Re: "Free Will Theorem"

From: Pete Carlton <>
Date: Mon, 18 Apr 2005 17:14:42 -0700

On Apr 11, 2005, at 11:11 PM, Russell Standish wrote:
> I'm dealing with these questions in an artificial life system - Tierra
> to be precise. I have compared the original Tierra code, with one in
> which the random no. generator is replaced with a true random
> no. generator called HAVEGE, and another simulation in which the RNG
> is replaced with a cryptographically secure RNG called ISAAC. The
> results to date (and this _is_ work in progress) is that there is a
> distinct difference between the original Tierra PRNG, and the other
> two generators, but that there is little difference between HAVEGE and
> ISAAC. This seems to indicate that algorithmic randomness can be good
> enough to fool learning algorithms.

That's a very interesting experiment -- you might be interested to know
that Dennett (again, in Elbow Room) predicted something similar; that
for all the cases where randomness impacts an organism's choices,
"true" randomness would be practically indistinguishable from
sufficiently unpredictable pseudorandomness. I'm glad you're doing
these experiments. How does your true random number generator work?
Do you have preliminary results posted somewhere?

Anyway, I think that the important question of free will is not "Could
I have done otherwise than I did in >this exact circumstance<", but
"Am I so constituted that I will act the way I did in circumstances
>relevantly like this<, but will be able to change my behavior in the
way I want to when circumstances change?".

In other words -- we really don't care whether or not we'd do the same
thing over and over again if circumstances were exactly the same. That
kind of "free will", what you would get from indeterminism, is not at
all what people care about when they think about whether they have free
will or not. What we care about is whether we have self-control.

You said
> The whole debate you quote from Dennett seems quaint and out of date...
, but I think it's very useful (and actually it was from the Stanford
encyclopedia of philosophy, not from Dennett). There's been a lot of
definitional hair-splitting here about just what free will is and
isn't; I propose to approach the question in a different way: What do
you personally care about? Does it matter to you whether the universe
is deterministic or not? Would it matter to you if you realized
someone was using subliminal advertising on you to make you buy things?
(I'm not suggesting that what we want to be the case has any influence
on what is the case; I'm just trying to get at what people mean when
they say "free will".)

Well, it looks like there are as many definitions of free will as there
are people taking part in the debate -- which is precisely why we need
to talk about it, and why it's a good idea be familiar with at least
the high points of the past 2500 years of philosophical literature on
the subject, in order to avoid making the same mistakes that other
brilliant minds have made.

Received on Mon Apr 18 2005 - 20:20:28 PDT

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