Choice or Reaction?

I want you to replace the word, “Choose” with, “React” in every instance of free will one could ever describe. Instead of “choosing” between blue or red, one’s brain reacts in a way that leads to the inevitable result. We are conditioned, and every choice we make is how our conditioning reacts with the environment. When an object reacts to the laws of physics we call it motion, when a self aware object reacts to the same laws we call it free will.

We are programmed by nature to feel the stimulation of free will, which explains why it is counterintuitive to think about human processes in a deterministic way. When a leaf falls to the ground, it has no control over the pattern of its motion as it falls. Every time it glides left to right it is reacting to the air molecules it meets on its descent. You are no more in control of your thoughts and actions than the leaf is of its pattern of motion as it descends to the ground.
We only have one choice; that being to follow the laws of nature.

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  10 comments for “Choice or Reaction?

  1. June 27, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    “….I want you to replace the word, “Choose” with, “React” in every instance of free will one could ever describe…”

    Yes! I’m always telling determinists to stop using the word ‘choice’ when they describe their actions (or anybody else’s). Other words determinists must stop using are ‘debate’, ‘argue’ and ‘true/ false’.

    When determinists talk about choice or debates, or arguments or truth/ falsehood
    they are like atheists denying god exists while praying to god.

    The moment a determinist starts ‘debating’ free will vs determinism they have already admitted to not being a determinist after all.

    “..We only have one choice; that being to follow the laws of nature….”

    Sorry but you cannot have ‘one choice’. You either have ‘a’ choice or you have ‘no’ choice. A choice means two or more distinct possibilities exist for you at a given moment in time. If only one possibility exists there is no choice.

    Also there are no ‘laws’ of nature. A ‘law’ is a social construct. “No falling apple ever obeyed the law of gravity. To do so would make it a person, and a citizen” – I forgot who said that, sorry, but it’s a good quote 🙂

    • June 27, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      Haha I agree there are no ‘laws’ of nature in that sense, but the mechanics exist. We call them the laws of nature although they are not ‘obeyed’ and ‘followed’ in the political way we’d understand those words.

      I’ve argued that choices truly do not exist, but remember I’ve just described the word ‘choice’ being synonymous with the word ‘react’. We simply react to the laws of nature (or forces if you prefer). I doubt we’ll see the word ‘choice’ leave our language, it’s too useful in describing human processes. But I’m hoping with this post I’ve shown a deterministic way to define it.

      • June 27, 2014 at 9:39 pm

        “…I’ve argued that choices truly do not exist,…”

        But that’s the thing…. you cannot logically argue that choice does not exist because to argue means to choose between two (or more) possibilities for what is true or valid and then explain why you chose that possibility and not the alternatives.

        The two positions in this case are:

        A) humans do have choices, and we do have free will
        B) humans do not have choices, and we do not have free will

        Do you not see the impossibility of debating this subject from a deterministic stance? (ie choosing B over A and then explaining why you chose it)

        In a deterministic universe whatever you or I say is causally determined and so the very concept of debate and philosophy (truth vs falsehood) becomes meaningless. Everything we say or think is just tiny electro-chemical rocks tumbling down a hillside.

        The moment we declare ourselves to be arguing or debating we are admitting to choosing position B over position A (or position A over B) …. which means we are exercising free will.

        A rock tumbling down a hill and hitting signpost A and not signpost B is not an argument. It is not ‘debating’ or ‘philosophy’ either.

        If our minds, thoughts and actions are dictated by the exact same deterministic (causal) forces as the rock then nothing we do or say can be considered an argument either. It doesn’t matter how much more sophisticated we are compared to a rock, if the forces at play are the same (and in a deterministic universe they are) then we are just as incapable of debating, arguing, preferring or choosing as a rock hitting a signpost.

        To *argue* that you don’t have any choice/ free will is like *walking* 10 miles to a conference centre to give a presentation claiming that humans don’t have legs 🙂

        If you’re going to claim humans have no legs (and that the feeling of having legs is an illusion) then the very least you can do is to stop walking about! LOL

        And if you’re going to claim the universe is deterministic the least you can do is to stop arguing, preferring, debating and choosing and stop using words like ‘choice’ in daily conversations.

        “…We simply react to the laws of nature (or forces if you prefer)….”

        And if that is the case then we cannot possibly ‘argue’ or ‘prefer’ or ‘choose’ anything ever.

        You might think I’m being deliberately argumentative or pedantic, but it’s a rather fundamental point.

        To have free will, exercise free will, make choices, use the word ‘choice’ all the time in daily conversations ….. and then to deny any of these things actually exist seems quite bonkers (IMHO).

        “…I doubt we’ll see the word ‘choice’ leave our language, it’s too useful in describing human processes. …”

        Right. This is because our everyday experiences as humans are filled to the brim with choices. A universe without choices and without free will would be a completely different universe to the one we experience and interact with.

        Do you not think this is a clue that maybe we DO have choices/ free will after all? 🙂

      • June 28, 2014 at 2:13 am

        Well I would argue that a rock falling at either point A or B is the same as a person debating over and choosing A or B.

        How so? Well both the rock and the human are subject to the laws of physics. The process of a human contemplating is a physical process. In the same way we can study the rock falling using the physics of 1 or 2 dimensional motion we can study human thought using neuroscience. Both can be brought down to the basic laws of physics (I include chemistry when I say physics). I am saying that both the rock falling and the human thinking are physical processes.

        Now of course there is a distinction in the complexity between the two. We consider there to be a difference between 1st grade level arithmetic and calculus, but we would consider them both math.

        To steal my coauthor on this blog’s analogy, if you programmed a computer to recognize A as false and B as true, it would respond false to A if asked. If you say the computer chose false, that sentence makes sense but if you examine it you realize that the word ‘chose’ was useful, it made describing the process much quicker, but it is not the right word. The computer was predisposed to respond false to A.

        “To have free will, exercise free will, make choices, use the word ‘choice’ all the time in daily conversations ….. and then to deny any of these things actually exist seems quite bonkers (IMHO).”

        Yes it is very bonkers, but as I said we are programmed to FEEL like we have choices so it is counterintuitive to think of ourselves as just matter. But none the less we are. Both the rock and a human being are made up of atoms, the distinction between their complexity is vast but the similarity remains.

        Determinism does not state that humans will not think, debate, and choose. All those processes are the result of the way our atoms have been arranged. Determinism is stating these processes are inevitable. When intelligence helps a creature survive in its environment natural selection will leave the less intelligent creatures behind. In the same way a deep sea fish has evolved bodily processes to help it see in areas with no light, a human has evolved a brain and the ability to debate in order to survive. Our ability to think and ‘choose’ is useful for our survival, evolutions explains where it comes from. Yes those processes are there, but in the philosophical sense, the words ‘choose’ and ‘free will’ do not accurately describe what is going on.

        To claim you have free will is to claim that the molecules which make up your brain matter obey you and not the laws of nature.

        If you took all the atoms in this universe exactly as they were and put them inside another universe arranged in the same order with the same laws of physics this exact conversation on this exact blog would occur.

      • June 28, 2014 at 12:03 pm

        “…Well I would argue that a rock falling at either point A or B is the same as a person debating over and choosing A or B…”

        As I’m sure you agree tumbling rocks do not debate or choose their path. If the behaviour of rocks and people are fundamentally the same (government by the same forces of causality) then people must not be able to ‘debate’ or a ‘choose’ either.

        In a deterministic universe there can be no preferred states BY DEFINITION, and therefore no arguments/ debates are possible BY DEFINITION.

        I don’t think you understand what an argument (in the sense of a debate) actually is.

        Suppose we replaced the tumbling rock with you strapped inside a barrel. Like the rock you cannot affect your motion down the hill, but unlike the rock you can think and speak. So we push you off the hill and you tumble down and hit either signpost A or signpost B.

        Regardless of what you think or say on your way down the hill you are going to either hit signpost A or B and you have absolutely no control over which one it is. Let’s say you hit signpost A. Can we describe this as you ‘arguing’ for signpost A, or ‘preferring’ signpost A, or ‘choosing’ signpost A?

        Of course not. You had no choice. Without choice arguments, preferences and choices cannot exist. In a deterministic universe there are no choices because every moment is strictly causally determined. Every moment is the sum of all causal factors leading up to that moment. That is the only possibility. With only one possibility there can be no choice, and thus no free will, no preferences, no arguments, no debates and no act of choosing.

        You cannot ‘choose’ A when A is the only possibility.
        You cannot ‘argue’ for A when A is the only possibility.
        You cannot ‘prefer’ A when A is the only possibility.
        And so on.

        If our actions typing in this blog are governed by the same deterministic forces as a rock (or a person in a barrel) then what we are doing also cannot logically be called arguing or debating (or preferring or choosing).

        Sure, we often use inappropriate words and most of the time it doesn’t matter. I can say “I murdered that fish casserole” (I cooked it badly) and that’s OK.

        But in, say, a courtroom it’s very important to use of word ‘murder’ correctly.

        In a discussion specifically about choice/ debating/ free will/ determinism etc it’s important to use these particular words correctly and precisely.

        “…Well both the rock and the human are subject to the laws of physics…”

        ‘Laws’ of physics are constantly being updated and are incomplete (given that we do not have a complete understanding of how the universe operates. We probably understand about 0.000000000000001% of how the universe operates).

        “…The process of a human contemplating is a physical process…..”

        This does not mean anything. Nobody understands how the mind works. Many repeatable studies have shown the mind operates OUTSIDE of the brain across time and space. That suggests it is not (just) a ‘physical’ process.

        “…I am saying that both the rock falling and the human thinking are physical processes….”

        Fine, but that’s an assertion, not a fact. Saying something does not make it true.

        People who say everything is just a physical process (molecules smashing together) and believe this to be true (ie believe they understand how the universe works! LOL) are eventually forced into an inevitable conclusion based on this belief.

        That conclusion is that if everything is just ‘billiard balls smashing into each other’ then everything must be determined by strict causality – including human beings.

        This conclusion (determinism theory) is completely at odds with every single facet of human experience…. which kind of suggests it’s a load of nonsense. And THAT kind of suggests the original belief (that the universe is a giant game of billiards) is also wrong.

        But determinists never go back to challenge their original assumption. Instead they just put ‘quotation marks’ around words like ‘choice’ and tie themselves up in knots saying choice doesn’t exist, but it kind of does, but not really, but maybe a little bit, but not at all…. 🙂

        Remember the validity/ invalidity of determinism theory and its implications are two separate subjects. I am simply pointing out that IF the universe is deterministic in nature then that would mean humans are incapable of arguing, debating, preferring or choosing or doing anything else that requires free will.

        Any object or person which is bound by strict causality is BY DEFINITION incapable of arguing, debating, preferring or choosing or doing anything else that requires free will.

        This is the very ESSENCE of determinism.

        If you insist you ARE capable of arguing, debating, preferring or choosing or doing anything else that requires free will then you are not really a determinist after all.

        SAYING you are pro equal human rights means nothing if you keep a slave in your basement.

        SAYING you hate alcohol means nothing if you drink a bottle of whisky a day.

        SAYING you are a determinist means nothing if you go around arguing, debating, preferring or choosing or doing anything else that requires free will.

        “..Determinism does not state that humans will not think, debate, and choose. …”

        Determinism denies the existence of free will. ‘Debating’ and ‘choosing’ require free will. Therefore anyone who says we are able to ‘debate’ and ‘choose’ is not really a determinist.

        “…All those processes are the result of the way our atoms have been arranged. ..”

        If the arrangement of atoms determines our actions then our actions can never be called ‘choices’ or ‘preferences’ just as a rock tumbling down a hillside cannot be said to be ‘choosing’ or ‘preferring’ its path.

        “…Determinism is stating these processes are inevitable….”

        Right. Inevitable means ‘only one possibility exists’. One possibility means no choice exists. No choice means there is no free will which means no debating, no preferring, no choosing and so on.

        “…Yes those processes are there, but in the philosophical sense, the words ‘choose’ and ‘free will’ do not accurately describe what is going on….”

        The words ‘choice’, ‘choose’, ‘prefer’ and ‘free will’ have clear and precise meanings. All of them are describe behaviour associated with having free will. Either these words describe human behaviour or they do not. If you believe we do not have free will then you must not use these words. It really is that simple.

        Like every determinist I’ve ever encountered you keep using these words, sometimes in ‘quotes’ ….. but then you say they don’t accurately describe what is going on. So why use them?

        There are plenty of alternative words and phrases you can use which do not violate determinism theory.

        “…To claim you have free will is to claim that the molecules which make up your brain matter obey you and not the laws of nature…”

        Not at all. You are offering up YOUR theory on how free will might operate.

        But nobody needs to claim HOW free will operates (ie how the universe works!) in order to claim free will exists. I do not need to explain HOW the sun works to claim the sun exists. And you cannot refute my claim that the sun exists by offering YOUR theory on how the sun works and then saying that your theory is ludicrous.

        Claiming to have free will simply means you accept that choices exist, and that humans are capable of preferring A over B (and C , D etc).

        I can claim my legs exist and that they enable me to walk. To validate this claim I do not need to be able to explain how legs appear, how they work or how I am able to control them …… all I need to do to validate my claim is point to my legs and then demonstrate my ability to walk.

        If you think legs do not exist it is up to you to prove it (and to disprove my claim that my legs DO exist).

        The determinist argument against free will goes something like this….. “Legs do not exist. They seem to exist and I must admit that I use my non existent ‘legs’ to walk about because it’s just so damn convenient! …. but at the end of the day I have to say that my ‘legs’ do not really exist – and nor do yours”

        “…If you took all the atoms in this universe exactly as they were and put them inside another universe arranged in the same order with the same laws of physics this exact conversation on this exact blog would occur….”

        I don’t understand what point you are making. In an identical universe, we would be debating the exact same subject in the exact same way. We might as well save the effort of moving everything from one universe to another and just continue discussing it here LOL 🙂

      • June 29, 2014 at 1:23 am

        “and therefore no arguments/ debates are possible BY DEFINITION.”

        I know that you capitalized “by definition” and all, but it simply does not make it true. The ACTUAL DEFINITION of argument is as follows: “an exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically a heated or angry one.”

        I can program a computer to argue by definition. I could program it to exchange with another computer a wide variety of diverging or opposite views, and I can even have it say those views in a heated tone (although that’s only typical). Of course the two computers would be debating known knowledge, but nevertheless they would be exchanging diverging opinions.

        In the case of humans arguing, the position of programmer would be transferred to genetics and environment. Shaping and molding us over the course of years to respond to different stimuli in the environment a certain and definite way. Such as someone presenting an argument over wordpress 🙂 My response is not optional, but definite. I had zero choice. Yet, just like the computer, I argue.

        So yes, I do believe that I understand what an argument is in the debate sense.

        “With only one possibility there can be no choice, and thus no free will,”

        Here is why “Choice or choose” is not taken out of a scientific determinists vocabulary. The actual definition of choice is “an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.” The operations of evolution fall exactly within the parameters of this word. It is even often called Natural Selection. Natural selection does not require free-will of any sort.

        “If our actions typing in this blog are governed by the same deterministic forces as a rock (or a person in a barrel) then what we are doing also cannot logically be called arguing or debating (or preferring or choosing).”

        It’s nice to claim that, but it doesn’t make you right. It can very much logically be called arguing (an exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically a heated or angry one). Nowhere is free-will required to argue. We are not using free-will to pick phrases and facts to argue with, but are instead reacting to neurological processes, stimuli, and millions of years of evolution. Just as a computer responds to a command that another computer may send to it, we also respond according to what our environment “sends.”
        Why do we say the arguments that we say? Many factors such as intelligence, upbringing, schooling, etc come in to play.

        “‘Laws’ of physics are constantly being updated and are incomplete (given that we do not have a complete understanding of how the universe operates. We probably understand about 0.000000000000001% of how the universe operates).”

        It simply doesn’t matter in this context. Here’s why. For determinism to be true you don’t have to know the “0.00000…%.” You only have to have a reason to believe that what we don’t know of how the universe operates, does follow ANY law/s. Do we have a reason to think that the rest of the universe follows a set of guidelines and laws? All we can do is take what we know so far and come up with a hypotheses for the rest of the universe. This is why when astronomers experiment and observe data taken from space they make assumptions that space follows a set of laws such as the constants of light, gravitation, etc. Once again, it doesn’t matter how many laws that we are missing; only that we have reason to assume that they are there, and all of a sudden free-will disappears.

        “Many repeatable studies have shown the mind operates OUTSIDE of the brain across time and space.”

        As far as repeatable studies showing this claim, I would be glad to read it.

        I would go into detail on more key points, but it seems that we disagree on many elementary points so I’m not sure how much progress we would make.

        I look forward to more future discussions.

        Thanks!

      • June 29, 2014 at 7:45 am

        “…..I know that you capitalized “by definition” and all, but it simply does not make it true…..”

        No, my logical arguments make it true. If you want to try and refute them go ahead.

        “…I can program a computer to argue by definition. ..”

        No you cannot. The very word ‘program’ tells us the computer is merely doing whatever you program it to do. I can ‘program’ a rock to hit signpost A by digging a channel for it to roll down. This does not mean the rock is ‘arguing’ or ‘preferring’ signpost A.

        Saying “I can *program* a computer to argue” is like saying “I can *force* someone to make love to me”. If force is required then it is rape, not lovemaking.

        “I can solve maths problems in my head using a calculator”- if you’re using a calculator you’re not solving them in your head. The contradiction is glaringly obvious.

        “I have no free will, but I can still prefer, argue, debate and choose” – No you can’t. Again the contradiction is glaringly obvious.

        “I have no arms, but I can still conduct an orchestra with my arms” – Can you spot the glaring contradiction in this statement?

        If you program a computer to say “Sugar is unhealthy because it causes tooth decay” that is YOUR argument. If you wrote that same argument down on a piece of paper you would not say the piece of paper is making the arguement would you? A computer is no more able to argue than a piece of paper.

        “…My response is not optional, …”

        Then it is a reaction, not a response, and it cannot be called ‘arguing’, ‘debating’, ‘choosing’ or ‘preferring’.

        If you believe (as all true determinists must) that having options (choices in how you respond) is impossible then that means you believe ‘arguing’, ‘debating’, ‘choosing’ and ‘preferring’ are impossible. You have to use different words.

        If you insist that you really are arguing / debating with me then you are not really a determinist after all.

        Like all determinists you won’t accept the full implications of your own theory. To get around this you are trying to hijack words that describe the world of free will.

        This is like a robber trying to redefine ‘stealing’ to mean ‘borrowing’ so he can avoid being sent to jail.

        People only try to twist the meanings of words when they cannot defend their position rationally and empirically.

      • June 30, 2014 at 1:18 am

        Your points aren’t really philosophy, this is more on the lines of philology. Language isn’t an absolute, we simply made it up, but it’s useful. I’m talking about concepts, not words.

        When an atheist says, “There are no absolutes” and a Christian replies with, “Are you absolutely sure?” I don’t think the pious individual has refuted the others point. Just because you found a paradox in language doesn’t mean you have found a paradox in reality.

        The same goes for the, “Can God create a rock too heavy for himself to lift?” question. This doesn’t prove God is illogical, it proves the word omnipresent is illogical.

        I disagree that I cannot use the words choose and debate (although the point of this post was that I’ve found a word to replace choose).

        We are programmed by the laws of nature to debate and choose in the same way a computer is programmed by us to debate and choose. In all it is just a reaction. The universe is filled with atoms reacting with another, our atoms included.

  2. June 27, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    I think you’re right. I don’t think free will exists.

    • June 28, 2014 at 1:37 am

      It really is a fascinating realization isn’t it? Thank you for reading!

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