Return to free will

The following is a comment I made on the “Infant Power” post in response to Bobmo’s question “Do you suspect that humans have free will?”

I suspect that humans do not have free will, but I am open to the possibility that we do.

But here is my question. How do you go about testing humans to find out if they have free will?

I suppose the opposite of free will is determinism. In a deterministic world if you know all of the variables and rules you can work out what will happen in the future.

We don’t know all the variables and rules and we are not very good at working out what will happen in the future in a very specific way. Does that mean free will exists in this world? I don’t know.

Even mechanisms that are relatively simple can produce behavior that is hard to predict. For example, the Chaos Wheel is a simple water wheel that will spin in one direction for a while and then begin to spin in the opposite direction. As time goes by it changes direction many times and at odd intervals. Does it have a brain and does it choose it’s direction? No. But nevertheless it exhibits complex behavior.

IBM’s Watson is much more complex than the Chaos Wheel and it exhibits even more complex behavior. Watson was designed to play the quiz game Jeopardy and is quite good. Deep Blue was a computer built to beat humans at Chess and it succeeded. Deep Blue analyzed many possible chess moves and then “chose” what it “thought” to be the best move. Did Deep Blue really make choices?

Could it be that humans are highly complex machines made of organic molecules? I think it is possible. The Human Connectome Project is working on mapping all the connections in a human brain. Even after the project has mapped a brain we will still not understand everything about how the brain works. But this project will move us forward in our learning. Sebastian Seung gave a presentation at the TED conference on this subject.

With so many questions unanswered how can anyone say definitively if humans have free will. Is it possible? Yes.