Scientists discover a possible cause for the irrational belief in free will.



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Jun 30, 2014
It's not obvious that such a study distinguishes between "illusion" and "mechanism." Seems like an obvious application of signal processing techniques to produce emergent properties.

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Jun 29, 2014
Uh - Scott, the little joke below nonwithstanding, I'm with phantom II in that I think you get way too worked up over that free will thing.

What exactly are the consequences of free will according to your particular definition (which you haven't shared so we don't even know what you're talking about) existing or not existing?

Assuming you "win" and somehow convince us, what change do you envision to happen in us?

People have believed the non-scientific equivalent of non-free will (fate/kismet/everything-is-written-in-The-Book) for millenia, so what? That hasn't prevented us from butchering each other, nor has responsibility and freedom, whatever all those words mean to each person.
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Jun 26, 2014
Do you think I have a choice to believe in free will?

If it doesn't exist, then my brain is doing a pretty convincing job of tricking me, and if it does exist, then my belief is valid.
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Jun 26, 2014
Language: "SOMETHING supernatural (external to GUT) started the 'why'"
As long as religion forbids asking the "why" question regarding god, this is not an argument religionists should put forward.
Jun 26, 2014
science can't answer the Great Why Question. Why set the big bang in motion?

This is the first volitional act and its inexplicable for pure determinists/monists.

Until a satisfactory answer is proferred its irrational to disbelieve in freewill. Some agentive force beyond (outside) the scope of predictable causality operates. To assume there is a cosmic agent, and we aren't supernatural agents ourselves feels a little premature. SOMETHING supernatural (external to GUT) started the 'why'. GUT doesn't have the juice to get the Big Bang started, let alone answer why.
Jun 26, 2014
Much of this is a debate on terminology.

Laplacian determinism is an old and outdated theory: quantum mechanics is not compatible with it. A lack of free will (by most definitions) requires a fundamental acceptance of Laplacian determinism.

Being able to describe a mechanism by which tiny and irrelevant decisions can be predicted -- or describe a mechanism by which they might be, given enough information -- cannot be extrapolated indefinitely. In the same way that knowing, with complete precision, the half-life of a uranium isotope will not tell you exactly when a given atom will decay.
Jun 25, 2014
The monsters under my bed are always coughing and demanding that I vacuum. I suggested they move to the closet. They said that haunting a closet is a different trade and their union rules do not allow them to do it.
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Jun 25, 2014
I make the choice to believe in free will.
Jun 25, 2014
Like your list. My mind leans toward the dualist approach to free will. I think there is room in the physical universe for the unseen. String theory, in particular, M-theory points to a bunch of curled-up extra time-space dimensions in our physical world. The curled-up part prevents us from perceiving any spaces defined by the extra dimensions. I suspect that we, and everything else, also occupy positions in any such spaces. So, there could be "more" of us than we think. Any interaction would be via connections of atomic size or smaller. The only organ we have that could be affected in a noticeable way by tiny energy transfers along such connections would be the brain. Perhaps enough effect to make us and the rest of the world unpredictable at tiny sizes, like the uncertainty principle. So, there is the possibility of a "scientific" place for unseen things that could affect us.
Jun 25, 2014
Article: "...the researchers found that the pattern of activity in the brain in the seconds before the cue symbol appeared - before the volunteers knew they were going to make a choice - could predict the likely outcome of the decision."

This isn't about free will. It's proof that precognition is real !!!

Seriously though, I always HATE articles like this. They report a "correlation", but don't say whether the so-called "predictive effect" is 98% predictive (very likely the cause), or 52% predictive (a possible influence, but only slightly better than random). Without that important tidbit, the article is meaningless and sure to be misunderstood and misinterpreted, and by extension, so will the study.
Jun 25, 2014
And this topic is important to you - why? I don't understand why you place so much emotional capital into your unproof of free will.

How we react is how we react, regardless of what term you put on it. I can't imagine what difference it would make to anyone what this non-debate would prove, disprove or make anything other than it is.

It would be much more interesting to discuss the concept of self. I think even you would admit that if you could upload all your memories to a computer, that computer would not become you. It would be no more self-aware than any other computer. Nor would it be you, any more than if you were cloned.

But there is a difference between a computer and a clone. There is something unique about sentient life in terms of self-awareness. I think an examination of that difference, and why it exists, is much more important and a much more interesting topic.
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Jun 25, 2014
So, how do the scientists know that the bit of the brain that makes the decisions a few seconds earlier doesn't have free will? :-)
Jun 25, 2014
I maintain that Scott's game here is the premise that convincing others that they have no free will is the best way to ensure your own will is not thwarted, but I have another comment.

Arguing the existence or non existence of an abstract concept like free will, without giving a clear definition of what you mean by the term is a kind of rhetorical fraud. So lets talk about some various definitions of free will.

One might define free will as the idea that a persons decisions cannot be predicted with any certainty. This is true for any chaotic system, and I think the point of the article is that the human brain is a chaotic system, so decision making is unpredictable. This is fair enough, but this is not how I would define free will.

Another definition of free will would be the idea of a soul or spirit. This is known as dualism in philosophy, and it is the idea that ideas, concepts, and !$%*!$%*!$ exist somehow independent of physical, observable matter. To dualists, free will is the influence of the immaterial reality on the material reality. This idea is rejected outright by most philosophical empiricists and skeptics (most modern scientists are one of these).

A sort of middle-ground approach would be to define free will as simply a mind that is free from external constraints. Such a mind will be directed solely by ideas generated or stored in the same brain that produced the mind, rather than by new ideas produced in some other brain. In other words, free will is the idea that at some point a mind becomes self-sufficient in making decisions.

I like this definition because it does not require things to be unpredictable (which is defeatist), and it does not require interaction with immaterial forces (which is unscientific). I also think this definition removes the question on whether free will exists or not, because clearly there are minds that exist independent of other minds, at least for periods of time. Whenever your brain makes a decision on its own, without another brain communicating directions, that is free will.
Jun 25, 2014
Free will is a huge subject which can not be easily proven or disproven.

What part is the free part?

Unless our actions are 100% predetermined from start to finish, there exists some measure of free will.

This pretty much indicates that we use crude random generators based on measurable values.

That we use crude generators is pretty obvious, humans suck at randomness.

It is slightly interesting that parts of it are measurable though.
Jun 25, 2014
So, let's say we convince the world to give up their saftey blanket and stop believing in free will.

What would you replace "I control my destiny" with?

If we can't answer how free will is negatively impacting us and what we will replace it with...

I say, if we are lying to ourselves but harming nobody in the process, leave it be.

Lastly, from your work in the food industry, you must know that an important factor in people being happy with their food is how they feel about their experience. If we're going to hand the world a replacement for free will, we're going to have to package it a little less like Revenge of the Nerds.
Jun 25, 2014
@whtllnew - You don't seem to want to accept the fact the what you 'perceive', as you put it, is determined by a multitude of factors such as your current chemical balances, hormone levels, mood, energy levels, and states of being (hungry, tired, sick, age, injury, etc) among other things. Are 'voices' real just because a mentally ill person 'perceives' them? If I damage a certain portion of your brain, you will lose all emotional connections with everyone you've ever known. How is that 'free will'?

This experiment that Scott linked to confirms what Scott has said all along. We are moist robots, with complicated pattern recognition computers for brains that have been molded by evolution, nature and nuture. This 'free will' you experience is nothing more than a variety of 'response suggestions' spit out from your computer brain that you conscious process and ultimately act on one of them. Why do you choose one response over another? See my first paragraph...
Jun 25, 2014
Maybe this is true for the sort of snap judgments you make when deciding at the drive thru what to order for lunch, but how does it explain decisions made over a long period of time and require processing a lot of input? Take for example drawing a comic strip. Id be curious to see what these "scientists" have to say about the complex linking of all of the background noise that cause a blank sheet of paper to become a finished strip. And no, I'm not thinking about Dilbert, since that strip doesn't start out as a blank sheet of paper.
Jun 25, 2014
So... the mechanism simulating free will is so complex that our instruments read it as electrical background noise? But at least it's measurable to an extent that it appears to be deterministic.
Jun 25, 2014
[Like monsters under the bed? Fair enough. -- Scott]

Can you see monsters under your bed? I cant. I can, however, perceive my free will.

[Did that make sense when you wrote it? -- Scott]
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Jun 25, 2014
Does this mean, then, that a scientist could make a person choose one way or the other by manipulating the static signals in the brain? And the person making the decision would believe that they chose it by free-will, and even wanted to make that choice? Is this a new way to create mind control or even break habits of people?

[If you change the inputs do you get different outputs? I'm going to say yes. -- Scott]
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