Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Free won't - part iii

Part 3/3 Click here for: part I

We can look at quantum mechanics to shed some light on this. In danger of going in to too much depth, it is important to outline current theory and gain a basic understanding.

The multi-verse theory allows us to instigate free will back in to the equation albeit in an illusory feedback loop, since a reality will exist for every choice made. Since we can already demonstrate that free will is an illusion, we are talking about choices made unconsciously. We are talking about different neurological states and synaptic firings, which cause actions to be taken (or not) on the level of an organism.

If we are talking about a multi-verse, that would have to mean by virtue that another branch of reality co – exists simultaneously. In each parallel universe, every outcome would play out and each 'quantum decoherence' causes a different branch of a reality to start, which would have to contain the Hubble volume (observable universe) and would be a real physical universe like this one. Heavy stuff I know but two things spring to mind. Firstly, it would be closed minded of us to assume that this was the only universe and secondly this accounts for our determined reality, when we take in to account the fact that free will is illusory.

The main problem with this theory, seems to be the fact that if this was the case, then something like the radioactive decay of an atom, could start a different branch of reality and hence every sub atomic interaction, could occur, or not, causing a separate universe. Stephen Hawkings conjectured that the quantum indeterminancy of particles averages out in large numbers of particles and quantum effects do not tend to affect classical mechanics. Hence, here there appears to be a solution to this problem, in the fact that the decoherence is unaffected by macroscopic events.

As any actions are generated from the accumulation of experience or reflex propagated by the environment in an organism, we can see how outcomes of these actions have causal consequences and will perpetuate changes in experience for other people down the line.

So if I had an interaction with someone for instance and we imagine that it was a meaningful conversation about thinking about things in a different way, with their new knowledge from the interaction, their planning faculty would take on board these new variables and factor these into their future decision making processes. In this case, the thought process is free to play out with these changeable variables influencing different outcomes, depending on the acquired knowledge of a particular organism.

Of course, the possibilities of potential outcomes could be seen to be finite but the number would be pushing beyond trillions upon trillions, or infinity minus 11.24, to be precise! This ensures that two people could never have the same experience. In this respect, to have a determined reality, the number of causal interactions from neurons firing in specific sequences and the knock-on effects throughout history, are not even worth contemplating, nor is the number of parallel universes required.

When we go back to Schrödinger’s cat, we can see that mathematically both possibilities of experience exist in this experiment, until we open the box and the wave function collapses. This gives us a paradox in terms of our Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory, since we can demonstrate that both possibilities exist simultaneously. Demonstrating this for the totality of reality would be rather a hard task but what we could conjecture here, is that there are almost infinite opportunities for experience and we are just subject to the experience of the evolution of form as it plays out in the Hubble volume we appear to occupy, whether there are other parallel universes or not.

We can see that life evolves, thought evolves, the earth's geography evolves and the universe is itself in constant flux. Even the molecules and cells we are made of are not the same ones we were born with. In that respect, we know that nothing is static or permanent in nature. It would also be a mere assumption that the universe cannot replicate.

There are many interpretations of quantum theory, I quite like Von Neumann's idea that consciousness is required to collapse the wave function. That ties in nicely to the idea that consciousness is fundamental aspect of reality, although that is out of our scope for now.


Anything like this can never be known to us in the phenomenal world anyway, I was never to keen on the deterministic explanation personally and I was sitting on the fence as a compatibilist for a while but without free will, it is inevitable that determinism would seem to offer the best explanation. It is not a bad thing to discover you have no free will, because the illusion of free will still exists after liberation, it doesn't just disappear!

So nothing is taken away from experience, if anything, experience is enhanced immensely. It may seem strange to say that but there again, believing in no free will through the false self would of course be detrimental to ones outlook on life.

The way I see it currently, life feels as though it is free to play out in its own way, yet 'we' as a causal agent do not exist. The universe contains almost infinite opportunities for experience and our illusory feedback cycle of free will on the level of the organism holds true, in the ability for an organism to experience choice because of its ever changing experience, even though that experience and the consequent choices are determined anyway.

We are merely aware of concepts regarding a choice that has already been made.

The anxiety from our choice, is a result of dissonance. When people say 'follow your heart', or 'go with your gut', it simply means the decision has already been made below your awareness. We are simply aware of the conceptualisations that result from this process and quite often, they are weighing up of the pros or cons. Yet at no point can we decide what our 'gut' or heart 'says'.

The influence that an organism can exert within our conceptual decoherence branch or point in space time is determined by the physical world and the experience we are subject to, which gives an appearance of free will. The quantum decoherence, as a fundamental aspect of reality, would allow this illusion to be possible, in the sense that another decoherence branch could appear when ruminating over some thoughts. Also in our other interpretations, both probabilities can simultaneously exist.

In that respect the compatibilist argument seems to play nicely in to this and proponents of this, will claim there is free will but it seems more likely that after looking at our feedback cycle, that really this free will is illusory and the hard determinist position looks stronger. Simply because when we take our causal self out of the equation, our libetarian free will disappears anyway and it seems that when we talk about compatibilism, we are just being apologists to these libetarians, or as Kant termed compatibilism; “a wretched subterfuge”.

We just have some homo sapiens running more sophisticated software and hardware than the other creatures on this substrate, to boil it down as simply as I can. Quite a reductionist stance to take but there again, we are evolved from animals. We are simply at the mercy of the environment and our acquired tool set of experience to draw from.

Here, our indeterminism enters the fray to makes quite a strong case too. Indeterminism suggests that the quantum world comes about through pure chance and thus there is no determinism or free will. Since there is no free will, we could simply assume there was no determinism either and our variables could be related to the fact that thought is free to play out but there is no one choosing these thoughts. An interesting proposition but that is going to have to be for another article, since we are only skimming the determinist/ free will positions.

Life lives itself

Upon seeing no self, we can verify experientially that self is an illusion and free will to boot. From here we can look at current theory and see how this insight connects up with it and it seems to dovetail nicely here. The exciting thing is, on the level of experience we can validate that self is illusory and this has blown this area wide open, among others. Western philosophers such as Sam Harris, Thomas Metzinger and Julian Baggini have come to the conclusion that self is illusory. RT has found a way to validate this experientially. Upon seeing no self, you are able to witness the self as an illusory feedback cycle that comprises the core mechanism of human suffering. The question is; which quantum decoherence branch do you want to occupy? Sorry I had to drop that in :) On a serious note, you can either be at the whims of your thoughts and emotions, or you can see them for what they really are and look upon them with open eyes.

Simply put, your internal dialogue is merely an abstracted commentary relating to the processing of the brain. It gives the illusion of free will, because it feeds back as a tertiary input to the brain, when in reality, life lives itself as it always has. There is awareness of thought that says there is a 'you' that is in control and labels these actions that arise as being caused by an entity that you call yourself.

It implies that there is an entity who is running the operations, but when we actually look in real life...

When we actually drop our façade for a minute and look with honesty...

It is plain to see that there is nothing there. 'You' do not exist in any shape or form; you never did and were never necessary for life to happen. Life lives itself - it is only an illusion that creates the belief that you exist as an entity who is responsible for making decisions and thinking. The plane is flying but it is on autopilot, the pilot was never there.

This can be demonstrated on an experiential level. It is nothing more than running commentary abstracted from an individual's unique experience. The thoughts that arise perpetuate the illusion of self through belief and this feedback loop of illusory free will.

This has massive implications but testing the hypothesis is pretty simple. Simply do the thought experiments on this blog (go to L@@K first and read the section on honesty and courage before you do the experiments) and then email me about your findings and tell me if there is a 'you'. Then you can take on the task of removing your conditioning of framing the world through the concept of self.

Could it be true that there is no 'you' and 'you' are nothing more than a thought; an illusion?

Free won't - part ii

Part 2/3 - Click here for: Part I

Causal implications

This abstraction of our relevant experience can be analysed by our brain and cross referenced with previous experiences and our accumulated values, beliefs and ideas. In that respect, our unique experience of existence determines the possible outcomes of our future and we are aware of thoughts about such decisions, that can affect other people's futures as well as our own. The abstraction of the false self therefore, is updated constantly as new things are experienced. This is indeed what gives our abstraction the dynamic qualities that we perceive as a 'changing self', which enhances the quality of this illusion.

However, these thoughts have no causal properties in of themselves; they are abstract representations of a course of action that has already been decided unconsciously. We need only look at Benjamin Libet's experiments and the ones conducted by his successors. For instance, a clear pattern is emerging that the readiness potential for movement occurs before the subject is conscious of the decision to move. This negates free will or a separate agency to be responsible for these actions. Rather the illusion of separate agency is nothing more than an abstract formed from experience, that is telling the brain via this feedback loop that there is an external causal agent there. If you like, it is merely the running commentary of your internal dialogue which is buttressing the illusion of your existence as an agent of free will.

It is entirely illusory, just look in real life, there is no self there.

Free won't

We can illustrate how free will plays out in the real world using a “what if” scenario. I will have to use an example we can relate to and we are all familiar with. Let's say, for example, you had a choice to go on holiday. What factors would influence you to apparently 'choose' the destination? If I offered you a choice between Tajikistan or Ibiza, which would you choose? This conversation came up as I was chatting about free will with a mate. In my case, I have been to Ibiza and loved it. I have not really heard much about Tajikistan. I am quite open minded (luckily, I have been conditioned that way!) so I would be tempted to go and explore Tajikistan, but in this case, Ibiza is more appealing to me.

So I am in a position to look at what made me have this preference. In this situation, it is simply knowledge. Where lack of knowledge is involved, we can show that free will becomes redundant. I have only an approximate knowledge of where Tajikistan is located; I don't know what the capital is, what the terrain is like, what currency they use, what the weather is like – or, in fact, anything at all. I know merely the name of the place and it is near Kazakhstan. If the thought it was necessary to look arose, so the brain could perform a comparative analysis of the two places; there would have to be something special in the information for the brain to see Tajikistan as a more appealing destination than the party island of Ibiza. This, in turn, may or may not influence the feeling of wanting to go somewhere specifically.

In that respect the feedback loop of knowledge obtained would increase my pool of knowledge and then through the tertiary input of the brain, it would be factored in to making a decision below the level of my awareness.

The truth is, in no way can I decide which place I feel like going to.

You could check out the Wikipedia entry on Tajikistan, if your brain thought it would be of some benefit to increase your knowledge. What I know for sure, is the choice available to me is illusory, in the sense that the choice is an abstract representation, of a decision that has already been made below the level of my awareness. It could be influenced by increasing my knowledge on the other destination but what I would simply be doing, is increasing my knowledge and causing a feedback loop that gives the appearance of free will.

You may be thinking now that you have just chosen Tajikistan. Well if we start to look at why, you may find that you are not the party type, you are adventurous, or you have always been interested in go to Eurasia for instance. You may have decided just to assert your free will and choose Tajikistan as the place you would choose for arguments sake. The thing is, you always believed you had free will but beliefs can literally warp our reality, as we have discussed in other posts.

Literally the product of your experience now, is a belief generating thoughts, trying to assert that you have free will. In actual fact it is just a knee jerk response as a belief has been threatened. We have discussed the dynamics of belief before and we have demonstrated how these fixed positions will cause us to try and defend them, as the brain perceives a threat, when its model of reality is threatened.

If you really had free will, you would not have chosen which one you felt like going to, without actually making a conscious decision to do so. If you really had free will, you would not have automatically thrown up resistance to the challenge, when your free will was called in to question. I can see people now thinking this is crazy and this is all built on a supposition of 'no you' but all I have to say is; if you don't believe me, that's great.

Go and l@@k in real life, the truth is there, look at it and see if you can falsify a theory. Use the falsification principle, be ruthless with honesty; is there a you in real life, could it be true that self is an illusion?

Now the current reader will take the action of not looking at Wikipedia or try and demonstrate their free will by actually going to look, thereby proving to themselves that their experience is purely a given of environmental stimuli and their neurological state. The readers knowledge is simply the product of experience as it continuously plays out.

Maybe you were about to go to Wikipedia, but by using 'free won't' decided not to. Sorry, but Benjamin Libet's successors showed that inhibitory decisions were also made unconsciously. You just witnessed a representation of agency in your awareness, when in reality the decision was arbitrarily delivered based upon the variables of the brain's acquired knowledge. Or even, you have actually been to Tajikistan already. Then, of course, this knowledge has influenced the brain's processing and your current representation of this process, which makes looking at Wikipedia seem a) redundant or b) a reason to reminisce about your time in Tajikistan.

There is no you in real life

Simply put, your internal dialogue is merely a commentary relating to the processing of the brain. It gives the illusion of free will, when, in reality, life lives itself as it always has. There is awareness of thought that says there is a 'you' that is in control and labels these actions that arise as being caused by an entity that you call yourself.

It implies that there is an entity who is running the operations, but when we actually look in real life...

When we actually drop our façade for a minute and look with honesty...

It is plain to see that there is nothing there. 'You' do not exist in any shape or form; you never did and were never necessary for life to happen. Life lives itself - it is only an illusion that creates the belief that you exist as an entity who is responsible for making decisions and thinking. The plane is flying but it is on autopilot, the pilot was never there.

This can be demonstrated on an experiential level. It is nothing more than running commentary abstracted from an individual's unique experience. The thoughts that arise perpetuate the illusion of self through belief and this feedback loop of illusory free will.

Click here for: Part III

Free won't - part i

Experiment 0.5

For those of you that believe we have free will, you might like to try this quick experiment to demonstrate this to yourself. Thanks to Sam Harris for this efficient demonstration.

What I want you to do is think of a person who you know personally, it can be anyone, just picture them, whoever it is that springs to mind. Now, with this person in mind, I want to tell you about what we can observe:

1. I told you to think of a person, you thought of a person, simply because you were instructed to do so. Had I not told you to think of the person, the brain would not have had the required stimulus to invoke the memory recall.

2. You thought of a person and who you became aware of was, in fact, completely random. You had no choice regarding who it was you chose, a person just randomly popped in to your mind on cue.

We have just demonstrated how thought is propagated by a given environmental stimulus (this experiment) and you are not, in fact, in control of the contents of your thoughts. In no way were you able to choose who the person was that popped in to your awareness. Try it again if you like, use another topic other than people. If you are honest with yourself, you will be able to observe this is the case every single time.

From this experiment we have given ourselves a whole new conundrum. Not only does this have implications for all our thought, this lack of free will implies determinism. The fact that we are aware of choice on an experiential level implies that nothing is determined; so how do we reconcile this? Particularly as most of you reading this believe you are a causal 'self' being responsible for the thoughts and actions that arise.

Cause & effect

So, if there is no free will, what caused me to write this?

If I had no choice, what was the exact cause of me writing this?

  • Was it seeing no self? 
  • Was it the time that I had discovered RT and began looking? 
  • Was it the fact that I was in another country, that led me to be on the internet at the time to discover RT? 
  • Was it the fact that I learnt to use the internet 12 years ago?
We can not really find an exact cause. We have already debunked cause and effect (here) as a mechanism on which the universe operates. When we look at cause and effect, it is apparent that it is actually the nature of the brain to divide reality in to manageable chunks.

When we scrutinise cause and effect, it does not stand up as a usable premise. We can say that there is causality but we can not attribute a single cause to a specific event in time. This is where cause and effect breaks down, as it simply becomes an infinite regress. Rather, reality is a continuous flow of events, the accumulated unfolding of existence as it transpired which has delivered this very moment right now to us, exactly as it is. It is important that we state this before we consider determinism.

Nyeeps and tatties

In our experiment, we already showed how we are not responsible for what we think, it is a given of the environment and other internal criterion, that we are unaware of at a conscious level. If we think of the image of the person you thought of as a “nyeep” (packet of subjective information), these come from below the level of awareness or to put in old school terminology “bubble up from the subconscious”. In that respect there is no control over which nyeep will appear in our awareness and that is what we can see clearly from the experiment.

Our false self actually comes from the illusion that this process of calling up a nyeep, is something we can actually control and also the narration (internal dialogue) which results from these nyeeps on the level of awareness, telling the brain through a tertiary input, that this abstraction refers to a real entity separate from the brain and thought itself.

In effect “you” is simply a feedback cycle in thought, that is in turn generated from a cycle of cognition. Essentially “you”, your “self” or, whatever you want to call it, is nothing more than a thought. “You” do not exist, the illusion of self is caused by a feedback loop of thought.

Of course if you have just stumbled across this on the internet, you may well be bewildered, so I will say that everything is real except for “self”. The body is real, thought is real, everything is real but there is no you in real life, life is actually living itself, it always has done and never required a self to control it, that self is entirely illusory. What you perceive of as “you” is nothing more than a thought.

Heavy stuff but hang in there, lets dig deeper.

We are free in the sense that our experience causes an evolution in our thought patterns and rather than being restricted to 'only' a set of pre - programmed routines, the brain is like an adaptive learning computer that can update its model of reality on the fly. Programmed routines such as conditioning can not be undone by conscious thought alone however, our ever expanding database of experience increases our nyeep pool and as the saying goes, “we learn something new everyday”.

The feedback cycle of free will

One thing that complicates this, and actually installs a feedback cycle of free will on the level of an organism, is the fact that our awareness of consciousness forms a tertiary input into the brain. Along with sense data and our feelings, we also have an abstraction process where the brain is analysing its own cognitions and state. Basically, what is in awareness forms an input into the brain and, as such, this thought influences the brain in its decision-making processes. So, whilst we have no control over what that input is, our accumulated experiences can make us react differently in the future to similar events, so in a sense, we create a positive feedback cycle where accumulated wisdom factors into the decision-making process.

Depending on the outcomes of our actions in the past, the consequent input stimuli in to our conscious stream of thought from past experiences, constantly gives a new set of variables for the brain to work with. Our experience actually dictates our future actions and decisions but in that sense, it does feel uninhibited on an experiential level. The truth is, we are simply operating within the confines of our knowledge of the world, which is the product of our experience and the environment we occupy. We are simply aware of these decision making processes, which has been falsely attributed to a “self” being responsible for it. In reality they just happen.

Click here for: Part II

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