Log in

No account? Create an account
Aug. 7th, 2019 @ 04:39 pm OK Maybe We Have Free Will 40% of the Time
Do we have free will?

Forget your preconceptions. If you ask, "what does it look like to have free will" or "what does it look like NOT to have free will", it rapidly becomes a lot more obvious what you actually mean by that question.

What does it mean to NOT have free will? Well, think of examples:

* Someone asks you to pick a number between 1 and 10. You felt free to choose any number! But it unbeknownst to you beforehand, it turned out that you were more likely to pick 7 than any other number
* You are trying to concentrate on something. But there's some delicious food / a person you're fond of / a persistent worry in your brain which keeps stopping you
* You're drunk, tired, too young, or otherwise impaired, and can't fully understand the options and have to choose between them based on a very limited understanding

All of those where you're TRYING to do something, but something stops you. Often something INSIDE YOUR BRAIN. And I mean, that bit is still you. "Being bad at choosing random numbers" is just as much a part of you as anything else.

I used to stop the argument there. That's who you ARE. It's still that 'you' choose. If you don't like that you're not a pure abstract reasoning machine, that's not a "don't have free will" problem.

I used to jokingly phrase it as a syllogism

Premise: You are actions are predicted by deterministic rules.
Premise: You control your actions
Conclusion: You ARE deterministic rules.

But that's not actually the whole story. Sometimes those "something in your brain stops you" happens more than others. Choosing to do something else instead of eating when you're hungry is HARD, but you usually can if you try hard enough. Some things are harder to suppress. And you can't choose to "not sleep" or "not breathe" by strength of will however much you try.

Sometimes more free will, sometimes less.

What about all those OTHER times. Everyone knows that sometimes something overrides your attempt to decide something. But the rest of the time, when it feels like you have a free choice, do you really?

Well, there's some other exceptions. But... we know a lot of the time, your brain is running on heuristics that produce weird answers like "the first choice offered" or "the choice most like what you remember from childhood". Even when we don't know that it's half-assing the analytical reasoning, it probably is some of the time. That's just who we are.

What about what when people say "no free will". Like, an implacable force forcing you to certain outcomes? Well, if you count the laws of physics, then yes, we already covered that. If you mean something else, then, "there's no way to tell, but probably not".

What about practical consequences? Well, yes, act like you have free will. And what about other people? Well, sometimes they do and sometimes they don't -- interact with them in ways that work, not ones that meet some theoretical standard of "fair".

You can also comment at https://jack.dreamwidth.org/1109796.html using OpenID. comment count unavailable comments so far.
About this Entry