Sunday, July 17, 2011

Premises, Part 3 - Free Will

As I type this blog post, I feel completely in control of my actions. I can start and stop as I please, take a break and do something entirely different and come back to it later. Best I can tell, I have free will. And yet, I also believe in a deterministic universe. I believe that everything in the universe can be explained by some set of equations of the interaction of matter/energy on the most basic level, that there's no such thing as randomness. A deterministic universe does not allow for deviation from a predetermined path.

In the most specific sense, we do not have free will. Free will is what is known as an error of agenticity, where we look for patterns in the universe and assign the idea of free will to the agents creating said patterns. Neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga has labeled the section of the brain that interprets the signals and creates a story for us about our "will" the left hemisphere interpreter. He came up with this name based on a series of experiments with a split-brain patient, where feeding a command like "walk" into the right brain (presumably by only showing the flash card to one eye?) caused the patient to make up a story as to why she wanted to go right, such as "I wanted to go get a Coke."

Like our discussion about objective reality, the fact that we perceive free will in ourselves is sufficient to accept it as a premise. We evolved the perception of free will as a survival advantage, and there is no rational reason to think that overriding this feeling would be advantageous to survival, so this premise must be accepted if you accept life as a standard of value. Since everyone in the world perceives that they possess free will, and choose to exercise their individual wills according to the standards set forth by the template of morality, we assume it is within their control to change their actions, and thus we can punish them for their actions, and in particular for the intent of their actions.
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  1. But there is randomness. Our lives are most certainly not deterministic. The paths and collisions of electrons are random, and the butterfly effect applies from there. Example: subject passes a smoker on the street, one cell in his/her lungs turns cancerous, morphs into many and kills the subject, triggers a funeral which causes a traffic back-up with repercussions through-out the town and, eventually, through the society ...

  2. I don't think that many serious scientists believe that the path and collisions of electrons are truly random. Einstein had a number of famous quotes to this effect. Either way, I do not believe in randomness. I believe in chaos, which means that very minute differences in starting point can result in dramatic differences in end points, appearing random.

    Quantum mechanics is a model that is convenient for calculations, but the fact that it does not agree with relativity means that one or both of them are wrong, despite both being useful in their respective fields. Presumably, a unifying theory of physics would eliminate the element of randomness from the calculations.

  3. I like these posts. I also took notes on it, but I came up with a completely different (and unexpected) idea when writing my interpretation of these.

    I will just copy the text I wrote, it doesn't need any introduction:

    "...Or, on another point, because each agent exercises free will according to their perception of filtered reality (modified template of morals and objective reality) they can't be held responsible for their actions because each agent would experience the objective reality differently."

    I would like to hear your idea about this..

  4. I disagree with that statement. Because we perceive free will, regardless of whether it is actually free or not, we can hold people responsible for their behavior. We are the sum of our parts, we are our behavior. Presuming that there is a "me" that exists outside of the sum of our parts is the fallacy here.

    When you choose not to assign responsibility to an actor, you assume that they were not in control of their actions, meaning that they exist outside of them, as some kind of voyeuristic entity that can only watch but cannot act. In reality, since we are the sum of our parts and there is no soul, punishing the vehicle is no different from punishing the person.

    To look at it another way, imagine that a robot is programmed like T1 in Terminator to just seek and kill. If he kills your mother, do you not blame the robot, even though it had no control over its actions? Do you not punish the robot in order to prevent it from doing that in the future? In the case of the T1 robot, you blame the person who programmed it, which in this case is another robot, but you can still think of T1's "reprogramming" as punishment in a way. If we could literally reprogram humans, and it was proven so, you can imagine a situation in which we would choose to reprogram death row inmates rather than ending their lives, particularly fit and healthy ones that could be productive members of society.

    That's the underlying premise of the post, and the premise of "free will" in general. You have to assume agenticity. We've evolved to operate within the framework of agenticity between humans because we assume that others have free will since we perceive within our own minds that we have free will.

    Thanks for commenting.