Re: "Free Will Theorem"

From: Hal Finney <>
Date: Thu, 14 Apr 2005 09:24:59 -0700 (PDT)

Stathis Papaioannou writes:
> This is more or less the point I was trying to make: philosophical
> discussion leads to "a troubling entaglement that seems to lead to
> contradictions". I return to what I called a definition but I should
> probably have called a description of the basic phenomenon we are
> discussing:
> A decision I make is "free" when I feel that I could have decided otherwise.
> Is this OK as a starting point, before we start analysing what it all means,
> and regardless of what the ultimate conclusion is going to be? I'm not
> saying anything controversial yet; I'm simply describing under what
> circumstances I get this "free will" feeling, whatever that is.

It's probably OK, but it seems a little ambiguous. Do you mean that you
"feel" this in a naive way, before giving it any philosophical thought?
Or do you mean that you still feel this after considering, for example,
that you live in a deterministic and/or random universe?

And worse, that if you live in a multiverse, then your choice in fact was
no choice at all and was rather the subjective experience of a splitting
of the multiverse into two parts, one part where you made one choice and
one part where you made the other? Would you still feel that you could
have decided otherwise if this was your mental model of the universe?

> Now, a philosopher comes along and tells me that in fact, I am mistaken. I
> could not actually have decided otherwise, because my brain was following a
> script predetermined by the laws of physics. Or, just as bad, I could have
> "decided" otherwise, but it would have been due to random events in my
> brain, and thus it have no more been my "decision" than if I had been
> enslaved to the outcome of a coin toss.
> First, I might point out that the philosopher is putting words in my mouth.
> I never claimed that my cerebral decision-making processes were not random
> or not deterministic. All I claimed was that I get the free will feeling
> when I *feel* I could have decided otherwise. I may not know much about
> physics or philosophy, but I certainly know how I feel! If I learn that my
> brain is actually based on an old poker machine, that is interesting, but I
> still feel the way I feel.

Doesn't this require a degree of cognitive inconsistency or dissonance,
in which you must separate your knowledge of the nature of reality from
your instinctive feelings about your behavior?

> On the other hand, I might aknowledge that my feeling of freedom is not
> actually consistent with the particular interpretation of the term "freedom"
> the philosopher is trying to foist on me. In other words, if "freedom" means
> "not bound by determinism or randomness", then I could not possibly be free,
> simply because there is no third alternative to determinism or randomness!
> In this case, I would have to admit that my "free will" feeling is something
> quite peculiar, with no correlate in the real world. Fine: let's say this is
> what it is. My subjective experience of free will remains unchanged, my
> behaviour remains unchanged, and my attitude towards other people (also
> exercising this strange, non-free, non-random, non-deterministic free will
> thing) remains unchanged.

I guess I'm having trouble understanding this subjective experience
of free will. It seems to require a somewhat sophisticated degree of
self-modelling and self-understanding, in order to model the concept
that your mind could have behaved differently and made a different
choice. Yet it is blind to other physical realities. Aren't you just
lying to yourself? Or do you really have this "feeling" as a direct,
pre-rational self-perception, like the experience of redness or of pain?
I'm not sure I have any such feeling, but perhaps I have internalized
the philosophical arguments so much that they have contaminated this
"pure" self-perception that you describe.

Hal Finney
Received on Thu Apr 14 2005 - 13:19:29 PDT

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