Russel, Stathis

I agree that free will and legal responsibility are different. Free will is a subjective concept. It is a feeling that one has about being "master" of one's decisions.  In the terminology used in this list, free will is also a "first person" issue.

Legal responsibility is an objective concept about restricting or punishing members of a society, used to insure that the society is functioning porperly. Legal responsibility is also a third person issue.

Confusion arise because we are mixing first person and third person concepts, that is we assume that other members of our species (third persons) have free will like ourselves (first person). Hence, we deduce that others have free will and therefore they should be masters of their own decisions to do "good and evil" - in relation to society or to conscious deity - and therefore can be guided by a system of rewards and punishments.  This key assumption may be justified on practical ground for the stability of our society and requires the existence of conscious others.

Treating free will as a first person concept, implies that it is also relative to the observer. For example a super being observing our brain as we make decisions, will come to the conclusion that we have no free will. Our choices, as Stathis said, is only the result of causally driven sodium atoms pushing through nerve membranes. Similarly, a programmer who understand his code thoroughly, can believe that his program has no free will. We can also have a super being watching a programmer watching his program....there is no absolute free will.

>From an absolute viewpoint, that is looking at the whole plenitude, there is no quantum free will since any decision involving quantum branching is no decision at all.

>From the relative point of view of a classical superbeing observing a human making a decision generated by a quantum event, the superbeing must deduce that the decision is produced by free will since, being classical, he cannot understand the causality behind the decision.

My point is that free will cannot be absolute. It is really a relative, subjective and first person concept that depends on the state of mind of the observer and the complexity of the observed entity in relation to the observer.


Russell Standish wrote:
Since this topic of legal responsibility regularly comes up in
discussions of free, it needs to be squashed from a great height.

The notion of legal responsibility has nothing whatsoever to do with
free will.

Legal responsibility is used for different purposes, depending on
whether the case is civil or criminal. In civil cases, legal
responsibility who pays cost and damages. In criminal cases, it used
to decide whether an agent should be punished. An agent here may be a
person, or a company, or any other legal entitity that that legal
tradition recognises.

The purpose of punishment is to prevent that occurrence from happening
again. Human society depends on punishment to ensure altruism
(reference to recent work by that Swiss guy here...). If the agent is
a learning system, then applying punishment to the agent can cause the
agent to learn - the stick of carrot & a stick. Alternatively, the
punishment is used to deter others from committing the same crime.

The notion of diminished responsibility is an interesting case. Here,
an agent may be found to be under the influence of another agent, so
one can attribute some of the responsibility to another
agent. However, as the Nuernberg trials showed, this is a very shaky
defence. It cannot be applied to the sources of randomness within your
brain - those sources of randomness are still part of the legal entity
that is you.

Pleading the defence of insanity can really only alter the
punishment. Punishing an insane person to make them learn will
probably not work - different sort of treatment, such as medical
intervention might be appropriate.

Religions have a notion of responsibility rather similar to the legal
one, however theological doctrine seems to have more to say about free
will. However, being essentially atheist, and unlikely to ever meet a
god face to face, this line of argumentation doesn't impress me much.

So I leave it at that - responsibility has nothing whatsoever to do
with free will.


On Sun, Apr 10, 2005 at 03:19:19PM +1000, Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
Norman Samish writes:

The answer to Stat[h]is' question seems straightforward.  Given quantum
indeterminacy, thought processes cannot be predictable.  Therefore, genuine
free will exists.

"...Can someone please explain how I can tell when I am exercising 
free will, as opposed to this pseudo-free variety, which clearly I have no
control over?"

Norman Samish
So if, on a whim, I commit murder, I can present the following argument to 
the judge:

Your Honour, quantum indeterminacy made me do it. If you could have looked 
inside my brain just prior to the moment when I decided to become a 
murderer you would have seen a sodium ion teetering at the edge of a 
protein ion channel embedded in the membrane of a particular neuron. If the 
sodium ion passes through the channel it will raise the voltage across the 
membrane to just past the threshold required to trigger an action 
potential. The neurone will then "fire", setting off a cascade of neuronal 
events which I experience as the decision to kill an innocent stranger - 
which I then proceeded to do. If, on the other hand, that crucial sodium 
ion had not passed through the membrane channel, a different cascade of 
neuronal events would have ensued, causing me to allow the stranger to live.

I cannot deny that it felt like I was exercising my free will when I 
decided to kill, but clearly this must have been a delusion. Firstly, the 
cause of my "decision" was a random event (to the extent where 
non-classical behaviour applies to the sort of biochemical reactions which 
occur in the brain). Secondly, my "decision" had already been determined at 
the point where the behaviour of that initial sodium ion was determined; 
when I experienced myself "deciding" to kill, in a sense my brain had 
already been programmed to do so. Therefore, I don't think it is fair that 
I should be punished!

--Stathis Papaioannou

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