William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Free Will The Result Of ‘Background Noise’?

A visual depiction of free will?

Once again the lack of metaphysical training has led some scientists to say an incredibly silly thing. That free will “could be the result of ‘background noise’ in the brain.

According to the UC Davis press release (which, incidentally, the Independent (linked above) so badly copy-and-pasted that they left out the author’s first name and her rank):

Our ability to make choices — and sometimes mistakes — might arise from random fluctuations in the brain’s background electrical noise, according to a recent study from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis.

“How do we behave independently of cause and effect?” said Jesse Bengson, a postdoctoral researcher at the center and first author on the paper. “This shows how arbitrary states in the brain can influence apparently voluntary decisions.”

The brain has a normal level of “background noise,” Bengson said, as electrical activity patterns fluctuate across the brain. In the new study, decisions could be predicted based on the pattern of brain activity immediately before a decision was made.

So. “Background” noise causes the brain to do what it does. How can “noise” organize to make our actions coherent to us? Answer: it cannot. Drop a handful of pinto beans onto the floor and they may organize into a pattern resembling, say, George Washington’s profile. But the beans don’t know that. We do. There has to be an aware us to interpret the result of the “noise.”

There is no such thing as “noise”, except in the sense that it is a pattern which, to us, makes no sense. Something caused the “noise”, and that efficient cause had a final cause, a purpose or goal, even if we don’t know it. It is thus impossible “noise” can be an explanation for the lack of free will.

Before I started writing this article I walked, nay jogged, back up the hill from College Town to the Statler. (I didn’t want to miss the start of USA v. Portugal). I did not think, not for a moment, where to place my feet, how to shift my weight from step to step, what to look at. Indeed, since I was thinking intently of a book I had read and of the upcoming match, I can barely remember the trip. I know I started at A and ended at B. But how I did it, I don’t know.

I don’t especially care, either. I don’t even care how I breathed, but I know my brain had something to do with it. Can it really be news that our minds can be occupied with other matters while the rest of the body handles itself? Well, the answer must be yes: it is news.

Bengson sat people in front of a computer and asked them to look left or right after a “cue” popped up on a screen. Dull task, much like walking. If you were to hook a scanner to my head and asked me when I decided to put my foot on that spot over there, as I was strolling along, I might say to you, “Well, right now, I guess” as I was doing it.

How goofy would it sound if a scientist then said, “Aha! I was monitoring your brain and the area responsible for walking was activated before you said you made the decision. You thus have no free will!” The only possible response is: “Dude. Too much coffee.” I activated that area of my brain when I decided to walk. That area, being well trained, did it’s thing so I could concentrate on more interesting things.

Bengson said she monitored the “noise” in the brain a “second or so”—or so?—before the cue appeared, and that this “noise” formed itself into patterns which allowed her to predict, with fair accuracy, which way the person would, a second or so later, say “left” or “right”.

You’re given a cue a minute ago and looked left. You might think, “Now what? I answered left twice in a row. I’m getting bored of looking left. Next time I’m looking right.” The cue comes sometime later and you look right, just as you decided. But since the cue came well after you decided, it appears, just like walking, your brain handled the decision.

If the participants didn’t know when the cue was coming (Bengson emphasized this), how could “noise” in the brain activate itself before the cue was shown? Is Bengson claiming precognition? No. She says, “”we know people aren’t making the decision in advance.” She doesn’t know this. She’s assuming it, as my example shows.

She’s claiming the noise is causing the choice. But “noise”, like “chance”, cannot be a cause (the states of the brain can be, of course). A coauthor said the noise “inserts a random effect that allows us to be freed from simple cause and effect.” There is no freedom from cause and effect.

Update I’ve been in contact with Bengson and now have the final paper. Stay tuned for a new review.

93 Comments

  1. Isn’t “noise” what every scientist uses to remove that nasty data that does not fit his theory? (Sorry, been studying global warming again….)

    Of course chance can predict—evolution says so.

    If there is no choice, then we can’t blame the researcher because she had no choice. And we can’t blame the paper because the editor had no choice. And we can’t blame ourselves because we had no choice. It’s not my fault I’m typing this. You know, this always sounded better at 2 AM when one was sleep-deprived and kind of loopy. Wide awake and paying attention, it seems to lose something…….

  2. “they left out the author’s first name and her rank”

    You mean like major or captain?

  3. There is no such thing as “noise”, except in the sense that it is a pattern which, to us, makes no sense.

    My definition is “irrelevant information”.

    “Background” noise causes the brain to do what it does. How can “noise” organize to make our actions coherent to us? Answer: it cannot.

    I dunno. It’s quite common for computers and electronic circuits on spacecraft to get altered states due to external radiation. Why would it need to be “coherent” ? If something similar happening in the brain then I suppose but it’s not at all clear how one would go about measuring it.

    Something caused the “noise”, and that efficient cause had a final cause, a purpose or goal, even if we don’t know it. It is thus impossible “noise” can be an explanation for the lack of free will.

    That’s just silly. Why would “noise” say, in the form of external radiation, need to have a purpose or goal? Logic gates can be pushed one way or another under external biasing so it would seem reasonable the brain may also suffer similarly.

    With computer circuits, its possible to say what they “should” have done. With the brain, it’s not clear at all how to determine what the decisions (assuming that’s what is supposedly affected) would have been in the absence of noise. So I wouldn’t give much weight to this study.

  4. Mistaken uses of the terms “signal” and “noise” are common in statistical arguments. They result from failure to recognize that telecommunications and control are time-asymmetrical. In telecommunications, information flows from the present to the future. Thus, this information is susceptible to being carried by a wave moving at or below the speed of light. A wave carrying information is a “signal.” By the definition of terms, “noise” is an unwanted signal.

    In control, information flows from the future to the present. In order for this information to be carried by a wave, this wave would have to travel at a speed exceeding the speed of light but such a wave does not exist under Einsteinian relativity theory. Under relativity theory, there can be no “signal” and thus there can be no “noise.”

    In the control of a system, the controller anticipates the conditional outcomes of events and places these events in those conditions which produce the desired outcome with a relatively high likelihood. An ability to do so is what one calls “free will.” Under the condition that there is free will, there is no such thing as noise.

    Global warming climatologists are among those who make the mistake of using “signal” and “noise” in circumstances which the two terms to not apply. In the picture of the climate that they present to us there is an “anthropogenic signal” that is buried in “noise” but as both entities exist in relation to the problem of controlling the climate neither entity exists under relativity theory.

  5. “Background Noise” as used in the press report is a short-hand term used to refer to resting brain electrical activity (probably alpha waves, possibly more). The underlying physics of what’s happening with attention, or distraction, are well underway (e.g. a non-technical summary, much better than the even more diluted news article referenced in this essay, and addressing much the same brain function but from a different area of emphasis is: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140424170552.htm).

    The “background noise” study is presented with so many qualifiers (“weasel words”) that even the researchers clearly consider the findings somewhat tentative. And all those findings show is that when the mind is quiescent such that resting brain electrical activity dominates, a prompt to single conscious action of a trivial & unemotional sort appears correlated with/predictable by the resting brain activity. The findings are much more analogous to a reflex response associated when resting brain waves are dominant. They are not something that can be extrapolated to any conscious, willful behavior of any significance/involving any significant mental arousal as that involves very fundamentally different brain activities (that’s analogous to extrapolating data regarding how fast a duck swims to how fast it would fly, limited to only swimming data).

    When the report is read at it is meant, with terms such as ‘background noise’ being convenient references to much much more (i.e. not with Aspergers-like literal interpretations), the foundation for the essay & its concerns about a lack of free will immediately disintegrates.

  6. There have been lots of articles written about this so the report cited doesn’t give new stuff… just Google “quantum mechanics free will” or “indeterminism free will”. The best summary I’ve seen has been given by Robert Kane, a professor at University of Texas; see:
    There’s also an intriguing experiment, the Libet experiment on pre-excitation brain activity before knowledge of intent; see” <a href= "
    http://www.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/21870/free_will_web.pdf&quot; title="The Libet Experiment and Free Will Skepticism".
    Let's see if I've been able to use the HTML tags!

  7. Evidently not!!
    ok… The article on the Libet experiment is at http://www.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/21870/free_will_web.pdf;

    the article summarizing Robert Kane’s summary of determinism vs indeterminism
    is at
    http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/dfwVariousKane.html

    There’s also a book out (which I haven’t read yet) “Free Will and Modern Science”, edited by R. Swinburne.

  8. I have no problem understanding when people say “it happened by chance,” which means that something occurs unpredictably and for unknown reasons. Similar interpretation applies to “noise.” However, it’s Briggs’ pet peeve.

    Something caused the “noise”, and that efficient cause had a final cause, a purpose or goal, even if we don’t know it.

    This describes a form of determinism.

    It is thus impossible “noise” can be an explanation for the lack of free ill.

    Their findings imply that the stochastic variability, i.e., noise, in their data may be an explanation that there is free will (that’s freed from simple cause and effect)!

  9. Ye Olde Statisician

    23 June 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Never have so many devoted so much of their minds to proving that they do not have one.

  10. there is free will but not free choice,
    in dutch there is a saying: “tying the cat on the bacon”

  11. Hans, that Dutch saying is too deep for this simple mind. Please explain. Or will it lose its point if you do?

  12. To tie the cat to the bacon

    I think it means if something is irresistibly tempting you have little choice but to give in to temptation.

  13. Ye Olde Statisician

    23 June 2014 at 8:24 pm

    Or you want to get rid of a cat by baiting dogs to go after the bacon smell.

  14. YOS: That would be great idea!

  15. Why do we never get an experiment in which subjects look left or right and then the experimenter predicts with fair accuracy whether or not they are about to come down on the side of free will or determinism?

  16. Free Will is a myth. And an unfortunate one at that. As is Evil. In the future, educated people will no longer think in those terms.

    JMJ

  17. Sander van der Wal

    24 June 2014 at 3:31 am

    These experiments sound a bit boring. Free Will and Doing The Right Thing are traditionally linked, people with Free Will can choose to Do The Right Thing, or Not.

    Maybe they should use Twitter, making the choice of retweeting a nasty picture of somebody, or not.

  18. Or you want to get rid of a cat by baiting dogs to go after the bacon smell.

    More likely a way to get rid of the dog.

  19. JMJ: Wow, all the bullies in the world thank you, as do the murderers, pedophiles and everyone else society vilified. Of course, they have no choice but to cheer you because they have no free will. Maybe you can help out Hillary with her little problem of the child rapist. Hillary had no choice but to laugh and brag about her getting him the lightest sentence, the rapists had no choice in raping the 12 year old, etc. Hopefully, you have no choice in defending these behaviours since they are not the fault of the perpetrator. There is the problem that many of have no choice in objecting as we have no free will. These concepts cannot disappear because we have no free will. Wars can’t go away, crime can’t go away, no one can ever be anything but what they are programmed to be. Me, I’d be ought raining down horrors on the planet were it not for my programming as a rational, relatively nice person. On the other hand, the war in Iraq is just part of these people’s programming. They can’t stop. Such a waste. Why are we alive anyway? Couldn’t we just be cells watching the movie written about us? It’s work exactly the same. This whole facade is just wasted. (You do understand that educated people can NOT look at this differently unless they are programmed to do so. They have no free will to actually decide if they have free will.)

    As for evil not existing, I could introduce you…….

  20. Having no free will doesn’t mean choices are predetermined or are inevitable.

  21. DAV: The cat provided a momentary distraction. In the absence of Mom, the scene would have played out much differently. (I do hope that dog was destroyed—very, very bad dog.)

    Brandon: You do realize that since humans have only been here a few thousand years, the earth has been out of “optimal” for most of it’s existence. I first heard that argument from a writer at Skeptical Science. Even then, the first thought I has was “and I thought humans thinking they controlled the climate was hubris.”

    Temperature could just as easily go DOWN three degrees. A timeline and a rising line drawn through the temperatures are not proof of causality. We just don’t know. There have been times in Earth’s history when the climate changed dramatically on its own—and if you drew a line through the graph leading up to the drop, it’d look just like that the rising one we see now. Yet, the temperature plummeted shortly thereafter. (look up Dryas periods)

    The H2O/CO2 comment: Yes, CO2 remains for years, but the water doesn’t go any place either. It’s just as easy to illustrate that an increase in clouds could push the temperature down and a lack thereof up. Since we have no way to model clouds, only to “parameterize” them, we don’t have clue as to what modeling this scenario would produce. Little things over a long period–a few decades of increased cloudiness? Very, very possible.

    I grant you you don’t seem to be a people-hater or an irrational zeolot (you can thank me later! :) ), but I still can’t agree that the science is actually there.

    Rooftop solar can affect the grid when during a day it’s sunny for 5 or 6 hours, then cloudy, then sunny. The grid and the backup plants have to adjust to the changing output. Right now, so far as I know, the plant can’t shut down the rooftop solar input as they can and do with wind power input. So they have to dial back the plant. If too much electricity is suddenly added, things destabilize. As noted, I cannot recall if I have seen any data on this, but will check later today.

    I agree–if only we could burn hypocrisy! I’m sure it’s carbon neutral. :)

  22. The cat provided a momentary distraction. In the absence of Mom ,,,

    I dunno. When I was about 10, we had a cat which terrorized the neighborhood dogs.
    Once, when it was sleeping, a dog came about and stood off about 10 feet barking at the cat. The cat got up; stretched; and took one step toward the dog. The dog took off running just like the one in the video. Note the dog was running before Mom arrived.

  23. Okay, I’ll give the cat interpretation. Having owned a pit bull, I am not really familiar with dogs that run from cats.

    What does “Not having free will mean” then?

  24. What does “Not having free will mean” then?

    Suppose we always (as in no choice) follow what we consider the optimum path at the time. From the outside, we might think there was a choice when there wasn’t one. I think that is what Hans was alluding to with the cat/bacon saying.

    Note the way we go about convincing someone of taking the “right” path. We emphasize the rewards and penalties.

  25. Under expected utility theory, there are two considerations in making a decision on how to act. One is the values of the probabilities of the outcomes of the events. The other is the utilities of these outcomes. One acts to maximize the expected utility.

  26. DAV and Terry: I’m still confused. Are you saying that simply making a choice based on what we correctly or incorrectly perceive as the optimal outcome means there is no free will? We “choose” the most optimal path and as such are doing so because we have “no choice”? Are there any cases where a person might act against the perceived optimal path or is the choice by definition the perceived optimal path? Is the lack of free will due to our definition that choice is based on opitimal outcomes?
    Is this the same as instinct in animals? The cat choose to attack the dog based on protecting its source of food—the child and mother? If the family stopped feeding the cat, would it no longer defend them? We choose to defend things based on their value to us basically by the same mechanism—we instinctually go for the perceived optimal outcome?
    It certainly sounds like this is simply defining choices as lack of free will because when we choose we are not choosing—we are doing what we must do. In actuality, there is no choice and again, that leads back to my original objection.
    I guess I need an example of a decision that is not defined as the perceived optimal outcome that would illustrate free will if we possessed it.

  27. Sheri:

    We have the ability to change our personal utilities and thus, for example, to value personal honesty over maximization of personal income. Thus, we have free will.

  28. Are you saying that simply making a choice based on what we correctly or incorrectly perceive as the optimal outcome means there is no free will? We “choose” the most optimal path and as such are doing so because we have “no choice”?

    Pretty much the gist of it but I’m NOT saying it’s necessarily true. It’s one way we can appear to have free choices without needing Free Will.

    Is this the same as instinct in animals?

    Don’t know why the cat did what it did. Maybe it was just protecting one of its own. We like to think animals can’t think and reason but it’s not at all clear they can’t. So we use words like “instinct” in an attempt to differentiate. We are animals after all. Where does this “we are different” stuff come from?

    Domesticated cats and dogs seem to act very much like a three year old human. I’ve seen times when they certainly seem to arrive at a complicated path to reach a goal. Of course, I can’t know for certain.

    So we are at least “different” in level of reasoning but I think we aren’t all that much different in how we function.

    Are there any cases where a person might act against the perceived optimal path or is the choice by definition the perceived optimal path?

    How could you ever know? A person might claim it but it would seem impossible to independently verify.

  29. “Free Will is a myth. And an unfortunate one at that. As is Evil. In the future, educated people will no longer think in those terms.”

    But if they do it will be because they lack free will.

  30. Ye Olde Statisician

    24 June 2014 at 11:47 am

    Free Will is a myth.

    You were compelled by impersonal forces to write that.

    And an unfortunate one at that.

    The will has degrees of freedom to the extent that the intellect has imperfect knowledge. Except in cases like “1+1=2″ in which the knowledge is complete and the will therefore determined toward its assent, the incompleteness necessarily entails less than full determination toward any particular act. This is unfortunate only in that if one had one’s druthers, one would prefer complete knowledge.

    As is Evil.

    Evil is defined as defectus boni, a deficiency in a good. Since all goods that exist materially are deficient in some way, that there are evils is inescapable. Life is a good, but it is made deficient by death. The evil of death is in material life unavoidable. Likewise, courage is a good, but both cowardice and foolhardiness are deficiencies. A good doctor is one who keeps his patients in health; but even good doctors will sometimes fail. I fail to see what is “mythical” about this, unless you mean “myth” in a true sense.

    In the future, educated people will no longer think in those terms.

    We are rapidly approaching the point when educated people can no longer think at all.

  31. Ye Olde Statisician

    24 June 2014 at 12:05 pm

    Suppose we always (as in no choice) follow what we consider the optimum path at the time.

    There is a weird notion among Late Moderns that a free will is somehow a random choice, like flipping a switch left or right. Or that it is unpredictable, or uninfluenced by various factors. Of course, people always choose what they believe is the good. That was fundamental to the whole idea, and was firmly believed by all those same people — Aristotle, Averroes, Maimonides, Aquinas — who also formulated the freedom of the will. It’s a feature, not a bug.

    I suspect the confusion traces back to Descartes and the other Scientific Revolutionaries, who much up the metaphysics so badly.

    there are two considerations in making a decision on how to act. One is the values of the probabilities of the outcomes of the events. The other is the utilities of these outcomes. One acts to maximize the expected utility.

    And since you can never know the probabilities (or even all the outcomes) or what their “utilities” may be, or what the maximum is, the will is not determined to any particular choice. D’uh?

  32. Of course, people always choose what they believe is the good.

    Which means they have no actual choice.

    There is a weird notion among Late Moderns that a free will is somehow a random choice, like flipping a switch left or right. Or that it is unpredictable, or uninfluenced by various factors.

    Perhaps they do — I don’t.

    And since you can never know the probabilities (or even all the outcomes) or what their “utilities” may be, or what the maximum is …

    Terry has said the same thing as I did. What part of “perceived” do you object to?

  33. DAV: “We are different from animals” comes from religion.

    How could I know if a person acted against the perceived path? That’s my point.

    This is just guessing and has absolutely no way to actually verify it. It’s philosophy, not science. A fun thing to kick around when you have nothing better to do, but no actual value in real life, so far as I can see, other than the removal of God from human life (though some beliefs in God are based on predetermination, so one would not remove all versions of God). Is there any other “value” to the discussion that I am missing?

  34. Ye Olde Statisician

    24 June 2014 at 1:43 pm

    I don’t think folks here know what was meant by “free will” before the Moderns mucked it up.
    This should help get you started:
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/interior-dialogue-on-free-will/
    especially if you see the humor in the last line.
    The following schematic helps show how the will with respect to the concepts of the intellect is analogous to the sensory appetites with respect to the percepts of the imagination:
    http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0010.GIF

    “The Contemporary debate over free will is centers on whether the system in which X occurs can give a sufficient account of the actions of X. Those denying free will answer yes, those affirming it say no.
    Interestingly, for St. Thomas this way of framing the question did not make for a debate over free will but for a debate over whether life exists…”

  35. How could I know if a person acted against the perceived path? That’s my point.

    You can’t show they did act only accordingly either and that’s my point. And it doesn’t matter at all whether this is a new or old idea. The point is claims of Free Will are just as hard to prove just like proving God or the Soul.

    “We are different from animals” comes from religion.
    It’s philosophy, not science.

    Yes indeed. There was little science in the paper that is the topic of this post as Briggs rightly pointed out but I find in somewhat incongruous (considering his many calls against reification and lack of model testing) he couldn’t leave out his undoubtedly religious convictions concerning the topic.

    Is there any other “value” to the discussion that I am missing?

    Not really. I like the topic myself though.

  36. DAV: Thank for clarifying things! I guess it’s not one of my favorite topics, so I’ll leave you to further explore with others of like mind if they wish. I’m off to different things—whether that choice is free will or not, no matter!

  37. whether that choice is free will

    Just to prove it isn’t free will, an invoice will be issued next Tuesday.

  38. To tie the cat to the bacon

    I think it means if something is irresistibly tempting you have little choice but to give in to temptation.
    That is a good explanation of absence of free choice

  39. Thank you Hans for the explanation of the Dutch proverb…but “irresistibly tempting” by definition means a temptation that can’t be resisted, so doesn’t that sort of beg the question? Or maybe there are nuances in Dutch that don’t come through in translation.

  40. Ye Olde Statisician

    24 June 2014 at 5:36 pm

    That is a good explanation of absence of free choice

    You had no choice but to say that — and in those exact words.

  41. My final comment on this issue:
    “I don’t see much sense in that,” said Rabbit.
    “No,” said Pooh humbly, “there isn’t. But there was going to be when I began it. It’s just that something happened to it along the way.” 
    ― A.A. Milne

  42. Brandon Gates

    24 June 2014 at 9:48 pm

    YOS,

    Evil is defined as defectus boni, a deficiency in a good.

    1) Let eating jelly beans be necessary.
    2) Let there be two types of jelly beans, red and green.
    3) I love to eat red jelly beans, and you love to eat green jelly beans.
    4) We both hate to eat the other colour of jelly beans.

    a) If I see you eating green jelly beans, I have no moral opinion of your action.
    b) If I prevent you from eating green jelly beans when they are available, I have deprived you of a necessity, therefore I have done evil.
    c) If you force me to eat green jelly beans when red jelly beans are available, you have violated my will and therefore have done evil.
    d) If no red jelly beans are available and you freely give me green ones to eat, you have still provided me with a necessity and have done good.

    Etc. From there we could discuss scarcity, trade, theft … war … etc. The thing I find interesting here is that it’s all built around the concept of an preference for a necessity. The only absolute evil here is lack of us, and even that’s arguable.

    The above is not rigorous, nor was meant to be — it was just a thought experiment in the concept of moral relativity, and some of the inherent hiccups in seemingly circular and/or arbitrary definitions of evil.

  43. Ye Olde Statisician

    24 June 2014 at 10:00 pm

    The jelly bean example doesn’t meet the criterion of a good.
    http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html

  44. Brandon Gates

    24 June 2014 at 10:06 pm

    I was hoping to engage in a thought experiment, not a “you’re wrong because Someone Smart says so.” Is that what you meant about the dangers of too much education?

  45. Sander van der Wal

    25 June 2014 at 12:40 am

    The computation regarding the best course of action is either done conciously or subconciously. If it is done conciously, they you have Free Will.

    Doing the computations conciously means that you are aware of the computation itself, and all the choices you can make, or not. You accept and reject partial outcomes. *After* some time, sometimes *after* quite a lot of time, you make a choice and start acting.

    Then, the subconciousness can start a course of action, based on a conputation that is not accessible to the conciousness. But the conciousness can still stop that action because it sees it is a wrong kind of action. This is also Free Will.

  46. You accept and reject partial outcomes.

    Why wouldn’t that simply mean you see some options as better than others? Why would doing it consciously make a difference? Are you saying you would take an action even though you think another is better? Why? That doesn’t seem rational.

    Then, the subconciousness can start a course of action, based on a conputation that is not accessible to the conciousness. But the conciousness can still stop that action because it sees it is a wrong kind of action.

    So wouldn’t that mean the consciousness sees a better option (in this case NOT doing something) and acts accordingly?

  47. Sander van der Wal

    25 June 2014 at 4:53 am

    It means that an action that seems to be a good idea at first, becomes less attractive after you have considered what events might happen as a consequence of that action. Think of chess. A move is only good or not because of the counter moves, counter-counter moves, counter-counter-counter moves and so on, that are possible as a result of the move.

    The analogy is deliberate. Free Will computations take a lot of time, and there is no guarantee that that will result in a particular action, because there are other actors around doing their own Free Will computations, the results of which will have an impact on your computations.

    Secondly, yes. The point is that it is the consciousness doing it. Which has the advantage that people with no Free Will have no consciousness either ;)

  48. Here is the final, final comment:
    “We must believe in Free Will–we have no choice.”
    Isaac Balshevis Singer

  49. Ye Olde Statisician

    25 June 2014 at 11:37 am

    @Brandon
    No. I was in haste at the time, so I simply gave a reference that I thought would be instructive. My apologies.
    I wanted to make the point that a preference for particular color of jelly bean is not what was meant by a “good” and hence what was meant by an “evil” as a deprivation or defect in a good. (Or at least, I don’t think so.) When trying to rebut what men of olde once said, we must use the words as they used them. Much of the confusion of the Late Modern stems from the fact that he has been using terms in a different sense and therefore reads old texts with skewed meanings.
    Think about what we mean when we say “He is a good doctor” and you will grasp what we mean by “He is a bad doctor.” Tolstoy wrote: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” A good doctor is good in all aspects of doctoring, but a bad doctor may be bad in different ways, as there are many ways of being deficient in doctoring. This is also the sense in which we say “Too much chocolate is bad for you” or “Insufficient exercise is bad for you.” Or indeed, “Too many green jelly beans are bad for you.”
    There may be some evil inherent in your example, but the color of the jelly bean is not it.

  50. It means that an action that seems to be a good idea at first, becomes less attractive after you have considered what events might happen as a consequence of that action.

    Yeah, OK but that’s just evaluating the outcome of an action. Necessary in formulating a choice perhaps but hardly the same thing as making it. Where’s the Free Will in all of this? Seems to me if at any time you always go with the best evaluation available then your choice has been made for you — no Free Will to choose at all.

  51. There may be some evil inherent in your example, but the color of the jelly bean is not it.

    I dunno. The light violet colored ones are Pure Evil and the orange ones are a close second.

  52. If y ou’re looking for an example of evil, try Thad Cochran.

  53. It seems Mississippians don’t think Chris McDaniel is there cup of Tea.
    Does that alone make Cochran evil?

  54. It does if the Democrats and Republicans sent out flyers saying the Tea Party candidate was going to deprive blacks of votes. Yeah, in that case, it does.

  55. Ye Olde Statisician

    25 June 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Seems to me if at any time you always go with the best evaluation available then your choice has been made for you — no Free Will to choose at all.

    But free will never meant an irrational choice. The folks who developed the idea in fact subscribed to the Aristotelian notion that all things work toward the good, which was the final cause. If knowledge of this end were perfect, and if indeed the means to achieve the end were also perfectly known, then the only thing left is to assent to the good. But alas, we are not always certain of what is the good. Should I raise the minimum wage or not? If I do not, some workers may have a hard time making ends meet. But if I do, then employers will cut back on hiring, work the remaining employees harder, or invest in automation, so that in the end 75% (say) of the workers receive a higher wage and 25% are unemployed and receive nothing.
    But the will is the intellective appetite, analogous to the sensory appetites. Since you cannot desire what you do not know, it follows that:

    B: So the desire for X follows some awareness of it- though this can mean many different things. The desire for peace, for example, can be had even during war.

    A: Right.

    B: So you’re claiming that we have no choice but to desire the goods we desire?

    A: Right, once we learn enough, we’ll know exactly why we see all these things as good. Just look at what evolution can explain about beauty, morality, altruism, etc.

    B: But we desire these goods only so far as we know them?

    A: Yes

    B: Now do we know everything we desire with absolute clarity, or not? If we want peace, do we know exactly what the peace will consist in, how we will get to it, how fast we can attain it, and all the other relevant details?

    A: No.

    B: But then our knowledge of these goals is vague and indeterminate, and could be fulfilled in any number of ways.

    A: Right.

    B: But if I truly desire, say, peace, and desire follows knowledge, then if the knowledge is indeterminate then the desire is indeterminate. But isn’t an indeterminate desire the opposite of a determinate desire? So isn’t this an undetermined desire — a free will?

    The reason so many today don’t “get it” is that they have a much more elaborate (and incoherent) notion of what constitutes free will. Probably because of an unwitting deference to Enlightenment figures. Many of the things they suppose as new-found objections to free will were cited and incorporated into the concept by Aquinas, Averroes, Maimonides, Aristotle, and the rest, who had a much “thicker” concept of human psychology. They knew quite well, for example, that not all human actions were freely chosen. The scholar absent-mindedly stroking his beard while deep in thought was an example used by Aquinas, for example.

  56. But free will never meant an irrational choice.

    So you are saying Free Will does not imply Freedom of Choice? If so, we are talking past each other.

    Evaluating outcomes and choosing one are really two separate things. I could build a machine that will always pick the best evaluated option given the information at hand as the way to go. I think you would agree the machine is not free to choose. It would be functionally equivalent to a human doing the same. It’s entirely irrelevant how the information was obtained or how it was evaluated.

  57. But if I truly desire, say, peace, and desire follows knowledge, … But isn’t an indeterminate desire the opposite of a determinate desire? So isn’t this an undetermined desire — a free will?

    The desire HAS been determined. You said so. What’s not known is how to achieve it.

  58. Ye Olde Statisician

    25 June 2014 at 2:20 pm

    So you are saying Free Will does not imply Freedom of Choice? If so, we are talking past each other.

    All it means is that the will is not determined to one thing or another. It is one of the rational powers of the psyche and plays the same role with respect to the intellect as the sensory appetites do to sensation/imagination.
    Why do you think a free choice means an irrational choice? Or that it is uninfluenced by the intellect? The folks who developed the idea of free will saw the will as integral with the intellect. Mechanists, stuck in the 19th century machine age and its metaphors, oft confuse reason with mechanical cause.

    Evaluating outcomes and choosing one are really two separate things.

    Precisely. The former is an act of the intellect, the latter an act of the will. I don’t know why you keep raising Thomistic points as if they were arguments against Thomistic psychology.

    I could build a machine that will always pick the best evaluated option given the information at hand as the way to go.

    No, actually you can’t.

    the machine … would be functionally equivalent to a human doing the same.

    That’s the Turing Fallacy: the notion that if Y gives the same results as X then the internal workings of X and Y are the same. This is simply not true, esp. in science, because there will always be multiple theories that account for the same body of facts. You can get in a flight simulator and it will be functionally equivalent to flying a 747 to LA; but when you climb out, you will not actually be in LA.

  59. The problem of trying to determine if freewill exits (or not) by measuring at what point-in-time a decision is made falls prey to Zeno’s Paradox.

  60. Why do you think a free choice means an irrational choice?

    Because NOT following the best evaluation is irrational. If you can’t do anything but follow the best option then you don’t have any choice, free or otherwise.

    ME:Evaluating outcomes and choosing one are really two separate things.
    YOS: Precisely. The former is an act of the intellect, the latter an act of the will.

    You have (finally it seems) admitted that there is no choice in selecting an action because only a rational choice is permitted. So, exactly what is the Free Will free to do?

    Choose something to think about or options to consider? I doubt that. You might say: “I choose to think about Peace” but to say that implies you have ALREADY thought about Peace. So, you must really mean; “I choose to think SOME MORE about Peace.” Well, fine but that is an action. Thinking about Peace instead doing something else is selecting and action which must have flowed from an analysis comparing Thinking-About-Peace and Doing-Something-Else. You have already agreed you have no choice in following analyses of this type so no Freedom here unless you now wish to state that Free Will here would involve doing the irrational.

    I don’t know why you keep raising Thomistic points as if they were arguments against Thomistic psychology.

    So you finally admit the inconsistencies in Thomistic ways?

    No, actually you can’t.

    Of course I can. And so can others. What makes you think I or they can’t? Don’t your ears hurt when you stick your fingers in them like that? Does chanting “Nyah! Nyah! Nyah!” really help?

    That’s the Turing Fallacy
    You can get in a flight simulator and it will be functionally equivalent to flying a 747 to LA

    (*giggle*) And that’s the YOS Fallacy.

    If going to LA was the goal and you didn’t end up in LA then it wasn’t functionally equivalent. If the goal was to experience a plane ride it’s irrelevant where it ended. In fact, the simulation is functionally equivalent to actual flying (I’m a pilot and have been in some very realistic simulators) only in a rather restricted sense. Many things involved in real flight are absent although the simulators are getting better. In terms of actually flying it’s more like reading a novel about it. A lot depends on your imagination.

  61. Ye Olde Statisician

    25 June 2014 at 4:23 pm

    But if I truly desire, say, peace, and desire follows knowledge, … But isn’t an indeterminate desire the opposite of a determinate desire? So isn’t this an undetermined desire — a free will?

    The desire HAS been determined. You said so. What’s not known is how to achieve it.

    You may not be using “determined” in a proper sense. You cannot desire what you do not know. That’s simple enough. So if you know something incompletely, the assent of the will is not determined completely. It has “play” or “degrees of freedom.” No one understanding the meaning of the signs “1+1=2″ can withhold assent. But an email from a “Nigerian banker” promising a share in a fortune is another matter.
    What is “peace”? Does it mean a coming together in amity or does it mean everyone acknowledges the Emperor? Does it mean wiping Carthage off the map or making kissy-face with the Punics.
    How can the will be completely determined to something that is not completely known? And to the extent that it is incomplete, it has a degree of freedom.
    No one exercises free will in the act of breathing, or in growing hungry. In fact, some 90% of the acts of a human may not be freely willed. What of it? A capacity need not be exercised in all instances in order to exist. But that is why the Scholastics distinguished between “human acts” and “acts of a human.”

  62. You cannot desire what you do not know.

    I’ll go along with that.

    So if you know something incompletely, the assent of the will is not determined completely.

    Why do you say that? I would know it to the best of my knowledge. I would desire what I think it is and what it entails. So what if it doesn’t match the “real thing”? So, no, it is determined completely but what I want and what I want may not exist outside of my own mind. Who hasn’t experienced getting “what they want” and then discovering it didn’t meet their expectations? How ever does this imply Free Will?

    This business about not being determined completely is mostly poppycock. It implies there is an Objective Standard to desires. Utter nonsense.

  63. Ye Olde Statisician

    25 June 2014 at 5:25 pm

    Because NOT following the best evaluation is irrational.

    You keep paraphrasing Aquinas.

    If you can’t do anything but follow the best option then you don’t have any choice, free or otherwise.

    That nature acts in pursuit of the good is not a determination of the will to this vs. that any more than that the proper object of the eye is light determines that you will look at this vs. that. A generic driver does not explain a specific fact.

    ME:Evaluating outcomes and choosing one are really two separate things.
    YOS: Precisely. The former is an act of the intellect, the latter an act of the will.

    You have (finally it seems) admitted that there is no choice in selecting an action because only a rational choice is permitted. So, exactly what is the Free Will free to do?

    “Permitted” by whom? Do you seriously believe that there is never more than one possible rational assessment? Never any uncertainty about what constitutes the good in a given situation? Never any options about how to achieve that good?

    You have already agreed you have no choice in following analyses of this type so no Freedom here unless you now wish to state that Free Will here would involve doing the irrational.

    Depends on what you mean by “irrational.” Many Late Moderns use the term to mean “I would never choose that!” When one soldier throws down his gun and runs from the foe and another beside him shoves another clip in his rifle and settles in for his final fight, which one is acting rationally? Which has made the free choice.
    Has it occurred to you yet that the assessment of the intellect is part of a unified process?

    YOS: I don’t know why you keep raising Thomistic points as if they were arguments against Thomistic psychology.
    So you finally admit the inconsistencies in Thomistic ways?

    There’s another possibility.

    If going to LA was the goal etc.etc.

    Alas, for the death of analogy. The comparison was to “two processes that give the same results having the same internal structure.” Substitute the Tychonic and Copernican models if you like. They made the same predictions regarding the positions and movements of the stars, yet their mechanisms were decidedly different. The same goes for the mythic machine that makes all the same choices as the human. It does not follow that the human being chooses in the same manner as the machine.

    I suppose that it is impossible to compress a textbook into a blog post, let alone a comment. But the reflexive aversion to the will in the face of one’s own empirical experiences seems odd. What sort of person argues that he himself in only a zombie? Is it a fear that You-Know-Who lurks at the end of a syllogism? Rest easy: man may have free will even if there is no God.

  64. It does not follow that the human being chooses in the same manner as the machine.

    The idea behind the Turing test is the inability to distinguish between two alternatives. Until you can, it doesn’t matter at all if they don’t actually operate in the same manner.

    But the reflexive aversion to the will in the face of one’s own empirical experiences seems odd. What sort of person argues that he himself in only a zombie?

    Strikes me as an appeal to emotion. I personally have no problem with discovering I am merely an organic machine any more than I would in discovering I am a descendant of the ape family.

    FWIW, I am NOT arguing against free will through aversion. I am pointing to a reasonable alternative to it. I have yet to see an argument where free will is a better answer (outside of achieving some emotional satisfaction that might make me feel good).

  65. Ye Olde Statisician

    25 June 2014 at 7:51 pm

    So if you know something incompletely, the assent of the will is not determined completely.
    Why do you say that?

    Because if you do not have complete knowledge of a thing, you cannot assent to the parts you don’t know. Therefore, there is “play” in your decision-making.

    This business about not being determined completely is mostly poppycock. It implies there is an Objective Standard to desires. Utter nonsense.

    I suppose this is what passes for reasoned discourse in the Late Modern Age.
    But then by your own account, you had no choice to respond in that way, using those exact words. (Because if you could (e.g.) have used different words, then you would have had free will.)
    I suppose claiming that one is merely an organic machine [sic!] gives some comfort: It eases a burden of responsibility for one’s acts. But I still don’t understand why anyone would claim this in the light of their own actual personal experience. Call it Zeno’s Revenge.
    1 2 3 4
    Pick one.

  66. Because if you do not have complete knowledge of a thing, you cannot assent to the parts you don’t know. Therefore, there is “play” in your decision-making.

    Again the Objective Standard rears its head. You obviously want what you think it is. It doesn’t have to exist anywhere outside of your mind. You still know what you want. No different than wanting an ideal mate. You may recognize the near impossibility of getting one but you still have a clear idea what you want. Where’s the play?

    As far as wants, they do indeed have levels. In system engineering they are usually listed under two headings: needs and wants. The former are absolute requirements the latter are things nice to have.

    No, I don’t go along with this “partial” wanting though perhaps prioritized.

    But then by your own account, you had no choice to respond in that way, using those exact words. Because if you could (e.g.) have used different words, then you would have had free will.

    No, because I thought them the best at the time, so, being rational, I used them. Don’t you do the same? You seem to have much more emotional attachment to this topic than I do.

    I suppose claiming that one is merely an organic machine [sic!] gives some comfort:

    Not really — at least no more comfort than knowing my left hand has four fingers and a thumb. It’s really not an emotional issue for me. Why is it for you?

    Pick one.<

    OK then “one” since you’ve left me no choice :)

  67. Ye Olde Statisician

    25 June 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Because if you do not have complete knowledge of a thing, you cannot assent to the parts you don’t know. Therefore, there is “play” in your decision-making.
    Again the Objective Standard rears its head.

    What “objective standard” is that? All that is asserted is that if you desire “world peace,” you probably won’t know quite what that is except in an inchoate manner. What does this peace look like? Submission to Allah? How is it to be achieved? Which of many groups might I join? Or do I decide the heck with it and do something else instead? Same thing with the “ideal” mate: what exactly is the ideal mate? Is Alice, Betsy, or Charlene the ideal? How do I know?

    No different than wanting an ideal mate. You … still have a clear idea what you want.

    Do you? You have an Objective Standard, an Ideal? Or are there a great many dimensions to the ideality of mate-itude? Are there no trade-offs?

    Pick one.
    OK then “one” since you’ve left me no choice :)

    Very nice dodge! I didn’t see that coming. But you cannot have missed the point. Let’s try again:
    “Pick one of these numerals: 1, 2, 3, 4.”

  68. t? All that is asserted is that if you desire “world peace,” you probably won’t know quite what that is except in an inchoate manner.

    Same with wanting to be happy. You want the condition. If something comes along that looks like it will convey that then it gets added to the list of things you want. But the thing you want is to be happy and you must have some idea what that means.

    Who knows what “peace” represents to anyone in particular except you must certainly know what it represents to you. You might say you want “peace” but really mean you want what you think it entails. Nonetheless, you still know what you want and no one can say it’s indeterminate.

    Insisting someone doesn’t know what “peace” means to them is just plain arrogant. It is imposing your ideas from outside. A type of “objective standard” that you possess and for some reason think is universal.

    You have an Objective Standard, an Ideal?

    As in ideal mate? Absolutely! Don’t (or didn’t) you? Never heard of anyone without one before. You may be the exception. Is it Objective? I would call it Subjective since I think it would mostly apply only to me and no one else. But who knows, maybe I’m like that 0.5th kid in the household who is smack-dab in the middle and universally representative.

    Are there no trade-offs?

    Of course there are. They don’t necessarily change a want. New and perhaps more realistic ones could rise in importance upon receiving more information. Just like with the system engineering thing I mentioned, as time goes on priorities change. Things that are nice to have but are becoming next to impossible are dropped from the list. I might settle on Sally who matches most of my list but that doesn’t mean I would suddenly stop wanting that Ideal Goddess I have in my head.

    Why you find this surprising or important is beyond me. It has nothing to do with Will. There are things on the list that you still want satisfied and may even grow in importance that other things become lower priority but this doesn’t seem to be part of the topic of Free Will.

    Pick one of these numerals: 1, 2, 3, 4.

    OK, I’ll bite: “2”. And if you must know why: they are all equal but I like the shape of the “2” so it is more appealing to me than the others. I get some satisfaction out of selecting it that I don’t have the words to express. And why I bothered at all is I’m curious about your insistence.

  69. There is no objective standard in any of this. By definition or assignment or rule or whatever, every choice you make will be the one that was in your best interest at the moment of the decision. It’s perfect way to “prove” there is no free will—define it away. My question, as before, is “who cares”? I can just redefine the term and make free will be behaviour as defined. Mostly semantics, since the actual definition of free will is so varied as to making pinning down a definition impossible anyway.

    By the way, the correct choice is “5”.

  70. My inclination was to pick ‘0’.

    Perhaps a sign of the times but my ex informs me Will was killed off on the “Good Wife”.

  71. Ye Olde Statisician

    26 June 2014 at 10:33 am

    Pick one of these numerals: 1, 2, 3, 4.

    DAV: “2″
    Sheri: “5″.
    DAV (again): My inclination was to pick ’0′.

    I thought there was no free will. Yet one is perfectly free to pick any of the four digits — or even to go ‘outside the box’ and make a different choice.
    The existence of free will is implicit in the instruction “Choose one.” Not in the word “choose” (which would beg the question) but in the pronoun “one”. To which of the digits does the pronoun refer? It is indeterminate. And when the intellect is incomplete, the will is to that extent free.
    An illustration.

  72. YOS: An illustration indeed. There are other such illustrations also (my memory fails me at this point and I cannot dig one out of my memory file). However, it seems the goal of society is to produce individuals who believe that you can only choose one number and that it has to be on the list. Attempted suppression of free will?

  73. Only if you mean “free” as in the mathematical sense of “degree of freedom”. The engine in a car is free to be in the front, middle or back but once the car is built, the position is restrained. From the outside, decisions have a range but once you have all the information (including internal wants) available to a decider show that the decisions have any freedom to be anything but what they are and the “freedom” is anything but an illusion.

  74. And if you must know: I effectively followed my inclination to pick zero in my first response but you insisted on restricting my response to within a range and if I was to get my curiosity satisfied, I was forced to select ‘2’.

  75. DAV: You were still free to keep your choice of zero and just ignore YOS’s insistance on picking one of the numbers listed. You could have also picked 2 and 4, etc, and simply refused to go along with YOS. It seems likely that YOS would have told you the answer anyway because he was the one with the point to make. It was worth a try—but you chose not to. Or did you?

  76. “You were still free to keep your choice of zero and just ignore YOS’s insistance on picking one of the numbers listed. ”

    Yes, but then it seemed I wouldn’t get my curiosity satisfied. I stated why I picked ‘2’ when I responded the second time. It seemed my best option to satisfy my goal.

  77. DAV: Which probably illustrates that we use different reasoning toward the same end. Don’t know if that’s free will or just a different method of making choices. I would not have answered the way YOS wanted, believing that since he began the exchange, he would have more to lose by my not taking the bait than I did by not answering in a way he wanted. YOS needed a correct answer to make his point, but if he did not get one, would he have just dropped the question? Then his point is lost. You bet one way, I bet another.

  78. Sheri,

    We have different reasons indeed. The problem with second guessing is you don’t have all of what was available (or even occurred) to me at the time. It’s like asking why the engine of the car is in the front instead of the back. The short answer is: it just is. The long answer might take more time than you or the answerer wants to expend and, even then, some reasons may be omitted.

    Without all of the reasoning, one might suspect (even conclude) the responses are willy-nilly, i.e., “free”.

  79. DAV: One might actually suspect the responses are “free” indeed. Luckily, we have the reasoning, so we can toss out that idea, right? :)

  80. Absolutely!

  81. Ye Olde Statisician

    26 June 2014 at 3:19 pm

    A design engineer, even with the functional requirements, needs and wants, will always have multiple design options. In many cases, given constraints, he will opt for legacy — but he need not do so. He may choose components from standard catalogs, given the make-or-buy decisions. He may apply so-called TRIZ thinking to resolve contradictions in the design. The car, whether or no the engine is in the front, is not the one with a motion of the will.

    Without all of the reasoning, one might suspect (even conclude) the responses are willy-nilly, i.e., “free”.

    But a motion of the will is not “willy-nilly” and that is not what is meant by “free.”

    I am contemplating an extended essay on the matter back home, since it is evident that there are multiple misunderstandings of the entire concept. Thank you, Descartes. Not.

  82. A design engineer, even with the functional requirements, needs and wants, will always have multiple design options.

    Initially perhaps but all options must fit the requirements. Rarely is there a tie (in 40+ years never encountered one) as lower cost is usually on the requirements list and the “nice to have list” is still there. If there is a tie a selection must still be made. Randomly perhaps. If no tie there is only one choice and picking it is a no-brainer — the decision has already been made.

    In the absence of a tie there is no freedom. Each “design choice” follows the same procedure as above with generated dependent requirements.

    Again. if you seem to mean “free” in the mathematical sense of “degree of freedom”. That’s only there from the outside looking in. Internally, the best option floats to the top of the analysis and is used. If you have all of the information, wants and train of logic there will be only one option to select from (assuming some unspecified tie breaking).

  83. Ye Olde Statisician

    26 June 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Sigh.
    1. The will is the intellective appetite. As such, it is immanently informed by the intellect. Why do you suppose a rational animal would not freely pick the means that seem best, given what he knows?
    2. The lack of free will implies less than optimum choices; e.g., a default to instinctive options even if a better one is available
    3. You are confusing the inherent tendency of the will toward the good as somehow determining individual choices, judgements, etc. regarding the means to attain them, as if a generic cause can account for specific results.
    4. The following may explain things better than I:

    The will is the source of a person’s voluntary activity — called such from the Lat. voluntas, meaning will. This activity is commonly regarded as free, that is, not forced or predetermined. The source of the will’s freedom is difficult to determine, but it seems tobe based in the fact that the will is the appetite that follows the intimations of reason. Because reason can see several alternatives that are equally feasible as means of reaching one’s end, the will has the freedom to elect from among them. Free will is thus the ability manifested in a human being’s voluntary activity of choosing or not choosing a particular good when this is presented by the intellect. Such voluntary activity is also called free choice or free decision (Lat. liberum arbitrium).

    The will parallels the intellect in its mode of operation: just as the object of the intellect is the true, so the object of the will is the good. On this account the will can be attracted to something only insofar as the thing is presented to it as a good. A good that can satisfy only to a limited extent is called a particular good, whereas one that can satisfy in every conceivable way is called a universal or supreme good. Now it is traditionally held that the human will is determined by nature to seek whatever it recognizes intellectually as the universal good. That is, it must seek, or cannot not seek, a good that is supremely good and contains no admixture of evil. If this is so, then freedom of choice is exercised only with regard to objects recognized as particular goods. A person is not determined to these, because goods that are particular can always be seen in two opposing ways: they can be seen as good, i.e., according to the proportionate good they possess when compared to the universal good; or they may be seen as lacking in good, i.e., to the extent that they lack goodness when measured against the universal good. Thus, any finite good can be considered under the aspect of desirability or undesirability when compared to the universal good; as desirable, it can attract the will, as undesirable, it cannot. Not being determined or necessitated by such a good, the will remains radically free to choose it or reject it.
    — WIlliam A. Wallace, The Modeling of Nature, Section 5.5 Volition, p. 176-180.
    http://tinyurl.com/kwa8a6s

  84. Why do you suppose a rational animal would not freely pick the means that seem best, given what he knows?

    What part of that means there will be no actual choice because you are selecting from a set with only one member is so hard to understand?

  85. That was a bit garbled. Let me try again:

    There can only be ONE best. If you are choosing from a set with only ONE member then there is NO choice just as in your “Pick one.” from above. Why is that so hard to understand?

    The lack of free will implies less than optimum choices; e.g., a default to instinctive options even if a better one is available

    What? Whatever comes out on top of the options analysis will still be the best.

    Note you have yet to show how this free will does anything. You say the evaluation is by the Intellect and the acting is done by the Will but the Will can only do the topmost (best) action so it’s not deciding anything.

    You are talking in circles.

  86. Ye Olde Statisician

    26 June 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Did you read the excerpt or link?

    Your notion that there must be an Objective Standard — “the one best” — for particular goods is interesting. But you are still confusing the tendency of the will toward the good as such with determination of what particular means will be chosen to achieve it.

  87. But you are still confusing the tendency of the will toward the good as such with determination of what particular means will be chosen to achieve it.

    Seems to me you can only pick from options you already know (or have derived through logic). That would be the Intellect. And those are winnowed during the options analysis.

    You said: Why do you suppose a rational animal would not freely pick the means that seem best, given what he knows? so you seem to agree that picking the best is a built-in. Further, if you have a best and are rational you have no choice but to pick it. What’s this “freely pick” thing? What does the will have to do with it?

  88. Sample size 19? I’ve noticed these experiments almost always have pathetically-small sample sizes.

    It also looks like the experimental subjects were asked to make a decision at random, i.e., a decision made for absolutely no reason whatsoever. (I think they decided to study that based on the school of thought that holds that actions by people who have an real reason for acting, e.g., private-sector employment, are not truly free but the actions of performance artists who live on NEA grants to come up with pointless art are free.) At most, they have shown is that pointless decisions are not made by free will.

  89. Sander van der Wal

    27 June 2014 at 2:23 am

    @DAV

    Stop thinking in final states. Free Will is about trying to get what you want, not about having what you wanted.

  90. Joseph: Wiki seems to back up your idea of what free will is:
    Free will is the ability of agents to make choices unconstrained by certain factors. Factors of historical concern have included metaphysical constraints (such as logical, nomological, or theological determinism),[1] physical constraints (such as chains or imprisonment), social constraints (such as threat of punishment or censure), and mental constraints (such as compulsions or phobias, neurological disorders, or genetic predispositions).

    I would imagine students are a lot more expensive to enlist in such studies and less likely to care than in the past. She may be lucky to have gotten 19. Also, researchers rarely seem to see the need for a number of subjects—which indicates a fundamental lack of knowledge concerning research.

  91. Sander,

    But each intermediate step is constrained as well. In some ways it’s much like an N-stage filter (perhaps with feedback). Given all of the inputs, you would know the state of each stage — at least in theory — it might be a bear to calculate. The “freedom” exists only from the outside looking in.

  92. Brandon Gates

    27 June 2014 at 2:51 pm

    YOS:

    I was in haste at the time, so I simply gave a reference that I thought would be instructive. My apologies.

    I understand. I was cranky at the time and snapped back at you unfairly. I accept your apologies with thanks and extend to you my own.

    … a preference for particular color of jelly bean is not what was meant by a “good” and hence what was meant by an “evil” as a deprivation or defect in a good. When trying to rebut what men of olde once said, we must use the words as they used them.

    We may be at an impasse here about the words of men of olde. But perhaps not. It’s important for two people in a debate to agree upon terms. This oft necessarily means that at least one party needs to be flexible about terms. I’m quite willing for that person to be me.

    I consider you evidently much better read in philosophy than me. Can you think of any school or author of thought where the preference for a necessity is used in evaluating moral choices?

    There may be some evil inherent in your example, but the color of the jelly bean is not it.

    I chose colour (flavour) for the express purpose of it being rather trivial in the context of what a jelly bean is: sugar, gelatin, flavouring, food colouring. Mostly sugar and gelatin. My implicit argument being that the main ingredients of the jelly bean are the necessity. The colour of the bean comes down to personal preference. The individual will to choose one flavour over the other therefore gives the colour of the beans an extrinsic value.

    Does that clarify the purpose of my example?

  93. Brandon Gates

    27 June 2014 at 4:17 pm

    YOS: 1 2 3 4. Pick one.

    DAV: OK then “one” since you’ve left me no choice :)

    YOS: Very nice dodge! I didn’t see that coming. But you cannot have missed the point. Let’s try again:

    “Pick one of these numerals: 1, 2, 3, 4.”

    Sheri: The correct choice is “5″.

    Applause! Except you’re wrong. The correct answer was 14. :)

    YOS: But you are still confusing the tendency of the will toward the good as such with determination of what particular means will be chosen to achieve it.

    DAV: Seems to me you can only pick from options you already know (or have derived through logic). That would be the Intellect. And those are winnowed during the options analysis.

    You said: Why do you suppose a rational animal would not freely pick the means that seem best, given what he knows? so you seem to agree that picking the best is a built-in. Further, if you have a best and are rational you have no choice but to pick it. What’s this “freely pick” thing? What does the will have to do with it?

    Sander: Stop thinking in final states. Free Will is about trying to get what you want, not about having what you wanted.

    lol, Sander. What you evidently want is for DAV to think like you do. I am generally guilty of having the same desire. I use the word “guilt” here on purpose. While wanting those around us to be like us is understandable, we wrong our individual selves when we dwell upon it. We begin to wrong others when we express that desire so forcefully as you just have. We commit more wrong when that expression becomes a threat. And we do evil to others when we exert physical force on the non-compliant. Think political prisoners.

    Joseph: … looks like experimental subjects were asked to make a decision at random, i.e., a decision made for absolutely no reason whatsoever … At most, they have shown is that pointless decisions are not made by free will.

    Sheri: Wiki seems to back up your idea of what free will is:
    Free will is the ability of agents to make choices unconstrained by certain factors.

    I may have missed a nuance, but I don’t see that Joseph and Wiki are in agreement, they actually appear to be at exact odds with each other. I also think that Joseph does not understand the implications of the experiment itself. Briggs, of course, flat out rejects it.

    YOS’s arguments using the concept of intellective appetite best fit my own. We are constrained by our own cognitive processes when making choices. His example of picking a numeral between one and four, and your response of “five” are an elegant example demonstrating this principle in action.

    No non-trivial objective consequence was at stake in anyone’s choice of answer. By that I mean there was no material gain or loss to be had depending on which answer was chosen. No one was constrained to answer at all. DAV could have just as easily replied, “I choose none, go stuff yourself.” I could have answered “puppies!” instead of “fourteen”.

    I chose fourteen because it is my “lucky” number, which is in and of itself a choice and a superstition I maintain because it gives me intellectual satisfaction to do so. I also chose it because it didn’t belong to the range of numerals offered. Believing that was the point YOS was driving at, and because I simply don’t like arbitrary external constraints when it comes to my personal choice, I deliberately chose an option that wasn’t given.

    Other than my personal, internal sense of sense of satisfaction, there was no objective real world consequence to any of our choices. We did not gain any valuable object such as money for choosing “correctly”.

    Aside: Why money is seen as valuable is the subject of shelves upon shelves of books.

    From my own experiences, will is my externally unfettered ability to choose a course of action according to some desired outcome. Whether or not I am actually free to set that course of action in motion, or whether the outcome of my matches my original desire has absolutely nothing to do with my cognitive choice.

    Intellective appetite seems a fair description of the experiential quality of free will.

    I leave with a question for all, but particularly the statisticians: I believe there have been studies which show that human beings are terrible “random” number generators compared to computer algorithms. What comparisons can you make between those studies and the study which is the subject of this post?

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