Category Archives: Free Will Week

Free Will and Morals- An experiment in psychology

Friends,

               In today’s VERITAS we will explore the relationship between the belief in free will and moral behaviour by discussing an experiment in psychology. Does a belief in free will have a relationship with morals. Does the belief in free will make one more moral or less moral? We will discuss these questions using an experiment in psychology.

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Kathleen Vohs and Jonathan Schooler conducted an experiment that aimed to test the relationship between free will
and morals. A set of 30 people were taken and divided into two groups of 15 people each. One group was given
passages and statements which seemed to state that free will does not exist. They were made to read the viewpoints
of philosophers and scientists who were determinists and stated that free will is only an illusion. One of the passages
they read was from Francis Crick’s book( Crick along with Watson discovered the structure of DNA), the Astonishing
Hypothesis:

“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will,
are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are
is nothing but a pack of neurons.”

So one group was given “anti-free-will” passages to read. The other group was given neutral passages to read that said
nothing about free will or the lack of it.

Then the two groups was given a set of maths questions to solve on a computer. The computer program that asked the
questions had a bug that the students could use to cheat in the test. After the test was over the experimenters checked
the results of which group cheated more. The subjects of the experiment thought that the experiment was about math
skills but actually the experiment was about who cheats more.

The experimenters found that the group that was given “anti-free-will” passages to read cheated much more as compared
to the group that read no passages related to free will.

So the study suggested that a belief in free will makes one more moral. The person who believes in free will tends to
take responsibility of his actions. A non-believer in free will tends to assign the moral responsibility to determinism- it
had to  happen that way!

So scientists think that we may not have free will but a belief in free will keeps society more moral. Our deterministic
brain neurons fire based on its previous state but one of the components of the state is our belief system. And having
belief in free will in the system causes the neurons to fire more “morally” than when the brain does not have this belief.

regards
Kanwar

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go measure earth, weigh air, state the tides,
instruct the planets in what orbs to run
correct old time, regulate the sun
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Libet’s experiment

For the last few days we have been trying to understand the concept of free will from different points
of view and in relation to different fields of science and philosophy. Today we will discuss a very important
and fundamental experiment in neuroscience that may tell us a lot about the relationship between
conscious thought and action- the very question regarding the presence of free will.
 
Benjamin Libet did a series of experiments to determine if there is electrical activity in the brain before
a bodily action. In a set of experiments done in 1980s he was able to show that there was an electrical
signal build-up in the brain about half a second before a physical movement is done. So half a second before
I move my finger, there is an electrical build up in some neurons of the brain. This electrical build up
was given the name “readiness potential” by Libet. That was interesting but that does not tell us about the
relationship between physical movement, “free will” and conscious thought. That was the next experiment that
Libet did in the 1990s.

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In the more advanced experiment Libet put electrodes on the heads of his subjects and asked them to observe
a very fast moving clock. he then asked them to move their wrists whenever they wanted to but note the time
at which the “desire to move the wrist” came into their minds. So there were three time measurements for each
subject:
 
1) The time of the build up of the electrical signals in the brain ( this is the readiness potential)
2) The time when the conscious wish to act occurs in the brain ( this is now called Libet’s W time)
3) The actual time of the physical movement or action.
 
Now we have see that in the experiments conducted in 1980s, Libet had found that the readiness potential happens
upto .5 second or 500 ms before the actual action. Libet found that the conscious will to act occurred about 300 ms after
the readiness potential and about 200 ms before the physical act. So the brain has already initiated an activity
300 ms before you know about it consciously! The conscious desire to move has been caused by electrical signals build up
300 ms prior to it! So the decision to move has been triggered in the brain 300 ms before “you” got to know about it.
This suggests something simple: there seems to be no conscious free will.
 
The experiment was done very carefully and it was adjusted for errors in measurement.
 
It would be interesting to correlate this experiment with the reaction times available in “high speed” ball games like
cricket.
 
regards
Kanwar
 
      
 
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Go wondrous creature, mount where science guides
go measure earth, weigh air, state the tides,
instruct the planets in what orbs to run
correct old time, regulate the sun
======================================================================

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Veritas by Kanwarpreet Grewal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Free Will Theorem

In today’s VERITAS we will study Conway and Kochen’s Free Will Theorem which attempts to connect Quantum Mechanics and the concept of Free will. Before I explain this in detail, let me state the theorem. The Free Will theorem states that if we have free will then the elementary particles also have a degree of free will.

 
Now, let me state another theorem on which the Free Will Theorem is based: The Kochen Specker Theorem. The Kochen Specker Theorem states that the values of quantum mechanical variables is not decided before the experiment is done to measure them. So the theorem states that quantum mechanical variables acquire values only when observed. ( Note: This is not the precise definition. This is a simplistic and inaccurate definition).
 
The Free will theorem is based on three assumptions which have been established by a huge number of experiments:
 
1) Fin: There is a maximum speed for the propagation of signals from one place to another- this follows from the special theory of relativity.
 
2) Spin: If you measure the squared spin of a particle along three orthogonal directions you will always get 2 1s and a 0. So you may get (1,1,0) when you measure the spin along x, y and z direction or get (0, 1, 1) or (1,0 1) etc. But you will always get two 1s and a 0.
 
3) Twin: This assumption states that it is possible to quantum mechanically entangle two particles so that if you measure a certain value of spin in one particle in a direction then you will get the same value of spin when you measure the second particle along the same direction. The two particles can even be light years away and they will still show the same spin value. Such particles are said to be entangled.
 
The Fin assumption is based on Special Relativity. The Spin and Twin assumptions are based on Quantum Mechanics.
 
The Free Will Theorem states that if the experimenter is free to choose which experiment to perform( ie measure spin along which direction), then the results of the experiment is equally free. Now let me state what is meant by free here. By free we mean independent of any previous history. So if an experimenter’s choice is independent of any previous history then the results of the measurement of the particle’s spin is also independent of any previous history.
 
Here is my personal opinion on the theorem: the theorem tries to equate free will with randomness. But can random behavior, even if it is at the most fundamental level, be called free will? Free will has to be a conscious decision and not a random one. If you equate randomness with free will then it is in no way better than determinism as far as fixing moral responsibility is concerned. Does it matter if a murderer says ” I killed because I had no control over my decision- it came from the past states of my neurons”( determinism answer) or says ” I killed because I had no control
over my decision- it came from a random change in my neurons”( free will theorem kind of answer)? The fundamental question still remains: is the person who I call “me” have a “conscious choice” in what to do and what not to do?
 
regards
Kanwar
 
 

 
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Go wondrous creature, mount where science guides
go measure earth, weigh air, state the tides,
instruct the planets in what orbs to run
correct old time, regulate the sun
======================================================================
 

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Veritas by Kanwarpreet Grewal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Free Will and Philosophy

Philosophers have always been interested in the question of free will. There have been philosophers who have
believed in free will and some who have not and some who have believed that both free will and determinism
can exist at the same time. We will understand these different points of view and the arguments for these
diverse points of view in this VERITAS article.
 
The philosophy that believes that determinism exists but free will does not is known as hard determinism.
The philosophy that believes that determinism is false and free will exists is known as metaphysical libertarianism.
 
So hard determinism and metaphysical libertarianism are completely opposite views. Let’s study them in some
more detail:
 
Hard Determinism: Determinism is the idea that the future is caused by the past and present events in accordance
with the laws of nature. This view is best illustrated by a thought experiment called Laplace’s demon. Laplace
was a hard determinist who made a thought experiment: imagine a demon that knows the position and every possible
variable about every atom in the universe. And this demon knows the laws of Physics completely. Then would this demon
not be able to compute the future with certainty? Laplace answers in the affirmative.
                            Now there are different kinds of deterministic philosophies based on the root of the deterministic
laws: The determinism may be based on logic- if x was true earlier so y should be true later. This is called
logical determinism. Or there may be theological determinism: God decides what will happen at all times so there
is determinism caused by the all powerful, all knowing God.
 
Metaphysical Libertarianism: Now lets’ look at the completely opposite view : determinism is false and free will
exists. These theories are also of various kinds. Take for example, the dualistic viewpoint that there is a soul
and there is a body. The body is  ruled by laws of physics externally but the decisions and thought take place
in the soul which is not subject to the laws of Physics. So the dualists are metaphysical libertarinimists who
believe that the soul is the root of free will. This is one viewpoint under Metaphysical Libertarianism. How about
if I were to show that Laws of Physics themselves are not completely deterministic. Then would we not have shown
that there is free will and not even need a soul to justify it. We will study this theory on Monday( day III of the free
will week).
 
Both the above positions, Metaphysical Libertarianism and Hard Determinism, say that if determinism is true
then free will is not and vice versa. So both these above positions consider free will and determinism as
incompatible with each other. Therefore they are both considered as incompatibilism philosophies.
 
There are philosophies that consider free will and determinism as compatible with each other- both can exist
at the same time. These philosophies are known as compatibilism philosophies.         
 
A compatabilist focuses on a slightly different definition of free will. For them free will is defined whether you were
forced by some other person to make a choice or if you did it on your own. So you decide to go and see a movie
and for a compatibilist, that is enough to say that “free will exists” because you did not choose to see the movie
under force from someone else. So a compatibilist will ask you, “could you have chosen differently if you were in a
different mood?”. And if the answer is yes, then he would say that you have a free will. The compatibilist does not
deny that your mood may be from a chain of past events but if they are your own chain of events then your mind
has decided for you and that is free will. This definition of free will is closest to the moral sense that we all have.
We punish people who do something immoral or illegal and we reward the people who are virtuous because most
( if not all) of us believe that the person made the choice himself.
 
So, as you can see, there are a lot of different philosophical opinions on the fundamental question of free will.
On Monday we will talk about the free will theorem. To end the VERITAS I will quote the philosopher, Arthur
Schopenhauer in his essay, “On the freedom of will” :
 
“You can do what you will, but in any given moment of your life you can will only one definite thing and
absolutely nothing other than that one thing”
 
regards
Kanwar
 
                        
 
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Go wondrous creature, mount where science guides
go measure earth, weigh air, state the tides,
instruct the planets in what orbs to run
correct old time, regulate the sun
======================================================================

Creative Commons License
Veritas by Kanwarpreet Grewal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Free Will Week

Friends,

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This is the first article in a series of articles that will be posted during the next one week. The theme
topic for the week is Free Will. Here are the topics that will be covered:

1) Thu, 22nd, week kickoff + resending a VERITAS mail on free will that I sent a long time back( 20 Jan, 2004)
2) Friday, 23 April: Review of different philosophical theories and notions on free will
3) Monday, 26th April: Free Will and Physics- the free will theorem
4) Tuesday: 27th April: Free Will and Morals- includes an experiment in psychology
5) Wednesday: 28th April: Free Will and brain signal activation measurement- Libet’s experiment
6) Thursday, 29th April: have not thought about anything yet. Will think about something soon.

So Today I will just resend the VERITAS that I had posted a long time in VERITAS regarding free will
and determinism. This will help you understand the fundamental question before we start going into the
topic deeper from tomorrow.

Your comments and questions are welcome and some of them will be posted each day during the
week.

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Go wondrous creature, mount where science guides
go measure earth, weigh air, state the tides,
instruct the planets in what orbs to run
correct old time, regulate the sun
======================================================================