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Do we have free will, or is everything already planned for us?

Could cloning disprove free will?

Postby Jet Ski » Sun Sep 16, 2018 1:06 pm

Consider the following thought experiment: If I created a perfect clone of you and immediately after that presented evidence for some claim to both of you, could you be convinced to a different degree? Ot, could two people with exactly the same brains in exactly the same neurophysiological state act differently given the exact same stimuli?
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Re: Could cloning disprove free will?

Postby jimwalton » Sun Sep 16, 2018 1:07 pm

It's an unrealistic hypothetical, but I know what you're getting at. I would say yes, because we are more than just neurons and chemicals. As two separate entities, these two hypothetical people are indubitably seeing life from two distinct vantage points because they are in unarguably different spatial relation to the stimulus.

Just for a little bit of explanation. "Physicalism" is the position that claims physical existence is all there is. Everything can be explained by mindless molecules and chemical neural events, and all perception of reality is governed by the laws of neurobiology. But if this is the case, I believe that reason, volition, and even language are suspect. Reason necessitates considering unique paths of cause and effect, possibilities, plausibilities, and even nonsense. I believe that determinism is reductionistic. Reason requires dynamic neuronal processes including not just data processing, but also social-relational processes and an assessment of possibilities and probabilities. As such, deterministic neural connections are inadequate to explain the capabilities and functioning of the brain. And since language is effective only if it is endowed with meaning, and meaning is non-material (neither matter nor energy), the essence of meaning is entirely distinct from both energy and matter. Language therefore demands a non-material source, since it is impossible that the meaning of language has a material cause. The laws of chemistry and physics offer no clue whatsoever that matter can assign meaning or otherwise deal with meaning at even the most rudimentary level. Atoms cannot assign meaning to meaningless symbols to form vocabulary or to give meaning to vocabulary. Therefore I conclude that high-level conscious thought, including free will, is non-reducible to mere neural activity.

Therefore it is entirely possible that two people, despite their identicalness as outlined in your hypothetical, are separate entities with distinct spatial perspectives, distinct consciousness, given the dynamic nature of neuronal possibilities, and therefore capable of unique reactions to the exact same stimuli.
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Re: Could cloning disprove free will?

Postby Jet Ski » Mon Sep 17, 2018 9:16 am

How is this all different from the classic "I can't imagine how that would work, therefore it must be wrong." ? There are almost 90 billion neurons in the average adult human brain, each one having about a thousand connections. To say that you can make a certain statement about what this immensely complicated information processing structure would (not) be capable of producing, and which emergent phenomena could (not) arise from it, just seems dogmatic to me.

I'll happily respond to your specific points about reason and language later, so don't think I'm trying to avoid your arguments. I just want to discuss this more fundamental point first.
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Re: Could cloning disprove free will?

Postby jimwalton » Mon Sep 17, 2018 9:24 am

> How is this all different from the classic "I can't imagine how that would work, therefore it must be wrong." ?

Because that was not my point. My case is built on the fact that studies in neurology have led us to evidence that consciousness and volition cannot be explained by biology and chemistry alone. We are merely following the evidence where it leads, not defaulting to "It's too deep for me, so I can make up whatever I want." We know more about the brain all the time, and it's not leading us to an adequate explanation of life as we see it. The brain does what it does with almost miraculous (though some would use that word) capability and organization, and yet what results are some emergent characteristics not explainable by the neurons and chemicals. That's the point I was making.
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Re: Could cloning disprove free will?

Postby Jet Ski » Tue Sep 18, 2018 4:17 pm

> My case is built on the fact that studies in neurology have led us to evidence that consciousness and volition cannot be explained by biology and chemistry alone.

Can you point me to a few sources that best support this? I'm very skeptical that anyone would make such definitive claims.

I'm not a neuroscientist, but nevertheless here's what I think about reason, volition and language:

1. Reason is what we use to come to the same conclusion despite our different subjective minds. It's based on a feeling of what makes sense and what doesn't, what's logical and what isn't, that stems from our experience of the world and that's deeply engrained in us. We can't control what makes sense to us and what doesn't, and we can't control what we understand or not and to what degree. One apple plus another apple just equals two apples. You can't decide what you find plausible and what implausible. In my opinion, this kind of rigid thinking could very much be solely based on a deterministic brain.

2. You have no control over your volition, which again speaks for a deterministic brain. This, btw, together with the fact that you can only deliberately do what you most want to do, and only ever choose want you most want to choose, is a very simple argument against free will in general.

3. Language is just encoding, transmitting and decoding of information. There is no mystical, transcendental meaning to it. The "meaning" is how the information is interpreted. If I build robots that can produce specific rhythmic patterns of air waves and that also have a detector to pick up these waves and transform them back into electrical impulses, then these robots could communicate with each other via a code. Maybe one robot uses artificial intelligence to scan images for their content, and transmits the results via sound for other robots to receive. A second robot might be programmed to "understand" it and correctly interpret the data as descriptions of images while another one "thinks" they are bank balances or scores of a game or ASCII code. There is no inherent meaning to the information transmitted, it's all about how it's interpreted. Exactly the same goes for human language. Among other things we are sound detecting robots, but what we make of the sounds we hear depends on how our pattern recognition has been trained - whether we understand a language or not. A word is just a particular pattern of sound waves without any inherent meaning to it. If you hear a word that you know you can't help but understand it, and if someone says a word in a completely foreign language it doesn't mean anything to you, and you can't decide to understand it. Or you could make a random, meaningless sound, and someone from a different country might be completely sure you just said something in their language. Again, it seems that a complicated, programmable network of neurons is all you need.
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Re: Could cloning disprove free will?

Postby jimwalton » Tue Sep 18, 2018 4:37 pm

> Reason is what we use to come to the same conclusion despite our different subjective minds....etc.

Yeah, I agree with a lot of this. We've already discussed it and agree somewhat. Obviously where I part from you is that I think there are many things we can decide about what makes sense to us. We weigh evidences, feelings, and intuitions. Right now the subject of Kavanaugh's fitness for the Supreme Court is one of those. We do get to decide what makes sense to us. We weigh whether it's politically-motivate slander, whether he should be held to task for a single event during his high school years (if it's even true), whether people are allowed to change, whether he is a good choice given his conservative leanings, whether we are being told the truth about his positions, and on and on. I think it's our reasoning process that begins to form in us what makes sense to us.

> You have no control over your volition, which again speaks for a deterministic brain

I think determinism is self-defeating. If you have decided to be a pure determinist, then you're not a pure determinist. If you're a pure determinist, then you do not believe it for rational reasons. You believe it because you were determined to believe it and you don't control what makes sense to you. It is impossible to believe in determinism for rational reasons. The only way you can believe in determinism for rational reasons is if determinism is false. If determinism is true, then it doesn't make any sense for you to say that determinism is true, because if it is true, then you are assuming there are rational reasons for believing it. Fine, believe it, but if you're right, then your position is no better than the opposite, rationally, because you believe people believe things aside from any rational basis.

If, as a determinist, you cannot distinguish between right and wrong on moral grounds, then you can't distinguish between true and false on rational grounds, and so you can't say determinism is true. Your conclusion that determinism is true is of the same worth that murder is wrong, because the same casual forces that generate in me the belief that murder is wrong generates in you the belief that determinism is true. One position is no stronger or weaker than the other. I could just as well claim that murder is right and determinism is false. That means I have no reason to believe that determinism is true. And if determinism is true, I can't believe it for rational reasons; I can only believe it because it is an effect working in me against which I have no control. In other words, if you're right, you're also wrong. It's not a tenable position.

> Language is just encoding, transmitting and decoding of information.

I think language is far more than this. We ascribe meaning, various meanings, depth of meaning, and even create meaning. We tie emotional and intuitional value to language. We speak of concretes and abstractions. I think language is far more than encoding, transmitting, and decoding. Not only do individual words have abstract meaning, but even the sequences and combinations of words can yield different and possibly even greater meanings. Math is a language, has no material source, and probes far deeper than the decoding of information. I just don't agree with you here. I'm not trying to be insulting (honestly), but my mind isn't so small as to think everything can be reduced to neuronal actions, chemical reactions, and decoding of information. I would say that being a Christian opens my mind to huge possibilities, limitless creativity, incredible depths of reason. To reduce it all to biology is, to me, impossible. Please don't take me as insulting you, because I'm not and I don't feel that way. I guess what I'm trying to say is that being a Christian has greatly enlarged my thinking space. I'm talking about myself and where I am, not about you and who you are.

> If you hear a word that you know you can't help but understand it, and if someone says a word in a completely foreign language it doesn't mean anything to you, and you can't decide to understand it. Or you could make a random, meaningless sound, and someone from a different country might be completely sure you just said something in their language. Again, it seems that a complicated, programmable network of neurons is all you need.

Yeah, I get what you're saying here, but it's so much more than that. When I see a Chinese character, I can't exactly sound it out. But when a Chinese speaker begins to try to explain, often the concept goes far beyond language as he tries to explain the nuances and cultural markers, etymology, and what the word truly means. Sometimes as a foreigner I can't even understand the full impact of the word because I have not been part of that culture. It's nowhere near just "decoding." That's my opinion, anyway.
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Re: Could cloning disprove free will?

Postby Jet Ski » Wed Sep 19, 2018 3:02 pm

> I think there are many things we can decide about what makes sense to us. We weigh evidences, feelings, and intuitions.

It seems to me that you're talking about the interaction between many different factors in your reasoning process, whereas I talk about the effect that each factor has on you by itself. I'm saying you can't control how you feel about each single piece of evidence on it's own, how much you trust it, how convincing you find it and how much weight you want to give it in the final analysis. You can't control your intuitions and how you feel about something. And what I hear you claim is that, when you put all these non-free pieces together, somehow it makes a free decision.

> I think determinism is self-defeating.

Do you actually think you can control your volition, i.e. decide what you want and what you don't want?

Believing in determinism for rational reasons is only untenable if you think that "reason" is something transcendental and not based on material processes - which I don't. I think reason is solely based on our brain, which was formed in our development as an embryo and later shaped by our environment. And you can clearly see it, because your reasoning changes. As a child you might find it reasonable that Santa exists and reindeer can fly, but as an adult you don't anymore. From everyday experience you may find it reasonable that heavy objects always fall faster than lighter objects, until you learn about physics and see the experiment in a vacuum - your understanding of the world changes and with it your reason. Luckily most of us reason in the same way, most of the time, but as you later saying "I just don't agree with you here" and "To reduce it all to biology is, to me, impossible" shows: Our intuitions can part, which in my opinion also speaks for the subjective basis of reason.

> If, as a determinist, you cannot distinguish between right and wrong on moral grounds, then you can't distinguish between true and false on rational grounds, and so you can't say determinism is true.

Of course, I, as a determinist, can distinguish between right and wrong. It's just that I can't control what I think is right or wrong. And I think "True" and "False" as well are just intuitions that deeply make sense to us, that are very useful and work incredibly well when talking about the world. They go so deep, we can't really imagine how you could live without these concepts, but that doesn't mean they are some immaterial law.

We could discuss language a bit more, but I think we shouldn't do too much in parallel. If you want we can come back to it later. And I don't take a firm disagreement as insulting :)
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Re: Could cloning disprove free will?

Postby jimwalton » Wed Sep 19, 2018 3:15 pm

> I'm saying you can't control how you feel about each single piece of evidence on it's own, how much you trust it, how convincing you find it and how much weight you want to give it in the final analysis.

Yeah, we obviously disagree. I absolutely feel I can weigh the validity and credibility of various pieces of evidence. I have influence over how much I trust it, and whether I keep it or discard it, whether I give it a little weight or a lot. Absolutely. I control my attitudes, my values, my perspectives, and the reasoning process.

> You can't control your intuitions and how you feel about something.

Of course I can. I am in control of my feelings. I can convince myself of things that have to be true though my intuitions may tell me otherwise. Despite a natural visceral reaction, my reason can work against my intuitions to change a perspective or a response. I can control my emotions and even change them through discipline.

> And what I hear you claim is that, when you put all these non-free pieces together, somehow it makes a free decision.

Yes, that is true. As you read from my previous post, I believe it has to be that way, first of all because otherwise we are not human, second because to deny free decisions is to deny the reality of science, third because to deny free decisions is an abrogation of reason, and fourth because determinism is self-defeating.

If I am testing a hypothesis but cannot truly, realistically and honestly weigh data, consider alternatives, and postulate theories—meaning that it's all already determined and I am not really truly thinking it through but only following an irreproachable determined course—then science is nothing but a sham and my ability to reason is a farce.

> It's just that I can't control what I think is true or false.

This is my point. If you can't control it, it's not "reasoning." It's set, predetermined, and you're not really thinking at all. Not only are you NOT thinking, but you CAN'T think. You're following a unwavering trail, beyond all control, and therefore there's no such thing as right and wrong or true and false, but only what is. Truth or right has no bearing on any of it.
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Re: Could cloning disprove free will?

Postby Jet Ski » Thu Sep 20, 2018 9:45 am

> I control my attitudes, my values, my perspectives, and the reasoning process.
> I am in control of my feelings.
> I can control my emotions and even change them through discipline.

Even if you're able to do all those things, it's only 'free' if you decide to do it. And in order to deliberately decide to do it, you'd need to want to do it, right? So let me ask you again: Can you control what you want?

> If you can't control it, it's not "reasoning." It's set, predetermined, and you're not really thinking at all. Not only are you NOT thinking, but you CAN'T think. You're following a unwavering trail, beyond all control, and therefore there's no such thing as right and wrong or true and false, but only what is. Truth or right has no bearing on any of it.

Even if my thinking is uncontrollable and predetermined, I'm still thinking, in the sense that there's still a process going on in my brain which takes input from the world and produces an output based on the "reason" that was programmed into it by embryology and past experiences. And this process is still very much able to come to conclusions that correspond to reality, just like a robot can measure stuff, run it through some algorithm and compare it to previously collected data, and produce the right answer about whatever. It also makes sense from an evolutionary perspective: To survive, you need to be able to form coherent and true (or true enough) believes about reality, which is why it has been selected for. And it's also why our intuitions break down when thinking about the very small and the very large, because our ancestors didn't need to think about it and therefore didn't evolve to do so.
You seem to object to this view because there's no absolute metaphysical "reasoning" or "right and wrong" or "true and false". But I simply don't think there has to be. It's all cause and effect and maybe some quantum indeterminacy.

By the way, I can really recommend you the Stanford University lecture series about Human Behavioral Biology by Robert Sapolsky (his beard proves that he's a real biologist). It's totally fascinating and he's a great professor, and it's based on established hard science. Here's a link to the YouTube playlist:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqeYp3nxIYpF7dW7qK8OvLsVomHrnYNjD
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Re: Could cloning disprove free will?

Postby jimwalton » Thu Sep 20, 2018 9:47 am

Here's what occurred to me during the night. (Yes, tragically, this dialogue even interrupted my sleep, if you can believe it!)

Let me put it this way. You think everything is determined, that we have no real choices, and we have no control. What you are saying is that life is like a self-driving car that has randomized a route. As we ride along, it’s a farce to say that at a certain intersection I decided to go left, or that I chose to take a scenic route, that I discovered a pretty little town, or that I was going from L.A. to New York, or even that I was taking a good route. I’m doing no such thing. The car is on autopilot. The only reality is what is. I may end up in New York, but I can hardly say that was the purpose. The car is on randomized autopilot—there is no purpose.

Making the analogy to real life, there is no such thing as science. It’s a farce for Crick and Watson to be rewarded for discovering DNA. They did no such thing. It was on the route, and they had no part in it. It was given to them. They didn’t think it through. They had no choice. There is no such thing as speculating a hypothesis, as researching data, weighing evidences and arriving at a conclusion. There is only following the route. No one “discovers” anything. It is all set, it is all given. For that matter, we’re not really thinking. It’s a misnomer to call it thinking, because all I can do is follow the route.

It’s also not fair to speak of something as true or false. There is only what is. Truth or falseness has nothing to do with it. Nor can I claim the route is good or bad. What does that have to do with anything? The route is the route, that’s all. Will I get to New York? Who’s to say. There’s no purpose in the trip. It’s purely randomized, and therefore meaningless. I may get to New York, but I just as easily might go in an endless circle. And I can’t say that’s wrong or bad. It is what it is.

If I take free will out of life, the only reality is what is. Science, reason, intelligence, right and wrong, good and bad, and purpose are all meaningless terms and concepts. I can’t affirm that anything makes sense, because I can’t assert that the course was at least designed intelligently or for a reason. “Sensibility” has no place and learning is a misleading concept. The only thing I can affirm is what is, is. Truth is not part of the equation because all that is happening is that we are traveling: survival. The set up was blind (we can’t say the route is purposeful or intelligent), all changes in direction were randomized (we can’t say that any particular end is inherent in the route), and even if we grant that the car has Artificial Intelligence and can “learn” as it goes (natural selection), we can’t assert any particular thing it is “learning” because it’s only program and mode is to drive. Without free will, we negate education, science, reason, intelligence, truth, and morality. It’s all a farce. We are claiming that there is nothing besides what inevitably is.

The core of the problem with this perspective is that it’s fundamentally self-defeating. If we subscribe to it, we can’t claim it’s true or right or that we have come to this conclusion by reason. Those are impossible assertions.

> Stanford University lecture series about Human Behavioral Biology by Robert Sapolsky

I am very interested to listen to this/these. Thanks for the link. It may take me some time to get to it, but I will. Thanks.
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