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Robert Wilson

Free will

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6 hours ago, MigL said:

If the internal and external forcings are constraining your choices, limiting your degrees of freedom if you will, possibly even to only one choice, you may 'think' you are choosing, but you are constrained to make that choice.
That is NOT free will.

IOW, I know what 'free will' isn't, but I don't know what it is.
 

That last remark is Intriguing: What would an unconstrained choice be like? I mean: all choices must eventually come to only one. We are literally always constrained to one choice. So what would be the meaningful (qualitative?) distinction between one that is limited by the "internal and external forcings” and one exclusively limited by the time constraint? I’m not being facetious or picking sides, I really have no freaking idea! (Keep in mind, I’m a bit of dullard; kid gloves please).

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Simply, any forcing that removes a choice, reduces the degrees of freedom.
forcings that remove all choice save one, are reducing degrees of freedom to one.
The only choice available is that specific one.
So how exactly, are you free to choose ??

Its like a Russian election; you can vote for anyone you want, but V Putin is the only name on the ballot.
So how do you have free will ?

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11 hours ago, MigL said:

If the internal and external forcings are constraining your choices, limiting your degrees of freedom if you will, possibly even to only one choice, you may 'think' you are choosing, but you are constrained to make that choice.

Hi MigL,

But 'you' are choosing! What you in fact do is distinguishing between your brain processes (that what is 'forcing internally'), and what you are. But there is no such distinction! 'You' are your brain processes!

And one other confusion: internal and external 'forces' are not just constraints. They are the 'substance' of the choice. Just imagine that there were no constraints for 'free will' at all. Then there neither would be grounds for acting. 'Your' free will is only constrained if the 'internal forces' are somehow blocked to act out by somebody else. Otherwise the 'internal forces', i.e. the constituents of 'you' are free to play out the will that they constitute into the chosen action.

11 hours ago, MigL said:

That is NOT free will.

IOW, I know what 'free will' isn't, but I don't know what it is.

What is wrong with my definition: being able to act according your wishes and beliefs? What blocks you from consistently using this definition?

One other point, maybe not an easy one either: what does 'constrained' mean? The concept 'constrained' only makes sense when you can compare it with an unconstrained situation. So what is the unconstrained situation? When it doesn't exist, what does 'constrained' mean??

To give an example, directly from my work: as a database administrator I have to do with 'tables' that have 'columns'. Each column must have a datatype, e.g 'number', or 'character' or even 'boolean' (there are many more...). Now is defining a datatype a constraint (you cannot but the word 'MigL' in a number column), or is it what defines how data 'act' in programs that use the data? E.g. creating a number column makes it possible to do arithmetic with it. On the other side, to capitalise a number, makes no sense. On the other side, one can have 'constraints' on columns. A constraint is something that, well, constrains the normal behaviour of a column. E.g. 'number' might allow values from -1048576 to +1048576. But to order -5 T-shirts makes no sense. So we put a constraint on the column that the number must be > 0. So the constraint is in comparison with what 'number normally is allowed to'. 

And this exactly is what constraints on free will are: you compare what you normally would do in a similar situation, with what you are forced to do now, e.g. because somebody is 'constraining' you.

11 hours ago, joigus said:
20 hours ago, Eise said:

Determinism is a necessary condition for free will.

  Really? Why?

If nature would react inconsistently on my wishes and believes, it would be impossible to evaluate possible future events as result of my actions. Without determinism I could not even be sure that my wishes and believes are causal factors in my actions. In a free act, 'it is me who determines my actions'. Where 'me' is not a soul or something, but my living brain (body, bag of chemicals).

11 hours ago, joigus said:

Namely: that the way in which most people use the concept of free will is to justify other secondary concepts like "guilt," "punishment," and the like. Some among this hosts of derived concepts, like "responsibility," may be useful and constructive, but many are definitely not.

That opens another discussion, but to say it already here: I think that my concept of free will is exactly the basis we need for such social practices. But I would like to stick to the basic points here.

4 hours ago, MigL said:

Simply, any forcing that removes a choice, reduces the degrees of freedom.
forcings that remove all choice save one, are reducing degrees of freedom to one.

Except the 'internal forces' that constitute your will.

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@Eise Now I really understand what you meant when you said,

On 5/24/2020 at 5:51 PM, Eise said:

Hi joigus,

Didn't other people warn you about viewpoints that deny free will exist, because I am here on the forum? The dreadful free will defender! 😲

Let me ask you something. You don't think the Libet experiment settles the question, which I quite agree with. So here's my question:

Is there any way you can conceive of that could settle it? Experimentally, I mean.

Because otherwise, my next question will be: How is all this we've been discussing here in any way different from a battle of words?

 

 

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17 hours ago, Eise said:

Except the 'internal forces' that constitute your will.

Ok, I can accept that these 'internal forcings' constitute your 'free will', although we are getting dreadfully close to a difference of definition.
( wouldn't want to contest definitions for several pages like Koti and you :D )
However the constraints that these forcings place on your free will, or choice, are based on fundamental, and immutable, physical laws.
Sometimes you only have the one, or even no choice, at all; the other choices are simply impossible.
The forcings and constraints would then appear to be separate from your will.

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6 hours ago, joigus said:

Is there any way you can conceive of that could settle it? Experimentally, I mean.

Yes and no. 'Yes' in the specific case, 'no' in the general case. The problem with the general case is that we must agree what we mean with 'free will'. As long as people just use their intuitions on what free will is, the problem will never be solved. No wonder: the problem of free will is an intelligibility problem, i.e. a problem of understanding. And not every intelligibility problem is an empirical problem. And there are only a few disciplines that are concerned with pure intelligibility problems: mathematics (with its parent, logic) and philosophy. And intuitions are dangerous in such areas.

In none of the cases intuitions bring you very far, especially if you are not trained in a certain discipline. Compare with quantum mechanics: the intuitions of a lay person are next to worthless. Think about all the crackpots that say QM is wrong because it does not fit to how they experience the world. On the other side, the intuitions of a seasoned 'quantum mechanic' can be very valuable, but as QM is an empirical theory, the intuitions still must be put to the test.

Now to the specific case: Let's take a trial as example. To be declared guilty, a few things must apply: 

  • the defendant did an illegal action
  • the defendant is not somehow mentally ill
  • the defendant was not coerced to act as she did, i.e. she could have done otherwise

The last point of course is very interesting: how could somebody do otherwise, when we live (yes, I leave out QM here) in a determined world? It just means that other options were available for the defendant. Now all this together is an empirical investigation! (Maybe not scientific, sometimes based on unreliable sources, but the character of the investigation is, per definition, empirical). So in my previous example of the vegetarian restaurant: could the defendant have ordered a hamburger? No, of course, in the vegetarian restaurant; but yes, in a normal restaurant this option was available. This is the relevant meaning of 'could have done otherwise', and the question is an empirical one.

I also have a science fiction scenario that might help to overcome some wrong intuitions about what free will is: the super-duper brain scanner is perfectly able to see which actions were done freely, and which ones are voluntary: if an action is caused by 'brain-routines' of fear and accompanied by repugnance, the action was not free; if it is done with pleasure, motivated by what the person would normally do etc, then the action was free. But both cases are of course determined!

6 hours ago, MigL said:

Ok, I can accept that these 'internal forcings' constitute your 'free will', although we are getting dreadfully close to a difference of definition.

Yes, but not any definition will do. Say, e.g. in geometry, I define a square as every object that has 4 angles of 90o. Where this is true for every square, it does not suffice. We can do better. So what we need is a concept of free will that fits best to our 'Lebenswelt'. So as a negative example 'could have done otherwise' in the metaphysical sense does not fit to what we daily do. Just look at the example of the legal case above.

6 hours ago, MigL said:

However the constraints that these forcings place on your free will, or choice, are based on fundamental, and immutable, physical laws.

Which constraints? Physical laws are not constraints. They open up a field of possibilities! Without (natural) insight in causes and effects, of actions and their results, you would not be able to act at all! Or from the other side: laws of physics are descriptions of what just happens. They force nothing, and therefore do not constrain anything. 

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6 hours ago, Eise said:

Physical laws are not constraints. They open up a field of possibilities!

This does not follow. Physical laws clearly help us to more accurately describe possibilities and model the world, but in parallel they very much do define the boundaries of possible action... I.e. they are constraints on the set of what’s possible. 

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20 minutes ago, iNow said:

This does not follow. Physical laws clearly help us to more accurately describe possibilities and model the world, but in parallel they very much do define the boundaries of possible action... I.e. they are constraints on the set of what’s possible. 

I exaggerated a little, but the main point stays. Causation has 2 sides: B is caused by A, but B causes C. Somehow we are fixed on the 'passive part' (B is caused by A) but not the 'active part' (B causing C). That is why your decision what to eat in a restaurant has causal consequences. 

So if you want, they are both: without causal relationships, the word would be boring, nothing could happen, we would not exist, let alone that we can do something, i.e. act. So as I said, the causal relationships open the possibility of something happening. On the other side, not everything can happen. To see that as a constraint, I would say one uses an idea that simply has no real counterpart: a world where everything is possible, without constraints. But as we've seen, in such world we could not exist.

Maybe there is a parallel with the concept of free will you are normally denying, you know, the 'uncaused' one. This is just such a chimera as unconstrained actions. Pointing your arrows at empty concepts is easy...

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On 6/3/2020 at 2:18 AM, Eise said:

What you in fact do is distinguish...between your brain processes (that what is 'forcing internally'), and what you are. But there is no such distinction! 'You' are your brain processes!

This is no minor point to your position. Without fully grasping it, MigL’s description creates an imagination blockade: One pictures the internal processes as dictatorial to an agent, instead of picturing them as what makes up the agent—their wants, knowledge of the consequences of their actions etc. Without this perspective reversal one can’t see anything other than “passive causality” top to bottom. 

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20 hours ago, vexspits said:

This is no minor point to your position.

Indeed. This is even central to my position. And it really is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome the idea that we are not free because we are determined. This, what you put so simply in one sentence:

21 hours ago, vexspits said:

One pictures the internal processes as dictatorial to an agent, instead of picturing them as what makes up the agent—their wants, knowledge of the consequences of their actions etc.

Takes Dennett about 200 pages in his Consciousness explained. Not because it is difficult to express, as you clearly show here, but because it is so difficult to get rid of a Cartesian outlook. He uses many arguments, thought experiments, results of real experiments to show that there is no place and not even a precise time, in the brain where 'everything comes together' and from where our actions are coordinated. Even if one does not postulate a homunculus (or soul, or agent) in the brain, it does not mean one has freed himself from the 'Cartesian spell'.

There is a strong parallel with thinking that laws of nature 'force' events to happen as they do. It is like old metaphysical ideas that God created the laws of nature to which everything in the universe must abide. In reality, laws of nature describe regularities we observe in nature. It is pretty much the opposite: the laws of nature are as they are, because nature enforces them. Every planet, simply running its course around its star, is (re)enforcing the laws of gravity, not the other way round. Instead of calling them 'laws of nature', one better would call them 'the tao of nature': the way nature is, or better, the way we understand nature. Laws of nature enforce nothing: in our case, they enable us to exist and to act. 

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I guess that is the philosophical viewpoint ( which I don't fully understand ) which is different from mine.
Whereas you consider not only the processes, but also the laws governing those processes, as the make up of our will, I can only bring myself to allow the processes as the make up of our will.
The laws governing those processes that make up our will also govern every other process in the universe ( not just our will ) and as such, I consider them 'fundamental' and separate from our will.
To me, it seems excessive hubris or self-confidence that the laws governing the universe could be part of our will.

However, I thank you for opening my eyes to different viewpoints and possibilities.
You bring something new and interesting with every one of your posts, Eise.
 

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17 minutes ago, MigL said:

Whereas you consider not only the processes, but also the laws governing those processes, as the make up of our will, I can only bring myself to allow the processes as the make up of our will.
The laws governing those processes that make up our will also govern every other process in the universe ( not just our will ) and as such, I consider them 'fundamental' and separate from our will.

Hi MigL,

Try to formulate the same, but without using 'governing'. Don't you agree that laws of nature are our descriptions of the regularities we find in nature? Do you really think that laws of nature 'govern' or 'enforce' natural processes? It is my strong conviction that this way of speaking is just metaphorical. Maybe this question helps to weaken up these kind of concepts: how do laws of nature determine what happens in the universe? Is this a scientific question, a philosophical one, a theological, or just nonsensical?

23 minutes ago, MigL said:

To me, it seems excessive hubris or self-confidence that the laws governing the universe could be part of our will.

Seems some misunderstanding here. Everytime we act, we give further proof of e.g. the laws valid for chemico-neurological processes, because that is the way our brain functions. We do not find magic in the brain, just a very complicated structure and its processes, developing according the same laws of nature as everywhere else in the universe, and that, amongst others, constitute our will. But it doesn't cause our will. 

So I do not see the hubris in it. If this is not clarifying your point, then I might have misunderstood you, and you must explain a bit more, why you think it is hubris.

30 minutes ago, MigL said:

You bring something new and interesting with every one of your posts, Eise.

Thanks. I do my best. (But if I can't convince you, I am a 'miserable failure'... :().

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1 hour ago, Eise said:

Thanks. I do my best. (But if I can't convince you, I am a 'miserable failure'... :().

The lament of all teacher's.

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1 hour ago, Eise said:

But if I can't convince you, I am a 'miserable failure'... :(

Far from it, Eise :) .

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1 hour ago, dimreepr said:

The lament of all teacher's.

It is teachers, my boy, not teacher's.

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Just now, Eise said:

It is teachers, my boy, not teacher's.

LOL

He didn't teach me that.

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I loved this example from: 

 

If you don't mind, I would like to add it to my toolkit as a wonderful illustration of emergence. The problem for me is that I tend to see in emergence a fundamental asymmetry between the explanatory elements and the explained ones. That cannot be reversed: You cannot use pressure or temperature to derive positions and momenta of the particles. You cannot use your A to B wave to explain the behaviour of cars going B to A; but you can use cars to explain the emergence of an apparent car going in reverse direction. And the word "apparent" here is very relevant, in my opinion. Similarly, it's atoms that explain the behaviour of people, or will, presumably, some day. 

But people do not explain the behaviour of atoms... Unless... Wait a minute. Is that what you mean? Theories are emergent in people's minds? So people, by forming concepts in their minds, are trapped kind of in a circle. Is it the atoms that explain your mind, or is it your mind that explains the atoms because they are actually a concept in your mind? Is that what you mean?

I'm not saying I agree. I would have to think about it, but, is that what you mean? Or does it go somewhere in the direction that you mean?

Especially from your last arguments with MigL, I think something like that is related with our lack of agreement here. The reason for our discrepancies, I think, is that while you do not accept reductionism, I think @MigL, @iNow, (I'm not so sure about @Ghideon, @Prometheus and @vexspits,...) and I are reductionists.

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Hi joigus,

But I do accept reductionism! But I am not a shallow reductionist. There is not just one level of explanation from atoms to conscious and free agents. There are many levels. Compare with a computer: you will never understand how a computer works, if you just see it for what it, from a shallow reductionist view, really is: a bunch of silicon, metal an insulating material. There are many levels of explanation for a computer: atoms, semi-conductor crystals, potential layers between P- and N-areas, and- or- and not-ports, flipflops, all the way to running programs and algorithms. And computers can do things that do not even exist on the level of atoms.

I am pretty sure that for a complete explanation of how brains 'make minds' there are even more layers, and on every layer you get phenomena that do not not exist on the levels below, but in principle can be explained by it. On the highest level, we have things like beliefs, intentions, thoughts, observations, actions etc. And only on this level, 'free will' gets its meaning: something that has no beliefs, no wishes and cannot act, 'free will' simply does not apply. It makes no sense to ask if an electron wants to be bound to a nucleus, or is forced to stay there. So the 'spectrum' 'free-coerced' does not even apply.

Now the reason, I think, you believe I am not a reductionist, lies in your view that 'free will' should exist already at the deepest level. You ask an electron to run a program for you, so to speak. It can't, even if the electron's properties are essential for the computer to run a program. You see, there is no contradiction between determinism and free will. So I am a determinist (again leaving out QM), but, to use the same figure of speech, not a shallow one.

So put me in the camp of reductionists, but still... we have free will!

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No one could possibly ever accuse you of being shallow, Eise.

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Posted (edited)

I've read the posts for a few days, many comments from @Eise and others have helped me gain new insights.

On 6/3/2020 at 8:18 AM, Eise said:

my definition: being able to act according your wishes and beliefs

In that case I agree that nothing random is needed for the free will of an A.I, my claim was incorrectly stated in that regard! The definition above should be possible to implement using a deterministic algorithm. I do not claim to know how to implement a wish or a belief but that does not matter to the discussion; if an A.I would have the same wishes and beliefs as input for several test runs the A.I., expressing it's free will, could come to the same conclusion every time. 

 

4 hours ago, Eise said:

I am pretty sure that for a complete explanation of how brains 'make minds' there are even more layers, and on every layer you get phenomena that do not not exist on the levels below, but in principle can be explained by it. On the highest level, we have things like beliefs, intentions, thoughts, observations, actions etc. And only on this level, 'free will' gets its meaning: something that has no beliefs, no wishes and cannot act, 'free will' simply does not apply. It makes no sense to ask if an electron wants to be bound to a nucleus, or is forced to stay there. So the 'spectrum' 'free-coerced' does not even apply.

This seems like something I can agree to* !

I think the above lets me state my earlier opinions and questions in a better way; here's an attempt, allowing for corrections by Eise and others. Note that I'm highly biased towards computer science and I've next to no formal skills in philosophy, terminology may be incorrect. I believed that if an A.I could be predicted and controlled down to the finest details there would not be room for the A.I to want something. The A.I would be limited to express what the programmer wanted. I thought there would have to be some layer(s) in the complicated systems architecture that allowed for "free will", "want", "belief" to emerge rather than something that was fully determined by (or deterministic to) the programmer. For free will to emerge, the programmer would have to give up some of the control that is possible to maintain when creating a deterministic program. I called that "randomness" which was probably not a good word.
Note! I do not talk about "soul" or some metaphysics, just the fact that I believed that there is need for some part of the system that can't be reduced to deterministic algorithms running on a deterministic Turing machines. But I'm not sure (I thought I was!) I probably need to study some more. It could be that a deterministic algorithm, a really complicated one but still deterministic, could allow for the components required for free will.
 

 

*) side note: I'll let @joigus sort me into a correct category regarding reductionism :-)  I've not yet enough knowledge about the concept that to express an opinion.

 

Edited by Ghideon

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4 hours ago, Eise said:

Now the reason, I think, you believe I am not a reductionist, lies in your view that 'free will' should exist already at the deepest level.

No. Here you got me wrong. I think the illusion of free will (please, be aware I have no problem saying "the illusion of temperature" or "the illusion of entropy") is an emergent property.

I was more going along the lines of what I've heard some anti-reductionists say. Namely: electrons or protons are ideas or theories, not real things. So electrons and protons really are "born" in your mind. Therefore (they say) neither gives rise to the other.

4 hours ago, Eise said:

But I do accept reductionism! But I am not a shallow reductionist.

I've been called a naive realist. But the person who called me that got called "simplistic idealist" by me. Idealists and anti-reductionists are not the only ones who can claim the right to hang an adjective on those they disagree with.  

Neither am I naive nor are you shallow.

1 minute ago, Ghideon said:

*) side note: I'll let @joigus sort me into a correct category regarding reductionism :-)  I've not yet enough knowledge about the concept that to express an opinion.

You probably are. Aren't we all? ;)

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Posted (edited)
14 hours ago, Ghideon said:

I believed that if an A.I could be predicted and controlled down to the finest details there would not be room for the A.I to want something. The A.I would be limited to express what the programmer wanted. 

I don't think so, well, better, I do not think your antecedent ('if an A.I could be predicted and controlled down to the finest details') will ever occur. We will understand the way different layers build up on other ones, but not be capable anymore to follow the concrete processes and give exact predictions. Think about neural networks ('massive parallel processing, 'deep learning'): we made them, but we do not program them in the usual way: cats are not recognised by the rules that were programmed, but by 'learning by example'. For such a neural network to reliably recognise cats, it cannot be too small. So we have a big neural network, and not even the programmer is able to predict how the weights of the connections will be distributed around the network, or the other way round, will be able to read from the weights of the connections, that the network is able to recognise cats, and not for recognising if a painting was painted by Magritte ('Ceci n'est pas une pipe').

Another, maybe not such a strong point, is that computer programs can very well surprise the programmer: why should we otherwise build computer models of the atmosphere, of the universe, or the quantum vacuum? We do it, because we do not understand how the basic laws of nature (and initial conditions) work out on massive scales. That means we gain knowledge by such simulations, which simply means that the programmers do not know how their model will develop. If they did, there would be no need to write the simulation.

14 hours ago, Ghideon said:

For free will to emerge, the programmer would have to give up some of the control that is possible to maintain when creating a deterministic program.

So that does not follow.

13 hours ago, joigus said:

No. Here you got me wrong. I think the illusion of free will (please, be aware I have no problem saying "the illusion of temperature" or "the illusion of entropy") is an emergent property.

Hmm... I possibly did not explain it too clearly. An important aspect of philosophy is finding out what implicit presumptions are hidden behind certain views and discourses. To say 'we have no free will', one needs to know what counts as free will, to call it 'genuine free will'. So first you define a concept, clearly (and when possible succinct), and then you look if it applies to the objects where the question is interesting. (The possible free will of a stone, or even a virus... is not interesting.) So my question is, which concept of free will do you use, in order to deny its existence? Say, we have a concept of a unicorn: an animal with one horn. Now we can say unicorns exist! Rhinos! (At least one subspecies of them. Most have two horns.) As soon as we define it as 'a white, horse-like animal, with a beautiful spiral horn on its forehead, and which lies its head on the lap of a virgin', it does not exist.

Now this is what I said:

18 hours ago, Eise said:

Now the reason, I think, you believe I am not a reductionist, lies in your view that 'free will' should exist already at the deepest level.

When you deny 'free will', by saying that the laws of physics do not have room for such a thing, it is obvious that you think that 'genuine free will' must be explained by some 'basic free willicles' on physical level. And as we do not find these, free will does not exist. So our impression we have free will, must be an illusion, and you explain this illusion with emergence. OTOH, I say free will exists, and show this also with emergence. The gist of my traffic jam example is that the congestion moves backwards, that even its physical effects run backwards, but the cars themselves move forwards. But your position with free will is that to have something moving backwards, at the lowest level, cars must move backwards. As nothing is moving backwards, you deny the backwards moving of the congestion, and call the moving backwards an illusion. But the backwards moving has physical impact (alarms go off at the bridges)!

So for me it is clear that you, and @MigL (and @iNow of course) deny the existence of free will, based on the idea that nothing like free will shows up on the fundamental level of the components that make us. And I argue that this is wrong: yes, we are determined, but we can very well distinguish between actions that we do voluntary, and actions to which we are forced. And as many actions of us are voluntary, we obviously have the capacity to act freely, which means we have free will. 

But not the radical libertarian idea of free will, which is an illusion indeed, but the more practical one: that we can act according our wishes and beliefs. But wishes and beliefs only exist at the highest level description of the brain, so only in that context it makes sense to ask oneself if an action was free or not. On the levels below that, the question simply does not apply. 

PS

16 hours ago, MigL said:

No one could possibly ever accuse you of being shallow, Eise.

I was not trying to fish for compliments by showing false humility... What I wanted to express is that you cannot make a single jump from the basis constituents of a computer, or humans, to the functioning of the whole. That would be shallow reductionism. One can recognise the 'shallow reductionist' by remarks of the kind 'we are just X', or even worse, 'we are nothing but X'. My answer to that is always the same:

  • if a computer is just (nothing but) silicon, metal and insulator, then say 'here I put you a heap of silicon, metal and insulator on the desk, can you please calculate how many primes we have below 10⁷?'
  • if a steam train is just iron, coal, and water, then try to travel a few 100 miles with just a heap of iron, coal, and a lot of water
  • if we are just a bag of chemicals and water, then throw these altogether in a container, and let it think out a scientific theory.

It is the structures of the components, and the processes they enable, that make computers, steam trains and humans to what they are, not just their components. 

Edited by Eise

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Aren’t the structures of the components also part of the larger set “components?”

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By your 'model' of free will, it is equally possible for an artificial intelligence to have free will.
Yet that AI, at some basic level, is controlled/constrained by programming that is provided externally.
Does the 'external' programming, then also become part of its free will ?
 

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3 minutes ago, MigL said:

By your 'model' of free will, it is equally possible for an artificial intelligence to have free will.
Yet that AI, at some basic level, is controlled/constrained by programming that is provided externally.
Does the 'external' programming, then also become part of its free will ?
 

That's the point, as far as I can see.

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