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Tags free will , predeterminism

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Old 15th December 2010, 10:15 PM   #1
kellyb
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Is there a skeptical/scientific argument against predeterminism?

Just wondering...
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Old 15th December 2010, 10:28 PM   #2
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I doubt it - what is there to measure, test, quantify?
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Old 15th December 2010, 10:33 PM   #3
kellyb
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Originally Posted by MG1962 View Post
I doubt it - what is there to measure, test, quantify?
Well, skepticism is about logic, too. So there could be a skeptical/logical argument against it.
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Old 15th December 2010, 10:33 PM   #4
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Not sure if this helps, but it's my understanding that free will isn't technically provable. We are unable to separate cause from effect and label each one definitively. And since we exist in a system of causality, we are unable to escape that system to see anything other than the "tail end" so to speak, so we are kind of "one step behind".

Hence .... some form of determined causality exists which we are a part of, and the proof we have otherwise isn't objective evidence. Me saying, "I freely choose to eat pizza tonight" isn't technically provable. My choice to eat pizza could be the result of other factors and not some spontaneously generated desire I created out of "nothing".

I'd like to see if Piscivore has any thoughts on this question he'd like to share

Personally, I think it's possible that "freedom" exists within pockets as certain aspects of the universe haven't been determined yet. However, once outside forces interact with those pockets, the result is the effect of the cause. Before that however, there is an "unknown" where multiple states exist at once. Schrodingers Cat is an example of this .... as is the nature of photons for example. Superposition, in other words .... I believe could be used as evidence that certain things exist apart from a predetermined causality. Anyone feel free to correct me ....
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Old 15th December 2010, 10:33 PM   #5
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Define your terms. I am assuming that predeterminism means the belief that all actions in the future are determined by current conditions, and thus predetermined.

If that is the case, then yes there is a scientific argument against it. The study of quantum mechanics suggests that some events are, in fact, random. Whether an electron jumps from one orbit to another, emitting a photon is, to the best of our knowledge, a random event. Throw in a touch of chaos theory, and you can show that that photon can have effects on the macroscopic world, which can alter the course of history.

So, even if you could measure the exact state of the world as it exists now, you still could not know the future. The best you could do is to give a probability distribution function for any given future event.
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Old 15th December 2010, 10:41 PM   #6
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Quote:
The study of quantum mechanics suggests that some events are, in fact, random. Whether an electron jumps from one orbit to another, emitting a photon is, to the best of our knowledge, a random event.
I might be wrong, but I don't think quantum mechanics remotely indicates that what happens on the quantum level is really "random". Just because we have yet to identify a cause/causes doesn't mean it's really random. I just means we don't understand it (yet?).
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Old 15th December 2010, 10:45 PM   #7
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You can't prove either determinism or non-determinism. There are skeptical arguments for both.

Determinism - Take two universes, A and B, which will both last for some period of time (pick however long you like). Universe A is absolutely deterministic, from beginning to end, following a few simple rules to derive the next state from the current state. Universe B proceeds precisely like universe A until a certain point in time (call it t0) after which it goes into utter chaos, with absolutely no discernible pattern. Its resemblance to A was just coincidence.

If you are a resident of one of the two universes, no matter how neat and deterministic everything seems, there is no way to tell if you occupy A or if you're in B before t0.

Non-determinism - This one's a bit easier. Meadmaker is right about quantum uncertainty, but the problem with saying it definitively shows we live in an indeterminate universe is in that tiny phrase, "to the best of our knowledge". There is no way to be certain whether things are indeterminate or just following rules we haven't figured out.
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Old 15th December 2010, 10:59 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by kellyb View Post
I might be wrong, but I don't think quantum mechanics remotely indicates that what happens on the quantum level is really "random". Just because we have yet to identify a cause/causes doesn't mean it's really random. I just means we don't understand it (yet?).
The marquis is correct. To the best of our knowledge, it is random. I chose that phrase deliberately. It might be random, or it might be something we don't understand.

However, the bit in parentheses is not applicable. It may be something we don't understand that makes the apparently random event not be truly random, but there is no "yet". Whatever hidden causes might exist, they exist in a space beyond the power to observe, even theoretically. The universe will appear forever random, whether or not it is truly so.
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Old 15th December 2010, 11:09 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by kellyb View Post
I might be wrong, but I don't think quantum mechanics remotely indicates that what happens on the quantum level is really "random". Just because we have yet to identify a cause/causes doesn't mean it's really random. I just means we don't understand it (yet?).
No, it goes further than that. There are no successful local "hidden variable" theories of quantum mechanics. Either quantum events are truly random, or they violate causality.
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Old 16th December 2010, 12:11 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by kellyb View Post
I might be wrong, but I don't think quantum mechanics remotely indicates that what happens on the quantum level is really "random". Just because we have yet to identify a cause/causes doesn't mean it's really random. I just means we don't understand it (yet?).
Without something (hidden) transferring information between particles faster than light, it is impossible for there to ever been any non-random theory for quantum mechanics no matter what evidence we attain in the future. So far there's no reason to think faster-than-light stuff is happening behind the scenes, and in fact we assume that's impossible.
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Old 16th December 2010, 03:13 AM   #11
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Random != Free, however. In fact, if the wavefunction collapse is truly and universally random then that points very strongly to the absence of free will. If there’s nothing we’ve found so far in the universe that can influence the direction of collapse, Occams Razor and/or the Copernican Principle (which, I know, are not physical laws as such) suggests that it’s highly unlikely my brain just happens to be the one physical structure that can.

I do think free will might be logically falsifiable. It’s possible that the biological basis of consciousness will turn out to be completely unconnected to anything but perception – that our sensation of ‘making decisions’ can be proved to be nothing but instant post-hoc rationalisations of what we appear to ourselves to be doing.

Which will be an interesting day for ethicists…
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Old 16th December 2010, 03:35 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Matt the Poet View Post
Random != Free, however. In fact, if the wavefunction collapse is truly and universally random then that points very strongly to the absence of free will. If there’s nothing we’ve found so far in the universe that can influence the direction of collapse, Occams Razor and/or the Copernican Principle (which, I know, are not physical laws as such) suggests that it’s highly unlikely my brain just happens to be the one physical structure that can.

I do think free will might be logically falsifiable. It’s possible that the biological basis of consciousness will turn out to be completely unconnected to anything but perception – that our sensation of ‘making decisions’ can be proved to be nothing but instant post-hoc rationalisations of what we appear to ourselves to be doing.

Which will be an interesting day for ethicists…
Free will is such a ludicrous concept anyway, and I don't see how it would make any sense to be evolutionarily selected for (and further there's really no evidence it exists).

Frankly, I also think it is a destructive idea. I can't count the number of times I hear the idea of free will used to dismiss the serious nature of psychological and other problems from addiction to depression to narcissism to something that begins with a 'z'.*

*The only thing with a 'z' that comes to mind at the moment is Zimbardo, but while related to the issue, he's certainly not a problem.
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Old 16th December 2010, 06:09 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by kellyb View Post
Just wondering...
Quantum mechanics and chaos theory.
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Old 16th December 2010, 12:16 PM   #14
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The September meeting of NMSR featured James Thiel on "The Nonexistence of Free Will and Merit."

It's written up here.

Thiel's basic argument is that no functional relationship exists between Free Will and Merit, because neither exists.

He concludes that
Quote:
"The nonvoluntary origin of desires and infinite regression demonstrate the nonexistence of choice. There exists no capacity to do otherwise and no capacity to have done otherwise. Predestination does not exist since uncaused events equate with fundamental unpredictability. No one merits or deserves anything. Nothing is anyone’s fault or to anyone’s credit. ..."
Cheers, Dave
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Old 16th December 2010, 12:22 PM   #15
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I have always found it inappropriate to jump from the nonexistence of free will to the non existence of "fault", "blame", "merit", or "credit".
Even if everything is deterministic, we can still have a reasonable model of blame and merit based on a unity of cause and intent.
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Old 16th December 2010, 08:34 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by PixyMisa View Post
No, it goes further than that. There are no successful local "hidden variable" theories of quantum mechanics. Either quantum events are truly random, or they violate causality.
Is this woo, or disproven?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superdeterminism

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There is a way to escape the inference of superluminal speeds and spooky action at a distance. But it involves absolute determinism in the universe, the complete absence of free will. Suppose the world is super-deterministic, with not just inanimate nature running on behind-the-scenes clockwork, but with our behavior, including our belief that we are free to choose to do one experiment rather than another, absolutely predetermined, including the "decision" by the experimenter to carry out one set of measurements rather than another, the difficulty disappears. There is no need for a faster than light signal to tell particle A what measurement has been carried out on particle B, because the universe, including particle A, already "knows" what that measurement, and its outcome, will be.

The only alternative to quantum probabilities, superpositions of states, collapse of the wave function, and spooky action at a distance, is that everything is superdetermined. For me it is a dilemma. I think it is a deep dilemma, and the resolution of it will not be trivial; it will require a substantial change in the way we look at things
BBC Radio interview with Paul Davies, 1985
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Old 17th December 2010, 05:30 AM   #17
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KellyB,
we have to be careful, the interpretations of QM are exactly that, So first we need to know what some sort of superdeterminism would imply for QM and then determine if there is evidence for it.

So far no violations of Bell's theorm.
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Old 17th December 2010, 11:31 AM   #18
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Predeterminism, as an attitude, seems counter-productive to a society that seems to thrive on the responsibility of its citizens.
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Old 17th December 2010, 11:38 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by kellyb View Post
Is this woo, or disproven?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superdeterminism

BBC Radio interview with Paul Davies, 1985
Disproven, as far as I can tell (I'm not a physicist). If everything is strictly deterministic and causality is preserved, then we have a local hidden variable theory of QM. Local hidden variable theories of QM are contradicted by experimental data.
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Old 17th December 2010, 11:41 AM   #20
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Again: Even if everything is deterministic, we can still have a reasonable model of blame and merit based on a unity of cause and intent.
If you intentionally did X and X is a bad thing, we can blame you for X.
If you intentionally did X and X is a good thing, we can praise you for X.
Predeterminism or not, we can still have reward and punishment, and we can still teach individual responsibility and discipline. So the free will discussion is not practically relevant in the manner in which some try to direct the discussion.
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Old 17th December 2010, 12:07 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by AvalonXQ View Post
Again: Even if everything is deterministic, we can still have a reasonable model of blame and merit based on a unity of cause and intent.
If you intentionally did X and X is a bad thing, we can blame you for X.
If you intentionally did X and X is a good thing, we can praise you for X.
Predeterminism or not, we can still have reward and punishment, and we can still teach individual responsibility and discipline. So the free will discussion is not practically relevant in the manner in which some try to direct the discussion.
If my actions are predetermined how would I intentionally do anything?

In answer to the OP, the skeptical argument is that there's no way to test pre-determinism. Without proof it exists why concern yourself with it? If it did exist there wouldn't be anything you could do about it so again, why concern yourself about it?
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Old 17th December 2010, 12:10 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by Craig4 View Post
If my actions are predetermined how would I intentionally do anything?
You would have a desire to do something and you would act on that desire.
The better question is, how is predeterminism incompatible with intent? Preterminism doesn't imply that we don't think. It just implies that it's possible to figure out what our thoughts were going to be before we had them.
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Old 17th December 2010, 12:32 PM   #23
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I choose to believe that I have a free will.
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Old 17th December 2010, 12:35 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by maddog View Post
I choose to believe that I have a free will.
Actually, you don't. You believe you have free will because it was predetermined you would.
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Old 17th December 2010, 12:44 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by AvalonXQ View Post
I have always found it inappropriate to jump from the nonexistence of free will to the non existence of "fault", "blame", "merit", or "credit".
Even if everything is deterministic, we can still have a reasonable model of blame and merit based on a unity of cause and intent.
Originally Posted by Wowbagger View Post
Predeterminism, as an attitude, seems counter-productive to a society that seems to thrive on the responsibility of its citizens.
Both of these comments apply practically, imo. Regardless of whether or not we are living in a strictly deterministic environment, or a probabilistic one with randomness .... practically speaking we still hold each other accountable for actions. So if you harm my daughter, I will hold you accountable. And it will upset me both rationally and irrationaly.

If/when we are able to determine each and every action a person will take in their lifetime before they occur without fault, then we can begin to institute the Department of Precrime

But since we can't even "trick a photon" in advance (right? we still can't? unless entanglement is a sort of work around) .... my personal opinion is that we won't ever reach that stage where we can exactly know the complete determined nature of a thing to it's nth moment. We'll only be able to know segments.

Now awhile back I started a thread on the "quantum mind" ... and my main question was whether or not a thought could derive directly from a quantum state (some how). IOW .... whether or not the random nature of a non-collapsed wave function could ever be directly linked to a thought or idea in such a way that the thought or idea could be said to be the result of a state of that randomness. IIRC, the conclusion is currently that decoherence takes place in advance to thought formation and the mind's ability to construct an idea, so the "quantum mind" is really more of a dead end than a viable concept.

Because in my way of thinking (which I'm sure is incomplete and/or just wrong) ..... if you could link a person's thoughts or ideas to somehow being "birthed" directly from a quantum state before the wave function begins to collapse (iow ... directly from superposition) .... then you could theoretically begin to seriously explore with evidence whether or not a person is capable of "true free will" outside of causality as we recognize it. And hopefully I'm phrasing things properly

Last edited by Trent Wray; 17th December 2010 at 12:50 PM. Reason: added a thought
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Old 17th December 2010, 12:49 PM   #26
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I think we are playing with words.
The past is predetermined: The future is not. (Yet).
The difference is the present.
The future is subject to chaos , quantum fluctuations, jiggery-pokery etc.
The past was but isn't any longer. In fact , that seems to be the fundamental difference between the two.
Clearly, everything that has happened till now can be explained by a chain of cause & effect.
But just because that's how we see it. It doesn't mean it's true.
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Old 17th December 2010, 12:52 PM   #27
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Originally Posted by AvalonXQ View Post
Actually, you don't. You believe you have free will because it was predetermined you would.
Nah, I choose to believe that I have a free will, but you are predetermined to disagree with me.
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Old 17th December 2010, 12:55 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by Soapy Sam View Post
I think we are playing with words.
The past is predetermined: The future is not. (Yet).
The difference is the present.
The future is subject to chaos , quantum fluctuations, jiggery-pokery etc.
The past was but isn't any longer. In fact , that seems to be the fundamental difference between the two.
Clearly, everything that has happened till now can be explained by a chain of cause & effect.
But just because that's how we see it. It doesn't mean it's true.
I think at first thought, logically a person would say the past is predetermined (since it's taken place).

But even a delayed choice quantum eraser, I think, shows that our present is predetermined as we try to "fool with the past" as it were. Either that or it shows an alternative perhaps ...

I also think the idea that "time flows" in a continuous stream equal at all points is a false perception we have which aides to the idea of how we really interact within causality. Certain aspects of existence are merely taking place "slower" or "faster" in relation to each other .... which gives rise to the perception there is more randomness than there might actually be.
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Old 17th December 2010, 01:12 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by Trent Wray View Post
I also think the idea that "time flows" in a continuous stream equal at all points is a false perception we have which aides to the idea of how we really interact within causality. Certain aspects of existence are merely taking place "slower" or "faster" in relation to each other .... which gives rise to the perception there is more randomness than there might actually be.
Time does not flow. If it did you could ask "how many seconds per second does it flow?" Does that make sense? No. Space-time is a static 4+ dimensional structure. We perceive time as going from the past to the future because of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which means since our memories are based on chemistry, we only remember the past and not the future. Since space-time is static and the flow of time is an illusion, then the future already exists.
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Old 17th December 2010, 01:14 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by DrBaltar View Post
Time does not flow. If it did you could ask "how many seconds per second does it flow?" Does that make sense? No. Space-time is a static 4+ dimensional structure. We perceive time as going from the past to the future because of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which means since our memories are based on chemistry, we only remember the past and not the future. Since space-time is static and the flow of time is an illusion, then the future already exists.
That's why I said it's a false perception ...
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Old 17th December 2010, 01:16 PM   #31
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Originally Posted by kellyb View Post
Just wondering...
Maybe yes. Maybe no.
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Old 17th December 2010, 04:16 PM   #32
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Originally Posted by kellyb View Post
I might be wrong, but I don't think quantum mechanics remotely indicates that what happens on the quantum level is really "random". Just because we have yet to identify a cause/causes doesn't mean it's really random. I just means we don't understand it (yet?).
I'm fairly sure the scientific consensus (at the moment) is that there are no hidden variables. I used to understand the Bell experiments and I found them compelling. I've since forgotten them so you'll need someone else to explain them for you.
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Old 17th December 2010, 04:23 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by Wowbagger View Post
Predeterminism, as an attitude, seems counter-productive to a society that seems to thrive on the responsibility of its citizens.
Responsibility isn't dependent on choice. It's a descriptor of the sort of behavior one engages in.

Frankly, the attitude of free will is more damaging than anything else. It leads one to assume other people freely choose their lot or freely choose to be irresponsible. If that was excised, then everyone would realize that we need to shape society in particular ways to fashion individuals (we somewhat acknowledge this now), and we'd handle mental illness and criminal rehabilitation a lot better as well.

Btw, choice exists without free will, a decision-making algorithm still leads to choices, they just aren't free of causality.
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Old 17th December 2010, 11:47 PM   #34
Craig4
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Originally Posted by AvalonXQ View Post
You would have a desire to do something and you would act on that desire.
The better question is, how is predeterminism incompatible with intent? Preterminism doesn't imply that we don't think. It just implies that it's possible to figure out what our thoughts were going to be before we had them.
No, if it's predetermined that I'm going to have the desire and act on it that's not free will. At that point I'm a puppet on a string simply responding to the will of whatever is pulling the string. Predeterminism negates the role of choice.
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Old 18th December 2010, 02:14 AM   #35
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I would think that being a slave to biology, instinct, and the laws of nature does not suggest events are predetermined cosmically in any way. Free will to an extent is an illusion, unless you are somehow liberated from the influences of the universe.
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Old 18th December 2010, 05:56 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by Craig4 View Post
No, if it's predetermined that I'm going to have the desire and act on it that's not free will. At that point I'm a puppet on a string simply responding to the will of whatever is pulling the string. Predeterminism negates the role of choice.
This is interesting because, as a magician, I run into this all the time. When I suggest you freely take a card, your perception is that you are making a relevant decision and acting freely. From my perspective, the choice is forced and I know ahead of time what will happen.

If I am a good magician, the experience from your point of view will be a free choice and coincidence. From my position, everything is known in advance. So that's what's out left out of these discussions; not that free will or determinism is fundamentally the lay of the land, but whether or not we have access to the information. Without enough access, there is no practical difference between the two.

That said, I find it amazing how deeply people will hold on to their belief in free will. They will often choose some really oddball explanation (eg. psychic powers) rather than just accept that what they perceived as a free choice was, in fact, controlled by means they do not know. So, the first illusion happens before the actual illusion -- it is the illusion that we should believe our inner voice telling us the "correct" context.

A great deal of the conjuring arts (perhaps all of it) consists in creating a false context that eliminates the true explanation from consideration. We are poor scientists in this situation, because we do not question deeply enough. This makes conjuring for young children more difficult -- they may not yet have enough of a bias about "how the world works" to be fooled.

An example of such bias might be something as plain as: a playing card approximates a two-dimensional object and therefore has only a front and a back side. The actual object may not, although I will count on you making this assumption.

I think Susan Blackmore has the right idea here: http://www.edge.org/q2005/q05_8.html#blackmore
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Old 19th December 2010, 03:54 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by marplots View Post
This is interesting because, as a magician, I run into this all the time. When I suggest you freely take a card, your perception is that you are making a relevant decision and acting freely. From my perspective, the choice is forced and I know ahead of time what will happen.

If I am a good magician, the experience from your point of view will be a free choice and coincidence. From my position, everything is known in advance. So that's what's out left out of these discussions; not that free will or determinism is fundamentally the lay of the land, but whether or not we have access to the information. Without enough access, there is no practical difference between the two.

That said, I find it amazing how deeply people will hold on to their belief in free will. They will often choose some really oddball explanation (eg. psychic powers) rather than just accept that what they perceived as a free choice was, in fact, controlled by means they do not know. So, the first illusion happens before the actual illusion -- it is the illusion that we should believe our inner voice telling us the "correct" context.

A great deal of the conjuring arts (perhaps all of it) consists in creating a false context that eliminates the true explanation from consideration. We are poor scientists in this situation, because we do not question deeply enough. This makes conjuring for young children more difficult -- they may not yet have enough of a bias about "how the world works" to be fooled.
So how can one go and question enough as to expose like 99.99% of "trick" or "illusion" in all sorts of stuff, not just "magic" tricks (i.e. in real-world stuff!)? That is, question enough so as to be far less "fooled" when it comes to science, life, and reality in general?
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Old 19th December 2010, 07:22 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by mike3 View Post
So how can one go and question enough as to expose like 99.99% of "trick" or "illusion" in all sorts of stuff, not just "magic" tricks (i.e. in real-world stuff!)? That is, question enough so as to be far less "fooled" when it comes to science, life, and reality in general?
"Less fooled" is doable, I think; although completely informed may not be.

Here's my recipe: I am very good at quick, well described puzzles -- I am not very good at problems that require deep study. And the sheer volume of things I'd like to know means I couldn't possibly test or understand even most of them.

The scientific method works well for humanity as a whole and as a way to communicate discovery, but for me as an individual it comes down to, "Who do I trust?" That is, which type of information will I take as probably more valid and worth accepting? In a practical world, this is all I really have.

Parsimony dictates I should focus on those aspects which either evoke passion in me or affect my own life -- for those, I can take a stab at expertise. In other things I must be just a spectator watching the show. I trust the scientific method -- but not as much as I once did, only because I have some small experience in it and have seen something of the human element. I try to operate in those areas where I think I am fooled less.

Age helps. I have come to accept my own limitations and become more comfortable with them. I am much quicker to reject my own flashes of inspiration and see them as having a poor author. I am slower to accept the new simply because it is shiny.

JREF is an excellent forum for seeing the process at work. Assertion, challenge, some agreement, much dissent -- all this helps map the terrain.
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Old 19th December 2010, 02:01 PM   #39
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Originally Posted by marplots View Post
"Less fooled" is doable, I think; although completely informed may not be.

Here's my recipe: I am very good at quick, well described puzzles -- I am not very good at problems that require deep study. And the sheer volume of things I'd like to know means I couldn't possibly test or understand even most of them.

The scientific method works well for humanity as a whole and as a way to communicate discovery, but for me as an individual it comes down to, "Who do I trust?" That is, which type of information will I take as probably more valid and worth accepting? In a practical world, this is all I really have.

Parsimony dictates I should focus on those aspects which either evoke passion in me or affect my own life -- for those, I can take a stab at expertise. In other things I must be just a spectator watching the show. I trust the scientific method -- but not as much as I once did, only because I have some small experience in it and have seen something of the human element. I try to operate in those areas where I think I am fooled less.
Yet I suppose you'd still think that the scientific method is the best that is available, no?

Originally Posted by marplots View Post
Age helps. I have come to accept my own limitations and become more comfortable with them. I am much quicker to reject my own flashes of inspiration and see them as having a poor author. I am slower to accept the new simply because it is shiny.
However, is such a thing impossible to gain until you get old?
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Old 19th December 2010, 04:20 PM   #40
marplots
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Originally Posted by mike3 View Post
Yet I suppose you'd still think that the scientific method is the best that is available, no?
Yes and no, mostly yes. Where it fails is in one-off situations with limited knowledge or an inability to model well. Where possible, I think it extraordinarily good. The power of it isn't always revealing truth so much as communicating well with others so they can then evaluate what you have to say more precisely.


And talking about self knowledge:
Originally Posted by mike3 View Post
However, is such a thing impossible to gain until you get old?
I don't know. I think it is rather hard to prevent as we age though. This is one of those questions that shows the difficulties with the scientific method. As far as my own life goes, I only have the one experiment and that's largely exploratory instead of validating.
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