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Free Will - Tribe Discussion

created 2005-03-02 23:52:16

A re-factorisation of the discussion around determinism and free will. See We Have No Free WIll for more context.

I will take the liberty to re-post the comments here. (Naturally, should any of the original authors wish me to remove their text, I will do so.) The thread was originally entitled "There are only 3 'sins'", so see there for the original context (makes for interesting reading anyway) and for any updates that I've missed. I'll try and summarise this page at some point in the future too, to save scrolling down so far.

Naturally, from sin comes the debate around free will, at which point Dlight, a quantum physicist, steps in:

First let me say that for a tribe that has such a lofty and inspired manifesto, this discussion seems to me to be very old-fashioned and bound in monotheist dogma. I find it difficult to believe that y'all are discussing the concept of "sin" with a straight face.

First of all, as an expert in quantum mechanics, I can assure you that the idea of the world as deterministic is completely and thoroughly disproven by numerous scientific experiments which support the new quantum paradigm. This view appears to give free reign to any conscious entity to create their own personal universe. Physics is no longer in conflict with the idea of free will, and in fact hasn't been for the last 70 years.

Secondly, the concept of good and evil is a very new idea that only came about with the rise of monotheism a few thousand years ago.

In polytheist religions like the Greeks there is no idea at all of good and evil. And the Greeks basically invented modern civilization. For example, a young pre-pubescent Greek girl who liked to run around the forest hunting and playing, had the goddess Artemis as a role model, and this activity became sacred. When she reached the age of being sexually attractive, she had Aphrodite as a role model. Aphrodite had no interest in marriage or having children, her only purpose was to be as sensually alluring as possible. So for a Greek girl to fully and proudly unfold the full flower of her sexuality was to be like a Goddess. Later when she was ready to have a family and settle down, the she could worship Hera, and feel goddess-like as a "housewife".

How differently monothesism regards these same activities. Suddenly the girl coming into her womanhood is a sinful slut to be controlled and repressed at all costs.

All human activities suddenly had to be judged on how similar they were to this "perfect" angry old man in the sky. Once monotheism took hold, you had the concept of God (Good) and the Devil (Evil). All human activity had to be judged according to this binary measure. And woman with their terrifying sexual power were of course considered to be much closer to the devil.

Once monotheism took hold, we went into a dark ages that lasted more than 1000 years until the Renaissance. It's not an accident that the painters of the Renaissance painted the characters from the Greek and Roman mythologies, because they were trying to invoke the same freedom of thought that had existed a millenium earlier.

The Internet is a further progression of the polytheist philosophy, a new Renaissance, and is rapidly bringing about the end of all hierachies hopefully including the end of monotheist thought.

You can dramatically liberate your mind if you can stop believing that some activities are "good" and some activities are "bad". This is an absurdly shallow way of classifying life that's rooted in fear.

Much better to see the full spectrum of human activity as an unimaginably complex and beautiful tapestry of inspiration and tragedy all mixed together in a wonderful and terrible mystery.

Even better to realize that all the negativity you percieve in the world is actually coming from deep inside of yourself. Do the appropriate inner healing and watch the outside world magically transform.


My reply, for inclusion's sake:

Good post. Quantum mechanics or no, I still find that losing the idea of free will within ourselves is an important step. Science and markets have led to a world in which we believe that our control is a saviour, and that our own happiness lies in our ability to master. It's my opinion that such arrogance leads to destruction - both of the self, and of the external world. So I reiterate my point that it doesn't really matter whether we are deterministic or not - it is our attitude that counts.

Of course, is this attitude chosen by ourselves, or influenced by a semi-deterministic world? :)

Delving into the quantum side of things, I also find it easy to believe that such a non-deterministic basis gets filtered into an emergent determinism - order fom chaos, in other words. Our attitudes and philosophies are so far removed from the boundaries of our knowledge that to assume a direct correspondence, in terms of manipulatibility (is that a word? =), would be silly.

I agree with the last 3 paragraphs though...

Denny's reply to the topmost post too:

<< thoroughly disproven by numerous scientific experiments which support the new quantum paradigm >>

Scientifically supporting something isn't equivalent to thoroughly disproving it by any stretch of the imagination. It could be that there is an unexamined deterministic process that governs what appears to be entirely probabilistic phenomena.

Besides, although we can say that the microscopic world is governed by probabilities, the macroscopic still appears to be more or less deterministic. If determinism was complete garbage then Newtonian mechanics would cease to be scientifically useful.

I believe we throw a wrench into the works by aligning ourselves with one side of a continuum. Random and decided are simply two extremes. Neither can be the whole truth, but perhaps it can be half.

Rather than looking to monotheism or polytheism, perhaps we should look to monotheistic polytheism -- God is Gods -- The Great Conscience of the True Man (whatever that great mystery may be).

The absence of evil in the world is not proven by any particular civilization's mode of operation, whether it be of past or present. It could simply mean that the civilization in question wasn't aware of certain things. Then again, perhaps our understanding is incomplete, our perception skewed, or heavily biased by corrupted historical accounts.

<< Much better to see the full spectrum of human activity as an unimaginably complex and beautiful tapestry of inspiration and tragedy all mixed together in a wonderful and terrible mystery. >>

I agree, but, like it or not, good and evil have become a part of this mystery. If we're going to contemplate our reality, we will have to include these items. Perhaps they will reveal something to us.

Dlight's response to Denny:

Bell's Inequality has actually disproven that the world is deterministic, both theoretically and experimentally. Bell was able to show that any "hidden variable theory" (the idea that there was an unseen determinism behind the apparently probabalistic nature of QM) would result in a different numerical results under certain experimental conditions. The experiments have been done and determinism has lost over and over.

However, determinism is such a deeply held belief for many scientists, that it will be a long time before the new paradigm is widely accepted.

While it's true that quantum physics certainly doesn't prove that free will exists, it definitely is compatible with the concept. In fact, Wheeler's interpretation of QM is that the world exists in a superposition of possibilities until a conscious observer "collapses" the wave equation down into a single possibility which is the "reality" that we perceive.

We experience our free will on a daily basis. We certainly have the feeling of making conscious decisions. To believe that we as conscious beings have no actual effect on the outside world, that we're just passively here for the ride, seems to me to be a nightmarish and nihilistic point of view.

However, I guess hundreds of thousands of hours of watching television could make one more comfortable with this idea, since when you watch TV you are an absolutely passive observer with no effect on what appears on the screen.

What else could make people doubt that we have free will?

Newtonian Physics, with its billiard ball model of reality, left no room for conscious decision making.

And from a monotheist point of view, the idea of a God that was "all-powerful" and "perfectly good" seemed to undermine the concept of sin, so "free-will" was used as an excuse to be able to condemn humans to hell.

Both of these concepts are now hopefully consigned to the dust-bin of history, so we can again feel the delightful and terrifying responsibility of being the creators of our own realities.

My response, with quotes inside quotes...

"Bell's Inequality has actually disproven that the world is deterministic"

See my previous post, but I still think there's a vast gulf between claiming that "fundamental" physics is non-deterministic, and human behaviour is non-deterministic. If the laws of physics are based on quantum "variability", why don't they have free will too?

"We experience our free will on a daily basis. We certainly have the feeling of making conscious decisions."

Or we like to entertain the idea that the choices we make emanate from within ourselves, rather than are the natural meeting of environment and instinct. A simple example: Do I make a cup of coffee? The answer lies in whether or not I want coffee. Do I have free will to decide if I am in the mood for coffee or not? How do I decide to decide?

"To believe that we as conscious beings have no actual effect on the outside world, that we're just passively here for the ride, seems to me to be a nightmarish and nihilistic point of view."

Lack of free will doesn't mean we don't have an effect. A rock may land and leave an impression in the ground, but does not choose to fall.

Personally, I've gained huge comfort from giving up the idea that I should control my actions and environment consciously. This opens up all kinds of things that they never teach you in school.

"However, I guess hundreds of thousands of hours of watching television could make one more comfortable with this idea, since when you watch TV you are an absolutely passive observer with no effect on what appears on the screen."

Unless you're holding the remote control ;)

And Denny's response also to Dlight:

Hi Dlight,

I hope you don't mind, but I sent your response to one of my good friends, and he replied with the following --

Hi there,

While I took a wager with Aaron Alford perhaps sometime in 2000 I said, "1960s were the last time humanity made an advance on the scale of wisdom. Since then we have moved ahead on the scale of information tremendously, on the scale of knowledge admirably, but
none whatsoever on the scale of wisdom."

On that day with Aaron, I was referring to Bell's theorem.

John Bell wrote equations in 1964 to test locality and John Clauser at Berkley California experimentally proved in 1972 that locality fails.

In essence, "that spooky action at distance" (Einstein), some weird super-luminal communication, was proved to be the way of nature. Quantum entanglement, quantum connectedness, a-causal connections became established as science.

The philosophical catch is not with the former two ideas but the last one of a-causal connection.

Causality is not only the backbone of physical sciences but also that of our worldview and our psycho-emotional world. Cause-effect is how we measure world. Moreover we axiomize that cause precedes effect and ALSO ASSERT THAT CAUSE AND EFFECT CANNOT BE

Einstein used speed of light as the ultimate constant in the universe (I have said so many times that theory of relativity was all about the absolute and nothing much about relative) to establish cause effect pair.

In that sense and in that sense alone the experimental proof of Bell's theorem (not the theorem itself) has killed determinism and paved way for probabilistic worldview that is so essential for the notion of free will that is cherished by human mind.

Einstein himself killed theory of hidden variables proposed by David Bohm at the Solvay conference in 1927 very quickly. However, he and ironically Max Planck (THE TWO fathers of quantum mechanics) stuck to the view that not Bohm's theory but some other one will prove that quantum is a limiting case of a larger unified field theory where determinism reigns.

Herein lies my view (and need not be said that I am a nobody).

Using Kurt Godel's theorem's metaphor, Bell's theorem is a derivative of a mathematical formalism. Leaving behind the superficial integral equations of Bell, if we turn to at least a hundred+ impasse into which modern physics has run and run afoul, we may ask "What if all these impasse are connected to the very
structure of mathematics and that Bell's is only one of them?"

Mathematics did not originate at quantum physics. It originated in some very crude obvious broad mundane needs of ancient humanity. The concept of zero (with what I had been struggling since my 13 and I wrote to Brian Josephson in 1982 that zero must have a finite value that will define the ultimate constant in the universe better than the speed of light) is flawed and nightmarish. And Bell's theorem is subject to idea of zero.

Secondly, the experimental proof only tells us how the world "LOOKS." What if there is some formal law that not only corrupts objective reality but simultaneously corrupts the subjective reality in a conspiracy of a sort?

We talk of event horizon at celestial scales. What if there is a quantum event horizon that smears up reality? And of course any good physicist knows there is such thing as quantum event horizon.

When your friend says that determinism is such a deep belief that it is hard to get rid of, my thinking sees the other way round. We are so intoxicated and indoctrinated in "free Will" that it is almost
impossible to reconcile with determinism. In my essay on history (ironic isn't it) I coined the phrase super-determinism in 1982.

It is sad that thinkers mix up issue of free will or determinism with Bell's issue or quantum physics. As for human free will, even if we understand that the number of biochemical variables operating in our milieu interior is so huge-huge-huge that strict deterministic worldview formalism can also support our tiny finite illusion of terrestrial free will. We don't need quantum physics to feel comfortable with our illusion, delusion and hallucination.

Sexual intercourse often takes place between lovers but experimental evidence of sexual intercourse neither proves nor disproves love. It is like comparing apples and oranges. Same is about QM and human will.

QM is a quest into the nature of God, if any and his MIND or DESIGN.

At the bottom line I would posit that the moment we accept our existence, we have committed ourselves to determinism, and nothing else that sits beneath matters or counts. And if we deny our existence then who and why and where and when and what and how is discussing all these foolish ideas.

As I told Aaron then and tell everyone (and of course nobody listens to me) everyday, "let us examine our premises and our axioms." Logic is fun. Only thus far. I am amazed at human capacity for boredom. Why people don't get sick of Tautology that David Hume so clearly ridiculed? I think in last one year I am learning why.
This boredom makes living and keeps your family from complaining!!!!!

Take care


Thank you. With warm regards, I am, truly yours,

Avinash Patwardhan MD, MS, Fellow A.I.S.


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