A Provisional Definition of Non-Compatibilist Free Will

 
Shane Optima
 
Avatar
 
 
Shane Optima
Total Posts:  99
Joined  13-01-2016
 
 
 
01 June 2016 09:57
 

I tried to get through Dennet’s response to Harris a while back but it was too tedious and irksome. I was particularly hung up on the idea that free will as defined in a non-compatibilist manner was incoherent. Off the top of my head, here are a few potential criteria that might indicate one is in the presence of something that might qualify as free will:

1. A decision making process that is neither deterministic nor random.

“Aha! Just because a sentence is written in grammatically correct English doesn’t mean that it isn’t gibberish”, says the smug compatibilist philosopher.  Of course, we use sentences like this all the time elsewhere in perfectly respectable thought experiments: “What if we could see ultraviolet; what would it look like?” Well, it would look like a color that was neither red nor orange nor yellow nor green nor blue nor violet. (Notice for would-be pedants: Indigo isn’t a color; it’s Judeo-Christian propaganda.)

Similar statements of apparent absurdity sometimes even find their place within hard-scientific theories: “hey, what if it’s both a particle and a wave?”

2. An evolving phenomenon not governed by a chain of cause and effect. 

Response to objections: See above.

3. An information processing and decision making process that is infinitely and arbitrarily introspectable and self-modifiable.

I’m particularly happy about this one because unlike the first two it seems like this might be sufficient to grant free will as defined by people who aren’t compatibilist philosophers. 

Infinity, of course, has found wide acceptance in all the sciences, including in the science of information processing when certain idealized versions of the Turing machine are sometimes used. In this case, I am referring to the ability to fully comprehend every ramification of every algorithm used along with every implication of every bit of input. 

Of course, this is not merely impractical from a hardware or heat death of the universe perspective but it may also violate some of Turing’s (and maybe Godel’s) theorems… but this doesn’t invalidate thought experiments based on the idea of unlimited introspection any more than it invalidates “oracle machines” being seriously spoken of in theoretical computer science.

There is unfortunately no good reason to assume that free will exists, but there is good reason to assume that compatibilists are engaging in sophistry.


Shane

[ Edited: 01 June 2016 11:13 by Shane Optima]
 
Poldano
 
Avatar
 
 
Poldano
Total Posts:  3288
Joined  26-01-2010
 
 
 
02 June 2016 00:40
 

Re compatibilism, neither free will nor complete (hard) determinism are supported by evidence, but only by their own respective axioms. Free will constrained by finite decision spaces influenced (i.e., partially determined) by experience, indoctrination, and reasoning is not at all incompatible with a degree of determinism sufficient to provide a substrate for biological evolution, learning, etc. Understanding the degrees of freedom available to individual choice and individual learning (i.e., self-modification of one’s own decision-making processes) is no longer an axiomatic philosophical problem, but a scientific problem with the undeniable evidence that learning does actually occur.

By the way, I don’t really care about the names the dead horses use to flog each other with.

 
 
GAD
 
Avatar
 
 
GAD
Total Posts:  16549
Joined  15-02-2008
 
 
 
02 June 2016 01:15
 

We can see that what appears random at the quantum level becomes a probability that hardens into the chain of cause and effect that we can’t escape at macro level. So for freewill to have an effect it would have to happen between quantum randomness and probability, is random and probability freewill?

 
 
Shane Optima
 
Avatar
 
 
Shane Optima
Total Posts:  99
Joined  13-01-2016
 
 
 
02 June 2016 02:18
 
GAD - 02 June 2016 01:15 AM

We can see that what appears random at the quantum level becomes a probability that hardens into the chain of cause and effect that we can’t escape at macro level. So for freewill to have an effect it would have to happen between quantum randomness and probability, is random and probability freewill?

1. Randomness didn’t exist as an actual supposed physical phenomena until quantum mechanics came along. For that reason (and because QM doesn’t play nicely with GR) we should be skeptical that randomness is or ever was anything more than a crude hack representing either an incomplete physical model and/or our inability to measure all of the variables involved (Bell’s Theorem notwithstanding) in a process to make a deterministic prediction. I do not deny that statistics is a very robust science (much more reliable and powerful than your average cynic will admit) , but once again I think I will have to side with H. L. Mencken re: physics and mathematics, at least in principle.

In other words, the appearance of apparent randomness should be a clue that we don’t know actually know what the hell is going on.

2.  The random-to-deterministic “hardening”, as you say, is very badly described by most white paper / pop sci type sources and I don’t have the maths necessary to understand what’s going on under the hood. But it does seem clear that phenomena like non-discreteness and non-locality are usually being conflated with non-determinism.

3. None of this has anything to do with compatibilism. Which is fine, but I’m just sayin’.

[ Edited: 02 June 2016 02:30 by Shane Optima]
 
GAD
 
Avatar
 
 
GAD
Total Posts:  16549
Joined  15-02-2008
 
 
 
02 June 2016 08:43
 
Shane Optima - 02 June 2016 02:18 AM
GAD - 02 June 2016 01:15 AM

We can see that what appears random at the quantum level becomes a probability that hardens into the chain of cause and effect that we can’t escape at macro level. So for freewill to have an effect it would have to happen between quantum randomness and probability, is random and probability freewill?

In other words, the appearance of apparent randomness should be a clue that we don’t know actually know what the hell is going on.

Indeed, I have argued many times here that there is likely another level of determinism that underlies this. Nevertheless any argument of freewill holds without knowledge of that. And yes, this applies to compatibilism, if freewill is compatible with a deterministic universe at the macro level then it can only lay between randomness and probability. Is that freewill? Is that the freewill Dennent speaks of?

 
 
Shane Optima
 
Avatar
 
 
Shane Optima
Total Posts:  99
Joined  13-01-2016
 
 
 
02 June 2016 12:21
 
GAD - 02 June 2016 08:43 AM

if freewill is compatible with a deterministic universe at the macro level then it can only lay between randomness and probability. Is that freewill? Is that the freewill Dennent speaks of?

I’m not comfortable with a “between”; I prefer a simple exclusionary statement like point #1 in my first post.  Free will refers to something that could be neither deterministic nor random.  It may be tempting to view QM spookiness and the sudden reliance on non-determinism as hopeful evidence for such a free will enabling process working behind the scenes (although mere randomness alone would not be such a process), but this is extremely speculative at best, it feels like wishful thinking and in this area one is constantly in danger of being taken in by (or lending weight to) quantum mysticism bullshit. 

For this reason, and because as I age I am more and more struck by how human behavior is more easily explainable without any supposition of free will, I haven’t read as much in this area as I could have.  Roger Penrose might be the best place to start from the QM side of things and the philosopher Searle has some interesting things to say about the supposed failures of the information processing model of consciousness. Neither one has found widespread acceptance among scientists, but from what little I’ve seen their arguments (and the rebuttals against them) merit examination.

As for Dennett and the rest of the compatibilists, I still don’t think they fit here. Compatibilism is a semantic shell game.  Compatibilism is sophistry; it’s saying beautiful nonsense because the truth is too unpalatable for them. It’s a non-sequitur that hand-waves away the idea of real free will—which probably doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t mean it’s “incoherent” to talk about any more than it’s incoherent to talk about a hypothetical species of polka-dotted swan.  Dennett simply changes the topic from whether people are able to fully understand and control their thoughts and behavior to whether or not someone is “free” in the sense that they aren’t in a literal prison or being faced with other strictly external resistance.  Compatibilism doesn’t need quantum weirdness. The entire point of compatibilism is “There is no mystery!  Yes we are deterministic machines but as long as someone hasn’t put handcuffs on you, you are free to catch a baseball!”

Which is laughable and childish. Hence, this thread.  Admittedly, I have not yet read much of what Dennett or other compatibilists have written on this topic because it is so badly conceived and presented with such an unwarranted smugness.  But I haven’t read the Bible cover to cover, either.

[ Edited: 02 June 2016 12:53 by Shane Optima]
 
Poldano
 
Avatar
 
 
Poldano
Total Posts:  3288
Joined  26-01-2010
 
 
 
02 June 2016 23:31
 

We have a notion of complete determinability, but it is a useful assumption, a rule of thumb, rather than a demonstrable fact. Statistical determinism (law of large numbers, etc.) is sufficient reason for laws of aggregate phenomena, but tend not to be as useful when looking at the behavior of individuals that make up the aggregates.

We also have a notion of free will that applies to individuals. With or without free will, some attributes of aggregates will tend toward a mean, and those attributes will be exactly the attributes that are used to describe aggregates.

Traditional free will (i.e., the religious sense) is prescriptive and punitive. It is seldom mentioned without a reference to how an individual ought to act or why retribution for some individual actions is appropriate. Ironically, the traditional sense leaves out any mention of deterministic causality, but requires a very high degree of deterministic causality in order to be true. Specifically, the mental act of wishing to do right needs to lead to a physical act that is right for every physical act. We know enough about the psychology of human intentionality to realize that this chain of efficient causation from wish to act is subject to error from a number of sources, most of them circumstantial and environmental rather than failures at the physical level where efficient causality is at its most deterministic.

These are just comments. I have no resolution to offer right now. I think the only way the problem can be resolved is by reframing it in the kind of way that my comments suggest. More succinctly, most positions around this problem are incorrect, and it seems the incorrectness is continually compounded because talking and writing about it along the traditional lines is a fairly easy way to make a living by bloviating.

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
Avatar
 
 
Brick Bungalow
Total Posts:  4842
Joined  28-05-2009
 
 
 
08 June 2016 23:49
 

I can provisionally accept determinism as an aspect of total theology because I think a plausible narrative supports it… not because it corresponds to some explanatory model or preponderance of evidence. I think issues like this lie at the periphery of human learning. Analogies with infinity are probably quite apt here.

I don’t discount free will as a concept. I simply have no map for it. I have not heard of any conceptual structure that would make the idea intelligible. Until that happens I can’t really give it a fair shake.

I agree that these ideas rest upon axioms. I’m comfortable with working assumptions that are functional, non contradictory and not presented as something else.

The best I can do with free will is to relate a state of experience. The differentiation between liberty and confinement. This only loosely/metaphorically corresponds to the distinction between free will and determinism but it’s the hard stop to my imagination on this topic.

 
Poldano
 
Avatar
 
 
Poldano
Total Posts:  3288
Joined  26-01-2010
 
 
 
09 June 2016 02:35
 
Brick Bungalow - 08 June 2016 11:49 PM

...

I don’t discount free will as a concept. I simply have no map for it. I have not heard of any conceptual structure that would make the idea intelligible. Until that happens I can’t really give it a fair shake.

...

Traditional Free Will seems to rest on the assumption of complete knowledge of the morality of any actions whatsoever. Maybe with that assumption, the traditional notion becomes comprehensible. I think the traditional notion is only comprehensible with that assumption. That turns out to coincide with a very primitive notion of moral responsibility, one that most people in Western cultures grow out of sometime around kindergarten. As soon as intention and awareness of possible outcomes become considerations in moral choice, the enabling assumption no longer matches the actual criteria of either choice or judgment.