Free will and science

#1
(I am the same David Bailey, but I lost my password and the password reset mechanism seems to get confused! Andy has very kindly transferred a lot of my properties.)

I want to argue that science would be impossible without full (libertarian) free will - which I will refer to simply as free will from now on.

Suppose you want to do an experiment - say measure the voltage/current relationship across an electronic component. The value of the experiment really lies in the fact that you have free will and can set the voltage to any value you like, and measure the corresponding current.

A person reading about this experiment, would naturally assume this, so that, for example, if the experimenter detected a lot of extra structure in the curve at some point, he would explore it, or at least comment on it. If the experimenter only has compatibalist free will, he would, in effect, be part of the physical system he was trying to observe.

This may sound a bit contrived, but if you think about compatibilist free will - evolved to suit our ancestors on the plains of Africa - it might well contain all sorts of inappropriate heuristics. For example, it might be entirely reasonable to assume that if some proposition P(n) was true for n=1.....10 (say), that it was always true. This would greatly limit the abilities of an experimenter or mathematician, and there would be no way to transcend such limitations - at least in general.

Paul would like to exclude libertarian free will because it has consequences in the physical world which are neither deterministic nor random. He should remember that people used to think of the physical world as purely deterministic, and even Einstein found it hard to accept a random component. Given the overwhelming evidence of our own consciousness, I think it is reasonable to postulate free will as independent of the other two mechanisms.

Note that would mean that free will could not be reduced to the other two mechanisms - so it is absurd to ask for an explanation for free will in terms of a mechanism - just as it seems to be impossible to find a mechanism for quantum randomness in terms or deterministic physics.

David
 
#2
(I am the same David Bailey, but I lost my password and the password reset mechanism seems to get confused! Andy has very kindly transferred a lot of my properties.)
??? It's an easy thing for someone with admin privileges to access your account on the back-end and change your password. Or even do it directly in the database.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#4
I want to argue that science would be impossible without full (libertarian) free will - which I will refer to simply as free will from now on.
Suppose you want to do an experiment - say measure the voltage/current relationship across an electronic component. The value of the experiment really lies in the fact that you have free will and can set the voltage to any value you like, and measure the corresponding current.
A person reading about this experiment, would naturally assume this, so that, for example, if the experimenter detected a lot of extra structure in the curve at some point, he would explore it, or at least comment on it. If the experimenter only has compatibalist free will, he would, in effect, be part of the physical system he was trying to observe.
I agree with the last sentence, but I'm not sure what stops me from "trying any value I like" even if I don't have libertarian free will.

This may sound a bit contrived, but if you think about compatibilist free will - evolved to suit our ancestors on the plains of Africa - it might well contain all sorts of inappropriate heuristics. For example, it might be entirely reasonable to assume that if some proposition P(n) was true for n=1.....10 (say), that it was always true. This would greatly limit the abilities of an experimenter or mathematician, and there would be no way to transcend such limitations - at least in general.
If we evolved to extrapolate from n=1...10, I'm not sure why the lack of libertarian free will means that this must be true for all time. Why can't we decide that a limited range of n might be a problem?

Paul would like to exclude libertarian free will because it has consequences in the physical world which are neither deterministic nor random. He should remember that people used to think of the physical world as purely deterministic, and even Einstein found it hard to accept a random component. Given the overwhelming evidence of our own consciousness, I think it is reasonable to postulate free will as independent of the other two mechanisms.
I'm not worried about the consequences of libertarian free will. I simply don't think it's a coherent concept. Feel free* to postulate it, but then aren't you obliged to explain what the third mechanism is?

Note that would mean that free will could not be reduced to the other two mechanisms - so it is absurd to ask for an explanation for free will in terms of a mechanism - just as it seems to be impossible to find a mechanism for quantum randomness in terms or deterministic physics.
By all means, discard the term mechanism and any other mechanistic term you dislike. Don't you feel any obligation to propose a method, technique, strategy for making free decisions?

~~ Paul

* See what I did there?
 
#5
Well it didn't seem to be easy for Andy to do - I think there is a bug in the software.

David
Then, no offense to him, maybe he's lacking in expertise in that area. If there's a bug one can still access the database directly. On a slight tangent, this forum software isn't among my faves.
 
#6
...Given the overwhelming evidence of our own consciousness, I think it is reasonable to postulate free will as independent of the other two mechanisms.
...
I have a feeling that your post and proposition is based on materialism, only.

Can we add metaphysics to the equation, like the subconscious; A thing that is really close to our conscious mind.

To simplify the example: Our actions while conducting an experiment is caused by the experiment itself and our subconscious. (simplified for clarity).
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#8
David, you may want to track down the work of philosopher Anthony Flew, the famous atheist who became a theist. He rejected compatibilism while embracing actual free will. Apparently this was before he came to believe in a Prime Mover but I might be wrong about that.

Let me know if you find anything Flew wrote on free will, as I didn't find anything available online last I tried. There's also the work of Bergson and Whitehead, as my understanding is both rejected certain assumptions about Time that would lead to the randomness/deterministic dichotomy but I can't claim to have advanced far enough in my understanding of either to properly judge.

Feser has noted Scholastic Metaphysics allows for free will, but I honestly haven't gotten to that part so can't say more than that. It may have to do with intentionality, an argument used by the neuroscientist Tallis, which I'd supplement with Feser's article on Putnam's argument that there are no satisfactory accounts of how forward causation accounts for intentionality. Then again it's not clear Aquinas, who might be the father of Scholastic Metaphysics, believed in free will as it would contradict the notion of a God who knows the future as well as it knows the past. So the kind of free will Feser argues for may not be actual free will but some kind of theistic compatibilism.

From a physics perspective Marko Vojinovic refutes determinism - his argument overlaps yours in some places - and he is apparently going to discuss free will on Scientia Salon at some point. Something to look forward to.
 
#9
But this does not mean that our subconscious has any sort of libertarian free will.

~~ Paul
Correct. This must be so.
If the subconscious had that "magical ability" to decide within a situation without being influenced by it, then the conscious would as well, as the conscious is just the observable result of the subconscious.
 
#10
I agree with the last sentence, but I'm not sure what stops me from "trying any value I like" even if I don't have libertarian free will.
Well the problem is that if we are, in effect, part of a giant machine that encompasses the experimental setup, there is no reason to expect us to take the right actions. The experiment I described, is of course, just a simple example, but remember that even there we need free will to decide to collect and wire up the various components.
If we evolved to extrapolate from n=1...10, I'm not sure why the lack of libertarian free will means that this must be true for all time. Why can't we decide that a limited range of n might be a problem?
First a compatibilist human wouldn't even know there was a problem!

OK - here is the real problem with an evolved compatibalist free will. We all use this fallacy every day - and so do animals. If an aeroplane flies low over a remote house, any cats are likely to be scared witless. Nevertheless cats can live happily close to an airport, and still react to other scary stimuli. This means that after a suitable number of encounters with low flying aircraft, they assume (in effect) that if P(n) is true for n=1,N for a suitably large N, then it is always going to be true. We do exactly the same. Compatibilist reasoning (evolved by natural selection) would be riddled with false forms of reasoning of this sort but nothing could have reasonably evolved to help us transcend these mistakes.
I'm not worried about the consequences of libertarian free will. I simply don't think it's a coherent concept. Feel free* to postulate it, but then aren't you obliged to explain what the third mechanism is?
Well the standard scientific view used to be that everything was determined. It took a lot of agonising to accept determinism+randomness. It is clearly hard to accept another form of causality, because you are left asking something like, "Even so, I wonder what caused that random output!".

A third form of causality is obviously equally hard to stomach, but after going from 1 to 2, it shouldn't be so hard to extrapolate a bit!
By all means, discard the term mechanism and any other mechanistic term you dislike. Don't you feel any obligation to propose a method, technique, strategy for making free decisions?
I think the issue of mechanism is vital - and Roger Penrose brings it up too - so I feel on solid ground! Maybe it helps to number the types of causality we are talking about:

A) Determinism a-la billiard balls.

B) Quantum indeterminism (which can easily end up producing macroscopic results)

C) A putative genuine free will.

Clearly none of these causes can be explained in terms of each other. A mechanism can be an explanation of a type-A cause, but you simply can't expect to use mechanism to explain causes of types B or C. Thus it is simply silly to demand that free will be explained by a mechanism! Explaining one in terms of the others, would eliminate that item from the list.

Why do we want to postulate C? Without C, we can't even assemble the components required to try an experiment! Nowhere on the savannah did we encounter any situation needing the abstraction required to do science or maths (not mere counting) - so there is no reason to expect these capabilities to have evolved.

Perhaps the single most weak part of conventional evolution, is the idea that it could have produced the human brain capable of generating full consciousness.

The strategy we use to make decisions, is clearly accessible to scrutiny to some extent. We think about a situation - imagining the various qualia associated with different possible choices. Of course qualia also form problems for materialism :)

If you sit down and decide where to go on holiday, a bit of your thought processes are no doubt mechanistic (e.g. how much money is available), but then the decision process gets utterly drenched in imagined qualia.

David
 
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Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#12
Well the problem is that if we are, in effect, part of a giant machine that encompasses the experimental setup, there is no reason to expect us to take the right actions. The experiment I described, is of course, just a simple example, but remember that even there we need free will to decide to collect and wire up the various components.
It is certainly possible that our lack of free will somehow guides us to the wrong answers, even though we are part of the system. I don't see this as any sort of argument for libertarian free will.

OK - here is the real problem with an evolved compatibalist free will. We all use this fallacy every day - and so do animals. If an aeroplane flies low over a remote house, any cats are likely to be scared witless. Nevertheless cats can live happily close to an airport, and still react to other scary stimuli. This means that after a suitable number of encounters with low flying aircraft, they assume (in effect) that if P(n) is true for n=1,N for a suitably large N, then it is always going to be true. We do exactly the same. Compatibilist reasoning (evolved by natural selection) would be riddled with false forms of reasoning of this sort but nothing could have reasonably evolved to help us transcend these mistakes.
Perhaps our intellect does. But again, you're right, we could be permanently fooled.

Well the standard scientific view used to be that everything was determined. It took a lot of agonising to accept determinism+randomness. It is clearly hard to accept another form of causality, because you are left asking something like, "Even so, I wonder what caused that random output!".
A third form of causality is obviously equally hard to stomach, but after going from 1 to 2, it shouldn't be so hard to extrapolate a bit!
By all means, do! I'm all ears.

I think the issue of mechanism is vital - and Roger Penrose brings it up too - so I feel on solid ground! Maybe it helps to number the types of causality we are talking about:
A) Determinism a-la billiard balls.
B) Quantum indeterminism (which can easily end up producing macroscopic results)
C) A putative genuine free will.
Clearly none of these causes can be explained in terms of each other. A mechanism can be an explanation of a type-A cause, but you simply can't expect to use mechanism to explain causes of types B or C. Thus it is simply silly to demand that free will be explained by a mechanism! Explaining one in terms of the others, would eliminate that item from the list.
I'm happy not to ask for a mechanism. Can you give even a whiff of a hint of a concept?

Why do we want to postulate C? Without C, we can't even assemble the components required to try an experiment! Nowhere on the savannah did we encounter any situation needing the abstraction required to do science or maths (not mere counting) - so there is no reason to expect these capabilities to have evolved.
You're arguing that the existence of science means we have libertarian free will. I don't see why. I think the most you can say is that there may be aspects of science that we do not encounter because determinism/randomness won't take us there.

I'm not sure why contemporary mathematics has to be anything more than an extension of some trivial concept such as counting or sets. Doing science is just forcing ourselves to follow common sense skepticism, so I'm not sure what the issue is there, either.

~~ Paul
 
#13
I'm not sure why contemporary mathematics has to be anything more than an extension of some trivial concept such as counting or sets. Doing science is just forcing ourselves to follow common sense skepticism, so I'm not sure what the issue is there, either.

~~ Paul
I think the gap between any skills that could have plausibly evolved, and advanced maths/science is way too great to be explained in that way! Most maths isn't done by actually counting sets, it is done symbolically - which is utterly different. For example, maybe we use some evolved skills to throw a hoop round a pole, but to make much progress with the dynamics of motion, people had to switch to symbolic constructions such as calculus.

The size of your brain is a major evolutionary constraint - so why would evolution have splurged with fantastic abilities that aren't needed on the savannah? Heck - they aren't needed in modern life either for most people - indeed mathematicians probably get fewer opportunities to mate than average!

David
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#14
I think the gap between any skills that could have plausibly evolved, and advanced maths/science is way too great to be explained in that way! Most maths isn't done by actually counting sets, it is done symbolically - which is utterly different. For example, maybe we use some evolved skills to throw a hoop round a pole, but to make much progress with the dynamics of motion, people had to switch to symbolic constructions such as calculus.
But we didn't do calculus 10,000 years ago. It's a social project that started from simple roots and gathered complexity over centuries. Just like technology.

The size of your brain is a major evolutionary constraint - so why would evolution have splurged with fantastic abilities that aren't needed on the savannah? Heck - they aren't needed in modern life either for most people - indeed mathematicians probably get fewer opportunities to mate than average!
I think you are assuming complex innate abilities that aren't there. Do you think we have some innate ability to write computer programs?

~~ Paul
 
#15
But we didn't do calculus 10,000 years ago. It's a social project that started from simple roots and gathered complexity over centuries. Just like technology.


I think you are assuming complex innate abilities that aren't there. Do you think we have some innate ability to write computer programs?

~~ Paul
I think we have an incredible potential for abstraction, which must be expensive, and has damn all use for normal purposes - indeed it makes us less fit in the evolutionary sense.

David
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#16
I think we have an incredible potential for abstraction, which must be expensive, and has damn all use for normal purposes - indeed it makes us less fit in the evolutionary sense.
Why do you say that? It's useful to abstract from one predator to another: Large and 4-footed = dangerous. It's good to be able to abstract from one food source to another. I'm betting that all we need is simple abstraction abilities and everything else just develops from there.

~~ Paul
 

Bart V

straw materialist
Member
#17
I think the gap between any skills that could have plausibly evolved, and advanced maths/science is way too great to be explained in that way! Most maths isn't done by actually counting sets, it is done symbolically - which is utterly different. For example, maybe we use some evolved skills to throw a hoop round a pole, but to make much progress with the dynamics of motion, people had to switch to symbolic constructions such as calculus.

The size of your brain is a major evolutionary constraint - so why would evolution have splurged with fantastic abilities that aren't needed on the savannah? Heck - they aren't needed in modern life either for most people - indeed mathematicians probably get fewer opportunities to mate than average!

David
You are forgetting that the first modern humans had no way to hand knowledge down to the following generations except for oral tradition.
Imagine you have to keep all the skills for survival in your mind, not in a written record or something comparable.

Maybe it is us who have it easy.

And what is up with the way you separate mathematicians from the rest of the population? Them having less of a mating chance, and i doubt if that stereotype is true at all, has nothing to do with the evolution of maths.
 
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