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Why I don't believe in free will

Skeptic Bob

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I searched the archive for threads about free will and didn't find anything for this year so I thought it would be safe starting a new thread.

Lately I have been obsessed with the concept of free will. I have read multiple books on it from different perspectives and have listened to the Great Courses class on the subject and have scoured the internet for various view points. I started because of issues I have run into regarding my depression and PTSD but then just became fascinated with the subject itself.

No matter how I look at it I am left believing that free will is an illusion at best. It doesn't exist.

It sounds absurd. We certainly feel as though we have free will. I will go into my reasoning but let's first get a few definitions out of the way so we are all on the same page.

When I am talking about "myself" or "you" I am talking about the consciousness of the person, not just the brain or its processes in general. "You" are the emergent property of your brain that is currently consciously aware of what is going on around you right now. Your brain is regulating your heart beat right now. "You" have nothing to do with it. Meaning your consciousness is not involved. It is our consciousness that I think most of us associate with free will. Our brains send the signals to cough or sneeze or flinch, but most of us do not associate those actions with free will because we did not consciously decide to do them.

Next is the term free will. For me free will means you could have chosen to do differently than you did. If I believe I could have chosen to start this post with "Good evening ladies and germs" then that means I believe in free will. Right now raise either your right or your left hand. Do you believe you could have chosen differently than you did? If so then that is what I mean when I am talking about free will. And I am arguing that it doesn't exist, even though it feels as though it does.

I believe our consciousness has absolutely nothing to do with what our brains decide to do. Right now your brain is doing a whole host of things that you are not consciously aware of. In fact, the overwhelming majority of what your brain does is done without "your" knowledge. The processes of your brain that makes up the conscious "you" is very small compared to the rest.

I propose that no matter what you do or decide to do it is this unconscious part of your brain that comes to the decision and THEN "you" become consciously aware of the decision. In fact, we know from experiments such as the Libet experiment with an EEG that at least for some actions, such as choosing to move your finger, your brain decides to perform the action briefly before you become consciously aware of the decision.

Our technology doesn't have the resolution yet to determine if this is the case with all decisions and conscious thoughts but I can't think of a plausible reason why it wouldn't be the case.

I think our consciousness is just a passenger along for the ride, experiencing what the unconscious brain decides to do and then mistakingly gives itself credit for the decision.

And even the unconscious part of your brain that comes to the decision is responding to input that it had no control over. A little while ago I asked you to raise your right or left hand. Perhaps you raised the right one, or the left one. Perhaps you thought "this is stupid" and ignored my request. Now pretend we could reset the universe, atom for atom, back to the point when I asked you to do that. Could you have chosen to do differently than you did? Or was your decision controlled completely by the physical state of your brain at that moment in time?

I know many people will baulk at this type of determinism because it would appear to remove moral responsibility for one's actions. It is also unpleasant to think we don't consciously control our own actions. But just because something is unpleasant does not mean it isn't true.

I leave you with one last thought experiment. A guy named John decides to kill his neighbor. At noon yesterday he walked next door and beat his neighbor to death with a bat. He had no mental illness anyone was aware of. Most of us would hold him morally responsible and think he should be severely punished. But now let's turn back the clock. It is noon yesterday and you switch places with John, neuron for neuron, atom for atom. Your brain state is now identical to what John's was. Would you have killed your neighbor?

TLDR: I don't think free will exists. Experiments seem to indicate that unconscious parts of your brain make the decisions and moments later you become consciously aware of the decision and mistakenly believe you consciously chose the action for yourself.
 

CrabCake

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I lean towards determinism as well.

I wouldn't say that if determinism is true then we should not hold people accountable for their actions though. Ultimately, the person who murdered their neighbor "chose" to do it, at least partly taking into account the potential for being caught and the repercussions for being caught. Those are factors your brain considers even if you have no control over the decision your brain makes. In the end, we still want a society that discourages behaviors such as murder, whether or not we can blame something other than brain chemistry.
 
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Unrepresented

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We live in a causal universe. All actions have reactions. Reactions to reactions are still merely reactions. None of us are cause, we're merely effects.
 

RAMOSS

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We live in a causal universe. All actions have reactions. Reactions to reactions are still merely reactions. None of us are cause, we're merely effects.

and what evidence do you have that all events are casual? that would mean that if we rewound the universe to the beginning ,it would work out exactly the same.

How can we know if this is the case, one way or the other?
 

ttwtt78640

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Nonsense. This very thread is the result of your free will. To assert that creating and sending the OP was "required" behavior, on your part, is absurd.
 

jet57

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I searched the archive for threads about free will and didn't find anything for this year so I thought it would be safe starting a new thread.

Lately I have been obsessed with the concept of free will. I have read multiple books on it from different perspectives and have listened to the Great Courses class on the subject and have scoured the internet for various view points. I started because of issues I have run into regarding my depression and PTSD but then just became fascinated with the subject itself.

No matter how I look at it I am left believing that free will is an illusion at best. It doesn't exist.

It sounds absurd. We certainly feel as though we have free will. I will go into my reasoning but let's first get a few definitions out of the way so we are all on the same page.

When I am talking about "myself" or "you" I am talking about the consciousness of the person, not just the brain or its processes in general. "You" are the emergent property of your brain that is currently consciously aware of what is going on around you right now. Your brain is regulating your heart beat right now. "You" have nothing to do with it. Meaning your consciousness is not involved. It is our consciousness that I think most of us associate with free will. Our brains send the signals to cough or sneeze or flinch, but most of us do not associate those actions with free will because we did not consciously decide to do them.

Next is the term free will. For me free will means you could have chosen to do differently than you did. If I believe I could have chosen to start this post with "Good evening ladies and germs" then that means I believe in free will. Right now raise either your right or your left hand. Do you believe you could have chosen differently than you did? If so then that is what I mean when I am talking about free will. And I am arguing that it doesn't exist, even though it feels as though it does.

I believe our consciousness has absolutely nothing to do with what our brains decide to do. Right now your brain is doing a whole host of things that you are not consciously aware of. In fact, the overwhelming majority of what your brain does is done without "your" knowledge. The processes of your brain that makes up the conscious "you" is very small compared to the rest.

I propose that no matter what you do or decide to do it is this unconscious part of your brain that comes to the decision and THEN "you" become consciously aware of the decision. In fact, we know from experiments such as the Libet experiment with an EEG that at least for some actions, such as choosing to move your finger, your brain decides to perform the action briefly before you become consciously aware of the decision.

Our technology doesn't have the resolution yet to determine if this is the case with all decisions and conscious thoughts but I can't think of a plausible reason why it wouldn't be the case.

I think our consciousness is just a passenger along for the ride, experiencing what the unconscious brain decides to do and then mistakingly gives itself credit for the decision.

And even the unconscious part of your brain that comes to the decision is responding to input that it had no control over. A little while ago I asked you to raise your right or left hand. Perhaps you raised the right one, or the left one. Perhaps you thought "this is stupid" and ignored my request. Now pretend we could reset the universe, atom for atom, back to the point when I asked you to do that. Could you have chosen to do differently than you did? Or was your decision controlled completely by the physical state of your brain at that moment in time?

I know many people will baulk at this type of determinism because it would appear to remove moral responsibility for one's actions. It is also unpleasant to think we don't consciously control our own actions. But just because something is unpleasant does not mean it isn't true.

I leave you with one last thought experiment. A guy named John decides to kill his neighbor. At noon yesterday he walked next door and beat his neighbor to death with a bat. He had no mental illness anyone was aware of. Most of us would hold him morally responsible and think he should be severely punished. But now let's turn back the clock. It is noon yesterday and you switch places with John, neuron for neuron, atom for atom. Your brain state is now identical to what John's was. Would you have killed your neighbor?

TLDR: I don't think free will exists. Experiments seem to indicate that unconscious parts of your brain make the decisions and moments later you become consciously aware of the decision and mistakenly believe you consciously chose the action for yourself.

Free will proves the randomness of the universe.
 

HonestJoe

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Nonsense. This very thread is the result of your free will. To assert that creating and sending the OP was "required" behavior, on your part, is absurd.
I don't see why it's such a ridiculous idea. For the billions of years prior to the development of any conscious beings and the vast majority of the universe where no such conscious beings have ever existed, every single thing that happens will just be sequences of cause and effect. Is there really anything all that special about our brains that somehow excludes us from that eternal universe-wide process?

It's a disturbing prospect and raises some impossible philosophical questions but I don't think that's good reason to so aggressively resist it.
 

tosca1

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I searched the archive for threads about free will and didn't find anything for this year so I thought it would be safe starting a new thread.

Lately I have been obsessed with the concept of free will. I have read multiple books on it from different perspectives and have listened to the Great Courses class on the subject and have scoured the internet for various view points. I started because of issues I have run into regarding my depression and PTSD but then just became fascinated with the subject itself.

No matter how I look at it I am left believing that free will is an illusion at best. It doesn't exist.

It sounds absurd. We certainly feel as though we have free will. I will go into my reasoning but let's first get a few definitions out of the way so we are all on the same page.

When I am talking about "myself" or "you" I am talking about the consciousness of the person, not just the brain or its processes in general. "You" are the emergent property of your brain that is currently consciously aware of what is going on around you right now. Your brain is regulating your heart beat right now. "You" have nothing to do with it. Meaning your consciousness is not involved. It is our consciousness that I think most of us associate with free will. Our brains send the signals to cough or sneeze or flinch, but most of us do not associate those actions with free will because we did not consciously decide to do them.

Next is the term free will. For me free will means you could have chosen to do differently than you did. If I believe I could have chosen to start this post with "Good evening ladies and germs" then that means I believe in free will. Right now raise either your right or your left hand. Do you believe you could have chosen differently than you did? If so then that is what I mean when I am talking about free will. And I am arguing that it doesn't exist, even though it feels as though it does.

I believe our consciousness has absolutely nothing to do with what our brains decide to do. Right now your brain is doing a whole host of things that you are not consciously aware of. In fact, the overwhelming majority of what your brain does is done without "your" knowledge. The processes of your brain that makes up the conscious "you" is very small compared to the rest.

I propose that no matter what you do or decide to do it is this unconscious part of your brain that comes to the decision and THEN "you" become consciously aware of the decision. In fact, we know from experiments such as the Libet experiment with an EEG that at least for some actions, such as choosing to move your finger, your brain decides to perform the action briefly before you become consciously aware of the decision.

Our technology doesn't have the resolution yet to determine if this is the case with all decisions and conscious thoughts but I can't think of a plausible reason why it wouldn't be the case.

I think our consciousness is just a passenger along for the ride, experiencing what the unconscious brain decides to do and then mistakingly gives itself credit for the decision.

And even the unconscious part of your brain that comes to the decision is responding to input that it had no control over. A little while ago I asked you to raise your right or left hand. Perhaps you raised the right one, or the left one. Perhaps you thought "this is stupid" and ignored my request. Now pretend we could reset the universe, atom for atom, back to the point when I asked you to do that. Could you have chosen to do differently than you did? Or was your decision controlled completely by the physical state of your brain at that moment in time?

I know many people will baulk at this type of determinism because it would appear to remove moral responsibility for one's actions. It is also unpleasant to think we don't consciously control our own actions. But just because something is unpleasant does not mean it isn't true.

I leave you with one last thought experiment. A guy named John decides to kill his neighbor. At noon yesterday he walked next door and beat his neighbor to death with a bat. He had no mental illness anyone was aware of. Most of us would hold him morally responsible and think he should be severely punished. But now let's turn back the clock. It is noon yesterday and you switch places with John, neuron for neuron, atom for atom. Your brain state is now identical to what John's was. Would you have killed your neighbor?

TLDR: I don't think free will exists. Experiments seem to indicate that unconscious parts of your brain make the decisions and moments later you become consciously aware of the decision and mistakenly believe you consciously chose the action for yourself.



We have free will - but, not always.

Obviously, there are things that are beyond our control.
 

ttwtt78640

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I don't see why it's such a ridiculous idea. For the billions of years prior to the development of any conscious beings and the vast majority of the universe where no such conscious beings have ever existed, every single thing that happens will just be sequences of cause and effect. Is there really anything all that special about our brains that somehow excludes us from that eternal universe-wide process?

It's a disturbing prospect and raises some impossible philosophical questions but I don't think that's good reason to so aggressively resist it.

Resistance to any idea/impulse requires free will. The entire basis of human society, including a criminal justice system, is free will. If all actions were simply involuntary 'reactions' then personal responsibility must be a false concept.
 

HonestJoe

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Resistance to any idea/impulse requires free will. The entire basis of human society, including a criminal justice system, is free will. If all actions were simply involuntary 'reactions' then personal responsibility must be a false concept.
Quite possibly. That's why it's disturbing but something being disturbing is a poor reason to assume it isn't true.
 

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and what evidence do you have that all events are casual? that would mean that if we rewound the universe to the beginning ,it would work out exactly the same.

How can we know if this is the case, one way or the other?
Everything we know relies on the concept of causality. Science and math are all based around repeatability. You don't get repeatability in a non-causal system.
 

Skeptic Bob

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Everything we know relies on the concept of causality. Science and math are all based around repeatability. You don't get repeatability in a non-causal system.

I do think there is a possibility that if you started the universe back over from scratch at the exact same state it was this time around it could turn out differently. The only reason I say that is it would appear some of those cause and effect principles may not hold as true at the quantum level. And while quantum principles likely have no effect over things like human thought, over billions of years I think the apparent randomness could result in the universe turning out a bit different. But that still wouldn't allow for free will under my proposal.

But of course, the randomness we observe at the quantum level may only appear random. There may be some causal variables at work that we just can't observe.
 

RAMOSS

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Everything we know relies on the concept of causality. Science and math are all based around repeatability. You don't get repeatability in a non-causal system.


Yet, there apparently, there are apparently events that are non-causual at the quantum level. SO, that statement might not be strictly true.
 

Skeptic Bob

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I lean towards determinism as well.

I wouldn't say that if determinism is true then we should not hold people accountable for their actions though. Ultimately, the person who murdered their neighbor "chose" to do it, at least partly taking into account the potential for being caught and the repercussions for being caught. Those are factors your brain considers even if you have no control over the decision your brain makes. In the end, we still want a society that discourages behaviors such as murder, whether or not we can blame something other than brain chemistry.

I do believe we can accept there is no free will and still have a functioning justice system. We are all still affected by the world around us. Our brains incorporate information they acquire in their decision making processes. Maybe the conscious you isn't ultimately responsible for killing your neighbor. But by committing that murder it has been shown that your brain is one capable of such an act. It makes sense to imprison you for the safety of the general public. For lesser crimes it makes sense to use the justice system to rehabilitate you.

It may also serve as a deterrent. If one of the variables your brain takes into account in its decision making process is the possibility of imprisonment, that variable may affect the decision making process in such a way as it decides NOT to commit the murder.

What I think does need to change with our justice system, if we accept there is no free will, is the retributive aspect. When someone is punished their conscious self shares in the misery even though the conscious self played no part in the crime, because the conscious self has no causal control. Is that fair?

I think a balance has to be struck between prison being unpleasant enough that it acts as a deterrent to the unconscious decision making process of one's brain while not being cruel to the conscious self that didn't actually choose to commit the crime. I am not sure what that balance should be.
 

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Nonsense. This very thread is the result of your free will. To assert that creating and sending the OP was "required" behavior, on your part, is absurd.

I agree, it seem absurd. It defies all common sense, doesn't it? But there are plenty of things that sound absurd that are true and there are many aspects of reality that defy common sense. The time dilation aspect of the theory of relativity is absurd. Yet it has been empirically proven.

You have a blind spot in the center of each eye that blocks out a portion of your vision the size of about 12 full moons. This defies common sense because your brain fills in those gaps with the patterns surrounding it.

Likewise, that feeling you have that you are consciously choosing to do what you do is a trick of the mind, as far as I can tell.

So, ttwtt, forget about your gut feeling for a moment or your lifelong beliefs. By what mechanism do you think free will is possible? How is what you do not entirely based on your brain state at that particular moment? Is there some part of you outside of your brain processes not bound by the laws of physics that you believe exercises control?
 

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Nonsense. This very thread is the result of your free will. To assert that creating and sending the OP was "required" behavior, on your part, is absurd.
this is philosophy forum.....try being absurd
 

Nilly

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We live in a causal universe. All actions have reactions. Reactions to reactions are still merely reactions. None of us are cause, we're merely effects.

Quantm mechanics would disagree with you.
 
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I do think there is a possibility that if you started the universe back over from scratch at the exact same state it was this time around it could turn out differently. The only reason I say that is it would appear some of those cause and effect principles may not hold as true at the quantum level. And while quantum principles likely have no effect over things like human thought, over billions of years I think the apparent randomness could result in the universe turning out a bit different. But that still wouldn't allow for free will under my proposal.

But of course, the randomness we observe at the quantum level may only appear random. There may be some causal variables at work that we just can't observe.

Yet, there apparently, there are apparently events that are non-causual at the quantum level. SO, that statement might not be strictly true.
In what way do you feel our current inability to predict the actions of subatomic parts decreases causality or increases free will?
 

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In what way do you feel our current inability to predict the actions of subatomic parts decreases causality or increases free will?

Can you show a cause? That is all I am concerned about. If you can not not show there is a cause to a number of quantum effects, then you can not show that things are deterministic on that level rather than probabilistic. I personally do not see the concept of Free Will being anything more than word games , since the concept can not be tested.
 

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In what way do you feel our current inability to predict the actions of subatomic parts decreases causality or increases free will?

Well, I don't believe it increases free will. Also I am not certain that our inability to predict the actions means it is unpredictable.

For example, we know that in empty space, when you look at the quantum scale, particles do pop into and out of existence for extremely brief periods of time, seemingly out of nothing. Maybe at that scale true non-causal randomness exists. But I don't know if that is the case. Certainly at scales above quantum every actions seems to have a cause. But the quantum world has proven itself to follow different rules. We don't know yet if one of those rules it bends/breaks is cause and effect.

Also, even if there is uncausal randomness at the quantum scale, that wouldn't necesarrily mean it would affect how things turn out at larger scales. But over the course of billions of years...it might.

I suppose I am agnostic on that point. On the absence of free will, however, I feel very certain.
 

Nilly

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In what way do you feel our current inability to predict the actions of subatomic parts decreases causality or increases free will?

There is no 'current' inability.

Heiesenbergs uncertainty principle is a law of nature, not a technological limitation. It arises out of the nature of matter and will never be circumvented. 'Getting around it' via technology would be like making an object that is simultaneously a sphere and a square.

At a subatomic level, actions and inactions are probabilities, not certainties. Quantum mechanics is indeterministic. I'm obviously guessing here, but it is a possibility that free will involves the collapsing of multiple wave functions, or probabilities, into the appropriate chosen ones.

It may seem far fetched that our brain has such 'quantum power' but clearly, our brain has the ability to make decisions, even if (as in the OP) it is at a subconcious level. There must be some kind of mechanism for our subconscious to do that. It's just a debate as to whether the conscious or subconscious makes it.
 

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I personally do not see the concept of Free Will being anything more than word games , since the concept can not be tested.

But experiments on free will are being conducted all the time in the labs. With the advent of things like EEGs and fMRIs, neurologists and experimental psychologists are measuring how deterministic actions in the brain affect the conscious perception of choice. Unfortunately, at this point in time, the resolution is only good enough to test simple finger gestures or binary decision making, like "yes" or "no" questions. But as the resolution of the technology increases we will be able to test more detailed decision making. 1,000 years from now or much sooner we may be able to see your brain deciding what you will have for dinner before you personally are consciously aware of the choice your brain made.

Some things are inherently untestable, regardless of technology, like the existence of a soul. But the existence of free will is testable.
 

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Well, I don't believe it increases free will. Also I am not certain that our inability to predict the actions means it is unpredictable.

For example, we know that in empty space, when you look at the quantum scale, particles do pop into and out of existence for extremely brief periods of time, seemingly out of nothing. Maybe at that scale true non-causal randomness exists. But I don't know if that is the case. Certainly at scales above quantum every actions seems to have a cause. But the quantum world has proven itself to follow different rules. We don't know yet if one of those rules it bends/breaks is cause and effect.

Also, even if there is uncausal randomness at the quantum scale, that wouldn't necesarrily mean it would affect how things turn out at larger scales. But over the course of billions of years...it might.

I suppose I am agnostic on that point. On the absence of free will, however, I feel very certain.

Do you believe our subconscious has free will?
 

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Do you believe our subconscious has free will?

No. I believe that is where our choices are ultimately formed before our conscious self becomes aware of them, but even at the subconscious level the decision is determined by the brain's state at that point in time, which is in turn affected by both genetics and countless environmental factors. If I was able to turn back the clock of the universe before you asked me that question, to when your brain was in the exact same state as it was before you asked me that question, no matter how many times I do it, you will ALWAYS ask me that question. There is nothing outside of your brain state that we know of that could affect it.

Frankly, I think our brains and their processes are just as deterministic as the processes of a computer. It is just that the "programming" of our brains is much, much, much more complex.
 

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No. I believe that is where our choices are ultimately formed before our conscious self becomes aware of them, but even at the subconscious level the decision is determined by the brain's state at that point in time, which is in turn affected by both genetics and countless environmental factors. If I was able to turn back the clock of the universe before you asked me that question, to when your brain was in the exact same state as it was before you asked me that question, no matter how many times I do it, you will ALWAYS ask me that question. There is nothing outside of your brain state that we know of that could affect it.

Frankly, I think our brains and their processes are just as deterministic as the processes of a computer. It is just that the "programming" of our brains is much, much, much more complex.

Putting something in the 'exact same state' as before is a dangerous philosophical road to go down, as it's not just physically impossible, it is denied by the laws of nature. We cannot measure somethings 'exact state' and we cannot assemble something in an 'exact state', also, plenty of thermodynamic processes are irreversible due to the law of entropy. In fact, it may be the case that free will is only possible because we cannot do that. Have you heard of Laplaces demon? It is a hypothetical being that knows the position and momentum of every single particle, and hence can predict a deterministic future. It is incompatible with quantum mechanics.

Furthermore, even if we were to put things in the 'exact same state', that is no guarantee of the same result happening at a quantum level because of the random nature of quantum mechanics. The second time, wavefunctions could collapse in a different manner, even if mechanically everything was the same (i.e. atom for atom, quark for quark, position & momentum). The collapse of wavefunctions is truly random, this has been verified experimentally beyond a shadow of the doubt, so unless you believe that there is some invisible guiding force determining the collapses (but still doing it randomly) then one initial state doesn't necessarily lead to one end state. If decisions are made at a quantum level, then I don't see a way that they could be deterministic.

The reason that computers are deterministic is that the process behind their decisions exists on a classical level. Once you get to large sizes and number of particles, the reaction to a cause is determined by statistics, and not by individual events. Statistical outcomes are predictable. It's why we can predict to a good degree, the proportion of heads and tails of 1,000,000,000 coinflips, but are at a loss when it comes to predicting the outcome of 1.
 
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