Friday, February 17, 2012

Views about free will

Now and then comes the day when you feel that you have said all that might possibly interest anyone somewhere in this waste Universe and even an attempt to think about some problem creates a feeling of deep disgust. I try to escape this depressive mood by meandering around the web in the hope that some colleague or blogger might have written something original. Usually the outcome is a disappointment. Original and not obviously wrong thoughts are as rare as genuine anomalies.

This kind of cheerless wandering around web led me to read some postings and articles about free will. Even some physicists have now accepted "free will" into their vocabulary. The fQXI conference about the nature of time held in some boat sailing from Norway towards Copenhagen las summer had inspired several blog postings. Also I wrote comments about the excellent lecture of David Eagleman about perceived time. This kind of sailing trips cost and it is good if they induce interaction between people with different backgrounds: now at least physicists, neuro-scientists, computer scientists and philosophers were solving both the problem of time and the problems caused by sea sickness at one blow.

I did not find it surprising that I did not find anything surprising in these postings. The common feature of all these articles is that quite too much is assumed. Sean Carroll as a descent reductionist makes especially strong assumptions. All writers have managed to remain unaware of the dramatic distinctions between subjective time and the geometric time of physicist. They also make the same error: in the process of trying to understand free will scientifically their first step is to carefully eliminate conscious mind from the picture. The outcome is free will as something effective and emergent or free will as resulting from deterministic but non-predictable/non-computable process. My humble question is: Why on earth something very complex or non-computable would generate sensation "I decide to do this!"?! A non-deterministic behavior serves as a correlate of free will but non-predictable (but possibly deterministic) behavior does not imply experience of free will.

Every writer grasps something essential but fails to see the essence of the problem and connect it with many related problems like the puzzle of time and the basic paradox of quantum measurement theory. One should not be however too critical since the position of the writers is unrewarding. Being names in blogo-sphere they have been invited to solve the problem of time with minimal background: this is like solving some deep problem in topology with the background given by a couple of hastily read Wikipedia articles.

I was a little bit disappointed but understood that I must also realize that the understanding free will is as difficult as the understanding of the nature of time. It requires a lot of time and a flash of genius: a sea trip from Norway to Copenhagen with National Geographic Explorer - even in a good company - need not be enough to spark this kind of flash. I have been trying to communicate more than 15 years my own flash of genius relating to free will and the relationship between experienced time and the geometric time of physicist but it seems that this has been waste of time. They must discover it themselves! Let us hope better luck during the next cruise! In the following some more detailed comments about articles of the peopled who participated the trip.

Sabine Hossenfelder: Free Will function

Sabine Hossenfelder has a posting titled "Free Will function". I agree with Sabine that the idea about emergent free will is self deception. Free will does not emerge from a deterministic microscopic dynamics.

The believers in emergence say that free will is an effective concept. Not real but useful. If the system in question is complex enough and behaves non-predictably as seen by outsider one can say that it has effective free will. But why the impossibility to predict a deterministic dynamics in practice would generate the experience "I will do this!". There is absolutely no justification for this belief.

A good objection against this identification comes from neuro-science and is described in the article The Brain on Trial by David Eagleman. People suffering Tourette's syndrome, split brain patients, persons with side personalities, and patients with choreic motions behave from the point of view of outsider as they would have free will. Using biblical language: they act as if being possessed. They do not experience free will. Who wills? Who uses the biological body of the patient? Same questions can be made in the situation when people who have done mass murder become conscious and begin to wonder what these bloody hands have done. Who used these hands? Are we merely our brains and bodies? Who uses my biological body? What is this "me"? Is this particular biological body used only by single intentional agent, by single "me" only? I could continue by telling about the notion of magnetic body but will not do it here.

Acidic out-of-topic side remark: Effective theories have become the basic curse of theoretical physics today. No-one can seriously claim that string models say anything about the world of experimental physicists. But there is a loop hole. By postulating effective field theory approach one can build entire landscape of effective theories. This is non-sense but it works. The only honest reaction would be to admit that string models are nice theories but not theories about the world we live in.

Sabine Hossenfelder suggests as a solution something that she calls free will function. Sabine considers a machine spitting out digits of π. This process is fully deterministic but outsider has no means of predicting what the next digit will be and what number the digit sequence represents unless he manages to get the program code. The proposal is that our brain has this kind of free will function. The strange assumption is that the inability to predict would in some mysterious manner generate experience of free will. But Sabine a physicist has learned that one must forget all subjective elements when doing science. In this mental framework the only conceivable goal of a theory of consciousness is to eliminate it. The fruitless searches of "consciousness modules" assumed to reside somewhere in the brain are fruits of similar "consciousness as function" thinking.

Sean Carroll: Free will as real as baseball

Also Sean Carroll has written about free will in his posting "Free will as real as baseball". Sean belongs to the effective theory camp and sees free will as a convenient tool of description just like baseball is seen by a reductionist as a convenient abstraction to describe the dynamics of a condensed matter system.

Sean makes two very strange claims.

  1. The first strange claim is that free will is inconsistent with the laws of physics. This is the case only if the experienced time and geometric time of physicists are identified. The are not one and the same thing as even child realizes. Experienced time is irreversible and there is no subjective future. Geometric time is reversible and future and past are in the same position. In general relativity 4-D space-time region becomes the basic entity instead of time=constant snapshot which is the basic entity according to Newtonian thinking. Amusingly, all writers except Scott Aaronson seem to belong to the species of Newtonians as far as their views about time are considered. The first years of scientific education involves really heavy social conditioning and it is really hard to de-learn even the obviously wrong beliefs.

  2. The second strange claim of Sean Carroll is that the physics is completely understood in everyday realm! Really! Do we really understand the physics underlying living matter?! I cannot do help it: this kind of loose text book statements irritate me that suddenly the dull depressive mood has gone and I am full of adrenaline!

Interestingly, Sean Carroll notices analogy of poorly understood notion of free will with the poorly understood notion of time. The arrow of time is in conflict with microscopic reversibility but - according to Sean Carroll - physicists do not see this as a problem so that it is not a problem. Continuing in the same spirit: if billions of Chinese believe in communism then marxism is the only correct view about society and is indeed law of Nature! The effective theory solution is simple: also the arrow of time somehow emerges. Exactly how?: this we do not understand but it does not matter.

This is self deception. One should admit this and really try to understand second law. If one does this, the first observation is that Boltzmann's equations are deduced by assuming the occurrence of state function reductions in time scale much shorter than the time scale of observations. State function reduction is what makes quantum physics non-deterministic at the level of single quantum system - also internally in-consistent: the determinism of Schrödinger equation is in blatant conflict with state function reduction if one identifies experienced time with the geometric time of physicist. One should be able to resolve this logical flaw and this requires that the two times are different - something which of course even child knows! If we have two times we have also two independent causalities: the causality of field equations and that of "free will". This would be the first step towards the solution.

Sean Carroll also represents what he calls consequent argument. The argument begins with an innocent looking statement that our past is fixed. Therefore free will obeying field equations is impossible since it would change both future and past. Wrong again: the assumption about fixed past in the geometric sense need not be true. About subjective past it is. Already Wheeler was led to propose that in state function reduction the geometric past changes: see for the Wheeler's delayed choice experiment. Maybe Wheeler's general relativistic background helped him to make this conceptual leap, which leads very near to TGD view about quantum jump.

In TGD framework quantum states are superpositions of classical histories and quantum jumps replace them with new ones and the average geometric past also changes. The finding of Libet that in volitional act neural activity begins a fraction of second before the conscious decisions supports the idea that we are replacing our geometric past with a new one all the subjective time.

Sean Carroll notices also the ethical aspect of problem. If we really believe that free will is illusion, we have no justification for moral rules. The criminal has been doomed to perform his crime at the moment of Big Bang and we cannot therefore accuse him.

Of course, there could be something badly wrong in the brain of the mass murderer and it has indeed become clear that our behavior correlates strongly with biology. This does not however mean that free choices are not possible. Braid disorer only changes the probabilities of different outcomes of the choices. We have the experience of free will as every reader can testify. This we must accept and try to understand the physical correlates of this experience irrespective of whether the free will is real or not.

In fact, neuroscience has led to quite concrete progress in the understanding of the correlations between biology and behavior. This has also practical consequences. Many mass murderers have been victims of child abuse or have suffered from brain tumor. This does not mean that we should allow mass murders to continue with their rare hobby. We can however do our best to prevent child abuse. Also the degeneration of some regions of frontal lobes can lead to highly asocial behaviors when stimuli usually inhibited are not inhibited anymore. One could say that there are competing free wills using the same biological body and the one wanting to perform the mass murder wins.

These issues were discussed already at times of Dostojevski and Turgeniev. The fashionable thinking was that we are nothing but physiology and that we can indeed forget the rules of moral. The people propagating this view and trying to live according to this philosophy were known as nihilists: they were mad but fully logical in their madness. Many people calling themselves skeptics today are surprisingly near to these views. Thanks to God, most of us are to not too strict in their logics and follow their conscience rather than materialistic dogmas.

Scott Aaronson's view

G. Musser has summarized computer scientist Scott Aaronson's talk about free will.

Also Scott Aaronson studies the idea of reducing free will to behavior observed from outside. Aaronson's thought experiment considers a Turing like test allowing to decide whether you have free will. A computer model of you is built using all available data about the initial state of your brain: this of course assumes determinism or at least quantum statistical determinism. If the computer is able to mimic your behavior faithfully, one can say that you have no free will. The proponent of effective free will might say that the longer the needed computer code is, the more you have effective free will. This kind of free-will-meter is of course not possible in practice except with some accuracy so that the whole thing reduces to mere mimicry, kind of parameter fit.

Aaronson represents the non-cloning theorem of quantum theory as a first principle objection against Turing test of free-will-meter. Even in principle it is not possible to construct complete copy of brain state to make a complete simulation possible. This kind of machine would be successful in what Aaronson calls Toddler test but this would be a fake success. Any toddler says completely predictably "No" to any question. We however know that the toddler expresses by behaving irrationally that he/she has discovered his/her free will (but can this kind of free will be effective?)!

Aaronson brings in special relativity and notices that free will means also backward causation if it is to be consistent with the causality of field equations. From this it would be only a short step to the realization that the causality of free will could act in the space of quantum states defined as superposition of solutions of classical field equations consistent with holography in the sense that 3-D section determines the entire space - at least below certain scale! The problem would have been solved! Scott makes a near miss!

To sum up, Aaronson dimly realizes that in general relativity - and in any 4-D Universe obeying general coordinate invariance - we live in a kind of block world consisting of 4-D blocks but the other writers continue in the good old Newtonian style. In TGD zero energy ontology would realize blocks as causal diamonds and would extend free will from a mere choice between given alternatives to creation of new worlds. Sabine Hossenfelder realizes that emergence is self deception: I cannot but agree. Sean Carroll grasps the full meaning of the absence of free will at the level of moral issues. Eagleman describes real life situations, which should be highly valuable for any-one proposing in earnest a theory of consciousness. Also the lecture of Eagleman about perceived time was excellent. To me it seems that physicists and (quantum) computer scientists should be able to forget for a moment their formulas and rhetorics making possible to get rid of a problems they cannot solve, and open their minds for the problem to get settled.


L. Edgar Otto said...


I see a little bit of quasic thinking and concerns here. I do not know if you checked out my last few posts but free will and determinism is an acid test of philosophy, and I suppose science. We touch on so many things near the same. My last post was rather hasty but I found some very old photos in the computer I bought- took a lot of eye ware and sore fingers. Some of this came from the sciencechatforum - and I guess they did not try to understand there either- and the founder a biochemist!

I do not know the names you link to in this post. But I did have a question because an old comment to explain things on 89 I saved from you is still a little far from my understanding how you see things.

That is a most interesting number with a fractal pattern .2358 as the inverse of 89.

What makes something begin and end even in the virtual world but something much more fundamental and philosophic, the coming into our out of existence as 0 or 1 ? This is a quantum problem too. It is also a problem of a purely 4 space view, the quadrupole and octopole of my vision of the universe as yours in the higher reaches of our explorations. If things are gray in their existing how do we in free will discern what is a more unified model?

Let me know, if you have time, what you think of these speculations... I feel lately that we both would gain by a sharing of concepts- and to hell with the rest of our so called judges. :-)

The PeSla pesla.blogspot.

Ulla said...

◘Fractality◘ said...


Would you agree that in some sense, if we have free will, then higher and lower-levels of the self-hierarchy possess free will as well?

Perhaps the phenomenon of synchronicity is derived from this notion.

Regards. said...

To Ulla:

The first link was so interesting that I decided to write a new blog posting as a response. said...

To fracality:

I agree. A lost of free wills! Also mutually conflicting free wills. Side personalities, split brain patients splitting into mutually fighting sub-personalities, biological body and magnetic body (perhaps experienced as sensed presence or God in some experiences, ...

It is a pity that colleagues use their time to cook up hand waving arguments for why free will reduces to in-ability to predict or how it can "emerge" as an "effective" free will from deterministic microscopic physics. I would understand this if it were really impossible to describe the universe with free will. But this is not the case. This is only about incredible intellectual laziness. said...

To ThePesla:

Free will is the core problem of philosophy and also of physics, which cannot make progress without making the notion of observer an integral part of the theory.

Also now the reading of the article of David Eagleman demonstrated how much physicists could learn from neuro-scientists if they were ready to forget their pseudo explanations and to accept the problem of free will as real. Biology and neuro-science are a treasure troves for a quantum physicists with open mind.

◘Fractality◘ said...


Yes! The abundance of free wills make for great Cosmic theater ;)

Sharing of mental images in all time-scales creating shared experience becomes fractalized as each subself is fooled into being an Atman ;)


Ulla said...

First now I realized how difficult it is to discuss these things with physicists. They are at 1800 century, it feels sometimes. Maybe I am there in physics discussions too? The interdishiplinary crosstalk is tremendously difficult.

Usual statements: "consciousness is not needed, AI will do to explain qualias." This tells that they don't even have grasped the problem to beginning with.

"The minimal unit in perceptions is the neuron", then I don't know if I shall laugh or cry. Do they really think they can say anything without looking at facts? The neuron is some macrostate, and perceptions are microstate.

In spite of the many shortcomings and the arrogancy toward other scientists, they argument with great selfconfidence. They even feel they have the right to ridicule me when I cannot math. How the hell shall we then come further?

But they helped me realize that p-adics can actually be the link between consciousness and awareness, (in the working memory) used in attention that create the window into the Sea of consciousness. Attention is always emotional and creates the focus, diminish all other fields and memory creation of other things that those focused on. So p-adics is crucial. But are there also emotions that are cognitive, or are emotions only used to create the fluxtubes, seen in fMRI as instance? I would say the first alternative, and there are many kinds of emotions.

Free will is created from these emotional states, seen as energetic levels; the more energy (higher emotions) the more uncertainty seen as the Lorentz transformational cone (CD cone?) and higher risk to jump at the sides (creativity). This is seen in biology.

Ulla said...

Anonymous said...

:)) Free will is what connects consciousness / awareness with the physical Body. It's the Point where one is translated into the other. Both ways. :)) that's all actually.

You might want to check out Paul Tholeys works on lucid dreaming and Reality. He was thorough.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, I have to specify.
Consciousness exists and the physical Body exists, and they form a unit. They work together as a living being.

Of course they have to communicate. This communication is the free will. It translates conscious products into physical movement, like the decision to read this comment into the necessary eye movements.

And physical movements into conscious product, like "i'm gonna get a sweater, it's cold".

"Free will" is a necessary part of any unit that holds consciousness and a physical body, that is animals, plants, bacteria, probably even virus.

Much emphasize is put on the eternal question of how "free" the will actually is. (Libet and so forth).
The answer is: how free can a translator be?

The more accurately he translates, the better.

Another big question: where does the free will come from?
this is of course completely irrelevant at the present moment.
If function, magnitude, and morphology is not understood, what does it help to wonder where it "came" from?

These questions are merely past-times of fools. said...

The question of physicist is obvious: What do you mean with Mind in this sense?

The assumption that mind and physical body represent different levels of existence and free will is some kind of translation between these levels looks to me a dualistic view and as such leads immediately to difficult problems with existing physics, which can be formulated using deterministic equations and interpreted by introducing the fuzzy notion of state function reduction.

Chalmers wrote entire book about "hard problem" which is often regarded as a problem of any consciousness theory but is actually a problem of dualistic approach alone. Materialistic view has of course its own problems.

For me the notion of free will - or volition - relates directly to the basic problem in quantum physics: how to make observer a part of physical system rather than something external which can possibly induce state function reductions but is otherwise left un-described.

It is impossible to avoid the questions about how the causality of volition and causality of deterministic field equations relate and what is the relationship between the experienced time and geometric time of physics. What is really foolish is to keep these questions as taboos.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of the difficult problems it may pose with existing physics, the function of free will is to translate between consciousness, which we know exists, and the body, which I am sure exists as well.

Just like the funtion of a door knob is to open a door. If you discard a funtion for it's theoretical problems it may have with existing concepts, then you prefer concepts over reality, which is of course perfectly legal.

There is no duality involved in any of that. consciousness and physical body may very well be different states of one single matter/potential, but that doesn't touch the reality of the two being united in living organisms in these specifis forms: "consciousness and physical body".

That is what we have, and the free will "translates" between the two of them. Now if you can't make that fit with physics, that would then be a problem of physics, not of reality. physics is a subsystem of reality, not vice versa.

I am sorry for apparently wasting your time, I was intrigued by your theory and concepts which I believe to be groundbreaking (as far as I understand them of course), with massive implications for reality perception. Reading your blog I realized that you
did not know about the function of the free will as a translator or point of intersection, and thought it could help you.

what i meant with being a foolish thing is to investigate a piece of metal into most stunning detaillery, and if someone comes by and says: it's a doorknob, you can open the door with it, you're standing in front of!
to tell him, well that would lead to difficult problems with existing physics.

well does it? ok, what can you do. I still see it as a door knob, and i use it as such. might be unscientific though... said...

To Anonymous:

I agree that biology has developed a lot of functions allowing to realize volition. Brain and biological body are highly engineered systems. Standardize modules, standardized functions, standardized mental images made possible be genetic code and possibly also standardized quantum computation by braids and closely related ADP--ATP process.

I do not however want to identify volition as this kind of functions_ I see them only as tools of volition.

What we mean with consciousness is the problem. The term "consciousness" refers to a physical property of system such as mass. In finnish language one speaks of "tajunta" with no implication of this kind. I have been told that "nous" is also free of "-ness" association. Since "consciousness" has been established as a term and "quantum theory of nous" does not sound good, I have decided to use "consciousness";-).

This view about consciousness conforms with the identification of moment of consciousness as quantum jump: "nous" would be in change, in the moment meaning re-creation of the quantum universe. This is crucially important delicacy at the level of principle since it implies that it is not possible to measure "nous": you cannot measure quantum measurement! For practical purposes one can speak about consciousness as a property of system.

Ulla said...

To Anon,

I must say you have to describe the 'doorknob' in physical terms. It must have some specific characters so your fingers can grip it. And those charachters must 'stand out' from environment, ev. be totally different. As different kinds of numbers, material, form... as points where flux tubes can attach? But this still doesn't say much, you must decide to (Libet) open (react) the door (target). And this you can do in different ways (consciousness), according to free will (uncertainty). Your emotional state (energy etc.),habit (minimal path?) invoke very much on which desision you make. Free will is to chose against the energy-gradient (not habit).

You have to define what the 'translation' is. What is consciousness part in it? Does consciousness computate different ways you can open (translate?) the door? But how do you get it? It needs memory as one part, but it is not memory? It needs awareness and intelligence, but it is not intelligence. It is something completely different. I think this discussion is not meaningful before we use the same definitions of consciousness? So you can define what you mean with consciousness? What makes an desition?

To distinguish between a metal and a doorknob is what consciousness do, but it is not consciousness, it is the result of the computation. What are the inputs in the equation? The consciousness compare all the time to your memory bank, time, environment, friends, parents... and judge, make priorities, even decide, without you even being aware of it.

Fuzzy words does not lead forward, but they may be useful to see the problem.

Anonymous said...

Scott's own words: "I’ll place a much higher premium on being original and interesting than on being right"

Yet you take his speech seriously, because it suits you. said...

I do not take Scott's view seriously because it suits to me. I am not the usual kind of academic opportunist. I take it seriously because Scott realises something essential about free will and raises the cat on the table. This cannot be said about physicalists.