Author: David Saxton Ullery
Suppose that, after thorough analysis of the human brain, free will for us is really proven to be an illusion with emergent properties closely associated with consciousness and human intelligence. Some time later, we take this knowledge to build a sophisticated, powerful artificial brain machine with scores of billions of high-speed neurons and possibly trillions of self-modifying synaptic-like connections, which eventually designs an even more sophisticated machine on its own. This new machine calculates how to create free will and so it documents a detailed design of a practical free will machine for us. Should we go ahead and build the free will machine – or more realistically, should we have the machine(s) build it for us?
Suppose the newly built free will machine could be integrated into our brains such that we would have artificial free will. A logging is recorded every time a true free choice is made that is different than the illusory free choice that we would have otherwise made. If the machine has complete knowledge of all of its human host’s needs and wants, it seems possible that it would always decide exactly what we would have decided anyway – it would always do precisely what we “want”. A trillion-dollar do-nothing machine! On the other hand, it might occasionally or frequently select a different choice which may very much anger or disturb the host who ironically feels like he is no longer in control. The host may begin to feel like a slave. The host would want one thing, and his machine would override, resulting in a different decision being made.
If free will is not ruled out, then it is possible that we do not possess it in our own brains, but that it is physically possible to construct a device that would enable it. One of its parts may consist of a type of time machine capable of passing information, in the form of quantum bits, backwards in time through an artificial wormhole. The possible future choice outcome could be analyzed and weighted against the current state. The new future choice could then be taken. The process would recursively repeat until a final decision is made. Effectively we really do go back and change our choice at time “t” (potentially several times). This would satisfy the requirement for free will, since the machine allows for us to make a different choice given the same previous causes. Not only could we make a different choice, but we would occasionally make a different choice for the exact same event, at the exact same time, for the exact same set of circumstances.
Logically speaking, we already have such a devise… to a degree. We can take our past, learned experiences, combined with logical future outcomes, think about logical outcomes until we come up with a final decision that we act upon. We never actually act upon any but one of the “what if” scenarios, but we can often logically deduce the outcome (if I eat the cake, it will taste great, but I will gain weight; if I jump off the cliff without a hang glider, I will likely die; …). At time “t”, we actually make our choice. We end up doing what at least a part of our self “wants”, based on a set of resources within our brain. If we are good at predicting outcomes, then we will often make exactly the same choice that we would have, in the science fiction scenario given above.
With the possession of the time machine, we could actually taste or eat an entire piece of chocolate cake and decide that it is well worth it, and finally decide to actually eat the cake as our final choice. Without the time machine, we may decide to eat the cake, based on the knowledge that the last cake made by the same chef, was really delicious and decide on eating the cake. We must assume here that the time machine owner may not have her cake and eat it too. The owner will forget that she tried the cake once the final decision is made. Otherwise, the owner may conclude that she can both eat the cake and finally not eat the cake, thus gaining the pleasure of the cake eating, and not suffering from the extra fat added on to her body as a result. The machine would work as if it processed future events in its owner’s subconscious – whether it actually did or not – not unlike a medicine that induces short-term amnesia on a patient.
Even the time machine version is deterministic, because the future qubits are still part of the cause of the agent’s final choice, in an automated way. However, that may only be one of the components. It may be completely deterministic, yet satisfy all of the requirements for free will. This deterministic machine allows the agent to change her mind and make a different choice.
Now suppose this same free will machine is kept outside of your brain or is rewired such that your illusionary “free will” referenced the free will machine only when called upon. Perhaps you decide to use it every time you go to play roulette or buy stock. That machine would no longer be a free will machine – it would be used to figure out what to bet on at the casino or what stock to choose. You would surely end up following the money trail in each and every case. Even if not used strictly for money, it would no longer effectively be a free will machine, but just another weight to be used by your deterministic decision making resources – your non-free choice.
It seems an agent could have real free will yet perceive it as slavery since his choices would not always behave in ways he “wants”; have the illusion of free will yet perceive it as real, and prefer the latter. Another possibility is that there is no difference between the two. Then, we have yet another possibility that would have free will, but still be determined in an odd sort of way. Finally, we have the illusion of free will calling upon a free will machine and end up rendering it useless as a free will machine, yet getting wealthy from it as a time machine.
As long as you can do whatever you “want”, why would want the ability to freely “will” a choice? Since you do not posses a time machine, your best bet is to carefully consider all available options, and choose the one you “want” – hopefully the one that has the most promising outcome. Having free will implies that you may choose something other from that which you “want”. What you “want” is based on a process of weighted variables created by competing resources within the brain. The choice or determined decision is not always rational or the best option for your future well being, but it is what you “want” at the time. What you should strive for is to learn how to always “want” what is best for you in the long run. This “want” is determined by a combination of your genetic makeup, and your past experiences.
Most of what you want is determined by subconscious processes that the conscious parts of you never have the privilege of seeing. Many decisions you make happen too quickly – there is no time conscious part of you to rationalize or think about the choice to make. If you are threatened by a predator, your “fight or flight” instincts kick in. If you stopped to ponder the outcome and reflect on all possible options, you will likely be eaten. For decisions that do allow time for thought, for example: “Should we go on vacation next month or not?”, eventually require action or movement in your body parts to make reservations, pick up car keys, drive the car, call a cab or whatever you decide. Eventually, in your brain, an action potential must cause a chain of neurons to fire in the motor cortex portion your brain, triggering a signal to move down your spine, causing your hand(s), arm(s), and/or legs to move – all of which you have no conscious knowledge or direct control.
Repeatable tests continue to show that this action potential occurs well before you consciously decide that you “want” to do something (see here – for a start, then here…feel free to search these and other tests). The thought that initially came to you – the pondering of vacation – initially came into your conscious mind as a result of previous causes in your unconscious resources. Undoubtedly, the fact that the process became conscious has some effect on the overall causal chain, but it is not purposely causal – it is just another set of inputs – or rather it tends to strengthen the already existing variables having to do with the thought processes revolving around the concept of vacationing – a process already set in motion.
It seems that people who are both very happy most of the time, and successful most of the time, within the standards coming from within their own minds, from their family and from their peers; make choices that would most often match up with the choices they would make if they actually did posses the time machine-based free will machine. The same would hold true for those who do what they want, based on hedonistic, short-term gain, as long as they are good at predicting short-term outcome. Any person with good predicting abilities will make the same choices most of the time, within the framework of their personality and their personal philosophy of life. In cases where the free will machine works better than our own choices, it will only be because it is a better predictor, or at least has the potential for being a better predictor, if we assume that the future “trials” do not change the past, present or future.
In the end, possessing a better predictor mechanism, or possessing a mechanism that adds additional weight to any well-informed rational resources within our brains would seem more desirable than possessing true free will. Having true free will, with no benefit of a decent outcome predictor would tend to cause negative outcomes. Having a decent outcome predictor does not require free will to take advantage of it – better to leave those processes in the hands of the unconscious resources deep inside a brain that took tens or hundreds of millions of years to evolve to do what it already does very well on its own. Free will, if possible would be a negative mutation unless it is of the time-machine kind – which is oddly deterministic and a very excellent outcome predictor. However, do you really want to know the outcome of everything you do? You may likely end up perfectly unhappy and never satisfied with no surprises.
Suppose you had a machine that could be implanted in your brain that would stimulate the pleasure zones in your brain every time you think of it or want it…. oops wrong topic…or is it?
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