The Instigator
gizmo1650
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points
The Contender
RoyLatham
Pro (for)
Winning
27 Points

Free will

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Started: 3/5/2010 Category: Religion
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 1,297 times Debate No: 11341
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (6)
Votes (5)

 

gizmo1650

Con

First, to clear any possible confusion, I am arguing that free will does not exist and that all events, past present and future, were determined at the big bang. Also, I would ask that my opponent avoid self evident facts, if you can not prove it the only reason you have to believe it exists is your belief itself.

Back to the argument, my basis of thinking is that if one knows the location and velocity of every particle in the universe as well as a complete understanding of the laws of physics he would be able to perfectly predict all future events.

I admit that these circumstances are entirely impossible for countless reasons, but none of them detract from my original statement, everything is predetermined.

The fact that it is impossible to know both the location and velocity of a particle at the same time is irrelevant because they still have a velocity and location, and our knowledge of them does not affect them.

Consider a simple universe with only one particle, clearly the particle will travel in a straight line at a constant speed based on the laws of physics. Now add one more particle to the universe, if we knew all the laws of physics, we would be able to perfectly predict all of their interactions, and thereby every position they will take in the future.

Now add ten more particles, or a hundred, or a thousand, or a google (10^100) particles, why do we have any reason to believe that at any point these will cease to follow the laws of physics and act in unpredictable ways, and if it can be perfectly predicted consistently it is predetermined
RoyLatham

Pro

Thanks to Con for challenging me to recall some of the physics I am supposed to know. Whatever I can recall redeems the effort of having studied it in the first place.

Con is arguing that there are no unpredictable events. That claim is contradicted by modern physics.

1. Particles decay at unpredictable times. http://en.wikipedia.org... summarizes "Particle decay is the spontaneous process of one elementary particle transforming into other elementary particles. During this process, an elementary particle becomes a different particle with less mass and an intermediate particle such as W boson in muon decay. ... The mean lifetime of a particle is labeled τ, and thus the probability that a particle survives for a time greater than t before decaying is given by the relation P(t) = e^{-t/(\gamma \tau)}" In other words, the average time for the type of particle decay is known, but the moment at which will decay is completely unpredictable. The W boson has an average decay time of 10^(-25) seconds and an electron has an average life of 4.6 x 10^26 years. Other particles have intermediate times.

There are about 10^79 electrons in the known universe http://www.advancedphysics.org..., so even though 10^26 years is a long average life, there are many millions of unpredictable electron decays every second, and many more of other types of particles.

2. From the same Wikipedia article, "The process of particle decay is distinct from radioactive decay, in which an unstable atomic nucleus is transformed into a smaller nucleus accompanied by the emission of particles or radiation."
Radioactive decay is a separate unpredictable process:

"Radioactive decay is the process in which an unstable atomic nucleus spontaneously loses energy by emitting ionizing particles and radiation. This decay, or loss of energy, results in an atom of one type, called the parent nuclide transforming to an atom of a different type, named the daughter nuclide. For example: a carbon-14 atom (the "parent") emits radiation and transforms to a nitrogen-14 atom (the "daughter"). This is a stochastic process on the atomic level, in that it is impossible to predict when a given atom will decay,[1] but given a large number of similar atoms the decay rate, on average, is predictable." http://en.wikipedia.org...

3. Quantum states only exist as probability distributions. "In quantum theory, even pure states show statistical behavior. Regardless of how carefully we prepare the state ρ of the system, measurement results are not repeatable in general, and we must understand the expectation value \langle A \rangle _\sigma of an observable A as a statistical mean. It is this mean that is predicted by physical theories." http://en.wikipedia.org...

This means that the position and momentum of a particle or object only exists as a probability distribution. Con incorrectly asserted, "The fact that it is impossible to know both the location and velocity of a particle at the same time is irrelevant because they still have a velocity and location, and our knowledge of them does not affect them." No, the position and momentum only exist as probability distributions. It follows that particle interactions can only be described in terms of probability distributions. As the article notes, the uncertainty principle applies to both classical and quantum mechanics.

4. Quantum fluctuation is the unpredictable temporary appearance of particles. "In quantum physics, a quantum fluctuation is the temporary change in the amount of energy in a point in space, arising from Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. ...That means that conservation of energy can appear to be violated, but only for small times. This allows the creation of particle-antiparticle pairs of virtual particles. The effects of these particles are measurable, for example, in the effective charge of the electron, different from its "naked" charge. ... Quantum fluctuations may have been very important in the origin of the structure of the universe: according to the model of inflation the ones that existed when inflation began were amplified and formed the seed of all current observed structure." http://en.wikipedia.org...

5. Wave-particle duality demonstrated in diffraction experiments shows that it is impossible to predict the paths of particles. "One of the most striking consequences of the new science is that it is not in agreement with the belief of Laplace that an omniscient entity, knowing the initial positions and velocities of all particles in the universe at one time, could predict their positions at any future time. (To paraphrase Laplace's idea, the positions and velocities of all things at any given time depend absolutely on their previous positions and velocities and the absolute laws that govern physical interactions.) Laplace believed that such particles would follow the laws of motion discovered by Newton, but twentieth century physics made it clear that the motions of sub-atomic particles and even some small atoms cannot be predicted by using the laws of Newtonian physics.[11] For instance, most of the orbits for electrons moving around atomic nuclei that are permitted by Newtonian physics are excluded by the new physics. And it is not even clear what the "movement" of a particle such as a photon may be when it is not clear that it "goes through" either one slit or the other, but it is clear that the probability of its arrival at various points on the target screen is a function of its wavelength and of the distance between the slits. Whereas Laplace would expect an omniscient mind to be able to predict with absolute confidence the arrival of a photon at some specific point on the target screen, it turns out that the particle may arrive at one of a great number of points, but that the percentage of particles that arrive at each of such points is determined by the laws of the new physics." http://en.wikipedia.org...

Con offers, "Consider a simple universe with only one particle, clearly the particle will travel in a straight line at a constant speed based on the laws of physics." No, the particle will decay at an unpredictable time, and particles near it will appear due to quantum fluctuation and interact. The particle's quantum state may decay. When multiple particles are represented, there interactions predicable because their positions and momentum are only defined by probability densities, and wave-particle duality makes their paths inherently unpredictable.

Con is in very good company in doubting the probabilistic nature of the universe. Einstein's well-known comment was, "God does not play dice with the universe." Less well known is Niels Bohr's reply, "Albert, if God wants to play dice with the universe, let him."

Con demanded that all assertions be backed by references. I have provided the references. Con is yet to provide support for his assertions.
Debate Round No. 1
gizmo1650

Con

First, I would like to thank pro for using science in his arguments.

I cannot argue against his claim that knowing only the location and velocity off all particles does not mean perfect predictability. However, the unpredictable variables are not influenced at all by the human mind, so even if future events are not predictable, humans have no influence over them.

Consider a universe where there are not these random variables to deal with. If humans exist in this theoretical universe, which I am not claiming could actually exist, than all events would be pre-determined in the way I described. If we were to create those same arrangement of particles in our own universe would he then have free will?

I admit that all events might not have been predetermined at the big-bang, which I did not intend the argument to, and I apologize for any confusion about that. I am arguing that free will does not exist.

I believe that pro would not object to basic science supporting my view, then when we add all the forms of randomness he mentioned we still have no reason to believe we have free will. I cannot offer any sources to definitively prove a lack of evidence however pro has offered no sources, or arguments, which give humans any influence over the randomness of the universe.
RoyLatham

Pro

My opponent stated the resolution for the debate as "free will does not exist and that all events, past present and future, were determined at the [Big Bang]." My opponent called himself "Con" but actually affirmed the resolution he offered. To affirm the resolution, Con must show both that "free will does not exist" and that "all events, past present and future, were determined at the big bang." In R1, Con conceded that the second part of the resolution has been negated. The two parts were connected by "and." Therefore, he has conceded the debate. We are now no longer debating, we are chatting. Five rounds of 8000 characters is a rather long chat, but I'm rarely accused of being brief.

We are considering the question: Do humans have free will? There are at least three responses: 1. Yes, 2. No, 3. There is something wrong with the question that makes it meaningless. (Of course, there is also: 4. I dunno. But what fun would that be?) The third response is akin to the logical positivist response to the question, "What is the meaning of life? They say, "Life does not have a property of "meaning," so the question is not really a question. It just has the form of a question.

I'm not sure whether or not "Do humans have free will?" is a legitimate question. At the outset, Con defined the question implicitly in his resolution. He offered two alternatives. Either everything is predetermined, in which case there is no free will, or everything is not predetermined, in which case there is free will. Free will was defined as lack of predetermine outcome. I think that is the classical definition used in philosophizing about free will over centuries. The theory that everything is predetermined is put to rest by modern science. Not only is the universe not predetermined, it could not function without inherent probability distributions. We have to have the inherent randomness to support wave-particle duality and other properties of nature I presented in R1.

Pro recognized that his implicit definition of "free will" was fatally wounded. Pro offers a reconstructed implicit definition according to: "Consider a universe where there are not these random variables to deal with. If humans exist in this theoretical universe, which I am not claiming could actually exist, than all events would be pre-determined in the way I described. If we were to create those same arrangement of particles in our own universe would he then have free will?" To answer his question, IF a predetermined universe could exist AND it were possible to make a predetermined human to function in it, then by Con's definition of free will, the predetermined human in the predetermined universe would not have free will. (Well, probably not, buts let's suppose not.) The problem is that while it seems like it ought to be possible to construct a predetermined universe, we do not know how to do that. The laws of nature we know do not allow it.

In any case, analogy with an imaginary universe does not resurrect the definition of "free will." So I challenge Con to define "free will" within the constraints of what is known of our existing universe. We know that events are not predetermined. Because the human mind is made of the same stuff of the universe, even the process of choice is not predetermined. A computer program is predetermined in the sense that if you give it the same inputs, and everything is working normally, we will always get the same outputs. So one might imagine a probabilistic universe that is generating random inputs, but with the program operating in a predetermined way. That analogy for the brain fails because (a) the brain is a living organism that is constantly repairing itself, (b) the inherent probabilistic nature of the universe occurs within the brain, and (c) the brain modifies its "program" based upon past experience, including the experience considered the problem before.

So what is the definition of "free will" that fits within what we know of modern science?

Separately, Con claimed, "However, the unpredictable variables are not influenced at all by the human mind, so even if future events are not predictable, humans have no influence over them." We certainly have influence over whether we go to the store or not. We don't have influence over when and where particles appear by quantum fluctuation. I think Pro is making an analogy to fixed computer program given random inputs. That analogy fails for the reasons given.

My suspicion is that resolving the definition of free will depend upon solution of the problem of subjective consciousness, and perhaps much beyond that. If we understood how we made decisions and why we perceive we are making them, maybe we could then approach the question of whether or not there is a definition of free will that makes sense.

Right now, Con has the burden of defining "free will" in a sensible way, and then proving we don't have it.
Debate Round No. 2
gizmo1650

Con

I apologize for the delay in this response.
Pro has conceded that in a universe without the randomness he has pointed out within our own freewill would exist. He has however, not explained how the random quantum fluctuations give us any more free will than my theoretical mechanical universe.
Pro argues that we have free will citing our ability to choice to go to the store. "We certainly have influence over whether we go to the store or not. We don't have influence over when and where particles appear by quantum fluctuation." although this may seem convincing it is a 'self evident' fact which a specificly requested not to have in the beginning of this debate. It only makes sense if you already belief you have free will, stating 'we have free will because we have the free will to choice to go to the store' also, what is it about the quantum fluctuations that give us this ability.
RoyLatham

Pro

Con started the debate by claiming that either we have free will or everything is pre-determined. He said, "I am arguing that free will does not exist and that all events, past present and future, were determined at the big bang." Posing those alternatives implicitly defines free will. Free will was not being subject to determinism. However, in R2 Con conceded that modern science has disposed of determinism. We don't have a deterministic universe and do not even know how a deterministic universe might be constructed in theory. So my challenge to Con in the last round was to define "free will" without using the concept of determinism. His original definition failed, so I want to know what his new definition is.

He completely ignored my challenge to define "free will." He claimed that I "has however, not explained how the random quantum fluctuations give us any more free will than my theoretical mechanical universe." I cannot possible argue that there is more or less free will, when Con has no definition of free will. I pointed out that "a theoretical mechanistic universe" cannot exist, at least not with our present understanding of how our present universe works. We do not just have to put up with wave-particle duality and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, we need them for the universe to function consistently. Con appears to be claiming that it is self-evident that a mechanistic universe could exist, buffered no evidence of that and it clearly contradicts apparently necessary features of our universe.

I suggested that it may be impossible to have a meaningful definition of "free will" once determinism is disposed of. Con is obliged to provide a meaningful definition in order to assert it does not exist. I again challenge Con to produce a definition, so we can debate it.

Con asserted, ""However, the unpredictable variables are not influenced at all by the human mind, so even if future events are not predictable, humans have no influence over them." How, exactly, does he know that with certainty? Does he claim it is self-evident? He said that claiming anything to be self-evident was not allowed. I don't think we have any influence over quantum fluctuations and such, but Con is right in asserting that it isn't self-evident.

I said that we choose whether or not to go to the store. I did not claim that to be proof of free will. I was only contradicting Con's claim that we have no influence over the universe. When determinism left the building, it took with it the notion that human actions were nothing but products of external forces. We at the very least interact with the universe in unpredictable ways.

We perceive that we are making "free will" choices. My claim is that it isn't possible to define "free will" until we understand "perceived choice." In other words, the problem of subjective consciousness needs to be solved before we know if there is meaningful definition of "free will" and if so, whether humans have it. To try to explain this, consider the following toy definition, "Free will is a the self-modifying unpredictable process that governs the non-autonomic actions of sentient beings." I'm not claiming that is correct, or even very close, but it suggests that the problem with resolving the question of free will lies in the definition.

I await Con's clear and concise definition of "free will" that does not rely upon determinism, and I await Con's solid proof that humans have no power to shape the probabilities of seemingly unpredictable events.
Debate Round No. 3
gizmo1650

Con

Free will is the ability to make different choices to an identical situation at the same time. I already see several problems people will have with my definition which i will attempt to make a preemptive strike on.

1. You might argue that under identical circumstances one would inevitably make the same choice, which is precisely what i am arguing, (i don't know why i am telling you this, it would have made winning easier if you fell into this trap)

2. When i say identical situation i mean identical to the sub atomic level, all particles have the same velocity each time and all quantum fluctuations and other randomness variables pro mentioned repeated exactly (this is completely for arguments sake, and the inability to reproduce the quantum fluctuations only means that it is theoretically impossible to test.)

3. at the same time is, similar to point two, purely theoretical. What i am saying is that the identical situation is playing out in two separate locations, possibly different universes, possibly an identically earth in our own universe. and is mentioned only for arguments sake, the inability for this to exist only makes it impossible two test, and like point two, does not diminish the value of the argument.
RoyLatham

Pro

This has been an interesting debate.

Pro offers the definition: "Free will is the ability to make different choices to an identical situation at the same time." This definition fails because it is not possible, not even in theory, to recreate a situation identically. The impossibility follows from the properties of the natural world, as I recited in R1.

Considering Pro's three points individually:

1. Pro says, "You might argue that under identical circumstances one would inevitably make the same choice, which is precisely what i am arguing," No, what I am arguing is that having identical circumstances is theoretically impossible.

2. Pro clarifies, "When i say identical situation i mean identical to the sub atomic level, all particles have the same velocity each time ..." I think the idea is analogous to putting a bunch of pool balls on the table with identical positions and velocities. The problem is that we now know that particles do not have exact positions and velocities; they only have probability distributions. It is not the case that they have exact positions and velocities but we cannot know them. The problem is that they only exist as probability distributions. Consequently any attempt to reproduce an identical situation necessarily fails. The best that can be done is to reproduce the situation within some bounds of the probabilities, but that fails to guarantee the outcome. It is also theoretically impossible for the quantum fluctuations to be reproduced. So the concept fails not just because it is impossible to test, but it is theoretically impossible to have been reproduced in the first place.

3. Pro continues, "i am saying is that the identical situation is playing out in two separate locations, possibly different universes, possibly an identically earth in our own universe. and is mentioned only for arguments sake, the inability for this to exist only makes it impossible two test, and like point two, does not diminish the value of the argument." No, objects that only exist as probability distributions cannot be reproduced in any way other than as probability distributions, and once the probabilities are reproduced, the outcome is in doubt.

In the pool table analogy, not only don't we know where the balls are, the balls themselves don't know. They are not in specific locations, they only exist as probability distributions. If a ball is put in a box, there is a theoretical probability it will spontaneously appear outside the box. But an identical ball in an identical box, and one may escape while the other does not. The probability is very small, but it is possible. Any attempt at recreating a situation identically necessarily fails because our universe can only be made to work with probability distributions. It cannot be made to work deterministically.

I challenged Pro to come up with a definition of "free will" that works without a concept of determinism. Pro's attempt fails because the best one can do, even in theory, is to duplicate the probability distributions. Doing so does not guarantee the outcome, only the probability distribution of outcomes.

My second challenge was for Pro to prove that humans have no power to shape the probabilities of seemingly unpredictable events. Pro supposed that quantum fluctuations occurred strictly apart from human influence. I cannot imagine how they could be influenced by humans, but I also cannot imagine how it can be that particles do not have a specific location or velocity and exist only as probability distributions. The evidence says that is the way particles must be, and mathematics describes how that works. It nonetheless remains unimaginable, at least to me. Consequently, we cannot demand that what we cannot imagine does not exist. In may be that thought processes interact with quantum events.

The classic definition pf "free will" was that either everything is deterministic or there is free will. My claim remains that in an inherently probabilistic universe the classic definition of free will fails. Without a definition of free will, nothing can be asserted about it.

Let's examine a possible escape. Suppose the world is in two parts: deterministic stuff + random stuff. The deterministic stuff is deterministic, so we may suppose there is no free will there. The random stuff is uncontrolled by humans, so we may make different choices when the deterministic stuff is identical, but the difference is not a product of our own volition, it is just random. Behaving randomly is not free will. So have we disposed of free will?

The error in this possible escape is that there is no guarantee that "deterministic stuff" and "random stuff" can be separated. It may seem that one cannot affect the other, but we know that intuition based upon day-to-day experience is an unreliable guide. There may be something in the process of subjective consciousness that plays off of the inherent randomness in a way we cannot imagine to define and explain free will. It may also be that no meaningful definition of free will is possible. Resolving that is above my pay grade.

For this debate, I am only claiming that Pro has not provided a definition of "free will" that works with the known laws of nature, and therefore the resolution cannot be affirmed.
Debate Round No. 4
gizmo1650

Con

"This definition fails because it is not possible, not even in theory, to recreate a situation identically. The impossibility follows from the properties of the natural world, as I recited in R1." I believe i stated that an identical situation was theoretically impossible and would like to remind Pro that that just makes it impossible to test, and holds no relevance in an argument as abstract as ours.

In response to his counter arguments, which because they are numbered i will not copy:
1. Again that just makes testing it impossible.

2. Reproducing the circumstances would only be required to test my ideas, and my argument doesn't say it can be done, it says if it is done and free will existed then the results would still be different, which we know is not the case, therefore free will does not exist.

3. I get it one cannot test my theories, i think that is stated in the test you quoted from me.

a reader might have noticed how all of Pros arguments simply make it impossible to test, but we were never going to test it anyway.

Pro has offered nothing that i haven't already stated myself, just in a different form and only what he can use against me

"For this debate, I am only claiming that Pro has not provided a definition of "free will" that works with the known laws of nature, and therefore the resolution cannot be affirmed." You offered no reason why my definition doesn't work, you just explained countless times how it is untestable.

Pro has offered no reason to believe we have free will, so unless you entered this debate with the belief that we do, which most of you did, you would vote for me. However i have offered abstract reasons to believe we do not have it so those of you who believed we do can also vote for me. I used unachievable circumstances to help you, the reader, visualize my arguments, and i constantly said that they were unachievable.

In Pros previous argument, others then the quotes he took from me, i can not find anything we have not both already said. Yes that means i said it as well because non of it is contradictory to free will.

I would like to Remind the reader again that the argument is about Free will existing. I used the concept of deterministics as a springboard and would like to apologize if pro thought that the debate was that the universe is deterministic.
RoyLatham

Pro

My opponent initiated the debate contending, "... I am arguing that free will does not exist and that all events, past present and future, were determined at the big bang." He further declared, "my basis of thinking is that if one knows the location and velocity of every particle in the universe as well as a complete understanding of the laws of physics he would be able to perfectly predict all future events." Even though my opponent named himself "Con" he clearly affirmed a resolution having two parts: (1) free will does not exist, and (2) all events have been predetermined.

In Round 1, I cited five aspects of nature known in modern physics that contradicted my opponent's contention that all events were determined at the Big Bang. Events are unpredictable from any given state of the universe because (1) particle decay is inherently unpredictable, (2) radioactive decay is unpredictable, (3) quantum states, including particle locations and velocities, exist only as probabilities, (4) quantum fluctuations producing interacting particle are unpredictable, and (5) wave/particle duality makes the paths of particles unpredictable. I referenced the scientific literature in support of each of these contentions that demostrate unpredictability is inherent in the nature of the universe. I further offered expert scientific opinion that Laplacian determinism, the second part of the resolution, is dead.

Con offered no referenced science contradicting my contentions nor any referenced scientific opinion to the contrary. He asserted repeatedly that while the experiment that would show determinism could not be conducted, that the principle of determinism remains valid. It is a basic mistake to claim that determinism can exist hypothetically. It cannot exist even hypothetically, because it would contradict the laws of nature.

At the outset, Con declared he, "would ask that my opponent avoid self evident facts, if you can not prove it the only reason you have to believe it exists is your belief itself," yet he did not provide a single reference in the entire debate supporting his belief that determinism in any form is possible. It is not possible to duplicate a situation in a different place, at a different time, or in a hypothetical parallel universe and expect an identical outcome. That is because what is being duplicated is inherently probabilistic, so the duplicate would necessarily present a new roll of the dice.

The impossibility of determinism in any form creates a problem with the definition of free will. As the initiator of the debate, my opponent has the responsibility of making a meaningful resolution. His opening argument implicitly defined "free will" by means of the alternative he offered. He proposed that either there is free will or determinism. With determinism gone, my opponent also lost his definition of free will. In the fourth round, he offered a new definition, that "Free will is the ability to make different choices to an identical situation at the same time." That does not scape the loss of determinism, because it is not possible, even in theory, to have an identical situation. Any supposed duplicate would have uncertainties that could lead to different results. Con's resolution is therefore meaningless.

I pondered the construction of a new definition of free will., and concluded that no meaningful definition was possible in an inherently uncertain universe. However, it is Con's task to provide a resolution that has a meaning, and he failed to do so.

Con affirmed a two part resolution, affirming that there was no free will AND that the universe is determined from the moment of the Big Bang. The deterministic universe is clearly disproved by modern physics. But without the possibility of a deterministic universe, the definition of free will also fails, and no replacement definition could be found.

The resolution that Con affirmed therefore is negated. Pro prevails.
Debate Round No. 5
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by Lafayette_Lion 4 years ago
Lafayette_Lion
This topic is too vague...
Posted by Kinesis 4 years ago
Kinesis
No, the topic is 'free will'. Nowhere does Con state that the topic of debate will be determinism. He simply states that that will be his argument.
Posted by RoyLatham 4 years ago
RoyLatham
The resolution includes "all events, past present and future, were determined at the big bang." That's the debate topic.
Posted by Kinesis 4 years ago
Kinesis
Aren't being 'undetermined' and 'self determined' mutually exclusive?
Posted by GeoLaureate8 4 years ago
GeoLaureate8
@Kinesis

Undetermined ---> Self-Determined -----> Free Will

When I argue against determinism, self-determined particles is one of my smoking-gun arguments.
Posted by Kinesis 4 years ago
Kinesis
I don't see how any of Pro's round salvages Free Will...
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