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Thread: DO we really make our own decisions?

  1. #1 DO we really make our own decisions? 
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    Hello all,

    I have been thinking about fate and how there is a scientific truth behind it. After all, our decisions are based on our past experiences and genetic make up, right? Therefor, theoretically all the decisions that one makes could be calculated by taking into account one's genetics and previous experiences. If we delve even deeper, it is possible to calculate someone's experiences by knowing every event that takes place in their environments. So does that mean that every decision we make has already been made because is it POSSIBLE to calculate ahead of time? Is every environmental event predetermined because it is just a result of past events?

    This leads me on to another, more concerning thought. Companies are already able to calculate some of our decisions and are able to use this to their advantage. Let me give you an example. Have you ever noticed how the most popular products in a supermarket are at eye level? This is because it has been found that humans are more likely to buy something when it is at eye level. We are less likely to look up or down.
    Or what about warning signs all being red? This is because the colour red catches our eye. It is more likely to get a human's attention.
    Now what I am concerned about is individuals and companies using the knowledge we are gaining regarding the human mind, unethically. It is well known that there are people and companies who will use this sort of information for their own gains, regardless of the ethical implications.

    Please give me your thoughts on these points. If you can help me communicate these ideas clearly, please do so.

    Thanks for reading,
    Levi


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  3. #2  
    Genius Duck Moderator Dywyddyr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Levi View Post
    I have been thinking about fate and how there is a scientific truth behind it.
    That's an assumption.

    After all, our decisions are based on our past experiences and genetic make up, right? Therefor, theoretically all the decisions that one makes could be calculated by taking into account one's genetics and previous experiences. If we delve even deeper, it is possible to calculate someone's experiences by knowing every event that takes place in their environments. So does that mean that every decision we make has already been made because is it POSSIBLE to calculate ahead of time?
    So far as we know it's not possible.
    (And what we know of physics, let alone what we don't know about how the mind works, makes it seem unlikely it ever will be).

    Is every environmental event predetermined because it is just a result of past events?
    No.
    You can't tell how things will turn out.
    Small changes can wreak large consequences.

    This leads me on to another, more concerning thought. Companies are already able to calculate some of our decisions and are able to use this to their advantage. Let me give you an example. Have you ever noticed how the most popular products in a supermarket are at eye level? This is because it has been found that humans are more likely to buy something when it is at eye level. We are less likely to look up or down.
    Or what about warning signs all being red? This is because the colour red catches our eye. It is more likely to get a human's attention.
    Psychology works on probables: most people don't look up or down, but not all; most peoples' eye gets caught by red, but not all.
    Marketing "works" because it makes more money than it costs - i.e. it does pull in more business, but it's not infallible. And is unlikely to be so.

    Now what I am concerned about is individuals and companies using the knowledge we are gaining regarding the human mind, unethically. It is well known that there are people and companies who will use this sort of information for their own gains, regardless of the ethical implications.
    Whatever humans come up with there's always the chance that it can, and will, be used unethically.
    (E.g. psychology can be used to help or coerce).


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    As I understand the current theories of physics, you literally cannot know everything there is to know about a person. At the quantum level, there is the Heisenberg uncertainity principle, which specifies that measuring some properties of fundamental particles results in increasing the uncertainty of other properties. To the best of our knowledge, many events that take place at the quantum level cannot be predicted individually, all you can predict is a statistical likelihood of such an event occurring. This is not a matter of lack of precision of measurement devices, it is a fundamental part of the way the universe works. At the much larger time and distance scales our senses operate at, these effects are very difficult to perceive. But they are there nevertheless, and fundamental to everything.
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    Thanks for your reply Dywyddyr,

    You are right, it is not possible to predict the future events yet. At least not accurately. However, the majority of people once thought it impossible for human flight. Once, it was commonly thought that lightning was the result of the god Zues hurling energy. WE have come a long way since then and we still have a lot to learn. The wheel is already in motion. We can predict weather by monitoring pressure systems. We can predict tides by monitoring the moon. These predictions will only become more accurate as more people study and add to our accumulated knowledge.

    -Levi
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    Genius Duck Moderator Dywyddyr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Levi View Post
    You are right, it is not possible to predict the future events yet. At least not accurately. However, the majority of people once thought it impossible for human flight. Once, it was commonly thought that lightning was the result of the god Zues hurling energy. WE have come a long way since then and we still have a lot to learn. The wheel is already in motion. We can predict weather by monitoring pressure systems. We can predict tides by monitoring the moon. These predictions will only become more accurate as more people study and add to our accumulated knowledge.
    No.
    The problems of flight, tides and lightning are in no way comparable to "telling the future", or even accurately predicting the weather (beyond a week or so [gross generalities excepted]).
    As danhanegan pointed out, there is a fundamental indeterminacy to the universe.
    This isn't a feature of us not having enough knowledge, it's not a feature of us not having enough calculating power, it's not a feature of us not having sufficiently accurate measurements; it's a fundamental property of reality.
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    Quote Originally Posted by danhanegan View Post
    As I understand the current theories of physics, you literally cannot know everything there is to know about a person. At the quantum level, there is the Heisenberg uncertainity principle, which specifies that measuring some properties of fundamental particles results in increasing the uncertainty of other properties. To the best of our knowledge, many events that take place at the quantum level cannot be predicted individually, all you can predict is a statistical likelihood of such an event occurring. This is not a matter of lack of precision of measurement devices, it is a fundamental part of the way the universe works. At the much larger time and distance scales our senses operate at, these effects are very difficult to perceive. But they are there nevertheless, and fundamental to everything.

    Great comment thanks Dan. It is true that we can only predict a statistical likelihood of an event happening. But at some point we may be able to reach a likelihood that is useful to us right? Say... 70%?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dywyddyr View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Levi View Post
    You are right, it is not possible to predict the future events yet. At least not accurately. However, the majority of people once thought it impossible for human flight. Once, it was commonly thought that lightning was the result of the god Zues hurling energy. WE have come a long way since then and we still have a lot to learn. The wheel is already in motion. We can predict weather by monitoring pressure systems. We can predict tides by monitoring the moon. These predictions will only become more accurate as more people study and add to our accumulated knowledge.
    No.
    The problems of flight, tides and lightning are in no way comparable to "telling the future", or even accurately predicting the weather (beyond a week or so [gross generalities excepted]).
    As danhanegan pointed out, there is a fundamental indeterminacy to the universe.
    This isn't a feature of us not having enough knowledge, it's not a feature of us not having enough calculating power, it's not a feature of us not having sufficiently accurate measurements; it's a fundamental property of reality.

    I believe the famous Albert Einstein though along similar lines. Didn't he coin a theory where different decisions lead to different realities? But all realities are just as real as each other. So in other words, we can not 'predict the future' as you say because every future is real.
    Also, are there resources with evidence of 'fundamental indeterminacy'? I would like to research it.
    Last edited by Levi; October 9th, 2014 at 01:15 AM.
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    Genius Duck Moderator Dywyddyr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Levi View Post
    Great comment thanks Dan. It is true that we can only predict a statistical likelihood of an event happening. But at some point we may be able to reach a likelihood that is useful to us right? Say... 70%?
    It doesn't work like that.
    Individual "events" are indeterminate.
    The accuracy of prediction increases with "distance away" (i.e. as we scale up from) from the quantum level.
    At the quantum level things remain as nebulous as always and always have an effect that introduces some randomness.
    In other words accuracy of prediction will only be useful for large-scale phenomena.
    Likewise with the weather: building a house somewhere can alter wind patterns that may build up to have a huge effect some time later. (IIRC even an alteration in the third decimal place of accuracy causes/ introduces a completely different weather pattern).
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  10. #9  
    Genius Duck Moderator Dywyddyr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Levi View Post
    I believe the famous Albert Einstein though along similar lines. Didn't he coin a theory where different decisions lead to different realities?
    Not that I recall, although other physicist have proposed this.

    Also, are there resources with proof of 'fundamental indeterminacy'? I would like to research it.
    There's a number of threads here that go to varying degrees of depth. This one might be useful as an introduction. Or the Wiki page. Or even this.
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  11. #10  
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    Thanks Dywyddyr, you have been a great help in this discussion.
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  12. #11  
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    De nada.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Levi View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by danhanegan View Post
    As I understand the current theories of physics, you literally cannot know everything there is to know about a person. At the quantum level, there is the Heisenberg uncertainity principle, which specifies that measuring some properties of fundamental particles results in increasing the uncertainty of other properties. To the best of our knowledge, many events that take place at the quantum level cannot be predicted individually, all you can predict is a statistical likelihood of such an event occurring. This is not a matter of lack of precision of measurement devices, it is a fundamental part of the way the universe works. At the much larger time and distance scales our senses operate at, these effects are very difficult to perceive. But they are there nevertheless, and fundamental to everything.

    Great comment thanks Dan. It is true that we can only predict a statistical likelihood of an event happening. But at some point we may be able to reach a likelihood that is useful to us right? Say... 70%?
    Yes, quite. As with most other problems in statistics, the greater the number of trials, the greater the accuracy with which you can predict the fraction of trials that will produce a given result. We can't predict if a given particle will have a spin value of 1 or -1 until we measure it. If we measure a million such particles, we can predict in advance with a high degree of accuracy what percentage will fall in each category. But we can never predict quantum events with COMPLETE accuracy.

    There are so many quantum particles making up any object large enough for us to see and touch that this statistical accuracy lets us predict many behaviors of the object with very great accuracy. But some behaviors have a property of being inherently chaotic. This means they are very sensitive to very small differences in starting conditions. In principle these differences can be on the scale of quanta, impossible to measure accurately.

    It has long been thought that while you cannot predict the behavior of an individual person with any great accuracy, it is possible to predict the behavior of groups of people with considerable statistical accuracy, if the group is large enough. Much of the science of economics is based on this premise. But the fact of the matter is economics has NOT been all that successful at predicting economic behavior, no matter how large the group. The behavior of groups of people seems to have some chaotic property that degrades the effectiveness of this sort of prediction.
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    The identical twins syndrome, ( not the same one we normally see ) works in this question... ( for me )
    The same input data yet we still end up with two different people.. Suggests to me that predictions of events of the future will always be a little open to exceptions.. We do have the opportunity to be different. I am different. is this a good different ? Hmmm...
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    Quote Originally Posted by astromark View Post
    The identical twins syndrome, ( not the same one we normally see ) works in this question... ( for me )
    The same input data yet we still end up with two different people.. Suggests to me that predictions of events of the future will always be a little open to exceptions.. We do have the opportunity to be different. I am different. is this a good different ? Hmmm...
    No. Identical twins are not identical. That is point one. And identical twins are almost certainly not treated identically. I have never seen anything on the last point, but would be amazed if there is not a study backing that up.
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  16. #15  
    Northern Horse Whisperer Moderator scheherazade's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Levi:

    This leads me on to another, more concerning thought. Companies are already able to calculate some of our decisions and are able to use this to their advantage. Let me give you an example. Have you ever noticed how the most popular products in a supermarket are at eye level? This is because it has been found that humans are more likely to buy something when it is at eye level. We are less likely to look up or down.
    Or what about warning signs all being red? This is because the colour red catches our eye. It is more likely to get a human's attention.
    Now what I am concerned about is individuals and companies using the knowledge we are gaining regarding the human mind, unethically. It is well known that there are people and companies who will use this sort of information for their own gains, regardless of the ethical implications.
    I work in retail grocery and the above was the part of your post that jumped out at me.

    The only 'ethic' that pertains to profit ( in my opinion) is whether or not it breaks any laws. The politics surrounding food are phenomenal, yet most people are only concerned with price and availability. When folks began to question the content and origin of what is in their food and request more detailed labeling, the tail rotor came off and that helicopter is still circling aimlessly.

    There should be little concern about additional labeling. If it costs more, just pass it on to the consumer in the same way that increases in utilities, labor and transportation gets added on.

    From my perspective as an employee in the food industry for nine years, I would not place 'ethics' or 'health' in the same sentence with 'corporate retail grocery'.

    The above is a summary of my observations. My response has been to buy food from individuals and companies that are transparent in their exchange of information with the customer.

    To answer your thread title question of 'Do we really make our own decisions?', I would suggest that we select from the options available to us, using past experience as a guide. In the absence of past experience we may choose randomly or follow the lead of others. As we often have no input in regard to the options available to us, I would suggest that our ability to make our own decisions is limited, yet many of us value greatly the sense of thinking we are making our own determinations.
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    ** As I also have found as true as I have direct experience of grocery retail ** so to quote 'Scheherazade'
    " From my perspective as an employee in the food industry for nine years, I would not place 'ethics' or 'health' in the same sentence with 'corporate retail grocery'.

    The above is a summary of my observations. My response has been to buy food from individuals and companies that are transparent in their exchange of information with the customer.

    To answer your thread title question of 'Do we really make our own decisions?', I would suggest that we select from the options available to us, using past experience as a guide. In the absence of past experience we may choose randomly or follow the lead of others. As we often have no input in regard to the options available to us, I would suggest that our ability to make our own decisions is limited, yet many of us value greatly the sense of thinking we are making our own determinations. " ~ end quote;

    ~ I also made a point of different temperaments from alike situ., and remind us that a 'cloned' copy would not have the same mind.
    That John Galt got me wrong is more of him than me... just look at it. I did insert that ( for me ) intentionally. With some resentment of being labeled. I have free choice and can be said to not conform..
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  18. #17  
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    Quote Originally Posted by astromark View Post
    ~ I also made a point of different temperaments from alike situ., and remind us that a 'cloned' copy would not have the same mind.
    That John Galt got me wrong is more of him than me... just look at it. I did insert that ( for me ) intentionally. With some resentment of being labeled. I have free choice and can be said to not conform..
    Please dont' pass the buck for comprehension from you to me. Your contorted English is a consistent challenge to understand. I believe I have commented on it once before, but am frustrated by it on every reading. That is very much down to you.

    If you are not claiming that identical twins are identical then what are you claiming? Twins and clones are never identical. The mechanics of molecular biology prohibit it. Nor will they be treated identically. Therefore on two counts, nature and nurture, the inputs are not the same, yet you claim they are. You are mistaken.
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