## Free will, is it just an illusion?

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

@crispybits

If I knew how to answer the following:

(1) How do individuals define/perceive their profit and opportunity cost? Explain the process.

Then we could separate the endogenous variables from the exogenous. Endogenous at the individual-level would be: "you" and your brain. 'Exogenous' to that would be the relationship between you and your immediate v. broad surroundings--including other people as well. But, that isn't quite exogenous because that relationship can be bidirectional, so... <shrugs>.

Maybe the ultra-exogenous would be physical rules that govern our bodies--e.g. the desire to eat (for nearly all people). But then, how do you compare these ultra-exogenous factors with the semi-exogenous/endogenous ones? I simply keep them separate, so I'd distinguish between your "laws of physics" argument and the "non-laws of physics" aspect, and conclude: "laws of physics" constrain our options, so we still room to choose.

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

Metsfanmax wrote:
I doubt that we would ever have the computing power necessary to actually carry out the calculation. That is not the point. The point is that it is meaningful to state what the calculation is. Even if we could never actually calculate the state of the universe at t+1 based on complete information at t, it is nevertheless true (as far as we have yet determined) that the state of the universe at t+1 is completely determined by the state of the universe at t. The idea of free will requires this not to be the case. If you are meaningfully going to make a choice, then I contend it should not be possible for an external observer to know in advance what the choice will be. If that choice is completely determined by natural laws, then your mind has not done anything except play out the cosmic drama that unfolds every second in the universe.

RE: underlined,
What do you mean? Because if I knew someone really well and successfully predicted his decision (e.g. I placed a bet and won), it doesn't follow that that someone "didn't meaningfully make a choice." (Stocks and bonds traders are great at doing this for large scales of individuals and organizations). What's the difference between "knowing in advance" and "predicting"? Do you mean: "to know in advance with absolute certainty"?*

*If absolute certainty is required, then what of the uncertainty principle? ---namely, this part: "For instance, the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa." (wiki)

________________
To clarify: an atom is incapable of having free will since its "decisions" are entirely governed by natural laws. You'd agree?

RE: bold,
Suppose someone discovered that when x-amount of neutrinos pass through the Earth, then people are 50% more likely to desire sex. If this proven to be a fact, then would this fit your criteria of natural laws determining one's choices?

Suppose someone discovered that when x-amount of neutrinos pass through the Earth, then people are 100% more likely to desire sex. If this proven to be a fact, then would this fit your criteria of natural laws determining one's choices?

Metsfanmax wrote:
What do you mean by "the form is completely deterministic"? Could you give an example?

Yes. According to Newton's second law, if I place a one kilogram particle on a frictionless surface and exert a force of 1 Newton on it, it will always accelerate by precisely 1 m/s^2(*). There is no element of unpredictability in what the state of the universe will be as a result of the action.

*Ignoring the effects of special relativity, which are not important for the answer.

"No element of unpredictability"....

So, you're looking for some law which completely eliminates any uncertainty* of an outcome?

*uncertainty: "uncertainty is present when the likelihood of future events is indefinite or incalculable."

Or/and are you looking for some law which perfectly defines the risk* of any means to any end?
*risk: "risk is present when future events occur with measurable probability"

Metsfanmax wrote:
BBS wrote:I am presented with two options on a broad level at this time: (1) continue reading, or (2) ignore your post. Apparently, I have more than one option. After some time of deliberating between the two choices, I chose (1).

[1]Do you really believe this? In what alternative scenario would you have made a different "choice?" [2]If the thought process that led you to the conclusion was based on some series of weighed pros and cons, those pros and cons were determined completely by your past experiences, and if we re-ran the universe again up to this point, is there any chance you could have made a different decision? If not, in what meaningful way have you actually made a choice?

[1]Given the apparent absence of a framework/model which demonstrates the validity of determinism, substitutes must be found; therefore, yes, I believe that.

[2] Sure. I could've thought of something more interesting to do, which I didn't conceive in the original, universal trial. The opportunity cost would've varied, so based upon its value compared to the perceived profit of reading his post, I may have decided either way. Who knows. Also, I don't constantly weigh pros and cons at every time for every decision, so during the second trial, I could've been entirely capricious.

I like the idea of imagining an ability to re-run the universe to test for this, but how is that practical?

If the determinist position relies on imaginary, universal reruns in order to make its case, then shouldn't it be closeted in the Unfalsifiable section--next to God, Thor, FSM, and Paramatma?

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

BigBallinStalin wrote:
Metsfanmax wrote:
I doubt that we would ever have the computing power necessary to actually carry out the calculation. That is not the point. The point is that it is meaningful to state what the calculation is. Even if we could never actually calculate the state of the universe at t+1 based on complete information at t, it is nevertheless true (as far as we have yet determined) that the state of the universe at t+1 is completely determined by the state of the universe at t. The idea of free will requires this not to be the case. If you are meaningfully going to make a choice, then I contend it should not be possible for an external observer to know in advance what the choice will be. If that choice is completely determined by natural laws, then your mind has not done anything except play out the cosmic drama that unfolds every second in the universe.

RE: underlined,
What do you mean? Because if I knew someone really well and successfully predicted his decision (e.g. I placed a bet and won), it doesn't follow that that someone "didn't meaningfully make a choice." (Stocks and bonds traders are great at doing this for large scales of individuals and organizations). What's the difference between "knowing in advance" and "predicting"? Do you mean: "to know in advance with absolute certainty"?*

Yes, I meant to know in advance with absolute certainty (but see below).

*If absolute certainty is required, then what of the uncertainty principle? ---namely, this part: "For instance, the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa." (wiki)

Quantum mechanics is a deterministic system, even though it results in probabilistic outcomes for measurements. As I said, the point is not whether we could make an accurate prediction of the human's behavior. The point is to distinguish between a system where the human has made a choice, in the sense that the mind has exerted some sort of control over the environment instead of vice versa, and a system where the environment completely determined what the mind thought and did.

________________
To clarify: an atom is incapable of having free will since its "decisions" are entirely governed by natural laws. You'd agree?

Yes, and since humans are collections of atoms, it's hard for me to avoid the inevitable conclusion that humans do not have free will either.

RE: bold,
Suppose someone discovered that when x-amount of neutrinos pass through the Earth, then people are 50% more likely to desire sex. If this proven to be a fact, then would this fit your criteria of natural laws determining one's choices?

Suppose someone discovered that when x-amount of neutrinos pass through the Earth, then people are 100% more likely to desire sex. If this proven to be a fact, then would this fit your criteria of natural laws determining one's choices?

Your use of the phrase "more likely" is meaningless for this discussion, because it refers to a statistical sample and not an individual. We are discussing the individual when we discuss free will. A better question is, did the neutrinos passing through initiate some nuclear reactions that spawned a chain of events terminating in an increased desire to have sex?

I also don't believe that choice exists, at least in this framework. If the universe is deterministic, natural laws don't determine choices, they just have definite consequences. You're incorrectly describing my argument to even use the word choice, and it's resulting in an incorrect understanding of what I am saying. At the very least, you'd have to clearly define what it means for a human to make a choice.

Metsfanmax wrote:
What do you mean by "the form is completely deterministic"? Could you give an example?

Yes. According to Newton's second law, if I place a one kilogram particle on a frictionless surface and exert a force of 1 Newton on it, it will always accelerate by precisely 1 m/s^2(*). There is no element of unpredictability in what the state of the universe will be as a result of the action.

*Ignoring the effects of special relativity, which are not important for the answer.

"No element of unpredictability"....

So, you're looking for some law which completely eliminates any uncertainty* of an outcome?

*uncertainty: "uncertainty is present when the likelihood of future events is indefinite or incalculable."

Or/and are you looking for some law which perfectly defines the risk* of any means to any end?
*risk: "risk is present when future events occur with measurable probability"

I was referring to the former. There is no stochastic element to the equations that we write down that govern the universe (the uncertainty principle, for example, does not affect the determinism of Schrodinger's equation).

Metsfanmax wrote:
BBS wrote:I am presented with two options on a broad level at this time: (1) continue reading, or (2) ignore your post. Apparently, I have more than one option. After some time of deliberating between the two choices, I chose (1).

[1]Do you really believe this? In what alternative scenario would you have made a different "choice?" [2]If the thought process that led you to the conclusion was based on some series of weighed pros and cons, those pros and cons were determined completely by your past experiences, and if we re-ran the universe again up to this point, is there any chance you could have made a different decision? If not, in what meaningful way have you actually made a choice?

[1]Given the apparent absence of a framework/model which demonstrates the validity of determinism, substitutes must be found; therefore, yes, I believe that.

It is not obvious to me why a lack of proof for determinism means that you made a choice. There are plenty of ways to construct a non-deterministic universe in which you still had no control over your actions.

[2] Sure. I could've thought of something more interesting to do, which I didn't conceive in the original, universal trial. The opportunity cost would've varied, so based upon its value compared to the perceived profit of reading his post, I may have decided either way. Who knows. Also, I don't constantly weigh pros and cons at every time for every decision, so during the second trial, I could've been entirely capricious.

I like the idea of imagining an ability to re-run the universe to test for this, but how is that practical?

If the determinist position relies on imaginary, universal reruns in order to make its case, then shouldn't it be closeted in the Unfalsifiable section--next to God, Thor, FSM, and Paramatma?

The thought process is the same for believers in free will. In order to argue that free will exists, you must argue that you could have made a different choice than the one you did (i.e., abandon crispybits' post). But why should I lend any credence to that hypothesis? The only evidence we have is what actually happened, which is that you read the post. In order to convince anyone that the result could have been different, you would need to re-run the universe with the same initial conditions and get a different outcome. That is, the burden of proof is on you. I have one piece of evidence that suggests that you would have made that choice (the evidence being that you did make that choice) and you have zero pieces of evidence suggesting that it could have happened another way. You can assert that you "could've thought of something more interesting to do," but why should I believe this has a non-zero probability?

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

Let's go back to basics: what is the point of asking if we have "free will"?
If it is to get the answer to the question, then I would suggest that the persona asking wants to know the answer.
If you are asking the question, but believe you had no choice but to ask it, it's a bit of a shit question.
I would further suggest that if one has no free will, there is no "one" to ask the question.
Nobody can believe that they have no free will, because by holding that belief they are effectively denying their own existence.
No?
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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

jonesthecurl wrote:Let's go back to basics: what is the point of asking if we have "free will"?
If it is to get the answer to the question, then I would suggest that the persona asking wants to know the answer.
If you are asking the question, but believe you had no choice but to ask it, it's a bit of a shit question.
I would further suggest that if one has no free will, there is no "one" to ask the question.
Nobody can believe that they have no free will, because by holding that belief they are effectively denying their own existence.
No?

The point for me is intellectual curiousity,the joy of philosophic enquiry.It is precisely because the topic is difficult to grapple with that gives it it's fascination.
Nobody can ACT as if they don't have freewill I agree,but that does not mean it exists or we are denying our own existence.
So far in this debate Crispy and Mets have made the more cogent arguments IMHO.No-one arguing for freewill has begun to explain why the firing of neurons in a human brain is exempt from the chain of causality stretching back to the big bang,which every other physical action is part of.Do the laws of physics as currently understood not apply here?

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

Well, at a profoundly fundamental level, if I have no free will, I don't exist.
I rather think that I do exist.
I'm not that sure about the rest of you.
incidentally, I went back before I posted and corrected some spelling errors. I do believe that I could have decided not ot.
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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

jonesthecurl wrote:Well, at a profoundly fundamental level, if I have no free will, I don't exist.
I rather think that I do exist.
I'm not that sure about the rest of you.
incidentally, I went back before I posted and corrected some spelling errors. I do believe that I could have decided not ot.

Following that line of reasoning,does that mean everything without freewill does not exist,or are you talking specifically about humans,and perhaps some other animals?

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

What I mean, is "I" do not exist without free will. There is a lump of meat and brain that fills the physical position that jonesthecurl happens to occupy, but without volition, it is not the person that "I" perhaps foolishly believe to exist. Incidentally, the meat and brain that is typing this believes that it deliberately typed "ot" rather than "to" at the end of its last post. Perhaps it's wrong, just as it's wrong that it knows the difference between "its" and "it's", and uses them in a grammatically correct manner.
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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

jonesthecurl wrote:What I mean, is "I" do not exist without free will. There is a lump of meat and brain that fills the physical position that jonesthecurl happens to occupy, but without volition, it is not the person that "I" perhaps foolishly believe to exist. Incidentally, the meat and brain that is typing this believes that it deliberately typed "ot" rather than "to" at the end of its last post. Perhaps it's wrong, just as it's wrong that it knows the difference between "its" and "it's", and uses them in a grammatically correct manner.

I can understand why you and others feel the thesis diminishes their personas,Harris mentions this in the video.Personally I recoiled when I first came across the concept a couple of years ago.It strikes at the very heart of what we like to think it is to be human.Yet when you get past the emotional response the science appears sound thus far,although further research can always change things.

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

jonesthecurl wrote:What I mean, is "I" do not exist without free will. There is a lump of meat and brain that fills the physical position that jonesthecurl happens to occupy, but without volition, it is not the person that "I" perhaps foolishly believe to exist. Incidentally, the meat and brain that is typing this believes that it deliberately typed "ot" rather than "to" at the end of its last post. Perhaps it's wrong, just as it's wrong that it knows the difference between "its" and "it's", and uses them in a grammatically correct manner.

I agree with everything you have said about the nature of identity. Yet that is not a reason to accept philosophically that free will exists. If free will does not exist, at any rate, then my mind tends to be one of the ones that accepts that it does not, and this is OK with me since I am at ease with the fact that I am simply an advanced species of monkey on an unimportant rock in a gigantic universe. If free will does not exist and you have one of the minds that is not at ease with this fact, well, sucks to be you.

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

This is reminding me of the "brain in a jar" discussions.

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

I was wondering where the burden of proof lies on this issue.Is it with the determinists who claim the illusion of choice is part of the chain of causality,subject to the known laws of physics,as is everything else.Or with the non-determinists who claim human freewill exists in some non-defined,non-physical,as yet unverifiable,area?Apologies if I have framed the positions incorrectly..

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

It normally lies with those who make the positive claim - as in X exists.

In this case I think there is some on each side, but far more on the non-determinists side. The determinists claim that everything follows the laws of nature, which are determnistic and causal. Their burden of proof is already met to a large extent for them by the history and discovery of science, which has (as far as I'm aware) not found anything in this universe that exists outside of this causal structure. The last little leap of inductive reasoning is that we won't find anything in the future that does not follow these laws, so there is room for them to be wrong but not a great deal. The non-determinists on the other hand have to show the opposite, with the weight of the history and discovery of science pushing back against them. Theirs is the extraordinary claim, and so they have a much larger burden of proof.

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

crispybits wrote:It normally lies with those who make the positive claim - as in X exists.

In this case I think there is some on each side, but far more on the non-determinists side. The determinists claim that everything follows the laws of nature, which are determnistic and causal. Their burden of proof is already met to a large extent for them by the history and discovery of science, which has (as far as I'm aware) not found anything in this universe that exists outside of this causal structure. The last little leap of inductive reasoning is that we won't find anything in the future that does not follow these laws, so there is room for them to be wrong but not a great deal. The non-determinists on the other hand have to show the opposite, with the weight of the history and discovery of science pushing back against them. Theirs is the extraordinary claim, and so they have a much larger burden of proof.

The paralell that immediately springs to mind when talking about burdens of proof is with the theism/atheism debate,where IMHO theists are making an extraordinary claim that was historically overwhelmingly accepted.Perhaps in time if determinism becomes more widely accepted non-determinism will be viewed as being as extraordinary a claim as theism.

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

chang50 wrote:The paralell that immediately springs to mind when talking about burdens of proof is with the theism/atheism debate,where IMHO theists are making an extraordinary claim that was historically overwhelmingly accepted.Perhaps in time if determinism becomes more widely accepted non-determinism will be viewed as being as extraordinary a claim as theism.

Doesn't this eliminate the concept of things such as crime? How do we punish someone for something they have no control over?
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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

It certainly requires a rethink of the principles we base a criminal system on - instead of anything being about retribution the focus would have to move solely to protecting the population from a "malfunctioning unit" and trying to rehabilitate to make them a constructive part of society again where possible. It doesn't rule out just locking someone up and throwing away the key any more than the current system does.

Edit - Sam Harris does mention this at the end of the video clip but doesn't go into too much detail, it's that area I would have loved to hear more on from him...

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

chang50 wrote:
crispybits wrote:It normally lies with those who make the positive claim - as in X exists.

In this case I think there is some on each side, but far more on the non-determinists side. The determinists claim that everything follows the laws of nature, which are determnistic and causal. Their burden of proof is already met to a large extent for them by the history and discovery of science, which has (as far as I'm aware) not found anything in this universe that exists outside of this causal structure. The last little leap of inductive reasoning is that we won't find anything in the future that does not follow these laws, so there is room for them to be wrong but not a great deal. The non-determinists on the other hand have to show the opposite, with the weight of the history and discovery of science pushing back against them. Theirs is the extraordinary claim, and so they have a much larger burden of proof.

The paralell that immediately springs to mind when talking about burdens of proof is with the theism/atheism debate,where IMHO theists are making an extraordinary claim that was historically overwhelmingly accepted.Perhaps in time if determinism becomes more widely accepted non-determinism will be viewed as being as extraordinary a claim as theism.

The two have many similarities. Most people believe in the idea of free will with a conviction that can't be merited by the evidence available, just like religion. It's almost as if it matters so much to them that they can't think of it rationally. That's why you can't ever get a deeply religious person to think about religion rationally, it just matters too much to them. If you have built up your morale around the prenotion that everyone are responisble for who they are and what they do, then even thinking about free will as just a myth might be too much for you to handle. There just isn't any evidence favouring free will and that alone should be enough for an atheist to assume it doesn't exist. Belief in something without evidence is the very thing all atheists despise, yet so many break their own rules when trying to get their heads around the question of free will. Don't assume something is true unless there is evidence for it.
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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

Woodruff wrote:
chang50 wrote:The paralell that immediately springs to mind when talking about burdens of proof is with the theism/atheism debate,where IMHO theists are making an extraordinary claim that was historically overwhelmingly accepted.Perhaps in time if determinism becomes more widely accepted non-determinism will be viewed as being as extraordinary a claim as theism.

Doesn't this eliminate the concept of things such as crime? How do we punish someone for something they have no control over?

You should only feel the need to prevent people from harming others, not extract "revenge", as revenge makes no sense when there is no free will. So punishment makes sense if it is to deter others from commiting crimes or sealing away people who are deemed dangerous to society.
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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

Woodruff wrote:
chang50 wrote:The paralell that immediately springs to mind when talking about burdens of proof is with the theism/atheism debate,where IMHO theists are making an extraordinary claim that was historically overwhelmingly accepted.Perhaps in time if determinism becomes more widely accepted non-determinism will be viewed as being as extraordinary a claim as theism.

Doesn't this eliminate the concept of things such as crime? How do we punish someone for something they have no control over?

Agree with Crispy here,incarceration perhaps should be more about protection than punishment.Makes things seem unfair,but if the thesis is true,it's true..

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

Gillipig wrote:
Woodruff wrote:
chang50 wrote:The paralell that immediately springs to mind when talking about burdens of proof is with the theism/atheism debate,where IMHO theists are making an extraordinary claim that was historically overwhelmingly accepted.Perhaps in time if determinism becomes more widely accepted non-determinism will be viewed as being as extraordinary a claim as theism.

Doesn't this eliminate the concept of things such as crime? How do we punish someone for something they have no control over?

You should only feel the need to prevent people from harming others, not extract "revenge", as revenge makes no sense when there is no free will. So punishment makes sense if it is to deter others from commiting crimes or sealing away people who are deemed dangerous to society.

But punishment can't deter others from committing crimes if they don't choose to commit those crimes.
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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

crispybits wrote:It certainly requires a rethink of the principles we base a criminal system on - instead of anything being about retribution the focus would have to move solely to protecting the population from a "malfunctioning unit" and trying to rehabilitate to make them a constructive part of society again where possible.

Is rehabilitation possible if choice is not involved?

I suppose perhaps chemical rehabilitation.
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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

Woodruff wrote:
Gillipig wrote:
Woodruff wrote:
chang50 wrote:The paralell that immediately springs to mind when talking about burdens of proof is with the theism/atheism debate,where IMHO theists are making an extraordinary claim that was historically overwhelmingly accepted.Perhaps in time if determinism becomes more widely accepted non-determinism will be viewed as being as extraordinary a claim as theism.

Doesn't this eliminate the concept of things such as crime? How do we punish someone for something they have no control over?

You should only feel the need to prevent people from harming others, not extract "revenge", as revenge makes no sense when there is no free will. So punishment makes sense if it is to deter others from commiting crimes or sealing away people who are deemed dangerous to society.

But punishment can't deter others from committing crimes if they don't choose to commit those crimes.quote

But their behaviour can be influenced subconsciously.....if the thesis is correct our environment does just that.The problem lies with the person being punished in order to protect society.
Last edited by chang50 on Sat Jul 13, 2013 10:03 am, edited 1 time in total.

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

Woodruff wrote:
crispybits wrote:It certainly requires a rethink of the principles we base a criminal system on - instead of anything being about retribution the focus would have to move solely to protecting the population from a "malfunctioning unit" and trying to rehabilitate to make them a constructive part of society again where possible.

Is rehabilitation possible if choice is not involved?

I suppose perhaps chemical rehabilitation.

Not if you believe we choose everything that happens to us and we are the conscious authors of our lives.If Harris et al are correct we no more consciously choose to do x rather than y than we choose to produce red blood cells.It doesn't mean the external world doesn't influence what happens subconsciously.

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

Woodruff wrote:
Gillipig wrote:
Woodruff wrote:
chang50 wrote:The paralell that immediately springs to mind when talking about burdens of proof is with the theism/atheism debate,where IMHO theists are making an extraordinary claim that was historically overwhelmingly accepted.Perhaps in time if determinism becomes more widely accepted non-determinism will be viewed as being as extraordinary a claim as theism.

Doesn't this eliminate the concept of things such as crime? How do we punish someone for something they have no control over?

You should only feel the need to prevent people from harming others, not extract "revenge", as revenge makes no sense when there is no free will. So punishment makes sense if it is to deter others from commiting crimes or sealing away people who are deemed dangerous to society.

But punishment can't deter others from committing crimes if they don't choose to commit those crimes.

Okay so you seem unable to understand what the consequences of having no free will are. It doesn't remove your environment's ability to influence you, and that is all you need for punishment to work as determent.
Whatever "choice" you make will be the result of your lifetime experiences working together with your genetics. True independent, removed from the world of causality choice, is not needed to account for anything.
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Gillipig

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### Re: Free will, is it just an illusion?

crispybits wrote:It normally lies with those who make the positive claim - as in X exists.

In this case I think there is some on each side, but far more on the non-determinists side. The determinists claim that everything follows the laws of nature, which are determnistic and causal. Their burden of proof is already met to a large extent for them by the history and discovery of science, which has (as far as I'm aware) not found anything in this universe that exists outside of this causal structure. The last little leap of inductive reasoning is that we won't find anything in the future that does not follow these laws, so there is room for them to be wrong but not a great deal. The non-determinists on the other hand have to show the opposite, with the weight of the history and discovery of science pushing back against them. Theirs is the extraordinary claim, and so they have a much larger burden of proof.

Both people say either claim, so both need to demonstrate their evidence.

Where's the evidence for the determinists? "We may find all natural laws which explain one's decision."

Assuming reruns of the universe doesn't work. It's an unfalsifiable position!, and you ask us to counter that? How is that even acceptable?

BigBallinStalin

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