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Do humans ever make spontaneous decisions in its true meaning?

Or our decisions, including the ones made spontaneously, the product of our previous experiences, thoughts and subconscious evaluations.

In other words, is there ever such a thing as un-predetermined decision making?

For example, when we go shopping for clothes and buy ice cream too, does that mean we had a prior intention of buying an ice cream somewhere in the deep parts of our brain?

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    This is called the problem of free will and we already have many threads about it, e.g. How does Quantum Mechanics affect the modern account of free will and determinism? Does having free will presuppose consciousness, can philosophical zombies have it? – Conifold Oct 20 '16 at 17:51
  • The last sentence is non sequitur. Not all acts are intentional, most are reactive. Even in the totally determined case, you don't need to have the previous intention to buy ice cream, you only need to have the possibility for the actions of others or environmental cues to prime the wish to buy ice cream. Even if others' actions and the states of the environment are all predetermined, you don't know them. – user9166 Nov 19 '16 at 18:01
  • I think this is too complicated question to be answered. There are different parts to decisions: subjective (what you want), intersubjective (what others want), resources (what resources you have), goals, ... Spontaneity is possibly an element of all decisions, but it's not all of it. Similarly, possibly everything else is also "an element of", but not the entirety. Further, one can lie about one's intentions. E.g. say that "my spontaneous decision was not spontaneous" or "my informed decision was a guess". Perhaps the point is therefore not "the form", but intention and outcome. – mavavilj Jan 5 at 17:12
  • I think the philosophical zombie argument is also pointless in every day matters. It suffices for e.g. philosophy of AI, but for "real humans", does it make much of a difference? I therefore think the question is "not useful". – mavavilj Jan 5 at 17:15
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If you are of the sort who thinks that quantum indeterminacy plays an important role in brain activity, and percolates up to influence our decisions, then yes. Today I choose chocolate over vanilla since a quantum fluctuation that pushes me that way, but could have just as easily pushed me the other way. If this were true, then we'd have truly un-determined decision making since, as far as we can tell, quantum processes involve intrinsic randomness.

But you don't need rest on such speculative claims in order to get there. The apparent conflict is between apparently deterministic "choices" -- I choose chocolate because I had vanilla yesterday, and am in a change things up kind of mood -- and apparently un-caused choices -- You're getting up to the counter with no clear decision in mind, but maybe, just below the level of conscious awareness you know that the last time you had chocolate it was really good, and the last time you had vanilla you were not satisfied, plus vanilla is bor... a whiff of vanilla infused perfume "Vanilla!".

Are the outcomes of dice rolls un-determined? maybe not in some intrinsic metaphysical sense, but they are in the day-to-day sense. I'm arguing the same for decisions: in terms of understandable, high level descriptions some decisions are un-determined. This high level indeterminancy can arise whether or not the underlying details are intrinsically deterministic or are indeterminant (QM, non-deterministic dualist theories). And it is exactly this high level description of how someone acts vis a vis identifiable causal forces that we care about when assessing the degree to which an agent is considered to have made a decision. This conclusion aligns with D. Dennett's idea of "the kind of free will worth wanting".

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I would say no to the main question. This would be for the reasons you give, that our choices are conditioned. Thus Gurdjieff describes most human beings as robots. For the mystic spontaneity would only be possible once the ego has been annihilated, since this would be the only way to overcome the straight-jacket of our false beliefs and conditioning. In turn, this annihilation would re

“I asked G. what a man had to do to assimilate this teaching. “What to do?” asked G. as though surprised. “It is impossible to do anything. A man must first of all understand certain things. He has thousands of false ideas and false conceptions, chiefly about himself, and he must get rid of some of them before beginning to acquire anything new. Otherwise the new will be built on a wrong foundation and the result will be worse than before.” ““How can one get rid of false ideas?” I asked. “We depend on the form of our perceptions. False ideas are produced by the forms of our perception.” G shook his head. “Again you speak of something different,” he said. “You speak of errors arising from perceptions but I am not speaking of these. Within the limits of given perceptions man can err more or err less. As I have said before, man’s chief delusion is his conviction that he can do. All people think that they can do, and the first question all people ask is what they are to do. But actually nobody does anything and nobody can do anything. This is the first thing that must be understood. Everything happens. All that befalls a man, all that is done by him, all that comes from him - all this happens. And it happens in exactly the same way as rain falls as a result of a change in the temperature in the higher regions of the atmosphere or the surrounding clouds, as snow melts under the rays of the sun, as dust rises with the wind. Everyone finds that nothing is being done in the way it ought to be done. Actually everything is being done in the only way that it can be done. If one thing could be different everything could be different. … Try to understand what I am saying. Everything is dependent on everything else, everything is connected, nothing is separate. Therefore everything is going in the only way it can go. If people were different everything would be different. They are what they are, so everything is as it is.” This was very difficult to swallow. “Is there nothing, absolutely nothing, that can be done?” I asked. “Absolutely nothing”. “And can nobody do anything?” “That is another question. In order to do it is necessary to be. And it is necessary first to understand what to be means.”

P.D.Ouspensky Conversation with Gurdjieff In Search of the Miraculous - Fragments of an Unknown Teaching (1949) Penguin Arkana, London (p 20)

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I would answer no to the main question. This would be for the reasons you give, that our choices are conditioned.

Thus Gurdjieff describes most human beings as robots. For the mystic spontaneity would only be possible once the ego has been annihilated, since this would be the only way to overcome the straight-jacket of our false beliefs and conditioning. There is a lot of literature on this topic. Here is Gurdjieff presenting the communal view of the mystics.

“I asked G. what a man had to do to assimilate this teaching.

“What to do?” asked G. as though surprised. “It is impossible to do anything. A man must first of all understand certain things. He has thousands of false ideas and false conceptions, chiefly about himself, and he must get rid of some of them before beginning to acquire anything new. Otherwise the new will be built on a wrong foundation and the result will be worse than before.”

““How can one get rid of false ideas?” I asked. “We depend on the form of our perceptions. False ideas are produced by the forms of our perception.” G shook his head.

“Again you speak of something different,” he said. “You speak of errors arising from perceptions but I am not speaking of these. Within the limits of given perceptions man can err more or err less. As I have said before, man’s chief delusion is his conviction that he can do. All people think that they can do, and the first question all people ask is what they are to do. But actually nobody does anything and nobody can do anything. This is the first thing that must be understood. Everything happens. All that befalls a man, all that is done by him, all that comes from him - all this happens. And it happens in exactly the same way as rain falls as a result of a change in the temperature in the higher regions of the atmosphere or the surrounding clouds, as snow melts under the rays of the sun, as dust rises with the wind.

Everyone finds that nothing is being done in the way it ought to be done. Actually everything is being done in the only way that it can be done. If one thing could be different everything could be different. … Try to understand what I am saying. Everything is dependent on everything else, everything is connected, nothing is separate. Therefore everything is going in the only way it can go. If people were different everything would be different. They are what they are, so everything is as it is.”

This was very difficult to swallow. “Is there nothing, absolutely nothing, that can be done?” I asked.

“Absolutely nothing”.

“And can nobody do anything?”

“That is another question. In order to do it is necessary to be. And it is necessary first to understand what to be means.”

P.D.Ouspensky Conversation with Gurdjieff In Search of the Miraculous - Fragments of an Unknown Teaching (1949) Penguin Arkana, London (p 20)

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'Spontaneous' is a problematic word, here. It is not adequately defined in the question, and is too easily redefined to fit the user's preconceptions. But be that as it may...

We all have experiences, and we commit these experiences to memory along with any emotional or intellectual valuations that might be associated with them. If I have had ice cream before — or even heard about it favorably — then somewhere lurking in my brain is the concept "Ice cream good!." This does not mean that every time I walk out the door I have an unconscious plan to find and consume ice cream. It merely means that if (somehow) my thoughts trip across that concept, the urge to get some ice cream might arise. If I'm walking down the street and see an ice cream shop, "Ice cream good!" might pop up in my head (triggered by seeing the shop), and I may (or may not) go buy some. That is certainly spontaneous in the sense that I had no intention of buying ice cream until I saw that shop; it is certainly spontaneous in the sense that (in that moment) I choose to buy some or choose not to buy some. But of course the potential to want ice cream was buried in my brain long before I went out on that walk, which is not (in a different sense of the word) spontaneous at all.

Define the term better if you want a more definitive response.

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