June 20, 2010

If science shows that people behave better when they believe they have free will AND that people do not have free will...

... should that information be suppressed so that people will behave better?

24 comments:

David said...

Can't suppress it. That would require an effort of free will. Or be defeated by free will if you tried.

Steven said...

If people don't have free will, then the data will either be suppressed or released without any regard for whether it "should" be. Because none of the decision-makers, being people, have free will.

ricpic said...

What good is free will without willpower?

El Pollo Real said...

Paraphrasing Baumeister: "Free will is like energy and can be used up."

That squares with what my dad used to say during the Crater years: "Don't be fuelish"


Happy Father's Day fellow dads!

Gabriel Hanna said...

That is literally never going to happen.

Even very simple mechanical systems, if they are nonlinear, become unpredictable after a few minutes.

http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1996AmJPh..64..397W

The human nervous system is so complicated that even if we could prove that it is purely deterministic, you could never determine what any person was going to do.

We may not "really" have free will, but what he do have looks so much like it that it isn't worth worrying about.

t-man/wurly/henry buck said...

I may be confused, but if people don't have free will, how can they improve their behavior? Doesn't that imply that they have a choice?

Irene said...

This is a great tribute to the nature of the human soul and introspection. Here is a question that has puzzled people since at least the fifth century, but the debate remains fresh and intriguing.

danielle said...

TYPO 'when then believe ..."

Ann Althouse said...

typo corrected. thx.

Hunter McDaniel said...

If people do not have free will, then life is meaningless. In that case there is no reason to care how people behave, and consequently no reason to suppress the data.

Revenant said...

I may be confused, but if people don't have free will, how can they improve their behavior? Doesn't that imply that they have a choice?

Learning algorithms can improve behavior without free will coming into play; computers do it all the time.

rhhardin said...

"If freedom has wings," taught Reb Idrash, "it also has eyes, a forehead, genitals. Each time it takes wing, it transfigures a bit of both the world and man in the excitement of its flowering."

And Reb Lima: "In the beginning, freedom was ten times engraved on the tables of the Law. But we so little deserved it that the Prophet broke them in his anger."

"Any coercion is a ferment of freedom," Reb Idrash taught further. "How can you hope to be free if you are not bound with all our blood to your God and to man?"

And Reb Lima: "Freedom awakens gradually as we become conscious of our ties, like the sleeper of his senses. Then, finally, our actions have a name."

A teaching which Reb Zale translated into this image: "You think it is the bird which is free. Wrong: it is the flower."

And Reb Elat into this motto: "Love your ties to their last splendor, and you will be free."

Jabes, Book of Questions

edutcher said...

Advertising, working off psych, operates on the idea that people can be conditioned to respond in a given way, but, simply because it can happen some times, doesn't make it an automatic thing.

Revenant said...

I may be confused, but if people don't have free will, how can they improve their behavior? Doesn't that imply that they have a choice?

Learning algorithms can improve behavior without free will coming into play; computers do it all the time.


We're not computers. A computer only does what it's instructed to do; people operate from other stimuli, as well as instruction, processed through their own filter of intellect.

AI operates off the learning algorithms you mention, but I haven't heard of any AI equal to the human mind.

YoungHegelian said...

The question for any psychological determinist is where does logical, as opposed to causal, necessity come from? It certainly isn't given in any possible experience.

So, if logical necessity is a product of the human mind only, then the laws of our thought (e.g. the law of non-contradiction) have no application to the outside world, and are simply contingent on the physiological make-up of the brain.

Well, there goes physics then. F=ma, E=mc2, etc, are not features of the world, but are simply contingent descriptions based on our neural wiring.

For scientific knowledge to exist, there must be a free will in the sense of a knower outside the stream of causal events. Maybe not a moral free agent, who can insert himself into the causal stream to perform something out of his own will, but definitely a process of mind above and beyond nature.

ricpic said...

I guess as long as you're a Reb you can say anything semisensical and it's deep man, deep.

dbp said...

I can't help but believe that I have free will.

PJ said...

Don't we need to know something about the values and interests of the (presumably non-human) being that's in a position to make such a decision on the basis of a "should"?

traditionalguy said...

Free will is a gift. Accepting the gift is a choice. We make choices or we go passive as an act of will refusing the gift.

Matteo said...

"Learning algorithms can improve behavior without free will coming into play; computers do it all the time."

Yes. And they do it without needing to be conscious. Therefore a computer analogy tells us nothing whatsoever about why we are conscious, and therefore (one would think) about free will.

Methadras said...

Even if the essence of free will is non-existent, you still have so many choices to make throughout your day and in your life, that effectively the appearance of free will is observed. The concept of free-will is actually irrelevant, if you choose to live a deterministic way of life, then you will fail because you will end up choosing the consequence of the actions of your non-free will. If you choose to life your life in an arbitrary way, where you are free to make any whimsical choice you desire, you are still subject to the consequences of those choices. Therefore, free-will is irrelevant, but rather having enough foresight to see how deep your choices can be to achieve a favorable outcome.

Chess, I believe is a perfect system that illustrates the illusion of free choice as a function of the myriad of choice one can make in such a closed system to achieve the outcome of only 3 states, checkmate, get checkmated, or draw. Millions upon millions of choices, possibilities, and permutations, but ultimately 3 possible consequences.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@edutcher:

We're not computers. A computer only does what it's instructed to do;

This is not, and never has been, true. It's a popular caricature.

Computers can learn and make their own decisions and change their own programming. Not only that, the results of even a simple computer program can be impossible to predict advance--it happens every time you use Excel to generate a random number.

These capabilities are not new, either.

@YoungHegelian:

F=ma, E=mc2, etc, are not features of the world, but are simply contingent descriptions based on our neural wiring.

As a lifelong student of physics I would say, yes, obviously. Our "laws" do not bind the universe, and atoms don't know how to do calculus or solve differential equations. Scientific laws are only ever approximations, some exceedingly good.

For scientific knowledge to exist, there must be a free will in the sense of a knower outside the stream of causal events.

Why? How does knowledge exempt you from cause and effect?

@Matteo:

Therefore a computer analogy tells us nothing whatsoever about why we are conscious, and therefore (one would think) about free will.

A computer is not conscious, and its behavior (ideally) is completely deterministic. Yet it is capable of making its own decisions and changing its own programming. "Deterministic" doesn't mean what people think it does; your actions may be completely deterministic and yet give an appearance of "free will" convincing even to yourself.

Even assuming complete determinism, and complete knowledge of the state of every part of your nervous system, it would be physically impossible to predict the future state of your nervous system for more than the barest fraction of a second ahead.

Likewise, without free will you could still be conscious; it would just mean that your thoughts are determined as well your actions. Free will and consciousness don't have to go together.

David said...

I choose to believe that we don't have free will.

Sigivald said...

What David said.

All discussions about free will are predicated on the assumption of free will.

(My position, philosophically, is that it doesn't matter if we "really have free will" or not - because we cannot help but experience it, even if the experience is illusory.)

traditionalguy said...

The Free Will in a person's soul is the only reason to have laws to restrain murder, slavery, abortion, false imprisionment, torture and Communism. All the Social Darwinists and the Plain Old Materialist Darwinists are as usual wrong from the get go. Control over men's free will is their Raison D'etre. If there were no free will, then why have all European and American governments tried to control men's minds 24/7 since 1900?