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MrCode 08-09-2010 09:27 PM

Does anyone here ever ask the question "are we really free"?
Yes, I know I've become somewhat infamous here for going on about this, and this thread will almost certainly get closed after a few flames, but I've virtually no recourse. Counseling won't do me any good, because they'll just tell me exactly what I (don't?) want to hear.

My question is already stated above, and that's basically all I have to ask. Does anyone here go through the whole "are we free, or are we just automatons" debate with themselves, or have you mostly decided one way or the other? Does one *have* to be decided one way or the other?

I've made it a poll, so there'll be no actual thread replies necessary. Basically, I just want to know if I, as a "tech/Linux guy" am alone in my conundrums.

Just a couple bits of info: I'm 18, so I'm probably not as "mature" as you guys (mostly just wanted to share that to keep away the "you're just young and inexperienced" cop-out responses), and I want to believe in something beyond the physical. What that is, I don't know, and that's a big part of this whole issue.

I would also like to make clear the point at which I've driven myself down to:

These are my "reasonings" behind the two sides:
  • For freedom: "quantum uncertainty"
  • Against freedom: "the brain is a deterministic machine. All decisions (including "emotional" or "irrational" decisions) are the result of electrical activity, biochemical reactions, and protein structure. You aren't 'free', you never have been 'free', and you never will be 'free'. All religion and spiritual beliefs (that believe in free will as an absolute truth) are the result of delusion and unscientific nonsense. Anything beyond the physical is an illusion."

As you can see, the reasoning "against freedom" is much more "in-depth" than the reasoning "for freedom", so one might conclude that I'm "already convinced", and that I just need to "get over myself". The thing is, I'm not convinced, it's just that one side is seemingly stronger than the other ("quantum uncertainty" is one hell of a cop-out for free will), and it drives me insane, because it's not what I want to believe...but I feel I have no choice. :cry:

hilyard 08-09-2010 11:16 PM

None of the above.

Freedom of Choice, not necessarily Free Will, is of paramount importance. We are made of it and are physically tied to this Earth, hence we are earthlings. Yet we exist with the potential to become purely spiritual, living free of the parameters imposed by space and time and pairs of opposites. The choices we make determine whether of not we become such.
i.e."It does not belong to man who is walking to direct his step" -- just witness the Gulf of Mexico today, as one example.

Hey, you asked!

b0uncer 08-10-2010 12:41 AM


No, I believe that we have free will, and that not all of our decisions are determined by physics.
Well, they couldn't be, because physics isn't an "answer to everything", it's merely a model picture of "how stuff works" based on our current information and tested "scientifically" (so that everybody can verify the results etc., you know). Physics can't and won't say anything about things that haven't been tested, and even the rest is not "truth", but a "best explanation as of now". A short school example: Newtonian mechanics. They were thought to explain most of physics long ago, but were later found to be inaccurate where great masses, very tiny structures or very high speeds were involved. It doesn't make Newtonian mechanics faulty, it simply means that the theories and models of physics have their limits, a region of sorts where they apply. Outside of that region new models have to be created, or old ones improved by modifications. And still physics doesn't say that the model, say Newtonian mechanics, is the only model that is accurate--it's only one possible explanation, with its limits.

Religions (or alike) and physics can't close each other out, because religions don't work scientifically and physics isn't a definite answer. Therefore they can co-exist, and neither of them will be able to answer your question reliably.

I'd say it's uncertain whether or not we're not free.

jiml8 08-10-2010 01:12 AM


Physics can't and won't say anything about things that haven't been tested
Sure it will. In fact, that is one of the hallmarks of the scientific method; a proposed theory must make predictions that can be tested.

jiml8 08-10-2010 01:15 AM

MrCode 08-10-2010 01:34 AM


Originally Posted by jiml8
that is one of the hallmarks of the scientific method; a proposed theory must make predictions that can be tested.

Yes, but I think the point he was trying to make was that you can't know something for sure until it has been tested, i.e. he meant it literally as in "they can't say anything", they can only make an educated guess.

On a side note: I'm surprised at the level of tolerance so far...I was kind of expecting either teases/sarcasm ("Of course we're not free. Don't you know that we're all just robots after all? BEEP.") or comments of disgust ("Would you just give this whole 'free will/determinism' thingy a rest already??"), but this seems to be an actual intelligent discussion so far. :)

EDIT: I'm still shaky about checking this thread regularly, though (dealing with emotional problems over this whole thing), so don't expect tons of responses back from me. Oh, and I'm on vacation, too (camping 'n stuff, trying to get out in nature), so I don't always have access to a wireless AP for internet. :p

vigilandy 08-10-2010 02:21 AM

The universe is completely deterministic.

However, I'm not saying that humans are smart enough to figure out all the rules of nature. As b0uncer indicated, our model of nature can be improved, but I don't think it will ever be perfect.

But here is a sort of false freedom. If we don't have a perfect model, then freedom lies in our ignorance. If we don't already know how the future will pan out, we can trick ourselves into believing we have a choice, even though I believe all our "choices" have already been made.

And even if we did know all the laws of nature and thus all past and future events, you can still enjoy a movie even if you know the ending.

XavierP 08-10-2010 02:36 AM

Dude, you're outside, get off the internet. Enjoy nature, kick back and relax.

brianL 08-10-2010 04:41 AM

I'm agnostic on this issue. I haven't delved into it or agonised over it as much as MrCode has, though. I prefer to think that we have free will, and behave as if I have. Determinism, as far as human behaviour goes, is a cop-out. "Quantum physics made me do it" or "God made me do it". What's the difference?

vigilandy 08-10-2010 09:39 AM


Originally Posted by brianL (Post 4061625)
Determinism, as far as human behaviour goes, is a cop-out. "Quantum physics made me do it" or "God made me do it". What's the difference?

Oh, disagreement. This is where it gets good.

What you're talking about is defending yourself and taking responsibility for your own actions and the only time such a need arises is when there is perceived wrongdoing. But instead of creating the need to defend oneself, if we agree that a person is a product of their environment, we should be looking to alter the environment and removing the incentive for the undesired behavior. This outlook, coupled with strong incentive for desired behavior, would result in a more ideal social system.

However, this is a big picture perspective and as such, pragmatic solutions must also be on the table when it comes to curtailing undesired behavior on the level of the individual. So while I'm not necessarily against such things as incarceration and other primitive forms of punishment, I do feel that if the architects of a social system truly have a desire for justice, they should keep in mind that no one acts independent of their environment.

MrCode 08-10-2010 12:40 PM


Originally Posted by vigilandy
The universe is completely deterministic.

Great. Great way to start a reply to a thread created by someone who sometimes literally cries over this kind of s#!t every day. Thanks a lot. :mad:

But then again, you could have theoretically predicted my response, since after all, we're just machines... :cry: :mad:

I take it you're the only one (so far) who has picked option #1?

Riddle me this: if there is no such thing as true freedom, then what's the point of even living?? If all of our choices are predetermined, then what's the point in hoping for the future? Your little description of the "ideal social system" wherein everyone is a hard determinist is just one example of an ideal. How can you hold any ideals if everything is predestined? Why not just calculate a best estimate of what will happen? After all, we're just machines, and as such our behavior can be clearly predicted...

Also: let the flame war begin...the determinist has arrived, and now we're (probably) going to see tons of arguments coming from both sides. I should have known that starting this thread was a bad idea...of course, it was predestined anyway, so why do I bother worrying about it? Thanks a lot vigilandy. Consider yourself ignored. :mad:

MrCode 08-10-2010 01:27 PM

Just to clarify the depth of this issue for me:

Basically, the point that vigilandy is trying to make is that you could just as easily reduce living beings to nothing more than subatomic particles and cold equations. This is called reductionism, and to me, it's a very cold, heartless, depressing view of the universe. :cry:

Now, that's not to say I'm completely against science or the scientific method, but IMO when you turn it on yourself (or others like you), then it just leads to a depressing worldview. Oh sure, give all the "it'll save the human race" excuses you want; there'll still be those who will commit suicide because they can't stand the notion of them being nothing more than a culmination of simple particles. I suppose you'll give the excuse that that's "natural selection at work". Guess what, that only worsens the problem! Although I suppose that's how you'd have it anyway, since that only "speeds up the process". That's just an example of elitism. :mad: :banghead:

MrCode 08-10-2010 01:27 PM

<damn slow 'net connection made me post a dupe :rolleyes:>

b0uncer 08-10-2010 01:50 PM


Originally Posted by jiml8 (Post 4061477)
Sure it will. In fact, that is one of the hallmarks of the scientific method; a proposed theory must make predictions that can be tested.

I should probably rephrase it a little, so that you don't misunderstand me. Physics is unable to say "it definitely is like this" of things that have not been tested and verified, the way it can say "two masses will attract each other, if other forces than gravitation are neglected". The latter one can, in the given simplified Newtonian model, be verified by everyone, whereas the previous can't be. Moreover there's a chance that when it becomes possible to test the previous statement, it proves to be wrong, whereas the latter one should not, if it's well defined (e.g. it is stated that weak and strong interactions, quantum effects etc. are neglected--they would need to be taken into account in a refined model). Without predictions physics would only evolve through accidents, but it doesn't mean physics can truly foretell things that don't follow a known law (again in a suitable model). To be even more precise, existing physics theories will likely be all wrong when taken to the limits, because they can always be refined.

There's a problem with being free as well, because if we're free, we can choose to obey our destiny, which means we aren't free after all, because destiny chooses for us instead of ourselves.

MrCode 08-10-2010 02:00 PM

This is something I found some time ago, and for some, it could help, but for me it doesn't (I'll explain why below):


Well, are my acts determined by the laws of nature or aren't they?

The word determined here is subtly but powerfully misleading and has contributed so much to the confusions of the free will versus determinism controversies. Your acts are certainly in accordance with the laws of nature, but to say they are determined by the laws of nature creates a totally misleading psychological image which is that your will could somehow be in conflict with the laws of nature and that the latter is somehow more powerful than you, and could "determine" your acts whether you liked it or not. But it is simply impossible for your will to ever conflict with natural law. You and natural law are really one and the same.

What do you mean that I cannot conflict with nature? Suppose I were to become very stubborn, and I determined not to obey the laws of nature. What could stop me? If I became sufficiently stubborn even you could not stop me!

You are absolutely right! I certainly could not stop you. Nothing could stop you. But there is no need to stop you, because you could not even start! As Goethe very beautifully expressed it, "In trying to oppose Nature, we are, in the very process of doing so, acting according to the laws of nature!" Don't you see that the so-called "laws of nature" are nothing more than a description of how in fact you and other beings do act? They are merely a description of how you act, not a prescription of of how you should act, not a power or force which compels or determines your acts. To be valid a law of nature must take into account how in fact you do act, or, if you like, how you choose to act.

So you really claim that I am incapable of determining to act against natural law?

It is interesting that you have twice now used the phrase "determined to act" instead of "chosen to act." This identification is quite common. Often one uses the statement "I am determined to do this" synonymously with "I have chosen to do this." This very psychological identification should reveal that determinism and choice are much closer than they might appear. Of course, you might well say that the doctrine of free will says that it is you who are doing the determining, whereas the doctrine of determinism appears to say that your acts are determined by something apparently outside you. But the confusion is largely caused by your bifurcation of reality into the "you" and the "not you." Really now, just where do you leave off and the rest of the universe begin? Or where does the rest of the universe leave off and you begin? Once you can see the so-called "you" and the so-called "nature" as a continuous whole, then you can never again be bothered by such questions as whether it is you who are controlling nature or nature who is controlling you. Thus the muddle of free will versus determinism will vanish. If I may use a crude analogy, imagine two bodies moving toward each other by virtue of gravitational attraction. Each body, if sentient, might wonder whether it is he or the other fellow who is exerting the "force." In a way it is both, in a way it is neither. It is best to say that it is the configuration of the two which is crucial.
The section I've boldened is the part that still lets people like vigilandy win. If "nature" and "you" are supposedly "one", then doesn't that mean that determinism still wins, because if the universe really is 100%, without-a-doubt, for-sure deterministic in nature, then doesn't that mean that the "you" is really an illusion, and that there is only "nature"?

By that definition, reductionism and determinism still win! :mad: :cry: :banghead:

EDIT: The part I've italicized is another big part of what drives me so insane. It's like being in the ultimate cosmic prison: being able to realize that you're not free; that you're chained down by the laws of nature, and at the same time not being able to do a damn thing about it!! :cry:

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