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Free will?

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May. 18th, 2008 | 12:11 am
mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
posted by: cheryltheperil in scienceandfaith

So, do you think that free will is just an illusions or a reality? Are all our actions and even our thoughts themselves pre-determined, on a chemical level?

This is a question I've been pondering a bit recently as I've happened upon various arguments for and against it. Recent research that I read about in New Scientist seems to indicate that our decisions may not be decided on a conscious level, the way we think they are (link here, if you're interested).

I also recently read a book called Finding Darwin's God by a man named Kenneth R Miller who says that quantum theory and the uncertainty principle allow us to have true free will, an argument which I'd never heard before but it intrigued me greatly. Deterministic theories state that theoretically it is possible to know the state of every atom in the universe, and following the laws of physics from this point to predict everything that is ever going to happen. All our actions are already determined. Quantum theory and the uncertainty principle contradict this; the behaviour of the individual constituents of matter on the quantum scale is inherently uncertain, we can only predict how it will behave in bulk with probability fields. We cannot predict (and according to the uncertainty principle will never be able to predict) which individual constituents of matter will behave in what way. To use a simple example, we will never know in advance which individual photons will follow the general trend and be reflected by a mirror rather than going against the majority and passing through it (and there will always be a small percentage that pass through).

As the microscopic elements are able to influence macroscopic behaviour (i.e. the atoms that compose us and everything we see) this inherent unpredictability has a significant impact on the universe. Miller sees this as an affirmation of the fact that we have free will; our actions are not pre-determined. I have an issue with this statement though, as even if the uncertainty principle is correct and our every thought and action is not determined in advance, that does not necessarily mean that we have any personal control over the unpredictable behaviour of these microscopic components in our brain. The fact that we cannot predict them does not mean our brain activity and thought processes are not still dependent on them, neither does it mean we have control over them or their consequences.

So does that mean we really don't have free will, unless we can find some indication that any of our thoughts and feelings are in some way independent of matter and brain activity? Anyone have any thoughts on this?

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Comments {3}

Dawn Hazle, Herald of Darkness

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from: keletkezes
date: May. 19th, 2008 12:46 pm (UTC)

Last edition of Sky at Night was good for this:

Every time we find something out about the Universe, it opens up a whole new can of worms in further questions.

That makes me think that everything's interconnected. AFter all, if we're all from the same place, wherever or whatever that may be, surely everything is interconnected by its very nature? Tjoughts and feelings are influenced by the world around us and, while we all react diffrerently to different stimuli, the point is, we all react. True Chaos theory does not exist, IMO.

I have a book on Chaos theory and I love it :D

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(no subject)

from: cheryltheperil
date: May. 19th, 2008 10:19 pm (UTC)

I don't really know enough about the particulars of chaos theory to be able to comment whether it really exists or not, I'm afraid. Care to explain?

I would agree that most answers only seem to lead to more questions though. I'm getting used to the idea of never being able to firmly define what I believe ever again, since I think once you've got a concrete 'truth' in your mind it's harder to approach new knowledge with an open mind, I just end up perceiving things as threats to my comfortable world view when that happens. It's a slightly surreal feeling.

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Dawn Hazle, Herald of Darkness

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from: keletkezes
date: May. 20th, 2008 11:48 am (UTC)

Care to explain?

Not really: just because I have the book, doesn't mean I've read it! ;P

It's basically the theory that things may happen for a reason, but things will always happen differently despite what you do. Jurassic Park explains it quite well: Malcolm is a Chaos mathematician.

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