On Philosophy

May 19, 2006

The Philosophy of: Pak Protectors

Filed under: Free Will,The Philosophy of — Peter @ 10:05 pm

The Pak are an advanced form of the human species introduced by Larry Niven in his science fiction book Protector (amazon) and later explored further in his Ringworld series. You can also read the Wikipedia article on protectors here. What makes a protector different than a normal person (besides their looks of course) is that they are perfectly rational and perfectly informed. By perfectly rational I mean that they make their choices using based only on their faculties of reason and their preferences, and by perfectly informed I mean that they always know what course of action is most likely to maximally satisfy their preferences.

This talk about preference satisfaction may give you the idea that protectors are cold and emotionless beings, and while this is true in Larry Niven’s books, we need not assume so for the purposes of our discussion. It is allowable that the protector’s preferences may include an ethical code, the concern for the well-being of others, ect. What makes the notion of a protector interesting philosophically is not their motivations but the following question: do protectors have free will?

Larry Niven portrays the protectors as lacking free will, since in any situation there is only one best choice, which they know, and which they are rationally compelled to choose. However I will argue here that if we look closely at the situation we will see that in fact our intuitions and reasoning indicate that protectors have as much free will as any of us.

First let me argue that more information does not reduce one’s freedom of choice. Clearly to insist that more information makes one less free seems contrary to experience, for example consider a situation where you are shopping for a couch and you look up information about the couches you are considering. Your choice of which couch to buy does not feel less free because of this information, even though the information you have obtained will surely affect which couch you ultimately choose. Thus it should seem clear that the protector’s complete information does not take away their freedom,

We might then question the complete rationality of the protector. However, once again, our own rationality does not seem to restrict our free will. For example let us say that you sat down and thought about your possible couch choices until you were able to figure out a single best choice, which of course was then the couch you decided to buy. The fact that your rationality was able to reveal what the best choice was doesn’t make your action less free, or at least it doesn’t feel like it. The protector’s special abilities then are simply like the ability to determine what the best couch is, but in only a moment’s time instead of after a long deliberation, but why should the speed at which they think impair their freedom?

And yet many theories concerning free will say that to be free is to have the power to choose otherwise, but a protector will always make the same choices, even if they lived through the same events again and again, because at the time it was the best choice, and they have no reason to choose otherwise. But we can’t see a reason that the protector should lack free will, and from this I would argue that the ability to choose otherwise is a bad definition of what it means to be free. My personal definition of what free will could be called “self determination”, meaning that if your thoughts cause your actions, and if your thoughts are part of a stream of consciousness than you are free. Under this definition the protectors would be described as free, because they are as conscious and as in control of their actions as we are. This definition of free will is also compatible with a deterministic universe, if the physicals laws do in fact end up being deterministic.

As an aside I would also like to mention that this analysis of free will can also be used do defend the free will of God (although personally I do not believe in the existence of God). Like a protector God is supposed to be rational, have perfect knowledge of what the best choice is, and to have preferences (good over evil). Thus if you subscribed to the “could act otherwise” account of free will God would not be free, but if you instead think that “self determination” is sufficient for free will than God is in fact free.

1 Comment

  1. Who do you think has free will? You might say everyone; I would say no one. The Wikipedia Encylopedia describes free will …. The question of free will is whether, and in what sense, rational agents exercise control over their actions and decisions. Addressing this question requires understanding the relation between freedom and cause, and determining whether or not the laws of nature are causally deterministic.
    To the average person that is probably correct. But that in reality barley touches the answer. Free (Not in bondage to another) will (Faculty by which a person decides or conceives himself as deciding upon & initiating action). The first requirement to having free will is to be able to think and be aware of yourself as an entity (I think therefore I am). That would rule out all of the animal kingdom. The second requirement would be intelligence (that is understanding not cleverness) or the question is meaningless. The third would be to yourself to question and ask yourself if you had free will. The forth would be not let emotions have any bearing on all actions and decisions. For example, a parent has an adult child that has carried out many horrendous evil acts and is obviously mad. The way the parent views her/his child is very much influenced by the emotional fact that he/she is the parent. The parent does not have free will; the parent is in bondage to the fact that they are a parent. It is clear that if you have a mental problem you do not have free will. You cannot have free will for part of the time only. To have free will means that you have it continuously. It is logically correct to say that if you are not interested to know if you have free will you do not have it by definition. At this point, I would guess that I have eliminated 95% of the world’s population as not having free will. If you react instantly with an emotional response to ANY situation without correction, you do not have free will. I would say that raises it to 99% of the population without free will.
    At this point, consider the importance of free will. Without it all the ugliness and badness in the world is explained. Without it what is the difference between you and ALL the ugly predators that have inhabited the planet since life started here. You might say I am good and believe in God or I am a good atheist who wants the world to be better. But without free will, you are only a pawn/player in this world of ugliness.
    If you are an adult you have been in affect been severely brainwashed by everything that has taken place in your life. Your country of origin, culture, parents, friends, religion, education, books read, films, art, music, radio, TV, newspapers etc have all played a major part in your identity and how you view the world and your existence. Imagine that you suddenly came into existence with no previous identity or memory but you could think intelligently, read write and talk. You would have NO preconceptions at all. If in that theoretical situation and with free will what you make of the world and civilisation, what obvious conclusions would you come to? What would your first impressions of the world be? Would it be a world of intelligence, harmony, love or the complete opposite? Would each individual be concerned and want the best for every other individual. Would all share lovingly? Would there be no anger, hatred, murder, torture. Would there be an absence of greed? Would there be an absence of nonsense puerile religions? The answer is obvious. You would find a world of chaos with an awesome history of violence, pain and suffering. THINK, in your theoretical uncontaminated position could you possibly say that any one of them had free will? Do you think that the person who designs and makes nuclear weapons has free will? Do you think that the men and women in Russia who make the hundreds of thousands of Kalashnikov rifles that are used to kill have free will? Do the millions of men and women in the west who buy their pampered pets expense food while people starve have free will? Does the leader of a country or the head of a religious organisation living in luxury while others have only poverty with no hope have free will? Does the suicide bomber who blows himself up and everyone in his vicinity and thinks that he is going to paradise to be served by servile virgins have free will? Do the millions who smoke, over indulge in alcohol or are addicted to drugs have free will? Do ALL the six billion plus people on this planet who go about their daily lives and cannot see anything clearly have free will? The list could go on and on and I’m sure that you would be in there somewhere.
    If a just one person said to me..this world is ugly and worthless and if I could not change it completely I would without pain to anyone remove it I would know two things. The first is that the person would be intelligent. The second is that while he might not have complete free will he/she would be more than half way there.
    If you reply that, the answer is a man called Jesus or Muhammad not only have you not understood any of the previous and have no free will but you also have no intelligence.
    Why is the world as it is? Why do people cling on to the lie that there is more good than bad when it is obviously not so. Why do people think that they have free will when they do not? That is catch22. Only by having free will can you know and understand the answer to that question. If you do not want to know, you do not have free will and you are the same as the lion, tiger, monkey, dog, flea etc.. What a sorry uncorrectable state you are in.
    Robert robert77@fsmail.net

    Comment by Robert, UK — July 13, 2007 @ 6:13 am

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