What if I inject you with a dissociative drug and your body slaps somebody in the face? Did you do it? Did I do it? Did your body do it? Where does the person who did it go when the drug wears off?

I should also clarify that my mention of the perfect sphere above is meant to imply that free will exists in the same realm as perfect circles… as in, conceptually obvious and yet physically impossible within the context of this universe.

That sounds like hokus pokus to me.

On what do you base that? When is a game boring to someone? And why does the universe need meaning?

Not exactly. I’m claiming that the decisions happen, and that we experience them. We think they are our choices, but they aren’t.

Where does the “you” start and end? Would you have ducked the ball if it hadn’t been thrown to your face? Is the ball part of you? It certainly was part of the decision-making.

I agree completely.

Depends on your current favorite reason to believe. For the Epicureans, it was the ability of atoms to change direction by themselves. For the Indeterminists it is randomness. For Benjamin Libet it’s the inaccuracy of his EEG device. For Hameroff and Penrose it’s quantum effects in the microtubules of neurons. For @Oren it’s chaos (if I can still follow) and for @Bitking it seems to be juices from the limbic system, and chaos.

@Falco The existence of self is a first principle. It is more real than even physics since we know that you occupy a space that is simulated by neurons and that your neurons could easily contrive to wrap you in a physics obeying and simulating cocoon.

We also would like to think that there are other beings and that we’re not just a mind in a dream all alone and we’d like to think that it’s not just neurons (whatever those would be in a non-physical space) all the way down, but we have no way of proving that out… at best, we can agree that our neurons have agreed on how to represent a consensus reality to us and they’ve agreed to not lie to us all of the time about all of the things.

So, within that context, you’re looking for how your decisions were made… well, if your neurons had no use for you, my guess is that you wouldn’t exist… if your neurons had no reason to tether you into a reality, they could stick you in a never ending dream state… so, you’re here to make decisions… and those decisions are consequential which means you have to care about certain things… the fact that the consequences of your decisions are “real” to you is a critical component to making sure that you’re making honest decisions and not just throwing caution to the wind… the reality of the consequences is your “proof of work” to the rest of the system.

You might find the Free Energy Principle an interesting topic if you haven’t come across it before. I agree that there is not some sharp, clear boundary between “me” and “not me” (like @Oren’s comments point about the impossibility of a perfect circle). But the transition zone is definitely somewhere between the neurons in my brain and the ball :grin:

I do think this is the source of our different perspectives, though, so I at least somewhat understand your point of view (essentially there isn’t really a “me”, only the universe and some part of it that behaves as if it were distinguishable from it).

1 Like

Speaking of

And this is the real mind breaker… which is more likely to be “real”? A universe with free will and circles or a universe with pixelated space where circles are impossible and all will seems either deterministic or magical?

Which kind of universe is more likely the simulation?

Earlier someone mentioned that you are lacking a “real” representation of your own mind in your head… they mentioned it as a potential flaw, but I would contend that from an evolutionary perspective it is a feature. If you fully understood your own mind, you might deliberately change your mind rather than having it changed for you by the cascade of intentions that you are always selecting from… you might simply choose not to care about hard decisions and make your consequences no longer real.

Not to mention the fact that if you were privy to all of the actual processing that was taking place in your head, you’d almost certainly get eaten by a tiger.

In the squishy mess of definitions about what might be consciousness, free will, cognition, and related topics - there is considerable overlap and this makes it hard to pin down what is even being defined.

In my own considerations I am a strict materialist with a strong focus on the mechanisms underlying behavior, both observable and self reported. I will add that with the new visualization tools some of the mechanisms that used to be “forever in the subjective realm” are now observable.

That said - I am picking up on two threads where I may be able to shed some light on the underlying mechanism.
@Paul_Lamb and @Falco have been jousting on the “you vs. me” and the boundary between your internal universe and the external universe. As I mentioned elsewhere - the cortex has projections from your skin (usual external boundary), vision, hearing, vestibular system, various joint angles, and muscle sensors to one of the lobes. This is broadly connected with your memory system and learned interactions with your environment (loosely - your personal space) in part of the parietal lobe. This personal space covers things you can interact with using your body and the learned part is part of your sense of agency in manipulating things in this space.
Peri-personal space as a prior in coupling visual and proprioceptive signals

The sense of agency is a curious thing - often probed in labs with surprising results; see phantom limbs for example. This learning is as valid as learning how to run your internal musculature and extends your inside to your near outside.

This fuzzy line between inside and outside is not surprising if you think about what the cortex does - the brain in a box with no idea what it is hooked to. The sensations from the interaction of limbs and vision is learned just as well as learning to balance and walk. This learning IS your sense of agency.

The contents of consciousness are the current total state of the “global neural workspace” as I have linked several times before on this forum. Everything is available to this blackboard - perceptions, and memory all at the same time. As processing happens, with the influence of the sub-cortical structures in the driver seat - the final results of this evolution of the contents of consciousness are digested as perceptions and tucked away in your personal narrative. For any part of your brain function to register in this narrative it must have a cortical representation. This means that all of the sub-cortical structures control what the cortex is doing but are themselves - unexperienced except as the results of these influences. The unconsciousness part of our mind.

But the sense of self in these considerations - that is as slippery as anything else here. I touched on this exact thing in this post:

See this snippet: In part of this system, we have a gyro stabilized reference platform (the vestibular system) that is directly mapped to the eye tracking system to keep the eyes from being distracted by self-motion. (At that point, in that little spot on the brain stem, there is the closest thing that if you had the correct instrumentation, you could measure as the neural correlates to a sense of self.

In the motion control and planning part of your brain, this is the self-reference frame that is the me in your perception and motion planning.


You’ve done a wonderful job of clarifying the sense of self as a receiver, but that still leaves open the determinism question of the emitter.

In crafting thoughts and simulating outcomes and prioritizing needs, etc. there are present universe deterministic parts (neurons that do or do not fire, are or are not connected, etc.) and non-deterministic parts (distribution of molecules in a liquid, statistical boundary conditions, etc.)… the question as I see it comes down to, does one consider the non-deterministic (at least within the context of this universe) parts of the equation to be part of their “self” as an emitter or not?

If the answer is yes, then they are non-deterministic beings… if the answer is no, then they are deterministic beings at the mercy of chance events.

In both cases I assert that non-deterministic components in this universe are deterministic in some other one and therein lies the crux of the free will problem. Am I in some way responsible for or a cause for determinism that can not be measured from the context in which we exist. If I say that I will murder someone if the 10^132 digit of pi turns out to be even and not murder them if its odd, will I be only half guilty when the number turns out to be even since I had no way of knowing the deterministic outcome of the problem? Was there some other dimensional part of me that settled on 10^132 because it was contriving for some outcome and knew the answer?

The reality of the situation is that you’ve found a logical bottomless pit and should assume pixelation of your motivational self until proven otherwise. You do what you do because the machinery you occupy tells you it’s a good idea… now enjoy the ride until it is over and try not to think about it too much. :slight_smile:


LOL! No, most likely it was because you had some serious mental disorder and decided it would be a fun game, aliens told you to, etc. In any case, not half guilty :joy:

I hadn’t. Thanks. It’s interesting, although the math part is over my head. The “baysean inference machine” I totally agree with. Nicely put. There are parts in that interview I don’t understand, so I probably missed some important stuff. But as far as I can tell nowhere does that advocate for free will.

The “me” that does the experiencing probably resides in my brain. That is to say it is probably the product of most if not all of my active neurons. (I say probably because I can’t prove that. But it is reasonable).

But that “me” is in no way instrumental to the outcome of my actions. That is also a product of my brain, combined with every physical stimulus that lead to my neurons reacting. (Including the limbic system, I agree with @Bitking on that).

So the physical stimuli trigger the brain -> the brain produces a behavior -> part of that behavior is sensing the stimuli and the behavior. In that order, with a delay between the start of each of the three steps.

There is a “me”. I hope you see the difference between your quote and what I wrote just above. But for argument’s sake lets consider your quote. If you had a flexible “me” to range from nothingness to the entire universe, how would that help to explain choice? You’d still have to invent all kinds of vague concepts to tie you up in unprovable situations.

I on the other hand can describe how a thermostat works, or how an automatic door opens. Make that a zillion times more complex (plus a little help from a few geniusses like @jhawkins) and you’ve got yourself a brain.

And, ok, I can’t explain consciousness. The “me”. That part is still mysterious and it bugs me tremendously. But I don’t have to invent some other mysterious force to explain the origin of my behavior. There simply isn’t one.


It describes the boundary between a thing and not that thing, which was relevant to your question about whether or not the baseball was part of “me”.

IMO, it doesn’t, since I believe there is a distinction between “me” and “not me”.

Neither do I. Anyway, it is probably not worth trying to explain my mental abstractions, since I think at this point the difference between our points of view is purely a matter of definitions, not principles.

1 Like

BTW, rereading this thread I realize I invited the debate by calling your point of view “humorous”, so sorry about that :wink:


We can agree to disagree. And as I said, I still have points of doubt of my own.

I just think there is a subtle difference in principles too between us that I’d like to discuss. But I am too tired to phrase it correctly. And I have to collect my thoughts a bit about it.

Don’t worry about that. I didn’t take it the wrong way. And it is a weird position to take anyway.

1 Like

Ok, sure. I’m happy to discuss further if you are still interested (hopefully I am adding something useful to the original topic). :slight_smile:

Even without determinism you don’t get free will, if someone tosses some dice into the air and based on the result activates an electrode that starts a chain of causation making you move an arm, that is not free will. If the dice are at the atomic level, and inside you changing the activity of one neuron, it isn’t free will.

If someone puts a machine inside you that initiates an action, causes that action, that is not free will. Just because the machines, the neurons, happen to have been put there naturally does not mean it gives rise to free will.

Neither randomness nor determinism nor any combination of the two seem to give rise to free will. And if an agent is divisible, and has components, that like cogs, generate its behavior, then how can we say it has free will.

The soul used to be the indivisible agent that produced behavior and controlled all, but once you have divisibility, inner components following a mechanism, algorithm, the only notion that you may have is the compatibilist view of free will.


I suppose there is an interesting question of what we means when we say the “free” of free will.

Free of outside influences? Free of direct outside control? Free of describability? If a system is encrypted sufficiently within a context such that it is able to produce influences on the context but the context can not decipher the system’s inner workings then in that context it might be correct to assert that the system has a free will.

1 Like

If you are not going to accept that a meat machine is able to weigh its total personal experience and current perceptions to make a decision then I have to ask: what would be free will?
Please offer something that meets your definition.

Free will, according to some is the ability to be the originator or initial cause of an action or choice.

That means if the world were truly determined, some godlike being could simply decide what you’re going to do at any point throughout your life and encode it in the initial state of the universe. Even without a god, some mindless process set in motion all the decisions in your life.’

But adding randomness does not solve the issue. If some random event can be found to be the originator of the chain of causality that lead to an action, like a set of dominos, it is not a free will action.

If the actions of one particular neuron at a particular time was the critical deciding factor that resulted in a choice. That neuron is not you, and may even die at any moment, yet it was the critical factor at some point that may have determined whether a particular choice was made.

If naturally put neurons allow you to have free will, then if someone builds a new brain with neurons designed to elicit a specific behavior, then that ‘built’ individual also has free will, with these neurons that were put artificially there. It doesn’t matter what you’ve preprogrammed, impulsivity, aggressiveness, certain responses, even specific actions.

Right now even an individual’s probability to behave moral or immorally depends on the structure of the circuitry. Even babies have a code of morality built in. You could bias the wiring to make someone be born more moral or more immoral. It is said that some criminals have some form of frontal lobe damage, others have had tumors altering their brain function and making them mass murderers. But are all of these free will actions? It is no different, their internal circuitry causes their behavior, whether good or bad.

You did not answer my question. What would an example of free will look like?

When your consciousness initiates an effect or behavior that given the exact same conditions would have had a different outcome if it had willed it so.

My consciousness is the workings of the meat machine that is my brain. Does the fact that a mechanical process causes this outcome change anything about the offered definition?