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James 2019

A very interesting publication about Free Will

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Hi all,

I came across a very interesting publication about Free Will:

In short:

https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science-tech/our-brains-reveal-our-choices-we%E2%80%99re-even-aware-them-study

and the publication itself:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-39813-y

Just one thing I didn't understand from what written there, what was the accuracy of the prediction? They say that they could predict what people will consciously chose about 11 seconds before they choose it (which sounds amazing!) but in what accuracy? 70% of the times? 85% of the times?

Please let me know if you find this information,

Thanks!

 

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1 hour ago, James 2019 said:

Hi all,

I came across a very interesting publication about Free Will:

In short:

https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science-tech/our-brains-reveal-our-choices-we%E2%80%99re-even-aware-them-study

and the publication itself:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-39813-y

Just one thing I didn't understand from what written there, what was the accuracy of the prediction? They say that they could predict what people will consciously chose about 11 seconds before they choose it (which sounds amazing!) but in what accuracy? 70% of the times? 85% of the times?

Please let me know if you find this information,

Thanks!

 

Yes, it is interesting. Thanks for posting. It makes sense that there is prior processing for many things that we think because it increases efficiency in completing tasks. If we didn't have this ability to utilise memory to make choices, everything we did would be like the first time every time, and having to consciously choose each time.

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Posted (edited)

This is not about free will. It is about predictability of our choices. But predictability and free will have next to nothing to do with each other.

To give a simple example: my wife knows I like whiskey more than brandy. So if tomorrow there is a party, and there is a choice between whiskey and brandy, she will already know a day in advance what I will choose. I am very predictable in this respect. But it is still a free choice of me to drink whiskey. But under the thread of somebody to kill my wife if I do not drink the brandy, I will drink the brandy. But then I do not act according my own wish (whiskey!), but the wish of that person that I drink brandy. And that makes the action coerced, so not from my will.

I think the general critique on such 'Libet-like' experiments is still valid, even if 'prediction 11 seconds before' sounds impressive.

 

Edited by Eise

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There have been similar physiological experiments like this before (as Eise links to).

I have a problem with the way it is sometimes presented; that the decision is made before we are aware of it somehow means that "we" didn't make the decision.  Of course "we" did - who else could have made it.

There are many occasions where the brain has to fool us (our conscious selves) about when things happen because processes in the brain or body take time. For example if you reach out to touch a cup of hot coffee, the visual stimulus reaches the brain in a few milliseconds while the touch sensation takes almost a second. Yet we perceive them happening at the same time.

So the fact that deciding to do something (which, no doubt, requires large amounts of complex processing) does not become apparent to us for some time is not surprising. Maybe 11 seconds is surprising, though....

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2 hours ago, Strange said:

Of course "we" did - who else could have made it.

You might be surprised how powerful the gut microbiome is in these issues, and how there is a direct neural connection between the stomach and the brain. Aren't those organisms accurately classified as not "us" even though we host them?

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8 minutes ago, iNow said:

You might be surprised how powerful the gut microbiome is in these issues, and how there is a direct neural connection between the stomach and the brain. Aren't those organisms accurately classified as not "us" even though we host them?

"Free will" of ants can be changed by parasite fungus:

"Infected hosts leave their canopy nests and foraging trails for the forest floor, an area with a temperature and humidity suitable for fungal growth; they then use their mandibles to affix themselves to a major vein on the underside of a leaf, where the host remains until its eventual death.[2] The process leading to mortality takes 4–10 days, and includes a reproductive stage where fruiting bodies grow from the ant's head, rupturing to release the fungus's spores."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiocordyceps_unilateralis

"The changes in the behavior of the infected ants are very specific, giving rise to the popular term "zombie ants", and are tuned for the benefit of the fungus."

 

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Under Eise's approach, that would be classified as a type of coercion. My question is why the microbiome, salinity levels, hydration levels, etc. of the body are not equally classified as types of coercion.

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32 minutes ago, iNow said:

You might be surprised how powerful the gut microbiome is in these issues, and how there is a direct neural connection between the stomach and the brain. Aren't those organisms accurately classified as not "us" even though we host them?

I'd be careful with overstating the directness of the interaction, and the role of the microbiome. There is quite a bit that is not that clear and it is also not certain whether it is really something different than, for example other sensory inputs. 

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22 minutes ago, CharonY said:

I'd be careful with overstating the directness of the interaction, and the role of the microbiome. There is quite a bit that is not that clear and it is also not certain

Agreed. My basic premise is this:

Eise argues that coercion from external actors / people is a valid reason not to call something "free will." I argue that coercion occurs everywhere and all the time in every single decision or "choice" we make via inputs like surrounding environment, neural structure, chemistry, and even the biome and hydration levels or diet. Those, too, are external actors, even if hosted within our body.

So, if one form of coercion allows us to say there isn't free will, then why not the other?

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35 minutes ago, iNow said:

I argue that coercion occurs everywhere and all the time in every single decision or "choice" we make via inputs like surrounding environment, neural structure, chemistry, and even the biome and hydration levels or diet.

Input to what? Note that you also mention 'neural structure'. To what is the neural structure input?

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52 minutes ago, Eise said:

Input to what? Note that you also mention 'neural structure'. To what is the neural structure input?

We're likely not as far apart on this as it appears, but I'm sure you agree that it feels like we're talking past one another a bit.

To answer your question: It's an input to the decision or choice.

Envision a scale, one of those old fashioned two-sided ones like you see lady justice holding in front of courtrooms. When we use that scale, some items are placed on side A while some other items are placed on side B. Eventually, as more items are added, the scale tips one way or the other as the inputs themselves shift.

The scale, however, didn't "decide" or "choose" to tip. It just happened as a result of the inputs to it and the underlying physics.

Similarly, this same "tipping due to inputs" happens in our minds with each passing moment. "We" didn't decide or choose what to do or how to act. The inputs did. We just later applied a narrative to make sense of those inputs (often as long as 11 seconds later).

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9 hours ago, iNow said:

So, if one form of coercion allows us to say there isn't free will, then why not the other?

Just to follow-up: I’m curious to better understand your thinking on this part. 

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Posted (edited)
17 hours ago, iNow said:

To answer your question: It's an input to the decision or choice.

Ah... Do neurons decide or choose? 'Decision', 'choice' are higher level descriptions of what the brain as a whole does. Firing neurons only effect, causally, other neurons. You do not find decisions or choices in the brain. Persons make decisions and choices.

To call the tipping of the scale a decision is, well, a bit of a stretch. But that, mutatis mutandis, is a just as big stretch when you apply it to neurons.

9 hours ago, iNow said:
19 hours ago, iNow said:

So, if one form of coercion allows us to say there isn't free will, then why not the other?

Just to follow-up: I’m curious to better understand your thinking on this part. 

I do not agree to call these examples of coercion. According to Wiktionary:

Quote
  1.  Actual or threatened force for the purpose of compelling action by another person; the act of coercing.
  2.  Use of physical or moral force to compel a person to do something, or to abstain from doing something, thereby depriving that person of the exercise of free will.

 

So it is, again, a bit of a stretch, to apply 'coercion' on lower levels of description. 'Coercion' simply does not apply on the level of the examples you mention: it applies to persons only. And persons, a bit simplified, are the complete functioning brain.

Pity, I have not much time now. But maybe you like this. This is the so called 'four case argument' of Derk Pereboom, also known as 'the cases of Professor Plum'. For more read the accompanying text from this website where I took the illustrations from. (Click to see full size). Would that agree with your position?

image.thumb.png.5417d18838396d62983c8a160f24597c.png

Edited by Eise

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Eise said:

Ah... Do neurons decide or choose? 'Decision', 'choice' are higher level descriptions of what the brain as a whole does. Firing neurons only effect, causally, other neurons. You do not find decisions or choices in the brain. Persons make decisions and choices.

It is the whole neuronal ensemble from which a 'person' emerges. I agree that persona and decision-making is a top-level process. Stepping down to a lower operational level - like some distinct ensemble of neurons within the total  that perform a specific task but not all of them - you lose sight of the property that is 'the person'.

Edited by StringJunky

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17 minutes ago, StringJunky said:

It is the whole neuronal ensemble from which a 'person' emerges. I agree that persona and decision-making is a top-level process. Stepping down to a lower operational level - like some distinct ensemble of neurons within the total  that perform a specific task but not all of them - you lose sight of the property that is 'the person'.

Yep. And therefore one should neither ascribe features belonging to persons to the level that lies underneath, nor search there for such features, and then on not finding them there, say that persons do not have these features. It is what is called in philosophy a category error.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Eise said:

Yep. And therefore one should neither ascribe features belonging to persons to the level that lies underneath, nor search there for such features, and then on not finding them there, say that persons do not have these features. It is what is called in philosophy a category error.

I shall look it up. I would call it an inability to grasp or even acknowledge the idea of emergence. I get the feeling that some otherwise very bright people dismiss it as a tenuous 'fill-in' or place-holder word for things that we can't explain.

Edited by StringJunky

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On 4/17/2019 at 1:38 PM, Eise said:

...But under the threat of somebody to kill my wife if I do not drink the brandy, I will drink the brandy...

I hate brandy too and I love whiskey. I also have an ex wife and I’m not married currently. I would like to see you solve this one :P 

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3 hours ago, Eise said:

To call the tipping of the scale a decision is, well, a bit of a stretch.

I understand you prefer taking a different approach, but what you call "a stretch," I call functionally accurate and operationally correct. It's simply a different perspective than yours, and not wrong for that reason alone.

 

3 hours ago, Eise said:

I do not agree to call these examples of coercion.  <...> Coercion' simply does not apply on the level of the examples you mention: it applies to persons only.

Right. I was already clear on your stance here. I was not asking you to repeat it. I was asking you to explain why you hold it.

I've altered my framing of the issue to align with your framing... that coercion means it's not free will. Per your own definition above, coercion is something which compels behaviors or actions.

As is obvious from the data, and has been obvious for years already, our own actions and behaviors are compelled by a complex chemistry playing out across a dynamic biological network conducting electrical peaks and troughs, plus a whole bucket full of other inputs from organisms, bacteria, and the broader environment like salinity, hydration, and even pollen or temperature.

Those inputs all play a role in compelling us toward specific actions and behaviors; they all affect the manner with which we interact with the cosmos in each passing moment... so why treat them any differently from when we're similarly compelled (or "coerced" to use your word) by another organism we just happen to call a person (or fellow human)?

3 hours ago, Eise said:

This is the so called 'four case argument' of Derk Pereboom, also known as 'the cases of Professor Plum'. For more read the accompanying text from this website where I took the illustrations from. (Click to see full size). Would that agree with your position?

Thanks for the link. Interesting read. This is pretty close to my stance, yes. I'd like to explore it further as I'm sure there are important gaps I'm not currently considering, but it wouldn't be unfair to compare with with Pereboom here.

One thing I will say (and this bothers me in most of these conversations) is that I didn't like how the author introduced the idea of responsibility / consequences for specific actions deemed to be immoral by society and culture. That's an important consideration, for sure... if we lack freewill, then should we not punish those committing heinous acts?... those are important questions to explore, but to me that's an entirely separate question from whether our will is free in the first place.

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On 4/18/2019 at 4:32 PM, iNow said:

I understand you prefer taking a different approach, but what you call "a stretch," I call functionally accurate and operationally correct. It's simply a different perspective than yours, and not wrong for that reason alone.

It is functionally wrong: just looking into the brain, how neurons fire dependent on other neurons or sense input, will never show you what a decision is, just as you will never know the rules of chess if you only analyse how flip-flops of a chess computer change their values dependent on each other. The flip-flops do not play chess, the computer does. In the same manner, the flipping over of a scale is not a decision. Say a stone roles downhill. First question: does it want to roll down, or is it forced to roll down (by gravity)? Now imagine there is lying a bigger stone in its way, and the rolling stone is stopped by it. Is the bigger stone blocking the way of the stone? Is the stone forced to stop? Or is it saved for gravity by the bigger stone? I assume you agree such questions are nonsensical. But it is just as nonsensical to call the tipping of a scale a decision. It is just a physical process: there are no 'arguments' in favour or against tipping over. 

On 4/18/2019 at 4:32 PM, iNow said:

I've altered my framing of the issue to align with your framing... that coercion means it's not free will. Per your own definition above, coercion is something which compels behaviors or actions.

Coercion can only occur between 2 different things: but there is no separation between the functioning brain and consciousness. Again, as in the other thread, your viewpoint only makes sense in a dualistc world view.

On 4/18/2019 at 4:32 PM, iNow said:

One thing I will say (and this bothers me in most of these conversations) is that I didn't like how the author introduced the idea of responsibility / consequences for specific actions deemed to be immoral by society and culture. That's an important consideration, for sure... if we lack freewill, then should we not punish those committing heinous acts?... those are important questions to explore, but to me that's an entirely separate question from whether our will is free in the first place.

You are right insofar as that not liking the consequences (no free will, no responsibility, no justification for punishment) is not an argument against an honest scientific world view. Still one can use our practice of praising and punishment to ask a philosophical question: is some view of free will a precondition to justify this practice, and if so, in which meaning? I would say yes. But libertarian free will (e.g. a view based on a 'free soul' reigning over the brain) we can exclude, because it does not agree with science. But I am convinced that a compatibilist concept of free will fits the bill. (That is e.g the reason for the subtitle of Daniel Dennett's book: Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting.) 

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2 hours ago, Eise said:

It is functionally wrong: just looking into the brain, how neurons fire dependent on other neurons or sense input, will never show you what a decision is

There are many studies, including the one in the OP of this thread, which suggest otherwise. What do you think they show if not the ability to look at firing patterns of neurons and show what the decision will be?

2 hours ago, Eise said:

The flip-flops do not play chess, the computer does.

We seem to disagree here. What is a computer if not a collection of "flip flops?"

2 hours ago, Eise said:

Coercion can only occur between 2 different things: but there is no separation between the functioning brain and consciousness.

Sure. I'm not really on board with that, but it's moot. You're switching reference frames on me here. What about the other organisms living within us? What about the other various inputs that meet YOUR definition of "different things?" You somehow manage to accept those as "not coercive." Why?

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6 minutes ago, iNow said:

There are many studies, including the one in the OP of this thread, which suggest otherwise. What do you think they show if not the ability to look at firing patterns of neurons and show what the decision will be?

I don't think so. If a neuronal pattern represents a decision can only be concluded from the fact that a participant reported his choice. So what we can possibly find out are the neural correlates of a decision, and obviously parts its causal 'foreplay'. But predictability is not in conflict with what in my opinion is the relevant concept of free will: acting according your own wishes and beliefs. Can you show me where predictability conflicts with free will (in the sense I just mentioned)?

Also, these kind of experiments have little application in real life applications. There is no reason for the participants to choose one of the green or red patterns. But reasons are essential in free will. If I drive my car, I e.g. do this because I want to go to work (my action fits to my will). Therefore it is a free action. And I would not be disturbed at all if a neuroscientist would find out that I will drive my car with his equipment. It is a mistake to assume that none-predictability is a necessary condition of free will.

17 minutes ago, iNow said:

We seem to disagree here. What is a computer if not a collection of "flip flops?"

Ah, the 'nothing but' (also known as the 'just') operator! Everytime somebody uses this operator I know that he leaves out something important, mostly the essence of what is discussed. What is a steam train if not a heap of steel, coal and plenty of water? But only in the way these elements are working together we have a train. Maybe we could build a train with aluminium, oil and ethanol. The material is not the essence of the steam train. It is the way the parts are connected and are working together.

So no, a computer is not a collection of flip-flops: it is an ingenious with each other connected, and correctly steered system of flip flops. Flip flops cannot play chess, computers can. When you understand how flip flops work, you still understand nothing of chess. 

31 minutes ago, iNow said:

Sure. I'm not really on board with that, but it's moot. You're switching reference frames on me here. What about the other organisms living within us? What about the other various inputs that meet YOUR definition of "different things?" You somehow manage to accept those as "not coercive." Why?

And that where I accuse you of mixing levels, using concepts that do not fit to the descriptive level they belong to. I have already shown you what the definition of coercion is. Here are the relevant definitions again:

Quote
  1. (not countable) Actual or threatened force for the purpose of compelling action by another person; the act of coercing.
  2. (law, not countable) Use of physical or moral force to compel a person to do something, or to abstain from doing something, thereby depriving that person of the exercise of free will.

Actions that are not free, are actions that are according the will of somebody else, against your own. Neurons, bacteria in my digestive system, do not have a will, do not have any knowledge how to force me to do something. Therefore 'coercion' does not apply for them. With neurons, the extra problem is that they constitute me. How then can they 'force' me to do anything? I am those active neurons!

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