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Alexander Kruel (M, 37)
Gütersloh, DE
Immortal since Mar 10, 2009
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    Free will as nonlinear transformational effectiveness
    A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants.

    — Arthur Schopenhauer

    Free will does not and cannot imply without cause, randomness or unpredictability. All those qualities, although present in complex systems, would contradict the notion of willful intent. What we want, and therefore do, must be based on reasonable ground. Random convulsions are not our understanding of volition. It is defined as purposive striving and thus has to have a purpose, it has to be based on cause.

    Thus, does free will exist? If so, what is free will? Can there be a reasonable definition? I think so.

    Of course, looking for free will as seen from a strong philosophical viewpoint is a futile effort. It's asking for rainbows end. Reality, reason and logic, forbid libertarian free will. For one there is the impossibility of choice. Though you may, to a limited extent, outweigh the problem of choice by accepting the many-worlds is an interpretation of quantum mechanics. More important, and I think crucial, for the fallaciousness of metaphysical free will is the fact that it is impossible due to Gödel's incompleteness theorems. No system can understand itself for that the very understanding would evade itself forever. A bin trying to contain itself. This prohibits sufficient control over internal causes, which I think, are ultimately indistinguishable from causal relationships between a defined system and the environment.

    There's no scientific reason to believe that we have free will. There's no buffer zone that we've found in any of the physical laws of how the universe works to make room for free will. There's non-determinism; but there's not choice. Choice is the introduction of something, dare I say it, supernatural: some influence that isn't part of the physical interaction, which allows some clusters of matter and energy to decide how they'll collapse a probabilistic waveform into a particular reality.

    Mark Chu-Carroll

    Scientists think that there are phenomena that qualify to be defined as 'free will'. Specifically endogenous processes generating behavioral variability and thus non-linearity. But I think this is not enough.

    Free will is a middleman. Consciousness between cause and effect. The intelligent refinement of causation into an effective agent. The sun at your back - your shadow in front. You are the shadow player. Nevertheless, to claim sovereignty is trying to get ahead of your own shadow. You imprint reality with a pattern of volition. But not without its implicit consent.

    A system qualifies as free if you can show that the specific effectiveness and the complexity of transformation by which a system shapes the outside environment, in which it is embedded, does trump the environmental influence on the defined system.

    In other words, mind over matter. You are able to shape reality more effectively and goal-oriented and thus, in a way, overcome its crude influence it exerts on you.

    What does this mean? For example, children and some mentally handicapped people are not responsible in the same way as healthy adults. They cannot give consent or enter into legally binding contracts. One of the reasons for this is that they lack control, are easily influenced by others. Healthy humans exert a higher control than children and handicapped people. You experience, or possess a greater extent of freedom proportional to the amount of influence and effectiveness of control you exert over the environment versus the environment over you.

    Though this definition of free will only work once you arbitrarily define a system to be an entity within an environment, contrary to being the environment. The universe really just exists. And it appears to us that it is unfolding because we are part of it. We appear to each other to be free and intelligent because we believe that we are not part of it.

    Nevertheless, I think it might after all be a useful definition when it comes to science, psychology and law. It might also very well address our public understanding of being free agents.

    How much sense does all this make? I don't know. I admit that I do not have the expertise to base my ideas on firm ground or even judge the credibility of these thoughts. Nonetheless, so far the above is as close as I can get towards a satisfying framework for the notion of free will.

    Note: These ideas are based on work by Björn Brembs and long discussions with Christopher Harris.

    Sun, Mar 21, 2010  Permanent link

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    XiXiDu     Sun, Mar 21, 2010  Permanent link
    Updated: Typos and word order

    "A system qualifies as free if you can show that the specific effectiveness and the complexity of transformation by which a system shapes the outside environment..."

    "...are not responsible in the same way as..."

    ++ some minor changes
    Wildcat     Sun, Mar 21, 2010  Permanent link
    Excellent post Alex, thanks for that. I agree. however allow me to point a few issues which I see as fundamental:
    firstly I think (and I said so before , about a yr ago in another comm. we have had) that free and will are two incompatible statements, we cannot and should not accept these two words put together under one canopy for these designate two completely different realities ( and maybe multidimensionality indeed is the only way out of this linguistic conundrum). from a different perspective of course the concept of free will is a highly usable tool 'at present' in the manner that our common society operates (legal systems and so on), and indeed I do not see a reason or a motive why we will need this fictitious entity called free will (outside the common at present necessity) in our own internal doings.
    it goes without saying that all of our designated systems are arbitrarily defined and thus all distinctions made within said designations are consequences of each other and create a concatenated loop of self description which both reinforces itself and defeats the origination of ontology. In fact it may very well be that there is no ontology to 'free will' and why indeed would there be?
    of what inherency does it partake and what reasoning does it serve?
    neurologically the point is moot as has been proven by Libet et Al. philosophically the point is moot as has been proven by Deleuze.
    the question of free won't (our neuroability to veto certain kinds of operational behaviors) is only slightly more interesting.
    I would venture the idea that we do NOT need this concept altogether and maybe by getting rid of a superfluous concept we can finally allow the interplay of forces both exerted and exerting to 'freely' flow in the evolutionary game play in which we coexist and upon which we co-depend.
    notwithstanding all of the above I think we can both accept and reject the notion of 'free will' simultaneously - not a logical move of course, but one which deeply resonates.

    XiXiDu     Wed, Jul 21, 2010  Permanent link
    Some recent content of note regarding the topic of 'free will' (follow the links for further reading):

    Determinism is true but thermostats can still control the temperature. And nobody denies that thermostats control the temperature. — Steven Landsburg paraphrasing Robert Nozick in The Big Questions

    It is widely believed, at least in scientific circles, that living systems, including mankind, obey the natural physical laws. However, it is also commonly accepted that man has the capacity to make “free” conscious decisions that do not simply reflect the chemical makeup of the individual at the time of decision—this chemical makeup reflecting both the genetic and environmental history and a degree of stochasticism. Whereas philosophers have discussed for centuries the apparent lack of a causal component for free will, many biologists still seem to be remarkably at ease with this notion of free will; and furthermore, our judicial system is based on such a belief. It is the author’s contention that a belief in free will is nothing other than a continuing belief in vitalism—something biologists proudly believe they discarded well over 100 years ago. — The Lucretian swerve: The biological basis of human behavior and the criminal justice system

    In my article I draw attention to the illogical nature of the belief in free will (1). If I understand the letter from McEvoy correctly, he does not dispute this conclusion (2). Rather, he addresses the difficulties in administering justice under a system in which it is conceded that free will is lacking. Although I agree that there are difficulties, I have provided an outline for an alternative form of justice. The option of remaining with the present system is not an attractive one for several reasons, including the following: The system does not work well, especially here in the United States where we have the highest incarceration rate in the world (3). Also, it is absurd to expect jurors, in response to competing arguments from so-called experts, to make decisions about the degree of mental responsibility of defendants. This absurdity will only increase with ongoing advances in the study of behavioral biology that result in an increasing understanding of human behavior at the level of the chemistry of the brain. This behavior, in turn, reflects nothing more than the genetic and environmental history of the individual, plus some degree of stochasticism.

    I have argued that a belief in free will is nothing other than a continuing belief in vitalism and, as such, for scientists to passively accept this belief is an embarrassment to the field of biology. The widespread notion, present in both the scientific community and university administrations, that there is some magical component to human behavior only serves to hinder research in an area that has to be among the most fascinating and important in all of biology. Furthermore, defining the real basis of human behavior (and eliminating the notion of free will) should increase attention on the importance of creating environmental conditions, both within prisons and outside, which minimize antisocial behavior. At present, such attention is diluted by the mistaken belief that individuals possess some level of control of their behavior, over and above that defined by their genetic and environmental history.

    Finally, I would encourage those who strongly disagree with the arguments that I have presented to provide a molecular model for free will. In the meantime, it would be prudent for society to assume that no such model will be forthcoming and that the illusion of free will is a genetically driven evolutionary twist of nature, imposed on us through our conscious mind. We should modify the judicial system accordingly. — The judicial system is based on a false understanding of the biology of human behavior

    Anckarsäter is certainly correct when he reminds us “covariation does not equal causation” (1). Indeed, I have made this very point in reference to the covariance of conscious thought processes and behavior (2). It is the daily “minute by minute” reminder of this covariance that may be the primary reason that the majority is willing to believe in free will. However, as argued by many, this relationship is unlikely to be causal, with Huxley noting that it is similar to “the steam whistle which signals but doesn't cause the starting of the locomotive” (3). Yet this belief in free will still holds, despite the insane difficulty in providing a molecular model that might accommodate such a belief. As I have suggested, society would be better served if such a belief was discarded, at least until someone provides a molecular explanation for free will (2, 4). Now Anckarsäter might argue that belief in free will should be retained until proof is provided that human behavior can be fully explained by the genetic, environmental, and stochastic history of individuals. Such an argument would be analogous to a decision to require belief in bodily resurrection and to retain this requirement until someone provides proof that it does not occur. That is, Western and many other societies concede that an act of faith is required for many religious beliefs, and for this reason a requirement for such beliefs is generally excluded from government constitutions. Ironically, and in striking contrast, an integral component of most legal systems is the equally nonsensical belief that individuals can make decisions that derive from something over and above their genetic and environmental history and a degree of stochasticism. — A belief in free will is based on faith
    michaelerule     Fri, Aug 27, 2010  Permanent link
    I don't understand the meaning of "nonlinearity" as you have used it in this essay. Can you elaborate ?

    Also, you run into problems defining the "environment". If the environment is the universe than no subset of Earth has free will at the moment.

    An alternative philosophical reconciliation of determinism and the subjective experience of free will is that any model capable of predicting in entirety a person's actions necessarily contains identical (handwave) "information content". Arguably, the predictive model is the person. The model has free will as well.

    There is some philosophical physics paper out there arguing that we have free will if and only if fundamental particles have free will.

    this quote is originally in german, I don't know the attribution, but

    "we don't do what we want, we want what we do"

    Spaceweaver     Sat, Aug 28, 2010  Permanent link
    Interesting post ! A couple of years ago I wrote a paper on free will I think you'll find interesting. It traces the experience of choice to an epistemic gap inherent in mental processes due to them being based on physically realized computational processes. This gap weakens the grasp of determinism and allows for an effective kind of freedom. The freedom arising from the epistemic gap is no longer a mysterious property of an agent but rather a dynamic property of a wider state of affairs involving the agent, the distribution of computational resources and information flow.

    In one line: So called free choice arises because information and computational resources are never equally distributed. Though I did not make this explicit in the actual paper, freedom can be closely related to entropy and entropic gradients.

    Needless to mention that freedom as a concept goes far beyond the local manifestations of will. What needs an explanation in this context is not freedom but only to what exactly the experience of free will corresponds if it does correspond to anything real at all. The conclusion I reach in my article that free will does correspond to something real and measurable at least in principle.
    BenRayfield     Mon, Aug 30, 2010  Permanent link
    Theres an experiment you can do (many times because its a statistics experiment) to learn about "free will". I've done this and similar things enough to know it works more than you would expect from random coin flips...

    Wait until you have 2 things to choose between and you are equally likely to choose 1 or the other. Commit to doing 1 if the coin lands heads and the other if its tails. No changing your mind after it lands, or it won't work. Center your mind, and make sure you're still completely undecided, 50% chance of preferring either future. Flip the coin high in the air. As its falling, look at it and think about the 2 possible futures. Your mind normally fluctuates between preferring 1 thing or the other a little, and this is no different. Whichever thing you start preferring while the coin is landing, will cause the coin to land that way more often. Now go do 1 of 2 things you committed to do depending on how the coin landed. A little more than half the time, you will do the thing you started to prefer while it was being flipped.

    Really, it works. I'm not joking. I think its because of the continuous paths in all directions in the multiverse. Creating quantum entanglement isn't hard. If you commit to do something if the coin lands heads, you've quantum entangled that event with heads. Except for rare times when you can't do what you committed to, those events always go together, so they're entangled. Its similar to what makes  work, which is also a sequence of logical steps involving coin flips. What I described more directly shows how it works.

    How is it related to "free will"? You threw the coin in the air before deciding. When you decide what you prefer (to affect it statistically a little), does that change the past so you throw it differently? Or does the way the coin is falling change what you prefer? Or does past-to-future time have nothing to do with it?

    For a more interesting experiment, do these experiments in combinations, depending on the results of other such experiments, and define logical operations (AND, OR, NOT, IF_THEN, etc) referring to far-future experiments that define how you commit to reacting to near-future experiments that define how you commit to very-far-future experiments (knot ends here).... If you do big enough systems of that, theoretically you should be able to tie the causal structure of spacetime in knots, just by committing to a certain system of reacting to coin flips. Can you think of anyone who has ever tried that? If not, how do you know it wouldn't work? Why would it work in small experiments but not systems made of small experiments? If you want to learn about "free will", tie it in knots and build all kinds of strange things with it, and see what it does. Maybe if you tie the causal structure of spacetime in exactly the right kind of knot (maybe one of those knots that tightens but never lets go), you could do something with  I haven't been able to do this again, but I was once playing with coins in a similar way, and I guess there was something too improbable about both the heads and tails futures, and the coin landed sideways by hitting a beer cap on a table, bouncing against a magnet, and then the beer cap clamped it straight up against the magnet, something I couldn't do after throwing the coin 100 times at the beer cap while trying to clamp it to the magnet. That coin landed sideways for some reason other than randomness.

    I think space and time are just approximations of some emergent patterns at the core of all math/abstractions/etc, so I don't see any paradoxes with any of this. When people start making up words like "free" and "choose", thats when the confusion starts.
    XiXiDu     Sat, Sep 18, 2010  Permanent link
    Consider architecture. A building provides a system of artificial constraints, both enabling and also limiting what you can do. Want to go upstairs? Well, you’ve got to use the stairs, and the stairs themselves dictate not only what sort of path you’ll follow through space, but how you will coordinate your body parts and movements along the way.

    The architect bullies and forces you to do things as he or she determines.

    What You Can Yet Cannot Do: How Our Path Entrains Our Movement
    Phyllotaxis     Tue, Mar 29, 2011  Permanent link
    Very well written ideas, and very important, especially as they cut directly to the heart of many cultural dysfunctions existant today. With all the well-articulated theory above, it seems difficult to argue any mystical "Body Outside, Directing" argument, whether that "Body" is an omnipotent "God" or the individual human "spirit/soul".

    Neither can exist if the elemental concept of freewill is a logical falsehood, in that for either to exist, they must exist independently from the universe in which we operate. As you all point out, there is no science showing this to be the case.

    So called free choice arises because information and computational resources are never equally distributed. Though I did not make this explicit in the actual paper, freedom can be closely related to entropy and entropic gradients.

    I like this comment, as it reminds me of a concept I think of as "directional entropy", or, put more simply: attention. In this context, perhaps the entire concept of Human Action and/or entropy can even be envisioned as being contained within that one word: Attention.
    When we "pay/lend/direct/draw/give" attention to something, we affect it.
    That attention is the computational resource, while the information is whatever set of circumstances/arrangement of energies/particles present themselves at any juncture.

    How much or little attention given (or the manner in which it is delivered) is dependent on every interaction and previous circumstances that existed between every interacting particle in the mix, no? We are at the crest of a wave in the dark. The dark is future/unseen/out-of-view. Your nature and nurture concept being the ocean underlying and defining the wave. It may explain what you are, how you got here, and may indicate where you may "incline" to go, but you can not really freely/independently/outside-in decide on or define the circumstances ahead until you "get there", since "there" doesn't exist until entropy defines it out of the universal sandbox as existing. Which falls back into your biological lap as a reflection of what you bring to the table in the first place.

    I hope I am making some sense. I often labor to articulate these thoughts.

    Forgive this additional observation XiXiDu , as it may come off as glib and only tangentially related, but when I read your above comment, this is what I imagined seeing in it's place:

    Consider government. A government provides a system of artificial constraints, both enabling and also limiting what you can do. Born a citizen of X country? Well, you’ve got to obey their laws, and the laws themselves dictate not only what sort of path you’ll follow through life, but how you will coordinate your [actions/attention], body parts and movements along the way.

    If we reject the notion of "external will", which we clearly do, must not we equally reject the imposition of our "will" in the form of constraints and dictates leveled against others as well? Should there be only enforced peaceful co-existence, and no more?

    The way I see it, if there is no individual free will, there must also be allowed no collective free will— no intrinsic "authority over the self outside the self", "self" meaning simply your own body, (since we have disposed of the spirit beyond, your only property, or essence, is your physical self, as it is all you have direct possession of) how can any other "self" demand anything of you?
    Only non-aggression towards others seems logical to me.

    The justification for government legitimacy is their geographic location, and is arbitrary and not open to interpretation (from their perspective)
    Their declared monopoly of the use of force is a sanction applied against all individuals born within lines made on a map before we existed to make a decision to consent to be bound by them.

    I draw these conclusions because I see them as extensions of the logic that is used to define biological human behaviors. I can only logically accept law that does not conflict with that set of facts. That limits legitimate biological law to barring aggression (property violation) against others.
    I wonder how you interpret this scenario?

    Many thanks for the thought-provoking discussions—