Murphy To Sing Karaoke, Help Fulfill My Plan for World Domination

Several commenters went nuts when Bob posted about not being able to thwart God's plans, declaring that his viewpoint denied free will. But consider:

I know Bob will be at a conference Friday evening. I know that after conferences, Bob goes to sing Karaoke.

Does my knowing this interfere with Bob freely choosing to sing Karaoke? Of course, I only know it is highly likely that Bob will go sing, but if my knowledge improved more and more (by monitoring his movements, perhaps measuring his vital signs, etc.), would this make Bob less and less free?

Given that Bob will sing karaoke Friday night, I can now incorporate that fact into my plan for world domination.

Does the fact that Bob's action helps fulfill my plan mean he does not have free will?

28 comments:

  1. Well, the argument is that if you could know with absolute certainty that Bob will sing karaoke on Friday, that would mean that it is impossible that Bob will not sing karaoke on Friday, and that that implies that Bob does not have free will. So it is not the knowledge as such that's considered problematic, it's the fact that such knowledge is possible that's considered pro problematic for free will.

    (I'm just playing Devil's advocate. Personally I believe in fate, and I don't think that fate is incompatible with the notion that we're morally responsible for our actions.)

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    1. Yes, I understand that argument. That is why I put in the part about increasing certainty: it seems mysterious that my increase in certainty somehow makes Bob "less free."

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    2. Gene, the argument isn't that if your certainty that Bob will play Karaoke on Friday increases from 50% to 75%, then Bob is less free. Rather, it's that if your certainty was 100%, that means that it's impossible that Bob will not play Karaoke on Friday. And the argument is that the notion that a person has free will to do X or not to do X is incompatible with the notion that it is impossible that the person will not do X. That argument doesn't work if you only have partial certainty.

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    3. Keshav, I tried posting your last comment, but it is not showing up! So I paste it in:

      "Gene, the argument isn't that if your certainty that Bob will play Karaoke on Friday increases from 50% to 75%, then Bob is less free. Rather, it's that if your certainty was 100%, that means that it's impossible that Bob will not play Karaoke on Friday. And the argument is that the notion that a person has free will to do X or not to do X is incompatible with the notion that it is impossible that the person will not do X. That argument doesn't work if you only have partial certainty. "

      I understand the argument very well, and I am saying it is nonsense: when I saw your comment, I was certain I would respond. That doesn't mean I had no choice about responding: it means I was certain about what choice I would make!

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    4. Jeez, now it shows up!

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    5. Gene, were you really absolutely certain that you would respond? You really believed "there is no possible world in which I will not respond to Keshav"? Or did you simply believe that, based on your assessment of your preferences and inclinations, that it was highly likely, perhaps even 99.99% likely, that you would respond? Did you really think there was no possibility at all that you would change your mind about responding?

      By the way, let me just make sure you agree with the background assumption that I've been invoking in all of this: do you agree that if S knows P, then it is necessary that P is true (whenever S believes P)? I'm relying on a "justified true belief" understanding of knowledge, but perhaps that's where our disagreement lies.

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    6. Yes, given I was not hit by lightning or dead of a heart attack, I was certain I would respond. But if we posit an omniscient God, he would know if those things would happen.

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    7. Anyway Keshav, what do you think is going on here? I wrote this post for Murphy, and you are commenting here, but he is not. I wrote another for you, and you have not commented on that one at all. Only Ken is commenting in the "proper" post!

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    8. Gene, I don't understand how you could possibly know with absolute certainty that you won't change your mind? Isn't it possible that even without external things like a lightning strike, your preferences might change between the time you see my comment and the time you'd write your post? Couldn't it be that you'll suddenly decide that blogging is a waste of time, and writing novels would be a better use of your time? (How good are your novels, by the way?)

      In any case, the fundamental question is this: if it's impossible that you could have done something different than what you actually did, in what sense do you have free will?

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    9. You are conflating two completely different things: I knew I would respond to you. That does not in the least mean that it was "impossible" that I would not respond to you. I knew I would CHOOSE to respond to you, although it was completely POSSIBLE for me not to do so.

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    10. In fact, my certainty only existed because the decision was my own choice! If it had depended upon the hurricane sweeping up from the South Atlantic, I would not have been certain!

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  2. "I knew I would respond to you. That does not in the least mean that it was "impossible" that I would not respond to you." OK, then I think this is the core of our disagreement: we seem to have different views of what knowledge is.

    Do you agree that knowledge means justified true belief? If so, do you agree that "justified" in this context means you could not be wrong? In other words, in order to know a statement P, the following three conditions must be true:

    1. You must believe that P is true.
    2. P must be true.
    3. You must be justified in believing that P is true, in the sense that the reason for your belief could not possibly lead you to false beliefs, or to put it another way, if P were not true then you would not believe it to be true.

    Do you agree with that definition of knowledge? It's a standard definition used in epistemology.

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    1. Epistemology is a confusion generated by bad metaphysics.

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    2. Epistemology is a confusion generated by bad metaphysics.

      Did you just deny an entire branch of philosophy?

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    3. Wow, I had no idea you believed that. I've seen some posts where you say that some problems in epistemology seem unsolvable only because people approach them from a dualist standpoint rather than an idealist standpoint. But I had no idea that you rejected the entire field of epistemology.

      In any case, whatever your attitude toward epistemology, do you or do you not agree that knowledge means justified true belief? If you disagree, what do you think knowledge means?

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    4. Well, this looks to me like "explaining" something simple and straightforward with something more complicated: like epistemology!

      But here goes: I believed it is true I would respond (failing being rendered physically unable to do so) and I believe I was justified in thinking that. But if someone you want to turn that into "so it was impossible you would not respond" I will call nonsense once again. I knew this because I had DECIDED to do so. That is precisely how I knew it so certainly.

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    5. Yes, the entire field of epistemology arises by first placing the mind completely outside reality, and then wondering how the heck it knows anything about reality. The puzzle is unsolvable from this point of view, because it goes wrong at the very first step. But if we see our basic nature is mind, and we live in a world of ideas... the entire puzzle vanishes, doesn't it?

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    6. "Buddhists regard the persistent delusion of 'inherent existence' as a major obstacle to spiritual development, and the root of many other damaging delusions. One of these delusions is the materialist belief in an objective reality existing independently of mind."

      If we begin by accepting a delusion, we can't get very far! Those all the verbal contortions about "justified true belief" and so forth.

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    7. Let me see if I can get the idealist position of epistemology straight, filling in the gaps with some guesses: Epistemology goes wrong by trying to first comprehend truth through abstractions/theory. Per idealism, we have direct access to reality because thought is experience. Arriving at a conclusion is a matter of "letting it come to", or at least that's how it works. Did I get that right?

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    8. "I believed it is true I would respond (failing being rendered physically unable to do so) and I believe I was justified in thinking that. But if someone you want to turn that into "so it was impossible you would not respond" I will call nonsense once again."

      OK, let's focus on that. What do you think it means to say that you are justified in believing something? Here's my definition of "justified", and you can tell me whether you agree or disagree. To say that you're justified in believing that P is true means that your reason for believing that P is true could not possibly lead you astray, in the sense of leading you to acquire false beliefs.

      To take a concrete example, if you saw that the ground was wet outside, you would not be justified in believing that it rained last night, because the reason that would lead you to believe that it rained could also lead you to believe that it rained even when it didn't. Are we on the same page?

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    9. No. I do not agree with the insertion of "possibly." I am justified when my belief DOES not lead me astray.

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    10. "No. I do not agree with the insertion of "possibly." I am justified when my belief DOES not lead me astray." Wait, are you saying that you are justified in believing something if your belief is in fact true? So if while you were sleeping, it rained last night, and in the morning you saw that the ground was wet, then you would be justified in believing that it rained last night?

      That's not how I understand term justified. To me, if there are other possible reasons why the ground may be wet, then you would not be justified in believing that it rained last night.

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  3. Did you just demonstrate the compatibility of free will and omniscience via calculus?

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  4. "The puzzle is unsolvable from this point of view, because it goes wrong at the very first step. But if we see our basic nature is mind, and we live in a world of ideas... the entire puzzle vanishes, doesn't it?"

    Hmmm. A corollary would seem to be: if we see our basic nature is material and we live in a material world ...
    OR, more interesting,
    if our basic nature is bit processing and we live in a world of bit processing ...

    Keshav probably knows more about that last part, "it from bit".

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    1. Yes, both of those would leave knowledge an absolute mystery, wouldn't they?

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  5. There's another irony, aside from who is commenting where. If I wanted to dispute free will, and argue that, for instance, beliefs and statements were the result of random electrical storms in the brain then Anarcho-capitalism would be exhibit 1.

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    1. No computational device could get that far out of whack, Ken.

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