Free will anyone?

Just to be clear, I only brought up non-computability to point out that the fundamental premise behind Blindsight - which by no means reduces the value of the book - is the hypothesis that consciousness is in fact a “bug” or in real terms an inefficiency that evolution would select against and so the “most” efficient form of intelligence would select against consciousness. But if non-computability should be extended into concepts topics like consciousness the Blindsight premise would be flawed on a fundamental level.

Not really worth disputing the conclusions of someone like the woman in the first video who thinks materialism is self-evident because “physics.” That’s not self-evidence, that’s circularity. She does a fine job of explaining how materialism likely obviates free will, but that’s a lot more limited a conclusion than she thinks. Her defense of morality is extra-facile; if she wants to grapple with that kind of question, she needs get down to the roots of the question and ask whether value itself is a real thing in a materialist framework.

Yeah, the second video is more well rounded. The first one is very reductionist and not in a good way. You don’t use low-level determinism to model complex, emergent systems; you need something else for that, and she completely misses that point, alas.

And much quicker without having to be filtered and examined.

Hmmmmm. It’s an interesting premise to build a book on, but we have no way to know if such a thing would be true or not. When it comes to efficiency and natural selection, I can think of arguments both for and against conciousness, and perhaps there isn’t a “more efficient” way, and maybe we don’t have any way of knowing either way. But as a premise in a book, it’s certainly valid and thought-provoking.

You can’t use evolutionary arguments to prove that inefficient things don’t exist. Otherwise, we would prove that humans don’t have wisdom teeth.

I thought the point was that you can’t get something non-deterministic from a deterministic system? It is certainly possible to get something impossible to predict from an emergent system, but that’s not the same as non-deterministic, which is the key part about free will. You don’t even have to model the system.

It was a fine movie, but I honestly find Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There” kind of problematic given his oh wait wrong thread

Oh, while technically you can’t get something non-deterministic from a deterministic system, you can have something that resembles a chaotic system in such a way that you can’t tell one from the other. I mentioned the double pendulum multiple times here, and it’s a good example of a completely deterministic system that is for all intents and purposes chaotic because it is extremely sensitive to the initial state and any perturbations.

If that is true for such a simple system, imagine the kinds of extremely complex, emergent systems that we have at play here. The brain itself has a hundred billion neurons with complex chemical reactions going on, not to count other physical processes that might influence it somehow (counting external and internal stimuli, and all that). The number of connections between those neurons means any activation could trigger all sorts of activations in other places; the order of those connections may even have causal effects because of the time the signal takes to go from one place to the next.

It’s an inimaginable amount of complexity. Even if it is deterministic, there is no point in thinking about it as deterministic because it is ultimately emergent. You have to treat it as something else, something imbued of a sort of chaos that we don’t associate with deterministic behavior. So calling it deterministic not only doesn’t help in our understanding of the mind as a phenomena; it actually hurts our understanding of it, by reducing a complex emergent system to a much simpler, deterministic one. That’s the bad aspect of reductionism: you throw away the complexity inherent to a system and thus you lose any real understanding of it. As Einstein once said, “everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”.

So even if our minds are ultimately deterministic because of the deterministic nature of the underlying processes, it isn’t useful at all to think of them like that, because of the degree of complexity that can be found there, and our complete inability to ascertain what the initial states are or even all the processes that comprise it. It’s better to approach the mind phenomenologically, because that will give us a better understanding of how it is actually perceived by us, and give us better models to understand it.

And we experience free will as a thing. In phenomenological terms, it is something that exists, because it is perceived as such - even if at a low level it doesn’t. As Juan described brilliantly:

“Experience” is the key thing, there, which makes free will a phenomenological concept. We arrive at free will as something we experience and perceive it as a real thing. Even if it doesn’t ultimately exist (as in the rigorous definitions of physics), it is more real to us than atoms ever will be. And that’s why it should be treated as such.

“You don’t have free will, but don’t worry.” …

It seems I am worrying, therefore I have rejected the hypothesis.

I think that’s what makes the topic tricky to discuss - we all think we know what free will is, and what it means for us. I am typing these words, and I obviously chose these words in response to your words. That’s a choice I freely made! Obviously, I have free will!

Speaking as an interested layperson, the thing I was missing is that considering the brain’s activity (and by extension, ourselves) as an iceberg, so much of what goes on there is beneath the surface of conscious thought. And a lot of that drives our actions constantly, more than we probably recognize. Decisions are often made before are consciously aware that we made them. But we acted, we moved, we chose, even if we may not recognize that we did so in the moment.

We were animals for millions of years before we were civilized beings, and in a very real sense we’re animals still - running on a primitive operating system that we’ve patched to hell and back. I’m not qualified to say to what extent a person’s free will exists but I do believe our hands aren’t on the steering wheel quite as much as we think.

Which is why it’s much more interesting to see what neurologists, sociologists, biologists, psychologists and philosophers have to say on that matter, rather then the physicist’s “atoms!”.


I definitely have not done a PhD thesis on the subject, but Many Worlds is entirely deterministic is it not? The seeming randomness of quantum measurements is just due to which particular decohered superposition of our multiple selves we find ourselves observing the experiment with.

Yeah, I agree with this. When people think of free will, they’re saying: “I consider my options with my conscious mind and choose one.” It doesn’t matter in that statement whether options, consciousness, or choice are ultimately deterministic or not.

BUT, it turns out even that probably isn’t true. It’s probably more like: “I choose an option and then my conscious mind makes up a reason for my choice.”

Many Worlds makes no testable predictions and is not falsifiable, so it’s arguably not a scientific theory.

But even if you accept it on faith in an attempt to preserve determinism, it negates the determinist’s objection to free will: free will could cause an agent ends up in a particular branch of the multiverse.

Most philosophers do not believe that free will is compatible with determinism. There is even a name for the minority who do: “compatibilitists”, for example Dennett. The rest choose one or the other.

My impression is that it’s no less falsifiable than the probabilistic interpretation of QM, i.e. there’s no experimental way at present to decide between them. But it’s not impossible to conceive of a test of it; something like Wigner’s friend could be used.

I guess? It depends on what you mean by “agent.” A MW perspective says that all superposed results of any experiment are observed by a superposition of the agent. That the agent’s perception of its own superposition is fractured by decoherence doesn’t mean that perception is randomized. Any decohered fragment might perceive a single result, but it’s all one thing not many things. The superposition is what’s real, not the perception. It’s hard to find room for free will there. It’s definitely a free will of perception, not reality.

I have a feeling that if this is true, “most philosophers” are also not materialists. This is a personal prejudice, but it’s really hard for me to take non-materialist descriptions of reality very seriously.

Suppose there is agent with free will in one branch of the multiverse, and N branches at some time in the future. If the agent can cause itself to occupy a particular future branch, then it has free will without violating determinism.

Not necessarily. There are determinists who don’t believe in free will, and non-determinists who do. Compatibilists fit into neither category and are probably a minority.

Also, note that materialists and determinists do not entirely overlap.

My YouTube trash understanding of many-worlds makes me twitch with frustration, as i feel like its basically solving causation problems with magical infinities. (IE, any non-zero probability in an infinite system is 100% certain to occur). But i’m hardly equipped to judge.

The agent occupies all branches all the time. It doesn’t choose to occupy one branch or another; it occupies them all. It just has a fragmented perception of itself because there’s a “wall” of quantum phase noise that prevents interactions between separate superposed states of itself. It can’t choose which fragment to occupy any more than I can choose which of my eyes I’m seeing with. It’s both, even though they both “see” separately.

MW outside of sci-fi narratives is indistinguishable mathematically from probabilistic QM. Once wave function collapse/decoherence has occurred, you can’t observe quantum superpositions anymore. There are no accessible infinities, even if they constitute reality.

Sam Harris did a good podcast with Lex Fridman last week on this topic.

I totally disagree with him, but only because I feel like he’s wrong. I don’t think you can prove free will one way or another. But you can certainly make behavioral predictions.

What I find particularly offensive are the determinists who reject free will to the extent that they reject societies’ notions of individual responsiblity.