Do people have Free Will?

Do people have free will?

I looked through the archives and found a few threads with OPs that argued free will was a good argument against the Divine Weasle God – i.e. free will contradicts the idea that there can be a God who is omniscient and/or omnipotent.

But, from the other side, if there is no God and people have no souls, then aren’t we essentially just a machine? A bag of chemicals that takes certain inputs which result in certain outputs? So how is it possible for such a system to have free will?

I’ll admit that as a system the chemical processes which make us seem as if we are conscious beings are complex, but there is nothing inherent in that complexity which causes the system to be “free” any more than a mandelbrot equation with certain parameters won’t always give the same output.

And yet, I think I have free will and I think others do also. Am I wrong?

Being big into philosophy I fell in love with this thread, even if I am just replying.
In a word? No. In so far as science has shown, OR religion has shown, there can be no Free Will. Determinism rules. The thing is, of course, you can only say something like that. Without being able to predict the future you can never prove it. Because you cannot predict the future you can say you have “chose” to do any and every thing you’ve done of your own Free Will.
In other words, free will both does and doesn’t exist. Don’t make me get quantum about it.

Joel, this is one of those perennial issues that never gets resolved because the resource data needed to essay an answer to the question depends so much on your worldview, which varies from person to person.

I always respond that:

Tell that to the non-linear dynamics (chaos theory) and quantum mechanics (uncertainty principle, etc.) scientists. Based on these fuzzy aspects of the universe, I like to believe there is free will. Plus, I don’t feel pre-determined. :smiley:

That’s great! Polycarp, is that your own quotation? Can I use it sometimes?

It’s original, and you’re more than welcome to use it.

The one time I’ve ever been quoted in a .sig was for a throwaway line:

Though I shouldn’t complain – how many people have been featured in a moderator’s sig line?

Well, if you define yourself as these chemicals and proteins in your body and mind, then yes, you do have free will. If you feel you are a slave to your mind, you are thus out of your mind and have no free will. If you learn to accept that these chemicals and proteins are who you are, you will learn how much “free will” you really have?

I don’t know, but the video rental store has Free Willy.

:ducks and runs:

I did a little searching on this at my favorite search engine and found an interesting link on the difference between free will, determinism, and predeterminism (also called hard determinism or fatalism).

According to the author of the linked article, it is difficult to prove or disprove fatalism (because those who believe in is will merely say you were predetermined to argue against it if you disagree, or something like that).

The main gist that I get is that we are all to some extent determined within the confines of our mental and physical abilities.

I also believe that we are shaped by events as they happen to us, and our caregivers (or lack thereof) shape the way in which we will responde to future events. I think it was Locke who came up with the idea of the Tabula Rasa, or blank slate, upon which the world makes its mark. But I also believe there are genetic elements too.

So do I believe we have free will? Yes and no. We are free to make our own choices, but those choices are shaped by our heredity and personal past history.

every debate need a bit of levity, and in this case a whale of a lot.


Tell that to the non-linear dynamics (chaos theory) and quantum mechanics (uncertainty principle, etc.) scientists. Based on these fuzzy aspects of the universe, I like to believe there is free will. Plus, I don’t feel pre-determined. :smiley: **

Didn’t I say don’t make me get quantum about it?
While I had a feeling that UP would let me take a quantum leap past determinism right into free will, I have found that this is not the case. The uncertianty principle only says that the position and velocity of any wavicle can not be precisely known (or does not precisely exist, I guess). This means, if free will exists it exists in that uncertianty. However!–you might note the other lovely aspect of quantum relations, namely, how particle pairs exhibit complimentary quantities. Change the polarization of a photon and its anti photon matches the exact oppsite polarity. From this follows:
At least one photon/antiphoton pair exists.
Anything that changes one, changes the other.
This particle is fated to behave in a certian way given a specific event.
Anything the photon interacts with, the anti-photon also interacts with.
Anything interacting with a fated photon is itself, at least PARTIALLY, fated.
All particles interact with all other particles.
Light itself is a particle.
Everything is fated.

The reason you don’t feel predestined is because you can’t read the future.
Consider it this way: Given a certian situation, would you always act the same if you had no foreknowledge of the consequences? This would be called “personality”. And yet it is a perfect example of what I am saying; namely, we are all predetermined to do whatever it is we do but because we cannot foretell the future we don’t know it. To call personality, a completely deterministic thing, evidence of free will is an assault on the very foundations of logic. Not that more people won’t try following this…

We may be just a chemical machine, but not necessarily a deterministic chemical machine. As Phobos said, non-linear dynamics and quantum uncertainty make determinism improbable (impossible?) for as complex a system as a human being. That is to say, if you could make an exact copy of a person, down to the atom, and keep them both in perfect isolation, the two would still end up in different states as time passed. Does that mean we have free will? Beats me.

That’s just physics, which doesn’t address consciousness. Until you know what consciousness is, I think the question is unanswerable. (Although I’ll assume free will for now. Fate is boring.)

I don’t know if people have free will.
However, either their actions and thoughts have causes, or those actions and thoughts are arbitrary.
I think I prefer the former.

Spiny starts hitting aynrandlover repeatedly & hard, all the while explaining that this is a predetermined action and he’s not free to stop doing so.

OK, so this argument doesn’t work on-line (or when discussing free will with martial arts instructors), but none the less: I’ll admit to not following your proof. For one thing, I don’t understand why you have to introduce the paired particle - couldn’t you make the same argument by treating the particle pair as an entity ?

Anyway, this quote:

  • is very interesting. AFAIK, very little is known about how the hardware of the brain manages to become a decision-making personality. Do you have a cite for this being based on quantum physics ?

S. Norman

This is an interesting idea, but the initial assumptions about the non-local nature of quantum mechanics are stated incorrectly:

Two particles can be in a coupled state. For example, if an atom decays from a zero angular momentum state to another zero angular momentum state and emits two photons, conservation demands that the total angular momentum of the photons is also zero. Each particle is in a superposition of possible angular momentum states, but the total wavefunction of the two particles must correspond to zero angular momentum. The coupling is non-local – the photons can head off in opposite directions at the speed of light. If you perform a measurement on one of the photons, it will collapse into a single angular momentum state (with some probability). But because the wavefunctions are coupled, this measurement will collapse both particles simultaneously.

Then they are finished with each other – they are no longer coupled, and each particle will go about its business. It’s a one-shot deal. Even more importantly, it’s not really interaction, per se. Each particle had some probability of being in a particular state, and ends up in that state accordingly. The interesting thing is that you can collapse a wavefunction at a distance. Non-local theories are very non-intuitive.

Why wouldn’t it be deterministic? Like I said in the OP, a mandelbrot is essentially a non-linear equation yet under the same conditions you always get the same output. Just because the result is non-linear doesn’t mean it isn’t repeatable and consistant.
If there is some sort of quantum mechanics involved, how does that give us any free will? Are you proposing there is something in us that gives us free will that we can arbitrate quantum mechanical results?

Sorry, I was pretty vague in my first post. I think one can make a good argument for the human brain being chaotic, that is highly sensitive to initial conditions. You start an atom or neuron in a slightly different starting point, and you get a different result. If this sensitivity is on a quantum length scale, then uncertainty forbids you from being able to start the atom in the same place each time, and so determinism is out the window.

As for the Mandelbrot set, I think a system can be predictable and yet non-deterministic. By this I mean that you can know the overall statistical behavior if you look at a billion paths (e.g. a fractal pattern), but you can’t predict a single path from an initial starting point if there’s any uncertainty at all in the starting position.

Oh, I can’t make any sort of argument proving free will. I’m just saying that quantum mechanics makes determinism a lot more slippery.

For the record, determinism as I’m referring to it is not the same thing as fate. It means being able to predict what path a system will follow, if one has sufficient information about its current state. No determinism doesn’t mean there is more than one possible path, it just means you can’t know the path in advance.

Once one thing has been fated to have happened, all things are fated to have happened. Note I did not state that every pair is coupled forever, they need only be coupled once. Also, you only state that a measured property collapses the uncertainty. Who measured anything?

Consider a different view, namely that, say, I was predestined to do only one thing, to write the word “the” in quotes in this sentence. To say I have free will up to that point is absurd, else I could avoid the situation entirely. To say I have free will after that point is just as moot, because I absolutely started from a certian point that was not my choice. This dashes free will, if not absolutely, then at least allows for a weak-determinism.

What brings strong determinism into the fray is the law of gravity which, so far as has been proposed, affects all things from any distance. To have a single moment in time fated for one thing–be that thing a person, particle, or what-not–is to have all things be fated for that instant.

What I think you are not allowing for is the potentially infinte number of particle/antiparticle pairs that are created by our beloved HUP out of the vaccuum of space, originally proposed to not be as empty as we thought by Dirac. This means that in our universe there is a non-renormalizeable amount of particle/antiparticle pairs created everywhere. Each of these can be, as I’ve shown, considered to be fated. To have a potentially infinite amount of fated “things” existing at the smallest amount of time allowed by the HUP is to have, on a macro level, a complete lack of free will.

Sure, we can treat any particle pair as a single entity, but that does not remove the fact that this entity will absolutely behave in one way given a specific event. As far as the brain’s decision-making works, no, to my knowledge there is no research into whether quantum effects are utilized as such by the brain. I do not see how such an experiment could even be done. But look at it this way: if there is cause and effect, and the brain operates in an electrochemical manner, then thoughts are predetermined by some initial state. The consciousness, being self-reflecting, collapses its own uncertianty constantly. In light of this, I think I have to remove my statement that if free will exists it exists in that uncertianty.

I’m sorry, did you find a way to reproduce exact circumstances that all of science wasn’t aware of? To “restart” something, you would need to travel back in time to that exact moment to re-perform the expiriment. Even then, though, things would be different because YOU would be different, so still not the same experiment. Unless you can exist independantly of the universe then no experiment is repeatable.

I don’t know of any such experiment either, but Roger Penrose has put forth a theory about how the brain works based on quantum affects. I believe it is discussed in his book The Emperor’s New Mind. Most people in the field of Neuroscience think his theories are a load of hooey.

Wow, someone should have told Hamlet that.

As for myself, I don’t recall ever being conscious of the quantum state of anything.