• Paul Michael
    64
    ‘To choose’ implies that a set of options exists *from which one chooses*. I don’t see how else ‘to choose’ could be understood. So in order for one to be able to choose their thoughts, they would have to be able to *think* of several options and choose one of them to be their next thought *without thinking their next thought in the process*, which is of course impossible.

    If this is correct, does this automatically rule out the possibility of free will?
  • Down The Rabbit Hole
    457


    "Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills". It seems pretty obvious to me, however Nobel Prize winning Sir Roger Penrose says quantum mechanics provides hope for free will. I don't know of his reasoning for this.
  • Paul Michael
    64


    I’ve always loved that quote from Schopenhauer, it makes things pretty clear.

    I’ve been contemplating free will and the lack thereof from a metaphysically neutral perspective without committing to physicalism, dualism, idealism, etc. Free will seems to fall apart when I introspect upon my own experience of thinking.
  • Bitter Crank
    11.2k
    As topics go, whether or not we have "free will" might be unanswerable.

    A lot of our mental activity goes on outside of the portion that we are consciously aware of. What the brain delivers to our consciousness if pretty much fait accompli. We don't decide what we like, what we want, or what we think. Do you like strawberries? If so, did you decide to like strawberries, or did you just find them delicious?

    For instance, I may have consciously decided that your topic title was interesting, but I'm not sure about that. Perhaps an unconscious predisposition compelled me to respond to you. I did not "decide" how to compose this response. It just arrived in my fingers on the keyboard. I have, however, edited what occurred to me. Was the editing an act of free will or was it the product of a fussy compulsion? Don't know.

    It doesn't matter, really. Whether we have free will or not, we have evolved to operate more or less successfully. We are, fortunately, not left to our devices. We require years of careful rearing before we are able to live independently. A lot of who and what we are is supplied by genes and experience before we have a choice in the matter.
  • Paul Michael
    64
    As topics go, whether or not we have "free will" might be unanswerable.Bitter Crank

    I think you might be right about this, considering there is no ubiquitous understanding of what ‘free will’ even means. If I had to put a definition on it, I would call it the ability to choose one’s own intentional actions. But that would require one to be able to choose their intentions, which are thoughts. And I don’t see how one can choose their thoughts.

    A lot of our mental activity goes on outside of the portion that we are consciously aware of. What the brain delivers to our consciousness if pretty much fait accompli. We don't decide what we like, what we want, or what we think. Do you like strawberries? If so, did you decide to like strawberries, or did you just find them delicious?

    For instance, I may have consciously decided that your topic title was interesting, but I'm not sure about that. Perhaps an unconscious predisposition compelled me to respond to you. I did not "decide" how to compose this response. It just arrived in my fingers on the keyboard. I have, however, edited what occurred to me. Was the editing an act of free will or was it the product of a fussy compulsion? Don't know.
    Bitter Crank

    I agree. I think it boils down to how much of one’s own mind is under their own conscious control, which is not much.

    It doesn't matter, really. Whether we free will or not, we have evolved to operate more or less successfully. We are, fortunately, not left to our devices. We require years of careful rearing before we are able to live independently. A lot of who and what we are is supplied by genes and experience before we have a choice in the matter.Bitter Crank

    Yes, this is true. However, do you think people misuse the concept of free will to blame others?
  • NOS4A2
    6.3k


    ‘To choose’ implies that a set of options exists *from which one chooses*. I don’t see how else ‘to choose’ could be understood. So in order for one to be able to choose their thoughts, they would have to be able to *think* of several options and choose one of them to be their next thought *without thinking their next thought in the process*, which is of course impossible.

    If this is correct, does this automatically rule out the possibility of free will?

    It doesn’t. To rule out the possibility of free will one will have to show that thoughts, or any action for that matter, comes from somewhere or someone else.
  • Paul Michael
    64
    It doesn’t. To rule out the possibility of free will one will have to show that thoughts, or any action for that matter, comes from somewhere or someone else.NOS4A2

    So you’re saying that if I do an action, that action is free if it comes solely from me? I agree that it would have to come solely from me in order to be considered a free action, otherwise I can’t even claim ownership over it. However, the fact that I am an agent who can claim ownership over my actions does not on its own necessarily mean that I do those actions freely.
  • Down The Rabbit Hole
    457


    Yes, all of our thoughts stem from something that is not our thoughts. Even if thoughts stem from our other thoughts, the first thought was caused by something that was not our thought.

    Just makes you doubt what seems obvious when someone as distinguished as Penrose says there could be free will.
  • NOS4A2
    6.3k


    It does not mean that you do them un-freely either. The action is generated without cause or input from anything else in the universe. There is no restraint or anything barring such actions from being committed. It is not “determined” by any other being. So how is it not free?
  • Paul Michael
    64
    It does not mean that you do them un-freely either. The action is generated without cause or input from anything else in the universe. There is no restraint or anything barring such actions from being committed. It is not “determined” by any other being. So how is it not free?NOS4A2

    I guess the issue that I’m ultimately concerned with is the ability to do otherwise rather than whether or not an action is considered ‘free’ or ‘unfree’. Forgive me for not mentioning this or clarifying it until now.

    Do you think we have the ability to do otherwise?
  • javra
    1.9k
    ‘To choose’ implies that a set of options exists *from which one chooses*. I don’t see how else ‘to choose’ could be understood. So in order for one to be able to choose their thoughts, they would have to be able to *think* of several options and choose one of them to be their next thought *without thinking their next thought in the process*, which is of course impossible.

    If this is correct, does this automatically rule out the possibility of free will?
    Paul Michael

    In agreement, no, we don't and can't consciously think up the alternatives we choose between at each juncture wherein we sense ourselves to choose between alternatives (an ad infinitum regress of thought would result, tmk). Instead, our unconscious mind does this for us.

    We don't choose our thoughts-as-alternatives; we only choose between what is given to us by our unconscious mind as thoughts-as-alternatives.

    The possibility of free will merely stipulates that we as conscious agents can choose among these unconsciously emergent alternatives such that, in principle, the one choice we end up making is not necessarily the only one choice that we could have made.

    So while the issue remains open-ended, the fact that we as conscious agents do not bring into being those alternatives we choose between doesn't rule out the possibility of us conscious agents being endowed with free will.
  • Paul Michael
    64


    Interesting perspective, I never thought about it like this before.

    What do you think of the following argument against the ability to do otherwise? Someone recently mentioned this one to me:

    1. If one can do otherwise, then one can do either A or not-A at the time of action.
    2. If one can do either A or not-A at the time of action, then A and not-A are both possible in the same sense at the same time, which is a contradiction.
    3. Therefore, one cannot do otherwise.

    I don’t currently see a way out of it, but I’d like to get your thoughts on it.
  • javra
    1.9k
    1. If one can do otherwise, then one can do either A or not-A at the time of action.
    2. If one can do either A or not-A at the time of action, then A and not-A are both possible in the same sense at the same time, which is a contradiction.
    3. Therefore, one cannot do otherwise.
    Paul Michael

    Possibly subtle, but important: One cannot do both A and not-A at the same time of action in the same respect. Instead, one can only do either A or not-A at the time of action. It's not an issue of both occurring at the same time in the same respect. It's an issue of either one occurring at the expense of the other or vice versa.

    This "at the time of action" stipulation seems to be implicitly equivocated with "before the time of action (before the choice is made)". Before the time of action two or more alternatives are present at the same time but in different respects: each alternative presenting its own unique possible outcome. The alternatives are not deemed to be identical to each other - hence to occur in the same respect. The don't have the same features of details.

    Unless one can evidence how what I've addressed is wrong or misconceived, then what I've mentioned will make the argument invalid. But I'm always open to being wrong.
  • NOS4A2
    6.3k


    Forgive me, but I have trouble with the “ability to do otherwise” principle of free will. Many have taken it as a priori while I can hardly wrap my head around it. What matters to me, and responsibility in general, is whether he was the source of his actions. Thanks for clarifying.
  • Bartricks
    5.9k
    You haven't described anything impossible.

    You have said that to choose one must select from options. But then you have mistakenly supposed that one needs to have chosen the options.

    No, at most you need options. You do not need to have chosen the options.

    I have option a and option b. I didn't choose those options, but that doesn't mean I didn't choose a over b when I select a over b.
  • T Clark
    10.3k
    Can we choose our thoughts? If not, does this rule out free will?Paul Michael

    Can we choose how much insulin our pancreas secretes? If not, does this rule out free will?

    The brain does what the brain does in the same manner that the pancreas does what the pancreas does. Neither is under our direct control. That fact says nothing about free will.
  • Banno
    19.2k
    ‘To choose’ implies that a set of options exists *from which one chooses*. I don’t see how else ‘to choose’ could be understood. So in order for one to be able to choose their thoughts, they would have to be able to *think* of several options and choose one of them to be their next thought *without thinking their next thought in the process*, which is of course impossible.Paul Michael

    And yet we choose!

    Consider the two wolves within, Stoicism, and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy...

    Hence Paul's argument is flawed. Mind is recursive, not linear, conflicted, not homogenous. We have the capacity to choose what thoughts we revisit, which thoughts we act on, and what becomes habitual. Hence we can improve who we are.

    Curious, that so many folk here consider themselves automata.
  • Paul Michael
    64
    Forgive me, but I have trouble with the “ability to do otherwise” principle of free will. Many have taken it as a priori while I can hardly wrap my head around it. What matters to me, and responsibility in general, is whether he was the source of his actions. Thanks for clarifying.NOS4A2

    I understand. From what I’ve gathered in my time researching free will, the ability to do otherwise would allow an agent to either do or refrain from doing any given action, and I think it is assumed by many that this is highly relevant to moral responsibility. I can see how one being the source of their actions would also be very crucial to responsibility in general, this just seems obvious to me.

    You haven't described anything impossible.

    You have said that to choose one must select from options. But then you have mistakenly supposed that one needs to have chosen the options.

    No, at most you need options. You do not need to have chosen the options.

    I have option a and option b. I didn't choose those options, but that doesn't mean I didn't choose a over b when I select a over b.
    Bartricks

    For each individual thought that one thinks, do they have options to choose from for what it will be prior to them thinking it? Where would they get these options from? They could only come from their own mind and thoughts, nowhere outside of themselves. If they don’t have options in the first place, then they cannot choose their thoughts by definition, as you’ve conceded.

    Can we choose how much insulin our pancreas secretes? If not, does this rule out free will?

    The brain does what the brain does in the same manner that the pancreas does what the pancreas does. Neither is under our direct control. That fact says nothing about free will.
    T Clark

    If the brain does what the brain does in the same manner that the pancreas does what the pancreas does, then the brain makes its choices automatically without any input from us as well.

    And yet we choose!

    Consider the two wolves within, Stoicism, and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy...

    Hence Paul's argument is flawed. Mind is recursive, not linear, conflicted, not homogenous. We have the capacity to choose what thoughts we revisit, which thoughts we act on, and what becomes habitual. Hence we can improve who we are.

    Curious, that so many folk here think themselves automata.
    14m
    Banno

    If I’m presented with two options, A and B, I can choose between them. The question is, can I choose the thought which chooses between them? If not, do I have any control over what I choose?
  • Banno
    19.2k
    ...can I choose the thought which chooses between them?Paul Michael

    Yes.

    Problem solved.
  • litewave
    764
    If this is correct, does this automatically rule out the possibility of free will?Paul Michael

    Yes, and it gets even worse if you consider that time doesn't pass because it is just a special kind of space, as theory of relativity implies. Do we have free will if the future already exists just like the past?
  • litewave
    764
    I have, however, edited what occurred to me. Was the editing an act of free will or was it the product of a fussy compulsion?Bitter Crank

    It occurred to you to edit what occurred to you.
  • Paul Michael
    64


    Ah, good ole B-theory and eternalism. If that’s true then we absolutely do not have any meaningful or relevant kind of free will.

    Something I’ve been wondering about regarding the block universe is, does the block universe model depend on physicalism being true, or could it also work with ontologies such as monistic idealism? I’m hoping you could help me figure that one out, because I don’t know which ontology is the correct one.
  • litewave
    764
    To rule out the possibility of free will one will have to show that thoughts, or any action for that matter, comes from somewhere or someone else.NOS4A2

    If you slip on a banana peel is it an act of your free will or is it an act of the banana's free will?
  • javra
    1.9k
    If I’m presented with two options, A and B, I can choose between them. The question is, can I choose the thought which chooses between them? If not, do I have any control over what I choose?Paul Michael

    In slight difference to 's answer, I find this to be quite a misguided conceptualization. The “I” in these propositions is not a thought contemplated by a being which is itself a thought contemplated by a being, ad infinitum.

    The “I” addressed is itself a being with agency.

    Thoughts don’t choose between thoughts. Agents - such as one’s own conscious being - choose between thoughts. Hence the agency of choice as it pertains to beings / agents (and not to the thoughts which agents / beings think of).

    This observation is apart from the issue of whether we as beings hold the ability choose otherwise in a selfsame situation, i.e. are endowed with free will. If we are not, then the choices we effect are themselves always completely determined by antecedent causes - making us as responsible for what we effect as would be a billiard ball. If we are, then in some way what we effect is not fully determined by antecedent causes - at the very least not when we actively choose - and our effects thereby originate with us in some meaningful sense.

    Maybe getting closer to your concern:

    In either perspective, we as conscious agents would have no choice in whether or not we hold free will: either being existentially fated by reality to have it whether we want it or not or, else, being existentially fated by reality to not have it regardless of what we’d want to be the case.

    That we hold no free will in our existential condition of so having free will (were we to have it) does not, however, of itself invalidate the logical possibility of us having it.
  • NOS4A2
    6.3k


    If you slip on a banana peel is it an act of your free will or is it an act of the banana's free will?

    Neither. When one slips on a banana the actions he takes range from trying to limit the harms of slipping (trying to regain balance, extending one’s arms to suppress the fall) to doing nothing. The slip itself is more of an act of physics, I suppose.
  • litewave
    764
    Something I’ve been wondering about regarding the block universe is, does the block universe model depend on physicalism being true, or could it also work with ontologies such as monistic idealism? I’m hoping you could help me figure that one out.Paul Michael

    I think the simplest interpretation of theory of relativity is that time is literally a space and therefore it doesn't pass, it just exists. But we have various feelings and one of those feelings is that time passes, which is apparently associated with feelings of memories and expectations.
  • litewave
    764
    . The slip itself is more of an act of physics, I suppose.NOS4A2

    So physics has free will?
  • Banno
    19.2k
    In slight difference to ↪Banno answer,javra

    Deference would be more apt than difference... :wink:

    The trouble with free will, of course, is that it's never been clear what it is. I'm dubious that the notion can be made coherent. Instead we might do well to reject the false dilemma of free will against causation, and still maintain what counts for our ethical status: responsibility for our actions.

    We can agree that it's the way the OP is conceptualised that is in error.

    Anyway, looks as if the thread's promise of being interesting will again be fumbled by the physicists. A problem that is becoming ubiquitous on the forums. As bad as Christians.
  • javra
    1.9k
    Point taken. :grin:
  • litewave
    764
    Thoughts don’t choose between thoughts. Agents - such as one’s own conscious being - choose between thoughts.javra

    Why would agents do that? Because they are driven by thoughts, including by thoughts to choose between thoughts. Or when they are not driven by thoughts, their choices are unintended, which precludes free will too.
  • javra
    1.9k
    Why would agents do that? Because they are driven by thoughts, including by thoughts to choose between thoughts. Or when they are not driven by thoughts, their choices are unintended, which precludes free will too.litewave

    If you take intents to be thoughts, then I might in this way alone agree: in so far as out choices are always in part determined by that which we intend to accomplish. Still, intents do not of themselves choose outcomes. We as agents so driven by our intents do.
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