At one point I had the idea that I was going write a bunch of For The Record posts — position papers that attempt to be final words on a topic (at least until new considerations came into play). Other one about guns (back in 2015), I never really followed through.
In a sense, all posts, are final words (until further consideration), so all posts can be seen as FTR. The question is whether it makes any sense to mark an expressed opinion as more official or duly considered rather than off the cuff or casual. That was my thought, anyway.
So, seven years later, FTR take two: Free Will
Last year I kicked off the new year with a post about open and challenging questions in physics. Those remain open and challenging and probably will for some time. Some of them are very old (and very unresolved) questions; others were from modern scientific efforts and understandings. It’s possible we may never find answers for some.
At some point, for some reason, about a month ago I started making a list of things I thought were probably true; things I believe in. I say “probably” because, as with those open science questions, we don’t know the truth of these things; many are vigorously debated.
Some of what follows pertains to those science questions, some of it is more social observation on my part.
Venus emerging from the sea.
I’ve been thinking about emergence. That things emerge seems clear, but a question involves the precise nature of exactly what emerges. The more I think about it, the more I think it may amount to word slicing. Things do emerge. Whether or not we call them truly “new” seems definitional.
There is a common distinction made between weak and strong emergence (alternately epistemological and ontological emergence, respectively). Some reject the distinction, and I find myself leaning that way. I think — at least under physicalism — there really is only weak (epistemological) emergence.
But I also think it amounts to strong (ontological) emergence.
The ideas of free will, causality, and determinism, often factor into discussions about religion, morality, society, consciousness, or life in general. The first and last of these ideas seem at odds; if the world is strictly determined, there can be no free will.
But we are confronted with the appearance of free will — choices we make appear to affect the future. Even choosing not to make choices seems to affect our future. If reality is just a ride on fixed rails, then all that choosing must be a trick our brains play.
These questions are central to lives, but answers have remained elusive, in part from differing views of what the key ideas even mean.
Last time I explored five physical systems. This time I want to implement those five systems as information systems, by which I mean numeric versions of those five systems. The requirement is that everything has to be done with numbers and simple manipulations of numbers.
Of course, to be useful, some parts of the system need to interact with the physical world, so, in terms of their primary information, these systems convert physical inputs into numbers and convert numbers into physical outputs.
Our goal is for the numeric systems to fully replace the physical systems.
Recently, I’ve been involved in some discussions about causality, and some of those discussions have struggled to find any resolution, which I find frustrating. I don’t think people need to agree on ideas, but my experience is that usually people can agree on how to frame and talk about those ideas.
I sometimes get the feeling people are so set on disagreeing that they don’t always engage on what the other party is saying. I never know if it’s a lack of comprehension, a lack of willingness, or (on my part) a lack of communication skill or sufficient explanation.
So here are some things I think (I hope) are uncontroversial.
Lately I’ve been reading about compatibilism with regard to free will. While I’ve considered free will before, especially in the context of determinism, I’ve never explored compatibilism, and I decided it was time I got around to checking it out.
What triggered my renewed interest was, firstly, the movie Arrival (and the short story on which it’s based), and secondly, the HBO series, Westworld. Both have thoughtful science fiction with themes concerning free will (or its lack).
When one of my favorite physics bloggers, Sabine Hossenfelder, wrote a post about free will, it inspired me to write one, too. Monkey see, monkey do!
I think, I think.
A bit more than three years ago I began this blog intending to write about matters of existence and consciousness (and science and computing). Since then I’ve tried on other hats, stories from my past and present, opinions and views about society, even the occasional post above movies or TV. But those meatier topics — the ones the blog is named for — still attract me.
There are three problems, though. Firstly, other sites specialize in that sort of thing and do it very well. Secondly, they aren’t topics that attract visitors — my meaty posts get even fewer reads than my less weighty posts. And thirdly, I may not be as good as explaining things as I would like to be.
That said, sometimes I just can’t help myself, so here we go again.