Free Will (was Re: virus: Re: Rationality)

David McFadzean (
Sun, 09 Mar 1997 15:06:50 -0700

At 03:21 PM 07/03/97 -0500, Alexander Williams wrote:

>> >Hmmmmm. The problem is that all the discussions I've heard regarding FW
>> >have involved omniscience or predictability.
>> Maybe *that's* the problem.
>Could be. Illuminate me?

As you've already pointed out, the 'free will' problem is usually framed
in the context of whether or not future behaviour can be predicted. The
implication being that if it can be, then whatever you are discussing
does not have free will. But that strategy leads to all sorts of unnecessary
epistemological problems, i.e. bringing knowledge or lack thereof into
the equation, when it is really a metaphysical issue, i.e. if you have
free will it doesn't matter whether you or anyone knows it. As an aside
I think a lot of disagreements are really over the epistemological vs.
the metaphysical, a very subtle but important distinction.

So, back to free will. What if an agent (a system with behaviour) is said
to have free will if and only if the behaviour is endogenously generated
(influenced from within). Of course any physical system is influenced to
some extent by the environment (everything outside the system in question),
gravity being an obvious example. But that merely puts the attribute of
free will on a continuum: the more the control comes from within the system,
the more free will it has. Nothing has complete free will except the universe,
assuming that nothing outside the universe has any influence on the universe
whatsoever. A rock has very little (if any) free will because its behaviour
is influenced entirely (practically) by its environment. Humans have a great
deal of free will considering that their behaviour is generated (mostly) by
their nervous system which is considered to be within the human system. But
they don't have complete free will because their behaviour is also influenced
a great deal by their environment, especially other humans.

The reason I like this angle on free will is because it corresponds closely
with our intuitive notions about what does and doesn't have free will,
and defines it in such a way that is possible to analyse it further using
concepts such as information, computation and control (cybernetics).

Does this make sense?

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Church of Virus