Thursday, 30 August 2012

An invalid proof and disproof of free will

Scott Adams once tried to prove on The Dilbert Blog that nobody has free will. He did so by challenging anyone with free will to copy and paste a statement to the contrary as their response, and predicted all valid responses (ie you will not do so, you will do so but with additions, you will rant or you will copy the statement verbatim, thereby stating the opposite of your point).

There's something wrong with that argument, though, because it can be used to prove exactly the opposite point, too. That is, I know you have free will, but I command you to copy and paste this statement verbatim: "I have free will". If you don't, you've proved my point, because you've demonstrated your free will in disobeying me. If you do it, you've denied what you say. If you add to it, you've also demonstrated free will by choosing what to add to the statement.

So I don't think that experiment is valid either way.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This was a few years ago.
PPS - I stopped reading The Dilbert Blog around that time.


Bronwyn Collins said...

He's been trying to disprove free will for a long time. I think the problem lies with his quite narrow idea of what free will is. He's being a bit of an arse and taking the meaning of free will a little too literally. From all his free will posts I've read his idea against free will of his definition is a good one. He believes that no one does anything that is totally against their breeding or upbringing and these influences therefore somehow cancel out the idea of Free Will..... I don't quite get his militant view on the whole thing, considering the majority of the population (including the dictionary) consider free will to be your individual will against the ideas and constrictions of others. He seems to think Free Will is your minds own choice against it's own DNA and upbringing....
It's around about the same time I stopped reading his blog regularly too BTW

John said...

Good observation. If you define free will that way, then I suppose he must be right. I just wonder which came first for him: a disbelief in the concept of free will, or his peculiar definition of it.

Thinking further, his definition is a direct deduction from the axiom of materialism: physics is all there is. Perhaps that's what he's trying to prove, but if you could prove an axiom, it wouldn't be an axiom. It is an axiom because it must be assumed, but it does not have to be accepted.