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Do We Have The Freedom Of Choice?

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Do We Have The Freedom Of Choice?

Postby Ahsmeah » Tue Jan 22, 2013 9:56 pm

Since the body is made up of living and dead cells, including thoughts, would that make the "human being" technically predecided, and we would all be masses of cells interacting with the world in the shape of a human? I don't know if anyone's asked this before, though it may be likely. I've given this a great deal of thought, and it seems to me that if we understood the cells in everything for more than 10 seconds, then we'd know what's going to happen forever? Sort of like telling the future. I'd like to know if this would be possible, and what your opinions are on this?


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Postby biohazard » Wed Feb 06, 2013 8:06 am

As far as I can tell, there is nothing that suggests we have a free will. Our neurons react to stimuli from outside and inside our bodies and react according to them, not asking our opinions. However, in a way the answer to this question is not important, since we are so immersed to the experience of free will that we might as well think we have it and keep going. You have seen the movie the Matrix? Great, you should get my point!

Brain imaging analyses have repeatedly shown that when a human makes a decision (e.g. they have to choose to press a red or blue button), the computer analyzing the images can tell which decision the person is going to make long before the person themselves is aware that they have made a decision. So the feeling of a free-willed decision comes after the brain has already decided. Naturally, due to the enormous complexity of the brain, these predictions apply mostly to straightforward decisions in simple experimental conditions, but there is no reason to doubt that the same decision-making mechanisms in the brain work in other scenarios as well. A computer might not be able to tell what I am going to write next: querterly gnorry blort!!? but those letters were probably destined to be typed who knows how long ago. They were simply a response of my neurons to the electrophysical stimulus of my eyes seeing the text you wrote.

This being said, I think we would need some Nobel prize-winning quantum physicist to tell us whether anything in the world is truly random.

In theory, if we were able to calculate the movement of each electron and photon and quark in the universe we could not only predict the future but also deduct what happened in the past. In reality, though, there cannot be anything like that due to the overwhelming barriers of practical physics that prevent us from making such observations and calculations.

This is an interesting topic nonetheless. I am certain that there are many, many people who strongly disagree with me and loathe the idea of not having a free will, since it is regarded as one of the defining aspects of being a human.

For those people, I would ask the following: If you are in a room that has two one-way exits and you leave the room via one of them, can you ever be sure that you could have also taken the other exit? And if so, is there any way for you or anyone to prove that you genuinely had the chance to take the other exit as well? My personal guess is that you were always going to take that one exit you did :)
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Re:

Postby Ahsmeah » Thu Feb 07, 2013 2:20 am

biohazard wrote:As far as I can tell, there is nothing that suggests we have a free will. Our neurons react to stimuli from outside and inside our bodies and react according to them, not asking our opinions. However, in a way the answer to this question is not important, since we are so immersed to the experience of free will that we might as well think we have it and keep going. You have seen the movie the Matrix? Great, you should get my point!

Brain imaging analyses have repeatedly shown that when a human makes a decision (e.g. they have to choose to press a red or blue button), the computer analyzing the images can tell which decision the person is going to make long before the person themselves is aware that they have made a decision. So the feeling of a free-willed decision comes after the brain has already decided. Naturally, due to the enormous complexity of the brain, these predictions apply mostly to straightforward decisions in simple experimental conditions, but there is no reason to doubt that the same decision-making mechanisms in the brain work in other scenarios as well. A computer might not be able to tell what I am going to write next: querterly gnorry blort!!? but those letters were probably destined to be typed who knows how long ago. They were simply a response of my neurons to the electrophysical stimulus of my eyes seeing the text you wrote.

This being said, I think we would need some Nobel prize-winning quantum physicist to tell us whether anything in the world is truly random.

In theory, if we were able to calculate the movement of each electron and photon and quark in the universe we could not only predict the future but also deduct what happened in the past. In reality, though, there cannot be anything like that due to the overwhelming barriers of practical physics that prevent us from making such observations and calculations.

This is an interesting topic nonetheless. I am certain that there are many, many people who strongly disagree with me and loathe the idea of not having a free will, since it is regarded as one of the defining aspects of being a human.

For those people, I would ask the following: If you are in a room that has two one-way exits and you leave the room via one of them, can you ever be sure that you could have also taken the other exit? And if so, is there any way for you or anyone to prove that you genuinely had the chance to take the other exit as well? My personal guess is that you were always going to take that one exit you did :)


I read a book a year or two back; it had sort of the same ideas. Pendragon~ In one of the worlds, there was a supercomputer that could tell what is about to happen, and what has happened- since the beginning of time. I thought of that when I read your fourth wall of text.. That means if we could find a way to tell what every particle(of any size) is doing, we could tell the future, the past, and anything in between- ahead of time? Wow. That's a bit hard to swallow. I wish I hadn't known this, because now I'm feeling very ambitious. Lol Then again- if the universe is truly infinite, then there would be no way to do this. Maybe we could learn from a certain amount of space, but then eventually we would have to make the computer count more "stuff", more of the universe.


I don't think too many people would disagree with you if they understood the topic; I barely understand what I'm saying and I agree with you. I guess that means that we need to redefine "free will"- maybe "The ability to make decisions without major amounts of outside conflict".
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Postby JackBean » Sun Feb 10, 2013 5:52 pm

What about the Heisenberg's uncertainty princip?
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Re:

Postby biohazard » Mon Feb 11, 2013 7:08 am

JackBean wrote:What about the Heisenberg's uncertainty princip?


Yeah, that is why I said we'd need a quantum mechanist. And that, along with the so-called "observer effect", is also what I meant by us not being able to measure these events precisely enough. However, even if quantum events seem random to us can we really tell that they are random? And even if they were, does it give us free will?
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Postby JackBean » Wed Feb 13, 2013 9:34 pm

that was answer rather to Ahsmeah
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Re: Do We Have The Freedom Of Choice?

Postby Ahsmeah » Thu Feb 14, 2013 3:46 am

I'm going to look it up this weekend; at the moment I'm occupied by writing a love song and doing homework. Hahaha
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Postby MarkHolland » Sat Mar 30, 2013 3:24 pm

Firstly, what do we think 'freedom of choice' is?

A lot of people consider that because 'lower' animals are not aware of themselves as individuals that they act only from an 'instinctual' drive that makes them helplessly what they are... WE as humans on the other hand, are above and somehow removed enough from nature's influence to rule our responses. We remember past events, project future consequences, and have the command of our own thoughts and the actions upon which we 'decide' to undertake.

But ask yourself this: Do you decide what you like the taste of? Do you really choose what attracts and repels you?
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Re:

Postby ughaibu » Tue Apr 02, 2013 3:29 pm

biohazard wrote:As far as I can tell, there is nothing that suggests we have a free will.
There's the fact that we can't function without assuming that we have free will, that we constantly demonstrate freely willed actions and that free will deniers talk about "the illusion of free will". It really isn't plausible to pretend that the evidence isn't entirely for the existence of free will.
biohazard wrote:Brain imaging analyses have repeatedly shown that when a human makes a decision (e.g. they have to choose to press a red or blue button), the computer analyzing the images can tell which decision the person is going to make long before the person themselves is aware that they have made a decision.
Incorrect. The best match achieved is around 63%, and all that it suggests is that some subjects have been leaning towards a particular choice before deciding.
biohazard wrote:This being said, I think we would need some Nobel prize-winning quantum physicist to tell us whether anything in the world is truly random.
It's not clear why you've mentioned this, but there was a "Nobel prize-winning quantum physicist" named Wolfgang Pauli who held that determinism must be rejected by the scientist because it entails that the scientist does not have the freedom to choose either of a pair of mutually exclusive experimental settings, and this is required for the conduct of controlled experiments. In short, science requires the assumption of free will, and as science uses classical logic, science cannot consistently challenge free will.
biohazard wrote:For those people, I would ask the following: If you are in a room that has two one-way exits and you leave the room via one of them, can you ever be sure that you could have also taken the other exit? And if so, is there any way for you or anyone to prove that you genuinely had the chance to take the other exit as well?
Let's assume that the world is determined and thus that which exit I will take is a fact about the world long before I take it. Using a Schrodinger's cat type affair, we can set things so that there is a 50% chance of observing decay, but there is no way of knowing whether or not we will observe it. If nobody tells me the result of the "cat" the probability that decay will coincide with me leaving by a particular door is 50%. But if I am told the result, then I can arbitrarily assign either exit to a decay result and the other to a non-decay result, and I can leave by the door indicated, every time. In a determined world, this is just a coincidence, and as I can act as stated for arbitrarily long sequences of consecutive tests, it's a vanishingly improbable coincidence, either that or that the world is determined and we don't have free will is vanishingly improbable. And again, as acting in accord with the result is equivalent to making an observation of the result, and as science is irreducibly dependent on observation, the scientist cannot rationally deny free will or espouse determinism.
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Re: Re:

Postby biohazard » Wed Apr 03, 2013 9:13 am

ughaibu wrote:
biohazard wrote:As far as I can tell, there is nothing that suggests we have a free will.
There's the fact that we can't function without assuming that we have free will, that we constantly demonstrate freely willed actions and that free will deniers talk about "the illusion of free will". It really isn't plausible to pretend that the evidence isn't entirely for the existence of free will.
biohazard wrote:Brain imaging analyses have repeatedly shown that when a human makes a decision (e.g. they have to choose to press a red or blue button), the computer analyzing the images can tell which decision the person is going to make long before the person themselves is aware that they have made a decision.
Incorrect. The best match achieved is around 63%, and all that it suggests is that some subjects have been leaning towards a particular choice before deciding.
biohazard wrote:This being said, I think we would need some Nobel prize-winning quantum physicist to tell us whether anything in the world is truly random.
It's not clear why you've mentioned this, but there was a "Nobel prize-winning quantum physicist" named Wolfgang Pauli who held that determinism must be rejected by the scientist because it entails that the scientist does not have the freedom to choose either of a pair of mutually exclusive experimental settings, and this is required for the conduct of controlled experiments. In short, science requires the assumption of free will, and as science uses classical logic, science cannot consistently challenge free will.
biohazard wrote:For those people, I would ask the following: If you are in a room that has two one-way exits and you leave the room via one of them, can you ever be sure that you could have also taken the other exit? And if so, is there any way for you or anyone to prove that you genuinely had the chance to take the other exit as well?
Let's assume that the world is determined and thus that which exit I will take is a fact about the world long before I take it. Using a Schrodinger's cat type affair, we can set things so that there is a 50% chance of observing decay, but there is no way of knowing whether or not we will observe it. If nobody tells me the result of the "cat" the probability that decay will coincide with me leaving by a particular door is 50%. But if I am told the result, then I can arbitrarily assign either exit to a decay result and the other to a non-decay result, and I can leave by the door indicated, every time. In a determined world, this is just a coincidence, and as I can act as stated for arbitrarily long sequences of consecutive tests, it's a vanishingly improbable coincidence, either that or that the world is determined and we don't have free will is vanishingly improbable. And again, as acting in accord with the result is equivalent to making an observation of the result, and as science is irreducibly dependent on observation, the scientist cannot rationally deny free will or espouse determinism.


1. I simply meant that there is nothing in our actions that needs "free will" to explain it. It of course does not mean that there couldn't be free will, it just means we'd do perfectly well also without it. I do not have means to prove either option as correct or incorrect. That being said, I find the claim that "we can't function without assuming that we have free will" paradoxal - we might assume that we have a free will only because our deterministic neurons make us assume so.

2. 63% is not at all that bad, taking into account the very crude instruments that are used to measure the brain activity (crude, as in they are light years away from the elegant mechanisms of the brain and neurons themselves). With enough samples we can statistically say that we can predict people's thoughts within a certain margin of error. I think I did not say that people's thoughts can be anticipated with 100% certainty, although I was under the impression that in very simple settings (choose Button A or Button B) the rate of success is very high.

3. I have mentioned this because I do not have the required knowledge about quantum level events to say if there is anything random in this world and I thought maybe some expert on this field might know better. As far as I know, all events on the atomic scale and above that are determined by other atomic level interactions and thus "deterministic" - i.e. in theory, with fine enough instruments, we could always tell what is going to happen next. But I have understood that there is some degree of unexplained randomness in the quantum level, though this is mostly beyond my scope of expertise. But if there is free will, this element of randomness is perhaps the only basis for free will that I can think of.

However, I do not understand this Pauli's argument: the fact that determinism/free will is "beyond" the scientific method (much like gods and religions - except that, unlike with religions, there is rational reasoning behind both sides of the argument) does not make it true or false. I assume Pauli means that we must act as if we had free will, because that is the only way we can conduct science according to the scientific method. And why not. I, for sure, want to think I have free will and act accordingly. Unfortunately my or Pauli's or anyone's personal opinions and likes and dislikes are irrelevant, because it is still entirely possible that we have no free will and that these opinions and views are just deterministic outcomes of the flow of electrons in our brains.

4. Now, I may have not fully understood your example, as to me it still seems that you take the one exit you take based on the stimulus obtained from your environment and the ensuing cascade of chemical and physical signals makes you to walk through the door and that you never really had a chance to choose otherwise.

I appreciate it that you chose such a scientific approach to this matter that is, in the end, maybe more philosophical than scientific - since, as you implied, it does not seem to be possible to scientifically prove or disprove either of the available options.

And just to clarify things: I do not see myself as a free will-denialist. In all its simpleness, I just have not found any "need" for free will in our world: there is no free will in rocks, no free will in the waves of the sea, no free will in trees or stars or rays of the sun or bacteria crawling in the dirt. And if you think about it, you and I are made of these same elements, atoms and electrons and quarks and whatnots, and bound by the very same laws of the universe. I do not understand how anything there could release us from the causality of an atom bumping into another, and create something like free will for only us (and perhaps other animals) to utilize. To me, the only thing that could grant us that kind of special privilege is a god of some kind, and gods, to me, look even less likely than free will! :)
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Postby biohazard » Wed Apr 03, 2013 9:44 am

Well, ran out of time to edit my previous post, but I'll add this small bit:

Think of a neuron: it is a cell, and I don't think anyone can claim that a cell has a free will. To the contrary, it is utterly on the mercy of the signals from its environment, its actions to each stimulus can be predicted and in all ways it works like a tiny factory, albeit a biological one. The neuron is just like any cell in this regard, it functions solely based on its interaction with its environment. It fires an action potential when a correct signal is received from the outside - be it another neuron or a scientist's electrode or from the inside if the trigger is induced by its own genetic products. But in both cases, the reason for the neural impulse is purely electrochemical or physical.

Now take a handful of neurons and you have a basic level nervous system - something similar that an earthworm has. Does it have free will? And if so, when the free will emerged? After joining two neurons? Or a thousand? No - all the neurons work under the same mechanisms as the one neuron did that we originally examined.

Take billions of neurons and weave them into a fascinating, extraordinarily complex organ such as the human brain. Surely, it is now so delicate and magnificent that we cannot even fully comprehend its awesomeness - but consists of these very same neurons that fire their signals across the axons based on the same principles that each an every neuron works. There is no free will involved, at least not in the base level of their operations. So when does the free will enter the play? When we have a million neurons? A billion? Do some, more simple organisms, have "less free will" or "half-free will"? If a physician inserts an electrode and stimulates your brain, what happens to your free will when you laugh or cry or smile based on the whim of the doctor?

Just some of the myriad of questions that you must answer to justify the existence of free will - but that you don't have to even ask if you take a deterministic approach to the dilemma. Perhaps we can use Occam's razor here: the solution where least questions has to be asked tends to be the correct one.
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Re: Re:

Postby ughaibu » Sun Apr 07, 2013 9:14 am

biohazard wrote:I assume Pauli means that we must act as if we had free will, because that is the only way we can conduct science according to the scientific method. . . . it is still entirely possible that we have no free will. .
Quite, as it's entirely possible that the world was created last Thursday, you're a brain in a vat or any of the other things which one has no good reason to believe. We observe freely willed actions, they are an essential part of the conduct of science. So, denial of free will is contra-science and irreducibly metaphysical.
biohazard wrote:Now, I may have not fully understood your example, as to me it still seems that you take the one exit you take based on the stimulus obtained from your environment. . .
Determinism is a global thesis; a world is determined if the following three conditions obtain:
1) at all times the world has a definite state, which can, in principle, be fully described
2) there are laws of nature which are the same in all times and places of the world
3) given the state of the world at any time, the state of the world at all other times is exactly and globally entailed by the given state in conjunction with the laws of nature.
That an agent bases their behaviour on environmental stimuli is tangential to this.
biohazard wrote:I just have not found any "need" for free will in our world
Sure, we don't need to do science, but I certainly prefer a world in which we do. Then again, all healthy human adults unavoidably assume and act on the assumption that they have free will. They can't function otherwise. So, the need is absolute, I really don't understand how you could have missed it.
biohazard wrote:there is no free will in rocks, no free will in the waves of the sea, no free will in trees or stars or rays of the sun or bacteria crawling in the dirt. And if you think about it, you and I are made of these same elements, atoms and electrons and quarks and whatnots, and bound by the very same laws of the universe. I do not understand how anything there could release us from the causality of an atom bumping into another, and create something like free will for only us (and perhaps other animals) to utilize.
Consider a range of different physical phenomena, stuff you'd characterise as "the causality of an atom bumping into another". For example, smoke signals, sound waves, marks on paper, pixels on a computer screen, these are widely differing phenomena in different materials and brought about by different processes. But they are all ways of transmitting information, for example chess moves. As it goes, in a game of chess there is often only one legal move, so if we know the rules of chess, we can predict the behaviour of the sender and the smoke, or whatever other medium is used. But we can't make that prediction using any law of science, notably any law concerned with atoms. So, either the rules of chess are "laws of the universe" or it is observably the case that some behaviour of some animals is not "bound by the very same laws of the universe" as atoms are. As the rules of chess are arbitrary, I think the conclusion is clear, and why not? After all, the behaviour of animals isn't what is studied by physicists, so there is no reason to suppose that the theories of physicists are important for questions of animal behaviour.
biohazard wrote:To me, the only thing that could grant us that kind of special privilege is a god of some kind
I've heard similar claims many times but nobody has ever offered an argument that supports it. How would a god and only a god, allow for free will?
biohazard wrote:Just some of the myriad of questions that you must answer to justify the existence of free will. . .
No. I don't have to answer any of those questions, because freely willed actions exist by observation. There are plenty of unexplained phenomena that nobody would dream of denying, naturally so, because phenomena must exist in order to be explained. Things don't miraculously begin to exist when they are explained.
biohazard wrote:Perhaps we can use Occam's razor here: the solution where least questions has to be asked tends to be the correct one.
Ockham's razor is inapplicable, because free will isn't a hypothetical entity being unnecessarily mooted as part of an explanation. On the contrary, the problem of free will, for philosophers, has been how to explain it.
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