Free Will vs Group Think (was Re: DNA vs Freewill)

Omega (
Sat, 25 Jan 1997 16:43:25 -0800

John K Clark wrote:

> On Sat, 25 Jan 1997 Omega <> Wrote:
> >if "reality" is ultimately deterministic (at least by my
> >understanding of the word) then irregardless of any amount of chaos
> >and complexity, there is absolutely nothing about our lives that
> >isn't completely predestined, even the words we type in here.
> But there is no way we could know what that predestined behavior is so we
> would still feel free, we would still have free will.

Whoa, I think there's a big jump when going from 'feeling that we have free
will' to 'actually having free will'. Admittedly both concpets have their
place in the discussion of the subject, but confusion seems like the most
likely result if we mix them up in our analysis.

> >Von Neumann's proof against determinism is long since dead, not only
> >has the many worlds interpretation bypassed its logic, but Bell
> >discovered in the 60s that it contained a mathematical blunder such
> >that it only rules out determinism if reality operates by strictly
> >local rules (Or in more modern terms, in a reality without the
> >advanced action Chalmers talks about).
> Von Neumann was a very great mathematician, I don't think the man was capable
> of making a mathematical blunder even if he wanted to, however Von Neumann
> was not a great physicists, his mistake was physical not mathematical.

Sorry, his blunder was mathematical not physical. Specifically he applied the
average of a set to the individual members of that set when doing his mathe-
matical proof. The error was discovered in 1935, by mathematician Grete
Hermann, but was ignored in the scientific community for over 30 additional
years until John Bell rediscovered the error in 1966. In the words of John
Bell himself:

> The Von Neumann proof, if you actually come to grips with it, falls apart
> in your hands! There is nothing to it. It's not just flawed, it's silly!...
> When you translate [his assumptions] into terms of physical disposition,
> they're nonsense. You may quote me on that: The proof of Von Neumann is
> not merely false, but foolish!

The quote comes from an interview in Omni magazine in May 1988 on page 88.
A copy of it and the relevant discussion can be found in John Gribbin's book
'Schrodinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality' on page 155. It is surely
a cautionary tale of the human propensity for "group think", something which
John Gribbin goes on to address by paraphrasing David Mermin's 1993 article
from the 'Reviews of Modern Physics #65 (1993) page 803:

> Writing in 1993, David Mermin referred to the generations of graduate
> students who might have been tempted to construct hidden-variables
> theories but had been 'beaten into submission' by the claim that von
> Neumann had proved that it could not be done. He said that von
> Neumann's 'no-hidden-variables proof' was based on an assumption so
> silly 'that one is led to wonder whether the proof was ever studied
> by either the students or those who appealed to it to rescue them
> from speculative adventures' in the realms of quantum interpretation.

Gribbin goes on to point out: "that physicists can be just as gullible
as anyone else in accepting an idea because 'everybody knows' that it
is true", which brings us back to the subject of "free will" where you
go on to say:

> At any rate, I don't think the question of determinism has much to do with
> free will because even if the universe is completely deterministic (and I
> doubt that it is) it would still not be predictable, and I'm not just talking
> about practical concerns and chaos theory.
> >I think the best guidance on this subject doesn't even come from
> >physics, but from Godel
> I agree, and Turing's work may be even better, he proved that no computer
> program (and I think that's what we are) can predict what it will do next,
> that is, if it will ever stop. The easiest, indeed the only way to know what
> a computer program will do is to run it and see, we figure out what we are
> going to do when we actually do it. This would be true regardless of whether
> the Universe is deterministic or not.

This is misleading in the extreme. Free will has everything to do with
the absense of determinism, while predicitability only shows us where
known determinism precludes the possibility of free will. To take the
inverse of this and define free will as the absence of predictability
is to gratutitously redefine the meaning of the term "free will" itself
since the inverse of a proposition can not, in general, be assumed to
have the same truth value.

The short definition of free will is: "The ability or discretion to
choose; free choice" [The American Heritage dictionary 3rd edition].
It defines a reality that is refuted by the presence of either
necessity or predictability. A secondary definition that talks
about constraint has a somewhat obsolete definition that fails to
take into account the modern human understanding that constraint
may be internal as well as external, BUT that does not justify
changing the primary definition into its inverse.

This gratutituous redefinition of "free will" to mean Turing non-
predictability in the AI, extropian, and scientific community is, in
general, a strong testament to the pervasiveness of "group think" or
"political correctness" within the human condition in general, and
the blindness that such "group think" inspires. The redefinition of
words to new meanings is right up there with the Marxist rewriting
of history. It is not something that we are in any way free from
simply because we are "scientific", or "extropian".

In the Ecstatic Service of Life -- Omega