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

Dave Pape (
Sat, 15 Mar 1997 21:53:07 GMT

At 01:13 14/03/97 -0700, David McFadzean wrote:

>> I think the
>> reason we treat objects as (misleadingly) distinct from their context is
>> because this strategy has been evolutionarily selected, as it's useful to
>> organisms. It gets you by... [CLIP]
>I'd not only agree with that assessment, but go on to say that it
>is probably the only possible way for finite creatures to model
>their environment. In this case evolution didn't have much of a
>> I'm saying that to consider a
>> rock or a genetic species or a mind in isolation from its environment is an
>> evolutionarily useful, but misleading, heuristic strategy. [Mops forehead-
>> some hairs fall out of scalp]
>How is it misleading? In mathematics is it misleading to discuss
>integers even when you know they are merely distant points on a
>continuum of real numbers?

Well... in pure maths no, but in applied maths often yes, kind of, but it
/gets you by/. It's inaccurate. I reckon part of why old theories get
disproved is because new evidence is more accurate and detailed than old,
and considers the context of old results more. Hence the value of looking at
context, and hence the danger of approximating your data too much- because
the system you're trying to describe is butt-kickingly complex.

>> But... every scientific prediction is an /approximation/, and I think a
>> factor in this is the fact that whenever you make predictions you don't take
>> The Whole System (Everything) into account.
>Approximations are necessary when anything else is impossible.

Oh yeh, I'm not denying that. But the history of science is one of less and
less approximation, isn't it?

>> >I don't think it matters where the behaviours were learned originally
>> >because free will is more concerned with proximal cause than ultimate
>> >cause.
>> In that case, you're ignoring many causes, modelling only parts of systems,
>> when discussing free will, so it's going to be a fairly inaccurate concept.
>The point in abstracting is to knowingly ignore causes that are
>irrelevant, uninteresting, or otherwise outside the scope of the
>issue at hand.

But I don't think that the deterministically learnt nature of our behaviour
IS irrelevant. That's why I kept hammering the point- because I think it's
very relevant indeed.

>> When you say that I have more complexity and "ipso facto" more endogenous
>> control of behaviour... does this mean that a complicated rock has,
>> comparatively speaking, more endogenous control- hence free will- than a
>> simple rock? Because it's more complex to model? This isn't just me being
>> shitty, I'm actually not quite sure what you mean by "ipso facto", but if
>> you answer "yes", I'll say that your version of free will sounds alien to
>> the one that I'm arguing against.
>I'm talking about causal complexity as in many interacting and mutually
>influencing components. If the more complicated rock was hollow except
>for a mass suspended on springs connected to the outside, then it would
>have more free will than a normal rock by my definition.

Okay: I'm invoking the "our definitions of freewill are different" clause.
So now I'm going to be a wanker and try to argue that my definition is better...

My definition of freewill is: will (desire/perceived need to do something)
which is free of the deterministic constraints of the physical universe.

The way I was brought into contact with the term comes from my youngster
anglican christian background, when-

I was undergoing Confirmation training/programming, and I asked why God
didn't intervene more to prevent human suffering. I was told that God gave
human beings Free Will, meaning that human beings can choose whether to do
Good things or Bad things. During the Confirmation service itself, the
Bishop did a sermon which mentioned a bully who could have chosen not to
carry out some Bad act, but chose to be Bad. And I sat there thinking, "Hang
on, I'm not entirely convinced that the bully COULD choose."

And so, d'you know what I did? Right there and then? ...Nothing, actually, I
just went through the motions of the Confirmation and attended church for a
year or so more until I lost faith in the exercise.

This is the freewill I argue against: the idea that "you" choose what "you"
do. I think that "you" EMERGE from the things that "you" do/perceive/think,
and those things kind of decide themselves by the way in which they
interact. Insofar as "you have Will"... it isn't Free, and (critically for
arguments with religious people) "you" aren't Good or Bad.

Dave Pape
Limit the Fun. Prescribe the Fun. DESTROY THE FUN!
-(Southport & Formby Round Table Association slogan, 1994-1995)

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