Monday, June 23, 2014

May We Believe Our Thoughts

I had many posts on this topic in 2011, collected here.  It occurs to me that there is a simpler argument in favor of free will, despite all the current discussion that we are all quite automatic and unmovable in our views.

We can imagine alternative courses of action.  We might vary greatly in how objectively we view the alternatives.  We might at times only be pretending to consider Actions B or C; we might be weighted far more strongly to a particular course than we are aware.  Yet with a very little effort, we can play out the consequences in our minds, and change our minds.  We can "think better of it." We can seek advice and modify. It is so obvious in our daily interactions as to be invisible.

But most of all, the mere fact of imagining creates real choice.  Even an inconsistency, a randomness, a Dungeons&Dragons die-roll sort of freedom comes in.  It might only apply to 1% of our decisions.  I think it is a great deal more, but let us look to the minimum, just for argument. Once there are a dozen doors, more than one will be entered.  We might be the sort that enters Door #8 a ridiculous percentage of the time.  But not 100%.  That never happens with 12 doors.

8 comments:

james said...

I'm not sure that completely works: being buffeted by random waves isn't exactly being free either.

I sometimes wonder why these stories ("Science proves you have no free will") keep popping up. What motivates people to try to deny such an obvious fact of everyone's experience? (And at the price of undermining their own believability)

Maybe they're simpleminded and can't imagine being partly free and partly constrained. But I get the sense they want the answer to be "not free."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Point taken, but randomnness is the minimum. I can't see how one gets below that philosophically, and it is a sort of free choice. The no-free-will argument is permeable from below, if nothing else.

Christopher B said...

james, I agree the desired answer is "not free" but I don't think the answer is desired by people in general, even simple-minded ones. There is a certain class of people (the 'nudgers') that like that answer. If people aren't making free choices then it's much easier to justify constraining or eliminating choices.

William Newman said...

I don't understand this, or most of the arguments on the subject of free will. It seems likely to me that in principle we could construct full-blown little-universe simulations with multiple simulated brains, or cheaper brain-in-a-jar fakery, with simulated actors people reporting either self-perceptions of free will self-perceptions of destiny, and there would be no reliable connection between those self-perceptions and the actual simulation machinery. It's hard to imagine anything I could possibly experience which would cleanly exclude the possibility of being in a deterministic universe, or being in a random universe, or being in a hybrid like the multiple-branching-universes ideas of QM, or being in one of the philosophical thought experiments like my consciousness being the only reality there is and merely fantasizing everything else to entertain itself. It's like some of the technical problems studied in theoretical computer security ("Byzantine generals" e.g.): once you are at risk of too much your decision machinery being fundamentally misled somehow, you can't determine anything reliably anymore.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Christopher, I hadn't thought of that angle. There is of course always another level down, where people asking such questions have an answer that is more convenient for the way they are behaving.

james said...

I think I overstated with "simple-minded". Christopher's answer is good: some are looking for a simple way to produce Eden without the hassle of people deciding they don't wanna. I know some of the proponents just want to justify themselves, but that motive didn't seem to match all the cases.

People love a simple model, and I notice that philosophers are subject to this affliction too--some of them try to reduce all morality and politics to a "maximum happiness principle" or some similar universal rule. Just like models of politics where everything is secretly run by the Illimunati;(*) everybody is secretly run by chemical cues and the bad effects of the way they were potty-trained.

(*) Of course, as somebody {was it you?} pointed out, the world is chock full of conspiracies--but most of them fail.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, that was I writing that about conspiracies.

ymarsakar said...

The question shouldn't be about who is free or not free, the question should be whether the over arching power on Earth wants slavery or liberty, and which side people take after that.