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NonScientist

Please tell me we have free will

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Okay, so I’m new here. Hi everyone.

So I’m not sure why this is affecting me this severely, but I recently discovered the whole “free will vs. determinism” question, and I’ve realized quickly that I should’ve never been introduced to this idea, because I’m finding it almost impossible to deal with the notion of not having free will. It has sent my mind into this state of extreme shock, agony, and despair that almost seems insurmountable. It’s like my whole world and everything I believed has been flipped on its head. I’m serious in saying that this has sent me into a straight panic and shock. I feel like I’m having this nervous breakdown. It’s an overwhelming feeling.

 I’m trying to keep myself calm and just relax, but this has really messed me up. 

Does anyone here believe in free will? Or can offer any good defenses or arguments for free will? I feel like I need to be reassured that there is free will or else I won’t be able to deal with it. The idea that everything is predetermined, and I’m just robot with no agency or ability to do otherwise is more than my psyche can handle. I’m sort of in this crisis.

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You’ll get different answers depending on who responds. It all comes down to definitions of our words.

We are ruled by chemistry though. It’s always been that way, so nothing really changes from what it was like before you came across this new information. You’re the same as you always have been, just with a new fact in your head. No use worrying. It won’t change anything except your health. 

Encourage you to use the search function on the site. Lots of free will discussions have already occurred. Good ones, too.

It may be helpful for you to read them and they may at least give you a framework to ask good questions to ease your unneeded anxiety. 

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As iNow says, we are all ruled by chemistry.  So, the discussion does indeed depend on how you define the terms.  Traditionally free will has been regarded as the ability of an individual to make its own decisions using its own brain.  This is still the case.  Our decisions may be driven by internal factors rather than rational thought-- but ultimately, our decisions come from within us.  And, since our neural connections are driven by our experiences in addition to genetics, we are all to some degree unique.  Thus, I would argue we have free will.  However, not all would agree with me.

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I think that’s only true if you include the colonies of bacteria in our guts as part of “us,” and I can’t control the pollens I breathe in or the oxygen levels of my cells of my hydration or my fatigue level or my hunger... or any of the great many other things which dictate the thoughts we have and the decisions we make. 

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If I have to tell you, you don't.

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Obviously, I don’t believe that humans have control over everything that our bodies do, or everything that goes through our brains, but I do believe that humans have some form of free will. I’ll just give some of my defenses for free will. You can tell me if they’re coherent...

First, just because they may be able to predict decisions we make before we are consciously aware of them does not mean we don’t make decisions, and does not disprove free will. Besides, I don’t even think those experiments have ever been done with any more than 65% accuracy, which makes them unconvincing.

Also, nobody has shown that consciousness is required to make decisions.

But we also experience the world and existence, don’t we? We are aware of ourselves, and can correct for things, right? We can study, practice, learn, create, etc. We can get better. We can adapt.

But don’t we also experience the world, and learn from our mistakes, then use that information to make more informed decisions in the future? That, to me, is a form of free will. We may not be able to choose differently in any singular situation, but to me that is not the same as saying we don’t have free will. We adapt, we can change our behavior. We can weigh pros and cons, and make choices. 

I think people also confuse ability with will. Just because I lack the ability to do something, does not mean I lack the will to do it.

I also don’t believe that freedom and will are the same thing. I can have the will to do something in a particular instance, but lack the freedom (i.e. I could have the will to walk out the door, but I’m tied to a chair).

That also brings up the point that there are likely times you have more free will than other times. When you’re asleep you might have less free will than when you’re awake. A baby might have less free will than a full grown adult, etc...This seems reasonable if you take into account the fact that you can vary a person’s freedom by chaining them, imprisoning them, or through other means. It only follows that you have more free will at certain times than others.

I also believe that saying we are just robots made of flesh, and that our thoughts are just the product of deterministic natural laws is just too reductionist a view of ourselves as humans. If you’re going to just reduce our thoughts to predetermined neurons firing, you might as well go the whole hog and just say that we humans don’t even exist, for we are just the earth/universe taking on this current form, and that the idea of “humans” isn’t even real. I guess what I’m saying is, how far down do you want to reduce us? It just becomes a useless and frankly degrading and unfulfilling way to view ourselves.

Lastly, I will say that it used to be believed that Newtonian mechanics, and the deterministic laws of the universe were all there was, but then we discovered quantum mechanics, and that showed that the universe is not completely deterministic on every level. I’m not saying this proves free will, but at the very least it shows that we don’t know enough about the brain/mind to conclude that there is no free will. I have to believe that we aren’t just robots, that our choices/futures aren’t predetermined and inevitable, and that we do, on some level, have freedom of will. 

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5 hours ago, NonScientist said:

So I’m not sure why this is affecting me this severely, ...

But I think it is an important question, and I think you really should try to answer this. Many people who say they do not believe in free will live a happy life, without any problem. There are even, also more than enough, people who defend that not believing in free will is a good thing: believing in free will leads to blaming, unjustified punishments, harshness ("Everybody is responsible for his own happiness"), to the heavy kind of free will that Jean-Paul Sartre was defending ('We are doomed to be free'. Yes, there are people who get depressed just by the opposite idea you say you need!). So for me at least there is no necessary connection between what one thinks about free will, and one's happiness, or even having an existential crisis.

5 hours ago, NonScientist said:

I feel like I need to be reassured that there is free will or else I won’t be able to deal with it. The idea that everything is predetermined, and I’m just robot with no agency or ability to do otherwise is more than my psyche can handle.

You are using the word 'pre-determined', which is not the same a 'determined'. I don't know if you are aware of that difference. 'Determined', at least in a naturalistic world view, means that every event follows from the state of the universe just before. 'Pre-determined' has its main usage in certain kinds of religion, especially the mono-theistic ones. God has planned everything, and humans are powerless to change anything. Confusing 'determined' and 'pre-determined' can lead to fatalism. Where we in fact are determined, we tend to see everything as 'pre-determined'. Fatalism is the position that whatever we do,we have no influence. But this is in its extreme a self-refuting position if one supposes determinism. What you decide, and how you act makes a difference per definition. You can doubt on what grounds you decide and act, but not that your actions do make a difference. Fatalism has at most a meaning in the meaning of 'powerless': e.g. I am very hard on the way to become a fatalist about the climate crisis. The powers in people, politicians, companies, etc to continue our present lifestyle are so much stronger than mine (our.. Greta and me...) to want to save the world, that I am close at giving up.

And about being a robot: at least your a conscious robot. And that makes a huge difference. To be conscious means, amongst others, that you are aware of reasons to do something, and act according them. If you can, you are free. If you can't, e.g. because your actions are obstructed by others, you are not free.

 

 

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9 hours ago, MigL said:

If I have to tell you, you don't.

I think you mean "If I have to tell you, I don't"

 

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11 hours ago, iNow said:

I think that’s only true if you include the colonies of bacteria in our guts as part of “us,” and I can’t control the pollens I breathe in or the oxygen levels of my cells of my hydration or my fatigue level or my hunger... or any of the great many other things which dictate the thoughts we have and the decisions we make. 

I would say 'influence' rather than 'dictate'. Dictate suggests this is absolutely controlled, which , of course, it isn't.

Edited by StringJunky
Corrected word

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I can get on board with that. I shouldn't have used the word control. I don't think we have it, but I"m sure someone will remind me of a thermostat now that I've reopened this can of worms. :)

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20 minutes ago, iNow said:

I can get on board with that. I shouldn't have used the word control. I don't think we have it, but I"m sure someone will remind me of a thermostat now that I've reopened this can of worms. :)

Yeah. :D Best to tiptoe. It's all out there in the forum anyway. 

14 hours ago, NonScientist said:

Okay, so I’m new here. Hi everyone.

So I’m not sure why this is affecting me this severely, but I recently discovered the whole “free will vs. determinism” question, and I’ve realized quickly that I should’ve never been introduced to this idea, because I’m finding it almost impossible to deal with the notion of not having free will. It has sent my mind into this state of extreme shock, agony, and despair that almost seems insurmountable. It’s like my whole world and everything I believed has been flipped on its head. I’m serious in saying that this has sent me into a straight panic and shock. I feel like I’m having this nervous breakdown. It’s an overwhelming feeling.

 I’m trying to keep myself calm and just relax, but this has really messed me up. 

Does anyone here believe in free will? Or can offer any good defenses or arguments for free will? I feel like I need to be reassured that there is free will or else I won’t be able to deal with it. The idea that everything is predetermined, and I’m just robot with no agency or ability to do otherwise is more than my psyche can handle. I’m sort of in this crisis.

The study of the underlying nature of what we are and how we function is still very much in its infancy and you will see many different ideas. Because of this lack of definitive evidence either way, and what the existing evidence suggests is still some way off. Because things are this way in this science, I would not invest any emotional resources on some of the conclusions in the current state of our knowledge. Just accept that it is in flux and just be interested in the current versions but non-commital as to whether they are ultimately valid. I suspect the final analysis reveals a mix. It may well be a false dichotomy.

@iNow Is that a pretty neutral assessment?

Edited by StringJunky

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29 minutes ago, StringJunky said:

@iNow Is that a pretty neutral assessment?

Seems fair enough to me, but I'm not the one who grades the hardest on this particular topic. I'm looking at you @Eise  :)

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This is what bothers me, and why I have to basically ignore science for the sake of my own mental health, because the notion that I have no freewill basically, to my mind, invalidates everything about me. It reduces me to nothing. Nothing but atoms, neurons, and particles moving around deterministically. It basically means that everything I am is an illusion, and is not real. My mind cannot handle this conclusion. I have to believe that my thoughts are real, and that my actions and decisions are my freedom to make. This topic is literally driving me crazy, almost to the verge of a mental breakdown. Suddenly, nothing seems real. The problem is, I’ve already been exposed to these concepts. Forgetting them is difficult. 

I hate science because it tells me who I am is an illusion, and replaces a healthy, fulfilled view of myself and of life with something that is hollow and meaningless. Damn you scientists/philosophers!

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You’re drawing some odd conclusions. Even if we’re wet robots controlled by chemically induced electrical currents, you’re still you. You’re the same as you were before having this knowledge. Functionally, not a single thing has changed. 

Your thoughts are as real as they always have been. The person you have always been as still just as valid as it used to be. 

Keep in mind also that disliking or being made uncomfortable will not change the validity or truth of this knowledge. You’re not an ostrich who can just put its head in the sand and pretend things are different. 

You've learned something new. It’s caused you to look at life in a brand new way. That’s a really wonderful thing to have happen. I’d say you’re extremely lucky to feel that, but YMMV. 

Edited by iNow

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Some fungi, microorganisms, parasites take control over mind of higher level organisms turning them to e.g. "zombie ant".

Like for example Ophiocordyceps unilateralis

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

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavior-altering_parasite

 

 

 

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

"In humans, T. gondii is one of the most common parasites in developed countries;[7][8] serological studies estimate that 30–50% of the global population has been exposed to and may be chronically infected with T. gondii,"

"T. gondii has been shown to alter the behavior of infected rodents in ways that increase the rodents' chances of being preyed upon by felids.[11][15][16] Support for this "manipulation hypothesis" stems from studies showing T. gondii-infected rats have a decreased aversion to cat urine."

"A number of studies have suggested that subtle behavioral or personality changes may occur in infected humans,[22] and infection with the parasite has recently been associated with a number of neurological disorders, particularly schizophrenia[16] and bipolar disorder.[23][24] A 2015 study also found cognitive deficits in adults to be associated with joint infection by both T. gondii and Helicobacter pylori in a regression model with controls for race-ethnicity and educational attainment.[25] Although a causal relationship between latent toxoplasmosis with these neurological phenomena has not yet been established,[9][16] preliminary evidence suggests that T. gondii infection may induce some of the same alterations in the human brain as those observed in mice.[26][27]"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasma_gondii#Behavioral_differences_of_infected_hosts

 

Edited by Sensei

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19 hours ago, iNow said:

I don't think we have it, but I"m sure someone will remind me of a thermostat now that I've reopened this can of worms. :)

But not in this thread. This is NonScientist's thread about his existential crisis around the problem of free will. Please continue the discussion in 'our' recent thread.

15 hours ago, NonScientist said:

This is what bothers me, and why I have to basically ignore science for the sake of my own mental health, because the notion that I have no freewill basically, to my mind, invalidates everything about me.

2 Things. In the first place science does not say we have no free will. Only scientists who make methodological unjustified extrapolations, using childish concepts of what free will is, do. In the second place (and iNow could be the most valuable discourse partner here), is that most people who think we have no free will, do not, to say the least, suffer from this belief, and many, much stronger, are positively happy with that. Really, you should explain to me why disbelief in free will necessarily leads to you being in a crisis.

15 hours ago, NonScientist said:

It reduces me to nothing. Nothing but atoms, neurons, and particles moving around deterministically.

Every time somebody uses the 'nothing but' operator (also know as the 'just' operator) you can be sure that he leaves out that what is most important. A steam train is nothing but iron, coal and water. Problem is that a heap of iron and coals, and a lot of water, bring you nowhere. A steam train however does. The essential thing about a steam train is, that it is an object that can transport you. And we can easily see it, e.g. modern electrical trains also can transport you, i.e. the essence lies in the way the object is structured. Same with you: what you are essentially is not your chemical ingredients, but the way they work together. This gives rise to all kind of higher order phenomena: reasons, beliefs, actions, rules, beauty, and last but not least, meaning and free will.

Of course this is not the free will of most religions (with the notorious exception of Buddhism): a soul steering the body, overruling even natural causality. It is also not the free will denied by the kind of scientists mentioned above. Both make the error to think that free will must be based on some (meta)physical objects or attributes. Obviously the same error you make.

Free will is the capability of yours to let your actions be determined by your own motivations. And believe me, even iNow can do that. 

Freedom of the will also is not choosing who you are. You are born and grew up with a biological and personal biography, which made you what you are: i.e. you are determined by these. But on their turn, your actions are determined by you. If you do not like brussels sprouts, that cannot be changed. But standing for a buffet you are free not to take them. 'Freedom of the will' is not freedom from previous causes, but freedom to act according who you are.

15 hours ago, NonScientist said:

It basically means that everything I am is an illusion, and is not real.

As iNow already noted: of course not. 'You' are the higher order processes running in your body, not your body itself. A train standing still brings you nowhere. So do not identify with a non-moving train; do not identify yourself with the substances you are made of.

15 hours ago, NonScientist said:

Damn you scientists/philosophers!

Most philosophers are compatibilists (Wikipedia), so do not blame them! I am a tiny example of such philosophers.

Edited by Eise

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17 hours ago, NonScientist said:

This is what bothers me, and why I have to basically ignore science for the sake of my own mental health, because the notion that I have no freewill basically, to my mind, invalidates everything about me.

why worry, if you have no freewill then theres nothing you can do. If you have freewill, then theres the tyranny of choice.

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36 minutes ago, NonScientist said:

I’m feeling slightly better today.

Glad to hear you are feeling calmer today.

:-)

 

Perhaps you can now review your perspective?

What is Free Will and why do you think it is all or nothing situation?

Are there not degrees or levels of free will?

And do not (have not always) different individuals possessed different levels of it?

How much free will does a drug addict have (about drug taking) ?

How does that compare with when I have a second, third , fourth.... chocolate I know I shouldn't eat?

 

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1 minute ago, NonScientist said:

He’s talking in milliseconds 

thats yesterday, depending on your memory.

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50 minutes ago, NonScientist said:

I’m feeling slightly better today. I found some videos and studies last night that sort of eased my fears of fatalism. I’m also interested in this notion of backwards time referral of conscious experience. Apparently it has been demonstrated in studies more than once.

I am very (I mean very) sceptical of Hameroff's ideas. They seem to be largely based on "consciousness is mysterious. quantum theory is mysterious. therefore they must be related"

However, the idea of "backwards time referral of conscious experience" (haven't seen it described exactly like that before) is definitely real. One of the most well-known examples is the "stopped clock" illusion. When you first look at a clock that has a hand that moves every second (rather than sweeping smoothly) then it will often appear that the hand does not move for a couple of seconds. This is because when your eyes move (which they do very frequently) your brain fills in the gaps to avoid blurs or blank periods in your vision. But it doesn't just keep a "freeze frame" of the last thing you looked at (that would be too easy) it takes the first thing you see when the eyes stop moving and fills in your past experience with that. As a result, you get the period for which your eyes were moving towards the clock filled in with an image of the static clock. 

The brain has to do this sort of thing all the time; creating the illusion that what we are experiencing now is actually happening now. Whereas it actually happened in the past. Worse than that, the various sensations we experience "now" may have all arrived at the brain at different times and the brain has to make you think they all happened at the same time. For example, you pick up a cold drink: your brain gets the visual stimulus of touching the glass a few hundred milliseconds before it gets the sensation of "cold" from your fingers. But as far as you are concerned, the two happen at the same time. And that they are happening "now" rather than half a second ago.

50 minutes ago, NonScientist said:

From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3470100/

Several lines of evidence suggest that real time conscious action is an illusion, that we act non-consciously and have belated, false impressions of conscious causal action. This implies that free will does not exist, that consciousness is epiphenomenal, and that we are, as Huxley (1893/1986) bleakly summarized, “merely helpless spectators.”

While the first sentence is apparently true. He second sentence is a complete non sequitur, as far as I can see.

Just because we are not consciously aware of things that happen or that our brain does at the instant they happen, doesn't imply that free will does not exist.

Even if my brain (i.e. me) does not let me know what is happening in real-time (because that would be a disconnected jumble of sensations which would be impossible to deal with) that doesn't mean that it is not my decision. My "unconscious" mind is still me, just as much as my "conscious" mind.

1 minute ago, Strange said:

my brain (i.e. me) does not let me know what is happening in real-time (because that would be a disconnected jumble of sensations which would be impossible to deal with)

Hmmm.... I wonder (warning: evidence-free speculation ahead) if a failure in the integration of different sensory inputs might be a factor in autism? It could explain the sensitivity to environments with lots of source of sensory stimulation...

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I believe we have conscious free will. I believe that if the lights are on, and you’re conscious, not impaired by a tumor or physically bound or held captive in some way, then you are a free agent. I don’t believe deterministic physics explains the universe. It clearly doesn’t, because we’ve discovered different things since Newton’s laws that tell us it’s not the full picture. For me, determinism is like saying race car drivers are just doing a futile thing because the cars are just deterministic objects doing what they were always determined to do.

Anyway, at some point I’ve got to get off this topic or it’s going to drive me insane. Those two videos last night made me feel better. I went to bed much calmer last night. That was day three of the existential crisis. I’ve been fighting it though. Guess it’s my free will to fight my urges.

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