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Old 03-26-2012, 02:31 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Free Will


I finished Sam Harris's new book Free Will last night and found it extremely interesting. I've talked to UB about it a bit -- it's only about 75 pages long, so I highly recommend the read.

The premise that Sam puts forward is that free will is indeed an illusion. This may not be a surprise to the more philosophical types, but the book has had quite a profound effect on me.

The evidence he presents for this position is more than I can write out here, but the basics are:

- By monitoring neurological activity we can see that the brain and body have already decided on a decision before our conscious self can say that we have "chosen" -- thus we are at the mercy of our bodies.

- All of the choices and decisions that we make (and he cites Determinism heavily in this section) are merely the product of genetics, environment, parents, situations we find ourselves in, and luck -- none of which we have any conscious control or "free will" at all in determining. We HAD to make a certain choice because, given past experiences and genetic makeup, there was no alternative. We can only say there might have been in hindsight.

- "Free will" or what we perceive as our freedom to make decisions is nothing more than a "feeling" -- we can't say why we actually chose one thing over another, and if we choose a Coke, and then intentionally change our mind to get a Sprite to spite the apparent lack of free will, we can't explain why we chose Sprite either. It just popped into our mind for no reason -- and where is the freedom in that? We can't possibly be aware of the myriad factors that affect any given decision, no matter how trivial -- so we can't accurately say that we made a fully involved "choice" on the matter. It just happens.

- This obviously has far reaching consequences for our legal system --- how much is one to blame for a crime they commit given their past experiences? If a tumor in a murderer's brain (which he had no choice over) mitigates his guilt, don't the past experiences (genetics, bad parents, bad environment, bad schools which someone had no choice over) of a murderer sans-tumor mitigate their guilt as well? How culpable is someone whose random experiences led them to act a certain way?


Here is an excerpt from the book I wrote out that I found particularly interesting:

Quote:
"For better or worse, dispelling the illusion of free will has political implications---because liberals and conservatives are not equally in thrall to it. Liberals tend to understand that a person can be lucky or unlucky in all matters relevant to his success. Conservatives, however, often make a religious fetish of individualism. Many seem to have absolutely no awareness of how fortunate one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be *able to work*. One must be lucky to be intelligent, physically healthy, and not bankrupted in middle age by the illness of a spouse.

Consider the biography of any "self made" man, and you will find that his success was entirely dependent on background conditions that he did not make and of which he was merely the beneficiary. There is not a person on earth who chose his genome, or the country of birth, or the political and economic conditions that prevailed at moments crucial to his progress. And yet, living in America, one gets the distinct sense that if certain conservatives were asked why they werent' born with club feet or orphaned before the age of five, they would not hesitate to take credit for these accomplishments.

Even if you have struggled to make the most of what nature gave you, you must still admit that your ability and inclination to struggle is part of your inheritance. How much credit does a person deserve for not being lazy? None at all. Laziness, like diligence, is a neurological condition. Of course, Conservatives are right to think that we must encourage people to work to the best of their abilities and discourage free riders whenever we can. And it is wise to hold people responsible for their actions when doing so influences their behavior and brings benefit to society. But this does not mean that we must be taken by the illusion of free will. We need only acknowledge that efforts matter and that people can change. We do not change ourselves, precisely -- because we have only ourselves with which to do the changing,---but we continually influence, and are influenced by, the world around us and the world within us. It may seem paradoxical to hold people responsible for what happens in their corner of the universe, but once we break the spell of free will, we can do this precisely to the degree that it is useful. Where people can change, we can demand that they do so. Where change is impossible, or unresponsive to demands, we can chart some other course. In improving ourselves and society, we are working directly with the forces of nature, for there is nothing but nature to work with."


Anyways, i'm curious what your guys' thoughts are on the matter. It seems we are pretty much just puppets.
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Old 03-26-2012, 02:57 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Big picture: sure, we are hugely creatures of our environment. The more advantaged you are born, the easier it is to succeed. However, I do believe that hard work can increase your chances at success. I think the vast majority realize that we are fortunate to be "normal" and not have extreme disadvantages.

The Coke/Sprite part: Many of our choices are made due to preference, obviously. Things such as taste are largely physiologically, but saying that deciding what we WANT to drink is out of our hands seems odd and maybe just reading this quickly I'm not thinking about it enough.

I'll have to check this book out sometime.
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Old 03-27-2012, 02:30 AM   #3 (permalink)
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However, I do believe that hard work can increase your chances at success. I think the vast majority realize that we are fortunate to be "normal" and not have extreme disadvantages.
I think you're wrong on vast majority realizing that, especially in America where our poorest are still very well-off based on some global standards. That's all most Americans have to compare to, and I STILL don't think the majority do even that. Maybe in your social circle ---but most people I know rarely take a look at the big picture and realize their relative luck.

Hard work can increase your chances, sure -- but where does that drive for hard work come from? How come you have it and the guy on welfare doesn't? Genes, experiences, and those experiences biologically taking root in your brain, are all reliant on things completely outside of your control. You could say "I could have not been a hard worker, though --- I could have been lazy", but that statement means nothing without being able to test that with two universes, which is obviously impossible. But how can you say you would have done anything different? Your makeup -- environment and genes made you a hard worker, and the same thing made that other guy a shitty worker. Make sense? What a mindfuck!


Quote:
The Coke/Sprite part: Many of our choices are made due to preference, obviously. Things such as taste are largely physiologically, but saying that deciding what we WANT to drink is out of our hands seems odd and maybe just reading this quickly I'm not thinking about it enough.
Right, but WHY is it your preference? Other than your body (not you) subconsciously craves it, for reasons completely outside of your conscious control. Therefore you didn't choose, your body wanted, and it sent that thought to your head, and then it appears: THEN you "decide". Where is the freedom in that?



God damn this shit is blowing my MIND.
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Old 03-27-2012, 03:15 AM   #4 (permalink)
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FREEEEEEE WILL!

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Old 03-27-2012, 03:44 AM   #5 (permalink)
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It's pretty ridiculous that most of us were alive for the exact shift between what is certainly going to be a time epoch like the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution; The Internet Age. 300 years from now you could be in the background of a photo in a history book.

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Old 03-27-2012, 03:48 AM   #6 (permalink)
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fuck you man, that shit is mindblowing when you're high
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Old 03-27-2012, 09:51 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Sure you have to be lucky to be good. But who said it's wrong to reward those that are good, whether they were lucky getting there or not? At some point you have reward goodness. Who gives a shit if somebody was lucky for being a good person?


The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.
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Old 03-27-2012, 12:36 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Sure you have to be lucky to be good. But who said it's wrong to reward those that are good, whether they were lucky getting there or not? At some point you have reward goodness. Who gives a shit if somebody was lucky for being a good person?
Who said it was wrong to reward those who are good? I wasn't implying that at all. It's just important for everybody to realize that a huge amount of factors went into their being "good" at whatever it is they're good at, and very little of it (if anything at all) is something they can actually take conscious credit for.

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Old 03-27-2012, 04:24 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Well your argument seemed to imply that conservatives were wrong for rewarding those that are good - what if taking credit for being good is in itself ok?


The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.
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Old 03-27-2012, 05:24 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Did you even read what I posted?

Quote:
Of course, Conservatives are right to think that we must encourage people to work to the best of their abilities and discourage free riders whenever we can. And it is wise to hold people responsible for their actions when doing so influences their behavior and brings benefit to society. But this does not mean that we must be taken by the illusion of free will. We need only acknowledge that efforts matter and that people can change. We do not change ourselves, precisely -- because we have only ourselves with which to do the changing,---but we continually influence, and are influenced by, the world around us and the world within us. It may seem paradoxical to hold people responsible for what happens in their corner of the universe, but once we break the spell of free will, we can do this precisely to the degree that it is useful.

We can (and should) reward them, but as long we remember how little choice they had in the matter of being "good".

Tl;dr -- give what is earned for their "goodness", but don't put them on a pedestal and suck their dicks too much about it.
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Old 03-28-2012, 12:02 AM   #11 (permalink)
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This article is vaguely related to this thread and really good IMO: 6 Things Rich People Need to Stop Saying | Cracked.com
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Old 03-28-2012, 12:13 AM   #12 (permalink)
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No Blonde. I'm not saying we reward goodness to encourage people. I'm saying what if rewarding people for being good with no intention of it being for encouragement is actually good?


The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.
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Old 03-28-2012, 07:34 AM   #13 (permalink)
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I wouldn't take any of it too seriously. It's been hashed and rehashed for hundreds of years.

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Old 03-28-2012, 09:18 AM   #14 (permalink)
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#edandrehashedforhundredsofyears

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Old 03-28-2012, 11:18 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Old 03-28-2012, 02:58 PM   #16 (permalink)
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No Blonde. I'm not saying we reward goodness to encourage people. I'm saying what if rewarding people for being good with no intention of it being for encouragement is actually good?
Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?
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Old 03-28-2012, 03:24 PM   #17 (permalink)
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It's not really that bad. I think I missed a couple commas.


The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.
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Old 03-28-2012, 03:25 PM   #18 (permalink)
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I was just messing around, but I'd like to hear more details about what you mean.
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Old 03-28-2012, 10:39 PM   #19 (permalink)
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I worked really hard on this guys. Please give me positive internets to encourage me to make more posts like this in the future. Here is my argument against Mr. Harris's theory:

Sam Harris's theory is largely premised on that awareness is a requirement of free will, which he never really gives a proof for except with circular logic. He says we can't choose what we choose because the origin of choice is mysterious to us (we are not aware of how it happens and its too complicated to predict what will be thought next). Then he convinces people by leading them on to have their own personal anecdotal experience that supports this premise. He has everyone to try to analyze their own thoughts, even though he correctly says in the same lecture that it has been shown time and time again in psychology experiments that people are inherently horrible at evaluating themselves or why they do things.

The other, much stronger, premise is that our consciousness has no power to modify the already predetermined cause and effect chain. And this is the premise that I will attack using Repug logic. Not Mr. Blonde logic, that shit is weak.

Here is a thought experiment. As Sam mentioned, in experiments we can accurately predict what someone is going to choose before they appear to be conscious of their choice (nevermind for a second that this is in a controlled environment observing trivial tasks that are much less complicated than being interested in both being a fireman or doctor and have to choose a career path). I'm going to assume that the universe we live in has laws of cause and effect. Everything that exists must be observable and predictably follow the laws:

Our mind is constructed by a network of neurons and chemicals in the brain. Data is encoded in the organic tissue of the brain. Our brain follows the laws and rules of the universe. We can observe the state of a neuron, and there is no reason to doubt that in the future we can take a complete snapshot of the state of the brain, if we can't already.

In the year 3000, we have created a computer that can calculate the state of your brain 1 millisecond from now based on a snapshot of the current state of your brain. A billion years later, our technology is so advanced, that we have completely mapped out the brain and can decode any information stored in the brain. We can calculate exactly what someone is thinking. Also, our computer can now calculate the state of a brain 5 minutes into the future in real time. This means that for an experiment we can put Mr. Harris in a controlled environment and take a snapshot of the entire environment, including his brain, and accurately predict every choice he will make.

Advances in biotechnology have allowed our brains to interface with fast random access external storage systems that extend our working/short term memory to a currently unimaginable sizes. All his future choices are beamed to his brain almost instantaneously. He can either continue with the choices he will make in the future or change to the other choice. It is predetermined that he will flip-flop his choices, and besides, its the goal of the experiment anyway. BAM. All of the sudden we create a causality loop and run in to the same paradoxes as time travel.

Therefore, there cannot be a universe which is both governed by laws of causality and in which free will does not exist.

#YOLO
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Old 03-29-2012, 01:04 AM   #20 (permalink)
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Either that was brilliant or rubbish. In either event, I didn't follow.
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Old 03-29-2012, 01:25 AM   #21 (permalink)
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It's my weekend, so I'm high again, but I also didn't follow at all, but then again guys I do struggle with logic.

I think that he disproved free will by citing a hypothetical technology a billion years from now.
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Old 03-29-2012, 12:05 PM   #22 (permalink)
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I'm pretty sure it has something to do with Terminator--which I recently watched. It's interesting to see how we portrayed 2029 in 1984. If machines do take over in the next 17 years, I'm guessing all of the Terminators will have Apple logos.

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Old 03-29-2012, 02:50 PM   #23 (permalink)
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And sex ports. God I hope they have sex ports.

Putting the sensual in non-consensual.
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Old 03-29-2012, 07:12 PM   #24 (permalink)
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Who is vaga1220*?


The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.
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Old 03-29-2012, 11:29 PM   #25 (permalink)
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If we know the state of a rolling ball (position, direction, velocity, mass, and coefficient of friction) we can precisely predict where it will be at any given time from now. We can do this with a billion balls in a really big lab if we have enough time or do it with a computer.

If every thought and choice you make is from a chain of cause and effect events and people have no power to influence their thoughts, then theoretically we can predict someone's next thought the same way we can predict the state of a billion balls if we can measure the state of their brain and we know how the brain works.

If a person is instructed to always choose the opposite choice of the one he knows he will make in the future, and something instantly calculates and tells him what decision he will make next, then if A is his next decision he will choose Z. But if Z is his next decision then A could not be his next decision because Z is his next decision. If A could not be his next decision then his next decision must be Z. If Z is his next decision he will choose A. But if A is his next decision then Z could not be his next decision because A is his next decision. If Z could not be his next decision then his next decision must be A. If A is his next decision he will choose Z. But if Z is his next decision then A could not be his next decision because Z is his next decision. If A could not be his next decision then his next decision must be Z...

<-----internets button is over there thx.

#YOLO
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