Does Physics disprove the existence of free will?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by M.I.D, Oct 2, 2018.

  1. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    That's not a false notion. It's a defended (in several posts, with quotes etc) observation. It's the observed assumption of the logic of 130, as explained in 130, so often referenced here.

    And a rather obvious one, as observations go. Granted the word carries connotations - too bad.

    How else could one jump from from rerunning physical events or built of physically "determined" parts to complete absence of freedom of will?

    How else would anyone come to describe the causality of dreams as "appearance", or the perception that one has acted according to one's will as "illusion"?
    The definition and logic is assumed to model the real world of physical (natural) law - the violation then is of physical law, and the inference is nonexistence of the attribute. It's held (quite belligerently) to be an inference, in short - not a matter of definition, as you observe it to be.
    It will be the product of some discussion such as this - not to be expected at the beginning.
    An expansion or extrapolation from the solidly based concept of engineering degrees of freedom, rather than the more dubious magic based or religiously derived concepts, seems possible - and indicated, on a science forum.
    - - - - -
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  3. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    I'm sorry, but that is a mistaken claim.
    In your reasoning as quoted and in all of Baldee's posting, the assumption is central and key. The quotes are locations - where it was central, where it was visible, where it was invoked, so you can see for yourself.
    Typically, for example: "Free" means "can do other than it must" - that's Baldee, you agreed with reasoning based on that, Dave endorsed - - - - there it is.
    Your perspective is in direct conflict with my explicit language. I have no idea where you would get P1, for example: nowhere in any post of mine do I make or attribute any such presumption.
    The formal name for that is begging the question.
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2018
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  5. NotEinstein Valued Senior Member

    Makes sense. If you assume that the universe strictly follows logic, then a violation of logic is a violation of reality (and thus of physical law).
    (Note: I also assume the universe strictly follows logic; I am not aware of any other way to reason about the universe.)

    I (too?) have some vague (innate?) sense what "free will" is supposed to be, and can make all kinds of statements based on that, but I have so far failed to define (or even describe) "free will" in any (logically) useful way. Defining it, or at least describing it in an unambiguous and (logically) useful way would seem to be step 1 to me. That's why I asked about the definition, and nothing else.

    I understand completely. Many people have some ideas about what "free will" is supposed to be, and it'll take time to merge those ideas into one consistent, useful definition. I'm just surprised people (I'm not talking about specific people in this thread!) are able to categorically state that "free will" exists or not, without being able to define it or even unambiguously describe what it is. Without equating it to some other existing term, that is (I've seen people say "free will" is consciousness. Well yeah, with that definition...).

    I scrolled past some mentioned of that, yes. Question about that: a lifeless object can have degrees of freedom, but most would agree that it lacks "will". Are you talking about "free will" or "free(dom)" (perhaps only as it is part of "free will")?

    Often abstract concepts, such as systems, are described as having degrees of freedom; perhaps best to treat that as "sloppy language" in this discussion?
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  7. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    My point was different: the assumption that the specific logical argument involved usefully models the aspect of the universe being considered.
    Not a general point about logic and reality - a specific point about one argument.
    Hence the necessity of expansion/extrapolation.
    Notice that we begin in the middle of the scale range, in a sense, and are running into trouble in both directions - degrees of freedom, cause/effect, "determined" behavior, what "must" happen, modeling via logical inference, etc, do not extrapolate easily to the lower substrates either.
  8. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    It is a false notion with regard the logic that was presented. The logic makes zero assumption as to the existence of free will. That you are claiming that it exists, and has been observed to exist, is your premise that you are bringing into the mix. It is not part of the logic that was presented.
    As such, you claim free will exists, and with this bolted on as a premise to the logic the conclusion is that free will must be supernatural. Sure, that follows, but that conclusion only stems from you introducing the additional premise. You have changed the logical argument from that presented.
    Through understanding.
    You have started from the outset with the a priori assumption that free will exists. You have claimed that it is observed etc. I get that. But your "free will" is other people's "illusion of free will".
    What is observed is what is in question with this logic, whether it merely gives the illusion of being free or is free. Try and drop that a priori assumption for a moment and revisit that logic.
    Baldeee first defined "free" in that manner in post #188, long after you had issue with matters supernatural. Previous to that he was defining "deterministic" in those terms. As such he's simply defining it as "not deterministic". Still no sign or assumption of anything supernatural.
    Whether you discourage it or not, it is the only way I can see that you can conclude I am saying that free will is supernatural.
    That is the way of definitions, I guess.
  9. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    The "systems" here would not be abstract concepts, necessarily.
    But the notion of "degrees of freedom" has yet to be extended rigorously to the higher level patterns involved, concrete or otherwise. Sloppy it is and will be for some time.
  10. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    You are completely wrong.
    I have never claimed free will has been observed, for example. I have, instead, specifically and explicitly stated that free will has not been observed.
    I have not claimed the logic assumes the existence of free will. I have instead specifically and explicitly claimed the logic assumes the nonexistence of nonsupernatural free will.
    And so forth.
    I do not.
    The premise I highlighted for you, in your arguments, is that "free" means "able to do other than it must". You described that as "reasonable". You did not deny making that assumption. You repeated it, explicitly within the context of physical law in this thread ("must"). I did not "bolt it on", I observed it preinstalled.

    I claimed that the supernatural nature of freedom is your assumption, and the nonexistence of free will is your conclusion.

    Explicitly, repeatedly, with quotes, with illustrations, with all that.
    Here's me on page one, making the same simple, solitary, and damn obvious point:
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2018
  11. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    No, you have specifically and explicitly stated that "supernatural free will" does not exist. You then try to argue that "free will" should instead be viewed as "freedom of will" which you then say has been observed. You are therefore distinguishing between "free will" and "supernatural free will". With regard the latter, whether you want to call it "free will" or "freedom of will", you are claiming it exists. I make no claim as to whether free will is supernatural or not, or whether it exists or not. Baldeee's logic does not either.
    No, you have repeatedly stated that it assumes the existence of supernatural free will. There is a difference.
    And even then it doesn't assume it; it simply concludes that free will does not exist in a deterministic system. It makes no assumptions about whether the universe is wholly deterministic or not. Free will could be argued to exist, and not in a supernatural way, simply by showing one of the premises to be incorrect. Maybe the will is not a system made up of deterministic interactions... maybe a system made up of deterministic actions is not necessarily deterministic itself.
    So where in what I have written, or in the logic that Baldeee presented, is the notion that free will defies the laws of physics? Answer: it's not, unless you bring in the assumption that the universe is entirely deterministic, perhaps? Which is not part of the premises.
    The logic is open to rebuttal in the premises with regard what the laws of physics claim about the nature of deterministic systems, about whether the will is or is not such a system etc. But in and of itself it makes no assumption or claim that free will is supernatural. That is all on you.
    If free will is part of an indeterministic (or non-probabilistically determined) system, for example, then it is able to do other than it must, because there would be no "must" about it.
    Yes, you are trying to claim up front that the logic says free will is supernatural. That, however, forms zero part of Baldeee's logic, and only goes to reinforce that it is you who is bringing that assumption to the table. Whether that is through the assumption that the universe is deterministic, or a direct assumption, it is still all on you.
  12. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    In agreement with you guys, sure.
    Not once.
    I stated the opposite - that as far as we know freedom of will has not been observed. For one thing, we don't know what it looks like - it could be being demonstrated in every brain scan, and we will discover it in the data as soon as we have a handle on what we're talking about.

    There is of course a great deal of evidence for what would normally be called a freedom of choice or decision, and we observe ourselves and others making such decisions based on dreams and memories and so forth - but we have no reliable characterization or "definition" of what we want to label "freedom" in that.
    Yep. Hold that thought. It's the main reason I think the term "free will" should be avoided - it tends to confuse people. We've got eleven pages of evidence of that.
    Yeah, you do.
    It's an assumption of your reasoning - I keep quoting your reasoning, and you keep denying what's right there in front of you.
    It's right there on the screen in post 130, for example, quite blatantly (one of the benefits of laying out the reasoning clearly like that).
    Among the several places on this thread, one of them: In the claim that a system built of deterministic parts is deterministic, and - here's the kicker - do I have your attention? - ->therefore <- - not free.
    Another one: in the claim that because all physical behaviors are deterministic, the perception of freedom in willful acts is necessarily an "illusion".

    That's clearly not a validly derived conclusion about systems determined by the laws of physics, unless the reasoner is assuming that one must abrogate those laws - defy that determination - to have freedom at all. So which is it: blatantly invalid reasoning, or assumed supernatural nature of freedom?
    And again you post that assumption you deny. You identify freedom as the ability to do other than it "must". That's your assumption - right there. You called it "reasonable". I note that it begs a significant and central question, which bears directly on the thread topic:

    no, physics does not "disprove" the existence of free will. It only "disproves" the existence of supernatural free will. Whether natural freedom of will exists is another matter entirely.

    Which might be good to address, someday, although the thread question would have been answered merely by addressing it.
    - - - -
    I have specifically and explicitly stated that it assumes the nonexistence of supernatural free will.
    I have repeated that, even quoting myself repeating that, something like ten or eleven times now.
    That's the opposite, see. Existence and nonexistence are opposites.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2018
  13. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    It looks a little circular to me. Your P3 seems to covertly introduce your conclusion.

    I might argue with P2 too. I'm not convinced that physical causation determines effects with absolute precision. Almost but not quite. So as we compound cause and effect into longer and longer chains, those little uncertainties might arguably compound and multiply. If we know the universe's state at time 1, we might be able to predict its state at time 2 with great accuracy. But knowing the universe's state at time 1 might not help us know the universe's state at time 100 at all. So my speculation is that determinism might tend to dissipate over time. Weather forecasting is like that.

    I'm just not convinced that the initial state of the universe at the 'big bang', along with some set of dynamical equations, determine what I'm going to choose to do right now. That kind of idea looks quasi-theological to me, attributing everything that happens to creation and hence to God's will.

    But I don't want to deny that my choices right now are the product of and determined by my own intentions. Those intentions are in turn determined by my longer term desires, my habits, my knowledge of the situation I'm in and lots of stuff like that. I don't think that most free-will supporters would want to disagree with that. Free will isn't just a bunch of random spastic jerks. It's motivated, goal-directed and intentional.

    When I insist that I could have chosen to do something different, I'm really saying that I could have if I had wanted to. Which would mean a difference in my inner process, a new motivation or something.

    Free will needn't be a supernatural idea at all. All it needs to say is that my choices are the result of my own internal decision process (my own motivations and desires), not the result of any sort of external coercion. If somebody was holding a gun to my head while telling me to choose A or die, then my choice wouldn't be free. Nor would my choice be free if I'm just a puppet whose every move is dictated by my surrounding environment or by the state of the universe before I was born.
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  14. Baldeee Valued Senior Member

    Only because of P1 and P2.
    It is no more circular than the syllogism: If A then B.
    Therefore B
    There's a difference between being determined and being predictable.
    Determined simply means that if you have input A you will always get output B.
    Probabilistic determinism is that input A will always lead to the same probability function B.
    Please don't start along the religious line.

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    I don't think it's warranted, and I can't see it as particularly helpful.
    Also, are you not in danger of arguing from personal incredulity?
    I'm not sure you can use "determined" here in the same sense as it is used in the logic.
    "Caused" might be a better term.
    And how do we define what is motivation, goal-directed, intentional etc?
    Then you are also talking of "freedom of will", the same notion that applies to a free-floating object in space, albeit with more degrees.
    Sure, but the question remains whether those decisions are truly free.
    If a train can only go along a single path, does it really matter that the occupants think they are controlling the direction, when they can not see which way the track twists and turns ahead?
  15. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    So when you said "We have observed that some people's will has more freedom than other people's, for example" you were lying??
    Other than when you stated the above, you mean?
    So you were lying, then. Okay. Understood.
    Except when you decide to claim that we have observed that some people's will has more freedom than other people's, of course.
    And you've been on all 11 of them.
    No, I really don't. Nor does the logic in #130.
    Do you know the difference between an assumption and a conclusion, by the way? Because you seem to be confusing them. That is the only explanation I can muster for your continued claim of an assumption that isn't there.
    And where in that is the assumption that the laws of physics are deterministic? Oh, right. It's not there. Once again it is you simply making assumptions that aren't there.
    Where have have either I, or Baldeee, said that all physical behaviours are deterministic? Oh, right. It's not there. Once again it is you simply making assumptions that aren't there.
    There seems to be a pattern forming here.
    Neither. It is quite valid, actually: if something is not free, yet appears to be free, that sense of being free must be an illusion. It really isn't that difficult.
    But once again you are claiming assumptions that simply aren't there: there is no assumption that one must defy the laws of physics to have free will, but it may very well be a conclusion. But neither is it assumed that the laws of physics are necessarily deterministic. It is assumed as a premise that the will is, though.
    And since non-deterministic laws of physics have not been ruled out within the assumptions (note that there is no overarching assumption that laws of physics are determined, only that a system made up of determined interactions is deterministic, and that the will is such a system)... well, that would be another assumption you are introducing.
    I'm not denying that assumption, I'm denying that I'm saying free-will is necessarily supernatural! That is the assumption you have foisted upon me and it is simply erroneous on your part to do so.
    Freedom could exist in non-deterministic systems, for example. That matter is not addressed in the logic. Noone (other than you, it seems) has made the assumption that all laws of physics are deterministic. Had I made that assumption, or had that been part of Baldeee's logic, then sure, defining freedom effectively as "not deterministic" would effectively assume that freedom could only exist if supernatural.
    But here's the kicker: neither of us have made that assumption about the laws of physics here. You have.
    It's a habit you have.
  16. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    If the universe is deterministic then it doesn't / cannot dissipate. It simply is deterministic. What you are alluding to is predictability, which is a whole other kettle of fish.
    Even the theologians wouldn't accept the idea that we have no free-will, that the universe is pre-ordained to act out in a certain way. It would surely go against the very notion of any reward or punishment they might have, of life being a testing ground, a place to improve. There are some that might say that God has a plan, and all that stuff, but even those people would (probably) say that it is a grand plan, a strategic plan rather than the tactical plan of day to day matters.
  17. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    And to this kind of stupid shit I am supposed to respond without being "condescending".
    - - -
    Nope. I was posting in good faith (unlike your attempted shade of the meaning, which isn't even an attributed quote), and you among others have yet to deal with that argument.
    Here it is again, in the actual wording I posted (in which possible motive for your avoidance of quoting in context, followed by an accusation of lying, becomes visible):
    That seems a pretty decent informal, polite, civil, and persuasion oriented approach to getting you guys to drop the supernatural assumption, and consider carefully other approaches to the actual concept of freedom of will.
    - - -
    Yes, you really do. So does 130. It's the only way to make that jump, to conclude absence of freedom from deterministic, "must do", "Newtonian" thought experiments, etc - even more blatant when it's bottom up determinism, which as you pointed out is the actual argument.
    It's right there, right in front of you.
    Not me. You guys, I keep trying to correct your "misreads" (benefit of the doubt, there).
    You have been drawing conclusions based on the assumption that freedom of will requires the ability to act other than as one "must", other than has been "determined", other than natural law enforces, other than a Newtonian rerun would present. You described that assumption as "reasonable", agreeing with the other victims of it here.
    But as noted that's not the situation involved - unless by "free" one means supernatural.
    Which, again, appears to be your assumption.
    But it is denied in deterministic systems, including (the topic of the thread) where the determinism is by "physics" - natural law.
    While repeatedly assuming it in your arguments and conclusions and agreements and so forth.
    My term has been "natural law", and variations or subsets including physical law and so forth. That includes things like cause and effect - metaphysics, in a sense - as well as whatever you are trying to pigeonhole as "laws of physics".
    Replacing "laws of physics" with my posting:
    It was not a conclusion in 130, or anywhere else on this thread. It has been - as in 130 - an assumption used to conclude that free will did not exist. It was how that conclusion was drawn from otherwise completely inadequate premises.
    You described that assumption as "reasonable", and agreed with it.
  18. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Iceaura, I really have no more time for this to-ing and fro-ing. This entire time you have wanted to move the discussion away from the issue of determinism, and given your inability to consider the logical argument in what I see as good faith (or perhaps you really can't fathom the argument without introducing assumptions that you are unaware of) I am starting to see why.
    I will now save my efforts on this matter for those that are more able to discuss it for what it is, not for what they want to turn it into.
  19. NotEinstein Valued Senior Member

    Ah, I see. Well, personally I wouldn't even go as far as arguing it modelling an aspect of the universe: it just muddies the waters. A logically useless definition is already enough of a clear signal that the concept (as defined) has no merit.

    True. This is why I typically like to start at the definition: at least that will give one a good handle about what one is fundamentally talking about. (And it makes sure everybody is talking about the same thing.)

    Isn't that exactly the rub? Any naïve understanding of "free will" will always come from these higher level patterns (i.e. the scales, objects, and interactions of your daily lives), while arguing from basic logic or physics will always start you off at the lowest level (subatomic, quantum, etc.). What if "will" or "free(dom)" is an emergent property? It would be nearly impossible to demonstrate at the fundamental level, yet could be clear as day on the higher levels.

    The resolution to all this though would have to start, in my opinion, with a good definition, or at the very least a good description, of these concepts.


    Hmm, Baldeee: I think you missed my post #200?
  20. Baldeee Valued Senior Member

    (Apologies with formatting, it seems to be splitting up quotes, and even when I remove the code it reinserts it... So apologies)
    In a strictly deterministic case, set A will have one and only one option.
    In a probabilistically deterministic case, set A will have all possible options, with the outcome, the one it must do, randomly based on the probability function associated with that set.
    That is the argument put forth in post #130.
    There is a freedom available to it in the sense of "degrees of freedom", the same way a brick in space has degrees of freedom, but I would argue it is not free in the sense of free otherwise used here.
    However, there are possibly two notions even here.
    One is the ability to be free about which possible option it must do, and the other is, as you state, the impossibility of doing something outside of its set of possible options.
    The former is, as I see it, a matter of randomness, and thus not free.
    My view is that the thing we call "free will" is an illusion, in that it appears that we are not determinsistically bound to a certain course (albeit each moment randomly selected among the probability function determining the system).
    I am more than happy with what we colloquially call "free will", that it exists, but the logic would suggest, if the premises are true, that it appears to our consciousness to operate contrary to the actual system itself.
    Of course it doesn't actually operate contrary, but it appears to in this regard.

    As for defining "free" in a way that makes it useless, I don't agree that it is.
    To me the definition makes sense: if, for a given set of inputs, something has no control over the output, it is not free.
    All I have done is taken that understanding and applied it to some logic, which I think is valid, and the premises not disputed.
    That said, I also do not disagree that the term "free" has a somewhat different meaning when referring to conscious systems by those systems, for example.
    In doing so it ignores within the language what goes on "below-the-line" so to speak.
    It is when comparing the two notions, however, that I feel that one can validly conclude that the one is but an illusion in terms of the other (if the given assumptions are accepted).
    However, if one wishes to ignore the "below-the-line" notion, and only discuss the "above-the-line" notion then that is okay, just don't expect the term "free" to have the same meaning or connotations in both perspectives.
    I think there are many views of what "free" means, and like you I would agree that a definition would / should have been set out from the outset.
    I note this was suggested numerous times before, but there has been resistance by some.
    What is the best, albeit unsatisfactory, one that you have come across?
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2018
  21. TheFrogger Valued Senior Member

    As I've stated, if something "will" then that is determined by definition. You cannot change something that "will." There is no such thing as free-will, it is determined by definition. ☺
  22. NotEinstein Valued Senior Member

    (Yeah, I sometimes have to go in and fix such formatting issues manually. It's annoying.)

    No worries!


    I don't think it's the same as the argument put forward in post #130? That argument argues from determinism, but my question is about the logical implications of the definition of the terms, and it is completely independent from determinism.

    Yes, and this "multiple usages" of the word "free" is why I explicitly focused on one, and underlined it.

    But that leads to an infinite regression. Set A contains two options, 1 and 2. Now object O must choose between 1 and 2. Set B is thus constructed, of the options "choosing option 1 in set A" and "choosing option 2 in set A". Now object O must choose between those two options. Thus, set C is constructed, of the options "choosing the first option in set B" and "choosing the second option in set B". This goes on forever.

    And "which possible option it must do" is troublesome in itself, must being defined as "can not do otherwise". If it must do one option, then it by this definition cannot do the other options, thus those options are not in the set of possible options; they were never options at all. You're always left with just one option, namely the one that gets done.

    Yes, but as I pointed out, it goes further. The set of possible options can naively be based on what object O can do. However, we can also make a set of options Object O must do. It is not possible for object O to pick an option outside either of these sets, and thus it could never have done any of the options that is in the "can"-set but not in the "must"-set. These two sets turn out to be equivalent. But the definition of free demands an option outside of the set be picked, and thus no object can ever be free, by definition. That seems like a waste of a word to me.

    I don't see how randomness factors into your definition of free?

    Sure, but if "free will" is based on your definition of free, then "free will" can't exist by definition; that's my point. All other arguments are unnecessary, because you've implicitly defined "free will" to be nonexistent in the first place.

    That's not what your definition appears to be, as I pointed out that it is more along the lines of: "if, for a given set of possible outcomes, something cannot pick an outcome not part of that set, it is not free."

    And I don't disagree with your arguments and logic. My only point here is that your definition of free seems to already rule it out entirely.

    Which is why I'm explicitly underlining the word, to make that distinction clear.

    Which is why I'm only discussing your definition of the word; I'm explicitly trying to stay away for that hornet's nest.

    Completely agreed.

    Such resistance is typically a bad omen for the discussion in general.

    I've seen incoherent definitions, useless definitions, tautologies. But I think the most egregious one I've come across is that "free will" was given to us limited creatures by an all-powerful, all-knowing divine being, and that it gives us the ability to go against the will of said divine being. Typically, this being is also all-good, and it is this "free will" given to us that allows us to do evil. It's incoherent and self-contradictory on so many levels, I was quite amazed by it!
  23. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Once again we see it: the assumption that "free" means supernatural.
    And again: the "sense of free" claimed to be "used here" is the ability to contravene natural law, to alter a physically determined sequence of events - supernatural freedom.
    One more time: to be free is to act outside of the set of physically possible options.
    To act supernaturally is to be free, and there is no other freedom.

    That is the assumption that needs to be dropped, the goalpost that needs to be moved, etc. imho.
    - - - -
    But it only appears that way to those who regard their decisions as not part of a determined course, as independent of natural law, as able to defy cause and effect. To the rest of us, there is no such appearance and consequent illusion - appearances match reality. Nevertheless, we are in fact making choices according to our views of alternatives, memories and residual effects of dreams, incoming information - information, not biochemicals - , and so forth.

    (* Human will operates, is a pattern, several logical levels above anything a brick can employ. The concept of "degrees of freedom" is not going to simply extend across that gulf - the analogical "degrees of freedom" available to a will are not going to be available "the same way").
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2018

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