fredag 20 maj 2011

Free Will and Finite Precision Computation 5

  • The free will that humans enjoy is similar to that exercised by animals as simple as flies.
  • Animals always have a range of options available to them...perceived as conscious decisions.
  • The idea tackles one of history's great philosophical debates.
  • What has been long established is that "deterministic behaviour" - the idea that an animal poked in just such a way will react with the same response every time - is not a complete description of behaviour.
  • Even the simple animals are not the predictable automatons that they are often portrayed to be.
  • However, the absence of determinism does not suggest completely random behaviour either.
  • Experiments has shown that although animal behaviour can be unpredictable, responses do seem to come from a fixed list of options.
  • Free will is not that lofty metaphysical thing that it was until the 1970s or so.
  • It is a biological property, a trait; the brain possesses the freedom to generate behaviours and options on its own.
  • The exact mechanism by which brains - from those of flies up to humans - do that generation remains a matter for experiments to more fully prove.
  • There is no way the conscious mind, the refuge of the soul, could influence the brain without leaving tell-tale signs; physics does not permit such ghostly interactions.
  • Brembs and others have used mathematical models to simulate brain activity on a computer, finding that what worked best was a combination of deterministic behaviour and what is known as stochastic behaviour - which may look random but actually, in time, follows a defined set of probabilities.
  • Tethered fruit flies proved their choices to be neither deterministic nor random.
  • The strong, Cartesian version of free will—the belief that if you were placed in exactly the same circumstances again, you could have acted otherwise—is difficult to reconcile with natural laws.
  • There is no way the conscious mind, the refuge of the soul, could influence the brain without leaving tell-tale signs. Physics does not permit such ghostly interactions.
In short, free will seems to be expressed through a combination of goal-oriented determinism (as concerns big things) and indeterminism (as concerns little things), with a clear connection to finite precision computation.

It seems that the discussion has passed from sterile metaphysics into a more constructive analysis of finite precision computing minds...

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