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    Thread: Ideas on Free Will

    1. #1
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      Ideas on Free Will

      Hey guys, I was hoping to start a discussion on this. Although, one thing I do want to do is not just focus so much on whether we have free will or not, but what free will actually even is or means. The former is just a matter of opinion really because claims for it aren't falsifiable, so it's kind of a dead end for discussion and mostly degrades into unproductive (and at times, pretty toxic) turd flinging, if you know what I mean.

      To begin, I always find the need to ask myself if having physical laws and limitations itself doesn't negate the idea right out of the gate, but I think it's safe to say that most of us would agree that what's meant by free will isn't synonymous with total freedom. Free will would, by default, take into account the nature of the universe's existence and otherwise simply mean being capable of choosing which direction you're going and whether to or not to do something.

      Assuming we go with this definition though, my next question is that, if we are required to acquire nutrients and resources to sustain ourselves with, and we have to work to obtain those necessities, how free can we really be to choose for ourselves what to do? Sure, the option is technically always there not to do these things, but can you really call that an option? For now, I'll leave that and consider how significant actually having the option available even though it's really no option at all in all this.

      So, for the sake of argument, even if we decide to say that we already took into account and kind of just threw out the physical laws the universe imposes on us, why not go ahead an take it as far as it can go. Now we will say that those impositions are necessary for our existence entirely, so we only need to actually count whether or not you have any options available to you at all to choose from. If even just a few exist, your ability to make a choice there would be indicative of free will, right?

      But what if we consider the following scenario: all of our options were synthetically manufactured and a few different kinds are produced and they are what's presented to you to choose from. If those are your only options available to you, are you really actually "choosing" anything? Ultimately what you're getting is more or less the same but different enough that it gives off the appearance of giving you the option to choose, but what you can choose was already essentially chosen for you. Personally, I feel like this scenario doesn't really cause any problems, because even if the options are all pre-fabricated for you, the fact you can pick which one you get is undeniable. Really, existence in itself is actually very much like this. The apparent existence of laws and rules that govern the interactions of energy and matter inherently limit the options we have to choose from, to the point that the only options we have were the one's that had the possibility of existing in the first place (the possibility thereof almost, confusingly, meaning that whatever could possibly exist actually essentially already does or will, because otherwise it wouldn't actually be possible for it to exist).

      Last but not least, what I believe is the hairiest to talk about, is whether or not you are merely being presented with the perceptual feeling of having made a choice when you make choices, but as a matter of fact it's just an illusion. Personally, looking at this at face value, I would say that it truly doesn't matter whether it's an illusion or real, because if an illusion is every bit as convincing as the real thing, there's no functional or qualitative difference between the two experiences/things.

      However, where this gets a bit tricky is a bit of a hypothesis I've had lately. You see, in many of the dreams and altered states/hypnagogia I've had, I've experienced myself producing reasons for why I did something or that something is happening that I actually knew immediately after producing the reasons that they were all something my mind created on the spot of its own accord without any kind of conscious guidance to do so. As a matter of fact, it's what wound up producing my conscious experience and views on what was happening in the dreams/whatever and I'm kind of confused how I was able to notice at all that my mind had autonomously and unconsciously produced understandings and logical reasonings for my actions or the events that just transpired in front of me.

      This presented a huge problem for me, because I actually kind of like that there's no overwhelming consensus that can be reached about whether or not we have free will using any particular line of reasoning, so how much this revelation about the nature of my mind and my experience of reality tipped the scales in favor of us not having free will upset me... not because I care about whether or not I have free will, but because it upset the balance, lol. In any case, I really started to wonder how much of my being able to notice it was because I was in an altered state, where the areas of the brain responsible for quickly and most convincingly producing these sensations and understandings wasn't functioning entirely at full capacity.

      If this were the case, it could be assumed (for the sake of argument of course) that this tendency for the mind to simply make up reasons and understandings of what's going on and about what you're doing and why you're doing it is happening all the time. If these were all being produced, how could I actually be making any of the decisions I believe I'm making? If anything, it was as if I had already made all the choices I was making before and I was simply observing myself make them and understanding, around that very same moment, why I made that choice. Obviously, this doesn't bode well for the idea of free will.

      What I realized, though, was that even if we do actually make all of our decisions unconsciously and simply consciously understand why we made them afterward, there is still a bit of a loop hole. That loop whole is changing our attitude, outlook, perspective, and beliefs. You see, in the Army we subscribed to the idea that you have to train like you fight (I promise this is relevant, haha). When it comes time to take action, unless you've already practiced and thought about what you would do in a given situation, any knowledge you have about what you should be doing flies completely out the window. You need to be trained to the point that you will simply act the appropriate way automatically if a situation were to pop up. Similarly, when we are doing pretty much anything in our lives, especially if it involves social interaction or physical activity, that same inability to perform as needed because thinking and knowing what you should be doing goes completely out the window, only depending on how stressful the situation is, it isn't as apparent because the need to excel and get things exactly right isn't as much of an important task.

      So, keeping that in mind, we could say that in any given situation where we're having to do much of anything, we pretty much just act entirely with the unconscious mind, but believe ourselves to be consciously in control while that's happening. The one way to actually choose how you can react in a given situation, then, is to change the unconscious mind. And, as I said, you do that by changing your attitude, outlook, understandings, and beliefs about things. When the time for us to act comes, then, if the unconscious mind is sufficiently changed, so to will the actions you take in a given situation... even if you aren't capable of consciously directing your actions on the spot directly. Depending on how good you are at changing your perspective, the more quickly and with less thinking and mental sorting through you have to do, and the higher your degree of "free will" would be.

    2. #2
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      Quote Originally Posted by snoop View Post
      if we are required to acquire nutrients and resources to sustain ourselves with, and we have to work to obtain those necessities, how free can we really be to choose for ourselves what to do?
      I think we have to start with the reality that there is no such thing as absolute free will, as you already mentioned above, and instead look at a much more realistic scenario where we have some degree of free will but obviously we have to operate within the constraints that all living things do (and more than that, since human society imposes certain restrictions on us above and beyond the mere needs of animal survival). This just reflects the maturity of learning as we get older and wiser that our earlier ideas were pretty simplistic and unrealistic, and we gradually develop more complex ideas that more accurately reflect the realities of life.

      More directly to your point though, while we all need to somehow provide nutrition in order to survive, we have a wide range of choices in how to do that. You can choose what kind of job you get. Will it be lowest rung wage labor where you have to work harder and make less money than most people, or will you choose to do something you love so it never feels like work? Or will you live homeless and desperately scrape and struggle to steal or beg everything you need? Or choose to live on the welfare system? High-level corporate embezzling? You could move to a country with a much better standard of living where the money you've already accumulated might be enough to survive on for the rest of your life. Or you might get the kind of seasonal work where in a single season of busting ass you earn enough to live for the rest of the year, giving yourself plenty of time to pursue your interests, and possibly create your own career using that extra time so you can do work you like better. So yes, it 's a matter of having limitations, but within those limitations you do have a lot of choices.

      I'm going to just cut to what I see as the crux of the problem:

      What does it really mean to say "free will" when we know that our Ego, which most people think of as the entirety of their personality, and the seat of the will and conscious decision-making, is overruled by the unconscious Self, over which 'we' have no control?

      Some people seem to fall into despair when they realize this fact. But to me it's just a fact that has always been true, though most of us didn't know about it. And it helps when you realize that theSelf, though the Ego can't control it, is not the enemy - in fact it has your own best interests at heart always, but it understands the harsh realities of life better than your hopelessly limited Ego. I think of it as a relationship like that between parent and child. The parent understands reality in ways the child can't, and so can make decision that are much better, though the child might scream and cry because he can't have his childish way (this also explains a lot about that earlier idea of absolute freedom - the whole concept is rather childish and just reflects an unrealistic understanding of reality).

      I've mentioned on the board before my understanding that the conscious mind developed as a way of double-checking the instant reactions of the unconscious. They operate differently - the unconscious works 'in parallel' so it can process many decisions all at the same time but it gets more broad generic results, while the conscious mind works 'in serial' - meaning it processes only one problem at a time. This makes it much slower, but it allows it to focus very specifically on each problem and compare and contrast problems and their solutions. We can deliberate - something no living thing was ever able to do in the past, because until Mankind there has never been a conscious mind (that we're aware of). So I see it as a feedback loop that works something like this:

      Instantaneous but very generic decision from the unconscious followed by slow deliberate conscious thinking. In some situations that instantaneous decision (instinct) is a necessity - you need to jump instantly away from a tiger rather than deliberate over the pros and cons of different choices. But afterwards, as the adrenaline slowly wears off and the panic settles down, you can then deliberate - what if you carried a spear for example? And maybe traveled through dangerous areas only with other people also armed? Or what if you took a different route next time that might be longer but that goes well clear of the tiger's territory?

      So both modes of thinking are necessary - well to be human they are. And this is precisely what gives us a whole new range of free will not available to animals, who operate only on instinct.

      In fact we can continue to refine our ideas well beyond what I illustrated in the tiger scenario. Because we have the new conscious apparatus we can keep improving on the spear - develop the bow and arrow, the sword, the gun. Learn where tigers live and move somewhere else as a society. Just having conscious thinking abilities opens an endless spectrum of re-considering possibilities and trying new options.

      And I suspect that while it takes the unconscious Self a long time to adjust to the new ideas, it eventually will. It seems to happen like it does in the dream world - in fact as we know now dreams are largely training scenarios or testing scenarios where we're faced with problems and given the chance to develop solutions. If you develop a solution the unconscious mind doesn't recognize (since it mostly operates on instinct) - if the solution is a good one and proves to work, then I think the unconscious will accept it and sort of learn from it, though slowly. It can take the dream world (the unconscious) a long time to adjust to new realities. For instance you tend to dream about your childhood home rather than the one you live in now. I think when you implement a solution that you came up with consciously through deliberation, the unconscious doesn't understand at first - but if the solution actually solves the problem, I think the unconscious takes the pressure off (the pressure it exerts on you to solve the problem in the ancient way that it's familiar with).

      In fact, if you watched the videos I posted yesterday where Skip Conover began reading from the Red Book, it all becomes very clear if you understand that the Spirit of the Depths he keeps referring to is the Unconscious Self, and the Spirit of the Times is the Conscious Ego. The conscious is aware of the here and now, but the unconscious is built on instinct and it knows only timeless ideas that come from our ancient past. I think what really makes us tick as human beings is the dialogue between these 2 internal entities. Jung sometimes refers to them as Personality 1 and Personality 2.

      So to wrap up my views neatly - my thoughts now are that the whole idea of Free Will was an early religious one that passed into early philosophy as well, but I think it's pretty much a dead end and a misunderstanding of the realities of life as a human being. At least the simple dichotomy as originally stated "Do we have free will or not?" I don't think it's that black and white - in fact I don't think most things are that simple and attempts to state things in such simple terms miss the point. I think a better question is "To what extent are we able to exert control over our own decisions, and what factors are involved?"

      But even this immediately breaks down and has to be amended. What does the I refer to in the statement "I have control over my choices?"If you understand the unconscious and the role it plays, it's not a simple thing - it's not simply the Ego but that dialogue between Ego and Unconscious Self. I see that dialogue as the I.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 12-17-2017 at 08:31 PM.
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    3. #3
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      I don't think you quite give other animals enough. While its true that they rely on instinct more than our own kind, they (especially higher forms of life like chimps, elephants and dolphins) are capable of developing learned behaviours, having relatively complex societies and languages and engaging in somewhat abstract problem solving. Obviously, these capacities are less sophisticated than our own, but I think its wrong to consider aspects of our mind as wholly unique.

      All that said, I agree with your conception of the mind. Freudian psychology is outdated, but I think it'll be good enough for our purposes. The mind, according to Freud, is made up of the Id (instinct), Ego ("ourself") and Superego (higher emotions and reasoning). I think the best definition (or at least a good starting point) for free will would be the extent to whch the ego is able to disobey or otherwise work against the other two aspects. For instance, when we are wronged the id might be screaming at us to take attackers life. Our ego, however, though it may take great effort, can go against it. Likewise, the superego may impose preemptive (and postevent) guilt over the possibility of taking anothers life, but if its necessary for living, we may decide to bear the guilt and live another day.

      What I find interesting about this is that when we aim to go against one aspect we often lean on its opposite for support. To continue my examples the guilt from the superego helps the ego defy the id's desire for revenge. Likewise, the id's want to live helps the ego ignore the superego's guilt. Add to all this societal that shape how much regard we hold one aspect in over the other, as well as simple life experiences that even as we type are (often sublty) molding our personalities and we find that defining free will and especially measuring it is a very thorny issue.

      A final thought before bed is that not only is absolute free will probably impossible, but it is probably undesirable. Without the id's desires and the superego's analysis, what would our now free ego even want to do? I feel that a lot of technology and art got its start from a combination of wanting to transcend limitations, yet being forced to work within such parameters. We will always strive for freedom, but, though we get incredibly close, we will never quite achieve it perfectly.

    4. #4
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      Quote Originally Posted by splodeymissile View Post
      I don't think you quite give other animals enough.
      Agreed - I did sort of wave them off too easily, didn't I? What I meant was that no animal has ever had the sort of abstract reasoning - the full complement of conscious apparatus - that we do thanks to our highly developed neocortex. Or I could say they've never experienced a conscious mind to the same level that humans do.

    5. #5
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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      1)What does it really mean to say "free will" when we know that our Ego, which most people think of as the entirety of their personality, and the seat of the will and conscious decision-making, is overruled by the unconscious Self, over which 'we' have no control?

      2)And I suspect that while it takes the unconscious Self a long time to adjust to the new ideas, it eventually will. It seems to happen like it does in the dream world - in fact as we know now dreams are largely training scenarios or testing scenarios where we're faced with problems and given the chance to develop solutions.
      Responding to what i bolded as "1)", I think you more or less actually addressed the phenomenon I mentioned at the very end of my post. Only, of course, you've hit more of the core issue itself, whereas the phenomenon of having the conscious mind simply fabricating reasons and understandings for the actions the body and unconscious mind just took is potentially one individual side-effect of that.

      I don't think I explained what I meant very well in the OP so I'll attempt to clarify it a bit. The crux of the issue is as you said, the actions we take at any given moment are either largely or perhaps even entirely made by the unconscious despite our perception and belief that we are consciously directing our actions and making the choices. Despite this, our conscious, thinking mind isn't totally devoid of control (or at least having a potentially significant impact on how the unconscious chooses to act). What you said in bold "2)" is what I was saying when I brought up that whole "train how you fight" concept.

      What I currently like to believe is the case is that in any given moment or instance where some kind of doing or action needs to be performed, the conscious mind essentially has no control of the actions being taken at that moment in time. The very most I think it's really capable of is being able to get you to stop doing something midway through doing it (and it's rather poor at getting the job done, at that). Really though, I have to wonder how far this rabbit hole actually goes, but it's not implausible that stopping yourself in the middle of performing certain actions is a learned and conditioned response to previous instances in time where performing that action (or one somewhat more abstractly the equivalent of doing so despite not being an exact situation or action being taken). How much credit can the conscious mind really take for stopping the whole, gestalt "you" as a being from continuing the execution of whatever action, then?

      I think the only control I'm comfortable seriously entertaining that the conscious mind is really capable of having over our actions is through altering our beliefs, attitude, world outlook, and perspective in a relaxed environment or at least relaxed physical/mental state by constantly revisiting and reevaluating our beliefs and values, noting the likelihood of their accuracy and their effectiveness and utility to hold on to (for instance, if you don't believe God really exists but choose to be Christian or something because the sense of community and belonging helps integrate you socially and regulate your emotional well being, etc.).

      By far the most effective way of facilitating new beliefs, values, and perspectives on things for me is to take what I've learned from the Army and properly making use of the "train how you fight mentality". I was in an airborne infantry unit, and all the time when we didn't have something to directly be working on, we defaulted to either learning and memorizing relevant info for functioning in that unit and survival, or even more often, we trained doing the exact same thing ad nauseam (sometimes literally depending on how physical the training was, lol).The simplest of things you had to do, like reload over and over smoothly and quickly, or your trigger squeeze with dimes on the end of the barrel (the goal being to keep it from falling off, this was done dry firing obviously), not just things performing first aid which seemed more significant.

      The key is to have the discipline to put in the necessary effort it takes to get that many repetitions in, all while prioritizing how smoothly and calmly you execute whatever it is you're practicing (while putting in an effort to increase your overall speed as much as is possibly allowed while keeping the action smooth). Muscle memory, at least as a concept, doesn't seem to just help perform physical activities. The key to really excelling in improving yourself is to wind up establishing a flow to what you're doing and to let a natural rhythm form, recognize it, and follow that rhythm until something interrupting the flow of it necessitates changing the tempo, but not the rhythm itself. Everything that happens and exists flows in a natural rhythm that only ever really changes when the balance allowing for the equilibrated harmony of it's repetition is upset, and the rhythms merely change in a sort of homeostatic response to reach equilibrium again.

      This process works for literally everything when you consciously train yourself to do everything following the few basic steps it takes to start off slow and smooth but challenge yourself to increase the speed as you repeat the training. Hell, I guess you're at first training yourself to automatically train yourself in this way until it's second nature, haha. In any case, the way this can specifically used to make significant and very meaningful changes in your beliefs, belief system, and outlook is to basically fake it till you make it. Constantly monitor your behaviors and emotional reactions to things, and any time you recognize a problem behavior, tell yourself it's wrong and you're not doing it anymore and explicitly list all the reasons why to yourself every time.

      Take, for example, my emotional blunting and nigh incapability of forming emotional attachments to anything or anybody and lacking of any genuine emotional empathy for others. I made a help thread about it a while back, don't know if you read it, but feel free to ask if you need me to elaborate on some of what I'm talking about concerning my past issues. In any case, despite still having any real emotions or emotional attachments, I'm capable of a sort of pseudo emotional empathy. Or maybe that's not even an accurate way of defining it, for all I know it's a sort of proto emotional empathic response and I'm actually going to recover it fully sometime in the future. Regardless, the way I achieved this pseudo/proto empathy was to embrace the fact that I was going to have to put in legitimate effort to actually be able to care about others on some level if that is what I desired (and I did). I forced--no, more challenged--myself to "care" no matter the situation and how petty, insignificant, mundane, or annoying I perceived it to be. All the while I reminded myself that this was a goal I actually believed worth achieving because I'd been so emotionally starved/dried up that I truly believed my quality of life would be improved if I could even just learn to act as much like a good and caring person the best that I possibly could. It was bothering me enough that I committed to just trying no matter what and not giving up no matter how useless the practice seemed to be, because I was disgustingly sick of things being the same as they were for the previous 6 or 7 years.

      In about 3 months time, having to consciously force myself to care started to fade and it gave way to the habituation of the behavior. Getting here was honestly all I expected to be able to really do and I did it in substantially less time than I expected it to take. After about 7 months, I actually developed a semblance of a conscience and the feeling of remorse for how my actions affected others. It still isn't quite emotionally the same as feeling bad for doing something, but I've developed something akin to taste aversion to it. Trying it with forming a sense of empathy again was something I decided to try doing after actually training myself to stop getting angry at people for literally nothing more than existing in front of me (to the point I could brood and work up to rages quite quickly). I constantly cussed people out in my mind and even felt like getting violent with them pretty regularly. Forcing exposure to situations where I would get angry for no reason and forcing myself to calm down and to especially quit verbally slaughtering every person I passed in my mind just because I felt like doing it. I've had anger issues all of my life, and I literally have such a mastery over my anger now that really no matter the situation, I don't really seem to be able to get angry over it.

      The wild success with that inspired the effort for the empathy, and I've only taken further into just about every aspect of my life and the degree of change in my personality is so stark that I can honestly confidently say I've accomplished a level of self-improvement and change that I had long given up hope in believing that any human being was actually capable of actually doing it. Applying the method/technique for improving about training how you fight and whatnot is a skill that improves itself the more practice you get with it too, so applying it to literally every aspect of your life that you can and dedicating yourself to actually keeping up with the level of effort challenging yourself that way requires essentially expands the degree of conscious control you're capable of having on your daily actions. I'm not sure it would make to sense to say that it "increases" the amount of free will you have, but whatever.
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    6. #6
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      Quote Originally Posted by snoop View Post
      Responding to what i bolded as "1)", I think you more or less actually addressed the phenomenon I mentioned at the very end of my post.
      Oops! Here's where I have to admit that I failed to read your last 2 paragraphs before responding. I got all fired up about what I wanted to say and started posting, then never went back and finished reading your post. I just read it now, and I see what you mean.


      Quote Originally Posted by snoop View Post
      I think the only control I'm comfortable seriously entertaining that the conscious mind is really capable of having over our actions is through altering our beliefs, attitude, world outlook, and perspective in a relaxed environment or at least relaxed physical/mental state by constantly revisiting and reevaluating our beliefs and values, noting the likelihood of their accuracy and their effectiveness and utility to hold on to ...

      By far the most effective way of facilitating new beliefs, values, and perspectives on things for me is to take what I've learned from the Army and properly making use of the "train how you fight mentality" ...
      Ok, I completely agree with this. Well, I'm not sure if it's the only control the conscious mind has - I'd need to think abut that for a while but it definitely is a powerful one and quite possibly the only one.

      Over the last few years I've been trying to change my own behaviors and beliefs, and like you I've been quite successful. For me it involved studying the ancient Greek practical philosophy system known as Stoicism (which is the basis of a modern therapeutic practice called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, known to be the most effective way to alter behavior patterns). I was able to completely change some deeply ingrained habits and get my life under control in terms of eating and exercise. I was pre-diabetic and addicted to sugar and a lot of terrible food, and would eat all the time, even right before bed. I learned that the only way to change a habit is to replace it with a new one - you can't just break a habit or you leave a hole that wants to be filled and the easiest way to fill it is of course for the old habit to just come back when you lapse a little. But if you replace it with a better habit that fills the hole.

      I also learned to change the physical structures associated with the bad habit. I threw out all my sugar and flour (gluten needed to go too) and all the bad food and filled my cabinets with healthy stuff instead. If it's physically difficult to practice the bad habit you'll tend not to do it anymore.

      Then in my art training I found that the same principles I had learned with exercise applied to other things as well. Meaning you change yourself by practicing every day (or at least regularly) and the change happens little by little - you might not even notice it until a few months have gone by. And it will seem to happen in sudden leaps and bounds with periods of stasis in between - punctuated equilibrium as I like to call it. You have to keep up the regular practice and for a while it seems nothing is happening but suddenly you'll have a breakthrough and soon several more.

      So I see where you're coming from with the train the way you fight analogy. Yeah, it makes sense.

      Oh, and I did read your thread - I remember it. You've made definite progress since then.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 12-18-2017 at 02:54 PM.
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