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The Theory of Free Will
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xcriteria Offline

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Post: #17
The Theory of Free Will

I'm going to try to jump into this and see what I can do. Follow along if you so desire.

Here's my take: Free will isn't automatic, nor is it all-or-nothing. Conscious experience in general is generated by the brain. However, as people become more conscious of thought processes themselves, it's possible to become more intentional and exert more conscious control over how one's brain operates and what moves one makes.

There are terms for that increased consciousness -- metacognition, meta-attention, meta-analysis.

Here's a short video from Dan Siegel that hits on people's ability to change, including the impact of cultural evolution (like media, storytelling, theories, worldviews), and conscious intention on how history proceeds:

Watch on YouTube

Now, think about free will from two angles. One way in which we're not free -- we're at least partially dependent on factors outside ego-awareness, is the mind's subconscious processing. As some of those neuroscience experiments have shown, sometimes what seems like "your" choice is actually pre-computed by subconscious neural circuits. That doesn't mean it wasn't your choice, but it does mean that in order to change the choices coming from that part of you, you must learn how they work and get to know your mind and its tendencies.

Then, you have the potential to nudge things or take other steps to override particular circuits.

With that, it's important to keep in mind that the brain is made of a variety of circuits and networks -- not just one. Sometimes one network is basically in control, but sometimes there's conflict between them, and you can nudge things one way or another. It's possible to consciously choose, at times, to active dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and think logically and analytically, while at other times, it's possible to let the more primitive subconscious circuits to take over. Is this always totally conscious or under the control of free will? No. But with practice, it can become more so.

The other major way your mind and reactions can be impacted by forces outside of ego-awareness is the external world. Even reading words can cause semantic priming and impact what neurons get fired. When you look at people, images, words, or listen to things, or feel things, your nervous system is affected by those stimuli -- neurons fire.

You can see this most directly in reflexes. Some things like yawning or laughter can be contagious. You can also look at neuroimaging studies that show how particular brain regions tend to respond to certain types of stimuli. For example, there are particular regions that respond to faces, others light up when moral problems are considered.

This question of how people are influenced by external stimuli takes on a new level of significance when it comes to media, education, and things like cultural rituals. Even more so when it comes to deciding how these things should be designed. This ties back to Dan Siegel's point about cultural evolution. Over time, at least some forms of storytelling has become more sophisticated. And, people can be impacted by the stories they hear. Stories are how our worldviews are formed and they're a key how we can share our views with others.

However, even with stories, it's possible to become more conscious in how we interpret them. That's one reason I link to tvtropes a lot. As they put it,

Analyzing a medium in depth and pulling it apart by the seams teaches you to watch things critically — analyzing every aspect and codifying them inside your mind.

Most tropers, academics, directors or writers who do this start to find new ways to enjoy media. The subtle blends of plots, the new spins on old stories. The rare and welcome times where a plot you weren't expecting appears. But it is never the same.

That same principle applies not just to tropes, but all kinds of new ways to interpret things, from Myers-Briggs to an understanding that learning can take in all kinds of circumstances, not just in a classroom and not just as a little kid.

Why bother thinking about this at all?

In many ways, the idea that we do have some choices in our lives that can impact the future makes life more complicated. It can lead to difficult moral feelings and cognitive dissonance when it comes to deciding what makes sense to do, what's okay to do, and so forth. However, the opposite is often true -- the idea that one has no choice at all can be disturbing.

To some degree, it depends on the person. Some people prefer that things are one way or the other, but the reality is that, to at least some extent, free will or conscious choice is a cognitive ability that can be developed.

What about impact the future in any meaningful way?

Fate, destiny, choosing one's path. Even if you accept that you can learn to be more conscious, make better decisions, and all that, what does that have to do with the significant moments in life, and how your life plays out as a whole?

That's an even bigger question. One way to think about your beliefs in more than a black-and-white manner is to consider tvtrope's Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate: How much free will do characters really have?

The relationship between free will and fate is not necessarily constant. It can vary between stories and even inside those stories, although how much this is actual change and how much it is simply the revelation of the true nature of Fate also differs.

That applies not just in stories, but in real situations. At times, one's own mental free will can be nearly zero, while at times, one's physical free will can be nearly zero (for example, if you're chained to a wall.) Other times, I think most people have experience of having a conscious choice sooner or later, as in Two Roads Before You.

That choice (or question) can be illustrated by the thread You can't change anything. Wes concludes, "So try to live your life the best you can and get through your daily troubles. It's easier that way. Lashing out against a wall is useless." That sounds like it makes sense. But maybe there's another way, called improving learning and learning something useful.

So, which road to take? Dig deeper into these questions, or go about thinking what you already thought? Smile

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05-28-2013 01:31 PM
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Messages In This Thread
The Theory of Free Will - awevsdv - 04-12-2013, 11:22 AM
The Theory of Free Will - thewake - 04-12-2013, 01:18 PM
RE: The Theory of Free Will - TheCancer - 04-12-2013, 08:44 PM
RE: The Theory of Free Will - awevsdv - 04-14-2013, 03:54 AM
RE: The Theory of Free Will - brainiac3397 - 04-12-2013, 09:56 PM
The Theory of Free Will - SoulRiser - 04-15-2013, 12:13 AM
RE: The Theory of Free Will - Sunbourn - 04-15-2013, 02:21 AM
RE: The Theory of Free Will - TheCancer - 04-15-2013, 08:20 AM
The Theory of Free Will - brainiac3397 - 04-15-2013, 12:29 AM
The Theory of Free Will - SoulRiser - 04-15-2013, 06:55 AM
The Theory of Free Will - Potato - 04-15-2013, 07:03 AM
RE: The Theory of Free Will - awevsdv - 04-15-2013, 12:15 PM
RE: The Theory of Free Will - Sunbourn - 04-15-2013, 11:05 PM
The Theory of Free Will - Potato - 04-15-2013, 07:30 AM
The Theory of Free Will - SoulRiser - 04-16-2013, 05:10 AM
The Theory of Free Will - brainiac3397 - 04-16-2013, 06:41 AM
The Theory of Free Will - xcriteria - 05-28-2013 01:31 PM

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