Talk:Free will

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edit·history·watch·refresh Stock post message.svg To-do list for Free will:

Here are some tasks you can do:
  • Cleanup: According to Tesseract2 (talk · contribs), since September 2010 "There is excess information - links and briefer summaries are needed"
  • Expand:
    • Lead
    • Other:
    • Balance of religious material okay? Mention the argument from free will in the article?
    • Seek external peer review and feedback
    • Diagram accurate?
    • Beyond this article:
      • Work on subarticles such as free will in theology
      • A page on Wikiquote might be appropriate
      • Disambiguation suggestion: the 1993 film "Free Willy"


"Conjectured" and "intuition"[edit]

Regarding today's edits, I want to weigh in that I am OK with some kind of qualifying word like "conjectured" being put where it was put, though I don't think that one is really the best word. "Supposed" or "purported" sounds much better to my ear. If Snowded or someone thinks that's weasley I'm not dead set on it, but I think something like it is OK.

I am also OK with something like the clarification of "whether that is true", though I'm not sure that "that" -> "that intuition" is quite accurate, as it's not so much the intuition that we're talking about being true, but the proposition "we have free will", which is the content of that intuition. On the whole we're saying, of the proposition that we have free will, that is is commonly intuited, but has been widely debated. "That intuition" is ok... ish... but if there's a better way to word it, that'd be preferable. --Pfhorrest (talk) 05:33, 23 March 2014 (UTC)

I really don't see the need for any qualification. The title of the article is "Free Will" so we describe what that means, We then go on to say that it is a controversial issue. Even on pseudo-science articles we don't qualify the initial description of the subject. ----Snowded TALK 06:28, 23 March 2014 (UTC)
I think the proposed change to the first sentence is both unnecessary and too weasely.—Machine Elf 1735 15:51, 23 March 2014 (UTC)
1. The sentence:
"Though it is a commonly-held intuition that we have free will,[3] it has been widely debated throughout history not only whether that intuition is true, but even how to define the concept of free will.[4]"
has a clear meaning, but Pfhorrest thinks it should mean something else entirely, namely:
"Though it is a commonly-held intuition that we have free will,[3] how to define the concept of free will has been debated throughout history.[4]"
which also is clear, but says something quite different. I'd vote for this last version.
2. Although Pfhorrest is in agreement with a qualifier, Snowded is not. The first sentence says:
"Free will is the ability of agents to make choices unconstrained by certain factors."
Snowded and MachineElf say there is no need to insert some qualifier as in:
"Free will is the xxx ability of agents to make choices unconstrained by certain factors."
where xxx could be 'supposed', 'putative', 'conjectured', 'often-assumed', 'purported', or some other adjective indicating that this 'ability' may or may not exist. In my opinion, clearly not that of Snowded or MachineElf, is that it is a belief in this "ability of agents" that is widespread, and the object of this belief, the ability itself, is conjectural, with many authors clearly expressing doubt that it is a real ability at all, and others that it is available only under restricting circumstances. The first sentence should not be interpretable as saying that this ability is something real and available.
So far, only Snowded's and MachineElf's personal preference is offered, without supporting reasoning, to explain why it is good form to have a beginning sentence that is easily misread as asserting the existence of a (most probably) mythical 'ability'. The rest of the article is properly introduced by adding an adjective that suggests discussion should take place. What is wrong with an adjective identifying the obvious uncertainty about this 'ability'?
Therefore, I agree with Pfhorrest on this one, and disagree with Snowded and MachineElf entirely: some xxx is necessary. Brews ohare (talk) 16:11, 23 March 2014 (UTC)
The article is about Free Will, so we defined it as such. We then go on to say that some people don't thing we have it/ Per my comment on pseudo-science articles above this is not a personal preference, it is the way wikipedia works. I am not at home to check my reference books but I doubt they qualify the term. ----Snowded TALK 18:15, 23 March 2014 (UTC)
There is no policy about this: so an argument is necessary to support a choice. The subject is better served with the adjective, as already explained. Brews ohare (talk) 20:21, 23 March 2014 (UTC)
I'm pretty sure its in one of these style guides but lets see if you get any support before we waste anymore time on this ----Snowded TALK 23:44, 23 March 2014 (UTC)
Pfhorrest is in support, I am in support; we have a simple argument in support. You and MachineElf have a preference based upon your personal aesthetic, and no reason for opposition. Please get around to reasons. Brews ohare (talk) 00:38, 24 March 2014 (UTC)
You have weak support from Pfhorrest and two editors opposed. Reasons have been given you just don't like them. if other editors come in support of you then it may be worth the effort to repeat and elaborate arguments already provided. ----Snowded TALK 05:43, 24 March 2014 (UTC)
"Repeat and elaborate 'arguments'?" All you have so far is your single argument based upon your undocumented report that in "pseudo-science articles we don't qualify the initial description of the subject". Now the topic of 'free will' might be seen as pseudo-science by some, but apparently not by philosophers. And if 'free will' is not pseudo-science, your example fails. And, of course, there is no WP policy suggesting an easily misinterpreted lead sentence is good practice. Your opposition to adding one or another of a half-dozen possible adjectives indicating every preferred shade of uncertainty is simply obstruction for the sake of being obstructive. Brews ohare (talk) 15:25, 24 March 2014 (UTC)
Brews (i) cool it, you are subject to WP:Civil like anyone else (ii) I said that even on pseudo-science articles we don't qualify and (iii) it is not misleading, you are simply over elaborating and over complicating (iv) STOP edit warring, you know you don't have agreement, wait until you do (v) note that (i) means that (iv) gets less and less likely ----Snowded TALK 16:44, 24 March 2014 (UTC)
Sorry about that: "Even on pseudo-science articles we don't qualify the initial description of the subject". An even wider claim even harder to document and unsupported by policy. Brews ohare (talk) 18:23, 24 March 2014 (UTC)
Brews, you haven't succeeded in making this a pseudoscience article yet.—Machine Elf 1735 18:36, 24 March 2014 (UTC)
LOL ----Snowded TALK 18:40, 24 March 2014 (UTC)
We may have to bring in new eyes on this behavior. Really poor form boys. Brews ohare (talk) 23:59, 24 March 2014 (UTC)
Please do it would be interesting ----Snowded TALK 04:26, 25 March 2014 (UTC)
I want to add that I agree with Snowded and Machine Elf's arguments about why a qualifier is not necessary. I do think that qualifiers like that should be permissible, in this and other articles, precisely because it would assuage people like Brews here on topics like this, but I'm not going to argue that it needs to be included, I just think it wouldn't hurt anything and if it ends an argument without causing any problems why not. (This is, again, a general principle of mine, not a special exception I'm making for this article).
On a different note, Brews wrote that he thinks I think the second paragraph should begin "Though it is a commonly-held intuition that we have free will,[3] how to define the concept of free will has been debated throughout history.[4]" That's not what I'm saying (and I've reverted the recent change to say that). I think that sentence is saying three thing:
  • Of the proposition that we have free will:
    • It is commonly intuited, and
    • It has been debated throughout history.
  • Also, what "free will" even means has been debated throughout history too.
If we let "F(we)" mean "we have free will", the sentence as it stands now means "Though it is a commonly-held intuition that F(we), not only [the question of whether F(we) is true], but even [how to define the function F()] has been debated throughout history." I still can't believe I need to parse a simple English sentence out piece by piece like this. --Pfhorrest (talk) 07:33, 25 March 2014 (UTC)
Thanks for your clarification, that you do not find reference to a seemingly extant 'ability of agents' suggests that there is in fact such an ability. I'll accept that this is the majority opinion, though it is, in my view, a prejudicial beginning sentence favoring one position.
As for the second point, I believe my wording:
"Though it is a commonly-held intuition that we have free will,[3] how to define the concept of free will has been debated throughout history.[4]"
says the same thing without the mare's nest of introducing what 'true' means. (Is it verifiable? Actually, definitively not, at least for parties in the secular domain.) After all, if the definition is unresolvable, how can one get on with the truth of it all, eh? Because we both find the other's formulation unclear, I guess we're both mistaken, eh? Brews ohare (talk) 16:23, 25 March 2014 (UTC)
As I've clarified several times already, nothing I've written anywhere is talking at all about a definition being true. It's talking about the proposition "we have free will" being true (or not), just like one clause earlier it's talking about that proposition being commonly intuited. And then we're also talking about what "free will" means. If we wanted to sound like third graders who don't know how to write compound sentences, we could write:
  • "It is commonly intuited that we have free will. It has been debated throughout history whether we have free will. It has been debated throughout history what 'free will' means."
But because we're grownups writing for grownups and this isn't Simple English Wikipedia, we can connect those together into clauses of one sentence:
  • "It is commonly intuited that we have free will, but it{i.e. something about to be named} has been debated throughout history not only {i.e. in addition to something else to be named right after that} whether that is true [that we have free will]{this is the 'it'}, but{here comes the something else} [it has] even [been debated throughout history] what 'free will' means."
I think the problem is that you can't parse compound sentences or paragraphs very well, and halfway through a complicated bit of writing you lose track of what was going on. --Pfhorrest (talk) 06:43, 26 March 2014 (UTC)
Pfhorrest: It should be evident that however wonderful you think your sentence is, it isn't wonderful. Simple changes in wording would make a transparent statement with your meaning, and there is no reason other than an inordinate fondness for your own words to resist rewriting it. As for saying you are not saying a 'definition' is 'true', but are saying instead that a 'proposition' is 'true', that is not the case. A proposition is 'true' when it is shown to state a tautology, as in "the sum of the angles in a triangle is 180°", which follows from the definitions of 'triangle' and 'degree' and the posited axioms of geometry. As you know, this is not an empirical statement. The statement "we have free will" is not of the 'true' or 'false' kind. It is in fact neither a logical nor an empirical statement, but complete nonsense. The words 'we have' suggest an empirical claim, which cannot be 'true' or 'false' in the sense of tautology, and 'free will' cannot be defined in a way that makes the statement "We have free will" empirically testable. Brews ohare (talk) 14:17, 26 March 2014 (UTC)
My resistance is that your suggested changes change the meaning, they don't clarify it. Most recently, you removed the part about it being debated whether or not we have free will. That debate is even older than the definitional debate. It is the more important part of the sentence, and you removed it completely.
Everything else in this paragraph... I don't know where to begin. A proposition is not only a mathematical or logical statement. "The sun will rise at 6AM tomorrow" is a proposition, and an empirically testable one. (I have no idea if it's true or not, and it's very context-dependent for meaning anyway). So is "2+2=7" (a logical proposition, and a false one). You apparently don't understand what that word "proposition" means.
And your claim The statement "we have free will" is not of the 'true' or 'false' kind. It is in fact neither a logical nor an empirical statement, but complete nonsense is, to put it politely, a highly biased point of view, that is absolutely inappropriate for the article's own voice. (Though find someone notable who has such a view and it can be included, attributed to them, in the appropriate section, of course. In fact I think there already a few in there). --Pfhorrest (talk) 07:40, 27 March 2014 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────Pfhorrest: You are a bit excited. I agree that the statement "The sun will rise at 6AM tomorrow" is empirically testable. I agree that "2+2=7" is a proposition of the true/false sort, true if it is tautologically true. I have no idea why you propose I am confused about this. The statement "we have free will" is not testable until we have an agreed meaning for 'free will' that can be connected to an experiment. That might be possible for Dehaene's meaning of 'free will' in that programs can be verified to exist that have control (of some kind, say an autopilot) over other programs. But I'd say that for the most part, free will definitions do not have real world attachments that can be tested. You can't prove they apply and you can't prove they don't. Most arguments about 'free will' are either disputes over logical connections between terms (e.g. whether some definition of 'free will' is logically consistent with some hypothetical view of 'natural law'), or disputes about what best fits our intuitions about free will, which 'fit' certainly is not about evidence that holds up in a lab. I don't think that is a highly biased view. And the statement "we have free will" is definitely not a statement that can be assessed as tautologically true or false. The words "we have" in my mind suggest a real-world validity, not anything assessable from a logical standpoint. I see you are angry with me, but do we really disagree about any of this? Brews ohare (talk) 16:15, 27 March 2014 (UTC)

My exasperation at your last response was the claim that "we have free will" is not a proposition just because it's not a logical, mathematical kind of proposition that can be shown a priori as either tautological or inconsistent. There are all kinds of propositions, some of them that kind, many of them (like most empirically testable ones) not. It doesn't matter for this point what kind "we have free will" is; it's still a proposition. A claim. An assertion. Or more precisely it's what is claimed or asserted, and likewise what we say is intuited in the first part of the sentence in question. You seem to be reading way more into the word "proposition" than is ever meant.
All of the rest of this is a meaningless digression. People do argue about whether we have free will or not. I can't believe that's even in question. Yes, a lot of those arguments include arguments about whether it is logically consistent with some other proposition (like the one we refer to as "determinism"), but then they proceed to take stances on whether that in turn is true or not, and consequently whether we have free will or not. Yes, there are other arguments about what the term "free will" means, which factor in to the arguments about logical consistency with other propositions, to show those other arguments to be valid or invalid, and even if they show those other arguments to be invalid, many of the positions about what "free will" mean still leave open a question about whether we have the thing meant by that term. All of the arguments center primarily about whether "we have free will" is true or not; the arguments about what "free will" means are ancillary to those. You cannot honestly claim that there have been no arguments about whether we have free will. But your latest change removed that claim, and left only the claim that we commonly intuit that we have it, and the claim that there have been arguments about what it means, leaving out the claim that there've been arguments about whether we have it. That's not OK. That is important. That's what a huge chunk of the article is about. It can't be omitted. I assumed that was a mistake on your part, not realizing what you had unintentionally done, but now it sounds like you meant it and I'm rather incredulous about that. --Pfhorrest (talk) 01:48, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
Well, perhaps we are farther apart than I thought, which is probably why we should stick to reporting published works and not trying to agree between us. You remark that "All of the arguments center primarily about whether 'we have free will' is true or not" strikes me as peculiar in the light of your subsequent remark that "the arguments about what 'free will' means are ancillary to those". Given that it is hard to debate whether we live on a planet until we have agreed on what a planet is, that sounds confusing. It sounds like we are regressing to argument about the content of the intuited free will, which is like debating one's taste in olives: Chacun à son goût; a very different matter than establishing facts or logical consistency. Probably the difficulty here is that we don't know how to phrase the situation so we both understand it. So it is better to stick to what Vargas says, or Dehaene says, or what Pinker says and not get involved in pontification. Provided we stick close to the authors' words, we should be able to agree that Vargas says this, James says that, and so forth. Brews ohare (talk) 02:29, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
I suppose there are two ways one could frame which debate is "ancillary" and which is "central", by logical priority or chronological priority. You're right that defining terms is logically prior to answering questions phrased in those terms. But chronologically, the debate about free will begins with people arguing over whether we have it or not, a question phrased initially in ambiguous terms, but as the terms get defined more precisely in the process of conducting that argument, a subsequent argument breaks out about how best to define those terms. That has to be answered before we can answer the question phrased in those terms, but we were having the argument about that question before the question of definition arose, and we care about getting the definition straight so that we can move on to answering the more substantial question. ("We" here meaning the interlocutors of the global, historical discourse, not you and I in particular).
Anyway the point is that there is an argument over facts, not only over definitions, and we need to mention that, no matter which is "ancillary" to the other. (And yes, there are some who say "there is no fact of this matter, either way", but that doesn't negate that there is still an argument over facts taking place, it's just seen as a misguided one by those people).
And of course we stick to saying what the different sources say, when we're discussing at length all the details of the different positions. But we can't help but summarize in the lede, so we need to agree on an accurate summary. --Pfhorrest (talk) 06:35, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
The main question of fact is whether the first sentence of the introduction identifying an ability refers to an extant entity or an imagined one. On that basis, and with Dehaene's machines with 'free will' in mind, I'd suggest a follow-on like:
"Free will is the ability of agents to make choices unconstrained by certain factors. Controversy prevails over whether this 'ability' actually exists or is a mistaken intuition, and whether this 'ability' is found only among humans, or is also an 'ability' of other life forms and even machines. If free will is in fact a real ability, there is also question about the circumstances under which it functions, in particular, whether it is limited by certain factors."
From there we go on to the second sentence of the leading paragraph. Brews ohare (talk) 13:22, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
I'm ok with most of your additions here as far as accuracy goes, but the last sentence confuses what the current second sentence is on about, and from that same confusion, the placement of these new additions where you've put them breaks up a train of thought that would be one sentence if it weren't so long.
The stuff about constraints is about the different kinds of definitions proposed. It's a short overview of different kinds of positions on what "free will" means. It's not about the question "Assuming free will exists, do any of these things limit it?" It's about the question "When we say 'free' will, what do we mean 'free' from?" As you just said a few responses above, that definitional question logically precedes the question of fact, so it cannot presume an answer to it, because it (the question of fact) cannot even be asked properly without an answer to it (the definitional question).
With that objection stated, the rest of that seems OK for inclusion somewhere in the article, after the first two sentences. (Think of them as one sentence. They used to be, until addition after addition made it too long, and it got broken up for readability). It seems fit to be merged with the current first sentence of the second paragraph what we've been discussing here, which is largely about the same thing. I'm not sure that the digression about whether only humans have it is due weight at that point in the lede though, as we haven't by that point limited the discussion to humans only, so we're not ruling that position out, but by far the bulk of the literature is about the free will of humans, so I think explicitly bringing up nonhumans in the lede would be undue weight.
So we're basically back to arguing about whether the current first sentence of the second paragraph is OK or not, I guess. --Pfhorrest (talk) 07:45, 29 March 2014 (UTC)
I agree with your distinction between "the question 'Assuming free will exists, do any of these things limit it?' " and the question "When we say 'free' will, what do we mean 'free' from?". The first is framed as an empirical issue, and could involve (as an example) whether drugs inhibit one's capacity to exercise the ability of 'free will' supposing that to be a real ability. It is answered on the empirical basis (for instance) that subjects who profess a decision to break addiction cannot do it. The second is an academic issue about what words mean, and has nothing to do with whether the subject has any factual content.
Which aspect, the empirical questions or the linguistic questions, are of more interest? Or, should both be accommodated in the lede?
At the moment, the lede suggests several kinds of constraints, of which religious, ethical, legal, scientific, compulsions, phobias and so on all seem to be empirically verifiable constraints upon one's abilities to exercise decisions. The 'metaphysical constraints' I'd suggest, have no empirical content.
Right now the preponderance of the lede leans to the empirical, not the metaphysical. Possibly the metaphysical issue raised is not the linguistic issues found in the article, but the question of whether a subjective report of a professed desire to do something and the subsequent observation of the attempt to execute that decision in a prescribed environment is a suitable formulation of what we mean by 'free will' and constraints upon it. Brews ohare (talk) 15:57, 29 March 2014 (UTC)
That lab formulation seems to work for some cases, like the execution of a professed desire to walk across the room is observed to be constrained by being tied to a chair. Tax laws constrain which investments are made following a decision to invest. Religion constrains which church one attends. Maybe it works for addiction as well, where brain scans show dopamine production affects ability to exercise professed decisions. Maybe there are hypothetical cases where this approach can't work that philosophers can argue about for millennia? For example, Libet's experiments have been interpreted as showing the professed desire to lift a finger is initiated following some of the steps in the brain's activity causing the finger to lift. That might be a metaphysical issue, or it might be an issue of experimental design. Brews ohare (talk) 16:22, 29 March 2014 (UTC)

Does Dehaene refer to 'determinism' with regard to free will?[edit]

Pfhorrest's view is that compatibilists can define 'free will' themselves without referring to 'determinism', although it is clear (apparently) that compatibilism is defined as 'the belief that determinism doesn't matter'.

Thus, oddly, a group who need never think about determinism are defined not by what they do think, but by a concept that they need never use.

The question has arisen as to whether some compatibilists actually do define free will using the concept of determinism. And in particular, is Dehaene such a one? The possibility of such a group of compatibilists probably is more important than whether Dehaene is one of them, but here is an attempt to classify Dehaene's work:

Pfhorrest has characterized Dehaene as follows:

″When he states how he defined free will, he says ′Our belief in free will expresses the idea that, under the right circumstances, we have the ability to guide our decisions by our higher order thoughts, beliefs, values, and past experiences, and to exert control over our undesired lower level impulses'. Where in there does he mention determinism, or anything like it, at all? Later he says 'Our brain states are clearly not uncaused and do not escape the laws of physics - nothing does. But our decisions are genuinely free whenever they are based upon conscious deliberation' That is again not a statement of definition of free will, it is an acceptance that something at least determinism-like applies to our brains, but that that's not a problem because free will isn't about being undetermined, it's about conscious deliberation.″

Let's see; where does Dehaene mention determinism? In the paragraphs preceding Pfhorrest's quote he says:

"To some people, a machine with free will is a contradiction in terms, because machines are deterministic; their behavior is determined by their internal organization and their initial state...They cannot deviate from the causal chain that is dictated by their physical organization. This determinism seems to leave no room for personal freedom."

He then quote Lucretius: "if atoms never swerve so as to originate some new movement that will snap the bonds of fate, the everlasting sequence of cause and effect - what is the source of the free will possessed by living things..."

Thus is 'determinism' defined. He proceeds to the modern day and discusses Penrose's, "fanciful view of the brain as a quantum computer" and other "baroque proposals" to escape this dilemma proposed by Lucretius.

He then says: "When we discuss 'free will', we mean a much more interesting form of freedom [than those just discussed]." He goes on to describe 'higher functions' in the quote that Pfhorrest has mentioned. He then says:

"This conception of free will [guiding our decisions by our higher-level thoughts] ...can be implemented in a standard computer. Our global neuronal workspace allows us to collect all the necessary information...and eventually use this internal reflection to guide our actions. This is what we call a willed decision."
"In thinking about free will, we therefore need to sharply distinguish two intuitions about our decisions: their fundamental indeterminacy (a dubious idea) and their autonomy (a respectable notion). Our brain states are clearly not uncaused and do not escape the laws of physics - nothing does. But our decisions are genuinely free when they are based on a conscious deliberation that proceeds autonomously, without any impediment...When this occurs, we are correctly speaking of a voluntary decision - even if it is, of course, ultimately caused by our genes, our life history, and the value functions they have inscribed in our neuronal circuits. ...What counts is the autonomous decision making."
"In my opinion, a machine with free will is therefore not a contradiction in terms, just a shorthand description of what we are. ..Even if our brain architecture were fully deterministic, as a computer might be, it would still be legitimate to say that it exercises a form of free will. Whenever a neuronal architecture exhibits autonomy and deliberation, we are right in calling it "a free mind" - and once we reverse-engineer it, we will learn to mimic it in artificial machines."
"In brief, neither qualia nor free will seems to pose a serious philosophical problem for the conscious machine. Reaching the end of our journey into consciousness and the brain, we realize how carefully we should treat our intuitions of what a complex neuronal machinery can achieve.[...]
"The neuronal code that results from this crossing of genetic rules, past experiences,...is unique to each person. Its immense number of states creates a rich world of inner experiences, linked to the environment but not imposed by it. Subjective feelings...correspond to stable neuronal attractors in this dynamic landscape. They are inherently subjective, because the dynamics of the brain [...add..] a layer of personal experience to raw sensory inputs... a conscious inner world....As you close this book to ponder your own existence, ignited assemblies of neurons literally make up your mind"

So what is Dehaene's position? Does he use 'determinism' to define his concept of 'free will'. Let's say at the outset that Dehaene's definition of determinism seems to be that of Lucretius, while Dehaene discusses a somewhat different version he calls 'obeying the laws of physics'. I regard this distinction as a mere technicality , and lump both into the term 'determinism'. I'd also say at the outset that Dehaene is not very clear.

Dehaene imagines a complicated computer that works according to the 'laws of physics', but can have 'free will' (in Dehaene's sense of exercising supervisory decisions) because it can run its own programs by itself, even though the objectives of those programs have been coded into it and it doesn't originate these goals, but must pursue them. All it can do is choose an optimal path toward their achievement, but in doing that it might develop its own algorithms for optimization. Dehaene defines 'free will' as the unimpeded supervision of the running of the programs, that is, I'd guess, there are no power failures and no outside techie hitting the escape key or loading new instructions. Dehaene says the machine can have "experiences" that are not imposed by its environment. He doesn't say these experiences count for anything, they are just "experiences", perhaps just an epiphenomenon. He also doesn't say that these "experiences" are part of free will, because that is defined in the third-person as unimpeded supervisory operation.

So, when Dehaene says 'free will' is the unimpeded exercise of supervisory decisions in a deterministic system, is the addition "in a deterministic system" an essential part of this definition? I'd say so, because he goes into this aspect at length, and because without this caveat (IMO) Dehaene has nothing to say. Pfhorrest would not, and would suggest that any elaboration about the deterministic nature of the system is there not because of its necessity, but because one has to deal with the nuisance of incompatibilists. Brews ohare (talk) 17:34, 26 March 2014 (UTC)

The key point here Brews is that he never says "'free will' is the unimpeded exercise of supervisory decisions in a deterministic system". He says free will is the unimpeded exercise of supervisory decisions. Then he says that that kind of program can be implemented in a deterministic system; that it doesn't need the kind of quantum indeterminacy that others claim is needed. The modal operators there ("can", "need") are very important. He is replying to claims that indeterminacy is needed, and saying that the conception of free will employed by the people who make those claims is wrong. He then gives his own conception of it, and points out how free will thus conceived has no problem with determinism. That is very different from him defining free will in reference to (i.e. in terms of) determinism himself. This is the usual pattern of all compatibilists. Of course he goes into the non-necessity of determinism at length: the reason he has something to say is to clear up a widespread misunderstanding, namely that of the incompatibilists he is arguing against.
Your argument is like saying that Dawkins defines evolution in terms of intelligent design because he talks about intelligent design at length in The Blind Watchmaker. The point of that book is to argue against intelligent design, so of course he's going to talk at length about it -- to say why it's an unnecessary and unjustified theory. Dehaene (and compatibilists in general) discuss determinism at length for similar reasons. --Pfhorrest (talk) 07:15, 27 March 2014 (UTC)
That is how I felt you would see this matter Pfhorrest. I think the suggestion made by Dehaene that a brain or a computer, one that is fully deterministic in the sense that dismayed Lucretius, can readily exercise free will, even though its goals and its every internal event are determined that way, does make sense if you define "free will" as Dehaene means it: namely that a central program has 'free will' when it 'decides' which subroutine is to be used. In simple terms, an "if" statement in a program like if x > x0, then use subroutine 1; else, use subroutine 2 embodies that governing statement with free will. It can 'decide' either way. Another 'higher level' program with greater 'free will' might set the threshold x0 based upon some sensor input.
Now of course, in the context of whether such a view defines 'free will' without mentioning determinism, you are completely on target in saying it does accomplish that. On the other hand, one can ask how anybody can think that this definition of 'free will' connects to the subject of free will as normally understood: Is Dehaene actually talking about free will? For example, acts partly free from causal antecedents prior to deciding to do them?1 Is 'free will' something we can handle like Humpty Dumpty, who can make his words mean whatever he likes? Or does Dehaene have to put it in the context of determinism just to be on subject? Is the definition of compatibilism actually right on if it defines compatibilism as the 'disbelief in the relevance of 'determinism' to 'free will'? If so, a compatibilist must argue the case for irrelevance, why 'free will' as construed with reference to determinism is not the interesting subject, and we should move on. Do we agree about that? Brews ohare (talk) 16:38, 27 March 2014 (UTC)
See also Entscheidungsproblem and Church–Turing thesis#History.—Machine Elf 1735 21:10, 27 March 2014 (UTC)
I'm not even sure what you think we're disagreeing about now.
I have no disagreement with Dehaene's own position (not that it would matter if I did). As I've said before my own view on free will is extremely similar to his. So I'm not sure where you're going with that first paragraph. Are you just arguing that Dehaene's view is plausible? I don't need convincing of that, and even if I did, it wouldn't matter; whether I think a view is plausible isn't important here. All that's important is whether we're accurately reporting what the view is.
You agree that Dehaene succeeds in defining "free will" without mentioning determinism, which is the only reason we were having this conversation, so I guess we're done here? You previously objected to the way the article currently says that compatibilists define free will without reference to determinism, and raised Dehaene as a counterexample. Now you agree that Dehaene does define free will without reference to determinism, so... hurray? We're good?
And just for clarity on my position: I don't think a compatibilist has to present actual arguments against the relevancy of determinism "just to be on subject". A compatibilist has to be of such an opinion that were it brought up, he would say it was irrelevant. And much of the reason compatibilists bother talking about it is to counter all the many other people who say it is relevant. But someone could, say, just be doing neurological or psychological research into whether we have the kind of mental or brain function that Dehaene says would count as free will, and only mention that that is what they mean by "free will", that's what they're looking for, and then just go on to say what they found, and never mention determinism. --Pfhorrest (talk) 02:09, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
Pfhorrest: Your last paragraph addresses my point, which is that a compatitibilist can define 'free will' anyway they wish; it is only a word, as Humpty Dumpty says. But an arbitrary definition does not engage with others discussing 'free will' unless a connection can be pointed out. Hence the interest of the compatibilist in explaining why 'determinism' is not relevant to 'free will': he wants to play with the team, not practice behind the garage. Brews ohare (talk) 02:45, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
The definitions proposed by compatibilists are not arbitrary, but rather all aim (as the incompatibilist definition does) to capture more formally our intuitive conception that our will is, in some important way or another, free, at least some of the time. If incompatibilists were no so historically significant, there would be no need for a term "compatibilism" under which to group everyone who disagrees with them, and there might instead be a bunch of cross arguments between different positions on what "free will" means. E.g. there might be an argument between Hobbes and Frankfurt (if they were contemporaries) about who is less free of will: the sane, rational man who is barred into a room and cannot leave it even if he chooses to, or the agoraphobic who could walk out the door if he chose to but is unable to bring himself to make that choice no matter how much he thinks he should. (Note that neither of them is arguing about determinism, which is the point).
It's only because of historical circumstances that compatibilists need a name to describe them collectively and need so often to engage in debates about why they are not incompatibilists (i.e. why they don't think determinism is a threat to free will). They don't need to do that to be what they are, and they don't need to do that to state their definitions of free will. They do need to do that to engage in the ongoing discourse about whether incompatibilism is correct or not, but someone might be a compatibilist and be uninterested in arguing about it, and just dismiss incompatibilists and not bother talking to them; the same way one could be an atheist, not only by arguing against the existence of God all the time, but just by ignoring theists and their claims and carrying on not worrying about God.
Anyway, I'm not sure where this leaves us with regards to the article. Are you now OK with the way the intro to the lede summary of compatibilism is phrased? --Pfhorrest (talk)
Yes, but I have made a proposal for the main article's introduction above. Although further discussion may be pointless, I'll outline my views below.
Although there is a long history behind the term compatibilism, IMO there is a very basic issue here that is still alive and needs to be addressed. It is addressed by Dehaene and most others. That issue is how the concept of 'free will' can be accommodated to the notion of 'laws of nature'. The issue is that the 'laws of nature' suggest that the way events operate in the Universe at large includes humans, so they aren't special. So the root of the matter is one of reductionism,(see Vargas) and if reductionism is overblown, as I'd say many think is the case, then there is no need to think that the 'laws of nature' apply to humans. (For example, the 'laws of nature' are a human construction made for certain purposes that explicitly exclude the subjectivity involved in their invention, but that are unfortunately a creature of that subjectivity themselves. See Kuhn.) The resistance to reductionism is the real origin of compatibilism, and the Dehaene approach of defining 'free will' in a manner compatible with reductionism is a cop out because it doesn't recognize the role of subjectivity in theory creation and adoption, thereby begging the question. Brews ohare (talk) 13:40, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
From these comments, I'm still unclear on whether you understand the difference between compatibilists and metaphysical libertarians.
Both of them say that we have free will, and that determinism does not limit our free will.
  • Libertarians say that that's because determinism is false, as in, not universally true; at the very least that it doesn't apply to us, if it applies to anything.
  • Compatibilists say instead that it's because free will isn't the kind of thing that determinism is a threat to. Determinism could be true, or not, and we could have free will either way.
To put it in the language of reductionism as you use there:
  • Libertarians are the ones who would be likely to say that we have free will because we are somehow especially exempt from the same kinds of laws that govern the rest of the universe.
  • Compatibilists instead would have no problem with us being the same kind of ordinary things as anything else in the universe, differing only in that the kind of 'machines' we are do something really cool in our brains, but something still based on the same physical rules as everything else.
"Hard determinists" (that's different from just "determinists") agree with the libertarians that we'd need some special exception from a mechanistic, strict-laws-of-nature type of universe... but argue that there is no special exception, and the universe is mechanistic like that, and so we don't have free will. They, together with libertarians, make up "incompatibilists", but not every incompatibilist is a hard determinist. In other words, compatibilists aren't just anyone who thinks we have free will. They're specifically the ones who think we could have free will even if all the scary reductionist deterministic stuff were true. Like Dehaene saying we don't need any quantum weirdness; an ordinary mechanical Turing Machine will do, with the right programming. --Pfhorrest (talk) 08:04, 29 March 2014 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Pfhorrest: I have no problems with your definitions. Your description of the libertarian stance, that 'determinism is not universally true' can label the above position, but suffers from the restriction to determinism, while the issue is broader (deeper) than that. Your description of compatibilism also accepts the conflict as one with determinism, determinism is OK, and free will has to give. That describes Dehaene, but his approach is different from many compatibilists in that he simply defines 'free will' to suit himself (and explicitly denies our intuition needs accommodation), while most compatibilists search for some way to accommodate our intuitive idea of 'freedom to choose' by close examination of what these words might be construed to mean and still stay within the fold of determinism. So a libertarian label comes closest, but isn't a great fit. Opposition to reductionism lies outside the traditional formulation that accepts being boxed into narrow conflict with 'determinism' on its own turf, whether that be framed in the manner of Lucretius or as an accord with 'laws of nature'. Libertarianism could be expanded to include this view if the emphasis upon 'determinism' were replaced with the deeper context of the subject-object problem. Brews ohare (talk) 15:02, 29 March 2014 (UTC)

Metaphysical constraints?[edit]

The lede frames 'free will' in terms of constraints upon choices. The constraints mentioned are of two types:

(i) Right now the preponderance of the lede leans to the empirical 'constraints', mentioning "physical constraints (such as chains or imprisonment), social constraints (such as threat of punishment or censure), and mental constraints (such as compulsions or phobias, neurological disorders, or genetic predispositions)". These constraints have an everyday interpretation as factors interfering with an agent's ability to execute certain choices, as when being tied to a chair interferes with walking across a room, or addiction interferes with a desire to break a destructive pattern of activity.

(ii) The other type of constraints mentioned are "metaphysical constraints (such as logical, nomological, or theological determinism)". If they are constraints at all, they are constraints upon language. In other words, we are talking about usage and definitions.

So, as an example, the article refers to "the constraint of dominant concern" as "determinism of some variety (such as logical, nomological, or theological)". What kind of constraint is this?? Regardless of the variety of determinism chosen, the relation of determinism to free will is not one of a 'constraint' in the empirical sense. Rather, as an example, if we use the old version of determinism mentioned by Stanislas Dehaene, the discussion is whether determinism defined more or less as "every event is determined by prior events" is logically consistent with 'free will', seen roughly as the idea that the "mind chooses its actions 'at will' ".Dehaene, two pages later on. Other discussions of the metaphysical constraint of determinism also are of this ilk: they argue about consistency and compatibility of various definitions.

These linguistic debates, which occupy about 3/4 of the article on free will, are 'constraints' only in a very different sense from the common-sense empirical constraints mentioned in the same breath in the lede. The idea of 'constraints' may seem a wonderful way to combine disparate ideas, but it really is just a way to confuse two completely different approaches to the subject, and then direct discussion into a huge distraction from the empirical constraints that are the common-sense focus of neuroscience and neurophilosophy.

The article seems to begin with a broad conception of its topic, but rapidly shrinks to a narrow focus on semantics that distorts the topic as a whole. What is more, the article repeatedly confuses these semantic matters with questions of fact and intuition, muddling the entire presentation. So for example, definitions seem to be invested with real empirical implications, matters that can be related to (possibly fallible) intuitions about free will, but which are far beyond any test of observation or experiment. Brews ohare (talk) 12:38, 3 April 2014 (UTC)

A suggestion[edit]

I'd suggest that the first reference be changed to something that refers to constraints. An example is Stent, p. 126 on Constraints. The existing first reference relates to neuroscience, for which no basis has been laid in the lede. Brews ohare (talk) 14:39, 5 April 2014 (UTC)

A proposal[edit]

I've suggested above that metaphysical constraints be clearly identified. How about some rewording? The lead paragraph can be split in two and the first one reworded as follows:

Free will is the ability of agents to make choices unconstrained by certain factors.[1] Among these factors are some that are readily observed, for example, physical constraints (such as chains or imprisonment), social constraints (such as threat of punishment or censure), and mental constraints (such as compulsions or phobias, neurological disorders, or genetic predispositions). A different type of constraint is that of consistency among our beliefs, and consistency in language and definitions. These are metaphysical constraints, which examine logical constraints required for consistency among these beliefs, and how consistency might (or might not) be reached using various definitions of 'free will' and of the terms involved in its definition.
The principle of free will has religious, legal, ethical, and scientific implications.[2] For example, in the religious realm, free will implies that individual will and choices can coexist with an omnipotent divinity. In the law, it affects considerations of punishment and rehabilitation. In ethics, it may hold implications for whether individuals can be held morally accountable for their actions. In science, neuroscientific findings regarding free will may suggest different ways of predicting human behavior.

The second paragraph is the same as the existing text. Brews ohare (talk) 14:54, 5 April 2014 (UTC)

I'm not sure that 'constraints' is the defining characteristic of free will so that the facts you select are appropriate. If you have a secondary source that supports this happy to look at it, but on the face if it I don't see as an improvement. Adding something on implications has more promise but is problematic. Your definition in the context of religion for example is dubious, and the phrase means very different things in different religions anyway. Again a secondary source would make a better case ----Snowded TALK 22:06, 5 April 2014 (UTC)
Snowded: The first two sentences of the present lede are:
"Free will is the ability of agents to make choices unconstrained by certain factors. Factors of historical concern have included metaphysical constraints (such as logical, nomological, or theological determinism),[1] physical constraints (such as chains or imprisonment), social constraints (such as threat of punishment or censure), and mental constraints (such as compulsions or phobias, neurological disorders, or genetic predispositions)."
Are these the sentences (due to Pfhorrest) that you are objecting to? I have made no attempt to define 'free will' myself in any fashion, but have simply parroted what was already there. Brews ohare (talk) 03:52, 6 April 2014 (UTC)
It's your extension/elaboration which is the issue Brews. That said I have never been wild about constrain based definitions anyway but change needs secondary sourcing and the position there is not clear from the sources I have to hand. ----Snowded TALK 06:08, 6 April 2014 (UTC)
So, just to get this straight, contrary to your earlier statement, you did not mean to raise objection to Pfhorrest's unsourced definition of 'free will' in terms of 'constraints', but just that you are 'not wild about it'. But if it's unsourced mention of 'metaphysical constraints' is to be explained further, because that changes the original wording, that requires not just a reputable source, but a 'secondary' source, and that requirement is not simply your desire, but is a matter of some yet to be identified WP policy?
Apart from your shift to more rigorous standards to be applied only to changes in text, perhaps you could help out by actually identifying the 'sources you have in hand' and just why you think they disagree with the suggested meaning of 'metaphysical constraints' on free will? Brews ohare (talk) 14:26, 6 April 2014 (UTC)
To put things on a more useful basis, in the abstract the words 'metaphysical constraints' are extremely vague, and may simply mean 'constraints imposed by one's abstract ideas about reality'. However, in the present context it is evident from the later discussion that 'metaphysical constraints' refers to the subsequent extensive discussion of various stances likes 'compatibilism' and 'incompatibilism'. These positions are well-described by the wording you object to, but it is obvious that labeling these stands as 'metaphysical' is meant primarily to separate them from everyday observable constraints and to place them in an abstract realm inaccessible to verification by direct observation, unlike physical or medical constraints. There is no need for a source to permit the use of 'metaphysical constraints' in this way - it is not an usurpation of some technical term with specialized meaning. Indeed, the Stanford Encyclopedia article on 'metaphysics' suggests that term, even applied to that technical subdivision of philosophy, defies any easy meaning but, as here, is best understood from the context in which it occurs. Brews ohare (talk) 15:03, 6 April 2014 (UTC)
I'm trying to keep a new financial year (UK) resolution not to waste time on you. If other editors engage I will, or if pigs fly or you change the manner of your engagement (in ascending order of likelihood) ----Snowded TALK 09:59, 7 April 2014 (UTC)
A hackneyed expression of your usual personal attacks that substitute for useful activity on WP. Brews ohare (talk) 13:16, 7 April 2014 (UTC)