Who determines human actions?

A “Many Worlds” interpretation? I like that, but it doesn’t help a lot. It leaves too many questions unanswered. What is the relative density of various worlds? Are the worlds where I go berserk and run naked through the shopping mall only one in one hundred…or one in five? Does “experimental probability” correlate to alternate world density? Too tricky…

I think we have limited free will. It’s obviously limited, because things like losing weight are damned hard. If we had perfect free will, we’d just say, “Okay, eat less, exercise more, problem solved.” But, instead, we set out with every determination – New Year’s resolutions and all – and then that big plate of spaghetti sneaks up behind us and dags us between the shoulder blades.

Hell of a world where a big plate of carbs has as much free will as I do!

There is actually a really interesting property of general relativity in that it is non-probabilistic, but it isn’t strictly deterministic either. To expand, probability plays no fundamental role in general relativity, but initial conditions don’t uniquely determine final conditions unless we specifically say that they do.

For example if you have a region of spacetime which is empty and flat (i.e. free from the influence of all matter/energy and gravitational waves) then a valid solution would be for a wormhole to suddenly appear at some time (though once the wormhole appears the concept of ‘some time’ becomes fundamentally sketchy). The fundamental theory doesn’t assign any sort of probability to such event, it merely says it is a valid solution.

In practice solutions in general relativity that don’t exhibit the property of initial properties determining final properties are usually excluded as being unphysical (dependence on initial conditions is catchily called ‘global hyperbolicity’ in general relativity) . However this turns out to be a very restrictive condition and in fact there are sets of initial conditions for which it is impossible to impose this condition on. Further conditions called energy conditions can be imposed which tend to exclude situations like this, but whilst energy conditions generally seem quite sensible (e.g. no negative energy, no tachyonic energy) they can be too restrictive, especially for quantum fields.

That said there are various attempts in quantum gravity theories to assign spacetime a probabilistic nature.

Btw I tried to vote for determinism, but unfortunately it was predetermined that I would vote for libertarianism.

I’m not going to wade through a Wikipedia page. You’ve made a claim that there exists a hypothetical entity called “will”. I’m asking you to clarify how this entity functions. Is it the product of natural processes? Something supernatural? When you say “will”, what exactly are you talking about?

It seems to me that you’re constructing a circular definition:

“What allows us to make decisions?”


“And what is ‘will’?”

“The thing that allows us to make decisions , of course!”

That’s Glory for you!

I’m not an expert on this stuff, sorry if I misinterpret. What I know about neuroscience, libertarianism is absolutely false. Determinism I think is more true than people would admit. However, although I am not a Protestant Christian, Arminianism (free will in salvatation) seems more appealing than Calvinism.

Ultimately, I believe that fence sitting is not a wishy washy position, and that extreme positions are usually wrong (it’s not nature versus nurture, but how much of each). Therefore, in the absence of an “other” position, compatibilism/“soft” determinism is the most likely.

Whether the universe is deterministic or not, free will strikes me as completely illogical. It’s magic. Even if it existed how could you prove it? I’ve never been convinced by any counter-point to the standard argument. And I never understood compatibilists. They’re determinists by another name. They say things like humans make the only decision they could have, but they’re free to make that decision. What? That’s literally saying free will doesn’t exist, because that’s what most people mean when they talk about it. If that’s free will you may as well say my computer is free to run its programs. Or throw me off a building and say I’m free to follow f = ma.

We think we have free will in our personal lives, but I’ve noticed in stories we seem to prefer characters to operate like clockwork. We don’t mind random events, but we want the characters to operate in an A -> B fashion and not be capricious or make wild leaps of imagination or logic (people will even be annoyed if someone falls in love for the “wrong” reasons, as if love is arrived at through thoughtful consideration). If a plot point hinges on a generally nice character being mean or angry without a clearly stated reason people will cry it’s out of character, the author is hijacking the plot, etc. But that happens in real life all the time. We don’t have ready access to the source of our motivations, personalities, or emotions, let alone those of other people. Maybe this partially explains the old saw about truth being stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense.

I do what I do because I want to do it, but who “I” am is by far the more complicated question. The individual who posts here as AHunter3 is not the only correct and reasonable answer I can give to the question “Who are you?”. Most of the thoughts inside my head are but mildly critiqued by the individual me, and, indeed, most of what we conceptualize as “thinking” actually is done by the species over the course of many individual-human lifetimes, the local individuals merely being the concentrated locus at which that occurs. We are less who we think we are than we are the context in which we live. The distinction between individual person and supposedly causal context is itself highly questionable. But there is volition here, somewhere, and however you tend to formulate your understanding of wherer it exists, the reason for those volitional acts is that “I” opted to do so because I wanted to.

You can design a computer program that also learns not to touch fire more than once. I’m assuming that you don’t ascribe free will to the computer program.

Anyway, my point in the section you quote was not to offer an argument against the existence of free will, so it’s good that you picked up on that.

If I’m going to argue against free will, I’ll say this: You argue that reasoning is what free will is all about, but the process of reasoning is what creates the illusion of free will. We perceive that we have many options and we perceive that we make a choice among those options. From inside our own heads, it looks like we have free will. However, our reasoning and our choices are all part of a pre-determined chain of events. Nothing happens that wasn’t set up through physics, chemistry and history. Barring quantum uncertainty, a sufficiently sophisticated machine could model the entire process and tell you what you’ll “choose.”

“Some sort of choice” works just fine, in my opinion, because causality and determinism does not rule out the possibility of a sentient system to make rational choices based on personal data and personal objectives.

Causality, either as a physical relation or a Kantian category, restricts the freedom of will, but it would be counter-factual to state that if there are restrictions to freedom then there’s no freedom at all. In the real world, freedom exists in degrees: “the degrees of freedom of a system is the number of parameters of the system that may vary independently.”

So, to put it in my own words, your voting for libertarianism has been around since the beginning of the Universe, in the form of information and/or energy/matter. Do I misinterpret your statement?

There isn’t that much to wade through, in my opinion, so here’s how decision-making is defined in Wikipedia:

Decision-making can be regarded as the cognitive process resulting in the selection of a belief and/or a course of action among several alternative possibilities. Every decision-making process produces a final choice that may or may not prompt action.

It seems to be a natural process.
When I say “will”, I mean volition. Here’s how it is defined by the same source:

Volition or will is the cognitive process by which an individual decides on and commits to a particular course of action. It is defined as purposive striving and is one of the primary human psychological functions. Others include affection (affect or feeling), motivation (goals and expectations), and cognition (thinking). Volitional processes can be applied consciously or they can be automatized as habits over time.

I’m using Wikipedia because it is readily accessible, but any treatise of psychology will give comparatively similar definitions.

I respect everyone’s standpoint, but this one I admire.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

I voted Determinist, but there’s room for an “Other” vote there – depending on how much random processes like radioactive decay ultimately influence human decision making.

UY Scuti, I’m not entirely sure what you refer to when you say your beliefs are “Compatibilist,” but then go on to equate “will” with “volition,” which, as a cognitive process, could easily be deterministic. When you refer to the non-deterministic, do you mean randomness?

This must be the strong determinism standpoint. I respect it.

The difference between a body falling off a building and a human that has some control over the environment is that the latter one is in the position to act teleologically. In fact, he has the ability to control both his own body and the environment so that he will cause his own course of actions by his own means in order to achieve his own goal.

Compatibilists do not think a human can extricate himself from the manifold net of causality chains; free will is only a sentient being’s ability to rationally use causality chains to his own advantage. That is why the compatibilist choice in the poll says: “as part of the causal chain, human will causes and determines people’s actions.”

What happens in stories is not the best indicator of how real life works, but let’s consider your reasoning: “we seem to prefer characters to operate like clockwork.” This is wrong, in my opinion. We prefer a realistic character whose actions observe the inner rules of the story setting, stem from the character’s structure and aim at his goals. In this respect, a realistic character and a real person are the same: they’re characterized by teleology.

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice. If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill; I will choose a path that’s clear- I will choose Free Will.

I’m not smart enough to classify the nature of my beliefs other than to say I do not believe in free will. What was the first thought that came to your mind upon waking up this morning? Did you make the deliberate decision before you went to bed that chocolate-covered hippos would be your first thought of the day? No. No one elects what their first thought of the day is going to be. Nor does anyone control the subsequent thoughts after that. Thoughts generate feelings. Feelings motivate behaviors. Thus, feelings and behaviors aren’t under our control either. But because it seems as if they are, we are compelled to believe in crazy stuff like free will.

As I said above, you’ve constructed a circular argument. You’ve invented a thing called “will” that determines human actions. But “will” has no properties other than “the thing that determines humans actions”.

You say that “will” seems to be a natural process. Well then, how is it not deterministic? How does the function of “will” deviate from the natural unfolding of the physical organization of the brain?

“Will” really only makes sense if you are a dualist – if you believe that there is something there besides the physical brain that governs our actions. Unfortunately dualism is a pretty tough argument to make these days. We know a lot more about brain function than Aristotle did, and we haven’t found the slightest hint that there’s a ghost in the machine.

I’ve never referred to non-deterministic, random events. Lets’ see what the poll option says: “Compatibilism: as part of the causal chain, human will causes and determines people’s actions.”

Human decisions and acts are part of the causal chains like any other phenomenon. A compatibilist does not ignore causality - he just can’t accept the idea that a sentient, rational agent has the same causal effect as a bolder of equivalent mass.

To me this seems like a distinction without a difference. I’ve always understood that compatibilists assert that the volition of rational agents is somehow qualitatively different from the causal nature of, e.g., a boulder of equivalent mass. If in fact you do believe that they are the same thing, just distinguished by degree, then we are in agreement, but then it seems that there is no difference between combatibilism and determinism.