Saturday, 19 July 2014

Has scientific research proved that human freedom is an illusion?

No, because science presupposes freedom.

If we are not free, and everything that happens is merely a consequence of what led up to it; then there can be no judgment, or decision, or choice; then science has no validity, and nor does this comment nor your response to it, and neither does anything else!

The very concept of a fact depends on freedom - therefore facts formally cannot disprove freedom.



Mikolaj said...

It's hard to comment without a definition of free will and a definition of science --- in particular science can't prove something it has not defined --- but regarding your argument, I bet there are definitions of science that don't presuppose human freedom or actually any humans at all. E.g., one can define science as a set of mathematical proofs, where the axioms are facts verified experimentally (by robots) and a (huge) set of philosophical presuppositions. Then, science exists without freedom and it can state a theorem about the lack of "free will", given a sufficiently weak definition of "free will".

Bruce Charlton said...

@M. Have you decided by free will that the above thought experiment is an accurate way of conceptualizing science and free will - in which case it may or may not be a valid evaluation;

or was your 'decision' that the thought experiment was an accurate description actually merely a 'mechanical' and inevitable consequence of what went before - in which case it has zero validity as a judgement?

Mikolaj said...

Let' suppose my 'decision' was mechanical and inevitable --- let's suppose I'm a self-evolved (that's theoretically possible, if hard to accomplish) blog-commenting robot. Let's also suppose my comment proved you utterly wrong. Are you really that much comforted by the thought I'm a robot? Can my reasoning be honestly dismissed on the ground I'm only posing as a human? Have I cheated? Or are you?

Do ideas exist if there's nobody to think them? Are some mathematical formulas still true and others false when there are no mathematicians left? BTW, there is a technical term called 'judgement' in mathematical logic and, of course, if works perfectly well without assuming humans, God or a transcendental mathematical truth (or perhaps it assumes the last one, at least when by 'work' you mean anything more than dark blots on paper).

I'm still afraid you are arguing that without free will it's not worth doing science or, in fact, that humans don't exist without free will, ergo no science, etc. But if so, it's a much easier argument to make than it strives to appear. I'm not joking that you'd need to define science and free will to go anywhere. Even just to honestly reveal that what you wanted to prove is actually one of your axioms --- nothing wrong with that; I wish more people had the guts to do it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@M - I am not convinced that you understand the point I am making - whether it is correct or not is a secondary matter - but I don't know how to make you understand it!

Mikolaj said...

Let me try guessing: you seem to assume that judgement, decision and choice are things that only a person (in particular, a being with a free will) can do. E.g., no robot can do them based on a set of formal rules (and a coin to toss). Right? BTW, I don't agree, as person that constructs robots that do all of the three.

Then you assume that science needs some or all of the three: judgement, decision and choice. BTW, I agree with that. And my robots can do perfectly valid, if not very original, science :)

Then, since without free will there are no persons, and so there is no judgement, decision and choice, you conclude there is no science. Hence the non-existent science can't prove anything, in particular it can't prove that free will is an illusion. BTW, this deduction seems correct to me. But my point is that my robots will be able to quarrel about free will (based on randomly generated philosophical axioms) long after the last human dies.

Did I oversimplify too much?

George Goerlich said...

@Mikolaj - I don't understand your point on a programmed simulation, or robots, or however you want to do it. If the interaction is artificial, it doesn't matter what they're doing - vacuuming floors or looping output, it's completely irrelevant to the point raised here.

George Goerlich said...

@Mikolaj - So you're addressing the theoretical problem that free will doesn't exist and we would be unable to know it (lacking free will), though your example also lacks consciousness or the ability to be introspective as such in a real way, however the argument raised here wasn't an ultimate proof of our free will nor is it susceptible to that problem, but it is a proof that science can not disprove free will.

Anonymous said...

Intentional language is a serious problem here. But then, 'intentional language' may be something of a pleonasm (that's partly my point, I hope you'll see)..

Just to be clear, I do not mean 'intentional' as willful, but more broadly as 'directed'. A word makes reference 'to' a concept; an argument proceeds 'to' a conclusion.

Nothing in the physical world does this. Remember, physics itself is long disposed of absolute place - and direction went with it.

Symbols do not hit their referents - nor arguments their conclusions - like billiard balls colliding with one another. Nor have they been observed to exhibit quantum entangling.

Logic is hopelessly pre-scientific (Why do we even continue on this way? It must be inertia.).

You claim to have evacuated words like 'choice', 'judgment', and 'argument' of their primitive content, but it is only in virtue of their being steeped in the old use that they have any persuasive or illuminating power - even for you - in your argument.

A robot does not choose anymore than a pen writes. If it makes sense to say these things, that sense is secondary and instrumental. To the extent one believes there can be the only sort of action one finds in a robot, and that this applies to its builder, one has lost sight of a real relation behind an abstraction.


Mikolaj said...

@George: Re robots: please treat my robots that perform scientific research only as an illustration. In particular, they illustrate, that there are understandings of terms "judgment", "decision" and "choice" that, on one hand, do not require free will (nor consciousness, nor introspection) and, on the other had, doing valid science (mind you: not interpreting science, appreciating science, etc.).

They are purely an illustration to help Bruce, if he so wishes, to make the terms he uses more precise and so let us see where the disagreement really lies. BTW, I speculate that the understanding of the terms involved really differs between Bruce and the thinkers that argue that free will doesn't exists. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the free will they think doesn't exist is different from what I or even Bruce calls free will. Etc.

Re: "interaction is artificial" I didn't notice in Bruce's argument any assumption about things being artificial. I wouldn't want to go into speculations if a molecule-by-molecule exact copy of myself would have a free will or an exact computer simulation of myself. What I can say for sure, though, is that an exact copy of myself and even a much more simplified copy and even my little computer programs (my robots) can do real science. I don't care if it's artificial science. It's real science. It's useful in practice (not often, not by personally my robots, but this domain is just hard technically).

To be concrete, the robots prove theorems about the complex behaviour of cars, microprocessors, rockets, finance software. The theorems are often interesting, sometimes published, sometimes too hard to understand by humans, often useful. The robots are often assisted by humans to some extent, but they needn't be. It's proved theoretically, that given much more time (millennia or more) they could be as autonomous as human researchers.

Mikolaj said...

@George: Re "would be unable to know it", I'm not addressing this problem I don't think Bruce does either. BTW, it has even more terms that are very ambiguous, e.g., the "potential ability to know" vs. "realized ability given the deterministic fate" vs. "realized ability given the actually taken choices, regardless of free will and determinism, as seen post factum". Frankly, I wouldn't dare to discuss that over a blog comments system.

Re "it is a proof that science can not disprove free will": yes, I agree. I only argue that the terms used in the proof are ambiguous or, put differently, the philosophical assumptions are not spelled out. I also prove that given some understanding of the terms, the proof is wrong. I also suspect that, in fact, the proof is close to tautology (the conclusion is close to one of the unspoken assumptions, or at least much closer to it than to the explicitly mentioned premises) --- which is nothing bad, actually, just something it's good to be aware of.

Mikolaj said...

While I look up what "pleonasm" means, a correction (sadly, I can't edit my own comments). In the first paragraph of one of my comments I omitted "permits":

@George: Re robots: please treat my robots that perform scientific research only as an illustration. In particular, they illustrate, that there are understandings of terms "judgment", "decision" and "choice" that, on one hand, do not require free will (nor consciousness, nor introspection) and, on the other hand, permit doing valid science (mind you: not interpreting science, appreciating science, etc.).

Bruce Charlton said...

@M - It may be that the crux of this failure of communication is that you see science as a programmable methodology, a closed system. Whereas I do not believe there is any such thing as 'scientific method'.

As I wrote in Not Even Trying

Perhaps the root of this error is the notion that there is such a thing as ‘scientific method’ (detachable from the individuals who practice science); and that if this scientific method is strictly adhered-to, then the result will be valid science.
In parody, this is the terribly mistaken view that science is a truth-machine: the idea that if you do science properly then you will manufacture ‘truth’ reliably and cumulatively.
The idea that if you perform observations and experiments according to the approved principles, then this will lead to ‘facts’. And if you feed these ‘facts’ into the correct analytical and statistical procedures (‘scientific methodology’) then what comes out of the machine will be objective truth.
The idea that although the exact output may not precisely be known in advance, the process by which valid outputs are generated is understood to be controllable, and therefore it can confidently be predicted that the result of this process will be valuable knowledge.
In sum, this is the mainstream modern view that research input reliably leads to real scientific output (albeit with varying degrees of efficiency).
(This reasoning justifies the usual practice for measuring science by measuring inputs – that is, measuring science by measuring how many resources - grants, personnel, capital - are expended on supposedly-scientific goals. The inputs are simply assumed to result in valid and relevant outputs of knowledge so long as approved procedures are strictly followed.)
This is, indeed the basic underlying ‘model’ for modern science, especially Big Science – and it leads to the mainstream assumption that the constraint on science is resources. The model assumes that – if you have research managers who are deploying resources (manpower, machines etc) doing the right things - then resources will be transformed into knowledge.
There may be disagreement about the efficiency of this process, but the assumption is very widely held that spending a lot of money on a problem will accumulate knowledge towards its solution – so long as the researchers are competent and rigorous (and that competence and rigour are themselves defined as products of resources – i.e. educational and training resources).
Indeed, rigour is a key word here – because rigour is defined in term of exact adherence to predetermined method, technique, procedure – and this implies that science ideally ought to be made wholly explicit, planned down to its finest detail, and done in accordance with plans.
And this is, indeed, the way that research funding is managed – ‘scientists’ are compelled to submit detailed plans, which are approved or disapproved.
Science is seen as a process of implementation, the process is seen as something explicit and managed, and the role of the individual researcher is – in a nutshell – obedience.


My understanding is that real science grew fast – especially in the populations of Northern Europe by recruiting from an increased pool of ‘creative geniuses’ who were motivated to do science. This I regard as the essential underpinning of modernity.
The take-off of science therefore depended on two main things: 1. a sufficient concentration of creative genius focused on scientific problems plus 2. a modest degree of cognitive specialization.
That is to say, smart and creative people working cooperatively on relatively-specific ‘scientific problems’.
And that, more or less, is my definition of science.
Merely that.
So, real science is smart and creative people working cooperatively on scientific problems.

Bruce Charlton said...

I gave the wrong URL - My Not even trying book is at:

Nicholas Fulford said...

What is it to be free?

Is it to not have one's state continuously changed by interaction with the physical - without choice with respect to those changes of state?

If I cannot be free from the continuous physical shaping of my mind as it floats upon the physical substrate of my brain as part of the universe, how am I self-determining in fact?

I possess the persistent illusion that I am separate and self-determining from the physical. This is what is perceived and results in a sense of having choice, but it is a sense of choice, not a fact of choice. A fact of choice would require a substantial separation from physical interactions to retain a true self-determining nature.

What we see is a percolation from the physical to the conscious - epiphenomenal thought surfacing and perceptually experienced as a stream of emotions, symbols, sensations and images. Without an extra-physical element to self, it all ultimately falls back to the physical substrate.

For an excellent discussion of epiphenomena see

Anonymous said...

Maybe I can make my remarks a little tighter.

Science is dependent on logic. Logic makes use of ordinary language and highly abstract symbols. What these have in common are referents - they are things that describe or stand in for other things. Hence the tools of logic exhibit a relation (a relation of intention or directedness) of one thing to another that physics cannot recognize in its own object, the natural world, but must make use of in its operation.

Therefore physics depends on the existence of a genus - the 'intentional' as merely directed - that it cannot observe, prove or judge, since that genus is the study of a more fundamental science.

The intentional is much broader and 'weaker' than 'free will', but if free will exists, it is uncontroversially a kind of intentional power, there being a relation of directedness by definition between the will and its object.

Therefore, if physics cannot touch on the intentional, it cannot touch on free will. Anything that does stops being physics and must shed its mantle and prestige.

And nothing that is only instrumentally or secondarily capable of acting by intention, like a robot, is capable of doing science except instrumentally and secondarily. That is, such things need builders who do these things primarily - theirs is the agency, even if the tools they design can simulate more calculations per second than they themselves can actually perform.

If you set the builders and the built on the same level of action, neither is still doing what you set out to describe - science or choosing in the primary sense. They aren't even doing these things in a rude way that may somehow evole into the refined article given time. They are doing something entirely different, really closer to rusting or decaying. This is Bruce's point when he says science cannot exist in a purely physical order.

Bruce Charlton said...

I have written quite often about free will on this blog

The reason why people find it hard to grasp this subject is that it is metaphysical, not scientific; i.e. it is about our assumptions concerning reality - not about our investigations of reality.

Another problem is that the metaphysics of free will is that - to be real - the free will must be an unmoved mover, an uncaused cause.

It must be - so it is!

That places free will outside of science - because science is only concerned with caused things. Yet there must BE uncaused causes, or else we have infinite regress in which nothing could happen (this was pointed out by Aquinas).

But free will as an uncaused cause implies that each human (and maybe other things) is to some extent an uncaused cause - and this creates difficulties for most philosophies, which are monist - and refer all causes back to one cause.

The end seems to be that God has free will and is an uncaused cause; and the same applies to each Man.

The only two rational conclusions I can see are either to state that God caused each uncaused cause (i.e. God caused each Man) (which seems paradoxical to me) - or the Mormon theology of pluralism: that God and also each Man (each uncaused cause) 'always'-have-been - and are basic to the universe.

Mikolaj said...

@Bill: Thank you for the remarks about the semantics of 'choice', 'judgment', and 'argument'. However, I'm trying to understand Bruce's argument, so my (example) understanding of these words is not important. It was only meant to prove the words are ambiguous. Perhaps the proof failed, but I still insist they are.

Now, if Bruce was writing about 'choice', 'judgment', and 'argument' what you do, that would be relevant and I could then, after a few more more questions, perhaps show how to short-circuit his proof. E.g., how to short-circuit it straight to free will from his assumptions associated with these notions alone, sidestepping any references to science/illusion/etc. OTOH, let's see if your remarks help me understand what Bruce writes in further comments.

Regarding your second comment, you seem to argue that physics can't prove (the lack of) free will. That's obvious to me. Science (nor anything else) can prove nothing about reality. It can only 1. prove that some axioms entail some consequences 2. propose various alternative sets of axioms that are useful in different circumstances (e.g., for "understanding the world", for predicting stuff in a small scale, for predicting stuff in a large scale, etc.). You seem to suggest that I claim my robots (or "physics") can interpret or appreciate the theorems, proofs and alternative sets of axioms. I specifically said they can't.

They can only propose various sets of axioms (plus primitive notions and some more logical/computational structure, to be precise) that fit experimental data to different degrees and they can propose and prove theorems. The rest is yours to do: do you like what the robot proved? do you like the axioms it used to do so? here you go! or perhaps you totally don't like what the robot proved, but after scrutinising the axioms it used, you have to admit that's exactly what you always believed, but didn't know it can be spelled out so clearly. Voila, the robot (science, "physics") proved there's no free will (let's say that's what the theorem was about) and you can't but accept it, if you are honest.

I'm aware my language of applied mathematical logic uses philosophical concept in warped ways, so if I've lost you, please let me know so I can attempt a translation.

Mikolaj said...

@Nicholas: I'm sorry, I won't find the time now to look at your link, but I've read the definition you provided with interest and I don't understand where and how you dispose of the possibility that it's primarily my own thoughts and decisions that shape the physical substrate of my brain and hence I have the "choice with respect to those changes of state". Did I miss an assumption that the physical world is deterministic? (Asking our of curiosity --- I have no opinion about that or, e.g., about the relevant possible interpretations of quantum mechanics.) If it's not, I guess there's plenty of room for the growing snowball of self-determination even assuming tons of usual physical simplificaitons, such as that physical laws are constant, etc., etc..

Mikolaj said...

@Bruce, regarding "uncaused cause", I bet theologians have beaten that to death, but being ignorant, I can chime in fearlessly. ;) How about the possibility that God "lends" you his free will? That (most of the time?) he does in your name what you would do if you had free will? Jokingly: that whenever, as a program in his computer, you are about to execute instruction "use_free_will", he stops the execution, looks ahead in history what it is that you will/would freely choose and uses his free will in your name to do exactly that? (That doesn't imply you are deterministic; instead it implies his knowledge is really transcendental --- he knows history before it unfolds, even though is wasn't determined beforehand.) I'm aware I didn't explain the stuff away, but just explained a mystery using a variant of another (possibly audacious --- I'm not a theologian), which perhaps you are more comfortable about (strong variants of either transcendence, omnipotence (can look ahead), omniscience or not being bound by time).

Hah, just verified that indeed I wasn't orignal (the last sentence):

But there are also tons of other solutions to this paradox in other chapters of Wikipedia. This one just appeals to me, because of the concepts I'm intimately familiar with (tending to a program and looking ahead) and because I know of so close friends/spouses that they can often make correct and confident free choices (whether they agree with them or not) in the name of the other in his absence, because they know/love each other that well (anyway, that's probably a different situation than looking ahead in history, though I'm not actually sure).

Anonymous said...

Environmental stimuli and individual physiological response to that stimuli(resulting from genetics and brain/body structure based on passed experience) result in human action. There have been studies done in neuroscience that support this (I don't feel like looking for them right now). What the studies showed was that when subjects were presented were a stimulus that entailed making a future choice, the scientists could look at the subjects' brain activity and accurately predict what choices the subjects' would make PRIOR TO the subjects becoming consciously aware themselves what choices they would make. This is in line with determinism and with what Nicholas is saying regarding epiphenomenalism (if I understood him correctly).

However, even if the nature of the universe is probabilistic (think quantum mechanics), I'm not sure what what this lends to free will (unless there is some metaphysical intervention that is causing this probabilistic nature, and that metaphysical intervention is some sort of power that can be exercised for (by?) each human being individually).

Some more food for thought: Assuming humans continue to become more and more technologically advanced (which sure seems to be the case), we will develop continually more advanced robots. Someday we may be able to create robots that are replicas of human beings (although maybe not materially, at least mechanistically). For the sake of argument, assume that some day we are able to do this. For those who argue for free will-- do these robots have free will? At what point in their advancement would they have developed it?

Also, for those who argue for free will-- do non-humans also have free will? If not, at what point in evolution did humans develop free will?

Anonymous said...

Also, I don't mean to say that science 'proves' that free will doesn't exist, only that it supports this.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Chris - I don't think you are getting the argument of this post. You are assuming that there is a scientist with free will who is observing these experiments - or else how can there be any evaluation of their meaning?

Same with robots - who is it that decides whether future hypothetical robots are, or are not, perfect replicas of humans, if there is no observer with free will?

Well - that's one way of looking at it.

My main view is that the stuff about 'no free will' is *fundamentally* evil, incoherent mind-numbing nonsense - and that is the reason for it: because evil entities want to paralyze and demoralize humans with crazy, despair-inducing notions.

So far, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Anonymous said...

@Bruce: Maybe I am missing something, but I am not intending to make that assumption. I am not sure why it is necessary for a scientist to have free will in order to evaluate the meaning of these experiments. To me, the evaluation of the scientist would only be a result of the physiological (brain) response of the scientist to the results of the experiment. Environmental stimuli (the results of the experiment) leads to individual physical response to the stimuli (scientist's evaluation of the meaning of the results of the stimuli)-- this is what I stated in my previous post. I do not think that evaluation precludes free will.

Same thing with the robots example-- I don't think that the 'decision' whether future hypothetical robots precludes free will.

I think that the notion of free will impedes the creation of the 'good' world we desire to create. It assumes that we can blame individuals for their 'bad' actions. This is results in a lack of compassion for and condemnation of those individuals, which is certainly psychologically damaging to them, and takes the focus off helping them become people that are suitable to exist with the rest of humanity. More importantly, the assumption of individual free will takes the focus off creating an environment that results in and/or incentivises 'good' behavior and 'healthy' psychological states because free will assumes that individuals can act autonomously and somewhat independently of their environments, which they cannot.

Bruce Charlton said...

@C - Surely you see the paradox of you arguing that you are merely responding to prior causes?

There is no place for free will IN science, because science is a sub-system of Life in which the prior assumption is that everything is caused. Science can never find free will because there is no place for it to exist inside science.

But that is not evidence that free will does not exist! Merely that it does not exist inside science.

Free will is something we know before we know anything else, before science was even thought about. It is a basic, built in and necessary assumption. That is why it cannot coherently be denied.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, precludes is not the right word here. I meant necessitates.

Also, I meant to say that "'decision' whether future hypothetical robots perfectly replicate human beings"

Should have proofread I guess, haha

Anonymous said...

No, I don't in fact see this as a paradox.

Ok, I see what you are saying now. I am making the assumption that everything is caused, that the universe is deterministic. However, I am not sure why this could not be the case.

Also, I am not sure why free will is "a basic, built in and necessary assumption."

Bruce Charlton said...

@C - Time to stop debating and start thinking.

Mikolaj said...

@Bruce: I've read your "Not even trying: the corruption of real science". It's sad and probably true, though I had and have the luck of (slightly) helping essentially hobby scientists, so I've not seen it (there's just not enough money in the theoretical computer science or applied mathematical logic to support much bureaucracy nor careerism, at least in Europe, and the pay in the corresponding industrial sector is so high that it's often less troublesome to work part time in industry than to jump over the scientific bureaucracy hoops --- or at least you can threaten the clerks with that).

Anyway, answering your post:
> Perhaps the root of this error is the notion that there is such a thing
> as ‘scientific method’ (detachable from the individuals who practice science);
> and that if this scientific method is strictly adhered-to, then the result will be valid science.

That's an interesting question. It's actually very close to the question "is strong AI (artificial intelligence) possible?". There are mathematical proofs of the 'yes' answer, but then people argue that the formalization of "strong (human-like) AI" as used for the proofs is not close enough to reality.

Since this matters a lot to you, let me point out that if strong AI is ever constructed, if will not only make real scientists obsolete --- it will first and foremost make the obedient career scientists and the clerks obsolete. And, quite probably, it will result in a technological singularity and make all humans obsolete as well --- in what sense, depends on the good will (sic!) of the machines. To be clear: that's not SciFi, that's real science. Google it (I'm just an expert enough to tell it's not fake, but not to contribute nor explain sensibly).

BTW, the countless unsatisfactory attempts to construct strong AI, or even to define strong AI or even to measure objectively the strength of AI have shown how incredibly far we are from understanding intelligence (learning, intelligent thought process, scientific methodology). So, if anybody claims that he knows a precise methodology in which "research input reliably leads to real scientific output", please send him over to one of the AI labs where he can quickly and radically change the fate of humanity --- or understand the depth of his ignorance.

Fortunately, I didn't need to assume strong AI to conclude that a particular understanding of your claim is contradictory. I only assume the following:

There is such a thing as ‘scientific result’ (e.g., a mathematical proof of a thesis, with listed assumptions, plus additionally a discussion how the assumptions match the reality (e.g., statistically relating to experiments)). It is either valid (true) or fake, independently of how it was obtained and in complete detachment from the individuals who practice science. Whether a supermodel or a homeless beggar or a robot or 100 monkeys have written that proof, it's either true or false, totally regardless.

Can we agree on that one before I go on (may again take me some weeks, I'm afraid)?

Bruce Charlton said...

@M - I would have to distinguish between 'a proof' - presumably mathematical on the one hand, and 'science' on the other hand; because a proof is part of a tautological system while science is not.

Given that limitation, I'm not sure whether I agree or not - but probably yes. The problem being that their is an open-ended ('infinite') number of possible statements - and THE problem is sorting between them.

Bruce Charlton said...

@M - I would have to distinguish between 'a proof' - presumably mathematical on the one hand, and 'science' on the other hand; because a proof is part of a tautological system while science is not.

Given that limitation, I'm not sure whether I agree or not - but probably yes. The problem being that their is an open-ended ('infinite') number of possible statements - and THE problem is sorting between them.

Mikolaj said...

@Chris: this article is not about existence of free will, but you mention things I talked about earlier and you almost answer your own questions (and in a way that is compatible with my belief), so let me chime in.

I believe in free will that is a metaphysical phenomenon and I think my belief is consistent with my other beliefs (in particular about (restricted to its area of applicability as defined by methodology) validity of science).

Re "PRIOR TO the subjects becoming consciously aware" --- since free will is metaphysical, it's obviously not a product nor tightly correlated with consciousness. Yes, the feeling "I exercise my free will right NOW" is a (useful) illusion.

Re "if the nature of the universe is probabilistic (think quantum mechanics) [...] there is some metaphysical intervention that is causing this probabilistic nature, and that metaphysical intervention is some sort of power that can be exercised for (by?) each human being individually" --- you basically spelled it out for me. Until proved otherwise, I can't rule out that the quantum effects are the way that the metaphysical entity causing my free will uses to let me be free, without violating predictions of our science. The tiny micro-decisions may accumulate in my brain and snowball into my personality, which determines further decisions, aided by further quantum prods if needed.

But, it's only one possibility of manifestation of the metaphysical phenomenon. In fact, there is no need for the metaphysical entity that causes free decisions to adhere to scientific predictions at all. Miracles, if not too common and too obvious, can't overturn science, just because the scientific method by definition ignores them. Anything that is not repeatable is outside the domain of science by definition. So, in fact, the few radical, personality-changing exercises of free will in my life may have appeared miraculous to the people that know me and may have in fact been anomalies to the normal course of physical laws. So what?

Re robots and animals --- the same metaphysical entity/mechanism that injects the free will manifestations into material reality for me (regardless if its done in accordance to or against the statistical scientific predictions for similar situations), can do that for robots and animals as well. E.g., the entity can cause pet animals to always tend towards the benefit of their owner (sounds plausible at least for dogs, not sure about cats though, doesn't it:) and the robots to always be rather stubborn, as much as the degree of determinism in their functioning permits (sadly also supported by experience;). Or the metaphysical entity may use the degrees of freedom inherent in animals and robots for furthering of it's own goals, or affect them randomly or even grant them real free will (as much as they are able to appreciate and long for freedom and tell it from slavery even post fact, when the whole history is revealed --- which is not much currently).

Re "I am making the assumption that everything is caused, that the universe is deterministic. However, I am not sure why this could not be the case." --- As opposed to Bruce, I'm not sure if this is contradictory either. But I do *desire* that free will exists.

I can assume this or the opposite for the purpose of enquiry, but I'd rather be an evil man responsible and convicted for my awful deeds than an innocent slave to the whims of my predetermined personality that I had no chance to influence throughout my life in your 'good' world. Also, I'd rather repent than just observe how my personality changes for the good in a predetermined way, or becomes even more dysfunctional, as was completely predetermined before. Actually, I now see why Bruce calls the assumption about the lack of free will absurd --- there is no point doing anything, it's all predetermined anyway. The only good things is that I can slack off and that nobody can blame me for anything --- but that's so far from a life worth living...

Mikolaj said...

@Bruce: Absolutely agreed that the real problem is sorting through all the interesting and absolutely boring scientific results. Robots can only, more or less dumbly, pre-select, but that's what I mean by them not being able to interpret nor appreciate science (scientific results).

Let me simplify: by scientific result I mean the artefact. Say, the scientific paper. And moreover let's assume it's strict and formal enough that the authors are no longer needed for interpretation or verification and reader biases are minimal (I'm lucky to read mostly such papers). Then, yes, such scientific results are parts of a tautological system and there's infinitely many of them and they can be generated trivially millions per second. And only a tiny fraction is needed meaningful to science.

@Bruce, if you don't mind, do you agree with the following warping of your initial thesis:

For fundamental reasons (and not just because I don't believe it) there can never be (even when philosophy, psychology, etc. are finally heavily mathematicized, and axiomatized, modelled and the models verified experimentally on hapless natives of countless planets conquered by humanity and by going forward and backward in time through black holes at will) any scientific result that is formally correct, that concludes there is no free will and that assumes only reasonable premises (premises not contradicting, say, science, logic and basic common sense (except the common sense obviousness of free will, of course)).

I will at once honestly state that I can't say the above and I don't even dare to make any professional guess on that issue as a (lapsed) scientist. I believe there is free will, I want it to exist and perhaps I even have a gut feeling that it exists, but I try to be intellectually honest and that obligates me to admit the gut feeling is not of a scientific kind (and surely not in areas of my expertise or serious general education) and, science aside, I'm an error-prone human. But perhaps I don't see some obvious contradiction in the above...

Bruce Charlton said...

@M - The discussion is now moving towards ultimate matters of metaphysics, and religion - as all discussions must if honestly pursued.

I cannot really accept your formalized statement of the problem, because I feel it is setting up some wrong biases, framing the problem in a way which will lead to misunderstanding.

It seems to me that you are requiring that it be proved to you that free will is an inescapable necessity; but this can never happen.

Belief in free will is a necessity for a Christian - otherwise Christianity makes no sense - but not for a human being per se.

On the other hand there can be no coherent argument against free will - whether that argument is framed in terms of science or whatever; becuase it is self refuting, a 'Cretan liar' type of paradox.

So we are, as always, left with a decision, a choice, between:

1. regarding free will a true and therefore central to our understanding of reality; and:

2. regarding it as an illusion and therefore life as fundamentally irrational and all knowledge as an illusion etc (i.e. the standard mainstream public metaphysics among intellectuals which has dominated since Nietzsche was understood).

I fully concede that it is not intrinsically impossible that free will is an illusion, delusion - although it IS impossible that we could know this to be true.

This is why in my recent post I characterized determinism as a fear, rather than a belief.

Given that determinism is non spontaneous and non-natural - and given that it cannot be known or coherently argued - the big question for me is why anyone should want it to be true, and should try to persuade other people that it was true - that is analogous to infecting oneself with a plague, and then spreading the disease as widely as possible!

Not a nice thing to do - indeed an evil thing to do.

Yet not this is just an acceptable, but an admired and rewarded activity among Western intellectuals, post-Nietzsche.

They are not even expected to suffer for their activities, as did poor Nietzsche; but are admired for living and celebrating and advocating lives of manipulative and exploitative hedonism - and then calling this 'good' - like the demonic Foucault.