Free Will is an Illusion. So What?

#1
"So, overall, contrary to what one may initially think, realizing that free will is an illusion should lead to greater maturity, compassion, and emotional stability. Hopefully, the ideas in this article serve as the external inputs that steer you in this positive direction."

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sapient-nature/201205/free-will-is-illusion-so-what

It absolutely amazes me to hear this absolutely ignorant, mechanistic dehumanization coming from the field of psychology, of all places. It stuns me to also talk to psych majors that belief free will is an illusion and everything is just brain activity. How can this illogical and contradictory drivel be presented as facts? It is illogical, inconsistent, and frankly, egregious and morally reprehensible.

Perhaps this is yet another example of why people are beginning to trust scientists and academia less?
 
#2
This also reminded me of a lecture that Susan Blackmore gave on consciousness that just left me scratching my head. Aside from her terrible misinterpretation of Buddhism to be nihilism, it amazed me how her explanation of everything is that it is an illusion. Consciousness is an illusion. Free will is an illusion. The sense of agency or self is an illusion. (And of course, psi is an illusion and so must be NDEs according to her). What it sounds like is that she has no clue what she's talking about if her explanation of everything is an illusion!

I guess because I have been researching psychology more that I have started to see this type of very frustrating and confused talk in the field and wanted to rant a little.
 
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#3
You should read "The Illusion of Conscious Will" by Daniel M. Wegner. Then you should read Ed Kelly's review of the same in the Journal of Scientific Exploration for some sanity...

My favorite determinist is Jerry Coyne, who insists that everything is predetermined by the laws of physics and that none of us has any choice, and who then turns around and bemoans the fact that almost half of America does not believe in evolution. They had no choice, Jerry!!
 
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#4
"So, overall, contrary to what one may initially think, realizing that free will is an illusion should lead to greater maturity, compassion, and emotional stability. Hopefully, the ideas in this article serve as the external inputs that steer you in this positive direction."

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sapient-nature/201205/free-will-is-illusion-so-what

It absolutely amazes me to hear this absolutely ignorant, mechanistic dehumanization coming from the field of psychology, of all places. It stuns me to also talk to psych majors that belief free will is an illusion and everything is just brain activity. How can this illogical and contradictory drivel be presented as facts? It is illogical, inconsistent, and frankly, egregious and morally reprehensible.

Perhaps this is yet another example of why people are beginning to trust scientists and academia less?
Given that I've expoused similar things to that in this article I'd be interested in discussing it if you want (I know there's still the IIT discussion I want to get back to I just haven't had the drive to do the research I'll need to do before responding, I still want to get back to it at some point though).

I can understand you disagreeing with the author on his conclusions (though if I recall our previous discussion on free will, your position, IIRC, is, IMO, closer to the non-free will position than the free will position). But I'm not sure how you can characterize this article as "mechanistic dehumanization" or morally reprehensible? The entire gist of the article is geared towards changing our perspective on our own and others actions with a view to promoting "maturity, compassion, and emotional stability." Social interactions between humans play a crucial role in what he is proposing. Rather than argue that no free will should mean anything goes, he argues the opposite (again, I've made similar arguments before). I'm not sure in what sense you characterize the article as "dehumanizing" unless you're going to define free will as an essential component of being human - in which case you're begging the question. I might go along with having the sense of free will is intrinsic to being human, but the author doesn't suggest otherwise.

This approach this article takes towards how to approach the misdeeds of others, and the reasons for punishment pretty closely mirror my own (I'm pretty sure I've made comments on this forum in this line). I've had similar thoughts at various times as well about our successes. So the article resonated with me there.

The message from this article to me seems quite positive. Anyone who subscribes to a "we are all one" metaphysic should find the ideas presented here as attractive, I would think (for those that do but still object to the views in this article, I'd be interested in hearing why. I can elaborate more on why I think this article is compatible with that view). Also, you mentioned buddhism above, this approach seems to be more consistent with a buddhist style-reduce attachment (including anger), increase compassion leads to increased happiness approach.

Note, the author doesn't just present his views as fact, but presents it as his conclusions based on the evidence he finds supportive, while also linking to opposing views. So I think you were a bit unfair there.

This is a debate that has gone on for millenia, so I think it is appropriate to approach it with a bit of reserve.

Remember, too, that this article is directed at a public audience and the examples used seem to be geared to that audience. I think the author is trying to avoid being too technical. From my perspective, he's still dealing with the issue of free will at too macro a level. To really properly think about this issue, I think you've got to break down every thought and deliberation down to the micro level, thought by thought, word by word, concept by concept, micro step by micro step.

Rather than jump to the assumption that it makes a huge difference, it might be worth having a bit of discussion to see if the author's "so what?" position might have something to it. (that is: our behaviour shouldn't be radically different no matter what our position on this).

(I'm directing this at Neil as he wrote the OP, but please anyone feel free to reply).
 
#6
That's not the point/problem. It's all the associated perspectives that tie in with that garbage.
The article is about some of those associated perspectives and the different ways people can approach them (and how the author thinks people should approach them). Are you talking about those, or others not mentioned in the article.

And of course, whether or not we think certain perspective are positive or negative is a separate question from whether the underlying proposition (do we have free will) is true. Also, note that the free will issue doesn't go away when discussing non-material beings with will (including those such as MAL (mind-at-large) or other proposed non-physical entities.
 
#7
The message from this article to me seems quite positive.
That is because you seem to fail to see where it leads - to be fair, so do most of those who share the idea. To put it at its bluntest, without free will, we are all just machines. Destroying a person becomes the same as destroying a computer - say - wasteful, but nothing more.

I think the whole question of free will is exciting because to me, it is the weakest link in materialist thinking. The best way to see that materialist ideas are flawed, is to follow the idea that we don't have real free will to its ultimate ends - such as the question as to whether science itself could really exist if those who practice it, don't have real free will.

David
 
#8
That is because you seem to fail to see where it leads - to be fair, so do most of those who share the idea. To put it at its bluntest, without free will, we are all just machines. Destroying a person becomes the same as destroying a computer - say - wasteful, but nothing more.
I'm well familiar with that basic argument (it's repeated enough around here) - I've tried to address it in the past but I don't think I've been success in conveying the idea I've been trying to get at. I'll try to set it out here.

There are a few different angles to what you've brought up:

1. If we don't have free we then we are just machines. Let's say that it is accurate to describe us as machines (ie: that we operate mechanistically, through cause and effect (with perhaps some randomness thrown in for quantum good measure). I would argue that we should ascribe no positive or negative value to this. It simply describes how we operate. This is neither good nor bad.

2. "We are just machines": this phrase is used a lot, but rarely elaborated on (I hope Sciborg comes back to the forum at some point, we were in the middle of a good debate around this point, I'd like to resume that discussion.) What does it mean to say that we are "just machines"? For that matter, what does it mean to say that we are "just" anything?

We are living beings: are we "just" living beings? Do all living beings have the same properties?

We are animals: are we "just" animals? Do all animals have the same characteristics?

We are machines: are we "just" machines? Do all machines have the same qualities?

If we are machines then we are machines with certain attributes such as the ability to have experiences, to love, laugh, cry, think, sing, paint, etc. Other machines may not have those abilities. If we are machines, then we are machines with the ability to value.

We either have free will or we don't. If we have free will, then everything we value in this life we value having free will. If we don't have free will: then everything we value in this life we value not having free will. Every love you've had, every moment of joy you've had, every bit of pain you've had you've had whether or not we have free will. Changing your mind about this notion does not change these experiences. Do you get what I'm saying? This is important to how to conceptualize this.


3. Destroying a person is therefore the same as destroying a computer.

What follows from the above is no: they are not the same thing. We don't value each other because of whether we think we are properly classified as machines or not, we value each other because of the abiliies we have to love, form friendships, are nature as social animals, sympathise, empathise. We have an interest in working together for all of our benefits, to survive, thrive and be happy, and all the other things we value in each other. We form communities to this end. Destroying a computer affects us very differently than destroying a fellow human. (just like destroying insects and other animals affect us differently than destroying human animals.). A society where there is no value to human life is a pretty miserable place to live. We affect each other, we value each other.

4. Is free will "materialist".
I think the whole question of free will is exciting because to me, it is the weakest link in materialist thinking. The best way to see that materialist ideas are flawed, is to follow the idea that we don't have real free will to its ultimate ends - such as the question as to whether science itself could really exist if those who practice it, don't have real free will.
As I suggested above, I don't think the free will issue goes away if we are dealing with non-material entities. If these entities exist they operate in a certain manner. They may operate by different rules (ie: not the laws of physics), but we should not assume that they don't have their own rules. If we're taking the evidence of accounts of experiences of non-material beings, we are related accounts that follow coherent orders: accounts of being expressing messages (ie: one word following the other in an coherent order), we have accounts of spirits moving physical objects (one step at a time), we have concepts such as love and experience for these beings that are presented coherently. There is no reason to presume that if these beings exist, that their will is any freer than ours. (this isn't an argument for or against, just that the question should not be presumed to be restricted to physicalist world views.

The question: could science exist if we didn't have free will doesn't help us, it seems to me, figure out if we have free will. Nor does it if you replace "science" with anything else. We've done science whether or not we have free will. I'm not sure how science is any different than any other thought process.







David[/QUOTE]
 
#9
Given that I've expoused similar things to that in this article I'd be interested in discussing it if you want (I know there's still the IIT discussion I want to get back to I just haven't had the drive to do the research I'll need to do before responding, I still want to get back to it at some point though).

I can understand you disagreeing with the author on his conclusions (though if I recall our previous discussion on free will, your position, IIRC, is, IMO, closer to the non-free will position than the free will position). But I'm not sure how you can characterize this article as "mechanistic dehumanization" or morally reprehensible? The entire gist of the article is geared towards changing our perspective on our own and others actions with a view to promoting "maturity, compassion, and emotional stability." Social interactions between humans play a crucial role in what he is proposing. Rather than argue that no free will should mean anything goes, he argues the opposite (again, I've made similar arguments before). I'm not sure in what sense you characterize the article as "dehumanizing" unless you're going to define free will as an essential component of being human - in which case you're begging the question. I might go along with having the sense of free will is intrinsic to being human, but the author doesn't suggest otherwise.
Being closer to the non-free will position is entirely different from saying that there is no free will. I do believe that we are either influenced or controlled by many biological, environmental, and psychological factors, and a lot of people live without exerting much in the way of free will choice, but free will is a capability that most people appear to have. However, it is a world of difference to say that free will does not exist.

Mechanistic dehumanization is the result of eliminating an essential human characteristic, that of agency and free will, by claiming by fiat (rather than evidence), that free will does not exist. Attempting to essentially explain humans as biological robots simply reacting to inputs and their genetic codes is a quaint and demonstrably false analogy.

It is morally reprehensible because there is plenty of research that shows when people are exposed to this type of anti-free will opinion, it can negatively impact social behavior, for example encouraging cheating, being more aggressive, and being less helpful. This research also demonstrates how easily this effect is induced by short exposure to the types of anti-free will ideas. Given that it is not logically valid to conclude that free will does not exist, plus evidence we do have that points towards free will (ex: Libet's 'free won't' experiments and more), and the fact that our legal system requires free will, it is morally reprehensible to attempt to conclude that free will does not exist when we know how this affects social behavior. Simply saying that we should be happy that we are automata is not going to change that.

Arouet said:
The message from this article to me seems quite positive. Anyone who subscribes to a "we are all one" metaphysic should find the ideas presented here as attractive, I would think (for those that do but still object to the views in this article, I'd be interested in hearing why. I can elaborate more on why I think this article is compatible with that view). Also, you mentioned buddhism above, this approach seems to be more consistent with a buddhist style-reduce attachment (including anger), increase compassion leads to increased happiness approach.
Certain behaviors can be consistent with both metaphysical positions, but that doesn't support the conclusion that free will does not exist.

Arouet said:
Note, the author doesn't just present his views as fact, but presents it as his conclusions based on the evidence he finds supportive, while also linking to opposing views. So I think you were a bit unfair there.
He pretty clearly states that free will does not exist, which, given the reasons above, is why I don't think that is unfair.
 
#10
The question: could science exist if we didn't have free will doesn't help us, it seems to me, figure out if we have free will. Nor does it if you replace "science" with anything else. We've done science whether or not we have free will. I'm not sure how science is any different than any other thought process.
Yawn.The position that humans don't have free will carries the implication that they would be unable to determine if they have it. No free will defeats the notion of free inquiry.
 
#11
1. If we don't have free we then we are just machines. Let's say that it is accurate to describe us as machines (ie: that we operate mechanistically, through cause and effect (with perhaps some randomness thrown in for quantum good measure). I would argue that we should ascribe no positive or negative value to this. It simply describes how we operate. This is neither good nor bad.
I don't see this as being a neutral idea. It seems quite negative because it means that my conscious choices of how to direct my life are an illusion. My thoughts are not causally affective and things just happen to me. It seems that experimental evidence also supports the negativity of anti-free will opinions since it negatively affects social behavior.

Arouet said:
2. "We are just machines": this phrase is used a lot, but rarely elaborated on (I hope Sciborg comes back to the forum at some point, we were in the middle of a good debate around this point, I'd like to resume that discussion.) What does it mean to say that we are "just machines"? For that matter, what does it mean to say that we are "just" anything?
It means that we simply respond mechanistically and deterministically based on genetics and input signals; it means that our thoughts are not causally affective.

Arouet said:
We are living beings: are we "just" living beings? Do all living beings have the same properties?

We are animals: are we "just" animals? Do all animals have the same characteristics?

We are machines: are we "just" machines? Do all machines have the same qualities?
We are not 'just' living things or animals, because we have the most developed mind (not brain) that allows us to exert the most free will, and allows our complex thoughts to be more causally affective than any other living being on this planet.


Arouet said:
We either have free will or we don't. If we have free will, then everything we value in this life we value having free will. If we don't have free will: then everything we value in this life we value not having free will. Every love you've had, every moment of joy you've had, every bit of pain you've had you've had whether or not we have free will. Changing your mind about this notion does not change these experiences. Do you get what I'm saying? This is important to how to conceptualize this.
It changes something if we have emprical evidence that influencing belief in free will negatively affects behavior.


Arouet said:
3. Destroying a person is therefore the same as destroying a computer.

What follows from the above is no: they are not the same thing. We don't value each other because of whether we think we are properly classified as machines or not, we value each other because of the abiliies we have to love, form friendships, are nature as social animals, sympathise, empathise. We have an interest in working together for all of our benefits, to survive, thrive and be happy, and all the other things we value in each other. We form communities to this end. Destroying a computer affects us very differently than destroying a fellow human. (just like destroying insects and other animals affect us differently than destroying human animals.). A society where there is no value to human life is a pretty miserable place to live. We affect each other, we value each other.
I agree with you to a degree, but if we made robots that simulated love, friendship, etc, we would not feel the same about destroying that robot as a real human. It is the dehumanization of the robot analogy that leads to more permissible behavior and justifying anti-social behavior. This mechanistic dehumanization is one form of many types of dehumanization that is used in a lot of negative behavior.

Arouet said:
4. Is free will "materialist".

As I suggested above, I don't think the free will issue goes away if we are dealing with non-material entities. If these entities exist they operate in a certain manner. They may operate by different rules (ie: not the laws of physics), but we should not assume that they don't have their own rules. If we're taking the evidence of accounts of experiences of non-material beings, we are related accounts that follow coherent orders: accounts of being expressing messages (ie: one word following the other in an coherent order), we have accounts of spirits moving physical objects (one step at a time), we have concepts such as love and experience for these beings that are presented coherently. There is no reason to presume that if these beings exist, that their will is any freer than ours. (this isn't an argument for or against, just that the question should not be presumed to be restricted to physicalist world views.
You are right that a non-materialist or physicalist position still has the free will question. Simply having a soul wouldn't mean that the soul has free will.

Arouet said:
The question: could science exist if we didn't have free will doesn't help us, it seems to me, figure out if we have free will. Nor does it if you replace "science" with anything else. We've done science whether or not we have free will. I'm not sure how science is any different than any other thought process.
I would argue that the very structure of quantum theory involves the "free choice of the experimenter" and probing actions taken by conscious agents.
 
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#12
That is because you seem to fail to see where it leads - to be fair, so do most of those who share the idea. To put it at its bluntest, without free will, we are all just machines. Destroying a person becomes the same as destroying a computer - say - wasteful, but nothing more.

I think the whole question of free will is exciting because to me, it is the weakest link in materialist thinking. The best way to see that materialist ideas are flawed, is to follow the idea that we don't have real free will to its ultimate ends - such as the question as to whether science itself could really exist if those who practice it, don't have real free will.

David
I wouldn't quite say that taking away free will makes us a machine. If a human had no free will but still had an internal subjective experience of pain and suffering, I would not treat that being as a machine.
 
#13
I also think that perhaps it's a myth that all humans are "the same." Perhaps some people don't have free will. And then there's those who do but have been conditioned to leave it on a dusty shelf in a broom closet.
 
#14
I also think that perhaps it's a myth that all humans are "the same." Perhaps some people don't have free will. And then there's those who do but have been conditioned to leave it on a dusty shelf in a broom closet.
I would agree with this. I think free will is a capacity that most humans have, but it requires focus, attention, and effort, especially if it is not practiced. It is an evolution of the capacity of mind.

I also think our legal system recognizes this, as there are reduced sentences for kids since they are not able to make decisions the same as adults, and the same goes for certain mental disabilities.
 
#15
You should read "The Illusion of Conscious Will" by Daniel M. Wegner. Then you should read Ed Kelly's review of the same in the Journal of Scientific Exploration for some sanity...

My favorite determinist is Jerry Coyne, who insists that everything is predetermined by the laws of physics and that none of us has any choice, and who then turns around and bemoans the fact that almost half of America does not believe in evolution. They had no choice, Jerry!!
Love that, his hypocrisy is laughable!

On a similar note. The notion of being a freethinker or in a freethinker club is rather undermined by those who argue we have no free will.
 
#16
Perhaps there's both possibilities. The ideas from "Thinking, Fast and Slow" I reckon illustrate this.

System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious (none or very little free will being exercised here)
System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious (free will being exercised here)

If we're operating from System 1 thinking, there's not a lot of self-awareness going on, and I'd say we're acting much like machines, in the sense we're running programs based on past experiences, so our feelings, thoughts and actions are therefore largely determined. Once we've gained some level of self-awareness beyond most people, our feelings, thoughts and actions aren't as easy to determine, we start acting less like the group, operate in more in System 2 and start showing signs of being our unique selves. So there's a lot more potential for free will to occur here.

This is what I understand about what I've read so far of Gurdjieff on free will as well. He noted how we're in mechanical mode most of the time. So we're running our own programs and can only stop doing that when we recognise a program or an aspect of one. At that point of seeing this program we activate our free will because the realisation of the existence of that program itself is not part of that programming and neither is choosing another course of action based on that realisation.

So then the realisation is one part of free will but acting on that solidifies and demonstrates the extent of that realisation - or in other words makes it real. So then free will is born out of this realisation we have. That's were we gain self awareness. But it doesn't end there because our programming can catch up with that as it might feel too hard or we're afraid and we go back into denial of this realisation and that in itself is like a self regulation mechanism of programming anyway. So free will is actually fulfilled by action that is taken despite the control mechanisms of fear for example. And so with such actions taken and seeing that the things we perceived would occur, don't (in the exact way we feared they would), we overcome fear because we see that it is not real. And so action also circumvents the control / regulation mechanisms of our programs. So free will is also very much based on making decisions and actions contrary to our what often would make us feel bad.

We generally avoid feeling bad and so we're quite predictable in that sense because we'll generally chose the path of least pain (emotional and physical). The more predictable we are, the less we're exercising free will I reckon.
 
#17
Perhaps there's both possibilities. The ideas from "Thinking, Fast and Slow" I reckon illustrate this.

System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious (none or very little free will being exercised here)
System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious (free will being exercised here)

If we're operating from System 1 thinking, there's not a lot of self-awareness going on, and I'd say we're acting much like machines, in the sense we're running programs based on past experiences, so our feelings, thoughts and actions are therefore largely determined. Once we've gained some level of self-awareness beyond most people, our feelings, thoughts and actions aren't as easy to determine, we start acting less like the group, operate in more in System 2 and start showing signs of being our unique selves. So there's a lot more potential for free will to occur here.

This is what I understand about what I've read so far of Gurdjieff on free will as well. He noted how we're in mechanical mode most of the time. So we're running our own programs and can only stop doing that when we recognise a program or an aspect of one. At that point of seeing this program we activate our free will because the realisation of the existence of that program itself is not part of that programming and neither is choosing another course of action based on that realisation.

So then the realisation is one part of free will but acting on that solidifies and demonstrates the extent of that realisation - or in other words makes it real. So then free will is born out of this realisation we have. That's were we gain self awareness. But it doesn't end there because our programming can catch up with that as it might feel too hard or we're afraid and we go back into denial of this realisation and that in itself is like a self regulation mechanism of programming anyway. So free will is actually fulfilled by action that is taken despite the control mechanisms of fear for example. And so with such actions taken and seeing that the things we perceived would occur, don't (in the exact way we feared they would), we overcome fear because we see that it is not real. And so action also circumvents the control / regulation mechanisms of our programs. So free will is also very much based on making decisions and actions contrary to our what often would make us feel bad.

We generally avoid feeling bad and so we're quite predictable in that sense because we'll generally chose the path of least pain (emotional and physical). The more predictable we are, the less we're exercising free will I reckon.
I agree with most of what you said and I think you bring up excellent points. I disagree, however, with your first statement. The reason is that the statement that free will doesn't exist leaves no room for the other position.

Saying that things are often or even usually deterministic but we have the capacity for free will in varying degrees depending on various factors is entirely different from saying there is no free will.
 
#18
I agree with most of what you said and I think you bring up excellent points. I disagree, however, with your first statement. The reason is that the statement that free will doesn't exist leaves no room for the other position.

Saying that things are often or even usually deterministic but we have the capacity for free will in varying degrees depending on various factors is entirely different from saying there is no free will.
Yes you're right, one would cancel the other out. I feel there's always an underlying choice (free will). So my meaning here is more pointing to how our choices can get very narrow and seemingly completely fixed, at which point it would seem there's no capacity to move beyond having responses that are highly predictable. But yes there's a series of choices (free will) that seem to solidify that state on an on-going basis.
 
#19
The question: could science exist if we didn't have free will doesn't help us, it seems to me, figure out if we have free will. Nor does it if you replace "science" with anything else. We've done science whether or not we have free will. I'm not sure how science is any different than any other thought process.
To me, this is the crux of the argument, because arguing whether we become dehumanised if we are machines, is utterly subjective and slippery.

Science absolutely depends on free will. If someone makes a machine to test some theory, it is absolutely vital that they don't just build (or design, or program) a machine that their genes made them design, but that they can use free will to design the thing to test some theory. If they are just part of the system, they can't test the system! A computer is a machine, and we can easily program it to spout nonsense.

OK - plenty of people spout nonsense, but if we believe in science and maths, we have to believe that some don't! We also have to believe that many others can pick out the sense from the nonsense. This requires free will!

This is the real problem with illusory free will (IFW) - it invalidates science and maths!

Science gave rise to the idea of IFW, but the concept of IFW eats science, leaving absolutely no secure base on which we can build!

David
 
#20
Yes you're right, one would cancel the other out. I feel there's always an underlying choice (free will). So my meaning here is more pointing to how our choices can get very narrow and seemingly completely fixed, at which point it would seem there's no capacity to move beyond having responses that are highly predictable. But yes there's a series of choices (free will) that seem to solidify that state on an on-going basis.
I think it is best to think about decisions that are not very emotionally charged - so they are not so hard to decide either way. Think for example of all the free will decisions involved in formulating a reply to this very forum. IFW seems to imply that we act like a function in a program that just inputs one or more prior posts, and mechanistically generates something in response!

IFW invalidates all forms of intellectual pursuit.

David
 
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