Free will might be nothing more than a trick the brain plays on itself

[Read the post]


When one thinks about the laws of physics a bit, the notion of free will goes out the window. I’s nice to see someone demonstrating this empirically.


As a fan of Occam’s Razor, it seems more likely that free will is just an illusion.


I thought we’d already established this, but I may just be imagining that.


No. It’s going to be established 1478 days from now.


Not if I can help it.


But quantum <insert technobabble here>!


I like how Mykel Board put it, (something like) why can’t I free will myself to the other side of the universe?


Free will is just a poorly defined term with no useful meaning.


I disagree with the whole thesis, just like I was destined to-- ah, forget it.


As long as we can still have third act surprises, where an arrogant evil overlord thinks they know how the hero will act, but the hero takes an entirely unexpected course of action, that is enough free will for me to stay entertained until my preordained demise.


I really wish people would decide exactly what free will is supposed to mean before declaring it real or not. Does a choice being weighed out by our brain before we consciously approve it mean it’s not our free choice? For that matter, does the outcome of a choice being predetermined by our personality, experience, mental state, and other aspects of our brain instead of coming up randomly mean it’s not our free choice?

As someone who identifies reasonably well with my brain, I would have said no to both. It seems like few others use the term that way, though – instead free will means when your consciousness makes choices that do not follow from anything else about you. Not really sure why that is something you’d want, honestly.


People want to be “right” even in situations where there aren’t right or wrong answers, such as the one simulated in this experiment. The experiment doesn’t seem to take that into account, therefore I think it is flawed as far as determining whether these decisions were made by “free will” or not.


I really wish people would decide exactly what free will is supposed to mean before declaring it real or not. Does a choice…

The key word there is choice. If free will is an illusion, you never had a choice. If free will exists, you had a choice. As far as I know, there’s no evidence for free will and it may not be provable. There are some interesting experiments trying to show the opposite though.

You can expand on free will and start talking about determinism in general. Those that believe in an entirely deterministic universe (as I do) will say that everything you do was determined in the instant of the big bang.


I think it is amazing that nobody in 2000 years of discussing the nature of free will has ever had an idea like this.


The problem is that if it’s true, we need to maintain the illusion that it’s not in order for society to function. In a deterministic universe, how would you ever convict anyone of a crime? Sure, they did it, but they were destined to do so, and utterly had no choice in the matter. And, in fact, you have no choice whether or not to convict that person, because that decision was made in the instant of the big bang!

If the universe is deterministic, it’s deterministic in such a way that we will never be able to see every possible consequence of even the smallest action. A half-heard song can lead to a memory can lead to a conversation can lead to an action that can change someone’s life, and that person can go on to change the world.

Perhaps you’re right, and the future is set in stone. However, the only way I can become a better person, to make things better in my life and the lives of people around, is to believe that it isn’t: that my choices can make the future better.

And if that isn’t free will, if it’s just the illusion of free will overlaid upon a electrochemical computer whose outputs were fixed before I was born, and those outputs end up as “he was a good person,” I can live with that. I’d rather be a good person in a universe where being a bad person was only the illusion of a choice, rather than having a real choice and using it to cause pain.


Free will suggest some kind of supernatural agency.


Again, you are talking like we have any say in the matter. If we are just Sims, then we do whatever our machinery makes us do.

Of course that’s what you are going to do. It’s not like you could do anything else.

My personal belief goes beyond determinism all the way to believing that the universe is just mathematics. Not that mathematics can model or simulate, but that mathematics is everything.


Determinism is not meaningful in a system as complex as our Earth, which has enough particles in it that the number of possible interactions is stunningly large. Sure, you could try to predict the future by simulating all the particles and their interactions, but enough errors would accumulate so quickly that the simulation would go awry after a tiny fraction of a second. That’s not even taking into account meteorites, which have demonstrably changed the Earth in dramatic ways.

But free will is just as meaningless as determinism. Every decision you seem to make is worked out by some electrochemical activity in your brain, triggered by external events and guided by your memories of past experiences.

In short, shit happens.


Yet even allowing that – using non-singular rather than non-deterministic quantum mechanics, I suppose – you still have to decide what choices mean.

Saying a choice is something made by me can be variously defined, but my feeling is it should at least imply the outcome is something that depends on me. That it’s the result of my mental state, how I’m inclined to react to whatever circumstances, what I’m like. In other words, it should be determined by the universe’s current state, since all those things are a part of that. If the outcome were random instead, it’s not really my choice.

I’m guessing in bringing up determinism, you’re taking the exact opposite position. That seems to be the more popular notion, that if someone who knew me perfectly well could tell what I was going to do then it’s not really free. But again, I’m not really sure why I would want my actions to be free from my own nature; it doesn’t seem like it captures much of what people actually intend when they say something was done of their own volition.

It really seems to me like the concept of free will people argue may be an illusion and the concept people feel like they have don’t line up at all. Right now it’s as doop says, too poorly defined to be meaningful.

I’d apply this here too. Does the universe being deterministic really mean people don’t sometimes try to commit crimes? It might mean you can’t justify vengeance against them as if they were a causeless source of evil, though I’m not sure why their choices being random makes them more responsible.

But in any case you may still see when someone is causing harm and so try rehabilitating them, or keeping them away from others as necessary. And really, isn’t that a better idea regardless of how the underlying reality works? We don’t have to maintain any pretenses about that, we just have to try for what works best.