I don't get how people came to the original position. Why is this surprising? A simple model would be that the decision causes both the awareness and the action. Like when your program decides to move the robot arm and logs it, the log arrives before the movement, but one is not the cause of the other.
Also there's a fair chance that whatever is taking in the external clock is adding lag. So your eyes might have been in front of a clock that said a certain time, but due to processing in wetware your awareness circuit has an old value.
Also it seems like a leap to say this is connected to free will. Whatever is causing the decision, how does the timing mean anything? It's only acausal if you thought that awareness is what causes movement.
Exactly, people believed that the thoughts they are aware of when making a decision to move were actually how they decided to move.
When you examine what people actually mean when they use the term “free will” in the vernacular, they essentially mean something which affects the mind, but which is not the mind. It’s incoherent in light of the fact that the “it” that they’re referring to ceases to exist once the brain in question ceases to function.
Concretely, we are not surprised that our finger moved; we believe we wanted to do that and we agree with that action.
Moreover, this readiness potential phenomenon works on short time scales. The will operates on long time scales. I can plan at 11:55 that I will move my finger at 12:00, five minutes ahead. And then when the time comes, do just that. Still, the readiness potential will play out the same way: the commands to move the finger precede the conscious awareness of the finger moving.
It's not that uncommon
This is how addiction actually manifests. Put an alcoholic in front of a glass of whisky and often they will grab and attempt to drink without conscious thought.
But that's asserting the absence of free will, which you can't do in an argument meant to prove the absence of free will. Your interpretation of a free will experiment can't involve assuming a-priori that there is no free will.
I think that's pretty much the issue right there.
Suppose free will is real, and a person makes the decision and then takes the action. The brain waves marking that the decision was made HAVE to show up before the person is aware that they have made a decision, because both their awareness has to be 'signaled' by a brain wave coming from a decision. The deciding process, the decision, the awareness of the decision, and the actual brain signal to move the muscle ALL come from the brain, and will all feedback to each other. Any awareness that you have made a decision would show up in brainwaves BEFORE you are able to articulate it, since you can't articulate something that hasn't been experienced by your brain yet.
The only thing this sort of experiment could disprove is the idea that free will comes from something OUTSIDE your brain. If we believe your brain represents everything that you are (in terms of thoughts and consciousness), then anything the brain signals can't come BEFORE you have exercised free will, since the signal IS your free will.
I am very confused as to how anyone could think your brain waves could disprove free will.
The idea of free will is typically assigned to a "conscious self-model", not just a brain. The self-model generally accepted to be an emergent construct of the brain.
Thus, in the "conscious free will" model, if the brain makes a decision and hands it over to the "self-model", there is -obviously- no free will. The conscious self-model is simply an observer after the fact. Any notion of agency that it experiences is an illusion.
What else would free will be but an aspect of your brain? There is nothing else for it to be?
Sure the substrate is the brain and is common to all layers,
but the layers are functionally different.
The self-model, "you" is a high-level circuit.
The low-level circuits make all decisions and relay the results to the higher levels.
I guess that is the part that I have trouble with... especially the first sentence: ""Will and perception do not cause the firing of neurons; they result from it"
They don't cause it OR result from it... they ARE it. Everything that is us (including our free will) is made up of those neurons. Our thoughts are neurons firing. Everything we think and believe and experience and decide is contained in those neurons, their state, and their connections.
I always thought the question of free will (at least since I was a philosophy undergrad) was about whether our brains (and the universe) are deterministic or not. I feel like the more we learn about quantum mechanics and physics, the more it seems like the world is NOT deterministic. The uncertainty of the universe means the neuron behavior is NOT deterministic, and that non-determinism is where free will lies.
Or does that just mean that our ability to measure when a decision is made is flawed?
The first thing that is needed or this to work, is for the part of universe representing the human to be separable from the rest of the universe (this is not true with superdeterminism, which requires choices that experimenters make to be correlated with the quantum states of particles they are studying, but then almost no one takes superdeterminism seriously).
This separability would allow to talk about choice, as it allows to modify or swap the human in question and recompute the future in the same universe where the human may make another choice.
The second thing is the conjecture of computational irreducibility: that is for sufficiently complex systems like humans and for sufficiently long timeframes, the only way to predict future state is to evaluate the system.
This conjecture seems plausible because even cellular automata in chaotic state, do not appear to have any simplified method of evaluation
If this is true, you may be able to easily predict some of the choices human will make based on his state several seconds before that, but for longer time intervals the only way is to let the human live and make the choice (even if it lives in your computer simulation).
What do you mean by 'separable'? Humans are a product and part of the universe.
> This separability would allow to talk about choice, as it allows to modify or swap the human in question and recompute the future in the same universe where the human may make another choice.
I'm not sure what this shows. If you swap the human for a different one then you would expect a different choice. If you can't 'recompute' the exact same universe with the exact same human, that also doesn't show anything other than your inability to recompute.
> If this is true, you may be able to easily predict some of the choices human will make based on his state several seconds before that, but for longer time intervals the only way is to let the human live and make the choice (even if it lives in your computer simulation).
The fact that we can't perfectly predict what a human will do doesn't mean there is free will. It just means we don't understand the system enough.
Separable here roughly means that to compute further states of a human you need to follow only particles in that human and not deal with variables describing the whole universe.
You can recompute exact same universe with exact same human, but it will give you the same result. Recomputing with different human shows that different choice was possible in principle.
In the simulation we can perfectly predict what the human will do, but if computational irreducibility conjecture is true there is only one algorithm to make that prediction, which is running the simulation itself. And because running the simulation is equivalent to letting the simulated human to live that means we do not predict, but merely observe the choice.
This is not exactly what everyone thinks when talking about free will, but this is a close enough equivalent that can exist in a computable universe, because multiple choices are available, and the choice is made by the part of the universe representing the human.
I don't see how the 'computable' part is relevant in regards to free will. You can write a program that outputs random numbers that it reads from some source, and you can simulate it by writing another program that outputs random numbers from the same source. The two equivalent programs will generate different numbers, but that doesn't mean they had any choice over the numbers they printed.
> Recomputing with different human shows that different choice was possible in principle.
Recomputing with different human is equivalent to creating an impossible universe. It's impossible to have two different people in the exact same situation at the same point in time in the same deterministic universe. The very action of pausing or modifying the universe from without would make the universe non-deterministic.
> And because running the simulation is equivalent to letting the simulated human to live that means we do not predict, but merely observe the choice.
Who's choice? If the algorithm is making the choice then the humans simulated by such an algorithm would not have any more free will than a video game NPC.
The computability is relevant to the argument because it allows us to create simulation, and to observe a universe from outside. If it was not computable, say required real numbers with infinite precision, and the finite approximations were not able to describe complex things such as humans, then we would not be able to complete our thought experiment.
> The very action of pausing or modifying the universe from without would make the universe non-deterministic.
There are two parts, the starting state and the evolution rule. Here the evolution rule is still deterministic, and the requirement is for it to be able to continue from different starting states.
> Who's choice? If the algorithm is making the choice then the humans simulated by such an algorithm would not have any more free will than a video game NPC.
If human is a part of universe, and does not have a soul, then he is equivalent to its starting state plus the algorithm. If the computation cannot be reduced to a simpler algorithm then no matter how you compute the future state you get that human thinking, feeling and making a choice. The difference with game NPC is that the algorithm doesn't have a hardcoded set of inputs and outcomes but can accept any inputs and produce outcomes that can't be predicted by anything other than that algorithm with that starting state.
What's the difference between the human thinking, feeling, making a choice and a trained neural network making a 'choice'? I would not say a neural network has free will.
> The difference with game NPC is that the algorithm doesn't have a hardcoded set of inputs and outcomes but can accept any inputs and produce outcomes that can't be predicted by anything other than that algorithm with that starting state.
You can have a program that could accept any inputs (say any binary sequence) and produce output based on that.
I think that if the universe is deterministic and computable then that implies no free will, since humans are part of the universe and therefore also deterministic and computable.
> I think that if the universe is deterministic and computable then that implies no free will, since humans are part of the universe and therefore also deterministic and computable.
I agree that universe being deterministic and computable means that humans are deterministic and computable.
But what is the evidence for "deterministic and computable" implying "no free will"?
I think that computational irreducibility allows the exact opposite interpretation. Humans are deterministic and computable but the process of computation is equivalent to humans living, no matter what is used to perform the computation (moving atoms in the original universe, a computer program, or even many people with pen and paper).
So even if you can compute what the human will do, you can't predict, because the act of computing is the same as human doing. This provides the "will" part of the free will.
And if you do not stop the algorithm, and change the state to get a different outcome, then it is also free.
As a side-note, this interpretation is surprisingly consistent with the original formulation of the question of free will in religious setting, where some being outside the universe knows everything about the universe, can arbitrarily manipulate the state of the universe, but can't predict what the creatures in the universe are going to do and claims that they are free to chose.
I don't see what the Turing test has to do with free will, but it has been beaten multiple times already.
> But what is the evidence for "deterministic and computable" implying "no free will"?
Deterministic and computable universe would mean the entire existence of a human would be deterministically determined by the point in space and time he was born. If you re-ran the simulation from before the person was born to their death, the universe would progress through the exact same states.
> So even if you can compute what the human will do, you can't predict, because the act of computing is the same as human doing.
That's like saying if you ran a random program without knowing it's source code you could not predict what it would do until you actually ran it. I don't see what that has to do with free will. In a simulation free will would be the ability to change your choices between runs of the exact same universe.
>> The difference is most likely the organization and the complexity of a network. Neural network doesn't have free will because it is too simple and can't even pass turing test.
> I don't see what the Turing test has to do with free will, but it has been beaten multiple times already.
my point was that neural network doesn't have free will, because it is too simple and cannot be regarded as a person, Turing test is one objective way to check if a program is capable of thinking. The wikipedia page on Turing test https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test is not aware of any of the times when it was beaten.
> If you re-ran the simulation from before the person was born to their death, the universe would progress through the exact same states.
sure, it would be like a time machine.
> In a simulation free will would be the ability to change your choices between runs of the exact same universe.
that would not be a free will, that would be an absence of will, because if nothing changes why would person's reaction change?
That is, Free Will as a concept doesn't really make any sense. Does Free Will mean if exactly the same situation happened twice, the person might choose different things? But its somehow different to just being random? And when does exactly the same situation every happen twice anyway? Its an incoherent concept.
In my head, I have sortof redefined 'free will' like this:
The world is a mass of cause-and-effect chains. For a given object/being, if you were to 'trace' those cause-and-effect chains, would most of the proximate links in the chain be within the object/being, or outside of it? e.g. a rock can fall and roll around if pushed, those chains of cause-and-effect are mostly outside it. Us, as humans, choose to do things using our brains, so the chains of cause-and-effect (or the first bits of the chain at least) are within our brains. Naturally if you trace the cause-and-effect far enough you will get to some external cause (memories of previous events, learning etc). But if you look at the proximate cause-and-effect chains, they're mostly in our brains. That - for me - is roughly what I take Free Will to mean. The center-of-gravity of recent cause-and-effect chains reside within us. We have it, most animals have it to varying degrees. Rocks dont have it.
But even if you could simulate the universe to look ahead, most likely there is only one possible algorithm of simulation, so looking ahead is still equivalent for the tested subject living and making its choice.
So even if it can be repeated, the simulation is more like a time machine than a formula.
I don't have free will over my breathing, in one definition (since it can be consider "involuntary"). In another definition I could say I have free will over my breathing because I could hold my breath.
What is an example of free will? And what is hypothetical experiment that would actually prove or disprove it?
how did you decide to have these desires? if it's a good feeling, then you didn't decide that such a desire will give you this feeling; if it's based on a computed most-advantageous outcome, then you didn't decide that either. If it's a choice between the two, then who decides and how (infinite regression)?
In other words, The Atlantic should be ashamed to run a headline like this because it is antithetical to rational discussion.
Edit: given the link in https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21486117 I suppose we can say "questioned".
Previously they were saying that the start of the neural activity was when a decision was made, and now they are saying that the decision is only made when a particular threshold is reached, but either way the decision is a result of neural activity that began before the person was consciously aware of it. They're just redefining terms to reach the result they wanted.
Seems to be used all the time for things that aren't a scam, a hoax, a lie or something like that.
This is one of the example sentences Mirriam-Webster gives for the word debunk:
> The results of the study debunk his theory.
HN sometimes changes headlines to be more correct. Propose one.
"The topic is immensely complicated, and Schurger's valiant debunking underscores the need for more precise and better-informed questions."
Other flavors include:
Pluck a plausible, edgy explanation out of a vast hypothesis space (e.g. evolutionary psychology), over-reductively apply a catchy theorem to a vastly complicated domain (looking at you, game theory). Take a thin, ecologically invalid model and claim "that's how the brain works!" (both neural networks and sybolic reasoning systems).
I feel like in this century, we've realized that all of this was maybe useful as a reference point to formulate hypotheses, but become less stupid about the conclusions we're willing to draw (as a population).
The wonderful reality is that we don't really have strong opinions about free will, because we're not sure we really know what that could mean or why precisely it seemed so important a century ago.
As for being edgy, you are taking a condescending position using broad and vague claims that are impossible to refute ("looking at you game theory").
I agree that by itself "free will" is meaningless to talk about unless the term is defined. I'm sure most if not all authors on the subject do define what they mean by free will, eg, Dennett and Harris, but I'm sure there are many others who do.
Woa, woa. Symbolic reasoning _has_ been claimed to model the way the brain works (the original Pitts and McCulloch neuron was a propositional logic circuit that purported to model the way actual neurons work) but that sort of thing is much more common in connectionism. In fact, it's basically the whole story of connectionism ("let's copy the brain").
In any case first order logic was originally proposed as the foundation of maths, and nothing to do with how the human brain works.
Free will is a proxy argument in the debate about physical determinism, which is a component when talking about metaphysical and spiritual reality, which comes up in discussions about the existence of God - whom the modern zeitgeist doesn't believe and/or wishes to disprove.
The law could of course codify its own definition of free will, which it typically does, but again this need not be affected by outside notions.
That's a tell that using any particular answer to this question for policy is a bad idea.