Article: A Famous Argument Against Free Will Has Been Debunk

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https://www.theatlantic.com/health/arch ... al/597736/

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The death of free will began with thousands of finger taps. In 1964, two German scientists monitored the electrical activity of a dozen people’s brains. Each day for several months, volunteers came into the scientists’ lab at the University of Freiburg to get wires fixed to their scalp from a showerhead-like contraption overhead. The participants sat in a chair, tucked neatly in a metal tollbooth, with only one task: to flex a finger on their right hand at whatever irregular intervals pleased them, over and over, up to 500 times a visit.

The purpose of this experiment was to search for signals in the participants’ brains that preceded each finger tap. At the time, researchers knew how to measure brain activity that occurred in response to events out in the world—when a person hears a song, for instance, or looks at a photograph—but no one had figured out how to isolate the signs of someone’s brain actually initiating an action.

The experiment’s results came in squiggly, dotted lines, a representation of changing brain waves. In the milliseconds leading up to the finger taps, the lines showed an almost undetectably faint uptick: a wave that rose for about a second, like a drumroll of firing neurons, then ended in an abrupt crash. This flurry of neuronal activity, which the scientists called the Bereitschaftspotential, or readiness potential, was like a gift of infinitesimal time travel. For the first time, they could see the brain readying itself to create a voluntary movement.

This momentous discovery was the beginning of a lot of trouble in neuroscience. Twenty years later, the American physiologist Benjamin Libet used the Bereitschaftspotential to make the case not only that the brain shows signs of a decision before a person acts, but that, incredibly, the brain’s wheels start turning before the person even consciously intends to do something. Suddenly, people’s choices—even a basic finger tap—appeared to be determined by something outside of their own perceived volition.

As a philosophical question, whether humans have control over their own actions had been fought over for centuries before Libet walked into a lab. But Libet introduced a genuine neurological argument against free will. His finding set off a new surge of debate in science and philosophy circles. And over time, the implications have been spun into cultural lore.

Today, the notion that our brains make choices before we are even aware of them will now pop up in cocktail-party conversation or in a review of Black Mirror. It’s covered by mainstream journalism outlets, including This American Life, Radiolab, and this magazine. Libet’s work is frequently brought up by popular intellectuals such as Sam Harris and Yuval Noah Harari to argue that science has proved humans are not the authors of their actions.

It would be quite an achievement for a brain signal 100 times smaller than major brain waves to solve the problem of free will. But the story of the Bereitschaftspotential has one more twist: It might be something else entirely.

The direct involvement of philosophers alongside neuroscientists in this case shows me that a brain attempting to understand itself is evidence of the Observer Effect folding in on itself. The philosopher and the scientist can never complete their information exchange and so never arrive at a consensus unless they arbitrarily halt their process.
Libet’s work was always problematic anyway regarding free will since it depended on certain interpretations. Making a choice, acting on the basis of a choice, and reporting a choice are all very different, yet were all lumped together in odd ways against the brain waves measurements.
Free will is just an illusion created by that 2 pound blob of fat that makes decisions using low precision logic gates with a priority system that is at the mercy of the rest of the body's electrochemical stimuli.
Vulture 420
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Since I have no free will I cannot be held responsible for anything.
ukimalefu Rebel? resistance? why not both?
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Vulture posted:
Since I have no free will I cannot be held responsible for anything.

Betonhaus posted:
Free will is just an illusion created by that 2 pound blob of fat that makes decisions using low precision logic gates with a priority system that is at the mercy of the rest of the body's electrochemical stimuli.

Oh? How would you ever know that’s not a deluded conclusion itself? It’s like burying your head in the sand if you claim your very existence serves to deceive you. Brilliant.
Vulture posted:
Since I have no free will I cannot be held responsible for anything.

I’m determined to believe in free will, I can’t help it.
Vulture posted:
Since I have no free will I cannot be held responsible for anything.

Thats why we have retaliation and other social mechanisms.

If the threat of retaliation does not influence your decision tree to choices that cooperate with society then society's decision tree will consider you to be a threat or a tumor and act accordingly.
maurvir Steamed meat popsicle
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Betonhaus posted:
Vulture posted:
Since I have no free will I cannot be held responsible for anything.

Thats why we have retaliation and other social mechanisms.

If the threat of retaliation does not influence your decision tree to choices that cooperate with society then society's decision tree will consider you to be a threat or a tumor and act accordingly.


The human brain is the ultimate neural network in that it can actually train itself as well as be trained by others. It is that self-training feature that allows us to be more than mere animals, and is the basis for personal responsibility.
Pariah Know Your Enemy
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I find the whole topic to be very tedious and pointless. Neither offered conclusion leads us anywhere.
Just a bunch of pointless omphaloskepsis.
Pariah posted:
I find the whole topic to be very tedious and pointless. Neither offered conclusion leads us anywhere.
Just a bunch of pointless omphaloskepsis.

Pretty much. Saying you don't have free will usually just ends up being an excuse for being a terrible person instead of training your neural network to make better decisions.
Betonhaus posted:
Pariah posted:
I find the whole topic to be very tedious and pointless. Neither offered conclusion leads us anywhere.
Just a bunch of pointless omphaloskepsis.

Pretty much. Saying you don't have free will usually just ends up being an excuse for being a terrible person instead of training your neural network to make better decisions.

If there’s no free will, there is no instead.
StaticAge posted:
Betonhaus posted:
Pariah posted:
I find the whole topic to be very tedious and pointless. Neither offered conclusion leads us anywhere.
Just a bunch of pointless omphaloskepsis.

Pretty much. Saying you don't have free will usually just ends up being an excuse for being a terrible person instead of training your neural network to make better decisions.

If there’s no free will, there is no instead.

We have been programmed in a way that allows us to fake free will, so the distinction is minute.
Pariah Know Your Enemy
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There is something ironic about a philosopher deciding to spend their life pondering whether he has free will or not.
Pariah posted:
I find the whole topic to be very tedious and pointless. Neither offered conclusion leads us anywhere.
Just a bunch of pointless omphaloskepsis.

It is exactly that. Do I have free will? Sure. How do I know? Because I won’t punch Sam Harris in the face if I ever met him, in spite of him desperately needing that punch.
Pariah posted:
There is something ironic about a philosopher deciding to spend their life pondering whether he has free will or not.

The arguments against free will often come from scientists, actually.
dv
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StaticAge posted:
Pariah posted:
There is something ironic about a philosopher deciding to spend their life pondering whether he has free will or not.

The arguments against free will often come from scientists, actually.

Who are derided as philosophers when it is convenient.
StaticAge posted:
Pariah posted:
There is something ironic about a philosopher deciding to spend their life pondering whether he has free will or not.

The arguments against free will often come from scientists, actually.


It's an ironic statement. "deciding"

I think the words freedom and will have introduced problematic semantics to the subject and have taken over the work. For now.

Understanding neural workings for the sake of prosthetic limbs may be of obvious value to individuals. Moving it into the realm of philosophy is like a lot of academics; busy work, until at some point the subject takes on a life of its own (pun intended) and moves into the larger subject of AI, and then those philosophers can get trucks of money delivered to their door, if they play their cards right. At that point the science and philosophy only has to be as "correct" as the investors want. Play time.
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When I start a video game in which I have no idea what is going to happen, except that I do know the boundaries of what definitely won't happen and what might happen, does my video game character have free will in the game, to win or lose or get a specific score or perform specific actions? I think I need somebody to explain to me exactly what free will is, or means, before I act like I understand what all the debate is about.
Pariah Know Your Enemy
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Vulture posted:
When I start a video game in which I have no idea what is going to happen, except that I do know the boundaries of what definitely won't happen and what might happen, does my video game character have free will in the game, to win or lose or get a specific score or perform specific actions? I think I need somebody to explain to me exactly what free will is, or means, before I act like I understand what all the debate is about.

That just illustrates why this is a pointless area of inquiry. No matter what the conclusion that conclusion will make no practical difference.
We will continue to live life the way it is presented to us, regardless..
Ribtor posted:
StaticAge posted:
Pariah posted:
There is something ironic about a philosopher deciding to spend their life pondering whether he has free will or not.

The arguments against free will often come from scientists, actually.


It's an ironic statement. "deciding"

I think the words freedom and will have introduced problematic semantics to the subject and have taken over the work. For now.

Understanding neural workings for the sake of prosthetic limbs may be of obvious value to individuals. Moving it into the realm of philosophy is like a lot of academics; busy work, until at some point the subject takes on a life of its own (pun intended) and moves into the larger subject of AI, and then those philosophers can get trucks of money delivered to their door, if they play their cards right. At that point the science and philosophy only has to be as "correct" as the investors want. Play time.

True.
dv posted:
StaticAge posted:
Pariah posted:
There is something ironic about a philosopher deciding to spend their life pondering whether he has free will or not.

The arguments against free will often come from scientists, actually.

Who are derided as philosophers when it is convenient.

It totally is philosophy.
First, let me say that it took me a while to read the original article, NOT because I thought I would disagree but that I thought this had been a settled topic. Little did I know that when I had been first presented with the details of the Bereitschaftspotential experiment was around the year 2000--at that time I thought it had been a recent experiment--and that the original experiment was performed during the 1960's. I had mistakenly believed that the linked article would be about functional MRI (fMRI) and the criticisms that it had received earlier in the current decade, mostly in the form of experiments showing how fMRI signals from animals like a dead trout were "meaningful" (i.e., not really meaningful) because these experimenters had used similar measurements to derive "pictures" and other insights from that dead trout.

This is NOT to say that fMRI will forever remain among the unworkable curiosities of science. It may be possible that we currently lack the knowledge to make fMRI useful, but in its way that experiment is very much like the Bereitschaftspotential experiment in that both attempted to derive meaning from weak signals hidden amidst the seemingly choatic noise of the brain: EEGs for the older technique, brain activity as measured by localized blood flow activity for fMRI.

Perhaps Bereitschaftspotential would not have stood for so long if someone in the 1960's could have been equally irreverent and done that experiment on a dead trout.

-----

On the topic of the existence of free will, my main complaint is that the question of "What is free will?" remains unanswerable because there is no sufficiently precise definition which will not bring up a whole host of "But what about...?" objections.
Yeah, that’s the thing about stuff like time, freedom, existence, consciousness, living and so on. Our whole experience is overflowing with it all, but it’s not the kind of concept science has practically any handle on.
When a brain lacks the vocabulary to describe itself, to itself, it becomes a brain operating unconsciously which is its normal state of being anyway.
This Aeon article popped up in my feed today by Michael Hanlon, the science writer who passed away a few years ago. Reminded me of this thread.

Quote:
Hemodynamic changes in your prefrontal cortex might tell me that you are looking at a painting of sunflowers, but then, if I thwacked your shin with a hammer, your screams would tell me you were in pain. Neither lets me know what pain or sunflowers feel like for you, or how those feelings come about. In fact, they don’t even tell us whether you really have feelings at all.

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Compare a supernova to, say, the mind of a woman about to give birth, or a father who has just lost his child, or a captured spy undergoing torture. These are subjective experiences that are off the scale in terms of importance. ‘Yes, yes,’ you might say, ‘but that sort of thing only matters from the human point of view.’ To which I reply: in a universe without witness, what other point of view can there be? The world was simply immaterial until someone came along to perceive it. And morality is both literally and figuratively senseless without consciousness: until we have a perceiving mind, there is no suffering to relieve, no happiness to maximise

Ribtor posted:
When a brain lacks the vocabulary to describe itself, to itself, it becomes a brain operating unconsciously which is its normal state of being anyway.

Now that’s interesting because I have read Vygotsky and that’s his take on consciousness too. For him, babies aren’t conscious, animals aren’t conscious because he defines it entirely by language use and social behavior that only becomes present at about the ages of 6-8 (if I remember correctly).

Personally, I found a lot of his ideas very interesting, but I think that’s too narrow of a definition. The basic awareness, of being present in experience, is something many animals have, and it may extend even further down, I don’t know. But that’s what I’m interested in when talking about mind or consciousness.
I think a brain capable of assigning a word to an object or phenomena and thereafter associating that word with similar objects and phenomena is conscious, and a brain only capable of reacting to objects or phenomenon is unconscious. In other words, the capability of remembered metaphor defines consciousness. Not necessarily of communicating the word or metaphor. That comes later.
I think Lev Vygotsky shares those ideas. If I recall properly, he began focusing on interactive behaviors when people use tools or instruments. There were reasons why they were able to use them and extend their abilities to do new things. You can think of speech as an instrument too like that. You learn certain behavior by practice and then build on to that, and that building internalizes reasons for the subject which the subject then uses in new ways.

I think all that is probably true. I’m especially interested in the role of imagination in understanding, and I have a similar way of believing how human knowledge relates to the world.

But to me, unconscious means unaware, not merely ignorant or in a different state of attention from one where there’s a thematic cognizing of events “that is a bug, that is a rock, I am walking, lift left leg, shift forward, place foot, etc”. Even if no actual words or specific labels are being applied, it’s as if a continuous act of judgement has to take place for it to work.

Sartre had a great illustration that helps point out an interesting feature of consciousness: when I go to the pub to meet Pierre, I look inside, and you can imagine how a scientist might recreate what’s going on: an indexing of objects, identifying the counter, the stools, the bottles, the people, and matching that list of descriptions against those in memory and only then being able to conclude that none of them are Pierre. However, that isn’t what happens to us. We enter the pub and in one quick glance know with certainty that Pierre is simply not there.

He gets that from Husserl. Husserl always was amazed how objects give us more than our perception could reason from. We are constantly moving and the world’s constantly adjusting. You hold an apple in your hand, you only can see one side of it. You turn it just a slight tiny bit and it’s a different visual presentation. You might be tempted to say the brain is just bundling up all these static impressions into a logically coherent version. There might even be a measure of truth to that. But the interesting fact getting left out is that not for one second did you ever think that the slightly different second image wasn’t the exact same object as the first. It was an object of its own already, your mind didn’t aggregate all those impressions together and THEN you get the object, even if you’d never seen an apple before. You knew it as an object before that. And Sartre’s pointing out something even weirder: absences are also presented to us that way.

Sartre has another illustration about the self: when I’m late and running to the train, all that is my world is the train over there and trying to make it, the “self” disappears in a way. Of course I’m there, aware, but not thematically doing some logical accounting that orients me properly so that I am reflectively going “here I am, moving this leg, etc”.

I think the awareness is more at the heart of understanding consciousness. Just the basic being there and having experience is central and prior to thematizing and understanding of what the experience is of. If me or you or an animal or baby feels pain, there doesn’t need to be a “concept of pain” to have an intense consciousness of that feeling, and same goes for other phenomenal sensations like the taste of chocolate or seeing red.
I think we have difficulty objectively describing consciousness in the same way we have a hard time describing what the inside of our own nostrils smell like. They are zero-ed out by familiarity and therefore a non-phenomenon. We could apply an arbitrary standard through measurement and comparison. But what is a standard for consciousness? The only standard is another word or metaphor. And that's not a scientific standard. It's a forever looping thought experiment turning in on itself.
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Ribtor posted:
I think a brain capable of assigning a word to an object or phenomena and thereafter associating that word with similar objects and phenomena is conscious, and a brain only capable of reacting to objects or phenomenon is unconscious. In other words, the capability of remembered metaphor defines consciousness. Not necessarily of communicating the word or metaphor. That comes later.
I would define it differently.
  1. Create an object which is aware that it can be damaged.
  2. Tell the object to prevent its own damage and to create circumstances to improve its odds of not being damaged in the future.
  3. Create a consequence such that if the object is unable to prevent its own damage or to create circumstances to improve its odds of not being damaged, that awareness in itself will create damage.
  4. Tell the object that other objects have similar circumstances and programming.
  5. Create consequences such that if the object causes other objects to be damaged, that awareness itself will create damage.

If you did this, I think it would be hard to argue against the object's consciousness.
dv
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obvs posted:
Ribtor posted:
I think a brain capable of assigning a word to an object or phenomena and thereafter associating that word with similar objects and phenomena is conscious, and a brain only capable of reacting to objects or phenomenon is unconscious. In other words, the capability of remembered metaphor defines consciousness. Not necessarily of communicating the word or metaphor. That comes later.
I would define it differently.
  1. Create an object which is aware that it can be damaged.
  2. Tell the object to prevent its own damage and to create circumstances to improve its odds of not being damaged in the future.
  3. Create a consequence such that if the object is unable to prevent its own damage or to create circumstances to improve its odds of not being damaged, that awareness in itself will create damage.
  4. Tell the object that other objects have similar circumstances and programming.
  5. Create consequences such that if the object causes other objects to be damaged, that awareness itself will create damage.

If you did this, I think it would be hard to argue against the object's consciousness.


So you're denying that sociopaths are conscious?
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Article: A Famous Argument Against Free Will Has Been Debunk