When does an action exist?

This is a discussion on When does an action exist? within the General Discussions forums, part of the Community Boards category; Just recently, I was having a discussion that led me to ponder on this on: So the question is... when ...

  1. #1
    Unregistered User Yarin's Avatar
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    When does an action exist?

    Just recently, I was having a discussion that led me to ponder on this on:
    So the question is... when does an action exist?

    )> When it's defined, or thought of. Before or after it occurs.
    )> Only while it happens, if it was thought of, but never done, it doesn't exist. Nor does it exist if it was done, but is no longer done.
    )> As soon as it's done. Once an action was done, it came into existence, and won't stop existing even after it's no longer being done.
    )> Actions don't exist. We talk like the say do, but really we shouldn't because an action can't really exist.
    )> Something else?

    Explain your opinion, and why.
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  2. #2
    Hail to the king, baby. Akkernight's Avatar
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    An action exists when you do it, then it's claimed that everything you do echo's into eternity and nothing ceases to exist, so it exists forever, while an action is something you do, it doesn't exist only by thinking of it...

    That's my opinion :P
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  3. #3
    and the Hat of Guessing tabstop's Avatar
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    Definitely #2. Before we have made a choice about what action to take, or after we have chosen a different action, we can do a thought experiment to (try to) predict outcomes of potential actions, but that's not actually performing that action. (Those other potential actions that are thought of do exist as ideas, but not as actions.)

    (I suppose we then insert quantum many worlds stuff here, if we have to.)

  4. #4
    Guest Sebastiani's Avatar
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    I believe the answer is both #3 and #4. The latter because 'action' is a mere conception used to compartmentalize a complex nexus of causuality.

  5. #5
    Registered User whiteflags's Avatar
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    I don't think actions exist in the "I think therefore I am" sense. You could look at it by asking yourself would you exist if you took no actions, but isn't that different from the beginning since thinking is an action? I think the whole question is a lot simpler if you recognize the (obvious) connection with verb tenses. Those are all phases in an action's life.

  6. #6
    (?<!re)tired Mario F.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yarin View Post
    Explain your opinion, and why.
    An action exists when it's intrinsic nature can only describe with the help of a verb. Walk, fly, dance, sleep, stop, think,...
    Because of this an action is also the thought of an action and the thought of the thought of an action, regardless if the particular action ever takes place.

    Inaction, on the other hand is much rarer. Or perhaps more appropriately entirely non-existing in the universe.

    You can however try and limit the scope of the meaning of "action". But then it becomes a word play.
    The programmer’s wife tells him: “Run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread. If they have eggs, get a dozen.”
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  7. #7
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    >> But then it becomes a word play.
    The whole conversation is really word play. Action is just a word with several different meanings. If you want to use it in a discussion where the exact meaning is important, you must define that meaning beforehand. And if you define that meaning, then whichever meaning you choose will be the answer to the OPs' question.

    In general conversation I would agree with tabstop and say that #2 is accurate. An action only "exists" when it is occurring and anything before or after that refers to the potential action or the previous existence of the action.

  8. #8
    Super Moderator VirtualAce's Avatar
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    Seems like another excuse to start a useless poll without actually using the poll feature.

  9. #9
    spurious conceit MK27's Avatar
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    I don't believe in time, so I would say it's more meaningful to ask where the action exists.
    C programming resources:
    GNU C Function and Macro Index -- glibc reference manual
    The C Book -- nice online learner guide
    Current ISO draft standard
    CCAN -- new CPAN like open source library repository
    3 (different) GNU debugger tutorials: #1 -- #2 -- #3
    cpwiki -- our wiki on sourceforge

  10. #10
    Malum in se abachler's Avatar
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    Well, to make any meaningful answer to that question, you first have to prove whether we live in a universe with free will or of predetermination.

    If we have free will, then the action originates with the precognitive motivation that ultimately results in physical action.

    If we live in a universe of predetermination then the action existed since the big bang or whatever other creation myth you happen to believe in.

    Now according to our legal system, we have free will, or else punishment would be pointless and cruel.

    But according to B.F. Skinner we do not have free will, only the illusion of free will, which is necessary for the ego to maintain a healthy self image.

    Personally I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. We ultimately have free will, but our primitive minds are so undeveloped that it is extremely difficult to truly exercise free will all the time. The overwhelming majority of our actions are predetermined, but we can make a conscious effort to exert free will if we chose.
    Last edited by abachler; 10-18-2009 at 07:08 AM.
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  11. #11
    The larch
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    If we have free will, then the action originates with the precognitive motivation that ultimately results in physical action.

    If we live in a universe of predetermination then the action existed since the big bang or whatever other creation myth you happen to believe in.
    I've always found that the free will vs mechanical determination is another rather useless distinction. If the illusion is perfect, I can't see how it would make any difference any way. The punishment will not be immoral, since it has been coming too from the dawn of ages, along with the good feeling of having served that bastard right.

    Also, I suppose physics acknowledges chaotic behaviour of systems, so the results of things won't be computable even from a mechanical point of view. E.g if I fall from a window, will I survive or die - can you predict a gust of wind that steers me away from a nasty rock on the ground?

    I guess "free will" would be a more productive concept when applied to social behaviour and such (but of course, then determining between deterministic and free actions becomes more fuzzy once we stop trying to reduce all complexity down to simple collisions between billiard balls).
    Last edited by anon; 10-18-2009 at 09:24 AM.
    I might be wrong.

    Thank you, anon. You sure know how to recognize different types of trees from quite a long way away.
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  12. #12
    Dr Dipshi++ mike_g's Avatar
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    I guess it depends if you consider things associated with an action as part of it. I don't so I'd say number 2.

    Now according to our legal system, we have free will, or else punishment would be pointless and cruel.
    While it sounds quite funny, that does not really make sense. Reinforcement learning is probably the most basic, mindless, way to condition an organism. If anything you would have to have something closer to free will to keep offending.

  13. #13
    Guest Sebastiani's Avatar
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    Action doesn't necessarily involve free will. You may be taking a brisk walk though a field, thinking that your action is simply to exercise and invigorate the body, but in fact every step may perforce cause the death of some small creature. Even the mere motion of a pebble underfoot (and thus the electrons within it) stimulates an electromagnetic field that propagates across the universe at the speed of light. All of these things occur without concientiosness.

    The original thought itself of the action of walking is a conceptual aid to describe something that isn't completely describable. All things being connected, it's impossible to clearly discern from whence the walking truly arose, it's meaning in totality, and it's eventual implications.

    The question of free will versus determinism is unsolvable, I think. Neither can be either proven or disproven, and so the matter is purely philosophical. My opinion is that all things are deterministic in a purely physical sense, but free will is itself a 'force' that influences physical systems, and so the two concepts are not completely incompatible. Furthermore, considering that conciousness may simply be the effect of the flow of energy, and that all matter is composed of and emits energy, the case may actually be that everything in the universe is in fact 'alive' and capable of exerting free will, and thus this may be the actual 'force' that follows the Boltzmann distribution which in turn is the basis for quantum mechanics (eg: the 'uncertainty' that mandates probablistic equations (coupled with actual 'hidden' variables, of course)). And since there is no real distinction between all things (eg: where does a given 'thing' actually begin or end?), it could be said that the entire universe (including our own egos) is a manifestation of 'this' all-pervading conciousness, and moreover, since the conservation of energy states that matter/energy is never really destroyed, this conciousness exists throughout eternity, and thus you, me, and everything are in essence the force of 'god', or whatever you wish to call 'it'.
    Last edited by Sebastiani; 10-18-2009 at 09:18 AM. Reason: Maxwell to Boltzmann

  14. #14
    spurious conceit MK27's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sebastiani View Post
    Furthermore, considering that conciousness may simply be the effect of the flow of energy, and that all matter is composed of and emits energy, the case may actually be that everything in the universe is in fact 'alive' and capable of exerting free will, and thus this may be the actual 'force' that follows the Boltzmann distribution which in turn is the basis for quantum mechanics (eg: the 'uncertainty' that mandates probablistic equations (coupled with actual 'hidden' variables, of course)). And since there is no real distinction between all things (eg: where does a given 'thing' actually begin or end?), it could be said that the entire universe (including our own egos) is a manifestation of 'this' all-pervading conciousness, and moreover, since the conservation of energy states that matter/energy is never really destroyed, this conciousness exists throughout eternity, and thus you, me, and everything are in essence the force of 'god', or whatever you wish to call 'it'.
    Sebastiani's been taking the real drugs again
    C programming resources:
    GNU C Function and Macro Index -- glibc reference manual
    The C Book -- nice online learner guide
    Current ISO draft standard
    CCAN -- new CPAN like open source library repository
    3 (different) GNU debugger tutorials: #1 -- #2 -- #3
    cpwiki -- our wiki on sourceforge

  15. #15
    Guest Sebastiani's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MK27 View Post
    Sebastiani's been taking the real drugs again
    Hehe. I actually wrote an essay in 7th grade titled "A Body Without a Soul" (which was later derived into a poem) that essentially asserted that basic idea, and yes, my instructor in fact asked, in all sincerity, if I had been experimenting with mind-altering substances! I guess it's always been my natural inclination to think that way, though (of course I won't rule out the possible effects of both being raised within the hippy counter-culture and being strongly influenced by Heinlen's "Stranger in a Strange Land").

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