If you see a difference, then please explain the difference between the ability to choose and free will.

I have noticed a tendency of many people to suggest that the ability to make a choice and the property or concept of free will are two different things.

I want to be clear: I am not implying that they are or are not. I am curious to understand how people view this. It seems that you could see:

A. No difference
B. A distinct difference
C. A distinction without a difference
D. Something else

I would love to see your explanation, no matter what your answer. I have no interest, in this context, in what any philosopher you can quote had to say. I am curious about your understanding and your ability to state it. 

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@ Wonderist

So, in fact, a deeper appreciation of our interdependence reveals not that we're slaves to it, but that we must, in fact, also have some power within it.

Yes - it is a feedback loop. Much of what you wrote does not describe me - though I too have 'been there done that.'

What I see is that you are concerning yourself that I don't get the importance of reductionism while I have been concerned that you don't get the importance of the 'big picture'.

Ironically, as you put in the above statement - both are critical - and I do not disagree. I'm now pretty sure we have both (as people will do) done a bit of superimposition of encounters with other people.

What matters is the stability of the identity, not its origin.

The origin of the identity is of no interest to you? Exploring that doesn't provide any insight? And doesn't the identity grow and change over time? What do you mean, exactly, by 'stability?'

'Solipsism is inevitable ...' Since you view the world from your vantage point, you can't get away from having a world view that falls within that context - that's what I meant. Even if you 'believe' that the outside world exists - it still only exists within the context of your perception. You focus where you look - you hear what is in earshot, etc.

I'm not sure why, in a single discussion, you would decide I had 'stopped' anywhere. But it did, then, occur to me that I may have decided you had 'stopped' somewhere else - sorry.

I am a painter and a musician (among other things) and I know that it is important to pay attention to the details, the nuances of every note. But it is also critical to step back and look at the whole composition - and to listen to all the instruments at once as well.

And, beyond that, I find that getting away from the piece for a while can improve my understanding of its qualities by creating an objective distance - a detachment from ownership if you will.

The 'separateness of god' comes into this for me because I think a big roadblock to human progress has been the idea that the observer is not a participant - that objectivity and subjectivity can be fully distinguished from one another.

But seriously, do you not see where you're headed, and the dangers of navel-gazing that lie in that direction?

Seriously, are you actually worried I'm in any danger? I suppose I get what you mean in terms of some people I have met. But, for the most part, this is pretty tame exploration of various vantage points. I'm not worried that I will, inextricably, disappear into my umbilical scar.

In actuality - I'm probably more like you than you think. I like watching the magician, knowing that the rabbit didn't just materialize magically in the hat - but ever ask myself - when an illusion tricks my mind; "Cool - I wonder how he did that."
""What matters is the stability of the identity, not its origin."

The origin of the identity is of no interest to you?"

Out of context quote. We were talking about whether individuals exist or not. Of course origin is important to understand a specific individual, but for the question of existence of individuality itself, the important question is whether two identities are stable independent of each other, not where they came from.

I argued that individuals exist. You came back with, "but the boundaries are fuzzy". I responded that fuzziness is not a problem if we consider stability and interaction/change. You replied with "Nevertheless, the components that generate your identity 'conspire' or 'collaborate' to make you who you are. Some of your 'thoughts' are actually memories of something you heard or read - even if you don't remember that part, etc." Again, I emphasized that what is important (for the original question of existence of an entity) is stability, not origin. I never argued that origin is of no interest to me. I argued it's not relevant to the question of existence of an entity.

"What do you mean, exactly, by 'stability?'"

There's the intuitive idea that a process maintains consistent/predictable behaviour over time. A cell, while constantly changing, or 'in flux', maintains a consistent/predictable metabolism. Tear a hole in it, however, and it will leak its contents and the metabolism will quickly degenerate until the cell no longer behaves as a cell, and is now 'dead', reduced to its disorganized components.

And then there's the more technical concept from math/physics: Stability theory, Lyapunov stability, structural stability.

A relevant application of it is in this very interesting article, Evolution as Described by the Second Law of Thermodynamics:
“In a biological context, when two rather similar species (i.e. energy transduction mechanisms) compete for the same source of energy (e.g. food), the one with even slightly more effective mechanisms (e.g. claws, teeth, feet, etc.) captures more than the other,” Annila explained to PhysOrg.com. “Gradually, the population of the more effective species will increase at the expense of the other. The overall process is pictured as flows of energy that gradually and naturally select the more effective, steeper paths. In biology, this physical consequence, which can be deduced from Lyapunov stability criterion, is known as the competitive exclusion principle.

Basically, stability is a way of measuring how a process responds to small changes, or 'perturbations'. Does it recover and continue? Does it get shifted in proportion to the perturbation? Does it blow up or die?

"Since you view the world from your vantage point, you can't get away from having a world view that falls within that context - that's what I meant."

That's not solipsism, that's subjectivism.

"Even if you 'believe' that the outside world exists - it still only exists within the context of your perception. You focus where you look - you hear what is in earshot, etc."

Okay, and ...? How is this relevant to whether or not individuals exist?

"I'm not sure why, in a single discussion, you would decide I had 'stopped' anywhere."

I didn't. I pointed out the consequences that you would be led to *if* you do stop there.

"The 'separateness of god' comes into this for me because I think a big roadblock to human progress has been the idea that the observer is not a participant - that objectivity and subjectivity can be fully distinguished from one another."

I guess my frustration here is that you keep bringing up what appear to be irrelevant points to my points. For example, how is this relevant to my argument that individuals exist? Sure, the idea of separateness is a problem. But what has that got to do with the original point being argued? If you need a reminder, here's your statement I responded to:

"I actually think that determinism becomes an argument that does show the self to be as illusory as both choice and free will. Nevertheless - since my experience is so wholly convincing - I accept the illusion of self..."

Here, you appear to be unsure of whether or not the self exists, proposing an argument that it doesn't matter either way, because if it's an illusion, then it doesn't matter because the illusion is so convincing.

And here's my original point back to you, arguing that 'if anything in the universe can be said to exist, then of course the self exists':

"As for the existence of the 'self'... [many anaologies] ...

With your current criteria of analysis, nothing really exists, because it's just stuff that happens to be transiently connected by forces, and there's no clear boundary between what a thing is and what a thing is not. Even matter/energy itself has no independent existence from spacetime or physical forces. The whole universe is just an illusion of perceptions. This is where you're headed, whether you realize it yet or not.

This is why earlier I tried to emphasize the ontological importance of 'information' and especially 'processes'. Yes, the Milky Way actually exists as an entity of its own, just as much as atoms and quarks exist. To the exact same extent that *anything* exists, the Milky Way also exists. And so do humans, and brains, and neurons, and electrochemical action potentials, and meta-awareness, and consciousness, and self, and individual. They are all -- all -- the exact same kind of thing: informational processes. If the Milky Way exists, if quarks exist, then the self exists. Information is the 'glue' that makes sense of the existence of 'things' in the universe. If you ignore this concept, you'll remain stuck in the idea that self and choice and consciousness and perception and (eventually) everything else is just illusion with no reality to it. I mean, feel free to remain stuck there, but I personally wouldn't want to be."

So, what has the 'separateness of god' or 'roadblocks to human progress' got to do with that? They seem entirely irrelevant to the question of whether the self/individual exists.

"Seriously, are you actually worried I'm in any danger?"

If you're unclear whether the self exists or not because of the 'separateness of god' or 'roadblocks to human progress', then, actually, yes, I think you're in danger of navel-gazing.

And in any case, I didn't say that you *are* in danger. I asked you whether you were aware of the dangers that lie in the direction you seem to be headed.

Well, after re-quoting the original point of discussion, the discussion appears to have come to a circle, which I'm not willing to pursue around and around. I think I made a pretty strong case that the self does exist. If you're still on to the idea that it might be an illusion, personally I think that's navel gazing. The whole universe could be an illusion, but where will that get anyone? Solipsism, apathy, complacency, or hubris, IMHO.
Howard,

It seems that you are very interested in letting us know what you think; a brief perusal of your responses shows that quite clearly. What you will not do is give us a working definition of free will (thank you Wonderous for the excellent definition, by the way). This way, whenever someone tries to offer up a personal definition, it is easy to take issue with it and invent your definitions and vocabulary (what exactly is a pseudo-random anything? Something is random or it isn't) as you go along. The main point of all of this is whether or not choice and free will are two different things? Sure they are and all one has to do is read some of your replies to see that you certainly divide things into "true" choices (those choices that exercise "free will") and choices that you feel are suspect since there is a compulsion put on the person making the choice.

Give me an example of a choice where there is absolutely no compulsion whatsoever to choose between different options. It doesn't exist and no proponent of free will has ever been able to produce one. Alternatively, try this experiment: go down to the local watering hole and draw down a couple of cold ones. Then, using your free will, choose not to be drunk. Uh huh.

Choices, as you have been using them, are either made with or without complusion. Free will is a specific mental state of a person making a choice; the argument then becomes whether or not mental states influence choices. Propenents of free will say mental states don't (by definition), otherwise the choice would not be free. I find that to be an untenable position to hold and require evidence to show that a choice can be made without reference to the specific mental states of the person making the choice, all of which are antecedent to the choice, (again, by definition).

My position is that "free will" is a linguistic construct; the idea of being able to choose without compulsion doesn't exist; there is always going to be something (predisposition, experience, education) that will affect and thereby influence the choices that one makes. But, if you or anyone else can think of an example of a choice that can be made without any antecedents influencing it, mental state being one of many antecedents, I'd love to hear it. Until that time, the "free will" position is a chimera; not a speck of evidence to show that a state of affairs such as that exists and on this board, evidence trumps logic.

Rich
First, sorry - pseudo-random is a programming term. In a simulation, a computer cannot actually generate a random number (if such a beast actually exists). Instead, what is done is that a complex algorithm is developed to generate a string of numbers that appear to have no relation to each other. In other words, simply by examining the string that was actually generated mathematically, virtually no human being could ever work backwards to discover the algorithm that generated it. In this way, it appears fully random - there are even mathematical tests that can be applied to validate the 'strength' of the 'randomness. However, every number in the string is actually fully related to every other number - if you know the algorithm, you can predict the outcomes - thus it is called pseudo-random.

Second, for me, a living language refines its terms. The meaning of terms change with our understanding of what they describe and the context they are used in. And they are always different for every individual who uses them or receives them,

Obviously, if there is not some stability (or overlap), they fail because it is hard enough to get 'on the same page.' But a rigid insistence that a term must carry a certain connotation because of the history of the term's usage despite the altered context of the current, specific usage seems to take some of the elasticity out of the communication.

Third, I apologize if it appears that I am more interested in what I have to say than what you do. I am an artist who was raised by an engineer and a master carpenter's daughter. There was quite a lot of 'testing' in our conversational style. However, this is a method for refinement of argument and approach to understanding - I am, probably, learning far more from you than you suspect. For example - you make a distinction that allows for 'options' but not 'nonsense.' I get that. I am intrigued by that. I tend to see a world full of nonsense. In other words, nonsense is an option. I am coming to see that it may not be. Nevertheless, for me, this is resulting in a reassessment of the term 'self.' And I'm confident that the term 'self' (one simple syllable) has more specific connotations than almost any other word - even 'god.'

If you asked me what 2+2 was - I could say 'gazornumplantz.' That might not be helpful, and it may rise from some internal agenda, a neurological malfunction, or other fully explainable 'compulsion.' However, it is unlikely that you would ever have predicted that response. So, I'm not sure that, while they may be ultimately limited at any given time, my responses will, necessarily, be predictable even to me. It doesn't appear - on the surface - to have been a compulsory choice.
I've I had to differentiate, I'd say that free will is my ability to choose that which I shouldn't.
B.

I think that a lot of the people here would agree that people in general are easily manipulated. Your ability to make a choice does not mean that you were not being conditioned by another to chose one over another.

Free will however describes a person who is free of impression, whether it be from religion, or another. The choice is yours to make.
I'd suggest that you don't have to be free of impression when you make your choice. You just have to be aware that there is some form of impression or manipulation being applied to direct you in your choice.
Nothing operates in a vacuum - I agree. Nothing is uninfluenced or exists without influence. (That is true, strangely, if you are talking about 'nothing' or 'anything at all')

At the end of the day, what I am really interested in getting at is the nature of the confines of consciousness.

In my day to day, I can operate just fine with a vague (but very specific feeling) notion that there is a 'me' and an 'everything else.' How could 'I' function otherwise?

But that brings with it a self-centered approach to the universe (again, not judging, just saying). In some respects, creationists can't let go of anthropocentrism - or even a narrower - those-of-us-who-are-saved-centrism.

Yet, every major breakthrough in science has pushed the 'center of the universe' further and further away from it being 'all about us.' And, the more we realize that it is not 'all about us' - the more accurate a picture of what is going on we will have AND the more we can broaden our compassion.

For example, a creationist resists the idea that humans are animals. This allows him to feel superior to animals, which, in turn, contracts his compassion. In fact, as I pointed out, his compassion is contracted down to those who believe as he does.

What if, when Jesus said: 'Love your neighbor as yourself' or 'judge not lest ye be judged' or 'whatsoever you do to another you do to me' etc. he was trying to get across that everything is the universe acting on itself - that what we do to each other, our environment, etc. we are doing to ourselves - literally? Forget all the woo woo crap associated with the (real or imagined) 'guy' for a minute - philosophically and ontologically speaking - that's not an entirely wrong-headed way of looking at things.

So yeah - I think we ought to take responsibility for our tiny corner of the universe. Who else is going to? But the one thing I am most certain of - it's not all about me.
Lol. I ask it mostly because it would be a 'failure of imagination' not to. Luckily, I won't likely figure it out anytime soon and, if I do, I'm sure to be locked up in the woo woo bin over it. Please, though, make sure I get a stylish tinfoil chapeau.

I do think it is a type of chauvinism to remain convinced, by assertion alone, that this amazing thing called consciousness only emerges at a certain scale - not too big - not too small. Some narrow range of neural connections in a single human mind can be called consciousness - but a billion human minds collaborating in untold ways couldn't possibly result in a larger consciousness aware of itself in ways we aren't aware of - right? No way to tell for sure I guess.

But if, collectively, our gestalt consciousness (which arguably is what got us to the moon and created this internet) has actually gelled into a type of larger awareness we can't quite pin down - well, we might sense it at the periphery of our vision and, quite mistakenly, take it for a god ...
But social networking itself is a type of zeitgeist.

I have to say - there are quite a number of atheists who are 'afraid of ghosts' - that is to say, the simple mention of the word and they run around frantically yelling "woo woo woo" until they sound like Curly of the Three Stooges! Man - the oh so dangerous 'slippery slope' of inquiry into extra-anthropic consciousness - woo woo woo!

BTW - suggesting that the human race - in large numbers - might constitute a larger consciousness would send the fundies running around screaming "woo woo woo woo" as well.
those who say we are one (wave) are just as wrong as those who say we are many (particles)... neither is accurate to reality and neither is wrong under a certain point of view... perhaps the free will arguments should keep this in mind... there is no freewill but there is no no freewill too .(^_^).

(I am/we are) the eternal uncreate reality dreaming about being the many disconnected desires and personalities that give meaning to the purposeless existence.
"those who say we are one (wave) are just as wrong as those who say we are many (particles)... neither is accurate to reality and neither is wrong under a certain point of view"

That's a good way of putting it.

"(I am/we are) the eternal uncreate reality dreaming about being the many disconnected desires and personalities that give meaning to the purposeless existence."

Except the dream is also real. I would personally use the word 'imagining' or 'perceiving' in its place. Otherwise you risk going Howard's route and being unsure if anything is real or just illusion. And that leads nowhere.

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