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← Morality without 'Free Will'

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 113 by Donald

The issue of "free will" seems to puzzle a lot of people, and arouse copious argument.

I suspect that a large part of the problem is that different people have different internal meanings for "free will".

For some, if the universe is deterministic (the clockwork universe view), then it seems to them that free will cannot possibly exist since any decisions made by the "free will" was actually pre-determined and (by their definition) not free will at all.

For them, "free will" seems to be whatever human thought is not determined by "clockwork". It thus requires dualism, or quantum mysticism, or something supernatural.

That view was one that I think Dan Dennett had in his sights when he wrote "Freedom Evolves".

For others, free will is compatible with determinism.

Within both categories there are numerous variants.

“Free will” is also conflated with “freedom”. But to keep my post simple and in the interests of ensuring variety in this thread, I'll offer my view on “free will”:

Free will obviously exists. You agree it applies to you, right? I mean, you aren't a robot are you? (I exclude Zara, because he has previously announced that he is a Zombie.)

And, a la Dennett, if we can establish that free will exists even in a deterministic universe, then all arguments about whether free actually exists must surely be over.

So here is my brilliant insight. You will be disappointed.

Free will is personal will. (Sam’s “intentionality” is probably the same idea). That is, it is individual decision making which is not determined by genetic makeup, and is not determined by social pressures.

I told you, you would be disappointed.

So here is some explanation.

Descriptions of the universe range from the small to the large, from atoms to galaxies. At each level, it is essential that some detail is lost. To describe a galaxy in terms of each atom would not only be impossible from a practical point of view, it would also be exponentially unwieldy, because the description would be larger than the galaxy itself. Useful explanations are simpler than the thing they describe.

So it is with humans, their behaviour, their thoughts and actions.

Innate behaviour is determined by atoms doing their thing in accordance with the DNA. To explain that requires multiple levels of description - atoms, proteins, micromachine molecules, cells, intercell signals, organs, etc. At each level, detail is lost, and descriptive power gained.

Anyway, when a human gets to interact with other humans, their innate behaviour includes not only recognition of other humans, but also reactions to the behaviour of other humans. As we develop, this reaction includes obedience to other humans.

In other words we are engineered (by evolution) to have recognition of other humans, and react to them.

Also, as we grow up, we develop thoughts, and “will”.

Thoughts, about ourselves and the world around us, and others, require the loss of detail. They are approximations, and often horribly inaccurate as a result.

As we grow up, language develops, and that includes mechanisms for other humans to instruct us. I.e. we are engineered (by evolution) to respond to certain inputs via language from others, mediated by thoughts, to do things. This can only happen if thoughts are not only responses to internal biochemistry (which they are routinely) but also INPUTS (to some extent) to behaviour.

I’ve gone on too long AGAIN (memo to self: STOP writing essays in comment threads!!)

Anyway, to cut a long essay short, the claim is:

o) Most of our behaviour is innate

o) Our innate behavour is arranged (by evolution) to allow for modulation by thoughts

o) Thus thoughts can be input to actions

o) Yes, I know that experiments show that many apparent “decisions of thought” are preceded by neurological signals from lower levels, but there are also clear cases where an instruction from another human is obeyed, proving that thoughts can sometimes be the decisive input.

o) Other humans supply some of our thoughts

o) Our decisions are the result of a combination of our history of inputs from other humans (including reading), and our innate (genetic) construction.

So, the key point for the thread is that “free will” is the input of thoughts into behaviour, where such input is the result of the history of inputs from other humans, combined with innate behavour from genes, and is decisively INDIVIDUAL, rather then common to all (derived from genes) or derived from instruction (obeying societal norms).

It seems to each human that they have free will. They do, but it would be better described as “personal will”, and for this thread, it should be regarded as

Memo to self; STOP making posts in comment threads!!

Tue, 31 May 2011 23:56:45 UTC | #632834