RE: How hard a Singularity?

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Fri Jul 05 2002 - 10:07:28 MDT

Regarding "free will", I don't attach all that much meaning to this concept,

Sometimes it pays to remind ourselves that linguistic terms have meanings
agreed upon by social convention. They are tokens which we have found
valuable to communicate amongst ourselves in certain contexts. Sometimes
terms/concepts are useful for a while and then become less useful.

There are many examples -- for instance why was "hysteria" such a common
psychiatric diagnosis for among women 100 years ago, but is unheard of now?
Have womens' mental states changed with changes in culture? To some extent.
Have we just started classifying things in a different way? Largely.

There is no such thing as a crisply defined concept of "free will." What we
have is a series of two words which people have used in various ways in
various contexts. The degree of consensus as to the meaning of a term like
this is much smaller than one finds regarding terms like "table" or
"integrated circuit" or even "headache" (though the latter has a lot of
variety too).

All in all, any debate about whether this or that entity has free will that
does not begin with a fairly precise definition of "free will" seems to me
unlikely to lead anywhere interesting.... There is too much ambiguity here
to lead to anything but poetry, speculative metaphysics, and meandering
e-mails or conversations ;)

To me, "free will" is most meaningful as a psychological feeling -- a state
of mind in which one feels in some sense responsible for making autonomous
decisions. This feeling -- this flavor of experience -- is what it is,
regardless of scientific theories about the deterministic or
nondeterministic underpinnings of the mind doing the experiencing.

-- Ben G

> James Rogers wrote:
> > On 7/4/02 6:59 AM, "James Higgins" <> wrote:
> >
> >>At 01:20 AM 7/4/2002 -0400, Gordon Worley wrote:
> >>
> >>>Besides, I assert there's no such thing as free will and it's just an
> >>>illusion of the interpreter, but that's another thread.
> >>
> >>Of course there is free will, at least on the individual level.
> >
> >
> >
> > Gordon is correct. IF you assume the mind can be run on finite state
> > machinery (something one generally assumes in AI research), you
> can't have
> > free will.
> This looks tantamount to claiming that only an utterly unlimited
> being could have free will. Oh, wait, we are, afaik, capable of
> going beyond our biological limits. Either way, you lose.
> Actually, it is not a question of mathematics at all. If you
> can choose among alternatives, even if the alternatives are
> finite, you have free will. Espcially if you can modify your
> value and goal structures to some extent.
> > Furthermore, in such a case it is mathematically impossible for
> > you to even perceive that you don't have free will (kind of like Godel's
> > theorem applied to computational machinery), though it is possible to
> > perceive the lack of "free will" in simpler machinery. This
> last sentence
> > catches most people as a surprise.
> >
> Then how do you know it? hmm?
> > A lot of people have a hard time with this concept because it isn't
> > intuitive, but it is relatively simple to show why it must
> necessarily be
> > true.
> Then show it instead of simply asserting it. Start with your
> definition of "free will" and go from there.
> > I've seen quite a bit of very irrational backlash against this
> idea because
> > it invalidates a core axiom of human interaction. I've never
> seen anyone
> > actually refute it, they just get a "deer in the headlights"
> look and refuse
> > to accept it. But this is SL4. :-)
> Ah, now any questioning of your bald assertions will be taken as
> "irrational backlash". Sigh.
> - samantha

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