A truly terrifying thought!


I recommend taking a bathroom break in an antique Chinese toilet, or some similarly earthy activity.

“If free will is an illusion, there is no guilt, no merit,… to me an utterly terrifying concept… a predetermined manifestation of the laws of physics. While this is terrifying, since I am a scientist, I cannot really dismiss this idea even if I don’t like it.”

I agree with Rohr, emotionally, it is pretty an uncomfortable concept. I also agree that at the present state of science, we cannot dismiss it.

Whether we find a consolation in the uplifting vision of natural evolution or the Chinese toilets ( or if I or you need consolation at all) - is a different thing. (I am less sure about the evolution; still it seems to me related to the meaning of understanding the world by biological machines, rather than to the questions on determinism as such). Perhaps the quantum mechanics bears more relevance, as it has drastically changed the concept of determinism. Still, I believe, neither modern physics nor biology dismisses the idea.

Interestingly, Einstein believed in full determinism and the absence of free will. All his life he rebelled against the quantum mechanics, which “probabilistic determinism” made the classical determinism “less solid”. With all that, he believed in the importance of moral relations between people and states.

I thought to stay out of this, but it’s just too tempting (and since there is no free will anyway and it is already predetermined, why bother fighting the temptation :D).

well, I find discussing free will from the scientific point of view pointless, simply because it is not the scientific question only. it is also a metaphysical and philosophical question. The first problem is that it is not clearly defined.
Rohr, what do you mean by free will, what is it exactly? If I now decide to go and live under the water like The Little Mermaid, I won’t be able to do it because I can’t bread under the water, no mater how many seconds in advance my brain has decided to do so. On the other hand, if I now feel like a cup of tea there are two possible outcomes: I will go and get it right now, or I will wait until I finish writing the post. So, were in this spectrum are you placing free will? I’m apparently not free to do anything I want, but I can do some things.
And this brings us to the second problem of the scientific discussion of free will. As I already said, in case of my cup of tea there are only two outcomes. there is no other option, it will happen or it will not happen. Now, the problem with the predetermination is: once when one outcome have happened, how can you scientifically prove that the alternative didn’t happen because it wasn’t predetermined/destined to happen? In this world one of the two outcomes always has to happen, the cat is either dead or alive once we observe it, it cannot be both (does the universe split or whatever happens, I don’t know). You can only CHOOSE to say that the happened outcome was predetermined.
Now you can say that by ‘predetermined’ you actually mean ‘our subconscious had made decision before we were conscious of it’. But what does it actually mean in the case of my cup of tea? Will I get it or not depends on many factors: how much I want it, how much I can be bothered getting out of bed, how cold it is in the room etc. My brain, both consciously and subconsciously, is calculating all these factors before it makes the final decision. Has my subconscious get to the result faster than conscious, I don’t know (the experiments you are talking about did not show that and I’ll get to it in a second), but in terms of the human free will there is something much more important than that - if I don’t want to have a cup of tea at all and someone makes me have it at the gunpoint, my brain will be telling me that I’m doing this against SOMETHING. This ‘something’ is, in my opinion, what we see as a free will. And that ‘something’, although very loosely defined, is for me quite enough. I’m quite happy with the amount of influence that this ‘something’ (call it free will if you want) has in my leading of my life.
Now about the experiments you are talking about. I do’t know them in details, but for those I’ve heard of, they are all dealing with the very simple task, usually a motoric task: which wrist or which finger the subject is going to move. Well, I really don’t see how this can be connected to the human free will. Movements of the body parts are quite far away from the decision which job I’m going to take, for example. What about people with the restless legs syndrome - would you say that they are lacking free will? :slight_smile:
We could maybe talk about the free will once we have the results for the similar experiments but for the much more complex decisions, but we still can not do experiments like this. Until then, you can only make the same mistake as many evolutionary psychologists: applying the results observed for the very simple tasks to the very complex ones. Well, maybe this works in physics, but it apparently doesn’t work for the most complicated and the most plastic machine that evolution has created - human brain.

“If free will is an illusion, there is no guilt, no merit, no real control over one’s own life…”
Oh yes, there is guilt, because there is civilisation with it’s rules etc. Your claim reminds me of the thought experiment where you place the ball 1m away from you and then if you try to get to it by always going one half of the way (50 cm, then 25 cm, then 12.5 cm…), you actually cannot ever get to the ball, because there is always half of the way left. But in real life you do get to the ball. Same for your claim - although by following ‘logical’ stream of thoughts (for which, as already said, I think you have wrong basic premises) it may seem to you that there is no guilt, but in the real life we have proven that there is and that it can be very successfully implemented in the societies. which leads us to this:

"How can you judge anyone, even a child murderer if we are biological machines? "

yes we can, because we are biological machines who have realized that there is something wrong with killing children. You cannot look at the guilt or moral outside of the referent system of civilization and society. And this complicates tremendously your discussion of the free will.
Human brain is a biological machine, but one so complex that reductionism didn’t work very good so far in attempts to explain it.

@“Einstein believed in full determinism and the absence of free will.”

but he was also told to “Stop telling God what He must do!”, wasn’t he? :slight_smile:

Aineko, I have now read fully only your secod post. As to it, the anecdote is different, it was Niels (I forgot the spelling) Bohr.

Einsten argued with Bohr against the probabilistic determenism of the new quantum mechanics, and used the saying: “I can’t believe that God plays dice”.

Bohr replied: “Einstein, stop telling God what he must do”. To me, the meaning is this. Even when we, personally and emotionally, do not accept things ( for example the absence or the existance of full deteminism in the laws of nature) but science prooves the things - than that’s it.

Note: Einstein believed not to believe in God.

Now I see that I have not thoroughly read even your second post, I am Sorry. Yes, Einstein WAS told to stop telling God, that is, stop to dicideon behalf of the laws of nature, wheather they must be deterministic or not.

“As to it, the anecdote is different”

different from what? Haven’t I said the same thing - that Einstein was told to stop telling God etc.?

No just in the anecdote you are right.

you confused me with your post :slight_smile:

Aineko, I have now carefully read your first long post. I don’t belive you have addressed the Rohn’s “narrow” formultion of the fundamental conflict (between the determinism of the laws of nature and the free will, as percieved by every one of us). However, let him comment on that, if he would. Than I would comment about your anti- “reductionism”, if you don’t mind :slight_smile:

“I don’t belive you have addressed the Rohn’s “narrow” formultion of the fundamental conflict (between the determinism of the laws of nature and the free will, as percieved by every one of us)”

As I said, I think that his starting premises are wrong - he jumped from the experiments where it is possible to say which finger is subject going to move straight to the societal norms and WWII :). I think that there is a huge gap there, created by plasticity of human brain. I would like a clear definition of what he means by free will. Every decision I make is definitely not free of three factors: my genes, my environment and my experience (which again depends on my decisions). None of my decisions is free of that and my ‘free will’ stands on these three columns. Outside of that, I really don’t know what you can call ‘free will’, where is it coming from?

“your anti- “reductionism””

I only have problem with the reductionism when it is used to explain something as complex as human behaviour. Not because I feel intimidated by determinism that could come out of the reductionism method (my ‘illusion’ of free will has served me quite well so far, no matter where is it coming from :slight_smile: ), but because determinism of complex human behaviour can not be undoubtedly proven at the current stage of neurological and genetics research. Consequently, I think that we can not say that if we can predict hand movements we are also able to predict someone’s moral decision.

I am no paper airplane…

Being a reasonable man, I don’t allow scientific cockroaches to live in my head. All scientific beliefs are just beliefs. Sort of modern obscurantism. In Russia our journalists often begin their articles with the phrase, “Japanese scientists proved…” and then write what they like.

I wish I were a paper plane; I am a sheet of paper in the air. I am at the mercy of the wind, but scientists cannot tell where I am going.

Thus spoke a sheet of paper.

Why don’t you ask Mr Rohr? He must know.

ytk031, yes, it could be that the precise movement of the sheet of paper is deterministic but unpredictable. That sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t. It may be that the only way to find out what the precise state of the paper will be in 10 minutes from now would be to simply wait and see what it is 10 minutes from now. We could run a simulation on a computer, but the computation would take longer than 10 minutes. It may be fundamentally impossible to find a shortcut to compute what will happen in a sufficiently complex system. The computations will never catch up with reality. They will always fall behind.

If that’s true for the piece of paper, then it’s certainly true for the brain. The brain may also be deterministic but unpredictable. I find that idea comforting in a way.

Can a computer predict when it will crash itself?

Your talking about the laws of science that exist in this tiny little part of the ridicuously massive universe. Until one of these laws tell me how something (us and everything around us) came from nothing, i dont put my complete faith in them. Ask yourself who made us, then if you can give me an answer i will ask who made them, and i will continue to ask that question, until the smartest man in our world cant give me an answer, and he will eventually get to that point, because ultimately science cant tell me what was here first and what will be here last.