"Free Will" Is a Dream You Can Escape
Existence and our relationship with the universe is automatic.
I take a completely computational view of the universe. Intelligence is the ability to create mental models out of available information. Smartness is roughly the ability to use those models to achieve your goals. Wisdom is the ability to choose the right goals.
Popular understanding is that free will is in-deterministic. It’s not calculated on probability. The universe exists because everyone is throwing dice and abiding by the outcome. Which makes no sense to me. This will lead to chaos. What we have are informed attempts at organization, building systems and optimizing these systems using calculations. In other words, our decisions are definitely deterministic.
You don’t control all the variables. Other agents in the environment, like other humans, can also affect your decision trees or graphs. We aren’t certain which is the absolutely correct decision. We make informed bets. These bets can be wrong because we haven’t reverse-engineered our minds well enough to understand this betting algorithm. We are not certain what the rewards are. And how to optimize our decisions using these rewards to converge faster towards the terminal goal. This informed bet is mostly called your will. But the bet is definitely not random. It’s calculated in the circumstance.
The confusion seems to emerge mostly from perspective, not the nature of the decision. Because your (first person) perspective can differ from someone else’s (third person), taking your own decisions is different from predicting your decisions. These two actions seem identical to you because the variables and constants that are used to calculate the bet are the same, even if the action is different. The ability to take decisions looks in-deterministic or random for the same reason.
It’s easy to resolve this confusion. Just observe other people i.e. join the third person perspective. For example, if you play with a young child at home, from the child’s perspective s/he is taking decisions willingly, but you will soon realize that you can influence the child’s decision-making algorithm by introducing changes to their environment to converge or align their decisions/bets with your predicted outcomes. You can influence their algorithms in a number of ways. Try offering or modifying their rewards. Offer the child a bar of chocolate and you can convince them to do something that harms them. Needless to mention pain will act as feedback.
“But I can act against the reward, can’t I?”
You are a video game player that is going to shoot yourself just to prove that you can do it. But the evolutionary process will downgrade your play score, not increment it. And you are trying to go in the opposite direction of the terminal goal i.e. to stay alive. Even if you think you are taking this decision out of free will with the objective of proving your point, that still makes it a deterministic decision. Not a random one.
“So, free will is an illusion?“
No. Free will is a model that your mind is making about its own behaviour. And it is the best model it can come up with under the circumstance and specifications available. But you can choose a more accurate model if you zoom out a bit.
“Who am I, then?“
You are a story that the larger automatic system tells you. The system is completely mechanical. And the behaviour of this story i.e. you, is being used to inform the actions of the system itself. And the actions of the system are used to inform the story :)
Still don’t get it? Let me try again using the image below.
Your mind looks at the universe as a game engine to make sense of perceptual data. When you play a video game you don’t really care about the 0s and 1s running on the CPU or the GPU that is powering the graphics. What you pay attention to are the properties in the game and how to interact inside its environment. The same thing happens when you interact with physics. You don’t care about the force between atoms, instead, you simply interact with the environment available. The world that you and I experience is not the physical world, it’s the dream world. The physical world definitely exists, but the world we interact with is the story that our brain tells itself. Indians call it “Maya.” It is the result of a machine learning process that the brain’s perceptual system runs in an attempt to make sense of the perceptual data.
The dynamics of the dream world match that of the physical world to a certain degree of resolution. But the causal structures of these two worlds are very different.
It’s not a conspiracy. It’s simply a method to deal with too many parts to count at the level of our momentary entanglement. Which is the best mental model that you can generate in that circumstance. The key is to understand that this dream is generated by the software that exists outside the dream.
Another problem with the notion of free will being in-deterministic is the implication that its opposite must be determinism. When it is actually compulsion.
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