Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Free Will?

If you follow the Dilbert Blog at all, you'll know that Scott Adams has consistently denied the concept of free will. Here's the latest blog entry where he claims it's a superstition. See, this is where Carl Sagan's famous, and *very* subjective, statement "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" really shows its problems. To me, the claim that there is no free will is the extraordinary claim. (I will explain this later) However, to Scott Adams, obviously the claim that there is free will is the extraordinary claim.

Now see, I don't follow the strong form of free will as believed by, say libertarians, where an agent can always make a rational choice, any time, any where. (which would be an extraordinary claim indeed!) While I am a realist and believe that the number of choices can be constrained by prior conditions, I still do believe that there are choices to be made. To show me that free will doesn't exist will involve showing proof that no choices can be made, anywhere, any time, over the entire course of the universe. I believe that is the extraordinary claim. :)


SpaceAdmiral said...

I suppose it sort of depends on your definition of free will. But, if it were impossible for me, knowing the current state of all the particles in your brain and all the input from the natural world to your brain, to predict your next decision in advance, I would say free will exists. (Or, because of quantum uncertainty, say I couldn't predict the probability of any given decision).

Based on this definition of free will, I think the claim that free will exists is the extraordinary claim. If free will doesn't exist, the mechanism for the illusion of free will is the known laws of physics. If free will does exist, the mechanism for it is . . . magic unicorns or something else unknown.

It seems that less speculation or deviation from established science is required to believe in a world without free will. I happen to believe in free will, but I think Adams is taking the correct default position. If he took the opposite position, I would expect more justification, such as his hypothesis as to a mechanism.

I know we've discussed this before and disagree, but it's such an interesting topic, I couldn't stop myself from making this post. (Haha).

Chen-song said...

It seems the definition of free will is vital here. To me free will needs to simply imply that there are choices to be made within a range of possible behaviours, not to prove that the person making the decision is the *ultimate cause* of his decision. Even Christian theology, which has a very strong form of free will, does not make that claim - God is the ultimate cause after all. I think only some classical liberal philosophers would see man as a purely independent rational agent.

As to your definition of free will: first of all, just because you can predict the probability of my making a given decision, how does that rob me of my choices? Do lower probability events not happen? And nice try combining the classical view of determinism with the quantum view. :) The big difference is that with the latter you are not sure what the outcome would be. I think the clockwork model is increasingly breaking down as we know more about quantum behaviour, and the idea that there is no probability of different paths is getting less plausible. The ability to predict the future *precisely* is what doesn't convince me. If you can predict it to a certainly probability that doesn't invalidate my definition of free will. Now it maybe possible in the future for someone to come up with "the ultimate wave function of the Universe" or whatever and predict everything precisely, then I'll be convinced. :)

Well, even then, I might just kick a rock and say, "I dispute it thus!" :)