Welcome to the list.
On Tue, Sep 27, 2011 at 12:35 AM, nihil0 <jonathan.wol...@gmail.com> wrote:
> It's a little late for this post since I've already posted 2 or 3
> things, but I figured I might as well introduce myself.
Its never too late ;-)
> I'm majoring at philosophy at the University of Michigan, however I'm
> studying abroad for a trimester at Oxford. I turn 21 on Oct. 4.
I'm not sure if you were looking for people's input regarding these
questions below or not, but I thought I would offer my take.
> The main questions I've been researching are the following:
> 1. What kind of free will is worth wanting, and do we have it, despite
> the deterministic evolution of the Schrodinger Equation?
The opposite of determinism is indeterminism (randomness) meaning the
outcome is not determined by anything as far as we can tell. Let me explain
the story of two artificial intelligences, and you tell me which one you
believe to have a more free (less restricted) will:
Robot A is programmed to have a certain personality, one in which it takes
risks to aquire new experiences. It evaluates two competing needs before
making a decision, the need to get out of the house and experience novel
things (such as skiing, riding a bike, jumping out of a plane, etc.) vs. the
need to stay alive to such that it can continue to have new experiences.
It's will function evaluates these competing goals, taking into account
every factor its algorithms can to make the best decision for itself. The
outcome of these algorithms determine what it will do.
Robot B is similarly programmed, to have more or less the same personality,
but it's risk taking function is a lot simpler. When it decides whether or
not to execute a certain plan, it takes the previous closing price of the
S&P 500 index, multiplies it by the number of nanoseconds since 1970, then
divides by 1,000 and takes the remainder. If the remainder is less than 853
it takes the risk, otherwise it does not. What the robot decides do is the
robot's own decision, and it obviously favors risk, but the only real input
the robot's own algorithms is the risk factor 853 times out of 1,000 it
takes the risk. It has no control over the other two inputs which
ultimately make the determination as to what it does.
One thing is clear from looking at these two robots. The behavior of robot
A can be much more nuanced, intelligent, adaptive, etc. It's personality
and will are all to itself. Just because we cannot predict what robot B
will do in advance does not make its will more free. I will repeat what
another on this list asked a while ago, when we say "free will", "free from
what?". Robot A's will is self-determined, and the only way to determine it
in advance is to implement all the algorithms and decision making functions
that constitute it and evaluate them. In a sense, we are re-implementing,
or duplicating its will in order to see what it decides, rather than
As to your question of what kind of free will is worth having, I will ask
you, in what additional ways can Robot A's will be made free?
> 2. Recent cosmological evidence indicates that our universe is
> infinitely big, and everything that is physically possible happens an
> infinite number of times. Does this imply that I can't make a
> difference to the total (or per capita) amount of well-being in the
> world? I used to be a utilitarian until I read Nick Bostrom's paper
> "The Infinitarian Challenge to Aggretive Ethics."
What Bostom's paper does not seem consider (I only looked at the abstract)
is that if the universe is infinitely big, you also exist an infinite number
of times and places, (as does everyone else) so I would ignore his paper's
conclusion that no one can make any meaningful changes in the amount of good
or bad. Even if you say "everything happens", we can change the relative
measure, or the frequency of the things that happen by virtue of the type of
people we are.
Has anyone ever helped you and have you been glad for it? I think a single
affirmative answer to this question disproves Bostrom's conclusion, which is
based on some tricks we can mathematically play with infinity. You can use
these same tricks to prove there are as many numbers that end in 0 as there
are numbers, but would you rather have something happen to you on every Nth
day of your life, or only every Nth day that was evenly divisible by 10?
After living an infinite number of days, an infinite number of bad things
will have happened to you, sure, but in which of those lives will you have
> 3. Can only mathematical truths be known for certain?
We cannot even know mathematical truths for certain. Can you trust 100%
your math teacher, your reasoning, your eyes, when following a proof, or
that of someone else? Perhaps we can be .99999 certain of some
mathematicians reasoning, and the fact that no one else has yet caught an
error, and we are not currently delusional, but there is still an
> Can you know
> something without knowing it for certain?
This is a question for the writers of dictionaries.
> 4. Do the laws of physics determine (i.e., enforce) events, or do they
> merely describe patterns and regularities that we have observed?
The assumption of most physicists is that they are studying the laws that
determine events. We measure them once and they describe what we have
observed, but then the same law seems to be in effect again the next time we
look. We don't see the laws change so it is a reasonable leap to say the
laws describe how the object (physical world) in which we are embedded
That said, if our consciousness is embedded within an infinite number of
physical worlds (not just different locations within the same world) then
the question becomes a little more complex. There is no single definite set
of laws, and the more closely we look each time, the more we are helping to
determine the laws for ourselves. This idea was proposed by Wheeler:
> I would be grateful if anyone could shed some light on any of these
> questions. I'm very impressed with what I've read so far from people.
Ahh good, so you were looking for input. :-)
> Glad to be here,
Thanks, glad you are joining us.
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