Your brain tricks you into believing... What?!

How does science work? And what's all this about quantum mechanics?

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Speakpigeon
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Your brain tricks you into believing... What?!

Post by Speakpigeon » Sat Jul 27, 2019 8:35 pm

One example, and perhaps the most convincing example, of psychologists, including neuroscientists, actually concluding from their research that a standard mental event is best understood as, literally, an illusion that people have is the frequent scientific conclusion that our belief that we have free will is an illusion.

Here is one good example of how the term "free will" itself is usually defined in this context:
"Free will may be defined as an agent's ability to act on the world by its own volition, independently of purely physical (as opposed to metaphysical) causes and prior states of the world"
(definition used in the context of a debate specifically on free will organised by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology).

I don't think this definition makes any sense, but it seems clear that we nonetheless standardly have something like a very strong belief that we can very often, indeed routinely, do exactly what we wanted to do.

As an example, suppose you are asked to take part in a poll where the question is whether you think you have free will or you think you don't (plus options such as "Don't know" etc.).

I would certainly expect most people to choose to vote that they think they have free will. However, this is not the point. The point is that you are presented with a choice and that whatever your vote will be you do something which will be deemed to be the expression of your choice.

There seems to be little point in denying that you would indeed express your choice and do what you actually wanted to do in selecting whatever option you would.

It also seems beyond controversy that most people in that sort of situation don't spend a long time considering and deliberating with themselves, i.e. consciously, their possible answer. Thus, I think we can assume that, very often, people make their choice without consciously deliberating what choice to make. Thus, we can take what they come to want to do in this context to be essentially the result of an unconscious process.

Obviously, there are many situations where we do deliberate with ourselves hard and long before electing to perform a particular action. However, this is irrelevant here. The fact seems to be that most of the things we do in life, including voting, something which is taken to be the means to express the will of the people, are done without any rational, and therefore conscious, deliberation.

Yet, in many such situations, we will indeed believe that we will have done what we wanted to do, which I think is really the point of free will.

In this example, we have on one side a strong belief, that we can often, routinely, do what we want, and on the other the scientific contention, by psychologists, that free will is best understood, literally, as an illusion.

This, however, clearly does not amount to anything like our brain tricking us into having the illusion that we are acting according to our free will.

What we routinely believe is, literally, that we are doing what we want at the moment. Scientific studies don't deny that we do want something on these occasions. They also don't deny that we end up actually doing what we so wanted to do.

What scientific studies seem to be concluding is that free will as defined above, what I call a metaphysical definition of free will, is an illusion. However, they don't actually prove, they don't even try to prove, that we really have this metaphysical belief to begin with, as opposed to just believing, however strongly, that you can often, routinely, do what you want.

Thus, I don't think there is any substance to the notion that the brain is literally tricking us into thinking anything. Clearly, our brain makes us for example want to do things and that this somehow seems to make us do or try to do it. This, however, doesn't amount to anything like a "trick".

Otherwise, you might just as well take our perception of the world around us to be a trick of the brain to make us believe that there is a particular kind of material world out there even though there isn't in fact such a world.

More likely, we should take any suggestion that our brain tricks us as literary licence. In other words, the only trick here is other people trying to trick you into believing meaningless headlines.

Here is an example of such a headline:
Brain Tricks Us Into Thinking We Are In Control
(From PsyBlog, a website founded and authored by Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD in psychology from University College London, MSc in Research Methods in Psychology and a Post Graduate Diploma in Psychology. https://www.spring.org.uk/2016/05/free- ... lusion.php)

And here is one claim fleshing out the headline:
"While it may feel like we are in control of our actions, this is just a fantasy our brain creates so we don’t feel left out."
So, there is undoubtedly a cottage industry of psychologists making the brain-tricks-us claim again and again, both literally, in their "headlines", and in the substance of what they say in support of the headline.

When it comes to actual scientific papers, however, it seems very hard to find any example of the claim itself. The word "trick" is indeed very often used in the context of the neurosciences but, as far as I can tell, it is essentially either to express the idea that the brain performs very remarkable cognitive feats, or used as shorthand for new abilities that the brain can be taught to develop.

So, maybe, don't let the cottage industry of psychologists trick you into believing real science makes any claim that your brain tricks you in any way.
EB

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Noax
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Re: Your brain tricks you into believing... What?!

Post by Noax » Tue Aug 27, 2019 6:50 am

Speakpigeon wrote:
Sat Jul 27, 2019 8:35 pm
One example, and perhaps the most convincing example, of psychologists, including neuroscientists, actually concluding from their research that a standard mental event is best understood as, literally, an illusion that people have is the frequent scientific conclusion that our belief that we have free will is an illusion.
This statement is unusually difficult to parse. It makes it sound like some (many?) people have an illusion about the frequency at which science is concluding something. That's probably not what you meant it to say, but that's what it says.

If science wants to draw a conclusion about people's beliefs concerning free will, they can take a poll. They can simply ask if the person thinks free will is an illusion, or they can provide a definition like the one you quote. If they take such a poll, they can draw a scientific conclusion about those beliefs. I suppose if they lie about the frequency of having actually taken such polls and just publish fake results as if they had, then they'd be giving an illusion that such a conclusion had in fact been drawn at the claimed frequency.

Here is one good example of how the term "free will" itself is usually defined in this context:
"Free will may be defined as an agent's ability to act on the world by its own volition, independently of purely physical (as opposed to metaphysical) causes and prior states of the world"
(definition used in the context of a debate specifically on free will organised by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology).
I don't think this definition makes any sense
This is a very begging definition, so I agree. I could equally say that an entity that uses only physics has the free will and anything controlled by some second-party metaphysical entity as described above is a case of possession, overriding the will of the being so possessed.

The usage of 'physical' and 'metaphysical' is also inappropriate in this definition, since they mean the same thing in this context. More correctly worded, it should say 'independently of purely natural (as opposed to supernatural) causes and prior states of the world'.

It seems neither here nor there. The thread seems to be about people's beliefs, and not about if they actually have free will or not.
It seems clear that we nonetheless standardly have something like a very strong belief that we can very often, indeed routinely, do exactly what we wanted to do.
Indeed, I can think of very few people that don't believe that one. You don't need free will to do what you want to do, short of physical restraints. I want to fly like superman, but it isn't usually explained as my lack of free will that prevents it. If, on the other hand, I was possessed by an immaterial alternate-willed entity, I would not be able to do what I want. I would still say that I believe thus, because it would be the immaterial entity answering, not me.
As an example, suppose you are asked to take part in a poll where the question is whether you think you have free will or you think you don't (plus options such as "Don't know" etc.).

I would certainly expect most people to choose to vote that they think they have free will.
It sounds like a good thing to have, and most people would not be able to give a reasonable philosophical definition of what free will is, and have thus given it any real thought. Given the definition above, I would not answer yes since I don't think I'm thus possessed.
However, this is not the point.
It seemed to be the point. The whole wording of the OP concerned beliefs and scientific findings concerning those beliefs, not concerning whether we actually have free will or not.
The point is that you are presented with a choice and that whatever your vote will be you do something which will be deemed to be the expression of your choice.

There seems to be little point in denying that you would indeed express your choice and do what you actually wanted to do in selecting whatever option you would.
I denied it just above. If I were possessed, I would will to choose 'don't have free will' but that which possessed me would perhaps choose differently. The choice would be out of my hands either way. My will in that scenario is completely suppressed.
It also seems beyond controversy that most people in that sort of situation don't spend a long time considering and deliberating with themselves, i.e. consciously, their possible answer. Thus, I think we can assume that, very often, people make their choice without consciously deliberating what choice to make.
There are those, especially the types on forums like this, that take perhaps years considering and deliberating the issue. I agree that most people don't give it that much thought. Other more trivial choices like whether to go left or right of the upcoming obstacle often don't even bubble beyond the subconscious level.
Thus, we can take what they come to want to do in this context to be essentially the result of an unconscious process.
I would not make such a choice (or even whether to veer right or left) while unconscious. I think you mean subconscious, and I don't think the free will question fails to require conscious attention unless the decision was deliberated in the past and only the known choice is now being conveyed.
Obviously, there are many situations where we do deliberate with ourselves hard and long before electing to perform a particular action. However, this is irrelevant here. The fact seems to be that most of the things we do in life, including voting, something which is taken to be the means to express the will of the people, are done without any rational, and therefore conscious, deliberation.
Conscious decision is not the same thing as rational decision. I agree that few choices are rationally made. Most philosophical choices, in fact, are probably rationalized, not rational. Rationalization still involves conscious thought.
Yet, in many such situations, we will indeed believe that we will have done what we wanted to do, which I think is really the point of free will.
Agree with this, but then there is no distinction between free will and the lack of it.
In this example, we have on one side a strong belief, that we can often, routinely, do what we want, and on the other the scientific contention, by psychologists, that free will is best understood, literally, as an illusion.
Are said psychologists suggesting that we are routinely prevented from doing what we want? If not, then your two points concern different subjects. I doubt the psychologists are concluding that. You're using a different definition of free will than they are with this statement. My personal definition runs more along the lines of the one you're using (can do what I want) and less along the lines of the definition you quoted, paraphrased as: My decisions are made for me by a 2nd entity like a driver makes the decisions for a car. Note that cars have been making more and more decisions for themselves as technology marches on. Mine locks/unlocks the doors for instance and my own choice in the matter cannot override it. My choice in cars was quite motivated by my desire for a car with as little will as possible, keeping as much in my control as I could. The door lock thing frequently annoys me.
What scientific studies seem to be concluding is that free will as defined above, what I call a metaphysical definition of free will, is an illusion.
I call it a dualistic definition because it it is true for any dualistic philosophy and fails for any monistic one. The definition has nothing to do with being able to do what you want, or having a determined will, or being able to have done otherwise, or initiating cause, or any of the other attempted wordings to actually distinguish a will being free or not. That definition is poor because it only distinguishes from whence the will comes without distinguishing whether or not its freedom might be constrained.
I think said psychologists, if they're actually making this claim, are probably simply claiming a lack of evidence of any outside entity calling the shots. Humans, like any animal, are self controlled and not avatars. This is true of many but not all mechanical devices. My child's RC vehicle does not have free will. It's will comes from the child with the remote, not itself. The roomba on the other hand has free will (it does what it wants, not that it is possessed by an immaterial entity).
However, they don't actually prove, they don't even try to prove, that we really have this metaphysical belief to begin with
As I said, a simple poll would be strong evidence of this. Sure, some people lie on polls, so it isn't proof, but it is strong evidence of the general percentage of the population that holds any particular belief.

You've suddenly switched back to discussion about belief and not about whether people are correct about their beliefs.
Thus, I don't think there is any substance to the notion that the brain is literally tricking us into thinking anything.
The brain is in fact a master of bullcrap. You wouldn't be fit without it. I rationally hold certain beliefs that other parts of my brain deny, and I cannot un-believe the things I rationally know are wrong. I don't even want to un-believe them. The rational part of me is clearly not in charge. Anyway, I count that as the brain literally tricking me into thinking certain things.
I also have a stronger rational part of the brain than most. When totally drunk, I cannot walk or speak clearly, but I am little inhibited in my ability to remember events or perform arithmetic, and hence was always elected score keeper in games played while drinking. Other people acted far more sober, but can't remember what they'd done the night before.
Otherwise, you might just as well take our perception of the world around us to be a trick of the brain to make us believe that there is a particular kind of material world out there even though there isn't in fact such a world.
There are those that hold beliefs along these lines.
More likely, we should take any suggestion that our brain tricks us as literary licence. In other words, the only trick here is other people trying to trick you into believing meaningless headlines.
Fundamentally, we're all programmed with pretty much the same list of lies. Belief in free will isn't really a fundamental belief. Your fitness as a biological being doesn't depend on it.
Here is an example of such a headline:
Brain Tricks Us Into Thinking We Are In Control
(From PsyBlog, a website founded and authored by Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD in psychology from University College London, MSc in Research Methods in Psychology and a Post Graduate Diploma in Psychology. https://www.spring.org.uk/2016/05/free- ... lusion.php)

And here is one claim fleshing out the headline:
"While it may feel like we are in control of our actions, this is just a fantasy our brain creates so we don’t feel left out."
So, there is undoubtedly a cottage industry of psychologists making the brain-tricks-us claim again and again, both literally, in their "headlines", and in the substance of what they say in support of the headline.
I agree that such headlines are crap, but they can be presented as truth with carefully selected definitions of the terms involved. So they're not necessarily wrong, they're just shining light on the subject from an unusual angle.
Of course I'm in control. What else would be? Determinism? Determinism doesn't care what I do, having no will of its own. Not that I buy into determinism, but it is a favored tool in such articles.

There is actually pretty strong evidence against the definition you provided up top, but as I said, the definition has nothing to do with my ability to do what I want or not.

phyllo
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Re: Your brain tricks you into believing... What?!

Post by phyllo » Thu Aug 29, 2019 6:33 pm

I don't think this definition makes any sense, but it seems clear that we nonetheless standardly have something like a very strong belief that we can very often, indeed routinely, do exactly what we wanted to do.

As an example, suppose you are asked to take part in a poll where the question is whether you think you have free will or you think you don't (plus options such as "Don't know" etc.).

I would certainly expect most people to choose to vote that they think they have free will. However, this is not the point. The point is that you are presented with a choice and that whatever your vote will be you do something which will be deemed to be the expression of your choice.

There seems to be little point in denying that you would indeed express your choice and do what you actually wanted to do in selecting whatever option you would.

It also seems beyond controversy that most people in that sort of situation don't spend a long time considering and deliberating with themselves, i.e. consciously, their possible answer. Thus, I think we can assume that, very often, people make their choice without consciously deliberating what choice to make. Thus, we can take what they come to want to do in this context to be essentially the result of an unconscious process.

Obviously, there are many situations where we do deliberate with ourselves hard and long before electing to perform a particular action. However, this is irrelevant here. The fact seems to be that most of the things we do in life, including voting, something which is taken to be the means to express the will of the people, are done without any rational, and therefore conscious, deliberation.

Yet, in many such situations, we will indeed believe that we will have done what we wanted to do, which I think is really the point of free will.

In this example, we have on one side a strong belief, that we can often, routinely, do what we want, and on the other the scientific contention, by psychologists, that free will is best understood, literally, as an illusion.

This, however, clearly does not amount to anything like our brain tricking us into having the illusion that we are acting according to our free will.

What we routinely believe is, literally, that we are doing what we want at the moment. Scientific studies don't deny that we do want something on these occasions. They also don't deny that we end up actually doing what we so wanted to do.
The argument is that you don't freely choose your 'wants'. They are completely the result of "purely physical (as opposed to metaphysical) causes and prior states of the world". You have no choice in what you want. Therefore thinking that you are doing what you want is part of the illusion.

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Re: Your brain tricks you into believing... What?!

Post by Noax » Sat Aug 31, 2019 3:01 am

phyllo wrote:
Thu Aug 29, 2019 6:33 pm
The argument is that you don't freely choose your 'wants'. They are completely the result of "purely physical (as opposed to metaphysical) causes and prior states of the world". You have no choice in what you want. Therefore thinking that you are doing what you want is part of the illusion.
That is indeed a far better statement of the argument, compared to 1) the definition that the will comes from supernatural sources, or 2) being able to do what one wants.

I kind of understand the purpose of proposing the first definition. But what about yours (OK, not yours, since it's more the mainstream gist)?
Why would my will being part of purely natural causes be better than being determined by supernatural causes? Either way, I don't seem to be choosing my will, but find myself being a slave to it. The conflict seems to go like: I'm coerced against choosing chocolate because my non-free will prefers vanilla, like the will doesn't reflect what I actually might want.

Secondly, just because the will comes from supernatural sources, why would that be any more free? It is free from physical causes? How might I freely choose to cross the street without letting physical causes come into play? That's a sure way to be killed. Causation is your friend, not an enemy like the definition you give makes it out to be.

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Re: Your brain tricks you into believing... What?!

Post by Speakpigeon » Sat Nov 09, 2019 10:47 am

phyllo wrote:
Thu Aug 29, 2019 6:33 pm
The argument is that you don't freely choose your 'wants'. They are completely the result of "purely physical (as opposed to metaphysical) causes and prior states of the world". You have no choice in what you want. Therefore thinking that you are doing what you want is part of the illusion.
But this is where "the argument" against free-will doesn't make sense. That what we want is determined by physical conditions is absolutely irrelevant. (a) We still do what we want, (b) this is not an illusion, (3) and this is what most people would call "having free will".

Thus, "the argument" against free-will appears to be entirely motivated by ideology despite its scientific foundation, which, again, is irrelevant.
EB

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Re: Your brain tricks you into believing... What?!

Post by Speakpigeon » Sat Nov 09, 2019 10:48 am

Noax wrote:
Tue Aug 27, 2019 6:50 am
Speakpigeon wrote:
Sat Jul 27, 2019 8:35 pm
One example, and perhaps the most convincing example, of psychologists, including neuroscientists, actually concluding from their research that a standard mental event is best understood as, literally, an illusion that people have is the frequent scientific conclusion that our belief that we have free will is an illusion.
This statement is unusually difficult to parse. It makes it sound like some (many?) people have an illusion about the frequency at which science is concluding something. That's probably not what you meant it to say, but that's what it says.

If science wants to draw a conclusion about people's beliefs concerning free will, they can take a poll. They can simply ask if the person thinks free will is an illusion, or they can provide a definition like the one you quote. If they take such a poll, they can draw a scientific conclusion about those beliefs. I suppose if they lie about the frequency of having actually taken such polls and just publish fake results as if they had, then they'd be giving an illusion that such a conclusion had in fact been drawn at the claimed frequency.
Sorry, but you very thoroughly misread what I said.
EB

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