Talk:Free will

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 Definition The intuition, or philosophical doctrine, that one can control one's actions or freely choose among alternatives. [d] [e]
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This needs to begin with a definition; and more generally, see CZ:Article Mechanics. --Larry Sanger 21:30, 17 October 2007 (CDT)

Hope this is looking better. I have also developed it further, but imagine adding behaviourism, existentialism, etc. All suggestions will be welcomed. --John B. Mackenzie 11:05, 1 November 2007 (CDT)

The definition of Gordon H. Clark has been identified. The article appeared before my revisions to be in the camp of determinism, and I revised it to a neutral position. Some categorical statements have been removed or replaced by more moderate claims. Sources have been added: there were none before. John R. Brews 16:18, 26 July 2012 (UTC)


Niels Bohr said free will and determinism are complememtary. I don't know whether this is a sufficiently significant point of view to be mentioned here. Peter Jackson 08:36, 27 July 2012 (UTC)

I'd hate to short-shrift a thinker like Bohr. I'd take it that his view is an outgrowth of the role of the observer in quantum theory: the process of observation affects what is observed. Are you able to formulate his position? John R. Brews 16:57, 27 July 2012 (UTC)
I added a subsection on Complementarity. Please take a look. John R. Brews 19:14, 27 July 2012 (UTC)
I see on checking back to the brief account I posted elsewhere that he didn't originate its application to this question but cited it from others. Your version seems to give the idea in a different way from mine. Peter Jackson 09:37, 28 July 2012 (UTC)
The idea seems to be a strict logical positivist one. QM seems to be nothing but a formalism for predicting experimental results, not a model/description of reality. Its attitude to reality seems to be like Laplace's to God. Beyond the formalism, there are models such as waves and particles, applicable in different contexts. Bohr simply generalizes this beyond physics. Peter Jackson 09:57, 28 July 2012 (UTC)
Peter: I don't agree that Bohr did not originate the application of complementarity to the issues of determinism, and I don't think that agrees with the cited sources. So I wonder if you can provide some background for the derivative form of Bohr's assessment?
The role of QM in this matter is only one of analogy, it appears to me. In Light and Life II Bohr refers to the matter as an analogy explicitly. I added a quotation to the article to elaborate upon Bohr's suggestion. John R. Brews 14:14, 28 July 2012 (UTC)
I haven't got the exact reference with me, but I think Bohr says others had this idea first. I'm not sure whether he gave any specific references. Whether he might have misinterpreted such sources is a matter for historians of philosophy, I suppose.
Yes, certainly it's just analogy. I wouldn't suggest otherwise, and I don't suppose Bohr would. Peter Jackson 14:29, 30 July 2012 (UTC)
Peter: I wanted to reread your essay on Wikiinfo but the link seems to have disappeared and no search of mine has recovered your discussion.
The section on Complementarity has developed with time beyond Bohr's introduction of this idea. This topic can be construed as a major theme in the free will discussion, forming a different approach to the idea of dualism that mind and body are separate domains, a notion going back to Chrysippus (279 – 206 BC).
Perhaps you'd consider revisiting this topic and making some further suggestions? John R. Brews 17:13, 13 September 2012 (UTC)
Now moved to [1] as a result of technical problems. Peter Jackson 10:44, 14 September 2012 (UTC)

Thank you Peter. Your discussion led me to this link to Bohr's essay "The Atomic Theory and the Fundamental Principles underlying the Description of Nature". I've included a quote from this source in the section on Causality. John R. Brews 13:15, 14 September 2012 (UTC)

Libet's experiment

Benjamin Libet's 1983 experiment detected relevant brain activity before the subject decided to act. But similar experiments in 2007 by Marcel Brass and Patrick Haggard demonstrated that subjects could exercise a last-minute veto. Are these experiments not worth a mention? Nick Gardner 13:23, 27 July 2012 (UTC)

Nick: I'm sure there is a place for a discussion of these experiments in summary form. A proper treatment probably requires an article unto itself. I was unaware of the "veto" demonstration, and Harris' book doesn't mention that in his very protracted discussion of these kind of observations. The paper abstract you linked appears to be less than definitive on the subject, claiming only a heuristic approach for further development. Do you have some details? John R. Brews 14:46, 27 July 2012 (UTC)
All I know about that is what I read in Michael Shermer's piece in Scientific American. Nick Gardner 15:57, 27 July 2012 (UTC)
This discussion looks conjectural to me, as the only evidence here is that the brain activity associated with decisions is more complex than observed before. I added this source to "External Links".
It looks (to me) like the real question for free will is how the decision process for dealing with specific outside inputs can be influenced by reflection. If reflection modifies the programming the brain uses for making a decision, then are we responsible for undertaking reflection and making sure our programming is in order (in our judgment)? Looks like an infinite regress is looming? John R. Brews 17:13, 27 July 2012 (UTC)
Suggesting we keep our programing healthy sounds like Chrysippus' explanation of Stoicism: the internal machinery acted upon by external forces is under some control. Is this situation simply that of a robot run by a program that has a learning element built in: each time the car parks itself, it modifies its instructions to park better the next time? John R. Brews 15:02, 28 July 2012 (UTC)

Overview of article

Many changes and additions have been made during my efforts to overhaul this article. It suffers from being the product of an evolving understanding, which leads to a less well-organized and focused presentation than an expert could provide.

My own opinion of the article as it now stands is that it provides a good overview of the various topics that contribute to a discussion of free will, topics that go far beyond the rather arid description of logical possibilities to look at aspects of engineering and experimental science that bear upon the subject.

The question of free will has been discussed for millennia, and it is not yet resolved. I believe this article could be organized better and written more clearly, but its content pretty much covers the topic, and the sources provide the reader with guidance to a good understanding of the uncertainties of today. John R. Brews 14:23, 15 September 2012 (UTC)


[2]. Peter Jackson (talk) 10:23, 31 October 2015 (UTC)