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Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 06 Feb 2011, 20:56
by CedarMist
I'm interested in people's views. Please take the "We" in the title to refer to any group you want (humans, animals, etc) but specify what you are referring to when you answer.

Do we have free will? Can we make any choice, no matter how insignificant, without being 100% influenced by our brain chemistry and our past experiences? That is, are nature & nurture the ONLY things that make our personalities? Does a belief in free will necessitate a belief in a third acting force (such as the Gods, a soul, etc)? Is that free will partial or total (are there some decisions we can make, and others we can't)? Define 'free will' if you need to.

Would it be only humans with free will, or would animals have the same capacity to choose?

Be warned, I may decide to play devil's advocate on either side, just to keep it interesting ; )

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 06 Feb 2011, 21:31
by DJ Droood
CedarMist wrote:Do we have free will? Can we make any choice, no matter how insignificant, without being 100% influenced by our brain chemistry and our past experiences?
I can't think of any choice that could be made without brain chemistry and past experience....even autonomous functions require brain activity...I suppose you could make spur of the moment choices that don't require "a lot" of access to rationalization and drawing on experience, but it is will..and it is free....
That is, are nature & nurture the ONLY things that make our personalities?
That seems to encompass the totality..our biological make-up and outside influences...
Does a belief in free will necessitate a belief in a third acting force (such as the Gods, a soul, etc)?


I suppose if you have a notion that your actions are not controlled by yourself and your environment, you would have to conjure up a third force...god, ghosts, the government broadcasting into your head, UFOs, Sam (as in Son Of)...but all these things are still part of your nature...your imagination...your brain chemistry...even if you can't prove they exist in your environment. (your nurture?)
Is that free will partial or total (are there some decisions we can make, and others we can't)? Define 'free will' if you need to.
We are free to make our own decisions. Even if someone puts a gun to your head and tells you to jump off a bridge, you still have the choice to do it or not. (even if all your choices will end badly.)
Would it be only humans with free will, or would animals have the same capacity to choose?
If they aren't making choices for themselves, I'm not sure who is....Sam again? Colonel Sebastian Moran, enemy of Sherlock Holmes? God?

Be warned, I may decide to play devil's advocate on either side
I have steeled myself.

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 06 Feb 2011, 21:54
by CedarMist
DJ Droood wrote:
I can't think of any choice that could be made without brain chemistry and past experience....even autonomous functions require brain activity...I suppose you could make spur of the moment choices that don't require "a lot" of access to rationalization and drawing on experience, but it is will..and it is free....


We are free to make our own decisions. Even if someone puts a gun to your head and tells you to jump off a bridge, you still have the choice to do it or not. (even if all your choices will end badly.)
What I am saying is that maybe you can't make that decision. If you, for example, make spur of the moment choices, it it because something has caused you to. What that choice is or what the result is could be random (I'm thinking of pulling names out of a hat when choosing a spouse) but the fact that you are doing it that way is because of some past experience or part of your chemical psychology which has made it so that choosing your spouse randomly is more important to you than striking a good match, so you could not possibly do it any other way.

In your bridge-or-gun example, for instance, there are many things at play. Do you have a past experience which leads you to believe you could survive the fall? Or snatch the gun? Or talk your way out of it? Assuming the attitudes your nature & nurture have developed thus far make survival the most important, you will pick the one most likely to succeed (in your mind). If you pick one you don't think will succeed, or you choose to be shot, it is because something other than your survival is more important to you (proving a point or testing a theory or something).

It seems you will choose the thing which your brain has slotted as the highest priority (again due to nature & nurture, if we agree nothing else has an influence), whether you are immediately aware of that priority or not.

...I hope that was coherent.
DJ Droood wrote:Be warned, I may decide to play devil's advocate on either side
I have steeled myself.[/quote]

Haha, awesome : P

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 06 Feb 2011, 22:20
by DJ Droood
CedarMist wrote:It seems you will choose the thing which your brain has slotted as the highest priority (again due to nature & nurture, if we agree nothing else has an influence), whether you are immediately aware of that priority or not.
I suppose some choices could be instinctual, or influenced by things we are unaware of (such as my favourite excuse, pheromones)...but it is still part of our nature...I think I see what you are saying though..we may not always be conscious of why we make certain choices...deep genetic coding or chemical imbalances or what not...we probably have numerous autonomous systems that operate with only our vague awareness....

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 06 Feb 2011, 22:25
by CedarMist
That's what I'm getting at. It just seems to me that if there's no third force, then what we have isn't sufficiently equipped to give us free will. I guess I'd say we do make choices, we just don't have any control over the one we make?

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 06 Feb 2011, 22:31
by DJ Droood
CedarMist wrote:That's what I'm getting at. It just seems to me that if there's no third force, then what we have isn't sufficiently equipped to give us free will. I guess I'd say we do make choices, we just don't have any control over the one we make?

I don't see a third force coming into play...I understand that we can be unaware of the forces (the two primary ones you mention, nature and nurture) that influence us, and I know that the human mind needs answers, and will come up with imaginative ones when rational ones are hard to come by (Sam told me to do it, God did it.)

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 06 Feb 2011, 22:39
by CedarMist
I wouldn't say that one IS coming into play, just that without one (I'm thinking of the soul or something similar) we just don't have the capacity to make a 'real' choice.
Sorry, I really don't have the vocabulary to explain better than that...

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 06 Feb 2011, 23:11
by Huathe
Personally, I believe God gave us freewill, otherwise we would just be mindless robots programmed to follow him. It means far more to him that we choose him than it being merely a pre-programmed have to.

The Angels have freewill too, otherwise Lucifer could have not rebelled.

Uh, oh. This is the Skeptical Druid. DJ Droood prevails.....~laughing~ :grin:

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 07 Feb 2011, 01:29
by Jake
CedarMist wrote:I wouldn't say that one IS coming into play, just that without one (I'm thinking of the soul or something similar) we just don't have the capacity to make a 'real' choice.
Sorry, I really don't have the vocabulary to explain better than that...
I think I can see where you're coming from. I'm constantly telling my partner (who thinks he's a rationalist :wink:) that he uses the words "free will" and "rational faculty" in the same way that religious people use "spirit" or "soul" or "higher self," and with what sounds like much the same meaning.

And while I believe very strongly in maximizing the capacity for individual freedom of choice, I believe in cause and effect, not some amorphous and non-quantifiable quality of "free will."

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 07 Feb 2011, 01:40
by Jake
Hawthorn_Ent wrote:Uh, oh. This is the Skeptical Druid.
Yes it is.

And knowing this, why do you continue to be so shamefully disrespectful of the guidelines for this forum? How would you feel if the tables were turned? As someone who is obviously very sensitive about being a minority in the Druid community because of your religious beliefs, why can't you extend the same courtesy to others that you hope to receive?

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 07 Feb 2011, 02:02
by Huathe
I am not being disrespectful. It is that this forum can have sometimes overly strong conflict that CAN lead to disrespect. I have nothing against opinionated conversation as long as it stays civil but it is not always the case here.

And DJ. I was not trying to pick on you here. It just seems that this forum is your stronghold. I apologize for any offense taken here.

PEACE :greenpeace:

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 07 Feb 2011, 02:20
by DJ Droood
Hawthorn_Ent wrote:And DJ. I was not trying to pick on you here. It just seems that this forum is your stronghold.
I girded my loins several posts ago. And I do consider this sub-forum a stronghold..not mine, certainly..I am but a juggling clown in a court of great minds defending reason.

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 07 Feb 2011, 02:31
by Huathe
And you do it well DJ. I am sorry if I offended you and I have no doubt on your intelligence, and I am not calling you arrogant. :shake:

And I will let you all get back to the original topic.

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 07 Feb 2011, 03:08
by Nicholaas
CedarMist wrote:I wouldn't say that one IS coming into play, just that without one (I'm thinking of the soul or something similar) we just don't have the capacity to make a 'real' choice.
Sorry, I really don't have the vocabulary to explain better than that...

What constitutes a "real" choice here? And how would a non-corporeal imbued essence somehow make a decision more "real"? The "god-given free will" most theists proclaim to have isn't free will at all; a command to act, even if it's to act freely, is necessarily not free. It's a self-contradictory proposition, as is much of theism (hey, it's the Skeptical Board, I can say that!).

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 07 Feb 2011, 03:29
by wyeuro
my sense of it is that the question breaks down into smaller bits.
what is will? the ability to drive ones own behaviour? i suppose that's what i mean by it anyway.
what does free mean in regard to will? uninfluenced, or simply uncoerced by forces from outside one's own system?
if free will means the ability to manage ones own behaviour independently of external forces, since the impulses that arise in us are responses to details in the event scape happening around us. we are part of the event scape, and so experience, life, behaviour etc, are events in a chaotic situation, such that all events effect all other events and are effected by them simultaneously and continuously.

yes, there has to be more than nature and nurture predetermining a choice or decision which we might want to think of as wilful, or willing, or willed, but i don't think we need to posit a distinct entity for that, unless it be the event scape interacting with us in informing and putting spin on our worldview.

no impulse arises in us except in response to external forces (am i wrong about this? - what do others think?). if this be so, no wilful act is ever entirely free. every act is an act of the whole. every impulse arises from the whole shebang.

well, that's my thoughts on it. fire away! :duck: :-)
wy

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 07 Feb 2011, 04:04
by DJ Droood
wyeuro wrote:yes, there has to be more than nature and nurture predetermining a choice or decision
Why is that? And what is that? (the "more" than nature and nurture)

I think "nurture" is a pretty big snow globe...anything that exists that has in any way had influence on you...gravity, for instance....

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 07 Feb 2011, 04:46
by wyeuro
oh, okay, drood, i think i see what you mean. you want to include the event-scape, past present and future, that we're embedded in, as nurture? ye-e-e-es, in a sense, but . . .

our perception of the event scape we're in is conceivably another entity, distinct from it itself because never entirely accurate, and yet not quite either ourselves or separate from ourselves. we put it out there and we respond to it, and it does to some extent regulate, inspire and sometimes dictate our reactions to it, including how we use our will, and how 'freely'.

i'm seeing nurture as that which has shaped us in the past, whereas, the events going on around us are always full of new stuff that we're only now responding to on the basis of what we've inherited and what we've experienced up until now. that's just a matter of how you see it, i think. i suppose i was thinking in terms of a triad: what you are, what you've learned, what you're now encountering. hmm, i still see a third entity.

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 07 Feb 2011, 08:30
by Explorer
Technically we don't have a free will, imho. In the sense that all matter and energy is already going where it is going, and you could theoretically predict everything. Only theoretically, never in practise, but it does mean that there is no need to assume supernatural forces.

But "technically and theoretically" is not how we live. From our human perspective we have lots of free will, and so do animals, they can choose to go left or right, depending on all kind of random circumstances (random in how it is experienced, totally predictable on the lowest theoretical level ofcourse :whistle:).

The only thing of value that I take with me from the theoretical musings is that there is no need to include gods or the supernatural. There can be a wish, and even experience, for such things on a human emotional level, but those are very probably just illusions.
In our spirituality we learn how to create them, and in our education we learn how to recognize them as such.

Mmm.. I wonder what kind of illusions animals have.

In short: Yes and No
(ovates like paradoxes).

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 07 Feb 2011, 10:24
by Badger Bob
But how do we measure free will or the lack of it? It's not enough to say that two identical beings would make the same choice in the same circumstances (one idea bounced around a Christian forum that I infect) because you simply can't have two beings (no matter how identical) operating in the same space at the same time. Free will could be the result of a massively complicated system and appear to all intents and purposes to be capable of random creative thought due to the slight changes in environment and experience present when the thought process is initiated. Small changes amplify through massively complex systems as any stochastic modeller will tell you. If we add in such ephemera as non-linear time and indeterminacy thought becomes increasingly similar to a true free or random system giving a convincing simulacrum of free will. Being within the system of course, we shall never know the difference.

Re: Do We Have Free Will?

Posted: 07 Feb 2011, 16:17
by Jake
wyeuro wrote:if free will means the ability to manage ones own behaviour independently of external forces, since the impulses that arise in us are responses to details in the event scape happening around us. we are part of the event scape, and so experience, life, behaviour etc, are events in a chaotic situation, such that all events effect all other events and are effected by them simultaneously and continuously. ...no impulse arises in us except in response to external forces (am i wrong about this? - what do others think?). if this be so, no wilful act is ever entirely free. every act is an act of the whole. every impulse arises from the whole shebang.
I really like what you're saying here. There are an infinite number of factors involved in even the seemingly simplest choice we make and our impulses, choices and actions arise from and are embedded in this complex web. So rather than being a question of simplistic determinism on the one hand or an illusory absolute freedom of will on the other, we can see our decisions as the intricate interactions with "the whole shebang" that they really are.