Sunday, March 14, 2010

Red pill or blue pill

I remembered last night a topic that I forgot to cover here, more precisely the subject of free will.

It occurred to me a while back, when somebody mentioned the fact that since our minds are defined by the synapses our neurons make and since the synapses are to some extent *semi-random events we can't have free will.
*semi-random as in predictable to a certain degree, like 95% chances that will happen 4% chances this will happen and 1% complete randomness.

The way I see it, quite the opposite's true. But first, let me get a thing straight: here, "free will" means one's ability to make decisions "as wished", or in other words, nobody should be able to tell with complete certainty what decision one will make in any given situation. Note that I'm NOT referring to free will as the right to do anything we wish.

If we consider the semi-randomness of our thoughts, then free will is possible. If however, our brains behave in classical terms, as in governed by the 'cause-effect' law, then we are deterministic. You could then think that a human brain could be simulated by a Touring Machine (more simply, it could be simulated by a computer). But a Touring Machine is defined as a set of states and a law of transition that transforms one state into another. It can not have, by definition, free will.

Now presume we act in the same way and it's pretty easy to see why we would do this if you believe in evolution: we'll always choose the option which gives us the greatest benefits at the moment of decision. You may quickly dismay that by arguing that people can do sacrifices, but if you think about it, the comfort they gain knowing they made some sacrifice and that a loved one / friend will be happy is greater than if they wouldn't have done nothing (in that case, guilt would be the main cause of discomfort).

If we also think our neurons of acting according to strict rules; as in if neurons A and B are connected to C and a rule such as if A and B don't fire then C doesn't fire also; A fires B doesn't fire then C fires; A doesn't fire B fires then C fires; A and B both fire then C doesn't fire (C acts as an "exclusive or" for A and B). Note that this is just an example of a rule, in reality they are probably way more complex but still remain strict.

Based on these two, evolution and strict neuron-firing rules, one can conclude that we behave deterministically. This means that there can exist a person / entity which can figure out what we'll do in any situation (presume it has complete knowledge of the way our brain is wired), then this entity can predict what course of action we will take in any circumstances. Then, because our course of action becomes known beforehand, we cannot have free will.

Now as I've said, this argument rests on basically on two assumptions, that we always chose the most profitable alternative and that our neurons don't fire at random or semi-random, because if they would, there may be the possibility of an alternative choice which isn't considered by our mind, and that missed alternative is a random one, thus the first assumption will yield different results, even if our brains are in the same 'states'.

This was a little far-fetched scenario, because not even I don't think the second assumption is true.
But here comes the shocker:
Even if our neurons fire in semi-random patterns, it's true that nobody will be able to predict how we will act. But our feeling that we are in charge of our actions becomes an illusion. In fact I've failed to find an example in which this is NOT one.

Let's presume you have a choice of choosing one of two pills, one blue, one red (this doesn't have to do anything with the Matrix movie). What happens when you take the decision? Your neurons start firing and by a random or semi-random chance you get to pick blue (even if my first assumption is true, the decision will be influenced by some neuron randomness). Now truth be told, you could have just as well picked the red one. So the problem is that you didn't pick blue because you wanted but because chance made you pick it. This has led me to believe that free will is just an illusion, and that we are forever confined in our minds, just spectators to what our sense organs tell us is happening around us, with no power to change the inevitable course of randomness.

Wowzer, now that was bit of a fine ending if you ask me. In anycase, that's the conclusion I've came to, hopefully, somebody will prove me wrong, but until then I can only say that I'm just going to sit back and see what this body of mine will do heh.