The no-free-will experiment, avec video

I’ve spent a few more weeks reading about free will and the varieties of compatibilism and incompatibilism. And—much to the regret of some of my readers, I suppose—I haven’t changed my mind.  I still don’t think that we can make real “choices” at any given moment; I feel that all of our choices are  predetermined by the laws of physics and chemistry, and I think that all the attempts to save the notion of free will via philosophical “compatibilism” are unconvincing.

And my feeling that the common notion of free will—that at any given time, if the past history of an individual and all of her molecules were replicated, she would always choose the same way—was confirmed by discussions I had with three scientist colleagues. None of these colleagues had thought much about the problem of free will, but all of them, when pressed, thought of “free will” in the way I’ve characterized it. Further, all of them raised the similar objections to my claim that we have no free will in that sense: Wouldn’t that lead to nihilism? What about moral responsibility? But can’t people be persuaded to act in a certain way?, etc.   This is an anecdotal and small sample, but it’s a sample of smart scientists, and all of them initially conceived of free will as the ability to make decisions independent of the laws of physics.

Before I talk a tiny bit about compatibilism, let me present this video, which shows a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment like that used in the famous work of Bode et al. (see reference below for a free download), showing that one can predict the outcome of a decision up to seven seconds before the subject is conscious of having made a decision. The YouTube description says this:

In this clip, Marcus Du Sautoy (Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and current Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science) participates in an experiment conducted by John-Dylan Haynes (Professor at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Berlin) that attempts to find the neurological basis for decision making.

Hayes was one of the authors of the Bode et al. paper cited below.

It’s a complicated set-up, but the results and explanation are cool, even if you think they have no bearing on free will:

Now I’m perfectly aware that the “predictability” of the results is not perfect: it seems to be around 60%, better than random prediction but nevertheless statistically significant. I think, though, that as our ability to image and understand the brain improves, the predictability of which decision the subject will make will improve.  After all, fMRI is rather crude, based as it is on blood flow to certain areas of the brain.  And I know some will object that even if the decision was “predictable” up to seven (and probably ten) seconds in advance, it still could have been a decision, but an unconscious one.

I maintain that if a decision is unconscious—if it takes place in your head well before you’re aware of it—then that is not free will, which involves conscious decisions.  After all, every “decision” has to be reflected somehow in brain activity that is correlated with an action, so we’d expect to see predictable pre-conscious brain activity if there were no free will.  For those who say that seven seconds isn’t long enough, would you deny free will if I could tell you what flavor of ice cream you’d choose while you were on the way to the store, knew what flavors were on offer, but said you didn’t yet know what you wanted?

Now the version of free will I’ve adumbrated is contracausal free will, and it’s clear that I’m an incompatibilist—I believe that our actions and “decisions” are solely the results of the laws of physics and chemistry, and that such decisions are in principle incompatible with my definition of free will.  But I think that nearly all smart philosophers and scientists agree with me on at least one point: our decisions are basically deterministic (perhaps tempered with a bit of quantum indeterminacy, which can’t be part of free will) and are the result of physical laws.  Few people believe in mental/physical dualism thse days.

What people differ about is whether determinism removes our notion of free will. And so they concoct “compatibilist” definitions of free will—ones that make free will compatible with physical determinism.  I have not found one of their arguments remotely convincing, for I adhere to the same notion of free will as most folks do, and am unwilling to change it to conform to some philosopher’s attempt at reconciliation.  To me, free will means “I could have decided otherwise,” and if we can’t do that, then we don’t have free will.  We have something else, and I wish that philosophers would use another term if they’re compatibilists.

I’ve read about compatibilism because someone asked me about the philosophical arguments for it.  I’ve only found four or so that stirred me even remotely, but, as I said, none were convincing:

  • Free will is shown when people’s decisions are seen to respond to reasoned argument. That’s not convincing for two reasons: reasoned argument is still an environmental influence which can impinge on the brain to affect people’s decisions.  Second, whether or not someone is responsive to reasoned argument is itself determined by the laws of physics.
  • Free will is shown when someone’s “decision” is compatible with their backgrounds, temperament, habits, and personality. This isn’t acceptable because it doesn’t show that someone is making a free choice—only a choice that’s consistent with decisions and actions they’ve evinced before. It doesn’t show that they could have chosen otherwise, either.
  • Maybe you can’t decide freely to do something, but you can decide freely not to do something. This is the version of free will suggested by Benjamin Libet, who did the first experiment showing predictability of “choice” by brain imaging.  Dismayed at the implications of his result, he suggested the idea of “free won’t.” That’s bogus, however, because you don’t have any choice whether to veto a contemplated action, either.  (The icing on the cake is that “vetoing” takes place in precisely the same brain regions as “choosing.”)
  • Free will represent the “choices” made by rational, contemplative beings whose faculties have evolved to weigh many factors before making a decision. This subsumes a number of ideas suggested by different philosophers, including Dan Dennett. I don’t find them convincing because to me they just show that our brains are complicated computers made out of meat, evolved to weigh lots of inputs before giving an output. But computers that spit out a single output—a choice—after absorbing many inputs are still computers, and we don’t think that computers programmed to respond to complicated inputs have “free will.”  Does a chess-playing computer have free will? If you think so, then go tell it to the philosophers.

I still think that compatibilism represents a sort of kneejerk philosophical response to the fact that nearly everyone finds totally unpalatable the idea that we are automatons whose actions are completely determined by the laws of physics.  And, as Harris says in his upcoming (and excellent) small book, Free Will, all versions of compatibilism essentially boil down to one pithy description:

“A puppet is free so long as he loves his strings.”

____________

Bode, S., A. H. He, C. S. Soon, R. Trampel, R. Turner, and J.-D. Haynes. 2011. Tracking the unconscious generation of free decisions using uItra-high field fMRI. PLoS ONE 6(6): e21612. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021612

242 Comments

  1. Posted December 27, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Unlike other achizotypals, I objurgate what Paul Kurtz calls ” The Transcendental Temptation, the twin superstitions of the supernatural and the paranormal.
    typo- randomness

  2. Terry
    Posted December 27, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I won’t believe in any kind of “free will” until I can go back and make a different decision, and that won’t be happening any time soon.

    • steve
      Posted December 27, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

      Yes, like not ever.

  3. Vaal
    Posted December 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    I wonder of Jerry miss-wrote when he said:

    —”And my feeling that the common notion of free will—that at any given time, if the past history of an individual and all of her molecules were replicated, she would always choose the same way—was confirmed by discussions I had with three scientist colleagues.”

    That doesn’t sound like Jerry’s definition of free will – it sounds like his conclusion that there isn’t free will. As I understand it, Jerry’s definition of free will would be essentially the above paragraph, with the correction: “..but she could have chosen differently.” (And if she could have chosen differently under the exact same circumstances, THEN she would have had free will).

    Anyway…we are going round and round on this one.

    As many have pointed out, Jerry is defining free will as essentially incoherent, and if we don’t have free will of that incoherent type, then we don’t have free will.

    What can someone do but shrug and go on to say, “so what…I’m interested in having anything incoherent…I’m interested in the relevance of choices we actually have. And free will still captures the essence of most relevant things I have to say about our choices.”

    As has been pointed out, if you follow the logic of Jerry’s notion of free will, it doesn’t make sense on any level. Say I had the desire to cut a wooden board to fit in a shelf. I have the desire to do so. I have beliefs about the nature of wood, and about the nature of measuring. I use my powers of deliberation to conclude that, that the wood needs to be cut to 6″ by 24″ to fit just as I desire into the shelf. This is the essence of rational decision-making, how your decision making concerns your actions following from the logical combination of your belief/desires at any time.

    Now, once I’ve made that deliberation, freeze me in this mythical Jerry-described state, and now…what? Give me the “free will power” to choose differently? What in the world could that mean? If I chose differently, what could that mean but that the “alternate” choice would be divorced from the set of desires and rational deliberations I had made? That being the case, how would this alternate choice be a rational choice? And how would it even be MY choice?

    So in essence the type of free will to choose that Jerry talks of equates an irrational choice…not made by “me.”

    That’s a free will I would never want or care about. And contra Jerry, the merest prodding I think shows that this notion doe NOT capture what most people would think of as having free will. Most people equate free will to being at least able for “Me” to make a “rational choice” based on what I desire and believe. (If you prod people on this issue, you’ll find they do indeed think in these terms).

    I would WANT my decision to be DETERMINED causally by my former and current state. It’s the only way “I” get to make any decisions…and it’s the only way I can be assured my decisions could be rational and not random.

    The idea that compatibilists are in some desperate state of wanting to “save” free will gets it all wrong. The point is that
    incompatibilists like Jerry are falling for an incoherent concept of free will in the first place. And again, Jerry may feel that his concept is the norm, but I submit that in fact it does not actually capture the types of concerns that some, if not many, if not most people REALLY think of when it comes to the issue of Free Will.

    Compatibilists don’t say they are finding a way to “save” free will despite determinism: they are saying free willed “choice” – of the only type we normally think of worth having – is only made POSSIBLE in the context of determinism/causation.

    Vaal

    • steve
      Posted December 27, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

      Vaal,

      It is not the fault of non-free willists that the concept of free will is incoherent. Don’t forget that it is others that assert that there is such a thing as free will. Jerry only makes reference to free will to make the case that no such freedom exists in the will of man. There is nothing incoherent in the claim that non-free willists make, that all of an individual’s behavior is fully caused and therefore complete without freedom.

      Even your inability to understand what Jerry understands is not a function of free choice on your part… you are not freely choosing or not choosing to remain a believer in free will, you are constrained by a combination of determinants that make you believe what you believe at this point in time.

      • Vaal
        Posted December 27, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

        Steve,

        If there were only one notion of free will you (and Jerry) could have a point.

        The issue is whether Jerry’s version of “free will” is THE concept of free will, the only one useful or worthwhile, the only one that captures what many of us are concerned about when talking of “free will.”

        The problem is that free will, like morality, is a somewhat fuzzy concept, one often in dispute, but which broadly encompasses a set of concerns people tend to have about our choices and identity. Broadly speaking, do “I” have any “real choice”…and from that other issues follow.

        In that way the concept of free will is like the concept of morality. There is no one spokesman for the concept. Jerry’s concept of free will is no more the only relevant concept of free will than a theistic Divine Command theorists concept of morality is the only relevant notion of morality. In the case of the Divine Command Theorist who takes on horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma, that things are “good” because God commands them, it can be pointed out this ultimately is incoherent. Because it makes God’s commands arbitrary and if they are arbitrary it makes no sense we “ought” to do X when there exist no reasons to do X.

        The Divine Command Theorist may fervently intuit that morality is “only real morality if it comes from God’s commands” and say “If you are right, then there is no such thing as morality.”

        But, sorry, there are other people who are going to point out that the Divine Command Theories has no monopoly on the concept of morality – that it is a broader concept that captures a set of concerns that, it turns out, does not necessarily turn on whether a God exists to command us.

        Likewise, with free will. Jerry’s notion of free will is not the only one going. And as I mentioned, I think it actually does not comport well with how we think of “free choices” in everyday life, whereas a compatibilist account actually DOES comport with how we tend to use such notions.

        Let’s say Jerry has a son and the issue is whether to attend X University for Y subject, or whether to drop out of school.
        Presuming Jerry thinks there are good reasons for his son to go to University, what happens if his son says “Sorry Dad, University sounds nice, but I have no freedom to make such choices. I just don’t see the relevance of you presenting me with any choices.”

        How will Jerry respond? What will Jerry say to his son to make the case that, yes, he DOES have the freedom to make such a choice, or that the choices are relevant?

        I suspect that the type of case Jerry will make will fall into line with the concept of “being able to choose” in pretty much the way we normally conceive of it, and talk of such choices. And that such choices he will argue ARE relevant and consequential and “YOURS” to make.

        Now, Jerry may then add “But I want to add the caveat that, ultimately, I was determined to make such a case and my son is determined to do what he ‘chooses’ to do.”

        In which case the compatibilist will shrug “Yeah…we know. But adding that doesn’t negate the case you’ve made for your son having a deeply relevant choice on the matter of his education, and all the reasons you’ve adduced to persuade him are all the relevant things we want in Free Will anyway, and it’s captured in the every-day talk you will use with your son.”

        Vaal.

        • steve
          Posted December 28, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

          Vaal,

          It would be a waste of time to continue this exchange, if Jerry and I are refering to the long standing concept of “free will” while you are talking about something different altogether, i.e., some new combatibilist redefinition of “free will”.

          As for your example of Jerry’s son, where have you shown any freedom in the son’s choice to drop out of school? At most you present that Jerry believes one way, and the son another, but you don’t establish that either of them are at the current point in time able to believe differently than they do. You don’t show that the son can freely will himself to be of a different position that the one that he has, or that Jerry could freely will himself to have a different opinion on that matter.

          • greg byshenk
            Posted December 28, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

            But part of what is in question here is whether you and Jerry (and other incompatibilists) actually -are- correctly defining ‘the long standing concept of “free will”’.

            As I noted above, I don’t think that this is true. The “normal” (“long standing”) concept of ‘free will’ encompasses that one could have done differently — had they so wished. Unfortunately, Jerry’s definition turns that on its head, in that it entails that ‘free will’ exists only when one is acting -contrary- -to- one’s wishes. Thus, if the goal is to somehow capture “the long standing concept of ‘free will’”, then this definition can’t be right.

            • Vaal
              Posted December 28, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

              Yes, greg has it exactly.

              Steve (and Jerry) every time you talk of compatibilism “re-defining” Free Will, as if your definition (as incoherent as that concept turns out to be) is the “real Free Will,” it shows you still don’t get it.

              Compatibilism makes sense of free will, makes sense of our everyday talking of free-choice, and explains that this only makes sense within a determined/causal scenario.

              Whereas you have Jerry (and Sam H.) having to field their notion of hard determinism with not only the inconsistencies of how they act and speak, but with morality itself, in which Jerry constantly makes explicit or implicit moral judgements about what theists are doing, but then says things like: “I don’t have moral responsibility for it because I have no choice,”

              It’s unfortunate to see folks like Sam Harris and Jerry C. go in this direction with determinism as it seems to be a case of some very visible atheists (who often speak for atheism) shooting themselves…and hence us as well…in the foot and handing ammunition to the theists, when there seems there may be no good reason to do so.
              :-(

              Vaal.

              (This is not to say that Jerry should not be voicing his own view of free will and determinism. Of course he should! I’m just saying that since I don’t think his or Sam’s stance on free will seems to be cogent, it is a particular shame that it would be “wrong” in precisely the direction that to the general audience can weaken the hand of atheism, and strengthen the hand of theism who can shout “see…see…we told you how the atheist world view is at odds with moral responsibility!”)

              • windy
                Posted December 28, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

                Good point about the moral judgments, Vaal.

  4. Vaal
    Posted December 27, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    BTW,

    In case I left the impression I don’t respect Jerry’s thoughts or his ongoing research into the free will issue…I certainly do! I sure don’t think I have the absolute answer figured out myself.

    It’s just that the very incompatibilist stance, Jerry’s stance being only one example, has never made sense to me, which is why I find compatibilism more compelling, for some of the reasons I and others have stated.

    Vaal.

  5. Posted December 27, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    I hate to say it, but this is one area where William Lane Craig is right. That is, if “hard determinism” is true, then we are (and in principle cannot be) accountable for any of our actions, because we did not actually choose them. Sam Harris tries to escape this conundrum by suggesting that our intentions are what count, but according to hard determinism our intentions are not our own either. Like Coyne says, we’re just automatons.

    But I think Coyne (and Harris) is way off base here. It does not logically follow that because consciousness arises from (and is governed by) physical processes that the ability to make choices, within a given framework, is non-existent.

    So I don’t think the problem is that we’re having to redefine free will, since we’re not advocating contra-causal free will. It’s the hard determinists who have to redefine consciousness to be functionally indistinguishable from the subconscious.

    • AndreSchuiteman
      Posted December 28, 2011 at 3:53 am | Permalink

      Computers are able to make choices, like this:

      If x then A;
      If not x then B;

      Are you suggesting that computers have free will? If not, why not?

    • steve
      Posted December 28, 2011 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      So I don’t think the problem is that we’re having to redefine free will, since we’re not advocating contra-causal free will.

      Well that is an interesting assertion to make, because a causal free will would be completely free will completely devoid of freedom. (Which is just nonsense, you must have typed something wrong.)

      p.s. nobody has said that “the ability to make choices, within a given framework, is non-existent.” What has been said is that the ability to FREELY make choices, within a given framework, is non-existent. There is a difference between these two statements.

    • mikmik
      Posted December 29, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      I couldn’t agree more with you, Mike D

  6. mikmik
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    @mike #55,
    Like I always say, “If our perception of free will is superfluous, then why do we have it?”

    ‘Proving’ we can’t have free will is proof that we can’t have a conscious mind and awareness, yet we do. When they explain qualia in a purely mechanical and deterministic manner, then I will listen to them wax pedantic about free will.

    • steve
      Posted December 28, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      Mikmik,

      ‘Proving’ we can’t have free will is proof that we can’t have a conscious mind and awareness, yet we do.

      I fail to see how you come to this conclusion. Please substantiate your claim. How does one get from “there is no freedom to the will” to nobody is conscious and nobody has any awareness?

      I suspect that when they (non-free willists) tell you that it is only an illusion that you have freedom to your will, you are rejecting this message due to the pervasiveness of the free will illusion. You are linking the realness of your consciousness/awareness of feeling that you make libertarianly free will choices all the time, and therefore if that thing that seems very real to you isn’t real, then shucks consciousness isn’t real and awareness isn’t real either.

      Free will is revealed to be an empty/untrue concept by the assertion that all human behavior is 100% caused by antecedent events, and therefore devoid of freedom. How could the claim that behavior is not free prove that nobody is conscious or aware?

      • mikmik
        Posted December 29, 2011 at 10:42 am | Permalink

        No, you put the cart before the horse. I am saying that there is an unknown. You incompatabilists are saying that our awareness of qulia, our experiences and memories, arise naturally from physical processes, and one of the results is an illusion of free will.

        I am asking how you can skip the step in explaining exactly what physical properties out mind – meaning our conscious awareness of qualia – are composed of. WHAT IS THIS PHYSICAL THING CALLED THE MIND – WHAT ARE THE PHYSICAL PROPERTIES OF ILLUSION.

        If you do not know how we get from A -> B, from PHYSICAL PROCCESSES to result in a PHYSICALLY DESCRIBABLE MIND, replete with the experience of the color red, for instance, then you do not know what happens to give or not give us free will.

        There is a GREAT UNKNOWN DIVIDE which you assume to be unnecessary to account for!

        When you can account for the exact physical description of the mind object, then you will be able to account fr the part of the mind object that is the illusion of free will.

        You, every one and all of you, for ever I have ever seen, are basing your arguments on a fallacy. It is thus:
        1 Every effect has a physical cause.
        2 Every resultant effect is physical.
        3 Our mind has a physical cause.
        4 The cause has only one effect, the instantaneous state of the caused mind.
        5 The mind has only one state and in turn can only cause one single effect(our choice of action).

        I am asking you to explain my perception of the color red(as I am looking at a label on a bottle beside me with red in it) as a physical thing that resulted from a physical cause.

        How does the physicality of my brain transform into the physicality of my brain which contains the physicality of my experience of a swatch of red color as part of it. Then explain the swatch of red experience in purely physical results.

        When you have done that, then you can move up in scale to explain the thoughts as physical things, then the decisions made in our thoughts as physical things.
        Then, and only then, can you tell me if the perception of making an informed decision by weighing alternatives and selecting an appropriate action is an illusion or not.

        You are all making the fallacy that because all things can, in principle, be known as the result of physical causes, then our minds can be known thus. Our minds are therefore physical in ways that we already understand as physical.

        But you don’t know what all the possible physical properties of our minds are. You do not know the process, THEREFORE, YOU CAN NOT COMMENT ON THE RESULT.

        • steve
          Posted December 29, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          Mikmik,

          No, I don’t need to know all that you say I need to know in order to know that free will is an illusion. Heck, if what you say is true, then nobody would be able to claim that free will is true unless they knew all the thing you say one should have to know in order to say yea or ney to this question.

          By the way, you didn’t answer my question, “How does one get from “there is no freedom to the will” to nobody is conscious and nobody has any awareness?”

          • mikmik
            Posted December 29, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

            Yes!! That is exactly what I am saying!! (big effin smile!)

            Nobody knows. THEREFORE: Nobody can say there isn’t free will, or is!!!

            By the way, you didn’t answer my question, “How does one get from “there is no freedom to the will” to nobody is conscious and nobody has any awareness?”

            I never said that, or I didn’t mean to. (I am not very clear sometimes, sorry about that)

            I wonder why we would have consciousness, which would include awareness of qualia and illusion of free will, if all our decisions are purely rote. I don’t see how consciousness is necessary to act if it is all just chemical and physical with no will being involved. I mean, why bother? It would seem to be an awfully, desperately so, bizarre and complex thing to arise for no reason, wouldn’t it?

            There are two questions that I think need to be answered.
            1. How do you explain consciousness. You need the understanding in order to attribute anything to be a logical, empirical result of it.
            I mean, it is a given that we have free will because we experience it.
            It is not at all apparent that free will is an illusion. That is a very, very strong assumption, or hypothesis. If you are to claim absolute knowledge of lack of free will, then you must tell me why we have the appearance of it.
            To do that, you must tell me(us) how our brain works to produce our consciousness and experiences in order to be able to say that it may not possess a particular feature ie that aspect, free will, is ruled out.

            2. Why do we have awareness if we don’t need it. We obviously don’t need it if all our decisions and resultant behaviours are causally predetermined.

            • steve
              Posted December 29, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

              Oh, but the case can be made that there is no such thing as free will, without needing to know all that stuff that you think needs to be known (why you see red). As for “…then you must tell me why we have the appearance of it…”, no I don’t. All I have to do is present a convincing case for why it is nothing but an illusion.

              Also, I too share the same curiosity (that you seem to have) about the whys and wherefores of consciousness and awareness.

              • mikmik
                Posted December 29, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

                Yes you do. There is an unknown process going on which results in things you cannot explain or understand.
                Seeing that this process is verified, ie fact, you cannot draw a cause and effect relationship of a direct and simple type.

                It is a fantastic, mind blowing claim that we do not have free will. Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence, and a simple correlation is not sufficient.

                I still haven’t had time to reply to vain and others, but vain pointed something else out that I haven’t seen anyone say before(except me on a pharyngula free will thread, which was also ignored).

                You incompatibilists insist on simplifying things beyond reason, and several of us have pointed this out.

                No one has explained a causative relationship between experiment and supposed lack of freedom of choice.

                You people keep quibbling about the meaning of the words free will, labels like compatibilist and what they exactly mean, and general nitpicking which is indicative of faulty or lacking rigor behind your opinions.

                I just want to state that I completely agree with whoever said(above) that Coyne and others are virtual hypocrits by continuing to try to change people by argument, and also, by displaying emotions like frustration, anger, smugness, petulance, and express moral judgements and, also, to try and argue points with the express purpose of changing others, and I am going to keep asking you why you act like you have free will if you don’t have it.

                And I don’t mean the triteness, “I have to” because you don’t know that, and furthermore, you all have ignored the fucking gravity of the implication(also stated above) of us not actually having free will.

                That would be devastating, to say the fucking least.

              • steve
                Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

                Mikmik,

                Yes you do.

                I hardly know where to start. First of all, I reiterate that non-free willists do not have to have an explanation for how the brain manifests conscious experience, or how it stores memories, or how it regulates body functions, or how brain cells process decision making, or why you see red when you see red, or any of the thousand other mysteries of the human central nervous system in order to with complete confidence that there is no freedom to human will.

                There is an unknown process going on which results in things you cannot explain or understand. Seeing that this process is verified, ie fact, you cannot draw a cause and effect relationship of a direct and simple type.

                I don’t have the slightest inkling as what this unknown process is that you are talking about here. Of course nobody can explain or understand anything that is unknown to them. But really, how can an unknown process be verified? If it is verified then it would seem to be known. This part of your post must have come out garbled somehow.

                It is a fantastic, mind blowing claim that we do not have free will.

                Of course you are just reporting that your mind is blown by the claim and that you appraise the claim to be fantastic. Over the years I’ve gotten this a lot from people new to this observation (that there is no freedom to the human will).

                Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence, and a simple correlation is not sufficient.

                I do agree with the logic that exceptional claims require exceptional evidence. Often I have made this demand of supernaturalist and/or theists. But one must establish just what is the authentic exceptional claim? I’d say that making a claim that something as incoherent as free will is the exceptional claim. (Not incoherent, you say?, then produce a true coherent definition of free will).

                Free willists make the claim that free will exists, so I’d say the burden of proof lies with them to prove free will. (Same as the burden of proof lies to someone who asserts the existence of a deity or pixies or flying pink teapots.) And speaking of exceptions… there probably is no bigger example of an exception than the exception that libertarian free will represents. All of the universe is deterministic, except for the human will (and also recently added to the list, according to Stephen Bernard, lions). And talk about simple correlations: you think/feel like you make free will decisions so you correlate this to mean that you have free will and furthermore all of humanity has it too. This is all that the claim of free will rests upon, this one simple correlation for this ultimate exceptional claim: that unlike anything else known to man, man transcends causation/determinism/cause-and-effect.

                You incompatibilists insist on simplifying things beyond reason, and several of us have pointed this out.

                I have no idea what you mean by simplify beyond reason. Sorry if our explanation as to why free will is only an illusion has been made too simple for you.

                No one has explained a causative relationship between experiment and supposed lack of freedom of choice.

                I shall attempt to explain it to you. Free willists sometimes attempt to explain the existence of free will by alluding to “conscious decision making”. They say that free will is evidenced by the experience of conscious decision making. The experiment appears to show that the experience of conscious decision making is a false positive for the existence of free will because we now have indicators that show that decision making is made first in the subconscious and then subsequently shows up in the consciousness rendering the impression of the decision being made consciously.

                I hope this is an easy to digest explanation of the experiment.

                You people keep quibbling about the meaning of the words free will, labels like compatibilist and what they exactly mean, and general nitpicking which is indicative of faulty or lacking rigor behind your opinions.

                Please find it in your heart to excuse our quibbling about the exact meaning of words. Put yourself in our shoes… we are faced with emotionally motivated rejection of our observation, those who would argue that our observation is incorrect would try to make the case for their position by obfuscation via redefinition of words/terms/concepts. Saying things like, “well not the free will your used to thinking you have, but a free will that is much more desirable/usable” or “Sure you have all the free will a person could really want to have” or “Yeah, it’s free will, it just does contain any real freedom”. So yeah there is some quibbling, but believe me, it’s not because we like quibbling or that we freely chose to quibble.
                As for the rigor of my opinions: they are not without rigor. I refer you to your own report of how mind blowing this opinion is… an opinion lacking in rigor would hardly be mind blowing. I’d say your visceral reaction is an indicator of just how substantial the argument that free will is an illusion is.

                I just want to state that I completely agree with whoever said(above) that Coyne and others are virtual hypocrits by continuing to try to change people by argument, and also, by displaying emotions like frustration, anger, smugness, petulance, and express moral judgements and, also, to try and argue points with the express purpose of changing others, and I am going to keep asking you why you act like you have free will if you don’t have it.

                Wow, so much to unpack in this one sentence.

                Hypocrisy is an almost slanderous charge. You may be skittering on the edge of civil discourse.

                How can someone who is still under the free will illusion credibly claim to know how someone who has come to see through the illusion of free will ought to act? Do you think that someone who doesn’t believe the Earth rotates as it orbits the Sun has any grounds to critique the behavior of heliocentrist when they might opine, “That sure was a nice sunrise this morning”?
                Maybe Coyne and others are new to non-free will enlightenment. Maybe they lose their focus and are momentarily influenced by the free will illusion. Maybe they are reacting emotionally. One thing I am willing to bet, they didn’t freely start believing in free will again and use that belief to justify being angry or smug, or petulant. (We might talk about morality and moral judgment at a later date, if and when you come to grips with non-free willism.)
                What is the problem with trying and arguing points with the express purpose of changing others? There is nothing about the non-free will world view that would preclude trying and/or arguing points with the express purpose of changing others… explain your thinking here, please.

                and I am going to keep asking you why you act like you have free will if you don’t have it. And I don’t mean the triteness, “I have to” because you don’t know that, and furthermore, you all have ignored the fucking gravity of the implication(also stated above) of us not actually having free will. That would be devastating, to say the fucking least.

                Again, given that you believe in free will, how do justify saying how a person who doesn’t believe in free will ought to act?

                Next: regarding ignoring the f***ing gravity of the implication of non-free willism. I don’t ignore it… I am willing to address it, I often do address it. That there may be grave implications does not change the reality that there is no free will. Surely you don’t mean that I (or Coyne or any other non-free willist) should believe differently because of these grave implications, do you? Think of the graver implications of intellectual dishonesty if that is indeed your bent.
                Devastating… hmmm, I think you over react. It can be a bit shocking when an illusion is exposed. Maybe unsettling, but I hope you aren’t devastated by the knowledge that you have no ability what so ever to transcend the causal effects of your heredity and environment, your nature and your nurture, your personal matrix of causal determinants.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted December 29, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

          The onus is on the incompatabilists to explain whence come the creative and seemingly intentional acts of us creatures — things like art and science and politics and so on — things that are explicable with free will. There must be something important missing in their physical world view.

          It seems like trading one mystery for a bigger one.

          • steve
            Posted December 29, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

            Stephen,

            Incompatibilists are just those who believe that free will is not compatible with determinism. Therefore there are two varieties of incompatibilist: free willist and non-free willists. (Compatibilists believe that free will is compatible with determinism.) I begin my response with this because you seem to be under the impression that all inccompatibilists are non-free willists. Certainly the free willists subset of incompatibilists would point to free will as the whence from which creative and seemly intentional acts come.

            As for the non-free willists, well we would just reply that freedom of will is not required for either creativity or intentionality. There are computer programs that can produce new music quite creatively that have no free will. And a lion can be very intentional in chasing down its prey, and you wouldn’t attribute free will to a lion, would you?

            Regarding your last point, the issue at hand is discovering a truth (there is no freedom to the human will), that this might open up a new bigger mystery for you does not keep this from being true.

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted December 29, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

              Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I’m obviously not familiar with the rather obscure taxonomy of this debate.

              My point was that a non-free-will stance has a lot to answer for. Where does all this stuff come from, if not from free will? I don’t think variation and natural selection can answer for it.

              And yes, I would attribute free will to lion deciding to chase down a particularly vulnerable gazelle.

              • steve
                Posted December 29, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

                If you claim that lions are free willing, then I must decline to continue this exchange with you as all bets are off with you as far as I can tell.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted December 29, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

                Hey, fine with me, and with the lions, too. I suppose you’re one of those people who think there’s some transcendental difference between humans and our cousins. How quaintly anthropocentric.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted December 29, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

                I’ll also add, gratuitously, that you won’t score any points with Jerry by dissing lions. :-) (It’s a joke.)

  7. Myron
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    What exactly is determinism?

    “I shall say that two possible worlds diverge iff they are not duplicates but they do have duplicate initial temporal segments. Thus our world and another might match perfectly up through the year 1945, and go their separate ways thereafter. …
    First, a system of laws of nature is Deterministic iff no two divergent worlds both conform perfectly to the laws of that system. Second, a world is Deterministic iff its laws comprise a Deterministic system. Third, Determinism is the thesis that our world is Deterministic.”

    (Lewis, David. “New Work for a Theory of Universals.” 1983. In: David Lewis, Papers in Metaphysics and Epistemology, 8-55. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. pp. 31+32)

  8. Myron
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    In this debate, the phrase “free will” had better be replaced by “free action/choice/decision”.

    “These days, many philosophers avoid the expression ‘freedom of the will’, preferring to talk about freedom of action (including the freedom of mental actions such as choosing, forming intentions, and deciding)[.]“

    (“Free Will.” In: Helen Beebee, Nikk Effingham, and Philip Goff, Metaphysics: The Key Concepts, 81-83. Abingdon: Routledge, 2011. pp. 81-2)

    “‘Free will’ is the conventional name of a topic that is best discussed without reference to the will. Its central questions are ‘What is it to act (or choose) freely?’, and ‘What is it to be morally responsible for one’s actions (or choices)?’ These two questions are closely connected, for freedom of action is necessary for moral responsibility, even if it is not sufficient.”

    (“Free Will,” by Galen Strawson. In The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward Craig, 286-294. London: Routledge, 2005. p. 286)

    • steve
      Posted December 28, 2011 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      Wouldn’t this just make the discussion more problematic than less? I think using “action/choice/decision” instead of using “will” would only add to the cumbersomeness of our exchanges.

      A rose by any other name is still a rose.

  9. MAUCH
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Are neuroscientists convinced that there are truly a dualistic aspect in brain activity. We seem to have evolved to think that the little person that lives in our brain has a strained marriage with unconsciousness. Has anyone divorced themselves of seeing brain function this way.

  10. mikmik
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 5:34 am | Permalink

    I was just reading at ScienceDaily and happened on two reports of studies(experiments) on conscious vs. unconscious decision making. It seems that a self determined time of consciously ruminating leads to better decisions:
    Complex Decision? Don’t Think About It
    (not what it sounds like)

    and:
    Complex Decision? Don’t Sleep On It

    I see these types of experiments as able to show that people can indeed choose differently in identical situations, depending on how you arrive at their conclusions, and that purposeful though has a significant influence.

    I also want to comment on the video. The research showed a .57 correlation with brain activity at 8 seconds, and again at 1 second, prior to the action of pressing button.
    Further, the predictability was almost no better than chance at t-6 to t-2 seconds.

    This is a long way from predicting the actions of, say, a hockey goaltender who reacts in less than 2/100ths of a second with a save that directs the rebound purposely to an area where his teammate can recover the puck.

    How does this video explain decisions made fractions of seconds after presented with stimuli. We do this almost constantly when navigating in crowds, for instance. And we screw up and bump into people more if we are not consciously paying attention, and even then, when we don’t have enough time to react.
    It would be interesting to look at this because I know that when I am really focused and paying attention, like when I play soccer, say, that I can avoid collisions in a crowd far more successfully and often.

    Surely, conscious activity plays a part in this.

    Mostly, though, I think the linked references I’ve given are an indication that, yes, I could have chosen to act differently in some certain situation.

    • steve
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      …I could have chosen to act differently in some certain situation.

      Can you tell us of such an incidence when this was true? (Be as truthful as you can. And by this I mean be truthful to yourself.)

      p.s. Maybe people collide in crowds because they aren’t looking were they are going… the eyes can’t send information to the brain (conscious or subconscious) if they aren’t pointed in the right direction.

      • mikmik
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        First, Steve, I thank you for taking time to respond to me. I can’t directly reply to your last reply:
        steve

        Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink
        but you are mostly correct; I see the difficulties of my position that you pointed out, and I am desperately trying to salvage the position that we have free will. I am almost completely convinced that it seems that we cannot have a free will, or ability to act/react differently in any given situation. I still see grave difficulties, though, with pure determinism because of the presence of our conscious awareness – it would seem to be superfluous. I will find the proper time to go through your objections and reasoning above for much is interesting.

        In regards to your statement:

        (…I could have chosen to act differently in some certain situation.)
        Can you tell us of such an incidence when this was true? (Be as truthful as you can. And by this I mean be truthful to yourself.)

        It seems to me that I could respond or not respond right at this moment, but I agree that I cannot, yet, prove that anything I have ever done could have been done differently. I am trying to break down my actions into smaller and smaller increments of time, and the more I do that, the less it seems I could have chosen to act differently anywhere.
        However, I still feel very badly that this approach misses something very important, and is the incorrect way to analyze things. The experiments I linked to are the best way I have seen(and I haven’t seen much!) to show that people can act differently depending upon conscious effort, but, of course, this proves nothing here(in the experiments) because it can be argued that whether or not a person takes the time to ruminate, or just makes an impulsive decision, or else ‘decides’ to sleep on it (the first method leading to the best decision or outcome), that choice is coerced/determined by initial conditions in the first place, ie. the belief that one or another of the three methods is best.
        Never the less, conscious rumination changes the outcome favorably versus the two unconscious methods although the authors never quite say that explicitly in their conclusion, just that it is no worse FFS!

        However, overall, I still feel, and think!(because I feel a certain way?), that approaching these discussions (and research) on free will with a deterministic bent limits our ability to see everything that may be relevent to the question. I am trying to turn the tables and ask why, not how. There must be a reason, of course, for our perceptions and awarenesses, but I can’t see how these are neccessary in determinism.
        Drat, I have to go again. Thanks again,
        Mike

        • mikmik
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

          Well, this guy states much more clearly what I think: Massimo Pigliucci, and this book promises to invalidate experiments that purport to establish action before awareness: Each of the following claims has been defended in the scientific literature on free will and consciousness: your brain routinely decides what you will do before you become conscious of its decision; there is only a 100 millisecond window of opportunity for free will, and all it can do is veto conscious decisions, intentions, or urges; intentions never play a role in producing corresponding actions; and free will is an illusion.

          In Effective Intentions Alfred Mele shows that the evidence offered to support these claims is sorely deficient. He also shows that there is strong empirical support for the thesis that some conscious decisions and intentions have a genuine place in causal explanations of corresponding actions. In short, there is weighty evidence of the existence of effective conscious intentions or the power of conscious will. Mele examines the accuracy of subjects’ reports about when they first became aware of decisions or intentions in laboratory settings and develops some implications of warranted skepticism about the accuracy of these reports. In addition, he explores such questions as whether we must be conscious of all of our intentions and why scientists disagree about this. Mele’s final chapter closes with a discussion of imaginary scientific findings that would warrant bold claims about free will and consciousness of the sort he examines in this book.

          This is self explanitory:
          The Appearance of Reality
          A representational approach to explaining consciousness

          url = http://www.naturalism.org/appearance.htm

          As I said, there are grave difficulties with the hands-down acceptance of determinism. At first I thought I might be moving in the direction of non-free will, but as I thought about it, and then read Pigliucci, I am back to the question of why we have conscious awareness and, also, perception of volition. (Now that’s unambiguous – from Pigliucci)

          There are other examples of ordered indeterminism besides QM as well. Chaos is one.

          I have a clear conscience and don’t have to live with a contradictory belief of (my perception of)reality, in any event.

  11. mikmik
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    I have another question for the determinists re: The computer Watson and the belief that a sufficiently complex computer could equal our behaviors and decision making (in the area of morality and love, for instance).

    Would your computer also have to say things like, “I need to tell you how I feel, please” or it would begin to malfunction?
    Could that computer genuinely answer questions like ‘how do you feel’ or self destruct because of emotional anguish?

    I mean, sure, it seems plausible that much of our activity could be explained deterministically, but then why do we have a conscious awareness?

    Hard determinists have to answer the question of consciousness, I say it again.

    Determinism is far too reductionistic to be of any use.

    Because, Jerry, the amazing thing to me is that our minds affect our brain function. How can our brain decide what to change in itself, given that consciousness is part of the process. And it must be, or why do we have it?

    Why would Watson Jr. have it?

  12. Stephen Barnard
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what kind of physical world view the non-free-will proponents have? I imagine Laplace’s demon:

    We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.
    —Pierre Simon Laplace, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities[34]

    Is that accurate?

    • Another Matt
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      Quantum theory would seem to preclude this thoroughgoing view of the world. But again the point is not whether determinism implies that the future is in principle predictable by such an intellect (though I do wonder whether such an intellect would feel more free or less free than humans do). Maybe a way to reword the spirit of Jerry’s flavor determinism while taking into account quantum indeterminacy might be “The future is whatever will have happened.” (i.e. once a future event happens we can point back to its causal chain(s).)

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        Quantum theory doesn’t preclude Lapalace’s demon at all. Quantum mechanics is deterministic.

        It sounds to me like you’re embracing Laplace’s demon, except maybe for the “intellect” part. (That’s only a rhetorical flourish on Laplace’s part.)

        Of course, there’s the inconvenient fact that quantum mechanics and general relativity are, up to this point, irreconcilable, which would pose some serious problems for the demon, but let’s put that aside. There’s a more serious problem with this world view.

        • Another Matt
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

          I’m no expert, so I’ll defer to whomever knows about QM, but I thought its determinism was dependent on the interpretations, and the interpretations which are deterministic tuck some things away in unobservable places (e.g. the multiple worlds interpretation).

          A compatibilist argument is proposed against nihilist interpretations of hard determinism (any indeterminacy is a “wee frill”). It’s why I wondered whether Laplace’s demon’s own model of the world would lead it to “feel” more or less free than humans (what would a compatibilist say about Laplace’s demon?). The existence of such a being is implausible in a deterministic-naturalistic world, though, because the mechanics needed to do the analyses would need to include themselves in their own analyses in real time. The analysis would have to happen after the fact and would always be confirmatory rather than predictive. But I think the question isn’t about prediction anyway.

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

            If you’re going to premise rejection of free will on physics, you have to take physics, as we know it, seriously.

            The essential point, in Laplace’s words, is, “We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future.” That’s the hard nugget of the no-free-will stance.

            Laplace is suggesting a system of partial differential equations dependent on time. The demon integrates forward in time from the present to get to the future, or backwards in time to get to the past. The system is deterministic and time-reversal-invariant.

            That’s what we have to work with. This works for quantum mechanics as well as classical mechanics and general relativity (although there are serious problems in stitching them together, which we can set aside for now).

            Something very important is missing from this world view, and it’s not quantum mechanics. It’s the arrow of time and the second law of thermodynamics.

            I’m sure many if not all of you (if anyone’s still listening) have heard the lame-ass claims of creationists about the second law of thermodynamics refuting evolution. That’s not what I’m talking about. Not at all.

            The events in the world we experience are irreversible, governed by the second law. You can’t unscramble an egg. But Laplace’s demon CAN unscramble an egg. Just replace t with -t and integrate. It’s not realistic. In this world view, time is an illusion.

            At the very least, this should give pause to non-free-willers who might be complacent with naive physics.

            Laplace also said, “What we know is not much. What we do not know is immense.”

          • Another Matt
            Posted December 31, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

            There’s a lot to say, and I hesitate to add too much to the thread, but:

            The error with the Laplace’s demon thought experiment is that it sets up its calculation as something that is trivial for it to do. It’s asking you to imagine something that is precluded by physics in the first place. Unless it’s supernatural or has access to resources in a multiverse, even if it could collect and store the relevant data instantaneously it can’t do the integration instantaneously, and if I’m not mistaken it can’t do it in time to deliver the relevant data of a snapshot of the future before that point in time occurs (and this leaves out the relativistic problems with simultaneity and QM problems with uncertainty – the “data collection” problems, as well as the fact that the change in the universe associated with performing the calculation will have to be folded into the calculation itself – it’s going to run into entropy problems before it can finish). There’s a lot of intuitive power in this thought experiment because the way it’s set up it involves some kind of sentient prediction.

            To prove the idea that “We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future” the demon would need to collect data at three points in time, run two calculations from the middle one connecting it to the other two in two time directions and show that the results predicted by the middle state predicted the later and postdicted the earlier. I can’t tell whether this would still count as inductive empiricism so I’ll leave it open whether it would need to perform this action several more times to show that it’s reliable. And then it wouldn’t matter whether anything could actually be predicted (or postdicted).

            I have very little expertise in physics, so I have to ask – why wouldn’t the increasing-entropy/arrow-of-time be folded into the Laplace demon’s calculations going forward and backward? T would not be meaningfully interchangeable with -T, because the demon’s calculations would always show how entropy was changing, and to the extent that it didn’t it would just be using a bad model, yes-no? In what way does the 2nd law conflict with causal chains in a deterministic world?

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted December 31, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

              I’m afraid you’re missing the point. Laplace wasn’t writing a grant proposal; he was making a philosophical point. Of course his demon is wildly impractical. The point is that the laws of physics as Laplace understood them, and as we pretty much understand them today, involve deterministic, time-reversal invariant systems of equations.

              The second law of thermodynamics is a funny kind of law, set apart from and somewhat in conflict with Laplace’s schema. It describes something that’s observed (increasing entropy in closed systems; irreversibility), and it’s justified or explained with statistical arguments. It’s also closely related to the concept of information.

              As far as I’m aware, there are no widely accepted general principles or laws governing self-organizing open systems far from equilibrium. Biological evolution seems like an example where we at least have a theoretical foothold, but the general problem is a giant void in our understanding.

            • Another Matt
              Posted December 31, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

              I’m maybe deliberately missing the point, because I think his philosophical point has to rest on the possibility of the thing it’s making a point about. Saying the demon is “wildly implausible” vs. “impossible in our universe” are different things, and I’m provisionally claiming the latter.

              Laplace is saying “in principle, if there were such an intellect, this is what it would find.” I’m saying that “in principle” no such intellect could exist that didn’t have resources outside the universe, so the point is not epistemologically warranted. It’s not something that can be said about the world.

              It reminds me of the good old uncertainty principle: there’s some question about whether it’s an epistemological principle – the particles do have specific positions and momentums but we can’t observe them both to an arbitrary degree of accuracy – or an actual physical principle – particles do not actually have specific positions and momentums, even for a Laplace demon (or a god’s eye view, or whatever). If it’s the latter any argument that relies on a posited intellect that has access to both is going to be wrong.

              It’s not quite analogous to our problem with determinism and the impossibility of the Laplace demon, but my point is that a lot of unwarranted things can be smuggled into thought experiments and “philosophical points.”

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted December 31, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

                ” … but my point is that a lot of unwarranted things can be smuggled into thought experiments and “philosophical points.””

                Point taken. I wish I’d never brought up the “demon” thing. It’s not necessary, but it’s colorful. I was trying to flesh out the physical world view of the free-will naysayers, from whom I’ve yet to hear, except for you.

                By the way, I don’t think Laplace believed in his demon for a second, and I’d wager he believed in free will, if it ever occurred to him to question it.

  13. mikmik
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Eery vindication: Nahmais makes the point that the ‘death of free will’ idea makes a fallacy he calls ‘bypassing’ that reduces our decisions to chemical reactions, implying that our conscious thinking is bypassed, and so we must lack free will.

    He notes that this is like saying life doesn’t exist because every living thing is made up of non-living molecules, when, in reality, its impossible to understand life or free will without considering the system at the macro level – that is, the actions and interactions of the whole organism.

    • greg byshenk
      Posted December 31, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      This strikes me as a terrible analogy. After all, “life” doesn’t exist as some independent entity; rather, ‘living’ is a term applied to certain types of organizations of matter (and is somewhat fuzzy at the edges, as well). The point of the “no-free-will” camp is that ‘freewill’ is supposed by the “pro-free-will” camp to be causal in some way independent of mere particular organizations of matter. In this way there seems a much closer analogy to vitalism, wherein the sense that something seems to be present somehow entails that there must actually be some thing.

      • mikmik
        Posted December 31, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        Seems a fine analogy to me. Where do you get the lifeforce/vitalae idea? He does not say anything about ‘life’ being a thing.

        I’ve said this over and over again, the step from purely inanimate physical(matter and energy) to mind/awareness is missing.
        From this post

        No, you put the cart before the horse. I am saying that there is an unknown. You incompatabilists are saying that our awareness of qulia, our experiences and memories, arise naturally from physical processes, and one of the results is an illusion of free will.

        I am asking how you can skip the step in explaining exactly what physical properties out mind – meaning our conscious awareness of qualia – are composed of. WHAT IS THIS PHYSICAL THING CALLED THE MIND – WHAT ARE THE PHYSICAL PROPERTIES OF ILLUSION.

        If you do not know how we get from A -> B, from PHYSICAL PROCCESSES to result in a PHYSICALLY DESCRIBABLE MIND, replete with the experience of the color red, for instance, then you do not know what happens to give or not give us free will.

        There is a GREAT UNKNOWN DIVIDE which you assume to be unnecessary to account for!

        You have to look at the whole system as a whole, it is not just a bunch of individual processes.

        Shee43sh, that analogy is very straight forward. Give me a break already.

        P.S. I am not trying to brag, just that I notice that these ideas that I’ve come up with in argument to the non-free willists, on my own, are not only not strange, they have a history and some analysis already for at least a few years.

        I have been getting the idea that many non-free willists sound like and act like the devout trying to defend religion with the introducing of superfluous arguments about meanings of terms, classifying/labeling opponents, seemingly purposely missing the point and/or avoiding questions.* Thought experiments, blah, blah.

        These are all red herrings!

        There is so much latitude for free will to enter that I find it absurd that anyone can be smug and virtually certain of the impossibility of free will.

        Okay, I am going to say another thing again, sigh. The mind object/thingy, by which I mean the awareness of qualia and processing ideas and thoughts and feelings and creativity and everything else mentioned above, is in no way explainable in known physics. DO NOT tell me that you can see exactly what is happening with the brain blah blah, because that is not what I am talking about. That only shows correlation, FFS.
        So, if you cannot explain WHY OUR MINDS OBTAIN, then you do not know why, or why not, free will obtains as part of the mind.

        Get. Over. It.

        *Steve, not you. You are rigorous and encompassing. I can learn from you, man!

        • greg byshenk
          Posted December 31, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

          I’ve said this over and over again, the step from purely inanimate physical(matter and energy) to mind/awareness is missing.
          And similarly, the step from purely inanimate physical matter to ‘life’ is missing. Which, by the preferred analogy here, would suggest that some ‘lifeliness’ is called for as an explanation.

          This strikes me as a x-of-the-gaps argument: you can’t fully explain y, therefore x must be the case. The hard incompatibilist points out only that there appears to be no place for ‘freewill’ (in the strong sense) to arise, given the nature of the universe as we know it. Of course, we may be mistaken in our understanding, but simply invoking magic, as you seem to do, seems inadequate.

  14. Stephen Barnard
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    When creationists present their lame-ass argument that the second law of thermodynamics refutes evolution, they’re ignoring the fact that life originated and evolves in open, far-from-equilibrium systems. The free energy in a open, far-from-equilibrium system drives complex, self-organizing, irreversible processes of which we have only the dimmest understanding, but we have many examples.

    Biological evolution for one. Also embryology and development. The brain is a self-organizing system. Also cultural evolution, and many other examples. Self-organization in complex systems far from equilibrium operates at all levels of abstraction, from molecules to culture. We don’t lack examples. We lack understanding.

    I think it’s possible, even likely, that a justification for free will is hidden within this lack of understanding. It’s disturbing, to say the least, to think that physics and causality negates free will. My suggestion is that it’s premature to give up on free will while we’re still woefully ignorant of what’s going on.

  15. FormerComposer
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    A couple of months back, Sam Harris had a couple of posts on consciousness. What seems to be a fundamental question for him is

    [t]o use the philosopher Thomas Nagel’s construction: A creature is conscious if there is “something that it is like” to be this creature; an event is consciously perceived if there is “something that it is like” to perceive it.

    When he announced he was working on a book about Free Will and requesting input for areas of concern, I suggested this as an interesting question: Is there “something that it is like” to make a decision?

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted December 31, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      That’s a misreading of Nagel’s essay.

      Ask yourself what it is like to be you. I think you’ll conclude it’s like something, and that something is a mystery, inaccessible to others, somewhat like it’s like to be a bat.

      • FormerComposer
        Posted December 31, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure it is “like something.” But I am sure it is something. Reading all the comments here (and similar discussions elsewhere), I find the idea of decision-making to be similarly opaque. There is something that I do when I make a decision — as much as there is something that is me — but hearing others talk about it seems like listening to a discussion of something alien. If free will is not about decision-making, then I’m not sure what it is about.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted December 31, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

          The problem of other minds can drive you crazy. I don’t take the solipsistic position — that only my own mind can I know exists, but a thoughgoing skeptic would have to. :-)

      • Another Matt
        Posted January 1, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        Another way of framing FormerComposer’s question in Nagel’s terms would be, “Is there something that it is like to be a being that makes (“real”) choices?” or simply “Is there something that it is like to have (some form of) free will?” I’m not sure it would be a productive conversation, but maybe those who don’t believe in any form of free will should be able to answer, “how could we tell if we actually had real free will – what differences would we detect?”

        • steve
          Posted January 1, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

          maybe those who don’t believe in any form of free will should be able to answer, “how could we tell if we actually had real free will – what differences would we detect?”

          Wouldn’t this be the same as asking “what diffence would there be if there were square circles in the universe”, of those who believe square circles don’t exist and aren’t even coherent?

          • FormerComposer
            Posted January 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

            “Square circles” as a physical concept/construct is a contradictory and incoherent concept. “Squaring the circle” as a mathematical concept required more effort to prove that the concept as described was not possible. I don’t remember if it is contradictory but the basic premise was not incoherent, just false (or impossible.) I don’t think there is anything incoherent about some definitions of free-will although they may turn out to be (ultimately) illusions.

  16. alEx
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    I have a theory about what is Free Will and I have written a post on it on my blog : “Free will is a choice in the long run”. It is part of a philosophy I have created.
    The main concept I add up to the short term deterministic point of view is about long term non-deterministic model due to probabilities in a complex biological system.

    Homo Equilibrium – Next Stage in Human Evolution

  17. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I didn’t make time for this earlier, so to address outstanding points regarding my own notion of empirical free will:

    I maintain that if a decision is unconscious—if it takes place in your head well before you’re aware of it—then that is not free will, which involves conscious decisions. [...]

    What people differ about is whether determinism removes our notion of free will. And so they concoct “compatibilist” definitions of free will—ones that make free will compatible with physical determinism.

    And in this context the video makes a claim on that we want “causes”, which I will take as empirical causality:

    Empirical “free will” is a simple heuristic model that obeys internal causality, not used because it shores up philosophical dualism but because it is practical. So none of the above applies.

    Empirical free will has limits, but so has newtonian gravity when compared to general relativity. It is not factual, but so is the notion that solids are solid. (They are mostly space.)

    To me, free will means “I could have decided otherwise,” and if we can’t do that, then we don’t have free will. We have something else, and I wish that philosophers would use another term if they’re compatibilists.

    Again, within the heuristics it looks like we can make choices, because we can model free agents like making them. I agree that philosophers concerns are elsewhere, so a differentiation in terms would be nice!

    “A puppet is free so long as he loves his strings.”

    A naturalistic fallacy.

    And as I note earlier a specific fallacy. We love heuristics because they simplify things.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 22, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      “because we can model free agents like making them.” – because we can model free agents as making them.

  18. Posted March 18, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    The natural laws we write on our cells determine the decisions we make.(Lawsin 2000)

    An eletronic transistor is designed to make choices or decisions, does it has free-will? A game of chess online makes its own choices when I play against it, does it has free-will? Do I make decisions to myself, or something makes the decisions for me? Does something react inside of me to make such decisions?

    When someone is watching a sad movie, why does someone cry? Is it her choice to cry or something inside her makes her cry? Is that free will?

    When someone is sleeping, why does someone dream? Is it his choice to dream or something inside him makes him dream? Is that free will?

    Why do we peeh or pooh? Is this freewill or God tells us to do so?

    There is no such thing as free will. This excerpt is from the book Originemology by JLawsin.

  19. kishore
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    I think my free will is unlikely for a variety of reasons / examples:

    1. I cannot will myself to “like” music that is outside the typical note structure that my brain intrinsically “likes”

    2. I cannot change my “personality” on a whim.

    3. You can’t get homosexual people to stop being homosexual.

    4. You can’t seem to cure pedophilia.

    5. So many of our “vices” such as addiction to drugs, begin inexplicably even though we KNOW we shouldn’t use drugs and alcohol. We get fat even though we KNOW we shouldn’t eat too much. The fact that we make “decisions” to do things that are bad for us despite all knowledge and logic to the contrary speaks against free will.

    6. Genetics and twin studies regarding addiction show definite evidence of nature AND nurture having a role in addiction behavior.

    7. I can’t will myself greater aptitudes. NO matter how much I practice, I don’t think I can be Mozart.

    8. I might want to will myself to stay awake but my body “decides” when I am too tired. I might want to watch more TV but my eyes are fatigued. Your body limits your ability to exert your will on a regular basis. You can’t “will” yourself to not have to sleep.

    9. Post traumatic stress syndrome appears to be genetically mediated. Whether you pop your pimples or not appears to be genetically mediated. Whether you are born with taste buds that prefer sweet or sour are probably something you can’t control. Sedentary vs active lifestyle behavior are partially at least determined by genetics. Risk taking behavior is probably genetic to some degree as well.

    10. Most of the day my thoughts just arise, not of my choosing. When I am looking around, the things that my eyes look at not really in my control.

    11. Much of the sensory input to our brain is illusory (like our blind spot being filled in by our brain). If the information we have to act on itself is illusory to some degree, how can we act on bad information?

    12. It is so hard to change your desires, if not impossible to turn off entirely. (at least for most people).

    13. 99% of all decisions we make in life are very much mundane and patterned responses based on your personal genetics, past experience, etc. The experience of being alive largely feels like on autopilot.

  20. Posted February 11, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great.
    I don’t know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you are not already ;) Cheers!


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Why Evolution is True blog has many posts on the subject and the latest one is here (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/the-no-free-will-experiment/), its worth popping over too even if its to watch the 5 min embedded video. If Free Will and the [...]

  2. [...] dangerously engaging in waxing philosophical again. This time he weighs in, after insifficient and limited study, on the free will/determinism debate. He can weigh in, see, [...]

  3. [...] there have been a lot of good papers, publications and books about the Free Will (here, here, here, etc.). I agree with these ideas but I have another approach based on a philosophy I [...]

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