguing about it is going to change the situation now is it?

    So live your life as if you have free will since that is the only option you really have. ;)
     
  19. FlyN

    FlyN Member

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    Not quite, sodium/potassium ion channels.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerve_impulse
     
  20. Shinglor

    Shinglor Member

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    (I'm a physics undergraduate)

    To me it seems bizarre and misguided to look for free will in physics, I can't write it off completely because some very smart people are taking these ideas seriously but I'm a little confused about why.

    Determinism or a lack of determinism is a property that is recognisable in physical theories describing particle interactions that can also be applied to systems with any level of complexity. But why should we expect that free will, an idea that only has meaning when applied to complex organisms such as ourselves should have some root cause at the level of fundamental physics?

    Free will, like murder, justice, love and similar concepts are abstract at a level that only begins to make sense when considering things that are 'living'. And biology has already taught us that there's no fundamental distinction between living and non-living things. It's a complex emergent property that, while everyone can agree on many examples, escapes a clear and obvious definition.

    As an example, there isn't any way for a collection of atoms to murder a bunch of other atoms unless those atoms are bonded and arranged together in such a way that we would recognise them as human.
     

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