Monday, July 27, 2015

Do we have free will ? My current view to the question.

Do we have free will ? 

What is free will ? 

No one knows the answer because the free will is, by its nature, a perceptual idea that differs from person to person. Is free will the ability to make 'free' decisions regardless possible cost/ reward, or the ability to generate a motivation and goal that is not given by others ? Is it a special quality that is inseparable from human beings, the unique, chosen species of the world, therefore impossible to be analyzed whatsoever, or something that is totally experiential that cannot be appealed to words ?

 If we don't initially agree on what the free will is, we are not going to be able to discuss it.

Here, I adopted the most popular view of what the free will is. That is, free will is the ability to make decisions voluntarily. The ability to make choices by our own not affected by the possible outcomes, our experience, or our previous choices. This implies that it should be totally random, unpredictable, if the task is not relating to any kind of goals. 

Allow me to cite a paragraph from here  , to demonstrate scientist's effort on this issue. 


16.5.1 The Libet experiment
The classic experiment in the research field of human volition was performed by Libet (297). In this experiment, subjects decide on their own when to move their right hand. After each trial subjects report when they felt the ‘urge to move’, with respect to a rapidly rotating hand of a clock. The reported ‘urge to move’ is in fact about 200ms earlier than the actual movement. Most interestingly, however, electrical brain activity measured by EEG recordings indicates that the brain exhibits signals of preparatory activity already several hundred milliseconds before the reported ‘urge to move’. Thus, if we accept to interpret the felt ‘urge to move’ as the conscious decision to move the hand, then we must also accept the fact that the brain has unconsciously prepared our decision.
A modern and debated variant of the Libet experiment is shown in Fig. 16.11A. The main difference to the original Libet experiment (where the decision was limited to ‘move’ or ‘not move’) is that subjects now hold two buttons, one in the left and the other in the right hand (490). Subjects are free to decide when to move and press either of the two buttons. While subjects perform the experiment, they watch a stream of letters at a rate of two letters per second. At the end of each trial, they indicate at which letter they had felt the ‘urge to move’. The reported letter serves as a timing reference for the subsequent analysis.
During the experiment, brain activity was recorded through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Using statistical pattern classification techniques, the authors aimed at predicting the final response outcome (left or right) based on the activity patterns in localized brain areas. If brain activity contained no cue about the final decision, the prediction would be always 50 percent. However, the authors found that activity patterns in fronto-polar cortex 5 seconds before the reported ‘urge to move’ allowed them to predict the final choice (left or right) with a precision of 55 - 60 percent (490) which is above chance but far from a reliable prediction.
quote over ::
The experiment predicted the decision 5s before the subject report they 'feel the urge to move' with 60 % accuracy by monitoring fMRI image of brain activity. Not satisfactory, but somewhat tells us it is not totally unpredictable. There are different models that model the process of decision making in neuronal level. According to the author, the free will to make decision is still under debate, because our decision may be changed drastically at the last millisecond because some novel events change the landscape of Liapunov function during the course the state falls to the attractor.  

 ' We don't do what we want, we want what we do.' Speaking of to identify the moment of 'feeling the urge to act', I cannot avoid mentioning the widely accepted view that we don't generate the urge voluntarily. Our motivation is by large controlled by a variety of hormones, dopamine, and serotonin. These chemicals are the source of the feeling of happiness, sense of belonging, pleasure of orgasm, etc. Our deepest motivations are conditioned by this genetically programmed constraints. If you do something because you feel good, usually it can be boiled down to either social or biological rewards conditioning.  Who can deny, that the happiness is the reward that no one can resists ?

  In rare conditions, we have free will when the outcomes do not affect us consequently. But maybe even in that case the decision process is determined by the random variable embedded in the neuron population. At best, we have free will within constraints of the life we lead in terms of motivation.  However, it brings about a important implication. When we chose to suffer the consequence when there are better options, free will may be operating.  For instance, any self-sacrifice, or suicidal action of sane, healthy people could be explained by free will.

  A mother reported when she observed her bi-polar child, she immediately realized that the insane person has little control to their actions, they don't have free will. It gave rise to a very peculiar yet inspiring point of view that defines the free will in way complement to our previous definition. That is, the free will is not the ability to act according to your urge, but the ability to inhibit the urge. We can design a experiment in light of this. A experiment tests subjects ability to resist being conditioned. When we can control our urges, which usually, if not always, stem from genetically programmed conditions, we are enforcing our free will. 'Free will accompanies voluntary suffering.' this conclusion is not only cogent, but has rich sociological connotation.

  Another interesting view is, no, we don't have free will, since we are in anyway either constrained by biological curse, or sociological cause. The environment either shaped our body, or shaped our mind. Our thought is a product of our experience, or our collected experience, our culture. The view also indicates the essence of the problem is paradoxical because we recursively have to attribute the free will a physical source, a small brain pulling the lever inside our brain, and a smaller brain and so on.  Do we want what we do, or do we do what we want ? Do we have egg first, or chicken first ? 

The paradox may be untangled by introducing the concept of co-evolving. Free will does not emerge at once, but shapes gradually during the process of decision making. That is free will and decision may not be causal related, but co-product.  Or, according to this answer,  that real free will means being able to look at our decisions and actions and understand them in terms of a narrative which identifies ourselves within them. Free will means saying "I did this, because xyz." And maybe we're wrong about the xyz, and maybe you get freer the better you understand yourself over time.





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