Does my dog have free will?

It leaves us in the same place, though, because we all have the overpowering illusion of freedom, and so we have to go through the motions. We despise the SS, condemn them, have deep emotional dislike of them, and make war against them, putting the survivors on trial. Even if it’s a puppet show, we are made so that we can’t see the strings.

(Speaking from that p.o.v., which, I hasten to add, is not my own! I think we actually do have volition, and that there is no Newtonian determinism. The future is not determined from previous conditions, but can work out in a number of ways.)

Well, some animals, like wasps and ants, really are pretty damn mechanistic. I believe that computer programs have been written that can wholly emulate all the possible behaviors of individual termites – if not all of those of the whole termite nest.

There seems to be a spectrum, where the faculty of volition develops gradually. An aphid has none, a snake or lizard has a little, a mouse has more, and dogs are nearly as complex as people when it comes to decision-making.

(But, yes, in terms of the divide between those who believe in absolute determinism and those who don’t, if determinism is true, then we are all – aphids and astronauts – possessed of exactly zero volition, and are just acting out roles that were scripted for us at the instant of the origin of the cosmos.)

Free will presupposes sentience, which dogs lack.

The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan, often says that “Dogs live in the moment.” and I agree. This doesn’t mean they have no memory of the past but I believe dogs are interested in or “thinking” about whatever is happening in their immediate here and now. When little or nothing holds their interest they tend to sleep and dream of things we probably will never figure out.

I get the same impression from my dog :slight_smile:

Free will doesn’t mean choices as to play with that ball or that stick so much but to chose to act in a way that you know is morally wrong or right. It is the decision and knowledge that you chose that path, you knew at some level there was that choice.

As such dogs do sometimes do things that they know they are not suppose to do, and sometimes appear to accept beforehand the consequences of such a act, especially if it repeats and is often caught. This is common, especially when the owner is not around (such as a dog is not allowed on the couch, but goes on it when the owner is at work). It is also common for the dog to feel/act guilty when caught in such a act. So I would say yes ‘in that sense’ dogs have free will.

However there is not much morally wrong with the dog going on the couch, it is a preference of the owner, not a moral wrong. One may say disobeadinace is the moral wrong, however disobeying a rule that has no moral basis is not morally wrong. So in order for a dog to have free will it would need to be able to chose a truly evil path that the dog knew was wrong, and would be morally wrong. It would need knowledge of good and evil, not just knowledge of what the owner considered good dog and bad dog. Something like eating the owner’s offsrping because the dog was jealous of the attention the baby was getting knowing that it was wrong, but knowing that after a week in the dog house the dog would once again be the center of attention would do it.

To say that dogs (or humans) are perfectly mechanistic beings governed entirely by instinct and by programmed responses to stimuli is in no way inconsistent with saying that they (or we) have free will. So far as I can tell, both are completely true.

I seem to recall reading about specific studies of volition, where an animal given a choice and scientist watches what happens. I don’t recall the exact details, but this test was bimodal. A creature did or didn’t have volition.

By this measure, dogs have “free will”. Insects don’t. I think some lizard was the simplest animal (in terms of brain structure) they studied that did display volition.

As a practical matter, I think is obvious that dogs make choices to pretty much same extent people do.

(I agree that dogs live in the present, as do children younger than a year or so. But I don’t think that’s closely related the question of free will.)

Dogs lick their balls because Jesus wants them to.

It’s all biochemistry … but does that make love any less?

What does it mean for something to be “backed up by science”?

The observation is repeatable, and people who do repeat it report the same observation.

Einsteinian relativity is “backed up by science” because every observation made since then confirms it – brings in the same observations – for nearly a century.

ESP is not backed up by science because there have been no repeatable confirming observations.

Free will is an idea from religion. This means it’s not supported by observable evidence and is most likely bullshit.

The most likely truth is that the actions your dog takes are no more a result of “free will” than a falling rock. It’s just pure physics all the way down. Your dog is just more complex in that it has a very complex brain and thus his actions don’t appear as predictable to you as a falling rock does.

Are you fucking kidding me? Dogs are extremely sentient and intelligent animals.

Fully agree, and QFT.

Whether humans have “free will” or not becomes a philosophical question that is really orthogonal to the question about the physical determinism of the brain. There was once (and among a few, still is) great doubt that the physiological manifestation of the brain could possibly be all there is to “mind” and to all our thoughts, dreams, and emotions, but indeed it is. It seems that the brain is merely a very complex system with chaotic elements that is fully deterministic but not, in any realistic sense, fully predictable. So the question of “free will” becomes entirely a metaphysical discussion, and whatever conclusions we want to propose for humans would also apply to dogs. When my dog is playing in the yard and then decides to come to the door and bark to come in, or, alternatively, refuses to come in when I call him and bounds further away and hides because he’s just having too much fun amongst the snowbanks, don’t tell me that this isn’t an expression of free will! He’s not only got free will, he’s downright strong-willed and dominant!

Sez you. But science originated with philosophy. Without the goals and precepts of philosophy we would have no science, and it still is valuable and complementary to science today – and in the broadest sense of meaning, science is merely a branch of historical philosophy. Even today the highest level of scientific learning is recognized by the title of Doctor of Philosophy. The disparagement of philosophy is the kind of short-sighted thinking popularized by the likes of Lawrence Krauss, and it can lead to directionless, thoughtless, uninspired science that doesn’t serve humanity well.

Scuti, I agree with your other comments about philosophy, but that allegation of pseudo-fact is just completely wrong. Dogs are most certainly self-aware, conscious, and capable of planning and anticipation to satisfy their desires or consciously adapt to circumstances. My dog could get excited about going for a walk, but understand the meaning of “after”, understood what it meant to “go to the cottage” – which meant to him that he may as well settle in the back of the van for a nice long sleep. When a visitor to the house tricked him into going out on the deck and then locked the door to keep him out of the house for a while, it was a trick that only worked once, never again. In fact the next time she tried it he almost locked her out! That dog had more sentience than a few people I know.

What dogs lack – to their everlasting credit – is the curse of worrying about long-term eventualities. Their ability to fully enjoy the moment unsullied by thoughts of its fleetingness and worries about the tribulations of things yet to come is truly inspirational. Some people can do that, too, but most of us cannot. It has absolutely nothing to do with sentience. It’s a particularly liberating outlook on life.

How do you address the problem of induction?

What do you mean by the problem of induction?

If you perform several trials/samples and almost all are sufficiently similar, then you can have high confidence that the results are repeatable.

Does your subconscious ever solve a problem for you? If it does (and mine does all the time) what were you thinking as it did? You don’t know since you can’t directly observe that part of your brain thinking. Dogs are all subconscious.

I had a border collie mix who was a genius. (I’ve had dogs who weren’t). We trained him to sit at corners before crossing. He abstracted that to sit in the middle of the block to inform us he wanted to cross there. He liked to go to a park behind an elementary school several blocks away, and would try to pull us to every street that led there, including streets he had never been walked on.
I’m definitely of the if I have free will, he does school.
Guide dogs get trained to be disobedient when the blind person asks it to lead them across the street if traffic is coming. Is that free will? I’d say so, since it works for all kinds of situations, ones which would be hard to program into a computer.

That’s why dogs bury bones, huh?

Thank you! Good answer. I, too, don’t see induction as a “problem.” Yes, it can produce wrong answers – the human mind is terribly susceptible to the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy, and to other perception biases – and there is also always the risk that, by the workings of immensely unlikely coincidences, the whole series of trials gave a wrong answer. An ESP test, using dice, might produce a false positive when the subject rolls snake-eyes eight times in a row. Weird things do happen.

But that’s why, as you note, we use the phrase “high confidence” rather than “we know for certain.”

I think that “illusion of free will” usually refers to situation #1. You feel like you have free will, but you are really acting deterministally. There is literature in neurobiology which supports this notion, suggesting, for example, that your speach issues as or even before you “think up” what you are saying. I view it as our conscious mind is “driving the car” (choosing the overall thrust of the sentence) while our unconscious mind handles all the little details of operating the vehicle (choosing and linking up most of the words in the sentence). That is IF we really think or have free will at all. Maybe the mind is an epiphenomenon. While I think this may well be true, I choose(?) not to believe this, because I don’t know what possible good it does me to disbelieve my own free will.

Regarding situation #2, where your choice is restricted, I think that’s more a question of political science or economics. You know that your choice is restricted, 'cuz they didn’t offer Fruit Loops. Although it reminds me of a philosophical question posed in a friend’s college philosophy course back in college, also regarding free will, paraphrased below.

"You decide to spend a day watching “Game of Thrones- season 1” in your cool man-cave. While you are so engaged, I lock you in, so that I may undertake some nefarious plan without your knowledge or interruption (maybe stealing your stuff, maybe planting a bomb in your car, maybe stting up a surprise birthday party). After completing my task, I unlock the door. At no time while the door was locked did you have any inclination to leave the room (the show was just that good!- maybe someone was showing some skin). **So- while the door was locked, were you in your man-cave of your own free will, or not? **

Lastly, I personally believe that we have less free will than we think, and that animals have more free will than many think. But cats and dogs probably aren’t doing a lot of deep thinking, even though we may project that upon them.

Your question reminds me of the Zen koan about Bhudda nature and dogs. (The answer- yes and no). It seems essentially the same question.