Why free will is impossible

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by litewave, May 20, 2011.

  1. litewave Registered Senior Member

    Free will as it is usually understood is the ability of an agent to do an intentional action that is at least to some extent independent of influences affecting the agent. This independence is supposed to make the agent the ultimate controller of his actions, which guarantees that the agent is morally responsible for his actions and deserves rewards or punishments for them.

    However, an agent that does an intentional action can never be the ultimate controller of this action, because the action is determined by an intention (and possibly also by some influences affecting the agent). For example, if raising of my left arm is my intentional action, then it must be determined by my intention to raise my left arm. But how does the determination of an action by the agent's intention rule out the agent's ultimate control over the action?

    To answer that question let us first look at what an intention is. Here we may help ourselves with some definitions in a dictionary, such as the Merriam-Webster dictionary (www.m-w.com). The first definition of the word "intention" in this dictionary is "a determination to act in a certain way", which indicates that an intention is A STATE OF MIND. Another relevant definition of this word is "what one intends to do or bring about", which indicates that an intention is a goal or purpose, AN IDEA one has in mind.

    So A STATE OF MIND or AN IDEA determines an intentional action. Then for an agent to be in control of his intentional action it seems that he must determine his state of mind or the idea he has in mind, and through these he can determine the action. However, determining a state of mind or an idea in mind is an action too! It is an action of creating the state of mind or the idea and if THIS action is not intentional then obviously the agent is not in control of it and consequently not in control of the final action determined by the state of mind/idea. On the other hand, if the determining of the state of mind/idea is an intentional action, then it must be determined by an intention to create that state of mind/idea, and this intention is just another state of mind/idea. So we get an infinite regress of states of mind/ideas determining other states of mind/ideas, in which there is no place for an agent's ultimate control of his actions. Or assuming (as we usually do) that the agent's mind has a finite history, we arrive at the first state of the agent's mind or the first idea in his mind, which is not determined by his preceding states of mind/ideas, and therefore it is not intentional, he doesn't have control over it and consequently he doesn't have control of actions determined by it.

    And moreover, it seems doubtful that it is possible to even have an intention to form an intention. Just try to imagine it - if you have an intention A to form an intention B, you actually already have the intention B in your mind, so the intention A is a fiction. If we cannot have intentions to form an intention that makes any regress of intentions impossible, and thus all of our intentions emerge unintentionally in our minds. And then they determine our intentional actions.

    What happens if we have divergent intentions at the same time (similar to divergent desires)? Isn't this the point where free will could choose one intention over another? Well, this choosing would have to be an intentional action, which would bring us to the problems described above. In general, our intentional action will be determined by the joint influence of all our intentions, and stronger intentions will weigh more heavily in the result than weaker ones.

    In conclusion, intentionality is regarded as a necessary component of free will, but at the same time it rules out free will. That's why free will, as it is usually understood, is impossible.
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  3. Search & Destroy Take one bite at a time Moderator

    I think the loops you are getting yourself into are wordplay, and nothing more. The loops are problems of grammar and language. Even if I can't reason my way around it, it sure feels real. I lift my arm, not because someone told me to, but because I want to. It certainly feels like free will.

    I wouldn't get too caught up in word play, unless it is for entertainment. As Wittgenstein said, "meaning is use".
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  5. litewave Registered Senior Member

    I know. And when I watch then sun, it feels like it moves around the earth. Free will is an illusion.
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  7. Search & Destroy Take one bite at a time Moderator

    How do you feel about emergence? You know - the sum is greater than the parts. Couldn't it be that free will is not necessarily causally connected to neurons?
  8. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

    This idea is just as dumb/stupid as it ever was. Anyone who actually believes that which shirt he chose to wear today was somehow already determined for him before the beginning of time (or whatever remote date you want to use) is suffering from a grand mental delusion. :shrug:
  9. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    Definition of FREE WILL

    1: voluntary choice or decision <I do this of my own free will>

    2: freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention.
  10. litewave Registered Senior Member

    It is irrelevant whether free will is causally connected to neurons. My argument is purely logical, not biological.
  11. Me-Ki-Gal Banned Banned

    I Like MEntal GRand Delusion better . Yeah it is all about possessions. Wee like to think thoughts are our own . Are They? If someone thought the same thought in the past was it really our own thought . O.K. consider this < information exist whether we think it or not. Micheal Jackson touched on this once . People thought he was wigging out when he did . He was talking about his creativity not being his own . How he would go to this universal pool of information and that was were he got the building blocks to form his songs . It was like a gift from what already exists. O.K. consider this . How do you feel when someone already knows what you are spouting ? Or lets say you are creating something and you have personalized it as your own . You make a big invested in a solution . Your already for market and before your " Idea hits the ground someone beats you to the punch and your " Idea becomes obsolete . Do you feel cheated? Some might even think they were plagiarized and want to sue . This I believe is rooted in hoarding instincts were you think you own your own thoughts. What a joke that is . People there is nothing new under the sun . It is only in your own hoarding mind that this is true. Free will is an illusion as far as I can tell. We strive to have free will but is it really a reachable goal having free will. Here is the little test . Change History . Go back in time and change an out come . Can you ? Now you may think well I will change it the next time the situation comes up , except you already learned from the first time you did the deed and the natural progression is for you to alter the deed for your better out come . So did you have free will ? I think not ? I think you used the stepping stones of existing information to get the new out come. Building blocks of existing information .
  12. Rhaedas Valued Senior Member

    That's because you're not projecting your frame of reference past yourself. So we can play analogies, and I can say that you just feel like you have no free will, but you do.
  13. KilljoyKlown Whatever Valued Senior Member

  14. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

    Nope, I'm not buying that at all.

    Certainly it's true that new things are built upon older foundations - but it's totally absurd to say (or even think) that there's nothing new under the sun. For example, please show me the cellphones that existed in the 18th century.

    The thing is, this topic of "no free will" shows up again every few months on Internet forums and wherever and they are all based on the same fallacies as has been pointed out here - people get hung up on words, terms and false logical loops. They appear unable to reach logical, rational conclusions simply because they have *themselves* confused so deeply that they can't get out of the hole they're stuck in.

    One category of individuals that hold this silly belief do so as a means to try and make themselves not responsible for their own personal actions. ("I killed that guy (or stole that thing) because I had no choice because I do not have free will.") Only true idiots would accept THAT excuse!!!
  15. dumb dude Banned Banned

    Exactly my POV. Denying free will is like dodging responsibilities.
  16. Emil Valued Senior Member

    Is anyone that puts into practice the principle "there is no free will"?
  17. litewave Registered Senior Member

    We will have to find a way to act properly even without belief in free will. Like many people have found a way to be moral even without belief in a judging God, or a way to enjoy Christmas even without belief in Santa.

    It seems that belief in free will helps one to focus on their goals and make an effort to achieve them because they have a feeling they can achieve them through their actions. While those who don't believe in free will may be more prone to a sense of resignation, helplessness or doubt about achieving their goals, and thus they are less motivated to focus on them and make an effort to achieve them.

    But my rationale for disbelief in free will doesn't deny that we can achieve our goals if we want to. Only that our wanting exists without being intentionally chosen. It seems to be an issue of realization that although we are unable to ultimately choose what we have, we are still able to use it to achieve our goals (if they are realistic).

    Another problem with disbelief in free will may have to do with lack of feelings of guilt and pride, which may motivate some people to do harmful actions or demotivate them from doing beneficial actions. But maybe we can replace guilt and pride with something that is similarly useful. Namely, with the realization that as beings who want to survive, develop and have a happy and fulfilling life, we need to coexist, cooperate, contribute with what we have and help each other. This realization can also be internalized on an emotional level as a feeling of love. And it is also important to have a social system of laws and norms of conduct that rewards beneficial actions and punishes harmful actions and thus contributes to desirable motivation of people.
  18. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    You did intend the irony in that didn't you?


    I'm not sure what you're using for logic, but you're managing some nice contradictions.
  19. spidergoat Liddle' Dick Tater Valued Senior Member

    Our brains can be free of will even if they are deterministic systems. Chaos theory shows that deterministic systems can have unpredictable results. We have free will, there is no choice about it.
  20. NietzscheHimself Banned Banned

    People who work during the weekends?
  21. Rav Valued Senior Member

    From the article KilljoyKlown linked to:

    The subtlety that you might be missing here is the difference between the awareness of an action you took after you took it and the awareness of the action that you are about to take after the pre-conscious motor preparation associated with that action has already occurred. In the latter case you have a small window of opportunity during which you can choose to override the default action.
  22. SciWriter Valued Senior Member

    There is No Free Will…

    The opposite of ‘determined’ is ‘undetermined’, not ‘free will’, for what is not determined must be random, if there is such a thing, as if we were miniature first causes with nothing prior to draw upon—a blank slate. Random or not doesn’t matter, for that would be a total disaster for human thought, reasoning, and action, and we don’t observe that.

    Will is fixed to the instant but we can easily obtain a newer and wider fixed will via learning and experience. If one is or has become immune to learning then one is doomed and is truly the old type of robot who can’t change, or at least one is such in certain areas if learning can still take place in other areas.

    What we hope for when one is release from prison is that their will has been deepened; however that all depends on how much the behavior patterns have been grooved in.

    Although fixed will may not sound so great, it certainly does when the other shoe of ‘random’ is dropped, for who would want undetermined actions. Of course, some thoughts do seem to come out of the blue, but recall that we are not privy to all that occurs in the subconscious, plus it only all the more shows that we do not will that which does the willing.

    What about some random quantum happening disrupting the neuronal voting process? Yes, perhaps, they it switching a lopsided vote all the way around, on rare occasion, but probably usually only the ones that were close anyway, the outcome then hardly mattering as a difference which is really no difference, such as in which white shirt to wear. Yet, this is not at all what is meant by free will in any way.

    And even if quantum mechanics is random, how does that help the case for free will? To most people, freedom involves more than performing random actions or responding randomly to stimuli. We want to be able to choose our actions, not simply behave haphazardly. A life completely subject to the whims of quantum chance is just as unattractive as a life governed by predictability.

    What about when some simpleton or forbidden thought arises and then gets vetoed? Well, in normal people, this only means that the entire brain and its overall will hasn’t fully checked in yet as to what the simpleton area or reflex came up with, not that there aren’t reactive-type people who can’t even take an instant to come up with a more creative response, as that is what they have become.

    What if someone now raises up his hand in the air to show free will? Well, the cause of that is that we’ve just been discussing the subject of free will.

    Learn more, and then there will be more options to draw on for wider and more informed ‘choices’.
  23. Emil Valued Senior Member

    This is just a statement, or you act according to this principle?

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