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 Post subject: Free Will vs. Determinism
PostPosted: Sat May 22, 2010 4:07 am 
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I have come up with a take on free will that is probably not original in the sense of being totally new, but which I have arrived at on my own. To discuss it coherently will require a bit of preparatory material; see what you think.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU WANT
I made the mistake of typing that in a chat discussion once, to be answered with, "Then I'm Salma Hayek". Hmph. Philistine.

To explain what I mean by YAWYW, let me point out that there is a distinction made in our culture between "Wants" and "Needs", and that, in the popular view, "Needs" are more pressing, more primal, than mere "Wants". "I want to go out for ice cream, but I need to finish this assignment." "I want to buy a Mercedes, but I need the money to feed my family."
Do what you need to do first, then, if you have the time, you can do what you want to do. But is this hierarchy valid? I say it is exactly backwards.

Ask someone why they need something, and the answer will be, "I need it to [obtain something that I want]." We are all subject to a wide range of stimuli, and at some level, we decide which ones are the most important, and respond to them, leaving others unattended to. It is merely a wistful childish wish to be able to have everything that leads to the "I want to... but I can't, because I need to..." formula. In reality, you want to finish your assignment more than you want to go out for ice cream; you want to feed your family more than you want to buy that Mercedes. Otherwise, you would be eating ice cream in your new car. Wants are primal; needs are ALWAYS conditional.

So this is what I mean by "You Are What You Want." At the most basic level, it is your desires that motivate you, and nothing else. To change what you want is, in a real sense, to change who you are. In order to change who you are, you must change what you want. The two things are identical. (This is what makes breaking addictive behavior so challenging; the addict must become a different person.)

I started thinking about all this when someone who felt (not without some justification) that I had betrayed and offended him asked me if I knew the meaning of sacrifice. I thought about it for several minutes and came to the conclusion that a sacrifice is just the act of relinquishing something that you want very much for something else that you want even more. So someone "making a sacrifice" ought not to feel put upon, except by the fact that some things are mutually exclusive.

NOBODY EVER DID ANYTHING THEY DIDN'T WANT TO DO
This statement is usually met by howls of indignation, but I'll stand by it. Consider: every time you make a choice, you look at all the options that you can see, and you choose the best one. Every time. Now the definition of "the best one" is a highly idiosyncratic one. Two people faced with identical options will often choose differently. The same person encountering the same choice at a different time may very well choose differently than the previous time. None of the options that are percieved may be appealing; on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being "Revoltingly Disgusting/Excruciatingly Painful" and 10 being "Blissfully Ecstatic/Hugely Profitable", all the options you can see may cluster beween 1 and 1.5, but you will still choose the one closest to 10. That is the one you want. This is purely subjective, of course. The only options that count are the ones the chooser is aware of. That an observer may see another option the chooser would choose if aware of it is completely irrelevant if the chooser is not aware of it.

FREE WILL?
Oh, yes, I did mention this a while ago, didn't I?

I do believe in free will, for the entirely subjective reason that to believe otherwise is repugnant. But it occurred to me that if we always choose the best option that we are aware of, isn't that in some way deterministic? I mean, is it possible to choose an option that is not "the best thing I can think of, at the time, under the circumstances"? I don't think it is, because if I were to make a less than optimum choice, it would be to prove that I can, which would then be the thing that I want, which would make it the best choice...

To state it bluntly then, I believe that, in a world with only one conscious being, that being's life would be completely deterministic. Every choice could be plotted out in advance, if some non-interfering observer could be privy to the being's mental states.

BIOLOGY TO THE RESCUE!
Fortunately, we live in a world of billions of conscious entities (I say, straight-arming Solipsism into a ditch). I am not a molecular biologist, so perhaps I am wrong or mis-informed, but I believe that sexual reproduction combines genes in a truly random way, creating unique individuals whose lives impinge on other individuals, causing them to see options previously unavailable, constantly changing the external conditions that influence our choice of "the best", and preventing this from being a clockwork world. (whew!)


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 Post subject: Re: Free Will vs. Determinism
PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 2:11 pm 
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The biggest problem I have with "free will as the satisfaction of wants" is its potential to be a kind of tautology.

Compare it to the notion of Natural Selection, characterised as "survival of the fittest". What does it mean to be "the fittest"? Are the fittest so classified by merit of the fact that they are the survivors? If so, then "survival of the fittest" is actually "survival of the survivors" -- a vacuous tautology. If the formulation is softened to a probabilistic tendency, then this problem goes away, but it leaves us with Natural Selection as a fairly vague and unmeasurable principle. That formulation might go something like this: some members of a population will produce more offspring than others; some of that increased success is attributable to their genetic makeup; thus, the genes responsible for increased reproductive success will tend to proliferate. That all sounds reasonable, but a bit weak.

The formulation of Free Will as "the satisfaction of wants" suffers a similar problem. If I make a choice, is my choice (by merit of the fact that it is what I chose) what I want? Is it possible to choose something that one doesn't want, or does the act of choosing prove the want? If that which you choose is, ipso facto, that which you want, then "the satisfaction of wants" is synonymous with "the act of making choices", and there's nothing particularly novel about formulating Free Will as "the act of making choices". If the choice proves the want, then the aspect of "want" isn't really adding anything to the picture that wasn't already accounted for by "choice", but if the choice does not prove the want, then Free Will is not synonymous with the satisfaction of wants after all.

I subscribe (tentatively) to what I expect is a more traditional view of the matter: that wants are things which play a major part in our decision-making, as do other things like instincts, feelings, and principles. You could reduce all those other things to "wants", just as some have tried to reduce everything to "instinct", but I think that it's best to leave "wants" as a slightly nebulous but intuitively comprehensible component of our decision-making process. I may choose to follow my principles over my wants, such as when presented with an excellent opportunity to receive dishonest gain. The "want" in this case is a desire I feel (I want the goods); the "principle" is a pattern of behaviour I have adopted as a matter of policy (I make honesty my policy). Which of these pressures I ultimately choose to follow is a result of my exercise of free will. Yes, you can characterise this as "you want to be honest more than you want the goods" -- I just see that reductionism as unhelpful in this case.

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 Post subject: Re: Free Will vs. Determinism
PostPosted: Tue Aug 17, 2010 6:28 am 
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ok, i am posting here with regards to my own reflection upon reading " you Are What You Want"..

i guess i am up for this. i am in favor of this thought of 'you become what you want' well, but that is with practice and determination to be what you want. you will always have hindrances in front of you, but if you persist, you'll find.

and on a very personal level, i can be a testament to this. by wanting things but you can't get it even iff you have all the resources around you. it's just a matter of priority and determination to get what you want.

i hope i made sense. thanks.


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