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Free Will: Do You Have It?

Does it even make sense to ask the question?  What if Free Will didn't exist? What difference would it make? What would be different in the real world?  Would we change punishments as people aren't responsible for their actions? Would more people 'give up' changing themselves? If there's really no free will, it doesn't matter. Nothing matters. But since I am going to make my life have meaning and matter, I think that means there is Free Will.

The people who don't believe in Free Will have nothing, nothing to support them.  They look for support for their ideas in the most amazing places and purposely work to refute anything that mismatches what was once written in a book. Some try to have current interpretations of  'religious' thought.  Religions assume Free Will. That's one thing we agree on. The Newtonians don't. They think that because we have equations that explain what happens next depending on what is happening now, that everything is predictable. Ha! That's laughable enough to cause a conniption fit!

Let alone their misunderstanding of Quantum Mechanics (where everything is probabilistic and depends upon the observer...) and their lack of knowledge of emergent properties - how an underlying set of rules in one domain can have an effect at another level. (Examples are different phases of water: ice, steam, liquid, etc.) Systems act differently than single instances. And they can't be predicted. At least they can't be predicted than anything less than a full simulation. This means that they are unpredictable.

What can we do with Free Will and the progress of Science?

We have Free Will. We also have an opportunity to make a true religion that is consistent with the facts and what we know and can grow and thrive in the presence of new information.

We have a unique opportunity when the Nerd Rapture happens.  We can actually choose what religion we want to make happen.  We can actually make any and all religions true in the minds of their followers. This is a fantastic opportunity for the Nerds. It's time to design what religion we want to make true.

Since we have Free Will, we can create whatever religion we want...

So what religion should we make into a reality? Any of them? All of them.  But we should also design our own religion that meets the secular moral code, believes in reality, allows anyone to join, and insists that all people are created equal? You betcha! What would that look like?

But wait, do we have Free Will, or is it just all an illusion?

First why do we think we have Free Will?

Is it just a matter of complexity?  We're so complicated that it appears that we have Free Will.

Or is it in the interaction of our consciousness with ourselves - does that mean we have Free Will?

What does that even mean. When I walk into a room and tell myself I see something, who am I talking to? Is there someone there who doesn't see the same thing as me? I don't think so. I actually think there is a separate consciousness that can't speak (see the famous corpus callosum slicing experiments...)

Is it just a matter of information? Is it just an illusion? How can knowing something be an illusion?

Like the famous physicist Claude Shannon said: information is the content in a message that cannot be predicted.

Doesn't that definition assume that Free Will exists?  How can you do something unpredictable unless you have Free Will? It's not just that you are so complicated that it's not feasible to predict what you will do, we have to show it's fundamentally impossible.

And it sure feels like I make choices and isn't making choices the foundation of Free Will?

It certainly feels like I have Free Will. How could it be an illusion? What does an illusion or hallucination of an internal mind state even mean? It has something to do with reality, but I'm, not sure exactly what, yet.

If we settle the decision of whether or not I have Free Will, does it make any possible predictions change? Can it be scientifically measured? Does it have a consequence? If not, then it's not really a well framed question, is it?

So our first job is to define Free Will. And define it in a way that those who have Free Will will act differently than those who don't. Without that possibility you can't verify your reasoning.  If Free Will makes no difference then it doesn't matter if we have it or not. [Less is More blog]

Reality is what stays around even after you have no faith. You don't need faith in reality, it just is. Anything you must have faith for could be or could not be. And that's a tough thing to base your life on. You might have enough evidence to believe it, but beyond that, you are risking your eternal soul. If you have one. I'd argue you probably don't have an immortal least not yet. Science is hard at work in giving you one, but we aren't there yet.

Let's assume you don't have Free Will. Then your every action should be able to be predicted. That sounds hard. Harder than the weather. Things change all the time. To have to measure them accurately enough to predict what will happen in the future takes a lot of energy. If you don't know exactly where everything is to start, you can't say where it will be later. In a typical pool shot (absolutely following Newtonian equations) any error in the angle of the ball, the speed of the ball or the spin of the ball quickly grows astronomical in size after a few bounces and collisions. Yes, astronomical! How do we know this? Just look at how hard it is to predict the weather... we can't know the position, velocity and state of every atom. Not only is it impossible in Newtonian physics, it's inherently impossible in Quantum Mechanics (QM only gives you the probability of a particle being somewhere, so the errors get astronomically larger than in Newtonian physics.) So it can't be done.

What's the second way in which Free Will is obvious? The only way to say Free Will doesn't exist is to have a way to predict someone's future decisions. You can get pretty good at this by gathering lots of data and using it to build a model that makes predictions. But you're not going to get better answers by measuring less than every single atom's state. You're going to make mistakes in your prediction. The difference between the predictions and the truth are what show that Free Will exists.

So we can measure that Free Will exists given any model to do predictions. It's an easy thing to measure. You have Free Will. It's not an illusion. It can be measured. Free Will exists. Eventually the prediction model gets pretty good, but it will never be perfect. QM forbids it. You must have Free Will if you think you do.

Now, what religion do we create when the Nerd Rapture comes along? (Note to self: Nerd Rapture is that ability to put your mind elsewhere and back into your body.)  The religion we create for people to experience when their mind is elsewhere should be up to them. They can stay there if they want to. For the religion with No Name, we'll want to be in the real world. We'll understand that the world we experience when we are elsewhere is just made up.  The Religion with No Name is just living in Reality and deciding for yourself what's important.

Long live Free Will.

Thanks for reading!
  - Dr. Mike Ritter


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