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I understand that you can't prove that free will does not exist; the old adage is that you can't prove a negative, but has anyone attempted to do a systematic search for proof that free will does exist? I have tried the following:

  • Popular books - Sam Harris, Wilson, Dennett
  • YouTube Videos - Some very good, some very poor
  • Religion - Mormonism, Buddhism, Hinduism, others
  • Science of the Mind - Neurphysology, neural simulators, Blue Brain Project
  • Philosophy - Forums like this one and several books that are accessible to me

Are there other 'places' to look? I am open to suggestions.

I'm trying to make the best-informed decision I am capable of making. I may be completely wrong, but I can also live with that.

https://www.seti.net/reading/FreeWill/FreeWill.php

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  • Reading Spinoza's Ethics will show you a good case against libertarian free will and give you the remedy to nihilism by telling you why it shouldn't worry you.
    – armand
    Oct 6, 2022 at 23:21
  • Free Will White Paper by the Templeton Foudation. Closer to Truth produced an interesting doco on it. Oct 7, 2022 at 10:45
  • I try never to refer to or read anything from the Templeton Foundation. I have found that they pay people to mirror what they want to hear. I have read Spinoza but it's really not close to the question in my mind. The one reference that seems to hit home for me is secular Buddhism reflected in the works of Steven Batchelor.
    – Seti Net
    Oct 7, 2022 at 15:55
  • That's interesting. I think though that if you watch the documentary I linked, a diverse range of perspectives is presented. Oct 7, 2022 at 16:33
  • Well, I attempted to summarize my question and answer it myself but the moderator, for some reason, thought it should be deleted. That's fine with me. A line from Groucho Marks, "I've been thrown out of better places than this," springs to mind. Thanks for your kind attention.
    – Seti Net
    Oct 8, 2022 at 16:03

3 Answers 3

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Free Will is a very good topic for philosophy, because long before being ready for experiments, you must take a stance on and defend, a definition. (deciding what are good topics for philosophy, very much is a good topic for philosophy Is the attempt to separate between Philosophy and Mathematics may be considered as some kind of Philosophy?)

Personally I think there is an implicit dualism, to expecting a divergence between 'will' and material causes, which I'd relate to Descartes influence on the emergence of scientific thought, and lingering influence of Mathematical-Platonism.

I put some general resources together here: Most important modern/contemporary essays on free will

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    I wish I could give +2 for the first sentence.
    – armand
    Oct 6, 2022 at 23:21
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Free will is not a matter of belief or proof. Free will is a matter of definition.

The problem with free will is that there are so many definitions for it. All the debate about whether free will exists is actually debate about the definition. Some define free will as a normal everyday phenomenon. Some define it as an illogical or impossible proposition. They are talking about completely different things under the same label.

Once you have your definition sorted out, there is no more question about whether free will exists or not. If there still is some uncertainty, you have an invalid definition, pick another one.

Never enter a debate about free will before agreeing on the definition or at least declaring yours.

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    Arguing using a particular well articulated definition, but a definition that manifestly fails to capture what people mean by free will, is either to play a pointless abstract game, or to deliberately mislead. As I have found no definitions that fully capture the meaning of libertarian free will, and think this is a common circumstance for many other concepts that matter to us as well, I at least am not a fan of any definitions focussed approach to philosophizing.
    – Dcleve
    Oct 7, 2022 at 5:31
  • Notice that I am not interested in defining free will, only deciding for myself whether it is a fact or a fiction.
    – Seti Net
    Oct 7, 2022 at 5:54
  • BTW I do use a definition for free will it's on the page linked to at the bottom of the original question. That one works for me because I understand it on my own terms.
    – Seti Net
    Oct 7, 2022 at 6:23
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    @Futilitarian I don't understand what a non-free decision would be. Do you mean a decision made by someone else? Oct 7, 2022 at 16:01
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    @SetiNet A causal system like that indeed would not have free will, would not be able to make decisions. But our brains make decisions all the time. How do you explain that? Oct 8, 2022 at 3:37
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Sure, lots of other things you should read. But you have no choice in the matter. You are a product of your genetics and environment, so your choices are predetermined. Doing anything else would be childish (less environment) or mutantish (changed genes, is it even a word?).

In the book The Sirens of Titan one of the "businesses" is a short annecdote about a cognitive scientist. He had a whacky hypothesis. He believed that our creative facility was due to thoughts being beamed into our brain from some outside source. Of course, nobody believed him. But he persisted for decades.

Then, one day, he proved it. He proved that every human has a small almond shaped organ in their brain, in the right frontal lobe, that receives broadcasts from some unknown source. His discovery was hailed as one of the greatest discoveries in history. Human creativity was the result of outside influences received through this receiver circuit.

The scientist began to be showered with honors and awards. And before a ceremony where he was to receive a great award he was dressing in his room on the upper floor of a famous hotel. And, thinking about it, he threw himself out of the window and fell to his death.

For he realized that, if creativity was beamed into his brain, then he deserved no credit for his discovery. So, faced with the waste of his life on a meaningless endeavor, he became despondent and chose to end it.

Chose? Oh...

Anyway, Vonnegut's book has many interesting things to say about free will and determinism.

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  • "Particles of raw inspiration sleet through the universe all the time. Every once in a while one of them hits a receptive mind, which then invents DNA or the flute sonata form or a way of making light bulbs wear out in half the time. But most of them miss. Most people go through their lives without being hit by even one. Some people are even more unfortunate. They get them all.
    – CriglCragl
    Oct 6, 2022 at 22:25
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    He deserved no credit = the endeavour was meaningless ? Its mostly the ravages of his own ego that killed this poor character.
    – armand
    Oct 6, 2022 at 23:18
  • @armand Maybe you share something with the ill fated grinder. After all, what he proved was that he was nothing more than a radio receiver. He proved that his ideas came from somebody else. We don't give major scientific honors to black-and-white televisions.
    – BillOnne
    Oct 7, 2022 at 2:36
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    That's my point. If he could find no pleasure in life outside from being credited with his discoveries I sure pity the poor lad. To me it's more a cautionary tale about alienation than anything else.
    – armand
    Oct 7, 2022 at 4:12
  • "Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder 'why, why, why?' Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand."
    – CriglCragl
    Oct 8, 2022 at 10:39

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