Free Will again – Trick thread continues – Updated 30 April 2018

Trick’s Free will site again – updated 22 April 2018

[My involvment in this thread started in Dec 2017, and has continued periodically:

resulting in me writing my own version:

On we dance, around our merry maypoles!!!]

rom ask – how does chaotic molecular behaviour give us free will

Hi rom,

It all comes down to the nature of the freedom involved.

I acknowledge that form requires boundaries.

I acknowledge that communication and degrees of influence must exist.

It all comes down to how hard is the connection in causal terms.
Can degrees of randomness give us sufficient isolation from the hard stream of causal influence to give us some useful approximation to freedom?

It seems to me that the answer is yes.

[past trick’s 500 character limit]

And it can never be a hard separation – there must remain boundaries and influences, and they need not be of a hard causal nature. Kind of the mirror image of Shannon meets von Neumann. To me, it is something von Neumann seemed to be pointing to in his Silliman lecture (that he never got to deliver).

[followed by 22 April 2018]

In what sense free?

By definition, will must have a form, so in that sense, it must have boundaries, and must in a sense have a strong degree of predictability if all of its elements were known.

So freedom in this sense cannot be freedom from all constraint, and it can mean sufficiently isolated that it is not connected to the external stream of existence in a way that is predictable by an agent within that external stream.

So in this sense, randomness does seem to create such freedom.

[followed by]

There are at least two senses of “free” present here.

One sense is free in the sense of not being able to predict ahead of time what the outcome is – free of strict causal determinism.

The other is free from all prior influence.

The second sense we both reject of necessity.
Complex systems require high levels of reliance on prior influence to maintain the boundary conditions necessary for such complexity with sufficient fidelity.

The sense that seems real, is that in which degrees of randomness can be inserted into systems to give sufficient degrees of freedom that the outputs are not entirely predictable by any external agent.

An agent within such boundaries may develop directional control over the various levels of randomness, and thus attain levels of directionality of internal development that may not be predictable to any external agent.

In this sense, one can be “free of the influence of external agents”.

I view reality from the lens of an evolutionary systems geek.

In a very real sense, it seems that a good definition of life is “that which can replicate reliably on the boundary between order and chaos”.

That boundary is very context sensitive.

Seeing all life as recursive levels of complex adaptive systems, and we humans as instantiations of some 20 levels of such systems, the boundary definition seems to work at every level I have investigated.

[followed by]

Rom and I agree on this.

It may be “unconversational” for you Trick, and it is the sort of conversation I most enjoy.

I love it when someone is willing to explore an idea in depth, and speak for several minutes, then listen while others respond for a similar time. One can start to explore the depths of an issue, rather than staying with surface simplicity.

Some of the best conversations I have had have gone on in such manner for many hours (start at 8pm finish at 5am sort of thing).

[followed by]

If you start from a presumption of necessary causality, then there is only one conclusion possible.

We must all start from simple beginnings.

If one examines evidence, and goes where the evidence leads, then for me, the balance of evidence is clearly that order and chaos are both necessary components of reality, and both need be in balance for life such as ourselves to exist.

Such freedom as exists, exists in that boundary.

[followed by To Trick]

While that is a possible strategy, it is one I consciously do my best to avoid.

The problem is, that when things are really complex, and do actually involve many levels of many sets of complex adaptive systems all of which influence each other, that one cannot begin to seriously address the levels of relationship present in the space available.

That does pose deep difficulty for individuals who are not capable of holding many complex ideas simultaneously and building the linkages.

[followed by to Trick]

I get that it appears that way to both you and John.

Just imagine for a moment how it might appear from my side.

The complexity present is such that it would take me a very long time to make every linkage as explicit as many people seem to require – and I simply don’t have that sort of time and energy right now – so I leave such trails as I reasonably can.

In my understanding, the linkages are sufficiently obvious that I didn’t think I needed to be explicit.

[followed by Trick]

The idea that one has choice, at some level, is fundamental to social organisation.

The idea that one can refrain from an impulse to cause harm, and can choose something else, is important in how we act in reality.

The idea that we can be creative, that choice (morality) matters – is real.

The experience of choice – is real.

Few people have explored the some 20 levels of complex systems present in an embodied human, from both evolutionary and systems perspectives.

We are complex!

[followed by Trick]

Try this.

Mathematics and logic give us the best tools we have for building complex models, but those models do not necessarily relate to reality exactly, and they are the best heuristics we can have.

Do not mistake the map for the territory.

Pi is an irrational number – it may not be computed exactly, ever.

No perfect circle may be instantiated in a quantised reality.

QM – the best tool we have, is profoundly counter intuitive for most.

[followed by Trick]

But those ideas are not irrelevant – they are central.

They are all different sorts of indeterminism.

It seems beyond all reasonable doubt that our experiential reality is not the external reality, but a subconsciously created model of it. We all (each and every one of us) live in our own personal version of reality, and every one of them is a map (at some level of accuracy) of the thing being modeled.

Freedom (that which is other than hard causal predictability) does seem to exist.

[followed by to Trick]

Hi Trick

1/ They are precisely on topic.

2/ They are very different, systemically.

3/ We don’t model reality through perceptual input, we entrain our models to reality via perceptual input. That distinction is fundamental. Our perceptual reality is model – always.

4/ Freedom of the will can be “unpredictability” in respect of agent relationships. What else could it possibly be? My will is free to the degree that it has internal consistency and another cannot control it.

[followed by to Trick]

You are being tautological Trick.

I already agreed with you that if the universe is deterministic, then necessarily free will is illusion.
Never have argued about that!
Hold that thought.

What I am arguing is that the evidence we have does not seem (on balance of probabilities) to support that hypothesis.

In a universe which is a balance between order and chaos, then free will can exist as described above.

That does seem to be the sort of world we live in.

[followed by to Trick]

Sorry Trick,

You can be right and wrong at the same time.

I can see how what you write is true from your perspective, but it entirely ignores the point I have been consistently trying to make clear.

There is deterministic chaos, and there is non-deterministic chaos.
My statements apply only to the ontologically non-deterministic sort – as I have explicitly stated – many times.

You haven’t seen that yet.
Probability of that happening any time soon seems low.

[followed by to Trick – 29 April]

1 We are complex, multi level, systemic entities – approximately 20 levels of complex adaptive systems in each of us;

2 At every boundary, between every system, both within and between levels, exist levels of uncertainty, of isolation (not in total, but in degree);

3 When you look at individual will, it must have many levels of systemic influence on its development (physical, biological, cultural, etc), and it will also have degrees of separation present (from boundary uncertainties);

4 At the level of will, all influences will be present, as will degrees of separation;

5 To the degree that one is conscious of influences, and to the degree that one consciously develops and filters internal systemic novelty (creativity, randomness, creating from nothing, call it what you will), then one develops degrees of freedom from any predictable chain of cause and effect;

6 Real novelty (real randomness) must be part of the system for this systemic separation to occur.

7 I have been very consistent in saying this.

8 I am very familiar with complex systems, I have written very large and complex computer systems, and have lead teams developing legal systems, I have worked in law enforcement and as judiciary. I understand something of both the power and the limits of strictly causal rule based systems.

9 If your conceptual system does not allow of the random, then none of this can possibly make sense.

[followed by to Trick – 30 April]

Why are you having this conversation?

[followed by to Trick – as separate <500 character posts – 30th April]

I see how it looks to you. But you are not seeing what I am trying to point to. It is much deeper and more complex than you are going.

We are complex entities.

It seems that our reflective self awareness instantiates at about level 16, so 15 levels of complex adaptive systems were already present before we came on the scene, and they are all necessary subsystems of us.

We live in (have evolved in) complex environments.

To respond to the challenges of existence in real time we have many levels of heuristics and oracles.
Heuristics are quick ways of solving complex problems that are near enough in practice most of the time to allow survival.
Oracles are essentially black boxes that deliver a random output within a range that is survivable.

Why use oracles rather than heuristics?
Because we often face halting problems while involved in tournaments at various levels, and predictability means losing.

So we come to awareness as extremely complex entities, but with extremely simple models of ourselves.
We are (or ought to be) deeply mysterious to ourselves, but the needs of survival mean we usually adopt simple heuristics in our models of ourselves (of the sort you keep repeating).

To will is to show some disposition, some preference, at some level.
Will is a very complex thing.
It has many levels of components in each of us.

Every level of that complexity has certain sets of boundary conditions, and certain sets of rules, that give it the form and functionality that it has.
There must exist some degree of predictability in those relationships, or else they have no survival value.
And sometimes, in some tournament situations, the survival value exists in some randomness.
So not simple.

So given this reality, what might freedom mean?

It cannot mean an absense of rules, for that is an end to pattern.

It can mean a level of self determination that includes levels unpredictability from the perspective of external agents.
We may be able to have random generated sets of heuristics and oracles that we test (internally or externally) and accept or reject on the basis of those tests.
As we explore our own systemic depths, we can modify or replace many parts of the complex componentry of "Will".
We can choose.

Thus our "Will" can develop a freedom from any causally predictable stream to any external agent, or conversly, may develop in ways that are at variance with externally imposed probability functions.

In both of these fashions, our will can be said to have degrees of freedom, even as aspects of it remain deeply mysterious even unto ourselves. The systems do in fact appear to be that complex.

In this fashion, freedom of will does in fact seem to be reality, and is essential to survival.


[followed by to Rom mid month]

Hi Rom,

It seems that we are free to the degree that we accept all the many levels of necessary boundaries and constraints that are required to maintain the existence of complex social apes such as ourselves, and no more than that.

The levels of uncertainty and complexity present deliver many levels of uncertainty, particularly in changing and novel contexts.

The classical notion of causality seems to be a simple heuristic approximation to something profoundly more complex.

[followed by to Rom]

When I started reading Einstein, I couldn’t follow the math, so I went to Hilbert. I couldn’t follow Hilbert, so I went to Riemann. Finally, I had enough math to follow him, then worked back to Einstein (books – not sentences).

Similarly in economics, logic, philosophy, history, systems, AI, QM. Lots of books. Finding lots of errors. Building lots of relationships.

What you ask is logically impossible. It is like trying to understand plate tectonics by looking at a pebble.

[followed by to Rom]

Thank you.

Probabilities – yes – those I can work with.
Hard determinism – no – that doesn’t work.

The thing most people don’t get about probabilities is that small differences in the median can make big differences in the tails of distributions.
The longer the tail, the more pronounced the effect.

We cannot say precisely where the planets were even a few hundred years ago, though we can get close enough to compare to the historical accuracy of any historical documents we have.

[followed by to Rom – how does this unpredictability give us a will then in any philosophical sense free]

Thank you rom – that is the question.

The answer seems to be deeply recursive (about 20 levels in each individual).

It seems that reality is not simply unpredictable, but is at every level a balance between order and chaos (between predictability and unpredictability).

Within sets of constraints, order and pattern can exist.

What does free mean?

Free cannot be an absence of pattern.
That is chaos.

Free must mean pattern that has degrees of isolation.
It cannot be absolute.

[followed by to Rom]

No rom

This time you missed the point.

In a deterministic world we use pseudo random algorithms to approximate randomness – like the sequence of irrational numbers, or other such things. These are not really random, just useful approximations in some contexts.

Freedom does seem to be a mix of the truly random, with complex pattern, with that balance at the boundary delivering degrees of freedom.

Recursing that system, is what increases the degrees of freedom (isolation).

[followed by to Rom]


I was not using chaos in the mathematical sense, just in the ordinary sense of meaning “elements without order or connexion” (OED), so can understand the mis-interpretation.
In ordinary language, random and chaotic are synonyms.

A mechanism for free will is an oxymoron only if all aspects of the mechanism are deterministic – which is quite explicitly not the case in this instance.

[followed by to Rom]

Chaos can be deterministic.

It has both forms – in normal human speech.

In the strictly mathematical sense, then yes, it is deterministic.

I can’t see this going anywhere.

From my perspective, you are both looping, inside a closed system.
I guess it feels safe in there.

And it is, really, very complex.

At 500 chars per message, 3 messages per day, could take years to get anywhere near alignment (seems like too many local attractors keeping you within boundaries).

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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1 Response to Free Will again – Trick thread continues – Updated 30 April 2018

  1. Pingback: Free will with Trick continues | Ted Howard NZ's Blog

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