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Eric Holloway: Can free will be a scientific idea?


Yes, if we look at it from the perspective of information theory:

So, if all of our universe could, in principle, be run on a smartphone, then every part of the universe could certainly be run on a smartphone, including the human mind. This is why many highly educated and intelligent people think that the mind itself must reduce to a computer algorithm, at least in theory. In their view, there is just no other possibility.

However, their assumption is provably false. There are other possibilities. Chance and necessity are a very narrow restriction on the range of possibilities. They are a very successful restriction because we’ve been able to explain and control much of our world by reducing it to models of chance and necessity. But the point remains that chance and necessity is not the only way things can be.

Why not? To understand what the phrase “chance and necessity” means, we need a brief detour through probability theory. In everyday life, we casually throw around the terms “confidence,” “chance,” and “likely.” We sometimes attach numbers too. We say that an event has a 90% chance of occurring. But, what do we mean by a “90% chance”?

There are several ways of interpreting our notion of a 90% chance and they do not all mean the same thing.

Eric Holloway, “Can free will really be a scientific idea” at Mind Matters News

Further reading on free will:

Why do atheists still claim that free will can’t exist? Sam Harris reduces everything to physics but then ignores quantum non-determinism (Eric Holloway)

Was famous old evidence against free will just debunked? The pattern that was thought to prove free will an illusion may have been noise


Younger thinkers now argue that free will is real. The laws of physics do not rule it out, they say.

@KF, true, stochastic processes in general cannot reason. The error in science is that it assumes everything is a stochastic process, which is a huge assumption. It is also an assumption that can be empirically validated, but science does not do this. Scientists do not follow Kolmogorov's advice: "Not every event has a definite probability. The assumption that a definite probability in fact exists for a given event under given conditions is a hypothesis that must be verified or justified in each individual case." EricMH
EMH, yes, though the discredit extends to chance elements too, as a dynamic-stochastic process is not a rational one. KF PS: Here is Reppert, echoing C S Lewis and J B S Haldane:
. . . let us suppose that brain state A [--> notice, state of a wetware, electrochemically operated computational substrate], which is token identical to the thought that all men are mortal, and brain state B, which is token identical to the thought that Socrates is a man, together cause the belief [--> concious, perceptual state or disposition] that Socrates is mortal. It isn’t enough for rational inference that these events be those beliefs, it is also necessary that the causal transaction be in virtue of the content of those thoughts . . . [But] if naturalism is true, then the propositional content is irrelevant to the causal transaction that produces the conclusion, and [so] we do not have a case of rational inference. In rational inference, as Lewis puts it, one thought causes another thought not by being, but by being seen to be, the ground for it. But causal transactions in the brain occur in virtue of the brain’s being in a particular type of state that is relevant to physical causal transactions.
@KF that's a great point. In order to reason, our thoughts must be free. If I program my computer to do something, the outcome has no bearing on what is true. The output is only based on the programming and input. Likewise with reasoning. If our thoughts are determined, then they are just as arbitrary as computer code. EricMH
Without responsible rational freedom we do not have the intellectual credibility for scientific reasoning to be worth trusting or taking seriously. Rational, responsible freedom is a prior condition of science, Math etc. kairosfocus

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