What Most People Fail to Understand about the Concept of Free Will

I'm okay with cosmic will being the cause, but I still don't understand how this will makes decisions.

It's not just me repeating the statement. Look at post #531. Isn't Neil concerned about mechanism? Yet you say there is no such thing as mechanism in nature.

~~ Paul
Since I saw my name mentioned in regards to Kai's comment, I would just say that I am not sure that I like the idea of a cosmic will.
 
Thoughts are caused via information generation of the agent. The decision could be "calculated" by a combination of subconscious thoughts and biases, conditioned responses, and consciously attended thoughts, and the degree of freedom depends on the degree that consciously attended thoughts contribute to the calculation and decision.

A decision based on habit (like taking a certain freeway exit) is not a free choice, even though it is a choice made by a conscious agent. A habit developed like smoking creates a habituated response to smoke that is again a choice, but very little freedom (if any) is exerted in the choice since it is driven by behavioral habits and physiological pressures of drug addiction. In the decision to quit smoking, the more one consciously attends to the choices, the more free choice can be exerted, but if not, one falls right back into non-free choice habits.
So some choices occur in within the integrated system, others outside of it, right? The integrated choices are naturally going to feel different from the non-integrated choices (since the non-integrated choices aren't going to feel like anything at all), but even integrated choices are going to involve non-integrated parts (ie: we don't experience the actual process of identifying the memories that the integrated choice draws on). The integrated choices are going to seem broader as well because the integration suggests that there are additional relationships being considered. Do you think this is enough to call one choice free and the other not, or are you adding other elements that make it free?

(sorry, have to get going, I'm not quite happy with my wording here but hopefully it gets the idea across that I'm trying to get at- which is other than our conscious exerperience and the extra relationships is there a functional difference between non-integrated choice making and integrated choice making - and if so, what causes it to be there in one and not the other?)
 
So some choices occur in within the integrated system, others outside of it, right? The integrated choices are naturally going to feel different from the non-integrated choices (since the non-integrated choices aren't going to feel like anything at all), but even integrated choices are going to involve non-integrated parts (ie: we don't experience the actual process of identifying the memories that the integrated choice draws on). The integrated choices are going to seem broader as well because the integration suggests that there are additional relationships being considered. Do you think this is enough to call one choice free and the other not, or are you adding other elements that make it free?

(sorry, have to get going, I'm not quite happy with my wording here but hopefully it gets the idea across that I'm trying to get at- which is other than our conscious exerperience and the extra relationships is there a functional difference between non-integrated choice making and integrated choice making - and if so, what causes it to be there in one and not the other?)
I guess I would consider it a scale of free choice, with one end being completely free and the other being completely determined. I am not sure that a completely free choice would exist, but I am going to skip that for now.

I think conscious attention is what makes the difference. There are ideas that conscious intention can exert a probing action that has a quantum Zeno-like effect on the potential brain templates for action, and when there is a greater degree of effort on the conscious intention, it exerts a stronger quantum Zeno effect (increases the frequency) on the desired template of action, increasing the liklihood of that template of action being chosen.
 
A topical post:

@Kai and @Paul C. Anagnostopoulos, I have been following your exchange at times very closely and at times more casually. As you would expect, I sympathise with Kai, and I think a lot of his points are very apt, however, I also feel that he has unfortunately to some extent "fallen into Paul's trap". What is this trap? The false dichotomy between that which is "deterministic" versus that which is "utterly random". This is particularly apparent in the ongoing Presidential Choice example. Kai has to some extent been forced into defending the independent existence (or at least the independently conceptual existence) of a genuinely random "choice module" which in some sense has no other role than to insert openness into an otherwise deterministic decision-making process. This allows Paul the opportunity to express bemusement at how genuine randomness could be compatible with genuine choice. It is not, though, in my view, the right way to look at free will choices. It is too reductive. In reality, there is no sharp, categorical distinction between some "deterministic aspect of our choice-making which is necessitated" - and in some sense forced upon us - and some "utterly random, indeterministic part of our choice-making". There is simply a free choice-making process which overall is not necessitated - it cannot be split into this neat little dichotomy of "deterministically necessitated" and "indeterministically utterly random"; it has its own "inner logic" which is both meaningful and free, but which is, more importantly, an expression/outcome of the agent's genuinely free volition.

I have no idea whether this is a helpful or even welcome comment, I just wanted to put in my two cents. Keep up the good fight, Kai.
I do agree with you Laird, though in my own defense I should say that I did try to make it clear that the "President module" scenario can in no sense be taken as the real situation. It is simply a computer-esque model intended to show that, within that model, the "President" need have no knowledge of goings on outside the module. Indeed, in that (admittedly artificial) scenario, he need have no knowledge of politics at all. The problem is that the President Module took on a life of its own (if you excuse the pun) in the thread, whereas, at the end of the day, it isn't really that illuminating about the true living situation, imo.

Now in the *real* situation I don't think it is anything like the President Module, and from what I understand, or think I understand Neil to be saying, my view is more like that. Or at any rate like this: that each organism is in some sense a holistic Actor of cosmic will. It is not an "utterly random radionucleide decay module" somewhere deep in my brain that takes my choices for me, it is I, myself. There is no sense in which I pass off that activity to a mechanizable module, because organisms are not machines in this way. They are (again on my terms) holistic outgrowths of the self-organizing agency of cosmic will...and hence bear that agency as Actor as well as Recipient.

Paul persistently asks "how" cosmic will does this. Now I am not saying it is impossible ever to say anything about this, but the question itself strikes me as malformed. First cause does not have an explanation. Rather, it is that from which explanation extends. To ask "how does a self-organizing will do its organizing or willing"? is incoherent if one understands it to be first cause, and if by "how" one means an essential "go-about-ness" of its action. But this cannot be answered, because nothing causes this action which is not itself. One can perhaps say such things as "it generates nested hierarchies" or "it is capable of devising the means from the end, as it abides outside of time" but no statement of that type is ever going to tell us how cosmic will does the "will-y" part of its business, or how, as self-organizing principle, it "goes about" that organization. It itself is the "going about," always has been and always will be under such an ontology, and the question is a disease of misunderstanding the problem.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
Thoughts are caused via information generation of the agent. The decision could be "calculated" by a combination of subconscious thoughts and biases, conditioned responses, and consciously attended thoughts, and the degree of freedom depends on the degree that consciously attended thoughts contribute to the calculation and decision.
I don't know how those attended thoughts can be free, but I think I'm getting repetitious.

~~ Paul
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
So what do you mean by free? It almost seems like in order for you to call it free, it cannot be caused by anything at any level of abstraction, nor can it be the result of any deterministic or random process.
We're talking about libertarian free will, which is, by definition, incompatible with determinism. I'm fine with an agent producing decisions deterministically with some coin flipping tossed in for good measure. But that is not what libertarians are looking for. I think Kai's presentation makes it clear that he is proposing something free in the libertarian sense. It should be obvious now that I am unable to imagine how that might work.

~~ Paul
 
We're talking about libertarian free will, which is, by definition, incompatible with determinism. I'm fine with an agent producing decisions deterministically with some coin flipping tossed in for good measure. But that is not what libertarians are looking for. I think Kai's presentation makes it clear that he is proposing something free in the libertarian sense. It should be obvious now that I am unable to imagine how that might work.

~~ Paul
What is this "how" Paul? Please give me an example of a first cause that has a "how" explanation attached to it. Until you can perceive that isn't the right question, there can be no answer given.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
What is this "how" Paul? Please give me an example of a first cause that has a "how" explanation attached to it. Until you can perceive that isn't the right question, there can be no answer given.
A libertarian free decision cannot be solely a first cause. If it were, then it would have nothing to do with the context of the decision; it would not address the topic at hand. There have to be inputs to a decision or the decision is arbitrary. The agent attends to a particular situation, evaluates it, and makes a free decision. I don't think it's reasonable to assume that entire process is a first cause with no antecedent subcomponents.

So, indeed, I am having trouble perceiving that "how" isn't the right question. Perhaps I just have to go with the flow.

~~ Paul
 
Since the issue has been raised (and I don't have a grasp on the objections to it), it seems like emergence fits the bill for a process which is both indeterminate and non-arbitrary. In this case, it is indeterminate in the way we need it to be - while it arises from 'stuff', it is not predicated upon or reducible to the characteristics of that stuff. But it is also non-arbitrary.

Linda
 
Since the issue has been raised (and I don't have a grasp on the objections to it), it seems like emergence fits the bill for a process which is both indeterminate and non-arbitrary. In this case, it is indeterminate in the way we need it to be - while it arises from 'stuff', it is not predicated upon or reducible to the characteristics of that stuff. But it is also non-arbitrary.

Linda
I just don't know how we can tell whether:
  • something arises from stuff but is not predicated upon or reducible to the characteristics of that stuff, or
  • something arising from stuff gives us more information about the reducible characteristics of that stuff.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
Since the issue has been raised (and I don't have a grasp on the objections to it), it seems like emergence fits the bill for a process which is both indeterminate and non-arbitrary. In this case, it is indeterminate in the way we need it to be - while it arises from 'stuff', it is not predicated upon or reducible to the characteristics of that stuff. But it is also non-arbitrary.
I presume you're talking about strong emergence. I've never found a coherent description of how such emergence works. We had a long conversation about it here awhile ago. Who was I talking with about it? I can't remember.

~~ Paul
 
I just don't know how we can tell whether:
  • something arises from stuff but is not predicated upon or reducible to the characteristics of that stuff, or
  • something arising from stuff gives us more information about the reducible characteristics of that stuff.
Interestingly, that is also what Laughlin wonders. Or rather, that there isn't a demarcation between stuff which emerges and stuff which is fundamental - i.e. even fundamental properties may be collective.

Linda
 
I presume you're talking about strong emergence. I've never found a coherent description of how such emergence works. We had a long conversation about it here awhile ago. Who was I talking with about it? I can't remember.

~~ Paul
I don't think I am. That is, I'm not sure that there is such a thing. The point of emergence is to understand organizational principles/processes, whereas "strong" and "weak" seems to be an artificial metaphysical distinction about the product of that organization.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that emergent properties aren't determined. I'm just saying that they are indeterminate with respect to fundamental forces and objects, and laws of physics (which are themselves emergent from organization phenomena).

Linda
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that emergent properties aren't determined. I'm just saying that they are indeterminate with respect to fundamental forces and objects, and laws of physics (which are themselves emergent from organization phenomena).
I don't see how they would be indeterminate with respect to fundamentals. I see how they could be unpredictable, but that is different. They could be unpredictable because they are chaotic or because true randomness is involved. Ah, I suppose you might mean indeterminate because of randomness.

~~ Paul
 
Last edited:
I don't see how they would be indeterminate with respect to fundamentals. I see how they could be unpredictable, bu that is different. They could be unpredictable because they are chaotic or because true randomness is involved. Ah, I suppose you might mean indeterminate because of randomness.

~~ Paul
I would say indeterminate because of information generation. This leads to novel emergence that isn't a strong emergence like Chalmers speaks of, but at the same time is not able to be determined by the lower levels.
 
I don't see how they would be indeterminate with respect to fundamentals. I see how they could be unpredictable, but that is different. They could be unpredictable because they are chaotic or because true randomness is involved. Ah, I suppose you might mean indeterminate because of randomness.

~~ Paul
Not because of randomness or because they are chaotic. Indeterminate with respect to fundamentals because it isn't possible to establish what sorts of phenomena would emerge by looking at the fundamentals, because those phenomena emerge from organizational processes, not something to do with characteristics of the fundamentals.

Linda
 
Top