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Does Freewill Exist?


What are the current view points on "Free Will" ?

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  1. From a scientific viewpoint, I think your debate on randomness is very important. If scientifically there is no randomness and therefore everything follows fully described rules (determinism) how can there be free will? If however quantum theory dictates that there is randomness in the universe the path is clear for the existence of free will.

  2. Voltaire and Locke proved that free will is an absurd concept. Someone's will is simply the dominant idea in that person's brain. We don't know how ideas form but we have no control of it. We are obliged to follow the thoughts in our brain and in that sense our will can never be free.

  3. One of the problems facing free will is its conflict with the omniscience of a Christian God. If an omnipotent God knows that John will do X tomorrow then, from the definition of omnipotence and "to know", John will do X tomorrow. This leaves us with two conclusions:

    a) Either John has no free will. Everything he does is decided by God.


    b) John is utterly predictable. i.e. John is simply an automaton that responds to situations in a predictable way. The information received by his senses is turned into responses without any original (i.e. unpredictable) thought.

    The question now is "If John is utterly predictable, all be it by an omnipotent being, does he actually have free will?". To be sure, there is nothing on earth that we would describe as predictable and having free will.

  1. I don't think that the above is utterly conclusive. I am always saying things like " I knew that you would do that" or "John is going to hit the roof over this". Often I'm right, but my belief in no way interfered with anyone's free will. Why should God knowing something have any influence either?

  2. The difference is in the use of the word "know". In your statements, you only THINK that John will hit the roof. To KNOW something will happen means that it absolutely will. If it is known that I will do something, through knowledge of my personality for example, how can I do anything else?

  3. What's wrong with God knowing your personality? How does that invalidate your free will?

  4. Personality is, in part, decided by your genes. If genes decide free will, what freedom is that?  

  5. The above discussion (comments 5 - 7) is philosophically termed the religious argument for Epistemic Determinism:

    Premise 1 -If x knows that you are going to do [some action] A, then you must do A.

    Premise 2 -If you must do A, then you have no choice in the matter.

    Thus If x knows (beforehand) that you are going to do A, then you have no free choice (i.e. you will not be able to do otherwise than A).

    Or, put another way:

    Foreknowledge is incompatible with free will.

    This appears to be true (the conclusion follows from premise 1 and premise 2) but premise one is incorrectly written. The argument should read:

    Premise 1 - It must be that if x knows that you are going to do [some action] A, then you will do A.

    Premise 2 (unchanged) - If you must do A, then you have no choice in the matter.

    Thus - If x knows (beforehand) that you are going to do A, then you will do A.

    Here we see that the fallacy is corrected as premise 1 and 2 are now talking about different things. In premise 1 the person "will" do something but premise 2 says you have no choice if you "have" to do something. The conclusion is therefore incorrect. Foreknowledge no more 'forces' the future to be a certain way, than true reports in history books 'force' the past to have been a certain way.

    Adapted from Norman Swartz's notes on freewill Copyright Norman Swartz 1997

    For very good and comprehensive notes on the conflicts with the Christian concept of God see Don Mannison's Notes on the Existence of God

  6. The question of the existence of free will is so difficult to answer as observation, the cornerstone of science, can provide no information. We can watch animals or humans apparently make decisions all day and still not know if they are actually weighing up options. Someone doing the same thing when faced with the same situation proves nothing. Someone doing a different thing when faced with the same situation could be freewill but also randomness and anyway, it is impossible to confront one person with exactly the same situation twice.

  7. If humans do not have free will then neither can they have true (as in absolute not personal truth) logical reasoning. With no free will all events and thus all reasoning is either pre-determined or random. Random reasoning should obviously not be listened to and there is no reason(!) to assume that a pre-determined reasoning should be correct in the absolute sense. It is easily possible to create a computer with pre-determined but totally daft reasoning (this can be seen in animals too). With no free will we cannot listen to the reasoning of others or even ourselves in a quest for absolute truth. If we do have free will then at least we can decide what we think the next line in an argument should be and whether we agree with what others have said. Although this is no guarantee we are right we can at least take notice of our thought and those of others.

  8. One's will is either a slave to one's passions or to one's reason and is therefore never free.

  9. Precisely, Every choice is a case of the strongest desire prevailing (including the desire to be rational) and you don't choose what you desire nor how much!

  10. Comment #1 is wrong because "free will" implies that you are making a decision. If your decision is just a result of quantum randomness then it is caused not by your volition but by randomness. Foreknowledge of your behavior on God's part does not force your behavior. So that is not the problem. The problem with an omnipotent God who set the universe in motion is that his set-up action ends up causing your behavior. Therefore if you end up badly it's not fair because you had no choice.

  11. What I mean in comment 1 is that if science can prove that the world is completely pre-determined then that leaves no room for free will. If on the other hand they think another non-understandable factor is at play (and true-randomness is not easy to understand) then freewill could get a look in.

  12. Paraphrasing Voltaire's "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him". I believe that if freewill didn't exist we would need invent it or at least evolution would. Being self conscious almost forces us to believe in freewill. For most people the idea that everything is determined is actually very depressing and thus, as a defense mechanism against depression (and in-action) evolution has given us an internal belief in our own freewill. I don't believe that "freewill" is a concept that has to be taught, I believe it is something you would discover (correctly or incorrectly) through experience. 

  13. If it was proved that everything in the universe was determined then we would have a problem with freewill. But even then, we would have to make sure there were no special cases for this, and this would mean being able to fully analyze the actions of the human body, particularly the brain, down to every single atom in every neuron, etc. This is doesn't sound feasible. So lets not look at the physics quite yet, because it would be very hard to prove that the human body is not acted on by some exterior "force" (i.e. a soul or spirit).

    So lets look at our experiences. I'm a self-conscious being. There is a difference here between me saying it and me really being self-conscious: I could write "I am a self conscious piece of paper" on a piece of paper and nothing would change about that paper's inability to perceive itself. Just think, if we all had no self-consciousness, we would merely be some biological entities sitting around and typing to each other on the internet as we do now, *but* we would not be anymore truly conscious of our actions than the piece of paper with "I am self-conscious" written on it. And in my experience, which seems to be very similar to what others tell me is the case in theirs, is that there is some clear difference in being me than being the piece of paper. I KNOW I am not the piece of paper.....but the paper doesn't. And given that this all points to some external force like a soul or spirit, and that we observe ourselves choosing to get out of bed every morning, even when we don't want to, I believe that we can't be simply determined *or* random.

  14. Just because we are self-conscious does not mean we have free-will. As I said in comment 4, what if evolution brought out this feeling of self-consciousness precisely to get us to get out of bed each morning (and thus survive, breed etc.). Just because you feel you have free will does not mean that you have it.

  15. Then wouldn't evolution be a consciousness of nature? When we evolve, isn't that nature's way of telling us that we are ready for the next step in our lives or throughout our existence as a race or as one person? To survive, to breed, to satiate a need or hunger would not be an act of our free will, but an indulgence of our basic need to survive. To choose how to survive, to choose a food you want to eat that would be based on free will.

  16. Nature/evolution doesn't "tell" us anything, it is simply a fact of life. We as an individual do not 'evolve' in the Darwinian sense, and when one species evolves into another it simply means that the new species is better suited to the environment. Having said that, I like the idea that freewill can only be practiced when we are free from immediate and basic pressures like hunger or cold. The beggar takes what he can get, he does not have freewill.

  17. What you believe to be true is true in it's outcome. The person who believes that they are just a  piece in a game  will not act to change their life. Therefore giving them the sense that they don't have control because they never took it. However if we believe in free-will then we change the outcome throw pure will power. Do we not?

  18. I absolutely disagree with comment 20. Either everyone has freewill or nobody does. If freewill exists they the non-believer is exercising his free will not to believe. If freewill doesn't exist then they are fooling themselves. To some questions there is an absolute answer.

  19. Theoretically if you had a computer powerful enough to recreate the entire world and everything/one in it, including their thought process and their memory do you think it would mirror our world? I think everything we have ever done is just an influence for the next thing to happen in some way or another. I think the very force behind the universe itself could be predicted if every variable was understood and interpreted by something clever enough so our ability to make a pure random choice is also impossible. It only appears random to us.

    [There have been a lot of comments like number 22, referring to the predictability of molecules, their lack of free will and the possibilities of infinite computing power. This they conclude disproves the existence of freewill and randomness. I would like to refer 'intloafers' to the page on Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. This shows that it would not be possible to work out all the initial starting principles with sufficient accuracy. Without the original data, the computer could not predict the future. - Webmaster]

  20. Even if the information existed, where could it be stored? Lets say that only two quantities are required to describe a single particle (in reality it is many more) and that therefore the starting data consists of two bits of information per particle. The smallest memory bank possible would require at least one particle to store one bit of information. Therefore, if the memory bank was to store information on all the particles in the universe, it would need to be two universes big! As we can see, this machine cannot exist and Nothing can be concluded when we start with assuming the existence of something that cannot exist!


Visit the related page: Freewill Vs Morality. 


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