Free Will: Philosophy v. Neuroscience

A philosopher further confuses the question. On purpose, I mean. Often, that's what good philosophers do.

Here's an example:


Eric Blair said...

I tend to consider (philosophically, of course) that all this talk of not having 'free will' is just preparing the battle space for the setting up of some sort of regime that will tell everybody what to do, all the time.

Tom said...

I understand that the anti-free will folks have some good points and that we are not absolutely free. We are influenced by many things, and probably make many decisions based on subconscious input.

However, their arguments have never made complete sense to me, in part because it seems like they assume there really is free will in their arguments. After all, why would you argue against free will if the people you are arguing with have no free will to change their minds?

If there is no free will, then all the people who believe in free will have no choice but to believe in it. (They are determined to believe in it, so to speak.) So ... ?

I had this discussion with an ardent young programmer who hated Microsoft for their anti-competitive behavior. So I asked him why that bothered him if he believed they had no choice in the matter. He honestly said, "I don't know."

A lot of people arguing for a deterministic world have very strong beliefs about what that world should be like and what we should do to bring that ideal world about, but all of that seems like they really do believe in free will. That has also led me to think along Eric's lines. It seems more important to not believe in free will than to act as if there were no free will.

Grim said...

As Kant points out, you can't act except under a presumption of free will. It's not a new problem: in his day, the thing that suggested it didn't exist was Newtonian physics. It seemed as if everything could be explained in terms of efficient causality, one thing acting on another like billiard balls. But then there's no free will.

He didn't try to prove that there was, Kant. He just said that you can't act except by presuming that you're free to choose to act as you're apparently choosing to act. Since that's a necessary presumption, you have no choice but to make it. And since you have no choice -- here's an irony -- you have no free will but to presume that you have free will.

Tom said...

And that to me seems like an argument against determinism. If there is no free will, then it seems to me that someone should be able to relax into the current of the programming and just act as programmed, without this silly ruse of "weighing the options" and so forth.

Grim said...

It's at least an interesting fact. Kant took Newton very seriously, too seriously to wave away the problems for free will his theories posed. But then, as Kant says, every day we seem to make decisions and take actions based upon them. That doesn't even make sense to say if we don't presume free will. Does that prove free will? No. But it does mean that, when we think about the kinds of decisions that a moral being could or should make, we have to think of ourselves as free.

Tom said...

What a bizarre world that determines you must believe in an illusory free will in order to act in predetermined ways.

I do not know, but I suspect most people at that time, maybe including Kant and those of similar caliber of mind, did not really understand Newton. While his billiard-ball world healed the rift Galileo introduced between physics and cosmology, and was a brilliant advance in understanding the natural world, there were problems with it, and it didn't explain everything. There were places where the math didn't work out just right and Newton claimed that God's power made those bits work. There was no necessity that demanded reasoning from physics to the psyche, either.

Of course, it was (and for some still is) a powerful paradigm for understanding the universe, one that moved many highly intelligent people toward deism and a clockwork universe. Maybe the problems with it are just highlighted in retrospect; I know the next chapter so I can't help but commit anachronism.

Grim said...

What a bizarre world that determines you must believe in an illusory free will in order to act in predetermined ways.

Indeed. But -- that's just what the neuroscientists are telling you now. All that stuff about why you did it, that's just lies your left brain made up to put into speech.

Why? No reason at all.

Tom said...

Yes, well, the neuroscientists are on even worse footing than Newton at this point in time. We'll see where it goes.

Christopher B said...

I think the disconnect you see is that opponents of free will very rapidly devolve into a discussion of why those 'random' choices are actually 'bad' i.e. not the 'eat your broccoli' choice they want you to make. And of course there's the more meta discussion they don't want to have about why their choice in the matter is any less random than yours.

Eric Blair said...

Ooooooooo. Chris B. makes a very good catch. Gotta remember that one.

douglas said...

So if Kant is saying that you can't act except under the presumption of free will, then did he believe that animals also have free will? They act, and while they are clearly driven strongly by instinct, they do also make individual choices. No two of my dogs were so alike as you'd expect them to be if acting purely on instinct.

Grim said...

No. Kant believed that free will is purely a product of reason, and that animals lack it. He was demonstrably wrong about this, but it was what he believed to be true. From Kant's perspective, there are two kinds of actions: those you cause yourself (autonomous actions) and those that are caused by something acting on you (heteronomous actions). So eating because you get hungry because you smelled good food is a heteronomous action we have in common with animals. It is not a free or autonomous action.

On the other hand, reasoning that you need to eat in order to gain muscle mass -- and then selecting lean proteins instead of the spaghetti you might have preferred, and perhaps even eating more of it than you really wanted -- is for Kant a rational, autonomous choice. We can't do that without assuming we are free to do it.

Ymar Sakar said...

The Will is a power and if it is a power, it can be measured such as quantum energy fields and its effects on physical particles.

Some people even say God and love are powers in a higher dimension.

The more words humans use to process reality, the more distant they become from the physical world of nature.

Humans can't recreate life or determine how the brain functions, whether as a computer or as a quantum device or something completely alien. Scientists will need a little bit more time. In the timeline between Aristotle, Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, and the Quantum Standard Model, neural theory is about between Aristole and Copernicus in the level of depth and accuracy.

douglas said...

Thank you Grim. Not that your answer clarifies the larger problem, or I should say, it clarifies the problem even further while making it even more daunting to determine where the line between free will and, for lack of a better term, provoked action. Well, maybe that's not the right word, that would be more like things you did under free will but in response to an external stimulus. External determination? Maybe that's a better term.

Of course, as you've mentioned many a time, in a moment of urgency, we respond as we've trained ourselves to respond- so while we train ourselves of our own free will in the way we see fit, perhaps it's also so that under the reflexive response, we are not fully invoking free will, but acting under something not far different than instinct- it's just that we've cultivated that particular instinct by choice.

This one is a real tail chaser, isn't it?