I probably should explain how I interpret these terms, since “predestination” and “free will” tend to bring religious concepts into the conversation.

When I talk about “predestination” I am not referring to “intent” or “intelligent design”. I am referring to the idea that the universe follows some complex yet fully predictable laws, and thus it only ever could have turned out exactly as it did. This concept neither requires nor rules out a creator to be relevant.

When I refer to “free will”, I am not implying the existence of a soul. I am merely referring to the ability to take a specific course of action when faced with more than one choice. I also include personal responsibility in this definition (my choices are my own, not someone/something else’s)


I think where we differ is that tic-tac-toe programs run in a contained system that can be fully understood. A game like Go might be a better analogy. When reality is too complex to be fully understood. Our decisions in these cases are based on our own individual unique wiring, and will not be the same from one individual to the next.


And when I refer to “free will” it is shorthand for the exercise of the programming baked in via a lifetime of learning. This learning includes the judgement of “good” and “bad” that is learned by internal coloring of outcomes using your limbic system to flavor each action based on the observed outcome; this includes the effects of social influence as we are social animals.

I believe that everything that you learn is framed and parsed in terms of what you have learned before; you learn delta coding based on your prior life experiences. If you extend this all the way back you build on your innate built-in instinctive and emotional wiring as dictated by your genetics.
It is nature first, then nurture.

This learning/programming is the basis for your “free will.”

More on this learning of the world:


Yes, this is an important point. I think it would otherwise be difficult to make the case for personal responsibility (versus the “get out of jail free” argument)


I can conceive of a perfect circle… a thing which is impossible to actually construct in this universe.

Therefore I can also easily conceive of a universe with 10^1,000,000,000,… computational components trivially executing our ~10^130 universe for funsies…

The exercise gets even sillier once you realize you can collapse the time parameter for any unobserved portion of the model.

The really interesting challenge as a software engineer is trying to extract information about the hardware from observing the behavior of the software. It makes sense that the physicists are constantly scratching their heads because they are not used to operating in an information vacuum, but that sort of thing is the bread and butter of the software engineering team.

Whatever it is that is deterministic about our universe is currently behind a veil known as quantum uncertainty. Will we ever break through to understanding the machinery behind it? Who knows.

Meanwhile, we get to play around with the deterministic parts of this universe until either the machine stops, we break existence or we collectively decide that the game has completely jumped the shark.


Of course, I understand. And even go is ridiculously simple compared to a human brain. But it’s still only a program.


Well put.

Well no. It’s the exact opposite. It’s the basis of no free will.


Hence the quotes around free will.


I guess I don’t really understand the definition of “free will” then :man_shrugging: It seems to be commonly understood and rejected by most people I talk to, so seems that I have a very different understanding of the term. Oh well, I think essentially we agree on most of the rest of the conversation, and I’ve probably beaten the original topic to death at this point :sweat_smile:


Say there was a deterministic mechanism for all decisions but that a large component of that mechanism lived behind an encryption screen that you were incapable of breaking from this side.

Would that satisfy your notions of free will? Would it cause you to rethink your position?

It would imply that an interrogator on this side of that encryption could only discern the ultimate truth of your stated intentions through the application of game theory as opposed to simply pealing your mind open to know the truth.

If there is a secret you (even secret to your conscious self) then I would argue that you’ve fulfilled the requirements of a free will.


Does this complex mechanism need to choose actions based on its past experiences which have colored those choices as good/bad in a way that is unique to the mechanism?

A decision needs to be in there somewhere I think…


The point is that you have no way of knowing… maybe it just likes to paint black holes a certain way and it’s priorities are completely orthogonal to what you think of as your biological wants and needs.


I’m with you, here. Definitions are hard. We may be talking about different things. And being right or not doesn’t matter much to me. I have to take my ego/pride out of the equation.

So, let me explain you why I find this so important. Maybe you can help me find my definition, or correct me in my thinking. I’d much rather be wrong and corrected than humoured.

For 99.9% of the situations, the question of free will is not important. I live my life as if I have free will. It’s kind of funny, but I literally don’t have a choice. When I’m hungry, I decide what I’m going to eat. When I argue with someone, I decide what I’m going to say. And I enjoy these decisions. I enjoy the feeling of being in control.

But for some fundamental questions, it is (in my opinion) extremely important to get this right. I think (and have to stress the word think) it is the basis of universal morality. And I know how this sounds: presumptuous, incredible, naïve… And I accept that I can be wrong. Smarter people than me need to verifie this.

But if this is right, we may have a solution to the survival of the human race. Especially if we’re building AGI.

(I don’t want to make this post too long. Let me know what you think so far).


This the part of your definition that I don’t understand. I suspect it boils down to a difference in the definition of “I”. :man_shrugging:


Sure you have free will. You see some stuff and make some decision. If you were someone else you might make some other decision but YOU know what is the right thing to do and do it.

You do what is “right” to you. Where exactly did you get the idea that this or that is right?

Why is it that there is even a decision to be had - why does that other guy think differently and make some other choice. (clearly to you - the most boneheaded thing anyone could do?) Yup - this other person has different programming - he was exposed to different things.

So for a given agent - the summation of all the senses and internal programming result in the selection of some action. If your internal programming is different you may select different actions.

This programming may cause you to take actions that you know are injurious to yourself for the good of your tribe, we are after all, social animals. But what persons are accepted as members of your tribe? This social programming can lead to tales of ether self sacrifice or terrible cruelty, sometimes both at the same time.

At each junction you, as an free agent, will perceive and decide. Most people can explain why they make a given choice. Sometime a person learn something that make them say things like “if I had only known thing Q I would have done X instead of Y” which goes to my point: your programming drives you to select your actions.


Does a spread sheet have free will?


In my opionion, nothing has. Free will does not exist.

An illusion is a perception of something that is not true. So for an illusion to be, there needs to be something that perceives (or feels; or experiences), and some phenomenon that happens to be something else.

Our consciousness undergoes the illusion of free will. It enjoys it. It suffers it.

Arguable, neither consciousness nor free will can be explained. But I experience something. So at least for myself I can be sure that my consciousness exists. I can’t be sure about yours, or anyone elses. But I feel something, so I must exist. I can’t be certain that what I experience is correct or not. It can be a huge confusion, or it can be very close to reality or anything in between. But at least I experience something. So my consciousness exists. (Cognito ergo sum).

Now for free will, we need to invent a complicated, in my opinion magical something to explain choice. Or we can fall back on a mechanistic theory, that may not be perfectly explained, but through lots and lots of testable situations (experiences) turns out to follow very predictible laws. Granted, they are not perfect. But they confirm each other over and over. And the more we learn about reality, the more we conclude that it is mechanistic. We don’t need this magical substance of free will. We can do without.

It’s like god. We used to need gods and spirits to explain mysterious things. But the more we learned, the less we needed them. Now we’re at a point where to insert a deity into our system, we’re stuck with this dogmatic magical mystery that we don’t really need anymore. It’s causing more problems than it solves. So, even if we can stil not be totally certain, it’s a better bet to dicard it. Much, much, much better.

That’s why I find this debate funny (with all respect): people who believe in free will, are kind of… religeous.

And in my opinion, we are lucky that we can do without. For moral reasons.


Your free will emanates from the canter of a perfect sphere. It is an irrational self referential recursive function that would take infinite time to resolve, so you might as well stop chasing it and accept that you won’t always know why you made decision X or why you weren’t paying attention when fact Y was passing before your eyes. (Clue-train, there is more than one infinite recursive YOU making these decisions…)

If this were not so, you would simply build a system that can disentangle the chaotic part of your mind, call the game boring and quit playing the very next moment and what kind of meaningless universe would that be?


To clarify, I didn’t mean to ask what is the definition of “illusion”. I meant, think about what you are claiming to be “not true”. You are claiming that what is “not true” is one’s ability to make a decision. To me this is humorous, since choices are constantly being encountered and decisions are being made, and those decisions are unique to one’s self.

If “I” am not the one making these decisions, then who/what is? The laws of the universe? God’s master plan? Maybe, but I prefer not to look at something so nebulous, and instead focus on the system itself (in this case a brain). The decisions are originating from various networks of neurons. What I call “me” is this system. Since the decision is originating from the system, it is originating from “me”.

If I slap someone in the face, then it was me who made the decision (and I should be responsible for it). If someone else grabs my hand and slaps someone’s face with it, then it was they who made the decision and should bear the responsibility for it, not me.

I agree on this observation, and would only add that Occam’s Razor means that I am probably not the only thing that exists – I perceive other humans that seem similar in nature to myself, and the simplest explanation is that these other humans probably do exist and have their own awareness of their existence like I do.

This is where I see a gap in the logic (something is missing that I’m not picking up on yet). What is the complication that you are referring to, and what makes it magical? This must relate in some way to your observation about self awareness (or I’m guessing you wouldn’t have mentioned it), but I’m not making the connection between the two observations.


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.