How do you use the phrase "free will"?

by [anonymous] 1 min read8th Jan 201117 comments


I first wanted to write out a short paragraph about free will as it is used by most people, being just plain wrong. The universe is in a very real sense deterministic after all, even if God does play dice. I think most people would agree that a dice, regardless it its fair or not, does not have free will simply because its unpredictable.

But I quickly admonished myself since I realized very few if any LW posters need reminding of this on a theoretical level. And certainly the majority of LWers who use the phrase don't use it in the same sense its understood by most people. But despite this theoretical understanding I've noticed that I often slip up unless I pay attention since, gosh it sure does feel like I have free will and this it seems is my default mode of thinking, I also noticed some other posters slipping up on this.

I especially recall a recent commenter discussing whether some criminals should be denied cryogenic suspension contrasting "mental illness" to "free will". That irked me slightly since mental illness is, like all illness, defined as what people in a society decide is unintegratable into it (a secondary but common feature is that it is a state that is nearly universally determined by those who are in it as undesirable, understandably this is less often true for "mental illness" than "physical illness")!

So even if one uses or defines free will as a "properly functioning brain" or "proper socialization" it would still be just so much better if he had said "only those with criminal behavirours that are very damaging to others and which we think will be unfixable even in the distant future shouldn't be suspended because we don't have unlimited resources and its better to focus on those the future is more likely to help first".

My questions are:

1. The OP title:How do you use the phrase "free will"?

2. Is "Free will is an illusion" a rationalism enhancing meme?

3. If you disagree with 2. why "lie" to people by arguing using a word in a way they will almost certainly misunderstand? Do you think more people intuitively share the proper meaning of the phrase than I have assumed?