Sunday, January 20, 2013
Free Agency Only Exists in Sports
So someone I talk, argue, and debate with frequently on facebook made a response to someone else I talk, argue, and debate with frequently on facebook. However, the response was on the topic of free will or free agency, so I have to butt in. On Youtube his name is AngryDrunkenTheist, but here I'll just call him ADT.
ADT defines Free Agency as, and I'm paraphrasing "the ability of an agent to choose between two actions that each satisfy the same goal". So the example ADT gives is one in which he has the goal of drinking something hot to satisfy him, and the available options are coffee and tea. His Free Agency lies in his ability to choose between the two.
This is, generally, an accurate representation of what most people think of when referencing Free Will. Unfortunately, among commonly held concepts is it one of the most painfully false ones I am aware of insofar as its application to humanity. There are two ways to dispel this notion, one is to ask a question, the other is to state a fact.
The question is simply "why". To fully dispel the Free Will notion we need only ask this one question, though several times. Why, in this instance, do you choose coffee over tea? You could try and beg the question "because I choose to", but then ask "why do you choose to"? Generally it is because you have deduced that coffee is that which satisfies your goals. Did you choose for coffee to satisfy your goals better, or did you think about it for a while, evaluate what your experience with coffee will be over tea, and logically deduce your goals would be better satisfied with coffee. Notice I say "goals" and not "goal".
That brings us to the fact: Brains don't work the way ADT believes. He cites this "highest goal" as though we only work out one problem at a time, in serial order. This couldn't be further from the truth. While you could possibly reduce our goals to the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, that isn't how they generally manifest. So when ADT says this:
"Why can't it just be that wanting to try something new was my highest goal". The answer is, because you have many goals. Here ADT gives a scenario in which he actually chooses tea over coffee, despite deducing that coffee was the best way to satisfy his desire for something hot to drink. He offers up *as an explanation for this decision* that he *also* has a desire to try something new. Now it could be that his desire to try something new was greater than his desire to have something hot, however a more likely scenario is that tea satisfies your desire for something new *without* compromising your desire for something hot, therefore you deduce that tea is what will satisfy the most goals for you. You see, ADT's argument more often than not goes against his position, not for. Whenever he discusses a decision, he always does so within the context of a reason, or more accurately, a cause. Or as I like to call it, a determining factor.
It's even worse for ADT's position than that. The Haynes et. al study, and yes I always bring up this study because it is so relevant to this discussion, dispelled any notion of Free Will. Through looking at the unconscious parts of the brain, they were able to predict the conscious choices of the participants five seconds or more before the individual had made their decision. Through proving that our decisions are highly affected by unconscious forces within the brain, they effectively removed the possibility of our conscious agency being the primary force or even a significant force, behind our actions. Rather, our cognitive processes are broken down in parts of the brain, and different unconscious parts can be fighting to go in different directions. Eventually a consensus is built by which direction has the strongest voices pulling for it, and that's how the action or decision manifests itself.
Lastly, ADT anticipates an argument and attempts to respond to it in advance, that being what would happen if you turned back time to a choice you've made in the past. Could you choose differently? ADT rejects this argument claiming "How could I chose otherwise when I've already chosen?" Well, if we're rewinding time then no, you have NOT already chosen. This argument is done to illustrate the facts that your actions are determined by your determined logic and reasoning, not some ill-defined abstract "agency", for if you say that you would always make that decision the same way no matter what then your will doesn't control your actions and you can't "choose between two actions that each satisfy the same goal". If you say "yes", you could choose something different, then you'd have to describe your thought process coming to a different conclusion based off the same evidence, thus making any Free Will you assert indicative of irrationality.
However, if ADT really finds problems with the "going in the past" scenario, then I can merely extend it to the future. Instead of rewinding time, imagine a scenario in which someone with memory issues chooses coffee, walks outside and puts his coffee down to . . . tie his shoe. He gets up, forgets he already ordered coffee, and realizing he wants something hot, goes back into the store to order something. So he's back in the store, let's assume his mind forgot everything that happened to him and for all intents and purposes his mind and brain are exactly the same as they were when he ordered last time. Technically this is still a new choice now. Could he then choose tea, and if so, how do you explain that decision without appealing to changing circumstance, of which we've already ruled out?