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Entropy and Free Will

 
weird buffalo
 
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weird buffalo
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04 June 2021 08:49
 

I’m not well versed in information theory, but one concept I was recently introduced to was the idea that a low entropy situation is also a low information one.  If all your particles are neatly arranged, and there are only a few types, then the amount of information is also low.  An easy way to think of it is video compression.  In order to save on memory/bandwidth, video compression only records information about a pixel when it changes or is different from it’s neighbors.  If all the pixels are one color and don’t change, the file can be very small.  As the pixels change or differ from their neighbor, more memory is required to store that information.

While the universe doesn’t have memory or bandwidth issues, the relative position and speed of every particle is information.  As entropy continues to increase in the universe overall, the amount of information in the universe increases as the relationships between all those particles becomes more complex.  This puts a dagger in the heart of Laplace’s Demon.  The idea that you could know all the starting conditions of the universe and predict everything is prevented by the increase in entropy.  The future is inherently unknowable due to a constant increase in information.  If a being were omniscient, the amount of information it knew would increase with the passage of time, and since it knows more now than it did in the past, there were things it could not predict.

Now, I would still be the argument that humans are probably largely deterministic.  Our biology and individual history makes many of our actions predictable.  Predictions can be flawed by not fully understanding our biology or accounting for our individual history, but when that information is close to perfect our predictions are fairly good.  That said though, living organism are likely part of the actual mechanisms of entropy.  When looking on the small scale of a specific location and a specific period of time it is possible for us to reduce entropy.  We can arrange things in an orderly fashion.  But the energy requirements just to do that arranging contribute to the entropy of the universe.  Since our very existence is increasing the amount of information in the universe, it means that some of what we do is randomly determined as it is new information.  If it were based on old information, it wouldn’t actually be new.  It has to be randomly determined.

I think there’s a question as to whether we could call this free will or not.  If we do an action that is random, and not predetermined, does that mean that we are merely present for this random new information, or did we choose it intentionally?  An intentional random outcome seems contradictory, but at the same time I don’t currently have language to describe non-determinism other than free will when it comes to agency.  Also, just because it seems contradictory when it comes to concepts like this doesn’t mean it isn’t true.  Either the contradiction points out a flaw in our assumptions, or there is some mechanism that prevents the contradictory thing from happening.

A lot of this is new information for me (doing my part to increase entropy), and so preliminary research didn’t turn up much.  I’m hoping someone’s seen something relating to this to either shut me down, or lead further down the rabbit hole.

 
nonverbal
 
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04 June 2021 10:14
 

I like your analysis style, but it’s really just a matter of how we define our words. And how do our words get defined?—by both traditional use and current use. Both seem out of place against the backdrop of what is real and actual whenever free will enters the conversation, wouldn’t you say?

 
 
weird buffalo
 
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04 June 2021 11:27
 

The primary stumbling block is that I’m partially making a very common mistake in pseudo-scientific circles in how physics gets applied to our understanding of the universe.  I’m taking concepts that we know are true in regards to particles and scaling them up to the human experience.  A lot of times this just isn’t true, and so I’m definitely attempting to reserve mental space to accept the fact that I might be leaping to an unwarranted conclusion.

Per our conversation in the other thread, I don’t think we should necessarily draw conclusions about how we organize society based on the physics that determine whether we have free will or not.  In our moral and legal systems, free will is still a necessary and useful conceit, that even if proven false, I would consider it a “useful fiction”.

The interesting thing to me is that fundamentally, the future is inherently uncertain.  Though there might be a correlation to the uncertainty principle (I’m definitely not an expert on these topics, I’m only mildly aware of them).  Rather, it’s the ever increasing amount of information that guarantees that it is impossible to know all of the future.  Even if many large parts of it are predictable, there is inherently parts that cannot be predicted.  It isn’t even possible to know what future new information will be because it must be the result of random new information.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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04 June 2021 17:15
 
weird buffalo - 04 June 2021 08:49 AM

If we do an action that is random, and not predetermined, does that mean that we are merely present for this random new information, or did we choose it intentionally?

Determinism allows for will, but not free. Randomness allows for free, but where’s the will?

 
 
nonverbal
 
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04 June 2021 18:09
 
weird buffalo - 04 June 2021 11:27 AM

The primary stumbling block is that I’m partially making a very common mistake in pseudo-scientific circles in how physics gets applied to our understanding of the universe.  I’m taking concepts that we know are true in regards to particles and scaling them up to the human experience.  A lot of times this just isn’t true, and so I’m definitely attempting to reserve mental space to accept the fact that I might be leaping to an unwarranted conclusion.

Per our conversation in the other thread, I don’t think we should necessarily draw conclusions about how we organize society based on the physics that determine whether we have free will or not.  In our moral and legal systems, free will is still a necessary and useful conceit, that even if proven false, I would consider it a “useful fiction”.

We see eye-to-eye re above.

weird buffalo - 04 June 2021 11:27 AM

The interesting thing to me is that fundamentally, the future is inherently uncertain.  Though there might be a correlation to the uncertainty principle (I’m definitely not an expert on these topics, I’m only mildly aware of them).  Rather, it’s the ever increasing amount of information that guarantees that it is impossible to know all of the future.  Even if many large parts of it are predictable, there is inherently parts that cannot be predicted.  It isn’t even possible to know what future new information will be because it must be the result of random new information.

The no free-will advocates would probably argue that an individual’s—or a society’s—foreknowledge or lack of foreknowledge of future events doesn’t impact their view of no free will.

 
 
nonverbal
 
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04 June 2021 18:10
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 June 2021 05:15 PM
weird buffalo - 04 June 2021 08:49 AM

If we do an action that is random, and not predetermined, does that mean that we are merely present for this random new information, or did we choose it intentionally?

Determinism allows for will, but not free. Randomness allows for free, but where’s the will?

You’re highly quotable today, ASD.

 
 
Jb8989
 
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05 June 2021 09:36
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 June 2021 05:15 PM
weird buffalo - 04 June 2021 08:49 AM

If we do an action that is random, and not predetermined, does that mean that we are merely present for this random new information, or did we choose it intentionally?

Determinism allows for will, but not free. Randomness allows for free, but where’s the will?

I like that. What do you think of this? I think that being convinced of the self is personhood. Maybe it’s just a conviction to an instinct that feels like there’s an abundance of choice.

 
 
nonverbal
 
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09 June 2021 07:55
 
Jb8989 - 05 June 2021 09:36 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 June 2021 05:15 PM
weird buffalo - 04 June 2021 08:49 AM

If we do an action that is random, and not predetermined, does that mean that we are merely present for this random new information, or did we choose it intentionally?

Determinism allows for will, but not free. Randomness allows for free, but where’s the will?

I like that. What do you think of this? I think that being convinced of the self is personhood. Maybe it’s just a conviction to an instinct that feels like there’s an abundance of choice.

What about people who are less than convinced of the self? Can they achieve personhood? By the way, I remember jdrnd’s posts about babies not being persons. I’m all for doctors narrating nonsense to themselves if it helps them get through the day, as they need to make extremely difficult life-death decisions at times.

 
 
Jb8989
 
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09 June 2021 09:10
 
nonverbal - 09 June 2021 07:55 AM
Jb8989 - 05 June 2021 09:36 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 June 2021 05:15 PM
weird buffalo - 04 June 2021 08:49 AM

If we do an action that is random, and not predetermined, does that mean that we are merely present for this random new information, or did we choose it intentionally?

Determinism allows for will, but not free. Randomness allows for free, but where’s the will?

I like that. What do you think of this? I think that being convinced of the self is personhood. Maybe it’s just a conviction to an instinct that feels like there’s an abundance of choice.

What about people who are less than convinced of the self? Can they achieve personhood? By the way, I remember jdrnd’s posts about babies not being persons. I’m all for doctors narrating nonsense to themselves if it helps them get through the day, as they need to make extremely difficult life-death decisions at times.

Maybe we’re just a brain in two boxes. The skull and the universe. Society being the equilizer that helps us pretend were something special. And to say fuck it about not pretending.

I narrate nonsense as a survival feature everyday.

 
 
weird buffalo
 
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09 June 2021 10:54
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 June 2021 05:15 PM
weird buffalo - 04 June 2021 08:49 AM

If we do an action that is random, and not predetermined, does that mean that we are merely present for this random new information, or did we choose it intentionally?

Determinism allows for will, but not free. Randomness allows for free, but where’s the will?

I don’t think determinism does allow for will.  If the outcome of a decision is predetermined… then I don’t think we can actually call it a decision.  It is something that appears to be a decision, but appearances can be deceiving.

I’m using “free will” here mostly because it is the agreed upon alternative to determinism.  I do think that we should be open to the possibility that “free will” might turn out to be something other than was considered classically.  The past had a lot of great thinkers, but that doesn’t mean we should be limited to how they thought.  Just because they thought “free will” was going to be something specific doesn’t mean we can’t amend what the concept is.

I’m still of the opinion that the biggest argument against me is one of scale.  The amount of entropy that our existence creates in the universe is so insignificant, and hence the amount of information increase we create is so small, that it means that even if my hypothesis were correct, the amount of actual “free will” that we exercise would be a tiny fraction of all of our thoughts and behaviors.  I don’t know any actual figures, but I would guess that the Sun’s entropy in a single moment would dwarf that of most all of human history.  Reactions with heat have some of the highest rates of entropy period, and the Sun loses more heat every second than we can comfortably conceive.  Combined with the necessity of quantum tunneling for the Sun’s reaction, and you have a high degree of randomness creating new information in orders of magnitude greater than we will ever accomplish.

My argument presents a possible path towards the door of free will, but the door’s still like a mile away, and I can’t even put my foot in the door yet.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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13 June 2021 16:24
 
weird buffalo - 09 June 2021 10:54 AM

I’m using “free will” here mostly because it is the agreed upon alternative to determinism.  I do think that we should be open to the possibility that “free will” might turn out to be something other than was considered classically.

I don’t think it’s a matter of “free will” turning out to be something other than was considered classically, it’s a matter of “choosing” (ha ha) a definition to suit whatever purpose one has in mind. What’s the purpose of defining it as an alternative to determinism? To evade moral culpability?

I think it’s more interesting to look at “free will” in terms of choosing or reaching conclusions independent not of determinism, but of our own subconscious choices and conclusions. Lot’s of recent research indicates that this form of “free will” is at best rare, at worst impossible, and that the process of rationalizing subconscious choices and conclusions creates the illusion of having arrived at them consciously.

But even if this form of “free will” is impossible and the best we can do is exercise “free won’t” to override our subconscious choices and conclusions, that’s still something that can be learned, exercised and improved (unlike the agreed upon alternative to determinism, which seems like a dead end). The inability or unwillingness to exercise “free won’t,” smugly succumbing to the illusion of having chosen consciously when all you’ve done is rationalize your subconscious choice or intuitive conclusion, seems to me one of our flawed mind’s greatest flaws.

(Ironically, intelligent people are probably more susceptible to the illusion, by virtue of being better able to rationalize their subconscious conclusions.)

We ought to teach “free won’t” to everyone in school, starting at an early age, then revisiting it periodically.

 
 
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13 June 2021 20:53
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 13 June 2021 04:24 PM
weird buffalo - 09 June 2021 10:54 AM

I’m using “free will” here mostly because it is the agreed upon alternative to determinism.  I do think that we should be open to the possibility that “free will” might turn out to be something other than was considered classically.

I don’t think it’s a matter of “free will” turning out to be something other than was considered classically, it’s a matter of “choosing” (ha ha) a definition to suit whatever purpose one has in mind. What’s the purpose of defining it as an alternative to determinism? To evade moral culpability?

I’ve literally already addressed the concept of moral culpability and where I fall on “free will” as a concept within the context of our social and legal systems.  If you think I’m trying to evade something, quote from that post and highlight where you think I’ve done that.

Antisocialdarwinist - 13 June 2021 04:24 PM

I think it’s more interesting to look at “free will” in terms of choosing or reaching conclusions independent not of determinism, but of our own subconscious choices and conclusions. Lot’s of recent research indicates that this form of “free will” is at best rare, at worst impossible, and that the process of rationalizing subconscious choices and conclusions creates the illusion of having arrived at them consciously.

 
I find the division between conscious and subconscious to be strange and arbitrary.  I understand that it is common in many models of the brain/behavior, but I think that has more to do with the history of how we’ve constructed those models and less to do with actual evidence.  (I can expand on this further if absolutely necessary)  You’ll have to clarify this for me and how it solves the problem of determinism.  If the subconscious is part of our minds that we cannot control, then it would seem to be “determining” our behaviors.  Which is just a biological version of determinism, and we’re still at a concept of… well… determinism.  Which I’ve also acknowledged and even within the model of free will that I’ve presented, I’ve largely acceded to being the dominant form of predicting the outcomes of our behavior.

Antisocialdarwinist - 13 June 2021 04:24 PM

But even if this form of “free will” is impossible and the best we can do is exercise “free won’t” to override our subconscious choices and conclusions, that’s still something that can be learned, exercised and improved (unlike the agreed upon alternative to determinism, which seems like a dead end). The inability or unwillingness to exercise “free won’t,” smugly succumbing to the illusion of having chosen consciously when all you’ve done is rationalize your subconscious choice or intuitive conclusion, seems to me one of our flawed mind’s greatest flaws.

(Ironically, intelligent people are probably more susceptible to the illusion, by virtue of being better able to rationalize their subconscious conclusions.)

We ought to teach “free won’t” to everyone in school, starting at an early age, then revisiting it periodically.

Your difference between “will” and “won’t”  seems like a distinction without a difference.  The choice to “won’t” is still a choice that is reliant on the existence of being able to exercise a choice.  Not doing something is still an action/choice.  If we cannot make choices, then you still can’t override your subconscious.  The ability to override it is still dependent on the ability to choose.  We’re still at the basics of physics/biology.  Do we have the ability to make choices, or do we only appear to have that ability?

 
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13 June 2021 23:09
 

I’m not accusing you of using determinism to evade moral culpability. (If you think I am, “quote from that post and highlight where you think I’ve done that.” Feeling a little defensive today?) That just seems to be the purpose of defining “free will” as mutually exclusive with determinism.

The subconscious execution of skills (“muscle memory”), especially at an elite level in sports, is a good example of the difference between “conscious” and “subconscious.” There are lots of others. The difference between recall and recognition, for example, or the difference between before and after you become aware of the pain of accidentally touching a hot stove or even of having pulled your hand away. But, once again, semantics is everything, and definitions have a purpose. What’s your definition of “consciousness?” And what purpose does your definition serve? Please don’t tell me it’s merely to be able to claim your cat is “conscious.”

You suggested that “free will” might turn out to be something different than was considered classically. I’m pointing out what a silly thing that is to say, as if there’s an objectively correct definition of “free will” which human beings have yet to discover. No. What free will “turns out to be” depends on how human beings define it. We don’t have to define it in terms of determinism, at least not causal determinism according to which every event is caused by prior events. (Unless, of course, we wish to evade moral culpability.) I’m suggesting an alternative definition that doesn’t involve causal determinism. Which is the kind of determinism I thought you were talking about. Wasn’t it? Or maybe you’re claiming that “consciousness” is a product of entropy?

 
 
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14 June 2021 07:13
 

Weird buffalo, I’d love to see your thinking about unconscious thoughts vs. thoughts that are remembered to some extent. For me, it’s the remembering part that’s most relevant. That is, if I experience a thought of some kind, chances are I’ll have completely forgotten it fairly quickly. And if it never even enters a memory-formation process, is that an example of what is commonly referred to as an unconscious thought?

 
 
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14 June 2021 08:39
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 13 June 2021 11:09 PM

Or maybe you’re claiming that “consciousness” is a product of entropy?

Close.

I think consciousness is still largely a product of biology.  A star has lots of entropy, but no free will, and so I am not arguing that entropy is the direct cause of free will.  Rather, a functioning brain causes entropy, and since that entropy necessitates the formation of new information, that new information being produced by a brain could be a possible explanation for free will.

Where I am differing from some other “classical” models of free will, I am not positing an agent behind those decisions.  I do not have a mechanism for how those decisions are made in a way that we would classically describe as “will”.  If a new piece of information is created, I am not proposing any sort of mechanism that decides what that information is.  I am merely pointing out that necessarily new information is being created, and new information is the first hurdle to establishing free will could possibly exist.

 
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14 June 2021 09:07
 
nonverbal - 14 June 2021 07:13 AM

Weird buffalo, I’d love to see your thinking about unconscious thoughts vs. thoughts that are remembered to some extent. For me, it’s the remembering part that’s most relevant. That is, if I experience a thought of some kind, chances are I’ll have completely forgotten it fairly quickly. And if it never even enters a memory-formation process, is that an example of what is commonly referred to as an unconscious thought?

Mind you, I took the equivalent of a psych 101 course, but not much else.  I don’t see a terribly useful distinction between unconscious (or subconscious) and conscious thoughts.  ASD gave the example of muscle memory, but the name is a bit of a misnomer.  All of the information is still stored in the brain.  Most physical control is done in the cerebellum if memory serves (heh).  From the little of brain anatomy I remember, you can basically think of the base/back of the skull as the oldest part of the brain.  As you go up, forward, or away from the spine in the skull, those are the sections that evolved later.  It makes sense too, because the ability to move and do things is more crucial to survival than executive function (which happens mostly in the part right behind your forehead).  If you’re a worm, you still need to be able to move around to do things, but you don’t need to recall memories about what you got your wife for your last anniversary.

Worms have brains though, and I would describe them as technically conscious, but only in the most basic and rudimentary ways.  As brains get bigger, more complex forms of consciousness happen, though it may be both a function of total size and proportional body size.  For example, the human brain weighs about 3 pounds, and an elephants weighs 12 pounds.  Despite elephants having bigger brains in total size, their larger body also requires more brain function to operate.  Because our brains still retain many functions that evolved when we were “less conscious”, they still function without accessing our more recently evolved capabilities.  I think this is what often gets classified as un/subconscious.  I’m also leery of those terms since the originated in the infancy of psychology with little to no basis in fact.

Back to memory, short-term memory is literally just a few seconds.  I think 30 seconds at most.  After that, it has to get stored in long term memory to be recalled at all.  Last I heard, I think sleep played a big role in the development and permanency of long-term memory.  The mind has to consider something significant enough to establish a long-term memory, and having a sleep cycle, and then recall and restorage helps both entrench the memory, but also creates access pathways and connections that improve the ability to recall it.  It’s why cramming for an exam is inefficient, but studying for a few minutes each day creates much better recall.

The brain is pretty complex though, and there is a lot of other stuff going on than just what we typically call memory (the recollection of information or events).  Experiencing a smell creates a memory.  Even if you don’t have specific information to go along with it, your brain still collects the information of the smell itself.  If you smell that odor repeatedly and associate it with information or events, then you can connect and recall that information as well.  I use this in whiskey tasting all the time.  When you smell/taste whiskey, it’s helpful to just say whatever comes to mind with the associations.  The more freely you do this, the easier it becomes to identify smells and tastes in whiskey.  You also need to taste/smell other things in order to have that information to make associations with.  Expanding your palette with other foods/drinks gives you more things to to associate it with.

edit: I wanted to add a bit about this from ASD as well.

Antisocialdarwinist - 13 June 2021 04:24 PM

(Ironically, intelligent people are probably more susceptible to the illusion, by virtue of being better able to rationalize their subconscious conclusions.)

I don’t disagree at all with this (other than the use of subconscious).  If conscious decision making is an illusion… then there is no “consciousness”, only “subconsciousness”.  And if the part that lacks a prefix doesn’t exist, then we can just take the prefix off the other part.  Ie: if “consciousness” doesn’t exist, then “subconsciousness” just loses the prefix and is the actual consciousness.

[ Edited: 14 June 2021 09:15 by weird buffalo]
 
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