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Re: [anthroposophy_tomorrow] Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t

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  • Frank Smith
    I was about to send a link to this article, too. So PoF may be making a comeback - being all obout this question. Frank ...
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 2, 2007
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      I was about to send a link to this article, too. So
      PoF may be making a comeback - being all obout this
      --- SerenaBlaue@... wrote:

      > The New York Times
      > Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t
      > Published: January 2, 2007
      > I was a free man until they brought the dessert menu
      > around. There was one
      > of those molten chocolate cakes, and I was suddenly
      > being dragged into a
      > vortex, swirling helplessly toward caloric doom,
      > sucked toward the edge of a black
      > (chocolate) hole. Visions of my father’s heart
      > attack danced before my
      > glazed eyes. My wife, Nancy, had a resigned look on
      > her face.
      > The outcome, endlessly replayed whenever we go out,
      > is never in doubt,
      > though I often cover my tracks by offering to split
      > my dessert with the table.
      > O.K., I can imagine what you’re thinking. There
      > but for the grace of God.
      > Having just lived through another New Year’s Eve,
      > many of you have just
      > resolved to be better, wiser, stronger and richer in
      > the coming months and years.
      > After all, we’re free humans, not slaves, robots
      > or animals doomed to repeat
      > the same boring mistakes over and over again. As
      > William James wrote in
      > 1890, the whole “sting and excitement” of life
      > comes from “our sense that in it
      > things are really being decided from one moment to
      > another, and that it is not
      > the dull rattling off of a chain that was forged
      > innumerable ages ago.” Get
      > over it, Dr. James. Go get yourself fitted for a
      > new chain-mail vest. A bevy
      > of experiments in recent years suggest that the
      > conscious mind is like a
      > monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and
      > actions in progress,
      > frantically making up stories about being in
      > control.
      > As a result, physicists, neuroscientists and
      > computer scientists have joined
      > the heirs of Plato and Aristotle in arguing about
      > what free will is, whether
      > we have it, and if not, why we ever thought we did
      > in the first place.
      > “Is it an illusion? That’s the question,” said
      > Michael Silberstein, a
      > science philosopher at Elizabethtown College in
      > Maryland. Another question, he
      > added, is whether talking about this in public will
      > fan the culture wars.
      > “If people freak at evolution, etc.,” he wrote
      > in an e-mail message, “how
      > much more will they freak if scientists and
      > philosophers tell them they are
      > nothing more than sophisticated meat machines, and
      > is that conclusion now
      > clearly warranted or is it premature?”
      > Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher and cognitive
      > scientist at Tufts University
      > who has written extensively about free will, said
      > that “when we consider
      > whether free will is an illusion or reality, we are
      > looking into an abyss. What
      > seems to confront us is a plunge into nihilism and
      > despair.”
      > Mark Hallett, a researcher with the National
      > Institute of Neurological
      > Disorders and Stroke, said, “Free will does exist,
      > but it’s a perception, not a
      > power or a driving force. People experience free
      > will. They have the sense they
      > are free.
      > “The more you scrutinize it, the more you realize
      > you don’t have it,” he
      > said.
      > That is hardly a new thought. The German philosopher
      > Arthur Schopenhauer
      > said, as Einstein paraphrased it, that “a human
      > can very well do what he wants,
      > but cannot will what he wants.”
      > Einstein, among others, found that a comforting
      > idea. “This knowledge of the
      > non-freedom of the will protects me from losing my
      > good humor and taking
      > much too seriously myself and my fellow humans as
      > acting and judging individuals,
      > ” he said.
      > How comforted or depressed this makes you might
      > depend on what you mean by
      > free will. The traditional definition is called
      > “libertarian” or “deep” free
      > will. It holds that humans are free moral agents
      > whose actions are not
      > predetermined. This school of thought says in effect
      > that the whole chain of cause
      > and effect in the history of the universe stops dead
      > in its tracks as you
      > ponder the dessert menu.
      > At that point, anything is possible. Whatever choice
      > you make is unforced
      > and could have been otherwise, but it is not random.
      > You are responsible for any
      > damage to your pocketbook and your arteries.
      > “That strikes many people as incoherent,” said
      > Dr. Silberstein, who noted
      > that every physical system that has been
      > investigated has turned out to be
      > either deterministic or random. “Both are bad news
      > for free will,” he said. So
      > if human actions can’t be caused and aren’t
      > random, he said, “It must be —
      > what — some weird magical power?”
      > People who believe already that humans are magic
      > will have no problem with
      > that.
      > But whatever that power is — call it soul or the
      > spirit — those people have
      > to explain how it could stand independent of the
      > physical universe and yet
      > reach from the immaterial world and meddle in our
      > own, jiggling brain cells
      > that lead us to say the words “molten
      > chocolate.”
      > A vote in favor of free will comes from some
      > physicists, who say it is a
      > prerequisite for inventing theories and planning
      > experiments.
      > That is especially true when it comes to quantum
      > mechanics, the strange
      > paradoxical theory that ascribes a microscopic
      > randomness to the foundation of
      > reality. Anton Zeilinger, a quantum physicist at the
      > University of Vienna, said
      > recently that quantum randomness was “not a proof,
      > just a hint, telling us we
      > have free will.”
      > Is there any evidence beyond our own intuitions and
      > introspections that
      > humans work that way?
      > Two Tips of the Iceberg
      > In the 1970s, Benjamin Libet, a physiologist at the
      > University of
      > California, San Francisco, wired up the brains of
      > volunteers to an electroencephalogram
      > and told the volunteers to make random motions, like
      > pressing a button or
      > flicking a finger, while he noted the time on a
      > clock.
      > Dr. Libet found that brain signals associated with
      > these actions occurred
      > half a second before the subject was conscious of
      > deciding to make them.
      > The order of brain activities seemed to be
      > perception of motion, and then
      > decision, rather than the other way around.
      > In short, the conscious brain was only playing
      > catch-up to what the
      > unconscious brain was already doing. The decision to
      > act was an illusion, the monkey
      > making up a story about what the tiger had already
      > done.
      > Dr. Libet’s results have been reproduced again and
      > again over the years,
      > along with other experiments that suggest that
      > people can be easily fooled when
      > it comes to assuming ownership of their actions.
      > Patients with tics or certain
      > diseases, like chorea, cannot say whether their
      > movements are voluntary or
      > involuntary, Dr. Hallett said.
      > In some experiments, subjects have been tricked into
      > believing they are
      > responding to stimuli they couldn’t have seen in
      > time to respond to, or into
      > taking credit or blame for things they couldn’t
      > have done. Take, for example, the
      > “voodoo experiment” by Dan Wegner, a
      > psychologist at Harvard, and Emily
      > Pronin of Princeton. In the experiment, two people
      > are invited to play witch
      > doctor.
      > One person, the subject, puts a curse on the other
      > by sticking pins into a
      > doll. The second person, however, is in on the
      > experiment, and by prior
      > arrangement with the doctors, acts either obnoxious,
      > so that the pin-sticker
      > dislikes him, or nice.
      > After a while, the ostensible victim complains of a
      > headache. In cases in
      > which he or she was unlikable, the subject tended to
      > claim responsibility for
      > causing the headache, an example of the “magical
      > thinking” that makes baseball
      > fans put on their rally caps.
      > “We made it happen in a lab,” Dr. Wegner said.
      > Is a similar sort of magical thinking responsible
      > for the experience of free
      > will?
      > “We see two tips of the iceberg, the thought and
      > the action,” Dr. Wegner
      > said, “and we draw a connection.”
      > But most of the action is going on beneath the
      > surface. Indeed, the
      > conscious mind is often a drag on many activities.
      > Too much thinking can give a
      > golfer the yips. Drivers perform better on automatic
      > pilot. Fiction writers report
      > writing in a kind of trance in which they simply
      > take dictation from the
      > voices and characters in their head, a grace that
      > is, alas, rarely if ever
      > granted nonfiction writers.
      > Naturally, almost everyone has a slant on such
      > experiments and whether or
      > not the word “illusion” should be used in
      > describing free will. Dr. Libet said
      > his results left room for a limited version of free
      > will in the form of a
      > veto power over what we sense ourselves doing. In
      > effect, the unconscious brain
      > proposes and the mind disposes.
      > In a 1999 essay, he wrote that although this might
      > not seem like much, it
      > was enough to satisfy ethical standards. “Most of
      > the Ten Commandments are ‘do
      > not’ orders,” he wrote.
      > But that might seem a pinched and diminished form of
      > free will.
      > Good Intentions
      > Dr. Dennett, the Tufts professor, is one of many who
      > have tried to redefine
      > free will in a way that involves no escape from the
      > materialist world while
      > still offering enough autonomy for moral
      > responsibility, which seems to be what
      > everyone cares about.
      > The belief that the traditional intuitive notion of
      > a free will divorced
      > from causality is inflated, metaphysical nonsense,
      > Dr. Dennett says reflecting
      > an outdated dualistic view of the world.
      > Rather, Dr. Dennett argues, it is precisely our
      > immersion in causality and
      > the material world that frees us. Evolution, history
      > and culture, he explains,
      > have endowed us with feedback systems that give us
      > the unique ability to
      > reflect and think things over and to imagine the
      > future. Free will and
      > determinism can co-exist.
      > “All the varieties of free will worth having, we
      > have,” Dr. Dennett said.
      > “We have the power to veto our urges and then to
      > veto our vetoes,” he said.
      > “We have the power of imagination, to see and
      > imagine futures.”
      > In this regard, causality is not our enemy but our
      > friend, giving us the
      > ability to look ahead and plan. “That’s what
      > makes us moral agents,” Dr. Dennett
      > said. “You don’t need a miracle to have
      > responsibility.”
      > Other philosophers disagree on the degree and nature
      > of such “freedom.”
      > Their arguments partly turn on the extent to which
      > collections of things,
      > whether electrons or people, can transcend their
      > origins and produce novel
      > phenomena.
      > These so-called emergent phenomena, like brains and
      > stock markets, or the
      > idea of democracy, grow naturally in accordance with
      > the laws of physics, so the
      > story goes. But once they are here, they play by
      > new rules, and can even act
      > on their constituents, as when an artist envisions
      > a teapot and then sculpts
      > it — a concept sometimes known as “downward
      > causation.” A knowledge of
      > quarks is no help in predicting hurricanes —
      > it’s physics all the way down. But
      > does the same apply to the stock market or to the
      > brain? Are the rules
      > elusive just because we can’t solve the equations
      > or because something
      > fundamentally new happens when we increase numbers
      > and levels of complexity?
      > Opinions vary about whether it will ultimately prove
      > to be physics all the
      > way down, total independence from physics, or some
      > shade in between, and thus
      > how free we are. Dr. Silberstein, the Elizabethtown
      > College professor, said, “
      > There’s nothing in fundamental physics by itself
      > that tells us we can’t have
      > such emergent properties when we get to different
      > levels of complexities.”
      > He waxed poetically as he imagined how the universe
      > would evolve, with more
      > and more complicated forms emerging from primordial
      > quantum muck as from an
      > elaborate computer game, in accordance with a few
      > simple rules: “If you
      > understand, you ought to be awestruck, you ought to
      > be bowled over.”
      > George R. F. Ellis, a cosmologist at the University
      > of Cape Town, said that
      > freedom could emerge from this framework as well.
      > “A nuclear bomb, for
      > example, proceeds to detonate according to the laws
      > of nuclear physics,” he
      > explained in an e-mail message. “Whether it does
      > indeed detonate is determined by
      > political and ethical considerations, which are of
      > a completely different order.”
      > I have to admit that I find these kind of ideas
      > inspiring, if not
      > liberating. But I worry that I am being sold a sort
      > of psychic perpetual motion
      > machine. Free wills, ideas, phenomena created by
      > physics but not accountable to it.
      > Do they offer a release from the chains of
      > determinism or just a prescription
      > for a very intricate weave of the links?And so I
      > sought clarity from
      > mathematicians and computer scientists. According to
      > deep mathematical principles,
      > they say, even machines can become too complicated
      > to predict their own
      > behavior and would labor under the delusion of free
      > will.
      > If by free will we mean the ability to choose, even
      > a simple laptop computer
      > has some kind of free will, said Seth Lloyd, an
      > expert on quantum computing
      > and professor of mechanical engineering at the
      > Massachusetts Institute of
      > Technology.
      > Every time you click on an icon, he explained, the
      > computer’s operating
      > system decides how to allocate memory space, based
      > on some deterministic
      > instructions. But, Dr. Lloyd said, “If I ask how
      > long will it take to boot up five
      > minutes from now, the operating system will say ‘I
      > don’t know, wait and see,
      > and I’ll make decisions and let you know.’ ”
      > Why can’t computers say what they’re going to
      > do? In 1930, the Austrian
      > philosopher Kurt Gödel proved that in any formal
      > system of logic, which includes
      > mathematics and a kind of idealized computer called
      > a Turing machine, there
      > are statements that cannot be proven either true or
      > false. Among them are
      > self-referential statements like the famous paradox
      > stated by the Cretan
      > philosopher Epimenides, who said that all Cretans
      > are liars: if he is telling the
      > truth, then, as a Cretan, he is lying.
      > One implication is that no system can contain a
      > complete representation of
      > itself, or as Janna Levin, a cosmologist at Barnard
      > College of Columbia
      > University and author of the 2006 novel about
      > Gödel, “A Madman Dreams of Turing
      > Machines,” said: “Gödel says you can’t
      > program intelligence as complex as
      > yourself. But you can let it evolve. A complex
      > machine would still suffer from the
      > illusion of free will.”
      > Another implication is there is no algorithm, or
      > recipe for computation, to
      > determine when or if any given computer program will
      > finish some calculation.
      > The only way to find out is to set it computing and
      > see what happens. Any way
      > to find out would be tantamount to doing the
      > calculation itself.
      > “There are no shortcuts in computation,” Dr.
      > Lloyd said.
      > That means that the more reasonably you try to act,
      > the more unpredictable
      > you are, at least to yourself, Dr. Lloyd said. Even
      > if your wife knows you will
      > order the chile rellenos, you have to live your
      > life to find out.
      > To him that sounds like free will of a sort, for
      > machines as well as for us.
      > Our actions are determined, but so what? We still
      > don’t know what they will
      > be until the waiter brings the tray.
      > That works for me, because I am comfortable with
      > so-called physicalist
      > reasoning, and I’m always happy to leverage
      > concepts of higher mathematics to cut
      > through philosophical knots.
      > The Magician’s Spell
      > So what about Hitler?
      > The death of free will, or its exposure as a
      > convenient illusion, some
      > worry, could wreak havoc on our sense of moral and
      > legal responsibility. According
      > to those who believe that free will and determinism
      > are incompatible, Dr.
      > Silberstein said in an e-mail message, it would mean
      > that “people are no more
      > responsible for their actions than asteroids or
      > planets.” Anything would go.
      > Dr. Wegner of Harvard said: “We worry that
      > explaining evil condones it. We
      > have to maintain our outrage at Hitler. But
      > wouldn’t it be nice to have a
      > theory of evil in advance that could keep him from
      > coming to power?”
      > He added, “A system a bit more focused on helping
      > people change rather than
      > paying them back for what they’ve done might be a
      > good thing.”
      > Dr. Wegner said he thought that exposing free will
      > as an illusion would have
      > little effect on people’s lives or on their
      > feelings of self-worth. Most of
      > them would remain in denial.
      > “It’s an illusion, but it’s a very persistent
      > illusion; it keeps coming
      > back,” he said, comparing it to a magician’s
      > trick that has been seen again and
      > again. “Even though you know it’s a trick, you
      > get fooled every time. The
      > feelings just don’t go away.”
      > In an essay about free will in 1999, Dr. Libet wound
      > up quoting the writer
      > Isaac Bashevis Singer, who once said in an interview
      > with the Paris Review, “
      > The greatest gift which humanity has received is
      > free choice. It is true that
      > we are limited in our use of free choice. But the
      > little free choice we have
      > is such a great gift and is potentially worth so
      > much that for this itself,
      > life is worthwhile living.”
      > I could skip the chocolate cake, I really could, but
      > why bother? Waiter!

      Frank Thomas Smith

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