Do you believe in free will?


The blogosphere works in strange ways.

I just landed on Vanishing Zero while I was blog hopping. The post about free will and determinism was interesting, but I didn't get it all, for it linked to this blog post by Scott Adams, and this New York Times article. So I ended up reading those as well. Then I came back to Vanishing Zero, thought for a bit, and posted a comment.

Midway, I realized that this would be too long of a comment, so I tried to be as brief as I could (didn't work much, but anyway). Here's what I wrote there:
I agree machines can never be conscious. Even if they were programmed to do so, they'd still be running the program, or at most morphing the program and running new spawns of it. But they'd still be just following the commands.

But I also [agree] with parts of the NYT story that says free will is an illusion. I think it's just a matter of levels and complexity.

Do ants have free will? From our perspective, no. Their world just consist[s] of terrains, food, enemies, and other ants. They just follow their instincts and react to certain chemical compounds.

But from their point of view, they are adventuring, talking to each other, waging war, serving their queen, etc.

I'm not sure if I could explain what I meant, but that's as far as my linguistic skills go.

Basically, I think we do have free will when we look from our own perspective. But looking from one level of intelligence and complexity above us (be it God and angels, or some alien species), we are just following the commands built in us, just like we think (know) the ants do.

That was long, but I didn't know how to say it shorter.


I could write more, but I feel like thinking a bit more about it before I do.

What do you think? Are our actions all pre-determined by the universe, or do we have a say?



5 comments:

Nick Brismut said...

Well, since everyone seems indifferent (or preoccupied), I'll take the liberty to respond to my own question..

I thought for some more, and my feelings in favor of determinism grew dominant.

I still stick to the nuance that from our perspective, we completely have "free will". On a higher level, however, there's not much we can decide amongst. Wah, thus spake meself.

I think the idea that things (events, decisions, people) come up by themselves, no matter what we do. Then, we have the option of following it through, or we might "veto", like the NYT article puts it.

Life's too complicated. This is what keeps me sane: If I were to die this very moment, I would, no matter how healthy I've been eating, or how I hated cigarettes and alcohol.

That sounds religious rather than materialistic, but I think that's more to the truth, although I couldn't be described as religious in any possible sense.

Don't be surprised if I post some lyrics next up..

damien said...

Ah, is our fate determined or open-ended. I'd say both, just to mess with your head further! Careful with the blog-hopping, never know what your gonna stumble into!!!

Seriously though, if you think of it this way, I'm right:

H.G. Wells imagined a time machine. Imagine if he wrote a book about it after he made it. Going back in time he'd have to say he wrote the book, not that he will, but that he already did.

Looking at it that way, we make our own fate and yet it's already done somewhere outside of the time dimension. Conclusion? Make great decisions and live up to the life that's already been lived back in the future!

whisper said...

Too vast for young inexperimented me, but fascinating and a never ending debate.

Thinking ones life is already determined is actually pretty reassuring.
It takes responsibility away. And God knows how choosing is one of the hardest things ever.
But do we really choose ?

In your example about ants, I noticed something.
If we look at individuals, they might indeed seem like they follow their own thoughts and ideas and take their own decisions. But if you look at a large group, those individuals just seem to live a life that has been written for them, their choices go by unnoticed, they don't change the course of things. (I'm not clear, I know. This is tough.)
For instance, if I see a war scene (in a movie, say), I only see an army attacking antoher army. But if I follow one particular soldier, I will see his doubts, his fears, his hesitations, his options. An illusion of choice and power over his destiny.

I think we really do choose. But our choices are not important enough to be considered on the scale of a population (does that mean anything ?). Or if they are, like dropping a bomb or something, they've been decided for you.

(My English is so rusty. Sorry.)

Nick Brismut said...

@Damien:
Time.. Hmm, well you're right, it just adds more complexity to the question, rendering meself even more confused. =)

But I do accept it has to be related somehow.

@Whisper:
Very true, no responsibilities. It's certainly relaxing. But also it turns a serial killer into a naive follower of his destiny. That's a two-edged blade.

And if there was no free will, religions would cease to exist.

And from a higher perspective, like you beautifully put with the war scene.. Well how much difference could a single person living on a planet called earth could make, in the history of the universe? Or, for that matter, how much difference does the whole human race make?

I'm not suggesting, I'm just asking..

whisper said...

So I do believe in free will. I don't think it changes anything if you take a global look at things, but when I look at my life, I see many many choices to make, hard or less hard, but choices nonetheless. And I hope I'm not losing my time trying to make the right ones ;)