Re: Free Will vs Group Think

Omega (
Mon, 27 Jan 1997 01:12:00 -0800

Hi John,

Digging deeper into this can of worms, let's see what I can come up with.
I may strike at some deeply held beliefs, but when I talk about any of this
stuff, it's not anything personal so much as a peek into the subtleties of
the human memetic process.


> > >John:
> > >I don't think the question of determinism has much to do with
> > >free will. He [Turing] 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.
> >Omega:
> >This is misleading in the extreme. Free will has everything to do
> >with the absense of determinism
> Why? Everything, absolutely everything, happens because of cause and effect
> OR it does not happen because of cause and effect, and if it does not then
> it is by definition random. From your last post I thought we agreed on this.

Random can either be defined broadly as that which lacks specific pattern,
or narrowly (as you do immediately above) as that which happens without
cause. The problem is that many things (as in a digital slot machine) can
be random (in the broad sense) because of Turing non-predictability, while
yet being totally deterministic.

The classic definition (in my own words) of free will in philosophy, theology
(ackh), and culture at large, is:

The ability to select or to not select an action (or to select a specific
action from amongst a set of more than one) free from constraints imposed
by external circumstances, or by other agencies (such as divine will) that
might impose additional constraints not found in the external circumstances.

In this classic meaning, free will was possessed by someone, within some
scope, when the the possessor of such was considered to be a sufficiently
unconstrained causal agent that he has the freedom of choice as defined above
within that scope. Or in simpler terms, one has free will if they are an
acausal agent within some realm (regardless of whether any such acausality
actually exists because one might, in fact, lack free will as so defined).

The rise of deterministic science (a la Newton) showed us (because of our
rising knowledge of internal constraint) that free will in the classic mean-
ing either does not exist, or for those more cautious, is of much less sig-
nificance in our lives than we previously imagined. Philosophically, the
hidden determinism of genes, hormones, etc. was not considered to be free
will, but was considered to be merely another constraint upon one's free
will. In this regard, a system (be it a digital slot machine, or a human
being) was considered to lack free will if it was entirely deterministic,
even if the actions were unpredictable because the determinism operated from
an unknowable depth of detail/complexity.

Since science, by definition, does not deal with the unknowable (except for
defining the boundaries of such) the scientific appraisal of free will is
limited to refuting its presence wherever predictibility can be found. This
leads to an operative principle which places knowable limits on where free
will may be found as defined in its classical sense:

* Where something is predictable, then free will does not exist.

I agree that your definition is clear and precise (at least in meaning):

> I gave you my definition, it's precise and as good as any I've seen, I'll
> give it again: A being has free will if and only if it can not predict what
> it will do next.

Unfortunately your definition is the logical negative of the classic
definition because when stripped of the self-reference (which I will get
to shortly) it reduces to an operative principle which says:

? Where something is not predictable, then free will does exist.

It is a well established fact in formal logic that the negative of a logical
statement has a different meaning from the original, and furthermore derives
no support as to its validity from the original statement. It may turn out
to be true anyway, but it's not in anyway guaranteed. This redefinition
thus leads a couple of problems:

1. The first is that it changes the the established meaning of a term which
goes back millenia in human culture. For this reason philosophy and
theology both reject it, and to proceed with such a redefinition is to
invite nothing but a communication gap with other parts of society.

2. Free will is a dicey subject in any case, but at least with the original
definition, we can rest assured that almost no viewpoint based upon that
definition has not been examined in minute detail by millenia of rabbis,
philosophers, and theologians more times, and to greater detail, than we
can possibly imagine.

Redefined, every viewpoint based upon it amounts to nothing but an
arbitrary claim that needs to be proven and defended from every angle
because the redefinition asserts as true something widely accepted (by
formal logic) as not being derivable from the original definition.


Beyond the fact that the second definition changes the meaning, there are ac-
tually deeper problems with this definition which our own dialog illustrates:

> > I think there's a big jump when going from 'feeling that we have
> > free will' to 'actually having free will'.
> Not a big jump at all, not even a hop if you use my definition, and that's
> the only one I have ever found useful.

I could say that since your definition equates feeling with actuality that
it is solipsistic, but this would be ridiculous since even a fully determin-
istic system could be guilty of solipsism by this line of thought. The
problem is that as precise as the negative definition is in meaning, it is
not precise in practice; because by failing to refer to any global reality,
it does not provide a basis for describing any form of global truth.

By this definition you could have the "free will" to use your keys to enter
a building, when in fact, you have no such free will because your landlord
just changed all the locks. Likewise there could be millions of things you
feel you are free to do, but in fact can not do because your thougths lack
the biochemical keys necessary for initiating or completing those actions.
I hardly need to mention that the "actuality" of free will that I'm talking
about would (according to your above commentary) change strictly as a result
of changes in one's knowledge regarding self and/or environment. Now I
wouldn't go so far as to say that positivism is entirely without merit, but
when it leads to local definitions of truth, or worse yet solipsism, I
believe that it has exceeded its realm of validity.

So far as I can see, once we strip out all references to local truth in this
new definition of free will, we are back to one of two possibilities:

a. Either free will does not exist at all, in which case this new definition
is wholly wrong because nothing that it called free will, was in fact such.

b. Or, through some form of trancendent acausality in keeping with the first
meaning, some limited form of free will does exist, in which case this
new definition of free will is an immensely imprecise way of telling
us where such free will is found.

And now that quantum physics has clearly been shown to be unable to tell us
whether our reality is even a deterministic one or not, the whole subject is
right back in the realm of philosophy/theology/metaphysics.


This uncertainty as to the "actual" nature of things still does not excuse
the fact that dogmatic orthodox science in the inter-related fields of
computer science, AI theory, chaos and complexity theory, and cognitive
theory have created a monumental red herring by taking the logically
unsupported negative of the traditional definition of free will and
popularizing it as the scientific wisdom of the day.

To say that we might have some form of free will within what might well be
a totally deterministic reality is an insult to anyone's intelligence; yet
this is what complexity based free-will theory tries to tell us is possible.

That thought and knowledge do not determine ontos, was the realization that
led to the repudiation of scholasticism and the foundation of modern science.
But now, in this burst of negative logic, modern scientific dogma makes
the leap to tell us that the mere absense of knowledge that surrounds a
complex/chaotic process is sufficient to account for the ontos of both
consciousness and free will, what poppycock.

Consciousness and free will may or may not exist in actuality, but if we
can't frame the discussion in terms of causal (or acausal) principles, leading
to predictive successes (or failures) with regard to global truth, I fail to
see how our analysis will amount to anything but a return to a mutant form
of scholasticism. Given the well understood fact that the truth of negative
logic is indefinite, these modern claims should all be subject to a very
definite burden of proof. Without proof, we have what amounts to nothing
more than someone's opinion again filling the role of handed down truth.

I can not help but wonder if the quantum mysticism of the orthodox Copenhagen
interpretation of quantum physics has played a role in this. True, AI theory
is a long ways away from QM, but orthodox Copenhagen QM played a very key role
in making acceptable again the idea that mere knowledge can determine ontos.


> > 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"
> Yes, I've found that nearly everybody I meet on the street has exactly the
> same opinions I do.

This is not at all my experience. Whether talking or reading, the only place
I see definitions based upon Turing non-predictability is in the orthodox
scientific community, especially in the inter-related fields of computer
science, AI theory, chaos and complexity theory, and cognitive theory.

As far as the people you "meet on the street", I wonder how many of them are
even aware of the subtle (but very significant) distinction between:

a. Where something is predictable, then free will does not exist. -VS-
b. Where something is not predictable, then free will does exist. ??

Or if they've been educated (pressured) into belief (b) by professors? Or
if they've just absorbed that meme because of all the hype behind it in some
circles in our culture? If this is truly your experience that most people
you meet believe in statement (b) as opposed to statement (a) then the depth
of the communication gap within our culture on these very fundamental issues
is far greater than the already large gap that I perceived.

> >or "political correctness"
> Also true, as any long term member of this list will tell you, I've never
> made a politically controversial statement in my life.

Even something as apparently innocuous as choosing statement (b) as opposed
to statement (a) (or vice versa) has the potential to be a politically con-
troversial statement right off the bat. My reference to political correct-
ness on this issue is not in any way a personal indictment, so much as what
I believe to be a perfect example of how we are completely immersed in it.

> >The redefinition of words to new meanings is right up there with
> >the Marxist rewriting of history.
> I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party.

I wouldn't think so, but the Communist Party (along with leftism and rightism)
are all perfect testaments to the treacherous waters of group think. It was
only about a decade ago that a huge stock brokerage firm was caught running
a multi-million dollar check kiting scheme. Why? Because the entire board
of directors had all convinced themselves that they were doing nothing wrong.

If extropians want to be at the forefront of "some extropian transition", we
might consider what is necessary to disengage us from the natural human tend-
ency to form closed thought systems so that we can somehow avoid repeating
history. We talk alot about ending death, but it seems to me that the immor-
tality of a social system is best achieved by avoiding the memetic closure
that IMO inevitably leads to senescence, and then death one way or another.

How can we even think we're going to conquer personal death until we first
conquer the death of social systems. This is another issue for another day,
but I don't see any way that we are going to conquer any form of death, until
we first conquer memetic closure. Good luck to one and all, I'm with you on
this, but wondering how much we really know of ourselves.

In the Ecstatic Service of Life -- Omega