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Old 08-07-2019, 01:01 PM
begbert2 is offline
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Idaho
Posts: 13,249
Originally Posted by Max S. View Post
You are either using an unorthodox definition of "decision" or you are using the word "predictable" in two different senses. Laplace's demon doesn't just know you well, it knows every single particle that makes you, and all of their velocities and other properties. The demon can predict exactly how you will behave at every instant in the future. This isn't at all the kind of prediction such as, I like strawberries more than ghost peppers, so I will always pick strawberries. When you say that you have "preferences" and that those preferences influence your decision, and make you predictable, that is totally different than saying a demon can literally predict the future.
Actually it's only different quantitatively. Qualitatively it's exactly the same.

When a human announces that I will choose strawberries, they are making an educated guess about the paths my thought process will take. They say to themselves, "my experience tells me that begbert2 prefers strawberries, so now that he's been given the choice, I speculate that his preference for strawberries will make him pick the strawberries."

The Demon does exactly the same thing, except he's not speculating. He looks into my head, notices that my neurons are pulling up (or going to pull up) information about my preferences, and can with absolute precision determine every other cognitive influence that will influence the decision, and predict how those influences will interact at the mechanical level. This allows him to predict the result - through informed inference and deduction. Which, again, is exactly the same thing the human predictor does, except the Demon has more and more certain information to work with.

Originally Posted by Max S. View Post
It's like you are a character in a fictional movie, and <snip> In this allegory, the movie is fictional, therefore the choices of your character are fictional, too.
I have problem with your allegory.

'Imagine you're blue. In this allegory you're blue, therefore you're really blue.'

Anyway, with that out of the way, let's rewind and review the meat of that paragraph.
Originally Posted by Max S. View Post
It's like you are a character in a fictional movie, and the demon is watching your movie for the fifth time. Sure, your character has a choice... maybe you have a backstory which says you don't like ghost peppers as much as strawberries. But the demon isn't going by your backstory, it is going by the fact that it already knows what you are going to do because it has already seen the film. Your backstory might not even be part of the film. In this allegory, the movie is fictional, therefore the choices of your character are fictional, too.
That's not how Laplace's Demon works. The Demon doesn't actually see into the future; it only extrapolates from the data available in the present. The backstory, so to speak. So, obviously, it's flat-out wrong to say that "the demon isn't going by your backstory, it is going by the fact that it already knows what you are going to do because it has already seen the film". That is, again, completely and flagrantly in opposed to the definition of Laplace's Demon.

Originally Posted by Max S. View Post
Overall, I think you are missing the implications of predeterminism. If the physical state of the universe at the next instant statenext can always be determined by the physical state of the universe now statecurrent, and such a chain of causation extends back ad infinitum, then no matter what "choice" you think you can make now, the universe will always reach statenext=strawberries in the next instant. It may seem that you are given a choice between a ghost peppers and strawberries, but ultimately it is a choice that is pre-determined. It is physically impossible for you to choose ghost peppers tomorrow, or possibly to want to choose ghost peppers. How is that a choice at all?
I understand the implications just fine. I'm just not ignoring the mechanics.

Supposing at time T I'm sitting with two plates in front of me, one with strawberries on it and one with suffering on it. At time T+1 I'm sitting there happily munching on strawberries and ignoring the plate of doom. That's the scenario, and you can describe it by just mentioning those two points and nothing else.

But in actuality, one has to actually get from T to T1 in real time, and during that time processes are happening. Light enters my eyes telling me about the food and mockery-of-food in front of me. Cognitive processes interpret this information to identify the objects in front of me. My memories are accessed, and based on them I can identify strawberries by sight, and the peppers as some kind of pepper maybe. Preferences for known tasty fruit and unknown probably-vegetables are weighed, as well as an assessment of my hunger levels as relayed by my stomach and the absence of observed indication that there will be negative consequences for eating the strawberries (like a price tag). Mental math on these preferences is carried out, concluding with the decision that I should eat the strawberries. This triggers a cascade of other decisions at the conscious and unconscious levels of my mind to manipulate my arm and finger muscles into picking up the strawberries and put them in my mouth, and to manipulate my mouth muscles into chewing and swallowing them in a manner that savors their flavor.

Between time T and T1 many physical processes occur, notably including that "mental math" I mentioned. That "mental math"? That's a choice. That's the process of choosing, of assessing different options, weighing them, and choosing between them.

Now, for some reason you are saying that choices don't matter if the outcome is predictable. This is, of course, false - if my mental math had mechanically resulted in me eating the ghost peppers, I can say with confidence the resulting agony would have mattered to me, what with pain not being my friend. (The knowledge of that being why my mechanics would probably direct me not to eat them.)

And honestly, I don't see why I should be bothered by the fact that the mechanics of my brain and mind and thoughts determine what I'm going to do. Because what's the alternative? Making decisions not based on knowledge and preferences? Randomity taking over and spastically shoving ghost peppers into my mouth against my will? No thanks. I'm perfectly happy to know that who I am determines what I choose to do. The choices I make will be real choices, of course, with real consequences, and the fact that they're controlled by me, the physical matter that makes up my body and brain, is exactly the way I like it.

Originally Posted by Max S. View Post
So what you may wonder? What happens when instead of you "choosing" between ghost peppers and strawberries, it is a mass murderer "choosing" to shoot schoolchildren? I'm not talking about the old environment versus character debate, but the implication is that it is physically predetermined that a certain person would shoot and kill twenty children at Sandy Hook Elementary; that the murderer may have thought he had a choice, but in reality he did not and those children were doomed to gruesome deaths from the day they were born. When we talk about the implications of hard- or causal determinism, these are the sort of things that make people say "it can't be that way".
Of course the murderer had a choice; his brain went through with the process of assessing his situation, options, opinions, feelings, and beliefs, and based on that weird stew of emotion, stimulus, and sociopathy he chose to do something terrible. That he was driven to this end by the course his life took is unfortunate but inevitable, because that's the course his life took. That the poor murdered children found themselves in the position to be killed is also unfortunate, but it's also the natural result of the events leading up to that point in their lives. Events happened, billions of decisions were made, and each decision altered the situation from one moment to the next.

Though I do feel I should mention, that while I think it's self-evident that brains make virtually no use of ghost-pepper-grabbing randomity, it's quite possible that randomity exists in the rest of the world that can butterfly up to have significant effects. I believe that (if randomity exists) brains edit out any effects of randomity via mechanical processes (much like how computers ignore most random voltage perturbations), because I don't think randomity helps reasoned decision-making and I think evolution would have corrected it away. However the rest of reality had no reason to develop in a way to filter out randomity, so there could be random events in our surrounding environment significant enough to alter the course of events. Just, not within anybody's decision-making processes.

In any case, the fact that Sandy Hook was predeterminied (presuming no random events occur) does not by any measure mean that we shouldn't hold criminals responsible for their actions. Sure their choices were ultimately determined by their state and environment, but the bulk of the state that resulted in those decisions was in their head, so removing that head from a position where it can decide to do more crimes will result in a more pleasant experience for everybody else.

Presuming the state in our heads determines that such an action should be taken, anyway.

Originally Posted by monstro View Post
Free will means being able to act freely independent of initial conditions. It does not just mean the ability to act independent of an "entity" or "power".

So no, I don't think free will is the default.

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"Initial conditions"? It sounds like you think "my emotional and mental state this specific instant" is an "initial condition".

It sounds like you want decisions to be made not based on anything about me as a person - my emotions, my preferences, my knowledge, my beliefs, my awareness of my surroundings and situation. All these things are in place predating the decision - so none of them can be used, huh?

Originally Posted by Mijin View Post
begbert2, I agreed with everything you've said in this thread, up to this point.

Because "free will" is actually defined in lots of ways, and is the root of the whole problem.

1. Mostly, people just define it in a very vague way that doesn't really mean anything e.g. "Could have chosen differently"

2. But others define it in a self-contradictory way. e.g. Implying that free will cannot be causally connected to the past, but that random events also don't count. So...a reasoned decision that cannot be based on any reasons (which would link it to the past).

3. Then finally of course you have the baggage of religion. Free will is often used as a defence against the problem of evil; God is not culpable in any way will.
This kind of free will is based on the listener being satisfied enough to not bother to think about what free will is, how decisions are made and how it therefore absolves God of responsibility. Any attempt to do so and it falls apart.

From my point of view it is so frustrating, because it will forever be considered as one of the great problems of philosophy. And yet, the whole problem is down to loose or self-contradictory definitions.
Every coherent definition for free will I have seen, free will either trivially does or does not exist, based on the definition, and there is no debate.
Yeah, pretty much. Though as you can tell from my rambling, there's a fair amount of interesting conversation possible discussing how or why reality does or does not meet the criteria for a given definition.

And I really do like these discussions as a result. Though it is best when people can be at least somewhat on the same definitional page.