Ramifications of My View of Free Will

This post is part of a series: Free Will? Yes and No

In my first post, I made my initial argument.  As near as I can tell, we have free will, and our choices are predetermined.  I argued that this is a natural result of the fact that the human mind is some kind of extremely advance computer program, and some aspects of the nature of computing.

My second post answered some objections that I think will be common.  I did my best to explain why I’m not contradicting myself, and why this doesn’t mean that you’re merely the equal of your computer or the software running on it.

Now, I list some of the ramifications of this unusual view:

  1. We are responsible for our own bad/evil choices
    Because we make choices of our own free will, we are morally and legally responsible to God and to others.  Being born a certain way doesn’t absolve you of responsibility, unless the condition literally forces you to talk, act, or choose something stupid or evil, in a way that circumvents your will.
  2. We deserve credit for our own wise/good choices
    See above.  If we deserve blame for our evil choices, we also deserve credit for our good choices.
  3. Our thoughts, actions, and choices will follow predictable patterns
    If my view is correct, I should be able to reliably predict your next choice, if I know enough about you and your surroundings.
  4. It is possible to upload our consciousness to a machine other than our brains
    A program is a program.  Successfully moving to a different “brain” might require substantial rewriting of the parts of ourselves that deal with the physical and logical quirks of our brains, but the higher-level stuff – thoughts, memories, personality, will, etc. – can remain intact, provided the transfer is done correctly.
  5. It is possible to create artificial intelligence that is in every way human, and/or equally capable to a human in every way
    There is, of course, something very special about humankind.  But we aren’t special because we can never be equaled in the things that we do.  We’re special because of the purpose which God gave us.
    “Then God said, ‘let us make Man in our image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’
    So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him
    male and female he created them”
    Genesis 1:27
  6. Your soul is a computer program
    Looking over Merriam-Webster’s definition of soul, some of the main definitions fit reasonably well if the soul is a program – specifically, definitions #1, 3, 4a, and 6.  Of course, this only holds true if they have the correct definition of the word.  Since there’s still a lot to learn about psychology, neurology, and the soul, these definitions could one day be made obsolete.
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13 thoughts on “Ramifications of My View of Free Will

  1. I haven’t read your second post though I have issues with some of the conclusions you seem to have arrived at.
    #1. Our actions are determined. They have antecedent causes
    #2. I don’t think we deserve any credit except to reinforce good behaviour or reproach to help improve character
    #3. I can agree to that
    #4. I don’t know
    #5. Similar to 4
    #6. I have no idea what soul is.
    Hi Erik

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    1. It’s nice to hear from you again. I feared that after our last conversation, you were done with this blog.

      #1:
      If I understand properly what you’re saying, you believe that we are not personally responsible for any bad/evil choices and action, because they’re predetermined. Instead, any punishment for evil or reward for good, should be done strictly for the utilitarian purpose of conditioning people to do “good” behavior. Is that correct?

      #6:
      When I use the word “soul”, I’m usually using it by the official definition that seems to me most likely to be correct: that it’s your “whole self”, including intellect, emotions, will, memories, etc. As with many things in philosophy, the word is vague enough that different people will use it in very different ways.

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      1. And how do you decide what behavior is “good”, and thus ought to be pushed on everyone? I know that the Bible makes it pretty easy – good is probably best defined as that which is consistent with God’s nature, evil is that which is inconsistent with it. But you probably reject that. So what do you put in its place, and by what authority?

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      2. Erik, as per the bible, it is consistent with god’s nature to kill an innocent person for the infractions yet to be committed. If with your reason you can’t determine what is good and need the bible for that, I pity you.

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  2. Some would say that ,because of the fact that our choices are predetermined (although not external to us, but predetermined by ideas, environmental stimuli, emotional state, hormones, personality etc), God, who created us with that specific personality and put us in a specific environment, should be blamed in the same way that the creator of artificial intelligence would be to blame if the artificial intelligence did not do what it was supposed to.
    How would you respond to that argument?

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    1. I don’t know. If my view is correct, the most straightforward answer would be that both God and his creatures are fully responsible for the creature’s choices and actions. However, God does not appear to consider himself guilty of his creatures’ sins. For example, in 2 Chronicles 18, the prophet Micaiah told the Jewish kings Ahab and Jehoshaphat that God had sent a lying spirit to Ahab’s false prophets, so that they would convince him to fight a battle that he would die in.
      As far as I know, whether my view is or is not correct, the only answer that the Bible gives is in Romans 9, in which the Apostle Paul wrote:

      “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?”
      Romans 9:19-21

      The Bible’s answer is that God has every right to create any person who he wants, to do anything he wants. To anyone who would judge God for that, Paul asks, “who are you to judge your maker?”

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  3. Hi again. I have to disagree with you on points #4 and #6 above. While I might concur that someday there could be a technology advanced enough that could transfer our thoughts and memories to another body, I do not believe our souls could also be transferred. Mainly because I am not of the opinion that our soul is physical, thus our soul is outside the realm of being tampered with by technology. And thus also I would not call it a computer program.

    If a device like a teleporter someday could be created where one’s thoughts and memories are transferred from your body on one side of the world to another body on the opposite side of the world, it would not be “you” traveling from one side of the world to the other in a moment. It would be at best an identical copy of your thoughts and memories transferred very quickly. But “you” would be murdered in the process (assuming the process destroys the first body; otherwise we are talking about cloning). Our personhood is intricately tied up with our soul and cannot be transferred from one body to the next.

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    1. Based on what I currently know about the mind, the soul, and computing, I still disagree with you there. If I’m correct, an exact copy of your soul is completely indistinguishable from the original, and is therefore the same for most practical purposes.

      However, we might not be completely on opposite ends here. In my first post, I argued that thinking is fundamentally computation, and that computer programs are not physical, but are instead computational. What is your opinion/belief about that?

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      1. I would argue that an exact copy of your soul cannot be made. Humans cannot tamper with, let alone make a copy of, this thing we call the “soul” which God has placed in every person. Jesus says in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Only God can destroy both body and soul. No human (and no machine ever created) could kill or alter the soul.

        When it comes to your comparisons between computers and our minds, I am hesitant in making such comparisons. I readily admit that you know tons more about computers than I do, so I cannot argue with your assertions about them. But, I will say that to me there seems to be a difference between computers and human minds that will always remain: our minds are living, whereas computers never will. We have living tissue, cells, DNA, etc. in our brains that are inextricably wound up with our thoughts, memories, etc. that are qualitatively different from any non-human entity. Does this make sense?

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      2. “And do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul”
        Does this mean that the brain and its contents can’t be tampered with, or that the soul will survive even if its current host is destroyed? I suspect that the human spirit – whatever its exact nature turns out to be – either is, or contains, some sort of brain. If I’m correct about this, then we indeed can’t kill anyone’s soul. If a soul can be copied, I don’t know if the copy is also immortal.

        When I compare computers to minds, and when I say that your mind and soul are a computer program, I don’t mean that they’re exactly the same, but rather that they’re made of the same basic stuff. As I said in my first post, thoughts, memories, etc. are computational entities. So are files, folders, and algorithms. I was careful to point out that this does not mean that your laptop or its software is the equal of you, but I say that the difference is similar to the difference between a wrench and a car. One is far greater than the other, but they’re both made of the same stuff. And thus one can infer some things about the car by studying the wrench.

        As for whether computers will ever be alive, it really depends on the correct definition of life. If the correct definition of life requires that it be made of the same technologies as biological life – DNA, proteins, etc. – then the only way for a man-made computer to be alive is if it’s made of those components. Note that it now appears that every living cell contains some kind of computer, and DNA holds its operating system. At this point, nobody’s proven it, but it sure looks correct.
        Here’s a book that argues this point (I haven’t read it):
        http://www.amazon.com/Wetware-Computer-Every-Living-Cell/dp/0300167849

        However, it seems more reasonable to me to define life by the functions that it performs. So for instance, instead of saying that it must contain DNA, I’d say it makes more sense to say that it must store all the info needed to run itself and reproduce.

        If this is the correct definition, then the most fundamental feature of life is that it’s a machine that sustains itself, thus working against the law of universal decay (entropy).

        If this turns out to be the correct definition, then it’s completely possible to create life from many technologies other then what God used. In fact, current human technology is not very far away from being able to create such a thing.

        3D printers + recycling machines + transport/maintenance bots + advanced AI = life

        protein builders + digestive systems + cellular transport systems + genome = life

        Note, though, that these conclusions I’m coming to depend heavily on definitions of things that we humans may not understand very well. For this reason, I admit the possibility that life cannot be re-implemented in this way by us, and I also admit the possibility that the soul cannot be copied or equaled.

        However, if my definitions are correct, my conclusions naturally follow.

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