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Thread: So is Free Will Really Just an Illusion?

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    Senior Member Germania Magna's Avatar
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    So is Free Will Really Just an Illusion?

    So is free will really just an illusion?

    By MICHAEL HANLON
    Last updated at 8:36 AM on 17th April 2008

    What does it mean to be human, to be in control of one's own mind?

    What is the nature of consciousness, the mysterious property of self-awareness that we all have and yet which no scientist understands?

    Is there any such thing as free will, or are our minds at the mercy of some unknown force?

    These are the fundamental questions that have perplexed philosophers and, increasingly, scientists for centuries.

    Until recently they seemed utterly unfathomable; after all, how do you test for something like free will in the laboratory?

    But now science is coming up with some fascinating - and deeply uncomfortable - answers.

    This week, for instance, Professor John-Dylan Haynes and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Germany report the findings of an extraordinary experiment which seems to show that "free will" - the most cherished tenet of humanity, which decrees that Man has total control of his own actions - may, in fact, be little more than an illusion.

    For in their experiment, the scientists found that we may not be making conscious choices at all.

    Rather, our subconscious minds may be dictating our actions, long before we realise.

    It is a troubling suggestion. As Prof Haynes says: "The impression that we are freely able to choose between different possible courses of action is fundamental to our mental health."

    If we are not in control after all, then that makes humans little more than automatons.

    In his experiment, volunteers were asked to view a stream of letters on a computer screen and told, at some point, of their choosing, to press a button either with their left or right index finger - and remember the letter that was on the screen when they did so.

    The volunteers were also connected to brain-scanning MRI machines which were able to monitor and analyse brain patterns.

    These "mind-reading" scanners could recognise when the brain had decided on a course of action.

    To the researchers' astonishment, it turned out that the volunteers' brains would reach a decision about pressing one of the buttons several seconds before the volunteers actually thought they had made up their minds.

    The implications are hugely significant, because the experiment suggests that what we think of as a "conscious decision" may, in fact, be no such thing.

    The traditional "folk science" picture of the mind has our "conscious self" as a little man sitting in our heads, pushing buttons and pulling levers, filing "thoughts", receiving messages from eyes and ears and making our muscles move.

    What Prof Haynes's experiment seems to show is that we need a new picture; instead of that little man pushing and pulling levers, he is merely a passive observer, lazing back in his chair and watching it all happen.

    It is as though what we are actually aware of is no more than a film show, and the decision-making is made purely unconsciously.

    It is a disturbing picture, because it reinforces the view that we are mere machines, pieces of biological clockwork that have no more free will than a Swiss watch.

    This sounds counter to common sense, but the more you think about it the more it is clear that much of what we do is done on "autopilot" and that free will is rarely necessary.

    If you regularly drive to work, for instance, at the end of your commute tomorrow try to remember the details of your journey.

    The chances are you will not be able recall more than the basics. When top tennis players are asked to think, consciously, about every stroke and every movement, their game falls to pieces.

    Studies of elite sportsmen show that at the top of their game they are performing in a sort of semi-conscious fugue, purely on autopilot.

    The "will", if there is any, comes during the training process, not during the match.

    Of course, if we really do not have free will, this opens a can of worms about human morality.

    If the brain is a machine, whose decisions are entirely out of our conscious control, then can a criminal be held responsible for his actions?

    This is a dangerous road to go down. As Prof Haynes admits: "It would lead to no one being held responsible for anything."

    But this isn't the first time science has given a worrying insight into the workings of our brains.

    Earlier this year, Nature magazine reported an extraordinary experiment in mind-reading technology.

    No stage magic, smoke or mirrors here - just the clever use of brain-scanning machines and computers to pinpoint and identify actual thoughts as they arise in the brain.

    The scientists, led by Dr Jack Gallant of Berkeley University in California, again used MRI scanners to monitor brain activity when volunteers were shown various black and white photographs of everyday scenes - a house and garden, various countryside views and so on.

    The scanner and the computer it was attached to first had to "learn" how the brain reacted to thousands of images - what electrical patterns arose when the volunteer was looking at a picture of, say, a house or a car.

    The volunteer was then shown photographs and the "mind-reading system" had to work out, from the patterns of electrical activity detected in the brain, what the subject was looking at.

    Astonishingly, nine times out of ten the machine was able to work out what the person was looking at.

    As the authors freely admit, the way is now open to a general mind-reading machine, "perhaps even to access the visual content of purely mental phenomena, such as dreams and imagery".

    If we can read minds, and even dreams, and prove that free will is a nonsense, then what does that say about the mystery of our minds?

    In fact, the human brain, for all this, remains by far the most mysterious object known to science.

    It is still completely unknown how 3lb of wet jelly, plus tiny electrical currents powered by the energy we release from our food, can give rise to consciousness. But it does.

    Few modern people believe that the brain is pervaded by some sort of mysterious "soul"; but how the neurones and synapses of the mind can generate subjective experiences of colour, smell, hate, fear and love is an utter mystery.

    In fact, many scientists believe it is the greatest mystery of all.

    But unless we want to believe in "souls" or "auras", we must believe that the brain is a machine - a very complicated machine, but a machine nonetheless.

    And that means its workings must, in principle, be deducible, that we can predict its every move, as this freewill experiment seems to show.

    Does that mean we will one day be able to calculate what powers love, creates artistic masterpieces, sows awe, and experiences both great sorrow and utter joy?

    Maybe one day science will have an explanation for all this, but one suspects that even after the questions of the atoms and quarks, the planets and galaxies are finally answered, the deep puzzle of what exactly is going on in our heads will remain forever unsolved.

    And perhaps that's the way it should be.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...-illusion.html

  2. #2
    Eala Freia Fresena
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    It is the Age old difference between 2 philosophier:

    Idea sunt realia. (Spirit is real)

    And

    Idea sunt Nomina. (Spirit is only a Category, a help to distingish Things but Spirit dös Not really exist.


    The First One goes back to Plato. The Second to Aristotle. Christianity chose Aristotle as that was no interference with Christian belief. A dead world suited their ideology better than a world filled with spirits which would finally comprise competition to the one God

    So the aristotlean philosophy deteriorated into materialism. That means matter is the reason for everything. In this theory like above it is the 'brain' which decides everything, spirit does not exist.

    Funny enough they state the impossibility that a lump of fat with some electrons wooshing through it produces consciousness.

    Their approach is via matter they do not research consciousness (spirit) as that would be a dangerous minefield for materialistic science.

    What they basically found is that their is a delay between the original spirit decision and when it becomes 'conscious'. That provides them the proof that spirit does not exist and therefore everything is mechanical. It is typical flawed logic.

    Yes you can make a dead frog leg moving by giving it electric Impulses and so on. But does that means you falsified the frog spirit which normally moves the leg? Noit simply says that there is a connection between matter and spirit and that spirit Influences matter in a certain way.

    There have been studies on Harvard how consciousness influences computer aka the flow of electrons which shows more of how the interplay between Spirit and electronic works. The say thinking and consciousness is a quantum process.

    Whether Spirit has freedom or not is another question. The answer cannot be binary right/wrong but might well be a question of degree. So bigger the consciousness so bigger the knowledge so more choice one has.

    Throw in celestial entities like the Nornes which put you in Situation that limits your freedom too. In general so denser it gets up to the material worlds lesser is the freedom. spirit is only free when it is by itself (like God or the Gods) so more they descent into matter so more they become prisoners.

    The reason to descend into matter like humans do is a brave adventure for accelerated development into Gods as the spirit has to struggle very hard to assert itself against matter which in turn makes him a very strong spirit aka God.

    Not many spirits dare to do that as a lot of suffering is involved. therefore humans are special in the cosmos.

    And as well it determines in which direction humans should proceed.

    My experience with my chosen God, Odin, gives me that direction. To become myself, responsible and self determined.
    weel nich will dieken dej mot wieken

  3. #3
    Eala Freia Fresena
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    The main problem they do not address is how the connection of moving electrons through fat and thought. they also cannot say why the electron moves and why it moves along this excactpath.

    as one can see they circumvent this problem rather crudely.

    they do not say were the original electron movement in the ' brain' originates from. they do not even dare to ask the question knowing they will end at nothing materialistically tangible.

    He who studied science knows it is a scam. Whatever does not fit into the narrow reference frame of materialistic science will be violently fought off and destroyed.

    the ideal of science cannot be realized with scientists psychologically unable to venture into areas not approved by 'science'. the existence, the lifelyhood of scientists depends on the compliance to the ideology of (what might be better called...). Scientism.

    They act like cultists who are told that their perceived Master is a scam.

    Scientists became increasingly irrational if something new is not in compliance to their materialist reference system. It is all based on fear, a deep fear which results in uncompromising emotional and irrational attacks.

    even new things in that system is most often encountered with ridicule. Science pioneers can be recognized by the number of knives in their back.
    weel nich will dieken dej mot wieken

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    You were formed by your genetics, your upbringing, and the world around you. If a cashier gives you back $2 too much in change, and you catch the error at the time, either you will give it back or you won't. What you "choose" to do is entirely because of what influences made you what you are. You are either honest or you are not. Either you are "programmed" to not take advantage of another's mistakes or you are not so programmed. Your programming makes the choice for you. It is like that in all areas of life.
    Das Recht und die Gerechtigkeit haben nur selten miteinander etwas zu tun. Höchstens machen sie winki winki wenn sie aneinander vorbei gehen.
    The Law and Justice have only seldom anything to do with one another. At the most they wave at each other when they pass one another on the street.
    Niemals vergessen. Niemals vergeben.

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    Senior Member SaxonPagan's Avatar
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    An excellent article there, GM!

    I once read of a similar example to the one given, which was about a batsman in a game of cricket whose brain actually has to give signals to his feet etc.. about where the ball is going BEFORE it has even left the bowler's hand!!

    However, it occurs to me after reading Tom's post above ^ that we are dealing with two different kinds of 'free will' here. Whilst one's scope for this is greatly reduced on a split-second basis where an instant decision has to be taken and such things as the subconscious come into play, for those decisions allowing more time for reflection the result will be almost entirely the responsibility of the individual concerned.

    I dare say there's a blurry crossover point though and the situation is not quite as simple as that, in the same way as scientists cannot resolve the problem of when tiny objects stop behaving according to quantum laws and start to obey those of the 'macro' world

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    Senior Member Patrioten's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Godwinson View Post
    An excellent article there, GM!

    I once read of a similar example to the one given, which was about a batsman in a game of cricket whose brain actually has to give signals to his feet etc.. about where the ball is going BEFORE it has even left the bowler's hand!!

    However, it occurs to me after reading Tom's post above ^ that we are dealing with two different kinds of 'free will' here. Whilst one's scope for this is greatly reduced on a split-second basis where an instant decision has to be taken and such things as the subconscious come into play, for those decisions allowing more time for reflection the result will be almost entirely the responsibility of the individual concerned.

    I dare say there's a blurry crossover point though and the situation is not quite as simple as that, in the same way as scientists cannot resolve the problem of when tiny objects stop behaving according to quantum laws and start to obey those of the 'macro' world
    The fact that so much of the menial work is set on autopilot means that the sessions of manual thinking that we do have can be devoted more fully towards higher ordered functions such as reasoning, planning and problem solving. A person who makes use of these sessions for thinking about the world, his own place in it, trying to make sense out of the information, input and knowledge that is recieved, probably stands better equipped to engage in choosing between different courses of action. This ability, even if it is nurtured and developed, might be reduced in a situation where a quick decision needs to be made, and instincts might take charge instead. But it might improve one's ability to think fast and on one's feet, compared to if no prior thought has gone into investigating different courses of action or trying to make sense out of previously gathered information and input.

    The issue of free will visavi morality strikes me as detatched from the realm of human usefullness. The great minds of this world might reach a conclusion that no such thing as free will exists, this does not make me inclined to lay my life down, or my belongings, at the mercy of other individuals who may be inclined to rob me of both. Self-preservation, if nothing else, would lead me to support strict measures against all trespassers against myself and my family/tribe.

    It's a discussion which aims to solve the issue of responsibility on behalf of the criminal, yet leaves out the victims of that very same criminal. A person which is unable to prevent himself from doing harm is to be removed from other human beings. We might need to call it something other than punishment but the end result will the same. The victim will recieve retribution and society will be protected against repeated transgressions from that individual. Such is our prerogative and imperative. The malignant elements will not escape the noose via philosophical loopholes that leaves us all defenceless against their violence and maliciousness.

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    To study the delay in the brain and then connect it to crime strikes me as odd too. Why on Earth would they make just that application?

    As said before the decision are on different levels, the pushing of a button is a different level then to plan and execute a murder.

    why would anyone argue that a murder is as involuntary as pushing a button?

    I smell a rat here.


    The communist had the idea that everyone is solely the product of one's environment. Where that led to, we know today.
    weel nich will dieken dej mot wieken

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    Senior Member Germania Magna's Avatar
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    There are two basic views of free will.

    1. Freedom from external constraint. Our acts are free if we are not forced by someone.

    2. Freedom to choose between options regardless of our character and motives. We are free only if we could have chosen to act otherwise.

    Schopenhauer demonstrated that philosophers always understood freedom in the first sense. Our acts are free so long as we are not forced by anyone else.

    Christians also understood freedom in the first sense. Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther.

    The second view of freedom was popularised by Jesuits after the reformation. Protestantism became strongly associated with the doctrine of predestination and the Jesuits put distance beween Catholicism and the reformed churches with a new doctrine of grace and free will. For Calvin, man was never free to choose regardless of his character; for the Jansenists, such freedom was lost at the Fall.

    Moral philosophers and theologians often discuss free will in terms of moral "responsibility" for acts. On the first view, we necessarily choose according to our character, our circumstances and our motives. So how can we be responsible if we could not have acted otherwise? Christians didnt worry about that until after the Reformation. Protestants developed an explicit doctrine that excludes such a concern.

    The newspaper article talks about consciousness. The scientists demonstrated that choices are taken before they enter into consciousness. Philosophers explain that the intellect presents options and motives to the will. The will makes the decision not the intellect. Consciousness as such is merely a passive receptacle. The same could be said for thoughts: they originate behind consciousness and then appear in consciousness. That is not to say that the intellect doesnt influence our decisions, it does: it presents choices and motives to the will.

    Still, that doesnt answer the question of freedom, whether the will can choose either option regardless of its character. But in either case, the will does what it does, the same as everything else, so Im not convinved that the question is meaningful in moral terms.

    Legal laws give a convenient structure to society. They are not dependent on any particular view of free will.

    I would say that morality is an illusion anyway regardless of free will. Again it is a convenient structure for society akin to legal laws. I dont believe in God so I dont believe in any ultimate moral responsibility.

    Classical English liberal political philosophers took a similar view. The question after the English Civil War was how to justify government and law when we no longer believe in the divine right of kings or in divine sanction. The liberal answer is to merely construct a convenient society that suits its citizens and allows them to develop their wealth and their potential. Citizens enter voluntarily into a "social contract" to abide by the laws that the society chooses. It doesnt matter whether some citizens believe in God so long as they keep to the contract. Liberal ideas spread to France and America before the revolutionary period.

    Our liberal civilization is based on a disbelief in absolute morality or divine sanction. Our societies are constructed merely for convenience. Laws and morality are also constructed for convenience and I dont see how the question of free will really matters on a practical level. Its not something that we worried about for most of our history anyway.

    Its an interesting subject nevertheless, to challenge and deconstruct common or lazy views and assumptions about human nature and morality. Religious dogma is way open to scientific criticism in its views of freedom and responsibility but as I mentioned Christians didnt always have the opinion common now that we are only responsible only if we could have chosen otherwise. On the other hand the modern Christian view of responsibility has spilt over somewhat into the popular imagination, which means that the common assumptions of non-religious people suffer with the same criticism.

    In a sense, the scientists and atheist philosophers are rolling back the influence of the modern Christian view on the popular imagination. They are challenging religion and the influence of religion.

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    The confusion comes from a different illusion, that our "consciousness" is who we are rather than our being our entire being. Our will is free because it is not constrained by "the other". Because we are autonomous beings. Not because we can force one part of us to submit to another part of us.
    Denn das Schöne ist nichts
 als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen,
 und wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht, uns zu zerstören.

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