Hi, probably a newbie question for many of you, but I have some thoughts I'd like to verify publicly. My text presents two potential reasons to act according to the free will paradigm (not to believe blindly nor say it's true). Points are divided by "horizontal line".

For starters, let's define free will (FW). If it was stated that an action/change in the physical world was caused by consciousness and that this action/change was at least partially undetermined or non-random then I would call it free will. Consciousness: an object that can feel sensations and can reflect on its thoughts. (So called metacognition).

First point

So although FW is most probably unverifiable and most likely it doesn't exist it has still not been fully refuted, to my knowledge. So there's a chance it's real. 

To my mind, if you believed in FW but the reality was deterministic or random then nothing "bad" or "wrong" would happen (since you cannot even define it). It was like a fatum or dice roll or both combined.

On the other hand, if free will existed and you didn't believe in it, you would limit your options. It's not "bad/wrong" until you define it that way in your value system. It's a personal question: assuming FW exists, would you like to limit your choice? I bet many would rather not.

In a nutshell, I state that believing FW is just more optimal. (for most people)

Second point

Concerning only people who currently assume, there's FW.

Assuming there's FW, then every time you can choose, you can choose to act in line with any values. (Of course, you can choose to act without looking at any value). And more or less of our time, we do (try to) that to fulfill some long-term values. 

So from the FW perspective: what's even the reason to find out whether FW is real or not? Unless one's value is to gain knowledge about this particular case (or it's within their broader values like "know all truth"), then there's no reason to do that. As for the first argument, it's a sort of personal question.

From perspective where is no FW we cannot speak about any reasons.

To sum up: neither from FW perspective nor deterministic/randomness perspecitve there's a reason to find out truth about underlaying mechanism. Assuming there's FW and you don't choose to know if it's real you don't need to do it. Assuming there's no FW, reasons don't exist at all.

I would like you to

  • tell me if you think it's reasonable.
  • If you have paradigms, you think/feel one "should" or it's "better" to act according to than this presented there.
  • recommend literature (of course including lesswrong) related to the topic.

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Dec 14, 2021


(See also my reply to ChristianKl.)

Assuming that FW exists, can you somehow actively use it or not? That is, can you meaningfully choose a strategy "I am going to solve this problem using my FW", such that the strategy is more likely to succeed if FW exists, and more likely to fail otherwise?

If the answer is "yes", then of course it is instrumentally useful to know whether FW exists or not. The correct answer would allow you to design better strategies for success.

If the answer is "no", then the debates about FW are a waste of time, and your choice to believe or not believe in FW will have no impact on your life, so there is no "better" choice. (The best choice would be to stop wasting your time thinking about it.)

The distinction between FW and no FW does not seem useful to me because it lumps together "deterministic" and "random", but the former is predictable and the latter is not, and in my opinion for everyday life the ability to predict is the important thing.

Question "can I really freely choose to do X?" does not really sound useful to me, and a more useful thing would be "what can influence my future choice of X?". The former you can only philosophize about, the latter you can act on, and thus increase or decrease the probability of you choosing X in the future.

A more subtle way is to change your focus from "can I freely choose X?" to "how can I choose X?". Because, if you don't know how, is it any useful to know whether you "can"? Without a "how", the "can" reduces to "it can happen randomly". With a functioning "how", things become (somewhat) deterministic. Either way, there seems to be no FW, only knowledge... or its absence (either as "I don't know" or "it is unknowable").

Talking about the "how", we can consider external and internal causes. The external you address by changing your environment, the internal you address e.g. by therapy. For example, if you want to eat less cookies, you should a) stop buying them, so even if you are tempted at late night, you can't just start eating them, because they are not easily available, and b) think about what might motivate you towards a healthier lifestyle. But both of these approaches assume some kind of determinism. (And the role of randomness is reduced to "and sometimes, despite the best efforts, this may fail".)

tl;dr - ignore the FW metaphysics, focus on how things (such as you) actually work


Dec 12, 2021


I don't think this line of argument is reasonable, and especially not for this site which is about aiming to believe things that have evidence for being true rather than just because they may be convenient.

To begin with: those are some of the vaguest definitions of both free will and consciousness that I've ever seen, and don't even approach the meat of the issue.

The first argument is simply outright false. If you believe in free will, you will act differently from someone who does not believe in free will in at least some circumstances. So in contrast you what you propose, something would change.

I'm not sure what you mean by your second point. Quite apart from the fact that you haven't even defined adequately what you mean by free will, what limitation do you suppose of someone who does not believe in it vs someone who does? Give an actual example, and I'm sure that someone who actually believes that free will does not exist will either verify it or refute it. My expectation is that your example will be refuted, but feel free to surprise me.

As for the last section, it looks like some form of argument for ignorance. If you think that's going to fly on this website, you're in very much the wrong place. From the About section (emphasis mine):

We are a community dedicated to improving our reasoning and decision-making. We seek to hold true beliefs and to be effective at accomplishing our goals. More generally, we work to develop and practice the art of human rationality.

The first argument is simply outright false. If you believe in free will, you will act differently from someone who does not believe in free will in at least some circumstances. So in contrast you what you propose, something would change.

You will act differently in discussions about free will but I haven't seen any evidence that it correlates with behavior in other contexts.

I guess it would depend on how exactly one "believes in free will" or "disbelieves in free will". That is, what exactly is their model of a human mind (including their own). This may result in specific behaviors, for example a "believer in free will" may generally try to overcome their problems using willpower, while a "disbeliever in free will" may generally try to modify their behavior indirectly by modifying their environment. With regard to others, a "believer in free will" may try to convince them verbally, while a "disbeliever in free will" may try to set up incentives. Of course, people can be inconsistent. One can profess disbelief in free will, and yet try to solve their problems using (nonexistent, according to their worldview) willpower. I would actually expect most "disbelievers in free will" to make this mistake. Ironically, this interpretation contradicts the author's conclusion:
I expect that in most cases people's philosophical beliefs on will power are fairly sandboxed from practical concerns.