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Talk:Free will

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Karl Marx on free will[edit]

How many people would see Karl Marx's view [1] in this context as reasonable? Anna Livia (talk) 21:41, 25 August 2017 (UTC)

Rational wiki[edit]

On this site, you won't be able to ad a single bit of information on any subject. Natzi will come and remove any thing you've ad without checking any of it. This is a unidirectional fascist organization, nothing rational here, cause rational is their mindset no matter what. Even when their native language is a defect to understand a concept like free will which is a translation mistake (de libeiro arbitro is the latin locution, which litteraly translate to "free referee" not will). But not even a bit of research will be done, I'm amazed how people refute belief but got only belief to oppose. I'm a skeptics, a zetetician, and this site is not. I see the same bigotry than any religious folks with censorship of what they disagree, without any discussion or analyze. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Civil_POV_pushing — Unsigned, by: 79.84.79.206 / talk / contribs

If there is no free will, how should we view arguing about free will?[edit]

Heh, I re-editted my change in non-gibberish form. Sorry about that; I think my cursor was jumping around in my original contribution. Please discuss concerns, though, even when an initial change looks . . . off. --Bertrc (talk) 21:27, 21 March 2021 (UTC)

Regardless, though, trying to hide a revert as a minor edit is not really cricket. --Bertrc (talk) 21:28, 21 March 2021 (UTC)

Heisenberg[edit]

How does Heisenberg's uncertainty principle affect the concept of determinism?

Given that people believe that they have free will, and the complexity of the universe total determinism from the first instant of the Big Bang seems unlikely - and some form of constrained free will seems more logical/rational. Anna Livia (talk) 19:23, 3 June 2021 (UTC)

The uncertainty principle is effectively nonexistent for something as large as a person, although given how drastically small changes can effect complex systems it could still be possible the “movement” of one particle could effect your thoughts. If it did have an effect, I don’t see how having your decisions determined randomly makes you any more “free” than if there was a clear cause and effect.
A lot of arguments about free will boil down to how you define it. Christopher (talk) 20:14, 3 June 2021 (UTC)
Yeah, I'm not sure if the uncertainty principle applies. Simplified, doesn't the uncertainty principle say that, from within this universe, you cannot know the location and vector of a particle at the same time? ie. You can only know one or the other? I've always thought that, in a sense, learning the location of a particle would change its vector and that by the time you know a particle's vector, it is no longer at the location (and may no longer be following that vector). Such a principle doesn't really apply to whether all of existence is already set nor whether we can are somehow make decisions that are not simply the result of deterministic processes (or, at least, calculatable based on probabilities to be essentially guarateed). --Bertrc (talk) 18:22, 21 June 2021 (UTC)
That’s a very simplified view that’s not quite accurate. The important thing about the uncertainty principle isn’t just that it’s impossible to know a particle’s position and movement, it’s that knowing a particle’s movement means it doesn’t have a location. It isn’t anywhere in particular, and when you do measure its location precisely where it ends up is truly random (although it doesn’t have an equal chance of being anywhere, that doesn’t make it any less random than a die with sixes on two sides). The uncertainty principle does disprove determinism, but I’ve already said I don’t think it’s that relevant to the free will debate
@Christopher, Was the "inaccurate" directed at the first or second part of my post? I knew that the second was just me spitballing, but I thought that the first bit was basically accurate. I have actually never read Heisenberg's uncertainty principle to mean "Knowing a particle's movement means it doesn't have a location". Could you throw a link that uses that explanation? If that view is backed up, you should throw that idea into the uncertainty principle's section. Seriously, I had always heard the uncertainty principle described as an either/or accuracy issue, rather than claiming that knowing the movement means that the position is undefined. Is your explanation at all akin to either of "If you know its movement, then its position is a state of probabilities a la Schroedinger's Cat" and/or "If you know its movement then the it is actually a wave, rather than a particle"? --Bertrc (talk) 22:08, 23 June 2021 (UTC)
“Position/movement is undefined” is usually how it’s interpreted, “it’s unknown” is a simplification (and something people legitimately did hypothesise in the early to mid 20th century when all of this stuff was new) because the idea of something not having an exact position is so unintuitive (plus the layman’s explanation as to why this “uncertainty” exists b/c of quantised energy makes it seem like it’s just a measuring issue). Shrodinger’s cat/wave are actually both correct in this case, the wave is a representation of the probability it is in a particular location, with the peak of the wave representing the greatest probability (although that’s also a simplification, it’s more than that).
This comment is a lot less coherent/complete than it could be but I clicked on the notification and I know I won’t remember to reply if I don’t say something now, I’ll see if I can find a link to a good explanation and do a better job of explaining it myself if I do remember/I’m pinged again. Christopher (talk) 00:11, 24 June 2021 (UTC)
Yes please!! (And I promise that is the only time I'll ping you, here.  :-) I just really wanted to have some stuff to read with that perspective) --Bertrc (talk) 00:05, 25 June 2021 (UTC)


It does raise questions about how you’d define true omniscience. An omniscient being wouldn’t “know” exactly where a particle was before it was measured because it isn’t anywhere, but if they know where it’s going to be is the “decision” still random? Christopher (talk) 18:44, 21 June 2021 (UTC)
Meh, you wouldn't even need true omniscience. You would simply need to have a higher dimensional existence whose vision incorporates a physical view of space curvature and of what we consider time. It wouldn't even need to be infinitely higher, just a few orders. eg. Imagine us in 3D, looking at a 1D existence where the 1D conception of time is our "up". The totality of the 1D existence would be laid bare to us like a tapestry, including every location and every calculation of movement. Basically, we could simply observe the 1D's entire existence from outside that existence. (ignore the 1D's time/space curvature for the moment because that could twist the 1D universe into closed 3D shapes where we could not see inside without cutting the tapestry open) --Bertrc (talk) 22:08, 23 June 2021 (UTC)


Are neurons (and their interactions) of sufficient smallness to be affected by uncertainty? (Some life - viruses and up - operate at least partially in the quantum universe).
If 'a particle at the beginning of the universe' had gone a miniscule fraction of an angular second different would we be reptilians observing the solstice transit of a Hot Jupiter across our sun?
Perhaps the 'colouring book view of free will' - the broad plan is determined, but you can choose which parts to colour and how. Anna Livia (talk) 18:58, 21 June 2021 (UTC)
I doubt it. As I recall, neurons "fire" by allowing . . . potassium? sodium? . . . ions to flood out (and recharge to resting state by pulling them in) The signal travels down the initial nerve, exciting the subsequent nerves it connects to at the end; the subsequent nerves pull in more ions as they get excited. (I think squids neurons might have multiple ends, while we use multiple neurons that branch away from each other) If a subsequent nerve reaches a high enough threshold, then that subsequent nerve fires, releasing its ions and exciting other cells (later nerve cells, muscle cells, etc.) I would think that the ions, the pumps and the gates involved are sufficiently large and numerous enough to allow us to trust the aggregate probabilities, without having to worry about the uncertainty principle. --Bertrc (talk) 22:08, 23 June 2021 (UTC)
So - are probabilities and determinism compatible (the 'colouring book concept' would be a mixture of both - broad pattern determined, free will in the detail)? Anna Livia (talk) 23:12, 23 June 2021 (UTC)


The question is, perhaps, what aspects of 'science' mean that the universe in general and our particular processes of decisions making are not purely determined - but there is some element of randomness where we-as-persons are free to choose at least some aspects beyond the totally trivial (999 times out of a thousand it does not matter what exactly you have for breakfast). Anna Livia (talk) 10:27, 24 June 2021 (UTC)

Well, there is both the "Can we have free will if the future is known?" determinism question and the "Can we have free will if everything is mathematical?" determinism question. I think there is an argument for and against free will within both views. --Bertrc (talk) 00:05, 25 June 2021 (UTC)

The future is known[edit]

No free will -- Well, if the future is known then what we do is already set, so there is no free will. --Bertrc (talk) 00:05, 25 June 2021 (UTC)


Yes Free Will -- Yes our future state might already be known, but that state will have come about because of the choices we will have made of our own free will. Think about your choice for breakfast 4 days ago -- You now know what you chose, back then. It is set. Does that mean you didn't freely choose back then? --Bertrc (talk) 00:05, 25 June 2021 (UTC)

It is all Math[edit]

No free will -- We and our actions are just the products of chemical reactions and physical forces being transmitted as stimuli. The signals sparking in your brain simply create reactions and states we label as "thoughts"; these "thoughts" model something we label as "beliefs". One of these "beliefs" is structured as a claim we have free will. With enough data we could calculate what you will think given certain stimuli. You do not have free will. --Bertrc (talk) 00:05, 25 June 2021 (UTC)


Yes Free Will -- Free will is about making a choice that is not enforced by something exterior. Those "thoughts" you speak of also model "choices". Even if, given enough data, you could calculate my "choices", that doesn't mean I don't have a "choice". You could only control my choice and remove my free will if you could control every aspect of the data involved. --Bertrc (talk) 00:05, 25 June 2021 (UTC)

The question is whether you are still defending the same notion of free will that you started with, or that reflects the most popular account. If I can predict every action you will take in advance, what exactly is the content of your free will? What distinguishes you from, say, a rock, or the moon? In what sense are your choices free, that we could not also say, "the moon freely chooses its orbit"? Clearly, it cannot lie in predictability. A similar objection could be raised against the second defense of free will. What exactly is the content of a choice the outcome of which can be known in advance? Doesn't this conflict with the ordinary understanding of what a choice is? Imagine if you went to buy a car, and the salesman offered you a choice of colors: red or blue, and then said, "Well, you are getting the red one, because that is what you will choose". 𝒮𝑒𝓇𝑒𝓃𝑒 talk 01:21, 25 June 2021 (UTC)
Hmmmmm . . . well, imho, if what we call "thoughts" and "beliefs" are actually the complex potentials and reactions in our brains, then so or our "choices". As far as we know, the moon does not have the complex potentials and activity in any kind of brain construct that would be required for a state we would consider "thought", "belief" or "choice". As such, if free will is defined by executing the various transmission signals as the result of a "choice" configuration of potentials and activities, then the moon does not have free will (nor muscle equivalents that would let the moon change its orbit) --Bertrc (talk) 02:08, 25 June 2021 (UTC)
Well, what really distinguishes these potentials and reactions? Certainly, it cannot merely be the complexity of the reactions. Complex reactions on a grand scale happen in many objects and systems, but this does not seem to impart free will to them. Further, any given potential is much like the moon: it move in such-and-such a way along such-and-such a path. Furthermore, it is quite conceivable that I could construct a model of a brain which involves no potentials at all, instead making use of some other signaling system. So it does not seem like it is the potentials or reactions themselves that impart free will. Now, what about their pattern or configuration? Well, what distinguishes this configuration, such that it could rightfully be called free (or will)? Consider: a large number of moons interacting. Their motion follows such-and-such a pattern. Well, we do not say that the action potentials of the brain have free will, so the moons, analogously, do not have free will. We say the person has free will, though; well, does the collective structure composed of all the moons combined have free will? Perhaps, but this does not really bring us any closer to understanding what is necessary for free will, nor what it really is. The question is: I have an object composed of many smaller entities whose properties and movements are deterministic, so how can the collective be free or have will (in the traditional sense)? If everything is moving along a deterministic route, where is the choice? I feel I am not expressing myself as well as I would like; but it is late, so at least I have that excuse. 𝒮𝑒𝓇𝑒𝓃𝑒 talk 03:03, 25 June 2021 (UTC)
Good grief, there are a lot of points in that post! You're almost as bad a Anna Livia!  :-P~  ;-) P.S. Don't worry; I never express myself well, and I don't have an excuse.  :-D --Bertrc (talk) 20:33, 8 July 2021 (UTC)
If it is all math, at what point do we consider the complexity of a controlled bunch of reactions and effects to be a construct capable of thought and choice? I dunno. I think it is even more difficult than defining pornography. I can give a range: Somewhere between the complexity of a brick and the complexity of my brain. In fact, I would say somewhere between two neurons and my complete brain. Heck, I'll even up it to being between an amoeba and my brain. Maybe even above that of a single ant. I don't think the moon works. At most, it would be the equivalent of a single neuron. --Bertrc (talk) 20:33, 8 July 2021 (UTC)
I would be very surprised if you could model the brain without modeling the equivalent of potentials. Neural networks work by mimicking potentials -- A neural network is essentially a graph with connections between the nodes; the strengths of the connections indicate how much one node can "excite" another node; the connections between nodes are modified by feedback loops -- You could certainly mimic what a brain does without mimicking potentials, such as the "Auntie Em" thought-experiment answer [1] to the Turing test, but I don't think my Auntie Em program would be making choices as we understand them (even though the program explicitly chooses a response, given the input and the history of interaction up to that point) --Bertrc (talk) 20:33, 8 July 2021 (UTC)
I think you are rephrasing the "It is all math and there is no free will" statement at the top of this section. It is certainly a valid perspective but the counter argument, possibly, deals with the definition of the words "choice", "thought", etc. The choices/decisions I make are not controlled simply because you can calculate what they will be. They are still choices made based on what I feel and want. Isn't that the definition of free will? Just because you say those feelings and wants are, themselves, also deterministic reactions of sufficient complexity doesn't mean they are not feelings and wants. --Bertrc (talk) 20:33, 8 July 2021 (UTC)
A possible reply is to reject the popular conception of free will, and claim that we can get everything we want out of free will even outside the traditional conception. Here is a thought for you: imagine a person with no beliefs or desires. Could such a person have free will? What will be the basis of their decisions? On what basis will they choose even their beliefs? One reply is to say, "one must have beliefs and desires before one can have free will", on which account free will consists in the ability to make one's decisions on the basis of these. Such an account is compatible with determinism (i.e. one's desires and beliefs can be formed deterministically, and free will is acting in accordance with them, even in a deterministic way). 𝒮𝑒𝓇𝑒𝓃𝑒 talk 01:21, 25 June 2021 (UTC)
I am not sure a sentient being be without beliefs and desires. Heck, I think even certain non-sentient critters have beliefs and desires (My cat really believed there was another cat on the other side of that mirror!) I am not sure he had thoughts, though. Did he consider things and then choose or did he just act on impulse? I am not sure. Here are some thoughts for you -- What happens if free will but never take advantage of it? Also, if you act without thinking, are you making a choice? --Bertrc (talk) 02:08, 25 June 2021 (UTC)
Well, let's consider the cat. Does it have desires? It seems to. It eats, doesn't it? Does it have beliefs? That is trickier; can one have beliefs without thoughts, or aren't beliefs a kind of thought? Well, if it does have beliefs, then I am quite happy to say that it has some free will (I am a compatibilist, after all). What it lacks, really, is competence to carry out acts that bring about the fulfillment of its desires, generally speaking. I have desires and beliefs, including beliefs about how to fulfill my desires. Following Ayer's model, I'll call an action successful if it (1) is in accordance with my beliefs and (2) fulfills my desires. What could lead to unsuccessful action? Well, maybe my beliefs are in error, and don't lead to the fulfillment of my desires. Maybe somebody puts a gun to my head, and I fork over my money even though I belief it is wrong to do so, and I desire to keep my money. Maybe I have some internal compulsion that leads me to take actions I believe to be wrong. In short, there are many ways to go wrong.
Cats definitely have beliefs (imho) For example, my cat most certainly believed there was another cat on the other side of that mirror. He would go behind, then check the front, then behind again. FInally, a single paw would come around from the back trying to catch that intruder off-guard! When we made him drop that bat out in the lawn and brought him inside, he believed the bat would still be there and returned to the exact same spot. --Bertrc (talk) 02:41, 9 July 2021 (UTC)
I quite like your second question; it perhaps gets mostly at the concept of thought. My immediate inclination is that thought is necessary for choice, but this mostly leads me to think that your cat does have thoughts. Your first question, I think, is something a bit different. What does it mean to take advantage of free will. That would seem to have normative content, and so to diverge from the question of what free will is, to the question of how one with free will ought to use it (or even if they ought to use it). One might think that a person will lead a better life if they think they have free will, but that might amount to "a person will lead a better life if they erroneously think they have free will (whatever that means)", from which follows more ethical questions. Ultimately, it is futile to talk about erroneously believing in free will, before it is even decided what we mean by free will! 𝒮𝑒𝓇𝑒𝓃𝑒 talk 03:03, 25 June 2021 (UTC)
Oh, you just made me come up a verbalization for a thought I have had for some time. Maybe "free will" is when you can have thoughts about your thoughts. When whatever level of complexity necessary for a "thought" is reached, if those thoughts can directly consider other thoughts, then you have sentience and possible free will. --Bertrc (talk) 02:41, 9 July 2021 (UTC)
As for Heisenberg, uncertainty is insignificant on the human scale, and even nervous system processes are so large and involve so many molecules as to more or less nullify its effects. 𝒮𝑒𝓇𝑒𝓃𝑒 talk 01:21, 25 June 2021 (UTC)
  1. Simplified: The Auntie Em program involves recording each answer my auntie Em types into a key board in response to every possible input she could see on her screen, along with all previous possible input strings, over the course of 24 hours. As inconceivably large as that input set is, it is still finite. Then I just hash the history of input to response, and I have a program that would act indistinguishably from my Auntie Em for 24 hours

Determinism[edit]

@131.226.19.107, Sorry. When I hit "rollback" I was thinking "undo" and thought I would be allowed to edit and/or at least leave a comment (I rarely rollback/undo so I have not developed reflexes/habits/muscle memory around them) I'm not sure that your change was an accurate definition of determinism. Do you have a link? --Bertrc (talk) 22:37, 23 June 2021 (UTC)