Free will and determinism

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Tom Carr, modified 10 Years ago.

Free will and determinism

Posts: 123 Join Date: 2/17/10 Recent Posts
What is your take on Free Will? Do you have it, or is it an illusion? I don't know. I'm confused.

I can see pretty clearly, both logically and experientially, that there is no permanent separate self.

The question of free will is not so clear.
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Florian Weps, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Free will and determinism

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Tom,

That confusion arises from the assumption that it has to be either free will or determinism.

What grounds are there for assuming this? Why just these two extrema, why disregard the entire spectrum from "some will" to "mostly determinism"?

Whose agenda does it serve to make believe that there are just these two possibilities? emoticon

Cheers,
Florian
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Tom Carr, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Free will and determinism

Posts: 123 Join Date: 2/17/10 Recent Posts
That confusion arises from the assumption that it has to be either free will or determinism.
What grounds are there for assuming this? Why just these two extrema, why disregard the entire spectrum from "some will" to "mostly determinism"?


I know there is some determinism. I wonder if there is any free will at all.

Whose agenda does it serve to make believe that there are just these two possibilities?


What other possibilities do you see? I don't see any others. That doesn't mean they don't exist, but just that I don't see them. Tell me your thoughts.
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Free will and determinism

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
Compatibilism is the philosophical position that states both of the following:
The physical universe operates deterministically.
Free will exists anyway.

One problem with that position is that oftentimes, what the strong determinists are calling "free will" (the existence of some agent that can nondeterministically choose, which means that it causes something, the behavior, to arise with no physically determined cause) is not the same thing that compatibilists are calling "free will." A strong determinist would call the compatibilist version of free will something like "voluntary behavior."

Voluntary behavior clearly exists. Every time that a meditator applies Right Effort, there's an element of voluntariness to it. Any time the prefrontal cortical executive regulates behavior, or emotion, or thought, or attention, that's voluntary in the neuroscientific sense and in the legal sense.

The question is, does voluntary behavior, or something else we haven't noticed, count as "strong free will" in the philosophical sense, as argued by philosophical libertarians? Well, it would probably take less time to become an arahat and remove fundamental suffering than to come up with a satisfactory (wink) answer to the question of so-called "strong free will." Why do I say that? One can become an arahat in this lifetime. People have been trying to come up with satisfactory ways of dealing with the free will problem since before the Buddha's time.

The Buddha himself would probably have treated this question the same way he treated "Does a tathagata exist after death, or not exists, or both, or neither," which is to say that he would advise the questioner to "Disentangle yourself from this net of confusing theories, and meditate until you've removed fundamental suffering. Start with the first jhana, and see the events one by one as they arise and pass away..."

PS, these debates kind of always turn into semantics and people generally stop debating the way the universe is and start arguing about questions like "what does free will mean" or "is voluntary behavior synonymous with free will" and the like. In fact, that tendency can be so strong that it can become almost impossible to actually talk about the way the universe is without running into semantics issues.

So my two cents is that the question sucks. Not that anyone here sucks for asking the question -- I've asked plenty of times and still wonder about it from time to time. But really, IS there an answer? Define the question first in the most clearly defined terms possible, and then maybe an answer can arise.
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Tom Carr, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Free will and determinism

Posts: 123 Join Date: 2/17/10 Recent Posts
Thanks J Adam G. That was a very clear response. I agree that the question, in a certain sense, sucks. It could eat up a huge amount of mental energy lead to nothing good. Buddha might very well say exactly what you said he would say.

Then I thought it might be like a koan. A question with no logical answer that drives you crazy but has the potential to free you.
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Florian Weps, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Free will and determinism

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Tom,

Tom Carr:
Florian Weps:
Whose agenda does it serve to make believe that there are just these two possibilities?
What other possibilities do you see? I don't see any others. That doesn't mean they don't exist, but just that I don't see them. Tell me your thoughts.


Okay, a few thoughts - not answers, mind you:

Well, like J Adam G said, the question sucks, which is why I re-phrased it in terms of the assumptions it's based on. That's one of the possibilities I see, right there. How is free will affected by the paralysing dilemma of free will? (Or, if you prefer the traditional Theravada imagery, to which regiment in the armies of Mara does the question of free will vs. determinism belong to?)

Freedom, by its very nature, doesn't like to be pinned down - another observation J Adam G made in his great post. So another possibility would be to look at the constraints instead: what are the conditions under which will operates? Which degrees of freedom are available, given these constraints? Phrased differently, which are the constants, which are the variables? How does the "freedom curve" look like? Are there perhaps some phase shifts, discontinuities in the curve? This brings the question back into the realm of how the universe works, and we can avoid idealizing freedom into various notions of randomness ("are tumbling dice a model of free will? They have to show a face, so they are not free; they can show any of their faces, thus they are free...")

Does will have a location? Is it sensible to speak of "my" free will, vs. "your" free will? Is will a sensation, i.e. something that can be observed? If so, how does it present itself? How is it different from, say, desire? Can I desire will? Can I will desire?

Cheers,
Florian
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Jeremy Pronchik, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Free will and determinism

Posts: 22 Join Date: 2/2/10 Recent Posts
I'll point you to what I feel is the nicest writing about free will vs determinism. It explores the territory around why this question is not a good one, colors a bit of what we're trying to do in meditation, and pokes at our moral senses in a funny way. I won't spoil any punch lines beyond saying that the error in our question derives from our attempts to bound our selves in a sense of 'I.' The dialogue begins with a moral discussion that opens into the free will question.

It's the chapter Is God a Taoist? from a book called The Mind's I.

hope you enjoy!
Trent H., modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Free will and determinism

Posts: 361 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hello,

Tom Carr:
What is your take on Free Will? Do you have it, or is it an illusion?


Bruno and I briefly spoke to this a few days ago:

Bruno Loff:
I don't think enlightened people "loose their free will," at least not judging by how they behave. They might, of course, act according to how they want to feel emotionally, rather than whatever motivates you to act.


To which I replied:

Trent.H:
First off, I did not say "enlightened people lose their free will," I said he "has surrendered his will entirely." Second, humans are born driven by the instinctual passions, so the will was never free to begin with; enlightenment essentially fortifies the prison bars. What do you think is going on when enlightened folks "surrender to the divine?" What is being surrendered, eh? The instinctual identity and the possibility of its' stressful passionate responses looms large every moment of one's life until it is extirpated. Nearly every potential action is tempered with thoughts such as "will this endanger me?" or "will this endanger another (which would endanger "my" group and thus "me") and so on. One's identity restricts one's actual will, and so when one has eliminated the identity and freed the will, one's life is no longer screened and dictated by a fictitious script. A radical freedom indeed!


To clarify a bit: the will is free in the way that most people speak about this matter-- there is no one or thing determining what's going to happen next because "next" (the future) doesn't actually exist yet (when "next" exists, it will also be now). However, as a case-by-case for individuals, I like to say (in the vein that Florian mentions) that it is a mix. The will-- when it is influenced / coerced by the instinctual identity within-- is not free [1]; this is most easily recognized when you think about things that commonly scare people. Those persons being scared are not thinking to themselves "okay, looks like a good situation to be scared as hell, lets do it!"; they're reacting blindly. However, as the instinctual identity is not actually an existing thing (tis an illusion), one has the capacity to make one's own decisions, outside of one's instinctual influences. And so, an actually free person (one whom has eliminated the instinctual identity entirely) has unfettered free will.

Does that make sense?

[1] Note that the instinctual identity is almost always in control or at least "screening" everything. For example: consider how apprehension often works when meeting new people; "can I say this? how do I stand with them? is this appropriate? what's next? is this going okay?"

Best,
Trent
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Tom Carr, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Free will and determinism

Posts: 123 Join Date: 2/17/10 Recent Posts
an actually free person (one whom has eliminated the instinctual identity entirely) has unfettered free will.


Free will would have to be outside the realm of cause and effect wouldn't it? At least it would have to be uncaused. If something causes it, it is not free. So if there is free will, it would have to some sort of first cause. Correct me if I am wrong.
Trent H., modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Free will and determinism

Posts: 361 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Tom Carr:
an actually free person (one whom has eliminated the instinctual identity entirely) has unfettered free will.


Free will would have to be outside the realm of cause and effect wouldn't it? At least it would have to be uncaused. If something causes it, it is not free. So if there is free will, it would have to some sort of first cause. Correct me if I am wrong.


The universe, having never been created is essentially outside of causality in the way which you seem to be referring; ("some sort of first cause"[1]. Because there is no beginning or end, we are smack dab in the "middle" of no specific time at all. Said another way: there is no reference point at all... As the time is only now, causality is not something which is "happening" now [2], it is something we intellectually / conceptually grasp as our memory comprehends unfolding events.

Try this if you will: pretend that you are suddenly stricken with an utter inability to remember anything at all, and now look around the room.

Regards,
Trent

[1] Wikipedia (emphasis added): Determinism is the philosophical view that every event, including human cognition, behaviour, decision, and action, is causally determined by previous events. Determinism proposes there is a predetermined unbroken chain of prior occurrences *back to the origin of the universe*.

[2] Here's an example: If we propose a hypothetical situation wherein object A creates object B, and that when object A creates object B, object A disappears. Due to these conditions, object A or object B are extant at any given time, but never both at the same time. Which means that when object B is existing, it is simply existing; it is not fettered to object A in any way just because object A created it. In another way of looking at it: if A and B were conscious humans and you took one or the other's point of view, neither would know the other ever existed. Finally, one more way of saying it: object A and object B do not simultaneously co-exist (never, in this example) even though B's existence is causally bound to object A.
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Tom Carr, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Free will and determinism

Posts: 123 Join Date: 2/17/10 Recent Posts
I recently got into this question of free will while attending an Advita class. I guess most people here are familiar with Advita. In this particular class the idea of "no doer" thus "no free will" is seen as just as significant as the idea in Buddhism that there is no separate self. It doesn't come as easily to me though.

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