SAND18 US — The Mystery of Free Will

By Donald Hoffman

Donald Hoffman reminds us that we can predict people's choices up to seven seconds before they are conscious of making that choice. He explains the theories of free will, and presents a hypothesis of distributed free will which has consciousness as its basis, and includes a mathematical model in which free will arises within a hierarchical social network.

I choose chocolate over vanilla. By monitoring my brain activity, a neuroscientist can predict my choice seven seconds before I’m even aware of my choice. Are we puppets, and neurons our puppeteers?You choose kindness over cruelty, enlightenment over vanity. In 1966, Charles Whitman chose to murder 17 people. His autopsy revealed a brain tumor; his suicide note said, “I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.” Can you take credit for your choices? Should Whitman be blamed for his? Are you free to choose, or do neurons and tumors choose for you?Einstein said, “I feel that I will to light my pipe and I do it; but how can I connect this up with the idea of freedom? What is behind the act of willing to light the pipe? Another act of willing?” Sam Harris argues that free will is incoherent: “Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them.”To deny free will is, according to the Supreme Court, “inconsistent with the underlying precepts of our criminal justice system.” To endorse free will is, according to many neuroscientists, inconsistent with logic and neuroscience.In this talk, I propose a scientific theory of agents with free will, and explain how it is consistent with logic and neuroscience. Free will is a fundamental aspect of reality, and can be modeled mathematically. Agents can combine to form more complex agents, ad infinitum. The free will choices of lower agents constrain the choices of more complex agents; the choices of higher agents influence, in turn, the choices of lower agents. Free will enjoys a complex dynamics that flows bottom up and top down.

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