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I don't understand how people use science to disprove freewill. Yes, our behaviours are heavily influenced by external factors. Yes, our decisions are made subconsciously before they are made conscious. But how does one go from this to supposedly disproving freewill?

If a person can't come up with a testable hypothesis for how freewill operates in the brain, then how can anyone conclude science has got to say anything about freewill?

Freewill is closely tide with our subjective experience, and that is qualitatively different to anything science can measure or observe.

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By agnostictheist4
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17 comments

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While I don't know of any scientific studies "disproving free will," there have been numerous studies on nurture vs nature. These include studies of twins who were adopted into different family environments. There has also been lots of psychology studies on brain function. All of this research tends to point to the fact that humans are controlled to a very large degree by the laws of physics (i.e. deterministic), far more than anyone has yet to appreciate. That research increasingly points away from free will, but does not rule it out.

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As others have already replied it's hard to prove a negative.

However I ask if you believe in free will what exactly do you mean by "free will"? I'm a computer scientist and it's data in and data out. If one knows the data going in, and how the computer program is implemented then we know what the output should be. If it's not then either there is a bug in the program (it's not doing exactly what we thought we programmed) or out input was wrong (garbage in garbage out).

Our brains (as all animals) our computers, but the circuitry is biological. But unlike a digital computer we currently are unable to fully (well far from fully) examine the wiring, the stored data, etc of any individuals brain. But assume we could... and also assume we could examine every piece of data going into the brain before it went in.... we should be able to know the output. To say there is true "free will" though would imply there is something in the machine we can't detect.... a theologists would call it a "soul", what would you as an agnostic call it?

I usually say free will is an illusion as even for us determinists who don't believe in gods rolling dice, the amount of data our brains take in and the possible combinations is overwhelming that for all practical purposes enjoy the illusion as it sure "feels" good.

Out of curiosity for those that believe in true free will... then single celled organisms must also have free will as well, for example
[reducing-suffering.org]

Our brains are like a dual-processor computer with the one in control essentially being analogous to a big look up table. Solutions from this processor are fast and are based either on past experience or what is perceived to be a similar problem. The fast processor only hands off problems to the second "logical" processor when it appears absolutely necessary. Even scientists, engineers, and mathematicians use their logical processor minimally. It's the reason that the most thoughtful people can be easily fooled by optical illusions or in cases where they think the solution is obvious. See the book: "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman.

As a computer expert, you don't comment on AI neural networks or fuzzy logic programing. These topics seem particularly germane to the present discussion of free will and might be far less restrictive than given in your comment.

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A thought came to me about a book I've mentioned a couple of times in this forum, Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. He mentions a study done with a panel of judges who decide on parole requests. In the study they found that judges were demonstrably more inclined to grant appeals in the time following meals and their refusals increased as time went on since they last ate and as blood sugar levels dropped.

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I think one thing you have to consider is whether you're thinking about our decision making from how it seems to work from within your head? Or how it actually happens neurologically, how it evolved from the most simple organisms that proceeded us, what consciousness actually is.

Do we espect our behaviours be totally random?

Of course our brain is going to be influenced my many factors before coming up with the best solution - that's how we evolved.

What is will meant look like?

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I guess this it. It the only thing listed that I've watched.

JLFowler Level 6 Feb 9, 2019
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I had a similar reaction to this concept. There is a discussion on youtube between Sam Harris and I think Bret Weinstein that opened it up for me. I'll see if I can find it. Its long but its a new complicated concept so longer is better.

JLFowler Level 6 Feb 9, 2019
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You pose an interesting question. A lot of it comes about in how you seek to define what you call, freewill."

I am a scientist and a once avid interactive game player ( D&D back when it was truly interactive and real). Games like D&D are based in game theory. Game theory usually posits that there is a limited number of choices (known and unknown) at anytime.

If this is true, then there is no such thing as freewill. Just likelihoods and probabilities. That anytime a person is faced with a choice, they are in fact choosing from a set of probable answers (again, known and unknown). They are intuitively selecting from a set of probabilities.

Therefore you say, they have the freewill to choose one of the proable outcomes (choices). I posit that they do not have a choice, the choice has them. The obviousness of the choice makes it difficult to select other than the choice with the greatest probability. Exceptions do occur.

t1nick Level 8 Feb 9, 2019

People say freewill is the ability have done otherwise.
But how would that look neurologically? We're looking at a causal system (with no idea how subjectivity works) and saying, oh look no freewill. Seems pretty fallacious me

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The issue is with our understanding of "whose" will is free. It almost certainly is not the will of the person you "hear" as the voice in your head, "your" thoughts. So many consciousnesses sharing the space...

I agree. It all comes down definition of person. We don't even have a proper definition for personhood and our notion of personhood is very immaterial, so it's something consider

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Science does not disprove freewill. This is a philosophical question.

This may help you.

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Depends on how you look at it. Neuroscience still has a great deal of work to do in understanding the brain. Like anything else, it's a spectrum. There may be things out of our control & within that context there are a limited number of options - so is that truly free will?

Decieven Level 7 Feb 9, 2019

What would freewill look like neurologically?

A true processing of all the available information & choice from that. However, since humans are very much animals I don't see that happening in its truest form consistently. We have limited abilities since we're not supercomputers. There are a lot of neural loops & influences of past experience to take into account which easily biases our behavior.
*All theoretical of course. I'm no neuroscientist, but I have some background in psychology & neuroscience.

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Perhaps there isn't a testable hypothesis... yet. A hundred years ago, we didn't have the ability to send messages instantly from one side of the world to the other. Time, study, and presumably technology will get us there.

Science has plenty to say on just about every subject, but the thing about science is, it isn't out there to spite your beliefs, it's here to help us understand what's true, what isn't, and to humble us of the great many things we won't grasp in our lifetime, but probably have legitimate answers. We'll figure it out, eventually... if we don't destroy ourselves first.

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I can't choose in this pole because the premise is all wrong.
Asking about freewill is like asking about sin.
Neither assertion reflects our true nature, freewill is just woo and so is determinism in the sense that it's used here. Determinism isn't the opposite of freewill.
I am what I am, and that affected every choice I have ever made.
I think in these kinds of discussions determinism is far too often confused with fate, and fate is a word that only gets to have meaning when looking at history.

Novelty Level 8 Feb 9, 2019
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Science cannot fully disprove free will. That is a largely philosophical argument. The worse that science can prove, at least any time soon with technology that we have or are likely to get, is that elements of our decision process are predictable and not random.

CK-One Level 6 Feb 9, 2019
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If you could put a conversation about free will into a capsule, we might not need Ambien.

Byrdsfan Level 8 Feb 9, 2019

From my experience Ambien provides a direct indicator of the lack of free will ??

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Sometimes we make decisions that surprise ourselves, that's not pre-determined. I bumble around trying to figure out what is good for me.
When my husband passed in 2005 I had 4 elderly sheperds, it was 2 yrs before I had to get the hell out of New England -the snow sucked being isolated in the boonies. By the time I left I took the last 10 yr old with me but I didn't know where I was going.
I wanted Asheville because I"m an artist, or FL for the warmth and 'walk to the beach'. So I didn't know where I was going but finally decided on FL. Now after 10 yrs the humidity is stifling my life and I'm off to right over the NC border in TN within 10 mins of the Appalachain trail. So if I was going to be there AT ALL why wasn't it easier and predetermined for me to make that choice first? Why 10 yrs later? If I could begin again (as predetermined) I'd just go directly to NC.

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I do not involve myself with that particular discussion, as I think it's pointless.
People try to use science to prove or disprove a lot of nonsense.
The argument over "freewill" is just one of those instances of nonsense.

KKGator Level 9 Feb 9, 2019
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I use my free will to support my subconscious desires.

Deveno Level 7 Feb 9, 2019
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