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Free Will

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Re: Free Will
Post by tlb   » Fri Dec 01, 2023 9:03 am

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Daryl wrote:The topic of delayed gratification comes up here, as does rationalisation and defence of decisions.

Although those are interesting topics, they are separate from the question of Free Will. We might want to rationalize and defend our decisions (particularly if they turn out to have bad results) no matter what the process was that served to chose them. But those justifications do not prove that we only had a single way to choose.
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Re: Free Will
Post by The E   » Sat Dec 02, 2023 8:48 am

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tlb wrote:Although those are interesting topics, they are separate from the question of Free Will. We might want to rationalize and defend our decisions (particularly if they turn out to have bad results) no matter what the process was that served to chose them. But those justifications do not prove that we only had a single way to choose.


No, they're not separate from the question of what, if anything, free will is.

The problem is this: we know that what we regard as "consciousness", the little voice that represents our thoughts, is not representative of the entirety of human cognition. It is one part of a greater whole - and not even that authoritative a part as it believes itself to be. There are many pre-conscious things happening at all times in our minds, and if our conscious brain notices them, it will more often than not engage in a process of ex-post-facto justification.

While composing this post, my fingers are moving in rhythm with the music I'm listening to while waiting for the part of me that composes these posts to determine which letters to enter next. When my fingers move, they do not follow precise commands - once upon a time, I had to look at my keyboard to direct my fingers to the precise keys I need to press to make an "e" happen, nowadays all of that is skipped so that it feels like there's a direct connection between me and the keyboard.
This is the result of preconscious processes taking over from the conscious side of things by recalling learned behaviours - if my keyboard shifts slightly to the side, all my typing is going to be off until I notice and correct it.

The crux of the argument here is this: How much of our daily behaviours are governed in this preconscious manner? Lived experience suggests that there is quite a lot of it - When I drive to work in the morning, I sometimes catch myself wondering what happened in the past couple minutes, because a preconscious process in my brain has decided to not record a full memory of that timespan given that nothing important happened. Was I truly conscious during that time? Did I truly make any decisions? I must have, for riding a bike does involve quite a few decision points, but ... was I ever involved in them?

And going beyond that: How many things do we decide every day without fully thinking everything through? I am currently reviewing applications for a job we're hiring for, and a lot of the judgments I come to are based on snap decisions - decisions I can fully justify of course, given our procedures and standards, but again: How much was I actually involved here?

At any of these points, there were choices presented and decisions made. Even for things that I fully decide based on long deliberation, the decision I am making is always going to be the decision I was going to make, based on the various factors involved. Were I to redo the decision process, I would likely come to the same conclusion unless something happens that would materially change the outcome.
Is there "free will"? I don't think so. In the absence of a metaphysical layer, everything I do boils down to electrochemical reactions in my central nervous system, reactions that at their basis are completely deterministic. Can an entirely deterministic system (like what our brains are) produce non-deterministic results? Could a Laplacian demon exist?
Quantum physics says it can't, that there is a boundary beyond which we can only operate in probabilities, but to me that suggests that there is a completely deterministic system present there, but that we do not have a complete mapping of all the influences going into it.
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Re: Free Will
Post by tlb   » Sat Dec 02, 2023 12:32 pm

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The E wrote:Is there "free will"? I don't think so. In the absence of a metaphysical layer, everything I do boils down to electrochemical reactions in my central nervous system, reactions that at their basis are completely deterministic. Can an entirely deterministic system (like what our brains are) produce non-deterministic results? Could a Laplacian demon exist?
Quantum physics says it can't, that there is a boundary beyond which we can only operate in probabilities, but to me that suggests that there is a completely deterministic system present there, but that we do not have a complete mapping of all the influences going into it.

But is classical physics deterministic? Doesn't deterministic mean that an exact outcome can be determined? Can we really say that even the three-body non-relativistic system is deterministic, if we cannot give an exact solution to it? Even if we have confidence that it is deterministic; can we continue to be certain when systems get complicated enough to experience "butterfly effects".

Certainly for anything more complicated, we have to start making simplifying assumptions and are happy when we get close. Consider weather forecasting that can do pretty well in constructing probabilities for a few days to a week, because it has so many data points to base upon. Now obviously the brain is much more complicated than a weather system and even an individual neuron firing can only be described in a probabilistic way. Clearly you side with Einstein's hidden variable theory, at least as it could apply to brain functioning.

Personally I can not prove things, one way or the other; so you could say I am agnostic about Free Will. Please not that I am NOT saying that weather patterns (or even the brain) have Free Will; instead I am saying that many big multi-component systems can only be described in probabilistic terms and I take that to mean they cannot be described as deterministic, even if all the individual interactions that activate them are deterministic (which is not true for the neuron). There is a synergy occurring that prevents a future outcome from being exactly determined.

Side note: The Multiverse is very big in movies lately. It is another way to eliminate Free Will; since it says that when a choice is presented, then every option is taken - each in its own universe.
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Re: Free Will
Post by The E   » Sat Dec 02, 2023 1:22 pm

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tlb wrote:But is classical physics deterministic? Can we really say that even the three-body non-relativistic system is deterministic, if we cannot give an exact solution to it? I am sure that we can have confidence that it is deterministic; but can we continue to be certain when systems get complicated enough to experience "butterfly effects".


To be deterministic, all we need to show is that for a given initial state, we can predict the state at the next iteration by applying known rules.
Predicting the behaviour of a system with emergent properties (like the 3BP) is computationally hard, but not impossible if the description of the initial state is sufficiently complete.
Thus, the Laplacian demon: If we know the state of the universe to arbitrary precision, can we predict what happens next?
Leaving aside various proofs that show that a laplacian demon cannot exist due to fundamental limitations of performing computation and things like Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, I believe that in theory, a complete definition of the universe's ruleset can exist - whether or not human science will ever reach that point, who knows.
If that is the case, then free will does not exist - every decision that could ever be made is predictable.

Certainly for anything more complicated, we have to start making simplifying assumptions and are happy when we get close. Consider weather forecasting that can do pretty well in constructing probabilities for a few days to a week, because it has so many data points to base upon. Now obviously the brain is much more complicated than a weather system and even an individual neuron firing can only be described in a probabilistic way. Clearly you side with Einstein's hidden variable theory, at least as it could apply to brain functioning.


Fundamentally true.

Personally I can not prove things, one way or the other; so you could say I am agnostic about Free Will.


In actual reality, I am too - I may not believe that free will exists, but I am compelled to act as if it does since I am no demon and have access to only very limited information about the universe.
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Re: Free Will
Post by tlb   » Sat Dec 02, 2023 2:52 pm

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tlb wrote:But is classical physics deterministic? Can we really say that even the three-body non-relativistic system is deterministic, if we cannot give an exact solution to it? I am sure that we can have confidence that it is deterministic; but can we continue to be certain when systems get complicated enough to experience "butterfly effects".

The E wrote:To be deterministic, all we need to show is that for a given initial state, we can predict the state at the next iteration by applying known rules.
Predicting the behaviour of a system with emergent properties (like the 3BP) is computationally hard, but not impossible if the description of the initial state is sufficiently complete.

But that is what is interesting about the 3BP: we can only predict to a certain precision, since we do not have an exact solution. If we knew the initial conditions to infinite precision and used infinitesimal time steps, then we might eliminate error accumulation.

However that is impossible; we cannot be that precise in the initial conditions and no computing device could maintain that precision. Therefore each iteration has an increasing margin of error and it it is not very long before all is erroneous.

Now after just one iteration using a reasonable time step, the errors might be small compared to the precision of the initial conditions and that could allow us to claim the result was deterministic. But based on that could we know if one of the bodies will be shot out on an elliptical path by the other two at some point?

However systems do not have to become much more complex, before the errors can become comparable to the initial precision; at which point we can no longer make that claim.
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Re: Free Will
Post by The E   » Sat Dec 02, 2023 3:34 pm

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tlb wrote:But that is what is interesting about the 3BP: we can only predict to a certain precision, since we do not have an exact solution. If we knew the initial conditions to infinite precision and used infinitesimal time steps, then we might eliminate error accumulation.

However that is impossible; we cannot be that precise in the initial conditions and no computing device could maintain that precision. Therefore each iteration has an increasing margin of error and it it is not very long before all is erroneous.

Now after just one iteration using a reasonable time step, the errors might be small compared to the precision of the initial conditions and that could allow us to claim the result was deterministic. But based on that could we know if one of the bodies will be shot out on an elliptical path by the other two at some point?

However systems do not have to become much more complex, before the errors can become comparable to the initial precision; at which point we can no longer make that claim.


Yes, but the point here is that all these interactions are based on known rules. I am not concerned with our ability to measure things with arbitrary precision or perform computations with arbitrary precision, as far as we know now, that's beyond us; that's immaterial to this whole argument.
No, the argument is that if it is possible to describe the universe as an emergent product of a bunch of fundamental rules interacting over time, then no matter how complex the universe's state is, it cannot be said to contain "free will" because there is no randomness - no source of genuinely acausal interactions.
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Re: Free Will
Post by tlb   » Sat Dec 02, 2023 4:26 pm

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The E wrote:No, the argument is that if it is possible to describe the universe as an emergent product of a bunch of fundamental rules interacting over time, then no matter how complex the universe's state is, it cannot be said to contain "free will" because there is no randomness - no source of genuinely acausal interactions.

But we know there IS randomness, at the quantum level absolutely; but at the higher levels also. Given that some quantum transitions are quite energetic, then those alone will interject randomness to higher levels (such as genetic mutations). If Betelgeuse goes nova, because of fundamental quantum processes, then that would be a massive injection of randomness into our part of the galaxy.

Also the firing of a neuron is probabilistic, unless you think that you can find "hidden-variables". I do not believe that is possible to find, because the chemical processes more closely resemble thermodynamics.
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Re: Free Will
Post by tlb   » Thu Dec 07, 2023 2:51 pm

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tlb wrote:But is classical physics deterministic? Can we really say that even the three-body non-relativistic system is deterministic, if we cannot give an exact solution to it? I am sure that we can have confidence that it is deterministic; but can we continue to be certain when systems get complicated enough to experience "butterfly effects".

The E wrote:To be deterministic, all we need to show is that for a given initial state, we can predict the state at the next iteration by applying known rules.
Predicting the behaviour of a system with emergent properties (like the 3BP) is computationally hard, but not impossible if the description of the initial state is sufficiently complete.

tlb wrote:Now after just one iteration using a reasonable time step, the errors might be small compared to the precision of the initial conditions and that could allow us to claim the result was deterministic. But based on that could we know if one of the bodies will be shot out on an elliptical path by the other two at some point?

However systems do not have to become much more complex, before the errors can become comparable to the initial precision; at which point we can no longer make that claim.

I wanted to revisit this, because I do not think that it gets the attention it deserves.

Consider a box that initially contains only carbon dioxide at room temperature, where the main interaction between molecules is collisions. Seems straight forward, although there can be internal vibrations. Also there might be a possibility of a collision generating an oxygen molecule and two carbon monoxide molecules.

However, even though the molecules are not in the quantum level, they are light enough that there is a measurement problem. In order to get their initial values, they have to be hit with energy; which means that those initial values cannot be known to great precision. In turn that means the results of collisions cannot be predicted with almost any precision.

So the system (meaning the position and velocity of each molecule) cannot be predicted after any iteration that includes a significant number of collisions. By your definition, that means it is NOT deterministic. Only a probabilistic description can be made of it.

PS: This does even consider the problem that we cannot distinguish one molecule from another (unless we do get some oxygen and carbon monoxide).
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Re: Free Will
Post by Daryl   » Fri Dec 08, 2023 3:48 am

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Interesting discussion folks. Schroenger's cat comes into play, along with Heisenger's Uncertainty Principle.
I had always wondered about the religious conflict, between an all mighty, all omniscent God, yet how with that he/she would put sinners into eternal torment because they made a decision that he/she disagreed with. If you actually read the original Ten Commandments they are mostly about not disrespecting the God.
Multiverse is appealing, because in an infinite number of them I'm doing very well thank you, alternatively in an infinite number I'm in torment.
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Re: Free Will
Post by tlb   » Fri Dec 08, 2023 1:20 pm

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Daryl wrote:Interesting discussion folks. Schroenger's cat comes into play, along with Heisenger's Uncertainty Principle.
I had always wondered about the religious conflict, between an all mighty, all omniscent God, yet how with that he/she would put sinners into eternal torment because they made a decision that he/she disagreed with. If you actually read the original Ten Commandments they are mostly about not disrespecting the God.
Multiverse is appealing, because in an infinite number of them I'm doing very well thank you, alternatively in an infinite number I'm in torment.

If the all mighty, all omniscient God created all time and space; then that obviates the possibility of Free Will, since that Being can see all time at a glance - meaning all decisions were made as part of the Creation. So Heaven or Hell is predestined before birth.

The Multiverse is another thing that obviates the possibility of Free Will, since every choice is taken at any decision point.

None of this means that Free Will has to exist, science would probably work anyway; to our eyes things would still seem random, because we would have no way of guessing the coin flip nor dice role.
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