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Fruit Flies Show Spark of Free Will 375

Lucas123 writes "A study performed at the Free University Berlin on human free will has produced some unexpected results showing that fruit flies may have a spark of free will in their tiny brains." From the article: "Their behavior seemed to match up with a mathematical algorithm called Levy's distribution ... Future research delving further into free will could lead to more advanced robots, scientists added. The result, joked neurobiologist Björn Brembs from the Free University Berlin, could be "world robot domination."
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Fruit Flies Show Spark of Free Will

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  • Welcome! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Taimat ( 944976 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @08:42PM (#19155051)
    I for one welcome our new cyborg fruit fly overlords!
    • Re:Welcome! (Score:4, Funny)

      by nxtr ( 813179 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @08:47PM (#19155095)
      You're laughing now, but wait until they have us farm for fruit en masse, as I understand it from the summary.
    • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by flyingsquid ( 813711 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @08:52PM (#19155157)
      I for one welcome our new cyborg fruit fly overlords!

      If people really have free will, why do they keep automatically making that "I for one welcome our new overlords" joke?

      • Because people expect them not to welcome them?
      • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Funny)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @10:45PM (#19156305)
        The Slashdot reflex. Kinda like Pawlow described it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I for one welcome our new cyborg fruit fly overlords!


        If people really have free will, why do they keep automatically making that "I for one welcome our new overlords" joke?

        Now I've heard of not RTFA, but not even reading the title? Come on.

        It said "Fruit Flies Show Spark of Free Will". It says nothing of people. Clearly the facts show that people do not possess any sort of free will. I mean, how else would one explain American Idol?
      • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Funny)

        by Plunky ( 929104 ) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @12:32AM (#19157047)

        If people really have free will, why do they keep automatically making that "I for one welcome our new overlords" joke?
        Its the American Idiot Syndrome. (Over here in Soviet Russia, its the Fruit Flies that welcome the new overlords..)
      • by Chrisje ( 471362 )
        Because it's funny?
    • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @09:14PM (#19155381)
      This is all we need. Look out, PETA will soon be describing fly strips as insect murder...
    • Zap! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by M00TP01NT ( 596278 )
      That "spark" of free will was that @#@*! fruit fly hitting my bug zapper. Human free will to invent bug-killing devices trumps an insect's free will to kiss the suBZZZZZZTTTTTTT.
    • World dominates robot!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aichpvee ( 631243 )
      Anyone with who is physically identical to you in an identical situation (with the requisite identical past experiences) would do exactly the same thing as you are doing right now and at every moment from now until you're dead. At which point their body would decompose in an identical manner. Physics does not magically govern everything except your brain. Free will, even if it were relevant anywhere outside of philosophy, does not exist.

      I thought this was supposed to be stuff that mattered, not stuff tha
      • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by background image ( 1001510 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @11:36PM (#19156653)

        Anyone with who is physically identical to you in an identical situation (with the requisite identical past experiences) would do exactly the same thing as you are doing right now and at every moment from now until you're dead. At which point their body would decompose in an identical manner.

        What exactly do you think you have proved with by observing that in an identical world, things would be identical? Does the word "tautology [google.com]" mean anything to you?

        If you think physics settles the question of free will, then I'd guess you're not that well versed in either physics or philosophy.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by aichpvee ( 631243 )
          What is it that you think is going on inside your head? Do you think it's magic? Outside of quantum randomness (assuming that it exists, which as far as anyone knows appears to be the case), which is irrelevant to the discussion of "free will" anyway, the exact same thing would happen. If you had "free will" you would be able to choose to make a different decision, which you clearly can't. Philosophy can think about what things might be like, or what they should be like, but nothing in it can change how
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Carewolf ( 581105 )

            If you had "free will" you would be able to choose to make a different decision, which you clearly can't.

            Even if the physical world is deterministic, there is still a huge difference between what a robot does and what a human does. If you like you call "free will": The illusion of "free will". It is a concept that make one entity behave different from another.

            It is completely irrelevant for the discussion whether the world is deterministic or not, unless you are a fatalist.

          • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Informative)

            by background image ( 1001510 ) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @01:14AM (#19157305)
            Well in the first place, you're assuming I'm taking the opposing position to yours. At this moment, I'm doing no such thing--I've only pointed out that your characterization of the free will problem was question-begging.

            What is it that you think is going on inside your head? Do you think it's magic?

            Well, what do you think is going on inside yours? Are you quite sure that physics can paint a complete picture of the universe?

            ... explain how, barring magic, any sort of "free will" can exist in a physical universe.

            I guess you do think that physics can completely describe the universe. But on what grounds are you claiming that this universe is [solely] a physical one? (Note that to approach the question of whether or not the universe is physical from the point of view of physics instantly involves you in question-begging again...)

            If you're actually interested in thinking about that question, you may want to look into Kant's Critique of Pure Reason [google.com]. Since you seem to enjoy jumping to conclusions, I will point out that I'm not claiming Kant was right about everything or about anything in particular, but the idea he called "Transcendental Idealism" is still tantalizing enough to be taken seriously by some philosophers [bu.edu], though not by some others [google.com].

            In extremely brief terms, Kant postulated that space and time, rather than being entities in their own right are characteristics of our 'minds,' (my oversimplification, not Kant's), and that the only way we can understand the universe is in spatiotemporal terms regardless of what the universe might actually be 'like'. In other words, it's conceivable that the universe is not spatio-temporal per-se--and if it's not, then physics cannot provide an exhaustive description of it.

            The point is that determinism is a tricky business, and it can't be dismissed or proved as casually as you would have us believe.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by ssorc ( 48632 )

              Well, what do you think is going on inside yours? Are you quite sure that physics can paint a complete picture of the universe?

              ... explain how, barring magic, any sort of "free will" can exist in a physical universe.

              I guess you do think that physics can completely describe the universe. But on what grounds are you claiming that this universe is [solely] a physical one? (Note that to approach the question of whether or not the universe is physical from the point of view of physics instantly involves you in question-begging again...)

              For me, physics strives to completely describe the universe (by which I mean the complete set of sensory observations I, or presumably you encounter). Things like the mind, the soul, or other "non-physical" entities are either observable (in which case they fall inside the realm of physics) or unobservable (in which case they are irrelevant).

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by joto ( 134244 )

            For all we know, the things that are going on inside our heads, might just as well be described as "magic". We do not know how the brain works, we may suspect it works similarly to a computer, but then again, it wouldn't be the first time people are wrong about how the brain works. Earlier theories have involved everything from souls, to telephone switchboards, and as far as I know, the only thing that has definitely been proven, is that the brain does not work the same way as a telephone switchboard.

            Simi

      • by caitsith01 ( 606117 ) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @12:47AM (#19157147) Journal
        ...and you only just shared it with us? Many have died in vain.

        Or maybe your essentially newtonian and deterministic view of reality is based on assumptions which conveniently can never be proven or disproven. You know, just like crazy religious people.

        I mean, does it even occur to you that if you could, somehow, recreate the *exact* same state of affairs twice to see what would happen, then it might still be possible for two different outcomes to occur? Not because of anything measurable or predictable, but because that's just how things are?

        If you think "physics" or, for that matter, "reality" is all newtonian levers and collisions then you will no doubt say that it's impossible. But if reality simply doesn't behave like that then you might be wrong, and you couldn't prove it one way or another.

        To take one, limited example: what if in a given situation a whole range of outcomes happen, but the infinite number of different outcomes lead to an infinite number of different, quasi-parallel universes? Simply because your consciousness is limited to observing one of these at a time doesn't mean that it's "the only thing which could have happened", does it? However, to you, there is only one, seemingly consistent, version of reality. I'm sure there are problems with this example but perhaps it conveys the essential point.

        More significantly: if everything is deterministic based on "physics", could you please tell us where the rules of physics come from, and why they are as they are and not some other way? For instance, why do massive bodies attract and not repel? Why does light travel at the speed it does? At some point there is an arbitrary "decision" as to how things work which cannot be explained by pre-determined rules - unless it's just elephants all the way down...
        • by Virtual_Raider ( 52165 ) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @02:22AM (#19157655)

          More significantly: if everything is deterministic based on "physics", could you please tell us where the rules of physics come from, and why they are as they are and not some other way? For instance, why do massive bodies attract and not repel? Why does light travel at the speed it does? At some point there is an arbitrary "decision" as to how things work which cannot be explained by pre-determined rules - unless it's just elephants all the way down...

          You were on a roll up to this point. But here you seem to be falling for a different brand of question begging: you are tacitly assuming that there is "a reason" for things to be the way they are. So far the best explanation IMHO is another tautology... Things are the way they are, because that's the way they are.

          That's the gripe with science that rational religious people have (and yes, they do exist), science can conceivably tell you how the universe works but can't tell you WHY it works that way. To speculate on the motivation for things to be the way they are is outside of the realm of science. Some people dislike this and they look for explanations in meta(beyond) physics. So basically you have to big trends, either the universe "just happened" or it was somehow made. Science could tell you down to the very last quark how the universe works in either case, it doesn't matter to it whether something put it together like this or it was just a Big Freak Accident as long as there are strings of cause and effect leading from "A" to "B" to "C" and so forth.

          Conceivably if the universe was made, and The Maker tweaked it at random here and there —i.e. by performing miracles— that would thwart science's efforts to explain things because it relies on repeatability and pattern-finding. But experience so far tell us that our reality has stable behavior that doesn't change in unpredictable ways. That doesn't rule out the possibility of a maker behind curtains, for all we know s/he/it may be tweaking the world and still staying within its rules. But science won't be able to distinguish intent from random accident because it operates from inside the environment and whether the "rules" were placed or they just sprung from nowhere, they still bind it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Johnny5000 ( 451029 )
          More significantly: if everything is deterministic based on "physics", could you please tell us where the rules of physics come from, and why they are as they are and not some other way? For instance, why do massive bodies attract and not repel?

          Think of it this way- imagine there are two universes:
          A. Our universe (with all the rules of physics exactly as they are)
          B. Another universe where massive bodies repel- not attract, but everything else is exactly the same as ours.

          We know for certain that Universe A c
      • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by kripkenstein ( 913150 ) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @12:51AM (#19157177) Homepage

        Anyone with who is physically identical to you in an identical situation (with the requisite identical past experiences) would do exactly the same thing as you are doing right now and at every moment from now until you're dead.
        That assumes that it is possible to have two separate physically identical systems, and that identical systems behave the same way. Many assumptions are made in that sentence. For example,
        • Perhaps the laws of physics are not translation-invariant? That is, perhaps just by being in two different locations means the systems are different enough to behave differently. (This means that two truly identical systems must be in the same location, i.e., to be the same system.) Now, most physicists assume physics is in fact translation-invariant - but this is a working hypothesis, which might be altered by observations. (Note: everything here is also true for time-invariance.)
        • Identical systems might behave differently if nature is governed (in part) by random processes. This, in fact, is implied by quantum mechanics. While quantum effects are virtually negligible for large systems, they can still have an effect.

        Free will, even if it were relevant anywhere outside of philosophy, does not exist.
        'Free will' is a concept human beings have discussed for thousands of years; much of that discussion was how to define free will. You seem to go by the "Free will = capability of identical systems to do something different in the same situation" definition, which some scientists seem to like. And that is fine. But there are other ways to define it (Hume, for example, had a popular definition. Look on Wikipedia if you are curious). This then becomes a discussion about definitions, which is to say, philosophy.

        When you want to determine the motion of a 2-body system, you need physics. When you want to discuss definitions of terms thousands of years old, you need philosophy (once you settle on a definition, physics might then be of help, of course).
  • Joke? (Score:5, Funny)

    by pipatron ( 966506 ) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @08:44PM (#19155067) Homepage

    The result, joked neurobiologist Björn Brembs from the Free University Berlin, could be "world robot domination."

    Oh yeah? I bet that in 5 years, he won't consider that a very fun thing to joke about!

  • So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Icarus1919 ( 802533 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @08:44PM (#19155071)
    By their logic, chaotic systems = free will. So the weather really does have a mind of its own?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nine-times ( 778537 )

      ... which raises some questions: How do you determine whether something has free will? Are you sure you have free will? Even if you have free will, how can you be sure other people have free will?

      • Take it to philosophy 101, kid.
      • Re:So... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by gronofer ( 838299 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @10:02PM (#19155921)

        By their definition, the fly makes a decision about what it will do and hence has "free will". I.e., it's not constrained to a single choice by its environment, and it's not making a random selection between available choices.

        This seems reasonable enough to me.

    • by treeves ( 963993 )
      Yeah, it's been tryin' to rain here all day, but I think it's gonna wait until the weekend.
    • by ndogg ( 158021 )
      That's not what they're saying. They defined free will as being somewhere between chaos and order. They assumed that the flies would have only deterministic (and there for orderly and robotic) behaviors. They were wrong.

      That said, however, they don't define free will beyond that.
    • you didn't read the article, he stated it lies between predetermination and randomness.
  • by spune ( 715782 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @08:44PM (#19155079)
    ...joked. Then hastily looked over his shoulder and shuddered.
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @08:47PM (#19155109) Homepage Journal
    More like biologists that took a few too many liberal arts classes.

    I don't know if it is the MSNBC write up or the "experiment" itself, but this has got to be the most vacuous thing I've ever read.

  • Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) * on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @08:48PM (#19155115) Journal
    Okay, I should know better than to divine meaning from a mass-media source, but I tried.

    First, Levy's distribution [wikipedia.org] is a, you know, distribution, not an algorithm. I guess it meant to say that the algorithm weights a factor by Levy's distribution.

    Then, after going through about eight paragraphs to find out what the hell the experiment did that was so relevant, it still didn't make sense. What bothered me was that one of the scientists see "free will" as being "somewhere between" deterministic and random. Now, I'm all for treating properties as cardinal and a matter of degree. But isn't free will, by definition, BOTH non-random and non-deterministic? How can it fall on a spectrum between them?

    And what about the experiment makes "free will in flies" the best explanation?

    (Oh, and on a side note: please spare us the story about religion: not all religions endorse free will, and not all atheists reject it.)
    • by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) * on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @08:54PM (#19155179)

      First, Levy's distribution is a, you know, distribution, not an algorithm
      Great. I think I speak for everyone here, then, when I say that what we really want to know is whether this distribution uses KDE or gnome?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Boronx ( 228853 )
      Is there any fundamental difference between random and free-will? From and observational standpoint, don't they both mean that the observer can't, on a case by case, basis predict what the observed entity will do?
      • by treeves ( 963993 )
        I realize my first comment doesn't really contradict yours, and it probably contradicts itself. It was either random or the result of free-will, I'm not sure which. Either way, pay no attention to it.
    • But isn't free will, by definition, BOTH non-random and non-deterministic?

      How do we know that free-will is non-random and non-deterministic? Even if flies followed a very distinct pattern, how would we know they weren't choosing that pattern? If there behavior was random, maybe we could just say they were making random decisions of their own free will.

      • And we probably never will be able to. That is what makes discussions like this purely academic. There is no known way to prove or disprove free will. I happen to believe I have it, but I can't prove it. Maybe someday our intelligence will evolve to a point where we will be able to answer these questions.

        Even if we make a machine that *seems* to exhibit free will, we won't be any closer to understanding the subject. For now these discussions and dissertations are firmly entrenched in the realm of philos
      • How do we know that free-will is non-random and non-deterministic?

        Well, the concept of free will must be, by definition: free actions are neither pure chance (random) nor purely determined by external factors. As you note, someone can choose to make a decision based on a random factor. For example, if someone asks me if main street is north or south of here, I often flip a coin, say "heads is north, tails is south", look at the result, and then give the answer. But one can distinguish a "choice to be rand
        • The question, of course, is whether any behavior can meet the characteristics we ascribe to free will.

          Also whether any behavior can be definitively said not to be free will.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      And how do you show 'a spark' of free will? They can make independant choices, but are easily influenced by pressure from friends and family? We have a way to quantify free will now?

      Agreed that the issue is somewhat orthogonal to religion. Religion has 'fate' while atheism has 'determinism'.

      Just critizising the article, really. I find "Free Will" to be very much an abuse of semantics, anyway. A 'pseudoproblem', I believe it's called. The term shouldn't be used in an scientific article. If they mean that the
    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by crayz ( 1056 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @09:39PM (#19155685) Homepage
      I'd argue the fundamental problem is the lack of any real definition of what "free will" is. Free will can't simply mean that different individuals follow different patterns - that would be expected through variations in neural wiring as a result of genetics. Free will to me means something approaching a "soul" - a non-materialist inner part of me that can make "decisions" about how I will act. In other words "I" - under a definition of "I" that involves more than just patterns of neural activity - can make choices based on beliefs and reasoning, and then act on those beliefs

      As far as I can tell this would require some sort of new scientific discoveries to even be possible. Nothing we currently know about the universe supports the concept of a coherent mental entity capable of making decisions that affect the physical world; in fact everything seems to imply the opposite, that the physical world would determine the structure and behavior of our mind, and that consciousness and the perception of free will is some sort of emergent effect from all the (entirely deterministic) processes going on inside our brains

      Not a very pleasant view of existence, but so far I've seen nothing to counter it. Free will becomes simply an illusion, and it's no wonder that a study of an insects' flight patterns would do nothing to prove it real. There's not even a coherent concept that can be proved or disproved, just a name for a thing people believe they experience and want to believe is true
    • I sure as heck wouldn't endorse free will, being a Reformed Baptist, and neither would most of my fellow seminarians. Interestingly enough this is something we would share in common with many consistent naturalists, including the likes of Albert Einstein. Hard determinism makes sense scientifically and theologically. I like how Einstein put it: "God does not play dice with the universe."

      I sat through a lecture at the Evangelical Philosophical Society in which Dr. Steve Lemke presented a paper on "How to be
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DeadChobi ( 740395 )
      The real question is: Would you react exactly the same to the same situation every time? If so, your actions are said to be deterministic. Of course, such a simplistic model ignores the cognitive processes going on inside your head which cause you to react differently to the same situation. That may be what is meant by free will lying somewhere between absolute determinism and absolute randomness. Your brain is tweaking the situation each time even though it's physically the same.
  • by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @08:49PM (#19155123) Journal
    FTFA "UCLA neurobiologist Mark Frye noted that future work should isolate and understand the brain circuitry and genetic pathways responsible for this spontaneous behavior in flies "and whether or not they are conserved in other animals."

    It seems that every week or so (can we get a Moore's law equivalent) we learn something new about brains (ours or some other animal) that we didn't know before. It's looking more and more like we are as programmed as any other lower animal but with higher level behaviors. For instance: your dog doesn't know how the tap water gets to your kitchen sink (maybe you don't either) but we humans do, though we don't know how the Universe was created, some day we might when we learn enough.

    This does stand to be interesting to robotics. If you sit down to figure out the algorithm to get a robot out of a tight spot, 'a spark of free will' might be very VERY useful. The simple randomness of such might be what keeps most of us out of trouble most of the time anyway... we just don't realize it, or worse, we blame it on a deity?

    I'm just amazed at how much we are learning these days compared to even just 50 years ago.
    • by Dunbal ( 464142 )
      though we don't know how the Universe was created, some day we might when we learn enough.

            No, actually we won't. Just like your dog will never understand the subtleties of modern aqueducts.
      • I'm not saying that I'm smarter than 'the average bear' but 20 years ago I didn't know anything compared to what the news has taught me in the last 5 years. I'm not willing to say unequivocally that we won't ever know, or that it is impossible to know how the Universe was created. We simply do not know yet....
      • You *might* be correct, but I have learned to stay away from absolute statements when possible. I'm sure someone somewhere once said we would never fire came from any more than our dogs did.

        Simply put, we are not capable of understanding what our human descendants or our descendant species will be able to understand. To pretend otherwise is mere hubris.
  • Two of a kind (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Boronx ( 228853 ) <evonreis.mohr-engineering@com> on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @08:50PM (#19155135) Homepage Journal
    We still debate whether humans have free will, but we can show that fruit flies have it.

    If humans have an abundance of freewill, is it really surprising that less complex but similar creatures may have a small share?
  • Damnation! (Score:5, Funny)

    by BillGatesLoveChild ( 1046184 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @08:55PM (#19155185) Journal
    > Fruit Flies Show Spark of Free Will

    If they've got free will, does that mean they can go to heaven or hell?

    Not hard to imagine Fruit flies swarming over the Apple in the Garden of Eden, though they would probably have preferred a banana.

  • Not robots? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ThanatosMinor ( 1046978 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @08:57PM (#19155215)
    So the article seems to be saying that in the absence of external stimuli, the flies tend to move in patterns that match a mathematical model. I fail to see how this precludes them from merely having brains with hardwired instruction sets that tell them how to fly in zigzag patterns looking for food. Couldn't a robot do exactly that?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gronofer ( 838299 )

      I fail to see how this precludes them from merely having brains with hardwired instruction sets that tell them how to fly in zigzag patterns looking for food.

      I think they are saying that the flies do have something like that, which is what they are defining as "free will". There's nothing "mere" about it, since any animal (including human) behaviour is going to be something similar.

  • Did anyone else read that as Fruit Flies Show Spark of Free Wii ?
  • Fruit flies want to be free!

    -Stor
  • Oh, please. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @09:17PM (#19155431)
    If it's free will, how come it matches a mathematical distribution?

    What theory of free will predicted this?
    • RTFA (Score:3, Informative)

      by evanbd ( 210358 )
      If the fruit flies had no "free will" then their behavior would be completely determined by outside circumstances or be random. As the article says, "free will" must exist somewhere between complete randomness and complete determinism. The result of the study is that flies in sensory deprivation exhibit a non-uniform random distribution -- that is, their behavior shows structure, and is neither completely random nor completely predictable. Hence, a spark of "free will".
  • by FeebleOldMan ( 1089749 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @09:23PM (#19155499)
    Time flies like an arrow.
    Fruit flies like a banana.
  • "Time flies like an arrow".
    "Fruit flies like a bananna."

    It's hard to wreck a nice beach...
  • If the fruit flies have free will, they can choose to DO EVIL.

    And they should.

    They've been slacking off! We humans have used our free will to spread destruction and mayhem over the whole earth. Next time I go out for the weekend and forget half of a mango, I expect to come back to a miniature third reich on my kitchen counter. I want to see the fruit flies herding gnats into concentration camps and gassing them. I want to see them goose-stepping their way into my neighbours flat. I want to
  • Read that as "Future research delving further into free will could lead to more advanced robot jokes"?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    In today's news:

    PETA spokesperson Pamela Anderson declares lawsuits against bug spray manufacturers, claiming the manufacturers have 'systematically enslaved, tortured, murdered free-willed, innocent creatures for profit.' On another news, thousands of animal rights activists infested themselves with West Nile Virus and malaria, claiming they would rather die of infectious diseases than to harm a single insect.
  • by Torodung ( 31985 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @10:05PM (#19155947) Journal
    After watching a colony of ants outwit myself, my wife, and the poisoned baits we placed to annihilate them, I find it quite possible that the collective intelligence of meek creatures possessed of a little free will could rival the intelligence of a human being. ;^)

    Ants can work together as well as we can, why not drosophila too? Remember those stories about the bees dying? Maybe they just decided not to come back to their cage, and are in hiding. Worse yet, maybe they've joined the killer bees!

    The bee revolution will not be televised.

    --
    Toro
  • They first use the word "random" in the popular sense, where it means in this context something like "accidental;" after all, will must be purposeful so it cannot be "random". But then they also use the word "random" in a more scientific context. By saying the fruit fly's behavior is not "random", they seem to mean that its behavior at time "t" is somehow correlated with what the fruit fly's behavior was at time "0". These two uses of the word don't really have anything to do with each other. Free will may
  • I think the bigger question than 'is there free will' is:
    Does the internal process used to determine behavior matter, if the end result can be thought of as a black-box. In other words, if an entity behaves a certain way (random, non-random, semi-random, predictable, unpredictable) but it is impossible to tell if the internal process generating that behavior is using free-will, computations, soul, hampsters-running-on-wheels, then DOES IT MATTER?

    How do you define free-will if the result of free-will and non
  • A robotic program with a bit of randomness in it wouldn't fit our basic experience: which is that of weighing prospects both immediately before us and beyond our sensory horizon, and from that conscious consideration both forming determinations to take one path or another, and also sometimes foregoing all the paths considered and setting off to explore a new direction. The point is twofold: we're doing this consciously (not to rule out unconscious components), and it's much of what our consciousness is usua
  • What is "choice?" (Score:2, Insightful)

    by skeftomai ( 1057866 )

    By "choice," do they mean free of self-determination and action independent of external causes?

    Is it even possible for a living creature (human, animal, insect, etc.) to elect to do something in such a manner, being based on absolutely no external influence (i.e. environmental influences, genetics, a person's needs/well-being)?

  • Maybe a serum for Windows users can be developed.
  • freedom? (Score:5, Funny)

    by dwater ( 72834 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2007 @11:17PM (#19156519)
    Freedom? In Germany?

    I thought the USA was the only place where there was freedom...
  • by Brembs ( 1103391 ) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @02:09AM (#19157587) Homepage
    Wow! I've been /.ed. Well, I never... :-)
    Once I realized it, I felt so compelled... I, I just had to address the /. discussion, I think I've lost my free will. Now where did I put it? Anybody here seen it? Maybe these pesky flies stole it? :-)
    Of course, our original study makes no mention of free will, it is not a scientific concept. However, spontaneity even in flies makes us ponder what, if anything, this might entail for our subjective experience of free will in a macrocosm we believe to be largely deterministic. Therefore we addressed the issue with an ironic question in our press release: "Do fruit flies have free will?"
    http://brembs.net/spontaneous [brembs.net]
    Of course, the media will drop the question mark, because questions don't sell. Some journalists even told me their editors told them to emphasize the free will thing precisely for this reason. That's fine with me. The debate got re-ignited and that's a good thing, I believe. The discussion here shows that. You can see all the coverage and blogosphere discussion linked at:
    http://bjoern.brembs.net/ [brembs.net]
    Scientifically, the most important aspect (which understandably got a little buried by the media) is that we found evidence for a brain function which appears evolutionarily designed to always spontaneously vary ongoing behavior. There is tentative evidence that such a function may be very widespread in the animal kingdom, including humans. Why would all brains have this function? If this were indeed the case, we might have discovered the first evidence for something truly fundamental to our understanding of brains.

    Take it easy folks,
    Bjoern

We cannot command nature except by obeying her. -- Sir Francis Bacon

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