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Functional Freewill

By Nanook - Posted on 14 November 2010

[Nanook is talking with Father Vincent. Nanook is italic type.]

“To answer that, I now want to present free will in a very different form.

There are actually many principles that don’t exist in an absolute sense. like a vacuum, that we still use as a relative concept because they simplify practical use. I think free will is like this. So, I want to propose a new relative concept I call FUNCTIONAL FREE WILL or PSYCHOLOGICAL FREE WILL. The word ‘functional’ means how we apply free will in everyday practice. The word ‘psychological’ means how a human perceives free will.”

"And what is the importance of this? I don’t understand.”

“The major driver to prove absolute free will was to support the religious need to explain pain and suffering in the world. We have shown that there is no logical way to support that religious view. But there are still valuable uses for the concept of free will in everyday life. To give them a logical basis to stand on, we will have to modify the basic definition of free will. Exploring it from a functional standpoint will show us how to modify the definition. Does that make sense?”

"OK. Sure. Now I get it.”

Single perfect universe – a consequence of perfection

“So, let’s start by reviewing the supernatural model, but now requiring completely logical constraints. Without bringing up the concept of God, try to envision a supernatural being that possesses freewill. Without knowing how that being actually works, what would that freewill be like? What properties would it have?

The first question is, can any such being be all-knowing, all-perfect, and all-powerful?”

"I see. No. An all-knowing, all-perfect being would probably only be able to have one perfect universe.”

“Precisely! The problem with the word ‘perfect’ is that it leads directly to a requirement for only one universe. Stated another way, can there possibly be more than one perfect universe? So, being all-perfect means being stuck with only one universe. And with only one universe, that is equivalent to having NO choices. So, there is no reason to have free will, since there are no choices to make. Perfection quickly rules out free will.

Multiple universes - a consequence of imperfection

Let’s take a big step down. Let’s envision our super being as powerful, but not all-powerful; smart, but not all-knowing. The first implication of these assumptions is that if the being is not all-knowing, the being can make mistakes. So, the being can’t be all-perfect. The being is then no longer able to know the one single optimum universe. What then?”

"There will be an infinite number of choices.”

“Precisely! So, how does the super being choose one?”

"You mean, there must be a PROCESS.”

“Right. And, the process of choosing can be generalized with the following steps: the creation of desired goals; the conception of alternatives; and the comparison of the alternatives against the goals. This can all be a conceptual process. But for any being other than an all-knowing being, a conceptual process is always an approximation based on models. There would always follow a trial with the real thing to see what the actual outcome is. Because a model is an approximation, there will always be a difference between the true result, the conceptual models and the goals.

Changeability – a consequence of multiple choices

Once a goal is decided, and the real universe is launched, can the being decide to make changes? In the case of our limited being, sure. (Just an aside. This brings up the Old Testament words about God regretting he made man.) If changes cannot be made, then there is no free will. If changes can be made, then there is no all-knowing. These two infinite properties cannot co-exist. The Old Testament words would suggest a God that may be very powerful, but within logical limits, and that doesn’t know the future and surely isn’t perfect. So, results become trial and error.

Summary of limitations imposed by free will

The result of this logical exercise was to show that, if we start out with the assumption that a supernatural being has the power of free will, that being can NOT have the traits of being all-knowing, or all-perfect. It also implies that the universe cannot be locked into one pattern over time. And all-powerful is ruled out anyway as being self-contradictory. So, any logical supernatural being must have limitations. Ironically, this constrained logical model for a supernatural being would fit very well with Zeus or Jupiter or Rama or even the Eskimo god of Arnaaluk. It even fits the God of the Old Testament. It just doesn’t fit a Christian God.

Free will as a process

So, let’s take Zeus as our model. What would free will look like for Zeus?

"Well, I guess we have to go back to your point about a process. I guess Zeus decides he want’s to accomplish something. Like, the Greeks pray to him to help them win some war. He decides to get involved. He uses his power to read people’s minds and see somewhat into the future and makes a plan to help them. He also always seemed to want something out of the result for himself. Then as the process unfolds, he adjusts his plan.”

"Good. So, let me state some hidden assumptions in your story. First, Zeus just doesn’t pull some random idea out of thin air, like turning the whole world into a marshmallow. The people prayed to him for specific things. He responded to them. He also had to take into account what kind of interventions made sense. The people prayed for victory in war. Deciding to hold a 20th century Winter Olympics, just because He though it would be fun, was not what the people prayed to him to do. My point is, the supernatural interventions have to pretty closely follow the cause and effect structure of the world already in place.

So, in summary, functional free will for Zeus meant just using his ability to THINK at a level ONE STEP ABOVE the humans, to make choices among optional approaches that were MEANINGFUL TO THE WORLD OF HUMANS. Note. In all the holy books for all the religions, including both the Old and New Testaments, this is how the GODS did act. The acts of their free will were ‘sensible’ for the problems of the times and the culture.

Second, the key point, for FUNCTIONAL FREE WILL, we just avoid confronting whether the process of ‘WILLING’ something was truly FREE or not. The NEW CRITERION FOR FREE WILL is that, from the standpoint of humans, and the gods, there is NO APPARENT CONSTRAINT by forces external to them concerning their ability to make CHOICES and take ACTION.”

Functional free will – the ability to make choices and take action

"OK. I got it. The new criterion is just the ability to make choices and take action, where the being making the choices and acting does not FEEL any external constraints.”