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Action Axiom, Free Will, and Physics

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Jackson LaRose Posted: Fri, Nov 4 2011 11:57 AM

Is the action axiom merely physics applied to humans?  Can there be truly "free will" vis a vis physics?

"What Stirner says is a word, a thought, a concept; what he means is no word, no thought, no concept. What he says is not what is meant, and what he means is unsayable." - Max Stirner, Stirner's Critics
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Malachi replied on Fri, Nov 4 2011 12:15 PM
Please provide me with a working definition of free will so I can answer your question.
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It really depends on the nature and mechanism of human thought and conciousness.  I assume, Jackson, you're referencing the fact that the human brain influences, creates, or is the human mind, and since the brain is a biological structure that exists in the physical world, then the human mind is the product of physical laws?  Therefore, if the human mind is determined by physical laws, then "free will" is an illusion and our actions and thoughts are also determined by the physical laws?

If that's the question, then I'm not sure how the action axiom relates to your question.  Determinism or free will have little to do with it.  The axiom merely states that humans form goals in thier mind and act to achieve them.  Whether the mind has free will or not is no matter.

As a side point, I've always found arguement for determinism kind of moot.  If we're merely automatons (albiet very complex ones), then there is no point to inquiry or achievement.  You might as well believe in free will by default.  Personally I think the view that our fates are determined by rigid physical formula is a leap of logic at this stage.  We don't know enough about physics at the sub-atomic level, nor do we know the mechanism that creates conciousness.  Without that information, it's all just speculation.

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Free will - Unrestricted ability to express one's desire.

"What Stirner says is a word, a thought, a concept; what he means is no word, no thought, no concept. What he says is not what is meant, and what he means is unsayable." - Max Stirner, Stirner's Critics
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LogisticEarth,

We are on the same page, more or less.  I wouldn't say that I'm a determinist, but I do think that the laws of physics act as sort of a "speed limit".  Any of our desires beyond which are, in effect, "unachieveable".  In other words, I can't "will myself" to defy gravity.

Also, you are right.  The OP is about two different topics.  They were both physics related, so I figured I'd mash them together.

"What Stirner says is a word, a thought, a concept; what he means is no word, no thought, no concept. What he says is not what is meant, and what he means is unsayable." - Max Stirner, Stirner's Critics
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Jackson LaRose:
Free will - Unrestricted ability to express one's desire.

Do you mean that in a positive or a negative sense? Or both?

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I'm not sure.  What's the difference?

"What Stirner says is a word, a thought, a concept; what he means is no word, no thought, no concept. What he says is not what is meant, and what he means is unsayable." - Max Stirner, Stirner's Critics
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If we're merely automatons (albiet very complex ones), then there is no point to inquiry or achievement

Here's what I come to conclude (as a determinist myself): When people say "if we have no free will then no law is moral because of predestination, why not just go out and kill people?" they make the inherent presumption that they can decide to instead go out and kill people, inherently rejecting determinism and allowing for ethics, and hence not killing people.

If someone says that punishment is immoral in a deterministic universe, I counter that punishment is inevitable (we were, after all, made to punish the lawbreaker).

With this duality in mind (no responsibility but still punishment) I've come to conclude that though determinism is fact, we "should" act as if we have free will. It's a duality that is pretty useful (though it might break down when examining criminal trials through a libertarian deterministic lens, but those are details that don't really affect us).

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Malachi replied on Fri, Nov 4 2011 4:58 PM
Jackson LaRose:

Free will - Unrestricted ability to express one's desire.

Well if I observe a restriction on one's ability to express a desire, will that eliminate "free will" from your question? Because this medium restricts my ability to express my desire for more cowbell. Typing it out just doesnt have the same impact, and so the audience doesnt see how intense I am when I needs more cowbell. Other than that, I am not sure how to interpret your statement. Surely you didnt mean "unrestricted ability to achieve one's desire" or "unrestricted ability to pursue one's desire."

also, I dont see how this is relevant to the action axiom.

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Malachi replied on Fri, Nov 4 2011 5:09 PM
Wheylous:

If we're merely automatons (albiet very complex ones), then there is no point to inquiry or achievement

Here's what I come to conclude (as a determinist myself): When people say "if we have no free will then no law is moral because of predestination, why not just go out and kill people?" they make the inherent presumption that they can decide to instead go out and kill people, inherently rejecting determinism and allowing for ethics, and hence not killing people.

If someone says that punishment is immoral in a deterministic universe, I counter that punishment is inevitable (we were, after all, made to punish the lawbreaker).

With this duality in mind (no responsibility but still punishment) I've come to conclude that though determinism is fact, we "should" act as if we have free will. It's a duality that is pretty useful (though it might break down when examining criminal trials through a libertarian deterministic lens, but those are details that don't really affect us).

"no law is moral because of predestination"

this begs the question. Why would predestination affect morality? The speaker requires you to accept a version of morals that requires "free will." ask them to explain why "no law is moral because of predestination" and watch them disintegrate.

If someone says that punishment is immoral in a deterministic universe, ask them who is responsible for the immorality. By what standard is it immoral, and from whence did this standard originate? Could we also say that suffering of any kind is immoral in a deterministic universe? Could not we also say that chemical reactions that turn water in hydrogen and oxygen are immoral?

I am also curious as to how someone "acts" like he has free will. Does he make random decisions for no reason?

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That's my argument: in a deterministic universe even the punishment would be a-moral (because they were destined to punish the guy), and hence we cannot say "determinism ergo chaos."

About acting as if you have free will: I'm saying "don't suddenly jump out of your seat and go rob a bank and claim that's deterministic." Instead, pretend you have free will (of course, the pretending itself is deterministic, but w/e.)

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Malachi replied on Fri, Nov 4 2011 5:29 PM
So why single out punishment? Why not postulate "all deterministic universes are necessarily amoral"? Because that is easy to challenge. In fact, my original question still stands. "punishment in deterministworld is immoral" according to whom? How is it immoral? In deterministworld, what would be moral, so I can compare this immoral act to it?

how do I "pretend" to have free will? What does it entail? How does a person with free will behave differently from someone who does not?

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  • Here's what I come to conclude (as a determinist myself): When people say "if we have no free will then no law is moral because of predestination, why not just go out and kill people?" they make the inherent presumption that they can decide to instead go out and kill people, inherently rejecting determinism and allowing for ethics, and hence not killing people.

To clarify, I'm talking about inquiry into determination, not necessarily morality.  You basically have to operate as a creature with free will.  I garuntee you deliberate and make decisions in your day to day life, the outcome may be predetermined, but you'll never know and it makes no difference in human affairs.

Point being, if you know your life is completely determined along it's path based on physical laws set into motion at the creation of the universe, it does you no good and is of no use to you.  You might as well forget that you even had that knowledge, because, by definition, it makes no difference.

As for morality though, a determinisitic universe would be valueless and the idea of "morals" among humans would be absurd.  It would be like saying that it was "immoral" for rushing water to push away a ripple of sand.  You don't kill that man because that's what you're determined to do, you do steal that purse because that's what your determined to do.  You personally may form the idea of morality in your mind, but it makes zero impact on the universe.  Just like a rain drop has to fall from the sky.

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Malachi replied on Fri, Nov 4 2011 5:42 PM
How is deliberation and decision-making supposedly incompatible with determinism?

"As for morality though, a determinisitic universe would be valueless and the idea of "morals" among humans would be absurd."

how so? Do you suggest that our current universe is something other than deterministic? How is a deterministic universe supposed to be valueless?

"It would be like saying that it was "immoral" for rushing water to push away a ripple of sand.  You don't kill that man because that's what you're determined to do, you do steal that purse because that's what your determined to do.  You personally may form the idea of morality in your mind, but it makes zero impact on the universe.  Just like a rain drop has to fall from the sky."

mental ideas have considerable impact on the universe at large. Think about it.

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You might as well forget that you even had that knowledge, because, by definition, it makes no difference.

Yes, my point exactly.

mental ideas have considerable impact on the universe at large

As do gears grinding in a clock. That doesn't detract from the fact that both are deterministic.

 

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Malachi replied on Fri, Nov 4 2011 6:19 PM
How, exactly, do you reconcile those two affirmations? You basically just said that the gears in a clock affect how a clock runs, and it doesnt matter if you have worm gears in the clock because it would run exactly the same without worm gearing.
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Ultimately, you know that clocks tell time. Whether they do so because an angel comes down with an invisible hand (pun not intended) and turns the hands or there are gears which do this, it doesn't really matter (as long as we have no contact with said angel and we cannot open the clock to see whether there are gears).

We can take the conclusions outside of this black box (man acts) and work from there.

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Free will - Unrestricted ability to express one's desire.

I would say the action axiom would say something like it is impossible not to do such a thing - and than describe how what is presented in the world "is what is" and inescapable.  In other words, if that is Free Will, it does something like a dilectic on it and just puts it in a deterministic language- saying every "fact" presented is uncalcuable and "all and all unto itself" and can not be spoken of as more or less than any other fact

Also:

In the way some other people use "free will" - the Austrian use of the word "choice" is no different than a biologist saying the Jackyle chooses a mate - or an Oxygen atom desires to fill it's outer shell.

If I say the distance is 1.1 yard or 1 meter - it's the same picture.  Glass half full or half empty it doesn't matter if you get the picture.

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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Malachi replied on Fri, Nov 4 2011 7:32 PM
Man acts with purpose. Morals are relevant to the phenomenon of human action, even if you personally consider them mythological. I fear we are more or less in agreement, but arguing over some definitions. This is because "free will vs determinism" is a totally false dichotomy. Humans make choices according to their estimate of their own best profit. Humans are analogous to extremely complex, self-programming computers. Humans have complete freedom to choose what they want, and so they are bound to choose exactly what they want from the known available options. None of this negates causation, and none of this permits the conciousness to exist as a captive observer, aware of moral decisions but totally unable to act contrary to the particles that make up his brain.

I was really hoping you would resolve the apparent contradiction in a specific way, however. Alas, perhaps another time.

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Malachai,

I would say that "unrestricted ability to achieve one's desire" is more accurate than "express". It isn't really relevant to the action axiom.  They were both physics related, so I mashed them together.

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AJ replied on Sun, Nov 6 2011 5:42 AM

Jackson, you're basically defining free will as godlike power?

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In so many words.  Completely free will would probably manifest as some sort of omnipotence.

P.S.  Ive gotten a couple questions how the free will issue is relevant to Praxeology. It's not meant to be.  Both of the topics were being related to physics in the OP.  Here's the thread that started Praxeology into it.

"What Stirner says is a word, a thought, a concept; what he means is no word, no thought, no concept. What he says is not what is meant, and what he means is unsayable." - Max Stirner, Stirner's Critics
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Malachi replied on Sun, Nov 6 2011 10:43 AM
Given that definition of free will, and Mises statement (paraphrasing) that if the future was certain, humans would be like robots, always making the best possible decision to maximize psychic profit. I think we can then objectively characterize the "I" as a type of probability calculator. This falls in line with the subjective perception of "making choices" and "deciding what you want." when people "decide what they want" they perform mental utility calculations. When people make snap decisions, it is either a time-economy maximizing decision or the decision is obvious, or perhaps they dont believe they have meaningful data and so act to acquire data.
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Groucho replied on Sun, Nov 6 2011 12:11 PM

Nevermind crime and punishment - what about simply surviving? If you feel hunger, you seek out food. If you have an injury, you apply first aid. You must react to the events in your environment or perish.

"Free will" may perhaps be an illusion, but it is, I believe, a very necessary one.

An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup. -H.L. Mencken
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Autolykos replied on Sun, Nov 6 2011 12:29 PM

Jackson LaRose:
I'm not sure [whether I mean "unrestricted ability to express one's desire" in a positive or a negative sense, or both]. What's the difference?

Sorry for taking so long to reply to this.

Thinking about it some more, I'd say the difference is actually one of absolute vs. relative ability. For example, let's say a person desires to fly. Gravity would seem to impose a restriction on his ability to express this particular desire of his, right? He can't fly by simply flapping his arms up and down or by simply thinking happy thoughts. Indeed, it would seem that if there exists at least one possible desire that can't be expressed without restriction, it would seem that "unrestricted ability to express one's desire" is therefore lacking in an absolute sense. Since this seems trivially true in the real world, I consider the term to have meaning only in an abstract, theoretical sense.

Now let's say our hypothetical person's arms have been weighed down by someone else so that he can't lift them. As a result, he can't even try flapping his arms (although he can still think happy thoughts). Presumably he could flap his arms if they hadn't been weighted down by someone else. So we could say that here he's restricted by that other person. The other person has essentially gotten in his way - and intentionally at that. Obviously we can look at the real world and see whether a person is (intentionally) in our way. "Unrestricted ability to express one's desire" would then be fulfilled by an absence of that.

When you get right down to it, I think "positive" vs. "negative" in this context refers in large part to presence vs. absence. That's not the whole picture though. There's also a change of context - presence of absolute ability vs. absence of relative restriction. Do you see the difference?

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Autolykos,

I do see the difference.  Presence of absolute ability would be free will in my opinion.

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Autolykos replied on Sun, Nov 6 2011 12:34 PM

Malachi:
So why single out punishment? Why not postulate "all deterministic universes are necessarily amoral"? Because that is easy to challenge. In fact, my original question still stands. "punishment in deterministworld is immoral" according to whom? How is it immoral? In deterministworld, what would be moral, so I can compare this immoral act to it?

Morality is not an inherent feature to the universe per se. It exists only within our minds.

Malachi:
how do I "pretend" to have free will? What does it entail? How does a person with free will behave differently from someone who does not?

I consider the notion of "free will" to entail the inability to know or figure out exactly what another person (or even oneself!) will do at any given point in the future.

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Malachi replied on Sun, Nov 6 2011 12:52 PM
Morality is not an inherent feature to the universe per se. It exists only within our minds.
I dont agree. I believe that morality is adherence to a divinely imposed standard of behavior that has inescapable consequences. I also posit the real, meaningful existence of the spirit world and the phenomenon of human reincarnation, so I dont know how seriously you will take my beliefs. I would like to point out that if you claim that morality should disappear if no humans were alive, I could just as easily say that the physical laws that govern the behavior of electrons would disappear if there were no electrons. As long as a human besides myself exists, morality can be said, for me, to exist objectively in my universe because it is outside of me. Assuming that human has a moral sense, which I believe is inherent in humans and inescapable. I dont believe I have ever encountered a true amoralist.
I consider the notion of "free will" to entail the inability to know or figure out exactly what another person (or even oneself!) will do at any given point in the future.
the future is uncertain so I would strike "know" from your definition. In a strictly philosophical sense, one can only estimate the future. As for the ability to make accurate predictions about human behavior, I believe that "free will" by your definition exists in greater and lesser degrees for everyone I have met.
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Malachi:
Morality is not an inherent feature to the universe per se. It exists only within our minds.

I dont agree. I believe that morality is adherence to a divinely imposed standard of behavior that has inescapable consequences. I also posit the real, meaningful existence of the spirit world and the phenomenon of human reincarnation, so I dont know how seriously you will take my beliefs.

Since you define "morality" differently from how I do, there's nothing else to say here. We simply don't agree.

Malachi:
I wold like to point out that if you claim that morality should disappear if no humans were alive, I could just as easily say that the physical laws that govern the behavior of electrons would disappear if there were no electrons. As long as a human besides myself exists, morality can be sad, for me, to exist objectively in my universe because it is outside of me.

With all due respect, I think that's comparing apples to oranges. Morality per se isn't a physical force. The only way in which it's a physical phenomenon at all is in being encoded by neuron connections within our brains - hence why I said it exists only within our minds. Even then, however, to say that "morality exists objectively" seems to invite the question "Which morality?"

Malachi:
I consider the notion of "free will" to entail the inability to know or figure out exactly what another person (or even oneself!) will do at any given point in the future.

the future is uncertain so I wold strike "know" from your definition. In a strictly philosophical sense, one can only estimate the future. As for the ability to make accurate predictions about human behavior, I believe that "free will" by your definition exists in greater and lesser degrees for everyone I have met.

Actually, the inherent uncertainty of the future is the basis for my notion of "free will". If we could calculate the future position of a particle with the utmost precision, would you agree that we would then "know" that future position? However, it seems that the ability to "know" this would require already "knowing" the entire universe at the current instant. At best, the requirements for such "knowledge" are staggering - for human beings.

I think you're saying the same thing as I am when you say "[i]n a strictly philosophical sense, one can only estimate the future". You're just saying it in a different way. But treating the notion of "knowledge" in an absolute sense - either one has it or he doesn't - would mean that the future is unknowable. It also means that one never knows another's experiences. Estimating another's future actions, or even one's own, necessarily entails a non-zero probability of the estimate being incorrect. That, in a nutshell, is what I call "free will".

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Jackson LaRose:
Autolykos,

I do see the difference.  Presence of absolute ability would be free will in my opinion.

Okay, then no one can ever be said to have what you call "free will", and the concept is meaningless for any discourse involving the real world.

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Malachi replied on Sun, Nov 6 2011 1:21 PM
With all due respect, I think that's comparing apples to oranges. Morality per se isn't a physical force. The only way in which it's a physical phenomenon at all is in being encoded by neuron connections within our brains - hence why I said it exists only within our minds. Even then, however, to say that "morality exists objectively" seems to invite the question "Which morality?"
I believe that a similar statement could be made regarding the laws of physics. The only way that they exist at all is as a set of generalized observations encoded by neuron connections within our brains. Calling lemon juice "acidic" is just like calling theft "wrong" in that both require reference to a theory that rests upon a priori assumptions. As for your definition of "free will", given your qualified definition of "know" I have no objections.
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Autolykos:
Okay, then no one can ever be said to have what you call "free will"

You don't know that.  Lucid dreaming.

Autolykos:
and the concept is meaningless for any discourse involving the real world.

I don't know what the "real world" is.

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Jackson LaRose:
Autolykos:
Okay, then no one can ever be said to have what you call "free will"

You don't know that.  Lucid dreaming.

Moving the goalposts much?

Jackson LaRose:
Autolykos:
and the concept is meaningless for any discourse involving the real world.

I don't know what the "real world" is.

Then why did you start this thread?

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Malachi:
I believe that a similar statement could be made regarding the laws of physics. The only way that they exist at all is as a set of generalized observations encoded by neuron connections within our brains. Calling lemon juice "acidic" is just like calling theft "wrong" in that both require reference to a theory that rests upon a priori assumptions.

Presumably electrons behave the same no matter what the "circumstances" are. But there exist people who either don't believe that theft is wrong at all or simply don't think it's wrong when they themselves do it. Another way of putting this is that we don't observe morality, but we do observe electrons.

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Malachi replied on Sun, Nov 6 2011 2:55 PM
Actually, the inherent uncertainty of the future is the basis for my notion of "free will". If we could calculate the future position of a particle with the utmost precision, would you agree that we would then "know" that future position? However, it seems that the ability to "know" this would require already "knowing" the entire universe at the current instant. At best, the requirements for such "knowledge" are staggering - for human beings. I think you're saying the same thing as I am when you say "[i]n a strictly philosophical sense, one can only estimate the future". You're just saying it in a different way. But treating the notion of "knowledge" in an absolute sense - either one has it or he doesn't - would mean that the future is unknowable. It also means that one never knows another's experiences. Estimating another's future actions, or even one's own, necessarily entails a non-zero probability of the estimate being incorrect. That, in a nutshell, is what I call "free will".
Readng this a few more times, it seems to be similar to when I define the "I" as a probability calculator.

I am the negotiator between my soul and the rest of the universe. Or replace "ego" for "soul" if you like.

whatever the "trade-off managing factor" is, thats an "I". "Ego" is the one that hurts when you are injured somehow.

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Malachi replied on Sun, Nov 6 2011 3:03 PM
Autolykos:

Malachi:
I believe that a similar statement could be made regarding the laws of physics. The only way that they exist at all is as a set of generalized observations encoded by neuron connections within our brains. Calling lemon juice "acidic" is just like calling theft "wrong" in that both require reference to a theory that rests upon a priori assumptions.

Presumably electrons behave the same no matter what the "circumstances" are. But there exist people who either don't believe that theft is wrong at all or simply don't think it's wrong when they themselves do it. Another way of putting this is that we don't observe morality, but we do observe electrons.

Yes, however we do not observe electrons, strictly speaking. That is my point. And we do observe morality, remember before you "learned" that morality is "subjective" (or whatever your preferred term, not trying to quibble) how people "should" do this and "shouldn't" do that? You observed an inherent sense of right and wrong. The fact that your understanding of what behaviors are fitting for a human to engage in, and which are not, has evolved does not mean the whole idea is wrong. In fact, we can observe that nearly everyone has a sense of right and wrong, although their opinions on what acts are right and wrong are widely divergent. In fact, it is kind of like property rights, where everyone knows they exist, but some people choose to forget. In an agnostic sense, morals are what you teach your children. They arent laws you enforce on your neighbor.
Keep the faith, Strannix. -Casey Ryback, Under Siege (Steven Seagal)
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Autolykos,

How am I moving the goalposts?  Controlling dreams equates to having your entire perceptual history at your fingertips.  It's as close to a God as I could currently get.

Why did I start this thread... no reason, really.

"What Stirner says is a word, a thought, a concept; what he means is no word, no thought, no concept. What he says is not what is meant, and what he means is unsayable." - Max Stirner, Stirner's Critics
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AJ replied on Mon, Nov 7 2011 9:23 AM

If free will = omnipotence, we already have a word for that. I think free will is functionally only viable as a concept applied to other people. Can I predict what you will do if I know enough about your atoms, or is it impossible even in principle. Free will for oneself, on the other hand, is obvious if it just means I can make choices.

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If free will = omnipotence, we already have a word for that. I think free will is functionally only viable as a concept applied to other people. Can I predict what you will do if I know enough about your atoms, or is it impossible even in principle. Free will for oneself, on the other hand, is obvious if it just means I can make choices.

 

I think it may be good to say - any word can be used (glass half full - half empty; 1.1 Meters - 1 Yard, etc) the word itself doesn't matter, what matters is is it neccesary to what is being described in inter subjective communication to paint a picture of obvious reality.  If something is not necessary, it can not be spoken of with any sense.

Not if A than B; but if both A and B - it must be so.

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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AJ replied on Mon, Nov 7 2011 12:03 PM

My thoughts exactly. I basically don't find any use for the term, although I suppose someone could one day define it in a useful way (somehow, perhaps).

I think the idea of "free will" was raised as more of a reaction to the notion of "determinism," which I think is also a mystical notion, along with "objective" and "reality," unless they are defined in a practical way. Practical ways would be "objective: other people agree with me" and "reality: sensations that matter to me over the long term." (But they are almost never defined this way in philosophy.)

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