On 22 Nov 2010, at 20:47, Brent Meeker wrote:
On 11/22/2010 8:40 AM, Bruno Marchal wrote:
On 21 Nov 2010, at 19:47, Rex Allen wrote:
On Fri, Nov 19, 2010 at 8:32 AM, Bruno Marchal <marc...@ulb.ac.be>
On 18 Nov 2010, at 07:31, Rex Allen wrote:
As for my definition of free will:
"The ability to make choices that are neither random nor caused."
Obviously there is no such ability, since "random" and "caused"
exhaust the possibilities.
But some people believe in the existence of such an ability
Why? Well...either there's a reason that they do, or there
I agree with you. With your definition of free will, it does not
I think that if you question most people who believe in free will
closely, my definition is what their position boils down to.
But your reasoning does not apply to free will in the sense I
ability to choose among alternatives that *I* cannot predict in
that *from my personal perspective* it is not entirely due to
reason nor do
So that is a good description of the subjective feeling of free
I was not describing the subjective feeling of free will, which is
another matter, and which may accompany or not the experience of
free will. Free-will is the ability to choose among alternatives
that *I* cannot genuinely predict in advance so that reason fails,
and yet it is not random. This is independent of the subjective
feeling of free-will, where I am aware that I know that I don't
know the reason of my act. We can do that even in situation we
believe (wrongly) that we are following reason, and so in absence
of any subjective feeling of free will. Some self-ignorance plays a
role, and we might be ignorant of that self-ignorance.
Suppose you are in a situation in which you make a decision but
don't have the feeling of free will, e.g. some points a gun at you
and says, "You money or your life." You don't feel that you have
free will; you feel coerced. But that has nothing to do with
whether the processes in your brain are deterministic or have some
I agree with the last sentence, but in that situation I still have
free-will, I have probably less freedom. A prisoner, in jail, has the
same amount of free-will than a non prisoner, but it has much less
But if you question most people closely, this isn't what they mean
You have interpret too much quickly what I was describing. Free-
will as I define it is not the subjective feeling of having free-
will. It is really due to the fact that the choice I will make is
not based on reason, nor on randomness from my (real) perspective
Hmmm? The dichotomy Rex presents is "caused" (determined) vs
random; not reasoned vs random.
That is the whole point. Rex uses sometimes "reasoned", sometimes
"caused" as it was the same. That is why I agree with him. With his
notion of free-will, free-will does not exist.
Certainly decisions can be made which are not reasoned, not
consciously weighed, and yet are not random either, e.g when I play
tennis almost none of my actions are reasoned. But based on our
theories of the brain etc, they are caused.
It is indeed closer to the computational irreducibility. It is
related to some particular case of such an irreducibility, and its
existence can be justified from the logic of self-reference or from
some other use of the second recursion theorem of Kleene.
Subjective does not mean inexisting. Free-will is subjective or
better subject-related, but it exists and has observable
consequences, like purposeful murdering, existence of jails, etc.
It is the root of moral consciousness, or conscience.
They mean the ability to make choices that aren't random, but which
also aren't caused.
And this becomes, with the approach I gave: "the ability to make
choices that aren't random, but for which they have to ignore the
cause". And I insist: they might even ignore that they ignore the
cause. They will say "because I want do that" or things like that.
I disagree that many people would accept your definition, because
it would entail (even for religious rationalist believers) that
free-will does not exist, and the debate would be close since a
They have the further belief that since the choices aren't random or
caused, the chooser bears ultimate responsibility for them.
They are right. That is what the materialist eliminativist will
deny, and eventually that is why they will deny any meaning to
notion like "person", free-will, responsibility or even
This further belief doesn't seem to follow from any particular chain
of reasoning. It's just another belief that this kind of person
Because as a person she is conscious and feel a reasonable amount
of sense of responsibility, which is genuine and legitimate from
her first person perspective (and from the perspective of machine
having a similar level of complexity).
Silly, I know.
It is not silly at all. That is why mechanism is not a
reductionism, and eventually "saves" the notion of person. That is
why consciousness, even if matter exists in some fundamental way,
is not an epiphenomenon.
When you say "random or not random", you are applying the third
middle which, although arguably true ontically, is provably wrong
personal points of view. We have p v ~p, but this does not
entail Bp v B~p,
for B used for almost any hypostasis (points of view).
I'd think that ontically is what matters in this particular case?
I don't see why. A murderer remains a murderer independently of the
ontic level, be it particles, waves, fields, or number relations.
We just don't live at the ontic level, we cannot even experience
it, only make third person theories, testable experimentally, not
testable exclusively from a first person perspective. That is why
science per se has no direct practical bearing on moral issues,
even the (theoretical) science of ethics. That is why, also, no
one, nor any group of people, can decide for *you* what is good or
bad for *you*. If they do, it means they have a personal agenda in
which you are considered as an object, not as a subject. Run away,
if you can.
I'm reading Sam Harris' new book "The Moral Landscape" the thesis of
which is that morals and ethics (I like to distinguish them as
private and public values) can be objective in the way that health
is objective and that we should study them scientifically. One of
the objections to this idea is that it implies that someone else
might be able to decide what is "objectively" good and bad for you.
Sort of like Smullyan's fictional machine that could decide what you
believed for you. That sounds wrong on the surface, but on the
other hand most of us have lived long enough to know that we can be
mistaken about what is good or bad for us. So when you say "no one,
nor any group of people, can decide for *you* what is good or bad
for *you*" I take it you are just denying that someone can take
your decision away and yet leave you with the responsibility - not
that some smart person who knows you well couldn't sometimes make a
better decision for you than you would.
Exactly. Parents can still suggest their children to not put the
fingers in the electric plug hole, but you can't make this illegal.
"Ideally good" parents will not forbid to do such a thing, they will
either put a system of protection, or they will convince the children
that it is not in their interest. Prohibition is an ethical error, I
think, but no one can force a country to make prohibition illegal.
Well, actually this would also be self-contradictory. The electors
should be able to make it unconstitutional though.
Why would I care about whether or why I or anyone else *seem* to
free will from their personal points of view?
They do *have* free-will. They genuinely makes decisions which
cannot be attributed to reason or randomness, from their point of
view and from the points of view of any machines having a similar
If you believe that the fact that the action was determinable in
principles by some very powerful computer prevent real free-will,
then you might say that consciousness is also an illusion and you
will be led to eliminativism. A machine will seem to have
consciousness, but will not have genuine consciousness, with such
confusion. There is genuine free-will, because the ignorance of the
machine is real and genuine, independently of the fact that the
machine believes in free-will or not, or seems to have free-will or
not. Such an ignorance cannot be eliminated by adding knowledge to
the machine, without transforming it into a new and different
machine which will still be ignorant about herself at another level.
If you want an analogy, free-will is like the decimal expansion of
PI. It is not random, yet the cause can be deeply hidden, and it
looks like it is random. When you take into account the distinction
between the points of view, it just become false to say that
something is either caused or random. An infinity of intermediate
arise, a bit like there is an infinity of different notion of
randomness in computer science. All the many different universal
machines have a different notion of randomness.
I was aware there a many different notions of randomness, but not
that the number was infinite. Can you briefly explain or point to a
reference. Is the number countable?
Well, I was thinking to the fact that the algorithmic randomness
definition is relative to the choice of a universal machine, as you
surely know. This introduces a different constant for each choice of
such machine. Usually we fix one machine, or we just reason up to that
constant. But concerning universal machine which are different but
similar, and which are interested in their relative ability to make
choice, this can play some role. That makes already a countable
infinite number of randomness. Then you have the relativization of
randomness with respect to the use of an oracle, and this might lead
to the uncountable. This is of course a bit contrived theoretical
examples, to be sure. It is akin to the degree of unsolvability or
uncomputability. My point was that randomness, like infinity, is a
tricky notion. By Chaitin's theorem, assuming mechanism, we cannot
distinguish randomness from much more complex than "us".
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