Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby Flannel Jesus » Tue Sep 14, 2021 9:40 pm

phyllo wrote:Quantum mechanics is a theory about reality. It is not reality.

The part of quantum mechanics that he's talking about here very much is a statement about reality. The sorts of indeterminite states and superpositions in QM are not merely mathematical tools to make predictions, it can be shown that certain properties *are literally indeterminite* prior to measurement. I made a thread about Bell's Theorem, which is one of the fundamental experiments that shows this.
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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby Flannel Jesus » Tue Sep 14, 2021 9:42 pm

Yazata wrote:
yazata wrote:> Here is where we need a better definition of "free will". When we say that we acted freely, we mean that we chose the action and that it wasn't imposed on us by some outside force. Free will isn't synonymous with behaving randomly. It isn't the same thing as epileptic seizures. A free action is an action that's produced by our own motivations, informed by our desires, our knowledge and all kinds of mental states like that.


Flannel Jesus wrote:Sounds like you've got a compatiblist definition of free will here.


Maybe, but probably not. I certainly think that free will is consistent with causality. But I'm less convinced that it's consistent with determinism in the strong cosmic determinism sense in which everything that subsequently happens in the universe was already determined by the laws of physics and the initial conditions at the big-bang. I basically question the premise that this sort of strong cosmic determinism is a true description of reality. I'm not arguing for the proposition that it's somehow compatible with free will.

yazata wrote:What free will does deny is that the state of the universe long before any of us were born, even the initial state of the universe at its origin event, has determined everything to come


Flannel Jesus wrote:But here it doesn't.


Free will seems to me to be inconsistent with that sort of strong cosmic determinism. If the decisions that I make today were already determined by the state of the universe long before I make the decision, then free-will would seem to be false.

Flannel Jesus wrote:The only way to avoid the "determined everything to come" world is if you introduce some randomness. So does your concept of free will hinge on randomness, or not?


Yes. That's why I wrote this --

yazata wrote:Chaos may be deterministic, but doesn't it also say that even infinitesimal differences in initial conditions can lead to dramatically different evolutionary histories? If that's correct, then the question would seem to hinge on the more metaphysical issue of whether reality is always precisely defined to any level of precision, or whether it's kind of fuzzy and indistinct when we try to be too precise. If there is any fuzziness at all, any superimposed states, quantum probabilities or wave function collapses, then chaos might destroy the one-to-one correspondence between past and future states that Sabine is assuming.

I feel like you're flipping back and forth between 'free will isn't random at all' and 'free will cannot exist without some randomness'.

If we're a slave to physics under determinism, then add a little bit of randomness into the mix, and we're not suddenly NOT a slave, we're now a slave to determinism plus a little bit of randomness. I can't see how the randomness gives us more control.
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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby phyllo » Tue Sep 14, 2021 10:05 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote:
phyllo wrote:Quantum mechanics is a theory about reality. It is not reality.

The part of quantum mechanics that he's talking about here very much is a statement about reality. The sorts of indeterminite states and superpositions in QM are not merely mathematical tools to make predictions, it can be shown that certain properties *are literally indeterminite* prior to measurement. I made a thread about Bell's Theorem, which is one of the fundamental experiments that shows this.
Since you bring up Bell:

In quantum mechanics, superdeterminism is a loophole in Bell's theorem that allows one to evade it[clarification needed] by postulating that all systems being measured are causally correlated with the choices of which measurements to make on them.[1] It is conceivable that someone could exploit this loophole to construct a local hidden variable theory that reproduces the predictions of quantum mechanics. Superdeterminists do not recognize the existence of genuine chances or possibilities anywhere in the cosmos.

Bell's theorem assumes that the measurements performed at each detector can be chosen independently of each other and of the hidden variable being measured. But in a superdeterministic theory this is not true; they are necessarily correlated. Since the choice of measurements and the hidden variable are predetermined, the results at one detector can depend on which measurement is done at the other without any need for information to travel faster than the speed of light.

Thus, it is conceivable that freedom of choice has been restricted since the beginning of the universe in the Big Bang, with every future measurement predetermined by correlations established at the Big Bang[citation needed]. This would make superdeterminism untestable[citation needed], since experimenters would never be able to eliminate correlations that were created at the beginning of the universe: the freedom-of-choice loophole could never be completely eliminated.[2]
A hypothetical depiction of superdeterminism in which photons from the distant galaxies Sb and Sc are used to control the orientation of the polarization detectors α and β just prior to the arrival of entangled photons Alice and Bob.

In the 1980s, John Stewart Bell discussed superdeterminism in a BBC interview:[3][4]

There is a way to escape the inference of superluminal speeds and spooky action at a distance. But it involves absolute determinism in the universe, the complete absence of free will. Suppose the world is super-deterministic, with not just inanimate nature running on behind-the-scenes clockwork, but with our behavior, including our belief that we are free to choose to do one experiment rather than another, absolutely predetermined, including the "decision" by the experimenter to carry out one set of measurements rather than another, the difficulty disappears. There is no need for a faster than light signal to tell particle A what measurement has been carried out on particle B, because the universe, including particle A, already "knows" what that measurement, and its outcome, will be.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superdeterminism
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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby pood » Tue Sep 14, 2021 11:32 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote:I feel like you're flipping back and forth between 'free will isn't random at all' and 'free will cannot exist without some randomness'.

If we're a slave to physics under determinism, then add a little bit of randomness into the mix, and we're not suddenly NOT a slave, we're now a slave to determinism plus a little bit of randomness. I can't see how the randomness gives us more control.


I think that he, and I, are challenging the idea that we are slaves to physics under determinism.

As to the superdeterminism just raised, that was also brought up in the Bell’s Theorem thread. It’s a theory that violates statistical independence, with the utterly bizarre result that all our experiments are predetermined to show that QM is indeterministic when in fact it is deterministic. My impression is that very few scientists see much in this, though Sabine Hossenfelder is a big advocate of it. Of course what scientists think has no bearing on reality, but how would you test superdeterminism? Sabine seems to think she has a test, but I don’t have sufficient details to comment on it and even if I did, I’m not a scientist. The point other scientists have raised, though, is how there could be a reliable test for superdeterminism, when superdeterminism says all our tests are, basically, unreliable?
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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby Yazata » Wed Sep 15, 2021 2:29 am

Flannel Jesus wrote:I feel like you're flipping back and forth between 'free will isn't random at all'


I think that a correct understanding of free will is that it's anything but random. When people say that they made a decision of their own free will, they aren't saying that they rolled the dice. They are saying that the decision was the result of their own decision process. They are saying that it wasn't coerced by anything external to that process, whether it be the laws of physics or somebody holding a gun to their head.

and 'free will cannot exist without some randomness'.


I'm suggesting that free will can't exist in conditions where decisions are already determined and preordained by the state of the universe and by the laws of physics long before the decisions were made. Even before the one making the decision even existed.

I'm using "some randomness" to try to craft an argument against determinism. I'm questioning the kind of metaphysics in which the state of the universe at some time A plus some set of dynamical laws precisely determine the state of the universe at all subsequent times B, C and D. I'm not convinced that reality works that way.

If we're a slave to physics under determinism, then add a little bit of randomness into the mix, and we're not suddenly NOT a slave, we're now a slave to determinism plus a little bit of randomness.


If the state of the universe at some prior time isn't mapped one-to-one with any particular state of the universe at some subsequent time, then the spectre of enslavement would seem to have evaporated. The state at the prior time doesn't determine the state at the subsequent time.

The state of the universe at some prior time seems to me to be consistent with a whole array of possible states at subsequent times. The possibility space occupied by those subsequent states seems to grow as the temporal interval grows longer. It's like weather forecasts. We can predict the weather in a day with great accuracy. In a week with somewhat less accuracy. A month out it's starting to resemble throwing darts at a weather map.

Presumably something determined one's supposedly free decision at the later time. But if that was the actor's own cognitive process, including his/her understanding of the situation he/she was in, applicable desires, values and so on, then what we normally mean by 'free-will' would seem to be preserved.

And with the elimination of deterministic enslavement, the free-will/determinism problem has lost half of its dilemma.

I can't see how the randomness gives us more control.


It opens up the possibility that my decision was the result of my own cognitive process and not some set of dynamical laws plus the state of the universe long before my cognitive decision process ever commenced.
Last edited by Yazata on Wed Sep 15, 2021 2:56 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby WendyDarling » Wed Sep 15, 2021 2:33 am

.
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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby pood » Wed Sep 15, 2021 2:38 am

Yazata wrote:
With the elimination of determinism the free-will/determinism problem has lost half of its dilemma.


This is what I have been arguing in the determinism thread, but I’d go farther and say the whole dilemma is evaporated.
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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby pood » Wed Sep 15, 2021 3:10 am

deterministic enslavement, I missed that in the quote. That’s a good way to put it. I call it “hard dominoes” determinism and reject that we are just a domino. The point I’ve been arguing in the determinism thread is that the laws of nature are not laws, but descriptions. Descriptions of nature cannot force human behavior or anything else for that matter.
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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby Flannel Jesus » Wed Sep 15, 2021 8:21 am

> If the state of the universe at some prior time isn't mapped one-to-one with any particular state of the universe at some subsequent time, then the spectre of enslavement would seem to have evaporated. The state at the prior time doesn't determine the state at the subsequent time.

In my opinion, this isn't the case. Adding randomness to the mix does not eliminate a single little bit of enslavement.

If you have a computer program that makes chess moves, generally it will use heuristics to eliminate a bunch of moves, then use algorithms to give ratings to a bunch of other moves.

So scenario 1: it gives ratings to a bunch of moves, it is programmed to choose the highest rated move. It deterministically chooses that one every time it gets put in the same situation.

Scenario 2: same program, but this time instead of choosing the highest rated move every time, it uses a random number generator to choose the highest rated move 60% of the time, second highest move 25% of the time, and the third highest move 15% of the time.

Is there any meaningful sense in which this program is more free in scenario 2? As far as I can see, no. In the first scenario, you say he's a slave to his programming. The second scenario doesn't do anything to decrease his enslavement though, because he doesn't choose the output of the random number generator. In the second scenario, he's 99% a slave to his programming, and 1% a slave to the random number generator.

The same logic applies when it comes to adding randomness into physics to try to get some freedom for human choice. You don't add freedom by adding randomness, you just add a new source of slavery. If anything you have LESS freedom when you add randomness in the mix, since you possible have less control in the world with randomness.

This is why I cannot accept any concept of free will that is not compatibilist: randomness cannot add freedom.
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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby Flannel Jesus » Wed Sep 15, 2021 8:33 am


Superdeterminism is basically the "solipsism" position in physics: it's an interesting thought experiment, but you're supposed to think past it, not get stuck in it.
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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby Flannel Jesus » Wed Sep 15, 2021 9:26 am

I admit that's a bit overly dismissive of me, it's taken slightly more seriously by that apparently by some physicists, but as I said in my previous discussion about it, if that's the explanation for bells theorem, it seems to require the universe to have arbitrarily decided to trick us by giving us misleading experimental results. To me it's the physics equivalent of saying "those are not really ancient dinosaur fossils, God put those there to test our faith." But instead it's "bell tests don't really disprove local hidden variables, the universe just gives us those experimental results to test our faith."

What's interesting is that, on the Wiki page for superdetermism, the argument in the paragraph that starts with "Swedish physicist Johann Hansson has proven that nature is superdeterministic..." very closely relates to the arguments I made for many worlds: how relativity necessitates that one measurement could not have been made first, so therefore could not have caused the result of the other measurement.

I don't want to detail this thread any further, so I'll stop there.
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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby phyllo » Wed Sep 15, 2021 12:31 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote:> If the state of the universe at some prior time isn't mapped one-to-one with any particular state of the universe at some subsequent time, then the spectre of enslavement would seem to have evaporated. The state at the prior time doesn't determine the state at the subsequent time.

In my opinion, this isn't the case. Adding randomness to the mix does not eliminate a single little bit of enslavement.

If you have a computer program that makes chess moves, generally it will use heuristics to eliminate a bunch of moves, then use algorithms to give ratings to a bunch of other moves.

So scenario 1: it gives ratings to a bunch of moves, it is programmed to choose the highest rated move. It deterministically chooses that one every time it gets put in the same situation.

Scenario 2: same program, but this time instead of choosing the highest rated move every time, it uses a random number generator to choose the highest rated move 60% of the time, second highest move 25% of the time, and the third highest move 15% of the time.

Is there any meaningful sense in which this program is more free in scenario 2? As far as I can see, no. In the first scenario, you say he's a slave to his programming. The second scenario doesn't do anything to decrease his enslavement though, because he doesn't choose the output of the random number generator. In the second scenario, he's 99% a slave to his programming, and 1% a slave to the random number generator.

The same logic applies when it comes to adding randomness into physics to try to get some freedom for human choice. You don't add freedom by adding randomness, you just add a new source of slavery. If anything you have LESS freedom when you add randomness in the mix, since you possible have less control in the world with randomness.

This is why I cannot accept any concept of free will that is not compatibilist: randomness cannot add freedom.
I wouldn't call randomness 'enslavement', but it doesn't seem to be any more satisfying than determinism.
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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby WendyDarling » Wed Sep 15, 2021 2:53 pm

Why can’t what is not seemingly predictable be called imperfect, like humans act unpredictably and imperfectly?

We choose imperfectly among imperfect options. Simple.

Limits apply to nature, limits apply to us working within nature.

So we choose within the limits of imperfection.

If we view our world as imperfect rather than chaotic or random, where do we end up?
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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby Ecmandu » Wed Sep 15, 2021 11:17 pm

Yazata wrote:
Ecmandu wrote:Chaos is a funny concept.

It means that if the initial conditions are all different, the results would always be the same.

Also.

If the initial conditions are always the same, the results would be different.


The way that I understand it, Chaos is nonlinear dynamics.

Imagine the graph of a straight line, with its x and y axes.

In calculus, linearity is defined by the idea that the smaller the change in the x axis, the smaller the change in the y axis.

But some functions aren't linear. We see cases where as we make points on the x axis closer and closer together, points on the y axis don't get closer to each other at all. They are scattered all over the place. So instead of getting a 'line' on a graph, like in the first example, we get what mathematicians call a 'dust'.

It's still deterministic, since each x value is determining a particular y value. But those y values aren't gathering closer and closer to each other as we choose x values closer to each other. Even infinitesimal differences in x can result in big differences in y.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonlinear_system

Then introduce the idea from quantum mechanics that some physical variables and some physical states aren't defined with absolute precision. Make those states a bit probabilitistic.

The whole determinism idea seems to revolve around the idea that reality is defined by one-to-one mathematical functions. (Which might be an artifact of how physicists decide to conceptualize things as opposed to an innate feature of reality, but never mind that.) Plug in an x and out pops a y. Determinism.

But what if the x is fuzzy and what if the function is nonlinear? Even if the value of x is imprecise by the smallest amount, we might get a whole assortment of very different y's popping out. If that uncertainty is a feature of how reality really ontologically is, then determinism would seem to me to be false.

We could know an earlier state of the universe A with all the precision physically possible even in theory, but still be unable to predict even in theory how temporally distant state of the universe B turns out.


Wow, you really went all out for this post from what I was trying to describe.

Chaos is not complexity. They are different concepts.

Chaos is literally defined by ALWAYS having the same conditions and ALWAYS getting a different result.

Complexity is a bit different, it’s statistical in nature.

We actually don’t know how plasma televisions work, but we know that they work reliably, statistically.
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Re: Sabine Hossenfelder on Free-Will and Determinism

Postby pood » Thu Sep 16, 2021 6:45 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote:To me it's the physics equivalent of saying "those are not really ancient dinosaur fossils, God put those there to test our faith." But instead it's "bell tests don't really disprove local hidden variables, the universe just gives us those experimental results to test our faith.”


That’s a good way to put it. I was reaching for something like that but couldn’t find the right words or analogy. It really does sound like that.
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