Possibility and Could-ness

by Eliezer Yudkowsky8 min read14th Jun 2008113 comments

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This post is part of the Solution to "Free Will".
Followup toDissolving the Question, Causality and Moral Responsibility

Planning out upcoming posts, it seems to me that I do, in fact, need to talk about the word could, as in, "But I could have decided not to rescue that toddler from the burning orphanage."

Otherwise, I will set out to talk about Friendly AI, one of these days, and someone will say:  "But it's a machine; it can't make choices, because it couldn't have done anything other than what it did."

So let's talk about this word, "could".  Can you play Rationalist's Taboo against it?  Can you talk about "could" without using synonyms like "can" and "possible"?

Let's talk about this notion of "possibility".  I can tell, to some degree, whether a world is actual or not actual; what does it mean for a world to be "possible"?

I know what it means for there to be "three" apples on a table.  I can verify that experimentally, I know what state of the world corresponds it.  What does it mean to say that there "could" have been four apples, or "could not" have been four apples?  Can you tell me what state of the world corresponds to that, and how to verify it?  Can you do it without saying "could" or "possible"?

I know what it means for you to rescue a toddler from the orphanage.  What does it mean for you to could-have-not done it?  Can you describe the corresponding state of the world without "could", "possible", "choose", "free", "will", "decide", "can", "able", or "alternative"?

One last chance to take a stab at it, if you want to work out the answer for yourself...

Some of the first Artificial Intelligence systems ever built, were trivially simple planners.  You specify the initial state, and the goal state, and a set of actions that map states onto states; then you search for a series of actions that takes the initial state to the goal state.

Modern AI planners are a hell of a lot more sophisticated than this, but it's amazing how far you can get by understanding the simple math of everything.  There are a number of simple, obvious strategies you can use on a problem like this.  All of the simple strategies will fail on difficult problems; but you can take a course in AI if you want to talk about that part.

There's backward chaining:  Searching back from the goal, to find a tree of states such that you know how to reach the goal from them.  If you happen upon the initial state, you're done.

There's forward chaining:  Searching forward from the start, to grow a tree of states such that you know how to reach them from the initial state.  If you happen upon the goal state, you're done.

Or if you want a slightly less simple algorithm, you can start from both ends and meet in the middle.

Let's talk about the forward chaining algorithm for a moment.

Here, the strategy is to keep an ever-growing collection of states that you know how to reach from the START state, via some sequence of actions and (chains of) consequences.  Call this collection the "reachable from START" states; or equivalently, label all the states in the collection "reachable from START".  If this collection ever swallows the GOAL state - if the GOAL state is ever labeled "reachable from START" - you have a plan.

"Reachability" is a transitive property.  If B is reachable from A, and C is reachable from B, then C is reachable from A.  If you know how to drive from San Jose to San Francisco, and from San Francisco to Berkeley, then you know a way to drive from San Jose to Berkeley.  (It may not be the shortest way, but you know a way.)

If you've ever looked over a game-problem and started collecting states you knew how to achieve - looked over a maze, and started collecting points you knew how to reach from START - then you know what "reachability" feels like.  It feels like, "I can get there."  You might or might not be able to get to the GOAL from San Francisco - but at least you know you can get to San Francisco.

You don't actually run out and drive to San Francisco.  You'll wait, and see if you can figure out how to get from San Francisco to GOAL.  But at least you could go to San Francisco any time you wanted to.

(Why would you want to go to San Francisco?  If you figured out how to get from San Francisco to GOAL, of course!)

Human beings cannot search through millions of possibilities one after the other, like an AI algorithm.  But - at least for now - we are often much more clever about which possibilities we do search.

One of the things we do that current planning algorithms don't do (well), is rule out large classes of states using abstract reasoning.  For example, let's say that your goal (or current subgoal) calls for you to cover at least one of these boards using domino 2-tiles.

Boards_3

The black square is a missing cell; this leaves 24 cells to be covered with 12 dominos.

You might just dive into the problem, and start trying to cover the first board using dominos - discovering new classes of reachable states:

Boarddive

However, you will find after a while that you can't seem to reach a goal state.  Should you move on to the second board, and explore the space of what's reachable there?

But I wouldn't bother with the second board either, if I were you.  If you construct this coloring of the boards:

Boardsparity

Then you can see that every domino has to cover one grey and one yellow square.  And only the third board has equal numbers of grey and yellow squares.  So no matter how clever you are with the first and second board, it can't be done.

With one fell swoop of creative abstract reasoning - we constructed the coloring, it was not given to us - we've cut down our search space by a factor of three.  We've reasoned out that the reachable states involving dominos placed on the first and second board, will never include a goal state.

Naturally, one characteristic that rules out whole classes of states in the search space, is if you can prove that the state itself is physically impossible.  If you're looking for a way to power your car without all that expensive gasoline, it might seem like a brilliant idea to have a collection of gears that would turn each other while also turning the car's wheels - a perpetual motion machine of the first type.  But because it is a theorem that this is impossible in classical mechanics, we know that every clever thing we can do with classical gears will not suffice to build a perpetual motion machine.  It is as impossible as covering the first board with classical dominos.  So it would make more sense to concentrate on new battery technologies instead.

Surely, what is physically impossible cannot be "reachable"... right?  I mean, you would think...

Oh, yeah... about that free will thing.

So your brain has a planning algorithm - not a deliberate algorithm that you learned in school, but an instinctive planning algorithm.  For all the obvious reasons, this algorithm keeps track of which states have known paths from the start point.  I've termed this label "reachable", but the way the algorithm feels from inside, is that it just feels like you can do it.  Like you could go there any time you wanted.

And what about actions?  They're primitively labeled as reachable; all other reachability is transitive from actions by consequences.  You can throw a rock, and if you throw a rock it will break a window, therefore you can break a window.  If you couldn't throw the rock, you wouldn't be able to break the window.

Don't try to understand this in terms of how it feels to "be able to" throw a rock.  Think of it in terms of a simple AI planning algorithm.  Of course the algorithm has to treat the primitive actions as primitively reachable.  Otherwise it will have no planning space in which to search for paths through time.

And similarly, there's an internal algorithmic label for states that have been ruled out:

worldState.possible == 0

So when people hear that the world is deterministic, they translate that into:  "All actions except one are impossible."  This seems to contradict their feeling of being free to choose any action.  The notion of physics following a single line, seems to contradict their perception of a space of possible plans to search through.

The representations in our cognitive algorithms do not feel like representations; they feel like the way the world is.  If your mind constructs a search space of states that would result from the initial state given various actions, it will feel like the search space is out there, like there are certain possibilities.

We've previously discussed how probability is in the mind.  If you are uncertain about whether a classical coin has landed heads or tails, that is a fact about your state of mind, not a property of the coin.  The coin itself is either heads or tails.  But people forget this, and think that coin.probability == 0.5, which is the Mind Projection Fallacy: treating properties of the mind as if they were properties of the external world.

So I doubt it will come as any surprise to my longer-abiding readers, if I say that possibility is also in the mind.

What concrete state of the world - which quarks in which positions - corresponds to "There are three apples on the table, and there could be four apples on the table"?  Having trouble answering that?  Next, say how that world-state is different from "There are three apples on the table, and there couldn't be four apples on the table."  And then it's even more trouble, if you try to describe could-ness in a world in which there are no agents, just apples and tables.  This is a Clue that could-ness and possibility are in your map, not directly in the territory.

What is could-ness, in a state of the world?  What are can-ness and able-ness?  They are what it feels like to have found a chain of actions which, if you output them, would lead from your current state to the could-state.

But do not say, "I could achieve X".  Say rather, "I could reach state X by taking action Y, if I wanted".  The key phrase is "if I wanted".  I could eat that banana, if I wanted.  I could step off that cliff there - if, for some reason, I wanted to.

Where does the wanting come from?  Don't think in terms of what it feels like to want, or decide something; try thinking in terms of algorithms.  For a search algorithm to output some particular action - choose - it must first carry out a process where it assumes many possible actions as having been taken, and extrapolates the consequences of those actions.

Perhaps this algorithm is "deterministic", if you stand outside Time to say it.  But you can't write a decision algorithm that works by just directly outputting the only action it can possibly output.  You can't save on computing power that way.  The algorithm has to assume many different possible actions as having been taken, and extrapolate their consequences, and then choose an action whose consequences match the goal.  (Or choose the action whose probabilistic consequences rank highest in the utility function, etc.  And not all planning processes work by forward chaining, etc.)

You might imagine the decision algorithm as saying:  "Suppose the output of this algorithm were action A, then state X would follow.  Suppose the output of this algorithm were action B, then state Y would follow."  This is the proper cashing-out of could, as in, "I could do either X or Y."  Having computed this, the algorithm can only then conclude:  "Y ranks above X in the Preference Ordering.  The output of this algorithm is therefore B.  Return B."

The algorithm, therefore, cannot produce an output without extrapolating the consequences of itself producing many different outputs.  All but one of the outputs being considered is counterfactual; but which output is the factual one cannot be known to the algorithm until it has finished running.

A bit tangled, eh?  No wonder humans get confused about "free will".

You could eat the banana, if you wanted.  And you could jump off a cliff, if you wanted.  These statements are both true, though you are rather more likely to want one than the other.

You could even flatly say, "I could jump off a cliff" and regard this as true - if you construe could-ness according to reachability, and count actions as primitively reachable.  But this does not challenge deterministic physics; you will either end up wanting to jump, or not wanting to jump.

The statement, "I could jump off the cliff, if I chose to" is entirely compatible with "It is physically impossible that I will jump off that cliff".  It need only be physically impossible for you to choose to jump off a cliff - not physically impossible for any simple reason, perhaps, just a complex fact about what your brain will and will not choose.

Defining things appropriately, you can even endorse both of the statements:

  • "I could jump off the cliff" is true from my point-of-view
  • "It is physically impossible for me to jump off the cliff" is true for all observers, including myself

How can this happen?  If all of an agent's actions are primitive-reachable from that agent's point-of-view, but the agent's decision algorithm is so constituted as to never choose to jump off a cliff.

You could even say that "could" for an action is always defined relative to the agent who takes that action, in which case I can simultaneously make the following two statements:

  • NonSuicidalGuy could jump off the cliff.
  • It is impossible that NonSuicidalGuy will hit the ground.

If that sounds odd, well, no wonder people get confused about free will!

But you would have to be very careful to use a definition like that one consistently.  "Could" has another closely related meaning in which it refers to the provision of at least a small amount of probability.  This feels similar, because when you're evaluating actions that you haven't yet ruled out taking, then you will assign at least a small probability to actually taking those actions - otherwise you wouldn't be investigating them.  Yet "I could have a heart attack at any time" and "I could have a heart attack any time I wanted to" are not the same usage of could, though they are confusingly similar.

You can only decide by going through an intermediate state where you do not yet know what you will decide.  But the map is not the territory.  It is not required that the laws of physics be random about that which you do not know.  Indeed, if you were to decide randomly, then you could scarcely be said to be in "control".  To determine your decision, you need to be in a lawful world.

It is not required that the lawfulness of reality be disrupted at that point, where there are several things you could do if you wanted to do them; but you do not yet know their consequences, or you have not finished evaluating the consequences; and so you do not yet know which thing you will choose to do.

A blank map does not correspond to a blank territory.  Not even an agonizingly uncertain map corresponds to an agonizingly uncertain territory.

(Next in the free will solution sequence is "The Ultimate Source", dealing with the intuition that we have some chooser-faculty beyond any particular desire or reason.  As always, the interested reader is advised to first consider this question on their own - why would it feel like we are more than the sum of our impulses?)

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Eliezer, Great articulation. This pretty much sums up my intuition on free will and human capacity to make choices at this stage of our knowledge, too. You made the distinction between physical capability and possibly determined motivation crystal clear.

I feel the obligation to post this warning again: Don't think "Ohhh, the decision I'll make is already determined, so I can as well relax and don't worry too much." Remember you will face the consequences of whatever you decide so make the best possible choice, maximize utility!

6Dr_Manhattan10y"You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to evade it" - Rabbi Tarfon

Paraphrasing my previous comment in another way: determinism is no excuse for you to be sloppy, lazy or unattentive in your decision process.

Well said. The fact of deliberation being deterministic does not obviate the need to engage in deliberation. That would be like believing that running the wrong batch program is just as effective as running the right one, just because there will be some output either way.

Eliezer: I'll second Hopefully Anonymous; this is almost exactly what I believe about the whole determinism-free will debate, but it's devilishly hard to describe in English because our vocabulary isn't constructed to make these distinctions very clearly. (Which is why it took a 2700-word blog post). Roland and Andy Wood address one of the most common and silliest arguments against determinism: "If determinism is true, why are you arguing with me? I'll believe whatever I'll believe." The fact that what you'll believe is deterministically fixed doesn't affect the fact that this argument is part of what fixes it.

Roland and Andy, I think you're misreading this formulation of determinism. One may have the illusion/hallucination of being able to engage in deliberation, or relax. But the analogy is more like a kid thinking they're playing a game that's on autoplay mode. The experience of deliberating, the experience of relaxing, the "consequences" are all determined, even if they're unknowable to the person having these experiences. I'm not saying this is the best model of reality, but at this stage of our knowledge it seems to me to be a plausible model of reality.

Hopefully: I'll thank you not to attribute to me positions that I don't hold. I assure you I am well aware that all of the abovementioned deciding, yea this very discussion and all of my reasoning, concluding, and thought-pattern fixing, are deterministic processes. Thank you.

Hopefully, I don't see why you insist on calling deliberation "illusory". Explaining is not the same as explaining away. Determined is not the same as predetermined. I deliberate not yet knowing what I'll choose, consider various factors that do in fact determine my choice, and then, deterministically/lawfully, choose. Where's the illusion? You would seem to be trying to get rid of the rainbow, not just the gnomes.

Eliezer, first (and I think this is an important distinction) I'm saying that human deliberation could be illusory. This is different than saying that it is illusory -as far as I can tell, we don't know enough to know. I think it's a distinction worth keeping as a possibility, to the degree that it can help us develop the best models of reality. Of course if human deliberation is 100% illusory, in all points of configuration space, it would seem to be useless knowledge for us, since even those moments of knowing (and then not knowing or forgetting) would b... (read more)

Hopefully, I have no idea what you mean by the phrase, "deliberation is illusory". I do not understand what state of the world corresponds to this being the case. This is not Socratic questioning, I literally have no idea what you're trying to say.

0TheAncientGeek6yHopefully probably means that the only acceptable definitions of deliberation involve choices between real possibilities. To Hopefully you probably sound like someone saying unicorns exist but don't have horns.

HA could be saying that deliberation may be effectively epiphenomenal - that it only ever rationalizes conclusions already arrived at nondeliberatively ("predetermined"). This is either completely false (if the nondeliberative process doesn't arrive at right answers more often than chance) or completely useless (if it does).

Hopefully: You seem to be confusing the explicit deliberation of verbal reasoning, much of which is post-hoc or confabulation and not actually required to determine people's actions (rather it is determined by their actions), with the implicit deliberation of neural algorithms, which constitute the high level description of the physics that determines people's actions, the description which is valid on the level of description of the universe where people exist at all.

Hopefully: My suggestion is, that it is the use of the metaphor "illusion", which is unfortunate. In the process - Search Find (have a beer) Execute there is no room for illusion. Just as David Copperfield works very hard whilst making illusions but is himself under no illusion. In other words "illusion" is an out of process perspective. It is in the "I" of the beholder. You hope(fully) expect that the search process can be improved by the intervention of "I". Why should that be? Would the search process be improved ... (read more)

Michael, I don't think I'm "confusing" the explicit deliberation of verbal reasoning with the implicit deliberation of neural algorithms any more than Eliezer is in his various recent posts and admonitions on this topic. But I think it's a useful distinction you're bringing up.

Nick, I'm going a little farther than that- I'm saying that the deliberation, that the rationalizing of conclusions, as you put it, may be illusory in that there may be no personal agency in that process either. In Eliezer's terms, it would be impossible for one to rational... (read more)

It would seem I have failed to make my point, then.

Choosing does not require that it be physically possible to have chosen differently.

Being able to say, "I could have chosen differently," does not require that it be physically possible to have chosen differently. It is a different sense of "could".

I am not saying that choice is an illusion. I am pointing to something and saying: "There! Right there! You see that? That's a choice, just as much as a calculator is adding numbers! It doesn't matter if it's deterministic! It do... (read more)

-1TheAncientGeek6yThat's a matter of definitions, not fact.

The algorithm has to assume many different possible actions as having been taken, and extrapolate their consequences, and then choose an action whose consequences match the goal ... The algorithm, therefore, cannot produce an output without extrapolating the consequences of itself producing many different outputs.

It seems like you need to talk about our "internal state space", not our internal algorithms -- since as you pointed out yourself, our internal algorithms might never enumerate many possibilities (jumping off a cliff while wearing a clow... (read more)

Hmm, it seems my class on free will may actually be useful.

Eliezer: you may be interested to know that your position corresponds almost precisely to what we call classical compatibilism. I was likewise a classical compatibilist before taking my course - under ordinary circumstances, it is quite a simple and satisfactory theory. (It could be your version is substantially more robust than the one I abandoned, of course. For one, you would probably avoid the usual trap of declaring that agents are responsible for acts if and only if the acts proceed from thei... (read more)

The problem I have with this idea that choices are deterministic is that people end up saying things such as:

Don't think "Ohhh, the decision I'll make is already determined, so I can as well relax and don't worry too much."

In other words: "Your decision is determined, but please choose to decide carefully." Hmmm... slight contradiction there.

The problem I have with the idea that choices are determined is that it doesn't really explain what the hell we are doing when we are "thinking hard" about a decision. Just running an algo... (read more)

1Kenny8yThe two different algorithms "feel" different because they have different effects on our internal mental state, particularly the part of our mental state that is accessible to the part of us that describes how we feel (to ourselves as well as others).

Doly: Why does fire feel different from ice if perceiving them both is just something done in our minds? They are both "something" done in our minds, but they are different things.

Hopefully: It's obvious that if you had been a sufficiently different system you WOULD have done differently. With respect to running or not from the orphanage, how different might mean one more or less neuron or might mean 10^10th of your 10^14th synapses had strengths more than 12% greater. With respect to jumping off the cliff it might mean no optic nerve. For ... (read more)

The type of possibility you describe is just a product of our ignorance about our own or others psychology. If I don't understand celestial mechanics I might claim that Mars could be anywhere in its orbit at any time. If somebody then came along and taught me celestial mechanics I could then argue that Mars could still be anywhere if it wanted to. This is just saying that Mars could be anywhere if Mars was different. It gets you exactly nothing.

Eliezer: What lame challenge are you putting up, asking for a state of the world which corresponds to possibility? No one claims that possibility is a state of the world.

An analogous error would be to challenge those of us who believe in musical scales to name a note that corresponds to a C major scale.

Jim Baxter: Good luck to you. So far as I can tell, a majority here take their materialism as a premise, not as something subject to review.

"What concrete state of the world - which quarks in which positions - corresponds to "There are three apples on the table, and there could be four apples on the table"? Having trouble answering that? Next, say how that world-state is different from "There are three apples on the table, and there couldn't be four apples on the table.""

For the former: An ordinary kitchen table with three apples on it. For the latter: An ordinary kitchen table with three apples on it, wired to a pressure-sensitive detonator that will set off 10... (read more)

Dude. Eliezer.

Every time I actually read your posts, I find them quite interesting.

But I rarely do, because the little "oh I was so brilliant as a kid that I already knew this, now I will explain it to YOU! Lucky you!" bits with which you preface every single post make me not interested in reading your writing.

I wouldn't write this comment if I didn't think you were a smart guy who has something to say

James Baxter: I think that was in poor taste.

Doly: My suggestion would be to keep reading and thinking about this. There is no contradiction, but one has to realize that everything is inside the dominion of physics, even conversations and admonitions. That is, reading some advice, weighing it, and choosing to incorporate it (or not) into one's arsenal are all implemented by physical processes, therefore none are meta. None violate determinism.

Robin Z: I have not yet seen an account of classical compatibilism (including the one you linked) that was not rife... (read more)

Eliezer, no you made your point quite clearly, and I think I reflect a clear understanding of that point in my posts.

"I am not saying that choice is an illusion. I am pointing to something and saying: "There! Right there! You see that? That's a choice, just as much as a calculator is adding numbers! It doesn't matter if it's deterministic! It doesn't matter if someone else predicted you'd do it or designed you to do it! It doesn't matter if it's made of parts and caused by the dynamics of those parts! It doesn't matter if it's physically impossib... (read more)

Andy Wood: So, while I highly doubt that CC is equivalent to my view in the first place, I'm still curious about what view you adopted to replace it.

I suspect (nay, know) my answer is still in flux, but it's actually fairly similar to classical compatibilism - a person chooses of their own free will if they choose by a sufficiently-reasonable process and if other sufficiently-reasonable processes could have supported different choices. However, following the example of Angela Smith (an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Washington), I h... (read more)

It seems to me that's an arbitrary claim grounded in aesthetics. You could just as easily say "You see that? That's not a choice, just as much as a calculator is adding numbers! It doesn't matter if it's deterministic! It doesn't matter if someone else predicted you'd do it or designed you to do it! It doesn't matter if it's made of parts and caused by the dynamics of those parts! It doesn't matter if it's physically impossible for you to have finally arrived at any other decision after all your agonizining! It's not a choice!""
Now you're ... (read more)

I really struggled with reconciling my intuitive feeling of free will with determinism for a while. Finally, when I was about 18, my beliefs settled in (I think) exactly this way of thinking. My sister still doesn't accept determinism. When we argue, I always emphasize: "Just because reality is deterministic, that doesn't mean we stop choosing!"

What properties must a human visual system that works like a a movie camera have? Properties that apparently don't exist in the actual human visual system. Similarly the popular model of human choice tied to moral responsibility (a person considers options, has the ability to choose the "more moral" or the "less moral" option, and chooses the "more moral" option) may not exist in actual working human brains. In that sense it's reasonable to say "if it's detetministic, if you're designed to do it, if it's made of parts and... (read more)

anaesthetic = unaesthetic.

HA: This pretty much sums up my intuition on free will and human capacity to make choices

Jadagul: this is almost exactly what I believe about the whole determinism-free will debate

kevin: Finally, when I was about 18, my beliefs settled in (I think) exactly this way of thinking.

Is no-one else throwing out old intuitions based on these posts on choice & determinism? -dies of loneliness-

The note about possibilities being constrained by what you'll actually choose pushed me to (I think) finally dissolve the mystery about the "action is chosen by self-prediction" view, that tries to avoid utility formalism. At a face value, it's kind of self-referentially: what makes a good prediction then? If it's good concentration of probability, then it's easy to "predict" some simple action with certainty, and to perform it. Probabilities of possible futures are constrained both by knowledge about the world, and by knowledge about y... (read more)

But I rarely do, because the little "oh I was so brilliant as a kid that I already knew this, now I will explain it to YOU! Lucky you!" bits with which you preface every single post make me not interested in reading your writing.

If you mean "free will is one of the easier questions to dissolve, or so I found it as a youngster," personally, I find this interesting and potentially useful (in that it predicts what I might find easy) information. I don't read any bragging here, just a desire to share information, and I don't believe Eliezer intends to brag.

We can't represent ourselves in our deterministic models of the world. If you don't have the ability to step back and examine the model-building process, you'll inevitably conclude that your own behavior cannot be deterministic.

The key is to recognize that even if the world is deterministic, we will necessarily perceive uncertainties in it, because of fundamental mathematical limits on the ability of a part to represent the whole. We have no grounds for saying that we are any more or less deterministic than anything else - if we find deterministic models useful in predicting the world, we should use them, and assume that they would predict our own actions, if we could use them that way.

Eliezer said:

I am not saying that choice is an illusion. I am pointing to something and saying: "There! Right there! You see that? That's a choice, just as much as a calculator is adding numbers! It doesn't matter if it's deterministic! It doesn't matter if someone else predicted you'd do it or designed you to do it! It doesn't matter if it's made of parts and caused by the dynamics of those parts! It doesn't matter if it's physically impossible for you to have finally arrived at any other decision after all your agonizing! It's still a choice!"

-... (read more)

Joseph Knecht: Why do you think that the brain would still be Eliezer's brain after that kind of change?

(Ah, it's so relaxing to be able to say that. In the free will class, they would have replied, "Mate, that's the philosophy of identity - you have to answer to the ten thousand dudes over there if you want to try that.")

Robin, I don't think "whose brain it is" is really a meaningful and coherent concept, but that is another topic.

My general point was that Eliezer seemed to be saying that certain things occurring in his brain are sufficient for us to say that he made a choice and is morally responsible for the choice. My example was intended to show that while that may be a necessary condition, it is not sufficient.

As for what I actually believe, I think that while the notions of choice and moral responsibility may have made sense in the context in which they aro... (read more)

Joseph Knecht: I think you're missing the point of Eliezer's argument. In your hypothetical, to the extent Eliezer-as-a-person exists as a coherent concept, yes he chose to do those things. Your hypothetical is, from what I can tell, basically, "If technology allows me to destroy Eliezer-the-person without destroying the outer, apparent shell of Eliezer's body, then Eliezer is no longer capable of choosing." Which is of course true, because he no longer exists. Once you realize that "the state of Eliezer's brain" and "Eliezer's... (read more)

Jadagul: No, I think what Joseph's saying is that all of the language of free will is inherently in the paradigm of non-real dualism, and that to really make meaningful statements we ultimately have to abandon it.

To me, the issue of "free will" and "choice" is so damn simple.

Repost from Righting a Wrong Question:

I realized that when people think of the free will of others, they don't ask whether this person could act differently if he wanted. That's a Wrong Question. The real question is, "Could he act differently if I wanted it? Can he be convinced to do something else, with reason, or threats, or incentives?"

From your own point of view that stands between you and being able to rationally respond to new knowledge makes you less free. ... (read more)

About choices: what is the criterion by which new ontological primitives are to be added?

Jadagul: I'm saying that Eliezer's explanation of what a choice is is not a sufficient condition. You suggested some additional constraints, which I would argue may be necessary but are still not sufficient conditions for a choice occurring.

My key point, though, as Schizo noted, was that I don't think the concept should be salvaged, any more than phlogiston or caloric should have been salvaged.

Joesph: I don't think I added more constraints, though it's a possibility. What extra constraints do you think I added?

As for not salvaging it, I can see why you would say that, but what word should be used to take its place? Mises commented somewhere in On Human Action that we can be philosophical monists and practical dualists; I believe that everything is ultimately reducible to (quasi?-)deterministic quantum physics, but that doesn't mean that's the most efficient way to analyze most situations. When I'm trying to catch a ball I don't try to model t... (read more)

Joseph - "Choice" is, I should think, more like "fire" and "heat" than like "phlogiston" and "caloric". We have abandoned the last two as outdated scientific theories, but have not abandoned the first two even though they are much older concepts, presumably because they do not represent scientific theories but rather name observable mundane phenomena.

@Jagadul:

by "constraints", I meant that Eliezer specified only that some particular processes happening in the brain are sufficient for choice occurring, which my example refuted, to which you added the ideas that it is not mere happening in the brain but also the additional constraints entailed by concepts of Eliezer-the-person and body-shell-of-Eliezer and that the former can be destroyed while the latter remains, which changes ownership of the choice, etc.

Anyway, I understand what you're saying about choice as a higher-level convenience term, ... (read more)

What cannot be explained perfectly well without supposing "heat" exists, if you're willing to do everything at the molecular level?

At time t=0, I don't know what I'll do. At t=1, I know. At t=2, I do it. I call this a "choice". It's not strictly necessary, but I find it really useful to have a word for this.

Nick, your example confuses more than it clarifies. What exactly is the choice? Brain processes that occur in 0 < t < 1? Brain processes occurring in that slice that have certain causal relations with future actions? Conscious brain processes occurring such that...? Conscious brain processes occurring such that ... which are initiated by (certain) other brain processes?

You speak as if "choice" means something obvious that everybody understands, but it only has such a meaning in the sense that everybody knows what is meant by "soul" (which refers to a non-existent thing that means something different to practically everybody who uses it and usually results in more confusion than clarification).

I am "grunching." Responding to the questions posted without reading your answer. Then I'll read your answer and compare. I started reading your post on Friday and had to leave to attend a wedding before I had finished it, so I had a while to think about my answer.

>Can you talk about "could" without using synonyms like "can" and "possible"?

When we speak of "could" we speak of the set of realizable worlds [A'] that follows from an initial starting world A operated on by a set of physical laws f.

So when w... (read more)

Hmm. I think I was working in the right direction, but your procedural analogy let you get closer to the moving parts. But I think "reachability" as you used it and "realizable" as I used it (or was thinking of it) seem to be working along similar lines.

It seems, that a lot of problems here stem from the fact that a lot of existing language is governed by the intuition of non-deterministic world. Common usage of words "choice", "could", "deliberation" etc. assume non-deterministic universe where state of "could be four apples" is actually possible. If our minds had easier time grasping that deliberation and action are phenomenons of the same grade, that action stems from deliberation, but there is no question of being able to "choose differently", that exi... (read more)

this whole discussion gave me a bad case of gas...

Joseph Knecht: It is a clash of intuitions, then? I freely admit that I have seen no such account either, but nor have I seen the kind of evidence which puts "soul" on shaky grounds. And "fire" is comparably ancient to "soul", and still exists.

In fact, "fire" even suggests an intermediate position between yours and that which you reject: chemically, oxidation reactions like that of fire show up all over the place, and show that the boundary between "fire" and "not fire" is far from distinct. Would it be surprising were it found that the boundary between the prototypical human choices Eliezer names and your not-choices is blurry in a similar fashion?

Robin Z:

I think it is not only a clash of intuitions, since the success rates of pre-scientific theory and folk psychology are poor. This should urge caution in keeping concepts that seem to give rise to much confusion. I would argue that the default attitude towards pre-scientific concepts that have been shrouded in confusion for thousands of years, with still no clarity in sight, should be to avoid them when possible.

When you say that you haven't seen evidence that puts "soul" on shaky grounds, do you mean that assuming determinism and what we... (read more)

"I" is a fuzzy term, so it is coherent to imagine an entity that is Joseph Knecht except he doesn't want to save children from burning orphanages, unlike 1=2.

Knecht, it's immediately obvious that 1 != 2, but you don't know which of your decisions is determined until after you determine it. So while it is logically impossible (ignoring quantum branching) that you will choose any of your options except one, and all but one of your considered consequences is counterfactual in a way that violates the laws of physics, you don't know which option is the real one until you choose it.

Apart from that, no difference. Like I said, part of what goes into the making of a rationalist is understanding what it means to live in a lawful universe.

So while it is logically impossible (ignoring quantum branching) that you will choose any of your options except one

No, it is not logically impossible - it would be impossible only if we insist that there are no random elements in time. We need not invoke 'quantum branching' to imagine a universe that is not deterministic.

and all but one of your considered consequences is counterfactual in a way that violates the laws of physics, you don't know which option is the real one until you choose it.

Again, this is wrong, because it is not known that the laws of physics permit one and only one outcome given an initial state.

Joseph Knecht: When you say that you haven't seen evidence that puts "soul" on shaky grounds, [...]

Sorry, poor wording - please substitute "but nor have I seen evidence against 'choice' of the kind which puts 'soul' on shaky grounds." I am familiar with many of the neurological arguments against souls - I mentioned the concept because I am not familiar with any comparable evidence regarding choice. (Yes, I have heard of the experiments which show nervous impulses towards an action prior to the time when the actor thought they decided. That's interesting, but it's no Phineas Gage.)

This should urge caution in keeping concepts that seem to give rise to much confusion.

Well, I'll give you that. Though I am not ready to drop the concept of choice, I do admit that, among some people, it can lead to confusion. However, it does not seem to confuse all that many, and the concept of choice appears to be a central component of what I would consider a highly successful subject and one which I'm nowhere near ready to toss into the trash - economics.

I don't think reachable is permissible in the game, since reach-able means able to be reached, or possible to be reached.

Possibility is synonymous with to be able, so any term suffixed with -able should be forbidden.

The reachability explanation of possibility is also just one instance of possibility among many. to be able (without specifying in what manner) is the general type, and able to be reached is one particular (sub-) type of possibility. The more traditional understanding of possibility is able to exist, but others have been used too, such as able... (read more)

Joseph, I told you how to compute "reachable" so it doesn't matter if you relabel the concept "fizzbin". First, all actions are labeled fizzbin. Next, the reliable consequence of any fizzbin state of the world is labeled fizzbin (and we keep track of any actions that were labeled fizzbin along the way). If the goal state is ever labeled fizzbin, the actions labeled fizzbin on that pathway are output.

That's how we do it in Artificial Intelligence, at least in the first undergraduate course.

And the analogous internal perception of an a... (read more)

Can you talk about "could" without using synonyms like "can" and "possible"? .... Can you describe the corresponding state of the world without "could", "possible", "choose", "free", "will", "decide", "can", "able", or "alternative"?

My point being that you set out to explain "could" without "able" and you do it by way of elaboration on a state being "able to be reached".

What you decide to label the concept do... (read more)

I don't think "choice" is a central concept to economics. It seems pretty easy to me to reimagine every major economic theory of which I'm aware without "choosing" occuring.

Knecht, for "able to be reached" substitute "labeled fizzbin". I have told you when to label something fizzbin. The labeling algorithm does not make use of the concept of "possibility", but it does make use of surgery on causal graphs (the same sort of surgery that is involved in computing counterfactuals); you must have a modular model of the world in which you can ask, "If by fiat node A had value a1, what value would its descendant node B (probably) take on?" This well-specified computation does not have to be ... (read more)

Eliezer, my point was that you dedicated an entire follow-up post to chiding Brandon, in part for using realizable in his explanation since it implicitly refers to the same concept as could, and that you committed the same mistake in using reachable.

Anyway, I guess I misunderstood the purpose of this post. I thought you were trying to give a reductive explanation of possibility without using concepts such a "can", "could", and "able". If I've understood you correctly now, that wasn't the purpose at all: you were just trying to describe what people generally mean by possibility.

Joseph Knecht, Brandon put "realizability" in the territory, whereas Eliezer put "reachability" in the map. Compare and contrast:

Brandon: When we speak of "could" we speak of the set of realizable worlds [A'] that follows from an initial starting world A operated on by a set of physical laws f.

Eliezer: We've previously discussed how probability is in the mind... possibility is also in the mind.

It is not the case that Eliezer is criticizing Brandon for the same mistake that Eliezer made himself.

Well, I'm giving up on explaining to Knecht, but if anyone else has a similar misunderstanding (that is, Knecht's critique seems to make sense to them) let me know and I'll try harder.

I have constructed fizzbin out of deterministic transistors. The word "reachable" is a mere collection of nine ASCII characters, ignore it if you wish.

Cyan: I think your quibble misses the point. Eliezer's directions were to play the rationality taboo game and talk about possibility without using any of the forbidden concepts. His explanation failed that task, regardless of whether either he or Brandon were referring to the map or the territory. (Note: this point is completely unrelated to the specifics of the planning algorithm.)

I'll summarize my other points later. (But to reiterate the point that Eliezer doesn't get and pre-empt anybody else telling me yet again that the label is irrelevant, I realize the label is irrelevant, and I am not talking about character strings or labels at all.)

Hopefully Anonymous writes: I don't think "choice" is a central concept to economics. It seems pretty easy to me to reimagine every major economic theory of which I'm aware without "choosing" occuring.

Well, okay. Let me see what you mean. Let's start with revealed preference:

If a person chooses a certain bundle of goods (ex. 2 apples, 3 bananas) while another bundle of goods is affordable (ex. 3 apples, 2 bananas), then we say that the first bundle is revealed preferred to the second.

What do you propose doing about that? Keep in min... (read more)

constant: buys, eats, etc. Here it's not any more necessary to assert or imply deliberation (which is what I think you mean by saying "choice" is central for economic theory for the person than it is to assert it for an amoeba or for the direction a fire moves. It's true many great scientists informally use "choice" to describe the actions of non-human, and apparently non-sentient phenomena, and I wouldn't see the harm in doing so in an informal sense describing human actions if what I think is appropriate skepticism about conventionall... (read more)

Hopefully, you are not addressing an important distinction. You haven't said what is to be done with it. The passage that I quoted includes these words:

while another bundle of goods is affordable

The bundles of goods that are affordable are precisely the bundle of goods among which we choose.

Hopefully writes: constant: buys, eats, etc. Here it's not any more necessary to assert or imply deliberation (which is what I think you mean by saying "choice"

No, it is not what I mean. A person chooses among actions A, B, and C, if he has the capacity ... (read more)

Joseph Knecht, you call it a quibble, but it seems to me that it is the whole key to dissolving the question of free will and could-ness. If Eliezer really did subtly violate the Taboo in a way I didn't notice, then what I have in my head is actually a mysterious answer to a mysterious question; I'm at a loss to reconcile my feeling of "question dissolved!" with your assertion that the Taboo was violated.

In case it's not obvious, Rationalist's Taboo lets you construct the Taboo concept out of elements that don't themselves use the concept.

So if e.g. I must play Taboo against "number", I can describe a system for taking pebbles in and out of buckets, and that doesn't violate the Taboo. You're the one who violates the Taboo if you insist on describing that system as a "number" when I just talked about a rule for putting a pebble in or taking a pebble out when a sheep leaves the fold or returns, and a test for an empty bucket.

Joseph Knecht says to Eliezer,

you dedicated an entire follow-up post to chiding Brandon, in part for using realizable in his explanation . . . [and] you committed the same mistake in using reachable.

Congratulations to Joseph Knecht for finding a flaw in Eliezer's exposition!

I would like his opinion about Eliezer's explanation of how to fix the exposition. I do not see a flaw in the exposition if it is fixed as Eliezer explains. Does he?

To be clear, there are two different but related points that I've tried to make here in the last few posts.

Point 1 is a minor point about the Rationalist's Taboo game:

With regard to this point, as I've stated already, the task was to give a reductive explanation of the concept of possibility by explaining it in terms of more fundamental concepts (i.e., concepts which have nothing to do with possibility or associated concepts, even implicitly). I think that Eliezer failed that by sneaking the concept of "possibile to be reached" (i.e., "rea... (read more)

Thesis: regarding some phenomenon as possible is nothing other than . . .

I consider that an accurate summary of Eliezer's original post (OP) to which these are comments.

Will you please navigate to this page and start reading where it says,

Imagine that in an era before recorded history or formal mathematics, I am a shepherd and I have trouble tracking my sheep.

You need read only to where it says, "Markos Sophisticus Maximus".

Those six paragraphs attempt to be a reductive exposition of the concept of whole number, a.k.a., non-negative integer... (read more)

Is this substantially correct?

I would say not, because you write:

and determining that the phenomenon is reachable.

This uses the word "reachable" in a sentence, without quotes, and therefore makes use of its meaning. But that was merely an infelicitous choice of label. Eliezer has since asked you to substitute labels, so that you not be confused by the meaning of "reachable":

Knecht, for "able to be reached" substitute "labeled fizzbin". I have told you when to label something fizzbin.

If you were to substitute this... (read more)

Constant,
"No, it is not what I mean. A person chooses among actions A, B, and C, if he has the capacity to perform any of A, B, or C, and in fact performs (say) C. It does not matter whether he deliberates or not. The distinction between capacity and incapacity takes many forms; in the definition which I quoted the capacity/incapacity distinction takes the form of an affordability/unaffordability distinction."

There's a game going on here with "capacity", in my estimation. Perhaps not too different from saying I have the capacity to fly... (read more)

Hopefully - "Choice" doesn't seem to enter into it, in my opinion, because the person may be functionally bounded to one, determined pathway, perhaps analogous to the way that I'm bounded from flying to the moon.

He may indeed have a determined path, but as Eliezer has attempted to argue, this is not incompatible with saying that he has a choice.

I think it only adds to the the main economic theories to remain reasonably skeptical about the concept of choice

And I think that it rips them apart, because they are weaved together from the concept of ch... (read more)

Constant, I think you're a bit stuck on your conclusion, and working backwards from it. But this latest post helps me realize both you and Eliezer may be in a map vs. territory trap here. The map indicates capacity to go in more than one direction and hence the capacity for a choice. But, there is a preference in the territory that hasn't been added to the map yet. Doesn't mean it's not in the territory. It's possible that what you've been calling choice is just a blank section of the map.

Hopefully - it sure sounds like you're seriously misunderstanding me. Economics is a theory and therefore is a map. I'm not saying anything directly about the territory. I'm saying that major economic maps use the concept of choice the way all of AAA's road maps use ink. Removing the choice is like removing the ink. There's no map left if you do that.

So anyway, no, there's no territory/map confusion, except possibly in your interpretation of me.

Joseph Knecht, where you go wrong is here:

...when we... ask what it means for a state to be reachable, the answer circularly depends on the concept of possibility, which is what we are supposedly explaining. A reachable state is just a state that it is possible to reach.

A state labelled "reachable" by a human may in fact be impossible as a matter of physics. Many accidental injuries and deaths follow from this fact. It is as a result of evolution that a given human's label "reachable" has any relation to reality at all.

@Richard: I think that's a valid reduction. It explains non-negative integers reductively in terms of an isomorphism between two groups of things without appealing to numbers or number concepts.

@constant: regardless of the label, you still have 2 sets of things, those which it is possible to label fizzbin (following the rules) and those which it is not. Possibility is still there. So what does it mean that it is possible to label a node fizzbin? Does that mean that in order to understand the algorithm, which relies on possibility of labelling nodes "f... (read more)

@constant: regardless of the label, you still have 2 sets of things, those which it is possible to label fizzbin (following the rules) and those which it is not. Possibility is still there.

No, there are just things that are labeled fizzbin, and those that aren't. The algorithm is deterministic.

The base case might be something hardwired into us, but then that would mean that the thing that is hardwired into us is what possibility really is, and that the sensation of possibility that arises from the search algorithm is just something that depends on our pr
... (read more)

Another way of putting those statements would be:

1. It is (physically) possible for some people to jump off a cliff.
2. It is (physically) impossible for NonSuicidalGuy to jump off a cliff.

Or

It is physically possible only for some people to jump off a cliff.

Or

1. It is physically possible for NonSuicidalGuy to jump off a cliff, if he wanted.
2. It is physically impossible for NonSuicidalGuy to want to jump off a cliff.

At the risk of drawing wrong conclusions from physics I don't understand, I propose this model of free will within a lawful universe:

As I stand there thinking whether or not I should eat a banana, I can be confident that there's a world where a zombie-me is already eating a banana, and another world where a zombie-me has walked away from a banana.

As I stand near the edge of the cliff, there's a world where a zombie-me has jumped off the cliff to test quantum immortality, and Inspector Darwin has penciled in a slightly lower frequency of my alleles. But the... (read more)

2ata10yWhat and why are the zombie-yous?
0MoreOn10yZombie-me's [http://lesswrong.com/lw/189/mwi_weird_quantum_experiments_and_futuredirected/] are the replicas of me in alternate worlds. They aren't under my conscious control, thus they're "zombies" from my perspective. Except, in my understanding, they are created every time I make a choice, in proportion to the probability and I would choose Y over X. That is, if there's a 91% chance that I'd choose X, then in 91% of the worlds the zombie-me's have chosen X and in the remaining 9% they'd chosen Y. Again, caveat: I don't think physics and probability were meant to be interpreted this way.
3AlephNeil10yYour views on free will sound suspiciously as though you've derived them from "The Fabric Of Reality". Like Deutsch, you don't seem to appreciate that this isn't actually a response to the 'problem of free will' as generally understood, because it's inherently incapable of distinguishing free decisions from randomly determined ones, and is silent on questions of moral responsibility.
0MoreOn10yNo, I haven’t. I’ve derived my views entirely from this post [http://lesswrong.com/lw/189/mwi_weird_quantum_experiments_and_futuredirected/], plus the article above. Since you mentioned “The Fabric Of Reality,” I tried looking it up on Less Wrong, and failing that, found its Wikipedia entry [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fabric_of_Reality]. I know not to judge a book by its Wikipedia page, but I still fail to see the similarity. Please enlighten me if you don't mind. The following are statements about my mind-state, not about what is: I don’t see why my view would be incapable of distinguishing free decisions from randomly determined ones. I’d go with naïve intuition: if I chose X and not Y knowingly, then I better be prepared for X’s logical outcome Z. If I choose X expecting W, then I’m either wrong (and/or stupid), or X is a random choice. As for moral responsibility, that’s even simpler. If I caused outcome Z in world A, then I’m morally responsible in proportion to my knowledge that Z would happen + some constant. If I pressed a button labeled W not knowing what it does and a building nearby blew up because of it, then my responsibility = some constant. If I pressed X knowing it would blow up a building nearby, then my responsibility > some constant. Better yet, take me to a real-world court. I shouldn't be any more or less responsible for my actions if this view were correct, than I would've in the world as it is understood now. Same goes for all my alternate-world zombies.
3Manfred10yThere are in fact an infinite number of worlds in which you jump, sprout wings, and survive. To change the words and make the physics entirely well-accepted: if you jump off a cliff, there is a nonzero probability you sprout wings. I don't understand how this gives or doesn't give you free will, though - your actions are just (note: me using that word means I'm playing devil's advocate :D) random. Even though they're weighted towards certain outcomes, that doesn't mean a loaded die has free will when it "chooses" 6.
0wedrifid10yWell, for most intents and purposes and possibly literally. Do 'we' actually know if there is any precision limit down there in the quantum? Like a 'plank quantum goo stuff' or whatever the proper name would be.
0Manfred10yOh man, if probability is quantized that would be unusual. Actually I guess it would be a natural consequence of quantizing information (I think), which has some decent theoretical reasons. But I don't know of any good evidence either way, and continuous spacetime has its good points too.
0wedrifid10yNo idea here either. Although the question is interesting to me. If nothing else it impacts the reply one can give to the quantum suicidal. :)
0MoreOn10yMy free will is in choosing which world my consciousness would observe. If I have that choice, I have free will. There’re instances when I don’t have free will. Sprouting wings is physically improbable. If I estimate the chance of it happening at epsilon, within the constraints of physics, and even then as a result of random chance, this option wouldn’t really figure in my tree diagram of choices. Likewise, if quantum immortality is correct, then observing myself dying is physically impossible. ( But what if the only way not to die would be to sprout wings? [http://www.paul-almond.com/CivilizationLevelQuantumSuicide.htm]) Random actions are also an example of lack of free will. Suppose we’re playing Russian roulette, except we’re shooting our feet and not our heads. Quantum immortality would not kick in to save your foot. So once you pull the trigger, you have no choice over whether your foot gets shot or not. No free will there. I suppose if a die had consciousness, it would be going through a similar decision process. Instead of a die, imagine a person embedded in a die-like cube with numbered sides. If this human die could affect the outcome of the roll, that’s free will. If not, that’s a random action. Either way, I’m done arguing about this, because we’re not addressing the main problem with my proposal: all of the above should only work if a decision is a quantum event. I haven’t read anywhere that another world can split off as a result of a non-quantum event. Correct me if I’m wrong.
2TobyBartels10yThere is no such thing as a non-quantum event. As far as we can tell, quantum physics is reality. Obligatory link to old material: Egan's Law [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Egan%27s_law]
0MoreOn10yI apologize. That's not how I meant it. All events are quantum, and they add up to reality. What I meant was, is free will lost in the addition? This intuition is difficult like hell to describe, but the authors of Quantum Russian Roulette [http://lesswrong.com/lw/188/quantum_russian_roulette/] and this post on Quantum Immortality [http://lesswrong.com/lw/189/mwi_weird_quantum_experiments_and_futuredirected/] seemed to have it, as well as half the people I’d ever heard mentioning Schrödinger's cat [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schr%C3%B6dinger%27s_cat]. It’s the reason why the life of a person/cat in question is tied to a single quantum event, as opposed to a roll of a classical die that’s determined by a whole lot of quantum events. Our decisions are tied to the actions of bijillions of quarks. By analogy, consider tossing fair quantum coins. What’s the probability that between 45% and 55% of the coins would land heads? Obviously that depends on the number of coins. If you toss only 1 coin, that probability is p=0. If you toss 2 coins, p=0.5. As coins --> inf, p --> 1. The “degrees of probabilistic freedom” are reduced as you increase the number of random actions. The outcome becomes more and more determined.
0TobyBartels10yIn the case of Schrödinger's Cat, Schrödinger was criticising the København interpretation, in which there is a distinction drawn between classical and quantum worlds. In this and other thought experiments, if somebody who makes such a distinction might be listening in, then you have to make sure that they will accept that the relevant event is quantum. (Sometimes you also want to have precise probabilities to work with, too, so it helps to specify exactly what quantum event is the deciding factor.) This is the reverse of supposing that something is not a quantum event and hoping that those who don't make this distinction will accept it. Yes, but we're back to the objection that there are still a small portion of worlds that come out differently.
1Perplexed10yYou seem to be using a model in which there are two kinds of coin flips. There are quantum coin flips, which cause the world to split. And then there are classical coin flips - deterministic and non world-splitting, though due to our own lack of knowledge of initial conditions, there is a subjective probability of 0.5 for each outcome. I use a model something like this. But I assume that whenever a classical coin is flipped, there was an earlier quantum, world-splitting event which resulted in two worlds, one in which heads is the winning call, and one in which tails is destined to be the result.
0soreff10yAre there thermodynamic coin flips too? A coin flip where the outcome depends on whether a single particle of an ideal gas determines the coin flip, depending on whether it is in the left hand side or right hand side of a box? :-)
1MoreOn10yThe bigger something is, the more predetermined it gets. Then your classical coin is a quantum coin that simply made its decision before you observed it. The outcome of a toss of a real classical coin would be the result of so many quantum events that you might as well consider the toss predetermined (my post above elaborates). The exact same goes for a thermodynamic coin flip, except a lot fewer quantum events determine the outcome of this one. In both these cases, each quantum event would split worlds up. But given how many of them happen, each non-quantum coin toss creates 2^(that many) new worlds (here I'm naively assuming binary splits only). In how many of those worlds has the coin landed heads, and in how many has it laded tails? If 99.998% of your zombies in other worlds, as well as you in this one, had observed the coin landing heads, then the outcome was really close to predetermined.

This is an awesome, intuitive, sense-making answer to a question I've been thinking about for quite some time. Thanks.

"I know what it means for you to rescue a toddler from the orphanage. What does it mean for you to could-have-not done it? Can you describe the corresponding state of the world without "could", "possible", "choose", "free", "will", "decide", "can", "able", or "alternative"" ...

Instantiate meta verse, what most people refer to as a multiverse. Contain at least two copies of our universe at the relevant point in time. in one copy, ensure child is rescued... (read more)

You could even say that "could" for an action is always defined relative to the agent who takes that action, in which case I can simultaneously make the following two statements:

  • NonSuicidalGuy could jump off the cliff.
  • It is impossible that NonSuicidalGuy will hit the ground.

Isn't that a logical mistake, though? Fow that to be correct, it must be that NonSuicidalGuy will hit the ground if and only if he chooses to jump off the cliff.

We've previously discussed how probability is in the mind. If you are uncertain about whether a classical coin has landed heads or tails, that is a fact about your state of mind, not a property of the coin.

The argument is invalid. The existence of subjective uncertainty doesn't imply the non existence of objective indeterminism.

The coin itself is either heads or tails.

That doesn't mean it must have been whatever it was,

But people forget this, and think that coin.probability == 0.5, which is the Mind Projection Fallacy: treating properties of

... (read more)

Just wanted to add this: “Could” also sometimes mean “is physically possible”. We think we have free will because we don’t know all the physics & facts that causes our brains to end up in the states they end up in. The more physics & facts we know, the less possibilities seem possible to us. E. g. if I know nothing about what’s inside the bowl and then take out a red ball from the bowl, it seems that I could have taken out a yellow ball. However, if I knew in the beginning that there are only red balls in the bowl, I would know that taking out yell... (read more)