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Free Will, Nature and Nuture


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Guest intuition

Forty some years ago, when I was in my 20’s I was more certain of my ideas and held more traditional and conservative beliefs. For example, the belief I held about human sexuality was clearly traditional & conservative. In my 30’s I began to question many of my beliefs, the questions tended to rise out of my experiences with people, organizations and empirical evidence. Around the year 2000 I was working as a subcontractor for a general management consultant. Our team was conducting a review of a regional health authority. The team was to review both governance and operational issues. My role on the team was to provide the financial, statistical and demographic analysis. In the process of my research I bumped into some statistics on Intersex, this topic had nothing to do with the information or statistics that I was trying to find. However, I was intrigued, I read the article and spent a small amount of time researching the topic a bit more. This research caused me to rethink my conservative beliefs. I asked myself “if nature causes physical variations of this sort, can it also cause psychological variations?”

When I was graduating from high school, over 40 years ago, I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. Twenty years later I had the opportunity to take the test again; the results were the same. Six years ago, I again had the opportunity to take the test, I thought it might have changed noticeably given how I believe I have changed over the years, yet it was the same result. The test tells me that my psychological preferences in how I perceive the world around me and make decisions has not changed.

On the topic of personality disorders, I am sure most (or all) of us know of someone in our circle of friends, immediate or extended family that has a difficult personality. Their personality can be disruptive and offensive. They tend to cause difficulties in relationships, particularly if they are a member of the family. We might find ourselves saying “s/he has always been this way.” Over time we learn to deal with them. Like my Myers-Briggs results, personalities don’t seem to change.

I know that I have general tendencies that seem to be at the core of my personality; some are good tendencies, some are bad. When I look at my children, I see tendencies that they seem to have learned or inherited, tendencies they have now we saw when they were 8 to 10 years old.

Over the past several years I have become interested in behavioural genetics, which is a science of the role of genes in behaviour. Some philosophers and scientists suspect that under genetic influence, free will is constrained or eliminated. Two individuals that I have read or watched on YouTube are the geneticist Robert Plomin, and the neuroendocrinologist  Robert Sapolsky. I also found this documentary very interesting; Three Identical Strangers; Youtube Preview, the full documentary is on Cineplexstore

My question is, when are our choices voluntary and free? When are our choices not determined by nature and nurture?

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2 hours ago, intuition said:

My question is, when are our choices voluntary and free? When are our choices not determined by nature and nurture?

We always have control over our attitudes and intentions.  

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Guest intuition
17 hours ago, Burl said:

We always have control over our attitudes and intentions.  

So, do we also always have control over our behaviors and actions too?

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To answer your question … no we don't have free will, … in the sense we could have done otherwise. The sense of control we have is an illusion. It stems from us being completely (more or less) oblivious to the underlying chemistry/physics. Basically arguments for free will are either semantic in nature or based on humans being magical in some way … being able to act independently of prior (or even current) cause.

Nature and nurture … definitely. But they both are our environment (universe) but dislocated in time. 

There's already a thread you may wish to skim through here

 

ps

INTP

 

Edited by romansh
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The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker is a good resource for Nature versus Nurture.

What I took away from it was, if I wanted to influence my child's non inherited traits, I would look to place him in a teen peer group that reflected the values I wanted him to have.

 

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2 minutes ago, thormas said:

If there is no free will (at all), no possibly of being able to 'do it otherwise' then any argument/discussion about, for example, Trump is meaningless. His chemistry is the culprit.

That does not mean his chemistry cannot be influenced, should you have the chemistry to wish to influence.

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Guest intuition
2 hours ago, romansh said:

Nature and nurture … definitely. But they both are our environment (universe) but dislocated in time

There's already a thread you may wish to skim through here

I skimmed through the thread and read you 2012 essay on Free Will; it was a good read.

What do you mean by "dislocated in time"?

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10 minutes ago, intuition said:

What do you mean by "dislocated in time"?

Thank you

Our genetics are more a product of our distant past environment, whereas our societal type influences are a product of our more immediate environment. 

Human genetics change (noticeably) over millennia and society over generations.

Our nature and nurture are products of our environment.

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2 hours ago, romansh said:

That does not mean his chemistry cannot be influenced, should you have the chemistry to wish to influence.

"To wish:" this seems to suggest free choice/will.

As opposed to his chemistry being influenced, perhaps it is simply he (if we were so lucky) who would be influenced and then make better (free) choices.

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22 minutes ago, romansh said:

Exactly where is free suggested in "to wish"?

Here Gales Strawson argues in an interview against free will using "to want".

 

Wish, if acted upon, suggests a decision, a choice to act. Such a decision to act is, for some, more to do with free will than only chemistry.

Thanks for the referral.

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27 minutes ago, romansh said:

Here Gales Strawson argues in an interview against free will using "to want".

Do all or most of us really believe that environment and heredity entirely shape us? Seems more accurate to say most of us believe these are factors but they don't entirely explain our character. And the McVeigh example reflects what I asked about Trump.

I was reading a Spong book this afternoon and he wrote: ".....there is no explanation about how consciousness could emerge out of unconscious living things" so too, I suspect, there is no explanation about how free will/choice can emerge out of heredity and environment.

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So the question becomes how much do we trust our consciousness and is it as it seems? And because it is does not have an explanation it does not mean it is not a result of cause and effect. But we are thoroughly aware our so called consciousness is affected by chemistry. Oxytocin, psilocybin, anaesthetics, alcohol are examples.

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17 hours ago, thormas said:

Do all or most of us really believe that environment and heredity entirely shape us? Seems more accurate to say most of us believe these are factors but they don't entirely explain our character. And the McVeigh example reflects what I asked about Trump.

I was reading a Spong book this afternoon and he wrote: ".....there is no explanation about how consciousness could emerge out of unconscious living things" so too, I suspect, there is no explanation about how free will/choice can emerge out of heredity and environment.

Not entirely, but they influence behavior.  Epigenetics is a challenge to heredity, and the cognitive mediation of emotions and drive states makes a good bit of environment too unpredictable to be of any practical use.

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1 hour ago, romansh said:

So the question becomes how much do we trust our consciousness and is it as it seems? And because it is does not have an explanation it does not mean it is not a result of cause and effect. But we are thoroughly aware our so called consciousness is affected by chemistry. Oxytocin, psilocybin, anaesthetics, alcohol are examples.

Actually, I already suggested the question: as we recognize the reality of consciousness even though we cannot explain how consciousness 'emerges' out of unconsciousness matter, do/should we also recognize the reality of 'free will' even though we cannot explain how it emerges out of (or with the influence and limitations of) heredity and environment.

Seemingly, we all, or most of us, accept and trust our consciousness on a daily basis, even though we cannot account for it. It may or may not be a result of cause and effect - the point is we simply don't know and cannot explain it. And there is no denying the effect of 'chemistry' - but the question remains that it does not explain consciousness and it does not eliminate the reality of free will.

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3 hours ago, thormas said:

Seemingly, we all, or most of us, accept and trust our consciousness on a daily basis, even though we cannot account for it. It may or may not be a result of cause and effect - the point is we simply don't know and cannot explain it. And there is no denying the effect of 'chemistry' - but the question remains that it does not explain consciousness and it does not eliminate the reality of free will.

This makes sense to me. In the current discussion it seems to me that the notion of “Free Will” is being responded to in a similar fashion to the notion of “God”. Some deny it while other insist upon it. If we are to assume that we are all physical Automatons; some of us believe there is nothing more than the physical automaton, where as, (by way of analogy) others of us believe the soul sits in the pineal gland as proposed by René Descartes. To me, both notions seem incomprehensible.

Similarly, when I consider the existence of God, my simplistic self sees the argument as;

·       The atheist says, “everything comes from nothing”, which is incomprehensible, however,

·       The theist says, “everything comes from God, who has always existed”, which is at least equally incomprehensible, hence,

·       I default to agnosticism, which is a cop out.

However, just because something is incomprehensible does not mean that we should throw away the idea. For example, in mathematics we have the imaginary number i2 = -1. From this we get complex numbers and the complex plane. Power engineering makes use of complex numbers. I would venture to say that when a student of mathematics first encounters the imaginary number, they might think of it as incomprehensible. However, as the utility of the imaginary number becomes evident the concern about the incomprehensibility disappears; i.e. “who cares, it works!” Have a look at this 5 minute video Intro to complex numbers.

At times I wonder if the denial of the imaginary by some, and the insistence of the imaginary by others is the root of the argument. Is there a way to get beyond this?

Edited by intuition
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42 minutes ago, intuition said:

At times I wonder if the denial of the imaginary by some, and the insistence of the imaginary by others is the root of the argument. Is there a way to get beyond this?

Good summary.

I believe I understand and I agree with this sentence (above) however consciousness and self-consciousness couldn't be defined as imaginary. As for free will, that one might be more open to the point you have made. As for getting beyond it, without evidence either way, it seems to be a question of what one believes.

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42 minutes ago, intuition said:

The atheist says, “everything comes from nothing”, which is incomprehensible, however,

The theist says, “everything comes from God, who has always existed”, which is at least equally incomprehensible, hence,

Just a couple of comments: I've always wonder if the Big Bang or the initial (or, better, the last) moment of nothingness was something and, therefore, not nothing (so to speak).

And the theist saying might better reflect a more traditional theism but a more progressive take might be that rather than saying God always existed (which sounds like the existence of just another being, albeit it infinite existence - like all energy?) to say instead that "God" is the very possibility of existence, that anything is - at all. This goes to Paul's letter in which he writes that 'we have our being in God.'

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6 hours ago, intuition said:

This makes sense to me. In the current discussion it seems to me that the notion of “Free Will” is being responded to in a similar fashion to the notion of “God”. Some deny it while other insist upon it.

The interesting thing is that the belief in notions of g/God, free will and morality are actually unnecessary for us to function, although we may believe otherwise.

6 hours ago, intuition said:

The atheist says, “everything comes from nothing”

One of the quibbles theists have with this statement is that it is not a "true" nothing, but real one we experience. Another difference is that atheists would dump this statement if better evidence for another proposition came along.

6 hours ago, intuition said:

At times I wonder if the denial of the imaginary by some, and the insistence of the imaginary by others is the root of the argument. Is there a way to get beyond this?

Perhaps accept that our consciousness is imaginary? I imagine I have a consciousness is a tautology is it not?

Edited by romansh
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On 4/23/2019 at 1:39 PM, thormas said:

Wish, if acted upon, suggests a decision, a choice to act. Such a decision to act is, for some, more to do with free will than only chemistry.

OK in what way is will, want, wish different from a desire? 

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9 hours ago, thormas said:

Actually, I already suggested the question: as we recognize the reality of consciousness even though we cannot explain how consciousness 'emerges' out of unconsciousness matter, do/should we also recognize the reality of 'free will' even though we cannot explain how it emerges out of (or with the influence and limitations of) heredity and environment.

Seemingly, we all, or most of us, accept and trust our consciousness on a daily basis, even though we cannot account for it. It may or may not be a result of cause and effect - the point is we simply don't know and cannot explain it. And there is no denying the effect of 'chemistry' - but the question remains that it does not explain consciousness and it does not eliminate the reality of free will.

And how much do we trust our consciousness? Or is it the confirmation bias for our unconscious chemistry? When I examine my day … I am in autopilot for much of the day.

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