when Choice and Freedom are in the same sentence I can't help but to think: Freewill.
Freewill has been discussed among artists, philosophers, scientists for centuries.
Thinkers wonder of its existence. Some argue that it does exist others that it doesn't. It is such an old unsolved argument that many books have been written about it and many more will be.
In this document, I will run from what I believe to be a mistake, attempting to prove if Freewill exist or not. Arguing about the existence of something validates the existence of that very thing. (Refer to chapter 1 "The Obstacle") Here we will focus on how achievable Free will is.
Last June, I went to the World Science Festival in New York City, an amazing festival that gathers great scientists and thinkers of our era and have them debate about various interesting topics. One of the topics discussed was Freewill, to be more precise: "Do Predictive Algorithms Allow For Free Will?"
This document is a response to that conference specifically inspired by the great researches of Seth Lloyd at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Below are a few paragraphs from Seth Lloyd's paper:
"A Turing Test for Free Will".
“ The majority of the paper will be devoted to using Turing-inspired methods to sketch a mathematical proof that decision-making systems (‘deciders,’ in the nomenclature of former US president G.W. Bush) can not in general predict the outcome of their decision- making process. That is, the familiar experience of a decider – that she does not know the final decision until she has thought it all through – is a necessary feature of the decision- making process. The inability of the decider to predict her decision beforehand holds whether the decision-making process is deterministic or not.” (…) “ The primary scientific issue in the debate over free will is traditionally taken to be the question of whether the world is deterministic or probabilistic in nature [2-7]. (Whether or not this is indeed the proper question to ask will be discussed in detail below.) In a deterministic world, events in the past fully determine the outcomes of all events in the present and future. Conversely, if the world is probabilistic, then at least some outcomes of current events are neither determined nor caused by events in the past. Determinism is evidently a problem for free will: more than two thousand years ago, Epicurus felt obliged to emend the determinism of Democritus’s atomic picture by adding an occasional probabilistic ‘swerve’ to the motion of atoms, in part to preserve freedom of will. From the seventeenth until the twentieth century, by contrast, most scientists believed that the world was deterministic, for the simple reason that all known physical laws, from Newton’s laws to Maxwell’s equations, were expressed in terms of deterministic differential equations. In such theories, apparently probabilistic behavior arises from lack of knowledge combined with sensitive dependence on initial conditions (‘chaos’) . In a deterministic physical world, an hypothetical being (Laplace’s ‘demon’) that possesses exact knowledge of the past could in principle use the laws of physics to predict the entire future.
From Newton up to the twentieth century, the philosophical debate over free will by and large assumed that the world is deterministic. In such a deterministic world, there are two antagonistic philosophical positions . Incompatibilism claims that free will is incompatible with a deterministic world: since all events, including our decisions, were determined long ago, there is no space for freedom in our choices. Compatibilism, by contrast, asserts that free will is compatible with a derministic world.”
The concept that because we don't know the outcome of our decision, or that we don't know what our decision is going to be a lot of times until we actually take it, proving that free will is a myth is not accurate.
Having free will doesn't mean predicting the future in any sort of way. Not knowing the result of a choice, or not knowing the decision we will take before we take it, is not a proof that we are not free to make that decision.
In this sense we are making decisions freely, we are making our own choices.
The question to ask is how much freedom do one have in the choices that one makes. The answer is, it varies.
It varies based on many factors some of which are past experiences, advices, knowledge, information etc...
When we face a decision to make, we hope that we assess the situation, we study the possible outcomes, we gather the information affecting the situation, we might seek advice from someone more "experienced" and with more knowledge of the situation or similar situations. A Lawyer if this situation deals with the law, a physical therapist if it deals with a physical injury, a doctor, a Spychiatrist etc...
Every decision we make are based on what we know or what we think we know. How then can complete free will be possible?
Our experiences are corrupted by other experiences, people's opinions, society opinions, our parents opinion and many other factors. Our experiences and what we learn from them are not just our own. The lessons we learn aren't just our own lessons, our environment play a part in shaping our beliefs, who we are and become.
This statement is not to be confused with the notion that our environment make us who we are. That is not accurate.
Two individuals can go through the exact same situation but yet take something totally different from it. That's possible because of many factors, the natural factor; each individual is born with different predispositions that make them more or less susceptible to certain things. A passive person will most likely react differently than a hyperactive person. Brothers and sisters growing up in the same realities don't grow up to be the same individuals. They might share beliefs or they might not.
Once we move on from the very complex natural aspect and focus on the outside world we can say that the lessons we learn are based on lessons we learned prior, they are based on beliefs, culture, religion, and many more outside factors which build our personalities. And most importantly the choices we make are based on the way we react to the outside world.
No matter how different we are or think we are from one another, if our choices, our decisions are made based on the outside world and how it affects our inner self than How can our choices possibly be just our own?
Freewill can not be simplified to being just the ability to make a choice or predict what our choice will be and its consequences. That choice is based on information that isn't our own. We just interpret it based on what we know.
I believe free will exist, but I believe it exist at different levels like everything else in life, it exist to different extents. some have it in higher degrees than others.
Can it be calculated? Probably not yet. But Can one have it at it's absolute state? Most likely not since our choices and judgment are all affected by our experiences, which aren't just our own.
People of science, especially mathematician could say that if something can be measured It can have an absolute value and yet others would ask what is the absolute value of infinity.
Asking for the absolute value of infinity is similar to asking if free will exist or not.
If we talking values. We could also go the other way and ask if it is possible that Humanity just haven't reach the level of self power to accomplish any level of free will. In this argument free will being making a decision that is not influenced at all by any outside forces.
On opposition to This argument, one could say that just because outside phenomenon shape our judgements doesn't mean that we aren't free to ultimately make our decisions. That's maybe where we could start to evaluate the level of Free Will in individuals, the most authentic people having higher levels of freewill compare to those who follow.
There might be a lot truth in that statement but how do we truly know if the choice we making is our own?
Seth Lloyd: “Recent experiments in neuroscience support the view that it is our physical brain, following the known laws of science, that determines our actions, and not some agency that exists outside those laws. For example, a study of patients undergoing awake brain surgery found that by electrically stimulating the appropriate regions of the brain, one could create in the patient the desire to move the hand, arm, or foot, or to move the lips and talk. It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behavior is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.” (…) “ordinary people [21-22] reveal that (A) most people believe the world to be mechanistic – even deterministic, and yet (B) most people regard themselves and others as possessing free will. As will now be seen, this apparently self-contradictory response is in fact rational.”
One needs to be very careful to not confuse Freewill with the illusion of Freedom. Here is a simple example to illustrate this thought:
If A rebellious teenager says no just to be a rebel, and if a parent knows the answer they will get before asking the question, can the teenager be tricked into doing what the parent want while believing he/she made a free choice?
In this case the teenager feels free, she/he makes its own choice but the mastermind behind it knows that the teenager is just a victim of the illusion of her definition of freedom at her stage of logic.
Everyday, experts in marketing and various other field attempt and succeed many times at being the parents and having society be the rebellious teenagers in search of freedom, or should we say the illusion of freedom.
Here Free Will exist in the mind of the choosers. Are they really making their own choices? Sure they are in their minds but in reality they are Slaves, the opposite of free.
"To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, the uncomputability of the decision making process means that you can predict some deciders will decide all the time, and what all deciders will decide some of the time, but you can’t predict all decisions all the time.”
The question of free will tormented many great thinkers, it has never been solved. I believe that the main issue in the past approaches consist of attempting to make free will an object, is it there, or is it not.
We should focus on how is Freewill achievable? Answering that question would be finding the meaning of true freedom within reason.
Can Freewill be calculated? Can one have more or Less Freewill than someone else based on different factors?
Free will is not a yes or no debate. Free will should be looked at as something that varies among individuals and within them. Perhaps like the weather, some days are colder than other and some days are blazing hot depending on what time zone we are on.
One thing we know is that people make decisions, those decisions are consciously or subconsciously fueled by outside forces meeting with inside thoughts and processing. How is it then possible that someone achieve FreeWill unless that person controls all the outside forces of his/her world.
The ability to Make a choice is then not a proof of freedom but rather a proof of existence, especially if our choices affect our surroundings. This notion brings up the idea discussed in our next chapter, accountability.
Accountability, everyone's duty.