Thursday, April 08, 2010

Free Will in Waking Life

I discovered this video while looking for some course material on determinism and free will. I haven't seen Waking Life, but it looks interesting.


Robert Rota said...

Thanks for that video. That was neat, well done. Anyway, you seem like a pretty smart guy. I thought I could run some thoughts by you. I am reserching complexity measures and have recently been interested in the question of non-determinism. So, here it goes. Maybe you can comment? It seems to me events and phenomena can be placed on a complexity continuum. The question is not whether a phenomena is deterministic or non-deterministic but where it lies on the complexity continuum. As you know, deterministic phenomena can be so complex that it can appear random to any normal human, thus it can be indistinguishable (by human consciousness) from non-deterministic phenomena. Therefore, all we can ever really attempt to be aware of consciously is how complex a phenomena is. Free will suggests the existence of non-determinism but; in a complex system (e.g., chaotic) how could you tell the difference? The problem is the magnitude of the complexity. Our human brains have too many primitives and relationships to even begin to model and control all intial conditions to see if a complex phenomena is repeatable (proving determinism). Chaotic phenomena is rather rare in my opinion as it requires some very strict properties.

Measures of complexity suffer from observation bias. For example, too many researchers focus on the neocortical network to explain free will. By restricting the level of detail, they are also dismissing the observation of effectual levels of detail that may exhibit non-determinism. In other words, natural phenonmena has infinite level of detail. How can you conclude anything without caveating it in a time and space context? Let alone if there are other unknown dimensions. So, it follows that a phenomnena such as free will also has to be caveated by dimensional measures.

So, the question of non-determinism / free will. Using my subconscious and its magnitude of interrelationships I hypothesize that free will does exist but is bound by limitations. Limitations to free will include only those phenomena that are locally impactfully and have minimally significant magnitude in time and space. For example, those catastrophic events that effect millions of people and phenomena are in essence deterministic because of their complexity.

steve hsu said...

Face it -- you're probably just a machine experiencing the illusion of free will :-)

However, for the reasons you mentioned, we'll never be completely sure...

Yan Shen said...

Can't libertarian free will be ruled out simply by a philosophical thought experiment? It seems irrelevant whether or not the laws of nature are deterministic or probabilistic. Either way, the entire universe, including human beings, are merely made of particles that behave in accordance with the laws of nature.

Too often the crux of the issue seems to be focused on whether or not determinism is in fact false. But even if determinism were false, so what? It the laws of nature are probabilistic, it seems as if those probabilities are actualized by nature, rather than by some "you" that transcends physical reality and can impact it. If the laws of nature are probabilistic and therefore it becomes impossible even in theory to fully predict human behavior, that in no way implies free will. For if unpredictability is your definition of "free will", then you have redefined it such that it would have to include all of nature as a whole. After all, rocks and trees and rivers and stars and everything ultimately would be bound by the same probabilistic laws and therefore also be unpredictable in terms of "behavior".

So unless you're willing to redefine free will to include the possibility that a single particle behaving probabilistically would qualify as possessing free will, a notion that seems utterly absurd and incoherent to most of us, you basically would have to concede that libertarian free will as a meaningful concept is impossible/incoherent. I think that a major part of the belief in free will stems from the misguided notion that human consciousness arises from a single area within the human brain and that there's a "you" that in effect controls everything. Daniel Dennett has derisively coined this flawed intuition the Cartesian Theater.

Nathan Myers said...

Waking Life is astonishingly good by any measure, one of the few movies worth owning a copy of these days.

That said, discussions of "free will" always and forever devolve into word games, because there's nothing substantial to discuss. Leave them to Deepak.

Nathan Myers said...

Chaotic phenomena are the norm in nature. The only place where quantum nondeterminism matters to living creatures is where they can take advantage of it to respond nondeterministically themselves to nondeterministic phenomena, at (perforce) the molecular or submolecular level, acting before decoherence sets in. Example, photosynthesis.

zzz said...

Free will and the arguments surrounding it must be a uniquely Christian construct, as I fail to see any controversy here. For me free will is the collection of internal degrees of freedom that are self aware, self referential, self regulated, and relatively insolated. Analogies include the internal dialog within a closed community, which can take on a life of its own, (but without the coherency of an individual's thoughts.) The real wonder is our consciousness and how it emerges from the nonlinear interactions amongst the neurons of the neocortex for just our species.

Also the tie between guiltiness and free will seems contrived to me. Justice can be based on criminality of the act alone. Call that street justice, at least it is "fair" and has clarity.

The question of determinism is redundant too. There are no closed form solution to many body systems. It's impossible to measure the state of the universe to predict even a pico second into the future, nor can you carry out the necessary computations without creating a blackhole even if you were given a complete set of initial condition, if that exists. Not to mention that there are no clear evidence for the existence of a complete and computable mathematical description of microscopic dynamics. So why are we even worried whether it's true to state that microscopic dynamics and initial conditions fully determine complex macroscopic systems? That's like arguments between a married couple -- you can't even figure out what the argument is about, and in fact in most instances there is no argument, just emotions.

AndersoN said...

You should definitely watch Waking Life. The movie has an interesting structure and all the monologues are filled with brilliant ideas.

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