Tyrone takes on free will

by on March 14, 2006 at 7:16 am in Philosophy | Permalink

Tyrone doesn't believe in free will, he believes in something better than free will...

Just last week Tyrone told me the following:

The traditional debate pits determinists against voluntarists.  The determinists believe that man is caught up in the grand causal nexus.  The voluntarists believe you somehow break free of cause and effect.  You are able to spew forth "uncaused events" more or less at will.  You are a truly special being, rather than just another toad.

As for the compatibilists, I say ugh.  I am sorry, but you can’t believe A and non-A at the same time.

The voluntarists just don’t cut it.  What strange theory of physics do they hold?  At what moment in the evolution of man (or monkeys) did cause and effect cease to apply to brains?  Plus neuroscience shows that subconscious brain activity, in the relevant parts of the brain, precedes the moment of conscious decision.

Furthermore I doubt if the voluntarist vision of free will is so fun.  How sad to have to stand apart from the causal nexus.  How alienating.  How totally gauche.  Isn’t the causal nexus what makes sex so fun?

My vision of free will starts with the problems in defining the self.  You know: Parfit, Hume, time-slices, and the fact that I cannot remember what I did last night (fyi, I don’t remember what my wife and I discussed on our first date but I do remember what she ordered).

If you are nothing but a time-slice, the free will "problem" goes away.  There is no "you" freely choosing, but there is also no "you" caught up as a prisoner of the causal chain.  Instead you are your choice.  At least "that you" was your choice at the time.  No more and no less.

You are identical to your choice.  What more dignity or freedom could you possibly expect?  Surely that is better than the voluntarist notion of exogenously originating autonomous control.

This view allows us to maintain that human beings are ruled by the same natural laws which govern the behavior of stones.  Physics remains monistic.  At the same time, you are not reduced to a mere puppet.  Ha!  There’s not even a "you" to be subject to reduction!

To up the ante just a bit, dare I mention multiple worlds quantum mechanics, David Lewis’s modal realism, and inflationary cosmology?  These views are distinct but all lead us to the conclusion that many possible universes, perhaps all possible universes, exist in some fashion.  They will give you lots of time-slices and lots of bits of you walking around.  Who cares in what order the deck is shuffled, or where the different cards lie spatially?  The time-slice you, temporary as he or she may be, is connected to an infinite or very large number of other time-slices.  A very large number of those time slices will be very close to the "you" that constituted your choice.  Furthermore some other time-slice will get to experience some almost identical version of your choice, sooner or later.  Being a solitary fellow, I like that better than voluntarism.

In some versions of these views, literally everything is removed from the causal nexus.  In fact there is no causal nexus in the first place.  Surely that should make you feel better and restore your underlying pantheism.  No self.  No reduction.  No causal nexus.  Just lots of you, you, you.  Better than having your own TV show.

Tyler, of course, is a determinist.  He thinks I had to write this post.  More to the point, this post is who Tyrone really is.

Tyrone is really quite a sad fellow.  Many of you believe in free will, but I know determinism applies to me and to my choices.  I feel the pull of those causal chains, day in and day out.

Gyan March 14, 2006 at 8:42 am

If you are nothing but a time-slice, the free will “problem” goes away. There is no “you” freely choosing, but there is also no “you” caught up as a prisoner of the causal chain. Instead you are your choice. At least “that you” was your choice at the time.

If there’s no ‘you’, then what does ‘your choice’ mean?

Will Wilkinson March 14, 2006 at 9:11 am

You!

conchis March 14, 2006 at 9:36 am

Warning: likely stupidity follows

“The voluntarists just don’t cut it. What strange theory of physics do they hold? At what moment in the evolution of man (or monkeys) did cause and effect cease to apply to brains?”

Um, isn’t the voluntarist view kind of consistent with the whole Schroedinger’s cat thing? Not until the moment our choice occurs is it determinate, and if you somehow managed to put us in an exactly identical situation again, we might choose differently.

God does play dice, and we’re the dice… or something.

Lee March 14, 2006 at 10:41 am

Arguments involving free will and quantum-anything frustrate me because I can’t speak with any real confidence about quantum physics—and yet, I know they are wrong.

In some ways, I’m disappointed we left the classical-physics worldview because now an execrable movie like “What the bleep do we know?” is possible. Have you seen this garbage?

Michael Foody March 14, 2006 at 10:58 am

Based on what I know of the world determinism makes more sense than voluntarism, there is however the problem that I have a persistant sense of choosing things. What is the purpose of this illusion? Is the information that I always seem to be choosing things and that almost everyone offers a similar account of making choices just chucked because there is contradictory information. I haven’t the foggiest idea the possible mechanism by which free will might come to be, but I don’t think that it is impossible that such a mechanism could exist.

Barbar March 14, 2006 at 11:41 am

Think of a developing AI project. Say you’re building a robot vacuum cleaner. As you make the robot smarter and smarter (more perception, a memory, greater learning ability) it gains more and more free will. The AI programmer would not add a “free will module” however. Free will is not something that exists separate from the ability to think and act, and thinking and acting are not in contradiction with a deterministic universe. Intelligent actors might represent their choices to themselves, and be worried that they do not have sufficient freedom to make the right choices, but viewing determinism as a threat to freedom is just a category error.

Glen March 14, 2006 at 1:22 pm

Conchis — The problem with using quantum indeterminacy to justify free will is that most believers in free will find the notion that our actions are randomly determined as offensive as the notion that our actions are predetermined. There’s still no room for (what they perceive as) true choice. If I told you that your actions tomorrow would be determined by the flip of a coin, rather than a mechanistic sequence of neuron firings and so on, would that make you feel any better?

dlondonx March 14, 2006 at 3:33 pm

‘When it was announced that the Library contained all books, the first reaction was unbounded joy. All men felt themselves the possessors of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal problem, no world problem, whose eloquent solution did not exist – somewhere in some hexagon. The universe was justified; the universe suddenly became congruent with the unlimited width and breadth of humankind’s hope. At that period there was much talk of The Vindications – books of apologiae and prophecies that would vindicate for all time the actions of every person in the universe and that held wondrous arcana for men’s futures. Thousands of greedy individuals abandoned their sweet native hexagons and rushed downstairs, upstairs, spurred by the vain desire to find their Vindication. These pilgrims squabbled in the narrow corridors, muttered dark imprecations, strangled one another on the divine staircases, threw deceiving volumes down ventilation shafts, were themselves hurled to their deaths by men of distant regions. Others went insane… The Vindications do exist (I have seen two of them, which refer to persons in the future, persons perhaps not imaginary), but those who went in quest of them failed to recall that the chance of a man’s finding his own Vindication, or some perfidious version of his own, can be calculated to be zero.’

Robert Schwartz March 14, 2006 at 4:52 pm

If you follow Hume and abandon notions of the self, then you also need to abandon cause and effect.

It was not possible, that this century, so fertile in religious sects and disputes, could escape the controversy concerning fatalism and free-will, which, being strongly interwoven both with philosophy and theology, had, in all ages, thrown every school and every church into such inextricable doubt and perplexity. … questions, to which the greatest philosophers, in the tranquillity of retreat, had never hitherto been able to find any satisfactory solution.


David Hume, The History of England, Volume V, Chapter LI
.

Matthew Cromer March 14, 2006 at 7:24 pm

Glen, quantum indetermanancy does not necessarily mean “randomness”. It could provide the opportunity for downward causation to occur, for example.

eddie March 14, 2006 at 8:21 pm

The rat pushes the lever and receives the cheese; the rat knows that the lever creates the cheese. The experimenter looking down upon the maze knows that the lever’s role in cheese creation is merely an illusion.

Free will is merely one of a set of related illusions, along with time, causality, self, sentience, and that time David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear. They’re all pretty good illusions, though… darned if I can see through them.

Is the rat’s reality not really real?

SLS 1L March 15, 2006 at 1:07 am

A religious friend of mine believes that a supernatural entity, the soul, subtly manipulates quantum events in your brain and that’s how free will is consistent with physics. This actually generates verifiable (but not falsibiable) predictions, in that the distribution of quantum events in brains should be slightly different in some way from the distribution in non-brains.

Of course, you can ask what makes the soul cause certain quantum events to happen way instead of another, but if you find that argument plausible why are you bringing up these issues about physical cause and effect?

FWIW, I think you’re being too hard on the compatibilists too.

jadagul March 15, 2006 at 2:03 am

Jthaddeus, it doesn’t sound like you’ve disproved determinism. You’ve just constructed an impossible situation, which isn’t hard to do. For instance, watch me disprove the transitive property:
Suppose x=5 and y=7. But then suppose x=y. Obviously any of these things can happen, so the equals sign can’t be transitive.

In other words, you’re just saying “the fact that I can come up with a set of statements of a certain form that cannot all be simultaneously true prove that statements of this form are all untrue.” That doesn’t make any sense.

Jason Ligon March 15, 2006 at 5:51 pm

Just to clarify. Unitary causes for each effect is not a necessary assumption of determinism. If you insert a roulette wheel in between a cause and an effect, you still don’t have free will in any meaningful sense. All you’ve done is replace linear causality for probabilistic causality.

Determinism is very hard to dispute without sounding desperate. Tyrone postulates that there is no you to choose, ergo you are your choice. I’m not sure how that helps Tyrone sleep at night, but what do I know? If there is a you, which seems likely in the sense that we have memories and a sense of continuity in time, and cartesian self awareness and all, to postulate a freely made choice is a truly strange claim: 1) You can’t demonstrate at any point that you could have chosen other than you did; 2) Newtonian mechanics and quantum mechanics govern everything in the universe except your brain?; 3) how do you explain the results of brain injury?; and 4) uncaused causes in your skull lead to solipsism – you have defined your spirit or will or whathaveyou to be non interactive.

Barbar March 15, 2006 at 9:43 pm

Free will is a much easier problem than consciousness.

Pondering various choices in our head — the “feeling” of free will — does not contradict determinism at all. Determinism does seem to threaten the genuineness of the feeling of free will, but that is just a category error — if you think about it, determinism is not the same sort of threat to our freedom as, say, as an omniscient puppetmaster who manipulates us. In fact, our ability to exercise free will depends on determinism — it depends on our actions being caused (i.e. determined) by the “right” reasons. Even in a purely deterministic universe, I see no reason to think that this is not generally the case. There you go, reconciling free will and determinism is done.

I do think that consciousness is a much harder and more mysterious problem.

Jthaddeus March 15, 2006 at 11:43 pm

I very much appreciate those who have responded to my post. Here is my reply to the comments I’ve seen.

My first post is an argument for the inconsistency of determinism. In 1 and 2 of the first post axioms and definitions are established and thereafter 3 and 4 derive the conclusion that our actions are determined (i.e. necessary). 5, 6, and 7, however, establish that the axioms and definitions of 1 and 2 are INCONSISTENT. There is nothing in them that contradicts 1 or 2, and yet the result is that B must tell the truth by not telling the truth, an inconsistency. If an inconsistency is DERIVED from a set of axioms, the axioms are inconsistent. Since I’m saying that determinism requires those axioms, I’m arguing that therefore determinism is inconsistent. It seems to be that some think that my derivations are faulty (that’s the trouble with not using formal notation), but I don’t see that at all. Presumably, if you’re a determinist you think that for every person there is a function that returns a person’s behavior given a set of inputs or antecedents. Why could my function not be such that I always say what is true, taking truth in this context as that which is provable in the model? This could only not be the case if I had to say something that had no truth-value, but if you’re a determinist you’re saying that this can’t happen!

Why am I able to derive an inconsistency? —Because I’m applying the deterministic axioms to the real world, where statements can be self-referential. Here, the self-referentiality is implicit. The truth is of what B says is dependent on what B says, but whatever B says, the opposite is what is true. B is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Basically, this is simply a liar’s paradox. Determinism’s Achilles heel is that it implies that everything that happens must be provable in the model. But logical results like Godel’s theorem show that in the real world everything CAN’T be provable. I’m not certain if free will is provable or not, but I know that determinism is false.

jadagul March 16, 2006 at 12:52 am

Upon further reflection, I think I’ve figured out the specific problem in Jthaddeus’s example. I still agree with my earlier statement, that he’s just shown that not all of those rules can be true at once; but I have something more specific now.

In your example, A’s doing X will cause B to have said A will do X. Ignoring the problems with backward causality for the moment, we now have A’s action causing B’s action and B’s action causing A’s action, which puts us into a loop. By any reasonable interpretation of axioms 1-4, you have to assume that one of these is externally caused. ==>< ==.

More generally, you're essentially trying to do a proof-by-contradiction on the set of axioms 1-4. But 5 and 6 aren't inherent consequences of the four axioms; they're just statements that individually are consistent with 1-4. Like I said, given any axiomatic system, it's generally pretty easy to formulate two statements that are consistent with all the axioms but not with each other. The trick is to find a pair of statements that are both necessary implications of the axioms, but contradict each other. You haven’t done that.

Jthaddeus March 16, 2006 at 11:21 pm

Again, I appreciate those who have responded to my posts.

Much of the criticism that I’ve seen overlooks the main logical problem with determinism. Of course there are many implicit assumptions in parts 1 and 2, among which are that person’s A and B and the laws that govern them are possible and not mutually inconsistent. Since I thought it was more than obvious that A and B were possible and not inconsistent, I didn’t see the need to axiomatize this explicitly. Since I assume that people who favor determinism are arguing that determinism is in fact the case (and not just that it is a logical possibility) and the possibility and consistency of A and B are also the case, my argument is that the basic axioms of determinism are inconsistent with what we know about the world. That is what I mean when I say that determinism is “logically contradictory.† To wit, I mean that the core axioms of determinism are inconsistent with the world and with human being as we know them. I do not see how this would imply that they are inconsistent with chess or any board game. I’m rather certain that board games do not make meaningful reflexive statements.

You don’t think that A and B are both possible? What is the contradiction between them that cannot be derived apart from the postulates of determinism?…But I don’t want to belabor an obvious point, so I’ll make essentially the same argument again with two things that are unarguably possible, because they are actual. I just called my friend Pete and he said “What Bill will say is true.† Then, I called my friend Bill and he said “What Pete said about me was false.† If you are a determinst, you think that every statement P that posits that X will happen in the future is either true or false. Clearly, if this is the case then Pete’s statement is both true and false, which is a contradiction. If you allow that Pete’s statement was neither true nor false, but undetermined, and that Bill’s statement could either leave it undetermined or give it a truth value, then you are not a determinist. In logic, it is often the case that weird “diagonal† properties prove to be flies in the ointment. If this seems Again, I appreciate those who have responded to my posts.

Much of the criticism that I’ve seen overlooks the main logical problem with determinism. Of course there are many implicit assumptions in parts 1 and 2, among which are that person’s A and B and the laws that govern them are possible and not mutually inconsistent. Since I thought it was more than obvious that A and B were possible and not inconsistent, I didn’t see the need to axiomatize this explicitly. Since I assume that people who favor determinism are arguing that determinism is in fact the case (and not just that it is a logical possibility) and the possibility and consistency of A and B are also the case, my argument is that the basic axioms of determinism are inconsistent with what we know about the world. That is what I mean when I say that determinism is “logically contradictory.† To wit, I mean that the core axioms of determinism are inconsistent with the world and with human being as we know them. I do not see how this would imply that they are inconsistent with chess or any board game. I’m rather certain that board games do not make meaningful reflexive statements.

You don’t think that A and B are both possible? What is the contradiction between them that cannot be derived apart from the postulates of determinism?…But I don’t want to belabor an obvious point, so I’ll make essentially the same argument again with two things that are unarguably possible, because they are actual. I just called my friend Pete and he said “What Bill will say is true.† Then, I called my friend Bill and he said “What Pete said about me was false.† If you are a determinst, you think that every statement P that posits that X will happen in the future is either true or false. Clearly, if this is the case then Pete’s statement is both true and false, which is a contradiction. If you allow that Pete’s statement was neither true nor false, but undetermined, and that Bill’s statement could either leave it undetermined or give it a truth value, then you are not a determinist. In logic, it is often the case that weird “diagonal† properties prove to be flies in the ointment. If this seem illegitimate to you, so does logic.

jadagul March 17, 2006 at 8:20 am

Okay, I think I understand what you’re saying now, and it makes more sense. I still don’t think it refutes determinism, though. Or at least, not the kind that I think would make sense; it might refute what someone else believes. However, I’m having trouble articulating it; I guess I think you’re conflating predictive empirical statements and analytic statements. As in, if Pete says “Bill will say ‘What Pete said about me was false,’” then that statement is either true or false (or, depending on how much impact you think quantum uncertainty has, not-yet-determined but with a fixed probability field). When you add logical analytic statements, the truthhood or falsehood of them has all the issues that logical statements in a non-deterministic universe would; but determinism doesn’t make them any messier. It’s the relational analytic concepts that cause your example to break down, not the determinism.

kevin quinn March 17, 2006 at 9:29 am

I have been thinking about this problem and have a draft of a paper that argues as folows. Freedom is what *we* have when we are playing a game with multiple equilibria and are rational and that rationality is common knowledge. By agreeing on a way to play here, we effectively determine ourselves. The casual nexus of given tastes and technology doesn’t determine what we will do. The old argument against voluntarism that indeterminacy – due to chance, eg – is incompatible with self-authorship doesn’t seem to apply to game-theoretic indeterminacy: in coming to agree on a way to play, we — again, not I but we – are non-mysteriously the authors of our actions.

Anonymous October 14, 2008 at 12:54 am
Zed October 8, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Yes, Tyrone gives a poor arguement for free will but all that free will requires is not an escape from the physical but rather that certain ‘causal’ forces end by choice and that certain ‘causal’ forces be put into play by choice. What this of course demands is that people possess an identity, basically a name under which such choices are made, there need be no resort to ‘times slices’. What determinism requires is that people be zombies lacking conciousness as then there is no way to end a chain of ‘causal’ forces or start another chain of ‘causal’ forces. It is the zombies who are a sad lot.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: