Why we think we have free will

What you think about how you think.
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Dimebag
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Why we think we have free will

Postby Dimebag » Mon Feb 19, 2018 12:47 pm

If you ask most people who haven't thought very much about free will what they think free will is, they will tell you something similar to a libertarian free will, that is, a person who freely made a particular choice could have chosen differently, even if nothing about the past prior to the moment of choice had been different.

To those who have discussed this topic, probably to death, and who are basically materialist in viewpoint, they will view the libertarian viewpoint of free will as incompatible with a materialist philosophy. I myself am one of those people, although I still reserve my judgement upon the ultimate nature of consciousness, I hold that the brain is entirely responsible for our experiences, and our actions in the world.

However, it is not entirely obvious that this is the case. When you observe your own sensation of making decisions it certainly seems as if you could have made a different choice, at least under some circumstances, it's just that ultimately you finally decided upon the choice which you acted out, for whatever reason.

We have within our experience, the sensation that multiple possible courses of action exist for a given response or choice point. Only a single action can be chosen from this plethora of possibilities, however, until we make that choice and carry out that action, it could be said that there are actually many different possible choices we might enact. Because of the nature of our predictive minds, and the fact that the subsystems of our mind can work independently of one another, it is the case that multiple possible actions could be enacted within our motor cortex.

If we imagine these possible actions as simulations within our mind, we can then imagine how our physical actions will affect the world, and we do indeed do this. We run multiple simulations of actions, trying to predict the possible outcome of the action, and when we weight up the desired outcome, and balance that with the limitations we place upon ourself (viewing the self model as more of a system for tracking our possible limitations for action in the world - risk taking vs conservative, confident vs meek, proactive vs reactive), coupled with a risk vs reward circuit, we start to narrow down the options we see as viable to us until we are left with an obvious choice, which, when it is deemed the ideal time to act, is executed, and we observe ourselves carrying out one of the possible actions which existed in that bank of initial possibilities.

This is how I perceive my process of "willing", but only for certain situations. There are many, many, many times in the day when I encounter situations where habitual behaviours will completely suffice, and the environment does not require any further simulations to be run.

When I look at this process of willing which I have laid out, it has certain hallmarks of free will, there are multiple possibilities. It is only in hindsight that we can run things backwards and see the single choice which was made was the result of a cascade of billiard ball like occurences, one after the other, which make the process of deliberation seem like the running of a computer program. But what the process is really like is, if a computer ran simulations of possible scenarios, and, given its ability to accurately predict the outcomes of its possible actions, was able to in effect, see what is the most appropriate scenario, in an almost evolutionary type way, kulling the dead ends and keeping the desirable simulations.

I think this can account for people's instinctual feeling that they could have done otherwise, even though we know they couldn't have, but during the process of choosing, there were multiple possibilities occurring to them. It is only due to the nature of their character that they might choose one possibility over another. Because the self model is what narrows down the possible choices based on a persons character and demeanour, they might instinctually take ownership of the reducing of possibility, as if it was a result of them choosing freely.

This is of course a hypothesis, but it has actually been shown that the belief in free will, or the belief in determinism and no free will can actually have measurable affect on a persons actions, in the negative sense. Without a sense of responsibility, and ownership of their actions, people will inherently act more deceptively and make choices which are more self serving. There may be a group cohesive affect of believing in free will from an evolutionary perspective. I wonder if our sense of free will has evolved for the purpose of the invention of the concept of responsibility for ones actions, and in affect, the creation of civilised society and culture. We view people as responsible for their actions, as entities which are capable of doing otherwise.

I may be off the mark there, but it just occurred to me about that last point.

Anyway, feel free to add, critique, etc.

I would like to ask that we try not to devolve into a free will vs determinism debate, as that line of reasoning is actually not necessary even though the topic broaches the debate.

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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby Gawdzilla Sama » Mon Feb 19, 2018 12:58 pm

Philosophy is the religion of atheists.
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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby Dimebag » Mon Feb 19, 2018 7:54 pm

Gawdzilla Sama wrote:Philosophy is the religion of atheists.

That statement is incorrect.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy

However, your opinions on philosophy are actually not relevant to this topic.

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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby Gawdzilla Sama » Mon Feb 19, 2018 8:00 pm

Dimebag wrote:
Gawdzilla Sama wrote:Philosophy is the religion of atheists.

That statement is incorrect.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy

However, your opinions on philosophy are actually not relevant to this topic.

You can only imagine how mortified I am to know that.

:roll:
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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby Dimebag » Mon Feb 19, 2018 8:22 pm

Gawdzilla Sama wrote:
Dimebag wrote:
Gawdzilla Sama wrote:Philosophy is the religion of atheists.

That statement is incorrect.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy

However, your opinions on philosophy are actually not relevant to this topic.

You can only imagine how mortified I am to know that.

:roll:

Do you have any opinions on the topic?

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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby Gawdzilla Sama » Mon Feb 19, 2018 10:02 pm

Dimebag wrote:
Gawdzilla Sama wrote:
Dimebag wrote:
Gawdzilla Sama wrote:Philosophy is the religion of atheists.

That statement is incorrect.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy

However, your opinions on philosophy are actually not relevant to this topic.

You can only imagine how mortified I am to know that.

:roll:

Do you have any opinions on the topic?

Oh, yes.
Chachacha wrote:"Oh, thweet mythtery of wife, at waft I've found you!"

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The Myths of Pearl Harbor. Demythologizing the attack.
Hyperwar. Hypertext history of the Second World War.
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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby Nikki Nyx » Tue Feb 20, 2018 1:08 am

I don't think we have free will, but only the illusion of it. The decisions we make are dictated by circumstances both within and beyond our control, as well as unthinking emotional reactions. The person who can make a logical decision objectively, based solely on the facts, is rare. And even that person is limited by circumstances. Frankly, it seems like most people make decisions so arbitrarily that they remind me of random number generators. :mrgreen:

Even an unimportant decision is dictated by necessity and guided by emotion. For example, what to have for dinner:
• Objective facts: What food is on hand? Does my stove/oven work? What cookware is clean? Can I afford to go to a restaurant or order food delivered?
• Subjective perceptions: What do I feel like having? How much time am I willing to invest in cooking? Am I even hungry?

The person who made a choice would probably make the same choice again, if the circumstances and perceptions were identical, and s/he was not allowed to make use of information learned subsequent to the decision, something everyone would love to do.

An example of how learned information affects our decision-making process:
When I was younger, and had planned to go out on a Friday night, it didn't matter whether there was a blizzard; I still went out, a decision clearly made solely based on emotion. Now, if the weather is sufficiently inclement to make driving risky, I choose the wiser course and stay home, a decision clearly made solely based on factual data. Younger people tend to have the attitude that a particular time or event is both unique and crucial to their experience. People with mature prefrontal cortices know that there will be another Friday night in a week, that it's not worth the risk, and that the week will pass so fast that "last Friday" will be utterly irrelevant.

Don't get me wrong: I am still responsible for the decisions I make, regardless of my lack of absolutely free will. I still have to make the best decision with the information I possess, or invest time in researching necessary information. But I recognize that some decisions I make are inevitable, based on the circumstances of the situation.
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"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."—Christopher Hitchens

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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby Dimebag » Tue Feb 20, 2018 1:49 am

Gawdzilla Sama wrote:
Dimebag wrote:
Gawdzilla Sama wrote:
Dimebag wrote:
Gawdzilla Sama wrote:Philosophy is the religion of atheists.

That statement is incorrect.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy

However, your opinions on philosophy are actually not relevant to this topic.

You can only imagine how mortified I am to know that.

:roll:

Do you have any opinions on the topic?

Oh, yes.

Okay, well I can only take your unwillingness to engage with the discussion as a sign that you believe there is nothing worthwhile to be said on the topic.

The matter of the fact remains, even despite what seems to be entirely clear that free will is an illusion (which I do not disagree), that we have the direct sensation of choice. This sensation begs for an answer. What I am attempting to outline here is, how within the philosophical framework of an essentially deterministic world, organisms such as ourselves can feel as if we have free will, and I am attempting to form a neurological explanation of it.

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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby Gawdzilla Sama » Tue Feb 20, 2018 9:57 am

"a sign that you believe there is nothing worthwhile to be said on the topic."

Well duh.
Chachacha wrote:"Oh, thweet mythtery of wife, at waft I've found you!"

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Hyperwar. Hypertext history of the Second World War.
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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby Dimebag » Tue Feb 20, 2018 7:49 pm

Gawdzilla Sama wrote:"a sign that you believe there is nothing worthwhile to be said on the topic."

Well duh.

Gosh you are a real charmer :lol:

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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby mirror93 » Thu Mar 08, 2018 8:56 pm

Dimebag wrote:If you ask most people who haven't thought very much about free will what they think free will is, they will tell you something similar to a libertarian free will, that is, a person who freely made a particular choice could have chosen differently, even if nothing about the past prior to the moment of choice had been different.

To those who have discussed this topic, probably to death, and who are basically materialist in viewpoint, they will view the libertarian viewpoint of free will as incompatible with a materialist philosophy. I myself am one of those people, although I still reserve my judgement upon the ultimate nature of consciousness, I hold that the brain is entirely responsible for our experiences, and our actions in the world.

However, it is not entirely obvious that this is the case. When you observe your own sensation of making decisions it certainly seems as if you could have made a different choice, at least under some circumstances, it's just that ultimately you finally decided upon the choice which you acted out, for whatever reason.

We have within our experience, the sensation that multiple possible courses of action exist for a given response or choice point. Only a single action can be chosen from this plethora of possibilities, however, until we make that choice and carry out that action, it could be said that there are actually many different possible choices we might enact. Because of the nature of our predictive minds, and the fact that the subsystems of our mind can work independently of one another, it is the case that multiple possible actions could be enacted within our motor cortex.

If we imagine these possible actions as simulations within our mind, we can then imagine how our physical actions will affect the world, and we do indeed do this. We run multiple simulations of actions, trying to predict the possible outcome of the action, and when we weight up the desired outcome, and balance that with the limitations we place upon ourself (viewing the self model as more of a system for tracking our possible limitations for action in the world - risk taking vs conservative, confident vs meek, proactive vs reactive), coupled with a risk vs reward circuit, we start to narrow down the options we see as viable to us until we are left with an obvious choice, which, when it is deemed the ideal time to act, is executed, and we observe ourselves carrying out one of the possible actions which existed in that bank of initial possibilities.

This is how I perceive my process of "willing", but only for certain situations. There are many, many, many times in the day when I encounter situations where habitual behaviours will completely suffice, and the environment does not require any further simulations to be run.

When I look at this process of willing which I have laid out, it has certain hallmarks of free will, there are multiple possibilities. It is only in hindsight that we can run things backwards and see the single choice which was made was the result of a cascade of billiard ball like occurences, one after the other, which make the process of deliberation seem like the running of a computer program. But what the process is really like is, if a computer ran simulations of possible scenarios, and, given its ability to accurately predict the outcomes of its possible actions, was able to in effect, see what is the most appropriate scenario, in an almost evolutionary type way, kulling the dead ends and keeping the desirable simulations.

I think this can account for people's instinctual feeling that they could have done otherwise, even though we know they couldn't have, but during the process of choosing, there were multiple possibilities occurring to them. It is only due to the nature of their character that they might choose one possibility over another. Because the self model is what narrows down the possible choices based on a persons character and demeanour, they might instinctually take ownership of the reducing of possibility, as if it was a result of them choosing freely.

This is of course a hypothesis, but it has actually been shown that the belief in free will, or the belief in determinism and no free will can actually have measurable affect on a persons actions, in the negative sense. Without a sense of responsibility, and ownership of their actions, people will inherently act more deceptively and make choices which are more self serving. There may be a group cohesive affect of believing in free will from an evolutionary perspective. I wonder if our sense of free will has evolved for the purpose of the invention of the concept of responsibility for ones actions, and in affect, the creation of civilised society and culture. We view people as responsible for their actions, as entities which are capable of doing otherwise.

I may be off the mark there, but it just occurred to me about that last point.

Anyway, feel free to add, critique, etc.

I would like to ask that we try not to devolve into a free will vs determinism debate, as that line of reasoning is actually not necessary even though the topic broaches the debate.


who is thinking? who is the who? who is the knower? who is the knower of knowing? do you truly exist? if so, who is the one who knows about it?

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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Thu Mar 08, 2018 10:08 pm

Got a decision to make? Make a list of all the acceptable alternatives, or those close enough. Have a friend assign random numbers to them. Then...have a different friend select the page and entry number of a list of computer generated random numbers. Pick and do the alternative that is closest or farthest from the random number.

Aka: put it in God's hands.
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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Thu Mar 08, 2018 10:10 pm

Free Will: what hoomans experience when they make a decision. Simple. Is the Universe chaotic in a way that makes it not determined? It sure looks like it....but it doesn't make any difference since all we hoomans do is "experience" it.
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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby Dimebag » Thu Mar 08, 2018 10:29 pm

mirror93 wrote:who is thinking? who is the who? who is the knower? who is the knower of knowing? do you truly exist? if so, who is the one who knows about it?

Are you genuinely asking those questions, or just filling in for placid? ;)

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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby Dimebag » Thu Mar 08, 2018 10:31 pm

bobbo_the_Pragmatist wrote:Got a decision to make? Make a list of all the acceptable alternatives, or those close enough. Have a friend assign random numbers to them. Then...have a different friend select the page and entry number of a list of computer generated random numbers. Pick and do the alternative that is closest or farthest from the random number.

Aka: put it in God's hands.

or just flip a coin, it's easier, and cooler. :P

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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Thu Mar 08, 2018 11:57 pm

Coin flips can be influenced.
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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby Dimebag » Fri Mar 09, 2018 4:22 am

bobbo_the_Pragmatist wrote:Coin flips can be influenced.

True. But I find it interesting that you would bring the concept of randomness into the concept of choice. I would have thought that the more random a choice is, the less it could be said to be an informed one.

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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Fri Mar 09, 2018 7:13 am

The topic is free will (vs determinism) and has NOTHING TO DO WITH informed. Contra: the informed comes when you select what the acceptable alternatives are. that may still be "determined." "Way back when" in school, I remember there was a discussion about how computer generated random numbers could still be the result of cause and effect....but I think it came too soon after a similar discussion on "Do we exist" ... so I tuned it out.

The key still is the "experience" of reality.....and it feels like free choice....so, close enough.
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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby SEG » Wed May 16, 2018 8:10 am

Interesting topic Dimebag. I think that we are flesh covered robots. I play table tennis as a competitive sport and train 5-6 days per week doing drills, practising serves and playing games. By the time I get on the court for match play I feel primed to get into subconscious mode. As the play is very quick, there is hardly time to make conscious choices for a lot of the game. I play best when I switch off thinking too much about the game and the crowd watching, I go on "automatic". So yeah, I think that free will is an illusion too.
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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Wed May 16, 2018 8:33 am

LMFTFY: "Interesting topic Dimebag. I think that we are flesh covered robots sacks of meat."

the subconscious does not take away from free will at all, especially in your example of practiced repetition. Why did you choose to play table tennis(lets get real) ping-pong. "It's fun" is totally sufficient. I also like shuttlecock. Both sports very engaging: should YOU CHOOSE to make them so. Thats what free will is all about: the choices you make.
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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby SEG » Wed May 16, 2018 9:16 am

bobbo_the_Pragmatist wrote:LMFTFY: "Interesting topic Dimebag. I think that we are flesh covered robots sacks of meat."

the subconscious does not take away from free will at all, especially in your example of practiced repetition. Why did you choose to play table tennis(lets get real) ping-pong. "It's fun" is totally sufficient. I also like shuttlecock. Both sports very engaging: should YOU CHOOSE to make them so. Thats what free will is all about: the choices you make.

Ah, but my point is, at some stages, the choice is taken away from you when you play the stroke. It's what some players call being "in the zone". When you are in that zone, the choices are taken away from you, you have no free will. Sure you can choose to play whatever game you like, how you like. But in hard determinism, those choices are made for you too.

BTW, garage players play "ping pong'. Real manly men play table tennis.
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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Wed May 16, 2018 9:19 am

SEG: you are missing a clear and simple point: You CHOSE to train yourself to be in the zone, and when in the zone....you can CHOSE to break out of it anytime you want to. You DON'T WANT TO, so you stay in the zone that you created by your CHOICE to train your body to that level.

Its no where near the interesting issues of free will.
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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby SEG » Wed May 16, 2018 9:40 am

bobbo_the_Pragmatist wrote:SEG: you are missing a clear and simple point: You CHOSE to train yourself to be in the zone, and when in the zone....you can CHOSE to break out of it anytime you want to. You DON'T WANT TO, so you stay in the zone that you created by your CHOICE to train your body to that level.

Its no where near the interesting issues of free will.

So what influences those choices? Sorry, there is no Homunculus inside my head. I'm off to play some matches, get back to this later :D
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Re: Why we think we have free will

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Wed May 16, 2018 9:51 am

Your choice. Both times.
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