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Is Free Will an Illusion ?

Posted on 2014-12-22
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2015-01-08
Is Free Will an Illusion ?
          - or -
Are there choices that can be ?

Neuroscience vs philosophy: Taking aim at free will
http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110831/full/477023a.html - Kerri Smith
Scientists think they can prove that free will is an illusion. Philosophers are urging them to think again.
Question by:SunBow
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LVL 26

Assisted Solution

by:Fred Marshall
Fred Marshall earned 48 total points
ID: 40513291
The experiment reported may have not actually done what the article suggests:
"but the team discovered that a pattern of brain activity seemed to predict that decision by as many as seven seconds. Long before the subjects were even aware of making a choice, it seems, their brains had already decided."
This implies that there is but a single "decision".  Nothing is said about decisions leading to decisions leading to decisions ....... and how their measurements might have differentiated between these events.
For example [using my own descriptive notation]:
-They told me to push the button when I felt the urge.  I'm not feeling so disposed right now.
- They told me to push the button when I felt the urge.  I'm feeling disposed to do that soon.
- I have to decide which finger to use.
- I think I will use my right finger next time.
- I think I will push the button when the next letter between "a" and "m" shows up.
- There's a "k", so I will push the button with my right finger.

Thus, there's the idea of incremental decision making (which one might call "planning") and this raises the question of how one differentiates with the fMRI between them.  Some are rather distinct decisions and others are rather notional as in "right now I'm feeling sorta..."
One can imagine 7 seconds between the first and the last but not that the last decision *itself* was preceded in the brain by 7 seconds seems a reasonable hypothesis.

Then there is the issue of "feel the urge" vs. "decide".  One often feels an urge to do things that they decide to ignore or avoid or reject.  One occasionally has urges to do bad things and succeeds in rejecting those ideas altogether and always.  I believe the part of the brain that controls such things is well known.  Yet, this study doesn't seem to differentiate between urges and decisions.  The article says that instructions given to the subjects was about urges and not about decisions.  And, just to be clear, the decision to press the button (which *is* a decision) results apparently not from the urge but from a thought process that evaluates the subjects' conception of an "urge".  

Also, people may act on whims (which means acting without much of a decision process i.e. urges) while, at the same time, generally be guided by their will in everyday actions.  Does one negate the other?  I one behaves whimsically, do they lack free will?  If one is guided by free will, do they never act whimsically?  Consider yourself as a shopper with a credit card in hand.

One might conclude that the article is junk.  
One might even suggest a good course on the design of experiments.  But that's hard to tell from the article.
LVL 24

Author Comment

ID: 40513661
>  when I felt the urge.
- yeah , felt urge for bathroom break, urge to flirt, urge to perform what they want, urge to be different...

There's also the Einstein relativity quote on how time is different when hand on hot stove versus time sitting next to pretty lady. Similar for habit over long steady drive on open road versus noticing 'accident' ahead

So, what do you think, other than value of pursuing some 'experimenter' and similar results,

» Is there free will?
» Is it  that some have it, others do not?
(maybe: )
» are some (or all) stuck to fate?
(or even)
» What's illusion, what to do (or not) about that
LVL 15

Assisted Solution

ZabagaR earned 48 total points
ID: 40513736
No, it's not an illusion, it's a whale movie.
Oh, sorry, I thought you said Free Willy.
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LVL 24

Author Comment

ID: 40514178
ST4? Cool. One's afterlife, another's testament, another's goal, or fate vs destiny.
LVL 18

Accepted Solution

Rartemass earned 64 total points
ID: 40514243
Even if there is a 7 minute delay instead of 7 seconds, the "decision" was still made in your brain, using your neural pathways and physiology. I skimmed the bulk of the linked article, but it didn't seem to indicate if the researchers showed which letter was seen prior to the decision being made in each participant. If they were all the same letter then there might be something for their argument. If they were all different, with different timings and different fingers being used then how can it say there is no free will?

By my definition, free will is the ability to freely make decisions on your own and act on those decisions as you see fit. Making these decisions is a result of your brain chemistry, experiences, education and many other factors. You are free to make a poor or wrong decision. You are free to suffer the consequences of your decisions. All this experiment can show is that the decision process may take longer than we think, but it doesn't suggest there is no free will.

Try thinking of a time when you didn't want to make a hard decision. You thought about it for an hour or more, tossing up both sides but in the back of your mind you knew what you were going to decide but weren't ready to admit it to yourself. That decision was made well in advance. Does that mean you didn't decided it for yourself?
LVL 15

Assisted Solution

ZabagaR earned 48 total points
ID: 40514344
The universe obeys all the laws of physics, from the tiniest to largest particles. There's no magic or uncertainty.
It can all be calculated though not with current technology.
"God doesn't play dice" as Einstein noted.  The entire world we live in including us adhere to those laws. We're made up of a bunch of physical particles.
So while it may appear there is free will, I don't think there truly is.
It's just that we don't know all of nature's laws and can't calculate all of the variables that go into the system.
Consider throwing a handful of 100 sided dice.  Is the outcome random? It sure seems to be.
Be what if you could calculate every single aspect and variable (gravity, speed, etc.) just as the dice left your hand? Not doable now in practice but in theory yes. The result may appear completely random but the die roll results could be calculated out. It's not some mystical result.  We just don't have the ability to determine the result ahead of time which makes it appear random.
I apply that to free will.  There's nothing we can do to take in all the internal and external variables that lead us to think what we think and do what we do. But, I believe its all governed by science & laws of physics.  It's just too complex to say the least to ever be "figured out". So it's as good as "free will" from our own internal perspective but ultimately from an external one I don't think it exists.
I never saw the Free Willy movie by the way.
LVL 27

Assisted Solution

tliotta earned 40 total points
ID: 40517411
Making these decisions is a result of your brain chemistry, experiences, education and many other factors. You are free to make a poor or wrong decision. You are free to suffer the consequences of your decisions.
Make up your mind. Are decisions "a result of" brain chemistry, etc., or is it free will? One or the other. The issue is that you can't claim both, which is what you seem to be doing. If the decision making process is a physical process in the brain, then it is not 'free will' essentially by definition (disregarding the lack of a real definition of 'free will that both sides in the debate accept by consensus).

"God doesn't play dice" as Einstein noted.
That should be written as "...as Einstein mistakenly noted." Given the context of the statement, as far as experiments have shown ever since, Einstein was wrong. Also, if the assertion was true, it would effectively mean that there is no 'free will'. It would mean that the universe is totally deterministic (no dice throws).

LVL 24

Author Comment

ID: 40536982
Abandoned (14 Days)
= about time for closing comments
LVL 24

Author Comment

ID: 40539493
Reduction of the above..

> The experiment reported may have not actually done what the article suggests ... One might conclude that the article is junk.  

> That decision was made well in advance.

- Or perhaps 99%, some room for further input, or reevaluation

>  it's as good as "free will" from our own internal perspective but ultimately from an external one I don't think it exists.

> The issue is that you can't claim both,

- er, but then again, I can, whether obstinate, superstitious, or simply subject to alternatives to chemistry, such as electrical. We can get to emotional later, but have likely not left that 'explainable'.

In sum, this seemed to be initially concurring on lack of ... respect for the science underlying the citation. For MQ, while I don't see much for agreement, more like there be more than one answer for the question

> Is Free Will an Illusion ?

Wondering, what is illusion...

Done, pointing out... 10 ea for 4 , a little more for best and length
--"nothing you can do that can't be done"

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