Saturday, December 26, 2009

Free will

Illusion of free will arises from an awareness of multiplicity of available choices for actions/reactions, and the wrongful belief that those choices could actually have been made. The choice to not act/react is usually overlooked.

It does not mean, I am not enjoying to act, to react and to live. :)

Related: Free will - a blog post from Neglected Serendipity.

PS: Thanks Stupidosaur for bringing a critical aspect of free will to my notice.


Niti said...

1. free will is an illusion
2. we have no choices in life
3. even a no reaction is a reaction. even a no decision is a decision

Ketan said...

Thanks, Niti!

I see, you're in almost total agreement. :) You've had training in formal psychology? TC.

Darshan Chande said...

The first time I had read something like this was on the blog of Uncommon Sense. That actually there's nothing like free will. Out of 10 choices if you are free to select any one and that we call free will. But in fact even that choice may have it's governing factors. So there's no "free will" as such. Liked the idea.

Darshan Chande said...

Oh I forgot to mention, I am impressed by Niti's remarks... Thanks, Niti :)

Niti said...

not really. I was preparing for the civil services and psychology happened to be one of my subjects. I am interested in the subject and thus the curiosity leads to expansion of knowledge whereever possible. The use of it, however is not to pass the exams but on the more deeper aspects in life.

@ Darshan

Stupidosaur said...

How about Chaos theory instead of free will?
All men created equal, only little differences in genes and environment lead to big differences in 'choices made' and big differences in their final greatness or hopelessness?

I had totally forgotten about my comment on Insignia's fractals post, and took a first look at conversations following my comment only on this Friday. Read the Wikipedia article you mentioned. Don't have much time to comment here or there. Damn, my comments debt all over the net is going on increasing! Is this utter chaos? Mathematically speaking, I don't know ;) BTW Insignia probably didn't get how my mentioning Stephen Wolfram was significant to fractals she showed or chaos theory, but then even somebody writing the Wikipedia article made the same association. Right in the initial part of 'Sensitivity to initial conditions' topic, Stephen Wolfram is mentioned.)

BTW, LOL about glorifying my apparent laziness being as a special case of free will (or lack of it), if that is what you meant.

Also LOL at my 'new follower'

And BTW you do not need to choose and put link-backs to my blog and add dummy followers. Its to some extent irritating and to some extent amusing. Oh wait, what am I saying? There is no free will right? You are helpless! You have to do it! Its the rules of the universe compelling you to do it!

BTW if you interpreted my incomplete comment on free will post, related to if else logic as trying to prove there is no free will, its not my opinion at all. My opinion is kind of agnostic about it (yeah 'agnostic' does not have to feature marbles in its adaptation to them I understand :)) (Also seems related to diagnosis - agnosis(?) - can't say whats wrong with the patient! Guess the root must be something like 'gno*', which seems to have elements of 'gnan' and 'know' as a root of them both, or effect of cultural confluence at some point, or offshoots of some common past - again I am agnostic about it )

Stupidosaur said...

OK too much detour into 'agnostic' :P. What I started it as, was trying to say that my computer logic related comment was not what it initially looked like - disproving. It was also not to end as proving. It was going to be a presentation of a mix of various thoughts I had in Engineering, wondering how to make a 'thinking robot' (The logic which I had explained so far was a fixed 'decision logic', not a 'thinking' logic (These are all my own loose terms. nothing like this was taught in engineering) and also how the CPU does so much and yet is 'unaware' of what it really does. Also, how a CPU would think itself to be very 'creative' and 'intelligent' if it somehow is given a kind of 'consciousness' that covers everything that happens from its instruction register and decoder circuit onwards, but kept unaware of the fact that the instructions are coming to the instruction register from a stupid predetermined sequence in memory. I am not saying this rules out free will on part of CPU. Lets say, the instructions in the memory can themselves be overwritten by the CPU (which is technically very simple to do) Then again, the question is how will the new instructions be decided? Cos the old instructions would be rules about how to write new instructions based on various factors! Would these rules themselves be rigid, or be capable of incorporating free will? Again, if the rules are rigid, can the hardware of the CPU be itself made in such a way that it does not rigidly follow the rules - only overall. In addition to these rules, something else based solely on the hardware of the circuit (And not the fixed rule software instructions?) That way, the CPU can 'exert its own free will' over the fixed software instructions. But then again, what kind of mechanism would govern this hardware override's nature, would it be predicatble logic, or logic with random numbers? or based on lot of tiny factors like CPU temperature, fan speed, electromagnetic fields in surroundings, colour of light falling on it, time of the day, its velocity, accelaration (Add as many other random things you can think of ;) ? Would small changes in these make large changes in subsequent instructions and actions?

(I want to type so much more, explain jargons you might not have understood, further develop the idea, give some comments and side thought about the same, etc, but don't have time. Will perhaps not return very soon.)

Ketan said...

@ Darshan:


To completely understand my other article on free will, you'll require to have basic idea of synapse, action potential and neurotransmitters. Am sorry, don't have time to explain that you. But if you do have a basic idea that's well and good. Of course, Wikipedia might help. :)

And what did you find in Niti's comment that was not there in my post??????!!!!! Am jealous! ;)

@ Niti:

Civil services = strategy = your name? ;)

Ketan said...

Hi Stupidosaur, and finally welcome! :)

With regard to the chaos theory part, if you read this comment, I just wanted to ask you if you found my interpretation on Insignia's blog matching with yours? Am asking since obviouly, you're much better acquainted with mathematics. [Not sure what all did Insignia get/not get herself about chaos theory ;)].

The part of free will that I understood because of your pointing out was this:

"Forget 'free will' of actually deciding between a set of different things. What made you first realize that these set of stimuli over time do actually present a situation for decision making"

And that point finds a mention in the current post as: "The choice to not act/react is usually overlooked."

Obviously, the 'new follower' wanted to give you 'Darshan' (not the above one). After all, it was Lord's wish, right? :P Also, the other thing the new follower thought was that those who liked the pun employed in his profile, would definitely like your blog. :) But if the dumminess of the new follower irritates you a LOT, then do let me know, I might pray to the Lord to make him intervene. ;) But trying a bit of sensationalist emotional blackmail I'd like to ask:

<.emotional blackmail>Who is more dummy - those 'following' and yet not reading your posts along with those reading and yet not following your posts OR a dummy follower who has tried to pay at least 10 times the attention paid by any other non-dummy follower to understand your posts, thus making him 1/5th as dummy any other non-dummy follower?<./emotional blackmail> ;)

About the 'agnostic' thing, yes indeed 'gnosis' means 'to know'. Probably, 'dia' in diagnosis means multiple....

Ketan said...

...It's said that European and North Indian languages belong to the same family, and so many words actually sound very similar. Again, your correlation-skill has me impressed. :)

Regarding agnosis about free will, though how I state, it sounds like I'm sure of my idea, it's not the case. It's just that my current understanding of how the Universe operates doesn't allow for possibility of reaching decisions that are wholly independent of preexisting brain states. The logic behind this is very simple (the way I look at it). If whether a stone would roll down or stay stationary depends on whether it is at the summit of a peak or not (pre-existing state), then there is no reason neurotransmitter molecules residing within our brain should behave independent of their pre-existing states. And it is only the mechanical movements of these neurotransmitters in fat (lipid)-bound vesicles that ultimately give rise to 'decisions'.

But this inability to imagine a mechanism whereby neurotransmitters could act independent of their pre-existing states, is for me a sufficient condition to be reasonably sure that no such mechanism exists. :) Hence, I'm not agnostic about it, just the way I'm not agnostic about the existence of God. ;)

Well, as anticipated by you, I could not get the technical aspect of your comment completely, but what you refer to as "stupid predetermined sequence in memory" has been talked of by Sigmund Freud and he had called it the 'id'. The instruction register is the 'ego'. 'Ego' is the feeling of the self, and comes closest to what we call consciousness. You'll find my interpretation of these ideas here (click).

"what kind of mechanism would govern this hardware override's nature(?)"

The moment you mention 'govern', you've destroyed the concept of free-ness of will. :) But I guess, you yourself realize that and that's why you winked after saying "add as many random things you can think of".

With trying making things (outcomes) unpredictable, you've entered the tricky domain of determinism. Something being unpredictable because of multiplicity of factors doesn't really make it non-deterministic. A deterministic system could still be unpredictable (human mind or 'will'). :)

Thanks for your comments!

Take care.

Srishti said...

Umm, I had a long comment in my mind but after reading Stupii's comments (and your response to them), I have a strong feeling that they may come out as extremely insignificant and stupid.

Okay, so what you're trying to say, does it go with this quote?

"Choose your personal favorite cup of poison.

Guess what free will is all about."

Its not my quote, its by Sherry (The World Is Square), but I liked it a lot and I think it kinda goes with this conclusion.

Also, what exactly do you mean by 'free will'?
Lets say, I have a free day and I have many things that I could do, like read, blog or watch a movie.
Are you implying that I actually DON'T have these choices, that they're just illusions?
If yes, then I'm very, very confused.

Because, we do have choices in life, don't we? Our choices makes us different from similar people and similar to different people.

Ketan said...


I'm glad you asked. :) Yes, you kind of got it wrong.

What probably Sherry meant was that choices on offer are not good. (I had been to her blog a few times; her English is good).

But the issue of free will has nothing to do with the nature of choices, but rather, the process of making those choices.

Towards the end of your comment, you reached very close to the issue of free will.

Let's say, you are offered a choice between vanilla and chocolate flavored ice cream. WHY do you choose one or the other?

Is it because of, say factors like genetics, you were 'by default' likely to choose chocolate? This 'by default' aspect of your decision making would diminish the AUTONOMY you had exercised in making that decision. Rather, it would make the autonomy felt, entirely illusory.

So, freeness of will corresponds to autonomy (independence of pre-existing controlling factors) of choices/decisions.

You might better understand these issues from the introduction in the article I have linked in the post.

Also, many things will be clarified by reading my and Chiya's comments.

I'm paraphrasing a part of that post here:

"The feeling we get while we make a choice is that it is "I" who is DECIDING to do a particular thing, and not opt an alternative choice, and had I WANTED, I "could" have made the other choice. The question is: do we really make choices that were not determined by past events?"

I hope this helps. :) Thanks! TC.

Mani said...

Confused! Congrats your purpose is served. Well coming to your blog(s) was like going inside the pandoras box. I was totally lost and still am but will come back to find my way about. Thanks for visiting my blog but again thanks to you I feel absolutely small now. I havent read Atlas Shrugged but I have read We the living, (now why did I say so). Ok have to disappear now but will come back because your pandoras box intrigues me.

Darshan Chande said...

Okay, I will learn about "synapse". Where's your other article on free will?

Ketan said...

@ Mani:

Hello ma'am, and welcome to the blog!

Your writing style is very engaging and entertaining. Pleasantly surprised that ou found my blog interesting. :) My primary blog is actually Neglected Serendipity.

And, confused? I guess, you meant with regard to free will. And being a medico yourself, you might find interesting the article I have linked at the end of the current post.

And you are feeling small? No!!! How the hell could I be responsible for that?!!! Okay, please excuse the histrionic. ;) But I'm sure you have a lot to say with vast experience behind you, and maybe because of a few philosophical differences between how you and I view the World. :)

I myself have not read 'We the living', so never mind. :) I'm not as avid a reader as you. :)


Take care.

@ Darshan:

In brief, a synapse is a point of interface between two nerve cells (neurons). Neurons have long extensions. The ones that 'receive' impulses and carry it towards the 'main' cell body are called dendrites; the ones carry the impulses away are called 'axons'.

What we call impulses are more appropriately called 'action potentials'. So an action potential is NOT a simple flow of charges (sodium, potassium chloride, etc.) along the length of the axons and dendrites, but rather across the lining (called cell membrane) of these extensions.

Inward and outward flow of charges (ions) requires special channels to become open, since these charges cannot directly cross the cell membrane.

These ion channels act like SPECIFIC doors for the individual ions (e.g., potassium cannot pass through channel meant for sodium).

Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that can bind to specialized receptors on the cell membranes and effect closing or opening of these channels. Usually, these neurotransmitters are released at the synapse by the axon of the 'first' neuron and are detected by the dendrite of the 'next' neuron. Upon detection in the next neuron, suddenly lot of sodium channels open and sodium enters the neurons. This creates an electrical disturbance (voltage difference). And this voltage difference is propagated ahead and is called an 'action potential'. Now, the second neuron also similarly releases neurotransmitter at its synapse with 'third' neuron, and the information is thus generated and propagated....

Ketan said...

...Now, you might be tempted to think that how can information be transmitted merely by a simple electrical disturbance. But that's the beauty of the nervous system!

Fundamentally, the action potential generated when someone pricks your toe is NOT at all different from the one generated when you try to calculate 20/4.

In the body special 'routes' (formed by chains of neurons) called 'tracts' are earmarked for individual sensations as well as executive parts of the body.

For instance, on pricking your toe, impulse will travel through a tract FIXED for it. Also, the specific tract will depend upon the nature of impulse. It is different for sensations of warmth and touch.

So what eventually happens is brain 'knows' what happened to your toe NOT because of the nature of action potential reaching it, but BECAUSE of the tract it will come from. Because every single tract ends up on a different 'TERMINAL' neuron in the area of the brain that is reserved for conscious sensing.

So, let's say warmth from right toe and prick from left toe will reach different neurons in the brain, and that's how brain will know what you 'felt' was on the right or the toe AND whether it was warmth or prick.

Now, important thing to understand is EXACTLY same action potentials are responsible for our emotions, thoughts, calculations, plans and memory!

Now let me try to explain the dilemma of free will here.

If you are asked to pick between red and blue colored shirts, you might 'think' a lot on it.

But what does this thinking entail? It is nothing but the VERY COMPLEX interplay of action potentials and synaptic transmission (passage of neurotransmitter molecules through the synapse to the next neuron)!

Let's say, there are two neurons - red and blue in your brain. If red one fires impulses more aggressively you'll choose red shirt, and if it is blue, you'll choose blue one.

Now the issue is, you 'feel' it is NOT the intrinsic aggressiveness of red v/s blue neuron that will determine your decision, BUT that you can actually "MAKE" one or the other neuron fire more aggressively! Right?

But the question is how do 'you' do it? Can you actually 'control' the action potentials of red v/s blue neuron without "TOUCHING" them?...

Ketan said...

...Let's say you feel like picking up red. How do you 'ask' red neuron to fire more aggressively? Or alternatively, how do you ask the blue one to 'stop'?

Apparently, somewhat prevalent view (and shared by me) in science is that whether red one fires more frequently or blue one is inherently determined - maybe, because of your genetics and past experiences. So, in those who choose red, it is NOT a case that they are 'making' red neuron fire more frequently. Just that the red neuron anyway fires more frequently, and the consciousness center in the brain monitors all this. This monitoring is what you perceive as 'thinking'. But your 'thinking' cannot alter the decision between red and blue. Just because you are aware of the CHOICE of blue, you end up feeling you CHOSE red. But actually, red was already chosen by the preset (genetics/part experiences/pattern of neural networks) conditions! :) And hence, whatever decision you make, there is no real free will.

Hope, I could make sense. :)

The other article on free will is linked at the end of this post. It is underlined.

Now with this much background I hope, you'll be better able to understand the main article.

Thanks! TC.

Darshan Chande said...

Wow! Though I am greatly interested in science and psychology and read a lot of stuffs on those subjects too, I have never come across such an explanation of how the neurons work in making choices. It's indeed immensely intriguing. Yeah, it made perfect sense. I will now proceed to the main article... Thanks, bro :)

Aman said...

Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills. - Arthur Schopenhauer

@Stupidosaur (Add as many other random things you can think of ;)

I would add quantum random number generator whose output is completely uncertain.