Questions on free will


I think we are all agreed that we live in a deterministic universe. The choir members, supported by findings in science, hold that the god hypothesis is unnecessary. And we also accept that the world, writ, the universe operates according to physical laws. If we are all part of this nature, why would man’s brain states be subject to different laws?

Why is it so important to have free will?

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

59 thoughts on “Questions on free will

  1. Ben Nasmith says:

    Determinism is actually not well established. At the most fundamental level available to us, physical laws are probabilistic. To my knowledge, whether or not there is a deeper determinism beneath our statistical predictions is an open question in the philosophy of science.

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    • makagutu says:

      Hello Ben, I know physics is your area of expertise, tell me if the physical laws are probabilistic where does our free will come in? At what point do we control the probabilities?

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      • Ben Nasmith says:

        I don’t know. I just know that determinism isn’t well established. One would need a deterministic QM theory. There are a couple, but they don’t exactly rise above non-deterministic QM theories.

        If free will exists, I imagine it wouldn’t be a physical phenomenon. I take physicalism to be the view that reality is exhausted by the physical. I strongly suspect that free will counts as evidence against physicalism (or physicalism counts against free will, whichever you prefer).

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  2. themodernidiot says:

    because determinism is still conditional.

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    • makagutu says:

      Allowing determinism to be conditional ate there laws other than physical laws that we know of? If our actions are based on this laws at what point do we control them to have our will?

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      • themodernidiot says:

        because we can manipulate these laws. just because physics says a ball pushed will roll doesn’t mean i have to push the ball.

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        • makagutu says:

          I have no more comment but don’t you think you are still obeying the rules of physics by not pushing the ball?

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          • themodernidiot says:

            Ok, I think I understand what you are saying, that we are all just like sub-atomic particles bouncing off each other because physics tells us to? Isn’t that as…silly (sorry, it’s the best word i’ve got, not meant in a bad way) as believing in a god that controls your behavior?

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            • makagutu says:

              well let’s see, I agree it would be silly. But let me ask you my friend, do you think we are anything but atoms bouncing off each other? A tree that relies on photosynthesis grows towards the sun, a hungry man looks for food, a hungry lion looks for food. I see no difference in these actions how free they are I can’t tell.

              Maybe in our lifetime or in the next it will be discovered that the laws we have taken to explain the universe as we saw it are all wrong, that for example, that things do fall to the surface of the earth but it is the earth that moves closer to them, that the evolution by natural selection is a fraud but that at intervals of several thousand years new species are created and others killed. What am driving at, my friend, given what we know now, we are organic machines, this is however provisional.

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              • themodernidiot says:

                Sorry, I didn’t finish my thought did I? What I guess I meant is that yes, we are just molecules in motion, but we have control over our motion. If I don’t want to move, I don’t. I don’t have to eat. I will die, but I can resist this. Dogs will starve themselves to death. I can’t see how being made of particles, and existing within the laws of physics negates some sort of self-control. There is no absolute void of these particles on earth, so there will always exist some type of environment with regard to earth life. Clearly, I can’t argue anything about God because a God would be impervious to these things (I suppose). But I don’t really care about God, so i guess it would be stupid to waste time on it.
                I totally love your argument, and it works to a degree, until you get to the point of resistance. That’s where existentialism (or maybe it’s nihilism) kind of breaks down too doesn’t it? Just by choosing to subscribe to those ideas one is controlling something, or rather enacting oneself upon another thing. Exerting force, choosing, manipulating the particles if you will. That’s where I kind of get stuck, but I concede that might be because I have a huge ego. ๐Ÿ™‚
                If not God, then there is only me interacting with, and upon other elements. I’m okay with that, but I wouldn’t say something else moves me along in every aspect of my being. I agree with the idea that my choices are based on reaction, but that gets lost, like I said, if I truly have the ability to do nothing but stop and rot by choice.
                What an odd thought. You think there are people who do that?

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                • makagutu says:

                  The thing am trying to drive at is we reconcile what we know with what we believe even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if we have free will, it’s application would be quite limited. We don’t determine what is going to happen to us, our environment and the brain state this particular event is going to happen. We also see that our responses in similar situations are almost similar even if times between these events are far apart which makes me conclude we will act in a certain way no matter the consequences, in fact, I think we worry about consequences after we act even if we know what the consequences would be.

                  People have strange beliefs, an imam said a few years ago that the world is flat and that the spherical world is a fraud. What else do you think such a person believes?

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                  • themodernidiot says:

                    i think we’re in agreement again. i like it when that happens. it tells me i’m not missing important things. your posts are good mental exercises.

                    humans are creatures of habit. we’ve been doing the same crap since we showed up i think. maybe the nuances are different over our evolution, but i think we pretty much acted like fools from the beginning.

                    hmm, flat huh. well, the math kinda works it out as a circle. physics experiments kinda prove its a circle. that big picture of earth from space? yeah, that kinda says its a circle. however, if you really take a look at the earth, strip away the atmosphere and laid the land out letting the water fall away, then the earth could be flat. if you think in terms of existence on just planes then yes the earth can be flat. or just from a purely philosophical place, sure, why not, we can bend the science to make the flat thing work. you bet. i will grant that he is perhaps wiser than, but i wonder if the intent is meant to disprove science in favor of god, which allows religion to exert more control over people.
                    this ridiculous notion that god and science are separate is a terrible thing. it does so much harm.

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                    • makagutu says:

                      The imam was telling his listeners in an attempt to discredit science. The world sure does look like it’s flat when I look around me but when I look at those photos from space they tell me something that I just can’t ignore. I think there is some complex science that says we live in a flat universe.

                      Many of us still act as fools if you think about it ๐Ÿ™‚

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                    • themodernidiot says:

                      oh, well then, he’s just a twatnozzle, and we can ignore him and continue teaching the science god gave us lol

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                    • makagutu says:

                      I like twatnozzle, you have just grown my vocabulary. I would call him a dimwit all week and it would not be good enough still for there are dimwits who seem to be more intelligent that he is ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. I understand that you’re asking a question, perhaps as devil’s advocate. I believe that our brains are subject to the same physical laws. Free will is not important to have. If you could not comprehend the universe you would neither have free will nor know that you did not. It is valued, but as I understand existence, the question does not make sense any more than asking why breathing is important.

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  4. Mordanicus says:

    The point is that even if the universe is indeterministic, this doesn’t necessarily implies free will. If our will is subject to, say, quantum fluctuations then our will is actually determined by them, even if these fluctuations are not deterministic, since we cannot control them. Quantum fluctuations are external “forces” on our mind, just like our senses.

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  5. melouisef says:

    To make choices within our restrivetive parameters

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  6. j9epoetry says:

    I really appreciate this statement. Do you mind if I re-blog

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  7. aguywithoutboxers says:

    Excellent thought, my friend! I have another one for you. Is our ability to reason the same as free will? Or are they interdependent? Much love and naked hugs. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • emmylgant says:

      Jumping in. I like that question. What say you Noel?

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    • makagutu says:

      interesting question my friend.
      I have a small difficulty on whether what call thinking is something we ate actively involved.
      Our ideas are suggested to us by nature and our environment and there are very few if not zilch original thoughts so to speak.
      Try telling yourself one evening that you want to think of a particular thing and tell me how successful you are at maintaining that particular thought you had in mind. And it doesn’t need be something complex. I wait your result.

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      • emmylgant says:

        You are asking me if my monkey mind is able to maintain one line of thought on demand? Hah!
        However, suppose my usual kneejerk response to a given stimuli is cut off at the pass by an errant thought that says ” Haven’t I been here before? Hmm, I have. I could do this or that and avoid X.” Did I reason my way out of X or did I choose not to do X this time?Was it predictable that this time I would avoid X whereas all the other times I fell into that pattern?

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        • makagutu says:

          yes to the first one.
          To the second question you say circumstances have changed a bit so that a new variable has been included. You will act in a new way not because you chose but because you can’t act otherwise.

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  8. mixedupmeme says:

    “Yes I have free will; I have no choice but to have it.”
    I think a Hitchen’s quote.

    I ‘d rather have free beer.

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  9. Hi Mak!
    I like the way you ask the question, but right now, the answer eludes me. I don’t believe in free will, but I wonder how important the illusion is. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • makagutu says:

      Hey mate how have you been?
      The illusion is important to groups of people: the police or arresting officer and to theists who hope god has prepared a place for you in hell for using your free will to disbelieve in him.

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      • I’m not worried about hell, Mak! Not since I came across amor fati. (Just kidding, but I’m sure you know what I mean.)
        How is your reading coming along? ๐Ÿ™‚

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        • makagutu says:

          I finished untimely medications. Very great read maybe someday I will do a review. I know hell doesn’t bother you and heaven too boring ๐Ÿ˜€

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          • I would very much like to read that review. I am still on the Birth of Tragedy, but that is partly because I look up all the Greek references and read the text in English and German. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  10. j9epoetry says:

    Reblogged this on J9e.

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  11. john zande says:

    A non-issue. The whole concept requires some notion of a magical god, and as no magical gods exist the subject is moot.

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  12. Eric Alagan says:

    If it’s ‘free’ – I’ll take it. But I reckon, there are strings attached. Just because we don’t see the strings —-

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  13. Ishaiya says:

    Because science is not law, it is just another opinion. Can you really trust what everything you are told without experiencing it first-hand? Is that not what a leap of faith is? And if so, how is that any different than being a devotee to an organised religion? Isn’t science just another organised religion, where you worship the laws of physics instead of God?

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    • makagutu says:

      hey mate, it would be a leap of faith if I were to take it as absolute truth and wouldn’t be different from worshiping the laws of physics.

      Based on current knowledge not just in science but in philosophy it appears that free will is a chimera.

      Do you experience the world in a different way than I do where your actions are determined by events in your past that you had no control over or do you control the past? Do you control the random events that make you act in certain ways and to what extent?

      And when I talk about laws of nature/ physics I mean with that to say they represent our understanding of how the world works, they can be modified or even abandoned when more knowledge is acquired.

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      • Ishaiya says:

        I think free will is exactly what we all exercise, but as I cannot speak from any other perspective other than my own. Having been brought up with the dichotomy of faith versus fact, religion versus science, or the more abstract notion of subjective versus objective I have to say that I have little faith in anything that I do not agree with from my own subjective experience. As far as I’m concerned, considering that the experience of each human individual is so highly subjective it is difficult to imagine how the perception of one individual can be similar at all to that of another. It would ‘appear’ that there agreements of perception, and indeed that there are ‘rule’ or ‘laws of physics’ that determine and create a sense of cohesion. However, imagine that reality and everything and everyone in it is in fact an illusion, an elaborate and very clever illusion at that, but a creation of your imagining alone. To acquire proof of anything is moot, because in this version of events any kind of proof that validated the reality of your perception would be governed by the world you were perceiving, i.e. the proof would conveniently fit your understanding and acceptance of your current world view. The thing that we all rely on at this level of human awareness, and possibly the only sense of validation we can depend upon is our own emotional response to events in our lives and to information and knowledge that we entertain. For anything to have meaning we require to have an emotional response, and that precedes all experience.
        This is in line with my understanding of reality in basic terms. It is a subject I have been studying for many years, and more recently has been the topic of the book I’m working on. I shall have to write up a draft of what I’ve come up with so far and post it on my blog.
        Mak I thank you as ever for inspiring me so much to write about such challenging subjects. I also have complete respect for your world view and your desire to challenge it.

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        • makagutu says:

          Ishaiya, thank you so very much too for your very detailed responses. Am glad we can learn from one another and even inspire each. I am looking forward to reading your book. I have a feeling it will be such an interesting book.

          you’ll allow me to respond to the rest of the comment later ๐Ÿ™‚

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          • Ishaiya says:

            I’m in the middle of writing an introductory post as we speak that will expand on this subject a little more, and finally get to explaining what it is that I claim to do. Thank you again for helping me clarify my intent and giving me a starting point for this piece ๐Ÿ™‚ Take as long as you like to respond. Enjoy your day.

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            • makagutu says:

              that would be great. I really would want to understand what it is that you do. You are most welcome. Am glad I could inspire you ๐Ÿ˜€

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  14. fojap says:

    I’ve always thought that the idea that we had free will was a matter of perspective. From where I stand, it appears as if the world is flat. I know that it isn’t, but for the way I behave in most of my daily life, acting as if the world is flat is perfectly functional.

    So, as an individual, I have choices and I make decisions, but how much choice do I really have if my decisions are influenced by factors beyond my control? However, knowing that those decisions are influenced by those outside factors doesn’t help me much in making any given decision.

    I think maintaining free will in it’s most pure form is necessary for people who want ascribe moral traits to behavior. Is, let’s say, murder immoral? Society has an interest in not having lots of murders, so having laws against it is probably a good idea. Still, is someone who commits murder a “bad person”? What if he or she is suffering from a mental illness? More to the point, why do we even care if the person is good or bad, responsible or not responsible for his or her actions. Society still has an interest in keeping murders as few as possible.

    Some people who are not religious still have a strongly vested interest in maintaining the notion of free will because they need to invest individuals with personal responsibility. Much of the way punishments and, more importantly, rewards are doled out in my society, and I suspect in many others, is predicated on the notion that we have personal responsibility. Without free will, we can’t have personal responsibility. Without personal responsibility we would have more difficulty justifying the inequitable distribution of material well-being.

    Now, as it happens, I have a friend who works designing satellites. It’s probably much more relevant to her daily life than mine that the world is not flat. She probably thinks of the earth in terms of a round ball in space rather than a flat plane on which she walks much more frequently than I do.

    Similarly, I think when doctors are trying to help people overcome behaviors that are not in their self-interest or people are trying to form laws to encourage or discourage certain actions, the question of whether or not we have free will is more relevant. When I’m deciding whether or not I should have one more drink on a Saturday night, thinking I have free will in making that decision is perfectly functional.

    I hope that wasn’t too incoherent.

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    • makagutu says:

      It is quite coherent. And it is true that where I live reward and punishment, the criminal justice system is based on the assumption we have free will.

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