Free will vs Choice
#1
I keep reading posts / seeing videos that state that the above two are different. I've tried searching a little, but I cant find solid links that explain the difference. Can someone explain the difference? Free will as I understand is the ability to make our own choices. By my own words, I know I'm making a mistake here Huh!

I also want to discuss if free-will exists or not. Does causality in its own way make free-will non-existent?
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#2
(05-Oct-2010, 04:41 PM)mohankarthik Wrote: Free will as I understand is the ability to make our own choices.

You are defending a weak version of free-will, something that Dan Dennett would call compatibilist free-will. But that is just "will'. It is just "choice". The ability to make choices does not necessarily imply freedom to make choices. The reason why it is disingenuous to defend the weaker version of free-will is because that is not how people evoke the idea. The popular cultural conception of free-will is tied to a pre-scientific Cartesian view of the mind, which is an illusion. In a Cartesian framework, this mind is the seat of consciousness that can make choices "free" from influence of any external forces. This is the notion of free-will that we must criticize, because the Cartesian framework is wrong. There is no homunculus (little man) in the brain that can be "free" to make choices. All choices that we make follow from causal forces that the mind itself has little control over.

In any case, in order to clarify, naturalistic philosophers qualify what they are saying using the phrase contra-causal free-will. CCFW has been referred to as a "Little God", one of those highly intuitive false notions that people subscribe to because the belief is now inextricably wrapped up in their culture, through language, traditions and emotional communication.

Free-will is one of those phrases that people throw around for which no one really has a concrete definition in their heads. It's like 'consciousness'. Everyone thinks they have it, but ask them to define it and it gets pretty fuzzy. This is because these ideas are right on the edge of the subjective/objective divide. Understanding them takes learning some basic philosophy.

I highly suggest reading what Tom Clark has to say about Free-Will. I consider him and Susan Blackmore as the top thinkers on this subject.

http://www.naturalism.org/freewill.htm
http://www.centerfornaturalism.org/faqs.htm#Q4
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=...2520847424#


"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#3
(05-Oct-2010, 04:41 PM)mohankarthik Wrote: I keep reading posts / seeing videos that state that the above two are different. I've tried searching a little, but I cant find solid links that explain the difference. Can someone explain the difference? Free will as I understand is the ability to make our own choices. By my own words, I know I'm making a mistake here Huh!

I also want to discuss if free-will exists or not. Does causality in its own way make free-will non-existent?

I guess that choice means that someone is providing us or controlling the options and we need to choose within the options provided. So choice can be considered as an illusion of Free will. We can't see past the choices we are not provided. On the other hand, free will means we create the options and make the choice. smile
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#4
(05-Oct-2010, 10:51 PM)Ron2005 Wrote: I guess that choice means that someone is providing us or controlling the options and we need to choose within the options provided. So choice can be considered as an illusion of Free will. We can't see past the choices we are not provided. On the other hand, free will means we create the options and make the choice. smile

Seeing from Ajita's post, that is not what free will means. From one of the links in that post:

Quote:What’s special about this naturalistic view ourselves, that’s quite different from the supernatural or common sense view, is that we don’t have free will, defined as the power to do something without yourself being fully caused to do it. (Please note and remember this definition!) Now, many people think they do have this power, but to have it, you’d have to be disconnected from nature in some way, and naturalism says that there is no way in which we are disconnected from nature: we are completely included in the natural world. This means that everything we are and do is caused, which means we don’t have free will in the sense defined above, what we might call “contra-causal” free will.

If we are creating some options and choosing amongst them, we are still maintaining causality. We create the options in a natural world by following its laws. So it is not free will.

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#5
(05-Oct-2010, 11:44 PM)Lije Wrote: Seeing from Ajita's post, that is not what free will means. From one of the links in that post:

Quote:What’s special about this naturalistic view ourselves, that’s quite different from the supernatural or common sense view, is that we don’t have free will, defined as the power to do something without yourself being fully caused to do it. (Please note and remember this definition!) Now, many people think they do have this power, but to have it, you’d have to be disconnected from nature in some way, and naturalism says that there is no way in which we are disconnected from nature: we are completely included in the natural world. This means that everything we are and do is caused, which means we don’t have free will in the sense defined above, what we might call “contra-causal” free will.

If we are creating some options and choosing amongst them, we are still maintaining causality. We create the options in a natural world by following its laws. So it is not free will.

Thanks Lije.
To add to that last statement of yours, not only do we create the options in a natural world by following its laws, the "we" (the ego, or in this case, the collective ego) is itself created by the natural world due to events that are beyond the "conscious" control of the mind. This is contrary to the idea of our minds being in complete control of our destinies. The reason this view (that the mind is in complete control of our destinies) is false is because the mind itself is not what we intuitively think it to be (the false view of the mind as a Cartesian theater). It's not like the mind is "dealing with" the sensory and other information that it receives. The mind is actively "created by" the interaction of the sensory "external" information that is received through the sense organs with the biological structures of the brain that are codified by "internal" genetic information. The brain is so completely and seamlessly tied in a feedback loop with this external information to create the mind, that this creates the powerful illusion that there is a little person in our heads collecting this information and making "conscious" decisions using it.

Neither the genetic information that goes into building the brain (and sense organs) or the environmental information that is received by the brain, both of which are necessary to create the mind, are under the complete control of the mind itself. The mind can choose, and even create, but only in a manner that is determined by causal factors that are mostly beyond it's conscious control. This is the exact opposite of what the culturally reinforced notion of free-will entails.

Of course, there is a limited sense of free-will that is true. This is termed the compatibilist view, because it ignores the culturally reinforced notion of free-will which is a supernatural belief that ignores causality, and focuses on an inter-subjective free-will that is not contra-causal.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#6
Right! Basically, I had confused free-will and will. What I had termed as free will in my first paragraph was basically will, and in the second paragraph was contra-causal free will. And ya I agree that Contra-Causal free will is not possible. Although this leads me to some questions.

The FAQ says that credit / blame for an action is now not on the individual but instead on the causes that affected the individual (which would be in-numerous). Isnt this a dangerous stand to take? (Ya, I hear the appeal to consequences there). What I mean is, is it justifiable to say that everything that we do is because of the causation! We still make choices right? I know that its influenced by the causes, but are my choices so completely controlled by causes. If I'm asked to pick a random number from 1 - 10, are the sum of all the causes from the big-bang playing a role in it?

I think the fact that I am not totally in "control", in the conventional sense, and that i'm "just" a product of all the causes, is making me ask these questions. So what I'm asking is if I really had a drive to do something, shouldnt I feel happy about it, and if someone does something bad, should I not account him for it? The FAQ says I should, but I see only black and white here, I dont see the gray area.

Another question that I generally think, when I think about causality is the first cause. We dont know what the first cause was, but by our definition, the first cause should have been through contra-causal free will right? Although maybe we might not be able to apply that term since we dont know the nature of the first cause.

And how do you explain our lack of knowledge of first cause. For a philosophy based on causes, not knowing is a pretty serious problem right? How do we tackle the question of first cause?
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#7
(06-Oct-2010, 03:49 PM)mohankarthik Wrote: The FAQ says that credit / blame for an action is now not on the individual but instead on the causes that affected the individual (which would be in-numerous). Isnt this a dangerous stand to take? (Ya, I hear the appeal to consequences there). What I mean is, is it justifiable to say that everything that we do is because of the causation! We still make choices right? I know that its influenced by the causes, but are my choices so completely controlled by causes. If I'm asked to pick a random number from 1 - 10, are the sum of all the causes from the big-bang playing a role in it?

This is a common set of doubts among many people who have for the first time questioned contra-causal free-will. The thing is that the answers to your questions are more than adequately answered in the links found on the first page that I linked to. The FAQ is a very brief version, and you should read what philosophers have written about your specific questions, because they have all certainly taken into consideration the problems that you have noted. It is not exactly true that the individual is not to blame. The concept of responsibility is very complicated and has been addressed by philosophers.

Here are a few links that you should really read:
One that you must read first : "Sheldon Richman, of the Future of Freedom Foundation, illustrates the sometimes panicked reaction to neuroscience ("the muck of reductionism") by those who suppose that without contra-causal, ultimate freedom, all is lost. But on due consideration, there's no need to panic":
http://www.naturalism.org/free_will_panic.htm
Two that argue how the notion of "free-choice" is actually what causes a lot of suffering in society:
http://www.naturalism.org/choice.htm
http://www.naturalism.org/SommersCh5.pdf
Here's one on responsibility and how it actually makes more sense from a naturalistic point of view:
http://www.naturalism.org/glannon.htm

There are many more writings on this subject, but let me address a couple of the things you said above. Firstly, you are trying desperately to find some form of free-will when you say : "I know that its influenced by the causes, but are my choices so completely controlled by causes". Of course all our choices are completely determined by natural causes. That derives from the essence of scientific naturalism. Not just our choices, but everything in the natural world is controlled by natural causes. In fact, this notion is what separates naturalists from supernaturalists, as I have written before:
http://nirmukta.com/2010/0.3/14/are-you-...-universe/
Secondly, this statement "If I'm asked to pick a random number from 1 - 10, are the sum of all the causes from the big-bang playing a role in it?" is a straw-man, because that is not what the argument against free-will is. The causes are natural and beyond the conscious control of the ego. We determine causal events within reasonable limits all the time. If I ask you why the apple falls to the ground, you do not have to go back to the big bang and work your way to the formation of the earth and the evolution of the apple tree. So why would you have to determine all the events in the universe, even if they are causally connected, just because we realize that there are causal events that determine our choices? But your premise is itself wrong. Your brain cannot come up with a truly random number. At best you can come up with what are known as pseudo-random numbers.

Quote:I think the fact that I am not totally in "control", in the conventional sense, and that i'm "just" a product of all the causes, is making me ask these questions. So what I'm asking is if I really had a drive to do something, shouldnt I feel happy about it, and if someone does something bad, should I not account him for it? The FAQ says I should, but I see only black and white here, I dont see the gray area.

Again, I say read the actual articles, not just the FAQ. The links on the first page that I linked to contain more than adequate answers to these doubts. For example see this one:
http://www.naturalism.org/fatalism.htm
Much of your doubt arises because once your free-will supernatural belief is is destroyed, the immediate tendency is to think like a fatalist, which is a philosophically flawed point of view. This is akin to those who are giving up their theism feeling that now there is no point in anything. You have been conditioned all your life to act as though free-will is true. Our culture is built on this false belief, and our language is full of metaphors and tricks that assume free-will. Therefore you tend to think of it as absolutely essential for a happy life, just as most religious believers think of the idea of god as absolutely necessary for a leading happy life. Fatalism is dangerous, but it is the product of indoctrination, not the product of being liberated from supernatural beliefs.

Quote:Another question that I generally think, when I think about causality is the first cause. We dont know what the first cause was, but by our definition, the first cause should have been through contra-causal free will right? Although maybe we might not be able to apply that term since we dont know the nature of the first cause.

I don't understand what the notion of first-cause has to do with the non-existence of free-will. As for causality, why would it be affected just because we don't know the exact nature of one particular hypothetical causal event called the first-cause?

Quote:And how do you explain our lack of knowledge of first cause. For a philosophy based on causes, not knowing is a pretty serious problem right? How do we tackle the question of first cause?

Quite the contrary, for a philosophy based on causes, pretending that there are none is the problem. Not-knowing is the default position. Not-knowing is the first step in science. I really don't understand what you mean when you say we need to "explain our lack of knowledge of first cause". We don't know because we haven't figured it out yet. What's so difficult about that? This is how science works. It is a pre-scientific idea that all unknowns must be known before formulating a theory. In science, we go by what we can test and verify. That is, science is based on what we do know, and what we don't know is just waiting to be tested. The laws of light are true in science because they have stood up to all our tests, and because all our theories are consistent if we go by these laws. Not because we have tested and know for certain that all the light in the universe follows the laws of light. This is the inductive logic by which science works.

It seems to me that you are craving certainty. If that is what you really want, then science and naturalism are not for you. There are some other systems of belief that value certainty over evidence Wink
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#8
(07-Oct-2010, 01:50 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: This is a common set of doubts among many people who have for the first time questioned contra-causal free-will. The thing is that the answers to your questions are more than adequately answered in the links found on the first page that I linked to. The FAQ is a very brief version, and you should read what philosophers have written about your specific questions, because they have all certainly taken into consideration the problems that you have noted. It is not exactly true that the individual is not to blame. The concept of responsibility is very complicated and has been addressed by philosophers.
Oops! Blush! I was too lazy to read the set of bigger links! I will do that and then come back to answer. But thanks for picking out the relevant links for me.

Quote:I don't understand what the notion of first-cause has to do with the non-existence of free-will. As for causality, why would it be affected just because we don't know the exact nature of one particular hypothetical causal event called the first-cause?
It has to do with the existence of free will! What I meant was that, the first-cause event if it had existed, should have been through free will right? Just an academic question. It dosent change what is currently existing of course. I was just curious coz this question just popped into my head when I was reading the FAQ.

Quote:Quite the contrary, for a philosophy based on causes, pretending that there are none is the problem. Not-knowing is the default position. Not-knowing is the first step in science. I really don't understand what you mean when you say we need to "explain our lack of knowledge of first cause". We don't know because we haven't figured it out yet. What's so difficult about that? This is how science works. It is a pre-scientific idea that all unknowns must be known before formulating a theory. In science, we go by what we can test and verify. That is, science is based on what we do know, and what we don't know is just waiting to be tested. The laws of light are true in science because they have stood up to all our tests, and because all our theories are consistent if we go by these laws. Not because we have tested and know for certain that all the light in the universe follows the laws of light. This is the inductive logic by which science works.
Ok! Rephrasing! I know that we dont know! And I know that is the default position for all scientists. What I wanted to know was, are there any theories, any studies being done in this area (which are philosophical)? Because that is what scientists do when there is no answer for a given question. I just wanted to know if the people here have any theories / links to theories that I could read. I was interested in a possibility of a first cause and wanted to read more smile. My interest in first cause is just curiosity! Of course I understand that there might not have ever been a first cause, and we have just misunderstood the rigid requirement of a first cause, or we have misunderstood time itself.

Quote:It seems to me that you are craving certainty. If that is what you really want, then science and naturalism are not for you. There are some other systems of belief that value certainty over evidence Wink
Oh! Cmon dont say that! smile smile! I dont "Crave" certainty (Althought reading my comments seem like that), but as you said, this is how i've been thinking all this long. I could intuitively identify with the no-god concept when I read God Delusion, but free will was something I had taken for granted. Hence the trouble wraping my mind around it. Give me some time to read thru the BIG list of links, and then i'll be in a shape to talk something solid smile.
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#9
Thanks for waiting!

I've gone through some of the links (its really HUGE and I guess its a slow process). But here is what I've understood.

Causality is true because its just an extension of Newton's first law. This is pretty simple. Determinism is mostly true because it is simply a result of causality! But I've doubts here (especially linked to quantum physics, and my quantum physics has totally disappeared! I just remember the uncertainty equation lol, so i'm visiting it back smile). But because something is determinable doesn't mean that the result is determined whether we act or not! This is because, we are one of the causes to the outcome of the action. Hence I've understood that fatalism is false.

The biggest problem I had was the responsibility or Deep Moral Responsibility (DMR) as strawson (I luv this guy! such clear thoughts with practical implications as well) puts it. I've come to address this issue like this, and this is where I want your feedback.

When we are born, we are completely caused by out genetic structure. Its like a newly built software code, which is totally determinable and completely caused by the code I've written. Now assume that the code is "intelligent" and can learn. Now the "intelligence" of the code becomes a cause for itself and its environment. Hence to an extent you can say that the software is now part of all the local causes that is affecting itself and its environment. I say local cause, because when we trace back, we can say that the software in itself is still acting out with the rules programmed into it. Similarly, we too become a local cause for ourselves and our environment. Even though we are caused to action, our actions cause results just like any other actions. If this is the case, it has two implications
1) We are not impotent! On the other hand, being caused is what gives us the drive to achieve our goals. Again determinism is just a by-product of how we live, not a controller of us.
2) Because we are causes for ourselves, we have a local responsibility for our action. But as Stawson says, we cant have a DMR for them. But again as he says, this will be insanely hard to achieve in practical life, since this who we are! And we need very powerful social causes to modify that urge to take credit or blame.

Thanks a million for those links Ajita! Philosophy has never been a strong point for me, and I hope I'm learning to think critically about things I took for granted smile
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#10
(07-Oct-2010, 08:28 AM)mohankarthik Wrote:
Quote:It seems to me that you are craving certainty. If that is what you really want, then science and naturalism are not for you. There are some other systems of belief that value certainty over evidence Wink
Oh! Cmon dont say that! smile smile! I dont "Crave" certainty (Althought reading my comments seem like that), but as you said, this is how i've been thinking all this long.

Mohan, dude, I was pulling your leg smile
Obviously you're serious about understanding and learning, which is what we're all doing. I'm no philosopher myself, and I am enriched by these discussions with people like you. It took me a long time to really begin to comprehend the implications of biological evolution and the idea that we are completely natural. I'm still navigating the complex philosophical implications of fairly well-established scientific ideas, and discussing them with people like you makes the journey all the more interesting.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#11
Damn it!
Damn itttttttt! ;)

I'll get that next time! Its quite hard to know the people behind the words thru mere words! We seriously need a meetup sometime soon! ;)
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#12
You can now get a free copy of Cris Evertt's latest book, The Myth of Free Will, by writing to her. More details here: http://www.brainbiases.com/

Tom Clark has reviewed the book briefly in the latest Naturalism newsletter:
http://www.naturalism.org/Newsletter.htm#roundup
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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