Free Will

John K Clark (
Fri, 27 Feb 1998 09:55:25 -0800 (PST)


>>In my example the demon did not tell the man of his prediction but
>>now lets pretend he did. Suppose also that the man, being of an
>>argumentative nature, was determined to do the exact opposite of
>>what the demon predicted. Now our poor demon would be in a familiar
>>predicament. Because the demon's decision influences the man's
>>actions the demon must forecast his own behavior, but he will have
>>no better luck in this regard than the man did and for the same
>>reasons. What we would need in a situation like this is a mega-demon
>>able to look into the demon's head. Now the mega-demon would have
>>the problem.

>Bart Troyan <>
>why can't the demon also account for and predict the man's subsequent
>reversal in response to learning of the demon's prediction?

Because the demon won't know what the demon will predict so he can't account
for the demon's prediction.

>The demon can simply lie to the man, saying "you will choose the
>high road", when he knew the man was actually going to choose the
>low road based only on his original brain state.

Well certainly, but that's virtually equivalent to my original thought
experiment where the demon did not tell the man of his prediction.

>The man does the opposite of what the demon predicts, but the demon,
>although having lied to the man, still correctly predicted the man's
>behavior from its own perspective.

But not from the perspective of the man or any other third parties.

>Hal Finney <>
>The whole argument about people who do the opposite of what you
>predict doesn't shed much light on free will, in my opinion.

I think it sheds as much light on free will as the subject deserves,
damn little.

>Imagine a computer program which outputs a 0 or 1. You are supposed
>to type in your prediction of what it will output, and then it prints
>out its choice. Now write the program so that regardless of what you
>input, it prints out the opposite value. [...] This does not reflect
>any true inability to predict the future of these systems.

It seems clear to me that is does restrict your ability to predict this
system, unless you keep it secret, and if you do that the prediction isn't of
much use.

>Well, certain -justifications- for a criminal justice system would
>be things of the past.

Yes indeed, that's the point. In the matter of criminal law the general
public, and lawyers in particular, have some strange ideas about the purpose
of punishment. They seem to feel that if someone has derived pleasure in an
evil way it is the law's duty to somehow balance the books by making the
lawbreaker suffer. The clich‚ about man being responsible for his own actions
is merely a rationalization for sadism. This leads to endless convoluted
irrelevant arguments reminiscent of the medieval one about pins and dancing
angles. What was the mental state of the lawbreaker? Did he grow up in a good
home as a child? Did he undergo a lot of strain as a adult? Is there anything
physically wrong with his brain? Was he in full control of his faculties?
And even a question that philosophers fight about to this day "does he know
the difference between right and wrong?". Little wonder that the legal system
is hopelessly backlogged.

The only logical or moral reason for punishing a wrongdoer is to prevent a
similar crime from happening in the future; it's the difference between
justice and vengeance. Making an evil person suffer just for the fun of
seeing him in pain is pointless and cruel, after all a bad man suffers just
as intensely as a good man.

>It could certainly no longer be seen as a means of prevention or

Huh? If the state of a serial murderer's brain causes him to do evil things
and you change its state so it no longer does evil things, then the brain has
been improved and is obviously a good thing to do. We can do that right now
in about a minute with 10 amps of current at several thousand volts.
Someday there will be methods that are somewhat more subtle.

>It fact, it wouldn't really be justice, it would just be a means
>of retribution.

I don't follow that at all.

>Or more like societal screening. Get rid of the 'bad ones'

Exactly. Getting rid of the serial murders seems like a wise policy to me.
What does that have to do with retribution?

>Granted, a flipped coin is incapable of predicting its behaviour,
>but insofar as it is incapable of acting upon its state, it clearly
>is not 'free.'

Part of a coin is its momentum, the coin's momentum acts on its state and
determines what side it will land on. Part of you is your desires, your
desires acts on your state and determines what job you will accept.

>Free will is the ability of a system to make choices which
>ostensibily allow it to alter it's "fate;"

OK, but the initial conditions of any system will always alter it's fate.

>In order for this system to be able to 'choose' among these routes,
>it cannot be contrained by any internal or external pre-determinism.

Then our actions have no cause, when somebody behaves strangely it's
pointless to ask "why did you do that?" because there is no reason, no cause,
all our actions are random.

>The key then to free will lies not only in the unpredictabilty of a
>system's behaviour, but it's internal ability to choose it's
>behaviour. This is not an observable trait!

If free will is an unobservable trait then logic can not help us and there is
no point wasting valuable brain cells thinking about it. I'm not interested
in unobservable traits, that's why the tooth faire, the soul, Peter Pan, God,
or devil demons from pango pango bore me to tears.

>It appears to me that I have free will.

Me too. According to my definition there is no doubt, I do have free will.

>I feel strongly that -I- am 'choosing' to type at this keyboard
>right now. I feel this way because I am aware of the possibility of
>doing something other than typing at this keyboard. I am unaware of
>anything 'forcing' me to type at this keyboard. I can test this
>belief very easily. I can stop typing. I can continue typing.

I've talked about free will before and somebody always includes a
demonstration. Usually someone picks up an object and drops it from one hand
to the other and says "This proves I have Free Will, I can hold it in my hand
or I can drop it. If I drop it it's not because anything made me, in fact I
could have held on to it but I didn't feel like it". When I ask why he didn't
feel like it the only answer I get is "I just didn't!" as if that explained
everything. If I point out that I was the cause of the demonstration by
bringing up the subject in the first place, anger sometimes results.

To say "I can chose to do what I want to" is not an expression of absolute
freedom but a severe restriction on it for the clear implication is "I can't
choose anything I don't want to".

>I am possesed of the experience of free will. But does this mean
>that I do indeed *have* free will?

Yes. If you feel free you are free.

>can we have free will independent of our perception of it?

As I've said many times, you need to tell us what free will is, and do so in
clear consistent unambiguous language, then we can debate whether people
have it or not. I've done just that with my definition, I haven't seen
anybody else do the same.

John K Clark

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