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Buridan's Ass (Free Will)
Inspired by the discussion on what makes us different than a rock, Chisnell in our class brought up the paradox known as Burdian's Ass. It goes like this:
"A donkey that is equally hungry and thirsty is placed precisely midway between a stack of hay and a pail of water. Since the paradox assumes the donkey will always go to whichever is closer, it dies of both hunger and thirst since it cannot make any rational decision between the hay and water."
For those of us in calc, it's like how you can't determine the derivative of an absolute value function because there are 2 possible slopes at that corner point. This is based on Jean Buridan's idea of "hard determinism": everything is predetermined and our brain works by receiving inputs and spitting an output.
So I guess the larger question is: is this a paradox with a resolution or does it highlight that we have an illusion of free will?
Well, obviously since there's no way to turn back time, it's impossible to even imagine that something else could have happened. I don't think determinism necessarily contradicts free will, but rather teases us with something unknowable. With this framework, if we set up any event with the same initial conditions, the result would always be the same. To me, that doesn't seem like it's saying we don't have free will, but rather saying that our behaviors are predictable once you know literally everything.
Ultimately, my personal conclusion that I've reached is that it doesn't necessarily matter if I have objective free will, but it feels as though I do. I'm free in comparison to others on my same level, even if there's some magic cosmic force controlling everything.
I find the concept that the lack of an ability to make a determination such as this quite fascinating. I feel that there are different types of driving factors in which animals/people base their decisions on. When it comes to the bear example, I do see your point on the calculating decisions that the bear is making. But, I would counter that it is a stalemate discussion regarding the decision-making process of bears and other animals. We do not exactly know what is going through an animal's brain, yet are basing a paradox upon the assumption that animals completely lack the ability to decide based upon will. When taking out the factor that a donkey would realistically make a decision, it brings an incredibly interesting point to the table.
@conster I guess one more time with the bear, the bear is an organism and has a purpose: to stay alive, reproduce, etc.. We don't need to know what's going on in their brain, just the input, and the output. However, I'll stop playing devil's advocate and put an end because there is a resolution to the stupid paradox.
The basic framing of the argument states that the donkey believes that the two choices are identical. But by definition, how can something different be identical? Surely they are identical in distance but yet they are different in terms of location. For something to be truly identical, the location has to be the same too since no exceptions of "identical" were laid out. This is the contradiction that ultimately brings the paradox to its knees.
@salmonI certainly agree with this conclusion. If all we care about is the end result, does it really matter if it's real or not? Take for example religion. Religion at the end of the day persuades humans to act in a different way or by a set way of life. Whether or not the omnipotent beings exist doesn't matter, the end result is that those people are still meeting the end goal by acting a certain way.
@aaparrot If we're just pointing out impossibilities, no paradox really works. For example, Zeno's Paradox is really stupid when you take it apart, because obviously going half the distance becomes impossible at smaller scales. However, if we're going fully theoretical, both choices would not exactly be identical, but rather equal. Their locations would be distinct, but have the exact same qualities. It's like distance from 2 and -2, as opposed to just 2 and 2.
Doing a little research led to me to the ideas of classifying paradoxes, and antinomy seems to be the best description. A fundamental contradiction of two truths (donkey should not be able to choose, donkey ends up choosing) seems pretty accurate here. Free will and determinism are likely also the same way, both seem to be undeniably true but are somehow in conflict.
Sorry if I bore you with the use of an example. Also, are you stating your opinion, or are you stating the answer to the question you used to create an entire topic section with? Alright, I will stop messing with you. To make a change to your proposed answer, hypothetically would the core of the paradox be changed if you were to simply exchange one resource for the other, making them the same? If you have a thirsty donkey and place two bowls of water equidistant from the donkey, would it die of thirst, does this change your thoughts? (sorry this post comes off as really aggressive, but you made a topic section so I'm gonna use it) I also think that although you are right that they are not necessarily identical in location, you are extrapolating the term identical beyond its intended purpose in this hypothetical.
One can have two brand new cars made on the same day from the same factory. Any average person would say that they are identical. Yes, the molecular structure of the metal may be different, and being parked side by side means their locations are different, but this stretching of "identical" is overanalyzing the point of the argument that they are fundamentally the same thing. (also if you disregard orientational circumstances, and are find duplicate things that are equidistant from you ((angle formed is 180 degrees with you as the midpoint)), you would have no indicator that they are not identical because you would not even be able to tell the difference between the two without a third party to provide orientation)
@aaparrot I must admit that I am a little confused by your religion analogy. Are you stating that when one follows a religion that do so only to meet that end goal? I mean I know some people do, but I feel like religion has vastly changed in that "getting into heaven" or something like that isn't really the main focus anymore. OR perhaps are you getting at the existentialism aspect of it? In that, it doesn't even matter if God exists, either way people are following these morals and rules. I remember speaking about this in AP Lang, and so I would like to pose the same question in this post:
Do you think that if God (or some type of being) was not involved in religion, people would still follow it?
I think some would, just as a matter of morality. I know that some in family, including myself, do not necessarily know if we even believe in God but see value in the church's morals. For a lot of people though, I think without the prospect/threat of God holding you to these morals they may stop practicing their religion. What do you think?
I think that even if you did know literally everything, and could use that to see how someone would react in any given situation, I don't think even that would count as a lack of free will. If your brain just is inputs and outputs, and you could predict those I think those inputs and outputs are so complex that people are still able to make their own decisions independent of the decisions of others, and even if that can be predicted, it is still free will, just predictable free will.
@leinweber If unpredictability doesn't define free will, then what does? There's not any way to pin down what's yours and what isn't if a concept such as "fate" really exists. From that standpoint, who's to say that rocks DON'T have free will, but it's just predictable to us because we're on a higher order? I'm really just throwing these questions out there, since I don't think there are any answers, but who knows.
@gil I am stating that whether or not God exists, people are following rules and morals which is the end goal of the said religion. I'm really not sure which side on land regarding whether or not people would follow a religion if there was no omnipotent being. Ultimately, religion is just a conglomeration of rules and morals that people should abide by. There will certainly be people who follow. However, some religion requires justification for their actions that lend themselves to the irrationality of believing in omnipotent beings like fasting, premarital sex, etc. If there is no justification, then why would people follow. People certainly believe that if they adhere to these rules, there is a consequence (positive or negative). If there is no justification, what is in it for them? I think that may be a limited view though of the question.
@leinweber Predictable free will huh? I actually really like that take and want to run with it some more. Can you elaborate a bit more on what you mean by this?
@salmon I think that free will is my ability to make a decision that is dictated by more than instinct, or someone else. By being able to make a decision based on more than someone else's control over me, or my first instinct I can show that I have the ability to exercise free will, because my decisions are then based on my own thoughts and ideas, as opposed to someone else's. For example, I don't think geese migrate south for the winter of their own free will, I think that the geese just know that all geese go in a certain direction at a certain time of year so they continue doing that without any thought to the contrary. Humans have broken this trend of decision making based on instinct, so that is why I would call us different from a rock or a goose.
@leinweber But how do you know that the geese aren't migrating because they want to? Since we can't know anything outside of ourselves, (or really myself, because who's to say anyone else has free will?) there's no way to know. That pulls this whole thing into perspective actually, because once you start thinking about how there's no way to know anything but the self as fact, everything loses meaning. However, I totally agree with your definition of "surpassing instinct" as a decent-enough definition for free will, at least before words start to become meaningless.
I agree with you that individual decision making is still free will regardless of its predictability. Whether someone is able to predict what someone else will choose, that individual is choosing based upon their own consciousness and subconsciousness. By this I mean that it is also regardless if someone chooses consciously to, for example, pick up one water bottle over another, or if they choose subconsciously without any thought, their own individual experiences and brain development has led to them making the decision at some level to choose one over the other.
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